‘Twas the day before Christmas break

We had a very spirited discussion today in our table groups. It was a perfect example of accountable talk.

The students were writing their response to the following question,

By controlling medical research funds, you are in a position to guarantee that a cure will be found in 15 years for any disease you choose. Unfortunately, no progress on any others would be made during that period. Would you target one disease?

It really didn’t matter what they decided. The point of the exercise was to have them state a clear opinion and support it. Students faced off in an oral display of give and take. Everyone was respectful of the opposing opinions, yet held steadfastly to their own beliefs. Even at the end of the period when one student remarked, “We really didn’t get anything done this period” one of her friends countered with, “But we have so much more to write about now”.

It’s starting to come together.


Critical Thinking Skills

My friend Tami Brewster shared this on Pintrest.

A poster created for [our] English language arts and social studies departments (humanities) to use in their classroom, as well as in the library.

Not-for-profit organizations are free to use it within the Creative Commons licensing parameters.

Critical Thinking Skills

Can you teach 21C skills without technology?

Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technologies – it happens when society adopts new behaviours.
– Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, p. 160

So my colleague Cat Lee posted this on Twitter a while back, and it started me thinking. Right away I wanted to answer, “Yes” then thought that a question like this deserves a lot more critical thought. The question asks us to separate behaviour and learning from hardware. I’m okay with that.

With that in mind, what are the skills necessary to be a 21st century contemporary learner? There are more than enough lists to choose from and I don’t think any one particular set of skills can (or should) be ranked higher or lower than any other. Three general areas keep coming up over and over,

  • Foundational Knowledge
  • Meta-Knowledge
  • Humanistic knowledge

Students working in tomorrow’s marketplace are going to require creative and critical thinking skills, a broad inter-disciplinary base and they will need to be able to play well with others. I suppose these could all be taught to some degree of effectiveness without technology. I’m just not entirely sure that’s the best plan of attack.

Acting into Thinking

It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting. – Millard Fuller


We use this quote frequently with our Action Research groups. I’m not sure if it’s Mr. Fuller’s quote since a quick search attributes several people to similar incarnations of this. The spirit of the quote is what is important.

As teachers we can fill up an enormous amount of time planning. Give us more time and we’ll fill it up with planning. Of course planning is an essential part of the teaching learning cycle. Perhaps there needs to be a slight shift in how our time is allotted throughout the cycle. Plan with all diligence, then act and reflect so that changes can be made if necessary.

What if changes don’t need to be made? Even better, now that you have collected some reflective data around your practice and your students’ learning. All of this adaptation comes from some form of action. It’s this action that drives our new ways of thinking.

If you can be replaced by software, perhaps you should be

That seems like a pretty harsh thing to say. It seems harsh until you give it a little thought. If you think teaching is just about dispensing knowledge in measure doses so that it can be measured on a standardized test, then perhaps you should be replaced by software. Let’s face it, software can do it cheaper and longer than you can. Software is available 24/7, you’re not.

The good news is that inquiry based teaching will never become an endangered species. This isn’t the information age any more, it’s the knowledge age. Information is everywhere. It’s ubiquitous. Everything I need to know is accessible through my phone or the nearest wireless hub. Teachers are need to help students with the critical skills necessary to make sense of on-demand information. Teachers help students move from consumers to creators along the path of information to knowledge to wisdom. Software can’t do that by itself.

Reflective PD Model for Learning

What might a reflective professional development model for learning look like? We’ve all experienced the consumer model of professional learning where workshops are offered, we select from a menu of choices and passively take in the learning. These knowledge centred approaches, while popular, provide little in terms of long term change.

What if professional learning provided time for conversation and reflection? A professional learning model that allowed us to make meaning by reflecting on our practice. Since we are constantly revising and reconstructing our knowledge, these sessions would need to be defined by the participants, not the organizers. This would mean giving up traditional parameters of control in the design of the learning and probably end up looking more like an EdCamp model for learning. EdCamps are participant-driven while traditional professional development is organizer-driven. These become more learning sessions that training sessions.

This feels like more than just a shift in semantics.

Journey Maps

There’s something very powerful about the process of reflection, when it’s used properly. Reflecting gives us time to make sense of our learning. Sometimes putting a time and place on reflecting feels forced, like when we’re given 5 minutes in a workshop and told to ‘reflect’.

This week we were working with some visiting teachers from Korea who are coming near the end of their 6 month learning with our board. We spent the morning talking and creating journey maps. Journey maps are powerful way to focus our reflections by creating temporal representations of our learning. We frequently use these during final sharing sessions with our action research teams. It’s a great way to visualize your learning and serves as a representation to help us reflect on our practice. The act of creating a map helps us focus our reflection and speaking to your map further helps to clarify our learning as a process.