Apr 21 2015

OK GO! Slow Down… Fast Forward… Top Gear

Filed under Action Plan


It’s loud.  It’s full of energy.  It can seem chaotic if you don’t understand it.

That’s my grade 7 Language Arts Class.

It was this class that I chose to work with for my Cohort21 Action Plan.  My intentions were simple:  to encourage more boys to read and for them to engage in a novel study that was unlike the old, familiar beat-a-book-into-the-ground routine.  I added a few layers on:  a global connection (using WorldVuze) and an opportunity to use their work to give something positive to the wider world.  Then some classic LA bits were sprinkled in:  vocabulary building sessions, and Big Blog Thinking Questions.

The result was some inspiring work by a great group of boys.  Several of them were excited about the simple accomplishment of finishing a work of fiction.  Others went on to read sequels and trilogies.  All of them enjoyed the empowerment of choice and the flexing of their creativity.

I learned a lot through this process.  It was a challenge to provide enough time for the boys to accomplish their goals without losing their focus and energy.  It was also difficult to establish evaluation criteria that would honour the individuality that was the heart of each project.  We worked through these challenges collaboratively as a team, solving the problems together as they arose.

In order to share the final product (almost… the last bit isn’t quite done, yet!), I decided to push myself into some tech areas that I haven’t yet explored.  I used the Android App Framelapse to document the process and Movie Maker to pull it all together with help and consultation from students who have experience with them.  I enjoyed the process of producing a quick film about our Journey.

Link to Video:

Twitter:  @melissaeramon

Google:  [email protected]

My Teaching Philosophy:  Authenticity in learning opportunities is key at any age or stage.  True learning can only take place when inspired by genuine engagement and driven by a real purpose.  

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Feb 28 2015

Action Recipe

Filed under Action Plan


Ok, so I’ve been quite brutal at the blogging thing recently, but it finally floated to the top of the to-do list.

So here’s what I’m working on.



28 students (2 classes) with open minds

28 different novels of varying genres

Various bits of EdTech in the form of blogs, software, etc.

A pinch of Big Questions

A large handful of Collaboration

A dollop of Global Communication through WorldVuze


1.  Ask each student to produce a poster of their 5 favourite novels they’ve ever read to be posted in the classroom on the Book Club wall for their peers’ reference.  This will serve as a benchmark for me in terms of their preferences and previous experience/enjoyment/level of reading.  It also serves and an entry point into the conversation about great books.

2.  Have each student take lots of time in the library “dating” several novels.  Encourage them to read the back covers, skim a few chapters, read online reviews and explore the Book Club wall for inspiration.  Get help from the library staff in terms of recommendations for various genres and authors.  Encourage the boys to welcome a challenging read if they’re up to it.

3.  (Design Thinking) 100 Ideas in 10 minutes from www.notosh.com.  Question:  Instead of doing a Book Report or the classic Comprehension Questions, how can you document your relationship with your book?  Students worked collaboratively to come up with different ways they could communicate, including a poster series, website creation, blogs, movie trailers and many more.

4.  Provide lots of time for the students to read and work through their reading Journeys (that’s the phrase our librarian coined to encompass all the different projects).

5.  Ask students to periodically blog answers to Big Questions posed by teachers.  These are generally questions about huge themes that come up in literature and/or asking students to relate their lives and thoughts to their characters and books.

6.  Have students collaborate (in teams) to build vocabulary banks and share with the class.  It’s been great to see a larger diversity in the vocabulary they are sharing because the words are drawn from such diverse texts!

7.  Engage in a global conversation via www.worldvuze.com .  We’re planning to put the question out to the world:  “What is your favourite novel?”  We would like to compile a list of international suggestions for the boys to consider as future reads, as well as having a dialogue about the differences and similarities in their reading to other students around the world.  (Extension) Those who finish their novels in good time can read one from the international recommendations list.  Then they can do some comparing of the two books and engage in a conversation.

8.  (Design Thinking) Students will be given a challenge to solve the problem of how does a grade 7 choose a good book?  How do they get good recommendations?  I am planning to do some of the design process with them to clarify the problem and work through solutions.  It should be an exciting way to finish a modern-style novel study.  The products of their work can then be used by library staff in the future and/or used in the Middle School.

Result?  Hopefully a spicy and original adventure in Language Arts that inspires the boys to read for fun.

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Jan 19 2015

I Am Because I Read. What Will They Be?

Filed under Action Plan

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” – Oscar Wilde

Since I was little, I have enjoyed reading for reading’s sake.  Reading literature has provided many things for me over the years:  an escape, a challenge, a point of discussion, a feeling of being rooted to the experience of being human.  Now I make my living through reading.  Although my primary teaching assignment (and first love!) is history, I have also been made into a Language Arts teacher as a result of shifting course coverage needs.  I often lament the fact that I have to teach LA and most of my ego battles this reality every September, but a small part of me enjoys the fact that I get to share my love of reading with a group of grade 7 boys, a challenging audience at the best of times.

For months now I have been having an internal conversation about what should be the focus of my C21 action plan.  I have vacillated between working through a faculty PD initiative and improving my work in the history classes that I love to teach.  If I’m honest with myself, those projects would be the path easily travelled.  Ultimately, I have decided to take on a challenge, instead (this growth mindset thing must be catching!).  When training for triathlon, coaches regularly remind athletes that despite the enjoyment they get out of training in the discipline that they enjoy most, their overall fitness will benefit more from an intense focus on areas of weakness.  I guess this means that I am going to be diving in head first.

So far this year, we have completed one novel study, which many of the students enjoyed.  We all read the same text and worked through the usual skills of literary device identification, meaning-making and responding to the text.  I’m sure the boys would say it was the usual gamut of novel study tasks.  There was nothing particularly inspiring about any of the work we did.  Did it even inspire them to read the sequel?  I think the resounding answer would be nope….

So what does it take?  How do we get a maximum buy-in for reading literature?  Can it be helped along by how we treat reading literature in the classroom?   How do we bring literature to students today in a way that has meaning?

Based on recent research,  it would seem worth the the attempt.  If exposing students to literary fiction helps to open their eyes and be more tolerant of others then it seems a worthy cause to me.  If it helps them to be more mindful in their daily interactions at a biological level, then it is deserving of our attention as educators.  But at a more fundamental level, I believe this is important.

When I meet the parents of my Language Arts students each September, I tell them that my first priority this year will be to encourage their sons to not hate LA.  I always see nods of approval for this goal because at grade 7, many of their boys are losing (or have lost) their interest in reading.  This year, that goal felt uninspiring, and maybe even a little defeatist.  So I’m going to try to level up here.  I’m going to try to build a definition for a modern novel study.  Because this plan has only begun to take shape in my brain, I don’t have the road map yet.  I’ll be leaning in to see how Graham Vogt is doing with his plan to improve the culture of reading at Rothesay Netherwood School and welcoming the thoughts and suggestions of the rest of my C21 friends.  Please comment and share you successes and failures with teaching literature to this generation of students!  I’ve sketched out some of my hopes here, because it’s how my brain works best.  I’ll also be trying to match this with my work in PBL and using technology to boost engagement and student connections.  I am prepared to face failure.  That’s it.  Let’s go!

Action PlanC21

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Nov 15 2014

Jell-O and Kevin Costner

Filed under Uncategorized

Something in my brain went CLICK this week.

I had an incredible professor during my undergrad at Trent University.  Her class was THAT class.  The one that attracts a standing-room only first day and a waiting list a mile long.  She’s one of those people who seem to be able to seamlessly teach both her subject area (the history of the English language) as well as life lessons, all while being an entertainer at the same time.  Recent weeks have reminded me of one of her lessons that I have found most valuable over the years — the Jell-O principle.

This is not rocket science, or even a new idea.  The Jell-O principle (in her toolkit) simply referred to the fact that our brains need time to sit with a new idea or possibility for a time before we can fit it into our pre-existing thought patterns.  Sometimes we need to be exposed to an idea multiple times before we even register it as possible or worthwhile.  Dr. Keefer’s lesson had to do with writing essays and studying for exams.  She advised us to take in new content and then let it sit for a time before trying to force it into a defined shape like an essay.

In my current life, the Jell-O principle is informing how I do my job as ITi Committee Chair here at St. Andrew’s College.  I tend to get very excited when exposed to new teaching tools, especially when they have a technological base.  I am the one who rushes to try new things and although I temper my enthusiasm by testing new ideas before bringing them into the classroom, I am certainly one of those early adopters who makes my colleagues roll their eyes and say (or at least think) ‘here she goes again…’  Of course, I get it.  I know that my colleagues are stretched to their maximum capacities with teaching, coaching, family commitments and personal pursuits.  I, too, often feel that I cannot handle even one more demand on my time to learn, do, or try anything new.  But the Jell-O principle has taught me to be patient.

This week was a revelation.  I had recently begun to feel that I was becoming a bit of a pest when it came to introducing the faculty to new programs, apps and general IT awesomeness.  And though I have always recognized that this stuff isn’t for everyone, I was growing more and more disheartened at the lack of response and enthusiasm toward things like Twitter and Diigo (why can’t they see the power of it!?!?).

But this week it all changed.  I had a colleague stop me in the hallway and say, “Hey, you know I asked my science students where they were keeping their research resources and they said not to worry, that it was all in their Diigo!  They said that you made them learn how to use it in history class.  It’s amazing!”   The students had discovered its value and used it for the next research project, regardless of the subject area.  (Yes!  Score one for the good guys).   Then another colleague stopped me in the hallway and said “Ok, so check out what came through on my Twitter feed today.”  (Yes!  Yes!  Score two!).

So it seems there is a natural ebb and flow to the process of bringing EdTech to the faculty.  I need to remind myself to have patience with them and to trust in the Jell-O principle.  It has been a year and a half since I first introduced these two tools, and a good percentage of the faculty are just beginning to embrace them.   Many of them will come around to exploring what I’m presenting them in their own time.  And many will not.  And that’s ok.  Rather than grow disheartened again, here’s my new plan:

1.  Continue to enjoy discovering new EdTech solutions and pushing at the boundaries of teaching and learning with all of my enthusiasm

2.  Continue bringing my discoveries to my colleagues

3.  Be patient as they explore them in their own time, at their own pace

4.  Be there to support them and cheer them on as they do

5.  Have a smile ready for the one (you know who you are!) who will always push me to defend my use of EdTech, even though he does it in a jovial way

6.  Respect the Jell-O principle both for myself, and for others

7.  Trust in the Kevin Costner factor and build it, then be patient and trust that they will come.


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Oct 21 2014

Frost on the Brain in October

Filed under Face 2 Face Sessions

Is this the moment when I choose a new path?

Is this the moment when I choose a new path?

Yesterday’s first meeting of the third season of Cohort 21 was a very positive experience, overall.  It’s always great to be reassured that no, you aren’t the only one out there doing this edtech stuff, and no, you aren’t crazy for thinking that it can be beneficial for the students in your care.  The people were great.  We were forging new connections, and learning about some great tools for our teaching kits.   All positive, all good.

At the end of the day, we came back together from our breakout groups for a bit of wrap-up and some explanation of the upcoming year.  And then it happened…  The question was posed, ‘So, why do we use edtech?  What’s its purpose?’  And there it was.  The question that I can see on the faces of sceptical colleagues.  The question I am asked during parent meetings.  The question that asks me to look deeper at what I do and at the teacher I have evolved into.  The question that, if I reflect honestly enough, I think might lead me to a professional metamorphosis if I’m not careful (or should that be if I’m lucky?).

This shift has been brewing in my mind for a long time now.  In fact, its initial spark was probably ignited during my B.Ed. as the result of some pretty forward-thinking workshops on the future of education.  It has been smouldering over the course of a decade as I first got comfortable with the requirements inherent in keeping a job, and then began to think about what worked best for my students.  While I haven’t been a very diligent reflector in terms of journaling, I think about my craft constantly.  More recently, it became apparent that there really may be a shift happening in some areas of education when I attended the Building Learning Communities conference organized by Alan November.  There I discovered educators who truly embrace the ‘who owns the learning’ philosophy.  They allow student choice and encourage student voice.  They act as students’ coaches and mentors, completely comfortable with giving up control of the learning process and outcomes to their students.  I was in awe.  It felt so right.

Of course, as often happens when you attend a great conference or PD and then return home to the daily grind, a lot of the inspiration and momentum of that amazing week was lost.  The demands of anxious parents, intense administrators, deadlines and home life left the brilliant utopia of student-centred learning trampled in the dust.  I managed to squeak in some positive changes to my courses, but the overall practice hasn’t evolved.  And now here I am at the beginning of a journey with C21.

Two paths are diverging.

I can see the answer to the question, ‘why is the current educational system flawed?’  By now we’ve all heard about how the industrial model that doesn’t require students to be able to think in order to pass is outdated.  But what’s been done with that knowledge in the last ten or twenty years?  In essence, the methods being used in most classrooms around me are the same as they were when I was the note taker.  Sure, those notes may look sexier because they are delivered via SMART board, and written on a ridiculously powerful machine.  But that’s just using a very expensive blackboard or pencil.  It hasn’t transformed the process of teaching and learning.  Meanwhile the world outside the classroom is moving on, changing at an ever increasing pace.  Although we’ve been given the technology, we have not yet changed our mindset to fit today’s learner.  For that reason, today’s students’ needs are not being served.  They are not being prepared for the world that they will inherit.  Something has to change.

This might be where I take the one less traveled by.

So the question is still hanging there, unanswered.  Why edtech?  What does it bring to the table?  Although I am not certain of anything at this point, I have a hypothesis that I think I’m going to work on this year through my C21 experience.  Until now, I may have recognized that there was a better way to do teaching and learning, but I had no idea how to get there from here.  What I’m beginning to see is that technology is going to be my bridge.  My hope is that edtech is going to take me from a classroom that exists between four walls to a classroom that knows no boundaries and is connected through collaborative projects to classrooms from around the world.  My hope is that edtech is going to allow my students to have a voice that is heard by an audience larger than one.  My hope is that edtech is going to help me put the focus on the students, and let me be the coach.  My hope is that edtech is going to help me give back the learning.

As I consider taking this road that may lead to a complete revolution in the way I approach teaching, I am glad to be in good company with my C21 peers and mentors.  I am also going to be relying on my administrators and colleagues to pick me up and dust me off when I fail but to believe and have faith that each failure will bring enlightenment.  For my part, I vow to laugh at myself, keep an open mind, and try to encourage others to find their own pathways.  This change has been a long time coming, but I think I may finally be ready  to believe in myself and take the first step.  If I can do that, then it will make all the difference.




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Sep 19 2014

Welcome to Cohort 21

Filed under Uncategorized

Welcome to Cohort 21. This is the first post on your new blog. This journal is an integral part of your Cohort 21 experience. Here you will reflect, share and collaborate as you move through the C21 learning cycle towards your action plan.

Cohort 21 is a unique professional development opportunity open to CIS Ontario teachers and school leaders who are seeking to explore  what it means to a teacher in the 21st century.


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