Seeing Anew

eye-of-horusThere seem to be parallels between what George does at our ITLL sessions and what we try to do in our high school classes.  Watching a great teacher reminds one of what is at the heart of great teaching.

A great teacher stands among his listeners and embodies his passion (his subject).  This embodiment is inspiring and activates a genuine desire to learn.  Once interest is ignited, students are willingly lead out of their echo chambers and are gently encouraged to try on different ideas and ways of thinking.  Given time, opportunities to experiment, and the space to question, the new ideas and ways of thinking become internalized. This process is transformative, and a great teacher makes it happen!

Great teachers do not teach what to think; rather, great teachers teach how to think.  As a result, we (students and teachers alike) see anew. T.S. Elliot’s words are appropriate here:

We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. (“Little Gidding”)


This is good teaching; this is meaningful learning: To be lead out in order to see anew!


Thanks to George and all my fellow ITLLs for reminding me of this.

Moving Forward: Podcasts

I have been invited to write a reflection in response to one of three prompts.  I have chosen to respond to the third prompt, “What are you doing moving forward”?

podcastOne of my favourite pastimes is to listen to brilliant minds speak; a fun Friday night includes a great lecture or a stimulating podcast. I’m serious! The Partially Examined Life is a particular favourite.

Because of this genuine interest, I am excited to learn about creating and using “podcasts” in my practice, both as a teaching tool and as a means for students to share their knowledge and understanding.

However, before leaping to use podcasting in my classroom, it’s important for me to consider the ‘big picture’, so I appreciate today’s opportunity to think and “play”.

First Steps:

First, I need to question my desire to use podcasts on a philosophical level.  For me, this type of thinking takes time and sustained silence!  (Perhaps this weekend)

Second, I need to see what other teachers are doing; I want to learn from them (both what to do and what not to do).

This article from The Atlantic seems like a good place to start.

Update to come!


Peer-feedback “The Believing Game” (Peter Elbow)

Peer-feedback and student writing. Something that I have been trying to improve for a decade!  In my last blog post I wrote about my recent experience using Google Forms to improve peer-feedback during oral presentations.  I was prompted to give Google Forms a go because I have recently been involved with my School Division’s Innovation Initiative.  I was pleased with the results, and this success gave me the energy (it is the end of May) and encouragement to reconsider how I use peer-feedback with student writing.

I’m sure most people reading this post are aware of the common trappings related to peer-feedback on student writing: over-emphasis on editing concerns, apathetic involvement and limited constructive criticism (feedback that actually improves the quality of the ideas and the way they are presented).   I didn’t want to go “Google Forms” happy, so I didn’t want to use that medium again (and I am a firm believer in the idea that change for change’s sake is not innovation–thanks George!)  Well, I found myself in a bit of a conundrum.  Ultimately, I decided to put my ITLL money where my mouth is.  I began to consider my challenges with peer-feedback from an Innovator’s Mindset:The belief that abilities, intelligence and talents are Developed, leading to the creation of Better ideas.”

I wanted to use peer-feedback to improve not just how the students communicated their ideas, but also–and more significantly–the quality of their ideas.  I wanted Better thinking, Better ideas!!!  Here’s how it went…


Context: Grade 10 English.  After reading Act 2 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the students were assigned to write a paragraph response, which was reviewed during a peer-feedback workshop.  This is a picture of the scene!  Look at all that enthusiasm.


They dutifully went through a typical peer-feedback process.  The results: abysmal.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  The revised responses did show improvement in terms of structure.  The students needed to remember to state their argument clearly, to support their ideas with quotations and to edit for mechanics–the typical peer-feedback process did improve these areas, though incorporating evidence and explaining its significance was still very weak!  What didn’t improve at all, however, was the quality of their ideas or the depth at which they explored those ideas.  Poor students; what a waste of their time (empathy?).  The level of insight remains inadequate and the lack of improvement is problematic (problem finder?).    Thought, thought!! Ideas, ideas!! This is the stuff that matters (observant? reflective?). But…

How can I use peer-feedback to improve ideas and thinking?

I did a little searching on-line and stumbled across the work of Peter Elbow.  I saw Oxford University Press’s tag line for Elbow’s book which refers to him as a “well-known advocate of innovative teaching methods,” and decided that I should check him out (much of his work is available on-line).  Little did I know that the book being referred to was published in 1973.   Well, new isn’t always better and innovation is not a synonym for technology (reflective?). Let’s see what he has to say.

Though I certainly don’t agree with all of what Elbow posits, he does have this neat idea: “The Believing Game”.  I read through his and related materials and decided to try to incorporate some of his ideas in my next peer-feedback workshop session.  I created this handout:

Believing and Doubting Handout 1

Snippets from it below.

Believing and Doubting Handout

After reading, playing around in and discussing Act 3, I assigned them another paragraph and told them we would have another peer-feedback workshop, but that this time we were going to try something different!  After they completed drafts, we went through the Elbow handout and practiced his concept using a sample paragraph. For this practice activity, they had to create a simple 1/2 page of jot notes under the following headings: Mirror, Believing, Doubting.  I created a more formal handout to use when working with a peer’s paper.  Click on this handout link to see. Believing and Doubting Handout 2.

Believing and Doubting Handout2

I had no idea if this idea was going to work (risk taking?) but the reflection comments about how their understanding of the topic in the sample exercise deepened (albeit not a very sophisticated idea) certainly were promising.


The next day, we tried the same activity using their Midsummer Response Paragraphs.  This was a much more difficult task.  They found that in order to actually complete the ‘believing and doubting’ sections, they had to return to the text, they had to argue with ideas of their own, they had to explain why they disagreed, they had to suggest what evidence would be better or add-on when they were believing etc..  Hard work.  They were reluctant.  But, during a concluding reflection discussion, many suggested that the process helped them better understand the play and some of the crazy ideas its exploring.  They (depending on what prompt they were working with) had a better understanding of the differences and similarities between the Dionysian-Forest and Apollonian-Athens, they had a deeper understanding of Bottom’s theatrical spirit, or they could more clearly articulate the multiple metaphorical meanings of the “love-juice”.

I recorded their conversations and wanted to post them, but for some reason they won’t show up!!!  I also asked students to record a 10 second clip after their revisions were complete to share their thoughts about the revision process and send it to me via text (networking?). Many of them did this, but again, I can’t post the videos!!!??? Not an ideal system anyway.  I’ll look into it and edit when I figure it out!

Final Thoughts: In short, this peer-review activity, though not high-tech, certainly was guided by Couros’s Innovator’s Mindset.  


Peer Feedback- Google Forms?


Though ‘Google Forms’ may seem archaic to tech savvy people, I used it for the first time a few weeks ago!! The possible uses of this ‘app’ in the classroom seem vast, but I was looking for ways to improve how my students provide peer feedback and ask questions during/after oral presentations.  I am so glad that I tried this and I’m excited to share the results.

Context: I teach a film anaysis unit using Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho to my Grade 10 English class.  The summative assignment is a group project wherein groups of 4 students select a 30-60 second clip from the film to analyse, paying attention to how craft shapes meaning, and prepare and present a 10 minute presentation on their findings.  Again, I was looking for ways to improve student reflection and peer feedback/questions.

Here’s my process:

First: I created a Google Form exit slip so that I could practice creating forms and figure out how to best give my students access once created.

Exit slip 1 question

Nothing fancy but it worked!  Using, I created a managable URL.  Within seconds, the students accessed the form and left their comments. I couldn’t believe it worked and as we watched the comments pop-up, I decided that I would also use Google Forms for two more reflection exit slips (one more during the planning time and a summative reflection at the end of the unit).

exit slip 1

Second: I then created separate forms and URLs for each of the groups.  Not particularly time consuming–I made one “master” and then selected “make a copy.”  Because I wanted each group’s form to include their film clip, I then edited each one switching out the clips. Note: I also wanted to insert their slide show, but I haven’t figured that out yet This form asks students to complete 5 prompts/questions.


Forms 1

Third:  After each group presented, I gave the class time to complete the peer feedback form–I projected the form “live” as the students were writing their feedback.  One of the prompts asked students to ask a question or asked for clarification about the ideas presented.  The presenters saw the questions come up and began to address them.


Forms 5

I also asked students to evaluate each other using the marking guide and offer specific ways future presentations could be improved.

Forms 4Forms 7


The students appreciated the instant feedback and several mentioned that they loved being able to show the feedback to their parents.

NOTE:  I was terrified that some students would be inappropriate or insensitive.  Before the first presentation, we talked about my concerns and I explained my expectations clearly and explicitly.  I am so pleased to report that not one inappropriate comment or question was written.  I did, however, make a “Name” question as question #1 (required)–I will continue to do this.


Fourth: I concluded the unit with a reflection assignment.  The students were asked a series of questions about the unit generally, the final assignment, the group process, and their contribution.  I found the responses “thin,” as they were usually limited to a sentence or sentence fragment.  Next time, I will be clearer about the depth of reflection is appropriate and why.

Final reflection 1 Final Reflection 2 Final Reflection 3 pie chart Final reflection 4 Final reflection 5

Final Thoughts:  I am pleased that I gave Google Forms a go.  Of the goals I set, the most success is connected to how students asked questions. There was something so dynamic about the questions and comments coming in live and permanent; students seemed eager to respond and clarify.   In terms of the refections, both during and after the process, there is room for improvement.  It seems that when students are writing on their phones, they (perhaps correctly) think the responses should be short and quick.  More need to be done in this area.  I also loved that my desk was not burried in exit slips and reflections and that all of the information and feedback is saved digitally for future reference.