I don’t keep a daily diary, but if I did the entry for June 5, 2017, would have looked something like this…
Today I start my newest learning journey. I haven’t taken a college course since December of 1996. What am I thinking? Do I really want to do this? I’ve done fine for the last twenty years, why subject myself to eighteen months of hard work and mental torture? Just buckle up and hunker down, you can do this.
Fast forward to today. I still don’t keep a daily diary, but today’s entry would be much more positive. I made the decision to earn my Master’s Degree. I fully expected to work hard, and I have. Most of the time I complete my coursework at the junior high where I teach. Some of my students asked me if I live at the school since they see my truck parked outside the building long after the final dismissal bell has rung and almost every weekend (side note-I do own a house that I live in!).
I honestly thought I would be torturing myself by working towards a Master’s Degree. I thought the coursework would be boring, tedious, and just a means to the end. The Digital Learning and Leading (DLL) program through Lamar University was not what I expected. I say that in a good way. I expected to describe my graduate school experience with an expression I use to describe unpleasant situations…..”ugh.” However, there were only a few “ughs” along my journey (mostly the literature reviews!). My preconceived “ugh” notion quickly changed to one of excitement.
The reason for my newly found inspiration was COVA and CSLE. According to Dr. Harapnuik (n.d.), one of the DLL course developers, the definition of COVA is a “learner-centered active learning approach that gives the learner choice (C), ownership (O), and voice (V) through authentic (A) learning opportunities.” The acronym CSLE stands for Creating Significant Learning Environments. The entire DLL program is based on the COVA and CSLE approach and I couldn’t be happier I was a part of this journey.
I first realized that I had choice, ownership, and voice through authentic assignments probably right off the bat. Realizing something and embracing something are two different concepts. At first, the freedom associated with COVA was daunting to me. I always got good grades in school. I was told what to do and what I needed to learn in order to be a successful student. I was a product of the traditional educational system. I could regurgitate information with the best. My creative genes didn’t get used much in my prior educational experiences. In fact, I actually failed an assignment once in high school because of my “creativity.” It was English class with A. C. Olsen. We were to write a persuasive paper. We were not given any guidelines as to structure or anything other than the project was to be persuasive. I wrote my paper about the benefits of recycling….on a recycled brown paper towel. My instructor did not take kindly to that and I received a big, fat “F” on my essay. I was devastated. I had never seen the letter “F” on any work I had ever turned in my entire life! So, maybe I took the creativeness to the extreme, at least that’s what Mr. Olsen thought!
Learning to complete assignments that actually had a purpose and were authentic was the norm for the DLL program. Even though I struggled at first because I wanted to be told what to do, I soon figured out that I had a choice as to how I would use my voice. The instructors used guided discovery for each course. They pointed me to the resources and it was up to me how to use them. This style of learning was a good fit for my learning philosophy, even though at the time I didn’t know it.
In order to adjust to this style of learning, I had to let go. I needed to embrace a growth mindset and realize that if I didn’t do something just right, it was OK and I could try again. I learned to fail forward. Many of the assignments I completed required multiple attempts before I was happy with the final product. Knowing what I know now about COVA and CSLE, I don’t think I would actually do anything different. I needed to experience a significant learning environment that offered me a choice on how to use my voice. I am a constructivist learner. I was able to achieve meaning from my assignments because they were authentic and relevant. I lived COVA and CSLE.
I have always been outspoken and not afraid to share my opinion. Taking control of my voice was easy for me. Making assignments my own so I could actually use what I created came naturally. Growing up I often wore out my mom and dad with questions. I always wanted to know “why.” Throughout the DLL program my “why” has been my students. The teaching profession is not for people that want to become monetarily rich. The teaching profession is for those that want to enrich the lives of others. Focusing on my audience was a large part of my work being authentic.
Throughout my life I have been a leader. Student Council member every year possible in junior high and high school, current Student Council sponsor, senior class president, 4H leader, board member for various organizations, etc. These leadership roles allowed me to promote change when change was necessary. I am all for trying new ideas. I am an optimist, always looking for ways to make improvements to the status quo. My innovation plan was real. I truly thought I would be able to help bring my school to another level of greatness. My innovation plan was brought to the assistant superintendent. He is in charge of curriculum. I got the impression he was in favor of implementing my plan, but there was a huge barrier. Budget. Sadly, the main focus of my innovation plan is not going to happen. However, small strides are being made with the blended learning initiative section of my innovation plan, so that’s a win. I won’t give up. I will present my plan every year until the plan is initiated, I change positions, or I retire, whichever comes first! I still believe 100% in my innovation plan and how it would benefit the teachers and students of my district.
My perspective on learning and learning philosophy haven’t changed, but they have been enhanced. I’ve always been a proponent of the learn by doing method. My philosophy and learning style have been solidified through the DLL program. I now have much more “ammunition” to reach the students in my classes.
The COVA approach to learning has opened my eyes to ways of improving upon the traditional education system. Traditional education methods were fine for many years, but now with so many learning opportunities at the tips of our fingers, the learning journey must change. The availability of new learning tools should be utilized in every classroom to enhance instruction. I teach the technology classes at McGregor Junior High School. I do not have a book to follow or a set curriculum. I only need to ensure that the students are mastering the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Since I am in charge of how the kids learn in my class, I can provide significant learning environments and give the students choice on how they will showcase their learning.
Becoming a facilitator of learning by being a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage is important to me. My students will be allowed to experience guided discovery. For instance, one of the TEKS requires that students know the difference between a raster and a vector graphic. Since my students are only sixth graders, they aren’t quite ready for me to ask them to discover the difference between the two images on their own. I will need to supply them with relevant resources, examples, and discussions that guide them towards the knowledge. When it’s time for them to showcase what they have learned, the sky’s the limit. Some students might create a slideshow that shows the difference between a raster and a vector. Others may produce a video that demonstrates the situations that best call for one file type versus the other. Some may just create a poster or infographic illustrating the key similarities and differences. My overachievers will probably compose a screen recording of them creating an actual raster and vector graphic along with narration! As long as learning is demonstrated, I will be OK with the method.
Authentic assignments are the key to true learning. Next week is Red Ribbon Week, an anti-alcohol, tobacco, and drug awareness campaign. The TEKS call for students to be able to plan and create a non-linear media project. What better time to teach my students how to create an interactive slideshow, where the consumer can choose different outcomes for a situation. In order for the assignment to be authentic, students choose their topic and who their audience will be for the assignment. I will suggest that we create slideshows depicting what might happen depending on the different scenarios that are chosen. When I tell the students that their slideshows could be sent to the elementary school to help teach younger kids to make good life choices, the learning showcase becomes authentic. Many of my students have younger siblings or friends that would benefit from an interactive slideshow. The sixth graders would own their projects because the projects are for real, not just for a grade.
I honestly don’t know if there is a proper way to prepare learners and colleagues for the COVA approach and CSLE. Sure, I could tell people about the theory behind it all and why it works. Until you actually live and breathe COVA and CSLE, it is not as meaningful. Having experienced both COVA and CSLE in the DLL program, I now see this approach to learning will lead to success. My students may not be prepared to experience choice, ownership, voice and authentic learning when they enter my class, but they are going to live it. I may create little monsters that appear when they encounter a class where they are told exactly what to do and how to do it. Uh Oh. Maybe then my colleagues will see how successful the COVA approach combined with a significant learning environment really is and they will be knocking down my door for guidance. I can’t force the concept on colleagues, but my classroom can certainly be the example of COVA and CSLE in action.
One challenge with a COVA and CSLE approach is the amount of time it takes to prepare. Sometimes, you are helping different students with different types of projects simultaneously. You just can’t stand in front of a class, lecture, and be done with it. Yes, it is more work on the teacher end, but the results are worth it. Another challenge for some is that they feel as though they lose control of their classroom and students. Many teachers are so used to being in total charge of every aspect of learning. It is hard for some to let go. Yet another challenge is the STAAR test. That darn STAAR test. So many teachers are afraid that if they don’t teach exactly what is on the test, their students will fail.
Creating change can be a slow process. I will continue to be a COVA and CSLE champion at my school. Maybe one teacher at a time will migrate to the “COVA and CSLE side.” Next year, maybe more will see the light. Whatever path my career takes, I will always be in COVA and CSLE’s corner!
Harapnuik, D. (n.d.). COVA. Retrieved from: http://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=6991
Royalty free image retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/elephant-young-watering-hole-2380009/