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.



Parents: 11 Questions to promote learning over grades.


What if it isn’t about the grades?

Questions to promote learning over grades.jpg

This post originally started here, as a list of dreamer questions I came up with a few years ago and finally got around to posting. Once posted, I felt a few deserved a bit more thinking.

I’ve struggled with this problem for quite some time. I fear we’ve trained kids to do school rather than learn. And my personal problem within this is a seemingly hyper-focus on grades, driven either by the students OR we’ve taught them to value this as motivation.

For us within education, I know there are so many things we need to do to move the focus away from grades and towards the learning. Report cards, summative assessments, silo units, and reporting restrictions are just some of the areas we in the business need to address. However, these are for another time. This post is for the parents.

Parents: Here are 11 questions to ask your child to move the focus away from the grades and towards the learning.

How did you grow your brain today?

I adore the work of Jo Boaler – Stanford professor of mathematics – and her work bringing brain theory to the instruction of mathematics. Particularly exciting is her thinking about the brain’s plasticity and the idea that you can grow your brain. Basically her work tells us, as parents, teachers, educators, mentors to young people, that mistakes and struggle help grow your brain.

This question helps students focus on this struggle – and the positive outcomes of this struggle. Let’s celebrate the mistakes and struggle that grow your brain, and that aren’t celebrated in what Jo Boaler calls our “performance culture”.  We tend to focus on the end product: the tests, the games, the final point in the journey. Rather we also need to celebrate all the struggle along the way.

What did you struggle with today?

There should be a sense of urgency in today’s education. We have so much good work to do, and not a lot of time to do this in. If students aren’t working hard, and struggling, then we are wasting our time. Did your child waste their time today or did they engage in some meaningful struggle today? If they didn’t struggle, then why not? What can they do to make this happen tomorrow?

This question builds off the work of Carol Dweck and Growth Mindset. Growth Mindset is the attitude that seeks out challenges, that embraces mistakes and failures as opportunities to learn. Students with a Growth Mindset tend to be more resilient when facing obstacles and know that struggle leads to success.

This struggle has shown to connect to success in school. Students with a fixed mindset: those who believe that intelligence is fixed and pre-determined, that there is nothing you can do to change this (those who believe that there are “math people”, and therefore those who aren’t good at math), these students tend not to perform well in school in that they avoid challenges: they see these as a threat to there own intelligence. If you struggle then you mustn’t be smart.

Having a fixed mindset is limiting to students. We know that students who embrace a growth mindset will seek out struggles because they know that this struggle with help make them smarter. If you aren’t struggling then you aren’t getting any smarter!

What risks did you take?

Connecting these previous ideas of brain growth and struggle, to the ideas of innovation and creativity is this: taking risks in your learning is so important. Ask your child what risks they took: in what they created, produced, attempted, tried. Did they go outside of their comfort zone and try something new?

Our current fascination with STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) is really about getting students to solve problems, designing solutions and coming up with new and innovative products. This type of thinking involves taking risks.

These risks can extend to solving problems in math, creating writing texts, reading new-to-you books, etc. Taking risks is so important in today’s classrooms, and we need our students to do more of this.

What questions did you ask today?

Questions prompt wonder, inquiry, and an approach to our world. What were they curious about? What did they want to know? And then, what did they do with this wonder?

Our world is a fascinating place. Let’s together foster this wonder.

What mistakes did you make today?

This question connects to both Growth Mindset and brain theory. Let’s get away from our obsession with our Performance Culture, where the final event is what is most important. Let’s start valuing the learning journey, and celebrate these mistakes as opportunities to learn.

So this isn’t a celebration of failure, but rather a celebration of our response to these mistakes. What mistakes did you make today? What did you then do about it?

And mistakes are not about giving up – students with a fixed mindset believe this. Mistakes are a chance to double down and try something new. Students with a growth mindset relish these opportunities to try again – to improve and get smarter.

Did you fail forward today?

This question comes from education’s current love-affair with design thinking and the fantastic book Launch by the brilliant John Spencer and AJ Juliana. This idea of failing forward is crucial to the design process, but can be extended to just about anything in school. Did you try something and it didn’t work? What did you do then to move your process forward? How did you respond to this failure to create something better?

This could apply to a design task (the marble got stuck in the marble run; the car didn’t go as far as it needed to; the bridge didn’t support the necessary load before collapsing) or to a performance task (the free-throw didn’t go into the basket; the character in the short story doesn’t have a convincing problem). These failures are opportunities to move forward in the design process. Again – how did your child respond to failure?

What problems did you find today?

Teachers love students who solve problems: ones that dig into the challenges presented. However, moving towards an ever-changing future, we need people who will seek out new PROBLEMS to then solve.

I absolutely adore the work of George Couros – both his blog and is book The Innovator’s Mindset. His work is really for educators, but his thinking towards seeking problems is really inspiring. Let’s have kids embrace this approach: there are problems that need YOU to solve them. What are these problems?

As schools lean towards more inquiry, we are looking to students to identify these problems and fully engage in solving these. There are no shortages of examples of students finding a problem and then changing the world to solve it. What I love is the empowerment involved in solving these problems. We need our students to believe that they too can change our world!

What solutions did you try today?

Is your child currently working towards solving problems? What did they try? Did they work? Why or why not?

This thinking helps students look forward. This helps students think about their process, in a world obsessed with products. As an educator, I’ve moved from a product driven approach (now we’re all going to make a PowerPoint!) to a process-driven approach (let’s learn how to revise our work to better engage our audience!). I believe the process is the most important part of the learning journey. Let’s keep the focus on the learning.

Did you get any feedback today?

Teachers now are in the business of providing feedback. We know that student thinking stops when a grade is given. We know that learning never stops. Improving never stops. Why does the thinking stop?

Personally, I spend a lot of time giving feedback (both formal written and informal on-the-fly conversations) and I want students to apply that feedback. This feedback is designed to move the thinking forward. But if this feedback is given with a grade, students ignore the feedback and only focus on the grade – and then the learning stops. A grade for most means that the learning is over.

Again, I know we in education are guilty of fostering this love of grades. I struggle with balancing the need to let students know where they are currently, in relation to the standard (grades) and what they need to do to improve (feedback). I’m guilty of providing feedback along with a grade, though I know that this almost cancels each other out. In education, we know that the most effective way to deliver feedback is to give just feedback. We know this: “Overall, detailed, descriptive feedback was found to be most effective when given alone, unaccompanied by grades or praise.”

So let’s celebrate feedback. Let’s view feedback alone as valuable and something then to apply. Stop asking what grade did you get, start asking what feedback did you get?

Did you meet any of your goals today?

Some feedback is in the the form of goals – something to work towards. To have students fully engaged in their own learning, they should have goals that they are working towards. How are they doing in working towards these goals? Have they reached their goals? If yes, what’s next? If not, what are they going to do about it?

Did you strengthen any of your weaknesses today?

I’ve mentioned our obsession with performance culture before. We celebrate the end product, but little attention is often paid to the struggle along the way.

I’m convinced that we are moving towards what I call a “Harry Potter” culture. In this fantastic series, our titular hero Harry turns out to be a phenom the FIRST time he rides a broom – not only besting his nemesis Draco Malfoy (who presumable spent years on a broom previous to this) as well as jumping the cue as is and instantly making the Quidditch team, something rare for a person so young.

Our popular culture celebrates our American Idol winners, our YouTube stars, giving us the false impression that fame is something easier to attain, rather than acknowledging all the hard work that is necessary.

Sometimes our schools over-emphasis our strengths and talents and ignores our weaknesses. When I taught Grade 1, many years ago, I had a student in Kindergarten who was a reading prodigy. She was reading advanced novels and her parents were looking to have her put into Grade 1, skipping a grade. She spent a week in my class, after which I met with the administrative team and parents to offer my advice. I told them that her strengths were beyond my class, but her weaknesses were below Grade 1 level: She was reading beyond my students, but couldn’t yet hold a pencil or use scissors. This was a revelation to the parents, in that they were over-emphasizing her strengths and ignoring her weaknesses.

I see this today in my own students: students who avoid feedback, and tasks they perceive as difficult in favour of their strengths. We need to balance our focus to include the weaknesses of our students along with what they are doing to strengthen these weaknesses.

Final Thoughts

I know we have a lot of do in shifting focus towards the learning. For too long, grades have given us a quick short-hand way of understanding how students are doing in school. Let’s now look beyond the grades and focus on the learning. These questions will help us in education make this shift.


What If?

Been challenged to create a blog post under 200 words, responding to the following prompt for the IMMOOC course I’m taking:

3. Which “what if” question challenges your thinking in the Innovator’s Mindset? What would you add to the list of what ifs?

A few years ago, during a trip to the dog park, my brain was racing and dreaming, and I came up with the following “What Ifs” that I felt could push my practice forward. It is amazing to come back and reflect.

What if the classroom walls were for the learning?
What if I had nothing to prove?
What if math was art?
What if school was for self directed learning as well?
What if it wasn’t the child’s fault?
What if all students could be successful?
What if school was a place of challenge AND joy?
What if students ran to school?
What if school met the needs of every student?
What if school was a safe place?
What if we all looked out for each other?
What if the classroom belonged to the students?
What if students were in charge of their own learning?
What if mistakes were the most important part of learning?
What if we used technology to transform how and what we learn?
What if it wasn’t about grades?