Saturday, December 19, 2009


Well you might find a few more posts from me because I have two weeks off!!!  I might finally do a few book reviews. 
There is nothing quite like the last week (a mix of heaven and hell) before the holidays as excitement mounts as both students and teachers have visions of holidays in their head and for teachers, lots of projects to get done before the holidays come.
I admit it- not much academic instruction occurred this week in my class.  For one thing we were trying to get those picture books completed.  I wish I had taken a good picture of one but you can see my class enjoying them with their grade one buddies.  They were lots of work but everyone was really satisfied with the result.  Considering that we really didn't really begin the whole project until last week they turned out really well. 

For those of you who are interested in the hows... After they wrote sequels to Penguin and the Cupcake, we looked at other picture books, studying plot line and illustration techniques.  They chose a favorite picture book to share with their buddies and then drafted their own stories and did storyboards of their pictures.   A couple of them did use their sequels to Penguin and the Cupcake but most wrote new stories.  After they had drafted, revised, did good copies and edited, they wrote them  or word processed them onto folded letter paper and illustrated them.  The covers were made from card, construction paper and wrapping paper.  I have made books with students for a very long time and it has to be one of my favorite projects (and hopefully, my students' as well)

Thursday was a busy day.  First we went to  see Robin Hood put on by Carousel Theatre at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island.  It was absolutely fantastic.  We all loved it.  It's on until January 2nd and it's a must see for toddlers to senior citizens.  I was a bit overtired as I had spent a few hours putting together gift bags for my class, and our grade one buddies (normally this project would have been done by students but we were running out of time).  They did complete them with a few complaints about why were the grade one's getting bells and not them.  After a period of art for my class and my teaching French to another class, we went to take our books to our buddies and to inform them that Santa had made an error and left a sack for them in our class.  Of course, they too  had found a sack with the wrong presents as well so that we had much merriment as gifts were exchanged.  All the grade ones were sporting their bell ribbon necklaces as were a few of my students.  Now, by the end of the day when we returned to our classroom, I was once again seriously thinking of retirement and told my students I didn't want to hear a sound for half an hour.

I went home and cleaned my house and turned my attention to my annual end of the term  Christmas eggnog party and again questioned my sanity. 

Friday all books were completed, the class had a period of music with our principal (he teaches music to all our students) to prepare for the Christmas assembly and we spent a period reading and commenting on each other's books and finally I let them prepare for their PARTY.  It was actually all cleaned up by noon and we even had the room ready for the new year by 1:00.  My homework board was redone by one student, another cleaned and reorganized my table (where most of the time is spent, not my desk...) etc.  and so forth. 

We went onto our Christmas assembly which was the usual fun.  Let's face it whatever the grade one's and two's do we will love it.  Now I actually got to leave early thanks to having my prep and a great resource teacher.  My class was in shock.  I haven't been away a minute all term.  Finally, having to prepare for a party for the staff they agreed semed an acceptable reason for me to desert them.  I must say the was a feeling of relief with visions of making eggnog dancing in my head as i drove out of the parking lot (note I am going in a day next week to prep for January). 

Being a classroom teacher is hard work (at least for me-it's not all book making)!  Even at the party yesterday a couple of my colleagues were talking about the feelings of inadequacy you feel when a student isn't happy or you are dealing with his or her anger.  And I teach at a school with generally happy kids and undemanding parents.  And then there are the joys of trying to teach grade six and seven curriculum.... but the holiday is here and although we may be behind in grade seven math, and I am getting a new student with learning disabilities who has been in India for a year and a half...  I do feel happy with my decision to be back in a classroom.  Special thanks to my wonderful colleagues who are dedicated to teaching and working with our students and each other and have made me feel so welcome.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Report Cards and Christmas...

I had forgotten how horrendous doing report cards can be.  Now at least this time I didn't accidentally step on my computer which happened a few years ago.  I forgot that I had left the computer on the bedroom floor and jumped out of bed which shattered the screen of my laptop.  Fortunately the technical geniuses at Simply Computing rescued my data and transferred it to my next computer.
It's been four and half years since I last did computers and now when I retire I will again be happy never to write them again.  I swear it's cut into three weekends as I first tried to figure out my learning outcomes, fought with the latest version of Silhouette which is not Mac friendly and gave up and did them in Word.  Last night the final straw was they wouldn't print.  Okay, I forgot to plug in my printer to my computer... See the state one ends up in...  Also one gets quite grumpy along the way...

But now they are almost all printed  and I can now start thinking seriously of Christmas.  I love Christmas at school but there is never enough time.  As I walked to my fitness class tonight I was plotting what I wanted to do or rather my class to do.  They have already been thrust into a short story contest writing sequels to Penguin and the Cupcake by Ashley Spires which I totally love.  Now I am thinking they could turn those into plays for their grade one buddies who will also be reading the book.  And of course they are producing their own picture books and then they can make the buddies Christmas crackers with little treats including Jooan's origami penguins.  We are challenging the Grade Seven class next door to bring 100 cans for the food drive.  My class only gets a Christmas party if they bring in those non-perishables.  They don't know it yet but they are doing a song at the Christmas assembly.  Fun fun fun... This is when I remember why I wanted to teach again... Christmas just isn't as much fun in a school board office!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thinking of Jan

It's hard to keep up with the blog.  Today I have to speak of  by the death of my good friend, Jan Wells. Jan, after living and working in England and Toronto, was a faculty associate at SFU, and then a teacher, mainly at McKechnie in Vancouver, and then a consultant for Sunrise and Primary Consultant for the whole school district until five years ago when positions were cut and she took a position at Simon Fraser University.  Shortly after that she was diagnosed with bone cancer.  She broke all odds and lived far longer and productively than anyone could imagine.  Her love of travel and writing and reading and working with children and their teachers, as well as artistic pursuits and gardening and enjoying the outdoors continued.  No one lived life more fully.  She died Monday peacefully of pneumonia. 

To quote a Vancouver teacher, "Jan was an amazing person and a wonderful mentor...and I am a better teacher because of her for so many reasons. She changed my vision forever, and I am forever grateful for that."

All her friends and those whose lives she touched feel a deep sense of loss yet a sense of deep privilege for having  had Jan in our lives.  Our hearts go out to her wonderful husband, Jerry; her beloved son, William; and to her sisters, brother and mom in England. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

War and Peace, digital story telling and not going to Philadelpia...

    Hmm... I haven't written for awhile.  My only excuse it has been busy and this weekend I attempted to begin the report card marathon.  Trying to manipulate the new Silhouette program with my Mac gave me a migraine headache.  My report cards will be being done in Word.
   At school we took the bus and Canada line downtown to the  beautiful downtown main branch of the Vancouver library system  a couple of weeks ago where we had a great time learning research skills and exploring the library and of course the food kiosks!  Some of my students had so many books I have no idea how they managed carrying them all.  They are all on work on  War and Peace newspapers so were stocking up.  You have to know that grade six and seven students love projects especially if they get to choose partners with whom to work.  Note these partnerships sometimes don't work out but the element of choice is very important to them.  I give the option to work alone or with one or two partners.  They just know the expectations increase if there are more people in your group.  This is the first such project I have let them to do this this year.  Fortunately I have done War and Peace newspaper  projects before, and work samples from previously classes really help them generate ideas as do wonderful picture books and other resources.

Last Tuesday at our Remembrance Day Assembly they performed the beautiful poem, Voices by Sonia Sones about 911 from 911: The Book of Help.   I love this poem and my students loved it as well.  Apparently one of the grade ones went home and told his mom about 911 so I guess it made an impact.  Magical things seem to sometimes happen to me and by chance a few years ago I met Sonya Sones at an International Reading Association conference so that I was able to tell her how much her poem had meant to my students and to me.

Another fun project has been doing digital story telling with Lisa through Moberly Arts Centre.  Film maker Lisa taught my students a bit about photography and story telling and them let them take pictures which are now posted on a the neat Canada Code site created by the National Film Board.  Part two was this Monday.  Groups learned how to create slide shows on a theme, using pictures, words and music.  These workshops are being held all over Canada as part of the Canada Code project  in collaboration with the Vancouver Olympic Committee.  For more information on projects and involvement check out Cultural School Olympiad activities.  This is part of my "if you can't beat 'em make the best of it" attitude.

It's been difficult working in teaching math lately.  I am also transitioning into new texts.  Our current grade seven one is only 15 years old and doesn't match the curriculum so soon I am hoping the have new ones.   I have to say I am getting so much smarter teaching grade seven science!  It's a learning journey for us all learning (and for me, relearning) about ecosystems-currently food chains and webs.  It's also pretty exciting finally having a real text book after the years when I had to  teach science without one! 

The grade sixes are staging a bake sale Friday to donate money to UNICEF.  I am missing going to the NCTE in Philadelphia (too far I decided for too short a time) but you can see there is never a dull moment in our  classroom.  Photos are by a couple of my students.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sometimes things just go well...

There are times than being a teacher is kind of wonderful. Wednesday, Our school did its own Olympic Torch Relay.  A group of us formed an Olympic committee to make the most of this event.  Now note, world, I did not vote for the Olympics.  Remember I lived in Montreal during the 1976 Olympics and only recently was that debt paid,  In fact, I boycotted the Olympics, not that anyone noticed, but I did enjoy the excitement in the city when it was on.  Whatever your opinions the Olympics is taking place and I figure one might as well make the most of it.  Olympic ideals are worthy and my class and I are learning lots.

Anyway our first "event" was to do a simulation of the torch relay complete with the lighting of the cauldron.  It seemed a great idea at the time but it didn't seem so wonderful on Monday when I realized that we had a flag to make, skits to prepare etc.  and very little time to do it.

My class has been studying the history of the Olympics so Monday and Tuesday they researched and wrote skits and practiced.  We made up our judging criteria and they performed them.  I have to say never have I seen my class so motivated and engaged.  And they did an excellent job.  We chose two groups to do the explanations of the Olympic Torch relay for our assembly.

Each division was to represent a province or territory and we chose Quebec and thanks to one of my students and a marvelous SEA the flag was great!  My other big last moment part was putting a slide show together about the torch relay.  Thank goodness for the official Olympic website! Did I really say that?

It was an amazing morning.  After our assembly with our own adopted Olympic athlete  present,  a torchbearer from each division passed the torch and then joining the relay so that all 12 children came into together as one of my students got to light the cauldron.  No real fire involved I assure you.

And to put the icing on the cake later that morning our junior boys won the city soccer tournament, the first time in the seven years our school has had grade six and seven that any team had won a city tournament trophy.

Now yesterday I think Halloween hit with them and fatigue with me but Wednesday was kind of a perfect morning.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What I have been reading lately

I am becoming a Monique Polak fan.  I just finished The Middle of Everywhere, a YA novel about a boy from Montreal who goes to spend a term with his dad who is teaching in a community in the far northern region of Quebec.  Needless to say it isn't an easy adjustment for Noah but this novel takes place during his eventful first week in George River.  Not having been to the Arctic I can't vouch for its authenticity but I think it gives a good picture, being realistic yet optimistic.  Also I like how Noah is able to forge a better relationship with his father and himself.

For the younger set (8-11)  there is a new book by Michelle Mulder entitled After Peaches.  Michelle has a knack for making social issues understandable for this age level without being "preachy".  In her last book she wrote about the children's peace movement in Columbia and in this one we learn about the life of a Mexican refugee family and about the situation of migrant workers.  Again I am curious what my class will think of this book.  Many of them have had parents who have actually worked in the fields when they emigrated to British Columbia.  Not easy work but Michelle focuses on how children find the positive and also how social change can occur with their help.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

On being back in the classroom...

Well it was a busy week!  I fielded many phone calls and e-mails about the LOMCIRA conference.  I had staffroom duty (okay, I confess people kept emptying the dishwasher for me), a VESTA meeting, parent teacher conferences (24 interviews), a field trip to Granville Island to the International Writers' Festival  with three classes to see Gordon Korman and Tim Wynne Jones, a couple of dinners out with friends, and finally the LOMCIRA conference yesterday.

It rained a fair amount this week but fortunately not at Granville Island.  The leaves are beautiful, fall lingers in Vancouver.  After a day at the conference I walked up to Main Street to pay a debt at Once Upon a Huckleberry.  It was pouring but there's nothing like a good long raincoat and an umbrella!  And yes, on the way back I managed to do a bit of Christmas shopping.  You have  to know that Main Street even gets written up in cruise ship magazines and the New York Times now as an "in" shopping place.  When we first moved here it was mainly known for junk shops and the Red Hot Video Store.  It really wasn't a place I wanted to linger.  Times change.

At the conference I asked the new primary consultant how she liked her job.  She said she loved it.  And I said, "I honestly can't remember ever saying that!"  Living in the land of office cubicles wasn't an easy fit for me. I missed the kids, my colleagues, my classroom.  Fortunately, I was always able to get out to schools when I needed to have a kid fix.

Being the later literacy consultant was a wonderful opportunity.  I loved many parts of it- reading the latest books, getting incredible  professional development, going to conferences without having to plan lessons for a week nor having to pay my own way or even the cost of an EOC, and of course, meeting incredible teachers and seeing the big picture in Vancouver and across the province.  Plus I didn't have to make lunch every day. I loved the opportunity to learn, but I honestly didn't love the job.

There have been so many times the last few weeks where I have felt like I was almost drowning, trying to get my head more often above the waterline.  Going back to a classroom after four years isn't easy-  teaching a grade six seven split all subjects except PE and Art isn't easy especially when there are new materials and curriculum and you don't have all your stuff "left behind at your last school".  I haven't taught science in years and never grade seven science, math, nor social studies.  And I  don't really know the school, even though the school was familiar to me, each school has slightly different procedures. 

My heart really goes out to those beginning teachers even more now.  And of course there is the matter of class composition with a range of abilities, needs etc.

Talk about feelings of inadequacy.  There have definitely been times I have had to wonder why I didn't more seriously look at the possibilities of retirement.

But bottom line at eight o-clock Thursday night even as I finished my interviews, I know that this is job that I love.  I love working with children.  I love widening their worlds.  I love all the opportunities to learn in so many ways and in so many areas.  I love the diversity in my school.  My students' parents come from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, Mexico, the Phillipines, Korea.  I can travel without even leaving the classroom.  My only student whose parents were born in Canada has a First Nations background.  I teach in a school with a dedicated staff and administrator.  No slackers here.  To me, now even more I am convinced there is no more important job than that of a teacher.  I also am convinced that one of the best things in life is to be able to find a job that you truly love to do.

Friday, October 16, 2009

True Confessions and Guilty Pleasures...

Okay!  It has finally happened.  I am reading Twilight.  I have resisted it for a couple of years.  I am not a vampire fan in the least but a friend decided I needed to be in the know and lent me a copy and then another friend told me she had read it and I had to read it.  And I have to say I am looking forward to curling up with the story .  You have to know that my tastes are rather eclectic.

As I look out the window into the rain I kind of imagine Edward and his family playing thunder ball in the far distance.  And poor Bella !  I mean-really having to move to that rainy Forks from sunny Phoenix.  I guess we know why they filmed the movies in Vancouver.

That Stephanie Meyers has a way of making those vampires awfully believable.

I like to share my reading with my class and I think they are finding this more interesting than me trying to explain Michael Ondaatje's Divisario.  For one thing, some of them have read the book and most of them have seen the movie unlike their teacher.  I guess that is next.

Just had a reading response discussion on myths and legends as one of my students is enthusiastically reading a collection of Greek myths and legends.  The vampire phenomenon is perhaps a modern desire for those explanation of why the world is the way it is.  We are drawn it seems to those stories of bigger worlds and supernatural powers.

Last year one of my teacher friends was concerned that her seventh graders were reading the series.  Apparently the next ones are a bit more racy than this one.  I said if you aren't comfortable with them reading it in class just tell them.  What they read at home is up to their parents' approval. 
Even now I guess I wouldn't say this is a great book you should read, but in my current situation I am happy to have them reading almost anything enthusiastically.  I can't see my boys being too enthralled with the romantic bits of the book so doubt that will be an issue.  One of my girls just read a biography of a wrestler but she wrote about it well and she's opening my eyes to another world which I guess is what literature discussion should be. 

Should Bella really be involved with Edward, or should she move far far away somewhere really crowded and sunny?  Is her fate sealed?
According to TV's Vampire Diaries, Stephanie Meyers got Vampires all wrong anyway.  Isn't that a cause for some research??? 

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More new books from Orca, and observations on boy readers etc. etc.

Right now I have a few more books to review.
The Mealworm Diaries by Anna Kerz (Orca) for students in grades four, five six. Jeremy is forced to move from Nova Scotia to Toronto after his father's death and make many adjustments including every a science partner who no one else wants in the class. This is a good book about understanding differences and the grief process but is fast paced and enjoyable as well. It was literally grabbed out of my hands on Friday.

Jacked by popular writer, Carrie Mac, is about Zane who decided to take a quick break from his boring job at a gas station only to be carjacked.  The carjacker turns out to be someone he knows who wants a ride from the valley into a Vancouver hospital.  Fast paced and full of surprises.  This is an Orca Soundings book which are a series of high interest low vocabulary novels aimed at teenagers.

I think part of the appeal of these books may be that the heroes don't always have picture perfect life an in Norah McClintock's novel Picture This, another in the Orca Soundings series, Ethan lives in a group home and has had brushes with the law but now is trying to get his life back together in a photography program but someone seems to want his camera very badly.  Again I found this suspenseful and interesting.

One of the great things about these books is that they often have B.C.  settings.  Whiteout by Becky Citra takes place in the Caribou.  A car accident causes Robin's cousin, April, to have to come from Vancouver to live with her, due to her mom's hospitalization.  Robin is thrilled but April has changed and they don't get along well at all and then they end  up stranded together in snowstorm.  This is in the Young Readers series which is aimed at the 8 to 11 year old crowd.

Orca Currents are aimed at reluctant readers in the middle school range and written at a grade 2 to 4.5 level.  Watch Me by Norah McClintock is one of these and I imagine this will be popular in my classroom.  As in most six/seven classrooms I have a wide range of reading levels and comprehension levels.  My students actually quite love books but some of the books they want to read are just not at their reading level so that it's great to find books that look like regular books and our aimed at their age level but written at an easier reading level.  Also with a class with 19 boys and 10 girls this is an excellent book as it deals with the consequences of impulsive behavior.  A frisbee accidently hits an old lady in the head and knocks her down.  Drew and Kaz take her purse when she falls and run.  Kaz ends up dealing with his guilt with some surprising repercussions and results.

One book I don't have in front of me and didn't even get a chance to read is good friend, Melanie Jackson's new one, another Orca Currents book, The Big Dip.  It arrived in my classroom and was gone.  This may partly be due to the setting which is my students' beloved PNE.  According to Sahil, it's full of suspense!

Much has been said about reluctant boy readers.  Long ago I went to a workshop with Paul Kropp who talked about what kind of books boys liked and needed.  I was happy to see that all my class novels at the time seemed to fit his criteria from The Sky is Falling to Call it Courage.  For instance, boys don't mind reading about female protagonists as long as there is action.  Boys want action but it's also important that we provide books that provide reflection as well.  In my experience I found boys like reading what their friends are reading and they like the opportunity to talk about what they are reading.  They like choice.  As teachers we need to stretch them as well.  As I continue reading Dormia to my class I sometimes worry it is a bit challenging, our vocabularies are getting stretched, but many of my students wrote that the thing they like best in class is when I read it to them.  Of course, having a visit from the author and his wife our first day of class together gave us all some great connections.

By the way, in a couple of weeks we are off to the Writers' Festival to see Gordon Korman! If you aren't able to see him there, Kidsbooks is hosting an evening with him as well.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I am feeling very behind. My excuse has to be the demands of being a regular classroom teacher again. Four years at the board full time and now back into reality. I am sure that some people can not believe that whole days go by in the classroom without me ever looking at my e-mail! I love teaching again but in case anyone hasn't noticed it's hard work with seldom a boring moment! Anyway I hope all are enjoying a lovely restful Thanksgiving weekend and yes, book reviews etc. will soon be coming your way.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

books based on primary and secondary research

Last night I was familiarizing myself with the grade seven social studies curriculum and reading about primary and secondary research and I thought what good examples the following books are of how writers may do this to create historical novels and how students can become familiar with primary research from autobiography.

I have read so many holocaust YA novels I have to admit I sometimes wonder if I can handle another one, but What World is Left by Monique Polak (Orca) I thought was excellent, one of the best. It also is a good example of how an author can use primary and secondary research.
The novelist made use of the memories of her mother who had been in Theresienstadt, the "model" concentration camp, as well as her own extensive research and imagination. This novel very much gives a sense of immediacy and also demonstrates that things just are not always black and white. Is Anneke's father a hero or a conspirator? How do you enable your family to survive in an impossible situation, what must you do and still be ethical?

In this vein, National Geographic has come out with an interesting series of the memories of real people in extraordinary circumstances. Alive in the Killing Fields is the real life story of the childhood of Kawuth Keat who with his family was captured by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Later he was able to escape and emigrate to the United States. This book came out of his telling his life story to a his World History teacher at night school, Martha E. Kendall, who co-authored this book.

Another book in this series is Lost Childhood by Annelex Hofstra Layson, who as young Dutch girl with her family was interned in a Japanese prison camp in Indonesia where they lived. This book was written after many years of not sharing her story with her husband or her own children due to the painfulness of her memories.

All these books show the resiliency of children I think and are an excellent source of understanding for our students. The books in the National Geographic series are aimed at students 12 and up. The books are realistic yet contain hope for a better world.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Nancy and Peter bring Dormia to Vancouver

It was a good day at school today. We didn't have to reorganize and I finally got my new class! But best of all, Peter and Nancy Kujawinski came to visit us. What a way to start a year! In Friday's post I told a bit about Dormia and invited you to visit the website. And then I told you I previewed the book with four classes and the kids really liked the story. Today we had a magical afternoon with co-author Peter and his wife musician, Nancy. Peter in his quiet way mesmerized the students. He is a born story teller showing them how one can use one's own life and experience to develop fantasy. Nancy played and sang the Dormia National Anthem (which you can find in the back of the book) and my class definitely wants me to buy her CD now. Both of them patiently signed autographs. There was a absolute fascination by both sets of sixty students who were there. We were all excited to hear that Peter and Jake have already written a sequel to Dormia and are at work on the third in the trilogy. Peter is on sabbatical from being a diplomat for a year so that they are traveling and he is writing as they await the birth of their first child. I had invited a couple of friends to attend the reading and they both have ordered books. It was also great having Moira, a teacher librarian consultant visit as well. I totally recommend this book to all and feel so privileged to meet Nancy and Peter and have them as our first guests!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Intermediate Reads

Well I didn't exactly meet my new class Friday as due to being seven students down in our projections we may have to reorganize which means losing a teacher and making classes bigger. We aren't moving our students to their new classes until we exactly what is happening. I did preview Dormia with enthusiastic grade sixes and sevens.

For awhile I have had a stack of intermediate novels for ages 9-13 to review so here goes...

Tabloidology (Orca) by Chris McMahon is about Marty who lives in a rather chaotic household but is a total perfectionist. He is the editor and writer of the school newspaper which no one reads. Trixie, is the daughter of rich parents who are never home. She is always playing pranks at school. The principal decides that Trixie should help Marty with his paper. Much to Marty's dismay everyone reads the articles Trixie writes, the problem is the articles are made up but then come true after they are written. Clever amusing book that could generate some good discussion.

Another Orca book is Bank Job by James Heneghan and Norma Charles. This book is about four children who live in a great foster home but the problem is that they are told that they don't have enough bathrooms. The foster parents can't afford to build another bathroom so that the children may have to live elsewhere. Nell comes up with the idea to rob banks to raise the money and surprise their foster parents. A rather far fetched premise perhaps (although based on a real story of teenage bank robbers) that has certainly has interesting results. Interesting characters and our students will enjoy the Vancouver area setting.

Leaving Fletchville by Rene Schmidt is another book about resourceful young people. I loved the characters in this book and I felt the setting was well done and used to move the story along. Schmidt is an elementary teacher and he knows kids well. Brandon, the main character is always in trouble and definitely marches to his own music. He befriends Leon, his neighbour in their apartment building and discovers Leon and his brother and sister's secret. As the author says in the beginning, we as teachers don't always really know the reality of the lives our students live. This definitely is shown in this novel. The one part I didn't find as convincing was the stereotypical bully in the story, but I still really liked this novel. I was interested in Fletchville which is a simulation that Schmidt has used for years to teach his students about money management etc.

Now for a little fantasy... The Solstice Cup by Rachel Dunstan Muller. Canadian twins return to Ireland where a run in with apparently fairies has damaged the relationship between Mackenzie and Breanne plus Breanne has a mysterious limp. This time they both journey into the Otherworld. I found this fantasy fast paced and Otherworld well drawn out.
Soccer Sabatage by Liam O'Donnell and Mike Deas is a graphic novel which may be popular with soccer and mystery fans. Devin's in Toronto with his sister Nadia's team for a big soccer championship. When their coach is mysteriously injured and Nadia has to fill in, Devin begins to play detective. I think that my students will enjoy this one.

Okay time for a break...

Friday, September 11, 2009


Well it's the first week and today I finally meet my new class today. I think I am still feeling a bit shell shocked. I haven't been in this state in 15 years since I began teaching a grade six at Moberly after seven years being an LAC teacher. This time as well I have been at the school board as a consultant for four years not in my own classroom. The idea of teaching grade seven math, science, social studies for the first time as well as grade six in a school with very little platooning is also a bit thought provoking. And to think a sensible person might have retired, sold her house, and moved somewhere exotic...
Oh well! I think I will feel better once I have real students in there or maybe I won't! And one day maybe my file cabinet will open, the computer table will be fixed,there will actually be computers, and I will finally be satisfied with my room arrangement! Otherwise all is well. Plus it's good to have to activate the brain cells in new ways (or so I tell myself).

But we are starting the school year off with a bit of a bang. One of the two authors of a new book, Dormia, Peter Kujawinski, contacted me this summer since he was going to be coming through Vancouver on a trip to Alaska. Since the trip was planned our first week back to school, it seemed a bit difficult to do much to help him coordinate school visits but I invited him to my school and put him in touch with our local children's bookstores though the lead time for them was too short as well for planning events.

I hadn't read or head of Dormia before but I checked out their website, read some reviews, and a week ago I read the book. I love some fantasy but can't say it's my favorite genre but I thoroughly enjoyed Dormia and was swept away in the adventure. I think kids will love it.
The characters are engaging and the premise unique. The "hero" of the story, Alfonso, lives in a small town in Minnesota, and he has a problem with sleep walking, but he doesn't know his unique powers until his long lost uncle appears, and they set off to the home his uncle and father left long ago, Dormia, a land hidden in the Ural Mountains, to save its last city. It's a quest in the best sense of the word. A quest that I think Peter is recreating somewhat on his current trip.

Peter, who is an American diplomat currently "stationed" in New York City (previously he has worked in Haiti and in Paris), wrote this book with his childhood friend, writer Jake Halpern. I can't tell you how excited I am to be meeting him and his wife, Nancy, a musician and teacher. I think this is going to be a very memorable event as well for four classes of Trudeau students on Monday.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Weeds and Other Stories-briefly reviewed

Weeds and Other Stories by Jacqueline Pearce is a good collection of stories about high school students set in the Lower Mainland. Each story is unique and touches a variety of themes. We visit the art gallery with a girl who has cancer. We watch another girl struggle to find herself again and find the strength not to go back to her boyfriend just to have a boyfriend. A work study in a bird sanctuary helps Shayleen find confidence. One boy deals with his own drug addiction after a friend dies, another is able to confront a gang who stole his leather jacket. Another boy finds what it means to be a team player. Each story is complete in itself but could provoke more writing as each story is only a beginning. Lots of opportunity for good discussions plus the immediacy of familiar settings.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Write to Learn Science

A couple of years ago I discovered the the National Science Teachers' Associations website
There you can find great resources and links. For instance they have lists of great picture books to teach science.

I wouldn't say Science is my strong point, but I value it. Once again after a lapse of many years it looks as if I will be teaching Science this year in the six/seven class. As I said in an earlier post I find myself reading professional materials differently as instead of thinking how I get these ideas to teachers I think how can I use them in my own classroom.

How to Write to Learn Science 2nd Edition is written by Bob Tierney (a now retired high school science teacher as well as a teacher and consultant with the National Writing Project) with a section on portfolio assessment by another science teacher involved with the Naitonal Writing Project, John Dorroh. By hitting the link you can even read the first chapter online free.

I have long been a believer in writing to learn and this easy to read book has great ideas and samples. I think one of the things I really want to focus on in science is having my students understand process and being able to think like a scientist. I like how in this book he advocates using a variety of writing assignments to help students build confidence and see science as relevant to their own lives. Many of his great ideas go across the curriculum.

I totally recommend this book to all science teachers grades seven to twelve! In high school, science teachers are of course unlike me science specialists and this book has so many good ideas on how to build writing with little pain into the curriculum.

I am actually feeling after reading this book, excited about the challenge ahead of me.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Leftovers and other teen reads...

There have been many good things about being the VSB's later literacy consultant but one bonus has been getting to justify reading young adult literature. And helping fuel my habit has been Orca Book Publishers, a Canadian company based in Victoria who publishes some great books for elementary and high school students. They have been kindly sending me their new books for several years, most of which I have been able to give away as prizes at various meetings and workshops, and I have to admit that I haven't read all the books but this summer I have been reading.

One I really enjoyed was Leftovers by award winning author, Heather Waldorf. Fifteen-year-old Sarah has a brush with the law and is sentenced to do community service hours at Camp Dog Gone Fun, a summer program for shelter dogs based on one of the 1000 islands near Kingston, Ontario. Cleverly and tastefully written, we gradually find out what secrets lie with Sarah and the other inhabitants of Camp Dog Gone Fun and how they are able to slowly heal.

Another book with an animal theme that I read this summer aimed at the high school crowd was Strays by Ron Koertge (Candlewick Press). Ted's parents have died who had a pet shop and seemed to care more for the pets than their son. He has no human friends but he has the ability to communicate and understand animals. The book describes his move into a foster home and how he slowly makes friends with humans. Well written and enjoyable.

Another Orca book is Inferno by Robin Stevenson. Inferno is literally about the hell that Dante (who has changed her name) feels she is in when she reluctantly moves with her parents from a city to a smaller suburban area. How things can get out of control is aptly shown in this novel.

When I went to the International Reading Association conference in Minneapolis I hear Jaime Adoff speak and decided to purchase this book. Jamie spoke as part of a session on Adolescent Literature: What Teachers and Students Need and Want. Jaime himself is interesting. He spent about ten years trying to be a rock musician before he found a career in writing. Son of beloved children's poet, Arnold Adoff, and esteemed children's writer, Virginia Hamilton, it probably isn't that surprising that he settled into being a writer.

In his talk to the conference, he described how important he thought it that kids could see characters like themselves in novels, kids who don't live middle class lives and have serious problems. Jimi and Me describes the sadness of a boy and his mother after his dad dies and they are forced financially to move to a small town in upstate New York where his dad grew up, in one of the few black families. Like his dad, a record producer, Keith workshops Jimi Hendrix, and Keith dresses the part, standing out in his new high school. When it comes out that his dad had another family including a son named Jimi, Keith has a great deal with which to come to terms.

Monday, August 31, 2009

In The Reading Zone

I am back-I think I gave myself a holiday from blogging but I was inspired yesterday afternoon.

I am sitting in my backyard and realizing that my wireless connection doesn’t reach out here! So I am offline. I have spent the last while reading The Reading Zone by Nancy Atwell. It’s interesting how you do read texts differently at different times. I have skimmed this book a couple of times, looking for specific points. Often in prepping workshops or planning lessons or units I grab for books rather than reading them cover-to-cover. There have been an awful lot of professional books that have gone through my hands the last five years. And I admit I haven’t always read them all cover to cover.

This time as I picked up The Reading Zone, I found my purposes and thoughts different as I contemplate a new year in a new school with a class of sixth and seventh graders after not having a class of my own for four years.

I think about what I want to do differently and what I want to improve.

I also enjoy reading Nancy Atwell, as she is someone whose thinking you can see evolves.

Right now I am reading about response journals. Heavily influenced by Nancy Atwell’s In the Middle I began using reading response logs long ago and not just with my students at elementary school but also university students. My path hasn’t always been smooth. In this book, she talks a great deal about getting students to be in the “reading zone”. She discusses how dogmatic teaching of reading strategies can actually prevent students being in the zone. She also looks at having her seventh and eighth grade students do letter essays every three weeks on books that they have finished reading. And she shows one she has modeled for her students. Right away, I think how I don’t think I ever modeled my own responses for my students-I gave them formats and examples of other students but never actually did my own about my reading. Food for thought right there.

There is so much to say about this book I am in danger of going beyond my usually fairly short blogs. I love what she says about boys. “Give boys stories and main characters that grip them, and they will read books with passion.” “When boys and girls choose their own books, when teachers make it our business to put the right story into every reader’s hand, and when we create quiet, comfortable spaces in kids’ lives for them to enjoy books on a regular and predictable bias, then every student can enter the reading zone, and no one ever thinks in terms of testosterone or neuron density.” This totally mirrors my experience.

I must note that Atwell is a big proponent of an extensive classroom library. And I know this can be a sore point for some who would say we have great school libraries and wonder where is their money for class libraries. In Vancouver, we are fortunate to have great teacher librarians and good central collections. I think though that accessibility is key. Students need to be able to have enough books at the right level. What happens when school libraries are only open three days a week for instance? I know some schools have collection of home reading books that can be circulated. Also buying whole class novels can be great but not always the best way to invest money. I digress.

The last chapter on High School is really interesting. She describes an experience I have had when vociferous readers seem to have stopped reading in high school. At a rather academic school I once was in a few years ago, a school goal was that every student would read three books independently in the course of the year. That was shocking to me as my best readers were reading a book a week in sixth grade.
In this chapter she makes a plea to high school English teachers She describes a student who read over 200 titles in grade seventh and eighth grade and had no time to enjoy books due to demands of the English curriculum in high school. Atwell has some great suggestions for high school teachers.
I think I will put this book to use this year. There are things I know I want to do differently due to what I have learned in the last few years. This is the kind of book I will probably need to go back to as I feel my way again in a real class with real students on a daily basis.

Monday, August 10, 2009

At the movies-Julie & Julia

Tonight I went to see Julie & Julia. What a perfect way to spend a rainy evening! For anyone who doesn't know this is based on the true stories of Julia Child and how she came to write The Art of Mastering French Cooking, and of Julie Powell, who decided to cook all the recipes from that cookbook in one year in her small kitchen in Queens after she got home from work, and blog about it
Now not sure if this has much to do with later literacy but the movie does concern someone blogging and that alone is kind of interesting since blogging seems to have become a popular past time for many, giving a whole new audience for writers.
I, of course, could relate to Julie's moans wondering if anyone other than her mother was reading her blog! I haven't read the book but I have read Julie Powell's recent blogs and just now I checked out the original Julia Julia Project.
Julia Child was of course a phenomenon. I remember as a child watching her on TV, not that I was too inspired to do much experimenting in French cooking (well I used to make souffles). I missed a chance to see her in person in Vermont just before she moved from the East Coast to California a few years ago.
Long ago I was a Norah Ephron (who wrote the screenplay) fan when she wrote a column in Esquire magazine, and after Heartburn, based on her own divorce was made into a movie with Meryl Streep, she become a popular screen writer of such movies as Sleepless in Seattle.
Fun movie. I liked the pearls especially.


Well we are back to our somewhat normal weather-rain. And since believe it or not I am still cleaning out my office, that's okay. I am a terrible packer and a good unpacker (at least I am good at one). As I pack I tend to-you guessed it-read! Anyway just wanted to show I was still amongst the living. And here's a picture from Cathedral Grove near Port Alberni for you!

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Having moved to the tropics without having moved I still feel guilty about my neglected blog. Now of course I actually spent several days on Vancouver Island without my trusty computer and my main goal the last few days has been staying cool. Yesterday we beat all records for heat-33.8 degrees centigrade in Vancouver. Now if you were in Port Alberni where I was last week it was over 40 degrees yesterday. Too strange. Heaven yesterday was being in the Mount Pleasant pool and in Oakridge movie theatre. I think lots of people were spending quality time anywhere that was air conditioned. So strange that much of the year we complain about a lack of sun and now we are suffering from too much! Too lazy to slog down to Kits Point to see the fireworks a friend and I watched from her rooftop deck overlooking Douglas Park and were almost cool. I resorted to buying another fan yesterday partly because Kerrisdale London Drugs actually had some. Normally I never need even one fan on my main floor. Today seems better but that may be because I am sitting here in a damp bathing suit. Hope you are finding your own cool solutions! I am enclosing a cool picture from Salt Spring. Stay tuned for the West Coast of Vancouver Island...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Way Behind

Yes, I will post again-it's just too busy not working! This is the deck where I stayed at Salt Spring. Off to Vancouver Island today after being a Vancouver tour guide!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

New Teachers and not so new teachers

Just found a wonderful resource-100 Helpful Websites for New Teachers
As I take a closer look, there are great resources for not so new teachers as well. Thanks again to Choice Literacy for this great resource! Now just for fun, I think I will include another lovely picture from the mountains! Hmmm... a picture like this could be a good image for the value of reflection, don't you think?

Summer at last

Well I have had a respite from the temptations of blogging. The first week of the holiday wasn't quite a holiday as I did a high school literacy institute Thursday and Friday morning with a small but enthusiastic group of people. Needless to say I was doing some prepping Monday and Tuesday. Now my office (of course not yet all packed) really is a mess!
Saturday morning bright and early a friend and I hit the road. Our first night was in Revelstoke then three nights at Panorama, a ski resort situation well above the Columbia Wetlands and near all those famous spas on the eastern side of the Rockies. Then we were off through Kootenay National Park to Banff. After a night there we meandered with a side trip to Canmore to Lake Louise via a scenic route complete with a sighting of a grizzly bear. Our last night away we were in Golden and then we journeyed through the Okanagan hitting a few wineries and now I am home. So much gorgeous scenery! I have a zillion pictures although my camera decided to stay at Quail's Gate Winery and is journeying home via Canada Post!
This has been my longest western road trip for a long while and I really enjoyed it despite some run ins with the weather! It's also been a week without any academic reading! I did read a few non-serious books along the way.
I hope you have all been able to do some relaxing as well!
I am planning a much shorter road trip to Salt Spring Island Wednesday for a few days so stay tuned for a book review soon!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The joys of summer and my dvd watching

Well the school year is over and I must admit I felt somewhat lighter yesterday as I left the VSB, not that I have quite left yet. There is still more sorting and packing and a high school summer institute Thursday and Friday, but somehow my time now is my own and my time at the education centre is coming to a close and all the responsibilities. And next Saturday morning I will be on a road trip to the Rockies.
DVD watching was what I was doing Thursday evening and Friday morning. Jodi had ordered two new dvds from Choice Literacy, Intermediate Daily Five and Intermediate Cafe. Having introduced the Daily Five in quite a few intermediate classrooms this year it was really interesting to see this dvd. What did they do that was similar and what was different? One difference was the idea of having goals from the cafe menu. Now having used R5 with intermediate students one can see some overlap there with the cafe menu.
Many teachers tell me that it is so much easier to understand when they actually see what they have read when they are able to see what something looks like and these dvd's really do that. I am just reading the Cafe book so that it was especially helpful to see the dvd. There are clips in both dvds from grade four and six classrooms and it's interesting to see the sisters' adjustments.We now have quite an extensive dvd library for teachers to borrow plus you can watch clips on the choice literacy website. I have given you that link. I am already setting up my new classroom in my mind and thinking of how I may want to incorporate the Cafe "menu".
Instead of trying to do a wide angle focus on the whole district it's interesting to think of how I will be mainly be focused on one classroom next year.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Graphic novels etc.

Yesterday, we had our final high school literacy coordinators' meeting. Due to last minute staff meetings etc. some people had to cancel but we still had a good number of high school teachers (and one administrator) out at Thompson for this meeting. Many thanks to Celia Brownrigg who presented on Graphic Novels. I think we all learned lots. Also Pam Hansen, our high school literacy mentor, led us through an interesting discussion inspired by an article on how different subject area teachers read different disciplines by Cynthia and Tim Shanahan in The Harvard Educational Review. She was aided in this by our new other high school mentor, Jacob Martens, who is a high school science teacher. Due to the loss of my position we decided one way we could cope was to have another mentor take on high school so it is exciting to have someone with a content area background!

As promised here are a couple of great links I discovered yesterday. One is great ning with all sorts of topics of interest for English teachers thanks to NCTE. You can discuss a poem a week, join a Readicide book club etc. It's great. Another useful site is Classroom 2.0 where you can really become tech savvy and there are sorts of teacher friendly resources.

For those of you who would like to access Celia's powerpoint on Comic Novels you can just go to my wiki where I have posted it and other related materials to her presentation. I also have a link to the Shanahan and Shanahan article.

My four years attempting to "understand high school again" have been fascinating. My grand finale will be a high school literacy summer institute where I will attempt to boil everything I have learned down to a day and a half-hmmm...

P.S. I just found a unit on Persepolis in Read Write lesson plans for you.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Notebook Connections-recommended summer reading...

I am reading Notebook Connections by Aimee Buckner currently. A couple of years ago, she wrote Notebook Knowhow describing how she used writing notebooks with her students. There was a buzz about this book in our office and I began a popular book club at the board where various teachers shared how they were using her book to create notebooks with their students in their classrooms. We found out the best "deals" for hard covered notebooks and they have become part of many classrooms in Vancouver and many schools have had their own Notebook Knowhow book clubs.
Her latest book is about how to use reading notebooks as a tool for students to think more deeply about their reading. For years my students had Reading Response Journals where they wrote about the books they were reading and they used these journals as a basis for discussion in their literature circles. I had a fairly successful formula for their format and use, but like everything else there definitely was room for improvement. I, personally, like how Aimee Buckner questions her practice. Reading her books is like having a conversation. You think, "yes, I thought that as well". I think as well her books are aimed at teachers who already are doing writing workshops or reading workshops but want to sharpen their practice. Rather than following necessarily step by step, these books provide a place to turn for practical suggestions and ideas, to hone our craft as teachers.
I am asked how I feel about teaching again after not having my own classroom for four years. It feels a bit like where I was 15 years ago when I started teaching grade six after seven years of being a LAC teacher. I know it will be a bit of an adjustment but again the opportunity of being able to try things out day by day is exciting. And the opportunity to really read and discuss and observe and think about practice for four years has really been a gift. I started teaching in 1973 and to still want to teach in 2009 is really wonderful. I am sure it has helped to change positions along the way and to have had a couple of short breaks plus summer holidays! But I think one reason is being able to connect to authors like Aimee Buckner.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I school anyone?

Well in my blog prowling I found a very interesting video put together by a seventeen year old who now has his own website. Will this inspire me to buy an i-phone??? I sometimes think it's ironic in that I always write about books and my friend, Moira, who is our teacher-librarian consultant is the technology queen bringing me up to date with all the latest digital devices, but I guess our teacher/librarians are our media specialists. Anyway this video is fascinating. See what you think. Someday I will figure out how to embed video into my blog...

Someday I will be efficient...

Just wanted to know that $500 later my computer is back plus all the data! Now I am still contemplating a new computer but I am quite excited to have my old friend back.
I took a break from packing and organizing to spend some time with a favorite grade five class at Queen Elizabeth. I read them a new (to me) wonderful picture book, Someday, by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Rosie Winstead. The book describes what the girl would like to be doing someday and then it brings her back to the reality of what she is doing today.
For instance, someday she would like to be an oceanographer swimming with dolphins but right now she has to be contented with looking at her uncommunicative gold fish in a bowl. She would like to dine with the president but is stuck with her little brother who is rather lacking in table manners. The detail of her dreams of the future are great as is the contrast to the future but the book comes to a lovely end proving there are good things today. I read this book and that other favorite, When Dinosaurs Came with Everything, and then let the kids write whatever they wanted. I wrote along with them after I told them how I used to fantasize about my Academy Award (I am still waiting). They did a great job. One young lady is just such a natural rhymer it's unbelievable. Other children were able to quickly pick up the idea and do great connections between someday and today, much better than my attempts! Ah... the sweet power of teaching when students reach beyond your wildest expectations.
Okay, here is one of the young writers' work.

"Someday I will sky-dive off the CN tower with my pink superman costume and when I land all the CBC news people will ask me how it felt to fly like Superman.

Today I'm jumping off my picnic table with my piggy pyjamas on and my teddy bear named Sprinkle.

Someday I will be the first kid to fly to the moon and eat it. Mmmm... all that yummy cheese melting in my mouth. Then an alien would come up to me and ask how it tastes. I would say it tastes wonderful!

Today I'm in my summer dress eating cold cheese out of the fridge with my dog Buddy begging for some.

Someday I will jump off a 50m high jumping board in the deep blue sea with goldfish at the surface trying to nip my little toes.

Today I'm trying to jump off a 2cm jumping board with my arm floaties with picture of tiny fish."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What I am reading-The Cafe Book

Well since I am not quite as attached to my computer as usual, I probably am reading more professional books. I feel very smart that I pressured our reading councils to bring The Sisters to Vancouver several years ago when they were just beginning to be famous. I have had lots of fun this year bringing the Daily Five (or three or four) to quite a few classrooms from grade one to seven very succesfully, and finally their new book, The Cafe Book is out. I began reading it and as I contemplate my return to the classroom, I am trying to visualize if I could set up life this way. I really like the acronym, Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expanding Vocabulary which sum up what our students do need to be taught and to practice. Anyway I guess I will have a chance to find out. And speaking of Joan and Gail, Choice Literacy has clips of their new dvd of Joan and Gail working with intermediate students on the Daily Five so have a look. We are planning to order that dvd for the office so our teachers will be able to borrow it. If you don't subscribe to Choice Literacy's newsletter I totally suggest doing so. So much good stuff I constantly discover there.


Tragedy has hit. My computer's hard drive failed due to a fall it received a month ago! I am currently using our learning services laptop which just isn't as friendly as my trusty four year old Mac. This has definitely cut down on my at home computer use which probably is a good thing. As many of you know (well the two or three people who do read this) my time at the school board is coming to a close and I will be back teaching full time in a grade six/seven classroom in September. Yesterday late afternoon and early evening was spent going through my desk files and I have another whole filing cabinet to purge and sort. Did I have an impact, did I do a good job? Hard to say but I sure accumulated many files. That leads me back to my computer and the jury is still out whether any material will be retrieved. It's amazing how much baggage we now pack into a small machine-try over 3000 pictures...
The pictures-I am only about a year and a half behind pulling my favorite pictures into an old fashioned album but you know my favorites are firmly planted in my head and there are many more pictures to take.
Of course, you should back up files and documents but sometimes that leads back to the question of what is important and what do we really need. And I can tell you that there are going to be many files purged in my school board computer as well. Clutter just accumuates in many places and forms!
So my packing (well sorting then hopefully packing) will continue on trying to establish what is important to take with me and what I will actually use.
I found three letters written to me at the end of grade seven by former students. I am keeping them. They gave me a boost as I sorted through information about diplomas that never happened, old district plans, and many things that took so much energy. Teaching is what matters, what's really important. And what I really need next year has been honed by all the wonderful reading, professional development, conversations, and the opportunities to play in other people's classrooms which has given so much richness to my life as a consultant (or rather learner).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How to Steal a Dog

Yesterday, I noted to a few teacher librarians that this week first I read a novel entitled How to Steal a Car (see earlier entry) and then one entitled How to Steal a Dog. How to Steal a Dog ,an award winning book by Barbara O'Connor, is a great novel for intermediate students about a girl, Georgina, whose dad has walked out on the family so that her mom and Georgina and her younger brother, Toby are forced to move out of their apartment into their car, something they don't want anyone to know. Mom is working two jobs, trying to get enough money for a deposit for a new place. Needless to say this is rough on Georgina and Toby. She sees a flyer advertising a $500 reward for finding a lost dog. That dog has been found but this gives her the idea to find a dog belonging to someone who appears to have money and then "find" the dog and get the reward which will enable her family to have a decent place to live again. Careful planning is involved and executed but needless a few things go wrong then right. I think this would be a great real aloud for fourth and fifth graders as there is so much potential for discussion. I know the idea that children their age in many countries have to work to help to support their families was a bit of a revelation to the students with whom I worked at Cavell. This book enables students to enter the world of a child who is just like them but due to circumstances ends up in a difficult situation. A perfect book for developing empathy and understanding.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Warrier Boyz

I am playing catch up. Last week at the VSB there was another film screening. This time it was Warrier Boyz
Several years ago, I met Baljit Sangra, the film maker whose cousin, Harjinder Sangra, happens to be a Vancouver teacher and a good friend of mine. Bal had just started work on the project and I was fascinated. For eleven years, I taught at Moberly Elementary. While there, there were several gang related deaths which deeply touched my students. One murder happened a couple of blocks from the school and involved the uncle of several students. The infamous Bindy Johal was another student's cousin. My students knew people in gangs and I worried that some of my students too would be recruited. I wanted to understand what was going on.
This film is excellent as it focuses on three young men, one who was once a gang member and left , another high school student who has been expelled from one school and is now at Princess Margaret in Surrey and trying to get on a straighter path, and the final student, also a Princess Margaret student, who still seems in deep danger. One of the positive points of the film is the portrait of a vice-principal who really cares and makes a difference.
Last week there was a screening and discussion at Moberly with students and parents. Screenings have occurred at Windermere and in several other schools in the Lower Mainland. If you haven't seen it I totally recommend it. It will be on Knowledge network tonight at 10:00. It's also available through VSB's media services.

Mr. H and his Unruly Puppets

I am running out of time in my consultant position and just like it used to be at the end of the classroom year I seem to get energized as the end is coming. I decided long ago not to go into journalism because I didn't like writing under pressure. Later I realized I only wrote under pressure. It must be the adrenaline rush of knowing the end is near.
But thanks to the help of Denise Johnson we managed to have a screening at the VSB of this wonderful film and as a bonus we had the star and the film maker there as well.
I only worked with Bob for a year but I was amazed just by his classroom which was incredible as well as what he did with his first grade students. He led them through a kind of Odyssey out of which came sheer delight and wonderful learning. A classical scholar, he brought this passion to the classroom as well as his love of poetry which many of us have been able to savour through his wonderful children's books. He also happens to be just a lovely person.
I missed the initial screening but was invited to another for UBC student teachers, and as Bob said himself we don't often have documentation of teaching. Thanks to filmmaker and VSB teacher, Annie O'Donaghue, we have this wonderful view into Bob's classroom and get to feel the magic, focusing in on the use of the puppets who teach the children so much about life as well as learning. Soon it will be available through the VSB media services. We can't all be Bob but we can all benefit from the message that we need to find our own passion and joy in our own classrooms and take our own risks. Don't miss seeing it!

Monday, June 1, 2009

How to Steal a Car

What doI like best to read in the children's lit realm? Ever since (well obviously before) I started teaching I have been drawn to two types of books, a perhaps strange combination, picture books and Young Adult literature. This probably demonstrates an unwillingness to grow up, but I always liked picture books (this may also account for my weakness for magazines with good pictures-in another life I will be a photo stylist) and I read The Outsiders when it first came out(which was a long long time ago-I was a teenager) which may have begun my weakness for those realistic YA books. I just read a children's novel and as enjoyable as it was I am still frozen somewhat in adolescence. Getting to work in primary classrooms this year has really fed the picture book habit and the best part of working with high school teachers may have been the feeling I need to be up on YA lit.
As you may have guessed, my latest read has been an advance copy of How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman (winner of the National Book Award for his novel, Godless)which is set in an upper middle class suburb of Minneapolis. Having recently been to Minneapolis where I acquired the book for free at the International Reading Association convention, I was able to have a sharper sense of the setting of course. When I picked up this book I thought it would probably be about some underprivileged delinquent boy but instead it is about a rather privileged teenage girl who although she doesn't yet have a driver's license has an ability to steal cars. An interesting book as we begin to peel away the layers of why she is stealing cars. I think I would love the opportunity to discuss this book with some teenagers. I kind of love the humour and descriptions of this book. I also like the surprises which when closely examined perhaps aren't that surprising. It's due out in early fall. I think I am planning to read more of his novels.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Literacy Celebration

This was the week of our Literacy Celebration. There were a few confusions along the way but all went smoothly at the event itself. There was a wide variety of projects. We have action research celebrations for several years for schools which were beyond their first few years of the project. Several years ago, we noticed one school Roberts Annex had a professional book club. We encouraged other schools to do this and now their are study groups and book clubs at many schools. What we really noticed at this celebration was evidence of teachers going deeper, really exploring their own learning and working in a team with their staff members. We saw teachers really looking at their practice and really looking at their students strengths and needs and figuring out next steps. We saw evidence of assessment guiding instruction. We saw more evidence of teachers really looking at their data, using their observations to fine tune instruction.
For us the hardest thing, is that we opened up the project to schools next year who hadn't been in a literacy project previously or who hadn't been for more than four years. We have many new schools wanting to join but due to an unexpected cut in my position (I am going back to the classroom and I am not being replaced) we are wondering how we are going to choose who can join the project and what other vehicles we can suggest for schools to pursue teacher research and collaboration. Hard choices.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Poetry and Drama in general

Just a note to say how truly wonderful I think it is to play with poetry. I had so much fun yesterday at Maple Grove working with Grade Six and Seven students on poetry. I think of how Anka in the book, I am Furniture, finds voice through playing volleyball and I think some of our quieter students can find voice working with poetry orally. Several years ago I was amazed by having an artist in residence, an actress who was able to help create an amazing drama using a single poem with my class. I have always kind of loved creative drama and tried to bring it into my teaching but one of my most amazing teaching experiences was again working with a drama facilitator who used Theatre of the Oppressed with my sixth graders to really understand poverty, our unit in Social Studies. I just couldn't believe the focus it gave my students and how doing this enabled them to quickly put together excellent skits on just about anything. Attending a couple of workshops with the amazing Sara Holbrook I began really playing with poetry slams. I am a great fan of Sheree Fitch's amazing tongue twisters and twice was fortunate to have her spend time in my class where my students presented her with a wide variety of responses to her poems in a variety of ways. I love giving away poems to students and seeing what they can do with them. A fun resource for teachers is the book she has written with Larry Schwartz, The Poetry Experience.
Another great experience was doing a couple of workshops on improvisation with Katherine S. McKnight and Mary Scruggs, authors of The Second City Guide to Improvisation in the Classroom. Using poetry and drama make for a wonderful way to bring oral language into the classroom. Students begin to find comfort in front of others.
Angelica's class at Maple Grove are a quiet group, hesitant to speak in the whole group, but after two periods of playing with poetry, they asked for more.
And now for an advertisement, I am giving a one day summer institute on poetry and drama at the end of August at the VSB. I promise lots of fun and resources. Just click the professional development link on the left side and you should be able to find all the details.

Because I am Furniture

Isn't that a great title? I just finished reading an advance copy of this novel written in blank verse by Thalia Chaltas. First I have to say something about blank verse. As a teacher who has loved teaching creative writing to students in elementary school I have so tired of cheap rhyme (Ms. Kezar isn't a geezer...) that I was thrilled when I discovered Byrd Baylor's wonderful picture books written in blank verse. I was able to show my students how she used rhythm and line and word placement not relying on rhyme. I personally liked it because I wasn't very good at rhyming myself and it became a tradition, for instance, for me to write a poem each year for my students capturing our year together.
After 911 I found a wonderful book,911: The Book of Help which was a collection of essays and stories and poems by children's writers about that event and its aftermath. One of my favorite pieces was a wonderful poem by Sonia Sones, a poem that I had students perform at several Remembrance Day assemblies. One year I was wandering the book displays at an International Reading Association convention and asked a book seller who was autographing at her booth. She told me Sonia Sones. I was thrilled to meet her . She told me she wished she could have seen my students do her poem and of course, I bought two of her novels written in blank verse which I thoroughly enjoyed. I noted the dedication on one was to her teacher, Myra Cohn Livingstone, a well known children's poet. Years before I had gone to a workshop with Myra Cohn Livingstone. About a week later a package arrived with the Beverly Hills 90210 postal code. I was sure I didn't know any one who lived in Beverly Hills and of course, it was a bibliography she had said she would send.
When I read the acknowledgments for Because I am Furniture there was a thank you to Sonya Sones for encouraging Thalia with the writing of this novel. As everyone knows I love connections.
Anyway blank verse novels seem more common and I like them. I think it's the sense of interrupted voice. But I am a bit off topic. You are asking, "What is the novel about?" It's about a girl who feels like a piece of furniture in a home where her father is physical abusive to her older brother and sister but other than disparaging comments leaves her alone. Charming outside of the home, her father is a very angry man and her mom is kind but seemingly powerless to see or to deal with the damage this man does. Joining the volleyball team gives Anka finally the courage to break the silence. One commenter felt the ending was a bit simplistic and perhaps, over optimistic, but I will let you judge.
Recently at the International Reading Association YA writer, Jamie Adoff (who also contributed to the Book of Help) and writes in free verse,commented that many teenagers have tough lives and by reading realistic fiction (which probably can never be as bad as some of their lives) they don't feel so alone.