Monthly Archives: January 2015

Increasing Literacy

I confess

writing poetry is how I digress-

and then, it leaves my desk

a mess!

Poem inspired by the simple examples in Lois Lowry’s  novel Gooney Bird is so Absurd – a story set in a Grade 2 classroom that invites both adults and children to view the inside of an elementary class in action.  For any adult who wishes to peek inside her child’s classroom, this story will provide many a chuckle and is “just right” for emerging readers to connect with character and plot.  It also works as a primer for how to increase Literacy at home; the simple use of couplets, the encouraging of the children’s efforts, the genuine enjoyment in demonstrating how the many voices in a classroom respond to direction.  Perhaps what I liked best is that in this day and age when we profess to being about “diversity” it is fun to read a story where the children’s comments are believable and the multiple perspectives simply expressed.

I immersed myself in children’s novels these past few weeks, marveling at how some managed to convey really “big ideas” and encourage a reader of any age to “care”.  Another book that impressed: Stealing Home by Ellen Schwartz.  This one is geared to slightly older children and set in 1947- with the story of Jackie Robinson as a backdrop for the main character developing and finding both himself and his own home.  Fans of baseball will be asked to consider the importance of radio (technology at the time) as well as being given insight into what is really behind major events like “Black History Month”.  Ms. Schwartz also shares insight into a Jewish family in Brooklyn’s 1940s – as a cross cultural novel the book displays understanding of “miscommunication” and suggests how inter-generational bonds can be formed.

The Secret Garden now this one is a step back in time and for readers who already possess a strong vocabulary and who read regardless of the dialects and who can become curious about the formal and very full descriptions of time, place, and characters.  It is important to remember that writers in the last century were focusing on sharing a story, not gearing their writing to a specific age group- so many of the books which I found in the “children’s” section of the library weren’t originally written with a particular genre in mind.  The book being about friendships formed and new beginnings, can definitely be shared as an in class study for junior and even senior high school students- in the older grades there would be the opportunity to look into the politics subtly expressed.  Too often it seems books with deeper social/cultural meaning are currently being relegated as “children’s stories” which has a double sided sword.  Children do indeed absorb the nuances in a story and the extra curious will try to learn more about a particular time period or why characters may have behaved or been expected to behave in a certain way.  But older students with the deeper knowledge base may shy away from reading a novel that is labelled “children’s” even if also called a classic and then become stuck between what is available in the young adult sections- and what is enforced- that is, chosen by a teacher for classroom study.  It is a bit of a truism that reading makes readers.

As an adult I continue to be thrilled when I can find a book on Project Gutenberg, or quickly use the internet to source a topic, and am all in favour of encouraging students to value reading in all its various dimensions however there is simply something intrinsic to the feel of a book- and to the value that can be gained through taking the time to connect with voices that travel across time and space and into one’s psyche; when a novel’s characters no longer appear as words on a page but indeed become examples of people worth caring about -this happens.  And that is what is meant by how reading may encourage empathy.

Next week: some classics reviewed

Education as it is meant to be

If Educators weren’t encouraged to share knowledge in such a way that enables others to grow, everyone would be stuck in kindergarten- our “role” is to empower, to build up, to encourage others to extend- yes, even to soar.

For this semester- wishing that as many as possible truly feel themselves, regardless of age or grade level, flying.

In Flight-Soar

Best practice may entail “best fit”

NEWS FLASH!  This just in:  “one size doesn’t fit all in education!”  and science is here to prove this!  Imagine that!

Yes I am being a little off the cuff and facetious when in fact am grateful that neuroscience has made advances to remind all of us that the brain can be plastic; however, the idea that many would benefit from direct individualized instruction is hardly a novel concept.

So, to extend the metaphor for a moment:

Shoes- those wonderful objects that today come in all shapes and types and sizes to protect our feet, offer comfort, and in general aid us in walking, climbing, marching or dancing through our day- well we have a metaphor for these very objects- a parable in fact- suggesting that one should “walk a mile in another’s shoes” before issuing any type of judgement.  But- how many people attempt this?  In short we rarely expect to be able to interchange shoes as readily as we might other outer garments- t-shirts and sweaters for example.  We know our feet make a particular impression, molding the footwear to our shape/walking in another’s shoes remains an ideal as does finding the “perfect” general curriculum; and, students of all ages from Kindergarten through Post Secondary continue to try on various courses, various possible roles, as they navigate a school system that while declaring a goal of personalized growth and development must, by its very nature as an institution- the system of schooling itself must restrict that very necessary trying on because the system has to offer a general set of practical courses.  If students are to make headway, they are sometimes squeezed into a pair that is a little too tight, or given last year’s style and expected to “make do” or suddenly told that what ever they had been wearing -oops- learning now needed to be unlearned to accommodate new directives; and, thankfully, most students do have the brain power to accept these restrictions and to, even while they continue to expand their personal collection of what might fit, continue to challenge themselves through trying on various shapes and styles.

And then there are those who might require a special shoe maker.  Shoes tailored for a particular need, a specific learning requirement.  Just as a custom order takes both time and proper skills to design, develop and produce; individualized instruction requires more than simply stating it will be one-one.  Smaller class sizes do not automatically entail better instruction- the instructor entails better instruction.

This blog entry was sparked by reading a “new” article on better ways to develop “successful, confident readers” and I was startled to discover that once again “Science” was being called upon to support the obvious and that these – as stated above- genuinely remarkable insights into how the brain works were now being touted as buzz words.

Communication is multi- faceted: personal, impersonal, direct, oblique, concrete, abstract, oral, written, spoken and read.  When teaching reading and writing skills it is necessary not merely expected that all these variants on how we share feelings and ideas, recognizing as well that tone and attitude, rhythm and rhyme, picture and graph, movement and stasis be highlighted.  Then the skills, slowly or quickly as the learner requires, need to be established through practice.  All of the above require time.  Education: personalized.

this blog post appears first here on Together Academics where private specialized instruction is created and tailored to the needs of the learner -it may be referenced by special request

Using Visuals to Enhance Writing Skills



Sometimes it is the simplicity and the symmetry that draws the eye. When students are asked to create a story, offering a picture prompt plus open brainstorming together will allow students to recognize what is meant when asking for a written “thick” description and students may create a background or plot for?

Who might be coming to dinner? Is it an ordinary occasion? Where is the setting? At home or elsewhere? Could they add a mystery/suspense to their short vignette?

Image, plot, character study, setting, use of adjectives, vocabulary enhancer- all ages/levels, writing skills

Image from La vie et Belle spring eggrolls, Vietnam

Shake it up!

Once upon a time, in an enchanted__________(forest, pond, stream, house, castle,garden…) lived a little______________(prince, princess, horse, pony, goat, duck…?) and this little_______________decided to join everyone around the _____________?  campfire!  Because campfires are good places to share stories and hot chocolate.  And stories and cold juice.  And stories and popcorn.

The night was clear.  The moon was bright.  Everyone was pleased to take part in the ? making of a brand new KITE! And so the ________________ joined in and discovered______________________________????

Reading involves a full body practice- peek into a kindergarten room and observe the need for movement; some of us continue to need that opportunity to use our bodies in motion while the learning process grows- yet – we have a strong image impacted of reading and writing practice being a solitary studious pursuit.  If you have the time, and inclination, rummage through a children’s section at the library or the bookstore or within your own home collection.  And see if you can really sit still or if at times the words on the page conjure up images that make you not only truly laugh out loud, but also seem to get you swaying to the rhythm – words on the page leaping and colliding and having fun.

Learning- of anything- is a time consuming series of repetitions and practices until a learner feels a smidgen of control, slowly leading to mastery.  And which some remain determined may have less to do with “grit” or “mindset” and more to do with circumstances and options.  If however, we, as educators wish to open up a few doors or at least a window into what various aspects of learning may offer, then we will be needing to demonstrate how and why skills are building blocks for movement forward.  Direct communication – making time for this – becomes essential, so instead of lamenting the fast pace and disconnect of modern times, or extolling the virtues of technology and flipped classrooms, let’s remember that if we present testing or reviews in a positive frame, then the likelihood of students responding in a positive manner improves.

Personalities- we each have one- and we no more wish to be lumped into a “type” then do the students in a learning environment.  That is “mindset” in a nutshell; the suggestion that people may be allowed to think outside the box requires people not to be boxed in or restricted by academic labels-  a label may allow for clearer organization within an institution, but at times denies the learner the very thing education is meant to encourage- growth and change.  Movement: across disciplines, within communities, throughout a learning system, demands numerous skill sets including the ability to fill in the blanks, to extend the story, to make it one’s own, to develop, to grow and to become.

And so they lived…which always struck me as suggestive of more to come…

Standing desks, musical chairs, reading buddies, writing conferences, on and off line; shake it up, and find the mix that works best in your student’s frame.

Personal Practical Knowledge: thoughts

– or why I encourage journaling, yet would rarely ask a student to show those scribbles or notes on a page. Private musings are more than brainstorming – they are personal and deserving of respect.

There is a difference between personal private writing, and the writing that students are asked to share.  Somehow though we appear to have taken words and as is often the case, given them new definitions:  journaling or diary keeping used to be a private activity- part of that personal practical knowledge base- an activity which some did automatically, while others needed encouragement to recognize how private scribbles or drawings or practiced writing would and could develop into thoughts on a page- today we have a multitude of “fake diaries” – for example the whole series of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or Dork Diaries”  enjoyed by many and yet- such practiced writing leaves some question how to appreciate what may in fact have been a private piece of writing for example “Diary of Anne Frank” ; a piece of writing that even when reread for the umpteenth time makes me marvel at the author’s fortitude while shuddering that we so blithely read over,  and, if a class assignment, dissect her (Anne’s) private wonderings.  That she continued to believe the world could be a “better place” in spite of everything that the horrors of WWII created, is a marvel; that we read the Diary and may not clearly remember to establish within our own students the expected set of boundaries/ that private writing generally has a right to remain private, and that writing which is submitted for marks or review is public- and if we ask students to attempt the Diary style of writing, to recognize that the assignment is different from the personal, practical, private writings or drawings or marks on a page that truly deserve the title of journaling or diary.  It is a privilege when a student approaches with an example of personal writing writing done for “fun”,  or to express a need, and wanting to share.  And it is within this notion of privilege that as educator my comments on this personal work are carefully selected to encourage, to empower, to grow.  Bearing in mind that as educator we are expected to be critical, and aware that critical includes the positive,  any encouragement offered is genuine, suggested areas for improvement only suggested not demanded, and gratitude for the trust implied in the sharing, extended.

Thank you: two simple words that we as educators must remember to include in our conversations with students if we are to truly be modeling a growth mindset, an attitude that allows for constructing and committing to practice.