Check Yourself

So…do you do it? Do you do it in the privacy of your own home or in public? Do you do it while eating ice cream or while you’re trying on that new dress at the mall? How do you do it if you don’t know you should do it?

I’m talking about your assumptions, of course.

We all have assumptions about things that we feel absolutely sure we know. How do we know to ask questions of ourselves if our assumptions are never challenged? One way to check yourself is to surround yourself with people who challenge you. People who aren’t afraid to ask hard questions and make you unpack your claims to the very bottom of the suit case.

If you’re like me and have people like this in your life, you probably don’t like them much. Even though you don’t like them, you probably value them more ice cream. You probably even value them more than the new dress you just bought at the mall.

Sorry…thinking about food and shopping again. Dang distractions.

So…these people who challenge you…I bet they constantly want you to go into detail about claims that you make. Oftentimes they task you with doing things you say you can do or will do or should do. These pesky folks are worth their weight in gold though it may seem like they are the ankle weights you put on when you do your Jane Fonda workout tapes.

The value of “friends” like these is that they make you a better person. Even when you think you’re already pretty great, a sideways glance tells you there’s still a long way to go. Roll on, Jane Fonda, roll on.



So, I want to continue the cognitive dissonance discussion. When was the last time you walked down the street and spied someone in the throes of cognitive dissonance? Maybe they were doing a chicken dance to the sound of traffic or their mouth was twitching uncontrollably. Is that how you would know they were struggling with two opposing ideas in their head at exactly the same time?

“I don’t know.” You say. “I can’t see inside their thoughts, so I don’t know what they’re wrestling with.” You say.

Exactly. I think the only way we can determine whether someone is suffering from a bad case of cognitive dissonance is to communicate with them. Using our eyes and mouths and voices. Remember those? I suppose you can discuss issues via forums or text. Call me old-fashioned, but technically mediated discussion is not the same as a face-to-face debate. What about the fun stuff like body language and different tones of voice? Don’t those matter anymore?

My apologies. I digress. I suppose all I was trying to get at is that we can discover and work through cognitive dissonance when we talk about big ideas and issues with someone IRL. Tea-time chats about politics can usually tease out a little dissonance. Try it…let me know how you do with that old-fashioned “real time” chatter. I’ll be curious to know how you make out.

Do You Think What you Think You Think?

Do You Think What you Think you Think is the title of one of my fave books. It’s a lovely collection of philosophy puzzles that provoke higher-order thinking and discussion. They also provoke a little something called cognitive dissonance.

“What is that?” You say.

For those of you that are like, “puhshaw, I know what cognitive dissonance is dum dum,” you have my permission to read ahead. As for the rest of you…

Cognitive dissonance occurs when we try to hold two conflicting beliefs at the same time. It often leads to an unsettled feeling…or in some cases extreme anxiety. What ultimately ends up happening is that the dissonance has to be resolved. We either have to change our mind or stay in the limbo-land of “maybe this, maybe that…” forEVER. Sounds fun, right? Not to mention the party pooper paradise you’d create if you only surrounded yourself with people who thoughtlessly bought into your flawed theories even though you know they’re flawed. Sounds like a GREAT time to me!

So, get your ducks in a row. Be consistent and logical about your beliefs. Yep. It’s going to hurt, but guess what? Pain is just weakness leaving the body.


Notes Are Fun

Not only is note-taking a super fun way to learn how to learn…writing stuff down can improve your life in other ways too. Writing can help you process the big stuff rambling around in your brain. There’s nothing more satisfying than reading through an academic article with your trusty notepad at your side. Try it and see that you actually do understand the concepts!

Writing can be an outlet to express yourself too. You might think you’re not artsy…well give your pencil a whirl around the notepad and find out if that’s true. I may be a nerd, but I love the feel of pen to paper. Don’t you? There’s nothing more satisfying than taking an inky stroll over some high-quality art paper with an expensive pen. One of my students uses artist-quality tools to sketch out notes so that she has a visual representation of the concepts discussed in class. During her study time she re-energizes her doodles and adds flourishes that help her uncover layers of meaning, which she brings back for class discussion.

This medium has so many possibilities. Let your creative brain out of the cage and see where note-taking can take your class.



Do you hate tests? I sure don’t. I LOVE them. I love job interviews too.

I’m seriously serious. I think of job interviews and tests the same way you probably think of the Olympics or an NHL game. They are an opportunity to train your heart out and see just how much you can amp up your game. Not only that! How hard is it to come by honest and down right AWESOME feedback? Pretty hard, I say.

I realize not everyone loves the sweat-infused anxiety that tests and job interviews bring on, so I want to share something really interesting I learned about formative testing. Basically, it’s a way for students to check in with themselves and have those honest conversations with their teacher about how they’re doing. Get this: in a low-stress and positive way. Tests + positivity? Who knew it could be that easy?


Learning to Learn: Yes it’s a Thing

From what I gather, learning to learn is very much related to metacognition. Basically it’s about examining your own thinking and thinking practices and using what’s uncovered during those reflections to your advantage in learning situation. It’s also about knowing what kinds of study techniques and tricks will work for you. My impression is that this kind of self-knowledge is a process and will come with a few trial and error sessions and a lot of reflection. Having said that, I know that I’ve applied some of these techniques to understand my own learning and it has saved me a ton of time.

I was blown away by the concept of learning how to learn because no one ever actually taught me how to learn or how to examine my own learning style so that I could learn best. I wasn’t even aware of the concept during my undergraduate degree and this knowledge would have come in so handy! I finally stumbled upon learning to learn tips and other study skills info when my department at work helped create this learning commons site. Once I started applying some of the principles I found in this video, I was stunned at how fast concepts stuck in my mind and how I was able to transfer them across many areas of my life. Amazing stuff!

I invite you to take this learning styles test to see what you can learn about your own learning. Please share a short synopsis of your results!


Quit Following Me!

Yikers. I wonder why that lovely pair of shoes I’ve been coveting are following me around so relentlessly? Perhaps this has to do with the all-knowing, GOOGLER MONSTER!

All kidding aside, filter bubbles are indeed a very scary thing.  Scary AND full of interesting possibilities.

I had a really wacky idea: what if we as teachers use the principles of content marketing (essentially what these filters are doing) to enrich the content of our classes? To show up when students least expect it? Creepy, right?

Do we not encourage the ideas we want our students to wrestle with in our classes to dog them on weekends and show up in their dreams? We want those ideas to transform their way of looking at something and show up in unexpected places in their lives. Just like that lovely pair of shoes some company paid Google to push into my awareness when I’m looking up the number of asteroids in space, for example. Could we not make course content more “buyable?” Some of the content marketing tools include videos and podcasts. It’s easy to throw a lesson on during the commute or watch a quick vid on a break. I’m wondering if it might not make sense to put these “value added” strategies to good use instead of evil use!

Obviously, there are some issues with my theory…but it’s a starting place for discussion, right?

Thinking About Thinking Again

This video is about creative thinking. Lithgow (2013) shares some ways we can create the conditions for creating creative thinkers in the classroom. Have a looksee:

Golly! Who knew there were so many different types of thinking! After watching the video, I realized I couldn’t immediately put meaning to “divergent thinking.” So…I looked it up. Divergent thinking is a one of the types of thinking you can do to help your brain take those next steps toward creative thinking. When divergent thinking is employed, students generate a whole bunch of ideas around a given topic in order to see it in as many different ways they can.

Sidetrack Moment
Divergent thinking is kind of like going to the mall and trying on an outfit in each store (Sorry, I stopped in at Metrotown this weekend so I could get creative about my look). Then once you’ve seen all the possible options, you can make the most informed choices (and look fabulous!).

That’s where convergent thinking comes in. You take all those options and ideas and put them all back together into a whole concept again.

Weird, eh?


I used these websites to understand divergent thinking a little better:

Growth Mindsets

What is a growth mindset?

How can we support our students through a fixed mindset?  Letting students know they’re supported seems to help and walking them through things that are really hard for them seems to help, but otherwise if they don’t want to do the work, there’s not much else to do about it.

I struggle with brainstorming ways to encourage students to work through fixed mindset, pretty much daily. My philosophy (and PLEASE share your philosophy because I’d love to know if my thoughts on this are fixed) is that students have to first choose to do the work involved to change their mindset. They need to turn their “I can’t” into I CAN! If they don’t choose to do that…they’re lost.

Do you guys face this? What techniques do you employ? Do you feel responsible if they give up?


What is it about giving presentations that freaks people out?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how Digital Storytelling. I think it’s kind of a unique way for students to get comfortable representing themselves in the public sphere. There is no “real time” feedback, so students don’t have to experience all those eyeballs starting up at them, but is the idea of a bigger audience more frightening?

These are some of the things I’m thinking about as I host a forum on Digital Storytelling and also put my own Digital Story out there. Much different than an in-class presentation for sure. Still a level of fear factor.

Stay tuned for my Digital Story about Digital Storytelling…coming soon!