Winning at Life

 

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High School Graduation from Magee Secondary – One Win

Simon Sinek could define school as a finite game that you choose to play.  It has an agreed set of rules that must be followed to win.  Do the work.  Pass the test.  Win with good grades.  Graduate.  Gordon, Renee and I were taking the win as we traipsed across the stag.  However, Life is an infinite game.  There is not an agreed upon set of rules.  How do you know if you’re winning?

Teachers have a special role in helping students to meet with success at school.  Teachers hone a skill set that takes their own personal interests and desire to teach children while focusing on ways to develop the skills for students to win at life.  This includes engaging in learning, developing healthy relationships, demonstrating resilience in the face of loss, and the flexibility and thinking skills to cope with change.   If the teacher is from British Columbia, they are challenged to consider how content can be used to develop core competencies (thinking, communicating, personal/ social)  to succeed in the requirements of daily personal and social life, currently defined jobs and those jobs that will emerge as possibilities in the future.

The most basic premise of self-regulation is the ability to manage your own emotions.  Accomplishing this task is the very basis of success in every aspect of life.  The flight or fight response is a basic instinct in animals in response to perceived danger.  This response is helpful to human beings when faced by a predator.  However, this response is not at all helpful in resolving conflicts with peers or persevering to solve a difficult math equation.  Teaching children to regulate their emotions, allows them to take control of the response of the reptilian brain to fight or run, and use strategies to calm down.  Only when students are calm, are they able to problem solve and learn effectively.  Dr Stuart Shanker isolates five domains of self-regulation:

  • biological
  • emotion
  • cognitive
  • social
  • pro-social

Considering the strengths and areas for development in all of these five domains requires a different approach to writing curriculum, teaching and reporting student learning to parents.  The old rules of playing the game included defining a specific body of information to memorize, testing to demonstrate mastery and grades to rank performance.  The playing field has broadened and so have the rules and the complexity of the game.  The intention of reporting student learning is to provide a teacher perspective about learning at a specific point in time that incorporates student voice.

Areas of strength are presented and often reflect student enthusiasm and focused attention.   Areas for further growth may reflect a need for repetition and practice, persistence, or use of strategies to focus attention.  Including the ways to support the student in developing the weaker areas or nurture burgeoning talents, keeps us responsible to attending to the specific needs of each child.  The ultimate goal is for the teacher, child and families to engage in celebration and goal setting in response to this information.

The British Columbia Ministry of Education mandates a minimum or five reports to parents.  The intention is to take into consideration the diverse ways that teachers engage parents in participating in the learning of their child.  It capitalizes on the research by John Hattie et al. that emphasizes improved student learning when parents are involved.  Conferences, formal report cards, celebrations of learning, phone calls, interim reports, notes home, and student agendas are all possible ways that teachers structure communication to involve parents in the learning of their child.  If you still have questions, call the teacher.  They undoubtedly will have more to say.

Perspective is Everything

 

Rock Dove or Winged Rat?

Friday morning, I saw a fleeting reference to pigeons as “winged rats” as I was scrolling through Twitter.  On the drive home, I finally paused to consider why I found this so irritating.  The common pigeon, which apparently, we don’t all know and love, is also known as a rock pigeon or rock dove.  The reference to being a dove evokes a completely different persona than that of a rat.  How could this respect worthy bird be reduced to the stature of a rat, spreader of the bubonic plague?

Pigeons have a special place in my childhood.  I liked the cooing sound they made.  I liked that they made their nests in places you might not expect.  I liked that they had better manners than seagulls or Canadian geese.  I always assumed when I heard the song, “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins, it was the appropriate was to treat pigeons.  My Grandpa Derksen (my father’s stepfather) adored pigeons and kept them in the backyard along with the chickens, a rooster, and a peacock, long after they sold the farm and moved to an Abbotsford house.  He loved the pigeons and he loved me.  I loved him and it was my duty to love his pigeons.

I also grew up with stories from my paternal Grandmother, who kept her four kids together in the midst of WWII in Germany before making her way to Canada in 1948.  One of the stories that stood out in my mind was that of the rats.  In the large warehouses where they sometimes found shelter, she would stay awake at night to shoo away the rats that would move closer in the dark night to nibble on the exposed body parts of her huddled family.  My cousin, Kevin, who was never thrilled with his much younger cousin tagging along to the “forbidden without adult supervision” beach across the road on Sundays, added to my horror of rats.

His words have always stuck with me. “You better be careful.  If you fall between those rocks, the rats will bite your foot off.  They we’ll all be in trouble!”  I was very careful.

I went home and searched for the Twitter post.  It turns out, @BirdNoteRadio was just employing a good attention-grabbing introduction to their post.  Phew!  We could agree on the merits of the common rock pigeon.  I followed them on Twitter.  Common agreement makes relationships so easy.

When I was living in the suburbs, one of my fellow Amnesty International group members, first introduced me to the fact that some people love rats.  She had many at home and would bring her favourite rat to Amnesty meetings and let it run around a sling on her neck.  It shouldn’t have been such a leap for me to embrace this practice.  I had loved other rodents – my cousin’s white mouse, my childhood gerbils, rabbits at my grand-parents, and my classroom guinea pigs.  Yet, old biases die hard.  I didn’t embrace rats along with my other rodent friends.

One night someone set fire to one of the portables of the school I was teaching at in Clearbrook.  I arrived to find a sopping wet, rat sitting in a puddle of water in his cage.  Ethical dilemma.  This was not a spreader of the bubonic plague but a well-loved classroom pet.  Contrary to every instinct in my body to walk away, I didn’t.  I changed the bedding.  Dried the rat.  Put him in a warm spot.  I cringed the entire time.

It is hard to change a perspective.  Dismissing other ideas is the path of least resistance.  Most often the “eureka” moment does not wipe away our entrenched understandings to be replaced by inspiration after the instantaneous flash of understanding.  Our background experiences  are often hard-wire and impact our responses long after the dawning of emerging understanding.  To formulate a new perspective, we may need to challenge an emotional response or challenge ideas that we have accepted unconditionally many times over.  The change requires an effort to want to be open to other possibilities.  An unwillingness to consider options frequently results in justifications and entrenchment.   There is still a bristling or cringing, but it comes from being incensed by the  audacity of having our ideas and motives questioned.  The greater the emotional investment in our own perspective, the greater the angst at hearing another perspective presented.  The corollary is an absence of critical thought and the absence of personal growth.

At the end of the day, the conversations that are the most memorable come from diverse perspectives.  Not just disagreement for  the entertainment of playing the role of the devil’s advocate.  Not just to be entertained by the novel response of someone intent on changing your mind with any tools of derision or insult at hand.  But the disagreement that comes from a well thought-out and a well-intentioned perspective of trying to create understanding.  This is the type of conversation that precipitates thought and is considered long after the initial conversation.  It is also the willingness to emerge beyond the “Yeah, but” that proliferates many of our conversations.  The possibility is a greater capacity for empathy and understanding.

Why Blog?

Although I have not always thought of myself as a writer, I have always been one.  I have Holly Hobby diaries recording the events of my life – who I liked, where I had ridden my bike, what Nanny Keenan had cooked for Sunday dinner, what my older sister and cousin said, and who had made me mad.  My Hobbit journal details all of the food I ate, provides detailed descriptions of places, people and events as I traveled through Europe after graduating from high school.  There are many diaries and variations through-out  the years. I wrote letters to my best friends about my siblings, the chores I had to do, and how sick of watching Days of Our Lives EVERYDAY with my step-mother during bright and sunny California days.  I detailed my life for my Mom when I was away and wrote of my aspirations.

 

I understood the power of the written word at an early age.  I have letters and cards with words of love and affirmation.  My father used to write me letters from the hotel he was staying at when he was presenting at Neurosurgery conferences.  I would formulate future travel plans based on the postcards I liked best.  I have letters dripping with anger and mean-spirited intent – the dark underbelly of the acrimonious divorce of my parents.

 

As I got older, writing became a vehicle to explore my feelings and my thoughts.  In many cases, it became a coping strategy.  In the midst of family conflict, I would go sit on Ventura Beach or in The Sierras and write until long after the sun had disappeared.  I would also sit at a log on Jericho Beach or Spanish Banks and detail the gloriousness of life.  It continued to be a mechanism to facilitate coping as a wife, a mother, and a daughter watching the denouement of my parents lives.

 

An opportunity to teach practising Chinese teachers at The Fuyang Bureau of Education came up right after my Mom died.  I gave my family a gift and went off to China to document life.  I had no interest in exploring my very raw emotion.  I started my first travel blog.  I got two pieces of feedback immediately.  One came from my step-mother noting how embarrassed I must be having spelt the word “massage” wrong – an “e” rather “a” and I learned about the downside of autocorrect. The other feedback came from my good friend, Jan Wells.  She commented that she loved reading about my adventures in China, and she loved my style and skill at writing.  In fact, she kept it on her desk top and read it with the newspaper every morning.

 

As with children, a little encouragement goes a long way.  I became a diehard blogger.  Travel blogs.  Food blogs.  Blog posts instead of newsletters for parents in my schools.  And then I roomed with Rosa Fazio @Collabtime at the Vancouver Elementary Principal / Vice Principal Association Conference co-sponsored with the VSB.  Rosa introduced me to the Twittersphere.  This was my advent into connecting with like-minded professionals online.  The retweet grew into participation in TwitterChats and then developing online relationships.  Then reading articles from the people I connected with online, replaced subscriptions to professional journals.  Recommendations for professional books to read came from my online professional learning committee.  Like-minded educators in the Lower Mainland would come together at Edvents and other face to face meetings of the mind.  The desire to chew on the ideas, formulate an understanding and engage others in the conversation emerged.  I wanted a Book Club online.  This was my advent in to the professional blog.  It precipitated a different type of writing that incorporated aspects of writing for my thesis and other university course along with all of the other writing I had been doing over the course of my life .

 

Writing a professional blog may have similarities with Book Club, but there are no like-minded friends to finish the sentence for you.  You have to write down your ideas with enough context for the reader to understand your thought processes.  It requires a grasp of your topic and that you’ve had enough reflection time to fully formulate your ideas.   You need to develop the skills to consider who your audience is, and strategies of how to engage them.   Blogging also forces you to rely less on spell-check and to develop your editorial skills.  Or just come to terms with being less than perfect!

 

Many of my colleagues tell me they don’t have time to blog.  To quote Adrienne Maree Brown: “There’s always time for the right work.” Certainly not all people are writers or readers or talkers.  I am all three so for me it is the right work. Blogging allows me to reflect of what I reading, living, thinking and talking about.  It pushes the card on considering things from a different angle.  Best case scenario, someone responds with a comment, a question, or a conversation.  We all do what works for us!  Blogging makes me better.

Welcome to Our School

We are proud of our school and happy to welcome visitors into the conversation about learning.

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As a member of the VSB, I would like to acknowledge that we live, work and play on the unceded and traditional territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil Waututh) andsḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Coast Salish peoples.

We are delighted to be able to show you around and encourage you to ask lots of questions.  The following challenges are to help you engage with our students and staff and understand some of the priorities at our school.  The staff and students touring you around the school will be able to give you some understanding of the history, our peer helpers program, Indigenous ways of knowing and breaking down the barrier between learning outdoors and learning indoors.

Challenge 1 – Look for evidence of the 7 principles during your observation.  It may be helpful to use the 7 Principles of Learning Chart.

The OECD has pointed out that the rapid advances in ICT have resulted in a global shift to economies based on knowledge, and an emphasis on the skills required to thrive in them.  At the same time empirical research on how people learn, how the mind and brain develop, how interests form, and how people differ has expanded the sciences of learning.  The result is that the educational community is now “rethinking what is taught, how it is taught and how learning is assessed”.

The OECD’s work on innovative learning environments was led by Hanna Dumont, David Istance and Francisco Benavides. Their 2010 report “The Nature of Learning”  identified seven principles of learning:

  1. Learners at the centre
  2. The social nature of learning
  3. Emotions are central to learning
  4. Recognizing individual differences
  5. Stretching all students
  6. Assessment for learning
  7. Building horizontal connections

Challenge 2 – Engage in a conversation surrounding the Spirals questions. 

The Spirals of Inquiry by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser lists three questions that will find helpful in engaging with students and staff.  Students are encouraged to look closely, notice details and ask questions to encourage learning in all aspects of their lives.  Many staff are involved in inquiry projects to explore their professional questions.  Vice principals and principals in the VSB are using these questions to guide their professional growth plans.

  • What are you learning and why is it important?
  • How is it going with your learning?
  • What are your next steps?

Challenge 3:  Note the development of core competencies in the classroom.The New Curriculum:  You will note that competencies and concept-based curriculum are intertwined with learning standards in B.C.’s New Curriculum. Core Competencies have become the focus of learning and they use content to develop the three main areas:

  1. Communication
  2. Creative and Critical Thinking Skills
  3. Personal and Social skills

Challenge 4:  Find examples of Student Voice and Competency Based Assessment The new curriculum has shifted the focus from summative assessment to formative assessment.  Students are encouraged to identify their starting point and formulate a plan for growth.  The focus has shifted from a deficit model to “I Can” statements.  Students are invited to be active participants in determining how they learn and planning for growth in skills, strategies, and collaborative practices.

Challenge 5:  The Canadian Experience – Note examples in the school of how students are being introduced to the role of Indigenous populations played in the development of Canada and our perceptions of Canadian identity.

Wab Kinew, hip hop artist, author, broadcaster, politician, Ojibwe activist, and leader of the NDP Party in Manitoba, has said “Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand what they share unites them and what is different about them needs to be respected.”  Authentic reconciliation happens when people develop relationships with one another.

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Challenge 5:  Identify several different types of learning spaces and the types of competencies being developed in those spaces. 

We have several options for student learning at UHill Elementary School.  Supervision is required in all spaces.  Classroom teachers work with SSA’s (Education Assistants), Resource teachers, the principal and students to explore possibilities to maximize student learning in a variety of spaces and places.

  • The Classroom – indoor and outdoor spaces
  • Outside Learning Spaces
    • The Readers Writing Garden (outside)
    • The We Are One Rock Circle (outside)
    • The Soccer Fields or basketball court (outside)
    • The Buddy Bench (outside)
    • Sidewalk games
  • Resource Rooms
  • The Gym
  • Collaboration Spaces outside classrooms
    • Foyer in the main entrance
    • The Starry Night Room / Room painted yellow
    • The Garden Room – currently the in residence program, Project Chef, is in this room
    • The Main Foyer
    • Library
    • The Learning Lab / Maker Space Room
    • Gym
  • Active Learning Room (ALR) / room painted white
    • Ready Bodies Learning Minds
    • Peer helpers Program, a Grade 5 Leadership Program, at 11:45 am facilitated by The Community School Team
  • Places to Self Calm, work quietly independently, with a partner or small group
    • Peace Pod / room painted blue and decorated with saris
    • The Think Space – in the Office area

Challenge 6:  Breaking Down the Barriers:  Identify examples where learning outdoors is brought into the classroom and where indoor learning is brought outdoors.

The places where we live and grow impact our experiences and our perceptions.  Living in a temperate rainforest, attending school in the Pacific Spirit Park, and walking down to Acadia Beach impacts the knowledge our students are developing but also how they self regulate.

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I am a big fan of Twitter to keep parents informed about what is happening at the school by posting updates and pertinent information @UHillElementary and to further my own professional learning @CarrieFroese

We hope you enjoyed your visit!

Ms. Carrie Froese @CFroese

Principal University Hill Elementary School

Vancouver School Board, British Columbia, Canada

Inquire2Empower Blog carriefroese.wordpress.com

Playful People Learn


“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”  A quote from Albert Einstein that I love.  Fun and play are often referenced as activities of the carefree, frivolous and sometimes careless.  Albert Einstein places it exactly where it needs to be.  Front and centre in learning.  In order to play, you are committing to action.  To participate.  To risk the unfamiliar.  To hypothesize.  To imagine possibilities.  To adjust to the unexpected.  To find humour.  To enjoy.  To appreciate.  To communicate.

I was at a conference recently where the speaker was casting aspersions on blanket statements about the merits of play.  He referenced that play needed to take a specific form in order to result in meaningful learning.  I don’t disagree that play can be structured to meet specific learning outcomes.  Teaching kindergarten was very much about structuring play activities to guide children to learn specific skills or develop background knowledge.  Opportunities were designed to encourage children to ask questions and go about finding the answers.  However this is looking at play from a narrow perspective.

A willingness to be playful is a habit that opens up the world.  It presumes a stance in the world that is positive and open to wonder and to other people.  One of the learning teams at my last school would meet on the balcony on Friday after school to drink a pop, debrief the week and chat about the upcoming weekend.  There was always laughter, a litany of responsibilities and plans for play on the weekend with family and friends.  There was a shared belief that those “play” opportunities were an important part of how we experience new things and open ourselves up to getting to know people and come back to school refreshed.

At times I bemoan the fact that middle school students stay late after school to congregate around their handheld devices.  I regularly prompt them to go play outside.  Yet, when I step back, they are collaborating on best strategies to use in the game or mediating turn taking.  When my nephews explained their fascination with the world of Minecraft, I finally came to the realization that higher order thinking skills were at play.  They were engrossed in the possibilities before them.  They were not focussing on the academics preferred by educators but they were learning things that mattered to them.

Roy Lichtenstein – Girl with Ball – 1961
Assuming a playful stance is engaging in structured play activities and more.  It reflects a belief that having sense of curiosity and engagement and wonder and appreciation of successes along the way allows us explore new pathways to learning.  Show me someone who is playful and I’ll show you a learner.  I’ll show you someone who is having fun!

   Welcoming Syrian Refugees

 

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I love December 10th. On that day in 1948, many nations came together to sign The United Nations Declaration of Rights and Freedoms. It is an annual reminder of the acknowledgement that human rights exist, despite what we read in the newspaper, see in the media, and witness all too often in daily interactions. It is also another reminder to have the conversation with our schools about human rights.

The quality of the conversation ranges from surface to particularly moving depending on the year, the person negotiating it and the students.  This year has been magic.  One of the teachers was reading Hannah’s Suitcase by Karen Levine, about the Holocaust with her 6th Grade students.  I was reading Playing War by Kathy Beckwith , to explore why war isn’t a  fun game for students coming from war torn countries with 3rd grade students.  With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children, the conversation morphed into a project to welcome Syrian refugees.

I went down to the storage locker to pull out my Christmas decorations and an old suitcase that Ms. Collins and her 6th graders could use to decorate with images and hold all our messages to welcome the Syrian refugees coming to Canada.  The suitcase holding some of my most precious and breakable Christmas decorations caused me to pause.  My paternal grandmother had gotten the suitcase on a trip to Russia.  She used it to take flight several times with her four young children away from the front line of war in Germany during WWII. Her brother sponsored her and her two sisters and all of their children to come to Canada in 1947. Margriet’s suitcase took her on to the Voldendam to travel to Canada and start a new life.

I am an administrator in a school where many families have made sacrifices to come to Canada with the promise of starting a better life.  At the Winter Potluck dinner, messages of support and advice were written to the Syrian refugees coming to Canada.  Ms. Collin’s Grade 6 students have been at a booth to tell people about the Syrian refugees and encourage them to write messages to add to the others in the suitcase.  Mable Elmore, our MLA for Vancouver-Kensington, has come to talk to students about her job and work with refugees.  Yesterday Ms. Collins, on the busiest shopping day of the year, with her daughter in tow, arrived at a community forum to discuss how to support the Syrian refugees that may be arriving in our area.  The conversation deepens, the project expands and the possibility for learning and caring expands exponentially.

Inspiring Artistic Expression In Nova Scotia

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Nova Scotia

I was welcomed into the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia with over the top friendly and helpful Maritime graciousness. Maritimers bring the Canadian “nice” to a whole new level.   I gravitated first to what I was most anticipating, the Maud Lewis Gallery.  To my delight her entire house with all of the surfaces, including a good part of the stove, is covered with what is now iconic Maritime folk art.  Learning about the person and her challenges with childhood arthritis brought a new level of understanding to art for the pure delight of creation and celebration of everyday surroundings.  Her art didn’t emerge from limitations on her life due to her physical challenges but her ability to delight in the life she was living.

The gallery tour started at 7:00 pm but many regulars had decided to wander through the gallery on their own.   The docent was a gentlemen named Ian (I think) and had a wealth of background knowledge and had met many of the artists showing in the gallery.  The tour started as a consideration of the show by the well known Nova Scotia artist, John Greer and his show “Retroactive”.   In the very best of teaching strategies, Ian provided not only the background, but shared stories about the artist, the installation of the show and posed questions about the works.  I learned that  John Greer also has a studio in Italy and gets his marble from the same quarry as Michelangelo.  Imagine there still being marble left!  Ian was able to encourage close consideration of the art by evoking thinking with “I wonder” and prefacing questions with “There is no right answer but…”.   What began as a standard gallery tour emerged into one of the most amazing discussions of art.

Alex Colville's Prince Edward Island inspiration
Alex Colville’s Prince Edward Island inspiration

The “Terroir:  A Nova Scotia Retrospective”collection drew me in immediately with the wine references.   The permanent collection of Nova Scotia is explored in relation to the soil, topography and climate.   Early paintings of the Maritimes and early contact with the Mi’kmaq nation were done in Europe by artists who were using early maps and records of battles by early explorers and traders.  They were followed by the work of Arthur Lismer, Alex Colville, Christopher Pratt, Mary Pratt and so many other interesting and reknown Canadian artists.  A great addition was the Contemporary First Nations Arts from artists such as Ahmoo Angecomb, Carl Beam, Edward Ned bear, David Brooks, Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig, Jane Ash Poitras and Alan Syliboy.   Ian ended off the tour by asking if I wanted to see his favourite piece in the gallery.  It was both an honour and a privilege to be asked.   To my amazement 1 hour and 40 minutes had passed in what felt like a mini-course on Canadian art.  Hands down the best gallery tour that I have ever taken.  If I had been more on the ball, I would have taken down his complete name so I could send a personal thank you card.

Ian underscored the importance of engaging in the stories of the art that is created and selected for showings.  My daughter recently moved into an old house with a friend and promptly started painting the wall of her little “studio” off her bedroom.  Like Maud Lewis, it is an exploration of her own creative impulses and making sense of her world.  This is what I want for the students under our care.  How can we provide the opportunities and experiences so that they have the basic skill and confidence to explore their ideas and express themselves artistically?  I have “DuckDuckGo’ed” and will be looking at ways to expose our Tecumseh students to some of the opportunities in Vancouver to expand their artistic horizons in Vancouver.   I have always encouraged parents to attend Super Sundays at the Vancouver Art Gallery but this year, we will be heading to the Gallery this fall for a start where I can start sharing some of my stories.

ProD Inspiration

Professional reading on the topic of professional development largely espouses the view that much of professional development for educators is not worth the time or money. Large-scale conferences or filling the room with a speaker does not serve the attendees in the room. This has not been my experience. I am a whole-hearted enthusiast of professional development in a variety of forms largely because I’ve experienced the direct benefit.

I have actively engaged in “teacher research” or “reflective practice” or “inquiry based practice”, since it was introduced to me under the label of “qualitative research” at Simon Fraser University in pursuit of my MA. I was in my Kindergarten class, creating a body of research with my questions and my students. Maureen Dockendorf popularized this process for wide-spread participation of teachers in Coquitlam.  Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser’s work and subsequent book, Spirals of Inquiry (2013), has continued to provide a philosophical frame and structure for educators to find answers to their questions while maintaining a focus on student learning. There is no limit to the power of asking questions, focusing on our classrooms and engaging in a conversation with colleagues about our practice and the implications for student learning.

Implicit in the asking of big questions, is the quest to find the answers. That doesn’t just happen in the microcosm of our classrooms. Some of my recent questions have come out of the work with the Grade 3/4 class I enroll on Monday and Tuesdays and my computer classes with intermediate students.   I’m working with a small group of colleagues trying to integrate digital technology into our practice to develop language proficiency and extend thinking skills. Our inquiry group has been supported by Audrey Van Alstyn and the VSB PILOT initiative – Professionals Investigating Learning Opportunities using Technology.  We have had access to planning time, regular practical instruction, discussion of pedagogy and the SAMR model with Dr. Reuben Puentedura, the support of literacy mentors in our classrooms and the opportunity to learn from others involved in PILOT via Speed Geeking and The Digital Fair.   The learning curve has been steep, and at times daunting, but always exciting. However the learning does not happen in a vacuum. We are constantly drawing on the background knowledge and ideas of specialists in the field.

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Much of my thinking has percolated on the ideas from professional reading, professional development and the subsequent conversations in person and via social media. I am energized by professional development and I have been involved in many different forms. I would like to discuss the impact of three professional development opportunities that would meet the criteria for a stand and delivery professional development.   Even though interaction is built into the presentations, according to popular research, it would render this style of professional development as obsolete.

LEARNING AND THE BRAIN CONFERENCE (May 2014):

The research on the plasticity of the brain opened up interesting conversation with my father, a retired neurosurgeon and fueled a fascination with the implications for education. When faced with the opportunity to attend a Brain Research Conference in New York, I jumped.  The power of neuroscientists and educators coming together to define best practice is probably one of the most powerful opportunities at our disposal today. Yes, I was one who lined up to have my purchases signed by the “rock stars” of educational research. And yes, then I proceeded to read the books and look for connections with my practice and applications in my educational context.  I have even participated in the follow-up monthly online chats.

INTERNATIONAL READING (NOW LITERACY) ASSOCIATION (July 2014):

I first became involved in The International Reading Association as a beginning teacher in Abbotsford. Level of involvement fluctuated throughout the years, but my role, as a literacy teacher and learner remained constant and the International Reading Association has always been the “go to” place for practical application of educational research. The International Reading (now Literacy) Association Leadership Convention in Tampa, Florida brought together literacy leaders from North America and beyond to share our work with our provincial /state and local literacy councils. I attended in my capacity as the Provincial Coordinator interested in supporting research based literacy teaching.  The connections made with colleagues of like mind has provided a bank or ideas and support to continue with my work in literacy learning and leadership.

PHI DELTA KAPPA – UBC CHAPTER

My involvement in PDK has come out of a love of the cross-pollination that comes from engaging in conversation about educational leadership with people engaged in a variety of education contexts, from a range of school boards and educational institutions. PDK is a professional organization that is founded on the premise of research, generally organizing 3-4 dinner meetings and featuring a speaker or panel to discuss an area of interest to our members. In April (2015), George Couros and Jordan Tinney presented a session: Report Cards and Communicating Student Learning: Leadership & Learning in a Changing World. The room was filled to capacity within the week and the waiting list started to grow. Tinney and Couros engaged participants in a discussion of the possibilities for innovation that exist in the educational context in B.C. to engage and empower students as well as teachers, utilize social media and create digital portfolios to document student learning.   They created electricity in the room. Ideas were also processed via twitter (#PDKedchat )during the presentation and allowed people outside the room to participate as well.

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In each of these contexts, people of like mind and a growth mindset flocked to sessions to discuss the ideas and make sense of the presentation in light of their own educational context. The conversations would continue long after the actual presentations within professional networks, in blogs and via twitter. The connections with other professional development was be processed, questioned, discussed, embraced, dismissed or implemented in hybrid form.

James Paul Gee presented a talk called: The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Literacy at The Learning and the Brain Conference in New York in May 2014. I was inspired and had a template to build my understanding of what digital literacy needed to look like in my context. At a breakfast meeting in Tampa with Marcie Craig Post, the Executive Director of International Literacy Association, the discussion continued about the need to provide students not only with the scaffolding so they can learn to talk, read and develop thinking skills but the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively for literacy development. Tinney and Couros pushed the card with the possibilities for implementation of meaningful assessment and evaluation practices.

When presentations resonate with educators, the conversation continues. Listening to a presentation brings a depth of understanding that doesn’t always come from reading the book, a blog or a twitter post. When people I respect recommend titles of books, I read them or at least aspire to read them! When they ask a question that captures my attention, I think about it. Perhaps I use it to frame my next inquiry project.  I have been lucky to have many opportunities to learn new ideas, consolidate old ones and ask questions. I’ve had the good fortune to listen to amazing professionals with breadth of background knowledge and experiences. They stood, they delivered, they engaged the audience and made me think.   I left the room with new tools, more questions, a sense of efficacy and the inspiration to act. I strongly believe the appetite for this mode of professional development is not going away anytime soon. It represents one necessary part of my professional development appetite.

Lit Circles Meet iPad Revisited

My grade 3/4 students were given a new assignment posted on Showbie.  I love being able to post the text and then add the voice note.  The assignment was inspired by the article “Literature Circles Go Digital” by Karen Bromley , and her several grad students at Binghamton University in New York, ” in the November 2014 edition of The Reading Teacher (Vol.68 Issue 3).

I’ve have usually framed four roles for Literature Circles: Discussion Director to encourage global understanding of the text; Word Wizard to focus the reader on vocabulary; Friend of a Character to encourage a focus on characterization in the novel; and Connector to activate background knowledge and relate to the text. Each reader would prepare for one role for the literature circle. The next time, he/she prepared a different roles until all roles have been experienced.

Karen Bromley et al, offered a greater range of roles to their students:  Discussion Director (3 thinking questions); Illustrator (picture, diagram or graphic organizer with at least 5 words as labels to show something that happened); Investigator (Find information about the story, setting, author, illustrator or something important); Literary Luminary (funny, favorite, powerful, or special parts to read aloud); Mapmaker (create an action map or diagram that shows plot or describes setting); Connector (connections between the book and the outside world); Vocabulary Enricher (find interesting or unfamiliar words and find the meanings in a dictionary); and Summarizer (Write a paragraph or make a list that is a brief summary or overview of the main ideas and events in the story).

Leila Khodarahmi, my teaching partner (Wednesday to Friday) has worked extensively with our Grade 3/4 students using R5 strategies to respond to text.  I have worked with students (Monday, Tuesday) on developing their ability to express themselves in the writing process.  My expectation was that with the motivation of the technology, they would be excited about generating a response that was thoughtful and perhaps even “better” than what I would generally receive in a typical response log.  My goal was to prepare students for small group discussion by completing tasks to deepen their comprehension.   The technology allowed them to quickly generate a response that took a small piece of the text and generate a response, that may or may not have involved critical thinking skills.  For example,

Response 1:  Literary Luminator

Text is cut and pasted into BookCreator.  The student reads the text aloud and downloads pictures.  Their is no rationale for why the piece was selected  or why it is important to the global understanding of the text.

Response 2:  Illustrator

The student draws a picture on Draw and Tell.  The audio is used to briefly describe the picture.

Response 3:  Discussion Director

The student uses WORD to write three questions about the text.

Response 4:  Connector

There is one phrase written on BookCreator loosely referencing a personal connection with the book.

Response 5:  Vocabulary Enricher

Several unfamiliar words are listed with dictionary definitions and downloaded pictures.

During the literature circles, the responses on the iPad were presented to the group and students were impressed with the features of the technology but the responses did not generate discussion.  The response was generally “easy, peasy, done”.   I prompted students to share their thinking and make connections to the text.  It wasn’t clear whether all of the students had read all of the text or understood it.

My intention was to utilize technology to achieve a greater amount of engagement in the task which I hoped would result in a higher level of critical thinking and understanding of the text.  This was not the case.  Students took the path of least resistance to do the minimal amount of work to fulfill the assignment.  They reported they liked doing responses this way because “It was really easy” and “It was SO fast.”  It did not reflect an understanding of the text or an engagement in the task.  They were proud of their responses because the technology included audio or pictures that they could use the technology to get the work done and they thought were pretty impressive.  The focus was using the technology rather than understanding the text.

Dr. Ruben Puentedura and Dr. James Paul Gee have both given me a good starting point for reflection.  I have heard Dr. Puentedura speak on the SAMR model twice.  Although the academic description was interesting, it was having Dr. Puentedura working through the possibilities of applying the SAMR ladder to a series of lessons that I had completed, that was most thought provoking.  Essentially I had not redesigned the literature circles with the technology in mind.  Although students were familiar with the APPS and with responding to text, their focus was on completing the assignment.  I had simply substituted written response with APPS.

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Dr. James Paul Gee has done a lot of writing and presenting about creating smarter students through digital literacy.  Gee discusses the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively.   Obviously I need to provide more scaffolding for students to learn about creating meaning in the digital world.  The question is how?

What are the applications that will require my students to use technology to create meaning in complex and thoughtful ways?

What will allow them to create connections with others to help them in finding the answers to their questions or ask new questions?

Are my expectations of digital technology based on the best responses that I was able to cox out of my most responsive students during Lit Circle?

The process of learning continues…

Student Led conferences via iMovie

Student led conferences with a twist this year.  Joanne Carlton, our VSB iMentor was fortunately available to come to the classroom to guide our learning in Division 11.  She has a considerable amount of background knowledge in literacy instruction and technology.  As luck would have it,  Zhi Su, the VSB iMovie expert was also available to come as well.  We had planned in advance of their arrival so we could make the best use of their time.   The previous week, I has attended a session for teachers and administrators participating the iPad Cart inquiry with my inquiry colleagues.  Although I’ve had some experience with iMovie, the facilitators broke down the process so that we were able to take photos and a short videoclip, then add voice and a music track.  Very impressive for an after school professional development session.  I posted the assignment for students (the list of photos and videoclips for students to collect) on the Showbie APP and explained the purpose with a voice note.  Most of the kids are now able to log onto their Showbie account independently. With student led conferences on the horizon, my Grade 3/4 class were excited about sharing the Winter theme books they had created with their photos from the playground, their winter sense poetry, downloaded images and audioclips.  However I decided to tap student interest in the iPad technology and allow my Grade 3 and 4 students to use the iPads to demonstrate and talk about their learning this term with their parents.   Many parents at the first conferences of the year had expressed they wanted their children to spend less time using technology.  I very much wanted them to understand the importance of being deliberate with time spent on screens.   Students had each collected:

  • a photo of himself or herself
  • a photo with the friends he/she particularly works well with in class
  • a videoclip of himself/herself doing gymnastics
  • a videoclip of himself/herself reading a favorite passage from the book he/she was currently reading
  • a photo of a piece of writing from his/her Thinking Book or Writing Book
  • a photo of the the province/territory or Aboriginal group he/she is researching

Zhi took the leadership of stepping the students through the process.  The first thing he did was show them how to pull up the picture of himself or herself and write their name on it.  Students learned to share group photos via airdrop, add music and shorten video-clips.  Many of our students attend Chinese School and decided that their Chinese calligraphy had to be part of their iMovie.  The more proficient students in the class have been teaching the others Chinese writing to create Lunar New Year cards to deliver to the mostly Asian business owners down Victoria Drive on February 19th.  Many students were proud to share their skill with their parents. We had lots of adults in the room helping the students and inquiring about their learning.  However the sharing between students was readily apparent.  If one student in a working group had music, then it was likely all of them did.  Myles LOVED the ability to airdrop and single handedly taught most of the class.  Jason, a big ‘”Frozen” fan downloaded an image from the movie as the final frame of his movie with the caption “Bye”.  One group of students downloaded applause for their iMovies.  The process was not without it’s glitches.  However everyone had a movie and one more way to open up the conversation about their learning with his/her parents.  Fortunately Henry emerged as our Grade 3 techno-wizard in the process of getting everyone ready for conferences once the mentors were gone.  He became the expert on downloading from iMovie to Showbie so we could share the iPads with our other inquiry classes on conference days.   Parents were simply amazed at how smart their children are and how much they have learned.  As the teacher, the iMovies helped me to learn about my students and determine some of the focus areas for learning.  The possibilities are endless and exciting! IMG_0246