“Are we giving students answers to questions they haven’t asked and solutions to problems they have never encountered?” Author and consultant with an expertise in blended learning options, Catlin Tucker, explores bringing relevance, curiosity, and inquiry into our students learning opportunities. She describes “onboarding” students to learning opportunities.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:01 Hello, and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud Podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening. I’m thrilled you’re here.
Steve: 00:34 What are you seeing students doing? I’m pleased to have Dr. Catlin Tucker joining our podcast today. I know that many years back, she was one of the first folks I was following on Twitter and across the years I’ve seen her name appearing as I’ve searched resources and followed up recommendations from others. We recently had the opportunity to both be facilitating as part of a leadership innovation project, and her presentation and our side conversation caused me to want to have her share her thoughts with the podcast listeners. Catlin is a bestselling author, a keynote speaker, international trainer and professor in the Masters of Arts Teaching Program at Pepperdine University. She has written a series of books on blended learning, including, “The Shift to Student Lead,” “The Complete Guide to Blended Learning” and “UDL and Blended Learning: Thriving in Flexible Learning Landscapes.” So glad to have you here. Welcome Catlin.
Catlin: 01:42 Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Steve: 01:45 So I wanted to start our conversation with the statement that you made from the stage when we were together in Dubai. And it grabbed me and I wrote it down and I knew that I wanted to kick a podcast off around it. And here’s what she said folks: “We continue to give questions that students aren’t asking and request solutions to problems they haven’t experienced.” Talk about what’s behind that statement because I love it.
Catlin: 02:15 Well, I think the question on the stage had something to do with why students aren’t curious or what happens to student curiosity. And it makes a lot of sense why students aren’t curious from my perspective. If, like you just said, they get answers to questions they don’t ask, and they get solutions to problems they’ve never encountered, and this disconnect between their lived experience and their questions and their challenges, and then the experience they’re having in school, it must make learning feel very arbitrary and irrelevant for many of them. And what is the purpose of curiosity if that curiosity isn’t actually driving learning in the classroom?
Steve: 02:59 A story just jumped into my mind. I remember my daughter being in middle school and seated at the dinner table. I said something and she said, “oh my God, we talked about that in school today.”
Catlin: 03:14 .
Steve: 03:15 It was like this total shock that the there was this connection between a dinner conversation and what they had talked about at school. I think that really, really aligns with what you said there.
Catlin: 03:29 Yeah. And it’s slightly alarming, right? That that is cause for shock and awe .
Steve: 03:34 Yeah. It shouldn’t be a surprise that that something from school fell into that conversation. So what does changing that scenario that you’ve described – what would changing that scenario require of teachers?
Catlin: 03:50 Well, I understand, first, let me say that teachers are under bombastic pressure to cover content and to stay at kind of up to date at certain times in the year with particular pacing guides to prepare for tests. I understand those pressures, but at the end of the day, I think this coverage approach to curriculum, like I have to blow through all of this information and make sure all of these skills are introduced without really stopping to think about how can I make this relevant for learners? How can within these umbrellas of curriculum and topics and subjects can I invite students to play a role in this work? To ask questions. To potentially choose a lens through which to look or a lens through which to approach particular assignments. To embrace things like the five E’s instructional model where maybe students are generating a high interest question related to the curriculum that then they are kind of pursuing in parallel to the work teachers feel they must do, guiding students through information and onboarding them, and we’re helping them refine specific skills.
Catlin: 05:06 I just think so often that pressure to cover content means teachers don’t allow the space for students to engage in inquiry to pursue their curiosities and quite frankly, to engage in the messy work that is learning. Learning is not quick, it’s not clean. Kids need some time and space to get into it, and I just don’t think they’re afforded that in the classroom. And so for many, over years of this kind of experience of sitting and getting and having very little control over their education and their experience in classrooms, they just disengage. And it doesn’t surprise me at all. I can think back to my own experience in school, and even though I was very studious and took school seriously, I did not enjoy most of it.
Steve: 05:53 We’ve got a a new eight month old grandchild roaming around the house now on a visit and watching him learn is just delightful. And it’s always why I’ve appreciated working with with preschool teachers because they get an advantage. Preschool kids won’t allow you to teach, right? You better plan for them to learn because they won’t take the teaching that that older students have been been taught and and trained to take in.
Catlin: 06:33 Well, and watching them – those little beings exploring the world, you’re just reminded of how learning is so tactile and experiential and social in nature, and yet you walk into particularly secondary classrooms and it doesn’t look like that a lot of the time.
Steve: 06:51 So how do you see the opportunities available from blended learning helping us address this?
Catlin: 07:01 Well, I want to be really clear because I think after the pandemic, one of the things that’s been a bit alarming to me is the
assumption that somehow blended learning is a knee jerk reaction to the pandemic because it was really the first time a lot of educators heard this phrase. I wrote my first book on blended learning way back in 2010. So this is something that’s been around for much longer than even that if you look at the kind of college level. But for me, when I define it for teachers, just to be clear, hey, this is what I’m talking about. It is active, engaged learning online combined with active engaged learning offline. And that combination can happen entirely in a classroom. It can happen on a hybrid schedule, and it can happen in a remote learning scenario like we saw during the pandemic.
Catlin: 07:43 And so when I’m in elementary classrooms, for a lot of those teachers, they’re already using things like learning centers. They may not be integrating technology yet, but they’re using that kind of circular rotation to move students through learning activities. So with that group of teachers, we’ll talk about, where might the technology kind of enhance and improve the learning at a particular station? And then at the other ones, at those offline stations, we really focus on that tactile, experiential social learning. So in a secondary classroom, I think there’s often this misconception that a model like the station rotation is very elementary, right? And I think that’s more because secondary teachers are trained to write an agenda on the board and then kind of march the whole class through a sequence of learning activities together. But we know that’s problematic because it’s really hard to differentiate. Kids move through tasks at different paces.
Catlin: 08:36 And when we control them and do it all at one pace, we lose kids. We end up with unproductive behaviors and kids who check out and are not engaged. And so using models like station rotation or the playlist model, really allows students to control that pacing. It gives teachers opportunities to pull individual and small groups for that differentiated personalized instruction and allow the rest of the class to engage in individual and or kind of collaborative tasks where hopefully they’re able to pursue questions of interest, conduct research, engage in conversations, collaborate with peers. So we’re integrating more of that, kind of, those different styles of learning and different approaches, different modalities into a single lesson where the teacher feels like hopefully they can be even more effective at that transfer of information guiding students through new skills and strategies because they’re working with small groups. They’re differentiating the instruction, the models, the support, et cetera for that group of learners.
Catlin: 09:36 The trick with blended learning though, is that in classes where classroom management is tenuous, students don’t have a lot of practice with self-directed learning, those are all things we have to really skill build around. We need to build routines and structures so kids can be supported. It’s just often teachers get so nervous, they’re like I’m gonna go back to what’s comfortable. I want as much control as possible. And then ends up with them at the front of the room, orchestrating the entire lesson and students kind of continuing to be in that passive consumptive role.
Steve: 10:07 I’ve developed and worked with the term learning production behaviors. Those are the behaviors that kids need to carry out in order to learn. So the phrase I use is, “teachers don’t cause student achievement. Students cause student achievement.” But that means the student has to do the work of learning, but sometimes we have to stop and teach what the learning behaviors are. So an empowered student is a student who knows how to tackle a tackle a learning issue. And I think that’s what I’m hearing you describe. My best example was a a kindergarten teacher early in the year, I observed her doing this activity with kids where kids were sitting in pairs on the floor.
Steve: 11:02 They had a they had a little worksheet they were doing together where they had to roll a die and whatever number came up on the die, they had to read a sight word and color in a block. So I’m watching the kids and I realize they aren’t reading the sight word. They’re just rolling the dye and coloring the blocks. And so I’m pondering how I’m gonna approach this with the teacher to talk about it. And we got to a post conference and I said, “what did you notice?” And she said, “I noticed that the kids weren’t weren’t reading the sight words, they were just coloring it in the blocks.” And I’m thinking to myself, well that’s good that I’m glad she knows. And then she said, “but that’s okay because what we were learning how to do today was to roll a die and not have it go three groups over and get in a fight. Not have it go underneath the cabinet and have to fish it out.”
Steve: 11:51 And that’s so powerful because if you were in her classroom three weeks later and these little kindergarten kids are working at a center, they’re working independently, they’re in a group with her, that didn’t happen by accident. She stopped and taught the learning production behaviors. And I had a high school social studies teacher seated in my class and his res his response was, he had never given that thought. He had never given thought to the beginning of the year, having to break down and teach the kids, how do you learn social studies?
Catlin: 12:21 Absolutely. And I think that that onboarding is something that elementary teachers do so beautifully. And I, as a coach, ran into something very similar. Two weeks ago, I was with a group of teachers, I’m coaching at the high school level and they’re in their PLC, and they were trying out this strategy of the formative assessment exam wrapper kind of concept where you reflect before the formative assessment, you reflect after you try to understand how did I prepare and how effective was it? And then after, what did I notice about how I was feeling during this exam? What would I do differently next time? And the teachers were really frustrated becaue they said the pre-reflection was really terrible. Students were just like, idk – I don’t know how I prepared for this exam. And we got into the nuts and bolts of it and the realization was that students don’t know how to study for exams.
Catlin: 13:14 They don’t have those study skills. And so how do they reflect on what they did to prepare for this exam? So then the question became how do we help them develop? Like understand what study skills are, let them kind of try a few and see what works for them. So we put together this study skills playlist that kind of onboards them to a variety of them over time so they can just see, because everybody’s different when it comes to what works for them as a study or as an exam preparer, but it’s so interesting how often we’re just like, jumping into a strategy, particularly at the secondary level or model and they get really frustrated with students because it doesn’t go well. But it’s often there’s just some kind of onboarding, some skill, something kids don’t have to be successful. And instead of abandoning the strategy or the model, we really need to become curious lead learners and figure out what’s missing and where do we need to be supporting students? Maybe being more clear about the why and value and that the how – like how do you go about preparing or doing X, Y, or Z?
Catlin: 14:17 And I feel the same way as you. Every time I’m in an elementary classroom, I’m just in awe of the amount of skill building and slow
routine creation and reinforcement that happens in those spaces to set students up for success, sometimes mid to late year.
Steve: 14:34 I love your use of the term onboarding. Consider it stolen.
Catlin: 14:40 .
Steve: 14:41 That is the perfect word. And actually, what I’m pondering in my head now is I’m thinking that in professional development for
teachers, we often miss it.
Catlin: 14:53 Yeah.
Steve: 14:55 In other words, what’s the learning process for teachers so that the teacher knows how to learn? I just got off a call with a person who’s doing a ton of of training for primary teachers in the science of reading strategies and realizing the ton of money that the district’s spending to make that training happen but not having the teachers leave with an understanding of where’s the learning process for the teacher after you went through the training. There’s no way you can learn this in the training. The training, at best, is getting you ready to. How do you understand, now that I’ve left here, what do I have to really do in order to make that part of my my ongoing teaching practice?
Catlin: 15:45 Yeah. And I know in my own practice, what’s really evolved in the last five years as a professional development designer and trainer is so often now, when I come into a district, I’ll have like a pre-workshop playlist that’s just acknowledging all of these teachers are starting in really different places in terms of their prior knowledge about things like blended learning or universal design for learning. So depending on where they’re at, and some teachers will do it and some won’t and some will get excited and some will kind of drag their heels a little bit, especially when it’s all staff and they have to do it. But, it sets them up to build that background, to fill in any gaps in holes that might exist before the training and then, kind of utilizing the actual models we’re talking about in the training and then usually setting them up at the end with like, hey, here’s a next steps choice board with more resources and support depending on what big idea we kind of started playing with in here that you want to continue working either on your own or with a colleague or as part of a PLC. Really encouraging teachers to not just think of the training as the one moment, but really how do we build this into our professional learning infrastructure as a school or as a department or a PLC.
Steve: 16:57 Years ago, I was asked to bring a group of consultants into a district and do their whole PD day. So I did an opening keynote and then teachers split up to go out to all these different workshops that were being offered. And I had a follow up session with the, the administrators. So I walked into my follow up session, I said, “it’s gonna take me a minute to get out of my keynote hat and into workshop. So do me a favor, just make a small group and review with each other, what are the things that you did to prepare your staff for today and what plans do you have for following up after today?” , it was the quietest room…
Catlin: 17:36 Just crickets.
Steve: 17:39 And I can’t actually fault the administrators because there were some of them that weren’t clear on what the purpose of the day was or what it was that was supposed to happen. And I then took them through an activity to figure out what that day cost the district. The consultant team that I brought in, that was a tiny part. When you looked at the average salary of a teacher and the cost of a teacher to a district and you’re dedicating, they had 500 teachers. just to flashback and say, wow, we made that investment and I think way too often, we do the same thing in a classroom. Without the onboarding, without the follow up, the instruction is occurring and then we’re surprised that it hasn’t done what it needs to do.
Catlin: 18:26 Yeah. Well it’s easy to find someone and like check that box of okay, we got this PD day done. Just sometimes as a teacher, it’s easy to kind of roll in with that established curriculum and just kinda present it, but then it doesn’t, like you said, have the impact.
Steve: 18:41 You get some of those calls. I mean, it comes in now, you know, we got a PD day next to October the ninth and we got one at March. And so they’re gonna plan now for that day, but the problem is once that day’s planned, I really worry about what what comes before and what the follow up plan is.
Catlin: 19:04 Yeah.
Steve: 19:05 What do you think is the kind of support that that coaches and administrators need to be providing for teachers to make the movement in that increased relevance of what it is for asking students to do?
Catlin: 19:21 Well first of all, it would be really wonderful if we had leaders with clear vision, understanding the why behind whatever it is they’re doing and asking their staff to do. Whether it’s a shift to blended learning, whether it’s a focus on universal design for learning. Why are we all doing this? It would be also lovely if leaders were around for more than three years to kind of see something through because I think what ends up happening for educators is, they get leaders moving in and out of schools and districts so frequently and they all have their own kind of unique visions and they steer us to up in a direction. And teachers who are tired and they don’t have a lot of extra time and energy, they put their time and energy into something and then it changes when new leadership.
Catlin: 20:04 So for me it’s just, I wish we could have some consistency for schools and districts around vision and follow through. But I think coaching for me is part of what I would love to see as a more complete professional learning infrastructure. We invest a lot of money into actual wifi infrastructure, into devices, these kind of technology pieces but there’s not often the kind of same investment into professional learning infrastructure. And I think without the two of them together, it’s really hard to initiate and sustain meaningful change. So I think there will always be a place for what I like to call the spark, right? Which is like your keynote, it’s your kickoff day, it’s the person who comes in and gets people excited about something. I serve this purpose a lot, I’m sure you do as well. Kind of get them onboarded to the theory and a little bit of the how.
Catlin: 20:54 But for me, the bridge between those all staff spark days and implementation in classrooms, that’s where the coaches are essential to kind of overcoming the implementation gap. Because in an all staff spark training day, it’s very hard for most trainers to meet every single person’s needs. And I can’t tell you how many teachers, I’m sure you encounter this all the time, who are like, “but can you tell me what this looks like in a third grade science class?” Or an 11th grade AP bio class or whatever class? And there’s just not enough hours in the training day for me to give everybody their specific example. And I think that’s where the coach becomes the bridge and can help a teacher to take what they learned and then figure out what does this look like for my subject area, my grade level, my particular group of learners, so they can kind of start to personalize the training in a way that makes sense for that teacher.
Catlin: 21:47 My concern though is that most coaches, instructional coaches on a campus, when I come in as, because often I will come in as a lead coach for a handful of days, I’ll work with teachers, the coaches on campus will shadow me, will have meetings and talk about what happens so they can replicate it once I leave. But when we do an audit of the coach’s time and what they’re being asked to do, so often, their tasks keep them from actually engaging with teachers or the daunting nature of the number of teachers to the coach ratio makes them almost feel like, I don’t even know where to start in terms of supporting teachers. So I think it’s about really as leaders kind of thinking about what are we asking coaches to do? Do they have time to actually interact with the teachers on their campus to help them design and implement student-centered learning experiences with support? Because that’s where I think coaches can be most powerful. Not attending endless meetings, not just you know, curating resources and putting them on a website, but really that human to human interaction, which is why so many coaches left teaching to go into coaching, was to support other teachers to continue interacting with learners and they so often don’t get that chance, which I think is such a wasted opportunity.
Steve: 23:01 I met a coach who put together a great strategy with her principal. Every two weeks she met with her principal and she took her schedule for the two weeks, for the last two weeks and she color coded it. So green was, activities that I feel quite strongly impacted. Student learning. Yellow, I’m not sure this impacted and red, no it didn’t. So know as contributor to the building, every now and then I gotta do some red things. That’s part of being a team player. But looking at the color code of the last two weeks, raise the conversation of how that time is spent.
Catlin: 23:45 I love that. That’s really interesting.
Steve: 23:48 Well, you got a last word of advice to put out here before we we close out?
Catlin: 23:57 Yeah. I think just for educators in general and the coaches supporting them, we need to be asking students to do more. And what I mean by that is, I think one of the biggest obstacles to innovative change and trying new things in a classroom is just the lack of time and energy resources that teachers have. And I think a lot of that is because so much of the way teachers are still approaching this work is unsustainable. It is asking too much of the teacher and not enough of the learner. And I think ultimately we need to trust in the student’s potential to drive their own learning. And as we talked about earlier, if we’re scared they don’t have the skills to do that, that’s not an excuse not to try. It means we just have to go a little further back into that skill building, onboarding phase to help them to develop the skills they need to drive their own learning. Because ultimately at the end of the day, teacher lead workflows aren’t sustainable if we don’t start engaging those learners in the kind of learning community and helping us to do this work. I just worry about the state of teachers in the next three to five years. For sure.
Steve: 25:09 Well, Catlin, thank you so much. Before we wrap, I’d like you to tell people a little bit about – I’ve been to your website, you’ve got a ton of resources between, between videos and blogs and the books you’ve written. You want kind of share with folks, what’s available at your site and the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Catlin: 25:31 Yeah, absolutely. So definitely catlintucker.com is a good one-stop-shop if you are curious about anything related to blended learning, online learning, universal design and blended learning. I do blog every week. I try to make it really concrete. I share templates and strategies that I have developed as a teacher, but now in my coaching role as well. So any coaches looking for resources to support teachers, it’s a great resource. You can literally do a keyword search on my blog and pull up hundreds of resources. There’s also my books. I have my training offerings and even some mini-courses. So if you know you have a teacher who, like one teacher who’s really interested in station rotation or five E’s, there are even some resources to support them in individual kind of personalized learning if that’s something they’re interested in. And I’m very active on Twitter and Instagram, super lazy on LinkedIn and Facebook. But pretty much anywhere you live online you can probably find me, if you have a question or you want to connect.
Steve: 26:31 Well, we’ll be sure to put your put your website in the lead in to the podcast so folks can find you there. Thanks again.
Catlin: 26:38 Great.
Catlin: 26:39 Of course.
Steve: 26:42 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.