Monthly Archives: May 2014

Opportunities Grow

Fun to read the student and parent comments about the local testing going on this week across the province- Are taking such tests work? Indeed- and they are also an opportunity for students, teachers, parents and schools to better understand basic expectations for and per grade level, and then to put those expectations into perspective.  The test itself will not prevent any student from moving forward to the next grade level nor will it prevent teachers from continuing to recognize a student’s other achievements or contributions to the class as a whole- holistic assessments and evaluations are in practice in general across the board and in each teacher’s room.  Whether we label such ongoing (throughout the school year)  assessments authentic, or give a grade point for specific project based work, it is fair to suggest that teachers today continue to recognize their students’ participation and growth over the ten month journey. 

Much has been written comparing Canada and other countries in terms of curriculum development and success on tests- there seems to be a big shock that a country like Finland which respects its teachers, helps individual students, and encourages healthy play (exercise and free play) has produced top students- why the surprise?  If education is genuinely meant to improve the lifestyle of whole communities, and not merely be a playground in which competition is taught, then it stands to reason that a school culture which encourages helping every learner through multiple means, will produce learners who value the effort expended- who note when educators go the extra distance to encourage a student to practice- perhaps practicing differently from earlier attempts, but indeed to practice, until each learner will feel a sense of worth from the active learning that ensued.  Education will continue to be a hot topic, even more so when elections loom and politicians recognize how dear and important the future generation is to the current crop of voting public.  And “Education” with a capital E will continue to be debated; best practices, goals, ROI, to test or not to test; college, university, future job corps… In the interim, the sun has come out again today, and ideal practice suggests, all those test taking students- take a break!,  and whatever constitutes play- Enjoy.

Recipe for Readers? Relax- and share

This weekend is all about remembering and caring- Memorial Day in the States, and a beautiful regular Spring weekend here in Toronto.

Through Social Media, there is the wonderful opportunity to connect with others and to share the good work in an even broader perspective.

An excellent post: 

          details the insides of a story book that one hopes to find in school libraries and private homes- More on the above website to highlight how to encourage empathy, and a reminder that “children’s books” contain information for the adults amongst us too.

If your child is familiar with Pixar and the movies this company has produced, he or she may wish to try the “formula” that is suggested for writing a story board:

Not really a believer that girls are more likely to be readers, as have found readers across the gender divide, and writers too! However, it seems many parents do worry about encouraging their younger boys to take time to read.  Please do remember that reading, and Literacy in general, refers to the ability to decipher the written squiggles on a page ( or a kindle etc.) and to read drawings too- plus to connect ideas.  Reading for pleasure is a type of “sport”, a mental gymnastics exercise, and like all exercises, improves with practice.  Reading to understand, or reading because it is expected, is an entirely different activity.  When they combine, one becomes a “reader”, other wise, reading is purely a function related to academics at best, at worst – a chore.  If an adult notes that very real sense of struggle that some students early on exhibit, please speak with your student’s teacher, and question if the struggle appears to be with deciphering the sounds or the result of a limited vocabulary.  Vocabulary can be extended in a natural fashion through gradually increasing word usage, and specific books chosen; when the issue is phonemic awareness, there might be other reasons for a disjunction between the student’s awareness and communication and his/her ability to process this information in a formal sense.  Schooling involves a great deal of visual and auditory perception; we both see and hear words as we read.  For our brains to make sense of the words on the page we have to give them an audio component, actually sounding out the writing, slowly or more quickly, in context of the story.  Many a good reader will be absorbing vocabulary in a text without pausing to question the meaning of an individual word- slower readers often get “stumped” as soon as they encounter a new word or phrase and believe they must look it up or discard the reading.  Fluency however requires a reader to push on, moving through and beyond the new term, until the meaning in context appears.  Note your child’s learning techniques; the child who quickly absorbs games is connecting ideas, what was known before, what is expected now …and “reading” in another fashion.  Also try to sense if there is a great effort made at memorizing words, over sounding them out. While early readers will love to memorize a favorite book and “read” an adult a story, by grade three (3) it will become clearer if the student is actually reading the word, or slurring sounds and guessing at pronunciation. 

For younger boys PBS suggests the following readers:


many children, boys in particular also go through a stage where they are curious how things work: this is a great time to introduce all the picture encyclopedias, found in libraries, and leave a stack around the home reading area- let the young reader reach for the “facts” and become more curious.

And for the sports enthusiast: there are as many readers as there are sports- a trip to a Bookstore can become a surprisingly pleasant morning or afternoon, with options to browse as well as buy.

A modern tendency is to separate books by gender- here is a thought, do encourage biographical readings that allow for heroes and heroines, and note “stars” from a variety of backgrounds.  Girls are as likely to enjoy the Percy series as boys, though boys may not get enthusiastic about The Dork Diaries, preferring Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but when it comes to say Olympic champions, or political leaders, the grades five  (5) through eight (8)  middle school crowd will respond as quickly to a female as a male protagonist, be it in an action adventure involving a variety of characters or a story of courage and diligence. 


Here are posted a number of lists, suggesting readers for all ages/grades and interests including the “Great girl’s your daughter should know” list that tends to list classics and modern classics- the L.M. Montgomery series featuring Anne, and the Little house on the Prairie Series- but the wonderful explosion of excitement for Katniss and the Hunger Games knew no gender boundaries- the story appeals to boys and girls, and when initially published, the Anne series were not relegated to young adult, but were popular adult fiction.  Bottom line, browse, online, in a Bookstore, in the library, at magazine stands, wherever reading material is to be found and don’t discount the reading of a recipe, or a “how to” book- or the hands on activity of creating with blocks, puzzles, art materials, paper, and clay.  Learning, the real kind, allows for personal development; growth is rarely as linear as traditional schooling might suggest. 





William Stafford’s ANY MORNING- ideal weekend thoughts to share :)


by William Stafford

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.



“Any Morning” by William Stafford from Ohio Review Volume 50 (1993). © 1993 by William Stafford.


In praise of interning-Yes! Why…

Been one and loved it! And I also volunteered and there is a big difference.  Volunteering is expected of High School students here in Ontario* but interning is still seen as a mixed bag of possible problems;  overworked, underpaid, with the “best” internships secured more often though connections than by any other means; bringing home the fact that sometimes hard work may not be enough.

Volunteering allows a volunteer to select a field, offer time and energy, and in return become more familiar through a hands-on approach that provides life experience, in addition to, required credit hours. 

Internship demands on the spot awareness of a field, a willingness to extend oneself beyond the written job description (brings to mind the character played by Anne Hathaway in The Devil wears Prada even though she was being paid**) and is expected to offer in exchange the integration, for a student or recent graduate, of the the theoretical with the practical.  It is only when the graduate finds the position to be so far from what his/her expectations of the work force had been, that cries of “exploitation” are heard.  Properly managed, internships provide connections, resume worthy experience and, ideally, a real chance to demonstrate one’s own capabilities.  Let’s not be too hasty then to dismiss internships entirely, but return to the concept of opportunity, and encourage more organizations to open doors to graduates and let the younger generation move forward


– *minimum of forty (40) hours over four (4) years.



real philosophy: takes time to note change

Was recently asked: what is your philosophy on/of Education?  To which I replied:  to bring out the best in others, to encourage others to learn and grow…

And then I sat down to give it some real thought.  We humans learn through trying, putting into practice what earlier generations have shared, absorbing the experiences of others, and yes- attempting to improve upon these experiences.  Slowly each of us evolves, changing into the expected adult behavior or questioning these expectations- but change we do- so as an educator I am always on the lookout for changes- putting into practice a simple beliefthat change is both doable and necessary for all of us.  And it is precisely because I expect change, that I am able to encourage students to move towards goals.  Without spouting pat phrases ( had fun collecting a few and pinning them on various boards- see ) the bottom line is: achieving goals spurs success.  It isn’t that failure is good for us, but that resilience is good- and one way to build resilience is to celebrate the daily activities which lead to success.  My recent blog suggested testing in academics has a purpose, which it does- allowing a learner to discover what areas might require extra time, extra practice, extra energy towards deepening skills. Too often though we forget that little changes grow into bigger developments and haven’t shown students that there are multiple ways of achieving goals- rarely is everyone’s path smooth and easy. When tests loom as fearful dates, versus being formal opportunities, fear sets in.  At the same time, it seems that teachers too at times have forgotten that their goals for students need not be linear; teachers who celebrate the small daily changes can look back at a semester of accomplishments-beyond the major exam and the school statistics.  Perhaps if we allow more forums for these mini celebrations, and encourage administrators and teachers, while recognizing all the arguments and offering the sense of “play”, major tests can be put into context- one piece of the big picture; a picture that is meant to help learners learn, and grow.

Testing, testing 1, 2, 3

For the past month all I have read were disparaging remarks about the horrors of testing – Academic testing that is. Now here is my question – why do educators make testing seem so awful? I love cheering for hard workers – don’t you? And while no one enjoys doing poorly at anything, we all enjoy discovering that we can rise to challenges. When did the very thought of testing become anathema to Academics? Students, even the very youngest, are keen observers, and they know well when anything is a real challenge versus being given some fluff – they also rarely buy into adult attempts to remove grading and marks; the purple versus the orange versus the blue group translates to kids for exactly what it is – a colour coding assessment scheme – equal to an A group versus a B group or a C group – and ask any child or adult student to perform a self assessment and suggest where he/she fits on the scale, the student is often more accurate than the teacher –

To clarify – assessments, benchmarks, tests, be they Common Core, SATs, EQAO, or a test with any other name, are simply one form of allowing students to learn a process – Academics, like sports, involves challenges. This educator led anger at teaching students what an Academic test entails, reads after a while like dismay at actually asking students to use a variety of ways to demonstrate their knowledge – Note: variety of ways. Testing is one way. Like the actual playoff games (in almost any sport), even a tremendous amount of preparation and practice is not the same as the actual event; to understand the actual event one must participate in it! And no matter how many times a player, or team make it to the finals, each and every game holds weight. It is similar in Academics. The 100% final exam is rare, replaced with presentations, group and individual project work, and even the tests themselves encompass more than one skill. Over the years I have seen students thrill themselves with new found ability to work through a test; familiarity with the type of questions, an understanding of expectations, and an opportunity to have drilled – not a bad word- we use “drill” when speaking of sports – and even dance, we encourage students to practice a musical instrument, fine tuning their skills with the action yet balk at the thought of encouraging students to practice Academic drills? Memory may not be equivalent to understanding but without practice in memorizing, the brain muscle is missing a challenge, and the reaction to questions on a test can be much improved by recognition that the questions are following a pattern. 

Testing is healthy when approached from an expected position. When educators can extend the concept of positive challenges throughout a school week, and remove the taint of “bad” from the 4 letter word, “test”, then students will again accept that testing is part of growing, and see preparing as part of learning. 

Learning to learn involves so much more than any single test could demonstrate – Yes – but learning how to take a test is central to being able to demonstrate to oneself that the learning has taken hold.  Like the trip to the dentist that jokingly is feared, we all recognize how very helpful those twice yearly examinations are so why not smile at twice yearly or more Academic exams, and help our students “brush up” on the skills.

Laughter, Love, and Listening

Their laughter got louder and grew infectious, and I found myself breathing differently- the calm breaths that make one want to give thanks to all the powers that be- one’s children are not only interacting happily, but also bringing true meaning to the concept of Mother’s Day. Only it wasn’t the official second Sunday in May- “only” a midweek evening, yet I found myself thanking them both for the “Mother’s Day” gift. 

Much as I appreciate the purpose of an official day in which to celebrate, it seems so much more meaningful when hugs, smiles, real conversations take place at unspecified times. Be it at home, with my two children, now just turned 23 and almost 20, or during one of our walks, I think often of how, in education, we have coined the term “teaching moment” and how in everyday life perhaps we could start referring to “loving moments”.  There is something extraordinarily powerful about the genuine. 

If being a mother teaches one anything (and regardless of age, background, or education) it is that love overflows at times.  And to the people who genuinely express thoughtful behavior towards our children it extends; warmth is circular in its reaction, spreading outward like the proverbial trickle in a pond that ultimately makes waves. 

Isn’t this the real ideal? To be privy to the laughter, to the love, and to the genuine reactions that make one believe in the “miracles” which hard work and 24 hour caring ( from conception- you know what I mean) can produce.  To loving Moms everywhere- Congratulations!

Perspective: stepping away- a way to the future


The words come from a colleague’s Twitter account; juxtaposing them with the image brings to life what I have seen and experienced: the ‘OMG’ feeling when work of any kind- disappears in front of our eyes on the computer- or becomes muddled in our heads due to over taxed brains and the stress of one – to paraphrase a book title: “No Good, Very Bad, Day”. We all have them.

And that brings me to today’s topic- the beauty of “Tomorrow”. This is not an ode to procrastination, nor to the necessity of “sleeping on it”. It is a reminder that things do change, and we do change, and sometimes, the best one can do is to take a step away from what appears to be immediate overwhelm and put it into perspective.

The book mentioned above would be classified a “children’s text” and I would love to see it and others find their way into High School library corners, and even College/University shelves, for just as we are recognizing the benefits of having pets wander the campus during exam week, to offer a brief respite from stress overload by encouraging students to refresh with a pet- take a mini break and pet an animal- it would be great if the books that not only bring a belly laugh in early grades but also- inspire- would be readily available too.

We hear a lot about the positives and negatives of testing, read how testing may not actually reveal one’s real knowledge base, let alone understanding, nor even accurately prepare one for the “real world” challenges that may be encountered. Yet the challenges that are found in the nearly addictive Video games are accepted, as are the regular defeats that occur on a sports field; the collective groan that emerges when a favorite team misses the ball is very quickly replaced with the mutter of “next year” and few would simply toss the video game aside rather than getting up and attempting the “next level” on another day. For some reason though when a student may miss the mark, some institutions may be quick to encourage student and family to lower their expectations- why? Given the right environment learning can take place- note I am not stating a lower environment – but a different one. The beauty of Higher Education is that once a student has made it this far, options actually increase rather than decrease. Most campuses today are dedicated to enabling students to give themselves second chances, and to recognizing how changing direction may land one in the right place after all.

Maybe Annie knew best when she sang about “Tomorrow” and we have to distinguish the two notions and become aware that stepping away from a problem to breathe, and procrastination, are separate entities. So take heart, life long learners everywhere, and take a minute or more of time, to know that if you have made it this far- you can keep going.

In art “All perspective drawings assume the viewer is a certain distance away from the drawing”* – how do we then establish that distance when so close to a project as to experience “overwhelm”? Sometimes, it does take more than a day- either way, we can recall we and others have experienced disappointments, and sometimes it is the simplest perspective as found in the children’s tales that offer the remind- everyone can have a no good, very bad, day- or blow a test, miss an interview, not get the ….fill in the blank here. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise; keep working towards that dream. 


actual book title: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

* Wikipedia definitions

Colleague:  Bobby Umar

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