The Sync Teaching Method: A Blended Approach To Self-Directed Learning
by Terry Heick
The definition of second screen learning is roughly what it sounds like it might be–learning through a second screen. This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that students are on their own, nor even that every student has to have their own device. Let’s back up for a moment and take a look at the big picture of learning.
Learning is about students interacting with and creating new ideas. For decades, the ‘create’ part has been mostly mute, saved for end-of-the-unit projects or writing prompts. And the interaction part was often missing as well. Interaction is possible with teachers and textbooks as well as it is with apps and tablets, but not on the same scale, with the same degree of personalization, or the same engaging form-factors.
The Difference Between 1:1 & Second Screen Learning
In a 1:1 environment, every student has their own device–which opens things up considerably. Second screen learning environments can also see every student having their own device–or even one per group. The difference is a matter of syncing. In second screen learning classrooms, the teachers and students are ‘sync’d’ content-wise with one another, while still having the tools, learning strategies, freedom, and space to clarify, extend, create, or connect the learning.
Take the metaphor of the teacher as a conductor, and the students as members of the symphony. Roughly, that’s what second screen learning implies–a group of students creating their own music, but still following the teacher as a guide. The difference is that here, the teacher is the ‘first screen’–the Sync Point. In this role, they choose what, when, and how the students sync with the primary screen, or the teacher themselves.
A Clarifying Image Of The Sync Teaching Method
The image below hints at this, where the teacher is delivering ‘Content 1,’ and each student or group of students are then accessing 1A, 1B, 1C, and so on, respectively. Whether this is done in 4 groups with 4 tablets, or 28 individual students in 1:1 or BYOD classrooms, the big idea is the same: students accessing (or creating) personalized content while the teacher guides and facilitates the core of the lesson.
A neat middle ground between self-directed learning and sage-on-stage, yes? So what are some of the benefits for you as a teacher?
4 Ways Sync Teaching & Second Screen Learning Can Support Teachers & Students
1. You can differentiate more creatively
In the Sync Teaching approach, teachers have the ability to differentiate due to the sheer abundance of engaging and flexible learning resources, from learning simulations to YouTube channels, blogs, social media platforms, and more.
If you think of differentiation as offering different content, processes, products, or learning environment based on readiness or interest, the more diverse those processes, products, environment, or that content, the more creative you can get as a teacher. Here, students are only required to ‘sync’ with your standard, or topic, essential question, or whatever.
As the teacher, you choose the central theme, and they make their own pathways in pursuit.
2. Students can use social apps more naturally
Using social apps in sync teaching, students can interact with one another using their ‘digital voice.’ They can also ping relevant networks and communities, peers in other schools. community and organization leaders, or even content experts.
They can also curate their thinking and mingle using backchannel discussions on twitter or instagram. Could the get off-task and distracted? Of course, but that’s not new. And it’s also easier to track by those same networks, peer groups, and even families. Yay for digital footprints!
3. You can follow curriculum documents more closely
This is probably the biggest draw of syn teaching/second screen learning for many teachers: the ability to stick to necessary curriculum documents. While many teachers want to let students innovate and direct their own learning, this is often at odds with the demands of assessment requirements, and local school and district concerns.
How can second screen learning help here? By allowing the teachers to choose the central theme–or Sync Point–while still offering students room to create, find their own resources, clarify their understanding, etc.
In this way, it’s a kind of blended approach to tablets–that is, a blend of find-your-own-pathway-to-whatever-you-find-interest and do-this-then-this-then-this-because-I-said-so. Students can have their learning extended by teachers, or extend and create it themselves parallel to the teacher. They can follow their curiosity while the teacher remediates, or add their own voice and choice to the lesson with their ‘digital voice.’
4. Sync Teaching promotes students interacting directly with content
As opposed to traditional 1:1 classrooms, sync teaching/second screen learning is less ‘open’; compared to traditional classrooms, it’s more so. Somewhere in the middle, second screens allow students to access instead of watch; respond instead of listen; create instead of watch others create. It also puts every student on the clock to produce something.
In a second screen classroom, every student has a digital instrument to make sound, but they most due so with some kind of pace, rhythm, or pattern set by the teacher–who, for all the technology in the world, is almost always the most powerful learning resource a student has access to.
This post was written in 2017 and updated several times, most recently in September 2020.
The Sync Teaching Method: What You Can Do With Second Screen Learning; image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad
Me Learning: A Student-Centered Learning Model
by Terry Heick
A couple of years ago, I developed a kind of self-directed learning model.
At the time, I thought of it as a way to support students in understanding how to learn. It was designed to let students identify–on their own–what to learn as the critical core for understanding how to learn, while also requiring them to design when and with and through what means–learning strategies, technology, alone or together, project-based learning vs academic study, etc.
Teaching students to think and learn isn’t simple–nor is it a matter of process. This is a concept that can get complicated in a hurry as we run into issues of semantics and form–self-regulated learning vs self-directed learning vs heutagogy, and so on.
Beginning with a single student and extending outwards as a matter of interdependence, legacy, and ultimately citizenship is an ambitious and ‘costly’ undertaking. In most public schools, choosing what to learn and why isn’t a big priority. The what is decided by academic standards, and the when by curriculum maps and pacing guides–and all of it by anyone but the student. Which kind of makes sense–how can the student choose what to learn when they have no idea what’s out there?
But that they don’t is also a symptom of the problem. Learning first is, always, a matter of self. Who am I? What do I know? What is required of me by those I love? What do I need, want, and dream of? How do I relate to the world around me? Through what means, ways, and possibilities?
Without that as a context, the ‘learning’ is really a kind of academic training.
The Industry Of Learning
The current education form–aptly labeled as industrial–is very good at certain things: alignment, distribution, measurement, data collection, and reporting. These are necessities when trying to get thousands of schools and tens of thousands of teachers and tens of millions of students ‘on the same page.’
But it is problematic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it decenters students. Students must adjust to it, rather than the reverse. When 70,000 fans are entering a stadium, there is a required sacrifice of personalization. Scale, pace, and efficiency are the goals, and set the tone for everything. When you enter someone’s home–or a classroom–it can’t be that way.
So then, something like ‘Me Learning’ might be useful in seeing what a student-centered learning experience might look like.
The goal of the model is a student-centered learning experience that yields self-knowledge.
The System & The Parts
As a system, it is designed to begin and end with the student and their identifying their own knowledge demands.
There are two sides to the model–Wisdom and Experience.
The key question of the Wisdom side is, “What’s worth understanding?” and the key question of the Experience side is “What’s worth doing as a result?”
WISDOM: Choosing what’s worth understanding, and is broken down into two parts–Content and Design.
This is a knowledge category–where I choose something to study or learn based on one of the five following ideas.
1. Citizenship: I want or need to learn something based on some matter of family, citizenship, community, or legacy I am a part of
2. Curiosity: I want to know more about something.
3. Priority & Need: There is, for whatever cause or reason, a more general sense of priority for me to know or be able to do something.
4. Creativity & Expression: As a matter of pure creativity and self-expression, I want to learn about something.
5. Academic Need: As a matter of academic performance–a test, certification, or related external benchmark that relates to something I want.
How should I design my work? This is a category that helps better understand the nature of my work–a series of checks for my ideas.
1. Quality Criteria: What should the quality criteria of my work be? What standards? How will I know if it’s ‘good enough’?
2. Scale: What is the best scale for my work? What scale will allow me to do my best work with the resources and knowledge I have?
3. Duration: How long should my work take? How will I know that I’m’ done’?
4. Depth: How deep should I go? How complex should I get?
5. Purpose & Function: What goal makes sense for me? What should my work “do”?
EXPERIENCE: Choosing what’s worth doing, and is broken down into two parts–Connectivism and Learning Frameworks.
Who should I connect to, work with, and consider a primary audience for my work? Who can help me, and who can I help?
- Collaborators: Who has the ideas, resources, or affection to share in my work?
- Audience: Who wants or needs to know or receive the product of what I do?
- Mentors: Who has done something like this in the past and can support me somehow?
- Roles & Perspectives: What roles is it possible that I take? What do people do in the ‘real world’ in these situations?
- Compelling Models: What’s already out there that I can study and learn from?
What approaches to my learning might I take?Below are five possibilities, but many more exist.
- Model-Based Learning: Learning through the study and subsequent iteration, transfer, or mashing of existing models.
- Inquiry-Based Learning: Learning through a formal system of inquiry.
- Project-Based Learning: A process of learning facilitated by the design and execution of a project.
- Challenge-Based Learning: An approach to learning that is a mix of PBL and problem-solving.
- Maker Ed: Learning by a hands-on approach to making
The Student Agreement
This is where student clarify exactly what there plans are. This should be shared with a teacher, family, collaborators, mentors–anyone that can help the student narrow, broaden, deepen, simplify, or otherwise improve their plan and execution of learning.
Similar to our recent Principles of Genius Hour, the end result should be a student plan for their own learning. A few simple examples could be:
My plan is to:
To study _______ (topic) by ______ (learning framework) for _____ (number of hours or days)
To make a _______ (authentic product) for _______ (audience) for _______ (desired effect)
To change ________ (social challenge) by ________ (verb) with _________ (collaborators)
To design a _______ (product) using______ (technology) for use by _________ (audience)
Learning How To Learn: A Model; Introducing Me Learning: A Student-Centered Learning Model
The Characteristics Of A Good School
by Terry Heick
When a society changes, so then must its tools.
Definitions of purpose and quality must also be revised continuously. What should a school ‘do’? Be? How can we tell a good school from a bad one?
This really starts at the human level but that’s a broader issue. For now, let’s consider that schools are simply pieces of larger ecologies. The most immediate ecologies they participate in are human and cultural. As pieces in (human) ecologies, when one thing changes, everything else does as well. When it rains, the streams flood, the meadows are damp, the clovers bloom, and the bees bustle. When there’s drought, things are dry, and stale, and still.
When technology changes, it impacts the kinds of things we want and need. Updates to technology change what we desire; as we desire new things, technology changes to seek to provide them. The same goes for–or should go for–education. Consider a few of the key ideas in progressive education. Mobile learning, examples of digital citizenship, design thinking, collaboration, creativity, and on a larger scale, digital literacy,1:1, and more are skills and content bits that every student would benefit from exposure to and mastery of. As these force their way into schools and classrooms and assignments and the design thinking of teachers, this is at the cost of ‘the way things were.’
When these ‘things’ are forced in with little adjustment elsewhere, the authenticity of everything dies. The ecology itself is at risk.
The Purpose Of School In An Era Of Change
What should schools teach, and how? And how do we know if we’re doing it well? These are astoundingly important questions–ones that must be answered with social needs, teacher gifts, and technology access in mind. Now, we take the opposite approach. Here’s what all students should know, now let’s figure out how we can use what we have to teach it. If we don’t see the issue in its full context, we’re settling for glimpses.
How schools are designed and what students learn–and why–must be reviewed, scrutinized, and refined as closely and with as much enthusiasm as we do the gas mileage of our cars, the downloads speeds of our phones and tablets, or the operating systems of our watches. Most modern academic standards take a body-of-knowledge approach to education. This, to me, seems to be a dated approach to learning that continues to hamper our attempts to innovate.
Why can’t education, as a system, refashion itself as aggressively as the digital technology that is causing it so much angst? The fluidity of a given curriculum should at least match the fluidity of relevant modern knowledge demands. Maybe the first step in pursuit of an innovative and modern approach to teaching and learning might be to rethink the idea of curriculum as the core of learning models?
Less is more is one way to look at it, but that’s not new–power standards have been around for years. In fact, in this era of information access, smart clouds, and worsening socioeconomic disparity, we may want to consider whether we should be teaching content at all, or rather teaching students to think, design their own learning pathways, and create and do extraordinary things that are valuable to them in their place?
Previously we’ve assumed that would be the effect–that if students could read and write and do arithmetic and compose arguments and extract the main idea and otherwise master a (now nationalized) body of knowledge, that they’d learn to think and play with complex ideas and create incredible things and understand themselves in the process. That the more sound and full their knowledge background was, the greater the likelihood that they’ll create healthy self-identities and be tolerant of divergent thinking and do good work and act locally and think globally and create a better world.
A curriculum-first school design is based on the underlying assumption that if they know this and can do this, that this will be the result. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. Worse, we tend to celebrate school success instead of human success. We create ‘good schools’ that graduate scores of students with very little hope for the future. How crazy is that?
How can a school call itself ‘good’ when it produces students that don’t know themselves, the world, or their place in it?
So then, here’s one take on a new definition for a ‘good school.’
The Characteristics Of A Good School
- A good school visibly and substantively improves the community it is embedded within.
- A good school adapts quickly to social change.
- A good school uses every resource, advantage, gift, and opportunity it has to grow students and tends to see more resources, advantages, gifts, and opportunities than lower-performing schools.
- A good school has students who get along with and support one another towards a common goal–and they know what that goal is.
- A good school produces students that read and write because they want to.
- A good school admits its failures and limitations while working together with a ‘global community’ to grow.
- A good school has diverse and compelling measures of success–measures that families and communities understand and value.
- A good school is full of students who know what’s worth understanding.
- A good school speaks the language of the children, families, and community it serves.
- A good school improves other schools and cultural organizations it’s connected with.
- A good school understands the relationship between curiosity, inquiry, and lasting human change.
- A good school makes certain that every single student and family feels welcome and understood on equal terms.
- A good school is full of students that not only ask great questions but do so with great frequency and ferocity.
- A good school changes students; students change great schools.
- A good school understands the difference between a bad idea and the bad implementation of a good idea.
- A good school uses professional development designed to improve teacher capacity over time.
- A good school doesn’t make empty promises, create misleading mission statements, or mislead parents and community-members with edu-jargon. It is authentic and transparent.
- A good school values its teachers and administrators and parents as agents of student success.
- A good school is willing to ‘change its mind’ in the face of relevant trends, data, challenges, and opportunities.
- A good school teaches thought, not content.
- A good school decenters itself–makes technology, curriculum, policies, and its other ‘pieces’ less visible than students and hope and growth.
- A good school is disruptive of bad cultural practices. These include intolerance based on race, income, faith, and sexual preference, aliteracy, and apathy toward the environment.
- A good school produces students that see and know themselves in their own context rather than merely as ‘good students.’ These contexts should include geographical, cultural, community-based, language-driven, and professional factors and ideas.
- A good school produces students that have personal and specific hope for the future that they can articulate and believe in and share with others.
- A good school produces students that can empathize, critique, protect, love, inspire, make, design, restore, and understand almost anything–and then do so as a matter of habit.
- A good school will connect with other good schools–and connect students, too.
- A good school is more concerned with cultural practices than pedagogical practices–students and families than other schools or the educational status quo.
- A good school helps students understand the nature of knowledge–its types, fluidity, uses/abuses, applications, opportunities for transfer, etc.
- A good school will experience disruption in its own patterns and practices and values because its students are creative, empowered, and connected, and cause unpredictable change themselves.
- A good school will produce students that can think critically–about issues of human interest, curiosity, artistry, craft, legacy, husbandry, agriculture, and more–and then do so.
- A good school will help students see themselves in terms of their historical framing, familial legacy, social context, and global connectivity.
- A good school wants all students ‘on grade level’
- A good school has a great library and a librarian who loves students and who loves books and who wants the two to make meaningful connections.
- A good school may have maker spaces and 3D printers and wonderful arts and humanities programs, but more importantly, these kinds of learning spaces are characterized by students and their ideas rather than the ‘programs’ and technology itself.
- A good school is full of joy, curiosity, hope, knowledge, and constant change.
- A good school admits when it has a problem rather than hiding or ‘reframing it as an opportunity.’ (Sometimes, too much growth mindset can be a bad thing.)
- A good school doesn’t have unnecessary meetings.
- A good school doesn’t spend money just because it’s there.
- A good school may love project-based learning but loves the projects more and the students doing the projects even more.
- A good school explains test results honestly and in-context.
- A good school never gives up on a student and depends on creative thinking and solutions for the students who ‘challenge’ them.
- A good school isn’t afraid to ask for help.
- A good school sees the future of learning and merges it with the potential of the present.
- A good school doesn’t graduate students with little to no hope for the future.
- A good school separates knowledge, understanding, skills, and competencies–and helps students do the same.
- A good school ‘moves’ gifted students as ‘far’ as they move struggling students.
- A good school benefits from the gifts and resources of its students and their families–and then bolsters those gifts and resources in return.
- A good school doesn’t exhaust teachers and administrators.
- A good school feels good for all visitors to learn within, teach within, visit, and otherwise experience.
- A good school seeks to grow great teachers who seek to grow all students to shape and change their world.
The Characteristics Of A Good School
An Inquiry Framework: 5 Levels Of Student Ownership
by Terry Heick
Student ownership is the degree to which a learner feels a natural sense of responsibility and curiosity about their work.
In contrast with simple compliance, or vague engagement, ownership implies something broader and more cohesive–a tone of interaction between a student and their work that is meaningful and enduring–something bigger than the assignment itself.
The above framework from Sundberg & Moncada (1994), Ohlhorst (1995), D’Avanzo (1996), and Grant & Vatnick (1998) takes this idea of ownership and applies it to inquiry-based learning. The result is a kind of spectrum analyzing the nature of teaching inquiry, moving close-ended demonstration to open-ended inquiry and even collaboration with the researchers themselves.
And maybe more usefully, the framework illustrates how different approaches to learning have different purposes, tactics, and ‘controllers.’
What Are The Different Kinds Of Inquiry?
At the top of the chart, most of the components of inquiry-learning–the questions, research system, data collection methods, and forms of presentation and publishing–are all given by the teacher to the student. As students increasingly take on ownership in pursuit of more open-ended inquiry, less is given by the teacher, and is instead ‘owned’ and provided by the students.
Inquiry Mode: Close-ended Demonstration
Inquiry Mode: Guided Inquiry
Inquiry Mode: Bounded Inquiry
Inquiry Mode: Open-ended Inquiry
Inquiry Mode: Collaboration with Researcher
Applying Inquiry In Your Classroom
It’d be easy to mistake this as ‘for’ high-level research at the late high school and college level, but the general spirit parallels the general release of responsibility model, or the concept of scaffolding, where students are given much, then less, then only as much as they need.
It also helpfully itemizes the purpose of learning in different domains–developing a skill versus contributing knowledge to a given discipline.
In that way, at its most supporting and restrictive (top, left), students participate in close-ended inquiry with components supplied by the teacher, and in less supportive and the least restrictive approach, students are taught the process of knowledge construction rather than content (bottom right), or even connect directly with content experts and researchers themselves.
So, what is the takeaway for the way you think about your units, and how students interact with the content in your classroom? Is this new? How you’ve always approached inquiry? A way to differentiate across the range of student-readiness?
An Inquiry Framework: Levels Of Student Ownership
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