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Some challenges get in the way of teachers giving Canvas a go. A big one that we have noticed is when there are limited devices in classrooms. Here are some ideas that we have either used ourselves or seen teachers create.


Timetables – if sharing devices with other classes is a challenge then excellent timetabling is essential. Revisit this occasionally to see if the system is fair and working.

Charging Devices – with classes sharing devices comes the challenge of charging. Perhaps set up a monitor system to ensure checking that devices are charging during and at the end of the day.

Station Rotation – set up activities for groups to use purposefully during the day.

Group Work – kids working together with a shared device encourages problem solving, collaboration and all sorts of learning goodness. Here’s an example Shared devices ideas

Booking System - even the little ones can manage this! Here’s a cute example of a Kinder teacher collaboratively setting expectations of device use. Creating expectations

Device Allocation – to save time with new students logging in and out perhaps assign devices to certain students Can logging in be simplified for younger students? 

User Names and Passwords – sometimes the little ones need reminding. Laminated cards help with this.

QR Codes – for quick log ins. Some schools use Clever QR codes

Dealing with digital distraction - classroom behaviour

Collaborative tools embedded in Canvas – even if one student has logged in to Canvas using online collaborative tools like Padlet and Answergarden don’t require individuals to be logged in to participate.


I’d love to hear about other ways people get around sharing devices with their classes.


   Recently I attended Instructurecon 2019. Over the years I have used many different LMS...from Moodle and Fusion pages to D2L and Blackboard. What has made Canvas stand out is that it is exactly as its name would suggest; a blank slate for me to showcase my creativity. It should be no surprise then that the company is structured the same way. In just a year of using Canvas I have been able to engage and connect with so many other Canvas users around the globe. And as I served my district as a teacher on assignment to help integrate a 1:1 and brand new LMS I most definitely needed the lifeline that the Canvas Community has always been able to provide; from the amazing tutorials to the user groups and blog posts.

   Now as I return from my second Instructurecon I am buzzing with all sorts of ideas, but the biggest takeaway for me came not in the latest feature idea, but in the message of all of the speakers of the week; whether it be members of the Instructure company or the keynotes I found an amazing narrative that truly spoke to me as an educator much in the way I found Canvas’ system spoke to me on how one can create a virtual classroom space without being forced into a cookie cutter shell.

   My takeaway was that as we strive to integrate more technology in our schools, we also need to bring more humanity into our classrooms. We as teachers need to be free from the stress of the minutia so that we can really deliver lessons on empathy. We need to be responsive to our students and show them that they are valued. And as Dan Heath put it, “ we need to create more academic peaks” and we must always remember that “moments matter”. That last statement struck me significantly because it reminded me of a simple moment in kindergarten where my teacher held up a picture of a poorly colored rabbit and the letter R and exclaimed in a disdainful tone “whose is this?” I was surely not going to fess up and as a result the ABC booklet I made does not have an R in it to this day. That moment mattered to me. And now I find that I still shy away from arts and crafts in my classes and even with my own children. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on Carol Dweck’s research of mindset and those types of situations are all too common. We look to our teachers to help give us a sense of how we are all evolving. Technology can help us with the workload and giving timely feedback, but it is up to our humanity to dictate the quality of that feedback and the manner in which it is received and perceived.

   Technology also needs to help us provide authentic learning opportunities for our students. They need to have choice, ownership, and voice within those authentic learning opportunities. Something my current Master’s degree is helping me better understand as the COVA approach along with CSLE (Creating Significant Learning Environments). This is not a new concept. John Dewey espoused these same concepts in his writing of ‘My Pedagogic Creed’ back in 1897, but somewhere along the factory worker boom we lost education’s true purpose. Now it's a time of rebirth...a renaissance of education. Technology can help us get there. But we cannot forsake our humanity in the process. We need synergy of the two systems to help propel us into the future. We need to prepare our students for a future we can’t yet imagine. Are you ready to join the education revolution? Let’s tear down the teacher dominant wall and the theory of the sage or Wizard of Oz and step out from behind the curtain...let’s make our classrooms prep kitchens where teachers and students come together to make an amazing meal and then all sit down together to enjoy it. Who’s hungry?



InstructureCon 2019

Read More Reflection Blogs

Olena Bradford

Canvas in Elementary

Posted by Olena Bradford Jul 8, 2019

  I am 3rd grade teacher. My students use Canvas classes in daily practice. Canvas helps me create differentiated assignments and support students with special needs. Kids love it. I believe that other teachers will use Canvas to engage and support their students!

For example, I use 3tabs page for reading comprehension/skill groups. Each student (depending on their reding level, or the skill that needs to be developed) has the group/tab/ they are assigned. After their done with their assignment, students may go on different page.

It looks like this:

Main page with 3 tabs:

Tabbed page


Each Tab has different assignments/videos for students .


Here is a Tab 3 view:


Tabbed page 3




Also, here is the link to the video from my classroom. Send me your feedback! UEN PDTV: Canvas in Elementary Schools - YouTube  

When our team first started traveling around the state demonstrating the whys and hows of Canvas we used power points to present. It didn’t take us long to realise how clunky this was. We had to rely on screen shots or toggle between the power point and Canvas to get far too many points across.


It was a bit of a TTWADI thing (That's The Way We've Always Done It). We’d always presented via power point and naturally went that way. But then we slowly morphed into using Canvas only as our mode of presenting. No more toggling, no more screen shots. Just lots of modelling of Canvas capabilities in the one space.


We recently presented at the latest AADES conference on E-learning and Innovative Pedagogies where we shared the virtues of Canvas and told our state wide story with not a power point slide in sight. After all – why would you?

We’ve developed a few tricks along the way. We usually have all of the participants in the session put into a Canvas course. This is particularly helpful when we do repeat visits. It’s their ongoing Canvas Professional Learning space. The module we present is in the course but any interactive activities are all available to participants via an ‘Our Session Today’ button. F11 helps to keep the presentation a bit tidier as does the hamburger symbol in the top left.


Our biggest challenge is that we don't have a handy power point clicker any more. But that's survivable. 


Does anyone else present with Canvas?

Do you have any presentation tricks share?


Future Ready is a term that is being applied across the board in today’s educational universe and our high school is doing its part on several fronts. One of those pieces starts with our brand new LMS (Learning Management System), which is really a fancy way of saying virtual classroom space. Canvas LMS is vastly becoming a one stop shop for our students and staff since its inception this past fall. Classes, clubs, sports, and even administration are able to create shared spaces for collaboration. The benefits of having an LMS are enormous. It allows for consistency, collaboration and connectedness beyond the walls or time limits of the school day. Our teachers have loved the ease of use and the variety of tools such as Speedgrader for quick and easy feedback for their students. The process of effectively using all of Canvas’ tools can be as overwhelming as the menu at the Cheesecake Factory, so it has required time, patience and support as we all begin to dive into the possibilities. Our students love its sleek design and easy to use Calendar feature. The online submission area allows for them to not worry about finding a printer as well as getting immediate confirmation that the assignment was received. Students can also view their feedback and have an opportunity to have an open dialogue with their instructor about their work through the online comment section. And soon, parents will love the ability to shadow their students as observers, which will allow them to see the course work, calendar and submission status of assignments. There are even apps available for all stakeholders (Students, Teachers and Parents). The Parent access app will not be available until next year, however, we are currently piloting it with a small focus group to help us prepare for next year’s roll out. Canvas is truly a system that can really help augment, but never replace the important work and learning that happens every day inside their classrooms. Canvas is the #1 LMS used by K-12 institutions as well as universities. As a community we all are tasked with preparing today’s youth for a future that is ever evolving and now we at the high school have the tools to properly equip each of our students for success today and greatness tomorrow.

Two weeks ago I went to Bett Asia in Kuala Lumpur. The presentation is half an hour, but if you have nothing better to do, here is the Callaghan College Wallsend journey! Apologies for the wobbly start - my husband was filming and people kept walking around him. Was a great conference if anyone gets a chance to attend. 

Bett Asia 2019 - Success with Blended Learning 

Thanks all!


callaghancollegewallsendcampus callaghancollege 


My high school students dislike homework. The mere mention of the word leads them to break out in cold sweat as their minds wander to different excuses for why they will not complete the assignment.


Fast forward to the day of an assessment and students who refused to do homework break out in cold sweat over not being prepared for the assessment. The range of excuses include "I'm not good at test taking" as well as "I didn't know there was a test."


Canvas employs a means to help students overcome test phobia as well as prepare students for self-assessing their own readiness for an exam. I call the means "Practice By Topic" and these practice quizzes are all linked on the same page called "practice."


Here is a screenshot of the top of a practice page. 



Practice By Topic Structure

Each practice quiz contains 5 randomly pulled questions from an item bank. The students are allowed to take the practice as many times as they want. Correct answers are not marked but the student is shown whether their answer is correct or incorrect. 


How to Build Your Own

(1) The first step is to create item banks broken down by topics. Creating and separating out questions into these banks will take the bulk of the work. I started creating unique banks last year and feel comfortable using them once more than 6 questions are in the bank (if I'm using formula questions). Some banks have as many as 50 unique questions. 


(2) Create an assignment group called PBT or Practice By Topic.


(3) Create a Quiz using the +Quiz/Test button on the Assignments section. Provide an assignment name (I prefix them with PBT:), set to 5 points, and select the assignment group PBT. Checkmark the box for "Do not count this assignment towards the final grade." Uncheck sync if you are synchronizing your grade book. Click on Save, not publish. Only publish after you are ready. Once you click save then the LTI will direct you to the quiz within Quizzes.Next.


(4) Add instructions that this practice can be done an unlimited number of times and that the grade will appear in the grade book but not be part of the calculation. Add formulas if students will require them.


(5) Click the blue plus button and choose the pig for item banks.  Find the bank, click into it, then click on the +All/Random. 


(6) Click on the X to close the item bank and enter the quiz. 


(7) Click within the group of questions. You can set the number of randomly selected questions as well as the number of points.



(8) Click on the Settings Tab at the top of the quiz. These are the delivery settings.



(9) Click on Return to return to Canvas. 


(10) Go to the Page for Practice and link in the Practice By Topic assignment just created. 


(11) Publish the practice assignment


(12) Enter Student View, browse to the practice page, and test the quiz.


Ta Da. Your students will thank you!


Classic vs Quizzes.Next

The original Practice By Topic quizzes were built using the classic quiz engine. Today, it turns out that there are advantages to using Quizzes.Next. 


The first advantage is the showing of the practices in the grade book, but without being part of the final grade calculation. I can scan these scores and see which students are trying and need extra help. I can also decide whether to bump a student's 58% grade to a D if they've been making great efforts throughout the semester.


The second advantage is the on screen calculator, removing the need for students to rely on their cell phones, Google calculator, etc.


A third and important advantage is the additional question types. 


A disadvantage is not being able to share item banks between teachers. This is a planned feature but is currently undeveloped and unavailable. If sharing items banks is important then you will want to wait. I pushed forward regardless and have felt the advantages of Quizzes.Next over classic is worth the lack of sharing. 


Next Step: Adding Feedback.

My current item banks lack immediate feedback for students (beyond correct/incorrect). The plan is to add short videos walking through how to solve problems as well as links for where to get more information. Of course, when sharing item banks becomes available then every physics teacher in the district will have access to the item banks.


I hope you give this a try for your students. Please leave a comment if you are also using practices in or now feel compelled to try it. 


Warm regards.


PS. This is my first blog post. I hope it is of value to all of the K-12 teachers as well as professors.

I am an Upper Primary teacher in Australia and I often use KWL charts as thinking proformas for formative assessment of student understanding. A KWL chart, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is a three column chart split up into K-What students know, W- What students want to know and L- What students have learnt. It is a good tuning in activity to see what questions students have about a topic and what prior knowledge they have of the topic.


I wanted to utilise this activity in Canvas so that students could record their thinking and observe other's thinking so I have slightly adapted it and completed the activity in Discussions. An example of this setup in Discussions with an activity I did on 20th Century Australian Democracy is below.



  Rights of people in Australia in the 20th Century- KWL

Know- What rights did different groups of people have in Australia in the 20th Century?

Want to know- What questions do you have about the rights of people in Australia in the 20th Century?

Learn- Document your learnings throughout the unit.

Please choose the correct colour text when responding. Green for what you know, blue for what you want to know and purple for what you have learnt.


Using different colour fonts works really well as it is clear what question the student is answering. It is also a place where students can come back to at anytime to record their learnings. It then becomes a bit like a learning journal and the teacher can keep track of who is posting what. I also utilise the 'Users must post before seeing replies' button so you get students initial understandings that haven't simply been copied from the discussion.

Using discussions in Canvas has allowed for a more formal way for formative assessment as it is clear what each student has written and each student can be assessed inidivdually. It has value added to the original task and therefore was something I thought might be worth sharing.

I love creating environments for students to write creatively. Seeing students engage with words and proudly share their work makes me burst with the joy of teaching. Recently I was asked to share some ideas on how to use Canvas for teaching writing. Here are some of the ideas that were shared:

Writing Logs

  • Set up each student with their own ongoing discussion with the teacher or a peer with students attaching a photo, or word doc of their drafts, editing process or published writing. 
  • Use the recording tool to record the students reading their writing aloud. Encourage expression, use of punctuation, editing when it doesn't make sense...
  • Evidence of different text types developing during the year creates a mini portfolio.

How do I manually assign students to groups? 

How do I create a group discussion in a course?  


Multiple users can work together on the same document at the same time. These are saved in real-time, meaning a change made by any of its users will be immediately visible to everyone.

Use Collaborations to:

  • Have a ‘Word War’ or debate with pairs or small groups of students. 
  • Students could share work into a collaborative powerpoint
  • Insert mock texts with deliberate errors for students to be detectives to find the errors.
  • Copy and paste notes that everyone can access.
  • Share bullet-point lists or agendas for upcoming synchronous class or group time or meetings.
  • Create a text-based whiteboard that everyone in the classroom can see and refer to later.

Collaborations – Changed my world!  


Peer Reviews

  • A peer review assignment enables students to provide feedback on another student's assignment submission.
  • Peer reviews are a tool that allows communication between students and can help students master the concepts of a course and learn from each other.

Students must be well trained for this!

How do I use peer review assignments in a course? 

Writing Displays

  • Use online embedded tools like padlet to showcase published writing for the class to enjoy, or for the school newsletter or website. 
  • Encourage the students to record themselves reading their writing. Upload to Padlet or class Canvas page. 

Padlet is the easiest way to create and collaborate in the world 

TeachersFirst Review - Padlet  


  • Use websites like Pobble 365 ( or Literacy Shed (Home - THE LITERACY SHED) to provide provocative images and wordy challenges.
  • Harness discussions and assignments within Canvas to collect students ideas based on these provocations.   

Quick writes

  • Use images in a discussion to set criteria for each quick write to include eg. two onomatopoeia, three adverbs, one simile, four adjectives, two headings...

How do I create a discussion as an instructor? 

50 Quick Writing Prompts for Elementary School Children  

Word Collections

Goal setting and reflections

Use discussions, Microsoft forms or online tools as exit tickets to set goals or reflect on. 

Canvas “hearts” Microsoft Office365 


Interviews with authors

Embed videos of popular authors to:

  • spark discussion
  • brainstorm other questions to ask
  • students interview each other based on their own writing

How do I link to a YouTube video in the Rich Content Editor as an instructor? 

Bump it Up

  • Students could access this from any location using their device, compared to one location in the classroom.
  • Place a piece of anonymous student work on the discussion board and then ask students to discuss the elements that they can see being used in the piece of work. e.g. varied sentences are used, paragraphs with one idea etc. Students could then give the piece of work a 1, 2 or 3.
  • This process would be repeated with another two examples making sure as a teacher you have a low, medium and high example.
  • Students then use the discussion points as a way of working out where their individual work sits.
  • Once they have assessed where their work sits they check the example and read the discussion points to work out what they need to do to bump up their work.

Thanks Tameika Munday for your ideas here and Canvas FastTrack Ep. 25 - Gallery Stroll 


Which ideas will you start implementing and what support might you need?



Please find the infographic based on this blog created by the talented Erin Keefe.

Belinda Stutzman

Grading Schemes

Posted by Belinda Stutzman Feb 26, 2019

We have implemented standards based grading in our district which is difficult sometimes when it comes to the grade books in Canvas.  While the Learning Mastery Grade Book has great potential, it doesn't fit all of the requirements that we have, therefore, it is wonky at times.  We have created grading schemes for teachers to use in the traditional grade book and this has proven to be helpful. 


This document How do I add a grading scheme in a course? shows teachers how they can make their own grading schemes in their course.  This way they can have a points based assignment, but have it report out using our Exceeding, Meeting, Approaching and Attempting language rather than a letter grade, points or percentages.  This is helpful at the end of the term since we lean more on professional judgement of progress toward mastery rather than a total points or weighted system. 


When students and parents view the Canvas course, they also see this language which helps keep the conversations the same among everyone.


Our school rolled out Canvas with training last school year and expectations for usage this school year. We have learned a lot as we have moved forward. There has been some frustration and also some excitement with this new learning management system. I received an interesting message from a Canvas salesperson this weekend who thanked me for my post "New to an LMS? Take the time to revamp for high agency learning". He said his background was in sales when he joined the Instructure/Canvas team and he wished he had access to this post when he started because he felt it would have helped him understand what Canvas can do for educators better. I do believe we are in a world where new technology-based platforms enter the market exponentially. With this, people are trying to decide how best to embrace these platforms for what they do. It isn't just educators in this struggle. I hear business owners, marketing directors, and whole industries trying to figure out what is next in the circles I am in regarding the increased saturation of voice speakers such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. I heard a leading CEO for a media company say "our industry has to stop trying to force what we do into these new platforms. It's time for us to rethink what we do to adapt to these new platforms." Bazinga! The same holds true with education and access to learning management systems. Some of the frustration I hear teachers have with our LMS has to do with the fact that much of what they do is non-digitized and being fit into Canvas to fill the requirements. There is no shame in that game because often we don't know how to change something until we get to know the platform well. I think many of our teachers are beginning to be in the space of looking for other options. Below are a few options that teachers can try to change their curriculum in a way that fits the platform...not because this is the correct thing to do but because of frustrations from trying to do things the way they have in the past. The purpose of this post is to help educators see built-in ways inside Canvas to enhance learning in the classroom with the tools at teacher disposal.

  • Discussions. Discussion boards are a great way to get ideas flowing. If you create discussions in Canvas you can have students discuss documents, links, YouTube videos, or just about any discussion starter you can think of. When setting up a discussion, you have multiple ways to create it to best meet your classroom needs. For instance, you can allow threaded discussions so people can respond to each other. You can also set it up where students can't read other comments until they post their own first. You can even put students in assigned groups for discussions (a great way to differentiate).  Discussion boards are a great way to give the quietest student a voice. 
  • Collaborations. Perhaps your students have been collaborating in Google docs for a long time, but did you know you can set up collaboration opportunities right in Canvas? You can assign groups to work on a Google doc, presentation or spreadsheet by clicking on the "Collaborations" tab inside your course. You can set up your collaboration groups on the fly or set up groups first and then assign the collaboration to that group. 
  • Group Assignments. When creating an assignment in Canvas under the Assignment tab for your course, you can actually choose the option to make it a "Group Assignment." This then allows you to click to choose to give each member of the group their own grade or you can give every group member the same grade automatically when you grade the assignment. 
  • Media Recordings. Did you know that your students can create media recordings (both video and vocal) for assignments? Teach a foreign language and want to check for fluency? Have students upload themselves speaking. Teach dance, pottery, band or chorus? Have students upload a video to show their processes. Are your students going to present in class? Have them practice at home so you can give improvement feedback before the actual event.  Did you know you, as a teacher, you can also leave media recording comments inside Speedgrader? That's right. Instead of typing out your comments, use your voice and inflection to share your thoughts in the writing process with your students. 
  • Outcomes. What are Outcomes? Outcomes allow the administration and faculty to track mastery in a course. Users can import Account, State, and Common Core Standards into an account and course. Another useful thing about using outcomes is that you can set assignments/quiz access based on the finishing of prior assignment/quizzes. This can allow students to move at their own pace for some units or assignments. It can also allow you to see if they are truly meeting the standards without leaving gaps in their learning before moving on to the next part of the curriculum.
  • "Use Outcomes to:
    • Align Quizzes and Assignments to different kinds of mastery

    • Run reports at the account-level about student artifacts of learning mastery

    • Assess student progress through calculation methods

    • Track student progress on a learning outcome or overall in the Learning Mastery Gradebook

    • Align accreditation or other core standards to programs of study, courses, or student assessments 

    • Focus students' attention on the most important skills and activities in your course (find existing outcomes or create new ones)" (pulled from Canvas website)

Candice Lim

Book and Reading Reports

Posted by Candice Lim Employee Feb 3, 2019

End of last year, I met a librarian who was keen to get book and reading reports captured in Canvas. I reached out to our APAC team, and we brainstormed and worked through a couple of options. Thanks to Amelia Hayson, Ryo Sakai, Paul Millar, Debbie Thompson, and Brett Dalton for your contributions to this article!


Here are some options you might want to consider if you’re also looking to capture book and reading reports in Canvas.


Option 1: Assignments in a Module


Create as many Assignments as needed in a dedicated reading Module, and students complete them as needed.


So that the number of book reports does not affect the final mark, either

  1. use the “does not count towards the final mark” check box option to inform the student that it’s not counted; or
  2. add these Assignments into an Assignment Group and add a 0% weighting.


Students submit their reading reports either

  1. using Text Entry submission, where they can add details about the book, and can also include a picture of it; or
  2. using URL submission, where they can keep track of all their reports in an external document to log their reports (ex. Google doc)



  • Students have flexibility with capturing their reading reports (i.e. text, picture, URL)
  • Teachers can track individual Assignment submissions in the Gradebook so that every column with a score/submission icon can be clearly seen to indicate progress



  • Some explanation needed in this Module to explain that not all Assignments in this Module need to be completed - this can easily be resolved by adding a page at the beginning of the Module, or adding a note in a Module Text Header


Option 2: Assignment submission with multiple attempts


Create an Assignment that allow multiple attempts. Tick the box so that it doesn't count towards the final mark. There will still be an entry in the Gradebook to input number of reading reports completed.


Students submit as described in Option 1.


You can also add a recurring Calendar Event with a link to this Assignment as a reminder for students to complete it weekly.


  • Single Assignment for all reading reports, so it's easy to know where to go to submit their reading report
  • Students can submit multiple times so not limited to how many they can submit
  • Teachers can view number of submissions to indicate number of reading reports completed


  • Students can only see their last submission
  • In the Gradebook, it would only be one entry (potentially a manual number that the teacher includes to indicate how many reading reports have been submitted)


Option 3: Survey with multiple attempts


Create an unmarked Survey and allow multiple attempts.


Students fill out the Survey.



  • Students have clear fields to fill out
  • They can submit multiple times so not limited to how many they can submit
  • Teachers can view number of attempts to indicate number of reading reports completed



  • Students can only see their last Survey results
  • Would not show up in the Gradebook if an unmarked Survey. Alternatively, you could make this a marked Survey so it shows up in the Gradebook, then put it in an Assignment Group with 0% weighting. However, like Option 2, it would only show one column in the Gradebook.


Option 4: Group Discussion


Create a Group Set for Reading Reports, and assign students into their own Groups within that Group Set. Up to 200 Groups can be created in each Group Set, which means you can auto-assign up to 200 students into their own Groups using this method.


Create a Group Discussion, and select the appropriate Group Set for Reading Reports. You may need to create multiple Group Sets and Group Discussions to capture all students who will be submitting reading reports.


Students add a post for each reading report in a Group Discussion that only they can see.



  • Unlimited number of posts/reading reports in a Discussion
  • Teachers can easily see the number of posts corresponding to number of reports when looking at the Discussion
  • Teachers can comment directly by replying to the post related to each reading report



  • Extra administration work to set up Groups for each student.
  • If unmarked, would not show up in the Gradebook. Alternatively, you could make this a marked Discussion so it shows up in the Gradebook, then put it in an Assignment Group with 0% weighting. However, like Options 2 and 3, it would only show one column in the Gradebook.


Have you set up book or reading reports in Canvas? How did you do it?

Have you tried one of our options above, or a modified version? We'd love to hear your ideas and thoughts.

Our school's professional development focus for this year is on assessment. As we have been talking about what good assessment looks like I have been thinking about my own life and what assessment looked like as well. This week:

  • There was a focus on looking at the data analytics when using the LMS Canvas.
  • There was a focus on the value of formative assessment for both students and teachers.
  • There was a focus on "Purposeful Work" that supports our Graduate Profile.
I think it is fair to say that assessment can be relevant for teacher feedback in a myriad of ways. A well-written multiple choice test can give a teacher an immediate snapshot of the learning happening in their classroom. This week I shared with our teachers that I believe we are in a period of time that assessing is easier than ever before. Due to technology, we can now know before our students even leave the door for the day what they learned from the day's lesson. Creating quick digital assessments not only lets teachers know how to prepare the course for the next day but with a little training it can also let students know what they need to focus on for the next day as well. I hear a lot of pushback about differentiating and personalization on social media but quite honestly research shows that the use of formative assessments can truly have a transformable impact for students. Teachers have been doing the "show me a thumb up/thumb down- did you get this?" assessment for a long time. With the technology available many classrooms have today, digital formative assessments are both easy to create and accomplish for your students. I'm a big proponent of knowing if your students are grasping the concepts along the way instead of learning they didn't when they take a summative assessment at the end of a unit.
But today we see a big push towards relevant learning or what we now call "purposeful work" at CCS. This can look like many things. For instance, community-based projects, project-based learning/problem-based learning, authentic learning are all things that make students engaged in the learning process. The fear for many educators is that they don't know for sure if their students are truly learning the concepts expected of them. While rubrics and inquiry-based learning feels purposeful, many of our teachers can't help but think "But I know they are going to be tested at the end of the year. What if learning gains aren't achieved with this type of assessment?" 
I personally feel that's where the beauty of digital formative assessment can play a game-changing role. You have objectives you are trying to reach. You also are guiding your students through the process of purposeful work. Knowing daily what they have gained in this process and who you need to have chats with during the process can be attained through this type of assessing. 
I turn 50 next month and I am at that place where I don't remember a lot of the details of my k12 education. I remember people, shocking events, or big happy things but the process of learning...not so much. I will always remember one thing that has stuck with me for all these years that was relevant to my life at that time. I was in a dual-enrollment English class and was asked to write a persuasive open letter to anyone of my choice. There was a newsletter that went out to parents that had really rubbed me the wrong way so my open letter was to our school principal. I saw it as an assignment but my teacher chose to highlight in class because it impacted everyone in the class and because he felt it was well written. That letter changed how I saw myself as a writer. I knew if I felt passionate about something I had the ability to write it in a way that could have a positive impact. 
Relevant learning has the ability to inspire learners for their future. After a rollercoaster ride of various careers, I sit here today being someone that blogs about education on a regular basis. Not only do I share helpful tips about tech integration but I try to focus on the "why." I feel certain that moment back in 12th grade at Hixson High School has a lot to do with it. I was empowered by that moment. I remember being mortified when I realized the teacher was actually reading my letter. You see, I was a fairly quiet student so when he was done, no one could guess who had written it. The letter led to a great classroom discussion and gave me the feeling of educational respect from my peers that I had not experienced before. I was definitely not the smartest student in that class but on that topic, I was the most passionate. Relevant learning has the ability to stick with us, to mold us, and to empower us for something later on. 
So I guess I am writing this post to ask you to not give up on teaching differently. It doesn't mean you can't still assess your students in ways that feel more beneficial to you as a teacher- use formative assessment to know if students "get it" but look for ways that they can also "take it."
Food for thought: Do you remember the details of any multiple choice test you ever took? 

I recently saw an inspirational quote at my gym that read "To be different, you have to think differently". That rung true for me on many levels. And it is especially true when I think about how I run my classroom. Over the past 14 years I have made vast changes to both my classroom space and management style. But those changes were not the result of a NYE resolution. The changes that I made and maintained started with my own thinking. If I changed rules in my class, but didn't change my thinking about how the new strategies worked and how I would maintain them, ultimately they would be doomed to repeat. I had to change my thought process first or I would inevitably end up on the same road as before.

As technology continues flooding into our classrooms I wonder how it will maintain in the future. If teachers do not change their thinking about technology and its role in the classroom then will it really last? I think we all know the answer to that. It is for this very reason that the role of a Tech Integration Coach could not be more important. Real change takes time. If we do not give the teachers support on how to best use all this technology as well as what is useful vs. useless. Otherwise most classrooms will look like time has stood still over the past 100 years and any 1:1 initiatives will leave a lot of schools with very expensive paper weights. And that will not make us "Future Ready".

My hope is that school boards and administrators across the country start to realize that you cannot squeeze any more time into a day. That is set and non-negotiable, but what we can do is help our staff and students to be more efficient with our time. Teachers can leverage technology to help free up time spent at the copier, time spent grading smaller assessments and give students faster and more effective feedback. We can utilize LMS and even digital snow days to help learning continue even outside of the school building and day. Then administrators no longer have to weigh student safety with how many built in snow days we have left.

However this all starts in the mind of each teacher, They need to ask themselves some serious and simple questions. What does learning look like in a classroom today? What did learning look like when they were in school? How are the needs of today's students different or perhaps the same as when they were students? The reality is that we are all products of our environment and teachers rely on their personal histories to help define success in their professional careers, but their compass may be outdated...for example what if Google Maps used maps from 1950? Yes it would get us in the general direction, but it would not take into account the shopping malls, highways and tolls that have popped up over the last 69 years. We need to adjust with the times. We can still maintain the structural integrity of our classrooms, but we need to be aware of how the student population has changed. We need to help support our teachers and invest in technology that makes sense and is user friendly. We need to invest in the future of our students and our communities! I'll leave you with a great quote from a book called "Thinking Skills for the Digital Generation". This quote sums up the healthy fear we all have, but it requires a change in thinking on our parts. Are you up for the challenge?


“We, as educators, are concerned about the way that media are shaping students’ worldview. We are also aware that technology is altering how we learn and think. But, at the same time, we are excited about the enormous potential for technology

to aid human thinking.”




Athreya, Balu H., and Chrystalla Mouza. “Thinking Skills for the Digital Generation: the Development of Thinking and Learning in the Age of Information.” Thinking Skills for the Digital Generation: the Development of Thinking and Learning in the Age of Information, Springer, 2017, pp. 16–16.

Recently Eric Sheninger posted the following graphic as part of a blog post about taking a critical lens to instructional design:

I've been thinking about the above concepts on a regular basis as our teachers are going through the process of creating units in our learning management system, Canvas. I believe there are certain times that just lend themselves to reflection, revamping and reorganization such as:

  • When a lesson plan flops
  • When curriculum mapping is being updated
  • When a learning management system (LMS) is an option
  • When you have a vision for a lesson plan that could use a little ummph
  • When you start wondering if there is a better way to....(fill in the blank)
So what do the above high agency options look like?
  1. "Facilitate" learning - you were probably both taught from a "sage on the stage" model of learning and if you are my age you also were probably taught to teach that way as well. While there are definitely times that lectures work, high agency education moves the teacher from the giver of all knowledge to the facilitator of the learning happening in the classroom. In the age of digital learning, the teacher can have options for students to learn more on a topic- for instance: access to primary source documents or video conferencing with subject matter experts.
  2. Student-centered - Does the learning happen based on the teacher's actions, steps, words, timing? Or does the student have access and the ability to be in charge of parts or all of their learning? Do students have voice and choice in the things they are learning or sharing? Student-centered activities lead to engagement. 
  3. Learning anytime/anywhere - Most teachers balk at this concept. "I don't teach an online course!" but do your students have to be sitting in front of you for learning to happen? Are you utilizing tools like a learning management system that allows students to use their time well? If seat time was not an issue, could your students access you when they needed more details or direction but basically could move forward with learning even if a sub was there for weeks? What if they are sitting in your classroom? Are there ways you could utilize an LMS that would allow you to have more one-on-one planning, mapping, and teaching happening with EACH student (or small groups of students)?
  4. Personalized, differentiated - Are you meeting the needs of ALL your students? For hundreds of years, educators have taught to the norm. Those that caught on quicker were bored out of their minds and those that caught on slower felt like a failure. Technology can allow students to have different outcome paths. In Canvas, our LMS at CCS, we have a math classroom that uses mastery paths. Students cannot move on until they are "ready" but they can move ahead at a faster rate as well. Personalization and differentiation are tricky in a traditional school structure but it can be possible and is definitely beneficial to ALL students. One of my favorite, easy to implement option for this is software that adapts to the student learning in the process. For instance, if a student doesn't do well on a math problem then an easier problem is given to allow for scaffolding that student back to the level of understanding needed. Also, algorithm-based software that assigns the next "to do" objectives to students meet those students where they are and take them to their potential.
  5. Do to learn - Parents often question the time it takes for homework and have a hard time seeing the validity and purpose, and so do I. What is the purpose of "doing?" Or your students doing to learn or just going through the motions of doing? It is our job to spark learning and a desire to learn. Are your students good at following instructions and jumping through hoops (for example: do the odd problems 1-17) or are your students doing it to learn- are grades associated with the learning process? In other words, are your formative assessments given to formulate feedback in order to know what students know or is it another grade in the grade book because you need more grades? If students have the freedom to fail and learn from the process with feedback then they don't fear the process. Think about the freedom you have while playing a video game. Students don't get upset when they "lose a life" or have to start over, then click play and go again because they realize the way to learn how to do it is to keep doing it. Unlike the culture of a school, there are no repercussions to getting it wrong. Can we as educators learn from this concept?
  6. Application focused - Look for ways to teach your curriculum authentically. Project-based learning lends itself to giving students the concept of WHY.  Apply the learning to real life. For instance, in our lower school STEAM program when our fifth graders are learning about structure and function, I plan to connect the concept of their drinking straw made projects to a video of a local architect explaining who he is, what he does, and how what they are learning relates to his job. Application focus gives meaning and while it might be quite obvious to us what the application is, it might not be to a student. Share the why and make the learning applied when you can.
  7. Develop Thinking - Make learning more about the process than the end result. We tend to focus on summative tests as our end result but the process of learning and learning how to learn is a beautiful thing. Be intentional in helping students get to the end result, not just being able to answer multiple choice questions correctly because they are a good memorizer. We are currently going through a whole school design thinking process in our lower school. To teach students how to critically look at challenges through the eyes of empathy, to then ideate those concepts, storyboard your process, and come to a conclusion or prototype can be a skill that has the ability to be applied to all learning processes. Teach your students how to think. 
  8. Integrating curriculum - Segmented curriculum often feels intimidating. By integrating the curriculum into a project or problem to solve changes biases. Students that use to walk into math class saying "I'm not good at math" may feel less angst when it is integrated with a subject they do like. Integration focuses on relevance for students and directly correlates to the application focused discussion above. Integrating curriculum isn't always easy, especially in the middle and high school grades but when done well, there is an embedded connection that naturally happens that spurs the learner forward. Think about it, all day long a student goes from Subject A to Subject B, etc that have a high level of learning taking place but no connection whatsoever...between each class they have 3-10 minutes to decompress and get ready for the next stand-alone idea. What if their day was more fluid? Connected learning seems more manageable from the student perspective. 
  9. Active learning opportunities - "Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime." - Chinese Proverb. Take a look at Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience: 
    Look at your mode of instruction, how often is active learning happening with your students? How often could it happen with some adjustments? Active and interactive opportunities support all the above high agency learning concepts. It can get loud and messy but often the level of engagement in the learning process becomes organic and freeing for the learners.
Nothing mentioned above is meant to say "you're doing this wrong." It's more just a challenge to us all to look deeper at the way we teach and consider alternatives to the process. How can you get all your students involved in the learning? Not just the same 5 that always raise their hands. We default to what feels easiest, it's human nature. But what if we took a moment to be a learner in this school year and challenge ourselves with learning based on the above? What if we changed our perspective towards what works best for our learners instead of what works best for us? We might find that some of these ideas fail miserably for us, but even when we fail, we learn...remember the video game idea? 

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