Learning journals: A bench along the path.

Well designed gardens include pathways that are both inviting and offer places for rest and reflection. When designing a pathway through the garden we might add a bench in a tucked away corner or a reflection ball to pull the visitor deeper in.

The design of a learning pathway is really no different if we hope to invite and nurture reflection for learners. A year ago I was not an overly reflective learner myself. A year later however, I crave blogging, as I would a run or a good book. Reflection provides time and opportunity to clear out brain debris, reorganize, synthesize and seek inspiration. The real appeal of blogging for me has been the chance to step out of my practice and view it from the outside. I am not sure if this makes sense to you, but when I explained this to fellow Biology teacher Amy Nickel she agreed (and if Amy agrees it must be true!). For me (and probably you) teaching is a personal activity and most of the time I am too immersed in the act of doing it to see clearly what it is I am doing.

Deep meaningful reflection has become one of my most favoured and used tools in my personal learning tool box. I wanted to offer learners the same opportunities as they make their journey.

When first offering students opportunities for reflection I considered the following:

1. Private or public?

2. Digital or paper?

3. Audience?

4. Format?

I decided on inexpensive (35 cents), portable, paper learning journals that are written during class time, and are read only by me. I provided general prompts at the start, later in semester I encouraged them to write holistically in a stream of consciousness. Early in the semester I prompted everyone to take part in journal writing to get the habit going and to provide some quiet reflective time within the day. As the semester progressed I let students decide for themselves if it was meaningful for them to continue (last year I insisted, but last semester I wondered why insist?). Some students seemed to take to it immediately, some seemed to just enjoy the chance to take time out of their day to be quiet (which I think is valid) and some were frustrated by the process.

Simple, inexpensive and portable. Personalized with a $ Store nameplate sticker!


1. Convenient – Journals in class made it hassle free.

2. Inexpensive.

3. Private – Students shared personal information that they might not have otherwise.

4. Low tech – Not dependent on tech or internet connection.

5. Personal – I enjoy reading and responding to students in writing (feels personal for me).

6. Timely feedback – Provided insight as to what was going well and where students were struggling.

7. Evidence for me to change – Provided me with concrete evidence that students can very accurately self access and can make concrete plans to remediate.

8. Connection – Students love to read my comments.

9. Stress free – No strings attached (ie not for marks) so enjoyable for all.


1. Lack of authenticity for some – Not authentic and/or meaningful for all students.

2. Limited audience – Read by me alone.

3. Limited creativity – Paper not digital.

4. Negative reactions – “Why do we have to do this in Biology class?” Difficult to get to the deeper power of reflection in such a short time.

5. Limited function – Found that by mid-semester that we had tapped out on the big insights (personal and class related).

Next semester I am planning/hoping to change things up. I am thinking about going digital; expanding the audience and function of the reflection.

What have you tried in your classroom? What worked well for you and your students?

Would love to hear!

Penny for your thoughts? OK… how about a quarter? Growing reflective teachers/learners.

If you are reading this post you have already “dipped yours toes” into the blogging world. This is post is not to convince you on the benefits of blogging (or use the word reflect in place of blog). The question I am pondering today is how to get more teachers blogging (reflecting, sharing, connecting).

Last night on Twitter Phil McIntosh (@mistermcintosh) commented and I responded in kind:

Other people are also thinking about blogging, its impact and how to get teachers blogging:

And this got me thinking again, about something I have been thinking about consistently over the last several months and the quote from Will Richardson sums it up perfectly:

“Meaningful change ain’t gonna happen for our kids if we’re not willing to invest in it for ourselves first. At the heart, it’s not about schools . . . it’s about us.”

Others are having similar thoughts on the matter of teachers becoming learners:

How to grow reflective teachers, who are learners first? Do blogging and Twitter become everyday teacher tools like photocopiers and hole punches?

Do we introduce teachers to these tools in university? Do we mandate that teachers reflect? Do we give teachers in service on how to use these tools in a meaningful way?

And how about “older” teachers (I say that with the utmost respect as I am an old-ish teacher, with a young heart!), how do we get them to feel confident and willing to step out of their comfort zones?

From a session I ran at the Flipped Classroom Conference on Social Media I sensed a high level of curiosity on the both the topic of blogging and Twitter, but with that a high level of uncertainty on where to begin.

So…my plan of action for the fall to try to encourage more bloggers at our school:

1. Talk to my principal Leanne Zorn and run plan by her.

2. Offer 3 morning sessions (one in Sept, one in Oct. one in Nov) I find teachers are most energetic and ready to try new things in fall and this declines as dark and cold increases.

3. Send out email inviting interested teachers at OKM in late August. Keep group number small (maybe 5 teachers?).

4. Rough plan for 3 sessions:

Session 1 – Start a blog, look at some blogs talk about blogs. General, easy and low stress.

Session 2 – Write a blog or article review or make a collection, give feedback on one other blog.

Session 3 – Come with questions blog ideas, challenges and one blog you have read that sparked idea for you.

Other resources:

1. George Couros’  Why teachers should have Blogs

2. George Couros’ session on blogging Brief overview of blogs

Any ideas? Do you think reflection of some sort should be part of our every day activities? Is this a good plan or a big fat waste of time?

Why did you start blogging, what convinced you to try?

What would be an effective strategy for those who are resistant to change?

Reflect b4 it’s too late!

As I scramble today to gear up I thought I better do a serious reflection before I re-enter the “teacher time zone”. This semester I reflected more than usual; I tweeted, I collaborated and I brainstormed on a regular basis about the flipped class transition. My reflection was not as regular and as public as I had hoped , but it never is enough is it? However I am going to grab this opportunity before it’s too late……..

What Stays?

1. Archived videos – in lieu of synchronous class instruction. OK, my videos are not perfect. I am not Paul Anderson (I wish I was as well spoken) but the videos are a better way for students to access my organization of the content. I hope to improve the videos as I move ahead. Truthfully though, it felt epic getting them all created, loaded and figuring out how to use them to their best potential.

2. Journals – From their journals I read what topics, ideas, routines the students were struggling with and why. The journals allowed me to be compassionate when reading about life challenges some students are facing. Some students are much more communicative in the written word. Many took pride in their journals and took the process to heart. I did not expect all of this and so was pleasantly surprised here.

3. Whiteboarding – Next best thing to candy as far as I can tell. Students seem to rise to occasion whenever we whiteboard, they all participate, the energy level in the room goes up.

4. Inquiry Labs – I am hope to move majority inquiry labs and make cookbook labs a thing of the past next semester. These do eat time though so I will continue to find ways to stream line this process.

5. Good bye Multiple Choice – See my other post on goodbye multiple choice.

6. Multiple Assessment Opportunities – Students could apply for an out of class assessment 2 days in advance. They had to produce evidence that they had done significant prep and were ready to challenge the outcomes again. This was one of the best new things I tried!

What Goes?

1. Re-assessment without evidence – I got rushed by the end of the semester and was not being as strident in this regard. I will go back to insisting on seeing quality evidence produced prior to the writing of a re-assessment.

2. Watching videos in class with no earphones – Self-evident!

3. Hot Seat – I found this process of doing a one to one interview with students prior to an assessment became redundant. I was talking to each of them well in advance and the students became more in control of seeking me out when they needed to.

What to Add?

1. Classroom routines with a time management focus – I struggled throughout the semester to balance allowing students to make choices but not so that they would get left behind.

2. Open my door to other teachers – This semester my focus was inward and on my own practice. I would like to look out again and invite other teachers to come into to view the flipped class if there is interest.

3. Offer alternate projects – to demonstrate mastery of standards.

4. SBG – no points! I did a blended approach this semester and students slipped back into “how many points”,  “is this for points”,  “how much will this change my mark”.

5. Improved use of student phones or PEDs – create a class policy around appropriate use of cell phones with the students the first week of semester.

Phew made it!!

Through the Flipping Glass; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

When Alice falls through the rabbit hole she finds herself in a confusing new reality where nothing is like it should be. Well, one month into the flipped class and some days I feel a bit like Alice….

In this new teacher reality I have found the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Think: Alice in a Western.

The Good….

1. Hands down one of the best results of the flipped class is the collaboration that has developed between the 3 teachers (including myself) who are flipping this year. This is the first time in my 18 years of teaching that I have experienced real collaboration. This is rabbit hole in itself. You rock fellow flippers!

2. Students come to class asking probing and thoughtful questions. Some days too many questions to get to. I (or maybe they) need to develop a sustainable mode for the students to answer each other’s questions and not to feel stressed and frustrated when I don’t get to them right away.

3. We do a lab, activity or inquiry based activity every day. I have overheard “We really get to do stuff this year” and “I am actually learning this year” during labs.

4. I talk to every student every day.

5. Students have had choice in terms of the activity they do and when they would like to do the activity.

The bad…

1. Well I have to go back to the good, the kids come to class with too many questions. I realize I don’t have a format in place here for them to process their questions amongst themselves. Students want me to be that ANSWER person.

2. Some students are still angry at me for not “teaching them”.

3. I am uncomfortable with not having everything “perfect” yet. I know, I know, this is my own hang up, I will get better with the controlled chaos.

4. I still am struggling with the optimal amount of teacher input. 

The Ugly….the Ugly is not because of the flipped class but what I have noticed as a result of the flipped class. I offer only one….

1.  When I do review, or do feel the need to give some sort of direct instruction, I am now hyper-aware of being the only voice and the resulting glazed look, on 80 percent of student faces.

Well Alice, what would Clint say?