Category Archives: Learning

Giving Students Ownership of Learning


Credit to Geralt from Pixabay

I always look forward to reading the new issue of Educational Leadership and the theme of this issue is ‘Giving Students Ownership of Learning’. I love that theme! It is full of relevant articles. I shouted out with delight to see Will as one of the authors in this issue. It is so appropriate to see Will’s article “Footprints in the Digital Age” in this outstanding issue. It is online and available for you to read. I’m so glad he ended up in this particular theme as he has been advocating giving students ownership of learning for some time now and continues to fight the battle, day in and day out. Will talks about the importance of self-directed learners being adept at building and sustaining networks. He gives five ideas that will help you begin to build your own personal learning network. He calls and has continued to call for this shift that requires us to foster the development of engaged learners and to rethink the roles of schools and educators. He issues this challenge: “More than ever before, students have the potential to own their own learning- and we have to help them seize that potential. We must help them learn how to identify their passions; build connections to others who share those passions; and communicate, collaorate, and work collectively with these networks. You need to forward it as a ‘must read’ to many others. Good on you, Will! Thanks for all you continue to do to make a difference in the lives of our students!

This issue of ‘Educational Leadership’ has lots more articles that are right on target. Get a copy and read each one!

Research frustrations, joys, and further thoughts

iBreadCrumbs is a free online tool that helps users record and share research. What is really cool is that this tool was developed by two college graduates, Reuben Fine and Rey Marques. They had become frustrated by the inefficiency and redundancy of gathering research. See Campus Technology for further reading about this intriguing tool. It is interesting tool that I will be following. I’ll be curious to see how professors and others conducting research will use this tool. If anybody knows of similar tools, please let me know.

Reading about this tool prompted me to think about how much I am learning this past year. It is ever frustrating to not immediately share my “inconclusive” thoughts. The problem is that these “inconclusive” thoughts need to be reflected upon and studied from different perspectives. You examine different areas comprehensively and then have to step back and mull it over. Most times, this type of reflection points you to a totally different pat or way of needing to take a closer look at what is happening. You begin again.

There are many frustrations that surface for me daily. I still don’t know just what I can share and what I can’t as I learn. One corner of this community urges me to just get it out there, another says no, finish studying what happened so there will be accuracy and validity in the findings. Results are inconclusive at this stage. Basically I agree with that but I find myself in an arena where I am constantly unsure of the rules. I don’t want to be a risk taker at this point. Too much is at stake. Yet being silent is so hard! I know I don’t have enough knowledge or experience in this area to judge. Yet I do judge but I am quiet for now with that judging. I have to keep learning so my conclusions on my view of research will “feel right” for me to follow. I d rail at the amount of time research takes, the closed aspects of the research process, the way it ends up not being readily available to every interested party, and it even appears that you lose ownership (I’m talking about ownership to share verbatim) as far as just sharing it “word-for-word” after it is published!

Then the publishing aspect itself is quite a time consumer as you submit articles, wait a month or two, get accepted or rejected, revise, head off to another publisher, work on several pieces at once, etc.

Now those are some of my frustrations but I have much, much joy being involved with this research. I know it is going to be something I will be proud to have a part in contributing to our community. I don’t think I have ever examined anything in more depth. I wish teachers could have opportunities to participate in this kind of learning but realize how impossible this would be for them currently, mainly because of time constraints and few opportunities during the work day to truly invest in their own learning. This could send me off on another rant about treating teachers as professionals but I’ll get to that on another post.

Digging deeply into the accumulated data has given me a new lens with which to view the learning that occurs through blogging. It is inspiring. It has forged a path full of twists and turns that lead to further learning, further examining, and further questions. It is exciting and so very worthwhile. It leads you down a trail of focused thinking on what matters. I think that’s the joy of doing research – making those discoveries and having your thinking pushed in incredible ways.

Meanwhile I have read some of the most fascinating and interesting research around, and that I can share so I will do that in future posts.

This is the kind of learning in which I’d like to see our students have more opportunities. They need to be able to do a little research on their own learning and feel that their choices on learning and their strengths are being honored. We need to guide and encourage that. We spend too much time in our classrooms telling students what they need to learn. We direct and we supervise. We need to empower them by getting them involved in making choices and decisions for some of their own personal learning in schools. They need time to learn what matters to them and go off on a journey where they construct the knowledge and have joy in the journey. Meaningful learning will occur as a result of their making those choices and decisions. Meaningful learning will not occur just by following directions on what to learn being decided totally by others.

Bloggers who make a difference

Harley is one of my favorite bloggers. He puts a lot of joy in classrooms and really gets kids actively engaged in learning. Recently he posted about the process of making maple syrup for a group of fifth graders in Georgia. He had read some of the analogies that the fifth graders were creating and he incorporated that into his post. What great reinforcement for these kids! They got to think and apply their learning in such a fun way and many of them tossed analogies back to Harley. Harley’s first post brought 53 comments from the students and his second post now has 41 comments! I’m betting we will see even more comments. Plus many of the students went on to create their own posts as they excitely shared all that they were learning. Wow! Talk about connections!

I love blogging with kids! I love the connections, the joy, and the thinking that abounds. Just think of all the neuroscience that is getting applied here:

Making it relevant….

Harley made the lesson personally interesting and motivating to the kids.

Giving them a break….

Blogging like this gives kids a break from the normal routine and it was a pleasurable activity that reduced stress and let them experience novelty.

Creating positive associations……

Kids developed associations by practicing creating analogies with a positively reinforcing strategy. (See Fifth Grade Webwriters Are #1)

And the best one, allowing independent discovery learning! These kids will no doubt remember and understand this experience becaue they had a part in figuring it out for themselves. There were choices of places to go to learn and they got to use their imaginations in the process.

Harley is not only a great blogger but has the makings of a neuroscientist too! Thanks Harley for putting all that joy into learning.

I also owe a tremendous thank you to Lani whom I had the good fortune to meet through a comment on one of my classroom blogs back in 2005. We have collaborated and learned much since that time and she personally has put a lot of joy into my learning and reflecting. Lani truly makes a difference in the lives of many….

When the fun stops, learning often stops too

Judy Willis wrote an article on “The Neuroscience of Joyful Education” that begins with this quote:

Brain research tells us that when the fun stops, learning often stops too.

This should be posted in every classroom. She goes on to say that “A common theme in brain research is that superior cognitive inpiut to the executive function networks is more likely when stress is low and learning experiences are relevant to students.” Now I have to ask how stress free are our classrooms in which count downs to testing and focus on testing is the top priority – the end all, be all? Judy Willis points out that classrooms need to promote novelty, eliminate stress, and build pleasurable associations linked with learning. She says plan for the ideal emotional atmosphere by making it relevant, giving them a break, creating positive associations, and guiding students to learn how to prioritize information, and allow independent discovery learning.

All this got me thinking about joy in the classroom and how much joy I have seen blogging in the classroom with kids. I’m thinking in particular of the J. H. House kids as I have spent most of my time blogging with them. My next post is going to feature one of my favorite bloggers who has put a lot of joy in a few classrooms over the past few days.

More from Sara on The Book Trailer

What a treat! I was sinking as I thought more about the damage high-stakes testing is doing to our schools so it was so uplifting to read Sara Kajder’s article, The Book Trailer: Engaging Teens Through Technologies in this month’s issue of Educational Leadership.

It tells the story of students creating a two-minute video using still images, transitions and special effects (generated with MovieMaker or iMovie software), voiceovers, and a soundtrack. Students present the central characters, themes, or issues of the book visually and through written and voiceover narration. All trailers have to include the title of the book, the author’s name, and a presentation that is both authentic to the text and that works to “hook” readers. I also require students to submit their trailers with a piece of writing that explores the choices they made, with an analysis of the book that shows that they made decisions on the basis of the text, and not just by using the aspects of technology that would best captivate an audience.

Sara goes on to say that….

But technology is not the goal. Student writers and readers are at the center of our instruction. And we, as mindful teachers, must thoughtfully and deliberately prepare all of our students for success by critically exploring the new technological tools and then using the ones that can help us and our students to powerfully convey what we think and know.

I can’t think of a more exciting time to teach, as we’re immersed in new possibilities for working with words and with one another. When we teach creatively with emergent tools in mind, we stand a better chance of engaging reluctant students by giving what we teach real meaning. Each day is an invitation to examine, play, invent, reinvent, and join in the conversation.

Read the whole article. I’ve posted previously about Sara here and here.

Missing out on critical skills

At the beginning of this year I gave a technology survey to a nearby high school class. One of the questions I asked was “When using a website for educational purposes do you have a method for evaluating if the information is reliable, valid, accurate, worthwihile to use? If you do have a method, be as specific as you can. Think of questions you might ask yourself or steps you take.” Here are their answers:

  • I just read it.
  • When I look at info, I believe it is true unless it is farfetched/ludicrous.
  • Don’t have a method.
  • No
  • Yes, look for author, updates
  • No, I take it as it goes.
  • When using a website for information, I look for sources cited and a clear author. I also make sure that I use multiple sources to verify information.
  • The date or domain
  • I really don’t have a method.
  • You can check the same information on many sites and compare the information.
  • I ask myself if it sounds reasonable & if I read the same information from many websites.
  • no
  • I check to see if the writer has minimal errors in the article as well as making sure that it is a website ending in edu, net, org.
  • I don’t really have a method.
  • I look for an author or publisher and a date.
  • I check multiple websites to confirm.
  • No.
  • (1) If it’s well known. (2) When last it has been updated.
  • Does it have an alternative source? Is it credible?
  • No
  • I check to see what kind of website it is. Example – .com, .org, .gov, .net

Depressing, isn’t it?I imagine many of you would find similar answers in nearby classes. I’d say we’re not getting the job done and we are really doing our students a disservice by not teaching them. Julie Coiro has a nice handout, Critical evaluation on the Internet: What’s missing in the text? What’s missing in our instruction? from the IRA 2007. Pass it along….

Reflections on some “awesome” learning

I enjoyed being a part of Dean Shareski’s online/face2face class last week. Dean is so right when he says “Learning is Messy, but Good.” Dean is great about sharing his reflections about his learning and his students. We all get to learn and that is soooooo good.

I shared a bit about the invisible web. Here is another link I found that provides additional information, “Those Dark Hiding Places: The Invisible Web Revealed.”

David Jakes and Alan Levine talked about and Twitter. Dean provides a recording of the session here.

Students shared their learnings. We truly do all learn from each other. I’ve been reading the well-written student blogs. See the links to the student blogs here. They are good reads.

The next day Brian, one of Dean’s students, posted this which certainly bears repeating:

The best comment of all was that in the future we will get 15 minutes of anonymous instead of 15 minutes of fame. This really does hit the nail on the head because with everybody publishing on the web their own movies and videos, and collaborating with wiki’s blog’s and rss feeds we will all be famous. Well famous enough for the world to see and read about us, learn from us and move farther forward and faster than without us. If this isn’t fame I don’t know what is and it is truly awesome. 

I agree. It is truly awesome….

Canada/Georgia Connection on Gizmo

The blogicians and the students in Darren Kuropatwa’s Pre-Cal 40S class participated in a Gizmo call last week. The blogicians had prepared some questions that they wished to ask the high school students. Gizmo has a neat feature that lets you record the conversation as you are talking. It did pretty well but does have an echo effect from time to time. As I listened to these podcasts I really marvel at the learning that occurs. I kept thinking how much was going on and how much can be fostered with these types of connections. I think you have to have a plan of action as if you just connect and talk you may lose some focus. It was a thirty minute call that was filled with some many unexpected turns that were so worthwhile.

What a good space to give kids practice with public speaking. Both ages were nervous but the experiences they got speaking will serve them so well. I think both sides learned so much from each other. The older students were unaware of some of the constraints involved while teaching elementary students (listen to the chat box podcast), the ability to look for dramatic and outstanding pictures for presentations (listen to the Flickr podcast).

On a scribe post after the Gizmo talk, Grey-M one of the high school students said the following:

I must say that trying to answer something on the spot is brutally hard (These weren’t easy questions either) so people, including me, were a little hesitant at times to respond. So that was a fun deviation from our usual routine.

The younger students are in awe of the older students but in these kind of connections they learn to step back and decide if they agree or not. They learn that that is OK.

Johnny from the blogicians posted the following after the talk:

We just did a gizmo chat and it was quite delightful with a pre call math class and it was nicely spoken by me and my classmates. Mr. K was the teacher of the class I asked about chat box and how they use it and Danny replied “We use it to learn all over the web and it sort of saves time instead of commenting”. I sort of agree with him what do you thing do you agree or do you disagree? If you don’t know what it is try looking it up and using it.

You get to discuss so much and the best part is you are having authentic conversations with the students and encourgaging their honest input. It builds great learning communities. This can only make things better in our classrooms. This is great practice for them and us. The teachers get to do a lot of learning too. We’re learning how to best orchestrate these experiences. We’re learning how to help these kids on their path to becoming global citizens. The more experience we can give the kids with this type of learning the more they will be able to help us shape its’ most effective use. These are the types of literacies we need to be developing in all our schools.
I’m still thinking about all this….. the possibilities, how to involve others, and on and on….

It was a day to remember – a day of connections and learning between some very inspiring students in Canada and Georgia.


Links to podcasts:

Podcast 1 Introduction and special bond

Podcast 2 Eddie Chris Online Safety

Podcast 3 Eddie Vincent Being responsible while blogging

Podcast 4 Emmy Danny Flickr

Podcast 5 MV Chris Craig B.O.B (Blogging on blogging) and convincing middle school teachers to let students blog

Podcast 6 Tina Vincent Grey-M The best and the worst of blogging

Podcast 7 Johnny Richard Danny Chat Boxes

Podcast 8 Eddie Aichelle How does blogging advance your learning as a fifth grade student?

Shaping our learning through comments

I am constantly amazed at how much students learn from the comments they receive on their blogs. The other relevant aspect to this is that the learning is so applicable to the standards we are asked to teach. Today I browsed through the student blogs and reread some comments they received over the past school year. I just thought of one standard for each- I could have selected many more standards but this will give you the feel for the awesome power of commenting on our students’ learning.

Anni and Donna

Anni on her post entitled Water stated lots of good reasons supporting the need for a water fountain on her school’s playground

Donna, a teacher from Queensland, Australia commented back to share how each of their schools had rows of “bubblers” outside for student use. She congratulated Anni on her foresight in regards to this issue. Then she added more good reasons for installing a water fountain that Anni could think about as she tries to persuade her school to consider this action. Donna made the point that adequate water consumption is required for optimal brain function! Now I’d say that’s pretty relevant to student learning, right?

Here’s one standard that applies:


ELA5R3 The student understands and acquires new vocabulary and uses it correctly in reading and writing.

Anni’s learning from the comment. I’ve seen her search for a word or head over to the dictionaries in the lab. Plus we now have Answer Tips installed on each blog and that makes it even easier. I love that tool! Anni will remember lots of these words because they are relevant to her. They were meant just for her. New words to add to her vocabulary – bubblers and foresight for starters in this comment.

Eddie and Darren

Eddie’s post on The Language of Math prompted a response from Darren Kuropatwa, a high school math teacher in Winnipeg, Canada. Darren made math come alive in his comment to Eddie. He explained numerous ways math is everywhere. This led Eddie to further explore and communicate about all these concepts. Were they communicating mathematically? IYou can count on it!. And that post fostered lots more comments that kept coming in over the following days. New conversations about math continued both inside and outside our classroom.

Here’s one standard that applies:


M5P3 Students will communicate mathematically.

Eddie sums up his feelings here:

I have made new friends outside of school because of blogging. I have had teacher form other states and countries comment to my blog. I had a teacher from Winnipeg, Canada named Mr.Kuropatwa comment on my blog. He teaches senior math and the children in his class were overwhelmed because of what I knew. He even showed his class my blog and they made a podcast and sent it to me. I have also had a person named Lani comment to my blog and she is from Chardon, Ohio. She’s always trying to encourage me to write better. She always gives me tips and strategies on how to read and write better.

(The above is from The End of My Blogging Year)

Victoria and Kate

Victoria‘s post, Melting Down the Ice , explains that the ice in Antarctica is melting and she points to a movie that shows how this may cause the polar bears to drown and become extinct. Victoria picked up on this concern by reading joey girl, a blog by Kate. Kate is a student in Mr. Fisher’s class in Snow Lake, Canada. Several commented on this post and information was being shared and ideas were exchanged.

This standard applies:


ELA5LSV2 The student listens to and views various forms of text and media in order to gather and share information, persuade others, and express and understand ideas.

Victoria has done an exceptional job of applying the above standard. Her post Are We There Yet? says it all.

Now I could find many more examples and in most cases more than one standard applies. Students need practice with the standards that are being taught. Blogging is a great way to provide that practice. Blogging helps make it authentic and important to the student. They have ownership. Now again the classroom discussions are very important- it is crucial to take the time to share and reflect on how the comments are shaping our learning.

I may come back to some more of these. Better yet wouldn’t it be neat to let the students find samples. Hmmmm I’m going to ask the blogicians what they think about that.

Google Maps

The blogicians have been having fun with Google Maps. They each have maps that list all the locations of their commenters. When we finish I plan to make one map documenting the locations of all the students’ commenters. What fun! Plus they can add other media. Hmmm, ideas are humming!

Then today Scott Floyd posted a comment to the blogicians sharing how he plans to use Google Maps this summer. Check out his great post on My Maps to Visually Document and Tell Stories