Back Channel for Reflection

In my role as Literacy Coordinator, I am part of many professional development sessions with the teachers in our division.  For the last few sessions we have been using TodaysMeet ( to live stream comments and questions while the session is running.  The participants are able to connect to each other in real time and share their thoughts and reflections while the session is running.  At the end of the session there is a record of the running commentary of the day’s work that can be used for further reflection.

I have made a few observations of using Today’s Meet with teachers.  First of all, it takes a little bit to get teachers going.  They seem to be tentative putting their thoughts out there for everyone to see. Secondly, not everyone likes to be “connected” during the session.  Some teachers have commented that they find it distracting.  Teachers need differentiation too!  In order to meet everyone’s learning needs, I don’t expect everyone to use the back channel throughout the day but I make sure to build in opportunities in the session where everyone has to add something to TodaysMeet.  The teachers who like this kind of learning will continue to use the back channel throughout the session and it is amazing to see the conversation grow.  It is exciting to see the evolution from simple connections to deep reflective questions that take the professional learning to a whole new level.

I personally like back channelling because I need time to reflect and talk to process new information. With a tool like TodaysMeet I can meet my learning needs without bugging the person beside me with my random thoughts.

Some of the teachers have even taken back channelling to their classrooms and have set up meeting rooms with their students.  It’s just another way to encourage reflection and collaboration with students.  I was fortunate enough to be invited into a meeting room with a Grade 7/8 class one afternoon.  I was able to be part of the classroom learning while I was working in my office and it expanded the audience for the students.  Knowing there was someone else outside their classroom joining in with them made the learning more relevant and even helped with some of the management. The teacher commented that having me join in made the learning very real for them (and it pretty much eliminated their off-topic comments).

TodaysMeet is easy to set up, no login information is required and best of all it’s FREE.  You can set up a room for a couple of hours, days, weeks, or a month.  At the end of the conversation, you can print out a transcript to keep as a record of the learning that happened.


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The Year of Literacy

One of my favourite things about this time of year are the “best of” lists that come out.  I love reviewing the year’s most interesting people, biggest news stories, biggest scandals, and the best of pop culture.  2012 was a year of joy, laughter, worry, challenges, tears, tragedy and loss.

Educators also like to wrap up the year with the best from the world of education and I would like to share some of these lists with you.  Over the holidays, you might want to take a look at some of these lists to get some fresh new ideas and resources for the new year.

Chicken Spaghetti (what a great title for a blog) has created a list of lists of the best children’s books of 2012.  This is a great place to start your reading list for 2013.

Nerdy Book Club (another great title) will announce the winners of their Nerdy Book Club Awards starting on December 26th.  Click on the link to check out the list of this year’s nominees.

Connect to this year’s best educational blogs.  Winners were chosen in categories such as best individual blog, best classroom blog, best student blog, etc.  This is a great place to begin to build up a list of blogs you follow.

The American Library Association (ASA) always creates excellent list of literature for children and young adults.  Take a look at their list of the best Young Adult Literature of 2012.

Here is a list of 100 Best Video Sites for Educators from Edudemic (Runner up for the Best Group Blog from EduBlogs.  See link above).

What’s on your “best of” list from the year in the world of education?

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The RAN Strategy

I just spent a great afternoon with an elementary school staff in our school division talking about inquiry in the classroom.  Part of the afternoon was participating in the RAN strategy.  (See Reality Checks by Tony Stead).  The RAN strategy stands for Reading and Analyzing Non-Fiction and the power of this approach is the connection that it makes to non-fiction texts and research skills.  I have used KWL charts with my students and always found that we lost momentum or didn’t ever get to the meat of the process which is the reflection on what we learned.  I would find that my students were hesitant to share their prior knowledge of a topic and didn’t really know what they wanted to learn.  So, my KWL chart would start out with great intentions but would be quickly forgotten as we moved through our unit.

The RAN strategy provides a structure that is safe and motivating for students.  It naturally takes students through a process of inquiry that requires research and encourages wondering.  The steps for the RAN are as follows:

  1. Brainstorm “What I think I know”.  Students don’t have to feel like they have to be experts on this topic already and it allows them to share information even if they don’t know if it’s right or wrong.
  2. Research to determine “Confirmations” and “Misconceptions”.  Students cite resources that confirm a fact or fix up a misconception about an idea.  I think identifying misconceptions is so important so that students can be able to remove information that is taking up brain space for other, accurate pieces of information.
  3. Keep track of “New Information” that has come out of the research process and identify any new “Wonderings” that they have after focusing on a topic.

This process could go throughout an entire unit or only take a couple of days at the beginning of an inquiry project.  The teacher will be able to determine how much prior knowledge students have about a topic and can help to scaffold and adapt the support individual students may need as they begin the research process.

I have had the opportunity to do the RAN strategy with Grade 1 students all the way up to adults and it has been successful each time.  But it has also looked a little different with each group.  The biggest difference that I have noticed is that the younger groups have more misconceptions and adults have almost none.  I don’t think this is because adults have more knowledge, I think it is because adults have more fear.  They don’t want to be wrong so when they are asked to brainstorm what they think they know, they still only write down things they are sure of and they don’t include the facts that they might not have all the answers to.  Younger grades just dump their brains out on the page and let it all out!  It’s so interesting to see what kinds of things they keep in their little brains.  When does the fear of being wrong start?  How can teachers help students question and wonder without worrying about being right or wrong?

I encourage you to check out the RAN strategy and give it a try and I would love for you to write a comment about your own experiences with RAN in your classroom.

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Confronting the “Single Story” with Turtle Island Voices

In this TED Talk Chimamanda Adichie challenges her listeners to confront the “single story” of stereotypes and prejudice. She talks about how having a single story of an individual or a country can create misunderstandings and conflict.  I think it is important for educators to reflect on this idea and to analyze the resources we use in our classroom that might keep the single story going.  Stories of First Nations, Metis or Inuit people that are always set in the past are examples of how the single story of Aboriginal people can perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

One way to confront the single story in our classrooms is to use culturally relevant materials that address multiple perspectives and stories.  Our school division has purchased the Turtle Island Voices series (published by Pearson) for all elementary schools. Turtle Island Voices is a series of engaging and beautifully written books for Grades 1 – 8 that are written with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit content and perspectives. Each grade has modern, informational and traditional stories in a variety of genres and all are focused around Turtle Island teachings. I appreciate the multiple perspectives and viewpoints that these books provide. They showcase many cultural areas in Canada and provide contemporary viewpoints of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people. The Turtle Island Voices challenge the “single story” and provide readers with a wide range of learning experiences.

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GoodReads Friday

My GoodRead for this week is a set of books by Nicola Campbell called Shi-shi-etko and Shin-chi’s Canoe. These beautifully, poignant picture books would be excellent as part of a text set about residential schools. I feel that these two books could be used in elementary and high schools. Students can study the amazing visual elements and the poetic language. The images in the two books can be contrasted with each other and analyzed for tone and mood.

I am also going to continue to have a critical thinking question with each GoodRead to hopefully encourage readers to think deeply about the texts we read. My critical question for this goodRead is…
What would the world be like without children?



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Don’t know what to read next?  Try YourNextRead, a website that links you to new books based on books you have already read.  Your students can use this to help develop their book boxes and build their interest lists.  It even connects to your GoodReads account.

Just type in a favourite book and you will be taken to a web of books, click on one of those books and you’ll be taken to a whole new web of choices.  This is such a good tool to add to your classroom independent reading time.  Why not have this as part of your Daily 5/Reading Workshop rotations to support students in making choices for their “Good Fit” book boxes?

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GoodReads Friday

I’ve decided to dedicate Fridays to my favourite children’s and young adult literature. Since I’m interested in social justice and critical literacy, I’ve decided that instead of giving a summary or review I’m going to ask some questions to motivate you to check out the book (if you haven’t already) and possibly engage in some dialogue. I would love it if you would reply to the post with your own responses. It’s worth a try anyway!

This week’s GoodRead is a young adult novel that I read over the summer. It’s had a lot of buzz over twittersphere and the web but I’ve realized that many of the people that I have been talking to haven’t heard of it. So my GoodRead this week is Wonder by R.J. Palacio and my questions are…

Is kindness enough?
Is it possible to truly have a selfless act?

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