Monday, May 27, 2013

In Marking Madness, collaboration is still crucial!

It's that time of the year again - report card writing. Although I like how assessments help shape my lessons, and indicate where my students need further clarification, it is still a painful process for me. I'm constantly asking myself questions and second-guessing myself. Have the students had enough practice with a concept to provide a final assessment? What's the difference between a C+ and B-? Did my assessment tool adequately evaluate the skill or content I was examining? Did I weigh certain assignments enough based on the time it took, the value of it compared to other tasks, etc. etc? The temptation is to hurry up and get it all done, but I'm really glad that I took some time to collaborate with my school's ECEs on the kindergarten assignments that help form my report card comments for the areas to which I contribute.

Our current ICT/library/media inquiry unit is about examining what is funny. Some of the kindergarten expectations I've been aiming at include:

1.2 identify and talk about their own interests and preferences 

1.3 express their thoughts (e.g., on a science discovery, on something they have made) and share experiences (e.g., experiences at home, cultural experiences)

5.2 communicate their ideas verbally and non-verbally about a variety of media materials (e.g., describe their feelings in response to seeing a DVD or a video; dramatize messages from a safety video or poster; paint pictures in response to an advertisement or CD) 

I was a little worried (especially when one teacher hinted that she'd like the final comments by May 7) that I wouldn't have sufficient evidence to properly comment on the students' learning. I consulted with our ECEs - I've mentioned these two dynamite ladies in a previous blog post - and together we came up with ways to use their media books in ways that evaluate understanding of media instead of reading fluency, and we decided on a great procedure for having them articulate how funny a media text is to them (using our funny meters) by providing several concrete examples for them to refer to. This second task involves me dressing up in a ridiculous outfit, so it's been a fun assessment tool. I'll try and post a photo of me in my funny costume  later on. Having these tasks vetted by other professionals increases my confidence in the tools and the process. Thanks Thess and Jenn!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Festival of Trees - The Pleasure & Purpose

Last week (Wednesday, May 15 and Thursday, May 16), I attended the Ontario Library Association Festival of Trees at Harbourfront in Toronto. My students and I attend approximately once every two years (e.g. 2011 / 2009) and it is a very popular and memorable school trip for everyone involved. I searched through my blog posts and although I've mentioned the Forest of Reading in prior reflections, I've never actually talked in depth about this culminating celebration.

The photo you'll see on the left is a picture that Simon & Schuster Publications received permission to share on their Facebook page. The ecstatic student in the shot is from my school. He and his parents have signed several media release permission forms granting sharing privileges, and I've double-checked with his father that I'm allowed to share it here. Let me tell you a bit about how Hamrish ended up on stage with one of his favourite authors, and the power (aka the pleasure and the purpose) of this particular reading event.

Different schools determine whom to bring on this trip in a variety of ways. (While at the Red Maple event, I spoke with Karen and Ellen, two outstanding teacher-librarians in the Toronto District School Board - their testimonies about the impact of the Festival of Trees on their students brought me to tears. They were inspiring ... but I digress.) At my school, students must read and obtain at least five signatures in their Silver Birch or Red Maple passports to qualify to attend the festival. I try to offer many ways of gaining these signatures; for instance, this year, students could chat with other teachers or with me via individual chats or group chats in person, via email, or via Skype. Hamrish and his friends eagerly collected signatures for the books they had read. They borrowed them from the public library and the school library. They discovered the joy of e-book copies. Despite the many options for reading confirmation, Hamrish insisted on a face-to-face chat about the Kevin Sylvester-authored book Neil Flambe and the Crusader's Curse because he loved it so much that he wanted to have an extensive conversation about the novel.

In addition to the thrill of attending the Festival of Trees and meeting these authors, the Ontario Library Association also offers students the unique opportunity to apply to be sign carriers or presenters on stage for the actual award ceremony. Many of my students took the initiative to submit their names for consideration and several were chosen for the honour of sharing the stage. Hamrish was picked to introduce Kevin Sylvester (and Mike Deas). He was so excited! The selected students and I worked in the library on creating enthusiastic one-minute speeches and they didn't let the crowds of hundreds of fellow students deter them from doing a great job. In fact, this is what Kevin Sylvester tweeted after the event:

Hamrish was a mini-celebrity for the rest of the festival. Strangers approached him and his dad to compliment him on his entertaining speech - AND he got to spend time with an author he admires greatly.

This is just one positive story about the Festival of Trees. I could tell you more:

  • about the girl who wrote her author (of her own volition) to see if she wanted to offer input on her speech's content, 
  • or the ESL students who gladly gave up their recess times so they could read some of the nominated titles with me so that they could qualify to go, 
  • or tales from past years (of a reluctant reader who loved reading the Silver Birch nominees so much that he was featured in a documentary ... or of a student who, in the middle of a very difficult time in his life, said that the only bright spot was going to the Festival of Trees ... or of students that, when meeting a renowned author at school, hurried to show him a video of them being interviewed by the CBC about the Forest of Reading ...). 

There are many anecdotal pieces of evidence that the Festival of Trees is very enjoyable and helps to promote recreational reading of Canadian children's literature. What I'm interested in doing (and have been investigating, with the assistance of several key people) is collecting data beyond these feel-good stories to see the specific appeal of  readers choice programs and celebrations like the Festival of Trees and how they make a difference and create/support readers. This will take a long time to research (so far, three years and counting), but if it can substantiate the experiences that I (and other teacher-librarians like Karen and Ellen) have seen and heard, it will be worthwhile.

P.S. Kevin Sylvester mentioned a fellow author's comment that the Festival of Trees is actually a Festival of Hope - this is a great analogy. Check out Kevin's website, as well as all the other nominees. So much credit needs to go to the approachable, friendly, patient, and enthusiastic authors and illustrators that took the time to attend the Festival of Trees and meet their fans. It wouldn't be the same without them.

Monday, May 13, 2013

TCAF 2013 Highlights

This was a very busy weekend for me. My god-daughter's brother had his First Communion, I visited my mother for Mother's Day, and I attended the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. This experience was unique because I brought four of my students to the Librarian and Educators Day. They will be making their own blog posts on what they saw and learned on our private intermediate division wiki - I hope they'll give me permission to share their thoughts here as well.

Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2013 Librarian and Educator Day

Keynote by Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman

Raina (creator of Smile and Drama) and Dave (creator of Astronaut Academy and TeenBoat) talked about the misconceptions people have about comics, their experiences in the comics industry, and comic heroes (not the caped kinds - the organizations and individuals promoting and supporting comics for kids).

My $0.02 = Raina and Dave are two of the nicest, most approachable kid comic creators in the business. I was pleased to hear about Kids Comics Revolution, a podcast Dave and Jerzy Drozd have established. They've also launched the KCR! Comics Awards, a readers choice award for Canadian and American young people - they vote for their favourite kids comics! (This fits nicely with my research on readers choice awards.)

Comics Defense 101

This panel, consisting of moderator Robin Brenner, Gene Ambaum, Eva Volin, Rebecca Scoble, Charles Brownstein, and Diana Maliszewski, discussed "content concerns and challenges, and ways for advocating for the inclusion of comics in collections and curricula" (according to the TCAF website).

My $0.02 = We had some interesting conversation during this panel. Jamie Coville, a diligent and hard-working gentleman who records panels like this for, took the time to record this talk for the website. I'll post the link here so you can hear the discussion. It's interesting to hear from the audience - for example, one person had problems getting her most advanced readers to accept comics at her high school, while another had the exact opposite problem. Another person wanted to include American Born Chinese on their high school media course reading list and was having opposition, yet another educator in the group was using it without complaint in a Grade 7-8 class. 

Bill Amend and Raina Telgemeier in Conversation

Bill Amend is the creator of the syndicated comic Foxtrot. Raina interviewed him.

My $0.02 = Bill has a very unusual background for a cartoonist - a degree in physics. He incorporates math and science (as well as popular culture references that he enjoys, such as D&D and Star Wars) into his comics, so much so that textbooks often use his strips. It is challenging to do comic strips that appear in newspapers because the comic must be safe enough for children and seniors to consume but still be funny and edgy. It took two years for Foxtrot to be accepted (it was one little note at the end of one of his rejection letters, saying "we like your art, writing, and humour - just tinker with the subject matter) that led him to ditch his original concept of a science studying animals in a jungle and persevere. He said that readers are not his only customers (the newspapers that choose to run his strip are as well) and he has to work hard to keep both happy. He told some great stories about meeting Bruce Springsteen, Bill Waterson (Calvin & Hobbes) and George Lucas. This was a great talk for media literacy - understanding audience, creating a product, making decisions - I think I can bring some of these ideas (as well as Bill's new kid anthology of Foxtrot, which I bought) into the class.

Using Children's Graphic Novels with Confidence - Build a Collection and Put Them to Use!

Scott Robins, author of A Parent's Guide to the Best Kids Comics, shared a short history of comics, the evolution of acceptability, and ways to evaluate comics.

My $0.02 = Scott knows comics well - he's one of the bloggers for School Library Journal on comics and his book is very helpful. (Bias note: he's also a friend of mine.) We couldn't stay as long as I would have liked to remain, because the afternoon sessions started late and I had to get our students back to school on time. I took several screen shots of his Powerpoint slides, because even though I already feel pretty confident about my comic collection in my school library, there's always something new to learn!

As is often the case, I learn just as much from the in-between conversations as I do from the official sessions. It was great to talk to Leslie, Scott, and Sasha. It was informative to buy new books for our collection. It was helpful to expose my students to a very different learning method (for them, I think they liked choosing their topic of interest to attend, but I think the format felt very long for them and it took courage and encouragement to quietly excuse themselves when they needed to stretch). I also learned that Toronto Reference Librarians are strict - I went to take a picture of my students in one of the futuristic study pods and was scolded sternly - taking photos in the library violated user privacy. I was inspired enough by Friday to make my own comic on the back of a kids place mat while at dinner with my family.

I only had 3 crayons to work with, so it's not my best work.

Fashion in Comics!

This was actually a panel I attended with my daughter on Saturday. We went together, had a "spirit animal sketch" done by Brian McLauglin (I'll check the spelling later), bought books and had them signed by Svetlana Cmothzky (I'll definitely check the spelling of that later), and then heard this talk. It was also very informative (I'll copy and paste the TCAF official description below.) It was a great TCAF experience, and I hope more people (especially those not particularly familiar with comics) will attend.

Fashion in Comics! This program opens up a conversation about the importance of fashion in comics. What are fashion’s influences on a creator’s work, and conversely, comics’ influence on fans and real life fashion? What approaches and research does one go through to depict specific fashions? Is comic book fashion good? Join moderator Krystle Tabujara in a spirited discussion with Fashion Journalist Nathalie Atkinson (The National Post), Willow Dawson (No Girls Allowed), Kagan McLeod (Fashion Illustrator, Infinite Kung Fu) Bryan Lee O’Malley (Scott Pilgrim), Ramon Perez (Wolverine & The X-Men), and Maurice Vellekoop (fashion illustrator, TCAF Featured Guest).

Monday, May 6, 2013

TCAF-Inspired, Year-Long Project Complete!

I am SO very excited about the video I've posted above. Let me set the scenario.

I love going to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival every year. Last year, I wrote about my son and my daughter's plan to create a movie using a book from Colleen A.F. Venable's excellent Guinea P.I. series. I am happy to report that, after a year's worth of work (okay, more like four months work and eight months of procrastination), we finally have a finished product to share with the world!

There were several hurdles we had to overcome. We switched executive producers at the beginning of the project. We had some casting difficulties because we couldn't find any Webkinz hamsters to buy to fill the roles of the other hamsters besides Hamisher. (Thankfully, my husband found some toys online through Indigo and had them shipped to our local Chapters store.) We had to do some creative problem solving, like when we wanted the fish to move without seeing our hands. We had some technical difficulties when I transferred all our photos and videos off the iPad and iMovie needed the files so I had to resend all the required video files to the Photos folder. Despite it all, we persevered and we succeeded.

What I adore about this project was that it was something my children undertook of their own accord. When they'd get discouraged, they'd read the inscription that Colleen wrote in the book we bought from her that she autographed. We didn't want to let her down, and just in time for TCAF 2013, we posted our film to YouTube. If this was a school project, it would combine reading, media literacy, music, drama, and ICT. The learning skills their teacher could remark on would include responsibility, collaboration, initiative, organization, and self-regulation. My kids didn't do it for any marks. They were inspired to undertake authentic learning because of their shared love of a graphic novel and a charming author.

I wish we had a chance to do projects like this more often in school. I was able to do something similar with some of my students. My Grade 3-4s are nearing the end of their year-long foray into their What Is Media - Minecraft Style video. The uneasy part of this type of project-based learning is that it's hard at times to sift out all the individual assessments from the collective project, and because we spent a long time on this one huge task, it represents a large portion of the students' media mark. (If anyone reading this has any insights on assessment in project-based learning, I'd appreciate hearing it. I have some solutions in mind for assessing this major project, but it'd be great to hear other suggestions.)

This Friday, I'll be attending the second annual TCAF Librarian and Educators Day - but this time, I'll be bringing four of my intermediate division library helpers along with me. I hope that they will be inspired by the comic authors and illustrators they will meet and maybe they'll try writing their own comic, or making a movie adaptation of a book, or some other project of their choosing, just because.