• School Leadership

    We Need to Name Our Learning

    77f2678e-ca75-4713-876d-f377ee8cf808“You have to name the learning,” she said. “NAME the LEARNING.” Teachers have lightbulb moments too!

    It’s an exciting time to be an educator. The research on learning and student achievement has reached new levels and at a rapid rate since the Internet became Queen. Edu-geeks around the world are finding each other across the Twitter-sphere, the uni-Facebook, and many blog-topias.

    Research-based teaching strategies are now accessible to most teachers in North America, certainly in Ontario. I have access to more exciting research in education from my recliner at home then I did when I spent hours in the Faculty of Education libraries during my B.Ed and grad school.


    What was life like before Edugains

    Before Edugains, as a high school teacher, I relied on my colleagues to share their experiences, to pass on the giant binders of knowledge when I started teaching a new course. The tradition of binder sharing was focused on the content, the stacks of comprehension questions about Hamlet, the lists of essay topics, and the folders of group seminar projects. The focus was on what students knew about the play. We interpreted curriculum based on student learning about the characters in stories. My main source of learning as a teacher was from my colleagues.

    I was lucky to work with an amazing English department. The staff were conscientious, hard-working, passionate about being teachers. But I wonder what it would have looked like in my early years of teaching if I had access to all the great stuff out there now…the great stuff out there about LEARNING.

    The first workshop I attended outside of my school was in my fifth year of teaching–and I was the presenter!! Professional development and teacher learning didn’t seem to be a priority for my first ten years of teaching. I didn’t have access to anything outside of my school building.

    Edugains is one of many dynamic sites out there leading the way in linking research with practice.


    Why didn’t I focus on learning then?

    If I could go back and teach high school English again I would toss the binders out the window. I would sit down with my curriculum, underline the verbs for that course, and put together a program that is skill-based. I would focus on what students need to learn rather than what I need to teach.

    Why do students write essays in English class? To share their learning. Easy answer. But in twelve years of teaching English I didn’t ask my students about their learning. I asked students about their thesis and outline and essay. I commented on paragraph structure and grammatical errors. We discussed the relevance of their quotations to their arguments. But I can’t recall ever engaging in an explicit robust discussion about learning. What do we learn from Hamlet? What did YOU learn? What do we learn from essay writing?

    I bet my students would say that an essay was a product of what they knew about Hamlet. Where in the curriculum has it ever said that students need to know Hamlet? I bet my students missed many other great things we can learn from essay writing because we didn’t name our learning. We named the minute details of story.

    Literature is important but it is a vehicle for learning communication and thinking skills, a support for students to understand themselves and their world. I would want my students to be able to name their learning. I wonder what students would say if I probed deeper when they answered that they learned about Hamlet with a simple repetition of “what else? What else did you learn? And what else?”

    I began teaching over fifteen years ago. My edu-view has shifted. It’s all about learning now. My learning, student learning, and staff learning. What are we learning? Can we name it?


    Learning Communities

    So last week I’m sitting among my enthusiastic staff at a Professional Learning Community (PLC) session, when a teacher in our NTIP program shared her lightbulb moment. “You have to name the learning!”

    Then she asked if she had now earned her edu-geek badge.

    What I love most about education research is that it all fits together. The pieces seem like separate “initiatives” (educators cringe at this word), but there comes a moment of awakening in every edu-geeks development where the pieces all become part of something greater. It all comes down to one word: learning.

    It’s embarrassing to admit but I didn’t know how to define the word “learning” after being a teacher for ten years. When a prof in grad school asked us to define “learning” I drew a blank. It seemed so abstract. The definition for learning is so simple: change. Learning is change.

    Before students can name their learning, educators need to know how to name their own learning. So my hope is to do regular blog posts about my learning.

    My theory of action is: If I become better at sharing my learning, then I will be able to better support my staff in sharing their learning who will be better able to support students in sharing their learning.

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  • Creative Writing,  Family History Stories

    Research and the Writing Process

    On the March Break in 2012 I visited Archives Canada to do some family history research.

    I did not have a plan. I had a thick file holding three years of research notes, an iPad, and some blank paper. Generally, I wanted to know more about the Metis, the Voyageurs, lighthouses, and my family.

    NOTE: When we arrived at Archives Canada we had to sign-up for a Library Card. This process was easy–some photo ID, a computerized form, and a signature. Once our cards were ready we signed in at the security desk and received a key for a locker.  It is helpful to read all the information on the Archives Canada website, Preparing for a Visit.


    Starting the Research

    Prepare to be overwhelmed. We began in the Geneaology and Family History section. Around the space there are lots of brochures and tips for getting started. There is also a full-time staff member in the room available to answer questions.

    I spent the morning reading all the records for St. Anne’s Parish in Penetanguishine. Birth records, marriage records, and death records of family members from the mid to late 1800s. As I found relevant information I recorded it with my iPad. Wireless Internet gave me instant access to everything I had stored on Ancestry.ca too!


    Voyageur Contracts

    After lunch we went to the information desk. I wish I had noted his name–the archivist was helpful and friendly. He shared with us a number of online tools. My favourite: a database of Voyageur contracts.

    The Voyageur Contracts are only available in French. I wish I paid more attention when I studied French in high school! “Ezechiel Solomon et Compagnie” resulted in 87 items. Ezekiel Solomon was my great(x5)-grandfather. He owned the company that hired voyageurs. This is before Northwest Company and Hudson’s Bay Company. The contracts are fascinating!


    New Family Connections

    It is possible that this is a contract for Joseph Normandin in 1820, my great(x3)-grandfather. He would have been 23 years old. It lists St. Anne’s as his parish. Joseph’s family would have been living in Penetanguishine around that time. I have also seen the name David Mitchell, who is listed as the employer, in my reading (although I cannot remember where). Again, I wish I better understood French. He was given a boat and three years to do the south. It includes four cotton shirts, a pair of shoes, a necklace, and some other things I can not determine. He signed his name with an “X.” He was paid “600 livres ou chelins.” At a glance, it looks like the voyageurs were paid in books! But I imagine they were paid in pelts or pounds.

    I found another contract that I believe is Joseph Berger’s, another great(x3)-grandfather. In 1819, Joseph Berger was given a three year contract to work in the Nipissing area, passing through Michilimakinac. He is given an advance of “50 piastres) whatever that means and will be paid the rest until months after he returns. I wonder if the employer worried he was not going to return. His parish is listed as Montreal. I think he eventually lived in Penetaguishine too so I am not sure if I found the right Joseph Berger.

    Finally, I found a 1791 contract for Francois Solomon. He worked for Levy Solomon who was Ezekiel’s brother (or maybe his son). I am still trying to piece together the Solomon family. Francois is listed not as a voyageur but as a rudder. According to a free French translation website here are the terms of Francois’ contract: CHILIMAKINAC, BIG PORTAGE OR OTHER PLACES THAT WILL BE INDICATED HIM AND DESCEND IN THE FALL – ORDINARY EQUIPMENT – 3 A DAY AS TO COUNT DAY OF LEUF DEPARTURE TO GO OF THIS CITY TO THE DAY OF HIS RETURN.


    And Now More Questions to Explore

    Next I would like to search the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives for relatives, although I think the men of my family had moved on from being voyageurs to becoming lighthouse keepers when HBC dominated the waterways.

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  • Creative Writing,  Family History Stories

    Does Your Writing Pass the Bechdel Test?

    Collage by J. Outram

    Since the Oscars in February the video about the Bechdel Test has been passed around on Facebook, Twitter, and via email. A couple days ago I told a friend of mine about the test. He teaches film but does not have Facebook.  Since then the Bechdel Test has been on my mind.

    To pass the Bechdel Test a story needs to have at least two female characters with names who talk to each other about something other than a man.

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  • Family History Stories

    Tips for Researching Your Family Tree

    About four years ago my friend Nicole introduced me to Ancestry.ca. We sat in her home office in front of the computer. We squinted at a marriage certificate on the screen. She showed me how you could search for records, follow hints, add pictures and stories, and connect to other people’s research. I signed up that Friday night.

    Monday morning I sat at my desk as students entered my Grade 10 English class. Usually I tried to greet them at the door.

    “Miss, you look rough,” they said. “Wild weekend?”

    “Something like that,” I replied. “Don’t worry. You’ll get all the details.”

    “You look fried.”

    I told the students how I had hunched over a keyboard, searching for family records online for the whole weekend. They laughed as I tried to explain the frenzy of trying to trace my maternal grandmother’s line to Paris or my paternal grandfather’s roots in England. It felt like I was unlocking one family secret after another.

    I have always loved family stories. I could listen to my aunts and uncles talk for hours about the old days. Ancestry.ca gave me a key to the past.

    What I Learned Four Years Ago

    • Family history research can be tedious. Patience is required.
    • A second language is helpful. I wish my French was better!
    • Start with what you know for sure–marriage certificates, birth certificates, and tombstones are good sources of preliminary information.
    • Verify information you find with relatives if possible.
    • Focus the search. Although it is tempting to look for everyone and everything at once, be focused. Choose one branch and learn all you can about it before going to the next branch.
    • Be prepared to find information you would rather not know.
    • Our ancestors did not spell names accurately or consistently.
    • Learn some history to gain context about the people and places you are researching.
    • Not everyone finds the details of your family’s history as interesting as you (including members of your family).
    • Set a timer. Be in control of your research time. (Or, run the risk of hours passing by unnoticed).

    What are your tips for family tree research?

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