Differentiated Digital Professional Development

There is no doubt in my mind that when classroom teachers, specialists, and school librarians coteach they offer each other reciprocal mentorship; they learn with and from one another. In the context of digital learning, this results in differentiated digital professional development for all educators and improved outcomes for students.

Rose Else-Mitchell, who is currently the Chief Learning Officer at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, conducted a study in 2017 in which she found that 2/3rds of classroom teachers are using technology in instruction but feel they need more support and training (cited in Wolf 2018, 182). When educators are coplanning and coteaching as equal partners, their combined digital teaching and learning expertise enhances experiences and ensures that instructional innovations, including students’ use and mastery of technology resources and tools, are diffused throughout the learning environment.

Research Related to Adult Learning
Andragogy comprises principles of adult learning. As mentioned in the “Professional Development is Key” blog post last September, these principles should be adhered to in formal professional development as well as in informal coteaching/reciprocal mentoring. Adults learners:

  1. are self-directed and take responsibility for their own learning;
  2. have prior experiences that can be a positive or negative influence on learning;
  3. are motivated by an internal need to know;
  4. and have a problem-solving orientation to learning (Knowles 1990).

School librarians are wise to approach collaboration from the perspective of helping a colleague solve her/his instructional challenge. With regard to school librarians’ role as technology mentors, this can come from a place of sharing what we know, learning from what the other educator(s) knows, or taking a risk together to attempt something new in order to engage, motivate, or challenge students.

In my experience as a school librarian educator, I found many graduate students who were learning new technology tools felt supported by taking a risk with a university classmate or building-level colleague. Educators found that identifying resources and tools, troubleshooting tools with students in mind, and providing students with choices and a menu of resource and tool options can be more successful with two or more designer-facilitators of learning.

Exemplary Practice from the Field
Laura Long is the school library media specialist at Highland School of Technology in Gastonia, North Carolina. In her January 10, 2019 Knowledge Quest blog post “The School Library, Makey, Makey, and Learning,” Laura shared an exemplary example.

Laura’s colleague Jamee P. Webb teaches English III (11th grade). This is how Laura describes Jamee, “She is a frequent collaborator with me in the school library, and she is a lifelong learner. It is fun to watch her discover new strategies, apps, and products that she can use with her students.” (This description says as much about Laura who wrote it as it does about Jamee.)

When Jamee earned a grant for “Makey, Makey STEM kits,” Laura, Jamee, and instructional technology facilitator Katherine Leatherman explored the Makey kits with Jamee’s classes. The two-day project culminated with student-created poetry using the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights as background information. (Please read Laura’s entire post.)

Also, on March 6, 2019, school librarian Harry Oslund from William J. Brennan High School in Northside ISD (Texas) and the school’s academic technology instructional support specialist Ryan Fontanella are offering a webinar titled “Using Makerspaces to Build Teacher/Librarian Collaboration” via AASL’s eCollab. I am excited to hear their presentation and learn how they are collaborating to maximize the impact of their school’s makerspace on students’ classroom-based learning. You can sign up here: http://www.ala.org/aasl/ecollab/makerspaces

Embracing Tasks Before Apps Mindset
When I read Laura’s post, I was reminded of an article that was written by Monica Burns (ClassTechTips.com) that appeared last September in the Association for Curriculum and Development’s Education Update. Dr. Burns offered four tips for keeping the focus on tasks rather than on the technology tools themselves. These tips support classroom-library coplanning and coteaching in the context of digital learning.

  1. Review curriculum goals.
  2. Reflect on creation opportunities.
  3. Take stock of student interest.
  4. Find your partner in technology (Burns 2018, 4-5).

Unfortunately, Dr. Burns didn’t mention school librarians as natural partners for classroom teachers when it comes to curating and integrating apps and other technology tools and devices into classroom instruction.

As Laura Long’s experience shows, when classroom teachers, school librarians, and technology instructional coaches pool their expertise and resources exciting, successful, and digitally rich learning experiences happen for students.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How do you currently practice technology-focused differentiated professional development with and for your colleagues?
  2. What ideas do you have for improving technology-focused differentiated professional development with and for your colleagues?

Works Cited

Burns, Monica. 2018. “Embracing a Tasks Before Apps Mindset.” ASCD: Education Update: 1, 4-5.

Knowles, Malcolm. 1990. The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. 4th ed. Houston: Gulf.

Long, Laura. 2019. “The School Library, Makey, Makey, and Learning.” Knowledge Quest Blog. https://knowledgequest.aasl.org/the-school-library-makey-makey-and-learning

Wolf, Maryanne. 2018. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. New York: Harper.

Digital Learning Dispositions

In Maximizing School Librarian Leadership, I argue that educators modeling and students practicing dispositions is a key aspect of future ready learning. In our technology-enabled world where answers to straight-forward questions are nearly instantaneous, it is essential that students learn to invest in deeper digital learning. This requires them to learn and practice dispositions such as openness, flexibility, persistence, and more. Another way to refer to these attributes and behaviors is social and emotional learning skills or SELs.

“When schools recognize that emotions drive much of how and what we learn, students and educators will flourish” (Bracket 2018, 14).

Survey of  Students
The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) conducted a national survey of current and recent high school graduates; 1,300 participated. 77% of the survey participants said they were not as prepared socially and emotionally for life after K-12 as they are academically prepared. In short, they weren’t fully college, career, or community ready. School librarians can be leaders on their campuses when SEL curriculum is rolled out. They can also be leaders in highlighting the importance of SEL in schools and districts where this movement has not yet arrived.

“Students who are in schools where the integration of social, emotional and academic development is strong report doing much better academically, getting along better with others, feeling safer, being much better prepared for life, and having higher rates of volunteering than those students who do not attend such schools. Their experiences are borne out by research demonstrating that high-quality social and emotional learning boosts many of the outcomes we already measure – such as attendance, academic achievement, behavior, graduation, college attainment, employment, and participation in community” (DePaoli, Atwell, Bridgeland, and Shriver 2018, 1).

For a brief summary of the survey, see the link below for an EdSurge article by Emily Tate. In her article, Tate quotes Timothy Shriver, CASEL’s board chair: “There has been a long and divisive conversation about whether we should be educating the head or the heart. That either/or conversation needs to be over.”

Digital Dispositions
I agree with Shriver; there should be no question. Educators must attend to the needs of students’ hearts as well as their minds. Noticing the role dispositions play in (inquiry) learning is one way to bridge hearts and minds.

Grit and persistence (discussed in previous blog posts) often come into play during digital learning and in life. (The author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance Angela Duckworth is developing a website called “Character Lab” to provide SEL resources. Check it out!) Other dispositions such as confidence which can result from having choice and voice in choosing and using digital resources and tools, and optimism, which comes with successful learning experiences are other SEL dispositions that educators guide students in reflecting upon as they wrap up inquiry learning experiences.

Edsurge includes the 4Cs (Partnership for 21st Century Skills) as dispositions: communication, collaboration, critical thinking (and problem solving), and creativity (and innovation) as future ready dispositions. Karen Cator, CEO of Digital Promise, participated in an EdSurge on the Air podcast interview: “How Do You Prepare Students for Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet?”  In the interview, Cator, a former director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, talks about transitioning workforce development to the skills that are “uniquely human.” She suggests coteaching and coaching for classrooms teachers in order to learn to facilitate new kinds of learning experiences. She notes that inclusive innovation means problem solving with the people who are affected by the solutions to these challenges; for educators this means innovating along with students. She also notes that educators have a responsibility to make sure all educators and students can benefit from innovations in teaching and learning.

Executive Functions
Some dispositions are also known as “executive functions.” These include self-awareness, self-control, self-direction, good study habits, and more. When students take the responsibility for self-monitoring inquiry learning, educators can help learners understand that they are practicing dispositions that will be useful when they enter the workforce, enter higher education, or raise a family. Educators can help students design strategies for increasing their success in developing executive functions such as creating learning plans, learning logs, checklists, and other tools. Inquiry learning is an ideal context for practicing these dispositions.

Lived Experiences
Educating the whole student means attending to the heart as well as the mind. Planning a relevant curriculum means that school-based learning connects to students’ outside-of-school lives. “Learning happens best when the full, often complicated nature of our lived experiences are recognized celebrated, and serve as the basis upon which we experience school” (DePaoli, Atwell, Bridgeland, and Shriver 2018, vi).

Through coplanning and curation, school librarians can ensure that empowered students are prepared for learning and life with SEL experiences. They can ensure that students are given opportunities to tap into their imaginations and curiosity and are encouraged to take the initiative as knowledge creators who share their learning with personally meaningful, authentic audiences. Working together classroom teachers, specialists, and school librarians codesign and coimplement digitally powered instruction that includes SEL and leads to improved student learning outcomes as well as increased student engagement and motivation.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. Which dispositions do you believe are most closely tied to and practiced during digital learning experiences?
  2. How do you assess students’ development of digital learning dispositions?

Works Cited

Bracket, Marc A. 2018. “The Emotional Intelligence We Owe Students and Educators.” Educational Leadership 75 (2): 13-18.

DePaoli, Jennifer L., Matthew N. Atwell, John M. Bridgeland, and Timothy P. Shriver. 2018. “Perspectives of Youth on High School Social and Emotional Learning.” CASEL. https://casel.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Respected.pdf

Tate, Emily. 2018. “Students Say Poor Social and Emotional Skills Are Leaving Them Unprepared.”  EdSurge Blog. https://tinyurl.com/edsurgetate18

Digital Learning Instructional Partnerships

Podcast Episode 6: Digital Learning Interview with Amy Soma and Louis Lauer

Initiating, developing, and sustaining instructional partnerships for digital learning is a win-win-win proposition for future ready learning. School librarians can be leaders in developing shared digital learning values, vocabulary, instructional practices, and expectations.

Collaborating educators have knowledge of students’ home and school access to digital resources and technology tools. This may be particularly important for school librarians who are well-aware of students’ school-based access but may lack knowledge of students’ home and community access. However, access alone is not enough to ensure that students are able to maximize the promised benefits digital information, devices, and tools.

In a 2016 survey, Victoria Rideout and Vikki Katz found that “the quality of families’ Internet connections, and the kinds and capabilities of devices they can access, have considerable consequences for parents and children” (7). Through collaboration, educators must deepen their knowledge and understanding of students’ opportunities to learn digitally. They must create a school- and community-based context in which digital learning can achieve its promise.

Shared Values
While access to technology resources is a prerequisite for digital learning, shared values are just as important. Educators who have similar teaching experiences working with students in their neighborhood schools are perfectly positioned to think, plan, and teach together to meet students’ needs. During collaborative planning, astute school librarians will be mindful of how their colleagues’ values and their own align and when those values are misaligned. During the coplanning process, collaborators may nudge each other to expand students’ choice and voice when it comes to digital tools.

When educators read and share research and practitioner articles focused on technology tools integration, they can collectively strategize the most effective approaches to engaging students in digital learning. Wrestling with questions such as the ones that follow posed by Dr. Maryanne Wolf can lead instructional partners or whole school teaching teams to think and rethink how to successfully frame digital learning.

“Will the early-developing cognitive components of the reading circuit be altered by digital media before, while, and after children learn to read? In particular, what will happen to the development of their attention, memory, and background knowledge—processes known to be affected in adults by multitasking, rapidity, and distraction?” (Wolf 2018, 107).

“What are the specific developmental relationships among continuous partial attention, working memory, and the formation and the deployment of deep-reading processes in children?” (Wolf 2018, 117).

Shared Vocabulary
When educators have shared vocabulary for instruction in any content area or for use in any process, such as inquiry learning, students benefit. The glossary in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership is an important aspect of the book. While all readers may not agree 100% with my definitions, they offer a starting place for discussion and clarification.

The International Literacy Association (ILA) offers an online literacy glossary. “New literacies” is one important term related to digital learning that educators may discuss and tweak.

New literacies. A term used to signal a shift from literacy to literacies, especially in relation to how people view texts as being situated in different contexts that in turn support different kinds of reading and writing. New, not in the sense of a replacement metaphor, but new in the sense that social, economic, cultural, intellectual, and institutional changes are continually at work. This term is preferred over 21st-century literacies. (See also 21st-century literacy(ies)) [Rev., 10/2018]

Collaborating for digital learning does require an understanding of how students view, read, learn with, and write digital texts.  For me, ILA’s definition is especially useful because it notes the term “new” relates to  contexts for literacy learning rather than a replacement for traditional literacies.

Shared Contexts
Students and adults today have become habituated to ever faster access to information and multitasking. We also communicate more frequently in briefer units of thought; Twitter and email are examples. “90% of youth say they are multitasking when they are reading online; only 1% multitask when reading in print” (Wolf 2018, 114).

Faster access to information does not necessarily result in faster knowledge acquisition. Modeling slower and deeper engagement with texts helps students see the benefits of taking time. In addition, relevant learning experiences can help students remain engaged, develop intrinsic motivation, and persist when learning is challenging. With two or more coteachers monitoring student learning, educators can more easily identify students who have lost their momentum or lost their way and need guidance to get back on track.

Instructional Practices
What school librarians have traditionally termed information literacy are what Dr. Wolf calls “pragmatic tools” for online reading. School librarians are adept and experienced at teaching students how to select and use search engines and databases. We help students be deliberate when choosing search terms and evaluating search results. We model and give them repeated opportunities to practice determining perspective and bias and to dig deep in order to recognize misinformation, propaganda, and lies. Taking these strategies to media sources, further expands students’ ability to be astute users of data, ideas, and information.

Separating truth from fiction takes time for both youth and adults. Applying information and media literacy strategies and approaching texts with alternately open and skeptical minds will require practice. The International Society for Technology in Education has published a number of resources to support school librarians in teaching information/media literacy, most recently Fact versus Fiction: Teaching Thinking Skills in the Age of Fake News (LaGarde and Hudgins 2018).

The Challenge
School librarians must focus on access first and address the gaps. The future ready librarian also “invests strategically in digital resources,” “cultivates community partnerships,” and “leads beyond the library” (Future Ready Librarians).  School librarians can take a leadership role in writing grants to obtain funding for technologies that address equity of access. Building digital age capacity through forming partnerships with public librarians and other community-based organizations is important in order to provide digital networks that are essential to students’ success. School librarians must join with others in advocating for students’ access to tools and devices in their homes and communities as well as in their schools.

Through leadership, we can help our schools develop shared values, vocabulary, instructional practices, and expectations for student learning with digital information and tools in order to address this challenge: “technology increasingly provides easy access to answers, but if we focus only on the answers and not on the thinking, questioning, and solving, we deny students powerful learning experiences. Perhaps even more significant, we fail to develop the new literacies that will empower them to solve complex problems and be lifelong learners” (Martin 2018, 22).

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How would you describe the technology environment, including equity of access, in your school, district, or community?
  2. In what kinds of conversations have you engaged with colleagues related to shared values, practices, and challenges with technology tools use and integration?

Works Cited

Future Ready Librarians Framework: Empowering Leadership for School Librarians through Innovative Professional Practice. https://tinyurl.com/frlflyer

LaGarde, Jennifer, and Darren Hudgins. 2018. Fact versus Fiction: Teaching Thinking Skills in the Age of Fake News. Washington, DC: International Society for Technology in Education.

Martin, Katie. 2018. “Learning in a Changing World: What It Means to be a Literacy Learning—and Teacher—in the 21st Century.” Literacy Today 36 (3): 21-23.

Rideout, Victoria, and Vikki S. Katz. 2016. “Opportunity for All? Technology and Learning in Lower-Income Families.” Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. ERIC ED574416.

Wolf, Maryanne. 2018. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. New York: Harper.