Category Archives: Connecting

Hmmm, Culturally Responsive Teaching?


I am so interested in Universal Design for Learning or UDL.  In an article by McGuire, Scott & Shaw (2006) they discuss Universal Design and its origins in architecture by architect Ronald Mace. The idea behind this design is to make environments accessible to all peoples regardless of age or ability. McGuire, Scott & Shaw believe that in the era of the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) there needs to be more thought in planning in how we design our educational practices with this idea of accessibility for all. Presently (in New York State) we are facing the consequences of our adoption of the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) and Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) in our Race To The Top (RTTT) efforts to reform and fund education with the federal government. What we need to understand is how this is impacting the education of ALL students. McGuire, Scott & Shaw at what elements of Universal Design can inform a new paradigm in teaching in learning to benefit students of all abilities. Nine elements of accessibility to a curriculum  are identified (McGuire, Scott & Shaw, 2006) as: equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive, perceptible information, tolerance for errors, low physical effort, size and space for approach and use, a community of learners and instructional use. Curriculum accessibility is crucial for success of all students on assessments that rate the effectiveness of teachers and guide instructional supports (Academic Intervention Services) and educational programs (charter schools) for all students. Universal Design of Learning is still developing into a well researched theory or framework. This leads to the question of what theoretical/conceptual framework can inform an understanding and anchoring of UDL?

Digging deeper into UDL, the work of Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) is a conceptual theory that shares many commonalities of teaching and learning with UDL. These commonalities are: high expectations for all students, equitable use, flexible use  and a learner centered approach to instruction and learning. CRT has its origins in the work of Geneva Gay. Culturally Responsive Teaching is essentially knowing your students and teaching to them, not at them. It is bringing the diversity of the classroom to help all students achieve their potential through the acknowledgement and integration of experiences, abilities and the whole child for the betterment of the entire classroom. While Culturally Responsive Teaching looks at ethnic backgrounds, it also applies to understanding a students ability or disability.


This is the connection to the understanding of Universal Design of Instruction. It is meant to benefit the needs of all students by addressing the nine elements mentioned above to meet the diversity of our population of students and increase our tolerance and acceptance of this diversity.

So now to the big question: How does our adoption of Common Core State Standards and Annual Professional Performance Review impact our ability to provide instructional practices that embrace the pedagogy of Culturally Responsive Teaching? Does it impact our ability at all?


Wordle: Connect

I read Tom Whitby’s blog post in My Island View titled Assertions and Assumptions Skew Perceptions and I suddenly felt myself in the rut of education.The realization of this rut led me to the conclusion that I do not want to get back on the main road of education. I  instead want to forage a new path of discoveries by stepping away from the industrial classroom and into a connected, interactive, relevant space where students are able to discover themselves and thrive.

Whitby reflects on his attendance to a conference with many educational leaders and their “lack of relevance in the world of EdTech education.” There is a real crisis in our education system that lurks in the lecture halls of undergraduate classes and in the training of pre-service teachers. The education of our future teachers has not evolved with technology and society, leaving the education system stagnate in a pond of traditions and past practice. Our undergraduate students are immersed in basic coursework, leading them to student teacher positions that last weeks in various placements observing and eventually imitating the observed while adhering to policies and procedures that have been in place since the construction of the physical building. Student teachers are looking to gain employment from these experiences so standing up for best practice and innovation are not always recognized and rewarded.  Graduate work can bring a sense of loyalty to the system with excitement bubbling under reform. If a teacher is lucky enough to have gained employment the utterance of reform is heard, but caution is a common theme as veterans share their stories. There is resistance to reform and innovation as administrators race to meet the latest educational policy and act.

Where does this leave teachers who are looking to push past political and popular educational practice? How do teachers  embrace educational research and practice to inspire relevant reform, innovation and give life to learners who are armed with the knowledge to lead a peaceful and prosperous world? My simple answer is start connecting.

I can remember sitting at a meeting when Facebook ignited social circles, and we (teachers) were encouraged to refrain from using this social medium. Many moons later Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other popular sites have become a staple in the lives of many, yet still blocked in many schools and frowned upon for educational purposes. What is being ignored is the ability to connect. We can connect to each other personally and professionally. We can create spaces where professional development is continuous. We can share ideas, concerns, problems and solutions. We can create spaces for dialogues that shape our professional practices and perspectives allowing us to grow in our profession, absorb best practices and begin to shift our industrial rows of desks into a web of connections. These connections allow us a common voice that can not be ignored by politicians and public perception. It is a voice that can be so big that it could allow educators to take back education and make educational reform a prosperous reality instead of and empty campaign promise, that is based on nostalgia, empty bank accounts, and little research.

Let us give each other a voice. Next time you are at a conference give people your digital profile. Start creating a digital profile if you do not have one. Ask colleagues friends and yes even your students what they use and like. The act of questioning alone begins a connection. Let them follow you on social media. Connect, share, listen and be heard. Open your mind to the possibilities of EdTech not only to inspire the next generation of learners, but to connect and ignite this generation of teachers. Technology is not just a way to learn or teach but it is a way to develop relationships, understanding and tolerance. In a world that is connected to technology, we need to be better at connecting to each other through technology. It is time to push back on what politicians are calling reform and take back our profession.

Twitter: Basal24




I woke up this morning to hear that a friend had passed away. It was not the conventional phone call or even an e-mail that brought me this tragic news, it was a tweet. The twitter post was from a former professor who had lead us in an online learning course  during the summer  of 2013. The tweet was to all of my former classmates and was a simple condolence and remembrance of our classmate. It started me thinking about all of the conversations and debates that we have had in our courses about the ability to connect with content, the instructor and to each other in an online course. Our department and program is all about curriculum development and instructional technology. We have discussed presence in instruction and developing a community of inquiry both face to face and online. We have prepared our courses in a variety of mediums and then break them apart to understand best practice and how our students can dig deeper and really master content of the course and personal goals. We look for ways to complete our connections so that we are able to maximize our educational experience and develop relationships that extend beyond our classrooms and into our life long work.

My reflection this morning is that ETAP 640 was such an incredible journey in what every course should be to its students. It facilitated a community of learners that have stayed connected through school and beyond. We are a community of resources, professionals and friends. The ability to form these deep relationships online is a powerful tool. The sorrow that I feel today from the loss of a true friend magnifies the successes of my online learning experience. My classmates laughter floats through my speakers as I reflect on our collaboration and exploration of online education. My reflection leads me to gratitude. I am grateful to all of my online adventures, for friends who have helped me understand varying perspectives, and to dig deeper into who I am and sharpen my goals. I am grateful for my online community and all of the joys and emotions it has brought me over the past year. You all are a part of who I am and this continuing journey.

What is up with connectivism?


What’s up?
George Siemens challenges the learning theories of the past with his modern take on learning incorporating the connections available through new technologies and the ability to easily connect using many digital platforms. He highlights the trends in learning, more specifically the impact of technology and ones ability to find knowledge, process information through the use of technology, technology connections in communities, personal life and work, and the impact of technology on our thinking (Siemans, 2005). Siemans does not discount learning theories of cognitivism, constructivism and behaviorism, but he points out their limitations in a digital age. He points out that that learning happens through the interactions of people. In addition the value of what is being learned and its value to us is an important understanding that learners make before they engage in learning (Siemans, 2005). According to Siemans (2005), connectivism attempts to explain this shift in learning theory from being an internal process to a more external process. This is what we understand distributed cognition to be, the linking together of culture, context and history with cognition. “It does not seem possible to account for the cognitive accomplishments of our species by reference to what is inside our heads alone. One must also consider the cognitive roles of the social and material world (Hutchins, 200o, pg. 9).”  Connectivism embraces diversity of opinions, connecting to sources including: various technologies, others, current knowledge, fields, ideas and concepts,  the need to know more,  and decision-making (Siemans, 2005). The flow of information and how we keep that flow continuous despite the content is at the heart of connectivism.
Is it strong enough?
The great thing about connectivism is that it opens up a theory that incorporates the way the world is shifting. It incorporates what we know that shift to be at this moment. Currently we have vast quantities of information at our fingertips and we need to start piecing together the who, what, where, when and how of information. We have this continuous flow of information at home, at work and in our jobs, so we must be learning outside of ourselves which is contrary to what other learning theories of the past have implied. “The attractiveness and accessibility of the theory of connectivism makes it a good candidate for structuring innovation by educators in their practice (Bell, 2009, pg. 10).” Connectivism gives us a rationale for stepping outside of our 1950’s classroom, and embracing the ways of the 21st century. It helps explain how we share, connect and improve our abilities to be an informed society, impacting our future democracy. “When knowledge is abundant, the rapid evaluation of knowledge is important…the ability to synthesize and recognize connections and patterns is a valuable skill (Siemens, 2005, pg. 2).”
Where does it need to grow?
While connectivism is an interesting and productive theory on learning, it is important to embrace it with what we have learned and studied for decades and decades. Throughout human history it is important to note the observations and theories that have come before us and how they mesh, add or have shifted today. Connectivism should be considered with caution. We look to this theory as participants in it’s making, but there is a deeper level of knowing our students that we need to see. “Greater risk comes from the fact that connectivism tends to overrate learning conditions and cultural stances that in reality are peculiar to specific fields: virtuous dynamics of acquisitive self-generation in the net are occasional emergences, that occur more frequently with categories of adult people, endowed with good technological and meta-cognitive abilities and with good knowledge in the domain, while they occur much less with all other categories, and anyhow facing a myriad of futile and disorientating interactions which in any case come into play (Calvani, 2009, pg. 251).” It is not so simple as to say, “if you show them they will learn.” There is more depth to learning than just connecting on and through these various technological platforms. We need to look at the roles of the students, the learners, the environment, the classroom/materials, and how we are to shift a historically static institution (Darrow, 2009).
The bottom line for me …
Connectivism is in it’s early adolescents and needs more refinement. There is a strong need to understand how we are incorporating technologies and our ability to interact and connect with information at a constant clip. The maturation of this theory is one that I hope blossoms into a more practical and accepted learning theory. There is a place at the learning theory table for connectivism, and with time we will learn and observe how this theory can accompany our learners in the 21st century.


Bell, F. (2009). Connectivism: a network theory for teaching and learning in a connected world. Educational Developments, The Magazine of the Staff and Educational Development Association, 10(3).

Calvani, A. (2009). Connectivism: new paradigm or fascinating pot-pourri?.Journal of E-learning and Knowledge Society, 4(1).

Darrow, S. (2009). Connectivism learning theory: Instructional tools for college courses (Doctoral dissertation, Western Connecticut State University).

Hutchins, E. (2000). Distributed cognition. Internacional Enciclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), 3-10.

I am a ______learner?

When I impulsively fill in the blank my response is, I am a visual learner. Then I step back and realize that that isn’t true. The learning style that I thought described me, well, just doesn’t exist. How can I be a visual learner without the audio? Stepping back farther, what am I learning? If I am learning to cook, then I need to smell and taste, if I am learning about a poet I need to read and visualize.  When I think about all of the things that I love to do and how I learned them I realize that I learned a lot of different information in a lot of different ways. Why would I quickly reply visual learner? How many others respond to visual?

This summer I was introduced to the article “The Myth of Learning Styles” by Cedar Riener and Daniel Willingham. The article clearly points out the learning styles lack credible evidence and that the differences we see in learners is based on genetics, interests, experiences and abilities. So when I characterize myself as a visual learner is that what interests me? I love to experience audio and visual presentations. One of my favorite resources is Ted Talks. It is not a glitzy produced video on ideas, but a matter of fact talk on ideas worth sharing. I love listening to podcasts such as On Point, and This American Life. I love going to workshops and seminars to experience presenters and topics of interests. When I start to dig into what it is in learning that grabs me and engages me it is social interactions. It is sharing ideas, discussing perspectives and learning from others that ignites my passion for learning. I think of what all of my learning experiences have in common, and it is that I want to connect. I want to share,show teach, tell, discuss, or explain. I want to engage and socially connect what I am learning with others.

So how do we figure this out? How do we understand our learners? I can look to theory and pedagogy to inform my teaching practices, but that alone will not work. I need to understand and make decisions of my educational practice based on constant evaluation. Willingham discusses boundary conditions, must have principles, and could do principles when observing the educational process. These all align with an analogy of teaching that doesn’t fit particular learning styles, but fundamental principles. The principles of teaching are to know your students, know your conditions and understand best practice. I need to have the space to know my students and their goals. I need to have the resources and the tools to connect. It is constant construction where we are not always aware of the final product with out the input of our families and students. The analogy of teaching, by Willingham, to architect is brilliant. There are certain rules and fundamental skills that we must apply in construction of our teaching, but the variables of ability, interest, resources and experiences will shape our final product. We must work together on a common goal of educating our students

So now when I fill in the blank, I will leave the blank there and just say I am a learner, who want to connect and learn more.