1 Jun 2016

Spice up your pedagogy: CSSE 2016 Calgary

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colorful composition with different spices and herbs

This post is the accompaniment to the presentation that will be shared today from 1:30-2:45 at CSSE at the University of Calgary.  As the final day of the conference, I am not sure how many participants will attend…I am not expecting many.

It has been an excellent conference- lots of thought-provoking discussion and some great opportunities to network and learn from experts in my field.  My rationale for this workshop was really to share some of the instructional strategies and tactics that I have used in my work as a middle school teacher, professional development facilitator and as a part-time professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. I believe strongly that many of these strategies and tactics are interesting captured in a book, but really need to be experienced by participants before they will gain traction in the classroom.

As in all my PD sessions, we will open with a community circle.  Participants will set the circle guidelines together and I will share those that I have developed  with my Teacher Ed students drawing on my learning from the restorative process & Tribes TLC (see here for a discussion for how they work together)


  • Respect the talking piece
  • Listen from the heart
  • Speak from the heart
  • Take the time you need knowing others need time
  • What is said of a personal nature stays in the circle
  • Stay present

community circle

Inside/Outside circles

Inside/outside circles are explained well here.  I love using inside/outside circles in my classrooms to have student respond to their assigned readings or to prepare them for where we are headed in the learning. Depending on the context, I usually prefer to ask a few ‘safe’ questions (less personal) and then move to the more probing or challenging questions.  If students do not do their homework, this is also a safe way for them to hear from at least a few other peers about what the readings were about and others’ responses to this reading.    Inside/outside circles can also be used during the lesson to process key concepts before students move to group or individual work or before an assessment to review information.

inside outside circlesIMG_8319 is a really useful tool to gather information and also get a sense of the classroom climate.

4 Corners:

This collaborative learning activity is explained well here and for a university setting here. In our session, we used pictures of animals (deer, lion, monkey and owl) and asked that participants move to the animal that best represented how they felt as an instructor in a university classroom.

Put Yourself on the Line:

This is a great strategy to get students moving and can lead to a great opportunity to practice attentive listening.  You can use any topic, but students must be able to place themselves relative to that topic on a line that stretches (you can put down tape/rope) from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree.’  The question we used today was, “Should there be a tenure teaching track separate from the research track in academia?”  Some other suggestions can be found here.

Fold the Line & a variation on Paraphrase Passport:

Once participants have placed themselves on the line, fold it so that those who strongly disagree are now facing those who strongly agree.  Using a partner paraphrase tactic, have person A share their point of view for 1 minute (or less).  Person B listens and then paraphrases back to person A what they heard.  Person A agrees or clarifies the paraphrasing.  Then person B shares their thoughts.  Person A listens and paraphrases back.  Finally, person B has the chance to agree or clarify the paraphrasing.  This is not a debate- it is about really listening to another’s perspective rather than formulating your own argument.  As a community, we share what we have learned from this learning experience and how it could be used in your own context.

An explanation in prezi form of Kagan’s Paraphrase Passport can be found here.


In groups of 3 or 4, participants will draw a placemat (see example here) and respond to the question “What are the key components of an effective University classroom?”  After everyone has done an initial brainstorm, we will do a round robin in the groups and capture the 3 key components- which we will share as a large group.


I love using graffiti in the classroom.  There are many ways to use it (see an option here) – groups can move together, individuals can move freely, or the graffiti paper moves while the group stays.  Graffiti is a great starting place to then do some inductive thinking activities (categorizing, etc).  We will explore the expertise in the room and spend some time discussing possibilities around online tools, small cooperative learning strategies, assessment/evaluation options, whole class discussion strategies, and lecture support tools.

There are many options for participants to share their graffiti work, such as ghost walk, gallery walk, etc.

An online option for graffiti is also found at

Spider Web- closing circle

In order to respond to the workshop’s success criteria (“You will know you understand when you can share one strategy/tactic that you plan to use in your context”), we will use the spider web collaborative strategy to share our reflections.  This is something I have done in a variety of contexts (see photos) and can be used as a team building strategy or a moment of reflection.



A great resource linking the Ontario curriculum with a variety of strategies found in the tribes TLC book is found here.

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