Learning to Read is as Easy as Eating Some Alphabet Soup


In his 1985 article, Learning in the Age of Television, Neil Postman wrote “…We know how that ‘Sesame Street’ encourages children to love school only if school is like ‘Sesame Street.’ Which is to say, we now know that ‘Sesame Street’ undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents”. Postman is discussing the role that television had begun to play in the education of American children and how this audio-visual technology was reshaping parent and educator understanding of what learning could look like if they revamped what the traditional classroom setting looked like. 

For many of us, imagining what the traditional classroom looked like has something like this image imprinted in our minds: 

Related image

As Haiming describes in her blog post, the teacher is placed at the front of the room, students sit in rows of desks and there is little visual stimulation in the surroundings. This classroom is rooted in behaviourist learning theory in which the teacher transmits the knowledge to the student. This image did not align with what Sesame Street taught us to thinking about learning. 

Postman writes “In searching the literature of education, you will find it said by some that children will learn best when they are interested in what they are learning. You will find it said–Plato and Dewey emphasized this–that reason is best cultivated when it is rooted in robust emotional ground. You will even find some who say that learning is best facilitated by a loving and benign teacher. But no one has ever said or implied that significant learning is effectively, durably, and truthfully achieved when education is entertainment”. Postman is arguing that a shift in learning theory needed to occur at this point in history from behaviourist to constructivist and beyond to connectivism as it relates to modern education. The group presenting this week asked some important questions about how our class thought AV technology impacted learning. Some responses were that AV technologies created opportunities for connections with others, that auditory and visual concepts were closer to real life than text and therefore easier to understanding, AV appeals to different styles of learning and can evoke emotion which in turn activates prior knowledge to create meaning (possibly through digital storytelling, songs or podcasts, etc.), and that integrating AV was more engaging that traditional styles of teaching. Many of our class’ ideas aligned with Postman’s arguments. 

The introduction of audio-visual technology began almost a century ago with tape recorders and overhead projectors and has evolved over time to include technologies such as iPads, smart projectors, robots and virtual reality devices being used in classrooms today. The importance of using AV technology in the classroom should not be underestimated and “there are two reasons for this; one, learning via AV creates a stimulating and interactive environment which is more conducive to learning; two, we live in an audio-visual age which means that having the skills to use AV equipment is integral to future employment prospects. Therefore exposure to AV technology in education is imperative”. AV technology has become important in the classroom in “facilitating improved productivity and student engagement, offering flexible applications that can create dynamic learning environments for wide-reaching audiences…technology also allows groups from all over the world to connect and collaborate in real-time” (Source).  In 2018, this information shouldn’t be surprising when we have statistics like these to suggest the relevance of AV technology in our lives. 

Today’s technology capabilities are likely beyond what Postman imagined for education in 1985 but many of the positive implications of AV technology remain relevant. If we think solely of our EC&I 833 course and the opportunities made available through Zoom which allows people to connect from various locations (Alec taught one class from Hong Kong last Winter semester!) for one common goal, it really is quite amazing! Further, if we think about how technology is being integrated into classrooms now through Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs that integrate the culture of smartphones, the use of educational programs through Youtube, and the many applications used to connect classrooms globally, the implications for learning are vast. In my own practice, AV technology enhances learning by showing students content rather than simply having them read about it or listen to me teach about it. AV technology provides another lens and context through which students are able to make meaning of the world around them. As previously suggested, students can learn more when they are engaged and interested in what they are learning. Finally, the integration of AV technologies in today’s classrooms allow for 21st century learning to take place. 

The use of AV technologies in the classroom is conducive to understanding new literacies such as digital literacy. Pitts argues 

“all communication is multimodal, that writing alone is not enough for learning, and that all modalities are ‘equally significant for meaning and communication’ …In this context written language, then, is but one part of meaning making. Moreover, it is no longer the dominant part. A literate individual is no longer one who can simply read and write, but one who can place language within a broader context – a multimodal world. As information can be expressed through multiple modes, the ability to interpret and connect the multiple modes through a variety of literacies (e.g., print, digital) becomes essential”.

New epistemoligies in a digital age: Ways of knowing beyond text-based literacy in young adult leaners

In conclusion, AV technologies have the power to revolutionize learning in many contexts and make learning more engaging, empowering and connected. Teachers have a responsibility to use this information to transform their teaching and the role that traditional classroom models continue to play in modern classrooms. After all, according to author Malcolm Gladwell, “Sesame Street was built around a single breakthrough insight: that if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them”. How are you holding your students attention? 


Coding: A New Literacy


In class this week, we practiced coding (for my first time!) We used the program called Logo Interpreter and followed a workbook called Programming in Logo. This was my first experience using computer language and instructing the program to do what I wanted using code. This helped me to understand a bit about how programs complete tasks and how I was able to manipulate the code to meet a certain objective. I was also able to make many connections between coding and the SK math curriculum.

Adding to last week’s discussion about learning theories, Seymour Papert coined the term constructionism which is a learning theory rooted in constructionism where the learner makes meaning of information based on their experience with it but further (in constructionism), the learner is “most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing a meaningful product” (source).  Papert used Logo in his early research which was designed to teach young children about computer programming.

In his 2015 article “Why Kids Should Learn to Code“, Erik Missio explains that coding is being considered a new literacy and that learning to code is directly related to many future job opportunities. (Hint: scroll to the bottom of this article if you’re not sure where to start with coding. There are some great applications to start with! Or checkout this article) Missio argues,

Today, computing is involved in almost all aspects of our lives, from communications and education to social media, banking, information, security and shopping. Networked computers are capable of controlling our homes’ thermostats and lighting, our cars and our health records.

If grade-schoolers are taught biology and mathematics in order to understand the world around them, then knowing the basics of how computers communicate—and how to engage with them—should be a given.

Not only does learning to code help kids explain the world, it also helps them develop problem solving and computational thinking skills (Missio) both of which are listed as Future 2020 Work Skills. This 2012 article “Code Literacy: A 21st Century Requirement” by Douglas Rushkoff explains that kids “are spending an increasing amount of their time in digital environments where the rules have been written by others. Just being familiar with how code works would help them navigate this terrain, understand its limitations and determine whether those limits are there because the technology demands it — or simply because some company wants it that way. Code literate kids stop accepting the applications and websites they use at face value, and begin to engage critically and purposefully with  them instead”.

If you’re not yet convinced, this article, 9 Reasons Why Kids & Teens Should Learn to Code, sums it up nicely:

Finally, check out what some of these leaders and trend-setters have to say about the importance of learning to code in this article.

As you can see, there are many reasons that learning to code is important for young people today. Because technology is impacting nearly every aspect of our lives, it is increasingly important to understand how the programs being used work. In addition, coding can be used to help young people develop new programs and apply what they have learned in creative ways.

There are already many ways in which learning to code can be relevant in the context of the Saskatchewan curriculum. Do you teach coding in your classroom? If so, what programs do you use? What benefits are you seeing? What have your students surprised you with?


An Ever-Shifting Perspective: Examining Learning Theories in a Connected World

This week’s readings presented a variety of popular theories of learning including behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism. Ertmer and Newby (1993) provide an in-depth explanation of these learning theories in their article Behaviourism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features From an Instructional Design Perspective. Ertmer and Newby also include an article update in 2003 to reflect upon the changes in how learning theories can be understood as changes in the social learning environment have reorganized in the decades that follow their original piece. It is important to read an article like Ertmer and Newby’s in order to understand the historical background of these learning theories. This infographic nicely summarizes some of the key features of behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism:

But…a shift has been taking place. We spent a lot of time in the Spring session with Alec talking about the stereotypes of different generations. Gen Z has received a lot of flack from its predecessors and in the media. But…it’s not all bad. This fabulous essay, “A Generation Zer’s take of the Social Media Age” (2018) by Elena Quartararo sheds some light on how the current generation is making use of the technological tools at hand. Her message is profound and intends to debunk many stereotypes which label her generation. The social action, connectedness and problem solving she talks about involve a variety of learning theories, including the newer theory: connectivism as presented by George Siemens.

In his 2010 Ted Talk titled “Knowledgeable to Knowledge-Able“, Michael Wesch argues many of the same ideas being argued in Siemens’ Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age (2004) article. Both agree that “technology has reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn” (Siemens, 2004). Therefore, our understanding of learning theories must also make a shift that accommodates the changes that technology has brought to modern society. We know, from the Future 2020 Work Skills document and all of the readings for this week that the skills required for careers of the future look much different from the previous generation. Teachers are currently preparing students for a world of work in which the landscape will look very different from our own. Therefore, Siemens’ suggests a learning theory called connectives in which knowledge is distributed across a network of connections to people and information — learning consists of the ability of construct and traverse those networks” (defined in a Map of Learning Theories).

This week, Alec asked us to explore which theories of knowledge and learning underpin our own teaching philosophy and classroom practice. To be completely honest, I don’t give much thought to all of the “isms” on a day-to-day basis but reflecting on my readings this week, I see how behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism and connectivism all fit, to varying degrees, into the current educational system and my own teaching practice.

Behaviourism underpins a lot of what we (as an education system) do in Saskatchewan. Behaviourism is recognized by students producing observable, measurable behaviours that are scored using criterion-referenced assessment. The outcomes and indicators in our curriculum highlight the skills students are expected to know. They are taught in sequential  instruction and are scored using programs that measure student behaviour based on level of mastery. Behaviourism has imprinted itself on much of how we “do” assessment in our province.

In addition, you are likely to find behaviourism in many primary classrooms where (due to student level of mastery), the teacher often guides students to master skills and behaviours. My classmates, Sam and Sage, discuss using behaviourist theories in primary classrooms, especially to teach beginning-of-the-year procedures and establish classroom expectations. I teach third grade and we practice, practice, practice until we learn the the routines of our classroom, much of which is guided by myself and the students present observable behaviours to show a level of understanding of what is expected.

Cognitivism plays out in my classroom in some elements of reading, math and writing instruction where students learn how to learn and focus on a variety of strategies to construct meaning.

Further, constructivism has a role in my classroom as well where knowledge acquisition comes from learners using the experiences they have been given to create meaning. Meaning is content- and context- specific and can be used to support problem solving in a variety of situations. Daily 5 stations, Explore 4 stations, our learning in science, social studies and health can all be connected back to constructivism. Students are presented a variety of opportunities through stations in reading and math to make sense of the information presented. Additionally, I encourage my students to make connections across subject-areas in order to deepen their understanding of the information they are learning rather than the information being discipline-specific. We also take our learning as it relates to the place/context that we are in as people of Saskatchewan and identify how our experience is unique because of the place in which we live.

Finally, connectivism is gaining momentum in classrooms across the province. For me, the newest learning theory has become more relevant through the Master’s program courses I have taken. Due to how technology has changed the lives of our learners and ourselves, we must continuously examine how we help our students gain new understandings of the world. Connectivism allows teachers to use technology in a way that allows students to gain many of the Future 2020 Work Skills mentioned previously. Siemens’ presents a list of questions that are relevant for teachers to consider when selecting learning theories, some of which are listed below:

  • What adjustments need to made with learning theories when technology performs many of the cognitive operations previously performed by learners (information storage and retrieval).
  • How can we continue to stay current in a rapidly evolving information ecology?
  • How do learning theories address moments where performance is needed in the absence of complete understanding?
  • What is the impact of networks on learning?
  • With increased recognition of interconnections in differing fields of knowledge, how are systems and ecology theories perceived in light of learning tasks?

As Jana discusses in her blog post, it isn’t necessary to choose one learning theory and ascribe solely to that theory but rather utilize the various aspects that each theory has to offer in a balanced approach to understanding teaching and learning. There are so many elements to consider when we craft lessons and learning opportunities for our students and we must select a method of learning that benefits students in the most meaningful way.

Contemporary Understandings of Ed Tech

Hello fellow EC&I 833 classmates! It is so great to be back for another semester of ed tech learning!

In class this week, we discussed some definitions of educational technology and explored some of the historical contexts of technology and its impacts on society. You can read about my personal journey with technology in this blog post. My classmate Kyle provides his history with tech in his post found here and Scott provides a trip down memory lane as well.

This is my third ed tech course and we have spent a lot of time in all of the courses discussing how technology is simply a tool. It does not have positive or negative connotations associated with it but how people choose to use the tool does. In the spring session, our class debated whether or not technology enhanced learning. My classmate Erin used this graphic to highlight points from either side of the debate:

Despite some really relevant concerns that tech can possibly inhibit learning, most people felt that the positive aspects of ed tech outweighed the negative. To further this discussion, the SAMR model provides various steps in which technology can be integrated into the classroom in meaningful ways. My classmate Adam also share some of the tools he has used (many fit into this SAMR model!) that enhance or enrich student learning in his post.


This week, Alec presented us with some variations to the definition of educational technology. My personal understanding of educational technology combines the ideas I have presented above in that the purpose of educational technology is to enhance learning using a variety of technological resources. Critical to this understanding is the consideration and facilitation of ed tech resources by the teacher so as to use the technological resource to enhance and transform learning. Equally as important are the ethical implications that go along with using technology in terms of data collection and sharing and student privacy. The ethical use of technology often leaves many teachers at various stages of comfort with the use of tech. My classmate Channing explores her experience and comfort level with using tech in the classroom in her blog post found here.

As Tony Bates (2015) argues in A Short History of Educational Technology, that “there are some useful lessons to be learned from past developments in the use of technology for education, in particular that many claims made for newly emerging technology are likely to be neither true nor new”.

I find it very interesting that Bates compares the King of Egypt’s (fifth century) critique of writing (as a technology) to modern day critiques of social media: 

When we think about contemporary understandings of technology use in the classroom, Neil Postman (1998) provides some relevant ideas about the ever-changing world of technology. As our contemporary definition of educational technology continues to evolve, Postman’s ideas provide a continuous reminder about technology in general:

  • Idea #1: “For every advantage a new technology offers, there is a corresponding disadvantage. The disadvantage may exceed in importance the advantage, or the advantage may well be worth the cost”. (I don’t agree with this statement in it’s entirety but the main point is relevant).
  • Idea #2: “The advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population. This means that every new technology benefits some and harms others”. Technology can be a driving force for equity or a driving force for inequity in society. To read more about my thoughts on this topic, visit this blog post.
  • Idea #3: I actually don’t really like Postman’s description of his 3rd idea. But what I think he is trying to get at it is Marshal McLuhan’s idea of “The medium is the message”.
  • Idea #4: Technological change is ecological / immersive and seeps into all elements of our society or ecology. Postman (1998) provides an analogy: “What happens if we place a drop of red dye into a beaker of clear water? Do we have clear water plus a spot of red dye? Obviously not. We have new colouration to every molecule of water.” This idea also relates McLuhan’s understanding of technology within society and has a Foucaultian ring to it: when tech becomes so ingrained, society fails to continue questioning its relevance, purpose and impact.
  • Idea #5: Relates back to idea three and four. Postman (1998) argues “Technology tends to become mythic; that is, perceived as part of the natural order of things”…which be become dangerous for society.

I tend to agree with some of Postman’s ideas and I think they are important to consider when reflecting on a more modern understanding of educational technology. I do think that his article is outdated especially in the many examples he provides along with each of his five ideas. One premise that I wholeheartedly disagree upon is his positioning that schools/teachers can be replaced by technology. I will reiterate a point made in an earlier blog post this spring: Critical to technology integration is the role of the teacher. Technology does not and cannot replace the teacher. Teachers play a crucial role in implementing technology which allows students to be more prepared for the future. In this article, McKnight et al. (2016) indicate “Teachers play a critical role by organizing the learning environment to provide students with active, hands-on learning and authentic tasks and audiences for their work…Researchers have found that for technology to make a difference in learning, specific systems factors such as leadership support, frequency of technology use, and instructional models must be in place…Perhaps most importantly…technology transformed teachers’ roles as educators and activated cognitive processes that learning science tells us enhance learning”.

That’s all for now folks! I look forward to reading more of your blog posts in the coming days. Comments welcome!