CILP [Collaborative Inquiry and Learning of PADI Online Diving Course]

As I make my way through the 15+ hours of online learning prior to become certified for closed and open water diving with my family (holy time commitment Batman! Sounded like a good idea at the time when we booked our trip…), we find ourselves having an obscure out of body experience of sorts. As we read through and listen to the content, watch the ‘at point of use’ videos, branch off to outside links should our interests take us there, we have collaborative a-ha moments where we realize maybe THIS is what personalized learning is supposed to be???

The PADI online course, but my favourite feature is the short checks for understanding that I get to do after short chunks of new learning. Learning goals are stated right up front for me as I move along to the next set of ideas, and there are guiding questions in the top right hand corner of the screen where the content can be found. I have been called ‘old school’ in my approach to learning, because I still find it necessary to take notes on pencil-paper (my kids don’t do this, and interestingly enough, neither does my husband), but this system works for me.

After I complete each section, the program provides me with a summary of BIG ideas that I then compare to my own notes. The little quizzes help prepare me for the larger end of unit assessment and when I score 100% I feel great. I really like the way the automated-scoring final assessment works too. With each answer, I get more information about why my answer is correct. If I answer it incorrectly, this feedback box tells me why my answer is wrong, provides me with the correct responses AND directs me to the whereabouts in the course I can review to consolidate my learning. Imagine if students could be provided with such timely feedback? Imagine what I could do as an educator, seeing how many times certain students needed to revisit certain concepts? This would be so helpful for guided instruction…

I’m only on module 2 of 5 but I can’t get over how each of my 5 family members is going through the course differently. The boys click on videos whenever they are available, whereas Julia and I are task masters, want to keep a steady efficient pace, and so we avoid the extras but keep notes to be accurate. Gender difference maybe, hmmm?

To date, because of individual extra curricular and work schedules etc…, we have not worked on the online course work simultaneously. I think it’d be interesting if we did because we could experience the benefits of ‘blended’ learning. Due to the number of computers in our house, this would require someone doing it on a mobile device. Wonder what that would be like? If we completely the modules concurrently, I wonder if they will turn to discuss ideas with one another? Will save those thoughts for the next CILP reflection…

Sure has been an interesting snapshot into how we each approach the task differently. PADI has got it right: technology is allowing us to customize the learning experience.

Yours in SCUBA newbie-ness,

Participatory Assessment

I have been toying with an idea in my head for some time… its finally spilling out my ears, around how to make assessment more meaningful for students, parents, and manageable for teachers.

So much of what separates good quality assessment from bad hinges on the quality of the feedback that (1) teachers provide (2) students receive AND understand (3) students act on and (4) teachers reflect on. If we could somehow improve the timing and nature of our feedback, the benefit is that we improve the quality and accuracy of our evaluation, and theory, should improve student learning.

It’s the last part of this complex assessment equation that seems to be the hardest to track though…

While we may already define the learning goal, co-create the criteria for success, find time to assess student work, and write good feedback for learners, the true test is whether students can internalize the feedback and apply it to their understanding, thinking or application. We often scrutinize the success criteria, but do we take a close look at the quality of the feedback? Finding the time for teachers to reflect holistically on how the quality of the feedback impacted students’ subsequent learning and teachers’ subsequent teaching is so challenging. Do we provide different opportunities to ‘try and try again’?

One way to overcome this challenge is not to do it alone. Imagine more of a participatory approach to assessment ( and, not to worry, I will pause here to emphasize that the teacher is the one who eventually applies his / her professional judgment when it comes to evaluation ). First off, I’d love to advocate for teacher collaboration because when I work in grade level teams it forces me to reflect on and improve my practice; I would like to think that my colleagues find peer-peer collaboration helpful as well. So now that we have set our long range plans together, imagine a model where students (and even parents???) feel they play an integral part of meaningful assessment for learning.

As noted above, some educators have figured out how to create a solid AFL program by involving student voice in co-constructing success criteria and putting rubrics and other assessment tools into parent friendly language. But I am taking about more than this…

Could students play more of a direct role in planning the when? and how? the expectations will be taught and learning after they receive the feedback (essentially, helping with the sticky second part of the equation that I referenced above-the middle of the AFL process, before evaluation). The Ministry expectations (the what?) are pre-determined, but the how? and how well? is left up to the teacher ( and maybe the students) to determine, no?

Might more of a participatory approach to classroom assessment, where together we regularly revisit and re-direct/inform how well we are dong as individual students, groups, educators and even leaders, give us the time we need to provide higher quality ‘just in time’ feedback. And wouldn’t this have the potential to increase our efficacy and teachers and learners?

How do you engage multiple participants in your assessment practice? Is the a role for technology somewhere in the mix? Does it improve the quality of your feedback? student learning?


ConnectED Canada is coming!


This gallery contains 1 photo.

As the Spring term gets into full swing, I am really looking forward to meeting new people and connecting face-to-face with my PLN, including George Couros, Neil Stephenson, Zoe Branigan-Pipe, Rodd Lucier, and Brian Harrison at the ConnectEDCanada conference May … Continue reading

Expanding our view of student achievement

I engaged in a riveting conversation with a colleague at my new workplace, Pearson Canada-School Division (an awesome place to work, btw !!!) regarding the way we measure and define student achievement. Could it be that all of this focus on grades and achievement is actually interfering with student learning?

Punctuation marks made of puzzle pieces

Horia Varlan Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

This latest a-ha moment reminded me of a fantastic infographic from the CEA website (2011)  that depicts student engagement from grades 5-12. Take a look and compare the level of student engagement at the various grades with your school environment.

  • Do these same ratios ring true where you teach or lead? Why or why not?
  • What sets your setting apart?

The “What did you do at school today?” study provides great insight into the difference between what teachers define as ‘engagement’ and ‘student success’ vs. how students define these qualities.

How can we expand our definition of student achievement to include more than just grades, aka intellectual engagement? How can these ‘other’ things be measured/monitored? Should they?


Student readiness

Some may know that the computer-based vs. pencil-based testing debate has become near and dear to my heart; so dear that it is actually the main thrust and focus for my doctoral study for which I will begin collecting data next week actually 🙂 Insert happy dance here!

Out the Classroom Window

Out the Classroom Window By Elfboy CC

And so as I am transitioning into the world outside of the classroom to my new exciting role as Pearson Canada‘s Digital Learning Research & Communications Manager, I have been learning even more about how districts are tackling this debate.

In my reading, I came across an online social networking community actually created and maintained by the larger Pearson in the US called FWD.  [SIDE NOTE-I encourage you to check out this online community as it hosts a lot of topics, like next generation learningeducator and leader effectiveness, and instructional improvement that I know will resonate with my fellow Canadian educators and thought leaders. Besides which, we have a lot to add to the conversation from our perspective]. In one post by @bryanbleil last year entitled, Lessons Learned, he shares first-hand tips and tricks from the field to make the transition to online testing more manageable from an implementation point of view. Some practical suggestions include ensuring the district has necessary bandwidth, and testing the testing instrument ahead of time. Prudent moves indeed, but one other BIG caveat I would offer is to FIRST ensure students have the pre-requisite skills  to complete online assessments. Before assessing a district’s readiness for administering online tests, I might suggest educators need to ask themselves, “Are my students ready?”

At the very least, shouldn’t both conversations happen simultaneously?

Student Readiness a REAL factor
In its joint feasibility study and report with the Texas Education Agency regarding Texas’ readiness for state-wide implementation of online testing, Pearson researchers noted:

A majority of districts discussed “digital gaps,” such as the lack of equitable access across the student population to computers and the technology skills necessary for online testing. The digital gap was perceived as being primarily attributable to the student body’s socio-economic status; districts reported a belief that students from lower socio-economic families with more limited access to computers outside of school might be at a disadvantage with respect to online testing when compared with other students. (2008, p. 5)

I am encouraged by the recommendation that before online testing occur, that staff AND students receive the training they need to set the testing experience up for success. How much and how to access student technology training is another blogpost for another day…


Texas Education Agency. (2008). An evaluation of districts’ readiness for online testing (Document No. GE09 212 01). Austin, TX; Texas Education Agency.

Finding the balance…

Had an interesting experience last week.

Our school leadership team had the opportunity to finalize our school improvement plan and meet with our Superintendent of Schools to discuss next steps.

We had been provided a list of guiding questions that our SO used during a rich 1.5 hour  focused conversation. A number of voices were invited around the table to ensure multiple perspectives were represented, and people spoke very frankly about the progress, challenges, and work that still remains to do to improve student achievement in a few areas as identified from a variety of different data sets. At several points, it did not even feel like a meeting; rather we were discussing educational change very honestly and openly. People listened, opinions were welcomed, colleagues offered support and extended ideas, AND some even disagreed agreeably. Nice!

When it came time for the rubber to hit the road and define our immediate next steps, the need to differentiate teacher professional learning offerings became more apparent than ever. As I am sure is the case on many school staffs, we have people at very different professional learning comfort levels. As the co-facilitator of our weekly TLCP sessions, I have also come to appreciate that there is the work that teachers feel needs to be done based on their perspective, and then there is the work that admin feels is required to move students and teachers along in our critical thinking and mathematics journey. While some might feel they know what the nature of the work is that needs to be done next… teacher buy-in is not a given. The Concerns Based Adoption Model (CBAM) research of Hall and Hord has taught us for decades that unless we value the need for the perceived change, change will take longer to achieve and chances are it will not stick…

The good news is we have SEF days to access. Now we need a professional learning menu that offers choice if we really want to empower teachers to self-direct their job-embedded learning.

There are some excellent online resources available through our district online training and learning repository, PLUS this Fall, the Ontario Ministry of Education came out with some incredible monographs and webcasts DVDs that align directly with our areas of focus. So, the WHAT TO LEARN? syllabus is already there… at our finger tips actually.

cc Attribution Some rights reserved by winnifredxoxo

So here is the balance challenge:

I suggested allowing teachers to experience inquiry-based learning by having them sign up for their own professional learning focus and then, based on a set agreed-upon schedule, they would meet with those colleagues interested in the same topic to design their own learning adventure. We could assemble a variety of applicable learning resources from which they could read, discuss, study…

However, members of my leadership team feel this is too open-ended and teachers need more direct instruction and facilitation.  Hmmmm??? At what point do we allow teachers to experience curiosity and inquiry on their own without direct-facilitation from others?

I want to read the recent Natural Curiosity publication from the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study (Natural Curiosity) OISE to find out more about instilling meaningful inquiry and curiosity in play-based early years programs.

Maybe everything we need to know, even about facilitating meaningful job-embedded teacher professional learning, does stem from Kindergarten?

Would love to hear what others have done or think…

The critical thinking media literate classroom

Imagine you are one of 6 administrators on tour of a neighbouring school to investigate a particular ‘problem of practice’? Now imagine that the school you are visiting has identified ‘critical thinking’ as the problem. Do you know what to look for on your ‘instructional round’ of K-8 teachers and students on their journey towards critical thinking?

Teachers of media literacy have been embracing the explicit teaching of bias, perspective, equity and inclusivity for years, however, critical thinking seems to be the bigger buzz word in education right now. Many districts across Ontario are deepening their collective understanding with the help of Dr. Garfield Gini-Newman from OISE/UT, and resources from The Critical Thinking Consortium TC2 in British Columbia are all the rage! In fact there is even a Twitter chat called #ctchat that was struck up Wednesday nights from 7-8pm EST to broaden awareness and share strategies for implementing critical thinking across the curriculum! Sorry, couldn’t help the shameless self-promotion for our #ctchat. Please join myself and @digitalnative if you are interested.

And so while critical thinking sounds new, I was inspired to remind educators from all over that Ontario is in a very fortunate spot because we have had media literacy added to our Language, 1-8 curriculum since 2006, and teachers need not look very far for amazing ideas on how to get their students on the road to critical thinking about things they absolute love to watch, listen to, play, and read: MEDIA! That’s right, the media literacy curriculum found in our provincial curriculum document is chock full of ways to help students become critical analyzers and responsible creators of media texts of all types. And teachers need not stop there either. In 2007, the was also released. The best part about it is that it contains field tested media deconstruction and production lesson plans, helpful tips, and background information to equip teachers with the media frameworks to make this all happen in the classroom. AND, if interactive learning and video viewing at your own pace is your preferred learning style, check out the Media Literacy, 4-6 eWorkshop module co-produced by the Ontario Ministry of Education and TVOntario.

Thanks to Fullan, Hill, and @Crevola ‘s Teaching and Learning Critical Pathway [TLCP] model, most Ontario schools have the opportunity to access additional professional development funding to release teachers to plan out 6 week long planning, assessing, and instructing sessions to address areas of need in their schools. In the case of critical thinking, why not use some of the TLCP time to peruse these helpful resources with colleagues and focus in on how thoughtfully planned cross-curricular media literacy lessons might help address student improvement needs and school data.
The revised Language, 1-8 document has been around for more than 5 years, and yet we could still afford time to think deeply about how media literacy fits into balanced literacy to promote open-ended questioning and critical thinking. Similarly, I am sure there are a few administrators out there who could benefit from learning more about how media literacy and critical thinking complement one another so well! As my colleague wrote during one of our #ctchat, just like teachers, school VP’s and P’s require access to the tools and learning if they are to effectively support critical thinking and inquiry at their sites. The @etfoaq Media AQ candidates I am learning and leading with also have lots to say about this right now! The answers may very well lie within the document, but as is often the case in education, we are too quick to abandon the implementation of quality innovations when we hear of newly published research and/or approaches. If we stay the course and work our way through the implementation dip (Fullan, 2001), we may very well find that proficient media literacy teaching and learning is a key to critical thinking and student success.


Coffee that binds…

It isn’t every day that you come across a group of colleagues with whom you gel 24/7, but this year, I have had some defining moments of professional insight that have been spurred on by remarkably passionate and smart people inside AND outside my building. And when this happens, the potential for magic in teaching and thinking exists!

As I am sure was the case for many an Ontario educator, this week felt like one of the l-o-n-g-e-s-t so far this year for a wide variety of reasons. In my particular case, our progress reports went home this week on the same day that we hosted a dozen visiting P’s, VP’s, and SO’s as part of the province’s School Effective Framework (aka SEF) process. While we were ensured from the get-go that there was nothing extra to prepare or do, teachers being teachers, we all wanted to show our best work for our guests and have our students shine. Translation? Major extra stress during an already jam packed week which concluded with student-led conferences Thursday evening till 8 pm and Friday morning.

As the week went on, more and more teachers seemed to be getting sick too: raw throats, running noses, sleepless nights, and overall fatigue. Student behaviour referrals peaked in the office as well because we all know, just like with parenting, when teachers are stressed, kids sense it and act up! Staff morale seemed at an all time low Thursday to the point where I had to get a breath of fresh and I decided to go out for lunch. For that extra push to get through what would turn out to be a very long night (finally left at 8:30 pm), I picked up my signature grande latte, and treated two of my fellow coffee loving colleague to a Dopio Espresso and an Americano. Upon my return, I discovered they had skipped out for lunch themselves. A quick text message confirmed they were on their way back and would join me for coffee talk in the library (one of my favourite job-embedded professional development models) while they’d scarf back their impromptu sushi.

And as usual, this Thursday’s talk did not disappoint! When the three of us talk about the awesome lesson we had that day; how a particular student rocked our world with a piece of art they created; what’s broken in education; or an idea on how we can change the world, I swear I am teleported to another learning galaxy. This week I termed it as a “MOMENT” unlike any other. A moment when, spurred on by our overpriced hot Starbucks beverages, our passion for learning and our shared philosophy reached new heights and clarity all at the same time. I find myself so much more grateful than usual for the collegiality, professionalism, trust, and respect I have with these 2 fine educators, and I encourage you to read Kevin Sebastian’s and Jonathan Lewis’ (@j_lewie) excerpts in David Booth’s new book, Caught in the Middle, to know what I really mean.

Even though I am spent energy-wise this Friday night, I realize how much I treasure the moments when we really get to know the real person behind the grade level or subject; when I develop an appreciate of the full narrative that they each bring to my experience at school everyday. Deeper insight into the people I work and lead with provides me with clarity of the individual strengths, talents, and passions that can be leveraged/harnessed to mobilize positive social change in our school community and beyond…

We take long strides to get to know our learners, but how well do we really know those with whom we spend our working hours each day of the week? How many teachers’ passions and talents go untapped because no one ever asked or shared?

Hugs to fellow Ontario educators-we made it!


Grieving 2.0

Please don’t let the title scare you off… If “I am what I share” is true, then I simply must write about the emotionally charged week I just had in the hopes someone may gleam some strength and inspiration from my post.

Having lost my 86 year old amazing Babcia (Polish for Grandmother) to a sudden stroke on Hallowe’en evening this past Monday, as the eldest grandchild, I had the honour of preparing and delivering her eulogy at the funeral on Thursday. If you knew my Babcia, Kazimiera Mizaek, cramming all of her life’s experiences and character traits into a 15 minute address was no small task. I have never written a eulogy before, so I did what most would do to get started and conducted an online search for ‘writing a eulogy for grandmothers’. The results were very helpful in that they gave me a great start point. But then I got to thinking: I am not the only one who was inspired by my Babcia’s life; surely there were others.

So, as a connected educator and citizen, I tapped into my social network via Facebook by posting this on my wall: “I have the honour of preparing and delivering my Babcia’s eulogy at her funeral tomorrow and could use some help from family and friends. If you had the pleasure of meeting my Babcia, pls post memorable Babcia moments, sayings, etc… here. Thank you/Dziękuję :)”

Literally within minutes, family and friends were sending me anecdotes, stories, memorable Babcia moments and thoughts of how my Grandmother left lasting impressions on their lives! I had all the content one could ever dream of…

Stitching everyone’s ideas together was the only thing left. For some reason, once I read over what others had to say, the BIG IDEAS of her life rose to the surface immediately, and the eulogy flowed from my tears through my fingers. I even included a few lines in Polish thanks to my aunts (aka Ciocias) at the visitation. I wanted to make Babcia proud, and convey to everyone just how much she meant to all of us!

As the priest delivered the funeral mass, I was anxious to have my turn to tell Babcia’s true story. Finally, my turn had come, and with Babcia at my side (literally and spiritually), I read through all 1600+ words without crying except for the final paragraph!

Until now, I had only leveraged web 2.0 tools for professional purposes, but here was an example of tapping into my social network for something that was so much more meaningful and precious to me. I thank others for ‘being what they share’ with me! Their contributions helped me tell a much more complete story of the life and influence of a remarkable woman named Kazimiera Miazek, born July 25, 1925, who sadly departed from this Earth on Monday October 31, 2011.