Monday, October 15, 2018

Short Week, Tough Week, Unsolved Challenges

Why is it that shortened weeks seem tougher to complete? You'd think the opposite would be true. I had four days to rest, rejuvenate, socialize and satiate my appetite. (Thank you Jen S for the fudge!) However, not everyone enjoys the extra days at home and the transition back can be difficult. When I contemplate the past week and what stood out, it's specific students and certain behaviours that are sticking in my mind. I can't go into details, because I have to protect the privacy of my students. This is a list of the issues I've struggled with these past four (which felt like eight) days:
  • overhearing a conversation and making the phone call that every educator dreads [Tuesday]
  • being at a loss for words at a soaked classroom that felt like it happened in a blink of an eye (and where did all that hand sanitizer go?) [Tuesday]
  • preventing a student from self-destructive conduct and unusual, unsafe ways of dealing with frustration [Wednesday]
  • inviting a new teacher-librarian to my space and having her see a lesson bomb, as well as what might be considered "shaky class management" [Thursday]
  • witnessing students try to by-pass the library visit limits and not telling the truth initially when asked [Wednesday and Friday]
  • listening to outright defiance when asked to do reasonable (but maybe unpleasant) tasks [Thursday and Friday]
  • getting yelled at and kicked by a student because he didn't live up to the end of his part of an agreement [Friday]
I've been reading A Guide to Documenting Learning by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano and Janet A. Hale (only Chapter 1 so far, because I'm trying to read it slowly and digest the messages thoroughly). I was pleased to accidentally discover that I already did the Chapter 1 Action Step because the post from two weeks ago as well as last week's post were actually examples of turning "documenting OF learning" snapshots into "documenting FOR learning" artifacts. It has also confirmed that this blog is my own "documenting AS learning" because it is a metacognitive process. There's strategic preparation involved ("what was memorable? what's on my mind? what do I need to puzzle out?") and it helps me immediately ("Aha! As I wrote it out, I can see the situation and possible next moves more clearly!") and over time ("So that's what I was thinking before, and yeah, I can see why X must change or Y must stay the same") and now I like getting comments or suggestions because it's easy for sharing and obtaining feedback (which wasn't my original purpose for blogging but has become a valued part of it). (The underlined words part of the key words from page 11 which describes "documenting as learning". The one part this blog doesn't fulfill in this description is that it isn't completed while it is happening, as least, not when the incidents themselves are happening.)

But this blog, this documenting, ... me - I don't have any answers to these current dilemmas. I want to fix things but things can't always be remedied quickly or completely. I've read Stuart Shanker's Calm, Alert and Learning and I realize that some of our students are disregulated in many of the domains. I remember that I cannot control students but I can control my reaction to students (and that varies - sometimes I react calmly and professionally, but not always). I'm grateful to our SNA, Stephanie Paterson, because I can talk to her and the conversation always moves away from venting ("Can you believe what that student did?") to problem solving or what Renee Keberer likes to reframe as solution-finding ("So what can we put in place that will lessen these outbursts and ease transitions for those students?"). Our specialist teacher PLC will focus on helping our students self-regulation skills, and I have a ton of new books to read (like the Minds Up handbook and Lost at School, a book Stephanie highly recommended.)

Back to Guide to Documenting Learning and these particular students swimming in my head. Tolisano and Hale tell me to "keep the sharing short [and] be conscious of privacy concerns" (page 21). A few pages back, they list samples of documenting learning purposes, asking if the documenting action:
- supports growth?
- moves learning forward?
- tells a story about the learning?
- gives learners a voice?
- causes ownership of one's learning?
- creates opportunities for feedback?
- encourages reflection and metacognition?
- makes meaningful connections to future learning?
- supports collection through curation?
- encourages community communication?
- embraces communication with a global audience?
- creates professional learning opportunities?
I despaired that today's blog post couldn't move the learning forward and was unable to engender community communication (since I can't go into detail with a wider audience). Yet, the act of writing them down in that list, thankfully, refocused me and told me that documenting via this post of my struggles (and the students' struggles) doesn't require that it meet all twelve possible purposes. By showing I'm not perfect (something I'm still surprised that others think of me) and wrestling with these situations, I guess I am taking ownership of this problem and am determined to try finding solutions.

Before you think my entire week was a complete disaster, (and three brutal Cross-Fit sessions didn't help to improve my frame of mind, I gotta say) let me end it on some positive notes. 

1) The students are still enjoying the Keva planks and working together with incorporating marbles or trying to extend their structures as far off a table as possible. They are the ones that tell me that I must take photos of what they've made. (Great beginnings for a documenting learning mindset, I suspect - I don't know, I haven't gotten that far in the book.)  The Larkspur Library Learning Commons liked my tweet/post about the Keva plank challenge and have been sharing their own experiments with the challenge.

2) Ernie the skinny pig inspired soft voices, nurturing actions (like kindergarteners feeding him lettuce leaves) and great inquiry questions. One class were so calm and careful that I had them hold Ernie in his sleep sack while I cleaned his cage. They were delighted that they were given this privilege and really treated him with gentle kindness. I had never been confident about allowing this sort of responsibility with such a young group of learners before. (They were between 8-9 years old.)

3) I saw Jennifer Orr's blog post and was inspired by it. When I was writing a "good tattle" note in a Grade 4 girl's agenda, she told me that I should write one like it in some of her classmates' agendas too, and recommended someone and the reason. My heart melted!

4) "Miss Landra", our orientation and mobility teacher with the Vision Department, taught me a whole lot about how maps differ for people who are blind. She modified a library assignment I had for the student she works with, and the two of them explained to me how the assignment was completed and why the map has the structure and features it contained.

5) Lorna Chan, our Grade 3-4 teacher, and I (with the amazing Stephanie Paterson) are working on a collaborative unit that incorporates science, language, and visual arts. I appreciate that Lorna values "Library Partners" time and was willing to shift her schedule to make it work. When we first explained the project to the students, many didn't understand (and this was confirmed when we did "exit tickets" with the students). Lorna and I talked, and we re-did the lesson, based on the students' feedback to us. It went so much better, and the students now have a better understanding of what they will do and how they can accomplish it.

I hope next week will have more examples like the ones closer to the end of the post and less of the examples listed at the beginning of the post. Truth is, we handle what we are given, like it or not. My hope is that my actions help lead to the positive instead of the negative.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Ped Doc

Ped Doc - my friend Denise Colby's short hand phrase for pedagogical documentation - is a
process for making. pedagogical (or other) work visible and subject to dialogue, interpretation, contestation and transformation.” ( Dahlberg, 2007)
The Ontario Ministry of Education put out a good monograph in their Capacity Building Series about pedagogical documentation, found at

This past week, I took a ton of photos as different student groups from varied classes explored the Keva planks I had out in my Library Learning Commons.  These photos and videos help tell an abbreviated story about what students were doing, how their plans changed, and gives a glimpse into their thinking at the time. I promise, I *actually* do things other than build with Keva planks in the library!

Sample 1: Grade 8s After School 
On Thursday, October 4, I experienced some technical difficulties with loading Minecraft on my school Mac computers (after running it without any major problems since 2012). The club members present decided while they were waiting to build a tower that was taller than they were, and mimic one of the builds they saw on a Keva plank card that came with my new set of 200 planks.

Sample 2: Kindergartens After Teamwork Read-aloud
Aviva Dunsiger responded to last week's blog post with many great questions. I was motivated by two of them in particular.
How might the addition of another materials (e.g., LEGO or a different kind of block with the Keva blocks) change the building?
How do the reduced group sizes help with this kind of parallel play? 
I decided to read a non-fiction book about teamwork to the kindergarten classes, and then give a limited amount of planks (only 20 per pair) to build whatever they wanted. Then, after a few minutes (and inspired by someone's initial build) I gave each pair a single marble. It was neat to see how the structures morphed into different creations and how they were inspired by their classmates to alter their designs. The photos here are just a very quick peek at what happened after the marble was introduced.

2A) Room K2 - A pair built a well-supported ramp, and another pair tried using their breath to move the marble on their structure. One pair started with parallel play but then gravitated towards each other to share their planks so they'd have more.

2B) Room K1 - One team decided to use the library shelf to make a tall structure. Many kept their original structures and then explored how the marble could be incorporated into it.

2C) Room 110 - Structures changed from flat roads, to roads with walls on the side, to slanted roads with walls on the side (tilted with more planks or with other found materials like the "black border" we use to keep a safe distance from the rocking chair). Purposes other than rolling were also explored, such as balancing on the top of a structure, or propelling out of a hole like a cannon. The last picture I took was inspired by a comment by the ECE in another class, who marveled about the way students figured out how to carry many planks. I wouldn't have thought to document this had it not been for Thess Isidro's comment. These two students chose to put planks in their pockets to carry them around!

Sample 3: Grade 3s during free time
The Grade 3s finished their media task during class time very quickly and so I gave them the opportunity to build what they wanted with whom they wanted. Some went to the Lego area but many went to the Keva planks. They made many different things. They insisted I take photos of what they built, especially because they couldn't keep the structures around after the period ended.

Sample 4: Junior students sewing
I should have taken a photo of how they initially tried to pin cloth together! Some of the students were keen to make things with fabric at recess in our makerspace. After seeing how they pinned, I realized they needed a bit of direct instruction. After learning how to attach fabric together with pins, some students got a chance to stitch the material together. This is a Grade 4 boy sewing a square to make a bag.

My new (and typical post-conference-workshop) question is, "so what?" What do I do with these photos, other than share them with the classroom teachers, who will share them with the parents? Well, I was working on my Annual Learning Plan and the major project that I've been working on for 8 years has finally come to fruition (publishing my research on readers choice awards programs in a peer-reviewed academic journal). I needed a new focus, other than my ongoing one on supporting our ELL students and providing assessment feedback in a timely fashion. I'll be doing some work on mentoring, but I've also committed to reading A Guide to Documenting Learning by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano and Janet A. Hale as part of my professional learning this year. I also signed up for a TDSB online course on loose parts. I'm excited to see how my own use of "ped doc" can expand, grow, and become more effective.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Petite Planks and the Process

Last November, I attended the AASL conference in Phoenix, Arizona. While I was there, I made a big personal purchase - planks. Technically, they are called Keva Planks. They are deceptively simple: plain rectangular pieces of wood. I bought a bag of 200 planks at that conference with my own money. It took a lot of wrangling to distribute all the planks throughout my luggage so that the increased weight wouldn't cause extra baggage fees at the airport. This week, at my school, those Keva Planks demonstrated that they were worth buying, thanks to my youngest and oldest school learners. (By the way, the website is and I just bought 200 more planks this weekend using school funds from a Canadian distributor.)

The Youngest Learners

As frequent readers of this blog will remember, I've been trying to go slow and incorporate more play in my program, especially my kindergarten program. Aviva Dunsiger commented on my blog post and encouraged me to use more loose parts. Her exact words were:
I’m thrilled to hear that you provided more time for play and enjoyed the results. I wonder what would happen with even more open-ended toys: some blocks, loose parts, small pieces of wood, etc. Would this change the type of play that you see, and even more of the connections to literacy and math? Curious to know if you give this a try and what you notice.
So, I brought out my Lego and my Keva planks to see what would happen. I saw each of our three kindergarten classes twice this week. I was completely blown away by the students in Ms. Chiu's JK/SK class. The level of cooperation and teamwork, especially for their age and the length of time they've known each other (only three weeks) made their accomplishments even more astounding to me. (After all, I cannot expect our littlest learners, some of whom have never been to school before, to automatically know how to share, take turns, or communicate effectively. For instance, one set of students in another kindergarten class are mostly parallel players and are struggling with socializing with their peers in large groups, so their class routine [maintained in the library for consistency] is to keep groups to four per activity.) 

This was the final result of work by a group of three Junior Kindergarten / Year One girls.

I took a ton of photos of them and tweeted a different one.

Later, I realized that so much of the magic that happened was the way that the girls built the tower.  By posting the picture of the end product without what happened beforehand provided an incomplete account of the student-generated STEAM task. I tweaked a set of four photos with faces obscured to give a glimpse of the process. Let me elaborate a little bit more here. To keep their privacy, I'll refer to the engineers by their clothes.

The photo above was taken during the early to mid stages of the build. "Pink Dress" began the build initially by herself (with the planks standing fence-like), but was soon joined by "Pink Shirt" and "Striped Shirt", who brought planks to give to "Pink Dress" and then started to add planks themselves.

This second photo (above) shows how all three girls are kneeling together to build. They talked a lot about making it.

I love this third photo, because it shows that mathematics was part of the talk. "Striped Shirt" indicated to the others how tall she hoped the tower would become, by using her extended hand as a non-standard unit of measurement.

This fourth photo shows the growth in the height of the structure. The girls can no longer kneel to add their planks. As it grew and grew, other students (playing with Lego nearby) glanced at the tower with interest, but allowed the girls to continue to build. Their kindergarten class teacher entered the library when the tower was as tall as "Pink Dress" and when she asked how they would continue to build the tower when it was over the tallest girl's head, one of the SK/Year 2 boys yelled out from where he was building "Why don't you use a chair?" We took even more photos, gave them extra time, and then, when it was time for the students to leave the library for lunch,  the girls dismantled their tower with glee. (The second day I saw this class, "Pink Dress" went back to the Keva Planks and said "I want to see if I can make it even taller." She didn't reach the height from these photos, but I noticed she experimented with the structure layout more than before.)

The Oldest Learners

It was supposed to just be a quick ten-minute task so other students could have time to borrow books. The Grade 8 class, with their wonderful, responsive teacher, Ms. Wadia, had just finished playing Scattergories in small groups in the library. As the groups brainstormed words, Farah Wadia whispered to me between rounds about all the positive academic and social benefits this game brought to her class. To give something for the other students to do while a few conducted book exchange, I mentioned a tweet I saw (but neglected to like or save) in my Twitter timeline about a neat Keva Plank challenge and offered it to the Grade 8s: how far can you extend Keva planks off a table?

WOW! Students began with their Scattergory groups, grabbed handfuls of Keva Planks, and spread out throughout the library searching for tables, shelves and other flat surfaces to start building.

Here are a few of the initial experiments.

Group A: Building on the table with the data projector

Group B: Building on one of the Everybody book shelves

Group C: Building on the table with the TV

Groups D & E: Building on the table near the leather couch

Group F: Building on the circular table near the non-fiction section

 Once again, the process was just as fascinating and exciting as the final products were. Group A's structure started to extend further. After a few more attempts, Group B and Group C (with the encouragement from members of Group A) joined Group A and contributed their planks to Group A's project. Group D & E made several revisions to their designs, and then eventually joined together.

One of Group C's revisions

Group A's structure continues to grow
Newly united Group D/E with their altered structure
As the two structures continued to grow, the groups constantly evaluated their progress. They may not have realized it, but they were totally using the Engineering Design Process. Together, they examined the structure from all angles to check for any weaknesses. The conversations were focused and insightful as they plotted and planned. They started to realize that they needed more planks to be able to go longer. They first tried to use planks they already had but could not jeopardize the integrity of their structure. Negotiations began. Groups A and D/E begged Group F for their extra planks. The rulers started coming out to monitor the progress. Group A passed 30 cm first, but then Group D/E also passed 30 cm. Every time the structure was in danger of falling, screams reverberated in the library from the builders. It was intense! The bell rang, signaling the end of the school day, but the students refused to quit. Ms. Wadia (who kindly sacrificed her originally scheduled math lesson to allow the students to continue) reminded the Grade 8 girls on the soccer team that they had a practice; their response was that they still had time. Our principal walked in to see the students in action (I *may* have excitedly called him in to witness the engineering marvels) and the Grade 8s were too busy working to even notice him. When Group D/E's structure crashed, there were wails and triumphant hollers. The longest structure was an incredible 43 cm long! Now I wish I had kept a copy of that original tweet, to compare how long their structure was to ours!

The Grade 8s said that they could have done even better IF ONLY they had more Keva Planks to work with! Now you see why I had to buy more. Usually I'm not a big fan of teacher-initiated challenges for my MakerSpace, but it was perfect for this STEAM activity, a great impetus for our teen builders.

Both the JK and Grade 8 Keva plank users demonstrated a lot of academic and social skills during their building time. Naturally, the complexity of their tasks differed with their ages, but I loved how versatile this simple little set of planks were in the two tasks. I'm not a Keva planks salesperson, but I am sold on how, with the right open-ended tool and the right environment or prompt, some amazing STEAM tasks can spring up in the library completely unplanned but wonderful.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Banish the Book Fair?

Last week, I wrote about the benefits of going slowly with my library and media lessons, by spending time playing and talking together. The last two sentences of that blog said,
 Of course, having written this, this coming week is Book Fair time - upended/limited space, disrupted routines, and new items around but not for general play. Wish me luck!
Well, book fair is over and I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about the experience. This isn't new. I wrote a blog post way back in 2013 admitting that book fair time is not my favourite time, and listing all the difficulties associated with turning a learning space into a retail space. The differences between 2013 and 2018 are the new anecdotes and the new options.

Photo of my 2018 book fair set-up

Book fair time is now a bit more bittersweet for me because my long-time volunteer, my mother, has had to "retire" from helping. Her memory is not what it once was, and she struggled with calculating the cost of items and managing the crowds of shoppers. She deserves to take a break from helping out - she's almost 82 years old, after all - but it's a very difficult realization to wrestle with, knowing that your parent, whom you considered omni-capable, isn't able to work the same way he/she did like before. (Trust me, I could write an entire book on my thoughts and feelings linked with this particular topic.)

I used to schedule the book fair during Curriculum Night because my mother was only available to help at that time; she was booked to take care of the same event during Parent Teacher Interview night at my former elementary school. I've kept the same time slot and now, the book fair is managed by me, my dear sympathetic friend and fellow teacher Ms. Keberer, and for this year, high school volunteer Alexander. Working at the book fair has been very beneficial to Alexander, who is working on a Specialist High Skills Major in Business. He has managed stock, calculated sales, dealt with customers, optimized layout, and other tasks. He's going for a job interview this week and will mention his work at the book fair as legitimate, current experience. Good luck Alexander!

Another view of the 2018 book fair

Despite the potential job benefits the book fair offered for my high school helper, there are negative socio-economic equity issues that relate to the book fair. I did not hear this in person, but one of the adults in my building told me that she overheard a student yelling to herself after discovering that she did not have enough money to purchase something, "I hate being poor!" That bothered me. I also get upset when I see students bring in $50 and $100 bills and then make purchasing decisions that might be questionable or not the best use of those funds. The book fair really highlights the economic inequities front and centre. When Michelle Arbuckle from OLA and I were chatting just before school began, she mentioned a workshop that she attended at the ALA conference that was conducted by young students of colour from economically disadvantaged areas; one of the items that the presenters raised that made school libraries less inviting was the presence of the book fair, with its inflated prices and new merchandise taunting those who could not afford to purchase them. So, it seems like it is not enough for me to point out the polished sales techniques of book fair promotions and remind students that they are neither required nor obligated to buy anything at all from the book fair. Just having it in the building is temptation enough.

A third view of the 2018 book fair
Now, I know that there are other options than the most mainstream book fair company option. In fact, during my very first year at my current school, I used the organization that the previous teacher-librarian had used. This company did not stock the trinkets and tchotchkeys that are the main sellers of my current book fair. However, one of the teacher spotted a book for sale that she had some serious concerns about. I defended the inclusion of that book at that time, but it made me worried about how carefully this group selected items to lend to us for sale, so I switched to a "safer" option.

I was talking about my book fair woes with some of the other teacher-librarian facilitators at the TDSB TL Facilitator planning day (September 20), like Tracey Donaldson, Kim Davidson, and Francis Ngo, and they offered several different choices (as did Twitter). A teacher-librarian mentioned that they use a local bookstore, who treats it like a "pop-up", so that the set-up and selling all happen on just one day, and that the retailer handles all of it. (They even do this at school concert evenings.) I should have known this, as we invited Ellaminnow Books to our school Family STEAM Night on May 17, 2018.

A photo of Ellaminnow's display at our STEAM event
(P.S. Another Story does run book fairs - they tweeted back that you can contact them to arrange.)

Using local stores does help the local economy, but temptation and distraction are two difficulties that the book fair of any sort brings. I wrote this sentence five years ago and it is still true today:
 Even the most attentive students are distracted by the books-that-are-not-library-books. 
In the staff room, I bemoaned the difficulty of running book fair while trying to teach, and Mrs. Commisso, an educator who always pushes my thinking in healthy ways, asked me, "Do you HAVE to have a book fair?". That question stopped me in my tracks. Did I? Is the gain worth the pain? Is my collection dependent on the additions I collect due to the book fair? Well, here are the numbers.

My net sales (excluding taxes) for this year was $2 586.28.
My rewards (because I chose the product only option, which gives me more) was $1 293.14.
I took product from the book fair that equaled $825.00.
I now have a credit to spend on catalogue items of $468.14.

As my annual report (which I was delighted to present to my principal and the division chairs) revealed, I actually spent over $2 000 more than my allocated budget last year, and that's not counting the book fair money I spent on book fair reading materials.

I was going to make a big pro/con list at the end of this post, but I think that this decision is bigger than me. I think I need to consult with all the people that are impacted by the book fair, like administrators, students, teachers, and parents. I suspect my students will wholeheartedly support the continuation of our book fair pattern; they love shopping at school, even if it's just 50 ¢ for a bookmark, eraser, or pencil. (This is one of the few benefits of the knick-knacks; it makes everyone feel like they can afford to shop.) I'd be curious to see what others in my school community think. Should I banish the book fair?

Monday, September 17, 2018

Starting Slow in September by "just playing and talking"

Today (Monday, September 17, 2018) will be the 10th day for the 2018-19 school year. I have certain first day/week school plans that I like to re-use with modifications, but this year I tweaked them a lot more - by doing less.

I have a lot of toys in my school library, thanks to the fact that my own son and daughter are the only grandchildren on both sides of the family. Now that my own children are teens (18 and 16), the toys that aren't kept perfectly preserved in my newly-cleaned garage migrate to my workplace so my students can enjoy them. I don't put all the toy bins out at the same time - that's too overwhelming and makes their appearance less special. Usually I allotted only a few minutes at the end of a period for our kindergartens and early primary students to play. This year, partly because our kindergarten groups are very Year 1 / JK heavy, I've replaced some of the whole-group instruction time with longer time to play with the couple of options I've offered (in this case, Koosh balls and Fisher-Price toys).

What has the impact been on giving more play time in September, especially to the kindergarteners?
  • less resistance / defiance from students
  • moments for self-regulation in a "lower-stress" environment
  • more time to observe students
  • more opportunities to build relationships with students
  • ideas for future lesson topics and teaching structures
  • practice with social skills 

This first photo is from the very first day of school, during third period. Look moms and dads - no crying kids! The formal lesson portion took about three minutes, and then there was the few minutes of asking students to sit and wait while we spread out the toys. That was a great chance to see who could wait and who had trouble resisting the urge to run for the toy bin. Play time was long enough to enjoy the toys and provide advance warning for clean-up. The DECE and I could notice who needed just a verbal cue to begin tidying, who needed a song, and who needed modelling and targeted individualized reminders. I didn't have to face many stubborn "NO" responses when I asked them to do things, because I didn't ask them to do much that they wouldn't want to do. Passing around the Koosh ball was easier when students realized they could have a longer time playing with it a few minutes after the task.

It was great to see who played with whom, and how they played, and what they played with. I didn't take any observational notes because half the time I was taking photos (itself a form of pedagogical documentation) and half the time I was playing with them! I had fun playing with the students. Toy people took bumpy helicopter rides and chased toy chickens. We took cars through car washes and filled farms with animal families. When we brought out the Koosh balls, a student and I counted how many baskets we could successfully shoot and challenged ourselves to walk a path in the library while balancing a Koosh on the back of our necks!

 In this third photo, you can see the DECE on the floor right alongside the students, chatting with them and having fun. The students are busy doing their own thing, but practicing concepts like sharing, taking turns, and using their imaginations.

Having the toys really helped last Thursday. One of the kindergarten teacher had an appointment after school and asked if I could switch the schedule so that I could see her students during the final period of the day and she could make it to the appointment on time. One little boy was overtired and responded to my look of disapproval, (I promise, I didn't yell at him for his transgression) when he erased something I needed from the board, with loud wails and tears. He needed some serious consolation, so we brought out the toys earlier than planned and the other students played while he fell asleep in my arms on my shoulder. The others comforted him in between bouts of playing with pats on the back and phrases like "Don't cry X - it was your birthday yesterday!"

Giving time to play also allowed students to explore, ask questions, and talk. This past week, I brought Ernie the skinny pig back to school. His brother Bert died on the first day of summer vacation. For the Grade 1-8s, that meant a lot of questions because they remembered having two skinny pigs in June. From "Won't Ernie be lonely?" to "Why did Bert die?" to "What did you do with Bert's body?", there was a lot of discussion. I suspect Ernie won't be lonely, since everyone from the youngest learners up were keen to feed him hay and vegetables. We're going to track his weight and I may show them how to make sleep sacks for him (something I just learned how to do recently).

Speaking of making, I also made a cool name tag at the first 2018-19 Tinkering Thursday event, but like the students, I spent a lot of time at that event just reconnecting with others by talking (and talking, and talking).

Talking is not a bad thing, necessarily. For the older grades, we spent the first couple of classes together just talking. We talked about what they want to do during their library periods. (Consensus were items like book exchange, current events community circle, and free time to either catch up on work or socialize a bit.) We talked about books a bit. We talked about possible clubs and teams. And although we didn't use the Fisher-Price toys, we did use the Koosh balls. (For those who are unfamiliar with Koosh balls, [like Stephen Hurley, my VoicEd interviewer I spoke to last Friday] I found a "labelled for non-commercial reuse" image below.)

The beginning of the school year can be a stressful time, especially for those new to a particular school or school in general. (Aviva Dunsiger wrote a great post that dovetails a bit with this one, about power struggles with youngsters - see Play is supposed to be an important part of the kindergarten curriculum and I need to remind myself to allow more time for it - not just for the youngest students, but the older ones as well. Of course, having written this, this coming week is Book Fair time - upended/limited space, disrupted routines, and new items around but not for general play. Wish me luck!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Addressing A Group

My first week of school for the 2018-19 school year went smoothly. I only encountered four criers on the first day (all in the same class, but thankfully all calmed down by the end of the first period). Returning staff and students seemed happy to be back. New staff and students adjusted well to our school so far. The idea or issue (other than how I'll try and maintain this new level of tidiness I've started in the library and in my garage) that's been rattling around in my head is tangentially related to school. It began with my family and erupted with a tweet.
I asked this question online and didn't expect the avalanche of replies and interest. (I know that compared to the thousands of likes and replies others get on Twitter, it seems like small potatoes, but for me, this topic generated a lot of responses.

*We deviate from the original topic of this blog post for an important tangent.*

A bit of an unexpected technical challenge here while composing this blog post - I wanted to include every single person that took the time to answer. Usually with my blog, it's just a simple case of "embed tweet" but as of September 8, 2018 at 9:34 pm, there were 29 replies, and that didn't count the ones that stemmed from the follow-up emails. Spooler looked possible but I didn't know which tweet would count as the last tweet in the thread (it works by "unspooling" the twitter thread from the last to the first). I read up on Spooler and it said that it would only connect tweets by the original writer, so that won't work. I tried ThreadReaderApp but it wasn't that successful because all the replies didn't connect to each other, just to the original tweet. Storify is dead now and I read that Wakelet was a good alternative, but I tried it and it wasn't doing what I wanted it to, plus it was a little grabby in terms of taking permissions. I will have to settle with an old-fashioned copy and pasting of just a few of the tweets.

*Now we return to your regularly scheduled blog post topic*

Big thanks to EVERYONE who took the time to reply. I got responses to the original tweet from

and I received subsequent responses from

Apologies to anyone who responded to this topic after I composed and revised this blog post who did not receive a mention. Mea culpa.

To complicate things, I neglected to mention in my initial tweet that I wasn't searching for ways to address a class of students, but the members of my own immediate family! I wrote down all the suggestions that people had offered (at that point in time) and then, a day after I published the original tweet, I shared some of the reactions my family had to the various ideas.

I've realized that there is no one perfect or mutually agreed upon answer to this question. Below are just a few of the tweets that explained why a particular term does or doesn't work for some. The fascinating thing is that there are very valid arguments for and against the same words. For instance, some of the most popular recommendations were "friends" and "y'all", but there were still some eloquent objections. (If I had time, I would have tallied all the votes for all the words mentioned by people.)

(The last tweet was in response to someone who has their Twitter account locked on private, and who mentioned that "the occasional 'guys' still slips out".)

 My family said they'd prefer I use the term "peeps" (So, some of my commonly uttered phrases directed at the group of them will now sound more like, "What are you peeps planning to do for the rest of the evening?" or "I love you peeps so much!") I wonder, if I brought this up with my students, what term they would recommend or choose. Now that I've been hyper-aware of my choice of words, I've noticed that the most popular way to address a group at school by other educators is "you guys", followed by "boys and girls" if the students are in a primary grade. There is no perfect alternative, but some thought-provoking reasons for using one term over another. Food for thought.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Podcasts and Broadcasts

When I was little, my second career aspiration after teaching was a future as a radio announcer. For the past two weeks, I've been able to live that path-not-taken by participating in several podcasts. Each one was a different experience. I'll write about them in the reverse order that I recorded them.

1) This Week In Ontario Edublogs

Recorded = Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Published = Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Link = 

Format = Three panelists (usually two, Doug and Stephen, but for the summer an additional weekly guest) summarize and comment upon a few blog posts written by Ontario educators.

This podcast was probably the most nerve-wracking for me and the one with the most preparation necessary. It was broadcast live and recorded "as is" for the archives and future listening. Doug is responsible for the content and Stephen for the technology for this show. He provided links for 5-6 blog posts that he read and considered "meaty" enough to discuss on-air. My task was to also read those blogs and have ready a few words about each of them. We used ZenCaster to capture the conversation. My inner voice would throw cautionary admonitions at me as I was talking, like "Don't swear!" or "Use complete sentences so you don't sound like an idiot!" or "Don't talk too long!" or "Don't interrupt anyone and try and include everyone!" I was also worried that during our discussion of my friend, Jennifer Casa-Todd's blog post about her personal history as a reader, that we would sound too critical. Both Doug and I noticed her use of the word "frivolous" and I thought she was being too hard on herself and not giving herself the same non-judgmental stance that she grants to her younger daughter and high school students she encounters. Thankfully, Jennifer was her usual gracious and thoughtful self and did not take our observations as a personal insult.
Thanks to Doug for his organization (he created a Google Doc with the blog links, space for notes so I'd have a heads-up on what he might ask me) and to Stephen for keeping an eye on the time and monitoring all the moving parts. Both gentlemen made me feel comfortable and welcomed.

ETA: I changed the title of this blog post after listening to Doug and Stephen talk on the September 5, 2018 edition of "This Week in Ontario Edublogs". They described the difference and noted that their show is more of a broadcast because it is live and unedited.

2) Library Land Loves

Recorded = Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Published = not yet (plans for early September and early January or mid-May) ETA live Sept. 5/18
Link = ETA specific link now is

Format =  A staff member of the Ontario Library Association interviews someone working in or related to the field of library, who mentions a top 5 list of some sort.

I had promised Michael Rogowski to be one of his Library Land Love volunteers and record a podcast with him ages ago, but time is a precious commodity that slips past faster than we can anticipate. Our original plan was to pick a geeky kind of topic, like my five favourite RPG moments, but after listening to Richard Reid's inaugural podcast detailing his top 5 OLA SuperConference moments, I was more inclined to talk about my top 5 OLA Festival of Trees moments. This was a go and we selected a date to finally get it done. Two little hiccups came into play - Michael has a new job away from OLA, and I was asked if I'd be willing to do a second podcast that could be published to coincide with the first few weeks of school. Why not? I scribbled some ideas on a scrap piece of paper and drove down to OLA headquarters. The talented and perfectly coiffed Michelle Arbuckle was on the other end of the microphone for both interviews, and she helped me shape the theme for the back-to-school podcast ("5 things that teachers / teacher-librarians do in September that we should probably do all year 'round" or some title like that). We used Audacity and a gorgeous powerful standing microphone that picked up conversation (and table bumps, which meant I was conscientiously keeping my elbows off the table) quite clearly. I actually cried during part of my broadcast, which was a little odd considering that I knew exactly what was going to be discussed. As Michelle ad-libbed, "I've been told I'm like the Barbara Walters of library interviews". My voice was sore by the end of two back-to-back podcasts; I actually don't talk that much during the school day. (I'm of the "the one that's doing the talking is doing much of the thinking" school of thought, so I try not to blather on too much during my lessons.) It was great to reminisce about the Festival of Trees anecdotes and I hope no one will take the back-to-school podcast as a "thou shalt" requirement.

3) I Wish I Knew Edu: Looking Back and Learning Forward

Recorded = Monday, August 20, 2018
Published = not yet; late September ETA shared Sept. 17/18
Link =  ETA specific link

Format = Ramona Meharg interviews educators and asks them to consider what it was like for them when they first started, what they "wish they knew then that they do now" and share their professional journeys.

Ramona contacted me via Twitter after I shared my radio attempts (and failures) during a Twitter chat. She invited me to discuss it (and her usual framing questions) on her podcast show, which lives on VoicEd Radio.

Ramona did a great job of preparing me for the recording. She shared a Google document outlining the types of questions she'd ask, and also prepared me for the possibility of going on tangents. As she described it, the process is just like two teachers talking with each other, but with the conversation being recorded. Ramona used ZenCaster and I recorded from the comfort of my home. Instead of my basement desktop with headphone and mic, I used my laptop and the built-in microphone on the main floor. I had to move our pet budgie upstairs because he wanted to give his $0.02 worth. I really enjoyed chatting with Ramona. I expressed concern about my frequent references to drinking (I promise that I'm not a lush!) but Ramona reassured me that it's important to "keep it real". We definitely went off on tangents and it was challenging to articulate my philosophy of education in a succinct fashion. There were several moments a few days after we recorded that I had many "I Wish I Said ..." (which is ironic considering that the show is called "I Wish I Knew Edu"). I wish I wrote down my philosophy of education in advance so that I could have that statement flow and I didn't miss any key concepts. I wish I directly mentioned my wonderful posse from Gaming Edus (Liam O'Donnell, Denise Colby, Andrew Forgrave, Jen Apgar) because I referred to the relation between comics and video games in education and that idea came from conversations and blog posts with Liam and Denise. Sorry Liam and Denise - please take this as an "addendum" to the show.

What I discovered from all of these podcasts is that I can actually talk for a LOOOOONG time! I asked Ramona what the typical length of one of her shows was - the answer was that it varies but it stays closer to 30 minutes. The show that I was on lasted over an hour! The TWiOE podcast lasted a long time as well and we even skipped one of the podcasts we were supposed to cover! I'm also grateful that I was allowed to name-drop and mention so many different names and organizations. Many educators are unsung heroes, doing great things but unknown in the greater educational sphere in Ontario. I tell people I've talked about them in blogs or on podcasts, so that they know I'm talking (positively) about them, they can hear what I've said about them, and that other people can discover them and the amazing things that they do. (Heads up: I mentioned Dean Roberts, Kerri Commisso, Alanna King, and many others that I've forgotten - I may have to listen to those recordings again and add to the list of the mentions.)

P.S. Podcasting (and live broadcasting) is like teaching. It's nerve-wracking but exhilarating. You hope you don't screw up and sometimes wish for do-overs. It's about speaking and listening and relationships. It takes thinking before, during, and after. You hope that what you said, do and share makes a difference. Best wishes to everyone on Labour Day 2018, the day before the first day of school (for most schools in Ontario) and may your teaching be like a great podcast!