Monday, August 15, 2022

3 Little Pigs

 I've been preparing for this blog post for weeks! Get ready for plenty of pictures.

On Saturday, July 24, 2022 I adopted three skinny pig babies.

(Simon is on the left, Theodore is in the middle, and Alvin is on the right.)

This was not my original intent. I planned on getting just a pair.

I have owned many, many skinny pigs in my lifetime. This is the complete list.

































You will notice that one of them already has a death date. I'm sorry to report that on August 12, the day they were all scheduled to visit the vet for their wellness check, Theodore passed away. I found him in his sleep sack. I'm going to write about all three of them as if they were all still here, and then give an update. 

Cola, my only female skinny pig, died in February 2022. I knew that eventually, I would want another skinny pig pet. Our rabbit, Dolly, died in July 2022. I happened to have some free time, a very dangerous situation for me, and I happened to find an ad on Kijiji for some skinny pig babies. Infants of any type are a special delight to be around - out of all those piggies listed above, I only had Owen, Kirby, Bert, and Ernie as wee little ones. I decided to risk getting two of them and I was considering naming them Lenny and Squiggy, since I had just returned recently from Milwaukee. When I arrived at our designated meeting spot, the breeder told me she was throwing in an extra one for me for free. It's a good thing my husband was present during this exchange, or he might not have believed me!

(In the photo above, Alvin is on the left, Simon in the middle, and Theodore on the right.)

My daughter picked out their names. I really wanted "matching" names for them and thought about Curly, Larry, and Moe, but it didn't fit them. Their approximate birthday is June 24, 2022.

What's in a name? Is it a self-fulfilling prophesy? Ask any teacher who has also been a parent, and they might reveal to you that during the name selection process, there were certain contenders that were eliminated because the educator knew a "naughty" student with that moniker. 

I don't want to pretend like I have great psychic skills, but it's been interesting how the skinny pigs' conduct somewhat fits their names.


Even though all three of the pigs are supposed to be brothers, I wonder if Alvin is more of a cousin than a brother.

(Please excuse the poo in the above picture. The "boys" refused to leave their sleep sack so I could clean it so I had to dump them and the contents out !) Alvin is the smallest of the skinny pigs. He is recognizable by the white tuff of fur on his nose.

Alvin might be the smallest but he is probably the loudest and happiest of the pigs. He "popcorns" in the air and makes these loud ear flaps. At first, he was one of the bravest ones, but his bigger brother has taken over that role now. Alvin from Alvin and the Chipmunks (based on the Munkapedia entry about him) is described as the shortest, most impulsive, and charming.


Simon, the skinny pig at my house, is the largest of the pigs. I tried to measure them and I think he's 6.5 inches (whereas Alvin is 4.5 inches) but I'm not sure. When I took them to the vet for a wellness check, they said that Simon was 484 grams (compared to Alvin at 344 grams).

You can tell which one is Simon by the vertical brown strip that runs from between his ears to his neck. Simon seems to be the smartest of the pigs, clueing in quickly about what items are good to eat or which hiding spots are ideal.

Simon is probably the most "mature", as I've already seen him attempt to do a bit of a "rumble strut" (which is a thing skinny pig males do to show their dominance). Based on the Simon entry on Munkapedia, Simon the chipmunk is the smartest and has a bit of a rivalry with Alvin.


I liked the markings on Theodore before I even met him. He is the most timid of all the skinny pigs, and that's saying something, considering how much the skinny pig babies love to hide together.

Theodore is recognizable by the ring of light brown skin under his neck and across his back. It's hard to get a photo of Theodore by himself, because he's always tagging along with his brothers. This photo below of him getting measured is probably inaccurate. My estimation is that he's 5.5 inches, but squirmy, skittish piggies don't like to stay still for long

Theodore the skinny pig shares many traits in common with his namesake, Theodore the chipmunk. On the Munkapedia, Theodore is described as shy and sensitive.

The Trio

I'm trying not to treat the pigs like a set, but it's hard not to. They squabble a bit vocally but love to huddle together in the sleep sacks and in the pigloo. They learn from each other - when one discovers a tasty treat in the cage, the rest will follow (and usually try to steal the one the leader has, rather than grab the extra stock right nearby).

(This above photo is of their first day at their new home. They are all shiny because the breeder moisturized them with coconut oil.)

My family has been very good about helping me with them. I'm trying to get them used to being handled but they really don't like it much at all. I've caught my husband, who is not much of a pet person, watching them and monitoring them closely to ensure they are safe and contented. 

Update: August 12 was a bit of a shock. I did not expect one of the trio to pass away so suddenly. I know that when skinny pigs die at school, the students always want to know why. Often I will explain that we don't know, adding in that skinny pigs only live about four years on average, in my experience. (This website says guinea pigs last 5-8 years but the oldest pig I had was 4 years old.)  I did not take Theodore's body to the vet but the vet said that it can be hard to determine, even with a necroscopy (like an autopsy), and could have been congenital. We will just have to be content with not knowing. He was fine the night before, eating and socializing with the others. It'll be hard to see just two instead of three.

The other unfortunate news is that the remaining two skinny pigs have a skin infection. According to this website, skin issues are common, but this is the first time I've had to do two different kinds of medicated shampoo baths, PLUS antibiotics, for both pigs. In the past, I've had to deal with antibiotics, ear drops, and major surgery for my pig pets (where we got to keep the x-rays, which were fascinating to the students), but bathing the cavies will be a new experience. Vet bills aren't cheap either, but we are lucky we have a vet nearby that specializes in "exotics" (yes, skinny pigs count as exotic pets) and cost is just part of the responsibility of pet ownership. 

Once the pigs get over their skin condition, I'll bring them to school. I can't wait to see what the students' reaction will be to these two (not three) little pigs.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Remembering Caroline

 Next week will be my photo-laden post about my baby skinny pigs. It was going to be this week but I got some news that significantly altered my blogging plans.

Side tangent: how do you give someone bad news? For the person who first informed me, she cared enough to make a phone call. I was expecting we were going to talk about something else, but instead she shared the heart-breaking revelation that a dear mutual friend of ours, Caroline Freibauer, had died.

This is the Facebook notification her family published:

 I enjoy figuring out exactly when I first met people. I think for Caroline and I, it was 2015. We were both part of a panel for Ontario Library Association's SuperConference, called "TLLP @ your LLC". My first impression was that Caroline didn't like me. Turns out that Caroline has a sharp, dry sense of humour, so when she declared "There's no way I want to present after YOU!", it was meant as a compliment, not a dig. Caroline didn't think she was as amazing, but she was.

It was in 2016 that I had the chance to work in depth with Caroline. She applied to be on the editorial board of The Teaching Librarian when I was the editor-in-chief. It was clear that she was tremendously overqualified - she had actual journalism experience - and we very happily welcomed her to the editorial board. She was part of the group with Jennifer Goodhand, Derrick Grose, Allison Hall, Leslie Holdwerda, Sarah Oesch, Brenda Roberts, Angela Thompson, and Leslie Whidden. She debuted in Volume 24 Issue 1 of TingL.

Caroline was an absolute gift to work with at OSLA. If you had the fortune to be on a committee with Caroline, you knew that work would get done. While she was on the editorial board, she edited efficiently, met deadlines, and knew the best way to get the most out of writers, readers, and everyone involved in the process of putting together a magazine. She introduced a new column in Volume 25 called "Crowd Sourced", which involved consulting multiple school library professionals for answers to pressing issues. It was for these reasons, and many more, that I felt confident enough to "retire" from running The Teaching Librarian - because Caroline agreed to take over the responsibilities.  My last issue was Volume 25 Issue 3. In Volume 26 Issue 1, there were already glorious improvements to the magazine - a new cover format, new editorial board members, and vibrant issue themes. Yet, read a few sample sentences from her inaugural editor's column: "There is nothing more anxiety-inducing than trying to cram your feet into someone else's shoes. Consider the ugly stepsisters attempting to jam their clodhopper feet into a glass slipper meant for Cinderella. With their mother looming over them, the stepsisters felt a lot of pressure to snag that prince." Caroline didn't realize how important and crucial she was. She achieved more in her short stint as OSLA editor-in-chief than any other leader. She was the one who helped TingL  pivot to an online version and back again. It was under Caroline that there was better representation from more areas of school librarianship present on the editorial board and increased the number of contributors to each issue of the periodical. Volume 27 Issue 1 is a must-read for anyone wishing to understand the status of school libraries in Ontario, with the quantitative and qualitative data to back it up. This is part of the massive legacy she leaves. I haven't even touched on all the contributions she made to Canadian School Libraries. I'll leave that to others to document.

I searched my photo archives and I don't have a ton of photos of Caroline. This one comes from the 2019 OLA SuperConference. She was presenting with Anita Brooks-Kirkland on "Doing Data: A Fun and Innovative Way to Count What Matters". She made this topic so engaging to their audience and presented it all with her signature dry wit. 

Serendipity is funny sometimes. I was delighted to discover that one of my favourite people working with the TDSB Library and Learning Resources Department was Natalie, Caroline's daughter. She arranged the TDSB Reads Event in 2017 and I have to say, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Natalie is just as hard working and wonderful as her mother.

I've been writing this blog post on-and-off since Wednesday. Caroline's funeral was on Saturday, August 6 in Brantford. Beth Lyons, Kate Johnson-McGregor, Alanna King and I attended. It was a testimony to her to see how filled the church was with friends and family gathering to pay tribute to an extraordinary person. One of the final gifts Caroline gave to us, posthumously, was the reason for us to reconnect in-person. COVID and circumstances had separated us, but Caroline got many of us back together again.

Thanks Caroline; we will miss you.

PS These are just some of the heartfelt tweets shared online after news of Caroline's death.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Building TLs Together

Happy August everyone! This is the calm before the storm, as one AQ course ends and another AQ course is about to begin. That means it's a perfect time to reflect on the successes and failures recently experienced.

I had a mix of excitement and trepidation for the start of the July 2022 York University Teacher Librarianship Additional Qualification course. It was the first time anyone would teach the updated course content. I hoped it would be well-received, but I'm biased because I wrote it. My other concern was related to my scheduled absence. As regular readers of this blog know, I went to Quebec to celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary. I decided to seriously disconnect during that time (unlike when I ran a course while visiting my sister in Calgary last year). Thankfully, York University was flexible enough to allow two instructional leaders to share the duty.

I removed one of the working titles from this blog (turns out "it takes a village" is not an actual proverb) but the sentiment still remains - the more people involved with educating future teacher-librarians, the better the development of those TLs.


Francis Ngo co-taught the old version of the AQ with me in the spring of 2022, when there was an astounding 30+ participants, and he co-taught the new version of the AQ for July 2022, covering for me 100% when I was away. Sharing AQ leadership is highly unusual but I certainly enjoyed the experience. Francis and I were "same but different": we held the same beliefs about school librarianship but we possessed different strengths and approaches that benefited the AQ participants. Francis is a "spreadsheet king", and designed our assessment and tracking tools in a way that increased efficiency ten-fold. It was a treat to have a second set of eyes, so that I could turn to someone when I wondered whether or not a particular task was completed satisfactorily. I loved the way he wrote such detailed feedback for the learners. Francis' knowledge of technology saved the day multiple times; he familiarized himself with the course management system (Moodle) in-depth and solved problems with ease. 

Guest Speakers

Francis wasn't the only one involved in the formation of these new (and/or growing) teacher-librarians. York University's TL AQ courses are the only ones, to my knowledge, that offer optional guest speakers for a fully asynchronous online class. (I'm going to brag for a moment - I pushed for that, and I appreciate that York not only allowed it, but now is actually financing it.) When I ran the blended courses in 2018 and 2019, I made sure I had lots of guest speakers. I want to thank all the volunteers who spoke to various cohorts. Here's a list, just from 2022.

Winter 2022

  • Salma Nakhuda
  • Jennifer Balido-Cadavez
  • Kim Davidson
  • Jennifer Brown
  • Melissa Jensen and Melanie Mulcaster

Spring 2022

  • Wendy Burch-Jones
  • Greg Harris
  • Jonelle St-Aubyn
  • Agnieszka Kopka
  • Farah Wadia

July 2022

  • Jennifer Brown
  • Ray Mercer
  • Ruth Gretsinger
  • Rabia Khokhar
  • Jonelle St-Aubyn
August 2022
  • Salma Nakhuda
  • Jennifer Balido-Cadavez
  • Dawn Legrow
  • Peter Bierkmore
  • Beth Lyons

It is through the guest speaker system that we can get many different perspectives. I see it as an "in" for people to add to their professional portfolio credits for speaking engagements and for AQ candidates to learn from as many different people as possible.

Experienced Teacher-Librarians as Interviewees

Without revealing too much about the course content - university and AQ providers are very protective about how their courses operate, as it is proprietary data - I want to mention that several tasks in the Teacher Librarianship Part 1 AQ course at York involves speaking to an experienced teacher-librarian. Before readers get agitated about the "extra" work involved in contacting an external source over the summer, let me reassure folks that one of the "services" I provide as the AQ instructor is to offer to locate someone to interview if the AQ participant does not know or cannot find a teacher-librarian. School library professionals are eager to chat with others, even during their off time. Several candidates have mentioned that this was one area where they found they learned the most during the course - in conversation with someone actually involved in the job. There is a sense of appreciation and awareness that the job is more than it seems on the surface. Big thanks to ALL the teacher-librarians that answered questions related to this course. 

Even though it means I don't get a break, I'm looking forward to teaching the August 2022 York University TL AQ cohort. I hope they'll enjoy the course as much as the last group seemed to do.

Monday, July 25, 2022

My Favourite Poem

 Warning: today's post includes links to text with coarse language.

As an English major in university, I took a lot of poetry classes as part of my undergraduate studies. In my current role as a teacher-librarian, and as an instructional leader for teacher-librarians-in-training, I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about literature. Although it's hard for me to choose my favourite novel, I have a favourite poem. I've debated about sharing it here or not because of the word choice and what people might erroneously infer. If you see this post as public, that means that I've chosen to publish it. This is my favourite poem.

This Be The Verse

by Phillip Larkin

I think people would be surprised at my choice. It's very grim and I'm a usually positive person. I like it for several reasons. Wikipedia shares its interpretations. You can find other analysis articles by Dr. Oliver Tearle or LitCharts or PoemAnalysis. For me, I like the shocking contradiction between the title and the first line. I appreciate the deliberate use of a "taboo" word. I've talked with young students before about how or why authors might use "inappropriate" language in a bit; there are legitimate reasons for curse words to appear, even when we don't want students to use them regularly themselves. It relates tot he power of language (especially when it's unexpected - hearing your grandma drop the "f'-bomb" when she usually limits herself to nothing stronger than a "golly" means that something was very impactful). The last two lines aren't something I'd aspire to or cling to as a viable solution (although some literary critics suggest that it's an impossible or tongue-in-cheek resolution). 

I worried that the theme was a bit controversial for me to share. "Does this mean you hate your parents?" No, not at all. Quite the contrary, which is what gets me into a bit of a pickle. I'm a pretty public person and open book, which includes sometimes discussing family matters on my blog. Not everyone is comfortable with that attitude. My blog is a way I keep in touch with people as well as share my thoughts; it's convenient to share in such a straight-forward way. It is because of respect for other people (and a reluctance to cause drama) that prevents me from sharing even more. This conundrum actually links to the poem. Past generations have been very concerned about "airing dirty laundry". There were just certain topics that were to be avoided as frequently as possible. This can be a problem. Even though it is painful and fraught with difficulties, it's better to communicate more openly. However, it's challenging to change patterns of behaviour, as the poem suggests. 

One pattern of behaviour that grew due to COVID that I hope to change is my "reading drought". I found it very hard to read up until recently. Jennifer Brown shared several great books that she's devouring that I want to read as well (such as The Art and Science of Primary Reading pictured below). Next week on this blog, I hope to go into detail about the end of my July AQ course and praise my co-instructors and guest speakers like Jenn ... OR tell you all about the new pets I just acquired. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 18, 2022

In Search of Work

I'm working this summer. It keeps me busy and out of trouble. I like the mental stimulation of interacting with adult learners. The extra money is nice too. 

I have two "kids" of my own. I put the word in quotations because they are 22 and nearly 20 years old. The eldest has finished her undergraduate post-secondary studies and the youngest has a year left for his. They've been searching for jobs and it hasn't been easy. It's taken months of effort. One has just obtained full-time employment and the other is still looking. I thought I'd reflect a bit on the process of finding a job (and hopefully connect it to education by the end).

Part-Time Work

I wrote about my first official part-time job on my blog before. I was a dance instructor. Previous to that, I babysat. Other jobs I've held in the past included a short stint at the CHIN picnic as a carnie, a tour guide at CAPEX (the Canadian Philatelic Exhibition - a stamp show), a tutor, a daycare support worker, and doing inventory for my high school library during the summer. Half of these jobs came my way because I knew people. I was in the Library Club at school, so I was offered some paid work. I babysat for neighbours and teachers. The jobs that I didn't have connections to were simple applications. 

Even though there are signs and stories all over the city about employers eagerly seeking people to fill positions, it doesn't seem as easy to snag that elusive first job. This article from the Globe and Mail states that there are many, many job opportunities for teenagers in 2022. There may be many spots but that doesn't mean that businesses are scrambling to hire any and everyone. My kids started actively looking in May of this year. My daughter had a part-time job that she lost due to the pandemic and she decided that she would try to locate a new position a little closer to home. My son has not yet held a paying job. Many positions ask for applicants to begin the process online. Both did but often, there's no response. Some bigger employers require potential workers to complete a personality profile or quiz to check for compatibility. I guess there's no time for managers to text, email or call people to say "sorry, you aren't what we are looking for" as readily as they did in the past. It can be discouraging. Even though online applications streamline the process, I don't think anything can replace the impact that meeting in-person and introducing yourself to the person in charge has. The most success my children have had in their job searches have been where they've made that personal impression.

The other problem is that many establishments prefer candidates to have prior experience. How do young people get their foot in the door? How do they get an entry level position when even the entry level positions require past work experience? When I was young, fast-food positions were mocked. Now, they are one of the better employers, with great support systems, training modules, and benefits in place for their teen employees - but it's not an "automatic in". I've been trying not to interfere or "helicopter parent" as my offspring have been searching for jobs; I helped them with crafting their resumes and drove them to places, but I haven't lurked as they've filled in the forms or completed the second-level "sorting hat tasks", so I'm not sure what my youngest is saying or doing that is preventing him from getting to the interview stage of the process. 

Full-Time Employment

My first full-time job was as a supply teacher for the City of York. I lived in south Scarborough at the time and I was just so grateful to have a job that I'd accept half-day positions, drive all the way out to the school, and spend three-quarters of the day there, ensuring my notes for the regular teacher were thorough and that I had marked all the work from that morning. I'd bend over backwards to impress my bosses. My first LTO (long term occasional) position was a Grade 3 class at Churchill Heights Jr. P.S. When I was given my first permanent contract position (as a Grade 4-5 teacher and teacher-librarian at Warden Avenue Jr. P.S.), I would stay at school until late in the evening to prepare. All of a sudden, there's no more time in the day. All of it seems to be consumed at first by this new job, with long hours.

Why is it that when you have time, you have no money - and when you have money, you have no time? My eldest is nervous and excited about starting her first full-time job but she worries about finding the job-life balance. I suspect that her university-student schedule with five months of free time makes a full-time schedule look daunting but I am confident that she will become accustomed to the new flow of the day. She's got great co-workers, a wonderful work environment, a pleasant boss, and lots of potential benefits.

A little advice: when someone who is a recent graduate tells you they've obtained a job, offer congratulations rather than query them about whether or not it "matches" their field of study. This mindset has partly been the reason why my son has had trouble finding work - he feels like he needs to choose something related to his schooling. (He's doing some pro-bono work linked to his skill-set, which will help in the future, but something that pays would also be helpful.) Not all careers have a direct study-to-employment pathway. We're just grateful our eldest was able to find a job, period. 

What Does This Mean for Educators?

I think when we talk about careers and jobs with students, we have to do a better job of explaining that not every position will align perfectly with your post-secondary studies. We have to widen their horizons about what is possible. I confess to feeling a bit dismayed during the kindergarten graduation ceremony. During the year, I worked with two of the three classes to collaboratively teach about different "community helpers" and jobs. One of the goals was to encourage a broader range of possibilities (not just doctor/teacher/police/fire fighter). At the grad ceremony, a video was shown where students were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. Despite providing different answers a few months before, their June responses were the typical "doctor / teacher / police" answers. Not all jobs need a university degree. 

The high school requirement for volunteer work is a great start and practice for students to have to seek out opportunities. I wonder what else we can do to make the process visible for them and to get them to not become too disappointed when they get "no bites" after "casting their lines" (to use a fishing analogy). 

If anyone has any suggestions for where my youngest should apply for temporary or part-time employment, I'm all ears! (I waited until the end to use this pun JUST so I could show the wonderful ears my kids bought for me while they were at Anime North this past weekend. I plan on being Tom Nook at Fan Expo Canada and this will be part of my costume!)

Monday, July 11, 2022

Quebec Adventures

I am typing this with 3.5 hours to go before Monday ends, after spending 10 hours on and off in the car; apologies if I miss any crucial details. (ETA I'm posting it at 10:00 pm,  two hours before the day is through.)

I just got back from a family trip to Quebec to celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary. It was a very memorable trip. There are three connections that I can make to education, since this is ostensibly the theme of my blog.

"I am a glass of water" - Multilingualism

My husband was a bit anxious about travelling to Quebec because, although he can read and write French better than I can, he doesn't speak the language. I wasn't worried for 3 reasons: 1) I felt like I could speak enough French to get by, 2) we were going to areas frequented by tourists, so there was a good chance workers would speak English, and 3) we had a completely bilingual person with us. 

Turns out that my French is not quite at the level I thought it was - at one point in Trois RiviΓ¨res, I told the server at a restaurant that I am a glass of water rather than I wanted a glass of water. It really challenged my comprehension skills. It reinforced for me how important it is, when learning another language, to be immersed but also show patience and gentleness with non-native speakers. At least my French was up to par enough to assist some fellow tourists at a St. Hubert's restaurant order off the menu. They came from India and planned on hitting all the major Canadian cities over a 23 day period! 

"No Service" - Technology

We rented a wonderful cabin in rural Quebec, near the village of St. Raymond and about an hour away from Quebec City. It was very remote and private. At night, the only sound I heard was a loon calling from the lake - gorgeous! The cabin had wi-fi but no phone service, so I couldn't make any calls. I deliberately did not bring my laptop so that I could truly disconnect. 

Diana & James at "Le Grand Duc"

On Friday, we drove to Quebec City. Our party got split up, which usually would not be a problem. This became a huge problem. Friday was the day of the immense Rogers communications outage. I couldn't make any phone calls or texts out to locate my fellow travelers. I couldn't use my phone's GPS or map programs to find our way back to the cabin. Thank goodness we found a pay phone at the Quebec Tourist Bureau to contact the others so we didn't spend the entire day looking for each other in the busy streets. Getting back to the cabin was not as simple. Many roads in downtown Quebec City were closed because of Festival d'Γ©tΓ© de Quebec (Quebec City Summer Festival July 6-17). Big thanks to Philippe from l'Hotel Normandin for giving us excellent directions to return to our provincial home base. This experience reminded me that we are very reliant on technology, and it is important to have a Plan B (and Plan C) in case things fall apart.

Walking in old Quebec City

"Je me souviens" - Class Trips

I am the only member of my immediate family who has ever been to Quebec City. I was there in 1988, as part of a high school trip. That trip, even though it was 34 years ago, made its mark on me. Although we didn't do that many things while we were in Quebec City, the best moment was a replay of an event from that trip long ago. We ate at Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens - the oldest house in Quebec, from 1675. When I was a teenager, I ate tourtiere. This time, my daughter had the tourtiere and I had a delicious salmon pastry. The maple sugar pie was INCREDIBLE. It was my favourite moment from that day.

With the dessert menu - delicieux!

In addition to Quebec City, we went to Montmorency Falls on Saturday - another place where my high school tour group visited. I promise you that I didn't spend the entire trip just recreating moments from my teen years. During our 5-day jaunt, we went to a cheese factory, took walks near the cabin, used paddle boats, ate at amazing local eateries (include Ti-Oui, which had yummy ice cream) and spent time together as a family - those were new-for-2022 activities. The big "touristy" things, however, were replicas from my earlier trip. Visiting sites I saw in my youth demonstrated to me how important (there's that word again) these class and school trips can be to young people. These memories last a lifetime. For me, it made enough of an impression that I wanted to return and share the experience with others and I did.

Mary at the Quebec provincial legislature building

Peter playing pool at the cabin

Diana & James with Ti-Oui's mascot

Thank you very much to the people that accompanied me on this special trip. (Thanks also to Francis for taking care of the TL AQ while I was gone!) 

Monday, July 4, 2022

IMLRS in Madison

 Late June seems to be a popular time for conferences. For many districts, students are finished for the year (just not for TDSB elementary schools) and members of the target audience are technically available to attend. 

ISTE was in New Orleans - but I wasn't there.

ALA was in Washington D.C. - but I wasn't there. 

No offense to either of these conferences, but this year I'm glad I wasn't in attendance, especially now that I'm seeing lots of posts on social media from participants with positive COVID results. Instead, I was at a smaller event, closer to home, and able to celebrate the last day of school together with my students. 

I attended the International Media Literacy Research Symposium in Madison, Wisconsin. This blog post is a summary of my experiences and learning.

Before I begin, I want to address two issues: flying and sharing via social media. If you can avoid flying this summer, do it. The traveling portion of my adventures was easily the most stressful part. It doesn't compare to the chaos that is a hospital visit, but unlike trips to the ER, airline trips might be optional and navigated in different ways. On Sunday, I arrived at the airport at 6:30 am for a 10:30 am flight and I needed all that time. Even though I checked in from home the night before, it took two hours to get through security and customs. We actually didn't leave until after noon because of mechanical issues related to the plane - and we were still grateful. Several other people never made it to the conference at all, after waiting hours on the tarmac in the plane. Returning home was even more challenging - I'll tell that story in chronological order. As for sharing, I was hesitant to announce my scheduled absence with social media updates because of the current climate in education. After all, on the last official day of school in Ontario, the premier made a point of warning teachers that "they better be back in school" in September. "Optics" are a big deal and I didn't want any of my posts to be misconstrued as being on early vacation, even though I was busy presenting. In other words, to quote one of the AML key concepts of media literacy, "audiences negotiate meaning".

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Milwaukee, WI

Neil Andersen, president of AML, and I arrived in Milwaukee and were picked up by Karen Ambrose, the executive director of IC4ML (International Council for Media Literacy, formerly known as the National Telemedia Council). Karen was a gracious and generous "chauffeur", ensuring we were fed before making the trek to Madison. Neil reminded me about the interstitial nature and value of in-person conferences; (interstitial means "of, forming, or occupying interstices.") "moments between the moments" that mean a lot. The van ride to the site was just such an example. After settling into our dorm rooms at the University of Wisconsin, some of the attendees were treated to a boat tour of Madison. When our tour ended, we hurried to the WU "Rathskeller" student union run restaurant for fried cheese curds, bratwurst and local ale (as well as ice cream produced from the milk of the university cows!) 

Monday, June 27, 2022

Madison, WI

Neil and I took a self-guided tour of the state building early Monday morning. We found so many intriguing and fascinating examples of media that we were half-tempted to create some lesson plans! Messages are conveyed in a media environment and many were communicated via the choice of floor, art, and signage. 

We briefly helped the organizing team pack conference bags and after lunch it was time for the University of Wisconsin - Madison First National Cultural Landscape Tour, lead by Aaron Bird Bear, the Director of Tribal Relations with the Office of University Relations. I learned a lot from this tour. You can also visit for more information. Some of the notes I took included information such as:

  • notions of property differ between Indigenous people (kinship) and settlers (commodity)
  • in colonization, the goal is replacement - assimilation and termination (and within assimilation, the role for Indigenous people would be nothing higher than the labor underclass)
  • there are three different "types" of tours that the university offers: the "special" (for visitors and general public that focuses on the positive aspects), the "mindful" (as orientation for those entering the university that guides their on-campus actions) and the "critical" (for those who are involved with the university, the "warts and all" version showing there is so much  more work to be done)
  • the university has a history of much "play-acting" and cultural appropriation of Indigenous ceremonies and symbols (even the lakes are made-up names to sound "Indian" despite having actual Ho-Chunk names)
  • sometimes monuments aren't even for the place or people there but serve to focus on successful colonization (e.g. several plaques refer to Blackhawk, which is from another state); Mount Rushmore is the worst kind of insult to Native Americans as it highlights the four presidents who were particularly horrible to Native Americans (and as I read earlier, was carved on sacred land)

I asked Aaron how could it be possible to honor the oral tradition in higher education. I myself felt a bit guilty for having to rely on notes to remember what he was describing. He replied that it was hard because academia loves the "peer review" concept. He also made a fantastic point about story telling. Not only is it important about WHO tells a story, it matters WHEN the story is told. He elaborated and said that the Ho-Chunk nation only tells their stories when the snow is on the ground. If these stories are digitized, there is the chance that they could be played at any time of year, instead of the proper time. These things matter.

I suspect that several people found it hard to listen and accept what Aaron Bird Bear was saying. Aaron himself is Mandan, Hidatsa and Dine' (although settlers might be more acquainted with the titles Sioux and Navajo) and he is not shy about saying he is different from those on the tour, nor is he hesitant about making statements based on fact that might contradict people's opinions of the country (e.g. it is founded on cruelty and greed). 

Monday, June 27, 2022
5:30 p.m.
Marieli Rowe Award Ceremony

Summary: There were four winners of the inaugural Marieli Rowe Award. The recipients came from Belgium, Italy/USA, Finland/Sweden, and the Philippines. You can read about their projects here.

Monday, June 27, 2022
6:00 p.m.
Opening Keynote - Henry Jenkins

Henry was unable to be with us, as he was unwell, but he joined us remotely via Zoom. His talk was called "What We Put Into Their Lives Is Far More Important Than What We Take Out": Josette Frank, the Child Study Association, and Media Literacy. 

3 Key Points: 
1. There are many other people who deserve recognition beyond Dr. Benjamin Spock, such as Josette Frank and Sidonie Matsner Gruenberg.
2. Some things still remain the same, such as showing interest in your children's media texts.
3. Terms are interesting. Progressive parenting? Permissive parenting? 

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Tuesday, June 28, 2022
8:45 a.m.
Jessie McCanse Award Ceremony
Opening Remarks - Belinha DeAbreu

The winner of the 2022 Jessie McCanse Award was Renee Cherow-O'Leary. Belinha created a powerful video compilation that encapsulated many of the events of 2022-22.

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Tuesday, June 28, 2022
9:30 a.m. (Session 1)
Media Literacy Practical Classroom Teaching Strategies - Neil Andersen & Diana Maliszewski

Summary: (taken from conference program)
Presenting several K - 12 practical classroom Media Literacy teaching strategies, including:  Using End User License Agreements to help students understand and appreciate their roles,  responsibilities and risks on online environments; Probing algorithms, search and auto correct etc. to understand and appreciate how they impact our online communications;  and Integration of media literacy education into the data analysis, data visualization, data  collection/organization and data literacy portions of the math curriculum.

3 Key Points:
1. Media literacy education can be for the youngest learners and beyond (with samples from 4-year-olds).
2. Playing with algorithms (via spelling errors, auto-complete, and search results) can help us understand how they work.
3. Math, French, and Health are all subjects that can integrate well with media literacy (and examples were given)

So What? Now What?
This was my/our presentation, so I am biased about the results. I counted and there were 22 people in our room, which was a good turnout. I am glad that we brought he AML EULAs with us and mounted them in the room, because the posters continued to "speak" for us even when it wasn't our turn. 

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Tuesday, June 28, 2022
10:00 a.m. (Session 1)
Foundations for the Future: Preparing Students to Examine Biases and Engage in Civil Discourse - Melissa Mallon & Megan Mallon

Summary: (taken from conference program)
Encouraging students to think critically regarding what they see, share, and promote is a  crucial task for educators at all levels and disciplines. Students must be provided with  the awareness and skills they need to address these issues firsthand and discuss issues of  misinformation and disinformation in a civil and productive manner. The presenters will  discuss the importance of promoting examination of self-biases and the role of civil discourse  in preparing students to become media-literate practitioners and discuss the importance of  equipping students with these skills at an early age; examining context within K12 education  and how this transfers to higher education. Our presentation will also share strategies to  engage students in exercises designed to identify and examine biases, and share a framework  for conflict resolution that prepares students to approach difficult conversations in a way that  promotes civil discourse and encourages conversants to also begin to interrogate biases.

3 Key Points:
1. Classroom strategies include starting with an open mind/understanding of biases, and to look critically at multiple sources.
2. To navigate difficult discussions, build peace within and between.

So What? Now What?
Melissa and Megan were interesting presenters, not just because they were identical twins, but because they operated in public schools with Grade 5 kids and at the university level. I'm glad I grabbed a screen shot of their contact information, because I didn't see them at the conference after this session.

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Tuesday, June 28, 2022
10:30 a.m. (Session 1)
Teen Informal Information Behavior - Kerry Townsend

Summary: (taken from conference program)
Media tools are evolving as are the ways teens are using them. Preliminary findings of a study  aimed to understand how teens are utilizing digital tools for everyday life information seeking  will be shared. This study intends to explore the informal information behavior of teens.  Specifically, information behavior is explored alongside the mass communication theory of  Media Uses and Gratifications in order to study how teens answer the questions of everyday life.  Communication and information behavior studies traditionally focus on specific media formats  or specific digital tools. However, as media formats evolve, so too should how we study media.  The following research questions will guide this work: How do teens gather information from  digital media to answer the questions of everyday life? What sources of digital media do they  use? How do teens find the digital media sources they use? What motivates teens to use specific  digital media sources and in what formats? What do teens do with the information they find?

3 Key Points:
1.The plan is to conduct 30 interviews but Townsend realizes that might be a lot, as the interviewees love to talk!
2. As the Library Coordinator for her district, she hopes to be able to bring this information back to her school librarians

So What? Now What?
Seeing Kerry made me think about our own Program Coordinator of Library, Andrea Sykes, and how hard she works to spread ideas and good pedagogy. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022
11:00 a.m. (Session 2)
New Directions: McLuhan and Beyond ... - Carolyn Wilson, Paolo Granata, Neil Andersen & Diana Maliszewski

Summary: (taken from conference program)
This session will explore the influence of Marshall McLuhan and others on media literacy  in academia and public education, as they apply to the current realities of our digital world.  Algorithms, surveillance structures and social media have created an “environment” of which  we are an essential part, and where we have become the content. What are the media literacy  concerns and pedagogies that do, or should, inform our practice?

3 Key Points:
1. Ideas such as figure/ground, acoustic space, and through/about media are still just as timely and relevant as when McLuhan first suggested them.
2. The McLuhan Foundation is busy with projects such as the Global Village Square (an online community hub), supporting the Global Media Educations Summit, and a site on the Toronto waterfront.

So What? Now What?
One concrete next step I will take is to join the McLuhan Foundation's Global Village Square community. I will also need to start working on my proposal for the MES in 2023. It was tricky to balance a panel with some members online and some in-person, but it worked. 

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Tuesday, June 28, 2022
1:15 p.m. (Session 3)
Media Nationalism, Credibility, and Claims of Representation: Media Literacy Challenges in India - Shashidhar Nanjundaiah

Summary: (taken from conference program)
Media literacy has been seen as a solution to problems, especially those of misinformation  and fake news. The concept of misinformation makes presumptions about the pervasiveness  of media illiteracy, about availability of truth, and about representations. Media literacy  practitioners’ efforts may be blindsided notions of truths and media illiteracy that can suppress  individuals’ efforts to defend and consolidate beliefs. Available media texts are governed by factors such as official sources, belief-solidarity, and bias. Further, in claiming to represent  their audiences, media parse stories through structures that include production processes,  agendas set by official sources, and ideological positions. This analysis problematizes these  factors in an Indian news television context, using examples to examine how media literacy  efforts may inform or obfuscate. The presentation also examines the role of a government in  media literacy efforts. 

3 Key Points:
1. Media education in India is often taken care of by corporations, which is a problem.
2. Polarizing incidents occur, such as the case of a traffic death of protesters by the convoy with a Minister's son; originally the story was portrayed as "vicious protesters"

So What? Now What?
It was interesting to see what's happening in other countries.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022
1:45 p.m. (Session 3)
Media and Information Literacy as High Societal Priority in Kosovo - Remzie Shahini Hoxhaj

Summary: (taken from conference program)
This paper aims to study how in the youngest democracy in Europe, Kosovo, the universities  and civil society are committed to change the approach of teaching media and information  literacy. As many other countries in Europe, Kosovo has become a battlefield of mal information, misinformation and manipulation, spread by media, domestic political actors,  but also by anti-European external regional powers. This research will show what skills  students, teachers, and general public need in order to build media and information literacy,  based in field research done during Pandemic on online teaching/ learning process as well  as field work that focuses in teaching skills. Journalism Department of Prishtina University  in cooperation with Kosovo’s Teachers Association has trained around 3000 teachers in  importance of teaching skills and how to integrate media literacy skills into the curriculum  for primary and secondary education. In Kosovo, formal education is heavily content-based  where students deal with a lot of information, and learn no critical thinking nor how to use,  analyze, evaluate or deconstruct information they perceive. This paper tries to find ways to  see how media and information literacy will be integrated into school curriculum.

3 Key Points:
1. Kosovo is a complicated place that many people do not know about; it is the last unit that emerged from the former Yugoslavia, survived Serbian aggression and information blackouts, and now has many more online sources of information and wifi networking than many other places in Europe
2. 95% of the study's respondents have a smartphone but only 16% say they need it for learning
3. 92% of those surveyed said Media should be a mandatory course in Kosovo schools

So What? Now What?
I exchanged contact information with Remzie, who approached me later on because she said I looked very focused and was the most concentrated during her presentation. I will try to reach out to thank her for her informative talk.

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Tuesday, June 28, 2022
2:15 p.m. (Session 3)
The way to prevent COVID-19 infection: an analysis of messages and local media literacy, from the US and Bulgaria - Barbara Ruth Burke

Summary: (taken from conference program)
This study focuses on online discourse related to COVID-19 local rule implementation, and  in particular discussions about rule following: examining cultural beliefs and values as they  relate to the establishment and continual negotiations about who, how, when, and why given  individuals and groups create and maintain their status as opinion-leaders or information  gatekeepers, and how they utilize available means for providing feedback and comments to  others, in two contrasted language communities–the United States and Bulgaria. The people  in both countries have deeply politicized views about COVID-19 warnings, masking, and  vaccines. Our comparative analysis of mediated communication and media literacies offers  a framework for understanding the local environment which makes given norms culturally  intelligible, and suggests ways in which the flow of information/ disinformation happens.

3 Key Points:
1. It was challenging to get translations for Bulgarian because often any Cyrillic translations default to Russian. 
2. Studying the micro (e.g. comments to a news article on a Bulgarian morning show or comments in a local Facebook group page) helps to understand situations. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022
2:45 p.m. (Session 4)

It was at this time that I got a notification on my phone that the second leg of my return trip to Toronto had been cancelled. This was not good news. I found Neil and told him. We then began the arduous task of trying to find new ways to get home. 

Guardian angels come in different packages. Ours came in the form of Rebekah Willet, the Vice President of IC4ML and one of the main conference organizers. She saw us frantically searching for contact information online and gave up her own time listening to excellent speakers to help us try and make new arrangements. At one point, there were three cell phones and two laptops all commandeered for this purpose. We couldn't reach Air Canada by phone or text to cancel the rest of the flight. We tried booking a flight with United but every time I completed filling out the information, it'd set me straight to the beginning (with a higher price for the tickets, I might add - two one-way tickets went from about $700 to over $1200 in an hour of attempts - algorithms in action). In the end, we were able, thanks to Rebekah's laptop and searching, to book a new reservation from Madison WI to NYC and then from NYC (LaGuardia) to Toronto on Wednesday. It meant being unable to attend the Barry's Wander in Milwaukee planned for Wednesday, but we had little choice.

Apologies to Dan Choe (Game Based Learning: Helping Students Build Media Literacy Muscle Memory) and Paolo Granata / Abus Abdelgabi (Play Media Literacy Games: From Lamboozled!, The Medium, and More) for missing their session. It was disappointing for me to lose this precious time while in Madison, but thankfully I got a chance to speak with Dan at dinner that night at Nitty Gritty, a local restaurant.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022
4:15 p.m. (Session 5)

It took this long for Rebekah, Neil and I to find a satisfactory alternative. This meant I also missed three other presentations I planned on hearing: a) Digital Media Use of Children growing up in Foster Care Networks - Action Research, by Borbala Timar from Hungary, b) Advancing Media Educational Competencies: Development of a Pedagogical Concept for Initial Teacher Education, by Jannie Hahn & Silke Grafe from Germany, c) Crossing STEAM and Media Literacy at Preschool and Primary School Levels: Teacher Training, Workshop Planning, its Implementation, Monitorization, and Assessment, by Vitor Tome & Belinha DeAbreu from Portugal/USA. I will need to see if I can access any of the presentations for future viewing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022
5:30 p.m. 
Closing Ceremonies

The 5th IMLRS event will be in the Azores in 2024. I texted my sister and she's keen to go. Now it's a matter of figuring out the logistics and if it is even possible!

The wonderful thing about the size of this conference was the ability to have conversations and connect with many people. People that I had the pleasure of interacting with included, but was not limited to:

  • Carolyn Wilson (with UNESCO)
  • Tessa Jolls (from Center for Media Literacy)
  • Megan Fromm (from NAMLE)
  • Michelle Ciccone (doing her PhD right now)
  • Belinha DeAbreu (IC4ML / IMLRS)
  • Sean Gabaree (MD high school teacher)
I'm sure I am forgetting many more names. I hope Neil will help me fill in the gaps, as he knows so many people around the world related to media literacy. 

The evening was filled with socialization at dinner (including interactions with more people, such as Amanda Latasha Armstrong, Dan Choe, Jeff Share, Yonty Friesem, and Geraldine Wuyckens). A small group of us (Michelle, Yonty, Neil, Dan and I) wandered back into a wonderful game store in downtown Madison called Gamers Library to chat with Andrew, the owner, and visit his beautiful big dog.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Delta Airlines saved our bacon. We flew from Madison to LaGuardia. Fortune smiled upon us, because we landed and our gate to board for our flight to Toronto was only three spots away and we had just enough time to go to the bathroom before they started to load the second plane. We made it back to Toronto between 3:30 - 4:00 p.m.

Big thanks to my traveling companion, Neil Andersen, for all the guidance and support. Thank you AML for the financial assistance related to this trip. I hope it will continue to pay dividends in the future.