Category Archives: teacher training

A Terrific Opportunity!

I remember Doug telling me that one should praise locally and complain globally as a professional who blogs.  So welcome to a praise page!

If good PD looks like this.  Then…

My school division has embarked on a good path.  Today we got the first of 2.5 days of professional development which we will be receiving before Christmas.  They got together a group of teachers in grades 4-6 for a day about our divisions literacy objectives.  They set the big picture questions and gave us all kinds of background and then…They let us talk!  They had us share strategies and did model lessons, then they let us TALK.  It was affirming and stretching and terrific.

I feel like trying new things, I feel like sharing with my colleagues, I feel like I might already be doing a good job.  Not only that I feel like going to my next day of professional development.

This is not your bad pd Scott!  This is the real deal.  Whoopee!

P.S.  The session was prepared and presented by our very own local people based on good research and local data.  You know what – I’m relieved as well as excited because the session exceeded my admittedly  somewhat jaded outlook.

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New Starts

We’re back at school and it has been quite the ride.  It is something else to come off of leave into the ‘real world’.  I have a marvelous staff and I’m not saying that simply because this is public.  My principal is dealing with an unfinished renovation which shut down the main office, her office and the staff room and incomplete staffing.  In spite of it all, we had a great first day.  The kids came in all bright eyed and bushy tailed and the teachers all rested and confident.  We had a lovely day, inside and out.

This evening, I sat down to start a blog for my classroom.  I’ve told them about it in principle but they won’t be actively participating until all the kinks in the start up are worked out.   I’m hoping to start with teacher lead posts, then individual student scribe posts and by after December, I’m hoping to have them ready for their own sites.  I know it’s a slow start and I have a few blogging contacts who have been talking about being our pals but I need to get my feet under me first.  New school, new grade, new students, a whole new process.

What was I thinking?  It’s going to be great. 🙂

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Children’s literature as a genre

What’s a genre?  A category of literature distinct from other types by its distinctive characteristics.   Is children’s literature a genre?  Nodelman and Reimer look for the characteristics that might be considered common to most children’s literature to answer this question.  They find the following traits:

1)    a basic pattern – home/away/home  A character is unhappy with life at home, seeks another way and returns home with new wisdom.  This pattern and variations on it are common within children’s literature.

2)    concretizable description – the scenes and characters in children’s literature are describe through picture or words to form complete pictures in the readers’ mind of the scene and characters (I think all good literature does this but Nodelman and Perry indicate that this is done more deliberately in children’s lit).

3)     Characters – children and child-like characters are the protagonists  For years, I have used the age of the protagonist as a rough guide for the reading level of the story.  This is not a surprising trait.

4)    Opposites – children’s literature is in many ways didactic and stories are set up to highlight the opposing views and encourage the ‘better way’.

5)    Style and structure – Children’s literature is action oriented, the plots tend to be straightforward.  Language tends to be simplified for the reader, hopefully retaining some naturalness!  Repetition of events or phrases or words is common.

6)    Focalization – children’s literature is told from a child’s point of view.

7)    Optimism – children’s literature tends to be utopian.

I found it interesting to consider the prevalence of the home/away/home scenario in literature.  I hadn’t particularly thought about stories having this pattern.  Yet with variation, it fits many novels and stories.  My first thoughts were what a helpful thing to know as a writer and why didn’t anyone ever mention this to me before?

As I think about my plans for the coming school year – as a grade fourish teacher, I think that some of the ideas in “Pleasures of Children’s Literature” will be helpful to me.  I want to awaken students to the pattern and choices made in good stories.  I think knowledge of these patterns will improve their understanding of future stories, past stories and help them to become more interesting writers.  The question as always is which parts do I teach and when  and to whom, in what manner.  Knowing what I want to do and making it  real are two different things.

I want to be more like my son’s kindergarten teacher.  She sets up the classroom, teaches them the routine and then lets them go to it.  It is a wonder to behold – five year olds who just get to their work, no nagging, no instruction, just purposeful activity.  Very cool.

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A colonial brain trying to be post-colonial

I have been attending Congress 2007 and am trying to process some of what I have taken in there. I have attended quite a number of workshops but most of them have carried a similar thread about the importance of telling stories, hearing stories, writing stories and talking about stories, particularly our own stories through autobiography.

Laara Fitznor – a Cree woman and professor – told her family’s story and wove it together with the history of the First Nation’s people of Canada. She is a strong and intelligent woman. What she told rang in my memory for the next few days and I am trying to break through my cognitive dissonance and find a resting place. She talked a bit about where we are in the story that has been written between First Nation’s and Metis people of Canada and the rest of us. She talked about our being in a place where we can re-story to work as allies and open up spaces within society for the growth of Indigenous peoples and their contributions to society in Canada.

I want to be a part of the retelling, the re-storying. I am not sure what my role is but it has made me wonder about my reaction to the story of “Snow Tunnel Sisters“. Is my reaction to the story grown out of an inability to appreciate the nature of Metis storytelling? Is my ability to critique literature inhibited by my own identity as a colonially-educated white middle-class female? There are times when I am deeply aware of myelf as a person living on the land of a disposed people. This is one of those times. I definitely to take more time to think on this and find my story, particularly as it relates to my being a treaty person, that is, a party to the treaty which resulted in my being able to own land, become educated, have family, etc. here in Canada.

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Making connections

I have had a terrific time talking with teacher librarians and teacher librarian wannabes in my courses through the University of Alberta. It is a dynamic and excited bunch of people. I think they are typical of the people that I have seen in the teacher librarian community overall. Passionate about literacy and learning, free speech and good books and highly involved in their own professional development. We have an incredible network of teacher librarians and librarian technicians in Saskatchewan. In an era which has seen cuts to funding for libraries and teacher librarian services all over North America, they are staunch and tough group.

I went to a short course provided by an expert TL in the summer a couple of years ago for teachers assigned to be TLs interested in getting a better start. It was totally voluntary by everyone there – the woman leading it and the persons taking it. Keeping formally educated TLs in libraries has not always been the first priority of districts but the individuals who get into libraries don’t want that to be the case. This was clear in the courses at the U of A too. Some of the people had had random, unexpected assignments in libraries and there they were shelling out their own money to get the background they felt they needed. This seems almost universal with teacher librarians. It is one of the things that makes be want to get in there – self-motivated, inquiring minds.

I have had the incredible opportunity to meet and mingle with some of them twice in the last two years, at the Saskatchewan School Library Association conferences. I believe that these conferences have been some of the best professional development that I have been involved in. This forward thinking group had Doug come to speak about change and web 2.0 and schools. As a wannabe TL myself, I have listened to their discussions and their commitment to schools and kids. I have probably talked too much to. I can’t seem to help myself from having an opinion on everything and mentioning it. Partly my nature, partly the nature of being in ‘academia’ for a year. I’m supposed to have an opinion. (I learned at the end of my third year of university that the difference between an “A” paper and a “B” paper was having an opinion, who knew?)

It has been hard to be TL in the past few years. I think it strange that as pressure grows on schools to ‘produce’ that one of the key players that might be involved in that ‘production’ has been summarily axed in some districts and simply ignored in others.

For the record,

teachers are dedicated and committed persons

teaching is very demanding and an easy political target

teaching is not getting easier

teachers and teacher librarians don’t have enough time to do their jobs as well as they would like to

teacher librarians are passionate advocates for literacy, critical thinking and appropriate use of media and are an underused resource for schools and divisions as far as I can see

teacher librarians are a crucial piece of the literacy puzzle and can be powerful instructional resource people in schools

I hope I get to be one.

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Over-Underwhelmed – TLit – 2007

I have received some offline comments about this post and I’m stewing about them. I have thought about whether I should pull it but I’m going to try and make some adjustments to make myself more clearly understood. The adjustments will be in italics.

I had three days of conferencing this week. I can tell I have spent my year not working to a clock. As a student, I have been able to work my day around the rhythm of my children’s school day. I am a regimented sort so it hasn’t been very loose as schedules go. But it hasn’t been 9-5 daily. Three days inside from 8-4 or 8am-10pm and I am overwhelmed, mostly by the quantity of the information and interaction. I think I may now have a slight understanding of the autistic experience.

I was very pleased to meet some of my online colleagues – Donna, Kelly and Doug were the highlights of my three days. In talking with Kelly, I realized why the content of the three days was a little underwhelming. I have seen and heard this conversation here in the blogosphere. A conference is behind the wave. The question is behind the wave for whom? Behind the wave for the less than 10% of the teaching community online. The conferences were both still very much in front of the wave for most of the school and teaching community and on top of the wave for others. It’s good for F2F but it doesn’t teach you the latest and greatest and most practical. That’s what I’m here for. PD for me is changing, no it has changed. I’m not going to expect a conference to be the highlight of my year anymore.

One of my TL colleagues was overwhelmed by Donna’s overview of TL 2.0. She said, I do not want to spend an hour a day on the internet looking at blogs. I understand the response because she doesn’t know yet what she is missing and it does take time to get into the swing of things. This is a feeling I understand. I look ahead to when I’m back in the real swing of things and I wonder how I will balance the need to have things ready for tomorrow with the need to know the latest and greatest. I have blogged about this in a different vein in the past. How do we know which technologies, which tools to pour heart and soul and time into and which to let pass us by? Right now I’m missing the Second Life thing. Doug Noon has helped me to get a little perspective on this.

After awhile reading feeds and blogging doesn’t take much time and the time is so enjoyable and worthwhile it doesn’t seem to matter. But it takes time to get there and who in the field can manage it on top of the rest of what is being done when what is being done is also important. Ian Jakes talked about what he calls, TWWHADI (The way we have always done it) and it’s influence on culture overall and schools in particular and our need to change. After his presentation, I was talking to some TL colleagues and trying to convey some of the need to hang on to things from the past in schools, as portrayed by Neil Postman and summarized in this review (thanks again Doug N). She said something to the effect but were too stuck and that is exactly the push and pull. Not enough change, yet which changes. Doug Johnson mentioned some of these challenges in his presentation at the SSLA conference. In some ways what he said was captured for me in one of his observations about the difference between TLs and IT people – IT people say “Cool, I want one of those”, TLs say “What’s it good for and how will it benefit things?” I think we need both of those. Some teachers saying – “Cool” and jumping in and others saying, “For what?” and holding back. The question is where is the current balance in our schools?

No looking back  Note for readers:  I had a chance to chat with the TL who said, ‘Who has time?” and felt overwhelmed.  She has set up a start page and is reading some feeds.  She is excited about the potential AND she is planning to do some podcasting with her students.  Overwhelmed but not lacking in courage and perseverance wouldn’t you say!  I hope I can have the same response when I get back to the messy real world!

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Prisoners of Time

Time is a scarce commodity.  No one has enough.  We talk about how busy we are and how much there is to do.  How do we fit it all in?

In “Prisoners of Time“, A U. S. National Education Commision identified time as the missing component in the education system in the U.S. Lack of time affects student learning and the success of the system.  Within the opening pages of the document, a number of problems around the issue of time and the educational system are listed.

Problem 1 – Schools are controlled by the clock. Set start times, set finish times, set holidays and numbers of days.

Problem 2 – Classes are the same length regardless of content and student achievement or need.

Problem 3 – Standards for entrence into post-high insitutions are based on credit unit, which are determined mostly by the number of hours a student sat in a class regardless of the effectiveness of that time.

Problem 4 – Within the school day some time is lost from academic subjects to ‘non-academic’ subjects.

The opening of the document then spends a little time looking at some commonly held myths to do with school and time.

Myth 1 –  All students arrive at school ready to learning in the same way, on the same schedule in rhtyhm with each other.

Myth 2 –  Time spent for nonacademic purposes will not interfer with academic learning.

Myth 3 – If the school day and year worked in that past it will still work now.

Myth 4 –  Schools can be transformed without teachers having time to relearn and change to do new work in new ways.

Myth 5 –  World class academic performance can be achieved in a system that is failing students.

So is the report correct?  Are we prisoners of time, is the system failing and can things be changed within the confines of the current time-bound system?

It makes sense to me that learning takes time.  I see the benefit of this year of time given to me to pursue my Masters.  I have had the time to read, reflect and rethink the issues which are important to me in school and what I would like to accomplish.  It has given me the opportunity to try out ‘new literacies’ and see the benefits znd drawbacks associated with them.  It has allowed me to form connections with some of the educational community beyond the walls of my own school and into the global world.  It has given me a glimpse of the ‘ideal’ for which I would like to strive.

I have not been able to ‘flex’ my day as much as it would have been nice too.  I know that another colleague on leave has been able to work at home and relax her day, live not by the clock as we do at school.  I haven’t been able to do this because I have young children and it starts my day and my work neds to fit in the spaces between. It would be interesting to see life with that kind of ‘leisure’.  It reminds me of a paper I wrote on Bertand Russell and “In Praise of Idleness”.  Thoughtfulness requires time.  Do we give students time to be thoughtful?

It makes sense to me as well that students in some communities would benefit from longer or more flexible school days and years.  Students who rely on school food programs and run the streets during the summer, would do better to be in school or at least in adult supervised and loving situations for the summer months and off-hours.

Certainly in some schools in Saskatoon, there is flexibility being built into the kind of year and day that the schools offer.  High schools are experimenting with later start times which suit the body rythms of teenagers more accurately.  One of the schools has a quarter system and runs only two classes a term to suit students whose lives are busy with work or have difficulty committing to a whole term of school.  Flexibility which reminds me that not all students come to school ready at the same time for the same things in synch with one another.

One of my classmates was speculating about a school year which was divided into six week blocks where a topic was studied in a multidiscimplnary way for a short period of time.  I think this has excellent possibilities for increasing student cricital and creative thinking, maybe allowing for a ‘studio’ classroom instead of a lecture hall.

It seems obvious that students are not all the smae and ready for the same things at the same times.  I wonder how the classroom in the elementary setting might be adapted to suit students.  Partly, I believe that all classrooms between K-6 should look like the excellent kindergarten classroom.  This is where I am not sure I agree with the commission in its ‘academic’ and ‘nonacademic’ distinction.  I think there is a lack of understanding or appreciation of multiple intelligences implied in this distinction.  Are Art and Music – nonacademic subjects?  Is Phys.Ed. a nonacademic subject?  Are these things wastes of time?

Do we need to rethink the school year and day?  Probably.  Do we need to give teachers time to retrain and relearn and plan?  Absolutely.  Do we need to allow students and teachers time for reflection and deep thinking.  Definitely.  Do we need to discontinue nonacademic subjects?  NO.  We need to learn how to value and stimulate and connect with all kinds of thinking modes and communicating modes.  Something that web 2.0 allows for in incredible ways.  Teachers can lead the way – if only we had the time!

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