6 Reasons to Promote 21st Century Skills vs 21st Century Tech





Any educator that aims at completeness must be at once theoretical and practical, intellectual and moral.” Aldous Huxley, Words and Their Meaning, 1940.

There are many skills that go into creating that ‘complete’ learning experience that we want for our students. Theory, practical, intellectual and moral principles all play important roles in the development of a strong pedagogy. Good pedagogy evolves with the times – just like technology. The higher order skills we need to educate our students about are still basically the same, however, we may have some new ways of imparting these skills on our students based on new technologies and concepts we have access to in the 21st Century.

What are 21st Century Skills?

There is a difference between teaching students 21st Century skills, and 21st century technologies. We need to find new ways of implementing seamless tech and pedagogy simultaneously – yet not one replacing the other.

The caveat is however, that 21st century skills are not necessarily new at all, but have been firmly planted in pedagogy for centuries, dating all the way back to philosophers such as Plato and SocratesSound Pedagogy, as taught by these famous philosophers have always encompassed the following important skills:

1) Critical Thinking;  2) Problem Solving; 3) Communication; 4) Metacognition5) Reflection; 6) Ethics and Morality

These skills do not change just because we have entered the 21st Century of Technology, Globalization and Social Media. However, these skills can be easily forgotten with the pressures to integrate new technologies into educational programming.

Despite the fact that these skills have existed, and been identified and shared by the likes of Socrates and Plato, they are often called 21st Century Skills. I would prefer to call them the Key Learning SkillsLet’s explore the reasons why we need to embed Key Learning Skills into our Pedagogy.

6 Reasons to Promote Key Learning Skills vs 21st Century Technologies

1. In the 21st Century, we have new terms, such as Globalization, Media Literacy, Digital Citizenship, and Social Media. Students without question, need our Educational Systems to help them build solid Frameworks for these terms, to help them build, create, and integrate 21st Century Skills.

2. 21st Century Technology and 21st Century Skills are not one in the same. Merely using the technology, and engaging with it, is much different than dissecting it and using it to build critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, metacognition and reflective skills. Students still need the basics of good communication regardless of the type of media or platform being used.  21st century, or any century.

3. Sound Pedagogy is not about training individuals for the global market, and making them competitive in today’s markets. We don’t want to lose sight of that. Students need 21st Century skills to create and meet their own goals, contribute to the world, pursue true knowledge, and create personal success in life.

4. Human beings have not changed that much over time. Despite the fact that we exist in the 21st Century, the same basic problems that have plagued humans since the beginning of time have not ceased to exist. Humans still have the same basic needs for obtaining food, water, sustenance; communication and connection with others; shelter, safety, and privacy, love and acceptance.  Therefore, we still need to have sound Pedagogy to help all people continue to meet their needs, and engage in the pursuit of true knowledge. People will always need the skills and knowledge to be able to handle all of the changes and challenges that come up in life. 

5. Without these Key Learning Skills, students have the potential to damage reputations, digital footprints, and future job prospects. For a very long time. In the 21st Century, more than any other time in history, everything that a person does online will never fully be erased, and will follow someone for a lifetime. I am an adult, and even I don’t understand the full ramifications of 21st Century technologies. We cannot assume our children do.  


6. Educators still need to still need to attend cultural diversities in our schools and school systems. It is still important to infuse culture into all areas of the Educational system, including 21st century technologies, and is absolutely essential to sound pedagogical practice.

On a final note, all educators can engage in sound strategies that promote Key Learning Strategies and much akin to the 21st Century skill sets promoted by many. Nevertheless, we must not confuse 21st Century skills with 21st Century technologies.

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


10 Reasons to Educate Elementary Students about Social Media

English: Infographic on how Social Media are b...

English: Infographic on how Social Media are being used, and how everything is changed by them. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


It is always interesting to me, to find out that more and more of our younger students are becoming involved with the Internet and Social Media.

Due to their developmental age, most students have some kind of difficulty with self-management throughout childhood. But, this is to be expected with children. They simply lack the maturity, brain development, and personal experience to understand how to manage themselves in every situation in real life, let alone online.

With person-to-person interactions, students have Parents, Teachers, & other Educators  (we hope), who are helping to appropriately guide them throughout each day. However, when using social media and the internet, kids are often left to their own devices to navigate new worlds of Social Media. These new worlds are also ones that most parents and Teachers did not grow up with.

Despite the fact that students are required to be 13 years of age or older to use many of the Social Networking applications online, it can be alarming to realize that many of our younger students are already using them. Applications such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and even Minecraft have taken the internet by storm. These applications are not bad at all in and of themselves, and can be used in amazing ways, especially in our schools. However, as with anything, when used inappropriately or without guidance, it can cause a lot of problems with issues such as self-esteem or bullying. Online behaviours today may also come back to haunt students in the future.

We as Educators are implicitly, if not yet explicitly, thus faced with the new tasks of teaching students digital citizenship, digital literacy, and the tasks of educating our students, parents, and communities about how to manage the Online Presence.

10 Reasons to Educate Elementary Students about Social Media:

  1. The Internet is Forever. Everything posted on the Internet will always exist somewhere. Continue reading

5 Strategies to Create a Roadmap to promote Collective and Differentiated Literacy

English: This is an example of a classroom fil...

English: This is an example of a classroom filled with students participating in the same activity with different learning levels. Are all students engaged? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every classroom presents a new dynamic of collective learning opportunities – yet we still need to differentiate and follow practices designed to promote increased student success.

Should we look at a classroom and the learning process as broken down into its smallest components?

Or we can look at it as a complex interconnected web –  that becomes part of a collective consciousness in the classroom that drives itself toward the learning that needs to happen?

Scheme of social structures involved in occure...

Scheme of social structures involved in occurence of collective consciousness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps it is a bit of both?

As teachers, we may have voices telling us to strictly follow prescribed practices, yet others promoting new ideas, inquiry, collaboration and knowledge building. Then we decide if the classroom will be more teacher directed or more student directed.

Yet what happens when teachers are the only ones to tell students what knowledge to build? What good is Inquiry if teachers are the ones creating and driving the inquiries based on specific curriculum expectations vs. student driven?

If we believe that every classroom is different, and has their own unique learning needs and cultures, then we can also see that unique collective consciousness arising among our students. We can also see how the needs and cultures and ideas form to make complex webs of learning. But how do we attend to the unique webs that form out of the collective consciousness?

Traditional Literacy

Traditionally, literacy has been conducted in a prescriptive and linear way in schools for quite some time now. Practices are embedded to support high-stakes testing.

Student teacher in China teaching children Eng...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever since our modern day school systems were invented, we have been taught to break down complex things into their basic knowable parts. We have done this in the classroom for years. Simplicity is better. The simpler the component, the easier it is to teach and learn. We differentiate for individual students, and we break down curriculum into individual expectations. But I can’t help but wonder if knowledge building and inquiry can truly happen if we have broken everything down into too many individual segments? How can FNMI perspectives be meaningfully integrated if it is presented as a separate component of the whole? An expectation to be covered?

Can we do this differently, while still promoting student success?

Teaching Literacy Differently?

Instead of the teacher controlling what happens with prescribed daily literacy lessons and prescribed texts, how can we allow a decentralized process of students who are able to lead the learning?

The 21st century is all about the benefits and need for collaboration and inquiry based learning – none of which can be prescribed.

English: P21 Skills

English: P21 Skills (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What would happen if we gave ourselves permission to do literacy differently? What if we could look at our learning environments as interconnected webs with their own collective learning needs?

What if we observed at all of the interactions that occur, and the ideas that come about within the interconnected webs, as the starting points for learning?

What if we followed the models currently being used in FDK?

This would tie in in very well with learner lead classrooms and most importantly, Inquiry based learning and play based learning.

All strategies that I believe promote the kind of thinking and ideas that we want learners to bounce off one another and guide their inquiries and learning processes. This however, is quite messy.

Creating a Roadmap for Messy Learning


Learning should be messy. When we try to micromanage each individual part of the learning experience, and compartmentalize the learning experience, we take away from the power of the collective consciousness of the whole classroom to drive learning. Classrooms and learning environments should support natural ideas that evolve from the collective consciousness of each individual classroom. Places where new connections and new learning experiences are continually allowed to emerge.

The following are 5 basic concepts to think about.

1. Interest: At a basic level, it is important to provide students with a wide range of books to meet their interests and cultivate new ones. Educational technologies can also enhance various instructional strategies for student success– but it is also important to remain pragmatic – the research still tends to show that programs that integrate edtech are not increasing achievement scores significantly. – edtech is an important way to differentiate, yet also provide universal design for students, provide tools to support 21st century learning skills. This is what students will absolutely need to be successful when they leave school. Further, my roadmap includes choice – choice of questions, choice of research and books, and choice of presentation formats and sharing options.

2. Complexity: At more complex levels, prescribed practices are still necessary to enhance student achievement. For instance, if students are struggling with reading at the phonemic level of awareness, research still shows that explicit practice in this area is still the best way to improve success with reading. There are still many ‘tried tested and true’ instructional strategies and assessments that are important part of any arsenal of instructional strategies to promote success with reading.

3. Fostering a love of reading. The ultimate goal is a love of reading in my mind – and don’t make assumptions as to what is meant by this statement – it is something personal that looks, feels, and means something different for every single person. Yet, our success in life depends to a large degree on this aspect – in whatever way is meaningful to your own life.

4. The Big Ideas. At this day in age, we are allowed to look at the Big Ideas and engage in inquiries and projects  that enable teachers to also justify stepping outside of rigid prescriptive practices still lauded by many. Instructional approaches are more meaningful when they take into account the collective and complex learning culture of my students, while still providing what individuals need. The impossible juxtaposition it seems: differentiating while still being universal.

5. Individual students and individual expectations. How often do we break down the whole into its smallest parts? What do we lose and what do we gain? Although we can break learning processes down to the smallest parts, this can also hinder the learning process.

Complexity in the classroom can also be harnessed to promote student learning. Heeding to the collective learning needs and universal design principles can also be quite beneficial.

Every new year brings its own challenges and opportunities for our own inquiries, learning and growth.

Please share any of your own key ideas, instructional strategies or assessment strategies! 

Deborah McCallum


What are we Testing and Why? Standardized Tests, Literacy and Educational Change


Standardized tests play a very big role in how our educational system, curriculum and teaching practices are organized. Educational change may very well hinge on whether these tests will change over the years.

I was recently watching videos from curriculum.org that showcased Alan Luke discussing issues of standardized testing: http://www.curriculum.org/k-12/en/projects/allan-luke-continuing-the-conversation. The videos were an excellent complement to the issues surrounding how to create the change that is desperately needed in our school system.

Although we can list any number of factors that need to change in education, I keep coming back to one core variable that has an incredible impact on the school system as a whole. That is standardized, high stakes testing.

When I contemplate how education can change, I frequently come back to the main idea that when the standardized tests change, the rest of the system will follow suit. I think that our curriculum and our teaching methods are always going to follow exactly where the standardized, high-stakes testing are leading us.

As Alan Luke discussed, we recognize that students are moving beyond the capacity that previous generations could have ever imagined, yet we still are using the high-stakes testing that would best serve us in the previous century.


We have so many opportunities now to engage students in literacy and build new capacities that we know are important in 2014. These include critical literacy, creativity, collaboration, and any myriad of other digital capacities. It is a fine balance to cultivate these capacities when we also need to ensure enough time to help student practice writing multiple choice questions on their tests.

Basic print literacy and basic numeracy is still important but it needs to engage with the new technologies and knowledges that are available the 21st century. In terms of literacy, students do not always need to be held back because they’re struggling with basic print literacy. Nowadays, there are many new literacies that can be harnessed to allow for the expression of key ideas and complex thinking pathways that could not have been shared in the past by students experiencing difficulty with literacy. Students also don’t have to always write down their answers for everything. Students can take series of pictures of artifacts and locations to put together in a meaningful way to show their thinking. They can interview family members, community members, and podcasts to show their higher level thinking. There are so many new mediums that students can use to express what they know.

But we are faced with a real juxtaposition. We are still being led by the standardized tests that are pen and paper based and do not include complex media and complex mashups of ideas. As a result, we are also held into deficit thinking about struggling readers. We assume that students who are dealing with issues in terms of phonemic awareness, decoding issues or vocabulary issues, are unable to deal with complex issues. But they can! And we can assess students ability to deal with complex ideas when our methods of assessment allow for it.

Regardless of whether students are facing these reading issues, they are increasingly engaged in highly volatile and changing digital social environments. They are playing extensively with games like Minecraft, making cognitively complex decisions about their digital worlds around them, learning new vocabulary and learning about resources. But yet we are insistent on having our students read prescribed leveled readers that have little relevance to their worlds. We simply have new literacies and important contexts that we need desperately to focus on to promote student success. We have new modes of cognition, learning, visualization and new digital texts right at our fingertips.

Texts are Always Situated in Social Institutions

We live in a very text saturated world. Texts work in many different ways in our every day lives, especially via our smart phones and mobile technologies. But texts are always situated within social institutions, that’s why we cannot study them on their own.  We must learn and understand text within the context of the social institutions which applies.

Features of Text

As I read the following article: Is format a process? It resonated with me that physical structure of print is much different than the digital structures that we read. Traditionally, in roles I have had as a Teacher-Librarian, I would teach about the specific features of a physical text including titles, spine lables, number of pages, table of contents, index, bibliography etc. However, a digital text is different. We look at its presentation, its file format, platform, references. We also need to understand the process of creation and production for print versus digital texts, in order to teach about it. This means that it is important to understand the research process, information literacy, publishing practices, and the different methods of writing and editing that go into each one. Instant publishing of social media are different than the editorial processes of writing a book. What are the pros and cons? Will this even matter if the digital capacity is not fostered on the standardized tests?

What do students see when they do a Google search? What do we want them to see? Can our standardized tests measure this? Will it even be taught if this is not on our high stakes tests?


Building Capacity

Students are moving beyond the capacities that our schools are providing. We desperately need to keep up with this, somebody needs to be there to help students build the capacities that are necessary for surviving in the 21st-century. It just can’t be the teachers and trailblazers taking risks and determining new paths of research. Educational change needs to be reflected within the standardized testing procedures – that are not likely to go away any time soon.

As a result, my new inquiry is that IF our standardized tests evolve to the adaptive digital technologies, and the complexity of subsequent interactions therein, THEN we will suddenly see a massive shift in how curriculum, teaching and our schools are organized and fostered.


Deborah McCallum





Image: “Booklets of questions (National Center Test for University Admissions)” by Genppy – Self-photographed. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Booklets_of_questions_(National_Center_Test_for_University_Admissions).JPG#mediaviewer/File:Booklets_of_questions_(National_Center_Test_for_University_Admissions).JPG

Rick Revelle shares his views on First Nations literacy, and his new Book: I Am Algonquin – Guest Post

Thank you to Rick Revelle, the author of his new book: I Am Algonquin: a book about the Algonquin First Nations for young adults. In this guest post, Rick shares with us about his new book, and his hopes for integrating First Nations Literacy into our schools. 

"Langs N.Amer". Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Langs_N.Amer.png#mediaviewer/File:Langs_N.Amer.png

“Langs N.Amer”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Langs_N.Amer.png#mediaviewer/File:Langs_N.Amer.png

Ever since I was a young boy I had a story in my head waiting to get out. I knew very little about my ancestors. What I did know though was that my Great, Great, Great Grandfather came from the Petite Nations in Quebec in the year 1840 and built a log cabin in Bedford Township that still stands today.

However, what was there before the Europeans came to Turtle Island? Who were we and how did we survive?

My book “I Am Algonquin” follows a family group of Omàmiwinini (Algonquin) as they trade, harvest, and hunt, make allies, and battle their enemies. Through painstaking research I have pieced this giant puzzle together and have laid out a story of what it was like to live in the Ottawa Valley in the 1300’s.

If you are a young adult, pre-teen or a parent my hope is that once you have read this novel you will have a better understanding of who the Omàmiwinini were and are still today, bringing  to the reader’s attention the language of this group of Natives. A language that is still trying to survive the leapfrogging electronic age of  the twenty first century, where people would rather text than actually talk.

My book currently is being used in Native Studies classes in a few schools in Canada. The pupils that have already read the novel have expressed to me their joy in discovering how my ancestors lived during this era.

“I Am Algonquin” is part of at least a three part series called “Algonquin Quest.” The other two novels in the series are “Algonquin Spring” which takes place six years after the first book . This novel is completed and waiting my publishers decision on the release date which may be 12 to 18 months away. In this novel you will be introduced to the Mohawk and Mi´kmaq language, their customs and how they interact with the Omàmiwinini people.

The third novel “Algonquin Pursuit” takes place twelve years after the second novel and again you will follow the Omàmiwinini family group as they interact with the Lakota Sioux and Ojibwa Nations. Again new languages and customs will pique the reader’s interest. I am currently doing research and travelling to museums to set the plot as I prepare to start the actual writing.

When school boards talk about inserting Native Studies into our schools what do they really mean? Are they going to use books written by the part of society that won the fight for Turtle Island? White society? Or are they actually going to try to bring in novels that have written by Native writers talking about their culture?

As a Native person learning about medieval and ancient civilizations is fine. But what about the civilization that was here only a short 600 years ago? Do you as a reader think it is more important to know what transpired in ancient Greece or Rome 2000 years ago then what was happening in this country’s history? The stories are here! Many elders carry them in their minds. What they know will amaze you! Even more than King Arthur’s Court.

When I started to school fifty-six years ago there was nothing that I can remember that even remotely taught us about Native Society. Oh sure there were pictures of canoes, baskets and tepees in books. But being taught about great chiefs like Pound Maker of the Cree, Atironta of the Hurons, Iroquet of the Algonquins, Red Crow of the Bloods and Crow Flag of the Peigan to name a few. No we were never taught about these great figures in history that helped shape this country.

How about the Frog Lake and Cypress Hills massacres? Are our children taught about these battles and their importance to Canadian History?

How many people outside the Native Haudenosaunee Community know about the Huron (Ouendat) Prophet Deganawida and his Mohawk friend Hiawatha and how they shaped the most powerful confederacy in Eastern Turtle Island?

That Lord Amherst liked to use dogs to hunt down Natives and also spread small pox by giving infected blankets to the Natives as gifts?

Why was the Huron Nation wiped out by the Iroquois? Was it because of the Beaver Wars instigated by the Europeans over trade? Do our children know the answer?

What happened to the Beothuk Nation of Newfoundland?

So many questions! I think it is a major oversight that the children of Canada are not taught about the First Nations People and what they contributed to this country.

Schools are just starting to talk about the Residential Schools; however do they point out that Sir John A MacDonald was instrumental in starting these schools in 1879 and oversaw the passing of laws for forced assimilation of the Native population?

So many questions. What are the right answers?

My personal opinion is that the books that are being bought by our schools should be written by First Nation’s Peoples. Who better than our Nations to talk about our people, culture, sufferings, survival and thoughts?

In my first book “I Am Algonquin” in the first three paragraphs of the Authors Notes I made the following three points:

  1. Out of ignorance and lack of information a lot of people have no idea who we are as Natives.
  2. We cannot be lumped into one linguistic or cultural group. We have been and still are a collection of Nations in a Nation called Turtle Island.
  3. We weren’t discovered; we were here long before anyone thought of looking.


These three points should be a starting point for teaching in our schools. Giving information on whom we are, also that as “Indians” we really are separate Nations and finally our ancestors were here eons before we were “discovered!”


Finally I leave you with a question that was asked of me a few years ago.


Rick, how long have you been an “Indian?”


Do white people get asked this question? Just wondering.


Just Saying

Rick Revelle

Author of “I Am Algonquin” and soon to be released “Algonquin Spring.”

Member of the Ardoch First Nation and Allies.

Metacognition, Common Reading Difficulties & Edtech

English: Photo of students' reading

English: Photo of students’ reading (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Common Reading Difficulties among Students

I have created a Thinglink that outlines some of the Common Reading Difficulties among students. I have also included iPad apps that can help specifically support several of the strategies. The main goal of this interactive diagram, is to help teachers and parents to have a basic understanding what to do next to help our student out when they are experiencing common difficulties with reading.

One of the overarching concepts that I did not discuss in Thinglink – but personally believe it is the backbone of any successful learning – is metacognition.


Metacognition is essential to creating proficient readers. If reading is all about creating meaning and making sense of text, then it makes sense that we infuse instructional strategies to help learners think about the way they think and how they make meaning from texts.

What is essential for educators to know is that to help engage students in the reading process, their learning needs to be made explicit. This is done via carefully selected strategies for before, during and after reading, and is essential to promoting any higher order thinking skill, not merely metacognition.

There are different strategies that we use. Especially when reading fiction versus nonfiction. That is why our balanced literacy programs need to engage students in carefully selected learning activities within our read alouds, shared reading, guided reading and independent reading opportunities. This is essential to helping students to not just determine the key ideas and recognize the key themes, but to be aware that they have done this- hence, metacognition.

Some of the Strategies for supporting metacognition can include:

  • Questioning: Embedded with in the balanced literacy approaches, we also ask questions. We also teach students how to ask questions. We teach them how to ask questions about themselves, how to ask questions about what they are reading, and how to question the authors and illustrators.
  • Visualization: Another strategy that promotes reading comprehension and higher order thinking including metacognition, includes the process of visualization.
  • Inferences: Making inferences is yet another process where students activate prior knowledge and cues from the text to create meeting. Illustrations are just one way that one strategy that students can use to make inferences about a character or setting or any element of the story.
  • Vocabulary and word study are also essential to the reading process – as listed above in my Thinglink.
  • Modeling the Think Aloud process: to help students think about how their learning and think about the strategies that they are using to check their own comprehension are important.
  • The inquiry process is also essential and this is a process that can happen before during and after reading.
  • Reading Responses can be linked with Bloom’s taxonomy, and other higher order thinking strategies as ways to organize learning pathways and building metacognition.


Balanced Literacy

All of the strategies above are essentially implemented throughout the balanced Literacy program. This is essentially the program that helps to scaffold learning as students go from learning about features of texts and learning how to extract meeting in a group setting toward being able to do this independently. It is essentially about a gradual release of responsibility.

The ultimate goal of any reading program is to develop metacognition skills to a point where students can read independently and fluently – and they ‘know’ that they are doing this all on their own.


Deborah McCallum




FNMI & Literacy


The Aboriginal population is the fastest growing population in Canada, it is essential to not just accommodate any FNMI students in our classrooms, but to also help the classroom, school culture and community to be aware of rituals, ceremonies, traditions, and knowledge. This is what literacy is all about.

How can we create meaning when we don’t share and get everyone caring and participating in this knowledge?

Differentiation and Culturally Responsive Teaching

Differentiation via Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices can increase reading scores. Reading is closely linked with increased awareness and mutual understanding of our diversity. Educators don’t necessarily need to know each and every culture, but we should aim to understand that they exist, and aim to understand each student as a whole person, including the cultures that make each and every one of them special and unique. This is the only way to make literacy programming truly meaningful.

Differentiated Instruction practices, and using a wide variety of resources, including the students themselves, and other members of the community can help to infuse diversity into the classroom as well. If we are using resources that do not include diversity, this can also be an important discussion point, and opportunity to engage in further inquiry, and critical thinking.

Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices can be infused using a variety of Differentiate Teaching strategies, talking circles, Holistic Teaching practices, and through students own research and sharing within the classroom.



Reading Lessons can begin with ‘Talking Circles’, and incorporate other FNMI friendly strategies including:

The following books are excellent:



Teaching Strategies & other Practices:

  1. The use of ‘Talking Circles’ within the classroom to introduce Stephanie’s cultural perspectives. Additional benefits of Talking Circles can include turn taking, respect, creating a classroom community, sending positive messages relating to Character Education & Inclusiveness, and building Community, Culture, & Caring into the Education system.
  2. Engaging in Holistic Teaching in our Balanced Reading set up to help students to connect personal feelings, emotions, and experiences with the knowledge to create meaning.
  3. Integrating Medicine Wheel Teachings into the Curriculum First Nations, Metis & Inuit perspectives, and create a positive classroom community for behavior and learning, and helping students reflect on their own gifts & strengths, and to set personal and educational goals. The Medicine Wheel is a sacred symbol for Ojibwe cultures.
  4. Engaging in ‘Storytelling’ where students can create their own ‘Stories’ or legends about their special gifts. This will also engage the rest of the class and make connections.


Practices can also Include:

  • Inviting her family in to tell stories, share
  • Offer family to help fill out paperwork etc.;
  • Going that extra mile to help make personal connections to teachers and staff
  • Incorporating cultural teachings across the curriculum into content areas including science, art, music, language, history, geography, & social studies
  • Helping to connect families to community network supports
  • Teaching students to deconstruct bias in learning resources
  • Inviting Aboriginal Elders, Storytellers, Authors & Artists into the classroom
  • Using resources that represent an Authentic voice
  • Technology may or may not be used within the home, so use this form of communication with caution. We must use it in ways that support our families and students, not alienate them.


There is also a FREE iPad app from @ogoki learning systems for the Ojibway language!



Additional References to Check out:

Image Attribution:

“Royal Military College of Canada Aboriginal Leadership Opportunity Year drum” by Victoriaedwards – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Royal_Military_College_of_Canada_Aboriginal_Leadership_Opportunity_Year_drum.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Royal_Military_College_of_Canada_Aboriginal_Leadership_Opportunity_Year_drum.jpg


Deborah McCallum

Gender Stereotypes, Feedback & Literacy Gaps: Time to Evolve with Growth Mindsets



I think we have every right to have concerns about the literacy skills of our boys in our schools. But, how much better are the ‘girls’, or is it a matter of how we choose to use feedback and elicit compliance in learning?

Certainly, there are many wonderful strategies for differentiation within our literacy documents as well. Strategies that include the provision of high interest resources to engage students, opportunities to practice skills each day, and opportunities for students see themselves reflected in the literature. I don’t think that anyone would refute these instructional strategies.

However, I have concerns when it comes to the research that we are finding about boys and literacy, particularly through data from our standardized tests. Are we promoting fixed versus growth mindsets?

The data from standardized tests consistently demonstrate that our boys are struggling to keep up with the girls when it comes to literacy scores. But what else could the scores mean? Are there other ways to empirically interpret the scores?

I think we need to look beyond the ‘symptoms’ and results that we continually receive from our standardized test scores. We need to look deeper into underlying causes of literacy scores. This includes our prescriptive and non-prescriptive; formal and informal; conscious and unconscious methods that we use to assess, provide feedback and manage our schools.

Praising for Intelligence only after a Success

When we start to look more closely at the research of Dweck & Mueller (1998). I believe that we are onto a very ‘BIG IDEA‘ here if we can extrapolate this research and apply it to how we define boys literacy. I think that this research can help us to start to understand and disrupt some of our own behaviours as educators when it comes to literacy instruction.

As I read Dweck & Mueller’s basic research (1998), there is strong evidence that suggests that praising for intelligence after success creates a fixed mindset, and that the same  students will continue to choose problems that will enable them to continue to show the same good performance. The will not show a growth mindset to explore ‘other’ interests or take learning risks.

This is in contrast to children who are praised for hard work. These students are more likely to choose problems and learning opportunities that are interesting and will increase their learning potential.

I wonder if this essentially means that the girls with higher IQ’s and standardized test scores are more likely to adopt mindsets that will enable them to give up? I also wonder if this means that boys on the other hand, when given difficult material, are taught to see it as a challenge- because they are praised for just being able to sit still and give attention to their work?

 Educational Technology and Mobile Learning . By : Med Kharbach

Educational Technology and Mobile Learning . By : Med Kharbach


There are serious implications here if this is true.

We need to look more closely at how culturally we have come to praise our girls and boys differently, and how this translates into scores from high stakes testing practices.


Do Girls love to read more than Boys? 

We see more conforming behaviours among girls in school, however we need to look at principles of learning and consider the carrots and sticks used to reinforce these behaviours, and why they work to strengthen certain behaviours more for girls than boys. Correlation does not mean causation – greater conforming behaviours that are rewarded do not necessarily cause greater enjoyment and understanding of reading. Girls do not necessarily enjoy the readings any more than the ‘boys’ do (despite what the standardized tests scores may ‘indicate’). In fact, the typical praise for girls to conform and succeed on specific tasks may actually promote fake readingin many cases. After all, if you do not like what you read, but are motivated to obtain praise for succeeding on a task, and have been reinforced to figure out the ‘formula’ for success, why wouldn’t you continue ‘fake’ it to obtain that high grade or score? Regardless of whether you learned anything or not?


Where is the motivation and reinforcement to make yourself better and follow your passions in life?

Are we inadvertently training many students to successfully ‘fake’ their way through the reading process?

Another key point that stood out to me was that when children are praised for intelligence and success on performance tasks, then these students also prefer to find out how everyone else did, rather than what they can do to improve their own performance.

This is very profound.

If you believe that Carol Dweck & Claudia Mueller’s research is ‘true’, just imagine the other implications for school and life. For instance, how much variability in student behaviours on the school yard can be attributed to this praise for intelligence based on success? How will girls and boys compare themselves to one another in their peer groups, how does this affect social hierarchy’s and further reinforce adaptive and maladaptive school behaviours? How does this account for behaviours surrounding cooperation versus competition? Self-esteem in peer groups, not just in the classroom? Bullying?


Interests & Motivation:

And finally, the research showed that when we praise children for performance, they value the performance itself more than following their own interests. They value the actual task more than their own interests and motivations. And why wouldn’t they? It is human nature to respond and learn based on reinforcements – feedback is a strong way to reinforce behaviours, including conforming behaviours.

Does this contribute to a sense of loss for many students when they do finally walk out of the doors of our educational institutions for the last time? Or does it give them a sense of security that they can be contributing and loyal members of society?

Perhaps Boys literacy initiatives are in fact continuing to reinforce the fact that it is okay for boys to follow their own interests in terms of what text they want to read. Yet girls are still praised for success with traditional literature, and being rewarded with higher scores on standardized tests.

I think that at the very least, we have strong evidence to follow for further research as it pertains to literacy initiatives, and gender differences.

As with every theory, current theories of boys and literacy are true until they are proven not true. We have empirical evidence now coming to light now that allows us to understand that previous research into boys literacy may need to be viewed from new lenses.

I think we need to re-package this initiative into new ways of thinking about boys and girls in literacy.

We need to look toward solving more global concerns of how schools are set up and run in the first place. How the feedback and praise are reinforcing for stereotypical behaviours in girls and boys. And how we are inadvertently teaching children that they are their test score.

We achieve and discover exactly what we set out to get.

If we set out to give different forms of feedback and praise to girls and boys, then this will impact their behaviours. It will impact standardized test scores. And we will extrapolate this to mean that boys are struggling more. We will treat the symptoms, but not the underlying causes. We may even use this data to justify more resources and supports to the most privileged populations in our Western societies.

A lot to ponder.

I will be continuing to explore my inquiries.



Dweck, C. & Mueller, C. (1998). Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children’s
Motivation and Performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 33-52.


Educational Technology and Mobile Learning . By : Med Kharbach



Deborah McCallum


© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.