My Reading Identity

I believe I might drive people around me crazy with my talk of books.  I am always collecting books, reading books, talking about books and sharing books.  Reading is such an important aspect of my life, I just can’t help myself.

I am inspired to write this post by my latest book, “Passionate Readers,” written by Pernille Ripp.  Pernille is the founder of the Global Read Aloud and I am sure she would do anything to get the right book into the hands of a child.  She believes strongly in reader choice and is working tirelessly to promote the love of literacy in our students.

In her book, she challenges her readers to think about their own reading identity.  My earliest memories of reading are directly connected to my father.  He has always been an avid reader and continues to find great joy in the time he spends reading now that he is in his 80’s.  When I was a child we would curl up and he would read many things to me but especially all the adventure of Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne.  Over the years we have had many conversations about the things we were reading about.  For many years, it was my tradition to buy him a new book every Christmas.  He would often give it back to me to read so we could talk about it.

My father reading “The Night Before Christmas”

These early experiences I have had with books influence me on a daily basis.  I have always wished I could instill in every one of my students my inner passion and love for reading.  It didn’t matter if I was teaching early years, my high school students I spent 20 years with or now with my middle year’s students. I read aloud to them as I can and talk reading every chance I have.  When I look back over some of my teaching strategies, I would like to go back and make some changes, such as long reading responses and killing the joy of a good book by pulling it apart into unnecessary pieces, rather than appreciating it for what it was.

Idea was taken from Passionate Readers

At the same time, I have never wanted to go back and change the time we spent reading aloud and enjoying good books together.

To bring this around to where I am right now, I realized I needed to renew my relationship with books by making reading time a higher priority in my daily life and not just something I save for school breaks when it seems easier to take the time.  My grade 6 students spend a lot of time reading, sharing and enjoying literature together.  I have such an enthusiastic and wonderful bunch of students, many of which share my love of reading.  We call ourselves “The Fam Jam” and because of that, we need to make sure we are all working together just as a family would.  I am always looking for that reading magic that will pull in my more reluctant readers.

Reading choice is my friend.  Our reading time is sacred.  Every member of “Fam Jam” gets to choose the things they like to read.  This is not always the way it has been in my classroom, but now that I have embraced the importance of student voice and choice, I would never go back. My students also know it is okay to not finish a book.  If you walked into our classroom when we are choice reading, many of us would not even know that you were there.  I tell my students about one when I was reading along with my high school students and one of them crawled out the window and then came back in, just because he could. We had a good laugh, but okay…even I realize that being that focused on what I am reading might not be a good idea in the classroom.

Grade 6 “Fam Jam” during choice reading

I am constantly ordering or borrowing books.  Let’s just say, Amazon and Scholastic are some of my best friends along with our school library and our local community library.  I have been trying to build up our classroom library and listen to what my students need to have included.  We keep a running list of books we might like to purchase or borrow.  We have read 288 books as a collective group so far this year.  Our goal is 500 and I think we are going to make it.

Our book count we change daily.

My reading identity is tied to the joy I have in reading and focused on sharing my love of reading with my students.  Pernille Ripp says it best in her book, Passionate Readers,

“…we must approach each day with an incredible sense of urgency.  We must fill our minds with the research we need to support our ways, and we must be passionate about the things we see as most important to further reading success-in my case, it means giving the students time to read within our short time together, finding a way to confer with each child, incorporating as much choice and freedom as possible, and doing meaningful work with our reading rather than ‘get it done’ tasks.”

Well said!



January 2015 #pdale Teacher Twitter Challenge



As many of you know when I was taking my master’s degree I learned so many things that changed my entire philosophy of education.  Learning from people like Alec Couros and Dean Shareski opened my ideas to many ideas that I had never even thought of before.  My first experience in an open education course scared me to death.  Being online with 200+ people from all over the world was an idea I had never even considered before.  It was through taking courses that I learned about web tools such as blogs, wiki spaces and many others.  It was also through these courses that I realized the importance of being a connected educator.

I was shocked once again, 2 years ago when we agreed to send Devin, Kimberley and Nicole to Philadelphia to attend the Educon Conference.  When they returned and taught us how to use twitter, I had no idea how something so simple would, once again, change my entire view of professional development.

People who say things such as…

“Why would I care what people are having for dinner?” or  “Why do I care when people are doing their laundry?”

…have no idea the opportunities for individualized learning that twitter and other social media sites make possible.

I know that everyone learns in their own way and learning through twitter might not be for everyone, but I also feel so strongly about the importance of making connections.  Connections open doors to other classrooms, to other methodologies, to opportunities to learn about things we have never heard of and connections also give us the opportunity to share what we are doing with others so they may learn from us.

I also believe strongly about telling our own positive story.  The things we are doing every day are too important to leave to chance.  We need to be in charge of spreading our story to our parents and community in our way.

Connections do not have to be made through twitter, but that is where we are going to start.

I thought it would be a fun idea to jump in and do a challenge in January so we could learn together in a similar manner to the blogging we did together a few years ago.

I hope you will use this opportunity to reach out of your comfort zone.  For some of you the reach will be longer than others.  You will not be alone!  We are all in this together.


The January 2015 #pdale Teacher Twitter Challenge!

The following is a video of Alec Couros talking about twitter in education:


Some links that might be useful:

List of recommended people to follow sorted by their role in education.

List of classrooms around the world that tweet.

Weekly twitter chat days and times.

Great twitter classroom connections.

Twitter for Teachers

Establishing a twitter routine in the classroom

Participating in a twitter chat

Please remember you are not alone!  I can’t wait to see the things we can learn!


Meeting the Needs of Teachers

I spent my Friday meeting with most of my teachers for the mid year check in of their professional growth plans.  It was a great way to spend the day and I love spending time getting to know my staff.  We rarely have opportunities that are not rushed or focused on too many things.  We talked about their goals and how they thought things were going in their classrooms, with their students and in our school.  Our conversations often turned to professional development opportunities which got me thinking of the best way to meet all of their individual needs.

Our school division provides many opportunities for PLC’s (Professional Learning Communities). Teachers can apply twice a year for funding to support PLC learning opportunities and many of the teachers in my school participate in these groups. The feedback from these PLC`s are mostly positive, when the teachers have been allowed some freedom to take their discussions and learning in a self-directed way.

Most of the negative feedback coming from my teachers happens when they feel self-direction of the learning is not there and emphasis is put on planning and paper work expectations.

It is difficult for school divisions to plan large group professional development that meets the needs of all teachers. I find that often the learning and discussion is geared toward the group of teachers that are near the bottom with their level of understanding. I supposed it is planned this way with the hope that more teachers will gain an understanding of the presented initiative. The affect it often has on those that are beyond the level of the presentation is that they leave feeling frustrated and like their needs have not been met.

Very few teachers really have the opportunity to attend big, national conferences where you can join in conversations and pick sessions that are directed at your learning needs.

So what now…?

My thought is… why are we waiting for someone to provide learning opportunities for us that meet our distinct needs as individual teachers. As I stated in my last post, the best professional development I have is coming straight to me every day from the personal learning network that I have created. It is self-directed and conversations always circulate around topics directly related to my personal needs. I can join with my PLN at times that work well for me and the opportunity is always available to me to be learning from a wide variety of perspectives and experiences.

When looking through my twitter feed today I came across a link posted by Tom Whitby to a post he has written titled “Are Education Conferences Relevant”. In his post Tom stated, “We are professional educators who need to do a better job educating ourselves as educators. If we are to better educate kids, we need to better educate their educators.”

What I would advise my teachers to do if they really want to be in charge of their own learning is to start to build their own learning networks. It truly is the most valuable learning opportunity I have ever been involved in. Any thoughts?

Why I use Twitter…

At some point this year I set the goal of writing on my blog at least once a week.  That is a difficult goal when balancing work and family, but writing is something I enjoy that allows me a creative outlet for my thoughts.  Lately though, I have been to my blog, but feel like I have writers block. When this happens, instead of writing on my blog I will spend my free moments searching around on twitter, reading and sharing. I have a bit of an obsession with Twitter if you ask my husband.  As I sit listening to the wind howling today, searching around on twitter I was thinking about what twitter has added to my professional and personal learning.

One year ago 3 of the teachers in my school had the opportunity to attend #educon conference in Philadelphia.  It was exciting for us to be able to send them there because most teachers in our school division do not have the opportunity to attend big conferences such as this.  They came back with many great ideas to share and prompted all of us to start using Twitter as part of our daily routine in the school, in our classes and in our professional lives.  We spent time as a staff learning from them how to set up a twitter account and  getting some suggestions as to who to follow.  We set up a school Twitter account and starting sharing with our parents through Twitter.  Each of our classrooms have a twitter account and many share classroom happenings on a daily basis.  It has been a great communication and collaboration tool for our whole school.

These are the reasons why I use Twitter

  • Twitter is the best professional development I have been involved in for a long time.
  • It allows me to follow my interests, passions and interact with people similar to me.
  • It allows me to share my ideas.
  • It helps me answer questions.
  • On a daily basis I am able to find ideas and links that help me be a better teacher and administrator


Final reflection for ECI 832

It is so hard to believe another semester is over and another course is coming to an end.  I have had such an intense year of learning and reflecting about what I knew, what I thought I knew and what I have yet to learn.  In the fall when I was taking ECI 831, I was unsure of my technological abilities and spent a lot of the course feeling like I was out of my element.  I learned a lot, but was still feeling unsure about my role and confidence level with technology integration.  ECI 832 has allowed me to grow so much more in this area and I have been able to find the confidence I need to take a leadership role in my school supporting technology integration.  I now have the attitude that I can try anything, it may take a while to accomplish, but I am still capable of doing it.

What new understanding of the role of educational technology to support learning have you gained, acted on, or perhaps strengthened?

I think before the class started that I was confused about what technology integration really is.  It is difficult to sort out the difference between doing things in the classroom that use technology or having technology available in the classroom and having real authentic learning activities integrating technology that are connected to curricular outcomes.  I think that it is all part of the growth in the pedagogy of teaching that is going on today.  Teachers are realizing that it is no longer good enough to fill our students with as much information as we can and hope that they will be able to spit it back to us  in the form of tests and assignments.  Now we are focusing more on our students and what they can show us. We want them to be responsible for their own learning and thinking and engaged in what they are doing.  Student centered learning, needs to be just that…student centered.

Marnie discussed in the Block 8 posting , the 5 things David Warlick thinks we should look for in  tech infused learning experiences. When reading his blog post, I couldn’t help but realize I now find it difficult to imagine student centered learning that does not involve technology integration.  The two ideas seem interchangeable to me.  Our students can now have such  broad audiences  for their learning and have opportunities to communicate and collaborate with other students around the world.  It is a different world that they live in, with so many more opportunities for growth and communication. I think one of the main steps I made in my thinking was to cross the threshold into how I could  meaningfully integrate technology.

I think taking this course has helped me act upon applying for two technology integration grants.  We are currently involved in school division action research grant, that involves the use of Flip video and digital still cameras and how they can affect student engagement and assessment in math.  I have applied for another research grant for next school year that involves using web 2.0 tools with social studies and how that might affect student engagement.  I would not have seen myself taking a leadership role in this area before the exposure to technology and internet tools that I have had during this course.  I have realized that I do not have to be an expert, and more importantly, I can figure anything out if I try.  I am also not afraid to learn with my students.  Some of the best learning experiences happen when we are busy learning things together.

What has had the most influence on your horizon of understanding?

I think that the collaboration with other people in this course and reading technology blogs has had the most influence on me.  I have enjoyed reading the blogs of other people in this course and it was very interesting to see that we are all dealing with the same types of successes and frustrations.  Sometimes it is easy to think that frustrating things only happen in your own little world.  That is not the case at all.  It was nice to be able to share successes and frustrations and be able to encourage and support each other.

I can’t seem to get enough time to read information being shared on technology blogs.  I have found countless ideas and tools that I have used or bookmarked to use in the future.  It is nice to stay abreast of what is happening in the educational technology world and have the opportunity to learn from others.  I now see the importance of collaborating and feel strongly that it is something that teachers should do more often.

What new question(s) emerged? Where do I go from here?

I think my biggest question is always, how do I encourage and support the teachers in my school to move forward with technology integration and see the connection between technology and student centered learning? It is not a new question for me… but it is a  big, important one.  I have moments when I think we are not making progress, like when I felt anger at a staff meeting after making a presentation about  technology integration. On the other hand,  I have had moments when I think we are making progress in this area.

Last week, I had a few minutes to walk about and see what was going on in   classrooms… I was pleasantly surprised. In one classroom the students were actively involved in a world water simulation activity.  The students were in groups representing different countries learning what it is like to have to ration water.  In the next classroom I stepped into,  the students were working on photo stories showing what they had learned about skip counting and multiplication  and in the next classroom, the students were all in groups on the floor, very actively involved in an input and output math game.

I know that these activities did not all involved technology integration, but for me that is what it is all about.  We integrate technology where it makes sense to do so.  What was exciting for me, was these students were all actively engaged in what they were doing and they were all learning.

Where do I go from here?

  • I guess that I keep doing what I am doing.
  • I need to take a step back sometimes and allow people to move at a different pace than me.
  • I need to support teachers where they are in the LoTi framework and help them move forward from there.
  • I think that it is important that I keep presenting ideas and opportunities that fit with curricular outcomes and that I keep offering whatever level of support is needed for each individual  to move forward.

Thank you to everyone who helped me on my journey this semester.  I appreciate all of your comments, support and feedback.  Good luck to everyone!

Educational gaming…a hot educational topic?

If I thought my brain was exploding before, it certainly is now.  I was unable to make a connection on Tuesday night to Elluminate and so I had to listen to the recorded version this morning.  Sylvia Martinez certainly gave me some food for thought.  I am not a gamer!  I really have a strong feeling of negativity when it comes to video games and me playing them.  I am surrounded by gamers in my family and I know that my students are avid gamers.  I do support gaming as an activity for other people.  When my 11 year old son asks me to watch him do something cool on a video game, I can even get feeling nauseous from the fast action-Good grief!

I am not sure that I have noticed the “hot” debate about video games, mainly because my mind has been occupied with other educational debates.  When I stopped to think about it, I realized that there is a debate out there.  I had a couple of thoughts on why we are having the debate.

1. We cannot deny the movement and the necessity of 21 century learning and engaging children in their learning by giving students what they need and want. I happened to come across a very interesting video at google videos this morning, School Matters: The Games Children Play, that I attempted to include in this post  without any luck, so a link will have to do.  It made a lot of the same points as Sylvia Martinez presented to ECI831, with some other issues added on.  Dr. Henry Jenkins, Director of Comparitive Media Studies at MIT, said the following:

“If you ask a child what is bad about a video game, they will reply, ‘when it is too easy’. If you ask a child what is bad about an assignment, they will reply, “when is it too hard.”  Dr. Jenkins felt that this summed up a fundamental problem with our teaching strategies and felt, as Sylvia Martinez did, that we need to try harder to link video game attributes to things that students are doing in the classroom.

2.  Many teachers and parents do not see the educational value to gaming in school. Sylvia Martinez brought up an interesting point when she said, just because something is labeled ‘educational’ doesn’t mean that it is.  Of  course we all know we can’t believe everything that we read, but do we really stop and think about what we are actually trying to achieve with our “teaching” activities?  I think parents and teachers can be lulled into thinking that we are spending “useful” time if something is labeled “educational”.  The other side of that, I guess is, does everything we are doing have to be educational?  Again it comes back to our definition of education and what we are trying to achieve. We need to be a lot more aware of what the game “says” it does and what we are actually hoping to achieve by having our students play the game.

3.  There seems to be a lot of media hype on the issue of violence in video games and what effect that has on young children.  Of course there are two sides to this debate as well, but the connection does not help when it comes to educating parents on the benefits of the use games in school other than the “educationally” labeled games.

4. The link between the amount of time children spend on playing video games/social media networks and childhood obesity is another topic of debate.  You do not have to look far to see many headlines on this topic. Video games and other sedentary activities get an automatic bad rap.  Schools are under pressure to add in more physical education and get those kids moving and this can help create a negative attitude toward using video games at school.

5. There is a debate about the rise of video games causing the death of reading, and reading is one of the number one factors that is linked to student success. According to James Gee, Professor of Education at the University of Wisconson, also seen the the video, “School Matters: The Games Children Play”  …video gaming and other social media activities actually cause students to do more reading and writing  than ever before, it is just the modes have changed and are not looking the same as our traditional ideas of what constitutes reading and writing.

I had never really thought about the creating side of games before, mainly because I am not a game player and not hugely comfortable with activities that I perceive require huge amounts of technical ability.  I checked out the Scratch game creating site and even though I did not have much time to spend there, I realized, once again, that there are so many tools available that I am not taking advantage of.  It  is funny how everything starts to connect-we are moving toward student controlled learning and it makes sense that designing games puts the learner in charge.

One thing is for sure, the debate will probably continue.  Schools need to work hard to educate parents on gaming by putting forth positive examples.  It meshes so well with all the other changes and debates that are going on right now, that we have a great opportunity to be proactive in squashing some of the negative hype.  Catch you on the back channel.

Am I willing to give up control?

That is really what it comes down to doesn’t it?  Or at least that is a big part of it.  The formal learning environment is what most of us is used to.  We were educated in this manner and we were trained to educate in this manner.  There is not doubt that it may not be impossible to teach an old dog new tricks, but it can be difficult.   As an educator, I have been asked countless times why we need all these changes in education.  Many people have and still do say to me, “it worked fine for me when I was in school, so why are we changing it?”  For the most part, by “it”, they mean reading, writing and arithmetic taught to well behaved students, sitting in rows and being respectful.  That is the way I understand it anyway.

I hear from my own father, often, how he is frightened by the way the world is heading and he fears, in some ways, for our future being led by these young people who often appear uninterested, unmotivated, disrespectful, distracted and all in all heading in a wrong direction.

Oh, I am sure that some of this is true.  Education does seem to swing on a pendulum and we do often throw out perfectly good ideas and strategies to make way for the new flavour.  This is bigger then education though isn’t it?  It goes out beyond our classrooms and our schools to a much bigger audience.  The formal education that we are all used to does not need to be thrown out, but it needs to move over to make room for the new dog on the block-informal learning.  I mentioned before that my parents could not have possibly prepared me for the world that I live in today.  They had no idea what changes would come about, just as we, as educators supposedly preparing our students for the future, really have no idea what changes will come about in their lives.  We can guess and make predictions, but we really do not know.  One thing that we know for sure right now though, is that there are uncountable opportunities available for learning and sharing and that if we do not allow our students the opportunity to learn from each other and others, we will for sure be doing them a disservice.

I sat in a inservice session yesterday on preparing ourselves for the new curriculum documents in Saskatchewan that are turning up on so many of our desks at break neck speed.  They are based on constructivism.  Letting students ask their own questions about learning and letting them  play a much bigger role in how they will meet the learning outcomes.  One of the things that occurred to me was that it requires teachers to take a back role.  To step back and let the students learn and in doing so we give up control.

For me it really aligned with the idea of informal learning.  To allow students to participate in informal learning within our formal learning environments also requires that teachers give up some control.  That they let students take the lead and they become a facilitator of learning rather than information feeders.

In my job as an educator I feel not only obligated to allow my students to communicate and learn informally, but I also feel compelled to give them those opportunities.  I don’t think that I can feel that I am doing my job without allowing them to learn beyond me and despite of me.

In my job as an administrator, I think I must educate my teachers, as well, on the advantages of letting go and then I must support them in that endeavour.  Many of us feel like we are flying by the seats of our pants in a strange and unfamiliar environment.  It is important that we reach out and help those that are reluctant, just as members of this class have reassured me at the beginning of my journey into this strange new social network. Yes it may require great change in thinking and a lot of educating of parents and community members, but hopefully we will be surprised at the benefits.