How do the COVA approach and the significant learning environment created in the ADL aid me in my learning process?
2019 was a year full of changes for me at a personal and professional level. I decided to start teaching Spanish at the Secondary level in 2017. As I was learning the content and new strategies to meet students’ needs, I faced a challenge that was common in the Foreign Language Department: student engagement. I started integrating technology in my classroom but did not really know where to start, which is when I decided to pursue the ADL program to support myself and my students. A second big change was COVID-19. This change caused me to rethink the way I was teaching and meeting the needs of my students.
Throughout the program, I was given the freedom to CHOOSE what I wanted to change in my learning environment. That’s how I started my innovation plan. The main goal was to pilot the blended learning initiative in my classroom during the second semester of the 2020-2021 school year and continue with a wider initiative during the 2021–2022 school year. In addition to that, I created a platform – an e-portfolio – to reflect upon my learning throughout the program. I felt I had OWNERSHIP of my learning, which is exactly what I wanted for my students. I have to say that it was not an easy process. But I realized that what I was doing in my classroom could help other educators too.
E-portfolios are built on platforms with digital resources. They allow greater versatility, scope, access, and the use of a multiplicity of formats in the presentation of documents. They can store “visual or auditory content, including text, images, video, or sound.” I believe that the author of an e-portfolio has a very clear basic purpose: to organize their work so as to share it with the world. And this is how the COVA (Choice, Ownership, and Voice through an Authentic Learning Environment) authentic learning environment ) begins: by creating an e-portfolio, all I want to do is to take ownership of my learning and share it with the world. I control the content I share, how much detail I give, the tone I use when describing my experiences, and the impact such experiences have had on me as a learner. The role of the reader is to take what they want – as little or as much – so that they can relate, agree, or disagree with what I have to share. I really want others to share their thoughts with me when creating my posts. By doing that, they can push my thinking and make me reflect on how others perceive my experiences. I do have to say that before being a teacher, I was a learner. The person who dares to search and collect the content is the true owner of the e-portfolio, which is exactly what I became. I started sharing information on Twitter and Facebook groups. I got replies from other educators asking how I got started and how the process was going. I felt the work I was doing was valuable to not only me but to other educators.
What I shared on my e-portfolio and gathered throughout the ADL programs is based on research as shown in my literature review. By doing my literature review, I was able to sift through enormous amounts of information and evaluate what could support my innovation plan. The theories were shared with my colleagues and the school community.
This program has reinforced principles I’ve always known were important for students but hadn’t had the opportunity to see firsthand. I comprehend their power now that I’ve had true choice, ownership, and voice over my project and the route my learning took in this program. When a learner is enthusiastic about studying, it is impossible to stop them. Teachers face difficulties when they are mandated by the state to teach specific subjects and have never had the opportunity to experience the power of choice, ownership, and voice through authentic assignments. How can you lead others on this journey if you don’t partake in its power? My perspective on education and learning has transformed dramatically as a result of this experience, and I now see myself as a learner. I hope that more teachers were able to participate in this program. It would, in my opinion, make a significant difference in our educational institutions.
APPLYING COVA AND CREATING A SIGNIFICANT LEARNING ENVIRONMENT (CSLE)
The main goal of my innovation plan was to keep students more interested and engaged in the learning that was happening in my classroom. Before using the COVA approach, I used the curriculum and pacing guide provided by the district to perform my responsibilities. However, my students were not engaged. I needed to change the approach I used in my classroom so that students could feel more invested in the instruction I planned for them. I was aware that my teaching style needed to evolve and be adjusted to a new way of providing instruction that would meet the needs of each one of the students I served. Throughout the ADL program, I discovered new elements that guided me to the goal that I had set for myself. I started to put the CLSE (creating a significant learning environment) into practice in my classes. In order to create significant learning environments in my context, I intentionally added more elements to my original growth mindset plan, which gave me a new way of thinking about obstacles and failures. I used the four CSLE steps. The first step was to build trust and rapport in the environment. Trust-building cannot be sped up. The process requires interactions amongst the different stakeholders on a daily basis. By taking this step, I fostered a new culture in the environment in which students’ learning is influenced by the actions and behaviors of their teachers. My behaviors as a teacher had an impact on how students perceived new information, how I placed myself in my classroom, and how classroom interactions affected students. As a teacher, I expect my learners to consider the information I teach so that they are able to construct an interpretation. In other words, the learner assimilates new knowledge into current organizational schemes. A second step was to identify learners’ fixed mindsets. My goal was to identify a fixed mindset, reflect upon it and change how my students express themselves with thoughts that are focused on growing and learning. The third step was to set goals. Having a growth mindset assumes that challenge and failure are springboards for stretching learners’ abilities. In order to accomplish this, my students identified and set goals that they wanted to accomplish. Such a process helped them feel successful. The last step in the changing mindset process is receiving feedback with a growth mindset. This is easier said than done. Feedback is a major area where a growth mindset proves worthwhile and one area of growth for me.
Reflection was one of the highlights of the ADL program for me. Every assignment I had pushed my thinking and challenged me as an educator and learner. I was able to reflect upon my learning philosophy which describes why I became an educator and what drives such a passion for teaching and learning. The pandemic and the work I did at school allowed me to change my mindset about new cultures of learning. When I first started teaching, I looked forward to designing my own units. But, little did I know the thinking behind such a task. Although I have some years of teaching experience, I am still learning how to develop effective and engaging curriculum units that are meaningful and relevant to each one of my students.
Curriculum design is an area of growth in my context. Exploring the UbD and Fink’s frameworks and creating units using both designs was a huge task that allowed me to have a change of mindset. To be honest, the Self-Directed Guide (titled Aligning Outcomes, Assessments, and Activities) required me to really zoom out to see the bigger picture of the unit. This is a process that I am not accustomed to being engaged in, but that certainly helped me with my growth mindset. Even though I struggled through the process, I did not give up. I read the articles two times and used a wide variety of resources to really understand the differences and similarities between the two frameworks. It really pushed my thinking and helped me grow as an educator.
To conclude, I can say that the COVA approach influenced my learning by improving my ability set with a variety of innovations aimed at increasing student engagement. When I started this program, my goal was to learn more about technology integration. However, as I advanced through the classes, I did not limit myself to that. I am reflecting upon my own practice, taking risks in the classroom, and changing my fixed mindset from “the students are not able to do it” to a more “what plan can I have in place so that I can support my students”. The COVA approach is new learning for me that I will definitely continue using in my own learning environment. I want my students to learn and be equipped with the skills necessary to be productive members of society.
Harapnuik, D. (n.d.). COVA. Retrieved from: http://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=6991
Harapnuik, D. (2015, January 9). The head won’t go where the heart hasn’t been. It’s About Learning. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from https://www.harapnuik.org/?p=5461
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