Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Shelley Wright - "Super-VAT"

Through my technology course, I have had the valuable opportunity to be paired with a Virtual Associate Teacher (VAT). My VAT is Shelley Wright, who is a high school educator in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. She says “I love learning more than anything else; this blog is part of that journey.”

While we have been expected to contact our VAT regularly with problems or concerns regarding our teaching, I have not yet had a need to do this. I did contact Shelley for an interesting idea (“hook”) on how to introduce the concept of cells to a Grade 8 classroom and she was kind enough to suggest some osmosis and diffusion experiments and to direct me to her class wiki.

At this point, I thought “what’s a wiki?” and I explored the link she sent me. The Biology page of Shelley’s wiki can be found here http://wrightsroom.wikispaces.com/Biology+30 and she blogs about her wiki and how she uses it here http://shelleywright.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/why-i-love-my-wiki .

Shelley uses her class wiki (website) to build a “virtual” textbook and consolidate a variety of resources that would be helpful to her students. What an exciting idea!! This is the perfect way to go beyond the constraints of a paper textbook and provide information to students through a variety of media. For example, when teaching students about cells and cell structures, Shelley has used a video as well as a “live and interactive” cell diagram. Basically, she has constructed a multimedia textbook for her students to learn from. Before meeting up with Shelley, I had never heard of this! This is something I will definitely implement in my teaching practice. I am currently working on compiling resources for the Grade 11 chemistry class that I will be teaching during my 1st practicum block.

Though Shelley’s wiki was quite informative and “ground-breaking” for me, her blog was even more so (http://shelleywright.wordpress.com). Reading Shelley’s blogs have truly revolutionized my thinking regarding a teacher’s role in the classroom, teaching practices, a teacher’s impact on students and vice-versa. Earlier in my blog, I posted a video clip (RSA Animate) on a lecture by Sir Ken Robinson. I understood his views but remember thinking “how in the world do you incorporate this into every day teaching??” Reading Shelley’s blog posts has answered this question for me. It has also shown me real life examples of how to implement “student-centred” learning in a classroom.

So while I may not converse with Shelley Wright on a regular basis, I find myself reading her blogs and conversing about them with my friends, family, instructors and classmates. She recently blogged about Inquiry Learning and boggled my mind! She described how, for one class, she dumped a large bag of sand, salt and pepper in a large bowl, mixed it all together and then asked her students to separate the mixture – “Go”. What? No instructions? No procedure? I was baffled! The fact that her students embraced this problem and worked on a variety of different techniques to actually accomplish this, is a testament to the value of this type of instruction! The students learned that the scientific process is all about the journey, not so much about the results! I read this blog and presented this same “problem” to a couple of classmates and a teacher friend. They all had the same reaction I did “Hmmmm, I don’t know”. Shelley’s students had to think through this “problem” and apply their knowledge and skills to solve it through critical thinking and collaboration. I can’t imagine how rewarded they must have felt when they were able to separate the mixture! Shelley explained more inquiry-based activities in detail in her blog “Inquiry Learning: This Isn’t Scary At All” - http://shelleywright.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/inquiry-learning-this-isnt-scary-at-all

From this VAT’s blog alone I have learned so much about the reality of teaching, student-centred learning and the fact that teachers are human after all and can and will make mistakes. I must admit that I have been recommending this blog to everyone I meet and have emailed the link out to many of my friends who are teachers.

So even though I have not yet needed to solicit specific advice on a variety of different topics from my VAT, I feel that I have benefitted from Shelley Wright’s blog and amassed a large wealth of learning from her anyway. Trust me, you really need to read this blog! Check it out at http://shelleywright.wordpress.com.


  1. Wow, Shailja, thank you so much! This is such an incredible compliment. I can't wait to hear about your own teaching experiences. Keep me posted!

  2. Great post! I have been feeling the exact same way about my VAT. While we have tweeted back and forth a bit (as he gave me advice on how to use Twitter mainly), I have learned so much from just reading his blog. I have researched ideas he talks about that I didn't even know existed and started to discuss them on my own blog. I should definitely follow your lead and start asking him about hook ideas as well!