| | Quo Vadis Blog? | Improvisation | | Cross-Curricular Learning | Commonplace Books | Sometimes the Bear Eats You, Work Flow Fail | Motivation is an Extreme Problem | Edmodo for Authentic Writing | There are changes in my life… =


Quo Vadis Blog?

Posted on January 22, 2016 by Alan Stange

What a painful topic this is, and so predictable. What to do with a reflective blog you have invested in? This is my domain at a number of levels, but as in the classroom, technology has shifted my work and PD flow. Edustange is a representation of my learning. As I approach the end of my career, Edustange Blog remains one important indicator of my continued engagement with teaching.

I recognize that retirement for me will be be a process of gradual disengagement. I see this in the increasing desire to pace myself at school. I am applying all of my canny skills and years of hard won knowledge to streamline my workflow. I’m more inclined to pass on extracurricular coaching two younger teachers. And admittedly these teachers are more experienced than I am at the coaching. Never-the-less, I intend to end well. I’d like to be reflecting in this blog all the way.

I think and articulate ideas for myself, but also to engage in meaningful conversation. Edustange Blog has definitely been more about the former than the latter. Digitally speaking, Twitter and its #saskedchat community has met my need for conversation. This is part of the ongoing migration from one platform to another. It is, to steal a delicious phrase, a moveable feast.

The conundrum of my blog is part of the greater migration in my work flow from one platform or application to another. There remain only a few living fossils in my work flow. The WordPress Blog is one of them. Part of the process of disengagement is apparently a growing inclination to stop pimping myself to the educational community. Leadership, being a sage to others, has lost its charm. I began with the intention of conveying my lived experience as a teacher here in Saskatchewan. I’m not sure I met that goal. I’m still living my dream though.


Posted on January 29, 2016 by Alan Stange

Last evening our #saskedchat conversation focused on blogging. I moved into the conversation late with the assumption we were discussing professional, reflective blogs like this one. After following the exchanges, I realized much of the conversation was on classroom blogging. I’ve been trying to engage in both.

I don’t believe I’ve ever had a parent or student follow my professional blog. I write this blog for myself and for my teacher colleagues. The voice that I use in this blog reflects that audience. Topics are more generalized I suppose, and less specific about individuals in my class, or our daily routine. As I said in my last post, I also write with far less certainty that I am being read.

I am far more confident about the audience attending to my microblogs from the classroom. It was unclear what people in the #saskedchat thought a classroom blog looked like. I’m sure I added to the confusion. Text messaging with Seesaw and Remind do not really constitute blogging in my mind. Blogging is a longer and more reflective process of developing ideas into paragraphs. My classrooms Edmodo account would be a much better example of that sort of thing. While it is something of a failure in my mind this year because we have not been able to connect with other classrooms, it also gives us an audience beyond ourselves.

Every year’s technological integration feels like an improvisation. There’s so much potential in each of the applications available to me. It’s rather like my students playing freeze together. The action keeps changing as new people step into the centre of room. It’s interesting to think how this is happening also get a macro level among the software developers themselves. Applications like Seesaw, Class Dojo, and Remind adopt characteristics of each other. It has gotten to the point where I am not sure which of the three principal applications I use for communicating with families is the best one to follow. All three have Included classroom blogging into their service.

Next year I think I will have to make a choice between some of these services. At present I use Remind to keep students and families up-to-date with our daily activity, and offer challenges for evening conversation (about as much homework as I cared offer). I use Seesaw as a digital portfolio. Class Dojo is my weekly behavioral assessment on learning. Remind has been so very useful over the last few years, but frankly it is the one service I could probably eliminate.

A final thought on blogging, likely unrelated to the previous conversation. During the course of our chat last night I remarked that it was important to think about audience and purpose when your blog. This is true. It’s something that we stress with students all the time as they think about their writing. It’s only one strategy though. I think I began writing with myself as the sole audience. Unlike a class blog which has a very clear audience my professional blog is largely for myself. It’s purpose is to capture the flow of my own ideas and make them clear through articulation. As my thoughts progress my audience often changes or rather expands.

Cross-Curricular Learning

Posted on February 7, 2016 by Alan Stange

IMG_1590small.jpgOur conversation this week on #saskedchat shared our understandings and current practices incorporating cross-curricular outcomes and indicators. Within ten minutes I pulled myself up short and remembered that my context was not identical to those of the others in the discussion. Parenthetically, that is one of the virtues of participating in these sorts of conversations. Each of us is reminded that our lived experience with students and the curriculum is different.

I initially entered the conversation from my current perspective as an elementary classroom teacher. Creating integrated an integrated unit when you teach virtually all disciplines to your students is remarkably easy. Consuming and then producing representations of learning involves multiple disciplines. The student in the picture is working on his Canadian Heritage Fair Project. The outcomes effortlessly bridge language arts, science, social studies, and arts education. I can assess him in all these subjects.

Ten minutes into repeating the obvious to my fellow #saskedchat participants I was reminded that I was also chatting with departmentalized high school teachers. I was forced to rethink the questions. In their context, cross-curricular learning, at least learning representations destined for assessment, necessitates team teaching and collaborative meetings. Many of my colleague’s remarks revolved around the roadblocks to collaboration. Shared vision, time, and rubrics, are examples offered.

I have frequently characterized teaching as akin to being a short order cook, rather than a chef, or cook book author. We expedite results in an economical manner, with the minimum of superfluous exposition. Unless you are documenting something for your graduate class, thesis, or district assessment, the word is KISS. Frankly, I think an administrator in a supervision cycle with a master teacher should be attending to this quality in the teacher’s work flow. It is, I think, a hallmark of a master teacher.

This relates to the problems high school teachers face implementing cross-curricular ideas. My approach would be to create a unit, identify outcomes from other courses, and then shop around the staff room seeking colleagues interested in assessing my students publications for their own narrow interests. If they can offer a modification to my plan that helps them integrate their outcomes, all the better. Formal meetings between three to five teachers seem unnecessary to me.

Commonplace Books

Posted on March 18, 2016 by Alan Stange

Behold, the power of the commonplace book, a system with deep historical roots. As author Steven Johnson says:
Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters—just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. In its most customary form, ‘commonplacing,’ as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations.

The practice remains the perfect way to harness the colossal amount of digital content we see. And technology has provided us with flexible frameworks capable of helping us capture, curate, and retain information. As Ryan Holliday notes, commonplace has plenty of utility in our modern life:
A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.

Taking Note: What Commonplace Books Can Teach Us about Our Past Posted by Taylor Pipes on 26 Feb 2016

Periodically, I’ve attempted to use a “journal” to track my thoughts. It began with a journal in my late teens. I abandoned that in embarrassment, even destroying it. For ten years I used my day planner as a common book, writing and drawing in it. In grad school I kept a dedicated common book. It was very satisfying and as this article suggests, it organized my thinking. Since the advent of my digital life, common books have been in disarray. My writing was fragmented across too many applications.
Finally, I am bringing order to this. I feel the lure of a print journal still, but it can’t compete with the convenience of a phone or iPad. My efforts have gravitated to Evernote finally. This article Common books seems to be my first introduction to a very old term. I use Evernote to compile links, quotes, resources, and personal ideas now. It is not my only digital tool. It is the most personal. Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, and this blog are more about sharing ideas.

Student exercise books, which I have been referring to as “learning journals” are evolving slowly into common books. After reading this article, I think I will adopt the name.

Sometimes the Bear Eats You, Work Flow Fail

Posted on March 24, 2016 by Alan Stange

IMG_1879small.jpgI finally had that heart attack I’ve been promising my colleagues since my sick days began to accumulate. “I’m saving them till then, cough, cough.” In a whisper. In retrospect, I don’t think anyone, barring the accounting department in personnel, appreciated my decision. It was a mild attack, so I still find it humorous. Four days in the hospital shattered my well thought out workflow.

No point in meditating on the life changes of having a heart attack, nor the necessary adjustments to my self concept. I’m still working through that anyway.

One of my frustrations this week was the limitations of my iPad. Naturally, it kept me entertained over the long period. Its lack of flexibility failed me when I tried multitasking Google Documents for sub planning. On a desktop, I can open a browser and shift text from my unit plans to my week plan efficiently. My iPad mini does not have that capacity, though I didn’t try to operate through a browser. I would have to open a file, capture text, close the file to open the next, repeatedly.

My commitment to planning in depth for my subs was pretty limited, understandably. It was definitely a moment for a laptop. I took a look at this advertisement for an IPad Pro, looks slick, sort of a ripoff of the Surface isn’t it? My suspicion is that it still shares the limitation of my old iPad mini. Perhaps it’s browsing capacity is better. How does the Surface handle multiple windows? Is it basically a Windows 10 laptop that might let me log into my school’s network remotely?

The other thing I missed was access to my network files. I know many teachers lack that service in their districts, but it is a powerful part of my work flow here. I’m suspecting a Surface would handle the remote logins and Microsoft Office tasks I still require.

It was a transitory problem. I’m back home now with access to my HP desktop. Mobile computing isn’t really a priority. I probably should not be window shopping for new technology anyway.

Motivation is an Extreme Problem

Posted on March 25, 2016 by Alan Stange

I agree with John Spencer, motivation is differentiated. We are often overwhelmed by movements searching for the magic bullet that will solve one educational problem or another. It is important to keep our understanding of the varied types of problems confronting us throughout life. Some are simple, others complex, and too many extreme. I have not heard reference to this categorization in some time. I hope it is still active in educational thinking. It certainly does not seem to resonate in the public’s mind during political discourse. Responding to problems as simple is perceived as demonstrating strength. Responding to problems as complex it thought a mark of thoughtfulness. Confessing that a problem is in fact extreme makes one feel incompetent or ineffectual.

As John Spencer points out, there is no way to parse out a simple motivator for learning, we don’t know all the factors in motivation. We don’t know all the correct responses to the unmotivated. We function by relying on generalizations, yet we must keep in our minds that each person represents a unique extreme problem. I have 21 children to motivate, so I am challenged to arrive at 21 subtly, or dramatically different responses. This is why we persist in saying that a personal relationship between teacher, student, and their family is critical to learning.

Edmodo for Authentic Writing

Posted on March 30, 2016 by Alan Stange

I’m sold on social networking as a vehicle for students to publish the best of their writing. It is one of my principal sources assessment data now. I catch them at their most eloquent, when they are engaged, and independent. Personal voice shines through.

Zain is ten and he demonstrates his proficiency in paragraphing to me in this casual post to Edmodo. He includes the beginnings of descriptive detail using effective word choice. I only caught one spelling error. He would have composed this on a personal device with spell check. I’d like to see him add this to his digital portfolio on Seesaw and past a picture of it into his commonplace journal in his desk.

Zain’s post is what I would consider effective, meaningful homework. Reading and writing independently are far more important than daily worksheets sent home, or random spelling lists to memorize, and then quickly forget. This example of Zain’s is not unique from my class this year. Quite a few students have shared great examples of writing with us.

One other reason I promote Edmodo is parents engagement. Parents can follow their child’s writing through a parent account, or simply look over their shoulder. There are many ways to share writing, but this is probably my favourite at the moment.

There are changes in my life…

Posted on July 25, 2016 by Alan Stange

It’s Monday morning and my resolution to meet the #saskedchat blogging challenge this summer slipped by. Meditating on the topic, I perused my three common journals covering the last twenty years. I fell into the practice during a year of grad studies in the mid 90’s and much of my understanding of change comes from that period. Much of my thinking on change at that time focused on the barriers to innovation as I learned to shift in two ways: first, from instruction and assessment of content to skills and attitudes; and second, breaking free of quantitative assessments in favour of qualitative ones. Twenty-five years on, public education seems to still be engaged in this shift.

My meditations on change still seem to be informed by the forty year old work of Stenhouse (1976). He categorized seven barriers: climate, resource gaps, skills, materials, communication, culture, and facility (Which I defined as all those resources of power, authority, and influence called on to bring about change. Not sure what I was thinking.) I still relate to this as I work through personal and systemic changes in assessment and evaluation. I’m also conscious of the internal resistances to change that are often less obvious than the external ones.

There is a personally influential scene in Bethune: The Making of a Hero (1990). Bethune has ended his journey in China working with the Communist Red Army in its war with Imperial Japan. Seemingly secure in his radical politics and social views, a crisis in his MASH unit forces him to be critically reflective about his own assumptions. He had a practically trained Chinese colleague who he refused to accept as an equal, because the man had no formal credentials. Realizing his error, Bethune publicly criticizes himself to his team. He confesses to them that while he has been fighting the fascists, he has failed to fight the fascist within. The phrase has always stuck with me. I suppose it also left me with a healthier respect for the efficacy of lived experience.

Stenhouse pointed out that our identity as teachers constrains innovation. We identify ourselves as learned and skilled in teaching. This is an important source of our self respect. Innovations deskill us and leave us with a burden of incompetence. The emotional impacts of change are not made easier by the reality that the changes we are reflecting on are extreme problems. We feel uncertainty about the source of the problem, the solution to the problem, and indeed, our ultimate goal. All change is caught up in the question, what is the purpose of public education? An inclusive answer becomes so broad that we defeat ourselves. Goals compete, we end up prioritizing, and securing post-secondary education trumps everything else. It is difficult to accept personally directed and paced growth as a goal for education. Bethune’s inner fascist seeking credentials again.

In the last few years I seem to have overcome my personal barrier to communicating with parents informally. Social media has provided me with the missing tools. Last year I messaged through multiple platforms: simple texts, Facebook, Remind, Seesaw, and ClassDojo. Beyond the obvious scheduling updates, I have been sharing moments of learning and the daily lived experience of students as individuals. It’s an uneven process. Some families are less accessible than others. For me it seems a revolution in assessment, but I’m aware that the term reports with their grades (call them what you will) still overshadow. What goes home three times each year in quantitative summary remains more significant than the qualitative story I’m trying to convey daily. Outcomes and indicators are fully entrenched in my elementary classroom, but qualitative assessment is very much a work in progress.

To return to Stenhouse’s observation that innovation deskills us as teachers. It’s important to remember that we continually deskill our students in the classroom. Despite our intention to prepare learners for each new step, to let their learning be an evolution, we generally keep them unballanced. You think you have mastered math? Not so! You are still ignorant, here is something new for you! We try to develop growth mindsets. Fortunately, I think we can agree young children are hardwired with growth mindsets. Unfortunately, we discourage that as they age by emphasizing failure as catastrophic. We are all champions, here’s your participation ribbon to prove it. However, these champions here get first place ribbons… please acknowledge their achievement. I digress. The point I intended to end with was our need as teachers to counter the discouraging barrier of deskilling with our own growth mindsets. I think we can find a way through all the other barriers to change too.

That may sound more optimistic than it should. I remarked that change is part of the extreme problem of educating young people. Public education is only one part of that. My social networks are full of catch phrases. Game changing is a popular one. Take a common game you know and think of the ways you could change it. Some are trivial, others significant. I read recently that if you want to really change a game, change the goal. The primary objective of most games is to win. What is your inner fascist whispering as you confront, or contemplate change?