Category Archives: student work


Things for Teachers to Remember:

Children and young adults are a “little bit of everything.”  Too often as we approach the final portion of an academic year, we are busy thinking tests, reviews, scores, and how to get it all done in time. We also have to evaluate the pupils, and suggest not merely for those upcoming reports but also for the files, the notes we make on the students and that allow us to intelligently discuss what worked, who worked, and how they worked throughout the academic year.

And I remember how with the youngest who were still at the picture book stage, we often used metaphor to get the point across that they as children were “allowed” to have all the emotions, to be all the fish in the pond, not merely a static “happy fish” or happy smiling face. Then as children complete middle school literally for many “trying on roles” and enter High School as the young adults we encounter, they are beginning to solidify an image- if not quite their true image. As Educators we have to keep encouraging them to continue to not restrict themselves into one specific personality trait or one specific mode of practice- for this I turn to the already famous to share how so many had more than one profession, more than one talent, more than one fixed and celluloid image.  And for those who have gone on to become rock stars, or sports heroes or even Nobel Scientists there is also their other characteristics as well: Einstein famously playing music, rock stars who become spokes people for environmental issues, Environmentalists painting or capturing their beloved outdoors in photographs or on film, and for the students skeptical if they can break their “molds” and the expectations of their peers we happily have a host of relatively recent young adult movies where the actors actually do try on other roles to the chagrin of peers and with at times extreme growing pains- these may be shared to generate free style brain storming and writing exercises.

And we as Educators ought to recall for ourselves those “hobbies” which once brought pleasure and remember to share our efforts with our students so as not to be one dimensional to them, either. When we care about students from a holistic perspective we share a little part of our personalities, too.  We might not be “the biggest fish in the pond” but we can keep swimming and demonstrating that each of us is a valuable part of the whole, for when we do so we validate our students’ efforts and make real the notion that yes it is good to try new challenges, to encourage ourselves as well as one another, and to perhaps even uncover hidden talents and new dreams.







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

Seriously, dig deeper to find “success”

TEASING; and why there is a huge difference between children learning word play and playing with words, and actual taunting. Taunting doesn’t work in business relationships, either. The carrot before the donkey is an awful image because it reduces a human to the level of a beast of burden- a donkey- an animal traditionally used to conjure up the image of a “foolish beast”. Another word for a donkey- an “ass”-and to be “a donkey’s ass”- is an extreme insult.

To taunt is to hold out a promise and constantly withdraw it-think of children and adults at play. Sometimes parents will use bribery to encourage a certain form of behaviour; the award must then be received if the change in behaviour is to take effect. Otherwise, the game is not a game at all- it is an exercise in power, and simply proof of the power of one party over another. In this day and age where words like “collaboration” are a little too loosely spread about, what needs to be made clear, be it in business or personal life, is that teasing creates resentment, not community. Why then do we allow for, nay, even encourage between adults, behaviour which would be criticized in a kindergarten classroom?

Word play sample: “Pete and Repeat (or spell it Repete and then it is a visual homonym) were walking along the bridge; Pete fell off- who was left?” Answer: “Repeat” = child asking question gets to repeat it – ad infinitum – laughter will ensue for a brief moment- but if it continues…the word play has become mean play.

 In life doing the same task again and again, and here we get to paraphrase Einstein, becomes a ridiculous exercise- punishing rather than building someone up.

Yes, as tutor, I will have older students proof their work, recopying it until they are satisfied that it says what they wished to express- but this is not a futile exercise, it is an exercise meant to have students become owners of their thoughts, and willing to share these opinions in the public forum which they participate in- a school.

If as a community we are going to build up the youth in our care, we want them to feel confident to share their opinions, to express ideas, and to recognize when a piece of writing is making a point, to think about the points other authors are expressing, and to not be afraid to show that they too can communicate. Our corrections must address the separate areas of content and grammar and structure, while bearing in mind, that our students have experienced different lives from ours, and may read into a piece something separate, special to their understanding; which is why we must teach go to the text, find where you feel this idea is being developed, and do not be afraid to stand out from the crowd.

If I am going to share with students an image with a carrot in it, then this one seems more appropriate:

As Teachers we are entrusted with all the reasons for digging to find that success.

A REQUEST with Thanks

Dear Readers, please remember this blog is both Teacher and Parent and Student friendly and if your blog does not fit all of the above categories – thank you for liking – send a note – follow me on twitter, but please do not post your Gravatar if, were a student to click on it, the material you publish is unsuitable-
again to all- thank you for reading, the thoughtful messages you have sent BUT, this is an “all ages” blog – my students and their families are reading it too!
Best regards and to a productive school year- 2014-2015

Joint ventures and classroom projects

Cutesy or clear? rows or seats in teacher prescribed groups? lecture format, flipped classrooms…either or/- or a little bit of “everything” to not merely allow for each “type” (are we still discussing “types”) but to put personality back into a teaching “formula” and to allow each instructor, parent, educator, to share key concepts, and to remember that be it in a one room school house ( these still do exist ) or a couple thousand strong – formal learning environment, we ARE after a similar set of goals- how to share a concept so that learners of all ages want to make it their “own”.

Working with a variety of learners has “proven” one thing to me; thinking in action, changing direction, and being able to make time for student led questions, student led “experiments” does not mean “hands-off” in terms of teaching but the opposite- clear directions for open-ended results, open ended directions for further inquiry, and the expectation of change occurring when a student begins to believe that there is a purpose to an action.  Having said that, my next comment might surprise people- for indeed sometimes the purpose is to prepare for a quiz; sometimes we practice something to make it a “habit”.

If independence of action remains a goal suggested by the “some day” to be earned diploma, then testing continues to hold value as a means of demonstrating some form of learning- we are encouraged to “test drive” a car before selecting, shouldn’t students be allowed to test themselves at higher levels of challenges?  The problem I have seen from some test results is the subsequent labellings of a student, labels that often do not take into consideration the growth that is taking place within our young, daily.  While I favour ongoing assessments, formal and informal, I have seen students respond with excitement to the idea of an examination- formal term applied.  And to the cheering that is also part of an educator’s role, when we recognize even “basic” accomplishments; learners of all ages do want to know what a test is examining, how to tackle it, and in what areas could one improve.

Classes for many resume next week 🙂 – teachers are rarely blase about the prospect knowing that introductions can set a tone; I think of how many good stories I may have not completed reading if I hadn’t encouraged myself to move past the first two chapters, and get into the true focus of the story. Realistically, characters grow on readers as we join them in their adventures- It is ok to be a bit of a character to the students as long as we remember to stay curious ourselves; then learning is not merely an adventure, but a joint venture.

Changing of the Guard: new classes, new teachers

Changing of the guard-

Imagine how proud they each must have felt when earning the position of being a Buckingham palace guard! And how tiresome the job must become when someone’s unruly child, in an effort to get attention, stands in front of a guard and deliberately sticks out a tongue, or makes other “funny faces’ to try and dispel the outward “calm- and- in- control” image that the guards know they must maintain, and that, to their credit, the guards do.

Now imagine an employee in a work situation, and a set of senior “bosses” behaving just like those unruly children, and attempting, day after day, to break through the calm of the more junior worker. As parents we would or should reach out to our children and teach them that teasing is wrong, hurtful, and a form of bullying. And if in the position of the junior worker? Then life gets extremely complicated. To maintain that air of calm requires the internal discipline of the Buckingham guard, but to move forward in a healthful manner may require developing a distance that is impossible in what may turn into an intolerable post. First year teachers beginning at schools and eager to share their excitement need also to recognize that each school maintains a particular type of culture – all those wonderful ideas may not get displayed in one single term- breathe, adopt a bit of the stance of the palace guards to deflect the children’s and perhaps their parents’ and even long term staff members’ quizzical at best, nasty at worst, behaviours, and remember – like the Palace guards, YOU earned this posting; the children desire to learn, and your desire to share the learning will get all of you through the year.
Best wishes.


Why Not?

Simple expression-usually suggesting no reason not to do something

Why Not?

Simple question- actually requiring a response; particularly valuable in a classroom