Monday, November 26, 2012

Sitting Standards

When my husband asked me what I'd be writing about for this week's blog post, I told him the topic was sitting.

Yes, sitting.

Before you roll your eyes at how incredibly boring that idea seems, bear with me.

I teach in an elementary school and a lot of the direct instruction time happens on a carpet. The teacher will sit on a rocking chair (or stand near a SMART Board) while the students sit on the carpet to watch. I've thought about this practice and wondered about the benefits. I vaguely recall reading somewhere that standing while working/discussing makes you more active and productive than doing the same thing while sitting. (Now if only I could find the source of that information!) Does it really make a difference if a student is sitting on a chair or on the floor for instruction? Because of these musings, I've allowed quite a variety in how students are permitted to position themselves during direct instruction in the library: they can sit on the carpet, pull up a chair, or stand. My only caveat is that you put yourself in a way that helps you learn; if someone spends too much time chatting while parked on a chair near their pals, they are asked to move.

There are two notable exceptions to this unofficial policy of mine. One has to do with a particular junior division class that really has issues with excessive talking, which unfortunately leads to some social conflicts. I've resorted to something my predecessor used to do: "library lines". These are predetermined spots on the carpet for every single student. To be frank, I'm not a big fan of the set-up and neither are the students, but I can get 10 minutes for delivering information in a lecture format without gossip and distractions. I hope that this class and I can renegotiate these arrangements so we can gather in a manner that suits our goals and personalities.
The second exception involves the kindergarten students and I keep to a traditional form of seating because the students are still learning about the culture of school. The teachers might not be happy if I undo all their efforts to instill the "criss-cross applesauce" / "5 point check" routines involved with instruction on the carpet.

I suspect, however, that this laissez-faire approach to sitting may sometimes backfire on me. Some students might feel that since I am not strict about how they sit, I might be lax in how they listen (which for me are two separate things). I notice that as a specialist teacher, some kids are more likely to attempt some form of misbehaviour (e.g. talking during instruction time) with me than with their regular classroom teacher - are there other factors at play? Can it be that by demonstrating bodily forms that indicate attentive listening (such as keeping your eyes on the speaker, folding your hands so you don't fiddle, and positioning your body directly toward the person talking), you can trick your mind into truly listening? Or is that a fallacy, because you can sit nicely but your mind is a million kilometers away?

I'd love to talk with people more about this. In the meantime, I'll search around and in the comments I'll post any links to the importance of sitting for learning purposes in school.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Media Production Primary Division Style

I am so proud of the students I teach. They come up with such insightful thoughts and can create such interesting products. My schedule this year lacks open flexible partner time (not good) but grants me time for library, ICT, and media lessons for everyone from Grades JK-4 (among other assignments).

A Twitter post from Colin Jagoe inspired me to try a pretty ambitious project much earlier in the school year than I would usually attempt. He asked if the very kinesthetic definition of media that I use with my primary students was available to see online. I was originally going to make my own YouTube video but then it struck me: why not have the students make these videos?

I undertook this task with four of my upper primary classes (two Grade 1-2 groups, a Grade 2-3 class and our Grade 3-4 class). My main request was that our video share our definition of media. They were allowed to select the means and method to do this within a TV show / movie format. Each class took a different approach. I'm proud to announce that three out of the four videos are now complete and available for public viewing on YouTube. (The last video, to be created and filmed in Minecraft, has experienced "technical delays" because the open LAN connection wouldn't work and the multi-school server IP has not yet been approved by the school board. I'm not a very patient person but the students are still committed to making this film, so once this gets settled, we'll resume the project.)

Here are the other three videos. The students took on all the roles (from script writing to camera crew to technical team). I don't think Stephen Spielberg has to fear the competition just yet (as these are 6-9 year olds) but I was still very impressed with the quality of their work.


Just in case anyone wonders, for the last video, we obtained special permission from the parents to have their children appear in the movie. We kept names out of the credits and used initials instead.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bitten by the Research Bug

While I was at last week's People For Education conference, I had the chance to speak with one of the most upbeat people in their organization - the incredible Gay Stephenson. I met Gay several times in the past. One of our lengthier encounters was while she was working on the Queens University / People For Education / Ontario Library Association study on "Exemplary School Libraries in Ontario". This 2009 study was the first research study that I read because I was genuinely interested and not because it was a course requirement. In fact, it was influential in my Masters of Education capping paper on The Factors that Support the Development of Exemplary School Library Programs with the University of Alberta's Teacher-Librarianship via Distance Learning program.

I finished my M.Ed. in 2010 but I still craved something more - I had been bitten by the research bug. The original topic I wanted to pursue for my final M.Ed. task was impossible to investigate because there was an insufficient amount of research done on the topic. Thanks to conversations with Dr. Elizabeth Lee, she helped me to formulate a potential research question. With further assistance and support from Dr. Marie-Claire Shananhan, Dr. Lee, JoAnne Gibson, and the wonderful folks at the Ontario Library Association, I created my data tool and conducted a survey. It took five months to get the survey questions just right! Now I am indebted to Dr. Bozena White as she analyzes the data to help me understand my findings. I've had to "take a pause" at this point to look for some external funding - my husband is very tolerant, but he began to get concerned when he learned that I planned on paying for the research analysis out of my own personal funds!

My love affair with academic research is not limited to my own study. Last year I answered questions for Stephen Smith for his research project on "Graphic Novels in the Ontario Social Studies Curriculum" written for his Research Methods Summer 2011 at Canisius College for the Masters of Education program. In 2011, I was a case study for Leo L. Cao's study called "Serious Play: An exploratory multiple-case study on the emerging practice of appropriating digital games for academic learning" for the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. (I wasn't so keen on the title or the idea of "appropriating", but it wasn't my study.) I've written academic papers a couple of times for Robert G. Weiner, an associate humanities and sequential art librarian for Texas Tech University. This year, I am delighted to be involved in two projects ... actually, both are still in the formative stage of things, so I can't say too much right now but I'm very excited to be possibly involved.

The wonderful thing I discovered recently is that my staff doesn't look at me like a freak when I get passionate about research. My inquiry topic with my primary division students focuses on control; their questions are "what is control?" "what can I control?" and "how can I keep control?". This links to the learning skill of self-regulation on our report cards. There's been a surge in interest on this topic and while reading about it, I heard about the Stanford University "marshmallow experiment". I decided that as one of my lessons, I'd recreate a version of this experiment to see what occured. I have three kindergarten classes in my school and the results were very interesting.

  • The first class had 4 students that ate the one candy instead of waiting
  • The second class had 0 students that ate the one candy instead of waiting
  • The third class had 7 students that ate the one candy instead of waiting
I shared the results with the kindergarten teachers and it lead to some very rich discussion. Some of our discussions centered on individual students - the class teacher tried to guess who ate the single candy and it was interesting to see how accurate the guesses were to the results. Some of our discussions examined the other factors that may have come into play based on the way I administered the experiment, such as peer pressure or influence and challenges involving English Language Learners. The original study has suggested that if the child has trust in the adult to follow through with promises, they are more likely to wait and wait longer; this was shown with a "pre-task" involving crayons to use prior to the candy portion of the task. In the real research experiment, the child was alone; in my version, the students were sitting at desks but near each other (and in one class I could hear a child telling another not to eat the candy yet). I'm tempted to repeat the experiment, to see if those factors that skew results can be reduced and to see if we can teach delayed gratification (or "the big C" as my students like to call self-control). Assessment is like action research - do some investigating, examine the results and contemplate some next steps. I'll let you know how these various projects go in the future.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

P4E12 in Photos and Tweets

As promised, here are a few photos from the People for Education conference, held at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto on Saturday, November 3 and Sunday, November 4, 2012. I didn't attend the Sunday session but I heard great tweets about it.

Here's the OSLA table, with Shelagh, Stacey, and Barbara. We had some sweet swag to share (like the funky frisbee Barbara's holding).

I took this photo with my iPad - apologies for the poor quality. This is a picture of Joe Mazza in his presentation on being a "social media principal". I was delighted to get a shout-out today from both @Joe_Mazza and @Sheilaspeaking on yesterday's blog post about the Parents for Education conference - proof that people DO read blogs!

 This is a photo of the closing remarks by Annie Kidder - once again, not the most ideal shot. At least it's proof that I didn't skip out early, despite my brain beginning to turn to mush around this point in time. The rooms at the Rotman Centre were gorgeous - my pictures don't do them justice.

I hope that by waiting a day, I haven't lost some of the best tweets I read from the conference. Here's a small sampling of some of the conversations happening in the Twittersphere about #p4e12. This is a puny portion of the conversation, but it took me a long time to re-teach myself how to embed tweets in my blog!

Monday, November 5, 2012

#P4E12 Conference Summary

I have so many things to write about! Thank goodness Twitter can satisfy the itch a bit by allowing me to post tidbits - I know I should devote an entire post to my "marshmallow experiment", for instance. However, the biggest part of this past weekend was the People for Education conference. I attended as a representative for the Ontario School Library Association but I also wore my "parent hat" and "teacher hat" as well. Here are my reports and reflections on the event.

People for Education's 16th Annual Conference

Making Connections

Conference Reflection by Diana Maliszewski

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 8:00 a.m.

Summary = Typically I wouldn't summarize registration, but I need to share that I was out of bed on a Saturday an hour earlier than I usually would be if it was a workday. I'm not a morning person so this was a challenge for me. I needed to be downtown for 8:00 a.m. to help set up OSLA's booth with Stacey, Barbara, and Shelagh. Thankfully, they can compose full sentences that early in the morning. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 8:45 a.m.
Welcome and Introductions

Summary = The entire room introduced themselves to each other. This took me by surprise but was a smart move on P4E's part: it was an opportunity to know who was in the room and plan your networking moments during the breaks.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 9:15 a.m.
Keynote Address by Roger Martin

Summary = Martin spent years studying what highly successful leaders do and what he discovered was the one consistent but not new "thing" that they all had in common was the ability to hold two opposing ideas in their minds and still function - something he calls Integrative Thinking.

3 Key Points

  • Integrative thinking is not "natural" because the way we make sense of the world - through building models - drives us away from this form of thinking (we make models but forget they are just models - when our models clash with others, we see them as wrong, or stupid, or evil with agendas)
  • Integrative thinking is not just finding a consensus; it's "seek and leverage", it's finding seeds of a better model we do not yet see (instead of either/or, consider AND)
  • Integrative thinking can be taught and they've learned that Grade 10 students can do it just as well as MBA students (and in some cases, better)
So What? Now What? = I bought Roger Martin's book, The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking so I could read and learn more about this approach. He offered the crowd two key phrases and one type of question we could begin to use right now to start us on this way of interacting: a) tell me more b) to what extent, and c) how might we. I could see using these sentence starters with my own children and students. He also stated that he believes in a pull not push approach - when the audience kept asking if he's approached Faculties of Education or school boards outside TDSB and private institutions, he reiterated that they came to him and he believes that his results will call others to try it out - a very good approach for getting teachers to partner with the teacher-librarian, for example.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 10:30 a.m.
Morning Workshop: The Social Media Principal - How to tweet, blog and mobile app your way to increased parent and community engagement by Joe Mazza

Summary = Joe is an elementary school principal in Pennsylvania doing his PhD on "eFACE" (electronic family and community engagement) and shared how he has worked on developing great relationships with his school community.

3 Key Points
  • You MUST develop relationships first; invest in the face-to-face connection first before using the tech (relational trust, transparency, collaboration, communication) - Joyce Epstein is the guru on family engagement and she lists 6 types, but in most published research on the topic, "electronic" engagement meant PA announcements or faxes or emails (we have so many more tools we can use than that)
  • Schools must meet parents were they are if they are committed to building and maintaining partnerships; this means that we need to hear what's not family friendly even if it is critical of school practices - in Joe's school, they had a home and school meeting at a local mosque and they stream their meetings so people can attend at home (attendance used to be 13 - now it's 43 on average)
  • Confirm any theory or technique with your own school population and use a variety of tools (families can choose which tools they use because "you can't eat everything on a menu") ; e.g. you must account for those who don't have e-access for the newsletter (which he co-writes with parents using a shared google doc) and ensure information sent is mobile friendly for cell phone access (despite being in a mixed economic area, Joe has 95% of his parents in contact via cell phone or mobile device)
So What? Now What? = I need to look at Joe's presentation slides (at to think more about what he said. People in the audience were so keen to talk to him and share their own examples that I didn't get to hear as many stories from his experience as I would've liked. He feels that Twitter is his first key tool because by being connected, he learns from others. He cited several educators he follows on Twitter and I will be "borrowing" from his recommendation list. I've already started to follow him on Twitter. He mentioned about the language barriers and his solutions - Pennsylvania has a 1-800 district language line where live people can translate over the phone; they also use families who volunteer to translate for free and they partner new families with another family in the school who will help them understand. We could begin to explore things like streaming or even just podcasting our school council meetings.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 1:00 p.m.
Plenary Panel: Who Is In Charge Around Here with Cheryl Jackson (TVO Parents), Ken Coran (OSSTF), George Zegarac (Deputy Minister of Education), Michael Bartlett (OPSBA) and Carole Allen (CPCO)

Summary = This panel discussion surrounding Bill 115 had representatives from teachers, trustees, principals, and the government.

3 Key Points

  • Bill 115 took away power and decision making from several camps (for instance, the principals were not consulted about Bill 115 but they were mentioned in it)
  • The government is not planning to "slow down in their early learning investment"
  • It is important to return to the table to negotiate and for concerned parents to get vocal with their MPPs and other people to "make noise" about their feelings about the current situation
So What? Now What? = Unfortunately, I had a coughing fit in the middle of the session and had to leave so the cameras could still record the action. Thankfully, while recovering in the hallway, I had a chance to speak with Gerard, a teacher-candidate at OISE who also goes to my church. It was a great chance to get to know him better - I discovered that his practice teaching placement is at a school very close to mine. I made it back into the room in time to hear a parent say, during the Q&A time, "Okay, you've got my attention. My child can't play soccer this year. What do you want me to do?" - it was a frustrated but poignant plea, and everyone said some version of "try to get the players back to the table".

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 2:15 p.m.
Afternoon Workshop: The Flipped Classroom

Summary = I didn't attend my afternoon workshop because I was by the OSLA table. Thanks to Stephen Hurley's tweets, I was able to have an idea of what was going on at the session. Instead, I had a great conversation with Shelagh (director of the OLA) Barbara and Stacey (two parents who have worked hard to support their local school library). We discussed the morning sessions they attended (Shelagh enjoyed the panel on "Sensationalizing Education: What Makes an Education Story Newsworthy?"), issues surrounding school libraries (will Bill 115 affect the Festival of Trees attendance?) and other items. While chatting, we ended up connecting with the person manning the display next to ours, Tanzila Mian from the Canadian Parents for French organization.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 3:45 p.m.
Closing Remarks by Annie Kidder

Summary = Annie summarized key points from the conference so far (some of which I tweeted) like the idea of AND in education, in including people who don't feel like they belong in education, and on how to evaluate things like "did we produce good citizens" rather than testable things like their literacy and numeracy skills. She brought up a potentially crazy question: "what more do you want P4E to do?" and let the audience speak their minds at microphones. Annie said starting petitions against Bill 115 is outside their mandate because as a charity they have to work not to antagonize so doors aren't closed but she encouraged the use of the P4E discussion forums (and showed that "anything goes" on the forum with an example of a thread that was criticizing her).

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 4:15 p.m.
Reception and Book Launch

Summary = The networking continued. I had the chance to speak with my favourite face of P4E, the extremely positive and delightful Gay Stevenson, whom I adore. She's retired from P4E but attended the conference. We talked about our mutual admiration society, our interest in research, and general topics. Megan at P4E says I can get photos from her they took so I can use them for the magazine, and their photographer let me hold his massive camera (and I had lens envy). I talked with a parent from Ottawa about her daughter preparing to enter high school and made small talk with several other people.

I made it home 12 hours after I left and after a very quick dinner, the family and I went to see Wreck It Ralph at the movies. It was a fantastic film and some of the themes echoed some of the thoughts from the P4E conference, like what's important (is it marks / a medal or something more?) Like last week, I'll post photos tomorrow.