Purpose Driven Learning (or PDL) is a concept coined by Michael Matera and Adam Moreno to summarize the philosophy that each learner’s inner strengths can be unlocked by focusing with purpose and drive. By following the guidelines for Purpose Driven Learning, teachers avoid the biggest pitfall in many lesson plans — that they are theoretic without meaning in the real world. With PDL, resources are relevant, lessons are personalized, and real-life connections are placed under a bright light. In the end, learning is changed from pedantic to powerful and students learn to reliably connect academic studies to the world outside the schoolhouse.
The Goal of PDL
In a phrase:
…the goal of Purpose Driven Learning is NOT about a curriculum that lasts a year. It’s about creating life-long learners who fuel their future passionately with knowledge.
This applies to both 1) education pursued with the goal of college or career, and 2) the critical preparation of students to succeed in life. Purpose Driven Learning, faithfully delivered with buy-in from students, will result in students willingly participating in even the boring lesson pieces (like worksheets or podcasts) as well as exciting applications like simulations and student-devised projects.
Problems implementing Purpose Driven Learning
Engaging PDL in your classroom is seen by some as teaching students what they want to learn at the expense of what they need to learn but this isn’t true. Done right, students come to understand that real knowledge relies on a solid foundation of data upon which they build their personal interests. For example, students who want to join America’s proposed Space Force must first be grounded in the basics of science and math.
Educators who wish to use PDL often run into three roadblocks:
School Standards. Because state and national standards are often devised to serve the majority of students, they may not well-serve your students. But they do provide a necessary foundation without which the goals of your particular group can’t be met. That means that standards are taught first and additional learning is scaffolded afterward. Standards are in fact the foundation that underpins your students’ ability to achieve their PDL goals.
Education used to focus on the 3 R’s — reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. Without a doubt, those remain critical subjects but these days, they are just the beginning. What about history (because those who don’t understand history are forced to repeat it) and civics (so we understand how government works)? And the STEAM subjects — science, technology, engineering, arts, and math? No wonder it takes eight hours a day — and more — to learn what is required to thrive in the 21st-century world.
I need to add another topic to this list, one that is used daily and misunderstood just as often, one that intimidates some and confuses many, one where an introduction feels like drinking from a fire hose. If you haven’t guessed it yet, it’s the Internet. Let’s be honest: The Internet is a monster. You felt that way — probably called it worse — the last time you were hacked. Having your personal information stolen feels like your life swirling down the drain. In your lifetime, you will spend more time on the Internet than sleeping. It doesn’t care about your career, your favorite subject, or life goal. If we are defined by the choices we make, the Internet provides the biggest chance for an oops with the most devastating consequences.
Teenagers spend average nine hours a day on the Internet. It seems irresponsible to adopt the SODTI attitude — Some Other Dude Teaches It.
That’s the bad news: Internet safety must be taught and if not by you, by whom? The good news is, teaching about the Internet is easily blended into almost any subject, any topic. Let’s start with the biggest Internet topics most schools want to cover and I’ll show you how to do that.
When I started teaching, syncing work between school and home was impossible. Completing homework required either printing it and bringing it in as paper or–well, nothing. There was no way to get it into a student school drive from home. Thanks to cloud computing, that nightmare is over. Cristopher Burge who runs the website Cloud Storage Advice, has a great rundown on how cloud computing has revolutionized education:
The concept of cloud computing saw its beginnings in the educational sector ever since the first open source websites saw the light of day. Online libraries and collections of free didactic documents were a reality as early as 1997, through the Cisco Networking Academy. American entrepreneur Salman Khan (not to be confused with the Bollywood actor of the same name) founded a similar project ten years later, namely the Khan Academy.
Cloud Computing in the Educational Sector
And yet, cloud computing for school and universities wasn’t a top priority less than a decade ago. According to statistics published by Gartner analyst Thomas Bittman, only 4% of the school and education system was interested in cloud computing in 2009. It registered as one of the lower ranking fields on the list, but it still managed to position itself in the top ten.
Nevertheless, an article published in the International Journal of Advanced Computer Science and Applications one year later in 2010 uncovered that 88% of teaching professionals saw a need for integration of the service. Fast forward to 2018, how many schools in the world can actually say that they executed this?
In considering the question, Is technology outpacing you?, let’s first look at technology’s place in the current education landscape. True, it is touted as a magic wand that will fix all education woes. Sure, 73% of teachers use cell phones in their classrooms and 92% say the Internet has a “major impact” on their teaching. We gush over new hardware like iPads and Chromebooks. We spend millions on training teachers to blend tech into their lessons. We darkly predict that the day will soon arrive when technology erases the need for teachers.
But truthfully, technology is less a magic wand than a unicorn. It will never:
- take over education. Using webtools and burying noses in digital devices won’t provide the interpersonal skills required to succeed in the working world. Any job students get post-school will require listening to real people, responding, and adapting when body language says you’ve confused the person in front of you.
- replace teachers. The human piece to education can’t be overstated. The attention and care provided by a teacher — technology may measure it but can’t provide it.
Current research supports this:
“… among school-related factors, teachers matter most. … good teachers are irreplaceable assets for coaching and mentoring students, addressing the social and emotional factors affecting students’ learning, and providing students with expert feedback on complicated human skills such as critical thinking, creative problem solving, communication, and project management.” — RAND Education
What technology does, and does quite well, is make learning materials more accessible, more equitable, more up to date, and better suited to individuals. And importantly, it automates tedious tasks like roll call and grading so teachers have more time for students.
TeacherKit, a useful classroom management app for iOS or Android, provides teachers with one location to log student attendance, take note of student behavior, record grades, create student-level reporting, and other tedious tasks that traditionally take time away from teaching. The intuitive interface allows all this to be done with quick taps and swipes, generating data visualizations on the fly, both for whole classes and individual students. The student-profile system allows teachers to quickly contact students and parents via email, and the premium version adds the ability to send detailed progress reports, complete with behavior and attendance breakdowns. Plus, teachers can send announcements to an entire class, letting them know a date change, assignment due dates, and/or to update class information.
TeacherKit is a global Microsoft and Tradeline Strategic Education Partner with over 1 million teacher users around the world.
How it works
TeacherKit is easy to initiate and intuitive to use. Simply download the app from iTunes or Google Play and build classes. Students can be added via your class list, from other classes, or by photo. Once the class is set up, you can generate reports that summarize grades, behaviors, and more by class or student. Reports can be shared (as a PDF) via email or print. Optional reports include an overall class report, student performance, student/class grades, a class seating chart, and attendance. Here are samples of several:
I get a lot of questions from readers about what tech ed resources I use in my classroom so I’m taking a few days this summer to review them with you. Some are edited and/or written by members of the Ask a Tech Teacher crew. Others, by tech teachers who work with the same publisher I do. All of them, I’ve found well-suited to the task of scaling and differentiating tech skills for age groups, scaffolding learning year-to-year, taking into account the perspectives and norms of all stakeholders, with appropriate metrics to know learning is organic and granular.
Today: Organizing your classroom
18 webinars (more added as they become available), approx. 30 minutes each, show how to set up your classroom to be tech-infused.
We all have a memory of our favorite teacher, almost always, the one who made us think we could do the impossible. In my case, it was Ms. Sampson. I left third grade and my third-grade teacher Ms. Gordon feeling like I didn’t measure up — and I didn’t. I wasn’t as fast, as clever, or as driven as my classmates. Ms. Gordon actually reprimanded me so roughly in front of the class once that a classmate I barely knew came to my defense, explaining to Ms. Gordon that it wasn’t my fault. Some students learn differently.
My fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Sampson, changed all that. When I entered her class, I did think it was my fault, that I wasn’t smart enough, but she explained without a single word where I was wrong. She didn’t do it by being an easy grader or downsizing my work requirements or even unduly praising me. She didn’t try to be my best friend and she didn’t make excuses for my third-grade failures. Maybe this was because she was new and didn’t know how to profile students who would succeed from those who wouldn’t. In fact, she wasn’t any of the characteristics we often equate to great teachers.
Now, as a teacher myself, I wanted to understand why Ms. Sampson succeeded where Ms. Gordon, a Nationally-recognized Teacher and in the Top Five in my school district, so abysmally failed to spark my love of learning. I started by reviewing knowledgeable websites like Benchmark Education. I read books like James Stronge’s Qualities of Effective Teachers. Then, I queried colleagues, administrators, and parents about why they thought some teachers succeed in preparing students for college and career and others just don’t.
Turns out that effective teachers all have certain characteristics:
“tailors instruction, expression of learning, and assessment to each student’s unique needs and preferences.” — ISTE
If you think it sounds like differentiated instruction, it does with this caveat: Personalized learning is student-directed, student-paced, and designed for each learner.
Why switch to personalized learning?
There are many reasons to take a deep dive into personalized learning. Some schools realize students aren’t learning to their full potential. They see this not just in test results but in student response to the grade-level curricula. They feel it is unrelated to what happens to them outside of school. We as teachers know that math and science can easily be taught using real-life experiences in lieu of a textbook. The problem in the past has been convincing our learning partners of that truth. Now, anecdotal evidence shows that well-delivered personalized learning encourages excitement about learning, improves test scores, and leaves students wanting to learn even complicated math and science topics.
New teachers quickly realize that one size doesn’t fit all in the classroom. Students are wonderfully different in the way they learn, listen, and absorb. While teaching to the majority sounds good superficially, let’s look at the math:
A majority is 51%
That means 49% may not get what you put out there.
The popularity of personalized learning makes it abundantly clear that those numbers just aren’t good enough anymore.
Luckily, there are lots of options. Over the past months, I’ve cataloged many of those for you in short articles that provide an overview, pedagogic characteristics, and educational applications. If you’re wondering what you can change about your teaching so that you reach more students this year, check out some of these amazing options:
Every teacher knows that students do better with positive reinforcement. As tempting as “punishment” might sound when referring to that student who has scrambled your last nerve, to explain consequences of actions in positive terms goes much further toward student success not only in school but in the ongoing effort to build life-long learners.
“Positive reinforcement, whether it be with your family, when following laws, or with students, can best be defined as the logical consequences of doing what’s right.” –Jacqui Murray
As an education pedagogy, pursuing a classroom management system that revolves around positive reinforcement is called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support, or PBIS. The importance of using tools that prevent disruptive behavior and support students is explained by NEA Past President Lily Eskelsen Garcia:
The most effective tool teachers have to handle problem behavior is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) programs help teachers recognize the significance of classroom management and preventive school discipline to maximize student success. PBIS strategies are critical to providing all young people with the best learning environment.
Committed teachers can accomplish this in a variety of ways including supportive words, prizes, special activities, certificates, badges, and modeling proper behavior. Here are four online options that support the goal of recognizing students in a positive way: