Readers Who Write

Spanish Banks was my favourite beach to take my kids to because I could actually have some reading time when the tide was way, way out there and I could look down at a book.  My daughter, Larkyn, completed the classic “starting school” assignment as a young scholar: Draw a picture that tells about your family.   Stick mommy has fountains of tears coming out of both sides of her head. Stick Mommy is perched on top of what looks like a big box. The arrow pointing to it says “fat, sad book”.   She nailed it. Rohinton Mistry, A.S. Byatt, Jane Urquhart, Michael Ondaatje, Wayne Johnson and Ann-Marie MacDonald are all near and dear to my heart.  The descriptive language, the character development and the story captivates me.

In a discussion of favourite books and good reads recently, I was surprised that a colleague shares a common all time favourite book, Possession by A.S. Byatt.   We laughed because in many ways we couldn’t be more different. However her observation was “Hhmmm, that’s why you can write.”  Same conversation, David Hutchison, author of The Witches’ Malice was sharing his love for Edgar Allen Poe.    My Dad loves Poe and always highly recommended his books for evening reading at his cabin in the Sierra Nevadas.   I wouldn’t be able to put the book down, read long after everyone was sleeping and terrified myself.  The visual image of the pendulum moving closer and closer still comes to mind when I’m dreading something. The Witches’ Malice, reflects Hutchison’s fascination with building suspense and the macabre imagery of the hand.  The learning from the reading isn’t deliberate but pervasive.

As part of my teaching assignment next year, I am sharing a grade 3/4 classroom with a teaching partner.  I am looking forward to teaching reading and writing with young children again.  However I’m also looking forward to exploring the reading-writing connection with them.  Many of the students in our school have English as a second or third language. Reading becomes mandatory practice rather than something that defines how we communicate.  I’m looking forward to the process of working with eight and nine year olds to discover the possibilities for readers who write.

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 ( or you can respond to prompts and questions in your own journal.   I have started the process and we’ll see how that goes.

Canada Reads The Orenda

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden was a perfect pick for the 2014 Canada Reads selection.   It appeals to me both as a reader and a history major. It brings a greater depth to the inter-relationship between the Huron, the Iroquois, the French explorers/traders, and the Jesuit missionaries during the 17th century. You come face to face with people of engaged in power dynamics. The characterization is so strong, that you are able to identify with individuals trying to live their lives with their conception of integrity, cope with their demons or sometimes with the belief that the end justifies the means. I was able to empathize or gain a better understanding of people who have been characterized as good or evil, depending on the historical representation you choose to adopt. Stunning examples of helplessness, cruelty, resilience and tenacity stay with you long after the book is finished.


One of the things that I always find startling is the intensity of the cruelty that human beings inflict upon each other: The Huron and Iroquois Nations and the tradition of “caressing” or torturing has been used to characterize the First Nations peoples as savages in history books. Yet it is something that is commonplace in human interaction when faced with whoever is perceived as “the enemy” of the day. Romans throwing people to be devoured by hungry lions, the Early Christian crucifying, the brutality during the Crusader, the genocide in WWII, Rwanda and Bosnia, capital punishment existing in the 21st century, debating the merits of torture in Guantanamo Bay – all examples of human beings making a conscious decision to treat other human beings as less than human. It is very difficult to characterize any one group as “savage” when the savagery has been embraced so readily throughout history.


At one point, Fox, one of the main characters makes the observation “ he knows the pain I have suffered and from watching me for so long that this pain never really goes away, just wanes and rises like the moon…”(p.313)   Is the pain of the human experience the reason for the savagery? Is the orenda or human soul the reason for the moments of greatness when a person is able to sacrifice themselves to save someone else, to find their voice to defend basic human rights, to show kindness because she can or emerge beyond loss without malice?


I met a teacher at Camp Elphinstone that chose this book for all of the secondary students in her school to read. Not all students would be able to read the text independently, however if ever there is a great text to make accessible and provoke discussion of our shared roots as Canadians, it is this one.

Will You Read The Witches Malice?

My friend, David Hutchison, is working on his seventh draft of The Witches’ Malice.  I was honoured when he asked me to read the manuscript and give him feedback.  I was not entirely certain what that feedback should look like in order to be meaningful.  Years ago when I went to teach in China, I started to write my first blog.  I’ve written journals for my entire life but I’d never done anything so public.  I got lots of positive feedback which I found very empowering.  I did have one person comment that I must have been SO embarrassed that I spelt the word “massage” wrong repeatedly.  The spelling error was easily corrected.  The slap in the face wasn’t.  I very much wanted my feedback to be constructive and delivered respectfully.

My first strategy was to sit down with two different coloured highlighters.  One for mechanical errors and suggestions.  One to highlight strong description, powerful language and other elements that I thought were particularly well done.  This system quickly fell apart.  It slowed down my reading and enjoyment of the book.  It also focussed my attention too strongly on the mechanics and search for required corrections.  It felt like marking.  I decided I needed to adopt the stance of a reader and allow my perceptions to come out of that.

When we met to discuss the book, I chose a greasy spoon in East Van with spray paint on the walls and head banger music on the juke box that had survived from the 50’s.  It seemed like a plausible setting for witches plotting malice.  The conversation was about the biblical references to fallen angels, the Shakespearean witch, the depiction of experiencing loss through death, the root of malice, the building of belief and characterization.  It was fun!  Thanks to David for the experience and the honour and the greasy spoon breakfast in the witches’ den.  I believe that Hemingway did 49 drafts of Farewell To Arms.  Perhaps we’ll be doing it again 😀


Playful Print

At my school in the South Slope of Vancouver, we have just raised just over $11,000 to put towards replacing our deteriorating wooden playground structure. The Parent Advisory Committee now has just over $30,000 in the designated savings account.   Students and adults alike are now starting to dream about the possibilities that could come alive in the new playground.

Clyde Hertzman and Kim Schonert Reichl have had a profound impact in British Columbia.  Hertzman clearly articulated that “[o]ur childhood experiences influence health, well-being, learning and behaviour for the rest of our lives”.  Then he went about facilitating the use of  The Early Learning Development Instrument to look at populations of kindergarten students and identify vulnerabilities of specific regions.  Kim Schonert Reichl’s focus on social and emotional learning turned our attention on fostering empathy, altruism and resiliency, as well as implementing the Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI) to allow for consideration of longitudinal data.  They have made us more aware in British Columbia of the need to create contexts for students to develop social, emotional and academic competencies.  Play spaces in community parks and schools lend themselves to allowing children to stretch their limits physically and learn to play imaginatively with peers.  Wouldn’t it be great it they could directly incorporate experimenting and exploring language with family, friends and caregivers in free play public spaces?

Vi Hughes is an educator, children’s writer and early literacy advocate.  Frances Warner is a community planner and educator.  These women have been posing the crucial question… WHY ARE THERE SO FEW WORDS, NUMBERS, OR RHYMES IN PLAY SPACES?

Their brainchild, LITE – Literacy in the Environment, is based on the premise that placing foundational reading experiences in play spaces will support the development of literacy skills.  Hughes and Warner emphasize the importance of encouraging collaborative talk between preschoolers and parents / primary caregivers to spark curiosity and conversations about letters and their relationship to words.  Imagine the possibilities if letters and words could be incorporated into school play spaces and classroom lessons could be developed and consolidated on the playground with vulnerable learners.  Check out the LITE facebook page to see some of the possibilities that playground companies are beginning to provide.  Hughes and Warner reports that several strong examples of incorporating literacy elements into playground design are emerging.   John Lawson Park in West Vancouver has incorporated literacy elements and won a regional prize for their design.  Ryall Spray Park in New Westminster has also incorporated literacy elements.  Several spaces in Vernon are incorporating LITE and Warner is participating in the City of Vernon’s Master Plan for Parks.  As the demand builds, they hope that playground manufacturers such as Landscape Structures, Kompan, Blue Imp and others will continue to respond to requests from clients for play spaces that support literacy through play.

On the LITE facebook link, there is a great picture of a rock with a blueberry label adhered to it and placed in the school garden.

In my previous school, we had a wonderful garden.  I had students research the plants and animals in the garden and we secured a small neighbourhood grant to create signs that could be part of student or self directed garden tours.  It soon became quite apparent that the placement of the signs had to be carefully considered to avoid becoming hazards as students moved through the garden.  Rocks!  If only we had thought of rocks!

If you have any ideas, suggestions or stories about possible ways to incorporate literacy into the environment, please leave comments.







The Thrill of Learning – May 2014

I went to an amazing Learning and The Brain Conference in New York:  The Science of Smarter Minds:  Teaching To Think, Create and Innovate for School and Careers.  It was on the same weekend as the IRA 2014 Conference. Neuroscientists came together with educators to discuss implications for classroom instruction in light of the considerable research made possible with the advent of magnet resonance imaging (MRI) and newly emerging understanding of the plasticity of the brain. Christopher Kaufman discussed practical strategies for improving executive function in the classroom.  Art Markman discussed the challenges and tools to creating new and sustainable habits.  James Paul Gee discussed the possibilities for students engaged in digital learning.  Theorists espousing traditional notions of “intelligence” went head to head with scientists and cognitive psychologists considering new (and more progressive) ways of thinking about thinking.  It was all very fascinating and it was in New York.  My first New York experience.  Yet, I flip to the IRA Conference Highlights…

I can’t help but wish that I could have been there too.  I have attended several IRA conferences and I LOVE the comraderie and learning that comes with connecting with people who share the same passion.  There is also something to be said for connecting with favorite authors and presenters.  Presenting at the last conference in New Orleans was some of the best professional development in my career.   In New York, I came across a Junie B. Jones tour bus.  It felt like it should have been in New Orleans along with literacy educators lining up to have pictures taken with it.  I seem to remember lining up at Disneyland at an IRA conference to have my pic taken with Miss Frizzle and The Magic School bus!  Check out the link to the Conference 2014 highlights

If you have stories to share about the conference, please leave a comment.  Otherwise, I hope to see you in St. Louis, Missouri- July 17-20, 2015!20140526-230405-83045116.jpg

Canadian Reception at IRA Conference

Hello Canadian Colleagues

Please find attached the invitation to The Canadian Reception to be held on Sunday, May 11  5:00 – 8:00 pm at La Galerie 5 (second floor), New Orleans Marriott Hotel, 555 Canal Street, New Orleans, LA 70130.  Colleagues attending the 59th Annual Conference of the International Reading Association are welcome to attend.  This Canadian Reception is hosted due to many Canadian provincial reading associations, local reading councils, special interest groups and Canadian publishing companies.  If you are a Canadian in New Orleans for the International Reading Association, I highly recommend you attend.  You are guaranteed to meet nice people 🙂
Look for Mike Bowden, our “official” B.C. representative and Garth Brooks, who is so vital in the work of The Canadian Special Interest Group of the International reading Association.
Have fun, eeehhh and tweet throughout the conference to keep us up to date  #rdgBC
Note :  A brief CNIRAC Meeting will follow after The Canadian Reception.
A Canadian Dinner, for those who wish to attend, is being planned at Olivier’s Creole Restaurant, 204 Decatur Street – just 2 blocks away.  Send Garth Brooks your RSVP so he can make reservations.
Have you noticed these television ads about New Orleans? Discover Your NOLA!
Also do your research on the historical relationship between Canadian Acadians and Louisiana Cajuns. Homework!

Celebrating Literacy Learning in Meaningful Ways

Tecumseh is a large Elementary School with almost 500 students in the South Slope of Vancouver.  Many students speak Chinese and English, but we also have many students who speak Hindi, Punjabi, Thai, Vietnamese and Spanish.   Literacy Learning is a significant part of each day.  Below are a few of the examples of how students are engaging in reading, writing, listening, speaking and representing their learning.  We’d love to read about your ideas too.

  1. Science World Celebration (Student Report by Rihana, Kealani & Isabel)
    On March 1st and 2nd, 17 students had the opportunity to present their Science Projects at Science World, as a part of the Vancouver District Science Celebration, to the general public. The students worked hard throughout the 1-2 months of preparation, and in the end, had the chance to share their knowledge as well as listen to the results of others’ research. That’s not all: As the Celebration started, students were assigned a specific block rotation during which we would either get to present or enjoy a workshop. The workshop was led by a ‘magician’- that is to say, a magician who used science to create magic. We got a sneak peek of the new outdoor exhibits; including the new chicken coop, which was not yet open to the public. Some students got to take home a sample of fertilizer and a seed of their choice, and all students were given a celebratory ribbon and pencil.
    Overall, this unique opportunity was one worth taking advantage of. It was a guaranteed learning experience, and a fun one at that. It was truly exciting and it inspired us to expand our comprehension of the different topics we can cover all under this one subject of Science.

*The wind is rising* *We must try to live* -Miyazaki, The Wind Rises

2. Multi-age (MACC) Cluster Class Celebration

Multi-age Cluster classes across the district filled the Tecumseh gym to present projects based on their “passions”. The research and display boards reflected the high quality of work we have come to expect at these events. What was truly amazing, was the articulate way in which students presented the information and engaged in conversation about their area of interest. They gave me lots to consider. Tecumseh students also benefitted from excellent role models that helped them to prepare their for their own projects for presentation at The Tecumseh Celebration of learning.

3. Tecumseh Celebration of Learning

Over 175 students, chose interests in Social Studies and Science to research and present at the Annual Tecumseh Celebration of Learning. Under the amazing organization of Mrs. Charan Sandhu, teachers and intermediate students set up their displays and presented fine tuned speecehes to staff, peers, primary students and family members at day and evening events in mid April. One group of teachers focused their inquiry for professional development on giving students choice when determining topics for project based learning. They were thrilled with the high level of commitment displayed by their students. Students emerged more confident for working hard to master and present their topic. Family members beamed with pride as their children blew them away with the high quality of their work.

4. Celebration of Music, Wednesday, April 30, 2014

This Wednesday, April 30th, Mr. Larson is bringing staff and students together to showcase the musical talents of our Tecumseh students. Students will also be practicing singing I.S.S. : Is Somebody Singing in preparation for Music Monday. This will be the day that our singing astronaut, Chris Hadfield, and Maestro Bramwell Tovey, of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra fame, will be leading students across Canada in the singing of ISS.

There will be two performances on Wednesday. We are working on teaching students good audience behavior for formal music events such as the VSO. If you are going to attend, please arrive at the beginning of the assembly and stay until the end. Please save conversations until after the performance. Thanks so much for helping us to teach students the expectations for this type of performance.

First Performance (11:00 – 12:00 pm)

Second Performance (1:15 – 2:15 pm)

5.    Music Monday (Monday, May 5, 2014).  Tecumseh students will be participating in two ways. Some students will be participating from Tecumseh along with their teachers. Mr. Larson, Ms. Froese and a Ukulele group will be travelling down to Science World. They have been invited for the live taping of the event and participation in the documentary presentation about the importance of music education in British Columbia. Both Mr. Larson and a few students will be interviewed and possibly spotlighted in the documentary.


Blogging for Thinking…The next step

Virginia and I are continuing our inquiry project with our students, two groups of students in district gifted programs.  This is the Kidpost entry given to our students to allow us to be very specific about the learning intentions of our blogging project.

Blogging for Thinking

Technology is a tool just like a pencil or pen. We are using blogging as tool for two reasons. Kidblog allows your teacher to adjust the security settings so only your classmates, parents and teachers can read and respond to your blog. It allows you to creatively personalize your space and learn about blogging before you start posting in a public space. Blogging is also one way to develop and extend your thinking through writing by reflecting on your learning in and out of the classroom. Because you are not able to use your facial expressions or other body language to communicate, your words must clearly express your ideas. You also have the task of using your creativity and language to grab the interest of your audience.

Throughout your learning, we are using the following questions from Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser (Spirals of Learning 2013) to keep us moving forward.

  1. What am I learning?
  2. Why does it matter?
  3. Where am I going next with my learning?

We will be using the following a rubric based on the article “Responding to the imperatives of learning in the 21st Century” (The Critical Thinking Consortium, 2011) to evaluate your progress.

1. Developing Self-regulated learning:  The goal is for you to be able to say: “I am in charge of my learning and motivated to carry out my work in personally responsible, self-reflective ways and to exercise reasoned judgment to meet my goals”.

Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
I depend on others for almost alldecisions about what,

how and when I learn; I follow the teacher’s directions but I don’t add my own thoughts, ideas or interpretations.


I demonstrate personalresponsibility to take charge of what, how and when I learn but I need the teacher to provide specific options to choose from. I exercise thoughtfullyinformed judgments in the pursuit of agreed-upon targets and self assess my work according to teacher provided rubrics.. I put a lot of thought and planning into setting goals and a plan to reach them.   I self evaluate how my learning is going and where I want to go next.


2. Developing my Thinking Skills: The goal is to develop your critical thinking skills. The word “critical” does not mean finding fault in this case. It means that you are not just “parroting back” information, but demonstrating proficiency by making connections, analyzing evidence, and making judgments.

Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
I report back what I heard, did, or read during class or out of school learning experiences. I report back what I heard, did, or read. I make connections between my learning experiences at school or home. I consistently describe my learning and express why my learning matters. I understand where I am going next with my learning and come up with an efficient and effective plan of action. I understand the value of my learning and where I want to go next with my learning.   My plan, conclusions & opinions are based on careful analysis of my experiences and a variety of evidence.





59th Annual IRA Conference in New Orleans

Reading…The Teachable Moment

I can’t recommend attending this conference enough.  It is always such a rewarding experience.  Participants are friendly and eager to discuss sessions and what’s happening in their classrooms.  New Orleans is an amazing host. They certainly know how to throw a party and celebrate.   

Conference –  May 10-12, 2014

Institute Day – May 9th

Early Registration ends April 14, 2014  

Go to to register

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