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

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

Dec 4, 2012

ABLE Guide: Cover

The following are 3 cover ideas for the ABLE Guide. Take a look and provide feedback on the poll at the end.

Cover #1

Cover #2

Cover #3

ABLE Guide: Learning Rhythm

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

Pleaser email or comment your feedback so I can make this useful and as easy to use as possible. 

This is part 1 of multiple parts describing the Sprint and the Events that enable a Self-Organized Classroom.

-The Rhythm Self Organizing Classrooms Dance To

ABLE is composed of a consistent learning rhythm, called a Sprint. A Sprint is a time-boxed duration within which classrooms commit to a set of outcomes to be achieved by the end of the time-box. Just like a sprint in track and field, it is a short duration with a starting line and a finishing line, except in this case, it is not distance, it is time. The time-box is typically a week, but, can be as short as a day or class period to as long as a month.  Once one Sprint ends, the next one begins. For example, if your Sprint cadence is set to one week, your Sprint may start on Monday and end on Friday. The next Monday, the next Sprint begins. 

The 4 Events of ABLE 
-The Drumbeats of Learning

The Sprint is composed of 4 events, that serves as the "drumbeats" of the Sprint,  that self-organizing classrooms dance to. The 4 ABLE events in a Sprint are : (1)Sprint Planning, (2) Huddle, (3) Sprint Review, and the (4) Sprint Retrospective. The Sprint itself is a feedback loop for learning and adaptation to occur. Each ABLE Event in the Sprint is a specific feedback loop as well. Every event provides an opportunity for the classroom to inspect current learning and adapt in realtime. Instead of making assumptions about how students should be doing or by inspecting and adapting too late, it provides a mechanism for teachers and students to ask, "How are we really doing now?";  "What can we do now based on our unique classroom's strengths, diversity, and opportunities?. As each classroom is a dancing landscape, with an array of complex variables changing daily.  The Sprint provides a cadence for the classroom to improvise and dance with it. The 4 Events occur sequentially, opening with Sprint Planning, a Huddle every day/class period, and ending with the Review and Retrospective. 

ABLE Guide: Introduction

This is a work in progress as I develop the The Self-Organizing Classroom -A Quickstart Guide to Agile Based Learning Environments
Pleaser email or comment your feedback so I can make this useful and as easy to use as possible. 

Agile Based Learning Environment Introduction

"Enhance creativity by changing conditions in the environment than by trying to make people think creatively"

- Csikszentmihalyi, Creativty: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Welcome to the Self-Organizing Classroom, powered by the Agile Based Learning Environment (ABLE)! ABLE offers you a simple and revolutionary approach to transforming the culture of  your classroom to one that provides students autonomy, love of learning, and purpose. The 5 steps in ABLE is firmly rooted in the theories of Positive Psychology, Self-Determination Theory, Complex Adaptive Systems, brain research, and the hands on experience of the contributors of the guide in implementing ABLE in real classroom. ABLE is focused on designing the learning environment and conditions so that 21st Century Skills, character, engagement, competency, autonomy, and  purpose emerge. It is designed to go beyond just putting students in control of their learning, but, doing so in a radically collaborative approach. It transcends individual student self-directedness to a collaborative form of self-directedness, called self-organization, in which learning teams achieve learning goals together.

The framework and techniques are designed to allow a classroom to embark their journey into self-organization safely and incrementally. Beginning the student journey from individual learning to that of a self-organizing classroom. It provides a path for the teacher to move from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side”. ABLE helps transform the teacher from the instructor into the skillful crafter of an empowering and engaging learning environment. 

ABLE provides guard rails against the chaotic classroom. ABLE provides tools, techniques, artifacts, and a rhythm of checkpoints that allows for constant alignment to learning goals and behavior. ABLE gives the teacher a self-directedness dial, a powerful mechanism to incrementally increase and adjust the autonomy of learning to students. So, rest any anxieties aside, and get ready to transform your classroom to a fertile ground of a true 21st Century learning environment.

ABLE Guide: Benefits

This is a work in progress as I develop the The Self-Organizing Classroom -A Quickstart Guide to Agile Based Learning Environments
Pleaser email or comment your feedback so I can make this useful and as easy to use as possible. 

What Are The Benefits of ABLE?  

  • mastery of 21st Century Skills built in to all learning:
    • Creativity and innovation
    • Critical thinking and problem solving
    • Communication and collaboration
    • Flexibility and Adaptability
    • Mange Goals and Time
    • Initiative and Self-Direction
    • Social and cross-cultural interation
    • Productivity and accountability
    • Leadership
    • Responsibility
    • Work effectively in diversity
    • Manage projects
    • Produce results
  • delivers the rigor required by the Common Core Standards
  • mastery of Common Core Speaking and Listening Anchor Standards are built in
  • real Life Skills that students can and will apply outside of the classroom
  • diminished behavioral issues and improved attendance
  • unleashes the love of learning
  • self-mediatation of conflict
  • higher order thinking and greater depth of knowlege
  • teacher's role will be more rewarding as they move from the "sage on the stage" to the "guide on the side"
  • character development integrated throughout
  • adaptable to any curriculum and classroom structure
  • rapid learning 
  • minimal resources needed, just requires a marker and sticky notes.
  • transformation of classroom culture
  • radical student engagement & empowerment
  • learners self-organze, allowing the teacher to provide more differentiated and higher valued instruction
  • can start right away, ABLE provides an easy on-boarding process and a pathway to mastery
  • provides "guard-rails" to protect the classroom from chaos as it incrementally empowers learners
  • realtime differentiation of learning