Monday, September 14, 2009

LoTi Digital-Age Schools: Research Findings

During the past three years, rigorous efforts have been made at LoTi Digital-Age Schools to document student academic growth resulting from their school's participation in a multi-year school improvement process. Each campus that transitions into a LoTi Digital-Age School targets three measurable indicators of success: (1) Level of Technology Implementation (LoTi), (2) Current Instructional Practices (CIP), and (3) Student Academic Growth (measured by standardized tests).

Annual Pre/Post assessments are used to measure the first two indicators (i.e., LoTi/CIP) using in-class observations, student artifacts, lesson plans, and teacher/student interviews; annual standardized test score results are employed to measure student academic growth from one year to the next.

Each LoTi Digital-Age School also follows a tightly-coupled implementation model involving three stages of implementation: (1) Building Capacity, (2) Implementing Change, and (3) Sustaining Independence. Though one would expect elevated levels of LoTi, CIP, and Student Growth to occur at the conclusion of the final stage, Sustaining Independence, test score data has revealed statistically-significant increases in targeted content areas/grade levels after the first stage (i.e., Building Capacity).

In the Atlantic City School District in Atlantic City, New Jersey, statistically-significant results were realized in the targeted grades levels, 5th-8th grade, in the area of mathematics after the first year of the LoTi Digital-Age School implementation based on the NJ ASK (Assessment of Skills and Knowledge); statistically-significant increases in math achievement scores were similarly noted over the two subsequent years of implementation. In the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District outside Houston, Texas, statistically significant results were realized in all LoTi Digital-Age Schools at the middle school level based on the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills).

The type of statistical analysis used to determine statistically significant academic gains in student achievement at these digital-age campuses involved a z-test for proportions. A z-test for proportions was used to compare percentage changes in the students meeting the standards from one year to the next due to the fairly large sample sizes across grades.

The fact that test scores based on standardized measures have climbed at targeted campuses employing a school improvement model is not all that newsworthy; what is worth consideration is that these campuses are utilizing the tenets of digital-age learning (e.g., higher order thinking processes, real-world connections, differentiated instruction, technology integration) as their pathway to achieving two critical objectives: improving student academic achievement and preparing students for their successful matriculation into a digital world.

May the LoTi Be With You Always!

Chris Moersch

Friday, September 4, 2009

It's Time to Turn Up the H.E.A.T.!

During the past 5 years, I have queried classroom teachers, building and district administrators, curriculum leaders, and parent groups about the concept of student engagement. Specifically, I have asked the following question, “Do students make a conscious decision to become engaged in the learning process daily?” To this question, I have received a plethora of responses ranging from “Absolutely; otherwise why would they be in class?” to “I don’t know.” This essential question is further compounded when one considers Herbert Kohl’s book, I Won't Learn From You and Other Thoughts on Creative Maladjustment and his assertion that students who become disengaged and disenfranchised intentionally “not learn” what they are allegedly learning in the classroom.

When students decide, "I won't learn from you," they go into "not-learning" mode. "Not-learning" describes any number of behaviors that a learner uses to keep new information from getting into the brain. Some students put their hands over their ears. Less blatant forms of resisting learning include running a silent monologue to concentrate on which competes with and blocks the voices outside or just becoming passively compliant in the classroom. According to Kohl, “Not learning tends to take place when someone has to deal with unavoidable challenges to his or her personal and family loyalties, integrity and identity. In such situations there are forced choices and no apparent middle ground.”

How big is the problem of “not learning” and/or “lack of student engagement” in our schools? Informal responses from hundreds of professional educators reveal a dismay picture. The average level of student disengagement (i.e., student behavior exemplifying non-attentiveness, silence, apathy, and/or boredom) as self-reported by random classroom teachers and building administrators nationally is highest at the high school level (upwards of 90% student disengagement) followed by the middle school environment (somewhere between 40% to 70% disengagement) . The lowest level of disengagement appears to be at the elementary level (typically 10% to 40% disengagement). Though these numbers may fluctuate from campus to campus and region to region, the point is the lack of student engagement does negatively impact student success in the classroom.

Elevating the level of student engagement should, therefore, be a top priority of all stakeholders vested in the teaching/learning field. At LoTi Digital-Age Schools, elevating the level of student engagement means turning up the H.E.A.T.
H.E.A.T. is an acronym representing Higher order thinking, Engaged learning, Authenticity, and Technology use.

Higher order thinking represents the higher level discrete thinking operations (Bloom) involving application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation and the broader, more all-encompassing complex thinking strategies that depend on a series of steps to reach a conclusion. These complex thinking strategies include problem-solving, creative problem-solving, decision-making, investigation, reflective thinking, experimental inquiry, and inductive/deductive reasoning. (A summary of these strategies appears in the Article Resources.) Classrooms that are generating higher order thinking are engaging students in the content, process, and/or product stages using one of more of these complex thinking strategies.

Engaged learning represents the level in which students are actively involved in the learning process. Are they merely reporting back distilled information to the teacher or are they involved in identifying a problem and finding a solution that possesses both personal and social importance. Engaging the learner extends beyond simple compliant behavior, but moves the learner toward active involvement in the classroom. Students generating their own essential questions relating to the content is one measuring stick used to determine the amount of engagement in a classroom.

Authenticity represents what people might actually do in the real world- real life issues, themes, problems. The degree of authenticity may fluctuate depending on the age and background of the learner; yet all authentic assessments possess the following attributes: Allow for multiple solutions Relate to student’s prior knowledge Have personal meaning Be challenging Employ complex thinking processes. One of the easiest ways to infuse greater authenticity into student learning experiences is by integrating one of more 21st Century Themes into the learning experience. These themes include:
  • Global Awareness,
  • Economic Literacy,
  • Health and Wellness Awareness, and
  • Civic Awareness
Technology use measures whether or not the technology used in the learning experience bolsters the level of student cognition, increases student engagement, and/or paves the way for greater relevance or authenticity relating to the learning experience? If the answer is “Yes” to this question, then the use of various learning technologies ranging from podcasts to online graphing programs is appropriate and highly desired. If the answer is “No”, then the use of technology becomes nothing more than an add-on and is not needed for task completion.

Taken collectively, H.E.A.T provides a context to assess student learning experience at the operational curriculum level serving as a useful set of descriptors for classroom walkthroughs, peer coaching/mentoring interventions, and lesson plan evaluations. By turning up the H.E.A.T., students are given the chance to apply or transfer critical content to contextual situations that involve high levels of engagement, critical thinking, and increased relevance. The result is improved student academic achievement as well as improved classroom climate.

May the LoTi be with you Always!
Chris Moersch

Kohl, Herbert (1987). Leadership for change. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Company.

Building-Level Leadership: The Key to A Successful LoTi Digital-Age School

Years ago, I would conduct informal assessments of school building principals attempting to extract their perceptions about technology’s role in the classroom.  When asked about what constituted “high level” technology use, I frequently heard comments such as“ As long as students are busy on the computers, I know that learning is occurring,” “ I want students to access the internet, synthesize information, and present it in a multimedia presentation,” or “ My staff uses computers as tutorials for the upcoming high stakes test.”  Oftentimes, I found out that the perceptions of the building principal mirrored the manner in which technology was used campus-wide.

Do building principals overtly tell their staff how to use learning technologies in the various content areas?  Not really.  Their collective influence is more indirect in the form of feedback from classroom walkthroughs and formal teacher evaluations, comments made during faculty meetings, emails communicated to staff, and actual funding for technology assets on campus.  Recently, I read an email from a building principal to her staff suggesting the need for tunnel vision as they prepared their students for the upcoming high-stakes test.

What message was the principal communicating to her staff because the need for tunnel vision relating to test preparation does not necessarily conjure up visions of open-ended problem-solving, student-lead investigations, or 21st Century learning?  What it does manifest is didactic teaching practices, sequential learning activities, and whole group instruction.  In this paradigm, technology use is often relegated to tutorial status or, worse yet, used as a reward center once students have completed their test-preparation exercises.  My comments here are not to imply that test readiness strategies do not have their place with high-stakes testing.  My comments are directed at the tremendous influence that building level leadership exerts over the instructional curriculum and initiatives such as the LoTi Digital-Age Schools.

LoTi Digital-Age Schools follow a four-step implementation model that includes Assessing, Planning, Implementing, and Sustaining. The role of the building principal is pivotal at each of these critical stages.


During the Assessment Stage, effective building leaders are able to articulate clearly  their school’s academic priorities which, in some cases, are not necessarily tied to test scores.  These priorities might include a focus on differentiated instruction, informal assessment strategies, Rigor and Relevance, or an emphasis on complex thinking skills.  Effective building level leadership is able to determine which instructional priorities will have the greatest impact on student success in the classroom.


Effective building leaders are able to formulate a plan of action that is targeted on student achievement and classroom pedagogy and based on specific, measurable, doable, realistic and timely goals.  Effective building level leadership is able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their organization and champion a plan of action that embraces the needs of all stakeholders.  In the LoTi Implementation process, this plan of action provides a clear and realistic expectation for results and accountability.


In the implementation process, effective building leaders are able to “talk the talk” and “walk the walk.”  Their presence at LoTi-related professional development sessions signals to staff the importance of higher order thinking, engaged learning, authentic student assessments, and effective technology use in the classroom.  They attend and support these types of interventions because they recognize that a truly differentiated classroom possesses multiple LoTi levels as well as diversity in the types of instructional strategies used in the classroom.  Effective building-level leaders are able to create a dynamic esprit de corp among staff members where risk-taking is encouraged and nurtured,


At successful LoTi Project School sites, effective building level leaders are able to sustain the change process by carefully monitoring classroom instruction via walkthroughs, openly rewarding instructional practices that align with a learner-centered approach as well as promote Marzano’s research-based practices, and support the overall instructional mission of the campus.

At LoTi Digital-Age Schools, successful campuses are operated by instructional leaders; not instructional managers.  The key to effective instructional leadership is the ability to identify a targeted goal and create a viable plan to achieve and sustain that goal given the enormous outside pressures to alter or abandon its targeted outcome.  Show me a strong instructional leader and I will show you a successful LoTi Digital-Age School.

May the LoTi be with you Always!

Chris Moersch