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Multimedia_slide.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating teacher Derrick Schellenberg's project aimed at increasing learning and engagement through the use of authentic multimedia texts.  Derrick teaches at Sir William Mulock Secondary School, of the York Region District School Board, in Newmarket.

How do you integrate technology in the classroom without “stapling new tools onto old ideas”?

That was the pivotal challenge Derrick Schellenberg says he and his team of high school English teachers faced when they began their Ontario Teacher Learning and Leadership Project (TLLP) in 2013.

Schellenberg, who is Head of English at York Region District School Board’s Sir William Mulock Secondary School  in Newmarket, worked with English teachers Angela Barrett, Michelle von Enckevort and Beverly Woodfine on the teaching team.



Their project aimed to increase student engagement, and deepen critical thinking, creativity and innovation through the creation of authentic multimedia texts. Schellenberg defines these multimedia texts as "student-created, original, meaningful and relevant digital texts, which could include one or all of audio, video, and images." The teachers also wanted to align with the school’s focus on collaborative inquiry.


The Project

The team began by teaching students how to use of an array of digital tools (primarily Google Apps for Education suite of tools, which includes Docs, Slides, Drive, Forms and Drawings). Students were encouraged to experiment with the tools to expand their comfort level of 21st century learning.

“We believe that by giving students tools for collaboration, both inside and outside the classroom, as well as the ability to see others’ contributions in real time, we can create a more meaningful collaboration experience for our students,” says Schellenberg. “By building a unit of study around inquiry questions and providing students with digital tools to access, analyze, synthesize and share information, they will deepen their critical thinking skills.”

Ultimately, the idea was to move students from being users/consumers to producers/creators, Schellenberg says. That meant the teachers first had to know the tools well themselves, then explicitly teach the students how to use them. From there the teachers connected the tools to the secondary English curriculum.


Examples of the Project in Action

So what did this look like in the classroom? The teachers used the open-source learning management system (LMS) Moodle as a central hub for the assignments, Schellenberg says, along with the Google Apps for Education suite for collaboration and co-construction.

Examples included:

  • A Grade 10 English assignment used inquiry to engage students in learning about Shakespearean times. The students used Google Docs to develop their inquiry questions, collect research to discover answers and create a final report on their findings. Teachers were able to leave feedback for the student right on the Doc.
  • A Grade 11 University English course asked students to develop a trailer (short video) and Google Form related to their Independent Study Unit (ISU) to ask their peers questions about their inquiry.
  • Grade 11 and 12 University English classes read an abridged version of Northrop Frye’s “Autumn: Tragedy” using Google Docs and analyzed specific sections using the "Comment" feature in small groups. Students then each created one slide, and built a collaborative Google presentation slideshow about key ideas from the text.
  • An ISU assignment asked students to read a book, construct inquiry questions, watch a related film or documentary, conduct research, engage in a vlog (video blog) discussion, make a film trailer to promote their ISU and construct a final multimedia presentation (slideshow, video, etc.). See a sample student work below, left.


The Outcomes for Students


“We were especially pleased with the creativity and originality of the student work,” says Schellenberg. “We also believe that what they learned about the use of technology will transfer beyond the secondary English classroom to other subject areas. Overall, we made better use of the technology students were bringing to class, and we challenged them to do higher quality and more complex work.”


“Students created some impressive film trailers,” he says. “Although students found the task to be challenging, through observations, conversations and student video_caption.jpgreflections, we learned that they found this task to be rewarding. For the most part, they become very engaged in the task and proud of the work they accomplished."


Introducing classes to a variety of technological tools ultimately empowered the students," he says. “As we progressed through the units of study and the overall courses, there was a gradual release of responsibility (from teacher to student) so the students became more and more independent. We saw this in terms of research, inquiry questions, and tech tools,” he says. “This led to greater self-management on the part of the students, and more student-to-student collaboration, as opposed to individual dependence on the teacher.”


The Outcomes for the Teachers


“This project was extremely helpful,” Schellenberg says. “The strengths of the TLLP and PKE (Provincial Knowledge Exchange) encourage teachers to design their own professional development, and then share the learning with others in a variety of ways.”google_forms_example.jpg


The use of the apps in the assignments was a help in the teaching process, Schellenberg says. The team identified the following benefits:

  • Management and access to student work was convenient and easy;
  • It was easier to give feedback for formative work with the comment and chat features;
  • Teachers could check in on student work in progress and conference as needed;
  • Students could view rubrics-- which kept students focused on what was being assessed;
  • In administering tests teachers could monitor progress, and students in other rooms could get clarification or help;
  • While marking assignments-- teachers could batch upload to Turnitin, leave comments and feedback, highlight rubrics and students would know exactly when something had been assessed.


Teacher Angela Barrett says the project opened her eyes to new ideas, possibilities and interests. "The project pushed me to step outside of my boundaries and think about how my instructional practice, as well as assessment strategies, impact overall student success and engagement," she says. "The students responded enthusiastically and I can honestly say that it has changed the way I teach."


Designing your own project and job-embedded professional learning while working with like-minded peers was rewarding, Schellenberg says. “It feels like we have taken a giant leap forward as teachers, as learners, and as leaders,” he says. “Sharing what we are doing and helping others has become a normal part of our practice. If anything, teaching was routine before, and now we are always looking for new challenges, new experiences, and new opportunities. In terms of teaching, I have never enjoyed it more. Part of the shift for me has been moving from "maybe" to responding with a "yes" when someone brings an idea forward. I am looking forward to whatever is coming next.”


The team also credits the support of Principal Sheila Hetherington and Vice-Principal Sandy Haliburton with the success of the project.


Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this school in Share under:

TeachOntario Talks Discussion: Using Authentic Media Texts to Engage Students and Improve Learning

accountable_talk_main.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating teachers Kim Savoie and Erin Briska's project called "Classroom Chit Chat." Kim and Erin both teach at Sacred Heart School in the Northwest Catholic District School Board.


What is Accountable Talk?

Research shows there is a strong correlation between talk and learning in school. However, just having students to speak in class, or to each other, does not necessarily lead to learning. For classroom talk to promote new learning, it must be accountable.


The term "Accountable Talk" refers to talk that is meaningful, respectful and mutually beneficial to both speaker and listener. Accountable Talk stimulates higher-order thinking— helping students to learn, reflect on their learning, and communicate their knowledge and understanding. To promote Accountable Talk, teachers create a collaborative learning environment in which students feel confident in expressing their ideas, opinions and knowledge. (A Guide to Effective Literacy Instruction Volume 1, Grades 4-6).



map of sioux lookout.jpgThe Project Overview:

Sacred Heart School in Sioux Lookout, Ontario is comprised of a unique demographic. Sioux Lookout serves a high percentage of Aboriginal learners who already come to school with a strong oral story-telling tradition. To enhance student voice, two Intermediate teachers at the school decided to test Accountable Talk strategies as a way to empower all students.


Kim Savoie* and Erin Briska wanted to create a division-wide collaborative environment in which students could explore and develop critical thinking skills while feeling safe to share their own knowledge and opinions, and where there was an increased ratio of student talk to teacher talk..


As part of the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP), Savoie and Briska, along with colleagues Manuela Michelizzi and Michela Salter at Sacred Heart School, endeavored to research and compile successful Accountable Talk strategies to use for their project: "Classroom Chit-Chat."


Guiding how students talk and what they talk about is key to creating an Accountable Talk classroom. Teachers require deep understanding of the Accountable Talk strategies available, and how to use them effectively to create a collaborative learning environment. With that in mind, the goal of the project was for teachers to increase their understanding, knowledge and ability to use a wide range of Accountable Talk strategies and compile successful ones as a resource to be readily used in the classroom.



lucy west quote.jpgAssessing Accountable Talk Strategies:

Using resources such as Accountable Talk Sourcebook: For Classroom Conversation that Works, and educational thought leaders like Lucy West, the teachers co-planned, co-taught and co-assessed various Accountable Talk techniques.


At the beginning of the project, teachers modeled Accountable Talk norms by continually questioning, probing, asking for clarification and challenging misconceptions. Once this foundation was set, teachers and students could move forward, jointly constructing the learning.



accountable_prompts.jpgFor example, teachers placed prompts around the classroom as anchors or visible reminders for students to always use appropriate and helpful forms of discussion when in class. Over time, with teacher support, students began to use these Accountable Talk norms themselves in peer discussions.


Teachers and students then began testing partner, small group and large group Accountable Talk strategies together. Students were asked for input through self-evaluation and peer-evaluation forms and surveys. Teachers logged each strategy on tracking sheets, listing strengths and challenges, and rated each strategy using a 4-star rating system.


For example, "Save the Last Word for Me" was a large group strategy tested in the Intermediate classrooms. Students were assigned a reading selection to read independently. Students then chose a passage that "spoke" to them and wrote it on a recipe card. On the reverse side of the recipe card, students explained why their selected passage was important or interesting.  The class broke up into small groups and used an instruction page provided by the teacher to guide the discussion. The first student read his or her selected passage, and each group member responded to the passage. Then the first student shared his or her own thoughts on the passage, getting the "last word."


Once the activity was over, students and teachers listed the strengths (e.g., it provided students with a chance to make a connection with the text), and the challenges (e.g., students found it difficult to remember to take turns). The strategy was then given a rating of 3.5 stars.  Assessing the strategies together was a unique way to further student engagement and provided the teachers with useful data with which to complete their project.



The Results:

The overall impact of implementing Accountable Talk strategies was a positive one from the students' point of view. The data taken from the student surveys showed:

  • Students felt they could clearly articulate their ideas and opinions.
  • Students felt they were better active listeners, and could paraphrase peer discussions more accurately.
  • Students felt they could reflect more on their learning and show proper body language during discussions. (See video at right for an example.)


Teachers were able to:

  • Research and explore various teaching strategies.
  • "Open" their classrooms and lessen teacher talk.
  • Co-plan, co-learn and co-teach.
  • Build upon and respond to individual staff members' unique needs and expertise (lateral capacity building).
  • Provide students with various opportunities to develop and apply critical thinking skills.
  • Share their learning with colleagues throughout the Northwest Catholic District School Board.




Sharing the Learning through Technology:

A large part of the project was compiling the successful strategies in a resource to be used in the classroom. The result was an app. The "Class Chit-Chat" app was designed as an easy teacher resource with 'at your fingertips' strategies for use in the classroom.


The App offers partner strategies, small group strategies, and large group strategies. Each classroom strategy is given a rating based on the research done during the project, a definition and explanation of how to use the strategy and a list of strengths and challenges for further insight. Each strategy has suggested uses and is referenced to its source. Along with detailed descriptions of usable Accountable Talk strategies, the app also provides the user with documents, visuals and links to further support the strategies.


The app is available for teachers anywhere and anytime they wish to use it, and is a useful tool for teachers new to using Accountable Talk to promote learning.


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*Kim Savoie is now the Vice-Principal of Sacred Heart School.




Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this school in Share under: TeachOntario Talks Discussion: Using Accountable Talk in the Classroom