The Rules

A student sits at his desk responding to an essay we have read, writing his own piece. As I walk up, I see sketches sprinkled among the words. One of a small child, knees pulled to their chest, and head down; shadows shaded all around them the texts that wrapped the image, “I may be an artist, but I am no writer.”

I wondered in that moment before speaking where he got the idea he was not a writer? The words he had on the page, while unconventionally organized, painted a beautiful picture. He was writing about the importance of asymmetry as a metaphor for the importance of a community being made up of unique people. What better example of this uniqueness than a multimodal creation to tell his story? I talked to him about why he felt this way, and he spoke to the “rules” of writing and how he doesn’t follow them so well. It was not the first time I had heard “The Rules” since starting my first attempt at teaching a senior English class.

We started the year with free writing. I got a lot of, “How long does this have to be?” or “Do we write a 5 paragraph essay?” followed by, “Ok so if not what is the structure?”

I think I have said, “Let’s just start with writing” more times than in the entire time I taught Junior High. These rules that generally only exist in academic writing and more so in High School only exist in High School. I tried explaining that outside High School, writing happens without rules. Our paragraphs are not always five sentences, and our essays are not five paragraphs. Our first paragraph does not have to hit the reader over the head with the controlling idea; there can be nuance. Stories are powerful, personal ones more so.

This news has been really uncomfortable for many in the class to accept, which has shocked me. This need for rules and structure, this hesitance to explore the page with their pencil and ideas, has me confused. It is something I was not prepared for, but I welcome the challenge.

We started last week with Nawal Q Casiano’s piece for #31daysIBPOC, which can be found here  . We discussed the moves she made in the article, the lines that stood out, the themes they thought they noticed, and then I asked them to use this beautiful mentor text to guide their writing. Despite their calls for length minimums or how long it had to be, there were some beautiful ideas coming but the rules were getting in the way of finding themselves as writers. We are working on it, and I am grateful for beautiful pieces like Nawal’s that will guide my students to a bit of freedom from the constraints they have been working with previously.

I am not so much of a hippie that I don’t think structure and “rules” have their purpose, but when they put limits on creativity and tell our students that they must live within a box, I struggle. So we will learn, among other things in English 30-1 this year, that we can learn rules of writing while embracing the freedom of creating without them. Discovering and embracing who they are as writers, and we are going to write—a lot.

To the Classes of 2021/2022

As I sat pondering what I wanted to write after the Alberta Summer Literacy Institute the topics of all the speakers kept coming back to me. The thread that brought everything together, at least in the sessions I attended, was the importance of our students knowing themselves, honouring their identity and helping them to see and honour their genius and pursue their joy. With all the ridiculous conversations around Learning Loss and the mountains of advice people seem to have for teachers regardless of not being in the classroom themselves. The other day I saw a tweet from a brilliant educator that really helped me to frame my thinking more.

There are most certainly some folks that just want to dwell on the deficits. They are somehow stuck in some world where learning and expectations should not have shifted while the rest of the world did. I think the second sentence in the author’s first point really hit home the most. Our kids overcame odds that no one in schools right now has, and they did it is amazing ways. So often we see folks talk about resilience and grit until the kids demonstrated it in spades and now decision makers want to move the goal line. Using words like learning loss in front of our kids or even in meetings with other adults disrespects the work of our students, disrespects the work of our parents and disrespects the work of our teachers. So instead, as Dr. Gholdy Muhammad so powerfully reminded me this week, we are going to focus on students GENIUS and JOY. A letter to my students, maybe yours.

Dear Students of 2021/2022,

Some of you have never had a typical school experience, typical elementary, middle or high school but you have been expected to demonstrate learning like you have. You have missed out on experiences, field trips, parties, concerts and sports tournaments. So much has been taken from you and yet you have performed wonderfully. Rather than tell the story of the struggles Covid brought us and the lost opportunities I prefer to focus on your resilience and dedication. This is the story we should be telling.

You individually bring excellence to our classroom and this year while we of course work on skills I want our focus to be that. You and the genius you bring. The unique qualities and abilities that we can celebrate through the work that we do.

There will be voices that try and distract us from this learning journey with their nonsense about “being behind” or “lost learning” please remember they do not know you and do not matter. They are uncomfortable acknowledging that you have continued to grow despite the hurdles. We can’t measure your learning like the years have been typical because they have been far from it. We can measure how you demonstrate your excellence however. We can work on our community and we can build something great together.

Your parents also deserve much thanks and credit for helping us all get through the last few years as we learned to demonstrate our genius and joy amidst the noise.

We will of course address the skills we are assigned to cover, but we will be giving ourselves grace while we do it. We will explore who we are as learners and as people and we will honour that journey. We will not talk about Learning Loss or entertain the idea that somehow these last few years you did not demonstrate your brilliance. I look back on the work we did in a full pandemic year and I know it is not true.

See you all in a few weeks. I am looking forward to getting started.

-Your Teacher

In Closing

I spent the summer reading and learning. I am started a new journey myself and in a few weeks, new courses, new students and new discussions. I am excited. I am choosing to focus on our shared genius. I am choosing to see my students as whole people and not a test score. Shifts and growth that is the plan. Celebrate the Genius and Joy as Dr. Muhammad said. The rest will fall into place.

Reading is not Monolithic.

“Reading is not monolithic.” These are some of the wise words that kicked off a lecture during my Masters course this week by guest lecturer Carol Leroy. I remember writing a paper in University about Louise Rosenblatt and the Transactional Reader-Response Theory. I laughed a few years ago when I stumbled upon it in my old teaching portfolio (the one Universities tell you to have for interviews but NO ONE ever wants), the concept remains to me as one of the simplest ways to view reading, that reading is about interaction. Interaction between the text and themselves, their knowledge, their experiences, their life. An interaction.

When I sit in my classroom and just watch the students reading I see these interactions. When we discuss moments in books I participate in these interactions. Students who still are working at developing their accuracy and fluency are still interacting with their texts and with their classmates around shared reading experiences. Unfortunately there are people that feel that reading must follow one way of instruction. Separating the meaning making from the word recognition. Claiming that without excellence in the latter the former is not possible. I am here to tell you this is just a marketing ploy to sell programs. The notion that students should be reading nonsense words and strictly decodable books and levelled texts does not sound like the room of readers engaged with their texts I mentioned earlier. As my lecture came to an end a final point was made, “limit time spent on phonics in isolation because it will impact student success when we go back to real reading” Real Reading.

Those in the SoR (Science of Reading) community will advocate for phonics and spelling instruction in isolation from K-8, just the other day Orton-Gillingham, a leading voice in the SoR movement tweeted this very point. PHONICS in isolation until 8th Grade. My 8th graders where reading and writing their own poetry, crafting multimodal/multigenre pieces, reading countless novels, sitting in on book clubs. I can’t imagine cutting out any of these things for isolated phonics work. In K-3 sure but beyond that?

In a recent Reading Research Quarterly article Kathryn H. Au and Taffy E. Raphael state, “Inequities in reading proficiency in higher grades, as well as a lack of motivation to read, can easily result when students gain a mistaken impression that reading is simply accurate word calling.” If we spend the majority of our time in the younger grades our students will stop interacting with text because reading stops becoming a living breathing thing. It becomes robotic.

I remember my sister “reading” a King Midas story to us when she was 4. She had largely memorized the story and mistakes that made sense in context certainly happened but she was telling us a story and reading many of the words. She read that book probably a million times until it fell apart. I wonder if any kids choose Cat Sat Mat books to read a million times? Now as a grown up she leads book clubs with friends. She became a reader because people allowed her to read. She was given a choice to interact with texts.

This year I had a student in my class who has always struggled to read, has had all sort of intervention time and yet frustratingly struggles with novels because of accuracy and fluency issues. I shifted to poetry collections by folks like Rudy Francisco and the incredible Nikki Grimes. He devoured them. Finally referring to himself as a reader. Before that with our singular focus on phonics he resented it, refused to interact. Our children are whole people, why on earth do we only focus on their struggles?

IN the end I believe we must look at reading as both code and meaning focused. The idea that it can only be taught one way is reductive. This all or nothing mentality leads to teachers responding less to the needs of their students and more to the demands of a program and that will cause harm. Despite what some “experts” claim kids can and do make meaning from text without perfecting the ability to decode. However if we make them wait for perfection before allowing exploration we will lose them.

Reading is about experiences it is not limited to just a set of skills and strategies.

A Crisis of Faith

“This is what is best for kids”

Seven words that I use to go to often as I planned and taught. When I went to professional development sessions people would say, “research shows” (another favourite) that this is what is best for kids. Every time something new that was best for kids came by we all shifted.

In reality most decisions are not made from the mindset of what is best for kids. What is easiest, what is most cost efficient, what is going to lead to the least discomfort? These are more so the guides to decisions.

Today a well known (in the Edutwitter world) Administrator posted about how thrilled he was that a teacher on his team responded with something like, “I will do anything you think is best for kids”. The comment had me wondering and then doubting how often that truly is what informs our decision making?

In Florida and Texas they are passing laws banning masking in school while a pandemic starts to target children, here in Alberta we already had constraints put on our response to Covid first by a government and then by local pressures dependent on where you lived. Are these decisions in the best interests of our students? Forget about staff for a minute, hundreds of kids potentially carrying a virus that has demonstrated long term and lethal effects with 0 mitigation and safety procedures put in place. Zero.

What could possibly go wrong?

In Alberta we have a government that is working hard to achieve super villain status. Beyond hiring a racist residential school denier to write a Social Studies curriculum we are taking ridiculous steps backwards in English and Math with an ideologically fuelled regressive curriculum.

Is this what is “best for students”

As I am working on my Masters I have been doing more academic reading and specifically focused on Literacy. This current course is focused on Early Literacy. I have been a teacher for 11 years. I worked with younger kids at the beginning of my career and I learn from legitimate experts in the field of literacy every day. The shift our government and in turn school divisions will be taking regarding reading instruction will contribute to what Kelly Gallagher coined as Readicide on a massive scale.

Students are going to be drilled with decoding work, nonsense words and ridiculous decodable books until they hate reading. They will get to higher grades and be proficient word callers who hate reading because comprehension is hard and making meaning is a key point of literacy that is often ignored by folks pushing SoR (Science of Reading). Just the other day Orton-Gillingham posted on Twitter that Language instruction should be focused on spelling and phonics until 8th Grade. This is ridiculous AND is the direction we are heading because after all those with power think it is “what is best for kids”.

Narratives are created and pushed. Evidence is provided to support a singular claim, someone who carries the title of “expert” sells themselves as the only voice who knows and then creates a program to sell people and people sign up because it is “best for kids.” We no longer need evidence we just need those magic words.

Reading is not monolithic- Carol Leroy

When I sit and read with littles or they read to me the joy comes in the story telling. The meaning making, the connections. I don’t think a student has ever told me their favourite school activity was decodable books or reading some nonsense about and Pat the Ant in Matt’s Pants.

Obviously we must work with kids to help them achieve accuracy in their reading but are we to sacrifice joyful literacy to get there? Is teaching kids to hate reading really what is “best for kids”.

I sit here with about a month left of holidays and I am nervous about what this year will look like. Covid certainly is playing a role in that. Having people tell me they are unsure I am the right person to teach the courses I have been assigned is certainly another. Sitting and helplessly watching decisions being made by a government with almost no understanding of actual teaching to be told their wisdom determines it is “best for kids” is another.

Today I am sitting planning to do work that will prepare my students for the world they are heading into. While I am doing that I am prepping for idiotic standardized tests that measure nothing more than test writing abilities. Because they are clearly “what is best for kids”.

I guess we could call today a Crisis in Faith. An uncertainty that decisions made are “what are best for kids”

You deserve it

Well it has been a while since I blogged. This summer has been a healing journey so far that is much needed. I have been able to get the pool set up, tan, read, kayak and spend time with family and friends and we are only in the 4th work so that is a lovely thing. I have also had some time to spend working on school and I am beginning my Masters next week. Lots on the go.

These last few years have been really hard on me professionally. While I have learned and grown individually and formed amazing relationships with educators from around the world I did not feel that these successes have translated to my school life. I think often teachers invest so much of themselves into their work and this last year I realized that I was not putting enough into myself to balance that scale. So going into this next school year the plan is to balance. Focus on my students and classroom AND myself. The extras can be picked up by someone else. I am excited to try new things, learn and build my practice AND put time into me. I think this summer is teaching me the importance of this shift.

In the classroom I am excited to move to more High School classes. I dipped my toes in this year and the kids created some amazing writing and reflections and I am hoping that as I move up to more senior students that the work, the writing and the discussions will be incredible. The coolest part is that these will be the first students I had the chance to teach when I came to my school and I am so excited to see what they can do. We will be going gradeless and that will be new to them, we will be working in Project Based Writing and Multigenre/Multimodal work. While students need to prepare for an awful government exam I am certain that we can do this through creative, purposeful writing exploration rather than robotic practice. Wish us luck.

The Workspace

On a personal level I have really enjoyed the reading and tanning and kayaking and working out. I am excited for things that I am allowing myself to imagine again. I will be presenting at a conference in a few weeks, I am starting a Masters program. I am looking into securing a trademark for a project I want to begin.

I am guilty of allowing others to determine my value and feeling like I need to have smaller dreams because people resent those who dream bigger. I am grateful for the examples of educators I have met that are chasing dreams and helping me see that I am worthy to go after mine.

A quick update and I hope to be a bit more frequent here as I step up my game.

Teacher friends the last few years have been tough just with Covid, add on our own stresses and struggles and this has been a lot. Take the time to care for yourself. There is not shame in choosing you. Your students will benefit and so will you. To those reading going back to school soon, good luck with the year. To the rest try to maximizing the time off you have remaining. Good luck.

Lessons Learned in a Pandemic

I have struggled to put words to the thoughts and feelings over the last year. Professionally it has been a collection of highs and lows, personally it has also been quite the journey. As the school year winds down I have been grateful to see a bit of light at the end of not just the Covid tunnel but also the rollercoaster that has been my thinking. Things have been difficult but I feel like I am walking out of this year with some clarity. So without further ado, a few things I have learned in a pandemic.

1. Kids are resilient, they don’t need motivational videos to tell them how to be. Adults shouldn’t either.

I have been so impressed with the work my students have completed this year. With the uncertainty that covid brought we explored different ways to respond in English class. We looked at the typical ways but also branched out into multi-modal work and explored multiple genres attached to a common theme. My students readily accepted every invitation that I extended to join me in a learning adventure. While of course some things turned out better than others the fun was in the process. Today one of my kids who was away for 6 weeks because of Covid combined with a government school shift to online said, “I was so excited about my project but it has been such a long time I am kind of over it.” I think we are all over it but they keep trying. Our students don’t need to be reminded of the struggles this year has brought. They are living it. They have shown a strength I don’t think many adults always display. Maneuvering the curveballs with a hope things will get better. I am so grateful for my kids this year. They have anchored my sanity and brought so much joy and wonder.

2. Numbers are just limits

One adventure my students joined me on this year was attempting a basically gradeless classroom. Students selected goals to work towards, I provided feedback and we met to discuss how things were going. For some kids this was more of a leap than they were comfortable with at first. For others they thrived. Knowing that grades were not looming over them students took greater risks. They explored genres and different projects that previously they would have avoided for the comfort of a “good grade”. As we wrap up the year students are writing me to discuss their grade in either a letter format or essay. The reflections are so much more meaningful than just a grade. Don’t get me wrong they are happy to have a “good grade” still but it hasn’t been the focus. Students reflected on growth, favourite work and also what they thought was their best work. They talked about the books. They also talked about their dreams for next year and goals they could work on more. So much more information than 85% on a report card. By removing the grades we removed the limits and allowed students to dream, and they did.

3. Raising the Bar and Kids will reach for it, lower it and well…

My students did cool things this year, down the hall they did cool things in that class too. Across the world teachers were providing amazing learning opportunities and kids were rising to the challenge. I have found over the years that kids will rise to a challenge if we have their back. This year was my first year working with High School. I might have tried to do too much, especially during a pandemic, however the kids tried. Not all the results were hit out of the park but students created beautiful work when given the opportunity. One student explored poetry another podcasting. One wrote and recorded original music and I gotta say a few of them were as the kids say “bops”. The best part though was that they have proved doubters wrong all year. My little group that I affectionately call the Patchwork (we are a combination of grades in one class) they trusted me enough to try and I trusted them to create and they did. I am ridiculously proud of the effort they put in.

4. I can no longer allow people to drink from my cup and only certain people can have what spills.

This is more of a personal lesson than classroom related. This year was incredibly hard for me both professionally and personally. I have gone through several bouts of depression, my anxiety has been out of control and imposter syndrome while on the ropes is not yet knocked out. I also decided it was a great idea to go for a handful of new jobs. Let me tell you something, it is not good for any of the above mentioned mental health struggles to not get jobs you feel you are right for. Moving past that has been difficult. I had rested so many of my dreams on those opportunities, so much of my value. A month or so back my friend Dr. Towanda Harris posted her podcast about self care. One comment was that beyond the empty cup analogy was that people needed to stop sharing from their cup. As Dr. Harris and their guest talked she explained that people can’t have what is in your cup, they can have what spills out onto the saucer. I looked at how much of myself I was giving away and how little I was getting back. I was giving away far more than the saucer. Heck I was giving the cup away. It was in that moment I realized I need to focus more on me. I need to worry less about others because I am not doing well. Those dreams I have are still there, taking a different path to get to them but they are there. I don’t even know what that path is. I am starting a Masters and figuring out where I fit. Filling my cup and being careful not to spill.

5. Determine your worth and hold on to it.

This is probably the hardest lesson I have had to learn this year. I started to feel very devalued over the last few years. I don’t say that to elicit sympathy, it is what it is. I allowed my value to be determined by others and in doing so lost value in myself. Tricky how that works. Realizing this was both hurtful and helpful but it has allowed me to refocus on what matters. I am diving into my own professional learning, building myself back up again. I know my worth and will do better to protect that going forward.

Conclusion

This has been a hard year. I appreciate all the “Brent are you ok?” messages. I am not but I have learned how to maneuver this challenge over the years. Mental health and especially mental health in men is not a topic many people talk about. I have always felt like my struggles have made me more empathetic. These year stretched me, it was uncomfortable but like my friend weightlifting we rebuild stronger. Men should not be afraid to share when they are struggling. I have been… or am but I know it will get better. Heck we have almost made it through a Pandemic, I have grown as a teacher and my students kicked but. My value can’t be determined by others. Dreams might only happen in the classroom or even my office but they will happen.

Eventually.

Learning Lost?

There is this myth of learning loss
That this year was unsuccessful
Too many distractions 
Too much stress 
Kids couldn't possibly be successful 

Through all of this noise
They found their way
Bravely navigating the unknown 
Exploring new Challenges 
Daring to Dream 

Learning has not been lost

This year has been something

  • Covid
  • New teaching assignments
  • Changes in assignments part way through
  • More changes
  • Making it up as we go along
  • Staff changes
  • Lost opportunities
  • Loss after loss after loss

I try to focus on work, on my students but my goodness the noise. It is all a lot.

The good thing though is I really do love to dream of possibilities and anchor it in the excellence of my students. The good thing is that I have so many amazing mentors that I can learn from. So despite the noise the work continues. Somedays are hits and others are misses. One thing that remains we are learning.

It seems some folks are obsessed with “learning loss”, a made up term so that companies can take advantage of teachers already feeling inadequate. See, the world as we know it changed with Covid but some folks are so unwilling to reimagine education that they will create false terms to sell more test prep booklets.

Teachers for the last year have been judging themselves and their students with the metrics of the past when we need to be looking at the possibilities of the future. Reimagining education is not just a game of wishful thinking. It takes work and time. Results will not be immediate. Another piece of my life is spent lifting heavy things, I have always struggled with the eating portion of living a healthy lifestyle. Candy is a comfort food, I often will go on these fad diets to try and lose weight but when I don’t reverse years of damage in days or weeks I give up. This is how I am looking at education right now. Change takes time. Changing systems that have been in place for a hundred years can’t be change in one. But we sure as heck can start to work on it. “Learning Loss” is an attempt to interrupt progress and shift our focus off students and back to systems. Resist the urge. Push forward and honour your students excellence.

We have seven weeks of school left in the year that I thought would never end. We have tried new things we have had successes and for sure some fails but learning is happening.

Next Week we are starting Project Speak, my favourite creation of the last few years. Students will be exploring topics that they are passionate about, researching, writing and sharing. Student written and performed Ted Talks will be the culmination of our work. Every year I have dreamed about a HUGE gala to share the students work. The first year my own self doubts got in the way. Year 2 and 3 (likely) Covid cancelled or opportunity to perform but not share our brilliance. I am excited for this just like I was the first year. Nervous still but so excited.

Then comes the Patchwork, my favourite little learning experience. 4 different course levels in one class. Trying to hold ourselves together with tape. We are going to have a uniquely patchwork year end assessment. A multi-genre exploration of text and writing. We are still in the planning stages right now but it will be sorted out by Monday. It will be focused around a choice text with choice response options. Piecing together the different things we have explored as we learn together in a unique environement.

This year has been heavy on the challenges. Every day some new wrench is thrown into the works. We have lost a lot, but learning is not on the list.

Student Excellence
Despite the hurdles
Always there
Just
Look
Harder

The chains that bind us

A student told me the story of training baby elephants the other day
The chain attached early
Just strong enough to hold them
Just strong enough they start to doubt their own
Potential

As the elephant grows up the chains stay the same
The elephant stops trying to break free
Stops testing the system because it learns it is 
stuck

I can't help but think about the parallels in learning 
The limits we place on students early
You can't read those books
You just don't have a math mind
That is not an exciting idea
This doesn't look like it took much time
Kids have heard it all
Heck I have heard it all

These chains attached early
limiting the movement later

The "you can't" becomes
"I can't"

I am not sure how we break the chains
The elephants are set free
but what does freedom look like in
school?

Lately I am flooded by social media memories from when Covid first disrupted our lives. It brings me back to all that talk that we needed to “change the system”. We had new voices in equity movements suddenly championing the cause ( many of the newly concerned abandoned this goal when their immediate needs were met) and we had those who had been and still are carrying on the work of change saying the system itself needed to be redesigned and/or abolished because the current system was built to promote inequity.

Those early days I poured myself into looking at how I, in my little isolated town, could chip away at a system that I know causes so much harm. Assessment practices, testing culture, pedagogy that is nestled in the traits of white supremacy it is all so present and looking wide it was so overwhelming. But just like these dang meals that I am eating right now on a training plan (WAY TOO MUCH FOOD) I can address these challenges a bite at a time.

I started with assessment. Asking how I could honour my students more by letting them focus more on growth and less on grades. It has been a process and there have been a lot of tweaks but generally the kids are happier, the results are better and that little chain link has weakened just a bit. I have tried to look more at my teaching, how I can be more impactful and effective. Talking less, working more. Covid has put some barricades in the way with trying to keep distanced but we are making it work. Students are getting more feedback and we are finding out their strengths and incorporating those more.

I think largely the greatest freedom granting move I have made is giving kids time to explore ideas. Explore who they are as readers, writers and well… people. There is a degree of growth going on that I really was not prepared for. I had dreamed about it but so often dreams don’t come true.

I have this one big idea. I have this interesting group of kids that make up multiple grades and tiers of instruction. We call our class the Patchwork. To end the year I wanted to build kind of multi-genre, multi-modal experience. When I talked about people said, “Don’t you think you are putting the bar too high? Are you sure those kids can do it?” The funny thing was that moment felt like a chain was put on the Patchworks, on all of us.

In a PD once Kylene Beers mentioned the term “soft bigotry of low expectations” I hadn’t heard it before. Thinking back to it now these are the chains that limit our movement. The freedom we can give to our kids is believing they will work to reach the bars we raise high for them. As long as we are not chaining them down that is.

Finding Inspiration

I have talked about my dreams so much that I feel lately like they will only ever be dreams. It is funny how I can go from this high of seeing plans come together, students laughing while they plan stories, complimenting each other over the powerful lines in the poetry they are crafting, to this low in the matter a few minutes. I imagine a lot of it is how the changes we have had to insist on because of Covid have changed how I teach. I am certain some of those high and lows come from the disparity between how I thought I was seen to how it seems I am. This week though, I would say the win column is marked more than the losses. Four Days in a row of good lessons, engaged students, cool moments, laughter and learning.

When I think about what fuels my dreams without question I know it is my students. Because I see them. I see them learning. I see them growing. Some I have taught every year for the last 4 years. Some I taught in 8th and now 3 years later they are these creative almost adults that are playing with words, devouring books and seeking me out in hallways because they think they have finished their poem. This is the reason I dream of better schools that serve all students. This is why I dream about helping kids find their potential because it is infinite if they believe it or not.

Lately we have been working on poetry I ask them every day to take time to write, to think, to share. We have been finding writing partners to bounce ideas off of. We are having so much fun. One day they will be on a stage, when Covid finally leaves enough for us to breathe without masks and share our voices to a full theatre. They will share their gifts because they inspire me.

Time Machine

Mr.Gilson can you help me build a time machine?
The question comes from the student still learning his words
At first I laughed
 explained that we might have to work on a smaller task
Then he said it
I want to see my Dad
If we build a time machine maybe I can see my Dad
A simple 
Powerful
Truth
What would you do with a time machine?
I would visit with my Grandpa more
He was the best story teller 
I would have worked harder in school
wasted less time
Some things we can't get back 
but what if we live today knowing there are no time machines?
What will you do?
Who will you see?
What happens when we live knowing there is no rewind?

When I think about the opportunities that I have let pass me by I certainly regret some of them but that reflection is helping me to take advantage of now. I appreciate how these little life lessons are coming from the excellence of the students I have the privilege to teach.

Happy Friday. Find a safe space and take a deep breath. Recharge.

Teaching is an Art

I spent today doing some planning, looking at the next few months, where we need to get, the work I hope to do with the kids and taking in their feedback and what they would like to do and came up with some ideas. I have loved that, in Alberta, we have had a curriculum that leaves us a lot of room to be responsive to our students needs. While it is super old and needing an update we can still do so many cool things. That is looking like it is in jeopardy as we are set to take steps back to the stone age of education. So while I can explore language and how we represent ideas I decided I wanted to explore some new things.

Spoken Word Poetry Competition

While i have students in 11th grade exploring topics that interest them I have had students writing and performing songs, podcasts and creating picture books. I have others researching and creating reports around types of truck engines, blogging about successful people and finally one student creating a poetry anthology. When that student was asked why she wanted to do this project she responded, “Teachers haven’t let me write poetry since you taught me in grade 8”. Now I am certain that is only sort of true but she continued, “It is just essay after essay so we are ready for the next test.” Yup… that checks out. So I asked a few other classes and they reported similar things. In a separate moment I was coming off the L of two separate interviews and feeling pretty worthless (that feeling has not left but that is for another blog post) when I sat down to read a students poem, see this student has a hard time with reading and writing but he has discovered poetry books and is reading them all. He asked if he could do his written responses as poetry because he he just “gets it”. As I read his draft I got to a moment where he wrote about how he could finally see himself as a writer and I cried. The power in that moment and that I got to be a part of it was just overwhelming with all the other things going on. SO in that moment I started asking who would be interested in a spoken word poetry competition a smash of some form. Hands in all classes shot up, kids in other classes heard about it and started asking if they could join or if I would read their work. It is a work in progress but it is coming.

Exploring Multimodal Projects

I am a new learner in this area but I have students wanting to explore their creative side more and more so we are jumping in. Multimodal work looks at the different “modes” in which we can employ to represent our thinking. Modes include Linguistic, Visual, Aural, Spacial and I think Gestural (still learning) not all modes are represented in every project but what I love is that it gives students a chance to explore, outside of the traditional box. I was on the instagram the other day and came across this fun idea

It looked like such a fun opportunity to explore multimodal work and gave me a fun idea. So this week we are going to explore multimodal work

Then we are going to use these tools to design our own magazine covers explaining our choices to our peers as part of the assignment. I just finished The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson and I made my own Magazine Cover as an example

With the looming shadow of regressive change on the horizon I want to make sure I take the time while I can to honour my students with work worthy of their brilliance. There is more to come. Fiction writing, making mini movies around genre, Project Speak 3 and a multigenre exploration in writing and representation to round out the year.

Teaching is an art just as much as the beautiful work our students create is. We owe them so much more than a curriculum that takes steps back. We owe them so much more than a curriculum that expects 8 year olds to discuss the silk road before they even understand their own country and communities. Our students, our kids are all excellent in their own ways and should be honoured with the work we do.

I hope I do that for my students.