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Kristin Lundstrum

Mine? Yours? OURS.

Posted by Kristin Lundstrum Champion Sep 23, 2019

During the summer months, I try my best to read and reflect on classroom practices. (Sometimes those thinking sessions can get a little intense.) Years ago, I accepted that no course was ever going to be perfect. I was always going to find things to add, remove, or adjust. I think that’s okay though! I mean, that’s growth. 


In the 10 years (happy teacherversary to me!) I’ve held teaching licenses I have...

  • Lead 18 different courses.
  • Incorporated technology for organization and communication.
  • Created emphasis on reflection and revision.
  • Adopted 1:1 iPads.
  • Adopted an LMS to organize content and promote collaboration.
  • Gone from TEACHER to COACH.
  • Provided opportunities for students to choose the way they demonstrate learning.
  • Centered assessments on standards and mastery vs. points.


...and those are just the highlights. On a more frequent basis, I’m looking for new tools, processes, projects, etc. There’s always more. 


We live in a world that’s constantly changing. my grandma would say, I guess I’ve changed things [in my classroom] more frequently than I change my socks. Maybe? That’s a lot of change. Yet, that’s not far off especially when I consider everything that is adjusted daily to match needs and/or suggestions. However, there’s one big change that has hit my radar lately, and that’s how I refer to the room where I spend so much of my time while at work: the classroom.


As another semester started, I asked the question: why do we call it “my classroom?” rather, it’s a space that we share collaboratively with students? And those students aren’t just “my students”, there “the students” or “our students”.


(Tangent -- THEN I tried to determine whether or not "student" was the right word, then I tried on “learner” for a moment. That actually levels the playing field a bit. I’m technically a learner too, right? I’m a teacher, sure, but aren’t the other individuals in the room?)


I get excited thinking about the conversations that occur throughout the semester in OUR space...we’re teaching each other. It’s not my classroom. It’s OUR learning space -- where awesome collaborative experiences happen every day.


I think the learning environment whether physical or virtual has the power to greatly impact every participant’s experience and sense of belonging. (I captured some of this process in Student-Directed Home Pages, too.) If I’m connected to the learners, I’m more invested. If they feel connected to the activities and opportunities, they’re going to be motivated. They’re going to take risks, and ultimately, they’ll take more out of the course. 


Can one small change -- changing the way I refer to the learning space -- be the difference for some learners? I hope so. I can’t wait to find out. And, even if the change in terminology only changes ME, I think that’s a good mindset to remember as activities are created. It’s not about MY semester or THEIR semester; it’s about OUR time together.


Once I get acquainted with the new lingo, I’ll let you know how it works. Old habits die hard, but I hope that the learners I have the opportunity to collaborate with this semester can help embrace this (yep, you guessed it) change. I hope it's another great thing to add to my ever-growing lists of things that have positively influenced my process.

Today, the first day of a new semester, I asked each of the classes I teach,  "What would your ideal home page look like?"


During the five years our school has had Canvas, I've done a fair bit of designing because I've taught 10 different semester-long courses. Because I've actively sought design feedback from students before, I had a general idea of what students would say. This semester, I wanted to fully include the class in this process and not just ask a student here and there throughout the term. With this change, I hoped to create a list of key components so I could customize a home page for each unique group of students. (This is possible because I teach each of the five courses only once during a day.)


What made me the most excited about this extra step is that the resulting page would be helpful to their learning and not just something that I thought was well-designed.


After some amazing organic collaborative conversations, I learned that every group wanted buttons that lead to specific modules. From that view, they can see the content for the entire module and jump around as needed. They did not want a fancy button that led to the Syllabus, Assignments, or Discussions. ONLY buttons that went to the modules. Why? They felt that the left-hand course navigation was there and that it was silly to repeat it in the middle. Students want to keep things simple and they are aware of design redundancies. They know where to go, so place the essentials in the place that warrants the big visual. It will help them get to their learning activities more efficiently!


Because the students asked to keep many of the items in the left-hand course navigation active, I will continue to use the Content Selector passionately. The more I can link the course's activities and resources together that way, the more connected the students' navigation will be, no matter how they arrive at the item.


This all made sense to me (and aligned with my hopes, luckily)!


With more conversation, each group was very drawn to a concept like this -- module labels, color-coding, and access to most frequently visited "subsections" of Canvas so they can navigate in multiple ways depending on what they're doing:



Now, I have some work to do! It's always fun to design with a goal in mind. This semester, the goal is bigger because more people are invested, and I think that's pretty awesome.


If you asked a group of students about their ideal home page, what would they say? Each institution is so unique, I would find it fascinating to hear how different groups of students would organize their learning.

Observers have an incredibly unique perspective of a Canvas course. Imagine the feeling you would have as you stand on an observation deck. You're above the action, essentially on the outside, watching everything happen from a distance. You can't participate directly, but yet your involvement and engagement is so important! As you watch all of the activity from a distance, you need to also need to understand what's happening so you can coach your student who is busily learning "on the ground" on a daily basis. 


During particular times of the year, the Canvas Community notices an increase in Observer or Canvas Parent related questions. To help bring all of those questions, answers, and resources together for families of students who use Canvas for their coursework and school-related activities, I did my best to collect information from around the Canvas Community and group it by theme. I hope that this all-inclusive-resource for Canvas Observers will provide some clarity to this role.


If you have more questions or ideas on how to improve the Observer experience, please contribute to Q & A and Canvas Studio.  


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About the Observer Role

  • An Observer is the name which describes the users in a course who can view the content and follow a particular student's progress. They can not interact with or participate in the course's content or materials. 
  • As an Observer, a family member (or coach, guidance counselor, mentor, etc.) has the ability to learn a lot about a student's day.



Creating an Account

  • This account will work for the web and Canvas Parent!



Adding Multiple Students

  • It's absolutely possible to follow multiple students under a single Observer account.
  • The best place to link additional children is through the browser. Have the students' pairing codes ready, and then repeat the process completed during the initial account creation. 



Managing Multiple Students

  • Depending on how many students an Observer follows and how many courses are included in the students' enrollments, the dashboard can become overwhelming.
  • Observers can adjust the nicknames for each course, and it will not affect the students' dashboards or Canvas experience. One option for this is to include the student's first initial or name ahead of the course name (ie: K Biology). Another thing that Observers can do is change the color of the course cards so each student has their own color for their courses. (How do I view my favorite courses in the Card View Dashboard?)
  • In early April 2020, Observer course cards include the name of the student being observed in that class. (Canvas Deploy Notes (2020-04-11))
  • Canvas Parent has a simple interface that allows Observers to easily switch between students. If an Observer wishes to have a quick overview of student progress or the week's assignments, the mobile app is perfect for keeping track of multiple students' academics.



Viewing Courses

  • Sometimes courses don't populate on the Dashboard. Depending on the district, there may be restrictions in place that prevent users from accessing course content outside of the term dates. Another reason may be that the teacher has not yet published the course.
  • If the term has started, a good place to double-check the course availability is under Courses. After clicking Courses then All Courses, a list of current and past enrollments will appear. Any item at the top of the page can be favorited. (How do I customize my Courses list?) These will be included in the list of course cards on the dashboard.
  • It's important to note that if Observers plan to use the Calendar, a maximum of 10 courses can be viewed at a time. That can be adjusted by filtering the Calendar view by course.



Canvas Parent

  • There is a role-specific Canvas mobile app available for Observers called Canvas Parent. It's free to download from the Apple Store and on Google Play.
  • It's important to note that the app does not have the same functionality as the Observer role does on the web, but it's an amazing tool for families. Canvas Parent is a great way to simplify the Observer experience as it provides at-a-glance digests of each student's school day and custom notifications or assignment reminders on a student-by-student basis.
  • To toggle between students, click the name displayed in the top-center of the screen. A short drop-down menu will appear, which will include a list of the students linked to your observer account. (How do I use the Canvas Parent app on my iOS device?)
  • If for some reason the Observer credentials do not work with Canvas Parent or the institution is not listed, manually type the domain/web address of the district (ie: If that still does not work, contact local Canvas support. It's important to note here that not all institutions have enabled Canvas Support and/or support it. Each school district is unique and make choices based on their needs.



Deleting an Account

  • The Canvas Community receives emails from time-to-time, requesting that their Canvas account is deleted. No matter how or why the account was created, the friendly faces in the Canvas Community cannot help with accounts. Good news: local Canvas support can!
  • To delete an account, an Observer can click the Help menu (How do I get help with Canvas? or How do I get help with the Canvas Parent app?) and initiate a conversation by clicking "Report a Problem". This help ticket will go directly to the institution's Canvas administrator, and they'll be able to collaborate until the issue is resolved.



Observers Need Help Too!

Kristin Lundstrum

Opened Windows

Posted by Kristin Lundstrum Champion Apr 29, 2018

A few years ago, The Canvas Community hosted a blogging contest regarding Spring Cleaning. This was a great opportunity for me to consider ways I could tidy up my courses. (It's Time to Regroup, Reorganize, and Reflect was my contribution to that contest...)


Spring is back! Thank goodness. I mean, in Minneapolis, we endured a blizzard and received 20” of snow on April 16th. That extra time indoors due to our extended winter gave me more than enough time to reorganize my house and my six spring cleaning is done, or at least for now. However, with the beautiful sunshine and warm temperatures, it’s time to open up the windows.


Year round, windows allow us to see the outdoors, even with lingering terrible weather.  However, the fact that this ordinary transparent object now may lead to a bigger experience is such a great feeling. I love the smell of spring breezes and how these open windows encourage us to savor that beautiful breath of fresh air. This momentary slow down also encourages me to be optimistic and productive.


Alright, so if you’re still with me, you’re probably wondering where I’m going with this blog. Since we’re all here in the Canvas Community and unified by the products we use daily, all created by a company founded on openness, it seems natural to compare Instructure to the open windows I value so much this time of year.


1.  I appreciate how Instructure plasters windows all over their company, figuratively of course. From either perspective, this transparency works to everyone’s advantage. Even when it’s dark and stormy outside (think about those times when Community Members get particularly passionate about a Production Release Note), Instructure wants to connect with us. More positively, if we share our ideas and desires, Instructure is able to see our perspective. This clarity and transparency is incredibly valuable. With the transparency, we are able to always catch a glimpse into Instructure’s process. Windows are two-way! For example, in 2015 and 2017 Project Khaki welcomed users to headquarters, and participants learned about the idea process, current projects, and met with employees.


2. It is so refreshing that there is such open and free-flowing communication between users and Instructure product teams. Whether the interaction is with a CSM, sales, an engagement team member, community manager, support, company leadership,...etc etc etc, Instructure has created this environment in which communication is clear, open, and important.


I know there are many MANY Instructure employees I could thank for their open communication, but In my daily routine, there are two people whose presence in the Canvas Community is very noteworthy. Erin Hallmark's presence in Documentation is outstanding. With every release, she’s there to clarify the updates and existing features. She always does so kindly. It’s not easy to explain the same thing multiple ways, and those of us who teach can relate. Add in *new* and *tech* and *always changing* and you have another set of challenges she balances amazingly. Then, there’s Peyton Craighill. He is a stand-out Product Manager for Mobile. His presence in CMUG is unmatched; he routinely shares updates about the team, the apps, and he actively engages in conversation with enthusiastic mobile users. It’s awesome that so much of the mobile process is made available to the Canvas Community. It’s even better that everyone is encouraged to participate in the process.


3. Instructure values openness in the sense of fostering open source platforms and content. (This truly kicked-off with 2016: Canvas and the Year of Open.) Whether you add a variety of LTIs, make your course public, share your work to Canvas Commons, or decide to use the open source version of Canvas (instructure/canvas-lms Wiki · GitHub), there’s a lot about the platform that’s open and flexible.This allows Canvas to be customizable for all kinds of learning environments.


The Canvas Community has even dedicated a space for people who want to focus on this. So if you’d like to add Open Education resources to your Canvas courses, you have a few places to start, including this list of Open Content Providers. Notably, in the spring of 2016, there was the Unlock OpenEd Blog Challenge. Many wonderful ideas and resources were shared with that, and with the Open Education group, there are always new discussions!...and then, there’s more! There’s Canvas Network, a place full of free online courses for all types of learners with a goal to “to promote openness, innovation, and experimentation in education.” To learn more, read Canvas Network: Committed to Open Education.


4. I know it’s a stretch, but I feel like I need to round-out this blog with a shout-out to those in the Canvas Community. This space that many of us visit frequently could perhaps be a virtual window that defies time and space. From Q & A to Ideas to CanvasLIVE, Community members are making connections and sharing ideas all the time. People from all over the world freely collaborate and making the process of professional learning transparent. The best part of learning in this way is the fact that you’re never alone; we’re all in this crazy yet fulfilling journey together.


So, whether literally or figuratively, this spring, take a moment and open the windows. Enjoy the breeze, celebrate the warmth of season, and be thankful!

Kristin Lundstrum

Learning is Circular

Posted by Kristin Lundstrum Champion Feb 14, 2018

One of the reasons I became an educator was because I love to learn. To some, this comment may seem confusing. I mean, as an educator, you educate; you teach. Typically, you’re not the one who learns. That’s the students’ role, right? Sure, that’s true in the traditional lecture-style learning environment. The teacher is the “sage on the stage”, and the students are there, with their minds open like a filing cabinet as information is filed away. Thankfully, this isn’t the only teaching style. I don’t even think I fit the “guide on the side” group...rather, something different. I am actively invested with my students, not watching or nudging from the side. I feel that learning is collaborative and energizing! When I come up with a catchy title, I’ll be sure to share.


Why do I teach this way? Well, first of all, I’m a natural introvert. Again, this is one of those things some people also find confusing. Just because I teach doesn’t mean that I thrive on being in the spotlight. Even from my first day of student teaching, I wasn’t comfortable in front of large groups. However, I found that I had a talent for connecting one-on-one with students and taking on more of an instructional coach persona in the classroom. Secondly, I teach this way because it encourages me to have a flexible mindset. If I’m too rigid with my lesson plans like I was in my early teaching days, I miss out on invaluable opportunities for growth, learning, and collaborations. Yes, as a person who is rather type-A, of course, I have plans and outlines and deadlines, but I find that I am able to create a better learning experience for my students if I plan for the unplannable.


For the first few years of my teaching career, this desire to be flexible and student-centered was extremely challenging because I was trying to manage differentiated instruction, personalized learning, and assessment on paper, without connecting with families, and only face-to-face. ...not to mention that it was rather uncommon ten years ago. Selling the concept of an open-format classroom with lots of student voice/choice/leadership was a tough sell to my head of the department.


I started small. I dove in. I researched. I learned. I think my metamorphosis as a teacher and the growth of my professional confidence could be a blog series in itself. I’ll fast-forward for now.


I adopted some amazing technology tools for a couple of years. Then, I moved to a new school with a new energy where technology that improved engagement and efficiency was celebrated. Then, when my school adopted Canvas, my teaching took off. Canvas allows me to take my natural personality and teach the way in which I love. I can cut down on those large lectures and demos by providing information for students to access as class prep or at their own pace in the classroom. That frees me up for more individualized instruction and time for questions.


So back to the “I love to learn” statement from the opening... There isn’t a day of teaching during which a student doesn’t teach me something. This could be something coursework related, or it could be something about myself. And, really, if I’m not excited about learning, I’m going to become “stuck” as a professional. I discuss growth and progress and learning from mistakes with my students routinely, and I would be hypocritical if I didn’t do so myself.


Learning is about growth, and to share that mentality with my students is incredible. While I get to see them draw connections and find their creative voice, I am learning beside an artist, a professional, and an individual. What is there not to love about learning? It’s circular. Eventually, it comes back to you, even if it's not what you expected when you began the process.

Back in April, I wrote Practice Makes Improvement, a blog post about reflective practices. In one of the comments, Laura Gibbs asked if I could create a list of books that I have read as part of my own professional growth.


Sorry for the delay, but, YES. Of course!!


Now that it is officially autumn, school is underway. The stress of the new school year has subsided, even if it’s only a bit! Additionally, days have gotten shorter, the weather has become chillier, and coffee shops have provided the blessing of pumpkin-spiced lattes. It seems like we have a perfect opportunity to slow down and to reflect again...whether that’s at a coffeehouse, carving time out of your schedule at work, or in the comfort of your own home.


I know, I know. I may be asking a lot here. Teachers are super busy the way it is, and here I am asking for you to squeeze one more task in between teaching responsibilities and your home life. Professional growth and reflection is good for you!


Like I have written before, be intentional and start small. Whether you choose a book from my list or you find your own, select a topic that can get you excited about your classroom. Then, even if you spend 15 minutes a day on three different days in a week reading, eventually it’ll become part of your routine. Another wonderful thing about reading is that this is your schedule. Nobody is requiring you to read a specific amount by a certain day. Set your own goals.


If you need someone to hold you accountable, maybe find another Canvas Community member or a colleague who will read along with you. Set page goals and then send quick notes or tweets to each other. No matter what, make reading enjoyable. Diving into a book with someone will make you more likely to follow through; think of this like having a workout buddy!


Here’s my list of books! I’ve done my best to link to the publisher’s site. (Note: this is a personal list; I was not contacted or paid to read or promote/share any of these...) While I have read most of these, the rest are on my immediate “to read” list. I’ll continue to add to my spreadsheet as I read more.


After you order your first choice or stop by your library, there’s only one thing left to do.


*Grab a cup of coffee/tea/cocoa, and raise it high.*


Here’s to fall!  ...and professional growth.

May your never-ending journey as an educator be filled with collaboration, opportunity, and discoveries.



Dear Canvas Observer*,


First of all, as a teacher, I want to say “thank you” for being a student’s or students’ personal academic cheerleader. Classrooms are not the same without you. I know I can plan, accommodate, collaborate, and differentiate with my greatest efforts, but you are incredibly valuable to the learning process. You help fill in gaps in understanding and sometimes you re-explain tough topics. You are another amazing caring adult who can assist a student - or two or three...or more - become strong, intrinsically motivated, and self-advocating learners. Again, thank you for being involved and bravo for using Canvas to make the process more efficient!


From here, let’s take a look at the Observer role. Observer is a generic name for anyone who can view course material and follow a student’s or students’ progress in their active courses. However, an observer cannot interact with course content.


As an Observer, you have access to a lot of great information, and it can be challenging to navigate the information efficiently, especially if you are actively monitoring the progress of more than one student.


From a web browser, after you set up your Observer account, you need to connect to your student or students (How do I link a student to my user account?). It is possible to follow all of your students under a single Observer sign-in. I have just a small note about how to link multiple accounts to a single observer: the best place to link additional children is through the browser. Have your pairing codes ready, and then repeat the process you completed for your first student. The resulting connections will work seamlessly wherever you sign-in. However, depending on how many students you follow and how many courses your students are enrolled, the dashboard can become overwhelming.


You have a few options to streamline this experience though!

  • You may adjust the nickname for each course. That way, you can include each child's first initial or name ahead of the course name (ie: K US History).
  • Another option is to color code the course cards so all of child #1's courses is one color, all of child #2's courses is a second, etc...


If you have time to explore more in the Canvas Community, there are two Feature Ideas which are open for voting that I'd like to share with you: Parents: toggle view between children and Include Student Name in Observer Notifications. If either or both of these ideas are relevant to your Canvas experience, it would be really valuable if you voted and/or added a comment!


As you seek to simplify your Observer experience, there may be another option for you. With the Canvas Parent App, you are able to follow all of your students and keep their courses separate. You can even create customized  notifications and assignment reminders on a student-by-student basis. The app is free in the Apple Store and on Google Play. While the app doesn't have all of the features as web, it's awesome for keeping track of progress, a list upcoming assignments, and initiating conversations at home. Just be sure to check with your institution to make sure this is enabled before diving in. This is because each school district can decide whether or not to make the app available for their observers.


As an Observer*, you have a unique perspective of the learning that occurs within the Canvas-based classrooms of your student or students! If you have more questions or ideas on how to improve the Observer experience, please contribute to Q & A and Ideas to keep the conversation going. 


All the best,




*Parent, Family Member, Counselor, Mentor, Coach, Learning Specialist...etc.





This blog was originally published on August 24, 2017 and was updated on August 25, 2018.

After a bit of a hiatus from this series, I feel that there is more to write about. I know that’s generally the case, but as the 2017-2018 school year begins, there seems to be even more reasons to explore grading and my classroom policies.


In Part 1, I looked at grading in general. In Part 2, I looked at late work. Now, I’m going to take a little bit of time to explore the term “failure” and why the term bothers me so much.


To start, I’d like to make the assumption that nobody *wants* to FAIL. I don’t think many people truly start out a task saying “I want to fail. I don’t want to or have any attention to increasing my ability/outlook/knowledge/understanding/performance on this challenge.” And then I consider my career choice. As a teacher, it is my role to coach, encourage, and to empower students to take ownership in the learning process and to become engaged learners, not to let them down! ...but I don’t think the current K-12 education system makes it easy for students to get to that point.


Side note: Our current system is OLD. Is it completely broken? No. However, it’s an outdated system that places students of the same age in the same grade working on the same material at the same time. (Sir Ken Robinson has a great narration of this. If you have time to watch the YouTube video, do!) While I want to include this in my thought process, I know that the idea of the K12 education system and my dreams for what it could become could be a blog series on its own.


As teachers seek to teach/coach/collaborate-with students, their goal is to help each student find success. But what is success? Is it a grade? A percentage? Or is it progress and growth? I think it’s safe to assume that the teachers all want/hope that all of their students learn and come out of their class with positive experience and great outcomes. I also think this is an easier debate and follow-up discussion than...the flip-side.


Academically speaking, what is “failing”,  and, numerically speaking, why does an F traditionally start at 60%?, what exactly is failure? More importantly, what does failure mean to students? In my experience, failure often times is the “end of the road” for students. They are discouraged, and they don’t always recognize the learning opportunity presented with a failed attempt at a learning objective. There is this negative connotation connected to FAILURE. It’s tough.


I wish I could remember the author of this positive spin on the definition of fail, but, I love this just the same:

F. A. I. L. = First Attempt In Learning


If we, instructors, continue to use Fs or assign a failing letter to a student’s attempts (or lack there of), what could it mean? Why are Fs generally the end of the road? If we’re going to allow students to fail, what are we (teachers, administrators, institutions) going to do for them?

I have found it interesting that schools, particularly K-12 institutions, assign Fs and then either allow students to continue to the next level or to attend a summer course to make up the credit. Those summer crash-courses cannot have the same rigor as those semester-long experiences! ...yet they “count” towards credits, and students learn to give up.


I think, ideally, more incompletes should be awarded. These incompletes would hold students accountable for assigned coursework, even if it takes them longer to complete it. These moments when students don’t *quite* reach a learning objective or standard are incredibly powerful opportunities to encourage reflection and growth. Just because the goal wasn’t met doesn’t mean it’s abandoned. Failure should be seen as an excellent time to find ways to coach students through challenges to get them to learn and to try again...not to penalize.


Yes, I understand personal investment is required on the part of the student in order for this concept to work. I think teachers have an incredible task to engage learners in content so the intrinsic motivation is created. (Staying true to my Minnesotan roots, the only word I feel appropriate here is “uffda”.)


Apparently, I have lots of questions, most of them without answers...but I’m feeling confident in my teaching practices that I will be able to coach students through moments of “not yets” and “under performance” so that I can build appropriate and individualized scaffold instruction. Every student has the potential to succeed, but shy of doing nothing in a course, didn’t some learning take place? Maybe the next step is to adjust my grading scheme and scales. What truly is an A? What truly is an F?

Grading. Assessing. Collaborating. Nudging. Teaching. Coaching.


Whatever it is that you call the action of assigning a number or letter to student learning, there’s another aspect to this that all instructors need to address: Late Work.


I think what’s important to that phrase is the word WORK. That acknowledges that work is, well, getting done. Isn’t that an important idea to remember? Of course, LATE means that this item or task was not completed in a timely fashion or on the schedule that the instructor assigned. Nonetheless, the WORK was completed.


Yes, as a teacher, I need to prepare students for real-life experiences, and that includes punctuality and accountability, especially for time-sensitive material.


What’s fair though? How many points should be deducted per day? Per week? Or should I even penalize at all? I mean, what causes students to submit work late? If anxiety is getting in the way, a student could feel terribly debilitated.


Last year, rather than trying to figure out this struggle on my own, I turned to collaboration. I actually skipped over connecting with my department or with other colleagues...I asked my students for insight. Crazy? Maybe...


Based on conversations with my 11th and 12th grade students, it was clear that students want and appreciate deadlines and/or timelines. They want to know what’s “on pace” and what’s expected. However, they want flexibility.


When I heard flexibility, I think of my friends who have the luxury of having flex-time. They can start and end their workday on a timeframe that’s convenient, as long as they meet the expectations of their employer. Sounds fantastic in theory! Now, I needed to figure out how to keep my students responsible for their work so they didn’t procrastinate ...and procrastinate ...and procrastinate ...just to find themselves with a pile of uncompleted modules and assignments that they’d have to rush through at the end of the semester.


First semester, the students in my Photo III class chose to have monthly deadlines. I’d release all projects for the month on the 1st, and all of the work would be due on the last day of the month. Anything submitted before that time was deducted 10% per week it was late.


Second semester, students chose something similar, but with much more detail. Like first semester, all of the projects were released on the 1st. However, they asked for a project a week to be due on Friday, but no penalty for late work until the last day of the month. They, too, wanted late critiques and written work to have a 10% per week penalty, but they decided late projects should receive a 10% per month penalty. That way, they felt they had more control of the risk-taking and revisions on the big concepts.


Both semesters, I was quite impressed by the reasons they provided. I think providing these 17- and 18-year-olds a chance to influence a class syllabus paid off. (I cannot believe how much they opened up about school, learning, etc. and what it all "could be" if education changed.) Collectively, these Photo III students were the most timely group of students I have taught. I don’t think it was the rigor or the pacing of the class. Honestly, they explored content deeper and more thoroughly than any other Photo III group had before, but I think it was the fact that they felt invested...and trusted.


I love what my students created, but part of me still wonders whether or not I should eliminate LATE work all together. My gut says “no” because that’s not how life is; it's just a matter of how it's documented, managed, etc. ...but I’m always open to a discussion, with Canvas Community members, colleagues, or students.

I am going to be the first to admit that I don’t have the answer. Or, for that matter, any answer. I will, however, openly say that I have lots of questions and that I am not really afraid of “getting this wrong”...what I am I talking about? The word that pained me quite frequently this year: grades.


This year, with my upper-level photography class and my AP studio class, I modified my grading policies so that growth and process was emphasized over product. Why? As an art teacher, I’ve found that once I place a numerical score or a letter grade on something, the learning comes to a screeching halt.


So after all of that time and effort, you’re done? ...really?!


I understand that art students become emotionally attached to their work. (I was once one of those perfection-driven students. I really do get it.) Students create their pieces to look a certain way, and how dare their teacher make a suggestion for them to change it after it’s “done”? Also, how on Earth is it possible to equate an expressive/individualized/unique creation with a static, objective score?




It’s an ongoing saga that many instructors face.'s one of the biggest reasons I share rubrics before an assignment or project begins. Unfortunately, rubrics are traditionally presented in a way that emphasizes points, not necessarily growth or learning.


My goal this year was to blend non-graded Outcomes with graded assignments, such as discussions. With Outcomes, I was able to still provide great feedback and initiate conversations with students, without the direct reliance on the “currency” of points. (The question about why points are so amazingly motivating to students will be one I will save for later...) This dual grading approach worked surprisingly well, and students took more risks as a result.


Part way through first semester, I started to wonder if Outcomes on formative and summative assignments/projects was enough.


Does the combination of summative and formative assessments accurately capture what a student knows or can demonstrate? Should effort be included in a grade?


For my art classes, I think the answer is “yes”. Effort, growth, and experiences can all be shared in an ongoing dialogue - conversationally or written. Unfortunately, it becomes another set of questions when it comes to assigning a numerical value on what a student shares. While complete/incomplete is nice, I wish there was a “not yet” option so I could encourage students to go back and add more to their work without feeling like they let anyone down in the process.


I know that K12 and HE come with their own unique challenges...and that everyone approaches grades in their own I hope that this rambling isn’t causing too much trouble.


Needless to say, I’m thankful to have time to simply think and to process this summer before I have to design my next syllabus. While grading, among other teaching practices, will continue to evolve, I’m okay with that. I won’t ever “get it right” but I know that I am trying to best represent my students learning in an academic world bound to a 4.0-scale.

Kristin Lundstrum


Posted by Kristin Lundstrum Champion Apr 26, 2017

Like most people in the Community, I could write a number of lists and posts containing my favorite aspects, implementation strategies, and use cases regarding Canvas. Today, however, I want to take some time to talk about other favorites...the types of favorites that teachers aren't typically "allowed" to admit they have. The favorites to which I'm referring are the students - past or current - who encourage and inspire instructors to go to work every day.


Take a look at the definitions of "favorite" that I found after a quick Google search:



The adjective - preferred before all others of the same kind. Seems okay, if you ask me. Everyone connects with others, personally or professionally, in different ways based on personality, interests, etc. There are naturally going to be students that teachers connect to with less effort than others.


The noun - a person that is especially popular or particularly well-liked by someone ...and, you can particularly like a student. Again, the value here is in the ease or genuine nature of a relationship that forms during the learning process. Just because you particularily like a student doesn't mean they receive perferential treatment, however.


The verb - record the address to enable quick access in the future. ← I like to consider this definition in the context of students. There have been students in my classroom that I want to "favorite" in the sense that they're amazing resources! These students tend to be the ones which have this tenacity for content or life. I want to stay connected rather than saying goodbye at the conclusion of a semester.


None of these interpretations/definitions seem like these should be forbidden activities. When it comes down to it, my "favorites" have been those students who I have had the privilege to get to know beyond the standard classroom content. The relationships that I have with my favorite students are glimpses into the ideal education experience. It's a mutually benefiting relationship. The following quote sums up my idea perfectly; it's absolutely true! 

The three most important words in education are: Relationships, Relationships, Relationships. Without them, we have nothing."  - George Couros


If you've stumbled upon this blog post, you likely have a few minutes to answer a few questions to yourself (Really. Five minutes...)

  • First: give yourself permission to admit that you have a favorite student.
  • Now:
    • Why are you thankful for them?
    • What have they taught you?
    • Why is/was their time in your classroom impactful?
  • Here's the biggest question:
    • Does this or do these students know how much you value them?


The last point was the giant question that stared back at me this weekend. I had an amazing, impromptu conversation with a former student of mine on Friday. ... I was so thankful that I was able to reconnect with him, learn about his studies and current projects, but, most of all, I was excited to have the opportunity to tell him how his presence in my classroom two years ago literally was the source of my motivation to adjust the way in which I teach my upper-level classes. I wish that there was a way to explain the value of this mutual gratitude. ...and I wish that there was a reason why this particular student had to wait almost two years to know how incredible he was and how he influenced my teaching.


I have a couple of current students who challenge me routinely to rethink my expectations. I feel that I know these students the best of all of my current students, they're invested in their work, and our conversations are genuine. These current favorites feed into my personal desire to advance my teaching practices, and they deserve to know how much I value collaborating and their contribution to my professional journey as an educator. I'm thankful that I still have the four short weeks before graduation to share this with them.


Since it's never too early to start thinking about next year, I'm setting a new goal. Each month, I'm going to set time aside to write to students outside of assessment feedback. While these selected students could be labeled as "favorites" in my mind and heart, the student doesn't necessarily need to know about the classification. However, what they do need to know, and what they deserve to know, is that their presence, attitude, contributions, and insights are not only noted but valued.


Go ahead. Have a favorite or set of favorites. It's good for you and, likely, your teaching.

We’re familiar with the saying “Practice makes perfect,” and during this time of year, in particular, I enjoy taking the time to reflect on my teaching practices and philosophies. Personal and professional reflection isn’t “work” for me. Even with a rather established division of “home life” and “work life”, I find myself diving into reflective activities at home, far beyond my traditional hours at school.


Through conversations with colleagues in my building and those here in the Canvas Community, it’s clear that instructors balance many many things, and it’s easy for the self-care and reflective activities to slip down on the priority list.


I have always loved learning, and it’s one of the most amazing things about teaching. I teach my students, but every day, they also teach me. This circular connection is the motivation that fuels my passion for challenging my beliefs about curriculum design, assessment, classroom environments, etc. It doesn’t bother me that I will always be revising and revisiting my practices.


To “keep up” with my honest efforts to create relevant and engaging classroom experiences for my students, I have a fairly dedicated reflection routine. Keep in mind that I find this process invigorating! This is not something which is required by my administration. What I do is purely for my personal satisfaction and desire to be the best professional educator possible.


My tricks/obsessions:

  • On Fridays, I spend the last 30 minutes of the work day rehashing the week and setting goals for the upcoming one.
    • I review my weekly lesson plan page in my 3-ring binder, decipher notes, and make adjustments for the coming week. This helps me recenter academic pacing and align my plans with my Canvas courses.
    • If something significant came up during the week, I make a plan on my semester curriculum map so I remember or can make changes for the next time I teach the course.
  • I have an ever-growing list of education/learning theory books to read. I probably invest an hour or two throughout the week to working through my list. I don’t set deadlines, but it’s fun to try to connect topics in the books to my classroom. (If you need any suggestions, let me know! I have a pretty awesome list.)
  • As a part of teachers, I contribute to a Flipboard magazine. We share articles, leave comments, and have candid conversations about current educational trends.
  • I carry around a notebook for new ideas for my classrooms. In this  5x7 notebook, I write down one idea per page, and then lay out the information and details needed to put it into place. If I try an idea, I jot down student feedback.
  • I talk candidly with students about what works and doesn’t work with course design, projects, assignments, etc. It’s amazing what I can pick up from those conversations.
  • I do a thorough “brain cleaning” during conferences and at the end of each semester.
    • I ask myself a ton of questions and analyze everything from student performance (thank you Canvas Analytics), anecdotal feedback, assessment strategies, projects...well, you get it.
    • It’s not exhausting, but I usually fuel this session by getting to a local coffee shop and listening to some awesome music while I sip a latte.
    • While it can be discouraging to identify holes, it can also be really encouraging. It’s an opportunity to change or adjust, but it can also be a time to celebrate growth and future plans!


Will this routine work for everyone? No. Am I slightly over-excited about this process? Perhaps. However, I honestly believe that every educator can benefit from taking a little time to think, question, and evaluate their actions in the classroom.


As the school year winds down, I challenge you to figure out what works for you!


Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Start small.
    • Identify one part of your teaching practice you’d like to advance.
    • Add one reflective tool or practice into your routine. You don’t need to do an overwhelming amount to make a difference. This is “you time” - no need to stress.
  • Get out of your typical workspace.
    • A change of scenery does wonders. Go for a walk, find a coffee shop, or create a creative space elsewhere.
  • Give yourself time.
    • Schedule time at a specific time of the week, and don’t double-book yourself.
    • If you prioritize reflection, it’ll happen!
  • Write it down.
    • It doesn’t matter how you jot down ideas. You can collect or color-code ideas on Post-Its, keep a notebook, start a private blog, share ideas in the Canvas Community...find a way to document your thoughts.
    • When you take the time to write down thoughts, the extra time required to formulate the thought can help you process and see natural connections.
  • Find a reflection buddy.
    • Just like some people rely on workout buddies to make it to the gym, find someone who will hold you accountable.


Practice makes perfect? Nah. I think that’s unrealistic. However, I fully believe that practice makes professional improvement, individual growth, self-fulfillment...all wonderful things! In my opinion, the best part of all of this is that you’ll likely increase or rediscover your excitement for teaching, and your students will likely notice.