Commonplace Books

Behold, the power of the commonplace book, a system with deep historical roots. As author Steven Johnson says:
Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters—just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. In its most customary form, ‘commonplacing,’ as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations.
The practice remains the perfect way to harness the colossal amount of digital content we see. And technology has provided us with flexible frameworks capable of helping us capture, curate, and retain information. As Ryan Holliday notes, commonplace has plenty of utility in our modern life:
A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.

Taking Note: What Commonplace Books Can Teach Us about Our Past Posted by Taylor Pipes on 26 Feb 2016

Periodically, I’ve attempted to use a “journal” to track my thoughts. It began with a journal in my late teens. I abandoned that in embarrassment, even destroying it. For ten years I used my day planner as a common book, writing and drawing in it. In grad school I kept a dedicated common book. It was very satisfying and as this article suggests, it organized my thinking. Since the advent of my digital life, common books have been in disarray. My writing was fragmented across too many applications.
Finally, I am bringing order to this. I feel the lure of a print journal still, but it can’t compete with the convenience of a phone or iPad. My efforts have gravitated to Evernote finally. This article  Common books seems to be my first introduction to a very old term. I use Evernote to compile links, quotes, resources, and personal ideas now. It is not my only digital tool. It is the most personal. Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, and this blog are more about sharing ideas.

Student exercise books, which I have been referring to as “learning journals” are evolving slowly into common books. After reading this article, I think I will adopt the name.

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Flat Learning is a Challenge Still in Room 7

The technologies we integrate with learning change gradually over time. These last few years I have been trying to use Edmodo to connect my students with other classrooms. After a few successful years of “global pen pals”, and a great start this year, it collapsed.
I had a Mystery Skype in the fall, and neglected to set up others. They are great introductory experiences, but for me, they have never evolved into meaningful exchanges of learning. My dream is to create successful cooperative teams across schools; literature circles or inquiry teams for example. 

Untethering learning, or flattening your classroom remains a challenge for me. It requires partners with the energy to do the same thing. I will keep working on it because I think it is the direction in which we need to take our classrooms, but this year it has been a struggle.

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Edging toward Readicide

Literature Circle on Stone Fox

Literature Circle on Stone Fox

My class routine includes 20 minutes of unrestricted, sustained, silent reading at the end of the day. It is a great way to end the day of learning in a good space. That is quite an investment of time, and I have no reliable indicators that each student is comprehending their reading. It does not incorporate sharing, or reading aloud either. I go to a novel study for that. I have been randomly assigning groups of three to tackle the short chapters of Gardiner’s Stone Fox ,  asking them to take turns reading aloud, agree on three important details from the chapter, and collaborate on a central idea for the chapter. I created this study guide using a Google Doc, mindful of the need not to bury them under exhaustive quick questions. Even though I knew better, I did that earlier in the year with two other novel studies. One was a great book and I spoiled the experience for them. It was readicide.

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Cross-Curricular Learning


Our conversation this week on #saskedchat shared our understandings and current practices incorporating cross-curricular outcomes and indicators. Within ten minutes I pulled myself up short and remembered that my context was not identical to those of the others in the discussion. Parenthetically, that is one of the virtues of participating in these sorts of conversations. Each of us is reminded that our lived experience with students and the curriculum is different.

I initially entered the conversation from my current perspective as an elementary classroom teacher. Creating integrated an integrated unit when you teach virtually all disciplines to your students is remarkably easy. Consuming and then producing representations of learning involves multiple disciplines. The student in the picture is working on his Canadian Heritage Fair Project. The outcomes effortlessly bridge language arts, science, social studies, and arts education. I can assess him in all these subjects.

Ten minutes into repeating the obvious to my fellow #saskedchat participants I was reminded that I was also chatting with departmentalized high school teachers. I was forced to rethink the questions. In their context, cross-curricular learning, at least learning representations destined for assessment, necessitates team teaching and collaborative meetings. Many of my colleague’s remarks revolved around the roadblocks to collaboration. Shared vision, time, and rubrics, are examples offered.

I have frequently characterized teaching as akin to being a short order cook, rather than a chef, or cook book author. We expedite results in an economical manner, with the minimum of superfluous exposition. Unless you are documenting something for your graduate class, thesis, or district assessment, the word is KISS. Frankly, I think an administrator in a supervision cycle with a master teacher should be attending to this quality in the teacher’s work flow. It is, I think, a hallmark of a master teacher.

This relates to the problems high school teachers face implementing cross-curricular ideas. My approach would be to create a unit, identify outcomes from other courses, and then shop around the staff room seeking colleagues interested in assessing my students publications for their own narrow interests. If they can offer a modification to my plan that helps them integrate their outcomes, all the better. Formal meetings between three to five teachers seem unnecessary to me.

Time for my Sunday night pizza!

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Seven Years of Blogging


I think that I have been posting to this blog for nine years or so actually. My first post, PARTY Time is dated 


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 Last evening our #saskedchat conversation focused on blogging. I moved into the conversation late with the assumption we were discussing professional, reflective blogs like this one. After following the exchanges, I realized much of the conversation was on classroom blogging. I’ve been trying to engage in both.

I don’t believe I’ve ever had a parent or student follow my professional blog. I write this blog for myself and for my teacher colleagues. The voice that I use in this blog reflects that audience. Topics are more generalized I suppose, and less specific about individuals in my class, or our daily routine. As I said in my last post, I also write with far less certainty that I am being read.

I am far more confident about the audience attending to my microblogs from the classroom. It was unclear what people in the #saskedchat thought a classroom blog looked like. I’m sure I added to the confusion. Text messaging with Seesaw and Remind do not really constitute blogging in my mind. Blogging is a longer and more reflective process of developing ideas into paragraphs. My classrooms Edmodo account would be a much better example of that sort of thing. While it is something of a failure in my mind this year because we have not been able to connect with other classrooms, it also gives us an audience beyond ourselves. 

Every year’s technological integration feels like an improvisation. There’s so much potential in each of the applications available to me. It’s rather like my students playing freeze together. The action keeps changing as new people step into the  centre of room. It’s interesting to think how this is happening also get a macro level among the software developers themselves. Applications like Seesaw, Class Dojo, and Remind adopt characteristics of each other. It has gotten to the point where I am not sure which of the three principal applications I use for communicating with families is the best one to follow. All three have Included classroom blogging into their service.

Next year I think I will have to make a choice between some of these services. At present I use Remind to keep students and families up-to-date with our daily activity, and offer challenges for evening conversation (about as much homework as I cared offer). I use Seesaw as a digital portfolio. Class Dojo is my weekly behavioral assessment on learning. Remind has been so very useful over the last few years, but frankly it is the one service I could probably eliminate.

A final thought on blogging, likely unrelated to the previous conversation. During the course of our chat last night I remarked that it was important to think about audience and purpose when your blog. This is true. It’s something that we stress with students all the time as they think about their writing. It’s only one strategy though. I think I began writing with myself as the sole audience. Unlike a class blog which has a very clear audience my professional blog is largely for myself. It’s purpose is to capture the flow of my own ideas and make them clear through articulation. As my thoughts progress my audience often changes or rather expands.

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Quo Vadis Blog?

What a painful topic this is, and so predictable. What to do with a reflective blog you have invested in? This is my domain at a number of levels, but as in the classroom, technology has shifted my work and PD flow. Edustange is a representation of my learning. As I approach the end of my career, Edustange Blog remains one important indicator of my continued engagement with teaching.

I recognize that retirement for me will be be a process of gradual disengagement. I see this in the increasing desire to pace myself at school. I am applying all of my canny skills and years of hard won knowledge to streamline my workflow. I’m more inclined to pass on extracurricular coaching two younger teachers. And admittedly these teachers are more experienced than I am at the coaching. Never-the-less, I intend to end well. I’d like to be reflecting in this blog all the way.

I think and articulate ideas for myself, but also to engage in meaningful conversation. Edustange Blog has definitely been more about the former than the latter. Digitally speaking, Twitter and its #saskedchat community has met my need for conversation. This is part of the ongoing migration from one platform to another. It is, to steal a delicious phrase, a moveable feast.

The conundrum of my blog is part of the greater migration in my work flow from one platform or application to another. There remain only a few living fossils in my work flow. The WordPress Blog is one of them. Part of the process of disengagement is apparently a growing inclination to stop pimping myself to the educational community. Leadership, being a sage to others, has lost its charm. I began with the intention of conveying my lived experience as a teacher here in Saskatchewan. I’m not sure I met that goal. I’m still living my dream though.

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Science Experiments

The grade fives so love anything hands on, and who doesn’t like playing with a balloon?

I’m struggling with image file sizes. I can upload an image on iOS with an iPad, but the image size is not optimized I guess. I am currently going into WordPress on my desktop to make adjustments.

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Adjusting my Practice to My Tech

I’ve been struggling with posting pictures through the iOS app. The file size is clearly not compatible with my iPad camera. I realized my Paper Artist app allows me to save smaller formats that are acceptable to the iOS WordPress app. I’m encouraged to resume blogging.

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