GOA Partners with Garnet Valley School District to Design Student-Centered Courses

Garnet Valley School District, located near Philadelphia, PA, is offering more student-centered learning options for students at their high schools in the 2018-19 school year. A stated goal of the district is to rethink traditional classroom structures and foster student agency through use of technology. To support teachers in meeting this goal, Garnet Valley School District partnered with GOA to teach instructional design strategies that support technology-enhanced learning. Specifically, a cohort of 25 teachers and instructional coaches recently completed a professional learning experience, called a Learning Design Studio, with GOA.

In the 2018-19 school year, the teachers in the cohort plan to launch their lessons and units designed during the Learning Design Studio with GOA. We kicked off the cohort with an in-person professional learning day in March and concluded in late May with presentations of learning by educators in the cohort. GOA offered specific instructional design training for staff so they could develop best practices and common understanding for creating and designing student-centered learning experiences in their courses.

Led by GOA Learning Design Coach Adam Lavallee, Garnet Valley teachers moved beyond placing their course content online by reimagining what learning would look like both inside and outside their classrooms. Adam said, “As a coach, my role was to ask questions and provide structures for teachers to allow them the time and space to create flexibility for students in an online setting while maintaining important face-to-face components of their curriculum.”

Garnet Valley is doing more than just ‘digitizing’ their curriculum; they are creating meaningful assignments, assessments, and presentations that allow students to learn and, more importantly, demonstrate their learning in creative, student-centered ways. Lavallee added that because of the work of these teachers, “Garnet Valley students will be able to learn at their own pace, on their own time, and in their own locations, while continuing to collaborate with peers and their teacher, because of how these teachers leverage online learning opportunities.”

Garnet Valley Director of Technology Sam Mormando said, “Our partnership with GOA and our Learning Design Coach has been amazing. While Garnet Valley is home to one of the most robust, individualized professional learning programs around, we understood that having little experience with online learning environments required us to look outside our district for the expertise needed to fully train our teachers.”

Elements of Effective Professional Learning

Linda Darling Hammond, Maria E. Hyler, and Madelyn Gardner found seven widely shared features of effective professional learning. Effective professional learning is content focused; incorporates active learning utilizing adult learning theory; supports collaboration, typically in job-embedded contexts; uses models and modeling of effective practice; provides coaching and expert support; offers opportunities for feedback and reflection; and, is of sustained duration.

I had the opportunity to attend the presentations of learning by 25+ educators in late May. What the teachers presented was thoughtful and well designed. Here’s what teachers were doing well within the professional learning experience and that align with shared features of effective professional learning.

  1. Teach educators to be curators, not dumpers. During many of the presentations of their new units and lessons, educators mentioned the importance of curating content and designing experiences for the students. This is particularly important for Garnet Valley, as the district is transitioning to Open Education Resources (OER) and will no longer purchase textbooks. Teachers are going to be curating the types of content needed for their students. During their work with GOA, teachers were thinking critically about the types of content to put in front of students; rather than dump content on students, they were choosing intentionally.
  2. Foster on-the-ground collaboration and give time for it. Throughout the cohort, educators met with Adam, and they also met with one another in small groups. GOA created a structure for collaboration, and this type of interaction and feedback held participants accountable and supported them when they were stuck or needed inspiration and collaboration to move forward.
  3. Ensure empathy for the student experience. GOA’s instructional design pedagogy focuses on three aspects of student agency: student voice, choice, and pace. With this intentional focus, teachers cited the importance of thinking deeply about the student experience when designing lessons and learning.
  4. Make learning public. What is good for students is also good for teachers. Make the learning public. We held presentations of learning at the district office in late May. There was plenty of delicious food (important!), a great set up in the room that allowed for small group discussions, and a buzz in the air about the work that the teachers had done.
  5. Create accountability through teams. GOA helped Garnet Valley create small teams which fostered accountability to do the work.
  6. Focus on students and sound instructional pedagogy. Superintendent Dr. Marc Bertrando was present and actively participating throughout the presentations of learning. He kept all conversations focused on students, student outcomes and sound instructional pedagogy. Teachers did not add technology into lessons or units for technology’s sake. Rather, the approach to technology enhanced learning was about fostering student voice, student choice, and allowing for some student self-pacing. Students want this, and educators in Garnet Valley are equipped to foster student agency moving forward.

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