4 Shifts Protocol Helps Redesign Lessons for Deeper Learning

School leaders spend a lot of time talking about how to make learning more relevant and engaging for students.  Many of these discussions evolve into multi-year efforts to implement project-based or inquiry-based learning.  While any amount of time spent assuring access to deeper learning opportunities for all students is time well spent, the path to implementation can be both bumpy and lengthy.  At last week’s Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Executive Institute, Scott McLeod shared a great protocol that provides immediate immersion into the questions that we need to be asking about student learning.

McLeod’s Four Shifts Protocol, which he designed with Julie Graber, is a great discussion tool to immediately get people looking at how lessons and/or units can be improved in each of the following areas:

  • Higher-level thinking
  • Authentic work
  • Student agency and personalization
  • Technology Infusion

In addition, McLeod included videos and lesson plans from teachers at various grade levels during his introduction to the protocol (see page three here).  This would work well for school leaders beginning similar discussions with teachers because the focus would be on looking at someone else’s classroom and lessons before having them critique their own.

In getting started with the protocol McLeod recommended just picking a few bullets from one of the four areas to focus on at a time. For example, we looked at a video from a Geometry class and the lesson plan and then answered looked at the first four bullets under Authentic work (from page 3 of the protocol):

  • Real or Fake. Is student work authentic and reflective of that done by experts outside of school?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Authentic Role. Are students asked to take on an authentic societal role as part of their learning?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Domain Practices. Are students utilizing authentic, discipline-specific, practices and processes?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Domain Technologies. Are students utilizing authentic, discipline-specific tools and technologies?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat

During the first part of the protocol, we discussed in small groups whether we thought the answers to the questions were yes, no, or somewhat.  While that led to some interesting discussions, it was the second part of the protocol that was the most interesting.  This entailed each group going back and reframing the questions we had looked at and considering what we could do to make the work more authentic. For example, how could we make the student work more reflective of that which is done by experts outside the school? or What could we do to add more authentic, discipline-specific practices and processes?

Anyway, we spent about an hour going through the four areas of the protocol in the fashion described above. It seems like a great process to get teachers looking at ways to create more engaging lessons for students.




6 Big Questions for Superintendents from Scott McLeod

Day two of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Executive Institute featured Scott McLeod as the keynote speaker. Scott is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Colorado Denver and he is recognized as one of the top experts in the world on school technology leadership issues. His long list of accomplishments also includes the co-creation of the wildly popular video series, Did You Know? (Shift Happens), which has over 16 million views. He is also is the co-creator of the 4 Shifts Protocol for lesson/unit redesign (which I will share more in a separate post).

Scott’s keynote was framed around 6 key questions that school leaders need to grapple with in order to ensure that what happens within schools is evolving fast enough to adequately prepare students for the rapidly-changing landscape outside of schools.  The 6 questions are as follows:

Are our graduates really literate? 

McLeod noted that Massachusetts students are among the best in the world when it comes to taking standardized tests. However, there are a number of critical skills that cannot be measured by the likes of tests like NAEP or MCAS.  The slide below was one that was shared to highlight this point.  What it means to be literate in 2018 has changed a great deal over the last few decades, but the key point here is that we are still using the same outdated measures that look at a narrow set of literacies.

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Are we taking advantage of new powerful forms of learning?

The quote from Mitch Resnick above discusses the importance of students producing content rather than just being consumers of content.  Scott cited stories of students who have created amazing products due to their expertise in utilizing technological resources:

There are countless examples in our schools of students being given the opportunity to create rather than just consume. Hopefully, there are examples in your school of students doing similar work. The challenge here from Scott McLeod was to make sure that students doing this type of creative work are not outliers and that all of our students have these opportunities.

Are our students really college and carer ready?

If we are preparing students for college and career in the same manner that we always have then the answer is no. The graphic below clearly outlines the dramatic rise in non-routine analytical and non-routine interpersonal tasks over the last few decades compared to the routine manual and cognitive skills needed for employability in the late 20th Century.

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Are our students really engaged in their learning?

The numbers below from a Gallup Survey in 2016 speak for themselves. How different are things in the classrooms in your school? Are students in your classrooms engaging in authentic tasks that connect concepts they are learning with real-world experiences outside of school.

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Are we changing fast enough?

While the obvious answer here seems to be a resounding no, the most important factor is that your school community has at least acknowledged the need for a change.  Are we still partaking in outdated practices that make our focus more on compliance than instilling the agency in student learning that will lead to greater collaboration and creativity?

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Are we paying enough attention to equity concerns?

There are many levels to this conversation and the slide below just references a very small part in its reference to the way black students and students receiving free lunch utilized computers compared to their white peers.  The first part of this issue involves ensuring access for ALL students. We may be talking about technology, but there are so many other concerns (i.e. experienced teachers, modern classrooms, technological infrastructure and tools).

As Scott noted, the big question here is whether or not ALL students are getting the opportunity to think, make, create and contribute?

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