A little change in perspective

First things first: I’m so happy to be back here in this space! I have missed blogging and what it has meant to me over the past few years — a place to reflect on my teaching, learning, and experiences. When I went on maternity leave last year, I had every intention of continuing to follow the Cohort 21 blogs, and maybe even be a rockstar like @ckirsh and blog while I was off. However, those good intentions fell by the wayside in the day to day business of caring for a baby, and I quickly found myself pretty far from a headspace that had much room for professional development and professional reflections. But, I’m back at it now, and in a new job to boot, and I am so excited to renew my lease on this little corner of the internet, as it were.

Last week, I started an exciting project working with all of the grade 8 history classes to create individual 3D artefacts for a museum exhibit featuring four ancient civilizations. We introduced students to Tinkercad and to the design tools available there, and provided them with a starting point of a template and an alphabet appropriate to their chosen ancient civilization. To their artefact, students would add their name in their ancient lettering – a nice, quick introduction to a beautifully simple piece of software with a major cool factor. So far, it has been a huge success, allowing many students who perhaps don’t typically get excited about history class to  get caught saying to a classmate, “This is so cool!” I also got to witness many occasions of students eagerly helping each other and problem solving together.

For some students, the shift from working in 2D to 3D was a huge challenge. Students who play video games tended to easily adapt to the 3D environment, but a few found it quite disorienting. The additional plane was something that was sometimes forgotten.

One student believed she was finished and ready to export her project, but when I asked her to show me her object from the front, she realized that she still had work to do!

There are also a lot of tools to use on any given object – resize tools on every side and corner, plus three different rotation tools, a tool to raise/lower your object, and a tool to change the thickness of the object.

There are multiple options for interacting with an object in Tinkercad. But sometimes, depending on your viewpoint, certain tools can be hard to see.

When working with one student who was struggling to rotate his letter on the right plane, we realized that because of the angle at which he was looking at the object, the rotate tool that he needed was hidden behind the letter itself. By changing his viewpoint, he was able to see and use the tool that he needed. As we figured out the solution, I realized that there might be value in that message.

Sometimes you need to change your perspective in order to find what you need.

I know that for me, I can already see that the change in perspective, brought about by my new position, has helped me to renew my passion for my job and find more joy in what I do. Being a mom to a 14-month old has also drastically shifted my perspective on pretty much everything.

But what about you? Do you need to move to higher ground to see things more clearly? Or do you need to move around the back of a problem in order to find a solution?

Update on last year’s Action Plan

As I promised last week, today I’m back with an update on my 2015-2016 Action Plan, which centred around the question “How might we restructure Communications Technology to provide more and better opportunities for personalization and project-based learning?” Although it was technically last year’s Action Plan, it was a large project of which I merely scratched the surface last year. The intention was to continue to revamping process this year, and I have made some gains in that regard.

In my final slide deck from last year, I noted four areas of focus on the “what’s next?” slide:

In some of these areas, I believe I made significant progress.

1 ) Continue to learn about Design Thinking, project-based learning, and blended learning.

Blended, by Michael B. Horn & Heather Staker

I read an excellent book, Blended, over the summer, which helped to clarify some of the language around blended learning, the various models that exist, and the importance of understanding the purpose of implementing blended learning in your situation. (Is it a sustaining innovation or a disruptive innovation??) You can also read my “review” (mostly just my favourite quotes) on my Goodreads profile here. This book will continue to serve me well as I embark on my new position next year, which has as one of its mandates to develop a blended learning framework for my school.

Dive Into Inquiry, by Trevor Mackenzie

At the EdTechTeam summit in BC in November, I was lucky enough to meet Trevor Mackenzie, author of the book Dive Into Inquiry, who gave me a copy to read. I devoured it on the plane ride home, thrilled with the possibilities that it explored about getting students to focus on their passions as a vehicle for learning. This served as a guide for me as I restructured the last four months of my course, and although I didn’t follow his formula exactly, the book provided me with some language and some structure to guide my revamping.

2) Continue to leverage my new toolbox and networks to keep learning and growing.

I continued to read blogs, both of the Cohort 21 variety and those of the wider educational community. I made regular use of Twitter to keep learning, which proved to be one of the best sources of professional reading I could have ever imagined. And I had the opportunity to present at two EdTechTeam conferences in BC, which allowed me to expand my PLN even further. Acting as a coach with Cohort 21 this year also kept me in touch with the culture of continued reflection and growth, even if I was not always completely motivated to keep up at all times. (See last week’s blog post: “On Failure” for more details about that.)

3) Redesign Unit 1 to cover more core competencies and teach process analysis skills.

This was something that I had intended to plan in more detail over the summer holidays, but it did not exactly work out that way. Summer has a way of sneaking right by us, doesn’t it? However, despite not having done a ton of advanced planning, I did manage to rework my first two units in order to cover a broader range of skills and tools.

Last year, when I taught the course for the first time, I divided it into subject-specific units: Intro to Comm Tech, Photography, Graphic Design, Videography, Audio Production, and Social Media and Marketing. The challenge, of course, is that each of these is such a vast topic that we could only cover in brief if we were to have any hope of getting through them all in a survey-type course. Students who were really interested in videography had only a month and a half to explore that area, and we could barely scratch the surface of it. This time around, I changed the focus.

Unit 1, “Fundamentals of Communications Technology,” explored the principles behind Comm Tech (what is it, anyway??), and we focused on developing fundamental skills such as care and use of equipment, file management techniques, copyright adherence, and project organization and management. We learned how to manage bookmarks and sync our Chrome browsers to become more efficient, and we explored how to use our digital SLR cameras for the most basic of photography and videography tasks. All of these skills would be fundamental going forward, regardless of what area students were interested in pursuing.

In one of my prouder moments as a teacher, I eliminated the traditional test from the course and tried for the first time a performance-based or practical test – students were simply to demonstrate for me their mastery of simple processes, and they were assessed as having “achieved mastery”, “approaching mastery”, or “not yet there”. Not surprisingly, this was much more time consuming — it took two 80 minute periods to assess the group of 19 students — but to me seemed a much fairer and more authentic way of assessing the level of students’ skills. Can they do it or not?

In Unit 2, “Adobe Creative Cloud and Design Fundamentals,” we explored basic design fundamentals such as photo composition and the principles of good design. We were introduced to a variety of Creative Cloud applications (e.g. Photoshop, InDesign, Bridge, etc.) so that students could become familiar with the interfaces and basic tools that come up in each one. Again, these skills were intended to form a baseline so that students would then be able to build upon them as they embarked on their in depth, independent studies in the areas of their choosing.

4) Curate lists of basic resources for every area of study as a starting point for student learning.

This goal shifted significantly based on the inspiration from Trevor Mackenzie’s book.

Finally, in March we began the independent units, which, based in part on Trevor’s suggested structure, I divided into two modules: Guided Inquiry and Free Inquiry.

My version of “Guided Inquiry” was probably more a hybrid of what Trevor Mackenzie calls Controlled Inquiry and Guided Inquiry.

In the Guided Inquiry module, students chose a piece of software from Creative Cloud’s suite of apps. They could choose from Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, Animate, Audition, and Muse. I curated resources for each of the software programs, and over the course of about a month, students worked through the resources (mostly from the incredible range of tutorials from Adobe’s website), taking notes and completing assessments and practice activities along the way. This was based on my initial forays into personalized learning last year, which focused on just Adobe Muse and Adobe Illustrator as options for students. You can read about that here.

Throughout this Guided Inquiry process, I was in the unique position of providing support and assistance while students worked through the resources, rather than standing at the front of the class providing the actual instruction. I freely admitted to students that I was unfamiliar with some of the software, and would do my best to help troubleshoot wherever possible. But the focus was on working through challenges, and seeking help from peers who were working on the same software, rather than coming to me immediately whenever they encountered a roadblock. This was a huge step in the right direction. I was able to monitor student progress and provide feedback on the learning process, as well as provide targeted support where needed. Awesome!

Now in Progress: the Free Inquiry stage

Finally, upon completion of the Guided Inquiry, we embarked on the Free Inquiry module. This would be the chance for students to really dive deeply into their area of focus. The students’ choices for the Guided Inquiry provided the basis for their topics for the Free Inquiry. For example, if a student was interested in videography as an area of focus, then they had chosen to complete the Guided Inquiry module on Premiere Pro (video editing software).

(Here I switch to the present tense, as we’re currently right in the middle of it.)

For the Free Inquiry, there are two components:

  1. A report, in the format of their choice, which is intended to provide a medium for students to communicate the evidence of their learning for the module. Students are required to conduct additional research, explore more tutorials, and deepen their understanding of the basic principles studied in the first two units so that they can create the most effective authentic piece possible. (See component #2.)
  2. An authentic piece, by which students will demonstrate their mastery of their new skills by creating a product — whether it be a marketing plan, a website, a documentary, a YouTube channel, an ad campaign, an animation, or anything else they choose! One requirement of the authentic piece is that it have an authentic audience outside of the teacher or the class. Students needed to think deeply about how they can create something that has a connection to the outside world, and I have been so impressed by the projects that some of them are choosing to undertake. One student is developing a marketing plan and website for the clothing company that he’s just started with a friend. Another is creating a promotional video for her mother’s jewellery company. Another is planning a complete design, including signage, menus, and staff uniforms, of a restaurant her father is starting. Still others are creating a shop on Redbubble where they will produce products like t-shirts and phone cases out of their original photos.

This process has been incredible for me to be a part of. Although I certainly learned several things along the way about the need to be clearer in my expectations and instructions, I have been blown away by the quality of ideas that students are proposing for their authentic piece, and the planning that they are doing to make their ideas come to life. Each class, I meet with individual students for nearly the entire 80 minutes, asking questions, getting updates on their progress, and providing feedback, ideas, resources for them to check out. Even more so now than during the Guided Inquiry, I feel like I am bringing so much more value to students in this role as coach or facilitator than I ever could as a teacher instructing the whole group from the front of the class.


In all, I would consider this process a success. I do not want to be content with how this has gone and leave it at that – I know that I can do better. However, I do feel as though the progress I’ve made will make it easier for another teacher to take on the teaching of Comm Tech in my absence next year without having to worry about lacking some of the technical skills that are the focus of the course.

I still have some lingering How Might We questions that I can make a focus going forward. How might I be clearer in my expectations? How might I present exemplars or provide ideas without limiting students’ creativity? How might I best help those students who lack motivation, struggle with time management, or seem not to have a passion that they want to tap into for their project? And how on earth will I assess all of these projects that are so vastly different from one another??

I would love to hear any ideas that you might have about how to continue to improve this process and make it as valuable as possible for all involved.

Action Plan reflection

Well, suffice it to say that I didn’t get that promised blog post written in time. It will come next week, though. In the meantime, here is my Action Plan reflection slide deck. You can also view it here.

Thank you, everyone, for all of the support, encouragement, and inspiration you have provided this year!

On Failure

This blog post has been rattling around in my brain, partially formed, for some time now. Something inside me was not willing to let it out by actually sitting down and writing it and then hitting “post”. But the time has come. Yesterday, catching up on my fellow Cohort-ers blogs, I came across @lmcbeth’s  “I’m starting my vlog” and @sregli’s “Do I need more grit?” blog posts. These two posts were the kick in the pants that I needed to come clean about my own failure lately. I know that the Cohort 21 gang is not a judgmental group, but there is still a certain amount of fear around sharing your shortcomings in a public forum such as this.

The Action Plan failure

At the third F2F, I was excited to come up with a second action plan for my second year as a member of Cohort 21. With an eye to my eventual goal of taking on more of a leadership role with regards to technology at CDS, I focused my action plan on this HMW question: How might we manage and improve the student user experience with teacher resources and learning management software?

Way back in January, shortly after having finalized my Action Plan question, I had an email from the Adobe Education Exchange detailing the upcoming start of a new free course on their education platform: “User Experience Design: UX to UI”. The description read as follows:

In this course participants will start off examining the users needs and creating relevant documentation that allows a digital, interactive project to have a better fitting, functional, final design

I was elated. This was exactly what I needed to take action on my action plan. I enrolled and anxiously waited for the start of the course on February 13. And then…

… it was snowboard season and I was all of a sudden overwhelmed by the amount of work that was required to convene that league.

… my Comm Tech course got incredibly busy as I was developing brand new content for students to work with as part of a guided inquiry module.

… I told myself that I would spend March Break catching up on the four weeks of coursework that I hadn’t even yet begun.

… March Break was almost over and I still hadn’t opened up the course, let alone completed a single assignment or participated in a single weekly live class.

… I essentially gave up and considered myself a massive failure for enrolling in a course and not taking a single step to complete it.

So my initial excitement about the relevance and the timeliness of the course ended up crumbling into a mountain of feelings of failure and inadequacy. Now, with just days to go before the final F2F, I haven’t taken a single step toward implementing my Action Plan: no research, no reading, no polling of stakeholders, nothing. #epicfail

The blogging failure

Last year, I felt like a rockstar blogger. I composed posts in my head while driving home from work or walking the dogs, and then I actually sat down to write them within a reasonable amount of time. This year, I’m not sure what changed. While I was constantly coming up with ideas for posts, for some reason I could not bring myself to put fingers to keyboard. I started out strongly, with five posts before the Christmas break, but since then, I’ve stagnated. I don’t get it: I really love blogging and want to do it more, so I wish I knew what had changed or how to fix it.

The coaching failure

I was over the moon when @jmedved and @gnichols asked me last April to be a coach for C21 this year. I couldn’t believe that they saw leadership potential in me, but I was determined to do a good job and not let them down. When it came down to it, though, whether at the F2F sessions or on blogs and social media, I feel as though I failed at this as well. Other coaches were able to offer excellent advice, ask thought-provoking questions, and share relevant resources with C21 members. I felt like all I could offer was a bit of cheerleading from the sidelines: “Thank you for sharing!” My fear of being inadequate and having nothing to offer held me back from hosting a Hangout or Twitter chat all year. I worry that I don’t even deserve to attend Friday’s F2F as I feel like I’ve contributed nothing to this year’s Cohort.

Everything’s not lost

Despite this general feeling of failure and lack of motivation lately, there is some positive news to report. I need to remind myself that all is not lost despite feeling like this year’s Action Plan is a lost cause. Here are a few things worth celebrating:

Progress on last year’s Action Plan

I feel as though I’ve made significant progress on last year’s AP, which was framed as How might we restructure Comm Tech to provide more & better opportunities for personalization and project-based learning?  

I am committing to writing a second blog post this week (!!) to outline some of the major changes and initiatives that I’ve been working on with respect to this.

New job

With tons of support and encouragement from @gnichols, @jmedved, and @lmcbeth, I applied for and was the successful candidate for a new position as Technology Integration Specialist for the Middle and Senior Schools at CDS. This is my dream position and I am so looking forward to starting it, though its start will be delayed for one more year because ….

Life changes

…. I will be off next year on maternity leave! Baby Weening-Levesque is due August 20 and Shawn and I are beyond thrilled.

I do actually wonder if some of the lack of motivation about the previously-mentioned failures might have something to do with the mindshift that seems to have taken place in my brain with the news that we are expecting. Hormones, maybe?


In any case, the (perceived) failures of this year will not define me. I am here to shout from the rooftops that I am putting this behind me and starting fresh. Every day is a new day, and every morning an opportunity to make changes that I didn’t make yesterday.

I loved this (always so timely!) post from Seth Godin’s blog and think it fits in well here:

Sometimes it feels like Seth Godin just gets me, you know?

“You learn by doing it. Actually, by not doing it. You learn by doing it wrong, by falling off, by getting back on, by doing it again. PS this approach works for lots of things, not just bikes. Most things, in fact.”

We tell our students that failure is a “first attempt in learning”. That it is through failure that they grow and learn how to approach a problem differently next time. Failure cannot be the final destination. It is simply a part of the journey – a station along the railroad, a rest stop on the highway, an airport where we have a layover. We pass through it, but it’s not where we stay and spend our time. So I’m outta here – see ya! 🙂

Seth Godin on the Cohort

Thanks to @jmedved and @gnichols, every morning I start my day with a small dose of Seth Godin’s wisdom. Here’s what I came across today (and I’m sure most of you have seen it as well):

For accessibility reasons, I’ll repost the original text here:

It’s tempting to seek to change just one person at a time. After all, if you fail, no one will notice.

It’s also tempting to try to change everyone. But of course, there really is no everyone, not any more. Too much noise, too many different situations and narratives. When you try to change everyone, you’re mostly giving up.

The third alternative is where real impact happens: Finding a cohort of people who want to change together.

Organizing them and then teaching and leading them.

It’s not only peer pressure. But that helps.

When a group is in sync, the change is reinforcing. When people can see how parts of your message resonate with their peers, they’re more likely to reconsider them in a positive light. And mostly, as in all modern marketing, “people like us do things like this” is the primary driver.

He continues:

If you want to make change, begin by making culture. Begin by organizing a tightly knit group. Begin by getting people in sync.

Culture beats strategy. So much that culture is strategy.

Sounds like Seth Godin could be an honourary member of Cohort 21!

So much of what he talks about here is exactly what this is all about. Finding our tribe, connecting with others who want the same things as we do – who aren’t satisfied with how things are and how they’ve always been, but who want to make real change.

Maybe we could invite Seth to speak at our final F2F in April?? 🙂

Tis the Season: on authentic assessments

When it comes to assessment, traditional pen-and-paper tests are pretty much as far from authentic as you can get: one student, performing in a singular modality, with the teacher as the only viewer. Projects can be more authentic, but until there is an audience outside of the classroom, it can be hard to get students to believe that the work that they’re doing is truly meaningful.

One of my goals for Comm Tech is to make the tasks that students are required to complete more authentic by providing them with a real audience for their work.

This quote is attributed to Rushton Hurley, an inspiring GAFE Summit keynote speaker who speaks often about project-based learning:

Authentic assessments give students a real audience for their work, which can lead to much higher levels of motivation.

Giving students an authentic audience for their work means allowing them to share their work with the wider world. And Communications Technology, with its focus on the tools to create rich and meaningful media works, is the perfect environment to do just that.

As part of our second unit, we were focusing on photography: we learned some of the principles of photo composition, and we learned how to use digital SLR cameras in manual exposure mode to fully control the look of the photos we took. Rather than giving students a really prescriptive task for their summative assignment, we decided to make use of an existing opportunity – the monthly Toronto Star photography contest – to make our work a bit more authentic.

The theme for December’s contest was “Tis the season”, and everyone was encouraged to submit a photo that represents that idea for them. We piggybacked on that, and while the teacher in me couldn’t resist adding a few extra requirements — that students shoot in manual exposure mode and that they include a short write up about the technical and compositional choices that they made — students were psyched to complete the task. I couldn’t believe the quality of work that was being submitted. Rushton Hurley’s quote had never been so clear to me: the authenticity of the task truly motivated students to make sure that their work was as good as it could be. When we debriefed and discussed our photos in a class roundtable discussion, students were articulate about their photos, and most of them described spending an inordinate amount of time setting up their perfect shot.

That was what really struck me most: they weren’t upset about the time spent, or the number of attempts they had to make to capture the perfect shot. They worked tirelessly because they were invested in the task, and it didn’t seem to matter how much effort they had to put into it or how many times their shot failed, as long as they ended up with something they were proud of.

What a way to end off the term!

To really cap off the assignment and make it even more authentic, I was thrilled to share with the students that three members of our class had had their photos selected to be included in one of three daily photographs featured on the Star Touch app:

Casey’s photo was featured on December 15.


Mira’s photo was featured on December 13.


Lexie’s photo was featured on December 20.

Believe me when I tell you that was among my proudest teacher moments ever! Although the students have yet to find out if they’ve won a prize (which would be the cherry on top!), they can be very proud of the recognition they’ve already been given. Authentic assessments, for the win!

Thanks to Mira, Casey & Lexie and their parents for giving me permission to share their work here.

Learning Management and the Student UX: My 2016-17 Action Plan

Last year, my action plan centred upon restructuring my Communications Technology class in order to allow students to spend more time focusing on their own areas of interest. While this is still a work in progress—so far, I’ve revamped my first two units to try to cover a broader base of basic skills—my hope is that in January we will be able to begin independent exploration of our areas of interest. This is a big project for me and is likely to take up most of my attention this year, as I figure out along with the students how to best track and monitor their progress, support them by providing resources and small group instruction, and manage the logistics of 19 students each doing their own thing.

In the meantime, however, I’ve begun to think about how I could begin work on a second action plan—one on a slightly smaller scope, to give me a new area to focus on as well. Although I was saddened to miss the second F2F session at the York School and the design thinking process that everyone else had the chance to engage in, I have been giving a lot of thought to another problem that I could tackle in my practice. I keep coming back to the idea of the user experience (UX) in my course management software. At The Country Day School, a few years ago we moved from (the very expensive!) Blackboard LMS to (the very free!) Google Sites as a learning management platform.

The shift created quite the bumpy ride for both teachers and students. Some of the challenges included the following:

  • Teachers had to learn a completely new system for communicating digitally with students, and the platform was neither very user friendly nor intuitive to learn;
  • Although we created a basic template for teachers to use to ensure some consistency across teachers’ sites, the varied levels of comfort with the software meant that some sites were far more easy to navigate and use;
  • Students had to learn how to navigate this new platform, and the customizability of Sites meant that, despite using the same template as a starting point, every teacher set up their site differently.
  • Shortly after we introduced the new system, Google Classroom came out. Many teachers began using this platform in addition to/instead of Sites, which led to confusion for students about where to go and how to work with both platforms.

There are so many great tools available for managing resources and communicating digitally with students. With so many options out there, how do we know which to use and how to use them effectively?

To add another layer of challenge, we originally set up all of the school sites according to a single naming convention, so that it would be simpler for admin to gain access to and navigate to any site. Now, as the new Google Sites has come out, the user-friendliness of its new interface means that teachers will likely want to switch to that. However, the new Sites live within Drive, and making the switch to that will complicate things further. Not only will teachers need to learn yet another piece of software (albeit one that is much more user-friendly!) to make and manage their classroom resources, how will we ensure consistency among teachers and ease of use for students? Still other teachers are asking students to use a variety of digital portfolio products. Herein lies my HMW question:

My 2016-2017 Action Plan question: How might we manage and improve the student user experience with teacher resources and learning management software?

I know it doesn’t have much of a ring to it, but in the world of digital design, the user experience is king: Can your customers quickly and effortlessly find the information they are looking for? Does the design work intuitively?

Here’s a link to a great article by Design Shack outlining the importance of UX: Why does user experience matter?

The essential components of the user experience, according to Design Shack.

“UX is the experience, emotion, intuition and connection a user feels when using a site or product.”

Do our students feel frustrated when navigating their class sites? Do they intuitively know how to interact with it or does it require concerted effort? And will they actually use them if they are difficult or frustrating to work with?

Thus, my action plan for 2016-2017 will centre around a) ensuring that my own class resource Site is intuitive and easy to work with, especially given the chaotic nature of the second half of my course and the need to have resources that are easy to find, and b) trying to develop a strategy for all teachers to improve the UX of their sites.

I’d love to hear what your schools are doing in terms of learning management software and the requirements and/or best practices for teachers in terms of the setup of their digital spaces. Please share!

“You didn’t test out of any skills.”

This week, I had the chance to work with the grade 7 French teacher, helping her get her classes set up on Duolingo, a web-based program that allows students to work through language lessons at their own pace. The teacher dashboard allows you to create classes, and students join the class with a six-digit code. The teacher can then track students’ work through the lessons, set certain lessons for homework, or challenge students to gain a certain amount of “xp” to “level up”, much like in a video game. Duolingo also has a mobile app, and is available in many languages, making it a neat way for anyone to start to learn a language on the go.

As our school begins to focus on one element of our new strategic plan, which is to “support, know and inspire all students”, a program such as this one can be an opportunity to offer instruction at the students’ area of need. Students who enter grade 7 with minimal French experience can work at the basic level to catch up with their peers, and students who have come to us from a French immersion or extended French program can challenge themselves beyond what the teacher might be able to do within a regular classroom. Enrichment and support, all within a fun package that will engage students and will allow the teacher to spend additional one-on-one time with students: what more can you ask for in a blended learning environment? (Side note: I have not spent enough time with Duolingo to evaluate its effectiveness as a learning program, and its focus on translation as a learning tool has me slightly wary, but the level of engagement of students in the activities it offers seems to point to it as a valuable addition to a language program. But I digress.)

Once we got students all set up with their accounts, they had the option of starting from the basics, or completing a placement test to possibly “level out” of certain basic lessons. Because most of these students have been learning French for several years already, we asked them to begin with the placement test.

Sensing the instant anxiety that arose in the room upon the mention of the word “test”, we quickly assured students that the point of this test was not to evaluate them in any negative way, but to ensure that they would be working at lessons that are at the right level for them. We thought that would be enough. But, boy, were we wrong!

Of course, taking a language test on a computer is going to have its drawbacks. Although a student might know how to say “goodbye” in French, if they make a spelling error on a simple question like this, it is marked wrong. No big deal, right? It’s just a placement test. It would simply mean that you’d have to review the lesson on this topic again, which is only going to help you with accuracy in the long run, right? However, we had no idea how emotionally fraught this experience of being marked “wrong” would be for students!

Upon students beginning the placement test, we immediately began to hear a chorus of cries of “What? I knew that!” and “It marked it wrong but I just forgot one letter/accent/word” etc. We heard students trying to get help from their peers and us, crying out, “how do you say [x] in French??” The desperation in their voices and on their faces was obvious. At the end of the test, almost every student received this message from the program: “You didn’t test out of any skills.” And at this point, the students were beside themselves.

"You did not test out of any skills." These simple words seemed to be the worst possible news to students.

“You did not test out of any skills.” These simple words seemed to be the worst possible news to students.

We tried to reassure them. It was no use. This experience made it abundantly clear that these 7th grade students have become so entirely convinced that the results of a test defines who they are and what they are worth. How has it come to this?

How has our education system so skewered what students understand assessments such as this one to be? How might we begin to shift that notion through our practice?

Although I’m not sure it would have helped at this point, a comparison to video games might be in order. I used to be a bit of a gamer myself. My university years, believe it or not, were shaped in part by a somewhat unhealthy addition to the MMORPG World of Warcraft.

Video games can, I believe, present a much more healthy version of failure than tests in school can.

Video games can, I believe, present a much more healthy version of failure than tests in school can.

In World of Warcraft, a player would never dream of attempting a Level 60 quest with a character who was only at level 20. She simply would not have the skills and background necessary to be successful. That is certainly not to say that failure is frowned upon in the game, however. Any player, in order to level up, will attempt quests and challenges that are perhaps a little bit beyond his skill level, and he will be handsomely rewarded with additional XP as a token of that challenge. Every time his character dies in the course of one of these challenges, he will modify his strategy: maybe he’ll try a different approach, maybe he’ll attempt the challenge with a friend who can support the quest, or perhaps he’ll get a bit more XP at a lower level in order to ensure greater success moving forward.

Failure (or death), in a video game, is viewed as a learning opportunity – a chance to start over, to try again with different strategy. In a placement test, of all things, this should be even more so.

A key element of design thinking process is to “fail early and fail often”. How might we embrace this idea of failure as a learning tool rather than as the end of the road? How might we adapt our practice to make regular failure par for the course?

How might we encourage students to embrace the mindset that failure is truly a “first attempt in learning”? And do our teaching and assessment practices actually reflect this? 

You are who you say you are

I am sitting in silence for the first time in two days. My brain has been begging for it after two busy, high-energy days of presenting and learning at the Summit previously known as GAFE (now GSuite) in Vernon, BC with the EdTechTeam. Two full days jammed packed with tips and tricks, inspiring keynotes, and incredible conversations, and I feel as though I’ve reached the saturation point for the time being. It is calming to finally have a chance to catch up with my thoughts.

You know that feeling when you’re really terrified and anxious about something that’s coming up, and then you’re in it and you feel like you’re actually right where you are supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to do? That’s how I felt about this weekend.

In the weeks leading up to the Summit, I spent every waking hour developing beautiful, detailed Slides presentations to use in my sessions. I fretted over what order to present certain ideas in. I panicked about whether I would remember even how to speak French when standing in front of a room of people, and whether they would all just get up and walk out when they heard me speak. And I felt as though I had absolutely no business coming out to this Summit to present along with such incredible educators and ed tech gurus as @lmcbeth, Brad Ovenell-Carter, Michelle Armstrong, Michelle Cordy, Emily Fitzpatrick, Tracy Poelzer, and David Harmon.

And then, over the course of my three days out here in the beautiful Okanagan valley, surrounded by this group of talented people, my fears began to subside. The little voice in my head that kept saying, “Who the hell do you think you are?” and “What are you even doing here?” started to get drowned out, bit by bit, by the other, slightly-less-imaginary voices around me.

They were saying things like this:

“The people who are there [in your sessions] are the ones who need to be there, the things that they learn are what they are meant to learn, and the conversations that take place are the ones that need to take place.” – Brad Ovenell-Carter

“It’s imposter syndrome – and we ALL have it sometimes.” – Tracy Poelzer

And I realized that they were right. I have things to share with people and I love doing it. So I can’t let my fear and sense of inadequacy stop me. So what if I stumble over a few words or forget a vocabulary term in French? Attendees will know what I mean and will appreciate the fact that I’m trying. Who cares if only two people show up to my sessions? Those two people will get so much personal support they will leave feeling like they can handle anything.

And you know what? Everything I’d worried about was for nothing. There is such a hunger out here for this type of training. Every single teacher I met in my sessions, while walking the halls, and over breakfasts and lunches wanted nothing more than to learn something new that they would be able to make use of in their classroom. Because they’re just trying to get better at teaching, and they want to learn how to use technology to do that. I was inspired by their energy and enthusiasm, and they took away a ton of new ideas and a newfound fire for the realm of the possible. What more could I ask for?

This morning, during the keynote, I heard yet another voice that helped to drown out the ones in my head: Michelle Cordy’s.

“You are who you say you are.”

I am here because someone saw something in me and thought I could bring something to the table. I may not have the experience or even half of the knowledge and wisdom as the rest of the team does, but I do have something to offer. This is where I want to be, and this is what I want to do. I don’t know exactly what “this” is, but it is really freaking amazing to be a part of. And I’m just going to keep doing it until, maybe one day, I will actually get that package in the mail that says: “Jennifer Weening, [whatever “this” is]” And I’ll remember that everyone is an imposter, but that’s okay, and that I am who I say I am.

L’éternel recommencement

Wow. Il est difficile de croire que l’on est déjà en octobre, presque arrivé aux congés d’Action de grâce. Le mois de septembre s’est passé vite; c’est comme ce que l’on dit: le temps file quand on s’amuse!

Pour les enseignants et les étudiants, le mois de septembre représente toujours un nouveau départ. Tout le monde a la chance de recommencer de nouveau et de prendre des résolutions pour le nouvel an.

Les enseignants et les élèves ont tous la chance de recommencer de nouveau en semptembre.

Les enseignants et les élèves ont tous la chance de recommencer de nouveau en semptembre.

Pour moi, cette nouvelle année scolaire me semblait différente de toutes les autres. Après avoir participé à Cohort 21 l’année dernière, j’avais un sentiment d’espoir comme je ne l’avais jamais senti. Je me sentais équipée pour de nouveaux défis, et préparée d’essayer de nouvelles choses et de prendre des risques.

J’avais de grands plans de réécrire le curriculum de mon cours pendant l’été, mais je n’ai pas réussi à finir tout ce que j’avais voulu faire. La dernière semaine avant la rentrée, j’ai commencé à déplorer la fin d’été et à m’en vouloir de ne pas avoir tout fait comme planifié. Heureusement, je suis tombée sur une article sur Adobe Spark qui s’appelle “Why perfectionism is a creativity killer and how to overcome it.”

Cette citation m’a donné la relance dont j’avais besoin:

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite time in the future.

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite time in the future.

Je savais que si je décidais de ne pas commencer avec les changements que j’ai voulu instituer dans mon cours, à cause du fait que tout n’était pas perfectionné, j’aurais raté à mes buts. Je ne finirai jamais à préparer et à apprendre, et je dois l’accepter. On se plaint souvent que les élèves ne veulent pas essayer des choses parce qu’ils craignent rater; il faut que les enseignants montrent l’exemple et prennent de risques aussi.  

Alors, le premier jour de classe, j’ai expliqué à mes élèves qu’on allait apprendre ensemble cette année. Le plan de l’année n’était pas fini, mais je leur ai dit qu’on allait  le finir ensemble. Et je pense que les élèves appréciaient le fait que leur enseignant admettait qu’elle ne savait pas tout.

Je suis ravie que cette année j’aurai encore la chance de prendre part à Cohort 21, cette fois dans le rôle d’entraîneur. Mes experiences l’année dernière avec Cohort 21 ont transformé mes idées, ont changé mes priorités, et m’ont fait repenser ma philosophie de l’éducation. Elles m’ont encouragé d’essayer de nouvelles choses – les choses qui me faisaient peur, comme de mettre mes pensées sur un blogue, et de présenter à un sommet Google. Ces nouvelles choses ont mené à d’autres opportunités: dans deux semaines j’irai à Vernon, en Colombie-Britannique, pour présenter quatre ateliers en français à un sommet Google! Les portes continuent à s’ouvrir pour moi, et Cohort 21 m’a donné le courage de traverser le seuil.

J’ai hâte de commencer ce voyage avec les 30+ nouveaux participants des autres écoles CIS. Bonne année à tous!

Merci à @ddoucet pour m’avoir encouragé d’écrire cet article en français. (Encore une chose qui me fait peur!)