Touzin's Musings

Notes from the field of Assistive Technology

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A Love Letter to JK/SK Teachers

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My Niece: Future JK Student 2015

This blog entry is a love letter to my dedicated colleagues in the JK/SK class. I have no idea how you do, what you do: balancing the entry into school, social needs, separation anxiety, and most importantly, setting children up for a love of school for life. Your job is crucial. I follow so many of you on Twitter and I admire what I see you do everyday.

Most of us can recall our Kindergarten teachers. Mine was Mrs. Payne, at Lakeroad Elementary School in Sarnia, Ontario. I loved school, mostly because of how Mrs. Payne made school feel. That’s not to say I don’t recall being told not to talk when I shouldn’t have, because that happened. But overall, we had fun. Yes, I learned how to print, recognize letters and numbers; but I remember the freedom to do many things.

There was a progression in the education system of my youth, that slowly moved away from creativity and play, to book work, lecture, and rote memory. For me, I had no struggles. I loved to read and listen, therefore I learned. But I saw many of my friends struggle. Reading was not the way they learned. Lectures were boring, and memory work was excruciating. But those methods were the primary methods they were taught. My friends got by, hunkered down and carried on.

But what if they were in our education system today? Would they have more success with today’s Differentiated Instruction and Edtech practices? Would eLearning be the savior of my friends that farmed or worked part-time jobs? I’d like to think these current practices would have been great for us 90’s kids too. I’d also like to think that the growing repertoire most teachers possess, is helping reach more students than before. I’ve only been in the game 14 years, and my practice has expanded dramatically to include a wider variety of teaching methods.

But then I think about my student self: would I have enjoyed today’s education system that values inquiry and group work? I still cringe when I think of the group projects I had to complete in school. If you had members who didn’t work the same as you, you were in trouble. I suppose those group projects in high school have prepared me for the real world, you know, working in high schools.

That balance between style of lesson delivery and the evolution of assessment practices, is guiding change in our education system. There is the next (r)evolution: how do we assign standard grades to the myriad of assessments handed in, when the student work is becoming more and more diverse? But that’s another blog post.

My point to this ramble is that we are in exciting and diverse times in education. Students are entering our system in JK/SK with an inherent knowledge of technology that some of us teachers still need professional development on. And some students have no interest in tech and are stunned by what they can create with empty cardboard boxes. See above adorable pictures. So to my colleagues in JK/SK, my unwavering support. Your kettle of fish is diverse, and eager to learn. You weigh out each day what to try, how to engage. You’re the gatekeepers to lifetime of learning. Keep making it fun. Oh, and watch out for my niece: she’s into fun, big time.


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The Lone Wolf: No Educator Is an Island


In continuing with last year’s post (yes, I’m still not posting as regularly as I would like), I think the new semester/term is a great time to rethink the past few months. What worked? What did not? But more importantly, what did YOU do, in YOUR class, for YOUR students? I challenge you to share your struggles and successes with your peers, near and far.

As we start a new semester in secondary classrooms across Ontario, take a moment to think about how you will welcome your new students. What kind of learning environment will you help create? Maybe you’ve been thinking about trying Project Based Learning, or Collaborative Inquiry. Or maybe you want to try using a new assistive technology  tool (HINT HINT LKDSB). Or perhaps your goal isn’t that lofty, but rather simply getting all your students to earn their credit. Wait, that IS rather lofty.

Whatever your goal, this is a friendly reminder to look around. Don’t go it alone! Look around your halls, your district, or your online PLN for support. There are people currently doing in their classrooms, what you want to try. So ask questions, start small, and see what happens. We’re in the age of constant sharing in social media, and in many cases, the age of over-sharing. Too often, many educators are reluctant to seek support from peers. But as educators, we’ve never been better poised to share, and seek help, than we have before. The great John Donne wrote:

                       No man is an island entire of itself;

                       every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

                                                                          From:  MEDITATION XVII, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

So too are teachers. The island of education has gone global. We’re all connected by our desire to help students learn and grow. And now we can share with each other our success, and struggles. To the Lone Wolfs: I challenge you too. Come on outside your comfort zone, just a step. We’ve got lots to talk about and share.

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November: Sharing Knowledge



The Changing Format of Professional Development

I admit it. I’m a lax blogger. The format doesn’t come easily to me. I’m an academic writer, by trade, and I can write you a proposal for anything. I know my eduspeak and lingo. But blogging still feels foreign. I love reading other educator’s blogs, and look forward to new post from folks whom I follow on Twitter. But I think blogging still feels too personal, too ripe for judgement; even though you’ve all been so kind. So I’m attempting a monthly installment, a reflection of the weeks gone by. It’s my commitment to professional development.

This month I had the absolute pleasure of presenting at ECOO. I’m always excited to attend conferences, and this one had been on my list for a number of years. Although my audience was small, the conversations and ideas were important to share. I spoke about using the Virtual Learning Environment (D2L/Brightspace) to support identified learners. Supporting identified learners is my passion, and I embrace the use of technology to support these students.

My current system position allows me to support students with assistive technology in secondary schools. This month, I also focussed on teachers. Specifically, the fabulous classroom teachers that work with these kids everyday. I’ve read numerous great blogs about peer-to-peer professional development this month. They have resonated with me, strongly. I have had many conversations with classroom teachers, and system leaders, and a common refrain is “I want to learn from another teacher.” When we see something awesome happening down the hall, or online, we want to look, talk and share.

You can present ideas to educators, but having educators select the ideas THEY wish to learn about, well that’s true professional development. It’s organic, it comes from a desire within to learn, to grow, become successful at something new. And the format of this new, personal PD is not necessarily a day long staff meeting. It’s a Twitter chat, an EdCamp, a blog post or conversation happening after the bell.

The experience I’ve gained this month about developing teachers’ comfort with assistive technology, is simple. Accept and respect where they are, but ask them: Where do you want to go? How can I get you there? And most importantly: let me help you. Building trust as a system leader is crucial. By allowing me into their classrooms, teachers are opening themselves up to me. It’s my responsibility to ensure they don’t regret it, and my mission to support them on their journey.

So thank you to the many teachers who allowed me into their classrooms this month. Your commitment to supporting your students, and to expanding your craft is admirable. It’s been a pleasure. Now share what you learned.

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Making Connections with AT

SWAC Classroom at Lambton College

SWAC Classroom at Lambton College


October. I think I can safely say for all of us in education, that October is flying by. And with that, the feeling of gearing up for a year’s worth of hard work has also set in. This month I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with grade 9 students in our district who currently use assistive technology to access the Ontario curriculum. Our goal in meeting with these students several times this fall, is to build a relationship of support, and to encourage the continued use of AT in the secondary classroom. This is the first year the LKDSB has had teachers assigned specifically for this task. I’m hopeful this approach will help curb our abandonment issues at the secondary level.

In addition to supporting students, we’re also supporting classroom teachers this fall. Our mandate is to demonstrate system wide software found on our current network image. I’ve been so lucky to show Smart Ideas and Word Q to wide range of classes this fall. In particular, I was very excited to visit the SWAC (School Within A College) classroom at Lambton College this week. This class is a very unique set of students aged 18-20 who require less than 8 credits to complete their OSSD. Students enrolled have the opportunity to complete their OSSD at their own pace, with support from a secondary teacher. I had a great time demonstrating Word Q to these students, and I was very impressed with program and students’ maturity. I know they will succeed in obtaining their goals.

October has been a very busy and vital month in establishing relationships with teachers and students. I’m looking forward to more opportunities to connect with educators in November.




September: New Beginnings


September. Even the word connotes so much for so many. It means one thing to parents, another to teachers, and even something else to students. It’s time to return to the bustle of education.  Ready, or not!

This fall, at LKDSB, we have a new opportunity to re-connect and support our students with Assistive Technology at the secondary level. Meeting with grade 9 students is rejuvenating: fresh faces, new friends, new classes, and new teachers encouraging the best. I’ve always enjoyed a grade 9 class in September for one reason: their sheer fear. It’s easier in September to set routines with students, and convince them to try new things.

This September, I’m meeting with a large number of grade 9 students to help support their continued use of AT in the secondary level. It’s been very busy prioritizing schools, students, and needs to ensure everyone receives support as they transition to secondary school. We know AT abandonment is a real concern at LKDSB, and I hope early and often sessions will help curb that tendency.

I’m looking forward to planned Orientation Days this week at AMSS, JMSS, SCITs, LCCVI and NLSS. By meeting these students now, I’m hoping they become more inclined to use the AT they need to access our curriculum.

September is busy, tiring and exciting. And I love it.

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See You in September!

Spending Time Together

Spending Time Together

As the first semester of my new position comes to a close, I’d love to thank the LKDSB for having the vision to extend my position into the next school year. We are on the brink of major changes, and movement forward, and I am excited to be a part of it. Stay tuned!

As many of you get yourselves ready for the fall, I encourage you to also spend the next two months reflecting on your year, and where next year may take you. Plan on trying something new. Maybe you’ll take an AQ, try a new piece of software in your class (hint hint), or dive deep into CI and DI. What ever you choose to do, give yourself plenty of room to learn and grow.

Enjoy your summer LKDSB!


Jumping on Board. Change is good.

ImageI often take photos of drives around the school board district on my way to see students and teachers. Today, this one stood out. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized there was a set of tire tracks on the road in the frame. I wondered. Did they hit the brakes in time? Was anyone hurt? Did they stop for the train?

Often learning new technology is compared to a moving train by many educators. Sometimes we can hop on, other times, it’s moving too quick to catch up to. I can relate! I thought I would never learn all the ins and outs of the various assistive technologies I support in my district. And the first time I tried Google Drive? Anxiety. First attempt at creating my own voice file for Dragon? Tears of frustration.

I learned my reluctance and fear came from thinking I had to master it all in one session. I hear you snickering, dear reader. I was naive. I was a type-A achiever in the nebulous world of fast changing tech. Then I realized. Pick what you NEED for the TASK you need to do. Collaborative writing with students? Use Google Drive and Comments. Course homepage? D2L. Improve writing organization and conventions? Smart Ideas and Word Q.

I may not be at the forefront of the tech revolution in education, but I am no longer afraid to jump in and hang on for dear life when fast changes are coming.

Now, I’m more afraid of letting the train pass me by. There’s too many great things on board.