A Visit with Dave Cormier

#tiegrad was lucky to have a late night chat with Dave Cormier. He was passionate about the ideas he shared and gave us a lot to think about. He began by sharing his thoughts on rhizomatic learning and equating it to invasive plant species. His explanation and his blog post helped me to have a better understanding of this. I have heard this term, and have had it explained a few times, but I didn’t have the connections needed to truly understand it until I looked at the ivy in my side yard. It is successful in taking over new places and popping up unexpectedly. It has no beginning or end, just like the learning process – as Dave states in his blogs.

What really stuck with a few of us is Dave’s explanation of his assessment practices. He speaks of an “open syllabus” in his blog post and shared a copy of his syllabus during our meeting. The importance of the open syllabus is that it allows learners to find their own paths and language of the learning process. To assess learners as they navigate these varied paths, Dave only assesses their effort. He asks his students to view the syllabus as a learning contract where they are required to participate in learning and reflection. Dave describes the lecturer as the “content expert”, but acknowledges that the learner is the one who decides what they would like to get out of participating in the course. The syllabus outlines what success looks like, and sets the tone for life-long, self-valued learning.

Negotiated assessment is an excellent goal. I try to use it in my own practice with my Middle School students. I give them a similar template to the report card that they will receive and ask them to provide feedback on whichever parts they would like. Some students assign letter grades, others reflect on their learning in words. Some provide feedback in all subject areas, others prefer to report only on areas of strength. I give them the same report card and ask for feedback on the same areas again, but this time with the focus on my teaching. Some students complete this form anonymously, others attach their names.

But, there are issues with self-assessment. I saw it with my own completion of the self-evaluation we were asked to do for our EDCI 569 course. I hesitated until the last possible minute to hand in the feedback. I struggled with the same things that some of my students do: self-doubt, honesty, humility, and comparison. Even when given a rubric (like the Masters level grading scale) it is difficult to assess your place on it without comparing yourself to other learners, past and present. And, comparing yourself to your best days and your worst times. Where do you fit in on that scale?

My highest achieving students regularly rate themselves lower than they should because they have become overly effective critical thinkers and as such, they over-think the reflective process. They would always like more time to polish their products, because they truly know learning is ongoing.

Self-evaluation is something that needs to be scaffolded for learners. There should be choice and dialogue built in and assigning numbers or grades should be optional. Maybe even the format of the self-assessment should be fluid, so that learners could customize the method of reporting? With tools such as Google Docs available, the teacher could list the outcomes of the project/unit of study/term and provide some structure for self-evaluation with the invitation to edit the evaluation as desired. If we are speaking of assessing effort, as Dave suggests, we need to also realize that the process a learner undergoes in reflecting upon their effort may vary. If you assess effort as part of your practice, please share your methods below.

I loved learning about Melody Watson’s assessment approach in her school, where the parents, teachers and students sit down together to complete the reporting process.

I imagine that this process would take a great deal of time, but having all voices present for this reflective time would provide a wealth of information. Parents would be able to provide more context for the discussions and time spent on informal learning beyond the classroom walls and the student would be given an opportunity to share their thoughts on their learning process. This dialogue can be extended through the use of digital portfolios – something that Melody already does with her learners. The portfolios allow all parties (parents, student and teachers) to comment on uploaded artifacts of learning. This would ensure that the meetings are focused and that nothing comes as a surprise to any of the participants.

Things are moving in a wonderful direction in education: honouring student interests, inquiry-based learning, and authentic assessment. It will be messy finding our way; but we are so lucky to be doing this in a time when sharing our practice, being transparent with our efforts (both the successes and the failures) are a part of the collective journey.


The Backchannel – my EdTech Fave

Our #tiegrad cohort shared out some tech tools last week during class. More importantly than the tools being shared were the conversations about how and why particular tools were chosen. I enjoyed hearing about great ideas grounded in strong pedagogy and purpose.

Some tools discussed included: Explain Everything (see tutorials created by Victoria Olson here), Padlet, Desmos, FreshGrade, and Wolfram Alpha.

I wasn’t sure which tools would be chosen by my other cohort members, so I prepared a list of my favourite resources. We quickly ran out of time, so I am taking this opportunity to share out my experiences with my favourite EdTech tool here.

For several years I have been experimenting with a variety of Backchannel tools to find the best resource for my students. My purpose in providing a backchannel in my classroom is to offer more opportunities for students to contribute their ideas, questions, insights and ponderings. A backchannel increases the potential for more participation. Backchannels allow for real time collaboration, even while a lesson unfolds.

I observed a massive increase in student participation in my lessons when I kept the backchannels open throughout the day. I “heard” from students who had not volunteered to speak in class previously – they would insightfully discuss topics through text, offer different ways to explain things, and answer questions posed in real time during lessons. Not every student is comfortable speaking in front of a crowd!

A few of the backchannel tools I have tried include:

  • Padlet: An online sticky note board – it allows you to upload videos, images links comments, almost anything. Works on every platform. It will also provide you with a quick QR code for your board – which is helpful if you project the “wall” and people can walk by and scan the QR to join.
  • Baiboard: an iOS app where you can create a private or public shared space. One feature that I loved about this app is the ability to create multiple “pages” to work on. For several lessons, I created prompts on a series of pages, and the students could reply to the ones that held meaning for them. Organizing the collaborative dialogue on multiple pages kept the conversations more synchronously aligned. This app would be amazing if you were able to open it up to other devices without requiring downloading an app.
  • Voicethread: a great tool for student conversation. You can use images and videos to organize and prompt deeper conversations.
  • A little dabbling with some of the tools listed by EdTech and Mobile Learning.
I post a quick QR code on several "Say Something" mini posters around my room for quick and easy access to our Backchannel for the week.

I post a quick QR code on several “Say Something” mini posters around my room for quick and easy access to our Backchannel for the week.

My absolute favourite backchannel tool is TodaysMeet. This web-based tool allows for hosting a conversation (like a group text) where you can create a “room” that can be open for up to a month. The chat or texting format is easily recognizable by our students. The reason that TodaysMeet has become my favourite backchannel tool is because the teacher presence feels light. Although I create the room and I am “present” and monitoring the discussion, I observe my students genuinely interacting WITH and FOR each other – not for me. When a student raises their hand to speak in class, quite often they are awaiting some form of feedback  (even in a discussion): a nod from the teacher, approval of their ideas, or praise. In classroom discussions, I notice that many students direct their input directly to me – even if they are replying to the last student speaker, their eyes go to me, or they wait for me to “call on” who gets to comment next. An effective backchannel works for the students, it becomes their own space. Sometimes the conversations would extend far beyond the classroom walls and hours.

Three years ago I asked my students to reflect on how texting to a backchannel in class helped them. Here are some of their thoughts:

texting let us stay in contact throughout the lesson. Even though she was teaching us, we could write a comment and people would see it. Not: ‘we ran out of time, so we can’t do all of the questions and comments’

Instead of raising my hand all of the time or calling out, it helped me because I could easily write what I wanted to write and it would get sent and other people could see what I had to say and Mrs. James could see what I had to say

it let me express more of what I wanted to say, to say more of what I think

Grade 6 reflections on how texting to a backchannel can be used in class.

Grade 6 reflections on how texting to a backchannel can be used in class.

Grade 6 reflections on using backchannels for participation in class.

Grade 6 reflections on using backchannels for participation in class.

Using a backchannel has allowed me to formatively assess in real time. I am given an opportunity to see leadership from students who may not otherwise stand out. It opens a window into a collaborative and reflective learning environment that is usually hidden from view.

It takes time to find the right backchannel tool, and what works with one group of students may not work with the next group. It is important to find a platform that fits in with your class’s community and culture.

EDCI 569 Initial Reflection

Inspired by Angela Dopp, I am beginning my weekly blogs for our new course EDCI 569 promptly. Our new course is titled “The Distributed, Blended and Open Classroom”. This is an area of interest for me long term, as I hope to shrink the walls in my own classroom. I believe in breaking down the divide between the learning that happens outside of the classroom walls and the learning that happens during formal class time.

Six years ago, I established a wiki for my learners. At that time, I admit that I was not fully informed about FOIPPA, but did establish some routines and expectations to keep my learning community safe online. For the first few years the wiki was driven and managed by me. Two years later, my students completely owned the wiki, authoring Khan Academy-style videos extending lessons on everything from the math being taught that day to novice lessons in Japanese. I became a learner in my own class as the students curated resources and connections for their peers and shared their expertise in other areas of interest. This wiki was profoundly exciting for me, but admittedly limited in its openness. Last year, my class began connecting on Twitter (@MrsJamesFamily) and individual blogs. That was when the walls of our classroom became more transparent! We experienced a humorous moment when we found out that a classroom thousands of miles away was more familiar with what was happening during our day than the teacher in the next-door classroom. Connecting on public blogs has given my students far more opportunities than I could ever offer as an individual teacher. My students have been more receptive to feedback from other sources, and eager to apply their new learning. My students discussed favourite novels with students in Italy. One of my students was asked to write a guest blog post on a teacher’s blog site. Blogging has opened a window to the world, shrinking distances and offering a perspective into a day in the life of students in other countries.

Using Twitter allows my students the freedom to participate in global micro-blog projects and receive the gratification of fairly immediate feedback. We find active hashtags to connect with, and share out our learning frequently. Twitter provides a window into the events, discoveries and learning in our classroom, and invites others to provide feedback, encouragement and conversation.

This year I am working with several teachers who are interested in having their students blog as part of their work on their #geniushour projects. They are starting with closed blogs where only the linked classrooms can read, post, comment or provide feedback. I am looking forward to seeing how writing for a larger audience impacts these students and their writing process.

I am still taking initial steps in my journey towards exploring alternate methods for my learners to connect, reflect and share. I really appreciate it when my students suggest alternate ways to share their learning. I hope that this course gives me new ideas to invite my learners to connect, share their voices and develop their own learning networks.

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.




Research Focus 1

Last year was a time of professional growth and exploration for me. I was given an opportunity to work closely with other teachers to support the implementation of technology in more classrooms and to be a part of a pilot project where our Learning Support team deployed iPads to support student learning. One of my goals last year was to develop and launch a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy for our school. I met with parents and our administration during the summer of 2013 to begin drafting the policy. We looked at several other schools and the wording of their documents to formulate the language of our own policy. Once school began, I created a Technology Committee for our staff and then a second Technology Committee for our students, with the hopes that all three committees (parent, staff and students) would soon work together.

For a variety of reasons, I was unsuccessful in meeting my goal of school-wide implementation of BYOD. However, I was very pleased with the BYOD practices and launch within my own classroom. We enjoyed months of personal device use, and shared out our ideas and experiences regularly through a classroom Twitter account and at a conference.

My research interests for my #tiegrad Masters of Education assignment revolve around student use of personal devices for learning and connecting with a global audience. I am interested in discovering what prerequisite skills and habits should be fostered in students as schools begin to move towards BYOD (Bring Your own Device). I am interested in what discussions should take place, and who should be a part of those discussions. I am interested in discovering common language in successful BYOD programs. I am curious about how other schools are using student devices.

My focus will be on Middle Years schools (grade 6-8), and I will be seeking research to support that there is a need for some scaffolding and a bank of ideas to support learners in developing digital literacies while using their personal devices in and beyond an academic setting.

The resource that I hope to build through this research might include:

  • Suggested strategies and rationales to implement BYOD for students, teachers, parents, and administrators
  • Links to resources to support all stakeholders
  • Suggested initial steps in creating a strong foundation in digital citizenship skills
  • Links to sample BYOD documents
  • Examples of how devices are currently being used and ideas to extend beyond initial steps
  • Suggestions on building a positive school culture to welcome the use of student devices for learning


Some questions I have about this topic include:

  • What are some examples of good pedagogy in developing responsible use habits?
  • How are personal devices being used?
  • How can we support our learners in developing appropriate skills, habits and awareness to carry them through independent use at school and beyond?
  • What resources are available to support teachers in developing BYOD practices in their classrooms?
  • How can we leverage the possibilities of technology to amplify student voice and create rich global connections?
  • How will writing for a global audience impact student engagement and output in writing?
  • How can personal devices be used to bridge learning between home and school environments?
  • What language and habits should be common within a school culture to support an effective roll-out of BYOD?
  • How do we support learners who are not able to bring in a personal device in a BYOD school?
  • What do students need to know in order to interact safely with a global audience?
  • What resources are available for teachers who are looking to take the first steps in BYOD?

    The list my students generated last year when asked "Why BYOD?"

    The list my students generated last year when asked “Why BYOD?”

I intend to try BYOD again this year. I witnessed value in how my students used their devices last year. When asked why my students wanted to use their own devices last year, the response that resonated most for me was “So we can learn how WE want to learn”.

It’s all about the learning, after all.

Reflective Teaching – Day 25

Te@chThought‘s Day 25 Challenge is: “The ideal collaboration between students–what would it look like?

In my opinion an ideal collaboration between students would involve a lot of choice. I think you would need to invest time in community-building and developing strong relationships in order for collaboration to be effective.

Learners should be able to choose who they work well with and the topic that they would like to explore. They should not be limited by walls, age, or class lists. If the collaboration is with a student in a different class, a teacher down the hall, or a new friend on another continent, the teacher should help facilitate the communication. This becomes an opportunity for a great conversation about synchronous and asynchronous communication!

Collaboration skills should be actively taught and developed throughout the year. There should be regular discussions about how to compromise on sticking points, how to develop connections, how to share resources and ideas, and how to ensure that all voices are honoured and included.

My bottom lines for “ideal” collaboration would be a situation where everyone involved feels safe, valued, vital to the process, respected, and deeply engaged.

Seems simple, right?

Reflective Teaching – Day 23

Te@chThought‘s Day 23 Challenge is: “Write about one way that you “meaningfully” involve the community in the learning in your classroom. If you don’t yet do so, discuss one way you could get started.

I am not sure if using a single way to involve the community can meet the criteria of being meaningful. Involving the community requires offering multiple access points into your classroom. It was a difficult process for me to be comfortable welcoming other adults into the daily routine of classroom teaching. I still get stage fright! It can be scary to invite others in and possibly face criticism. But, the flip side of having an open door policy means that you also welcome the exchange of information both ways. Instead of criticism, more often helpful suggestions or ideas are offered by guests. Sharing out ideas and experiences helps to form connections with experts, other classrooms and new voices for our learners to hear.

So, in the spirit of involving others in day to day life:

  • we tweet from a classroom Twitter account. We use hashtags to organize our thinking and to connect to others. We proudly share our learning and our questions. A new term this year is “WOW” – Worthy Of the World: moments to share out.
  • we blog. Students can write on any topic, seeking support, guidance, feedback and connections from around the world. Twitter helps facilitate and amplify our student voices by sharing blog post links.
  • I’ve always had a class wiki, but this year I am trying a general classroom blog. I am hoping that the authorship of this blog will shift and become a student perspective/sharing out.
  • we invite in guests or travel out to visit new learning sites. We learn from experts and venture out on adventures together!
  • student work is shared out in the school newsletter.
  • we attend conferences, or participate on committees – students are welcome to share their voices at some conferences or at the Board Office, and our learners play a key role on some committees at school.
  • we participate in Global Projects, reminding the learners how small our world is. This Autumn we will be participating in Global Read Aloud and Dot Day to begin our year and we will once again embark on Genius Hour.

Providing opportunities to connect or windows into the learning our students are doing is important. Forming connections between home and school is vital to extend the learning that happens in both environments. Encouraging students to embrace feedback from more than one source as they explore and learn will also grant our learners access to a greater wealth of information, ideas and opinions.