Monday, March 28, 2016

How Much Effort is Too Much?

Two apparently disparate topics merged as I thought about today's blog post.

1) Clipping the Skinny Pigs' Nails

On Easter Monday, schools are closed but malls aren't. This made it possible for me to take my three skinny pig boys to the pet store to have their nails trimmed today.

Owen, the free-range pig (spoiled rotten!)

Kirby, the timid chitterer

Vanilla, the school pet (minus Chocolate, RIP)
It's quite the ordeal to catch and pack every pig in his own carrier and drive to another city to have their claws clipped. I usually need the entire family to help out with carrying a pig. Most people I know that own guinea pigs clip the nails themselves. I don't. I don't feel comfortable doing it. I worry about nicking a blood vessel, especially in the darker nails like Owen has. I don't like holding them in the way you must do to stop them from squirming and to access their paws to do the job. Yet, it's a lot of work (and frankly, much more expensive) to maintain their nails the method I use now - by paying others to do it. I know of a vet technician who is willing to come to my house to clip them on-site, but I haven't called him yet; that service is even more expensive.

2) Preparing for the Kindergarten Performance for Spring Concert

Our school's Spring Concert is scheduled for the end of April, but I've been working on the performances since February. Instead of combining all three kindergarten classes into one act, like I did for the Winter Concert, I've arranged for each class to have the stage to themselves.  In addition, their performances will combine dance, drama and music, unlike the last time when they just sang a single song. I really wanted parents to be able to see their children in a smaller group and doing various things (not just singing).
One group has a puppet theme; another class has a puppy theme. I only see the third class for music, but they will be doing a robot theme - their dance/drama teacher coordinated with me and she has been working just as hard selecting music, choreographing moves, and arranging costumes. My brother has helped me locate and purchase costumes and props for the show. One of the kindergarten teachers has been building marionette contraptions for us to use. I need to hand write a score for the music teacher to play some piano accompaniment.
Some people have said not to make such a big deal about what they are wearing or the type of music they'll perform to (live vs recorded), because they'll be adorable regardless of what they do. Part of me understands the sentiment, but a stronger part of me wants to ensure that the performance we share is well-rehearsed and appealing not just to the parents but to the entire audience.

The common link between these two events: How much effort is too much? Should I try to learn how to clip my pets' nails? Should I concern myself less with polishing the performance? Instead of considering my own opinions, I can reflect on those it directly involves - the skinny pigs and the kindergarten students. I think that the skinny pigs, although they don't like being carted out of the house to the mall and back, benefit from having someone who is confident in their handling abilities to quickly and safely cut their nails. With the kindergarten students, as long as the practices aren't onerous and the preparations-outside-the-class aren't interfering with their fun and learning, it's okay to try to make the show the best it can be. I won't panic if things don't go exactly as hoped or planned, but if I'm willing to make the effort and no one is forcing me into it, then maybe, just maybe, it's worth the drive to Pickering or worth the extra hours or cash to make it happen. Thoughts?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Whole Class vs Tutorial Instruction - for Adults

Can I just point people to this blog post when they ask what I did for March Break?

My March Break was relaxing but full. My family and I visited friends to play RPGs and went downtown to the ReLab at Ryerson University for a GamingEdus mini-reunion and facility tour. My car tires were changed and repairs were made - costly, but necessary.

I also taught.

My husband and I are the Lead Couple Facilitators for our church's Marriage Preparation Course. (I've written about it on this blog before.)  The six-week, twelve-hour course is intended for engaged couples to understand "what they're getting into" and learn strategies for improving communication, conflict resolution, increasing intimacy and discussing challenging but important topics.

The St. Barnabas 2016 Marriage Prep Grads: Group 1

The St. Barnabas 2016 Marriage Prep Grads: Group 2

The St. Barnabas 2016 Marriage Prep Grads: Group 3

This year, I felt terribly guilty. I was unable to attend three of the six sessions, because of prior commitments (the TLLP Summit, a TVO Teach Ontario webinar, and my uncle's funeral in Montreal). In our revised course, attendance is a priority. If a participant misses a class, he or she is obligated to arrange for a make-up session with one of the facilitators at a separate time. (We're pretty strict about this but for good reason; every class has vital content that can't be skipped.) Because I was the only facilitator to miss so many classes, I volunteered to be the instructor for any couples that missed lessons. This year, we actually had two couples that needed extra multiple classes. Before the course officially ended, I met with the pairs and scheduled a "remedial" session for each during March Break, at their respective homes.

Before arriving at their residences, I wondered how the teaching experience would differ from two instructors addressing a room of thirty-two participants to a single facilitator with just two individuals. I examined the presentation plans (one which is usually done by another couple) and tweaked them as best as I could.

There are a lot of parallels to working with engaged couples and students in school. There are some advantages to working with a large group (aka whole class instruction) but there are also some benefits to working with less people (aka small group or tutorial). A large group can provide a special kind of energy as people bounce ideas off each other and learn from each other. Certain activities work better with a larger group. Yet, having a smaller group means that you can target discussion and directions more to assist the specific learners. The teacher's attention is less divided and there's time to get personal. With less people, I thought we'd whiz through the content; however, each small group meeting went for over three hours! It was illuminating to get to know the couples more in depth. We practiced the skills (especially creating "I-Messages") with more examples and more feedback. It also felt very rewarding afterwards because, by working closer with a smaller group, it was clearer to see that progress was made.

We try hard during our Marriage Preparation classes to offer both whole class and small group instruction, but it's tricky. We establish "mentor couples" to sit at the same table with the same small team every week for book discussion so that rapport can be built (and it is), but as the photos indicate, these groups reduce the ratio from 32:2 to 10:2 - smaller, but not as conducive for very personal discussion like the 2:1 balance I had during the rescheduled, individualized classes. We'll be recruiting more mentor couples and sending them for training with the Archdiocese. As for "regular school", I need to make sure that I continue to vary the size of my groups. I must ensure that at some point, I get to work individually with students, so we can have those bonding conversations while getting specific with feedback and assistance. I may not be able to book a time to visit them at home for a personal tutorial, but I've got from September until June to make time.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Lead by Error

I am blessed and honoured to work with some pretty exceptional teachers. I am fortunate that they are willing to co-teach with me, the teacher-librarian. Something happened during one of those "partner times" that made me say to myself, "I gotta blog about that!"

Let me tell you a bit about Lisa Daley. Lisa Daley is an experienced classroom teacher with a calm demeanor, a passion for continually learning, and the patience of a saint. When I approached her about working together this year, she was enthusiastic about the prospect. She suggested a topic that she herself wanted to learn more about and one that she believed her students would be very interested in as well: stop motion animation

Lisa Daley, amazing classroom teacher!

Lisa and I sketched out a plan that would integrate health, oral communication, reading, writing, media and ICT. This was our plan. (Not all partner plans look this polished. We typed it up to share with the teachers who visited our Exploration Classroom on February 17.)

Collaborative Co-Teaching Plan

Grade: 3         Teachers: Maliszewski / Daley          Topic: Health / Oral / Media / Writing


Language 2.5 = identify some vocal effects, including tone, pace, pitch, and volume, and use them appropriately and with sensitivity towards cultural differences, to help communicate their meaning
Language 2.1 = write short texts using a variety of forms
Language 2.7 = make revisions to improve the content, clarity, and interest of their written work, using several types of strategies
Language 3.4 = produce media texts for specific purposes and audiences
Healthy Eating C3.1 = explain how local fresh foods and foods from different cultures can be used to expand their range of healthy eating choices

End Goals

By the end of the unit, students will … create a Lego stop-motion animation film based on a narrative focused on healthy eating.

Schedule: Day 2   Period 3-4                         Timeline (Lessons)

Week 1

Jan. 11/16
-          Modeled writing / brainstorming with partner
-          Read “Wrapped” stories > how might they end?

Mali – find food theme stories
Week 2

-          Finish reading other story possibilities
-          Identify parts of a narrative template
Daley – find narrative template
Week 3

Jan. 25/16
-          Show part of The Lego Movie
-          Expand on ideas from template to text
 Mali – bring movie & install app
Week 4

Feb. 1/16
-          Continue writing story end with a partners
-          Explore how to use StoMo App
Daley – directly teach healthy eating ideas
Week 5

Feb. 8/16
-          Revise story endings
-          Learn how to use a Storyboard to plan film

Mali – find storyboard
Daley – start edits
Week 6

Feb. 16/16
-          Film story endings
-          Recording the audio of your story EFFECTively


  • Narrative template (diagnostic FOR)
  • Story finale (use rubric and/or student generated success criteria) (summative OF)
  • Post-task interview (AS)
  • Stop motion film & accompanying audio (OF)

Collaborative teaching times are precious and few in my schedule, so in March, I had planned on ending this team-teaching unit with Lisa so that I could give another class a chance. The students in Ms. Daley's class hadn't finished their projects, but there are times where the teacher-librarian can't be there for the entire process. Still, this past Wednesday, Lisa saw me walking in the hall right after the recess bell rang and asked if I was available to come to class for at least part of the time, so that I could help them add audio to their video. I agreed.

Lisa does not get enough credit for her technological know-how. Lisa also shows a lot of professional respect for her colleagues, even when they mess up royally.

I popped in and mentioned Tool X or Tool Y as options for recording, and then Tool Z as a way to combine the audio with the video made earlier from Tool A & B.

(Side note: we recommended Tool B after Tool A, my initial recommendation, no longer became available on the iPad App Store before we loaded it on all the devices. Ms. Daley, the students and I found Tool B already on the iPads and determined that it did the same task just as well.)

 After I rattled off this explanation and then released the students off to work, Lisa quietly asked me, "Isn't it possible to use Tool Z to record the audio directly, instead of choosing a separate audio tool?"

*face palm*

This was the easiest solution. Why didn't I think of it? (I think I know why - it was because when my son and I made this mini-film, we didn't own Tool Z and so we used three separate programs to put it together.)

We still had one of the original problems we started out with: Tool X consolidated the data upside-down. I prepared to do a serious online search to determine the answer - until I turned my head and saw Ms. Daley, the same teacher who wanted us to work together so that she could learn more about stop-motion animation, solve the issue in Tool Z with a twist of her wrist. I had no clue it was that simple!

Okay, so I *may* have actually bowed at her feet at this point in the lesson. I ended up staying the entire double-period because it was so exciting for the students to get closer to completing their projects. They obviously took a great deal of pride in their work. Students who usually don't get along as smoothly were cooperating, designating tasks and progressing well. Lisa and I suspect that they might actually finish their movies by the end of the month.

I made a point of not mentioning the specific tools that we used for this task. I did it so that the focus of the tale could be more about critical thinking, instead of on using software. Supposedly, I was the "technology leader" in this partnership but it certainly didn't look that way; Lisa, in her generous and kind way, reassured me that I didn't abdicate my job but that we problem solved together and now she knows a lot more about how to undertake a project like this.

I called this post "Lead by Error" because it was thanks to the mistakes and mis-steps that our learning was deepened. In the CLA document Leading Learning, under the strand "Cultivating Effective Instructional Design to Co-plan, Teach and Assess Learning" we would have remained in the evolved stage of Instructional Partnerships had it not been for my failures; instead, because that awesome teacher took it as an opportunity instead of a stumbling block, our partnership "foster[ed] student and teacher technological capacities and digital literacies". Thank you so much Ms. Daley for modeling such a positive attitude towards learning - and not getting fed up with me! I'll post some of the Grade 3 final products when they are completed.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Dismantle the Pedestals

It may appear from my blog posts that I never attend school on Fridays. This isn't true ... exactly. It just so happens that there was another fabulous learning opportunity that I had to participate in - the 2016 TDSB Beginning Teacher and Mentor Spring Conference. As a Mentor AQ alumni, my task was to act as room host to the fantastic presenters, including:
  • Janice Chisholm, Erika Lloyd, and Michael Mohammed, sharing "Digital Technologies"
  • Dr. Nicole West-Burns, and her session on "Race and Other Aspects of Social Identity"
  • Shevaun Ang and Nandanee Sawh, presenting "STEM in Action"
  • Alex Stamp, with his workshop "Drama and Oral Communication in French Class"
  • Mary Jane Huh, supporting learners with "Transforming Classroom Management" 
The hallways were also filled with marvelous educators working alongside the conference coordinators Jennifer Watt and Karen Murray. On Saturday, I was delighted to meet Zelia Capitao-Tavares, otherwise known as @ZeliaMCT. We had never met face to face before and it was electric to see how we enthusiastically exchanged current projects and events. Zelia's students were at a Student Mentor event also held at OISE the same day as the TDSB conference. There was only one "problem" with our interaction: Zelia said I was a superstar. When I tried to include Zelia in that category, she denied it, saying she just found ideas in different places and tried new things out. She then told me all about the businesses her Grade 6 students are creating, as well as the school-wide technology conference that the students (including kindergarteners!) will lead for the community. 

Zelia is inspirational and I was very surprised that she downplayed the things she does in her school. Maybe it's humility. Maybe it's a challenge to judge our own actions in comparison to others. Whatever the cause, Zelia indirectly encouraged me to tackle a secret agenda based on a pet peeve of mine - deconstructing the Superstar Teacher Mythos.
 It is okay to admire fellow educators, but placing certain individuals in an exalted category is unhealthy, in my opinion. After all, can rock stars interact with the general public? At the TDSB Beginning Teacher and Mentor Spring Conference, I shared learning spaces with some pretty impressive people - university professors and board program coordinators. I admired their accomplishments but if I placed them in a position too high above me, I would have felt unable to interact with them. If I applied the "super star" label to them, I might have become "star struck" - for who am I, just a lowly teacher-librarian, to speak to these highly educated individuals with degrees and book titles to their names? They talked with me like an equal, making conversation comfortable and possible. A few weeks ago, Dr. Dianne Oberg quibbled when using the term "mentor" and "protegee" in her address to the Treasure Mountain Canada attendees,because the words fail to demonstrate the reciprocal nature of this sort of learning relationship.

On Twitter, I'd often see #cuerockstar. CUE stands for Computer Using Educators (thank you Doug Robertson for explaining this to me), and they are learning camps for "rock star educators". I apologize if I am unjustly dismissing the work this organization does, but I want to problematize their use of the word "rock star". The definition is:

rock star

a rock-'n'-roll star or celebrity.
a star or celebrity in any field or profession, or anyone who is highly admired:
 TV chefs are the new rock stars.
My mom is a rock star! Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.
rock star. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved March 06, 2016 from website

This is just my amateur psychologist talking, based on my observations, but in my opinion, those who could be considered "rock stars" would not and do not use this word to describe themselves. If we use the rock star analogy, then who is on stage alongside the star, and who is in the audience? I remember hearing the term "EduRockStar" during a planning session for an event in the past and it really irritated me. For every well-known name, there are other educators that are doing similarly phenomenal work but with less fanfare. Getting an award or public recognition is nice but does not mean someone is a better teacher than someone else. Maybe he or she networks more? There certainly is a place for celebrating the achievements of educators and admiring their work, but is it possible to do it without labeling them a "rock star" or "super star"? This is not about being unable to accept compliments. People, especially educators, are gracious and kind. If you say something nice to me or about me, I will thank you. Just do me a favour - don't call me a rock star.

Let me give the last word on this to Zelia herself, who succinctly gets to the heart of the issue.