Learning Online – What works? What’s not working?

Over the past two months I have begun teaching online in two very different environments from the F2F classrooms I’ve experienced most of my career.

In one setting I am using an LMS (Learning Management System) called Canvas as the course organization, and teaching synchronously using Adobe Connect for two hours per week.  My students use the features of the LMS to access content, to discuss, and to submit assignments.  They also use the feature of Google for collaboration both in class (using Google Docs and Google Sheets) and with their classmates. We use email to communicate between classes, and occasionally we will connect via phone.

In the other setting I am using an LMS called D2L, and the entire course is asynchronous. The content, discussions, and assignment submission take place in this environment, and there is little collaborative work.

This latter version is what we in Ontario would be familiar with as the structure of the current e-learning environment for K-12, and which was proposed to be used for four of the 30 credits for our secondary school students, and which the unions lobbied to have removed.  The recent agreements have landed at two credits, but parents can opt their teens out of this, upon request.

The past two months may have changed the landscape significantly, as indicated by the Minister of Education’s direction to provide synchronous learning for students. (https://www.thestar.com/politics/provincial/2020/05/08/ontario-teachers-told-to-embrace-live-video-conferencing-as-school-shutdown-continues.html) His direction to do so takes place in the absence of any secure tools with which to do so, without allocation of any resources either in hardware or bandwidth to the teachers and students, and without research to support.

So, I have been thinking a great deal about how teaching and learning changes as we move through the various options of learning environment:  face-to-face traditional, synchronous supported with video technology, asynchronous supported with video technology, and asynchronous using an online learning management system.

1. Face-to-Face Traditional Classroom:

  • Real-time interaction
  • Student-teacher relationship is very strong
  • Responsive to student questions
  • Allows for collaboration among students in real-time
  • Efficient – teacher teaches once, and reaches all students in the room
  • Assessment is provided both in real-time, and scheduled.

2. Synchronous Supported with Video Technology:

  • Real-time interaction
  • Student-teacher relationship is strong
  • Responsive to student questions
  • Allows for collaboration among students in real-time
  • Efficient – teacher teaches once, and reaches all students in the room
  • Assessment is provided both in real-time, and scheduled.

3. Asynchronous Supported with Video Technology:

  • No real-time interaction
  • Student-teacher relationship is weak – students see teacher, but teacher does not see students
  • Not responsive to student questions
  • Does not allow for collaboration among students in real-time
  • Very Efficient – teacher teaches once, and reaches an infinite number of students
  • Assessment is scheduled.

4. Asynchronous using an LMS:

  • No real-time interaction
  • Student-teacher relationship is very weak – limited to text
  • Not responsive to student questions
  • Does not allow for collaboration among students in real-time
  • Very, very Efficient – teacher does not teach directly, but reaches an infinite number of students
  • Assessment is scheduled.

I am currently teaching, using options 2 and 4.  I love the synchronous teaching, but it is much more demanding than F2F in a traditional classroom, and some of my students are managing to “hide” by turning off their cameras and mics, so my relationship with them is more difficult to develop.

The asynchronous group is a mystery to me; I only know them from the assignments they submit. So, I’m thinking of adding aspect of #3 to my practice, to hopefully build more of a relationship, to more effectively “teach”, and to encourage them to connect.  I may even use some of #2, by scheduling “office hours”, and further connecting.

But, back to the Ontario context, in six weeks time the Ministry of Education has promised (https://news.ontario.ca/opo/en/2020/05/government-supports-online-learning-during-covid-19-outbreak.html_:

  1. Expanded core programming represents ‘traditional’ summer school courses focused on grades 9 to 12, with additional opportunities for grade 8 students to better prepare.
  2. Introduction of upgrading courses, which will allow students to upgrade their mark in a course in half the time it would have taken them previously.
  3. Targeted supports for vulnerable students to support access to non-credit ministry educational programs and leadership supports.
  4. Focused programming for students with special education or mental health needs, including dedicated learning supports such as access to educational assistants and existing after-school programs that could be delivered through summer school
  5. Communicating volunteer opportunities for students so that students can leverage virtual volunteer opportunities where possible;
  6. Summer programming in Provincial and Demonstration Schools to focus on continued learning for our students with specialized learning needs; and
  7. Key concept mapping for next year’s learning to focus on compulsory, high-demand and pre-requisite secondary courses

Promises #1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 require that students have the hardware, bandwidth, and supportive home environment to participate.

Promises #1 and 2 and well as possibly #4 require that content and a new learning environment be built, within which teachers will be teaching entirely new courses, and students will be participating using new tools.

And promise #7 is the death-knell for much of our rich programming at the secondary level, with may not be compulsory, in high demand, or a pre-requisite for post-secondary destinations.  I remind you that compulsory is: English in grades 9 to 12, Math in grades 9 to 11, Science in only grade 9 and 10, Geography in grade 9, History in grade 10, Careers and Civics in grade 10, French in grade 9, Physical and Health Education in grade 9 (let’s see what that looks like online!).  We only need to offer a Social Science course in grade 11 and three other senior courses to complete the mandatory compulsory 18 credits. If you add pre-requisite courses, you then need grade 11 and 12 courses in Biology, Chemistry and Physics, plus a fifth mathematics: Calculus in grade 12.

There will still need to be other courses to reach the total of 30, but those that are not “high demand” won’t be there. And these are the courses that keep our students in school: Physical and Health Education, Music, Drama, Visual Arts, Dance, Business, History, Social Science, Family Studies, and Technological Studies. Without these other twelve credits, our students will not qualify to graduate. So they cannot be ignored in favour of ONLY the compulsory or pre-requisite.

Back to the delivery of the program. We need to get as close to our #1, Face-to-Face in a classroom, as possible.  The best path is through option #2 – Synchronous Supported with Video Technology.

But, we need the technology.  It needs to be safe and accessible for all: teachers and students. And it needs to be flexible, to shift to asynchronous as well, since our teenagers may be caring for younger siblings, may have unreliable bandwidth, or may only be able to access the household computer at the end of the workday when their parent is finished their work.  Provision of hardware and unlimited internet access to both teachers and students is a necessary pre-requisite for success of this proposal.

Asynchronous with video technology also requires that teachers be recorded (as does synchronous in some cases) and this brings with it many privacy and security concerns. As a teacher I ensure that my background is unidentifiable, and I continually monitor my language so that someone can’t take advantage of my voice and “clip” it for their own entertainment, or for other purposes. However, I know that each class is now more risky than it has ever been, and with that comes stress and worry.

We are going to learn a great deal about teaching and learning as we look back on the past two months of asynchronous teaching and learning, and over the next year as we work through our transition in learning to this new online synchronous environment. I hope that we will eventually bring what we learn back to the classroom, and use it to enhance and enrich Ontario schools.  However, I fear that someone will choose the “quick and dirty” path, and hire a for-profit organization to deliver option #4 in order to make a quick buck.

Parents: please do your best to support us as we learn how to teach online. And then fight for us to return to the classroom when we are able, to provide the richness that our face-to-face classes provide for your children. A world without music, art, debates, collaborative inquiry, and strong social connections will be a much poorer one for our children.

My "Gradeless" Reading – Academic Journal Articles

I recently shared the books on my bookshelf that have inspired me on my exploration of a world without marks.

Here are some reflections on quotes from some of the journal articles that I have found most interesting:

“Educators have a moral imperative to dismantle the inequities that endure in our schools.” (p. 55)

Feldman, J. (2019). Beyond standards-based grading: Why equity must be part of grading reform. Kappan, 100(8). 52-55.

Educators are the closest to students, and so the inequities in the classroom are most apparent to them. Where they struggle is where their “moral imperative” runs up against the standards they have set for their practice, or have been set for them by the organizations that govern them. Educators find it difficult to compel their students to “follow the rules”, unless they are modeling that for them.  To dismantle the system, means NOT following the rules, but to follow the rules means preserving inequity.

“…increased use of grades for high-stakes decisions including student mobility, admission, selection, accountability, and reporting” (p. 18)

DeLuca, C., Braund, H., Valiquette, A., & Cheng, L. (2017). Grading policies and practices in Canada: A landscape study. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 184, 4-22.

Everyone wants an easy answer, and marks are the easy answer to the questions of university admission, job offers, and status. We need a way to validate achievement, without the use of numbers.  I believe that we have the technology, but we haven’t yet figured out how to use it.

“Distinguishing specific product criteria and reporting achievement grades based on these criteria allow teachers to offer a more precise description of students’ academic achievement and performance.” (p. 16)

Link, L.J., & Guskey, T.R. (2019). How traditional grading contributes to student inequalities and how to fix it. Curriculum in Context, WSASCD, Fall/Winter, 12-19.

Criteria, criteria, criteria.  Whether you agree with the criteria set in the curriculum, or not, it is much easier to communicate achievement when you have clear criteria.  Traditional grading, where points are given, ignores the precision of criteria, and does a poor job of describing a student’s achievement.

“…grading, like school calendars and group instruction, is part of the very fabric of formal schooling. As long as there is formal schooling, teachers will assign grades”. (p.21)

Anderson, L.W. (2018). A critique of grading: Policies, practices, and technical matters. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 26(49), 1-31. https//doi.org/10.14507/epaa.26.3814

The resignation in this statement makes me sad. Perhaps it’s the “formal schooling” that is the problem.  And perhaps our current COVID-19 crisis will be the impetus for us to abandon schooling, and get back to learning.

“Grading practices that have the potential to reduce failure, reduce dropouts, and improve school safety are, indeed, urgent”. (p. 71)

O’Connor, K., Jung, L.A., & Reeves, D. (2018). Gearing up for FAST grading and reporting: It’s time for schools to move toward a grading system that is fair, accurate, specific, and timely. Kappan, 99(8), 67-71.

I would go one more step.  We should get rid of grading practices, and go straight to feedback and validation of achievement of criteria. There is no need to reduce rich achievement data to a single number.

“Is my job to “rank,” to assess and sort students into disjoint bins depending on how they can perform the tricks I expect them to? Or is it to help them move forward in their lives better equipped to handle what will come their way?” (p. 870)

Karaali, G. (2018). On Grades and Instructor Identity: How Formative Assessment Saved me from a Midlife Crisis, Primus, 28(9), 848-874. https://doi.org/10.1080/10511970.2018.1456495

This rhetorical question summarizes where I am, hoping to “help them move forward in their lives better equipped to handle what will come there way”.

What have you read lately, that is inspiring you to change your practice?

My “Gradeless” Bookshelf

I’ve been hearing many requests for my list of books that inspired my research.  Here are some of the books I’ve been sharing with my teaching colleagues, to support them in their shift in assessment:

Rethinking Letter Grades

Caren Cameron and Kathleen Gregory (2014)

Rethinking Letter Grades Cover

This concise (64 pages!) book bridges assessment FOR learning to assessment OF learning, to guide teachers to determine a letter grade based upon evidence of learning that is linked to learning standards.






Hacking Assessment – 10 Ways to Go Gradeless In a Traditional Grades School

Starr Sackstein (2015)

The inspiration for many of my research subjects to make the move, these ten “hacks” include practical advice for teachers:

  1. Hacking-Assessment-eBook-cover-683x1024Shift the Grades Mindset – Start a no-grades classroom
  2. Promote Buy-In – Open lines of communication with stakeholders
  3. Rebrand Assignments as Learning Experiences – Design comprehensive projects for optimal growth
  4. Facilitate Student Partnerships – Work smarter, not harder
  5. Digitize Your Data – Ease data collection and inform learning with technology
  6. Maximize Time – Confer inside and outside of class
  7. Track Progress Transparently – Discard your traditional gradebook
  8. Teach Reflection – Help students become better learners with metacognition
  9. Teach Students to Self-Grade – Put the power of grading into students’ hands
  10. Cloud-Based Archives – Transition to portfolio assessment

What we Know About Grading – What Works, What Doesn’t, and What’s Next

Thomas R. Guskey & Susan M. Brookhart (2019)

For teachers who can’t yet make the shift completely away from grades, this collection of essays reviews research, and supports teachers to:

What we know 2

              • Start with clear learning goals,
              • Focus on the feedback function of grades,
              • Limit the number of grade categories, and
              • Provide multiple grades that reflect product, process, and progress criteria.



Assessment 3.0 – Throw Out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning

Mark Barnes (2015)

Challenge the barriers of policy, report cards, parental expectations, and tradition with Assessment Barnes coveran assessment process of SE2R: Summarize, Explain, Redirect and Resubmit:

  1. Summarize:  One or two sentences to describe what has been accomplished, and form the basis for narrative feedback.
  2. Explain: Connect evidence of learning to learning goals, targets, expectations or standards
  3. Redirect: Identify action necessary to meet learning goals.
  4. Resubmit: Cycle back to step #1.

Note:  This can be done by student, teacher or peers.

Visible Learning Feedback

John Hattie and Shirley Clarke (2019)

visible-learning-feedback-book-shirley-clarke-john-hattie-2018-250x353A key component of “going gradeless” is rich, descriptive feedback. This book examines the need for feedback to be aligned with the stages of the learning cycle:


                1. Surface knowledge
                2. Linking ideas
                3. Extending ideas





Grading for Equity – What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms

Joe Feldman (2019)grading for equity

And finally, the “WHY” of assessment reform: Equity. If you must use grades (as most policy currently demands), do it with practices that are mathematically accurate, value knowledge, support hope and a growth mindset, and empower our learners.









There’s something about summer.  As a child, it had endless possibilities.  As a teen, there began the anxiety of planning for the coming school year. And as a teacher, this anxiety combined with excitement, beginning with the first “Back to School” ads at the end of July.

This is my first year since I was five that I am not returning to school in September. I will be teaching one day per week at Ontario Tech University, but the rest of the time will be my “dissertation time”, as it has been for months now.

You’d think that this would mean I am able to get so much done!  But that is not the case. Each day takes me back to my childhood, and the endless possibilities present much more compelling options than coding interviews in Nvivo, or drafting my literature review.

There’s also the “how are you enjoying retirement?” questions, with an expectation that I have been filling my days with all those things that I couldn’t do as a teacher or administrator. This would be easy to answer if I actually had things on my “bucket list” that I hadn’t already tackled.  But, every summer since I can remember, I have used my summer vacation to make music, quilt, catch up with friends, and relax my calendar- and clock-watching.  This has built a habit of play during the summer months, a habit that is not serving me well at all. This year I have a dissertation to write, and it doesn’t have the real deadline that the return to school served for me in past years.

So, despite being retired, and no longer having to prep for the new school year, I am actually getting less accomplished than I did when working full time. I think I need to add some structure, through goals and a routine.

Here are my goals for the next month, to be ready for September:

  1. Complete the “in vivo” coding of my 26 interviews.
  2. Ensure that I am truly using the language used by the teachers I interviewed to develop my themes. (Not just those that I have read in my literature review, and been talking about on Twitter.)
  3. Try out “in vivo” coding of my literature, looking for connections to the language that emerges from my interviews.

If I can get this far in the next five weeks, then I should really be able to begin writing in September, when I am hoping that my goals will align with the world around me as everyone heads back home from the cottage, and back to school.

Do you have any advice for me, to help wean me away from the self-regulation support that working in a school provided?  Message me @terrywhitmell or twhitmell@gmail.com!

The Best Assessment

hans-peter-gauster-252751-unsplashI’ve spent the past few months interviewing teachers who have chosen an alternative to marks in their classroom assessment.

Here’s what I’ve learned from them:

  1. A single number contains very little information.
  2. Clear criteria, in the form of standards, expectations, big ideas, or over-arching learning goals, are absolutely necessary.
  3. We can empower students by our transparency.  When they know what they need to learn, they are empowered to do so with or without us.
  4. Learning maps help teachers plan, help students self-assess, and are wonderful tools to share with parents, administrators, and colleagues.
  5. Students need our expertise to “notice and name” their learning, and to give them the vocabulary to use to tell us what they have learned.
  6. Our memories are short.  Our students need portfolios, so that they can connect their learning over time, and between “courses”.  We need to be able to look back in order to reveal their growth, and help plan for learning.

The technology that teachers use does not really matter.  Good assessment plans can be paper and pen.  They can be a Google classroom, with its related tools.  They can be online portfolio and assessment tools like Sesame, Freshgrade,  or Seesaw.

What is important are the relationships:  teacher and student, expectations and evidence, effort and results.

So, get to know your kids, get to know your curriculum, and keep the conversation going.

Check back here for more conversation over the coming weeks.




“Going Gradeless”: Experiences of Ontario Teachers Moving from Marks to Feedback-based Assessment

Are you an Ontario secondary teacher, who is moving away from grades?  I’d love to hear from you:

I am currently a doctoral candidate in the Educational Leadership and Policy program of the department of Leadership, Higher Education, and Adult Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. I am doing this research as part of the requirement for the completion of my PhD dissertation, under the supervision of Dr. Carol Campbell.

Overview of the study

The purpose of the research revolves around teachers’ navigation of challenges faced as they choose to go “gradeless”. This study aims to gain a deeper understanding of how teachers conceptualize assessment and the use of grades, how they operationalize assessment processes within their pedagogy, how they see this impacting the school and classroom culture, and how they navigate within the policies set at the school, board and provincial level.

The name of this research project is:

“Going Gradeless”: Experiences of Ontario Teachers Moving from Marks to Feedback-based Assessment

Examples of questions that I have in mind but may or may not ask depending on themes that emerge as our dialogue evolves are:

Please set the context by describing your teaching experience.

Please describe your journey.

How did you come to consider the option to “go gradeless”.

How has your assessment practice changed?

What has the impact been on your students?

What roadblocks have you encountered?

How do you feel about this change?

What do you think are the next steps for you? For your school?


Your part in the research, if you agree, is to participate in an informal interview, of 30 to 60 minutes either face to face or via Skype or equivalent, where you will share some of the assessment decisions you have made, and how these have been influenced by your education, experience, current context, and professional community. The interview will be informal, will last approximately one hour, and will be audiotaped with your permission in order to create a written transcript. The interview will begin with guided questions, as well as open-ended probes, to allow for flexibility in the range of topics discussed. Participation is completely voluntary, and should you decide to participate, you may decline to answer any questions, or end the interview at any time. Once the interview has concluded, you may also contact me by phone or email up to three months following the interviewto ask to withdraw from the study, and request that the entire verbal and written transcript of your interview be destroyed.

Confidentiality and Risks

Your responses will be treated in the strictest confidence, as per the University of Toronto ethics guidelines. There are no known risks associated with participating in this research study. Potential limitations in my ability to guarantee anonymity minimal, as any data collected will be confidential, and all identifying information relating to you, your school or your board will be removed and given pseudonyms.  All paper-based data such as field notes will be stored in a locked filing cabinet at the researcher’s home. All digital data gathered from the study will be stored in a password-protected electronic format on a laptop computer. Only the researcher and supervisor will have access to the data. At no time will your responses be judged or evaluated, nor will any value judgment be placed on your responses as there are no “right” answers. Some of the verbatim examples provided might be published without the participants being identified, to illustrate the overall results of the study.All data in the form of transcripts, field notes and documents will be destroyed one year after the completion of my doctoral degree.

Potential benefits

There will be no compensation for participating in this study, however participants may benefit from the experience by self-reflecting on your teaching practices, explore assessment options, and clarify next steps for your own professional growth. You will also be contributing to the professional growth of the researcher, her colleagues, and other graduate students of OISE.Your input will be adding to the current literature on classroom assessment, and may help educators and policymakers to deepen their understanding and drive change. Results of this study may be used in reports, conference presentation and publications. Interested participants will be sent a summary of the research findings by email.

For any further details, please contact me at terry.whitmell@mail.utoronto.ca, or my thesis supervisor Dr. Carol Campbell at carol.campbell@utoronto.ca. If you have any questions related to your rights as a participant in this study, or if you have any complains or concerns about how you have been treated as a research participant, please contact the Office of Research Ethics, ethics.review@utoronto.ca or 416-946-3273.



Terry Whitmell, PhD Student

OISE, University of Toronto

252 Bloor Street West

Toronto, ON, M5S 1V6, Canada



Twitter Chat – What fun!!

A month ago I submitted a blog post to http://www.teachersgoinggradeless.com, and was thrilled to have it accepted for publication.  (https://teachersgoinggradeless.com/2018/10/13/sesame-portfolios/)

In addition to this honour, I was also invited to co-host a Twitter chat, on the Sunday following its release date.  Although I had participated in Twitter chats, both slow and fast, I had never had the opportunity to plan and execute.

It was entirely enjoyable, mostly due to the guidance of my co-host, Aaron Blackwelder (       @AaronSBlackwel1). He introduced me to Tweetdeck, and shared a planning document that included all the steps we needed to take to prepare in the week beforehand.

We used Google docs to collaborate, and we worked through the week to brainstorm questions, put them in sequence, and confirm the flow of the hour. Aaron then placed each “tweet” in an image, so that both the image and text could be tweeted.

As co-host, I then “pre-wrote” a series of tweets, beginning with introductions, followed by six questions, and ending with a “thank you”.  With Tweetdeck, I was able to time each of them to appear according to plan.  I was also able to create my personal responses to each question as we’ll, and set them to be released during the conversation.  By using Tweetdeck, and I was then free to moderate:  respond, encourage, and keep the conversation going.

When the evening came, it was, as Aaron promised, a “whirlwind”.  As long as everyone included the #tg2chat hashtag, I could monitor all tweets using a search in Tweetdeck, and connect with everyone online.

I learned so much, both from the participants and from the process.  There were also some participants who were busy at the designated hour, and who joined in the next day by responding to each tweet with the #tg2chat hashtag.

Would you like to see how it happened?  Just search for #tg2chat, and scroll back to October 15, 2018.  All of our questions, and the responses from our chat participants, can be enjoyed now, a month later!

And if you like what you see, join #tg2chat this Sunday, and let’s get talking about “feedback”!



Implicit Bias – What’s in a Name?

This year our “Family of Schools” leaders are reading Deep Diversity, by @Shakilwrites

On page 4, I was struck by Choudhury’s story of receiving a business card for a local optometrist, with a name that evoked images that led him to hesitate to call for an appointment.

I realized that I had made conscious decisions throughout my life, based upon my experiences of this unstated manifestation of prejudice.

I am a cis, white, middle-aged woman, who was born in Canada and whose first language is English.  But I have not always been known as Terry Whitmell.

  1. My parents named me “Terry”, registered my birth as “Theresa Elizabeth”, and thereby satisfied family expectations that I had a saint’s name as a middle name, that I had a version of the Hungarian name “TERÉZIA”, and that my name was easy to pronounce.  My father’s name had been initially registered as Lajos, but changed during the second world war to Louis, due to a wish to appear more “Anglo”.
  2. My surname at birth was Tusz.  This is a name that rhymes only with somewhat rude words:  goose, loose, noose, caboose, moose, etc.  And, it is easy to mispronounce as toots, tuzz, tuss, etc.  To add to this, it means “hostage” in Hungarian!
  3. When we moved between grade 1 and grade 2, I chose to have my parents register me at school as “Theresa”, since I was getting tired of being told “you have a boy’s name” and “you should spell your name with an “i” not a “y”.
  4. When we moved between grade 7 and grade 8, I chose to have my parents register me at school as “Terry”, since it was “way cooler” and lacked the “Mother Teresa” connotations.
  5. When I married, I was determined to keep my maiden surname, but was marrying a man who felt strongly that a family should have one name.  We were open to “Tusz-Whitmell” or “Whitmell-Tusz”, but the pronunciation issues and the challenges they would present to our future children resulted in my changing my name to Theresa (Terry) Elizabeth Tusz Whitmell, and he retained his birth name.

Why did my name matter to me?  Why did it matter to those who read my name in print?  Why did it matter to those I met?

  1. Our names anchor our memories.  I am a different person as Terry Tusz, as Theresa Tusz, as Theresa Whitmell, and as Terry Whitmell.  Different groups know me as each of these, and some of the names are tied to a location or period of time in my life.
  2. In print, I am gender-neutral.  This is a HUGE advantage as a woman, to have gender off the table.  To those who only know me via email, I can be anyone.  And usually they assume “male”.  The years that I spent as a computer technology coordinator in our school board were made much easier by this initial assumption.
  3. It is so much easier to have a name that people can pronounce, and which they can remember accurately.  I still receive emails addressed to “Terri” or “Terrie”, but I assume that this is not a personal slight.  However, my name is almost always pronounced correctly when I am introduced, and that eases the following conversation.

My experiences make me acutely sensitive when meeting people for the first time.  I take great pains to pronounce names correctly, and to ask for spelling so that I can find them in social media, and use their name correctly when sharing our conversation with others.

I often meet students who say “oh, it doesn’t matter” or “however you say it is OK”, and I press them to help me pronounce and spell their names correctly.  I am still working on how to learn more about the origins of names, without making them feel uncomfortable.

Our Student Information System allows us to record both legal name, and “preferred” name.  When I encounter a preferred name that is obviously an Anglicization of the student’s real name, I will often engage them in conversation, and discuss if this is who they see themselves as, or if it has been a convenience imposed by their parents or chosen by themselves.  We allow our students to change their preferred name as requested, and it’s interesting to see how some of them will move through several identities during their four years with us.

Milennials now present themselves to the world as more than just a name: we see selfies, YouTube videos, and blogs that present a richer personal image than my name did decades ago. I just hope, for my students, that these media artifacts are an asset, not an invitation to prejudice for those who meet them.

I am still struggling with my unconscious bias towards the familiar, are you?

Why not Gamify School?

I just read @jess__bloom‘s blog post “The Gamification of Work“, and I think we could substitute “school” for “work”.

Our Ontario secondary school program requires our students to work for four years, to earn 30 credits.  In each credit there are a series of Overall Expectations, with Specific Expectations within each. There are 18 compulsory credits, and 12 optional, and once you earn them you are granted a diploma. If you achieve to a certain level in your final year, you will also be granted the title of “Ontario Scholar”. In addition, our post-secondary institutions require some of these credits for admission, so there’s the reward of admission to one of our top universities or colleges.

What if we had software that tracked each expectation, and provided a visual for each one that was achieved? I’ve played games such as Diner Dash and Klondike, and found them both addictive and satisfying.  I think that turning our students’ achievements into high scores and “conquered lands” might be a fun and effective way to support students’ sense of accomplishment.  It might just be the feedback that they need to persevere!

What do you think would make the best “world” for us to build online, to represent four years of secondary education?

PhD Comprehensive Exam

It’s a weekend of procrastination as I prepare for my upcoming Comprehensive Exam. This has been very productive, as I have already hit 14,000 steps on my Fitbit by mowing the lawn, and I’ve enjoyed this week’s Modern Learners Podcast (#44 with Dr. Susan Blum) which has extended my thinking about learning, schooling, policy and assessment.  One of the areas that Dr. Susan Blum and Will Richardson agree on is the value of feedback rather than marks.  And they discuss in the podcast the use of a portfolio as an alternative to traditional evaluation methods.  Despite this positive learning experience, I am not really any better prepared for my upcoming exam than I was this morning.

My Comprehensive Exam, as designed by the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education for our Educational Leadership and Policy Program at OISE (Ontario Institute of Studies in Education) at the University of Toronto, is a wonderful example of the type of assessment supported by Dr. Blum and Will Richardson.

The guidelines (Comprehensive Examination Guidelines) direct the candidate to create a portfolio linking five artefacts to seven skills, and to write an original paper.  The portfolio of artefacts and reflections, and the original paper are then presented to an examining panel in a 90-minute session.  In my case, this is scheduled for next Thursday.

Here is the introduction to my portfolio:

The original paper (Terry Whitmell May 2018) focuses primarily on policy in the context of social diversity. The issues of leadership and change are referenced as they relate to the implementation of policy.  The five artifacts were chosen as representative of a similar focus, and illustrate achievement of the seven areas of knowledge, skills and abilities:

Research Design
Conducting Research
Analyzing Data
Communicating Research Results
Knowledge of the broader field of education leadership and policy
Knowledge of Major Theoretical Frameworks in the Field
Synthesizing Existing Literature
Implementation of 21st Century Competencies Requires Revolution not Renovation
Reflection 1
Gandhi Freire and Civics Education
Appendix A
Appendix B
Reflection 2
Survey Proposal: Use of Learning Goals & Success Criteria to Support Student Engagement and Achievement
Reflection 3
Classroom Assessment Practices of Early-Career Ontario Secondary School Teachers
Reflection 4
What Motivates Teachers to Lead Change?
Reflection 5

In my presentation, I will connect these five artifacts and the original paper to a conceptual framework that I developed while writing a literature review of 21st Century Modern Learning:

Conceptual Framework for Comprehensive Exam Presentation

As you can see, much of my work deviates from Educational Leadership and Policy, into Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, and I am seeing challenges with our current structures that separate the two.  My paper explores some of these structures, where the intent of policy results in very different outcomes once the policies are enacted in the classroom. In my conceptual framework, I see learning theory at one end, and educational policy at the other, and the framework of “Know, Do, Be, Live Together” in the middle.  If learning and policy both aligned with this simple framework, keeping the “bigger picture” in mind, we would have a much better learning environment for our students.