Last June, the South Orangetown Central School District’s Extended Leadership Team (XLT) started to unpack the details of what teachers would be teaching and students would be learning when school started in September. We begin each school year with an understanding that we have a responsibility to strive for constant improvement – that there is a valid purpose for all of our actions with an outcome that prepares our students for “an ever-changing world.” So naturally, before we develop an understanding of “what we are going to do” we have to start with a discussion that is centered on the question of “why are we going to do it?” At the South Orangetown Central School District, when we develop a lesson, unit of instruction, or a programmed course of learning for students we always start with the fundamental question as to whether what we are doing is “cute or does it count?” For an instructional practice “to count” or to be relevant it must meet some general criteria. The criteria that many schools have considered are centered on the “four shifts” described by Dr. Scott McLeod and Dean Shareski in their book, Different Schools for a Different World, School Improvement for 21st Century Skills, Global Citizenship, and Deeper Learning (McLeod, S. and Shareski, 2017). Here, the authors present us with those fundamental shifts that must occur if instruction is going to make learning more relevant and personalized. I recently had the chance to speak with Scott McLeod at the National Center for Educational Research and Technology (NCERT) Conference. Here, he emphasized that the shifts that make learning “count” are:
- The shift from factual recall to higher-level thinking (deeper learning): Shifting from instructional practices that require students to practice simple fact acquisition and procedural routines to one in which students work on tasks of greater complexity including creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and effective communication and collaboration.
- The shift from teacher control to student agency: Abandoning the comfort and ease of the historical teacher-controlled model and moving towards learning environments with greater student agency. When students have “ownership and control of what, how, when, where, who with, and why they learn.” This is also what our opening day keynote speaker referred to as “building executive function (Sulla 2018).”
- The shift from traditional activities to authentic work: Moving from isolated academic work environments to providing students opportunities to engage with and contribute to relevant local, national, and international interdisciplinary communities. We also add an element of character education and civic mindedness into these practices.
- The shift from traditional resources to a technology-rich environment: Infusing classrooms with more resources beyond the traditional paper and pencil propel the previous three shifts into high gear. All of our schools have received upgrades to our classrooms and makerspaces to ensure that our students have access to current technological advancements.
As we are currently in “full-swing” mode here in the South Orangetown Central School District, it gives me great pride to state that I see evidence of these shifts occurring in all of our classrooms every day. In order to make learning count our instructional practices must continue to be modernized, contextualized, and personalized. In the weeks ahead, I will be pleased to report to the community those examples of the progress that our students are making in our schools and will look forward to any feedback that our community will provide.
McLeod, S. and Shareski, D. (2017). Different Schools for a Different World, School Improvement for 21st Century Skills, Global Citizenship, and Deeper Learning.
Sulla, N. (2018). Building Executive Function: The Missing Link to Student Achievement, 1st Edition.