1:1 = Immediate #Shift

We just got our Chrome books – every student in my class – and just like that, I pivot on a dime.

I’ve been waiting, wishing and praying for this moment for so long. I’ve gone through all sorts of hacks to get technology in the hands of my students – begging, borrowing, hogging the carts, getting old laptops donated (before guest WiFi access – that was a nightmare!) – and now I’m fully loaded and ready to innovate!

One of my guiding goals this year has been to go practically paperless. Some days I do better than others, but this has shifted my thinking into the digital space. Others I know I’m not quite ready to give up – I’m not ready for a digital science test – and I’m enjoying the struggle and reflection that comes with that.

I’m also enjoying the shift in teaching and pedagogy. These devices are more than just digital notebooks. They are more than fancy flash cards. They are more than future type writers. These devices literally transform the way we teach and learn. We are connecting to knowledge outside of our room. We are creating products more exciting than just paper/pencil. We are sharing with each other, inspiring each other, challenging each other in ways that I had never dreamed.

I’m looking forward to working through the new challenges. I’ve just completed a writing pathway – I have 50 writing portfolios that I’m carrying back and forth to school, scribbling feedback, conferencing with each – and a part of me is mourning the loss of the physical-ness of holding all that writing in my hand. But I’m also conversely excited to see how this changes my work-flow. How can I manage the digital creations of my students? How will I assess and give feedback? How will I track what they are currently working on? So many problems to solve!

I think this is when I am at my best: when I am stumbling, problem-solving and on fire with all this innovation: teaching and learning at it’s best! I love it!!



What is the purpose of your literacy program?

I’ve been brewing this thought for a while now, and I’m a little anxious to share it – but sometimes you just need to get it out to fully understand it.

too much technology

Here is my question of (elementary) teachers: What is the purpose of your literacy program? By that, I mean: What is your literacy program preparing your students for?

Here is my question of (elementary) teachers: What is the purpose of your literacy program? By that, I mean: What is your literacy program preparing your students for?

I’m certain that this thinking is fueled by an insecurity on my part, and by no means do I think I have all the answers. However, I catch myself worried and wondering if I’m doing my students right by how I am teaching literacy. Am I on the right track, or am I too far out there? But almost conversely, I’m driven by a commitment to do what’s best for my students – and sometimes ignore the traditions around me.

So let me be clear: I am teaching all of my students to be critically literate in an information-rich future. I am NOT preparing my students for an English degree.

Now, I have an English degree – and loved the study and pursuit of that degree. I remember one of my courses being a study in English of the Middle Ages – Chaucer et. al came to play. It was great – but I think we can agree it wasn’t practical. And it wasn’t appropriate for everyone. However, there was tremendous value in that course for me at the time.

My insecurity spikes when I hear other teachers sharing about their poetry units, their time spent on metaphors and figurative language, diction, Shakespeare, etc. And these things can fit into our curriculum. And that is what I love best about our curriculum in Ontario.

In implementing this curriculum, teachers can help students – particularly students in Grades 7 and 8 – to see that language skills are lifelong learning skills that will enable them to better understand themselves and others, unlock their potential as human beings, find fulfilling careers, and become responsible world citizens.

Ontario Language Curriculum, Grades 1-8, Language, 2006, page 5.

There is a lot of room for interpretation in the the curriculum, but there is also a clear message that the purpose is big: “responsible world citizens”. I see this a bigger than an English degree.

I am a little naive, and perhaps a little slow to see the big picture. Recently it really hit me – perhaps moving up into intermediate – and I was shocked to see how different other teachers’ literacy programs were – both to mine, and to each other. And I also feel a special kind of pressure, whether it is real or imaginary, in my attempts to “get them ready” for high school.

I’m teaching skills that can transfer across multiple strands and multiple text types. In my Consumer’s Workshop, we are learning:

  • how to apply comprehension strategies
  • learning to demonstrate our understanding
  • learning how to extend our understanding
  • learning how to identify point of view and possible biases
  • learning how to interpret texts and make inferences
  • learning how to analyze texts
  • learning how to respond to texts

We are doing all this while reading, listening AND viewing media texts.

In my Producer’s Workshop, we are:

  • learning how to develop and organize our ideas
  • learning how to find robust mentor texts that are awesome examples of that form, as well as how-to guides to create that form
  • learning how to create proper texts of a variety of forms
  • learning how to produce texts with proper voice that matches the intended audience
  • learning how to research ideas that will support our topic, while producing a variety of spoken, written and media texts.

We do this by producing (creating) chosen spoken, written and media texts that reflect student interests and passions, balanced by texts that I expose them to.

So I find myself sometimes stuck. I love when students who’ve graduated come back to visit. I ask about their current literacy experiences in high school: what are you reading? Are you listening and viewing media texts? What are skills are you learning? Are you writing everyday? Are you producing spoken and media texts? The answers are often varied and disappointing. My literacy program doesn’t reflect their literacy experiences. Is that my responsibility to bridge that gap?

So this post is that beginning of this conversation. I look forward to the challenge and discussion.


Let’s stop ranking what we consume!

I’m going to treat this post like an Easter egg, and come back to open it later. It contains the seeds of some ideas that need further developing at a later stage.

Something interesting happened this weekend – I got caught up on my marking!

Somewhere in this marathon session, I was abruptly reminded again of a literacy misconception that I’m getting pretty tired of hearing. Here is my attempt at explaining this.

When considering WHAT we consume, this can be broken into the categories of reading, listening and viewing media texts. Within these silos, there are a range of different media types. The misconception comes when people rank these medias in terms of difficulty, and it is as such:

  1. Literary texts – with novels being the ultimate
  2. Informational texts
  3. Graphic texts
  4. Listening
  5. Media texts

I came across this misconception (?) again and again in my marking. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know how it is perpetuated. And it frustrates me.

There are so many skills required to critically consume these different kinds of texts. And I have no doubt that there are complicated skills required to consume a novel – thus the reason there are entire university degrees devoted to understanding this text type! But to then demote the others texts – I have a problem with that.

I think it goes back to the purpose for consuming. And who doesn’t need to consume these. I’ve mentioned before about my profound sadness walking into a classroom a few years ago (again, I appreciate the privilege of being able to go into other classes) and saw an entire intermediate class with novels in their hands. They were required to all read a novel – and I understand the motivation. The teacher wanted the students to do better in reading – so they had to read novels to make them better readers.

I’m continually haunted by this objective: preparing our students to be literate in the world of tomorrow. Novels have a place – but not for everyone, and not in every situation. The reality is that (most?) people may not read novels in their adult lives (which is a shame, because great fiction teaches us how to be better humans!) so they need to be literate in a variety of text forms.

So in my dreams, when I get the chance for higher study, I’ll look into the complexities involved in consuming these different texts. So now I’ll leave it here.



Consuming Content isn’t Passive!


I’ve been considering this idea for a while, and though my thought process was my triggered by a tweet not quite related, I’ve seen this thought expressed a few different ways.

The prevailing thought seems to be this: Consuming content is passive, producing content is active. This dichotomy makes sense, but I think it is wrong. And I want to explain why.

Traditionally, consuming content seems to be like silent reading: a room full of kids, silently (and mindlessly?) reading. Often teachers participated in this, modelling good reading behaviour too and silently reading. Walk into any room participating in this practice and you’ll see a quite group, blessed calm! I see it in my room too. My students love to consume, and the room is quiet, while they read, listen and view media texts. Compare this to the noise and rumbling that inevitably happens when my students are producing: writing, speaking or representing media texts!

What’s missing from this narrative is all the incredibly complex thinking that is going on while consuming! In our Ontario curriculum within the reading, there is a Reading for Meaning strand, that focuses on, among other things, complex strategies to make meaning while consuming: comprehension strategies, demonstrating understanding, extending understanding, making inferences and interpreting texts, analyzing texts and responding to texts. These are complex skills, and tuning into these processes are extremely difficult. Having students pay attention to their thinking – to think about their thinking – is even more difficult!

This complex and active thinking seems to happen so quickly, its tricky to map it out. However, you can clearly see what you’ve produced because your writing, for example, is right in front of you, clear proof of the active work you’ve been doing. It is more difficult to document and prove your thinking while consuming.

This week, my students have been working on strengthening their Extending Understanding skills. Traditionally, this skill has been called Making Connections, but it is much deeper than that. My students have been learning to connect, compare or contrast to other texts, experiences or issues in order to extend their current understanding. This is some pretty deep and sophisticated thinking, that happens in a matter of seconds!

We watched the full Pepsi commercial that is currently getting criticized for it’s tone deaf approach to current protests. My intent was to watch the commercial and discuss whether students could make sense of the outrage against it: do they have any knowledge or schema on the BLM protests, for example? I was hoping that a few students has a cursory knowledge of these protests, along with maybe a knowledge of the Khardashians. If some students did, they would be able to extend their understanding more deeply than students who didn’t.

We watched the video once and then discussed what was going on. Some talked about the different characters: the musician, the photographer and the model, and how they each joined in the protest. What were they protesting? My students didn’t really know – which we then figured was on purpose. One brave student presented her conjecture: Since there was a sign that one protester was carrying said “Join the Conversion!”, this was a protest that was about LGBT rights, since Kendal Jenner, and her family… you know…

This was fascinating! Some students could keep up with her thinking. Others had no idea. Look what her brain did, all in a matter of seconds! Though she mis-read the sign (it is Conversation, not Conversion), she worked hard to construct meaning of this commercial and extend it further by making connections to what she already knew. She actively worked to deeply understand this text, including details about Caitlyn Jenner.

So though we may not easily see it, the brain works very actively to make meaning, regardless of what we are consuming: listening to music or a podcast; reading a novel or a YouTube comment; or viewing a movie trailer or Instagram picture!

So I leave this here for others to consider. I believe both consuming and producing are very active!


Co-constructing our Writing Targets

We’ve just started our third writing pathway, and I’ve shifted our targets!

Teaching Grade 7, I sometime struggle to find exemplars to use for our interactive wall. For our first two pathways, I ended up using Grade 6 EQAO samples to be our levels. Grade 6 gives us 4 different codes (10, 20, 30 & 40) which can be translated to Level 1, 2, 3 & 4. Posting these, it provides a target for the students to work towards.

Now, halfway through our year, I don’t think it is reasonable to keep striving for a target that they should have hit last year. However, the next provincial writing assessment comes in Grade 10 with the OSSLT language assessment, which they must pass in order to graduate from high school. High stakes testing, for sure!

So to launch this latest writing pathway, I had the students attempt a Grade 10 writing task. We then examined the scoring guide in groups. For writing (topic development and organization), EQAO provides 6 different codes: 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, & 60. Our challenge was to align this to our expected Grade 7 expectations: Which code would be a Level 3?

So the target moved, and we decided where to put it. After a long discussion and debate, we decided that a code 50 would be a level 4, code 40 is a level 3, code 30 is a level 2 and a code 20 is a level 1.

This challenged some of my writers to pursue this excellence. This also motivated some of my writers to up their game. And I’m going to be honest, this also overwhelmed some of my more reluctant writers. My job is to monitor and support these students to strive towards these targets.

I’m excited, and so are the kids!