Category Archives: Year End Reflection

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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5 Things I’ve Learned in 2013

Or had confirmed, or moved my thinking on….it’s been a big year.

Last July, I came across the Pearson “5 Things I’ve Learned” series via Ewan Mcintosh’s contribution. The idea of identifying five big ideas that I have come to know, or to have learned, appealed to me.

 

I did have great intentions to follow up this tweet with an actual post, but that never happened. It did for Donna Fry though, and as always, Donna’s post is deeply reflective, refreshingly honest, and eminently relatable. It has sat at the edge of my mind, nudging me to get on with my own “5 Things I’ve Learned” post, until now.

Since the ending of a year causes us to reflect on the past twelve months, and the beginning of the new year pushes us to consider what the new year holds for us, I decided to use the “5 Things I’ve Learned” format as the tool to do all of this thinking. Of course, this means I am tweaking the format so that the “5 things I’ve Learned” is reflective of the thinking and learning from this past year specifically, albeit they are built on the ideas that have permeated my life generally.

I am listing the five ideas, but no hierarchy is intended. I am an interdisciplinary or connective thinker, so all of these ideas lead from and to each other depending on the conversation or problem.

Let’s get started…

1. Work harder to build trust.  Understanding that relationships matter is not new. Neither is it a new idea that trust is a foundation block in relationships.

Nope.

What I learned this year is that to build real trust (read here trust that doesn’t let you down, that enables you to grow and change, that supports you, that is loyal) you have to work really hard.

LLCI Glogster

But the work, whether it is face-to-face or online, is not quick conversation over coffee or in a Tweet chat. It is not having the same view on pedagogy or technology integration. It is not about being on the same team, in the same department, or in the same course. It’s not only about making others feel good about themselves and their daily work. Rather, the hard work of building trust is that work that is inconvenient, goes against the grain, needs lots of time, pushes us out of our comfort zone, is transparent, and forces us to keep our promises and tell the truth.

2. Passion and Commitment. This has been a curious year for me professionally. I began it as a K12 literacy coach, and I will finish the year as a high school English and Student Success teacher. Regardless of our role, I was, and am, reminded each day that we need to bring our passion for learning and our commitment to our students to the fore. More than that though is the realization that passion and commitment are fed through the collaboration and co-learning work teachers engage in. As a coach, I was privileged to spend time in many classrooms.

Have a peek at what passion and commitment looked like: I saw teachers as storytellers, explorers, researchers, readers, writers, and problem solvers. I saw teachers as learners who did their homework and modeled innovation and change. I saw teachers who worked hard everyday to love what they do and then instill that love in their students.

Teina inquiry

 

What a honour!

 

These teachers are my inspiration now that I have return to the classroom. And the experience of collaborating and  co-learning with them pushes me to generate that work in my school.

When teachers work with teachers, we create a culture that encourages the conversation and leadership required to ensure success for all students.

3. Students Reflect Back What They Observe. I believe that students mirror back to us our behaviour, our language, our habits, our values. We can run climate surveys to discover what courses students might like to take, if they feel safe in the school, or what extra-curricular activities they would like offered. We can ask why they are late for class or if they have space and opportunity at home to complete homework. We can ask them for their feedback on how the school can be a better place for them.

Feedback

Or we can think about our students’ behaviours, both social and academic, as feedback to us based on us.

4. To Initiate  Somewhere in 2013, I ran into Seth Godin in a serious way. I am sure that I knew about him, heard him interviewed on various shows on CBC Radio, and possibly even purchased a book of his for someone I love. But Mr. Godin had not permeated my consciousness until this past year. I like lots of his thinking; I think it can be applied to so much of what we do in our private lives as well as in education, but the idea that really resonated with me this summer is the idea of initiating

 

I needed to hear this message. I had been enjoying learning about social media platforms and I was having a very nice time engaging in various online professional learning events, but I realized that my attention was beginning to wane. I had been doing a lot of learning and now I needed to use it. I would, of course, apply my new learning in my teaching, but I had just come from coaching for the past three years and my love for developing and delivering professional learning was (is) strong.

Just do it, right? Get started. Don’t wait for others to initiate. Be fearless.

So I have.

  • OOE13 Co-Creator
  • EdcampIsland slated for May ’14
  • School Blog launch Jan. ’14

5.  Be Ready to Make the Shift. This past year I participated in my first mooc–Educational Technology and Media Open Online Course or ETMOOC. This event profoundly changed the way I think about learning in an academic setting. Sure, ETMOOC was an open, online course, but I didn’t know what that meant. I just knew I was taking a course. I knew there would be webinars and Tweet chats and that I needed to blog about my learning. That was all okay with me. I knew about webinars from work and my Masters’ program and Tweet chats from some online communities I had joined and I had started a blog for #cyberpd2012.

I was ready.

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Or was I?

What was going on here anyway? Where was the stuffiness? The stiffness that comes when a group of strangers ends up in some room together for a mutual, yet individual experience? There’s music playing at the outset of the first “lecture”. The “prof” is super casual, chatting away with folks, and the chat box is flying with comments. There is a familiarity in the room; a feeling that we all belong. There are no titles used or groups constructed by what level you teach….no map. There is Dave Cormier heckling Alec Couros (an inside job, but I didn’t know that, yet). There’s the whiteboard interaction that clearly gets out of hand.

Then there’s the cow.

This opening learning event set the stage for a learning experience that was challenging, engaging, supportive, integrated, free-flowing, always on, permissive, immediate, organic, and …fun!

 Did I learn anything? Beyond learning about digital literacy, digital citizenship, content curation, digital storytelling, open education, and beyond developing increased comfort with social media platforms and tools, and beyond creating digital products like Storify, 5 Card Flickr, LipDub, and writing blog posts, ETMOOC taught me about the changing educational landscape. The ground is shifting beneath our feet, and we must begin now to shift with it.

Now.

Thanks 2013.

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