Breaking Down Barriers

Photo by alessandro fazari on Unsplash

The Cycle of Socialization

In the book Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, which covers issues related to identity and oppression from a social justice perspective, there is a chapter written by Bobbie Harro titled: “The Cycle of Socialization” that will help us understand “the way in which we are socialized to play certain roles, how we are affected by issues of oppression, and how we help maintain an oppressive system based upon power” (Source).

It appeared to be an enlightening reading that I encountered at the right time as I recently had a conversation with my nineteen-year-old son and friends on the distinction between innate and acquired characteristics, and it led to some interesting debates. Although a different topic, what Harro explains complements this discussion, adding food for thought, especially about the concept that  “things are the way they are because it always has been that way” (!).
In Resistance to Change: “We’ve Always Done it That Way” Leslie Durr explains how people often continue to apply “the rules” from their family of origin without questioning them, even without having personally experienced negative consequences from having tested those rules.

Thanks to Harro’s graph on the Cycle of Socialization, we can follow the process and notice that there is also hope: at a certain point, some people will be able to break it in order to take their own chosen path. You can find out more about that in The Cycle of Liberation

Technology to Connect with Diverse Ideas and People

This Text Rendering Protocol from National School Reform Faculty (NSRF) is designed for working collaboratively while constructing meaning, clarifying, and expanding our thinking about a text.  It is easy to set up with any group size.
As I applied it to Harro’s text, I realized that it helped me think deeper about what I was reading, especially about what resonated best with me as I had to pick a word, a phrase, and a sentence. 

I recorded myself sharing these on Flipgrid, an online tool to create engaging video discussion experiences around a topic. I had never used Flipgrid before and it required going out of my comfort zone: it can be difficult to hear your own voice as it sounds different on a screen compared to what you perceive when you talk. Same with your own image, gestures, head, and hand movements. To be honest, I practiced a couple of time on my smartphone before going to Flipgrid 🙂
But after this experience, I see how I can take advantage of this tool to integrate technology into lessons when planning with my classroom colleagues. And I know that students are already used to film themselves: after all, they were born with social media apps.
For this project, linking the text Rendering Protocol with Flipgrid is a nice combination as it mixes written text, technology tool, and collaboration: a winning ticket!

In this first Flipgrid video, I mention a word, a phrase, and a sentence that resonated best with me when reading The Cycle of Socialization.

You can view it by scanning this QR code:

Word: Change – Phase: Internalized oppression – Sentence: We fail to realize that we have become participants by doing nothing

The next step was to find out what my co-COETAIL-ers picked up, and watch what they have to say about this text. Here is what I understood from some of them:

Word: Confusion – Phase: Inherited without our permission – Sentence: We are exposed to roles, rules, and assumptions that are not fair to everyone.

Word: Interrupt – Phase: We are innocent – Sentence: It should be simple, but it isn’t.

Word: Humanize – Sentence: Our silence is consent unless our discomfort becomes larger than our comfort.

Word: Empower – Sentence: Once you know something you can’t not know it anymore […].

It would be great if you could join this conversation on our Community Discussion topic

Communication Artists

Becoming Communication Artists

When reading the unit title, what I remembered was “Artist”… and got scared! (as I am not an artist sadly enough). But then, reading the Big Idea we will be working on, I already felt better:
Delivering information and communicating ideas is an art.
As a teacher-librarian, I know about delivering information, so let’s have a look at how I could enrich my practices with some [communication] art! 

Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash

The IRIS Award is a reading collaboration program between international Schools in Western Europe. In order to advertise the Iris Award Bookbowl, which is an accompanying quiz program, to our Middle Schoolers, a very eager colleague created a poster in Canva, a graphic design platform, used to create social media graphics, presentations, posters.
Note: the IRIS 2021 logo with the colorful stripes in the middle is a fixed image on a white background, and we can’t modify it. 
When she showed the first draft, asking for feedback, I quickly realized that there was too much information, too many colors, no clear direction as the eyes don’t know where to land. 

That was easy for me to assess, having just gone through the resources offered in our COETAIL course on visual aids. 
Before we could edit it together, being determined to improve it, my colleague kept working on it, this time adding all the 15 books covers (see 1st image below). Then, realizing it was messy (!), she rearranged them around the frame, hoping for a cleaner finish (see 2nd image below).

No doubt: it is colorful and eye-catching, but maybe not for the good reasons. 
We sometimes need to stop and think again at the objective: what is the MAIN message we want to convey? 

David JP Phillips’ passions are the brain and presentation skills. He combines both in this engaging TEDx talk: How to avoid death by PowerPoint (loved the catchy title by the way!), in which he explains what to absolutely avoid and what matters for creating an effective presentation.

Some of the key points can be transferred in this case:

  • One message per slide (here = on the poster)
  •  Size: eyes will be attracted by a big title
  • Contrast: by adding one subject line at a time, and with more contrast
  • Object: the magical number in a PP is 6 => add more slides if needed

    Garr Reynolds, author and communication consultant on how to design & deliver powerful presentations, insists on the following points in What is good Presentation  Design
  • Context matters: know your audience beforehand
  • Simple but not simplistic: the best visuals are designed with an eye to simplicity yet based on content and context
  • Visual makeover: the goal is to support a single message in a subtle and memorable way that fits into the theme, is appealing and attractive.

    I loved some of the “Before” and “After” illustrated in his presentation: 

With all that in mind, it was obvious what needed to happen to our poster which was going to be used both the old-fashioned way, on the wall in the school staircase, and in a Google Slides presentation during in-person lessons. 
Here are the results: a simple and clear message on each version, as additional explanations will be delivered orally to the students. 





See What I Mean

Nowadays, more than ever, information is everywhere.
And so much of it! 

In 2009 already, in the Harvard Business Review, Paul Kemp was talking about Death by Information Overload while Oksana Tunikova, nearly a decade later,  asks Are We Consuming Too Much Information? and is defining this new reality…

“Information overload is the state of feeling overwhelmed by the volume of information to the point at which one feels more confused than knowledgeable about a particular topic. Information overload can manifest itself as brain fog and difficulty making decisions.”

By Langwitches on flick

From healthy relationships to understanding the world we live in, we know for sure that clear communication is the key to success. Of course, it is no different when it comes to education.

Therefore educators have a crucial role to play when teaching: not only do they have to deliver content and teach students how to learn, but they have to do so in an effective way, adapted to today’s reality. Avoiding long written pieces in favor of visual communication is one excellent method of sharing ideas and data.
And most importantly, teachers need to encourage students to also express themselves clearly and creatively: using infographics and data visualization can achieve that. 

For Column Five, infographic is “where data meets design“. Playing with different attributes like color, size, orientation, and even flicker, in order to produce creative work that informs, engages, and inspires. Communicating complex information through design can take place in all the different subjects taught in school, for all ages and can be applied to all sorts of information including processes, hierarchy, anatomy, chronology…

Furthermore, David McCandless, founder of information is beautiful claims his goal is to help people make clearer, more informed decisions about the world. He turns complex data sets into beautiful, simple diagrams that bring to light unseen patterns and connections. Good design, he suggests, is the best way to navigate information excess,  and it may just change the way we see the world.


As I had to adapt a presentation for our first-ever 2021 graduating class going through The International Baccalaureate® (IB) Career-related Programme (CP), it was an opportunity to apply my new understanding of infographics and its purpose.
We already have a Google Slides presentation geared toward the Extended Essay of the IB Diploma Programme, but I felt that this class needs its own.
I wanted to discover Piktochart,  which claims to “quickly turn any text- or data-heavy content into a stunning report, presentation, infographic, social media graphic, or printable and I used one of their free template.”
I used one of the templates available with the free account (below, right) and adapted it (below, left), and enjoyed playing around with it. One can see that is not perfect (yet): lack of alignment – questionable background color… Works in progress!





Learning Together

 “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”

This African proverb can perfectly applies to the learning process, as shown on the learning pyramid developed by the National Training Laboratory, whose studies suggest that most students remember 10% of what they read from textbooks, but retain nearly 90% of what they learn through teaching others!

In Collaborative Learning, from Cornell University, we have the confirmation that students working in pairs or small groups to discuss concepts or find solutions to problems will lead to deeper learning, and to higher-level thinking, better oral communication, self-management, and leadership skills.
Promoting this kind of learning in the classroom, and encouraging the active interaction, and not only between students, but also between students and the teacher, who then becomes facilitator, collaborator and co-learner, is absolutely necessary. The old-fashioned ex-cathedra professor model needs to fly through the window. And fast.

<span>Photo by <a href="">John Schnobrich</a> on <a href=""
Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Project Zero from Harvard University is a research center founded in 1967 that explores topics in education such as deep thinking, understanding, intelligence, creativity, and ethics. They designed Thinking Routines that have the great advantage to be practical and easy to remember. These routines will also support collaborative thinking.

Facilitating a structured learning activity

I decided to work with a grade 7 class, the youngest of our Middle Schoolers, as these students are either new to the school or to this building, as a nice way for me to start working with this group. Their science’s current unit is about the Scientific Method, and I was able to work with one of the teachers to develop an activity linked to their course content.

SCIENCE Grade 7 – How to reinforce the thought process and vocabulary of the experimental design 

As students had already been exposed to the concepts of Independent Variables (IV), Dependent Variables (DV), and Constants, the objective was for them to think on how the experiment presented to them on paper would develop, and after identifying the IV, DV, and Constants, how to write precisely the hypothesis and the experiment title.
Working in groups, the goal was to brainstorm and test solutions together, in order to obtain the most precise result, using specific vocabulary.

After being introduced to the activity, and its topic, students were divided into four groups, spreading outside the classroom to be able to work together while social distancing.


In each group, one student was identified as the recorder **. The science teacher and I went from group to group, listening to the conversations, asking a question to help them be more specific, if needed.

** Looking at the picture, something strikes me now: on the 3rd picture, the recorder should have turned his desk. It is so obvious, but it didn’t click then. A lesson to be learned for me, for sure.

The last step of this activity was to look together at the four different results, and discuss them; for example, one group had a unique and creative answer for the constants (pesticides). When everyone agreed, the final document was completed.
The students will be exposed to a few more similar scenarios during the next ten days, in preparation for a unit test. Being able to process together the thinking sequence and helping each other to find the most appropriate words definitely help them.


Being Designers

Most schools started again a few weeks ago, still remotely for some, or on-campus like mine.
Still, everything remains so incredibly different from what we had before the pandemic hit us. 2020 will be like no other year in our lifetime and it is a challenge to adjust.
We are also back for the second stretch of the COETAIL program, and although adding to the challenge of balancing professional and personal time, it feels great to catch up with fellow Coetail-ers from Cohort 12, all teaching around the world, and to start reading their recent posts. Although this time I should say “looking at” their blogs: for Course 3, we are indeed developing our V✶I✶S✶U✶A✶L  Literacy to improve effective collaboration and communication.

Visual literacy is the “ability to recognize and understand ideas conveyed through visible actions or images”. In today’s increasingly digital world, we are communicating with images and icons more than ever, which makes it crucial to understand design principles and how it influences the way we perceive media. We are not only referring to an aesthetic enhancement — although we will see how a clear appearance is important — but to a language of its own, inducing communication and interaction. Over 50 billion photos (!!) have been shared on Instagram since it was launched in 2010 (Source: Omnicore).

The design of online tools is a virtual language and a powerful way of communication, and, as educators, we need to take it into account when we plan lesson plans and activities for our students.

My first reading on the topic, Explore visual hierarchy, taught me, or reminded me, a few things that totally make sense and are obvious. But… if you don’t specifically pay attention to this, chances are that you will overlook most of them and end up with a product that is not as efficient as it could be.
The visual hierarchy is indeed “the principle of arranging elements to show their order of importance”.  This means that you need to place all elements not only in a logical order, but also strategically to facilitate your users’ understanding and guide them to the wanted action.

The page on visual hierarchy from the Interaction Design Foundation tells us which components should be taken into account:
Regarding size: larger elements will be better noticed. Bright colors and richer textures will attract more attention. Contrast and Whitespace are eye-catching. Using out-of-alignment elements will make them stand out. Style repetition and Proximity will suggest a relation between content.

And they also explain why clear visual hierarchy is crucial:

With this knowledge in mind, I now need to revisit my own blog and question the choices I made last March when I was new to WordPress blogging. Clearly, some of them were not deliberate choices at all: I didn’t master the tool, and my main goal was to manage to publish some content.
I do remember choosing the theme, convinced I was making an informed selection: I picked up Twenty Seventeen who has a black background because I thought, that words and images would stand out better. All my quotes were published in color with a different font and/or size. I even tried to have them matched the illustrations I was adding.
There was frustration tough for not always being able to produce the layout I imagined.

When I went back to my blog after a couple of months, and having  read through some additional reading materials like the Guide to visual hierarchy (Infographic source) and the 6 principles of visual hierarchy for designers (99designs) it became clear that my objectives should be to convey simplicity and clarity by adding:

  • softer colors on a white background
  • lighter text with better visual
  • headings
  •  a table of content (a must-have for a librarian!) 
  • a name that reflects its purposes (still thinking about that one)

Before starting to implement some of the changes, let’s look again into some   principles that guide designers and called CARP  for:

Contrast – Alignment –  Repetition – Proximity

But also called CRAP .. maybe for a better mnemotechnic acronym? 

Bryan Jones helps us understand the impact of these graphic design principles when applied to a specific project to then be able to make our courses and presentation look attractive and therefore efficient.

UPDATING  my blog 
I played a lot with the different free WordPress Themes, changed the background colors when possible, and found out that not all features were available on all themes. I learned new vocabulary on the way, and WordPress how-to’s, got excited, and then deceived as I wasn’t able yet to get the right aesthetics I wanted while implementing the functions I wanted for a better performance of my blog.

So I finally went back to my original theme “Twenty Seventeen” for now, with the following updates:
name change for a wider audience: not my first name anymore, but “Mme Toilier”, as students call me
after looking at the result, I tried again to add a logo (my portrait) on this theme (see 3d version below) for enhanced site identification
menu added right under the header
a search button (my librarian self was lacking the last two items a lot!)

swapping the dark background for a white one — ideally, I would like a pale color one but I still need to figure out how to add it in within this theme


I was surprised how the pictures actually stand out better now while I chose the dark one originally on purpose


And finally  (for now!), I made sure to choose the parameters I wanted for the widgets (e.g. numbers of displayed comments or previous posts, etc)


“We are All Designers” … or at least we need to be(come) one to communicate our digital messages across in an efficient way! I feel that this unit taught me a lot, or reactivated previous knowledge. I found myself looking at websites or other online content in a different way, and will definitely think twice next time I create a presentation for a class.