March 29, 2015

Blurring the lines: Modelling the Re:framed Blog

The idea that classroom learning needs to be authentic and relevant to students, that it needs to connect to their out of school lives, that it needs to be meaningful is a nice thought. The trouble with this thinking is that many students don’t get it, want it, understand it. What happens outside of school stays outside of school, and that includes everything from personal devices to passions. We need to figure out how to blur the lines.

Some of my classes are engaged in blogging this semester and although we are slow out of the gates, I have high hopes for our progress.

I am taking a page from David Theriault who introduced me to the Re: Framed Blogging Project, where students design blogs around their personal interests and once a week post a blog entry that re:frames some aspect of their school learning.

So in one course where we think a lot about ethics, values, dilemmas and worldviews, a student who has created a blog around her love of music might re:frame a post around the idea of bands selling their music to corporations to be used for advertising purposes, which gives her the opportunity to think about the paradigm of short-term vs long-term through a personally relevant lens.

In another class, we have been exploring Joseph Campbell’s hero journey monomyth and Carl Jung’s archetypal theory. Students might choose to re:frame a post around this content. Some students just competed at the Regional First Robotics Competition, and I bet that the journey from building the robot to being awarded the top seeded rookie team took the team through many of the classic stages of the hero’s journey.

I love this idea of re:framing the content because it will help all of us break down the barriers of what we think learning is, of what the value is of any particular content, and of what our connection to the process is.

BUT first, as with all assignments in my classes, I need to do the work too, so here is my first re:framed post.

I thought about re:framing Since You’ve Been Gone, the most recent YA novel I’ve read. There is much to consider about the way Morgan Matson portrays Emily’s family and the ever present conversation about balancing the needs of the individual and those of the family (community).

Or the list! Matson uses the device of a list to hook us into the story. Don’t we love lists–making them, reading them, tracking our lives with them.

But since this blog centres around learning and the learning process, I will re:frame Campbell’s heroic journey as a way to consider the learning process.


 

Heroes. They take on  danger. Stand-up to bullies. Protect us. Inspire us. They make a difference in the world. Some of us probably aspire to being heroes. Some of us just can’t help ourselves.

My husband is a hero. He has saved the day for many people. Not with the Harry Stamper kind of heroism, but with the kind that ensures that a car load of city-bound kids get to have their day of fun by rescuing their vehicle from a malfunctioning alternator. Or the kind that pulls cars out of ditches (mostly me, but others too), or that stands up for disenfranchised youth against the outcry of white privilege. It’s subtle, but he, too, doesn’t know how to fail.

Those heroic attributes-bravery, risk-taking, confidence, perseverance, self-sacrifice, determination, responsibility, personal ethics-they are also the attributes of the learner. Learners must be engaged in the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will allow us to live the life we want. Joseph Campbell encourages us to find and follow our bliss:

“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

The call to adventure.

Ok. So we need skills and knowledge (reading, writing, math, science etc.), and the courage to take on the adventure that is our lives. It’s what we want to do when we grow-up. It’s how we want to live our lives. It’s about how to be ‘learning ready’ when we leave high school.

Refusal of the call.

We think of learning as something that is done to us. We think of learning as showing up. We think of learning as being caught up. We think of learning as a straight line between point A and point Z. We think of learning as a series of marks or grades.

And yet something just doesn’t feel right, does it? There’s little connection between the disparate parts of my day. I don’t feel like engaging in the work. I’m not excited by anything I’m supposed to be learning. I’m tired. I’m bored. I have no passion. Is this it?

The call to adventure repeated. 

What is learning then? What does it look like? Feel like?

  • messy
  • grey
  • non-linear
  • not the same for everyone
  • slippery
  • confusing
  • risky
  • challenging
  • tingling…goose bumpy

What do I need to know? To do?

  • ask questions
  • think critically
  • collaborate
  • engage my imagination
  • consider the long view
  • get involved
  • connect
  • make time for learning
  • reflect
  • know thyself as a learner
  • what’s the plan

Leaving the traditional factory-based model of learning behind (the ‘sit and get’ learning, worksheets, chapter end questions, whole class novels, etc.) is not for the feint of heart.  What if I haven’t blogged before? Or I hate writing, period? Or I’ve never completed independent work? What if I am a slow reader? Or so shy that I can’t speak up in a group discussion? What if I have not thought critically about a text? Or participated in an inquiry?

Will I accept the challenge that learning presents for me?

The Meeting of the Mentor

It is the teacher who helps us to face the unknown learning tasks.  She teaches us skills and knowledge, and gives us feedback, advice, or guidance. However, the teacher can only go so far with us. Eventually, we must work independently to demonstrate what we know, what we have learned, and what we have yet to learn.

(Sometimes the teacher is required to give us a push to get the learning started.)

Crossing the Threshold

We have to be committed to our learning goals because they will get us to where we need to go…they will help us follow our bliss. It’s hard work, but we must agree to face the consequences of the challenges put before us — increased confidence and motivation as we produce work and receive feedback; confusion and an erosion of motivation when we don’t. This is really the moment when the learning takes off!

Assignments, Portfolios, Tests, and the Processes Involved in Learning

There is always method to the madness that presents itself to us. We might not always be able to discern it, but there is a plan at work.

learning plan

At some point, we need to shed the doubt and just go for it: trust the process, the guidance of the teacher, and the overall plan.

Are you?

 

February 9, 2015

Grade 9 Learning Looks Like This!

First semester is beginning to fade, but I hope that the learning that this year’s grade 9s did is permanent. We had a terrific semester with the Global Read Aloud (especially in Goodreads and Tackk Board), Skyping with our new friends at Oakland Language Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina, reflecting on ourselves as learners with Jac Calder’s class at Midland Secondary School  in Midland, Ontario, and beginning the work on an interdisciplinary wiki textbook called Global Perspectives: A Collaborative Textbook for Teens by Teens . We also shot a lipdup/music video based on issues around dignity and tolerance featuring the Madden Brother’s song “We are done.”

And a big thank you goes out to Ms. Black, who not only taught grade 9 English for the first time ever, but who did so with the kind of passion and energy that makes English come alive for students. Ms. Black and her students were great collaborators on many of these projects, and I look forward to our future adventures in learning!

Stay tuned for our video release!

Have a terrific 2nd semester everyone!

 

November 10, 2014

You Can Learn Anything. Really.

Famous people work hard and fail over and over just the like the rest of us. Have a listen to Will Smith share his thinking on greatness and making your life count.

Throughout history there have been those who have succeeded because they failed.

In sport….

In the arts….

One big idea that weaves its way through all of my teaching (and my learning) is the idea that we can learn anything. We need to work at it though. We need to extend effort. We need to be persistent. We need be prepared to take risks. We need to be ready to fail and fail and fail. We need a plan to get back up and try again. We need to surround ourselves with the people who will support us in our learning. But we must always remember that we need to do the work.

In the above video, Ed Sheeran shows us what growth mindset in action looks like. Not only does he take on something that he has never done and never gives up, even when he really wants to, he also makes his learning visible. You might think that that is no big deal because he is Ed Sheeran. But I don’t think that’s true. Remember that this is a guy who has gone from busking to selling out arenas around the world because he believed in himself and he worked hard at it.  He says in the video “9 Days and Nights of Ed Sheeran” that “if you can’t sing or play guitar, I couldn’t either. It is possible. You don’t have to be born with a special magic gift or anything, you just practice.”

We don’t have to be famous to have a growth mindset though. We do need to think about our beliefs and goals and the work that we need to be doing to realize our best self. Consider each of the following questions. Take time throughout your learning process to check in with yourself. How are you doing?

What’s your next step?

October 6, 2014

Global Read Aloud 2014 has arrived!

gra_512

 

Why the Global Read Aloud?

Global collaboration is necessary to show students that they are part of something bigger than them. That the world needs to be protected and that we need to care for all people. You can show them pictures of kids in other countries but why not have them speak to each other? Then the caring can begin. –from GlobalReadAloud.com
The grade 9s at Wasse-Abin will be exploring the novel The Fault in our Stars with a few other schools this fall via GoodReads.com and The Fault in Our Stars Tackk.
Stay tuned for updates!
September 21, 2014

This is me in grade 9 baby! This is me in grade 9!

 journal coverOne of the truly awesome things about keeping a journal or daybook is having the opportunity to look back at ourselves. We think we remember who we were in grade 9, say, but our memories are not always terribly accurate. Our writing captures our voice in the moment, and when we re-read that text years later, the freshness, energy, and passion flies across time and we remember.

You have been asked to maintain a daybook this year. Daybooks have many roles. They can house everything that happens in class. They provide a space for reflective thinking. They are a place for us to store our writing on the way to creating a final product. Daybooks can have all manner of writing: lists, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, multiple sentences. They can be messy and help push us past a sense of perfectionism that we have to find true learning.

My writing over the years has been mostly reflective; a long personal narrative that really only exists in paragraph form. This is not what you are being asked to do, but it is what I was asked to do and it is what I can share with you.

Here are my words from the week of September 8, 1976….word for word:

1st week.

Today is the 1st day I’m writing for Mr. R again, for the year. I hope we, Mr. R and I, get along better than we did today, in the future. I mean after today I can wait to go back to school, or English anyways. 

Besides English, my other classes went really well. (even French) I’m really looking forward to History, Geography and Science this year. The courses sound really interesting. French will be french, what can one say? The books for Lit sound really interesting also, and I really like the Prose and Poetry books. Comp started off on the wrong foot, but it always takes me awhile to adapt to changes* and get settled, so I’ll probably enjoy the course. Last but not least Math! All I can say is that it’ll probably be hard but somehow with Dr. J, we always have fun!

The weather was ROTTEN! today! Rainy, cold, and windy, even snow is better than that, eh? Anyways this weather is giving me pains, the flu, actually. I’m practically living on aspirins and vitamin C’s. 

Talking about “pains” I think I’ll have to put up with Eileen all weekend, out of town that is! We, “the Balens”, are going to the cottage this coming weekend and Eileen is coming. Really, it should be a riot!!

Well so much for my problems today! Like my mom says I should get a boyfriend, so I could worry about him and not the little petty things! ‘night!

*Quotations: 

Change

“There is nothing permanent except change.”   [Heraclitus]

September 1, 2014

Welcome to Room 121!

Classroom Rules2.jpg-largeI am terrifically excited to be teaching and learning with and from you! I do not mean this lightly. Learning, at its best, is a collaborative activity–that’s right! When we learn together, we will always learn more. At first, this learning together business is tough to figure out. What does it mean? What does it look like? Sound like? How is learning together different than me teaching and you learning? 

Here is a list for our consideration. Learning together is….

  • participatory
  • sharing our expertise
  • listening closely to each other
  • having our voice heard
  • communicating with each other beyond “class time”
  • providing feedback to each other on the work that we are creating
  • moving past the idea that the teacher ‘knows all’

If we can focus on learning, truly learning by taking risks, thinking big, putting forward effort, and never giving up, together, we will be ready for whatever the future holds for us. We will be “learning ready”.

May 20, 2014

Feedback. Beyond the Mark.

Much of what we do in English class is about process: reading deeply and creating analytic notes, planning, organizing, drafting, editing, and publishing writing, viewing various texts and thinking through the stories they are telling. Before, during, and after the processes, we support our learning with feedback strategies. We develop success criteria, conference together, talk to one another, share our work, and provide written comments. We don’t often fail outright.

But last week, you wrote a test.

It wasn’t a test of memorization, of regurgitating names and dates. Rather, it was a test of skills and problem solving. Show  how well you can read and annotate a text. Show how you support your thinking with evidence. Show how you apply MLA rules. Show how you can apply the rules of grammar in editing. And because you could use any resource in the room to help you (other than a person…no phone a friend in this test, although that is a great strategy) –your binder, your hanging folder, the literacy tool kit, dictionaries, and Chromebooks — this test was also about demonstrating how you are able to solve challenges and overcome obstacles in your learning.

Tests can be failed.

What does that test result tell you about your learning? What feedback is it providing to you?

More than anything else this semester, we are learning to be learners. We have been learning about and practicing growth mindset all semester. We have set long-term goals and created a plan to help us reach those goals.

When you get your test back, take some time to think about what the feedback is. Remember that feedback is not about praise or blame, approval or disapproval. Feedback is neutral. It describes what you did and did not do (Wiggins). Then post your thoughts to your blog about that feedback.

April 1, 2014

Are you kidding? National Poetry Month? There’s such a thing?

Oh ya.

There is such a thing, and it has begun.

 

Refrigerator Door Poem Stonehenge
Photo Credit: Jackie via Compfight

Unbeknownst to you, National Poetry Month started April 1st! Our remixing of poetry today was right on schedule. And what fun we are having creating ‘new’ poems from existing poetry and then extending the meaning of the poems through illustrations, fonts, spacing, and paper and colour choices.

We are not done with making poetry…not yet.

In the meantime, you might want to check out some pretty cool poetry sites. First up is actually a how-to on formatting your poetry in your blog. I love these pointers.

Another great site to check out is The Teen Writers and Artists Project. The first poem posted is a really poignant, and to the point.

Check it out and leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

MAKE GOOD ART!

 

March 25, 2014

Reflection #2

March 16, 2014

The Transformative Power of Reading and Talking Literature

031/365 - The Reader
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Antoine Robiez via Compfight

Why stories?

If we ever need to be reminded about the importance of stories in our lives, the month of March does the job with World Read Aloud Day on the 5th, World Storytelling Day on the 20th, and Canada Reads 2014 from March 3 – 6.

And we do need reminding.

Take Stephen Lewis, Canadian philanthropist and activist, who acknowledges during Canada Reads 2014 that he has not been a reader of fiction, but through his participation in Canada Reads he claims “I am determined to start serious reading…[the conversation about books] engages you in the literature.” (7:00 mark)

I needed reminding too.

For too long, I have been reading professional education texts by the likes of Dweck, Hattie, Katz, Kittle, Boushey and Moser, Routman, Allington-you get the idea.  As a new literacy coach, the gaps in my knowledge about K-6 literacy, in particular, were unavoidable; I was after all a high school English teacher. But one needs to respond to challenges, right? One way I cope with the queasiness that high levels of risk creates in me is to work really hard.

Head down and go.

The thing about learning is that it is all-absorbing. It’s not  that I didn’t have time for literature (both fiction and creative non-fiction); it’s that I only had time for reading that supported my learning. It’s a matter of perceived value.

Don’t get me wrong, I did read–there were all the incredible primary stories that reminded me of the absolute joy that illustrators offer, Giraffe and Bird  (what attitude expressed on the page!!) being one of my favourites . And the middle school stories that grab your heart and punch & hug & hold onto you like Wonder does.  And the YA stories that push the dark corners of possibility closer to the centre of our consciousness-magic, fantasy, science fiction, crime, war, and love-there’s wonder here, but there’s pain too: The Fault in Our Stars, The  Hunger Games, Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, The Maze Runner, Little Brother, For the Win, Into the Wild. And lastly, I did read the odd adult story like State of Wonder and Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. 

But, with my return to the classroom and to reading with and along side my students, I am once again immersed in those conversations about life that emerge from the perspective of literature. This is so satisfying. Stories, after all, are the lens through which I have grappled with all of life’s complexities, and helping my students create that lens for themselves is a goal to be sure. So, the students of Room 121 have begun thinking about stories or ways of knowing. We are reading biographies or autobiographies of one sort or another at the moment. Our list of titles includes The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, A Beautiful Mind, Metallica, J.K. Rowling, Into Thin Air, Amelia Earhart, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Steve Jobs: The Man who Thought Different, Her Last Death: A Memoir, Six Months in Sudan, Steven Tyler,  A Long Way Gone.

I love the diversity of these titles and I love that in each case the reader can think about the story as a legitimate way to understand his or her life.

But, but, but…..what titles can you suggest for us?

And, and, and…..check back to see what we are thinking about our reading.

Thanks.