Category Archives: Year End Reflection

Choices into Hope

I don’t regularly follow American news. Nor do I follow their politics of the day. Heck, I didn’t pay attention to the most recent U.S. election until after Trump won. It’s not my country. I can neither effect events that happen there nor can I be affected by the decisions made there (well maybe, but let’s not get into that now). I often don’t even join the Twitter conversations between American educators (or British or Australian) in my PLN. Too much of the context is different.

But, I have been moved by Michelle Obama.

The first time was this past summer when looking for mentor texts for the upcoming school year, I stumbled upon a Poynter post called “8 writing lessons from Michelle Obama’s DNC speech”.

I was hooked. The writing, the delivery, and the passion of the speech reeled me in.

So, when I saw mention of Michelle’s last speech as a First Lady fly by me in my Twitter feed on Friday, I didn’t hesitate to curate it for later viewing. This morning while making chicken soup, I listened and I watched Michelle Obama’s final message at the 2017 National School Counselor of the Year celebration.

 

A strong contender for my 2017 word of the year was hope for all of the reasons that Michelle states:

Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourselves with a good education, then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise.

Hers is a message for all students, in every corner of the planet. One that young people need to hear repeatedly.

That’s the kind of hope that every single one of us — politicians, parents, preachers — all of us need to be providing for our young people.

But it is also a message that clearly spells out students’ responsibility.

But I also want to be very clear: This right isn’t just handed to you. No, this right has to be earned every single day. You cannot take your freedoms for granted. Just like generations who have come before you, you have to do your part to preserve and protect those freedoms. And that starts right now, when you’re young.

Sometimes students (and adults) think that choice means freedom from facing obstacles in their lives and freedom to do only that which pleases them. Michelle Obama’s speech to young people shows us that’s not the case. Rather, we need to learn to make the choices that make hope possible.

Full Remarks Transcript

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The walls come tumbling down

my-house

When my husband and I bought our first house, the first thing we did was tear down walls. We both love the spaciousness of an open floor plan, the generosity that the open room offers. When we shopped for our next house, we choose one with only one wall that sits at the midpoint of the room, dividing the main floor in half, but open at the ends. This house also has windows that give us a 360º view of the yard.

Space and light merging to create an openness that reflects who I am and my general attitude to life. My classroom door is open. I work in the open (online and public). My work is openly shared. There is no struggle here for me. I have no walls to overcome.

Many do, though, don’t they?

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We know that people put up walls for all kinds of reasons: lack of confidence, a sense of hopelessness, distress, fear. We know walls can protect us and provide us privacy, and we know they can also divide and isolate us. When we put up walls, we interfere with our ability to engage in the world, in our communities, and in our lives. You see this in your classrooms, as do I.

This year I want my students to see their walls. This year I want my students to discover why they constructed the walls. This year I want my students to tear down their walls. Because this year, I want my students to be open to make choices in their learning.

The choice

by Seth Godin

Attitude is the most important choice any of us will make. We made it yesterday and we get another chance to make it today. And then again tomorrow.

The choice to participate.

To be optimistic.

To intentionally bring out the best in other people.

We make the choice to inquire, to be curious, to challenge the status quo.

To give people the benefit of the doubt.

To find hope instead of fear in the face of uncertainty.

Of course these are attitudes. What else could they be?

And of course, they are a choice. No one does these things to us. We choose them and do the work (and find the benefits) that come with them.

Seth says it so well, doesn’t he? These are the choices we want our students to consider. My job is to find a way to get them there. To the other side of the wall.

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#oneword2016: Discipline

One word one year

Why take on the #oneword challenge?  

Choosing one word to focus on for a whole year is a reflective process. It forces me to consider where I am in my life, in my work, in my relationships. Words of the year have been a part of my life for a long time. The list includes

  • patience
  • risk-taking
  • kindness
  • peripheral vision
  • empathy
  • leadership
  • loyalty
  • openness
  • resilience
  • courage
  • persistance
  • dignity
  • equity
  • innovation

These words are part of the fabric of my soul. I have lived with each word, unravelled its nuances and connotations and woven its teachings into my thinking, perspectives, understandings, and beliefs. In choosing my word of the year, I need to reflect back, but I also need to think forward. What do I need to do more of? What do I need to think about? What is my next step?

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I have had incredible opportunities to connect, learn, and grow as an educator over the past six years. By far and away, you – my PLN – are responsible for those opportunities, and I have said ‘yes’ to them all:

  • course writing
  • collaborative facilitator
  • FNMI projects
  • committee work
  • adolescent literacy work

It’s true I have expertise in adolescent literacy. I have 15 years experience working with First Nations students. I am an early adopter (do we still use this expression in 2016?) of technology for blended learning. I do facilitate collaborative inquiries. I do teach high school English courses full time. This blend of skills and occupation has allowed me to move between “communities”, which has been an exhilarating experience.

BUT, I have struggled with the question of focus, and that splitting my time has left me with the inability to dive into any one area deeply. 

Good to Great cover

This month I read Good to Great by Jim Collins. I only read it because I had to to fulfill a family non-fiction book club commitment. Since Good to Great was already on my shelf (it had been given to me in 2012), I decided to give it a go. 

Does the universe ever give you what you need? This book was exactly the book I needed to read because one of Collins’ big ideas, discipline, provides a way for me to think about my own work. For Collins, discipline means 

 to say “no” to those opportunities that fall outside of one’s focus.

I am simplifying for the purpose of this post, but it’s the idea that in order to be great (doing meaningful work that motivates you to create greatness), one cannot say ‘yes’ to every, indeed any, good idea, unless it falls in line with one’s core concept or focus. 

I am looking forward to 2016, and my learning around this idea of discipline. 

What is your #OneWord for the new year?

Don’t forget to share it with #onewordONT by January 15th to be a part of Ontario’s collaborative word cloud!!

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#oneword15…6 months later

 

WHY INNOVATE?

On January 1, 2015 I declared that my word of the year would be innovate:

My word is INNOVATE. But this choice has little to do with technology directly and more to do with thinking about using the curriculum in innovative ways. I want to challenge my understanding, my perspectives, my biases about the curriculum. What does it mean to construct meaning? Communicate meaning? What about to generate, gather, and organize ideas and information? What changes, if anything, when literacies include digital literacies? How might English as a discipline need to be reconsidered?

What I avoided in that initial post was answering the question why? Why innovate? And why did I choose a word that is so closely tied with technology, but not focus on the integration of technology in teaching and learning that is at the centre of so much of the educational conversation today?

I’m an English teacher, and I am not a particularly geeky English teacher either. Like most English teachers, I believe English class offers students the opportunity to engage with and consider deeply the big ideas of our lives through the stories we read. Narratives provide a lens to the world that we may otherwise never access, and that lens helps us to understand each other, which is more important today than ever before. So the study of the narrative structure and stories, which in fact, is all the Ontario English Curriculum asks us to do (“read a variety of texts”) is not the problem.

WHY ENGLISH?

Academic students* are bright, curious, and creative, but that doesn’t mean that they want to read Nineteen Eighty-Four and write an essay. And yet, is there any doubt that the majority of instructors and professors in post-secondary do still require traditional demonstrations of learning from their students?  While I believe that students need to be able to write at length to explore their thinking, I also believe that students must be fluent in digital literacies, so that they can be critical consumers and purposeful creators of digital texts.

This, then, is the current and pressing challenge for the discipline. We can neither abandon the old wholesale nor adopt the new only. We need to innovate: To find novel solutions to this important problem.

mrsdkrebs via Flickr

I let go of many of my certainties: whole class novel studies, literature circles, and lessons from the past. Instead, we choose our own novels to read, we considered various critical perspectives in small groups using the Question Formulation Technique, and we looked for new ways to have conversations about a book that no one else in the class was reading (via Goodreads, for example).  In the academic class, we collaborated to create a Mindomo map on literary theory, designed personal poetry anthologies, and blogged to think out loud about our learning.  In the college class, we considered how our worldview impacts the decisions we make, which led us into an inquiry on ethics. Students’ contributed their thinking (aka research reports) to our on-going wiki textbook: Global Perspectives: A Textbook for Teens by Teens. 

AND?

I pushed myself to push the students to own their learning, to be the designers of it. There was choice in text, in topic, in theme, in approach.  We worked on learning to be learners.

If I were to look back on the type of work I’ve done, I would say that I improved in different ways. If I hadn’t taken a risk to do certain things, I probably would have been way below than I am now.—grade 11

In the beginning of the semester, we covered a lot of things, one of them being: you cannot learn and grow if you don’t fail. During the course of this semester I have had many setbacks and failures, but that’s okay, now that I have recognized these problems I can keep working on them again next year, both in English and in my other courses.—grade 11

We still wrote essays.

Writing my second essay has proved to be better than my first one, which is probably due to my actual liking of the topic. I went into this essay having more motivation to do a good job. I actually wanted to do it. In my mind, it wasn’t me being forced to write about something I didn’t want to. It was me putting my story onto a piece of paper, which to me, is a lot more appealing than the former.—grade 11

So?

Innovation in learning is a process of self-discovery. It’s looking for unique ways to solve the problem of making the learning our own. It’s a journey to yes.

Yes, you can read what you want to. Yes, you can make that video. Yes, you can research that topic. Yes, you can write that rant. Yes, you can remix. Yes, you can Skype that person for an interview. Yes, you can research via Twitter. Yes, your poetry anthology can be digital. Yes, your poetry anthology can be non-digital. Yes…


 

*Although here I am writing about students who will pursue academic studies beyond high school, I do not think that this conversation is just about them. Students who choose to enter into apprenticeships or directly into the workplace also need many of the same literacy skills. 

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#OneWord

What one word captures your work, your learning, your focus for 2014? After all is said and done, what one word synthesizes your thinking of the past 12 months? What one word caught your attention and distracted you every time you heard it?

 

One Word Reflection

for 2014

 

2014 is the year I worked on my Principal Qualifying Program part 1 and 2 courses. Predictably, we were asked to list our top beliefs that would guide us in our leadership. EQUITY emerged as #2 on my list (#1 being honesty and #3 being collaboration). Equity for students, for families, for all staff is desirable, of course, but it’s not always easy to attain. Everyone has ideas about what should happen in a school–from access to technology to class room resources to experiential learning opportunities–and many can make very convincing arguments as to why their ideas should be put into action. And many still confuse an idea of fairness with that of equity. But with a strong conviction around student learning, I think that true equity can be attained and maintained.

New field trip idea?

You want to teach a ______course?

You think we should spend money on_________?

No problem.

Tell me how it’s best for students?

And now….

One Word Focus for 2015

So a lot of great words have been chosen for 2015….

@Glennr1809 has a few:  balance, serving, network, vision, network. Check it out here.

@avivaloca chose being uncomfortable. Check it out here.

@Dunlop_Sue chose change. Check it out here.

@fryed chose courage. Check it out here.

My word is INNOVATE. But this choice has little to do with technology directly and more to do with thinking about using the curriculum in innovative ways. I want to challenge my understanding, my perspectives, my biases about the curriculum. What does it mean to construct meaning? Communicate meaning? What about to generate, gather, and organize ideas and information? What changes, if anything, when literacies include digital literacies? How might English as a discipline need to be reconsidered?

I am thinking that I will post about this work, but better I will tweet out what INNOVATION looks like more regularly with #oneword15

UPDATE!!!   There is some desire to create a Word Cloud of Ontario Educators’ one words. Tweet out your one word for 2015 to #onewordONT.

Please Join Us!

 

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Reclaiming Storytelling

2014 represents the year that I moved digital storytelling from theory to action. Well, began to move…there’s lots of learning to do.

Storytelling was often used among native peoples, not only for moral teaching, but for practical instruction, to help you remember the details of a craft or skill, and for theoretical instruction, whether about political organization or the location of the stars. One advantage of telling a story to a person rather than preaching at him directly is that the listener is free to make his own interpretation. If it varies a little from yours, that is all right … However many generations have heard the story before the youth who hears it today, it is he who must apply it to his own life.

                                                  – George Manuel and Michael Posluns, The Fourth World, 1974.

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“Free to make his own interpretation…”

Inquiry-based learning has grown exponentially in the past few years, which is terrific from my thinking. It connects to the kind of parenting I did when I was a stay-at-home mother. I hated the thought of my kids going to school to sit in rows and to be told what to do. Inquiry learning is about exploration and questioning, and it begins when we need to know how to do something or when we are truly keen about a new idea.

But inquiry-based learning also reflects pedagogy that sustained indigenous people for thousands of years. In fact, at least one resource explicitly acknowledges that there “are several parallels between Indigenous perspectives on education and those of Inquiry-based Knowledge Building” (Natural Curiosity, 13).

Because I teach First Nations high school students, I am constantly considering ways in which the learning we do can be holistic, experiential, and relationship-building. One of the challenges is that I teach English where inquiry-based learning, although not impossible, does not lend itself easily on its own to real-life applications like that of The Students Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) created by Jeff Goldstein or even the Flat Connections Global Projects run by Julie Lindsay.

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 What we can do is revisit storytelling as pedagogy.

First Nations’ tradition of storytelling is a method of transferring knowledge–their history, ways of being, reconciliation to the tragedies of life, thankfulness, observations about natural phenomena and behaviour–from one generation to the next. Not merely entertainment on the long, dark winter nights, storytelling was a foundational piece upon which the communities were built. The on-going conversation between storyteller and listener emphasizes the value of listening and of the trust that is needed to listen well, and it is an opportunity for the exchange of ideas, which sustains the process as a significant part of their intellectual tradition.

And I don’t mean that the teacher is telling or creating the stories. No, the idea is to challenge students to tell their stories–traditional or new–for a modern audience.

This is an idea a long time in the making. 14 years ago, I wondered if technology open-up the possibility of a re-emergence of Native storytelling. Sure, the form would be different…virtual rather than face-to-face, but the voice would be there and sound effects could replace hand gestures and body movement. Well sorta. But you get my drift, right? (I had not yet come across the actual phrase “Digital Storytelling”!). Outfront, a CBC show that ran in the early 2000s was billed as, “radio stories about real life… all about your ideas, your experiences, your perspectives, your story. It’s an hour of storytelling, experimental audio and new ways of making radio” (PRX). The general idea was that non-journalists could submit a proposal to CBC, and if chosen, producers etc. would travel to you and produce the piece.

Perfect opportunity for us. And yet, I could not get this idea off the ground. Maybe I didn’t know enough back then to pitch it well. Maybe I had not yet learned how to work around the deep shyness of so many students. Maybe it was too far of a reach.

And yet, at its core, I knew that students needed to tell their own stories. I knew that we needed to find ways to honour the literacy of the place and its people. My students needed to not just be in this world as First Nations people, but of it. Not to recreate or hold on to the past as it was, but to embody their belief system in the now.

Fast forward to 2013 when the conditions seem ripe to try again: technology was more advanced, the advent of cell tower spurred on the acquisition of personal devices, which meant more individual involvement with social media, Chromebooks had arrived, and web-based tools had become wide-spread.

 Darkness Calls by S.K. Sanderson

Examples of digital storytelling from a First Nations’ point of view were also emerging all over the place. We watched the first episode of the 8th Fire where we met Steve Keewatin Sanderson, a comic and computer games illustrator from the James Smith Cree Nation in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Have a listen to him talk about people’s response to his art here from 3:35-5:15.

Ruptured Sky presents the War of 1812 from First Nations’ perspective in an interactive graphic novel format. From the site:

The Ruptured Sky is a digital literacy title that delivers insight into the vital role played by First Nations in the outcome of the War of 1812. The resource exposes an important part of Canadian history, one that has been underserved throughout the generations. Most of the principals involved in this project are First Nations artists, creators, writers, historians, subject matter experts and educators. It is important for students to have access to a resource that reports historical events from First Nations perspectives.

And then there is Never Alone.

The pedagogy of digital storytelling

We know that digital storytelling is a powerful way to get students engaged in learning.  But I am working toward an understanding that by using a variety of web tools, students will be able to garner the skill set to experiment with telling their own stories to not only gain traditional literacy competencies, but to also gain self-confidence and increase sense of dignity in themselves as Anishnabek.

Let’s have a look at the progress to date: The why  of digital storytelling*, followed by examples from my high school classroom….

  • It develops creativity and critical thinking

Students synthesized their understanding of three different narrative elements in The Fault in Our Stars (TFiOS) via Tackk board.

  • Students who are shy or afraid to talk in class get a chance to speak out their minds

Grade 9 students choose a web-based tool to learn and then created a tutorial. Here is one tutorial  created by a selective mute.

  • It empowers and provides students to express and share their  voices

Students in grade 10 receive their own blog and we begin to learn this process. Student’s first Post

  • It helps students explore the meaning of their own experience, give value to it, and communicate that experience with others

We are in the process of creating a grade 9 collaborative project with every grade 9 student ( 45 students). It has two main parts: (1)  Lipdup based on the song We Are Done by the Madden Brothers and (2) an online wiki collaborative textbook called, Global Perspectives: A Collaborative Textbook for Teens by Teens. The overarching questions is: Do teens really have to care about dignity and tolerance?

  • It is a reflective process that helps students reflect upon their learning and find deep connections with the subject matter of a course or with an out-of-class experience

Learning Well: a story of contrasts produced collaboratively by a grade 11 class.

  • It fosters students sense of individuality

 Students in grade 10 receive their own blog and we begin to learn this process.  Student learning to blog about her own interest.

  • It also gives students an opportunity to experiment with self-representation and establish their identity

Introverts and Extroverts inquiry presentation.

It is no small task for teens to figure out who they will be. For First Nations teens the task can seem insurmountable. What does it mean to be a First Nations person in the 21st century? I don’t have the answer, but maybe if students have the skills and tools they can reclaim storytelling as their guiding force.

Finally, thanks to all my digital storytelling teachers:

Alan Levine, 50+ Web Ways to tell a story

Alan NovemberEducational Resources for Educators

Amy BurvallCreative Projects

Darren Kuropatwa, Presentations

Silvia Rosenthal TolisanoBlog

Susan Oxnevad, Blog

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What Growth Mindset Looks Like

I saw this post This much I know about…what a Growth Mindset culture looks like for real last week in my Twitterfeed. Since I get incredible value from posts that share student thinking, I realized that I needed to share out some of my students’ thinking as well. And since we had spent the whole semester weaving growth mindset into all of our learning, johntomsett’s post hit close to home.

summary of learning #4

Transcribed:

Summary Learning      June 24, 2104

From February to today I can proudly say I came a long way. I wasn’t a strong learner  back then, until you introduced “Growth Mindset” to us, the class. Growth Mindset made me look at learning a whole different way. I started making goals for myself and setting time frames when I wanted to complete them. I appreciate on how you made me look at different perspectives on the work that i do; just note in this class but my other courses, thank you.         🙂

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