Monday, May 22, 2017

Exhilaration and disregulation

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat - or, more accurately, the delight of smooth success and the discomfort of chaos - was my "Forest of Reading Week". For the first time ever, the Red Maple Marketing Event AND the Festival of Trees AND the Silver Birch Quiz Bowl were all held during the same week. What were we thinking? I can tell you what I was thinking when we were first trying to select days for the local events - boy, are May and June busy!

The sticky notes indicate a day that one of the schools involved said was already filled with something important. June wasn't much better and we also tried to avoid Ramadan (which would impede the pleasure of the ice cream truck for some of our students), so the Marketing Campaign was Monday May 15, the Festival of Trees at Harbourfront (for Silver Birch) was Wednesday, May 17, and Quiz Bowl was Friday, May 19. It was challenging for me to be involved with all of these events and not have my regular program suffer (and teachers' prep times disappear) so I spoke to my administrator and decided that I'd do prep payback for the 19th so I wouldn't need a supply and classes didn't miss their time with me. We obtained a supply teacher for May 15. For the first time ever, I had to stay at school instead of attend the Festival of Trees. I had three competent teachers taking their students, and I volunteered to keep their students who weren't going.

Red Maple Marketing Campaign

The Red Maple Marketing Campaign was FANTASTIC. I have to say that it was even better than last year. In 2016, it took the student teams excessively long to set up for their five-minute presentation and it negatively impacted our schedule. I think the improvement came because of a combination of factors - the teacher-librarians that were there last year really hit home the message to their students that things had to speed up with transitions, and we told students in advance what the order of their presentations were (by drawing random numbers). We also moved the author talk to the afternoon, so that all the presentations and judging were done in the morning. Our judges, Hart and Victoria from If Manifest, arrived on time and gave excellent feedback in person to all students. There is something wonderful about being a bit hesitant about the execution of a project and having it exceed your expectations.

"Glass" cookies from my students' "Shattered Glass" campaign

Hart, Analisa (TPL liaison) & Victoria

Our judges with our teacher-librarians

From Mackin PS - the winning campaign!

From Alexander Stirling PS - their first year at the event!

From David Lewis PS - including bannock!

From Milliken PS - the runner up!

Another Milliken PS entry!

The second David Lewis PS campaign entry

Brookside PS made a splash!

Agnes Macphail PS represented Shattered Glass
What was just as delightful was the reaction by authors to tweets about the representation of their Red Maple nominated books. Some of the authors that took the time to like, retweet, or reply to the Red Maple Marketing tweets were:

  • Kevin Sylvester (@kevinarts)
  • Karen Bass (@karenbassYA)
  • Frank Viva (@VIVAandCO)
  • Teresa Toten (@TTotenAuthor)
  • Caroline Pignat (@CarolinePignat)
  • Stephanie Tromly (@stephanietromly)
  • Kelley Armstrong (@kelleyarmstrong)
  • Richard Scrimger (@richardscrimger)

(In other words, every single author that had a book marketed at the event made some sort of acknowledgement or recognition! Sorry Arthur Slade @arthurslade and Lorna Schultz Nicholson @lornasn - the only reason your books weren't represented was that we didn't have ten teams enter this year.)

Silver Birch Quiz Bowl

The Silver Birch Quiz Bowl was just as AMAZING. Last year, our ice cream truck vendor did not show up, disappointing many children. This year, he came, and made a lot of money from the participants. We started to worry when the lunch hour was nearly over and the line still stretched past the truck; however, my absolutely creative and ingenious fellow teacher-librarians came up with a plan - we brought the line inside and therefore, students could still watch the competition while still receiving their frozen treats! Brilliant! This was the second year that Percy Williams Junior Public School hosted the event and Jacqueline Burrell is a wonderful host. Tables were set in the library for students to place their lunch bags and coats. The gym was decorated. Her office administrator handled the payment for the guest author (- every school contributes, but organizing the transfer of funds was so smooth). Our author, Kira Vermond, was delighted to be with us and she entertained the students with her interactive presentation. I really appreciated how the parents of Percy Williams Jr. P.S. helped out with the book sales, counting Kira's float, tracking her sales, and keeping the purchase line calm. The Quiz Bowl itself was enjoyable. There were some questions that had no guesses, an unusual new trend, and we had to watch for reports of unlawful assistance from the audience, but it felt like a team effort paid off. Congratulations to Berner Trail Junior Public School for winning the non-fiction Quiz Bowl, and C. D. Farquharson Junior Public School for winning the fiction Quiz Bowl.

TLs from 9 schools + author Kira Vermond!

Me with our "host with the most" Jacqueline Burrell and ICE CREAM!

Missing the Festival of Trees

It's no big deal if I miss the festival, I told myself. I've been so many times before. I didn't realize how much I *would* miss it, how much I'd be missed by others, and how stressful it could be to keep 17 extra students (in the morning, about 21 in the afternoon - long story) from three separate classes occupied and properly supervised while *still* teaching my regular classes.

 At one point, when I had a Grade 1 class in the library, who were equally as distracted by the extra bodies, I had children acting up and others screaming because of the noise from those misbehaving at the carpet.

"STOP. IT." I practically hissed, with a lot of venom in my voice.

Their classroom teacher happened to pass through at that moment, and she said something like, "Use your strategies. It looks like Mrs. Mali is looking disregulated too. Help her."

She hit the nail right on the head. Students are not the only ones to become disregulated. It was harder for me to use self-regulation strategies I might prefer (like getting away from the situation!) because as a teacher, I'm supposed to be the one in charge. I had to remind myself that the mess, or noise level, or lack of focus was not meant to make me upset. It was not as productive a day as I might have liked it to be, but we survived.

The students that went on the trip had a wonderful time. The weather was ideal and I saw some marvelous photos of their experiences thanks to the teachers that went. It's always a lot of work to organize the trip, but their happy faces indicate that it's not something they want to miss.

Monday, May 15, 2017

You can't say that!

Last week, in between all the special events happening at school, I had my media students undertake a relatively simple task. We talked a little bit about fashion shows, because we plan on holding one in June to share selected outfits that the students created as part of their major term project. We discussed what models are and what they do at fashion shows. Then, I showed them a few of the images I found when I Googled "fashion show". (I embedded it in the IWB file I used to help with the lesson flow - some of those Google image results were a bit risque for my primary and junior division students.) We described the people we saw in these images and talked about implied messages - that these pictures suggest that only certain types of people are models. We listed these characteristics and talked about whether these implied messages were true. I was excited about this lesson because it provided a great opportunity to talk in age-appropriate ways about equity issues.

I discovered that for some classes, talking about equity issues and implied messages was easier said than done for one, big reason. The students had no problem sharing that most of the models were female, tall, and thin. When I asked what was the colour of their skin, or if a student mentioned that most of the models were white, several students would gasp as if someone said a "bad word".

"You can't say that! That's racist!", many students told me.

I found myself giving the same explanation to almost every class - it is not racist to talk about the colour of someone's skin. In fact, if we don't allow ourselves to bring it up in conversation, then how can we deal with it when truly racist things (like being unfair to someone because they are black or Asian/Chinese) happen?

Many of the students were still uncomfortable. On the short question and answer sheet I used to check for understanding, I asked "Who is often a model?". Students had the list we created together to refer to for ideas and spelling, yet lots of students were more likely to write the word "attractive" than "white".

There was a class that didn't seem as hesitant to discuss race, gender, or even sexual orientation. I suspect that a lot of this comfort and awareness has to do with their teacher. Siobhan Alexander is the Grade 5 teacher and the staff lead for Student Council. She has a real passion for social justice and does not shy away from controversial or uncomfortable topics. For instance, she and her class have spent a lot of time examining the horrors of the Canadian residential school system, and Siobhan encourages her class to find their voices and become passionate about issues that impact our global community. In fact, one of those special events I alluded to at the beginning of my post was our "We Walk for Water" Student Council fund raiser. The members of the Student Council visited each class to make a presentation explaining about the water crisis in Haiti. They sold rafiki bracelets made by Kenyan women to support their entrepreneurship as well as the Haiti water initiative. On Friday, each class was given a ten pound jug of water (which is just a quarter of the weight that Haitian women carry) and students took turns carrying it around on a neighbourhood walk. Students gained some empathy about others' situations as they mirrored a small portion of the daily duties of Haitian women collecting water.

Mrs. Alexander addresses the student body prior to our walk
I think that the students' reaction of "you can't say that" would be met as a challenge by Siobhan. Why not? We need more Siobhans - teachers courageous enough to deal with sensitive issues head-on and in creative ways that students will understand. There's more I'd like to say, but I can't. Thanks Mrs. Alexander for organizing this event and leading the Student Council. They raised over $2000 in a school with just 300 students to help Haiti, and this doesn't even include the other charity work the student council has undertaken this 2016-17 school year. Even better than the money is the compassion the students have developed - and that can make the world a better place.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Oops I Did It Again

Today's click-bait-worthy title refers to my return to Montreal for a wonderful conference - but it's so much more. In late March I was in Quebec for the QSLiN conference. May 4, 2017 was the wonderful ABQLA (l'Association des bibliothecaires due Quebec / Quebec Library Association) 85th annual conference. Here are a few photos I took while I was in town for ABQLA:

Here's the day's schedule ...

and here's some of my workshop participants during the "Milling to Music" section of my talk ...

and here I am showing some folks how to use DoInk on the iPad to do "green screen filming" ...

and here I am wearing a hospital gown in the Emergency department ...

Wait a second, you may be wondering - how did I get from the Gelber Conference Centre to the Jewish General Hospital? It's not that far, actually. It's only a three minute taxi drive, thank goodness. Sarcasm aside, I've taken a similar journey before, thanks to my anaphylaxis (aka my peanut and pine nut allergy).

This is what happened, in a nutshell (pardon the pun): at the ABQLA conference, they had a wonderful buffet lunch set up. I ate many wonderful things, including something not-so-wonderful - s pasta that had sauce that used pesto. I had about 2-4 noodles and stopped eating them quickly after that because it didn't taste good (and I had yummier things on my plate). My lip began to swell and then my throat started to feel funny. I checked with the conference site manager and sure enough, he confirmed that the pasta contained pesto. Pesto is made from pine nuts. Allergic reaction in process.

I've been to the hospital thanks to my allergies twice before - in 2015 with my good friend (and fellow teacher-librarian) Francis Ngo, and many years earlier where my good friend (and also teacher-librarian at the time) Peggy Thomas saved me. (This confirms that teacher-librarians are heroes.) You'd think that by now I'd be an expert on what exactly to do in this circumstance. After all, as teachers, we take the training every year on how to deal with using Epi-pens and life-threatening allergies. Yet, I was quite foolish. Here are several things that I did wrong. Don't do what I did!

1) I didn't inform my dining companions that I was having an anaphylaxic attack.

The irony of this action is heavy - we had just been talking about food allergies and one of my companions was being extra careful because she has a nut and soy allergy. Why didn't I tell anyone? The excuses are rather trivial - I didn't want to alarm anyone. I didn't want to make a fuss or ruin anyone's lunch. I didn't know people well and I didn't want to inconvenience them. Doesn't that sound ridiculous when it's written out like this? Yet, one of my fellow teachers (Kerri Commisso) said she's heard of people who are choking do the very same thing I did - slip out quietly to try and deal with the problem themselves. It was May 4 - my Star Wars lesson should have been not to go Solo!

2) I went by myself to the hospital and only told one person I was going.

It was only a short distance away, but I was in a different city far from home. What might have happened if I had collapsed en route to the emergency department? Silly me - I was quite confident that I had twenty minutes before my throat would close up, because that's what occurred the last two times I had a serious reaction. Because of this "I have time" attitude, I made a third error.

3) I did not give myself the epinephrine shot.

I've never stabbed myself. I tried the first time I had a severe reaction, but I was too weak from lack of oxygen so Peggy did it. The second time, Francis did it. This time, I waited. I felt like I had time and, to be honest, I didn't have the courage to inject myself. (Remember in an earlier post, I said I have a fear of needles?) I also knew that after having an epi-pen shot, medical personnel will keep you in the hospital for observation for four hours. I felt, with a terribly skewed sense of priorities, that I didn't want to have to wait that long. I had planned on driving back to Toronto right after lunch. I never considered that if I waited too long that I might not be in a condition to drive - period. The emergency room doctor told me that I should not wait to give myself the needle. I was more annoyed at myself than scared during this ordeal, but the one moment that did frighten me was when I was being seen by the triage reception person and I realized that twenty minutes had passed since I first ate the contaminated food. I thought to myself that this is the part when my throat will close up, just like the other times, and I haven't taken action yet. I spoke to the person checking me and he reassured me that if he saw that I needed it, he'd stab me himself. He said that they'd treat the reaction in a slightly different way and they did - I had an intravenous of Benedryl. I had to be kept under observation for two hours to see if I was okay.

Once I was feeling more stable, I texted my friend in Toronto. Poor Julian Taylor, the ABQLA conference coordinator, sent me some worried texts and emails, because he had heard second hand that I was in hospital. (Sorry Julian!) I waited until I was out of the hospital before calling my husband. Despite offers of extra hotel nights and supply teacher coverage, I just wanted to go home, so I drove myself back to Toronto (in the rain, in the dark, by myself - I'm stubborn and not always smart).

I need to learn from my mistakes. I really need to be more careful with what I eat (and avoid foods that might contain pine nuts and peanuts). I need to be brave and give myself a shot without angst or hesitation. I need to throw concerns about social niceties out the window and tell people (even strangers) when I might be in trouble. It could be a matter of life or death.

P.S. It's not all about me. Check the #abqla17 Twitter feed for some highlights from the day.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Forest of Making - A Way to Reinvigorate My Reading Program?

There is a commonly mis-attributed quote that says:
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
 but what about doing the same thing over again and expecting the same result - but not getting it this time around?

This past week, the day after Spring Concert, I ran my Ontario Library Association (OLA) Forest of Reading voting day. The official voting day was April 21 but I try to make it as late as possible so that as many students can qualify to vote. To their credit, OLA accepts votes until the very last day in April. When program coordinators submit their votes, they also indicate how many students initially joined and how many qualify to vote. I find this to be a useful statistic for me - in fact, last year, I shared on my blog a decade's worth of data about this very topic. Thank goodness for work friends like Brenda Kim, who came to the library after school to help me count the results! This year's results were disappointing for me. I saw a significant reduction in the number of original participants as well as the amount that qualified to vote. My assumption is that for some reason, the usual activities (e.g. the passport chats, the trip to Harbourfront, the Silver Birch Quiz Bowl and Red Maple Marketing Campaign) aren't motivating the students enough, or other factors are drawing students away from participating. This concerns me.

A possible way to recapture the interest of my students lies with a project the great Peel DSB teacher-librarian Melanie Mulcaster has been tinkering with and one of my incredible ECEs Jennifer Balido-Cadavez has been modifying - the Forest of Making. To summarize, Melanie creates a three-part experience for every nominated book: a Mind's On, Let's Read, and Let's Make. There are several possibilities for makerspace-related tasks that students can undertake to expand on their experience with the books. I haven't done it with the primary division classes because our time has been taken over by our clothing inquiry. I've been trying out the tasks with the kindergarten classes and they've enjoyed it immensely.

What I myself have enjoyed is collaborating (via Twitter DM, no less!) with a really gifted and enthusiastic Early Childhood Educator. It is difficult to find the time during the day to consult with Jennifer about what direction we should take the media and library lessons. We know that our idea for term 2 centers around connectedness - that library talk can happen in media class and vice versa. This is a different slant from last year, where I made an effort to separate and distinguish the subjects to help the students understand the variations (and prevent multiple requests for drama games during library or music songs during media).

I admire how Jenn has taken the courage to make her once-private Twitter account public and she does an awesome job of documenting the children's learning and adventures, while still respecting their privacy. (Girl, you need to teach me how to add the stickers from your phone so I don't have to keep downloading them to a desktop computer, altering them on Photoshop, and then posting them!) Jenn took the initiative to borrow a set of Blue Spruce books from the public library to read and reinforce the content in the regular kindergarten class outside of my prep time with them.

We touch base beforehand about which tasks from Melanie's site are doable for our group, and Jenn gets inspired to create her own versions of activities. She knows what moods the students are in and which activities will soar and which might flop. We record when we've completed tasks and she uses as prompts, writing aids, and conversation starters the OLA Blue Spruce passports (available only if you officially register for the program - so I recommend you do!)We even have an idea for a title that seems to be tricky to implement as a maker task for youngsters; after we've tried it, we'll share it with Melanie for her site. Take a look at just some of the activities the students have engaged with!

It's been seven days of seeking silver linings. I've broken rules, been conned, said things that have unintentionally hurt people I like, been late (twice) for meetings and had to wait for other meetings. Yet the difficulties can lead to new opportunities. Maybe the poor results from my Forest of Reading will mean I try new ways and retire some favourites that aren't quite making the same positive impact. Waiting in line for a long time meant I had the chance to meet a Syrian refugee and hear about her experiences, making me both impressed and grateful. As I said to my sister (who was in town for part of this week visiting from Calgary), it's important to talk about "cloudy" topics and not just the "sunshiny" ones - that's when relationships can strengthen and deepen (and for that educational slant, when learning can really occur).

Monday, April 24, 2017

What would you do for a friend? Acquaintance? Stranger?

No doubt about it - I am truly blessed.
This week has been full of activity and as I flipped through the photographic evidence from these seven days, I realize that so much of it would not be possible without the generous offering of time, talent, and treasure by many individuals.

What would you do for a friend? Ask Moyah Walker.

Moyah Walker is an amazing teacher-librarian from Burrows Hall Jr. P.S. and I've only known her for a few years, but I'm grateful for that time. When we talk, the creative juices get flowing and things happen. I chatted with her back in February about hosting one of our local teacher-librarian meetings at her school and our conversation naturally strayed to what we were doing with our students in our libraries. It turns out that Moyah was also doing some inquiry into clothing. We said that we should somehow get together to share the different experiences and strategies we were using - and Moyah made it happen. She actually arranged for a supply teacher at her regular school so that she could come to my school on Friday, April 21, and meet my students, share her students' mood boards, and teach some of my students how to tie-dye clothes. I was awed, both by her students' work as well as her abilities. This lady even brought in a brand new tie-dyeing kit she purchased herself and gave it to us to keep! The great thing is this cross-school collaboration will continue - when Agnes Macphail P.S. has its Upcycle Fashion Show, representatives from Burrows Hall Jr. P.S. will be there too!

Preparing to tie-dye by soaking clothes in a special mixture

Showing students how to colour their clothing
What would you do for an acquaintance? Ask Lance from Value Village

I've already written about how wonderful the store managers at various Value Village stores have been to the students at our school. Lance, who runs the Markham location, decided to take it a step further. He contacted me about the possibility of coming to our school to run an Earth Day eco-activity with our kindergarten students. Bringing the experience to our youngest learners made coordinating this so much easier. The plan = have kindergarten students reuse old shirts from the store and transform them with fabric spray paint and pre-made stencils into Earth Day shirts, for free! Lance worked with our kindergarten and administration team to modify the slogan, so that it'd be appropriate for little kids. He and Jordan showed up to my school on April 20 with two huge boxes of free shirts for the children to select and decorate, and supplies like fabric paint, colouring books, and coupons for free books or toys from the store! When we ran out of paint and had to dip into my stock, Lance came back the very next day with six fresh, new cans of replacement paint! We were worried about how this would work, but it was a success! The first group had two stencils, four adults, 28 kids and it took 90 minutes to complete. The second group had five stencils, ten adults, 43 kids and it only took 45 minutes to complete! The kids proudly wore their creations on Earth Day and Lance has a special seat saved for him at that upcoming student fashion show!

Lance and Jordan with our second group behind their Ts!

What would you do for a stranger? Ask Canadian Blood Services.

I don't like needles. In fact, I have to sing out loud when I get them so I don't focus on the pricking feeling. I don't know exactly what led me to take this step - maybe it was hearing the appeals on the radio for donations, or maybe Lent/Easter had me feeling like I needed to contribute on a deeper level to humanity, but on Monday, April 17, I gave blood to Canadian Blood Services. I booked my appointment ahead of time so I wouldn't chicken out. I was astonished by the large number of people who came to give something from their own bodies; they came from all walks of life, from different cultures and creeds, from young university students to seniors. I was told it usually takes an hour to go through the questionnaire, interview, and blood donation but there were so many people in line to give that it took two hours to complete. The volunteers and nurses were all very kind and attentive. I asked a couple of them (and to my dear friend Lisa Noble, who I discovered after my tweet about the experience was a long-time donor with over 50 offerings under her belt) how they got involved and why they gave their time and their blood. One started with her Girl Guide troop. Lisa said her former employer encouraged people to go. Whatever the reason, each donation saves lives (see or for more information). I hope this won't be just a one-time event for me and that I can make a difference. With various locations around so that it's convenient to arrange and travel, I suspect it will at least become a yearly habit. I like their slogan, because it suits them and all the people that helped me this week: "it's in you to give".

Post-donation arm (no needle pictures to show here!)

I received a pin commemorating my first give!

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Little Lost Dog

The four-day Easter long weekend was welcomed with open arms in my household. Our self-imposed Lenten restrictions were lifted; we spent quality time with family members; we celebrated an important holiday and we enjoyed some much needed rest and relaxation. Circumstances still sneaked in a surprise for us to deal with - an unexpected visitor.
It was around 6:00 p.m. or so on Saturday, after we had returned from a delicious dinner, that we spotted this little ShizTsu outside our door. She was barking, not in a vicious way, but in a plaintive, "let me in" tone. Let me mention at this point that I've never owned a dog - my parents had dogs before I was born and after I moved out, so I have no experience dealing with dogs. I checked the Toronto Animal Services home page and it recommended taking the dog to a nearby shelter, but at this time, the shelters were closed.

I didn't know what to do. I brought her a bowl of water and some leftover pulled pork and rested it on the edge of the porch. Then, my husband and I walked around our neighbourhood to see if anyone was looking for a lost dog. They weren't. Thankfully, at around 8:00 p.m., the situation was resolved.
I did not get a chance to speak much with the teen boy and older man that picked her up. By the time I opened the door, they had the dog in their arms and were walking away. I only had enough time to say that I was glad they had located her and that she had been here for about two hours. There was neither time nor opportunity for me to confirm that they were the true owners but the anxious-yet-relieved look on the youngster's face made me believe that it was their dog. It's a good thing I didn't take the dog away to a shelter, or they would not have been reunited.

Usually on this blog, I make an effort to connect what I write about here to education. A couple of tweets I read this past weekend stopped me from making any simplistic comparison.

 My students aren't little lost dogs needing to be rescued. I am no savior. The lesson is for me and about me - that I can choose to ignore things that happen, practically right on my doorstep, or I can do something about it. Kindness must be more than words. Action or inaction is a choice.

I also need to realize that my doorstep is a lot bigger than I envision. I've noticed lately that two books in my school library collection have been panned by others in the FNMI community (see recent tweets by Angie Manfredi, aka @misskubelik and Colinda Clyne aka @clclyne) . This has happened right at my Twitter doorstep. It'd be easier to ignore it or dismiss it as just one opinion. I shouldn't and I can't. I need to speak to the Aboriginal Center or an elder or someone like Jeff Burnham from Goodminds ( to make an informed decision about these books. The answer isn't always clear-cut but that doesn't mean that I should sit back and wait for things to resolve magically on their own. I feel bad about sick people but it's only now that I've finally decided to give blood (on Easter Monday at 5:00 pm) - my first time,and about time! I have to put my money where my mouth is and make my actions match my words.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Redo? Start New? Assessing Clothing Plans

This weekend and last weekend, I was up to my ears in marking. Despite the fact that evaluating student work is a key component of a teacher's job, and assessment informs pedagogical "next steps", marking is not something I look forward to doing. It can be enjoyable - I admitted it here and here in past blog posts - but at this time, with 8 classes and approximately 170 projects to examine and evaluate, it didn't feel like a joyful task. There are several other things I'd rather do, as I confessed on Twitter.
My family must think it's the worst thing in the world from the way I gripe and complain about it. I listed some of the reasons for my ambivalent feelings about assessment in this blog post from 2013 - I'd add to those points the pressure placing a grade on a project produces in parents and students, and how this sometimes diminishes the pleasure of creation. However, marks can be motivational.

Communicating progress (and that includes sharing marks) is an important part of being transparent in our practices. It shouldn't be a mystery how to do well in class. Last week, I had every Grade 1-5 student that I saw complete a little paper form to place in their agendas. It was a Progress Update note about our projects. It provided the mark earned at that time for the sketches and plan sheets that were due March 31, listed a new due date for any interested students (regardless of the mark they received) to resubmit work, and a checklist to indicate whether they planned to construct the clothing mostly at school, at home, or an equal combination of both. This note caused a flurry in many households. Several parents came to see me to ask about how this mark was calculated (using points gleaned from the success criteria the students co-constructed with me), why they hadn't seen their children sketching at home (because I provided instructional time during class for it to be completed - I'm not a huge fan of homework), and how their children could improve (by following the feedback provided to the students with their work that was handed back to them). I admired how several parents assisted their children at home and/or stayed after school on Friday with their sons/daughters to help them make some final additions to their work.

I tried hard to leave it up to the students to decide if they wanted to re-submit their work. Most showed reasonable judgement but there were a few that I had to "strongly encourage" to take a second look at what they had turned in and try a little harder to include the required elements or provide a bit more detail.

Then there are students on the other end of the continuum, who created fantastic plans but still wanted to return them for re-assessment. Some students were concerned, as they are now on the building stage, that they'd have to resubmit their plans because they had made changes to their clothes. I explained that sometimes plans had to alter because of a lack of materials, or a better method, and that as long as they weren't completely scrapping everything they had considered before, "going back to the drawing board" wasn't necessary.

I should have taken my own advice about assessment from summer school - making the sketches from all the classes due the same day was easier for me to remember (and technically, it was the students that chose all their due dates for this project, which we listed in a letter explaining the project home to parents) BUT if I only had one or two classes to mark at a time, I would not have felt so overwhelmed by the mountain of marking. In fact, even as I bemoaned the big pile, I took a couple of photos of some of the sketches. These three below, for example, were created by Grade 1 students.

I don't regret undertaking this project, despite the mess, the extra expenses (I keep running to Michael's to purchase gems and fabric spray paint), and the marking. Our superintendent came to visit last week and she was pleased by the many facets this investigation involves: ecological literacy (e.g. reusing clothes, purchasing from Value Village), equity (e.g. how clothing can express our identity and how our identity is multi-faceted), social justice (e.g.children working in sweat shops), math (e.g. measurement, area), visual arts (e.g. colour and design), media (e.g. text production, intended audience), etc. I think marking the final products will be a pleasure (partly because it's done at school - maybe I dislike homework even more than the students!) and our fashion show will be an exciting endeavor. Stay tuned!

Photo of our Term 1 "Identity Inquiry"display on what makes us who we are

Photo of our Term 2 display on Value Village & making our outfits

Monday, April 3, 2017

Facing Challenges in Montreal

This week, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to la belle province to present at the QSLiN annual library symposium. The event was made extra special because my daughter accompanied me to co-present one of my sessions. This was her first visit to Quebec (excluding our short foray into Hull during March Break to tour the Canadian Museum of History) so we were excited to explore Montreal's attractions together, albeit briefly.

Why would I title today's blog post using the word "challenges"? Well, there were intentional and unintentional obstacles to overcome during the voyage.

Challenge #1: Navigating a New City

We drove to Montreal from Toronto, which isn't a terrible journey. We left at lunch (because my daughter did not want to miss any more school than was absolutely necessary) and arrived at our hotel in Point Claire at 5:30 p.m., so we had the whole evening to do with what we wanted. We still had energy after our successful drive but weren't keen to spend more time in the car tackling Montreal's notorious traffic, so we decided to use public transportation to go downtown and examine old Montreal. The hotel gave us a map and directions on the route to take. It took us longer than ten minutes to walk to the mall to find the bus terminal but that was the least of our troubles. We found the bus and hopped on happily a little after 6:00 p.m.. We drove, and drove, and when the bus stopped at "the end of the line", we were nowhere near the subway station. Turns out, we got on the right bus going in the opposite direction. The driver instructed us to get off and wait for the next bus, which would take us back to where we should have been. The trip downtown should have taken us an hour, but instead it took us two hours.

A photo of our bus stop, where we spent lots of time.

When we arrived in Old Montreal, exiting at La Place D'Armes, it was dark, cold, and wet. Reading the map given to us at the hotel was an exercise in futility because there was not enough light to see. We viewed the Basilica of Notre Dame and took some lovely photos. After a while, our stomachs reminded us that we hadn't eaten since our quickly scarfed-down lunch at an enRoute station off the highway in Ontario. Finding somewhere to eat in downtown Montreal should be a breeze. I was in contact with a former elementary school student who now goes to McGill, and he texted us several recommendations. (He also asked if we needed him to come downtown to help guide us, but he was ill and we said distance assistance would work just fine - good ol' Andrew!) It proved difficult to try and find some of these restaurants. Many places were closed. My French is passable but as I told my audience the next day, "je ne suis pas billingue, malheureusement" and all signs were in French. When we asked fellow pedestrians for directions, often the suggestions made us lost. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I report that we got lost at least six times that night. The convenience store clerk reassured us that the Montreal Poutinerie would be open by the time we arrived and we would have plenty of time to eat. Not at all. We found that restaurant at 9:00 p.m. and it had already been closed for thirty minutes prior. Just as I decided to turn on my cellular data to look at a map myself instead of relying on others, my phone died. My daughter, who had patiently tolerated all these setbacks, turned to me and said, "Mom, we should just go back to the hotel". I empathized with her dismay. By this point, I was tired and hungry too, but I didn't want to end our adventure on such a sour note. Thankfully, I looked up and right across the street was a little pub. We dashed in and checked to see that it would be allowable for a 17-year-old to enter. They agreed that we could stay until 10:00 p.m. and you've never seen two more grateful diners ever. We listened to live music and ate a satisfying meal. Our return trip back to the hotel was uneventful and smooth and we straggled back to the hotel by 10:30 p.m., exhausted but pleased that we had still met our goal of touring downtown.

The Basilica of Notre Dame at night

Love the architecture of Montreal (not the snow)
The view of old Montreal from our seats in the St. Paul pub

Challenge #2: BreakoutEDU

The QSLiN symposium was enjoyable. It was held in the same hotel where we were staying, so carrying our props and costumes from our room to our presentation site was simple. We set up during the morning keynote but were able to hear Pam Harland's afternoon keynote address.

Pam Harland describes library leadership in her keynote
The closing event of the conference was a BreakoutEDU experience, run by the incredible Sandra Bebbington, who didn't let an injured foot and a lack of sleep deter her at all. I've played collaborative problem solving games before, like "Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes" with my family at Christmas, but I had never participated in a real BreakoutEDU event with strangers before. Why would people buy in? Who would care? People did commit and we did become invested in the task. I had only met a couple of the individuals recently during my last workshop. (Ute will be my convenor for ABQLA in May and we were introduced to each other that afternoon.) I didn't know these people well, yet we all came together as a group to try and solve the problems we were dealt. It wasn't easy! We had to divide up the tasks to get things accomplished with enough time to spare, and we had to rely on another group, that was in possession of a deciphering tool, so that we could crack a code we were given. I think my face as captured in the tweet below accurately represents the level of difficulty of this task.

Sandra explains the Breakout setup

Locks, waiting to be solved and opened

What does this say? 

Using another group's device to help us read our clue

Sandra was kind enough to provide a few hints when she saw that some groups were struggling and in the end, the group opened the box with less than a minute left on the clock. We were very happy and I felt some sort of kinship with my tablemates, even though I didn't even have time to learn their names. It was only because her Twitter avatar resembled her in real life that I realized I was working with the wonderful Ellen Goldfinch next to me!

Was it a relaxing way to end the conference? No, but that was a good thing! Participants were energized, neurons were firing, and people were thinking and talking with others. It was worth staying until the end, and a lucky attendee walked away with a great door prize - a BreakoutEDU kit of locks and containers.

Bonus Challenge: Maintaining School Libraries and QSLiN

I was so thankful for the chance to be a part of this symposium. Sandra Bebbington and especially Julian Taylor were generous with their time, friendly, considerate, attentive, and helpful. The status of school libraries in the province of Quebec is rather different than here in Ontario. Julian explained it a bit to me both in a Skype call in preparation for the conference and a post-conference chat. In the past, the Quebec education system was organized along religious divisions, but after 2000, this switched to linguistic divides. Neither the English nor the French school boards in Quebec have teacher-librarians quite like we have in my school board. (I was going to say "in Ontario" but several school boards have eliminated the position of teacher-librarian.)  Historically, Quebec has not been as "pro-library" as other parts of Canada. Staffing in the English sector of Quebec is healthier than in the French quarters. For the fortunate schools, at the secondary level, they will have a library technician five days a week; at the elementary level, they may have a library technician one or two days a week. Most of the people in school libraries have tech degrees and love libraries enough that they don't want to see them disappear. Outside of Montreal, to the south, north and east, the elementary school library is likely supported by a parent volunteer or a staff member who has taken an interest in this role.

With the challenge of no teacher-librarians in the province, how is it even possible to have a school library organization exist? Well, it's a bit complicated. I appreciate this explanation from Julian:

The Quebec Ministry of Education's DRD (Direction des ressources didactiques or “Dept of Didactic Resources") came up with a plan to encourage the hiring of librarians at the board level in both the English (9 boards) and French (60 boards) sectors. That program started in the 2008-2009 school year (for 10 years). This was a great initiative by the ministry and many librarians were hired at various boards throughout Quebec. I [Julian] was charged with creating the first library personnel training day for all library personnel in the English sector (public, private, and native schools) in that first year, spring 2009. This was the first "Library Symposium".

Then in late fall 2009, a representative from the DSCA (Direction des services à la communauté anglophone; basically Dept of English Community Services) invited all of us who worked as library personnel at the board level (us new hires and a small number of people who were already in place) and asked us what we saw as needs within the community that perhaps the DSCA could help us to realize with a project using funds from the Federal government to help minority language rights in Quebec. This was basically the birth of QSLiN, but it would take another year or two for the name to be set.

The DSCA helped the English sector school board library personnel to meet, realize their community’s common needs, then gave them the structure to have QSLiN created and the funds to run it. The Quebec School Librarian’s Network is an committee of English Educational Community Librarians, that supports the community  by facilitating information literacy, supporting school library personnel, encouraging professional development, sharing resources, collaborating with the educational community, advocating for school libraries and hosting a symposium that brings the community together.

School libraries have faced a number of challenges in Quebec but more and more people see their value and will continue to invest in their future. The future of QSLiN is never certain, but challenges like this (and the others I've described above) can be tackled with:
  • passionate people
  • a positive, growth mentality
  • finding funds and other support systems
I look forward to returning to Montreal in May for the ABQLA conference, and seeing some of my new contacts again. A bientot!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Second Hand Shopping, First Rate Teachers

Last week was a whirlwind of activity as I went on three (of four) planned half-day field trips. Frequent readers of this blog will remember that I'm deep into a media inquiry unit with my Grade 1-5 students about clothing and identity. An economical way to begin to make clothes, especially for non-sewers, is to go to stores like Value Village to find tops and bottoms to "upcycle" or alter. The students have practiced various techniques to hone their creativity in crafting clothes and we are now at the stage where we are planning our outfits and starting to make them.

I want to talk about the trips, but I also want to talk about what, or more precisely who, made these trips so wonderful (so far - I go on the last trip today, Monday March 27 - I hope I'm not jinxing things by sharing the successes). 

Pity the poor teachers on my staff. They get drawn into these wacky schemes of mine because their students are participating. Yet, these endeavors would fail miserably without their input and efforts.

On Monday, March 20 - yes, the first day back from our March Break holidays - Mrs. Alexander and Ms. Kim's classes went to the Markham Value Village store. Thank goodness for Brenda Kim, the Grade 4-5 teacher. I'm a "big ideas" sort of person, and sometimes the details trip me up. I was pretty pleased with myself that this trip wouldn't cost the students anything except the money they'd choose to bring if they wanted to purchase clothes for their projects. After all, we planned to use public transportation and the TTC is free for children under the age of 12. Brenda suggested that we should pay for the adult volunteers accompanying the students and she agreed to buy the required tokens during the March Break. Brenda emailed me over the March Break to draw my attention to an important point: the store we planned to visit was north of Steeles Avenue, and children were required to pay to ride. Yikes! Brenda offered to purchase the York Region transit (YRT) tickets for everyone for the first trip in addition to all the tokens I'd need for the adults for the subsequent trips. I arranged to pay her back with some of my library budget funds. So much for the "free" part of the trip! As it was, we chose to only buy one set of YRT tickets and we walked for 20 minutes to save some money.

Lance was the store manager for the Markham location and he was very welcoming and kind. After our visit, he even offered to bring free t-shirts to the school so that the kindergarten kids (who were not part of this trip) could do an Earth Day activity.  Thank you Lance! Thank you Brenda and Siobhan!

Lance shows the kids how they pack clothes to ship overseas

Students shopping for clothes to use for their media projects

On Wednesday, March 22, our youngest learners from Rooms 116 & 117 visited the North York Value Village store. Jenny Chiu and Aileen Morgan arranged for many parent volunteers to come with us, which was a blessing. I really admired how Jenny used this trip to make connections to other subjects and lessons. She supplemented our tour guide's explanations with points related to their social studies unit on community and how community members help each other. She also encouraged the students to use their addition skills to estimate and calculate if they had enough money to purchase items.

Joan was the store manager for the North York location and she left me speechless with her generosity. She told us that because the children were shopping for items for their media project (at which point, a couple of students embarrassed me by saying "What project?"), she allowed each and every student to select one item of clothing for free. This was completely unexpected. The store was busy that day with a surprise 75% off selected items sale, but Joan and her staff gave us their time and attention. She even donated two boxes of books for the classroom libraries, free of charge. (Carrying these boxes on the TTC was quite an adventure, but we appreciated the gift.) Thank you Joan! Thank you Jenny and Aileen!

They need forklifts to move the heavy bundles of clothes

How heavy is an entire class of Grade 1s? The big scale said 1100 lbs

On Friday, March 24, Rooms 115 and 114 ventured to the Scarborough Value Village store. This was quite possibly the most challenging trip. The destination was switched to Scarborough to deal with the Markham travel limitations. Originally, we planned on going to the Markham location twice and the North York location twice. The Scarborough location involved taking three different buses just to arrive. We were also somewhat concerned about returning to school on time. Our Wednesday venture showed us that it was possible to travel, tour, shop, and travel back in the allotted time, but it felt rushed. This is where the organizational skills and flexibility of Kerri Commisso and Stephanie Vinluen shone through. Kerri recommended that we leave earlier, during the lunch hour. She informed all her students and their parents in advance about the location change. Kerri and Stephanie contacted their parent volunteers to request that they come earlier. They set up travel buddies and Kerri gave students cards with school information printed in case anyone got lost. No one did. I was amazed at how smoothly everything ran. Something extra remarkable: Stephanie is actually a LTO (long-term occasional teacher), yet she handled the field trip like a seasoned veteran. 

Our bus drivers were extremely professional and patient as well. I wouldn't have necessarily seen a group of 40 excited children boarding my bus and greeted them with a smile, but almost everyone seemed genuinely happy to have us on board. Mo on the Lawrence 54 route was especially nice and waited until both classes had crossed the street and entered the bus before leaving the stop.

Blair was the store manager for the Scarborough location and he was also very accommodating. He allowed every student to select a book for them to keep for themselves at no cost. The cashiers serving our students was delighted to ring up their purchases. Thank you Blair! Thank you Kerri and Stephanie!

Selecting hats for our media projects

Blair shows us how "Cram-A-Lot" squishes clothes
Kerri even sent me a photo and a thank you note after the trip. Thank YOU Kerri, and all your fellow Agnes Macphail Public School staff members, for rearranging your schedules, losing your prep times, and pausing your own lessons so that we could take these trips together. Field trips aren't easy; teachers have a lot of responsibility to keep students safe during these excursions. These teachers I work with made it look easy. Members of the public were curious to see us out and about on the bus or in the store and asked us many questions about our purpose, which was a great opportunity to share our environmental, media, and mathematical investigations. We'll be partnering with Value Village more in the future and they have front-row seat invitations to our fashion show and charity auction, which will be the culminating end task for our media literacy unit. The students had a great time and I did too, thanks to some amazing adults.