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An interview by Chirp from Lamar University regarding how the COVA approach and the significant learning environment in the Digital Learning and Leading program has aided my learning process.
Chirp: The Digital Learning and Leading (DLL) program has given you choice, ownership, and voice through authentic assignments. Let’s delve into how has this process helped you and how can it help others?
- Chirp: Where or when did you first realize that you genuinely had choice, ownership and voice through authentic assignments?
- Me: When beginning the DLL journey in 5305, I was overwhelmed with the assignments. While there was talk of COVA, and a brief introduction, my initial thoughts and goals were the tasks at hand. I initially took it as the ‘fad’ we were being asked to mimic or pay homage to for a good grade. In other words, just another professional development activity that will be sidelined as we progress through the course. Deciding upon an innovation project and developing a plan of implementation seemed so open ended as to be impossible. Again, I was looking at the DLL program as a series of disjointed classes. It was the literature review that helped to see the effect that ePortfolios could have on an individual learner’s writing skills that I began to understand the pieces of COVA. It was actually during the next class, 5302, that I began to really understand the scope of the program and COVA+CSLE. Putting together our learning manifesto and growth mindset plans, then tying it together with our innovation plan, and re-watching the introduction videos at the start of the course, lead to the ‘a-ha’ moment when I realized that this is not about a fad, this is about ‘changing education one learner at a time,’ (Harapnuik, 2017).
- Chirp: What was your initial reaction when given the freedom and responsibility to choose to take ownership of your learning through an authentic project? Were you ready for this? If not or if so…what did you do?
- Me: When given the freedom to choose an authentic project, it was a ‘you want me to do what?’ moment. It seemed an impossible task to get everything in place, fight the current culture, develop a workable timeline and plan, then get professional learning in place to implement everything. I was not ready for this, and even as we approach the end of the DLL program, I am still struggling with some aspects of my plan. My initial thoughts were that this is not worth it. The amount of my free time the DLL was occupying was staggering. It was my wife that encouraged me to persevere, as this could lead to better opportunities as I look to finish my career in 3-5 years.
- Chirp: What did you do to adjust to this style of learning? Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
- Me: Adjusting to the COVA+CSLE approach was easier once it was embraced as legitimate. I buckled down and took control of my learning, looking at ways to implement what I was learning in my classes immediately. As a Culinary Arts teacher, COVA+CSLE and Project Based Learning is something that CTE teachers do. Authentic practice, projects and activities are an area that are distinctly different from a traditional classroom and a decidedly Deweyian, (if that is an appropriate moniker), approach. Hindsight is always 20/10. Not only do we see our mistakes and missed opportunities clearly, through reflection we are able to take apart these events in detail where we can change them to meet our goals, hence 20/10. We can see better than 20/20, and develop a plan of correction.
- Chirp: How difficult was it to take control of your own voice and focus on your organization as the audience for your work?
- Me: It was very difficult to focus on my organization as the audience. I kept slipping back into a ‘learner as the audience’ mindset. It is difficult to separate the two. We spend so much time in the classroom that this is my default mindset. It is an ongoing, conscious effort to refocus on my organization as the audience.
- Chirp: Some students had mixed feelings toward promoting change in their organizations—how has your attitude toward leading change grown throughout the program?
- Me: My organization supports my efforts in my classroom. They support the changes that can be accomplished with the innovation plan. Promoting classroom change is easy.
- Me: Organization change has proven to be difficult. While understanding the need for change and a willingness to have the CTE department implement ePortfolios, there is a reluctance to do so across the board. We know from 5304 & 5389 that the broader the implementation of change, the greater the likelihood of adoption and true change occurring. Doing so on a class by class or departmental basis is setting the stage for failure. Having the expectation of some content teachers implementing change to increase writing skills has not been well received by content teachers when the English department is excluded from having to do so. It has resulted in significant pushback from content teachers. Coupling this with a PD mindset that is unwilling to change on an organizational level, instead of the 5 days of professional learning that I had developed, I was offered time during 1 morning session, (approximately 1 hour), for my PL. Having teachers support each other in the classroom throughout implementation by pairing up as co-teachers during our daily principal’s assignments was outright rejected. I would rather not implement my plan outside of my classroom, than see all of my work and effort reduced to a time filler for a PD day, relegating my plan to just another participant in the endless parade of number 1 priorities.
- Chirp: How authentic is your innovation plan; did you just create it to get through the course work or did you really hope to change your organization.
- Me: As I stated earlier, I began my innovation plan as another checkbox to fill in as we were progressing through the DLL program. As the program progressed, I began to see how I could be an agent of change. At the rate we are changing, we might begin to teach in a manner consistent with the needs of the 21st century learner by the end of the 22nd century.
- Chirp: How does the COVA approach and Creating Significant Learning Environments (CSLE) align or not align with your learning philosophy?
- Me: The COVA+CSLE aligns well with my learning philosophy, (video). As a CTE teacher, PBL is primarily what we do. As CTE teachers we talk of empowerment, ownership, learning by doing, differentiated instruction, and more. COVA+CSLE codifies all of our previous thoughts and beliefs about PBL, and unifies it into one coherent learning theory/practice.
- Chirp: How has your perspective on learning and your learning philosophy changed? If there hasn’t been any changes explain why.
- Me: My perspective on learning has been refined and refreshed through the DLL program process. The journey and successfully implementing what we are learning as we go through the program has been rewarding and challenging. It has helped to reinforce the need to see students as individual learners rather than a group of homogenous averages, and tasks to be completed. By fully participating in the DLL program and the reflective learning process, I realized that I was in a teaching rut. I needed to learn that about myself, not hear it from others. I am no different than anyone else. If someone else would have pointed out my ‘phoning it in’, I would have been defensive and argumentative. With the growth mindset and a reawakening leading to this realization, it was an internal acceptance of the need to change, not an outside imposition of a ‘do it or else’ mentality that would have perpetuated the rut.
Chirp: How will you apply the COVA approach to creating significant learning environments that provide your learners with choice, ownership, voice, and authentic learning opportunities?
- Chirp: Knowing what you know now about the COVA approach, how will you plan to use the COVA approach to create significant learning environments in your organization?
- Me: I currently use the COVA+CSLE approach in my culinary classes for menu projects along with recipe choices for preparation techniques and ingredients. I plan on expanding my approach to include more topics that I originally thought of as strictly theory. Using COVA+CSLE for safety training as well as building basic content area vocabulary. It will be a transformational experience for the learner and myself, as well as one that will take time to fully implement.
- Chirp: Or, will you not use the COVA approach and why?
- Me: In some areas I will not be using the full COVA approach. The agreement to be an instructor/proctor for ServSafe® is fairly strict in how material is presented, tested and time allotted, so following the regurgitative model is what will be adhered to. Procedural material will also be covered as a lecture, otherwise my students would include going to a local convenience store for specialty coffees as part of a fire drill.
- Chirp: How will you give your learners choice ownership and voice through authentic assignments?
- Me: It depends on the assignment. The larger the project, the more COVA will be in play. For example:
- A Menu Project: Students will research, develop, theme, write a menu. The menu will include a recipe cost analysis, and determine the per plate cost for their assigned menu week. The menu can be submitted using Google or Microsoft Office tools. This is a wide open project that my students initially struggle with due to the freedom of choice. When they state that they don’t know what to menu, they are really stating that they don’t know how to do the minimum or want information dictated to them so they can regurgitate it. I ask them to Google “recipes”. The current response is 1.7 BILLION results. I encourage them to be creative, expand their palate, and skills as culinary students and future chefs.
- Even with simpler daily practice and projects emphasizing production techniques and ingredients, by providing a variety of recipes utilizing these techniques and items provides the learner with the COVA+CSLE approach. It is the technique and preparation of specific ingredients that matter, not what specific dish the learner is making.
- Me: It depends on the assignment. The larger the project, the more COVA will be in play. For example:
- Chirp: How will you prepare your learners and colleagues for the COVA approach and CSLE?
- Me: Learners are easier to prepare for the COVA+CSLE approach to learning. They are hoping for something different, some way to put their stamp on their learning. They need structure, scaffolding and guidance at the start of the process. It is quite the transition for students, just as transitioning from the classroom to the kitchen is. Procedures not Rules, Guidance not Dictation, Formative assessment not Traditional Formal assessment.
- Me: Colleagues are the more difficult of the two for the COVA+CSLE approach. To prepare for them, I have to walk the walk and talk the talk. I am fully willing to open myself up to review, in the classroom and online. My ePortfolio is open for review, including all of the content therein. I have volunteered to lead PL next year and have been discussing the need for change with my peers.
- Chirp: What are some challenges that you will face in using the COVA approach and CSLE?
- Me: My fellow CTE teachers see this as something we already do, just formalized. Even so, there was some pushback from them as they viewed this as just another thing to do on an already full plate. Our core content teachers are dismissive at best, and hyper-critical and combative at worst. We have had 20+ years of not grading grammar as a part of a learner’s writing skills. After all, “what gets measured, gets done.” We have spent 20+ years undermining our students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills by undermining their writing skills.
- Me: I will be discussing the need for ongoing learning and time to practice, not a one and done meeting followed with a directive to ‘get it done.’ We need time for true professional learning and practice through the implementation stage, and a focus on implementation on an ongoing basis throughout the year.
Chirp: So it you could summarize your experiences in the DLL program…?
Me: Implementation of the COVA+CSLE approach to learning is one of rejecting averages and embracing the individual learner. This approach to learning has codified and refined my approach to teaching and learning. While most of what I do in the culinary kitchen is PBL based, I have found that the COVA approach has helped me to apply a more holistic approach, asking students to reflect more, along with rewording responses to students to reflect a growth mindset approach to their learning. This is one of the most valuable pieces of the DLL experience to me. The COVA+CSLE approach and reflecting a growth mindset have made me a more reflective teacher. I engage my thinking more when responding to learners, reflecting on how to guide and coach, not answering questions, steering learners to learn, how to find answers on their own, asking instead of telling…
I will admit the process has been a struggle. While I am glad that the DLL program has helped me to become a better professional learner and classroom facilitator, the challenges to full implementation of my plan may not be successfully overcome in the near future. I have tempered my initial expectations birthed in the excitement of the initial introduction to the DLL program, COVA+CSLE, PL vs PD, and the Growth Mindset. We need to move from an ‘anything we do helps the learner’ mindset that is prevalent in today’s educational settings resulting from our failures during the Covid pandemic, to a planned response to our shortcomings. The deliberate planning and practice of pedagogy need to replace our knee jerk reactive mindset. This is a multi-year project and process that will take the remainder of my career prior to retirement, along with passing on the torch to my early adopter peers. I see my innovation plan/implementation plan as the first step to change how learning should occur in my organization. As we build upon successes, (and reflect on setbacks), we can transform from a factory model of schooling to a 21st century learner centric approach that emphasizes authentic learning. I hope to steer some of my peers to Lamar for the successor program to the DLL, (M.Ed., Applied Digital Learning). It has truly been a transformative experience for me and my students that I want to share with others.
- Rose, T. (2016, January 16). When the U.S. Air Force discovered the flaw of averages. Thestar.Com. Retrieved January 19, 2022, from https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2016/01/16/when-us-air-force-discovered-the-flaw-of-averages.html
- Gates, A. W. (2015). Teaching in a Digital Age, Guidelines for designing teaching and learning [E-book]. https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/
- Gulamhussein, A. (2013). Teaching the Teachers Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability. Center for Public Education. Retrieved from http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/system/files/2013-176_ProfessionalDevelopment.pdf
- Harapnuik, D. (2016, November 3). Four keys to understanding learning theories. It’s About Learning. http://www.harapnuik.org/?p=6344
- Harapnuik, D. K., Thibodeaux, T. N., & Cummings, C. D. (2018). Choice, Ownership, and Voice through Authentic Learning Opportnities. http://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=7291
- infed.org. (2013, April 5). What is learning? A definition and discussion – infed.org: Infed.Org. https://infed.org/learning-theory-models-product-and-process/
- Duarte, Inc. (2009, December 16). Five simple rules for creating world changing presentations [Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hT9GGmundag&feature=youtu.be
- Skousen, C. W. (2021). The 5000 Year Leap. National Center for Constitutional Studies.
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