Friday, February 27, 2009

I disagree with that answer

Cooperative learning involved supporting each other, even when wrong.
I had great fun with my students. We modeled behaviour and language, videotaped each other, and helped develop patience, as we played with technology.

In this case, I was trying to establish the phrase, "I disagree with that answer." - as an alternate to, "You/she is wrong."

This young lady mimicked me perfectly. I just adored her.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Learning Language

As babies learn language, the begin by articulating plosive sounds like /P/, /M/, and /B/. It is good practice to speak in full sentences; they hear the rhythm and melody of a language, but language games can follow as you reproduce the sounds that they make. An echo game is fun. Naming objects and talking about what you are doing helps them develop the 32,000 words they can learn by the time they are reading. Another fun games is teaching them the sounds that animals make. Josephine began imitating our cat's meowing sounds during her 2-week visit. This is another level of communication, as she learns to represent an object (cat) with a sign (MEOW).

It is important children come to school with a vocabulary, and background knowledge. This prereading skills support receptive and expressive language development. It is important to both hear and to try to communicate. This is why day care, nursery schools, play groups, and other group activities benefit family with language issues. This is my granddaughter, as we played language. Her parents taught her sign language, as is the way nowadays. Now a year old, she has begun using one-word. Her favourite is 'hep', when she cannot do or reach something. /KA/, for cat, as we show her our cat videos shows she is able to name things, even on the computer screen.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Team spirit, race relationships

My father was an avid Toronto Maple Leaf fan. I recall his consternation night after night as they lost game after game. He would stomp up our stairs, and I knew they had lost again.

This is an old photo of my brother, circa 1950-something...

One year, when the Ottawa Senators were in a race with the Toronto Maple Leafs, I was teaching in an Ottawa school.

It was mayhem. The thing about Ottawa is that many people are from 'away'. That is, born and raised in other cities.

A couple of teachers in the school, avid hockey fans, drummed up much excitement. Unfortunately, they forgot the basic fact that many cheered for other teams.

As the series progressed, things began to get a bit hot. Fans from Toronto had some issues in the Corel Centre, or whatever it is called now!

In our school, one of my students created a small banner and ran through the school yard chanting, "Go, Sens, go!", while other students ran in a mob behind her. It was rather bizarre! One teacher put announcements on about 'our' Ottawa Sens.

The custodian, a total Toronto fan, wore his full get up. He had the shirt, pants, socks, slippers, mug. He had a Leaf towel on his office door. It was a hoot. He and the two young teachers jokingly had a rivalry. Some of the students didn't get the joke, though. They were afraid to let the other kids know they were rooting for the Toronto team in this blatantly Ottawa Sens school.

I deliberately wore a Toronto shirt. I bought it downtown just for the day! My Dad would have been proud. There is a point to this story, though. As I would lead my students to the library, we would pass other students in the hall. Rather than a 'high 5', one students quietly gave me a low 5, as I passed. He was afraid of letting the others know he was a TO fan. I wanted to make a point. I felt very strange wearing the blue in a sea of red. Kids made rude remarks to me, a teacher, as I passed them in the hall. Not fun, but rude and disrespectful remarks - over a game. I was shocked. The rabble-rouser staff who began the whole thing didn't really understand the impact of what they had started. It was very difficult to watch, me an equal opportunity, holistic, integrative teacher who respected her multi-ethnic class of young charges.

I was amazed at the discussion in my class room. I monitored it carefully. Students were vitriolic in their disgust for the others and their teams. The friendly rivalry had gone all wrong. I used it as a teachable moment as we talked about manners, respect, bias and dignity. I had never been in a minority before. It taught me a good lesson, I hope my students learned one, as well.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

race-based assignments

In more New Brunswick headlines,
Education expert questions rationale for race-based Grade 4 activity: Similar exercises phased out decades ago after morality questions raised

I am amazed that such activities exist. Racism runs rampant as it is, to create such an activity will only further alienate students from each other. This looks like a very old activity, typed, as it is, with obvious signs of an ancient era. You need a very sensitive teacher, with carefully crafted curriculum, to work with students on racism.

What is amazing is that such a thing rises to the level to receive full media attention. Surely, the stakeholders can work together to solve this problem? I am truly amazed.

I am so shocked that it gets to this level. The parents, who have registered their protest, have had input. It offended them. Discussions should have resolved the issue.

daily routines

One of the most recent issues has been a New Brunswick principal, Erik Millett, who stopped the daily playing of Oh, Canada, and moved it to a monthly assembly. CBC did a piece called, The Principal's Principles. He is off on leave, having experienced death threats, as well as other vitriolic abuse. Naturally, Facebook groups have popped up in support and against the man.

Having had Jehovah's Witness students, whose religion required them to step into the hall at the singing of 'Oh, Canada', I can understand why this would be a good move on the part of a principal. Having taught gr. 7/8 students, who rebelled against standing and singing, I can see that subjecting them to this on a daily basis is bizarre. You spend the first 15 minutes of the day in crowd control! For students whose families are atheist, it is a further insult.

That said, what a terrible attack on this man. I was blacklisted in the 80s for doing a quiet meditation with my students. The fundamentalist Christians in my community formed a group and demanded a meeting with the principal. I was shocked. It changed the way I taught. Such a shame that the issue could not be resolved and that the politicians used this man for their sound bytes. Any school activity can be used as a lesson. This one was abused by all the stakeholders. Shame on them.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day as a teacher can be painful.

It is difficult with kiddies who don't like each other. In competition, they send a few valentine's to some, not others, and then count them.

We eschewed it for Random Acts of Kindess week.

In other years, we taped students singing, reciting their own poems and my JKs event record love message for mommy and daddy. I made a copy of each cassette tape for each family. I still have mine somewhere. Those were the good years!

university vs. college or trade schools

Ivory Tower Blues: A University System in Crisis
The authors are working on another book. Their blog is here. The table of contents is on the publisher's website.

I own, and have read, the aforementioned book. It presents a series of interesting points about a university degree. It has received some great press, and the authors have appeared on The Agenda, The Sunday Edition, as well as other places. Most, with not vested interest in the issues, only confirm the author's findings.

Some of the issues in the book, and ones that concern me, are:
  • The dumbing down of a university education
  • The sense of entitlement students feel
  • Disengagement of learners
  • Accessibility vs. suitable student material
  • Student attitudes towards their rights and/or responsibilities (i.e., "It's not my fault!")
  • The expectations of high marks for low quality, low quantity of work
  • The lack of a work ethic: wait'll you hit the real world!
  • The criminal number of part-time instructors, rather than the hiring of full-time (and more costly) Ph.D.s
  • Large class sizes held in small rooms, especially in Faculties of Education when hands-on learning and exemplary curriculum practices should be modelled, but it is not
  • A curriculum that does not meet the needs of learners, i.e., student teachers get little on classroom management, at least when I taught them in 2005
  • The complicity of university powers-that-be who demand that professors pacify students to keep enrollment high
  • You won't be certain of a free ride (or a $50,000 starting salary) upon graduation
  • Teachers, especially WASP high school guidance counsellors, who are university snobs (universityism?) and believe it is the only way to go (sort of a reverse, theoretically unbiased -ism)
  • Policies (adopted from elementary schools) of no-fail, with every student passing
  • Grads of on-line courses who really haven't mastered their course material, but faked it!
  • Getting bang for your buck
  • Misplaced parental influences: parents push and do not listen, they expect their 'gifted' son/daughter to sail through
  • A university education in the current climate and job market (Some people should NOT be getting a university education: they are much better suited, and will find more success in college or trade schools but the myth is perpetuated. A university degree is not the only avenue for success.)
There has been an upturn in private, for-profit universities, I am not sure that they are as valid and valued as the non-profits. I believe, according to my experiences, that the issues there are worse than in the non-profit, government subsidized university. Profs have no vested interest in ensuring that students with inappropriate attitudes, or behaviours, are cut from a program.

On-line courses, run by Americans, in Canadian universities. They are over worked and do not have the student's interests in mind. Some rely on undergrads to mark and/or monitor course folders, but they are not the profs for whom students have paid.

For more information see:

Listen to the interview with Michael Enright on CBC Radio - The Sunday Edition:

Featured on The Agenda with Steve Paikin:

Read an article in the National Post:

Friday, February 13, 2009

Split Grade Classes II

I was asked about this topic by a journalist. I haven't reflected on it for a few years. I wrote an article, Split Grade Classes (Jilks, 2000), when teaching a delightful gr. 4/5 class, and it was published in The Ontario Action Researcher. Action Research is a process whereby a teacher looks at issues in her classroom, identifies barriers, does research, creates some solutions, and tests the results, then repeats the process in an upward spiral of improved curriculum delivery. Here are some of my current thoughts...

What does the research say about the impact of split grades on students?

-there is little, as I wrote in the article, previously posted in this blog, since there is no value for anyone to pay for such.

If you look for the reasons split grades are created: number of teachers divided by number of students, mandated smaller classes in primary levels, you realize we have no choice. For something with little choice, you make the best of it. That said, I had the best time with a gr. 4/5 split the year I wrote the article. I also did a gr. ½, and 5/6. It is no problem!

Based on your experience, what are some of the benefits -- and what are some of the drawbacks of combined grades?

• If the teacher, students, parents all go in with the attitude, “Yes, we can!” then you will.
• All stakeholders must be supportive: especially the principal, to allow the teacher to take risks, and try new things
• Colleagues can be creative in supporting the delivery of specific curriculum, i.e., group all gr. 4’s, while another teacher works with gr. 5’s.
• Principals can incorporate a rotational curriculum: gr. 4/5 do gr. 4 science curriculum one year, rotating the next. It truly does not matter what curriculum one follows, it is the learning process that is important. What do you remember about your gr. 4 science class?
• This is a huge myth, perpetuated by text book publishers and principals, more is gained by vertical knowledge in a topic, rather than touching simple basics when the teacher divides her time between grades.

With a good teacher there is no problem. It *is* stressful for the teacher. For the students, it depends upon them and their needs. I had some dynamic students do some wonderful things. We did Reading Buddy work with the kindergartens, which gave me time to work with half of the class. Getting in a student teacher helps, too.

It benefits the students, if they have the right attitude. You can appoint team leaders, create small groups, and encourage them to work together more closely.
The younger ones benefit socially by observing the older ones. The older ones have more respect, which the teacher models, for those less socially, emotionally, or intellectually able.

How important is age (i.e .a child born in January vs. December)?
You want a mix of kids in a class: social, emotional, independent, and I haven’t seen any research on this topic but form my own perceptions the less mature children, who come from families with no siblings, have a hard time learning to receive less attention from one teacher. This, of course, is a good lesson. Maturity is much less chronological age than emotional age.

What emotional and social factors have to be considered?

Considered by whom? Usually it is the teachers who put together class lists in June for September. They look for more mature students in the higher grade, and try to create a split with mature, independent, more able kids for that. They often will create classes, due to numbers, that have 3:1 ratio of younger to older kids. There are limits on class size by school, district, provincial, and this is part of the process.

The parents always think their kids are the smartest, most independent, bright learners, but also deserve NOT to be in a split grade class. You can’t have both.

What models work best for split grades?
Adopting some of the Ministry split grade curriculum, in which similar topics are grouped, is ideal. Using more of a multi-grade model, in which learning doesn’t focus on just one strand per grade, with flexibility and independent projects works with kids.
There are groupings of topics.- the ministry OCUP curriculum has a ton of info on them.
Having adequate materials texts, hands-on materials help a great deal. Parents can fund raise for this.
Mostly, the teacher can adapt in all areas. When you are doing regrouping in math, gr. 4 does one digit, gr. 5 does two. You are building layers of curriculum on top of one another. To reinforce it does not hurt as Gr. 5 attend to a review lesson that teaches a concept fresh to gr. 4.

There are no models, only an Instructional Repertoire, a bag of strategies from which the teacher selects – skills the teachers must adopt and master:

• Integrated Pedagogies
• Instructional Concepts, Skills, Tactics, Strategies and Organizers that assist them in creating curriculum.

They must be good teachers, willing to aim for great.

Parents worry needlessly. This is a way of life in Ontario schools. They must be as supportive as they can be: volunteering, offering assistance and understanding. It can be so much fun in such a class. You have one grade doing an experiment, the other (theoretically) doing reading, or research, while they all watch the exciting experiments. The kids can’t wait until next year when they can do them, too.

I had a great phone interview with the journalist, it helped me reflect on my views from the perspective of parents. Many worry needlessly, since their child was chosen for a split grade class, it reflects the abilities of the child as being strengths that lead teachers to believe that s/he is the best candidate for such a placement. Parents must go in with the attitude that each teacher has strengths that a child can benefit from, rather than being negative towards such a classroom. A straight grade class often has a number of special needs students, which further complicates and/or benefits a classroom community. Each class is a complicated mix of curriculum, environment, student attitude and teacher behaviour.

The article is to come out in the September edition of Today's Parent magazine.

Split grade classes - Today's Parent

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Instructional Strategies, Skills, Tactics: a portfolio and repertoire

Here is a PPT I created when teaching PED 2145 at uOttawa - Social Studies for primary/junior student teachers. Not the most successful teaching I did: hired on January 3rd for a class to being Jan. 8th! What pressure?

I had some wonderful students, with great promise. I failed to reach some, which is normal. My pet peeve is that they are not taught nearly enough about classroom management, crowd control, and other basics. That said, I learned a lot about teaching adults, despite little time to prepare. There are many barriers to success in university.

Funding, plagiarism , a sense of entitlement, student perception of being overworked, a lack of full time staff, unethical evaluations and marks and Critical Thinking Theory and Media.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Integration of Special Education students

Recently a survey was published in response to special education policy on Ontario: "A quarter century of inclusive education for children with intellectual disabilities in Ontario: Public perceptions." The full paper is available here.

As is the government way, they create policies, pass legislation to make it so, and then institute policies across the board, if you'll excuse the pun. The first sentence of the abstract reads, "Understanding the views of the public is an important factor in developing and evaluating policy on inclusive education." I must disagree. The first factor is determining the need for such policies, evaluating its research-based evidence, and in an Action Research* program determine it validity.

In a sadly inadequate survey of satisfaction of special education integration practices, Philip Burge surveyed opinions of those outside the city, between the GTA and Ottawa. All of these centres (GTA, OCDSB) have exemplary integration strategies. But there is a difference between practices in major city centres, and smaller districts. It is a matter of public opinion -the study found, that outside these city centres, that 52% believed that some degree of inclusive education in regular schools was best and 42% believed that education in special schools was best.

Imagine not surveying the stakeholders in special education? This renders the validity of the study quite invalid. I am tired of opinions and man-in-the-street interviews!

The questions to ask:
  • Who is learning?
  • How are they learning?
  • Are they learning best in a fully integrated or partially integrated setting?
  • Are the teachers well equipped?
  • Principals trained in supporting them?
  • Are the EAs fully trained in pedagogical processes, since they are the main teacher in usual practices?

For the most part the parents demanded integration in the early 80s.

The background information, research enquiry cited studies that determined that "inclusive education, when adequately funded and supported by educators, enables all students to be treated with dignity..." Fair enough, but is it the best place for intellectual development for all concerned? Apparently so, since those with intellectual ability can be positive role models. It helps all of us understand each other, a huge skill in the job market. Emotional intelligence is an important aspect to success in the workplace.

The teachers fought it since they had little training working with sp.ed. kids.
Parents of non-identified children fought it since it took time away from their 'regular' kids.
Principals just did as parents asked, according to their rights. But fought with the Board and parents to get more Ed. Assistant (EA) time, and Bill 82, in 19080, and in cutbacks of the 1999s- and Harris' reforms, special needs students lost out.

Many more teachers are earning their sp.ed. specialist certificates, rightly so. But many are burdened with sp. ed. kids. They have no idea how to modify curriculum, and integrate students, especially in smaller schools, with fewer human and physical resources. The paper alludes to this finding of opinion, and I have found it so in the many classrooms of which I have had knoweldge. Many teachers are unaware of the special needs of special students. Many have personal biases that confound their abilities to teach those less intellectually abled.

Unions have lobbied for weighted loading of classrooms, with limited class sizes for integrated special needs students. This makes sense. It has not necessarily been so, however, as reduced public school populations have resulted in cutbacks.

There needs to be a balance: with withdrawal part of the time, and EA support during integration time.

In one class I had 25 kids: 6 L.D., 1 autistic, 1 with neurofibromatosis, Marfan's Syndrome, 1 gifted student, etc. My EA was there 1/2 time, but the students were withdrawn for half the day in a small class setting.
It changes the way you teach and the way kids learn.

This study, perhaps a waste of taxpayer dollars as we seek public opinion on a policy that has been proven to support disabled students.


If anything is certain, it is that change is certain. The world we are planning for today will not exist in this form tomorrow.

--Philip Crosby, Reflections on Quality


*Action Research is one method of allowing teachers to take control of their professional practice. It cannot be mandated and it needs to be facilitated (Fullan, 1993). This paper demonstrates the need for all stakeholders to empower front line workers to create collaborative communities and to integrate best teaching practices into their teaching portfolio (Hargreaves & Fullan, 1992).

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