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We Integrate Language Development and Critical Thinking

I believe my “French Immersion appreciation” roots began to grow during the first 15 years of my teaching career; working alongside my French Immersion colleagues at Legal School, I began to see the benefits of the program. My roots grew even deeper with my daughter’s K-12 schooling in the French Immersion program in St. Albert Public Schools. These experiences laid the foundation for my work of supporting the French Immersion program in Parkland School Division. My own limited ability to communicate in French drives my desire to support French Immersion programming, wishing that I, too, would have had the French Immersion experience in my formative years.

Over the course of the 2015-2016 school year, Parkland School Division Grades 6-12 French Immersion teachers and students were deeply engaged in year three of our project, We Integrate Language Development And Critical Thinking (WILDACT). As the Curriculum Facilitator, I have the honor of leading and coordinating this 5-year project.

WILDACT has two main outcomes: increased student engagement (through critical thinking and assessment as learning) and increased French language acquisition. These two outcomes are interrelated in supporting student achievement in French Immersion classrooms.

This video captures the highlights of this year’s WILDACT journey.


Instructional Design ~ Should it Be a Bachelor of Education Requirement?

ADDIE model of instructional design

The promise of revised curriculum continues to taunt Alberta educators, and we continue to prepare ourselves for the unknown; I believe my English 30 teacher would have called this a juxtaposition! As part of my own preparation, I decided to take the online Instructional Design course from Mount Royal University.

I was roused by its description, as it seemed to align with the work I currently do, and I hoped it would also support my future work of supporting implementation of new curriculum. The course description read: Instructional Design– “Explore instructional design principles, characteristics of adult learners and their implications in designing an effective instructional program. Apply information about learning styles to the design of instructional learning outcomes. Write clear and concise performance outcomes and competencies in order to direct instructional design.”

Much of the information in the first 2 weeks of the course wasn’t new learning, but rather, strong reinforcement of what I already knew about learners and learning. To be given the opportunity to articulate my thoughts on paper and to have someone else read and find value in my thinking was very invigorating! Weeks 3 and 4 refreshed my brain with new learning, and I had a particularly strong “aha” moment that I described in this post on our online discussion board:

Aha!  Learning Outcome Statements are NOT the same thing as curricular learning outcomes!  Learning Outcome Statements (LOS) are derived from analysis of curricular outcomes; LOS articulate what the learner is able to do to demonstrate the learning.  In my experience as an “instructional designer” in the role of a teacher, the curricular learning outcomes were the drivers for designing my instruction, for designing my teaching, learning and assessment materials- yikes!

What an AHA moment when I realized TODAY that NO WONDER it can be an exhausting task for teachers to design these materials. Classroom teachers are not basing the design and development of our materials on strong LOS, we are basing them on curricular learning outcomes that may or may not articulate what students are required to DO to demonstrate their learning. We are designing and developing materials that have students demonstrate their learning, when we’re not really clear on what those performances need to look like. We’re missing a critical step between curricular outcomes and assessment tasks; i.e. developing Learning Outcome Statements! 

As a teacher, it seemed  easier to design and develop Language Arts and Math course materials when I used the “illustrative examples” and “achievement indicators” in conjunction with the learning outcomes. Well, it’s no wonder I found that easier! The illustrative examples are a logical “step” in the process of bringing vague curricular outcomes to life in the course materials, as they articulate what the learner should be able To DO as a result of their learning. As it turns out, the illustrative examples serve the purpose of the LOS that guide instructors to design and select effective learning strategies, learning assessments and materials that align with the specified curricular learning outcomes.

Why isn’t an Instructional Design course a requirement for the Bachelor of Education? It would help teachers be so much more efficient, effective and confident!”  

The ensuing comments for this post were evidence that my fellow educators in the course were in total agreement, and one even noted that she was going to write the Dean of Education a letter in this regard. The comments that resonated with me the most, though, were from two of the younger learners in our course, as they are written from the perspective of a student, and not from the perspective of a teacher.

Colt: “Being new to the field of education, it is great when others share their experiences with the group! I can recall being a student, and seeing curricular outcomes on course outlines, rather than a strong learning outcome statement. As a learner, it creates confusion when determining your personal level of success, and knowing what the needs are that you are expected to meet.”

Alena:  “I second that Colt. I’m still fairly new to education as well but after learning all these awesome things it makes me realize more and more that we are not using a lot of strong learning outcome statements in our courses to create a clear path for learners to know what is expected of them.”

Of course I spent WAY too much time on the discussion board, and even more time perfecting my assignments, thinking, re-thinking, editing, re-editing…  The estimated 15 hours per week turned out to be 30+ hours per week. On top of my already full work schedule, the addition of the course resulted in a very tiring 4 weeks without any down time- but the learning was so worth it and I don’t regret a minute of it.  New curriculum, I can’t wait for you to roll out- I’m ready for you!

Learning from a Childhood Hero


Anne Frank, 1940 ( )

On Remembrance Day this year, I watched a documentary about Anne Frank. This brought back the memory of my reading of The Diary of Anne Frank- a story that made a lasting impression on me. Anne Frank was definitely one of my childhood heroes!

A whole new understanding of Anne’s life was revealed through the documentary. I learned that there are several versions of The Diary. Apparently, the one I read was intended for children; the one where the reader is left to believe that Anne escaped the holocaust unscathed and lived to publish her story.  Much to my dismay, that is not the way things really turned out! The documentary taught me that the family was eventually apprehended, and Anne died of typhus in a concentration camp. Anne’s diary was found after her family was taken from their ‘hiding place’ and it eventually made its way to her father, Otto Frank, the only surviving member of her family. Otto eventually had several different versions of The Diary published. I’m actually quite happy that I didn’t know the real ending when I was 10 years old; even now, the reality is disturbing.

The documentary prompted me to go to the library to check out the other version. My reading experience this time around was, as you may expect, quite different… And it’s no surprise that I began to read from the perspective of an educator! The first part of The Diary, in particular,  lends itself to analyzing the education system of the 1940’s. Anne began to write in her diary several months before her family went into hiding, so I relished in reading the passages of Anne’s musings of her school experiences.

The following  3 excerpts resonated with me for various reasons…

From pages 10-11: “Betty Bloemendaal does very well at school, but that’s because she works so hard, not because she’s so smart.”  [This excerpt almost sounds like it could be a quote from Carol Dweck’s Mindset- very insightful thinking during a time when school systems were convinced that intelligence was a fixed trait.]

From page 11: “D.Q. is a very nervous girl who’s always forgetting things, so the teachers keep assigning her extra homework as punishment.” [No comment!]

From pages 16-17: “Our entire class is quaking in its boots. The reason, of course, is the upcoming meeting in which the teachers decide who’ll be promoted to the next grade and who’ll be kept back. From morning to  night, it’s ‘You’re going to pass,’ ‘No, I’m not,’ ‘Yes, you are’… teachers are the most unpredictable creatures on earth. I’m not so worried about my girlfriends and myself. We’ll make it. The only subject I’m not sure of is math. Anyway, all we can do is wait. Until then, we keep telling each other not to lose heart.” [Did the students feel that the teachers just randomly determined whether or not they would pass to the next grade? Were they not cognizant of the extent to which they successfully met the learning outcomes? When  we know better, we do better, and I, for one, am glad that we now know better than to “keep students back.” I am also happy that we are consciously working towards a system where all students know what the learning outcomes are, understand that learning happens along a continuum, that different students in their class may be different points on the learning continuum and may need different levels of support to help them move forward – and THAT’S OKAY.]

The experience you bring to a reading really does define what you take away from it. Thank you, Anne Frank, for enlightening me, yet again, with the words in your diary.  You are an even bigger hero to me, now that I know the real ending.




Why do you teach?

candy apple 2

 Why do we teach? To what extent does our work influence the lives of others, even when we’re not doing so intentionally?

I was inspired to write this post by an email message I received last week from my niece.  The subject of her email was, “Why I teach…” and her message read:

“I received this email from a former student today. It was a much needed and infinitely appreciated reminder after a really tough first week back… xx”

And the forwarded email from her student read:

“Hello Mrs. ______!

I’m not sure if you will remember me or not, but this is ______ from the 2010 grad class. I just wanted to send you a quick message telling you how much I appreciated you as a teacher. Now that I am a full time University student, I can see how much I really learned in your English classes.  I am so thankful that you pushed us to do the best we could and did not settle for average. I most likely did enjoy it at the time, and I am also sure thankful for it now! I feel I will do so much better in my English classes because I had you as a teacher. Your classes were definitely a highlight for me in High School and the class I always looked forward to.

I would also like to thank you for being a caring teacher. When my mom was sick, you were the only teacher who ever asked me how I was doing. That meant a lot to me, and made coming to school a little more bearable.

Thank you for all the hard work you do, and for being an amazing teacher!”

And the “disclaimer” that the student added to the bottom of the email said it all! “Please do not look at this email as an example of my writing ability. I just got out of class and am super tired.”

The letter from this student brought tears to my eyes; tears of pride at what an inspirational and caring teacher my niece is.  Although I’ve never had the opportunity to teach with her, the passion and dedication she demonstrates for education tells me that she is, indeed, an amazing teacher.

So, as a proud aunt, I responded to my niece’s email, telling her, “This letter is a keeper! You definitely made a difference in her life, and I’m sure in the lives of many others who haven’t taken the time to express their feelings to you- so proud to call you my niece! xo”

The response I received back was a  heartwarming surprise, and definitely made me realize why I teach:

“Thank you, Auntie Diane. Her email sure was a beautiful reminder. If only all the students whose lives we’ve touched could articulate it this well. And I’m sure glad that I had such a wonderful role model growing up that helped me decide to become a teacher. (Yes, I mean you!!) xoxo”

And now I’ll go get my Kleenex … and take some time to touch base with two other nieces who are also amazing teachers!

Why do you teach?

Growth Mindset – So much Promise for Education

wildflower_May 2012_Lac La Nonne_ Diane Lander

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend the MathConnect Conference in Calgary. The first keynote speaker of the day was Carol S. Dweck Ph.D., author of Mindset.

Dr. Dweck’s “research focuses on why students succeed and how to foster their success. More specifically, her work has demonstrated the role of mindsets in success and has shown how praise for intelligence can undermine students’ motivation and learning.” (

Although I learned a lot about her work through the Mindset book study our Learning Services team participated in last year, it was great to hear her story in person. I am using this blog post to share some elements of the presentation that stood out most for me.

Dr. Dweck told us that Alfred Benet originally developed the IQ test to see which students weren’t succeeding with the current curriculum, and used the results to change that curriculum. Like other theories and concepts that have been applied out of context (e.g. Bloom’s Taxonomy, Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences), educators have misconstrued the intent of the IQ test, and the result has led to the idea of intelligence being a fixed trait.

Current research shows “the brain can be developed like a muscle”; every time you stretch out of comfort zone, neurons grow new connections. So intelligence CAN be developed.

2 Opposing Beliefs

Fixed mindset– intelligence is a fixed trait

Growth mindset– intelligence is a malleable quality; a potential that can be developed

As a result of her research, Dweck has developed several “mindset rules” which help us differentiate between fixed and growth mindsets:

Rule 1:

Fixed mindset– look smart at all costs; tell me when I’m right

Growth mindset– learn at all costs; tell me when I’m wrong

Students with a growth mindset care more about learning than about grades. Good grades are the bi-product of effort and a successful learning path, not of an innate intelligence.

Rule 2:

Fixed mindset– learning should come naturally; if you have ability you shouldn’t need effort

Growth mindset– work hard, effort is key; ability is increased over time

Geniuses are a result of the work and effort they put in over time- building on successes and addressing their shortcomings, over and over again; continually trying until they succeed.

Rule 3:

Fixed mindset– hide mistakes: In the face of setbacks, these students said they would spend less time on the subject from now on, why spend time on something I’m not good at?

Growth mindset– capitalize on mistakes, formulate new strategies to address the problem. In the face of setbacks, these students said they’d spend more time studying and work harder in class.

Rule 4:

Fixed mindset– Praising intelligence develops a fixed mindset- in Carol’s research, these kids wanted a task that they could easily be successful on.

Growth mindset– Praising process and effort develops a growth mindset- these kids wanted a harder task that they could learn from.

Human beings are born as natural learners, so how do we make sure our students remain learners? Kids are tuned in to what the environment values; if we value effort, hard work, and progression of skill development, they will, too. Growth mindset has kids embrace learning and growth, and understand the role of effort in creating talent; it can be taught everyday in our classrooms.

How can we help students develop a growth mindset?

  • Praise effort, struggles and persistence despite setbacks.
  • Praise the strategies they try and choices they make.
  • Praise choosing difficult tasks, praise learning and improving; do not praise marks
  • Use the word YET- “not yet” puts you on a learning trajectory- “I’m not there yet, but I will get there.”

How does this relate to teaching math?

Many students have given up on math because they believe they are not good at math, and will never “get” math.

Fixed mindset– Teachers comfort students who are doing poorly, telling them, “Don’t worry, not everyone is good at math.”  This kind of feedback writes kids off, gives kids lower confidence that they could ever do it, releases them from the responsibility of ever doing well in math.

Growth mindset – Teacher says, “Let’s work to understand what you are not getting, and try some strategies to see how you can get better.” When teacher and students believe skills can be developed, it opens students up to learning.

Mindset Website

Students are very interested in how their brains work and how they can get smarter. I’m really excited about the Brainology application Dweck’s team has developed. “Brainology raises students’ achievement by helping them develop a growth mindset.” Guided by Brain Orb, students learn how the brain works, how we learn, and some brain-based learning strategies.

The website also has a teacher toolkit to support teachers in developing a growth mindset in their classroom.

Our students are so fortunate that our school division is embracing Dr. Dweck’s work. Won’t it be great when all of our students demonstrate a growth mindset!!

Critical Thinking as a Way of Teaching

“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” Albert Einstein

What should I write about for my first post, the post that by the very nature of its hierarchical position, indicates that the topic is of utmost importance to me right now? It would be remiss of me to write about anything other than critical thinking!

Critical thinking has been identified by researchers as one of the competencies that students need in order to be successful in the 21st century. In its Framework for Student Learning publication, Alberta Education has identified critical thinking as one of the 7 Competencies for 21st Century Learning.

With so much talk about critical thinking, it seems odd that there is still so much confusion around how to teach students to be critical thinkers. “Critical thinking” conjures up such misconceptions as teaching students to criticize, or to look for flaws in everything they read and view. When you come to know critical thinking, you realize that it has nothing at all to do with criticizing!

When people discuss critical thinking, it tends to have as many definitions as there are people in the discussion. The definition I have come to champion is that critical thinking is about “making a judgement in light of relevant factors or criteria.”  I love how Roland Case, co-founder and CEO of The Critical Thinking Consortium (TC2), defines critical thinking in the first minute of this video clip from

Critical Thinking as an Effective Way of Teaching

A misconception of the critical thinking approach is that it is about teaching skills rather than content. In fact, the critical thinking approach is about teaching and assessing both skills and knowledge outcomes, along with the thinking tools, resulting in students learning the content more deeply.

Over the past three years, Parkland School Division (PSD) has embarked on a journey to embed the TC2 Critical Thinking Model into teaching and learning. At first, it did not come naturally for us to teach using the model; it was a huge shift in our way of teaching… in our way of thinking. When we are teaching students to think critically, we are no longer transmitters of knowledge, but instead, designers of learning experiences; we ask questions and design tasks that have children make judgments in light of relevant criteria that we co-create, and we have them support their judgment with evidence from the content.

Are we all experts in the critical thinking approach at this point? No, absolutely not, and we’re not expected to be; we’re all at different places in the implementation journey, and that’s absolutely okay. I concur with the advice Roland Case gives us in this video clip:

Advice to Teachers

Through my work in supporting implementation of the TCCritical Thinking Model in PSD, I have seen several significant shifts in practice:

  1. Increased use of criteria to help make judgements
  2. Increase in intentional collaborative work as a way of learning
  3. Shift from reliance on pencil and paper tasks, to teachers posing authentic problems to engage students in learning subject area content
  4. Shift in assessment practice; greater focus on self-assessment and peer coaching
  5. Intentionally teaching the tools of critical thinking

Along with changes in teacher practice comes growth in student outcomes. Our teachers are reporting these things:

  1. All levels of thinking are supported through the Critical Thinking Model
  2. Less academic students are experiencing noted success and are becoming leaders in classroom conversations
  3. Vocabulary development is enhanced
  4. Students are more creative and more willing to take risks
  5. Assessment for and as learning are becoming more prevalent

Upon considering the huge potential this approach has in supporting the educational shift – moving from the left side of the continuum where teachers “cover the outcomes”, over to the right side where teachers engage students in “uncovering the outcomes”-  how can one NOT be excited about critical thinking as a way of teaching!

I’d love to hear about your experiences with teaching critical thinking. Do you have any gems to share or any lessons learned?

Welcome to My Professional Portfolio

My blog provides a glimpse into some of  the work I do, some of my educational beliefs, and a reflection of  my ongoing learning.

I’ve titled my blog “Curriculum Candy” because discussion of curriculum sometimes leaves people with a bad taste in their mouths;  it is my intention to share its sweet side.