Dear Jane

Photo Credit: Tricia Friedman

I would not be the teacher I am today without having had the privilege of working with Jane Ross.

Anyone who knows Jane, knows that she is innovation in motion.  Take a look at her phenomenal blog, and you’ll see why.  Jane is a maker, a visionary, and one heck of an educator.  The first time I came to understand the significance of Challenge Based Learning was when I read her incredible guide to it available free, through iTunes here.

This is a photo I took of Jane at the ADE Institute in San Diego in 2014
This is a photo I took of Jane at the ADE Institute in San Diego in 2014

Jane’s book puts CBL into perspective.  This is about teachers and students being innovative together.  This is about authentic inquiry which reminds us all to rethink the power of learning.

The opportunities for learning in our world today are immense and we need to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to us.  We not only have access to all of the information in our world today, but we have access to one another.George Couros

Just recently, I attempted to emulate Jane’s ability to put learning to use in the real world.  During our PDW (personal development week) at school, I was part of a 12 person team with two teachers and ten students heading to Bucharest, Romania. Our intention was to work with an NGO, known as Second Chance, and to help them develop a media campaign to win over further donations, and grants.  As an IBDP Language and Literature teacher, I spend a lot of time looking at the media with students.  We decode adverts, think about agendas, and ask critical questions about the way meaning is made.  The big moon shot idea was to allow students to take their media literacy to a new level by making their own short films.  In order to do this effectively, it was important that we spend as much time as possible with the amazing founder of the NGO, Cosmina Pandele.

Here’s a look at some of the poignant moments spent with Second Chance:

As part of our media/digital literacy practice with this trip, we also decided to use the music of Milo, a band made up of a student and teacher at our school.  They granted their permission for their songs to be featured in our short films.  Their song is featured in the video above. It is important to remind students that we often have all the artists we need on campus–we have access to a whole treasure trove of resources when we take the time to value our community.

The final videos for our media campaign are still in the works.  I’m excited to see how well we put our learning to use, and to see the response we receive.

Jane Ross taught me to think about her ‘Backpack Classroom,’ concept on trips like these.

Perhaps one of the best things that I learned from Jane when it comes to CBL is that you have to put students in charge as often as possible.  Leaders become leaders by leading. If we want our students to solve problems, take on challenges, and make connections between their tools and the world, we need to give them big pockets of time, loads of flexible options, and rounds of applause.

I’ve also learned that to do the level of authentic learning that Jane does, you need to be connected.  Jane is very well networked, and very active with Social Media.  One of the challenges with engaging in CBL is not knowing where to start.  On Twitter,   is a wonderful place to kick ideas around, lurk and learn.

Jane, thank you for the example you set, the educator you are, and the many memories you’ve left me with.  Although I don’t share a physical campus with Jane Ross today, I still enjoy connecting with her–and being inspired to reflect on the fantastic work in CBL that she has shared with the world.


Blogging for a legacy of learning

Photo by Tricia Friedman

Building a 21st Century legacy of learning is one bumpy, marvelous, nail-biting ride.


“The first, most important thing is to recognize that the world is changing.”- Vijay Govindarajan, Professor, Tuck.

How are schools changing?  How are teachers changing? How are students changing? How is technology integration changing?

That’s a lot of ‘how’s’ and not enough ‘why’s’.  Schools are changing because, like Seth Godin says we can ‘unteach’ many of the core values we need students to have, and in many senses, we have been ‘unteaching’ innovation.  If you haven’t seen the complete ‘Stop Stealing Dreams’ manifesto in action, do yourself a gigantic favor click play:

As an English teacher, one of the most important new tools in my toolkit has been the blog.  No longer, will students write for a limited audience.

My students are expected to compile a living and breathing portfolio of thought.  The crucial distinction is that this portfolio is accessible to anyone at anytime, and they are expected to belong to a community of thinkers.  Students don’t receive feedback from one teacher–but they receive feedback from their peers, near and far.  They design their online space, they personalize it, alter it, evolve with it.  This isn’t a binder that will end up in the garbage.  This is a collection of ideas which could be used as an asset when those university applications come along.

Photo Credit: blogwinkel via Compfight cc

Blogs reflect an important shift in today’s world of education: the old power dynamics need to roll over.  Of course students should be curating their own learning.  The tools are there.  And now, more than ever we need students to understand that the learning belongs to them.  In a world where knowledge is more accessible than ever before, students and teachers should be encouraged to build their own learning legacy.

“For Mark Carrigan, a research fellow at the University of Warwick’s Centre for Social Ontology whose forthcoming book, Social Media for Academics, can already be pre-ordered, “the key media are Twitter and blogging and they are very interconnected – my blogs feed automatically into my Twitter account, which then drives an audience for the blog”.

An enthusiastic blogger since studying for his PhD, Carrigan found great value in using the medium as “a public research notebook about what I was reading, working my way through difficult literatures in public…There is something quite specific about the experience of clarifying your thoughts by articulating them so openly.”

At the same time, by sharing online, “an audience coalesces around you and you make a lot of contact with people asking similar questions and reading similar things”. Via Times Higher Education

Blogs can be magical, but they aren’t magic.  Here’s a SAMR-ized look at how I’ve developed as a blog-facilitator:

S– Initially blogs are a substitute for your traditional notebook.  Students write, they store, they sometimes review their work.

A-Student blogs become a place where resources can be hyperlinked, connections can be easily accessed.  Students can showcase visual literacy, think critically about the design of their work, and begin to ask questions about what their ideas look like.

M-Students are part of a larger community of thinkers.  Students begin to respond to one another, leaving comments, starting dialogues.  Work becomes less restricted by time and geography.  Students will circle back to posts completed weeks, months ago when someone else initiates a new dialogue by connecting and commenting.  A student has a new audience–their blog is being viewed from another country.

R-Students decide to join a networked project.  Our ‘assignment’ isn’t dictated by a single person.  We find and connect with interesting initiatives, or we invite others to join us.

We unite with Blog Action Day

We use our blogs to reflect on our learning journey across the campus

We see ourselves as authentic authors

We actively engage in constructing our online identity



Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

It’s difficult to build the momentum to get to the redefinition stage.  It takes a majority of the school stakeholders to buy in.  School leadership needs to take an active roll.  Leaders need to encourage students to get active with Edublog Awards, or hold their own school blogging competitions.  You need a critical mass of teachers to encourage blogging.  Students need to have access to blog-mentors.  Design must be valued and time must be provided.  Schools need to invest in getting their educators comfortable with integrating blogs.  A former school I worked at embedded this type of training into the schedule for every single teacher.  You can see a bit about that program here.

If you want a community of authentic authors, you need commitment and dedication.  Staying the course to that vision is riddled with hurdles, nay-saying, and fear.  Getting from S to R is not accessible through any short cut.  Arriving at R means you’ve taken one heck of a scenic route, worthy of heaps of hashtags and more.  Is your school up for that kind of e-road trip?

Power to the lego people.

Image courtesy of my amazing grade 9 class.

When we talk about visual literacy we need to avoid the echo chamber of a ‘faculty only’ conversation.  Most teachers I talk to will agree it is important.  Most teachers I know online demonstrate their own keen awareness of how powerful visuals are.  But when and where do we make room for our students to think about the place visual literacy has in their school experience?

During the third week of Course Three, we considered the following question:

How does the ability to use, create and/or manipulate imagery foster effective communication?
I have long thought about this question in regards to my own presentation design.  I wanted to get out of the way of my students, and allow them to answer that question within their own peer groups.
One of the IBDP LP signs made by my 9th grade English class
One of the IB Learner Profile signs made by my 9th grade English class

I asked my students to select one of the following decks I had created for our classroom essential agreements:

Harkness Table Talk Expectations – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

IB Learner Profile – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
From there, students selected their own teams, and decided on the resources they wanted to use for their remixes.  We spent about 15 minutes workshopping our editing skills with Picmonkey. We spent a quick 10 minutes thinking about the rule of thirds, and how it makes a difference in images we create. Lastly, we had a short discussion about the purpose,  and underlying themes we wanted to communicate in our images.  In order to do this, students had to think about the existing themes with the IB Learner Profile as well as our Harkness Table Talk guidelines.  In doing so, students had authentic conversations about the foundation of our classroom experiences.  As curators, students needed to unpack the nuances of our essential agreements.  As a teacher, I began to rethink the ‘real estate’ value of the signage spaces in my classroom.  Too many teachers dominate the signage ownership.  It is quick, easy, and effective to whip together another Haiku Deck for my room.  It is complicated, challenging, and a time commitment to hand this responsibility over to our students.  But it shifts the narrator of the classroom story.  No class should be told from a teacher’s first person perspective all the time.  Empowering our students to tackle the story-telling of our classroom norms means rewriting the dialogue to be open-ended.

One of the crucial understanding in this course is:

  • Audience and purpose behind your communication affect how and what you communicate.

When students make and communicate for their community, we also unpack why we value communication as a collaborative skill.

If we want to educate our school community about the power of the Creative Commons movement we need to give them ample experience as creators.  The more students construct their own signage, blogposts, music, videos–the more they understand the need for reuse, the joy of the remix, and the pride of creating something valuable to someone somewhere else.

Another creative interpretation of one of our values.
Another creative interpretation of one of our values.

I wanted to share the story of the risk I took in taking time away from ‘the curriculum,’ to get to the core of why we do the things we do in my classroom.  Scratch that, in OUR classroom.  Yes, we need students to carve out their own online learning spaces through blogging and Twitter.  We also need them to have room to communicate on our physical classroom walls.  We often become so obsessed with moving forward with our lessons, that we ignore the signs for ‘rest stops,’ along the way.  If we want our students to be effective content curators, we need to allow them the time and space to practice those skills in authentic, but low stakes situations.  Although this lesson in design, curation, and values assessment wasn’t on our unit planner–it was essential.  I wanted to share that story with other teachers.  When we prepare our students to collaborate on our needed classroom decor–wonderful things happen.  Thanks to COETAIL, I am more ‘design-minded,’ and from here on out, I hope to start with the following question the next time I need to design something:

“Would this be a more authentic experience if I helped facilitate the curation of this by students rather than all by myself?”

Shouldn’t the design of any classroom be a shared responsibility?

I hope my video invites other classes to think about creating and sharing their own version of the IB Learner Profile or other essential agreements.  Please leave me a comment on other ideas for sharing the role of classroom design among all the stakeholders. Thanks!



See, Think, Be Wonderful

“Riding The Wave of New Media” photo credit: me

“Ten years ago infographics were as common as tigers in Siberia, but the rise of social media has fuelled the need for instant, bite-sized chunks of digestible information, and the past three years has seen a massive increase in them.” – Ian Gould. To read more on that click here.

As an IBDP Language and Literature teacher, I’m preparing my students for more than literary analysis.  Today I’m responsible for making sure students graduate with minds savvy enough to decode Taylor Swift lyrics, memes, infographics, Tumblr posts like these, and so very much more.

“Today’s teens spend more than 71 / 2 hours a day consuming media — watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking, and playing video games, according to a 2010 study of 8- to 18-year-olds conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.” – from this Washington Post article

Today’s English teacher needs to prepare students for a passport to the media-rich world, not merely a library card.

Decoding an infographic can be as complex as reading a Billy Collins poem.  You need look at the way color schemes work together to establish tone, analyze the choice of certain fonts, critique the cooperation between image and text. It is equally important to think about the context in which the infographic is published, shared–and what in the world news makes it relevant to the audience.  How does the organization of the infographic work with the overall theme?  Technology is allowing us to do more with language today than ever before.

One of my very favorite infographics looks at at the different types of collaborative styles we may meet in our schools, at our workplaces, and beyond. Click here to check it out. From a Language and Literature perspective, my students could break down the way the author has personified the notion of that style.  Ultimately–I use this as a reminder with students that when we are working in teams, we want to be flexible in our approach, and we also need to value the different skills that different personalities bring to the table.  Learning to work well with others is one of the most valuable approaches to learning we need to unpack…constantly.

Part Two of the IBDP Language and Literature course focuses on Media Institutions and the way they are constantly reshaping the way we define and come to understand the world we live in.

Journalism is undergoing a massive evolution thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.  This amazing infographic does well to unpack the logos behind this ongoing shift:
Social Media: The New News Source
Courtesy of:

My grade 12 students will be preparing for an end of year exam known as the Paper 1.  This exam will be worth 25% of their overall grade.  The exam asks Higher Level students to analyze a pairing of texts, find commonalities and difference and make thematic connections.  Texts are determined by the IB, and they can be anything from a cartoon, essay, passage from a novel, lyrics from a song, to…(you guessed it) an infographic.  I’d love to partner up the infographic above with another text type looking at the way our news will continue to evolve.  Please feel free to suggest a wonderful partner text as a comment below.