World Read Aloud day was on February 2, a day to celebrate and recognize the many benefits of reading out loud to children. My 7 and 7/8 ELA classes had chosen some picture books, and we walked next door to read to the Kindergarten, Grade 1s and 1/2s. In the first class we paired up, it didn’t divide up evenly, so I grabbed a book and sat down on the floor with my little partner. She instantly crawled into my lap like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Which, of course, it is.
It’s been a while. To be honest, my own kids aren’t really kids anymore, and I’d forgotten what that was like. I read out loud a lot in class, to model all the important things like asking questions, making inferences, using expression. But the proximity of someone sitting there, pointing, giggling, helping to turn pages, making the animal sound effects (and there were lots of them!)…well…there’s nothing that really can describe that.
Happiness doesn’t even quite encapsulate it.
Joy is closer.
And that feeling was there for both of us, which is kind of the point of the day. As the Kids and Family Reading Report says, “research reveals (reading aloud) is a highly interactive experience—it’s a partnership…This interactivity fuels the child-parent bond that children express when asked to describe why they love read-aloud time.”
I remember mom reading with us every night, often from the “Story a day” book. Three little girls likely all clamoring for space to see the pictures, and to be closest to mom. For my own kids, I remember the cuddles at bedtime and taking turns for whose bed we were reading on that night.
My daughter recently had a university nursing class that was discussing the idea of narratives and analyzing what impact stories have on us…for example, how caring is a concept, not a concrete thing, and how everyone interprets that differently. They were supposed to think about a children’s book from their childhood and the professor picked a few students to share.
To be honest, she has had a crazy three weeks of quizzes, midterms and finals, a research essay, preparing care plans for the two clinical days in the hospital each week, and more. She is tired! And so, lucky her, she was one of the people called on in class. She said she barely got out the title of the book before she was overwhelmed by emotion…thinking about the book made her think about home and missing us. Between teary sobs, she managed to squeak out an apology, trying to insist she wasn’t normally so sensitive.
But therein lies the power of books. The moments we share aren’t just about words on a page. They are so much more.
It probably didn’t help that the book she thought of was Robert Munsch’s “I’ll Love You Forever.” That story is a blow to the heart, no matter what age you are.
But when I think about the time we spent reading together as a family, I carry a lot of guilt too. There were nights that it became a chore, especially when they hit school-age and the nightly readers came home. There was pressure to get through the required number of pages, and to have them do the reading. Which is fine, except that my son really struggled with reading, and by the time that whole frustrating exercise was over, he was often mad and his interest in sitting and listening was done. And if we reversed the order, he knew that his turn to read was coming, and it clouded the whole experience. Add in the weekly spelling lists, where he would get half wrong on Monday, then we practice them all week only for him to get those words right, and the ones he originally had correct, all wrong on Friday. It’s no wonder that we sucked the love of reading and books and words right out of him.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the end of grade 4 that a specialized eye exam revealed he had an accommodation issue with his eyes, which meant they weren’t working in tandem and things like letters and numbers were jumbled. Soooo much lost time.
Like I said, a lot of guilt.
That joy of reading is a hard thing to find when it’s lost. Research shows a huge drop off in reading aloud to our kids once they are reading on their own, but it also says not to stop! When I think of all the benefits for students - the word exposure, the listening and comprehension skills, the empathetic response, the beauty of being sucked into an enthralling read-aloud - it’s something that I will continue to do as a teacher, no matter what age of students. There’s nothing like coming to a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter, and the collective “NO! Don’t stop!” from the kids to fully appreciate the author’s power to make us feel.
And all is not lost. Reading truly is a lifelong journey. In the past two years in ELA, my son has been encouraged and helped in finding books that fit his interests. He has been given dedicated time every single day at school to read. He has talked about books. He has bought his own books. And he has had strong reading role models that show it’s not only okay to read, but to be a reader.
Since it’s Teacher Appreciation Week, it’s a perfect time to say thank you for giving him the gift of reading again. And thanks to all the teachers who bring joy to students in so many ways, each and every day.
Tawâw. Tervetuloa. Everyone is welcome.
“It’s undeniable that it is hard to fit everything needed to raise a child into a single day, or even week. But I urge you, parents, grandparents, caregivers and educators, to look closely at this powerful data and to see the opportunities that will open up for the child in your life. Parents tell us they are incorporating read-aloud moments into routines, using them at impromptu times throughout the day, reading aloud to foster quiet time or as a part of an already boisterous playtime. And while the study shows that it is still the mother who reads aloud most often to her children, let’s make a new commitment—as dads, as men, as grandfathers, as siblings— to read more often to the children in our homes and in our care.” Pam Allyn, Senior Vice President, Scholastic Education Innovation and Development
This past week we made some changes. And in case anyone was under any delusions, change is hard. It pushes people outside of their comfort zone, takes away their status quo, and generally makes us “un”…uncooperative, uncertain, unconvinced, and a whole bunch of uncomfortable. But the message I kept repeating (to myself too!) is that there is no growth without change.
Try to imagine a situation where there is growth but everything is stays precisely the same…I googled it…it’s not possible lol. Growing always means changing. It’s whether you choose to look at that change with a growth mindset or not: is this an opportunity to set new goals? Have higher hopes? Just reset and start again?
I made a big change in terms of assessment in ELA for progress reports this year. It was not without a lot of “un” words too! I had aspirations, then doubts, then regained confidence in the process. More than anything, I know it allowed for growth. Here’s what we did:
Essentially, my students prepared a portfolio of evidence around five main ELA goals to determine their January progress report mark. Everything else in my gradebook was set to ‘feedback, not for marks’ and then we sat down for a one-on-one interview. In it, we went through each goal and discussed strengths, things to work on, and agreed on a 1-4 assessment level.
I can’t even begin to put words to how powerful those conversations were.
I’m pretty confident that I generally give fair assessments…lots of opportunities for student choice and voice in their writing, but I also encourage videos, presentations, sketchnotes, PowToons, and other ways to show their learning. We do a standardized reading assessment that breaks down areas of main idea, recalling facts, vocabulary, inferences, and author’s approach. We explicitly show how we use reading strategies by annotating text. And more.
But the difference here? It’s not just me marking their work. It’s not just me looking at their evidence.
It’s them explaining their thinking. Detailing what they liked about their writing. Describing their process as they look at a brand new piece of text. Going through their reading test and seeing if it was a variety of small errors or a big area to focus on.
Not me. Us.
Hearing them describe their work in their own words was something else, and it made them think deeply too. We moved away from the ‘I put a lot of effort into this so it’s my best’ into more specific and detailed answers with a few ‘how does effort show in this piece then?’ and ‘why is this stronger than something you’ve written earlier?’ questions.
Suddenly, we are analyzing descriptive language and dialogue. We are discussing the use of transitions in between video clips and photos, and what they would have done differently so their sketchnote would make more sense to someone else. We are talking.
When I think about triangulation of data, having the formal interview with students and bringing in their strongest recent work, I am only missing documenting my observations of students throughout the term. You’re probably wondering, ‘Don’t you already do that while students are creating those pieces?’ Absolutely. There’s a ton of side-by-side work and formative assessment happening in the moment. But I plan to set up a notebook with our five big goals in it, and have a quick record of what I am seeing occasionally as well.
We also did interviews in Social 8 and it was even more striking to me how effective this format is. For the main areas around culture and identity, I used the curriculum outcomes and Concentus.ca to compile a list of 16 questions for students to consider. They weren’t simple. They were complex questions that required detailed answers. Some students required a bit of ‘tell me more’ prompting, but most of them blew me out of the water with thoughtful responses that I would never have gotten from them in any sort of written format. I gave them the option to bring in a cheat sheet if they wanted. Some did and some didn’t. Only one student even looked at theirs, and really just for confidence. They didn’t have to answer all 16 either as I was hoping for quality of understanding over quantity. When they came in, they drew out five numbers, corresponding to the numbers on the questions, and when given an opportunity at the end to answer a question that they didn’t pick, no one hesitated.
None of this was my own. I totally took Erin Hill and Brett Kirk’s ideas of final interviews and projects. They have been doing amazing work in this area for a while. I even literally used their rubrics and format, and adapted them to work for me and my students. And as we prepared for our interviews in the week before, the questions that students had for me were already helping me re-shape what these will look like when we do this again at the end of June.
Here’s where it really hit home.
I only did this for certain classes and subjects. Not across the board. Many of the subjects, like Social 7 and Arts Ed were still an average of their assignments and tests across the two terms. So the student who didn’t complete those first two assignments in September, or did poorly on them, asks the question all students ask when they see their mark: why did I get a…? even though his most recent work is stronger, more detailed, and completed. I know that some educators solve this problem by weighting assignments or terms, but to me that just muddies the assessment waters even more. And even when I keep my PowerSchool as simple and straightforward as possible, it’s software, and sometimes I’m even baffled by what their algorithms do to generate a mark. How much clearer it was for students to be a partner in their assessment – no surprises, just honest collaborative conversations.
So what were the challenges? Yah. There were a few! First, it’s hard to do this quickly and meaningfully. I set a timer on my phone to keep (myself and) the interview on track, but every single one went longer. Which was okay. I used up every period of the day whether it was ELA or not, plus the whole noon hour, and yanked kids out of another class during my prep period too. I was lucky to have the support of a substitute teacher that was available to help supervise students after his exam was done. Of course, Murphy’s Law had it that several buses didn’t run due to weather and so I spent the next day(s) trying to finish up.
I teach a split class with the Social 8, so I have fewer students and was able to have longer conversations with them. I really tried not to do a disservice to the process, but it was definitely starting to feel rushed towards the end. I also know through our talks that we will be doing a lot more around the area of self-assessment and goal setting, which means I’ve got some reading to do myself lol.
This was top on my sheet to students: Why assessment conferences and reflection? Because you are more than just a number…because not one piece of writing can show everything…because your ELA abilities are defined by improvements and needs, not averages…because reading and writing skills are lifetime of work, and much more than a checklist.
In June, I’m adding …because there is no growth without change, and you have both grown and changed this year…this is where we show it.
Tervetuloa. Everyone is welcome. Tawâw.
Stay warm this week!
So I had a story to tell tonight about our family cross country skiing adventure this weekend. It was a doozy. And for a relatively simple sport, I’m returning to work tomorrow with a worse injury than my snowboarding experience from a couple weeks ago. I’m going to have to rename this blog to “Stupid Sh*t I Find Myself Doing” but then mom would quit reading because I used profanity. So I won’t.
But tonight as I was surfing Twitter and procrastinating, I mean, contemplating my blog post, I ran across this great visual on blogging. “10 Blogging ‘Rules’ You Don’t Have To Follow” by Aaron Hogan.
Oh, you know I had to read that.
It’s getting close to the one-year beginning of my blog. I hadn’t counted entries for a while. It’s #31 tonight. 26,399 words. A lot of Sunday nights spent thinking and reflecting and contemplating life and education and learning…and I’m so glad I started.
The other day we were working on a ‘BIG’ writing assignment in ELA. It was 500 words, and you know there were kids making groaning noises when I mentioned that part. I rarely ever put a word count on things. As a writer, you know when your story is done, or not done…who am I to dictate otherwise? But because the curriculum sets the metaphorical high jump bar at 500-700 words for grade 7, we were doing one writing piece with that goal in mind.
Students picked their writing style, and to model being a writer, I pulled up my blog. It was the first time we’ve talked about it. I’m not sure why, and I think that’s a whole other conversation. But I scrolled through the posts and said that I usually write 600-1000 words every Sunday night.
“That’s because you’re old.”
Ha ha ha. It’s a valid point.
But we had a good discussion about practice, and how I find it easier to write each week because I do it more often. So I found Aaron’s blog post a refreshing (and validating) read about my own writing. Using Aaron's ten points you don't need to follow when blogging, here are my thoughts! The first point was about word count.
“Blogs are always about 500 words.” I haven’t had a blog post under 500 words, and if the average reader only gets that far….well…most of you never get to the end of my stories. Which is where I try to make a point.
TRY being the operative word.
“Blogs require storytelling expertise.” I think that blogs require stories. Period. I had anticipated writing a lot more stories about my cats in these entries.
“Blogs look a certain way. Blogs sound a certain way.” I’m never convinced that anything SHOULD look or sound a certain way. In Health this week, we were discussing family structures. It was interesting that almost half of the students had non-nuclear family structures, yet they would catch themselves talking about a ‘normal’ family. What does that look like? What is normal anyway??
This blog looks like my life. It sounds like my life.
“Blogs are filled with answers.” Most of mine are filled with connections. If you have read any of my entries, you’ll know I love analogies. I see connections to education and learning everywhere BECAUSE LEARNING IS EVERYWHERE.
“Blogs make you a bragger.” Lol. Blogs make you almost debilitated with self-consciousness. Have I mentioned I’m a very private person? Next question.
“Blogs are ready to share when self-doubt has been overcome.” See above.
“Blogs must be perfected before sharing.” I re-read these blogs before posting. Once. Twice. More than I should admit. And not just for the spelling, although I would be greatly aggrieved if I missed a typo in here. No, it’s the self-doubt and questioning questioning questioning. Should I write that? Does it sound the way I mean it? I even spent quite a few minutes debating whether to put the swear in the fourth sentence, just in case mom does read this!
“Blogs are entirely original.” I’m pretty sure that almost every one of my blog ideas has been ripped off from a conversation I’ve had with colleagues, or ideas I’ve read on the internet. But despite the absolute evil that does exist in the comment sections of Twitter, I still believe that the best way for us to grow as individuals, is to share ideas as a collective.
And to the people who I am always ripping good ideas from…you know who you are. And you know I appreciate it.
“Blogs are always for a wide audience.” When we write in class, we talk about our audience. Who are we writing for? It’s important. So when we were looking at my blog, I joked that I only had six people who read it each week and that one of them was my mom. A student asked me if I ever looked at the tweet activity. I told him that honestly I haven’t. And I don’t. As I put in my very first blog post, “This is for me. You can come along for the journey if you want to.”
@aaron_hogan, thanks for the inspiration for this week.
Anyone who wants to hear my cross country adventure, well, that’ll wait for next time.
Tawâw. Tervetuloa. Everyone is welcome.
p.s. 875 words, not even a record lol.
As one of our writing activities when we came back from break, we used the #oneword goal setting that was circulating on Twitter. Students generated ideas for their one word, and then we did some small writing snippets in different styles around it. I’m not a huge fan of making resolutions, but I do like goal setting; it might seem like it’s just semantics, but to me a goal feels like trying to visualize the big picture, not a task that is doomed to fail by February.
Seeing the variety of word choice also gave me some insight into what students value and aspire to. I was surprised by how many times ‘patience’ showed up.
Lots of annoying little brothers and sisters, I was told.
My own #oneword started with a list, just like everyone else. Picking one? Now that was harder. In the end, it was a good exercise in thinking about where you are, where you want to be, and how you plan to get there.
This past week, I had the opportunity to think deeply about my educational philosophy, working my way through the same exercise but in a more formal vein. I’ll share my #oneword another time (and once I’ve got some anecdotal evidence on how I’m doing) but for now, here is what I believe about teaching and learning.
Considering your educational philosophy comes down to knowing your ‘why’ – what you believe and value, and how that translates into your everyday practice. I believe in a holistic, student-first approach in education, where students are valued as individuals and empowered as individual learners. Our focus is always on what is best for them, and our actions are always guided by how it will best improve their learning. I want our children to be lifelong learners and believe that the way to create that mindset is by providing innovative conditions for learning, a safe space where trust is paramount, where self-efficacy is nurtured, and where students are empowered to take charge of their own learning to discover and develop their interests. I believe in the power of collaboration, building community, and embracing divergent thinking. Most importantly, underpinning and intertwining everything that we do, is relationship.
Lifelong learning is committing to a growth mindset, one where creative and critical thinking is prominent. I believe in the use of technology as a vehicle in which innovative ideas can be developed with limitless opportunities to share with others. Whether we are creating a virtual space, or the literal space in our classroom, in order for true sharing and collaboration to occur, students need safety and trust – physically, socially, and emotionally. It also must be a safe space for risk-taking, which may sound incongruous, yet is true. In order for innovative ideas to flourish, they first take shape in a caring and safe learning environment, one where children see themselves not just as a student, but as a writer, reader, scientist, or musician. Authentic occasions for demonstrating that learning are essential.
I believe that education must strive to create conditions to engage learners and their families in a collaborative manner, to develop a sense of community, and to learn within various communities both inside and outside of the school. Essential to that is building relationships: creating a dialogue with our students and getting to know them personally. We need to affirm who they are and visibly display our commitment to the success of all students. As educators, we need to model empathy and authenticity. Most of all, we need to unconditionally believe that all students can learn and do our utmost to provide opportunities for their success.
Have a great week ahead! Welcome. Tawâw. Tervetuloa.
“She read a hundred-year-old quote from a mountaineer. He was asked, ‘Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?’ The mountaineer replied in bemusement, as if the question was ridiculous and the answer obvious, ‘Because it’s there.’ Kira understood then, because why had she wanted to go to university when no one else in her family had been? Why had she chosen law when everyone had told her it would be too hard? Why? To find out if she could do it. Because she wanted to climb that damn mountain. Because it was there.” Fredrik Backman, Us Against You
There are a lot of things that I am not (or that I’m not very good at) but there’s one thing I can confidently say: I am a lifelong learner. I love to try new things…the challenge, the setbacks, the ‘seeing-if-I-can-do-it.’ I’ve written before that half of it is likely Irish stubbornness from mom’s side and the other half is Finnish sisu from my dad. But whatever it is, I don’t like to quit. For as much lake water as I sucked in trying to learn to wakeboard, and for as often as I said, “Just one more time and that’s it!” there was always one more run if I hadn’t quite got it. It might be that I’m just a slow learner, but I’m definitely a persistent one.
Hands-down my favorite way of learning most things, though, is by reading. The holiday time was very quiet at our house so I had ample time to sit and read, which was awesome. As I tweeted, my reading pile included a re-read, a deep slow read, three mysteries, a tear-jerker and a heartbreaker. Our daughter was home from university, and our son even detached himself from his PS4 and came up out of the basement to hang out. Of course, going back to the farm to see mom and dad at Christmas is like a touchstone to all things family. At one point there were ten grandkids under the age of 10 and it was chaos. Now the upper age limit is 19, so it’s calmer but more crowded. What a treat to visit and socialize with them now as mini-adults…and beat them easily in crokinole. That never gets old!
I also know I probably worked a bit more than I should have over the break. Teaching is an exhausting and complex job and we should recharge whenever possible and not feel guilty about it. But thank goodness for friends who will call you on your crap when you need it most! So when I was contemplating taking my computer to the ski hill to do some work while my son went snowboarding, I took the advice to “learn how to holiday properly…” and I decided to learn to snowboard myself.
This didn’t come completely out of the blue. I’m a competent skier but both of our kids snowboard and have bugged me in the past to try it. My biggest concern was always about breaking something, but the other, quieter, part was telling me that I just wouldn’t be able to do it. And since I’m always quoting Brene Brown to everyone else, I took her advice and reminded myself: there is no courage without vulnerability. (Although, to spare myself extraneous embarrassment from trying to keep up with a group of 7 year olds, I did book a private lesson.)
It’s a funny thing being a student.
It was physically hard. Pushing yourself up off the snow with one arm, repeatedly, was no small feat. Especially when you are on a hill and gravity is sliding you in an opposite direction. I swear snowboarders must have one arm longer than the other just for this purpose! Trying to stay up was just as difficult and my legs burned. Really burned.
But the two most difficult parts were actually not physical.
The first was asking for help. That’s not easy for me to do. My teenage instructor probably wasn’t used to having a middle-aged woman as a student, and to his credit, he didn’t mollycoddle me. He’d just casually put his foot on the edge of my board to keep it from sliding, or give a suggestion about technique. He also patiently answered all of my questions…and I had many of them! Only once, when I absolutely couldn’t get it, did I ask him for a hand up. Sometimes we need that from our teachers too.
The second difficult part was just doing it. Well, more specifically, FEELING like I was doing it. “You need to pick up a bit more speed and feel it in the turns…feel like you are snowboarding.” (As opposed to just putting the brakes on and heeling it all the way down lol. But I knew what he meant!) How many times do we lament the difficulty in getting kids to feel that they are writers, and not just ‘do’ writing? Or feel that they are readers, and not just having them read?
I spent the afternoon boarding with my 17 year old son, and I learned even more with him. He noticed I was wearing the binding wrong and took the time to repair it (my instructor said it hadn’t been set up properly by the rental shop, but didn’t show me what to do about that…) which made me think of how many times I might point something out to a student, but not ensure that they understand the WHY and HOW of fixing it. Noted!
We also ventured off the ‘bunny hill’ onto the main runs. I won’t deny that I was pretty anxious about getting on and off the chair lift, and to have competent skiers and boarders going around me on the hill like I was a pylon. But by upping the level of difficulty, I was also able to pick up some of that speed and 'feel' it too. I also felt it when I fell down, over and over again. But it was soooo much fun.
The bar for trying new things is now literally set at a six-inch continent-shaped bruise. On my butt. Even a week later. I’m not sure if it is a compilation of falls into one giant bruise, or if it’s a compilation of many smaller bruises from my many falls. Regardless, it’s a reminder that trying new things doesn’t come with instant success, but repeatedly (and sometimes literally) getting back up again. And that’s a lesson for every thing that we learn in this life.
Miyo Ohcetow Kisikaw! Hyvää uutta vuotta! Happy New Year!
This past week was a great week.
It wasn’t perfect, of course. We are imperfect human beings working with smaller imperfect human beings. In the interest of transparency (and if you really wanted to know) I could make you a list of all the things that could have gone better, or of the behaviours that could have been better, but that’s not what this post is about. Just trust me, everyday there is something. And that’s okay…it’s the whole imperfect human thing. The main goal is learning from those mistakes, and as I read on Twitter this week: the only real apology is corrected behaviour. @zellieimani
Yet there it was. A great week.
We did several lessons on sketchnoting technique in ELA, a way of compiling main ideas from a speech, story, etc. using a combination of text, images, and connectors. It’s accessible to all students, as it can be as simple or detailed as you choose to make it. One student said how much he hates taking notes off the board (which to be clear, we never do!) and that he loved being able to put what he wanted into his notes. By the third lesson, the students listened as I read a story to them with the suggestion (but option) to sketchnote along with me. Every student participated. Every one.
I’m exploring more and more with the ideas of the thinking classroom, in particular having students up out of their desks and using VNPS (vertical non permanent surfaces, so in my room that’s whiteboards.) After having sat and observed for quite a bit while my intern was teaching, it was good to remember how hard that is on students. In another tweet I read, “Behaviour issues are often students just reacting to the difficulty of remaining in this passive position for too long.” (Ariel Sacks) And even it if isn’t causing behaviour issues, it certainly isn’t engaging, and if I’m not paying attention then I’m not learning. So my new mission is using VNPS almost every day in some way, and the kids are totally into it. Just this week we used it for our sketchnoting practice in ELA, in problem solving survival scenarios for a motivational set, and in social we brainstormed solutions (plus pros/cons) for our environmental issues from last week. I’ve added a mini gallery walk to the end of the activity, so the groups do a small loop of the classroom to see what other groups were thinking before sitting down and discussing as a whole class. My timing has been a bit off since returning to full time teaching, and our discussion got cut off by the bell on Tuesday. I apologized to the kids, saying that my pacing is still a bit off, and that we’d have to finish the next day. A boy piped up, ‘That’s okay. Class went by so fast!” The engagement of the thinking classroom at work!
To go backward one week, I want to mention that we also took the thinking classroom and combined it with the walking classroom to make a ‘walk and talk’ activity. There was a set of 10 separate questions on chart paper in the hallway. Students were in pairs and given different starting numbers. Then because our school is a perfect square, they literally walked a lap of the school talking about their question. When they came back, they added their thinking to the chart paper, looked at the next question, and started on their next lap. As I circulated, it was great to see students who wouldn’t normally talk to each other, walking and talking about the issues. Sometimes when students are to discuss something with their ‘elbow partners’ they will talk for a minute and then wait till the time is up, so I’m curious why it was easier to walk and talk. Is it because we do this all the time naturally? Was it because it was awkward to walk beside someone and NOT talk?
The next class, we put the papers back up in the hallway and students got to choose three different ones to read the responses on, plus a news article that I had added to the chart papers, before we debriefed as a whole class again. It was a success both days, as students were asking if we were going to ‘walk and talk’ the next lesson too lol.
So just to allay the idea that it’s a teaching utopia in the middle years, here is Arts Ed 8. We are doing some music skills right now, and I had the students choose an instrument to become a mini-expert in (as much as you can become a mini-expert in three hours lol.) Then I set up a schedule where the expert group teaches their classmates as learners. To be honest, it was a bit hit-or-miss. Some groups were well prepared and did a great job of instruction but there were kids not trying or had their phone out or were just generally not working with the ‘teachers.’ Wow. That was an eye opener for some of them to be on the flip side! But each time they taught a new group, they revised their instruction and got more confident, until this week it really clicked. I sat in with the ‘voice’ group as they had been struggling more. They finished a bit early, so I grabbed a boy in grade 12 who I knew enjoyed rap. He came and (without even realizing it) taught a whole lesson on rap music, giving a bit of its history, pointing out levels of language in the lyrics, explaining what an ad lib was, and more. The kids were captivated. And at the end of class, a boy from the piano group stayed to tell me that ‘it was so much fun today. I learned three different songs and I even remembered them!’ A great week.
Finally Friday. It’s the week before the week-before-Christmas. Every day I stopped by the office to say what a great day it had been. Kids are getting exponentially ramped up, and maybe I thought it couldn’t continue. Brené Brown calls that the ‘idea of foreboding joy’…when things are going really well you’re waiting for something bad to happen! We do games day in ELA on Friday’s. Students can choose who they are playing with and what game to play – lots of language based games like Apples to Apples, Scrabble, Anomia. Visual games like Pictionary, Blokus, and Tellestrations. A group of boys who’ve designed their own way to play Guess Who with four boards lol. And I brought a new game called Spice Road that I grabbed two kids and had them learn how to play it…it’s pretty complicated but they caught on quickly (and I totally lost!) As admin was doing a walkabout, I waved him into the classroom to see two things: the level of engagement kids had (lots of laughing and having fun) and the level of noise in the classroom (it wasn’t loud at all.) But mostly, I still love to see them interacting socially with each other – talking, taking turns, relationship-building, strategizing.
More than ever, I’m committed to having students move more, sit less, with as much engagement as possible in both strategies and content.
Yep. There it was. A great week.
Tervetuloa. Welcome. Tawâw.
There are not enough teacher memes out there about school life in December. It is harried, and tiring, and exciting, and frustrating, and joyful, and…it’s essentially a paradox of emotions where time is moving too fast yet simultaneously not moving fast enough. Today was evidence of both lol.
The weekends are no different, thus the reason I didn’t manage to get a Sunday night blog post written. Late night hockey games and getting home at 11pm doesn’t really help for motivation either.
Because I am insistent upon not missing a week of blogging, but can’t manage to formulate a complex thought in my head right now, I’m perusing my phone for some recent posts I’ve saved from social media to share with you. Of course, tonight when I was checking my bookmarks in Twitter, I realized that nothing was saved from beyond a week ago. I’m hoping a quick update will find them again. (IT DID! Whew.)
So here is my collection, an homage to the perennial Christmas classic ‘My Favorite Things’ from “The Sound of Music” which, to be honest, I have never once seen from beginning to end. This is the part where I’ll see if my younger sister actually reads my blog…she is a musical aficionado and will likely be mortified that I’ve never watched it. This is likely a good time to add that, despite a couple of catchy songs, I can’t stand the musical “Grease” either. Ha ha.
“The kind of teacher you will become is directly related to the kind of teachers you associate with. Teaching is a profession where misery does more than just love company – it recruits, seduces, and romances it. Avoid people who are unhappy and disgruntled about the possibilities for transforming education. They are the enemy of the spirit of the teacher.” Christopher Emdin @chrisemdin
“The importance of focusing on behavior: A student’s behavior is a much stronger predictor of future success than test scores are, according to a large-scale study encompassing 574,000 ninth graders. Teachers who helped students improve their behavior (measured by things like attendance and suspensions) were 10 times as effective at improving their students’ graduation rates and GPAs as teacher who focused on test scores.” @edutopia
“Social justice teaching is not a lesson or a unit. It’s about building a lens for students. So that students may look for social justice in all content areas and all classes and their personal lives and then some.” @PresidentPat
“I always hear that our job as teachers is to prepare students for the “Real World,” like it’s some magical land far off in the future where kids and their experiences actually matter. My question is always “isn’t their world real now?” Brett Kirk @brettkirk97
“Each school is a unique organism comprised of the collective struggles, history, & hopes of the community it serves. There’s no sweeping ‘fix’ for education just as there’s no curriculum that’ll work for all students. The only ‘fix’ is getting knee-deep in the humanity of it all.” Amy Fast @fastcrayon
“We are not just teaching history as some detached narrative. If we do our jobs right, we are teaching our students how to see history around them, how to confront it, and ultimately how to see themselves in it. In those moments, the past and the present collapse.” Kevin M. Levin @KevinLevin
“As writers we live life twice, like a cow that eats its food once and then regurgitates it to chew and digest it again. We have a second change at biting into our experience and examining it…This is our life and it’s not going to last forever. There isn’t time to talk about someday writing that short story or poem or novel. Slow down now, touch what is around you, and out of care and compassion for each moment and detail, put pen to paper and begin to write.” Natalie Goldberg
“Continually ask yourself: what’s important? To you? To the author? To others? What’s interesting? New info? Connections? Surprised?” Tanny McGregor @TannyMcG
“Fill the page with the breathings of your heart.” William Wordsworth
“One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.” Gretchen Rubin @gretchenrubin
“Things that are good for your planet are also good for your mental and physical health. Clean air, walking, working less, oceans, forests, plants, avoiding artificial chemicals. A kind, vibrant, verdant world is good for us. The ultimate act of self-care is to protect the planet.” Matt Haig @matthaig1
“No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.” George Evans @kruevans
“This is the path. These are the ingredients. But none of it is possible until, as the great theorist David Hawkins once said, we realize that ‘the more magic gift is not love, but respect for others as ends in themselves, as actual and potential artisans of their own learnings and doings, of their own lives, and thus uniquely contributing, in turn, to their learnings and doings. Respect for the young is not a passive, hands-off attitude. It invites our own offering of resources. It moves us toward the furtherance of their lives and thus, even, at times, toward remonstrance or intervention. Respect resembles love in its implicit aim of furtherance, but love without respect can blind and bind. Love is private and unbidden, whereas respect is implicit in all moral relations with others. Adults involved in the world of man and nature must bring that world with them to children, bounded and made safe to be sure, but not thereby losing its richness and promise of novelty.” Sam Chaltain @samchaltain
Tervetuloa. Welcome. Tawâw.
Is it what happened that’s making you mad? Or is it the story you’re telling yourself about what happened that’s making you mad?
It’s not a bad idea everyone once in a while to check yourself.
Sometimes we live in a little echo chamber, either in real life or online. It’s easy to gravitate to ideas and people that you agree with, and then reinforce our beliefs with their validation. It feels good because it’s comfortable and safe.
But after a while, the story we tell ourselves isn’t always the most accurate. The memories we have are probably being recalled through blissful rose-colored glasses, or conversely, whatever color the opposite emotion might be. Grey? Black? Was it really as good as we remember? Was it really as bad?
When we use reading comprehension strategies with students, we encourage them to make connections to their lives, to other things they have read, or to the world around them, in an effort to both make sense of what they are reading and to internalize it in some way. To make it stick. It feels like our memories work that way too. I’m not always remembering just the facts of what happened, but how it made me feel, and the ripple-effects it had.
And therein lies part of the problem: it has been colored. It has been changed.
And in my remembering, often over years, it has changed me.
So once in a while, it’s a good idea to separate facts from feelings to get nearer to the reality of the story. I needed to do that this week. *Correction: I needed help doing that this week.* It’s hard because it requires some intense personal reflection. Working out my own biases and perceptions helped to clarify why I was upset: not to discount the emotions involved in it (those are real) or to diminish the anger (I was still mad) but to see things in as clear a light as possible.
Meeting with my liaison students this week, this came up for some of them as well. Thinking about our own part in relationships, not just putting it off onto the other person. Recognizing areas that we haven’t been honest about, especially being honest to ourselves. And most importantly, thinking of how to move forward…mending broken connections, making a plan to catch up on work, advocating for ourselves, and (sometimes sheepishly and reluctantly) acknowledging our own failings and thinking of ways to make it right.
It’s important to question all the stories we hear. I picked up a copy of “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” for reading time. It’s a true story, and although not one of the most captivating books I’ve read recently, it was interesting. (Not sure how it ends yet…I’ll be done it on Monday!) I also follow the Auschwitz Memorial on Twitter and was surprised to see that they don’t endorse the book. “Due to the number of factual errors it cannot be recommended as a valuable educational reading to understand the history of the camp…the book is an impression about Auschwitz inspired by authentic events, almost without any value as a document.” The story is colored by memory and feelings, and had I not come across that, I might have taken everything in the novel as fact. As I lend my book out, I’m copying the caution from the Auschwitz Memorial in it so that people read it with a more critical lens than I did.
In Social 8, we have been using Concentus.ca and Tolerance.org to examine our Canadian stories, specifically to determine how Canada’s identity has been shaped by our history. It has been interesting to watch as students wrestle with the idea that Canada has always been a welcoming and open-hearted country, juxtaposed with the facts….Acadian deportation, internment of Ukranian and Japanese Canadians, treatment of indigenous people in residential schools and the 60s Scoop, the Chinese Head Tax, turning away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, and much much more. Cognitive dissonance in abundance as they weighed the story and the facts.
In an era of fake news, it’s a horrifying thought that we are undoubtedly forming new stories in our lives based on information that isn’t even true. There are days I really long for pre-internet ignorance when things were never in doubt. (But then I need a recipe off allrecipes.com, need to know how to get water stains out of cowboy boots, or dm someone overseas and I wonder how I could live without it lol.)
I’ll finish with a tweet by Ashley Semrick (@HelloSemrick) where she poses the following questions:
Who is telling the story? Who is being left out of the story? Why are they being left out? What do we do with parts of our history that make us uncomfortable? Who gets to decide which parts of history are told? Does telling your story give you a voice? Does not telling it take your voice away?
As we go into this first week of December, write your own story (good job Lori N. on starting your blog!) and make everyone welcome. Tawâw. Tervetuloa.
Friend: You’re having your staff party at PBR?
don’t say it
don’t say it
don’t say it
don’t say it
don’t say it
don’t say it
me: It’s not my first rodeo.
Ha ha. That line was thrown around quite a few times last night as we gathered as a staff and went to the Professional Bull Riding finals. It really wasn’t my first time at a rodeo, but it was the first time watching PBR and they put on quite a show! It didn’t take long before someone made the connection between teaching and bull riding, and because our staff are nerds, I mean creative lifelong learners, we came up with some great analogies!
Take the bull by the horns:
Riding the bull is like teaching, with twists and turns and bumps. There is a crowd cheering you on but there is also a crowd cheering on the bull. When he gets bucked off, the rider has no choice but to get back up and try again.
Whether you are ready or not, or successful or not, you just jump in. Just in teaching, you are hanging on for dear life for the whole year, not just 8 seconds.
Unpredictable. Challenging. Nerve wracking. Rewarding. Takes practice.
Bull riding and teaching both require you to make changes on the fly. You have to have lots of flexibility, and sometimes you just have to throw out the lesson plan and be in the moment.
Take it a day at a time, just like they take 8 seconds at a time, and then stay on that bull till summer.
Bull in the china shop:
Education is the bull. Kids are the bull riders, just trying to hang on.
Our students are the bull riders: jumping on and hoping they don’t fall off, and learning something along the way. The crowd is the public and parents giving feedback and being fans, and teachers are the roper on the horse making sure that stuff stays on track.
Bulls are the teens. 100 percent unpredictable.
Teachers are the guys helping in the chute, roping the bull, and sometimes being the clown. The guy on the tractor, harrowing the arena? That’s our administrators, cleaning up, smoothing things over, and preparing all the conditions for our school to be successful.
Mess with the bull, you get the horns:
I really didn’t understand a lot of what happened in the arena, aside from the fact that they needed to hang on for 8 seconds…I’ve seen the movie! It was exciting and heart-stopping at times, watching the sheer strength of the bull, and the rider, and the unpredictability of each ride. I asked a lot of questions which was likely completely annoying (sorry Barb) but as we know, that’s how we learn.
If I had to pick just one moment for comparison, it would be the time in the chute. The rider and bull, both ready to go out, ripe with anticipation. For 8 seconds they will be tied together as one. And even though their tasks seem contrary, they will be working toward the same goal…a wild bucking and rearing ride. For us, I think sometimes we are the bull and sometimes the rider. Which means that our students are also sometimes both. And that’s okay. The roles of teacher and learner are ones that we should share. As we hang on to each other educationally, it does get harried, it isn’t always easy. In fact, it feels as though we are having 8 second rides over and over and over. Throughout a day. Over the year. And in the end, our championship is ultimately the learning and success of that student (without flying cowboy hats and fireworks lol.)
Last night someone had said, “You think you know what you are getting into, and it seems like a simple concept, but when you actually watch it happen, none of it is simple.” To me as an outsider, it seems like they just have to hold on for 8 seconds. How hard can it be? Obviously, it’s hard!! And it’s not just about holding on. Likewise with teaching. It may seem like a simple enough concept, but it is a complex and challenging job that we do.
My colleagues made some great connections between teaching and bull riding. For me, when I look at the many different people involved at PBR last night, I think that teachers play every single one of those roles. Simultaneously. Consecutively. Consistently.
We guide. We redirect. We protect. We announce. We cheer. We entertain. We prepare. We open doors. We hang on. We get bucked off. We get back on. And as a someone pointed out last night, we also need to remember that there’s a support team down there too. You are never on your own.
Have a great week! Everyone is welcome. Tervetuloa. Tawâw.
Confession time: I can be very tenacious. I don’t doubt that my teachers when I was younger would probably have described it as being arrogant and stubborn. I chalk a lot of that up to surviving as a middle child surrounded by even more ‘tenacious’ siblings! But over time I’d like to believe that it’s softened into persistence and determination. As someone who loves solving problems, I love a good challenge. And when I come across something that stumps me (iPads, I’m looking at you) I don’t give up easily.
Tenacity is also a foundational trait in the “It’s Not Lost Until Mom Can’t Find It” file. It's no different as a teacher - just today I helped three students find missing documents on the computer….we really need to work on saving our files with more descriptive and accurate titles!
But on Sunday, I just wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t manage to accomplish anything around the house or for work. That night when I just couldn’t get out of my living room chair, let alone get my blog written, I knew I was in a funk. I’m sure it was missing my daughter after visiting her over the break in Calgary. I’m sure it was being alone all day when my husband and son were at work. I’m sure it was because I’m feeling a bit run down and likely coming down with something. I’m sure it was the cold, crappy, overcast weather. And the one thing I am most sure about: on any given day, a lot of people in our lives are feeling the same way.
Including our students.
Even big kids have days like that. Okay, especially big kids, sometimes. My daughter is in Nursing at Mount Royal University, and she’s had a stressful few weeks with midterms and papers. Her Sunday wasn’t going much better than mine, and in our phone conversation, my attempts at cheering her up kept falling flat. I finally (almost) gave up trying and told her: This is really hard. I don’t know what to say and I don’t know how to help you solve this.
Her response: I don’t need you to fix it. I just need you to hear it.
And maybe that’s all most of us really need, not just on the bad days, but every day. Someone to talk to. Someone to hear us.
One of my favorite educators to follow, Amy Fast @fastcrayon, tweeted this out this week: “The best way to manage your class is to like your students. It’s not a feeling; it’s a choice. Make the choice to connect. I’ve never spent time getting to know a student and liked him or her less as a result.”
Or another by Paul Ketcham: “What if school leaders shared these words with staff members each and every day? I believe in you. Your work makes a difference. How can I help you? Thank you. I value you. What do you need? What if teachers shared these same words with students every day?”
This week’s goal? Make sure I say them. Make sure I hear them.
Since that wasn’t actually what I planned to write about this week, here’s a 10 point condensed version.
This past weekend, I ate an Oreo candy cane.
1. Yes, November is a little early to be eating candy canes.
2. Yes, Oreo flavor in a candy cane is disconcerting at first. My brain was expecting one thing but my tastebuds relayed a totally different message.
3. It wasn’t as awful as you’d imagine.
4. Somebody, in a candy lab somewhere (maybe the north pole lol) thought this would be a good idea and pitched it. Someone in a position of authority trusted or believed in the idea, and approved it. And Oreo flavored candy canes arrived (yes, in November….) to a store near you!
5. Honestly, they weren’t amazing and I doubt that I would buy them again. But thank goodness for people who don’t just think outside the box, they throw the box away and start from there.
6. We didn't come up with the Oreo candy cane idea, but we have some amazing, creative, and innovative thinking happening at DCS right now. I really need to write more about it because I only have four points left on this list, and this is only a few! But in the interests of sharing, these are my favs.
7. School-wide reading time continues to amaze. Every person. Twenty-five minutes. MWF. Reading. It’s like a literacy marvel.
8. Multi-level senior ELA classes based on interests/themes. What a gift of choice for students. No offence to Hamlet, but selfishly thankful my son had this opportunity.
9. We love our DES neighbors and my 7/8s are awesome. Best part about prepping and serving daily breakfast this past week? Community building…everyone pitches in…no arguing…just doing…just visiting. Feels like a family Thanksgiving in my mom’s kitchen. (Did I mention without the arguing? Just kidding!!)
10. Staff passion projects. Mine will be a post for another day, but touching base with others at Monday’s staff meeting just reinforced that I work with some really great educators who are passionate about student learning and about making our school a great place to learn.
Only five days till Sunday, so keeping some thoughts till then lol. Have a great rest of the week!
Tervetuloa! Tawâw! Welcome!
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