I’ve made the decision to do something I have never done before and that is to remove a post. Well, actually, to replace it with this one. I have not been asked to do this by anyone, it is something I have decided to do on my own because, regardless of its intention, its results clash with what I feel is the right thing to do. I never intended to cause harm, to hurt anyone in its posting. It has and I’m truly sorry.

The post was an in-the-moment response to some of the frustrations of teaching. Frustrations that I know others experience, as was evidenced by the number of, “I know where you’re coming from,” comments to the post here and in other forums.

From the get-go, Michael felt I should ‘quietly delete’ the post, while others said no. Susan said that strong emotion teaches strong lessons. Others, that we (teachers) are expected to be devoid of emotion and that reminders of our humanity are needed from time to time. Others, that I should suck it up or leave teaching, that there are certain things I should not reflect on in my blog.

So the intention of the post was to capture my emotion in the moment. I use this blog to record the successes and challenges of teaching for the purpose of reflection and feedback. I strive to be a reflective practitioner. I strive.

I need to step back and look at the context of reflection. Since I began this blog about 3 years ago my audience has changed. It began as an audience of 1 (me) and slowly grew to an audience of a few (me and a few other teachers from other cities and countries), and more recently to a much larger (though still relatively small) audience of readers (teachers and non-teachers, including students, parents, and colleagues).

Does this mean I will stop writing about difficult issues? No. Not at all. But I will do so with a sensitivity for a shifting audience. There are times when my readers won’t agree with what I say but my delivery needs to reflect the values that are dear to me – kindness, compassion, and doing no harm. Indeed, love.

So, I haven’t been asked to remove this post or replace it in any way. But when I reflect on it and the reactions it received within the shifting readership contexts that widening social networks provide blog writers, it is the right thing to do. When I reflect on it and my mission to do no harm, it is the right thing to do.

The great thing about learning is that it never, never stops.

On de-rubricizing

I almost forgot about my favourite line from yesterday’s QPAT convention keynote speaker, Alfie Kohn.

He said it as I was leaving the room so it didn’t end up in my not-live blog post but I just found the page where I scribbled it as I was making my way to my car:

The whole can not be reduced to the sum of its rubricized parts!

For a long time now I have been sceptical of the whole rubric frenzy. Must have a rubric, must have a rubric. Why? Why should we tell kids exactly what our expectations are and in such minute detail? I call that a creativity killer. Give them some parameters. If you are expecting the result to be some kind of multimedia presentation let them know that, give them the guiding question, maybe a few resources to get them going, to raise the velcro in their brains, but then let them experiment!

Let them show me what they can do without spelling it out for them. Rubrics lower the bar for our students. It is telling them that we do not trust they can do anything worthwhile without our providing them with all of the pieces. Kids will rise to the bar we set for them whether it be high or low.I like to push the limits of height.

A line that I find myself quoting on a regular basis is

Why do anything unless it is going to be great. (Peter Block)

I try to instill this in my students. They ask – why do I have to use proper letter-writing style elements in history when I write a letter to the King of France as a character from New France in 1665 offering ideas for how to stimulate population growth in the new colony? This is history, not English! I answer, why do anything unless it is going to be great?

I insist on learning with this philosophical slant. That being said, I better get to my readings. I have a paer due next week on an aspect of education for Native kids in Canada. I need to do some more reading so I can write a great paper.

Rubric, Shmubric.

Not-live Blogging – Alfie Kohn, at QPAT Convention 2009


(read the beginning of my last post, also about a QPAT convention speaker, for an explanation of the whole not-live blogging thing)


Apparently there has been a provincial teacher’s association convention in Quebec every year since sometime in the 1800s. I did not know this.


It is interesting that Alfie Kohn is speaking tonight to teachers of a system who are fed up with grades. More on that later, he’s taking the podium.


And he starts – “Merci, bonsoir… and the remainder is in English. “


radical questions. The latin root of radical is root. He’s not afraid of radical questions, they are root questions.


He speaks of our fascination with grades. Switching from percentages to 5 point ranges and back to percentages again, and having a myriad of committee meetings and debates around the shifts. He calls this a ‘sideshow’ at the end of the presentation. We get so bogged down in the minutiae that we forget to ask fundamental questions:


Why are we grading our students?

Why are we giving our students homework?


We see children/parents/teachers frustrated and fighting. We see children becoming less and less interested in learning as a result of homework, I’d add as a result of grading as well. It also gives more work to busy teachers. We give mindless homework (busy work), or homework that is too hard and then we have to deal with discipline and correcting whether it is done or not.


For the most part, I give little homework. Work leaves my room when it isn’t done in the room during the time allotted for it. Difference is, my students do their ‘homework’ with me after school, at least those ones who did not get the work done during class time. Some (ok, most) who stay with me on a regular basis do it by choice. They have more of my time and focus after school. Those kids who are having a hard time with homework have so far chosen to not stay after school. I’ve got a feeling that, after term 1 parent/teacher interviews, this practice may change.


No study to the best of his knowledge has found any benefit whatsoever of homework for kids before high school.


Even at the high school level, at best, the research is correlative. It doesn’t mean that kids did well academically because they did homework. Once other variables are added in (quality of curriculum, motivation, etc…) the correlation disappears.


I’d even add that after rich learning the brain needs a sleep in order to let the learning take. Our brains continue to work on what we learn after the learning happens. Reserve our classes as sites of rich learning (and not sites of squabbling and discipline related to homework done or not) and let evening time be a time to allow learning to set.


Not only that but when work is sent home, how do you know it is the student who does it? There is so much stress around homework that often parents end up doing it.


Question we are asked to discuss in pairs or small groups ? Why does research fail to support the belief that homework is not beneficial to learning?


There is no data that homework is character building.

Teaches self-discipline – is this always true? No.

Responsibility? How? This might come if kids decided whether or not to have homework and what kind and when it is due and why.


These are non-academic characteristics. They don’t stand up on their own and there is no research that supports them.


Homework as home/school connections. Aren’t there so many other ways to do this that are more beneficial, fun, connecting? Make a phone call, invite parents in for activities, on field trips, etc…


So why do we put up with homework?

He says because 1) we don’t trust children to use their free time positively so we make sure they have as little of it as possible.


There IS research to support that when individual teachers stop giving homework the quality of their work is same or better. Relieved of the responsibility to do worksheets, chapter readings, they seek out knowledge that interests them. Or they actually have the time to relax, that gives their brains a chance to recuperate.


  1. data-driven, test score raising culture

  2. those most into homework understand least about how people learn.

    1. The more you practice something the less thinking is happening!! We need to worry about this!


Psychologists will tell us that what predicts outcomes is not the homework but the motivations and goals and aspirations that students have.


He’s not saying never give homework. He’s saying change the default. We should give it only on those occasions when a given assignment will have benefit to most kids in a class. Or. Does all homework have to be the same for all kids? I at times give specific tasks to specific kids, depending on what I think is beneficial for that student. That extends a particular learning that kid just made, that will make him/her think more deeply and become more excited about what we are learning.


I’m getting tired. My notes may slow down. Been here since 8:30 this morning. It’s now 9:10. (He’s gone over time). My poor dogs have been home alone since 6:45 am. Even if I left this minute I wouldn’t be home until 10:30 or so. That is way too long for them to be alone. What is even worse is this is day #2 since we had parent/teacher interviews last night. Poor boobs.


When you lose marks for not doing homework you are being graded on behaviour, not on your learning. It is a classroom that is really about compliance, not about learning.


Every study that has ever looked at the effects of grades on the motivation to learn demonstrates a negative effect on kids and learning. Research finds that when you get rid of grades kids spontaneously pick harder things to do with their spare time. When they know a grade is attached they will choose something less challenging but more likely to provide them a higher grade.


Yet, we live in the circus sideshow of the QEPs evaluation and reporting system. How would you make a shift away from the sideshow?


Ok. He’s now 30 minutes over time. I may have to walk out. I’m so tired I can’t stop moving my legs. Restless, in need of rest but can’t for at least another 75 minutes. oy.


His own summary of his ideas – I don’t care how motivated our students are, I care how they are motivated. Using grades as a reward is extrinsic motivation. Learning situations that are intrinsically rewarded are the motivations we are looking for. Extrinsic motivators drive down intrinsic motivation.


Idea – ticks and pluses to record my observations throughout the term. Throughout the term, have student meetings to determine how they are doing. They grade themselves. Keep notes and hand them in to my principal instead of my grade book at the end of term.

Not-live blogging: Understanding the Teen Brain or ‘Teen Whispering’


This could also be subtitled ‘my journey from negative to positive head space through frustration to futility and emergent adaptation and integration’. This will make more sense as you read through these notes. It’s a long post. But I came to some aha moments throughout and definitely at the end in terms of PD design.

Anything in plain text or italics is mine. Bold text is straight note-taking.

You’d think that an educator’s convention would have wireless networking capabilities. But no. hence the title ‘Not-live blogging’.


I am at a pre-convention activity of the 2009 Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) annual teachers’ convention. It is a day long session called Understanding the Teen Brain, presented by Eva de Gosztonyi, the coordinator for the Center of Excellence for Behaviour Management (no website), which has as its motto “Building the capacity of the English school boards of Quebec”.


Did I mention ‘presented’? Ok. I should give it a chance, she is just saying her intro, but we walked into a room with a powerpoint on the screen at its front and rows of tables lined up through its girth.


Oh, the day is subtitled


Becoming a Child Whisperer. Learning to read the language of youth.




Great. She just said ‘I don’t have a lot of experience in high schools,’ Somehow this was advertised for Secondary school teachers despite that.


Keep an open mind. Breathe.


Her approach is based on Neufeld. She is going to be reviewing his work.


Maturation is a process – ‘ages and stages’. (Are there still people who don’t know this? Do we need to be going over this? )


Oh. I should have prefaced this with some context. It took me an hour and 45 minutes to get to work on Monday, during which time I developed a sickness. I spent an hour or so at work going over IEPs with my colleagues, then went home where I slept for 2 days. Yesterday I went back to school in the morning, still pretty exhausted, and ended my day at 9:00 with the last of the parent/teacher interviews. Got home at almost 10:30, then had to get back in the car at 6 this morning to battle traffic to get onto the island during rush hour traffic.


So I need to be wowed (and in a different way than how the day’s subtitle wowed me.)


Vulnerability – we need to be able to tolerate a feeling of vulnerability, openness ? trust in the process.


(ok, maybe I need to practice some of this today)


Attachment is what allows for vulnerability and maturation


She needs to know that when a workshop is advertised as geared towards high school educators she should NOT give elementary school examples. I know from experience (from both designing/facilitating and attending workshops) that high school teachers are touchy on that subject. A lot of PD is generally given to elementary school teachers. There is bitterness around this. Too often this happens, that a session is described as responding to needs of HS teachers but actually gives examples from elementary.


Teen Brain is under construction and so it is messy, like a construction site. (is she going to be talking at us all day?)


Deborah Yurgelen Todd (2002) adults and teens differ in how they view emotions. (Am I being too tough? But come on. I participated in a workshop 5 years ago, maybe more, that focused on these issues)


Amygdala, frontal cortex yada yada.


Crap. I just flipped to the back and checked out the Suggested Readings slide. There is nothing new on it.


Interesting statement – “the whole educational system in Quebec is developmentally unsound.” (Eva de Gosztonyi, today)


bases this on idea of teen reactions coming straight from amygdala (gut) and not yet developed to use of frontal cortex (reasoning) and that Quebec’s education program is centered on the development of reasoning skills.


Is this based solely on cognitive development? A person’s development is not solely based on brain science as an independent variable. Culture. Gender. Race. Language. Nurture.

Whose brains have been examined in this research?


(Jay Giedd) Bunch of stuff on grey matter development , pruning process. Steinberg talks about the burst of energy that is given to the brain in order to start the pruning process.

This is the explanation our presenter uses for teens need of so much sleep. Again, asked and answered your honour, about, oh, 10 years ago.


(Just rebooted. Was able to get a wireless connection. When I tried to use it I was asked for a credit card number from the Palais des Congres. Come on QPAT!)


******* Ok. Eva just exposed some assumptions. –> we know where stuff is. Even when it is in piles on our desks someone can ask, where is x and we can locate x. Statement —> of course it would be better if we could actually organize it in a filing system.


I’ve tried filing systems. I am less creative. I am less willing to take chances. Ergo this is not better for me. I have seen this in students as well. Is this research based on the assumption that filing system type organization skills are the ideal? I may sound like I am joking here, but I am not.


Brain develops from Cerebellum to Frontal Lobe (executive function). ‘ADHD is a frontal lobe disorder’


She is stating, as if it is a eureka moment, that knowledge and application are not the same thing.


Ok. Let me be fair with some constructive notes


Risk taking – an interaction between 2 brain networks. When emotion goes up, cognitive reasoning goes down.


Learning – when you need to talk with a student, don’t do it in front of peers.


It’s 10:15. Still two and a half hours until lunch…


I gave similar workshops at BJEC. I was not expecting to see the same workshop as I did when I saw her speak a few years ago. A few YEARS ago. I was looking forward to learning something new. Maybe linking this kind of thing to culture and socio-economic background?

Have links been made between culture and neuro-cognitive science?

Help them make up for what the brain lacks by providing

structure, organized time, guidance for tough decisions, patience and love (Giedd)


Children should not be put with peers until age of 12. Gives example that children were not put together until the Industrial Revolution.


This is VERY European centric. Native cultures successfully had independent children, with tasks needed for the survival of their communities. It is when Europeans came here that they were determined to be wild and needed to be disciplined. This discipline happened in Residential schools.

Is the answer to recognize the specific tasks children can provide to our communities and allow them to fulfill them?

I’m really hungry and can’t focus. We need a break. It’s going to happen at 10:45. Why do breaks always seem to happen late so that that the last 15 minutes before it happens is spent thinking about the break?

There is a believer in front of me. Every time a statement is made she murmurs, yup, yup, mmm-hmm, that’s right.

process of maturation

Attachment (to a parent/caring adults) – Emergence (time to reflect, test things out, become yourself) – Integration (functioning in society)


I asked earlier if she would be talking at us all day. 1 hour 48 minutes in –> Yup.

I’m jumping out of my skin. I have been sitting in one spot for almost 2 hours. Listening. Good thing I brought this laptop at least I am keeping my fingers moving.


…Post-morning break…

Ok. I got the skinny from some convention organizers. There is no wireless access for us because it was too expensive for them to purchase for our use. I told them it was unfortunate. The only ed conference I have been to in the last, oh at least 5 years, without access to internet. That they should work that into their working budget or change venues to a place that doesn’t charge so much for internet access. Very unfortunate.


Neufeld, Attachment Theory.


There has been a lot written on this. Here’s a link for Gordon Neufeld. Basically attachment is needed for the maturation process. When adults are not present they create attachments with whoever is – their peers. So peers provide the guidance for each other. Guidance needed for growth and integration. When there is constant interaction with peers there is no chance for emergence.


Another note about the break. I bumped into a teacher I used to work with at Weston. She loves this and thinks that all high school teachers need to participate in a workshop like this. So maybe it’s me. A combination of I’m tired and hungry (there’s no food here!) and I’ve already learned/studied/practiced the theories and strategies she is presenting. Frustrating that people who provide PD for teachers do not differentiate.

Oh, and now I’ve had to move my listening centre to the seat next to the believer in order to access the plug to charge my notebook. Lordy, lordy.

I wonder when she first made these slides. I’m sure I’ve seen a few them before.

In order to adapt we need our feelings of frustration to turn to feelings of futility. We know when this happens when we see tears.

Tears as an effective way to get rid of the chemicals of action and replace them with chemicals of thinking. Sweating will also get rid of the toxins – boys and men tend to choose this option. A social construction.


*********** Research shows that if you feed the tears of rats who have gone through a frustration –> futility process it can kill them due to the number of toxic chemicals present in the tears.

Have got to look for this research.




Stuckness –> when we don’t adapt or integrate


ha ha ha. I’ve moved beyond frustration to futility and have started to adapt and integrate in order to reach my goal ? taking notes to keep sane. Maybe that is why the believer yups and mmm-hmmms.

Don’t teach aggressive children anger management skills. If they can not integrate they will feel shame for something they can not apply. (find out who said this and what she offers to do instead)


Trouble with the QEP is it assumes the only reason kids aren’t interested in learning is because we haven’t made it interesting enough.


I think kids are interested in learning when we show an interest in them ? love and patience. That is how we make it interesting. So, yeah, they are right


Defensive, immature teens –> They are defending themselves against vulnerabilities. They are protecting themselves.


So now we are given a think, pair, share activity. At 12:30. 15 minutes before lunch. 3 and a half hours after we started sitting and listening. Wow (another non-wow wow). Brilliant design.


…After lunch…


Attachment is about creating good relationships


Ok. So I dig attachment theory. It makes sense. Now that I have eaten and had a coffee and a bit of a walk-about I am no longer taking notes to keep my sanity, but to record and remember and remind myself why I teach. As a speaker she has warmed up as well. Maybe she also needed coffee and food.


Our job as adults in attachment is to be the compass point (There is no accident that our alternative program is called Directions and has a compass as its logo!)


–> Our biggest problem right now is that our kids scan the environment and choose their peers (other immature kids) as their compass points.


It doesn’t matter what we do but who we are to the kids that counts.

Our relationship with children is very tenuous, we must always take care to protect the relationship.


Senses –> be with, spend a lot of time with

Sameness –> discover interests and share them

Belonging and Loyalty –> trust level. You can up the ante and kids will still believe you will take care of them.

Significance –> they want to believe you spend time thinking about them

Being known –> we want to believe that someone will love us just the way we are.

Engaging Attachment Instincts

  1. Friendly acknowledgment , validation– catching eyes, smiles, nods, morning greetings.

  2. Provide something to hold on to – a common bond, not praise that is conditional on performance. We need to have points of relationships that have nothing to do with academics. I acknowledge the part of you that has nothing to do with academics.

  3. Invite the student to depend on you – reaching out, reassure, come back to check in




Maximize attachment

minimize effects of immaturity

Build a village of attachment

Minimize the effects of peers


Simple solutions


We have to collect our kids before we can direct them.


Make it easy for kids to focus on the teacher

-desk arrangement, proximity


With-it-ness –> eyes on the back of your head. Kids want to know that you know what’s going on.

(Good & Brophy 2003)


If you are limited by time


There were many complaints that we spent 9-2:40 on theory and then 20 minutes on strategies. Everyone wanted the strategies. It’s my experience that this happens often in workshops like these. Teachers  are promised strategies but never really get to see what they look like. The issue is that presenters feel that in order to understand the strategies we need to know the theory, which I can understand. So, either stop promising to deliver strategies if there is a time constraint OR redesign how theory is presented. Most of the teachers at workshops like this are already open to the theory. They get it. So a) send out a pre-test of sorts (we all registered by a Nov. 5th deadline) and figure out what we know about about the theory already so that the didactic element can be lessened or the design can be differentiated if there is a wide range of prior knowledge in the room, b) re-envision how theory is presented. I had an idea as I was walking out. What if we started with the end? Start with strategies and then fit the theory in as it is needed. Ex. Some strategies are to make eye contact, to smile, to ask about specific non-school related interests. Why? Because attachment theory teaches us that it is important to feel known, to be validated and accepted for who we are as people beyond school in order to create a yearning to learn with and perhaps even perform for adults and then ultimately for ourselves. This way our presenter could have validated our interests and experiences as people in order to make us want to really learn with her.






The part that didn’t fail

click image for source

So, to most accounts, the dialogue I wrote about in my last post was a big fail. At times it could have been described as bedlam, mayhem (what strange little words).

It was the debrief that didn’t fail, the debrief with the student who, as I told him, held the class hostage.

I reflected back what happened. He didn’t remember it in the same way. I said, come on. When your peers are telling you, nay, yelling at you, to be quiet, to shut up already, it’s time to stop talking!

He answered that no one told him to shut up. He hadn’t heard his friends yell at him. He was that taken with his argument.

We talked about seeking to understand before being understood. And he told me why he couldn’t do that. (this is the part that I like). That he liked his idea. That he couldn’t listen to the other boy’s (or anyone else’s) because he knew that by listening it may change his mind and he did not want that to happen. He wanted his original idea to be recognized as the right one, he did not want to, he actively did not want to change his mind and did everything he could to make sure it did not happen.

A while ago I wrote a comment on Why I Almost Quit Twitter (Jose Vilson) about an incident with 2 boys that makes virtual realities seem all the more un-real with the rawness of its to the core reality. This boy was one of those two.

My plan for the future is to speak with him for a few minutes today while I have the rest of his class read the newspaper. I want to debrief the dialogue as a class. And I want to ask him to tell the class what he did and why. He’s already demonstrated a heaping pile of courage in relation to that previous incident. I bet he’ll do it again.