Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Edu-babble of Report Cards: Lost in Translation

Like many teachers, I (Clare) found writing report cards a very onerous task. I wanted to be Letter Ffair, encouraging, and accurate. The latest challenge for teachers (beyond time) is the pressure to be use “asset language.” HUH! There was a great article in the Toronto Star today about the “edu-babble” of report cards.

Catherine Porter describes the lost in translation situation:
If your kid was terribly scattered in class, would you want to know?
Or would you rather think he was “using planning skills with limited effectiveness.”
That’s how Ontario’s Ministry of Education suggests teachers write their report cards for kids getting D’s. They aren’t struggling, floundering, falling behind. They are “demonstrating limited understanding of content.”
I call this edu-speak. The ministry calls it a “positive tone.”

Porter has previously written about the impenetrable language of report cards. Her previous column on the indecipherable language of report cards led to an outpouring of highly emotional emails from teachers who are “required” to use the language of the Ontario Ministry of Education. She describes one scenario:

One Toronto public primary school teacher described his first “straightforward” report card comments returning to his desk from the principal’s office. “I was told to be more empathetic to how parents feel about their own children, to re-phrase my wordings to be increasingly diplomatic,” he wrote in an email.
So instead of telling parents their kid was disorganized and his desk was messy, the teacher now writes: “Johnny consistently places his materials inside his desk in a random order. He is highly encouraged to adopt a more streamlined organizational style, so that during in-class work periods he is able to locate his documents with greater ease.”

Gold StarPorter includes some examples from the comment bank teachers are required to use. I am an educator and I had NO idea what these mean. No wonder parents are confused and teachers are frustrated! A gold star to any reader who can figure out what these comments mean.

Five examples from Ontario report cards

  • “We will give further opportunities for Ruth to engage with a variety of children and to be honest about her activities.”
  • “With efforts from home and school, Shane will be encouraged to pay attention to his attendance and punctuality.”
  • “Conrad follows instructions with frequent assistance and supervision.”
  • “Farah is able to communicate ideas and informally orally in French using a variety of grade appropriate language strategies suited to the purpose and audience.”
  • “Jacqueline is encouraged to continue to demonstrate understanding and patience towards her classmates and to nurture a cooperative working environment with her team by demonstrating openness towards every student that may be part of her team.”

Powtooning about Powtoon

I (Cathy) made a Powtoon about making a Powtoon.  Just follow the link below:

If you are not familiar with Powtoon, it is an animated on-line presentation software tool that creates explainers, videos and presentations.  If you can create a power point, you can create a  Powtoon.  Only a Powtoon is much more interesting and fun!  It is an effective  tool for flipped classrooms and they make great multimodal assignments for students.  You can find many how-to videos on youtube.  My favourite was  on script writing (for powtoons):

The Powtoon web site also hosts a set of tutorials to help you get started:

The Powtoon I created was through a free account.  In that account I have access to  five minutes of Powtooning, 10 tunes and 11 animation styles.  Cant wait to make another.

Hope you give it a try!


Books, books, books

If you are like me (Clare) you are always on the lookout for a good book. If you are a Comic Book Warclassroom teacher or literacy teacher educator you are probably always Image Red Maple_How-To-Outrun-A-Crocodilesearching for good children’s literature and young adolescent literature. A student in my grad course on literacy told me about the Ontario Library Association : founded in 1900, the Ontario Library Association is the oldest continually operating library association in Canada. With more than 5,000 members, the OLA is the largest library association in the country.

She shared the a link of the Red Maple Fiction Nominees:

This site has short blurbs about the nominated books. Image Red Maple_Dead-Mans-SwitchImage Red Maple Award_The-Boundless

I like Goodreads which now that they has a section on children/adolescent literature. If you are a classroom teacher or teacher educator you can set up a secure community for the students in your class. They can post reviews and comments and share titles of books they liked or did not like. Thw community is “closed” (only open to those registered in it). This is a great way to create a reading community. Here is the link for Goodreads young adolescent literature:

Literacy Pilot Program at First Nations’ Schools

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin recommends a four-year literacy pilot program implemented at two First Nations’ elementary schools should be put into place across Canada. Martin suggested the reading and writing program, implemented at Walpole Island and Kettle and Stony Point First nations in Ontario, improved students literacy performance. The program, designed by Julia O’Sullivan dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, required schools to carry out a mandatory reading and writing period for every student during the first 90 minutes of each day. Kettle and Stony Point First Nation chief Thomas Bressette drew attention to the underfunding of First Nations schools. Bressette noted “there needs to be a period of catch-up time because our people have been looked down on and set back because of underfunding, not because we’re ignorant and we’re dumb and uneducated and incapable of learning, but because of the circumstances.”

Link to the news article:

The Sitting Disease

As a doctoral student I find myself sitting for hours in front of the computer without stretching or sometimes even moving. I suppose I have always known that sitting for hours on end couldn’t be good for our health, but the scientific community is now claiming our sitting habits are leading to “the sitting disease.” Below is an info-graphic with some alarming facts and statistics on our sedentary lives.

We’ve become so sedentary that 30 minutes a day at the gym may not counteract the detrimental effects of 8, 9 or 10 hours of sitting.” ~ Genevieve Healy, PhD


As I sit here writing this blog post, I realize I haven’t had a stretch or a walk in a while. So, I’m going to take a short break, bundle up (it’s freezing here in Toronto!) and take a walk around the block. Learn more about how sitting is harming our health at:

Technology in Teacher Education: Using Program Resources to Build Capacity

Last week I (Yiola) ran a “mini” Technology Day Conference in our teacher education program. At first I felt it was a large feat given that, while I value and try to model good use of technology, I am a novice digital technology user.  I quickly realized that my own knowledge of digital technology use was of less importance. What was more important was my vision for sharing good information about technology use in the classroom. I sought colleagues within the program who know much more than I do and together we set to work.

The Vision

I named the conference Technology in and for Learning.  The vision was to provide practical sessions on how to use digital technology effectively in the elementary classroom. I wanted these practical sessions to be framed in a theoretical context so students would have deeper understandings for how and why good practice is what it is.  At our institute we work in a tripartite:  the teacher education program, the laboratory school, and our research/tenure faculty.  I set out to find colleagues in each branch of our institute to contribute in some way to the conference.

The People

I found my colleagues were excited to participate in the development and execution of the conference:

Teacher Education — The students were the participants, Members of the practicum team were presenters, and the staff helped organize the event

Tenure Faculty / Research Team — The Presenters

Laboratory School teachers — The Presenters

The Details

A member of the research team designed a professional and stylish website for the Conference where students gathered the information and were able to register. Upon check-in students received name-tags with their sessions and room numbers conveniently recorded.
The afternoon ran smoothly with a thoughtful introduction shared by a research team member on the frameworks for using technology in the classroom. She shared the SAMR and the TPaK models. The introduction brought scholarship to the forefront. Then, the laboratory school teachers shared interesting, informative and practical sessions on a variety of topics related to using digital technology in the classroom. These sessions included the following:

Smart Pedagogy using “Smart technology”

Effective ways to use Interactive White Boards in the ClassroomMore and more classrooms are equipped today with “Smartboards”, making the thoughtfulness and effectiveness with with teachers use them, an increasingly important task.  In this workshop, you will learn the fundamentals of using interactive white boards (IWB’s) in your classroom, but also how to combine the use of this amazing technology with a student-led and inquiry based community and curriculum.

iPads in the Classroom

We will discuss various ways to use iPads in the classroom for a whole group and small groups. We will highlight apps – especially free ones – that are both fun and useful, focussing on supporting different learners. We will touch on both positive aspects and drawbacks of integrating iPads in the classroom.

Technology to Support the 4 C’s

Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical ThinkingThis session will explore several ​examples of technological tools which can be used in the classroom to foster communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Some of the tools considered will include Edublogs, Zydeco, Earth Tours, Plickers, Minecraft, and Twitter.

Knowledge Forum

Knowledge building is the process by which new knowledge is created. In one sentence, it can be described as “giving students collective responsibility for idea improvement.” Knowledge building starts with the natural tendency to play with ideas, but extends to the unnatural tendency to deliberately improve them. Knowledge building is a collaborative process, and moves forward through a collective effort to advance frontiers of knowledge, as these are perceived by the community.Knowledge Forum is a multimedia environment that supports emergent idea development and sustained, collaborative dialogue, helping learning communities capture their thoughts and questions, connect and organize their ideas, and build knowledge together.

In this hands-on workshop you will learn the fundamentals of using Knowledge Forum to support the learning in your classrooms.

Teachers Using Technology in Literacy

This session will look at various ways of engaging students with technology in the literacy classroom. Examples of using technology to promote reading and writing skills, and motivation for literacy will be discussed and shared.
The conference concluded with a panel discussion and question/answer.
It appeared that the students enjoyed the sessions. The goal was to provide an opportunity to think more deeply about the value of and use of technology in learning.  We have sent out a feedback survey so we will know what students liked and what suggestions they will have for improvement.
I am glad that I took the risk and designed a mini conference for our students.  It was a good start. The use of digital technology in the classroom is not my area of expertise but it is certainly an area I want to have more fluency. Working with my colleagues who do have more experience in the area was not only provided benefits for our students, I too learned a great deal!

Happy Birthday Alan Cumming

Much to my delight I (Clare) discovered a column in the Globe and Mail (Canadian national Alan Cummingnewspaper) by Alan Cumming. Yes that Alan Cumming from The Good Wife, Masterpiece Theatre, Cabaret, and …. His first column was on turning 50. He says “I entered my 40s weeping … at 30, I had the regulation freak-out and changed my life completely….” He continues on:

But turning 50 has been a breeze. I have been longing to be 50 for ages, you see. I just like the sound of it. I like that people can’t believe it’s true. I like that I am dancing in a kickline in a Broadway musical every night with girls half my age and that my body is in better shape than it has been in any of my previous five decades, even though I party like a 20-year-old and can drink those kickline girls under the table. (Well, I am Scottish after all. It’s a national trait.)

I enjoy getting older. Is that so wrong? What I’m not so keen on is other people getting older. They get a bit boring, frankly. They talk about themselves as if they’ve had some sort of debilitating accident and can no longer function as they used to.

He talks about his birthday party bash. After reading the column I felt a real lightness and wanted to give life a hug. Here is the link for the entire article:

And while I am on the topic of Alan Cumming I highly recommend his autobiography Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir. It was one of the best books I read last year. Cumming grew up in home rife with violence. He escaped but was haunted by his father his whole life. The book is funny, sad, insightful, and beautifully written. Here is the link to it:

So happy birthday Alan Cumming. I wish I had been at your party because it sounds like it was a blast and you inspire me.

Cartooning the Digtial World

Danish writer Mikael Wulff and cartoon artist Anders Morgenthaler are the creative duo known as Wumo (formerly known as Wulffmorgenthaler).  Their rise to success started in 2001 when they entered and won a cartoon competition. When they won, they received a one-month run of their comic strip in Politiken, a national Danish newspaper.  Their popularity soared with the new exposure, and they soon found more and more publishers, including several blogs and newspapers throughout Scandinavia and Germany.

Among their works is a brilliant series of graphs and diagrams that illustrate some of the basic painful truths of everyday life in the Western world.  For your entertainment I (Cathy) have selected a few of my favourites that pertain specifically to digital technology and shared them below.  (Too enlarge a graphic, simply click on it).


digitl medialed loled need interneted on line datinged facebooked wasting time

Bloom’s Taxonomy Meets the Digital World

One of the students in my (Clare’s) graduate course shared a version of Bloom’s Taxonomy which is linked to Web 2.0 tools. Although I have long had concerns about Bloom’s Taxonomy (using it like a checklist) I found this model interesting.


Bloom's Taxonomy

If you go to this site you can click on each tool:

I found this interesting and it got me thinking about how Web 2.0 tools range from glorified paper and pencil tasks to far more intellectually challenging work. Take a minute to click on the link above and then click on the programs. The pyramid was created by Samantha Penney:

Debating the Common Core

The Washington Post calls attention to the ongoing debate over the Common Core Standards by featuring a letter writing exchange between two school Principals who express their differing views on the standards. The first letter is written by Carol Burris, Principal of South Side High School in New York, who was once a strong supporter of the Common Core but is now a critic of the standards. Burris noted, “I do not think it is a good idea to homogenize standards as untried as the Common Core, across our nation. What we teach our children is far too important to submit to a national experiment. Practicing educators, child development experts and parents should be deeply engaged in the process of standard setting in our states. Standards should be debated, reviewed and refined.” A response will be written by Jayne Ellspermann Principal of West Port High School in Ocala, Florida. See the link provided to read this informative exchange: