The Making of a Newsletter
Sharing is caring
I work as an interventionist on my school campus, but I was also given a chance to share my expertise in digital learning this year. Over the summer, I thought of ways that I could share information on new educational technology and provide resources and support for those using technology in their classrooms. A newsletter was the best solution for providing on demand information faculty and staff could look through at their convenience.
A format that works
As a classroom teacher, I combined technology and flipped lessons into my classes daily. It made sense that I would provide information in my newsletter in a similar fashion. We are a Microsoft district, so I chose Sway in the Office 365 suite as my platform because it is easy to create and share. I envisioned a newsletter that I would share monthly, and that would contain no more than five resources and tutorials. My thought was to share relevant pieces of information, but not to overwhelm with too much at once. I also planned to share the archived editions at the bottom of each month's newsletter so readers could go back and find things they needed. The first newsletter was a combination of flipped tutorials and resources to start the school year. I sent it out in an email during our summer staff development days. I expected a few people to delete or ignore it, but to my surprise many did not even open the email.
You can lead a horse to water...
I am about to start on the fourth edition of my newsletter, and I wish I could say that many are reading and using the resources and tips I laid out for them, but there are just a few that look at my newsletter. After the first newsletter, I decided to change things up a bit. I was sharing information about Nearpod, so I decided to make the newsletter into a Nearpod. This was an immersive teacher experience, where they could experience Nearpod as the students would, and included how-to videos for everything I used in the Nearpod. This felt like a homerun for me, but as of today only six staff members have interacted with the Nearpod. I am left asking myself, what could I do differently to get more of my faculty interested in the resources I am offering? My newsletter is not part of staff development, so it is not required reading. My newsletter also has not been marketed to the staff by my administration. This is part of the reason very few people on my campus look at it. My district went 1:1 on technology a year ago, and yet I still see many worksheets and PowerPoints instead of interactive and well-developed blended lessons. I see a need for the information and resources I am offering, but some faculty do not want to access it.
Back to the drawing board
I am not a quitter and so I am looking into alternative ways to share educational technology tools with my faculty and staff. I have a few ideas that I'm looking into including a hybrid podcast/newsletter format, as well as a more engaging infographic format. This has been a learning experience for me, and I will continue to work towards my goal of sharing great educational technology tools.
How it started
My innovation plan centered around bringing blended learning stations to my students. I planned to start small by implementing blended learning stations within my own classroom and then to gradually branch out and have my department, and eventually my school adopt blended learning stations. My original plan involved adding in two to three stations including at least one technology based station a few days each week. The original timeline for my plan involved getting my blended stations going in the spring of 2021. We had limited access to technology and in spring of 2021 the laptop cart in my room was repurposed to the reading department. Though I ended up with a small number of iPads later in the semester, I chose not to start my innovation plan until the following fall.
This week I have been putting it all together as I create my online course. I started with my course goals and outlines and have spent the past week putting together modules for the first half of m course. I am using Canvas as my LMS, and I have to say it has been an extremely user-friendly platform. From the design point of view, everything is where it should be and linking and embedding have been a breeze.
Planning for success
I have started the planning phase of creating an online course for my current class in the DLL program at Lamar University. I will be creating an online course for my 6th graders to use asynchronously as a supplement to their regular social studies class. The focus of my course will be on how geography affects settlements. This is something students have struggled with in the past and it is important that they understand it as a foundation for the entire year.
Action Research Literature Review
Education has steadily shifted away from the traditional classroom because the old ways of teaching are no longer working for the students of today. One type of instruction does not provide students with enough choices or opportunities to interact with their learning and make connections (Singh, 2003). Blended learning is not a new concept in education and has gained worldwide attention as a promising alternative to the traditional classroom. A blended learning initiative can offer students choices in learning, as well as give access to information in multiple formats.
There is promising research to suggest that blended learning can have a positive impact on student outcomes, however there are also studies that have been inconclusive or point to students being more successful in a traditional classroom setting. The vast amount of research and data available on blended learning should be examined to create a clear understanding of how it can affect students. The goal of this review of literature on blended learning is to gather data from case studies and assess the overall impact it has on students including but not limited to student outcomes.
What is action research?
In my current class in the DLL program, we are looking into research and how to conduct research in our own classrooms. Why would research in a classroom be important? Education is evolving every day and research into problems, or areas that need to be updated are part of best practice for teachers. Traditional research methods are generally not practical for classrooms, and would be too time consuming for most teachers whose plates are already overflowing with other tasks. In the book Action Research, the author highlights a research method more suitable for the classroom. Action research can be broken down into 4 steps and this type of research is cyclical in nature. The four steps include finding an area to focus on, gathering data, looking at the data, and creating a plan. Once the process is complete, you can identify new areas of focus or go back and look at an aspect of prior research and start again. The purpose of this research is to look at issues and use collected data to either find solutions or create something new. As teachers, we evaluate our practices all the time. We tweak and change lessons, or come up with ways to deal with problem behavior in class all the time, so action research is simply a formal way for us to look at those issues and come up with solutions. I am beginning my own action research based on my innovation project and have laid out an outline for my plan below.
Creating a lesson that promotes independence and creativity
I have been looking for opportunities to incorporate the COVA model (Harapnuik, 2017) into my classroom, and the perfect opportunity finally came up. My class has been studying Australia and students were interested in the animals of Australia. There was a premade lackluster PowerPoint presentation in my lesson resources that would have given the students information on animals of Australia, but instead of going that route, I decided that this is the perfect time for students to explore and learn for themselves.
I teach sixth grade social studies and the ability to research a topic is part of our TEKS. In order for a lesson like this to be successful, I first looked at what I wanted them to discover and ways I could guide them to be successful researchers. At the sixth grade level, research is relatively new to our students. I decided to give them three sites to use for research purposes and a short list of Australian animals they could complete their research over. I researched each animal on the list using the sites I would be giving the students to use to ensure they would be successful in finding what they need. Researching ahead of time also gave me an idea of what they would find and gave me a way to guide them if they got stuck.
Where I Was
As a student in the DLL program at Lamar University, I was told that I would have plenty of opportunities to reflect on my learning and see how far I've come. One of these opportunities has recently presented itself as I've had that the chance to revisit my growth mindset plan. I was able to look at the work I'd previously done with mindset and give it a fresh makeover with the experience I've gained since then.
Where I'm Going
Although I had a reasonable understanding of a growth mindset in the beginning, I feel that I took one area and created a laser focus just on that. I really wanted my students to understand the fixed and growth mindsets, and though it is an important starting point, it isn't everything. In a recent article I read where Carol Dweck revisits the growth mindset, there are new points to consider within implementation of the growth mindset. One area I chose to focus on was criticism and feedback. How feedback is presented by teachers and received by learners plays an important role in having a growth mindset. I realized that I need to make sure I'm presenting feedback in a positive way that helps learners understand that there are issues that need to be addressed, and opportunities to move forward toward success. The learners in turn, must have a growth mindset in how they receive feedback. They need to have an open mind toward feedback as a positive opportunity for them to grow as a student, rather than seeing only what they've done wrong (fixed mindset).
I also want to add grit alongside the growth mindset. As Angela Duckworth pointed out in her video "Grit: the power of passion and perseverance", grit and the growth mindset go hand in hand. Students must learn to persevere through failure to reach a goal. They must also learn to create a plan to reach their goals, Modeling how to do that for students and creating opportunities for them to put it into practice can help create resilience that they can apply along with the growth mindset to their learning.
I have revisited and updated my growth mindset plan in order to create better opportunities for my learners within my classroom.
The Map To Our Destination
In one of the videos I watched in class, Dr. Harapnuik used the analogy of a map to reach a destination. That stuck with me, and I believe that a map is a vital part of getting to my destination of successfully implementing my innovation plan of blended learning stations. From the beginning of my master's program, I have slowly been creating that map starting with my why and my learning philosophy and using them to create a plan for changing my students' learning environment from one where I'm the "sage on the stage" to one where I'm the guide on the side. It is an environment, where the students will understand the purpose of learning, have a growth mindset and grit to help them along the road, and will be behind the wheel in an active role as learners. The blended learning stations lend themselves to creating significant learning environments where I can design learning that begins with the end in mind using tools like the UbD template, and Fink's 3 column table template which set up goals for learning as well as authentic activities and assessments for learners. I look forward to using the tools and strategies that I have gathered in my program to implement my innovation plan and create significant learning environments for my students.
Bates, T. (2014, July 29). Learning theories and online learning. Online Learning and Distance Education Resources - Moderated by Tony Bates, Research Associate, Contact North. https://www.tonybates.ca/2014/07/29/learning-theories-and-online-learning/.
Donovan, S. M., Bransford, J. D., & Pellegrino, J. W. (2009). How people learn: bridging research and practice. National Academy Pr.
Grit: the power of passion and perseverance: Angela Lee Duckworth. (2013). YouTube. https://youtu.be/H14bBuluwB8.
Dweck, C. (2020, December 2). Carol Dweck Revisits the 'Growth Mindset' (Opinion). Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/opinion-carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset/2015/09.
Fink, L. D. (2005). A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. https://www.deefinkandassociates.com/. https://www.deefinkandassociates.com/GuidetoCourseDesignAug05.pdf.
Harapnuik, D. (2016, March 11). Four keys to understanding learning theories. harapnuik.org. http://www.harapnuik.org/?p=6344.
Harapnuik, D. (2018, July 14). COVA. harapnuik.org. http://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=6991.
Smith, M. K. (1999) ‘The behaviourist orientation to learning’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education. [https://infed.org/mobi/the-behaviourist-orientation-to-learning/. Retrieved: 3/14/21.
Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (Expanded second edition). Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.
Growth Mindset Plan Revisited
What you are about to read is my original plan to implement a growth mindset in my classroom. I wrote this after reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success in one of my first master’s classes. I have reviewed the original plan and will be adding some updates to the end:
The growth mindset is something I am still learning but I want to start incorporating it into my school with my students and colleagues. This is a lofty goal which will require me to have a consistent growth mindset for myself. This is the perfect time to start working on this. It is fresh on my mind so I can bring examples to my students and my colleagues as well as give them access to new growth mindset research and examples as I find them.
In the last few weeks I have been exposed to new ways of designing lessons, units, and courses. For my purposes at a 6th grade social studies teacher, I chose to design a unit of study for my class. When I began this process, I looked back at the year of learning in my class so far, and chose to focus my efforts on creating a better version of my foundations unit that starts off the school year. After all, you can't build without a solid foundation, and I noticed that there were gaps in the learning that stemmed from this unit.
This blog includes posts about education and digital learning and I will update frequently so check back often for new posts!