Monthly Archives: July 2014

Bringing it Back to the Learner

20140716-103447-38087550.jpg

Awhile back I shared some of my thoughts around research, theory and practice. Today I reflect on how all of these concepts come back to the learner. As I have moved into another identity of a researcher, I have begun to contemplate the significance of the “learner.” As a teacher, it always came back to the learner and in the role of a future K-12 researcher, this premise has altered slightly but it still reflects the idea of the “learner.” In this context, I look at my research participants and I present the narratives (“the story”). My research findings could have potential implications for pedagogy and ultimately the “learner.” What I take from this discussion is the concept of a “narrative.”

During high school I really wanted to be a journalist. I loved writing and reporting the story. I wrote for my high school paper and then later in university I wrote for the university paper and in each of these experiences I had the opportunity to share narratives and stories I had investigated. Although I never pursued a career as a journalist, what fascinated me with this idea of being a reporter was sharing narratives and stories. This fascination continued during my masters, I read a book on narratives. In this book, the researcher Curtis (2006) reflected on how empowering narratives can be. Narratives have the potential to change. It is also through a narrative that we gain a better understanding of a social phenomenon.  So you are probably wondering how does this relate back to this idea of a “learner?” It is quite simple actually. As a teacher, you can be the researcher and your students are the participants. Ask them questions and get to know their stories. When you have a better understanding of their learning needs, you can then plan more purposefully.

One way to do this is to engage your kids in the narrative process. Encourage them to tell stories about themselves and become “storytellers.”   It might be done multimodally and not necessarily in writing.  They should sing it, dance it, or even paint it. However, have them express aspects of their life.  Through these narratives you will learn a lot about your students. How they choose to tell these narratives (i.e. song, dance etc.) will tell you something about them as a learner. Perhaps they prefer singing to writing. Or maybe they just love to paint. These are all aspects that can be incorporated into your lessons. It seems simple right? However, you are wondering how can I do this?

For the elementary teacher, it might start with taking time out of each day to have a “talking circle” and encouraging your students to share a story from the day.  You might provide your students with sketchbooks and encourage them to reflect via different modes (i.e. pictures, words, etc.) about the stories they see around them. You might even get all your kids to create digital journals, encouraging your students to note “stories” in their surroundings.  Perhaps you will set up  Twitter accounts and get your kids to “tweet” out their stories using hashtags etc..  I was really inspired by this TED talk recently about Twitter stories.

It is also an excellent way of getting your kids to tell their narratives and for you to get to know your learners.

Feeling inspired?! Who am I kidding?!

With that type of title, you are probably wonder what this blog post will be about. For those of you that are following this blog because you are curious about starting a PhD program or just curious about my journey so far. Today my so called “drama” is finding/developing an appropriate title for my upcoming dissertation study. I am at the point in my proposal writing as a PhD student that I need to come up with a  title for my forthcoming study. How is that after writing up over 76 pages of a dissertation that I don’t have one coherent title? How does one “wrap it” all up in one title? The pressure of basically saying it all in a few words is overwhelming.  There is always the title that features the famous “colon.” However, of course you want to be “witty” and “smart” and have some deep metaphorical meaning behind the actual words. Ha! Who am I kidding?! I think my “wit” went out the door on page 1 of my writing process. However, as I will be sitting here contemplating this title for the next couple of hours, I will reflect on the importance of a title and how you can “lose it” or “win it” all in a few words. This is at least easier in some ways then coming up with a varied title for every single conference abstract you submit.

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 6.28.07 PM

Actually, my blog post isn’t about my PhD student “title drama.” However, I was reflecting on how to inspire and mentor. I came into this PhD program with a bigger goal of wanting to go into the business of “mentoring” teachers. Of course I have aspirations to further research etc. and as I go deeper and deeper into the literature I imagine the possibilities for me in terms of research in the future. However, as I have realized in my experiences, mentors are critical and there often aren’t enough. I have been very fortunate in my time as a teacher to be continually in the presence of a mentor. I have had some amazing mentors from the ones back in my teacher education days. Mike, my first real mentor, has been an amazing inspiration to me. He still cheers me on from the sidelines after all of these years.

I tell my teachers to find a mentor early in their career. It might be a peer or it might be just a more experienced teacher or someone that just inspires you. The reality is this person is someone that will support you from behind. I am certainly not an expert at this. However, I have noted from my experiences with people I consider mentors that these individuals encourage and support in little but large ways. These people are leaders. They don’t have to be in leadership positions to lead. However even in small ways they push people to be the best they can be. If you are in a PhD program or teaching in a school, mentors are a critical part of any journey.

Tips for Teaching Eportfolios

Untitled_1

It’s that time again when Teacher Candidates are preparing their eportfolios for job interviews or practicing teachers are updating their eportfolios. The past week (and this coming week) I have been conducting some tech workshops on how to do eportfolios. However, I always get asked what should I put in my eportfolios, what are employers (i.e. school boards and administrators) looking for?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Have a clearly written teaching philosophy. In the past I told my students and colleagues to jot down their beliefs about learning (how kids learn), assessment, classroom management etc. It doesn’t have to be long but it is important to know what you believe in and be able to articulate it clearly. You will be asked over and over again during your teaching career what you believe in.  It’s always good to know “why” you are doing something. Don’t be scared to link it to the course readings or scholars!
  • Pick artifacts that showcase your skills (i.e. pictures that show your best practices (i.e. pedagogical documentation panels etc.). Be reflective when making your choices. How do you want to present yourself? Does your choice of artifact connect to your teaching philosophy? Remember to adhere to the Privacy Act rules when picking your artifacts.
  • Personalize it! You want your employers to get a sense of you as a person as well as a potential colleague.
  • Avoid putting lots of text. Add pictures and videos. Make it fun!
  • In my original eportfolio (back in my teacher education days), I included student quotes.  I also tried to showcase my best work from my teacher education experience (i.e. lesson plans, IPP examples etc.).
  • Include letters of references
  • Showcase things you have done in the community etc.
  • The entire purpose of a eportfolio is for you to reflect on your teaching experience. Enjoy it!

Random Sunday…

This will be a VERY random blog post!

il_fullxfull.85277416

First, I get asked often what I am listening to. For those of you that don’t know me, my most productive writing sessions occur when I am blasting my “itunes” loudly. Lately it has been a mix of music from Christian Worship (Hillsong, Kari Jobe, etc.) tunes to Top 40 tunes (Zedd, Arianna Grande etc.).  My favourite variety is LOUD music past midnight (ha, as I recall I had Usher blasting a few nights back).   So for those graduate student peers that wonder why I NEVER go to a library to study its because my music is way too loud.  I went to a library awhile back, just to switch it up, and I got a really ANNOYED neighbour telling me to shut off my music (opps! Yes, I did have headphones on).

20140706-202601-73561956.jpg

Second, there are so many benefits to living in Vancouver but one of my least favourite parts about being here is the RAIN! I don’t know how people do it. As soon as the clouds roll in, my eyes automatically start closing. No wonder my caffeine intake has increased 200 percent since moving here. It’s not because of the lack of sleep (well, maybe partly) but more the cloud cover. Today was one of those days. It started off raining (or I should say pouring). Thankfully the sun came later (see photo above).

Untitled_1Third, I always get asked for technology teaching tips. Here are two for all the teachers that read this blog. Consider using podcasting software (i.e. Garageband (MAC) or Audacity (MAC/PC) (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ ) as an assessment tool. If you are doing Alberta ESL benchmarks or just wanting to do some formative assessment (i.e. informal reading assessments, etc.), podcasting is your answer. I just love using podcasting software to record kids’ talking (i.e. at centres or even during whole group discussions). You can capture quotes from the kids and use them for report card comments or (better yet) Pedagogical Documentation panels. For those of you not familiar with this, check out my website. I have posted online tutorials (http://melaniewong.ca/Teacher%202/index2.html ).

Another technology teaching tip is consider using Skype or Blackboard Collaborate (if your school district has it) to invite guest speakers into your classroom.  It is such a great opportunity for your kids to connect with experts from all over the world (i.e. a university professor etc.).  You can even consider doing a virtual field trip.  There are a lot of websites online that offer options for you to consider.  Please see below:

http://www.eschoolnews.com/2013/04/07/ten-of-the-best-virtual-field-trips/2/

http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/tech/tech071.shtml

http://www.areavibes.com/library/online-field-trips-for-students/