Monday, February 18, 2019

Visible Learning in Literacy: 3 Takeaways from John Hattie and Nancy Frey

Opportunity to learn with renowned education researchers and practitioners rejuvenates the mind and reignites the passion in many educators. In the second of our two-part series, Shaelynn Farnsworth and I share what we learned from the Visible Learning Institute in San Diego, this time with a focus on literacy. Head over to part one to see our initial thoughts and shares. 

The second day at the Visible Learning Institute in San Diego provided attendees choice in one of two paths in which to learn;  literacy and math. Shaelynn and I jumped at the chance to learn from Nancy Frey and chose literacy learning to continue to grow our knowledge in this area for supporting educators around the globe. Frey and Doug Fisher (her colleague) have worked extensively with John Hattie in the realm of literacy practices and transferring his research into practice. They have multiple books with Hattie, two of our favorites being Visible Learning for Literacy Grades K-12 and Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom, Grades 6-12.

Frey consistently delivers high-quality and classroom applicable learning during her workshops and this experience was much the same. During Day 2, she used a combination of research, theory, and classroom application to deepen our understanding of high-impact instruction during each phase of learning.

3 Takeaways:
Constrained and Unconstrained Skills - Constrained skills are those that have boundaries and edges to them and are acquired at concrete stages of development. These include phonemic awareness and phonics. Unconstrained skills are boundless, limitless and continue to grow throughout life. These include vocabulary and comprehension. While no argument can be made against the direct instruction and learning of constrained skills, Frey reminded us all that they are important but not sufficient. Leveled texts are great for learning constrained skills, but unconstrained skills are not developed through these types of texts. Both constrained and unconstrained skills develop independently; it is important for all educators in all subject areas to pay attention to both.

Reading Volume - The amount one reads is important, but do you know how important it is for our students? Frey offered statistics to drive home the point about reading volume. Reading 20 minutes a day = 1,800,000 words per year & 90th percentile on standardized tests. Reading 5 minutes a day = 282,000 words per year & 50th percentile on standardized tests. Finally, a student who reads only 1 minute a day = 8,000 words per year & 10th percentile on standardized tests. Assumptions that all kids have access and time at home to read will not increase reading volume; instead, make time for students to read in your classroom.

In addition, as Frey reinforced, students need both content-specific readings but also need the exploration of texts beyond the content. If a student enjoys to pleasure read graphic novels we should not dissuade that student from choosing them. Rather we should support them while still exposing them to content specific passages and texts.

Surface, Deep, Transfer Learning - Hattie, Fisher, and Frey discuss a scale for learning and divide it up into 3 parts of a triangle. Surface, Deep, and Transfer Learning make up this scale representing learning as a process, not an event. Along with the description of each, Frey offered high-impact instructional strategies to support learning.

Surface - Surface Learning, the base of the triangle, is learning that takes place during the acquisition of skills and understanding of concepts. Learners often recognize patterns and start to build foundational knowledge to support the next level of the triangle, Deep Learning.

High-Impact Instructional Strategies to support Surface Learning and the effect size:

  • Repeated Reading (.67)
  • Feedback (.75)
  • Collaborative Learning with Peers (.59)


Deep - Deep Learning builds off of the Surface Learning students acquire. As Frey states, you have to know something before you are able to do something with that knowledge. Deep Learning consists of consolidation through connections, relationships, and schema to organize skills and concepts. Deep learning is also used to consolidate constrained and unconstrained skills. Students need more complex tasks to deepen their own learning.

High-Impact Instructional Strategies to support Deep Learning and the effect size: 

  • Concept Mapping (.60)
  • Class Discussions (.82)
  • Metacognitive Strategies (.69)
  • Reciprocal Teaching (.74)


Transfer - Finally, learning and school should not stop with just Surface and Deep Learning. Transfer Learning is self-regulation to continue learning skills and content independent of the teacher. Frey admits, not everything we teach or learn is worthy of Transfer Learning. Transfer Learning places more responsibility on the learner to question, investigate, and organize to propel their learning.

High-Impact Instructional Strategies to support Transfer Learning and the effect size:

  • Reading Across Documents to conceptually organize (.85)
  • Formal Discussions, Debates, Socratic Seminars (.82)
  • Problem Solving (.61)
  • Extended Writing (.43)
  • PBL - Problem-based Learning - effect size is low at surface level learning (.15) but significantly higher at Transfer level learning (.61) 


As Day 2 came to a close, our minds were spinning with information and ideas. Nancy Frey not only shared Visible Learning in Literacy but invited us to consider what approaches work best at the right time for the right learning, never to hold an instructional strategy in higher esteem than a student, and our favorite, “Every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design.”

Do you need help understanding how Visible Learning can impact your classrooms? Or maybe you want to see if the programs you are using are working? Shaelynn and I can help. Visit our website to learn how you can partner with us to help all educators do more and how all students can achieve!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Five Takeaways From The Visible Learning Institute-Day One

This week, roles were flipped as Shaelynn Farnsworth and I had an opportunity to learn from John Hattie at the Visible Learning Institute in San Diego. Hattie, a researcher in education, studied more than 150 million students, synthesizing more than 800 meta-studies to determine the effect size various influences have on teaching and learning. His work disaggregates not only what works in education but what works best. And perhaps most importantly, where we as educators need to concentrate our efforts to support student learning at high levels.

The institute was two days, with Day One led by Hattie and Karen Flories, and covered topics on research, Mindframes, feedback and how to better analyze data. Educators from around the globe had the opportunity to dig into the what, why, and how of the Visible Learning methods while being able to speak directly with both Hattie and Flories. Copious amounts of notes were taken, but the following were our Top 5 Takeaways from the first day of learning.

Top 5 Takeaways from the Visible Learning Institute:

Upscaling Success - Upscaling is not typically seen in education. In fact, Hattie states that “all you need to enhance achievement is … a pulse.”  Every teacher can have success in terms of student achievement in their classroom, this is why every teacher can argue that they have evidence that what they are doing works. Hattie urges us all, “Do not ask what works - but works best!” Identify what works best for your students and upscale those practices school-wide. In most cases, it takes 10-12 weeks to see the results of new instructional methods tried with students. During that time we need to have the “sticktoitness” to follow through. But we also have to be mindful that we may not see the results we want and not be afraid to leave practices behind that just don’t work. If something works, upscale it. If it doesn’t abandon it and move on to something that does.

Goldilocks Principle - “Not too hard, Not too boring.” In alignment with current brain research, Hattie introduced us to the Goldilocks Principle. In terms of learning, students prefer learning to be a challenge, but not too hard that success is impossible and also learning that is relevant and engaging. This also ties back to ability grouping and how the research shows that just isn’t what is best for students, especially those that are struggling. When we group students by ability, educators naturally slow down their teaching to ensure everyone “got it.” Rather, what should take place is a heterogeneous mix of ability levels where a challenge is the norm. Our brains, and especially those that are developing, crave a challenge.

Assessment-Capable Learners - Flories introduced the concept of Assessment-Capable Learners, claiming that they should know the answers to 3 Key Questions of Visible Learning:

  • What am I learning?
  • How will I know I’ve been successful in my learning?
  • What evidence can I provide to support I’ve learned?

Students who can answer these questions have teachers who see learning through the eyes of their students and help them to become their own teachers. Learning can’t be a mystery to students. Nor can it be just a repetition of facts and figures. Teacher clarity has an effect size of 0.75. The more we are clear with students of what we are doing, why we are doing it and how we will know we’ve done it, the more they learn. As part of this, we would add a fourth question students should be able to answer. How will I communicate what I’ve learned to others? Not only should the learning reside within the student, but there must also be opportunities for them to share with that they know.

Know Thy Impact - Repeated throughout the Institute, “Know Thy Impact”, Hattie argues that the most important Mindframe of Visible Learning is when teachers understand their job is to evaluate their own impact on student learning. Acknowledging the word “Impact” is ambiguous, Hattie sheds light that the conversations in schools relating to the definition of Impact solidify what each school views as important in terms of learning with Their students but should include triangulation of scores, student's voice, and artifacts of student work. When educators Know Their Impact, they make better decisions on student learning success.

Feedback - Flories ended the day with a focus on feedback and the .70 effect size on student learning. Startling statements were shared. “80% of feedback that kids get is from each other and 80% of that feedback is wrong - Nuthall.” And “Effective feedback doubles the speed of learning - Dylan William”. Student Feedback should be targeted to close the gap in their learning, and used by students to understand the next steps in their learning. Effective feedback begins with teacher clarity when designing and delivering tasks. Good feedback isn’t just focused on the tasks. (And actually, the feedback that is focused exclusively on task doesn’t show students grow anyway.) The feedback that does the most good is that on the self, the personal evaluation of the learner, and done during the process, not at the end. Feedback is just in time, just for me, information delivered when and where it can do the most good.

By the end of the first day, we had taken an endless supply of notes and had much to digest and discuss. What is even more clear to us now is that while much of what we learned feels like common sense to us, it serves as a good reminder and new learning for some. Hattie says there are no bad teachers; just Good Teachers and Great Teachers. What separates the two is the willingness to know thyself, know thy students and know thy impact. Those that do not only have students who are high achievers but they also have students who are fully prepared for what’s next.

In our next post, we will look at the 5 Takeaways from Day Two where we dove into Visible Learning in the Literacy Classroom with Nancy Frey.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The 6 Truths Of Effective Educators

In all the work I have done with countless educators from across the world I believe we can break them down into two groups. Good Teachers and Great Teachers. What separates the two is effectiveness. Effective Educators are those that have a set of truths that they live by. It's what they wake up everyday thinking about and striving for. It doesn't mean they aren't human. Quite the contrary. They know they have limits yet are constantly seeking minute improvements to continue growing themselves as an educator.

6 Truths of Effective Teachers 

View Their Teaching As A Science And An Art-Most educators, early on in their career, have had one of those moments, at the end of a long successful day, realizing that they learned more in those 8 hours than in their previous 4 years of higher education. It's why doctor's offices are called practices and why we should reframe our notion of teaching as a practice, rather than a set of skills acquired through college courses. Effective Educators are never satisfied with where they are in their practice and are constantly seeking to figure out the best ways to teach and the best ways students learn. They might experiment with various, evidence-based instructional practices. Perhaps the ones that work are the ones that work for everyone. Or maybe they aren't. The key is they know as time goes by and methodologies change, they are not inflexible. Rather they know there is still much to learn and that each day is an opportunity to practice, fail, examine, reflect and try again.

Are Students of their Students-Most educators can attest that if they know who their students are, how they learn and how they think, they can better differentiate for those student's needs. While formative assessment is a key part of knowing who their students are, Effective Educators go deeper. They know their students on a personal level. They know what motivates their them. And, perhaps most importantly, they understand how each individual student learns and thinks. Effective Educators are constantly using questioning of their students. Not to see what the student knows but how they know what they know. What processes are their students using to develop their understanding and how can that be used going forward.

Challenge All Students-Current Brain Research shows that intelligence is variable, the brain is malleable and hungers for challenge. Evidence shows that students, even those that may be struggling, rise to the occasion when challenged. We see it in our own lives. When everything we do is easy we become bored and might even become disengaged. When everything is too hard we are resolved to the fact that we can't do it so why even try. In order to avoid being either too easy or too hard, Effective Educators, understanding who their students are, provide differentiated instruction that challenges and pushes their students to go further with their learning.

Believe In The Success Of All Students, No Matter What-Research shows that educators and schools that have collective teacher efficacy can grow their students at a tremendous rate. Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE) is the belief that all students can achieve and those educators will stop at nothing to ensure they do. In order for CTE to be as effective as it can be there has to be buy-in from all educators. As Education Researcher John Hattie notes, "A school staff that believes it can collectively accomplish great things is vital for the health of a school and if they believe they can make a positive difference then they very likely will." Effective Educators believe in CTE. The do all they can to effect the culture of their school to help other teachers buy in to the idea of CTE and provide support. Effective Educators and CTE doesn't stop at the classroom with teachers. It's a collective effort of teachers, administrators, support staff and instructional staff all believing that the positive things they can do for their students will ultimately make a difference.

Continuously Seeking Out Professional Learning-Effective Educators don't just believe that lifelong learning is a characteristic they want their students to have, it's a mantra they live by. They aren't waiting for their principal or school or district to tell them what they need to learn. They are continuously seeking out professional learning. to improve all aspects of their practice. Whether it is a national conference in their subject area, an online course in evidence-based instructional practices, a Twitter chat to push back against conventional thinking or a webinar to learn about a specific type of EdTech, they are hungry to learn and know their learning never stops. Even reading blog posts, articles in trade publications, books, or attending Edcamps, they want to constantly be examining their own practices, realizing opportunities for improvement and capitalizing on all that learning.

Feedback Is A Part Of Their Routine-Effective Educators don't just look at their classroom as a unique, fluid space that they are constantly evaluating and improving. They also look inward at their own practices, thinking about where they are in their teaching and where they want to improve. Effective Educators seek out feedback from their colleagues. They invite them in to evaluate their teaching and are eager to hear where they can improve. They also participate in the feedback loop with those colleagues. Research shows that educators who engage in honest, open conversation with their colleagues improve their effectiveness with their students. Effective Educators view these conversations as a necessary and critical part of their overall growth.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Walkthroughs And Observations: There Is A Difference

As a former Director of Instructional Technology I was tasked with training all district and school leadership on the process of walkthroughs. We’d spend 2 days reviewing protocols, analyzing data and how to lead conversations. Afterwards they would go out and conduct their walks. When I would visit schools and talk to teachers about walkthroughs, their purpose or how they were using the data they were often confused with observations. Even during our trainings Leadership would consider walkthroughs as observations.

Walkthroughs are not observations!

There is a difference.

Most teachers are familiar with the observation process. Many states have Teacher Educator Standards that they use to evaluate the job performance of their educators. These standards look at everything from lesson planning to instructional delivery to classroom management. The observation(s) that takes place as part of the Teacher Evaluation process allows for the principal, assistant principal or other Educational Leader to see the individual teacher in action, in their classroom and evaluate them against the given set of standards.

Walkthroughs are entirely different. Everything from their purpose, their duration, and how they are used differ greatly from observations. Walkthroughs are daily opportunities for Educational Leaders and Instructional Staff (Coaches, Curriculum Coordinators, Instructional Technology Facilitators, etc.) to examine specific parts of the instructional process or review how professional development practices are being implemented. Normally there is a set of agreed upon protocols that are used. The data gathered is as anonymous as possible and shared with the PLC, grade level or other group.

Walkthroughs and Observations can be broken down even further.

Purpose: Walkthroughs serve several purposes. Education leaders and Instructional staff are looking at a snapshot of classroom instruction to determine instructional effectiveness. Walkthroughs are also used to determine the efficacy of the implementation of professional development and program initiatives. Walkthroughs are also a great way to gage school culture.

Observations are a formal process whereby teachers are evaluated against a set of given standards, either local, district or state. Education Leadership conduct observations to determine teacher effectiveness, areas for individual improvement and overall job performance.

Frequency: Observations typically take place only a few times year. In contrast walkthroughs take place several times a day, every day.

Length: Walkthroughs are designed to only last between 5-10 minutes. This allows for Education Leadership and Instructional Staff to visit several classrooms to gather as much data as possible. Observations, on the other hand, will last 30-60 minutes, sometimes more. This allows for the the evaluator to examine the teacher during the entirety of a lesson or class period.

Data: The data gathered during a walkthrough can be beyond valuable. Depending on what is asked in the protocol one can determine the awareness to students of what they are learning or what high-impact instructional methodologies are being utilized. Walkthrough data is almost always anonymous, yet is pooled by grade level or subject area or some other similarity. This allows for the analysis and comparison in similar situations. For example if the purpose of our walks in for a given week is to look at formative assessment in 9th grade math classes we are going visit those classes and look for the formative assessment strategies being used. Then we can pool that data from that week to get a better picture of what is happening.

In an observation the data gathered is on one specific educator related to the Professional Educator Standards. Notes of what is taking place in that classroom during that time are taken and the only comparison that is made is between one teacher against the standards. Historical data from that one educator may be used to look at patterns or growth but comparisons to other educators are rarely made.

Follow-up: The Post-Observation Conference takes place between the individual educator and the evaluator/observer. This is a 1-on-1 conversation that breaks down the observation and the greater evaluation process to look at educator effectiveness related to the professional standards. This is an opportunity for the educator and evaluator to talk about the individual practices of the educator and determine areas of strength and opportunities for growth.

The follow-up for Walkthroughs should be an entirely different process. The data gathered over several walks (weeks or months) is pooled to be analyzed. Since the process is anonymous we can have a more open conversation about what was seen and the opportunities for growth. The educator team can begin to ask themselves about patterns they see, how the professional development they have received has been implemented across their team and what support they need going forward. And since the data set should be extensive there is a greater opportunity to look back and forward in time to make better instructional decisions.

Part of the reason many educators don’t understand walkthroughs and see them as observations is because of the lack of transparency, either intentional or unintentional. When an administrator walks in the room, especially unannounced, it can cause anxiety and stress because the teacher doesn’t know what is happening. Just like we spend a great deal of time reviewing the Professional Educator Standards and how to meet them, we should spend time, perhaps more, talking about what is being looked for on walkthroughs. Educators and Teachers should know the protocols and even have an opportunity to contribute to the data by conducting walkthroughs themselves.

Tips For Better Walkthroughs

  • Always Walk With A Purpose-We never want to walk haphazardly and just do walks to say they are done. Since we are walking several times a day, every day we can gain vast insight into what is happening in the classroom. Look at areas for growth either from a school improvement plan or as decided as a team. 
  • Lead Meaningful Conversations-The most valuable part of the walkthrough process is the conversations that take place after the data is gathered. What does the data tell you, related to your purpose? What strengths do you see in instruction? What opportunities for growth are there? 
  • Make Walkthroughs An Ongoing and "On-growing" Process-The walkthrough process is a circular. Conduct your walks and gather the data. Then use that data and the conversations that follow to determine how you are meeting your goals, what professional development do you need. After the professional development go back, conduct more walks, gather more data and see if you are meeting your goals. Sometimes you may need more professional development or you will determine new areas of growth. Walkthroughs and data are never looked at in isolation, always as part of an overall plan. 


More Resources To Help With Walkthroughs



Are you or your team looking to better understand walkthroughs and how you can get the most out of them? Partner with Web20Classroom to improve instructional practices and get more out of the data you collect. Visit our website to learn more. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

High-Impact Instructional Strategies To Use Right Now

Engagement versus effectiveness.

This is a conversation I have been having with educators and leaders all over the country for a while now. Just because we see students engaged in learning might not mean actual effective learning is taking place. When we throw technology into the mix it can appear that students are learning a great deal because they are creating a podcast or making a video or using some game to review for a quiz but are these instructional methods actually effective?

What are high-impact, effective instructional strategies?

More importantly, what does the research say?

In the book Visible Learning author and education researcher John Hattie explains the methodology behind his meta-meta studies of over 250 different types of factors that impact student achievement and learning. Everything from class size to poverty to summer vacation to various instructional methods are examined at a very large scale to determine how they impact how students learn and grow. These are then ranked according to their Effect Size.

Effect Size is a useful number to use when comparing different measurements from different studies. Hattie concludes that an effect size of 0.40 is the "hinge point" or where anything above can accelerate student achievement and be quite effective and anything below isn't as effective.

Using these effect sizes as a guide we can find the most high-impact instructional strategies that are research proven to work and help students grow. Below are the six I believe to be the most impactful and easiest to implement. Some you may already be doing (like Problem-Based Learning) or others you may not have ever thought about that could be substantial for student growth (like micro-teaching).

Collective Teacher Efficacy-Effect Size: 1.57-With the highest return on student growth, collective teacher efficacy is one of the easiest to implement. This is the collective believe, by all educators in a school, that students can achieve, despite any external factors and they will stop at nothing to make it happen. In an environment where Collective Teacher Efficacy is in place everyone from all teachers, to leadership create a culture where there is that strong belief all students, no matter their ability can grow and learn. Keep in mind, this does not mean every student will be proficient on some meaningless year-long summative assessment because for most students that will not be the best measure of what they know. It means that the entire staff will work tirelessly to ensure all students can and will do their best.

Micro-Teaching/Reflection-Effect Size: 0.88-This involves teachers teaching smaller lessons that are recorded and viewed later as part of a PLC or other team meeting. For many educators critiquing themselves on video will be challenge enough. That coupled with the reflection with peers will be even tougher. However, the benefits has been research shown time and time again. Educators who reflect on their teaching, both as an individual and with peers improve over the long-haul. And that is key. This simply isn't a one time event. It is a part of continuous practice. The technical aspects aren't as important as the collective reflection with other educators after. Viewing the recordings as an individual and as a group has shown drastic improvements in student learning.

Classroom Discussion-Effect Size 0.82-Classroom discussion isn't the teacher standing in the front of the room asking a bunch of questions and students giving one or two word answers. The teacher starts by giving a guiding question and student stake over from there. Ultimately, students are driving the discussion through their conversation, articulating what they know, how they know it and what questions still remain. It is an opportunity to learn with and from peers in a safe and inviting environment. Research shows that the more often classroom discussion is used in on-going learning, the more students retain and grow.

Formative Assessment-Effect Size: 0.72-Understanding where students are in their learning is crucial for educators to understand the effectiveness of their teaching and for students to be able to articulate what they know, but more importantly, how they know what they know. The use of formative assessment has 2 components. First, it tells the student where they are in their understanding. It's short and quick questions that are asked during a lesson that give students an opportunity to gage their own understanding. Second, and perhaps more importantly, for the teacher formative assessment gives valuable feedback during the course of a lesson or learning. Changes can be made to adapt to where students are in their learning. Why wait until the chapter or unit test when you can make changes in the moment? Formative assessments aren't graded and they are done consistently, during every class and lesson.

Feedback-Effect Size: 0.70-Closely related to formative assessment, feedback is the process of the teacher and the student talking about their learning and understanding. The most powerful feedback is given from the student to the teacher. Feedback can come in many forms and research shows us the most powerful is direct, 1-on-1 conversation. The teacher and the student sit down to talk about a part of their learning, and overall assessment of their understanding but more importantly the student gives feedback to the teacher on their own progress and the techniques used by the teacher. It may seem like a challenge to meet with every student for a meaningful conversation, especially when classes and teaching loads are getting larger. However, a consistent 5-7 min conversation once a week can help students and the teacher tremendously.

Problem-Based Learning-Effect Size: 0.68-Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is the instructional process by which students are given a real-world, authentic based problem with no clear answer. Students work individually or in groups to research and propose solutions that are shared locally and globally. In order for this type of instruction to be effective, students must be working towards solutions to authentic problems. Students have to be a part of the "problem shaping" conversation. And there has to be an understanding that there may not be one type of solution. Rather there are many different types of approaches and solutions to the same problem. We want students to embrace the struggle. Solutions should be shared with a global audience either through a blog, video or presenting their results to their community.

There are many more instructional strategies that Hattie has identified that can have a large impact on not only our ability to be more effective educators but also on our ability for students to learn and grow more. Learn more about Effect Size and the impact this research can have on your classroom and school.

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Monday, October 8, 2018

Making The Best Technology Purchasing Decisions

In our next collaborative post, Shaelynn Farnsworth (@shfarnsworth) and I discuss how schools and districts can make the best technology purchasing decisions. 

Recently I was talking to a Tech Director colleague that was in the middle of a purchasing battle with a principal. The principal had been approached by a well-known technology vendor wanting to sell the school some hardware and software to help students in literacy and math. The vendor was long on promises but short on delivery. The problem was the principal was blinded by the promises of high achievement and didn’t consider how that one purchase would put a serious strain on the district technology department.

Balancing a district budget is an annual job that has many administrators prioritizing monies to meet the needs of students and staff, as well as the upkeep and daily operations of the grounds and facilities. The increase of technology use in learning has added an element to the budget which has seen a steady increase over the years. In a 2017 report from Learning Counsel results found districts spent $16.2 billion on hardware, networks and major system software. And these numbers will only continue to rise.

With this understanding, many district administrators and technology coaches have found a need to vet the limitless purchasing options out there and make decisions that look past the flash of products to ones that will truly impact student learning.

Questions to Consider Before Making A Technology Purchase

How Are Student Privacy and Data Protected?- Many of the Edtech products available today require some elements of Personally Identifiable Information (PII). This could be anything from their name and grade all the way to their entire student demographic and academic profile. Educators and Administrators have a responsibility to understand how that data used by the products are consumed and ultimately protected. Reading terms of service is a start but asking questions like how much PII is actually needed for the software to run or how is the data stored or is it encrypted in transit and rest are some of the most basic questions to have solid answers to before allowing any company access to data sources. Check to see if the vendor has signed the Student Data Privacy Pledge. Most importantly, have a solid understanding of how the data is stored and used before signing on the dotted line.

What Compatibility and Interoperability Are Available? A common mistake we see made frequently comes from local school administrators making a purchase without making sure it works in the current system. Odds are if you are making a major technology purchase you already have a network and systems in place. Therefore it is important to ask about what devices the software works on or how does the hardware work in your current server environment? You don’t want to have to make additional purchases after the fact or find out that what was purchased won’t work at all because there is a compatibility problem.

Where Did The Research Come From? Many Edtech products, especially those used to increase student-achievement, will boast that they are backed by research. But you have to look at this with a critical eye. Where did the research come from? Was it funded by the vendor? Was it the vendor themselves? If products are truly “backed by research” the vendor should be able to provide or you should be able to provide independent research to back their claims.
What Is The True Cost For The Hardware or Software? Don’t get burned by additional costs related to licenses and fees. When you are making a major technology purchase what does the license include? Is a yearly cost? With software especially, as lots of questions about the total cost. Often you will have to pay for updates or upgrades. You don’t want to spend a large chunk of your budget on some software for every student only to find out that if you want the next version you’ll have to pay more for it. Do your homework and crunch the numbers to find out the true cost of ownership.

How Will You Be Supported? Support is often one of those things you don’t think about until you need it. It should, however, be towards the top your list to understand before making any technology purchase. Do you have to pay for support? If you do, how much do you get? Are you limited to the number of support cases you can open? Who can call for help? When is support available? Is just a certain number of hours a day or is is it 24/7/365? Is the support local or is it outsourced? Understand the support structure before you are stuck needing it.

What Training and Professional Development Opportunities Are Available? If you are spending a large portion of your budget on a new piece of hardware or software, especially if it is being used in the classroom by students or teachers, there should be a conversation before you sign about training and professional development. How will everyone be trained? Will it come at a cost or is it included? What about training new users 6 months down the road? Will the vendor provide it or will the district be responsible? Is coaching provided? How about opportunities for deeper professional development that could be provided. Ultimately, you are looking for more than just a hardware/software provider, you are looking for a partner that can be with you for the long haul.


Download This Infographic Here

Checklist For Technology Purchasing 
  1. Purpose: Does the purchase align with the mission and goals of the district? Does it support attainment of the discipline standards, ISTE Standards, and learning targets? Powerful EdTech purchases are ones that can span grade-levels and content areas for maximum student and teacher use.
  2. Student-Centered: Besides options to leverage the differentiated classroom, inclusive classroom, and accessibility options; student-centered focuses on choice, ease of use, fun, and supports learning. 
  3. Cost: Often times the price tag is a heavily weighted component in purchasing, but don’t forget to factor in: Licensing one-time, or yearly, per student or per school/district, updates included or added costs, replacement fees, cross-platforms/devices, renewal processes, and contracts.  
  4. Data Privacy and Security: Always understand how student data is used and stored when making any purchase. How will you get data in the product? What is the minimum amount of student data needed for the product to be used effectively? Is it encrypted when it's stored? Educators and administrators have a duty and obligation to keep student data private and secure. Learn more about FERPA, COPA, CIPA, PPRA here
  5. Logistics/Management: Minimal Effort To Get Things Going and Keep Them Going. Will this technology purchase work in our current learning environment? Whether devices, infrastructure, or sign-in, logistics and management are essential to get right. Nothing squashes Edtech in the classroom more quickly than when something doesn’t work, access is complicated, or multiple steps must occur before it is roll-out or available to staff and students. 
  6. Support: You Should Be Supported. Along with management and logistics as a necessary component of technology purchasing success, an understanding of the support offered is essential to classroom use. Knowing how to access support, who provides the support, and what that support looks like is information that needs to be gathered in the beginning stages.
  7. Professional Learning: Continuous Learning. Professional Learning can come in many forms, from onsite training to monthly webinars, knowing how teachers will learn about the possibilities available with a new purchase and how this will be done helps to encourage use and exploration. Are there additional resources available to use? Is there a community of users to connect with? 
  8. References: Check Your References. Ask for and check references from those educators and districts already using the product or service. While this may not be a top priority for every purchase, connecting with and hearing from districts currently using the product or service may provide an understanding or experienced success and frustrations.

Need more help making the best technology purchasing decisions? We’ve created a deeper checklist you can use, copy and modify to meet your needs. Download it here

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Taking Collaboration And Teacher PD To Another Level With Verso Learning

When I was teaching Middle School Science I always tried to encourage academic discussion among my students. As a group we would debate results from various experiments, attempt to understand current events in science and talk about how science was all around us. Like many other teachers on my team (or other teachers anywhere really) promoting true collaboration and sharing in the classroom is a wonderful goal to have but ultimately difficult to achieve.

As is true with adults as well as students, loud voices can sometimes drown out the shy or withdrawn. Or if I want to contribute but I’m not sure how my peers will react I may hold back in sharing and let others take the lead. As a teacher, how do I know I am asking the best questions that will get me the responses that will help me understand where students are in their learning and how my teaching needs to respond. These issues with collaboration and questions have been happening since people started talking to solve problems.

Promoting true collaboration in problem solving and having open classroom discussions doesn’t just teach students how to listen to their peers, formulate responses and see all sides of an argument. It can also help them learn better and learn more. According to Hattie, Classroom Discussion has an Effect Size of 0.82 or nearly twice what the expected growth for a student should be in a given school year. To put it simply, when classroom discussion is a regular part of the learning process, students tend to learn more.

In the classroom there are several good tools to promote discussion. Apps that allow for message boards or chats. However, if I want to use that discussion to help me drive instruction as the teacher, I might have to gather data from lots of places, figure out a way to analyze it and then how to best use it. And what if I find that I need some help? Where do I go from there?

Enter Verso Learning.

Verso Learning is a freemium platform that, at its core, provides teachers with the evidence of classroom learning they need to teach better. It starts by giving me really simple strategies and structures that i can build into my lesson to increase student engagement and activate their thinking. Verso creates a space for students to interact, ask questions, upvote helpful information and share, all anonymously. Students must first contribute their own ideas before they can see other student’s responses. Students don’t know who asked a question or who responded to one. They also get tips on how to better contribute and collaborate, helping them see how what they say matters and how to make it matter more. It’s like PD for Kids. Behind the scenes teachers can see everything. They know who is in the discussion, what was said and when and can even analyze their vocabulary usage by grade level and subject area. They also have tools available to moderate any undesirable content.



The Teacher Toolkit section gives me access to a classroom structures and teaching strategies like creating good sentence stems and engagement prompts, helping students become better at metacognition and more. These are like mini online courses you can work through to get new ideas and ways to better engage your students. They are all based on evidence and research and are high leverage things to do in class. You also get access to a number of activities from their curated, deep learning content library to use and adapt for your class. The content library contains over 500 teacher created and classroom tested, high-impact classroom activities searchable by grade level and curriculum area with more being added all the time, so you should be able to find some that are relevant to you.

You get all that for free!

A yearly subscription gets you unrestricted access to the entire toolkit of teacher support cards with over 70 different classroom structures and easy-to-implement strategies to help get students engaged in their learning. The cards are grouped into eight high-effect size teaching strategies that drive student learning such as teacher clarity, feedback, meta-cognition and more. Beyond the embedded PD you get access to unique classroom analytics which, when combined with teacher self-reflection data, enables Verso to suggest areas from the PD cards to focus on. In addition, the upgrade offers you unrestricted access to the high-impact content library and several other features including their individual student vocabulary analysis tool.

At $60.00US for an individual teacher for a year it’s a bargain! My suggestion would be to start using one of their high-impact structures in class, experience the impact it has on your students learning and get a sense of all that’s there and what’s possible. The upgrade happens through the app, it’s really simple. Start with one class and run a few of the free content activities so you can get a handle on how it will work in your class and see how positively the students respond and then start building your own high-impact lesson content from there.

Check out Verso Learning today!