Documenting FOR Learning

Langwitches: Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

Documenting FOR Learning

I think that documentation is a very important part of learning. As an early childhood educator I was trained to have keen observation skills and the ability to record my observations in an unbiased way. By doing this, it  would allow myself and colleagues to develop curriculum that met the individual needs of our students.

I think that educators can learn a lot about our students through anecdotal observations that we might not know through traditional assessment. Too often the focus is on the final outcome and I think that paying closer attention to the process will make us all better teachers.

Recording observations is a great way to understand where a student is at in their learning and can provide information that can assist in effective programming that will help to scaffold their skills and understanding. Not only is this a great tool for teachers but it can also be great for students as well. Sometimes students may not know where they are struggling and sharing your observations with them can show them where they may need assistance.

In an online learning environment it is important to help students create a space that they can look back and reflect on their process. I have learned a  lot about that through this e-learning course and record my thoughts on my blog! This blog has been a pretty cool way to track my understanding of concepts and growth as an educator and it would be helpful for students as well. Creating blogs, shared google docs and having discussions through Twitter are all ways to help students document their own learning and will give them something to reflect back on.

Just as it is important to make observations and collect data in a traditional classroom, it is equally important to create those student portfolios in the e-learning environment. The cool part about it is that the students can add to it themselves and it has the potential to have much greater meaning in the future.


Attendance Matters…or does it?

Let’s talk attendance online…

Setting up expectations is of course the first thing that can be done to show students in online learning environments that the amount of time they should be spending in the online classroom counts. I would be sure to post the expectation in the course outline and possible have a discussion post where the students could talk about why attending the course is important and how communication will assist them.

If students are absent frequently I would likely send an email to check up with them and in the event that days pass with no contact I might place a call to see if that means of connection would work before waiting them out.

Now, I know this all sounds familiar and possibly less than exciting, but let’s face it, sometimes students just don’t attend class for their own reasons and often times I wonder if a lengthy process is really necessary. This may not be the best option of all students. Hear me out…

If an adult learner is using an online course because they are wonderfully independent and have an incredibly high comprehension level why is it important for them to sit online for 25 hours and meet requirements that end up taking more time than they need to complete a task? Sometimes students have a hard time in a traditional classroom, not just because the physical space is difficult for them to get to, but because the pace at which the learning is occurring is far too slow.

No, I am certainly not talking about myself, but I do know many individuals who either have chosen not to pursue post secondary education because of this reason or who have dropped countless courses because they struggle with these issues.

I think that sometimes we have such repetitive expectations in education that are often times directed towards the person in the class who is struggling the most and it is something that we should take a look at for future practice. There are so many brilliant humans out there who could benefit from a formal education but they can’t fit within our box of rules and red tape to ever get there. I am always thinking about these students and e-learning is a place that they should feel the most comfortable to come and go as they please as long as they are following the content and acquiring the knowledge they need to complete the course.

Just my two cents.


I will admit it, I often struggle with formal assessment. Perhaps it is because I am a new teacher and in the past, as an EA and DECE I have spent my time honing my observation skills, so a test or formal assessment tool feels strange to me. I know that it is necessary to understand how our students are doing, but honestly, it is something that I find challenging.

Because of the various learning styles that students in our classrooms have, I find it nearly impossible to find assessment tools that meet all students needs all the time. This is a good thing in a way because it forces me to really think outside the box and develop strategies that will work for individuals in different ways.

I love choice. I like to use differentiated instruction to teach students information and skills, but it is my opinion that choice should be provided for final tasks. By doing this I think that I can get a better sense of what a student understands. If they can create a video, write a paper or draw a poster that conveys the information that they are learning I think that that should be the goal.

Basically, if I create a success criteria that lists the concepts that students should understand and they can display their knowledge in any way they choose, I think that is amazing. This is a strategy that I think could easily be used in an online learning environment. Students can create videos, blogs, cartoons and mind maps that demonstrate their thinking, and they can all be shared with a collaborative platform.

Anyway, that’s just a new teacher’s opinion on assessment. Who knows, I might sing a different tune if I ever have a class to myself.

Universal Design and the Mature Student

As a mature student I find online learning to be a wonderful opportunity to develop new knowledge and skills on my own schedule! When an instructor considers the various needs of a class they provide a wonderful selection of materials and activities that suit a variety of learning styles.

If I were to anticipate mature students in my online course, I would be sure to use a variety of online tools and encourage students to learn at a pace that works best for them (within the limits of the course). Using lengthy articles to teach every concept can become time consuming for an adult learner who may have a full time job and a family to raise, so I would incorporate audio and visual sources into the course.

I would also include activities that allow students to learn more about the technology they will be using and how they can continue using it in the future. Blogging, Google Hangouts, developing an online profile and Twitter can all be great ways to develop a personal learning community that they can work with throughout their careers.



Student Interactions


Student- Teacher: Doing face to face conferences with students to check in is a great way to stay connected to your students. After doing this with our facilitator for the e-learning course I can certainly see the benefits that it can have with students in an online learning environment. You can use a variety of tools for this including Google Hangouts, Skype and an application that I recently discovered, FaceFlow. From what I understand Faceflow is free to sign up and is similar to Google Hangouts in that you can text chat, video chat and group video chat. Worth taking a look!

Student-Student: Providing opportunities for students to collaborate is important in an online learning environment. Placing students into small groups where they are required to work on projects together is a something that can be supported by Google Docs or slides. Here, they have a platform where they can communicate with each other as they build their document. Reddit is also a great platform for discussion. If used correctly, one can create a subreddit for a specific group of people and make the access private. In this forum students can have discussions and provide input on topics that they are learning about.

Student-Content: Providing a variety of options for students to complete their course work is something that an online learning environment can offer. Options to read information, watch videos and develop work through traditional and nontraditional avenues are some ways to ensure positive student-content interaction and understanding. 

Student- Interface (LMS) : An interesting, user friendly interface will assist students in accessing the information they need and encourage them to engage in group tasks and discussions. Colourful images, funny videos and step by step instructions are a few ways that this can be achieved.


Synchronous vs. Asynchronous


Posting information in a discussion forum is an asynchronous tool for an online teacher to monitor when students are online posting and to observe communication between the class. Discussion posts are a good way to have students work through various questions presented to them and provides a platform that can develop a classroom community. This method is great for students who are looking to fulfill requirements that may be reluctant to speak up in a typical face to face situation. It also provides time for reflection, so students who may need additional time to process and digest information will find discussion forums helpful.


Setting up a face-to-face chat or a live chat discussion is a great way to connect students when new concepts are being introduced or topics require a more in depth conversation. In a situation like this an expert can be added to the conversation for added value. This could be a great way to introduce a guest speaker that can provide a personal layer of experience and learning. Live chat can assist the teacher in creating an online learning environment that can help students feel more connected to one another, therefore, developing a support system that will assist with learner retention. Some students thrive on the faster pace of chatting online and can express their ideas fully in this social format.

Online Learning Tools

After looking at the list of the top 100 tools for learning in 2015 I realized how little experience I really have with effectively incorporating technology into my practice.

A tool that I have used in the past and enjoy exploring is the mapping application, mindomo. It is a great tool that can be used for brainstorming, collaboration and organization of ideas. I would certainly use this in an eLearning environment due to it’s easy use. I learned about this application in my grade 3 practicum, I think that it is a great user friendly tool that can be used for secondary students in an online platform.

Skype is a tool that I have used in my personal life but have yet to try in a classroom. I think that it can be a great way to differentiate instruction in an online class. By allowing students to have a face to face meet up to discuss topics and issues that are relevant to course material you are creating a more cohesive community!

Lastly a tool that I have never used but would like to explore and implement in a course would be Canva. It has been introduced by a colleague in our eLearning course and from what I have seen it appears to be a pretty user friendly app that allows for a lot of creative fun.

What tools do you swear by when you are teaching in a classroom, traditional or online?

Have you ever tried an online learning tool and had it fail miserably? Share your stories!

Multiple Intelligence Theory

Ken Robinson provides a great explanation about multiple intelligence and the shift in thinking that needs to occur in order to evolve in education. His sense of humour is spot on and gives clear examples of what we can do to encourage students to embrace their own personal learning style and nurture their  passions in life! This video is a short clip pulled from one of his Ted Talks.




backchannel-reveiw-megaphone  Backchanneling is a great way to allow students to collaborate on ideas and express opinions and concerns during group lessons and activities. It creates an environment where classroom discussion is not primarily teacher directed but is generally maintained by the class as a whole. I am still learning about this tool but so far I find it very interesting and look forward to using it in a classroom in the future!

In a previous AQ I worked with a group in researching how to create a backchannel for your class and the benefits associated with it. Take a look at the infographic that was created as a result HERE.

Here is an article that gives a little info about the use of backchanneling.

What is a Backchannel?

Many articles that we took a look at mentioned using TodaysMeet to create the backchannel. I have created a link for that to check out if you think this is something you might be interested in. I think it is a pretty cool idea.

Learning Strategies


Here is a list of learning strategies that can be used in the classroom.

1.Provide opportunities for students to choose a method that makes sense for their learning. (presenting information orally, creating a blog, making a video, making a poster, etc.)

2.Chunk information to help students build on previous knowledge.

3.Use a variety of media to engage your learners. YouTube videos, infographics and music are great tools to break up a lesson.

4.Teaching students how to use collaborative platforms will assist them with group work. Google apps, and Padlet are two examples.

5.Provide ongoing feedback to allow students to build on interests and ideas.