ISU – 2014 version

Independent Study

Does what we know about co-constructing criteria, assessment for learning and student engagement invalidate the utility of “Independent Study Units”?  I don’t think so.

Literacy guru Kelly Gallagher advocates for more reading in English classes. In his classes he challenges students with a short instructional text every week (a text that requires support and teaching). While using this short text for teaching particular skills or content, Gallagher also has students working on longer group texts (novels or long non-fiction texts that the students select from a limited teacher created list) these texts are studied through a seminar format. Finally, Gallagher asks his students to always have an individually chosen text on the go.  An independent novel or non-fiction book. That last element sounds like an ISU to me.

I think it’s perfectly appropriate to ask our students to be reading on their own.  A change in my practice from the ISU tasks of ten years ago, would include providing clear exemplars of the tasks I’m asking the students to complete and check-ins throughout the process to monitor the students progress and address problems.  The “i” in ISU should stand for “independent” not “isolated”. By monitoring the students’ progress I can intervene as necessary and provide appropriate lessons in organization or initiative or independent work as required.  The monitoring in a grade 10 class would look different from the monitoring in a grade 12 class.

This Biography Assignment might lend itself to an ISU approach.  Instruction up-front to clarify the nature of the task and my expectations, then the occasional check-in to monitor progress.  See what you think. The easiest way to take notes synchronized with videos!

A great Google Drive App (that connects to our HDSB Halton Cloud accounts) for taking notes while watching YouTube videos.  While watching videos, students can take notes that are synchronized with the video.  When you click on an item in your notes the video jumps to the point being referenced.  Great for annotating TED Talks or providing peer assessment or self-assessment on a student produced video or recorded presentation.

Best app, I’ve seen for doing a “close reading” of a media text. The easiest way to take notes synchronized with videos! — just click on the “Connect with Google Drive” button and the App will be added to your Halton Cloud account.  Find it listed as a choice when you “Create” a document in Google Drive.

Close Reading, Allusion and Blissful Ignorance

The media depictions of Dunn and Davis can be very
interesting and revealing of point of view.

I had somehow remained ignorant of the story of the death of Jordan Davis until I saw this brief article by Ta-Nehisi Coates on The Atlantic‘s website: “On the Killing of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn“. Coates’ first person response to the verdict in the trial of Davis’ killer is powerful, poetic and was for me impenetrable — until I did some research.  It’s a great example of the power of allusion.

The more research I did the more I appreciated Coates’ writing. 10 years ago I would have turned the page and moved on. This morning I started Googling.  Reading has changed.

This is a great resource for teaching our students persistence and close reading skills.

Overview of the case from The Christian Science Monitor website: “The Loud Music Murder Case

The Martian by Andy Weir

Hard science fiction — science based fiction that takes science seriously.  No phasers / no warp drive / no magical fish that translate your thoughts (sorry Douglas Adams).  Andy Weir’s The Martian takes science seriously without skimping on drama, pathos and adventure. The martian in The Martian is an astronaut accidentally marooned on Mars who must use his ingenuity to stay alive — Robinson Crusoe on a much less hospitable desert island. It’s a great story with likable characters. Excellent read for students skeptical of the excesses of fiction… students who might be interested in the opposite of The Life of Pi.

UPDATE: Ridley Scott will be adapting the novel for film 

Spencer O’Brien distraught over her 12th place finish in slopestyle

Spencer O’Brien’s tearfully apologizes for her performance in the Olympic slopestyle event:

From  Spencer O’Brien

“Sorry I’m just really disappointed right now,” she told reporters as tears rolled down her cheeks. “I had a really hard year coming back from some injuries. I was really happy to be riding the way I was here. 
I was just really excited to be a part of Team Canada. Just after watching Mark yesterday, I was really inspired to just try really hard to bring home a medal.
“I went for my hardest run and it didn’t work out today. So I’m really disappointed and really sad that I let Canada down.”


  1. How should a friend respond to Spencer O’Brien feelings about letting down her country?  
  2. Do you feel that the members of Team Canada are competing on your behalf?
  3. Review some of the profiles of members of Team Canada on the website or “The Olympians” website – how do the profiles try to create an emotional connection between the audience and the athletes. Refer to specific details in the articles or videos to demonstrate your analysis.

Read more:

Snow day activity…

Let’s not get our hopes up, but just in case…
An open ended inquiry challenge for students who brave the elements and make it to school:
Prompt:  A few schools in Halton have had fire alarms go off this winter on really really cold days. Imagine you’re the safety officer for the Halton District School Board.  Research and develop a safety protocol for schools to follow on days with dangerously cold temperatures when a fire alarm goes off  Convince the school board and the fire department that your plan is well thought out and will improve the safety of HDSB students.

Hints: Is it ever a good idea to get a coat rather than immediately evacuating? 
What nearby shelters could students be directed to? At what point do cold temperatures become dangerous?  Let the Googling begin…

Canadian Identity – Promoting Toronto – Olympic Opening Ceremonies

The Olympics are a great opportunity to think about point of view, national identity and culture, and the media texts that demonstrate these concepts.
Media Task

This assignment is designed to challenge students to reflect on how countries have presented themselves at past Olympic games and to consider how they might promote Toronto during the Pan Am games next summer:  Promoting Canada.