11 Parenting Facts from the Past Four Months


Talk about being a lifelong learner.  As I go through each day exploring with my son and learning from my mistakes, I think about the revelations that I have arrived at over the weeks.  The list is certainly adaptable, but here are a few that immediately come to mind …

1. The new grandparents, who used to enter your house and ask how you were, now start a conversation with the query “Where is he?”

2. You never before knew how relieved you will feel when your baby lets out an enormous burp or fart.

3. You unconsciously praise stranger’s babies when they burp or fart.

4. You long for just one adult conversation per day.

5. You have no problem switching from normal adult conversation to baby talk in the presence of your child.

6. You think that Apple should advertise the fact that iphones can take direct hits of milk and spit-up and still be fully functional.

7. You are constantly teaching yourself to complete many tasks one-handed.

8. You realize that you can actually be very efficient when the baby is down for a nap and you have T-minus 20 minutes to get something accomplished.

9. You don’t mind looking like a fool in public, as long as it calms the baby.

10. You will dredge up lyrics from every song that you have ever memorized in the hopes that this next one may calm the crying baby.

11. You will never be so exasperated and so completely in love with the same person at the exact same time.

Planning is Crucial and Unnecessary


My husband told me something this week: “Plans are useless.  Planning is essential”.  He says it’s a quotation from Dwight D. Eisenhower, but he also read it off the Internet, and you know what Abraham Lincoln says about Internet quotes:

But he’s right, and this holds true in the classroom.  You plan by thinking about pedagogy, your students’ learning abilities and personalities, and your own personal teaching philosophy.  You plan your lesson and unit plans using learning goals and outcomes, teaching strategies, and assessments.  Anyone who has walked into a classroom as a substitute teacher, or thought that they could teach a lesson well without writing anything in their day book, must know that planning is necessary.  However, sometimes the students aren’t at the point where they are ready to hear what you want to teach, and you have to quickly adapt and meet them at their level of knowledge.  Or the students are preoccupied with another school event or problem, and will have trouble focusing on your lesson. Or there’s an unexpected fire drill, or an unscheduled assembly, or a scheduled assembly that you’ve forgotten about, or your principal needs to speak to you, or there’s a parent on the phone, or your teaching partner’s lesson has run long.  At this point all the plans might have to be revised or simply thrown out the window.  Every teacher must also get used to this lesson flexibility throughout the course of his or her teaching day.  These contradictory statements hold truth not just in teaching, but in many aspects of life.  Whether or not it was actually stated by Eisenhower, it’s a good quotation to remember.

So I Read 62 Books This Summer …


Photo by Carlos Lavara at MacLeod's Books, Vancouver

On August 31st, I completed my book-a-day reading challenge.  I feel a sense of accomplishment in the fact that I was able to meet this goal, and along the way I had some time to reflect (as teachers often do) on the entire experience.  I have decided that there are several advantages to my summer endeavour:

1.) The goal made me make time for reading. The television wasn’t on nearly as much this summer as it was last summer. I would set aside time in the afternoons to lay on the couch and pick up a book.  Sometimes, if I was too busy for a couple of days, I would devote an entire afternoon to reading.  I have not done that since I was in grade school, and I liked the nostalgic feeling that it gave me. I realized that reading had been pushed aside in my daily routine because I thought I had no time, but this challenge showed me that if something is important and relaxing for you, then you should make time for it.

2.) I read books I wouldn’t ordinarily pick up. Once in a while I knew I needed to read a book for that day, and I just picked up whatever book happened to be there. As a result, I read several books that would normally escape my notice, and in most cases I am glad they are now part of my reading repertoire.  I read at least six historical fiction novels that had been on my shelf for at least three years, and enjoyed every one. I read more non-fiction books. I was able to actually get through and return borrowed books to their owners, which is something that is usually a challenge in itself for me. Because I had to meet my goal, I became a more well-rounded reader by reading books that were not part of my typical to-read lists.

3.) Books I had been meaning to read for a while actually got read. The novels Crispin: The Cross of Lead, The Secret Life of Bees, and Kitchen are notables on this list. I felt an accomplishment in finally reading those novels that had been recommended to me by others or that I had continually seen on bookshelves. It taught me that if I really want to read a book, it was simply up to me to pick it up and begin.

4.) I made children’s books a priority. Sometimes I knew that I would be on vacation or just too busy on the weekend to delve into a chapter book.  In those instances, I picked up a children’s book from my bookshelf. Reading these books reminded me how well-written these stories can be, and how even though I teach middle school I can use these stories to demonstrate how good stories are written and how reading strategies can be used.

5.) I can now recommend books to my students with some authority. On Thursday my class went to the library for the first time this school year. I moved around the shelves, and helped a few reluctant readers and avid readers with their book choices. I have been talking to students about books they have read and books that they would like to read. Students and I have been sharing our mutual love or dislike of books, and a few have given me book suggestions. This challenge has given me another way I can connect with my students.

6.) I continue to pick up books even though I have finished the challenge. The advantages above have convinced me that if I want to continue to teach Language Arts and espouse the merits of literacy, then I have to be well-read.

I really believe that I can complete this challenge again next summer.  In the meantime, I will make sure that I will continue to pick up and read books that interest and delight me.  Book reviews will continue to pop up on this site, or follow me on Goodreads to learn more about any past or future books.

A Classroom Library Collection


Starting mid-August I decided to reorganize my classroom library.  I had acquired new books from a teacher and from a favourite used book store, and decided that the time had come to sit in my classroom and assess the collection.  The result?  All of my classroom library books, as well as my literature circle books and my read-aloud books, are in a spreadsheet in alphabetical order.  The books that are not displayed on my blue library cart are stored in boxes according to the different literacy genres and labelled.  When I counted the books I had I was stunned: 336 books in my classroom library, and 127 literature circle books.  Here is what that looks like:

All neatly lined up for a photo op

A quotation that I once stumbled upon while online states “I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.”  I am inclined to agree with this statement.  If we want students to think that reading is important, then we have to show that we appreciate books.  I’m hoping that when students come into the classroom they will notice the boxes of books, the shelves lined with my teaching resources, and my library cart filled with novels and non-fiction they have access to, and they will realize that reading is so much a fundamental part of their lives that it needs to have a prominent place in the classroom.

The book a day challenge is complete, and I will write about it soon.  Until then, I hope everyone will be content with the final book title:

August 31st: Crispin: The Cross of Lead, by Avi

Complex Texts at Odds with Technology?


This week I randomly picked up an Educational Leadership magazine with the headline “Teaching Screenagers” so I could quickly pick up a few technology ideas to think over.  One article that discussed reading complex texts and technology particularly caught my eye.  The title of this article is “Too Dumb for Complex Texts?”, and it explores whether this technological age has resulted in students who do not have the capacity or the willingness to comprehend complex texts that are presented to them in university.

The article initially intrigued me because I had been reading so much about how technology is the wave of the future, and I was starting to feel like if I did not grasp onto this new medium for my classroom fairly quickly it would leave me behind.  I do agree with a few of the points mentioned in the article.  For example, the author states that electronic communications require a quick response, which is the antithesis to the slow, receptive reading that is necessary for complex writing.  Students brought up in the Internet age become active contributors to ideas, because a quick comment on a blog post is often all that is required to become embroiled in an ideological debate.  However, this doesn’t work for slow reading, where the reader must take in the entirety of the writing through laboured and conscious thought, and be able to summarize the ideas as well as give his initial opinion.  Based on what I’ve seen online, I could say that this analysis is true.  I’ve often felt that the Internet fosters a certain quickness, and if you do not comment immediately on an idea you will be left behind.  Also, when I read this article a second time I read it online, and I found myself more likely to use the page down button to scan for main ideas rather than look at each sentence.  That may have been only because I was re-reading something that I had already gathered information on, but it does pose an interesting question about whether the Internet naturally leads us to scan and not think deeply when looking at printed documents.

However, I also don’t think that technology is completely to blame in this issue. If I remember my own university experience properly, there has often been a struggle for first-year students to understand complex texts, and doing well in secondary school only to then do poorly in university is not a new phenomenon.  Instead of believing that technology and complex texts are equals in terms of literacy, perhaps technology should play a supporting role in understanding difficult writing.  Literacy strategies, verbal discussion, Socratic seminars, and other good parts of our teacher training should also be presented to the students.  Don’t let all assignments take the form of blog posts and videos, but also don’t naturally assume that banning Internet research for a project will yield more methodical readers.  As in many parts of education, there needs to be a balance.  Students already have so much technology in their lives, it must be brought into the classroom or teaching methods will become antiquated.  I do believe that if we set aside time to break down complex writing for students to understand, while at the same time utilizing technology to support and clarify their understanding, we will end up with better readers in general.

The book-a-day- challenge continues:

July 23rd: A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park

July 24th: Teaching and Learning Outside the Box: Inspiring Imagination Across the Curriculum, by Kieran Egan et. al.

July 25th: Parvana’s Journey, by Deborah Ellis

July 26th: Mud City, by Deborah Ellis

July 27th: An Imaginative Approach to Teaching, by Kieran Egan

July 28th: Looking for X, by Deborah Ellis

July 29th: Eggs, by Jerry Spinelli

“Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.” — Oscar Wilde



I like collecting quotations.  In my spare time, I go online and search for quotations about education, literacy, or just life in general.  I then cut and paste them into a word processing document.  I remember when my band teacher posted one music quotation per week around our band room.  We would arrive in the band room every Monday and look around to see what new idea had been placed on the wall.  Years later, during my first year of teaching, I volunteered to decorate the school library.  One of the first jobs I completed was to place a reading quotation above all the computers.  I enjoyed seeing the students walk around to read the quotations as they were perusing the bookshelves.

I realize that collecting quotations might be considered cheating, because why would I want to use the words of someone else when I can create my own?  I would counter that argument by stating that quotations allow me to perfect my own reading analysis.  I can determine what wisdom the speaker is trying to impart, and I can use his or her statement to help my students understand the themes we are exploring in a larger piece of text.  I can use a particular quotation in a lesson plan to add impact to my points.  Finally, I can use my collection to gain some insights into my own life, and learn how I can use these written statements to improve my own thinking and actions.  The quotations might have been said by someone else, but the critical thinking they can provide belongs to the reader.

Why It’s OK for Kids to Hate Books


Last week I was at Chapters, slowly perusing the different selections of books, when a particular sign caught my eye.  A table was advertising a sale with a colourful sign drawing attention to “Books You Loved From School”.  One of the books sitting on the table was Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brönte.  Now, I know that opinions are different, and that this book is a classic because so many people enjoyed it.  However, all I could think about was how much I hated the book when I had to read it in school.  I remember being annoyed by all the cruelty Heathcliff and Catherine committed in the name of their all-consuming, caring-to-the-point-of-insanity love.  After pointing out the display to my husband, we started talking about all the books that were assigned to us in school that we really disliked.  On my list was The Lord of the Flies (the teacher could never answer my question about what an island full of girls would do differently), while my husband appeared to be fairly irritated by the death of Leslie Burke in Katherine Patterson’s Bridge to Terabitha.  I started thinking that there are quite a few books that are commonly presented in schools that may not appeal to students.  How can we prevent these students from equating these particular books to a general dislike for reading?

I believe that one way to overcome this issue is to teach children that it is OK to hate a book they have read.  Let kids know that if they take a book out of the library they do not have to finish it if it is unappealing to them.  Introduce them to the Reading Bill of Rights.  Don’t be upset if a student dislikes a book you have chosen for the class to read.  Teach them that Newberry Award winners are not enjoyed by everybody.  Create lessons where students are taught how to give reasons why they hate a book (this will give you more enjoyable reasons than “It was boring.”).  Give assignments where students review and rate the books they have read, and post these reviews for other students to read.  Share your own experiences of reading books that you have hated.  Finally, let students know that by understanding what books they dislike, they are on their way to discovering what they do like to read and becoming a more discriminating and sophisticated reader.

A Love of Literacy


When I was in school my favourite subject was Language Arts.  Reading was my passion.  Writing was my emotional release.  The ideas, the comprehension, the inferences, and the arguments were just there in my mind, waiting to be articulated.  Conversely, Mathematics was my worst subject, and I struggled to understand the concepts that were shown to me.  As I progressed through my teacher training, however, I noticed something that at first struck me as unusual: teaching Math came more easily to me than teaching Reading and Writing.  After some reflection, I concluded that because I had struggled with Math throughout my educational career, I was better able to understand my students’ difficulties and help them to overcome their mental barriers.  I could teach a Math concept three different ways because it had often taken me three tries to understand the same concept myself.  But because I had inherently understood stories, plays, and poems, how was I supposed to teach reading to struggling readers?  Because I had always been full of ideas on what to write in my own creative stories, poems, and essays, how was I supposed to teach writing to those with low writing output?  How was I going to establish that literacy is crucial to understanding our world, and instill that same interest in my students that I experienced growing up?

Seven years of teaching later, and to be honest, I’m not close to mastering the teaching of literacy.  But I am also working to discover the tools, strategies, novels, and techniques that will assist me in this journey.  These are the ideas I want to share with others who have the same goal of encouraging literacy.  Some posts will be a discussion of curriculum theories and pedagogy.  Others will be reviews of novels for the intermediate grades, and still others will be literacy lesson plans that can be directly pulled from the site during one of those “Whatever will I teach the kids tomorrow?” moments.  To quote W.B. Yeats: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  If I have a passion for literacy, I want others to share in this passion, and together we can learn how to light these fires for our students.