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Outlook on instruction: Class around the clock

A 24/7 learning model—that’s personalized and partly controlled by students—will become more entrenched
When it comes to instruction, new learning standards like the Common Core and technology will get the most attention in 2015. (Click to enlarge chart)
When it comes to instruction, new learning standards like the Common Core and technology will get the most attention in 2015. (Click to enlarge chart)

Better ways to use data. High-tech professional development. Differentiated instruction.

Some exciting advancements are on the horizon for classrooms in 2015. While they sound technical, the biggest changes aren’t going to be driven by an app, a computer program or a new kind of tablet—they will come from new theories about how to engage both students and teachers in the classroom.

Technology will continue to transform classroom instruction in the coming years. But education leaders, such as Vanderbilt University professor Barbara Stengel and Partnership for 21st Century Skills Executive Director Helen Soule, say they hope to see an ongoing shift in what administrators, teachers, students and parents think a classroom should look like and how it should function.

“When we close our eyes and say, ‘Think of a school,’ many people see rows of desks with kids in them and a person in front of the room,’” Soule says. “Our biggest challenge is changing the mindset that that’s what good schooling looks like.”

And Ellen Moir, founder and CEO of the New Teacher Center, expects to see more blended learning in classrooms, a more personalized approach for students, and a greater focus on professional learning communities.

For 2015, educators also can expect more team teaching, and greater emphasis on small-group projects and real-world experience as schools across the country move further away from a one-size-fits-all model of education.

Student-driven learning

Allowing students to play a bigger role in shaping their educational experience is a trend that Soule and ASCD Executive Director Judy Seltz expect to grow in 2015. Turning students into agents of their own learning can be as simple as explaining to them why they have to learn what they’re learning. And it can be as involved as allowing students to work alongside teachers to design that learning, Seltz says.

New learning, assessment strategies and career readiness top list for 2015

New curriculum programs in core subjects and across all grades will be a top instructional priority in schools in 2015. Meeting learning standards, introducing enhanced assessment strategies and adopting classroom technology also will be critical in 2015, according to a DA survey of instructional leaders.

About three-quarters of all respondents say their district will implement new elementary school programs this year in reading, language arts and math. And more than half of all respondents are planning new programs in those subjects in middle and high school.

About 70 percent of all respondents will implement new science, world language, music and arts programs in high school this year.

Career readiness also was high on the list, with 93 percent of respondents planning to start initiatives in high school, and more than half launching middle school programs. And 22 percent of respondents say their districts will introduce career readiness in elementary school.

Health and wellness was another popular topic, with 81 percent of respondents planning to bring new programs to high schools.

Professional learning communities, endorsed by 35 percent of respondents, will be the most popular form of PD for instruction, while about 20 percent plan to hire outside experts or consultants. Online PD and PD for principals is endorsed by only about 13 percent of respondents as being the most popular.

When it comes to classroom instruction, 62 percent said meeting new learning standards, such as Common Core, will take center stage in 2015. More than half the respondents also expect to adopt new assessment strategies and to introduce or expand instructional technology.

The DA instructional and assessment outlook survey was part of a broader set of trend surveys deployed to readers in late 2014. A total of 537 district leaders participated in the surveys.

Students identifying and tracking their own strengths and weaknesses is also gaining ground in schools, Soule says. She recently met a Washington, D.C., secondgrader who was updating her learning profile on an iPad, and was able to point to her goals for the day and update her progress—instead of leaving the task to the teacher.

“Having some control over their own learning gives them a great deal of self confidence,” Soule says. “It also helps students grow in terms of being self-aware about what their strengths and weaknesses are.”

Greater individual attention

Improvements in technology and a growing recognition that not all children can learn in the same way will drive big growth in differentiated instruction in 2015, Seltz says.

Online and blended learning opportunities, flipped classrooms and instructional videos will allow teachers to work with students on a more individual basis, Soule says. That will be especially true in schools with 1-to-1 or BYOD programs. In a class of 25 students with 25 laptops, every student can be working on a different task, Seltz says.

Such technologies will also make the classroom more of a 24/7 experience in 2015 and beyond, Soule predicts. This will make it easier for students to collaborate on group projects from home and also to take digital courses—like AP or elective classes—that they don’t have time for in their regular schedule.

Smarter use of data

Forget about data-driven instruction and instead look for an increase in “data-informed” instruction in 2015, says Vanderbilt’s Stengel. With data-informed instruction, teachers use data not to just look at what is wrong, but how and why it’s wrong. Then they use that information not as a basis for what subjects to teach more of, but for what to teach differently.

For example, Stengel says, seventh graders who are testing poorly in English might have a particular problem with a concept like identifying the main idea. Instead of allotting more time to drill that concept, teachers might interview a dozen seventh graders to see why they selected the answer they did and to look for patterns: What was the main idea that students selected most often and what does that say about what they are doing wrong? Is it because students were taught that the first sentence is often the main idea, or perhaps because they are selecting the idea that is most interesting to them?

Teachers can give the interviewed students additional guidance and also use their input to adjust instruction given to the rest of the class.

“You go beyond the data,” Stengel says. “The data is a flag that says, ‘Look here.’ And then you have to go beyond that and look at student work or student thinking.”

Differentiated PD

In many ways the coming advancements in professional development models mirror the trends in classroom instruction: personalization, real-world practice and greater opportunities through blended and online learning.

“Just as we want to create optimal learning opportunities for our students that are personalized and differentiated to meet their needs and engage them, that’s the same kind of professional learning that our teachers and our leaders need,” says Ellen Moir, CEO of the national nonprofit New Teacher Center.

The push for project- and problem-based learning in many states’ K12 curricula will result in big changes in PD, Soule says.

“There is a lot more focus on making instruction and professional development more connected to the real world, such as through internships for teachers so they can connect their practice more to what the real world looks like” and will look like, Soule says.

The most important trend Moir sees is the move toward a more individualized PD model that is built around what each teacher needs to know at each stage of their career. Moir envisions a system wherein school districts have a wide selection of PD options—from site-based offerings to online courses to out-of-district programs.

And like the push to give students more control, Moir says teachers need more autonomy over what they learn and when and how they learn it.

Also, online communities and Twitter chats allow teachers to share videos of their classroom work and get quick feedback from fellow educators, Moir says.

“When we look forward to 2015 and beyond, I am imagining that professional development looks different from what it does today,” Moir says. “If we are expecting our teachers to personalize learning, we need to personalize learning for our teachers.”

Jessica Terrell is a freelance writer in California.