Posted in Blogging, ETMOOC, Professional Development

This I Believe: Blogging Transforms the English Classroom

About a half-dozen years ago, as an English teacher – a lover of reading and writing, my heart was breaking as my students seemed to be floating further away from my love of books and the craft of writing; I was getting older and feeling irrelevant in the world of my students – an annoying necessity of a class. Yet, I also am a theatre teacher and noticed that with a stage and lights, my students would work hard to perform when starring on the stage and being acknowledged with accolades of applause – an inspiring option for a class.

Blogging revealed itself to me as the quiet stage and lights for the high school English classroom. Students had been building online, virtual lives at home with daily hours dedicated to their online identities – a world where they were reading and writing. I needed to learn how I could create that world for the students in the English classroom. By immersing my PGP (Professional Growth Plan) in 21st Century digital literacies, and by practicing what I preach by blogging myself beside my students, my classrooms have transformed into rehearsal spaces of reading and writing, preparing for our performances on our blogging stage. Blogging inspires kids to offer their best efforts as writers, but it also inspires students to be peer tutors offering great leadership and character, as we expect from our FFCA students:

Vision of an FFCA Graduate With intentional thought given to the design of the learning experience at FFCA, graduates will leave us with core knowledge competencies, skills and abilities that are both essential and timeless. As creators of knowledge, students will have achieved the ability to think critically, care deeply and act ethically so that they can contribute to creating a world that cares and nurtures the diversity of cultures, celebrates personal contributions, and inspires others to reach their true potential. Proficient in their technological communications, FFCA leaders will be able to work independently or interdependently in a globalized society where partnerships and relationships strengthen the capacity to solve problems in collaborative ways. Possessing the attributes of life-long learners, graduates will be reflective and self-aware as they continue to evolve as successful individuals guided by moral purpose.

Our kids constantly humble, impress, and surprise me with their incredible writing and thinking. I love reading the students’ blog writing, as you can experience by reading some of our Grade 12 This I Believe blogs that are linked in this Storify:

However, what I love even more is the comments the students write to each other after the blogs, offering applause and critical feedback for improvement. Students are connecting with each other, they are building caring communities, they are reading as fans and critics of each other. The comments they craft for each other are thoughtful, relevant, and constructive; furthermore, the most surprising benefit is that “blogging with commenting” has developed a trusting, compassionate, and respectful community – virtually – that transfers into the classroom itself.

Blogging has allowed our walls to literally and figuratively disappear as the students work together to inspire, encourage, and validate each other. Blogging is our stage that features the embodiment of our vision for our FFCA Graduates.  Our classroom – both during our 90 minutes and in our virtual world – is an inspiring, highly relevant, necessity of a class.

Here are examples of student feedback:

Dear Jaiveen,

Wow! This piece stood out to me because I too wrote about TIME and once I read the title I knew I had to read it to see a different perspective on this topic. I really enjoyed the first line due to the nature of its contest because as a child time does not mean anything but as you grow old it means the world. By the first line it immediately made me read the whole blog.

Something I saw that you could improve is giving the audience more of what time has impacted your life. I felt like you gave a glimpse of the big picture by just giving a bit more detail and more personal connections to time would have made it way better and made it a bit more extended piece.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this post due to the topic and your personal opinion because got to see another perspective to the same topic. Hope to read more posts from you.


Dear Rachel,

I think the overall message you’re sending out in this blog is immensely important for everyone in today’s society. You’ve done an amazing job at explaining the difference between loving oneself and not becoming arrogant. I think the fact that you encouraged more independence of people is great as too many people these days are depending on others to get somewhere in life.

The only thing I would liked to have seen more of in your blog are personal connections to your own life as I feel that would have made me even more engaged.

All in all, I think this was an excellent piece that everyone should get a chance to read as this could definitely help a lot of people in becoming more independent and less self conscious. Just add a bit of personal experiences in your writing and I think you’re set.

Sincerely, Shaan

Dear Daman,

I really connected with what you wrote in the fifth and sixth paragraphs about how you analyze the behaviours of those around you and then choose how to act accordingly. It makes me wonder about how I affect those around me who, whether it be through timidness or their lack of a loud enough voice, manage to escape my attention. It makes me wonder if I’m giving the right impression. Am I the one you, or others, characterize as a jerk? Am I one to be avoided and my behaviour a model of how not to act? Or am I seen as a genuinely good person?

Either way, this piece has made me realize that I need to put forth a conscious effort to analyze my actions and behaviour. I never know who might be watching an silently taking mental notes of my character; I want to make sure that I leave a good impression on everyone.

For improvements, I think those fifth and sixth paragraphs, even though they were so well written, do go on a bit of a tangent. From my perspective, I didn’t really see how someone’s behaviour affects people’s choices so much. Someone’s behaviour does give the choice of wanting to model, or avoid a behaviour like that. However, when you said, “It’s difficult to not be affected by all the people trying to change who you are, what you believe in, and the choices you make.” I felt as though you had a deeper connection to the point you were trying to convey through the fifth and sixth paragraphs. Making this connection to the reader would really tie your post together and make your post appear much more meaningful and organized.

Good luck with your writings in the future. I look forward to reading more posts like this.


Dear Noor,

Noor that was amazing! Reading this I felt a connection to you as I myself also find more happiness in simple things. I also feel that the little things, the things we wouldn’t really think about meaning the simple things are much more rewarding. I really liked the way your blog just flowed. The transitions and the way you organized your paragraphs really helped me stay engaged and helped my understanding. At no time did I feel confused. Your explanations and evidence was of perfect amount.

To improve, I also agree with Yashii and Sukhjot. Although you maintained perfect flow, sometimes your sentences were really long. An example would be your last paragraph. I understand that the ideas presented in that sentence are vey connected however splitting it up into two sentences would help to get your message across more efficiently.

I would like to end off by saying that I can see this believe in you. You seem to be very humble and appreciative and after reading your blog I respect you even more.

Sincerely, Aman

Dear Jas,
I believe you have a lot of good ideas and that you have the ability to make this great piece about the potential of humanity. I liked how you discussed both the good and the evil of human potential. Keep on giving it your all and don’t get discouraged. I enjoyed your writing and images.
My criticism is about the sentence structures you used for your piece. Most of your sentences were simple sentences which can feel choppy and disjointed to the reader. I would advise keeping the hand-out that Ms. Hunnisett gave on sentence structures beside you as you write to help make your piece flow. Challenge yourself to write with most of the sentence types in every piece of writing; once you are comfortable use them to create an effect on the reader. I have to do it as well. As an added comment unify your ideas; do not contradict yourself. In the first line you say “I believe in the potential of humanity, and that the key to unlocking that potential is the unknown.” And at the end you say “I believe that if we are to unlock own true potential we must strive to put aside our differences.” These ideas do not agree with each other. I believe that you can make this a great piece.
What would you recommend each person do to help the human potential?

Posted in ETMOOC, School, Uncategorized, writing

A Brief Blog Buzzing with Bits and Bites

In the etmooc (Educational Technology Media Open Online Course), I have learned how to use some interesting sites where you can curate and collaborate with information.  This has been incredibly eye-opening, useful, and liberating.  I began by lurking, dabbled by retweeting, blabbed with tweeting, flirted with reviewing, buzzed on my blog, and now – with these exciting new sites – aspire to curate.

Those who can, curate ... Those who can't twee...
Those who can, curate … Those who can’t tweet, retweet @bethkanter (Photo credit: planeta)

To begin, I am excited to be a publisher of stories or sites of interest to share with my “PLN” (Personal Learning Network), my colleagues, and friends.  The two sites that turned this simple hobbit-sized teacher into a powerful publisher (okay, I do exaggerate the power part, but not the hobbit part) are Storify and

1)  curates the material for you from tweeters that you choose to follow in your

2)    Storify allows you to curate your material by adding a “STORIFY THIS” button in your toolbar.  So, each interesting or relevant read can be “Storified”.

To help me sort through the confusion, this blog “ vs Storify” explains the pros and cons between and Storify.  I, actually, like both.  I feel that does a great job curating the PD reading of interest to me, which might interest my PLN too.   Whereas Storify offers me the power to select some great blogs, sites, articles, etc.. that I can customize to my audience and purpose.  (i.e. to share with my classes, or my Committee work on Learning Commons, or Travel info, etc…).  If I get to teach Creative Writing next year, then Storify is definitely a site I’d teach the students to use to curate their sources of inspiration with the PLN of the class.

3)    Finally, another two AWESOME sites for collecting information is DIIGO and EVERNOTE (these are buzz sites among educators).  This can be for personal use or collective usage (i.e. like our shared drive – but easier access, upload, and downloads).
a.    DIIGO –  offers a “Bookmarking” site that is easy to organize all the websites we educators collect.
b.    EVERNOTE – offers a sharing site of files and websites – allowing access to your storehouse of info, from any computer with internet access.

Such sites could offer awesome “sharing” and PD opportunities among staff and like-minded friends and PLNs.   I look forward to learning how to become “buzzingly” proficient with these bits and bites of sites that improve my interaction with the golden honey of the world wide web!

Posted in Blogging, ETMOOC

Etiquettes with Blogging

Etiquette and expectations for blogging and commenting has always been part of my blogging journey with my students.  Being thoughtful as both a writer and reader are important.  I love that my students start to think of themselves as writers, but more importantly, I love the community they build through the process of “joining the conversation” with each other through feedback.  Their virtual community has transferred into the classroom itself – bringing the students together as a family. Blogging has allowed our walls to literally and figuratively disappear as the students work together to inspire, encourage, respect, and validate each other.   Here is an example of a student’s comment from our student blog and the writer’s response:

Dear Gurleen,
This piece, in a kind of tragic way, was beautifully written and illustrates the existing ignorance that continues to plague our society. “Due to my awareness of my flaw, I am able to hold myself accountable to discovering one’s true nature through personal experience rather than what I have been told.” This sentence made me smile because you do exude that radiant confidence and are able to hold yourself up throughout the length of any bad day. The relevance of this judgment issue is one you portray very well in your writing through honesty and passion.
To improve, I would suggest expanding upon your personal experiences with this topic as you slightly mentioned in your first paragraph. It would add another layer of understanding especially for the readers and make it more relatable.
As soon as I saw you writing as much as you did in the lab last week, I knew this was going to be worth reading and it absolutely was. Your devotion to this piece clearly reflects and hopefully, this is an issue that eventually will resolve in the future.
Hey Guys,
Firstly, thank you so much for reading my blog! Coming from you two ,who art is almost a second nature for , it means a lot that you liked the comparison.
Kiran, that’s a good point and I realized after reading you comment that I do that quite often. Thanks for pointing it out and making me accountable to putting it to a stop. It definitely takes away the experience from the reader and would make my writing better to let them deduct it themselves.
Namitha, holy that was long. It’s always nice to know that someone can hear your voice in your writing so I appreciate that. Adding that personal touch would’ve made this that much stronger, and I’m regretting leaving it out now. From now on I’ll add a little bit of my personal experiences to help you see it from my P.O.V. and make it more relatable for the readers. I also hope that in the near future equality is no longer something we have to fight for, and will become something we begin to wonder why was ever a struggle to achieve.
Thank you again for reading my blog. From the two of you, whose writing I think is absolutely brilliant, it means so much that you read and commented on my blog.

So, I have been very happy thus far, but I am ready for next steps to improve our process.  Thanks to Sue Waters’s Thursday session on Advanced Blogging through etmooc, I have had some “aha” visions for my next steps with my students:

  1. We need to learn to embed pictures, music, videos, and links in their blogs.  It makes their work more interesting, inviting, honest, and it joins the conversation with the rest of the world.
  2. We need to learn to write engaging, creative, thoughtful and relevant titles.
  3. We need to respond and link to each others’ work to further the discussion.
  4. We need to be grateful to those who take the time to read our work and comment  (as Gurleen does above).
  5. We need to take commenting to the next level.  We already write to our blogger in the form of a letter, we offer positive and a constructive criticism, but I want to add the expectation of furthering the discussion.  (see my ideas in the box below)
  6. We need to be “tagging” our own work as I believe that is part of the metacognitive process in the “final touches” of their posts!
  7. Finally, we need to be more mindful of “polished” work; we don’t take enough time to structure, revise, edit, or embed with their posts.

So, if you have any comments, questions, feedback, models, suggestions, or if you just want to join the conversation on this subject, I look forward to it!




Format = friendly letter form Dear ______________________,

  1. Encouragement
  2. Praise
  3. Reaction – when positive

(be specific, thoughtful, friendly tone)


  1. Suggestions for improvement
  2. Be specific
  3. Be a helpful and kind tutor

C)   Further the Discussion:

  1. Response to another comment
  2. Enter the conversation about the idea the blogger presented in their post
  3. Provide added value
  4. Offer links that could help to improve or continue the conversation

Sincerely,  ________________________________

*Etiquette is to ALWAYS respond to any comment that was given to you on the blog.  Try to further the conversation!




* GUMPS = Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Punctuation, and Spelling – Ensure you Edit to Eliminate Gumps!

More advice on Commenting:

Posted in ETMOOC, Personal Response

The Light Shines in the Dark

A powerful light shines in the dark.
A powerful light shines in the dark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The mysterious forces of the universe never cease to amaze me.  As doors close, windows open.  Once, in a relationship crash of my twenty-something years, my father – who thinks pragmatically like any true businessman – tried to comfort me with “don’t look at this as an obstacle, rather, look at it like an opportunity!”  This “insensitivity” sparked a teenage-like rage of disbelief and betrayal in my heart!  How could he liken my broken relationship to a business euphemism?  Ah – but that travelling salesman – my daddy – was all too wise!  That truth has become a mantra of my life; thankfully I could put my emotional ego aside to see that wisdom – those loving and supportive words, eventually, brought light to my darkness.  Thus, the universe does this to us too, repeatedly!  It brings us situations that are obstacles and conflicts until we learn how to make them our opportunities.

I have thought of this often this week through challenges!  There have been many obstacles and my emotional side often frustrates through it all.  But slowly, the week has offered me far more opportunities and I will choose to focus on those.

To begin, I – gulp – took up the call for proposals for NCTE  2013 regarding the blogging journey I’ve experienced with my students.  This is pure opportunity, a dream to hope for!   I do not expect such an honour of presenting at this event that I truly, truly love, but I am proud that I took a chance to make a dream come true.  After-all, as my first blog here states: “Pretending that next time I could be presenting at such a conference as this! But in truth, I just basked in the glory of the gurus and the geniuses wondering if I’d ever really grow up and be wise like the big kids and as energetically creative as the young kids?”  I truly believe in NCTE and how it has transformed me as a teacher!   The PLN and sharing we speak of here in our etmooc course really made me feel the confidence I needed to take a risk and try.

Second blessing of my week – tweeting with  one of my professional idols – Penny Kittle.  As an English high school teacher, this  fine lady is a mentor to my professional growth.  I first encountered her at 2011 NCTE and again I basked in her glory at 2012 NCTE!   She is pure inspiration!  If you are an English teacher – you truly need her!  In fact, my subtitle on this blog is “Blogging Beside My Students”, which is an emulation to her book Write Beside Them.  Alas, I am so excited that she will be coming to Alberta to do workshops with writing!  I noticed on her website that she would be in two other provincial cities this coming month – so I advocated to our local PD and they are bringing her to us too.  Okay, true, I could be accused of being a stalker.  But, I promise you Penny, I’m just humbly respectful of  your amazing energy and talent!  I hope you’ll still take me up on the coffee and tour (it seems Oprah wasn’t interested when she came to town this week).  Just the courage it took me to tweet Penny warrants a coffee – I hope!

Now, as the universe has offered me some painful lessons this week, it also brought great “lights” to my life!  First of all, I reconnected with this amazing teacher who has been a virtual friend and mentor to me – my PLN  (personal learning network).  I met this amazing lady – Carol Mayne – about four years ago via the English Companion Ning.  Ironically, she is in neighbouring Canmore (in the mountains via Calgary).  As I was learning about PLN and sharing, I longed for my friend who I had lost touch with over a year ago.  Luckily – I quickly found her – and it turns out we were finding each other serendipitously via this course.  Amazing!  I am so grateful to have her back in my world and we are planning an actual meeting, as real humans!  Furthermore,  I just saw great clarity of good people in my life – the gifts  of my family, dear friends, and amazing student teachers who I get to collaborate with in my classroom!  I have been blessed by many loving, light-filled people!

Finally, I have really enjoyed reading many blogs this week that transform one’s “wounded” spirit.  But the two that truly to spoke to my inner truth were:

These blogs, this course, that conference, the tweets, these people all remind me: “don’t look at this as an obstacle, rather, look at it like an opportunity!”  Essentially, there is much more grace and gratitude to be had in my week than I had felt before.  I choose to focus on the opportunities and be grateful for them.  I guess that pragmatic dad of mine was right all along!  Thanks Daddy!

View of Canmore, AB from the abandoned tea hou...
View of Canmore, AB from the abandoned tea house up Mount Lady MacDonald (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Posted in ETMOOC

“Tell all the Truth …”

I was reading some poetry this evening, cause that’s what lit-geeks like me do, and serendipitously found this Emily Dickinson poem that resonated deeply with me on many levels, especially in regards to my quixotic pursuit of the paradigm shift with educational technology that I spoke of in my last post.

Tell All The Truth

Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise;

As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.

Essentially, I hear Emily Dickinson stating that all the razzle and dazzle of truth must be revealed slowly and mindfully, otherwise we would be blinded by its immediate radiance.  This, too,  is true for learning in our etmooc course (!  Essentially, the learning is not a linear process but, rather, it is a indirect process that slowly reveals “truth”.  We are drawn in to explore and question based on our personal interest and needs –  taking the time to find the truths to the  circuitous paths we are each exploring.

Posted in ETMOOC, Uncategorized

Beginnings and Endings

Typewriter (Photo credit: toastytreat87)

Well, it has been a very busy week at school – the summative week with my beloved 1st semester classes.  I truly mean it – I have adored my classes this semester.  So this week has been both stressful and emotional.  Oftentimes, what I love about teaching is the “etch-a-sketch” mentality of being able to shake my head after a semester and start a-fresh.  Sometimes, I (secretly) cheer about the freedom from “that” group that is impending.  This time, I cry.  Each class has embedded its quirks and quarks into my heart and I adore these kids!   So, saying good-bye today was bitter, not sweet.  How is it that our experience was so transformational?  Well, I truly believe that part of the power of our family (x3) was our class blogging ( and  These blog sites (via hosts the formative writing of my students.  Moreover, the comments the students make to each other truly demonstrates the great quality of character these kids can have towards each other when opportunity and expectation are married.  Essentially, my classroom walls have disappeared and our learning has become visible and interactive.  Yet, as I mourn the loss of my kids – I celebrate the opportunity to clean the slate and see if I can improve instruction and engagement even further next semester – mindfully and innovatively.

To meet these Professional and Personal Growth Plans (PGP), with hopes for the future, I’ve signed up for this wonderful free online course: etmooc – Educational Technology and Media Open Online Course.  It is a place where I hope to get professional support, guidance, and inspiration for integrating more opportunities to transform the learning forum of my class.

At the NCTE (National Council Teachers of English) conference in Vegas this year I was inspired by the 21st Century Learning and Creative Learning musings and philosophies of the ingenious Sir Ken Robinson who many of you probably know from this transformational RSA Animate:

Changing Paradigms: RSA Animate

This animate just makes sense.  Sir Ken Robinson just makes sense!  When I viewed this two years ago, I knew I had to work towards a paradigm shift too, if I wanted to be relevant as a teacher to my students, in their world.  Hence, I began the journey into blogging as a stage for my students’ writing.  My other identity is that of a theatre major and a drama teacher, so the concept of “page to stage” has always been in the forefront of my teaching in drama.  Blogging now gives me a stage in the ELA classroom – and the kids have been hooked.  Suddenly, audience and purpose are highly engaging lessons – as are grammar  lessons (the GUMPS – grammar, usage, mechanics, punctuation, and spelling)!  Suddenly, a grammar lesson is equivalent to a makeover session!

So in my quixotic quest for paradigm shifts, and in the course of this crazy, busy, emotional week – I signed up for etmooc (  I haven’t been able to hear any Webinar yet since they are at 5pm here in Calgary, and I’m still in traffic, then on the repeat session – I’m teaching.  But it is okay because of the concept where “cMOOCs are not proscriptive, and participants set their own learning goals and type of engagement.” So, I catch what I can via the twitter (new to me), google + (new to me), blogs, one taped webinar (new to me) and the main site.

Already, I read about some wonderful educators and some cool techie-apps and widgity-thing-a-lings such as “RSS”, “Evernote”, “”, and “Haiku Deck”.  All things that I hope to play with over the next two weeks of exams as I set to re-organize my classroom, my courses, my life, my family, my home, my health, and my virtual work with etmooc “Each Time More Online Organized Chaos”!

1 ETMOOC Orientation wk 1
1 ETMOOC Orientation wk 1 (Photo credit: dennisar)
Posted in ETMOOC

Never Stop Learning

Disney - Pooh Reaching For Honey
Disney – Pooh Reaching For Honey (Photo credit: Express Monorail)

I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I’ve managed to find another honey pot to stick my head in.  I’m not sure if it is another form of procrastination – which I have a PH.D. in – or if it is an undeniable opportunity to learn and gain proficiency in projects I’ve been focusing on developing in my personal and professional growth and development.  Tonight – when I avoiding a dining table full of marking finish – I signed up for a free online Educational Technology course ( if interested:  In my defense, I discovered the course this week at our PD session on Tech in the Classroom via the illustrious Alec Couros, and I was alerted again to the course via an advertisement on the student blog site when I was marking the students’ blogs – I was marking!  So, it could be argued serendipity, not procrastination, led me to join.

Alas, I’m a workaholic high school English teacher who is always struggling to make each day better than the last with my children – Luca and Tulia, my love – Cristian, my students, my classes, myself, and my friends – in that order, probably!  I have a nagging  habit of getting stuck in multiple pots – but it is my passion of learning that drags me into these various bee nests.

So, why have I climbed this latest tree?  Well, for the past three years I have been pioneering blogging with my students, and I have learned to do so via trial and error and from the educational community online.  Technology is not a natural extension of my skills – it is a strange and foreign forest that often overwhelms.  But I believe in the transformational power of online learning for both me and my students.  So, I continue to seek out platforms to engage their learning and empower them to find their voices as readers and writers.  I love that blogging allows my students’ hearts and minds to be enjoyed by a larger community of readers, than just me!

But I believe there are many platforms for me to learn and embrace as an educational leader with my students – so it is my hope that Alec and his direction of this #etmooc course will help me build my skills and knowledge for more growth and development that takes our learning to the next level.

Furthermore, next year it is our family plan to live in Argentina for a semester – second semester.  So, I’m hoping this course can introduce me to learning with online technologies as well as, perhaps, open up opportunities to collaborate with my school online.

So, in the wee hours of the morning here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, I bid the #etmooc community a fond hello.

Disney's adaptation of Stephen Slesinger, Inc....
Disney’s adaptation of Stephen Slesinger, Inc.’s Winnie-the-Pooh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)