Saturday, April 11, 2009


I'm back. I figure that I haven't blogged in a month and quite frankly it's been a relief. I have been finding that the weekly posts have been consuming huge amounts of my time and I have started the resent the time it has been taking. I need sleep, I need fresh air, I need to keep house, cook, exercise, visit my children, read, do homework ... Spending hours on the computer to write weekly is not an option at this point. So I have decided to ease up and only write when the mood takes me.
I have learned a whole lot from writing this blog. The most important is that I can write and I think that I can call myself a writer of sorts. Secondly, writing this blog has confirmed to me that writing is hard work. It's no wonder our students resist writing - to do it well requires effort and time. Thirdly, writing is thinking. If we need students to be good thinkers, problem-solvers and creators, then I think that writing is one of the most important things we need to focus on to help students be successful in the 21st century.
So I leave you today with an interesting link to a Kyle Mawer's wiki that uses gaming to help ELL students read and write - I'm thinking that the lesson may also work with applied level and locally developed level classes as well. One of the games has a complete lesson that integrates writing with the game. It's called Grow Cube. I played it just for fun, but I can certatinly see how it can be used as a writing lesson.
Have fun!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Literacy 2.0 Educational Leadership

First off I'd like to apologize for my rant last post - I should have warned readers that I was in rant mode.

Today, no rants (I hope) - just something I noticed when I read the current issue of Educational Leadership, publication of the ASCD.

The theme of the journal was Literacy 2.0 and it had a number of articles written by well-known read/write web authors. Will Richardson wrote an article titled Becoming Network-Wise about the role of education in teaching students how to navigate, use and create in this 2.0 world effectively and ethically. Anne Davis wrote of the benefits of blogging with students and Howard Gardner wrote of the benefits and pitfalls of using technology to teach literacy. I wish I could link you to these articles, but I can only get you to the abstracts. Educational Leadership is only fully accessible online by buying a membership, and it is not available in full text through any of our databases. But these articles, excellent though they are, are the not the articles that caught my attention.

There were three articles in this issue that made me think about the role of the school library program in this 2.0 world. The first one was Stepping Beyond Wikipedia by William Badke. In the article, Badke writes:

"A 2003 Canadian survey of 3,000 incoming university freshmen found that most included inessential words in searches; used the Boolean operator "or" incorrectly; could not identify the characteristics of scholarly journals; could not distinguish between library catalogs and bibliographic databases; and had difficulty identifying journal article citations, knowing when to cite sources, and evaluating Web sites (Mittermeyer & Quirion, 2003). These recent high school graduates' information skills left them unprepared for further academic work."

He goes on to say that students need to be taught information literacy skills.

"Students will pick up information skills on their own. Just turn them loose in a good library. They'll figure it out. What's so hard about learning to do research?" I hear comments like this all the time, and they dismay me. The "information literacy by osmosis" argument has been debunked by reams of research showing that even university students do not learn how to handle information on their own. They must be taught (see Gallacher, 2007).
[...]information literacy... [needs to be given] ... a foundational role in our instruction. This requires us to reorient the way we teach. Most educators are well aware of the active-learning, constructivist, student-centered approach to instruction, which holds that when students discover things for themselves and attribute personal meaning to the subject matter, they learn more deeply and acquire a more permanent knowledge base. Information literacy instruction has a natural home in active learning."

The second article was Plagiarism in the Internet Age by Rebecca Moore Howard and Laura J. Davies. The authors, just as in the article above, state that plagiarism can be prevented through good teaching - it's not enough just to warn students that plagiarism is grounds for punishment. Howard and Davies go on to write that:

"... [G]ood writing from sources involves more than competent citation of sources. It is a complicated activity, made even more complex by easy access to a seemingly limitless number of online sources. Any worthwhile guide to preventing plagiarism should

  • Discuss intellectual property and what it means to "own" a text.
  • Discuss how to evaluate both online and print-based sources (for example, comparing the quality and reliability of a Web site created by an amateur with the reliability of a peer-reviewed scholarly article).
  • Guide students through the hard work of engaging with and understanding their sources, so students don't conclude that creating a technically perfect bibliography is enough.
  • Acknowledge that teaching students how to write from sources involves more than telling students that copying is a crime and handing them a pile of source citation cards.

Students don't need threats; students need pedagogy. That pedagogy should both teach source-reading skills and take into consideration our increasingly wired world. And it should communicate that plagiarism is wrong in terms of what society values about schools and learning, not just in terms of arbitrary rules."

The third article is What the Research Says About ... Teaching Media Literacy by Jane L. David. The author writes that:

"Media literacy in the past tended to focus on alerting students to stereotypes, advertising, and propaganda and on protecting them from undesirable influences. Today's digital media literacy encompasses many additional topics, from using search engines, to creating Web sites and online profiles, to participating in social networking. One of the most basic strands of media literacy emphasizes the skills and knowledge students need to locate and critically assess online content."

She also points out a number of studies that suggest our students (and their teachers) lack skills necessary to critically evaluate the type of information they find on the Internet.

"Unlike reading assigned textbooks, reading online challenges students to make judgments about the reputability and validity of the information they see. Researchers who directed several hundred college students to three bogus Web sites about fictitious nutritional supplements found that half of the students lacked the skills to identify the trustworthiness of the information, yet most thought they had strong research skills (Ivanitskaya, O'Boyle, & Casey, 2006). Choosing appropriate search engines, following relevant links, and judging the validity of information are difficult challenges, not only for students of all ages, but also for most adults, including many teachers. More than half the adults surveyed in Great Britain were not able to use search engines or databases at a basic level (Buckingham, 2007). In the United States, almost two-thirds of a national sample of adults doing online searches were not aware of the difference between paid and unpaid search results and believed that search engines provide fair and unbiased results for any given search (Fallows, 2005)."

There was a common thread through these three articles. In all three, the author states that information literacy skills must be taught, beginning in the elementary grades and progressing in sophistication to the end of secondary school. It is crucial for students to have these skills to be able to effectively cope with the wide range and breadth of information that they can access on a daily basis.

This is not new to me or to many others who have held the same role I have. The information literacy skills that the authors said students must learn to be able to competently cope with information have always been taught by a skilled teacher librarian collaborating with the classroom teacher, using inquiry-based learning in the context of a good school library program. Teacher librarians, or library media specialists as they are called in the states, have always taught students many of the skills included in the above quotes.

So why, in this age of 2.0 Literacy are school libraries and highly qualified, competent teacher librarians considered a frill? Why aren't the best teachers put into a school library where they can work with all students and teachers, thus having an impact on the whole student/teacher body? Why are weak teachers put into a teacher librarian position when clearly the position needs a professional who demonstrates life-long learning, initiative and leadership?

It is not fair to expect classroom teachers to know everything about information literacy skills; that's why TLs are referred to as information specialists. We don't expect teachers to know everything about good classroom practices. That's why teachers work in professional learning communities. A learning community always existed in an effective school library program because collaboration between classroom teacher and the TL is the foundation of school librarianship.

If you are a TL, you clearly know, based on the information from the above articles, where to focus your instruction: information evaluation, effective searching techniques, plagiarism, critical thinking, summary writing, citing, using databases, research process, questioning, differences and similarities between information sources, etc. If you are not teaching these things, then you're not meeting the 2.0 literacy needs of your students.

I'm taking a break from blogging for the next couple of weeks. I'm going to visit my parents in Florida over the March Break and will not be bringing the computer with me. I expect that my next post will be around March28/29.

Badke, W. (2009). Stepping beyond Wikipedia. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 54-58.

David, J.L. (2009). What the research says about ... teaching media literacy. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 84-86.

Davis, A.P. & McGrail, E. (2009). The joy of blogging. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 74-77.

Moore Howard, R. & Davies, L.J. (2009). Plagiarism in the internet age. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 64-67.

Richardson, W (2009). Becoming network-wise. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 26-31.

Weigel, M. & Gardner, H. (2009). Best of both literacies. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 38-41.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

More Doctors

I am following Teachers At Risk blog written by Elona Hartjes, a spec ed teacher in Ontario. I enjoy reading her posts. She is a caring dedicated teacher who writes of the joys and challenges of teaching students with special learning needs.

One of her recent posts, comments on a news article that the government of Ontario is going to give bonuses to doctors who take on challenging (unhealthy) patients. Seems like there's a trend for doctors not to accept patients who have complicated physical conditions. She suggests that perhaps they should do the same for teachers - give bonuses to those who take on our special learning needs students.

I think that her post was somewhat tongue in cheek (or not). But it really struck a cord with me, especially after I read her comment stream. She commented that: offering incentives to doctors it LOOKS like the government is doing something. It seems to me family doctors are over worked as it is. What we need is more doctors not doctors taking on more patients.

More doctors - that's the issue. However, until the government funds more spaces in Canadian medical schools, there won't be more doctors. My daughter, who wanted to be a doctor her whole life, who obtained an undergrad degree in biology, and a masters in biochemistry, and is no slouch when it comes to hard work, couldn't get an interview for an Ontario med school. She ended up applying to St Georges in Grenada, getting accepted and offered a scholarship. She will be spending her residency in the US and will end up practicing there. Twenty percent of her class was Canadian.
There is no lack of talent or desire for young Canadians to be physicians. Think of all of those Canadian students who are going to foreign med schools. St Georges in Granada is not the only Caribbean school - there are a number of them with many young Canadians attending. And a good majority of these students will end up practicing in the States. Canada's loss, their gain.
There is a lack of will of our governments (federal and provincial) to do anything meaningful about the shortage. Windsor, a major urban area, has a doctor shortage of immense proportions. Yes, it looks like they're doing something when they opened a satellite med school here in Windsor, but it is my understanding that 24 spots were just transferred from the medical school in London - these are not new spots, just a new location. I guess the idea is that students who go to school here are more likely to practice here. I wonder if it is a government strategy to have Canadian students go to foreign med schools so they don't have to fund the education and then try to entice them back - it's probably cost-effective in the long run to do this. It's also cost-effective for the government to sell residency spots and med school spots to other countries. Every sale eliminates a Canadian. When my running partner, who is a physician and former president of the local medical society told me this I was really annoyed.
When Paul Martin was balancing the federal government's budget back in the early 90's, he was warned by the medical profession that doctor shortages would result if he made cuts to transfer payments. Looks like the they were right.

Note: I have edited this post after I published. I realized I didn't give it a title and wanted to add in some additional thoughts.

Monday, February 23, 2009

MLA. and The Element

MLA Formating

Just passing this information along. Joyce Valenza writes of major changes to MLA format that will be coming out in the spring. Here's some major changes that Joyce summarized:
  • No More Underlining! Underlining is no more. MLA now recommends italicizing titles of independently published works (books, periodicals, films, etc).
  • No More URLs! While website entries will still include authors, article names, and website names, when available, MLA no longer requires URLs. Writers are, however, encouraged to provide a URL if the citation information does not lead readers to easily find the source.
  • Continuous Pagination? Who Cares? You no longer have to worry about whether scholarly publications employ continuous pagination or not. For all such entries, both volume and issue numbers are required, regardless of pagination.
  • Publication Medium. Every entry receives a medium of publication marker. Most entries will be listed as Print or Web, but other possibilities include Performance, DVD, or TV. Most of these markers will appear at the end of entries; however, markers for Web sources are followed by the date of access.
  • New Abbreviations. Many web source entries now require a publisher name, a date of publication, and/or page numbers. When no publisher name appears on the website, write N.p. for no publisher given. When sites omit a date of publication, write n.d. for no date. For online journals that appear only online (no print version) or on databases that do not provide pagination, write n. pag. for no pagination.
So those of you who have citation supports for your students will have to revise them.

The Element

After reading Doug Johnson's post about The Element, by Ken Robinson, I immediately went out, bought the book and started reading it. Robinson defines "The Element" as that place where passion and aptitude meet and he says that education often leads people away from their aptitudes and stifles or eliminates creativity. And creativity is what employers are looking for in their workers. He writes of how schools have a narrow view of what counts as intelligence and schools need to re-invent themselves to support students whose strengths do not lie in math, science or English/Language Arts. . I haven't read very far but I'm thinking that the book will provide strong evidence for differentiated instruction and teaching to student's intelligences.
Here's what I wrote in response to Johnson's post:

I am going to read this book ASAP. I have 3 children - one is almost finished medical school, the other is finishing a master's in biomedical engineering and my third just graduated with a bachelor of music in jazz performance. He wants to compose movie scores. Guess who I worry about? But you know, if I didn't have to worry about income I'd probably be in the arts as well - singing in some band! I have always encouraged my third to follow his passion and I know that he'll probably be OK but I still worry.

Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind writes about how creativity will be the marketable skill of the 21st century. Should I not be worrying about my third and worrying about my other two who have followed a 20th century path?

I really can't wait to read more.

PS I wrote my first poem in about 30 years. I am waiting from feedback from my writing group. Not sure if I'm ready to go public yet as it is a new writing format and not sure if it's a risk I want to take.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Teachers Without Borders

I work with a couple of colleagues who have embraced social justice in very visible, concrete ways. One of my colleagues travels to Africa through her local Rotary Club and helps build schools and brings school supplies to impoverished areas. My other colleague has adopted a child from Ethiopia. I am in awe at their commitment to causing change in the world - they have truly absorbed the concept that change can happen one person at a time.
I have been experiencing a hole, gap, emptiness at times teaching and working in Canada. There is a lack of appreciation for what we have and people keep demanding more and more of education and educators. This causes me to think about some of the conditions that I have seen in third world countries - I have visited various places in the Caribbean and have seen such deep poverty that I wonder how people can survive. If their education system could offer half of what ours does they'd think they'd won the lottery and then some.
Which brings me to what I'd like to share today. It's an organization called Teachers Without Borders. I came upon this via Sharon Peters blog.
Here's their mission:
Teachers Without Borders - Canada is a non-profit, non-denominational NGO devoted to closing the education divide through teacher professional development and community education. Our organization focuses on the building of teacher leaders. We work primarily, but not exclusively, in developing countries, in order to build self-reliance, health, and capacity.
I have always dreamed about working for an organization like Doctors Without Borders. Slight problem however - I'm not a doctor or a nurse or other medical practitioner. So when I came across Teaches Without Borders, I thought that this might just be what I'm looking for to start filling up the gaps as it matches my skill set. So I've signed up to join the organization and we'll what happens.
As I was working my way through their site, I came across this resource for teaching controversial issues. It's developed by Oxfam - UK and the resource has a number of lesson plans from Early Years (diversity) to grade 12 by using essential questions, photographs and current event media. For those of you who have worked with Jeffrey Wilhelm ( he worked with teachers and administrators in our board last week) these lessons tie in perfectly with inquiry-based learning.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Recent Bookmarks

I missed a blog post last week. I was up to my knees in snow at health and physical education conference last weekend (team and leadership building activities). And this past week has been very busy with planning for ministry grants for library resources, secondary PLCs, English Department Heads meetings and Effective Writing pd. I also have been somewhat ill by something called labrynthitis which causes me to get dizzy at the oddest times. I don't have a severe case but it's enough to keep my energy levels down a bit. So that's my excuse for not writing last week.

Here's a short list of recent links posted to my account:

Academic Earth - online lectures from experts from leading universities

Encyclopedia of Life - online biology encyclopedia

Wikibooks - free online textbooks for secondary and higher

- free online textbooks for elementary students

Google Librarian Central Tools - free posters, bookmarks and tent cards to help students with web searches

More and more online resources are available everyday. This is why we absolutely must have virtual libraries and pathfinders for our students. Also, Google Book Search has now gone mobile. These free books can be downloaded to a mobile phone. So I can see more uses for cell phones in schools. Now if we can just deal with equity issues.

Short post as promised. I have to go write a poem for my writing group. If it turns out half-way decent, I'll share here. I'm really NOT a poet.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lost Generation

This winning student video for a contest run by the AARP was shared with me by a colleague (Dorothy M.) Simple yet effective!

P.S. I am involved in a Writing Project with my board. It runs for 4 sessions with the end goal of publishing a teacher anthology. The idea is that teachers who write and reflect on their own writing will be better teachers of writing. So for the next little while the posts here will be short (yeah!!).

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Handmaid's Tale Challenged

Another book challenge, this time not by one of neighbours to the south but a parent in Toronto. An article, Parent Seeks Ban on Atwood Novel, in the Saturday edition of the Windsor Star caught my eye and I immediately recognized a blog topic.
Apparently, this is not the first time this book, which, by the way, scared the pants off me the first time I read it (and upset me again the second time I read it), has been challenged. According to the article "Margaret Atwood's dystopic novel The Handmaid's Tale was No. 37 last year on the American Library Association's list of most frequently challenged books of the 1990s, but until now there has apparently been no recorded attempt to ban it in Canada."
Ok, I can understand that some people may be offended by the way that fundamentalist religion is portrayed, and that there is some sexual content. But the book has so many jumping off places for critical literacy discussions that it is a great book choice for Grade 12 Academic English.
We're talking about 17 and 18 year olds here, not young adults, but students who have grown up with with music videos, and all kinds of stuff on the Internet and cable/satellite TV. The goings on in Atwood's book are tame by comparison. However, as educators, we always respect the right of a parent of a student under the age of majority to choose what is appropriate for his child. The school, located in the Toronto DSB listened to the father's complaint and "the student was issued Aldous Huxley's Brave New World to read instead and will leave the classroom when Atwood's novel is being discussed." This is a reasonable course of action, one that most schools and teachers have no difficulty in doing. Alternative selections for literature study are always available to students at their request or their parent's.
But that's not good enough for this father. This father not only wants to censor his own kid but he wants to censor everyone's kid. "Unsatisfied with the school's resolution, the student's father then made a formal complaint to the school board, which has passed it along to a review committee for study and recommendation about whether the "learning resource" should be removed from the classroom."

I am always amazed when people do this. And I wonder what drives a person into thinking that he holds the knowledge to determine what is right for everyone, not just his own. Is there something in that book that acts as a mirror and he sees something in himself that he fears being revealed? Is it fear that drives that parent?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sidewalks, Civic Literacy or Character Education?

I live in the Windsor, Ontario area, very close to the most southern spot in Canada (Pelee Island located in Lake Erie is the most southern spot). In fact, where I live is actually south of a good portion of the U.S. (try explaining that to our neighbours in the states without pulling out a map). As a result of our geographic location, we seem to miss really large dumps of snow most of the winter. However for some reason, we got hit over the last 36 hours with over 20 cm of snow.

It snowed all day yesterday, without stop. I was in my glory with snow shovel in hand. I shoveled on at least 4 occasions to keep up with the accumulation. Around 5:30 pm, after my daughter Dana and I shoveled together, we decided to go for a walk - it was one of those days cold enough for snow but not too cold for walking.
We went for a short walk in the neighbourhood. At this hour of the day, not many people had their walks cleaned - in fact we ended up walking on the road for the most part because the snow was so deep on the sidewalk. And that got me thinking.

But let me digress for a bit (I think this whole post is a digression so far - but give me a minute and I'll get to the point of this post). I'm a runner and have been for a number of years. My running partner and I have been running together for over 15 years on a regular basis year round in all kinds of weather conditions. Winter running is always a challenge for us, not because of the cold but because of the sidewalks. I don't know how many times either I or my partner have slipped and almost fallen or have had to go onto the road (which is really risking your life when we run in the winter evenings) because some people don't clean their sidewalks after a snow storm. And some people never do clean them - 2 days later, a week later and the same homes still have an unpassable mess on their sidewalk. So my experiences as an outside winter runner and my walk yesterday got me thinking about civic literacy.

What does it mean to be literate as a member of a community? Well, certainly it includes knowing that if you have a sidewalk in front of your house (or if you are lucky enough to be on a corner with a sidewalk at the front and side of your house), cleaning it after a snow dump. It means other things such as knowing to clean up after your dog (another issue - why do people let their dog do business on the sidewalk and then leave it there for kids walking to and from school to step in?), and respect for your neighbour's property by not throwing garbage on their yard (we have a corner lot and often get empty beer bottles or fast food containers dumped on our yard on Saturday nights in the summer).

But maybe this isn't civic literacy but character education and the trait of empathy - being able to put yourself in the shoes of others. I think that the social upheavals of the 60's and 70's, and the me-generations of the 80's and 90's changed a lot of things - certainly for the better in issues such as women's rights, ethnic and racial rights, and awareness of the environment. However, I think that a lot of things deteriorated - manners, thinking about what's right for the whole not just what's right for the individual, respect, individual accountability. And I think that this lack of empathy, manners and individual accountability explains why we have issues with cyberbullying (and people not cleaning their sidewalks).

As educators, we are now charged with teaching character (something we've always done but now it's officially mandated by the Ministry, like it's something new). So, I'm hoping that in the next decade when our current students become old enough to be homeowners (hopefully by that time the financial messes will be cleaned up), I won't have to worry about uncleaned sidewalks on my runs (or maybe walks by that time).

Images: views from my garage, taken by me on January 11, 2009

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year - Seven Things You Don't Need To Know About Me Poetry Blender
I took some time off from writing this blog - and from reading other blogs and even from my email. I have what pc calls a "love-hate" relationship with my computer and the Internet. I'm somewhat adept (I'm so glad that I have my colleague DP across from my office just in case), but I find that I am still getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information and the speed at which new technologies, applications, etc. emerge. Is it just me or do others feel this way?
Anyway, I've gotten re-connected to my PLN over the last couple of days and have been thinking about my first post of the second year into blogging. I know that many bloggers do the inspiring thing (check this one here - it's truly inspiring for teachers) and the resolution thing but that's just not my thing. I could blog about my break and the time spent with my family, or the upcoming Christmas celebrations that are coming (I'm Serbian Orthodox Christian and we observe Christmas on Jan 7 according to the Julian calendar. as a result I don't start shopping until Dec 26). I could blog about how I have a love-hate relationship with this blog and how it's made me aware of how I write (badly - at least that's what my grade 13 English teacher told me and I have no evidence that I'm any better) and how the writing process works for me. But I've been reading a number of posts from a number of bloggers whom I follow about 7 Things You Don't Want to Know About Me and have decided to take pc's open meme tag challenge. So without further ramblings here they are:

  1. Before I became a school teacher, I taught childbirth education classes and acted as a doula for women in labour. This came about as a result my own natural childbirth experiences with my first and second children and the home birth of my third. I considered becoming a midwife but unfortunately the timing was off - midwives were not regulated in Ontario at the time and there were no education programs available (however my sister, who attended the home birth of my third when she was 17, is a midwife).
  2. I have competed in triathlons, a couple of half marathons and a relay marathon. I started competing in my 40's but may have to slow down/stop in my fifties because my knees are getting wonky ( I have a torn ALC and meniscus in one knee and the other knee started acting up over the holidays for no good reason I could see. Maybe it was the Zumba class?).
  3. I hate housework with a passion, but give me a lawnmower or a snow shovel and I'll work all day.
  4. I have a tendency to read books over and over again. In fact, I spent this break re-reading Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series for the the fifth time. I always find something that I've missed in previous readings - I think it's because when reading for pleasure I read really quickly and have a tendency to skip over sentences and long descriptive passages.
  5. I always said that my dream job would be half-time library and half-time HPE. I guess I'm living my dream.
  6. I am becoming a yoga freak. I started it because I was experiencing pain during my runs. Yoga fixed that within a week. Now I'm sticking to it because I'm burnt out from lifting weights. I see myself as a yoga instructor in the future.
  7. I was a provincial synchronized swimming champion (back in the 70's). If you think synchro is a fluff sport try running, walking, aerobics (or what ever it is you do to get your heart rate up) while holding your breath for 1 minute intervals - oh and do it upside down!
Back to work on Monday. Hope your new year goes well!