Nov 9, 2011
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Some Days…

“There are good days and there are bad days, and this is one of them” -Lawrence Welk

Some days you aren’t on your game. You feel like you are missing a beat. You feel like you never quite get to that gold standard.

Today was one of those days.

One of those days you wish you could have back. It was full of those moments you wish you could redo. It was my fault, a combination of poor sleep, restless thoughts, building frustration and the feeling of isolation.

I’d love to pinpoint the minute the day got away from me, but I can’t.

But it is today that I question my reactions the most. Which student of mine was having that day? Who will have it tomorrow? How many students try to tell me it is that day and I don’t hear them?

I think I might learn the most from my inability to perform at my peak today. I take the opportunity to recognize my “areas of need” and build upon my “next steps”. Today will stick with me, as a learning opportunity, but that’s because I get to choose. I’m not stuck learning by someone else’s schedule. I’m not being assessed on what I couldn’t do today.

You realize on these days that all the bluster of consistency, achievement, assessment is all awash in inconsistency, failure and judgement. That mastering learning may be about minimizing these days and taking advantage and creating more of those days.

You know, those days when you are on your game. When the right word is right there. Those days when the rhythm is your soul and everything you touch turns to gold.

Some days are like today where my learning is personal, my growing is optional, and my ability to decide what I demonstrate is my own.

Nov 7, 2011
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Reading that is Working…

I have committed to giving my students time to read.  I haven’t assigned anything specific with their reading, just read. It is silent, personal, yet public.  I’ve done it in a few ways:

  1. Choice: Students choose their books. There is no innovation here. I let students choose anything that might interest them. Some have chosen novels (The Notebook, Go Ask Alice, Thirteen Reasons Why and Acceleration), memoirs (Night, When the Game was Ours), I’ve had a few choose collections of essays (Arguably, End Malaria), some have chosen non-fiction texts (How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Book of Awesome, etc.). They have been all over the literary map.  I’m happy about that. We don’t judge the reading here.
  2. Be Personal: The reading happens in silence. Students get comfortable. Reading is an inherently personal endeavour. You get to create (some post-modern theory for you) the book as you read and imagine. All my classes have come to expect the silence and offer it.  It is interesting to watch as students get absorbed into the text.
  3. Be Public: After the reading time is up, often 20 – 30 minutes, a few students book talk their book. Informally, they’ll stand up, show the cover, talk about the plot (so far) and give us a run down of their thoughts.  I often open it up to questions where students can explore the book, ask for predictions, etc.
  4. Talk About it: I’m working my way through everyone in each class and sitting down and talking about their reading experience. The conversation is relaxed, though we record it, and it has headed into many different directions depending on the nature of the student.  Some students want to talk about the issues, others like to talk about the characters, while others talk about what they’ve learned.  I will always direct the conversation about the nature of the act of reading, what they do well, what they feel interrupts their reading, etc. This conversation usually lasts 10 – 15 minutes.  I usually do this while the rest of the class is reading, just outside in the hall.
  5. Recommend: We are creating a user-generated reading log in the classroom, if they liked their book they are to write up some details about it on the wall. This becomes the first place for people to get ideas for their next book.
  6. Connect: Students are encouraged to reach out find other readers, in the class, school, world and connect with them. Some of my students have tweeted the authors in an attempt to connect. I’m letting students decide how they want to connect. They have found great success on Twitter.

I’m not writing this because I think this is innovative or incredibly brilliant. Actually, I think it is simple. In such, I’ve made a few observations.

  • It has become a class quest to find some good books for reluctant readers.  The readers who are active love to talk about their book and I encourage them to personally recommend it to people they think might like it.
  • Students, self-described as haters, have read 1 or 2 books in a few weeks.  They read. If I’m not talking with a member of the class, I read. It is now one element of being in our community of reading.  It is now cool to read a good book and recommend it.  One student comes into class, late, breaks the silence by saying, “You have to read this book. I hate reading, but I read this in 2 days.” All this while thrusting Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher into the air.  I’ve had a student, in workplace English, read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and ask if he could just read it all period because he was so close to finishing.
  • At the beginning, students wanted to know, “What are we going to do with this book?” before they opened it. I’d just say, “Read it. Enjoy it.” They were reluctant, but now they get it. Reading doesn’t have to be work. It doesn’t have to have an essay or assignment at the end to justify their reading it.  That conversation demonstrates that the student can read for meaning, that they can understand form and style and it gives them an opportunity to reflect on their skills and strategies, all right out of the curriculum document.
  • I have heard multiple times, “This is the first book I’ve read cover to cover.”

I think my success is fourfold: flexibility, unstructured/informal, personalized interest (a dedicated conversation) and ultimately, it is time.

Nov 6, 2011

Is School a To-Do List?

“What do I need to do to pass this course?”

“Can you give me a list of assignments for the course, so I know what I need to do?”

These questions, recently, have got me thinking, is school just a giant 12-year to-do list that needs checking off? And if so, what’s on this list?

The more assignments we standardized, tests we mandate, our education system starts looking more and more like that to-do list.  The thing is learning never makes the list. Discovering your passion never makes the list. Creative problem solving never makes the list.

I know teachers are going to read this and say, “Yeah, but assignments are the means of assessing the curriculum, so really, the curriculum is on the list. That’s what the to-do list looks like.”

Really? Because I’m not sure if you ask a student they can tell you what’s on that list. They can, however, give you a list of tasks the teacher has deemed important and put them on their list.  You know that list, you were a student.  You remember putting together a list for the weekend: 1. Write English essay. 2. Study for math test. 3. Finish map assignment for geography.

Is this what we want school to be? A giant list of work. Right now, school is not a place where you engage in curiousity and inquiry, for students, school is a place you do work. You hunker down, do the tasks that are required and then bugger off.

The thing is, we are framing it as a to-do list and telling students to complete it on our timelines. If you can check off the Grade 9 math tasks already, too bad, wait for everyone else. If we want school to be a to-do list, then we need to re-think how we offer that list, how we affirm that list, what’s on that list.

We need to change that paradigm.  We do that by shifting the focus, changing the nature of the work and by re-writing our to-do lists.

Nov 3, 2011

I Wimped Out.

Totally and utterly, I wimped out.  I backed away from my ideals and didn’t have the tough conversation today.

I like to think of myself as a man of principle. I am willing to say what I believe and willing for those beliefs not to be popular. I take pride in being able to take honest feedback. I also take pride in having the courage to engage in “challenging conversations.”

And so, when the opportunity arose, someone asked for my opinion, I whimped out. I decided not to engage. Was it the pressure of the crowd, the desire not to be “that guy”?

I don’t know why. I wish I had, but something prevented me from “getting into it.”

How often do we “hold our tongue”? How often do we refuse to engage? How many others share our thinking, but because it is challenging the status quo, decide to close their door, refuse to engage in the public discourse?

How do we create a culture where people are encouraged to engage in the conversations?

How do we ensure that people don’t wimp out like I did?

Nov 2, 2011

Busted. Cheaters Never Prosper, Well, Sometimes…

A colleague of mine showed me some student work today. It was brilliant. It was a creative representation, a drawing. Clearly some effort had been put forth. In passing, I said, “Let’s hope it wasn’t traced.”

Sure enough, we Googled it. It had been copied. It wasn’t hard to find at all.

She had decided at some point, the risk of getting caught was worth the effort it took to create something original.

She had decided at some point, the chance of getting caught is small enough.

She had decided at some point, it’s time to jump through the hoop of school, rather than actively engage in the process.


When a student takes the shortest route from assignment to mark, they are telling us that learning is not to be found and doesn’t matter. The mark matters. That’s it. I think there are two factors in play:

  1. The work, the community, or the learning is inauthentic. Students know when they are being made to do “busy” work. This is not to say every assignment that a student has cheated on is “busy” work, but I would presume that giving students an authentic opportunity to learn something that is meaningful will result in engagement in the task.
  2. The student has been sold on the marks economy and believes that marks are akin to success and the process doesn’t matter. This saddens me the most as this is mostly adult-driven. We, the adults, have created an atmosphere of competition and a feeling that students marks are indicators of value. This student feels that the opportunity to feel value is not to try, but to achieve the number.


In the end, that student will learn, hopefully, but how many others are looking for the shortest route. How many others have found the shortest route and weren’t caught?

Nov 1, 2011

“I’ve Let Myself Down”

That’s what one of my students told me when reflecting on the semester, so far.

In the conversation, she reviewed a litany of failings and missteps. The tears soon followed. She didn’t offer excuses. She had let herself down. Missed assignments, lacklustre effort, and skipped classes don’t help her case. But, she’ll do it.

She recognized, in that conversation, that the first step of learning is desire.

“If you’ve let yourself down, how are you going to work towards picking yourself back up?”

“How can I help? What do you need from me?”

These were my responses. We didn’t need to go over the grade, the repeated grammar errors, or the contradictory attitude. She didn’t need that. She needed to know, she’s still on the road. And that to me is why I’m here. Yeah, to worry about the grammar and reading, but to support, nurture and facilitate the attitude of, “I’ve made a mistake, I need to improve. What can I learn here?”

That to me is a student-directed classroom. At the core, the student heart open, brain waiting with a desire to learn.  I’m still present. I still have to help her get there, but it’s not me telling her she let me down. It was self-directed.

I liked that she said it. It let me know she was learning.

Oct 30, 2011

Press Publish.

I stepped outside of my comfort zone today. I wrote a piece of fiction and shared with a friend. We had made a challenge together to enter the CBC Writes Short Story competiton. I haven’t written fiction in a while, for that matter, my life has been absorbed in mostly non-fiction. But I did it.

I sat down and I wrote.

But that’s not the hardest part. The hardest part was her waiting, online, to read it. Having to send it through the wires was the hardest part. Why is that?

I write on this blog and my three others often. I expose my thinking, my writing skills to many readers, anonymous and known readers, without trepidation. Nothing near like I had when sending my fiction.

But, I think back to my first blog entry. The first time I pressed publish and thought, What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Is it good enough?

And I think of all the learning along the way. Not just the educational conversations I’ve had about the content of the writing, but the writing itself.

I stepped outside of my comfort zone when I first pressed published. And there’s the rub. You have to press publish. I had to press send on the e-mail with my short story attached. That’s the lesson to my students.

Outside the comfort zone is a scary place to be, but that’s where learning lies. Sometimes, you’ve got to close your eyes and press the button. Ship it.

I think that’s why we’ve got to make sure we are creating authentic audiences for our students. So, they learn to press publish. They learn to make mistakes in the open. They learn they’ve got to step outside of the comfort zone to achieve greatness.  If we sanitize their learning spaces to much, all we’ll be left with is replicated pablum.

So, what are you waiting for? Press publish.



Oct 29, 2011
Comments Off on Simon Sinek via Twitter And so, to those that wish I would just shut up, I say, “Sorry, that ain’t going to happen.” My belief is that we can be better, we have to better, we will be better. But we’ve got to be willing to step outside of our comfort zones, we have to be willing to admit it’s a process and we have to learn from all perspectives. It is great to celebrate where we are, but the key is to keep moving.

Simon Sinek via Twitter And so, to those that wish I would just shut up, I say, “Sorry, that ain’t going to happen.” My belief is that we can be better, we have to better, we will be better. But we’ve got to be willing to step outside of our comfort zones, we have to be willing to admit it’s a process and we have to learn from all perspectives. It is great to celebrate where we are, but the key is to keep moving.

The more you talk about what you believe, the more everyone will know what you believe.

Oct 27, 2011

Technology Conferences for Teachers – Is It Time We Stopped?

Having attended ECOO last week, I often heard about the need to change the model for this technology conference.

There seemed to be a desire from attendees to do two things:

  1. Differentiate between the beginners in the ed-tech sphere and the veterans.
  2. Stop talking/presenting about the how we use technology and start talking more about the why we should use it.

Dan Ballantyne (@ballantynedj) and I, while driving home, decided to take on the debate of number two. Dan took the side that specific technology conferences are still important to facilitate a larger percentage of teachers to connect via social media and other technologies, where I took the side that we need to focus on the why of pedagogy and that the tools are just support, therefore shouldn’t warrant their own conference.

We recorded our debate to use as a podcast.  Enjoy listening.

Comments or debate is always welcome.

This podcast has been cross-posted on Dan’s blog Avoiding Cookie Cutter Syndrome.

Although, we ran out of steam, I believe the debate is far from over. I have been contemplating the implication of the debate over the last few days and I’ve witnessed and heard various colleagues’ frustration and interaction with technology.  I understand that my comfort with technology has allowed me to push the pedagogical ideas, where someone who is leery of social media’s influence is not able to get there, yet.

My thoughts have also been largely influenced over the last few days by the various conversations around BYOD. It is easy to look at the pedagogy that utilizes technology when that is your norm.  I certainly appreciated the Teach Paperless blog, Bring Your Own Contexts.

Oct 26, 2011
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Seth Godin in Poke the Box

Somewhere along the way, ego became a nasty word. It’s not. … Ego drives us to seek acceptance, to make a difference, and to push the envelope. If ego wasn’t a key driver in the process, then creative, generous work would all be anonymous, and it isn’t.

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