Category Archives: education

From Summer to September …

September has always seemed more like a beginning than an ending for me. Sure, the days are getting shorter, and the air has taken on a bit of a chill in the evenings, but rather than and ending to a summer, it’s always been a start. Empty binders, fresh erasers, clean lockers, and new shoes were signs of a new school year. This year, like many previous, my children are of to their respective schools. Now, our youngest son is  half way through elementary, our daughter has begun high school, and our eldest  two sons … well, they’re grown, and they get to decide their own schooling.

For me, as a teacher, fall means new students (along with the worry whether there will be enough registered students to run a course), a fresh course outline with new stories pulled from familiar books. I love the excitement that students bring to each new class, believing that it will be good, not simply another course to get through. I do my best to prove them right. IMG_2006 poet's cove IMG_1863 sailing southern gulf islands salt spring Conover Cove

This fall, it seems that summer is still lingering, teasing with toasty play in the sun. Despite so much that is new and exciting about the fall, I am sad to see the long summer nights slip away, and the chill take ahold so deep that I can’t bear to cleat the sheets to my sails. So in that way it is not just a beginning, but an ending. Last weekend may well have been the farewell to our short sailing season. I’m not yet sure, still holding on hope … I’m not quite ready to winterize; after all, it is still fall.

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Marking, Report Cards and More Spring Fun

I often get little sleep at this time of the year.  As I’ve been an educator since 1990… and spring to me has always meant report cards, student evaluation and final project marking.  Now, as a parent of four, this is also the time of year for volunteering for field-trips, fundraising, spring carnivals, and year-end performances, parties, and preparing for my own children’s school report cards.

I have given considerable thought to student assessment and evaluation, both as an educator and a parent.  I thought I’d put some of my thoughts out in the world to share, rather than just shared around the staff-room, over the dinner table and jotted into my teaching notes.

Today I published an article on the topic of assessment and evaluation on Suite 101.

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Writing with Children

For many of us who have experience with children, we are likely familiar with their joy of make-believe.  They love listening to stories, reading books with stories, and making up stories of their own.

As parents, caregivers, teachers, relatives and friends to young people, we have an opportunity to share this creative passion with them.  We can tell them stories that we remember from our own youth, we read to them, and even make up stories for them.  We can also be the attentive audience for them as they tell us their stories.

By listening to children’s stories, we validate their creativity and encourage further creativity.  You may be surprised how elastic their ideas can be.  I know that I still am after hearing many many stories.  Below is my six-year-old’s latest tale.  It has all the makings of a story: characters, conflict, plot, theme, and a surprise ending.

The Shark and the Magic Fish                 By Finn Coleman

Once upon a time there was a great white shark that ate everything in its path.

Then a day later, the great white shark met a fish.

When he was about to snap it down, the fish said, “Stop! Don’t eat me.  I am magic.”

The shark did not eat him.  Instead, they became best friends.

They ate together.

They slept together.

They did everything together.

A hundred years passed and they became very old.

Then another hundred years passed.

Then the great white shark ate the magical fish.

The End.

So, once you hear the story, what other things can you do to support and encourage them?

  • Provide them the materials to write the story down, if they are too young to write all the words, you may scribe for them.
  • Type their story up so they can see it in print form and share it with their friends.
  • Make a book for them, by spacing out the text and providing blank pages in between for their artwork.
  • Encourage them to read their story once it is printed.  This will encourage emerging readers to read new words, even though they already use the words in their vocabulary.
  • Provide blank lines below the text so new writers (K, grade 1) can copy the story out in their own  printing.
  • Some school libraries provide shelf-space for student made publications; see if your child wants his or her book to go there.

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The Shark and the Magic Fish by Finn Coleman

In the car yesterday, my son, my youngest son, my just-turned-six year old son, told me a story.  Actually, he crafted a story as we drove.  By the time we made it home, he’d worked it through three times, each varying details, but with the same characters, and the same basic content.

He started to write it down, but was rather encumbered by his kindergarten penmanship and soon became frustrated.  He asked me to scribe for him (my word, not his).  Of course I complied.  But he spoke faster than my dull pencil could keep up.  Eventually we got it all down and then typed.

I printed the story out for him with each page room for a picture and writing practice below the typed text.  This is my teacher-mom way of validating his story, and encouraging him to work on his letter formation.  He’s kind of tired of copying out ‘apple’, a a a a a , ‘banana’ b b b b .  I highly recommend it.  For a child who would rather kick around a soccer ball, jump on the tramp, or flip through anything on the tv (thank goodness for parental lock-out on the channels) it warms my heart to see him want to work on his story.

I have been thinking about how parenting has influenced my writing and creativity in general.  Here is a prime example.  Creativity is thankfully contagious.

excerpt:

Once upon a time there was a great white shark that at everything in its path.

Then a day later, the great white shark met a fish.  When he was about to snap it down, the fist said, “Stop! Don’t eat me. I am magic.”

there is more and it is rather funny in an unexpected way.  Will share more later…

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‘Tis the season… for report cards

‘Tis the season…for report cards.

This past week, all four of my children came home with school report cards, and for the first time, they were all relatively pleased with what was written on them.  As a parent, it is a delicate task to interpret the school report card, especially in front of my child.

I am never quite sure what to expect when I first glance down at the columns of numbers, letters, codes and comments.  But, having done this for some 12 years, I have developed some strategies.  First of all, I find the absolute best grade or comment and then I read it aloud after, of course, having already pre-read it.  Then I praise them for their efforts, and I ask how they felt they did, what they liked best and so on.

This way, the conversation starts off well, and then we go through the whole report.  I always pre-read the entire thing before hand.  This is especially true of my elementary/primary school children.  My teens read their own reports long before I ever get a glance—they know what’s coming.

What do you do when your child doesn’t perform at the level you hoped he or she would, or rather could?  This is the situation we have found ourselves in time and time again.  It is a challenging and delicate situation.  My husband was an A-B student, an A athlete (the B’s happened when he was more focused on his sports).  I was an A student in elementary school.  I went to school reading, and was always in the bright kids’ group.  I wore glasses, still do, and I wasn’t good at all at sports.  I was sadly always second last picked for any of the school teams for gym class.  The last kid picked was always the super-loser.  I never managed to slip that far.  Socially, I was a ‘special’, but more than made up for that in high school.  My grades in some classes were top, others… I repeated the class.  Some of the math and physics and chemistry were difficult, very difficult for me.  I also know that I did not apply myself in any rigorous way at all in those classes.  When I did, as in Biology, I did well, top-o- the-class well.  I finished high school with meagre grades that didn’t warrant university entrance.  I waited a year working dumb jobs and entered as a mature student at the ripe old age of 18.75 years.

My question with my own children is how can they have such academic difficulty?  My daughter does her homework every day after school.  She cares immensely how she does in school, and she likes her subjects and her teachers, and her classmates.  She knows that she struggles compared to most of the other children.  She too is in a special group; her group gets extra help with a teacher in the library one day a week.  For this I am grateful.  They don’t make her feel dumb, or outside the group, or in any way less than the other kids.  She’s not.  She is an A athlete, an A artist, an A social organizer and a good musician, but she has trouble with reading, writing and math, the three key markers of academic success.

So, when I look at my daughter’s report card, what I see is a list of Gs, g for good work habits.  This is all that really matters to me, (I remind myself of this); the grades will follow.  In her case it is two C, three C+, one C-, and an A.  My daring got an A in Art, and she beamed with pride.  Big hugs little girl.  Once she is fully able to read and knows her number facts, those marks should rise to C+ or a B-, so long as her work habits remain good, the marks will follow.

When the A/ B+ teen slips from G work habits to S (satisfactory), the resulting grade is a C or worse a C-. These are still passing grades, but not acceptable, and we tell our son this.  The grades are for incomplete assignments or missed assignments.  No excuses there.  Pull up those socks.  But when a C from this same child is connected with a G for good work habits, as he got in Math, then we praise him for his efforts and for working through this tough course.  It helped that I had met his teachers in November at the parent-teacher conference night at his school.  She was able to tell me that he was doing everything right, from doing his homework, asking for extra help, and re-writing quizzes that he had done poorly in.  She told me it’s a tough course, and he is a focused student doing his best.  He’ll get it, but it is work on his part.  This conversation helped to explain his report card and his progress.  He’s gone from a near pass, to a C and this is good—G for good.

I have one more child to report on, barely six months to go until he is legally an adult, but in many ways our child who has struggled with school since the beginning, but high school has been the bane of his existence for several years.   He came home beaming with his report card (as beaming as he beams for a 17-year-old).  And when I read it, I saw no ‘I’ for incomplete, and no Fs at all; this was a first and I was as thrilled as he.  He even got one G for good work habits in English.  Good for him.  He will pass this year as it seems that he has turned a corner.  We stick with him through his challenges and are honest with our assessment of his achievements.  But in all honesty, he doesn’t need us to explain how or when he’s messed up, when he’s wasted his time, or that he really needs an education—grade ten at the very least; this he knows.  But the report card shows relative success: he’s attending school every day, he is passing all his classes, and doing well in one of them.  Good for him.

I wish that my kids had an easier time of their academics, as seeing them frustrated or struggling is hard for me as a parent.  But they don’t struggle in everything.  Though I struggled with Calculus in my grade twelve year where other student seemed to just get it, I didn’t become less of an adult, nor a less accomplished person because of it.  My spouse was a strong student, an honour student, and I remind him that it isn’t merely a case of working harder or working more, some of us are not naturally academically gifted in all areas, some aren’t gifted at all in academics.  This is a reality that as a young educator, I railed against insisting that we are all equal.  Now, as a mature educator and parent I know that we are all equal—as human beings, but we are not the same.  We don’t have the same skills, talents, interests, challenges or dispositions.  Sometimes I need to remind myself of this, especially as a parent.

In life, we don’t officially evaluate attributes and achievements with grades, as we do in school.  These are also markers of success, and they show themselves in many other ways, but we have decided not to mark these qualities, if we did, my daughter’s report in life would look something like this: enthusiasm A+, trustworthiness A+, helpfulness A, humour B+, generosity A+, empathy A, dedication A, general fitness A++, beauty (heaven forbid that society would notice such a thing—she says with more than a hint of sarcasm in her typing)A, and finally in Social organizing or group building, she’d get an A every time.  But we keep these notes to ourselves as society does notice these things, but the recognition does not come in the form of a letter grade on a report card, it comes with life satisfaction and community. Parents who read report cards need to keep this in mind; it’s helped me as I try to help my kids discover their own strengths even strengths that non-academic and not to be found on a report card.

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