Monday, December 30, 2013

What I learned by attending a Christmas Novena

I hope that, for those fortunate to have a vacation, that they are enjoying the time away from work. I know that during the last week of school, I was really tired, but it wasn't because of all the Winter Concert preparations. From December 16-24, 2013, I participated in a Christmas novena.

A novena, as explained succinctly here, is a series of prayers that lasts for nine consecutive  days. Christmas novenas run until Christmas Eve. Christmas novena traditions differ from parish to parish. This link describes a Christmas novena practice my husband is more familiar with, but at the Roman Catholic church we attend, the Christmas novena is a full Mass - at 5:30 a.m.

Let me tell you something about myself. I am NOT a morning person. Now, I've read that some of the most successful people in the world are early risers. I'm okay with not being one of the most successful people on the planet if it means I don't have to open my eyes before 7:00 a.m. However, I really wanted to challenge myself and I thought this was the way to do it. This is, ostensibly, supposed to be an education-themed blog, so let me explain what I learned about education by attending a Christmas Novena.

If there's a will, there's a way.

I had some significant doubts that I would be able to attend all nine mornings. Thankfully, I had help. My husband came with me every day and he woke me up in time.

Some extra obstacles were thrown into the mix to test my resolve - especially a rather large tree that partly fell onto my sidewalk and street at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night and partly fell onto my driveway at 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning. The Toronto Ice Storm of 2013 would have made a perfect excuse to discontinue my novena attendance, but I can be pretty stubborn when I want to be, and I was determined.

Stage 1 of tree collapse - Saturday evening

Stage 2 of tree collapse - Sunday morning 
Thankfully my neighbour recommended that I move my car up the driveway on Saturday night, and I'm so glad I did, because that's where the second big branch landed. It would have hit my car, but instead it just blocked my car. My husband and I called a taxi to collect us and transport us to church. Some friendly parishioners brought us back home.

This links to school because if someone is truly determined to do something and committed to the cause, almost anything is possible.

Having positive support helps.

I would not have been able to accomplish this novena without

  • my patient husband, who woke me up daily and came with me
  • the priests who said the Masses
  • Tony and Kathleen, who drove us home when we had no available car
This links to school because goals can be met if a group of people are working together to make it a reality and they all believe it's possible.

Change takes time and old habits die hard.

My usual bed time is around 11:00 p.m. but I knew I wouldn't be able to maintain that practice if I wanted to still function during the day. I began going to bed between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m., which still gave me nine hours of sleep. I thought that this alteration wasn't affecting me, until a teacher at school asked me during an assembly what was wrong. I was puzzled and I said that I was just being quiet and modelling proper assembly behaviour for the students. She whispered that she noticed I was looking extra tired and run-down and I clued in that the early rising was still taking a toll, despite getting the same amount of shut-eye.

I wasn't a very pleasant person to be around those first few mornings - I was cold, and tired, and became hungry about 2/3 of the way into Mass - so I'd sit in the pews, shoulders hunched, only able to mutter or mumble half-coherent sentences when spoken to. I asked my husband for his honest evaluation of my attitude and he reported that by the end of the novena, I wasn't AS crabby or grumpy as I was at the beginning, but I was not up for any Miss Congeniality awards.

This links to school because we assume that if we've taught something once or twice, the students should internalize it, but it takes a lot longer (and willpower) to make good habits stick. It's not easy and we should acknowledge that fact. Just because something's good for us doesn't mean we have to like it!

You aren't alone.

This connects with the "positive support" idea, in a way. When my husband and I attended the first day of novena, we expected a very small group of people to be there with us. This was far from the truth - the parking lot was PACKED. We had to park in the school lot next door. Many people, like me, still had to go to work after Mass, and having us all in the same boat was very humbling for me. If they could do it without complaint, then so could I.

This links to school because others have walked the same path before you and others are going through the same thing you are academically (be it struggling with concepts, or managing school projects). Take inspiration from them.

This is my last blog post for 2013 (and hubby has promised, as a belated Christmas gift, to turn my blog into a book for me), so I want to wish everyone all the best for the upcoming year. Readers = thank you for reading and occasionally commenting. Self = keep teaching, learning, reflecting, and blogging.

Monday, December 23, 2013

CBC Gives Minecraft Club a Media Lesson

School is over for 2013 but I have enough fodder and education-based anecdotes to carry me through the rest of the calendar year.

On November 28, 2013, Julia Pagel came to my school to meet my Minecraft Club members and interview them for a segment on CBC's Spark radio program. The great thing about Julia's visit was that it gave us some real-life learning in return.

My club for October - December 2013 was reserved for the intermediate division students (in Grades 7-8) and they were excited when they heard that "the media" was interested in speaking to them. The group declared that they were going to produce a "behind the scenes" video of the experience to be posted on YouTube. Since they had signed special media release forms for this particular event, I saw no problem with creating and posting this video, especially since this was all their idea.

Julia explains the process to the Macphail Minecrafters

I think my boys (and for some quirky reason, for the first time ever, my Minecraft group this time around consisted of all boys) were a little surprised to see just one person with a microphone and boxy device show up to our school. On the students' behalf, I pretended to be the paparazzi and spent time taking photos and video clips of the club interacting with Julia. She taped intermittently for the entire club session that afternoon and stayed until after 6:00 p.m. to interview the three teachers behind GamingEdus (Liam O'Donnell, Denise Colby, and me).

This link will take you to the segment that appeared on CBC Spark on Sunday, December 15, 2013. (It was replayed, with a slight correction, on Wednesday, December 18, 2013.)

My students don't listen to the radio much, especially CBC, but teachers do! I received some nice emails and some Twitter shoutouts, like this one.

When the club members met again, before the radio interview aired, I reminded them that they needed to take some time from their Minecraft playing to compile their YouTube video. This news wasn't received too happily.

"Can't we play first?"
"How about we do it for five minutes and then play?"

I shouldn't have been too surprised - quite a few of our club members tend to under-perform in school-related literacy, numeracy, and social tasks. However, I had the perfect, real-world example to use. I asked the guys how long Julia recorded audio footage and how long the radio clip was going to be. (Julia recorded for two hours at our school and a little less than an hour at Denise's school. That's three hours of sound that she had to condense into a four-minute slot.) I also talked to the students about how long after the recording she was going to spend on choosing and editing the data she collected - Julia revealed during her visit that it would take about two weeks or so to listen and decide.

"So, do you think five minutes will be enough time for us to make this video?"

The boys grudgingly accepted that they just *might* have to put a bit more time into the project. They had some technical difficulties the first time around, and Mr. Ngo, our dance/drama teacher and technical wizard, gave them an impromptu lesson on uploading files and taking control of technology. We met at lunch for some exclusive play time in the PvP zone, and the following week, the gang finally got around to viewing and selecting the photos and video clips they wanted in the mini-film. They had some more technical difficulties and so I promised to help them take the items and assemble them using video-creation software over the holidays. If I finish the video prior to this post going live, I'll embed it here.

Teachers can talk until their faces turn blue about the need to take time to work on projects and establish reasonable deadlines, but this doesn't translate into reality until students see authentic examples. Thanks to Julia and the CBC, this experience became a great media lesson on the behind-the-scenes effort it takes to create quality programming. Julia also did a fantastic job of telling the students in advance that, although she appreciated all their contributions, due to time restraints, she would not be able to use all of their quotes in the piece. In the end, two of our boys were featured: Hassan, explaining the mob arena, and Leo, with a memorable quote about Minecraft freeing his imagination despite his age. Leo was particularly excited. He has only been playing Minecraft for three months (and only speaking English for a couple of years) and he was keen to access the radio archives. This was another unexpected learning bonus - exposing students to another media form they may not pay attention to but is valuable. I want to thank Julia Pagel and the CBC for taking the time to teach us while we had the chance to share our Minecraft story.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Helpful Politicians

Today's blog post title does not refer to the way we integrated the Rob Ford saga into our intermediate division discussion on values.

Today celebrates how three politicians (two municipal, one provincial) helped our Grade 4-5 students with our language and social studies inquiry.

Our current TLCP (teaching learning critical pathway) is all about how to help our students research and summarize in their own words. The junior and intermediate division chose to integrate this pathway with the new social studies curriculum and our language expectations. The new social studies curriculum is exciting, but it is sometimes challenging to locate age-appropriate resources for our students to use. I am collaboratively planning and teaching social studies with our Grade 4-5 teacher for this unit, and so I offered to contact our federal, provincial, and municipal representatives to get their opinions. Below is the text of an email I sent.

My name is Diana Maliszewski and I am the teacher-librarian at Agnes Macphail P.S. in the Toronto District School Board. I am writing on behalf of Lisa Daley, a Grade 4-5 classroom teacher, and her students. We are working together on a joint inquiry project for social studies.

The guiding question for the Grade 4s is "How suitable is it for the pandas to be in Toronto and Calgary?"
The guiding question for the Grade 5s is "Why were different levels of government involved in bringing the pandas to Canada?
The guiding question for the teachers is "How do we teach students to synthesize information from a variety of sources without plagiarizing?"

The new Ministry of Education social studies curriculum encourages connections to current events and issues, as well as integrated, cross-curricular learning. This is why we'd like to use you as a resource on this topic. We plan on sharing your email response with our students so that they can quote or paraphrase you when answering their guiding questions. Would you, or someone in your office, be able to answer the following question?

How do you feel about the pandas currently staying at the Toronto Zoo? How was your level of government involved in this event?

Thank you in advance for any response you can offer us. The students will be very excited to hear from you!

I sent this email out on November 29, 2013 and I was amazed at the response I received.

The very same day, November 29, Bas Balkissoon, the M.P.P. from Scarborough Rouge-River, sent a reply!

On December 10, Chin Lee, the Councillor for Ward 41 sent a lengthy answer, providing pros and cons!

On December 13, Raymond Cho, the Councillor for Ward 42 arranged for Heather House, the manager of education for the Toronto Zoo, to give a detailed response to our query!

(I should mention that the MP from the school's area did send us an email on December 2, saying that she and her staff would work on this, but we haven't heard her answer as yet.)

It's easy to poke fingers at politicians and find fault with them, but I'm a firm believer in appreciating help when we receive it. These politicians were under no obligation to answer. Our students aren't even of voting age yet! However, these elected representatives (councillors and MPP) took our request for information seriously and took time out of their busy schedules to answer or arrange answers for us. It takes a village to raise (and educate) a child, and I want to thank Mr. Balkissoon, Mr. Lee, and Mr. Cho for contributing to the education of the students at my school.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Complex Media Concepts on Gender and Kindies

Aviva, I'm so sorry! Early this school year, (August 20, 2013, to be precise) I promised Aviva Dunsiger, a great teacher that I met online (and a recent winner of the Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence) that I would share with her what I have done in the past when teaching Media Literacy to kindergarten students as part of prep coverage. We were having a discussion about how, despite having a very few media expectations in the kindergarten curriculum, it was possible to generate an entire year's worth of lessons and activities. I never got around to sharing some of my past lesson plans, and Aviva no longer has to do kindergarten prep coverage at her school, but that's okay because I tried some different things this year and this blog post will highlight some of the changes and some of the observations I've had with this altered approach.

Overall expectation #5 in the language section of the kindergarten curriculum states that students will "demonstrate a beginning understanding and critical awareness of media texts". The specific expectations related to this expectation are that students "begin to respond critically to animated works" (5.1) and "communicate their ideas verbally and non-verbally about a variety of media materials" (5.2).

In the past, I tackled these expectations much more "organically", through the use of the video game Webkinz. My kindergarten students learned the definition of media (which I also use for the primary division classes - we made videos to share the definition) and learned about ads. When the floating objects popped up on screen while we were playing games or designing our rooms in Webkinz, we would click on the advertisements in disguise and discuss how the colours and actions made us pay attention to it. We took virtual walks around the neighbourhood using Google Streetview, and identify the media texts we saw, capture and circle them on the interactive white board, and classify them as ads or non-ads.

This year, I thought I'd steer the conversation a bit more, while still honouring student inquiry. Halloween was a big deal for the kindergarten students and so during media class, we talked about whether or not costumes were media. We played with my costume bin during media time and virtually dressed our Webkinz toy in costumes. As the ECEs and I listened in on the conversations, we noted, especially in one particular class, some very strongly held opinions about gender and costumes - for example, "You can't wear that - you're a boy."

Is it too early to examine gender roles and stereotypes with 4- and 5-year olds? We (the ECEs and I) decided to try some lessons to foster that "beginning understanding and critical awareness of media texts". We had conversations about the costumes students chose to wear, and the message they imparted. I was amazed when one kindergarten student proclaimed that boys like to wear superhero costumes like Spiderman and Ironman because boys want to be powerful, not pretty. Students drew a costume of their choice and in follow-up interviews, identified the target audience. The most recent, and challenging, activity was for students to draw three costumes - one that a boy would probably like to wear, one that a girl would probably like to wear, and a costume that either a boy or a girl would like to wear. Here are some of the results. I've blocked out the names to protect the students' privacy.

This student chose to create Spiderman for the boy, Barbie for the girl, and rock star for the "anyone". It's interesting that certain media brands appear for the gender-specific costumes.

In this example, a prince is the "boy costume", a princess is the "girl costume" and a baby works for both. This reminds me of an activity someone did in one of my university English courses - does it matter if it's a boy baby or a girl baby? Do we treat it differently once we know the gender?

For this sheet, the boy costume is a vampire, the girl costume was going to be a princess but the artist admitted it was Spiderman, then changed it to be Spider Girl, and the gender-neutral option is a pumpkin.

Despite the similar colours, the artist specified that the boy costume was Green Lantern, the girl costume was an Indian girl (interesting cultural ideas), and the third choice was a vampire. It's interesting to compare this piece with the one above, which stated that a vampire was a boy outfit. Can you infer the gender of the creators based on their choices? The first two were drawn by girls; the latter two were drawn by boys.

The four above examples were completed samples. Many students struggled with that third costume and had no idea what to sketch. One child drew what she claimed to be a knight but wore long eyelashes, long hair and jewelry. This piece below was quite fascinating.

The boy costume is Spiderman. The girl costume is a princess. The "anyone" costume is "cut in half to be a boy and a girl". 

This particular class is quite taken with the external markers for gender. They've told me that girls must have long hair - despite the fact that I have short hair. "You cut your hair like a boy." they told me. They learned about Terry Fox and when I told them that some medicine they use to fight cancer makes your hair fall out, I asked them if a girl stopped being a girl if she lost her hair. This question made them pause, but they still cling to their own ideas. This perspective colours their other inquiries - they are interested in their classroom on learning about dogs and they have strong preconceived notions about how you can tell a girl dog from a boy dog - a girl dog wears bows and ribbons and has long hair. It will be interesting to poke and prod at these ideas and bring more examples that clash with their mental models.

I should say that not every kindergarten class is the same. When I showed the outline for the single costume task, another class shouted that this was a gingerbread or a person - completely leaving out the idea the other class proposed that the shape was obviously "a gingerbread boy". 

I'm pleasantly surprised with how well this more complex approach to kindergarten media has been progressing. I'll let you know how it goes. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Gifts We Get and Give

The JKs made me a beard in 2012 to go with my outfit.
It's December, which means that it's now okay to start thinking about the winter holidays - specifically Christmas. (Call me Scrooge, but I'm just not a fan of buying presents in August or hearing carols in November.) As part of my Advent / countdown to Christmas preparations, I examine my collection of lists, which would put Santa himself to shame. I keep lists of people I send cards to, people I give gifts to, and those who give me gifts, so that I can write my thank you cards. I have my list of what I've received every Christmas since 1985! As I was looking at the lists of Christmases past, I realized that many, many students give me presents. This surprises me a bit, because I am a specialist teacher, a teacher-librarian, not a classroom teacher. I wouldn't consider the teacher-librarian to be high on the list of consideration for shopping goals. The fact that I am remembered in this manner touches me deeply. I don't teach in a particularly affluent neighbourhood, so I appreciate the financial sacrifice families make as well to give me a little something for the holiday.

This is where it gets awkward. I don't need many of the presents my students give me, but I think it would be presumptuous and rude to tell people not to give me anything. I myself bristle when I see wedding invitations that include a line about "cash only" or a birthday party that requests "no gifts". Gift-giving is up to the individual; it's not a requirement. On the flip side, I don't want parents to "waste" their money purchasing a box of chocolates for me, which I often cannot eat because of my nut allergy.

I'm a parent as well as a teacher, and I give presents to many of the educators and other professionals in my children's school and where I work. What do I tend to give to teachers for Christmas? What would be on my wish list for Christmas? I have two traditional types of gifts I like to give.

Charity Donations

I like using because it lets me browse many different registered Canadian charities and give with the click of a mouse to several organizations at once. I try to select charities related to education and literacy. I can make a single donation and honour an entire group of people. This year, I gave to IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People - the folks connected to the National Reading Campaign) and the Children's Aid Society of Toronto. Last year, I gave to Doctors without Borders, People for Education, and the Canadian UNICEF Committee. Even if it's a small donation, it feels good knowing that my gift can do more than sit on a shelf gathering dust. If the recipient likes it, that's icing on the fruitcake; the organization appreciates the help.

Gift Cards for Class Supplies

Figures vary, but teachers spend a great deal of their own money to supplement their classrooms. One survey suggested the average was $444 annually. This isn't just an American phenomenon, as this recent  CBC story shows. I like getting gift cards for book stores or shops that carry a variety of items, so that teachers can decide to purchase items for their class or for themselves to use in class as needed. This avoids the need to ask teachers what they want or need. I also like getting and giving a Tim Hortons gift card, for that occasional doughnut or hot chocolate. 

My personal wish list that I've given to my husband has some different items written down, but hopefully this short rumination will help make your shopping adventures a bit easier this year.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Minecraft Interest Rises - Good or Not?

Another busy November weekend has passed and an equally intense week is upon me. While I attended the Ontario School Library Association's Council meeting on Saturday, not one but two of my colleagues approached me to discuss incorporating Minecraft officially into their schools. I came home and found an email from a former teacher-librarian working at another school who attended the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario conference (where Liam O'Donnell, Denise Colby and I gave a talk about "Connecting the Blocks: Linking Minecraft to the Ontario Curriculum") and wants information on our servers and getting her Grade 7s using it in class. This week, I was supposed to try to schedule a visit to another school to launch their use of Minecraft, but I am going to have to postpone the engagement.

Minecraft is garnering a lot of attention in media and education, and I'm uncertain whether or not it's a good thing.

The zoo made by the Maliszewski Grims (of their own choice) on the Pro Play server.

The optimist in me loves the idea that schools are becoming more willing to look at media that students feel passionate about and make it a valid topic of conversation in schools. I think it's wonderful that some educators are considering new ways of engaging students, new ways of knowing and learning and exploring. It makes my heart happy to see students leading the learning experiences, making connections to curriculum, and developing skills and habits that will help them in the future.

The pessimist in me worries that schools will appropriate and manipulate Minecraft and leech the fun out of it for students by organizing overly prescribed methods of use. I think it's concerning that some educators are unwilling to try the game for themselves and are simply seeking a new fad or a quick-fix for some students. It makes my stomach churn when game culture (and school culture) is misunderstood and disrespected, especially when elements of each are extracted without context to try to improve the other (a.k.a. gamification).

Phisagrim's Magma Cafe in the Nether - media marketing, economics & STEM work on his own.

Here's the thing I need to remember - this pattern has happened before. (I think I've been influenced by the "Disciplinary Thinking" in the new Ontario Ministry of Education revised Social Studies, History and Geography document - ideas like significance, cause and consequence, continuity and change, patterns and trends, interrelationships, perspective. It must have been the OSLA T4L inquiry webinar I was preparing.)

Liam has said this before, although I can't remember where or when. Video games are in 2013 where comics were a few decades ago. At first, comics were evil, corrupting youth who wasted their time with them, filling their heads with nonsense. Then, a few people dared to bring comics into schools. It changed from odd to cool. More people started doing it. Comics moved from extreme to mainstream. Now, the use of comics in the classroom is common. Comics were used in ways in classes that were boring and counterproductive. People jumped on the comics bandwagon, but despite some questionable implementation by some, comics are still around in education. If Minecraft and other video games have the potential that I believe they do, it can weather the less-than-ideal views and uses.

Monday, November 18, 2013

OEYC and Families Learning Together in the Library

I love it when people advocate for the school library program and it pays off in big ways. Our school is fortunate to have the Rouge River Ontario Early Years Centre operating several times a week in a portable in our school yard. In the past, the site coordinator, Kitty, and I would arrange to have a weekly time where the 3-year-olds could come to the library for story time or computer time with their caregivers. Last year, my full-prep schedule made it impossible to arrange these visits and Kitty pleaded with my principal to make me available so we could renew this partnership. I have a more open schedule this year and so we are working together again.

Even though this partnership is not new, I discovered that it needed some tweaking. I realized that some of the stories I used before would not work with this new group of younger learners. (For instance, Clifford the Big Red Dog was a flop.) Many of the parents and grandparents speak very little English and the children are hesitant to share their ideas orally. I consulted with Kitty, as well as with one of our kindergarten teachers, Diana Lung, and our dance/drama teacher (who also teaches ESL at his other school), Francis Ngo, and they helped me to come up with a new approach. Along with the revamped strategies, we've expanded the time the OEYC participants and I spend together to twice a week. Below is a brief summary of our school library-linked program with the Rouge River OEYC.

Tuesdays - Storytime

Objective: to practice kindergarten-ready conduct (e.g. sitting down to listen to a story, raising hands to give responses), to listen to books read aloud, to predict and comment on stories, and to enjoy reading time

New/Improved Elements:

  • including more predictable, call-and-response opportunities
  • incorporating Chinese and Tamil words into the lesson
  • choosing books with fewer words and more active / non-verbal ways to be involved
Sample Lesson
- the adults and children line up outside the library until I open the door to let them in
- children put their coats on the chairs and sit in front of the rocking chair
- I say "Good Morning" and gesture to myself
- I make the same gesture to them so they can say "Good Morning" back
- I say "Jo Sun" (Mandarin for "Good Morning") with a gesture and they repeat
- I say "Vanakum" (Tamil for "Good Morning") with a gesture and they repeat
- Together we read the poem on the Cheryl-Thorton-acquired Story Bag (thanks Peggy Thomas for it!)
- I ask who would like to look in the bag and see what's inside (students raise their hands)
- Students pull out the book of the day as well as a related object
- e.g. on November 12, 2013 I had a stick and the book Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis
- I read the book, stopping often to ask children to either predict what the pig was doing with the stick, or for children to try and copy what the pig was doing with the stick
- I ask the parents for translation of key words (e.g. "How do you say stick in Mandarin or Cantonese?")
- I try saying the words and the parents correct me (so we are all learning from each other)
- at the end, everyone gets a chance to use the story-related object

Wednesdays - Jolly Phonics Instruction

Objective: to make letter/sound connections so children can decode words when eventually reading independently, to learn how to hold writing instruments

New/Improved Elements:
  • very structured, predictable routine
  • occasional translators to explain the reason or purpose behind activities
Sample Lesson
- the adults and children line up outside the library until I open the door to let them in
- children put their coats on the chairs and sit in front of the SMART interactive whiteboard
- I use the same "Good Morning / Jo Sun / Vanakum" greeting as on Tuesday
- I tell a short story related to the letter of the day (e.g. on November 5, 2013, I talked about a tennis match and how the t-sound works) and use the Jolly Phonics recommended gesture with the sound
- When a translator is available, he/she retells the short story in Cantonese, Mandarin, or Tamil
- I ask for volunteers to raise their hand to try the SMART Board activity related to the sound 
- e.g. on November 5, the child came to the SMART Board and made the tennis ball bounce back and forth between the two rackets while making the "t" sound
- We listen to the Jolly Phonics song related to the letter once, then sing it together twice (on video)
- The parents/grandparents help their child write the letter in their Jolly Phonics workbook, then allow the child to colour the picture themselves
- When it is time to leave, each child is encouraged to repeat the sound of the day after I say it to them individually; if they do, they receive a sticker (usually beginning with the letter sound we are focusing on) and if they don't, I model the desired behaviour with the adult and the adult gets the sticker (with the suggestion to try to get the child to repeat the sound so they can earn the sticker later)

These changes have made a positive difference for the children and the adults. The structure is so firmly entrenched that, when I did not have time to set up the song video in advance and skipped it, the parents asked me why I wasn't singing the song at the usual time. The adults are modeling risk-taking behaviour, like pronouncing the letter sounds, because they see me clumsily attempting to speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and Tamil - I'm sure they know they can do a better job with English than I can with these other languages! I am seeing more participation from the children, and less "back-seat driving" from their caregivers (who used to tell them what to say when they were asked questions). Now that we see each other twice a week, we are getting to know each other better. The adults were delighted with the "Kids of the OEYC" hall display I made and one asked me to email her photos of her son that were up on the board. Although it can be exhausting, I am really enjoying our time together and I hope it pays big dividends when the children start kindergarten next year.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Getting Better

I cannot spend every Monday Molly Musing recapping my weekend meetings, despite having a lot of them. Despite this vow, a moment from my Teaching Librarian editorial board meeting ties in nicely with my recent reflections, so bear with me.

One of the agenda items from Saturday was to examine the results of our reader survey. The unfortunate part was that we only had two responses! This made it difficult to ascertain which columns need retiring, which need sprucing up, and which columns are making a difference for entertainment and education. The editors discussed possible reasons for the low response rate - no prizes offered, no clear deadline, a design that makes the task look onerous. We agreed that we would make changes to the areas we could control and redistribute the survey so we could get data that would help the magazine get better.

Using evidence to help improve our practice - this is also what I want to do with my teaching and learning. This year, I am grateful to have much more open flexible collaborative teaching time in my schedule, and I am also thankful that the teachers on my staff are willing to collaborate with me. I find it very rewarding and informative to partner up with another educator to plan, teach, and assess. I am keenly aware, however, that this arrangement is tenuous, based on many external factors, and I need to collect data that shows that collaboration between teachers and teacher-librarians improve student learning. In our unit plans, I've placed a probing question at the end for us to tackle, so that individual teachers and partnerships can approach it in the way they are most comfortable. (I've highlighted it in red)

Collaborative Co-Teaching Plan

October – November 2013

Grade: HSP    Teachers: Maliszewski / Wong          Topic: Radio Advertisements

q  Oral Communication = 1.6: extend understanding of oral texts by connecting ideas to students’ own knowledge (Grade 5)
q  Media Literacy = 1.6: identify who produces media, the reason, purpose, audience and funding (Grade 5)
q  OLA Information Studies =

End Goals
By the end of the unit, students will
  • Create a podcast of a radio announcement
  • Show they understand media terminology such as logo / slogan (jingle)
  • Identify companies in product advertisements

Schedule:        Day 2 Period 4 – one 30 minute period

Timeline (Lessons)

Week 1
Wed. Oct. 9/13
What is media?
-          Review definition of media
-          Play game
-          Make connection: “by people” = media producers
Find suitable game to play (DM &KW)
Week 2
Fri. Oct. 18/13

What is a logo? How is it used in ads?
-          Explain the definition of logo & purpose (A logo is a graphic mark or emblem commonly used by commercial enterprises, organizations and even individuals to aid and promote instant public recognition. Logos are either purely graphic (symbols/icons) or are composed of the name of the organization (a logotype or wordmark).
-          Play logo identification game
Bring in logo iPad
game to play (KW)

Week 3

What is a slogan / jingle? How are they used in ads?
-          Where can we find ads?
-          Distinguish between advertisements that are visual & only oral? How do those ads identify their producer?
-          Define & brainstorm slogans / jingles
Interview students to confirm understanding of media, logo, media producer (KW)
Collect slogans / jingles (DM)
Week 4
What are the characteristics of a radio ad?
-          Listen to radio ads
-          Determine how long they are, what is included (e.g. dialogue, music, sound effects)
-          Make list of characteristics
Collect radio ads or locate online stations (KW & DM)
Take notes of student comments (DM)
Week 5
What are the techniques and technology needed to make an effective radio ad?
-          Explore using either Garage Band or Audacity
-          Challenge students to mimic techniques heard in sample radio ads heard last week
-          List persuasive techniques used to make an ad more effective

Week 6

How do we make our own radio ads?
-          Distribute assignment, include rubric created based on comments from weeks 3-5 on characteristics, producer, persuasive techniques, etc.)
Write project description & rubric (KW & DM)

  • Rubric for evaluating final product (podcast recording of radio ad)
  • Conferences with individual students to check for understanding of media terminology
  • End-of-unit interview to confirm comprehension of media concepts

How do we evaluate the effectiveness of the teacher-librarian presence in this unit? 

I happened to mention my struggle via email to a great mentor of mine, the amazing Carol Koechlin. Carol was my Librarianship Part 1, 2 and 3 AQ instructor, and continues to support school librarianship in Canada even though she claims to be retired. This is the feedback she gave me on how to collect evidence to help me get better as a teacher-librarian working in conjunction with classroom teachers.

Great to hear that you have more time to work with teachers. I would like to suggest that you tweak your reflective question a bit to take the emphasis off you specifically and put it on the collaboration with you. So something like this, 'How do we collect evidence that our teaching partnership in the learning commons on this unit makes a difference in the students' learning of content and skills?' I think you will both find that there are many new (information, thinking, digital, media...) skills students acquire or get better at. When this happens students then have the ability to reach deeper understanding of content than they would otherwise have done. I bet you have had teachers say to you many times after an experience with you in the library..."I didn't know my kids were capable of that!" Try to get your partner teacher to think about how many more of their students achieved a bit higher than they normally do in the classroom. Of course the library space, resources and technologies also factor favourably into the formula but that is good to document too because it is all part of the benefit of collaborating with you. Ask the partner teacher and yourself, what were the benefits for you, what did you learn as well, did you grow as teachers? I am sure you will have students do a Big Think activity at the end of the unit and from that you will be able to gather evidence of growth right from the kids themselves.

I am really fortunate to have people like this in my Professional Learning Network to help me. I am also lucky that I have people in my school building willing to help me examine my practice to get better. For instance, two of my junior division classes recently submitted compositions for the Meaning of Home contest. EQAO results have indicated that our students need more work on their writing, and so my initial inquiry unit with them sought to build their background knowledge to help them write in a way that reflected more than a superficial reaction to the topic. As part of our investigations and explorations, I had one of our Early Childhood Educators guest-teach the class using a lesson she experienced as part of a week-long course she took on homelessness. She has been very curious about how the student compositions have turned out, so I have someone that I can show the results (which were decidedly mixed in quality), brainstorm potential factors that led to the results, and contemplate next steps to take in my instruction so I can help the students get better. It's nice to know I won't be alone.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Every Saturday in November is booked for me with an event or two. I begin November 2013 with my second visit to the People for Education's annual conference. Big thanks go to the Ontario Library Association for sponsoring my attendance.

Making Connections - the 17th Annual People for Education Conference

Saturday November 2, 2013- 9:30 a.m.
Opening Keynote by Pedro Noguera 

Summary: Dr. Noguera states that we need to take a broader and bolder approach to school reform, because school reproduces patterns of inequality in society. If education is supposed to be a path to a more just, equitable society, then what are we doing wrong, and why are we not getting the kind of society we want? 

3 Key Points
  1. Ranking and measuring is not a strategy for improvement; it could possibly be a tool (to measure discrepancies) but not the way we are currently using them (as pressure points, ways for humiliation, as a weapon against teachers and students). Standardized tests are a narrow way of looking at school success, because it ignores the emotional needs of children. 
  2. Schools have normalized failure; instead of blaming parents and students, change the focus to responsibility - what does it take to educate the children we serve? How do they use language? How do they problem solve? What excites them? 
  3. Culture cannot be imposed on a school, and contracts won't make teachers work hard. Having shared practice, beliefs, mission and vision among all staff creates the environment where excellence is promoted, mastery encouraged, relationships built, and learning is something students hunger for. When schools are working (like P.S. 28 in Brooklyn, with the highest gains in literacy and math despite having 40% of their students homeless), they need to be visited so others can learn from them.
So what? Now what? I said I would write about Kevin Honeycutt's closing keynote from ECOO, and I can do it here. I think the first step is to continue to build relationships with my students. In September, one student came up to me and said "Last year, you called me Pumpkin. This year, I'll be your Cupcake." To tell the truth, I never remembered using these nicknames with her, but she thought of it fondly and it was important enough for her to share the story. Keep building bridges, even when I don't realize that's what I'm building.

Saturday November 2, 2013 - 10:45 a.m.
School Councils by Jacqui Strachan 

Summary: (from P4E website) A workshop designed for anyone who is working to improve his or her school council.  Come with your questions and your success stories so you can learn from the presenter and each other.

3 Key Points

  1. Using email for communication helps with sustainability, especially a board-provided email as long as it is checked regularly. Email distribution lists are helpful. If you can, get the principal to solicit emails from all parents with all those forms in September and get permission to share this list with the parent council. 
  2. Build community. Hold events such as a school BBQ, Fun Fair, or movie night so that parents can talk together. School council meetings don't have to be held at school - meet in a pub or online. 
  3. Don't label parents who don't come to meetings as "un-involved". The average number of school council attendees stays the same, so find ways to give them input, or ask them for specific ways to help. There can be two levels of involvement, for instance - community and council. Do stuff other than fundraising.
So what? Now what? A great form was shared, called "7 Steps for Building an Engaged Community". I'll share it with those who come to my upcoming CSAC (Catholic School Advisory Council) meeting on November 13 and maybe phone people to see if they received the first set of emails I sent with meeting highlights.

Saturday, November 2, 2013 - noonPlenary Session: Aboriginal Education

Summary: (from P4E website) The vast majority of First Nations, M├ętis and Inuit students attend publicly funded schools in Ontario school boards. Up to now the public has focused on achievement gaps for these students, but there are other pressing issues: How can we address widespread gaps in all students’ knowledge of Aboriginal culture and history? Have we done enough to address resource gaps in schools serving a large number of Aboriginal students?

So what? Now what? I had to supervise the Ontario Library Association table to answer questions about the Forest of Reading, so I was unable to attend this session.

Saturday, November 2, 2013 - 2:00 p.m.Plenary Session: Redefining School Success

Summary: (from P4E website) Imagine a public education system focused on what matters most to the success of our children and our country. Imagine a system where student success is measured in terms of creativity, mental and physical well-being, and good citizenship in addition to academic achievement. Now imagine how we could work together to take that image and turn it into a reality for the schools and the students of Ontario.

3 Key Points
  1. Dr. Bruce Ferguson says we should be concerned about health and well-being because in a UNICEF report, Canada ranked 27th out of 27 Western countries; 84% of 3-4 year olds are physically active vs. only 7% of kids ages 5-11 are active for an hour a day - this is a community responsibility.
  2. Susan Shaw McCalmont says that in a global economy of ideas, innovation won't happen unless it's cultivated; in schools devoted to creativity, absenteeism is down, kids are happier, and test scores are high.
  3. Alison Loat says that current civics education turns Canadian youth off politics and that we should focus on every day political involvement; Samara is a new organization trying to develop interest in active citizenship in youth.
So what? Now what? Maybe I should run Student Council this year? I think our social studies inquiry unit that our Grade 4-5s are undertaking have elements of active citizenship. What about a maker space or creativity club? I'll investigate this at the OLA Superconference to explore creativity more. As for issues surrounding mental and physical health, I need to continue to build relationships, have discussions around feelings, and continue to do my daily treadmill time while my own children practice their musical instruments.

Saturday, November 2, 2013 - 3:15 p.m.Building a Better Parent-Teacher Relationship by Andrea Higgins, John Ippolito, and Jacqui Strachan

Summary: (from P4E website) We know a good parent-teacher relationship is one of the keys to a child’s success in school.  But what can be done to ensure that parents and teachers start out on the right foot, keep lines of communication open, and make the most of their relationship for the sake of the students?

3 Key Points
  1. John, as a researcher, said: We need to develop the capacity to communicate across differences and to better understand the psychology of relationships between stakeholders. If we build a resilient culture, it can handle "traumas" like last year's labour unrest; if there's no culture of community present to begin with, it becomes even harder to talk with conflict occurs.
  2. Jacqui, as a parent, said: Communication failure happens when there isn't enough communication, it's not in a timely manner, there isn't any response, or when someone feeling threatened by comments or questions. Improve it by not making assumptions based on family background/class/culture, communicate early and often, become familiar with the school community by exploring the neighbourhood, and teachers should share that they are human too.
  3. Andrea, as a teacher, said: Make the assumption that the teacher is there with the best interest of the child at heart, share little and big things about your child so that the teacher has a broad understanding of your child, ask many questions (like how you can help, what's the best way to communicate with each other like email), and get help if you are feeling shut down communication-wise.
So what? Now what? I liked the tip "contact each other to share good news". I should do that both as a parent and as a teacher. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013 - 4:30 p.m.Address by the Minister of Education

Summary: Minister of Education Liz Sandals highlighted some of the current directions the provincial government is taking with regards to education.

3 Key Points
  1. Parents can make a difference in children's education, by reading to them, talking to them about what happens in school, helping them with homework, and getting involved. The government has invested $49 000 000 since 2005 in Parent Reaching Out grants.
  2. Last year was a difficult time for education so they are moving forward with legislation for a more effective framework - this legislation is unique in that it was a 3-way ratification, with the government, school boards, and teacher federations. 
  3. The government acknowledges that we need to do better to support aboriginal and First Nations students so they are working on a self-identification so they can gather enough baseline data to focus their resources - the government likes to focus on specific groups of kids so they can make a targeted effort to make a change.
So what? Now what? Minister Sandals mentioned the From Great to Excellent community consultation kit and I will be using it with my own children's School Council to give input. 

Minister of Education Liz Sandals

Meredith and I at the OLA / Forest of Reading table

Annie Kidder, head of People for Education

Friday, November 1, 2013

My Photos from ECOO 2013

David shows me some of his 3D printing results

Jody found her first horse on Minecraft on Thurs. night!

One view of our room as folks talked and tinkered.

This is Jen's first Minecraft house, made at the LAN party!

Our welcome sign

Denise enjoys a breakfast buffet with a view of the Falls!
Part of our audience for our Friday afternoon session.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

People of ECOO 2013 Part 3

Yes, I'm still at it, filling my blogs with names and appreciations. There's a bit of a shock when you realize you've been mentioned by name on someone's blog, and a thrill when it's for something good. Here are some more ECOO People categories.

People I Saw at ECOO 2013 that I know from Elsewhere (and Adore)

Annie Slater (@AIslater on Twitter) used to be a teacher-librarian in my family of schools in the Toronto District School Board. We co-presented at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference on "Pets as Possibilities @ Your Library" in 2012. Annie is now teaching Grade 7 at a different school. I'm sorry that she is no longer a teacher-librarian (because she was fabulous) but a great educator is a great educator, regardless of job description or location.

Cyndie Jacobs (@cyndiejacobs on Twitter) is supposedly retired - but if her schedule is that of a typical retired person, then if I want to relax, I better stay employed! Cyndie used to be the Director of Curriculum and Assessment at OTF and I first met her when the Ontario School Library Association began offering week-long sessions with Camp OTF. Cyndie's got her fingers in all sorts of pies and she did a great job co-chairing the ECOO conference this year.

Doug Peterson (@dougpete on Twitter) is a huge inspiration to me. If you search this blog for his name, you will see it appear frequently, as his tweets and blog posts make me reflect on my practice, try new things, and challenge myself. I think that I first met Doug when we participated in the very first Face Off (was it at ECOO or OSLA?). Doug makes everyone feel valued and valuable. If I get a mention in one of his #FF tweets or "This week in Ontario Edublogs" posts, it makes my day. Most of the time Doug has seen me in person, it's been wearing crazy outfits (like a mohawk, wearing roller skates, or a Creeper costume). Even though he was one of the busiest people at the conference, because he was co-chair, he still made time to talk with me.

Alanna King (@banana29 on Twitter) and her husband (Tim King, @tk1ng on Twitter) are to the Canadian Ed-Tech world like David and Victoria Beckham are to English sports&pop culture - icons! I first met Alanna at one of those Library Camp OTF events; I helped present and she attended. Demonstrating early on her huge heart and thoughtful ways, she helped arrange a thank-you card and gift for the OSLA organizers of that event. Alanna and I have a lot in common - we are both teacher-librarians, we are/were both part of the University of Alberta Teacher-Librarianship via Distance Learning, we both present at OSLA Superconference (and that girl can ROCK a 1970s dance party, trust me!), we are both wives and mothers ... my only regret is that I only get to see Alanna in person at conferences. When we are together, we can spend hours talking.

Julie Millan (@jsm2272 on Twitter) has been part of my volunteer and work life for quite a while. I don't remember when we first met. (Ask her. She has a better memory than I do.) She used to be a teacher-librarian and now she's the Instructional Leader for Teaching and Learning with Technology for TDSB. I have the pleasure and honour of working with her on the Ontario School Library Association's editorial board for The Teaching Librarian. I have attended her workshops (and my staff still refer to "remember that good workshop led by Julie whats-her-name? It was really good!"). She is the nicest person, patient despite bureaucracy, optimistic despite setbacks ... she is a person I want to add to my "friend friend" list, not just "work friend" or "TL friend". I saw her at ECOO 2013 for five minutes as we passed each other in the hall, because she's that busy, but we still squeezed time to talk.

People I Saw at ECOO 2013 That I Want to Know More About

(Not a stalker list)

Alana Callan (@alanacallan on Twitter) - Alanna King was "the other Alana", to distinguish her from the amazing human dynamo that coordinated the ECOO 2013 early-morning run. Alana seems to know me, although I'm racking my brain to recall when we might have met, not counting Twitter. Her playful banter with my buddy David Hann made me believe that she would be a joy to sit down and talk to, both personally and professionally.

Jim Cash (@cashjim on Twitter) - Jim was all over ECOO, giving presentations, like this one (which I unfortunately missed), attending sessions, like our Friday Minecraft one, and tweeting frequently and thoughtfully. For me, Jim radiates calm and consideration, two qualities I could benefit from experiencing more.

Moojean Seo (@moojean_seo on Twitter) - Who is Moojean Seo? The Twitter image for Moojean's account are sharpened pencils, and the tweets came fast and furious during ECOO 2013, but I'm dying to put a name to the face!

Andrew Schmitt (@Tall_teacher on Twitter) - Andrew is the "new Julie Millan", but he used to teach at Joyce Public School, a school with great technology integration. He also used to be the teacher-librarian there. We'd have some interesting conversations, I think.

Speaking of names and faces, tomorrow's blog will have photos from ECOO 2013. Happy Halloween!