Partners in Learning

Photo by rawpixel from Burst

Babies and toddlers learn from people they love and that love them, usually their parents, and then, in pre-school and during the first years of elementary school, teachers generally provide not only learning but also active care, taking into account the emotional needs of the child, building a relationship that tends to fade when students get older. Lecturer Jacqueline Zeller’s research  on “Relationships and Learning” highlighted, in 2008, the role that teacher-child relationships can have on learning:  “[…] teacher-child relationships appear to be an important part of children’s social and academic success in school.” 

New Pedagogies and Deep Learning

Nowadays, you can easily find information online on any subject. The focus in school should therefore shift from teaching that superficial knowledge to developing the qualities students need for success in their future adult life: complex understanding and meaning, while being ready to develop in an evolving technological landscape.

In “A seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning” Fullan and Langworthy describe how learning should happen through a partnership between and among students AND teachers, for a transformation of the teaching and learning. This new learning also need to be authentic and problem-solving based.
Deep Learning is about understanding and using the 6 C’s :

Character Education





Critical Thinking

It strikes me how much these have in common with the ISTE Standards for Students, looking at a different perspective, sure, but with similar benchmarks and the same ultimate goal: empowering students and guaranteeing that learning is a student-driven process! Actually not so surprising when you know that ISTE is one of the article’s sponsors: they are advocating for the same ideas and creating tools to encourage educators to be brave and take that road, the one leading to student agency.

If you find (as I did!) that Fullan & Langworthy’s study is a little content-heavy, the video below will give you a helpful overview of the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning. I particularly appreciate that it was developed by “doing it” rather than being a jargon-filled theory put in practice afterward, and, as an international educator, happy to read that it started a synergy between schools in different countries.

How the New Pedagogies are Different

The diagram below summarises how the new pedagogies and deep learning are different from the traditional model of education (image from: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning)

1) Deep learning goals involve the creation and use of new knowledge in the real world.
2) New learning partnerships emerge between and among students and teachers with a learning process whose focal point is mutual discovery, creation, and use of knowledge.
3) It responds to and is enabled by digital access both inside and outside of schools.

My school has always be tried to be current in terms of pedagogy trends and innovations; for example, I remember colleagues attending Harvard Project Zero workshops years ago, then other Professional Developments like Bambi Betts’ PTC Summer Institutes for our Team Leaders, looking at new models of education, implementing inquiry-based learning, continually seeking improvements.
That led to organizing the first Learning by Design conference in March 2017. Its main focus was: A call to re-imagine the way schools facilitate learning, and the themes were: engage, empower, connect, innovate.

In February 2019,  building on the experience, and implementing a more authentic student participation, the second Learning by Design (LbD) conference was: Re-imagining school requires a commitment to changing culture, courageously challenging old assumptions, and a willingness to play with and test new ideas – even if they fail.
Over 450 ISB faculty and staff, educators and international school leaders from other schools, and leading education experts, came together for this event aimed at re-imagining school.
Ten outside experts in a wide range of subjects related to education came as learning facilitators. This last term is a carefully chosen one: the model was not for a conference speaker to deliver his presentation, but for the experts to facilitate the discussions among the participants.

Here are some of the  sessions that were offered:

As I looked through the program today, so much of the conference content resonate differently now, thanks to my new knowledge and understanding brought by the COETAIL program.

Today I can see better how I need to transform my practice to engage differently both with our students and my classroom colleagues, in order to support not only students learning but also OUR learning. The shift to offering more to our community than the traditional library role started a few years ago at our school, but this is a process that I personally need to implement deeper and I am happy my COETAIL journey is helping me to get there.

Frameworks for Learning

Technology Integration

There was a time when technology in schools was so new that the main question was how to open the right program (let alone using it). No idea when exactly this happened, but I remember clearly standing in the staff room when a colleague opened the door to tell me: “Christel, I left a Post-It on your computer screen to tell you I sent you an email.“… and yes Post-It notes were (also) a novelty for us at the time.
In 2007, this Edutopia article was asking: What is Successful Technology Integration? and defined the concept as “[…] the use of technology resources — computers, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, digital cameras, social media platforms and networks, software applications, the Internet, etc. — in daily classroom practices, and in the management of a school.” This was a valid question at the time (and still is!) as it required a shift from using technology in the classroom to doing so successfully and meaningfully.

Nowadays we have access to electronic devices, apps, and tools that didn’t exist yet a dozen years ago. Things keep changing fast in this field and the tools became much more intuitive. Also, the younger generations don’t have to go through the same tech learning curve anymore.
Therefore the objective of integrating technology in the classrooms should focus on encouraging and inspiring students to develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of the course content, not to master the tool itself.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

“The ultimate goal of technology integration is to completely redefine how we teach and learn, and to do things that we never could before the technology was in our hands” –  Dr. Ruben Puentedura

The Right Frame

Technology tools effectively integrated into the curriculum can extend learning in powerful ways. With that goal in mind, these frameworks have been developed to help educators design lesson plans that integrate technology in a meaningful way.


About 20 years ago, Dr. Ruben Puentedura created a model to help educators integrate technology into teaching and learning, called SAMR. This technology framework enables teachers to design, develop, and integrate digital learning experiences for their students.

SAMR is the acronym for SubstitutionAugmentationModification, and Redefinition. While the two first levels bring some enhancement, the ultimate goal is clearly to transform student learning experiences by reaching higher levels of achievement with the transformation ones. SAMR framework’s objective is to easily guide teachers and help them plan and create activities that use technology in an effective and meaningful way, and not for the sake of using these tools.
There are different visual representations of SAMR but I particularly like this one, also used by our Middle School leadership team a few years ago during a Professional Development session. I find it clear and accessible to use as a starting point.

Image credit: Sylvia Duckworth, via @DavidGuerin

For a better understanding of its concepts, here is a video overview of What Is the SAMR Model?, made by Common Sense Media.


The Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework was first developed by Matthew J. Koehler and Punya Mishra. Based on Shulman’s idea of Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK), it puts forward the idea that effective teachers are qualified in technological, content, and pedagogical knowledge in order to promote meaningful learning for their students.
The TPACK framework looks at the relationships between technologypedagogy, and contentin specific contexts. Obviously, there are overlaps of these three main knowledge areas: Technological Knowledge (TK), Pedagogical Knowledge (PK), and Content Knowledge (CK). The ideal is to build the lesson in the junction of all three, right in the middle of it all.

The TPACK Image (rights free)

As Koehler tells in TPACK Explained: “Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) attempts to identify the nature of knowledge required by teachers for technology integration in their teaching while addressing the complex, multifaceted and situated nature of teacher knowledge.”

Here again, Common Sense Media offers a clear video explanation of the concept of  “What is the TPACK Model?

TIM – Technology Integration Matrix

The Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) is another framework for describing and targeting the use of technology to enhance learning in the classroom. It combines five interdependent characteristics of meaningful learning environments: active, collaborative, constructive, authentic, and goal-directed. These are associated with five levels of technology integration: entry, adoption, adaptation, infusion, and transformation. Together, they create a matrix of 25 cells.
And it comes with a great added value I find: by clicking on any of the cells, you access: Extended Descriptors, Video Lesson Examples, and Related Ressources! This can help you determine where you and/or students stand in terms of technology expertise, while at the same time it also helps you develop your next lesson plan.


The International Society for Technology in Education defines itself as a community of “global educators who believe in the power of technology to transform teaching and learning, accelerate innovation and solve tough problems in education”.
The ISTE Standards are a framework designed to guide students and teachers (but also educational leaders, coaches, and computational thinking) through a transformative process leading to better learning while using technology naturally.
Having started to use some of these standards in a few previous COETAIL units, I can say that these standards clearly outline the expectations both for the teachers and the students. I found out that they include more basic skills as well as high-level efficiency requiring skills, designing the path to a reach the ultimate goal of a successful technology integration.

In the video below, Chris Zook, on the AES CTE Blog, describe the ISTE standards, explaining why they should be used:

More Framing?

Of course, there are more technology frameworks available out there, even if the ones above are considered the main ones. In his International EdTech Blog, Matt Harris presents a long list of the better known Educational Technology standards and frameworks. It is worth a look.

And you, which one(s) do you use at your school?

My School, Technology, and Integration

At the beginning of the 1990s, and for a few years, technology at my school, as in a lot of other places I believe, mainly meant tools used at the first SAMR level (Substitution).
I remember well the excitement when the High School Library acquired its first couple of computers for students to research encyclopedias on CDROMs! It felt like being part of the progress, but looking back, it was only a first step, and mainly swapping one format for another.

Slowly things started to move towards level two (Augmentation), but the first real shift appeared in the Fall of 2006, when becoming a 1:1 school. At first, grade 8 in Middle School and 10 in High School were piloting the program and each of those students, plus all teachers, received a portable laptop.
The full implementation of one-to-one devices started the following school year, in 2007-2008, for grades 7 to 12. Later on, laptop carts became available for Early Childhood Center (up to grade 2) and Elementary School (grade 3 to 6) classes.
For various reasons, a few in the ECC started to also use iPads, which eventually led to the decision of fully migrating the ECC and ES to iPads and Macs in 2017-18. Rather than a decision made by the IT department and the administration, it was clearly initiated by the users’ reflection and the motivation of the simplicity of its use by the school’s younger members, and the large range of apps available for this age-group students.
Soon there will be 30 iPads also available for occasional use in Middle and High School.

At my school, educational technology is definitely not an empty word, but I would say it is a never-ending journey, one that started quite a few years ago already, but as often the best scenic routes are the longest but the most effective ones at the end.

In 2015, the High School hired a part-time HS English/Technology Integration teacher was hired, and when leaving replaced in 2017, by a part-time technology Integration Specialist also teaching math. They both worked with students and teachers to help them implement the use of technology within the learning.
Another step forward was made in September 2019 when our current colleague was hired as Media Resource & Tech Integration Teacher, both for the MS and HS which was a sensible decision I felt, to bring better coherence across both schools. Shifting the offices around, and bringing him together in the same space as some of the IT Technicians and MHS Teacher-Librarians also facilitates mutual understanding of our jobs, and helps to achieve a culture of collaboration.

Another beauty of this COETAIL program: it actually encouraged me to initiate a conversation with him about frameworks, especially in the HS (grade 10 to 12), where teachers are well aware of the pedagogical content (see the TPACK model), but using education technology to the fullest can still be promoted. The IB (International Baccalaureat) program is indeed content-heavy, and teachers are therefore less brave sometimes to take to explore new tools and new ways.
Obviously, the pandemic and resulting lockdown, that lead to weeks/months of Distance learning, gave a considerable kick to all teachers to be on the same page for using some of the tech tools, and re-thinking their course delivery method. This is at least one thing positive to take away from this difficult and unprecedented situation. 



Opening our Perspectives – Course 3 Final Project

We should always aim to open up our perspectives: in the workplace,  collaboration is a great way to achieve that. In Keeping the Door Open to CollaborationMinero explains how “intentional teacher collaboration creates a strong professional culture and spreads good ideas room to room”, which will be beneficial not only for the teachers but also for their students. 

I find a lot of truth in Robert John Meehan‘s above quote, and this Course 3 Collaborative Final Project made it all become real.
The first step was to contact my co-COETAIL-ers to form a group. After talking to different people, we created a team of four members working with teenagers.

While my first idea was to go for option 1 and create a 2-4 hour professional development program, once we started brainstorming it became clear, including to me, that offering extra professional development in a pandemic situation was not wise: in the past months, teachers already had to get used to a lot of new online tools to navigate distance learning, and their days (and evenings) became busier than ever.

Therefore we decided to create a unit planner based on the understandings of this course with the objective to support students in becoming Creative Communicators and Global Collaborators.

Our first challenge was to set up an efficient communication channel:  while using Twitter’s group messages seemed a good idea, it took a while to realize that one of us didn’t receive the notifications. Once it got solved, we also created a shared Google Doc where we could suggest some unit plan ideas and comment on each other’s.

As there is nothing better than meeting in person at some point during a collaborative project, we also organized a couple of video calls. Picking a time was not easy because of the different time zones: between Panama, Belgium, Russia, and Cambodia the common decent time window is quite narrow. I discovered a new tool along the way: and we eventually found a time that worked for us, thanks to our colleague in Panama who is a (very) early riser!
We started the conversation by looking over the shared sample lesson plans and finally decided to revise the unit of one of our colleagues on Migration as he was going to teach it to his school’s grade 9 students  We agreed that it would give us all an authentic experience. Besides, I was personally interested in the topic as I used to collaborate with grade 7 Social Studies teachers on a  unit on the same topic, facilitating the research component in my Teacher-Librarian role.

Here is the Updated Migration Unit Plan that was produced

This type of task still remains a challenge for me, as writing unit plans is not my area of expertise: I usually collaborate with classroom teachers, and the content I deliver is incorporated in their lesson plans. The standards for what I teach independently, like Academic Honesty, are regularly revised but do not require the same type of process.

Obviously, the unit on Migration already included content standards, and our colleague updated them to reflect the newer version. Then we decided together which ISTE standards would be most meaningful, and which activities could be offered in order to improve student collaboration, with the relevant technology tools.

Here are the selected ISTE Standards:

  • 6.c. Students communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using various digital objects such as visualizations, models, or simulations.
  • 7.b. Students use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts, or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints.

For the technology tools, there were some constraints linked to what the students had already been exposed to: for example, one of our first ideas was for students to create infographics in groups [as it was part of one of our recent COETAIL course content], but that was dismissed as already included in the previous assignment.
After looking at different options, the chosen tool for the final activity is Parlay Ideas, a comprehensive discussion platform that allows students to interact with each other and their teacher, both virtually and in person. I didn’t know this tool before, but it seemed promising, and fitting the ISTE Standards we were aiming for, and to the unit that will be taught.

One issue though: the teachers of the Anglo-American School of Moscow had not used the live version yet.  The two tech-savvy members of our group spontaneously offered to run a PD session for them, going beyond our own course requirements and extending the collaboration spirit. Although I wasn’t able to join the training session, I received its recording and I would now be able to suggest this tool to my own colleagues.

This process was enlightening both from a personal and professional point of view as it showed the richness of our interactions and the power of collaboration.  As international educators, with diverse backgrounds and skills, it reminded us that sharing our experiences can only broaden our perspectives and knowledge, especially at a time when we all have to face a pandemic and the consequences that it brought to our teaching jobs.

Finally, I am hopeful that the updates made to the Migration lesson thanks to our collaboration were helpful and will bring added values for the students and their teachers.


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.


Filling the World Around You with Empathy – The Course 2 Final Project

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Here is our COETAIL Cohort#12 Course#2 Final Project! “Our” and not mine as we were able to apply what we have been reading, learning, writing, and reflecting about these past six weeks: becoming contributors and collaborators. We gathered to work together and bring our own insight to a common project, encouraged by our extra- supportive COETAIL coach Joel!
The members of our team are SimonaJulija, Mooney,  Luis Carlos, and myself, Christel. We have different nationalities and live in different parts of the world, two of us in their own country, while others moved far away. We came together with a common goal that we had to define: create a collection of helpful resources on #kindness and #empathy for other teachers around the world to use. As our team consists of 5 participants, we came up with the title Hi 5! Resources.
Empathy, the ability to understand and share other people’s feelings is so important and even more needed during these troubled times of the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath, but also one important component of the COETAIL program.

The project relates to the following ISTE standard for Educators: 
3.a. Create experiences for learners to make positive, socially responsible contributions and exhibit empathetic behavior online that builds relationships and community.

How did you find your group for this project?

I wasn’t sure how to approach other participants; I only knew a little about them through their short introduction and read some of their blog posts… As I was running late in the program, I didn’t feel confident to contact them ; at some point, Joel suggested I could contact Luis. After exchanging some emails, getting to know each other, and sharing our work experiences, we felt we could come up with a common project. Some other people then contacted us as they were also looking to collaborate, and we moved on to another type of project.

How did the collaboration aspect of this project go?

I think it needed some adjustments at the start because of structural challenges, but everyone was willing to make it work and we developed a real sense of community, helping, supporting, and encouraging each other! I loved it!

What challenges did you face? How did you overcome them?

The main challenge was to identify something we could all contribute to equally: our profiles and areas of expertise are indeed quite different. Once we found an “umbrella” project (we each could create a specific piece, that will be part of common theme and goal), things fell in place easily. Secondly, we were at a different stage of the course, some of us needed to catch up with the last blog posts, while others were on track.
We also needed to find the best way to communicate: first, it was via email, however, we had our final group composition, it was clear that Twitter Chat would be more efficient and easier to follow. I regret we couldn’t set a video call but we live in different zone times with the following countries: Lithuania, Panama, Russia, South Korea, and Belgium…
What I have truly enjoyed is getting to know my team members! Of course, I only know them from our online written interactions, and a small picture, but we were together on the same boat, working towards the same goal, helping and encouraging each other. That was such a great feeling that I am looking forward to continue working on the COETAIL program next school year, getting to know my four new colleagues better, and meeting the others too!

How was this collaborative planning experience different from or similar to other planning experiences?

This was quite different as I usually collaborate with my library team (our Head Librarian, the library-assistant, and myself), or with classroom teachers to develop collaboration projects. It was the first time I collaborated remotely with people I never met and it was really interesting and enriching.

Why did you choose this option? These standards?

I wanted to work on something I will be able to use next school year, and as we developed this project, I immediately saw the potential for me creating a unit on Empathy for my current grade 7 Personal Learning group students that I co-teach with a colleague.

How does this experience relate to what you learned in Course 2?

This final project of COETAIL Course#2 relates to basically all the units we worked on: it gave me the feeling to be taken by the hand (interesting course content provided in such an organized way), encouraged (our coach), inspired to do our first steps with the hand nearby (writing our blog posts), to finally walk the first toddler steps (the final project). I am not ready to run yet, but I now enjoy the world around me from a standing position. I feel I am becoming a COETAIL-er <3

If you facilitated this experience, how did the learners respond to it? What feedback did you collect to inform future experiences?

It hasn’t been the case yet, but I am planning to use it at the beginning of next school year with the group of Middle Schoolers that I co-teach for Personal Learning; they are now in grade 7, and will be in grade 8 exactly like the students who created the video below! After being on Distance Learning for a few months, working together on being empathic to each other, caring, and supportive will be a great asset I think.

Empathy Can Change the World: spread it!
This video was dreamed up, scripted, and acted out by some amazing 8th-grade students from Kalispell Middle School. The vision was to create a thought-provoking short film that instills a challenge to the viewer to look at their own life, their own relationships, and their own sphere of influence, and see where a little empathy could help change the world around them.


Empowering Students!

Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

As explained in my previous post Think! Media Literacy and the quest for truth, “[…] nowadays students need to also become media educated with the guidance of their classroom teachers and librarians” adding that “Perseverance and commitment are needed, as media literacy is an essential skill in the digital age.”

Media literacy is concerned with developing an informed and critical understanding of the nature of the mass media, the techniques used by them, and the impact of those techniques. […] Media literacy also aims to provide students with the ability to create media products.” 

Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (Henry Jenkins – MacArthur Foundation)

And because there is not much point in creating media products without having an audience, we should guide our students to become contributors: they are not attending school to pass time and absorb course content waiting to get old enough to play a role in the society. This traditional model is gone! Everyone, regardless of its age, has the ability to make a positive impact on local and global communities, and creating connections, as Scott McLeod reminds us with examples of amazing children and teenagers whose contributions, often through social media, had a positive impact on other people’s lives and/or showed their ability to be engaged citizens!

Extracurricular empowerment: Scott McLeod at TEDxDesMoines – September 2013

I am lucky enough to be working at the International School of Brussels, a school with a great reputation and vision, constantly seeking improvement, placing the student empowerment at the core of its mission. Willing to adapt to a fast-changing world, our school provides regular Professional Development days on campus, inviting some leading experts in the field of education, combined with mini-session offered by colleagues sharing their expertise. I thought I would mention a few from the past recent years, as Scott McLeod is one of the experts brought to us: it will help to understand where we stand as a school in terms of student empowerment and participatory culture.

In September 2015, our PD training’s focus was technology with In The Zone – Learning Innovation in Practice at ISB: “We all – students, faculty & staff – live, teach, learn, and work in a world packed with technological innovation. So much of it untapped in its potential to transform what we wish to achieve. Scott MacLeod is a leading expert who works with schools, in the US and globally, inviting us to think about how technology can transform the teaching and learning landscape. He also brings a focus to the idea of building a personal digital footprint that reflects positively on who we are. Scott will work with students – 10th grade – and faculty on both these areas of his expertise.  Scott is joining us for a few days to work with a number of stakeholders, faculty, students, and parents. He is a core part of the “In the Zone” day organized in the Middle School“.
In March 2017, ISB hosted the Learning by Design conference: A call to re-imagine the way schools facilitate learning. The conference included workshops, seminars, Learning Labs and opportunities for networking, and involved some of our students. Founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute for educators, Gary Stager was one of the learning facilitators.
The second Brussels LbD conference took place in February 2019, looking at the following: “Re-imagining school requires a commitment to changing culture, courageously challenging old assumptions and a willingness to play with and test new ideas – even if they fail.” One of the many learning facilitators was Ewan McIntosh, founder of NoTosh, which makes accessible the creative process required to innovate.

As an example, here is one of the initiatives that the Middle School implemented a few years ago a program for grade 7 to 9 students: it offers choice modules built in their regular schedules. Its objectives are to give students a chance to explore and develop new or pre-existing skills and create the conditions for them to develop and/or deepen a passion for a particular topic or skill. Whenever possible, faculty and staff leading these workshops are encouraged to involve the students in the planning process and trajectory of the module over the 9 sessions to make it more student-centered.  

Examples of past Personal Learning Modules: Collaging with Friends / Jewelry Design Makerspace / Blogging Like a Pro / Booklovers Club / Italian & Cooking / The Art of Gaming / Dance Workshops / Crocheting with Calmness / Let’s Chat! / Engineering – Design Creativity / Entrepreneurship / C’est bon, c’est belge / Gardening, the Life-Cycle / Life Through a Lens / Psych Experiments Through the Ages / Electric Guitar and Bass Rockers / Take Action / Captivating your Audience / Middle School Madness / Sports in Popular Culture / The Great Outdoors / Yoga / Share Your Ideas: Podcasting and Vlogging / Let’s Go to the Caribbean! / African Hand Drumming.

The modules are run by faculty and staff who are willing to share their skills and passions, usually outside their regular role in the school: for example, a math teacher running a Djembe drums initiation, a library assistant, a silversmith by training, leading the Jewelry Design module… Meeting twice a week for periods of 9 weeks, students hold a showcase of a Celebration of Learning at the end.

An acceptable use policy (AUP), is a set of rules applied by the owner, creator or administrator of a network, website, or service, that restrict the ways in which the network, website or system may be used and sets guidelines as to how it should be used.

In Rethinking AUPs, McLeod is asking if “in all of our efforts to teach students safe, appropriate, and responsible technology use, are we forgetting the more important job of teaching our students empowered use?” In a rather long list of blog posts and other resources, he supports that rather being a document stipulating constraints and practices the purpose of such policies should be enabling optimal empowerment of individuals within a school, to meet personal, organizational, educational, and societal goals.

At my school, the Acceptable Use Policy is part of the Student Handbook in the Middle School; in the 2019-20 copy, it is referred to as the Technology Handbook, and rather than rules, it refers to “agreement” and “principles”.

Student Technology Agreement
All technology decisions at ISB are guided by the following principles:

  • Appropriate technology use is an essential component of optimal learning environments.
  • Technology creates new teaching and learning opportunities that improve student understanding.  It contributes to an environment in which teaching and learning are learner-centered, collaborative, engaging.
  • Technology provides the means for equitable learning opportunities. Technology allows teachers to meet the diverse learning needs of students by adapting to individual goals and learning styles.

It is very interesting too, I think, to notice the Resources For Parents listed at the end of the document: they are first-hand partners in the implementation of a participatory culture and they also need to support the empowerment of students at home.

Elizabeth Gilbert, “The Kids Are All Right.

Yalda T. Uhls, “Parents, Chill. Technology Isn’t Destroying Teens’ Brains.”UCLA Newsroom, December 2, 2015.

Yalda T. Uhls, Media Moms and Digital Dads: A Fact Not Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age.

Amanda Third, Damien Spry, Kathryn Locke, Enhancing Parent’s Knowledge and Practice of Online Safety.

Elizabeth Perle, 5 Myths about Teens and Technology Every Parent Should Know.

Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, Kathleen Clarke-Pearson. The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families.

Danah Boyd, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.

Common Sense Media, Social Media, Social Life: How Kids View Their Digital Lives.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Talking to Kids and Teens About Social Media.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Talking to Kids and Teens About Social Media and Sexting.

Scott McLeod, “Extracurricular Empowerment”, TED Talk.