Sunday, November 30, 2008

Teachers Want Hands-On Time to Experiment with Technology

Secondary teachers want to learn about using technology in the classroom. As department heads embarked on planning Avon Maitland's December 5th PA Day, this common message emerged: give us hands-on time working with the tools. Subject Councils advocated that teachers don't want ‘sit and git’ style presentations about the benefits of technology. They already recognize the important role technology plays in engaging today’s learners and in differentiating instruction. What teachers need is time to do what their students do with technology – experiment. And, since many teachers are digital immigrants, they want a lifeline nearby should their experiment go terribly wrong.

The result? Many of our December 5th PA Day events include guided experimentation (an expert, or teacher experienced with the technology, will be available to help participants) with SMARTboards, Web 2.0 tools, or software. Some subject sessions have built in opportunities for teachers to create lessons or assignments that incorporate technology.

The following subject sessions will include a technology in the classroom component.

- Science (SMARTboards)
- English (Web 2.0)
- Canadian World Studies (SMARTboards, Web 2.0 and Arcview)
- Visual Arts (Blogs)
- Co-op (Gmail)
- French (SMARTboards)
- Math (SMARTboards)
- Student Services (My Blueprint)
- Library (Blogs)

Since this is a hot topic, please share suggested readings by posting a comment. I recommend Footprints in the Digital Age, an article by Will Richardson that appeared in the November Issue of Educational Leadership.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Six Goals: Antiracist Teaching and Aboriginal Education

Antiracist teaching is a core consideration as we develop Native Studies courses and look at the integration of Aboriginal education into other subjects in Avon Maitland secondary schools. Across the DSB we are offering 11 senior level courses in Native Studies, with the hope of improving awareness of Aboriginal issues, history and culture for all students. Although there is a focus on Aboriginal Education, the responsibility of antiracist teaching does not fall to Native Studies teachers alone. Students will benefit when all teachers incorporate antiracist teaching into their classes.

The key points that emerge from a review of research on antiracist education follow:

1. Move beyond multicultural teaching that teaches kids about diversity, and help students understand social issues through antiracist and anti bias teaching. A favourite exercise for several Avon Maitland Native Studies teachers involves viewing and discussing Jane Elliott’s blueyes/browneyes documentary, available on video from the AMDSB media centre. One brave teacher actually reenacts this exercise with her students. The activity addresses ethnocentric perspectives and internalized oppression. Elliott’s website explains that

Jane Elliott, internationally known teacher [and] diversity trainer . . .
exposes prejudice and bigotry for what it is, an irrational class system based
upon purely arbitrary factors. And if you think this does not apply to you . . .
you are in for a rude awakening.

2. Use examples that incorporate different lenses. Introduce real life current issues into all subject areas, but be careful not to focus on negative news all the time. Kids need to hear about the positive things going on in the world too; otherwise, they will learn to be indifferent in self-defense. Good things are happening somewhere every day and could enlighten kids in a much more powerful way than a steady diet of tragedy and human failure.

3. Deepen Character Education by fostering inquiry and analysis of one’s own values. Move beyond merely telling students about values, but get students to delve into the nuances of the values. Eg. Does fairness mean sameness? Studies show that people with higher moral development have lower levels of racial prejudice.

4. Promote cross cultural group contact. In diverse student populations, this can happen within schools. Teachers in less diverse schools and rural areas may have to explore alternative ways to bring different cultural groups together to learn and share. This is one reason why every Native Studies teacher is trying to incorporate an experience into their course in which the students get to interact with First Nation, Metis, or Inuit kids/adults.

5. Acknowledge that racism exists. Examine issues and offer counter examples of stereotypes. ETFO has plans to publish a new antiracism kit this year; the Human Rights commission also has great resources that are free and very useful.

6. Present knowledge about cultures, racism and power in ways that concern students, in ways that have personal meaning and importance. Native Studies offers plenty of opportunities to address this in a very powerful way. Meeting and sharing with Aboriginal people can help to get past the victim/victor images and help kids to understand the human side of issues.

Take Jane Elliott’s take action survey.

Watch Jane Elliott’s original documentary from 1968.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Helping Teens Talk About Racially Charged Issues

In the weeks following the American election, mainstream media described President Elect, Barack Obama, as African-American, black, biracial and, thanks to Lindsay Lohan, coloured. In classrooms and staffrooms, the election inspired dialogue about these words and about appropriate language. But, in spite of our efforts to provide students with tools for discussing racially charged issues, they aren’t always comfortable having conversations about race.

Real Life Example
Last week my daughter, 15, used the word ‘coloured’ to describe a person she saw in a YouTube video. I was surprised because we don't use that term, and it isn’t something that I expect to hear from my daughter. When I began to question her about her choice of words, she started to cry (which added to the surprise). “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say,” she explained through her tears. “Everyone is talking about it at school. It’s so important.”

It = Barack Obama elected President of the United States

In the period of a few seconds, she had exposed her good intentions, her ability to quickly switch focus (YouTube to Barack) and her uncertainty around language. I decided to talk, not just with my daughter, but also with a group of her grade ten friends (how embarrassing).

The Grade Ten Perspective
  • They admit that they aren’t confident when speaking about race and racial issues.

  • They worry that they may use the wrong words or express ‘the wrong’ opinion.

  • They believe (and so do I) that they have positive intentions.

I had to confess to this group of grade tens that many adults feel the same way.

What Do We Do About It?

Long before the pedagogic encounter, the teacher should have set the atmosphere by explaining the rules of engagement and explaining the rules of dialogue.

- Jonathan D. Jansen

According to Jonathan Jansen, who writes about antiracist education in post apartheid South Africa, we need to set parameters for students around the language that they will use during discussions about race and this should happen well in advance of the discussion. Everyone should be clear on the expectations and feel safe to express their thoughts without worrying about judgement. Learning needs to occur through conversation and students won't talk if they don't feel safe or if they feel they are being judged.

In Context

After Lindsay Lohan made her faux pas by referring to Barack Obama as the first coloured president, the NAACP commented that it was no big deal. After all, the NAACP hasn’t changed its name. They remain the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. They argue that the word coloured is antiquated, but it isn’t evil.

It isn't about the words. It’s the intent behind the language that we need to be worried about.

Next: Tips from a Survey of Research on Antiracist Teaching

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Scaffolding Learning: How Does This Apply to Unwritten Curriculum?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how to help kids improve their learning skills and build character. There is no written curriculum that provides expectations in this area, although I realize it is embedded in many subjects’ curriculum. This question was on my mind all week, while I attended two seemingly unrelated sessions in the Hamilton area – a Ministry symposium on the expansion of co-op and a workshop on questioning structure. When a common message began to emerge from these sessions, my soupy thoughts became clearer. Scaffold student learning.

Scaffolding is the process by which we layer student learning. The goal is to
build upon what students already know in order to help them learn something they do not know.

At the Ministry symposium on co-op, I discovered that, in an effort to prepare learners for a full co-op placement in grade 11, some schools have developed
experiential learning programs for grade nine and ten students. These are attached to guidance courses (GLE, GLS, GLN and GLD) which couple the explicit and repeated teaching of transferable workplace skills with short workplace experiences. They scaffold co-op.

At the workshop on questioning structure, I learned that in order to build higher order thinking, we need to take students on a cognitive journey through levels of questions. In other words, we need to scaffold our teaching and our questions carefully if we hope to help kids become critical thinkers.

So, it comes down to scaffolding.

The Ontario curriculum builds learning expectations from one course to the next. It also differentiates learning expectations according to students’ pathways.

But what about the unwritten curriculum? What about learning skills and character building? We cannot possibly expect the same things of students' learning skills in each grade and pathway. What does organization look like in grade nine applied, grade nine academic and grade ten applied? And how does this learning build?

When working with leaders’ councils and
inquiry teams, teachers question how to explicitly teach organization, initiative and character traits such as empathy. So how do we build this understanding? How do we build this type of student learning, a type learning that transcends our subjects' boundaries? In my opinion, this is the work of a collective. It requires planned, school-based dialogue and consensus building across the curriculum.

Perhaps you've already begun this process. I don’t think we have one simple answer, so please, share your ideas by commenting on this post.

You can also send me an email at

photo by appratt

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Performance Walls Help Students Improve

I’ve facilitated 21 Inquiry Team meetings over the last month and a half, and during those meetings two instructional strategies are frequently discussed: anchor charts and performance walls. I've explained anchor charts in an earlier post and now, after meeting with the SHDHS Transition Inquiry Group, I have some great examples of performance walls. The group tried this assessment for learning strategy as part of their plan for improving achievement in their applied grade nine classes.

What Are Performance Walls?
A performance wall provides a student with explicit directions for moving any level of performance to the next level and models the standard that we expect students to reach. To develop a performance wall, teachers need to have exemplars for at least two different levels of work. Next, explicit 'how to' steps explaining how to reach the next level should be recorded on strips or arrows. Developing these steps and phrasing them in explicit, student-friendly language is often the most challenging part of creating a performance wall. An example of a next step might be, include an example from the text.

How Do Teachers Use Them?
When the performance wall is introduced to the class, teachers should review with students the steps required to reach the next level. When work is returned to students, the feedback should consist of the same instructions or language used on the performance wall. Then, the students get an opportunity to revise their work. This revision process is explained and modelled by the teacher when the performance wall is introduced.

Improving Metacognition
Essentially, performance walls are an assessment for learning practice that allow students to improve their work by comparing it to exemplars and by following explicit next steps. They help the teacher communicate clear expectations and help students develop the thinking skills required to become evaluators of their own work.

Watch this clip to see a geography teacher explain her performance wall for mapping.