Tag Archives: motivation

Beyond the Textbook: Let the Games Begin!

www.pixbay.com Creative Commons Deed CC0
Creative Commons Deed CC0

Are you a gamer? Do you use games in your teaching, or wish you could? Tell us below or tweet @learnquebec

There is no denying that the students sitting in front of us need to be stimulated and engaged for true learning to occur. We want them to be excited as they crack open their textbooks to seek eureka moments in the pages. So what would it take to make this happen more often?  Are there tools already out there that can help bridge the gap between what needs to be taught and what students want to learn? I’ve always been interested in the way that multi-facetted, three-dimensional interactive simulations get students directly involved in their own learning, games such as SIM City, Minecraft or World of Warcraft. Students playing these games are curious and engaged along a learning path of their own design. With the scaffolding provided by a skilled teacher, subject textbooks can serve as tools to gather knowledge to address an issue in the game rather than to teach static concepts organized according to someone else’s creativity. Simulations lead to meaningful research into the same concepts as in textbooks; students become their own teachers.

At LCEEQ’s most recent conference, held in Laval Qc, on February 9th, 2015, John Hattie presented his research from his well-known book Visible Learning for Teachers: “the biggest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching, and when students become their own teachers”. (Hattie, 2012). Students control their own learning, and develop strategies for life such as “self-monitoring, self-evaluation, self-assessment, and self-teaching”. This research suggests that educators need to put students in varied learning environments, whereby they are stimulated to make informed and creative real-life decisions, learning for life.

Given our students’ ubiquitous exposure to 21st century tools, we now have access to online games that can stimulate students’active participation in the learning process. Again, Hattie’s research indicates that some of the highest influence on true learning is through self-assessment (is my city healthy?), on-going formative assessment (my citizens really like it when I lower taxes and make green spaces), constant feedback (my citizens need more commercial spaces to shop, it will make me richer too), and developing meta-cognitive strategies (The last time I built a park next to a factory my citizens revolted – let’s not do that again!).


Furthermore, psychologist Dr. Mark Griffiths’ research out of Nottingham Trent University supports Hattie’s, encouraging educators to seriously consider using video games to develop “individual characteristics such as self-esteem, self-concept, goal-setting and individual differences.” (Griffiths, 2002). Griffiths goes on to state that not all video games are beneficial to learning. Teachers need to to align the tool with their curriculum and gather resources to best inform student discovery. This way, they can optimize the potential of the simulations inherent to some games by encouraging students to engage in extraordinary collaborations and experiences. For example, using a game like SIM city (http://www.simcity.com) in social studies; students experience how to build and maintain a city of their own creation, while keeping the fine balance of making their city eco-friendly but still pushing economic growth. Engagement in such a simulation goes beyond academic learning and delves into cross-curricular competencies, skill development and personal development emulated in real-life scenarios.

Think about the “teamwork, persistence, empathy, willingness to fail, project management, critical thinking, risk and reward analysis and goal setting” that takes place within the student while in these rich environments. The classroom shifts the attention away from a single content generator, the textbook, to a student discovery classroom, where students have the freedom to collaborate, problem solve, hypothesize, reflect in a simulated real-world setting.

Not only can games provide important personal problem-solving strategies and insights, but can also develop literacy skills. Game studies theorist James Gee explains, all gaming experiences, be it cards, board games, tablet games, online games, are a series of problems the user must solve to win, “The human mind learns through well-designed experiences.” Gee wrote in a 2013 report entitled Good Video Games and Good Learning, “[it] finds patterns and associations across different experiences and—after lots of time, effort, and practice—generalizes these patterns and associations into the sorts of concepts, principles, and generalizations we humans capture in language.” (Castaneda & Sidhu, 2015) Thus, games can be seen as text, not unlike books, yet still harnessing the motivation and engagement that tend to follow game environments. The challenge for teachers is to harness the learning potential of video games by making sure students learn what they need to learn.

Stay tuned for my next post in this series, Beyond the Textbook, when I interview Shawn Young, science teacher and CEO of Class Craft, a free online role-playing simulation designed for the classroom, that involves teachers and students learning together.

Castaneda, L., & Sidhu, M. (2015, February 18). Beyond Programming: The Power of Making Games — THE Journal. Retrieved February 24, 2015, from http://thejournal.com/Articles/2015/02/18/Beyond-Programming-The-Power-of-Making-Games.aspx?Page=1

Gee, J. P. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. New York: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2003.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). The educational benefits of videogames Education and Health, 20, 47-51.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. London: Routledge.

What Motivates Students to Want to Learn Science?


How do you motivate your students to learn more about science? Tell us below or tweet @learnquebec.

Imagine that the bell rings to end your science class and you hear groans from your students. “Do we have to leave?” “This is so great” “Can’t we just stay here?” Well maybe that happens to you from time to time, but in my teaching experience, I admit that it was a rare occurrence. If you think about the activities that interest you and fully absorb your attention – skiing in deep powder, listening to your favourite music, reading that page-turner novel, playing with your granddaughter – why can’t a science activity produce a similar response?

The question of what makes students want to learn science has intrigued me throughout my educational career. It seems to me that learning about the natural world that surrounds us should be of intrinsic interest to everyone, and learning about it in school should be fascinating for all students. But this doesn’t seem to the case. Enrolment in high school optional science courses around the world is declining and students increasingly drop science courses as soon as they can. They find it difficult and boring and, surprisingly, they find it unrelated to their lives! In one study comparing the attitudes of students in different countries, Terry Lyons found that students frequently reported being turned off by “the transmissive pedagogy, decontextualized content, and unnecessary difficulty of school science.” (Lyons, 2006). In other words, they say it’s too hard, doesn’t involve them and is meaningless to them.

Intrinsic Motivation – Flow Theory:

We would all like our students to be intrinsically motivated to learn science – in other words to want to do science for its own sake and have a genuine interest in it. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian/Croatian psychologist developed the theory of Flow – an explanation of intrinsic motivation. A highly influential University of Chicago professor, his ideas have influenced people from President Bill Clinton to the winning Super Bowl coach of the 1993 Dallas Cowboys. Flow describes people’s state of “complete absorption in the present moment” when they are intrinsically motivated to engage in an activity (Csikszentmihalyi, 2014). They are in control of their actions and pursue the activity for its own sake, not in pursuit of a reward or to avoid a punishment. Some of the conditions for Flow are: “perceived challenges, or opportunities for action, that stretch but do not overmatch existing skills”, “clear proximal goals and immediate feedback about the progress being made.”( p. 195).   People “in Flow” would be observed to be focused on an active task, unselfconscious and in control. They may comment about the surprisingly fast passage of time while doing the activity. Daniel Pink in his book Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us called this Type I (I for Intrinsic) behavior. By this he refers to intrinsic motivation characterized by autonomy (control over the project), mastery (the desire to continually improve it), and purpose (doing something that has personal meaning).

Extrinsic Motivation

The opposite of Flow or Type I behavior is motivation by punishment and reward, often referred to as extrinsic behavior. Though this is a common practice in education, this behavior more often undermines motivation and engagement on the part of students and tends to reduce learning and understanding (Csikszentmihalyi & Nakamura, 2005; Kohn, 1999; Pink, 2011). Alfie Kohn in Punished by Rewards, argues that using rewards – points, stickers, extra play time, etc – to motivate students is just as damaging to learning as imposing punishments – detentions, loss of points, reprimands, etc. As soon as the reward or punishment is removed, he points out, the motivation for doing the activity disappears. Corroborating this, in an meta-analysis of 128 studies, Deci, Koestner, & Ryan found that rewards of all types significantly undermined intrinsic motivation (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999).

So how do we get our students intrinsically motivated to learn science? The research discussed above would indicate that the project or activity has to have the following characteristics:

  • a clear purpose.
  • personal meaning to students.
  • some degree of student control over it.
  • an appropriate level of challenge – difficult enough to keep them interested, not too challenging to create frustration, and not too easy to bore them.
  • continuous and immediate feedback.

Skilled science teachers learn by their own experience, workshops with other professionals, and discussions with colleagues. They struggle with balancing their desire to intrinsically motivate their students, with the requirement to cover the concepts needed to meet the requirements of the curriculum. I’d love to hear how you do this with your students.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Flow and the foundations of positive psychology: The collected works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Nakamura, J. (2005). Flow Theory and research. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125(6), 627-668.

Kohn, A. (1999). Punished by Rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise and other bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Lyons, T. (2006). Different Countries, Same Science Classes: Students’ experiences of school science in their own words. International Journal of Science Education, 28(6), 591-613.

Pink, D. H. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York: Riverhead Books.

The connection between learning and passion

Image by Tracy Rosen, original photo by Flickr user spinster cardigan CC-BY-2.0

Post by Tracy Rosen, Education Consultant,  RECIT Provinicial Service for General Adult Education

A while back I began to prepare for a workshop on Blogging with Passion and I soon realized that I was not going to be able to deliver what I promised. The problem was that the more I thought about it the more I realized that one will only blog with passion if two very critical elements are in place:

A passion for something and a desire (or passion) to write about it in public.

This will not be true for every single person in your classroom – it may not even be true for one person in your classroom!

When we talk about blogging, there are too many different implications –  Why do we want to bring blogging into the classroom? Because we think we can trick students into being engaged in the writing process through technology? Because we like to write online so we think our students will too? And, in this day of media sharing – what exactly is blogging anyways? Does it have to be only about writing?

So I decided that I needed to look at a slightly different question: how do we cultivate passion in learners? This was an important question for me because we know that passion – that fire that raises the velcro on our brains and makes us want to learn – is the key to motivation.

And I realized that it has to do with our passion as teachers.

Have you ever been inspired while watching a TED talk? This one does it to me all the time:

It is inspiring because it is so obvious that Rita Pearson (1952-2013) loved what she did – that she had a true passion for relationship-based teaching and her passion was contagious. Each time I watch that video she connects with me on a deep level with my own passion for the same. She modeled relationship-based teaching through the stories she told about her own teaching experiences. She made me care about what she had to say.

As teachers we are our students’ primary models for learning. So how do we make our students care about what we have to say? How do we cultivate passion in our learners? We model it. If I want passionate learners, I need to model passionate learning. By showing how important learning is to me, by being excited about the learning process, by making a connection to my students through the stories I tell as I teach, I am modeling passionate learning. I am also modeling how to give voice to what I care about, whether it be through public speaking, writing, or multimedia.

Once I do this, then what? I need to provide an outlet for them. Blogging could come into play here because blogging is a fabulous tool when you have a passion to share, when you love something so much you want to write, talk, show – create – about it.

The secret here is that the blog is not the star of the story. It isn’t the point of what is happening in the classroom because it is just a tool, one of many, to help someone share their story.  A traditional blog could be the tool used to share stories through writing but stories can also be shared in so many other ways – through video documentaries or animations, spoken word, public speaking or even via twitter! The point – regardless of the subject you teach – is to model a passion for learning as well as different ways to share this passion and then to allow students to do the same.

By Tracy Rosen
Education Consultant with the RECIT Provinicial Service for General Adult Education
I blog at Practical PD and Leading from the Heart


For more on passion and learning:

Passion-Based Learning by Ainissa Ramirez on Edutopia

The Carrot and Stick Approach (and everything else he writes) by Michael Doyle on Science Teacher Blog

What Students Really Need to Hear by Chase Mielke on AffectiveLiving Blog

Curiosity in the (Science) Classroom

Photo by Damon Styer

How do you foster true curiosity in your students? Tell us below or by tweeting @learnquebec.

In a recent professional development session, our team of online teachers were learning about and discussing inquiry-based learning. One of the characteristics of an inquiry-based activity is that it begins with the curiosity of the learner. As a group, we spent some time that day discussing this characteristic: how to effectively engage the interest of our students and the challenges of balancing student curiosity with the realities of covering the curriculum.

Researchers from the University of California recently conducted experiments to discover what curiosity does to our brain activity.   They found that “people are better at learning information that they are curious about” and “memory for incidental material presented during curious states was also enhanced”.

For me, this does not come as a huge surprise.  I have seen firsthand that piquing students’ interest about a subject before teaching them something new will make them more ready to learn, will allow them to learn more deeply, and will help to engage their prior knowledge. However, it is not always easy to do this. Not all students are naturally curious. Some students get very anxious when there is a high level of uncertainty. As well, we are given a fairly rigorous curriculum to follow and it can sometimes be difficult to find the time to build students’ curiosity about particular material.

Since the PD session, I have done some reflecting on my own teaching practice to see where I’m encouraging student curiosity and what I can do to further expand on it. Here are three things I have realized through my reflections:

In order for students to ask questions, teachers need to create an environment where they feel safe to do so.

In Fostering Curiosity in Your Students, Marilyn P. Arnone suggests: “Create an atmosphere where students feel comfortable about raising questions and where they can test their own hypotheses through discussion and brainstorming. (Not only does this foster curiosity, but it also helps to build confidence.) “

At the beginning of the year, I find that many students are hesitant to ask questions. They are concerned about how their peers will react and they are worried that I will get upset that they are asking questions that could derail the discussion. My classes are online, so fortunately my students have the ability to send me private messages (which are only visible to me and that student). Through this feature, I am able to address student concerns in a private manner or talk about them to the class without identifying who raised the question. As time goes on and we have established a culture of questioning, I find that students are more confident to ask questions publicly. Sometimes we are able to investigate the question further as a class and sometimes we set that aside for offline interest.

Essential questions get students thinking about how what they already know fits into the main ideas for a unit of study.

Last year, I started using essential questions at the beginning of a unit to pique students’ curiosity right away. Essential questions “provide the fundamental organizing principles that bound an inquiry and guide the development of meaningful, authentic tasks”. Such questions help to identify common misconceptions and allow students to engage their prior knowledge.

For example, one essential question that I presented to students when I was starting a Physics unit on motion involving constant acceleration was this: “What automobile controls can cause a change in acceleration?” Most students could already tell me that the gas pedal could cause a car to accelerate; pressing it would cause the car to speed up. Some would also identify that the brakes would cause a deceleration; engaging them would cause the car to slow down. By asking this question, I was able to get students curious about what they didn’t already know about acceleration. As we worked through the unit, students would add the steering wheel to the list of controls that would also cause a change in acceleration (since this caused the car to change direction).

Sometimes, instead of providing students with an essential question at the beginning of a unit, I will give them time to brainstorm their own instead. My Chemistry students, when starting a unit on Reaction Rates, came up with this question: “How does the size of a loaf of bread affect the time that it takes to rise?” Some of them had personal experience with baking and knew that a larger loaf needed more time to rise, but they were eager to learn the “why” behind it.

Allow students to investigate new relationships before learning about them from time-to-time.

As Ken Elliott wrote in last month’s blog post, many traditional science classes involve executing well-defined lab investigations to support material that was previously taught in class. While it can be argued that these experiments were designed to give students a deeper understanding of the content, it certainly takes some of the inquiry part out of the equation.  Students are not curious about the relationship between an unbalanced force, mass, and acceleration if they have already been taught Newton’s Second Law (F=ma). This year, I have made a conscious decision to flip my activities around so that students are doing labs earlier on in the learning cycle, with an emphasis on discovery.

My parting challenge to you:

Have I piqued your curiosity about curiosity? Read one of the articles below to find out more about how it enhances student learning and add a comment to share something you have learned!

Why Curiosity Enhances Learning

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

Just Ask: Harnessing the Power of Student Curiosity

Fostering Curiosity in Your Students

Curiosity is critical to academic performance

How curiosity changes the brain to enhance learning

Curiosity: It Helps Us Learn, But Why?

Curiosity Prepares the Brain for Better Learning






Authentic experience: Students writing for real audiences

CC BY-NC 2.0

I was a first year teacher writing on the chalkboard, simultaneously trying to keep an eye on a room of rowdy secondary 2 students.  Suddenly, I heard the words that always  make me shudder.  “Sir, you spelled a word wrong”.  The implication of this phrase is that I, the teacher may not be all-knowing; a fact I was trying to keep hidden until later in the year.

The word in question was learned and my student, a young man of Jamaican heritage, shook my confidence by telling me the correct spelling was “learnt”.  Standing in front of 20 students, I was unsure what to do.  On one hand, I was fairly  confident I spelled learned that way for my whole life.  But on the other hand, “learnt” looked strangely correct.  Needless to say, the whole issue was dropped when I asked him to look it up in one of our dusty dictionaries.

But I was shaken.  After class, I looked up the word and learned/learnt that both spellings are correct.  The British use learnt and Americans, learned.  Being Canadian, we were free to vacillate between the two.

I tell you this story to underline how authentic experiences cement knowledge and competency.  I certainly won’t forget what I learned that day.

Reflecting on that experience got me thinking: in what ways can teachers allow students to have authentic writing experiences, where student work culminates into something that is actually read by people other than just their teacher?   If students are writing for an authentic audience, will it increase engagement? Will it change the way they write?

There are two Quebec examples of students writing in English for an authentic audience that have recently caught my eye.  Secondary 1 and 2 students at Metis Beach school were given the opportunity to produce a special edition of the Heritage-Lower St Lawrence newsletter. HLSL is a community organization dedicated to serving the English population of their region. I invite you to click on the link and observe the quality of student writing.  Highlights include a history of the school and community, an article about bullying and a feature on a class project inspired by the “freedom writers”.  It quickly becomes obvious that the students worked hard to write, revise and rewrite compelling and clear articles because they knew their words would be read by the community and beyond.  Their teacher, Erin Ross, said her motivation in setting up this opportunity for her students was feeling that it was ”important to have my students have a new learning opportunity in their English class.  It is all about the process and showing them that they have a voice.”

I spoke to Melanie Leblanc, the Executive Director of Heritage Lower St Lawrence and she raved about the student-produced newsletter for her organization.  She said members “loved knowing what was going on in the school” and noted that since the newsletter was published, the community has an “increased sense of belonging to the school”.

A second example of authentic writing comes from the infamous GrEAU project.  GrEAU is a hydroponic based agricultural business founded and run by a group of students from Mecatina School, located in La Tabatiere (a village on the Lower North Shore of Quebec)  The project is a sight to behold, in part because of the authentic need the business is fulfilling along with the strong marketing and communications website.

The students involved in the project worked collaboratively to develop a very clear website to share information about how the garden grows along with recipes to get the most out of the fresh produce. The students also had numerous opportunities to be interviewed on CBC radio and Radio Canada communicating clearly in English and French.

I spoke to Ben Collier, one of the founding members and he agreed that collaboratively developing the website allowed him to learn how to present scientific findings and better understand how to communicate what was accomplished.  I asked Ben about the editing process and he laughed, remembering how in normal school projects he did not always proofread assignments before handing them in.  But with the GrEAU project there was no leniency for errors, the group wanted to make sure everything was perfect.

These two examples show the potential of developing authentic writing opportunities with students.  If you are inspired to co-develop opportunities for students in your own schools, please share the results.

If you want to learn more about authentic writing contexts for students, I encourage you to check out a new resource site from the MELS called Literacy Today QC. It includes positive evidence of integrating authentic contexts in your curriculum and examples of authentic classroom activities.

Follow me on twitter @ELA_LEARN

La ludification d’une classe de FLS

photo by Mocks 108 CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

L’autre jour, j’écoutais un baladoweb de la série Freakonomics au sujet de la motivation, plus précisément, au sujet de comment éduquer les gens à faire des bons choix en terme de santé et d’obéissance aux lois. Ce n’était pas une émission du domaine de l’éducation, mais plutôt du domaine du marketing. Mais le marketing et l’éducation sont des cousins assez proches — les deux visant principalement la modification de comportements des gens à qui ils s’adressent. Ce billet se veut donc un hommage à l’espèce humaine, cette espèce qui est telle qu’elle est, peu importe les théories idéalistes sur lesquelles on s’appuie souvent pour l’expliquer.

Au printemps 2014, j’ai présenté dans un billet mon entrevue avec Avi Spector au sujet de la ludification (gamification) en apprentissage du FLS. Ce qui suit est mon entrevue avec Catherine Boisvert, l’enseignante qui a expérimenté cette approche dans sa classe de français, langue seconde entre janvier et juin 2014. La ludification, selon Avi et d’autres, c’est l’utilisation de stratégies et d’approches qui sont propres au domaine des jeux, incluant les jeux vidéo. Ça ne veut pas dire qu’on joue à des jeux en classe, mais plutôt qu’on puise certaines approches ou structures de jeux connus pour les mettre au service d’un contexte d’apprentissage. Le projet d’Avi et de Catherine avait comme fondements les 6 principes suivants :

  • Les notes : les notes sont structurées en fonction d’un gain de points et non la perte de points;
  • L’appropriation du parcours : il y a une transparence quant au programme et les élèves ont le choix des parties du programme qu’ils vont travailler. Les élèves connaissent d’avance les travaux à remettre et peuvent choisir l’ordre dans lequel ils les font;
  • L’échec vers l’avant (failing forward) : l’échec est perçu comme façon de progresser;
  • La rétroaction : une rétroaction ponctuelle et fréquente est donnée à l’élève pour lui permettre d’ajuster ses démarches, ses stratégies et ses travaux.
  • La différentiation : les élèves peuvent choisir différentes démarches, différents outils et différentes façons de démontrer le développement de leurs compétences, selon les aptitudes de chacun;
  • Les défis sur mesure : dans une classe individualisée, l’élève progresse à son rythme et ne progresse qu’après la réussite d’une cible d’apprentissage. Les nouveaux apprentissages se construisent sur des bases solides à chaque étape. Dans les jeux vidéo, on appelle cette démarche  « levelling up ».
Catherine Boisvert, CQSB

Enseignante : Catherine Boisvert, CQSB
Contexte : classe individualisée de FLS en éducation aux adultes (16 à 24 ans). Les élèves sont de secondaire 1 à 5 dans une même classe.

Qu’est-ce qui t’a amené à expérimenter la ludification dans ta classe de FLS?

Avi a déjà travaillé avec moi. Il cherchait un cobaye pour voir comment la ludification pouvait se dérouler en classe. Moi, personnellement, je préfère appeler ça de la « gamification » parce que mes élèves, ce sont des « gamers ». J’étais aussi à la recherche d’une façon d’essayer de jazzer un peu mon cours. J’ai un petit groupe et on est dans un petit centre. J’ai des élèves récalcitrants, qui se mettent des étiquettes, qui commencent leur première journée en disant : « Ah, non, mais moi j’suis pas bon en français. » Je voulais qu’ils aillent chercher cette espèce de combativité qu’ils ont avec les jeux. On a parlé des jeux auxquels ils jouent. Je leur ai demandé ce qu’ils font quand ils ne réussissent pas un tableau dans Candy Crush Saga. Est-ce qu’ils se disent : « Ah, non, moi j’suis pas bon »? Comme si c’était un jugement, comme si c’était fini, une sentence. Au contraire, ils essayent encore et encore! Ce qui m’a attiré vers cette approche de gamification, c’est ce qu’on appelle en anglais Failing Forward (l’échec vers d’avant), cette espèce de persévérance, qui fait que les élèves puissent se dire : « C’est pas grave, je me relève puis j’essaye une autre stratégie ». Je voulais qu’ils s’amusent dans ma classe, qu’ils essaient, qu’ils se disent : « Je me suis planté, c’est pas grave, je me relève puis je continue ». Je trouvais que la gamification était une façon d’amener cet aspect-là dans ma classe.

Explique-nous un peu la logistique de ton approche.

En éducation aux adultes, on fonctionne avec le Programme de formation pour le premier cycle du secondaire et avec le vieux programme pour le deuxième cycle du secondaire. On est en train de vivre la réforme un peu en retard. Donc, il y a 4 compétences pour le FLS au deuxième cycle. Chaque compétence fait l’objet d’une SAÉ — les élèves sont évalués en fonction de chaque SAÉ qu’ils me remettent. Les SAÉ sont évaluées avec des étoiles. Une étoile, c’est le minimum pour passer, c’est l’équivalant de la note C. Deux étoiles, l’élève est capable de réaliser la tâche sans problème. Trois étoiles, l’élève va au-delà des attentes. Pour chaque compétence, il y a la possibilité d’avoir jusqu’à trois étoiles. Je n’ai jamais, à date, reçu un travail qui ne méritait pas au moins une étoile. Pour passer à une prochaine étape (l’idée du Level Up) et pour ainsi accéder à l’examen d’étape, il faut avoir au moins 8 étoiles, sur un total de 12 étoiles possibles. Le jugement de l’enseignant entre aussi en jeu. Le but des élèves est de terminer leur scolarité au secondaire le plus rapidement possible. Donc, ils peuvent passer des examens d’étape ou de fin d’année en tout temps. Je veux par contre m’assurer qu’ils ne vont pas échouer les épreuves, donc le système des étoiles fonctionne bien pour concrétiser le cheminement des apprentissages. Les élèves peuvent voir s’ils sont prêts à tout moment. Le parcours est transparent.

J’ai choisi de fonctionner avec des SAÉ, même avec le vieux programme. J’ai vu que mes élèves en secondaire 1 et 2 étaient plus actifs et que le programme leur était plus pertinent, donc plus motivant. Ils étaient plus engagés dans les tâches. Mon but est toujours d’accroitre la motivation des élèves. Ce que je trouve le plus difficile, c’est de travailler sur les savoirs essentiels dans ce contexte, parce que les élèves trouvent des façons d’atteindre leurs buts qui peuvent des fois contourner les savoirs essentiels. Dans le fond, ils arrivent à travailler des stratégies de communication sans le savoir, mais pas forcément ce que je veux qu’ils travaillent. Je trouve aussi qu’ils ont une réflexion métacognitive quand ils argumentent pour avoir plus d’étoiles : « j’ai été capable de comparer — regardez, j’ai écrit plus quemoins que et après ça j’ai écrit autant que ».

Quelle a été ton expérience avec l’idée de l’échec vers l’avant?

L’échec vers l’avant, c’est intéressant. Les jeunes qui jouent à des jeux vidéo, quand ils sont confrontés à un échec, ils recommencent en se disant : « qu’est-ce qui a marché? Qu’est-ce que je peux refaire? » Dans le fond, l’aspect ludique des étoiles que j’ai utilisées, comme dans Angry Birds, ça semble avoir un effet dédramatisant. Les tâches que l’on fait servent d’évaluations formatives. L’idée est que les élèves sont tout le temps en évaluation, à tous les jours. Donc, quand arrive une formation sommative, les élèves sont habitués et ils sont à l’aise. J’ai aussi remarqué qu’ils savent aussi à quoi s’attendre. Je les sens outillés, et ILS se sentent outillés. J’avais des élèves qui ne fournissaient pas tellement d’efforts et dans une classe individualisée, chaque élève est responsable pour lui-même. Donc, si je ne faisais pas la police, ces élèves ne faisaient pas grand-chose. Une fois que j’ai commencé à expérimenter avec la ludification dans ma classe, ce sont ces mêmes élèves qui étaient presque tannants tellement qu’ils me demandaient si j’avais corrigé leur travail! Là, j’avais le problème de ne pas fournir moi-même assez vite! J’avais jamais eu autant de correction à faire, mais en même temps, j’étais contente parce qu’ils venaient me voir pour me demander combien d’étoiles qu’ils ont eues. « Hein, comment ça, deux étoiles? Ok, alors je vais le refaire! » Ils ne voyaient plus ça comme des évaluations. Ils ne se voyaient plus comme des étiquettes qui leur collaient dessus. C’est comme s’ils prenaient le contrôle, qu’ils sentaient ce « sense of agency » dont Avi parlait.

Selon toi, quels ont été les principaux succès du projet?

Les élèves savent mieux ce qu’ils doivent atteindre en français, ça représente le QUOI. Ils savent ce qu’ils doivent être capables de faire en français. Ils savent mieux lier des savoirs essentiels à des situations. Ils ont plus de choix — au lieu de suivre un courant. Ils peuvent se dire : « je vais montrer cette compétence de telle façon ». Ça leur offre un contexte plus ludique — la perception qu’ils jouent à un jeu. Ça rend la communication plus naturelle, comme des enfants qui jouent et puis qui apprennent en jouant. Je sens que les élèves ne voient plus de barrières, qu’ils perçoivent les buts à atteindre pas comme une note, mais comme être capable de faire quelque chose. Dans le fond, la note, c’est pas aussi important que d’être capable de communiquer en français, surtout à Québec, où j’enseigne. On travaille des situations concrètes, issues de leur vie, comme par exemple, échanger un appareil qu’on a acheté. C’est aussi beaucoup moins dramatique. Je sais que j’insiste beaucoup là-dessus, mais je crois que c’est l’aspect le plus important de la gamification/ludification des apprentissages en FLS. Si un élève est habitué de penser à l’évaluation comme étant une chose punitive, une sanction négative, il va éviter de s’investir dans son apprentissage pour ne pas vivre trop d’émotions lors de l’échec éventuel. « Tu ne peux pas dire que je suis pas bon, j’ai même pas essayé. »  L’idée du Failing Forward, de l’échec vers l’avant, rompt ce cycle de démotivation. Dans un contexte individualisé comme celui de l’éducation aux adultes, c’est très facile de ne pas se rendre compte qu’on fournit pas le même effort qu’un autre, parce qu’on n’a pas les mêmes tâches. Mais avec un système de gamification en place, les élèves peuvent comparer leurs efforts de façon très concrète — « t’as combien d’étoiles? T’as combien de tâches de faites? » Et enfin, être bon en français, langue seconde, ce n’est pas nécessairement très cool. Il faut lui ajouter du cachet, pour que les élèves fournissent l’effort requis — ce projet a contribué à rendre le FLS un peu branché dans les yeux des jeunes.

Quels ont été les principaux défis pour toi et pour tes élèves?

J’ai découvert que pour certains de mes élèves qui venaient d’autres pays, l’école c’est supposé être sérieux. Donc s’ils s’amusent, ils ne sont pas en train d’apprendre! J’ai dû confronter cette idée-là — on a tous grandi et découvert ensemble. De plus, c’était difficile d’instaurer le nouveau système et de faire embarquer tout le monde au mois de janvier. Dans le fond, commencer dès le début de l’année scolaire fonctionnerait beaucoup mieux. J’aimerais consolider et développer le projet pour qu’il soit prêt pour le mois d’aout et pour que tout le monde puisse commencer avec une plateforme comme Edmodo. De plus, je suis dans un contexte d’apprentissage individualisé, dans lequel j’ai les cinq niveaux dans une même classe, donc je me sens des fois comme un gardien de but — celui-ci a une question, l’autre à besoin d’explications… Même avec la gamification, j’essaye toujours de trouver des moyens de composer avec cette réalité.

À quoi réfléchis-tu présentement?

J’ai des élèves qui parlent français comme moi, mais qui ont plus de misère à écrire, d’autres élèves ont des troubles d’apprentissage comme la dyslexie. Ces jeunes doivent alors travailler des stratégies de lecture. J’aimerais trouver une façon de jumeler les élèves afin que les forces de chacun puissent venir aider avec les faiblesses de l’autre, peut-être avoir certains élèves dans le cadre d’une même SAÉ travailler des compétences différentes. J’ai des élèves qui s’expriment très bien en français, presque comme des francophones et j’ai aussi des élèves qui viennent d’autres pays et qui ne parlent que très peu et pour qui le français est la 3e ou 4e langue. Souvent, ils viennent d’une culture d’apprentissage très traditionnelle, dans laquelle il y a beaucoup de répétition et de pratiques écrites, mais très peu de communication spontanée à l’oral. Donc, j’aimerais les jumeler avec mes petits Québécois « slackers ».

Dans le fond, je veux amener les élèves à déployer cette même combativité que je les vois déployer quand ils jouent à un jeu. C’est sûr que c’est plus facile si la tâche est aussi liée d’une certaine façon à leur vraie vie et non pas juste « conjugue-moi 20 verbes ». Le jeu à lui tout seul, c’est sûr que ce n’est pas assez. Mais, c’est le jeu qui soutient l’apprentissage et qui ajoute à leur motivation. Il est certain que je dois adapter les SAÉ pour qu’elles soient assez ouvertes pour qu’un élève puisse se retrouver dedans. Un élève qui tripe sur la planche à neige pourra mieux écrire un texte explicatif sur le « snow » que sur un truc scientifique qui ne l’intéresse pas.


Avez-vous des questions pour Catherine Boisvert au sujet de son expérience de ludification? Utilisez les commentaires pour lui en faire part!



All Fun and Games: Gamifying a Language Classroom

Photo credit: jonesytheteacher CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo credit: jonesytheteacher CC BY-SA 2.0

In February, I attended a session at the LCEEQ conference given by Avi Spector on Gamification. I was skeptical, as gamification is getting a lot of press from corporate training and marketing folks, and we don’t always see eye to eye on classroom practice issues.

I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when Avi presented an action-research project that he had undertaken with an FLS teacher in the Adult Ed. sector at CQSB, Catherine Boisvert. Now, before you say to yourself: “Oh no, Adult Sector is not for me, that’s not my reality, I teach kids”, remember that the Quebec Adult Ed. sector is geared towards students over the age of 16, so many students are actually not much older than those in regular secondary classrooms. Moreover, I discovered that the gamification model is so universally applicable across ages, that its principles are valuable no matter what level you teach. If you have read the blog before, you might know that I am a BIG proponent of action-research as a model for professional learning. We learn and grow as educators when we try sound pedagogical approaches, reflect on our experience, adjust and try again. So, without further ado, here are some key points from my interview with Avi Spector:

What is Gamification?

Avi discusses his definition of gamification and how it compares to game-based learning. Important distinction!

*Note: currently, the videos are only available on a computer. We are working to have them available on mobile devices shortly!

Reasons and Motivations for the Project

I spoke to Catherine Boisvert, the teacher whose classroom was the laboratory for the gamification experiment, via Skype last week. She works with teenagers and young adults whose pathway through traditional schooling was not always successful. Catherine had this to say about her reasons for agreeing to participate in this pedagogical innovation in her classroom:

Catherine Boisvert, CQSB

I was looking for ways to jazz up my curriculum. I work in a learning center with a small group of very disparate students, all working at varying levels of French language ability. I wanted to make my classes more dynamic and to move away from the self-perception about their abilities with which the students were coming. I get a lot of students who come into my class the first day and say to me: “I’m not good at French” – they label themselves as not being good students right off the bat. I wanted for them to have this gaming spirit, the same perseverance that came through when they talked to me about the games they played. I was really inspired by the idea of failing forward, of using mistakes as opportunities to try another strategy, or a new way of doing. I wanted to take the drama out of mistakes and have students say to themselves: “It’s ok, it doesn’t matter, I’m just going to try again”. I also wanted students to feel as though they had all the tools necessary to pass the exam, and for this, I needed them to do a lot of practicing. I didn’t want this work to feel like a burden, I wanted it to be fun.

The Six Principles of Gamifying your Curriculum

These are the guiding principles that Avi and Catherine followed when designing the gamified learning environment.


The model used by Catherine and Avi

Avi provides an overview of the setup in Catherine’s FLS classroom.

Outcomes of the Experiment

Catherine talked to me about her ongoing experience this past school year:

I had students in my class who really didn’t put in very much effort before. Less than the minimum, in fact. After the gamification model was put into place, these same people would submit work and demand feedback so they could win stars. When I would say to them “Well, I’m hesitating between one and two stars” their reaction would be “What do you mean? Give that back, I’m going to change it so I can get two stars!” They never would have said that before! It’s as though they weren’t taking the evaluation so personally anymore, it wasn’t a label that they felt they had to stick on themselves – I’m good, I’m no good. These labels are so immovable and students really feel powerless when they buy into them. I see that students feel more in control of their learning – they feel that they have the power to get one, two or three stars. As Avi would say, they feel a greater sense of agency. I noticed that even when they are trying to convince me to give them more starts, they are actually referring to their work and the clearly stated outcomes: “What do you mean I didn’t use enough comparative language. Here, I wrote ‘more than’, and ‘as much as’ and ‘similarly'”. So the learning is actually very deep and metacognitive.

Students are also more clear about expected outcomes, because the outcomes are part of the ‘game’. They are better able to make links between essential knowledge and the situations in which you apply that knowledge. This also gives them more choice as to the ways that they can demonstrate competency growth, within the LES structure that I’m using. My students no longer see tasks and objectives as obstacles to getting a good grade. They see them rather as opportunities to ‘level up’.

My biggest challenge was a cultural one. I do have students who come from cultures where school and learning are a serious business. It was more difficult to get them into the spirit of the ‘game’, because of the perception that if you’re having fun, you can’t possibly be learning. Also, next year, I won’t be starting the project in January. Starting right away in September will mean that there won’t be a disconnect midway through the year.

(Stay tuned for a blog post featuring my whole interview with Catherine Boisvert from CQSB en français, bien sûr!)

Are you working on a Gamification project in your classroom or network? I would love to hear about your experience.


Avi Spector is a pedagogical consultant with the RECIT FGA and the Riverside School Board. His provincial mandate is to support General Adult Education teachers from the nine English School Boards. You can tweet him @a_spector

All of his Gamification workshop materials can be found on his Pinterest board www.pinterest.com/avimspector

Catherine Boisvert is a French Second Language / Francization teacher at the Eastern Québec Learning Centre in the Central Quebec School Board.


3 a.m. blogging, and why social sciences (/school) should be social, and public!

Father as Multitasker by Stephen Poff
Father as Multitasker by Stephen Poff

First I will partially explain the title, as NOT being because my new baby boy woke me up earlier at 2 a.m.  It’s about what kept ringing in my head afterwards, and the fact that it continued to ring at all. In part it was because I knew I was going to be writing this blog entry for others, for public consumption.  That’s what made it important enough to keep me awake, to drag me out of bed, again, to seek out tea and cookies and finally a keyboard. And likewise, it certainly was not because I was being marked on it, or because my job depended on it.  It was instead because I had an idea I thought was worth sharing. And also, it was because something of me was about to end up “shared” on the web, and I wanted that something to be made up of my ideas, or at least in this case my slant on a lot of other people’s ideas.  I wanted to represent myself.

These two profound ideas resurfaced for me recently during a highly inspiring workshop I attended by Tanya Avrith, a Digital Citizenship Teacher for the Lester B. Pearson School Board, and a pioneer of their Digital Citizenship Program. On the one hand, she helped me reflect on why my other (teenage) son’s school assignments always ended up in the garbage. They were for marks, nothing more.  And as to the other idea, she alerted me to something very important that I hadn’t ever considered, to the fact that my older son already had an extensive digital/internet footprint, mostly made up things he wouldn’t be proud of, and more often than not of things others wrote about him, pictures he didn’t take, etc.  Not an ideal situation for someone searching for schools and jobs, whose college registrars and future employers would be Googling my older son’s unfortunately uncommon name.

For a Better Online Reputation, from LifeHacker
Better Online Reputation @ LifeHacker

The question is, why does this happen to him and so many others, this accumulation of embarrassing memories? It’s not for lack of information, not because he hadn’t been warned about the risks and told about the complexities of  life online. It was because, and I agreed with Tanya on this, that no knowledgeable adults regularly followed him there, to guide him and set examples.  And also… it was because none of his good work, his school work let’s say, followed him there either, to offset all the questionable traces left by others.

Already 5 a.m. and my work day about to begin, so that brings me back to thinking about my main dossier at LEARN, and if and how ideas like this might apply to the Social Sciences (History, Geography, Economics, Ethics in some programs, etc.). These subjects are “academic disciplines concerned with society and human nature” and as such they do serve to engage past and present events and issues, but usually from within the school walls. Obviously you can see from what I presented above I don’t think avoiding the internet during student activities is fair to our students on a personal and on a career-related level, but more than that, I think it is especially ineffective and inappropriate in the Social Sciences.

The Social Sciences Perspective

Bansky via Flickr user Ruben LC
Bansky via Flickr user Ruben LC

Let’s start with what I mean by ineffective. In the social science competencies we examine, establish and balance the facts, we interpret realities then we learn ways to voice our opinions. For me these basic skills read like a list of things one cannot do effectively, not in this day and age, by avoiding the digital, social and public space that is the Internet.

Examining what? Balancing exactly what facts? When it comes to subjects like history and geography, are we really talking about facts in textbooks alone? Are we meant to avoid current sources and interpretations, meant to ignore the news and the myriad opinions of the non-experts, the young and the old, and the stories from those who “were actually there”?  Sure, the number of sources in our digital world is vast, and many are even unreliable, but is that a reason to filter them out or avoid them altogether? Shouldn’t we be teaching students how to sift through them, how to use search engines effectively, how to compare online sources?

Interpreting, but how?  Voicing our opinions, but how, where, and for whom?  When we talk of creating good citizens, do we really mean to create citizens who avoid interpreting events, past and present, based on current representations of those events? Do we want to form students who can only write their opinions in a laboratory, for their teacher’s eyes only? In the real world, modern historians … Okay, I will get to that one a bit later, for now let’s say…people. In the real world people balance and reflect on all kinds of sources. They might read the Gazette, catch a clip from CNN, then watch a feature documentary on CBC. They might actually look it up in a library. In Quebec even Anglophones check out La Presse occasionally, or watch half of  Tout le monde en parle on Sunday nights.

From flickr user cliff1066™
Fleeing Kosovo. Flickr user cliff1066™

The world has opened up, and mobile devices help.  BBC and Al Jazeera now offer great English-language news services on devices like the iPad, and following a link from any of the above sources can now lead you to unexpected places, to bloggers and tweeters on the ground in Israel, Africa, China or Iran, to powerful and personal images shared via Flickr that scatter a thousand words worth of information across your screen in an instant.

Okay, not all people balance and reflect. In the real world, people also read short articles recommended by friends on Facebook. Are those documents the best sources of information too? Maybe, and maybe not. But either way this is one way people, probably even academics, get information, by sifting through even these social sources, through all sources.

So, given all that, then where do people, or let us now say citizens, effectively voice opinions?  Perhaps not on Facebook, which doesn’t lend itself to “reasoning historically” and doesn’t encourage one to really develop an articulate argument. But maybe, maybe even on Facebook, and that possibility is key here to what I am trying to say. What guides educators should be this:  any forum that allows and inspires students to articulate their opinion, and encourages and allows them to examine, establish facts, compare, accept and understand difference, any forum that does that is good.

For whom?

Okay, now it is a few days later and I am in the café across from my local, public library, and I am thinking about a conference I went to mid-April, which had also been what had inspired me to stay up all hours blogging this all down. To write, for whom?  That was the question.  For you, of course, is the answer! But also and in general terms for the larger public domain, to scratch out thoughts that inevitably become a small part of a larger history, that might take part in a dialogue, or that might completely disappear (but that’s okay, really) like the slow fire of so many old books printed on acid paper. Now, I am indeed talking about a kind of historian, and the conference that inspired me was the National Council on Publish History’s annual meeting in Ottawa, and in particular a workshop series I attended entitled “Connecting Communities: Social Media and Public History Practice.”

What is public history? Okay, I am going to swipe this one from the NCPH site directly:

“Public history describes the many and diverse ways in which history is put to work in the world. In this sense, it is history that is applied to real-world issues. […] Public historians come in all shapes and sizes. They call themselves historical consultants, museum professionals, government historians, archivists, oral historians, cultural resource managers, curators, film and media producers, historical interpreters, historic preservationists, policy advisers, local historians, and community activists, among many, many other job descriptions. All share an interest and commitment to making history relevant and useful in the public sphere.”

Relevant, useful, local.  Archivists, curators, and jobs!  I really like those words.  In my eyes, this conference was about social science students (albeit life-long students) actively being citizens by “doing” history, and actually making a difference in the real world.

Here are a few quick examples I caught at the conference:  University students develop content for a mobile application that maps the history of Cleveland, process repeats for Spokane and other cities, regular users of the application can submit their stories and history becomes on-going and active. Facebook is used to disseminate unidentified photos of a ghost-mining town, so as to identify the places, people and experiences in them.  Twitter is used to present the diary entries of an individual farmer and soldier during the War of 1812, in daily entries that coincide with the same dates in 2012, in order to better represent the timing and sequence of events that occur in actual economies of war today.  Tumblr is used to reflect on historical ideas themselves, and on how social media techniques and popular culture are used to disseminate information in public life.


Public life=my students’ social world,  the community, their small tribe as connected to other small tribes, along paths I absolutely need to dare to cross.

And that’s it.  These are some of the many reasons why in the middle of the night I woke up thinking that school really should be more social, and that social sciences (and maybe all subjects) should be more public, and why now, finishing up this blog entry over a cold coffee across from the library, I might just walk across the street to see what that cryptic exhibit poster in the window really means to me, and what treasures I might find there to take home and read, contemplate, pass on.



Why Our Schools Need the Arts: A New Perspective

Photo by S. Bielec
Photo by S. Bielec

I recently read Why Our Schools Need the Arts by Jessica Hoffman Davis (2008), founder of the  Arts in Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Reading this book hot on the heels of Susan van Gelder’s post last week about Makerspaces, I was struck with its unique perspective on the Arts in education and its emphasis on the tangible art ‘making’ in all Arts domains: visual arts, drama, dance and music.

Like most of what I write about, I have a personal relationship to the topic. As a child, I attended F.A.C.E school here in Montreal. The acronym stands for Fine Arts Core Education and in the 1980’s it offered (and as far as I know continues to offer) its students Arts subjects every day taught by specialists. Today, I am not a professional artist, nor did I exhibit any overwhelming talent for singing, playing the clarinet or visual arts (although I was a fairly good actor). And despite all this, I strongly believe that who I am and how I see and interact with the world is in large part due to my experience at F.A.C.E.

“With an eye to what matters, along with and not instead of the teaching of subjects like science and math, arts advocates must argue for the lessons of engagement, authenticity, collaboration, mattering and personal potential.” (Davis, 2008, p. 28)
by permission from Teacher’s College Press

Jessica Hoffman Davis’ jewel of a book (it’s short, an easy read at 150 pages) was for me packed with Aha! moments and unique ways of putting into words what I believe about giving arts education equal air time with academic subjects. While primarily a book intended for arts advocates, I related as a parent and educator to what she wrote about how we can interact with the art-making process and product of children of all ages (and discovered that I was of course saying exactly the opposite of what I should be saying to my own pre-school aged daughter!). But the heart of Davis’ book is her presentation of the unique features of the arts, those aspects of life that the arts bring into learning that other subjects do not. It is through these five unique features that Arts education is positioned to meet the particular needs of today’s world and the world of the future (for more on education for the future, read an earlier post on the Cross-Curricular Competencies).

“I’m not saying there aren’t right or wrong answers associated with the arts, I’m just saying they might not be the most interesting aspects of arts learning.” (p.35)

The Heart of Why Our Schools Need the Arts: The Five Unique Features of the Arts

1 – Tangible product: Imagination and Agency

All the arts offer the child/learner the possibility of making something that can be experienced, that is, seen or heard at the very least. According to Davis, this tangible product (for example: sculpture, dance choreography, musical creation or performance, skit) allows children to think beyond the given, to explore the possibilities of “what if?”. What if I put on an accent, or lower my voice suggestively? What if I pinch this clay like so? In the moment, there are no wrong answers, only possibilities. The flip side of imagination and possibility is agency – the idea that we can be agents of effectiveness and change, that what we DO makes a difference to the outcome of a piece or a performance. What power! Imagine if we all felt fully capable and fully convinced that our actions were instrumental to our workplace, community, the world?

2 – Focus on emotion: Expression and Empathy

Davis’ second point is that the Arts allow children/learners to express and recognize their feelings in a variety of modes. Making art can be about expressing one’s current feelings, or expressing a feeling: “This is how I feel, this is how this piece makes me feel.” But sharing one’s art and exploring the art of others also makes one aware of and attentive to the emotions of others, to appreciate “This is how you feel”. Children who regularly engage in art practice develop an awareness of the role of emotion, both in themselves and in others. How many of us have been on teams or worked with others and experienced first-hand the impact of emotions on the group’s ability to generate new ideas and move forward productively?

3 – Ambiguity: Interpretation and Respect

What struck me was this third one – ambiguity. The Arts lay the foundation for understanding ambiguity as children engage in interpretation of their own works and in the works of others. As they interact with a work of art, they realize: “My contribution to this art relationship matters. What I think matters”. When they listen to what others see and think when they interact with a work, they realize that there is no single answer, no right answer. The artist can have one thing in mind, but can accept that what you see is valid as well and that it adds to the conversation. This ambiguity and lack of clear-cut right or wrong answers allow children/learners to realize that what others think matters, that there is between the artist and audience a conversation that is fluid and meant to be engaged in fully. In a world where we are constantly confronted by opinions and views that differ from our own, having the ability to navigate these differences and nuances with equanimity is a valuable skill for team members and leaders alike.

4 – Process orientation: Inquiry and Reflection

Educators of all academic stripes have long championed process over product and learning from mistakes or wrong answers. Making something new is fraught with the potential of fruitful errors, of the oops! discussed in Makerspaces. When exploring the unknown (an unexplored medium, a new artist or work), inquiry takes on an added urgency as learners ask: what do I need to know in order to move forward? Because making art is tangible, students see immediately the impact of their inquiry (process) on the product and are reminded once again of their agency in directing that process. In addition, making art creates very real opportunities for reflection at each step of the process: How am I doing and what will I do next? These reflections are not just nice to have, but occur naturally as children/learners are confronted with an in-progress piece. Every addition, or repetition demands a step back and an assessment: How did that go? What do I think now? Drawing attention to this natural reflection process can certainly help learners gain self-awareness in all academic areas.

5 – Connection: Engagement and Responsibility

Here in Quebec, as elsewhere, educators strive to increase student connection to school and to life through projects and extra-curricular activities. The Arts often provide the backdrop for these initiatives, with plays, concerts, art fairs and performances common in many schools. Indeed, “the arts in education excite and engage students, awakening attitudes to learning that include passion and joy, and the discovery that ‘I care'” (Davis p.76). Caring about something, about anything, is the pathway to engagement in all spheres. Discovering that they are united with human beings everywhere in their ability to make art and to make art for a variety of the same reasons allows children/learners to be open to others across cultures and times.


We are fortunate that our Quebec Education Program outlines rigorous competencies for each of the four Arts – the challenge now is to make sure that the time allocation for arts is adequate to fully develop these competencies and take advantage of the five unique features that the Arts bring to education.

Jessica Hoffman Davis has written other books about the Arts in education, including the follow-up to this book, Why Our High Schools Need the Arts (2011). Her voice is compelling and her use of narrative brings to life her ideas about art education for her readers. My copy is full of highlighted passages and exclamation marks and I am sure yours will be too!

Why Our Schools Need the Arts by Jessica Hoffman Davis (2008)  is available from Teachers College Press.

To read more about the Arts in education

Quebec’s Culture in the Schools Program (to bring an artist into your school)

Why Arts Education is Crucial and Who’s Doing it Best – Edutopia

Arts Smarts – Génie Arts

To read more about Jessica Hoffman Davis

Kristen Paglia’s Review for the Huffington Post

Interview with Jessica Hoffman Davis on Tinkerlab

Interview with JHD on the Art:21 blog Part 1 and Part 2

Jessica Hoffman Davis’ website

Striking my Fancy: Blogging for Literacy

(c) Todd Berman

Earlier this year, Susan van Gelder started the conversation about blogging with her post here. She then inspired me to tell a story.

A good friend of mine, we’ll call her Clarisse, has a son in elementary school. And, like many sons across the province, starting from first grade, there are a few things about school that he found hard to swallow, among these, the forced reading of books and the writing of book reports. He likes to read, don’t get me wrong, and reads with gusto… except when he knows that he has to write about his book… every day. Then, the heavy artillery comes out. Avoidance techniques: “let me just get to this next level, mom!”. Moaning: “But Mo-o-om!!”. Shouting. Tantrums. The things he would never dare to say at school get said at home: “This is so boring. I hate this. It’s stupid. You never have to write about what you read. Etc.” When he is finally cajoled or coerced into writing, his prose is wooden and basic, even for his age. Mid way through the first grade, Clarisse, armed with the haunting image of the next eleven years of homework hell, approached her son’s teacher to see if he might consider making some changes to the daily writing practice. Perhaps, she suggested, we might try writing about whatever is interesting to the child, while still continuing with daily reading. The teacher was quick to agree to try a new way (for him) of approaching writing and the students were off! Miraculously, the nightly grumblings subsided as Clarisse’s son wrote about Lego, Spiderman, his dogs, and anything else that struck his fancy. The teacher reported that by the end of the year, the quality of his students’ writing had improved significantly, and students were writing at a higher level than in previous years. (If this is interesting to you, check out Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy by Irvin, Meltzer and Dukes).

So what does this have to do with blogging (as indicated by the title of this post)? Clarisse’s son doesn’t need to use a blog to write about his Lego project, or his most recent effort to figure out how to get webs to fly out of his wrists. So how can blogging in any grade benefit young writers? There are three main, and tightly intertwined, reasons for choosing a blog for your students’ writing practice: 1) Blogs increase motivation for writing; 2) Blogs create a community of writers and 3) Blogs allow for a variety of text types.

 Note: A blog is a great communication tool and there are many wonderful teachers using blogs to reach out to students and parents – or other colleagues! This post, however, is about the second kind of classroom blog, the kind where students themselves are the ones writing.

Blogs increase motivation for writing


As educators, we all would like our students to want to write and to feel some gratification from the exercise. It would surprise many of us to realize that, in fact, young people are already prolific writers – in the genres of texting and status updates! And so, because of their relationship with other social media, blogs are cool. Using the computer, or your mobile device to do your homework adds a distinct cachet, as reported in this article in The Independent. Even with the proliferation of technology in our schools, regular computer use remains sparse and has not lost its pulling power. In addition, blogging technology goes beyond the capabilities of a word processing document. Students can add an image from the Creative Commons, or link to things that are relevant in their post, including posts from other bloggers. A blogging platform allows students to tag their work with keywords, creating categories and interrelationships seamlessly and easily. And, prosaically, professional writers these days tend to use the computer to write, and this resonates with young writers as well.

Another way that blogs, even those restricted to a single class, increase motivation for writing is by providing young writers with an authentic audience. The ELA and SELA programmes both mention linking literacy learning to the world through audiences of increasing variety. Through a classroom blog, students can write for their teacher, for their parents and for each other. They can write for other young people or people of all ages and from around the world. This kind of access to audiences is authentic in that it reflects the way the world communicates today.

Blogs create and nurture a community of writers


When students write for each other, and engage with each other in writing (through comments and discussion), they are participating in a community of writers. The beauty of blogging is that it is a one-two literacy punch: the writer writes an initial post, and other writers respond through the comments, or through references to the original post in their own blog entry. If you are worried about initial participation in commenting on the work of others, consider making commenting on other people’s work a requirement of your writing classroom.

Blogs also allow writers to witness their own progress as well as that of their peers, by easily providing a catalogue of one’s writing, much like a portfolio. Students are more likely than with a traditional writing medium to read works written by writers at their own level, or close to it.  They are also accountable for helping the community grow and prosper, and this sense of belonging is a powerful motivator for learning.

Blogs allow for a variety of text types


Gone are the archaic days of the early ’00s when a blog was limited to text+ pictures only! Today’s blogging platforms seamlessly (for the most part) handle audio and video files. Students can use a variety of media to express themselves and you, the teacher, can set specific requirements as to their frequency. A lot of the media choices made will depend on the type of blog that you have, and the type of blog entries you are expecting. Students might have an assignment to take a photograph as a text, or create a podcast interview or short video.

As with any pedagogical device, the devil is in the details. Legal, ethical and logistical considerations abound, not to mention issues around how to organize a blog for maximum benefit to young writers. The next post in this series will focus on these four interdependent categories and will hopefully leave you with something to start with in the classroom. Meanwhile, if you are interested in pursuing this discussion, why not join me for an online web event next week on October 15th at 8pm. All details here.

Sylwia Bielec
Resources linked
Youth Voices – http://youthvoices.net/
Motivation for Writing Through Blogs – http://etd.ohiolink.edu/view.cgi?bgsu1151331882