Global Book Clubs – Redefinition

Just as we use student data to inform our instruction in the classroom, the same is true for our own learning journey.  The last five years have been a steep learning curve with respect to the use of technology in the classroom.  I’ve moved to a more transformative and thoughtful practice because I’ve had time to explore its application and follow the results in the classroom.

Photo Credit: ASB
Photo Credit: ASB

Increasing the use of technology in the classroom to enhance teaching and learning has gone hand in hand with a shift in my own education philosophies and a shift in my role in the learning environments. The growth of accessibility to and diversity of tools and connections has led to an increase in the acquisition of information available to both students and teachers. Therefore, my role as a teacher has changed to a co-constructor and co-connector of student learning.

What’s been helpful throughout this time is the implementation of structures to support the intentional and appropriate use of technology to enhance learning.  For example, for the past four years my school has been auditing technology usage in the classroom primarily around the ISTE Standards for Students and also later Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy.  Data collected and analyzed with the support of tech coaches has allowed me to see the areas where I use technology the most and the areas that were missed.  For example, the data showed that students had many opportunities to conduct research for projects, create content, and to communicate and collaborate with peers in their class. However, application to a global community was lacking and there was no intentionality about digital citizenship.  This lead to the formation of goals in subsequent school years and I was able to ensure there was more balance to my program.  It also led me to seek out appropriate professional development to support me in my goals and that’s when I enrolled in COETAIL.  Goal setting in response to data and personal reflection has been key in leading change in my practice as an educator.  It helps in all areas of my practice, but was very instrumental with respect to a focus on the use of technology for learning.

This intentional look at technology usage to enhance student learning also helped me to choose a direction for my COETAIL final project.  I took an aspect of the reading workshop (Book Clubs) and a writing unit (Student Blogging) and transformed it with my new understandings of technology integration. I wanted to redefine Book Clubs in a way that could layer in multiple areas that I’d previously identified as my goals (global collaboration and digital citizenship) as well as enable me to apply what I’ve learned about  Visual Literacy, Connectivism, and Integrated Technology whilst hitting many of the ISTE Standards for Students.

Back in Course 2, I wrote about participating in Global Collaboration Project and that I’d like to organize my own.  Well I did just that with this project – on a small scale – but powerful none the less. Here’s the UbD plan which has all the planning documents linked in and any subsequent lesson plans that were developed along the way to support my learners.  


The Global Book Club project is officially done; however, the experience still lives on in the classroom. The biggest transformation has been the level of student engagement. It was like everyone sat up straight and rolled up their sleeves.  It came at the perfect time in the year as we, as a class, were very comfortable with our small group of peers. The new audience heightened everyone’s focus.  That is the power of audience. Here’s the final video which documents the main parts of the project:

There was lots of hidden challenges (hence learning) along the way that is not evident in the video. There was a huge amount of communication in getting it set up and maintaining the project.  Working around time zones, and different school schedules meant that skyping happened at weird times of the day.  Ideally, book club discussions using SKYPE would’ve happened during the Reading Workshop, but our schedules and times did not line up.  Students in China were heading home as we were beginning our Reading Workshop.  A great degree of flexibility was required by everyone involved.  Even the kids didn’t mind when they had to come in during a recess break to have their Skype discussion.  Everyone made it happen.

As well as feedback from students, teachers also provided feedback along the way and at the end.

“We had a fantastic time doing this project. I can not believe how much my kids and I learned in such a short period of time. The lesson ideas were great. I also noticed that the engagement was so much more authentic!. The students wanted to be prepared for the other groups. They experienced what it is like to have a responsibility to others. They were motivated to think deeper and create high level questions and responses. They really liked the Skyping piece. I was surprised how shy they seemed at first. However, they never mentioned being nervous, only excited. When we discussed the Skyping, they all wished they had had more Skype sessions. Maybe a Skype session at the very beginning would help with making group connections (I know scheduling is tough and the Padlet is a great alternative).”

The desired accomplishments of this unit were met in ways I didn’t imagine.  Students communicated their ideas using a variety of media.  In addition, the depth of their writing increased. Student blog posts are evidence of writers who can construct and organise blog posts about their reading and thinking whilst incorporating features of blog writing (e.g. hyperlinking) and showing digital citizenship (appropriate register of writing and correct attribution of image).  This blog post shows a reader who is going beyond the text with their thinking and supporting evidence.

Word Cloud
Created with with text collected from student feedback

This project created an environment in the classroom which grew student agency as a result of the authentic audience and through the use of technology.

Coetail Final Project Ideas

I’ve been mulling over the Final Project since Course 4 started.  I have had a mosaic of ideas rather than one clear direction. I’ve tried approaching my ideas from different angles to see if I can see a clear path but without much luck.  As I am working in a BYOD Grade 4 classroom in a school that promotes and gives full support and resources to the use of technology to enhance student learning, many of my units of inquiry have tech integrated into them both for the process of learning and product.  While they are not perfect and could be reworked, I felt it wouldn’t push me enough outside of my comfort zone, nor allow me to apply many of my new understandings and skills from COETAIL.

One of my main goals is to push myself more into the redefinition stage in some aspect of the curriculum as a lot of my current tech usage supports enhancements (which is not a bad thing – it allows us to be effective learners). For these reasons, I want to choose a unit from core subjects such as reading, writing, math which tend to be more stand alone units.  I think I will choose a literacy focus as the use of technology for literacy has normally come in the shape of an add on at the end (e.g the unit continues as normal and I add on a tech tool at the end for publishing.  Yes – using technology for publishing is great as it gets a more polished product and perhaps a wider audience, but again there could be more value added by using authentically throughout.  Also I was inspired by @snideralexis who showed how technology could be infused throughout a literacy unit and not tagged on.  
In the past year, I’ve participated in my first global collaborative project – If You Learned Here and I saw the benefits of having an expanded audience and witnessed high student engagement.  From that, I felt inspired to be a part of more GCP and perhaps one day create my own.  So my reflective thinking over the past 6 weeks on my own work and the work of other COETAIL members has lead me to this point and below are details of two options for the Course Five final project.  They are very much in the ideation stage and I’m going to spend time thinking over the holidays about which one to choose.  No matter which one I choose I want to be sure to include elements of all for COETAIL courses including aspects on Digital Citizenship, Visual Literacy, Connectivism and Global Collaboration, and Integrated Technology and highlight many of the ISTE Standards for Students.

Idea #1:  Global Collaborative Digital Book Club

In this project, students will be part of a global collaborative book club.  I will find other upper elementary classrooms to partner for this project. As this is my first time to organize a GCP, I will start with only a few school (perhaps 3-4).  Students will read books and have book clubs with children from other schools.  This will allow students to gain awareness that kids have a lot in common, but may also have differences depending on their location in the world and their cultural contexts.

Many COETAIL learning objectives could shine through this project including a chance to connect and collaborate with people from around the world using a variety of tools (Skype, Padlet, Blog, google apps). Also, students could demonstrate digital citizen and bring to life many of our past classroom discussions about digital profile and etiquette within an authentic opportunity.

Every year we set tech goals using the ISTE-Teacher Standards. After reflecting on my use of technology in the past, I realised that of the 5 standards I felt very comfortable on #1, 2, and 3 and could articulate clearly how these were actualized in various units throughout the school year. However, #4 Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility was a gap.  There had been no intentionality in addressing this standard.  So it is my goal for this year. In particular 4d – Develop and model cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with colleagues and students of other cultures using digital-age communication and collaboration tools. This project definitely gets at the heart of this Standard.

I think this project is a good option as the use of technology will be multifaceted and be able to highlight many of the aspects from COETAIL including opportunities to connect with learners in different places of the world (only able with technology).

While I see many positive outcomes from this project, I have a number of concerns about proceeding with this option.  The biggest concern I have is firstly finding teachers/classes to collaborate with and secondly finding the ‘right’ teachers/classes for this project.  I would be looking for classes in different parts of the world to offer diversity and different perspectives, compatible time zones, and willing and able to follow a timeline.  The other area I am thinking about is picking the right books for this project to engage students.  I have some ideas and I have people who I could consult for this area.

This project will create a shift in my pedagogy because I will be relying on my own personal network to get it going.  ‘Have I become a connected educator as a result of this course?’  This was one of my goals.  If I can get this project off the ground by using my social networks developed through this course, I will feel successful.  In addition, I think this project really moves in the direction of redefinition because students will be using technology to do things that they previously could not do.

Students will be challenged by this project and will require them to be open-minded, curious, patient and flexible.  

Idea #2 – Redesign a traditional geometry unit.

In this project, I would redesign a geometry unit which focuses on the learning the names and attributes of 2D and 3D shapes. I’m thinking this would be the perfect unit to try out a PBL approach. Traditionally students have learned a bunch of geometric terms and their attributes.  Even though my intent was to give them an authentic application, in the past we’ve run out of time and felt rushed to move on to the next unit.  This was partially due because the application part was not planned out in advance.  I think redesigning the whole unit and focusing on an application from the start will be more engaging and authentic for students. One idea for the project is for students to use geometric concepts to design either a piece of jewelry or a logo.  

I think that this unit redesign highlights my growth as an educator from the handing over more responsibility and ownership to the students.  Letting go of some control is needed in a project or problem based unit.  I think the COETAIL experience has given me the confidence to do this.

I hope this unit would lead to higher student engagement of all learners and I think it is a good option for the Course 5 project because

My primary concern for redesigning this unit are the timings for the unit. This unit is scheduled for April which is later than I would like. Secondly, I’d have to decide whether to do this unit alone if the other grade 4 teachers did not want to try it. 

I think this unit will allow students to use technology to acquire content which I think will allow students to work at different paces. There is always a high variability of students’ skill/knowledge/understanding level.  The flexibility of the project could allow some students to more – Also, teachers could be free to support those students needing additional support with content.  It could be a good opportunity to have some flipped lessons so content is readily accessible and can be revisited as needed.  Again, this allows students to be independent learners.

I’d hope that my students would be flexible and patient as their teacher tries something new.  I see many opportunities for students to be in position of peer teachers in this unit and show empathy for each other’s learning situations.

The Elusive Future

The future bamboozles me. It is abstract and elusive. The future can be quite unsatisfying to me because it is unknown, it is grey (not black or white) and it is forever changing its shades.  Some changes are foreseen and predictable and some not.  My nature is to ‘always be prepared’.  Yes – I was heavily influenced by Girl Guides and Scouts growing up.  So how can I be prepared when I don’t know what to be prepared for.  While we can make predictions or projections about the future, absolute certainty is never quite there.  In some ways this keeps me current, alert, on my toes so to speak – but that is only if I have a healthy balance.  Caring about the future and staying current is important. But over focusing on the future does not leave me fulfilled. 

I began teaching in 2001.  Therefore I have a sample size of n = 15 years teaching experience (give or take). I’ve been successful – kids have learned, thrived, and since grown into successful young adults and for me too – I’ve thrived and been successful. Therefore the data shows that I am adaptable since kids learning, thriving and becoming successful continues to happen even though there has been changes to other variables such as teaching practices and tools over the time. And let’s face it, there has been some significant changes in teaching over the last 15 years.  I would never have thought my vocabulary would include MOOC, badges, cloud-based, when referring to education. But here I am today reading, discussing and blogging about exactly topics like this.

A quick recap of the last 15 years to illustrate the change and adaptions: In my first teaching experience, I taught English to Korean students aged 4 – 18 in a Hagwon in Seoul in a small room with chairs around the perimeter and no technology in the room! A couple years later in my 4th grade classroom at an international school, I had one desktop computer for the class of 23 students.  Back then I did whole class novels and themey units, and visited the library and computer lab once a week.  I’m now teaching in a 1-1 BYOD classroom/school with open learning areas, and an iCommons adjacent to my space and extending across the floor with most learning happening through workshop approach with flexible small groups and 1-1 conferencing.  Kids are still learning and thriving.  

So after much soul searching, a lot of angst thinking about the future, I came to the realisation that my energy was best spent not worrying about what was the future and getting ready for it, but turning my focus on to the disposition and practices of myself – the teacher – the thing that I am in control of.  After all, the work of Hattie suggests that it is the teacher that makes the difference and impacts learning in the classroom over many other variables.
flickr photo shared by cybrarian77 under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

“It is what teachers know, do, and care about which is very powerful in this learning equation.” (Hattie, 2003)

So I don’t plan to spend the next 15 years of my teaching career chasing ‘The Future’, I’m trying to retrain my thinking to be in the now and be the best now with some long lasting qualities that will serve well know matter what the future holds.  There will be changes and new practices and tools, and I will adapt as I have in the past.  So my key dispositions and practices to focus on are:

  1. Getting/Staying connected – be a connected educator (essential for #2)
  2. Developing Professional Learning Communities (PLNs)
  3. Staying current – Read, read, read – articles, blogs, books and act or respond on what is read (connected to both #1 and #2).
  4. Growth Mindset – Develop a growth mindset in myself and my students (but being wary of mindset misconceptions)  
  5. Common sense – well I think this is a universal need in all professions, but serves especially well in education

Curriculum, teaching practices, technology, learning environments will change for sure, but my adaptability will continue. So whatever happens in teaching and education, I will be ready.  If you are reading this and wondering how to be an educator like this there is partly a simple answer:  COETAIL! #1 – #3 are very much taken up in COETAIL so sign up for the next cohort starting in February.  As for #4 and #5 – much of this comes from my life experience especially my life growing up in New Zealand during the 70s and 80s, barefoot freedom, with learning happening just as much inside as outside of a classroom.  For that I am grateful because it is already in my DNA.  I just have to grow it.

What disposition or practice would you focus on to be successful in the future?