Looking ‘life-wide’ with digital literacy

Recently I came across a definition for ePortfolios that aligns so nicely with the Philosophy of Portfolios that we’ve launched at my school this year:

A more comprehensive definition of the variety of ePortfolio affordances was elucidated by Duncan-Pitt and Sutherland (2006) who described it as: A system that belongs to the learner, not the institution; populated by the learner not their examiner; primarily concerned with supporting learning not assessment; for life-long and life-wide learning not a single episode or a single course; that allows learners to present multiple stories of learning rather than just a simple aggregation of competencies; and, importantly, where access to them is controlled by the learner who is able to invite feedback to support personal growth and understanding. (p. 70)  Recommendations for Effective Scaffolding of Reflective Thinking in Higher Education International Forum of Educational Technology & Society, Pauline Roberts, Dorit Maor and Jan Herrington

Could blogs be a means to life-long and life-wide conversation skills?

I’ve blogged a lot about my thoughts on this (see here or here).  I think one opportunity inherent in a school ecosystem and culture where blogging thrives is the comment section.  The comment section is often belittled as not worthy of reading.  Talk shows ridicule the comment section, and (see here) sometimes with good reason.  Schools, especially those with a reputation for encouraging future-ready skills, have a responsibility to up the ante on technology as an amplifier of compassion. How do we do this?

Simple.  We share commenting-best practice, and teach commenting next-practice.

Looking for a list of commenting role models?

On a recent episode of Ear Hustle, the producers take a break from their normal structure to respond to questions they received from fans.  That’s the power of interaction: you can shape content, provoke conversation, and enhance the audience experience. Don’t believe me? Check the show out for yourself, and rethink the power of curating questions.

The TED blog hosts some of their most insightful comments on a special ‘comment of the week’ feature available here. Interested in talking more about that ‘amplifier of compassion’ idea? Start with this one.

Zooming out, there’s a lot of role modeling happening in the comment guidelines of leading news institutions:

From The Guardian:

1. Participate in conversations about our content, and take responsibility for the conversations you start.

2. Focus on the constructive by recognising and rewarding intelligent contributions.

3. Don’t reward disruptive behaviour with attention, but report it when you find it.

From the MIT Tech Review:

We want you to be a resource for your fellow readers and we hope that you’ll use our comment section to do that. We’ve designed it to elevate and amplify the most intelligent and civil responses, and diminish or hide the worst.

So how do we steer our students towards better comments?

Be specific, guide them with prompts, and see it as an opportunity to teach and explore logical fallacies in an authentic way.  I’ve put together this easy comment prompt, feel free to use it or remix it:


Do you have a commenting protocol you use with students?

Please share your thoughts on the best ways to encourage more thoughtful online conversations in the comment section below.


Featured image courtesy of Pexels.com

Spark that impulse…

Listening to others begins with self-awareness.

The longer I’ve been in education, the more I’ve come to understand that ‘worrying’ is just something we’ve always done.  Each generation of teachers has had its own conversation around what we are doing wrong.  If you are teaching in 2018, you’ve probably heard ‘screen time,’ spoken in that tone reserved usually for ‘root canal’ half a dozen times this month alone.

But let’s step back, and make room for a little balance:

Computers, tablets, and smartphones are multipurpose devices that can be used for lots of purposes. Designating their use simply as “screen time” can miss some important variations. The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens identifies four main categories of screen time.

  • Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music
  • Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet
  • Communication: video-chatting and using social media
  • ​Content creation: using devices to make digital art or music (keep reading here)

Experimenting with voice will make you more empathic.

The longer I’ve been working with blogging, the more I’ve come to see it as a tool for empathy. Students with blogs are encouraged to engage with content creation–they have a space to be creative, and a place to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for future learning. I’ve seen students build archives of poetry, piano practice, visual notes, odes to maths, photo galleries, and essays.  No, their blog may not always be a beacon of innovation.  Nor is my own.  Often this space is messy, ideas are fluid, and perhaps the seedling of an idea emerges not upon the date I click publish…but weeks later when I take the time to look back.  So what is this all about? It’s about experimenting with ideas, with listening to what I clearly still need to ruminate on. It’s also an exercise in self-awareness and design thinking:

Blogging can equip introverts and extroverts with a place to practice being conversant.

The old adage ‘think before you speak,’ comes to mind here: blogging is being more thoughtful about that conversation we might need to have with a boss, colleague, or student.  As someone who identifies strongly as an introvert, I see this blog as a dojo for my ideas.  This is a place for me to be curious, ask questions of others and self, curate reading, and give myself a chance to solidify (or rip apart) my opinions.  Often this dojo is what encourages me to speak up in a meeting or to not feel a need to be confrontational in disagreements.  Coming back to your own thinking month after month, year after year teaches you to be patient with ideas and concepts…and yourself.

Tonight I listened to Alan Alda talk about his new book on an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Hidden Brain. You can listen to it here:

Alda has fantastic and funny anecdotes on his journey to better listening, and it is worth the 42 minutes.  He speaks of improv as a way towards more empathy: “The more empathy I have the less annoying other people are,” he says.  I think empathy is something we can learn, and I agree that we can train ourselves to strive for more empathetic lives.  In short, Alda’s advice is that we need to find different ways of connecting with others, different approaches to seeing others.  He wants us to notice more about one another.  In schools where  students and colleagues have made their reflection transparent, I’ve seen a dynamic shift, I’ve seen empathy sprout anew in places it wasn’t before.  Alda references ‘an impulse to pay attention,’ and I think when we are purposeful in setting out key opportunities to take snapshots of learning, we spark that impulse.

Ready to sink your teeth into some research on digital portfolios?

Here is a great place to start, and this is a wonderful follow up read.

Tip Off.

Photo Credit: buzz-15 via Compfight cc

“That’s what games are, in the end. Teachers. Fun is just another word for learning.”
Raph Koster, A Theory of Fun for Game Design

IBDP teachers around the world begin to struggle with the exact same thing around this time every year.  How do we keep students motivated to continue revising for end of program exams? In the Language and Literature course, many teachers will begin practicing the two final papers (which account for 50% of the student’s overall mark) at the beginning of the second year of the course (at the very latest).  There are only so many practice papers a student can write before hitting exam fatigue.  There are also only so many papers any teacher can mark before losing their sanity.

Photo Credit: Greece Trip Admin via Compfight cc

Exam revision shouldn’t be monotonous.  Yes, the stakes are high.  But we need to remember that stakes for our soon-to-be graduates are much, much higher than exam results.  We want our students to have skills and values which push beyond doing well on tests.  If we believe that students are worth more than a number, we need to second that emotion in our lessons. Students need time to feel like they are working as part of a team, that they are capable of building a cohesive network which is a catalyst for success. They need time to reflect on missteps, to charter new paths, and of course to lead the way.  Mostly, students need to feel comfortable with struggle.

Photo Credit: klmontgomery via Compfight cc

This is why I’ve decided to dedicate my Course 5 project to developing a menu of activities meant to gamify exam revision.  I want the last few months with my seniors to be about more than good results.  I want those final lessons to be a culminating effort to resulting in better human beings who just happen to be excellent essayists.

Here’s a look at my unit:

Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks via Compfight cc

I’ve gamified units before.  The biggest take away is seeing students want to work together because they want to help their peers–not because they necessarily just want the ‘win.’  I think this will make an excellent Course 5 project because it will be incredibly timely for myself and for colleagues out there looking to ‘2.0-up’ their revision practice.  I see this as a way to intertwine the many reflections I’ve had during COETAIL.  Redesigning this unit will allow for my students to remember the joy in learning.  Whilst that sounds fluffy and perhaps even naive, ask yourself what you most remember about your high school experience?  Was it an essay you wrote? Probably not.  You most likely remember the highs and lows, the opportunities you took, or let pass you by.  You might not remember the test, but you likely remember feeling tested.  Hopefully, that has a positive association for my students.  As educators, we have a duty to frame challenges in such a way that they are inviting, not daunting.  If we can conduct our classes in a manner which promotes tinkering, sticking with problems longer, and stretching, I believe we are making more peace-savvy minds.  That’s grandiose and idealistic, but actionable and achievable.

Please share your approaches to gamifying units/lessons in the comment section below.


Photo Credit: klmontgomery via Compfight cc

Owning IT.

Keys by Linus Bohman vial Flickr’s Creative Common Image Search


A tech-rich classroom isn’t about the hundreds of dollars of gadgetry in the room.  It isn’t about the tangled cords.  It isn’t even about the certificates/degrees of the teacher in the room.  A tech-rich classroom is a classroom where students are prompted again and again to own their learning.

Here’s my list of the top five ways to identify a tech-rich classroom:


  1.  Students are inspired to dive straight in.  Students aren’t waiting around for direction–they know where they are going, what tools they need, and have a variety of approaches at their finger tips.  This happens when teachers curate resources, and organize objectives.  The class will have an effective VLE, where information is always there to be revisited.  What might this look like?  How about this incredible example of integration from a PE teacher.  This teacher was able to demonstrate movement using GIFs. What a brilliant way to showcase the learning and allow for students to revise or work ahead.



2.  Teachers share and develop interdisciplinary approaches to learning.  A tech-rich classroom is one where teachers connect with one another.  Technology has made it easier for the staff to look ahead at what is happening, and technology has helped to facilitate conversations about opportunities for inquiry.  Here is an excellent example of what this might look like:


3. The class acts local, and thinks global.


A tech-rich classroom is empowered to think of itself as a catalyst for change.  Devices are meant to connect us.  When we practice the art of connection—we understand that we matter, that we can spark change, that we can be a part of the solution.  Click here to see a brilliant example of this idea live in action.


4. Students are passionate about teamwork. Expertly integrated technology will always bring people closer together.  When we see technology used effectively again and again, we often have highly collaborative teams.  As an IBDP/MYP English teacher, I love the many ways technology allows students to work together on creative pursuits.  Check out this great bundle of tools to think further about collaborative-writing.


5. Your school community challenges itself to get better in new ways. Technology will help us become better versions of ourselves if we use it for that purpose.  A school interested in harnessing the potential of technology will gamify improvement.  Click here for a look at an example.

How would you define a tech-rich classroom? What did I leave off my list?  Please feel free to make this list better by adding a comment below.

Are we there yet?

“Changing Key” by .stephweiss on Flickr via Creative Commons

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”
Albert Einstein


Every school is a busy place.  But not all ‘busyness’ looks the same.  Some schools are busy trying to drive test scores up  Some schools are understaffed.  Other schools are busy trying to move towards a more visionary ‘big picture.’

With the move to mobile, the deluge of apps, the call for more connected educators, ripples of change are well…rippling.  How often do we talk about what ‘meaningful change,’ needs to look like?  So many schools talk about ‘changing the way they teach.’  But when do we color in the lines and define what we want the future of our schools to feel like?  Every new term sees a new buzzword, a new catch-phrase.  It is easy to talk the talk of modern education, it is of course an entirely different thing to discuss where modern education is headed.

Fellow COETAILER, Sonya, does a better job of picture painting here:

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”
Robert Frost

I love that Sonya ‘thinks big,’ in her Imagine a School project. We do need to think beyond the flash of 1:1 programs, and schools with Twitter feeds.  The future of learning has to be more ambitious than gadgetry. Technology most certainly is.

In the past five years of my career, I’ve learned this: now, more than ever, our classrooms have more ‘catalyst cred.’  We have much more access to getting things going and moving.  If you want to connect with a classroom on another continent–than you can do it today. If you want to publish for a global platform, you can.  Putting your learning into a global context has never EVER been easier.  This isn’t to say that there aren’t hurdles, because most certainly, there are.  The mother of all hurdles is this one:  we aren’t thinking big enough.

We still think about Challenge Based Learning and Project Based Learning on an insular scale–single schools, or single classrooms engaged in units.  I think the future of learning will be about networks of institutions working together. Schools will not invite guest speakers in–but rather they will have artists in residence, doctors, designers, producers in residence. This is about a philosophical shift in the way we value schools as institutions responsible (not only capable) for change.

Flickr Creative Commons via Sebastien Wiertz "Change"
Flickr Creative Commons via Sebastien Wiertz “Change”

A shift like this can only occur if we stop thinking of school solely as an avenue for individuals to pursue careers.  That’s a short sighted approach. Schools need to be seen as places where old and young, local and foreign are galvanized for greater greats. When schools begin to truly benefit communities, more people will want to be a part of what they do.  Schools should be a place for the elderly to feel valued once more.  What might that look like?

I have no doubt that schools in 2020 will have amazing new devices, funky tools, and loads of mind-blowing virtual reality activities.  That’s not going to transform our job as teachers.  What I do hope for, is that as a global society, we decide to make school purpose-driven.  We start to think of schools as the places that make and break towns and cities.  And I hope that our uber-connectivity pushes us to connect our schools to help one another deal with rising unemployment, or a refugee crisis, or recover from a hurricane.  I hope that teachers in coming decades will have a range of other professionals on their faculties, that we will recognize that only with diversity of thought can we have diversity of our collective mind.