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A couple weeks before spring break I did something I hadn’t ever done before – I brought an author and publisher into my classroom using Skype.  My students were starting to work on some memoir writing and, in a moment of inspiration, I thought to myself, “Why not Skype a publisher to hear his or her perspective on what makes a memoir good?”  So I Googled “publishing companies in Vancouver” and followed the breadcrumbs until I found myself at the Harbour Publishing website and speaking with Howard White, a renowned BC author and publisher.  Three phone calls later, he Skyped into my classroom and was talking to my students about what makes a memoir good and the process of writing in general.  He was brilliant, and my students were totally engaged.

The experience of having a professional writer in my classroom was in itself totally worth it, but there was another completely unexpected byproduct of this Skype conversation.

In university, I started writing a treeplanting memoir for one of my classes; I continued working on it for a number of years after my degree was completed.  But then, due to the busyness of teaching, completing a masters, starting a family, and a myriad other excuses, I fell out of writing and it lay dormant for years.  As I was listening to Howard speak to my students about the writing process, I found the dying ember of my writing beginning to burn again.  What an unexpected joy!  Since then, I’ve found myself inspired and looking for excuses to write.

Perhaps then, it is an axiom that authentic learning experiences have the potential to inspire both students and teachers alike.



It’s amazing how much students have changed in my six years of teaching.  They are increasingly immersed in technology – all of my students have cell phones and many are avid gamers and (all?) are involved with social media in some way or another.  It’s neat to witness this transformation, but with it comes some serious questions.  How is all this technology changing who we are?  Why are we so enamored with gaming?  Is technology robbing us of important human experiences?  Should we be concerned about the rapid growth and development of technology?

To help me explore some of these questions with my students I show them a short film called “Play.”  It’s a gritty and somewhat disturbing glimpse into the future of gaming and technology.  It’s totally unpredictable.  And because of these things it is also incredibly engaging.  Watch it – you’ll enjoy it.  It’ll make you think.

If you enjoy it and want to use it with your students, there is a lesson plan that you can access here plus a bunch of other mindbending, short films that give compelling visions for the future.

Because youtube videos disappear all the time, I sometimes download the ones I want to keep onto my hard drive to ensure I can use it in the future.  There are numerous different sites you can use to do this, but I use – it’s free!

As a teacher, I’m always thinking about ways to make the material I teach more relevant and meaningful.  Over the years, I have gradually but steadily whittled away those assignments that didn’t seem to really contribute to student learning – activities that are taught because, well…because.  Personally, I’m not a fan of the ‘because’ reason.  It stinks.  It’s busywork with no real value.  When I was a student, anytime I caught the pungent scent of ‘because’ or ‘busywork’ my motivation level dropped way down and the frustration shot up.  As learners, we need to know that what we’re learning about is important.  It’s an axiom to say that we learn better when we understand the meaning our learning holds outside the classroom.  And because I’d prefer not to teach in a classroom that stinks, I try teach my English classes in the most relevant ways I know how.

So when I ask students who they’re writing their poem/essay/story/paragraph/etc for and the say “you,” I feel a certain degree of consternation.  Yes, they are writing for me, but I wish they weren’t – I wish their work had a bigger and more authentic audience than just me.

Enter the blog.

Although I’m a neophyte at blogging myself (this is only my eleventh post), it has already connected me to people and ideas that would have otherwise remained hidden.  It’s been a way to explore new thoughts and concepts, connect with people, and share stories.  What better way for students to see their thinking and the work they do in class from a bigger perspective?  How great would it be if other people in the ‘real’ world started to dialogue with my students about their learning?  My students (and all students) would really benefit from seeing their learning move beyond the four walls of the classroom.

To be honest, I did a terrible job promoting the idea of blogging to my students.  I had an intense internal battle with myself at the beginning of class as to whether I should go through with this or not – a number of students were absent and I was feeling tired and a little sick.  At the end, I decided to go through with it.  I don’t think my students fully understand why they created these accounts or how it will impact their learning, but they were happy enough to go along with me.  I’m looking forward not only to how this will impact their enthusiasm for the work they do in class, but also for any subtle paradigm shifts they may experience along the way!


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