Saturday, January 31, 2009

Connecting Teachers with Online Resources

To add to recent posts about resources, here are some links to connect teachers to online resources that will help them in their quest to integrate technology into the classroom.

Paper Blog – this lesson has students blog using sticky notes. It helps to scaffold student understanding of the difference between academic and social blogging and about online safety, netiquette, and commenting guidelines before students move to the online version. I love this idea.

In Plain English - On our last PA Day, the system principal of information services shared the In Plain English videos on blogs, wikis and googledocs with English and Canadian World Studies teachers. If you have wondered about blogs, wikis and googledocs or struggle to explain them to your students, these short, entertaining videos created by Common Craft and posted on YouTube will help.

Twitter - In The Open Classroom, Jo McLeay from Melbourne Australia, lists a variety of links about using Twitter in the classroom.

Appropriate Online Presence - Do your students use Facebook? This article, entitled Three Rules for Stalking Potential Employees on Facebook, might be a revelation for students who don’t think about how they present themselves online. Will Richardson would argue that it is our responsibility as educators to teach students how to maintain an appropriate online 'presence'.

In my November 30th blog I wrote about teachers wanting hands-on time to learn how to use technology in the classroom and on the December 5th PA day, many teachers received valuable PD about Web 2.0 tools, software and SMARTboards. More importantly, they had time to do what their students do with technology – experiment. The conversation shouldn’t end here, however. If you want some hands-on time to work with an IT trainer, Avon Maitland teachers can arrange a visit from a trainer who specializes in Web 2.0 applications. She will spend some time with a small group of teachers, or even one-on-one. You can use the system tech help on FirstClass to make this request or, if you would like more information, contact me at

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Curriculum Connects the Pieces of the AMDSB Professional Learning Plan

Over the past two weeks, the curriculum team has focused on explaining the alignment of our professional learning plan to principals and vice-principals. School administrators get pieces of information at meetings and school visits and the curriculum team recognized the need to illustrate how all of the pieces fit together. We also wanted to have a bit of fun with the way we share our work.

Please view our first curriculum production, All the Pieces, created with the help of the Avon Maitland communications department. This video will explain the system’s professional learning plan for secondary schools.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Amazing Teenage Brain

When my daughter was less than one day old, she suffered a stroke that destroyed one sixth of her brain. If you met her today, nearly 16 years later, you would not observe any traces of the stroke, because as our daughter grew, her brain ‘rewired’ itself. While we were struggling to understand our daughter’s situation, doctors and scientists were conducting unprecedented research on the brain with the help of MRI technology. This brain research has influenced studies and practice in medicine, psychiatry, sociology, nutrition, and, of course, education.

Interestingly, the brain has two significant growth spurts: one takes place before the age of 18 months and another takes place during the teenage years. According to Eric Jensen, author of Teaching with the Brain in Mind,

teenage behaviour may result from a complex array of fast-changing factors – not just hormones.

When dealing with teens, Jensen’s book suggests the following:

Be Succinct
Teens’ frontal lobes may not be good at dealing with multiple ideas at a time. When giving instructions, give just one step at a time.

Use Modelling
Early teens need concrete and realistic models in the classroom.

Be a Coach
Many unpruned connections in the teenage brain may impair their ability to make decisions. Many teens aren’t able to recognize the universe of options available.

Be Understanding
Jensen says that teens’ ability to recognize emotions in others is weaker by 20 percent up until age 18. In fact, it’s weaker at ages 11 and 12 than at age 10!

The most significant improvements in my daughter’s abilities occurred when her brain was in a growth spurt. I have witnessed, first hand, the ability of the brain to change and learn and this has fueled my belief that all students can learn if they are given the right supports and strategies. As teachers, we need to become familiar with the brain research that will help us teach with the brain in mind.

Read Teaching With the Brain in Mind, available in your school libraries.
Watch the PBS program Inside the Teenage Brain.

Take a 3DTour of the Brain
Read, This is Your Brain Online

Order The Teenage Brain: A World of Their Own or Inside the Teenage Brain from the Avon Maitland media centre.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Educational Resources: Who's Reading What and Where Can I Find It?

I’m convinced that publishing educational resources is a lucrative business. Each year we turn to catalogues, conference displays, and word of mouth to select professional readings that relate to our board and school improvement goals. In the 2008-2009 school year, secondary teachers, schools or professional learning communities across Avon Maitland are reading the following books:

Creating Literacy-Rich Schools for Adolescents by Gay Ivey and Douglas Fisher, contains suggestions for literacy leadership, support, and interventions. If you read only one chapter, read chapter two on Transportable and Transparent Strategies for Content Literacy Instruction. This book is available in your school library.

Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy by Judith L. Ivrin, Julie Meltzer and Melinda Dukes, outlines action steps for schools that want to help students improve their academic achievement through a focus on literacy. Given our board goal, chapter two, Integrating Literacy and Learning Across the Content Areas, is a must read. Each secondary school principal received a copy and department heads at LDSS read this book for heads’ meetings. An online study guide is available by clicking here.

Teaching Adolescent Writers by Kelly Gallagher integrates humour, anecdotes and many practical strategies. It makes an excellent text for English Department PLCs. If I had to recommend one chapter, it would be Beyond the Grecian Urn: The Teacher as a Writing Model. Teaching Adolescent Writers is a PLC reading for Literacy Chairs and will be added to school libraries at the end of the year.

Teaching Writing in the Content Areas by Vicki Urquhart and Monette McIver, dedicates half of its pages to strategies for teaching writing in any subject. I’m a fan of Strategy 31 which outlines the benefits of using examples to show student writers what their final product should or should not look like. This book is available in school libraries.

Adolescent Literacy: Turning Promise into Practice edited by Kylene Beers, Robert E. Probst and Linda Rief contains chapters that can be read as stand alone readings. Topics vary from vocabulary instruction to the power of inquiry. English heads and Literacy Chairs received a copy of this book. Chairs should have turned their copy over to school libraries at the end of last year.

More Books
Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Educators by Will Richardson (SCSS English Department PLC. Available in school libraries)
Ahead of the Curve: The Power of Assessment to Transform Teaching And Learning. Edited by Douglas Reeves (Vice Principal PLC)
Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen (Available in school libraries)
Better Learning Through Structured Teaching: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey (Available in school libraries).
Educational Leadership (Available in school libraries in February ’09)

Are you reading something that you would like to share? Please improve upon our list by adding a comment or emailing me at

See an error in my writing? Let me know and I’ll correct it.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Help Students Organize Their Writing. Revisit 'Think Literacy'.

If you need a quick idea to help students with their writing, revisit the Think Literacy writing strategies. Think Literacy offers templates for writing a procedure, writing an information report, writing a business report, and writing an explanation. Subject specific writing templates can be found in the Subject-Specific Think Literacy documents or you can link to the documents from the Ministry of Education Website.

As we approach the end of first semester, students are working on their culminating activities and, while most students will benefit from using a template to organize their ideas, some students need to use templates to guide their thinking and planning. After all, writing is thinking through the end of a pen and very few adults can settle into writing without some planning or ‘front end thinking’. It is important to recognize that when providing students with templates for writing you are offering a transferrable strategy to help students organize thoughts and create patterns in their thinking. Organized thought leads to organized writing.

Did You Know?

  • Most universities and colleges have websites, handbooks and services dedicated to helping students plan and organize their writing. See examples for the University of Western Ontario and Fanshawe College.

  • All subjects (Ontario Curriculum) have a statement in the Communication area of the Achievement Chart that refers to the expression and organization of ideas.

  • One of the three writing expectations assessed on the OSSLT is ‘organizing information and ideas in a coherent manner’.

  • To improve student writing, EQAO recommends helping students organize their writing around well-developed and well-supported, clear and specific ideas.