Challenging Assumptions: Classroom Design

Conferences have always been a part of my interactions with students, but I can’t say that I’ve planned or structured these conferences before.  This year, I am using conferences as an integral tool for my students’ inquiry tasks; they schedule meeting times with me and are responsible for recording what we discussed as well as their plan for the next step of their task.  As much as I enjoy the first meetings with students, I was surprised by the level of accountability in the 2nd and 3rd meetings because we used their notes to assess their growth.

If I am going to continue using conferences in my classroom, I think I have to consider redesigning our classroom space.  Although my students and I are able to have productive meetings, it would help if we had a designated area that was more conducive to meaningful discussions.


While I tossed a few ideas around in my head, I noticed Aviva Dunsiger‘s post on Instagram:

What a beautiful way to use her classroom for the benefit of her students.  It made me wonder if my students would feel comfortable in my classroom if they needed a “brain break”.  What would this look like in a secondary classroom?  How would it compare and differ from an elementary classroom?


I have heard that the classroom is the third teacher, but I haven’t honoured this concept by intentionally planning our learning environment… yet.  Maybe this is my next step…

If you have suggestions or ideas for classroom design, please share!



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Assessing an Evaluation: #DiveIntoInquiry

A conversation with Heather Theijsmeijer (see the tweets embedded below) made me do something crazy:  share my rubric.


For some reason, I find it difficult to share my evaluation techniques with others.  I rarely get other perspectives on this really important aspect of connecting with students.  Why? I’m not sure yet.  I just know that it’s difficult.

If so much is riding on evaluation (consider our students’ perspectives), why don’t we share our rubrics, checklists and grading schemes more often?  

<I take a deep breath and prepare to jump in the deep end>

Here is the link to my rubric, along with the related resources (a questionnaire & assignment handout).  If you’re curious and able, would you consider giving me feedback on my evaluation scheme?


Hey Trevor, is this why it’s called “Dive Into Inquiry”? 😉


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I have enjoyed reading several posts and tweets from educators who are sharing their #OneWord2017 (or, in our school board, #SGDSB1Word).  I wasn’t sure if I would contribute a word — there are so many words to choose from! — I have commitment issues… — but a colleague from Dorion captured my attention tonight on Twitter:

Dave’s honesty was refreshing, and I can understand why balance is so important.  Sometimes my own balancing act resembles a performer with spinning plates on long sticks.

So, to honour the need for balance in my own life, I have chosen plan as my #oneword2017.

My roles as a teacher, a parent, and learner (Dave’s wording) all vie for my full attention. I need to learn how to budget my time so that the most meaningful people in my life get the attention they deserve while I still tend to the other necessary tasks and responsibilities. Add a few side-jobs to the mix, and life gets really interesting.

Inquiry is one of the most important aspects of my current TLLP project, and I recently realized that organization is the critical component of a fruitful inquiry task.  I might have known this before, but it’s rather convenient to ignore and hope for the best… 

Thanks for sharing your #OneWord2017 today, Dave.  It meant a lot to me.



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Organization: My Nemesis


  1. the inescapable agent of someone’s or something’s downfall.
  2. a long-standing rival; an archenemy.

Thank you, Google.  You have described my relationship with Organization perfectly.  Organization deserves to be capitalized in my world, since it has grown into its own entity; my rival, the thing that should not be named, the thing I would rather avoid…  you get the idea.

That’s why, when I continued to read through Dive Into Inquiry (something I’ve been blogging about lately), I felt a pain — it’s hard to say if it was actually physical, but at the very least it was intellectual.  Have a look:


Uh-oh.  My nemesis found its way into my favourite book!  Albeit, disguised under the pseudonym of structure, but it couldn’t fool me.  My spidey-senses knew my rival was close by.

I chose to do what any superhero teacher would do:  I avoided it until the fateful day when I would have to face my enemy.  I donned my armour and braced myself for …

a snow day (cue dramatic music).

I’m not sure how the victor of a battle is determined, but I think I came out on top.  By the end of the day, I had managed to plan an inquiry unit for the month of January (here is a copy of the PDF), prepare a schedule for conferences with students, and make folders for everyone.

My reward?  A restful holiday.  I fought well, I fought hard, and now the bounty was mine.  I wasn’t stressed or anxious while I celebrated Christmas with my family — I can’t think of a better treasure.




Now to help my daughter with her own battle…    😉

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Hindsight is 20/20: #DiveIntoInquiry


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A Chat with Trevor Mackenzie

My daughter makes fun of me when I use the word cool, but that’s the best way that I can describe today.  Cool.

Take a look:


Yep.  That’s Trevor MacKenzie, author of Dive Into Inquirychatting with me about the ideas in his book.  I’ve been interested in student-centred learning for years, but I haven’t had a solid framework to use for larger tasks.  Trevor’s book is helping me appreciate and understand the structure of inquiry so I can confidently approach open-ended projects with my students.

A few days ago, I wrote about my first encounters with essential questions, so I wanted to clarify my thinking in today’s chat with Trevor.  At this point, my concern was the creation of these questions:  was it ok if I didn’t find it easy to create an essential question?  Who knew it would be a learning experience to simply clarify the question you’re going to try to answer!



The student who began his inquiry last week wasn’t in class this afternoon, so I began talking about inquiry with another student since I knew that she has a passion for trapping.  Before creating an essential question, I wanted to know what was important to her so that I might help her connect her love of trapping with our art class.

At one point, I thought back to my conversation with Trevor when he was discussing the importance of why.  As I looked at Brandi’s notes, I asked her, “When I look at your final art work, what do you want me to understand?  What do you want me to think; to value?”  This is when she was able to talk about the importance of trapping as something that is shared in her family, passed down through the generations.

Now we’re getting somewhere…

Meanwhile, other students began listening to our conversation and began asking if they could design their own inquiry too.

That’s pretty cool.  

*I’m looking forward to exploring some examples of student work that have been shared on Trevor’s blog.

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A Step in the Right Direction: #DiveIntoInquiry

Last month, I hit a wall.  I realized that I had been assuming quite a bit about my pedagogical methods as well as my classroom structure, and I knew I had work to do.  What that work was, wasn’t obvious at the time but at least I had identified the problem.

Last week, my copy of Trevor MacKenzie’s Dive Into Inquiry arrived in the mail and the timing seemed almost serendipitous.  I tore into the book like a drowning swimmer reaching for a life raft.

Reading @trev_mackenzie's #DiveIntoInquiry & hanging out with my kids. ❤️

A photo posted by Colleen Rose (@colleenkr) on


I appreciated the message in the foreward, provided by Alec Couros, whose work I’ve appreciated for quite some time.  His assertion that Trevor’s book could address questions that had been occupying space in my mind was more than enough to keep me interested.  The emphasis on authenticity in the school environment, “practical approaches [married] with …theoretical and philosophical understandings“, and a “solid pedagogical framework” promised hope for someone yearning to connect the dots and establish order within my unknown vision of an ideal classroom setting.



Trevor’s own stories of working with high school students mirrored many of my own experiences and concerns, and I felt that I could identify with the challenges he had faced while teaching.  Maybe his model of inquiry might work for my students too…

This year, my TLLP project helps me devote time and energy into providing a classroom environment that is dedicated to student-centred learning.  Teaching for Artistic Behaviour deeply respects each student, his or her interests and goals.  When I read that all students deserve a chance to explore their passions, interests, and curiosities, I knew that Trevor’s inquiry model would be an excellent fit for my students.

The week before Trevor’s book arrived, I spent two days tearing my curriculum apart.  I realized which expectations were non-negotiable; the kinds of facts and skills that need to be delivered in a somewhat traditional method.  There were other expectations that could be combined with others, and then there were expectations that worked very well within an inquiry model — I just needed the framework for that model.

Not only does transparent planning create an environment of trust, but it shows a dedication to each student as well as genuine respect for them.

Trevor reviews his course curriculum with his students, and requires their input on the best way to meet the expectations.    Their responses to questionnaires devoted to uncovering their learning preferences are then used along with their suggestions to design the course syllabus for the year.


In an ideal classroom, free inquiry would work for every student, but there are steps to take before students might feel comfortable with such vast independence.  I’m looking forward to learning more about each type of Student Inquiry in the next few chapters of Trevor’s book:  Structured, Controlled, Guided and Free Inquiry.  Until then, one of my senior students has an interest in learning using an inquiry model, and has begun to look through our curriculum expectations with me.

We are beginning to understand what an essential question is, thanks to the work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, and how these questions can be used to direct our learning.

I honestly can’t wait to see where this takes me and my students…!

A quick #sketchnote on the inside cover of #DiveIntoInquiry, to help me process some thinking tonight…

A photo posted by Colleen Rose (@colleenkr) on



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