I’m sure I’m doing it wrong

According to many definitions of good teaching, I don’t qualify:

  • I don’t clearly state objectives
  • If I do state them, they are as fuzzy as all get out
  • I have a hard time measuring student progress
  • My course syllabus changes almost daily
  • I never use tests
  • I constantly stray off topic

There are likely a multitude of sins I have not listed.

Here’s what best summarizes my teaching approach:

Me can be swapped for students. Thanks D’arcy for the graphic.

This is what I want for my students.  While I have many shortcomings, I’m good at finding smart people who are willing to spend time with my students and share what they know.  I’m also blessed to have a number of people in my network that willingly comment on my student’s blogs and encourage them to reflect and learn.

As I work with teachers in K-12, I’m bound to work within a structure that values grades, systematic growth, accountability, and to certain degree uniformity.  Without going into all the details of the implications of these values, I don’t discount them all and work to extract the aspects of these ideals that are most beneficial to students. Some days that’s hard.  Many of them are designed to insure that students are getting a quality education.  All well meaning but at times become so convoluted that teachers sense frustration and stress in trying to work in this system:

How is it that we have so many passionate dedicated educators and so many really failing schools?  The problem is, that you put a good person in a bad system, the system wins every time..  We need to change the system.
Chris LehmannIgnite Philly

I don’t feel accountability as much as I feel responsibility. I’ve been blessed to experience the power of networked learning. I want that for my students.

In 6 weeks, they’ve already talked to Jeff, Kristin, Rushton, Wes, Kenneth, Melanie, Sophie, Sandi, Kyle, Nicole, Darin, Mavis, Anne, Maria, and Chris.  This group represents a vast variety of expertise and experiences that I alone could never offer. I’ve got plenty where that came from.

At times my job feels too easy. Sophie, a fantastic 9th grade teacher in our division once told me after implementing some social media in her classroom:

You should see the stuff the kids are doing on the wiki. I get the webcam set up today so we can start using Flixn too. This is so great. I can’t believe everyone isn’t doing it. Even the Alt ed kids in period two have it going on. Talk about engaged learning. I could be sitting at the back quilting!! They are helping each other, going above and beyond any expectations I have.

Okay, I’m not likely to start quilting  I will enjoy room service.  The reason it’s easy is because not only do I outsource like crazy but also I am totally passionate about the work I do with these students and want to provide them with the best possible experience and often that means finding others who know more than I do. That’s not very hard. 😉

I do constantly question whether or not I need to be more structured.  Do I need to be able to define my outcomes more succinctly than this?

Students will learn that:

  • Learning is social and connected
  • Learning is personal and self-directed
  • Learning is shared and transparent
  • Learning is rich in content and diversity

I do provide rubrics, build criteria together, emphasis and utilize descriptive feedback.  Providing supports and the odd insight best describes my role.  I’m of total confidence they are learning. Just read their blogs.  I’ve read, listen and thought  more about assessment than most and yet it still baffles me. Mostly because the kind of assessment that makes most sense (immediate and descriptive feedback) isn’t really valued in schools. Then we want to deconstruct outcomes into minuscule bytes that only cloud the real learning that matters. I love Chris’ goals for his school:  Thoughtful, Wise, Passionate and Kind

Simple.  Meaningful.  Necessary.  Education has become very good at making the simple very complex.  That just seems wrong to me.

My ECMP 355 Comprehensive Assessment

I had the great privilege this winter to teach a group of pre-service teachers at the University of Regina an introductory technology course. I was also blessed with the flexibility to design much of the course. Having done it once before, I was able to tweak a few things and try some new stuff as well. With the university semester wrapping up I thought it best to take time and reflect on my class and my role in supporter my students.

We met 12 times, 8 online and 4 in person. You can see the course outline here if you login as guest you’ll have full access.

Students were evaluated in five areas:

  • 25% on weekly Tech Tasks
  • 25% on their blog
  • 25% on a final project
  • 10% on Blogging Mentorship
  • 15% on Social Learning

Tech Tasks

These were simply assignments in using the various tools we explored in class. Podcasting, setting up various accounts, watching and responding to K12 online sessions and digital storytelling were a few of the task. There were 13 in total. We spent our synchronous time considering pedagogy and for many of them the struggle was in the technology. The challenge of distance learning means you have less control over things like what software students have and their ability to download plugins and troubleshoot. One student struggled for quite sometime until a friend of hers realized she didn’t have Service Pack 2 installed. Students were basically given 20/25 for completion of the tasks and the other marks were subjective to the quality of the work.

Many students commented on the challenge of this but it also provided something very specific for them to work on. The balance between desktop and online applications is important. I may change some of the tasks but the concept works well.


As many remarked during their self evaluations, this was a big stretch. Forced blogging is never the best way, however in a distance setting, this becomes my window into their learning. I encouraged them not only to reflect on class discussions but to chronicle their learning in other areas. It was powerful to watch the growth of my students in this. I realize most will drop their blogs the minute the course ends but others have said they’ll likely continue. Obviously a big hook for them was the comments for others within the class but in particular from those outside. The really saw the power of linking as they reviewed the k12 sessions and a number of the presenters were led to their reviews and left comments. I’m also coming to accept the fact that blogging isn’t for everyone but sharing is.

I’ll likely not change much in this area. Perhaps some more deliberate mentorships outside the class as well as focusing more deeply on exemplary blogs.

Final Projects

While most are still out there, the struggle here was the open-ended nature of the assignment. I strongly encouraged students to combine this with the work in another class. This seemed to make the most sense. About half the students have choose this route.

Grading will be tough as it’s difficult to rubricize the varying projects. Everything from live presentations, videos, wikis, podcasts is challenging to assess. I need to do a better job developing the assessment up front. Perhaps I’ll steal a page out of Chris Lehmann’s approach to projects.

Blogging Mentorship

I wanted my students to gain some experience inside a classroom in a virtual way. I invited these teachers to open up their classrooms to my students:

These teachers graciously introduced themselves briefly to my students after Vicki Davis provided a context for what a globally connected classroom might look like. The success rate of this aspect of my course had the most variance. Partly due to the students efforts but more due to the set up. Many students were disappointed that these students never responded to them. My continual nattering about blogs as conversations, led them to believe everyone, including 6 year olds, think the same way. In fairness, both Kathy and Lisa have a large number of mentors and it becomes difficult for their students to respond. However, there were some outstanding successes. One of my students had a skype conference with Maria’s class. The impact for her, will be long lasting. I had two other students who stepped out of their comfort zone and had some very positive results. Although none of my students had any experience in calculus, one of my students emailed Erin and ventured into her class and provided some very insightful comments. Clay was very clear he was not interested in any type of forced mentorship. Because of the nature of his student’s work I had a difficult time helping my students understand his intentions. Yet one of my students did venture out and again, had a very powerful experience with one of his. I also know that Clay emailed her to encourage her. I want to thank all these great teachers for participating. Your willingness to share will have long term impact on these young people.

I have lots to think through on this assignment. Certainly the concept is good but the execution might require a bit more planning. I really didn’t line up these teachers until shortly before we began. I also wonder about the more focus on tutoring/mentoring one or two students rather than trying to spatter comments throughout the class.

Social Learning

If there was one area I emphasized throughout this course it was the importance of social learning. More so than any course they’d likely take, the expectation was they would learn together. Whether they were asking questions, answering them, commenting on each other’s blogs, texting each other or visiting each other in person, I asked them to document the way in which they contributed and received help from each other.

Other than the format and details of how they assessed this, this was truly a critical component of the class. Even their commenting progressed from “nice post” to challenging each other’s ideas. Certainly most classes don’t require much in this way. Perhaps the odd group work project but not as running thread.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy working with these young people. Most of them will make outstanding teachers because they already recognize they are learners first. My main themes continue to drive my class and I hope many of theirs as well.

  • Learning is social and connected
  • Learning is personal and self-directed
  • Learning is shared and transparent
  • Learning is rich in content and diversity