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Get Back to Basics: Strategies for Remote Learning in CTE

The transition to remote learning has left educators reeling. Being asked to design lessons, learn new technology, all while educating your own children and simultaneously trying to stay connected to family and friends in the middle of a pandemic is a herculean task. For career and technical education (CTE) teachers, the loss of balance is even further compounded. Why? Because CTE curriculum is often dependent on access to specialized tools and large machines

Imagine trying to teach woodworking without a lathe, or automotive without a lift. Imagine trying to teach biotechnology without a pipette, or HVAC without access to a soldering table.

It’s hard to picture — let alone do.

The truth is, CTE teachers can’t replicate the experience of hands-on learning in industry-specific lab spaces. What they can do is this:

Get back to basics.

CTE students learning in a remote environment can still learn something essential.

They can still learn how to learn.

After all, in the real world, CTE students must be able to acquire new knowledge. Today’s CTE students will soon be plumbers, electricians, cosmetologists, news anchors, entrepreneurs, engineers and doctors. They will all encounter novel situations that require deeper understanding and the independent discovery of answers.

The following strategies are designed to help CTE teachers develop curriculum, projects and lessons that guide students to take ownership of how they learn.

Think about the barriers.

  • Before you design a lesson plan or an activity, pause and think about what barriers students might experience as they try to learn in a remote environment. For example, some students only have one computer at home. Plan virtual “office hours” with tons of advanced notice; offer alternative options for students to connect with you.
  • If you haven’t heard from a student in a while, don’t ask why before considering the barriers. Ask yourself, “How can I design the lesson to better engage this student?” Connect with the student’s counselor for advice on outreach strategies.
  • You might also develop an assignment that asks students to think about barriers they and their peers may be experiencing. Encourage them to be as honest as possible. Waking up might be a barrier if they are constantly staying up later than they would normally due to a lack of school-based scheduling.
  • In remote learning environments many educators are leveraging video resources. If you choose to do so, make sure you don’t unintentionally create more barriers. Render all videos so they include closed captioning. That way students who are hearing impaired can access the learning. Captioning will also benefit students in noisy environments and enriches the learning experience for all.

Focus on the goal.

Student engagement may increase in remote learning environments if educators place a strong focus on making sure they are truly assessing the learning goal. For example, it might seem natural to ask students to write an essay response to the following question: Describe how you use a tool safely. But, if that is the only option you provide for students to demonstrate learning, what are you assessing really?

A student might know how to use the tool safely, but they might not be able to access a computer for writing, or they may not feel confident in their writing skills. What if you provided students with options for demonstrating their understanding? Can you still assess the learning goal of safety…

  • If the student makes a video explaining how they would use the tool?
  • If they draw a poster and submit a photograph of it?

Ask students to describe their learning goals. Consider creating an assignment that asks students to answer the following question: What are the three most important things you would like to learn with the remaining time in the school year? Use these answers to drive your unit development and activity planning.

Keep it relevant.

Students learn best when they feel the materials, tools, units or concepts are relevant or authentic. During the COVID-19 pandemic, keep it relevant by focusing on themes and tools students can access at home. Here’s an idea from Abraham Ewing, a CTE woodworking and manufacturing teacher at ConVal High School, in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

Share your home projects.

Ewing sends daily videos to students. He teaches woodworking students about estimating wood costs, project design, drawing, planning and more as he builds raised beds in his own backyard. “When I call home to talk and share what students are learning about building raised beds, most of the parents seem really excited because they want their kids to build them too.”

Ewing recommends teachers stay flexible and be ready to improvise. “For my manufacturing class I bought my own 3D printer. I use it for visuals in my class videos and I showed them how local people were using 3D printers to make masks for hospitals.”

Consider asking students what projects they are working on at home. Could students create short how-to videos detailing the projects they are working on? If they can’t work on projects at home, ask students to draw or make a video of what project they would like to do at home. How can you use students’ interests to increase engagement and make the material relevant?

If I had to craft an essential question for this time in education, it might be:

How can CTE educators design remote learning so lessons are accessible, relevant and engaging?

While the answer will look different for each teacher, and will largely depend on support, student population and subject area, the common denominator will be the need to develop strategies that bring us all back to the heart of learning.

 

Before working at CAST, Amanda Bastoni, Ed.D., was an accomplished CTE director and teacher with 20+ years of experience in K-12 educational leadership, journalism and business. She has a proven record of achievement including being named the 2019 New Hampshire CTE Leader of the Year. During her time in education, Amanda has focused on increasing equity and access for special populations in CTE. Email her.

Teaching Strategies: Certification Test Prep

For career and technical education (CTE) teachers, spring brings with it a focus on certification test preparation. This can be a daunting task. Consider how a teacher might approach supporting student review sessions. You might hear a teacher announce, “You have 45 minutes to study today. Use this time now to review your notes quietly.”

Is it effective? On the surface, it seems to be a good use of time. Students need to perform well. Time is needed for review. However… Students’ attention spans begin to slip around the 15 minute mark (Medina, 2014). Rather than becoming frustrated when students struggle with quiet review, get creative.

Here is an approach you can take: Structure meaningful test prep lessons in which students talk through questions and concepts and, as a result, engage in deeper thinking. Use the following strategies together to help students identify their knowledge gaps.

Socratic Circle

In a traditional Socratic circle, students are seated in a circle without the teacher. They are challenged with open-ended questions or hypothetical scenarios, and instructed to discuss. This exercise helps students to talk through scenarios and situations — to explore possibilities and think deeply — without constant acknowledgement from a teacher.

Early childhood education students were given the following instructions, “We have studied eight leading theorists this year. Discuss each person’s contribution to understanding and rank them by importance to preschool development.”

Students then learn to collaborate and struggle through awkward moments. According to Tony Wagner (2015), agility and adaptability are as important as collaboration and critical thinking for success in 21st century workplace. Engaging in conversation that is challenging, open for exploration but also outcome-based, will push students to construct deeper meaning for themselves.

Forced Agreement

When you want students to arrive at one correct answer, use the forced agreement strategy alongside your Socratic circle. Design this session to follow a think-pair-share lesson. Students are accountable to think on their own, and then they must “pair” together, with forced agreement, to “share” a single correct answer. With the full class group, expand on and discuss those areas where students disagreed.

Because our session was deliberately designed as test prep, students were given three difficult questions to answer. Students were instructed to answer individually and then deliberate together. When the table agreed to one response, and had a strong defense for that response, they signaled the instructor with a thumb in the air.

While each table of students collaborated, the instructor facilitated. More importantly, the instructor listened and checked for understanding, identifying which students grappled with difficult concepts.

The Strategy in Action

How long will it take?

20–30 minutes, depending on the number of students present

What’s the gist?

When your goal is to prime students for deeper retention of key concepts and theories, arrange students in a circle. Students engage in discussion about the question or scenario given. Students use constructive criticism to make judgments and come to sensible conclusions together. The teacher serves as only a facilitator. The goal is for the teacher to never intervene in the dialogue.

Add the forced agreement piece when you are moving toward a specific desired answer. This is a great tool to engage students in modeling and reflection.

Structuring Success for Your Students

Educators must be cognizant of how many students struggle with study and test prep skills. Given that certification testing covers a vast array of standards, terms, concepts and processes, structuring powerful study sessions is crucial.

By doing so, teachers avoid the habituation of routine studying and help students deepen their own understanding by engaging in continual productive talk themselves. Further, by focusing on strategies that are metacognitive in nature, students can identify the areas in which they are still weak.

Sandra Adams is a teacher and instructional coach with the Career Academy, Fort Wayne Community Schools. She co-wrote the ACTE-supported book But I’m NOT a Reading Teacher!: Literacy Strategies for Career and Technical Educators with Gwendolyn Leininger. Contact her to learn how you can implement theses certification test prep and other innovative teaching strategies in your CTE classroom.

REFERENCES
Medina, J. (2014). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school (2nd ed.). Seattle, WA: Pear Press
Wagner, T. (2008). The global achievement gap: Why even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills our children need — and what we can do about it. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Teaching Strategy: The Carousel

“I wish all students would participate in the discussion.”

If that sounds familiar, you might want to try this strategy.

The ability to engage students with hands-on learning activities has long been a strong advantage for career and technical educators. However, the excitement that students experience in the lab often does not follow into classroom learning. When an instructor announces, “Let’s head back to the classroom.,” the response is an audible groan from students. Their bodies slump. The students find lab activities more engaging than classroom instruction.

To fix this problem, leverage lab attributes that create engagement to design classroom lesson plans. Consider how:

  • Labs allow every student to be actively engaged (equity)
  • Labs allow for students to openly discuss ideas as needed
  • Labs allow for freedom of movement
  • The teacher serves the role of facilitator
  • There is a de-emphasis on grades (learning for the sake of learning)

Equity, Engagement and Productive Talk

Emphasize the power of speaking and listening between students — what is known as productive talk. Productive talk is speaking that leads to learning. It happens during conversations in which students do most of the talking, while teachers guide them to listen to each other, explain their thinking, question and challenge each other’s ideas, and revise their own opinions based on input from others.

Productive Talk Improves Literacy

When people participate actively in conversation, their brains sync, mirroring and anticipating the neural activity of the others in the conversation (Stephens, Silbert and Hasson, 2010). Engaging in conversation as we learn, rather than simply listening to new information, helps make this neural activity more likely. As we learn, our brains forge and strengthen new pathways through which information can travel.

The Strategy in Action

How long will it take?

20-30 minutes, depending upon how long you want to debrief students.

When should I use the Carousel teaching strategy?

As a pre-assessment or a review game of a broad, multifaceted topic. When you need to get everyone involved, instead of hearing from the same few students each time.

What’s the gist?

An extended, active version of Think-Pair-Share, the Carousel gets everyone moving around the room to write and discuss various topics.

How It Works

  1. Post 4–5 large sheets of paper around the room, with plenty of space between them. On each paper, write a different question or statement that can elicit a broad range of responses.
  2. Divide your students into 4–5 teams, and give each team a different colored marker. Each group begins at one of the posted questions.
  3. Set a timer for two minutes (or another amount of time). Instruct students as follows: “When I say go, you will have two minutes as a group to write as many intelligent points as you can on your board. When I call time, every group will take their marker and rotate to the left, just like a carousel.”
  4. When groups rotate, instruct students to read through what the other group(s) wrote. If a student or group disagrees with something written previously, they are encouraged to draw a line through the statement and respond. After that, students begin to post their own additional thoughts.
  5. Continue rotating until all groups have responded to every question. Then facilitate a class discussion. All it takes to get great conversation going is a couple of lines drawn through comments of another color.

Students encouraged to respond and defend their own words are more invested than if they were just listening to the arguments of others. By responding first in a group with short, written statements, students feel safe to critique and defend their own ideas and are more likely to discuss their ideas aloud afterward.

Example Prompts from an Automotive Classroom

  1. List everything you can think of that relates to Geometry (This is to connect to prior knowledge and emphasize the role of geometry involved with upcoming content on suspension and brake systems.)
  2. List everything you can connect to the concept: alignment.
  3. List every detail you know about wheel bearings. (This serves as an excellent pre-assessment tool, to gauge student knowledge on this topic.)
  4. How many ways can we connect tires to brakes? (This serves to launch the new learning and gives the instructor time to use what students already have told him to lead the discussion.)

Final Thoughts

Productive talk will flourish when your classroom culture promotes learning for its own sake. Decades of research, from 1933 onward, have made it clear that grades are often problematic (Kohn, 2011). Reliance on grades reduces students’ interest in the material, the quality of their thinking, and their intrinsic drive to take intellectual risks (Kohn, 2011). Risk-averse learners “downshift” their brains into a kind of survival mode, looking for the right answer instead of seeking understanding.

People do better creative work and engage more readily in learning when they know that what they’re doing is relevant beyond a quantitative assessment. When we use external rewards to motivate others, we may unintentionally undermine their intrinsic motivation (Pink, 2011) and risk extinguishing their love of learning. Especially in career pathways work, it is important for students to internalize and embrace the intrinsic value of the learning that could become their lives’ work. A class discussion will be more dynamic and productive when students, freed from a preoccupation with their own achievement, can take interest in the topic itself.

Sandra Adams is a teacher and instructional coach with the Career Academy, Fort Wayne Community Schools. She co-wrote the ACTE-supported book But I’m NOT a Reading Teacher!: Literacy Strategies for Career and Technical Educators with Gwendolyn Leininger. Contact her to learn how you can implement the Carousel and other innovative teaching strategies in your CTE classroom.

For more from Adams, find her at ACTE’s CareerTech VISION next week where she will be on site to sign her book, But I’m NOT a Reading Teacher! Adams will also deliver two educational program sessions: “The Technology Integrated CTE Classroom: Embedding 7 Future Survival Skills” on Friday, Nov. 30 and “Creating Equitable Access to IT Courses” on Saturday, Dec. 1 during the STEM is CTE Symposium.

REFERENCES
Kohn, A. (2011). The case against grades. Retrieved from http://alfiekohn.org/article/case-grades/.
Pink, D.H. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
Stephens, G.J., Silber, L.J. & Hasson, U. (2010). Speaker-listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pcm/articles/PMC2922522/.
ACTE's CareerTech VISION 2018 will be a celebration in San Antonio

A Celebration in San Antonio: ACTE’s CareerTech VISION 2018

San Antonio, Texas, is a city with something to celebrate. It also happens to be the host city for ACTE’s CareerTech VISION 2018, held Nov. 28–Dec. 1 at the Henry B. González Convention Center. VISION is the preeminent annual event for career and technical educators, where educators, industry representatives and business leaders connect, learn and grow — all, together, in an effort to promote career and technical education (CTE) fields as a viable and valuable career pathway.

The city of San Antonio honors its 300th birthday in the year 2018 and in what better fashion than by celebrating the diverse, multifaceted nature of CTE. ACTE’s CareerTech VISION 2018 will provide for attendees four packed days of high-quality professional development, prime networking opportunities and direct access to thousands of individuals invested in CTE. Make your travel plans and register today (The advance registration discount is on now, through Oct. 26!) to attend VISION because you won’t want to miss the:

  • Renowned keynote speakers, exploring new directions in CTE
  • 300+ concurrent sessions, covering the complete spectrum of secondary and postsecondary CTE
  • CareerTech Expo and interactive exhibitor workshops
  • Career Pavilion, providing essential resources on several CTE career pathways
  • Wednesday workshops and tours, offering insights into focused topics and CTE programming
  • Awards Banquet, a heartwarming gathering of dedicated CTE professionals and supporters
  • Opportunities to connect, collaborate and build lasting friendships with CTE professionals from around the globe
  • STEM is CTE Symposium, addressing diversity, equity and access issues to STEM fields via CTE programs

Education

Where the teacher becomes a student, and the student becomes a better teacher. With more than 300 concurrent sessions that span the spectrum of career and technical education, the educational program at ACTE’s CareerTech VISION offers something for everyone.

Wednesday, Nov. 28 kicks off the premier event for CTE professionals with hands-on workshops and tours that highlight model programs and industry partners in and around San Antonio, Texas. On Thursday morning grab a bite to eat at the First-time Attendee Orientation and Breakfast, generously sponsored by the U.S. Army, before gathering in the main hall for what promises to be an inspirational opening general session from Jenna Hager.

Jenna Hager, a former teacher in Baltimore, is effusive in her passion for literacy and education. As founding chair of UNICEF’s Next Generation, Hager has committed her life’s work to transforming lives through compassion, community support and educational opportunities.

VISION Program Highlights

With more than 300 sessions, the comprehensive VISION program covers key trends and innovations in nearly every aspect of CTE.

  • High-quality CTE Framework
  • Sequencing and Articulation
  • Student Assessment
  • Prepared and Effective Program Staff
  • Engaging Instruction
  • Access and Equity
  • Facilities and Equipment
  • Business & Community Partnerships
  • Career and Technical Student Organizations
  • Work-based Learning
  • Data and Program Improvement
  • Funding and Perkins
  • Integration of Academics and CTE
  • Administrator Trends and Issues
  • Agricultural Education
  • Business Education
  • Family and Consumer Sciences Education
  • Guidance and Career Development
  • Marketing Education
  • Health Science Education
  • Engineering and Technology Education
  • Trade and Industrial Education
  • Postsecondary, Adult and Career Education

The full article, “A Celebration in San Antonio: ACTE’s CareerTech VISION 2018,” will appear in the September issue of TECHNIQUES. Watch your mailboxes for this and other great content from career and technical educators, for career and technical educators.

PAGES will feature excerpts from articles published in Techniques and wholly original content.

Launching PAGES, a Techniques blog

Hello, world! Welcome to PAGES, a Techniques blog.

Since joining the staff of ACTE in 2017, I have worked for this day. We’re live! PAGES will feature excerpts from articles in print and wholly original content (interviews, case studies, news items and more) based on the theme of each new issue. We’ll talk about topics trending in career and technical education (CTE). And we’ll highlight stories of educators and programs doing the work to ensure our students graduate college- and career-ready.

From PAGES it is my hope you will find increased value in Techniques online, expanded opportunities for engagement and even more stories of CTE success. Written for career and technical educators by career and technical educators, Techniques addresses the issues ACTE members care about most, providing input you can trust when making decisions for your classrooms, programs and school systems — in print and on the web.

Are you interested in writing for PAGES?

Let’s collaborate! View the 2018–19 Editorial Calendar and reach out via email to discuss your ideas. At conferences, in conversation with students and on the Expo floor at VISION, think of Techniques (and PAGES) often. Bring me your stories, because they are the stories that matter to CTE educators like you.

Check back next week for a preview of our celebration in San Antonio: ACTE’s CareerTech VISION 2018.