Wednesday, December 29, 2010

PLENK Motivating Students

Daniel Pink on motivation:  If you want students to fill in the blanks correctly or jump high or do any rote such as memorizing times tables or a physical task, give them bribes.

 If you want them to use their creative thinking to solve problems:

First, pay them enough.  That darling of the dismal science, Adam Smith, had this to say about monetary motivation: "A slave on the contrary who can acquire nothing but his maintenance, consults his own ease by making the land produce as little as possible over and above that maintenance."  Students who see that whatever they do will get them a pass may work just hard enough to pass.  And if passing is all that they are expected to do, that is what they will do.

Then allow them autonomy, an opportunity to acquire and display mastery of interesting tasks, and a purpose for working alone or in a group.  

Hey, isn't that you?

Friday, December 24, 2010

PLENK Watch This

Everyone needs to watch this:

Friday, December 24, 2010
Dr. Gabor Maté on the Stress-Disease Connection, Addiction, Attention Deficit Disorder and the Destruction of American Childhood

Today, a Democracy Now! special with the Canadian physician and bestselling author, Dr. Gabor Maté. From disease to addiction, parenting to attention deficit disorder, Dr. Maté’s work focuses on the centrality of early childhood experiences to the development of the brain, and how those experiences can impact everything from behavioral patterns to physical and mental illness. While the relationship between emotional stress and disease, and mental and physical health more broadly, is often considered controversial within medical orthodoxy, Dr. Maté argues too many doctors seem to have forgotten what was once a commonplace assumption, that emotions are deeply implicated in both the development of illness, addictions and disorders, and in their healing. [includes rush transcript]

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Merry Christmas

A friend sent me this poem.  I hope you enjoy it.

'Twas the night before Christmas & out on the ranch
The pond was froze over & so was the branch.
The snow was piled up belly-deep to a mule.
The kids were all home on vacation from school,
And happier young folks you never did see —
Just all sprawled around a-watchin' TV.
Then suddenly, some time around 8 o'clock,
There came a surprise that gave them a shock!
The power went off; the TV went dead!
When Grandpa came in from out in the shed
With an armload of wood, the house was all dark.
"Just what I expected," they heard him remark.
"Them power line wires must be down from the snow.
Seems sorter like times on the ranch long ago."
"I'll hunt up some candles," said Mom. "With their light,
And the fireplace, I reckon we'll make out all right."
The teen-agers all seemed enveloped in gloom.
Then Grandpa came back from a trip to his room,
Uncased his old fiddle & started to play
That old Christmas song about bells on a sleigh.
Mom started to sing, & first thing they knew
Both Pop & the kids were all singing it, too.
They sang Christmas carols. They sang "Holy Night”,
Their eyes all a-shine in the ruddy firelight.
They played some charades Mom recalled from her youth,
And Pop read a passage from God's Book of Truth.
They stayed up till midnight — and, would you believe,
The youngsters agreed 'twas a fine Christmas Eve.
Grandpa rose early, some time before dawn;
And when the kids wakened, the power was on…
"The power company sure got the line repaired quick,"
Said Grandpa & no one suspected his trick.
Last night, for the sake of some old-fashioned fun,
He had pulled the main switch — the old Son-of-a-Gun!

— anonymous

  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 

Monday, December 13, 2010

PLENK2010 Supporting Outstanding Volunteers

CBC Radio is running a contest to honour outstanding Canadian volunteers. I heard about Bobby Hayes today, so I looked him up. He is one of the top 10. You can particpate by voting here:
The Top 10 finalists have been announced and now it's time for you to select which two will be the ultimate Champions of Change. Both champs win $25,000 for their cause.

The reason that I chose Bobby Hayes is that he is making a difference in the lives of children who need a compass in their lives: someone to talk to, someone to tell their story to. He said he used to try to get official help for them, but each organization could not/would not help because the kid or family didn't meet their criteria.

So he began using his own money and time.  Soon kids were telling one another, "Go find that Bobby guy.  He'll help you."  His list of kids got longer and longer, so he started the Johua Group.

He sounded a lot like a local guy who was a hero to many people.  He died felling a widow-maker tree when he was getting firewood for the elders of his Nuxalk Nation.  Over a thousand people from all of Bella Coola and distant parts came to his funeral.  There were many young people there weeping because their compass was gone.  Scott Moody was the student who got me writing because he challenged me to find the place in his textbook that showed what I was teaching them.  He was right.  It wasn't in their texts.  It was in their text from two years ago--but they were too far away from that Grade to remember.  So I started writing a book that they could use as a reference text.  Other people were at Scott's funeral because he was a special person who always stopped whatever he was doing to listen to you.

Bobby Hayes is doing naturally the kind of thing that is recommended to parents and teachers in Hold On To Your Kids by Neufeld and Maté.  If your kids seem perfectly happy with their friends and ignoring you, there are things you can do.  The book tells you how.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

PLENK Education Theorist Feuerstein

When we were looking at the lists of education theorists, I just glazed over. It was 'way too much data. However, I was reminded of the work of Reuven Feuerstein today by Maté and Neufeld. These two doctors have written a book on parenting called Hold Onto Your Kids. I recommend it to all people who have children of any age and to teachers of students of all ages, too.

In their chapter on how to draw your children (or students) to trust you and attend to what you have to share with them, they talk about orienting the child. They mean by that to help the child/student to be aware of the context in which certain facts will be important for them to learn. That means setting the scene in time and place and in the social context.

This is something that some parents are already doing. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about successful and unsuccessful geniuses.  In the chapter "The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 2" he gives examples of how those parents prepare their children for new experiences and explain how to talk to those in authority, such as teachers and doctors, to advocate for themselves. 

In 1945, Reuven Feuerstein was working with children in what we would call "Special Education" classes.  He was successful as a teacher when he did certain things with them.  From this he developed what he called "Mediated Learning": that is when the adult acts as a mediator to help the child think through a problem, rather than as a teacher laying the given solutions on him.   One of the important steps, he said, was to ready the child to the lesson by orienting him in time and place.   He has developed special activities to help students think about and understand various aspects of problem solving.  

You can read about Feuerstein's theories here.

All that may seem obvious, but very often what is obvious is taken for granted.   Think about that for a moment.  Are we granted problem solving at birth?  Are we blessed by fairy godmothers at our birth? No, we have to learn about how to solve problems bit by bit over time.  So we miss from whom we learned it or when or where.  But someone showed us the way at some time.  We are not Red Knot sandpipers whose children fly from the Arctic to Tierra Del Fuego alone after their parents have left for the south.  

When I was a child, I had to make certain trips on the train all by myself to my grandmother.  Before a trip, my mother would draw me a map and rehearse what to expect at each part of the trip and who would take care of me.  Mother would put me on the train, the Conductor would look out for me, and Grandma would collect me as I stepped off the train.  I was a calm, confident traveller  because I had been prepared.

Because of my mother's way of orienting me to new experiences, and because of Feuerstein's work, I wrote my high interest/low vocabulary booklets on Marathon, Thermopylae and Troy with an introductory activity about where and when the events happened. 

Another reason is that I remember, when I took Grade 5 social studies, I could answer all of the questions on the tests, but I knew I was not really understanding it because I really didn't understand the time-period.  It was not until much later that I began to have a feel for life in the Age of Discovery.  When I taught a Grade 11 course on the entire twentieth century (divided by a chapter a decade), I selected movies to show as an introduction to the new decade.  Each of those decades had its own particular music and dress-style that expressed the mood and issues of the time.

I just find that it is very telling of the importance of this idea that doctors, a journalist, an educator, and parents all find this to be an essential idea.

P.S. Gabor Maté has written a handful of excellent books on addictions, attention deficit disorder, and the effect of stress on health. Boy, did these books ever explain a lot in my life and they will probably help you with yours. Unless, of course, you are among that very small group whose lives are perfect in every way.

Feuerstein, R.  Google him.  Wikipedia has a long list of his books.
Gladwell, Malcolm.  Outliers.  Penguin Group,  Canada, 2008
Raymo, Chet.  Skeptics and True Believers. Doubleday, Canada, 1998
Neufeld, G and Maté, G. Hold On To Your Kids.  Vintage, Canada, 2005

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

PLENK2010 I have another blog.

I have another blog just for educational topics. I call it Educhat.

In it I waffle on about teaching grammar, mathematics etc. This one I intend to use for a number of different bees in my bonnet, but in Educhat I will stick to education. It is for educators, parents, students and anyone else curious about these topics.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

PLENK2010 What Did I Learn?

PLENK2010 There seems to be some hand-wringing about what was learned from this PLENK MOOC. I don't believe that all can be known at this point. I am still reading some of the longer reports and intend to re-read much of the material. Every day new websites and applications are mentioned. There is just so much stuff out there.
I have been sharing with my community of teachers here, and one person is replying with gratitude for the information. Actually, that's not a bad return.
I intend to try new things and be more active on the www. There is so little time and so much to say within my little niche alone.
The course was a success as far as I was concerned. I got a lot out of it. Other people got a lot out of it. Some important networks were created. Some very interesting blogs were recognized, some created because of the course. Research data was gathered. Three cheers for everyone! Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

#PLENK2010 Some Limits to Connectivity

Even where there is broadband, it may be as slow as dial-up is in the city. It may serve only 10% of the population. It may be outrageously expensive. It may be arbitrarily limited by the big-name carrier. Those who may need it most may not be able to afford a computer as well.
The online service may not be helpful enough. ...

PLENK2010 Serendipity in Learning

PLENK2010 You can join through Facebook or by logging in. Tell it what you are interested in, and it will send you pictures and articles about stuff. Oh no! I am interested in Everything. My dearest wish, when I was a child, was to live beside the library.

I'll bet you knew about it, eh?

PLENK2010 Education Controversy

PLENK2010 Where do you stand? Are you for Phonics? Or are you for Look-Say? Are you for Whole Language? How about Organic Development? I can tell you that each plays a part in learning to read, and they are not competing methods.
I have studied the Reading Recovery method which depends mostly on modelling for the learner. It was designed in New Zealand where they teach reading by phonics in Kindergarten. The Kindergarten teacher is to identify those children who will require RR classes in Grade 1. The RR book begins by telling the teacher, that if the child has not learned to read by the traditional methods, the RR teacher must teacher the RR student the sounds of the letters; you just can't get away from the Code.
Where the competition comes in is that the publishers of text-books want to sell their new lines of text books. If they can convince a school board that their texts provide the latest best methodology for teaching reading and that those old text books are so much trash, they get the sales.
How are new texts developed? How are curricula developed? Well, there is a lovely, and sometimes not so lovely, minuet among the publishing houses and the Ministries of Educations who approve the texts to be used in the classrooms. What should be on the curriculum? Well, what is in the available books? What should be in the new text? Well, what has been on the current curricula?
When I began teaching, I was surprised to find that the history text I was to teach from was the same one I studied when I was in that grade some fifteen years before. Were there no new texts? Then I learned why. The classroom book budget was just enough to buy one complete new set or to replace all of the worn-out/missing volumes from the old sets. The teachers usually chose to replace the missing volumes so that every child would have his own book in every subject. It was a system perfectly designed to preserve the status quo. Perfect for a world in which the Board Instruction to Teachers (one per school) outlined the Christian values to be taught, including modesty and frugality. A few years later frugality had fallen off the list.
And Look-Say? Well that was a system designed for teaching reading for the deaf for whom phonics does nothing. About the same time Dr. Seuss was commissioned to write some books using the Dolch List of Sight Words to compliment the new system, and voila a whole new way of teaching reading. Of course it works because there are some arbitrarily-spelled sight words that children have to learn, but you don't throw out the CODE. They are both needed. One without the other makes for an incomplete reader. But the controversy fueled sales!

PLENK2010 What Do You Know?

PLENK2010 Do you know what you know? If you are a teacher, you probably do know what you know. But many of your students may not be too sure of what they know.
I have found that there are are both children and adults who have no confidence in their own knowledge base. Sometimes they are perfectly right to doubt. When they graduate from Grade 12 and apply to university or community college, they are told that they are reading and performing at Grade 9 level and have to take some make-up courses.

Is it that we gallop through the text book without establishing a foundation in anything? When students are rushed along, absorbing only 50% of anything, they know nothing. That is all about money. The government will not allow the student extra years/time to learn, nor the teacher/school extra hours to teach.

Is it because we don't say to the student explicitly: "Right! You know this. Now you are ready for the next thing."? Is it because as teachers, we have our eye always on the curriculum and the huge body of knowledge yet to be learned. We need to take time to celebrate the real achievement of essential skills. Do you know what they are?

One little girl told me, "I don't want to take remedial reading. I want to learn to tell time." So I gathered some materials for teaching/testing telling time by the analog clock and checked her out. She did know how to tell time. But no one had told her that, so she did not trust her skill.

One woman joined the children in the remedial reading class in taking the "Sounds of the Alphabet" test. She was shaking with fear. She was right. She did not know all of the sounds, although she had graduated from high school. No one had taken the time to check and correct--a small point, but foundational. It, among other situational factors, had undermined her education.

It is not good enough to say 50%, 60%, 30% and leave it at that. When the mastery mark is 80% or 90%, you need to re-teach and re-test until the foundational skills are in place. You need to teach those who have mastered the skill to turn to the task of teaching the others to save time in the re-teaching.

It is not good enough to throw young energetic fresh teachers into a K-3 class with 20 kids unless she is thoroughly grounded in all of the reading and math foundational skills from university. Is she a reading and mathematics specialist? If she doesn't know ALL of the skills completely, hire an old teacher, who has had years of experience, and knows what the kids need. It is better to train that eager new teacher by having her teach Grade 5, and then 4, and then 3, and then 2, and then 1 and then K, until she knows all that the child needs to know, where they are coming from and where they are going. Then she is ready to take on that K-3 class.

This old philosophy of education had some value: Teach little, but teach it well. Now we teach a lot, but seemingly not the essentials, and not very well.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

PLENK2010 What are you learning and teaching?

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, "If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, "Ten years . ." 
The student then said, "But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast -- How long then?" Replied the Master, "Well, twenty years." "But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?" asked the student. "Thirty years," replied the Master. "But, I do not understand," said the disappointed student. "At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?" 
Replied the Master, "When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path."
--quoted by Erica Goldson

This story has always made me think of the parable of the rich young seeker: Mark 10:17 'Good teacher,' he asked, 'what must I do to have eternal life?' Mark 10:21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. 'You need one thing,' he said. 'Go and sell all your possessions. Give the money to poor people. Then you will have real wealth, in heaven. Then come! Follow me!'

Gaining wisdom as walking the talk of the Kingdom of Heaven is not a game. It is not a matter of Brownie points. It is what you develop in your head and in your heart. In both cases, the young men were "playing the game", not living the life.

The teacher has the responsibility to teach the skills, yes, but not as the goal--just as the tool--to aid learning, and making sense, and then to share.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

PLENK2010 About Making Non Readers

PLENK2010 Have you seen this site?

I enjoyed the interview with Alfie Kohn.

PLENK2010 Making the Obvious Apparent

PLENK2010 Why do I consider my booklets unique? I am not writing about the usual things things that math books write about. My books do not have pages of drill exercises. There are lots of writers who have made those books. The problem I have seen, and write about, is the lack of comprehension of reading and writing word problems.
Most of the students I have encountered can and do learn to manipulate the numbers, but they don't really understand Algebra because they don't quite understand that it is a language, no matter how often we say "number sentence". They don't understand the grammar of "English sentence" either. Neither do their teachers unfortunately.
I have looked at many math texts for different grades, and various number-crunching methods are demonstrated and called "problem-solving", but NEVER have I seen a text show the lay-out that I was taught to use by my Grade 9 teacher half a century go.
I have asked people of various ages about this way of writing word problems, and there does seem to be a definite cut-off point before which it was formally taught and after which it was expected to be taught by the teacher but never explicitly mentioned by anyone: an open secret that became a closed secret.
The commercial writer of texts did not show the method and their test forms did not leave enough room for the full writing out of a complete word-problem solution nor were sufficient marks allotted to them. Consequently, as they became de-valued, less student and teacher time was paid to the art and now almost no students bother to tackle word problems. But what is the study of mathematics for, but to solve problems?
Another factor contributing to this "knowledge gap" is the subject silo: in high school as in university, each subject has its own dedicated staff of specialist teachers, even if the entire department is represented by one person. When these teachers talk about a "problem student' the discussion generally runs to the "Ain't It Awful" category rather than to the "what knowledge gaps have you observed?" category. The math and science teachers assume that the English teacher has covered everything so that the student can comprehend the text books and write essays, and they, perhaps not willing to tread on the others' toes, forebear to note "English" errors on "long" assignments. Perhaps also, they are at a loss to know what the knowledge/skill gap might be. The teacher of English, not being a specialist in mathematics or science forbears to remark on whatever "bad" writing they see in the others' classrooms. Yet, they are all missing a fundamental nexus of the CORE subjects. Regardless of how we think about what we have discovered, we follow the writing conventions determined by the Scientific Method of Problem Solving laid down by Sir Francis Bacon when we come to share that discovery; the English essay, the scientific experiment note, and the mathematics word problem solution are all laid out following that basic plan.
When my fellow Grade 9 students complained "Another essay! I don't even know where to start!" I wondered at their despair. I never had any trouble. I didn't even think about it. We had two years of lessons in writing essays in Grade 12 and 13. In those days, the last two years of high school WERE college-prep. Now they teach the formal essay in Grade 9 and expect the student to remember the details the rest of his life. They place it in Grade 9, I suppose, because so many students fall out in Grade 10.
It was not until I began to teach Grade 8 mathematics, science and English all together to an Adult Basic Education class that I saw why I had no trouble with high school myself. My mother had prepared me for Algebra by helping me with Grade 8 problems. "Mom, we don't do that in school!" "Maybe not, but bear with me. Let the unknown be x..." When she explained something to me, she always started with the background orientation. Her mother, although never published, had been a constant reader and essayist and poet. Although we had no scientists per se in our family, we came from a long line of farmers, who had the habit of observation and experimentation. The teachers in their high local schools were well read and well-trained. So I "naturally" internalized the pattern of writing that made book-learning easy.
Not everyone is so lucky. Furthermore, I firmly believe that it is the teacher's duty to make explicit these often-unexpressed understandings that create the scholar's culture upon which our economy now seems to rest.

Monday, November 8, 2010


PLENK2010 As you may have noticed, I have worked, even at the university level, with students who were not at the top of the class in high school. For whatever reason, they missed some foundational lessons. That is why I invented my colour-code for teaching grammar, and began writing my own booklets on how to write essays, word problems and such. J Chesney thought that my introduction to how to write a word problem in Grade 4, an examination of the difference between narrative and expository writing would be an interesting introduction to our consideration of Values and Issues in Education.

In talking to students I found that they really had no idea of how to tell the difference between a story and an essay. In a math word problem, they did not see the mathematics as a picture, and had no idea where to start or what to do. Furthermore, whatever they did come up with, they got no more credit for their work than if they had just figured or simplified a formula.

It is not enough to say: In Primary learn to read. In Elementary read to learn. The whole of Elementary and Secondary is about the Conventions of How We Write and How to Read the Writer's Meaning. That is the Obvious that the teacher is the make Apparent.

I tried to upload my jpeg. I wonder if you can see it? It is very tiny to fit the given space, and you can't enlarge it. So if you want to see the original, please let me know and I'll email it to you. Or if you have a better way...please teach me how to work this system.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

#PLENK2010 This week on Spark

PLENK2010 Jim notes that Spark on CBC1 seems to match our PLENK topics a lot. This weeks is on games and play, including in education. Go to to locate the Mp3 version for Spark 126 Nov 7 & 10, 2010.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

PLENK2010 Cognitive Misers

PLENK2010 I subscribe to Delancey Place. Every day I get an excerpt from an interesting book. Today's offering (Nov 4, 2010) is about cognitive miserliness: our tendency to jump to the obvious answer rather than the correct answer which takes a bit more work.

During the last score of years, few mathematics teachers bother teaching how to solve "word problems" or "story problems". When the commercial tests give only 1-3 marks for a word problem, and the teacher does not teach how to do them, the student ignores them: they are worth no more credits than a sample calculation.

But the complete story problem is a complete essay. It follows the pattern of a technical report, which format is that of the Scientific Method of Problem Solving, the nexus of English, Science and Mathematics in secondary school. No matter how we actually reason, the convention of way we write it out follows that design. And it is worth at least 8 to 10 marks. (And yes, I have a free lesson booklet on this and others for sale.)

Do check out Delancey Place. I think you will enjoy it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

PLENK2010 Information Overload Again

PLENK2010 Ever wonder why everything is so expensive? Especially why your wages don't cover your Death Pledge (mortgage)? Watch this series.

PLENK2010 The Drowning Student --Mortal Combat

PLENK2010 Years ago I was locked into Mortal combat with a kid and a class. Then I moved away for a few years. When I moved back, I met this kid in the public library. He greeted me and humbly apologized for being a real pain in the neck back in the day. He said the other boys had put him up to it. Fortunately, I had not been in mortal combat with him. At the end of every rough day I put it aside and started each new day fresh with constant optimism. Cock-eyed, eh?

There were a few other boys who pushed back at me, but usually for things I could address. They accused me of inventing the rules of Algebra, just to annoy them. I had 6000 years of history on my side there. But they were right, the rules were not laid out in their text books. They accused me of presenting "typical" math problems, and I said "Of course, they are typical. We present types of problems that they might find applicable in life or in further studies." End of argument. It was these students who inspired me to write booklets on those very things they needed to know to succeed in school.

Now the girls--they were just into power tripping. As I was not young and nubile I did not count in their world--not as a rival and not as a model. So they just wanted to distract the class back to paying attention to them. The wise students knew that the glory of these prima donnas would be very short.

Tom Daly does not have a blog, but I am sharing his newsletter with you with his permission.

Tom Daly speaks:

Today I want to talk about the other dynamic that sometimes defines our relationship with a drowning student.

This dynamic is called the "Mortal Combat."

Now, obviously, there may be a verbal battle in your classroom between you and a rabble rouser or two. But I wanted to talk about this dynamic because it often creeps into our classrooms and clouds our focus.

When I think about "mortal combat" in the classroom, I remember some of my tougher students, in which I had to continually dig in my heels and react to their increasingly creative efforts to derail my lessons.

How do you know your class dynamic is leaning toward mortal combat?

Well, if you feel an intense emotional reaction to strike back somehow, and you often go toe-to-toe with a student in a reactive way, then that dynamic falls under my idea of "mortal combat."

At this point, you might be thinking, "Where in the world did I get this idea of mortal combat?"

Well, if you are old enough to remember a certain popular video game from the early 1990's called "Mortal Combat," you are already tempted at this point to beat your chest and yell, "MORRRR-TALLLL COMMMM-BAAAAT!"

Of course, I'm not comparing our classrooms to a video game, and I'm obviously not talking about anything having to do with real violence.

But if you have ever been locked into a "Mortal Combat" with a student, you know just how draining and emotionally exhausting that can be.

What kind of student draws you into a "Mortal Combat"?

It could be:

> A silver-tongued class clown trying to undermine you with wisecracks.

> An agitator who tries to enlist other students to go off-task.

> A brilliant but bored student who isn't shy about saying whatever's on his or her mind.

> A failing kid who can't stop fidgeting.

> An emotional child who takes everything personally.

No matter what this student's profile, consider the fact that any mortal combat that ensues in your classroom is at least partly because of YOUR reaction to his behavior.

Now don't get me wrong - you must deal with serious disruptions right away. Again, if you find yourself continually digging in your heels, or if you feel an intense emotional reaction to strike back somehow, then you may have already helped create the Mortal Combat situation that is so counter-productive to your best
teaching efforts.

As I wrote in my book, "How to Turn Any Disruptive Child Into Your Best Student,"
sometimes it's wise to find ways to "drop the rope."

This is easier said than done, of course. Combative students are often crafty and, when you do go toe-to-toe with them in a reactive way, they will often just adjust their strategy to find another way to torment you.

So how can you escape this no-win situation?

In my next email I will discuss specific guidelines to help you, whether you and your student are locked in a "Mutual Truce" or a "Mutual Combat."

For now, at least know this:

We're going to have to get CREATIVE in a hurry!

I'll get into that in my next email.

Until then, at least recognize the part you might be playing in a "mortal combat" dynamic and how that could change.

Sometimes just recognizing a dynamic can help take away the emotional element and lead to an immediate breakthrough.

Think about it and I'll offer some specific help in my next email.

Talk soon,


P.S. Defusing possible "mortal combat" situations is one of the foundations of my book, "How to Turn Any Disruptive Child Into Your Best Student."

If you haven't yet picked up your copy, then click here to see what it's all about:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

PLENK2010 Information Overload

PLENK2010 My son was telling me that some scientists want to genetically modify human beings so that we can see ultraviolet light as bees and other insects do. I immediately saw it would change everything--it would end the world as we know it. "Oh, no. Do we have to?" I asked.

I think it is really good for teachers and other adults to go back into an environment where thy are learners. It has been very exciting meeting new people, new ideas, and practising new skills. But it is exhausting work. We need to be reminded that our students are working hard, too.

Today I had a wonderful experience using Skype to teach a small group in Jim's classroom far away in the Northwest Territories. I saw them. They saw me. Jim had prints outs of my pdfs and projects his slides on the classroom whiteboard, too. It worked out really well, and we're going to do it again.

We were expecting lots of things to go wrong, but they didn't. The technology was very good. Of course, we weren't expecting it to do too much, but it didn't break down, and it didn't get in the way. A much bigger class might pose a problem, but we'd figure that out. There may be a time, when we want to try Elluminate instead. Maybe blogging or whatever. We'll see. Maybe the students will have some interesting ideas.

But we would never even have met had we not signed up for this course. Thank you Stephen, and George and Rita. And thank you all of you wonderful people who are contributing to the success of this course.

Monday, November 1, 2010

PLENK2010 Soylent Green, Anyone?

PLENk2010 Canada’s National Farmers Union wants the Canada-EU trade deal scrapped. US farmers face the same assault by agribusiness and the biotech industry under S 510.

Epoch Times noted: “Under provisions in CETA [Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement], using saved seed could result in a farmer’s land, equipment, and crops being seized for alleged infringement of intellectual property rights attached to plant varieties owned by corporations such as Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, and Bayer.

People take action when they see that politics affects the food on their plate.

PLENK2010 Ain't It Awful

PLENK2010 Ain't It Awful is one of those dysfunctional life-games that Eric Berne describes in his book Games People Play. It is fun to play but it solves no problems. It just makes people feel that they have participated in a team cohesion activity. We are so superior to those awful ones. Knowing about these games, and recognizing when one is in one, helps one to dis-engage from the Game and get real. Authenticity is one of those rare commodities that so many people are desperately seeking, and that others are running away from, eh?

#PLENK2010 Tea Party Drink Dirty OIl

PLENK In the category of Ain't It Awful: "The Tea Party movement, poised to help shift the U.S. legislature to the right and stymie President Obama's green agenda, has financial and organizational ties to Koch Industries, one of America's biggest processors of Alberta oil sands crude.
Congressional midterm elections on Tuesday could create a U.S. government less amenable to climate change action, partly a result of Tea Party influence.
That would likely bode well for Alberta's carbon-intensive oil sands industry, which has long worried that national greenhouse gas standards south of the border will reduce profits and restrict future growth."

Teaching is a political activity. If the object of a general education is to produce concerned citizens, they must be informed and critical thinkers.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

PLENK2010 The Drowning Student

Tom Daly has given me permission to share this with you.
Before you can help your drowning student, you have to be honest and ask yourself some hard questions.

First, look at the relationship you have with this student.

If you're like me, your feelings about this type of student fit either of these two models:

1. The Mutual Truce
2. Mortal Combat

I know you're busy, so let's just look at the first one for now and I'll address the other one in my next email.

Okay, so the Mutual Truce is an unspoken agreement between you and the drowning student in which he ignores you and you ignore him. (Or "she" and "her" as the case may be.)
While engaging in the Mutual Truce is not effective or admirable, it's surely understandable. No one can blame teachers for wanting nothing but the most highly motivated and well-behaved students, after all!
But real life delivers us the occasional drowning student, and if you are using the Mutual Truce as a way of dealing with this difficult situation, then at least be honest about it so that we can find a better approach.
How do you know if you're locked into the Mutual Truce?

Well, the Mutual Truce often looks like this:
> You don't really demand much out of this student, except passive compliance to most classroom rules.
> The one classroom rule you don't really enforce for this student is, "Do your best work."
> This student doesn't produce much work, but he or she doesn't embarrass you either.
> The student goes through the motions of being a student without disrupting the class.
> His parents may not complain, nor do they blame you for his lack of effort. Indeed, they may not even be aware of the situation.
> You haven't called the parents to discuss this. So, in a way, you also have a Mutual Truce with the student's parents, too. You send home his three-week progress reports, just like you do for the other students, and on those reports you indicate that he may fail the class and that they are invited to come into the school any
time . . . but you know they won't come in.
If any of this sounds familiar, then you may be locked into a Mutual Truce with your drowning student.
As I've said, this is understandable, but if we're going to fulfill our most meaningful purpose as teachers, we have to come up with a more effective strategy.


Believe it or not, simply being aware that you are locked into a Mutual Truce is the first step in overcoming it.
The Mutual Truce is a sneaky dynamic that easily slips under our conscious radar. It's easy to write it off with ready-made explanations. Rationalizations such as:
"He's a good kid - he'll turn it around soon."
"There's not much more I can do, really."
"At least he's not bothering the other kids."
If you find yourself saying things like this, it might be time to reexamine your approach with this student.
In my next email, I'll go into the "Mortal Combat" scenario and offer some helpful suggestions.

PLENK2010 The Rappin Mathematician

Music helps us remember. This teacher made up raps to help his students rememeber math facts:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

PLENK2010 A Very Important Blog

I listen to the CBC Radio 1. There is music, but there is more talk. A very good program is Spark. The feed of October 24 is available at the moment at
This week's show is about using technology to monitor, record, and store our lives. Are we being treated as under-performing technologies? Will robots find us useless parasites?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

PLENK2010 Being Original

#PLENK2010 When I was about 12, through many arguments and discussions with an immigrant neighbour and classmate, I realized that many of my opinions were hand-me-downs from my mother. From observing the paintings of another friend, I realized that our first model of 'people' is ourselves.
When I was 25, I had been studying origami. I had made all the easy figures. Now I was making the dog. That night before I fell asleep, I thought that if I did this and that I could make a donkey. The next day, I did. I realized that I was building on the genius of others, but I had had my own very original thought all by myself. Of course, I was not surprised to find the same design later on, but I was confident that I was capable of truly original thought because I too had come up with that idea.
When I was 10, I realized that the people in my dreams did not talk. As with many 'bossy' girls, I was directing the people in my dreams, telling them what to say, as though they were in a play. I asked Mother when the people in my dreams would talk for themselves. She didn't know, but she assured me that they would. I guess I was about 12 when they began to talk for themselves. Now it's talk, talk, talk all night.
At some point in my dreams, I found myself looking at a book. Unfortunately, the page was blank. A number of months or years later, the words on the page were there but I could not read them. Finally, a few years ago, I found myself actually reading the page. Progress!
You need a lot of input first before you can come up with that inspired idea.

PLENK2010 Temple Grandin

#PLENK2010 I watched Temple Grandin last night. I had read a lot about her and heard her speak, but the movie is stunning because it puts the whole story together for you. This is worth buying.
No matter how we do it, the best way that people remember is through stories. This is how we remember our own histories, and by telling our story we can distance ourselves from the trauma. Temple sees words as pictures. As with Medieval church art or the best children's books, her mental images tell the whole story.
I had a friend who was an artist. In her dreams, the people did not talk, but she saw them act and saw images. In my dreams, although I see vivid images, the people talk and talk. Some mornings I wake up exhausted from all the busy-ness of the night. For some students, music explodes with story. Keeping in mind these different modalities enables us to appreciate the expressive styles of the 'dyslexics' among our students.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

PLENK2010 A Wonderful Literacy Project

#PLENK2010 I want to draw your attention to a wonderful project of the Lieutenant Governor of BC. He is trying to encourage kids and adults to write stories. He has commissioned an artist to paint stories. The writer can pick one or more of the paintings to build a story. It's not an ordinary sequencing activity: the pictures are deliberately a bit vague so that the writer can make up his own mind. There is no perfectly right order. You could make up your own story from one picture so it is a writing prompt, not a test. Have a look. Check out the whole set of webpages. I believe His Honour appears in the pumpkin story.

It could be a tell-me-a-story activity in which the child discusses it with an adult. The adult could write down the dictated story to send in, but it could just be for fun. Oral literature is still literacy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

PLENK2010 A Bee in My Bonnet or Bugs in My Brain?

For those not familiar with the English idiom, "a bee in her bonnet" means having a particular idea or complaint on her mind, an obsession, an idée fixe.  Today on CBC1 I heard the All in the Mind program from October 9 on Parasites in Brains.
   It was about various viruses, flukes, and such that spend at least part of their lives in the brains of their hosts, affecting their behaviour.  In the case of people, apart from prions, about 30% of us are infected by Toxoplasma Gondii.   This protozoan creature needs to have sex in cats.  But cats excrete them.  Then mice eat the feces.  The Toxo gets into the brain of a mouse and makes it unafraid of cat urine.  The mouse even likes the smell of cat urine.  A cat eats the friendly mouse and, voilà, party-time for Toxo.  
   We like cats, and we handle cat feces and urine.  Well, we try to avoid actually touching it, but we do keep litter boxes.  Toxo gets into us, too.  If you don't like cats, you may be exposed because Toxo is also in undercooked meat and in meat products (but we don't know which ones).   In a small way, it causes us to be more neurotic: slightly more reactive, sort of dogmatic and rigid, and perhaps guilt-prone.  It is doing this by affecting the immune system and dopamine centres.  Apparently, this tends to make women smarter and men less so.  Also the women become more warm-hearted and more interested in shopping.  (I'm not making this up.)
   You can't measure this "more" or "less" in a particular individual, but over large populations there is a noticeable effect about 30% of the variation among countries in neuroticism.  The more neurotic cultures tend to have more rigid role-oriented societies.  They tend to be more risk averse and prefer very unchanging political structures.  They also tend to have strong gender definitions so that men do manly things and women do feminine things.
   Toxo makes chemicls that might be used to help control certain psychoses like schizophrenia.  On the other hand, it might be higher in people with Parkinson's disease.
   Note to parents: pregnant women in the first trimester tend to be aversive to particular foods and to be disgusted by certain smells.  So they don't want to clean the litter box.  Good!  Their aversion is protecting the growing baby.
  Here's an idea from a reader of the website:  Perhaps Toxo does make us more prone to like kitties.  If we are attracted to lions, tigers and cougars, and who doesn't think they are beautiful, we might be eaten by those big cats, thereby fulfilling the reproductive imperative of little Toxo.

Friday, October 15, 2010

PLENK2010 Self-Assessment, a Story

#PLENK2010 One topic on the agenda today was self-assessment.  Let me tell you a story.
    Alice came to me with a report card that said she got an A in Grade 4.  Now, I happened to talk to her Grade 4 teacher about that A and this is what she told me: Children really know how they stand in comparison with the other children so I told them that they could choose their final mark for their report card.  Alice had given herself an A.
   In my class, Alice was restless and acted out, and the other children liked to tattle on her.  "Don't tell me, " I finally had to say.  "Unless Alice is standing on the window sill ready to jump three floors down, I don't want to know."  She was, as I had suspected, hiding in the cupboard again.  Alice came with a record and a label: childhood schizophrenia.  Not one teacher had liked her, and they had all moved her on as soon as possible.  Alice was a handful, but she really did want to please me.  Every assignment she started with zeal.  But Alice never finished.  Not anything, not even Art.
   At the end of the year, before I began writing the final reports, I had a private chat with Alice.  I told her that I knew how she had got that A last year.  I told her, though, that now that she was a Big Girl, she had to finish her seatwork to get an A.  And, I pointed out, she had never finished anything.  She would have to repeat Grade 5.  Alice cried, but I was firm.  She was not going to get a good mark on her report card.
   The next September Alice was surprised to find that I was her new teacher.  It had never occurred to me not to take her on again.  I knew her well.  We had an understanding that some seatwork had to be completed.  We were going to have another go at it together.  That year, the Board psychologist shared a bit more with me about Alice.  She was the only one of her family of normal intelligence.  Both her parents and her older siblings were intellectually challenged.  When Alice went home, she cared for her baby brother and slept with him in his crib at night or else he'd cry and cry.  Alice confided in me that she often worried about her older brother who was in jail.  At the end of the year, Alice passed Grade 5, just.
   Then I took that Grade 5 class forward into Grade 6.  Alice and I were together for three years.  Then they all disappeared, graduated to the Big School for Grade 7 and 8.  In June, Alice visited me during an Open House night when parents were invited to meet the teachers and explore the classrooms.  She thanked me for teaching her, and told me she was doing well in Grade 7.  She was not getting into trouble, "And I'm getting all Ds!"  That was good for Alice.  She was doing her best under a heavy burden.  Although she had been diagnosed by the Board psychologist, that diagnosis did not result in any help for Alice.  No Special Ed classes, no teacher's aide.  I was advised to be "understanding".
   So, can the student assess his own learning?  Self-assessment was not on the curriculum in those days.  But I tried to be explicit in what I taught so that the students would know what they had learned and that they had learned.  (And that's another story.)  Given the opportunity to grade herself, Alice leaped for that A.  Why not?
   In the real world, that is, where adults work together, teams collaborate on goals and assessment as well as on tasks.  If the students are to learn to self-assess, they need explicit lessons in team-work, in team planning and goal-setting and in team-assessment.  In school, they need to know the curriculum, that is the prescribed goals or deliverables and the permitted formats.  They need to learn how to set and achieve deadlines (very difficult for some).   They need to help determine where credit is due.  If the objective is to produce the independent  self-directed learner, they have to have explicit lessons and practice in this and to know that this is the primary purpose of the course, whatever the "product" or "final deliverable" might be.  It's not an impossible task to design such a course.  There is only the requirement that such a course be desired.  And then, whatever the final assessment of the learning has to be agreed upon by the learner.  If self-assessment is the objective, self-assessment it must be.
   Watch out for those Snakes in Suits, though.  (Robert Hare and Paul Babiak)  They're everywhere.

PLENK2010 Sharing the knowledge

#PLENK2010  I mention the Laubach Method of Teaching Reading.  Laubach was asked to teach reading in an isolated community.  He promised to do so if the students would promise to teach at least one other person.  He designed materials and used both phonetic clues and modeling to teach one person to read.  That person taught another.  That person taught another.  Those who could read went on teaching those who couldn't.  That was also the model of the rural school, in which the younger children were taught by the older children.
   One week I flew out to a remote school as a substitute teacher.  When I noticed that Albert had finished his work, I suggest to him that he help Bobby with his work.  The children were astonished.  They had never heard of such a thing.  "And Albert is Bobby's older brother," they said.  At the time, I did not know the significance of that.  Since then, I have learned that at Indian Residential schools, as they were called, the children were forbiddden to talk to one another, and family ties were cut very firmly. 
   I wanted to teach those kids about Vlad the Impaler.  There was nothing in the school library that I could find on the original Count Dracula.  The kids were interested in the topic.  They could have had a grand time learning history, science (blood diseases), painting pictures and writing stories.  There was no internet then so I could not do that project.  I stuck to what the teacher had left for me to do. 
   There is so much information out there in libraries and on the Web that there is something to excite the interest of the students.  If they are actively learning something, you can talk to them about how they are learning and how they are sharing and thereby teach them how to learn on their own.  That is the content: How do you learn and how do you share what you have learned?
   Most of what we teach as content can be learned by them as older students in a month of reading.  What we are in the business to teach, in elementary and secondary school, is the conventions of how we write and, therefore, how we read text books and blog pages and e-books and e-zines.   So much of the mathematics that boggles them at first is How do we write that in Algebra?  Once you know the code, you can say anything. 
   One student in Grade 10 was complaining to me that the exercises in the school texts were so typical.  "Yes," I agreed.  "In school we teach you the TYPEs of problems that are very common and for which solutions have been found and that you might find anywhere.  Once you learn those types, you can apply that knowledge to new kinds of problems."   He stopped complaining.
   And yes, I have written lessons on the nexus of English, Science and Mathematics and how they form the CORE of the subjects.
  P.S.  Although I was teaching Mathematics at the time, I was asked by the Science teacher to sub for him in Grade 9 Science while he went to the dentist.  It just happened that the lesson was on chemical equations and how to write and read them.  "Gee, Ms Grigor, you make even Science sound like Math," one said.  "Of course, I said.  This is Mathematics.  You are balancing the atoms in the molecules."  I don't think he believed me.

#PLENK2010 What I learned today (10/10/15)

What a lively bunch we were today.  We were on a topic that was very dear to our hearts.  This exchange totally astonished me.

Me: The model of the ideal teacher is the factory foreman: setting enough work (not too much or too little) and making the workers (students) do it, and docking the slackers.
:@Skupik -- you are not serious, are you?
: Govt. wants a 70% success rate for students!
: @Skupic - Oh dear!
: Gotcha.
: @Skupik that is the industrial model
Of course, that is the industrial model.   It is the model of the 19th century concept of public (for all economic classes) education that Ken Robinson talks about in his video at
   It is the one described in Overschooled But Undereducated by John Abbot et al.  It is the model of the school in which I was educated, and in which most government leaders were educated, and it is the model that many parents recognize.  It is the school of Charlie Brown and of Bart Simpson.  
   When I was teaching Grade 5 in Toronto, I asked my class: What makes a good teacher?  They told me: Someone who gives us the right amount of work, not too much or too little, and sees that we do it.  That's not a teacher, I thought.  That's a foreman.  And, of course, it was.  But from their point of view, they needed reasonable expectations that they could achieve, and their parents, who worked in the factories of industrial Toronto, would have expressed the idea of the fair foreman in just those terms.  
   When I was teaching in a remote village in the Chilcotin, the children complained to the bus driver that I was "so mean".  The  bus driver, who was my friend and who told me this story, really wanted to know how nasty I was.  He was afraid that maybe I was, after all, one of those sad teachers from the days of residential schools who hit the kids and punished them unmercifully.   "What does she do?" he asked.  "She makes us do our seatwork!" That is the authority of the experienced teacher.  The head of the maintenance department remarked to me, "You must be doing something right in here because I haven't had to replace that window once this year."
   There are some very good things about the traditional schools when they function well, and those successes need to be examined and retained or modified to suit the new situation of the wired world.  And the hinterland needs to be brought into the wired world for sure (but that's another discussion).
   I have observed that many people try to reproduce the conditions of their childhood when they become adults a) because that was when they lived in a world that was safe and nurturing (their personal Garden of Eden) or b) because they are imprinted with a model they must work out.  Gabor Maté in Hold On To Your Kids describes how the culture of a well-functioning community supports the parents and helps them raise their children, citing Rognes, Provence as an example (40).  And when the powers that be consider the ideal school, if their experience was satisfactory in their terms, they design their expectations and funding accordingly.
   One new feature of the "modern" school is that a huge number of the students, who are still children, are not oriented for attention to the adults around them.  They have no respect for parents and teachers because those people have not given them the attention they needed when they needed it.  The modern student is oriented to their peers who do give them the attention they crave.  Of course, the attention of their peers is not a nurturing one because the majority of children don't have the capacity to nurture others.  (The brain does not finish growing until about 25 when the 'wisdom' teach begin to hurt.)  That peer world is run by bullies and their hangers-on.  It is the world of "flaming", harassment and suicides.  As with a flock of birds, the different one is pecked to death, because difference will draw the attention of the hawk.
   I met one of these "lost boys".  She was 8 years old, going on 18.  She told me she didn't want to learn to read and to do well in school because then she would not appeal to the "in" group of (16-18 year-old) males.  Smart, manipulative and beautiful, she was in a hurry to become "queen" of the party-gang.  When she was 12, on a slippery road at night, she drove into a tree. 
  It is true that in elementary school and in high school, the teachers are very conservative.  Some are conservative because, frankly, they are not with it and don't know what wonderful applications are out there.  But some fear for the students who don't have a solid emotional grounding or are naive enough to be seduced by predators on the make in the cyber-world.  In loco parentis is taken very seriously by those who watch over our children.
   At least, in the industrial-style, bricks-and-mortar school, the kids were kept within sight of the teacher and the teacher knew what they were doing within those four walls.  
   I am really enjoying this course, and while we are thinking about assessment, grades and authentic thought, let us not forget that many of the students coming into the universities are still children no matter that they have left high school behind them.

To return to this comment : Govt. wants a 70% success rate for students!
  If 80% of the possible "correct" answers is taken to mean mastery, and it is, on standardized tests, can we expect that 80% of the time, the teacher is "successfully" teaching?  Is the student learning 80% of the time?  If the student is learning 80% of the time, and the teacher is teaching 80% of the time, can we say 80% of 80% is equal to 64%?


PLENK2010 Off Topic?

#PLENK2010  Part of our PLE exploration is networking with others.  In my discussions, I have been sharing some of what I am reading about the connections between the roots of addiction and ADD in the lack of parental attachment/attention (read: ADD means the child has had a Deficit of Adult Attention.) and how to reverse it and in the lack of parental support by our stand-alone society that creates an opportunity (and need in the child) for peer-attachment and gang-culture.  I recommend reading Gabor Maté: Scattered Minds (ADD), In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, and Hold on to Your Kids.  Also re-read about the lost boys in Peter Pan and the peer culture in Lord of the Flies.  Also consider Tom Brown's School Days.
   Why do you need to know about this?  Well, many of our drop-out students who re-appear in community college and even in university as adult students are the walking wounded, and they require new methods of teaching. 

PLENK2010 A Matter of Authority

#Plenk2010  In reviewing the readings for today's Elluminate session, I ran across this statement:

In all our work, we support openness, sustainable technology and making innovative choices. In this spirit of progression, JISC publications will only be available in digital formats in the future. Printed copies of Effective Assessment in a Digital Age can be ordered free until end of October 2010.
  My son, who is attempting to discuss politics with his fellow gamers, is running up against the issue of authority.  If he suggests that they watch a particular video on the 'Net, they reject his information because it isn't accompanied by a bibliography of references. 
  While Universities may be taking a look at e-education, they must struggle with the issue of authority as well as assessment.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go Away (4)

This morning, the rain gauge was at 7 cm.  And then the sun came out.   There is snow on top of the mountains again.  The day was warm.  We saw an Amarita muscaria, just like this one, but orange.
    And all of the Chilean miners made it out of the mine.  Praise the Lord, and thanks to all who helped.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go Away (3)

Tuesday, about supper time.  Rain is up to 5.5 cm.  The road to Williams Lake is connected—if you have a tall truck with 4-wheel drive, and if you are willing to be escorted by a Highways car with special CB, and if you are willing to wait for the escort times either early in the morning going up The Hill or at 4 pm coming down The Hill.   The road along the Valley and on The Hill and along the Chilcotin Plateau is very fragile in places so the big transport trucks are not allowed on it yet; food and goods will be coming in by barge to Bella Coola, and by small trucks from Williams Lake to the small towns along the Chilcotin Plateau.   All along the coast there are storms.  All over the world it is monsoon season.  Soon the snows begin.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go Away (2 later)

It's supper time, now, and it has rained another centimeter: up to 5 cm.  The approach to Saloompt Bridge is restored so you can drive into and out of that valley, but repaired spots are washing out a bit here and there along the roads.  Fortunately the road crews are still working through the holidays, putting in 12-hour days.  These entries are not really for the PLENK group; they are a diary of this trying time for me.  I am curious about how much or how little rain creates havoc.

Rain, Rain, Go Away (2)

My home-made pickle-jar rain gauge was at 4 cm this morning, Monday.  Happy Canadian Thanksgiving.  We're grateful to be dry and to have food and heat (as long as the power is on). 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go Away

So, it begins again.  Seven more days of heavy rain.  I put out the pickle jar last night when it began to come down hard.  There were 3.5 cm by 9 a.m. just now.

#PLENK2010 And Another Thing ...

I think every teacher-in-training needs to take a course on how to teach reading and writing because, I contend, that all subject assignments need to be guided reading lessons if the text is written at the Frustration Level of the Students.  Then, too, I think every teacher-in-training needs to take courses in basic special education because possibly one-third of every class may have ADD.  In a time when people with special needs are not excluded from society, children (and adults) must learn to share politely with everyone.  That means that teachers are going to have to know how to make adjustments and accommodations because they cannot count on the special child being taken aside by another teacher or aide. 
   I have seen classes where the 'different' child is well cared for by all and other classes where the child is bullied or ignored.  It depends on the teacher and the teacher's philosophy of education and of society, and those of the Principal and Superintendent.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Educational Triage

Battlefield nurses are trained to triage waiting patients for the doctors: operate immediately, wait awhile, gonna die.  Teachers, traditionally, triaged too: university, business/trades, labour.  Some teachers also unconsciously teach in such a way as to prove "I am better than you because I know and you don't." and they make it difficult for those others to achieve what they have achieved. 
   My aunt wanted to be a nurse.  She went to the Principal to plan her courses.  She asked about Latin, but he said she wouldn't need it.  At the end of Grade 13, when she applied to nursing schools, they turned her down because she didn't have Latin.  Back she went to ask the Principal, "Why did you tell me not to take Latin?"  His answer: "I thought you'd never make it.  I thought you'd go into the factory."  He had triaged on the basis of her working-class father, not on the basis of her intelligence and character.
   Be mindful of your biases and assumptions and how they filter your theories and methods.  Be mindful, too, that they will be revealed.

Friday, October 8, 2010

PLENK2010 One reason why learners shut down.

The general public, and some teachers, believe 1) that teachers at higher grades must know more than teachers at lower grades, that if you taught K last year, and now teach 4 or 7, you must have studied to move up in level; and 2) teaching K/1/2/3 is, and I quote, “playing with the babies”.  The reality is that it is very much harder to teach children who do not know how to read than it is to teach those who do. 
   But once you get over the Phonics and the Dolch list of Sight Words, that is once the children are de-coding successfully, you come up against the skills of Mindful Reading.  The teacher must know the principles of SQ3R, Guided Reading, and share with the student “Now we are going to look at how you read for information and how you locate the facts you need.”  If you are giving helpful grammar lessons that focus on reading for meaning, and the children have been used to applied parsing for locating key concepts, this is not a problem.  If the teacher is hazy on parsing and composition, and there are more than a few, the students are going to go through school depending on “I always do it that way.” and “Does it sound right?” 
   When you took your teacher training, did you examine curricula so that you can match Grade 4 reading writing skills and match them with texts written for the learning student.  Do you know that Grade 4 reading level means that “the student has passed Grade 4”.  A student in Grade 4 cannot read a Grade 4 text on his own—Grade 4 is his Instructional Level; the teacher must treat every ‘subject’ lesson as a Guided Reading lesson.  He might stretch to Grade 5 level from time to time with the teacher’s help for that will be at his Frustration Level.  If he is to read the text on his own, it must be at his Independent Level of Grade 3 or lower.
   Did you know that the text book may be written about two grades reading level higher than the Grade Level.  For instance, the Grade 5 Social Studies text is written at Grade 7 reading level.  The student sent home with the text and an assignment, unless he reads above grade level, will be FRUSTRATED.  No wonder so many kids are turned off learning. 
   Do you know how to determine the reading level of the text you are using?  There are a couple of formulas.  Microsoft Word will use the Flesch-Kincaid formula.  Click on Tools in the toolbar.  Click Spelling and Grammar.  At the bottom of the pop-up click Options.  Click Show readability statistics.  Select the text you wish to test.  Click on Spelling and grammar.  When it asks if you want to it to check the rest of the document select No.  Then it should show you the readability scores.
(this paragraph: passive sentences 0% Flesh readability 73% Flesch-Kincaid reading level 4.7) 
   The more passive sentences, the more expository sentences there are and the less narrative.  Expository is harder to read.  Writing passive sentences effectively is a Grade 10 lesson.   In readability, 100% is the easiest to read.  Rudolph Flesh admitted that the Reading Age Level formula is not terribly accurate below Grade 4/5 level as primary books depend on pictures to tell much of the story.
   It will make more sense to you if you try a few examples by hand.

# of words/sentence

# of syllables/word



- 15.59

   If you wish, you can buy programs on the Internet that will calculate the most popular formulas for you.

A colleague commented to me: "This [the formula] is also useful for researchers who are performing research amongst people whose 1st language is not English - helps them ensure that their survey forms, disclaimers, consent forms, etc can actually be understood."

PLENK2010 All teachers need to know how to teach reading and writing.

Today, in the Elluminate meeting I remarked that my theory of education is that all teachers need to learn how to teach reading and writing.  I speak from the experience of finding that it is not the subject matter that defeats the student, but the gaps in reading and writing skills of the learner.  It does the student no good for the teacher to repeatedly say "Try again.  The answer is in the book."  The student does not know how to locate the information.  That is not stupidity on the part of the student--at some point in time for some reason there was a failure to communicate or to practise.  There is no sending the student back to Grade 5 or Grade 7 when that lesson was first "taught" but not "caught", so simply use the teachable moment to show the student now how to find the data.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

#Plenk2010 Remembering What It's About (2)

Some of the learning/teaching theories may be proved right by neurology or by observable classroom practise. In one class on child development theory there were students from other courses. One young women remarked to me, "This is the first subject I have ever taken that was about me." In all the years she had attended school and university, this was the only course that touched her real life. We need to tread softly because lives depend on what we believe and how we apply those theories. Mindful teaching is the way.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

#Plenk2010 Remembering What It's About

In looking for another thing, I found this quote by Sydney J. Harris:

  • The most worthwhile form of education is the kind that puts the educator inside you, as it were, so that the appetite for learning persists long after the external pressure for grades and degrees has vanished. Otherwise you are not educated; you are merely trained.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

#PLENK2010 Showing up in person

#PLENK2010 In schooling, they say, most of your marks come from just showing up.  I really enjoyed my first SL meeting after today's Ellumination.  We had some discussion of the lesson and some discussion of communications around the world.  I was very pleased to be greeted by someone who knew me, and to meet new people. It was a bit disconcerting to hear different names from the ones written above our avatars, but I soon caught on.  I had attended the room, last night, just to get the feel of the place and to practise sitting down and standing up.  I had wondered if we would have to sit on the floor, but there enough chairs.  In fact a chair appeared to accommodate each new visitor.
    I once had a similar experience in another venue.  I had to produce an audio-report.  My topic was "What does it mean to be a man?"  I invited a group of students from my class, both men and women, and we sat around the tape-recorder and talked about being a man.  I served some really simple snacks: tea, coffee, munchies of some sort.  After the discussion, one of the women said, "This was the best party I have ever been to."  I certainly had never thought of it being a party, but the comment certainly speaks to the effect of food on group dynamics.
   We have found here, that offering to feed people encourages them to attend meetings or lectures.  If you feed them, they will come.  SL does not appear to be about eating, but the "feeling" of being there was certainly attractive.

#PLENK2010 Feedback Is So Helpful

Thank you to everyone who has commented on my blog.  It is heartening to know that others care.  People in Newfoundland are showing us the way in terms of disasters.  We're cheerfully carrying on with cleanup and helping one another, too.
   Don't know why, when I put in a link you get the computer talk, too, in the RSS.  I do take it out in my blog.
   This course has helped distract me from the dangers ahead.  Our BC Hydro power may go out in two weeks if we don't get deisel to fuel the generators.  The run-of-river intakes were completely fouled up on the experimental unit.  I guess they are happy to have the technical experience of disaster to help prepare for future installations.  It's a poor wind that blows nobody good, as they say.
   A lost hiker was rescued yesterday.  He'd been wandering around since Sunday.  A pair of hunters, on the other hand, were found, but they didn't want to be rescued; they were happy campers, enjoying the adventure.  Hope it stays that way for them.

Monday, September 27, 2010

#PLENK2010 What I learned today

Practising Second Life.  Thanks Tonito for helping me join the PLENK group and find the right meeting room.  (I know it wasn't easy getting me started.) I moved around a bit and got comfortable with the space, but I couldn't sit down.   Ah, well, more practice is needed.
  Went on Facebook and told everyone that we got through to the Hagensborg store on the Handi-Dart.  It's an essential service, here.  More friends were posting photos of the flooding.  One couple lost their house when the flood swept it down the river.   We're having a real emergency here in the Valley.   We're really grateful for phones, Facebook and SL.   

Sunday, September 26, 2010

#PLENK2010Feeling Isolated

Sept 25 2010 Tried to go down to the Hagensborg store yesterday in the rain and got just to the top of the hill past Gross Rd.  There were earth movers clearing the road and digging out the ditches to direct the water back down the desired route to the river.  The power went off for only 45 minutes in the evening.  The rain stopped in the night. 
Sept 26 2010 Today we got as far as the old Tippie farmhouse.  Again the work crew was clearing the road of earth that had washed down the hill over the road.  The road traffic-controller told us that there were at least two feet of water in front of the Hagensborg store still, and it was too deep for our car.  Maybe the bus will get through tomorrow.
   On the other hand, I spent some time dealing with old email and that took me to Facebook, which connected me to relatives and their friends etc.  Filling up my email, again.
   It's a good thing we don't have to be airlifted out like the people of Kingcome Inlet because the airport is underwater.  We can thank el nina for this round of weather.  Is it climate cycles or climate warming?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

PLENK2010 Sharing the knowledge

PLENK2010  I've been in this course for just two weeks and I feel inundated with new data especially about websites, widgets, and more sites.  As part of my dealing with data, I have started a table of websites for my own use.  Now, I am sharing the info with those teaching computers and those teaching adults here in the Valley, a sort of mini-course for them.
   I like the way we are bringing up topics and sharing with one another.  I see that we are introducing discussions on topics that on the agenda for later weeks.  It seems we are so integrated in our teaching experience that we are thinking around the particular issues raised to include "How does this work out in the classroom?"  We've been though milling and into storming our different viewpoints.  All is good.

Flooding after Fires

September 25, 2010 Another exciting weather season.  This summer there were forest fires cutting us off from Williams Lake, our nearest city 6 hours away by road.  September has been a rainy month.  The heavy rain started about 2 o'clock yesterday afternoon, and it hasn't let up.  It is supposed to go on like this for a week.  Already one bridge is out, cutting Hagensborg off from Bella Coola (Credit Union, library, stores, garbage dump etc.).  Fortunately we have our own gas station (flooded), a grocery store, airport and post office here.  So far the power is still on.  As my home is all-electric this is critical for me; also sump pumps etc work mostly on electricity.  And we are cut off from Williams Lake on the other side (bridge out or a landslide on the Hill.)
   In September 1980, when I moved to Bella Coola Valley, the Snootli Creek bridge was out then too.  It was going to be reported on the CBC radio and TV; so I had to phone my mother back in Toronto to tell her not to worry (she was a deep worrier) as the family was OK but cut off from one another.  When I go to the grocery store today (if I can get through), I may see fish swimming in the flooded roadway in Hagensborg.  I am praying our house isn't flooded because I live pretty close to the river.  Most of us do live close to the river as the main road, Highway 20, more or less runs beside it in the narrow river valley.
   Port Hardy and the First Nations reserve near it are cut off on Vancouver Island.  And we have a week of rain to go.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


#PLENK2010 I tried out Cmap.  This is definitely better for me than the mind-map which to me is a nice way to make lists.  This Cmap forces you to think of connections.  I call it Susan's PLE 100921 because it may change at any date.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I wrote 2U B4

#PLENK2010 Many teachers, many adults, are horrified by this "textspeak".  However, this particular message was written by Charles C Bombaugh in 1867.   I subscribe to A Word A Day at, and today's email (emanate) brought news of a new display to be presented from November 15 to April 15 at the British Library.  If you teach English or are interested in the language check it out: