Category Archives: test prep

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

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…

I had a basket of citrus fruit so…

citrus photography

Funny, we say “Oh that’s a lemon”  as an English expression for when something, say a second hand car, doesn’t work to expectations.  We also remind people to “make lemonade” or not waste the product.  I simply love the image of a bunch of cheerful bright colours, and this image reminded me of a children’s poem:

Oranges and lemons sang the bells of St. Clements

Oranges and lemons
Say the bells of St Clements
You owe me five farthings
Say the bells of St Martins
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey
When I grow rich
Say the bells of Shoreditch
When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney
I’m sure I don’t know
Says the great bell at Bow

Now we hear many an injunction to bring back PLAY- one of the better ways to incorporate play, and if it isn’t happening at a kindergarten and other elementary class near you, make it happen by having a small group(s) of children enact actions to some of the “tried and true” nursery rhymes.  Remember “London Bridge is falling down” ? when making a bridge and moving underneath it and taking turns being the bridge itself, children and the adults helping are encouraging literacy.  In the poem above, children hear both rhythm and rhyme.  For a slightly older child, have him/her look at the poem, speak it a few times, then try to write it from memory.  Help by offering a prompt – but not till asked 🙂 And if working with a child at the age to be curious about geography a mini history/geography lesson may happen.  Apparently the rhyme dates back to the mid 1600s and was actually danced to!

Lemons, limes and oranges, tart, semi-tart, and sweet- something for every taste; they add a dash of freshness to any environment.  Got a lemon?

Here is a science experiment just made for the lemon:   and a new use for the copper penny. 




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

Academics for all subjects

A reading is thinking poster

With science / math write-ups we also READ

Begin with prediction: = hypothesis

Visualize: what object are needed for (this)experiment? What amounts?

Connect: get all objects ready in one place / choose one set for the controlled object, the other objects will act upon – with experiments, the idea is to challenge yourself- (safely) and see what happens if…you are asking questions while trying the experiment

the write up tells others what happened
Instead of “clues from the text” the “evidence” is the section in a science write-up known as results- here you have a chance to decide what may not have worked. For example; if you were trying to change a liquid to a solid and doing a simple experiment with water- changing liquid water to solid ice, and the ice didn’t freeze- why not? Was the cold space not cold enough? Perhaps in class you created a mini refrigerator (tin foil and packaging and cardboard box…) and this did not stay cold- what could be done differently next time- where could something be changed?

Science constantly builds upon earlier experiments. When we try something at home or in class, we are practicing to see if a method “works”.

Take cooking for example: you are given a brand new toaster- you like toast nicely browned- first time you plug it in at set the number to 8 out of 10- Oh oh- too crisp- try again, 6? Just right. But wait, now put a bagel instead of another piece from that original loaf of bread. The texture is different and so might be the toasting time.

When scientists speak of the control object, they are saying one object stays the same, while another object changes. In the above case, the toaster stayed the same, while the bread products were changed.

New slice of bread- a piece of Challah- Oh oh- turning temperature down to 4- why? Why might it burn faster? What ingredients were in the Challah slice that are different from the regular piece of white bread, and different from the bagel? We do science experiments all the time, without realizing and labeling them as experiments or science!

In academics, we are asked to share what we are thinking in a write-up. This write-up may be answering questions on a teacher prepared worksheet- it may be drawing a picture of what we just did, it may be going online, and sharing over the internet by using a blog, a wiki, or a tweet  The write-up means one thing, regardless of how and where it is placed- communicating so another may understand; much of the time in school, students often ask- “will this be on the test?” – their point- shall I memorize the “fact” to be able to retell it? In less formal, ongoing assessments, the test begins with the student, and is a part of the student’s inquiry to understand more. A student encouraged from the start to share his/her understanding of what took place, is a student being encouraged to “do” academics- it need not be an either or situation wherein a student is labeled non-academic if we remember that academics simply refers to recognizing bits of theory behind a form of practice. And it is “easy” to share nowadays how recognizing both theory and practice may improve performance. Take Usain Bolt- who isn’t impressed by the lightening speed of this man? And if students are shown how there became a science to his athletic training, science is removed from an esoteric activity and placed smack in the centre of life skills; like being able to tie one’s shoes even if wearing slip-ons with Velcro, it is good to know how to do something, good to be able to feel a purpose behind a set of skills, good to take part in learning. We teachers, parents, adults, want and NEED the next generation curious, active, communicative, and participatory. For not only “science” but humanity will then continue to move forward.

Stepping off my soap-box to wish all a productive and learning filled year!

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.

Teaching for social justice- it matters

Teaching for social justice is different from teaching to prevent crimes. And perhaps this is part, only a part, yes, but still an integral part of the problem. I currently live in Toronto, and ten minutes from my home three young people were shot – one died. I learned of the event via twitter- before it was reported on the news. The person hardest hit was a teacher, a young man of promise – he died- the other two young people, a boy and a girl, late teens, early twenties, hospitalized. No one knows why the event took place; except it is summer, it was a hot evening, people often congregate outside.

I realize what a horrific event transpired in Ferguson. I know what a horrific event took place a stone’s throw from me. I worry about both my young adult children who go out at night, and come home using public transit. I worry about the random acts of violence- but yes I am lucky- for to date, I haven’t seen a reason to worry about the police. Whether in Manhattan, where I lived for a period, or here in Toronto, Canada, the men and women who make up the police force have always been, on the occasion I have had direct contact with them, thoughtful, courteous and direct. Knowing they now patrol the area actually provides a sense of well being. Because one of the victims was a teacher, many children in the area were affected as well. How to explain – to answer the “why?” when the criminals weren’t caught? How to remind that basically this is a safe community, that crime and criminal acts can take place anywhere, and that there are, for lack of a better term- “bad people” out there, but one doesn’t have to emulate them.

I know that each of us presented with young minds puzzle at how to teach towards understanding. How to encourage the growth of a caring society, one in which mutual respect exists. One without fear of the very people, our police, who are expected to protect us from just such unthinkable events as what befell the young teacher this summer. But just as we don’t want to turn into a police state, don’t want to need patrol cars on every corner, we must teach that violence is not cool. Because if we teach hatred towards members of a service profession- and the police like the fire department, are providing an essential service, we will not be encouraging people to believe that there might be a place for them within these professions.

When we teach children to care about their place in society we are teaching that they in fact have a place in society. That they belong. That they in time may be able to make a difference; and that is why yes, teaching the stories of others who have made a difference can help. For if indeed these stories may then become part of the backbone of courage that many of our young people will require as they go through life, then we must tell the stories through a whole school project- not in isolation, not as a race or gender issue but as a part of living history- an opportunity to encourage a literacy based, project based, arts integrated, science practiced, full STEAM ahead, school.

When we teach for something we have become proactive. We have become empowered, as teachers, concentrating on transformative curriculum, rather than focused on disciplinary lectures- but the learning has to start early! From preschool up children absorb what they see and hear going on around them- home and school, community and practice. Teaching to prevent crime? Reminiscent of Up the Down Staircase, or To Sir with Love; books and movies in which the teacher wins some and loses some, and everyone marvels at the teacher’s ability to fight the system itself. What if instead, the system and the educator work together? Returning to a whole school approach, and community interaction; when I was little both the Fire Department and the Police came for visits- and we went to the Firehouse and to the Police museum. People who are part of one’s community may lose a bit of mystique, but the community will gain in understanding that the goals of one section are in tandem with the goals of a peaceful society.

For it IS about peace. It is horribly sad to consider why youngsters would need to find surrogate families within gangs and there is as much wrong with our system today as there was in the time of Victor Hugo, but, if we justify looting and robbery, we are saying “might makes right” – in Hugo’s day a character is hounded and imprisoned for stealing food- the greater picture of a hungry society being presented through the eyes of a main character and his villainous tormentor- a member of the police – and readers can’t help but side with the Jean Val Jean character. I can’t imagine what the police in Ferguson were thinking when releasing the video showing Mike Brown behaving like a thug, and stealing from a store; except perhaps to try and de- saint the young person. But – we have been shown the video, and that brings up, why had the character in our modern times believed it was OK to torment the shop owner/employees? In short, why did that action take place at all? Missing in Ferguson appears to be any kind of peace, if looting is common place, if kids are racially profiled, if anger was so close to the surface that it boiled over into this past month of stand offs.

In the end then, regardless of subject we must teach Why something matters. We as teachers, matter. Our students and their hopes and dreams, matter. Each and every person, matters. Again, it begins in preschool, and it can’t be over taught. It must be reiterated each and every year. I didn’t invent the concept – and as a concept it is older than you or I. What matters today is that we remove it from a conceptual ideal and place it squarely into real discussions, real and safe communication, real and daily practice. We must make caring – matter.

information about the incident in Toronto may be found here:

an American teacher’s set of suggestions for how to teach about Mike Brown may be found here: