We Need to Stop Pretending…#makeschooldifferent

Let’s stop pretending:

That children don’t know what they want and that they can’t be trusted.  Children are born to learn and do know what they want to learn about.  Why can’t we let them follow their passions?  Is it because we don’t trust them?  Do we think they will play video games or do something else we judge as not worthy.  I wonder if traditional school models create conditions that encourage poor behaviour because we are trying to control the behaviour of other human beings through “classroom management”.  Is it possible to be more democratic; can management of behaviour in schools be collaborative?    Democratic schools exist all over the world and they work.  Maybe we can learn from them.  For those who argue that democratic schools only work for the privileged read this.


That we need to group children by age into distinct classrooms with one adult.  Why?  Because it’s convenient and easier.  Why can’t we have a space where children can roam from place to place.  From the garden outside to the science lab to the maker space to the computer lab.  Why can’t we have cosy nooks for reading and day-dreaming.  There is so much possibility if we would only trust.


That we don’t need to have more interventions by true specialists for reading.  Are guided reading and short-term withdrawal really enough for students with learning disabilities?  Would it be possible to give them on-going, consistent, individualised interventions on a daily basis for years?  That can’t be done in a classroom or when a school with hundreds of children and only a few SERTS but can we change the ratio somehow?  See how Kenneth Gordon Maplewood school in North Vancouver works.  Why shouldn’t public school children have access to such effective interventions?

We need to stop pretending that we know what is important for students to learn.  Is content really that important?  Are problem-solving, critical-thinking, communicating and interacting positively with others are more important content knowledge?

That schools don’t play a role in creating bullying situations. Is there something about our wider culture and school cultures that set a stage for bullying situations and behaviour?  Is there something we can do about that within a school?  What is it?  Perhaps more study on these issues is warranted withing the school setting?


Most of all, we need to stop pretending that we can’t do all of this in public education.  Public education is important.  If we change the system will people stop opting out?  In order to do that we need to communicate how things can be different with others.  All citizens need to work together to make it work because it will be messy.  Change is messy.  Learning is messy.  Life is messy.  But life also has the potential to be wondrous.


I want my girls to continue to love learning every day their childhood years (and lives).  Let’s work together to change things so that our children continue to love learning.


I’d like to challenge @peterskillen  @brendasherry @tk1ng @mrswideen @acampell99 to share the five things they think we should stop pretending.

The Joy of Learning?


Image by Deines Fred, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Image by Deines Fred, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


The other day I was talking with my grade 8 class and the subject of motivation came up.  Someone said that they were motivated to get good marks so they wouldn’t get into trouble with their parents.  I felt a little sad hearing that.  We discussed motivation and grades and I didn’t hear anyone really say anything about being intrinsically motivated at school.

I get it.  I was rarely intrinsically motivated at school.  Nor was I extrinsically motivated by marks since I didn’t care too much most of the time.  Mostly, I was bored.    Not always.  Sometimes a good discussion would happen, or my teacher would tell a story of travel or something (like when my grade 5 teacher told us all about England and Scotland and Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge).

I find it difficult to keep my own experiences as a student separate from my role as teacher.  I try hard to find activities that deliver the curriculum and engage my students.  That is really hard with 29 students, many of whom who have little interest in math or English (the two subjects I teach).  There are always some who are disengaged.

I would love to try a democratic school system like Sudbury Valley.  I really wonder if it would work in the public system.  If students followed their passions and interests what would happen?

I read lots of other teacher’s blogs to learn from them and to become a better teacher.  I am very reflective of my practice.  I read TapintoTeenMinds by Kyle Pearce every day to help me with grade 8 math.  His ideas (and those of others like Dan Meyer, Mr. Orr and many more) are simply incredible.  I think it’s important to develop a deep understanding of the math concepts.  I wonder though, why is it important to learn math?  Does everyone have to?  I think it’s fun now, but I hated it in school.  Now that I’m intrinsically motivated I’m learning a lot and seeking out learning opportunities on my own.  I think students would be the same.  If they decide they want to learn algebra for some reason, they will.

I was reading Brian Aspinall’s post The Fixed Mindset of Student A & Student B and I was thinking how much I agree with many of his points, such as “Students who are afraid of – or driven by – marks won’t take risks because it’s not safe.”  I think this is true.  I also think that students who are afraid to look stupid in from of their peers won’t take risks.  Brian goes on to talking about employers and how they will want risk takers, communicators, and problem solvers.  I agree with that also.  But I wonder why we put so much emphasis on employers, 21st Century skills, etc.  What about the joy of learning?

I think marks and planning for careers take away the joy of learning.  We are born to learn.  We are born to love learning.  What happens to us?  Although I think schools are improving, and inquiry-driven planning helps, we are still trying to teach everyone the same thing.  We are trying to make the same material interesting to everyone.  I don’t think this is possible.  I think we can make it more interesting for sure, but we are all different.  We are driven by different passions and interests.

Could we have schools where students follow their interests?  Sudbury Valley schools manage it.  They have answers to all the arguments against them (and for teaching our students a little of everything).  If you are interested in the answers to questions about going to university or writing SATs, etc., check out their FAQ.

If I ran the school system, it would be like democratic schools.  Students would not be sorted by age.  They would be able to roam around the buildings and engage in activities they love.  Music, theater, math, reading, hiking, canoeing, drawing, painting, sculpting, coding, playing video games, biking, sports, astronomy, latin, the classics, playwriting, meditating, inventing, engineering, etc.

What do you think school should look like?

Just to prove I'm motivated about math now, here I am with my colleague, Carmen, who teaches grade 2.  We were doing Calculus (and we don't even really know what calculus is!)

Just to prove I’m motivated about math now, here I am with my colleague, Carmen, who teaches grade 2. We were doing Calculus (and we don’t even really know what calculus is!)

What Matters Most in Education?

Relationships matter most in education.    And in life.


I’ve been back from unplug’d 2012 for just about a week.  I’ve had some time to reflect on the experience, new relationships, old relationships, work & life.   And, it always comes back to relationships matter most.


What I hope will stay with me after unplug’d 2012 is the willingness to be vulnerable.  Vulnerability is something I really struggle with, as do many other people.  Just read some of Brene Brown’s research on vulnerability.   Even at unplug’d I struggled to open up.  I was afraid I wouldn’t measure up to my colleagues there, so many fantastic educators who have accomplished so much in their schools.  My fears of being judged seem to be always lurking below the surface, waiting to be proven right.  But I did it, I opened up.  I shared a piece of myself and of my past with my writing group.  Soon it will be shared with the world.  And it was good.    The theme of our group:


You are not alone.

Photo by Ben Hazzard

None of us are.  We are all connected to one another in so many ways.   If we only take the time to listen.  If we open our hearts to what others are saying and feeling.   The photo above is of our writing group.  I am so fortunate to have met and bonded with these people.  From left to right:  Alan, Karen, Me, Rod & Kelly.


So my focus this year will be developing strong, trusting relationships with my students and colleagues.  Nourishing my relationship with family and friends.  Unplugging more often so that I can really connect.


Yes pedagogy and technology are important.  But relationships are what really matter.


Photo by A. Forgrave

Math Camppp 2012

Last week I spent five days at Math Camppp.   Camppp is an acronym for:


Activities for


Professional Learning




This was my first Cammp.  It is organized by MathGains which is part of EduGains,  an  organization funded by the Ontario Ministry of Education.  There were 150 people at Camppp  And there is another camppp in August.  How awesome is that?


There are so many themes discussed and collaborated on here.  Fractions were the content area which was woven through all the themes.   I learned more about fractions, reaching identified children through differentiation, balanced assessment, three-part lesson planning (who knew how many applications there are!), education research in Ontario and much more.


Of particular interest was listening to the researchers and making connections between research & Ministry directives.   Researchers like Dr. Marion Small, Dr. Cathy Bruce, and Dr. Christine Suurtaam.  I also really enjoyed learning from teachers who have moved into coach or Ministry roles.   I am revisiting the idea of a Masters again and my mind is churning with ideas:  mathematics, neurology & education, inquiry-based learning….there are so many options.


I was also reminded of how Professional Development is best when it is interest driven (teacher’s interest, not DSBs), collaborative and classroom imbedded.  I am fortunate to be leading a Teacher Leadership Learning Programme this year.  My topic is mathematics  PD within the school.  With teachers co-planning, co-teaching, reflecting and modifying and developing solid three part lesson plans together.

Math Camppp had the right mix of plenary and breakout sessions with hands-on activities to take back to the classroom, deep reflection, questioning time and relaxation time.


Here are some photos of our breakout session work.






Always Thinking and Learning about Reading

The thing about teaching is I never leave it behind.  I’m continually thinking about how to improve my practice.  About how to make school more relevant even though I’m struggling up stream against a current of “system”.


I’m only four days into summer holidays and I’m planning away in my mind.  I’m thinking a lot about language arts because I’m teaching English to grades 3-6 students who are in the French Immersion Programme.  I have to catch them up in terms of reading and spelling and support their writing.  Particularly for the grade 3s who have to write EQAO in English even though they have never had any instruction in English – I’ll leave that rant for another day.


My dilemma is how do I make teaching reading relevant?  Writing seems a bit easier since I’m going to introduce blogging to my classes.  I have the summer to set it up.

I plan to use the Daily Five and Daily Cafe routines set out by The 2 Sisters, Gail Moser Bouchey and Joan Moser.  I really like their routines and methods for individual conferencing and guided reading.  I will try to find interesting texts to read.  I have a great classroom library – full of books I’ve been collecting over the years.  I’m hoping to set up the routines so the students can work independently on reading, writing and word work with choice as to what they read, what they write about and when they work on specific tasks.  The thing is, I won’t have that much time with them.  The grade 3s will only have 40 minutes per day.  OY.  So – how to make a language class meaningful and relevant and include critical thinking and technology (I won’t have much access to technology actually, although I’m working on a plan).


So I need some help with the critical thinking, word work, real world connections, technology integration, etc.


Suggestions are very, very welcome.  Thanks in advance.

Image is CC  http://www.flickr.com/photos/83955435@N00/7229079 courtesy of Old Shoe Woman

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Neo-Liberalism and Me.

“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”  Rosseau


I had a Twitter conversation this morning with a friend from grade 9.  A fellow passionate educator whom I reconnected with last summer while I was at the OTF Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century conference.

It started when I tweeted her to ask if she was going to the #ITSE2012 conference in San Diego.  She isn’t.  For some interesting reasons.  The conversation got to the school system and how the neo-liberal system we live in binds the hands of teachers who want to do “radical” things with their students.

I’m thinking that a lot of my discomfort with the system relates to the neo-liberal paradigm.  Considering that I studied Political Science for my undergraduate degree you would think I would have paid more attention to this idea.

I never really thought of myself as radical but I guess I am.  I do know that I never felt like I really fit in anywhere.  I never did find my niche in terms of my philosophy.  I don’t mean my educational philosophy, I mean my personal and political philosophy which I haven’t fully defined.

What does this mean?  It means that I think children should have autonomy.  That they can direct their own learning.  They can ask their own questions and follow up with research.  It means that they shouldn’t have to create a diorama, essay, blog, or anything else to prove it.  Assessment.  A waste of time.  We spend so much time and money on it but what is the point?   To prove that a student has learned some content?  To prove they know how to learn?

As I’ve written over on Urbanmoms.ca here and here, I want to unschool my children.  Some of my reasons revolve around the school system as I write about here.  My husband and I have not made that possible.  So far our choices revolve around my job.  Teaching in a neo-liberal system that I don’t think supports human learning and development.  I want my kids to have models who are mindful, empathetic, passionate about life and learning, naturalists, and free.

I believe in public education because I believe in equity.  But our system is not equitable.  Neo-liberalism does not foster equity.  I don’t think a paradigm shift is coming any time soon, so in the meantime I will learn as much as I can about inquiry learning in the classroom.

I need to think about this a lot more.  Good thing summer is coming.

Killing Us Softly – Standardized Tests are the Death of Authentic Learning

I think the tests are killing us.

Instead of EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) they should be called SCALL (Scrap Creativity and Love of Learning) or LMAOC (Let’s Make Automatons Out of  our Children).


I won’t even get into the cost of writing the tests, printing them, mailing them, hiring hundreds of teachers to mark them, putting said teachers up in hotels and feeding them…

What’s more important is how the test is used to rate schools, teachers, principals and boards.  And how that rating translates into teaching to the test.  How teaching to the test removes authenticity from learning.

Instead of learning from Finland and their system based on equity, we seem to look to the US – a system based on competition.  Equity seems to be working out better for everyone – so let’s learn from them.

Finland consistently score high on the OECD Pisa test – The US – not so much.   Canada has had a good showing but that may be a thing of the past as we continue to become more and more standardized test centric – at least it seems we are in Ontario.

There is no word for accountability in Finnish.  Interesting.

What really bothers me is what I see.  All teachers have to teach the same reading strategies at the same time.   The joy of reading is lost when analyzing strategies takes over.  See this report by People for Education, ironically it uses EQAO data to show that children’s enjoyment of reading has steadily decreased since the test was implemented.

Writing is so structured there is almost no room for creativity at all.  Every task has to be assessed over and over.  The fun is beaten out of writing.

Old EQAO tests are printed off and used as teaching materials.  It becomes the program.

It’s boring.  It’s not learning how to learn, it’s learning how to beat the test and make your school look good.  Most teachers hate it.  Not because they are afraid to be judged but because it hurts their students.  I’m doing my best to keep it interesting.

I recently heard about the Silkwood School in Australia (I heard about it from Andy at the Green School – awesome place).  Here is a quote from their philosophy of education:

Silkwood’s educational program is uniquely student-centred and developmental.  ‘Student-centred’ means we judge successful teaching by the students’ engagement; ‘developmental’ means the child’s journey from the magic of early childhood to the argumentative world of adolescence is supported by carefully prepared learning experiences tailored to respond to specific age groups.  Silkwood’s pedagogy combines spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical dimensions of learning, offering a truly integrative approach.

That’s what I’m talking about!  Wow.

This is what has to change.  Formal academic education needs to be richer and more dynamic to engage human intelligence.

Please tell me what is happening in your school.  Does the program revolve around the test?



I won’t let it get me down though.  As they say on Galaxy Quest:





Beyond Just Writing

I’ve been reflecting on student writing lately and how often it is the required method of assessing knowledge.  All teachers know that for students who struggle with writing (and they are many) writing will not allow them to demonstrate their mastery.

So why then is writing used as an assessment tool so often?  Other methods can be messy and time consuming.  Students need to know how to use certain technologies, understand different modes of communication.  Teachers are required to assess so much with so little time.

Here are some I’ve heard/thought of:

  • Spoken word poetry (This will be my next experiement)
  • Photo blogs
  • Presentations with Animoto, VoiceThread or other programs
  • Podcasts
  • Video and film
  • Dramatic presentations
  • 3D representations
  • Comics using Bitstrips
  • Musical presentations (imagine an opera about Medieval Times or the Theory of Relativity)

I’m sure there are many, many more ways to present information for reluctant writers.

I realize this is not in any way a new thought or idea but I still see writing as the main assessment tool used in most subjects.

I used video for a health task on drugs and alcohol.  It took a really, really long time but it was worth it.  The students had to use what they learned in class to produce a public service announcement.  They had to create a storyboard using Bitstrips and then write a script.  They had to shoot and edit their films.  Then they had to analyze them using what we had learned in media literacy.  It was a great project that all the students enjoyed.  There were groups that did make silly films but since part of our analysis was the effectiveness of the public service announcement, they recognized that their silliness made their project less effective.

What alternate summative tasks have you tried?  Was the road rocky or smooth?  Was it worth a rocky road?

#Kony2012 “The Medium is the Message”

I learned an important lesson from the Kony 2012 viral video.  I learned that I’m not always critical of information I get from Social Media.  If I’m not critical it’s likely that my students aren’t either.  So I used this lesson as a teachable moment for my grade 8s.

On the Friday before March break the students are antsy.  So instead of a math lesson, we had a media lesson.  A fun and engaging one.

I showed them the Kony video (about 1/4 had already viewed it).  Their reactions were what you would expect:  horror, outrage, a desire to help.  We had a discussion about the issue, what Kony was doing, what a bad guy he is.  Then I filled them in on what little I know of the issue, with an emphasis on how little I know and how unqualified I am to comment.  I showed them my blog post on Urban Moms.  We discussed how I shared the video before I read any of the other information out there.  I told them I regretted sharing it so fast.

We looked at the contradictory information out there and most of them decided that they would not buy the package from Invisible Children without some more research.  That was my goal.  To have them think critically before doing anything like sharing or spending money.

This is not a criticism of Invisible Children or the Stop Kony campaign.  It is about how my own personal reflections became a spring board for a discussion of media literacy and critical thinking.  I think Social Media is a fantastic way to spread messages, but that is only slactivism.  Sharing on Facebook is not activism as it is not “doing”.  We only bring about change by caring first and then doing something.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”  The Lorax