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.



Making Innovation Easier

What has changed in our world today that not only makes innovation easier to do, but is also necessary for our students?

I’ve been thinking a lot about technology lately, and specifically (as it ties into my MOOC on The Innovator’s Mindset) on how it fosters innovation in my teaching.

But specifically, I’m haunted by the pendulum allegations that cell phones have no place in the classroom. I get nervous when I hear public outcry against cell phones, and by extension, technology.

I’ve long since embraced technology. At the beginning, I foolishly thought it was a tool of engagement (if you use technology, the kids will pay attention!) but have since evolved this thinking into accepting technology as an integral tool in our lives – one that must be leveraged for sophisticated purposes. Now I feel myself moving towards DEMANDING technology use in our schools. How are we still having these conversations about technology use? These powerful devices, that a lot of our students have, that can fit into our pockets, that are more powerful than the technology used to put people on the moon – how are we still not embracing these?

So with that in mind, I wanted to think about HOW technology is making innovation easier.

But first, some background. Innovation, as defined by George Couros, is this: “Innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better.” I think this is important. Sometimes new isn’t necessarily better. But I believe that this act of creation is important, this act of innovation and imagination is critical. Yes, I believe that we are preparing our students for a world of problems that don’t yet exist. And yes, I do see the irony of this statement, having worked in the field of education that is preposterously slow to change. How is it that classes and schools still look like this?!?

So here are my thoughts on how technology is making innovation happen in my classroom.

1. Access to information

Students have incredible access to information. And this has fundamentally shifted my place within the classroom. This has been especially evident when I recently started teaching science. Being a science teacher comes with all sorts of expectations and baggage. I love fostering the inherent curiosity of our world, but I don’t know everything about everything – but I don’t have to. I do have to know how to access technology, how to foster inquiry, and how to ask un-google-able questions. My favourite part of my day is when I can say, “I don’t know. Let’s find out!”.

Now I know that having access to information doesn’t necessarily lead to innovation – but it should. Innovation isn’t necessarily creating something new. It could be taking an existing idea/product and changing it – presumably to make it better. A few years ago, I had a student that shared the same sense of humour – which was sealed by his insistence of adding Bluetooth to unnecessary products – often with hilarious results. We both recognized that sometimes unnecessary innovation was frivolous.

But sometimes looking for answers is a part of the innovation process. Which leads me to my next thought.

2. Process over Products

I need to be clear here. I too get excited about innovative products. But I still think the process of innovation is much more important – which can be seen in our current Design Thinking and STEM excitement. However, this goes back to our Science Fair days – when the process/thinking should have been celebrated, but too often it was the product.

Technology helps in this process in that it makes it easier. Publishing a writing piece is now easier when there are so many tools to help in the planning, research, revision and publishing stages. Though paper and pencil is important, leveraging technology makes this process easier.

In my writing focus now, we are looking at the process of revision: making big changes to improve the writing. So many were loathe to engaged in the rough draft/good copy nonsense – and for good reason. If they were using a document processor, how easy it to copy and paste paragraphs, move and improve ideas?

too much technology

This was my favourite moment of the week. This is a student using his laptop, iPad and phone (I staged the second laptop because I thought it was funny). But how incredible is this? This is one of the most innovative students I’ve worked with, leveraging his technology for very sophisticated purposes. He isn’t distracted because he is engaged. He’s engaged because we are working to create irresistibly engaging learning experiences for him.

Here’s to looking forward!


Technology is Amazing: Digital Citizenship Symposium

This past week our Intermediate Division (Grades 7&8 students) participated in our afternoon of Digital Citizenship. Students attended 4 different sessions:

  • Cyber-bullying & Digital Drama
  • Digital Footprint & Reputation
  • Relationships & Communication
  • Self-Image & Identity

These lessons were from the amazing site: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/digital-citizenship

Such great resources!

After participating in these sessions, students were gathered together to discuss our code of conduct.

technology code of conduct.JPG

After, they completed an exam. If they were successful, they were issued a Digital Driver’s License.

One thing that I felt was very important was to approach this day with a positive perspective. Technology is amazing. Now, I’m not naive. I’ve had experiences when students have made mistakes – often dramatic mistakes – that have negatively impacted the culture of technology in our learning spaces. But is this is what we focus on, then this is culture that we foster.

I’m optimistic about the coming year and our journey with technology. I have hopes for the possibilities and faith in our students.