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?


Trying Something New: Flipgrid

Have you ever made a really cool assignment and then forgot to assign it? Well, hopefully this has happened to you, but every so often it is a trick I like to pull on myself.

When I first try out a new tool, I am always trying to come up with an engaging and yet meaningful and productive way to work it into the flow of my course. When I wanted to try out, I  created a simple but effective way to incorporate Flipgrid into a lesson on Digital Citizenship that I would be teaching at the very end of my college course for pre-service teachers.  And then promptly forgot about the assignment.

I re-discovered the assignment after the Digital Citizenship lesson, but before my students had submitted their final work for the semester, so I invited them to try out Flipgrid anyway. They were to read a newspaper article about teachers and social media sites in Ontario, as well as a legal response to the same article. Then, using Flipgrid, they were to record a 1-2 minute video reflection and post it in the ‘classroom’ for classmates to view if they chose. So basically, Flipgrid is a tool that lets students submit video responses to a prompt, and watch what their classmates have to say as well.  The paid “Classroom” version of Flipgrid then allows students to make video responses to their classmates’ video responses, but alas, as usual, I have a budget for the free version!

Check out the assignment and responses here.

Flipgrid does seem like a tool that I will use to create future assignments with….and hopefully remember that they exist!

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.’

Trying Something New: a “Blind” Kahoot

Today I got to try two new things in class that I’ve been waiting to give a whirl for a long time: Google Classroom and a “Blind” Kahoot.

I’ve been using Kahoots from for 2 or 3 years now to reinforce and review concepts that my classes have covered.  Now there aren’t many things that make high school students audibly cheer, but this actually happens – out loud!- when I ask them to pull out or pick up a device and load kahoot

About a year ago, Kahoot introduced a new idea called a “blind” Kahoot, where you essentially build the LEARNING into the Kahoot. Students go in “blind”, not knowing anything about the topic, and by the end, have mastered a new concept.  Check out this video description.

So for the past year I’ve been scratching at ideas for building a blind kahoot for one of my classes.  Building regular kahoots is super simple, but a blind kahoot takes a plan and creativity and conceptualization.  This semester, as I am re-imagining a grade 10 Social Studies course for at-risk learners, I finally found a place to try my hand at my first blind kahoot.  The objective at the end was to have students be able to differentiate between the following social studies basic concepts: economic, political, environmental, and social. Click here to check out my first blind kahoot.

So today we actually played the game.  My initial plan was to have students summarize their learning in their interactive notebooks after the Kahoot, but about 3 questions in, I realized that a blind kahoot would easily let us fill in this summary idea chart about each term during the game!  Even the most reluctant note takers quickly filled out their charts so that they would be ready to go before I launched the next question!  By the end of the activity the class had a decent understanding of some new terms, key words and examples for each term, and had had fun playing a “game”.  This type of activity and engagement is super important for these at risk learners, many who claim to “hate Social Studies”.

Blind kahooting….tough creation process for a teacher’s brain, but worth it in the learning dividends for students!  Have YOU tried Kahoot? Blind kahoot?


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!

Trying Something New: Goosechase

Early each summer holiday, the teacher in me finally takes the time to check out my Twitter feed and favourite blogs, and I allow myself to get led down the wormhole of  new ideas.  One new idea that I’m excited to try is called Goosechase.

goosechaseGoosechase is essentially a scavenger hunt app. The creator (me) creates a hunt or chooses from many pre-made versions from other users. Participants (my students in teams) download the app (or use a school device with the device already downloaded), log in (one team captain can do this for the team) and then find the specifically labeled hunt that I’ve created for them. Each team will then have to take and upload pictures or videos as requested, or I can also have them write text based answers.   The creator assigns points based on difficulty, and, as I understand it, can assign bonus points for particularly creative or clever responses.   Check out this quick video for a quick over view of Goosechase.

I’ve created a ‘hunt’ that I plan to use in my Social Studies 10 course on Globalization. Our first unit is a quick overview of the concept of globalization, and this goosechase hunt will have teams of students demonstrate their understanding of some of the basic concepts that we’ve covered in the first few days with a mixture of photo, video and text responses.  My concern is that this activity could take a long time to complete, so I might do a “most tasks/points complete in 20 minutes” kind of hunt.

I’m investing time in trying this new idea because it does several things that I like to promote in my classroom:

  • having students up and moving while they are learning
  • reviewing material in  a new and meaningful way that has them think and create, not just ‘regurgitate’ a list of terms on a sheet of paper
  • working in learning teams, at least some of the time
  • thinking critically – how will their photo/video quickly and accurately capture the desired concept?

As with anything new, there are also some drawbacks or concerns on the horizon:

  • This site is mostly based on a ‘paid’ basis. As an educator, I can request access for EACH hunt separately to play with my class, which I have done, but they really want me to buy the $119 “Classroom Tier” account.  Unfortunately, my school has very little budget for apps,etc.,  so if I want to continue to use Goosechase, I will have to email a ‘game request’ each time I create a new hunt. Hopefully this new start up company will continue to at least make this available for educators to try it out.
  • There are many ‘pre-made’ scavenger hunts, but most seem to be suitable for a youth group/team-building/family-reunion type activity. Therefore, like with most ed-tech sites, I will have to invest considerable time in creating learning activities that support our Canadian/Alberta curriculum
  • As mentioned above, this is an activity that will take time to play…. will the learning justify the time spent “playing”?

Despite these reservations,this is an app that I can’t seem to get off my brain. I have many other possibilities brewing for my other classes. So, hopefully I’ll be back in a few months with some insights into this new educational experience based on a live trial completed in my classroom.

We’d rather “text” our essay!

For as much as I’m a supporter of technology in the classroom, I too have those days that are technological disasters.  Grade 10 students had class time today to work on the rough draft of an English essay they had been planning.  Last week I had taught them how to create a Google doc and share it with me.  This in itself took over 20 minutes as it was a “first time” process for the students.

So today, they were ready to type in their new Google Doc using one of our mobile laptop carts (the same cart we had successfully used on Friday!)  Because the log on process can take up to 10 minutes with these machines, they started the log on process while they worked on another task.  This is the usual procedure, however it quickly became clear that over half of the machines were not logging on.  Our school technician put a call into the school board technician, but alas, he was out of the office, so there was no solution.

Fortunately, because we were using Google Docs instead of Microsoft Word, some students volunteered to use their phones to type their essays so that the students without phones could use the computers that were working.  A quick download of the Google Drive App on their phones and they were away.  Texting away during this band-aid solution, several students asked if they could always “text their essays because it was way easier than typing!”

I was struck by the generation gap that I was a part of!  I’ve grown up a typist, and couldn’t imagine texting a full 5 paragraph essay by choice.  These students have grown up as texters, and while many of them can type with some degree of efficiency, many have never truly been taught (or forced!) to do more than ‘hunt and peck’ on a keyboard.

What does this mean for 1:1 environments?  I’ve always been in the camp that felt 1:1 was much more efficient, effective and necessary with an actual computer, or at the very least a tablet.  My biggest argument has always been around the typing of essays……….

Being a ‘connected teacher’ is not optional

 I’ve always been attracted to technology in education.  I’ve recently learned/ been reminded that technology in education, isn’t a frivolous add-on, but a government obligation!

In early days my attraction to technology involved taking many chances on a computer or internet based lesson, perhaps with an early web 2.0 application, only to have any myriad of roadblocks creep up: sometimes hardware based, occasionally planning based, often ‘connection-speed’ based.  Sometimes the idea was such a good one that I just had to go back to the planning board and try again; sometimes the idea wasn’t worth the rigmarole of overcoming the technology frustrations.  I continued to peck away at available new technology in the educational field. Our school board was very fortunate to have an early and intense introduction to SMART boards and SMART Notebook technology. (Thank-you, Dave B.)  I quickly became hooked; many would consider me a SMART Notebook junkie.  Admittedly, I couldn’t imagine teaching without my SMART board and SMART Notebook files.

Despite my attraction to technology, I remained skeptical of the value of social media in educational circles.  My connected colleagues like to tease me about my initial disgust and skepticism barely three years ago when they suggested that I should join Twitter.  My response, “I don’t care what Justin Bieber had for lunch.”  Fortunately, they persisted and I was quickly blown away by the connected universe of educators.  I quickly realized that this universe is a place where Professional Development happens weekly and even daily, instead of a few times a year. Once the skeptic, I was soon giving PD sessions on the value of Twitter for educators.  It is exciting to watch as fellow educators discover the universe of education available to them as educators.

Yet, for as many who are transformed in their own learning journey by being connected, there is a large body of educators who continued to feel that being connected is not something they are obligated to do:

“I’m not interested in technology.”

“It takes too much time.”

“Technology is just a crutch. Good teachers don’t need technology.”

“Kannekens, slow down. We can’t make people use technology.”

I’ve recently learned/ been reminded that the technology piece, isn’t a frivolous add-on, but a government obligation!

In my Gonzaga University Masters Class last weekend we did a thorough review of Alberta’s Teaching Quality Standard (TQS).  I always find that reading through the KSAs is a very sobering experience, even for an experienced teacher.  Yet there is one section that seemed to jump off the page during this particular investigation.  Here, in plain print, in an edict of the Alberta Government, is a requirement that many educators and educational leaders seem to overlook or at least downplay:

KSA 8 (3h): Teachers apply a variety of technologies to meet students’ learning needs. Teachers use teaching/learning resources such as the chalkboard, texts, computers and other auditory, print and visual media, and maintain an awareness of emerging technological resources. They keep abreast of advances in teaching/learning technologies and how they can be incorporated into instruction and learning. As new technologies prove useful and become available in schools, teachers develop their own and their students’ proficiencies in using the technologies purposefully, which may include content presentation, delivery and research applications, as well as word processing, information management and record keeping. Teachers use electronic networks and other telecommunication media to enhance their own knowledge and abilities, and to communicate more effectively with others.    (taken from

So as I reread the KSAs, I am reminded that my quest to help others become connected is not ‘off course’. After feeling that I just had to slowly encourage people to try new technologies or suggest once again that they become ‘connected’, I am bolstered with the TQS legislation that states teachers must “keep abreast of advances in teaching/learning technologies and how they can be incorporated into instruction and learning.”

Tom Whitby, a connected educator with over 40 years teaching experience, blogs about being connected as an educator.  Watch the video in his blog for his take on being connected.  Whitby agrees that on their own, teachers won’t choose things that are uncomfortable. Change, such as learning about and implementing the tools of modern technology, is uncomfortable for many.  It involves leaving the comfort zone, but teachers need to do this.  We are not teaching students for what we do today, but what they will be doing in their lifetime. Whitby goes as far as arguing that a teacher who is not connected (using digital devices to connect, create, collaborate) is an illiterate educator!

Our profession assumes that to be a teacher is to be literate, to know how to read and write. Will there come a day that digital connection and literacy is also considered an essential part of being a teacher, and not just an add-on?

“Hey, I learned something new today!”

“If you want to change, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable.” EDLA 548

Like many teachers, I’ve been pondering the blogging process for a long time….for me, the pondering has been happening for about two years.  But always the problem: what do I have to write about. Finally, an epiphany.

Earlier in this week, I realized that I had been frequently saying to my various grade 10 classes, “Hey, you learned something new today!” One of those times was when I was confounded about the spelling of the word “license”, as in ‘poetic/artistic license’.  It’s not unusual for me to admit to my students that spelling is not my extreme forte, but that I’ve worked on learning strategies for the words that stump me.  Besides, they get a kick out of telling their English teacher how to spell a word!

After we can’t agree on the spelling of ‘license’ as a class, a couple of kids ask for and receive the go-ahead to check out the word on their phones via  In the mean time, one fine young lad who couldn’t be bothered with his phone whips out his Alberta (Learners) Driver’s Permit….. it turns out that in Alberta we spell it “Licence”.  I had to see it to believe it, and most students agreed with me that it ‘just didn’t look right’ when we wrote it; nevertheless, we wrote the word down, as a couple million Alberta Driver’s Licences probably couldn’t be wrong.  We went on to discuss that if one were writing a casual, free verse type poem, one could take ‘poetic licence’ to spell ‘license’ however he or she chose to.  Even though at that point I said to the class, “Hey, you learned something new today!”, what I really should have said was “Hey, WE learned something new today.”  As I was standing at my SMART board, I knew that after a year and a half of pondering, I finally had something that I felt I could reasonable focus a blog around!

Later on in Social Studies, some of those poor grade 10 souls who get stuck with me twice a day recalled the earlier ‘licence’ conversation. We were discussing globalization forces which affect cultures such as accommodation, assimilation, homogenization, universalization, and hybridization.  It was pointed out that most websites and software are American based, so when we want to spell words in a Canadian fashion such as colour, favour, neighbour, and, as it turns out, licence,  the document programs scream at us with that wiggly red line, prompting us to assimilate, to Americanize.  I hadn’t thought of that example previously…. “I learned something else new today!”

So earlier tonight, in my Masters Course when the instructor suggested that we submit some “reflective” course work assignments via blog or email, I knew that I could finally go straight to WordPress  and this time, complete the sign up process.  This time, I knew that I wouldn’t turn back  on the blog sign up process  because I’d finally found my jumping off point.  I learn new things at school all the time… from my students, from my colleagues, and in my own ‘back to school’ Masters endeavor.  And so it begins…….