June 2022 Update

We are incredibly excited to introduce labels to gotLearning! One of the main reasons I created gotLearning in my classroom was to better capture and organize student learning data and labels give students and teachers the ability to do that. Before gotLearning, it sometimes felt like I spent more time searching for learning evidence than I did providing feedback. I needed a platform so that students and I could get to what we needed as quickly as possible.

Labelling in gotLearning allows teachers and students to organize learning evidence according to the structures most important to them.

Labels

In gotLearning you can now attach labels to conversations or assignments making it easier for you to organize learning evidence according to the structures that are most important to you (e.g. learning goals, reflections, key evidence, strategic school pillars, etc). Once labelled you can see, at a glance, where a piece of learning evidence fits into the organizational structures you use. You can also search and sort by label as well. Want to see all the assignments and conversations associated with a specific learning goal for a particular student? gotLearning labels make finding that learning evidence easy and efficient!

Both teachers and students can add labels to their conversations. You can easily search by using the search bar or just clicking on an existing label. You also have the ability to filter qualitative learning data by class, student and label.

Assignment Summaries

We’ve also improved our assignments interface. Teachers and students both have informative assignment summary pages. Teachers can see where their class, or each of their students, are in regard to assignment progress. 

Teacher Assignment Class Summary View:

The teacher can view a summary of assignments at the student level or open the detailed view to see each learning conversation. This view can also be filtered by selecting the assignment, class or student from the filter bar.

Teacher Assignment All Students View:

Linking to gotLearning Assignments from other Platforms

Teachers can now easily copy a gotLearning assignment link in an external platform such as Canvas, Google Classroom or Schoology.

Below is a short demo of how easy it is to link to a gotLearning assignment from Google Classroom.

gotLearning Summer Series

Learn how gotLearning helps make a teacher more efficient and effective by joining one of our workshops, drop by office hours, create a cohort or sign up for a roundtable.

Closing the Engagement Gap

As the students enter their classroom, they are alive with conversation and exuberant behavior. Most of the students are carrying their supplies, but a few are empty-handed. Several students are checking their cell phones, while two others have in ear buds listening to music. One boy is playing a hand-held video game while another stares out the window with a sullen look on his face. One girl looks like she’s been crying while three other students are talking about a hallway altercation between several boys that had happened earlier in the day. Three non-English speaking students who are new to the class look a bit trepidatious and nervous. Some students are in their seats, some are still standing, and at the sound of the bell, four students quickly enter the classroom.

This scenario is a typical class on a typical day in a typical school. As the teacher looks around her room, she knows she is charged with teaching each and every one of these young people. She is well aware of the difficult task of closing the achievement gap. She also knows that this goal cannot be achieved until she addresses the engagement gap. As a result, her mission, should she accept it (and she does!), is to capture the attention and maintain the involvement of all her students in their learning endeavors; then, and only then, can the achievement gap be reduced.

As today’s practitioners fully understand, teaching is a complicated, multi-faceted, and potentially exciting endeavor. When ideas click and plans come together, it is a memorable experience for students and teacher alike. As they make their unit and daily lesson plans, teachers know that they need to keep these key questions at the forefront of their thinking:

  • What are the ways in which I can create a safe, non-threatening yet challenging environment that respects and responds to learner needs?
  • How can I enable my students to engage in relevant and rigorous applications of learning?
  • How does active learning and engagement promote the development and use of 21st century skills?

The purpose of this newsletter is to investigate the concept of engagement from different perspectives with the outcome being that teachers can add new ways of thinking to the development of their plans and the execution of their lessons.

Student Engagement is More Than Having Fun
When students are engaged, they are usually responsive as indicated by their excited voices and animated expressions. Students often have fun and truly enjoy themselves as the lesson progresses. In her EduBits blog, researcher and educator Kristin Phillips provides insights that can help teachers move beyond fun to creating situations where high student engagement occurs. In order to surpass the “just fun” factor, she suggests the following practices to keep the flow of the class moving in the right direction:

  • Avoid potential confusion and down time by ensuring that students have sufficient background knowledge in order to complete the task at hand.
  • Create “conditions of wonder” as students work by encouraging curiosity and/or student questions that may temporarily deviate from the lesson content.
  • Devise group interactions where students refine their own thinking by engaging in a free exchange of ideas, especially ones that may not have one clear answer.
  • Present information in story form that helps students create mental images, and thus, a deeper connection to content.
  • Plan experiences that transcend busy work or “cool” activities to lessons in which students know they are engaging in important topics and developing their skills. 

Student Engagement is Multidimensional
The Glossary of Education Reform, created by the Great Schools Partnership, defines engagement as “the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.” Additionally, “learning improves when students are inquisitive, interested, or inspired and learning tends to suffer when students are bored, dispassionate, disaffected, or otherwise disengaged.” Further, the partnership elaborates on the varying “complex forms” that engagement can take by describing the five different types of engagement teachers can consider along with strategies to address each type:

  • Intellectual engagement: Teachers can give students a choice of the topic they wish to investigate, a problem or question they can explore, or the different ways they can demonstrate what they have learned.
  • Emotional engagement: Teachers can employ a wide variety of strategies that elicit positive student emotions, promote a secure learning environment, minimize negative behaviors and eventually lead to academic success.
  • Behavioral engagement: Teachers can establish routines or use cues to help students stay on task; they can also break up potential monotony by having students work in groups or move about the classroom to complete tasks.
  • Social engagement: Teachers can place students in pairs or small groups where they discuss societal issues, present their work to their peers, or engage in friendly competition.
  • Cultural engagement: Teachers can proactively make students from different cultures feel welcomed, valued and safe; as well they can plan learning experiences that “reduce feelings of confusion, alienation, disconnection, or exclusion.”

Student Engagement and Student Entertainment Are Not Synonymous
Although we want to stimulate student immersion, fascination, and even enthrallment in our lessons, a YouTube clip I recently viewed contrasted the difference between entertainment and engagement. It is an important distinction to make especially when we consider the outcomes we want to achieve for our engagement. The contrast is illustrated below:

EntertainmentEngagement
PassiveActive
For enjoymentFor learning
Short-livedLong-term results
Doesn’t require relevanceMeaningful and applicable
Escape from problemsSolving problems
Using the creativity of othersUsing the creativity of the learner


Student Engagement Involves Activity and Ownership
Mike Schmoker, in his book Results Nowmakes a strong case for the importance of active learning. He states, “If true learning is to occur, then students have to be at the very least participants in the process, and not merely products.” He distinguishes between teacher-directed learning and student-directed learning both of which may occur in a typical lesson. In his many classroom observations, Schmoker notes that although teachers may be working very hard to maintain student attention and engagement, “if a teacher wants to increase student engagement, then the teacher needs to:

  • Ask students to do something with the knowledge and skills they have learned.
  • Break up the lecture with learning activities.
  • Let them practice.
  • Get them moving.
  • Get them talking.
  • Make it so engaging that it will be difficult for students not to participate.”

Schmoker realizes that establishing such learning environments is a bit “risky,” but he encourages us to “keep trying, improving, and enhancing until we get it right.”

 

Student Engagement Requires Careful Planning
The teacher described in the opening paragraph fully understands that learning will not occur unless students are invested. They may cooperate for the moment so they can “pass the test” but learning will not last if students are not truly engaged. As the teacher made her plans, she might ask herself are:

  • Surprise them with an introductory attention-getter
  • Use props such as costumes, unusual materials, or creative use of technology
  • Pose an intriguing question to get students thinking
  • Connect the content to the world beyond the classroom
  • Involve students in group work where they will discuss, reach conclusions, answer, or create products
  • Have students move around the classroom in a purposeful, content-related activity
  • Monitor the work of student groups by asking them thought-provoking questions and providing feedback on their work to date
  • Ask students to read and react to a relevant and timely article
  • At the end of class, direct students to complete a brief writing assignment summarizing what they had learned during the class
  • Have students form an opinion based on data and present their findings to their group

As student engagement thrives and student learning improves, teachers will realize the satisfaction that their hard work and deliberate planning can deliver. How exciting, and even enthralling, that sense of accomplishment can be. Not only will the classroom be a place full of excitement and enthusiasm, but the teacher will be able to point to concrete evidence of student learning and achievement.

Resources and References

Delafosse, Sonja. “Teaching in the 21st Century.” Posted 2012. Access at www.youtube.com/watch?v=075aWDdZUlM.

Great Schools Partnership. “Student Engagement.” The Glossary of Education Reform. Posted April 28, 2014. Access at edglossary.org/student-engagement/

Johnson, Ben. “How Do We Know When Students Are Engaged?” Edutopia. Posted November 2013. Access at www.edutopia.org/blog/student-engagement-definition-ben-johnson

Phillips, Kristin. “Student Engagement is More Than Having Fun.” Posted October 24, 2014. Access at educationbits.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/student-engagement-is-more-than-having-fun/

Powell, Marcia. “Five Ways to Make Your Classroom Student-Centered.” Ed Week Teacher. December 2013. Access at www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2013/12/24/ctq_powell_strengths.html

Rutherford, Paula. Active Learning and Engagement Strategies. Alexandria, VA: Just ASK Publications, 2012. Access information about this book at www.justaskpublications.com/products/books/active-learning/

_____________. Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners. Alexandria, VA: Just ASK Publications, 2010. Access information about this book at www.justaskpublications.com/products/books/meeting-the-needs-of-diverse-learners/

Schmoker, Mike. Results Now. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2006.

“Student Engagement: Resource Roundup.” Edutopia. Posted December 9, 2014. Access at www.edutopia.org/student-engagement-resources.

Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this blog post for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Oliver, Bruce. “Closing the Engagement Gap.” gotLearning. Reproduced with permission of Growth Over Time Learning (gotLearning). © 2022 gotlearning. All rights reserved. Available at www.gotlearning.com

Growth-Producing Feedback

“Bruce Oliver, a gotLearning 
Contributor lives in Burke,
Virginia USA. He uses the 
knowledge, skills, and 
experience he acquired as a 
teacher, professional 
developer, mentor, and 
middle school principal 
as he works with school 
districts across the USA.” 

NOTE: At the end of this post you will find a Growth-Producing Feedback Discussion Tool, which lists examples of teacher comments about student work. Use this tool to promote in-depth staff discussion about how to increase the effectiveness of their feedback.

Feedback is another topic that is a repeated focus in the literature. It is an incredibly powerful tool that teachers have at their disposal; it can make a huge difference in student achievement. Grant Wiggins writes that when feedback is given to students properly, most students can achieve at the same level as the top 20% of students. He also asserts that feedback has a positive relationship with the rate that students are engaged. Put quite simply, students who are given specific information about the accuracy and quality of their work will spend more time working on their academic assignments. However, many teachers do not follow the suggestions set forth in research on the topic of feedback. So often, teachers simply follow practices which they inherit or which they have fallen into the habit of using. It is important for school leaders to provide their teaching staffs with the most up-to-date research. If we want students to improve their achievement, it is important for teachers to follow specific practices. Many books and articles have been published that provide educators with the best ideas to increase student achievement. The ideas contained in these publications are wide and varied. Some of the most popular topics include reaching the underachiever, unit and lesson design, differentiation of instruction, and assessing student learning.

The first step in improving how and when feedback is provided to students is to understand a clear definition of what good feedback is. Wiggins says that feedback is not about praise or blame, approval or disapproval. Good feedback describes what a student did or did not do for the purpose of changing or maintaining a behavior or performance. Robert Marzano and associates concur that effective feedback should provide students with an explanation of what they are doing correctly and what steps they must take to continue to make progress.

Typical feedback often includes such comments as “Nice work,” “Unclear,” “You need to improve your study habits,” “C+” or “75%.” These types of statements or grades show either an approval or disapproval of what a student has done, and it is evaluative in nature. Research has shown that this type of feedback to students has very little effect on student learning and can have a negative impact on student motivation to learn. Put simply, students tend to ignore comments when they are accompanied by grades or numerical scores. However, students pay much closer attention to written comments when they are not accompanied by a grade. Stephen Chappuis and Richard Stiggins found that “replacing judgmental feedback with specific, descriptive and immediate feedback benefits students.” Productive feedback tells students what they are doing right, pinpointing strengths, and helping learners develop those strengths even further.

The purpose of feedback is to enhance student achievement by emphasizing progress rather than deficiencies. In order for feedback to be meaningful, it is important for teachers to provide it in a timely manner. The sooner students receive feedback on their work, the greater the likelihood that they will learn and grow from the feedback that is provided. Teachers can give feedback through one-on-one conversations, or by circulating around the classroom and commenting on the student work that they see. Marzano has written that “the best feedback involves an explanation as to what is accurate and what is inaccurate in terms of student responses.” In addition, asking students to keep working on a task until they succeed will enhance achievement.

It is also important for feedback to be specific toward a standard or a benchmark. A student must know how closely he or she is coming to mastering the required learning. The teacher should let a student know the specific skill level or knowledge that a student has displayed, and what needs to happen to keep the student moving along the continuum to mastery. In order for feedback to be effective, the teacher should give guidance on how a student can make improvement.

Giving students effective feedback without letting them respond to the feedback by improving their work is an exercise in futility for both the student and the teacher. Students must have the opportunity to listen to what their teacher has said, to make adjustments in their work and to resubmit their assignments for further comments. It can be a matter of personal fulfillment for everyone involved in the learning process when a teacher can see the results of his or her efforts to improve learning.

When teachers provide feedback in a specific and proper manner, there is an added benefit to student learning. When students are given information about their progress, they begin to develop the skill of self-assessment. They can actually articulate what they have learned and what they still need to work on. Ultimately we do not want students to be completely dependent upon their teachers to let them know if they are learning. Self-assessment is a great life skill we can teach our students. The result can be that our students will have greater aspirations to succeed in the future, enjoy greater satisfaction from their learning, and set future performance goals.

Please download the Growth-Producing Feedback Discussion Tool to use with your faculty.

Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this blog post for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Oliver, Bruce. “Growth-Producing Feedback.” gotLearning. Reproduced with permission of Growth Over Time Learning (gotLearning). © 2022 gotlearning. All rights reserved. Available at www.gotlearning.com

gotLearning – 2021 in Review

2021 was a huge year for gotLearning. Taking the concept of a Collaborative Learning System from a 6th grade humanities classroom to a fully fledged platform available to all students, teachers and classrooms around the world has been a massive undertaking.

This would not have been possible without all of the feedback we have received from teachers, students, school administrators and parents from around the world. Thank you to each and everyone of you.

We are incredibly excited to continue our mission into 2022, but we would like to take a look back at what we all have accomplished in the past year.

gotLearning's Collaborative Learning System fills the instructional gap between the Learning Management System (LMS) the Student Information System (SIS).

Some of the highlights include:

  • The defining and creation of a new EdTech category – the Collaborative Learning System (CLS).
  • Partnering with our first customers.
  • gotLearning’s beta version was built by students. We then hired our own internal software engineering team to build on their work and take the software to general availability.
  • gotLearning is now available via all web browsers and devices including Mac, Chromebook, Windows, iPad, Android tablets and mobile devices.
  • gotLearning’s mobile apps allow students and teachers to do everything they can on the web app on their phones. An added bonus is the ability to scan in non-digital work via the mobile app into Learning Conversations.
  • Mobile apps are available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
  • Three editions are now available:
    • ProTeacher for individual educators to use in their own classrooms – free for SY 2021-2022.
    • Teams for up to five educators (teachers, educational specialists and school administrators) to collaborate about and across their classes and students.
    • School Edition for schools that want to be able to curate and share learning evidence involving all of their students and stakeholders (teachers, special educators, instructional coaches, counselors, school administrators etc.)
  • Improvements to learning conversations via feedback from students, teachers and administrators.
    • Integration with Google Classroom and Google Workspace for Education.
    • Improved linking to outside resources such as LMS and SIS platforms and your favorite EdTech tools such as FlipGrid and Kahn Academy etc.

We are incredibly excited to continue to provide an elegant new platform to curate and share learning evidence. Whether in-person, hybrid or remote, educators and students can show growth over time.

We are looking forward to helping students, teachers and schools personalize learning, build student agency, implement competency-based learning, standards-based grading (or even ungrading), teaching soft-skills and creating student centered classrooms.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from gotLearning!

If you want to learn more do not hesitate to contact us.

2,295 Sources of Qualitative Learning Data

I was astonished. 2,295 was the total. It was 2016 and I had just calculated the total number of qualitative learning data that I had to manage as a classroom teacher. I consider myself fairly technical and organized but it took me so long to find things which I now realized was because I was drowning in data. 

Now, to be clear, the data that I am talking about was not my students test scores or grades. My school’s student information system took care of that data. The data I am talking about is the important, daily learning generated by my students and included the following:

Handwritten rough drafts Notes from informal conversations with students Teacher and Peer Feedback
Student self reflections Informal checks for understaning Google Docs/Microsoft Word files
FlipGrid videos Student created podcasts Presentations (videos also the slide decks) including Pear Deck
Parlay discussions/Jamboard Jams Emails Summarizers used at the nef of class about the day's learning
Test Quizzes Homework
Goal setting documents Assessment tools like continuums and roadmaps

The above shows 17 sources of data regularly generated from/for each of my students. I had 135 students. Multiply those two and the total is 2,295 sources. My experience is the daily experience of the classroom teacher; trying to manage all the disparate sources of data that are generated by students throughout the day, week or month. Teachers understand how important these qualitative data sources are as they show the complexity of learning for each of our students and show their growth over time which for some was well beyond the grade level expectations and for others was below.

This rich learning data was individual to each student, helped me understand where students were in the moment, where I needed to take them and it told the story of my students’ learning. As important as that data is for teachers, how are we supposed to capture and manage all it especially when our current systems aren’t designed for this?

I was so troubled by this conundrum but my students just kept generating. They generated work through email, Google Docs/Slides/Sheets and the entire Microsoft Office Suite. They used NoRedInk, Khan Academy, TedTalks, Newsela, Kahoot, YouTube videos and my school’s Learning Management System (LMS).  The students were creating learning evidence on their phones, their laptops, on paper, with art, on the whiteboard, on post it notes, conversing with one another, conversing with me, self reflecting and the list goes on and on. It was wonderful because it showed the students learning in real time but it was overwhelming to manage.

I could not possibly capture and manage all of that learning data, but I thought…what if I had a platform that could capture a lot of it and, most importantly, it was a platform that the students and teachers co-created to communicate about their learning. Instead of using teacher-led platforms like the LMS, what if I could partner with the students to capture this rich learning data, put it in a longitudinal timeline, showing the students different iterations of their learning and growth and make it easily searchable like Google? What if I created a platform where students were at the center and helped manage their learning and growth?

So I set out a pretty wide search. The LMS was completely teacher-led and focused on the entire class – not individual students. However, the LMS does a great job of providing content and organizing assignments. I was looking for something that helped after the the initial learning activity occurred.  I couldn’t find anything designed with the students at the center and as co-creators. So, to make a long story short. I built one using business tools while teaching 6th grade English Language Arts and Social Studies. I refined it over a few years. I eventually left the classroom, ditched the business tools and built gotLearning version 2 from scratch – both a web version and mobile apps. With students as partners in capturing and communicating about their learning I now can manage all 2,295 sources of qualitative data to more robustly tell the story of their learning – and so can you. 

 

If you want to learn more do not hesitate to visit our main webpage or contact us

Classroom Platforms – CLS vs. LMS vs. SIS

In the education sector, we are seeing the increased interest and broader implementation of competency-based learning, personalized learning, standards-based grading, teaching soft-skills and building student agency among other things. Twenty months into the pandemic schools are forced to reflect on some of their long held practices that were upended due to virtual learning and to devise ways to partner with students and their families in more student focused ways than ever before. 

While these student-focused methods are shifting our educational approaches, we are trying to implement these shifts with tools that were designed for more typical, teacher focused school structures. Take for instance the Learning Management System (LMS). SoftArc was the first to arrive in K12 education in 1990, followed at a wider scale by Blackboard in 1999 (note: I started the K12 group at Blackboard.) Currently, the K12 market is dominated by PowerSchool’s Schoology, Instructure’s Canvas and Moodle. Each of these is true to the LMS name – managing a classroom using the traditional teacher/class/student design. The LMS is a great tool for a teacher to share class information online. However, education is much more than sharing content with students.

John Hattie in his book Visible Learning states:

“The act of teaching reaches its epitome of success after the lesson has been structured, after the content has been delivered, and after the classroom has been organized. The art of teaching, and its major successes, relate to ‘what happens next’”.

The LMS focuses on structuring the lesson, organizing the online classroom and delivering content, but what go-to platform do we have for the most important part of learning “what happens next?” We have so much data generated from our classrooms; it’s like the wild west. No platform exists (until now) to help teachers and students navigate the “what happens next?”.

Consider this scenario, a teacher shares an assignment in their LMS, a student generates a rough draft in google docs, they conduct peer discussions in Parlay while editing in their google docs. The teacher then asks the students to reflect on their thinking in FlipGrid and submit their final work in an online portfolio. Take that scenario and layer on the typical teacher load of 100-125 students and you can see how hard it is to manage so many disparate sources of data. 

Teachers are setting up systems in online drives, storing videos in online video systems, storing data in instructional sites (like NoRedInk, Khan Academy, Algebra Nation), and this doesn’t even include the student constructed, non-digital work. Yet, we haven’t had one place to capture this important work, nor have we organized it according to the student and the duration of their experience (over the year or many years). We need one place to capture/link to this qualitative learning data that tells the story of a student’s learning and it needs to be focused around the student. Enter the Collaborative Learning System (CLS). 

The important and missing element from a teacher’s EdTech arsenal is the ability to capture the back and forth conversations about learning between a student and their teacher. Educators know these conversations are where so much learning occurs and as John Hattie states – “what happens next” is what matters. By having the right tools to personalize learning for each student a teacher can not only meet their needs but show growth over time using qualitative learning evidence. We designed the Collaborative Learning System (CLS) out of necessity and implemented in the classroom to capture this qualitative data. This platform makes it easy for both the student and teacher to add, communicate and revise work all the while incorporating self, peer and teacher feedback and reflection. Through the CLS, students are partners in co-creating their learning story and showing growth all while developing student agency.

We designed the CLS to be built around how a school pedagogically operates. Foremost, we put students at the center with a focus on the qualitative data that tells the story of learning overtime. Secondly, we designed it around how contemporary schools and classrooms operate including the partnerships with the special educators, instructional coaches, teaching assistants, emerging language learning educators, counselors, psychologists, school administrators, parents, etc. We designed gotLearning’s CLS to ensure the particular nuances of these roles are addressed. For instance, a special education teacher may be a co-teacher in one class, teach multiple self-contained classes of their own and also need to support students in other classes. We have designed a way for the special educators to manage their student support under those different structures in partnership with other team members and with a focus on students. School administrators, as the instructional leaders, need to quickly understand how students are doing beyond attendance or grades. Our CLS allows administrators and specialists to see the student level qualitative learning data in real time across their entire school. The CLS supports a whole child approach allowing easy collaboration and support, student by student. 

We also knew that the CLS needed to integrate with education systems world wide. It is purpose built for the contemporary classroom focusing on the student but designed to be  flexible. Our CLS is technology agnostic allowing teachers and students to use the technologies that they already know. Content agnostic allowing teachers and students to choose their own illustrative content. And process agnostic allowing users to organize and communicate how they want to communicate. Finally, there is a platform designed with students truly at the center, allowing them to partner in their learning, easily communicate with others and demonstrate growth overtime. 

If you want to learn more do not hesitate to visit our main webpage or contact us.

Articles, Books and Research That Guide Us

As teachers we have all had those moments that have greatly influenced us. This post shares a few of the articles and books that have guided the educators at gotLearning.

Carl Anderson’s book

How’s it Going?

The question “How’s it Going?” is so incredibly powerful when you use it with a student. I was lucky enough to watch Carl work with students in my classroom! He truly used the phrase “How’s it Going?” with the students. What happened next was 10 minutes of masterful conferring with 4 students during a writing lesson. The learning conversations he had with them provided incredible feedback that was goal-referenced and actionable. This experience with Carl and the book solidified for me that the conversations with students about their thinking/work is where so much learning occurs.

Available from the publisher’s website.

Grant Wiggin’s article

“Seven Keys to Effective Feedback“

Grant Wiggin’s article “Seven Keys to Effective Feedback” is pure gold in regard to what feedback is and what it is not. My favorite part of the article:

Feedback Essentials:
Whether feedback is just there to be grasped or is provided by another person, helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent.”

This is a worthy read for all educators, coaches and anyone else who gives feedback to others. There are also great examples of each of the feedback essentials. Available on the ASCD website.

Paula Rutherford’s

Instruction for All Students

Besides this being written by my first year mentor teacher, this is my go to “If I was teaching on a desert island what book would you bring?” answer. One of my favorite quotes is:

“A wise educator said: We will conduct all of our interactions with students based on the most current data, research and current thinking in our field. When this information changes we will change our practice.” Paula continues with “I do not believe that this statement in any way implies that we should continue to hop from bandwagon to bandwagon looking for materials and programs that will ensure quick fixes or successes. Quite the contrary. It means that we must constantly reach out to analyze, reflect on and react to the massive body of research on teaching and learning that comes not only from those doing formal research, but also from those of us working directly with students.”

This book is dog-eared, coffee stained and been referenced more than any other book I own.

For more information visit the Just ASK Publications & Professional Development website.

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s

Understanding by Design

Over 20 years later, Understanding by Design (UbD) is still influencing the thinking and planning of educators worldwide. The premise is simple in process but profound in its impact. Plan backwards from your goals and base your goals on transferable performances of understanding. Assess student performance against the goals throughout the learning process and use feedback to help students as they learn and grow. UbD’s “think like an assessor” is fundamental to the development of gotLearning and educators who are familiar with the tenets of UbD will comfortably incorporate this platform into their educational practice.

The clarity and simplicity of the backward design process and the corresponding UbD template allows educators worldwide to use this thinking in their context and adjust the process to their needs. gotLearning’s platform is designed with the same idea, create a clear and elegant process, laser focused on the essential elements of how classroom conversations work, allowing educators worldwide to use this platform in their context. 

Bruce Oliver’s article

“Growth-Producing Feedback”

Bruce Oliver’s wife Nancy was my 8th grade counselor – she was (and still is amazing). When I was a K12 technology training specialist I was lucky enough to work with Bruce when he was a middle school principal. His article “Growth Producing Feedback” is a must read for all teachers. While there are a multitude of resources (including research) explaining the importance of feedback, this article is the perfect spark for a teacher to immediately change and improve their practice. The best part is the Growth-Producing Feedback Discussion Tool that you can use with your colleagues to talk about what is and is not growth-producing. In my teaching and athletic coaching I consistently refer back to the phrase “Growth-Producing Feedback” to make sure the feedback I am providing is goal-oriented, emphasizing progress, timely.

The full article is available from Just ASK Publications & Professional Development’s website

John Hattie’s book

Visible Learning

Hatties research synthesis highlights the importance of feedback. Feedback is central to my teaching, empowers students and is exactly why I built gotLearning in the first place. Hattie refers to the “what happens next” phase of learning and describes it as follows in his book. 

“As will be argued throughout this book, the act of teaching reaches its epitome of success after the lesson has been structured, after the content has been delivered, and after the classroom has been organized. The art of teaching, and its major successes, relate to “what happens next” – the manner in which the teacher reacts to how the student interprets, accommodates, rejects, and/or reinvents the content and skills, how the student relates and applies the content to other tasks, and how the student reacts in light of success or failure apropos the content and the methods that the teacher has taught.

This perfectly describes the importance of the learning conversation. The back and forth between the student and teacher(s) is the “what happens next” – the “art of teaching and its major successes”. This sums up why I built the first version of gotLearning as a middle school teacher.

John Hattie’s Visible Learning is available from his website.

The Importance of Learning Conversations

What is a Learning Conversation?

Learning is complex. It all starts with learning goals and student outcomes. Typically, it starts with a learning engagement (activity) to provide an introduction to a concept. Students participate in a trial and error phase that includes feedback from peers and from their teacher. The student reflects upon this information. The student may implement corrective actions and request additional feedback. Many call this a feedback loop. Re-teaching may may need to occur.

Each of these interactions with students is different. Student learning is individualistic. The teacher works with each student to meet their diverse learning needs. This requires the teacher and the student to remember where the conversation left off from the previous interaction whether face-to-face or asynchronous via an email, message or written feedback on paper. The sheer number of students and the multiple conversations per student along with the sources of where qualitative learning data may reside (notebook, papers, posters, cloud based applications, videos, emails, EdTech learning tools etc.) is Herculean organizational task for any teacher. On the student side, in the middle school and high school models, they have to manage seven to eight classes and the learning conversations they have with their teachers. Also, quite an organizational task.

In 2016, I had come to the realization that I was spending nearly half of my time searching for elements of these conversations. For example, in a lesson where students were to determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details can be incredibly hard to organizationally manage let alone provide individual feedback to students. In this particular lesson students had already been through a class example and were attempting to determine the theme or central idea on the novel that they were reading. With over 100 students, this is 100 different texts and 100 different sets of feedback. Did the students write their thoughts in their notebooks or in an online document? The feedback that I provided each of them is individualized and incredibly important. Will I remember in a week what that feedback was? Has the student shown growth from that feedback or do I need to reteach?

As John Hattie states in his book Visible Learning, “the act of teaching reaches its epitome of success after the lesson has been structured, after the content has been delivered, and after the classroom has been organized. The art of teaching and major successes relate to ‘what happens next’”.

The “next” referenced above is the learning conversation.

As a classroom teacher, over a couple of school years, I refined what I and my fellow teachers and our students needed for our learning conversations. This is how gotLearning was born and matured. It allowed a teacher to manage individual student learning journeys. During this time a couple of really cool things happened. We realized how much more time we had to focus on student learning instead of searching for where an online word processing document was stored (google Docs, Microsoft Word, Apple Pages) only to realize the student had turned it in hand-written on paper.

The more we used this new tool, the more valuable it became. As a teacher I was able to review feedback that I had previously given to a student. Feedback and reflections were no longer only in one place. I now had a copy of it and so did the student. We both could refer back to it and build upon it. At parent-teacher conferences we were able to show a student’s growth from August to October. We did this by showing qualitative evidence.

View a Learning Conversation in gotLearning.

 

 

Cited Works:

Hattie, John. Visible Learning: a Synthesis of over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Routledge, 2010.

What is gotLearning?

Why exactly did we create Growth Over Time Learning (gotLearning)? As with anything, there is a story. Our founder, Mike Rutherford, returned to the classroom after many years in the private sector. Mike found that the classroom had definitely changed. Each of his students now had a laptop and access to the internet. The amount of qualitative data that he had to manage as a classroom teacher was incredible. Mike’s problem was not with quantitative data – the SIS and grade book did a great job of keeping grades and attendance. It was the qualitative data that was overwhelming. This included: notebooks, paper assignments, conversations with students, emails, feedback on rough drafts, revisions, student reflections, corrections, conferring notes, work stored on EdTech learning apps, videos, podcasts and countless naming and organizational systems of documents and folders on cloud apps etc.

Trying to keep track of all these places where learning data is kept was a huge task just for one student. However, Mike had a 135 students!

gotLearning was created to help teachers and students be more efficient and effective with their learning conversations.

Student learning is in our DNA. Enough so that a former student of our founder created the Growth Over Time Learning logo and even provided this pictorial description. Thanks Daiki Shinomiya!