Monthly Archives: November 2014

Permission Granted – please DO

Sometimes a Great Notion… book and movie title and real life experiences…

I love using various art forms to enhance any level/grade lesson when English Literacy is the core focus.  We respond to art on two levels- primal and almost intuitive and academic- with the theories and knowledge which we have been taught engaging us in a dialogue with the object at hand.  Children who haven’t yet been “taught” to discuss the piece therefore comfortably share if they “liked” it! Watch a group of young children enter a new space, be it an art gallery or a playground, and see how they maneuver over the ground, tactile, involved, curious, and participatory.  The “new” emphasis on “maker” areas being developed within classrooms is really a return to a “tried and true” methodology; the idea that children and adults will gain through the combination of theory and practice- each on its own being only 1/2 of the story.

Here then to making math- the 1+1=2 understood as a form of literacy as well.  WE read scribbles, in what ever language, and we – people- humans- imbue these scribbles with “extra” meaning.  When the theory is unpacked, sometimes it is hard to believe that we have, as people, developed so many various ways to communicate our ideas, emotions, and hopes for the future- yes hopes, as I believe every artist/ writer/ designer and maker is offering a vision that contains within it a myriad of dreams and options for change.  Whether one is studying the presumed cognitive reactions of the mind and developing new theories with current scientific “facts” that today allow one to “see inside the brain” or creating music to share a set of emotions, creating/ making /doing /= participatory; ACTION is happening.

So as we enter into a holiday season that easily lends itself to the spirit of craft making, let’s cheer for those individuals neither famous nor well known who actively take time to: create personal decorations, write notes by hand, bake a present, sew an outfit,build a piece of furniture, carve a toy, redecorate their own living space…the list goes on and on…and reminds us to allow children to participate in these creative endeavors too- for they become the adults among us who maintain the ability to offer expression and with simplicity, beautify a day.

Participatory Action

Giving Thanks –

For friends who mean it

For children one is blessed with

For abilities even if not always being allowed to share them

For love- in the way my children grow and develop

For knowledge, that others contribute and share

For history- personal and global- that helps when things need to be placed in perspective

For laughter- the personal chuckle and the broad belly burst

For today

Having spent a number of years in the States,  November continues to mean Thanksgiving- a time when the country appeared to generate goodwill, and when giving thanks on a personal level, regardless of religion or ethnic background, allowed for sharing; giving thanks for simply being able to.

Not Censored

An adult student shared with me the other day the existence of a website that features racist jokes! Now I am a believer in Freedom of Speech, and the need to not censor material- to put one’s effort instead towards educating people about the difference between funny and mean.  Yet I wished I could shut down such a website – initially I had thought how to interpret the joke- then realized it ought not to be explained.  We live in a world that is increasingly censored- and this too is bad for too much “protection” from the way some people may be raised, the ones who were taught intolerance instead of understanding and who become frightened of the “other” members of society and therefore resort to mean- in the form of jokes, in the form of actual violent actions, in the form of joining groups that encourage violence towards others- in short, bullying on a grand scale- may result in a generation that is unprepared to fight the “bully” either in a formal fashion (voting down any bigot who chose to run for power) or in an informal fashion by declaring such “jokes” not funny.

Yes I too had moments when my children were little when I wished I could simply wrap them up in bubble paper and coat them with some type of protective shield.  And teaching is a strong reminder that thinking and doing are symbiotic, and that we must expose our children to the underside of society as well as to “all things positive” if we are to be raising thinking, feeling, adults who will participate fully in society.  So in spite of truly wishing that such websites as the one mentioned didn’t exist,  I recognize that not only does the promise of “Freedom of Speech” allow for anyone to say anything, I am going to also be aware that when selecting and suggesting books for the YA set, that we look at what the act of censorship has over time restricted- for example why or how a book might have “enraged” a community or an individual enough to request that schools pull it off their shelves, or that libraries not feature a copy.  What was in the story, the writing, the setting? what actions did the characters ask us as readers to consider?

A simple example are the writings of Samuel Clemens- aka Mark Twain.  When one recognizes that Twain was asking readers to see the wrong in racism, and doing so by giving a reader a child’s insight into the adult society of his time*; or that a reading of Wuthering Heights** suggests that education and upbringing might not only challenge the status quo, but also challenges us as readers to consider in what ways social status continues to affect individual actions, then we are giving students a chance to consider for themselves what makes a book a “classic”; what messages resound across both time and space and continue to be questions that people have yet to answer fully.  We may strive for a  Utopian society, and may enjoy along with students the action adventure that went into a series such as  The Hunger Games, while secretly breathing a sigh of relief that today’s world is not the one depicted in the dystopian*** novel.  But how to continue to improve; to encourage the best in others? Reading continues to be a strong means of encouraging dialogue- and through dialogue- real freedom of speech- as in genuine communication, perhaps we are taking one step forward- I continue to hope so.   

*Huckleberry Finn

**Wuthering Heights – by Emily Bronte- the blurb for the novel states “Wuthering Heights was initially thought to be such a publishing risk that its author, Emily Brontë, was asked to pay some of the publication costs”

For a list of Dystopian literature see here:

Education via Barney!

Do you remember Barney and his Backyard Gang?

” I love you – you love me”…  the song was infectious and the children’s show a simple reminder that children could play and learn together within a variety of age groups- whom ever happened to people their neighborhood.   I had been doing graduate work in both anthropology and linguistics- plus education, as they are indeed entwined- and the furor caused by the introduction of Barney’s little sister and whether she, TV character and role model that she was, should speak English “properly” or the way a two year old might actually articulate continues to resonate – particularly when writing conferences happen and student’s wish to “break the rules”.  Sociolinguistics is a field of practice that looks closely at speech patterns, the ones we actually use when we communicate together.  And writers tend to listen and observe these speech patterns too.  For this reason characters to be believable must sound like they would if overheard on the street.  Since few children at age two have their grammar in sync with the adult world and even adults do get confused over the “proper” use of the word “me”, hearing a TV character proclaim “me want to go too!” may have rung “true” to the majority of the watchers as to how a child would talk, however, being a role model (even if a furry dinosaur), the prescribed “I want to go too”, became mandatory for the show to be labelled enriching, and to be “OK” for kids as an educational viewing.

Problem- overuse of the word “I” has meant that one hardly ever hears anyone use the word “me” anymore- and while I can’t track this to the above mentioned Barney TV show- I do know that students of all ages have trouble placing the object in its expected situation because they rarely hear it in use outside of grammar books-  The ubiquitous “I” is the noun now that often causes the most confusion- “Please give it to ______?  (me- belongs in the blank) – so simple refresher here:

you and I – can we substitute the word “we”

you and me – can we substitute the word “us”

And if writing dialogue and you “just know” that is how a person really would speak- by all means share the sounds as you have heard them; however, if answering a formal set of questions where grammar is expected to be “just so”- then review the basic expected constructs and create a few simple guidelines for yourself.  For example, if there are particular structures that you find a reader/teacher nearly always circles and suggests could be improved, focus on these to begin, reminding oneself- “check the verb tenses”, or  “have I looked it over for transitional connecting sentences between paragraphs?”  By recognizing one’s own form of practice it can be easier to begin the needed proofing of a draft- Oh hadn’t I mentioned this? yes- after the brainstorming and the rough draft comes a mini-break- then the proofing and editing / and most important of all- the handing it in!

Weekend prompt

Story sequences: mystery suspense:
Overheard “I find it INTOLERABLE that she didn’t do the work”

Who might have been talking?

Can you flesh out a story from the opening line?

Some writers will claim that they began their novel based on a simple blurb about an incident that they had read in a newspaper, or based on a snippet of conversation overheard in passing.

Slowly characters began to take shape, interacting and developing the plot.

Needed:    A setting – remember – time, place, season, (time can be hour of the day or actual calendar year)

Characters: will you add dialogue?

Problem? What might happen? When? To whom? Is there a why?

Solution: resolution- not all stories are completely resolved- one aspect of a problem is usually cleared up; other aspects may be continued in sequels, or left for the readers to consider.

Prompts for story writing needn’t be the typical SAT form-  argument/example; prompts to encourage a variety of writing styles can be culled from multiple resources.

How to begin: see earlier blog- “brainstorming 101”…

Weekend wishes

Brainstorming 101 :)

“whoosh” I hear a sound- a lovely children’s book first reader*, not the sound of your brain exploding at the thought of writing an essay- though we do say “brainstorm” for a reason.

The more ideas you put down on the paper (or type into the computer) the better chance you have to clearly focus an essay.  And focus is key to composing a clear thesis.

Whether you prefer a Tbar or a mind map or a series of doodles, please remember we can’t comment on a blank page, and as students, one learns from the teacher’s comments.  So please do get something onto the paper– and then begin: 1) do I need to research this? 2) is it in keeping with the class assignment? 3) can I find enough information from in-class readings to support my points? 4) why am I interested in this topic? and 5) write as much as possible for a few minutes without researching to determine if you do have points to make- these free style paragraphs later offer insight into where you thought you were headed with the essay and help you when you need to respond to exam questions or formal tests- writing is an action and in the doing, fear about “making a mistake” can be alleviated – simply seeing the words on the page may help one to begin the process of eliminating extraneous material and zeroing in on that important focus which will establish the essay topic.

So… please let the sounds appear in print; clear the brain by depositing the words onto a page, and recognize that revisions, organizational structure (read- outline) and basic housekeeping (grammar, punctuation, citing sources etc.) are Step 3- they come later- more about Step 2 in tomorrow’s entry.  


an all time favorite if you have a little one

Remembering “why”.

The things we remember:

today is November 11, officially Armistice day, and across the globe many communities are paying respects to soldiers – be it the soldiers recalled from the events of WW1 or soldiers who still must fight in a military in 2014.

In Ontario much talk is going back and forth over the value of making the day a National event- since some Canadian provinces already observe the day as a full day of remembrance and use the time up to November 11 to teach about not only the horrors of World Wars but also the hopes that are generated by activists for peace- Planting seeds of peace, encouraging inquiry, focusing on the present generation and all that it may accomplish is an act of doing and making- combining two terms in popular usage today, and sharing that basic desire – that somehow, horrific events are not only not forgotten, but that the meaning of words like “freedom”, “citizenship” and “rights and responsibilities” aren’t just words to be matched up on a test but words that have value, that carry promise, that offer a lifestyle within an ideology of purpose.  Not everyone will grow up to be prime minister, or president, or even interested in the political forum.  But everyone growing up in a world where there may still be a threat of global violence ought to be made aware of how many people have -over generations- risked everything, in the hopes of building ( making and doing ) places where the opportunity to attempt harmonious living will be a mandate for social action.

We memorized poems when I was in school, and the Remembrance Day full school assembly meant total involvement- K-6th grade for at least a month before – from the Canadian Thanksgiving in October, through to the November event.  And through these activities we built up a variety of skills-  plugging a sentence from a poem into Google pulled up the full piece; imagine being nine years old and able to use the word “damn” in front of the whole school because it was central to the poem being recited-  “Men who could stand before a demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries without winking…”  demagogue- vocabulary building, poem credit goes to Josiah Gilbert Holland, author,  time: American Civil War- linking then the concept of Remembrance to beyond one specific point in time and beyond one specific place.  English Literature, social studies, geography, history, public speaking and drama class rolled into one action.  Granted, as an adult I know now that my elementary school (public) would have been labelled “progressive” ; and I am aware of how much design went into encouraging us to become makers and doers, to question as well as observe, to participate in the lesson by moving beyond the rote aspect of committing to memory, and to attempt ourselves to evoke the need to care within our listeners- the majority of whom were peers.  “Lest we forget” always meant much more than wearing a poppy- it included actively collaborating on projects designed to encourage respect for ourselves, for each other, and for our world. 

On giving and receiving advice!

“Buyer beware” is an old saying- and one I usually put into practice- after all, education plus experience is meant to be worth something- isn’t it?  and of course- everyone makes mistakes …

As I type this my left eyelid is swelling, my left cheek is bruised and my left side of my face- well- I hope it won’t be scarred.  In any event three red welts have already encircled that left eye and I either look like a prize ring boxer or a lady who went for plastic surgery and it didn’t take.   In reality I am neither- neither the boxer nor the person undergoing plastic surgery- an ordinary teacher rushing to a bus with books in an unusual position-books in one of those “neat- little- carry- on- carts” that some people seem to either push or pull effortlessly and what others- who hardly ever carry a thing- exhort as the latest and greatest non technological advance- “imagine” – it slides on wheels! and suddenly all one has to do is pile it with all the paraphernalia that we who teach or carry objects to and fro usually lug in bags over the shoulder or the wrist, – “freedom?!”

Up early double cup of coffee- lunch made, books in order- bus at the corner – just go! And everyday except this morning- no problem- today = the unwieldy “neat-little-carry-on-cart” just toss everything in and – boom- flat on my face on the sidewalk- the – neat -little- carry-on-cart standing at attention after it had picked up speed and smashed into my ankles- I was pulling rather than pushing it- and hadn’t realized that the objects inside would have had to have been placed- “just so” to give it ballast- either way- kind gentleman and his dog looking extremely worried as I begin to stand up- my face had hit the ground- hard; glasses cutting into my cheek may have prevented further damage as no ground went into the eye proper- but I do look a sight! A bit scary really – for even with 1/2 hour of an ice pack (actually a frozen bag of corn- peas would have worked too!) the bruising and cuts are evident.  So …advice to the ones who may consider purchasing one of these “neat-little-carry-on-carts” buyer beware- give me an old fashioned bag or two any day, and I will restrict the carts which I push  to carts in a grocery store.  And don’t look askance please if you should see a lady carrying her books old-fashioned school girl style – in her arms- instead of in one of those “neat-little-carry-on-carts”; mine will be going in the garbage can while my head is still on my shoulders;  and next time someone suggests I could make my life easier if I were to*…I might just buy a pair of running shoes…instead.

Thanks for reading.

*sit down, relax and put my feet up- that didn’t work either- but that’s another story…

spot the differences :)

remember the “can you count the changes” in images from children’s exercise books-

These two images have much to offer for an in-class discussion and an on paper assignment:

Courtesy of Norman Rockwell

what clues suggest a change in mood? which ones suggest a story behind the image? which character has undergone the most transformation?

have fun with it!

Marks and the Academic Essay

Academic Writing

Writing for a specific purpose- I know many students who would say- “yeah- to get a good mark” — but- regardless of whether we say write a “how to” essay, write a “persuasive” essay, “discuss”, “analyze”, or if teachers offer- or a test offers – a prompt- it is still writing to explain a point of view!

Which is why it is so important that we as educators continuously encourage students to share their opinions; when students believe that their thoughts count, they are more likely to express them in written or oral form. 

Owls hoot “whoo”; a teacher must ask “why”? What part in the story has made you feel this way? Why? Where in the text can you find the support for this opinion? Why? Why have you chosen this topic?   Does additional research exist on this topic? Why did others consider the topic important?

We also need to remind students that one essay is not saving the world, creating world peace or changing society- it is however, discovering one’s voice, entering into a discussion, learning HOW to debate an issue, and when to cite sources, when to stress personal ideals.   And equally important how to read for information. 

Reading and writing go hand in hand.  When working with students who claim they “can’t write” the student(s) and I go back to the reading- not only will improved reading skills enhance written work, but also working together on a reading will allow an instructor to find where the student first ran into difficulty. Vocabulary specific to a subject? or vocabulary in general? Comprehension of an author’s main points- clear or vague? Theme, purpose of the assignment, can a student explain this in his/her own words? According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary definitions, one of the meanings for “comprehension” is “c :  the capacity for understanding fully <mysteries that are beyond our comprehension> ” Wow- “beyond our comprehension” – a leap of faith then takes place when we communicate ideas.  The leap being that we will, in fact, understand one another.  This is why moving into connotations, figurative language and use of metaphor, is essential to building vocabulary, in turn essential to improving reading skills, essential to increasing writing development.  An art and a science- writing is crafted.  When we show “how” let’s be sure to remember to encourage students to question “why”.