Social Media/Studies

UntitledIn addition to more critical efforts to conduct inquiries into history as it intersects with our present landscape, the TALONS class has come to embrace dramatic efforts to enact and recreate history in their social(s) learning. Whether engaging in a mock trial of King Charles II, or making impassioned speeches as characters in the French Revolution, such theatrical turns have traditionally made for memorable classroom moments.

A few years ago, a group of TALONS grade tens approached me to see if they could ‘pitch’ a unit plan for our upcoming French Revolution study: in blog posts and classroom activities, members of the class would each adopt a character from the revolutionary period, and strive to realize and represent diverse perspectives on events in 18th century France.

In the years since, the unit has evolved to include Twitter, as well as a series of improvised discussions, debates and addresses – all in character.

Thus the class is able to imagine and take in the passionate decrees of a young Maximilien Robespierre:

In the future I believe that it is not enough for the monarchy to only lose a portion of its power. France should be a country run for its people by the people, a democracy! At this moment I do not have enough political power to share my views in such ways, but in time I shall express my desires. One day I assure you, I will find a way to improve the lives of the poor and to strike down those corrupt from power.

And see the story through to his betrayal of Georges Danton, who addresses his friend:

I curse you.

We once had, if not brotherhood, at least mutual understanding. We were creating a France that our children would be proud of. I know not when your idealism became madness but I must have failed to see the signs, because I was not prepared for all the murders, and all the terror that you instilled into this country.

Robespierre, you will follow me into dissolution. I will drag you down screaming, and we will fall together.

In addition to these perspectives developing on individual blogs in monologues and comment threads, classroom time is spent charting the development of significant revolutionary events against characters’ reactions which are presented in improvised debates or speeches. And the dialogue continues on Twitter, as each character adopts an avatar to not only promote and archive their blogged artifacts, engage in dialogue with their allies and nemeses, and exercise their own democratic rights in carrying out the final assessments in the unit:

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Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 9.39.55 PMSensing that there might be a popular uprising against a tyrant teacher bent on sticking steadfast to an arbitrary deadline, I asked to see a show of support for the idea:

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 9.43.23 PMThe idea was taken up quickly.

By philosophers:

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 9.42.33 PMThe King of France:

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Feminist leaders:

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 9.45.54 PMAnd even the farmers:

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At the culmination of the unit, each of the TALONS delivered a final address that looked back on their contributions to the revolution, and how they might have done things differently with the benefit of hindsight. And while each member of the class was only tasked with creating one unique angle on the historical events being studied, the effect rendered by the series of addresses on the unit’s final day presented a nuanced and multidimensional look into the various subjectivities that (might have) helped shape the revolutionary period.

From each of their perspectives, what the French Revolution might be about would likely sprawl in a dozen different directions: a part of a historical march toward justice; political reform; a spark in the narrative of female activism; the story of scarce resources driving extreme behaviour. And to ‘teach’ toward these myriad truths is at once a curricular requirement and Quixotic pursuit, revealing the tensions of education for citizenship in a pluralist democracy, asking How do we create unity and cultivate diverse perspectives?

In interpreting history, as well as our present moment, students ought be engaged in rehearsing this act, and with the dramatic role play the answer offered to the pedagogic problem lies at the heart of narrative.

Of sensing an individual’s arc at the centre of a multitude of shared and individual lives.

Of constructing ‘we’ out of many ‘I’s.

Whether face to face or in the online sphere, this is the task of schooling in the multicultural society.

Reflections on the Confederation Discussions

Confederation Discussions

Colonial Government & the Need for Reform Discussion

As part of the ongoing assessment of personal and collective learning that went into the class’ study of Canadian Confederation, TALONS learners were asked to reflect on their quad’s presentation & facilitation of a discussion topic pulled from the unit, taking into account the Nine Dispositions of Democratic Discussions. As with many of these sorts of assessments / reflections in our classroom, the reflection was built around the familiar Stars (things that went well) and Wishes (things that we would like to improve).

My own reflections on the discussions are posted here, and I think several of the themes in my own observations are reflected by the TALONS who chose to submit their self-assessments as blog posts. Here are a few of the stars and wishes collected on the class blogs this week:

Some stars

From Kim:

I think that something our group did very well at was providing a level of comfort within the talons classroom. Almost everyone participated; even those who normally just listened. I think this was because people were no longer afraid of sharing their opinions in the classroom, as they had a solid fact to base them off of (what was written on the red piece of paper). Also, I think that people were able to fill the shoes of the type of Canadian that they had to portray in the card that they were given. Therefore, people were not only able to participate, but they were able to effectively adopt a new viewpoint on the grievances too.

From Owen:

During our group discussion synthesis, the disposition that I felt was best emphasized was that of mindfulness. I felt the groups communicated well within its members to discuss relevant topics. They helped each other put forth ideas discussed by the group when necessary (the hospitality present was also well-emphasized). When debating inter-group topics, people stayed on the topic that was being discussed and presented arguments to benefit the outcome of the conversation. People were mindful of the importance of each idea, and would debate that instead of ignoring ideas and putting forth their own points. As I was overhearing group discussions, I also felt that members within each group were willing to give everyone’s ideas thought and time.

From Sam F:

The disposition that I thought I was particularly successful at was participation. I felt that the task we got the class to do encouraged everyone to participate. My quad and I separately circulated around the class when the groups were instructed to discuss what group they would vote for, to answer any questions if necessary and to direct the conversation to somewhere the participants would benefit. When I went around to all the quads, I tried to push to help develop ideas in the quad discussions. To do this, I asked questions to generate more thought-process, and tried to direct the conversation to people who generally participated a little less. If needed, I would rephrase ideas and statements, and clarify the differences between the many parties.

From Jeanie:

…as an individual, I feel that I did an acceptable job in the disposition of humility. When playing as “Canada” against “Britain”, there were often moments in which our quad could not argue back against Britain. Even though I did not openly concede that they had brilliant points, I realized our position in the debate and accepted their excellent arguments with peace.

From Tiffany:

In general, I think the one disposition that I had throughout all our discussions was hope. Now, this may be one of the less popular ones people talk about, and it is also the one that many forget about sometimes. Like I’ve mentioned before, this unit was a difficult one for me. I struggled with participating in class, and grasping many concepts of the Confederation, but I never let that get me down. I knew that, somewhere at some time, whether it was the next day or a week later, I would improve on these aspects. I welcomed improvement and failure, and made more room for myself to grow. I built faith in myself, and hoped that my strengths and perseverance would pull through in the end. In my opinion, they did.

From Galen:

One of my strengths that I have shown in this presentation was deliberation. Even when we taught and moderated the discussion in the classroom, I always took my thoughts that I had gathered during our teachings and shared it with others before and after, even writing it down to reflect on. During the debate in our presentation, I didn’t moderate as much as I may have been supposed to, but I was always mindful of questions and problems that others had brought up, and I communicated answers to others helping moderating our debate.

From Max:

Appreciation: The main reason why I feel like I excelled in the disposition of appreciation is because with our activity of forcing the class at large to take on the role of Britain and defend our quad’s accusations of them mistreating the Canadas. With this unique role bestowed upon the class, it forces them to think in a completely different perspective, and puts them into the rarely worn shoes of the antagonist. (Though really, the “antagonist” is subjective; in this case because we’re learning Social Studies in Canada, we see us being mistreated by the British.) With this unique role, the class was able to not only in the position of Britain, but also appreciate their point of view and come up with convincing and unbeatable arguments against Canadas’ grievances.

Some wishes

From Natalie:

Some things I feel I need to work on are Deliberation and Appreciation. The specific aspects of Deliberation that I feel as though I need to work on are seeing other`s viewpoints and not just my own. I find myself often driven to reach a consensual opinion about any given topic, especially one that is detestably controversial as topics often are in the TALONS`social study classes. This point is a nice seg-way into my next point which is that I feel my appreciation for class opinions could be improved. I love hearing about the opinions and different view`s of my peers, however I do still find it somewhat frustrating when someone (or a particular group of people) cannot see that my way is the right way.

From Jeff:

Something I think that I could work on is definitely nurturing more mindful thought through our discussion. Although we went through a lot of concepts, I didn’t really stop the conversation to ask “why?” One example is talking about immigration. Although we understood that Irish and Scottish migrants came to British North America because they disliked the class system, I could have connected that to the class system in Canada at the time and how it was very similar.

From Victoria:

What I think I could improve on was Hospitality. It really is difficult to be hospitable when having a debate with someone…. The whole point of a debate is to argue against the other person. However I feel as though I could have been more hospitable and in turn, this could have helped fostered more discussion. This might have also helped some of the quieter people to join into the conversation because they wouldn’t be intimidated by the fast pace that the debate took.

From Max:

Hospitality: Although initially I tried my best to remind the class to let people who haven’t talked as much do some talking, once the debate got underway and got heated, it was back to the loud people making all the points back and forth. I didn’t create a very hospitable environment for the more timid people to jump in as points were being fired back and forth both rapidly and furiously, which would probably cause people to shy away from talking for fear of being shut down.

From Sam:

I feel I lack in deliberation, always really stubborn with my views and thoughts on things. It’s hard to change my mindset when it’s already fixed on one thing, and it’s a bit of a one-way track in that sense. I’m proud of it sometimes, if only because I know my principals and moral code are set in stone, however; it makes learning things I know even the smallest bit about a teensy bit harder.

From Tiffany:

A disposition that I could have improved on, as an audience member and as a discussion leader is deliberation. I didn’t stop to think more about ideas that could have been branched off and elaborated on. I would just think of an idea, and feel like I was done. It’s almost as if I would do only half the work in my head and believe that I would finish the idea later. However, I think this also improved as I gained more experience with discussions. I would walk into class, being so sure of something, and then one of my quad members would say a completely different point that would make me reconsider my take on the subject. I found that I could learn a lot from my classmates, and I think the people around me have played a part in my improvement as well.

From Jess:

I think that hope is a subject that I need to work on. This is a reflection, so I’ll reflect on both our class and the rest of the week. Hope represents, to me, the hope to progress in work and become better. I probably need to work on that in the sense that I need to encourage others to do it more. While I may not be the best candidate to explain how or why people don’t try to exceed, I felt that during the week, in general, people didn’t stray outside their comfort zones. Those who didn’t were okay with giving the same amount of participation over the course of the week. I wish I could say I knew how to encourage people more, but I don’t. So, while I can try and do this more, I’m not quite sure how successful I’ll be. Of course, there is always the awkward truth of the matter that there’s only so much one person can do. 

The Confederation Discussions

Confederation discussions

This past week, the TALONS classes have hosted and facilitated half-hour long activities and discussions that have been focused on an exploration of historical contexts and details of Canadian Confederation, as well as an attempt to cultivate the recently discussed Dispositions of Democratic Discussion

After an initial introduction to the Victorian era in the Canadian colonies, the unit’s focus on dialogue and discussion came about through lengthy collective reflections about each TALONS class’ strengths and areas requiring growth in oral participation and facilitation.

Major themes arising from these goal-setting sessions addressed:

  • Generating momentum at the beginning of a unit / week / class meeting: using hook-questions, soliciting initial opinions, and establishing a pace that invites broad participation and thinking.
  • Show people that their responses are relevant and valued within the discussion:
    • Make connections, follow up, refer to visual notes; demonstrate an appreciation of ideas.
  • Isolating the key issue, taking what has been said, and synthesizing the main question, issue, or key idea.
  • Guiding the discussion or lecture with questions and participant-responses, and discovering what types of questions or comments offer the most substance?
    • Conversation-starters,
    • Connections to past (or future) discussion points,
    • Inducing conversation, laughter, ease and comfort.
    • Allowing for quad/small group chats.
    • Posing questions generated within the moment.
    • Providing or soliciting visual notes.
  • Framing the topic or issue within the group’s existing understanding.
  • Involving the reluctant speaker by experimenting with the questions being asked, the format of the discussion, or style of engagement and individual participation.

On Monday there will be a traditional exam on the topics covered, and reflection assignments intended to synthesize personal and group learning about the skills and dispositions required for fruitful constructivist learning; it seemed appropriate to attempt to summarize my own observations of the unit.

Stars: Hospitality, Participation & Humility 

Each of the different discussions, debates and activities that the quads arranged found unique avenues toward involving a broader range of their classmates in a negotiation of understanding of the topics.

The different role-plays, mock-Parliaments, and small-group discussions created diverse entry-points and opportunities for quieter individuals to engage with their own thinking, that of their peers, and the new comprehension of the topics that came out of the process. The group’s and individuals presenting material or discussion points on the various topics were consistently humble in their own interpretation of the facts, and were quick to invite multiple perspectives into the conversation.

Wishes: Deliberation, Mindfulness & Hope

Going forward, for my part I would like to focus on building on cultivating greater mindfulness and deliberation by exploring the different ways that individuals can document and share their individual understanding (beyond classroom dialogue) in the hope that our time spent in discussion can go beyond the initial concepts to ask more philosophical, or related questions on the topics covered.

I think this synthesis of ideas beyond basic understanding will ask for a more consistently mindful approach to the class’ collective goals. This will require not only that discussion-participants raise the intensity and attentiveness of their own engagement with their ideas and one another, but that our moderators and classroom leaders are able to recognize and articulate the group’s learning intentions with clarity, and provide the modeling and facilitation to bring these goals about.

Artifacts of Process

The Digital Imagination

Notes on @GardnerCampbell's talk, Teaching, Learning & the Digital Imagination

We’ve been talking a lot in Socials lately about how to realize the potential of discussion in the TALONS classroom. As we attempt to engage with the salient meaning of Canadian Confederation, we are talking about democracy, engagement, and the synthesis of diverse ideas. In addition to Aman compiling a list of strategies to confront obstacles from shyness to a lack of basic understanding of the topic on the class blog, Jess took to her own site to share advice that came up during our class debriefing:

While I, myself dislike mind maps and being assigned to take notes, I enjoy writing down things. Little epiphanies I’ve had from the last two years are literally written all over my pieces of note paper and for me this is the most effective way of learning. Yes, I can admittedly say that if I’m given free reign on a lined sheet of paper while people are talking, I may not listen to the entire conversation and yes, I may spend 25% of the class trying to finally figure out how to perfectly draw a human head, but I do listen.

The way this had been phrased during the afternoon conversation was as a goal for each participant in the class’ conversations to create an Artifact of Process: a drawing, a list, a learning statement; a question, a tweet, or a blog post. Something I have been particularly better at this year (so far) has been in keeping a coherent daybook of lesson plans, to-do lists, brainstorms and notes on various talks, Youtube sessions, and Philosophy assignments.

In their own way, they are their own sort of visual art.

Confederation on the CBC

Found: Money

Courtesy of Flickr user Haunted Snowfort

Let it not be said that public broadcasting’s role in meaningfully interrogating the roots of Canadian heritage and identity is anything less than Herculean. From bringing Hockey Night in Canada into homes from St. Johns to Sandspit, to uncovering the history of our national origins, I wanted to share a few gems that could be of aid in coming to understand the meaning and historical context of Confederation, as originally shared on CBC Radio.


The Enright Files – Fathers of Confederation

Michael Enright, host of The Sunday Edition, in conversation about two of the more intriguing fathers of confederation. Biographer Richard Gwyn talks about Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first prime minister while University of Toronto Scholar David Wilson talks about the poet of Confederation Thomas D’Arcy McGee.

The Massey Lectures


PART 1 – PART 2 – PART 3 – PART 4 – PART 5 – PART 6 

In the 1963 Massey Lectures Frank Underhill writes:”Our experiment of the new Canadian nationality has now been going on for almost a hundred years. It must be confessed that we approach the centenary year of 1967 in a state of mind that falls far short of the spirit of optimism and high adventure that marked the Fathers of Confederation. We seem to have lost their clear assurance of national purpose. We are not sure even that we are one nation. Our Canadian politics of the 1960s is leading many citizens to doubt whether it is worth trying to be nation if this is the only kind of politics which we are capable. One senses a feeling of defeatism in the air.”

Nation of Hockey 


The back of our five dollar bill shows kids playing shinny on a timeless pond somewhere in Canada. But Calgary writer Bruce Dowbiggin argues that hockey is far more than simple nostalgia or big business. It’s a clear window into the complexity of modern Canada: from shifting political power and economics, to multiculturalism and what we think it means to be a Canadian in the 21st century.