How do you reflect on your craft?

Page 3 by Epershandrea on Flickr

Page 3 by Epershandrea on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When I paint or draw or work on some sewing, it is easy to lose myself in the details. I can spend hours – days! – on a small corner of an art project. Many more times than once, I have had to paint over or rip out stitches from that small corner because it just didn’t fit with the bigger picture. Each time, I am reminded of the importance of stepping back on a regular basis to make sure the details support the project as a whole.

That is why I call teaching a craft – the same process applies. Sometimes I can be so intent on teaching a specific concept or skill that I lose focus on the big picture. In fact, it happened the other day: I was working with some teachers, doing some professional development around the idea of using stations in adult ed. Usually when I work with teachers, I feel a sense of flow but…not that day. I had tried to fit in a specific activity that I really liked but it just wasn’t right for the kind of work we were doing and the afternoon ended up feeling … disjointed. More tragically, I felt I had wasted the teachers’ time.

Luckily, I had facilitated the afternoon with a colleague and we were able to de-brief right away as the session ended. The centre’s pedagogical consultant participated in the afternoon session and she gave us some immediate feedback as well.

Like I wrote, we were fortunate in that we were able to receive immediate feedback and reflect together. But what about the teacher who is alone in the classroom? How can you reflect on your craft?

Sure, there is lesson planning but I know that what is planned is not always what actually happens when I am live with students! And classroom time always goes by so quickly – how are we able to capture and reflect what actually happens with students in a classroom?

As a student teacher 20 years ago, my advising teacher used to videotape me from the back of the classroom. Some of my richest learning as a student-teacher happened while viewing those videos. I had no idea that I put my hand in front of my mouth each time I spoke! Seeing it happen and hearing my muffled voice was a much more concrete lesson for me and my teaching than if she had written me a note on my evaluation.

A few weeks ago I shared Daniel’s story about why he records his lessons. In that video, he talks about how the recordings help his students to be more successful in his math courses. That was the first reason why he records, the second reason is as a tool for reflecting on his own practice, his own craft of teaching.

Hear it in his own words:

Daniel’s video is part of a new PD Mosaic tile called Reflective Practice: Using Video to Improve Teaching.

The community was the star of the show at #NFSBMeCamp

Earlier this year, I was honoured to work with some some administrators at the New Frontiers School Board in Chateauguay, Quebec who were willing to take a risk. They handed over the control for their staffs’ professional development to…well, to their staff!

Not only that but they documented the risk-taking, which I find both courageous and generous. My favourite parts are when teachers describe what they got out of the experience. So here is a video of the day and once you finish watching it, continue reading below to find out how this day came about. The video was filmed by Chris Alsop of Captura Video and coordinated by Chuck Halliday of the NFSB.

How it started
A group of us, RECIT consultants, local and external consultants, centre directors, and school board directors and coordinators, got together to plan a service PED day – traditionally a time when everyone involved in NFSB Continuing Education – teachers (Academic and Vocational), office staff, technicians, maintenance staff, EVERYONE – gather to attend workshops on various subjects. This time, we weren’t going to offer workshops and they weren’t going to separate the participants by job description. We were going to facilitate a day of participant-centered and participant-directed conversation about connecting with diverse learners, whatever your role.

PD that just makes sense
It made so much sense to do this. As one of the administrators pointed out – we ask our teachers to differentiate learning for their students, to create student-centered classrooms…shouldn’t we be doing the same for our staff?

They decided to model the day on an EdCamp style of PD, which is essentially an un-conference. That is, a conference that has no set agenda ….

No set agenda

No set agenda…

but is basically a space for like-minded people to get together to talk about the things that are important to them. Whoever attends, defines the agenda in the morning ….

Creating the day's sessions

Creating the day’s sessions

and then spends the rest of the day in sessions that are important to them. We called the day #NFSBMeCamp, after the school board’s continuing education website NFSB.Me

(by the way – just an aside – Avi and I have decided that the post-it is our technology of choice this year.)

Making the shift
I was thrilled with the day! Energy levels were high and there was a buzz of conversation throughout the centre. Was it perfect? Did every single participant get what they needed out of the PED day? No, probably not. But it was a perfect start. We are so used to attending workshops where we sit and listen so making the shift to participant-driven PD takes practice!

It’s a shift for consultants as well as participants. Instead of presenting a workshop about how to collaborate online, we designed a workshop where the participants were asked to document their learning with collaborative, cloud-based tools. It is hard for a consultant to let go of the PowerPoint! In fact, there were no presentations beyond a short intro to the day and a photo montage summary at the end of the day. Instead, it was a day of conversation-based PD.

So where was the technology, guys????
It was a pervasive and seamless part of the process but it was not centre stage. We modeled using technology for collaboration (Google Drive for session notes), extrapolating data (Word clouds based on session notes), and generating instant artifacts of the day’s events for the closing session (slide show of images and word clouds from the sessions). Most importantly, we got out of the way and allowed the community the space to talk about what matters most to them.

So basically, this is what consultants do while the staff do all of the work…

Consultants hard at work

Consultants hard at work

Not a bad gig, eh?

So, what’s next?
You’ll have to wait and see… Looks to me like there are some high expectations, though!

John's take

John’s take

Quick edit – Avi wrote about our first follow up session to this day here: Tackling absenteeism through technology and we are doing our next follow up session in January. The idea that the work we do with teachers is based on their conversations, their preoccupations is more important to me than you can know.

Why Daniel records his math lessons

Teacher voices are incredibly powerful.

They are powerful for me because they teach me how I can best support them.

They are powerful for each other because they can support each other in this extraordinarily complex and important profession that can often feel so lonely.

They are powerful for their students because it is their teacher’s voice, their teachers’ voices, that are their prime models for learning – their anchors in learning.

And this is why Daniel records his math lessons. As he explains in this video, he records himself every day so that his students can have access to his lessons when they are ready for them – at their pace. Sometimes it is during class time when he explains things live … but sometimes it isn’t and that is ok. By recording his lessons and posting them online, he can model learning to his students wherever they are in the learning process without having to do much more than press record when he starts speaking. No extra prep, no circus sideshows with apps that do or do not need wifi or login credentials or fancy devices. As he concludes in the video:

It assures the students that, you know what? If I don’t get it now, it’s ok! I don’t have to beat myself up about it right now. I can always go back later and then learn this thing.

And if this weren’t enough, it is only one of the areas where teachers voices hold power.

It was through feedback sessions with teachers that I learned of the need for videos like Daniel’s. Last spring, my colleague, Avi Spector, and I went to an adult education centre to present something that the teachers ended up absolutely hating but that particular afternoon became incredibly valuable to me (to both of us, I think). Why? Because some of the teachers let us know that they hated it (beyond just falling asleep in the back of the room) and let us know what they needed from us. They said, you know what would be valuable to us? Concrete examples of good teacher practice going on in Quebec Adult Education Centres. Some might think that flop of an afternoon PD session was a disaster but it changed the course of how I support the educators I work for. This is the power of teacher voice for me and I am hopeful that videos such as Daniel’s story above (and Julie and Michelle’s story, here) hold proof of the power of teacher voice for each other.

(If you are interested in Daniel’s approach, a good place to start to learn more about it is on this PD Mosaic tile about Blended Learning.

If you know a teacher who is doing something great in their classroom with technology or if you are doing something interesting yourself – please let me know about it so we can share even more stories. Find me @tracyrosen on Twitter)

Tech + Learner Autonomy: following up

Last spring I wrote a post about two teachers from the Western Quebec School Board who are doing great things in their classroom to help their learners develop autonomy.
(go read about that here: )

I shared their story with a number of people and everyone I spoke with wanted to learn more, so we had a conversation which became this video. In it, they talk about why and how they developed their online resources but more significantly, they share what these resources mean for their classrooms and, ultimately, their learners. They also talk about their own learning throughout the process. I encourage you to watch this video! Thank you so much to both Michelle and Julie for sharing their story!

The video forms part of a professional development tile on Motivation in PD Mosaic.

Where does technology fit if it is no longer the goal?

Short answer? In service of relationship-based teaching & learning.

For the past little while I have been working on a follow-up video to ICT is not the Goal, that I created for the DevPro Flipped Consultant YouTube channel back in 2013. Here it is – I have been experimenting with different ways to incorporate video and animation using my limited creative toolset (PowerPoint + MovieMaker + Audacity).

Long Answer? Watch the video 🙂 or, if you prefer, read the script below the video, where you will also find links to the credits for the artwork and music in the video.

ICT is (still) not the Goal
I am not interested in how we can best integrate technology. I am interested in how we can solve problems no, scratch that – more importantly, I care about what is working well in our classrooms and how we can amplify THAT.

Amplifying what works is more important for me than solving problems because if we look for problems to solve, our world will be full of problems. But if we look for what works, if we look for our assets, then our world will be filled with what works. Isn’t that an amazing possibility?

Have you ever been in the market for something new – a new car, paint colour, diet. And all of a sudden you see these new things everywhere? It’s not that there is a sudden influx of new cars, colours, and food on the streets, it is just that your brain is noticing them because they have taken a place of prominence.

I truly believe that we find what we look for.

And so I look at the question of technology and learning through that lens and consciously ask what works? How can we create more of it? How are we getting better?

There are different models we can use to measure technology use or integration – one that many know of is called SAMR – or samr. With SAMR, we can look at how we are using technology in our classrooms and determine if we are just teaching the ‘same old, same old’ with new tools or expanding our horizons beyond what was possible before technology.

It`s interesting and does help to focus on the problem of how technology is used …
but there are two issues at play here:
By using a model like this, we are still placing our focus on the tool.
and by looking at our own integration of technology as a problem to solve , are we not surrounding ourselves with problems?

Instead of focusing on tools to solve problems, what if we just focus on what happens in a learning classroom? When I look around for what works, the stories I see and hear all have the same themes:

  • There is a caring teacher / student relationship.
  • There is a high importance placed on pedagogy.
  • The use of technology is allowed to happen naturally, more by need than by design.

The first two of these themes are really interconnected. As teachers, one way that we care about our students is by keeping the bar high on the learning in our classrooms. When I care about my students I want the very best for them and the only way that is really in my control in this area is by ensuring that I continually evolve in my knowledge of my subject-area as well as on strategies for effectively teaching (and learning!) it. More and more, these strategies turn towards accessibility through technology.

When technology use is allowed to happen naturally, it arises out of need more than by design. This one can be trickier to manage in centres where there is a dearth of technology or where it needs to be reserved ahead of time UNLESS we allow students to bring technology into the room and we arrange to share the technology a centre does have with those students who don’t have their own. This may mean that we need to explicitly foster a climate of collaboration and sharing within our classrooms as well as our centres. This may also mean that it becomes ok for a student to walk into another classroom to borrow a tablet or laptop during the school day.

What if your students and centre don’t have access to technology? That is a big reality for a number of us. Remember – ICT is not the goal. Luckily, the first two of my themes are more than just themes. I would call them conditions for learning. It is in the intersection of relationship and pedagogy that passion for learning is ignited. Technology can facilitate the communication of this passion with others, it can facilitate creative manifestations of this passion but it is not the end of the story. The conditions for learning exist beyond those tools.

So I challenge you to look for instances of what works. Actively seek out our assets as teachers and learners and amplify them by sharing them with others, reusing great ideas from others in your classroom, and demanding the tools and conditions necessary to do so from those in a position to give them to you!

Original script, video, and drawings by Tracy Rosen. RECIT Provincial Service for General Adult Education. Share, adapt, attribute – CC BY 4.0 – May 2015

Prayer Loop Song, sampled in the intro with permission from Supaman, Many thanks!
View the video here (it is stunning):

Appreciative Inquiry cartoon by Jeff Logan, 2012. Used with permission. Thanks!
See it on Jeff’s blog here:

Excerpt from Nova Career Centre’s video Resource Centre – supporting our students
Used with permission – thank you!

Excerpt from BYOD Success Story – No Internet? No problem! By Avi Spector & Hilda Smolash. Used with permission, thank you!

Image of hammer, created with HaikuDeck.

Unconnected by Chapendra on Flickr, shared with a CC BY-NC 2.0 License

14th Chinup by Ian on Flickr, shared with a CC BY-SA 2.0 License

Quotes on pedagogy from: Smith, M. K. (2012). ‘What is pedagogy?’, the encyclopaedia of informal education. [ Retrieved: May 17, 2015].

Additional images from Pixabay, shared via a Creative Commons Public Domain license.

List of resources referenced in the video
SAMR – accredited to Reuben Puentedura

Quebec Adult Education Common Core Basic Education Programs,

Changing the way we teach math: A Manual for Teaching Basic Math to Adults
By Kate Nonesuch

PD Mosaic – resource tool for personalized PD

BYOD in Secondary Math – Pinterest board by Rafranz Davis

Tech + learner autonomy #AQIFGA

The first workshop I had the pleasure of attending at this year’s AQIFGA conference was presented by Michelle Robinson and Julie Salomon of Western Quebec School Board, called: Les TICs au service de L’autonomie en FLS, roughly translated as ICT in service of autonomy in French Second Language.

Essentially, their workshop was organized around the presentation of three tools they have been experimenting with to help the learners in their classrooms develop autonomous learning practices. Too often, learners wait for teachers to supply them with the answers…why? because this is how it has always been! In particular in adult education centres, this type of learning and teaching is becoming less and less relevant. Classrooms are beginning to look more and more like this:


Adult Ed environment

Evolving Adult Ed Environment

So teachers are looking for ways to keep the learning environment of their classrooms relevant in the face of this continuously evolving picture. 

What Julie and Michelle are experimenting with in their French second language classrooms is creating an online resource center of videos, activities, and explanations of basic, key concepts that their learners can access whenever needed – both in the classroom and outside of the classroom.

So far, they have used Popplet – an online mind mapping tool – to organize resources around ‘La phrase de base’ (basic sentence structure); Padlet – an online bulletin board – to organize multiple resources for second language learning, including their Popplet resource and videos they created to support their students as they learn French; and Quizzlet – an online quiz making tool – to provide their learners with multiple ways to practice what they learn.

What I would like to highlight were some comments Julie and Michelle made in conversation with the participants about student use of the tools:

You can’t just create resources online and expect learners to use them – and to use them in the way that you expect! Technology use needs to be modeled. They both spoke about the need to model how to look for information and solve problems in relation to what learners are working on. As students worked on creating sentences in French, for example, it was important for the teachers to show them explicitly how to use the online resources they compiled to help them in their tasks.

A common thread of teacher conversations is about learner autonomy and what I love about this project is that Julie and Michelle are teaching learners how to become autonomous and not merely hoping for it to happen.

The tools that Julie and Michelle create are in constant evolution as they use them with their students and as they receive feedback from their students as to what works more, what works less. Here is how their collection of resources looks at the moment:

Padlet for FLS

(still!) Struggling with technology

internet_error In 2015. we should not be struggling with technology at teacher conferences.

Over the past little while, I have participated – as both presenter and (not so innocent) bystander – in a few teacher conferences or PD sessions. At each of them, there have been major issues with the technological infrastructure (ie – the wifi!) that got in the way of the learning that was going on.

At one conference, I was asked to speak about allowing for mobile technology in the classroom. I had spent a lot of time preparing hands-on activities for the teachers who chose to participate in my workshop. Once I arrived and was ushered into a concrete block classroom with a techie who had to hard-wire my laptop to a wall so I could access my presentation and show a video…I had a feeling there might be a problem with my regularly scheduled programming…

…and I was right. The teachers couldn’t even access the Internet on their personal devices since we were essentially encased in concrete.

At another conference, I was a participant in a workshop where two teachers who had spent a lot of time preparing their presentation on using technology with their students were unable to show us some of their work because of weak wifi.

And we wonder why teachers are reluctant to use technology in their classrooms.

If anything, the scenarios described above reflect some of the frustrating reality in our centres of learning and our methods of professional development.

–> Think about it – I was presenting a session on mobile technology in a room whose very architectural structure blocked access to mobile technology to a group of teachers who were going to go back to teach in the same kinds of rooms the following Monday.

So what do we do? Where do we go from here?

Let’s embrace our realities and then forge ahead.

If the realities of our centres are weak technological infrastructures, let’s work from there. I can absolutely work with teachers to develop robust and relevant learning situations that focus on collaboration and creativity in a concrete box – but I need to know the parameters.

So I need to start asking questions about those parameters before I plan for PD. I tend to ask conference organizers about the participants – who are they, what levels/subjects/programs/student groupings do they teach and if they allow for student devices in the room, but I need to ask questions about the classroom environments they work in. I need to ask about teaching environments and the infrastructures that support those environments within the centres as well as outside of the centre walls. Think of the usefulness of providing PD that supports tech use in an area where the majority of a centre’s clientele does not have access to technology for cultural or socio-economic reasons. That kind of data is necessary to help shape the design of my PD.

When it comes down to it, I want to make sure that what I provide for teachers is relevant and useful for them and the learners in their care. I do not want to waste their time with anything less.

On another level, we (all of us, teachers, consultants, parents, administrators, students, community partners) need to put pressure on our school boards to ensure that we have what we need to create learning environments that meet our needs – and that goes for technology as well as safety and security.

Access to technology. Technology infrastructure. These are things that we need to think about. And we need to think about them long and hard before we frustrate people with professional development that does not reflect their reality.

image source: Gawd! i hate computers!by Chrstphre Campbell on Flickr, shared via a CC BY 2.0 license.

Rethinking Digital Citizenship

I have mixed feelings when I hear the phrase ‘digital citizenship’. In particular when I hear about digital citizenship programs to address our online activity.

Last week, I was at #AdaCampMontreal and one of the sessions I participated in was on Open Source Photography. Towards the end of the session we had a conversation about copyright and the consensus was that people who do reuse photos without consent are not doing so with malicious intent. They have just never been taught that what they are doing is stealing other people’s work.

So, at first thought, a course on digital citizenship seems like a great idea. If students (and teachers) are spending more and more time online, it makes sense to want to instill an awareness of their online presence and activities.

My concern is

Exams and Brains


…all the brain sees are electro-chemical signals. it doesn’t care where they come from – David Eagleman said something close to this line a few moments ago on the stage in Vancouver during TED 2015, Truth or Dare.

I am presently fully involved in work around the idea of allowing technology on high-stakes exams and David Eagleman’s line illuminated something within that work for me. Read More