Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Flow of Professional Development: An INFOGRAPHIC

I just created an infographic based on a conversation that I had with teachers and administrators at EdCamp Buffalo last weekend. During the conversation, I was explaining that Professional Development sometimes falls flat because the groundwork hasn't been properly laid. In essence, professionals don't always understand or contribute to their needs around meaningful Professional Development. I created a flowchart in the moment, but thought I would use an infographic maker, Piktochart, to better visualize the conversation.

It launches in its own iFrame and may take a moment or two to load:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Contextual and Authentic

I’m working with a new group of collaborators who happen to be in the fourth and fifth grade.

Nine to eleven year olds from the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School ( are creating a book based on some kids’ poems I wrote decades ago and are illustrating them and publishing them and selling them and creating a marketing plan around our work. Eventually, they will use what they’ve created as a fundraiser for their school.

These students are participating in a new form of learning that involves a mentoring relationship, new classroom roles, and embedded virtual learning. I’ve been able to Skype with them, email feedback about their work, and create additional learning “side trips” based on in the moment opportunities.

Their art teacher, Shana Gutterman-, their classroom teacher, Stephanie Teitelbaum-,  their Learning Coach, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano-, and I virtually collaborated on the development of this project, via Skype, email, and Twitter. We came up with objectives and lesson activities and planned virtual sessions. We had a modern learning plan in place and launched our project with the intent of changing the level of engagement and learning with students.

Then, we discovered something. Something big.

Because of the depth of instruction and the built in time to negotiate new roles for the students and the upgrade of seeing themselves as collaborators rather than passive learners, we struck oil! Silver! Gold! Students began to self identify interests that were related to their planned learning and lead us down paths of unplanned learning that enriched the designed project.

While students were working on designing pictures to accompany poems in a book for multiple audiences, they also opened up cans of worms that were unforeseen in the curriculum design. These were some of the “teachable moments” the “side trips” that came out of our collaborative work:

  • Students learned new contextually specific vocabulary words such as emphatic, explicitly, iteration, synesthesia, and negative space.
  • Students were invited to investigate the meaning of “chiaroscuro” as it related to contrasting elements in their illustrations.
  • Beyond the chiaroscuro investigation, they were invited to read a book, The Tale of Despereaux, which explores chiaroscuro as a metaphor for the characters and action.
  • Students were asked to investigate and learn about Grandma Moses and art techniques that involved the layering of backgrounds and foreground elements in a painting.
  • Students learned about warm and cool feedback and improvement for the sake of the team versus just getting good grades.
  • They learned to articulate the reasoning behind the “why” of what they were doing and to be as specific as possible in deciding why their illustrations were a good fit for the poem’s text. They did this both with me and their peers, which I personally think is hugely significant. Once again: their peers helped to inform their improvements.
  • They became open to suggestions that were rooted in improvement versus identifying what was wrong with their work. This positive take on “doing what’s best for the intended audience” was a huge shift in meaning making.
  • They learned that its okay to explore different interest areas that were outside of the intended learning, particularly with one student that wanted to create his own comic books. We were able to have a conversation about the usage of Comic Life on the iPad to start designing his own graphic novels.
  • They learned to respond to different types of feedback from their formal teacher, their virtual collaborator, and their peers as they shaped their work.

I would also like to add that the students referred to me as their collaborator; that the work we were doing was OUR work. I loved that. I also loved that their classroom roles included roles like “Skype coordinator,” “Twitter Expert,” and “Illustrative Notes Expert.” So far beyond “Reader,” “Writer,” and “Notetaker.”

Authentic learning experiences that ask students to be part of the instructional design process AND the product are critical in the modern learning classroom. Student-centered work becomes student-owned learning even if teachers maintain an instructional anchor. In this case, the anchor was the product: the book. Everyone is contributing to it, though in multiple ways and with multiple extensions around their individual learning.

I should also mention that this project, because of the level of collaboration between teachers and students, was not a neatly contained event. It took some time to develop, to interact, to collaborate both virtually and in person, and even after these several weeks, the students are just now gearing up to start working on the marketing plan. As teachers, we had to find a new common ground of comfort when balancing the time it takes to do something like this with the deep learning that was possible.

Also, if you’d like to look at the project from several points of view--there’s a lot of blogging going on around it:

Learning in the Modern Classroom - by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano
Assessment in the Modern Classroom - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 - also by Silvia

Student Blogs:
And my favorite on vocabulary: Wacky Wacky Words!

Needless to say--but I’m REALLY proud of my collaborators! I will be presenting with them at EdJEWcon in Jacksonville, Florida in a couple of weeks. I couldn’t be more excited to finally meet them in person and see our finished product! I’d also like to say Thank You to Shana, Stephanie, and Silvia for all of the great professional collaboration.

Upgrade Your Curriculum - Now available from ASCD

Picture from Pixabay

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Opposite of Awesome

The picture above was shared on Facebook by a valued member of my Digital Learning Network (DLN). In the picture, my friend’s daughter is dutifully transcribing her digital writing to paper, so she can turn it in to her teacher.


Preparedness for college and careers comes in many forms--I understand that. I get it. What I don’t get is how pervasive and valued the traditional is over the modern.

The word curriculum, etymologically, is Latin based and is rooted in a meaning around a course or path to be run. The path here, as evidenced by this single image, is leading to irrelevancy. It’s ok as a teacher to not know all that is on the digital horizon, but to ignore it or to minimize its use, here in the 2nd decade of the 21st Century, is outrageous!

When technology allows us to do something markedly better or easier than we ever have before, it almost seems like there is an air of deceit in using it. Modern tools are more likely to be seen as ways to get into trouble, or cheat, or worse.

Over the years though, through the centuries, the pencil has gotten mankind into more trouble than any computing device. Just ask Alice Walker or Salman Rushdie. Or Toni Morrison or D.H. Lawrence. Or even Suzanne Collins or J.K. Rowling. But the pencil is still the belle of ball, even today.

Would we forgo the use of a lighter and start brandishing sticks to rub to make fire? Why not? It’s authentic!

This picture just blew me away. But I’m not going to dwell on it...I’ve got quills to sharpen and scrolls to roll before I leave work for the day.

Picture courtesy of Crista Anderson.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Our Global Family Needs Us!

I just got word that a member of our global family is in need in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Many of you know our colleague Silvia, (@langwitches) and her family is being impacted by devastating flooding.

She has blogged about her recent trip to Buenos Aires and the impact the floods are having on her mother and their neighbors. Please read her recent blog post and help if you can:

This is video from one of Silvia's Mother's neighbors: