Saturday, 21 January 2012

My Blog Has Moved

from haydnseek on Flickr

I have moved my blog to a new address:
I decided to move my blog because my original URL was not easily searched in Google. This new address should make it easier for my words "to get out there" i Cyberspace and hopefully more people will read it. I hope you will join me as I continue to explore inclusion in schools.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Happy New Year

Bold acrylic necklace
Hard to believe it is 2012. I recently read a couple of posts by Will Richardson asking the question, Are you an old school or a bold school? This post outlines the realities facing schools today and included:
Reality #1: It’s clearer than ever that the Web has fundamentally undermined the main premise upon which our schools and systems were built—namely, the assumption that access to teachers and information is scarce.
Reality #2: Despite the 180-degree shift that the Web represents, schools as we know them are not going away. Society, specifically the two-income family, would be hard-pressed to adjust to millions of school-aged kids staying home to take courses online.
Reality #3: Given all of that, schools and communities that are not undergoing a serious process of reinvention will find it difficult to remain relevant in an era of abundant personalization in learning, especially if passing the test is the ultimate goal...Sooner rather than later, therefore, we need to be asking the question, “What is our value in light of the challenges and opportunities that the Web now brings to education?”
In another post, Will gives a list of qualities that would be evident in a bold school:
1. Learning Centered - Everyone (adults, children) is a learner; learners have agency; emphasis on becoming a learner over becoming learned.

2. Questioning - Inquiry based; questions over answers

3. Authentic - School is real life; students and teachers do real work for real purposes.

4. Digital - Every learner (teacher and student) has a computer; technology is seamlessly integrated into the learning process; paperless

5. Connected - Learning is networked (as are learners) with the larger world; classrooms have “thin walls;” learning is anytime, anywhere, anyone.

6. Literate - Everyone meets the expectations of NCTE’s “21st Century Literacies”

7. Transparent - Learning and experiences around learning are shared with global audiences

8. Innovative - Teachers and students “poke the box;” Risk-taking is encouraged.

9. Provocative - Leaders educate and advocate for change in local, state and national venues.

This caused me to think about my school and our recent discussion about meeting the needs of all of the students in our building. We talked about putting faces to the names of the students we called "at-risk", we talked about doing work that made students comfortable even if that meant we were uncomfortable. Teachers had the opportunity to view the faces of each student they had identified as at-risk. Putting the faces to this group made a significant difference. These kids were people who deserved an excellent education in spite of their situation.

If we use this list as a guide, I know we can meet the needs of all of our students. Are we all learners in our building? We are becoming more comfortable in saying, "I don't know but I want to learn." In the silos of the past, admitting your "not knowing" would be tantamount to saying you "sucked as a teacher." We have to get past that. It is okay to not know. It is okay to search out an answer. Our collaborative teams are getting to the point of collaborative problem solving when there is a problem.

Are we questioning or still giving the answers? We are still working on this area. We find it hard to let students figure it out without our input. We still want to give solutions because it is quicker and we have a curriculum to cover. That change will come, I am sure as we experience the same from administration. I have to step back and let teachers solve problems instead of offering them an answer that I may have.

As for the rest of the list, we are a work in progress; to become digital, to provide authentic tasks, to become transparent in the global sense, to allow for innovation without worrying that first we have to cover the curriculum in the same way we always have and for all students to grow in literacy (including all of our students identified with a special need).

How do you lead this in your school?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Creativity in the Classroom

There is much discussion about creativity in the classroom and how that would look. When I visit classrooms, there are times when teachers offer students a great deal of choice around demonstrating their learning. These choices allow students to creatively present what they know in a manner that allows them to do their best. Yet, other times students are required to "create" a product that meets the specific expectations of the teacher (and not just to meet curricular requirements but that the product must look exactly the same as everyone else's). All the art products hanging cheerfully on the wall look the same; all the written responses have the same answer; all the answers are exactly the same because the question was so narrow.

Sir Ken Robinson has spoken repeatedly on creativity in the classroom and especially how the creativity is often destroyed in children as they go through the education system. He believes that creativity is as important as literacy. A great video to watch regarding Sir Ken's thoughts is

Trisha Riche talks about 22 ways to encourage creativity in the classroom and she describes creativity as:
Creativity is innovation.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. If something isn't working, then it's broken and needs to be fixed. Come up with something else that will work for your students.

Creativity is thinking outside the box.
Everything doesn't always have to be black and white. Sometimes the oddball activities are the ones that work.

Creativity is improvisation.
Things don't always turn out the way you planned. When I've realized that a lesson wasn't working midway through, I literally tossed it out and started over. I tried a different angle (in this case, incorporating a movie that my students liked), and it worked.

Creativity is professional growth.
We don't always have all of the answers. If you can't figure out what to do, use your coworkers as resources. You might find some really great ideas that make sense for your students. Also, look at research and see what has worked for other teachers around the world. Use resources like KS1, KS2, and for some fun engaging activities.

Creativity is being a risk taker or mold breaker.
I have had many crazy ideas for things to try in the classroom. Some have worked and some haven't, but I found that trying was better than being stuck in the same pattern that isn't working.

Creativity is passion.
Be passionate about what you are doing. You are there to inspire students to become lifelong learners. If you want them to love learning, you have to love what you are teaching.

Jeffrey Baumgartner suggests listening to Bach to boost your creativity. We recently began playing music in the hallways as students entered so perhaps we will add Bach to the repetoire to boost the creativity of our students. And while that may work, the bottom line is the classroom teacher must promote a creative classroom.

Marvin Bartel writes about the top ten creativity killers in the classroom and while he is referring to his art class, these pointers should be used in the regular classroom also. His top creativity killer is when he encourages "renting" ideas rather than "owning" them. He says making ideas your own means that you choose it, improve it, shake it, pound it, deconstruct it, reengineer it, materialize it, test it, internalize it, and so on. You can not simply copy it or rent it.
Next, he says that if you simply return materials to students with a mark and no meaningful feedback, you kill creativity.

On I read that "classrooms are supposed to be fun learning centers, where the most important quality required is freedom of expression. By encouraging creativity in the classroom, a teacher is ensuring that the student has the ability to analyze a problem and think for herself, and is not swayed by orthodox and conventional rules. By promoting free speech, the students are more capable of expressing their thoughts and views regarding any anomalies."

Finally, on the Helium website there are listed 14 different articles that would share how to promote creativity in the classroom.

If we allow our students creative space, all students will feel successful, not just the students who can re-create the teacher's sample or answer.
School Supplies Pencils Erasers August 07, 20102

Friday, 9 December 2011

Learning not Teaching

Thinking about ensuring an equitable education for ALL students and ensuring that ALL students learn: Why should a struggling student be doomed to live a life of poverty because we did not ensure they have learned what is essential?
By Greg Kushnir

Student Teaching 1996
I was struck by this thought at my last principal network meeting. I have never really thought about student learning in this light. Our responsibility to ensure all students learn is more far reaching than this year only. In today’s fast paced society, students without an education will have very few options. In the past, students who did not learn or who dropped out could work in a factory or on the farm. Those options are few and far between in today’s automated and ever more global society. Therefore it is up to educators to ensure students have many options. The students in our building belong to all of us. We are all responsible for all students and our shift from a focus on “my teaching” to a focus on “student learning” is crucial to become a school were all students receive an equitable education that meets their needs.
Jim Knight writes that teams of teachers need to come together to intentionally plan how to use the high-leverage teaching practices that are researched based to meet the needs of all students (2011, p 11).
Anthony Muhammad writes that we should "never consider education a luxury; it is a necessity, especially for children in poor and minority communities, so that they can some day enjoy a high quality of life. It may be their only chance at a better life" (2009, p 9).

It is up to educators to focus on student learning every day. How does that look in your classroom?

Saturday, 3 December 2011

My Journey Thus Far . . .

Wordle: My Web 2.0 Journey



Laptop Keyboard
By Baddog on Flickr

Blogging in classrooms is a discussion currently taking place in our school. There are teachers who think it might have a place in the classroom but it is foreign to them so they are reluctant to jump in with both feet. They think it may take a lot of time. One teacher thought by blogging we are just promoting a child's need to feel he/she is the centre of the universe and that the whole world is interested in what he/she has to say. And in her opinion, no one is really interested in what a child has to say.

Kathy Cassidy
blogs about blogging with students repeatedly in her many blogs. She offers that students who blog become highly engaged students. What would Kathy say to the teacher who thinks students should remain in their classrooms and write for the only audience she offers: herself.
What about authentic tasks? Wouldn't a blog be considered an authentic task?

“Learning methods that are embedded in authentic situations are not merely useful; they are essential.” - Brown, Collins & Duguid. 1989

According to a study out of Australia at University of Wollengong there are 10 components of an authentic task:

1.Authentic tasks have real-world relevance
Activities match as nearly as possible the real-world tasks of professionals in practice rather than decontextualised or classroom-based tasks.

2.Authentic tasks are ill-defined, requiring students to define the tasks and sub-tasks needed to complete the activity. Problems inherent in the tasks are ill-defined and open to multiple interpretations rather than easily solved by the application of existing algorithms. Learners must identify their own unique tasks and sub-tasks in order to complete the major task.

3.Authentic tasks comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time. Tasks are completed in days, weeks and months rather than minutes or hours, requiring significant investment of time and intellectual resources.

4.Authentic tasks provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from different perspectives, using a variety of resources. The task affords learners the opportunity to examine the problem from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives, rather than a single perspective that learners must imitate to be successful. The use of a variety of resources rather than a limited number of preselected references requires students to detect relevant from irrelevant information.

5.Authentic tasks provide the opportunity to collaborate. Collaboration is integral to the task, both within the course and the real world, rather than achievable by an individual learner.

6. Authentic tasks provide the opportunity to reflect. Tasks need to enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning both individually and socially.

7.Authentic tasks can be integrated and applied across different subject areas and lead beyond domain-specific outcomes. Tasks encourage interdisciplinary perspectives and enable diverse roles and expertise rather than a single well-defined field or domain.

8.Authentic tasks are seamlessly integrated with assessment. Assessment of tasks is seamlessly integrated with the major task in a manner that reflects real world assessment, rather than separate artificial assessment removed from the nature of the task.

9.Authentic tasks create polished products valuable in their own right rather than as preparation for something else. Tasks culminate in the creation of a whole product rather than an exercise or sub-step in preparation for something else.

10.Authentic tasks allow competing solutions and diversity of outcome. Tasks allow a range and diversity of outcomes open to multiple solutions of an original nature, rather than a single correct response obtained by the application of rules and procedures.

A blog really fits the bill in all of the areas. It is has real world relevance. You put your thoughts out for the world to comment on. The blog is open ended and ill-defined. The students must make sense of what they are putting on their blog post. It is certainly a sustained task as the blog can go on indefinitely. A blog allows students to read the perspectives of others and to examine a topic from many perspectives. Collaboration is the key to a blog. You write to begin a conversation. You are certainly offered a platform to reflect in a blog. Assessment is built in to the blog as a teacher is able to read and respond to the students' writing. The blog itself is a product not just practice for something else. The student is not just writing a meaningless sentence required by the teacher on a meaningless topic, but is real to the student and the reader. Diversity rules in blogland. Each blog and blog post will be different and meaningful in different ways depending on the passion of the writer.

What do you think? What would you say to the teacher who doesn't want students to be putting their thoughts out for the world to see?
Will you take the step to give your students a global voice in this ever expanding global, 21st century world or will you limit your students' voices to the classroom?

Friday, 2 December 2011


If we are to be serious about inclusion, we need to set SMART goals for our students, our classrooms and our schools. I am sitting in a PD session with Ken Williams to examine where we are at in our journey toward becoming a professional learning community. We grapple with the fact there are many students included in our classrooms and how we will meet their needs. If we begin with the end in mind as we often expect our students to do in goal-setting, it makes perfect sense for us to set goals as well.

Our goals should be specific, measurable,attainable, realistic and timely. Only then can we focus on the abilities we are working to express on our own behalf as well as for our students. Only then will we able to get past our focus on deficits of our own or of our students.