Monday, January 13, 2020

Worth the Energy - VoicEd Wins Award and Students Fill Passports

I knew exactly what I wanted to write about on my blog for this week pretty early on. Great minds think alike, because the wonderful Doug Peterson had the same idea. Stephen Hurley and VoicEd Radio won the 2020 OLA Media and Communications Award. Doug and I plotted together and we informed Stephen about the win live on the This Week In Ontario Edublogs broadcast.

Doug, I'm sorry I made you feel bad about posting your excellent recount of our big revelation - - we can totally have more than one person write about the experience. (Plus, I'm going to add a second element and then show how they relate.)

Worth the Energy (of Preparing a Nomination) - VoicEd Radio

I love how Doug starts the story three years in the past. I'm going to begin my retell in the fall of 2019, when the OLA and OSLA advertised various awards and encouraged people to nominate others. I've had the honour of winning a few awards myself and it is such an exhilarating experience to discover that someone thinks you are worthy of the energy it takes to be nominated. (I wrote about it on this blog here.)

I was the nomination team lead (a point that, in my excitement to reveal the secret on the air, I forgot to mention explicitly) but it took a team of people to accomplish. We began the work in September 2019. My first step was to contact Doug Peterson, connected educator and VoicEd regular. I coordinated, but Doug consulted, and he dug - for data. We talked about the best evidence and key accomplishments to highlight as part of our nomination package. Doug had the unenviable job of locating and linking all (or most) of the shows on VoicEd Radio that included references to libraries and/or library professionals. Doug's response when asked to perform this Herculean task?

I can try.  That's a tall order.
That's no lie. VoicEd Radio has hundreds of hours of archived podcasts. I found a few but Doug discovered many, many more and linked all the recordings that we then placed in a single document so the OLA Board of Directors could hear for themselves.

I asked Doug who we could approach for recommendation letters. Doug came up with the list of writers and we included them in our plan. There were so many potential writers because there are so many people inspired and influenced by Stephen and VoicEd Radio. Doug compiled a list of eloquent educators: Lisa Noble, Beth Lyons, Sheila Stewart and Paul McGuire. They wrote such beautiful testimonials. I will need to talk with Lisa, Beth, Sheila, Paul and Doug to decide when and where we actually give Stephen a copy of the letters that were written on his behalf.

When we learned on January 6, 2020 that Stephen Hurley and VoicEd Radio had won the award, we were elated. There was discussion about revealing it on The Dock (the Saturday music call-in show that Stephen runs on VoicEd) but Doug and I decided to reveal the news live on TWIOE (This Week in Ontario Edublogs). I rearranged my schedule (thanks to Kerri Commisso and Matthew Webbe) and Doug surreptitiously sent me the link so that I could secretly join the broadcast in person. Stephen was startled to hear my voice during the broadcast, unscheduled but, being a professional, he continued on as if uninvited guests are commonplace. It was only when the actual news broke that Stephen was actually at a loss for words. On his blog, Doug posted a screen shot of Stephen's initial reaction to the award on Twitter. On my blog, I'm going to share the Hurley family's reaction.
I don't want to speak on behalf of Doug, Lisa, Beth, Paul, or Sheila, but I felt it was worth all the planning and writing and emailing. VoicEd Radio and Stephen Hurley are such worthy recipients.

Worth the Energy (of Arranging Chats) - Forest of Reading

January means the launch of our Forest of Reading program at my school. Students had already approached me about starting our chats - students chat with adults who have also read the same books and the adults will sign the passports as proof that the students read and understood the title - so I opened the doors to the library after school and started chats.

School ends at 3:30 pm. I never left school any later than 5:00 pm this week. Students were eager to earn their signatures (even though I didn't have the physical passports ready to go until Tuesday!) I like to track how many chats I conduct (because I'm a data nerd) and from January 6-10, I was part of 37 conversations! Some were solo, but others were group chats. I had students qualify on the very first day the program "officially" started. Don't let anyone tell you pre-teens are lazy or unmotivated! For instance, J in Room 207 explained that she set a personal goal to read all 10 Red Maple books this year. She said that she knew that the public library request list gets clogged during the winter break, (and that the school copies aren't available until January because the teachers are still reading) so she looked up the list of books on the OLA website in the fall and placed holds on all the nominated titles early. By January 6, she had already read 7 of the 10 titles. Isn't this awesome?

Now, our work-to-rule is escalating. I have to give credit to our unions; they are trying very hard not to negatively affect the lives of students and parents while still trying make their dissatisfaction known with the school boards and government. As part of this new stage of job action, we won't be able to run any extra-curricular activities after school or before school. We can still run them at recesses and at lunch (i.e. during the instructional day) so I'll move my chats to Mondays and Fridays at lunch. Yes, it means that there's less time. Yes, it means that I'll probably get through fewer chats. I make these changes willingly because it is both worth the energy (and reduced lunch hour) to have literacy-rich conversations with students so they can meet their reading goals, AND it is worth the energy (and reconfiguration) to abide by our union guidelines so we can demonstrate that the elimination of Kindergarten Intervention Programs, the potential dismantling of the Kindergarten class set-up, and the removal of class size caps are moves that hurt students more than they save money.

Monday, January 6, 2020

#OneWord2020 #OneWordOnt #OneWordEdCan

A belated Happy New Year 2020 and Happy First Day Back to School!

For someone who initially mocked the concept of selecting a single word as a guiding principle for a year in lieu of New Year Resolutions, I've become quite enamored of the idea. I've thought a lot about how my 2019 word kept arising in ways I hadn't expected.

My 2016 word was continue.
My 2017 word was forgive
My 2018 word was seek.
My 2019 word was enough.

Turns out, I had enough and retired from several cherished organizations and responsibilities.

  • My husband and I retired from serving as the marriage preparation course head facilitators at our parish.
  • I ended my term with the Digital Human Library as a Regional Curator.
  • I took a hiatus (which will probably be permanent) from my role as the Volunteer Coordinator at Maker Festival Toronto.
  • The upcoming Ontario Library Association Super Conference will mark the end of my volunteer career with OLA that began with The Teaching Librarian magazine in 2006
My 2020 word is both similar to my 2019 and vastly different. When I mentioned it as a possibility during dinner, my husband said that it wasn't much of a stretch - but I think it could be. I know it excites the coaches at my gym. My word is:


In 2020 I hope to do a lot of pushing.

I will push myself.
I plan to push myself physically. (I hate push-ups at the gym, and I don't do them properly. Hopefully in 2020 I can do a proper push-up without modifications like using the wall or a box or getting my legs to help me cheat. My gym goal is to perform more than one double-under skip in a row.) I will keep going to the gym, even though I don't always like it. I will push my own learning further along, by taking an AQ course this winter with York University.

I will push limits. 
What's possible? Almost anything. By continuing to be an innovative, creative educator, this means that I may have to push traditional concepts of librarianship around and aside. It means that even though I promised I wouldn't bring sand in the library again doesn't mean that I won't bring other weird things in (like thinking putty) as long as it benefits the students and the learning environment. In fact, according to the online Oxford dictionary, "push the envelope" (see the image next to this text) means to "approach or extend the limits of what is possible."

I will push against things. 
Injustice? The status quo? Inequity? Actions or words that are morally wrong? It will take courage but as I continue to develop my understanding of equity and anti-oppression (I read White Fragility last year and I bought How To Be An Anti-Racist this year) I will need to speak up and push back when things aren't right. (This is where the similarities to "enough" lie.) I will continue to be a union steward and this coming year looks uncomfortable as teachers continue to negotiate with the provincial government and school boards. Class size matters and I will need to push against those who think otherwise.

I will push and make things move.
Usually pushing in school is frowned upon. We aren't supposed to use physical force on anyone. The kind of pushing I want to do is the kind that leads to action, maybe even with those who don't want to take action. I suspect I will need to push the issue of dealing with (edited to remove specifics) extended family issues, even though this is going to be a difficult series of conversations to have. I will need to push my youngest to make decisions about his post-secondary education and investigate on his own. (Is it possible to push someone so they don't need pushing?) Even my spouse may not escape my pushes.

For someone whose nickname is "Push-It" (mostly because I try to push as many errands or activities in a single day as possible), it'll be interesting to see how the word push evolves over 2020. 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Simple Pleasures

I'm on holidays right now, but I'm terrible at sitting still and relaxing. To pass the time, I've been trying to write my paper for Treasure Mountain Canada, reading Forest of Reading nominees, and organizing my photos. As I looked through all the pictures I took and chose some to get printed for my scrapbook album, I found a fun one I took furtively and another I took on request. (The first one was the "without telling" photo - thankfully, it is far enough away that no one is identifiable.)

This is a photo of a large group of students playing with boxes.
It inspired me to write about some of the simple things that bring children a lot of joy, especially the students I see at school regularly.


I was the culprit that provided over a dozen boxes for the students to use outside at recess in (almost) whatever way they wanted. Usually, I save boxes for use in my STEAM program and dismantle them to create more storage space. However, one afternoon, I watched two students who were supposed to be working on a STEAM project with cardboard instead play very happily with intact boxes. They sat in them. They drew on them. They stacked them. I stopped them eventually, because when you only have 40 minutes of construction, it's not wise to waste that limited time. Their play planted a seed and when I received a large shipment of donated books in sturdy but dusty banana boxes, I decided to save them for outdoor play.

The great thing about these boxes was that they were free and when they got wet and wrecked, I had no qualms about putting them in the recycling bin. They also encouraged a lot of creative, cooperative play outside.

The not-so-great thing about these boxes was that some of the play got a bit rough at times and not every student was diligent about bringing the scraps of boxes in from the field after recess was over.


It's been a green Christmas and not a very snowy winter so far. Maybe that's why the kinetic sand I brought out for limited use in the library became so popular. Everyone - and I mean everyone - from junior kindergarten to Grade 8 loves using the sand.

The great thing about the sand was that it had no age-limits or prescribed gender-roles. Students once again played creatively and cooperatively. Students built sand castles and prepared sand ice cream. They squished and shaped structures to their heart's content.

If you followed my Twitter account, you know what the not-so-great thing is about sand in a carpeted library.

These are photos of three separate days after students *enthusiastically* used the sand. We talked about keeping the sand in the bins. We had student volunteers help me clean up. We had huge tarp-like garbage bags cover the floor for protection. Nothing worked for long. Some Grade 1s entered the library with blue pants and left with white pants; they were covered from ankle to waist in sand and I really can't explain how this was possible. The worst part was when my wonderful, patient caretaker walked in with one of his supervisors, who was not impressed. His supervisor had to "have a word" with me and I got an earful. Thankfully, both my caretakers (day and evening) and my principal are very forgiving and understanding human beings. The sand came out of the carpet very well with some focused vacuuming and hand-broom action (although I am technically banned from using the school vacuum because I was inadvertently, in my quest to save the caretakers from extra labour, doing their job that I was not supposed to conduct). The sand is now banished from my library forever. (Shhhh ... it now lives in JL's room - she'll use it on her [tiled] floors for STEAM inquiries.) I'll probably replace it with slime or thinking putty in 2020. (So much for learning my lesson!)


My camera roll is full of photos of students building things with Keva Planks. Students love to build with these and love to have me capture what they built on film. This particular student was super-dedicated at recess and collected actual sticks to create a long railroad track. He is a train aficionado and this track-building brought him so much joy. I promised to save his efforts with several pictures. He knew that it probably wouldn't last after lunch recess but he persevered.

These observations make me even more inclined to populate my library with loose parts that inspire open-ended play (instead of toys that sometimes dictate how they are to be used). I suspect the Kindergarten AQ I'm scheduled to take from January to March will talk about how play fits into the kindergarten curriculum. I look forward to learning more with this course.

As for me personally... what would my adult simple pleasures be?

1) Sleep - During the holiday, I've scheduled quite a few naps.
2) Food - I highly recommend the "Eggs Benedict Cumberbatch" at Storm Crow Manor and the regular Eggs Benedict at Markham Station. There's something quite decadent for me about brunch at a restaurant. (The Eggstro at Over Easy is another personal favourite breakfast meal of mine.)
3) Conversation with Friends - although Debbie Donsky's post,, was an insightful reflection about curating people in our lives. I'm looking forward to my New Year Eve's Eve gathering with some very old friends from university. If you are still on break, enjoy the respite.

Monday, December 23, 2019

New Wheels

Today is a big day - I take possession of a new car I bought. (The car in the photo is not exactly my car, but the same make and model.)

It's kind of a big deal for me. This will only be the fourth car I've ever owned as an adult. Examining the process I undertook to obtain each vehicle is an interesting progression of my own learning and independence.

My very first car was a black 1988 Pontiac Sunfire. (Edited: It was actually a 1988 Sundance. Thank you Dan for noticing my slip-up!) I shared the car with my sister and to be honest, I don't remember when or how we got the car at all. We both lived at home and attended university so co-owning the car was not a hardship. (I went to York but took the TTC; my sister went to UTSC and drove, even though she was closer.) I kept the car when I got married and the only reason I got a different vehicle was because the baby seat couldn't fit in the car. Instead of getting a new car seat, we got a new car!

My second vehicle was a tan 1997 Chevy Venture van. I got it in 2000. My father played a huge role in finding the van and arranging to buy it. He was the main negotiator for me. (This is partly why it makes me a bit sad to see that he's not the same "lion of a man" that he was when he was younger.)

I had to replace my van when the engine block died in 2010. It was deader than dead and with two kids and a full-time job, it was a quick 1-2 weeks of searching because I didn't want to be without wheels. This time, I was the primary searcher. I have to admit, however, that I did not do a very thorough job of investigating or researching - this is a bit surprising, considering that I am a teacher-librarian. Researching is supposed to be what teacher-librarians do very well! I picked my third car, a 2009 red Kia Rondo because a) I liked the colour, b) it was roomy (seating 7), and c) it was "cute".

I owned my third car for nearly ten years. We drove it everywhere, including to Maryland back and forth for summer holidays. That small but mighty little car clocked a lot of mileage - nearly 240 000 km! I took better care of my Kia Rondo than I did my Chevy Venture, partly because I found a mechanic that I trusted. (As my brother pointed out, this care did not always extend to the interior - he's strongly encouraged me to schedule regular cleaning, vacuuming, and dusting with this new car.) Due to its age, the Rondo started to need more significant repairs, and it wasn't operating as well as it had been. (See my blog post on tracking my car's behaviour to try and diagnose the problem.) Eventually, I had to concede that it was better to get another car.

The steps I took to get this car demonstrated that I learned a bit from my previous experiences. I think that the process can even apply to things like school assignments or projects. What did I do differently, that I was pleased about changing?

1) I took a longer time to investigate.

This time, I took about 4 weeks to look into different cars. I didn't rush the process. In fact, it was my original intent to buy the car in 2020 itself after months of looking. My current car just decided to act up more aggressively than usual, prompting a speedier decision.

2) I researched details and organized the information I collected.

My husband and I read articles. I knew my personal criteria - sedans are too small for me and SUVs are too big, so I wanted something size-wise in-between - and I worked from there. When I discovered a make or model that I liked, James would search for car reviews online. I created a Google document tracking my top choices, as well as a notepad on my phone so I could immediately record information as I heard it. I even called my insurance provider to see how the car type would impact my payments.At first, I was only considering used vehicles, but my research showed me that I could afford a new version of the type I was interested in.  We looked further afield for cars once I narrowed down my choices to just two options. (If you are curious, my two final choices were a) a used Jeep Renegade, and b) a new Kia Soul.

3) I consulted with people whose opinions I respected 
(but I had to limit the number of experts I used).

I love my fellow teachers. Many colleagues were excited about my car buying adventure, but three in particular were very helpful, without telling me what to do. Steve Tong, Dean Roberts, and Renee Keberer were wonderful sounding boards. They shared their experiences buying cars in the past. They gave great advice. I couldn't listen to too many people, because there are just as many different views as there are people. The great thing about Steve, Dean and Renee was that they would pose questions or mention areas to examine - things like longevity, or upfront costs vs future costs.

I also had help from a very special person - Renee's son. He has encyclopedic knowledge of vehicles of all shapes and sizes because of his passion for cars. He went with me to several car dealerships and could recite details like the type of engine or transmission at the drop of a hat. 

4) I went out of my comfort zone (with support).

I am not a haggler. I dislike negotiating prices and deals because I feel like I am not knowledgeable enough and I worry that my demands might be unreasonable. With suggestions from Steve and Renee, I was actually able to make offers and counter-offers, on my own, and I believe that I got an excellent deal. (Believe it or not, I didn't take the lowest price; I thought that would be how I'd make my final decision, but Steve and Renee pointed out other factors I had to take into consideration that led me to my final choice.) At one point, one of the teachers said, "Why don't you just take Steve with you to the dealership and let him do the talking?" I'm glad I didn't. It felt like I put on my "big girl panties" and did a very adult thing even though it was difficult and stressful. I am very happy with the decision I made.

I had a great experience at several dealerships and I'd like to acknowledge and thank several people / locations.

Elijah Mohammed at Foster Kia - I appreciated Elijah's patience, knowledge and willingness to take time to connect as a person and explain things. He was confident and experienced.

April Summers at Bessada Kia - April was very persuasive and worked hard to get the best deal. She knew how to highlight the great features of the car in question and was friendly and not intimidating. (The photo below is similar to the actual car I bought - a space green Kia Soul EX.)

Isaac at Richmond Hill Chrysler - Isaac was honest and very easy to talk to. He was very respectful of other vendors and was very understanding. (The photo below is of the car I considered long and hard - a blue 2016 Jeep Renegade.)

I look forward to driving my new car - I've never owned a brand new car before - and I'll probably cry the first time it ever gets a scratch. As I said before, it was a stressful process because it's the second biggest purchase one can make (after buying a house), but I'm happy with the end result.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Reconnecting with my cultural roots

Not many people know that a significant portion of my cultural heritage stems from Guyana and the West Indies. My married name gives a completely different impression, and there aren't a lot of external indicators that provide hints. I have to admit that I don't feel a strong link to Guyanese cultural traditions or practices. My parents immigrated to Canada from what they knew as British Guiana in 1969 and we (all of my siblings and I) were born in Canada. My mom and dad chose not to return to the country of their birth and I never visited. Guyana was a place we heard stories about but didn't know intimately.

During our introductory sessions to our specialist teacher PLCs, we were encouraged to consider the various aspects of our identities. It's not like I kept my Caribbean heritage a secret, but I never bothered to talk about it much. Other staff members have similar geographical backgrounds; I wonder if this shared ancestry makes us feel more understood or even if it makes any difference at all.

This weekend, I was compelled to delve much more into my relationship with Guyana because of two tasks.

The first was assisting my parents with making garlic pork. Garlic pork is a traditional Portugese-Guyanese Christmas delicacy. It takes a great deal of effort to prepare. This blog came in handy because I was able to refer back to the procedures for creating garlic pork. Thank goodness I recorded the instructions when I did. My parents are now 83 and 79 and struggle to remember all the steps needed (and even obtain the proper required ingredients). I wondered why we go to all this work to make this dish that is definitely an acquired taste, but I realize because it's one of the few cultural traditions we adopted and maintained. We didn't have enough pork to make more than a small jar, so the next day I bought some more pork and attempted to prepare a batch on my own.

I took several photos of the various steps I attempted solo, but for brevity's sake I'm just including me at work and the final product. My principal said he would gladly accept a small jar. I hope he realizes how ... aromatic? pungent? fragrant? ... it will be. (Garlic pork must be boiled and then fried before eating.) It's also important to drink gin while eating it, otherwise people belch frequently and with a distinct garlic stench. (So yes, if you are Portugese-Guyanese and Christian, chances are you are going to Christmas Day Mass either smelling of garlic or a bit liquored up or both.)

The second prompt that led me to get reacquainted with all things Guyanese was the Guyana Christian Charities Luncheon. This event is organized by a group of Guyanese-Canadians who raise money for St. Joseph's Hospital back in Guyana. For the past eight years, they organize a huge luncheon with raffles and entertainment. For the past three years, I've bought my parents tickets to attend but usually my role is to drive them to and from the party. This year, my dad was "feeling poorly" and my mom needed company to go with her, so I took my father's place.

Despite being an extrovert, it's a little intimidating to enter a large hall not knowing anyone. It's also a very bittersweet experience because my mom forgets things easily. (For instance, I had to reassure her repeatedly that no, she did not drop her purse in my car; we made a point of not bringing it so she wouldn't misplace it.) Thankfully, Guyanese people (typically - I'm making sweeping generalizations here) are very chatty, gregarious and friendly. I was able to make small talk with people at our table. When people approached my mother or when she had a vague sense of knowing someone, I'd ask for their name and how they knew my mom.

I was also so grateful for the adult children of the older attendees who conversed with me while my mother was chatting with old friends - they reminded me that I'm not the only one dealing with aging parents and all the complex negotiations and situations that come with these life changes.

These casual conversations helped me notice that I am influenced by my Guyanese heritage, even though I never lived there. The terms I use (like a slice of orange being a "feg") or the food I know (like cheese straws, which for the life of me I cannot make), or even the places (like First and Light Street, which is where my mother grew up in Georgetown) are all part of this Guyanese "thing that's not a thing" for me.

My husband shared an earlier observation - when I bought the tickets, from a lovely man named Noel who came to my house to drop them off, my husband said that my tone of voice and inflection mirrored that of Noel. I had always maintained that I just mimicked the accent of my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I didn't realize that I had, unconsciously internalized some vocal intonations that rose to the surface while in conversation.

I had a lot of other things to do on Sunday December 15, but my mom enjoyed herself so much that it was worth the detour. I still have to figure out what this means for me as an educator and as an individual, but I've got time to reflect.


Monday, December 9, 2019

Neither Anarchist, Nor Automaton

I am wrapping up my recent media/library units on Authority with the Grade 1-7s and on Leaders and Followers with the Kindergartens. It was a unit that I cobbled together based on certain inspiring anchor texts, a feeling that I needed to do more to address equity and anti-oppression issues, and through crowd sourcing my contacts online.

I wanted to reflect on what I felt worked well, what needed improvement, and what future next steps may hold. (I will just focus on the Authority unit in this post, because the Kindergarten inquiry, although similar, took different forms.)

It was my hope that after experiencing this unit that students would use critical thinking skills when dealing with the authorities - I don't want students mindlessly following orders "just because". At the same time, I don't want students to constantly object to or battle every order, decision or request related to them. It was also challenging to find a way to bring closure to this unit in a satisfying way, but this was resolved thanks to a casual conversation with Matthew Webbe.


The authority unit branched out of our start-of-the-year examination of authors. (Who is an author? Who can be an author? Who do we expect are authors? How do authors AND readers have power?) We learned and memorized a definition of authority so that we would all have a similar understanding of the basic concepts. ("Authority is the power or the right to give orders, make decisions, or enforce obedience.") Students also learned some sociology via Max Weber's ideas around types of authority. We brainstormed examples of these types - legal, traditional, and charismatic authority. We read books that contained the message that listening to the authorities is a good thing, and we read books that suggested listening to the authorities isn't a good thing. We also read books where legal and traditional authorities differed.

Students drew pictures that had this success criteria:
  • included a minimum of 3 people
  • provided detail to the characters (no stick people)
  • provided detail to the setting (needs a background)
  • demonstrated that someone had authority (without using a label saying "he/she's the boss")
We talked about the overt and implied messages that signal that someone has authority. We addressed gender assumptions related to authority. Mid-way through the unit, we had a short quiz to check for understanding on the definition of authority and the two anchor texts we used.

We examined some scenarios in which different authorities clashed, and considered what we would do. Students wrote their thoughts on Post-It Notes.

We watched a short video of a girl who defied her parents, family and village on the issue of child marriage. 

We read the tweet about the Grade 5 students in Utah who left class and sought out the principal when a supply teacher was ridiculing a boy for being thankful about being adopted by two dads.

One of the strategies we discovered for pushing against decisions made by authorities was to involve someone with more authority, power and privilege. We discussed the school hierarchy (i.e. who is the biggest authority?), created some scenarios and asked if (and/or when) the principal should be involved. We did some shared writing and created some homework questions for the principal to answer, so we could compare what the students thought was a serious issue and see if the administration agreed or disagreed.

The final task is/was to look at the Parent Concern Protocol poster that sits on our office wall. It describes the steps that parents should take when they disagree with how the school authorities handle a situation. Our classes are in the process of making their own posters in Canva with a "Student Concern Protocol", outlining the steps they should take when they disagree with an authority.


The great thing about teaching lessons to multiple classes is that you have the chance to change things when they falter. Such was the case with the chart paper scenarios. When I first glanced at the answers written on the Post-It Notes, they weren't that thoughtful. The discussion I had hoped would happen as students gathered around the papers with sticky-notes didn't materialize; students were busy writing their own ideas down. For the younger classes, who would already find that task difficult because their writing fluency is still developing, we used the Tribes strategy "4 Corners". Students were read the chart paper and asked to move themselves to the corner they agreed with (i.e. with scenario 6, would you obey the teacher or the parent?) and using that method, greater discussion evolved.

Having a memorized definition was very useful. Students felt confident in talking about authority because they knew what authority was and we all had the same criteria.

The "give homework to your principal" task started out sluggishly until I hit upon inviting students to talk about a time where they themselves were not sure whether or not to involve the principal in a problem. Once they were "allowed" to make it personal, the examples started flowing.

I thought the test and the drawing assignments were going to be too hard for the youngest students and too easy for the older students. Using the same task for 6-year-olds all the way up to 12-year-olds? How realistic is that? Despite my hesitations, they were legitimate assessment methods for a wide variety of ages. Neither the test nor the drawing were "a walk in the park" for the older students. Grade 1s were able to complete the test with support and many did well. If I get permission from some of the students, I will post some of their illustrations.

Room for Improvement

The chart paper scenarios started out as an area for improvement, but with an alteration turned into a success.

I wish we had more time to read more children's literature to and with the students. My original plan was to have students choose a book and then write a short summary of the plot as well as an analysis of whether the message was to obey or defy authority. My students aren't keen writers and the project would have taken too long, but I am sad that they only got to hear those three picture books.

The video we showed of the young girl got some of my students a bit side-tracked. Because the video had English subtitles, I had to read to them because they couldn't read fast enough to understand. This was a barrier. Then, some students overgeneralized and thought Indian girls should always disobey their parents. I had hoped that "I listen to my parents because they are my parents" argument would be called into question with the video, but it wasn't immediately because the students had problems relating to the girl in the video. I worried it was a mistake to show it, until a wonderful girl in Grade 5 said that in her home country, she knew a girl who was 14 years old and married with a child. It was relevant; I just needed to help the students make the connections (and show more images of children from around the world more often).

The poster-making project is difficult to do as a whole class. We started it as a whole class, with choosing the template on Canva to use, but then interest waned. So, I called small groups of students to come and contribute, while the others played, borrowed books, or used loose parts. Some students were more eager than others to work on it. I am also not sure how I can evaluate this poster project because of the support I provided and the different levels of participation.

Future Next Steps

I know that we will continue to refer back to the lessons we learned in this study of authority. We'll be connecting our next unit - furniture - to this one by examining how furniture can communicate the message that the user has authority. Then we'll consider other messages that can be shared via furniture (like comfort, friendliness, wisdom, safety, home, etc) and expand our furniture vocabulary. I also hope that the students will learn how to stand up for themselves and others when authorities act in an unjust manner. I never want them to feel like "you can never say no to a teacher". Yet, I never want them to disrespect authority without just cause. I think they will remember something. After all, when it was announced that our superintendent would be visiting, our students realized and recognized that she is someone who has even more authority than our principal. They get it!

Monday, December 2, 2019

4 Learning Provocations

Picture credit = S. Singh

What is a "learning provocation"? If you aren't an educator, you might not be familiar with the term. Here are three definitions / explanations I've found online.

"Deliberate and thoughtful decisions made by the teacher to extend the ideas of the children. Teachers provide materials, media, and general direction as needed, but the children take the ideas where they want. This allows children to develop skills of creativity, inventiveness, and flexibility in thinking, planning, and reflecting."

"Provocations allow and encourage children to experience the world for themselves through open-ended activities without being overtly guided by a teacher or parent. The idea behind provocations is to encourage children to think independently by encouraging their interests and the exploration of those interests."

"Put simply, provocations provoke! They provoke thoughts, discussions, questions, interests, creativity and ideas.They can also expand on a thought, project, idea and interest. Provocations can come in many forms."

I've noticed that there have been a few "provocation inspirations" that I've used lately or plan to use soon. I want to thank the people (and creatures) who helped refine these provocations so that the students could learn in engaging, deep thinking, personally relevant ways.

1) Good Questions - The Critical Thinking Consortium

Several weeks ago, devoted and talented fellow teacher Brenda Kim and I attended a workshop run by Francine Schwartz and Stephanie Wong about developing richer questions. My brain hurt afterwards because, even though the idea was relatively simple, creating critical thinking questions wasn't easy! Brenda did a ton of work filling our planning template and I'm excited about our Grade 4 and Grade 5 combined Social Studies critical thinking questions and activities. I don't know when we will get a chance to share the results of our co-teaching, since board-offered professional learning is struck work during this phase of the work-to-rule action, but I wanted to thank Francine, Stephanie, Byron Stephenson and Andrea Sykes for initiating this project. I also enjoyed the opportunity to attend PD alongside a classroom teacher as a T/TL team, and learning about Jam Board was a bonus!

2) Real Scenarios - Twitter Crowd Sourcing

I've been working on my current unit about authority with my students all term. My original impulse to have each student or team read a book and identify the types of authority and message regarding authority wasn't going to work. However, I really wanted the students to examine the theme of authority in a personally authentic way. I hoped that they would be able to determine when to listen to authority and when to defy it. (I will write more about this topic in a future blog post.) I put out an appeal on Twitter and got several wonderful ideas for scenarios. Thank you to Dan Capozzi, Isaiah Zabinsky, Faith Rogow and Molly Dettmann for the great discussion prompts. We used every one of them and I'll share the results later on.

3) Stories - Inspire Innovate Include Learning Cadre

On November 12, I had a full day. I shopped with students at the GTA Resource Fair and then hurried back to north Scarborough to attend the #InspireInnovateInclude Learning Cadre after school at Henry Hudson Sr. P.S. - this event was part of a volunteer professional learning series that, as the name indicates, encourages educators to inspire, innovate, and include.

I was impressed (and slightly overwhelmed) by the large crowd, but was delighted to be in the presence of good friends and insightful educators. I was so happy to see people like Janis Jones, who used to be our school's learning coach. The facilitators made a great point about the importance of stories - both to teachers and to students. It reminded me that we need to make time for students to have the opportunity to tell their own stories, the way they want, and for these stories to be heard respectfully and without judgement.

Big thanks to the organization committee (see image to the left of the team members:Gail, Nizam, Navi, Gloria, Janis, Holly, Shirley, Abhi and Kate). Even though future gatherings will be postponed due to the work-to-rule action, I'm still thinking and digesting the lessons learned from the first session. I have a "move forward" idea and project and part of my "research" into it involves talking with teachers. Thank you Sonia Singh and Tina Voltsinis for sharing your observations of your students; it helps me determine how I can best Innovate to support Inclusion.

4) Ernie the Skinny Pig

One of the biggest (and most popular) learning provocations I've used lately is a "tried and true" trick - our school library pet. I've already mentioned how Ernie is the focus for Room K2's media project (a book). The primary division classes are also interested in using Ernie as inspiration for inquiry learning. I had some open periods in my schedule due to class trips and completed units, and so I was able to bring Ernie to Sonia Singh's Grade 1-2 class. Big thanks to Mrs. Singh for allowing me to come in! I brought him in on November 19 and the students were super-attentive. Some of the students asked me daily after this experience when Ernie would come back to their class to visit! Thank you Sonia for also teaching me a iPhone photography technique I didn't know existed.
We did a follow-up lesson on November 29 which dovetailed nicely with the end of Sonia's recent measurement unit. The Grade 2s and I talked about all the different things we could possibly measure related to Ernie. (It'll be hard to measure how warm he is with the tools we have!) Then, we estimated how long/wide/heavy/tall things would be and after that, we measured. I'm disappointed I couldn't locate a battery in time to replace the dead one in my fancy little gram scale - students were keen to discover how much Ernie weighs. What I really loved about our time together was how the students did all the documenting - including taking these photos.

Sonia and I are hoping that this may also connect with her upcoming letter-writing lessons - I'd like to compare the size of the cage recommended for guinea pigs with the size of the cages in pet stores. I suspect that they are not as large as they should be and maybe the students can write purposeful letters advocating for larger living quarters.

Once again, thank you to all the people (and animals) for helping to make our students' learning experiences interesting, independent, student-led, and flexible. I can't wait to see where we go from here!