Learning In The Zone

Where young learners and leaders get it—and go for it.

GUEST COLUMN | by Mark Gura

As we move further and further into the era of Technology-driven Education, along with hoped-for improvement in Instruction, there come unforeseen barriers to full realization of positive transformation.

The sheer magnitude of variety in purpose and function of digital instructional resources now available represents something beyond manageability for many younger colleagues. Similarly, the now vast body of instructional practice compatible with those resources has grown to a size beyond the grasp of many.

‘Providing tools for … colleagues to understand and negotiate this landscape is one of the most important challenges facing us currently.’

Further, the confluence of these two areas – instructional resources and practices, places today’s up-and-coming instructional leaders in an ever-expanding, shape-shifting professional environment. New possibilities may not line up clearly with the traditional instruction they experienced as students themselves and in their Teacher Preparation courses.

In the Zone

Providing tools for these colleagues to understand and negotiate this landscape is one of the most important challenges facing us currently. “Learning in the Zone: The 7 Habits of Meta-Learners”, Dr. Sonny Magana’s recently released book, is one such navigational instrument of high potential.

Once each semester I invite a notable educator to visit my Zoom-based, graduate level course, “Technology Integration for School Leaders,” which I teach for the Graduate School of Technology of Touro University.

The intention is to shake up my master’s program students’ sense of the state of Education and how they might best tackle its challenges.

One of the great challenges I’ve encountered in teaching this course is students’ struggle to perceive completely the higher purposes and potentials tech offers to positively transform teaching and learning.

A Welcome Guest

To the end of catapulting their vision and understanding of tech into the realm of hyper-relevance focus on current, pressing educational needs, I invited Dr. Sonny Magana to swap ideas with me and my class, on track to become NYS certified School Technology Specialists.

Sonny, the Dr. Magana was quickly dropped, agreed to talk about his most recently released book, “…in the Zone” and at my insistence to begin with, “Disruptive Classroom Technologies: A Framework for Innovation in Education,” the book that preceded it.

Can any serious consideration of the state of Education not fully embrace the burgeoning set of digital power tools available to apply to teaching and learning?

But with the vast quantity and variety of edtech resources out there, there are understandably many takes on potential value to be had and as a result, a daunting range of appropriate and point-missing classroom applications.

What’s needed are highly experienced, deep thinkers like Sonny, who hunt down the most brightly shining dots of information and connect them into fresh and more meaningful constellations of understanding.

A Framework, And Purpose

“Disruptive Classroom Technologies” delves deeply into Instructional Technology directly, considers its rich body of application and purpose, and distills and invests his years of observation and reflection in a powerful infographic labeled The T3 framework.

In fully understanding instructional tech, one has to wrestle with and parse what has become by now a towering variety and number of technology types and varieties. The temptation is to see the trees and not the forest. The focus centers on a myriad of individual resources, each performing a unique function and distracting one from taking in the big picture of interconnected ecosystems expressing underlying purpose-driven design.

It seems to me that Magana’s intention in following up “Disruptive Classroom Technologies” with “Learning in the Zone” mirrors one of the most core themes I’ve written into my course. Namely, that in a deal breaking way, unless educators focus first on Learning, then any application of technology proves pointless and fated to be a marginal effort, despite gift wrapping with flashy bells and whistles in many cases.

When I discuss this with my students, I reference the ‘standards-based core curriculum’ that they are all familiar with and that comprises the prime set of goals of so many districts. But Sonny, as I recall the conversation, takes aim as something even loftier and with, what I agree, would have more significant impact; as the title of his book puts it, ‘The Zone.”

Into the Zone

The Zone is a state of learning characterized and powered by 7 Habits of Meta Learning, which are:

1  committing to personal mastery goals;

2  monitoring and regulating emotions, effort, and progress;

3  leveraging past learning experiences as building blocks for current and future learning;

4  functioning as highly social, active participants in contributive learning communities;

5  using conceptual frameworks to contextualize new learning content;

6  connecting categorizing, and reflecting upon new learning content; and

7  functioning as the source of their own meta-feedback loops.


Importantly, Sonny explained to my class that, yes, these habits can be fostered in students by their teachers, offering that modeling and bringing the act of learning up to a conscious level for reflection and understanding are two effective means of accomplishing this.

But while this central framework doesn’t talk about the use of technology directly, it’s absolutely not the case that focusing on the zone would bring today’s teachers and their students to a place beyond it. No, quite to the contrary, those who bring their students into the zone are likely technology using teachers, those who are already involved in using it to make learning in their classrooms resonate with relevance.

To illustrate the point, he provides examples of technology use in the book. When asked, he spoke about one of his favorites for use in such classrooms: Google Jamboard.

One of the key points of enlightened classroom technology use that I stress in my class is for educators to wrap their heads around instructional needs and to see digital resources as ways to address them. In that sense, a tech-savvy teacher could identify a wide variety of available tools, focusing on their functions and the way they might facilitate student work through actualizing Magana’s 7 Habits.

Expanding Universe

As our universe of learning possibilities expands, in no small measure due to the ways that technology provides seemingly unlimited amounts of content and varieties of accessing and processing it, frameworks prove increasingly important in guiding the development of fully empowered learners who might easily get lost without them.

The Zone, I feel, is one with great potential and I feel very good about having made it part of what my group of soon-to-be edtech leaders takes away from my class.

Sonny’s website: https://maganaeducation.com/

The book: https://maganaeducation.com/research-tested-resources/

Mark Gura is Editor-at-Large for EdTech Digest and author of The Edtech Advocate’s Guide to Leading Change in Schools (ISTE), and co-author of State of EdTech: The Minds Behind What’s Now and What’s Next (EdTech Digest). He also authored Make, Learn Succeed: Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School (ISTE). He taught at New York City public schools in East Harlem for two decades. He spent five years as a curriculum developer for the central office and was eventually tapped to be the New York City Department of Education’s director of the Office of Instructional Technology, assisting over 1,700 schools serving 1.1 million students in America’s largest school system. In addition to his role at EdTech Digest, he is currently a professor at Touro College Graduate School of Technology.


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