Finally, a blog post

So here’s the deal. I’m a bit impatient when it comes to some things.

“How long is that download going to take?”

“Come on, boot up faster”

“Seriously? Six months until the next OS update?”

Interestingly though I find myself patient when driving in traffic and generally calm when waiting in line for things.

One thing that really gnaws away at my low frustration tolerance shortcoming is change. Change in myself and other people. I want it all to happen faster. Not only do I want it to happen faster I want it to mesh perfectly with my utopian ideals of the way things should be. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

It took me a couple of months to realize that this was contributing to the dissonance around my classroom practice this term. People weren’t buying what I was selling. BYOD didn’t happen in the first week. I wasn’t able to successfully flip my classroom by the end of September. I wasn’t instantly faced with a class full of inquiry-based learners. The shift in the culture of assessment didn’t happen overnight.

Okay, I realize I was foolish to think that any of those things were going to change right away. Still, why wouldn’t you want to do things easier and better? Ongoing descriptive feedback moves student learning forward much more effectively than a series of end-of-unit tests. Three-part math lessons help students construct a much deeper understanding of mathematical concepts than consecutive pages of drill exercises in a textbook. Why not opt for a more effective way to do things?

I guess I’ll have to channel my best Andy Dufresne and patiently chip away at the old constructs before change can occur. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

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Graduating with Technology

Check out this infographic from Learn Stuff

Graduating With Technology

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Why BYOD? (Bring Your Own Device)

Going BYOD
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Acting into Thinking

It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting. – Millard Fuller

We use this quote frequently with our Action Research groups. I’m not sure if it’s Mr. Fuller’s quote since a quick search attributes several people to similar incarnations of this. The spirit of the quote is what is important.

As teachers we can fill up an enormous amount of time planning. Give us more time and we’ll fill it up with planning. Of course planning is an essential part of the teaching learning cycle. Perhaps there needs to be a slight shift in how our time is allotted throughout the cycle. Plan with all diligence, then act and reflect so that changes can be made if necessary.

What if changes don’t need to be made? Even better, now that you have collected some reflective data around your practice and your students’ learning. All of this adaptation comes from some form of action. It’s this action that drives our new ways of thinking.

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Reflective writing and finding your focus

A Picture of a eBook

Image via Wikipedia

As teaching professionals we have an ideal to-do list. For some of us these lists are big. Really big. All too often they are prefaced by the phrase, “One day …”. How can we reconnect with our priorities in order to make our to-do list a reality? Well, one way is to engage in meaningful professional reflection. Setting aside some time and shutting out all distractions in order to compose our thoughts and establish a personal and professional focus.

I should begin by pointing out that an idea of “forced reflection” is by no means something new. This has been a long time staple as part of the action research process. I went through a day long workshop with UK action researcher Jack Whitehead some 12 years ago and found it to be an extremely powerful learning strategy. It begins with the premise that if you don’t write something down, it didn’t happen. That’s a pretty blunt statement, but think about it. All that really exists from the last 10 months of school is your memory of it. Sure a few students might retain some memory of what happened, but that will soon be supplanted by new knowledge and experiences. Yes, you may have some files of assessments and lessons, perhaps a class wiki or some podcasts. What do you have that will allow you to replicate those amazing teaching experiences a year from now, five years from now? If you haven’t written it down it didn’t happen. In a future post I’ll show you how to make this a fairly painlessly part of your instructional day.

Let’s start by looking forward to next year. In an effort to make sure that our best lessons actually happen, we need to plan for them. We need to plan for them on paper, not just in our heads. Once September draws closer time will be in precious short supply. Start now and carve out some time to invest in reflective writing. Use a blog, a word processor, write on your iPad, even use a paper journal. It doesn’t matter. Find a focus and just start writing. You’ll need a distraction free environment. No radio, no Twitter, no email. I suggest using Notepad or Text edit to get rid of any formatting distractions. This is not about what font to choose. My favorite program for this is Ommwriter for the Mac. It’s the Zen of distraction free writing. This takes discipline, but the payoff is worth it.

Richard Sagor, author of many action research books offers this to help us find our focus by using reflective writing. Begin by thinking about the end of next year. The year that just ended has been, without a doubt, the most satisfying of your entire career. It has been so good that you are actually feeling depressed that you won’t get a chance to work with your students for another 2 months. You leave on that last day thinking that it was unequivocally the best school year ever, exceeding even your wildest expectations! A non-teacher friend then asks, what specifically did you and your students do and what was accomplished that made it such a wonderful year? What do you hear yourself saying in return? Write your answer in as much detail as possible. Write in the conversational voice you would likely use with a friend (when professional language and jargon are avoided, most of us tend to become more creative and our ideas flow more easily).

From this your ideas will flow and a focus for next year will present itself to you in your writing. In the next post we’ll look at how to take your written narrative from something general and sharpen that focus to gain the precision needed to move from the big picture to identifying specific outcomes for your inquiry based learning.

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iPod Nano 09 in the Literacy Classroom

iPod Nano 5G

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There is a new tool that has just been released this September that you should seriously consider adding to your literacy classroom. Apple’s new iPod Nano now sports a built in microphone (in the ear buds) and a video camera, along with the usual host of related music and audiobook features. This could replace several of the already essential contemporary learning tools in the classroom, like a video camera and a mobile Podcast centre, as well as being your entire listening centre. See a sample of the video quality here.

So one of my mantra’s has always been that it’s not about the tools. Yet I get excited every time Steve comes on stage to make an announcement over a new product. Okay, so I want to see what the latest and greatest offerings out of Cupertino might be, but there’s more to it than that. After about 60 seconds my mind starts down the road of how this might be a beneficial tool in the classroom. If this generation of iPods had only offered fancy coverflow or some other type of eye candy, then it wouldn’t be such a great upgrade. The inclusion of a microphone and video camera make this a tool that I’m sure will be overlooked as an enhancement to the literacy based classroom.

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Literacy vs Digital Literacy

Cell Phone

I would argue that core literacy skills as outlined in all of our YRDSB documents have not changed, however the tool set may have. If by digital literacy we’re referring to the use of technology and digital tools then that’s a skill set and not a literacy.

Aren’t we really talking about critical literacy and ethical use of digital media works?

If we define a separate literacy set for everything we effectively dilute the importance of our existing definition. Lots of people have invested a lot of time and energy into our existing definition and, I believe, it holds up well, even in an ever-changing digital landscape.

The advent of the internet and more recently the “Read/Write Web” (aka Web 2.0) has not changed the need for a solid literacy foundation. To point, it has strengthened the need for early fundamental literacy skill set. In fact, “Literacy involves the development of a continuum of skills, knowledge and attitudes that prepare learners for life in a changing world community”. In the current context that directly addresses the changing learning landscape that faces the 21st century learner.

Quantitatively,  access to information has exploded. Critics of the internet have correctly pointed out that there is a proliferation of mis-information floating around. Haven’t we always tried to teach our students to view things critically? Sure there are lots of examples of high profile ruses floating around in cyberspace (can somebody front me $10K so I can help this poor Nigerian businessman with his company’s assets?), this is simply further evidence that we need to continue to be vigilant in our critical consumption of all media.

“Literacy becomes the ability to understand, think, apply and communicate effectively in all subject and program areas in a variety of ways, and for a variety of purposes”. Is this not what being a digital learner is all about?

Please don’t misinterpret my message: a text-book only curriculum is laughably anachronistic. I believe that cell phones, GPS devices, iPods, digital cameras, MMORPG’s, laptops, bogs, wikis, and web cams all have a place in a contemporary learning environment. I do, however, believe that upon closer inspection our existing literacy definition works very nicely as a foundation for the development of the literate learner in the digital age. Make no mistake, we still need to be critical evangelists in all that we read, listen to, view and otherwise consume as contemporary learners. However, the processing of information with a critical edge and an ethical foundation around the use of all media works, that currently exists within our literacy framework,  I believe will serve us well for some time to come.

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