Monday, May 29, 2017

Everyone needs to read for fun

Back in 2009, when I first began writing this blog, the topics covered were a lot different. I used to write a lot about what I was reading. The first couple of posts lauded the works of authors such as Charlaine Harris, Melanie Watt, and Stephenie Meyer.

My blogging style has evolved a bit, and I noticed that I haven't written much about what I've been reading. (The last book-related post was in February 2017 when my friend Salma lent me a book called Let the Elephants Run by David Usher. Prior to that, it may have been 2015 - thank you ability to search Blogger for keywords for helping discover this!)

I still read. I've just noticed that a lot of my reading lately has been very purposeful. I'm currently re-reading Trevor Mackenzie's Dive Into Inquiry so I can participate (albeit late) in the TVO Teach Ontario book club about it. I read all the 2017 Forest of Reading nominees so I could chat with students about the books and sign their passports. I re-read parts of The Loxleys and Confederation as well as Louis Riel by Chester Brown so I could use parts of those graphic novels for my intermediate ESL history lessons and as references for a mini-project I was asked to do.

Time is precious and there have been many tasks demanding my time - I needed to finish creating the school yearbook, complete marking the clothing media projects and the reflection sheets from eight classes, and arrange the launch of the Maker Festival volunteer registration form. I still need to make time for me, to stay healthy, and I found out that I could combine two activities and make them enjoyable and productive - I can read on the treadmill!

The book that actually had me excited about my 30 minute exercise was Fire Touched, the ninth book in Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series of novels. You can go to to see a list of all her books. I didn't read it to become a better person. I didn't read it to get informed. I didn't read it for my job. I read it for fun. And it was! It was delightful and made my time on the treadmill fly past. I actually made a pact with myself that I would not read the book unless it was walking time. That made the book last longer, but sadly, all good things come to an end and I finished it this past week.  Thank you Patricia Briggs for creating such a vibrant fictional world, with multi-dimensional characters that readers can relate to despite their supernatural abilities. I may not be able to wait for the tenth and might have to borrow it from the library before buying it in paperback. (I'm somewhat obsessed about having my book series look the same on the shelf.)

When I googled "reading for pleasure", I found plenty of articles about how teachers can encourage the habit, but I didn't see much about them doing it for themselves. We need to practice what we preach. I searched for a tweet that was on my timeline that reminded us that graphic novels, audio books and wordless picture books are all real reading. (Lost it in the flow of communication.) Same goes for what some might consider "fluff" - let adults, and that means teachers too, read what brings them joy. It's good for us - for our mental health (and if you read on the treadmill, for our physical health too!)

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).