Monthly Archives: July 2014

Academic writing: some specifics to prepare for

Students who wish to do well on exams should know as much as possible about the topic”

An actual educator’s suggestion or an exam prompt for an SAT or other Standardized test? Reading and writing labs across the globe deal with the mechanics, the “how to” of crafting an essay, few of these labs have the time to question if the student’s answer will even be relevant to the teacher’s question. And this is where the mechanics, -the how to- even if deliberately applied, surprise a student with a less than stellar mark- and then they arrive at my door with a bleak outlook on their academic prospects and an even bleaker expectation of how they might improve.

With School year 2014-2015 approaching, and students currently choosing timetables, some lucky few may actually be selecting courses they have a strong interest in-but a large number choose a class based on availability, the course being required, and /or “others” as in friends, being in that time slot. Surprise, the course outline does contain a timetable, a syllabus, and very important- the teacher/professor’s expectations- here is the “secret” to identifying a topic which will demonstrate one was actually a participant in the course- something that educators really do look for! 🙂

To write 5 pages or 15, or 150 is considered part of the gradual learning process- but to jump from a “5 paragraph” essay to 3-5 solid pages of information is very difficult for many who weren’t shown that the information must be balanced with opinion to help focus an argument. Random inspirational quotes can be found – begin with one and ask- what does it mean? followed by how do you know? And, could we research the origin of the quote? this little exercise moves one from blindly copy/ pasting words, to actually wondering about those words- who said them? why do we continue to pass them around? how is it we are able to grasp at the metaphor if the quote offers within it a metaphor? Do we know if we are “right”? Now what inspired the teacher/professor to offer a particular course? Does he/she tell us in the course outline? Do the suggested reading materials offer a “clue” to how others view the main topic? And did any of these readings hold any real appeal to you- the student?

As early as grade 3 we formally introduce metaphor into the curriculum. If “Hope Floats” can it be a heavy object? If Emily Dickinson later further adds that “hope is a feather” she has given readers a simile, a concrete object to recognize and discuss, but back to the emotion that is floating somewhere- and offer bubbles and balloons and other light weight objects, before discussing a very heavy weight topic- the concept of “hope”; a feeling? an emotion? is there a difference? Hold a circle time and share Pandora’s Box; have the class suggest the meaning, and openly discuss what the author was teaching a reader.

“Education breeds confidence; confidence breeds hope; hope breeds peace.” Confucious (Kung Fu Tze)

In this current global situation, education and its ability to encourage tolerance is ever more required; how we teach “critical thinking” will effect the kind of communities, diverse, exploratory, and engaged, or private, contained and fearful of others, that we as educators help to grow.

How did you pick a cause? Research and a specific set of criteria

How did you pick a cause? Research and a specific set of criteria
A bit of background

My son started running evenings when at first year university in British Columbia. He said he enjoyed the quiet of the campus at the midnight hour and the knowledge that cars would be at minimum; his run would be relatively unimpeded, and his run would be a great way to unwind after a busy day of on-campus activities and studying. Returning to Toronto, he continued the late runs, enjoying the peaceful post midnight Toronto calm.

Recently I started to look for a cause that we as a family could get excited about; he is now planning to run for the upcoming-
September 20, 2014

We chose this cause based on the following:

1) It had to be for an organization that redistributes funding on a broad level, to a variety of people
2) It had to be for an organization that was transparent in its goals; that allowed us to recognize not only where the funding was meant to go, but also why the funding is needed.
3) It had to be for an organization that was somehow in keeping with personal family values of education, healthy living, and positive, practical goal setting.

EUREKA! The internet offered a wealth of information, and one organization in particular which stood out:

Children’s mental health issues is a topic broad in its scope and encompassing a very real need- awareness- as too many children annually become ill without receiving help before it is too late. Mental illness in general is still a “hidden” issue- when it affects children and teens in a myriad of ways, the results may be devastating-  as an educator who has worked and continues to work with children who run the gamut from the regular to the special needs and including highly sensitive and highly gifted, I know that more and more programs are needed to reach out and open up awareness of issues that affect this age group- they are our future- when given the opportunity to have a future. A grim statement yes, but all too often, the children suffering do not get the chance to grow into themselves, and share with the world all that they are capable of being.

     Please join us in bringing awareness to the cause of children’s mental health

The run is scheduled for September 20, 2014
All donations collected will go directly to the cause

Over the next two months I will be sharing some of the additional ways in which we are volunteering for this cause. Your participation through any means is gratefully encouraged.

I will be volunteering there too!
Thank you

Alison (Ali)



Impact part 2 sharing websites

The blog below was an example of quick writing- “dictionary poetry” being meant to demonstrate the many different meanings a single word may have, and because I do not want to disappoint readers who may have been looking for a stronger example of poetic expression, am pleased to share the following site:

a lovely site with poetry that has at its core a single word- but go see for yourself. 

Enjoy the weekend.



Making an impact


in dentistry, a tooth with deep roots


the dentist drills, cracks, pulls, and maybe even burns-

and then there is a space- where the tooth had been


impacted- squished, pushing against each other

eye contact minimal; everyone tired

the buses were late again – filled to capacity


impacted-4 sardines glistening in a can

broiled, smoked, add a little mustard


pack em in- eat em up, but if you really want to make an impact


a little hot pepper for extra flavour and a strong impact


“she’ll blow it anyway” now how is it that with all the many ways to use the word

impact, why is the strongest hit the one with the word “blow” in it?


impact – to make an impression

to strike hard

the batter knocked that one out of the park- could you hear the impact?


Bang! now that was forceful

“so confined in its socket as to be incapable of normal eruption”- dictionary

Did you know? volcanoes erupt and then- oh the impact

lava everywhere, spewing forth like an – what is that word?


(really interrupts everything)


– We interrupt the regular blog with this attempt at sharing “dictionary poetry”

   Did it have an impact? 



Now you try 🙂














Adjusting actions; writing well

 ” When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action    steps.” Confucious

   Now how does the above quote mix with students and their goals in a class?  Thinking of Einstein and Edison, and the idea of imagination plus persistence, and trying new ways to achieve the same result- that is tackling a question from as many new ways as possible.  Science and Math, require students to recognize this, what about Language arts?  Do we also offer the student the chance to adjust the action steps?


Yes when we clearly understand the actions being undertaken- all too often have I heard from a student that they had studied and studied and still not achieved the hoped for results.  Then there is the concept that marking or scoring written work is subjective- up to a point- yes, however more to the point, teachers are expected to clarify in advance through sharing a rubric, sharing examples, and sharing or modeling how stronger writing may be achieved.  First strategy is to understand the question; open ended questions are rarely as “open -ended” as they may at first seem.  Anyone who has coached students for Board Exams will recognize the need to point out qualifying terms that allow for an argument to be created.  We often suggest that students turn the question into a statement –  doable for part one.  Part two requires a quick T-Bar chart for the necessary brainstorming- even gut reactions may surprisingly not result in enough points to create an essay- that is why the T-Bar allows students to quickly recognize if their point of view may be supported with  “evidence” from either the texts, or classroom discussions, or personal experience.  On to Part three- writing – as much as possible without worrying about spelling or grammar or punctuation- uh huh- writing.  Students who become increasingly comfortable expressing their own points of view, become increasingly stronger at supporting these points- again through the texts, classroom discussions, and/or experience.   Writing starts to move away from a programmed 5 paragraph response into a personalized reaction to an issue- for there is always an issue being examined.  Whether the writing is asking an elementary student to share a “favorite summer experience” or a middle school student to comment on a recent sporting event, or an IB high school senior to develop a thesis dealing with ecology and inter global business ventures, there is a specific choice that students are making; comparing activities (camp was the best) discussing a highlight of a sporting event (description and personal experience), evaluating the choices and making predictions for future expansion of business in a caring world; the process is similar:  students are being asked to take a stand and commit to a point of view for the duration of the essay.  Even Comparative writing requires this focus. 


Parents and educators worry about how to increase a student’s reading and writing skills.  The writing skills reflect two major things: vocabulary and ability to effectively use the vocabulary to create both an argument and an image.  Grab a paper and discuss an issue, express a point of view.  Grab a magazine and do the same thing.  Follow your child’s lead as to interests- if sports, review the sports section of a major paper; the article doesn’t even have to be “today’s” – if fashion, look at the fashion magazines and comment on a story together.  Almost anything that is read, will help grow a student’s vocabulary- and if you hear your child chuckling at a graphic novel- read it too.  The informal discussions help a student to express his/her ideas, to move beyond “I just liked it” to get to the steps above- to be able to think a bit more about what was appealing.  But please don’t turn it into an exercise that frustrates- sharing ideas in a safe way allows for ideas to be expressed.  Grammar and punctuation can be practiced and edited for.  Ideas, they are the surprise element in any essay; sometimes the best way to encourage a child  is simply to allow the student to explore, to discard, and to- yes it is a popular thing again- play!

SAMPLE: Lesson Plan and Why it works :)

What is “Higher Order Thinking” that is all the rage to chat about and to “enforce” (word chosen deliberately) but that many parents and students question is actually taking place?

As educators we read a lot about “asking open-ended questions” – HR personnel would be given the same advice. What then might it mean to truly encourage a student to move beyond the basics and to begin the process of not merely placing an opinion into an essay in the right spot (close to the end of paragraph 1- so the directions tell) but to actually have an opinion beyond -“it was good” or  “I didn’t like it”?

Thinking is work- even when the thoughts are pleasurable.  Our brains require a form of question response stimulus to actively be engaged, curious and participatory.  Long a proponent of enrichment for everyone I was recently asked about how enrichment and gifted education might differ, and how enrichment could become the norm in classrooms; special education as a program that, while remaining distinct for specific reasons (to be looked at in another posting), becomes recognized and understood as necessary for all educators’ learning.  Within the umbrella listings of Special Education is the basic recognition of differentiated teaching, individual communication, direct instruction and hands on experiential project assignments. The Special Education instructor is expected to be aware of how to “de-mystify” or make clear expectations, often one step at a time.  In addition, the Special Education teacher is encouraged to become aware of how to and when to pivot, changing direction within a lesson even without waiting for “teaching moments”.  This requires taking cues from the student or students and recognizing when a different approach, or even a mini break might be necessary to reengage students in the project at hand- in the ideal situation all students become gradually self aware, and more conscious of their own special interests, abilities, and dreams- yes – dreams- not just goals, for big picture expectations are also necessary within a school setting that moves from K-12 and up.

Children have opinions.  Given the chance, children from the youngest up will wax enthusiastically about a topic of their choice that doesn’t seem to be school oriented– the latest cool toy, game, food, professional sport player, doll, how to play an activity that they feel is “fun”.**  Now have them write that down.  No grammar, punctuation or spell check- just free flowing commentary.  Collect all the papers or use recipe -index size cards.  Either way, collect them and shuffle them up before extracting a couple.  Randomly read the piece out loud and gently correct the grammar or punctuation as necessary so that the student is the only one to hear the corrections while recognizing his/her idea being shared*- for it is about the ideas, not embarrassing a student- from the youngest up children recognize their “lack of” when it comes to school structure/expectations, and the purpose of the exercise is to engage students in discussing the ideas- grammar, punctuation, and style of expression are for the final drafts – this process is to allow even the youngest to begin to recognize and to defend the opinions shared.  Create a T bar on the board or overhead and add to the idea while questioning if some agree/disagree; informal debating with opinions moving back and forth.

The next day have prepared 1/2 dozen samples of opinionated writing specific to the age group and level of the students.  Please select some writing where opinions are clearly expressed and other writing where a reader has to search for the opinion (learning to infer at the same time).  Also share some examples of less than stellar strong writing and have the students in small groups add to the “unfinished” samples.  Often the examples shared by test administrators, the ones we as educators may have originally dismissed, become good to use for group work on improving the writing itself  (in a test preparation sample packet are the exemplars, lower level exemplars minus any commentary may be used to spark student engagement when the students decide what was missing in the writing).  Bottom line- students are practicing peer correction but not on their peers- no student made uncomfortable by a classmate’s noting of his/her mistakes. Again – it is the IDEAS that become central to the exercise as a whole, and the opportunity for the students to recognize for themselves why they felt something they were reading was incomplete. 

Can everything be proven? NO! and sometimes students need to recognize that it is part of the learning to be able to recognize that more understanding may be necessary. Higher order thinking is actually a “fancy” formal name for questioning- to learn to question “why” = to learn to wonder how something was composed and / or what something is made of. Granted we aren’t all curious about the same things, but if we as educators are to be developing higher order thinking skills, then we must become curious and learn what our students think and wonder and worry about.

*please do this correction as part of the silent reading before sharing aloud- one of the reasons teacher shares- not passing papers or index cards to classmate  

** for older students world issues and recent local events…

Dominion Day- EH!

OH there are so many amazing posts with delectable looking Canada Day treats-

  when I lived in the states I found myself saying “yeah, Eh!” juxtaposing a couple of cultural expressions…

 Today it is fun to think about how Canada continues to develop– hope some readers are planning to visit Toronto in 2015-  – lots to see and do in addition to the upcoming PAN AM/PARA PAN Games

each one of these cakes looks yummy – , and at the following you will get a “taste” of the true north culture…

Thinking about:   Hudson Bay blankets, Polar bears, maple syrup, mukluks and or moccasins, poutine, northern lights, mosquitoes ( well we do have them in places ) gorgeous scenery, Niagara Falls, Banff, folk festivals ( jazz too), whales, Wonderland, Mounties, salmon, Totem Poles, natural resources, Aboriginal culture, stories, art, community and spirit- Oh Canada!





Happy Canada Day- July 1, 2014

Canada 1867-2014 – still young- still growing- come and visit!