EC&I 833

Breaking Open the Box of Teaching


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Online learning – Until last night I considered EC&I 833 my first experience with online learning, meaning that this is the first academic class I’ve taken where I didn’t physically sit in a classroom.  That part is still true. However, after I watched Tyson’s vlog (which you should watch!), I realized my view of “distance learning” was very narrow as I’ve been learning via the internet for many years – how to build a fence, recipes, painting tips, medical tips and tricks, etc.  This learning – while not prescribed by a syllabus (or paid for!) is valid, so apparently I’m an old pro at distance education!!

Ironically this past week I had a student go in for double knee surgery.  We were beginning a new math unit and math is not this student’s greatest love.  In the past I would try to prepare materials ahead or inevitably try to pack a week’s worth of learning into a brief conversation which lacked instruction and would overwhelm my students upon returning to class.  So – I decided to create a screencast of my initial unit lesson on using models to multiply integers to try and teach the concept to the student as he recovered at home.  I uploaded the video to YouTube and gave him a few instructions.

Shockingly, it worked!  He understood the lesson, completed his work, scanned it and sent it back to me. He even left a comment indicating how helpful the video was for him.   I was so proud of him, but pretty proud of myself (blush).

Thanks to this class, I’m learning about tools that extend my thinking and ability to teach beyond the confines of the classroom.  We are about to venture into Mystery Skyping with classes around the world and I feel as though the use of the tools I’ve encountered this term (Zoom, Google Hangouts, wordpress, screencast-o-matic – to name a few) are not only giving me confidence but helping me to widen the scope of my ideologies and perceptions about teaching.  While I don’t teach an online course, there are aspects that can/should filter into my classroom as I try to best meet the needs of my individual students.

As far as teaching my students regularly via distance education, I think I would really struggle with that.  The reason I love my job is the relationships that I develop with my students.  I love the unplanned banter and humour that happens amidst the ongoings in the classroom.  I think it would be much more difficult for me to establish authentic relationships – or at least require a different perspective.

In the article The work of education in the age of the digital classroom: Resurrecting Frankfurt school philosophies to examine online education  Dayley and Hoffmann (2015) indicate that students don’t receive the individualized attention that they would get in a classroom and that often social isolation is one of the most obvious differences between traditional and distance education.  I would struggle with this piece of the distance learning puzzle.

In addition, I think I would need to have highly engaging lessons (even more song and dance from me!) and have very organized lessons with a lot of broken up, planned components to keep the attention of middle years students.  The online tools that are available would definitely provide opportunity for engagement.  I would just need to rethink my focus in delivery of lessons.  However, as I’ve learned with my student this week, sometimes rethinking my focus is necessary.  I need to push myself outside of this box called teaching to see the possibilities available and refocus my thinking about ways to meet the needs of my students. All too often, I think I do what I do because it seems to be working.  There is some validity to that, but it can also perpetuate stagnancy.

So … thank you to all of you for providing innovative tools, ideas, and support in order to make me a better teacher and to see beyond myself.  Here’s to breaking apart this box called teaching!

Have any of you had any changes in thinking or in your perceptions of teaching since starting this class?


EC&I 833 · Uncategorized

Distractions … An Obstacle to Real Learning

Is the Internet really a productivity tool or merely an endless series of distractions?  Has the Internet created a world of ‘multitaskers’ who don’t accomplish as much as they could have without it? – an insightful prompt this week … 

As I watched Single-tasking is the New Multi-tasking, I felt as though James Hamblin was speaking for me.  I hadn’t seen this video before so in anticipation of blogging about it, I thought I would watch it, complete a few tasks and blog later so that I could form some thoughts.  When I started viewing, I was eating my breakfast, having a coffee, getting reading to pay some bills and sending an email.  My daughter called me so I went to help her in the washroom, but I didn’t want to stop the video so I took my computer.  Just as I got to the washroom, I realized I was reacting to some ideas in the video and opened a google doc to track my thinking (just as James Hamblin suggested that I was probably doing something else while I was listening – insert rolled eyes).  At that moment,  my son walked by and asked, “Mom – are you seriously watching a video in the bathroom?” Caught.  Point-blank. Multi-tasking with the internet and in real life …

I have two reactions to this week’s prompt.  First of all, I do believe the internet is a productivity tool.  In many aspects, it increases my productivity – ability to order online, pay bills, do group work, participate in EC&I 833 in my pyjamas (and perhaps a glass of wine!) without having to get a babysitter as well as communicate with others far away in a time frame that works for me.  As well, I find email allows me to be more productive despite some of the drawbacks in this week’s article about the impact of email.  I can quickly update families about class information as well as communicate with other professionals without having to play phone tag.  The internet has opened up many aspects of productivity for me.

Secondly, while I believe there are many benefits to the internet, I do believe that the internet’s ability to silently promote multi-tasking is problematic.  I think it’s affecting our ability to be present in a moment.  Sometimes I tell myself that today’s students are natural multi-taskers because that’s how they’ve grown up, but perhaps that may be multi-taskers because they’ve rarely been shown how to live in one moment and choose to be present.  As well, I find myself increasingly distracted while completing one task.  When I’m finally taking time to sit and watch a TV show, if I’m even minutely bored, I will pick up my phone and search through any number of social media apps or read news articles until my attention is drawn back to the TV.  I was not raised with the internet so these are habits I’ve learned.

The following short video, What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, discusses how our thinking and memory is manipulated by distractions with relationship to the internet:

We are living in this perpetual state of distraction. That mode of thinking crowds out the contemplative, calmer modes of thinking and that focused, calm thinking is actually how we learn … memory consolidation  … Nicholas Carr   author,  The Shallows

This week’s video, prompt and the video above caused me to be more reflective on my multi-tasking and distractions – specifically related to the internet and technology.   I can tell that when I try to store too much information or try to do too many things at once that I am less effective and productive.   It makes sense as an educator that creating long term memory requires focused work with few distractions.  As I age, I can’t afford for my memory not to store information, so I need to be mindful about the distractions that I create and allow – for myself, my own children and my students.

Do you notice a link to your distractions and your ability to retain information?

EC&I 833

Read & Write for Google Chrome

Photo Credit: Flickr via Compfight cc

Google Read & Write for Google Chrome is one of the education apps within Google’s suite of apps.  This is an app I use quite often in my classroom.  When I thought about the challenge to tackle screencast-o-matic, I thought that  read & write for google chrome  would be an appropriate topic for the task.  So … here is a little bit about how I use read & write in my classroom in my first ever screencast!

**I realized post video that there are lulls with what is happening on the screen and it’s just me talking while you stare at a screen – amateur!

I believe Read & Write for google is a very powerful tool for my struggling readers and writers as well as for my EAL learners.  It allows students who struggle with reading and/or writing to access tools that allow them to be more independent and successful. Independence and success are not always experienced by struggling readers/writers or new language learners.  This app gives them tools to help them grow in reading and writing without constant intervention or assistance from a teacher or peer.  In addition, when used within google docs, the teacher is able to interact with the student in real time or later on.

Read & Write provides many wonderful features that make text accessible for all levels of readers and writers.  At a quick glance, it provides:

• Hear written work read aloud
• Hear text translated into other languages
• Get suggestions for the current or next word as you type (word prediction)
• Turn words into text as you speak
• Highlight text in documents or the web and collect for use in other documents
• Create and listen to voice notes directly inside of Google Docs
• Simplify and summarize text on web pages
• Have text read aloud to you from any website
• Read aloud text for fluency and send a copy to a teacher

Angela Reid posted a blog about specific benefits to EAL learners and the many supports it provides for language learners.

Drawbacks –

  • It is just a tool.  While it reads to my students, it still requires them to be active and willing participants.  For example, students must be willing to listen for errors in their own work when proofreading. It won’t point them out for them.  Likewise, my EAL learners may not recognize tense errors or grammatical mistakes in their work as they are not advanced enough in their own understanding of English.  Teachers and students who use this app should be aware of its limitations.
  • The document that captures highlights cannot be added to.  Every time you capture the highlights, it takes you to a new document.  I find this a bit frustrating, but it’s not a big deal if you are aware ahead of time.
  • The Read & Write for Google site states: if you are trialing Read&Write for Google, you will have access to all features for 30 days. After your trial expires, you will still have access to text-to-speech and translator for Google Docs, Google Slides and the web, but the Read&Write for Google will only be available if you purchase a subscription. I know that all RPS employees have access to premium features with a yearly subscription however, on the website, it indicates that premium features are free for teachers.  So, I’m not sure what is paid for differently through a subscription.  Good news … If you’re a teacher, it should be free (guess that’s not a drawback!).

All things considered, I believe the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages with this app.

If you work in any capacity with students who are learning language or if you teach English Language Arts or even any of the content areas, I encourage you to look into Google Read & Write as a useful tool.  Aside from what I’ve posted here, there is a great deal of information online to help you along with Read & Write for Google Chrome.  Here is a short written document that gives a quick overview of how to set up the app as well as parts of the tool bar.  Hope it helps!

How many of you use this app?  Love it or hate it?  New ways to use it?  Let me know what you think.

EC&I 833 · Uncategorized

Doin’ the Pigeon

As several of my classmates have stated, I grew up watching Sesame Street.  I found Elmo’s high pitched voice and third person references quite irritating, but I loved Bert and Ernie.  I loved their familiarity and relational selves.  I loved their banter and individual passion for specific topics.  I giggled when I watched Ernie with his rubber duck, but I loved Bert’s pigeon dance…

Postman’s statements that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street” and  that “Sesame Street” undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents is based on several notions that he points out in his article, Learning in the Age of Television.  He indicates that Sesame Street is a series of short commercials meant to entertain that uses puppets, celebrities and catchy tunes.  This is true.  He also indicates that television in general refutes the nature of the classroom because it is entertainment for one (no social interaction), asks nothing of the child, allows the child to leave at any time, teaches no concepts of public decorum and whose only purpose is fun.  Even most of this may be true.

While I don’t dispute Postman’s statements of what television is meant to do or how it differs from the classroom, I question why we are comparing the two.  Are educational television and schooling supposed to be the same?  Isn’t it okay if children learn from different vehicles of information?  Does all learning need to look alike?

I think Sesame Street did a good job of understanding its demographic and what they needed to provide to educate, entertain and engage their viewers  – likewise, educators need to understand their demographic.  Who am I teaching?  What do I need to do to most effectively deliver curricula?  How will that look?  What do my students need – academically, emotionally, socially?  How will I engage them and make them feel like they belong?

The answer to these questions is always evolving because my students are always evolving. While my job would be much easier if it didn’t change, the core of my job is people and people are never static because the world is not static.  I must embrace change to stay relevant in my practice.

Photo Credit: Straycat207 Flickr via Compfight cc

A core component of education is engagement and I think we should be aware of how students are changing and how that engagement piece looks – for example the implementation of BYOD or smartphones in the classroom.  I’m sure Postman would shutter at the thought.  But as with all technology, balance and intention is so important. When I choose to use technology in the classroom whether it is educational TV (which I regularly use), iPads, smartphones, polls, chats, etc. my job is to use the technology intentionally – for a specific purpose, and to balance its use.  In addition, being aware of the negatives is part of being intentional and using the technology – not enough devices, misuse during class, inequality between students, etc.

I believe using technology which students are engaged with in their “outside-of-school” lives is useful in engaging them within school. I think it creates a “relatability” for students.   I believe I can use technology to engage students and help to teach them to be critical thinkers as they navigate their world through technology.  I also believe technology is not necessary for everything.  There are other means to engage and teach critical thinking.

As a teacher, my job is to choose and use tools that advance my students’ learning and thinking and engage them.  I don’t expect technology to replace my expertise just as I don’t (didn’t) expect Sesame Street to replace the fundamentals taught within the classroom.  As I mentioned previously, my experiences with Sesame Street bring warm memories.  I was entertained.  I did learn from Sesame Street, but I learned immeasurably more as a student in my classroom … and I loved school (insert gasp).  Was I an anomaly?  I don’t think so.



EC&I 833

The beautiful, intricate web of learning

As we began discussing learning theories in class last week, I felt as though I had time warped back into my undergrad days.  At that point in my learning, I was all about taking in whatever my professors taught me and spewing out the rainbow of knowledge given to me to earn the necessary grade.

rainbow-puke                                          Photo Credit: Tanya Dawn Flickr via Compfight cc

I didn’t really contemplate my own thoughts or views on learning theories or how that would impact my future teaching/students in the classroom.  I was still the student and hadn’t thought much about what I believed about how people (namely my students) learn.

As I entered the classroom as a beginning teacher, learning theories were the farthest thing from my mind. Juggling the responsibilities of teaching was too overwhelming at that point to analyze my beliefs about learning. In addition, I had great misconceptions about what the classroom/students would be like or what I would be able to accomplish as a teacher.  Most days included deep breaths, hopes of survival and hopefully a few glimpses of learning.

Over the last 13 years of teaching, I have grown from a learner to an educator to an educated learner (as a grad student!) and although I am constantly learning, I feel as though I have a better grasp on my perceptions of learning theories.

As many of my classmates have alluded to I believe learning is complicated and to use Nicole’s words – messy.  In Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features From an Instructional Design Perspective Ertmer and Newby state

Learning is a complex process that has generated numerous interpretations                               and theories of how it is effectively accomplished.

Numerous theories and interpretations suggest there isn’t one correct or definitive way.  I believe I ascribe to many theories depending on the situation and the learner.   I don’t hold to a positivist philosophy of life where there is only one way to know and one absolute to seek.  My teaching maneuvers around multiple theories.  For example, as Heidi alluded to in her blog post, I lean toward the behaviourist side of learning as I teach my students to respond to protocols and procedures.  In this capacity, I believe in stimulus and response. In addition, as I assess my students’ reading levels, I function as a behaviourist as I determine at what point to begin instruction to meet individual needs.  However, in other capacities which require deeper critical thinking and understanding, I believe the learner should be an active participant in learning and create meaning within experience – ideas based in both cognitivism and constructivism.

In addition, I enjoyed Siemens’ article on Connectivism.  I believe we must be cognizant of how learning and our learners have changed.  The influence of technology and the digital age cannot be dismissed as we think about how students learn, how access to knowledge has changed and how technology is altering our brains.  I believe we must understand that learning begins at the place of the learner.

So – in my opinion, the webs of learning theories interweave …

Photo Credit: Ken Whytock Flickr via Compfight cc

Much of my beliefs about teaching and learning stem from trying to determine what it is  and who it is I am trying to teach.  Am I a teacher of curricula?  A teacher of people?  A teacher of critical thinking? A teacher of responsibility? A teacher of life?  A teacher of the digital age?  A teacher of ethics?  Perhaps this seems to be a little far reaching, but I believe that my job far exceeds the curriculum.  I am teacher of a whole child – my teaching only reaches the content of curricula once I have established that I am a child is safe and belongs and that I am trustworthy and have the child’s best interests in mind (Maslow). I must intercept each child where he/she is at …. in learning, in circumstance, in social situations, etc.

Each student has such unique schema.  Each student’s understanding and experiences dictate much about how he/she will learn. I need to respect that space and understand each student’s reality in order to create and foster an environment where learning will occur.

Lastly, I am a social constructivist.   I believe that much of our learning lies in how we engage with others and create understanding in the world around us.  Our interactions create a new dynamic for learning.  Last week during our class, Alec stated that “By participating together, our understanding becomes socially constructed.”  I love that and I agree that our learning is grounded in our experiences and with others.  I think that the complicated outworkings of learning and learning theories is beautiful as we try our best to understand people and the way that we learn together.


Photo Credit: Doolallyally Flickr via Compfight cc

The interweaving webs of learning illustrate beauty in the  diversity of our learners.

What do you believe about learning related to the situational perspective and diversity of the learner?