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Building a Community of Learners: My PLN

This semester, I started to actively construct my PLN (personal learning network) in order to tap into a broader knowledge base than my immediate school and community and to aid in my professional development as a teacher.  This blog post is a reflection of my growth as a member of my PLN, the growth of my PLN, and the ways I’ve contributed to this learning community.

A major way I started to build my PLN this semester was through Twitter.  My first exciting moment with Twitter was when I wrote a blog post in response to Claire Kreuger’s presentation on Treaty Education in our class and tweeted it out.  I hoped that a few people might read it, but I didn’t expect Claire to read it and tweet back to me!  I discovered that Twitter is an awesome way to thank and give feedback to speakers as well as let them know what resonated with you from their presentation, which contributes to their learning.  My next exciting Twitter moment was after I posted my slam poem, Insulting Identity.  Reading all the replies was extremely rewarding, and it let me know that was I put on Twitter could actually reach and affect people.  I even received a tweet from a former teacher of mine!  Additionally, a few weeks later, my friend Kayla told me that she always thinks of my video when she hears someone use homophobic language and that she finds it really powerful to think of those terms as “using someone’s identity as an insult.”  The replies from my peers, profs, and former teacher are evidence that I contributed to the construction of knowledge in the broader learning community by sending the message that teachers cannot remain silent when homophobic language is used in the classroom.  The feedback I received is also a great example of how my PLN has encouraged me in my journey this semester.

I also used Twitter to attempt to contribute to other people’s learning.  For example, when I appreciated other people’s posts I tweeted them out to get more people to see them.  I did this with Meagan’s treaty education post and Desiree’s visual representation.  Another way I used Twitter to contribute to other people’s learning was through tweeting during lectures.  I found that this helped me to make connections and to summarize important messages, and I think it helped others as well, because it gave them access to messages they might have missed or connections they might not have seen before.  This went both ways, because my classmates’ tweets during lectures often helped me see connections I might have missed.  Curtis’ tweet from our lecture on Monday is a good example of that!

A second way I constructed my PLN this semester was through blogging.  I had created a blog in ECS 100 for my professional portfolio, but before this class, I hadn’t used it for posting my thoughts, connections, resonances, and dissonances.  I found blogging helped me connect more deeply to what we were learning since I was constantly asked to reflect on it.  My biggest challenge with my blog was getting comments on my posts.  I always tweeted them out after I wrote them, but I very rarely received any responses.  At first, I thought my posts must be too long.  I worked on synthesizing my thoughts, but this is something I struggle with.  Next, I tried ending my blog posts with questions to stimulate further discussion.  That didn’t work either.  Closer to the end of the semester, I was reading this post by my classmate Eriko, and I was struck by how personal her post was.  She is always very open and honest about her beliefs, and whenever I read her posts I feel like I am seeing a part of who she is.  After this, I decided my blogging style was too formal, which made it difficult for others to connect with what I was writing about.  My tension with this is that I don’t like to admit that I don’t know something or that my beliefs might have been wrong.  Inspired by Eriko, I am still working through this challenge.

Through blogging, I learned and contributed to my classmates’ learning by commenting on their posts.  I would often respond by telling them what resonated with me in their post and then asking them a question, to encourage them to think deeper and because I genuinely wanted to know their opinion.  In looking through my blogging interactions, I noticed that I asked two people a similar question in response to their blog posts.  I asked Cassandra if we should warn our students about disadvantages they might face in society in response to her post and I asked Christina if we should prepare students for prejudice attitudes and negative comments when we encourage them to “be who they are” in response to her post.  Cassandra replied saying that it depends on the students, but that privilege should be discussed in the classroom, especially if students in the class could be disadvantaged within the larger society.  Christina affirmed that we should be preparing students for negative comments and teaching them that others will have differing opinions from their own and that those opinions that can be negative, hurtful, and discriminatory.  She also admitted that she wasn’t sure how to support them through the effects of these negative opinions.  These comments from Cassandra and Christina helped me work through the problem I was wrestling with:  Should we warn students about disadvantage in society and prepare them for discrimination?  The comments also encouraged me to think more deeply, and ask myself these questions:  What makes this preparation necessary?  How do we have this discussion in a classroom?  How do we support students who experience these disadvantages every day?  This is just one example of how classmates have contributed to my learning and how I have contributed to theirs.

In addition to Twitter and blogging, I also used personal conversations to build my PLN.  One conversation that was really important and that I believe has a lot of potential was between Mike Cappello, Kari, Meagan, Cassandra, Christine, Melissa, Marisa, and myself.  Mike came to several of our classes and talked to us about a conference on anti-oppressive education that is to be held in Regina in October of this year.  He also discussed the possibility of a student led organization devoted to anti-oppressive education evolving from this conference and invited interested students to have a discussion about this over lunch.  During this lunch conversation, we all shared why we had come and gave our ideas for the potential purposes of this student led organization and what it could look like.  It was an open conversation, but we had to take turns speaking because we all had so much we wanted to say.  I am excited to have identified several peers who are as passionate (or more) about anti-oppressive education as I am and I look forward to us continuing to contribute to each other’s learning.

In contrast to the positive conversation I just discussed, I had one conversation that made me very tense and uncomfortable.  One of my peers asked me, with very negative undertones, “So what did you think of the ECS 210 lecture this morning?”  I immediately became really nervous and unsure of how to respond, because I had gotten a lot out of the lecture and I could tell that she had not.  I gave a generic response and quickly asked her what she had thought of the lecture.  She responded by saying she felt like the whole class seemed really “hocus-pocus” and that she felt like she was never going to use anything from it because it doesn’t have any practical applications.  I stayed fairly neutral and changed the subject as soon as I could.  I have heard this view from several of my classmates, and it always makes me uncomfortable because I believe that we need to look at all the types of curriculum in order to work towards having an anti-oppressive classroom.  Although I believe this, I find it difficult to tell people that I am passionate about this when I know they are not.  In the moment, I get nervous and struggle to articulate why anti-oppressive education is so important to me.  This is another challenge I am working through.

Finally, I will outline some of my professional goals for my PLN.  My first goal is to continue to use Twitter for educational purposes throughout the spring and summer by reading articles, following more education accounts, and gaining followers.  For blogging, I am aiming make my posts more personal and real by admitting when I am not sure, when I might be wrong, and when my beliefs have been challenged.  I also want to start blogging about my own experiences rather than just because we were given a prompt in class.  Another goal of mine is to use the conference in October as an opportunity to network with teachers and students who are passionate about anti-oppressive education.  Finally, my last goal is to become more willing to stand up for what I am passionate about and to tell others why anti-oppressive education is important for us as teachers.


Standardized Testing

This week, I was asked to watch this video and read this story from the New Teacher Book, both of which discuss standardized testing, and to respond with my thoughts and understandings.

As I listened to Alfie Kohn and read from the New Teacher Book, the word “superficial” kept coming to mind.  Standardized tests assess students’ abilities to memorize facts but fail to show any depth of understanding that may or may not accompany those facts.  They make it impossible to gauge what and how students have learned and understate the process of learning to emphasize disjointed facts.  

They make possible the emphasis of one side of the story and make impossible the examining of contradictions between society’s dominant narratives and society’s realities – the listening for voices that are often silenced.

Standardized tests may help students who are good memorizers, schools with affluent families, and students who are members of the dominant social group; however, they will harm students with different ways of knowing, immigrant students, ESL students, students who can think deeply but struggle with memorization, and students who freeze up or become anxious in test situations.  Because we have the responsibility to fairly assess ALL our students, I don’t see any reason why standardized testing is a direction we should be heading in.  There is so much emphasis on differentiating instruction to accommodate all students, so why aren’t we heading in the direction of differentiating assessment?  

Although I am against standardized testing, I believe there are some things we can do if we are in a space governed by accountability, standards, and testing.  We can discuss the tests with out students and critique them for their one-sidedness, oversimplification, and cultural biases.  We can choose to facilitate deeper learning through reading, discussion, role-play, and writing about topics rather than devoting time to making students better test writers.  

What implications could this choice (to facilitate deeper learning rather than “teach to the test”) have on us as teachers and on our school if test results are published?  What are your thoughts on standardized testing?  What are your thoughts on differentiating assessment?  


Visual Representation of “Building Community from Chaos”

I really enjoyed the story “Building Community from Chaos” from the New Teacher Book.  I made a visual representation of the story as a response, including quotes that resonated with me and pictures that I felt related to the story.

Click here for my representation.

I didn’t think I would like responding visually, since I always take notes as I read, but I like the representation I created, and I think it will help the story stick in my head.  Let me know what you think of it!

Hidden Messages in my Autobiography

After Katia’s lecture, we were asked to reconsider our autobiographical assignments and respond to the following question:

What hidden messages are now visible to you in what you could offer as your autobiography? For example, what does it mean that you did not address your gender, or your sexuality or your racialization as important or constitutive of your identity?

The simple answer to why I did not address these is because I occupy positions of privilege in these areas.  I am a cisgender woman, I am straight, I am white, and I am middle class.  I can think of my own identity as being somehow untouched by my experience as race/classed/gendered/sexed because of my privilege; however, I am really challenging myself to change that!

Kumashiro writes that “our lenses of analysis demonstrate why it is that we often desire making sense of the world in only certain, comforting ways” (pg. 41).  I demonstrated this by writing about how my experiences have changed me, grown me, and helped me develop my beliefs about education – making sense of my experiences in very comforting ways.  I did not, however, write about how my gender, race, class, or sexuality shaped those experiences, although they definitely did.

It’s hard to recognize how these things shaped my journey because I have been trained not to see my privilege.  We have these regimes of truth/normalized lies engrained into our common sense, and they obscure the benefits we gain through privilege.  Katia has challenged me and now I am challenging myself to ask what my privilege made possible/impossible in the experiences I talk about in my autobiography.  More to come on that later!

Finally, Kumashiro writes, “hidden lessons demonstrate how it is that oppression can play out in our lives unnoticed and unchallenged” (pg. 41).  Therefore, I am working to bring those hidden lessons front and centre.  I must recognize how my privilege shapes my experiences so that I do not inadvertently reproduce oppression.


Insulting Identity

This is my How Stories Shape Our Lives Assignment.

Part 1 consists of summaries of 10 short stories from the New Teacher Book.  It can be found here:  Part 1: Summaries

Part 2 is a video of a slam poem I wrote in response to two of the stories.  You can find a written explanation for me response here: Written Explanation

Here is my slam poem:  Insulting Identity


Technology and Anti-Oppressive Education

How might the changing nature of learning and the increased prevalence of technology be related to social justice and anti-oppressive education?  What is made possible/impossible by these tools and this type of learning?

Here are a few of my thoughts on this question:

According to Kumashiro, teaching for social justice means preparing students to succeed in whatever context they find themselves in.  Technological skills are becoming increasingly important in schools, universities, and the workplace, which means our students will need these skills and if we are teaching for social justice, we must provide them with the opportunity to develop those skills.

What do technological tools and learning based on collaboration make possible?

–      Opportunities to connect with a variety of role models for students

–      Learning that involves ending up with knowledge that could not have been predicted, which is part of Kumashiro’s model for Learning in Discomforting Ways

–      Students may view things on the Internet that reinforce an oppressive status quo  (This is why we must teach students to think independently, critically, and creatively about whatever story is being taught.)

What do technological tools and learning based on collaboration make impossible or difficult?

–      Having students learn about what they resist learning.  (Since learning with technology is interest driven, students might continue to learn what they desire but never learn what they resist learning or think about why they resist learning that.)

–      May disadvantage certain students

  • Students who don’t have access to smartphones, iPads, or computers at home
  • Students who are uncomfortable with sharing online or whose parents aren’t comfortable with this

How can we, as teachers, work against the disadvantage that using these tools and learning in this way may cause?

Expanding Knowledge through Treaty Education

I really enjoyed Claire Kreuger’s presentation on Treaty Education.  I appreciated the honesty she approached us with, highlighting the mistakes she made in implementing treaty education and transforming those mistakes into lessons she learned and lessons we could learn from her experiences.  I was also relieved to hear her stories of expecting backlash for discussing “controversial issues” but receiving none. 

I was blown away by the quality of her students’ projects, and inspired by how much they learned as well as how much they seemed to value learning about these topics.  I believe that by implementing treaty education we can start to reverse the trend of Canadians having very limited understandings of treaties.  Through our young students and the information they will pass on to their family and friends, we can expand the knowledge of what it means to be a treaty person!