Category Archives: teaching

weaving words into feelings

Maya Angelou had an amazing ability to affect people of all backgrounds and all ages, in the way she wove words into feelings. Regardless of background or experience the idea that “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” resonates.

For me it also brings home what we were trying to create when I joined others as a Museum Educator, and wanted to share a space that had the reputation for being stuffy and “hands off”; to challenge that reputation, and share the space for what it really was, a treasure trove of memorabilia, and history. So taking to heart the idea within the saying, we went to work to make the Museum visit a positive experience. This meant that while creating interactive exhibits to appeal to a variety of ages was essential, so too, was being open to changing direction within a museum framework, and being open to taking direction from the visitors themselves. As a museum educator has to make use of the exhibit space, the objects themselves, and the visitors, then, even when the visitors are kindergarten age, their opinions count. A favorite memory is the Oohs and Ahhhhs the children uttered when entering the oversized elevator. How funny, but how important to recognize that this initial welcome to the centre would be central to their desire to share the experience with parents, to encourage others to visit- even if others entered an exhibition space in the more formal manner: up the stairs and past the ticket taker.

Visualize please a wall covered with larger than life Audubon paintings, and a group of grade five students creating the movement and sounds these very static images might have produced. Or enter with me into a hall filled with flat paintings of America’s founding fathers, and hear the group of grade ten and eleven students laughingly comparing the fashions then and (well it was the early 90s)- “now”. Pull out a dollar bill and match the image to the portrait, – you get the picture.

Only recently though did I connect Ms. Angelou’s words to the Gettysburg address, and only because of a chance reading in an obscure book- the following words rang out, and immediately brought to mind: Maya Angelou’s vision. From the Address: “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here…” Lincoln.
– and the way in which art constantly alludes to earlier art, and manages somehow to reflect back while looking forward.

Poetry by its very nature remains open ended. As do many of the objects we find in different gallery spaces. These objects were created by someone, appreciated by others, and, I have to believe, meant to be shared.

It is the first Monday in August, and teachers are preparing to welcome a new school year. May 2014-2015 be filled with positive experiences. 🙂

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.

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 🙂














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…