Category Archives: Professional Learning

Get Back

How appropriate to end an amazing night and an incredible week with the Beatles song, “Get Back”. It was time to say goodbye and go back to where I once belonged.
But I go back a different person. It would be impossible to go through a week of working and learning with 300 geniuses without being changed by the experience. I have learned so much this week that at times it felt as though my brain would explode.
One of the most powerful aspects of the week was the opportunity to listen to the stories of teachers from around the world and their projects. I was honored by their willingness to share their experiences, knowledge and challenges. My eyes were opened to a whole new reality, and I have the utmost respect and admiration for the courage that these teachers demonstrate each and every day as they do their job of working with learners and making them the best they can be. I was humbled by the bravery so many showed as they struggled to express their ideas in an unfamiliar language. But what they had to share was so important that they were willing to take that risk. Going back into my classroom, I want my students to have that same passion about their skills and knowledge, and know that they too need to share their genius with the world.
I have a new perspective as I go back to where I once belonged on Monday morning. I can’t wait to share the incredible feeling of connecting with so many people. I know how important it is to give my students that same experience. I couldn’t bring them with me to Redmond, but I can bring the world to them through the power of Skype. I can’t wait to see my students’ reactions as we reach out to their counterparts in places like El Salvador, China, Croatia, Singapore, South Africa and more.
Although I have always valued connecting our classroom to the world through Skype and social media, I know now that there is an even greater importance to do so. There is so much power in knowing that you belong to a global community of learners. My students need to be aware of a much bigger picture than just our beautiful classroom with all the advantages that living in middle class Canada brings. These connections teach them so much more than just curricular outcomes. When they share in these stories, they feel what it is to be compassionate , empathetic, courageous and brave. After this week, I know it is imperative to share these experiences.
I have so many people to thank. Thank you to Microsoft for this incredible opportunity. Thanks to Ziauddin Yousafzai and Angela Maiers for their inspirational stories of bravery and courage. Thank you to Marilyn Steier for your continued support and the push!
For their support and comradery throughout the week, thanks to all our Team Canada members.

team canada

Finally, thank you to the collaborative and hardworking members of Team 1, Lidija Kralj, Andy Ng, Warren Sparrow and Wei Wang. I am so very happy to have met you, and now to continue working with you on Project Courage!



Effective Feedback

Embed from Getty Images

How do we best teach students to give effective feedback? Every year I ask this same question. Certain pieces of the puzzle I know – kids need authentic experiences that result in meaningful feedback, plenty of opportunities to practice, and a variety of examples and models.

This year, I’ve found that using comments in Google Docs has really enhanced student feedback during the writing process.  As students finish a piece of writing meant for publication, they edit their own work and leave a comment identifying the strengths of the piece and any areas they feel could use assistance. Then they share their Doc with another student. This new editor reads the piece and leaves a comment with their thoughts and suggestions. Next, the author makes revisions and shares the document with another peer. Once they’ve left a comment with feedback, it’s time for a teacher conference.

This is an opportunity to work through the piece together. We start with the original self assessment comment, and begin the discussion with a focus on those strengths. Then we work through the writing. As we talk, I create a comment that documents our discussion, including the goals we set. (It’s very simple to copy and paste this comment into my anecdotal records).  The student has clear evidence of their growth, and there are no surprises when report cards roll around.

I find that the authenticity of this editing/commenting process has created a stronger independent focus on feedback with my group. When it comes time to share, students sharing their writing are also identifying and sharing comments, and how they initiated revisions. This conversation easily leads into meaningful discussions of the 6 Traits of Writing we use at my school.  Students are aware of how easily they can improve the quality of their writing when they focus on a certain trait. They are doing so in their first self edit, which means that their writing is stronger when it begins the process, and even better at the end.

These discussions have made it easy to create criteria for feedback. I love that during writing, I have students coming up and whispering in my ear, “A is really good at giving helpful advice about Word Choice,” and “S always knows her capitals and Conventions!” As we discover our feedback ‘experts’, we look at how their comments are consistently

  1. Kind
  2. Specific
  3. Helpful


To recognize and celebrate these Editors, they are given an Editor’s badge (made using As a class, we decide what area of expertise should be highlighted on the badge. I print them and laminate each. They are attached to a tear away lanyard and kept in their desk. Each day as we work on writing, the Editors proudly wear their badges.

Editor blur

The growth in writing skills continues as students are continually seeing other students’ work, which improves their writing. The comments they leave and observe improve not only their writing but also their feedback skills. The whole process is authentic and engaging, and a definite win-win.

I would be interested in hearing how you use comments with students as well!

A Day of Firsts

I’ve wanted to start my blog for some time, but the thought of that first post was daunting.  It needed to be something truly special and really important, and what could I write about?  Well, today was a day of firsts that I just have to share.  Today I participated in EdcampHOME – an amazing learning experience that has left me wowed.  I am still bubbling with the energy, and writing my first blog post seems a natural fit.


I have wanted to participate in an Edcamp since joining Twitter last year and seeing them mentioned. So far this year I’ve actually registered in 3 – but for each, other demands meant I had to pull out.  I was starting to wonder if it was a curse!  When I saw mentions of #EdcampHOME on Twitter, I knew I had to register.

Edcamps seem like the perfect PD to me.  I love that the sessions are totally driven by the participants and have been eager to watch the process of providing those choices.  I loved that  David TheriaultKarl Lindgren-StreicherKelly Kermode, and Shawn White used Lino to provide us with virtual post its.    While watching the notes flying on to the wall, I had an actual thrill run up my spine. I had planned to sit back and watch, but had to jump in with some ideas of my own.


Watching all those posts looking for more about the same ideas and topics I have been wondering about was a fantastic moment of connection for me.  Educators all over the globe are working with their students to provide similar experiences and excitement about learning. It was an incredible moment of empowerment.  And there was a dazzling array of choices!

A highlight of the morning was listening and watching as David, Karl, Kelly and Shawn worked to get the sessions listed, and facilitators and moderators selected.  It was wonderful watching  #edcampHOME.  The tweets were supportive and patient. The team was amazing.  Talk about grace under pressure!  Yes, it was messy, but real learning is messy.  It reminded me of those great days in the classroom when we are all working together.   Not only can you feel the energy in the room, but you can almost see it.  That electrifying energy was there today, and emphasized by knowing that educators from all over the world were part of it.

Once the sessions were sorted, it was time for my first Google Hangout.  It didn’t go smoothly.  For some reason I kept getting an error message.  I must admit, I did think about just leaving but couldn’t.  After witnessing first-hand the incredible collaborative problem solving that had created the Session 1 sign up, I knew that I had to keep trying too.  My first attempt failed, as did the second, but a little out of the box thinking finally got me in, just in time for the second session.

My first Google Hangout!  Even if I couldn’t get my toolbox to add my third layer, I was happy to be there.  It was memorable not just because it was my first Hangout, but because I learned so much about the exciting topic of Augmented Reality.  I’ve been intrigued by everything I’ve read about AR and this was my opportunity to find out about it firsthand.  Not only did I find out more, I got to see examples in action, ask the questions I needed answered, and connect with experts.  I can’t wait to get started creating Auras, and making them with my students this year.  I am grateful to know that I will have @MsVictoriaOlson and @techminock to ask for support, as well as @RobynThiessen and the others in the session.

What did I learn today?  That having choice in my learning, having access to experts , and the opportunity to connect with others to collaborate inspire and excite me – just as they inspire and excite my students.  Learning – that’s my passion, and I am thankful to David TheriaultKarl Lindgren-StreicherKelly Kermode, and Shawn White for providing such a fabulous opportunity today.  I know that I’ll also be checking out the sessions I missed here, and hope that others do too.

Now, I just have to figure out how to add that third layer in a hangout….