Jan 26, 2015

Agile Classrooms

I have enjoyed blogging about ideas and experiences of using Agile in Schools over the years.
This blog has served to connect me to others, connect others who are looking for a better way for our students to learn in the 21st century, and a place of trial and error as I and other experiment of what works and what does not.

Yet, it is time to say goodbye. You see, I have evolved my thoughts and ideas through interactions with many classrooms over they years. Although many of the concepts in this blog are still relevant, they lack the clear direction and focus I wish to help readers with. In many ways, the Agile School Blog was a stage in growing up, trying to find its identity.  Nor did I focus my time on crafting a blog of high quality, it was there when I had time, and even then, it was usually rushed. I was busy making Agile happen in classrooms, helping teachers and education leaders apply it. I want to do better. I want to do better for you. So, goodbye Agile Schools Blog.

And, it is time to say hello to Agile Classrooms at AgileClassrooms.com. A place where more refined learnings will be shared. With a direct focus on the principles that underly and Agile Classroom and how to do it. I hope you will join me as Agile in education is growing up and maturing. In the same spirit of Agile Schools blog, all resources will be Creative Commons and yours for you to use.  Of course, Agile Classrooms will continue to evolve as well as we learn more from one another.

Please bookmark AgileClassrooms.com and sign up to get more involved.
I will still keep this blog up and the information it contains.

John Miller

Sep 9, 2014

Princess Kanban

My daughter has entered 1st grade this year. I can't believe how fast she is growing.  She is discovering her strengths, developing more of her personality, & stretching her autonomy muscles (sometimes in ways that does not make it easy on me). In addition, 1st grade comes with more things for her to manage, more homework (which I am not a big fan of, but, that is another post) and more social engagements. She is outgrowing her older and simpler Kanban board, and it is time for a new version. Not only a design upgrade, but, also adding tasks that consider her ability to take on more responsibility.

Inspired by her love of Princesses, I created a quick mockup of my vision for her new board.

And, here is my first quick iteration of her Princess Board:

And, she hopped right on to it, loving it! Although, she pointed out, that it does not look like my Vision mockup!  Just like a typical customer not understanding iterative development! And, a very proud moment as a father, I saw her cleaning up her room and then the living room! I knew I had a new card called Clean Up, but, we did not talk about it at all. I looked at her board, and Clean Up was in the Doing column. She even demoed her room, asking me to see how clean it was. I am still a bit teary eyed....

Never underestimate the power of clarity as the essential ingredient in developing a self-directed child.  And this is what visual boards do.Without having to tell her what to do and when to do it,  I think I am out of a job!

Apr 19, 2014

Learning Modes

Best Learning for the 21st Century

What learning do you think is best for students in the 21st Century, Self-Directed, Cooperative, Collaborative, or just the plain old traditional sit in your seat and read a book alone?

My answer, all of the above. There is a time and a place for all of these. Yet, it is defintely out of balance.

Let's take a look at the 2 major rails of Rightshifting Learning, Rightshifting from Dependent to Independent and from Individual to Collaborative.

The 1st Rail: Dependent/Independent

Self-directed learning is critical in the 21st Century classroom. It allow students to differentiate learning for themselves, provides a greater depth of knowledge, and develops core 21st Century Life and Career skills. Dr. Gerald Grow describes 4 stages in self-directed learning (1) that is an excellent model to visualize the development of self-direction.

We want to Rightshift, or shift the balance more to the right and less of the left, to adjust our learning dial to the 21st Century.

The 2cd Rail: Individual/Collaborative

The 2cd Rigthshifting rail is shifting to more Collaborative learning and less Individual learning. Indeed, the 21st Century requires cross-functional, interdisciplinary teams to innovate and solve the big challenges, from fighting cancer to designing the next amazing technology product.

Rightshift Learning Zones

When we bring these 2 rails together in a matrix, we can chart a richer picture of our learning needs through the creation of 4 Learning Zones. 

Zone 1: Traditional learning, where students are learning individually and highly dependenent on the teacher.
Zone 2: Self-Directed Learning: Thought to be the holy grail for classrooms, where students love learning and will learn on their own free will.
Zone 3: Cooperative Learning: Learning in groups but still dependent on the teacher. Think traditional project management.
Zone 4: Self-Organization: This is the goal of Rightshift Learning, to have a classroom that is Self-Organizing, not dependent on the teacher for activities, but, self-manage as equals

Of course, there are gradients of grey in between. These are not polar opposites, but, a spectrum.

Remember, all zone are valid learning zones, we want to bring our classrooms more into alignment with the needs of the 21st Century by Rightshifting from the bottom left to the top right.

1. Grow, Gerald. "Teaching Learners to Be Self-Directed." Teaching Learners to Be Self-Directed. Dr. Gerald Grow, 20 Mar. 1996. Web. 27 June 2013. Link

Apr 6, 2014

From the Mouths of Babes

In cleaning up my Google Drive, I stumbled upon Google Presentation that a 4th Grader team created to celebrate and teach other students about Scrum in the classroom back in 2012
This brings back some great memories of how engaged the students were and how Scrum become confident as self-directed learners while having a blast.

Please enjoy how they describe their Scrum experience.

Sep 3, 2013

Right Shift Learning in the Project Based History Classroom... An Introduction


I've been using iterations of Scrum, Agile and am now honing in on Right Shift Learning since the 2011-2012 school year. I love what iterations offer, the opportunity for me to fess up to how poorly I utilized theses processes early on, and continue to learn how to be better. I get to say that was an earlier iteration.

I started a project with my students today with the broad goal:
Teach others a fun way to remember how to cite sources.
Be sure to include: Plaigarism, Quotes, Others ideas, Works Cited.

Here's the time breakdown:
Day 1: 20 minutes to discuss project idea (lots of students are going to make videos) and create tasks see the picture below for the work completed after day 1.

Day 2 & 3 I hawk over the Project Canvas. I'll read the tasks over and check with each group on their progress. The key is that I haven't told them what they have to make and have helped them develop their own ideas into projects that meet my needs as educator.

Day 2: 70 minutes to work on project. I'll have a stand-up meeting with each group and ask: "What have you done? What are you going to get done today? What's in your way?" With the extra time I join each group and get involved in each project. Sometimes I hold the camera, provide advice on filming techniques, help color projects, scrounge materials or anything else that seems helpful to each group. To wrap up the day I'll ask the students to plan what they are going to do before the next and final class.

Day 3: 45 minutes. I will probably have a stand-up meeting with groups that need it, otherwise I will just continue working with each group. Today is their last class day.

I wanted to jot down the process, I used today, for implementing the Project Canvas piece of Right Shift Learning.
Over the past few classes I introduced the Project Canvas and the work of creating tasks. I encourage the students to break down the work they need to do for a project into bite size tasks. They write the tasks on stickey notes and place them in the appropriate column on the Project Canvas.
Project Canvas
Since the students have a working understanding of tasks, we started a project. I purposefully don't over-scaffold the projects for the students, I believe the students need autonomy to encourage self-directed learning. Truth be told, I probably offer more autonomy than most teachers are comfortable with. Student autonomy in my class works because I am a part of each group, in some small way I'm involved in each project. To read the brief description I offered my students you can go to my student blog here: http://santaynez8thgradehistory.blogspot.com/2013/09/tuesday-september-3-citing-your-sources.html
The students know the drill. I introduce a topic, usually show a quick video, talk about project expectations, then get out of their way. This frees me to join each group to learn of their progress and their plans. I'll ask questions and provide ideas if they seem stuck. I guide each group as they discover the information and organize it to share with others.

I'll share more on how the project is going and my reflections in the next couple days.

-Chris Scott

Jul 11, 2013

Agile Bedtime

The video says it all. Agile bedtime for my beautiful 5 year daughter. 

Apr 15, 2013

Service Learning Canvas

I have the honor of helping Blueprint High School in developing an innovative Service Learning (SL) program. In general, Project Based Learning (PBL), which Service Learning (SL) is a sub-category of, offers the great promise for deeper learning and developing 21st Century Skills. Yet, PBL and SL take antiquated and heavy approaches. It expects heavy upfront planning, command and control project management, and a 20th century silo approach of chopping up roles and responsibilities. This makes it  difficult to implement with the short time schools have available and inhibits the learning of 21st Century Skills like Collaboration and Creativity.  Assessment of the project usually comes at the end, often too late to make any changes if it is discovered that the learning and project goals are not being met. Teachers often complain that PBL takes too long and takes too much time to prepare for, regardless of how excited they are to use it as a strategy. By taking a native 21st century approach, we deliver value and validate learning in short iterations, each time learning and steering. We plan, work, learn, and validate in small chunks of time. The worst case, if the project has to be canceled due to other pressing concerns, each week you have actually accomplished  visible learning and project goals, that can be used by the community and students. We are developing a Service Learning approach that uses Agile, Lean, and Customer Development methods to develop extreme readiness for the 21st Century

As I think about the approach to SL, the first step is to identify the Service Learning Model.  In essence, what is the problem we are out to help solve and the what is our approach in solving it. Borrowing from the Business Model Generation, I quickly drafted the Service Learning Canvas, inspired by the Business Model Canvas, that many of today's startups and entrepreneurial companies are using to innovate and learn rapidly.

The idea behind the Service Learning Canvas is that we do not start with a big upfront plan, but rather a set of  hypothesis that we will set out to validate.  We develop the Service Learning Model, then use Agile to test the hypothesis of the impact to the community in short cycles. At the end of that cycle, we review to see if we are on the right track, and update the Service Model Canvas. Instead of heavy upfront planning with lots of big assumptions that are usually wrong, we do lots of small planning and small assumptions, and use the scientific method to discover the right path. In addition, with each small cycle, we deliver value to the community and get feedback on the learning goals of the students, without having to wait to the end of the semester or year.

As usual, I am short on time. I will complete and revise this post later when I get some slack time and describe how to use the canvas. For now, please send in comments, questions and feedback!

John Miller
Learning Rightshifter

Mar 27, 2013

Reflection Activity: Glows, Grows, Knows, and Throws

Get ready for a fun and visual Learner Reflection activity to try in the classroom for Learners to self-discover their strengths, weaknesses, knowledge, and where to improve.
"Glows, Grows, Throws, Knows Reflection" by John Miller, Agile Schools


1.What Glowed? What did we did well? What strengths did we discover?
2.Where to Grow? Where can we improve? Where do we need to make changes?
3.What to Throw? What is not working for us? What do we stop doing? Where are we working from our weaknesses that may be better served by working from our our strengths?
4. Now We Know? What did we discover about ourselves and our learning? What did we try new this time and what were the results?

See this prior blogpost on more details about how you use a highly collaborative learning Reflection to engage and motivate lifelong learners.

Get your Powerful Questions and Sticky Notes out to evoke the self-transformation of your learners!

John Miller
"RightShifter of Learning"

Mar 23, 2013

Reflection: Nourishment for a Self-Organizing Classroom

The simple rhythm of the Engagement Cycle provides a natural point for learners to pause , reflect, and improve.  It provides a protected space for Learners (this includes the Teacher as a Learner) to self-improve their teamwork, their learning, and the learning environment. Reflection closes the Engagement Cycle, providing us a frequent feedback to adapt and differentiate learning in the next Cycle. A Self-Improving Classroom, in which insights and actions are evoked from the Learners themselves, is the nourishment needed for Self-Organizing Classroom to thrive.


There is an infinite amount of Reflections you can use. The basic principles of the Self-Organizing Classroom approach for Reflection are:
  • Engage the whole learner: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Consider not only the Cognitive domains, but, the often overlooked are social and emotional domains of the whole classroom.
  • Keep it highly Visual. Make Reflection a vibrant Learning Radiators to stimulate introspection and adaptation.
  • Evoke collaborative discussions among learners, for Auditory and Social learners. 
  • Get them moving, by using sticky notes, rushing the wall, and moving the stickies for a Kinesthetic experience. Provide opportunities for silent brainstorming using sticky notes, so that even the non-vocal students' voices are heard.
  • Reflections are to evoke transformation of the classroom as a learning entity. We want to hear all voices to generate holistic insights and actions.

Reflection Scenario

Here is an example of one Reflection I helped a teacher with.  Follow along with our Learners in this Reflection scenario.

  • Contexts
    • Whole Classroom Reflection - the entire class uses one Reflection Board.
    • Learning Team Reflection - each team has their own Reflection Board.
    • Individual Reflection - learners have their own personal Reflection Board, such as in their notebook or manilla folder. Students spontaneously did this in one 4th grade class on their own, pretty amazing.
  • Tips
    • You can use this every day, not just at the end of the cycle. Keep it short and sweet in this case, just to quickly gauge the engagement and learning and make intuitive adjustments. 
    • Keep the Reflection Board up throughout the Engagement Cycle. Learners can add or remove their post its anytime during the Engagement Cycle. Take the formal Reflection event at the end of their Engagement Cycle to discuss and commit to action in the next Cycle. 
    • Don’t use the same Reflection every Cycle. Switch it up.
  • References - Reflection is inspired by Retrospectives from the Agile framework called Scrum. 
Try this yourself, it is easy, and you will be inspired by your students' insights and commitment to their own success!

John Miller, CSP, PMP

Mar 16, 2013

RightShifting Learning

It is time to stop walking students backwards into the future.

It is time to shift from a 20th Century approach to an authentic 21st Century approach.

The Conceptual Age is upon us, yet the Industrial Age culture in education still sticks.
The need for 21st Century Skills are real and urgent.
Where is the Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Communication when students sit compliantly at a desk staring ahead at the teacher?

RightShift the classroom or mass obsolescence awaits students upon entering the real world.

RightShifting the Classroom - The 7 Shifts
  1. RightShift from individual learning to more collaboration 
  2. RightShift from conformity to more creativity
  3. RightShift from dependency to more self-directedness
  4. RightShift from compulsion to more choice
  5. RightShift from monolithic instruction to more differentiation
  6. RightShift from just learning outcomes to greater emphasis on the learning experience
  7. RightShift from rigid plans to more adaptation to learners' present needs
Start RightShifting. Start small. Start big. Just start. 

Mar 3, 2013

Self-Organizing Classroom: Big Picture

The Self-Organizing Classroom ...The Big Picture

The Self-Organizing Classroom Big Picture - John Miller

My experiences with with Agile in the classroom and deep thinking about why and how it works in K12 has led me to these insights. I am backing away from Agile as the key name or model. There is too much debate and noise about what Agile is and is not. I have come to realize that for this to truly take root, it can not be an adoption of Agile by educators, but, a cross-pollination of the Agile with education.  Agile approaches are borrowed and adapted to the unique context of the classroom and education. Agile provides a helpful scaffolding to building something new and uniquely valuable for a 21st Century learning environment, but, does not imprison its adaptation in schools. The diagram is a big picture overview of the Self-Organizing Classroom and it's interdisciplinary approach.

The 5 C's of Flow (The Outer Circle)

The 5C's to Evoke Flow
In my pursuit of why Agile worked so well in a classroom to evoke self-organization, engagement, love of learning, collaboration, self-directness, and positive behavior from 3rd graders to high school seniors, I have discovered it is because it provides the right conditions for the state of flow to occur. You enter flow when you match one's perceived skill level with the perceived challenge. Flow is the psychological state of

"being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost." - Csikszentmihaly

I argue that the Flow State what student engagement is. According to Csikzensmihaly , the environment should provide 5 characteristics to evoke flow,  The Self-Organizing Classroom intentionally builds these characteristics in throughout the entire learning experience.  
  1. Centering - centering on the student's present interests, emotional state, and concrete experience in the present, not focusing on consequences of completing the goal.  In other words, focus on the dynamically changing intrinsic motivations and states of the student not the extrinsic motivators and engaging in the learning activity for its own sake.
  2. Clarity - unambiguous goals, feedback, expectations, and norms of working together
  3. Challenge - set and negotiate meaningful challenges within students' perceived skill levels.
  4. Choice - students have choice in how they accomplish learning goals.
  5. Commitment - students can fully commit to the goal, without anxiety and distractions. They feel they have the support to be confident in completing the activities.

The Self-Organizing Classroom model intentionally designs learning so that these characteristics permeate throughout the entire learning experience, to help evoke radical engagement of the entire classroom.


The  Engagement Cycle (The Second Ring )

The SOC Engagement Loop

The Engagement Cycle is inspired directly from the Scrum framework, a highly collaborative Agile approach to innovative product development. The Engagement Cycle provides an iterative and incremental approach to learning, allowing learners to inspect and adapt their own learning. The Engagement Cycle is short time box, usually a week, where learners commit to learning goals to be demonstrate by the end of time-box, and then inspect and adapt the results and process for self-improvement.  It is the key enabling constraint for rapid learning and collaboration.

1. Plan - The teacher presents learning challenges, usually in the form of  learning outcomes or project outcomes, and provides a forum for discussion to center on the learners and ensure clarity on the outcomes. Learners have choice in what they commit  to achieve in the Engagement Cycle. Learners break down the challenges into activities and tasks, with choice in how they achieve the challenge.

2. Huddle - as the learners are self-organizing, they coordinate their activities with one another in a huddle, usually daily. They state what chose to do yesterday, what they choose to do today, and what problems they may need help in overcoming. This provides clarity on the progress of learning.

3. Demo - At the end of the Engagement Cycle is a formal demonstration of learning. Although demonstration of learning happens throughout the Engagement Cycle, this is the formal finish line to demonstrate the learning challenges were met. It provides clarity through immediate and relevant feedback on if the learning challenge was met. It provides valuable insight on how to adapt learning to the differentiated needs of the classroom.

4. Reflect - Learners reflect on their collaboration, their individual performance, the learning process, and the learning environment to celebrate their strengths, achievements, and to commit to a clear improvement challenge in the next Engagement Loop. Whereas the Demo is about  providing clarity on the outcomes of the learning, Reflect is about evoking clarity of the current process and self-improving it together. A self-organing classroom is a self-improving classroom. This formally happens at the end of the Engagement Loop, but, I have seen classrooms Reflect daily with amazing results.

Characteristics of a Self-Organing Classroom 

A Self-Organzing Classroom has unique characteristics that serve as scaffolding structures to support and evoke self-organization, self-improvement, and the achievement of learning challenges. These are also characteristics of an Agile environment that enable self-organzing teams to develop innovative products.

1. Visual - the learning environment provides radical clarity through providing highly visual learning radiators. Learning radiators provide unambiguous clarity on the learning challenges, expectations, progress, issues, and norms on how the classroom self-organizes, protecting against chaos that ambiguity can cause. It makes often invisible collaboration and meta-cognition activities transparent, so that the classroom can inspect and adapt their own learning.

2. Rapid Feedback - Throughout the framework, rapid and relevant feedback is provided at many levels, for individuals, for the interactions between learners and the environment, realtime feedback of learning and collaboration in progress, and the outcomes of learning. It enables the classroom to inspect and adapt quickly to differentiate their own learning. It does not wait for a test or a grade, it happens throughout the learning experience, and empowers learners to sense and respond themselves to the feedback when it is relevant.

3. Pull - The Self-Organzing Classroom moves towards more "Pull" and less "Push".  Learners have incrementally increase the choice they have, pulling in challenges and activities at their own rate at their own level. Although students may or may not develop their own goals, they should at a minimum have the structures and empowerment to pull the challenges and activities in at their own rate. By centering on the learners present and intrinsic motivation, the challenges "pull" them in,  versus being "pushed" onto them as something to comply to.

4. Self-Organzing  Is a specific form of self-directed learning combined with collaboration. Self-organized learners work without out direct supervision, released from command and control style of instruction, to accomplish clear goals.. This does not mean self-organized learners do not have rules, to the contrary, it is essential to provide enabling constraints for self-organization to emerge. Self-organization emerges within simple scaffolding structures, which is what this framework provide. This framework provides just enough rules to provide guard rails against chaos, while enough space to empower learners to choose and adapt their own learning path together.

The Empowerment Dial

The Empowerment Dial is a visual information radiator unique to this framework. It is the lever to provide gradual release of control from the teacher to the learners, from just individual learning to collaborative learning. It incrementally builds and stretches the self-organzing capacity of the classroom, from the teacher's capacity to empower as well as the learners capacity to take on more responsibility. This is the safety dial to protect against the perceived and real risks of a classroom spilling into the chaotic classroom. It provides a visible and incremental path, through 5 discrete stages of empowering learners and and transforming the teacher from the traditional "sage on the stage" to the coveted "guide on the side".  From Level 1, on-boarding the classroom by acclimating them to the engagement loop and visualizing learning through learning radiators, without changing the current level of  empowerment, to Level 5, where the classroom is fully self-organized and perhaps even developing their own learning outcomes and learning activities in full collaboration. The Empowerment Dial provides highly visible and explicit expectations on the roles and responsibilities, so that delegation of authority is unambiguous and can be respected by all. The 5C's of Flow is instilled in the Empowerment Dial as it is throughout the entire learning framework.


Through real experience of applying this model in classrooms, I believe this provides the right approach to a classroom of extreme engagement, empowerment, while providing the 21st Century skills in to thrive in the present and in the future. Be aware that this post is not a step by step guide, but, the overarching structure and characteristics the Self-Organzing Classroom guide will follow. With that said, as the real experiences of provide real feedback, this model will change, as it is still in it's infancy. We will inspect and adapt the model as we learn more.  I invite your feedback and contribution.

Your Help

I aslo ask for your advice on naming the framework and to participate in it's continued development and application with me. I am considering dropping the name of The Agile Based Learning Environment (ABLE) upon the recent insights that it is a cross-pollination of Agile, not an Agile adoption into education. I have used the term the Self-Organzing Classroom (SOC) throughout, and in writing the guide, but, I am not sure if that will stick. There is a another great educational approach out there urge you to explore, called the Self-Organzied Learning Environment (SOLE), which I actually started to use until I discovered their site. It is a very different model, but, I believe complimentary to this one. Thanks for you help!

John Miller PMP, CSP

John Miller

P.S. I am short on time to write and my quality suffers, so, if you see any typos, please let me know.

Jan 5, 2013

The Princess, Phonics, and Agility: Part 2

Sienna, my 4 year old daughter, and I are happy to share with you our next steps in learning Phonics within the Agile Based Learning Environment (ABLE). After developing our "Learned It" chart from the prior post, which we set clarity for our quality of learning,  we now need to identify our Learning Objectives, continuing without Princess theme!

Artifact #2: Design The Learning Objectives 

Learning Objectives should make it clear what a learners should "know or be able to do..that the could not do before" [1].
With our Agile Based Learning Environment elements in mind, we design our Learning Objectives to be:
  • highly visible, so we write them on cards or sticky notes and place them for all to see.  
  • understandable by the learner, so, we attempt to write them so the learner can understand. For Sienna’s age, we will need pictures as part of the Learning Objectives.
  • adaptable, so we make learning concepts independent from one another so that we can choose the right learning at the right time. 
  • Even with my 4 year old, connecting her learning to a relevant purpose, let's her know that the learning is for a reason. Not just because I tell her to. Meaning is a powerful intrinsic motivator.

The Learning Objective Card Format

The Learning Objective Card format looks like this below.
Learning Objective Card Format Example

The Learning Objective card follows the format below:

I want to ___________      ________________,       

        (Bloom’s Verb)          (Learning Concept)

So that I can ____________________________                     

         (Achieve Some Meaningful Purpose)

  • Blooms Verbs [2]  is a popular cognitive classification system, which allows us to to choose the right level of challenge for the perceived cognitive skill level of the learner. Bloom's  Matching the learning challenge to the right skill  will help the learner achieve a state of flow in their learning, one of the goals of ABLE  [3].
  • Learning Concept is the knowledge we want to be learned. We want this to be a small as a chunk as possible, but still significant.
  • Achieve Some Meaningful Purpose is to connect the learner to something personally important and relevant, preferably some intrinsic motivation.
  • Learned It Level  is a space we track the Learned It level goals and achievements discussed in Part 1 of this blog series.  For Sienna, I will place the sticker/badge for the Learned It level she achieves. We'll discover more on  this in later posts.

Step 1: Identify Learning Standard

I started out with a larger Learning Objective, at the Standard level, as identified in the Phonics book, beginning and ending consonants. I then discovered with Sienna why we want to learn the standard. In this case, being like her big cousin is important and motivating to her. 

Our discussion went something like this:
Me: “What can your big cousin do that you want to be able to do when she is at school?”
Sienna: “Well, when she reads, like a book, she does it by herself”. Me:“Do you want to read a book by yourself?”. Sienna: “Yeah”. 
Me: “Well, to read a book by yourself, you need to understand something called consonants. Would you like to learn how to read words that start and end with consonants?”
Sienna: “Yeah!”
I then wrote on our learning objective card:

I want to recognize beginning and ending consonants

so that I can read by myself like my cousin. 

I read it to her and asked if we can meet the challenge together and she agreed. See our card in the image below:

Step 2: Break down the Learning Standard into Learning Objectives

A Learning Objective, to be actionably learned by Sienna,  needs to be small enough to be learned in one, maybe 2, learning sessions.  The smaller and more focused the learning objectives are, the faster the feedback, the more adaptable we can be, which results in highly differentiated learning .  So we unpack the Standard to small but significant Learning Objectives. We make it highly visible and adaptable, by placing each objective onto it’s own card.

I want to recognize words beginning and ending with B

so that I can read by myself like my cousin. 

I felt this could be broken down to a 3 smaller, independent, yet still significant Learning Objectives:

I want to recognize words beginning with B,

 so that I can read by myself like my cousin.

I want to recognize words ending with b

so that I can read by myself like my cousin.

I want to distinguish between  words beginning and ending with B

so that I can read by myself like my cousin.

We repeated this for the remaining consonants. The Learning Objective cards take some of the best practices great teachers use today, supported by powerful learning and motivational theories, by making it highly visible, adaptable, meaningful to the learner. It sets the stage for the learner to enter deep engagement, the flow state, with their learning.


  • The purpose behind the ABLE practices is to be lightweight and simple.  All you need to write learning objectives in this way are index cards and a marker.
  • Want to try this in the classroom or with your teaching teams? Check out this powerful visual Learning Objective generation board. Better yet, get your students to help co-create the learning objectives!

Up Next

Sienna and I will share how we use the Learning Objective Cards to make a highly visual and adaptable learning roadmap, that we call the Learning Backlog, which offers many advantages over the traditional static curriculum planning and curriculum maps. Stay tuned, you'll enjoy how a simple visual tool empowers learners to be in control of their learning and allows the differentiated instruction.

Thank You,
Sienna and John

Dec 30, 2012

Agile Phonics: Pt 1


Please try this at home!

Wandering Minds 

I have to admit, it is tough for my wandering brain to engage with my 4 year old at times. My mind needs challenging stimuli. As much as I love my daughter, I tune out after 10 minutes of playing Simba and Mufasa from the Lion King, or learning letters. I yearn for dopamine to be pumped into my brain, my mind wanders,  and then I feel like a bad father for not being in the moment with her.  

This week, I downloaded some Phonics books from the library for her. Indeed, not only did I tune out in 10 minutes of our first lesson, so did my daughter (it must be genetic!). To engage myself and her, we decided to combine Agile and Phonics. Engaging me with my love of Agile, and engaging Sienna with the Agile's visual workflow, empowering her with choice in learning, and providing her instant feedback on progress.

Designing Phonics ABLE Style

First, read this post regarding the elements of the Agile Based Learning Environment (ABLE). You will see these elements throughout.

Artifact #1: The “I Learned It” Chart

Keep the end in mind” - Stephen Covey

What does “learned” mean? How do we know when to move on to the next learning objective? When do we know we met our learning goals? How do I motivate my daughter to achieve the highest level of learning?  As a learning team (her and I), we should have clarity of what “learned”means from the beginning so we can design are learning to achieve the right level of mastery and move on to the next challenge.  It also ensures we spend out time on the most important, not “over-learning”and not “under-learning”, the former is wasteful, the latter creates “learning debt”. Learning quality goes up when we design with the end in mind first, knowing our definition of done.

Resources Need:
    • Flip Chart Paper
    • Makers/Crayons
    • Stickers (optional)
    • Learning rubric

Step 1: Identify the Learning Proficiency Levels:

Basic Phonics Skills, Level B (Grades K-1), Evan-Moor
Educators are very familiar with learning proficiency levels. The Phonics book provided us with a rubric of 3 levels of learning proficiencies which we could use in our learning:

Level 3: Mastered
 • The student is able to complete the activity independently. • The student is able to complete the activity correctly. • The student is able to answer questions about the phonetic principle being practiced. 

Level 2: Showed Adequate Understanding 
 • The student is able to complete the activity with little assistance. • The student is able to complete the activity with minimal errors. • The student is able to answer some questions about the phonetic principle being practiced. 

Level 1: Understanding
 • The student required assistance to complete the activity. • The student made several errors. •The student did not appear to understand the phonetic principle being practiced. 

Level 0: Showed Little or No Understanding
 • The student required one-to-one assistance to complete the activity, or was unable to complete the activity. • The student made many errors. • The student showed no understanding of the phonetic principle being practiced. 

Step 2: Design a “Learned It” Metaphor

Source: www.disney-clipart.com
The rubrics were definitely helpful to me, but, not so much to Sienna. How do I translate this to something more fun for my 4 year old Phonics learner? When in need help with Sienna, I always ask a“princess” to come to the rescue!  We came up with the idea of a Princess Castle visual metaphor for the learning proficiency levels.

Sienna decorating the "Learned It" Castle
Respecting our elements of ABLE, I asked Sienna if she like the castle idea. She loved it, of course, it involved princesses! I then drew a castle on a flip chart paper. The castle has 4 levels, corresponding to the Phonics learning rubric.  Level 0 - The Castle Gate, with Levels 1-3 being each next higher level castle tower.

Step 3: Design The “I Learned It” Badges

Teachers know the magical power of stickers for young children.  I pulled out our sticker stash and luckily found some princess stickers, imagine! I must be careful here, stickers or badges should be there to symbolize her level of learning and her effort, not as an extrinsic reward. I do not want the overjustification effect to take place, where an extrinsic motivation replaces that of her more valuable intrinsic motivation.

Level 3: Mastered
I asked Sienna, “What is the most important sticker for a princess?” She pointed to the Princess Crown “Wonderful, this is the sticker that you get when you really learned a lot about something and can do it by yourself”. This was became our level 3 - Mastery badge.

Level 2: Showed Adequate Understanding 
“Now, what is the next most important thing to a princess”
Sienna, “The wand!” “Great, that is our level 2 of learning, when you did a great job of learning, but perhaps not as much as when you get the Crown. You still might need a little help from Daddy”

Level 1: Understanding
Next, was our Level 1 learning. “Ok what is the next important sticker to a princess?” Sienna chose the princess gown. “Alright, when you learned something, but, probably need to learn some more, you get the princess gown. We'll know this because Daddy will be helping you a lot”.

I chose not to have a Level 0 sticker, if we do not get to at least to Level 1, we need to try again.

Each sticker with the corresponding “Learned It” Level number was placed on a flag on the right area of the castle.

Again, Sienna is part of the process, choosing her own “Learned It Badges”, symbols that are meaningful to her, inspire her, and ones in which she understands the ranking of learning it symbolizes.  To really make it hers, she colored the Princess Castle! Fun! 

Next In Our Princess Adventure

Sienna and I will share how we use the "Learned It" Princess Castle in a subsequent post to this series. I am sure you can already imagine how it might be used.

In our next post, Sienna and I will share how we develop ABLE Learning Objectives and the Learning Backlog so that we have a visible and adaptable roadmap for our princess learning adventure with Phonics.

Could you try something like this with your children or students? If so, share your ideas and results!

Thank You,
John Miller, CSP, PMP

Dec 9, 2012

ABLE Guide: Challenges to ABLE

This is a work in progress as I and a some great helpers are developing, called the The Self-Organizing Classroom -A Quickstart Guide to Agile Based Learning Environments. 
Please email or comment your feedback so it can be as valuable as possible. 

What Are The Challenges of ABLE?

Although ABLE is simple and if implemented with patience and discipline, will emerge fantastic results, it is not without it's challenges. Some challenges you might encounter are:

  • the self-organizing aspect of learning teams may look like chaos from the outside. Many will see it and love it, but others, may not understand and see it as disorganization. 
  • it may be difficult to let go of the control. Anxiety may set in, especially when you the classroom is beginning to discover their "empowerment muscles" and the soreness that results from any growth.
  • it can be tempting to skip some steps in the framework for expediency or not yet seeing the value. Skipping the steps will diminish and sabotage the results.
  • uncertainty about how it can effect test scores. Although we can not guarantee it, in our experience, we have never seen a decrease in test scores. Especially with Common Core, we expect it will increase the results on Common Core and other tests. 
  • if you are a teacher who needs a high amount of certainty and control, this may not be right for you. It requires a tolerance for uncertainty, patience, and a growth mindset that the classroom has the ability to be self-organizing.
  • it does not guarnatee instant results, although, we have seen results happen quickly, expect a month before you start seeing significant changes in student self-directedness. 
  • any change is hard, and, ABLE is no exception.
Thank You,

Dec 8, 2012

ABLE Guide: Elements of a Self-Organizing Classroom

Dear Readers, This is a work in progress as I develop the The Self-Organizing Classroom - A Quickstart Guide to Agile Based Learning Environments

Please email or comment your feedback so I can make this as educator-friendly as possible.  Thank you for your help in developing the future!

A self-organizing classroom is one in which student self-directedness and collaboration intersect. A Self-Organizing Classroom energizes and engages learners and allows for novel learning opportunities that emerge bottom up from the classroom interaction itself. There are 7 elements of a Self-Organizing Classroom. 
  1. Engagement: pursues a state of flow in which the classroom balances  perceived challenges to perceived skill.
  2. Relatedness: establishes positive connections to each other, relates to a sense of purpose, and provides relevancy to the real world.
  3. Achievement: pursues continuous improvement and shared commitment to accomplish clear and negotiable outcomes.
  4. Autonomy: provides incremental increases to student empowerment, gradually stretching the classroom capacity for autonomy. Learners "pull" their work over work being "pushed" onto them.
  5. Agile: rapidly inspects and adapts the learning environment to the changing social, emotional, physiological and cognitive states of the classroom.
  6. Visible: the classroom is filled with highly visible artifacts that reflects realtime progress of learning and collaboration.
  7. Kinetic: is rich with physical and verbal energy that is harnessed towards collaboratively achieving shared goals.

The elements are a inspired by Positive PsychologyFlow State TheorySelf-Determination TheoryVAK/VARK Learning Model, research on teaching best practices, and influences from  Agile and Lean Methodologies.

The Agile Based Learning Environment's roles, artifacts, events, and agreements provides practical guidance on how to actualize these elements every day to achieve a Self-Organizing Classroom.

Dec 7, 2012

ABLE Guide: Roles

This is a work in progress as I develop the The Self-Organizing Classroom - A Quickstart Guide to Agile Based Learning Environments

Please email or comment your feedback so I can make this as educator-friendly as possible. 


ABLE provides 3 roles in the classroom; (1) the ABLE Teacher, (2) the ABLE Facilitator, and (3) the Learning Team. Each has distinct responsibilities that interlock and balance one another to enable self-organization. It is important to not only understand the roles and responsibility, but, most importantly the classroom's journey in actualizing the roles.When the roles are fully actualized, a self-organzing classroom emerges, full of engagement, collaboration, creativity, and focus.

ABLE Teacher
  • Responsibilities:
    • orders and adapts the classroom  backlog based on the current realities of the classroom
    • develops and communicates clear learning outcomes and assessment criteria
    • ensues the learning backlog is highly visible to the classroom and other classroom community members at all times.
    • owns the "Empowerment Dial" and the "Empowerment Board"
    • assesses the learning outcomes
    • creates a learning environment that fosters creativity, empowerment, collaboration, and engagement
    • establishes learning teams that leverages diversity of strengths and perspectives
  • Characteristics:
    • finds joy in being surprised of emergent and novel approaches when empowering students to develop their own way to achieving a learning outcome
    • embraces a "growth mindset" for the classroom, each students, and herself
    • belief that students will be responsible, if given opportunities to make their own decisions
    • ability to articulate learning goals clearly
    • ability to fast forward attitude
    • situational leadership style
  • The ABLE Teacher's Journey is from teacher to coach. From the "sage on the stage" to the trusting and empowering "guide on the side"

ABLE Facilitator
  • Responsibilities:
    • facilitates the ABLE Events, for her team or on a rotation for whole classroom learning
    • helps the team stay focused, positive, and productive
    • reinforces and reminds the team meet their ABLE Agreements
    • encourages the team to utilize each member's strengths
    • helps the team follow the ABLE framework.
    • encourages the Learning Team to stretch reach their next Empowerment Level
    • removes roadblocks from the team and escalates issues that can not be resolved by the Learning Team to the Teacher
    • facilitates in team member mediation when needed
    • helps the team identify and obtain resources to meet their goals
    • does not have to be a dedicated assignment, it may be rotated to a different students per Sprint
    • does not have any authority over the team
  • The ABLE Facilitator may be the teacher in certain situations, such as:
    • intervention situations
    • early stages of ABLE to model the ABLE Facilitator role
  • The ABLE Master's Journey is from "just reciting the ABLE Process" to a "Team Coach and Facilitator", that can ask powerful questions of the team to help move them to their highest potential

ABLE Team Member
  • Responsibilities:
    • the "how of the work"
    • develops their own learning and project tasks
    • "pulls" their own learning tasks
    • collective ownership of the tasks as a team
    • commit to doing their best to achieve the learning outcomes be the end of a Sprint
  • Characteristics:
    • self-organzing is the fundamental characteristic and ultimate goal of an ABLE team
    • extremely collaborative
    • shared ownership of goals
    • self-mediating
    • team has diverse strengths, aptitudes,styles and passions that complement each other.
    • no prescribed roles exist or are assigned, except for the ABLE Master. Each team member contributes their own unique strengths and talents to accomplishing their shared goals.
    • suggested group size is 3-5 students. Too large of a team makes self-organization difficult; too small of a team does not provide the diversity required to leverage one another's strengths.
    • Self-organization means that the team is not told "how" to do their work and there is no central authority directing individual assignment to a team member. Students develop and self-select their own tasks to satisfy the learning or project outcomes in a self-organzing team.
  • An ABLE Team Member's Journey is from an individual learner, dependent on the teacher to be told the what, when, and how, to a learner as a member of a collaborative self-directed team, in other words, a "self-organized team".
What feedback do you have? How would you describe the roles and responsibilities of an ABLE Team? 

Thank You,
John Miller

12/9/12 Changed ABLE Master to ABLE Facilitator.

Based on the Scrum Framework