#tiebc Chapter 4 The New Literacies

One chapter from Clive Thompson’s book Smarter Than You Think that brought about a vigorous discussion was Chapter 4: The New Literacies. Many teachers have used Wordle or have seen it used. Wordle creates a cloud of words by sifting through a selection of text. Frequently used words appear larger than words that appear less often. In my school, several teachers use it to sort key ideas in class discussions or to generate or organize ideas for student writing. A great idea from Bryan Jackson at the start of this term as we were working towards solidifying our Masters project topics was to drop all of our Masters blog posts into Wordle to help us visualize where our focus might actually lie. If we hadn’t lost our blogs in a security breach over the summer, this idea would have helped many of us!

The author shared a way that Wordle was used during the 2008 American Presidential election, where people used Wordle to find the big themes in campaign speeches. Wordle became a data analysis tool! This action revealed that one candidate was focusing on oil and energy and the other candidate’s main words were “children”, “Americans”, “make”, “care, and “need”. (Thompson, 2013) One possible president was sharing an urgent need to drill for oil as soon as possible and other contender had a more general focus addressing the needs of many.

Our book club was inspired by the idea of using Wordle to seek themes within text. Someone suggested that we take a look at the new BCEd Plan as viewed through Wordle. It is reassuring to see “students” at the heart of the plan! Wordle is not a perfect tool, as capitalized words or words with punctuation are recognized differently than the root words. However, overall, I believe that this word cloud represents the BCEd Plan fairly accurately.

Wordle of BCEd Plan Captured November 27, 2014

Wordle of BCEd Plan Captured November 27, 2014

I would really like to see particular words have a greater emphasis. For example, “personalized” is quite small, yet a lot of the language of teachers revolves around encouraging students to explore topics that they are passionate about in order to develop their skills as learners. “Interests” is about the same size as “personalized”, yet the two ideas feed each other to make learning more relevant for our students.

Another word that is missing emphasis for me is “authentic”. Teachers all over the province are striving to provide meaning for their students by providing real-world relevance to their learning experiences. In my opinion, “authentic” should appear quite heavily emphasized in this document, as the learning experiences and the assessment practices should be reflective of the opportunities that are available in this digital age. Students are constantly learning beyond the classroom and are finding strategies to learn what they want to know using the various tools that are available. Teachers are working to support students in developing digital literacies and smarter searching skills. Our assessment practices should be a source of feedback that feeds ongoing learning, supports further inquiry, and opens opportunities for more questions. In my experiences as a learner, authentic assessment has inspired more learning and conversations as opposed to ending my learning (for example, end of unit tests).

The document that accompanies the BCEd Plan is our new BC Curriculum, where we look at assessment through the lens of competency, yet the word “competencies” is very small in the actual Ed Plan document.

The Wordle reveals that the BCEd Plan slogan matches the text of the document: “Students must be at the centre of their learning”. “Students” are indeed at the centre of the Wordle, surrounded by “education” and “learning”. This document withstood the 2008 campaign speech test.

Using Wordle this way made me think about my own teaching practice. If I were to record my own words with my students for a week, what would the Wordle reveal? What words would be emphasized and what would that say about me? What bad habits do I have in my speaking? How is my tone? Wordle can force me to be honest about my word choice.

How have you used Wordle? What did you learn?



Thompson, C., 1968. (2013). Smarter than you think: How technology is changing our minds for the better. New York: The Penguin Press.

In Awe of John Harris

Thank you Keith Rispin for organizing such an inspiring event

this week! Keith brought us together to learn from the incredible John Harris, a retired SD 35 educator about creating simulations and games with our learners.

The projects shared were astonishing! As John clicked from published site to published site, I would assume that the contents were “professionally” crafted. The simulations were engaging, student-focused and the learning was explicit. Students in grades 5 – 8 created them all! But, the most profound thing that I noticed as I listened and observed, was John’s focus on the learning and the opportunities – not the technology. I asked what was used to make some of these simulations, and the response came quickly from both Lorrie and John – Flash. But, as quickly as it was mentioned, we moved on. It was the least important detail!

I LOVED that. So often, my Professional Development as of late has centered around learning or teaching to the tool or app. We “train” or “orient” our students in computer labs or on devices. Yet, this gifted teacher knew that if I was genuinely interested in learning this tool, I could Google for more information if I chose. But, he also knew that I probably would not be training my students in Flash – the most authentic learning experience I could offer my students would be to present a real-world problem and suggest a tool that might help in student designs – maybe Flash. Our learners pick up these tools faster than we can teach them, they are more experimental and scientific in their discovery of how to make the tool work for them, and they are braver and more creative in their use of the tools we share with them. This was a great reminder to teach what is most important – the students, not the technology!

John Harris emphasized the importance of being a good generalist. He tells us that no teacher knows more than all of the students. Teachers must be astute analyzers of student potential, and help slot students into areas that they will be successful. He recommends that we leverage the power of parent knowledge and get them to help develop a component of a project. The skills that John suggests that teachers develop are:

  • Project development
  • Learn ways to divide project tasks among kids
  • Create incentives for students to learn the tools themselves
  • Draw on community resources

John describes 21st Century Learning as self-learning: the ability to define what you need to learn and engaging in learning by using various online tools.

Many of the projects that John shared with us were design challenges that were shared publically. This reminded me of Clive Thompson’s ideas about Public Thinking, where people post questions to crowd source information. I was thinking that some of the students could easily patent their ROV designs!

For two examples John shared with us, please check out:

Salmonids in Troubled Water: http://www2.sd35.bc.ca/uconnect/salmon/OpeningPage.html

Journey to the Cariboo Gold Rush:


John’s students competed in a competition with some designs. He has had several winning teams of students over the years!

This session was very inspiring. I was excited by the ideas John shared, and how enthusiastic he is for student learning. Thank you Keith, John and Lorrie for your time, ideas, and energy.




Reflective Teaching – Day 28

Te@chThought‘s Day 28 Challenge is: “Respond: Should technology drive curriculum, or vice versa?

I don’t think that either should drive the other, actually. I believe that good pedagogy should drive all decisions in the classroom. Curriculum is mandated, but with the new BC Curriculum, there is the possibility for more flexibility. I don’t think that we should read the curriculum drafts with the idea of trying to find the points at which to implement technology. I also don’t believe that we should look at technology to see which elements of the curriculum could be covered most efficiently with the addition of technology.

I believe that the starting place for these decisions lies with the group of students with whom you are learning. A decision to use technology with a particular lesson with a particular group of learners one year may not be right for the next group of students. There should also be more opportunities for learners to self-select when to use technology and what need that technology might best satisfy. There must also be time and space without screens in our classrooms. In fact, we should be getting out of our classrooms more frequently!

Let good pedagogy be the driver in our classrooms.

Reflective Teaching – Day 18

Te@chThought‘s Day 18 Challenge is: “Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching philosophy. For example, a “teacher is a ________…”

Teaching today requires teachers to wear multiple hats. It is no longer enough to coach from the sidelines, or lecture to large classrooms.

So in my thinking, a teacher is a collaborative engineer. Let me explain:

  • models collaborative skills by engaging in professional collaborative efforts
  • assists students in finding collaborative work partners and developing skills in working with others
  • engineers the conditions in which students can learn
  • engineers learning opportunities that make students WANT to learn
  • collaborates with students as a fellow learner
  • leverages the power of technology to facilitate connections beyond the classroom walls in order to provide rich learning experiences in areas students are actually interested in
  • ensures that learners do not feel alone on their learning journeys
  • fosters rich discussions with learners so that everyone has the opportunity to derive as much meaning as they can from lessons, readings, viewings, etc.
  • challenges learners to design their own meaningful investigations
  • engineers inquiry from rote facts

I see teachers as co-conspirators with their learners embariking on a great adventure!

Reflective Teaching – Day 17

Te@chThought‘s Day 17 Challenge is:”What do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?

I would like to see the issue of class size addressed. I usually have 30 students in a class and it is difficult to meet the needs of all learners each day. There are usually students who require more support, and others are very independent. And, occasionally students are in crisis and needing a great deal of time and attention. Effective pedagogy requires flexibility and a willingness to try new things, and be prepared for tangents. It can be difficult to even find enough resources to support all learners in a variety of academic pursuits.

My ideal class size limit for Middle School would be 21. Teaching grade six in our district means this is the first year for Middle School, a terrifying and exciting prospect for many learners. Middle School also marks the start of enormous class sizes for the first time for many students. With 30 students packed into a space designed for 24, there is not a lot of flexibility in how you lay out the space, how you proceed with transitions, and how regimented your “unstructured” time becomes – for safety reasons alone!

21 students in a class would encourage:

  • more one-on-one time for each learner
  • face-to-face meetings for feedback
  • opportunities to personalize programs
  • time to connect
  • flexible groupings
  • collaborative space design
  • every student could have a voice
  • partnerships in the school/community/global village
  • easier access to field trips
  • reduced anxiety and deeper sense of community and belonging

Our current model still seems to hold fast to the Industrial model of lecturing pupils sitting in neat rows. In reality, learning has become dynamic, messy, loud, and student centred. To do this effectively, we need to use our space and manpower respectfully.