Crowdsourcing a Lesson Plan

I would really have preferred to title this blog post “Pimp my Lesson Plan” but then I figured it might be considered inappropriate by those who are not familiar with this particular usage of the word “pimp.” If you’re still confused see “Pimp my Ride.”

Anyhow, so yesterday I started teaching my grade 12s about different schools of literary criticism, beginning with Reader Response.  I always feel like I need to do a really good job of explaining the purpose behind literary criticism right at the beginning of the unit. In the past, I’ve used analogies. Here’s the analogy I used to use:

That works, but this time I wanted to try something a little different, so instead, before I even started discussing literary criticism, I had two students come up to the front of the room and close their eyes. Then I gave each of them an object to hold and describe. One student got this:

while the other got this:

Then I asked them to describe the objects while keeping their eyes closed. As you might expect, they focused on the tactile features of the object. The matryoshka doll was hard and smooth and the student even felt the ridges of paint. The boa was light, soft, and flexible. Then I had the students open their eyes and describe the objects. This time the doll was “feminine, colourful, curvy” and the boa was … well … “red” (upon reflection the boa wasn’t the best choice). The point was that the object didn’t change, just their perception of what was important about that object. I explained that when we study a text, our perception of what is important about it changed depending on the lens we use to view it. These different lenses are different schools of literary criticism.

Then I went on to the slide with the cat. After that, I did a four corners exercise where I presented statements that either represented a “reader response” attitude toward literature, or the complete opposite. Students decided to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the statements and explained their reasons.

Finally, we did a short note explaining some of the key features of reader response theory.

In short, I’m happy with this, but I’d like to know what you’d do with it to make it better. I guess what I’m asking is, will you pimp my lesson plan?

Rocking the Literature Circles

I was kind of dreading today.

I’ve done literature circles with grade 12 university level classes before with mixed results. When we did the literature circles in the past, students were all reading the same book and the literature circles supplemented our study of the novel.

This time it’s a little different. Students are reading two different novels and the moment and so I’m not “teaching” the novels in the traditional sense. I am not assigning questions, taking them up, and delivering lectures. Instead, students are reading on their own time and writing in double entry journals. Then they develop their own discussion questions. Then they meet and discuss the novel. While there are more specific guidelines and procedures, it’s actually pretty student directed. They discuss what they’re interested in. Much more authentic, but of course I had my own fears. Despite all my talking smack about sage on the stage style teaching, I was nervous about giving up so much control. What if the students miss the important ideas? What if they miss all those wonderful subtle things that great writer weave into their writing?

Okay, well so what if they do? Just because students may not notice the same things that I do about a text doesn’t mean that literature circles don’t work. Besides, as I was walking around and sitting in on the meetings, I heard them come up with a lot of clever ideas–and they probably got a lot more out if it because they came up with the ideas as a group. They weren’t just parroting back things that I told them.

In other words, the meetings were very successful. Some of the discussions were more passionate than others, but everyone was engaged. Some students were actually bouncing up and down at the end of class proclaiming “That was so awesome! I totally get it now!” And I didn’t even pay them to say that!

The true test I suppose will be Monday when students will have to blog about the first third of their novels by selecting one of four prompts I will prepare over the weekend based on a combination of ideas studied in class and their own discussion questions. Can they synthesize this information?

Then of course there are the students who were absent. Two of them already told me they were going to be absent. They submitted their notes in advance and were very responsible. Then there were three others however who were AWOL without warning, and that’s a problem because you can’t really “make up” the literature circle meeting. If they were skipping, I think I’m more than justified in giving them a zero for the communication section of the literature circle mark. If they were “sick” (or rather, as I suspect, had a parent call in for them because they didn’t have their journals finished) then I have a bigger problem. While I realize that these students and parents are in the minority, I have experienced incidents where a parent will call in for a student claiming that she’s sick so she can actually stay at home and work on an assignment rather than face the consequences for coming to class without an assignment completed. I’m sure that in those situations the parent believes he or she is helping the student but they’re doing just the opposite. And in the case of literature circles, it’s even worse because they let down the rest of their group.

A natural consequence of missing the meeting is likely that they will not fare as well on Monday’s blogging task, but I need a little more than that. If anyone out there has any suggestions for dealing with students who miss literature circle meetings (for “valid” reasons) I’d love to hear them.

So overall, things went really really well today. I couldn’t be happier with the level of discussion from my students; I just wish they had ALL been there to benefit from it.

By the way, as per the new footwear policy I have submitted for your approval this photo of my entirely board compliant Converse high tops. Until I can wear my heels again I will wear these out of protest. Keep fighting the good fight, my friends.

Photo on 2010-09-24 at 16.08

Thoughts on the Innovation Lag in Education

It’s Labour Day weekend. I’m sitting in my living room wearing a big sweater and getting a bit high off the scent of vanilla and cinnamon from the apple crisp I’m baking. It was 32 degrees two days ago but fall is here now. I know this because I bought a pumpkin spice latte this morning.

Anyway, now that I’ve set the scene, I’ll get to the point. I had my first “back to school” day on Thursday. No kids, but we had a full day of PD involving a scintillating recorded powerpoint presentation (complete with bullets, narrated slides, and improper apostrophes) on CAS reporting practices, memos mandating ugly shoes, reminders about field trip paperwork, and… discussions about cell phones and assessment practices. And this is when I realized that I don’t actually work with the teachers that I talk to on Twitter.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have awesome, dedicated, professional colleagues. But sometimes I forget that we don’t always have the same concerns, philosophies, and passions. Sometimes I get caught up in a passionate discussion about assessment policies (yes, I know. I’m a geek) and the person I’m talking to is smiling and nodding and then slowly I see her face glaze over and I realize I may have gone too far. I also have to remember that just because I’m passionate about something doesn’t mean I’m right. I think I’m right, but I could be wrong, and even if I’m not wrong, that doesn’t mean that I won’t learn something by listening (with an open mind) to someone who doesn’t share my beliefs.

Even when they say cell phones need to be banned.

Even when they say technology is distracting and unnecessary.

Even when they say if we have to deduct late marks to prepare students for university.

All that being said, I’m looking forward to an exciting year. I get to go see Damian Cooper in November, I’m presenting at two conferences, I’m starting my master’s, and apparently I’m helping to coach cross country. I’m not really sure how that last one happened.

The only downside I see is this ridiculous health and safety policy banning pretty much every pair of shoes I own. I don’t understand how standing in front of a class of 17 year-olds and walking down the hallway suddenly became activities that require rubber-soled steel-toed shoes. I’m usually a very rule-abiding person. That may have to change.

Thoughts on bells, whistles, and frivolity


Recently, I’ve had  teachers ask me questions about teaching using social networking sites like Ning and,  and I’ve noticed a trend. They like what social networking sites seem to make possible and they want to use technology to increase student engagement, but they’ve expressed concern over the fact that the sites have a lot of bells and whistles. I think they’re concerned that students will confuse the educational sites with the social sites they use outside the classroom.

I understand this concern because I am well aware that students behave inappropriately on sites like Myspace and Facebook, but if you decide to use a site like Schoology or Edmodo (which are cool–don’t get me wrong) because you don’t want to use something that looks too much like Facebook, then aren’t you kind of defeating the purpose? Aren’t you missing out on opportunities to teach appropriate use of social media? If you want to have students create Facebook-like profile pages for characters in a novel you’re studying, but you don’t want to use a site that mimics what Facebook can do because it doesn’t look “educational” … then why bother? If the goal is to increase student engagement then you should use a tool that’s … well … engaging. Shouldn’t you?

Now, I’m not saying Edmodo and Schoology are not engaging. They are. I’ve used Edmodo and my students have thought it was cool. I’ve checked out Schoology and it looks pretty useful too, but you need to really think about what you’re trying to achieve and then choose the best tool for that task.

I’ve had teachers tell me before that they tried blogging with their students but they weren’t really into it. When they tell me what tools they’re using for blogging, then I get it. The tools are boring. Yawn…. Appearance matters, okay?

I think some of the concern comes from teachers worrying that other teachers, administrators, or parents might not think that students are learning when using a site that looks too “social”. My response? Invite those teachers, administrators, and parents to join your site. People fear what they don’t understand (duh), so let them in.

And who says education can’t be fun? Bring on the bells and whistles, I say. 


bring_it_onHere we go again folks. I feel the reassuring surge of confidence knowing that I feel completely unprepared for another school year, and I always feel completely unprepared for another school year, and somehow everything goes just fine.

I have had my requisite anxiety dreams: One featuring a former student named Rusty–a student whom I have not thought about in probably five years. And one involving being very very very late for school and doing something inappropriate.

I have purchased new shoes. Boots actually. Knee-high cowboy-inspired boots. Change is good.

I think I know what I’ll be wearing on the first day but that may change if this super hot humid weather keeps up.

I have been to Staples to buy new pens. Unfortunately, they don’t have my see-through plastic envelopes that I like to keep assignments in. I have some left over but they’re not in good shape. This is causing me some anxiety.

I have read the new books that are going to be added to our 4U English course. I am so psyched to be able to offer Three Day Road as a literature circle novel choice! (EEEE!) And I think I’ve figured out how the short stories and essays will function as mentor texts for the literature circle novels. This was no small feat. I hope to write out the unit plan somehow and share it, although there’s all this overlap so it’s very complicated.

I’ve got my welcome movies completed. Just need to update the website.

Really. If I fell through a wormhole and tomorrow suddenly became the first day of school, I’d be fine. Sure…. That’s what I’ll keep telling myself.

Most.Shocking.Rose.Ceremony.Ever!, will you accept this rose?

It’s really hard to think about leaving my beloved Nings. Especially since they are so comfortable. But really I have to be realistic here. I can’t afford Ning Plus at $24.99 a month and even if Pearson finally agrees to sponsor my Nings (apparently they’re experiencing a high number of requests. Duh.), I will no longer have access to chat or groups. Also I’d have to moderate every blog post before they appear, and while some teachers may want that, I don’t. is not quite as slick and the kids can’t personalize their profile pages to the same extent that they could on Ning but it’s still pretty good. I’ve had a couple problems migrating my data but they’ve been very quick to respond and very helpful

But I have a confession….

And now we go to commercial.

Just kidding!

Here’s my confession: I will be cheating on with Ning. Truth be told, as exciting as the new guy is, there’s something warm and fuzzy and comfortable about Ning. As Royan so aptly pointed out it’s like I broke up with the perfect boyfriend and now I keep comparing each new guy to him.

Seriously, though, I would like to stay with Ning only because all my stuff’s already there and yes I know I can migrate to, but I already know how to use Ning and I can speak about it with a fair degree of confidence. The problem of course is that while I applied to have all my Nings sponsored by Pearson, I’ve only heard back about one. Ning says that they’re dealing with a high number of requests so I have to be patient. I’ll bet. They say:

If you already submitted a question or issue but haven’t received a response yet, please be patient. We are working as fast as we can to get to your ticket. Submitting the same question multiple times will slow our team down. If your question is related to a sponsorship or billing, please rest assured that we won’t shut down any networks after the August 20 deadline until we’ve responded to your tickets.

Okay.  So I will use for my media class and continue using my Nings for my grade 12 English classes. It isn’t absolutely essential to have chat for my two other classes and it also isn’t absolutely essential that they create subgroups for their book clubs since I want them to look at all the blogs, not just the ones on their books. I’ll just be a little more strict about use of tags. If for some reason Pearson won’t sponsor them I’ll just move over to

So that’s the plan. Two roses. You’ll never see that on The Bachelorette.

As a side note, @markhowe1982 told be about Schoology which I checked out. I think it would be absolutely ideal for teachers who are not techies and have no desire to spend hours geeking out with a new toy. Schoology was super simple to set up. It doesn’t have a bunch of bells and whistles but it’s got blogs, groups, and you can also post assignments and grades (among a few other things). In some ways it reminds me of Edmodo, but Edmodo doesn’t have a blog feature.

Ning Alternative Speed Dating (Round 2)


I’m already having a hard time keeping all the different sites straight, but the blog is helping. I’ve also decided that I’m only going to look at hosted options since non-hosted options might be a difficult concept for some teachers who are new to technology and I want to encourage rather than discourage (hence, I won’t be talking about Buddypress). So with no further ado, let’s meet our next bachelors:

Bachelor #3:

First of all, this is what my home page for my site on looks like:


I was actually able to import my template along with all my information from one of my previous Nings. I haven’t imported the information though because it would send an email to all the members and I didn’t want to confuse all of last semester’s students. Still, I’m pleased to see how much this looks like my Ning. And the ad is pretty small. I don’t think it would be a big deal to just say to students “this is where the ads are. Don’t click them.” It’s not like they’re not used to seeing ads online. *see comment from about this.

The little bar at the top with Zeus or Thor is a bit odd, but maybe I’m just being picky.

I feel like this site is the most Ning-like of the other ones I’ve looked at so far. It also has chat feature (nixed in Ning’s mini version). There are a lot of ads when you’re in “administration” mode but the ads seem to be pretty minimal in online mode.

Look: *****Since I can import my Ning template. This one wins!

Ease of set-up and use: **** Pretty easy. All your controls are up at the top with Zeus. Takes a bit of playing with, but so did Ning when I first started to use it.

Member Profile Pages: **** Doesn’t look like they can change the themes for their pages but other than that, they look pretty good.

Blogability: ****? I think individual users can maintain separate blogs.

Features and apps: ***** Lots. What more can I say.

Ads: **** Not bad. See earlier comments.

School Appropriateness: **** Seems pretty good. Lots of customizable privacy features.

Ning Migration: Yes.

Overall: The front runner. This guy may be getting the rose.

Bachelor #4: SocialGo

Look: *** Some nice looking templates to choose from, but not particularly slick. I think the premium versions have more templates and layout customization, but I’m evaluating the free version.

Ease of set-up and use: **** Pretty easy. There seems to be a lot of jumping back and forth to different pages in order to set stuff up though.

Member Profile Pages: *** Lots of different boxes on the profiles but you can’t change the background and I don’t think you can get rid of or customize all the boxes without a premium membership.

Blogability: ****? I think individual users can maintain separate blogs.

Features and apps: ***** Chat, video, music, groups, blogs, photos. Plenty. But I don’t like that I can’t get rid of the boxes I don’t want.

Ads: ***** I don’t see any other than advertising for SocialGo.

School Appropriateness: **** It does not allow adult content and you can’t create an account unless you’re 18 or older, and you must be 13 or older to be a member of a group. It also has pretty comprehensive rules about misuse of the site. It appears that students just need an access code to sign up which may be a bonus.

Ning Migration: No.

Overall: I’m trying to figure out how they make money. It doesn’t seem like there’s any advertising on the site I set up other than advertising for SocialGo itself. Customization levels go up when you pay. They also have a “concierge service” to help you set up your site. Maybe that’s where the $ comes from.  I think it’s a solid option, but I don’t think I’m going to go with it because it doesn’t feel as good as or Just a gut reaction I guess.

Breaking News!

After re-reading Alec Couros’ google doc on Ning alternatives I noticed that Grouply has premium accounts available for educators! That means no ads! I sent an email to them about the creepy friend request I encountered while experimenting, so I’ll keep you posted. I’ve also been rethinking the lack of individual blogs and it’s not really a big deal. I just need to be more flexible. Students can all post to the common blog and I could get them to use categories to help me sort through the posts (use their name as the category.)

More Breaking News!

Just got a very quick response from Grouply. My site has been given the educator status and re “friending”. Rich Reimer from Grouply says

People can search for other people, but they would need to know the
exact name. But the kids can make it so they are excluded from
searches. We have a lot of privacy settings that should serve your

Well, colour me impressed. Going to do a bit more digging, but this is promising.

Gosh, what will I do? This is like having to choose between Chris and Roberto… (did I get my Bachelorette reference right?)

I don’t think I’ll be blogging about any other alternatives because I’m pretty sure between the four I’ve discussed, I’ll be able to find one that works. However, if you want some more suggestions remember to check out Alec Couros’ google doc.


water lilyPhoto credit

Today was the last day of classes, and frankly, it was pretty anticlimactic. I had a couple unpleasant encounters with students that made me forcefully remind myself that I am not a bad teacher, but I didn’t exactly bring my A game today, and neither did a couple of them. That’s okay. We’re all human.

So now it’s time to reflect back on the year that was.

I was so terrified in September that I’d made a horrible mistake choosing not to reapply for my learning coordinator position. I missed my friends at the board office; I missed my friends at my old school, and I felt like an outsider at my new school. I’ve never been very good at making friends and I pretty much buried myself in my work for the first few months. Now I work out with a group of teachers after school, and I’ve gotten to know the lovely ladies with whom I share a cramped and woefully unairconditioned office. And I’m delighted to find out that the other half of my brain, Heather, will be working in the same town as me next year. Look out St. Thomas!

If I were to chart my highs and lows over the year, you’d see a big spike of anticipation and enthusiasm at the end of August that started to fall quite shockingly in September. Then it began inching its way back up in December, only to plunge down again in February. Now, I’m riding pretty high. The ideas I was so enthusiastic about last summer have now been validated and I’ve learned that although it was the immediate gratification of being in the classroom I missed last year, the best things that happened to me took a long time to come to fruition.

I don’t want to run the risk of duplicating the ideas I wrote about in my end of semester blog post, so instead I’ll keep it short and sweet and say ditto. And then some.

I made some mistakes this year, and I still have a lot to learn, but I am excited to continue the journey.

Thank you to everyone in my PLN for your support this year. And thanks especially to my friends and family, particularly my dad who sent me a text last week saying “I always say my biggest contribution to education is you.” That’s awesome.

Number One Teacher Mug

Last semester I posted some notes that I’d gotten from students at the end of exams. I felt a little guilty about it at the time because it seemed a little obnoxious, especially since I know that not every student felt the same way those students did. But I’m glad I posted them because it’s amazing how quickly we forget the nice things that happen in the teaching profession. High school teachers don’t tend to get end of the year gifts from students like elementary teachers do–not that I think we should! I just was always a little jealous of the #1 Teacher mugs my elementary colleagues got in June.

So here is my version of the “#1 Teacher Mug”. You can’t drink coffee out of it, but I’m trying to cut back on coffee anyway.

This is a blog post from one of my students this year. (It’s hard to read but if you click on the graphic you’ll be able to see the full size image.)

blog by student

Anyone have a time machine to spare?

I’ll explain in a moment, but before I do that me FIERCELY state that I will NOT be that teacher. You know that teacher. The one who sits in the corner of the staff room hunched over and broken by years of bitterness and regret, wishing they still allowed corporal punishment, and thinking that fear and intimidation are better teachers than praise and compassion. The one who resists every change and thinks that “these kids today” are never going to amount to anything. She looks like this:


That will never be me. I mean, look at her shoes.

I still refuse to believe that deducting marks for not meeting deadlines is an effective strategy (see yesterday’s post). And yet here I am with seven instructional days left and here’s the situation. I handed out markbook print outs today so that students could see where they stood before the final exams and culminating tasks. And then the floodgates opened up. Suddenly students cared about missing assignments, or assignments that had not been completed to the best of their abilities. Suddenly I had a swarm of students who didn’t care a month ago asking me what they could do to improve their marks.

“That teacher” would have uttered a dry chuckle and said “You know what you can do? Get yourself a time machine, go back to February, and do your work.

But I didn’t say that. Instead I said yes.

“Can I still submit this?”


“Can I redo this?”


Why? Because if I say no, their marks would be lower–not because they weren’t capable of meeting the expectations, but because they didn’t meet the expectations within a given time frame. And mostly I say yes because a big part of me believes that while they have a responsibility to meet the expectations within a given time frame, I have a responsibility for teaching them that not meeting deadlines results in consequences, and I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain.

Why? Because I know what I’m good at and I focus too much on that. I’m good at designing engaging lessons (not all the time… but still good), I’m good at designing meaningful assessment tasks. I’m good at relating to my students (maybe too good). I am not good at staying organized, and I’m not good at coming up with meaningful consequences for poor academic behaviour. I’m also a sucker for a good sob story.

So what ends up happening? I end up stressed out with more work on my plate than they do, and I’m furious. But after an intense run that left me feeling exhausted I realized I wasn’t furious with my students. They’re students. They’re still learning. I’m furious with myself because I’m a teacher and I should know better. I think a part of me felt that having good rapport with my students should be enough to motivate them to submit their work on time.

I really need to get a solid policy in place for September and be consistent with that policy.

The only catch is, our board will be working on developing its own policy in response to the policy document from the ministry that I wrote about yesterday, and there’s no way that will be in place in September. So for now, I’ve got to try to make a policy that is still aligned with our current policy and does not contradict the new policy. Oh, and I probably have to run it by my department head and my principal. But both my principal and vice principal will be brand new in September.

My head hurts.

I think I need another run.