Monthly Archives: September 2013

Evidence of contribution

Criteria to earn an OOE13 Co-Creator’s Badge.

This is such an important exercise to take part in because it marks a completely new way of thinking about learning and assessment. There is a list of criteria that can guide a potential co-creator’s choices, but ultimately, it is up to me to contribute and then to think about the contributions and whether they are worthy of putting forward as evidence of achievement.

February: Topic 5 Content Curation Planning Document

OOE13 August Planning Session

Connecting to Learn Blog post re: OOE13

What do you think about badges as ways of communicating achievement?



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Intentional Design. Responsive Re-Design.

Student engagement has always been a big obstacle in the senior grades for all kinds of reasons, many of them having nothing to do with school. And it has always been easy to acknowledge those out of school distractions and life challenges as the reasons why students don’t finish my course or don’t finish well. But research like the Canadian Education Association’s “What did you do in school today?’ sheds light on school-related student engagement issues (social, academic, and intellectual) and explores “its powerful relationship with adolescent learning, student achievement, and effective teaching.”

This is compelling work.

I can no longer be satisfied with the explanations of the past. I need to focus on what I have control over which is my classroom and the learning environment that I create there. I need to be a designer of an adaptive and flexible learning environment to create the deep, meaningful, and engaged learning that I want my students to experience.

This is hard work.

The Design

I began this semester with an idea of building a community for learning with my students, which would support our learning through a student inquiry process. We talked about roles and responsibilities of the teacher, the students, and the room. We brainstormed classroom expectations and created an anchor chart. We reflected on what any of this means to us and our learning. Four weeks in and we are a work in progress. The institutional engagement piece (the active participation in the requirements of school for school success) is missing for many of my students, and that work, which must and will happen, will take more time than one semester and will occur in more places than just my classroom. But what did emerge from the discussions and reflections was a deep concern by some students about the design of the course. They were feeling queasy about the taste of student inquiry the first few weeks of school offered them.

The Redesign

They are right to be feeling uncertain. I am too. But because I am a risk-taker and a seasoned learner I am willing to jump into the unknown and to mess around. For many of my students, that leap is too much all at once. I needed to redesign the learning structure to meet the students where they are  and to lead them to where they might be able to go, and in so doing, I came face-to-face with what ‘adaptive and flexible’ really means. On the spot, I needed to offer my students pedagogical choice. I typed up a note with a brief synopsis of my intentions and laid out three (simplified ) pedagogical choices: the Traditional English Class approach, the textbook driven approach, and the student inquiry approach. I asked them to choose one style that appeals to them, create a pros/cons           t-chart to confirm their choice, and express their choice in a letter to me.student letters 2


Student Choice

Surprisingly (or is it?), the three groups are the same size. In some cases, friends stuck together, in other cases they did not. The textbook group (for the record, I have never used a textbook in English, but they do exist in my building) cited the appeal to working independently as the reason for their choice. The traditional English group cited familiarity as their reason, and the inquiry group is the risk-takers, excited by the promise of personal exploration. This week, students will be physically grouped by their pedagogical choices and we will begin. I do expect a lot of shoulder checking to happen. Students know that they can switch groups, and their curiosity about what the others are doing will be peaked.

The Challenge

The goal, regardless of the pedagogy students tap into, is that each student recognizes his or her own shifts in learning, that the student becomes self-aware of the learning process, and that he or she can draw upon the tools and strategies needed to be successful. The challenge is to continually work towards creating the conditions in which all students can be intellectually engaged. Next weekend, I am attending EdCamp Design Thinking in Toronto, ON, where I hope to learn the skills I need to have to move this work forward.

This is exciting work.



Willms, J. D., & Friesen, S. (2012). The Relationship Between Instructional Challenge and Student Engagement. What did you do in School Today? Research Series Report Number Two Toronto: Canadian Education Association.

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Building a Community for Learning

Yesterday,  a student asked me for help setting up a reflection page in the class wiki. As I sat beside him, he muttered, “I need to get some work done. I need to get marks in this course.”

I bit my tongue.

I am working very hard to build a community for learning in my courses this year. I really want to say that “we” are working hard to build a community for learning, but that isn’t the case…yet. In spite of establishing a consistent framework for the learning that embeds student choice and minimizes the teacher’s voice, considering the roles and responsibilities of the student, of the teacher, and of the room, and generating our community expectations for all the usual things like leaving the room and helping each other, the reality is that students are too deeply entrenched in the institutional side of education to actually be active participants in their own learning.

There are students for whom the game of school is about grades, increased opportunities to access higher education, and garnering a certain cachet as a top student.

Although Ontario students aren’t racing for the top, they are playing the game of school as well as any of their southern peers. Here you can listen to Kourosh Houshmand, a grade 12 student with the Toronto District School Board in 2012-13, being interviewed by The Agenda’s Steve Paikin. In response to the question, “How well do you feel that this public school system has prepared you for whatever is going to come next?”, Houshmand replied, “If the future consisted of life-long membership in the national regurgitation academy, then I’d be greatly prepared (22:35).

There is another game of school going on though that has nothing to do with high marks or the honour role. This

Learning Community Expectations

is the game of “just tell me what to do, so that I can get this credit.”  You can see that game embedded in the “expectations” the students generated.  In spite of small group discussion around some alternative classroom/community expectations (mistakes are signs of learning, take initiative, be actively involved, bring passion, engage) only those all too familiar rules that teachers list in their classes from grade 1 to well, this is grade 11, made the list (as the holder of the pen, I added “Take Risks” and “Practice Self-Regulation”).

What’s the next step?

To continue the conversation with the students in whole class setting and in one-on-one conferences. To lead them to intellectual engagement through the inquiry process, and yes, for some, through the newly acquired classroom technology. To have the students regularly write from a metacognitive stance. To provide them with lots of timely and constructive feedback. To continually look for ways to help students ask  themselves”What do I need to learn next?” rather than to ask the teacher, “What do I have to do next?”





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