Monday, May 25, 2015

Effective Promotion and Learning by Students from Students

Last week, I was away at two separate events. At first glance, they seem very different. The Taking IT Global Social Innovation Student Symposium was held at the Ontario Science Centre on Thursday, May 21. The TDSB East Region Red Maple Marketing Campaign and Celebration invaded the Malvern Branch of the Toronto Public Library on Friday, May 22. (I've written about this event multiple times on my blog.) However, both activities involved using social media and technology for a specific purpose and allowing student voice and choice to shine through authentic projects that go beyond generating marks for the report card. I was really impressed with the effort made by the many schools and classes involved. Students are learning how to use the tools they consider a normal part of the technological landscape as more than just entertaining distractions. They promote their causes (in the case of the Taking IT Global projects) or advertise their Kid Can Lit selections using many different venues - I saw examples over the past two days from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Goodreads, independent websites, YouTube, and more.

The most effective promotions did not neglect the "people factor" and used low-tech methods in addition to engage their audiences. Mr. Roberts' Grade 7-8 students made a huge paper map and encouraged visitors to place a star where they live in Toronto, to see that the issue of safe oil transportation is not just important to the Goldhawk Community, where they live, but to the majority of Torontonians, due to the intricate network of railways, pipelines, and waterways criss-crossing the city. We even had a gentleman visit the booth who said that the Line 9 pipeline travels through his neighbourhood - all the way in New Brunswick.

The winner of the Red Maple Marketing Campaign this year, the group from Milliken P.S. that were responsible for the book The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel, also used a great mix of low-tech and high-tech means to get their message across. Their poster artwork was eye-catching, and their bookmarks, Photo Booth stand, and treats all supported the theme of the book and their intent to get as many people interested in reading it as possible.

The second similarity between the events - and the part that delighted me the most - was how the learning was led by the students. I got a bit teary-eyed when I watched a team of students enthusiastically explain their call to action to another student. As I chatted with the teacher, who was filming from a short distance away, so to allow her students the chance to do all the talking themselves, she shared that this was a Home School (aka Special Education) class and that this project turned them into outgoing leaders and agents of change. They weren't talking because their teacher forced them; they were sharing what they knew because they were passionate and knowledgeable about the issue. I loved how students would approach me at the Student Symposium, introduce themselves, and ask me to accompany them back to their display area so they could get the opportunity to tell me about their projects. I took several photos of their projects but since I don't have written permission to share their faces, I won't share them here. The excitement they had for their work was genuine.

This was equally as true at the Red Maple Marketing Campaign. Last year, our advertising executives praised the work of the winning group (Agnes Macphail's Loki's Wolves team) for their innovative use of social media. This year, almost every group had some sort of social media presence as part of their projects. This year's judges, the wonderful Sydney, Samantha, and Eryn from Manifest Communications, stayed extra late to provide written feedback specific to every team, as well as to include overall observations applicable to all groups. Suggestions included audience engagement, exciting book summaries, and dynamic presenters that "sell" during their allotted presentation times as well as during less formal, booth visit times. Even before the trio of judges gave these ideas, I heard students commenting on the other projects, saying "we should have a Photo Booth next year" or "that was a good idea to give paper copies of the Twitter feeds to the judges".

In fact, it took a great deal of effort to pry the students away from each others' tables to get them ready for our author visit. It was the outstanding, charismatic and wise Richard Scrimger, (who enjoyed checking out the student projects just as much as the students did) and he kept the audience completely enthralled.

Once again, it was a wonderful couple of days. At the Taking IT Global event, I was not as involved in the preparation (the key teacher from our school was away with the Grade 8s for their graduation trip) but I congratulate everyone involved with the project. As for the Red Maple Marketing event, I have to publicly thank:

  • Jennifer, Samantha, and Alison from Milliken P.S., David Lewis P.S., and Brookside P.S., for participating and helping to plan
  • Analisa from the Toronto Public Library for hosting the space and paying the majority of the author's bill
  • Samantha, Sydney, and Eryn from Manifest Communications, for judging our student projects
  • Richard, for being a fantastic speaker
  • all the students who worked so hard on their book promotions

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dear Caroline, Dear Sigmund

Last week, the annual Forest of Reading Festival of Trees celebrated at Harbourfront in Toronto. My school was there, as usual, enjoying the events and hobnobbing with awesome authors. During the Red Maple ceremony, nominated author Caroline Pignat told the crowd to write to their favourite authors, to let them know how their books made an impact. I think this is just as important for adult readers to do, although I suspect we do it less often than our younger counterparts. I used to do it a lot when I first started writing my blog years and years ago. It's time for another fan-girl moment, and so for today's post, I'll write two public letters to two authors.

The 2015 Red Maple Awards Ceremony

Dear Caroline Pignat,

You probably won't remember me, although you recently made my day by following me on Twitter. Way back in 2009, I was your "caretaker" at the Festival of Trees when your book, Egghead, was a Red Maple nominee. It is oddly comforting to discover that an author can be just as delightful and enjoyable company as the words he or she produces, and I found that to be true in your case when we first met. However, I wanted to write you and thank you, not for that past experience, but for your most recent book, Unspeakable. This book took me in directions I never expected. When I first started reading it, I thought, "Okay, this is just like the movie Titanic ... star-crossed lovers, tragic shipwreck, yadda yadda." Despite my cynicism that I'd "seen this before", I was still engaged by the description of life aboard a cruise ship. Just when I thought the story was done, it propelled me into a completely different tangent. Ellie's sullen disposition made so much more sense - she was not just a rich brat, but a woman with terrible losses and great determination. Jim wasn't just a handsome, brooding, YA hero - he wrestled with personal demons that stretched beyond the shipwreck. Ellie's relationship with the journalist, Wyatt Steele, kept me guessing, but I was so happy to see that in the end, women and men can be just friends. It was a sweet victory to see how her aunt's writing was more valuable and powerful than even her land and manor, and that it benefited Ellie and Wyatt - life doesn't always reward the deserving and punish the wrongdoers, but it felt so satisfying to see it happen in the final pages of the novel. I know that my students enjoyed the book just as much as I did, so thank you very much for writing such an engaging story.


Diana Maliszewski

Kevin Sylvester MCd this year's Red Maple ceremony

Dear Sigmund Brouwer,

You've written a lot of books. As a teacher-librarian, I've read a lot of books. There are only a few where they are so good that I have to put them down. That sentence may not make a lot of sense. What I mean is that there are times where the plot is so intense, that I'm afraid to see what happens next and I have to stop reading to calm myself down and get ready for the next chapter. That's what happened to me when I read your recent novel, Dead Man's Switch. The concept had me thinking and predicting, and like King, your protagonist, I kept my fingers crossed that good would prevail, despite the incredible odds against it all working out. I really was torn - should King trust and believe his best friend or his father? The action was non-stop and I admired how clever his computer-savvy friend was to plant so many clues. The postscript with all the possibilities was a creepy counterpoint to the fiction. Thank you so much for writing a book that, not only pre-teens and teens devoured, but the educators that work with those pre-teens and teens can enjoy too.

Yours truly,

Diana Maliszewski

Monday, May 11, 2015

Personalizing the Make School Different Meme


Scott McCloud began it. Doug Peterson curated some of it. Aviva Dunsiger turned it on its head (thanks to Doug's dog).

I was tagged by Deborah McCallum(@Bigideasinedu) and Anita Brooks-Kirkland (@AnitaBK) - It took me a while to remember who tagged me because Twitter ate my notifications from March 10 - April 30. I can recite many things that need to change in education. (Valuing school libraries would be near the top of the list.) However, that won't lead to any changes. The truth hurts, but here goes ...

1) I have to stop pretending that I am organized and tidy.

Actually, I think I was cured of this a number of years ago with a stern comment from my husband:
Just because you buy organizational supplies, that does not make you an organized person.
That stung the first time I heard it, but I've come to accept it. I can coordinate large-school events and magazine deadlines, but there are times when my scheduling isn't up to snuff. I don't mind mess. But others do. Confession - my superintendent commented on the rather chaotic-looking MakerSpace corner in the library to my principal on her last walk-through. I cleaned it up at the principal's urging, but it hasn't stayed that way. Organization is a valued learning skill on our report cards. I can't just shrug my shoulders and say "Oh well, I'm just a messy person; I can't help it." That wouldn't be good modeling to the students. I have to reserve time to sort through papers on my desk and put objects back where they belong. I don't enjoy it but it's necessary. I need to do that digitally too - place all my Google documents in specific folders so I don't rely on searching my email for references to items I seek. Yvonne recommended it at the ETFO ICT Conference, and I should follow up with that helpful hint.

2&3) I have to stop pretending that I evaluate assignments in a timely fashion and modify lessons effectively for my special education and English Language Learner students.

These two items were my Annual Learning Plan goals and I deliberately made them the focus of my recent Teacher Performance Appraisal, which pushed me out of my comfort zone. I did a better job during my observation lesson, but I need to work on this frequently, not just when I'm being watched. I seem to assess quickly and alter tasks appropriately so much better during summer school. Maybe it's because I get caught up in the swirl of committees, clubs, and other responsibilities. Whatever the reason, I must keep those focus students in mind to set them up for success, and not let "busy times" interfere with my weekend marking stints.

4) I have to stop pretending that I don't lose patience with the students.

I was complimented recently by another teacher who said that she never hears me yell or scream at the children. It was kind of her to say, but not that accurate. I do raise my voice, and I get frustrated. I've gotten better at reducing the amount of sarcasm I use. I have what newer teachers call "good classroom management", but I need to remind myself that the students aren't aggravating me on purpose. When I visited Mrs. Butters' HSP class, I admired her positive redirection of student misbehaviour. I have to remember to apologize more often if I'm short in my responses because I'm flustered or overwhelmed.

5) I have to stop pretending that equity education is easy and just about buying the right books.

This one is hard to admit. My Mentor AQ class has brought this issue to the forefront for me, and I thank my classmates and a new book study group formed from a few colleagues from the AQ that have agreed to continue having discussions, for getting me to think about it more. I've been afraid - afraid to do the wrong thing and be labelled a racist. I've been ignorant - until this year, I didn't know what CRRP stood for (and it's Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy, a key concept). I'm taking a few, nervous steps to rectify this. I'm following some people on Twitter, like @RafranzDavis, @RusulAlrubail, and @TheJLV. I'm reading the #educolor conversations, and getting braver about asking questions, even at the risk of making me sound stupid or unenlightened. I'm also taking a hard look at myself, to see how what I say or do perpetuates or dispels stereotypes. Yes, I have purchased great books to represent different cultural, economic, racial and social situations, but that can't be where it ends.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Angels in Average Places

I had a very busy past week. Things don't always go as we plan them, but somehow, there are often unsung heroes around who will help you get out of jams. I wanted to profile a few people who saved my proverbial bacon.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Teacher-Librarian Quadrant Meeting

Francis Ngo

Francis poisoned me and then stabbed me on Monday.

Francis tried to kill me and then saved my life.
Better title?

How about the story itself? Francis Ngo is an amazing teacher-librarian from Pineway Public School. After the teacher-librarian quadrant meeting, which Francis attended and I co-ran, we wanted to reconnect. He came over for dinner and insisted on bringing something to contribute to the meal. He went to a nearby bakery and returned with gourmet cupcakes. I chose to eat the one that he said was "sea salt caramel". Turns out the crumbly things on the top weren't salt chunks, but actually peanuts. I'm allergic. Francis drove me to the nearest hospital. While in the waiting room, my breathing became more shallow and I realized my throat was closing up. Francis injected me with my Epi-Pen. He stayed with me for the now-required four hours of observation to ensure I didn't relapse, and took me to the 24-hour pharmacy to refill my epinephrine prescription. Francis definitely isn't comfortable with the idea of being a hero - because he said he was the one who endangered my life in the first place - but I think he did a phenomenal job of keeping calm and helping me survive.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

GTA Resource Fair

Unnamed Student

I didn't want to name the particular student who saved me tons of hassle and inconvenience because I don't want to embarrass her. I drove six students to the GTA Resource Fair so that they could help me purchase books for our school library collection. When I did this in the fall, I had a student vomit all over the back seats of my car. Unfortunately, to compound the problem back then, the student puked as we were going TO the fair, so I had no supplies to help me clean the mess. That made for a rather unpleasant ride back to school. This time, I advised my passengers to let me know if they were feeling carsick, as I had packed plastic bags "just in case". Thank goodness for willpower and self-control! One of my students, after an hour of stop-and-go traffic on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway, asked for a bag and as soon as she received it, violently emptied the contents of her stomach - without spilling a drop in the car! She even tied the bag shut and threw it in the garbage can as soon as we arrived at the CNE. Thank you for being so considerate, even when you weren't feeling your best, "Secret Student".

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

TDSB East Library Learning Commons Showcase


I was supposed to present from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. at this annual marketplace-style event. I forgot that we had a staff meeting at lunch that day, so I left late and arrived even later. The parking lot of Cosburn Middle School was full, so I drove around the unfamiliar neighbourhood and parked on a side street. I carried with me my purse, cloth bag with handouts, two laptops, display board, and my Minecraft Villager costume. To say my hands were full was an understatement. I was disoriented from driving around to find a spot for my car, and I got lost. I walked past East York Collegiate Institute and several students checked their phones to give me directions. I walked and walked, but couldn't take more than about ten steps before I had to stop to pick up a dropped bag and my hands were quivering with fatigue. I broke the villager's arm and nose in the bag from dragging it along the ground. I didn't have my cell phone because I left it at home, so I couldn't phone for help. I felt helpless, exhausted and alone. Then, a lovely older woman on a bike stopped and said, "You look like you could use some help. Can I help you?"
"Yesssss", I answered in a burst of tears. There I was, bawling on the sidewalk just a block from the school, feeling utterly defeated, and this wonderful person locked up her bicycle and helped me carry my awkward, bulky load into the school. I asked her name, thanked her profusely, and gave her a hug. She said, "Don't worry. I know you'll do a great presentation." It was 2:00 p.m. - I had wandered the streets of East York for about 45 minutes. The wonderful teacher-librarian of Cosburn Middle School, Kate Tuff, actually drove me to my car after the event. I was only three blocks away but I walked in the wrong direction and it was more like twelve blocks that I strayed. I'm sorry I missed a huge chunk of the soiree, but I'm so grateful for strangers willing to help a pathetic overburdened individual.

Tears wiped away - smiles at the TDSB LLR Showcase

Thursday, April 30, 2015

TDSB East Silver Birch Quiz Bowl

Jackie, Ann, Salma, Vicki, Janice, Kim, Keri, Rita, Siobhan, and some other forgotten names

Any hospital visits this time? Any tears of frustration? No, but when you bring ten schools together for an author visit and friendly reading competition, there are bound to be challenges, and this great group of volunteers pulled together to make the event a success. My Grade 5-6 teacher, who had been looking forward to this activity for weeks, got terribly sick (and she actually had to go to the hospital, so ignore the first sentence of this paragraph; it turns out there WAS a hospital visit as part of this story). The devoted teacher actually sent via email the questions she volunteered to create, but she couldn't complete the quiz for one of the books because she couldn't get her hands on the specific title beforehand. Enter the wonderful Jackie Burrell. She and I sat in a corner of the gym and quickly flipped through the book and created the required content. The teacher-librarian from Alexander Stirling P.S. also became terribly ill, and two staff members at her school volunteered to bring the group of students on TTC to the competition. Thank you for pinch-hitting! All of these great grownups did things like supervised students at lunch, wrote questions to ask the competitors, kept score, watched the buzzers, collected money for the selling of books written by our visiting author, made change, acted as MC, took photos, ordered lunch, and pulled their weight. The students had a wonderful time and many of them are already planning for next year.

Author Sylvia Taekema at the 2015 Silver Birch Quiz Bowl