Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cultivating Literate and Numerate Learners through Effective Teaching Strategies

I was recently asked this following question:
Can educators / do educators transfer effective literacy strategies to support student achievement in numeracy?

My initial response: Of course! 
However describing what this looks likes, sounds like, even feels like in the classroom is a more challenging of a task. 

As described by Fiore, LeBar, & Scott-Dunne (2014) in the 4 Roles of the Numerate Learner, it begins with building relationships and cultivating a classroom community. This transcends content areas and provides the foundation for learning. Daily community circles where students have the opportunity to share their thinking and perspectives is central. Students begin to recognize that it is a safe place to share and connect. They take on the role of listener and speaker and feel their way through these roles. 
In community circle, we share our triumphs and our failures, each equally celebrated knowing that we learn the most through our challenges. Taking the time to talk allows me to better understand my students' unique lived experiences which shape their interactions in the classroom. The creation of a nurturing classroom community allows for the application of the strategies shared below.

Although their are many more high yield teaching strategies, I have tried to capture my Top 5. They can be applied in both literacy and numeracy instruction and have been pivotal in student learning and achievement.

Accountable Talk
Through accountable talk students begin to recognize that they have a voice and are accountable for the learning of the classroom community. In Literacy, this includes sharing predictions, questions, and thinking about texts in large and small group discussions. Connecting with the characters and events presented in texts allows students to appreciate the perspectives and lived experiences of each other. In Numeracy, this involves solving inquiries with collaborative groups and sharing thinking with classmates. Students learn that it is okay to disagree and question as it is through 'being uncomfortable' that we learn new things. In our Number Talks students are asked to share the strategies they use to solve mental math. As a community of learners we discuss efficient strategies and learn from each other.


Responsive Teaching
Responsive teaching requires educators to remain tuned in to the learning and conversations happening in the classroom in order to capitalize on unexpected opportunities for learning. The "just in time" nature of this strategy elicits high levels of engagement for students as the learning is purposeful. It also demonstrates how content areas are interconnect as authentic inquiries often involve multiple subject areas.

See Math Learning - Just in Time for reflections on what this looks like in the primary classroom.

Formative Assessment
Formative assessment as a learning strategy in literacy and numeracy instruction allows for educators to 'feed forward' the learning. It is not about looking back, but looking forward to what is possible. It embraces the "not yet" mentality of growth mindset. In Literacy, providing comments to student writing using GAFE allows for them to apply feedback immediately in order to improve. When feedback aligns with co-constructed success criteria students are better able to reflect on next steps. 
Formative assessment helps determine guided reading sessions that focus precisely on individual needs. The same is true for math assessment. Quick check-├Čns (eg. ticket out the door, Google forms) allow for responsive teaching based on need.



Make Thinking Visible
Documenting learning journeys using D2L and GAFE creates opportunities for reflection, connection, and celebration. Students are able to revisit material, share their thinking, and reflect upon their learning. Using digital tools promotes home connections and student engagement outside of school. Learning is everywhere!
Gradual Release of Responsibility
This is the strategy that impermeates all others. It is not linear, but highly cyclical in nature. It allows educators to meet students where they are and promote student accountability. It asks us to think about who holds the cognitive load in the classroom. Who is doing the `work`of learning? Students need opportunities to collaborate, think independently, and also receive direct instruction. Balance is key. In Numeracy, we might begin with a collaborative inquiry task, gather information from this task, and plan shared/modelled approaches based on student needs. In Literacy, this might look like a read-aloud "think aloud" followed by small group shared reading to practice reading strategies. 

Improving Practice with Sarah Brown Wessling - Excellent video on Gradual Release of Responsibility

How do you transfer effective literacy strategies to support student achievement in numeracy? 
What strategies would be included in your Top 5? 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

M.Ed. CAPSTONE: My Journey as a Lead Learner

“Students need both content knowledge and skills to apply and transform their knowledge for useful and creative purposes and to keep learning as content and circumstances change”.
(Bellanca & Brandt, 2010, forward, xxiii)

“Thus, TPK requires a forward-looking, creative, and open-minded seeking of technology use, not for its own sake but for the sake of advancing student learning and understanding”.

(Koehler & Mishra, 2009, p.66)

"...the development of school leaders is a critical component in system building if schools are to be places in which teachers learn, teaching and learning are powerfully planned and delivered, students achieve and leadership is widely distributed".

(Bush and Jackson, 2002, p. 418)

"Transformational leaders who collectively develop and share a clear vision may boost followers' innovativeness by serving as role models in the development and implementation of innovations, clarifying challenges for the school's future and the importance of developing new knowledge and practice, pointing out opportunities for school improvement through innovation, and motivating team members by envisioning an attractive future for the school." 

(Moolenear et al., 2010, p. 629)         

Engage, discuss, learn, connect, share, facilitate, discover, question. 
These are all verbs that come to mind when I think about my experiences and iterations as a lead learner. I have carefully selected this term as it encompasses my efforts to gain knowledge and insight through research and practice, as well as connecting with other educators and sharing these insights. In Leadership in Education (EU 514) I gained a more complete understanding of what it is to be a leader. Visioning, setting directions, aligning, preparing for change are all roles of a leader, formal or informal. I see myself as an informal leader in various contexts including school, school board, and faculty of education. As a lead learner I show a willingness to “puddle jump”, to try new things, test out the waters, and motivate and enable others to puddle jump alongside me. Lead learners understand that growth and change is a constant. One inquiry, one ‘puddle’ often leads to another. Hence lead learning is iterative in nature. It is a process of discovery, trial, question, and connection.

My journey as a lead learner began as a desire to learn more about innovation in the classroom. I noticed a significant change in students’ mindsets and motivations when they used computers to practice skills and engage in research. Technology enhanced learning and so I was determined to employ whatever tools I had at my disposal. As a pilot school for BrightLink projectors I joined a board committee to develop interactive resources to share with other educators. I started weekly “Lunch n’ Learns” to develop capacity at my own school. I networked with other educators and industry personnel to expand my own repertoire for using devices in the classroom. Since this first experience over 5 years ago I have remained on WCDSB technology integration working groups. What began as curiosity and interest for my own sake has led to my beginnings as a lead learner in the area of 21st century teaching and learning. Technology is always evolving. It is important that our teaching evolves with it so that these tools enhance our practice. One of my goals as a lead learner is to share this principle with other educators. It is not about the tool, it is about the learning that is enabled because of technology.

Last year I was selected to be a part of team to develop the WCDSB Blueprint in the area of the 21st Century Teaching and Learning Environment. Our focusing questions included: “How can our school and classroom learning environments be planned and developed to address our 21st Century student outcomes?” and “What are the conditions required for our staff to be successful in addressing our 21st Century student outcomes?” My experiences and learning from Integrating Technology, Pedagogy, and Content (EU 530), definitely helped prepare me for this undertaking. Because of my new learning and theoretical understanding, I contributed meaningfully to this working group.


Educators must be knowledgeable about the content they teach, possess strong pedagogical beliefs that guide their teaching, and understand the capabilities of ever-evolving technologies. Using theoretical frameworks (P21, TPACK, SAMR, TIM) we created a template that outlines 21st century skills, how they link to elements in the Ontario achievement charts and learning skills, and roles of the various stakeholders involved. Upon reflection, another question emerged- “What inhibits teachers and students from using technology for the creation of new tasks as outlined in the “redefinition” phase of the SAMR model?” To address this question I developed a self-identification tool for teachers. How could educators engage in meaningful professional development if their starting point was not validated and next steps clearly defined? This self-identification matrix is currently being used as part of the WCDSB GAFE training model.


The self-identification tool is an important artifact in my journey as a lead learner not only because it validates my commitment to advancing knowledge in the area of education (Program Goal 4), but also because it is ever-evolving. I am currently developing digital examples of learning tasks at each stage of the matrix to highlight how digital tools are used to foster creativity, innovation, and critical thinking. Educators from various divisions (JK-12) are doing the same in hopes that we can paint a picture of what 21st century teaching and learning looks like within our board. Context is critical, so to build capacity, it is essential that we provide concrete examples using the tools and technologies available. It is my hope that this professional development tool will encourage others to ‘puddle jump’ alongside me. I believe others can feel the joy of making a splash, and reap the benefits of testing new waters. This is part of my role as a lead learner, to identify when to jump out in front, to model innovation and risk-taking, and also when to step back, ‘hold hands’ and provide encouragement and support to inspire more puddle jumpers.

M.Ed. CAPSTONE: Documenting and Reflecting Upon My Journey

Program Goals:
1. Articulate an advanced and integrated conceptual understanding of the relationship between theory, practice, and reflection.

4. Make connections among social, personal and community responsibilities and intellectual life in ways that advance knowledge in the area of education.


“With 21st century skills, students will be prepared to think, learn, work, solve problems, communicate, collaborate, and contribute effectively throughout their lives.”
(Bellanca and Brandt, 2010, p. xx)



"Transformational leaders who collectively develop and share a clear vision may boost followers' innovativeness by serving as role models in the development and implementation of innovations, clarifying challenges for the school's future and the importance of developing new knowledge and practice, pointing out opportunities for school improvement through innovation, and motivating team members by envisioning an attractive future for the school."
(Moolenear et al., 2010, p. 629)



What are my strengths? What are my areas for potential growth? 
During EU 514: Leadership in Education, I was introduced to the Ontario Leadership Framework (OLF) and was challenged to consider questions such as these. I began collecting artifacts from my professional practice that match with practices outlined in the OLF. The process of examining the framework was not an easy one, but provided me with a valuable purpose for reflection. I was validated by recognizing myself reflected in some of the practices outlined in the OLF and felt an inward calling to further my development as a leader. Within my school I began offering professional development opportunities in the area of technology integration (TECH PD @ SJP) and became involved in the 21st Century Blueprint working group with the WCDSB to further my experiences as an educational leader. Reflecting upon my growth as an educator and as a leader has very much been a part of my journey.

How best can I share my journey with others? 
Thinking about the presentation, Culture, Collaboration, and Change, I developed with Laurier cohort members I was drawn to the notion of collaborative learning cultures and how to effectively elicit change. Collaborative learning does not just happen in person, but also through the digital world of social media. I frequently visit blogs such as Edutopia through Google+ and Twitter and decided to begin putting my own thinking out there. This led me to create Mindful Ed - my own digital space for connection and reflection. This artifact is important to me for a number of reasons, all of which link to program goals.

How does my evolving theoretical understanding impact student learning? Through Mindful Ed, I am able to think about my practices as a primary educator and link these practices to my personal theoretical framework. An example of this is a blog I wrote on blended learning in 2014 which describes a learning task where students were gathering research about countries around the world and organizing information using Google Slides. As they were creating their presentations, I used the comment feature and noted in my post, “What really amazed me was the ability to use the comment feature to provide immediate feedback that was relevant and purposeful for the students.” I am currently writing a blog post about our classroom experiences using Google Hangout to connect with classroom in different places around the world. The content remains the same (Grade 2 Global Communities), however method of delivery based on changing pedagogy and knowledge of digital tools to support this pedagogy has evolved. This once again highlights that it is not about the tool, but the learning experiences enabled by the use of technology. Utilizing digital tools to facilitate student learning was a central tenant of EU 530 where I developed an understanding of the theory of technology of integration that has very much informed my practice. In EU 530 I read articles and texts about the development of 21st century skills and frameworks to support technology integration, causing me to rethink my pedagogy. Miyake (2007) states that “The other reason comes from the design requirements for collaborative learning, which call for making thinking visible, sharable, reflectable, and modifiable by the participating learners” (2007, p. 249). This provides evidence to support my fulfillment of Program Goal 1 to develop a conceptual understanding of the relationship between theory, practice, and reflection.

Mindful Ed is a space where I am able to share new insights, developed through my reflection on theory and practice, with other educators. I have added many of my reflections to the WCDSB Google+ community in order to facilitate discussion on best practice in education. In much the same way, I am challenged by other educators who share their experiences with me through digital communities. The process of adding to my blog is very much a part of my current journey as an educator as I integrate new understandings into my practice, and attempt to articulate this for others. This demonstrates my fulfillment of Program Goal 4 to make connections that advance knowledge in the area of education.

Mindful Ed began as a way for me to collect and organize artifacts that reflect practices of the OLF and evolved to become a digital space for reflection, connection, and communication. I am most proud of this artifact as it has challenged and excited me the most. It illustrates the iterative nature of my journey.

M.Ed. CAPSTONE: The Journey of Students

Program Goal:
3. Apply an advanced understanding of learning and cognition theories such that diverse learning outcomes and educational needs for all students are addressed.



Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.
~ Fred Rogers ~

“Play sessions help children develop the self-understanding, self-acceptance, personal power, self-control, and self-discipline that assist them in accomplishing academic, social, and personal goals.”
(Robinson et al., 2007, p.21)



"Students who collaborate to solve problems become aware of new ways that knowledge can be used and combined, which forms new synaptic connections. Further, problem based learning is apt to appeal to students’ motivation and engender emotional involvement, which also can create more extensive neural networks.” (Schunk, 2012, p.66)



How does the journey of our students take shape? 
What can we do as educators to best support students on their journey? 
Can we capture the journey for purposes of reflection and celebration? 
These are just a few of the questions that have emerged for me about the learning and development of children. Throughout my coursework, I have been introduced to many cognition theories, each of which sheds a little more light on how best to support students to reach their academic potential. It is only now, as I look back at past papers and reflections, that I recognize a common thread with those theories that resonate most profoundly with me. That is the importance of the connections and relationships we cultivate. Through these iterations, I demonstrate my fulfillment of Program Goal 2 to apply an advanced understanding of learning theories such that the educational needs of all students are addressed.

How can we make student thinking visible? 
In EU 530 I investigated how best to capture student thinking. This was based on a problem of practice rooted in the inability to capture learning moments, such as reading records, in the classroom. Using Notability on my iPad, I recorded each student’s reading and documented this for assessment and reflection purposes. Technology became a tool for making student thinking visible and sharable. What began as something to help with tracking progress for my own purposes, became so much more. I found that when students see themselves reflected in the learning that is happening in the classroom, they are far more engaged. We take pictures, annotate, review, refine, analyze. All of this builds a community of learners whose voices are all important. Moving forward I hope to extend this to students utilizing their own e-portfolio.

Does brain research support this? 
I have always had a passion for science, understanding processes and new developments, so I was excited to learn about the neuroscience of learning in EU 505. The more students are involved in the process of learning, through problem solving, rich discussions, and meaningful tasks, the greater the likelihood that neural connections will be created. This is at the heart of our task as educators. Brain research also explains how emotions affect learning, both positively and negatively. Motivational states are neural connections that are constantly in flux and include the integration of emotions, cognition, and behaviours (Schunk, 2012). Educators promote learning by providing positive emotional experiences within the classroom, such as discussions and hands-on activities. In the classroom, talk matters. Checking in each day through community circle, discussing ‘real world’ applications across the curriculum, and connecting ideas with our own personal experiences help to support student learning. The learning process, and the individual and collective journeys that occur throughout the year, are far more important than the products.

How does play support learning? 
In both of my interdisciplinary courses play and its impact on the social, emotional, and academic development of children was explored. I came across an excerpt from one of my reflection papers from TH663 that summarizes my most important learning. “It is important to be an observer and listener; allowing students to tell their own stories as they are capable of self-direction and growth. Focusing on the process of learning instead of the product can increase students’ confidence and self-efficacy.” What is astounding is how this reflection links back to neuroscience as well as making student thinking visible. Each student enters our classrooms with personal experiences and perspectives that shape their interactions with others and the connections they make with learning. Allowing students to tell their own stories supports learning and development. Capturing student thinking and reflection using digital tools helps make it ‘real’ for them. This could be taking a picture of a Lego creation and allowing them to write about its significance. It could be annotating pictures from a field trip and developing new ‘wonderings’. It could be videotaping students working in collaborative groups and discussing their observations. Opportunities for play and reflection are critical in the holistic development of students.

I love being a teacher. I relish in witnessing the daily ‘ah ha’ moments of my students. Seeing them give feedback to each other and embrace challenges brightens my day. For me, a big part (actually the biggest part) of being an educator is developing relationships with and between my students. I can plan the most exciting activities, think of the most enticing questions to spark curiosity, use the most innovative tools, but if I am not developing relationships then all this is for not. Students need to make connections, use previous experiences, link new ideas with their world. This is only possible through building relationships. Giving much treasured time to talk is so necessary. Understanding where students are at and taking a strengths-based approach, ensures that each student is validated in their own journey. I am reassured that theory says the same.

M.Ed. CAPSTONE: My Journey as a Researcher

Program Goal:
2. Engage in the analysis and dissemination of education-related research.


“Theory and practice are inseparable in doing qualitative research. As we have shown, researchers generate theory from their data through a complex process of warranting their claims.” 
(Freeman et al., 2007, p. 29) 
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“Determining why some high-ability students demonstrate low levels of achievement is difficult because underachievement occurs for many different reasons. However, practitioners must explore the causes of students’ underachievement if they plan to help these children.” 
(Reis & McCoach, 2002, p. 115) 

Twice-Exceptional Learners' Perspectives on Effective Learning Strategies 
“The most preferred strategies included choice/flexibility in learning, assessment, and pace; using compensatory strategies and strengths to circumvent weaknesses; and collaborating in specific ways. The strategies indicated as beneficial by both the quantitative and qualitative findings are consistent with those found in the literature;”

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“Our results indicate that preschool-age children still have difficulties with a very simplified mental rotation task that was designed to put as few demands on working memory, attention span, and verbal comprehension as possible.” 
(Frick et al., 2013, p. 125) 

Children’s Spatial Ability: Exploring Individual Differences 
“Our findings suggest that IQ and quantitative reasoning contribute to visual-spatial ability. The results suggest an even greater need to emphasize visual-spatial learning in mathematics curriculum given these results and its highly malleable nature.”


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Put quite simply, the role of a researcher is to ask questions in order to investigate and learn more something. With limited experience conducting formal educational research, this is a skill set I sought to develop as a Master of Education candidate. Finding and reviewing literature in the area of interest, posing research questions, using qualitative and quantitative research methods to collect and analyze data, and interpreting this data in meaningful ways; each of these tasks is challenging in its own way, yet essential to the research process. One research question often leads to new inquiries showing how research is iterative and reflective in nature. Through my experiences on two research studies, I have demonstrated my ability to analyze and disseminate research, fulfilling Program Goal 2.

My first formal experience conducting educational research occurred when I assisted Dr. Willard-Holt with a qualitative study on twice-exceptional students. I was involved with many aspects of the study from beginning to end which helped me better understand the complete research process. My initial contributions included completing REB forms and assisting with the review of literature. I became familiar with performing targeted searches using databases and highlighting keys ideas that align with those essential to the current study. After completing the review of literature we developed a survey to better understand which strategies ‘twice-exceptional’ students find of benefit to their learning. Later in the research process I had the fortunate opportunity to be a part of an interview with a participant. Transcribing this interview and extracting themes as they emerged helped me develop qualitative data analysis abilities. This study was submitted to Gifted Child Quarterly and after a few revisions was published.


I have always had an interest in mathematics education, fascinated by the developmental aspects of math abilities and how they relate to teaching methods. To my great benefit, Dr. Kotsopoulos invited me to assist with a study on visual spatial processing in young children. We distributed consent forms to the kindergarten students at the elementary school where I work, and enlisted approximately 60 participants. I experienced the tedious task of recruiting participants, collecting forms and questionnaires, and organizing information. We utilized an iPad app to collect data about each student’s mental rotation abilities as well as the Stanford Binet 5 for Young Children. After data collection, I was familiarized with statistical analysis by observing and experimenting with various tests. We found that IQ and quantitative reasoning are linked with visual-spatial processing. We are currently in the process of submitting this study to Psychology of Math Education North America (PMENA).


Through my participation in these studies, I not only honed my research skills, but also uncovered valuable information about childhood development and learning. Administering the SB5 was pivotal. So often as educators we are presented with reports including terminology such as working memory, visual-spatial processing, and reasoning. I am familiar with concrete tasks related to these terms and how they impact student learning and development. As a primary educator, I am much more confident and competent in providing targeted strategies to assist students with special needs. As well, I presented my findings based on the SB5 at a division meeting to help others understand how factors such as working memory impact student learning.


I have come to know that educators assume the role of researchers in many ways. We engage in inquiries about student learning, collect data, and interpret the data to make decisions and define results. This process is informal and cyclical. Taking a research stance as an educator has great benefits in the classroom. This stance requires us to think critically about our practice, ask questions, try new strategies, and embrace failure. Modelling this mindset for students, owning our successes and failures, is a powerful tool. Now that I have conducted formal educational research, I hope to delve into more informal action research projects in my classroom. Questions posed in previous studies have led me to new wonderings. With the skill set I have developed by my participation on these studies, I believe I can become a lead learner in this area. My hope is that this may highlight for others the iterative nature of inquiry and the benefits of adopting a research stance.