Using Padlet (f.k.a. WallWisher) across the curriculum

Over the last few years, I’ve been looking for ways to make interactive whiteboards actually interactive. Despite the hype around them, iWBs still promote stand at the front content delivery and the interactivity is limited to the two students/teachers holding the pens. Everyone else is still pretty much a passive observer with regular doses of disengagement. With the recent creation of iPad mirroring software like AirServer and Reflector, the whiteboard has become more interactive with the ability to project multiple iPad screens onto the board. This is still a limited solution as only so many iPads can fir on one screen. In recent times, though there has been a proliferation of Web 2.0 collaborative tools that have the potential for full class interaction. My favourite at the moment is Padlet.

Formerly known as WallWisher, Padlet started out as an online pinboard where unlimited users could post notes on topics being discussed en masse. It allowed for everyone to have a voice in a discussion and provided teachers opportunities to save and store brainstorming and discussion sessions online for later review. As WallWisher, though, that’s where its functionality ended. It was pretty much an unlimited post-it note space ( correct me if I’m wrong – it may have allowed for some media posting. I can’t remember). Now, with a major upgrade and name change, Padlet has morphed into a full blown online interactive whiteboard, collaboration, presentation, lesson management system with massive possibilities for teaching and learning. Before demonstrating how I have used Padlet in the classroom in ways I couldn’t have in the past, I’ll give you a quick(ish) tutorial in how it works.


One of the benefits of Padlet is that it doesn’t require registration if you just want to create a board for quick use. You simply go to the website, click on the Build a Wall icon and create a wall for immediate use. I would recommend teachers create an account, though so you can store all of your created walls for repeated use. Students never need to create an account so the Under 13s can happily use this tool without any fear of breaking any user policies (as long as you ensure they don’t reveal any personal info!)

Padlet has a wide array of sharing tools to make your wall accessible. Check out the screenshot (left) for more detail. You can embed it into a blog, where it is fully active within, email a link or subscribe to it, post it to a number of popular social network sites and my favourite – create a QR code for instant access with a QR Code Reader app. In all my lessons using it this year, I have saved a lot of login time having the QR code in the room for students to scan and go straight to the wall on the school iPads. They are now around their classrooms so they can return any time.

It is best used on a computer for full access to all features but, other than attaching files, works very well on iPads and, I assume, other tablets.

Creating a Padlet Wall.

In creating a wall, you have options to add a background, a title and title image, modify privacy setting. choose between two layout options, create a custom website address and choose notification options. This can all be done within minutes before sharing the wall for others to interact with.

Modify address Add background  Privacy
 Layout  Notification  Title

Adding content

Padlet is extremely easy to use. Just simply double tap the screen and the multimedia note appears. The screenshot below shows how it works.

That’s pretty much it. The true value is in what we do with the app. Below are two walls I have created in the last fortnight. The first is a Maths lesson involving surface area, volume and algebraic thinking with my Extension group.

I created the  3D ‘sculptures’ using the Think 3D Free iPad app, took screenshots and imported the shapes straight into the wall. Titles and information was added easily. I then added the problem to solve and added a screenshot of a table to support the problem solving phase of the lesson.

To begin the lesson, the students scanned the QR Code with iPads to go straight to the page. Having direct access to the problem through Padlet rather than looking at a screen from a distance had the students engaged from the start. They were able to get straight down to working at their own pace in tackling the problem. The benefit of Padlet was soon apparent as each pair of students were given one sculpture to find the volume and surface area of. As soon as they had the answer, they were able to add their results to the Padlet wall for the rest of the students to access. This is in contrast to having to wait for everyone to finish and add to the board in a traditional sense. Let me note here that the measurement aspect was not the main focus of the lesson so quick calculation and sharing was important.

Once all the measurements were shared on the Padlet wall, the students were ready to create their tables to start looking for patterns in the pricing. The rest of the lesson wasn’t dependent on Padlet from this point but its next benefit was in collecting the students’ work to feed back to their classroom teachers. Having all of their working out, answers, collaborations, tables ( not all on there at the moment – still a work in progress) collated in Padlet means the teachers have access to what they did with me. On top of that, the students were able to embed their work on to their personal blogs for their parents to see what they were doing.

The second example below was used for an Inquiry workshop focusing on Asian Immigration to Australia. Over five sessions, all of the Grade 6 students worked with me using this wall. I wanted them to have access to a range of data that I hoped would generate questions and discussions. As I was not going to have a consistent role in the rest of their Immigration investigations, I wanted to use a tool that could collect all of their wonderings that their classroom teachers could access during the ensuing weeks to develop further. Padlet supported this greatly.

I was able to take screenshots of graphs I made in Excel and add them to the wall. A great feature of Padlet is that you can resize your content to fit in a small area for an overall view but by simply tapping the image, it enlarges to full size for easy view. This allowed the students to see the graphs in detail in their own time if they wanted to go back to make their own observations. This is in contrast to having a single view on a whiteboard that can become inaccessible to children working at their own pace.

As you can see from the wall, the students were able to add all of their observations and questions directly on the wall. Note that as the wall filled, dragging a comment to the edge of the wall created more space for as many comments as they could add. This is a stark improvement on the limited access they get when they have to share real post it notes or a limited sized sheet of paper or take turns to add their thoughts. Using Padlet allows the students to be fully involved in the thinking process at all times. The follow up to this is that common questions can be grouped together on the Padlet wall adding to the collaborative process.

What I have also achieved in building this wall is pooling together a large number of resources in one easily accessible online space. The graphs, the videos, the PDF documents are all stored in a common place and can be viewed at full size at any time. The QR codes are sitting on the classroom walls, allowing the students to access this information at any time.

In using Padlet in both of these lessons, I loved that the students had personal access to info at all times, were able to contribute to the wall at their own pace and could view what others were contributing in real time. At the teacher level, I loved being able to collate all of the resources in one space, resources that can be enlarged for useful viewing when needed. I love that in a collaborative teaching environment, I can collect student group work to share with their classroom teachers. I love that I can now have a truly interactive whiteboard that keeps all students involved in the learning process.

These are two examples but Padlet offers many opportunities for engaging teaching and learning across all curriculum areas. If you have used Padlet, I would love to hear about what you have used it for. If you haven’t tried it before, give it a try. Easy to use, many possibilities.

Book Creator for iPad – updated again for greater e-book functionality (tutorial)

A lot of iPad users in schools have already heard of Book Creator for iPad. I’ve written about it before on my blog before. Nevertheless, I have put together a how to guide in different formats (ebook, PDF and video) to showcase its features and highlight its new features just added in a recent update that how to guides online don’t feature at the moment. ( the how to guide included in the app is still the original guide that doesn’t include half the current features). It’s one of my must have apps for my school and the tutorials are to support my staff and students, most who still haven’t used the app yet,  in learning how to use the app. While others reading this may have checked the app out before, these tutorials may still be of use for you

Book Creator for iPad Tutorial by mcglee1966




Download iBook version of my  Book Creator for iPad tutorial (created using Book Creator )to read on your iPad here.




Here is the video tutorial I made and uploaded to YouTube. It is in 2 parts because it runs for about 28 minutes in total and YouTube won’t let me upload videos that big!


Who can we trust? The importance of teaching our students to interpret the news.

Screenshot from the linked article on

Opening up my favourite news app, Zite, the other day, one of the top stories was this eye opener from Australia’s national broadcaster’s – the ABC – news website. Titled “The Gatekeepers of  news has lost their keys”, the writer Tim Dunlop highlights a fact of life that confronts us all today, and in particular our vulnerable, naive students.

As an audience, we are no longer dependent on the mainstream media to interpret and explain important events to us.

In a previous era, we had to wait for the six o’clock news in order to see the footage of what had happened in Canberra that day, and even then our understanding was restricted according to the choices made by journalists and editors.

Footage was clipped and shaped. Decisions were made about what was important and what wasn’t, what was left in and what was left out, and the end package was presented to us as definitive.

The next day we read the newspapers and hoped to get a bit more background, a bit more context, some opinion from both sides of the argument, and again, this was all chosen and arranged by professionals who we, by and large, trusted to present events to us in a balanced and nuanced way.

If we wanted to participate…., we were pretty much limited to a letter to the editor of a newspaper or maybe the telephone queue of a talkback radio station…….our ability to participate was curtailed by the often-opaque rules of participation set down by the journalists and news editors…. They could edit our letters or simply bin them. They could decide not to take our call or just cut us off if we started to say something they didn’t like.

The authority of the media – it’s ability to shape and frame events and then present them to us as “the” news – was built upon its privileged access to information and the ability to control distribution.

……. But those days are gone. That model is a relic, though it still dominates the way the mainstream media goes about its business, and provides the template for how journalists think about their role as reporters.

This has to change.

When we can watch events live ourselves without having to wait for the six o’clock news to package them for us, or even watch a YouTube replay in a time of our own choosing, we can also be free to interpret the story in the way that we understand it.

When we can log onto our blog, or fire up Twitter or Facebook, and express our views in real time; start or join online conversations; develop, change or reinforce our views via discussions with friends, “friends” and “followers”; and share footage and stories and images and shape that information in a way that suits us, then we have moved into a world unrecognisable from the previous era of journalism.

This introduction to the article presents quite succinctly, one of the most important challenges we have as Literacy teachers today. Our students are bombarded with unlimited sources of information and opinions on every imaginable subject. Where once we would do an occasional unit on disseminating fact and opinion and identifying bias in selected reading to satisfy the mandates of our English Curriculum,  we now must make it the major focus of our non fiction reading programs. Students today spend hours on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and forums and these sites are often their first source of news. Many adults these day also have moved onto these sources as their first port of call and often fall for the first rumor they see online, treating it as fact and then posting it for others to read or view.

That’s not to say that all news on social networking sites, blogs and forums is not accurate. There are a great number of quality writers with their own blogs on every possible subject who have made it easier to learn for the general public. Today’s journalists have embraced Twitter and Facebook and have joined in on the fun of being first with the latest updates and opinions. The problem is they too are all too easily led to believe what they read online as fact and report too quickly.

And then there is the nature of media bias itself. It is easy to blame all the left or right wing bias on socialist/fascist bloggers or misguided teenagers with a camera and a Youtube account, and sure there is plenty of rubbish posted by these types daily, further infested by thoughtless nonsense from angry, anonymous commenters protected by their cryptic usernames. But they are far from alone. The age of 24/7 news has brought us an unending stream of updates that don’t have the opportunity to be fact checked or vetted by experienced editors. Errors, misrepresentations and blatant untruths and distortions are published, not just on websites, but on TV and radio news and current affairs programs daily. The irony of the ABC article quoted here is that after such a thought provoking opening, it quickly descends into a parody of the very bias it warns against.

It is for this reason we as teachers need to focus heavily on developing critical thinking skills in reading news and other purported fact based writing. While learning about life from the classic novels and researching and learning from history is vitally important, we need to shift our English curriculum more heavily towards sorting fact from fiction and recognising bias. We were sheltered in the past by the limited sources of information. That is something I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Dunlop on. But the world of information in today’s Age of Connectedness means we need to teach our students to read with scepticism. They have to judge every comment, evaluate every apparent fact, compare sources, understand context, investigate the background and beliefs of the authors of what they read, source both sides of arguments and form a balanced opinion. They have to decide who to trust.

As teachers are we doing enough for our students so they can see through the Fox News vs MSNBC (US),Herald Sun vs Age/ABC (Australia),”insert right and left wing media groups of other countries here” wars and form educated opinions? Are we giving them the skills to investigate before accepting every rumour posted on their forum of choice? Are we allowing Facebook, Twitter and the like into our schools so that we can guide them first hand in dealing with how to participate in the connected instant info world they live in? What’s happening in your classroom?

What are you doing to make writing real in your classroom?

Are your students writing for you or themselves? Are your students writing for you or for a real audience? Are your students writing because they have to and don’t know or because they want to and have a purpose? Have you thought about what you are doing to make writing real in your classroom?

  • Do your students write the school newsletter and fill it with interesting student generated content or is just full of a bunch of reports from teachers, parents and the principal?
  • Do they publish their writing as ebooks that are uploaded to the school website or a class/personal blog so that parents, friends, other students and any other interested reader can download it onto their iPad, Kindle, smartphone and read it, giving them a audience beyond their teacher and classmates?
  • Are your students writing advertisements on fictitious products because it’s the genre of the month in your class or have they made a connection with a local business and put forward a proposal to create some real ads for them to promote their product in the local community or on YouTube?
  • Do your students write a news report so it can be checked off as a non fiction piece of writing to contribute to the requirements for Term 3 writing OR are they part of a dedicated group of students across the school publishing a school newspaper or online news service including school and local news, sport, editorials on important issues they are concerned about, restaurant, music, book and movie reviews, comic strips or satirical cartoons, letters to the editor as well as ads for school and local events? OR Have you made contact with the local newspaper and set up a program allowing children to have their articles published on a regular basis in an actual newspaper?
  • Are you singing Silent Night and Jingle Bells for the 30th Christmas Concert in a row or have you used the talents of local songwriters to run workshops to write some student created songs to perform instead?
  • Have you contacted and made arrangements with an interested author to run workshops with budding writers and possibly collaborate on a book together instead of relying on your own limited narrative writing abilities to teach them to write something with a decent plot?
  • Have you thought of students creating textbooks for other grade levels to use for their next inquiry topic instead of just finishing the unit off with long winded presentations in front of the whole grade and then filing them under “Done”?
  • Have you given them the opportunity to collaborate on a play that they will write and perform for an audience of their choice? Have you given them the opportunity to write a letter to the local theatre company and put forward a proposal to gain their support in the production?
  • Have you considered contacting the local community radio station and booking a regular spot for your class to present a radio program, reader’s theatre performance of a play they have written, conduct an interview of a local celebrity, participate in a debate,all of which have been written by them? OR if not the radio station have you published them as podcasts online?
  • Instead of getting them to write expositions in preparation for the next state or national standardized writing test, have you given your students opportunities to send persuasive texts to the principal, local councillors, members of parliament, major newspapers, TV and radio news programs to argue for change?

(There are a lot of other great examples teachers are using. I’d love to hear them in the comments below.)

If we want to know why our students are still not correcting their spelling errors or leaving out punctuation and paragraphs, maybe we need to consider whether we give them reason to. So let’s make writing real. if you at going to put all that effort that teachers do into conferencing, feedback, exposing them to all those great tech tools for publishing, surely we should give them a reason for all that effort to be put in.

So what are you doing to make writing real in your classroom?

Teachers need to be learning role models

One thing I miss most due to my new part leader/part mentor/part member of teaching team role this year is a full time relationship with students. I get to play cameo roles teaching mini units to focus groups, taking extension groups in Maths and helping children use ICT effectively in their learning. What I don’t get to be, though, is something I believe in deeply – being a role model in learning.

With the shift in emphasis to independent, student centred and driven learning, I think sometimes we drop the ball as teachers in showing students how to be learners through example. I believe teachers have to jump out of the comfort zone of providing guidance, developing rubrics for students to follow, working on samples of work created by other authors and other pre-prepared lesson plans and ideas and get involved in real learning as an example for their students to follow. While I’m not a full time class teacher anymore, these are some examples of how I was a learning role model over the previous years that I think are important for teachers to do.


I read to my class a lot. When I did, I showed joy in sharing the stories I read. I was, and still am when I can be, a performer. Asking children to read with expression but then reading to them without passion does not encourage them to make the effort. Use character voices. Accentuate emotion. Model getting involved in the story. Vary the pace to match the mood. Show them how to respond to written text. I have worked with teachers who always passed responsibility to reading class novels to the students, saying it was important for children to practise reading to an audience. Agreed. But the students won’t know how to if you don’t model how to. If performing is not your thing, modelling the struggle to “sell the story” becomes a teaching moment in itself.

Respond to texts in the same way you expect students to. We often bemoan the lack of detail and quality in our students’ text responses. Sometimes the blame has to be placed on us. We rely on textbook annotated models that break down a response into a series of soulless sentences that follow a structure. For me, I always thought it was far more beneficial for me to write my own reviews, character descriptions, book reports and answered the questions they were expected to answer too. I wrote them at an adult level to show students what could be achieved if they pushed themselves. They didn’t reach my adult level but they wrote some great responses because the bar was raised and the example was set. Teachers need to write, not just tell students to write by following a pattern.


Clearly I have embraced blogging and I write for an adult audience for a specific educational purpose. Alongside this blog, though, I have another less visited blog that I set up to be a model for the writing we expect our students to write. I haven’t maintained it as much as I want because I haven’t been involved in students’ writing as much as I had hoped. As a full time class teacher, though, I see genuine writing as a vital component. I don’t see all teachers being as passionate about being writers as they should be. How can you assess a student’s ability to write a narrative or a poem or an exposition, if you can’t show you can do it yourself? I have a problem with children being expected to meet the requirements of rubrics created by teachers that follow ideas from writing textbooks but the teachers don’t write themselves.

Not only should we be writing during class time to model writing behaviours ( and sometimes we may struggle to meet the standards, modelling how difficult writing can be and what we might need to do to achieve some success ) but we should be writing independent of class time to show that writing is a genuine, meaningful activity. Teachers can’t expect students to set up Writers’ Notebooks and Writers Gifts or blogs if they don’t have their own and maintain their own. I love writing. My students have read my stories, plays, poems, songs, reviews, reports, explanations, persuasive and argumentative texts and used them as models for their writing, rarely meeting my standards but pushing themselves ( not all of them, obviously) to achieve a high standard. They’ve also critiqued them and I have accepted some of their advice ( and knocked back plenty, too), modelling the whole conferencing and editing process. Again, some teachers may not find writing as easy or enjoyable as me, but students can learn just as much about the struggles of writing – my blogs are littered with half finished or initial ideas as an example that not all writing ideas work ( I keep them to show not finishing is part of a writer’s life).


We rightly push the importance of problem solving. Modern maths teaching methods revolve around multiple strategies. If we are genuine about this, again we need to be role models for  contemporary maths thinking. Again, ( I know I sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet) I find Maths easy at the primary/elementary/middle school levels I work in but I am very careful to model the varied strategies I want my students to use. As a student in the 70s and 80s I went through the era of pure procedural calculation. I could do it easily then and can easily do it now. By being a role model, though, I have actually improved my Mathematical thinking and understanding by using various strategies and maintaining their consistent use.

I don’t have a problem with procedural algorithms; sometimes they are the most efficient method. What I have a problem with is teachers working so hard in a 4 week unit on mental computation and multiplication strategies in Semester One then undoing all their good work by falling back into their comfort zone of algorithms and times table tests in Semester Two. We have to maintain the rage, easy or not, and keep being role models for mental strategies. I repeat, I have improved my mental computation over the years through sustained use of multiple strategies. Students will too, if we keep up the pressure. If we aren’t good role models, they will follow what they think is the “best maths” and use algorithms when they don’t need to.

Problem solving is the same. Students need to see us trying to solve problems and not problems we find easy. I believe as Maths teachers, we should be modelling the struggle involved in problem solving by tackling problems we don’t know the answer to. No shame in getting others to help you too. That is good role modelling too. I like to work on problems in front of the students. I like investigating with the students. We need to show we think problem solving is relevant and useful by doing it, not just setting the problem and showing them how to solve problems we have the answers too.


I love learning. A lot of my colleagues think I’m a weird freak ( in the nicest possible way!) at Trivia nights and constantly ask me questions to find out quick answers, often in front of the students. I make the mistake often of telling them the answer. They shouldn’t be asking me the question. They should be inquiring themselves. We expect our students to do the research. We should be role models here as well. The reason I know so much is not just because I grew up in the educational era when you were actually expected to remember stuff, not just “Google” it. I know stuff because I am interested in learning. I investigate. I show interest. I experiment. I do this in front of my students. I have a genuine interest in their topics and want to find out more. I ask probing questions to show how they can go further with their questions because I actually want to know what they are researching. When my classes research, I research. When my students do projects, I do projects. Why wouldn’t you if you really believe in the life long learning mantra we spruik in our policies and mission statements. Again it’s about being genuine. I don’t copy and paste so the students know I won’t accept copy and paste. I want deep understanding so the students know I won’t accept superficial answers to research questions. We have to be good role models as inquiring learners.

It might sound like a lot of hard work. Sometimes it is but I enjoy hard work if the result is learning. But sometimes the work actually make teaching easier. Less planning involved for literacy if you just model what to do. Don’t go looking for books on how to teach narratives. Just write a narrative and share your work with the class. Learning will happen on the job. Don’t spend days making up a poster outlining the research process. Just start researching with the class. Be a role model. Don’t tell them what to do. Show them how it’s done.

Creativity and Quality vs Time Constraints and Quantity

Thanks to Dangerously Irrelevant for the video and the spark for this post

What do we hope to achieve as teachers? Good grades for our students? Year over year growth based on testing, standards and outcomes? Engagement in life long learning? Develop fully their talents and creativity? All of these are important goals in education but at some point we need to decide which is the most important in this “21st Century/Contemporary Teaching/Personalised Learning Education Environment we purport to be in today.

This simple video has made me think again about my philosophy of teaching and my dream for education. Creativity is one of the great goals that drives the push for contemporary teaching and learning. Do our actions support its development?

For me, we are still driven by time constraints in the day to day reality of school. This hampers creativity.

Instead of expecting a student to write, edit and publish (whether teacher or student is satisfied or not) a text every week so we have “enough” evidence to justify the grade on the semester report card, why can’t we allow the student time to work on one or two texts over a long period of time until we are all proud of the result? Did the D student get a D because he can’t write or because he didn’t get the opportunity or support to improve his text before moving on to task 34? ( It reminds me of 2007 when my daughter came back from our Europe holiday and had to complete the statewide Gr 5 writing test, a 40 minute exercise in putting words on paper. She was ‘slightly below standard’ on the report because she didn’t finish. I should have sent the assessors her 100 page journal she compiled while on our trip, the writing that captivated family and friend alike for its detail and reflective depth.) What is it as teachers we are assessing – product or process? The time limited end result or the growth and improvement over time? Do children have to write a persuasive text, a narrative, a report, a review, an explanation, a recount, a book response all in one term or semester just because they’re all written in your system’s curriculum document? Was Shakespeare not “at standard” because he didn’t write an expository text on the strengths and weaknesses of Queen Elizabeth?

Is it more productive to assess ONE 15 page piece of quality writing over the course of the term or semester (not just at the end when its finished-no one wants to do that), progressively monitoring and assessing the language conventions, sentence structures, use of literary devices that you have discussed and taught the student over time OR give a score to 15 “OK” pieces of writing the child gets no opportunity to improve? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Our students may not want to persist at editing and improving a text over a long period of time because they have grown up in a system ( and I’ve been part of it for 25 years so I’m not criticising anyone without taking the blame too) that values quantity over quality, product over process and finishing over creating. If we really want to bring about Sir Ken Robinson’s revolution, this has to change. Collecting 20 samples of writing that are not good enough has to be replaced by a paradigm shift to working on a text until it is great. Ticks, crosses and percentage points don’t teach a student how to improve their writing ( or counting, calculating,thinking, questioning,researching, drawing). Guidance, tracking, encouragement, constructive feedback, expectation and TIME does.

Can we do it? Should we do it? What do you think? Would love to hear what others have to say. Join the conversation.

Digital Portfolios – is Blogging a good option?

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

A couple of things happened last term. My school finally took the plunge and allowed the Grade 6 students to replace their file books with digital portfolios as a means to collate their work to share with their parents at home and during parent/teacher interviews. The other thing was that a small group of teachers dipped their toe into class blogging. By the end of the term, we ended up with two problems – How do we create the best Digital Portfolio and Do we want to really blog?

Let me explain.

During my ‘Techie Brekkies” before school, I introduced blogging to a group of interested teachers. They had lots of questions and not all were answered but we ended the couple of sessions with setting up blogs, but apart from one grade level who used their blog for Camp updates and reflection, not much happened after the meetings. Then I introduced Edmodo and it seemed to be a more useful and easier to set up option. Edmodo now has full adoption across all Grade 5/6s as a collaboration/work sharing/assessment and class organisation tool. It was seen as more relevant than having a class blog at this stage in the development of the teachers involved. ( Note: the whole “Techie Brekkie” thing went into hiatus during report writing season and so there was no follow up to blogging session. We’ll pick it up again next term).

In terms of the Digital portfolios, there was a push for them last year in the 5/6 area but because they were just an add on to the  school wide  file book/work sample policy, they were not fully embraced by teacher or student. In 2012, however, change came about and the Grade 6 students moved from paper based file book to digital portfolio. They adopted Powerpoint as the platform ( not my personal choice nor my decision to make) and then last term decided they would  export them over to Sliderocket so that they could be accessed via the internet at home. It was soon apparent, though, that this was a fail as a workflow as the export experience didn’t upload attached files or links. This was compounded by SlideRocket’s sudden policy change which locked the children out of accounts ( hence my recent posts about Web 2.0 for the Under 13s).

When this happened, I started thinking of alternatives. The teachers initially decided to stick with PowerPoint but start a new portfolio ( the originals quickly became bloated, growing to unmanageable sizes that took forever to load over wireless networks – need to invest in video compression software!) I started thinking of blogging.  From reading about blogging over the last year, however, from the likes of Kathleen Morris, Linda Yollis and Langwitches Blog ( who seem to respected in the field of class blogging) and reflecting myself earlier in the year in this post (and here as well),  my quandary is that I may be blurring the lines between blogging and digital portfolios. Am I rushing the students and teachers into blogging by attaching the importance of the official digital portfolio to it without going through the process of preparing them for blogging as outlined by the aforementioned “experts”?

Nevertheless, today, I am pushing ahead with a “Pros and Cons” list to help me decide what the best choice might be from my point of view. Obviously, I would like feedback from you, my readers, on what you think is the best option. It’s a work in progress and would like to hear suggestions from you for both the pros and cons. 


  • “Anywhere, any time access” to their work for composing, editing, publishing and sharing with their parents. One of my problems with the whole twice a year file book access is that parents aren’t kept informed on the progress or quality of their children’s work. With the blog as portfolio option, the child’s work is more transparent and because the parents can see the work during all stages of the year, children may be more motivated to work at the standard Mum and Dad expects of them.
  • A bigger audience for greater purpose and motivation. Opening up their work to a wider audience puts the responsibility of quality back on to the students. It should also motivate them to publish quality work as well since it is being viewed by others.
  • Feedback and collaboration. Through moderated comments, parents, friends and the wider world audience can provide feedback, encouragement, praise and advice. With access controls, individuals can be invited to collaborate on posts under the supervision of the teacher to ensure collaboration goes smoothly. Shared posts can be linked to each others’ blogs so that the work can be shown to both students’ parents and audiences.
  • Controlled environment and ease of communication between teacher and student. With student blogs linked to a teacher blog, teachers and students can control the level of privacy and access to their work. Students can save their work as unpublished drafts and teachers can review their work before they go further. Students and teachers together can make decisions about which posts go public and which remain private. This gives a student control over what he/she wants to publish to a wider audience while still being able to show their parents all their work.
  • Wide range of publishing options available through uploading, hyperlinks and embedding published work from other web tools. One of the time wasting tasks I have seen through the PowerPoint Digital Portfolio option is organising file storage, folder structures, hyperlinking to files, linking to work published with software not available at home and the resulting broken links when all of these tasks are completed effectively. An online version with links controlled by the blogging platform and a central storage area coupled with the ease of linking and embedding to work that exists on the internet, not in random folders spread across the school network is a more user friendly option. Having the online option may also encourage students to try out more web tools for composing and publishing their work. It may move them away from just typing words out in Microsoft Word and onto Prezis, comic strips, slideshows and audio presentations that can easily be embedded in their portfolio blog.
  • Purposeful blogging. I’ve checked out a lot of student blogs in my research for setting up blogging at school. While there are some outstanding examples from very talented student writers, there are also a lot of blogs out there that don’t meet the standards and guidelines outlined by the blogging experts above. Like a lot of technology, many teachers never progress their students past the experimental stage and we are left reading unedited “my Favourite……” posts by the truckload. Using the blog as a digital portfolio gives a consistent purpose to what is being posted and students won’t spend time wondering what to write next.
  • Part of whole school program, not an added extra. A digital portfolio blog would include work from all areas of the curriculum and would encourage publishing of work in the Arts, Sport, Mathematics and other subjects besides Literacy which can dominate a blog as the “writing subject”. Hopefully, this would encourage the use of technology for reflecting upon and showcasing learning in the non text based subjects.
  • Consistent, purposeful reflection across all curriculum areas. By using the blog as a digital portfolio, students will have an accessible place to store their reflections on learning side by side with the actual work they are reflecting upon.
  • Easy to use publishing and organisational platform. Thoughtful tags to identify each post, organised in Portfolio categories ( subject areas ), pasting the embed code or link from work done on another web tool – and we’re done. A simple to organise workflow that allows easy access to all files with a simple click on a link.
  • Home/School Link. On top of the connection between school and home available to the parents through the blog option, the maintenance of the blog becomes purposeful homework in all curriculum areas.
  • Teacher Accountability/future direction. Access to student work is soon to become part of our Educational landscape in my system. I can already access individual files of my own children’s work, albeit work that is uploaded and commented on by their teachers in their own time. Having the blog as a digital portfolio easily accessible by parents places some onus on teachers to be consistent and up to date with their assessment and feedback, which helps with teachers planning for children’s learning and improvement.


  • Rushed process without preparing for the responsibility of online publishing. This is not a problem with blogging itself. Rather it’s more a problem with moving straight into using it as a Digital Portfolio platform without having already having experience in blogging. When we adopted Edmodo, there were plenty of teething problems with getting the students to use it appropriately ( that is now ironed out). Morris, Yollis and Langwitches all emphasise the need to for a gradual release of responsibility and training in posting and commenting. Having said that, as a Digital portfolio, the work that is published on the blog will be controlled in some way.
  • Maintaining feedback. There is a danger that teachers will find it too difficult to maintain the same level of feedback and commenting over the duration of the year, considering the public nature of the blogging platform.
  • Negative feedback. How students react to possible feedback of a critical nature is something to consider. Does the digital portfolio component of the blog remain separate from other posts through privacy settings?
  • Separation of Teacher/Student/Parent Comments during the composing process and once published. How do we manage the situation of comments from teachers at the composing/editing stage being misunderstood by parents? Does the student want their classmates’ comments being seen by parents or vice versa? Should the teacher comments be privately viewed?
  • Making a blog “all work and no play”. When you look at successful blogs, they’re about building relationships with audiences, being free to publish posts of your own choice, having fun with the layout, plug ins etc. By making it the Digital Portfolio, you run the risk of sucking the joy and freedom out of blogging and making it all about school work.
  • Access/Connection issues. 90 students simultaneously trying to blog at school can play havoc with the wifi. We run the risk of making the students’ work inaccessible during high traffic periods. Not all students have easy and regular access to the internet at home.
  • Quality control/Teacher accountability. Keeping track of 30 student blogs is no easy task. If students have publishing rights, unchecked work might slip through to public viewing and cause concern for teacher responsibility. Teachers who aren’t confident with technology may find the blogging platform difficult to manage.
  • The linear blogging structure. While tags and categories can make linking to individual post simple, the scrolling, back dated, linear structure of a blog is not always the best way of presenting a large body of work.

I personally think my pros outweigh my cons, although their are some definite issues to address. But I’m a prolific blogger and a confident user of web tools. That doesn’t make it the best choice for everyone. I know there are alternatives but I haven’t experimented with them as much as blogging. As I said earlier, I would really like some feedback from others who have used Digital Portfolios with their students. Do you use blogs or something completely different? What have been your issues and challenges? Please leave a comment and join the conversation. I’d really appreciate it.

The Literacy Shed – A great new resource for Visual Text Literacy Teaching

screenshot of Literacy Shed homepage

Every now and then you come across a resource that makes you go “Wow! How useful is this?” Thanks to one of my teacher colleagues, I have had the chance to explore one such website. The Literacy Shed,created by UK teacher Rob Smith, is a fantastic resource for Literacy teachers looking for short video clips to support their teaching.

The site is organised into 24 different ‘sheds”, each providing a selection of quality visual texts (mainly 3D animations) accompanied by very useful teaching notes outlining how you can use the clips in exploring themes, characterisation, narrative, plot, mood, use of audio, body language, inferences,deductions, predictions  – the notes cover just about everything. It’s equally useful for reading comprehension and writing development. The use of the resources also go beyond just Literacy. Many of the resources are also useful for Humanities subjects as well and Smith points these links out in detail. What I especially enjoy is the number of foreign animations that expose students particularly in USA and Australia, my home, to different cultural and creative perspectives beyond Hollywood story telling.

In the table below, I’ve shared the different areas (sheds) of the site. As you can see, a large number of story genres are provided. Following the table I’ve provided an example of teaching notes that accompany a video clip.

The Fantasy Shed The Other Cultures Shed The Ghostly Shed The Inspiration Shed The Moral Shed The Picture Book Shed
The Great Animations Shed The Love Shed The Fairy Tale Shed The Inventor’s Shed The Reading Shed The Poetry Shed
The Adventure Shed The Mystery Shed The Film Trailers Shed The Fun Shed The Lighthouse Shed The Flying Books Shed
The Resource Shed The Blog Shed The Non Literacy Shed The Weblinks Shed The Literacy Shed Home Contact Us

Teaching Ideas (based on the animation Alma – a chilling Doll story

Let the children listen to the soundtrack of the film, turn off IWB, can they guess what kind of film this is? Thriller etc?  What moods? There is quite a lot of suspense etc.

Children could predict what happens at certain points e.g. what will happen when she goes into the shop?

Children could ask questions at specific points e.g. Why is the town empty? Why does the doll just look like her? Where is the shopkeeper?  What does he do with the dolls?

The children could write a sequel to this film perhaps changing parts of it.

Can the children draw/describe what they think the owner of the shop looks like? Maybe produce a wanted poster.

Here is some fabulous work create by the Year 6 class at Greenfields Primary School.

These are tremendous stories with some very sophisticated plots and sentence structures

Children are becoming more and more tuned into visual texts in an increasingly multimodal media-rich world. Storytelling for children today is more about movies, animations and interactive digital books. Just providing the written text alienates a large proportion of your class. The Literacy Shed provides a wealth of resources that will engage students and the teaching ideas shared on the site will develop a range of high calibre literacy skills. I recommend this site to all teachers ( mainly aimed at Primary/Elementary schools but still relevant for older children in Middle School) who are looking to use more visual texts in their lessons.

Writing Prodigy or not, this is also about expectations, support and technology

A lot of you have probably heard of Adora Svitak.The now 14 year old literacy prodigy, came to prominence at the tender age of 7 (!) as a prolific writer. On her blog is a referenced article about a report on her by Diane Sawyer from Good Morning America. After reading the article and viewing the popular TEDTalk Adora presented a couple of years ago (as seen above), I started thinking about the impact of her story on education. Many have commented on Adora Svitak. Some comment on her unusual prodigious talent. Others ( not that much stock should be taken of the views of faceless YouTube commenters) question the “coaching” of her parents and how much of her ideas are truly hers. However, I approach her story differently. I focus on what has made an impact on her astounding growth in literacy skills and wonder whether the same influences can have similar, albeit not at the same level, effects on other children’s learning. Can Adora’s story be the story of every student in your grade?

Writing as means to express ideas
“On Good Morning America, Diane Sawyer called Adora Svitak a ‘Tiny literary giant.” The title seems astute when you measure her diminutive stature against her accomplishments. Though only four feet tall, seven-year-old Adora has written over 250,000 words this year alone. Try that one on for size. She may be small, but she has big ideas, and, thanks to writing, she has the means to express them.”

While I don’t expect many children in Grade 2 to be churning out 250 thousand words this year, this highlights the importance of valuing their ‘big ideas’ and giving children the opportunity and time to express them. I used to love watching those interviews Bill Cosby did with kids. Those little wonders could talk about amazing things. Cosby let them be the star of the show. Do we give our children enough opportunities just to express what they are thinking? Or do we only let them talk about topics we plan to cover our curriculum? Have we ever considered that its not that little Johnny is struggling in class because of poor literacy but because we don’t let him share what he likes and knows about?

As we continue to teach in this new Age of Personalised Learning, has our mindset changed enough to stop pigeonholing class timetables into pockets of time limited rotations of lessons or 40 minute standardized tests and start giving our students the time and freedom to express what they are really thinking? If we do, maybe we’ll get more Adoras writing 250,000 words in a year.

Early Support, genuine interest in the child’s passions and pushing your own passions, time and effort is important even before they are ready. Over to you, Parents (and teachers).
“At an early age, Adora’s passion for reading inspired her love for writing. Although she was originally not so confident in her spelling and grammar and her early writing depended on help from her mom, her sister, and her tutors, she refused to be discouraged by her mistakes and kept asking for help. Pretty soon she was able to write simple stories that were a few pages long. Her ideas and vocabulary were now advanced beyond her years, but she was still hindered by a typical five-year-olds’ limited handwriting skills”.

Obviously, Adora wanted to write and loved to read. Where did that come from? Her parents. What’s important in the reference above is that her parents and others recognised she wanted to write, had some limitations but didn’t let those limitations get in the way of Adora’s passions. We need to find ways to support students to keep pumping their ideas out and not hold them back because they have not achieved mastery in all required areas. So what if we can’t read the student’s work? Write it for them. That’s what publishers do for authors. JK Rowling didn’t personally type the 450 million copies of Harry Potter books. If we want students to develop as writers we have to teach writing as expression of ideas, not as a series of perfectly constructed letters spelt correctly and in beautifully constructed sentences. I’ve sat through too many writing moderation sessions where teachers are automatically drawn to the poor handwriting and spelling mistakes before they even read the content of the text. This has to change. Adora wan’t discouraged by her mistakes or issues with spelling, grammar and punctuation, or her five year old handwriting skills. She and her parents were determined to get the stories told one way or the other. Did it make it any less of a story because Mum wrote the words out correctly? I don’t think so. Children end up hating writing because we focus on the mechanics and aesthetics, not the content. Let’s shift the focus.

Watch the  video from 4:50 onwards. She tells of the other support her parents gave. I love the fact that Dad read Pioneer Germ Fighters and Aristotle to her as well as the Wheels on the Bus. As parents ( I have 2 brilliant (not quite Adora) kids of my own) it should be our goal to push the limits with our children. And it doesn’t have to be writing for parents who don’t have that passion. But push those boundaries. Teachers, I’m talking to you too. It is an abrogation of our responsibilities to let our our own limited interest in certain areas restrict student development. It’s also a crime not to share your own passion for learning, whatever it is, with children. Reach high. Expect greatness ( but not be disappointed if it doesn’t come ) Don’t be afraid to challenge your children and let them struggle. Support them through the struggle, as Adora’s parents did. This is not pushy parenting I’m talking about. This is just expecting the best for ,and from, your kids.

Technology plays its part. Don’t fear its influence. Embrace it.
“Her breakthrough came in the form of a used Dell laptop that her mother bought her in the spring of 2004. She was fascinated by what she could do with Microsoft Word. After her aunt and uncle showed her some of the functions, she was very eager to experiment and discovered many tools on her own. With the help of “JumpStart Typing for Kids” and DK’s “Creative Writing” program, she was soon typing 60 words a minute.

Her passion for writing grew as Word helped her surpass technical limitations. She could now check her own spelling, which helped her gain confidence. Even if she was not 100% sure of a word’s definition, she could now use the program’s simple ‘Look Up’ feature (Encarta Dictionary) or on any new word she discovered in her reading, and she began using synonyms or antonyms to make her writing more exciting and precise.”

The key focus for me here ( and from the content of my blog my obvious bias is showing) is that technology enabled the breakthrough from struggling to prolific writer. As mentioned earlier, Adora’s writing was restricted by the limitation’s of a 5 year old’s physical writing skills. Using a laptop to compose her writing changed all that. I’ve made this point in another post, but I’ll say it again. We must stop seeing technology as an easy way out for writing. Spell check is an enabler, not the systematic destruction of spelling skills through laziness. Adora could concentrate on her ideas and let the computer help with the mechanics. From what she has become, it certainly didn’t affect her development as a writer. Access to computer based reference tools helped her expand her vocabulary far easier than flicking through page and pages of paper thesauruses and dictionaries. ( and when it didn’t help, no doubt her family was there to support). She didn’t have to wait for ‘teacher’ to correct her work before she moved on and I’m sure she wouldn’t have handwritten 250 thousand words in a year.

I’m not saying we just let computers take over the whole writing process. I am a major proponent of scaffolding writing, modelling text writing and improving grammatical and spelling knowledge. I’m saying that computers/laptops/tablets need to be part of the whole writing process. If we want more Adora Svitaks in the world, then we don’t just pray for good DNA; we need to build the environment she flourished in. TEchnology was a big part of that and continues to be today. She blogs, she authentically publishes for the world ( not just her classroom teacher and parents), she writes with other children. She’s done it all with technology at the forefront. We need to take notice of that.

What kind of person do we want our children to be?
“Adora has imagination, an ability to distill her vast learning into dynamic prose, the courage and curiosity to explore different genres, the wisdom and maturity to accept and learn from criticism, and a tireless desire to better her craft by writing and revising every day. She truly is a working literary giant.”

As teachers and parents, we have to develop these qualities in all of our children, not just the prodigy and the gifted. Not every child can be Adora Svitak. But every child has an imagination, which is sometimes repressed by the limitations of classroom protocols and restrictive parenting. Every child has curiosity, which can be killed off by the restraints of a prescribed curriculum focus. Genres are just different ways of communicating, which every child can explore if we allow them to, instead of mandating expositions for term 1 in preparation for standardised tests. As adults, we have to be brave enough to be critical so children can learn from their mistakes and our constructive feedback, instead of worrying about their fragile self esteem that can only handle ” that’s a great effort” when they write 1 sentence. Every child wants to be better, which will only happen in writing if we focus on revising. If we shift the focus from quantity and speed to quality, and allow technology to support revising instead of rewriting, there will be a lot more children out their writing as prolifically as Adora Svitak.

There will always be child prodigies in the world that stand out from the crowd. Little Mr “one sentence a week” in Grade 5 will never be Adora Svitak. Get him early, though, and with expectations, encouragement, support and a healthy dose of technology to guide him along, we can get him a lot closer. That’s my opinion, anyway. Am I way off? Without any research to back it up other than an amazing talent’s story, can I get this to happen? Over to you, readers. What do you think? Is it possible to create a world of Adoras if we get education right? Can all parents be this supportive? Join in the debate.