Julie Graber and I often get asked if the 4 Shifts Protocol can be used as a comprehensive walkthrough or observation tool. While the protocol is open source and people can do whatever they want with it, we do NOT recommend using it in this manner. Here’s why…
The protocol is made up of numerous sections and discussion items. Unless a teacher is creating a many-week, interdisciplinary, group project for her students, it’s nearly impossible for her to address all of the items on the protocol in a short lesson or unit. If the protocol is used as an observation or walkthrough instrument, the teacher inevitably will not be doing many of the items. It seems unfair to penalize the teacher for not doing the impossible. The last thing we want is for principals, coaches, or mentors to walk into a teacher’s classroom with a big list from the protocol saying ‘nope, nope, nope!’
The protocol is designed to honor instructor purpose. In our workshops and new book – and as the #1 suggestion on the protocol itself – we emphasize that it’s much better if a teacher identifies a protocol section or a few bullet points to focus on. The goal of the protocol is to help educators gradually shift their instructional practice and build new skill sets, mindsets, and competencies. If we force teachers to work on areas that they’re not ready for or comfortable with yet because it’s on a walkthrough template, we risk alienating them from the important work that we want them to do. We encourage giving teachers as much choice as possible regarding which sections to work on, which items to work on within a section, and how deep to go on any particular item. If we use the protocol in this manner, it can be very accommodating of teachers’ different instructional orientations, skill sets, and comfort levels.
The protocol is designed to be as nonjudgmental as possible. One of the problems with SAMR and the Arizona / Florida Technology Integration Matrices, for instance, is that there is inherent judgment when we place teachers’ instructional practice into levels. As soon as we tell a teacher that she’s at the Substitution level on SAMR, for example, she’s going to feel at least a little bit judged and perhaps a lot defensive. That is not the stance with which we want to approach instructional redesign conversations. We frame the protocol as a discussion tool that hopefully can help us accomplish the goals that we set for a particular instructional activity. We’re not interested in judging anyone. We ARE interested in helping educators identify what they want to work on and then using the protocol to help them get there.
As we say in the book, we encourage educators to think about the protocol sections as sets of experiences that we want students to have multiple times each school year. Do we want students to have multiple opportunities for deeper learning this year? To have multiple opportunities for agency over their own learning this year? To have multiple opportunities to engage in authentic, real world work this year? To have multiple opportunities to use technology in meaningful ways and boost their communication and collaboration skills this year? A big YES to all of those. But today or this week – for this particular lesson or unit – we’re just hitting a few bullet points. Don’t bug us about the other ones – those happen at other times during the year. It would be okay to ask us about our plans to cover each of the sections multiple times over the course of this year. But please don’t mark us down for only focusing on one section or a few items in this lesson or unit. That’s exactly what we should be doing. Give us some feedback and suggestions in a pre- and post-conversation about what you see regarding the few questions that we’re focusing on, but please honor our intentionality.
I hope all of this makes sense. The only way I might be comfortable using the protocol as a walkthrough or observation device was if it was used occasionally as an environmental scan, just to take a pulse of what’s happening – or not – within a school across classrooms. Otherwise, we encourage everyone to use the protocol as a conversation sparker and redesign tool, not a mechanism for judgment.
Over the past few years the protocol has really started to take off. In schools and districts all around the world, we have teachers, principals, instructional coaches, and technology integrationists who are integrating the protocol into their instructional (re)design work. We are finding that the protocol accommodates a variety of educator starting points, skill sets, and comfort levels. It’s a great complement to SAMR because it’s an instructional discussion tool, not just a technology usage continuum. And it’s occupying a wonderful design space between more traditional practice and full blown, ‘gold standard,’ multiple-week PBL projects.
To celebrate the book’s release, Julie Graber and I are inviting educators to participate in the #4Shifts Challenge and publicly (re)design a lesson, unit, or instructional activity using several of the sections or bullet points in the protocol as levers for (re)design. If we want deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion to happen, we have to design for them. We hope that you will join us in sharing what powerful instructional redesign can look like. We need examples that we can point educators to for inspiration! If you’re game, simply post your redesign and share it using the #4Shifts hashtag, which will help us find your post and drive some traffic to your site! Thanks!
Why buy the book when the protocol is free?!
The protocol is open source and always will be, as will numerous other resources on the 4 Shifts Protocol resource page. Feel free to use and/or modify those resources as desired. The new book, however, takes a deeper dive with the protocol. In the book we provide eight concrete examples of lesson and unit (re)design so that you can see the protocol in practice across various grade levels and subject areas. The book is aimed squarely at practitioners and their day-to-day instructional (re)design needs. We also explain in the book why we think the protocol is a great complement to SAMR, TPACK, RAT, PIC-RAT, and the Arizona and Florida Technology Integration Matrices. And we include numerous tips and suggestions for using the protocol in your school(s)!
Because there are no tech tools that will make us super teachers. Pencils didn’t make us super teachers. Textbooks didn’t make us super teachers. Chalkboards and whiteboards and overhead projectors didn’t make us super teachers. VCR and LaserDisc and DVD players didn’t make us super teachers. Why should we expect computers and apps and online tools to do so?
Want to be a super teacher? Change what you do with students.
Do a learning audit. See how often students in your classroom spend time on lower-level thinking tasks (factual recall and procedural regurgitation) and instead create more opportunities for students to engage in tasks of greater cognitive complexity (creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, effective communication and collaboration, intercultural fluency, etc.). Find ways for students to live more often on the upper levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge wheel) than the lower ones.
Do an agency audit. See how often your classroom is teacher-directed versus student-directed. Find ways to enable greater student agency, voice, and choice. Create opportunities for students to have more ownership and control of what, how, when, where, who with, and why they learn.
Do an authenticity audit. See how often students in your classroom do isolated, siloed academic work. Ask students how often they struggle to find meaning and relevance in what you ask them to do. Create more opportunities for students to engage with and contribute to relevant local, national, and international interdisciplinary communities. Foster environments in which students can do more authentic, applied, real world work in context. Help students become more connected so that they can begin to create active networks with individuals and organizations for mutual benefit.
There isn’t – and never will be – a set of tech tools that will make us super teachers. We need to stop looking for them and look inward instead.
Let’s admit that the real reason we ban cell phones is that, given the opportunity to use them, students would “vote with their attention,” just as adults “vote with their feet” by leaving the room when a presentation is not compelling. Why shouldn’t our students have the same option with their education when educators fail to deliver compelling content?
Not sure I buy into the idea that educators should be ‘delivering content,’ no matter how compelling! But I like the quote. Anyone else besides me want to admit that if you had mobile phones and social media when you were a kid, you would have tried to escape your boring classrooms too?
We can mandate their attendance but it’s nearly impossible to mandate their attention.
In K-12, we struggle with access. Most schools are trying to get more technology into their classrooms. It’s not a given yet that students will have regular access to digital tools and adequate bandwidth in their learning spaces. That said, most schools have expectations of teachers that they will integrate technology into learning experiences whenever they can and provide often-mandatory professional learning for instructors on how to do that with the students in their classrooms.
It seems to me that the opposite is usually true in higher education. Bandwidth is pretty robust on most postsecondary campuses and most students are bringing computers of some sort with them to college. Access seems to be less of an issue. That said, institutional expectations of instructors for technology integration in classrooms are fairly low. Professional learning opportunities for faculty are mostly invitational rather than mandatory and tend to focus more on moving courses online than on how to use technology with students in face-to-face classroom settings.
In short, access and expectations regarding usage are flipped:
These new technologies, oriented towards consumers and consumption, privilege an ideology of individualism. In education technology, as in advertising, this is labeled “personalization.” The flaw of traditional education systems, we are told, is that they focus too much on the group, the class, the collective. So we see education being reframed as a technologically-enhanced series of choices – consumer choices. Technologies monitor and extract data in order to maximize “engagement” and entertainment.
I fear that new normal, what it might really mean for teaching, for learning, for scholarship.
As a history major and former Social Studies teacher, I believe in the idea of common schools and education as a common good. We also know, however, that one-size-fits-all models don’t. How we balance collective societal good versus individual learning and life success needs is incredibly challenging. No easy answers here…
Why are we hell-bent on taking the greatest communications technology ever known and making sure that no one communicates with it? Why must we replace opportunities to interact with teachers and tutors with artificial intelligence and adaptive systems? Why are we so excited by the prospect of care, encouragement, and support giving way to a “Next” button that algorithmically chooses what a student should see next? The answer is that caring doesn’t scale – and given the choice between the two, mainstream edtech chooses to scale. (For sake of completeness, we should explicitly state the corollary to ‘caring doesn’t scale,’ which is ‘scaling doesn’t care.’)