Tag Archives: learning with students

A New Start: Practicing What I Teach


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The new car smell has faded from this school year, but I’m making a new start. Blogging ideas have germinated and stretched their tender shoots into the air only to wither under the heat of a heavy schedule. I’ve read many blog posts and felt inspired and guilty in turn as I consumed and didn’t offer much in return. What finally pushed me past excuses to action? Students.

Student voice and choice have been the focus of my new school year. Last year I kicked the tires on approaches like genius hour, but this year I bought the car, declined the insurance, and stomped the gas on the biggest road trip of my career. I’m running genius hour (we call them passion projects) in two classes, and in another our activities are almost entirely designed collaboratively with students. This class of grade 12 students began the year by “translating” the course outcomes into more student friendly language and have been devising ways to show mastery of them ever since. I’ll discuss what they’re doing in future posts (Yes, there will be future posts), but first l’ll share how they inspired me to start blogging again.

Several students were getting overwhelmed by the wide-ranging freedom of the class and the challenge of making their learning visible. “Just tell me what to do!” was the secret cry of their hearts. I offered journalling as a way to work through their fear and document what they’re learning. “Writing/thinking through your learning,” I explained, “will help you focus and organize your thoughts. Then you’ll have a record that you can analyze and that can give you direction.” Students are not unfamiliar with journals, but for the first time I saw students clearly recognize their value. Shock slowly drained from their faces and smiles settled in when they realized that they wouldn’t have to wait for a teacher’s journal prompt, but that they could write about present and pressing challenges AND that doing so could find solutions.


For them. For me.

How could I kneel along side their desks and give them this advice–advice I believe to be sound–while my neglected blog waits, patient as a loyal dog, in my digital dog house? So, thanks to my students who are journalling their way through their discomfort and challenges, I’m back.


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Out of the Pool; Into the Ocean


image via Post Ranch Inn

About two weeks ago I hopped out of the ETMOOC pool in order to kick start my second semester. That feels like yesterday, but I’m typing my first post in February, and it’s after Valentine’s Day! ETMOOC has been quite the immersive immersion (Sorry, I shouldn’t mix technology and water terminology ;-)). I’m new to Twitter, Google+, Blackboard,YouTube, vlogging… I wasn’t drowning, but I felt I needed to focus on my students’ classes and not my own.

Somewhere in the midst of prepping for second semester, I realized that my subconscious pool metaphor was shortsighted and wrong. Suddenly, I didn’t see myself climbing out of the ETMOOC pool and diving into my Second Semester pool, but rather, I knew I was swimming in the ocean. The two bodies of water weren’t separate at all, but connected in ways that I hadn’t seen. My learning is an essential part of student learning.

Why was I compartmentalizing my learning and my students’ learning? I discovered that in the past I connected my learning to student learning in a very linear way. I learned so that I could better help them learn. Notice how that thinking sets up a Me-Them relationship? I work intentionally to build relationships with students, and yet, my thinking about my own learning has been holding me back from greater depths of relationship and learning in class. My learning needs to take place far more visibly during class with my students, not only before and after. When students and I are learning together, much of the Me-Them dynamic switches to We.

So now what? Well, I decided to share my ETMOOC experience and learning with my students, and, to start learning more visibly with them. I committed to turn one of my classes (a small group of grade 12s) into a learning lab. I started by ensuring every student had a mobile device. Next, I handed them the provincial outcomes for the class, and we began re-writing them in more student-friendly (read people-friendly) language. They sat, stunned, as I explained that they could demonstrate their ability to meet those outcomes in any way they liked, using content they liked and that I’d help them do it.

We’re two weeks in, and the shock is beginning to wear off. We’ve set up blogs to use as learning logs and, possibly, portfolios (You’ll find mine here). The students use a shared Google doc to take notes. One or two students each class handle the notation while the others engage without the extra responsibility. The practice has allowed several students to participate at a much higher level while others are improving their note-taking skills because of the accountability of others relying on them.

The group wanted to start something together before branching out; they’re unsure about how to exercise their freedom (I’ll have to give them improved support). We decided on poetry, so we’re using the poem of the day on Writer’s Almanac to authentically learn together. I sit with them as we discuss the poem projected on the screen. We make meaning, and tease out relevant terms and concepts for the notes. It’s liberating and exhilarating for me to not only avoid leading students through a poem with heavy hand, but also to see real proof that previous lessons about poetry in earlier years have taken root. It’s empowering for the students as they participate in dictating the direction of their own learning and discover that they can read poetry far more independently than they thought. They suddenly see evidence of their own learning in action, which is far superior to a good test grade. It’s been a fine start to our semester.

So did I really get out of the ETMOOC pool? Well, my developing PLN gave me the inspiration and encouragement to recognize and rectify my situation. The tech challenges of ETMOOC gave me several new tools for school and the confidence to use them. I’m hoping to continue to collaborate with ETMOOC participants and that my students may even work with their students. Did I get out of the pool? No, I just saw the ocean for the first time. Ain’t she grand?


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