Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday season

There are many great stories about 'the best Xmas ever', great Xmas foods, where to shop, picking the family Christmas tree (we always used to go and cut ours down!), and so on.

I believe that we have to be multicultural - but not non-denominational. Embrace all of the traditions.

Colin & Justin are telling us how to have a 'manly' Christmas and how to decorate a festive table. We would have a group meal every year. Students can plan and arrange and coordinate.

There are DoItYourself Christmas card ideas for the notsocrafty.

Lyzzydee created the prettiest Christmas card.

Many are attending their children's school assemblies and great performances! I remember those...we once wrote and performed the 12 Days of Holidays.

What a great time of year to be in a school!

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I just heard of a challenge website: the Daily Challenge website.
What an intriguing revision of the original RAK, on the RAK Foundation site. RAK has become a popular notion since its inception. An search brought up 40 books on RAK.

RAKI recall driving across a toll booth, one of the suggestions in the book I read (see image!), and paid for the person's car behind me. It was so much fun!

My students were right with me. We began complimenting each other and writing each other and found more and more websites with more ideas.

For parents I sent home: An Affirmation of our children.I practiced this in February in my classroom that year. I found a free poster and it encouraged us. It was a pleasant way to spend Valentine's Day week and provided writing activities.

We so seldom compliment each other, as if it diminished us to build someone else up. So often teachers and parents try to teach their children. We have to correct their behaviour and forget to simply adore them and appreciate their gifts.

One year we created a "Love Tape" for parents. All of the students, I think it was JK or SK class, recorded a message. We sang songs for our parents and read poems and chants. Each student took home a tape. I am not sure where the tape has gone. What a blast from the past!

Monday, November 24, 2008

teaching writing

When I was teaching Language Arts to my gr. 8 students, I scoured the book shelves to find sources of inspiration. I toyed with writing a book about teaching! An acquaintance, who writes fiction, rather than my non-fiction, suggested I read Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (1986). Natalie Goldberg. This marvellous book opened up my mind and let my pen fly.

Top of My Lungs
is a book of paintings and poems. It is a beautiful book.

Ms. Goldberg's latest: Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, looks to be a good one, too.Old Friend

Wild MindBut the best is Wild Mind. It really helped me to teach writing in a better manner than before. Much of our writing as adults consists of reports and business-related writing. I found that it is much easier to teach kids to write about what they know, rather than fiction. Some bright lights will choose to go the fiction route, but most found it easier to write 'how tos' about building a campfire, or making a peanut butter sandwich.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


biggest eraser
I had some marvellous English teachers. I took English Lit. courses in University, as well as a Children's Lit. course - that is when you can really dig into the literature with like-minded spirits.

I love E.E. Cummings' Arch the cockroach, since I was a 'good girl' and with a mother who was a drill sergeant re: punctuation and grammar, he tickled my fancy. Mom was a secretary for a service club (Rotary Club of Toronto) and was kind enough to type all of my high school and university essays for me. The one codicil was that I had to have them in to her 2 weeks before they were due. (It totally made me work ahead and pissed off all of my friends. If it was already typed - i.e., manual typewriter, with carbon paper copies, and an ink eraser for errors..I had to hand it in.)

But I digress!

Tiger, by William Blake inspired a poem of my own. (Published in an anthology onceuponatime!)

When I taught English to students, we had fun reading various genres. The poetry work we did had to take into account the student's interests. I showed them how to write, then parse the prose into poetry. Sometimes I used frame poems, i.e., What If?... and they finished the sentences.

The question arises - is poetry obsolete? I think not. Young kids love the chants, I used them during Hallowe'en, and Thanksgiving.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble

Shakespeare's Macbeth lends itself to such word play. One of my favourite resources was a book of chants. I printed and mounted them on cardboard, then 3 or 4 children would read them aloud, adding sound effects.

Choral reading has been flogged as another play with language. To work your tongue around sounds and syllables helps you digest, absorb and better understand what you read, see and hear.

Of course, rapping has lent itself to the older grades. It is an effective means by which we encourage literacy: reading, writing, speaking, listening.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Math Programs

Over the years, math programs have changed.
No longer were we teaching kids how to do math, we were teaching numeracy skills. There used to be a simple set of review questions, present sample strategies for solving the simple questions, then an increasingly difficult set of questions. Finally, the new skill would be practiced with a number of problem-solving and more wordy questions that demand that the learner apply new skills in the right order, to one and two-step problems.

For example: subtraction

First the students learn the concept with manipulatives and counters on the carpet, on their desks. Once they have achieved abstract cognitive thinking, they are more able to manipulate the number on paper. They are taught the various columns, to give them a common understanding of the terminology. They understand the 10's, 100's and thousands columns. They are assigned a review, to ensure that they understand subtraction. They are taught a process and procedure for regrouping: borrowing from the 10's column, to regroups it into the 1's. The text book was divided up into two pages. The first page, called 'working together' presented sample answers to the target skill. On the 2nd page, they presented increasingly complex questions. I assigned kids homework from this page, did not require them to finish the first page.

Students then work alone, or in pairs. The teacher should take up a few questions to ensure that students are on track. Kids exchange their workbooks, kids are taught to correct their peer's work agreeably. They are invited to put in positive messages and give their peer an idea of where they went wrong, and provide extra support. At this point, some students might quietly approach me and suggest that their peer needs a bit more work on subtraction facts. I would assign the student questions on the 2nd page, with a 30-minute time limit at home to reinforce the skill. That way a student who was struggling could do 5 questions really well, and another student could move form the simple to the complex questions and word problems and each would work at their level of ability.

During the early years of the 2000's, retired teachers (numeracy experts) were hired by publications companies to produce new strategies for teaching math. At that time the 'leading the horse to water' movement seemed to flourish. A constructivist approach, best applied after basic skills have been mastered, did not work for some students. The text books no longer presented simple formats, they reduced the number of questions available for practice. They increased the images and graphics on the pages. They would present a problem, which might involved previously taught skills (or might not) and expect the student to come to an AHA moment and realize they needed to regroup to solve the problem. The texts were written well for deep-thinking, middle class students with a wide background knowledge and strong problem-solving skills. It did not work for ADHD, LD, ESL, or kids with limited knowledge or experiences with limited reading levels.

I found that once these texts were rewritten and flogged by those who were hired to write them, students began falling behind. Parents did not understand 'the new math', and everyone began to flounder. Kids no longer practised their skills. Parents gave up.

While I loathe the 'back to basics' movement, I think we need to redesign the texts to present simple operations and problems. We cannot assume, nor do we have the time to expect that students can reinvent mathematical notions, such as the operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) or other more complex tasks (elementary algebra, plane and solid geometry, trigonometry) involved in working with numbers. It is much more effective to sit them down, demonstrate the skills, accept other means to solve the problem and work through the skill and then move on to apply it to real life.

I fear for those students, estimated 20 -30%* who cannot read well enough to interpret school textbooks, and fall behind and then fall out of the system. We need them to develop concrete skills and apply them to their lives. Each time a student successfully solves a problem s/he increases the dendrites (brain cell connections) and is able to use these connections to solve other problems.

J. Prenger

Their model of text comprehension describes the complete reading process, from ...texts and the textual meso level of the math text.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Remembrance Day

I look back fondly on all the Remembrance Day ceremonies we had in each school in which I taught. The students were all highly motivated to read, write, interview and discuss what had gone on. My last year on Remembrance Day, my gr. 8 students wrote the most incredible essays on war. We collected a lot of information and put it on a web page for others to read.

I remember kids poking each other with poppies. Losing them on their way to the gym was part of the ritual. But I remember the poems and the incredible stories kids told about their ancestors involved in war. Many of my students had lived through the Gulf War. They fled the violence to come to Canada. We learned much from these young people. Others were Vietnamese Boat people. Their story was covered in the book: The GIFT OF FREEDOM: How Ottawa welcomed the Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees
By Brian Buckley

The late Marion Dewar was instrumental in this event.

There are some excellent songs that lend themselves: Francis Tolliver
But I love sitting with books. I went to Chapters ad bought all of the big, picture books i could. There are some that cover various places where war happens. Some based on one particular war or another.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

(un)Dressing for Hallowe'en

There is some controversy regarding the costumes available in stores. Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Young people need guidance regarding their clothing. Parents and educators need to be vigilant. Degrading costumes give messages you do not want your child sending. Unfortunately, parents are not always able to say "NO". Outfits on the rack might be suitable for a 20-something attending a private party, and a parent must be able to discern the difference. That said, a 20-something may be giving the wrong message to her friends.

Many, many schools are responsible for developing, creating and maintaining a dress code for young people unable to make decisions about what to wear! This is approprate. Many school councils help establish a dress code. Lakehead District, TorontoDSB, PDF files: OCDSB, Simcoe Catholic schools

In some cases, parents leave the house before their children, in others the children undress, or peel off layers to reveal unseen fashion statements.

In my teaching career I have taken seriously our code of dress. As pop stars began to wear midriff-baring tops, and low cut pants, it revealed a whole new look with the young people.
There are several issues that concern me:
Do you want your child's male teacher ogling her as she languorously stretches, in the full knowledge of what she is doing?
Do you want your sons watching the same move?
Does your child understand that the way s/he presents his/herself in public tells a lot about them.

I worry about the dance schools who imitate much older women, and the clothing styles of dance videos. What is their purpose? The dance moves, intended to be suggestive, are further degrading as they invite ogling and imitate the sexual act. Some said, "Dancing: a vertical endeavour of a horizontal pursuit." In school talent contests, teachers must be vigilant in maintaining the dress code at that time, as well. Just because it is acceptable in a dance competition it does not mean that a bikini-like costume, and apparently acceptable undulating hips, can be worn on a school stage.

Dress codes are not limited to students. You cannot enter a place of work, attend a business or casual function without being aware that there are (or should be) dress codes. The sleazy, flesh-revealing, haute couture styles seen on anorexic models simply do not work for the majority of women in the majority of public places. Age-appropriate dress codes apply, as well. With body piercings, that truly gross me out when faced with this in servers or wait staff, I think we must reflect. I have found that staff members with body piercings influence the students to try this out for themselves, too!

Out of respect, staff members need some internal monitoring system. In the new casual dress policies of the workplace, young educators need some guidance. I often ask students if they want me coming to school inappropriately dressed? How gross would that be? To be in school, as in the workplace, there is a purpose that is hijacked if one is busy working on a persona, not on who they really are. We had punks in middle school who insisted on wearing their gang colours, and that issue had to be dealt with. Some young men like to wear outfits with slang, inappropriate language, and off-colour jokes. The young people are told to turn their t-shirts insdie out, or they are sent home.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


IMG_4177.JPGOf all of the ghoulishly fun traditions this is one.

I loved hauling out the pumpkins and black cats and having students decorate the room. I always found some reading and writing activities to help us play around with words.

How many ghost-like things can you think of?
Boo! How many words have a double-O vowel?

I saved Hallowe'en puzzles and crosswords. We wrote scary stories, and read them to friends.
Each year the gr. 6 class would design a spooky place.
The smell of pumpkins being carved and the pumpkin seeds cooking in the oven..mmmm.

The songs and rhymes were so much fun. I laminated these poems and we created groups to put the chants into a spooky rap-like performance. Readers and non-readers could participate. It was so much fun. The sound effects were awesome.

We would have a party and present these raps. The rule about the party: you can bring enough of a snack or food item for 5 people. This kept the amounts down to a reasonable number.

I must admit that the best party I attended, however, was my adult daughter's party. THE BEST!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Children and bereavement

  1. Respect their needs: to talk or be silent.
  2. Deal with the issues as they arise.
  3. Talk to a professional if you need to.
  4. Listen to their concerns.
  5. Let them know you are upset.
  6. Model your strategy for dealing with grief.
  7. Do not give them answers if you really do not know the answers.
  8. Clear up misconceptions, i.e., false threats, that is it *their* fault.
  9. Let them tell their stories: drawing, creating poems, writing letters.
  10. Make a fear box. Cut out pictures from magazine that represent their fears and place them in the box.
  11. Have them prioritize their fears and talk to you about them.
  12. Help others: food banks, give a donation to a cause related to your issue.
  13. Read books for children about death and dying. (See my list) There are many for children that help them better understand that life is about, and death, too.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Internet & computer safety

Parents are concerned about their children's Internet and gaming habits.

In my Internet Safety PPT you will see some of the issues that concerned me as a teacher/parent.
I explain how parents should log in to Facebook, or any of the other sites their child visits, and look for them. You can do a search for your child's web page and it might turn up some interesting information. Too many kids post identifying information about themselves, which can and does lead to trouble. Many more use foul language and threats. Some young people do not understand that they only have one reputation to lose. Posting revealing photos is a dangerous thing to do. Many employers are using this feature to check out potential employees, as well. I have warned against this in another post. Plagiarism is another issue of concern to me.

An addiction to anything, be it the computer, drugs, or anyone, can be harmful. Wise parents demand that their child gets up and takes a break on a regular basis. At one point, I had to discipline my son and ended up removing the keyboard and putting it in the trunk of my car while I was at work. This worked well!

In our household, with three children, they took turns a half hour at a time. If they wanted or needed more time they could negotiate with their sibling, depending upon what their plans were! This really limited their activities as they would hover around each other and the eldest would supervise the youngest, and vice versa!

At one point, for safety, I had the computer in my bedroom. That meant that I could go back and forth and peer over their shoulders and see what they were doing.

You should NEVER let your child
a) have a computer in his/her bedroom
b) have a videocam with their computer.

There is simply no NEED for it and it is incredibly dangerous. Otherwise you have no idea who they are talking to, or when, and what they are doing.

A parent of one of my classroom students insisted that her daughter let her log-in as the child and participate in the MSN friends. I loved this idea. That was her bottom line. That way she could see who her friends were and if she was engaging in dangerous behaviour, i.e., allowing strangers to contact her. These preferences can be made in a chat, and this is a simple protective tool.

I have been exploring Skype, in order to video chat with my (now) adult children & grandchild. I had forgotten to set this protective device up and 'sexyman2234' contacted me for a chat. I blocked him. It reminded me that controls can be set and limits must be put on our children.

When your child gets off the computer go to the 'history' feature of the browser and see which sites they visited. It is a good strategy, and you are well within your rights to protect your child in your house, with your rules, using your property.

On-line bullying is a more recent problem. The solution for this is to report anything to the abuser's Internet Service Provider (ISP). The ISPs always have rules for fair and moral use and you can usually find an address for this, i.e.

Regarding gaming, parents must look for parental guidelines. If children are playing games intended for older kids, they are being exposed to ideas and images too graphic for them to cope with. Many on-line predators exploit children be exposing them to increasingly innocuous things, eventually leading to desensitizing them to ideas and images that are inappropriate.

What is sad is that the recent disappearance of a young Barrie boy keeps emphasizing that the parents cut him off of his X-box activities cold turkey. I hope this does not frighten parents into permitting otherwise inappropriate behaviour. This is an issue about which parents must be vigilant. No child was hurt by hearing the word 'NO'. It builds character and allows a child to know that there are limits to their rights and rules for behaviour. It protects them.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What Not To Teach

One of my favourite shows is “What Not To Wear”. While it begins in a negative fashion, if you’ll excuse the pun, it does demonstrate to the victim –err, subject- what it is that they should be wearing. They end up with a wardrobe that is functional, practical and easy to wear. They use their 3-way mirror to allow the fashion gurus to clearly illustrate what look good and what does not. They demonstrate what does not fit, and which pieces simply do not fit in with the victim’s personal and professional goals. I began making a connection: thinking that the hardest part of my job is figuring out “what not to teach”.

There are reams of materials. Jamie McKenzie calls the Internet the “greatest garage sale in cyberspace.” The plethora of materials available to the teacher overwhelms most of us. Most of the time I try to figure out what it is that I should throw away, rather than searching for new materials. This parallels “What Not To Wear”, since many of the victims have closets full of articles of clothing they have not worn in years.

My curriculum closets are outdated and need to be tossed, but, as many of us know, there might be a time we could reduce, re-use or recycle. I am a pack rat. I admit it. I would appreciate a Stacy or Clinton-type who could, thoughtfully, point out what I might throw out. I offered a friend some of my materials and she jokingly suggested that if she brought home yet another book, resource or found material her husband might divorce her! Stacy and Clinton do a marvelous job of convincing folks just how they look, but the beauty of the show is in how they show them what they should be wearing. I believe that education should be held up to the same light. Most people have boxes full of resources, much of the time they need to figure out what not to teach. What is important to keep and what should be left behind?

Precipitated by a grade-level change, I decided that rather than hoarding all these precious materials I needed to have a garage sale in my staff-room. What a pleasure to pass on materials to colleagues who may use them. I began a serious clean-out and mercilessly tried to junk things I had not used in a year. I recalled the HGTV shows that featured pack-rats who had not cleaned out their closets in 25 years. I sorted through my junk and created three piles: “to sell”, “to junk: and “to keep”. This was most difficult. Found materials are like gold to teachers. We are always thinking of the next Art lesson, or the next science experiment. I find it difficult to pass by garage sales. You just never know what you will need!

Similarly, “new” teachers need to establish a basic portfolio of supplies and materials, which will stand them in good stead no matter which grade they teach. All teachers should gather materials on basic celebrations or events such as Remembrance Day, Pagan celebrations such as Hallowe’en and other November and December Holiday Traditions. Valentine’s Day is such a treat, Random Acts of Kindness week brings out the best in us. Flag Day and Spring activities keep us hopeful for a turn in our weather. There really are only two seasons in Canada: bugs and snow, and I do not spend a great deal worrying about the others! Great events, on a four year cycle are great fodder for ideas: The Olympics and Election 2006 were great sources of inspiration. I have found that many of my materials are transferable to different ages and stages. Both elections and the Olympics come around every four years or so- both are wonderful opportunities for literacy and numeracy activities. I keep all of my activities in a box- to be hauled out for the next time, but save them to my electronic files, as well. Six changes in program, schools or principals in my first six years mean that I have to depend upon myself for keeping something constant in my curriculum!

Many of my colleagues have cupboards packed in classrooms across the province. Many of my colleagues have spouses that want to frisk them before they come home on Saturday, garage sale day! I hope that you can clean out your closets and send your unwanted or underused materials to colleagues who can use them. There are a variety of places who have faced natural and human-made disasters. Many agencies could use our materials.

Creating Curriculum

It was in exploring the information available on Curriculum Writing and Instructional Design, that I came across too much information! It is difficult weeding through all of the information, which is my main problem when planning curriculum- figuring out what NOT to teach!

My philosophy of good pedagogical practices arose during my 4 years of training at Ryerson. We practiced our craft, Early Childhood Educators, in a center which was Piagetian-based in the Early Learning Center (children ages 3 to 7). As I have taught at increasingly higher grade/age levels, and met with an increasingly limited teacher resource pool and students with increasingly more complex learning problems, I have begun to rethink my Curriculum practices. I found that the Constructivist theory, as delved into in my last assignment, fit wholeheartedly with my belief systems.

Constructivism - a self- discovery approach, based on independent, individualized activities, expectations and facilitated learning, unfortunately, has not seemed to work and my students have not responded well to open-ended tasks requiring initiative, insight, self-control and taking responsibility for their learning. (Course notes -1999) I decided to go with an approach that was quite a bit more controlled, demanded some differentiation of the activities and tried to break the project down into manageable tasks.
Instructional Transactional Theory is concerned with the WHAT and the HOW. (Course notes -1999) I have decided to take a Transactional approach to this unit, within the larger structure of ID. I remember reading Merrill (1999) in class and being so incredibly shocked at the outline. It seemed cold and unfriendly. To be learning your craft on a computer simulation seemed to be not quite right. It took me back to my behavioural psychology course for my B.A.A.(ECE), when we had to break down child observations into separate events and in which we learned to objectively observe and create timed observations of very young children. ( They are incredibly busy!)

In my searches I have found numerous references to this type of approach, (Merrill 1999) mostly for workers, as opposed to training learners. After a bit more research (Kasowitz 1998) and (Battistini 1995) they convinced me that the kind of instruction I would like to accomplish uses tools and rubrics that could be placed on a LAN and circulated amongst students in that fashion, technology I do not have access to, which would encourage the kind of learn, practice, correct design that Merrill (1999) has written about. It’s not such a bad thing for my needy students!

I needed to locate a structure and frameworks, as many of us do. It is the organizers that most interested me. Simple checklists that require the teacher to make sense of her curriculum, to aid in the planning and organization of her work. The ADDIE Instructional design model (Fardouly, 1998) is a nicely tailored, systematic approach to the design of learning materials and activities.

1. Analysis
2. Design
3. Development
4. Implementation
5. Evaluation

I have chosen to organize my work according to this structure, to practice, I suppose, what I’ve learned and hope to remember.

1. Analysis

Farouly (1998) says that:

Instructional design aims for a learner-centred rather than the traditional teacher-centred approach to instruction, so that effective learning can take place. This means that every component of the instruction is governed by the learning outcomes,which have been determined after a thorough analysis of the learners’ needs.
Farouly (1998) suggest that we do an extensive analysis of learner needs before we begin establishing outcomes.
She suggest asking these questions:

Who are your learners?
Find out:
• who your audience is;
Context: A group of grade 8 learners, varying in age from 13 to 14.
• what they already know;
They already are familiar with graphing, research skills, mapping skills, data processing skills. In September I taught them how to use a Compare & Contrast chart to analyze information. They have some computer technology skills, in a limited amount, but a great deal of enthusiasm for the tool. Some have never done a research project, having been in self-contained special education classrooms.

• what are their learning characteristics;
Most lack organizational skills, they have difficulty listening, following directions, working together and co-operating. Most, not all, are self-absorbed, inattentive, unmotivated teens with limited exposure to general background knowledge! (I still love them all!)
• what they need or want to learn;
This is the problem! The MOE curriculum means little to these young people who are more concerned with establishing their sexual identity, finding a peer group, maintaining a social life, and going out and play basketball at recess.
They need to develop some vocabulary related to Human Geography, and to establish co-operative learning skills, in order to equitably share the limited number of geography texts and atlases in our classroom.
I have a very few who want to learn and are motivated simply by Level 4 aims, primarily one ESL student and 2 (of the 3!) girls in my class. They will undertake any task I set them and work hard to achieve a Level 4 mark. The others are unmotivated to do homework, keep notebooks in any semblance of order and achieve anything, other than a pass. My one identified gifted learner is underachieving at a great rate. He lives for hockey. (Am I whining about this?!)
• why they need it;
These skills will be necessary to further their education. It will be necessary to master geography outcomes at this level, as in the math programme, for example, in order to go on to the next level of learning. They need it because the MOE has identified these content areas as grade 8 curriculum expectations and their grade 9 level work and achievements will depend on learning this information and developing these learning skills.

I believe it is a frame work for learning how to learn, no matter what the content and I am hoping that I can design an enticing enough unit that they will achieve some measure of success, at whatever level they are capable. I am hoping to help them achieve their potential and to have some measure of success in producing a product at the end of the assignment that resembles at least a level 3 piece of work.
• in what environment will they apply the learning.

We will be working one day per cycle in the computer lab, and 3 days per cycle in my classroom. I am hoping to buy (!) some library time, although in our crowded school the library is used for some language classes.

• What are you trying to achieve with your instruction?
Overall Principles: in accordance with Constructivist theory (Course notes 1999), learning is co-operative, active, social, and requires that the learner make choices in the learning process, which empowers them to place value and deposit an investment in the learning process. I am allowing them to choose a goal they feel they can manage: the number of sources they can find, the level they are aspiring to (across the Rubric- levels 1 to 4). I am not limiting their research work and hoping that some will achieve more than the minimum. We shall see!

It is my belief that no matter which outcomes we pursue, at MOE dictation, I can achieve the kinds of goals necessary to help these students become successful learners. I hope. I am trying to create authentic learning activities which will make some cognitive demands of my students and help them strengthen their brain cells. I am frustrated with inadequate support systems: the inadequate technology and special education service cutbacks, but I am going to take a step-by-step, Transactional Approach which will ensure some success in at least assisting students in putting together an assignment which will expect that they will fulfill higher-level thinking goals in pursuit of the completion of the project. I am trying to build in some space for students going as far as they want to in finding more and better resources in an unlimited internet search.

• Define the need for, and the general aim or purpose of, the course/subject/lecture(Learning Activities).
Generally, my goal is to help the students become better researchers and writers. For this reason I want to help them establish learning strategies: how to find information, what to do with it when gathered, how to write jot notes and create good paragraphs, skills that will carry them on into their high school years. I hope to give them some structure to become independent learners.

Task: To improve student performance on a complex curriculum outcome.

• What knowledge, skills and attitudes need to be taught?
It is in facing a student population that spends more time and energy in front of their TV’s, computer games, or surfing the net at lightening speed, that I have begun to realize that I must stand on my head in order to entertain them, while trying to achieve objectives set by the Ministry of Education (MOE 1998).
My particular charges do not have much access to the internet, I think only one student regularly mentions being on her computer, I do know that peer pressure plays a strong role in their lives. Numerous kids leave school property at lunch time and many do not spend much time after school doing school work. Many wander the malls and just hang out with each other.

For these reasons, I decided to attempt, yet again, to include internet research in this unit of study. These are skills that should be taught using an authentic task: in this case a research project.

Canadian students are weak in problem-solving techniques and strategies (Barlow & Robertson, 1994). I have seen this in my classroom when teaching a particular math concept, division, for example, and they simply cannot translate a simple word problem into a mathematical equation and just try it. My partner was supervising two fellow engineers, he is their manager, and they are designing software to provide communication links from a trucking fleet to its headquarters. Fairly complex stuff. These two design engineers have 4 degrees between them and they were analyzing what they thought the problem was with the code they were writing. Engineer 1 suggested it was problem “X” and engineer #2 responded that it might my problem “Y” and neither of them decided to jump in and prove that either problem should be checked out. They just couldn’t get themselves going and start somewhere. My partner did over time hovering over their shoulders, guiding them to just engage somehow. He was absolutely amazed. Even those with numerous brain cells, in working order, they couldn’t take the initiative to take responsibility for a decision. I thought it a prime example of how we do not tend to encourage those around us to engage, independently, in a process. Teachers are so very much concerned with delivering an education to the lowest common denominator, which is why I have had limited success with Constructivist Theory in my classroom.

Reigeluth (1997), talks about a paradigm shift from Industrial Age to Information Age thinking. It is purportedly the move from standardization to customization -flexibility in learner outcomes, that has demanded this shift. He believes this shift, to provide unique experiences for learners, is driven by information readily available to the learner. I believe that this is why our Ontario Curriculum is so very difficult to deliver to our students. With major cutbacks in educational services, especially in Special Education, we are finding the traditional “rich get richer, the poor get poorer” cliché comes true. Some students are so very seriously behind others in terms of the technology available to them (my school has great trouble maintaining an internet link), as well as the necessary prerequisites for being a Constructivist learner: the knowledge, skills and values necessary to be an independent, self-starting learner. The MOE, in its wisdom to create ways to test teachers and make educational institutions accountable to taxpayers, with little vested interest in developing individuals capable of independent thought and creativity, wants to churn out workers, not learners. We are teaching to the masses, as is done in China (Barlow & Robertson, 1994), and everyone is required to learn the same facts and figures. I am finding it most difficult to achieve!

I think of my students as clients: I am serving the taxpayer who is paying for me to provide quality curriculum to our children. “It takes a whole village to raise as child”, as traditional cultures are wont to say. My clients are the sons and daughters of white collar workers, blue collar workers, an African diplomat, and those who have fled from civil war in Arabic countries. There are families with more education and richer (spiritually, emotionally, economically and technologically) environments than others. I am most worried about my kids who cannot keep a note book organized, who can’t sit for 40 minute periods without flirting or hitting one another, who are seeing psychologists, who should be seeing psychologists, who hate teachers, lose their notes, don’t do homework, are apathetic (self-defense in order to mask disabilities and weaknesses - if you don’t try and you fail there is no loss of face) and would rather play on a video or computers, poke and push and pull each other in the computer lab, rather than take advantage of the data and information available to them.

It is my belief, then, that I had to create a curriculum unit that would break down the tasks for my special learners, as well as being open-ended enough for my Level 4 self-starters whom I would prefer to engage in the learning process is a Constructivist ID manner, and ensure a modicum of success for all of my clients.

Reigeluth (1996) believes that learning should be based on authentic tasks, with the student constructing their tasks, the teacher playing the role of facilitator. I agree with all of this! I just can’t make it happen with many of my learners.

• Set the scope of the content to be covered in terms of time required, number of lessons and topic areas.

We will need approximately 3 cycles of four periods each to achieve all content goals. (I am playing this by ear!) They need to be (re)taught graphing, charting, summarizing skills. Vocabulary must be established, some topics refreshed: jot notes, taking out important details, language skills: reading, writing and oral (many are ESL students).

2. Design & 3. Development

• What are your objectives?
Learning Outcomes
MOE Curriculum Expectations (1998):
Patterns in Human Geography: Human Settlement Patterns
By the end of grade 8, students will:
-construct a variety of graphs, charts, diagrams and models to organize information
-communicate the results of in queries for specific purposes and audiences, using media works, oral presentations, written notes and reports, illustrations, tables, charts and graphs.
-compare the characteristics of developed and developing countries.
• What knowledge, skills, and attitudes are you trying to develop?
Charting, writing, research, oral skills and an understanding of various cultures and lifestyles from around the world.
• What resources and strategies will you use in your instruction?
The MOE web site materials
Clarisworks spreadsheets
Clarisworks word-processing
Compare & Contrast chart: food, water, shelter, tools, climate, education, work, technology, communication
Canadian Geographic Atlas
Canadian Geographic Atlas Teacher Resource Binder
Families of the World Editions I and II-describes family life in various countries

Questions for the learners:

During the educational process the teacher will circulate around the students, provide resource suggestions, computer technology support and encourage students to go further, farther and in a direction that interests them. The “What about this...?” mind set. When using computers with my students I find it fairly easy to motivate them, the internet demands exploration, interaction, creativity and cognitive growth.
Role of the Facilitator:
The teacher will encourage dialogue between students, encourage them to reflect on their thinking, transform their research into a new format (transfer new knowledge) and to present his/her research by guiding their explorations and learning activities.
The teacher will encourage the application of Bloom’s taxonomy to encourage independent thinking and to challenge the creativity of their responses to the artist and their work.
The performance levels of students would be easily guided by the facilitator. The support for the students, in order to get the very best from them, would include a Rubric (I have found this an excellent way of stimulating excellence), brainstorming sessions as a group, and I find that computer work enhances their motivation, stimulates their thinking skills and encourages the learner to move beyond the easy to the challenging.

Possible Questions: based on learner abilities/disabilities...
Can you find alternate resources that interest you?
Show me... What about....? What led you here?

4. Implementation
• How will you structure the content of your learning material?

1. Provide world statistics and develop a chart of information.
2. Computer lab time in order to prepare a spread sheet, charts, graphs- as well as time to explore internet resources.
3. Generate questions to be answered within the body of the work.
4. Help them prepare a written Compare & Contrast report.
5. Preview written work.
6. Provide charts and organizers (see Appendix)

I was reading the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson (1999) and found a most intriguing method of presenting the information the student has learned.

The aforementioned tasks, while required by MOE direction, does not require that they prepare meaningful information about the countries studied. She advocates gathering the data and then organizing it into a detailed information sheet which presents an accurate, interesting and detailed schedule a person would have in one of these countries. It would include what s/he would wear, eat, live, how s/he would be treated by the law, what kinds of problems s/he would face in getting an education, finding work or other challenges. We have just been reading an account of female infanticide under the communist regime (Canadian Atlas: Teacher Resource Binder), another country in which women are paid to be sterilized.

Differentiated work: I have tried to do this by presenting a rubric from which students will choose the kind of level they are capable of achieving. I will be providing lunch recess time for those who simply have never written a project and those who can’t keep and maintain a notebook!
I thought that it might a good strategy, in order to build some success into this learning unit for all students, to provide a highly structured, transactional approach -in order to develop small milestones, at a slow pace.

5. Evaluation

• How will you assess the learners’ understanding and whether or
not they have met the objectives of the instruction?

I will collect work as it is produced and evaluate progress step-by-step. This weekend, for example, they are to produce the chart which compares the information of 3 countries. I will ensure that small steps are made by all learners.

Informal evaluation, to keep kids on track, would be subjectively based on teacher observations of knowledge, skills and values during the networking experience, comments on individual pieces of work. It will require a write, evaluate, rewrite/correct the draft process for many of them. To ensure success on small steps.

Formally, there will be a final peer/self/teacher rubric to evaluate the written work, as well as the optional classroom presentation. This will include vocabulary, content, mechanics of the writing, as well as the quality of the graph work.

Evaluation will be based on the MOE Achievement Levels, as printed in the Ontario Curriculum Document, as required by the MOE, as summed up in my Rubric (see appendix).
Evaluation of my learning:
I have found the research to be interesting. I have used the assignment to improve my curriculum strategies and come to terms with being, not who I want to be (Constructivist -it was easy practicing it when teaching Kindergarten!), but becoming more practical and structured, to ensure that most students get the most out of the learning experience. You have to make decisions based on the good of the whole, rather than the highly motivated, independent learner or teaching to the lowest common denominator. I think I have found a balance, as well as mastering some requirements of the MOE: those objectives set out as required for my grade 8’s.

Evaluation of the Activity:

Strengths: The student can aim for whichever level of achievement s/he feels comfortable with -whether they know they are only capable of doing a limited amount of research and writing or whether they want to broaden the assignment and go as far as they are able: further research and information-seeking activities, to improve their knowledge, skills and values as well thinking skills.

Weaknesses: Our school phone lines are terrible, the computers limited in their abilities, library time is limited to the afternoon, when our librarian is present, and I can get help supervising them and encouraging (threatening them?!) to stay on task. My kids are more interested in many other things, rather than human geography and they are frightfully unmotivated in taking the data and information available to them, via the internet and libraries and other forms of information bases, and synthesizing this information and using to improve their knowledge, skills and values. They are teenagers!


i. Bybee, R., (1999) of the Biological Science Curriculum Study,, as of 10/24/99
ii. Barlow, M. & Robertson, H., (1994) Class Warfare, Key Porter Books
iii. Battistini, J. (1995) From Theory to Practice: Classroom Application of Outcome- Based Education, ERIC Digest: ED 377512
iv. Canada’s Schoolnet, Visual Arts Learning Resources,, as of 10/24/99
v. Canadian Geographic Atlas
vi. Canadian Geographic Atlas Teacher Resource Binder
vii. Course notes: (1999) CTL 1002
viii. Fardouly, N. (1998) Instructional Design of Learning materials, The University of New South Wales, Faculty of the Built Environment,, as of 0112/00
ix. George Washington University, Constructivist Theory, 1997,, as of 10/24/99
x. Kasowitz, A. (1998) Tools for Automating Instructional Design, ERIC: EDO-IR-98-1
xi. Merrill, M.D. (1999), Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional Transaction Theory: Instructional Design Based on Knowledge Objects, Instructional Design Theories and Models, vol. II, p. 397
xii. MOE, (1998)Ontario Curriculum Document, Social Studies/History/Geography: Grade 8, Grades 1 - 8,
xiii. OCDSB Web Site:
xiv. Reigeluth, C.M. (1996) A New Paradigm of ISD?, Educational Technology, (36)3,13-20
xv. Reigeluth, C.M. (1997) Instructional Theory, Practitioner Needs, and New Directions: Some Reflections, Educational Technology, (37),1,42-47
xvi. Tomlinson, C.A., (1999) “Mapping a Route Toward Differentiating Instruction”, Educational Leadership magazine, p. 12-16, Sept. 99
xvii. Le H. (199X) Families of the World Editions I and II

Questions to Answer:

1. What would a person wear in this country?

2. What would a person eat?

3. How would they live their daily lives?

4. What kind of family life would they have-extended family?

5. How would a person be treated by the law?

6. What kind of an education would they get?

7. How would they communicate with others?

8. What kinds of problems s/he would face in getting an education?

9. What kind of work could they expect to find?

10. What other challenges would they expect to meet?

11. what kind of current events would interest people in that country?

12. Any other questions you think you can answer about the country/people in it...

Reading Buddies – to encourage readers

Facing an increasingly diverse school population and students who were reluctant to read, I decided to create a community of leaders. In the train-the-trainer fashion, I created mini-literacy consultants! My young charges had mixed emotions about working with the young senior kindergarten students, but they rose to the challenge. I teach in the elementary panel. One year, faced with a grade 4/5 split grade class and wanting to encourage my students to read, I spoke to a colleague and asked her if she would like to have my students read to her students.

The Plan
Mme. Craddock and I decided that we could create a better literacy program by involving my grade 4/5 students in a program to read to her French Immersion Senior Kindergarteners (SKs). My students were not exceptionally strong ones, but they had a willingness to learn to read, especially for their reading buddies, and in French. My students were wary as they were unsure how to communicate with these French-speaking students! I explained that the SKs were just learning French and that they wouldn't have any problems.

We chose to meet every Wednesday at first period when students were fresh. The first day off we all went down to the SK class. I had prepared my students by having them practice reading a French picture book that they had chosen from our school library. When we had spare time, students would pick out a book and try to read it. The students created a list of French words that they didn't know and we practiced them beforehand. I placed the list of difficult words on our sentence charts on a piece of oaktag paper. Once in awhile we would practice them. After the first few visits, we abandoned the idea of reading French texts, since my student were unable to master the French vocabulary, and began reading more familiar English picture books. This proved much more satisfactory.

The Mechanics
We introduced ourselves, chose a partner and hunkered down on the floor. Students were allowed to make their own choices of both buddies and books. At that point, I simply paired students with anyone who was left over. There were no disputes over gender, race or religion, at least not in the beginning. Students sat on the carpet, or went to a table to read- wherever they could find a cozy spot. We ended up reading to them in English, choosing from picture books in the classroom. Sometimes, one of my students would select a text from his or her home library, and that was a positive sign that they were turning into literacy consultants.

When were finished reading the books during our session, we would ask them if they could see the letters that make their names in the picture book. If they could, the kids looked for the letters that started their names in the text. It was a great treasure hunt. Students also talked to them what was the book about. I suggested to the students that when they finished the book that they ask their little buddy if they could identify any letters in any one the words. In addition, the SKs were focusing on numbers and colours, and they tried to figure out how to review them with their reading buddy in French. That encouraged both children to learn the French vocabulary. At the end of the reading session we “broke bread together”, when we shared conversation and snacks. The big kids helped the little kids open up yogurt containers and find spoons, and clean up spilled juice. It was a terrific time for bonding.

Somewhere along the way we decided that I would keep the Grade 4s with me, send the 5s to the other room and split the class, the kindergarten class had become somewhat crowded. This made a huge difference. During this time the older students showed the kids the plants we were growing, their times tables chart, their art and any thing else that interested them. Our class had been recording the growth of plants; taking photos of the change in height each day and describing the root system and its development.

Around this session I came up with a new idea and we created books together - in a joint partnership. The kids were given a primary printing book with lines on the bottom of the page and space for a picture above the text. They asked the kids to tell them a story and then the SKs drew a picture to go with their story. The story was read back to them. The Grade 4/5s had to make sure that they truly wrote what they meant to write, since the SKs were quite certain to correct editing mistakes! This is a skill I have not figured out how to teach but the pairings worked well! It was a blessing in disguise. We found a lot of stories in their ‘journal’ related to their real lives, which to many of them included TV and cartoon characters. We learned about Square Pants Sponge Bob, animal crackers, hamburgers and their pets. But we learned to write real stories for our buddies. They were precious mementos for parents as their children matured over the school year. Some perseverated on their favourite creatures and we read the hilarious adventures of Mr. Hamburger over a series of weeks. I was sorry to have to send these stories home, as I we used them to learn about our charges.

The little kids came into our room with awe and a certain amount of fear. But they gained in confidence and learned to work with others. My students learned to handle discipline issues, learned patience, tolerance and respect for others. My grade 4/5s would read over the stories in class time and we would correct spelling, compare our stories and solve any problems that had been created. The honeymoon did not last!

We resolved a racism incident. Where do kids get these ideas? As we sat in circle, one of my girls, Sarah, began to speak of a sad incident. A SK girl would not have Sarah, a black girl, as her reading buddy. It was shocking to all of us. The girls involved were justifiably horrified over this incident and asked to speak to me privately at recess. I decided we needed a class meeting. Their shock at racism rearing its ugly head was a powerful message to me.

We talked about racism back in the class, we thought the entire group should know about the situation and it was a learning experience for us all. We figured out how to resolve the problem, talked about why the child should say such a thing. We dealt with it well and came to an

understanding of inappropriate behaviours. My Sarah learned that she could speak up for herself, and that this was a crime against us all. She used her words to talk to the child politely, and the SK student, an only child in her family, had a word with her mom as well as her teacher, about prejudice and attention seeking behaviour. It turned out too be an attention-getting device and we felt stronger for working through this difficult issue. My student learned that we are all in this together and felt supported by her peers. We gave each other the courage and strategies to handle the problem.

The linguistic lessons continued. My students learned how to give clues, as they attempted to match numbers symbols with the French words for our pre-readers. They gave them the first letter of the word, pointed, coached, cajoled and generally had a quiet moment of the day when we shared literature and laughter. They are so precious. They figured out some games that they could do with their buddies, to help them improve linguistic and numeracy skills in French. I need not tell you that the learning was reciprocal!

I taught the grade 4/5s about the Key Experiences:
*in active learning
*in using language
*in representing experiences and ideas
*in developing logical reasoning:
*in spatial relations
*in temporal relations
Our reading and writing journals were a fun way to integrate reading, writing, listening speaking activities. They socialized and logically organized their work and their ideas.
We spoke of colours, ordered our ideas and compared.

I asked a couple of students to begin writing about our progress in this endeavour. We created a web page and they would jot notes down after each visit. The parts in italics (see below) were written by two of my Grade 6 students who collaborated on a web page about the experience.
About Day One
When were done reading the books we ask them if they see their names or the letters that starts with their name. We also tell them what is the book about. They had a book rack full of books and now they get to choose their own books that they want us to read to them. This program lasts about 45 minutes.

About Day Two

Day 2 was really different from the normal Reading Buddies because we had to help the Kindergartens to do their "Must Do" work. There was different work at each table. (Students were able to choose from most centers, however, there was some pre-reading work that they were required to do.) When they were done doing their "Must Do" work they got to play games with us there and it was really fun. We were like baby sitters and trying to help them play the game and what they had to do! Well, that's all the things we did in the second day of Reading Buddies!

About Day Three (100th Day of School)
The day three wasn't really a Reading Buddies program because we got to celebrate the "Hundredth Day Of School". We had to bring our snack to the kindergarten class. We also practiced a presentation about the hundredth day of school there were about 5 groups that presented there was a play, skit, chant, song that the grade 4/5s had created during Music/Art/Drama (M.A.D.) time. We videotaped the event, created an iMovie from it. Two students have created a slide show about our Reading Buddies.

After we had presented we had to count up to 100 en francais! Mme. Craddock also told us that in the first day of school she took a string and somebody or a student will get a bead and the student will put the bead on the string and the next day they will do the same thing until they get to the 100th bead and that means it's the 100th day of school. After she told us that we get to have marshmallows and our snack, too. This was a really fun time!
The videotape is quite comical. During the 100th day celebration, the students were told to try and keep quiet for 100 seconds. It really worked! We took photos and made an iMovie of the project. Students had prepared skits and songs and raps to share with their buddies. They developed character and confidence during this great event.

Day Four
In day four we played three rounds of bingo (French letters, colours and numbers) but before we went inside their room we had to bring our snacks because we were going to eat in the room. Mme. Craddock wasn't here, so they got a supply teacher and a helper, too. We played three rounds of Bingo and it was really fun after we played the Bingo game. We ate our snacks. The day 4 Reading Buddies felt like only 10 minutes but it was actually 45 minutes. Well, that's all we have to say about day 4!

Days 5 & 6 - May 27th and June 2nd, 2004

Today, we had fun at reading buddies. The Gr. 5's get to make stained glass butterflies with our reading buddies. On June 2nd, we switched. The Gr. 4's presented their pet projects to their buddy that we've been working on for about 2 weeks. After they had presented their projects we asked them what kind of pets they have and how many. When we were done our reading buddy we always write the things we did on a journal. We had fun!

This was a most effective time for all. After each of the visitations we debriefed, spoke of problems we had, or successes and tried to improve our teaching techniques for next time. We reviewed phonics, reviewed listening skills and read student stories to each other. We became better learners and better leaders, all at the same time. Students developed an understanding for their little brothers and sisters and a camaraderie that most students in isolated classrooms do not experience. During full-school assemblies, my students would wave to their little buddies, “Oh, look at them, they’re so cute!” was the phrase. They became more sensitive and understanding of the younger children and better able to respond to their needs over the course of the year.

In summary: it was a great experience. We learned patience for the little ones, and reinforced learning and teaching skills that carried on with us when peer-tutoring in our cooperative learning groups. My students improved their reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills, including their French skills. It gave them a purpose and a project. It helped us get excited about learning and moved us all towards becoming better human beings. I would suggest you get started today!



Assessment vs Evaluation

The concept of group and standardized testing go back as far as 1850 or so.
The purposes of testing may be any of the following reasons 1) accountability, 2) feedback, 3) classification and/or certification of students and 4) reform.

The problem with accountability is that the test does not make parents, superintendents, trustees or Ministry officials accountable for the test scores and our form of testing does not purport to determine who is responsible for these scores. It does not predict the impact of the type of instruction, for which teachers are either blamed or lauded. It does not match the goals many parents have for their children: to become happy, productive, contributing members of society, thinking, sentient human beings who treat one another with dignity and respect.

This leads us to the reason for testing, number two: feedback. Our Ministry of Education has created all sorts of hoops that teachers must jump through to support the low achiever and to provide information to parents. We have three reporting periods per year, most schools conduct Student-Led conferencing session. Students show parents their work and parents have an opportunity to come into a classroom and give their child some support. The parents who choose to come in are not usually the ones we need to see! We give parents ample opportunities to talk to us, yet some do not and some do not need to.

Testing does not diagnose any of the reasons for which s student may be failing: psycho-social, cognitive, emotional or physical reasons for their inability to achieve.
As teacher face more and more children with increasingly severe disabilities we are facing more and more cutbacks. Special Education, ESL programs, Professional Development opportunities, including in-service during the school day, and less access to the human and physical resources; these are the programs that help a teacher make a difference and provide quality programming to all students.

Not does the test give remedies for the above needs assessments that teachers make on a daily basis. The test is not necessarily valid, in that it cannot judge how well a student can do higher level thinking if they have been in the country, and speaking English, for only a few months. In my classroom in September I had three brilliant children who had been in the country for less than a month. They present me with incredibly difficult challenges to present authentic learning opportunities and how to bridge that gap between reading, writing and thinking, even as we face a wide range of student needs and abilities.

Regarding classification and certification, We have Individual Educational Plans (IEPs), created and prepared after much consultation with parents. They are called in and are asked to help contribute to such plans, after an Independent Placement and Review Committee hearing (IPRC). These meetings are not surprises. It is usually only after extensive preparation that students are identified and participate in a differentiated program. At this point parents and teachers are working together and understand much of what the school and the students are attempting to do in schools. It is not parents who are demanding testing, most parents indicate that they are pleased with what schools are achieving. It is business and taxpayers who haven’t darkened a door of our school systems in years.

If it is reform that stakeholders want, then testing does not facilitate this ideal strategy. Reform only comes through discourse, dialogue, proper teacher training and experienced and highly trained professionals. We have had an administration turnover of 60 % in Ontario schools in the past five years. Most principals are not the curriculum leaders that teachers require. Many are simply learning how to do the job. They are the managers who juggle staff, resources, paper and time and money.

Principals make reports to Boards regarding their strategies for improving test scores. It is school staffs who must come up with improvement plans following the results of EQAO testing. We are limited in these attempts. Limited by funding and time and energy and expertise. Many of us don’t have the ability to determine why it is that some of our students have difficulty reading. Many of us in education don’t believe that the EQAO office can provide reliable enough reporting results to be able to deliver achievable increases in student achievement. There are too many variables.

We have greatly improved our understanding of testing as a science. We understand validity, reliability. It is my hope that changing technology will change and influence how classroom testing is accomplished. Those in the work force are not limited to what they can remember or find in their offices. Students are not limited to, in fact should be encouraged to identify, evaluate and apply learning skills and strategies which help them seek out new information and ideas, and use it critically to influence their thinking. These are not skills that can be assessed by EQAO testing, some students score well below their capabilities due to boredom, inattention, illness or misunderstanding of testing procedures.

We have not made any improvements to the means by which we deliver programs, which improve parenting skills. Many non-profit groups that support juveniles are facing cut backs in funding. Parents are our children’s first teachers. We know that some parents who have little education see little value in supporting the school. They may, in fact, fear it, These are the parents who may have little faith in teachers or who do not understand how to provide academic support at home. Many of our students become behaviour problems and they take away from the kind of education system that we all want for our students. Testing and holding teachers accountable will not improve this cause of underachievement.

For these reasons I believe we must change our strategies on testing. We must assess our student’s needs, learning styles, learning skills and create an educational system which reflect learning in the Information Age. $50 million would go a long way towards this goal. We need to draw competent, high achieving educational professionals with salaries to keep them teaching.

Split Grade Classes I

This paper examines the roles various stakeholders must own in a program that includes split-grade classes in terms of teacher requirements, principal and parental support, as well as student selection. The research is limited is its scope. Various curriculum delivery strategies are explored: whole class, teacher-led, independent group work, self-directed and multimedia projects, based on practical experiences and lessons learned in the classroom. Finally, classroom management approaches are considered from the point of view of assistant teachers, routines and transitions, room equipment and use, tutoring, student assessment and evaluation. (Jilks, 2000)

In 2003 I found myself assigned a split grade class, not having taught one for ten years! I was overwhelmed with the prospect, despite having already taught a grade 4/5 split in 1993. I looked back fondly on that year. There were 35 students, ten of whom were designated gifted and six were designated Learning Disabled. It was quite a challenge but the best year I had had up to that point in my teaching career! Having spent two of my previous years in a portable I know that there is a lot to learn from being outdoors.

My professional learning plan this year included examining the research to determine what I could learn from the literature. I knew, since I had been evaluated before, that I had to tackle this topic. It was a search to find information to assist me in creating an exemplary curriculum, despite the challenges of a high needs, diverse group. This is not an unusual situation, teaching a split-grade class. I am not alone. The Ottawa Carleton District School Board in 2003 was made up of about 20% split-grade classes.

Firstly, I must define what I mean by a split grade class. There are various definitions of split, multi-grade and multi-age classes. The scope of this article is about split- and multi-grade classes. The term “multi-age groupings” applies to carefully chosen programs, which combine more than one grade and, presumably, more than one age grouping in a classroom devoted to multimedia, creative, integrative curriculum. Curriculum may be delivered in a context of teaching cycles and students who remain with a teacher for several years. Resources abound in creating mutli-grade groupings. A preliminary Google search found me 22,600! I was elated.

Split grade classes are formed quite often as an administrative solution, rather than for a philosophical motivation. (Naylor, 2000) A principal will find that they are assigned a finite number of teachers and must accommodate such in their classrooms. The same is not true for multi-age groupings, in which it is the school philosophy to create alternate learning situations. This is profoundly different than the typical split grade class. We are limited in Ontario to teaching specific expectations to specific grades in most split grade classrooms with little room for maneuvering. Many teachers do not choose such an assignment, in that many multi-grade or split-grade classes are dictated by budgetary concerns.

Veenman (1995) speaks of a dissatisfaction on the part of teachers with their lot in life. There is relatively little research available on split grade classes. Much of the research I found failed to help me create the type of program I felt would be useful in my context. Most of the research focuses on multi-age groupings, rather than split-grade classes. In fact, Mason & Burns (1996) disagree with the findings of Veenman. I was most disheartened. I felt that there must be some practical research I might apply to my situation.

We could have a culture of change that is developed hand-in-hand with technical, human and resource support in our public schools but this not the case. These resources should be developed with all stakeholders, including teachers. Stakeholders include taxpayers, business, Federations, Government, teachers, parents and students. The Ministry of Education has undertaken a huge thrust in assisting school boards in developing Literacy Coach positions to create better curriculum. In addition, the stakeholders do not seem to add much to the equation. It is difficult to assuage concerned parent’s concerns and many parents express concerns on a teacher’s ability to differentiate program in the classroom. There is much a team could do to create a stronger curriculum. There are many exemplary strategies that can be applied to split grade classrooms.

Teacher Requirements
Teachers who are chosen for such opportunities must have a good handle on a variety of curriculum models and employ each as needs be. They must be prepared to juggle curriculum, students, One must be positive and view every teaching experience as a learning process. Indeed, Bennett and Rolheiser (2001, p.15) conclude, “teaching effectively must be a creative act within a complex environment.” The effective multi-grade teacher is creative, self-directed and has a portfolio of strategies to employ in a classroom which may prove demanding for some and frustrating for many. They must be organized, creative, compassionate and mindful of classroom discipline strategies. Teacher stress, a topic spoken of more often than not, is exacerbated by multi-grade classes of students who demand more time and energy when planning for twice the curriculum of a straight graded class. Teamwork is essential, since many split-grade classes must share precious learning resources in a single school setting. Team planning with colleagues will ensure that resources are easily available.

Teachers of split-grade classes must have a deep knowledge of pedagogy, human growth and development, behaviour, small group dynamics and, often, crowd control! First year teachers should not be assigned a split grade class, even though it appears that the vacancy list often includes such. Their professional portfolio must be full of knowledge about instructional concepts, organizers, strategies and skills and integrate these into thoughtful curriculum practices. They must be resourceful, creative, and energetic and must be mindful of their minds, bodies and souls so as not to burn out. At then end of the day they must be realistic about their time and energy and compromise and learn to say no when needed or necessary. This is only a job and it is not worth one’s health in an attempt to please everybody (Jilks, 2003).

Principal Support
Principals must have experience and create some support for the classroom teacher. S/he must be prepared to advise the teacher in any capacity at any time. Huge issues often arise (parents displeased with the placement, access to materials and support, student misbehaviour, new students, unidentified special nees students), which further exacerbate the complexities of the class. The classroom teacher may need support redefining priorities, creating time for communication with parents, disciplining students and managing paperwork. The teacher can be offered more than simply moral support. Administrators can provide relief in terms of preparation time and workload by taking time to visit the class and offer to help out when discipline strategies require extra time and effort. This will significantly ease the burden and demonstrate concern. It is the principal who should be aware of resources available, such as the OCUP Planner (see: which feature several multi-grade units of study.

Today’s teachers face an increasingly complex student body that reflects diversity of cognitive, language and physical abilities that are affected by learning styles and brain functions. The multi-grade experience does not lend itself to making the job easier and principals must bear these factors in mind when selecting staff for such an assignment. Teachers used to believe that being out of favour with one’s principal meant to be assigned a split-grade class out in a portable! The variables over which we do not have control are vast. We have great student diversity in terms of advantages and disadvantages, family situations: socioeconomic status, emotional or physical abuse, student abilities and disabilities.

Add to this mix rigorous new academic expectations, standards, testing and technology and we can understand why many inexperienced teachers leave the flock. Statistics demonstrate how severe the problem has become. Teachers are being stretched to the limit and the expectations placed on them seem to be expanding dramatically (ETFO, 1999). Drope (2000) cites statistics that confirm this problem. In 1992 2.9 % of teachers were absent due to illness, by 1998 4.3 % were absent in a typical school week. Overworking teachers have taken on unhealthy weight gains, increased their smoking and alcohol consumption and face low self-esteem and marital conflict, as well as other psychological problems (Chisholm, 2000).

Parental Support
It is crucial that parents provide extra support for students and teachers. Many parents are wary of the opportunities for student creativity, independence and cooperative learning, which are embedded in a multi-grade class. Parents may need some handholding as they seek to find the best placement for their child. Studies show that students do not necessarily suffer due to multi-grade groupings. (Veenman, 1995) Researchers are not necessarily strident about this point since students tend to be hand-picked for these classes. Parents can come to understand that a great teacher can do anything and their children will not suffer in a split-grade class.

Parents need to be reminded that this placement choice for their child has been made in the child’s best interests, and in the best interests of the entire school. The teaching style of a split-grade class can give a creative teacher a chance to incorporate and refine an instructional repertoire, if given access to support and resources. In the latest wave of educational reform we have identified exemplary practices worth adopting and parents can assist with home tutoring, time for peer tutoring, cooperative learning, thematic teaching, opportunities for curriculum review and time to progress to the next grade level. They can further assuage their concerns by volunteering in the classroom.

Student Selection
Students are usually chosen for a split-grade class because of their educational needs, academic ability, social, emotional and physical needs. Multi-grade classes must have a balanced representation of ages, genders, work habits and social skills. This information can be explained to concerned parents. Their child has been chosen! Much time may be spent in independent activities in a holistic, student-centered environment. This type of environment is ideally suited to such learners. They may thrive in a class in which there are opportunities for interaction with either older or younger students.

Curriculum Delivery
Whole class instruction, wait time, mind mapping, Venn diagrams, brain-based teaching strategies, teacher led activities, student-led projects, independent group work, self-directed learning, integrative and multimedia projects all have a place in the multi-grade class. Whatever works best for a particular subject and domain must be in the repertoire of the multi-grade classroom teacher and a place from which s/he may draw whatever works for the best. In Beyond Monet, Bennett and Rolheiser speak of the
“Art and science of teaching”. They cite the need to “integrate a deep understanding of knowledge, time to experiment, access to information; and opportunity to work within a system that supports novelty and creativity. “(2001, p.7)

It is the principal, the school and the school board that can best provide these supports. Teaching a split-grade class can be an opportunity for growth and fine tune instructional repertoire, skills, techniques, patterns and administrative practices.

Classroom Management
The management of the classroom has a profound effect on curriculum delivery. It helps any teacher and their delivery of program if they are organized, have clear-cut routines and transitions, fair but firm discipline practices. If they have adopted clear methods for evaluating and assessing student progress, including clear rubrics, they will find that curriculum management need not be an onerous task. Here are some of the instructional strategies I have assimilated into my split grade classroom.

The use of assistant teachers, room monitors and peer-tutoring are all intrinsic components of the well-administered classroom. Such strategies help the teacher and student have a common understanding of expectations for behaviour and help carry on the business of the room. The best evidence of this arrived on the day I was suddenly struck by a migraine. Various students took up attendance, did the calendar, sent for help from the office, and prepared the “To Do” list on the chalkboard, and began to take up homework using the Teacher Resource Book. Everyone knew what had to be done and all took part in completing tasks. Teachers must spend a few extra minutes organizing the management of equipment, creating checklists, especially during a thematic unit of study.

Routines and Transitions
A great deal of time can be spent moving from location and to new tasks. Transition times can be doubled in a split-grade class as students move from teaching areas to work areas. This time can be used well through teacher planning and room organization. A strategy such as count down to a start time artificially motivates students to get to where they need to be, especially when carried out with a sense of humour! A regular meeting spot for direct teaching times can relieve congestion and increase expectations of student responsibility. A familiar spot builds in the expectation that the teacher is busy with another grade and should not be disturbed except in the case of an emergency.

Bolton (1996) lists some helpful tips and I based these quick tips upon her work.

1. Model the behaviours you expect from students. Treat them with respect, teach them how to disagree agreeably and value manners. It makes a busy classroom much easier to contain. (Bianco, 2002)
2. Modify assignments according to student learning styles.
3. Do not take student behaviour personally: remain calm, fair and firm.
4. Establish a time out area, (Principal support is essential here!) Sometimes all you need is a break.
5. Provide children with choices. Give them the choice of topic, presentation method or style. Units are a simple way to scaffold learning.
6. Make student responsible for work and then have them do the marking. We exchange papers and mark each other’s work quickly as a group. Make the first done the person who does the marking for that assignment.
7. Create logical consequences for inappropriate behaviour.
8. Allow children to share of themselves i.e. “bring and brag”! Let them know that you are human, too.
9. Teach the appropriate expression of feelings and interaction strategies. Do not accept rudeness. I teach students to disagree agreeably. “I disagree with that answer.” Rather than students correcting each other I suggest they say, “I have another suggestion”.
10. Seat needy children near to you and away from potentially disruptive students.
11. Play music during work periods. Music soothes the frustrated souls!
12. Ensure that students have opportunities for success, however limited. Modify the depth and breadth of their assignments.
13. When you feel overwhelmed get support. Phone a friend or find a mentor. Simplify.

Student Evaluation and Assessment
Tracking of skill development and collection of materials for student assessment is of prime importance. Brent Philips, of the Halton District School Board has created easy to use grids that simplify the evaluation process. This Powerpoint highlights some things to keep in mind: .

Two separate locations for a hand-in box for each grade help to sort out student’s work. Collecting only one grade’s work per day minimizes confusion and apparently lessens the work load in that marking half a class set of books or papers seems less onerous than collecting a set of papers which must first be sorted. Another strategy I use is to assign tests to a particular grade during alternate weeks or on alternate days.

I like to use thematic topics of study, as the line between one grade and ages and stages, learning needs and learning styles blur another. I use novel studies that anyone can belong to, I choose no more than four books and students choose one of them. The learning tasks are contained on my web site. Usually we use one spelling list derived from our science units of study. I give a pretest and assign various activities during the week. Students choose a goal for the final test at the end of the week. This is the spelling master list we used. Student take ownership and often can choose spelling activities which suit their learning styles. This is an empowering process.

We do a lot of group marking in our class. Often we simply exchange work with a neighbour. At other times when it comes time to assess or evaluate I strategically give students of higher abilities a paper that they may be able to provide some insight into improvements. Alternately, students who have been having trouble with work may find that seeing what a strong piece of work looks like may give them a notion of exemplary work. Students help me create rubrics for expectations before, during or after the activity and this provides them with a goal. As we mark we discuss what the various level answers look like and increases.

Self- marking works in my class and seems to improve motivation by making students accountable. I leave the marking book out and the first student in a cooperative learning group, usually a strong, independent worker, will go to the Teacher Guide, correct the first ten questions and go back to his/her group to mark them. This saves me time, it points out who has mastered the work and invites students to peer-tutor as they peer mark a piece of work. They seem keen to help others understand the finer points of regrouping, or measurement or borrowing and can often point out small errors privately (without losing face in front of the teacher) which enables the students to successfully complete work. Sometimes they are unable to help one another and will quietly come to me and suggest that their peer needs help. I am amazed at their compassion and concern.

Of course, it is the performance-based assessment tasks, which we use most often. Students choose a project, we approach it in a constructivist manner, and they construct a multi-media presentation, which reflects their knowledge and understanding on a particular topic.

I work at building a cooperative classroom community in which the goals is for us all to move to master the curriculum expectations. I have found that often it is a student who exhibits behaviour problems who relishes opportunities to quickly complete and survey peer work. They like the responsibility. It keeps them motivated to finish early and take responsibility. They save face when they can quietly correct work, without interference from me, they peer-tutor each other and the dynamics of the learning process changes at that point. They are in charge of marking and can affix stickers and are thus empowered to become assistant teachers. It is very seldom that students cheat during these opportunities and it has proven to be a valuable strategy for me to use.

Split-grade classes have been challenging and yet the rewards are great. To see peers working with one another restores my faith in humanity. My dreams for my students are to see them working with each other in a cooperative, creative learning environment. Some of these strategies can help. There are many resources available and most teachers are quite eager to share their knowledge and expertise. Learning Resource teachers can provide valuable insight into student needs. With the support of principals, literacy coaches and other stakeholders, the lessons you learn as a teacher far outweigh the difficulties. It is up to stakeholders to make sure that all of these resources are easily accessed. This varies incredibly from Board to Board. Participation in professional development activities are crucial if we are to assist students in split grade classes in becoming lifelong learners. It is possible that they will learn more from the opportunities provided in such a situation.

Bennett, B. & C. Rolheiser (2001). Beyond Monet: The Artful Science of Instructional Integration. Toronto: Bookation, Inc.
Bianco, A. (2002) One-Minute Discipline. USA: Jossey-Bass.
Bolton, A.B. (1996). How To manage Your Multi-Age Classroom, USA: Teacher Created Materials, Inc.
Chisholm, F. R., (2000). Work-Related Stress: Getting the Help You Need, in After the Chalk Dust Settles, Toronto: ETFO.
Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom. USA: Harvard University Press.
ETFO, (1999). Report to Executive:Toronto.
Drope, J. (Ed.), (2000). After the Chalk Dust Settles, Toronto, ON: ETFO.
Jilks, J.A. (2004) Web-based Portfolio, Retrieved from
Jilks, J.A. (2003) Teacher Stress, Teacher Morale and Change.
Mason, D.A., Burns, R.B. (1996). " ‘Simply No Worse and No Better’ May Simply Be Wrong: A Critique of Veenman’s Conclusions About Multi-Grade Classes." Review of Educational Research, 66 (3), 307-322.
Naylor, C. (2000) Split-Grade and Multi-Age Classes: A Review of the Research and a Consideration of the B.C. Context. Accessed Jan. 4, 2004 at:
Philips, B. (1998) Curriculum Grids. Accessed January, 2004 at:
Rosenholtz, S. (1989) The teachers’ workplace: The social organization of schools. New York: Longman.
Veenman, S. (1995) Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Effects of Multi-Grade and Multi-Age Classes: A Best-Evidence Synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65 (4), 319-381.
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