Tag Archives: Professional Development

Small Steps Can Lead to Huge Changes

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” – Steve Maraboli

As educators around the world usher in the new 2019-2020 school year, our focus turns to our subject matter. The content we are obligated to teach, the exams we must administer, the “power pointing” of our textbook, the managing of our classrooms – these are only a few of the plethora of tasks we face as the new students pile into our classrooms. Over the summer, we may have dreamed of the magnificent projects and deep learning experiences we wanted to bring to our students as well as new innovative practices and tools we were so excited to integrate. But alas, minds shift to immediate concerns like when Tommy disrupts the entire class or Jennie has a meltdown over her homework. Teaching is one of the most difficult jobs in the universe so making pedagogical changes to our established teaching practices slides down that priority pole the minute that school bell first rings.

Given the reality of teaching, it is easy to become overwhelmed at the idea of changing practice. It is best to think of change as happening in small, incremental steps. Instead of looking at completely revolutionizing your teaching, perhaps we need to narrow down the scope and think of that One Thing we could change this year which can be built upon in future years. If we orchestrate change in a more manageable way, I think we could make our classrooms more successful.

Cramming for the Exam

In Peter Brown’s book, Make it Stick, he demonstrates how small changes in the classroom can make all the difference in student success. Based on his research, Brown explains the brain learns best when, “practice is spaced out, interleaved with other learning, and varied,” (Brown, p.121).

Cramming for exams is considered massed practice, a.k.a. jamming as much into the brain as possible in a short period of time only to spew it out the next day, hoping your memory holds up. So, how could you make the content stick?

One change that is more beneficial to long-term, deeper learning is spacing out what you want students to learn by introducing concepts over longer periods of time because “the increased effort required to retrieve the learning after a little forgetting has an effect of retriggering consolidation, further strengthening memory” (Brown, p.124). Struggle is a good thing! For example, five hours spread out over two weeks is better than the same five hours right before the exam. One small change.

Spacing out your studying

Another change that could reap benefits is what Brown calls, “Interleaved Practice.” Interleaving the practice of two or more subjects or skills leads to deeper understanding through personal connections to previous knowledge. For example, if a student is learning how to play an instrument, they might practice scales, learn new chords, and spend some time improvising all within the same time period instead of simply focusing on practicing scales over the same period of time. A few tips on interleaving practice: make sure the skills connect with the content, mix in old and new material, and be patient because this takes time to establish. One small change.

Finally, mix it up! Variety is so important in the life-cycle of a classroom. Changing classroom practices encourages positive growth in all learners, including the instructor. For example, “instructors can design assignments or projects and train learners on skills that can be used to solve problems creatively; techniques including design thinking and rapid prototyping will help students to produce great solutions to any problem. Studies show more varied practice engages different parts of the brain,” (p.130). The inference being, the more challenging tasks and varied practice opportunities evokes deeper learning in all learners.

Change is difficult. But small changes are manageable and will lead to more success over time in the classroom. What’s your one thing?


Weinstein, Yana. “Learn How to Study Using… Spaced Practice.” The Learning Scientists, The Learning Scientists, 21 July 2016, https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/7/21-1.

“Interleaving: Variety Is the Spice of Learning.” 3, 17 Sept. 2018, https://3starlearningexperiences.wordpress.com/2018/09/18/interleaving-variety-is-the-spice-of-learning/.

BROWN, PETER C. MAKE IT STICK: the Science of Successful Learning. BELKNAP HARVARD, 2018.

Daily Physical Activity in Schools. Let’s Get a Move On!

Schools have an important role to play in helping students to understand issues related to health and well-being and to adopt a healthy lifestyle. They must provide students with an environment that is safe and conducive to their optimal personal and emotional development, and also ensure that they have many opportunities to move. This responsibility goes well beyond the physical education and health program; it requires the concerted action of all school staff members, working closely with parents, health professionals, community planners and others in the school and community.”
The Health and Well-Being Broad Area of Learning,
Quebec Education Program, p. 44

The following is a post by guest blogger Katherine Baker, Physical Education and Health Consultant at the English Montreal School Board.

Long before the Ministry introduced Mesure 15023 – À l’école, on bouge! in the 2017-18 school year, it was clear that schools have an important role to play in the daily physical activity levels of children. The initiative in question distributed funding to 450 elementary schools across Quebec to support them in providing students with the opportunity to accumulate at least 60 minutes of physical activity each school day. The above excerpt from the Health and Well-Being Broad Area of Learning, published in 2001, highlights two critical points with regard to physical activity: the importance of daily movement, and the fact that it is the responsibility of the school as a whole to ensure students move enough during the day.

Fast-forward 18 years and although we have a long way to go as an educational community before we can say that, as a whole, schools are an active place, we thankfully also have many examples of schools to look to as active school models and we also have an incredible amount of resources available to support schools in including more movement in the school day (see ParticipACTION’s 2018 Report Card on 2018 Physical Activity for Children and Youth, titled Canadian kids need to move more to boost their brain health as a start).

East Hill School Wide Class Activity Chart

Why include more movement into the school day? For starters, the answer includes an appreciation for the many ways that students – and everyone – can benefit from physical activity beyond just the oft-cited physical health benefits (which remain important, of course). The truth is, through almost any lens – whether it be physical health, cognitive functioning and learning, self-regulation, building community in the classroom and social skills development, developing physical literacy, or increasing levels of student engagement in learning – movement can help. 

Progress in each of these above-mentioned areas contributes to overall student success. Here are some examples of ways that schools are using movement to benefit students in each of these areas (as well accompanying resources). Keep in mind that these movement initiatives can happen at different times throughout the school day and in different spaces all over the school, including the schoolyard, classrooms, hallways, the gymnasium, and many other innovative spaces:

Physical Health: 15-minute periods of school-wide moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each morning benefits cognitive functioning as well as physical health. Maximizing physical activity levels (and harmony) in the schoolyard is a focal point for many schools; between recess and lunch hour, the schoolyard is the place where over half of the active minutes at school will happen for most students. See Ma Cour, Un Monde de Plaisir , a comprehensive multi-step guide for analyzing and organizing school yards (english electronic version here).  This is naturally accompanied by ensuring that recess time is a priority- see this 2017 Quebec publication The Essential Role of Recess in Children’s School Success and Health. Ensuring that students receive the minimum of 120 minutes of Physical Education and Health per week in an active setting and taught by a specialist is essential, as is ensuring that the Physical Education and Health program at the school is well supported (in terms of scheduling, funding, support for extra-curricular initiatives, not having a culture where students miss PE to make up work in other classes, etc.). Having more students walk to school through active transport initiatives (see Trottibus or the On Your Feet challenge) is a way that many schools build community while supporting the physical health of students. Given the number of hours and times-of-day that students spend in daycare, ensuring opportunities for physical activity during school-based daycare hours is also key. See the My Daycare is Physically Active/ Mon service de garde physiquement actif project. This project saw the creation of a series of six workshops for daycare educators to support the planning and inclusion of more physical activities into daycare programs (workshops among other topics address the supervision of physical activity- e.g. managing space, transitions, equipment, making teams, working with highly competitive students, safety considerations etc.-  both in the gym, classroom spaces and winter/summer play outdoors). This resource is currently in the final stages of being reviewed for sharing province-wide.

Cognitive Function and Learning: Physical activity in the morning (see video link above); movement breaks in the classroom to manage students’ states of attention/alertness; special projects like Projet MathSport de l’école secondaire Mont-Bleu.

Self-Regulation: Hallway ‘energy stations’ where students who are having trouble focusing can ask their teacher for a pass to go to a station that houses equipment and/or instructions for physical activities for a set amount of time (using pre-set timers). See this example from Forest Hill Sr. (Lester B. Pearson School Board) and this profile on L’ecole de Paix in Repentigny for another example. Similarly, many schools have DeskCycles or stationary bikes in the classroom.

Building Community and Social Skills Development: Movement can be used for many fun and engaging activities to build community in the classroom. In his book The Kinesthetic Classroom: Teaching and Learning Through Movement, Mike Kuczala dedicates an entire chapter on using movement for the purpose of developing class cohesion.

Development of Physical Literacy: The more physically literate that students are, the more likely they are in a position to engage in opportunities for physical activity and to experience all the benefits that physical activity has to offer. Active Hallway initiatives provide students with fun ways to transition from class to class while developing their physical literacy. The Don’t Walk in the Hallway initiative originated in schools out west but many Quebec schools also now have active hallways. The Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) actually sells active hallway decals, as does the Ever Active Schools organization in Alberta.

Increasing Levels of Student Engagement in Learning: Teaching academic concepts through movement is a definite winner when it comes to increasing engagement in learning. Many teachers have gotten ideas for teaching math and language arts curriculum actively from Moving EducationSome schools use materials from Gopher Sport’s Active Academics line or Flaghouse’s Active Classroom Kit (warning – not cheap!) to incorporate more movement in the classroom.  Similarly, for a ton of ideas, Mike Kuczala devotes a whole chapter to teaching new content as well as reviewing content through movement in his book. Teachers who have started using movement more in their instruction often comment that student engagement is one of the benefits they see the most readily.

A personal favourite for reviewing content is an activity (from “The Kinesthetic Classroom” book) called Footloose, where questions are written on cue cards (1 question per cue card). Students each have a numbered answer sheet with spaces to answer each question. Sitting on chairs in a large circle – or staying at their desks – students must get up to exchange cards at a designated exchange point (center of a circle or other area of classroom if sitting at desks), and  can only flip their card to look at the question once they have sat back down on their chair (strict rule: must return to seat and sit down before looking at the card!). Try this in your classroom and see how much movement it creates (especially when students sit down and look at the question only to realize they have already answered it, so they get back up to exchange then sit down again – lots of squats happening!).

Making schools more active in the many different ways that are possible is actually the act of changing school culture. This article does a great job of summarizing some key elements to keep in mind when facing educational change. The way the initiative is introduced to school staff has also been a difference maker at many schools – the more involvement and input from staff, the better. Having little things that maintain momentum and motivation, like this schoolwide class activity tracker from East Hill Elementary (EMSB) or the organization of a Family Physical Activity Night helps solidify the message and keep momentum going, particularly during a period of culture change.

There are so many reasons why more movement in the school day is the best move!  Have fun exploring what it can bring to your teaching, your students, and your school!

For more information, listen to:

Katherine Baker on CJAD

Katherine Baker on TSN 690



And now visit the new Daily Physical Activity section on LEARN
where these resources and others will be available!




The Many Voices of an EdCamp


2017 marks the third year of RemixEd Camp, an un-conference for educators across the province, hosted for the second year in a row at Concordia University. “An un-conference for educators” you might ask? What do I stand to gain from an un-conference? Why would I want to give up my Saturday to attend? Would it even help my classroom practice? Would it nurture my professional growth? Who’s gonna take care of my kids? All excellent questions, but before we delve into why you should attend, let’s get our bearings straight on what this fairly new style of professional development entails. We’ll also hear from those that have attended an edcamp and why you should too!

Edcamp.org defines an edcamp as a “free, organic, participant-driven, un-conferences that empower educators to maximize professional learning experiences and peer networks.” edcamp.org

It is this free and organic style of conference that puts the attendees at the centre of the day, empowering educators to learn and share about what they are interested in, all the while collaborating and connecting with like minded souls. As one attendee stated, we “are looking for professional development (PD)  that meets our needs and interests” because all too often PD is provided in a top-down fashion, responding neither to our needs nor our interests. When PD is internally driven, as EdCamps tend to be, we see nearly “70% of all participants report learning at least 4 or more ideas they want to implement in their classrooms, and 23% report learning over 10”. This year the ideas will be amplified, as Remixed has joined forces with CampEd Montréal to make this event truly bilingual and timely for all educators in our province.IMG_4115


Need to expand your PLC (professional learning community)? Look no further than to the connections you’ll make at this type of professional development “with close to 97% of all attendees stating that they developed beneficial contacts at each Edcamp, making it one of the most worthwhile networking events”. The “un” in un-conference dismantles high priced registration fees (it’s free), unhinges top down organization (attendees create the days’ schedule), and removes all commercial implications (no vendors, just sponsors, so lots of free giveaways), making the day about you as a professional, honing your craft through conversation and networking. And all this on a Saturday with a free, all day daycare service. Remixed Camp is organized in such a way as to make the day truly about you and your professional development.

This was my first ReMixEd camp and it was a great format. I gathered many take-aways in a relatively short period of time, shared ideas and met some really interesting, and enthusiastic peers. Thanks for making it happen. See you next year, Michelle J.

IMG_9281But don’t take my word for it, hear what past attendees have to say. Educational consultant from New Frontiers School Board, Avi Specter has attended all our previous events, and explains it this way, “I love being able to talk with educators who are interested in the same PD and may be going through the same journey as me. How neat is it to compare notes and make new connections that last after the edcamp”? His close colleague, Tracey Rosen, another alumni of RemixEd Camp, echoes this professional freedom, “I ultimately feel more respected as a teacher – PD is not being “done to me” but rather I’m choosing what I’d like to know. It’s truly game changing”.

This was a great experience for me. Edcamps are awesome and allow us to talk about what matters to us.

I’m glad we convinced you to attend! But you may ask yourself how am I going to prepare myself for RemixEd Camp? Here are a few simple survival guidelines to get you through the day.

Remixed camp

Join us on September 30th at Concordia’s Molson School of Business for a day like none other, for professional development like none other, for networking like none other, and for of course, fun.

For more information and registration please visit us at www.remixedcamp.ca

Conjuguer est bien plus qu’un art ! 2e partie

Collaboration spéciale de Nicole Brunet, enseignante et formatrice en didactique de la grammaire.

Conjuguer est bien plus qu’un art ! 1re partie


L’enseignement de la conjugaison remis en question

Ici et dans d’autres sociétés francophones, depuis déjà longtemps, des linguistes et des grammairiens se préoccupent des difficultés liées à la pédagogie de la conjugaison1. Leurs travaux et leurs propositions me permettent de présenter aux élèves des critères objectifs pour observer et comprendre un système de morphologie verbale désormais cohérent dans lequel on retrouve des régularités. Dans ce contexte, la présence de formes divergentes, principalement au présent de l’indicatif, ne compromet pas le modèle. L’absence de la terminaison -ez au présent de l’indicatif est l’unique transgression du verbe dire. La graphie des verbes être et avoir a évolué de telle sorte que des formes archaïques cohabitent nombreuses avec d’autres plus modernes et cependant, leur conjugaison à certains temps simples est semblable à celle des autres verbes.

Voici les notions qui font de plus en plus consensus parmi les chercheurs et les praticiens et sur lesquelles je base mon enseignement de la conjugaison.

Deux types de conjugaison

Le classement traditionnel des verbes, essentiellement basé sur la finale de l’infinitif, ne contribue pas à la reconnaissance de régularités morphologiques. Le classement en deux types de conjugaison est déjà présent dans des ouvrages de référence et manuels scolaires destinés aux francophones du Québec2. Il convient tout aussi bien aux apprenants d’une langue seconde.

Le premier type regroupe 90 % des verbes en français, ceux dont l’infinitif se termine par -er. Les néologismes s’y retrouvent (ex. : texter, retweeter). Les 10 % restants sont regroupés dans un deuxième type qui, comme le premier, se caractérise par un « comportement » morphologique similaire reconnaissable; terminaison au présent de l’indicatif ( -s,  -s,  -t,  -ons,  -ez,  -ent), présence fréquente de plus d’un radical et terminaison de la forme adjectivale, le participe passé, distincte du qui caractérise les verbes du premier type.

La présence d’un ou de plus d’un radical

L’observation de verbes des deux types de conjugaison permet aux apprenants de conclure que souvent un seul radical est requis pour conjuguer un verbe à tous les temps simples (ex. : aimer, chercher, mais aussi courir, attendre, répondre, vendre ou rire).

Les verbes qui requièrent plus d’un radical sont beaucoup moins nombreux. La forme de certains verbes du premier type de conjugaison subit un ajustement lié à l’orthographe dans des contextes précis. Ainsi, l’ajout du e ou de la cédille permet de retranscrire correctement un phonème consonantique (ex. : mangeais, rinçons). De la même manière, l’accent ou la consonne doublée permet de retranscrire une variation phonétique, une ouverture du phonème vocalique devant une consonne suivie d’un e muet (ex. : appelle, cède). Même si on note la présence de plus d’un radical chez de nombreux verbes du deuxième type de conjugaison, la grande majorité se conjugue à partir de deux ou trois radicaux. Cent verbes environ dont certains, il est vrai, parmi les plus fréquents, nécessitent quatre radicaux et plus, être en comptant le plus!

Au moment de l’acquisition du présent de l’indicatif, un temps où plus d’un radical est souvent présent, je privilégie des activités de classement dans lesquelles les élèves regroupent des verbes du deuxième type de conjugaison selon le nombre de radicaux observés.

Le radical demeure constant à toutes les personnes grammaticales aux temps simples de l’indicatif suivants: l’imparfait, le futur simple, le conditionnel présent et le passé simple. Par exemple, la conjugaison du verbe être au futur simple se résume à un seul radical, se-, auquel l’élève joint la terminaison appropriée.

Des terminaisons souvent universelles

C’est principalement la terminaison aux personnes du singulier du présent de l’indicatif et de l’impératif qui différencie les deux types de conjugaison. En effet, dans le cas d’autres temps à l’étude (l’imparfait, le futur simple, le conditionnel présent du mode indicatif ainsi que le présent du subjonctif et de l’infinitif), ils adoptent les mêmes morphèmes   (ex. : -rai,  -ras,  -ra,  -rons,         -rez, ront pour le futur simple).

La mémorisation n’est plus une affaire de paradigme (ex. : je serai, tu seras, etc.) mais bien une question d’identification du radical approprié du verbe et de la terminaison propre à un temps de verbe et à la personne grammaticale.

Pas besoin de trucs ni de raccourcis

Dans le cadre de cette nouvelle façon de faire, certaines pratiques deviennent nuisibles à la découverte et à la compréhension d’un système cohérent. En effet, il serait contreproductif de demander aux élèves de remarquer la présence de l’infinitif dans un verbe conjugué au futur simple (ex. : chantera, finira). L’infinitif n’est pas utilisé dans la formation du futur simple. Ce truc empêche les élèves d’identifier correctement le radical et surtout la terminaison commune à tous les verbes conjugués au futur simple.

De même, demander aux élèves d’effacer le r de l’infinitif d’un verbe de la première conjugaison et d’ajouter un accent aigu sur le e pour former le participe passé ne contribue pas à l’appropriation du principe fondamental de construction d’une forme verbale à partir d’un radical auquel se joint une terminaison.

De la théorie à la pratique

Dans ma classe, la conjugaison est maintenant traitée de la même manière que les autres éléments de la grammaire; les connaissances des élèves se construisent à travers des activités d’observation, de classement, de mémorisation et de réutilisation. J’utilise des textes plus ou moins longs dans lesquels les élèves recherchent et observent des verbes en contexte et des tableaux de conjugaison pour une observation comparée des formes d’un verbe ou de groupes de verbes. Toutes ces actions contribuent à fixer davantage les apprentissages. Nous avons adopté un métalangage qui nous permet de discuter de conjugaison. L’épithète irrégulier n’y a pas sa place.

À suivre?

 entre autres Didactique de la conjugaison. Le verbe « autrement », Meleuc Serge, Fauchart Nicole, Éditions Bertrand-Lacoste, CRDP Midi Pyrénées, 1999; Pour un enseignement rigoureux et efficace de la grammaire, Chartrand S-G, Correspondance, Volume 16, numéros 2 et 3, 2011.

dont Grammaire pédagogique du français d’aujourd’hui, Chartrand Suzanne-G et al., GRAFICOR, 1999 (2e édition 2n 2010). 

L’auteure du billet

Née à Montréal, Nicole Brunet a étudié l’enseignement du français langue seconde à l’université McGill. Elle a œuvré dans divers milieux d’enseignement dont le secteur jeune de la Commission scolaire de Montréal où elle travaille présentement. Elle a participé à l’élaboration d’outils pédagogiques tels que des Situations d’Apprentissage et d’Évaluation ainsi que la Progression des apprentissages et lesPaliers pour l’évaluation du français du programme Intégration linguistique, scolaire et sociale au Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport du Québec. Elle propose depuis quelques années des formations sur la didactique des différents aspects de la grammaire rénovée, dont la conjugaison.

Vous pouvez lui écrire à l’adresse courriel suivante : nicolebrunet.gramm@gmail.com

Always Learning – possibilities and practicalities

Photo by Chris James, shared under a CC license

The beginning of the school year always has me energized. I’m ready to learn new things and switch around the way I do things. I’m no longer in the classroom, but I love to share with teachers. There has  never been a better time for teachers to have the opportunity to learn from the experts – other teachers, consultants and people in the field in a variety of capacities. There are so many possibilities.

Then there are the practicalities. How do you learn best? Face to Face? Online? How much time do you have to spend on your personal PD? Here are a few of the many offerings coming up.

tabsumTablet Summit

(full disclosure – LEARN is organizing this along with the local RECIT)
October 21, 2013 in Laval

One face to face opportunity coming up is the Table Summit which will feature teachers in the field who are using tablets (iPads, Chromebooks…)  in the classroom. Wes Freyer will be the keynote speaker. His site: Mapping Media to the Common Core has many suggestions for using tablets for creating (narratives, radio shows and so much more) It’s easy to find web sites that list a myriad of apps, but they can be overwhelming. I like to learn from people who contextualize  – pedagogy first and then the apps that support it. There are lots of sessions being offered. And face to face sessions allow you really to connect with people.


Sometimes we can’t get away from our classrooms or get the funding needed to go to conferences. There are so many opportunities to attend online conferences and workshops at no financial cost. When you are unable to attend synchronously (while it is happening) you can watch sessions later as they are usually archived. Here are a few of the many possibilities for learning from and with educators around the world. I’ve written about some of these before – but a refresher is always handy!


LEARN Web Events

(full disclosure – I help to organize them) http://learnquebec.ca/en/content/professional_development/webevents/index.html

These hour long events are held in zenlive (a kind of online classroom)  and are open to Quebec teachers. They are held once or twice a month, usually in the evening, on a variety of topics. It’s a great opportunity to get in touch with Quebec teachers who are teaching the same curriculum as you are.  Who knows? You might meet someone in the chat who is dealing with the same kinds of issues as you. They could become part of your learning network. You have to register for events. You can check the LEARN site for announcements of upcoming events, or sign up to get emails announcing them.


K12 Online Conference

(full disclosure: I am on the organizing committee)
The opening keynote will be available on October 14
In Week One (October 21 – 25) two sessions a day will be unveiled in each of the following strands: Open Learning and Outside Learning
Week 2 (October 28 – November 1) will feature the same number of sessions in the following strands: Leading Learning and Building Learning.

This is the only totally asynchronous (all sessions are pre-recorded and archived – most of the last 7 years of presentations are still available) conference of which I am aware. The focus of the conference is on pedagogy and technology. This has been a great source of  learning for me. These sessions are created by educators in the field, many of whom are classroom teachers. There have been presentations by people from the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, as well as by teachers from International Schools from around the world. This is an opportunity to learn from the best.



You only have a few minutes at a time to devote to learning new things? Tanya Avrith (from the Lester B. Pearson School Board) and Holly Clark, from San Diego,  have been interviewing educators about their practice. Meet EduSlam. The segments are short, around five minutes, and you can find many ideas for integrating technology in the classroom. These little nuggets are short in terms of time, but long in terms of value!

Classroom 2.0 Live!

Saturdays at noon Eastern Time

Each week focuses on a specific topic with invited guests. With a lot of action in the chat, you learn from both the presenters and the attendees.  All sessions are archived along with a myriad of links in a Livebinder to help you learn about the week’s topic in greater depth. Here’s a sample

Steve Hargadon helps to organize a series of online conferences. Here are the upcoming events. These conference take place 24 hours a day over a few days with speakers from around the world.

stemGlobal STEMx Education Conference

September 19-21, 2013

From their site: “STEMxCon will be a highly inclusive and engaging event that will encourage primary, secondary, and tertiary (K-16) students and educators around the world to share and learn about innovative approaches to STEMx learning and teaching. “ Science and math teachers as well as generalists will find sessions of interest. Not available during the conference? Pick one archived session and watch it – you may get hooked.

connectedConnected Educator Month


This initiative out of the US offers a myriad of events, tweetchats, webinars and opportunities to connect with other educators. Powerful Learning Practice has created a document: The CEM Starter Kit, for teachers who want to participate. There are great tips on how to become a connected educator.

globaledThe Global Education Conference

Monday, November 18 through Friday, November 22, 2013

If last year is any indication, sessions are held 24/7 as there are speakers from around the world. The focus of the conference is global education. In addition to hearing top notch presenters, it is an opportunity to connect with educators from around the world and to find teachers who want to collaborate on global classroom projects. When I last visited the site, speakers had not yet been announced.

Here are a couple more online conferences to check out:

The Reform Symposium RSCON
October 11-13, 2013

Library 2.013 The Future of Libraries
October 18-19, 2013

Then there are online courses, tweetchats

It may seem overwhelming, so pick and choose at your comfort level. There is no shortage of possibilities for learners of all kinds to learn, connect and renew. And in today’s world you can do that practically anywhere!

Online PD: Tasters and Takeaways


F2F Robotics Workshop with Christiane Dufour

In early October, I blogged wistfully about my experiences as an online grad student and highlighted a spanking new teacher PD project that we were initiating at LEARN: Web Events.  Each month, an educational topic, tool or approach was presented via ZenLive (our online platform), to intimate groups of interested folk from Quebec and beyond. Following each live event, an archive of the session, as well as many supplementary resources were made available to all. We did indeed have some very thoughtful presentations and engaging discussions around a wide variety of topics: from blogging in the literacy classroom, to the creation of visual journals, to the use of some really cool online tools in the social sciences, to flipping the class, to the impact of la féminisation in the teaching of FLS. These “tasters” allowed for teachers to get…well a taste…of each of the highlighted themes, as well as suggestions of avenues for further investigation, potential implementation and possible community building.

Screen shot 2013-05-22 at 11.48.37 AM
Online Robotics Workshop – Using ZenLive

One very interesting (and promising) offshoot of our monthly web events, was the creation of the web series. This emerging PD model currently involves taking a hands-on workshop, which would traditionally occur f2f over much of one entire day, and breaking it down into more manageable chunks (1 to 1.5 hr), which are then delivered at a distance using widely available online technology. Needless to say, I wanted to be a part of our inaugural sessions and signed myself up as both a behind the scenes supporter and a participant for We Can, WeDO & We Will! Robotics in the Kindergarten Class with Christiane Dufour. Christiane is a veteran educator, who has been providing teacher training and professional development in the integration of technology for learning since 1985. For the past few years, with her LEARN consultant hat on (just one of her many!), she has been giving f2f workshops to kindergarten teachers on how to implement a robotics program in the classroom.

In my previous blog post, I suggested that in order for PD (of any permutation or combination) to be effective it had to meet the generally accepted benchmarks of quality. I interviewed Christiane last week and asked her how she felt her kindergarten robotics web series had done just that. Have a listen to what she has to say…some genuine nuggets about the planning, implementation, successes and challenges of providing good online PD.

How were your sessions content or subject-matter focused with an understanding of student learning needs?

How were you able to provide opportunities for active learning around authentic tasks?

How was collaboration encouraged?

Tell us how you organized the sessions over time?

How did you allow for feedback and follow-up?

What about continued support?

As evidenced by Christiane, the delivery of this type of PD should not be undertaken by the faint of heart. For the animator, it clearly involves a great deal of planning, preparation, persistence & follow-through. But what of the participant…did these sessions meet the needs of the individual, positively impact on practice and improve student outcomes? I am happy to report that we have the anecdotal traces to answer yes to the first two of these important questions, and I look forward to hearing more from you in response to the third and as part of a continuing conversation. Please feel free to leave your feedback or suggestions below.

A Mentoring Model for Professional Development Part II: Epilogue

Mary Ellen Lynch (at left) in her classroom with participating teachers from RSB

Towards the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, I wrote about a multi-board professional development initiative that involved mentoring. As the year draws slowly but surely to a close, the mentors got together to take stock and review lessons learned.

The Mentors

The three teachers who acted as mentors have been involved in using ePEARL and ABRA (part of a series of tools known as The Learning Toolkit or LTK) for several years now. Individually, they have explored ways to deepen their Cycle One students’ literacy experiences and awareness of their learning process. Collectively, they have shared what works and what doesn’t and have motivated each other to keep going in spite of various hurdles and challenges. The mentors are:

  • Tanya Bell Beccat (EMSB)
  • Irene Tsimilkis (SWLSB)
  • Mary Ellen Lynch (RSB)
Tanya Bell Beccat from EMSB
Irene Tsimilkis (center) with V.Pillay and L.Lysenko of the CSLP.
Irene Tsimilkis (center) with V.Pillay and L.Lysenko of the CSLP.

Over the 2012-2013 school year these three teachers, along with a dozen others, worked on multiplying expertise and professional experimentation through a PDIG grant. Here is how it broke down:

The Outcome – Plus, Minus, Interesting*

*The PMI model – Plus, Minus and Interesting, created by Edward Di Bono in 1982, is a common tool used in reflecting on an experience. 


All three mentors reported having worked with the teachers from their school or board, with only one teacher leaving the project due to retirement. On the face of it, this doesn’t seem like much of a plus, but if you’ve ever been in a classroom and school, you’ll know that sticking with a project that involves a multi-month commitment is HUGE. Mentors either invited teachers into their classrooms to see how the mentors work with ePEARL and ABRA or visited teachers in their own schools. All mentors engaged in co-planning and team teaching with some of their mentees.

Interest in the Learning Toolkit increased overall. Two of the three mentors reported more teachers interested in using ePearl and ABRA in the coming school year. Administrators were also paying attention and some even visited classrooms when guests were invited.

The three mentor teachers were able to further refine their own practice with early literacy and self-regulation. The PDIG allowed them the time

  • to share skill and experience with colleagues
  • to develop healthy working relationships (proximity)
  • to team teach with other teachers and learn from them


This project in general went really well, so there aren’t huge minuses to report! However, lack of institutional support at worst or benign neglect at best often characterizes ePEARL and ABRA integration efforts. Speaking in general terms, changes in on-site administrators such as principals and vice-principals can result in abrupt about-faces in what practices are given support. If an administrator believes in your work and supports your efforts, great! If, however, the institutional focus suddenly shifts, not so great!  For a teacher whose changes in practice come about over many years of experimentation and refining, this can be disconcerting and discouraging and leave him or her emotionally drained.


Not all teachers felt ready to share their learning process with their mentor. The best relationships were between teachers that worked in the same school as their mentors, which reinforces the idea that personal relationships matter a great deal when it comes to a mentoring model. Mentors were quickly able to diagnose problems or help out just in time. However, given that sharing of one’s learning process is not the main indicator of changes to practice, it would be wise not to read too much into quiet mentees. Just because they don’t tell you about it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. In fact, att one of the schools in this project, it seemed for a while as though the three mentee teachers were not engaged in making changes to their practice. Turns out, while small steps were taken this year, next year the WHOLE STAFF would like to explore the use of LTK in literacy development and self-regulation. It would be interesting to explore how this positive contagion occurred, but occur it did!

Future Steps

All three mentor teachers are eager to continue next year, adding new teachers in older grades to the project, and possibly creating new mentors as well. It is hoped that they can continue to work together across three boards and multiple schools!

What are your thoughts about this professional development model? I would love to hear from you!



For more:

A Mentoring Model for Professional Development

Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance

Videoconferencing: Pitfalls, Pedagogy and Possibilities

by superkimbo
by superkimbo

I have a love/hate relationship with videoconferencing (VC). Ok, hate might be a tad strong. Love/irritation? Love/frustration? You see, living in a rural community here in Quebec, I get to use VC a lot. Granted, it’s incredibly convenient NOT to have to get up in the darkness of early morning and drive for hours in order to attend a meeting or do a presentation in Montreal. But more often than not, I feel that I’m missing out on something by not being physically present: the backchannel conversations that take place out of range of the microphone, the informal discussions around the lunch table, the more subtle body language of participants and colleagues. So, I was very happy to meet Craig Bullett (via VC no less!), as he made me see that this oft-maligned technology as I know it can be used effectively, and not just for something as pedestrian as a meeting, but for the highest of purposes…for teaching and learning.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and experience?

Craig: For the past 4 years, I’ve coordinated videoconferences for the Community Learning Centre initiative that make links to the Quebec curriculum. The CLC concept is a MELS project, with over 37 centres across Quebec, which are dispersed through all 10 English School Boards in the province. These centres serve as hubs for English-language education and community development in their respective communities. We also partner with various local organizations and help them bring their resources to the educational community. I have taught many high school subjects over a 10-year teaching career with specializations in computer & technology and FSL. I also have a Masters in Educational Technology with experience in Distance Ed and e-learning.

Would you share a specific classroom project that you feel was particularly successful in terms of both effective use of VC and student learning outcomes?

Craig: One of the most memorable classroom VC experiences I’ve helped to coordinate was a writing workshop with “The Joy of Spooking” author PJ Bracegirdle. He was in Montreal and the participants were at an elementary school in Magog. This session was good because it was on time, it was on topic, it was on task and…it was interactive! The presenter was teaching a lesson about character development. For the ice-breaker, the author read an excerpt from his novel, a spooky book for young readers. Then, he and the students shared strategies for creating a character’s name. Once the students had a name, they were asked to draw their characters and each student was invited to walk up to the camera for a brief show and tell of the drawing. The final activity involved further development of their new characters and the writing of a sequence of events. The post-event feedback from all involved was highly positive and the teacher reported having difficulty in getting the students to stop writing when it was time to work on other subjects. I was also informed that the school library had to create a waiting list for students requesting spooky books!

Explain how you approach a VC event when working with teachers and others to create engaging learning opportunities. What are some of the conception phase considerations that determine whether VC is an appropriate medium?

Craig: My main caveat is this: If you don’t need interaction/reaction from your participants…DO NOT VC! Unlike face-to-face presentations, with VC you actually need to design the interactions. VC interactivity is more like a game-show or talk show than an infomercial. The host and the participants need to be equally prepared. So, when teachers consider using VC for an event they should be asking themselves:

  • What is the purpose of my event?
  • Who is my audience? (Location and numbers are important.)
  • Why will I use VC? (Think about outcomes. Can VC get me there?)

Once you’ve decided that using VC is the right choice, if you are the organizer some of the pre-planning involves:

  • Setting a date.
  • Inviting participants  (don’t forget to get confirmations or send reminders).
  • Booking a venue(s).
  • Sharing material, resources and links with all involved.
  • Reserving bridging and technical support as needed.

If you are the classroom teacher you will need to:

  • Reserve the VC room.
  • Preview and modify content for your students.
  • Create buzz for learners about the upcoming event.
  • Prep the class to introduce themselves at the beginning and make closing remarks or “thank you’s” at the conclusion.

And once everything is over, evaluating the session is of the utmost importance. Follow-up to confirm successful outcomes and critical reflection on the experience are essential in order to integrate improvements into future events.

Where can interested teachers find resources to help with the ideas stage and planning for a VC event?

Craig: I thought you’d never ask! No, seriously there are tons of great resources listed on the LEARN site and you can find specifics in terms of CLC collaborations and educational videoconferencing here: www.learnquebec.ca/clc

As well, the 2Learn.ca Education Society has some amazing resources that support teachers who are interested in VC opportunities. These are mostly within Alberta but there are many collaborations with Quebec partners: www.2learn.ca/VC

And of course, I’m always available if people want to connect directly!


Have you been involved in any interesting classroom or professional development VC experiences that you’d like to share? Please don’t hesitate to school me in the comments section below 🙂










A Mentoring Model for Professional Development

photo credit: Amy Loves Yah

I’ve always been interested in the way professionals learn (or fail to learn) in practice. As far back as 1998, when I worked with the South Shore School Board (yes, before the linguistic school boards!) on technology integration projects, we joked about One Day Wonders – you know, the one day workshops that are the usual offerring of teacher PD. You might get Portfolio one day, IWBs another day, Understanding by Design yet another day. These one-shot workshops are easy to organize and are a good way for a teacher to get a general sense of how something might work in his or her practice. But if you’re looking for true, lasting changes in professional practice, you need to simmer up something in the best laboratory of all – your classroom.

The Mentoring Project

I’m privileged to be working with a group of teachers who is doing exactly this in the Montreal area. When the funding for PD ran out at Concordia University’s Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance (CSLP), researchers Larysa Lysenko and Vanitha Pillay suggested to veteran research participants that they could apply for their own grant to pursue professional development in the area of self-regulation and increasing literacy. Teachers Mary-Ellen Lynch (RSB), Tanya Bell Beccat (EMSB) and Irene Tsimiklis (SWLSB) submitted a request for a Professional Development and Innovation Grant (PDIG) called “Yes We Can: Facilitating the Use of Evidence-based Tools to Increase Cycle-One Student Literacy” with a view towards sharing the experience and expertise they have gained over time and thus building capacity in other teachers through a mentorship model.

This is the key part of the grant – the mentorship model. Teachers learn best through the experiences of other teachers AND their own experimentation. Mary-Ellen, Tanya and Irene have each found other teachers in their school or board with whom they will be working on integrating the Learning Toolkit (LTK) into their literacy practice. These teachers will also become familiar with, and hopefully use, the classroom practices associated with self-regulated learning that underpin the software suite. The grant funds will be used to release teachers to meet as a large multi-board group, as smaller board- or school-based groups and also for visiting each other’s classrooms. This means that participating teachers will not only have the opportunity to visit the classrooms of their mentors to see how things are organized, but will also benefit from classroom visits themselves at key moments when an extra pair of hands and an extra voice are needed. This model of professional development has a lot of sticking power because of the creation of shared knowledge and interdependence that are built into it.

A note about PD

The best professional development initiatives are those that rely on iterative cycles of teacher practice and reflection that are in tune with what matters to teachers, what sound research tells us and also what matters to society as a whole. We are fortunate in Quebec to have good structures in place, such as the PDIG grants, that for the most part foster such initiatives. The current professional development discourse coming from south of the border is often quite bleak, and even here flavour-of-the-month crazes take root. This is why this project makes me so happy!

First Meeting

The whole team held its inaugural meeting on October 30th at Concordia University in Montreal. At least eight teachers, along with pre-service teachers doing their practica, the three mentors and assorted consultants gathered for the first meeting of what promised to be an exciting project. Although teachers knew their mentor and possibly the other teachers from their school or board, it was the first time that they met as a larger group to chart the path ahead. It was an exciting day, with all teachers highly motivated to get started and to learn from their mentors and from each other’s experience. Just as Mary-Ellen, Tanya and Irene learned from each other over the years through discussions, meetings and at least one classroom visit, these teachers will also be sharing their new emerging expertise and their passion for literacy with other teachers. They will be implementing changes to their practice and seeing how these changes work in their classrooms and with their students. Adjustments will be made, new ideas will form and new understanding will emerge – a perfect storm of professional learning.

Each teacher received a laptop computer to take away to their school, courtesy of the CSLP. They can use these computers to gain expertise with the LTK software suite, to track their students’ work and to provide feedback. For group knowledge-management technology, the group decided to use SkyDrive (a Windows product) as a repository for files and meeting notes – so far, Tanya and I have both uploaded files to the shared space, and some of the teachers have joined it.


Your Turn

So maybe you are ready to jump in with the LTK teachers, but don’t have a group of people nearby for meaningful collegial conversations and shared plans of action. Letting consultants from your board know that you are interested in working on a long-term project is one way of making sure you are asked to participate when grants are being written. There are also many ways to reach out to a larger community of professionals nowadays. Some teachers choose to have their own blog, where they write and reflect about their practice – you can do this too. The best ones have an active comments section (for more on how to comment on blog posts, click here). You can also participate in virtual conferences such as the K-12 Online Conference, where you can connect with other educators from around the world. What other ways do you engage in meaningful professional learning? I’d love to hear from you about this or anything else that you’d like to share.

Sylwia Bielec

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Online PD or What I’ve Learned In My PJ’s

On the laptop in pyjamas
photo by Sharon Drummond

It was our last class together as senior seminar students with Dr. Anderson. For most of us, the moment represented the penultimate step in completing a rather lengthy graduate degree and…we were elated. Together, we shared virtual eggnog and recounted stories of how our families traditionally celebrated the holidays. A number of students were located in Eastern Canada, a few on the West Coast, one in the Bahamas and another in Dubai.  We were teachers, administrators, two emergency room doctors, a nurse, a web developer and an instructional designer. During the previous three months, once a week, we had all come together at the same time, to explore the then current trends in distance education.

On this particular night, I remember Dr. Anderson cheekily asking us to fess up and tell him what we really did while we participated in his class. He knew that we weren’t always sitting there, glued to our computers, pen and paper in hand, waiting for an epiphany. For nearly five years of my life, I had spent what could have been my daily downtime chillin’ in front of the TV or zoned out with a good book, revved up and thinking about distance ed practice and pedagogy. And yes, I’ll admit it now, sequestered in my basement office, I sometimes had one ear on a baby monitor, a stack of laundry at my elbow, and was often sporting my flannel jammies! Nonetheless, I was still able to actively engage with the process, the people and the content.

I am an online learning convert, but why do I love it so much? Well, there are some pretty obvious benefits to learning at a distance (beyond the accepted garb!) that have been widely discussed. Here are the ones that I can relate to with the most enthusiasm:

Learning online provides freedom and flexibility.  The notion of anytime, anywhere learning is pretty intoxicating for somebody who loves to discover new stuff all of the time, or wants to master what he or she already knows. You don’t have to travel farther than the nearest laptop to be able to actively participate in an online session with master teachers and a group of diverse and invested peers.  For me, the ability to maintain a busy professional and personal life while pursuing graduate studies, without the hassle and expense of travelling to the nearest urban centre, is liberating. Also, with the myriad of available platforms that support both asynchronous and synchronous collaboration, the task of scheduling group work, organizing follow-up sessions, and even attending an impromptu meeting becomes much less cumbersome.

Learning online enables community building on a large scale. I love meeting people who share my professional interests, in the hopes of both learning with them and from them. What better way to open up a community to as many stakeholders as possible than via the net? During my years at Athabasca University, I met people from all over the world, and together we supported each other’s learning and created some pretty cool content that I can still readily access. Of course, sustaining communities of practice or professional learning communities is yet another challenge, but one that is again potentially less difficult to overcome without the constraints of having to be physically present somewhere.

Learning online encourages accountability. This means a couple of different things to me. Online learning helped me be accountable to myself in terms of taking ownership of my learning and development as a professional…in a province where no formal requirement is made of teachers to upgrade either skill set or knowledge base.  Being accountable as a student in an online setting is another aspect.  It’s really hard to hide in an online class with only a dozen or so participants.  Individual participation is easily noted, and it can also be quite obvious when someone doesn’t come prepared or isn’t really “there”.

As much as I appreciate the many benefits of online learning, I acknowledge that in order for online PD to be embraced by more teachers and school boards, it has to be effective, and not just in terms cost savings. So, the question you may be asking is what does GOOD online PD look like? Well…it should probably look like GOOD traditional PD! It should meet the needs of the individual, positively impact on practice, and ultimately improve student outcomes.  But how? The research literature in the field suggests that high-quality PD has to:

  • be content/subject-matter focused with an understanding of student learning needs
  • provide opportunities for active learning around authentic tasks
  • encourage collaboration
  • occur over time
  • allow for feedback and follow-up
  • be supported in order to allow for continued growth and change

Now, all we have to do is figure out how to meet all of these benchmarks,  using the best-suited technology at our disposal. What does THAT look like? Is it a blend of both online and offline learning experiences? I strongly suspect that it is, but what’s the magic combination?

This year, LEARN is offering a series of web events which we hope will respond to a need from within the milieu. We aim to target a different topic or practice each month, across curricula and communities. To me, these initial monthly online sessions are only the very beginning of a grand experiment in which we will collectively discover a model that might help us to systematically implement meaningful PD for our educators.  And, we invite you to please join us as we engage, explore and exchange.

I’ll make sure to keep you posted!

Kristine Thibeault

For more information on LEARN Web Events, click here.