CMB Fitness is revolutionizing education through transforming classrooms and schools into personalized, cross-curricular, authentic teaching and learning nuclei.
As super agents of change, we play today’s educational devil’s advocates. CMB Fitness seeks to cultivate a cultural evolution for students and staff from within a district’s unique needs, perspective and demographics.
Personalization and Learning in Rubrics
Clarinda M. Brueck
Edited by Rosa Messina
We live in a highly personalized world where everything from our social media feeds to our shopping experiences are tailored to our previous browsing experiences or habits. Everything focuses on our uniqueness, from our technology, as in our phones and apps, to our clothing styles and even our food choices. So why is it that this personalized and unique approach, based on what we have observed about our students’ habits, is not present in our classrooms today?
With over thirty years of teaching, my action research has finally produced a methodology that personalizes learning in such a way that all students can achieve success. One facet of this methodology is based upon project based learning in a student centered classroom with a twist!
No one, especially administrators, will dispute that projects are a great way to assess the application of key concepts. They are fun and engaging for students, however, for teachers they can be difficult to evaluate. Rubrics are often vague or do not suit the groups of various learners that exist within that particular class. I often found myself faced with this challenge, so I set out to satisfy that need for personalized learning where I can allow my students the freedom to express themselves within the confines of a totally new style of rubric.
In studying a variety of available rubrics in multiple subject areas, it became apparent that most are long and scary looking, containing graphic organizers that pose a navigational problem. If students are overthinking how to complete the organizer, their expression of knowledge is blocked, thus leading to frustration and failure. So I decided to seek out a short, explicit shell containing only the most important concepts I wanted to evaluate. Short and to the point, easy to read, limited to one side of a page to keep their interest and motivation. To the student, the requirements seem easy to achieve. The shell that I decided upon was a Tic-Tac-Toe style rubric. Students are familiar with the game, and it is fun to complete.
This is how it begins.
Prior to construction of the project, a learning style inventory is administered and results are discussed with the students. This generally does not take a long period of time, and the students really enjoy learning how they learn best, and as their teacher, you will too! This is valuable insight into their personalities. There are numerous learning style quizzes available on paper or online that can be easily administered for all grade levels.
It is time to construct the tool. Within the shell, each of these nine Tic-Tac-Toe boxes represent mini-projects. Each box includes the following information: a key concept as in the title with a short explanation of the activity based upon learning style, and 2-3 evaluated requirements to complete the mini-project.
So how does it work?
Students may choose any direction on the Tic-Tac-Toe shell across, down or diagonal. Each direction will be strategically planned to include mini-projects that suit all students’ learning styles in the class. The mini-projects will include activities that focus on writing, problem solving, critical thinking and analytical thinking but in a simplified, fun form. The teacher will conference with each student to discuss the activities and choices and to check for understanding.
At the time of evaluation, each box is worth 33.3 points, students need to complete 3 to achieve a possible 100 points. We meet to discuss their work and discuss how it was completed. Being familiar with each student’s ability level and learning style, I can tailor my evaluation and adjust requirements as the projects progress to suit their learning needs and give them a fair grade for their work.
Success? Plenty of it, and the students love it. Why? They have a choice and the flexibility to use their creativity and strengths to complete the requirements Do I know that they have learned something? Oh yes…just ask them about what they did and why during the evaluative conference.
Teaching to Differences: A Shift from the Norm
Edited by Rosa Messina
What is normal or the “norm”? Are we normal just because we look, think, dress, learn, behave or eat alike and make up a majority? Are we different because we are not part of the majority? Differences set one apart from the “norm”. Those with mental differences look “normal” unless there is also a physical disability. In our classes, we all have students that are the “different” ones, the “special” ones …the outnumbered. These students are forced to adapt and can be intimidated by the overwhelming enormity of the “norm” in the ways they feel they must think, learn, and live.
Because of this, some are bullied or worse, become the bullies as a last resort at self-preservation and perhaps a grasp at joining the “norm”. Others just seem to blend in and are never truly seen by anyone. These students coast with low averages and an occasional high score, but eventually they “fall through the cracks”. These students feel normal, but the world just cannot comprehend their way of learning or connecting to the “norm”. Look at Albert Einstein’s middle school performance, according to the norm; he averaged a meager “75”, and was looked upon as just another underachieving student going nowhere, but someone took the time to see his genius or difference.
Differences are our most precious resource and provide the alternate and complimentary perspective to the norm. If we are willing to visit an alternate world and connect with students, both “different” and “normal”, from the inside out, we can engage the entire student body in the majority of every day assignments. Teaching differently requires a reverse approach which leads to understanding our “special” students, and what our normal lessons may seem like to them. This allows the student to express themselves in a way that is unique to them and still acceptable and inclusive to the “norm”.
Over years of teaching students who learn differently, I’ve found that using a learning styles inventory, along with one to one conferencing, project based learning and computer based learning, catches students’ attention and motivates them to learn best.
Look at the concept backwards from the big picture and then peer inside to what is most useful in students’ minds. Attach meaningful information and assignments that is worth learning in smaller bits, which they will present in shorter projects, then assess that. What are the small steps that will lead up to the obtainable end result where motivated learning will continue along the way?
Let’s take Science for example. You need to teach physics. Approach students with the anticipatory question, “What would you like to build?” They may say, “A car!” Ok! You've hooked them! Now, unless you have a mechanic’s bay, you will most likely not be building the next Grease Lightning, so you may need to bring your students down to reality while maintaining the excitement of a hands on approach to learning. Instead, perhaps you will build a motorized go-cart in which you can study the laws of Physics.
First, they will have to research how to build a go-cart and motor online for background knowledge and to raise some questions. Then, they will need to be instructed and shown short internet videos with the associated concepts needed to be covered.
Create a “Use It, Do It, Pass It Sheet” which is essentially a To Do list of required tasks that will be assessed for a grade based upon learning style and interests. These tasks can include a variety of worksheets, tutorials, and viewing apps, mini reports on their research needed to contribute to the design of the car, or necessary short informative supplemental readings from a workbook, textbook, or the internet.
List what you feel is necessary, arrive at a point total for each task totaling 100 points and you are done with assessment which includes problem solving, critical and analytical thinking. Just decide when you will teach the concepts using the design of the car as your “teachable moment” and conference with your students to check on progress with their “Use It, Do It, Pass It” sheet in a flipped or student centered approach. Calculate construction time for the car and have some fun without spending your class and learning time, testing.
If you are not a fan of the “Use It, Do It, Pass It Sheet,” you can go totally project based and use a Tic-tac-toe rubric filled with mini projects contributing to the construction of the car to suit the learning styles of your class.
All in all you are teaching and evaluating student learning as they build through the research and mini-projects they are completing to produce the end product. The students can see the concepts come to life as they interact with you and the car. In this instance the car, or final product, becomes a teaching tool from which students have amassed a wealth of information in an efficient, effective and very “different” way. All students will benefit from this alternate way of teaching. The hands on approach in a team environment, constant teacher conferencing and individual researching brings the final product to life which makes the entire experience a memorable one.
Administrative Awakening: Revamping Education Starts Top Down
Edited by Rosa Messina
Throughout my career I have worked with many principals and superintendents. Some inspirational risk-takers, some just by the book paper-pushers. Some have empowered me through their support of a vision. I could develop methodologies that allowed me to educate students in efficient and effective ways. Others have come without vision, without purpose and caused the stagnation of growth on the part of students and teachers alike. Effective change and growth comes from leadership that grasps what is, and what is possible through recognizing the district’s pool of talent, and then releasing that potential within the confines of a school wide vision of success; but our universities are not equipping graduates with leadership programs having such pedagogy and tools.
Today’s university programs do not produce educational leaders emboldened with vision, passion and motivation to undertake the journey to success. Instead, our newest leaders are adequately prepared and politically polished. They are taught to manage paperwork, duties, and prepped to lead committees and speak legalese, but not to utilize the talent and appreciate the benefits of the overwhelmingly diverseness of their student population. Education is a billion dollar business that needs to be managed, that’s true. However, if done with a passion for teaching, a vision of success and a compassion for the populations served, faculty and students will have been molded into the vision of success and a self-sufficient, well-oiled machine.
There are five tools of leadership success that are necessary for student-administrators to become an effective and inspirational leader to his staff, students and district.
5 Tools of Leadership Success.
- 1. Passion- love of teaching and a need to make a difference in students’ lives.
- 2. Compassion- raw understanding of who students and teacher leaders are: their qualities, strengths and weaknesses, backgrounds, and what matters most to each.
- 3. Delegation- the ability to share or relinquish a responsibility with teacher leaders chosen specifically based upon their unique qualities and talents. They are the ideal candidates to carry through the vision for the tasks at hand.
- 4. Empowerment- enabling teachers the ability to perform action research and stretch in order to achieve the vision.
- 5. Vision into the future- the image of what a successful school for staff and students is and the beginnings of a plan to get there.
It seems our new leaders lack those traits, and therefore our university programs must change. So how do we turn out educational leaders that can awaken our test ridden system? How do we decrease administrative turnover and burn out? Our administrators lead by their prior knowledge and experience. Perhaps our programs need restructuring. Let’s make some real life, authentic connection and examine this process comparing and contrasting it to a baseball organization planning its way to winning a World Series.
University XYZ opens its doors to a new cohort of potential leaders. These experienced, seasoned teachers want to climb the ladder for various reasons: salary increases, classroom escape, or truly to be an agent of change. These teachers have a need that only these universities can fulfill. Similarly, baseball teams draft hungry, college players that will fit their organization’s goal which is to win a World Series via filling positions of physical endurance, emotional stability and strength in personality. These players are known as potential “five tool players” as they can hit for a high batting average, for power, run bases fast, throw and field well. Players are assigned to a minor league affiliate where they are molded into the organizations vision. If they grow and peak at the same time… voila! They are off to a World Series title. In stark contrast, new soon-to-be administrators are placed in their classes, and off they go to acquire a supervisory and/or principal certificate without any analysis of the strengths, weaknesses or dispositions of who these leaders are or will be. Did anyone at the university screen them as to their true leadership abilities or what type of leader they would be? How about what administrative job would be a good fit for them? Probably not. Therefore, unlike that the player that is scouted for his talent and is continuously molded within it, this future administrator will spend a great deal of money, time and effort attempting to find where his true talents lie, if he is ever actually fortunate enough to do so. Burnout is easy along this administrative adventure.
A Vision for Revamping: How can universities make a change?
Screen Candidates. Before accepting candidates, give personality inventories to assess if they are suited to be educational leaders. Which certification route is right for them and the needs of the districts in which they work? Do they possess the five tools of leadership success, passion, compassion, delegation, empowerment and vision into the future? Both the university and school district must collaborate on mentoring administrators so student-administrators learn to lead, delegate and empower within their district’s vision. Therefore, your student-administrator, like your baseball player, can be assigned to a specific cohort that will coach them to be the leader that the school population needs having the ability to juggle the duties of the position avoiding burnout and turnover.
Plan for Personalization. . The university should implement a personalized plan for these student-administrators just as a baseball organization trains and instructs their players on skill acquisition and execution of the game. The professors of each course, knowing the attributes, qualities, characteristics and vision for their students’ purpose in the district, can now mentor them with worthwhile knowledge about the position, its pitfalls, and any extension knowledge that will round out their practice in the field. They will also offer guidance in growing into their leadership style so they can empower, inspire and motivate their teachers. This will give new educational leaders valuable time to “get their hands dirty” in classrooms with their teachers because they can confidently delegate responsibilities to teacher leaders trained similarly to become more efficient and effective leaders themselves.