Deborah Hodge Talks the Craft of Writing


There is nothing like the visit from a REAL author to bring to life the point that authors are real people, writing about their experiences or imaginings.  We are thrilled to welcome Deborah Hodge to speak to the Vancouver School Board.  Deborah Hodge will be joining administrators, librarians and two students from 55 Vancouver elementary schools at Shaughnessy Elementary School on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.

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Each year the Vancouver Elementary Principals and Vice Principals host an author to celebrated reading and writing with elementary students and educators.  Phyllis Simon of Vancouver Kidsbooks, is one of our keen supporters.  She selects a collection of some of the most wonderful picture books that have been recently published for the selection committee to peruse.  Of course, I love this committee and always manage to find birthday picks for my friends, family and my own collection.  It is also a source of inspiration for possibilities in the school.   From our shortlist of books, we then contact the authors to determine their availability during Canadian Children’s Book Week:  May 7 – May 14th, 2016 to share their book .

For 2016, we have selected a new publication by Deborah Hodge.  This author was born in Saskatchewan but lucky for us, she lives in Vancouver.  Deborah Hodge has written over 25 books for children, many of which provide a plethora of information about nature and history.  Her picture book , West Coast Wild – A Nature Alphabet, has been purchased for all of the elementary libraries in the district by the administrator’s association.   Several schools in the Vancouver School District participated in Wild About Vancouver Festival this year and interest in learning in the outdoor classroom is growing.  The First People’s Principles of Learning have also been highlighted in the Redesigned Curriculum in British Columbia and have opened our eyes to the experiential and reflective learning of Indigenous People who have lived and learned in British Columbia for thousands of years.   Both of these factors, along with the engaging text and illustrations make this book a perfect choice.

Students throughout the district are excited about the chance to meet Deborah Hodge and have their questions answered.    Grade 3 students at Tecumseh have been writing alphabet books about topics they have been researching.  Maria got new glasses this year and has taken off with her writing.  She is wondering if Deborah Hodge saw all of the animals she wrote about in her book or if she did an internet search to find the animal that matched the letter she needed.  Victoria is writing an ABC book about the aquarium and is wondering how the author got so many good ideas for her book. Hopefully they will find their answers on Wednesday.

Special Thanks to  Vancouver Administrators for funding this project,  committee members – Maureen McDonnell and Maria Donovan, as well as staff at Shaughnessy Elementary School for hosting this event.

 

 

 

 

 

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Pursuing the Organized Mind

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I have been described as a fast processor, divergent thinker, creative, the Tasmanian Devil (cartoon version) on speed and masterful multi-tasker.  I have also been informed my desk is too messy, my purse too full and my overstuffed bags should not be carried back and forth from home to school.  This being the case, I have engaged in a lifelong pursuit of the ultimate organizational system to allow me to expedite and coordinate family demands, professional responsibilities, social schedules, travel plans and provide the time to allow me to read, write, exercise, get outside and to sleep.  This Christmas, Santa, in his infinite wisdom, put Daniel J. Levitin’s book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, in my stocking.

Daniel J. Levitin takes the reader not so much on a tour of the evolution of the brain, but the evolution of the demands on the brain.  This book includes but moves beyond the typical self-help shelf about how to find keys and remember names. This book is neuroscience meets cognitive psychology.  It is exceptionally well researched and provides the information about the workings of the brain that provides important considerations such as time, relaxation, focus, sleep and engagement to organize aspects of home, social and the business life.

Levitin brings to light the objections raised to the proliferation of books by 15th century intellectuals:  The concern was “…people would stop talking to each other, burying themselves in books, polluting their minds with useless, fatuous ideas.” (p.15)  Our concerns have shifted with what to do with our addiction to internet, cell phones and social media.  New technologies are not to be dismissed, but considered in light of what we are gaining, what we are losing and how to best use them for our purposes.  The primary consideration is the working of the prefrontal cortex and the ways that we can focus our attentional systems and assist our memory system in coping with the demands being made on them.

Strategies are suggested to organize our world so we don’t get lost in the endless pursuit of keys and cell phones.  Bayesian probability models are explored through use of the fourfold table which sheds a whole new light on taking control of health related decisions.  I am committed to only multi-task the minutia that does not require focused thinking.  I will continue to call my Dad en route to the gym and unload the dishwasher while I make coffee, add to the grocery list and listen to Ted Talks.  The shift is that I will jot down ideas and things to do on index cards (to be sorted, categorized and completed later) and close the door in order to focus on tasks requiring more focussed thinking and to maximize my creativity.  Yet, the biggest take-away for me is making decisions about how I use time and organize based on information about how the brain works.  Levitin has been able to provide the information required to take control over the barrage of information that is tossed our direction on a regular basis.  I recently signed up for a two week online blogging class provided compliments of WordPress.  I have been able to sift through the myriad of ideas and incorporate the tools that externalize memory and are conducive to focusing my attentional system.  The mark of a great book for me is that it creeps into your thoughts and discussions long after it’s been read.  Great book!

What Matters Most?

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Santa chose a winner with the book selection for my stocking this year,   Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis.  This  Giller prize winner is a quick, enjoyable read with prompts pondering of the big questions of life.  Apollo and Hermes make a bet that given human intelligence, any animal would be even more unhappy than humans at death.  Fifteen dogs in a Toronto veterinary clinic are gifted or cursed, depending on your perspective, with human consciousness.

The responses to the change in their lives brings reactions in the dogs that we are all quite familiar with…

fear of change, clinging to a notion of “old ways” that results in an adherence to a bastardized version of the past, embracing change, efforts to adapt, a quest to communicate, formation of alliances, fear of differences, plotting, selfishness, brutality, subjugation, revenge, jealousy, love, betrayal, loyalty, hope, loss…

In the lead up to the season of New Year’s Resolutions, it begs the question, what matters most?  How do we lead life in a way that maintains the integrity of our core beliefs?  Just a few more days to figure that out.

 

Building a Community of Literacy Educators

The BC Literacy Council of the International Reading Association (BCLCIRA), commonly known as ReadingBC, has long been committed to improving student engagement in books and proficiency in literacy.  Members read journals such as The Reading Teacher, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, attend conferences and get together to discuss things they have tried in their classrooms and communities and the things they’d like to try.  Coming together with people with like minds is an energizing experience and lends itself to reflecting on practices that are tried and true and substantiated with research in the field.  Members have readily embraced  The International Literacy Association’s quest to start a worldwide Literacy Movement.

image For the 2015-2016 year, Reading BC (BCLCIRA) is trying to broaden participation and the diversity of ways that literacy leaders in British Columbia can engage with other literacy educators both in person and online.

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While it is increasingly difficult to organize and facilitate larger scale meetings due to high costs and increasing demands on our time, the ReadingBC executive committee has come up with some exciting opportunities to develop a variety of possibilities to engage in professional development and engage in community focused projects to advocate for literacy.

  • Join a ReadingBC Book Club.  Choose one of the books selected by members.  Form a book club with peers.
  • Participate in the discussion about a Book Club selection with colleagues via a TWITTERCHAT.
  • Read Spirals of Inquiry (Judy Halbert & Linda Kaser) and decide on an inquiry question to pursue with a group of colleagues.
  • Form a ReadingBC Community action focus to encourage children to engage in literacy activities or educate parents.
  • Form a Literacy Committee if you have a well established group wanting to commit to regular professional development and advocacy in your area.

Check out the link below for ideas BCLCILA Projects.final (3) copy and opportunities to join the International Literacy Association .  If you are a member of the International Literacy Association and live in British Columbia, you currently have a free membership to the provincial chapter, BCLCIRA / ReadingBC.  We have designated funding to help members get started from a grant from the Lower Mainland Council of The International Association (LOMCIRA), a local chapter before it went into dormancy.  Please check out the opportunities and send applications for funding or questions to the provincial coordinator at carriefroese@gmail.com or any of the other contacts on the website.

Hopefully this will forge some of the connections to continue building a community of literacy learners in British Columbia, and perhaps beyond.

The Vancouver Kidsbooks Experience

Vancouver Kidsbooks is the quintessential Children’s bookstore. Phyllis Simon opened her first Kidsbooks in Kitsilano in 1983.  Since then stores have followed in North Vancouver and Surrey.  The constant has been knowledgeable and friendly staff who exude enthusiasm for matching books with kids.  I became an International Reading Association member (now International Literacy Association) as a first year teacher.  My administrator, Jack Corbett, at Dormick Park invited me on the staff trek to Schou Centre in Burnaby for a LOMCIRA session (local council of IRA).  He promised it would be fun and we’d all learn something along the way.  I learned early on that Phyllis Simon was the person we depended on to provide a wide array of high quality books to bring reading and writing to life for our students.  She generated a lot of excitement at events where she set up a table.

When my kids were young, we would make the trek from the suburbs to line up for author events  sponsored by Kidsbooks in the old Hollywood Theatre, book signings in the Kits store and to spend the day shopping for the very best read.  Fiscal restraint never included Kidsbooks because the store and staff were able to inspire such enthusiasm for the possibilities.  It was a favourite place to pick out birthday and Christmas gifts.  Phyllis Simon’s support for parents and educators has not waned over the years.

Each year, Elementary Administrators in public schools in Vancouver, host an event featuring a great recent publication of a picturebook.  The author and/or illustrator is invited to talk about the writing process to student representatives, librarians and an administrator from every school in the Vancouver School Board.  Each student goes back to school with a special addition for their school library and the author’s voice in their head.   This year, Phyllis Simon, continued as she has every year to select some of the finest new publications in British Columbia for our consideration.  Choosing one is always hard.  This year I have decided that I’m going to review these books for Inquire2Inspire because I can see a place for each and every one of her choices in my work and play with children.  You just might too.

If you are from out of town, be sure to include one of the Kidsbooks stores  in your travels.  If you are an International Literacy Member, an educator, a parent or a lover of children’s literature, you will not be disappointed.  Even if you don’t run into Phyllis, there will be a knowledgeable staff member to open some possibilities for your consideration.  I promise!

Talking Technology Tools

I am currently working with a team of teachers in my school, Tecumseh Elementary, on a Technology pilot project: PROFESSIONALS INVESTIGATING LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES WITH TECHNOLOGY. Our tools include 20 iPads for classroom use, 3 iPads for Resource teacher use, 5 desktop computers in the library and apple TV. Have we gotten over talking tools yet? No so much.

We are immersed in the grand quest to learn about logistics of the technology use- all of the possible Apps and a myriad of questions.   Although we are all familiar with iPhones, iPads, and/or Apple computers, the technology is not intuitive. We have all committed to attend the after school technology sessions where we are introduced to the educational possibilities and provided with tech support. The sessions are a challenge due to the significant range in background knowledge in technology of all of the groups and individuals attending.

All four of us involved in PILOT at Tecumseh agreed that we would start with teaching responsible use of the iPads to our students, who range in age from 5-12 years old. One of the teachers created an agreement to be signed by students and parents and posted on the iPad cart. What are really interesting are our various approaches after that point.

I assigned each student a number and an iPad and gave students the opportunity to explore. When one student had discovered something interesting, I stopped the group and showed them what a specific student had done and asked how many other kids knew how to do it. (Note to self – Figure out how to use the Apple TV so I can do a better job of this sharing with a group.) Students became the teachers/mentors for other students wanting to try. Lots of dialogue. Lots of engagement.

My first assignment started with a goal of focusing my Grade 3/4 students on observing the change of seasons and creating a book using Book Creator that included:

  • The ideas from the sense poetry we had just created by webbing in our “Thinking Books” (I see, I hear, I smell, I taste, I fell… Stems are used to collect ideas, create an image, remove stems for finished poem)
  • 6 of the 12 photographs taken with the iPad when we did our “Sensing Fall” walk around the school (art work) and playground (signs of fall)
  • Book cover with a title, author / poet and 6 pages minimum.

As I was handing out the iPads, several students went to Drawing Pad to record the Book title, their name and start to decorate the cover of their books. We decided as a group that this was a great idea and the criteria would also include the use of Drawing Page to create the book cover.

My Grade 4 students who came from Tecumseh Annex and Moberly Elementary used Book Creator last year, so as students needed help adding pages, pictures or audio-clips, they came to me or one of the “teachers”.  This way we avoided the wait time of line-ups or everyone stopping to step through the process at the same time.

One problem some students encountered was the fact that their initial writing had ideas that were not matched with the pictures they took on our sense walk. It became an option to download photos from Internet to match the text. The storage room in the classroom became the “sound room” to add the audio-clips.  Lots of time was spent reading and re-doing the clips to ensure the sound clips sounded “good” (  Good was defined as reading with expression).

Finished products emerged over the course of several sessions (3-6) with the iPad.   What was surprising was the huge difference in the books including:

  • Poetry books with one line of poetry per page and one picture
  • An entire poem per page with a picture
  • Several pictures on a page, text on another page
  • A sentence with an observation (using the original stems) on a page with a picture
  • A fact about the picture on the page
  • One book that had nothing to do with the change of seasons, our sense poetry or the pictures we took. (The student let me know that he erased that book because he wanted to write about something else and all of the illustrations were done in drawing pad.)

Assignment #1 and reflections on a whole bunch of new questions including but not limited to:

  • Naturally stimulating oral language in English Language Learners
  • Apps to develop fluency in writing
  • Vocabulary development
  • How to set up Showbie for saving work for viewing at home and on different tools
  • Commenting on work electronically with “electronic post it notes”
  • Creating book trailers
  • Using Keynote
  • note taking for research – pen and paper vs. online

This is what I love about education – Always so much to learn. Always someone who wants to have the conversation about the learning.

Moving Beyond Half Truths and Innuendo

In The Vancouver Sun (Jan.3,2015 page A3), Daphne Braham did an OpEd piece: “A call for a return to rationality”.   Imagine the notion of proposing the checking of facts before forming opinions.   Brilliant!  What happened to the pause button, the one that use to be hit before uninformed criticisms intended to discredit, were lobbed into conversations or amplified via social media? How did we get to a point where we opted out of taking responsibility for what we popularize?   Negative statements or decontextualized comments are intimate incompetence, lack of the required cognitive skills or general untrustworthiness.  At times, even blatant lies are presented as fact and retracted after the damage is done or not.

How do we teach kids to care about fact?  How do we teach them that half truths and innuendo are neither reliable nor moral?   I am working under the presumption that we have a role to play as educators, parents and friends of the children under our care.  If we teach our children to scrutinize information and ask good questions, certainly it follows that there will be a higher degree of insistence on reasoned and fair decisions from themselves, as well as from friends, family and decision makers.

I recently went to see the Broadway musical, Into The Woods, that recently made it’s film appearance starring Meryl Streep.  Two classic lines jumped out of the movie:   “Be careful of the stories you tell, children will listen” and “I was brought up to be charming, not sincere”.  What are the stories we are telling our children with our conversations and treatment of others people and discussion of events?  Are we quick to jump to conclusions based on hearsay?  Do we give the benefit of the doubt to the person involved?  Do we place more value on charm than sincerity?  Do we ask enough questions to try to get a full picture of the situation or person.  Do we insist on factual information to make reasoned decisions?

The Grade 3 and 4 students that I work with two days a week are starting to do research projects on Canada.  How do we get children to understand history as a story involving real people with real stories at a specific point in time?  History by it’s nature is skewed by the person who is allowed to tell the story.  If children understand this at a young age, does it impact their quest to look at the story from a variety of viewpoints?  Does it define an insistence on looking at the facts?  Does it help them to look past the personality of the person telling the story?  My training in history insists that it must be true.  My social conscience hopes it is. The Grade 3 students in my class are each researching a province in Canada.  The Grade 4’s are researching Aboriginal Nations across Canada who are defined by geography.  I am very interested to be part of this conversation.  What will the questions be?  I’m hoping it is a spark that leads to insistence that rationality reins supreme in guiding perceptions and conclusions.  The beauty of being an educator, is we really do believe we can make a difference and create positive change.

James Paul Gee: What you NEED to know about Digital Literacy & Social Media

I was fortunate to be able to hear James Paul Gee talk at The Learning and the Brain Conference in New York this past May. He was as dynamic and animated as you would expect from an innovator challenging many entrenched views of education, learning and their relationship to digital learning and social media. Of the many talks that I heard, Jim Gee’s talk and his book The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Media, keeps creeping back into my thoughts.

The notion that we need provide young children with scaffolding so they can learn to talk, read and develop thinking skills has become a mainstream understanding. The amount of talk a child has heard before five years of age and the child’s oral vocabulary by five years of age, directly corresponds with school success. Parents of preschoolers readily attend library story time, puppet shows and preschool programs to prepare them for school. Maria Montessori was cutting edge when she introduced child sized furniture for use by students. The notion of children being seen but not heard is no longer the societal standard. At Science World, the Aquarium, the beach, the park, the grocery store and the mall, you can overhear adults asking children for their thoughts, ideas, opinions and engaging in meaningful conversation.

Gee talks about the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively. This essentially is the notion of providing the scaffolding required in order to move beyond using digital media for entertainment only.   Gee emphasizes the need for synchronized intelligence: “…we need to be able to dance the dance of collective intelligence with others and our best digital tools (p.208)”.

As an educator with a MA in Reading, I understand and live the love of books. Lousie Rosenblatt best described the vital importance of the transaction between the reader and the text that makes the experience of reading significant. Gee makes the case that “…books and digital media are both technologies for making and taking meaning, forms of “writing” (producing meaning) and “reading” (consuming meaning), as are television and film.”

Once digital media is embraced as a form of literacy, it becomes less easy to dismiss it as irrelevant or harmful to learning. This expanded notion of literacies requires that parents and educators provide the scaffolding for students to learn about creating meaning in the digital world. Just as we want our children to move beyond consuming a diet of comics and magazines to more thought provoking reading material, we want our children to move beyond mindless or violent games to applications requiring them to create meaning in complex and thoughtful ways. We want to teach students to persevere past failures to find answers to their problems. We want them to create connections with others to help them in finding the answers to their questions.

Gee creates the following list of 21st Century skills that are more often developed out of school than in it (p.202):

  • Ability to master new forms of complex and often technical language and thinking
  • Ability to engage in collaborative work and collective intelligence where the group is smarter than the smartest person in it
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Ability to deal with complexity and to think about and solve problems with respect to complex systems
  • Ability to find and marshal evidence and revise arguments in he face of evidence
  • The ability to produce with digital media and other technologies and not just consume their content
  • And the ability to avoid being a victim of social forces and institutions that are creating a more competitive, stressful, and unequal world.

This creates a compelling rationale for mentoring the effective use of digital media and social media.  The goal is for students to define a passion to provide the motivation to engage wholeheartedly in a quest that helps the student to persevere through challenges and engage in higher order thinking to solve problems and communicate in a meaningful way. I highly recommend this book to teachers and parents.

On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

My buddy, Armando, was a great fan of Stephen King in high school.  Uttering the name, Cujo, became a tool to freak each other out walking home from the bus stop late at night or in expansive yards in Kerrisdale during late night parties.  Of course, the movie version of my namesake, Carrie, taught me the power of standing poker straight, the unblinking stare and clearly enunciating “No”.   Even the most drunk frat rat or persistent “bad choice” date responded with the intended outcome. Although my older sister digested horror books en mass, I never did.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book.

Stephen King is a prolific writer who has been able to translate that to market success. My assumption was that his goal as a writer was mass market success.  His book On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft reveals this is not the case. His writing has been a way to live his life, starting from a very young age.   Life granted him both the ultimate highs and ultimate lows that he negotiated through his writing.  He says that he doesn’t even remember writing Cujo because it was in the midst of a dark time when he was drinking heavily.  Perhaps it was the darkness that made the book so haunting!

His writing has strong voice, a direct style and an honesty and openness that I admire.   His advice to aspiring writers:  Make the time to read widely and write widely.  He reads because he likes to read.  He reads fiction because he likes stories.  The learning comes from both the good and the bad books.  “One learns most clearly what not to do from bad prose… Good writing on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth telling. “(p.146)

King is a disciplined writer and he rarely skips a day.  He is not a believer in mapping out the plot and then developing his story. He begins with the situation and flat, unfeatured characters.  Once that is firmly in his mind, he begins to narrate.  He emphasizes:  “Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story…Reading will help you answer how much and only reams of writing will help you with the how.”(p.173)

His book also includes a few pieces of advice that were given to him along the way.

by John Gould, editor of The Lisbon’s weekly newspaper where he had his first job:  “When you write the story, you’re telling yourself the story. he said.  When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all of the things that are not the story.” (p.57)

in a rejection letter in spring of his Senior high year: machine generated signature of editor  :“Not bad, but PUFFY.  You need to revise for length.  Formula:  2nd draft = 1st draft-10%.  Good luck.”

This book taught me so much that I can use in the teaching of writing and in my own writing.  I’m so glad it fell into my hands.  I highly recommend it.

 

Smart Change by Art Markman

Art Markman is not only an academic but personable and hence able to convey his message.  If the truth be known, I also like him BECAUSE he brought his mother to his presentation and book signing at The Learning and the Brain Conference in New York on Mother’s Day.  Every mother of a son realizes that being good to your Mommy is one of the criteria for true admiration and respect:D

Markman has also published Smart Thinking and Habits of Leadership.  His most recent publication, Smart Change:  Five Tools to Create New and Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others continues to explore his work on understanding how the brain functions in developing new habits and maintaining old habits with automaticity.  Deeply ingrained habits do not require thinking to guide our actions.  This is why I have inadvertently headed on my expedited route to work when I’ve agreed to drop off a husband or son at the skytrain, even when he is sitting right beside me in the car.  The quest is to leverage the power of the brain to make the changes you want to make.  Interestingly several of the examples are related to diet, something many of us can relate to failures over the course of years.

The book is designed as a handbook for someone wanting to make a change in his/her life.  The Takeaways at the end of each chapter summarize key point.  Templates for a smart change journal are provided online (smartchangebook.com) or you can respond to prompts and questions in your own journal.   I have started the process and we’ll see how that goes.