Innovator = Reflector = Cursed?, #IMMOOC Season 3, Week 2

One of the topics for Week 2 of Season 3 of the #IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course) asks us to examine George Couros’ 8 Characteristics of an Innovator and discuss which of these we might exemplify. In IMMOOC Season 1 I wrote about risk-taking and resilience. and in Season 2 about being reflective.

This time around, I will reflect once again on the innovative habit of “being reflective”, but without re-reading what I wrote last time – this will make for some interesting real life research! The first thing that comes to mind as I think about being reflective is that it can be a curse.

My son has just started his college undergrad courses on the road to becoming a teacher. In his first month of college, he is doing an observation practicum in a kindergarten class. Yesterday he was labouring over his first journal-type entry as a “reflective practitioner”, as his text book describes it. So this got me thinking about how very naturally and continually I reflect on my teaching practice. I guess the habit has been ingrained since my pre-service teaching days when I had to do post-lesson reflections, written down on paper.

Of course as full time teachers, most of us do not have time to sit down and formally journal about the successes and failures of our many lessons a day. Despite this, my lesson plans and student handout materials are scrawled with suggestions and changes for next time. My methods and work are constantly evolving, although not always in significant shifts. Often the changes are to increase clarification or because I’ve found a better source, or often, a new technology tool/approach that I think would be engaging for students.

Thus the curse: being reflective causes a teacher more work. I often am jealous of my colleagues who are not wired to be as reflective. They can make a lesson once, and whether it was mildly or wildly successful or not at all, they can go on to teach it semester after semester with nary an alteration. I do not have this ability. I am often jealous of those who can just keep teaching the same ol’ thing. Semester after semester. Year after year.

Often jealous, but not always. In the end, why do I go through the torment of reflection and the resulting revision? Because it is probably best for our students. If we expect our students’ best work, and require them to revise and rework their submissions, knowing that they can create a better piece of work, it would be hypocritically if we were not willing to do the same.


You ask, “How do digital portfolios promote literacy?”

Dear colleagues,

Some of you seem to be having a difficult time connecting our digital portfolio space  with the concept of literacy.  When I sit at our division literacy meetings I am inundated with techniques and terms that relate to literacy at the elementary level. There’s lots of discussion of levelled reading, and Fountas and Pinnell are household terms. I know you too, are wondering who they are; I’ve learned they are some big literacy names in the elementary world that have little relevance for high school.

As you might imagine, promoting literacy at the high school level when we are all silo-ed into our towers of coursework–this is a daunting task. Thus, the idea of a very versatile digital space where we could encourage both staff and students to write and read each other’s writing, where we could showcase and write about the exciting projects and learning that we are doing outside of the realm of paper and pencil–this seemed like an exciting possibility.  The more I researched digital portfolios and saw how they were being used for different subject areas and grade levels, the more they seemed to be a really good fit for developing literacy in a high school environment, for getting students to write write write , and for writing for an authentic audience.

However, it is evident that where the Literacy Team sees literacy building –writing and reading –at every turn, there are those of you who see no connection. Where we see development of students and of literacy skills that are cross-curricular and cross-career, there are those of you see only an infringement on your course.  Our Literacy Team has worked so hard this first year to provide opportunities to show you the possibilities,  and to work together as a staff to brainstorm possibilities, but clearly we have not been very successful.  

Alas, as I lament, here is a list of examples that I am compelled to compile. This list is a small sampling of easy and obvious ways that I see literacy being developed through tasks that we already do in some form, that can be improved upon through the digital platform, Edublogs, that we have access to. Perhaps you can come to see some of these things as promoting literacy…..

1. You know that survey that you do at the beginning of teaching Romeo and Juliet? The one where you ask if there is such thing as love at first site? Or would you date a boy/girl that your parents forbid you from dating?  And do you know how the same kids want to be heard and the same ones wish to stay invisible? Having students respond via portfolio, helps everyone to have a voice. It could be that they all could comment in the comment string of your controversial question, and then respectfully respond to the comments of their peers. Or perhaps they each pick a controversial question that they feel passionate about or could safely write about, and do a five minute quick write before the class discusses orally.  Total time needed…7 to 15 minutes.

2. You know when students are finished their unit exam, and they maybe veg on their phones until their classmates are done? What if they first had to add one of the following to their “course page”?  Total time needed….10 to 20 minutes.

  • A summary of the unit
  • What they found most difficult/confusing/challenging or easiest in the last unit
  • Something they learned that surprised them in this unit
  • A new skill that they learned or improved in this unit
  • Or, if nothing else, a point form list of the objectives for the unit

3.  You know in English or Social when you ask students to take a position or write a thesis and then support it with their best evidence? Or maybe defend or refute a controversial scientifictopic? What if they wrote that paragraph or body paragraph in a blog post, and then were grouped with 2 to 4 other students whose work they would read.  First of all, when they know they are writing for peers, not just for the teacher, quality and care often improve. Secondly, they are now exposed to 3 other ways to handle the same task, gaining valuable ideas and strategies for future writing tasks.  In addition, you can ask them to respectfully comment with a challenge, an addition, or an “I hadn’t considered that”.  The commenting process is a great place to teach and enforce tone and audience. Moreover, providing this type of appropriate business-like feedback is an important work-place writing skill that needs to be practiced –they aren’t learning it from their YouTube channels!

4. You know how most of the reading we do is on the internet, and  that internet  writing is formatted in ways to keep our attention? This will be the writing that many of our students will be expected to do in their jobs or careers.  I’m not suggesting we discontinue essay writing, or formal lab writing, but I am suggesting that students most definitely need practice with producing text that appeals to an audience in an easily readable format. They need practice with organizing their work with headings and subtitles and bullet points and short conscience summaries.  These are exactly the literacy skills  that students will develop and practice as they build their course “pages” on the portfolio side of their blog.

Our colleague, Mrs. Krause,  describes the digital portfolio building process to the parents of her Info Processing students as ‘building a web page’. Essentially, that is one of the skills our students are developing as they work in Edublogs.  While one has to learn a few technicalities of button pushing to operate the blog, the very process of having a web space is about writing!

Thus, in the creation of our digital portfolio space, this is very much a literacy focus.  Is anyone with me yet?

Blogging: Where teachers ‘go to grow’

One of the topics for #IMMOOC Season 2, Week 5 (based on  George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset), is to reflect on the impact that the process of blogging has on us as a teacher.

Like most teachers I was interested in the concept of blogging but it took me a heckuva long time to pluck up the courage to actually think that I had something to write about.  It has been four years now and over 60 posts and even though few people actually read what I write, the process has certainly been an important one. I have found that the most powerful thing is going back and reading what I’ve written in the past, even if few other people did. It is amazing to be able to say,  “Wow, have I ever learned a lot more about that new thing I tried.”  If for no other reason, the blogging platform is a great way to follow our personal growth and morphing as educators.

But there are other reasons!

As a side gig, I teach an Education Technology course to pre-service teachers at our local college. When I took over the course, I really only made one significant change to what the previous prof had covered. I knew I had to help these new teachers grow their PLN and get connected to the thousands of other teachers out there who are pushing at the boundaries of what education can and should become.  To accomplish this, I had them create  a blog and a Twitter account.

Without fail, their first reactions involve eye-rolling.  As one student put it, “Isn’t blogging something that stay at home mom’s do to fill their time posting about recipes and hair-dos?”  And a typical reaction to Twitter: “Twitter is so ’10th grade’.”

Every semester I re-evaluate the value of these two platforms to educators, and come to the same conclusion….Twitter and the blogoshpere are two places where teachers “go to grow”. Perfect evidence is the tasks set out in the #IMMOOC Challenges every week: they involve Twitter and blogging.

Over the semesters, I have refined my approach to introducing these platforms to my college pre-service teachers, and it has resulted in greater buy-in. I have them start by reading pieces from two of my favourite educational bloggers: Tom Whitby’s “Do Educator’s Really Need Blog Posts”, and “4 Reasons People Don’t Blog and Ideas to Help Change Their Minds” by George Couros. I then send them off to a “Top 100” Educational Bloggers type site to hunt around; invariably, their minds are blown by the teacher-blogoshpere that they had no idea was in existence. I show them sites from around the world where teachers use the blogging platform as a window into their students’ learning such as  “Mrs. Cassidy’s Classroom Blog” where she showcases Grade 1 learners.  And so the value of blogging as a teacher is planted as a seed. Over the course of the semester, they create their own blogs, many assignments are submitted as blog posts, and we practice respectfully commenting on the posts of our peers.  At the end, most see the value of reading educational blogs, and some see themselves as teachers who will use blogging as a teacher or student process/tool in their future classrooms.

To sum up, whether as readers or writers, blogging is where teachers ‘go to grow.’

Better Last Than Never

There was a curious announcement at our staff meeting earlier this month:

In 2017, our high school had finally gotten a Twitter account.

I’m most curious to know why now, after all this time?   In our smallish rural school division, we are the largest school, but the last to join Twitter.twitter

It isn’t that Twitter has been taboo in our school division.  Many of our district administrators have Twitter accounts that they occasionally use, and most every other traditional school in our division has had a Twitter presence for some time. We have schools in our division with only a few dozen students yet they have posted hundreds of tweets over the past several years, providing a window for the wider world into the activities and rhythms of their learning communities. Over half of our teaching staff have Twitter accounts, and about a third of our staff are at least occasional tweeters, or have had periods of avid Twitter use.

I stopped advocating for a school Twitter account fairly early on, even though for me, Twitter has been the most incredible source of professional learning.  Twitter has profoundly shaped many of the methods and technologies that I use in my classroom. Yet, it was evident early on that our administrators, who are mostly non-Twitter users, did not see the same learning and sharing power that could exist for teachers in the educational Twitter-verse.  Perhaps it seemed like one more complicated to-do list item, especially in the earlier days when school presence in social media places was still seen as risky or debatable.

In the early days of Twitter, many schools jumped to create accounts as a potential means of communicating with the adults in their school community.  In most cases, this didn’t prove to be effective as there were too few parents who used Twitter for anything other than following the school, so it wasn’t a very effective method of reaching parents.

Essentially however, Twitter has become a great mode of free advertising for schools, and a way to stay connected with community and even alumni.Schools have gone from advertising meeting dates (or anything else time sensitive), to celebrating learning and building community: sports results, art work in the hallways,  field trips, guest speakers, progress on building projects, a window into assemblies, class activities….

Facebook can do many of these things as well, and our school has had a Facebook account for a few years now. Our Facebook account is a disseminator of information – events, and dates and places and times.

Hopefully our Twitter space will become a place of celebrating learning and the evidence of events and things that happen inside the walls of our school. Slowly, but surely.

When tech fails when you are teaching about tech

The inevitable happened this week in the  college course on Education Technology that I teach to preservice teachers.  I was able to model first hand some oft-stated principles like always double check your links, always have a back-up plan! 

The majority of my assignment instructions were in a Smart Notebook file that did not properly upload to our Moodle site.  I had made some changes to cut down the length of the assignment and was reposting the file to the Moodle at about midnight the previous night. This is a step that I repeat successfully dozens of times a semester. As I have never had a problem with the process, I went to bed without testing the link from the student view.  

Next day in class, this link looked like it had something attached, but you couldn’t open it.  No problem….I have the original file on my hard drive, I will just upload it again. The crazy thing is that it just wouldn’t work. I double checked the file itself; no problems.  I deleted, uploaded, reuploaded, delete it again, to no avail. (There’s more to the story, and I did get the file uploaded later from home, but I still have no clue what went wrong over and over again.)

So this is where the teachable moments pile on. When I realize that this might be a complicated fix, I assign a 10 minute lesson segment that is accessible and that we will run out of time for later in the class at this rate.  And at this point students are starting to make some suggestions. The one that makes the most sense is to go to the blackboard site where Iam building  the course, but let’s say that it is in beta stage. The Blackboard lesson page has an out-dated lesson file which I delete (the things  we overlook at midnight!), and then proceed to upload the updated file. 

At first it looks like everything will be fine, but it soon becomes apparent that the majority of the class is unable to access the file. Another technology roadblock. The weird thing is that some students are able to get the file open without any issues while others are getting a zip file.  By now students are trying all sorts of things and calling out progress or lack there of.  One student discovers that if you just change the file extension  to .notebook that the file will not open (Kudos to Brittany). Of course it will and why didn’t I think of that.  But why did the file work for some and not others? Another student suggests that the person beside them is using Firefox and can open the file but they were getting the weird zip file in Explorer (Kudos to Victoria, I think). Of course Explorer is the problem (it almost always is!) and why didn’t I think of that sooner.

So this week’s lesson had some valuable unplanned outcomes:

  • When tech fails you, don’t be afraid to crowd source a solution. As the teacher you are likely  so busy thinking about how to alter the rest of your lesson, that an otherwise obvious solution eludes you.
  • When using technology, always have a backup plan. I can remind students of this over and over again, but what better way to learn it than when your prof has to model it firsthand!
  • Always double check your links and websites ahead of time. This is another thing that I remind students of frequently, and I am usually very  good at double-checking for  myself. This time I let the late night clock get the better of me, but I would always support improving a lesson plan over teaching the ol’ standby just because it is the easy and convenient thing to do.  
  • When a file or website doesn’t load properly, try changing web browsers. This is yet another thing that I suggest to students when they need to troubleshoot, but an even more powerful lesson learned in a first-hand experience. Like many networked systems, the college lab computers that we are using use Explorer as their default, so many students never even think to try a different browser.

In the end we were able to cover most of what I had planned, with the exception of some exemplar videos that were available for viewing later. Sometimes the unplanned lessons are just as valuable as the preplanned parts. I know that my students, some more than others,  will experience frustrations with the tech related tasks I set out for them during this course, so it is good for them to see that technology trips us all up from time to time…and that we just get back in the saddle and keep going. 

Besides, this tech hiccup was nothing compared to the two days of Microsft Office 365 hell that I endured with my high school English classes this week.  But we don’t want to get me started on that one!

EBHS Edublogs – first student accounts and posts!

On September 9, we celebrated a fairly successful first on our Digital Portfolio journey at EBHS.  Ms. Paxman and I helped my Social 10-1 class create the first student portfolios at EBHS. As I use the blogging platform often throughout my Social 10-1 course, I didn’t think I could wait until the Information Processing 10 classes get to Digital Portfolio creation at the end of September.

In the past I have used Kidblog, which was fairly easy to set up for students, but of course it makes sense to migrate to the new EBHS Edublogs site. Of course, this year there were SO MANY NEW COMPONENTS…

  • students had to log into the school computers with a username that they have never used before, and had to create a new password
  • they had to create a blog on a new platform (Edublogs) which they have never used before; they had to replace the gibberish password with one that they would remember
  • then students had to go to Microsoft 365 and use the email program that they have never used before to verify with Edublogs that they were not a spam-bot

Not only did all of this happen successfully for all of the students in my class, they also successfully added themselves to Mrs. Kannekens Classroom, so that we can use the digital portfolio platform in Social 10.

Another img_1890first. Today, September 13, most of those 28 students created their first blog post in Edublogs, all of them “nested” under a class for Mrs.Kannekens.  This feels almost identical to what my students have been dong for several semesters using the Kidblog platform, however we are now using this new platform, which will hopefully, eventually become second nature for all EBHS staff and students to use.

At this stage, so much is new:

  • Categories? Tags? ( and not the Period 3 kind)  – How? And Why bother?
  • “Oops, I forgot to hit “Publish” or “Save”
  • How do I get to the draft that I saved?

….second nature, all in good time!

The next first that I am anticipating will be having the students interact with what their classmates have written  (ie. Respond in respectful comments to their classmates).   Coming soon….

Staff launch of school-wide digital portfolios: a cautious success

This is a big year of change for EBHS, at least in my corner of it.

As a literacy-inspired initiative, along with a perceived need to increase the digital capability of students and staff alike, our school is launching a school-wide digital portfolio project. Our literacy team’s first step was to have all staff create their own digital space using Edublogs.

Instead of posting the rest of the story here, I thought I’d post the inaugural recap in our new Edublogs Campus site:

Staff Launch of Digital Portfolios —- a Cautious Success!

EBHS Wordlist Goes School Wide

What started out as a pilot project based on a first-ever book study has morphed into a key element of our high school’s 2016 literacy plan.

Today our newly formed “Literacy Team” at EBHS met for a first informal meeting to put some wheels on projects that had already been set in motion for the fall; one of these projects is the school-wide implementation of our EBHS Word List.

We’ve added some basic math and science words (horizontal, vertical, factor, hypothesis, hypothesize), and we’ve added lists of transitional phrases.  Hopefully these additions will help this simple tool to have a broader appeal across subject areas and academic levels.


Sample student word list from pilot project

Our vision is that this tool will become a valuable go-to for students in all subjects, any time there is writing to do. As we learned from our pilot project, the success of this tool largely depends on how well each teacher integrates it into their classroom processes.  To this end, part of our fall implementation will involve an “infomercial” for students and staff to explain the what, when, how, where and why of this tool. Hopefully, if every school citizen has the same starting point of understanding of this tool, it will help to make its use common place.

Here’s to implementing strategies for improved literacy!


Book Study #1- Word List after 1 semester

Sample #2 student word list

Sample #2 student word list

It’s been one year since our small group of EBHS teachers started our first ever book study: When Kids Can’t Read, What Teachers Can Do,  by Kylene Beers.  It is now the end of the first semester that we put our collaborative “School Wide Spelling List” into use.  Class sets of cardstock lists in plastic page protectors were distributed to about 5 of the teachers who had participated in our book study. These teachers are being invited to add comments to this post about how they used the sheets in their own classes this semester, so be sure to check out the comments!

I distributed sets of the word list to 2 of my classes: English 20-2 and Social 30-2.  For Social 30-2, I did a terrible job of inviting/ reminding the students to use the lists when we did writing assignments.  In fact, they were so poorly used, I had the students hand them back to me at the end of the semester, especially if they would not be having English next semester. Even though I kept a copy of the list up front on my white board to help remind myself to remind the students to use it, I still forgot. I failed with implementation in this class!

Fortunately, my English 20-2 class was more of a model of how the word lists could become a successful tool at our school.  In this class, I already have an established routine where students record all returned writing assignments on a “Writing Draft Portfolio” chart, and then on the back of the chart keep a running list of the errors or commendations I’ve identified in their writing.  They generally seem to buy into my theory that this personalized list will help them identify and correct their most commonly repeated writing errors, thus helping them become better writers.

Sample #1 student word list

Sample #1 student word list

Because I’d already established this routine, it was easy to add the “Word List” at this point.  I started to use a rectangle when assessing their written work to identify words that students needed to add to their “My list” column of the word list.  I chose misspelled words that were fairly commonly used, or that they commonly spelled incorrectly.  Any “rectangles” need to be accounted for on their word list.  Although it didn’t start this way, students would add their incorrect version of the word and the corrected version.  While there were some students who really did not want to bother, most saw the value in the procedure, especially once they knew they would get to use their personalized word list for the final exam as well.

Next semester,  I will refine how I use the rectangle system. A single rectangle will indicate a word that already exists on the list that they need to highlight or circle. This will be especially useful for the “Commonly Confused Words” side of the word list.  A double rectangle around a word will indicate a word that they need to add to the personal “my list” column of the word list.

So while the “my list” part of the procedure worked well, I still forgot to prompt them to take out their word list about half the time that we did writing assignments!  I’m hoping I get better at this next semester, although I dream of a day when the EBHS word list is such a part of what we do in ALL classes at EBHS that students will automatically take the list out and set it on their desk any time they write!  If nothing else, the dream fits with the Literacy Focus of our school division.

OK, now it’s time to be connected as learners!  All are welcome to leave a comment— scroll way down — but to those colleagues who have been a part of this pilot experiment, your methods, successes and failures shared here will be an important part of the next step!





EBHS Book study #1 – final musings and take aways

At the end of June at EBHS, a group of teachers finished our first ever book study.  In the 20 year history of our school, this is the first time that we’ve endeavoured to do something like this.  In the end, 7 of our 27 or so teachng staff read and discussed Kylene Beers book When Kids Can’t Read What Teachers Can Do. (Read about our initial idea.) It took us 6 months but we finished during the last week of school in June.  Here are some take aways from the book and the experience:

  • Learning can take a long time, but that’s  OK. It took us 6 months to read and discuss a 14 chapter book.  That’s a long time, and in some ways I’m disappointed that it took so long. On the other hand, we did finish, with all group members making it to the end.  That in itself is an accomplishment. We’ve been convincing ourselves for the last 20 years that we are too busy to make something like that happen, but we did it.
  • Sharing your learning is contagious. Most of the teachers involved have implemented strategies from the book in their individual classrooms.  Some of our best discussions were those times when we reported on a strategy that we tried, or tried again.
  • Learning fosters collaboration. The excitement of one teacher trying something new, or altering their practice even just slightly, gives way to others thinking that they might be able to try something similar.  Collaboration is difficult to get rolling, but powerful once it is unleashed.  This type of collaboration doesn’t come from being “told to” collaborate, but from an organic desire to do so to become a better teacher.
  • Learning hopefully leads to trying something new. We decided on one big goal to try to accomplish as a result of our work together.  Our dream is a reference sheet for every student in the school–double sided and in a plastic protector. This sheet will have a list of commonly misspelled words, commonly confused word pairs (vs. pears vs. pares), perhaps some common root words, suffixes and prefixes, and a list of common Social studies words that are used frequently in reading and writing. We also envision a space for students to record their own common spelling demons.  The dream would then be that in every Enlgish Language Arts class in the school, any writing task, big or small, would begin with the phrase, “Take out your word reference sheet and leave it on your desk to access as you write.”  I myself am not a stellar speller so I will have a copy of this list attached by magnet to my white board so that students can see me using it too.  Hopefully we will be able to convince our colleagues who didn’t have time to read with us that this will be a valuable tool.
  • Learning is contagious. Throughout the past months, teachers who had considered joining us but didn’t, have asked what our next book is going to be.  This is exciting. Even though it certainly was challenging to find the right time for 7 teachers to learn together, there apparently is an interest in learning together.  I hope there will be more updates on other books to follow.  Next topic seems to be leaning toward “the brain” and recent research in that field that has so many implications for education.
  • Learning is continually sharing. Hopefully book study participants will leave some of their take aways in the comments below…..