How might we co-create a lexicon of learning to empower our students?

Do students use the same words you use to talk about their learning? Are the words you use as an educator reserved for conversations about students or are the words you use for conversations with students?

How might we create a lexicon for learning that invites our students in? How might we find words to include students implicitly in the process of learning rather than as something done to them and for them but not always of them? How might we move to words that explore learning as something not just done at school for 5 hours a day but a stance to take for life? How might we co-create a language that explores the emotions, depths, and connections of learning? How might we find words to use not about students but for students? What words might we use not only to describe students but to be used by students in the service of their learning?


I am wondering if we might consider….

  • the design of learning spaces, pathways and experiences in place of linear and one time only lessons and lesson plans.
  • talking about learning pathways (with multiple entry points) instead of one time activities or worksheets to complete.
  • creating environments of agency rather than policies of accountability.
  • using the words “invite you” and “you could do” with students instead of “you must do” and “you have to.”
  • talking about being inspired rather than about being on task.
  • imagining and exploring what students need instead of listing what work is required.
  • asking students what they see, feel, hear, imagine and dream rather than only asking what they think.
  • starting from empathy for our students rather than exclusively from the learning outcomes.
  • creating opportunities for students to celebrate their learning rather than only creating summative assessments to be given (tests and quizzes).
  • inviting students to collect artifacts of their learning instead of doing formative assessments to students.
  • nurturing creativity instead of always pushing productivity.
  • inviting students to share their learning journeys rather than describing learning with a spreadsheet.
  • asking students to create stories to tell rather than give them notes to copy.
  • inviting students to do work that matters instead of work for marks.
  • referring to ourselves as “learners in chief” or “lead learners” instead of exclusively “teachers.”
  • asking students what they do well already before telling students what they must do.


What words or phrases might you consider changing? What stance do the words you currently use represent? What words work well and hold meaning for both for you and for your students? What words do your students use that you don’t when talking about their learning?


How might we co-create a lexicon of learning to empower our students?

Because #poetry


Shared on Flickr by Kariann Blank

“A poet is a verb that blossoms light in gardens of dawn, or sometimes midnight.”

Before you say but “I am not an English teacher” or “I am an administrator” consider: are you looking for ways to infuse creativity and divergent thinking into to your class or staff? And before you say: “sure but I just can’t imagine it!” check out these examples of poetry “out-of-bounds.” Have you talked about or thought about creativity and playfulness as vital to igniting and sustaining learning? Poetry invites both! Wouldn’t poetry be a great way to invite students (and teachers) to make sense of content and themselves? What if poetry was seen as a way to make sense of the world…not just in English class but in all classes and for adults as well!

Before you say “well I just don’t have time!” No worries! Start small and consider trying a #sixwordstory to summarize part of a lesson or staff meeting.  And if that sounds overwhelming start with “just one word” and then create a collective found poem (see description below). Sounds fun right?!

Some reasons you might consider poetry:

1. Invites fun and playfulness.
Students often see “school learning” as a series of rules to be followed exactly. Poetry invites playfulness and fun into the process. Learning is fun and playful, playing with words is a great way to show case this.

2. Showcases and normalizes divergent thinking.
When students see learning as an answer on a worksheet they become uncomfortable and intolerant of divergent thinking. Writing a poem showcases that there be many legitimate ways to understand and explain a topic. It also models to students that there is more than one way of knowing and explaining.

3. Opportunity to make meaning and make it public.
Learning is all about making meaning for ourselves and sharing this meaning with others. What better way than through a poem or performance!

4. Invites and encourages creativity as a viable way to operate in school.
When we only do creative acts in certain subjects it signals creativity as only useful for certain topics, but don’t we want students to think creativity is important for all subjects?

5. Develops a sense of identity.
When all answers are identical it is challenging to develop a sense of ownership and personal connection. Poetry allows for personal flair and perspective to shine through.

Poetry Resources and Examples Round Up

1. Poetry in the classroom pinterest board 

2. Just One Word
Not feeling the poetry thing? Ok how about “just one word”? At the end of a unit, day, class, meeting or movie clip, ask students to think of one word that captures their thoughts. After they all have their word have students say their word aloud in rapid succession to create a “found poem.”  It is always interesting to hear the similarities and patterns that emerge. Want to dial this activity up a notch? Collect the words and use as the raw materials to create a #sixwordstory.

3. Biopoem
Unsure about using poetry in your classroom? Get started with a formulaic type poem. I have used biopoems at the start of semester to get to know my students and then used it over the course of the semester for the different organisms we study in Biology. You could use it to explore a character in history or a type of equation in math.

A biopoem is a poem that describes a person/character/animal/etc  in 11 lines. There is a specific formula to use when writing a bio poem. Bipoem form to use here and outlined below:

First name…
Four adjectives that describe the person/character/organism…
Relative of…
Lover of (three different things that the person loves)…
Who feels (three different feelings and when or where they are felt)…
Who gives (three different things the person gives)…
Who fears (three different fears the person has)…
Who would like to see (three different things the person would like to see)…
Who lives (a brief description of where the person lives)
Last name…

4. #sixwordstory
Students choose (or are provided with) an object, picture, event, sentence…then are invited to write a story using only six words. These stories can be shared verbally or posted into a doc, a slide show, on a sticky or tweeted out. An example from my Biology class is provided below (students wrote on stickies and I posted to our Facebook group). Six words do not intimidate anyone!


6 word story
Template to use here
Some great examples are here and hereMore examples (as more is always more!).

5. Blackout Poem
A couple of weeks ago @davidtedu wrote this awesome post in which he highlighted blackout poems. His post was the catalyst and inspiration for my poetry craze of late (thanks David!).

Students could create one individually or in groups and could use a newspaper, magazine or old paper back. I thought this would be a great way to “churn up” a professional article with teachers and the blackout poem they created would summarize what the article meant to them. Black out poems are great for students who hesitate to write as this format allows them to express themselves without making the commitment to writing themselves.
Blackout poems are poems, sentences, phrases created from words of an existing novel (article, newspaper, chapter). Have students underline, first in pencil, words they might like to use in the poem. Now have students use pen circle the words they want to use in the poem. Finally have them black out everything else.

More ideas in presentation below:

7. Found poem
A found poem can be created in a multitude of ways but basically it is a hobbled together set of phrases or sentences. A collection of #sixwordstories could be a found poem. Students could select one phrase or sentence from a text your read aloud to them. Have students each read their catch phrase aloud..ta da instant found poem. Want something more formal? Open up a google doc and have students each add their phrase their. Add images and turn into a presentation (use Animoto and add music). Students love to hear other student’s poems and I am always amazed at how much information gets kicked up!

Found poem template here.

8. Slam poetry
For a larger project or presentation how about a slam poetry event? Students could write poems from the perspective of a character or react to a controversial topic in science (for example Should GMO Crops Be Banned? or Should Designer Babies Be Legal?).

Slam poetry form to use.

Watch these inspiring performances as examples:


Who creates the learning story in the classroom?

We all have story to tell. But sometimes we forget that others have stories too…

In her Ted Talk (featured below) “The Danger of a Single Story” Chimamanda Adichie describes how her narrative was influenced as she grew up reading exclusively Western literature (by the way this would be a great Ted Talk to watch in History or English class to discuss perspective or point of view). It struck me that this danger could also exist in our classroom spaces.
Whose learning stories get told, is it always from the adult’s perspective? (Learning is easy, learning is fun, don’t you get it yet?)
Is there space, trust, and a regular invitation for student’s to craft and tell their learning in their own way?

Crafting narrative builds context and richness for students that is often missing with new content. The creation of even a small story invites the learner to make sense in their own words and in their own way. Creation invites students to pull the content and their background knowledge out from the chaos and embed it in a meaningful way.

Below are some activities that invite students to create and own the learning narrative. Any of these could stand alone or could be done in a sequence to build larger collective narrative. I have used a Biology example but could easily be altered to fit any topic!

Offered in order of time commitment:

1. #sixwordstory
At the start of a unit or topic show students a related image. For example in Biology class I shared the image below to our Facebook group page. Students were asked to create a #sixwordstory about the image and then are given the choice to either Tweet, post to our Facebook group, or write story on a sticky note. If they write on a sticky note, I post their story for them. In the example below, 16 students selected to post here and the rest Tweeted. My favorite #sixwordstory related to this picture was “Man’s feats can demonstrate nature’s marvels.”

This activity can be used anywhere you want students to synthesize or reflect. It is fast, fun and students can choose how they would like to participate.

6 word story

2. Found Poem
If you want to take #sixwordstory’s up a notch, students can turn their stories into “Found Poems”. The simplest and easiest way to create a found poem is to ask students to read their #sixwordstory aloud one after another as quickly as possible to add some tempo to the poem.

Found poems can also be created from readings. Student select their favorite sentence or phrase from the passage or chapter and then read these aloud. It is always amazing to hear how many will select the same phrase or sentence and this supplies a refrain like quality to their collective poem.

Found poems could easily be extended into a larger project or simply end with the reading.

3. Phonto
Phonto is a free app that allows you to easily add text to a photo. This is a great way for students to use their phones and leverage their love of taking photos. There is a phonto app for both Apple and Android. The example below is one I created. You could combine #sixwordstory and Phonto for more story telling fun!

phonto (3)

5. Animoto – Want to turn the found poem, or the phonto photos into something more?  Take them and throw into an Animoto video (open an educator account to start) for a collective, professional looking Found Poem.

I share below an Animoto I show to my classes at the start of the school year to make my “we all have stories to tell” point.

6. Using Whiteboards to tell stories – Low tech and multi-purpose, whiteboards are a fun way to invite student to tell stories.  It might look messy to you, but it is amazing to hear the narratives that students share when presenting their stores to the class. Everyone loves a good story! Students can archive these by taking photos of the whiteboards and adding to their digital portfolios or to our Facebook page.

Robot Unicorn Attack.
Robot Unicorn Attack.

The question remains, who tells the learning story in the classroom?
How will your students tell theirs?
Do you have any ideas to add to the ones here? I would love to here about them!

Student voice, vision, vigor: #moocon24


Several months ago, one of my Social Media students, Freya Kellet (who I fondly describe as the equal to 5 high-functioning adults) suggested a 24 hour international online conference as a possible class project. At the time, I dismissed the idea as over the top and beyond our class’s capabilities. I was kind, but dismissive of Freya’s suggestion…we had real work to do!

Since Freya first made her suggestion lots has happened with our class; we received a provincial grant and have been busy planning a 3 day student led, Digital Citizenship conference for students, parents and teachers in School District 23. We have made presentations to district administrators, the district BYOD committee and our director of instruction on the topic of Digital Citizenship. Students worked incredibly hard to make polished, professional presentations to suit an adult audience. At each presentation I was bursting with pride to see them making their learning visible! Their commitment, their vision, the vigor of their learning was evident! The response has been overwhelmingly positive and we have received support and encouragement from our district for this student initiated project. We are excited to be partnering with our district in hosting the conference, SoMe Summit:Co-constructing Our Digital Futures,  which will be held November 20, 21, 22. We are also excited that Dr Alec Couros will be working with us for these 3 days.

Luckily for me, Freya is a focused and determined 15-year-old. She did not give up on her dream of having a global conversation with other students on how they can change education, one small action at a time. During a Google hangout our class did with Dr. Alec Couros, to find our direction in the large topic of Digital Citizenship, he suggested we might consider doing a project that tapped our networks. We could then use the project as an example of the power of Social Media. WELL…that was opening…it seems that Freya’s dream was destined to be.

Here we are little more than 2 weeks since that conversation and we are excited to launch our plan to host a 24 hour online youth-sourced conference, that we are calling #moocon24 (Massive Open Online 24 Hour Conference). Below is a brief intro video for this student visioned project. It is interesting to note that this project unintentionally aligns with many of the internationally recognized ISTE NETS for Students.
If you know any teachers in your network who have a class or student group (aged 13 to 18) locally or internationally and might be interested in such a project please pass onto them. If you have any ideas or insights for our project we would love to hear them!

If you’d like to learn more about this project visit the #moocon24 website


Who owns ‘digital citizenship’?

In a hunting society, children play with bows and arrows. In an information society, children play with information.

                                                                            Henry Jenkins

Sign this form here, yupp here. Right at the bottom.

Read this page here, yupp this one. Read it all over. Carefully. It is very important.

These are the rules. Here. We made them for you to follow.

Now you know how it works. Be warned. Be ready.

We do it because we are concerned. About you. Your safety.

Yupp we know what is best. We always do.

Yes. We have consulted ALL the experts. Far and wide. We now have the right answers.

You will be allowed here and here. But not there. There is forbidden.

You can use this and this. But not this. Never this. That is forbidden here. We have our reasons here.

Our reasons.

It’s all for your own good anyway. We have no choice. You do not have the ability to decide for yourself.

It. Is just too dangerous. Way too dangerous. Look at what can happen!

You have seen what can happen!

You should be afraid. You should.

And mistakes. They cannot be tolerated. Cannot and will not. We will keep you safe. You can trust us.

When you leave here. We don’t care what you do. Out there, you can figure it out. For yourselves.

Don’t ask for our help. Then. Follow the rules here. We already made the rules here.

The problems out there. Ignore them. Just. Ignore them. In here we are safe behind these walls.

See them so high. And safe.

Don’t you feel safe in here? With us. Here to make rules for you. Our rules. To protect you.

Now hurry up and sign here. Yupp right here.

Who defines digital citizenship? Who owns it? Who does it serve? 

What do students want? Let’s ask them.

You know at the front of the student planner where we post 1 million rules that mainly refer to what students must and must not do? Yeah those ones.

Well how about we did a flip-a-roo and added some student created guidelines around what we adults and school should do? I started to make a list of things that I thought student’s would ask for and then thought that’s dumb, I should just ask my students!

So today I asked each of my 3 classes for their input; what would they like to see at school?; what matters most to them?;what do they wish they could change?;what are their pet-peeves? So below is what I got, most of the requests were not surprising. What did surprise me was how taken aback students were that I was asking them for their input. Keep in mind as you read that my students are grade 12 (17-18 year olds).

Lastly, I transcribed these and am just offering them up for discussion. I am not suggesting this list as is turn into hard-line school policy, nor as criticism; I was just curious to hear what students felt and thought.

Do you know what your student would say?

So here are the student requests unedited and in no particular order:

1. Toilet paper, soap, and hot water in all bathrooms.

2. A place to sit to eat lunch.

3. No name calling or animal sounds directed at them as they walk in the hall.

4. Tests returned to them in a reasonable amount of time.

5. Receive more notice prior to a major test (at least one week).

6. Receive a test outline that specifies the test format and topics.

7. Access to healthy and affordable food items.

8. Right to eat and drink in class for optimal brain function (and reminder to clean up after themselves).

9. No enforced seating plans.

10. No forced group activities or at least omit ones that involve getting a group mark.

11. No worksheets worth huge amounts of points that everyone copies from one another.

12. No enforced homework for marks.

13. Give students ownership of the learning. It is ours not yours!!

14. Tests returned to students to keep so they can review and study from them.

15. No bonus marks for dressing up for theme day or bringing food items for the food drive.

16. Provide meaningful feedback on written work (not just a mark).

17. Test what you teach.

18. Provide opportunities for re-tests (with parameters).

19. Common re-test policy among all teachers.

20. Follow outline, to avoid cramming large amount of material at the end of the semester.

21. Freedom to go to the bathroom when you need to.

22. Understand that social media is not all bad and can be used for learning.

23. Don’t extend deadlines for one student when everyone else has already handed the assignment in without providing a reasonable explanation.

24. Provide opportunity for 100% final so students can improve their final mark in a course.

25. Provide direct answers to student questions about class work and expectations.

26. Avoid placing student teachers in important senior classes (where mark relates to post-secondary entrance).

27. Don’t just emphasis university prep, some students might be headed into trades other.

28. Dress and act professionally.

29. Avoid quizzes that have a high percent value on the overall course percent.

30. Be sincere.