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!



Struggling with School Improvement

This post is going to be a mess. 
Sometimes I write knowing what I want to say. In this case, however, I have no idea where I am heading. Today’s writing is my attempt to figure things out. 

Here we go. 

I’ve been involved with School Improvement Planning (SIP) for a while. First as a teacher, which I loved. Then as an instructional coach, and now as a teacher again. These three different roles offer three different perspectives. 

My first experiences were filled with honour and excitement. I felt special being invited to this team, and was full of enthusiasm sharing my own practices. 

When I was a coach, suddenly I had a completely different role. I found I had to balance the agenda of the school with the agenda of the system. The system placed me in various schools because of student needs, which in this case means EQAO scores. The schools, however, had sometimes different agendas – which makes sense. Good administrators know their staff, and the next-best moves for the staff. 

Good administrators know their staff, and the next-best moves for the staff. 

Upon returning to the classroom, I knew the systems perspectives. I knew the trending best-practices and tried my best to enact these in my room. I knew what we were supposed to do. 

However, missing in all of these experiences is caused by me being a teacher: I don’t know what is happening in other rooms. 
Now, I need to be careful here because I don’t have any solutions. Well, maybe a couple, but I’m not sure if they are feasible. 

An administrator once told me that a school staff is much like a classroom. This metaphor has helped me understand how principals can work with teachers. But in this case, it has left me struggling with school improvement. 

If principals are like teachers, running a school like a classroom, then is this possible: I establish learning goals and success criteria, then gather data as to how we are doing reaching those goals. SIP would be like me gathering a few students to contribute to this planning. The problem is that I don’t know what other teachers are doing, much like me not sharing with my students how the class members are doing. 

So what if we did school planning like this: principal and team establishes goals. Then principal gathers data as to how we are doing. So if we are working on math, and our best-move is to work on number talks, then wouldn’t it be awesome if principals observed the staff doing number talks. The SIP team could then reflect on this data, coming up with support to help everyone improve. 

The problem seems to be me, as a teacher, not knowing what is going on in other rooms. I really can’t – and don’t want to – observe and assess a fellow teacher. This isn’t my role. 

I’ve heard once that the goal of an administrator is to be an instructional leader. What if that is what the coach’s role was? What if an administrator had to apprentice as an instructional coach before moving into administration? They could be assigned to certain schools and assist that way. The struggle I had when I was a coach was that I was a teacher too – and it wasn’t my role to evaluate. I could support but I didn’t have the pressure. 

I love this work and am excited to keep working on figuring this stuff out! 


Negotiating Writing Goals

I love teaching writing.

We had a fascinating conversation in class yesterday. We are currently just starting our third writing pathway. We’ve completed a writing assessment, co-constructed our interactive wall and completed a self-assessment on our planning and writing skills, and I’m working my way through my challenge of conferencing with each child to establish writing goals. Yesterday we talked about our writing goals:

Producer’s Workshop

By March 3rd, we will have produced AT LEAST ___ sophisticated written texts:

  • 1+ must focus on research
  • 1+ must involve voice & word choice
  • 2+ must focus on point of view
  • 3+ must be revised.

As of this writing, this gives us about 4.5 weeks to complete these pieces.

Now, I have a really interesting mix of writers in my room. I have some who are just now taking risks in their writing, trying out new and innovative texts. This came out of our conferences in our last pathway. I was so excited to talk to these writers about the pieces they wanted to create and the excitement/anxiety surrounding this risk. I also have a few writers who simply need more practice. They are just now engaging with the writing structures I have in place, and need more practice to get stronger.

So in terms of a magic number, how many texts should we be producing? Some need a smaller number, to allow them the chance to stretch their writing muscles and take the risks that would make them better. Some need a larger number to both keep them motivated and to keep them getting stronger.

So we ended up with 5 as our magic number. However, I am open for re-negotiation for this number. Some I will monitor and ask for more, some will present a case for a smaller number. All part of the process!





Doing well at school vs Learning well at school


This post has been a long time coming.

A couple of years ago I had a student who hated school. What surprised me most about this was that this student was so good AT school! He aimed to please the teacher, always had his hand up, eagerly attempted any activity and was basically a model student. But he hated school. You would never know. It wasn’t until his mother said something during an interview that I found out.

Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about this thing called school.

I love my job. I love teaching. But I also know that I’m limited by my limitations. I can’t help but see school as a factory. Stick a bunch of kids together (based on production date, not skills), force them to work together (whether they want to or not), have them uncover the hidden expectations from each teacher, and then show their best thinking.

This school-thing takes a lot of skill.

To be good at school means that you can function in a room, often stuffed with too many kids, possibly some pretty severe learning and behaviour needs. You need to be able to participate in a way that is socially acceptable (raising your hand, asking the right questions, giving the right answers). You need to know how to get along with the teacher, and along with a lot of other students.

It is striking to me how much of my job is spent trying to get kids to be good at school, rather than learning well at school: what I mean by this is that I am often overwhelmed by managing student behaviour rather than unleashing student genius.

I am often overwhelmed by managing student behaviour rather than unleashing student genius.

When I come across students who are struggling in school, I need to figure out why. Are they missing key skills, leaving huge learning gaps? Or are they struggling with how to do this school thing?

I have a few kids this year who are very bright, but aren’t good at school. I have a couple boys who don’t know when to listen, when to talk and when to participate. It may be that they don’t pay attention during whole-class discussions. Now since they struggle with this part of school, they miss out on learning.

Now I know there is no way I can offer a learning environment that can meet everyone’s needs. And I know my learning environment is limited by my own imagination. I can try to design spaces and learning opportunities that can maximize student learning. But I also know how important management is within these learning spaces.

This may seem obvious, but it was a revelation to me this year: each classroom offers a vastly different experience for students. I often joke about the beginning of the year, calling it the ‘honeymoon period’: a time when kids are remarkably well-behaved. Reflecting upon this time, it is no wonder. Students are working so hard, quickly trying to figure out how this new space works.

So the point of this? I don’t know. Is there a solution? Nothing obvious to me yet, but I will continue to look for the differences between students who are good at school and students who are learning well at school.


#ObserveMe Challenge

So, I’m rising to the #ObserveMe Challenge. This is a challenge put forward by Robert Kaplinsky, where teachers are encouraged to collaborate by asking colleagues to observe them teaching and provide meaningful feedback.

In accepting this challenge, I needed to consider what I genuinely want feedback on. I had to consider my goals for my teaching this year and focus on something observable.

I’ve struggled with this idea. I don’t get too nervous about people coming into my room – if it is on my terms. If I am getting observed then I ensure that I am showing something that I am confident in. I’ve had a lot of people come through my room to observe my math program, for example. I am confident in my math program. However, in opening up for honest feedback on something that I’m working towards, this is another story.

I have to admit: I struggle with having a Growth Mindset. I know the words, and believe in them – but I still feel criticized whenever I get feedback. It always takes me a few moments to collect my feelings and remind myself that feedback helps me grow. I know this, but continually have to work on it!

For this challenge I wanted to fully incorporate 21st Century Competencies into my teaching. In putting this challenge on my door, it became less about showing off and more about helping me to focus on my teaching. I can’t wait to get feedback on this, but more importantly, I can’t wait to work towards this goal. So even though I’m asking others to #ObserveMe, I’m really asking myself to #ObserveMe!

Have you considered this challenge? What would you want feedback on?