Make better Mirrors.

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
― Albert Einstein

How can we better teach students to understand their own learning?

Earlier in the month, I put together this post on reflection and refraction: or my thoughts on the need to make sure our networks are part of the reflective practice.  Incidentally, just this week, a group of teachers and I tapped into the collective wisdom of Madeleine Brookes as she toured us through her thoughts on connectivism and blogging (do read her post here). Then, just this morning I listened to one of my favorite pop-culture podcasts (The Slate Spoiler Series), as they ran through the various theories and reactions to the film Mother!, if you have seen the film, I think you’ll enjoy it too (click here).  I mention all of this, because I think mixed together, they speak to a need to diversify perspective when reflecting. In order to make reflection serve the dual purpose of engaging learners with their own learning AND developing networks that foster critical thinking, reflective activities have to hook our imaginations.

Protocols for reflection should be adaptive.

One thing that I love doing as an educator is crafting questions.  It is something I have invested a lot of time in, and it is the reason I am obsessed with podcasts.  Listening to interviews, eavesdropping on professional critics has much to teach us about question-design.  Anyone who listens to Desert Island Discs knows there is a craft to drawing out better answers. Dana Stevens, film critic, and podcaster is my yoda when it comes to provoking her co-hosts to dig deeper into their responses, you can hear her here. Perhaps the #1 take away I have from years of listening to Stevens is this: don’t let opinions float, and don’t let people ‘off easy,’ great conversations are often the result of great challenges.

How can we ‘be more Dana’ in the classroom?

  1. If your students are blogging about a learning experience, partner them up with a reader who will ask five why’s in response—engender provocation within the portfolios.
  2. Use metaphors. Ask your students to rethink their course, that lesson, a project, an experience as a sport. Huh?  I walk through that in detail here.
  3. Use the WOOP method to encourage students to take ownership within their own learning structures.  You can enjoy a long-listen about the theory here (see another podcast!), or take the WOOP challenge and watch this 5-minute tutorial, or check out the WOOP app. The process of identifying and acknowledging the internal obstacle is huge.
  4. Remember that a small change can have a big payoff: Ask this question: If you had just 30 more minutes to revise/plan for that project/event before it launched, what should you have done with those 30 minutes and why?
  5. In small teams, take turns building journey and empathy maps.
  6. Hit the whiteboards and draft out your force field analysis.
  7. Encourage students to be flexible in their reflection–when they are thinking critically about what happened and why, encourage them to return to earlier posts/statements with this question: “Why might the exact opposite also be true?”
  8. Get out the timer, and quickly offer up snapshots of your learning, Nicki Hambleton explains the process here.

What’s your favorite way to engage with reflection?

mirror flickr photo by sharing user info with oath is wrong shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license


Reflection and Refraction in The Classroom

If reflection can only happen in learning ecologies where learners are given time and direction, refraction can only happen in environments where we believe in transparency, networks and perspective. Schools and societies need both.

I believe that portfolios/blogs are a wonderful way to bring refraction and reflection together.  In a recent post about the power of reading for thought leaders, I came across the following:

I’ve long been a fan of Goodreads as a tool to make our reading habits more transparent and our love of learning more visible (I reflected on this years ago),  and I continue to follow #IMWAYR (It’s Monday What Are You Reading?) on Twitter with delight.  One of my favorite mentor texts for both reflecting and refracting learning comes from our acting Head of School, Nick Alchin, because he often updates his learning community on his reading (see here for just one example).  What makes his example even more relevant for me,  is that I’m able to make connections between his reading reflection and refract it with another member of our leadership team’s reflection, Stuart MacAlpine (see an example here).

experiment flickr photo by uberculture shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

School culture is built both intentionally and incidentally.

When members of the community share their learning processes, make connections amongst their inquiry, and collectively consider resources we see another opportunity to enhance our culture.

Could we do more to intentionally synergize our reflective practice? Yes.

The philosophy behind our use of digital portfolios speaks to this, but we need to build and seek out opportunities to bring it to life. In part, I believe it starts with carefully crafting questions which will be creative catalysts for conversation (I tried to do that here). But we also need to schedule sharing.  Where can we make time not just to record and reflect, but to respond to the reflection of others, thus refracting a network of inquiry?  Much has been said about blogging to develop voice, but I think we need to stop underestimating blogging as a tool for better listening, George Couros has commented on this here:


Is your school culture the product of reflection and refraction?


Featured Image Courtesy of Flickr


Sustenance or swish?

Part II of the #IBDP Language and Literature course has long held a special spot in my heart.

Just yesterday I was delighted to come across this amazing new feature via the NY Times, a monthly feature challenging our graph/media-literacy. Now, more than ever before, an awareness of the media’s power and an ability to analyze how that power is made is crucial. Mass media is bigger, faster and more omnipotent by the year.  Adults and students alike struggle to cut through the noise, to decipher sustenance from swish, and to know what is trustworthy:

When presented randomly selected photos — some real, some altered — only 60 percent of participants could pick out the manipulated photos. Of those, only 45 could pinpoint what had been altered.

Test your own abilities to navigate the news via this WaPo quiz.

Illusion flickr photo by tinou bao shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Beginning to unpack part II? Here are a few activities to get you started:

Show an awareness of the potential for educational, political or ideological influence of the media:

 Take a look at the way the NY Times covered the Holocaust below.  Have students create their own short film imagining what the next generation will say about the way they’ve reported on a major issue today.


Examine different forms of communication within the media:

“Facebook is where everyone is actually sharing and discussing that information…”


Host a follow up debate with students to look at the rise of ‘citizen journalists’ and to question whether or not it is doing more good or harm.  Check out this resource and then this one to get started on research for opening statements.

Show the way mass media use language to inform, persuade, or entertain:

“We need to get serious, very serious about making important news important.”


Can your students create a campaign which gets attention? How do they learn to ‘charm us into goodness?’


Thanks Flickr for providing the featured image

Look What PD Made You Do

Networked flickr photo by nrg_crisis shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Why invest time in portfolios?

As we continue to explore portfolios/reflection as a part of our strategic plan this year, we are bound to come back to the question above again and again.  A healthy, meaningful network of portfolios relies heavily on time–the most coveted of teacher-resources.  The philosophy behind our portfolios is here, and yes, it is aspirational.  So let’s unpack some of the cousin-questions (and please feel free to leave more questions in the comment section below) provided by the English Dept:


1. How can I be persuaded to create and maintain my own blog?

I’d suggest signing up for our teacher portfolio challenge and experiencing the tool first hand.  What have other educators said about the process? Here’s what Madeleine Brookes has to say:

For a longer read, check out Dean Shareski‘s thoughts:

“I’ve yet to hear anyone who has stuck with blogging suggest it’s been anything less than essential to their growth and improvement. I’ve no “data” to prove this but I’m willing to bet my golf clubs that teachers who blog are our best teachers. If you look at the promise of Professional Learning Communities that our schools have invested thousands, more likely millions to achieve, blogs accomplish much of the same things. The basic idea of the PLC is to have teachers share practice/data and work in teams to make improvements. A good blog does this and more.” (full text here)

2. I’d like to know a little more about how others might use the portfolios in inventive ways

 My long answer is this list of 44 different ways schools around the world are using it as a tool to connect.  Ceci-Gomez has been leading students at her school through the ‘This I believe’ challenge for the past few years at SIS.  Students create a podcast as a response, and the school hosts ‘The big deal,’ a day where they spend the morning listening to the submissions and leaving comments. A portfolio is also useful for the student to be able to bring all their learning together at the end of a unit, here’s an example of just that.

3. How can we best encourage authentic reflection, rather than just ‘talking the talk’; how can we best use portfolios to extend rather than just record learning; how can we maximise student buy-in?

Choice. If we want portfolios to be a reflection of our students as learners, we need our learners to have the means to shape those portfolios.  If I want students to reflect on some aspect of our learning through the portfolio I’ll provide a choice of prompt, a choice of ways to reflect, and I’ll offer my own reflection as a mentor text.  If we want students to engage with reflection, it helps if they see us model why and how it is significant.  Reflection has a bad wrap, and it is important to recognize where that rep comes from.  For too long, schools have required students to reflect…and then have done nothing with those thoughts.  The portfolio becomes a time-traveling machine where students can return to prior posts.  One prompt I’ve had success with is asking which of these ‘future ready skills,’ the student feels were most accessible during a given task/unit.  Their response doesn’t need to be lengthy–but I do ask them to provide examples which illustrate their response.

Buy in comes with an audience.  Once you’ve walked your class through the ‘campfire cycle,’ and initiated a protocal of commenting and responding, the students are no longer writing for just one person–but rather for their peers. Kim Cofino speaks to this better than I am, so check out her thoughts on The Power of Audience.

4. How do I access class portfolios or set it up as a class?

I think the #uwclearn teacher portfolio challenge models this.

Step one: provide the prompts (allow for time)

Step two: bundle the posts

Step three: provide time for commenting

5. Are students ready to go/know what to do if we ask them to do something in their portfolio? What’s the language we use for asking them that, make an entry etc?

Students will have a range of experience with the portfolios depending on the teachers they have, and the amount of experimentation happening in those classes.  They do have access to this list of ‘basic bootcamp for WordPress’ and may need to return back to it.  You are also welcome to invite me into the classroom.  Our school is a diverse place, and students are accustomed to diversity in instruction.

5. How can I use it positively in combination with the platform and structures that are already in place?

I think of Teamie as the auditorium—here’s where I go to see the show.  The rehearsals, the hardwork, the direction and choreography takes place via our Google Apps, WordPress, and post-it notes.  The portfolio is the sandbox for the student’s thinking, and your OLP class is the space for the entire class.  Just as this post I’m composing here is a representation of my own thinking on the topic, I’ll be sharing it via the English dept workspace on Teamie.  Could I just have written all of this on Teamie? Yes, sure I could have–but I want to take my learning with me, and this post is one of many–and I know my own thinking about portfolios will change and evolve, in coming years I may wish to go back to this post.  I also may want to share this post not only with the English team, but with another department.
The biggest structural shift here is likely to be the benefit the student sees.  The portfolios ask them to curate their learning, to develop an archive of thought, to map out connections.  In the words of a former colleague, who I believe would even consider refering to himself as a converted blogger, it opens things up:
“The process of learning is social. We understand this implicitly when we take on the roles of teacher and student and believe that by putting people in a room together, learning can happen. And blogging, more so than, say, writing in a notebook, opens up our learning so that it is easily accessed by peers anywhere with an internet connection: it gives you an expanded, flexible, networked learning environment. ” (full text here)