Learning Skills 2.0

As the first day back at school drew to a close I found myself at my desk confronted by the reality of all the paper around me. I try to use technology to reduce the amount of paper I use but there’s still all this…. paper.

So I was rethinking the learning skills tracker. There had to be a better way. I want to be able to quickly track a student’s learning skills on a mobile device like my iPhone. So to make a long story short, I fiddled with the tracking sheet in the previous post and made a Google form that I could call up and fill out on any given date for all my students.

It basically looks like this, but instead of “Student Name” I have my actual students’ individual names and then a little tracking sheet with space for comments.

Screen shot 2013-09-03 at 20h12m02s Each time I fill out this form it will send the information to one spreadsheet. So I should, in theory, be able to select the data in the sheet and then at midterm make a more accurate assessment of their most consistent achievement in each area.

I just don’t know how. Any spread sheet wizards know how I could do this?

My advice to new teachers at the start of the school year


I first posted this in 2011, but I still stand by this advice. There are also some really great comments at the bottom that contain additional advice:

1) Be yourself (unless your “self” is rude, obnoxious, spiteful, arrogant, or similarly unpleasant in which case you should rethink your chosen profession anyway). When I first started teaching I worked very hard at adopting my “teacher persona.” I believe this was a result of some benign advice from an associate teacher or a professor at the faculty of education. The thing is, it’s exhausting and the kids see right through it. I tried to copy the teaching styles of teachers I respected and admired, and I suppose that’s not a bad way to start. It actually helped me figure out the kind of teacher that I’m not. I am not a stern no-nonsense disciplinarian. I am silly, laid-back, and occasionally irreverent. That doesn’t mean my students run amok, but I had to find my own way to “be a teacher.”

2) Dress up. A little. But dress your age. If you, like me, barreled on through your undergrad and straight into teacher’s college and then were lucky enough to get a position the next school year (I know… very lucky), then you’re… what… 23? Wow. You’re not much older than the grade 12s and you won’t look much older. You’re not going to fool anyone into thinking that you’re an ancient 30 something like I am, but when you’re 23, it’s embarrassing and awkward to be mistaken for a student (When you’re 32, it rocks). So, judge the vibe of your school. Some schools are more casual than others, but don’t think you can get away with the board short and flip-flop look that the eccentric, close-to-retirement, history teacher is “rocking” (questionably). If you dress up a little bit, it sends a signal that you think this important enough to dress up for and that helps–but don’t be afraid to out your own stamp on it that says “hey I’m not 32 yet.”

3) Don’t do stupid things. You’ve probably already been so scared by faculty of education lectures and gossipy horror stories that spread through your social foundations class about teachers who did foolish things on social media and were then fired. That’s not what I’m here to do. I do not want you to decide to erase your web presence and ban technology from the classroom because you’re afraid of all the horrible things that could happen to you. We are in an interesting place in our history right now and I suspect 20 years from now (I hope) we’ll all laugh about the angst we were having in education over social media. Rather than trying to eliminate your web presence, create a professional one. Start a professional blog where you reflect on and share evidence of your learning. Get on Twitter and start following other teachers (Not sure how to get started? Go here.). They will be a great support network for you and can help you out when it’s 1:00am and you really can’t hash out ideas with your department head and your girlfriend is sick of hearing about how stressed out you are. Don’t friend students on Facebook (I know some teachers who do and I have the utmost faith that they are extremely professional with their students but I won’t ever advise you to do it), but you may consider setting up a Facebook page for your class. If you teach in the Waterloo board in fact, it’s encouraged. That way you can keep in touch with students in with a medium they use, but they don’t have access to your personal information. Bottom line: never post anything online that you wouldn’t say in front of the class or in front of your principal. If you must vent, save it for direct messages and emails to your friends.

4) Cut yourself some slack. You won’t be a perfect teacher in your first year. Actually you’ll never be a perfect teacher. That’s okay. Think of your goal for your first year as being one of survival and harm reduction. Do as little harm as possible to yourself and your students, and you’re off to a good start in my opinion. If you’re a good teacher, you’re probably going to spend a lot of time agonizing over decisions you made, coming up with different ways you could have but didn’t handle a situation, and generally berating yourself for sucking. You probably don’t suck. Lighten up. Have a beer. Go for a night out with your non-teacher friends (do you still have those?) and don’t talk about school–they won’t get it and it’s not healthy for you to talk about it all the time.

This is hardly an exhaustive list but you probably have enough people giving you advice. Hang in there. Have some fun. Don’t take yourself so seriously.

ENG4U and ENG4C Assessment Plan with links

Did a little more revising. And now I have both the Grade 12 University English assessment plan and the Grade 12 College English assessment plan finished!

If I haven’t made this clear before, this was created for strictly practical purposes. I am not uploading these as exemplary assessment plans. If they work for you, use them, modify them, share them. If you modify something, I’d love it if you shared it with me.

There are lots of active links in both documents. The documents are in several different formats and I’ll warn you. Some of them are in Word Perfect! But if you use Open Office, they’ll open just fine.

ENG4C Assessment Plan with links

ENG4U Assessment Plan 2013-2014 with links

Assessment Plans!

My favourite time to plan is right now as the year is wrapping up. So with no further ado, here are my assessment plans for ENG4U and ENG4C.

A few caveats first:

  • Some of the formative “assessments” aren’t really assessments but I wanted to give new teachers to the course a clearer picture of what the course entailed.
  • CCA = course culminating assignment. They’re not really separate units but I included them as though they were.
  • I know some of the assessment tasks may not make much sense, but I plan on posting digital versions of these charts to my website with hyperlinks linking assignment titles to the actual handouts/lesson plans I used.

If you have any ideas about how I could present this please let me know.

Happy summer!

ENG4U Assessment Plan

ENG4C Assessment Plan


Sometimes listening to my students talk in their book club meetings makes me want to cry big fat sentimental tears of joy.

When my ENG4C class begins its book club meetings, they discussions are shallow and clunky and stilted. I have to intervene to keep the discussion flowing.

We’re in our second last meeting and my group of boys reading Crank are so invested in the story they talk about it at lunch and text each other about it after school. Boys who used to groan about reading are raiding the library for more books by Ellen Hopkins.

My other guys who are reading Looking for Alaska are discussing how angry and sad they were at a certain point (except for one who’s claiming it didn’t affect him) the others are all begrudgingly admitting that they cried.

I don’t need to do anything now during these meetings. I’m just watching them and listening to them.

It’s kind of beautiful.

Here are the books my kids love:

Looking for Alaska


It’s Kind of a Funny Story

The Perks of Being a Wallflower


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Where do we go from here?


Let me start off by saying I am quite happy where I am in my career at the moment. I love my school, my students, and my co-workers. I am not looking to jump ship any time soon.


Lately I’ve been struggling with figuring out what my next step is. Where do I go next? I feel very frustrated that, at least in my board, it seems there are very few leadership opportunities beyond administration (My reasons for not wanting to be a principal are fodder for another post). I mentioned this at a leadership track workshop earlier this year and was shot down by well-meaning workshop leaders who told me there were plenty of opportunities! I could be a department head, or chair a subject council, or work on a team or task force, or become a learning coordinator.

The thing is, I’ve been a learning coordinator. I’ve been on a task force. I’ve chaired a subject council, and I’ve been a department head (acting, but still a department head). I’ve even been lucky enough to teach a course at a faculty of education. I didn’t mention all that at the workshop because even as I write it, it sounds kind of obnoxious.

I’d be interested in being a learning coordinator again if something popped up for which I was qualified, but those positions have been reduced.

At the risk of continuing to sound obnoxious, I feel like I have a lot to offer–or will have a lot to offer in the next few years–in terms of ideas about assessment and evaluation, curriculum, instructional technology, and differentiated instruction, but I don’t know what to do with it. I can’t become a learning supervisor or SO without being a principal first, and I can’t apply for jobs outside of my board without losing all my seniority.

I’m feeling a bit antsy and I feel like I need a good career coach.

If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears.

PML Day 9

And so we come to our final class. It’s been a pleasure working with and learning from all of you. Here are the slides from Wednesday and please remember the cut off date for my assessment of your blog is March 25, but that doesn’t mean you should stop blogging. I look forward to reading about how how your next placements go!

PML Day 7

During this week’s class we welcome Nick, Jacob, and Paolo from my first semester grade 10 English course. They’ll share what it’s like from the perspective of a student in a classroom when we implement a multiliteracies pedagogy.

After our chat, you’ll have time to present your poetry slams and discuss the reading for this week. Here are the slides: