What Makes It “Transformative?”

I’m very lucky. I’m working in a school that is part of the Transforming Learning Everywhere Project: giving 1:1 iPad technology to all Grades 4-8 students. While I don’t teach these grades, the school that I’m at has lots of access to technology available for students to use, and after last year, I also purchased iPads and Chrome Books to use in the classroom. The technology is there, but what’s made me stop and think a lot lately, is what makes my use of it “transformative?”

Here are the many ways that my students and I are using technology in the classroom:

  • To access eBooks. After catching a discussion between Karen Lirenman and Kathy Cassidy on Twitter, I downloaded the Epic app, and students love the “read aloud” option. This feature allows them to access information in non-fiction texts that not all of them are able to read yet.
  • To access various materials through our Board’s Virtual LibraryPebbleGo, BookFlix, and ImageQuest are all used to support our Science and Social Studies inquiries. Again, the fact that the texts can be read aloud to students, supports all learners: even those that cannot read the materials yet.
  • To access materials that connect with student interests. Many of the boys in my class love Mario and Luigi, and they are always inspired to write after looking at the Mario and Luigi images on Google Images. Many of the images are also labelled, which supports the students in their writing.
  • To take photographs and videos of student work. Sometimes the students take these photographs and videos, and sometimes I take them. While students are still learning to print and write, and do much of this on paper, they like to capture this work to share with others. They do so through photographs and videos. I often tweet out what we create, and then use these tweets in our daily Storify Stories to give parents a better look into our classroom environment. 
  • To record screencasts of students explaining their thinking. At our last PA Day, we learned about Explain Everything, and since then, we’ve been using this app a lot in the classroom. Students will take photographs of their work, and then explain the thinking behind their ideas, or expand on their ideas. This is useful in all subject areas. These screencasts are often also included in our daily Storify Stories, so that parents can see and hear this learning, and extend it at home.
  • To record podcasts and radio shows of students discussing their work, expanding on their ideas, and reflecting on what they did. While we’ll often use Voice Recorder for iPad to record these podcasts, lately we’ve also been discussing our observations, thoughts, and wonderings on 105 the Hive: an Internet Radio Station. With our radio show, people can tweet us their thoughts and questions, and hopefully help us learn more.
  • To support inquiry learning through the use of research. Last year, I used Pinterest a lot to bookmark relevant sites that my students could use to research inquiry questions. This year, I used Nkwiry for the first time, and I love how I don’t need an image to bookmark the site. Thanks to Brian Aspinall‘s quick response to my question about a public link option, now it’s available on Nkwiry. As time goes on, I’m hoping that my Grade 1’s and their families can add links to Nkwiry, and start curating their own resources.
  • To review math skills and concepts. I’m very torn on this one. Are math games the best way to help with skill development, and if so, should they be done on the iPad? What are the benefits and/or drawbacks to doing so? As I continue to think about these questions, what I’ve decided to do is to only pick math games that allow for differentiation, and then to pair these activities with video recordings, podcasts, screencasts, and/or conferences to ensure that students are explaining their thinking and not just mindlessly working through an app. The same is true for a few word work apps that I’ve used with small groups of students on the iPads — often as a follow-up to a guided reading or a guided writing activity, and in connection with our Class Act small group lesson.
  • To give parents and other educators a window into the classroom. I do this the most through our class blog. Along with offering some informational items, I also share my weekly planning minutes here and our daily class blog posts. These Daily Shoot posts, also provide follow-up activity suggestions for home extensions. I love that parents are starting to comment on these posts and share their thoughts about our day.

Looking back at what we do, I wonder what’s considered just “normal,” and what might be “transformative.” How could I bump the “normal” up to “transformative?” Does “transformative” become the new “normal” when it’s something that’s become such a regular part of the classroom environment? Maybe this is what high expectations is all about. As a Board, we talk regularly about creating a climate of high expectations for students, and I wonder if this Transforming Learning Everywhere Project further creates this type of environment for staff.

I’ve certainly spent a lot more time lately thinking about how I’m using technology and how I could use it differently. I also think about when I choose not to use technology, and why this choice may also be a good one at the time. And then I think what I’ve chosen not to use this year, whether with or without the use of technology: worksheets. Don’t get me wrong: we use a lot of paper in the classroom. We make charts together. Students write in notebooks, on large pieces of blank paper, and even on sticky notes. We write and share regularly in all subject areas. But we are doing so without worksheets. Why? Because I may not know what “transformative” looks like, but I know what I want it to mean: a learning environment where all voices are honoured, all students are eager to learn and share more, learning is meaningful and relevant, and all students have more control over the way in which they do this learning and sharing. I don’t think this can be done with a worksheet, and I do think that this is going to mean lots of deep thinking and reflection on how and why technology is used. What do you think? What does “transformative” mean to you? What might this look, sound, and feel like in a classroom environment? Whether a parent, student, educator, or administrator, I hope that you’ll share your thoughts on “transforming learning everywhere.”


14 thoughts on “What Makes It “Transformative?”

  1. One knows when ‘transformative’ has been reached when ALL students are thriving in an environment that ensures as many ways possible to engage in complex thinking with as many ways possible to make that thinking/learning visible…….everything else becomes ‘smoke and mirrors’ without the aforementioned remaining at the core 🙂
    Ps. LOVE the documentation of student writing that you continue to share….bravo!

    • Thank you so much for your comment and your kind words about my sharing of student writing! I appreciate your initial feedback on this that really helped me change my approach.

      I also love your definition of “transformative.” I wonder about the best way to get there. How might this look in the different grades? What would you suggest?


  2. To me, “transformative” means that both students and teachers are changing the way they thinking about teaching/learning. We are challenging ourselves to change our outlooks on the world. We are challenging the things that we have always taken at face value, we are challenging the “truths” of our society.

    As aforementioned, “transformative” learning allows all students to succeed. In a transformative learning environment we are also challenging the meaning of success. Success does not mean that all students complete the same worksheet and come up with the same answer. The world is not one size fits all; in life there are no prescribed answers and there shouldn’t be in our classrooms. In a transformative classroom, we honour the journey of learning. We accept that struggle is inevitable. We embrace difficulties, because that is where learning occurs. We become confident, because learning is no longer about being like everyone else, but about being ourselves. We talk about ideas and strategies, rather than what is “right”. We constantly question.

    In a transformative classroom, we create passionate, lifelong learners that want to transform the world. Otherwise, what would be the point of learning? Learning should always drive change.

    • Thanks for the comment, Frances! As I’ve said before, I wish you’d start your professional blog again. This comment is a lovely blog post in itself. Does “transformative” mean that we have to change all we’ve done before? How do we decide what to change and what to leave the same? Does technology need to drive this “transformation,” and if not, how do we decide when it does or should? Thanks for giving me even more to think about! I think this life-long learning goal should be one for educators and students!


  3. In short, in my mind, transformative practices involve opening up what my students are doing to the public (for feedback and collaboration), and having them create & contribute their own content to the world. I would love to someday be able to do this with all my students! But I’m still not sure of the how. Student blogging? Connecting with students from other districts/provinces/countries? Genius Hour? Lots of options, but I haven’t quite thought through the logistics. I LOVE what you’re doing with 105 the Hive!

    • Thanks for the comment, Heather! I think that your points about “creating content” and “sharing publicly” are important ones. As a Grade 1 teacher who has many students that are just learning how to read and write, I continue to think about ways that students can create and share this content. How is this technology-produced content different/better than what students were sharing without the use of technology? I ask this question because for me, “transforming learning everywhere” with the use of technology, means that these digital tools are allowing students to learn and/or share in a different/better way than they were able to before they had access to these digital tools. I’d love to hear different ways that people really do transform this learning. As I read more blog post comments, I continue to gain a better picture of what this “transformative” learning might look like. Thanks for helping me with this “better picture!”


  4. Aviva, to me transformational is being able to do something with the addition of technology that could not be done with out it. In my class we have used our access to technology to add voice to our learning and share our thinking. This doesn’t matter if it was first non digital work or if it was created using an iPad app. The ability to add voice to any work has been transformational in my room as it allows all students to have a way to share their learning , even when their writing skills are not strong enough.

    In addition the ability to share this work with classmates, parents, and the world is also a transformational feature of technology. The work my students are creating is now being seen by an authentic audience if we want it to be. Others can provide feedback which my students have the option of using. Parents can have a peek into our day to day learning by visiting either our class blog, our class twitter feed, or their children’s individual blogs.

    While I have very few “drill and practice” type apps on my students iPads (and yes I feel it’s important for the apps to allow for students to work at their just right level and not the generic level” they are rarely (if ever) the focus of a math lesson. They are there for students to choose during their free choice time, or to use when they have finished creating their math . That’s another transformational feature of technology, it easily allows students to independently create their own math in ways that could not be done with out the tech. It gives them more tools to work with.

    I could go on. I very much agree though as much as I have access to technology there is still and will always be a place for non digital learning, Kids need to create with their hands, manipulate with hands on artifacts etc.

    • Thanks for your comment, Karen! I love your points about “voice” and “sharing with an authentic audience.” I definitely see this as being “transformative” uses of technology. I still wonder about the math games though. I can see the value in these practice activities, but do we really need tech to do them? I spent time this afternoon making dot plates to help with subitizing skills. I have a couple of great iPad apps that review these skills as well, but with the use of dot plates, ten frames, dice, and dominoes, won’t the students be able to do the same thing? Sometimes these apps are more enjoyable, and with a built-in check for correct answers, these apps may be better at times, but I’m not sure they’re “transformative.” Do they need to be though? As I read your comment, I start to wonder that if we create a transformative classroom environment with lots of opportunities for critical thinking and creative problem-solving, then can these apps be merely a practice component for those students that need it?

      Thanks for giving me even more to think about!

      • If your app is doing the same thing you can do without your app it’s not transformational, it’s a direct substitution – granted a more costly one. To me, and for my students, the key is to find the tools that work best for each of them. As I said above my math lessons rarely rely on math drill and practice apps (and I mean rarely) but I do have students who choose those exact apps during their daily free choice time. This is not “free choice” during math but our daily after lunch free choice time. The technology in my classroom is used to have my students create their own math in ways that work best for them, then share that learning with the world. We have a few favourite apps – such as Draw and Tell by Duck Duck Moose that we use for so many different reasons, all of which help make student thinking more visible. For me it’s about the open ended creative apps and rarely about the drill and practice app, even for those learners who are having the most difficulty learning a concept. In my experience they learn far more by creating their own math, errors and all, and then together we work through those errors so they better understand the math concepts.

        • Thanks Karen! I totally agree with you, but I still wonder if this skill practice (on its own) is important. It may not be for everyone, but maybe if a student is struggling, more opportunities to just practice the skill will help. Combining this with lots of problem solving, will allow students to see the value in what they’re learning and explain their thinking. I guess this discussion is more than just about the use of iPads now, but it is something that has me wondering.


          • Your blog post question was “What does “transformative” mean to you?” In my mind drill and practice apps on an iPad are not transformational. However, there are students who can benefit from drill and practice activities – digital or non digital. The act of using such apps is not a transformational use of technology. Yes, it may be of benefit to a student, but its use is not transformational. With anything I teach I need to look at who my students are and what they need to learn/master/understand. I agree that it requires the combination that you mention above. The point I am trying to make though is in my opinion a non digital drill and practice app, moved to an iPad is not a transformational use of technology.

          • I totally agree with you, Karen, and I apologize for causing confusion here. I just wonder if within a “transformational” way of using technology, we can also use technology well in a non-transformational way. Maybe not every way we use technology needs to be transformational, if we’re still largely focused on transforming our teaching and learning practices through the use of technology. I’m still thinking on this one …


  5. Aviva,
    What a thought provoking post which enticed so many responses to what “transformative” means. All of your practices for creating a window into your classroom for both parents and educators are perfect examples of transformative. You wouldn’t be able to do any of that with out the use of technology. One day your examples will become the “normal” for every classroom. At that point you will be working on new transformative ways to use technology. Transformative in a way is willing to “transform” your personal normal to reach students to the best of your ability. Every teacher would be at a different point in their own transformative practice.

    • Thanks for your comment, Maria, and your kind words! I love your thinking when it comes to “transformative.” Maybe we’re all at different points, and the key is that we continue to transform our practices to better meet student needs.


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