Ross Cooper

Curriculum Director/Specialist

Bethlehem, PA

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Book Review: Learning Transformed #LT8Keys

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It was about a year ago when I was first told that Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray were writing a book for ASCD, based on eight specific ways to make our schools current and relevant. (Eric is a former High School Principal, now a senior fellow with the International Center for Leadership in Education. Tom is a former Director of Technology and Cyber Education, now the Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools.)

Since this announcement, (1) the book was named Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today, and (2) and it has been endorsed by educators and influencers that include: Sir Ken Robinson, Arne Duncan, Linda Darling-Hammond, Daniel Pink, Robert Marzano, Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves, and Heidi Hayes Jacobs.

When Learning Transformed came out about a month ago, I was able to get my hands on a copy, and it immediately moved to the top of my pile of books to read (given the reputations of its two authors, as well as the endorsements).

Yesterday I finished the book, and here are some of my initial thoughts.

This book is a beautiful one-stop-shop. You’d be hard-pressed to find another book that touches upon so many pivotal topics (while still being easy to read). The eight main topics are referred to as keys (thus the title of the book). Each key is featured as its own chapter for a total of eight chapters in all, and they are preceded by an introduction that tells us why learning needs to be transformed. The titles of the eight chapters/keys are featured below.

This book is research-based. The introduction and each key are accompanied by a plethora of research, mostly based on cased studies and meta-analyses. Not only does much of this research give us incentive to move forward, it can also be used as ammunition by anyone who has to justify his or her reasons for doing so: a superintendent working with a school board, a teacher advocating for changes in the classroom, etc.

This book is practical. Each key contains (1) tips from the authors that could easily be used as “initiative checklists” (e.g., features to consider when designing learning spaces, what districts should think about when purchasing new technology), and (2) an “Innovative Practices in Action” section that highlights at least one school or district that has already implemented a notable amount of the material from the chapter.

Some Highlights (literally, what I highlighted while reading)

Chapter/Key 1: Creating a Culture of Innovation

“In a study done by Sipe and Frick (2009), it was found that ‘servant leadership’ was the predominant factor in an organization’s level of success. Ultimately, the best leaders don’t add more followers; they develop and empower more leaders.”

“In our opinion, the best leaders have one thing in common: they do, as opposed to just talk.”

Chapter/Key 2: Redesigning the Learning Experience

“If your mindset is that a teacher’s main job is content delivery, then you’ve just been outsourced by Netflix and YouTube.”

“Put simply, ensuring that every child attains a baseline of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidizing access to high-tech devices and services (Schleicher, 2016, p. 63).” 

Chapter/Key 3: Ensuring a Return on Instruction

What evidence do we have that our ed-tech expenditures have actually improved teaching and learning?

“Constant hoopla around technology in education has resulted in an arms race of sorts where the use of the latest flashy tool trumps effective, meaningful long-term use.”

Chapter/Key 4: Designing Learner-Centered Spaces

“The findings indicated that the students were more distracted when the walls were highly decorated and, in turn, spent more time off task. In these environments, students demonstrated smaller learning gains than in cases where the decorations were removed (Fisher, Godwin, & Seltman, 2014).”

“The need to redesign our students’ learning environments is not simply an idea from the latest Pinterest board; it’s one of necessity.”

Chapter/Key 5: Making Professional Learning Personal 

“The study found the difference in performance between an average first-year teacher and an average fifth-year teacher was more than nine times the difference between an average fifth-year teacher and an average twentieth-year teacher.” 

“Hours-based accountability, which is the metric that many – if not most – districts use to weigh professional learning expectations, indicates absolutely nothing about the growth of an educator’s instructional practice.”

Chapter/Key 6: Leveraging Technology

“Educational technology is not a silver bullet.”

Education Week has reported that only 17 percent of the least confident teachers indicate that their students use devices daily, compared with 50 percent of teachers who feel most confident (Herold, 2016).”

Chapter/Key 7: Collaborating and Engaging with the Community

“…the longer students are in our education system, the less engaged both they and their families become in our schools.

“The days of the monthly classroom newsletter, quarterly report cards, and occasional conferences comprising a ‘sufficient’ form of communication are long gone.”

Chapter/Key 8: Leading the Charge 

“We often ‘Yeah, but…’ ourselves right out of innovative and transformative ideas.”

“All educators and students must believe they have the capacity to lead change – and be empowered to do so.

In the End

Learning Transformed lays out undisputable evidence as to why education needs to change, and then leverages a combination of research and practicality to systematically tackle eight of the most pertinent topics facing stakeholders. This book strikes the perfect balance of breadth and depth, and offers educators invaluable information, advice, and confidence to move forward (or to help others move forward) for the benefit of our students.

Grab the free Learning Transformed study guide from ASCD.

Check out the book on Amazon.

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