Friday, January 31, 2014

Visible Thinking

Here is a website that talks about Visible Thinking. Visible Thinking has two goals: to deepen subject-matter learning and to cultivate students' disposition toward thinking.  I am impressed with the focus and will look at it some more this weekend.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Reading Levels Update

I have recently completed running Records using the Fountas and Pinnell books to test the reading levels of my Grade 5 students. I am pleased to say that all of my students are reading at Grade level or above at this time. Of the ten students I taught last year in Grade 4, they have all  moved two reading levels above where they were in June.

What does this mean?

By using SOLE with my students everyday I have helped push their reading levels to new heights. Students are reading about topics of interest to them therefore they have a stronger connection with the reading material. By working in groups they are able to discuss their findings and ask pertinent questions about it. By presenting their findings to the class they are able to provide explanation and answer questions about their work as well as become less concerned with standing up in front of people to speak. All these things help boost their confidence.

As I am not using a formal reading program with them, they do not have to analyze “boring” texts and write down answers they have no direct connection with. This leads them to follow their instincts as we discuss the topics and I insert the different pieces of the curriculum into what we are doing.

I couldn’t be happier with their improvement.

Friday, January 17, 2014

SOLE Experiences

Education is an intensely personal experience. It cannot be gained from books, tests or assignments. Although they can help form an education they are not the basis for it. The basis is the person’s experiences, reactions and thoughts. This can be found in many places, in the most unexpected ways and have impacts much larger than anything we can convey in a classroom. Each person who sits in a classroom has a different experience in the class with no two being the same despite being taught the same things. Each person brings a different level of experience, understanding and thought process to each situation.  Each person has experiences outside the classroom that no one else in the classroom can have. This affects how they perceive things. Classrooms should be about expanding on these experiences, providing more places for thought provoking discussion and following trains of thought to their logical conclusions. Education should not be about test scores or getting everyone to be the same by expecting the same things from them. Everyone is not the same. We should stop expecting all our students to be the same.
            In my second year of teaching my class grew from thirty Grade 5 students to forty five Grade 5 students in a couple of months. I remember thinking to myself, “How am I ever going to program for that many students.” The fact that it was in a very low income neighbourhood with the most notorious reputation in all of the school board added to the issue. Of the forty five students six were reading at Grade level or above. Five were reading just below Grade level the other thirty four were reading from Grade one to Grade three level. I needed to engage the top six without having to spend a great deal of time with them. I focused on independent projects where they could learn about the things that interested them.
            Fast forward 25 years to 2013. We now have technology in schools. Research projects became more of the norm but still in teaching we were bound by the curriculum which needed to be taught. Despite attending many workshops where the focus was on teaching curriculum I had grave doubts about this method. It certainly didn’t inspire passion in my students. They became less focused and I was losing their interest. Behaviour problems began to creep out as everyone looked for attention.
            In March of 2013 a teacher librarian friend of mine pointed me towards an article she had read and a Ted Talk by a gentleman named Sugata Mitra. I watched his Ted Talk and knew immediately that this was the place for me. He talked about the innate ability of children to learn without adults. This I could identify with because I had always believed that students learned despite what we did with them. They certainly proved this adequately between the ages of 0 and 5. He talked about children sharing what they learned. This I could see every day. He talked about how reading levels and interest in school increased dramatically. I was hooked. I looked up his toolkit. It was quite informative but what interested me the most was the basic format he used. I modified it to suit my needs as a teacher.
1.      Students develop the question.
2.      Students choose the groups.
3.      Students research the question.
4.      Students write up their findings
5.      Students present their findings.   
Perfect. It seemed too simple and too contrived but it fit the need I was seeing so I thought to myself let’s give it a try.
First I needed to present this to my students in a way they could understand. They were a very smart group those Grade 4 and 5 students. I was sure I could get them to join me on this first stage of my journey. I talked to them about my belief that education is something more than information that can be gained through books or the Internet. It is something we carry with us all our lives if we feel the information belongs to us and is needed by us to help us grow. I explained about the basics of a SOLE and about Sugata Mitra. I saw their eyes open and the wheels turning. “Do you mean that we may not have to read about things we are not interested in anymore, like those stories from the textbooks?” they asked. I told them I could not promise that but we would see how it goes. “We get to work as a group and look up what we want?” I explained to them that, in my opinion, was what learning is about. They also needed to share the information with an audience. This would help them to remember what they had learned. The general opinion was, “Let’s do it.” So we tried it.
            To say it was successful is an understatement. That first day was one of the most overwhelming experiences in my teaching career. Every one of the 26 students bought into it and participated with great exuberance. They developed 7 questions, one for each group, formed their groups without issues and worked better than they ever had before. At the end of the period they wrote up their findings as a group, decided on the presentation style and presented their information. After the presentation their classmates were invited to ask them questions about the topic and critique their presentation style. After reminding the audience that whatever they had to say would be positive and helpful everything proceeded amazingly well. The discussion for the first question went on for 20 minutes. The questions came from all corners of the room. Those who would be considered my weakest students were in their element asking questions that were very strong and in some cases very profound.   
            This type of research became the basis for my Language Arts program. I started to work with the curriculum to fit what they were doing. I taught lessons based on the needs in their research and writing. Speaking, presenting, oral visual and media were covered this way. What I couldn’t teach to supplement what they were doing I taught in other subjects. Plot, character, setting and other topics along this line were covered in drama. Social Studies and Science covered some of the critical thinking questions that I used to ask in reading.  As we progressed from March through June we refined it carefully.

.In June I tested all of my Grade 4 students. All 19 of them tested at Grade level or above! I was shocked. In my experience there will be a few who read above Grade level, some who read at grade level and some who read from below to way below Grade level. As one of my low students put it, “I was looking up things I was interested in. I felt equal to all my group members. I could never compete with them before. Now I can be a part of something.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
This fall I started working in Social Studies and Science using the big questions the curriculum poses. By presenting the work this way the students are finding and sharing more information than what was asked of them. This allows them to see a bigger picture.

By making education about my students and allowing them to be decision makers they are contributing more and more towards making their lives about lifelong learning. They are happier and are making a stronger effort to become aware of who they are and what they want. That is what education should be about.

Why Do We Still Buy Textbooks?

In this day and age where everything in Government is about saving money I would like to propose a new and radical idea. The government should stop funding textbooks. Let’s think about it for a second. Everything a teacher needs to run a classroom program can be found online. Current, up to date, pertinent reading material. Math software is huge and mostly free,math manipulatives are available in an environment that emphasizes on line examples, social studies, history, geographic information at their fingertips. It is everything that teachers have ever wanted and more. There is an impressive array of free downloadable activities. There are programs that deliver parts of the curriculum in a manner that students appreciate. Research opportunities are available in areas of the student’s interest. What more could one ask for? And to boot, most of it is provided at no cost.

It would be better to spend the billions on providing up to date technology at every school for every student. Imagine that, no old technology in a school. There would be computers for every child. Students would learning about the things that are important in life, things that are useful in their world.

So why are we still spending millions, if not billions of dollars on textbooks yearly?  It would appear that big business has a firm hold on our governments. They provide research and development. They guide testing, a very big market for that now a days. They provide the materials in the timely fashion that directs the outcomes provided in government documents. Hmm. I wonder which came first, the documents from the government or the materials to support the curriculum. They always seem to be there right after the latest pronouncement from the government is given.

So in this day and age who is in charge of education?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Things We Learn Using Technology

I had set up a document for my students to load and save under their name. They then had to look up some definitions before we can proceed to the next step in Science. After working through a few kinks, laptops not charged, people not able to follow instructions, they worked well on the assignment. As I wandered around answering questions and explaining how to do a few things I realized something: They were doing things they would never do by hand. They looked up the definitions without any moaning or groaning. If they had to use a book and write them on paper they would voice their objections. Now there was nothing but work. They found examples to support the definitions and were able to insert them into the document. Much neater than trying to draw them for some people. They were writing more information than before and with more depth as they put the information into their own words. Before it would have been a struggle to get one sentence.  I also noticed that they were putting the information into point form before converting it back into sentences. This amazed me because when I was having them write by hand it was always a struggle. It impressed me that they were doing it naturally, without prompting from me. Their spelling is better. I pondered over this one for a while. Even those who are self proclaimed non spellers cannot argue with the fact that the word is right there in front of them. Also I believe that because they are reading more and more online everyday they are noticing how the words are spelled and remembering it when the time comes to use it. They also spend longer amounts of time focused on the assignment. There was virtually no talking from any one for the almost 2 periods we used to do this. This is unheard of because they are quite the chattering group. To say I am pleased with the progress they are making would be an understatement.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Teacher Burnout

                 During a discussion about stress in teaching a relative of mine stated that in her non-teaching job she dealt with rude, argumentative people every day and that my stress was no different from hers. I let the argument go because there was no way she was going to give on her point. The point I was going to make though was “Does your job deal with exactly the same people every day for 192 days? Does your job deal with people who you are hoping will change or at least see what you are talking about?”

                I liken the stress of teaching to the stress of a family argument that never goes away. You try different ways to resolve the issues but they still keep coming back no matter how much headway you make. Your students have a different perspective on each problem. Their parents have a totally different perspective. Your administration has another perspective that may vary with those held elsewhere. All this continues to build as personalities push at each other in a way that children in a family home do. Something has to give and often it is the teacher.
                     On top of this stress there is the stress of non-supportive administration, an ever changing curriculum, the need to meet the needs of all the students in your class, performing social work and psychological counselling on a daily basis as well as keeping up with a never ending supply of marking, evaluations, the expectations of giving more and more, extra-curricular activities that take time away from family and ever present marking, and preparing for pressure ridden government testing. And this is only the tip of the ice berg.  Most of these things we were not trained for or if we were it was touched on briefly.  Most of our learning comes from on the job experience. Student teachers are constantly amazed at how much we do on a daily basis. They cannot believe the breadth of the job that teacher training barely touches on.

                How do we solve the problems of stress and teacher burnout? We can’t solve it because it is inherent in the job. It comes with dealing with students every day. It comes with each teacher’s having different expectations and different ideas about what rules should be followed. It comes with administration, who either never wanted to work in classrooms or dealt with burnout in their own way by removing themselves from the daily grind. Administrators have a different set of issues because of the pressures they face from their administrators at the board level and parents.

                The resolutions come from taking education away from being a commodity. Not every child will be going to University or College. Children need to explore their world around them and learn about the things that interest them. This will lessen the stress level as we are seeing and treating children as individuals, allowing them to be more respectful and engaged in their learning. We need to defocus on curriculum. As someone said to me recently, “Learning Shakespeare is nice but what is the end result of using it?” Why are we teaching kids about things they may never use again in their lives? Change the curriculum to allow more interaction with the world. A child whose father is a welder may want to learn more about welding. Encourage children to be entrepreneurs rather than users. Chase social issues so the children can learn to be more compassionate. These changes will lessen many of the issues we face in teaching.  

                We live in a world that is constantly changing. Let’s change education to face the realities of today.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

SOLE Self Evaluation By My Students

I had my students do a written evaluation of SOLE. Below are their responses to the questions asked. I am impressed with the depth of insight they demonstrate. Happy Reading.

What do you like about SOLE?

- it helps your brain learn what it needs to know about things.
- we can use the computer to find information
- we use the computer to type what we found instead of writing it on paper
- you get to form a group to research a question you came up with
- you can learn from what other groups research
- it helps improve your reading and writing
- that it is okay to learn
- the computer has more information than a book
- it is fun
- you get to know everyone in your class
- you get to present to the class
- if you are wondering about something you get to find out about it
- it is the perfect way to learn about a topic
- instead of reading through books you get to use the computer and the internet
- that we get to research every question we want to know about
- I learn a bunch of information about a variety of topics
- I learned more than I did before we did SOLE
- it increased my reading level
- I like how you can do this at home, at school, by yourself or with a group
- you get to work with your friends
- we come up with the questions that need to be answered
- it teaches you more than you know about a topic
- you are not told what to do, you get to decide it
- I learn something new every time we do a SOLE
- I learn about the people I am doing it with
- you learn about whatever you want

How has SOLE affected how you learn?
- it has shown me how to research better
- I have learned far more than I thought I would from the internet
- it made me a better reader and writer
- because it easier and more fun to learn this way I am happier
- I did not know I was a good presenter
- you can get lot of info but you can’t cut and paste
- it encourage me to read
- we use the computer more effectively
- it helped me become a better researcher
- it makes me remember the answers to hard questions
- that when we use a laptop for research and a laptop for putting down the information we learned not to plagiarize
- I am reading harder books because SOLE increased my vocabulary
- it has increased my reading, writing, vocabulary, self esteem and leadership skills
- I learned to work better in groups and how to get along with people I might not work with
- it made me smarter
- SOLE got me to a higher reading level
- it helped me to talk better to an audience

How will SOLE change school?

- we were taught old things, now we learn new things
- it changes boring to fun
- it helps make us focussed
- books are not needed anymore
- it would make students happier
- we would learn more than we thought we could
- we would have access to more information than a text book
- SOLE would improve everyone’s reading making their grade levels higher
- the whole school could work on questions in large groups

What is special about SOLE?

- SOLE is special because people can be dumb but if they do SOLE they can become smarter
- we always get to use the computer
- we are typing up our answers instead of writing them out by hand
- it is fun
- Everything about SOLE is special
- it helps your brain grow when you research and share with the class
- it is like always working on a project with your friends
- it is a good way to use electronics
- everything
- it helps you with your reading because you are reading and researching all the time
- it is an effective way of learning
- it uses electronics which is a faster way to learn
- it is special because not many schools are doing it
- it changes how we work together in a classroom
- you work with friends
- how much more I learn from my friends
- you learn what you are interested in and passionate about

What have you learned about yourself by using SOLE?

- I learned I can be smarter when I think
- That I can improve myself and that I am equal with everyone else
- I work well in a group because I learn more and get more done
- it is fun working with other people
- working in groups is faster
- that I would rather be a leader than a follower
- I also realized I like working independently
- I am a better researcher than I thought I was
- I was always saying “I can’t do this,” but now I barely say that at all
- I made new friends with my classmates
- I can do whatever I put my mind to
- I always tried my best but it never seemed to work out. With SOLE that has changed.
- I learned to work well in groups
- Learned that I am smarter than I thought I was and that I ask good questions
- that I do interact well with others
- how much I know about a lot of topics
- I love typing and became more interested in some of the things we researched

What have you learned about your classmates while doing SOLE?

- some people are very serious about their work
- some are very different from me
- I like their reactions when we find a very good fact
- some students are good at different things. Some read well, some type well and some write very neatly
- some are very focused
- some share better than others
- some are good to work with and some are not
- they are gifted in their own ways
- I learned about the different interests my classmates had
- some people were shy and didn’t want to go in front of the class but now they are up there with everyone else
- how much smarter they are now
- they are excellent researchers
- they are great people when we do SOLE
- some are shy and some are good leaders
- they have good questions, are always happy
- they are not distracted while presenting
- some work well in groups and some don’t

- I learn a lot every time we research
- I liked researching Van Gogh, How the Earth was formed, How to make 3D movies, Why can’t men have babies?, How to make hats, and all about Christmas
- I don’t like that some people choose  partners that don’t focus and talk about silly things


Motivation And The Foundation

    The motivation to succeed is lacking in education at the moment. Everyone is trying to instill extrinsic motivation in students to get them to succeed. We establish curriculum, set goals, develop time lines and teach all to the same end. Most students do not want to learn what we are teaching them. The key is to establish intrinsic motivation through finding topics of interest and then applying the curriculum to help them meet their goals. Building on this internal motivation catches the students in the act of learning and expands it to follow the interests and needs of the individuals. They stay motivated because they are interested. One cannot expect to cover the curriculum as it exists now. One cannot expect that square boxes where everyone is taught the same thing will work. As adults we all have different interests and follow those interests to our satisfaction. Why are we restricting students in their interests?

The following is from an article from the Smithsonian based on why schools in Finland are successful.

The Foundation

Public schools should be organized into one system.

Everyone contributes to the curriculum to provide guidelines for learning, not set in stone prescriptions. The guidelines would be brief and to the point.

All resources are given equally to all schools, not just new or wealthy schools.

Every teacher would have to have a master’s degree in theory and practice at state expense. State expense would be grandfathered out in 5 years. At that time all teachers should have a Master’s degree or lose their job.

With a Master’s degree all teachers should be referred to as professionals in the truest sense since their education would be more in line with other professionals.

All children will be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really is left behind.

Hire and keep people who love the work. Encourage creativity in the workplace. Explore best practices every year.

Equip all schools with the latest technology and find ways to maintain it without giving over control of it to corporate entities.

A SOLE Video

I watched this video about SOLE. It was on TedSOLE at Tumblr.

It explained SOLE pretty concisely in 3 minutes.

Adapting SOLE To The Curriculum Part 2

Generally SOLE is about developing student questions and researching them. In order to cover some of the curriculum I have adapted it .

Below is one of the examples from my Social Studies Curriculum (Ontario). You can see in the sample questions some of the information I am using to perform SOLE with my students. The students will explore the questions and come up with information to show they understand and to answer the question. In doing this they will be discussing and explaining they knowledge gained from the research.In the brackets are also a place where some BIG questions could be developed.

A3.6 describe some significant differences among First Nations and between selected First Nations and European settlements in early Canada (e.g., with reference to political and economic organization; cultural practices; land use/ownership; personal autonomy; attitudes towards the environment; the roles of men, women, and children), and identify some of the reasons for these differences (e.g., climate; availability of resources and arable land; the culture, customs, and economic and political system in the mother country; familiarity with the land and its resources) Sample questions: “What were the differences between Haudenosaunee and Ojibwe housing?” “How did the social organization on a seigneurie differ from that in the town of Montreal?” “What were some of the differences between the life of a child in a Wendat family and one in a settler family in New France?” “How did climate and the availability of resources affect the way the Innu lived?”

Adapting SOLE To The Curriculum

The curriculum is the background that allows teachers to do their job. It defines what has to be learned. SOLE can work very well outside the curriculum but it works even better if done in conjunction with the curriculum. Often in education we become slaves to the curriculum. "How am I going to teach all the curriculum this year," is a comment often heard in teaching circles. There are things in the curriculum that our students already know. Do we need to spend periods reteaching it? The curriculum is there as a guideline, as post markers that allows us to have our students acquire information. The question becomes "How do we apply the curriculum to the students learning?" In this context we apply part of the curriculum that applies to the students as they are reading, writing, revising their work.

The part of the curriculum that interests me the most in terms of SOLE is creating the big question. In my curriculum this has already been done. I pick through this and find the questions that need to be looked at and send the students off to explore it. They always come back with more questions and more information than I could have them deduct in a traditional classroom setting. Does this mean I do not have to each traditionally? Not in the least. There are times when the whole class needs information, needs to learn some aspect of the curriculum and that is when I bring them all together to discuss this. In using SOLE in a classroom one has to move back and forth between the two methods. This flexibility allows the students to maintain that sense of working towards a larger picture.

When I started SOLE, before we ever did anything with it I talked to my class. I talked about my belief that education is something more than information that can be gained through books or the Internet. I talked about how the mind works in mysterious ways, that each person is unique and special and that everyone is capable of learning. How we all learning is different from the person next to us. What we share in common though is the ability to discuss and see new things, to ask questions, to explore new thoughts and discuss them so that our lives are enriched. Everything that has been invented comes from one question, "How can I make my life better?" Everything we do revolves around this and when we explore it we can see that life takes on more meaning. We understand more clearly. We see more possibilities. We determine our values. We take pleasure in being the best we can be.   And then I talk about SOLE and how this can help them determine their lives. It is my buy in with them.


               According to Simon Sinek, why is the reason that defines what we do. Those who are successful have defined their why, the deep down reason they do anything.  Some people are not the best speakers in the world, nor always have the best product or idea by they can articulate the reason why they believe in what they do and how it aligns with the higher purpose in life. That is why some people who come up with new ideas seem to come out of nowhere. They connect on why this is important, not how it will do something. Check out his Ted Talk for further details.

                SOLE is about the enrichment of student lives. It follows their interests and piques their curiosity. It allows them to be who they are rather than what I, as a teacher, want them to be. It expands on their curiosity and provides the basis for lifelong learning. Their knowledge base increases and so do the questions arising from it. Their confidence level soars so they can become who they want to be rather than something we, as teachers, have molded and shaped. It is inclusive. It fits all learning styles. It defines what education should be about.

Lifelong Learning: The School Conundrum

Lifelong learning is something we all believe in. It is the idea that gives us strength, helps us stay strong. It reaffirms the instinct to learn and grow. As adults we embrace it whole heartedly. This can be seen in the courses we take, the interests we follow, the need to improve ourselves at our job and our knowledge shared in conversation. We make it a top priority in our lives.
As educators we talk about the need to instill the idea of lifelong learning in children, to show them the path to becoming knowledgeable.  While we are noble and honest in our beliefs we are also dead wrong. The children that enter school are already lifelong learners. In the short period of their lives they have learned a great deal more about life all by themselves with little input from anyone. They explore, mull over, experiment, consider, and follow their thoughts as they learn everything from their world around them. All of this is done without a curriculum, standardized testing or any other ideas floating around in every classroom on the planet. In school they follow a program designed by the state and implemented by well meaning teachers. Students often question the use of the material they are taught. “What do they need to know this for?” is often a topic of discussion. Children reason very well that what they want to learn about is not found in curriculum but in the wonder of their minds.
The day is now among us that student can reach out and explore their thoughts and ideas. They learn about the things that interest them and the things they need to know about now. They can do this through SOLE.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


I read an article today about 20%. It is suggested that students be given 20% of their day to follow projects that of interest to them. It could be something in fashion or music or building an object. The project would be designed and developed to be what they want it to be. This is an interesting concept as it follows the lines of SOLE but taken a step further. I am giving some thought towards the ideas that it possesses. It has some merit.

You can read the article here:

Let me know what you think.

What Do Students Want?

What is it that students want? I read studies, articles, blogs and tweets. I watch video after video but rarely do I see what it is that students want from their education. We have experts lined up around the world ready to give their opinions but nowhere in there do we hear from the students. And that is a shame.
Over the years I have listened to my students. Sometimes I listened but thought, “I am the teacher. I decide what they will do.”  As I further listened and matured myself, I realized they had some important words to impart.
“Don’t bore me,” is always near the top of the list. When I read through reading assignments and look at the questions I always think they are good questions and need to be answered. But the reality is that students, despite teachers doing everything to engage them, do not see this type of reading useful. “We have to read this stuff that is sometimes interesting but answering the questions is about as boring as it gets.” When asked why they explain they say that the interest level is not there. It is not something they want to learn about so feel that they are being forced to do it. In my experience forcing someone to do something is the same as failure. You have already lost before you start.
“I want to learn about…(insert a topic here).” They have minds that are developing. Before they came to school the students explored their world and followed their interests. When they came to school they were made to learn things they were not interested in or weren’t ready for. When given a choice of topics they learn more and remember more of it because they are interested in it. They are naturally following their own thoughts and ideas.
So why is it that adults think they know what children inherently need in order to develop educationally? It would appear that our view of children as helpless individuals who need extreme amounts of directed learning to succeed in life is the major factor. We do not really see them as people. When I was growing up there was a saying about children. We were, “to be seen and not heard.”  It appears that this idea is still floating around in our world. We need to change this idea. We need to accept the thoughts and feelings of children. They are not all trying to get out of doing work, nor are they all inherently lazy, non-thinking individuals. They have great ideas and become functioning members of a class when given a chance. I saw this during the past year when I switched over to SOLE. Behaviours that were disruptive virtually disappeared. Engagement increased dramatically. Student happiness increased ten fold. Parents were hearing about things the student learned about because the students were interested in what they were learning.
All this was because I believed in giving them choices, allowing them to make decisions and become a partner in their education. They appreciated it.

Libraries As Leaders

Today’s discussion with two librarians about the future of libraries was an eye opener.  On one hand the more experienced librarian was advocating for the status quo, the promotion of books and the development of stronger research skills through taking the time to research and write papers.  On the other hand the new to being a librarian espoused her idea that a library should become more of a technological reform centre encouraging people to come in and share their ideas and work in social situations. In essence I believe both are correct.

Libraries have been the one focal meeting point where ideas are discovered and discussed. Through the use of the books in the library people gain a better understanding of their world around them and are able to see how other people have handled similar problems and issues. Libraries are the research engines that have spurred and supported great minds for centuries. A teacher once said to me, “When in doubt, go to the library and find the answer.” Libraries still hold these values as they struggle with readership and a growing dependence on the internet. Fiction books are already moving towards e readers because of their storage capacity and portability.

To maintain their relevance libraries need to become more of a place for discussions among adults and students, places where non-fiction ideas are discussed and shared. They need to be the places where basic research is performed with their librarians being the research specialists, able to help those who perform research to find the materials they need in a technological way. Far too many people can perform a basic research for information but have little knowledge of the short cuts necessary to find the information they need quickly and accurately. Libraries also need to become the centre of historical research for a town, city or country. They need to be the collectors of the information. In essence libraries need to become stronger research centres.

It was interesting to hear the younger librarian simply sharing her thoughts rather than trying to convince her colleague that she was right. It was also interesting that the older librarian admitted she was resistant to change. Are we all not resistant at some point? The reality is we live in a changing world. To stay relevant we need to find a way to be more up to date. Libraries, and schools, should lead the charge.

A SOLE Outline

Since the end of March to early June I ran SOLE in my class everyday. This took up from 2 - 3 periods to research, organize and present their findings. The following is the plan I came up with and the results of it.


Give students control of their learning

Increase learning engagement

Enhance collaboration among students and teacher

Provide students with modern learning technologies

Allow access to learning tools from almost anywhere

Improve accountability

Reduce paper use

Give critical feedback everyday


Implement Google Apps for Education

Use SOLE everyday

Teach skills for developing appropriate questions

Teach research techniques (advanced features of Google, evaluating websites for content)


Boosted student enthusiasm about learning

Sparked student and teacher ingenuity and creativity

Enabled students to work from almost anywhere and not always in the same room

Improved access to industry-leading collaboration tools allowed them to perform stronger SOLE research

Students collaboration on projects improved

Helped teacher more easily track homework and assignments

Reading levels of all students in Grade 4 are at Grade 5 – 7 levels

Parents are happier with the wider range of knowledge their children are demonstrating

Parental interaction with student learning has increased

Student engagement in topics and learning is higher for all students

Student social skills improved while major behavioural challenges decreased

Student presentation skills, speaking, body language, answering questions on the spot, taking criticism, improved dramatically

Overall confidence in their abilities increased
I will add to this plan in September so that a whole year of SOLE will be able to demonstrate stronger results.

SOLE and Behaviour

One of the greatest things about SOLE, in my humble opinion, is the way the students have pulled together as a team. Before we started SOLE they were two separate Grades, Grade 4 and Grade 5. They rarely if ever worked together on their work. Since we started SOLE they keep commenting on how they have learned so much from each other by working together. They compliment each other and work very hard. The Grade 4's want to prove they can work with the Grade 5's and the 5' s want to stay ahead on the scale. It has become more of a natural fit. Now if we could only mix up the groups with an equal amount of boys and girls.

One of the largest things about working with SOLE is the fact that the behaviour issues have dropped dramatically. It doesn't mean they are not still there. They are but because the students are addressing the group issues in a positive way the behaviour problems have become very manageable. I keep hearing people say, "We need to get this done. You need to do your part to help. Do you think Mr. Ferguson doesn't notice you aren't working? It will show up clearly when we present and answer questions."  Some are becoming very adept at keeping their group members focused.

What is SOLE part 2

Here you can see a reference to my last post about What Is SOLE?
This one explains how things were and how we are moving towards having the students learn for themselves under my direction.

Again, another chart that further demonstrates the stages the students and teachers go through in having the students move towards self directed learning.

A little cartoon that further illustrates the point.

What is SOLE?

What is SOLE?
A question that comes up all the time is “What is SOLE?” SOLE is a way of learning developed by Dr. Sugata Mitra from his experiments with Hole In The Wall in 1999. In his research he discovered that with the following elements in place that students can learn.

  • Student-centered.
    • The desire to learn about a topic must come from within the students themselves. This places the responsibility for learning about it directly in their hands.

  • Education through inquiry
    • Students will develop the question they want to follow. Any question will do but with skilled guidance the students will develop a stronger understanding about asking the right questions to get answers. Students will them work in groups of 4 , or alone, to find the answers to the questions.
  • Engaged.
    • Because the students have bought into the research because of the questions they are asking they feel a strong responsibility for the question. They want the best answer possible. This creates a stronger focus on finding the answer. They know the other groups are coming up with answers that will foster discussion.

  • Social and collaborative.
    • Because of the nature of working in groups students learn to trust each others ideas and become supportive as they search for their answers. Discussions abound around the topic creating more inquiry and stronger answers. The students learn how to work in groups, sometimes with people who they would rather not work with. Students are encouraged to solve the problems themselves in a positive manner.
  • Supported and encouraged.
    • The teacher or parent becomes a cheerleader who says all the right things, gives those pats on the back about the work the students are doing and gently pushes students in directions to find the answers.