Saturday, May 17, 2014


    CHOICE is something that has not been a traditional part of education.  Essentially, education operated top down.  Educators gave out information and learners took in the information.  Officials and institutions created curriculum and dictated the instructional model, while students complied. It was primarily one way and students did not have much opportunity to choose anything related to what they learned, how they learned, where they learned and more.
      If students made it as far as college, and survived their first two years of requirements, they were allowed to then pursue their major, their primary interest area or their career.
      But in the first 13 years of education, there have been very few choices for students.  In middle school and high school, we are offered a handful of electives.  And in the previous 20 years, our country almost completely decimated many elective programs with an over-the-top focus on core academics and testing.

      But why is choice important in learning? Well first, when one chooses something to learn or study, there is a psychological difference.  It implies that if one chose to be there, the automatic buy-in is usually higher. 
     The American Psychological Association has studied this phenomenon of the impact of choice in learning and how it affects student motivation, student ownership and autonomy – all increasing student learning success. 
     Barbara McCombs, PhD at the University of Denver, wrote an academic article entitled Developing Responsible and Autonomous Learners:  A Key to Motivating Students.  McCombs proposes that allowing for choice allows students to feel that they have control or ownership over their own learning.
      “Choice helps them develop a sense of responsibility and self-motivation. When students feel a sense of ownership, they want to engage in academic tasks and persist in learning,” said McCombs.
       McCombs and her area of study appear to be essential to the future of learning in a 21st century society.  This is that our motivation to learn increases when we are part of that learning through choices we make.  And therefore, choice leads to more and higher levels of learning.  To see more of this article, go to the following: 
      Choice creates empowerment and learning is about empowerment. The more a student takes ownership and becomes involved in their learning, the further and deeper they will go.       Why does post-secondary education like college have so much staying power?  Well, because one does not have to go.  One is choosing it, paying for it and making a conscious choice.
     The charter school movement has created a whole new avenue for choice.   Allowing students to choose the best school for them is a huge step in the right direction.  College is like this, so why shouldn’t elementary, middle and high school be like this?  Again, the beginning of real learning is when the student owns their learning and is bought in as well.      

      And this comes from choosing what one learns, how one learns and where one learns. In high school, we have embraced the comprehensive high school that functions as one size fits all.  Other nations figure out long ago that one high school won’t fit everyone.  They set up systems of different types of schools with different focus areas, skill sets and more in order to address the need for choice.
      We had Magnet Schools for years and they are all about choice.
      And what are teachers and schools doing now?  Well, they are continuing to expand and implement choice into their programs in order to increase student ownership and eventually learning. 
     Teachers at my school have developed project menus whereby students choose from a list of projects and approaches in order to meet an expectation.  And they can always suggest a project not on the menu to the teacher.   Check out an example of project menus from an English class at the following link:
     Many schools have looked at schedules and programs as a way to create more choice.  Our school has the eight-period schedule in order to give students many more elective offerings over their four-year career.   See the current course catalog at my school that is an example of their ever-expanding diverse electives one can offer:
     Many schools are developing pathways now where students can meet requirements to graduate, but through a specialized or theme-based approach allowing for their specific career interests areas and passions to be utilized throughout the core curriculum.
     With the integration of technology, as well as educators seeing the learning power of choice, students can now use personalized tools and devices, skills, interests and methodologies in order to not only complete school work, but hopefully at a much more deeper and higher level.

      Choice has not been part of our educational mindset.  But as the need for higher levels of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication increase; we will need students who take on more ownership and autonomy.  This will allow for all students to achieve and be connected to their learning.
    Educators will need to continue to approach learning from the learner’s needs and interests and develop appropriate choices around that.   We all need to choose CHOICE.  LET’S ALL BE PRO-CHOICE TOWARDS EDUCATION!!!

(photos courtesy of Foter)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Beyond the Standard Standards

     Since I became a professional educator in 1990, there has been a focus on what we teach.  Sometime it has been a focus on what students should learn.  Either way, there has been an on-going discussion on what our students should be doing while at school and what will prepare them for their futures.
      Naturally, this seems like a reasonable idea.  However, there is not agreement here.  For years, it was about subject content and competencies.  In California, we had the Frameworks that were supposed to be guides as to what to teacher at every grade level in every subject area.
      Then, we had the State Standards that took the content goals to the next level.  We now had tests on content in all core subjects at each grade level.  Students were expected to “know” certain things and demonstrate that on the multiple-choice tests.
     In high school specifically, we’ve also had our requirements.  For example, there is A-G that the colleges and universities to determine which courses and their completion are necessary for post-secondary success or admission.
     Then, because of accreditation and entities like WASC, we’ve had things like ESLRs (Expected School wide Learning Results).
      Again, to some degree, we’ve continued to wrestle with what we’re supposed to teach and what students are supposed to learn.  Based on the changing nature of the world in every facet – economically, socially, financially, technologically, etc. – it seems logical as well that our learning goals – or standards – would change and evolve too.
    In recent years, we have seen things like the Partnerships for 21st Century skills (  This has been an effort to acknowledge that the world is changing and that there needs to be an educational focus on things like the Four C’s (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical Thinking), as we as Information & Media Literacy, Life & Career Skills and more.
      And now, we also have the Common Core Stand Standards.  This seems to be an effort to get away from knowing content to rather performing or doing something with content.  There is a greater focus on critical thinking, analysis, problem solving and process vs. just the answer.  That may be oversimplified, but we need to summarize where we’ve been and where we’re going.  And Naturally, this will affect not only the curriculum & instruction, but the assessments and a whole lot more.
      Again, it seems logical that our standards would evolve.  It also seems reasonable that our educators, students and others would like a road map or plan.  And maybe it’s ok that we’re not in agreement.  Maybe in the world of choice, learners can choose which set of standards they would like to pursue and be held accountable for………probably too crazy right?
      However, in my estimation, I would like to see the high school standards become more specific and go to the next level to say the least.  Maybe reflection of standards should be a standard.  Regardless, here are some specific standards, or learning goals, that I’d like to see all high school students have:

·      All students will have an Individual Learning Plan or Individual Passion Plan where they get to choose area of interest to learn and study in both core and elective courses.
·      All students will have access to one-to-one digital technology for all classes in high school
·      All students will have a digital portfolio and professional website that has to be publicly shared, as well as presented to with peers, teachers and community members at least once per year.
·      All students will receive annual instruction on professional social media use and use social media as part of their professional and academic work.
·      All students will learn financial literacy in every math course they take.
·      All students will have STEM/STEAM opportunities and activities in their math classes.
·      All English classes will teach, model and require digital publishing.
·      All students will have at least one formal on campus staff mentor.
·      All students will have at least one formal off campus professional mentor.
·      All students will complete quarterly surveys of their instruction and curriculum for continual improvement purposes