For the past 8 months, I have been involved in an amazing educational experiment where we through the use of edge technology, we have attempted to bring to scale high power instruction throughout our school. I have been tinkering around the edges of school improvement (thanks to Larry Cuban) as a middle school principal for the past seven years. We have tried all the traditional changes including schedule changes, teaming teacher differently, working through using coaches to improve instruction, and looking at the design of the school. Throughout all the tinkering, our focus more or less focused on ensuring there was good standards based instruction in the classrooms. We developed walkthroughs, did professional learning targeting areas that arose from observations and needs inventories. We looked at the PLC work and tried to take those parts of it that we liked. We tried to do Understanding by Design and took the parts that we like. We set a mission and vision and belief statements. Those have been consistent for us throughout the last five years and they all focused on mastery learning and our ambiguous definition of what that meant. We even put in place a pretty aggressive push for blended learning in all classrooms without any funding, without one to one computing, without a wireless environment, and without a significant amount of training on what is good instruction online and what isn't. Through it all, we did have one primary focus. We were going to teach kids from bell to bell everyday and we were going to do with an opening, a mini-lesson, student work time, and a closing. That expectation stayed throughout all the other initiatives that we played with. Then, along comes the opportunity to put some real structure and framing and consistency to the instructional design that ensured that there was tight task structure, that worked to decrease the cognitive load on my teachers, and that created changes to the instructional program that were proximal to students.
The project required us, as a cohort of volunteers and then as an entire school, to adopt a common lexicon. This shared language allowed us to talk about instruction using the same understanding about the work before us, but not making any assumptions. We hashed out our meaning as a school for what the lexicon truly meant. We agreed upon a task structure that was organized and tight and had common components that John Hattie and Bob Marzano have proven in meta-analysis after meta-analysis are high power strategies that make kids learn. Basically, we created a common schema around what we must accept as the tenets of good instruction and then the edge technology we use helps ensure that we do those parts in every lesson we engage students in doing. Its only take 8 months to do some really great work with our teachers. I have changed my views on blended learning and believe that its more about how we are using technology to help support individualized instruction for our students.