Changing Education Paradigms



I love this multimodal version of a talk by Ken Robinson. I especially am interested in the concept he presents of “divergent thinking”. The question is, however, when will the world of education catch on to the reality that its stuck in archaic versions of itself? When will the paradigm shift happen?

This online article below builds on Robinson’s argument that education needs change, however he contends that first we must start changing society.

Continued Reflections: Ontario Policy, Multiliteracies, and Assessment




Delving into the issues of assessment of Multiliteracies (New London Group, 1996) I examined Ontario’s current policy document for assessment in its schools: Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010). Overall, this document shifts its focus of assessment from summative to formative-based assessment practices mentioning key aspects to garner student success: their individual abilities and interests, which must be acknowledged and valued within Ontario schools (p. 1). It is upon these instances of student-centered discourse within the policy document that I believe Multiliteracies, which values student ability and interests as its foundation, has the opportunity to align with policy. Initially, I was hopeful that this document was moving Ontario education in a progressive way.

However, though student ability and interest seem to be its central focus, it is clear in the document that standardized testing is an important part of assessment discourse even though research suggests these large-scale tests have a negative impact on student motivation. In their research review, Harlen & Crick (2003) state, “the use of tests [standardized and performance-based testing] not only inhibits the practice of formative assessment but has a negative impact on motivation for learning” (p. 170). Harlen & Crick also make mention in their research review that a heavy reliance on large-scale testing tends to reduce the amount of time spent on formative assessments, again negatively affecting students’ motivations to learn. Though research suggests negative effects of standardized testing on student learning (Marshall, 2009), Kalantzis, Cope & Harvey (2003) posit that “standardised basic skills testing regimes are increasing”, and, consequently, assessment practices and curriculum focuses reflect these “back to basics” ideologies (p. 16), which is less explicitly stated within the Ontario policy document. It is worthy to note that the Growing Success document relies on evidence researched by Harlen & Crick’s work to justify the shift towards more formative-based student assessment.

Working Within Contradictions

In Growing Success (2010) the emphasis focuses on assessments for learning, assessment as learning, and assessment of learning. The first two types of assessment being formative strategies, while the last is summative. Assessment, in this document, is defined as “a set of actions undertaken by the teacher and the student to gather information about student learning” (p. 29). Under this definition, the student plays an important role in the assessment process. Rather than a focus on end-product process is given credence. Understanding that literacies are situated (Barton, Hamilton & Ivanič, 2000) within the sociocultural experiences of students, Multiliteracies as a pedagogical strategy and its subsequent assessment would fit in under the Ontario Ministry of Education’s assessment for learning strategies as the document encourages a diversity of assessment tools making room for new literacies, i.e. digital technologies, to be used within the classroom,

teachers will obtain assessment information through a variety of means, which may include formal and informal observations, discussions, learning conversations, questioning, conferences, homework, tasks done in groups, demonstrations, projects, portfolios, developmental continua, performances, peer and self-assessments, self-reflections, essays, and tests… including strategies such as sharing learning goals and success criteria, providing feedback in relation to goals, and developing students’ ability to self-assess – as a way of increasing students’ engagement in and commitment to learning (p. 28).

Considering collaborative construction of knowledge and learning, and literacy as a situated practice Brown, Lockyer and Caputi (2010) also call for strong formative assessments to capture the learning process with 21st century literacies, which include the changing sociocultural demographic of schools as well as the prevalence and pervasiveness of digital technologies, “students should actively be involved in the construction of meaning through a collaborative, problem-solving approach. Students need to be literate in multiple modes where a combination of literacies is necessary to develop multiple literacy skills” (p. 192-193).

Though the policy may leave room for Multiliteracies with its need for new types of formative assessments, in Growing Success (2010) there is no definition of literacy or learning, which are not included in their glossary of terms. As such, the reader does not have a clear idea of what these concepts mean to the Ontario Ministry of Education (OME) or how they influence its policy. Learning is only referred in relation to goals and assessment. Consistently, the goal for student learning is stated to be that of a developed independent and autonomous learner (OME, 2010, p. 28). By definition, to be autonomous is suggestive of independence, however, by separating these two terms “independent and autonomous” it may suggest that the OMEs underpinning belief is that learning is an isolated event, devoid of its situatedness within sociocultural experiences (Barton, Hamilton & Ivanič, 2000; Street, 1984). Scholars such as Kalantzis et al. (2003) use the term autonomous as a characteristic of the modern learner, however, the use is suggestive of independence and self-direction, students who are “designers of their own learning experiences in collaboration with others as well as by themselves” (p. 17).

Thus, the dichotomy remains within the Ontario policy that though learning in process will include a focus on collaboration and group work with teachers and peers, co-constructing knowledge together, in the end students are to remain isolated learners and assessed summatively as such, “assignments for evaluation may involve group projects as long as each students’ work within the group project is evaluated independently and assigned an individual mark, as opposed to a common group mark” (p. 39). My contention is that in this way, the policy demonstrates that students will be able to work independently and autonomously in order justify ability to participate in large-scale, standardized testing.


Barton, D., Hamilton, M. & Ivanič, R. (2000). Situated literacies: Reading and writing in context. London: Routledge.

Brown, I., Lockyer, L. & Caputi, P. (2010). Multiliteracies and assessment practice. In Cole, D.R. & Pullen, D.L. (Eds.). Multiliteracies in motion: Current theory and practice. pp. 191-206. New York: Routledge.

Harlen, W. & Crick, R.D. (2003). Testing and motivation for learning. Assessment in Education. 10(2), 169-207.

Kalantzis, M., Cope B. & Harvey, A. (2003). Assessing mulitliteracies and the new basics. Assessment in Education. 10(1), 15-26.

Marshall, J. (2009). Divided against ourselves: Standards, assessments, and adolescent literacy. In Christenbury, L., Bomer, R. & Smagorinsky, P. (Eds.). pp. 113-1125. Handbook of adolescent literacy research. New York: The Guilford Press.

New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92.

Ontario, Ministry of Education. (2010). Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools. Retrieved at

Reflections on Assessing Multimodal Texts


The issue of assessing multimodal texts is challenging, because it asks teachers to evaluate texts they may not be familiar or feel comfortable with, i.e. a blog. With so much focus on traditional written texts (as print on paper), with visuals more of an add-on and complimentary rather than containing the meaning in and of itself is new to many teachers. This is the conclusion I have come to from my experience as a professional educator and from my previous research. It also reminds me of my grade 12 art class when I was in high school. I had wanted to explore creative aspects of video, however my art teacher told me I could not submit video for an assignment, because he did not know how to assess it. It makes me wonder how many students have had their expertise of or knowledge using different forms of “text-making” made irrelevant in in-school spaces. With the increasing proliferation of new literacies students engage in outside the classroom, teacher responsiveness is key, as Bearne (2009) suggests, “teaching approaches will increasingly need to reflect the kinds of texts with which students are familiar” (p. 31).

Thinking about multimodality in school projects, I like the idea of the focus on process rather than an end result. From this perspective, Bearne notes that “this means that teachers’ own assessments will need to be very well informed about the dimensions of multimodal teaching and learning and the ways in which progress in multimodality might be described” (p. 19). Thinking about learning or knowledge as situated (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989) learning takes place within the totality of experiences with other people within specific learning environments. Thus, a focus on the process of learning may give a more holistic account of a student’s learning than simply an end product, devoid of the richness and depth of understanding and experience the student engaged in to achieve that end goal. Even though standardized testing and reporting focuses on the end product, I believe it is possible and important for teachers to gather this rich data, as learning in process. Kalantzis & Cope (2012) would agree stating “research shows that ‘situated assessment’ in the form of regular and multiple forms of feedback produces enhanced learning outcomes” (p. 411).

To account for this, Bearne’s (2009) argument is for developing the language or “framework for describing multimodal texts” (p. 20) necessary for teachers to guide their assessments of learning in process, especially when incorporating new literacies into the classroom. She posits “there needs to be a way of describing the dimensions and characteristics of multimodal texts and, importantly, a way of describing what progress in multimodal reading and text comprehension might involve” (p. 21). Bearne outlines the criteria for assessing these diverse modes with the understanding that students have “access to a growing repertoire of different types of multimodal texts and opportunities to discuss them and the authors’/directors’ choices to create different effects” (p. 21). This requires an educator who is willing to incorporate a multiplicity of modes into her practice. The overall assessment criteria are described as the following (p. 22):

i) Decide on mode and content for specific purpose(s) and audience(s);
ii) Structure of texts;
iii) Use technical features for effect;
iv) Reflect.

I believe, as Bearne suggests, that these criteria are a good starting point for assessing multimodal texts. It may also be helpful to develop this “meta-language” (Bearne, 2009) with students as a collaborative effort in developing and using this new language. Once a vocabulary for is created, perhaps incorporating more multimodal texts into classroom practice will no longer be something to fear for teachers new to using diverse modes in the classroom. I also believe the responsibility is on the teacher to create a technology-inclusive space for exploration; even if the teaching comes from the students to help the teacher understand what the students are engaging with. I see this collaborative school space where both teacher and students are learners very rich and exciting.


Brown, J.S., Collins, A. & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher. 18(32), 32-42).

Burke, A. & Hammett, R. F. (Eds.). (2009). Assessing New Literacies: Perspectives from the classroom. New York: Peter Lang.

Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B. (2012). Literacies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thug Notes

I found this and love it! It doesn’t necessarily belong in our presentation, however it represents new ways of capturing the interests of students in dynamic ways. Further, I wanted to post this because of the issues of power and language I believe it addresses, as well as the issue of what we deem to be “scholarly”.

The “thug” Sparky Sweets, is essentially playing a role, he’s at once satirizing those who traditionally have access to great literature: the stuffy, old white man, sitting amongst his extensive library of great literary works, drink in hand, whilst pondering and delving into such grand themes nestled and wrestled within the literary arts. Yet, at the same time, this “thug” skillfully works through works like To Kill A Mockingbird with great insight and skill. He does so using visual and digital tools to create meaning in a new way. I argue that his language choice, his use of profanity, is also part of his role as the thug. Without it he would lose his street credibility, but it also presents an opportunity to provide access to literature in a more dynamic way. It has the powerful potential to capture the interests of students that would otherwise be disengaged in literature. This thug role addresses issues of power, challenging who has access to great literature in terms of its scholarly deconstruction and analysis, as well as its creative presentation. And he nails it.

Thug Notes

Blogging and Motivation



Tapping into Students’ Motivation

Read, S. (2006). Tapping into students’ motivation: Lessons from young adolescents’ blogs. Voices From the Middle, 14(2), 38-46.

This article strives to answer the question “Why Blog?” by using adolescent blogs as examples. The issue of motivation is addressed, which leads to a motivation to engage in literacy. This could be another good resource.

HOT Blogging



HOT Blogging

Zawilinski, L. (2009). HOT blogging: A framework for blogging to promote Higher Order Thinking. The Reading Teacher, 62(8), 650-661.

This article outlines a framework for using blogs to engage students with comprehension of content and critical literacy skills. It also goes through the steps for a beginning blogger to get started (teachers are the target beginner), and it lists a variety of resources for different types of blogs and their use within the classroom. I think these resources and the example of HOT blogging could be a useful component to our presentation.

What’s the Purpose of Technology?




I think the ideas in this image are powerful, because so many people get lost or caught up in the technology itself without understanding that it’s a tool to engage in collaboration, critical thinking, etc. Teachers may be afraid of the technology, not realizing the powerful potential it holds to engage students in ways education has not been able to do previously.