10 Concepts for Teaching Effective Listening Skills — Global Digital Citizen Foundation

Listen is a single word with such big implications. When it comes to good listening skills, it’s not so much about the ears as it is about being observant. A good listener receives information, processes it, gives feedback for clarity, and decides how they will act on it. All this happens in a flash. Words are simply inadequate…

via 10 Concepts for Teaching Effective Listening Skills — Global Digital Citizen Foundation

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Learning from one of my teachers about a site for ELL students that presents news articles at 5 different reading levels.  Wish I had this when I taught English!


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Ten Minutes of Connecting: Day 20 – How Leaders Use Google Drive for Collaboration

Day 20 of the Ontario School and System Leaders month long initiative is another great example of how our teachers can integrate technology into their practice to support their own learning and the learning of their students. In my experience, Google Docs has had a significant impact on my ability to reflect on my ability to help students with each of assessment of learning, assessment for learning, assessment as learning, not to mention assessment of teaching.


Today we are building on some of the learning you have been doing in this series.  We have focused on a number of tools to help you connect.  We hope that you are continuing to set aside 10 minutes each day to connect through one of those tools, or to learn something new with us.

This series will continue to exist on our website even after November 30.  You can work through it at a pace that suits you.  If you find it helpful, please spread it to your colleagues.  Use the link at the top of this page to suggest other topics you need to learn about, or simply post a comment on the blog asking for help.  The whole purpose of OSSEMOOC is to support education leaders (formal and informal) in getting connected and modelling the learning we want to see in our “classrooms”.

Connecting drives innovative…

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#EdCamp Learning

Today as I watch my son in his weekly para-dressage lesson, there are dedicated teachers in various cities, like Ottawa, taking part in EdCamp learning opportunities. While I can’t attend, I can follow the back channel Twitter feeds. I think it is fantastic that there are teachers and administrators (who we should remember are teachers) taking the opportunity presented to learn from their peers an engage in conversations about teaching and learning. These teachers are not, as some have suggested, working for free. They are showing that they are life long learned. As an administrator I have heard countless times that there isn’t enough time to have these conversations. Well those teachers who take the time to organize and participate in EdCamps are voting either feet. They are making it work because they know it is important to continue to learn, and that means we learn on our own time. And as somebody who can’t attend EdCamp, I’m appreciative of the people who post to social media so I can follow along and learn in my free time.

Kudos to all those attending #EdCampOttawa and EdCamps everywhere. Thank you for taking time to learn and share.

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Don’t need permission to let myself unwind

I’m sitting in my office surrounded by paper, lots of paper, listening to music on my iPhone (random play so it’s jumped around from Metric, Tommy Guerro, BB King, Attack in Black, and David Myles — right now it’s “Stayin’ Alive”), and I’m watching a number of students come back from some field trips.  We had a group out camping for 3 days, twenty students were on a photography field trip in downtown Ottawa and Gatineau Park, and our soccer team was just heading to a game.  People often complain that school has become about prepping for the tests, and that there is no fun anymore.  Based on what I’ve seen lately, I don’t think that is true.

Given the right opportunities, our students, and our teachers, are having a lot of fun at school.  They don’t always get to choose the fun stuff, but it is there for the taking/sharing.

[thanks to David Myle’s song “Simple Pleasures” for the blog title inspiration]

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Reflections on PD

Today was the first full PD day I had with my new staff at Ridgemont HS. I’ve really enjoyed working with this great group of educators, but today I really got to see how these people work together to further their own thinking. Like most PD days, there were some required tasks we had to cover, but the staff were receptive to what we had to present. Then the real thinking/work came and the staff moved right into the heavy lifting of the day.

Staff presented and led the discussion. They gave their colleagues small white boards (non-permanent surfaces) to make notes and record ideas about the day. They encouraged discussion and reflection on the topic. They helped us see the validity of our thinking with regard to our plan for closing the achievement gap of an identified segment of our student population. And all of this was before lunch!

The afternoon was spent with colleagues at lunch — the first time we had all really had lunch together this year — and then we were in small groups discussion descriptive feedback. It was amazing to be part of that conversation, not leading it but participating in the questioning and discovery. We finished the day with wellness activities that were lead by a variety of staff members. What a wonderful way to spend the day!

As an aside, I did spend time making notes on a whiteboard about professional learning, and a few of us shared ideas via Twitter. These were interesting ways to extra our thinking.


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Collaborative Lesson Creation

Today I joined some science teachers as they created a lesson as a team. This was the last gathering of this team after spending time together every two weeks when the team created lessons for an observed class, took part in a variety if PD session. During this session the team was creating a lesson on circuits and electronics. Through the discussion, the team moved from a very traditional lesson on circuits to a less traditional, and for some less controlled, lesson using snap circuits. As somebody who taught English and did not do very well in science as a student, it was fascinating to be part of the a process that had the teachers think about the lesson from the perspective if somebody who may know nothing about circuits and will initially learn through playing. By thinking about how to give up some control, the teachers were taking their lessons to a new realm for student success success.

Through the lesson that was planned together, these teachers will expect students to engage in inquiry based learning, critical thinking, observation, reflection, and activated prior knowledge. It was a pleasure to be part of this process.

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Testing questions, questioning testing

Explain the shape of the graph

One of the things I like most about being a Vice Principal is having the opportunity to go into many classrooms to see what and how students are learning, as well as how teachers engage their students.  Recently I had the opportunity to cover a senior math class while the teacher was involved in some school based PD.  As an English teacher who struggled with math in school, I was happy that the teacher had a test planned for the period.  It was interesting, however, to be part of the teacher’s evaluation process.  I recalled the frustration and anxiety I always felt on math test days, and I saw the same anxiety in some of the students.  Everybody settled into their seats quickly and got ready, having spent the moments before the class asking each other questions.  After I asked if everybody had studied and was ready for the test, I told them that I am math challenged and would not be able to off any support throughout the test.  Of course this got a few laughs, but the first thing they said to me was interesting and told me a lot about their teacher.  “Will we get 10 extra minutes into lunch to finish?  Our teacher always gives us extra time.”  Their teacher creates challenging tests, but she knows some students need extra tie to show what they know.  I did give them extra time because it was what they needed, and I certainly would have needed it although I don’t think any teacher gave extra time when I was in school.  Most students were done within the class time, but a few did need extra time (more than 10 minutes) and that was okay.
I asked the teacher about the test itself and her thinking behind its construction.  She said her father, a retired math teacher, taught her that an appropriate length for a math test was double what the math teacher took to write the answer key.  Since it took her almost 35 minutes to slowly and carefully answer the test then a 70 minute test was appropriate for her class.  As somebody who created evaluations based on what I needed students to do to demonstrate their mastery, the logic of this test creation was a bit baffling.  Did a time based test really get to the heart of the students needed to learn or was it a time tested method for testing?  I’m not sure which is best for the students, but I have my suspicions.
Interestingly, this event was closely followed by some other teachers who insisted on giving tests the day before the March Break.  While I recognize the need to present that day as an important part of the learning and not simply a day to watch movies, I’m not sure I buy the logic presented to me: “If I don’t give a test they will forget the material by the time they get back.”  Forget it? Did they ever really learn it? If the goal of education is to work towards a test, then these students would do fairly well and their teachers achieved their goals.  But if the goal is to create a deeper understanding and an ability to apply that knowledge, then I doubt many of these students will remember or be able to recall much of what they learned; in this case the teachers may have failed some of the students.
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Change is good

I have spent part of this evening upgrading my computer’s OS because it was time to change. The decision to move to a newer OS was not taken lightly as I was comfortable with what I had. Questions were numerous. What would happen to my files if I changed the system? Would I be able to find all of the programs I had before? As I sit waiting to complete the transfer of files from the old system to the new, I have come to realize that these are the same questions I asked myself as a teacher, and that I am sure many other teachers ask (and are afraid to answer) each year.
Certainly there are somethings that I cannot lose, like photos of my family, but there are many more which I probably should delete. Some o the programs are also not really needed anymore. When moved from the classroom to administration in June 2011, I was forced to address the files and resources I had accumulated over time. Having moved school twice before I was ready to ditch somethings, but I really had to face the fact that some if the things I had kept had almost no value beyond the sentimental. Teachers too often hold on to things because they just might need it again. I was (am?) just that teacher. Really, I should have applied the rules of one of those home reno shows — if I haven’t used it in a year then out it goes.
During the State if the Union (#SOTU) address this evening there was a brief exchange about the colour of ties being worn by the President, the Vice President, and the Speaker of the House. Being an English teacher, I commented to my wife on the symbolic effecting these powerful men wearing ties that were all the colour of spring; these are colours of renewal and rebirth. As schools across Ontario enter the second semester of what has been a different year, I hope more teachers take a moment to determine what needs to be kept and what needs to be pitched so that there classrooms and their practice can experience their own renewal.

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A letter to my teacher

It has been suggested to me many times at various PD events that teachers should take a moment to write a letter to teachers who were themselves influential and important to us. the Ontario College of Teachers’ publication Professionally Speaking includes a regular segment on Remarkable Teachers. It with this in mind that I have chosen to put my thoughts in the blogosphere. For those who do not know him, Irv Osterer is currently an Art and Cooperative Education teacher at Merivale High School in Ottawa. Thank you for your indulgence.

Dear Irv,

When I think back to my time at A.Y. Jackson Secondary School, invariably I am reminded of things I learned in your class or on your field trips. As a teacher and a parent, many of those lessons have placed a key role in my decision making and choices. In the summer of 2011, I took part in the A.Y. Jackson S.S. Class of 1986 25th reunion, and since then I have been thinking about how you made an impact on my life and the lives of my classmates. None of us really knew where we were headed when we started grade 9 in the fall of 1980, whom we would meet who would make a difference, or what the lasting impact would be of our high school experience. It was fascinating to see so many people who night, to hear how some had moved far from home while others still lived in our old neighbourhoods. There was a great deal of excitement about who would show up that night, especially from the teaching staff. The staff who were there were all received warmly by their former students; we all had funny stories to tell about each other; we shared a tear and a smile for those no longer with us. Not surprisingly though, two men received the greatest response — our Vice Principal Mike Neil and you. Certainly no two individuals had more positive impact on as many students.

You taught Art, a course nobody had to take after grade 9, and even then it was optional. You took a bunch of kids with a wide range abilities and encouraged us to try, assuring everybody that they could create something. While a I fancied myself something of an artist, I quickly realized what real artistic talent looked like. Even still, you made sure each of had a basic understanding of various aspects of art. For that, I am ever grateful. As a teacher, I have often referred to some of the choices I made in school, not all of which were good choices, and the responses of my teachers. You always made it clear to us that we have to be accountable for our actions, telling us there is a line in the sand. You ave us plenty of room to have fun and push limits, but if we crossed the line we knew there would be repercussions. Behaviour and choices that was destructive to the learning of others and ourselves was not tolerated. You were always fair, but firm, reminding me of Teddy Roosevelt’s adage: “walk softly and carry a big stick.”

Even though we weren’t all great artists, you expected us to try our best. When asked to draw a series of still life drawings of something in the class, I thought I would be smart (or is that cheeky?) and draw staples. While others were drawing apples, shoes, feathers, or flowers, I took on the simple staple. I did managed to draw large, small, 3D, and abstract staples. Sure I had managed to meet the expectations of the task, as your wife pointed out to you, but you made it clear to me that I could do more. What need did I have to refer to Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poet’s Society who reminds the student that while “The cat / Sat on / The mat.” is a poem, it isn’t much of a poem. I had my own experience and guiding teacher. Yes I managed to draw staples, but that really wasn’t the point of the exercise (I still have the drawings as a reminder), and I realized and remembered that. I don’t think I ever tried with such a weak effort after that.

I had the pleasure to have you for one other course in high school, the newly created grade 12 photography class in which students were taught the fundamentals of photography and black-and-white film development and printing. It was during this course that you took me aside and suggested I become a teacher. You had watched me complete all of my work and then help other students who were having problems, or make suggestions on things they could try differently. While you may have made this comment in passing, or as a comment on my inability to stand still, I took it to heart. As I head into my 20th year as a teacher, I am profoundly thankful for your simple comment and continued support.

Through two classes with you and trips to New York City and London, England, you espoused a life lived through experiential learning. Not surprisingly, every time we meet now, whether it be a workshop or at the reunion, our conversation turns to education. I still value your advice, your opinions, your arguments. While I still have photos I took on those trips in my office to remind me of what you taught me, there is something much more intangible that has stayed with me all of these years for which I am forever grateful to you. You are without a doubt, my most remarkable teacher.

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