Month: February 2015

#slowchatED – Week of February 23, 2015 – ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY

This week, we’re talking about assistive technology in our schools. Assistive technology, or AT for short, is any device that allows kids with disabilities to access content, skills, and processes in ways that level the playing field with respect to their classmates. These technologies come in many different forms depending on how they assist the student and what disability they mitigate.

For example, audio books are one of the best assistive technologies available to students who have trouble accessing print. Whether the child is blind, dyslexic, struggles with a processing disorder, or whatever, audio books provide a pathway by which a child who has trouble reading with his or her eyes.

Donnie_in_the_matrixHere, is a child reading an ebook on a Kindle Touch while listening to an audio version of the book provided by Learning Ally. This child qualifies for Learning Ally’s services, but had an easier time following along with the voice on an e-reader that allowed him to manipulate the text size. All of this, gave this young man the accommodations he needed in order to read one of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps novels. When I met him just months earlier, he was unable to read Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to me. This is the power of assistive technology.

Assistive technology does more than help kids read, though. We’ve issued NEO2 personal keyboards to students who are dysgraphic. We’ve issued digital spelling aids to kids with memory and retrieval disabilities. The Livescribe Smartpen brings AT to a whole new level giving the student the means to record lectures, take simplified notes, transmit those notes to digital platforms, and return to the lecture later in order to take the time he or she needs to assimilate the content.

Two things got me thinking about the power of AT this week. First, my 7-year-old and I were watching this DARPA video over the weekend featuring disabled vets testing prosthetic arms:

Imagine the finesse involved in drinking from a water bottle or eating a grape. Technology makes these mundane (but previously impossible tasks) possible again.

Second, I got a new student on Friday. This young lady arrived in the United States from China just days ago. Her mother insists that she attend our school despite the fact that we have no ESL program on campus. The girl speaks VERY little English and doesn’t understand much more. While wrestling with what I might do with this child after her translator left us (she had to get to class, herself), two of my students volunteered to take her under their wing. These ladies were undaunted by the fact that neither of them spoke any more Chinese than our new friend spoke English, and sure enough, by the end of class, all three of them had their phones out and were using Google Translate to carry on a conversation. They opened the door through which I will be able to start working with this child and begin the long journey of learning English in a mainstream classroom.

Given my past experience with struggling readers and writers, the amazing heights to which state of the art engineering is soaring, and this new experience using tech to communicate with a human being from an entirely different linguistic background, I figured that when #slowchatED needed a moderator this morning, something in the universe was telling me to start the conversation.

So here we are. Remember to tune in to #slowchatED each day this week for a different question and throughout the day each day, so you can stay involved in the discussion.

A Question of Quality

(cross-posted by Eric Démoré at The Learner Sherpa)

My dad likes to say:

I’m a classy guy. It’s all low class — but I’ve got lots of it.

He’s just being a goof, of course, but his joke carries some philosophical weight. It begs a question that every self-respecting pedagogue must ask at some point:

What should we aim for: QUALITY or QUANTITY?

Q-words are worth a lot.

‘Quality!’ I hear you scream. Why aim for anything less? And you’d be making a valid point. We expect quality in schools, just as we expect quality from the things that we buy and from the relationships that we forge. Quality is valuable. Quality is rare and beautiful.

But quality might not be everything. In fact, sometimes quality is not possible, nor should it be desired.

I love chocolate. So when I get a craving, I know exactly where to go: Soma in Toronto, where chocolatiers make everything in-store from cocoa pods they purchase directly from their South American farmers. Soma’s chocolate bars are exquisite. Heaven in your mouth. But also $8 from your wallet.

Much as I love making kids happy on Halloween, there’s no way I’m giving out a hundred bars of premium-grade Peruvian organic chocolate. Because for $8 I can buy a mega-box of assorted Nestle garbage chocolate which, in addition to saving me a lot of money (OK, I’m cheap), ensures I have enough to go around. Kids get treats, I save money. Win-win.

Cheap? Low-quality? Absolutely. But sometimes the moment calls for lots of something — not just a really good something.

Writing coach Deanna Mascle recently tweeted:

Writing teachers expect quality writing from young writers. But we’ve come to understand that quality writing is impossible without having practiced writing, a lot. The same goes for reading. Unless you’ve put in the flight hours, you will not be a quality reader. A quality commercial pilot has tens of thousands of hours under her belt. That’s quantity.

You might even say that, when it comes to learning, quality is only possible through quantity. Want to make something good? Make a lot of it.

In the coming week on #SlowChatED, I’d like to hear what you think. Let’s do this!

Q1: In your own learning, which Q-word do you value more?


Q2: What’s the best-quality result you’ve ever worked toward?

Q3: Outside of school hours, into what have you sunk the greatest amount of hours?

Q4: Is it possible to teach someone Quality?

Q5: What place does Quantity have in learning?

Q6: Share an example, be it in or out of school, of when less was more, and/or when more was more.

Let’s Build a School!


If you enjoy Twitter conversations on education and you’re not yet familiar with #slowchatED, I highly recommend having a look. Rather than juggling questions and answers at the breakneck pace of many popular discussions, the #slowchatED model offers the opportunity for conversations that may benefit from a little more reflection. We push out one question per day over the course of a week, and throughout the week, participants are welcome to share their ideas as they are able and at their own pace.

Using the #slowchatED model, I’d like for us to design a school together, looking at individual aspects of school models over the course of the discussion. We’ve discussed similar questions in other Twitter groups, but I don’t believe that we’ve given ourselves sufficient time to explore our own ideas in depth, nor have I see much discussion of what an actual schedule, org chart, etc. would look like, if we had a say in their creation. With this particular discussion, I’m hoping to see not just theoretical ideas but actual concrete and specific solutions to the problems we’ve all dealt with. It’s one thing to give our opinions as critics, but it’s another thing altogether to offer real solutions to the problems we regularly discuss from the point of view of designers—we need to start doing more of this kind of work. Though each question below is broad enough for a Twitter discussion of its own, we’ll use them to work toward our own designs for successful school models in this way:

Q1 What does your ideal school calendar look like (i.e., daily schedule, teaching vs. service days, etc.)?
Q2 What does your ideal physical space look like (e.g., classrooms, offices, community space, etc.)?
Q3 Describe the ideal organizational structure of your school. Who makes decisions and how?
Q4 How do you hire, train, and retain quality teaching talent? Outline your ideal supporting PD program.
Q5 What else makes your ideal school unique or what wild idea would you love to try? What did we miss?
Q6 Write your school’s mission statement.

I’m eager to hear a variety of thoughts on these questions, but I’m even more excited for the ancillary conversations that will be born from our discussion. In particular, I’m curious to know what I haven’t yet thought of as being of central importance for school design. It will certainly be the case that the room will be smarter than any individual, and thanks to the variety of points of view and the general diversity of opinion on Twitter, I expect that these questions will be just starting points allowing us to explore school design more deeply. I hope that we push each other’s ideas to give us the opportunity to dive deeply into what we think is fundamental for school design. There will be no wrong answers!

With these questions as our starting point, how might we design a school? This is your perfect world in which you get to build your perfect school. Assume that there are no restrictions or limits for our designs; but however imaginative and revolutionary they may be, let’s also try to build a school that’s feasible. At the end of the week, I’ll invite everyone to reflect on our respective school designs and capture your model in a blog post of your own to share what you learned in the process. I can’t wait to see what we each build over the course of the week of Feb. 9 on #slowchatED.

#SlowchatED: Educators Empowering Student Voice

My summary from moderating #SlowchatED week of February 2, Educators Empowering Student Voice

On a New Journey

This past week I had the lovely honour of moderating #slowchatED, and the topic was Student Voice.

There was a lot of energy especially the first few days of the chat. Participants were driven to empower each other and discuss strategies and techniques they use in their classrooms to empower student voice. Let me preface this and say that the entire chat and everyone, and I mean *everyone* literally had the best ideas and most genuine participation, they were truly there because they’re invested in their students. So my highlights will not do the chat justice.

Here are some of my favourite highlights of the chat:

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#SlowchatED: Empowering Student Voice in the Classroom & Beyond

i always wondereed

Rusul Alrubail‘s guest blog post for #slowchatED Week of February 2.

Student voice and autonomy is so important to foster in a learning environment. When students are empowered in the learning process their motivation and engagement with learning automatically increases. The results are positive for both the teacher and students when students take charge and become active agents in their own learning.

I wrote about student autonomy a few months ago here:

This was my most recommended and viewed post for a while, and I think it’s because so many of us believe in the power of student voice.

Student voice is important because:

  • It allows students to be empowered to learn.
  • It creates active agents in the classroom, school and community.
  • It tailored knowledge, learning, process to the needs of the learner.
  • It defines the future of education.
  • It has the power to change the world.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts this week when you join us at #SlowchatEd.