When the boys came from their dad's yesterday wearing the same shirt, I thought I'd take a nice photo. (They rarely dress alike, so when they do, the "twins effect" is quite jarring!)
Of approximately 90 shots, these were the "best":
Parenting monozygotic twins allows one a glimpse inside a uniquely intimate relationship between two visually "identical" people.
When the boys came from their dad's yesterday wearing the same shirt, I thought I'd take a nice photo. (They rarely dress alike, so when they do, the "twins effect" is quite jarring!)
Alas, 13-year-old boys are prone to extreme silliness; if only they'd both stand still for two seconds!! Twin A was reasonably cooperative, but Twin B insisted on behaving like a buffoon despite our best efforts to cajole him into compliance.
Of approximately 90 shots, these were the "best":
As one of them said to me later, when I had expressed my frustration that they refuse to post pose nicely for a photo, "but we had so much fun, right mom?" Ahhh, twins... such a blessing!
As a public educator who has spent most of her career working in, or facilitating work about, the elementary panel, I've often reflected on the "generalist vs. subject specialist" debate. Now working as an Education Officer in the Student Achievement Division, I occasionally have the opportunity to revisit this question from a more research- and policy-oriented perspective.
A bit of a die-hard generalist at heart, I recently was faced with a situation that challenged my viewpoint.
A former secondary school history teacher had been asked to speak at a staff professional learning day. She and some colleagues were sharing details of a trip they had taken to a history site earlier in the year, and linking the experience to the concept of leadership. Her role was to set the historical context of the event.
As she spoke, we were riveted; all 200 people sat glued to her every word. The manner in which she presented made it clear that she was both an expert on the topic, and a passionate educator about said topic. She "lectured" in a way that engaged us far more deeply than I could probably sustain a group's interest on pretty much any subject (unless maybe when regaling my pre-service teacher candidates with classroom management stories from the field)!
The first thing I thought about afterwards was the one big flaw of my generalist mindset, namely, that I know a little about a LOT of things (in terms of elementary level curriculum subjects and strands), but that said knowledge and understanding is in most cases quite superficial. Due to the fact that I've pretty much always taught many subjects to a single group of students (rather than one or two subjects to several classes), and that I've only ever taught one grade for a maximum of two years at a time, any depth or breadth of knowledge and understanding on my part has typically been acquired alongside the students in my care, as we research, think and learn together.
This really made me begin to rethink the "must be a generalist" position I had held for so long. Perhaps, if ALL subject specialists were as knowledgeable and passionate about their topic as my colleague was about hers, AND assuming they were also good pedagogues (i.e. had a firm grasp of the assessment for learning models outlined in Growing Success, and understood UDL and DI principles and used them regularly in their practice), then maybe having subject specialists WAS the way to go.... ?
I puzzled over this for some time, as I still had a nagging feeling about it all.
Despite being able to take care of systems and structures like timetabling (to avoid having middle school students run across the school from class to class) and other things that typically bothered me about the specialist model, I still felt a real sense of loss when I thought about giving up the generalist model altogether.
Finally, it dawned on me: Achieving a high degree of expertise in a particular field necessarily precludes considerable knowledge in other fields. While becoming an expert in an area is important for some professions, in teaching, it can actually create barriers for our students. Where a good generalist can help learners uncover connections between subject areas, and can facilitate meta-cognitive growth by highlighting skills and competences that transcend a variety of areas, a subject specialist risks becoming a "one trick pony", from whom students may even learn only one perspective on an event or skill.
Being forced to reach across curricula as a generalist breeds new knowledge for not just the students, but more importantly, the teacher, who begins to see things from different perspectives, and may often be encouraged to reexamine her own long-held beliefs. (Less of a danger from the comfort of the subject specialty the specialist has always taught.)
I could never figure out my specialist colleagues who would marvel at how I could spend SO. MUCH. TIME. with one group of students (my last year in a classroom, I taught everything except French and Phys.Ed to a single group of Grade 6 students, and we often spent the better part of a day together in the same physical space).
But when you think in an integrated fashion, time flies!
I remember preparing a Science lesson, on flight, for that class... though really it was a lesson in dissecting non-fiction text... and also a digital and visual literacy lesson, as we had begun to experiment with mind maps. And all that while we focused on developing perseverance and task-commitment while working effectively with a partner.
Similarly, the year before, the students and I dug into the stats on carding, as we examined racial profiling through data management and probability. Was it a math lesson? A social studies lesson? A lesson in research and note-taking skills? A expository writing and debate lesson?
It was all of these.
Indeed, the layers of complexity were seamless; with a well-planned lesson, it was all happening at once... and it was really good!
Perhaps the answer is not generalist or specialist. Perhaps the answer lies in new systems and structures at both the elementary and secondary school levels, structures that allow for a small group of diverse educators to work together to support the learning needs of a group of students.
I imagine a system where -- rather than one teacher having responsibility for one class, and a few periphery teachers are enlisted to fill in gaps like french or phys. ed. -- instead 3-4 educators are collectively in charge of teaching all subjects to a group of 60-80 students. Ideally each educator team is carefully selected to include diversity: newer and more experienced teachers, gender, racial and other diversity, too.
Among themselves, the educators decide who will teach what to whom and when. The flow of the learning is fluid, as different adults in the group may work with different students at different times. Sometimes I am teaching a focused reading lesson with a small group of 5 students while two of my peers are facilitating a science lab with 35-40 other students and our fourth colleague is reviewing a math problem with 8-10 other kids. Another time, each of us has 18-25 students for a 40 minute mapping or fractions or health lesson... and then we switch. And at other times, still, two of us work together with a group of 35-40 students between us.
Sometimes I am teaching math while my colleagues are teaching music, visual art or science, and at other times, they is teaching math while I teaching these other subject. Sometimes one of us is teaching a specified subject, whereas at other times, the learning is so integrated, a visitor would be hard pressed to identify which subject is the focus of the lesson that morning or afternoon.
The fluidity of the structure here, and the positive interdependence built in for the adults to work together, would also enable the sort of collaborative, cross-curricular planning that a few of my colleagues and I tried to do with our collaboratively-planned Canada: Fair and Just? Inquiry last year.
But instead of 90 hours outside of the work day, this sort of collaboration is built into the very fabric of the way school is structured. All four of us could begin the work one morning before the school day starts, and then two of us could continue the planning while the other two run an hour-long math clinic with the whole group of students. The next day, one of us works with one of them to continue to develop the inquiry plans we've started, while the other works with the other teacher to follow up the math clinic, or writer's workshop, or whatever.
As the group of educators works together, each on brings her special knowledge and skills and expertise to the table, and they learn from one another as -- together -- they build something quite profound with and for the students they collectively serve. As each individual educator comes with distinct schema, she contributes to the evolution of understanding of her colleagues... both about the skills of teaching, and of the subject matters taught.
The students, too, get the benefit of four consistent expert learners. They see their teachers as collaborators, communicators and team players, effectively working through problems together.
This serves not only to model the global competencies we hope to engender in students, but also allows students to seek out the support of different mentors from the educator team at different times to serve emergent needs, both academic and social-emotional. No one student is stuck with one teacher with whom they may not have a positive chemistry. (Conversely, each teacher on the team has three colleagues to consult when they face a difficulty with a student or family, as happens from time to time. )
Both in the subject specialty as in the pedagogical skills associated with teaching in general, each educator lends a different perspective that serves to help their colleagues learn and grow, and, as a result, directly benefits the group of students that the team is responsible for.
These teams of 3-4 teachers attend some professional learning together, and some individually. They do some learning on their own as a team, and some with other teams in the school. Oh, and they keep their group of 60-80 students for at least two years, allowing the development of strong relationships with both the students and their families.
Well, now that we've developed the perfect model of schooling, I'll just have to convince my colleagues to write the policy... or maybe it's time to win the lottery and open my own fully publicly accessible private school!
Despite enjoying a decent meal out, I'm no restaurant connoisseur, and I know very little about the industry. Recently, however, my partner and I were treated to an impromptu yet phenomenal behind-the-scenes experience at a Toronto gem after dining there for lunch.
Richmond Station is a mid sized restaurant located in the heart of downtown Toronto, right on -- you guessed it -- Richmond Street! An odd L-shaped design makes the space look deceptively small, and in some sense, provides two almost completely different dining areas, with distinct ambiances.
We happened to have the good fortune to be seated next to a local foodie, who was obviously quite familiar with the locale, as evidenced by his personal banter with both the wait staff and head butcher Ryan Donovan, who is also a partner in the restaurant.
We connected with our table neighbour and his guest over dessert, and were soon set up with a tour of the premises conducted by Mr. Donovan himself.
For almost the next hour, we had the pleasure of Mr. Donovan's enthusiastic teaching about the restaurant industry in general, and the history of the Richmond Station venture in particular.
We got to learn about not only the colourful past of the space, but about how the unique structure of both the space and the kitchen(s) influence the type of dishes prepared and the flow of work in general. We learned of the chalk board menu that changes twice a day, and saw the open kitchen -- next time we'll dine at the chef's table for sure, and leave it up to the chef to concoct us something not on either menu -- as well as the eat-in pantry (great for small parties, with the added quirk of serving as a functional pantry, so that you or your guests may need to temporarily vacate a seat during your meal so that one of the employees can grab a dry pantry item from the shelf behind your chair)!
We also got a tour of the kitchen itself, and even the meat fridge, which Donovan proudly explained is big enough to allow for cold butchering, which is better for the food in terms of taste and food safety. While we were there, I noticed a big tray of Bully Oysters from PEI; Donovan explained that as with other suppliers, he had negotiated to get only the best (in this case biggest and freshest) stock available.
As we proceeded with the kitchen tour, Donovan pointed out various aspects of the flow of the lines, making it clear that he was not only an enthusiastic manager, but also a knowledgeable and well-organized one. He explained that the reason it may appear quite crowded was because the evening shift was already there, preparing in a side room so that the transition between lunch and dinner would be a smooth one. The lunch folks, he noted, would trade places with the dinner team soon, in order to do some prep work for their own lunch shift the next day.
He also pointed out that the staff ate together as a family twice a day, an important part of establishing and maintaining a positive work environment, he and his partners felt. (Our own waitress corroborated this sense of work satisfaction, even though she'd only been there for just shy of a year.)
This restaurant, Donovan noted, was a teaching space, and he and his partner Carl Heinrich wanted to ensure that everyone who came there showed promise and enthusiasm for the industry, and was able to work towards their own career goals by having a broad range of experiences at different stations in the kitchen (or front of house). Initiative is both encouraged and expected.
Carl Heinrich is not only the restaurant's executive chef, but also the winner of Top Chef Canada not too long ago. He and his partners have a good thing going here, both from the vantage point of a client in terms of taste and cost, but also from a lifestyle perspective in that the team they've assembled, and the way in which they appear to manage their business, lends joy to the work for all involved.
As someone interested in leadership and personal growth, and how a positive work environment contributes to and is influenced by both, I tremendously appreciated not only the incredibly tasty meal we were served, but also the opportunity to have a peek behind the curtain and learn more about leadership and learning in this particular environment which is so different from -- and yet surprisingly similar to -- my own in structure.
These guys have maximized every experience they've had to squeeze as much learning out of it as possible, and it's clear they are applying said learning to this venture. How delightful to have people like this enriching the culture of our city!
Simon and I had the most amazing encounter this past weekend.
Having decided -- after a recent "Spooky Lagoon Tour" -- to conduct his history fair research on the Island community's history, and having successfully convinced his school partner to join him in this quest, Simon approached me for some support. It wasn't a hard sell; I've always been a fan of the Toronto Islands, and finding out more seemed closer to fun than "homework"!
Tumbling down one rabbit hole after another on the Internet, I finally stumbled across the Island History Project (tihp) online, and contacted someone with my plea for a "primary source", preferably an interview with an islander, for my son and his school partner.
I was soon exchanging emails and phone calls with a fellow who had lived on the island in the 40s, and who was now living in the US, but still in touch with his old community. He was willing to set Simon and his friend up, and shared our contact info with two gentlemen who still lived on the island, one of whom was none other than Jimmy Jones, the guy whose stories had sparked Simon's interest in the first place!
Not long afterwards, we arranged to meet the two elderly islanders at one of their homes on a Sunday afternoon. In the end, Simon's school friend couldn't make it, so Simon left him to do some book research, and he and I set out alone on the gloomy November weekend to purchase our ferry tickets and visit the large park that tourists usually reserve for sunny, summer day trips.
We said good-bye to the city, and boarded the ferry bound for Ward's Island, armed with 6 scones and a jar of jam from one of our favourite bakeries.
Peter and Jimmy proved to be spry in both body and spirit, and we spent a delightful afternoon together, listening to stories that covered considerably more territory than the few questions Simon and his partner originally had in mind.... Simon jotted down what he could, and I listened intently.
We learned that Centre Island's park-like Avenue of the Islands was once a bustling main street of a real town, complete with restaurants, several grocers, a pharmacy and all manner of other businesses, a fact I later confirmed in more detail by further intrigued googling at home! And while there is a lot written about the "wealthy" families who built summer homes on the island, both men confirmed that all sorts of people lived on, worked on and visited the islands, and further, that when the houses started to be demolished (the City claimed it needed the space for a large public park -- despite the copious amount of parkland already available and in use on the site), it was not the wealthy families who lost their homes first... if at all. (The exclusive yacht club, for example, was never touched -- it stands and is used to this day!)
They told us stories of how the city had started their demolition derby with the town on Centre first, coring out the community's backbone, so to speak, before moving westward and then eastward towards Wards Island, where both Jimmy and Peter presently lived. It was a sobering moment when both men recalled the impact on many families of being evicted from their homes, or of the threat of having their homes demolished. The fight was a long, hard one, and one not without a few casualties.
On a more upbeat note, Jimmy also told us that many of the homes still standing on that part of the island had been built from materials that came in a pre-fab kit, ordered directly out of the Eaton's catalogue - he remembered a time when both Eaton's and Simpson's had several deliveries a day from the city to the islands. (A house could go up in a weekend, added Peter, noting that it helped if you had several friends and a little beer.)
He recalled with fondness the rich and vibrant communities that had existed all along the island, including many details from the amusement park and Baseball diamond on Hanlan's Point, where Babe Ruth had hit his first professional home run, and where the busy airport I now fly out of stands (much to many islanders' chagrin). Jimmy's dad had been a clown at the amusement park; his mother had sold tickets at the ticket booth -- that's how the family arrived there in the first place, and Jimmy has lived there ever since. (85 years, as he told us, and Simon did the math to make sure!)
Both Jimmy and his neighbour (and our host) Peter were engaging and lively story-tellers, who had a remarkable number of details crammed into their heads. One got the feeling that there was probably no question about the island's history that either one or the other couldn't answer... and we asked many.
Simon, fairly quiet during our visit other than the questions on this list, seemed greatly affected by his interaction with the two men; he chattered with me afterwards about his impressions, and seemed quite pleased at having met Jimmy in person, recognizing the asset of such a meeting to both his school project and his personal development as a Torontonian.
Taking our leave from our host and his guest, we headed back to the ferry docks, Simon and I, and I reflected on how fortunate newer islanders are to have access to such a lively wealth of information about their beloved home's past still living in their midst. Those lucky enough to have not lost their homes in the dramatic city seizure of the 60s and 70s now live in community with an eclectic mix with fellow "old islanders" and newer converts, islanders "by chance" in some cases thanks to the now-35-year wait list/lottery.
The island has certainly changed over the past hundred years, both geographically and politically, and to be able to learn the island lore from someone who has been through the bulk of those changes in-person is truly a treasure!
As we boarded the ferry back to the city, I gave Simon a little squeeze.
Although I'll probably never realise my own dream of living on this particular island, I'm grateful for our fairly regular day trips here, and in particular, I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude for the opportunity to sit in on this unique aspect of my son's history fair project research. I sure learned a lot.
By the way, if you're keen to learn more about how the Island was formed, geographically speaking, check out this 2012 article from Blog TO!
One of the "perks" of my current job is that I get to travel, occasionally. Nothing exotic, all provincial, but nevertheless, it's fun to interact with people in different contexts, and I also find that when spending time with my colleagues outside the office (e.g. at dinner near the hotel, etc.), I gain a better understanding of different pieces of the collective work we do.
Plus, it's always great to be in the milieu of the various airports across the province, and see big planes up close!!
That being said, there are times when the novelty wears off...
A challenge when booking flights at the end of a day in the field is finding the balance of early enough to still get home to tuck the kids in (many of our locations are less than two hours away by plane) and late enough to allow for a sense of availability to the people we serve in the regions (i.e. not appearing to be desperately rushing to the airport to get out of there!)
On a recent trip to Sudbury, my colleagues and I took different approaches to this game: Our "day" ended at 3:15, and the airport was a good half hour drive from the venue. Nevertheless, some folks booked themselves onto the 4:05 p.m. Porter, thinking they would just compress lunch and leave the site early to get to the airport on time.
Others booked a 5:30 p.m. Air Canada, knowing that if they left the venue promptly at the end of our session, they would still make it to the airport in time to clear security before boarding started. Still others booked the more conservative 6:40 p.m. Westjet, wanting to take into account possible driving delays due to the weather north of Toronto.
What ensued felt a little like the amazing race, to see who could get home first... or at all, as it turned out!
As the day unfolded, we began to recognize the need to end a bit early, in order to accommodate participants who had driven in from North of Sudbury. As flurries began falling outside, news of icy roads and accidents on the highways began to make people nervous.
In collaboration with our participants, we modified our lunch and break plans, and ended the day in time to allow people who were driving to get a healthy head start.
Hitching a ride with some colleagues who were booked on the 4:05 p.m. Porter flight, I, too, fled to the airport. I was hoping to get into an earlier flight if possible, but failing that, I was prepared to do some work in the waiting area, as I had brought my laptop with me.
But as we stepped out of my colleague's rental car at the terminal, we suspected our journey home would not be as quick as we were hoping for: It was super icy and slippery, and also extremely windy!
Weather, Weather, Weather
As a private pilot, I know how significant a role weather can play on whether and when an aircraft can land or depart.
Sure enough, not long after checking in, the delays began to be announced. First it was my Westjet, delayed from 6:40 to 7:20 p.m. Frustrating, but understandable. Next, the people I had been having an early supper with at the airport restaurant noted that their Air Canada flight, too, had been delayed, though not as much as the 4-o-clock Porter, which had not even landed yet (it was 4:45 at this point).
When we went downstairs so that my 5:30 friends could deal themselves into the security line game, we found out that both the Porter and the Air Canada had been circling overhead, waiting for the winds to calm down and for the runway to be cleared and sanded, so that they could land safely.
As my colleagues worked their way through security, I wandered over to the window to watch the proceedings. The Air Canada landed, passengers disembarked, and the aircraft was fueled up and prepared for a quick turnaround. A few grateful colleagues and other passengers scrambled aboard, and the plane soon departed.
The 4-o-clock Porter, meanwhile, had turned back to Toronto! (We knew before the announcement was made, as another colleague was set to arrive on that flight, as she had some business in Sudbury the next day.) Apparently the winds had been too high to land safely, and the aircraft was returning to CYTZ for a crew change; they'd try Sudbury again later that night, around 9 p.m. (It was now just after 6!)
Winning the Lottery
As my Porter colleagues came streaming out of the post-security waiting room to get dinner and settle in for a long evening, I reflected on how lucky I had been to be booked on the Westjet. No sooner had that thought crossed my mind, however, when a voice over the airport loudspeaker announced that the Westjet flight had been canceled.
Canceled! Not further delayed, but completely C-A-N-C-E-L-E-D!!!
I wanted to cry!
Wandering over to the ticket counter, I ran into some other colleagues who had also been booked into that flight; they were just arriving at the airport, and thought I was joking when I greeted them with the news that their trip here had been in vain.
Another Night in Sudbury
The group of us got into the ticket counter line; a Westjet agent printed boarding passes for the 6 a.m. flight the next morning, and sent us on our way.
Back into a cab we climbed (this new group of colleagues were gracious enough to add me to their number), and back towards the hotel we had so recently left.
Happily, the hotel was able to accommodate us, and by a little after 8 p.m., we were tucked into our rooms for another night away from home. I was pretty tired, so after logging into my work email to rearrange some morning meetings I'd no longer be able to attend in person, I crawled into bed, hoping for an early night (the alarm was set for 3:30 a.m., to make the 4 a.m. taxi back to the airport, and I wanted every second of sleep I could get!)
Alas, it seemed there was to be no rest for me: My room backed onto a church of some sort, and several large, deep bells rang loudly and distinctly every hour on the hour.
When the church bells finally stopped at 10 p.m. (I guess the parish had determined that even the most devout ought to be granted a few hours of uninterrupted silence each night to sleep), I gratefully set out to get every minute of the approximately five hours that stood between me and the 3:30 a.m. wake-up call.
Unfortunately, fate had other plans.
As luck would have it, I appeared to be in a room next door to a particularly amorous couple, who were eagerly vocalizing their late night enjoyment of one another in the adjoining room. Reticent to bang on the door and interrupt their Sudbury hotel tryst, I stuffed some earplugs into my ears, and attempted to block out the strange sounds next door. They were VERY loud, though, even with earplugs in, and I was enormously grateful when the more noisy one of the two seemed to have been depleted somewhere around midnight, and I could finally sleep...
... for an hour and a half!!!
Shortly after 2 a.m., my insatiable roommates started up again!
This time I did bang on the door between the rooms, and they seemed to have gotten the hint, because after some giggling, things quieted down, and I was able to squeeze in another 45 minutes or so of sleep.
The Light in the Darkness
Too early the next morning, I joined my colleagues in the lobby -- it appeared they had all had far less eventful nights, having found their rooms to be in a quieter part of the hotel -- and we eagerly piled into yet another taxi for yet another drive to the airport!
It was pitch black out, even by the time we arrive at the terminal. But out of the darkness there arose a bright light, and that light was our aircraft, prepared for departure.
Our fatigue not withstanding, we took comfort in the knowledge that we would soon be on our way home.
The Grass is Always Greener
After forcing myself to stay awake for a morning of meetings which I attended virtually when I arrived home, I cashed in some lieu time in the afternoon, and slept. Without church bells or noisy "personal" sounds to interrupt me, I felt the luxury of a good chunk of sleep.
The following week, I shared my tale of woe with anyone who would listen and feel sorry for me; after all, even the delayed folks had gotten to go home the same night, albeit much later than anticipated. And the others who had stayed had not been auditorily traumatized as had I!
But I soon met my match: A gal who had come off the twice delayed Porter aircraft that same night for an even the next day had ended up in the same hotel where I had stayed -- but she'd been assigned the wrong room by the not-so -helpful reception staff, and when she opened the door to her room upon arrival late that night, someone was already sleeping in the bed!!!
* * *
In the not-so-amazing race, it's not only time that counts, but also quality of delay. Many points can be awarded for a wide variety of unique and exiting circumstances, keeping the work-travel game interesting and full of adventure, no matter when you may land or how mundane your travel destination may originally appear.
Growing Success, Ontario's provincial assessment policy, is a bold piece of work. Released in 2010, it was, in some sense, a policy ahead of its time. It's a visionary document, and Chapter 4 in particular is a key factor in my decision to leave my board employer of nearly 20 years and move to a permanent position at the Ministry of Education last fall.
With today's Ministry foci on Equity and Well-Being, the 7-year-old assessment policy embodies much of the "how", for educators who understand and implement it effectively. (Good grief, Growing Success 2010 specifically mentions the word "equity" no fewer than 10 times, and includes the following statement: "The policy outlined in this document is designed to move us closer to fairness, transparency, and equity"!)
Ahhh, but there's the rub: Understanding! For some reason, despite pockets of excellence throughout the province, a great deal of misunderstanding about assessment evaluation persists, nearly a decade after the policy's release.
As both an Education Officer with the Ministry of Ed., and a parent of two school-age children, here are three misunderstandings I see most often in my work with Ontario's educators, including school leaders:
1. Feedback should be Provided to Students at the End of each Assignment
Perhaps one of the most powerful strategies within our reach as educators is the development -- ideally with students -- of criteria that describe the desired demonstration of learning, and the provision of feedback to describe learning, so that students know where they need to be, where they are at, and where to go next. When and how to provide said feedback, however, is sometimes a challenge for educators.
The first time Growing Success mentions descriptive feedback is on Page 6, as part of the seven fundamental principles on which the policy is based:
If feedback is to be "ongoing", it needs to happen more than once. And if it's to be "timely", then feedback can't wait until the end of the learning cycle to reach the eyes and/or ears of the students working on demonstrating learning.
Indeed, on page 28, the policy states,
The term "coaching" speaks to the ongoing nature of feedback, and implies that students will have an opportunity to apply feedback to their work.
Below is an interactive image, made with Thinglink, to describe where and how descriptive feedback fits into the assessment process:
The timing and nature of descriptive feedback seems obvious to me now, but as a classroom teacher, I will confess that it was the thing I struggled with the most, when it came to assessment. It took me a long time to get over my implicit bias that allowing students to apply the feedback I had given them to a piece of work and resubmit that work for evaluation was "cheating".
It wasn't until I became involved in the early years of theStudent Work Study that I began to realise the true value of feedback, and to use it effectively to improve student learning. (It was also then that I gleaned a better understanding of the distinction between assessment and evaluation!)
Providing feedback at the end of the learning cycle, after an assignment is submitted for evaluation, is in some sense useless. The average student won't read it, and if there is no opportunity to apply the feedback to improve the work, why bother?
2. Group Assignments are Easier to Evaluate
Speaking of reducing my workload, as a classroom teacher in the throes of giant classes, I often turned to group assignments, not just because I believed in the power of collaboration, but also because I hoped for an easier time "marking the work". Alas, as Growing Success points out,
This became a real conundrum for me, as I mined the internet, colleagues' resources and my own understanding to find or develop tools for tracking student demonstration of learning on group assignments.
By no means brilliant or perfect examples, nevertheless, a few of my favourite attempts, below...
Feedback and tracking template used to monitor individual participation online for a small group financial literacy project the grade 6 students I was working with undertook virtually with a class in Australia (criteria were co-developed with the students, based on learning skills and work habits descriptors from the Ontario Report Card)
I will say this: An understanding of triangulated data (described in more detail below) helped me better discern each student's demonstration of skills and understanding from that of the whole group. Rather than focusing on the finished product, I constantly listened to and observed students working, providing feedback and adjusting my teaching as needed.
3. Test in King, at least in Math
A lot of educators (and parents, for that matter), appear to be under the impression that -- especially for subjects like Math -- the most reliable way to discern what students know is by having them write a paper and pencil test.
While tests can be one way to gather data, Growing Success invites us to consider the plethora of ways students may demonstrate their understanding. From page 34:
Teachers can gather information about learning by:
This was no more clearly demonstrated to me than in a Grade 6 class where I had the pleasure of spending my final year before heading to the Ministry: Dolores (not her real name) was a strong student in mathematics. I knew this because whenever I observed her working on a math problem in class, I could see and hear that she understood the concepts quickly. She used relevant math vocabulary (despite English not being her first language), and reasoned her way through even the toughest problems, often explaining them to her peers by sketching out a diagram to show how something worked.
But when it came to math tests (yes, even in my final year in the classroom, I still resorted to these occasionally!), Dolores froze.
The learning demonstrated on the pencil and paper tests she handed in could at best be summarized as level 2, approaching provincial standard, while all other evidence consistently pointed to a thorough understanding and communication of mathematical concepts (Level 4).
This reinforced for me the messages I had hither-to been preaching as a former school vice principal, board instructional coach, and school level colleague. The truth of differentiated assessment was confirmed for me in the classroom, and I applied this truth to my assessment practice with all students, finding ways for them to show me what they knew and could do.
As pointed out on page 39,
Imagine if I had only used quizzes and tests to evaluate Dolores' understanding in math class: Her performance on these product demonstrations would have belied the strong mathematical understanding that lay beneath her test anxiety, and I would never have known what a bright thinker she was!
These are by no means the only misunderstandings alive and well in classrooms across the province, but I hope the above blog post dispels at least some of the more common myths about assessment and evaluation in Ontario, and encourages a more practical discussion of assessment for learning and application of equity and well-being strategies for students.
As a former colleague at the Ministry used to point out, "we're not self-employed, people, and the policy is not invitational!", ie. we don't get to follow it only if if we want to. A better understanding the policy can keep us out of hot water as public educators, and as an added bonus, actually enable us in doing a better job of supporting equity, well-being and academic achievement for all learners.
Not only did I get to learn how to fly airplanes, but I got to learn at one of the most amazing airports in the world, City Centre.
As its name suggests, City Centre or CYTZ, is pretty much in the centre of the city of Toronto. Actually, more accurately, it's right in the centre of the city's waterfront.
That means, whether landing or departing, you always have the CN Tower, SkyDome, and other well known bits of the Toronto skyline in sight.
It also means getting to fly circuits along the edges of the Toronto Islands, one of my favourite places to be on the ground in this lakefront city that I call home.
I've romped around the beaches and paths of these islands since I was a toddler. But flying overhead gives one a new perspective, and every time I'm on downwind looking out the window when I should be doing my downwind checks, I fall in love with this richly historied urban treasure all over again, and I'm never quite sure whether I love it more from the ground or from the sky above!
Soon enough, though, I'm turning on base, and depending on whether it's runway 08 or 26, I've got a new set of landmarks to focus on: Ontario Place and the new Trillium Park on the one hand, and the ferry docks and Toronto harbour on the other, take centre stage as I reduce power, put down my flaps, and get ready to turn final.
It's kind of amazing, actually, that these old tin cans from the 60s and 70s even fly at all (I remember early on in my flight training, noticing a piece of what looked to be duct tape holding a bit of the empennage together; I was assured by my flight instructor that this was completely safe) -- indeed, the inner panel of these old 150s and 172's look more like something from an antique roadshow than modern machinery that can effectively defy gravity!
But somehow they do fly (even when imperfectly piloted). And soon I'm on short final, fiddling with attitude and airspeed to get just the right profile for the round out, flare and touchdown.
I know there are many amazing places to fly in the world, and the life of a pilot is the life of someone who constantly sees new landscapes. Nevertheless, for flying circuits, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a cooler spot to fly than city centre airport in Toronto, Ontario!
Flying commercially has presented a special thrill for as long as I can remember.
Everything from the view while boarding the aircraft, to the take off roll, to the spectacular cloud porn out the window at altitude gives me a feeling of excitement.
As a licensed pilot myself, the excitement is extra special. While I personally can only pilot single engine aircraft, the very act of learning to fly has increased my appreciation for pretty much every aspect of flying commercially.
One of the things I love most about commercial flying is the ability to savour the textures and colours in the sky.
While others read, or work on their laptops, I gaze out the window, mesmerized by an ever-changing cloudscape punctuated by a crimson rainbow on the horizon.
During a recent work-related flight from Thunder Bay to Toronto, those of us who cast our gaze out the window were treated to a fairy tale blanket of puffy, white clouds woven loosely together to form a thick rim around a giant sky crater through which the setting sun casts its magical, scarlet spell.
The capabilities of my Smartphone camera to capture this masterpiece didn't do it justice. (The storybook sliver of moon dancing across the cloud cover as we sped by in our giant tin can while the sun still glowed confidently underneath also evaded my instagram-ready phone camera!)
Lucky me, that I have a job that includes a fairly regular amount of air travel so that I don't run out of opportunities for in-person aviation thrills!
After this past summer's flooding of the Toronto Islands, it was a real pleasure to be able to participate in a "spooky lagoon tour" this fall, and expand my already nerd-like knowledge of island lore... "Murder at the Lighthouse" was originally set up by two of Toronto's water taxi companies in an attempt to recoup some of the losses from this summer's negatively impacted business (the taxis typically ferry private parties between the city's harbourfront and the islands, but the latter were closed to the public for most of the season this year).
The tour begins with a little history lesson on the mainland, in a tent erected to house a television set that shows some old footage from the island and the Toronto harborfront. The existing narration is accompanied by a local actor, who tries to excite the small group about the haunted lighthouse we will soon visit on Hanlan's Point.
The photo of Billy Bishop City Ctr airport -- one I regularly fly out of -- covered in pre-wartime houses is alone worth the price of admission!
Then it's onto the boat for the 12 of us (a few warm blankets are scattered on the seats for those who forgot to dress in layers on this cool October night), and an audio tour begins, narrated by none other than 85-year-island-resident, Jimmy Jones (the Unofficial Mayor of Toronto Island).
What a treasure to hear Jones recount tales of the Trillium ferry, and share his own personal memories of Hurricane Hazel and the vibrant communities that once flourished all along the Toronto Islands! (And as an added bonus, the accompanying music is classical, rather than the all-too-ubiquitous pop.)
Soon, we leave the city behind, and make our way down the dark lagoon towards Canada's second oldest lighthouse, and Toronto’s most famous ghost, J.P. Radelmüller.
An apparently drunken ghost from the past greets us at a little dock island-side, and invites our group off the boat and into the island... if we dare!
While we follow the eerie light of her lantern towards the old Lighthouse, the previous small tour group departs, leaving us stranded with this shady character at the Lighthouse.
After an engaging recount of the main theory behind Rademueler's unsolved murder so many years ago (he was a bootlegger, and it is thought that some thirsty soldiers from Fort York wanted more than their share one night in 1815), we're taken to see where what's thought to be the Lighthouse keeper's bones were found and re buried some years later. Another ghost (the murder victim himself?) appears out of the shadows, and chases us back to the dock, where another water taxi is just arriving with the next group.
The ghost retreats into the darkness, our island host bids us an intoxicated farewell as she greets her next group, and we slide onto the small boat for the journey back down the lagoon and across the harbour to the city.
Although some might find the tour a little "hokey" (and certainly not super scary), as a Torontonian and an island history buff, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought the content was well thought out and the transitions were perfectly timed; I just found the whole thing really endearing!
My only suggestion for improvement might be to include some narration on the ride home, about this summer's flooding, perhaps, and about what the island has come to mean for Torontonians, as a transition back to the present. That being said, when I shared my closing idea with the kids, they pointed out that it was already information overload, and that some people might prefer to just cuddle up on their blanket and enjoy the boat ride back in silence, as they reflect on and process what they've heard.
We finally got around to visiting the newly developed Trillium park and William G Davis waterfront trail, just east of Ontario Place. Apart from being an awesome place to watch aircraft departing CYTZ runway 26, it's also a wonderful spot just to enjoy the great outdoors!
One of the most impressive structures to me is a large pavilion, constructed with soaring roof lines and lots of wood.
There is also a geocache, and a pretty nifty rock wall and climbing feature; when we returned the next weekend with the kids, they climbed forever. Even the dog liked it, getting right into the little "cave"!
The first Sunday afternoon we went there, the weather was quite stormy, creating a magnificent backdrop for the city skyline.
In between watching planes land and take off, we marvelled at the light, and were able to get some great shots of the late afternoon sky.
Another thing I noticed throughout the park, which I did not take photos of, was the incorporation of various indigenous features, such as a number of "marker trees" and plaques explaining their significance, and some moccasins carved into the stonework near the entrance of the park.
If you walk further west along the path, you come to the old Ontario Place grounds, which we walked into the second time we went to the park. There are remnants of the old park in its former glory; you can see the Cinesphere and leftovers from the old water park.
For someone who has a warehouse of cherished childhood memories from the provincial theme park's heyday in the 1970s and early 80s, and who spent one vivid summer working there in University, it was a strange feeling to walk through the place decades later with my partner and children in tow - many ghosts from the past still haunt the grounds!
Trillium park will doubtless become a sought-after place for Torontonians to park themselves and their families for annual waterfront events like the airshow.
Overall, the city has done a wonderful job with the east end extension, and I highly recommend biking over on a nice summer or fall afternoon to take advantage of this outdoor space!
After writing for several teacher and multiple birth publications, including ETFO's Voice Magazine, Multiple Moments, and the Bulletwin, Vera now focuses most of her written attention to prolific blogging, including BiB, "Learn to Fly with Vera!" and, more recently, SMARTbansho and Homeschooling 4. Contact Vera by clicking the photo above.
The views expressed on this blog are the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of her family members or the position of her employer on the the issues she blogs about. These posts are intended to share resources, document family life, and encourage critical thought on a variety of subjects. They are not intended to cause harm to any individual or member of any group. By reading this blog and viewing this site, you agree to not hold Vera liable for any harm done by views expressed in this blog.