From the Research: Focus on “Learning” over “Performance”

Last week the Nation’s Report Card came out with these headlines from EdWeek:

‘No Progress’ Seen in Reading or Math on Nation’s Report Card

This is rather dismal news and should be a wake up call. What we should do now is to look closely on why we are seeing these results. Consider “standardized tests” that are based on performance and may be driving this data in a direction we do not want to continue. Let’s begin a new conversation in education with a focus on “learning” instead of “performance”. That means for all learners! Peggy Carr, the associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the NAEP, states this:

In fact, over the long term in reading, the lowest-performing students—those readers who struggle the most—have made no progress from the first NAEP administration almost 30 years ago.”

How do we change the conversation and the outcomes for the learners in our classrooms? Look at the research and ask yourself…

Why Focus on “Learning” over “Performance”

Some 8 years ago in my research on learners, learning and learning-centered environments, I came across a researcher who had done significant research on learning. Chris Watkins from the Institute on Education (IoE) – University of London published his research in the Summer of 2010 titled INSI Research Matters – “Learning, Performance and Improvement“. 

He points out that the review of the evidence is based on a reading of more than 100 classroom-based research studies. Most importantly, he states that…

“the evidence leads to the conclusion that learning about learning is a practically viable and educationally important strategy which also has the effect of improving performance.”

I would suggest that you delve deep into this report, maybe create a study group to begin the conversation about learning and how it should be the focus in creating inclusive learner-centered environments in your school where every learner progresses. The major takeaway I had after reading this report is this single statement:

A focus on learning can enhance performance, whereas a focus on performance (alone) can depress performance.

 

The Key Issue: A Learner’s Orientation

One of the findings that is important to point out from Chris Watkins’ research is that “studies of motivation, development and achievement, by many research teams across a number of decades and many countries, a recurring distinction arises. Any learner can, in a given context, adopt an orientation which can be described on the dimension below:”

Learning vs. Performance: What Do you Want Happening in Your School and Classroom?

To give you a clearer picture of what the difference is between “Learning and Performance”, I have taken the findings of the research by Chris Watkins to create some points of conversation we should all have as we decide how we may want to change our school and classroom cultures so that we can actually improve the outcomes for all of our learners.

Infographic on Learning versus performance

 

After delving into the research and in having the important conversations on how we can improve the outcomes for every learner in our schools, consider this next important question:

How do we create school and classroom cultures in which learning is valued more than performance?

 

Reference:

EdWeek: ‘No Progress’ Seen in Reading or Math on Nation’s Report Card bssparks@epe.org)

Watkins, C. (2010). Learning, Performance and Improvement. INSI Research Matters, 34, Retrieved May 10, 2013, from International Network for School Improvement Web site: http://www.ioe.ac.uk/about/documents/Watkins_10_Lng_Perf_Imp_ev.pdf

Learner Profiles Lead to Agency and Self-Advocacy in a WI High School

Guest Post by Andelee Espinosa, Special Education Teacher, Brookfield Central High School, Brookfield, WI

During the spring of 2017, about 20 teachers at my school did a book study on, “How to Personalize Learning,” by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey. This was during a time when our district was just beginning to use the words personalized learning. Elements of personalized learning were creeping into classrooms and there was confusion about what our instruction was supposed to look like. As a high school Special Education teacher who co-teaches and case manages, I planned along side my co-teacher, Mike Mohammed (@Mo_physics), and we moved toward more Project Based Learning opportunities. I observed quickly where the pitfalls for learners with disabilities, or executive function deficits, were in a personalized learning environment and designed specifically for them in the classroom. The main area that I saw amplified as a pitfall was agency.


Learner Profiles: My Personal Entry into Personalized Learning

As we had planned for in the past, there were supports in place for organization, means to access the content and differentiated content as appropriate. However, now learners were being given choices and freedom in how they learned but they couldn’t clearly identify who they are as learners in order to make choices that set them up for success while still encouraging growth through challenges. If our learners are going to be having more choice in their education, they were going to need to be able to articulate, with confidence, what their strengths and challenges are and advocate for supports that help them. After reading the book, there was one chapter that really spoke to me. That was on Learner Profiles in Chapter 4 “Discover the Learner in Every Child” of How to Personalize Learning.

Since beginning my career nearly 20 years ago, I have always made sure my high school learners had an active voice in their IEP meetings, often leading the discussion. This involvement looked different for each learner but I always felt it was critical to building ownership, agency and self-advocacy skills. After reading about Learner Profiles, I knew my personal entry point into personalized learning. I became a fast adopter of the “Who I Am As a Learner” Part 1 and 2 charts.

Learner Profile Leads to Agency and Self-Advocacy 

Today, each child on my caseload has a Learner Profile that we update yearly, sometimes twice a year. Depending on the individual, this process is done interview style or through a conversation. Some of my more independent learners who are familiar with the process are able to fill out the checklists independently and populate their chart using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express (aligned to the Universal Design for Learning Principles). Brad’s Learner Profile below is an excellent example of what a learner is able to share about who they are, how they learn (strengths, challenges, preferences and needs) and what they aspire to be.

brads learner profile

This document is updated before I even begin writing their annual IEP and it’s where real conversations about hopes and dreams, strengths and challenges, and what helps them learn take place. Aligning my IEP writing to the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express allowed the Learner Profile to seamlessly fit into my practice. I find the Learner Profile has allowed learners to have a greater voice during their meetings and therefore become better advocates for themselves in the classroom. This advocacy piece is so important as I prepare them for life after public school when they are completely on their own.

Rethinking IEP Meetings and Goals – Learners Lead

IEP meetings start with the learner introducing the team.

After receiving feedback from a parent that meetings are often overwhelming because of the number of people, I implemented name placards. The learner creates them, often just using laminated card stock and dry erase markers. They each create a Google slide deck that takes the team through all the parts of the IEP but we begin with hopes and dreams first: whatever that post-secondary goal is. Therefore, the learner and I take the team through the Post-Secondary Transition Plan (PTP) which defines the goal. As the highlight of the meeting, we move into the Learner Profile which is projected on a screen at the front of the conference room and team members are given hard copies. As the learners get older and have gone through this process multiple times, they have been known to find a variety of ways to personally communicate who they are as a learner using sketchnoting, videos or presentations. By the time the learner is done explaining their Learner Profile, much of the strengths, challenges, present level of performance and supplementary aids and services have been addressed in an engaging manner. The team discusses progress towards IEP goals but within the context of how those goals support the hopes and dreams of the learner.

Our Why with learner profiles

The Learner Profile is a powerful document which isn’t just used during the IEP development but as a communication tool between learners and their classroom teachers. This document is shared with general education teachers at the beginning of the term, in addition to the paperwork I also provide to make sure accommodations are being provided. I’ve used the creation of the Learner Profile as part of the specially designed instruction provided to address self-advocacy or executive functions.

The process of learners creating their own Learner Profiles is one that creates agency and promotes self-advocacy.

 

Andelee Espinosa

Andelee Espinosa (@AndeleeEspinosa) is a Special Education Teacher at Brookfield Central High School, Brookfield Wisconsin and a National Board Certified Teacher.  She is passionate about meaningful inclusive practices, Universal Design for Learning, Personalized Learning, strengthening co-teaching teams, utilizing Learner Profiles to help learners better advocate for themselves in the classroom and conducting learner-led IEP meetings. She enjoys integrating activities that promote collaboration, critical thinking and communication such as BreakoutEDU and Project Based Learning in her classes. In addition to case managing, she co-teaches Biology and Physics. Outside of school, Andelee has been involved in Destination Imagination and enjoys spending time getting dirty in her butterfly garden or cooking with local and seasonal ingredients.

Follow her on Twitter: @AndeleeEspinosa and on LinkedIn.

To keep on top of her inclusive learning practices, check out Andelee’s Blog.

The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express is a trademark of Kathleen McClaskey

A Learner with Agency is a Learner Who is Future Ready!

 

What should we promise our learners as they walk through the schoolhouse door each day? What can you promise them this year and every year? The answer is simply “Learner Agency”! If your vision and beliefs as an educator is to assure that every child becomes an independent, self-directed learner so that they have choices in college, career, and life, then how do you plan to fulfill the promise of learner agency? Let’s take a look at some ideas that could get you to that promise, but before we do, let’s dive deeper into what it is, what it looks like and why it should be our promise!

 

What is Learner Agency?

In the most simple terms, Learner Agency is “the power to act”. It is about empowering each learner to take ownership to their learning, to have a voice and choice in their learning with the understanding and ability to take action around their learning. Learner agency flourishes in learning-centered environments where the classroom culture is build on trust, respect, and mindfulness and where learners are co-designers of learning alongside their teacher. As you are creating a culture of agency, the most important thing to remember is there is a process to create a classroom culture where the learner is at the center, empowered to take action of their learning. It is most important for you to understand what this process looks like from the perspective of the learner. Discover this and more in the Crosswalk of Learner Agency Across the Stages (see below).

 

What Learner Agency Looks Like

In 2016, How to Personalize Learning was published where we decided to include an entire chapter on learner agency. In Chapter 3 we included the 7 Elements of Learner Agency along with a set of illustrated continuums and descriptions for each of the elements: Voice, Choice, Engagement, Motivation, Ownership, Purpose and Self-efficacy. The infographic below was created from the “Crosswalk of Learner Agency Across the Stages” chart in How to Personalize Learning. It is designed to provide insight of what the learner is doing in each of the 7 elements of learner agency across the Stages of Personalized Learning Environments (PLE), v. 5.

In whatever stage that you are in, consider using this chart as a way to self-assess what is happening with your learners and to appreciate that each learner is unique in the way that they learn and at the pace in which they are developing agency in their learning. But where do we begin to understand the uniqueness of each learner? The first step is for learners to create their Learner Profile using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™ so that they can articulate who they are, how they learn and what they aspire to be. In the Learner Profile, each learner can now share their strengths and challenges in how they Access and process information, how they Engage with content and concepts and how they Express what they know and understand. With this information, learners can discuss with their teachers how they can build a Personal Learning Backpack™ of tools and skills to support their learning and then set learning goals in a Personal Learning Plan designed to enhance a strength or support a challenge so they can become more independent and develop agency.

Agency across the stages of personalized learning environments

Why Learner Agency Should be our Promise

When learners experience agency, they can realize their hopes and dreams and make informed choices for college, career, and life. With agency, a child has the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn in a world where jobs have yet to be imagined. Remember that learner agency also provides a reason to commit, take risks, and persist in the face of challenges and setbacks. The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express and personalized learning can be the centerpieces to fulfill the promise of agency for every learner. Always remember…”A Learner with Agency is a Learner who is Future Ready!”

 

The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express, Personal Learning Backpack and Personal Learning Plan are trademarks of Kathleen McClaskey.

 

For the Learner, the UDL Lens begins with “ACCESS”

Doscover the learner using the UDL LensIn working with educators from around the country and in Europe the last 3 years, I have had the pleasure in showing them how to use the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express to help empower learners to understand the what, why and how of their learning. The 3-step “Discover the Learner”™ process is intentionally designed for each learner to develop the skills to support their own learning so they can become independent, self-directed learners, learners with agency.


A question came up about why the UDL Lens begins with Access, the “what” of learning. They pointed to the definition of UDL in How to Personalize Learning (Bray and McClaskey, 2016), Chapter 2 that…

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that provides equity for all individuals so they have opportunities to learn. UDL provides a framework for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone—not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.”

You see the UDL Guidelines where changed in 2014 to begin with the “why of learning” for curriculum development and that is the point; it is a framework for creating universally designed lessons. The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express was designed to empower the learner to understand the what, why and how of their learning.

These educators also shared a blog post where the author emphasized that learners needed to be engaged before they are given access to the content. The author used herself as a learner to describe “engagement” and why it should come first. This added to the confusion among educators so the intention of this post will hopefully “clear the air” in why Access comes first for the learner and how using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express can lead to learner agency. But before we do that, let’s take a look at a brief history of UDL.

A Bit of History Behind UDL – A Framework for Curriculum and Instruction

The originators of UDL (Dr. David Rose and Anne Meyer) from CAST reintroduced the UDL principles and guidelines (2014) in its publication Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014) and changed the sequence of the UDL principles to begin with “why of learning”. The original UDL principles began with the “what of learning” (multiple means of representation) for almost 20 years. In it’s revision in 2014, CAST wanted to point out the importance of engagement in curriculum development and instruction in how teachers should first provide options for engagement, the “why of learning”. This made sense in that the focus in how to engage learners in the lesson should be considered first when universally designing instruction.

 

For the Learner, the UDL Lens begins with “Access”

Giving access to the content for all learners is by far the most important step when designing instruction or introducing new content or concepts. Understanding what your learners’ strengths and challenges in accessing information is key in designing lesson materials that will accessible to all the learners in your classroom from the start. Access as described in this chart below comes directly from the UDL principle of multiple means of representation, the “what of learning”. Access takes different forms of representation so that the learner can transform and process information into useable knowledge and become an active participant in their learning.

UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express

Consider the variability of the learners you may have so that each has Access to the content, anytime and anywhere.

  • For all learners, accessing and understanding the vocabulary as it relates to the content in a lesson is critical before engaging the learner.
  • For the learner who has difficulty reading, lesson materials would need to be in a digital format so they can use a text-to-speech tool to access the information or in an audio format or combination thereof.
  • For the learner who has visual impairments or blindness, audio and/or Braille files of the lesson materials would be needed at a minimum to provide access.
  • Learn more about the ways that educators provide access to the curriculum at the National Center for Accessible Educational Materials (AEM).

 

The Progression in Developing Expert Learners (Learners with Agency)

The purpose in using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express is to empower each learner to understand the strengths and challenges they have in accessing information, engaging with content and expressing what they know and understand. This chart below shows the progression from left to right where you begin thinking about how you can provide accessibility for the variability that your learners have in their learning. In the next progression, you want learners to develop specific skills and learning strategies to support their learning through guided practice. With daily independent and self-directed practice over time, the learner becomes resourceful and knowledgeable, purposeful and motivated, strategic and goal-directed—an expert learner, a learner with agency.

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UDL lens of Access Engage and express progressions chart[From How to Personalize Learning, Chapter 2. Table content adapted from CAST, Universal Design for Learning Guidelines, Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice, 2014]

 

It is an important distinction for educators to know that they are not creating experts. They are creating learners who are capable of being self-directed and self-reflective.” Steve Nordmark @snordmark

 

Learn more about the 3-Step “Discover the Learner”™ process in these posts on the Learner Profile™, Personal Learning Backpack™ and Personal Learning Plan™.

The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express, Learner Profile™, Personal Learning Backpack™ and Personal Learning Plan™. Discover the Learner™ are trademarks of Kathleen McClaskey.

 

 

Changing Perceptions: Every Child is a Learner

Last year I posted a blog, “Learner vs. Student: Who do You Want in Your Classroom”, that encouraged intensive discussions about why we should use the term ‘learners’ instead of ‘students’. Many agreed that ‘learner’ is the appropriate term we need to use since we want every child to be recognized as a learner. An important question was raised in the infographic in that post where a question was proposed:

How do we create a school culture in which being a learner
is more valuable than being a student?


Our current school culture rewards children when they are “good students.” Children are considered good students when they follow directions, complete their homework, study for tests and earn good grades. The current culture often does not necessarily recognize or value when children are “good learners.” Let’s dive a little deeper into how we can begin to create a culture where all learners are valued.

If you remove the veil of disability, you will see the learner.”

Kathleen McClaskey (2008)

 

Schools have spent the last four decades labeling children who are considered not to be good students while developing their own perceptions of their capabilities. At the same time, many of these children compare themselves to other children and internalize what they cannot do or learn. It is a natural behavior for children to compare themselves to others, all the time developing a perception of themselves that they are different, cannot learn or do not learn like other children. In fact, we often treat them differently by our words and actions. A common practice for poor readeers is that we assign a different book, a book at a lower grade level or sometimes have someone read to them. It does not take long for these children to develop their own perceptions that they are not learners, a stigma that sometimes lasts for years, if not a lifetime.

How do we change our perceptions of learners?

How do learners change perceptions of themselves? 

How do we help every child see themselves as learners every day? 

 

First, we need to discover the learner in every child and how they learn best. One of the best ways to do that is to use the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™ where the learner creates a Learner Profile to share their strengths and challenges in how they Access and process information, Engage with content and Express what they know and understand.

Empower Learners with the UDL Lens

The UDL Lens can be used to understand ALL learners!

Kathleen McClaskey (2014)

 

Validate the Learner

The learner uses the UDL Lens to share their strengths and challenges in learning, their preferences or needs to Access, Engage and Express™ as well as their aspirations, talents and interests. At that moment when a learner is able to tell their story about how they learn with their teacher, the “partnership in learning” begins between the teacher and the learner. This opens the door for the teacher to have a conversation with the learner about learning goals, skills and strategies that the learner needs to work on to reduce any barriers and maximize learning. The undeniable outcome in using the UDL Lens is that the learner has been validated as a learner. This is something that rarely occurs today in anyone’s education and will have a positive and profound impact for any learner.

For learners to grow and flourish, we need to create learning environments where every child is recognized as a learner. A school culture that values every learner will empower them to discover the joy of learning. We need to create learning environments that…

  • guide learners to think deeply about their learning,
  • teach them how to make sense of their learning.
  • help every learner set learning goals and action steps to develop the skills to support their learning,
  • understand the tools, resources and strategies each learner needs,
  • assist learners in developing the skills to be independent and self-directed, learners with agency, and
  • nurture their talents, interests and aspirations so they can realize their hopes and dreams. 

Consider this…

Tomorrow when you arrive in your classroom, envision every child as learner and then use the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™ to discover the learner in every child. Once you are aware of what each learner needs and how they prefer to learn, you are taking the first step in establishing a school culture where learners are valued and created.


To learn more about using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™ and the “Discover the Learner” 3-step process, read Chapter 4, Discover the Learner in Every Child, in How to Personalize Learning,

The UDL of Access, Engage and Express is a trademark of Kathleen McClaskey.