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What is SOGI?  What Does it Look Like in Elementary Schools?

The acronym SOGI stands for Sexual Orientation / Gender Identity.  Generally speaking, SOGI education is an effort to create safe, inclusive environments that are respectful of differences, and maintain the dignity of all individuals.  SOGI is a term that is intended to be inclusive of all orientations and identities.  Our communities are made up of diverse citizens, including those from the LGBTQ community.  The goals of SOGI education align with Human Rights laws that provide protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

SOGI is a relatively new term, but SOGI objectives include learning objectives that have been present in classrooms for a number of years, preceding curricular changes that have recently been implemented.  SOGI is not a separate curriculum, but rather includes a variety of topics, vocabulary, and understandings that are integrated into existing curricular objectives.

In early grades, teachers facilitate conversations about families.  They ask students to identify the members of their families and what family means to them.  Students are asked to recognize that other families might be different from their own.  Some students might come from single parent families.  Some students might be being raised by grandparents.  Some students might be adopted.  Some students might be in blended families. Some students might be in foster care.  Some students might have same-sex parents. The key understandings are that not all families are the same, and that all students, regardless of their family structure, are worthy of love, deserve to be respected, and need a safe, respectful place to learn and to have the opportunity to achieve their potential. Students often conclude that providing love and support is what makes a family.

Some examples of books that might be explored during a unit of study on family diversity might include:

A Family is A Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary, is about a young child who worries that her “family is not like everybody else’s.”  She and her classmates are asked to share what makes their families special.  The story is an adorable collection of vignettes about a diverse range of family structures.  Practically every student will be able to identify with and make personal connections to the family representations in the book.

 

 

How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman is an amusing story about how two people from very different cultural backgrounds meet, fall in love, try to learn to adopt the eating customs of the other, and end up forming a family.

 

 

 

Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer is a story about a young girl’s dilemma about who to bring to a Mothers Day Celebration being hosted at her school, because she doesn’t have a mother, but has two dads instead.

 

 

 

In later grades, teachers engage students in understanding the negative impacts of name-calling.  They facilitate activities that encourage students to be empathetic, and to recognize how someone else might feel.  They help students to recognize that hurtful language can have lasting impacts.  They also explore why certain words are hurtful, and the importance of using respectful language.  Students develop an understanding of what bullying is, including homophobic bullying.

They also engage in developing understandings of perceptions of masculinity and femininity.  Though these sound like sophisticated concepts, they can be explored from the perspective of what toys or activities are stereotypically perceived as appropriate for girls, or appropriate for boys.  As a society, we seem to be willing to accept that a girl might have preferences for activities that are typically associated with boys, but there continues to be a lot of negative judgment about boys who prefer activities more typically associated with girls.  Again, the emphasis is on recognizing that some behaviours or preferences may be different than our own, and that regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the behaviours we observe, we have an obligation to engage in respectful interactions.

Some picture books that might be explored during this topic could include:

The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein is about a duck who is bullied for being unathletic, but perceptions of him change when he does something heroic.

 

 

 

Not all Princes Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen and Heidi Yolen Semple explores the idea that not every princess subscribes to a rigid set of societal expectations.

 

 

 

 

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino is about an imaginative, artistic boy who loves to play in his classroom’s dress up centre, but becomes unwelcome in the classroom spaceship when he dons a tangerine dress.

 

 

 

 

Some Novels or read-alouds might include:

The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams is a humorous story about a boy and his friend who bond while browsing over fashion magazines.  The main character, Dennis, is talked into trying on a dress that his friend made and the pair decide to see if Dennis can fool people into believing he is actually a foreign exchange female student.  Interestingly enough, the only reference to Dennis’ sexual orientation is his attraction to a female friend.

 

 

 

 

My Seventh Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin is an engaging story about a young teenage boy who loves to dance.  He prefers dancing to playing football and tries to balanceboth in order to simultaneously live out his passion and to satisfy his father’s athletic expectations.  He gets engaged in a plot to win a dance contest to discredit the dance study that once rejected the female protagonist whose affection he is trying to win.

In intermediate grades, students continue to explore stereotypes and human rights.  They explore injustices that have happened over the course of human history.  Events like the Japanese Internment, Residential Schools, and the Holocaust are opportunities to understand how different groups have been targeted or persecuted for being perceived as different and / or threatening.  Simultaneously, students engage in studies that promote seeing situations from different perspectives, exercising compassion, and standing up for injustice.  Conversations around bullying involve the role of the bystander, and the possibility of advocating for or supporting someone who is being victimized.

In each of these scenarios, the emphasis remains on being respectful of others, and making connections to others’ experiences so that we can empathize with them and understand their perspectives.  It is about recognizing that others may have different views or traditions, preferences or behaviours, but that every person needs to be treated with respect and dignity.  Being able to converse with people of diverse backgrounds creates citizens who are thoughtful, engage in mutually respectful interactions, and understand how to show kindness and compassion to others.  These objectives are often in alignment with the teachings of faith-based communities.

A more mature read that I did as a powerful read aloud in my Grade 6/7 classroom:

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen is an engaging story told from two perspectives.  One is gifted, eccentric Stuart, and the other is popular, social status obsessed Ashley.  The pair become part of a blended family after Stuart’s mother passes away, and Ashley’s parents divorce after her father comes out as gay.  Told with sensitivity, humour, and some brilliant characterizations the story tackles some mature topics (including bullying, homophobia, loss, and the value of friendships) in thoughtful and accessible ways.

 

 

 

 

Some understandings about sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity are important to these conversations, so that students who have LGBTQ identities are included in conversations, see themselves reflected in the curriculum, and are not discriminated against. The reality is that there are students in our schools who are LGBTQ, even if they don’t identify at this time.  There may be staff or families of students with LGBTQ identities.  SOGI education isn’t just about supporting LGBTQ students.  SOGI provides students with the opportunity to learn about LGBTQ identities in a respectful context, rather than relying on negative myths or stereotypes to define those communities. Understanding our own, as well as other people’s experiences is what contributes to being a well-informed, thoughtful, and empathetic person, as well as an engaged respectful citizen that can function effectively in diverse communities.

 

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New Perspectives on a New School Year

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As another school year begins, I’ve had a lot on my mind, and I’ve been doing some pretty deep thinking about a few things.  I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of success as a presenter of a couple of topics: particularly “Writing” and “Boys and Learning.”  When I’ve shared stories and examples of what I’ve produced in the classroom, workshop participants have enthusiastically embraced strategies and been open to many of my philosophies and approaches.  Many have commented on my passion for writing and how practical my strategies are.  It has been empowering to be able to share examples and to feel like I was influencing positive change in classrooms I’ll never even set foot in.

For approximately 18 years I’ve been sharing my professional life in online conversations, via committee work, through consultation, as a key-note speaker, and in workshops that I’ve had the opportunity to present.  This has come quite easily and has rarely been controversial.

I’ve been reluctant to embrace some of the social media platforms, and have tended to be hyper-sensitive about what I share, particularly when it comes to making aspects of my personal life and my personal views public.  I’ve worried a little that certain truths might interfere with my professional life or advancement in that regard.  The very idea that something I “liked” or subscribed to, or images or messages I posted could negatively influence the way I’m viewed or whether my expertise might be devalued might seem ludicrous to some people, but it’s made me a passive consumer of social media and not an active participant.  For much of my life I’ve separated my identity as a gay man from my identity as an educator, despite the fact that the two are inseparable.  I worried that my role would be limited to the “the gay teacher” and it would limit my capacity to be remembered as the innovative teacher, or the creative teacher, or the fun teacher.  I feel secure enough in my accomplishments to date, that being remembered as the “gay teacher” doesn’t come with the same negative connotation that it used to.

This post by Chris Wejr may help provide some context for my hesitancy about social media.

http://chriswejr.com/2014/01/22/not-everyone-is-able-to-tweet-and-post-who-they-are/

I don’t know if it’s getting older and being less concerned about how the world views me.  I don’t know if it’s because the world is making some progress and the timing just makes sense, but, lately, I feel compelled to take on an additional role, which is very closely tied to my personal identity.  I want to be more involved in advocacy.

My school district passed a Sexual Orientation / Gender Identity policy in 2011, amidst controversy and opposition from a vocal parent organization.  Their public response made me suddenly feel that I had an obligation to provide students with a different perspective than was being reported in local papers.  It wasn’t because I felt personally attacked by the dialogue that was taking place, but I was genuinely concerned about any kid who sat in a classroom questioning his or her sexual orientation or gender identity listening to the negative messages and the contempt with which certain words were used and not feeling like they could respond or that support was available.  I nervously raised the topic and took those first few tentative steps towards opening the classroom dialogue, well aware that much of the opposition to the proposed policy was coming from within my school’s catchment area.  I was surprised to discover that I didn’t have to say much and that students were relatively comfortable voicing their views and responding to each other.  Our local policy, and now an expectation from the B.C. Ministry of Education that all B.C. school districts include Sexual Orientation / Gender Identity in their codes of conduct has encouraged me to do more.

I’ve had some great success with developing writers in my classroom.  I’ve done some impressive work with fostering supportive environments to engage boys in classrooms.  I’ve shared my ideas and views about these at conferences, in inquiry groups, and wherever I had an audience that was receptive.  Many people know this.

What many people don’t know is that I’ve also been doing some great work with creating opportunities for conversation about the LGBTQ community, LGBTQ issues, and in fostering acceptance of differences in my classroom.  This is a topic that I’m now ready to share with others.  I’ve started to include some of the examples I use to foster this when I teach writing into some of my newer workshops.

Don’t expect an LGBTQ unit plan.  That’s not an approach that resonates well with me.  I’m not keen on preaching what other people should do, but I am more than willing to share stories about the experiences I’ve had and the results I’ve witnessed.  If you are someone who’s thought about exploring these topics and wondered how to introduce them, hopefully, you’ll find something useful in the posts to come.  I encourage you to have the courage to do follow through and start (or continue) the conversation.

I worry that language in district policies will fall short of having a meaningful impact and I want to encourage teachers to create an LGBTQ presence in the resources they select, in the conversations they facilitate, and in the curriculum they implement so that LGBTQ youth and families see themselves reflected in the classroom.  I do believe that there are subtle, relevant connections in a variety of curriculum contexts than can easily be infused into existing lessons plans or units of study.  It is my intention to provide some insight into ways of starting that conversation in classrooms through personal anecdotes, and by sharing some picture books, read aloud titles, and novels that depict LGBTQ characters.

My goal is to make this website a more active resource, with more frequent posts to provide commentary and relevant, helpful resources (particularly to teachers who are hesitant to tackle some of the conversations or are worried about the potential controversy it may inspire in their communities)  on “Writing,” “Boys and Learning” and on “LGBTQ Inclusion.”

This is your invitation to the conversation.

 

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Captain’s Log: Supplemental

Apparently, I’m in a Star Trek kind of mood today…

Following up on a request from the Artist Inquiry: From Study to Studio workshop delivered at the PITA Fall conference, here are slides of student portfolios (prepared after some “interesting” self-directed technology lessons).

Completed portfolios needed to include 9 – 12 pieces.  In the slide show, individual portfolios are separated by a title page with student initials.  Portfolio pieces from each student’s collection are generally presented in the sequence they were done.

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Stack the Deck for Student Success: A Culture of Speed Stacking in the Classroom

The Origin Story

One day, a number of years ago, i discovered an individual set of Speed Stacks in my staffroom.  They had been delivered for promotional purposes, but, at the time, no one really knew what they were for or the potential they held.  They were a set of twelve cups and an instructional DVD that I began to play around with.  Speed Stacks are specialized cups that are stacked in particular sequences.  Participants learn the various formations and patterns and then strive to complete them as quickly as possible.

Quite fascinated by the cups, and how quickly I could master the steps, I took the set into my Grade 6/7 classroom and demonstrated Speed Stacking.  Students, particularly the boys, were eager to get their hands on the cups and to see who could stack the fastest.  I was able to introduce the sport with that single set, and generate a lot of interest.  Shortly thereafter, I discovered that class sets were available through our District Learning Resource Centre.   I quickly signed out the Sport Stacking set, used the instructional video to help students learn the various routines, and a whole new culture of daily physical activity was born.

Maximizing Daily Physical Activity

I was fortunate to have a principal that recognized the merits of Speed Stacking and was quick to approve the purchase of our own school set of Sport Stacks. The Sport Stacking Kit, containing 30 sets of cups, as well as some additional specialized cups, timer, and stacking mat, cost approximately $500.  You can even arrange to borrow a set to determine student interest and try out a Sport Stacking program before investing  in a kit.

Being in a large school with limited access to scheduled gym periods, Speed Stacking was an option to help integrate daily physical activity into my routine in a way that was engaging to students and offered enough challenge to maintain their attention.  You’d be surprised how much physical exertion can be expended with a simple set of 12 cups and a highly motivated mindset to achieve a personal best.   Once students were familiar with the stacking patterns, it was easy to insert a 15 minute stacking opportunity into virtually every day.  If I didn’t have stacking on the agenda, I’d often have students requesting the opportunity.  Some of my most difficult students, and many of the students with behaviour issues were the ones most adamant that we stack.  Stacking activities are very versatile, and can range from individual challenges, pair activities, and team relays.  The Instructors link on the website speedstacks.com will allow you to find resources with a variety of program options, activities and instructional videos.  You can even access a complimentary set for your classroom if you aren’t able to commit to a larger purchase.

Competition vs. Personal Best

Being in an elementary school environment, the word “competition” tends to have a negative connotation and I’ve certainly engaged in lengthy conversations about the value of competition (or lack thereof).  There are certainly situations where competition is unhealthy and destructive, but I would contend that the kind of competition that gets emphasized during Speed Stacking is more in the vein of achieving one’s Personal Best than it is about beating others.  Certainly, there is the thrill of being the individual who can stack the fastest, but you’d be surprised how often the “champion” has been one of the quieter, modest students who surprised everyone, and ended up earning the admiration of some of the more typical “cocky champions.”  It can be a very humbling experience for students, because it’s the focussed, determined student who practices regularly that is often triumphant.  Speed Stacking does require a level of commitment and focus to really successfully master it and end up with impressive times.

Guinness Book of World Records – Stack Up Day / Fostering Student Leadership

In the past several years we have participated in the Guinness Book of World Records – WSSA Stack Up Day.  It is a day, coordinated by the World Sport Stacking Association (WSSA) whereby participants around the world attempt to break the existing World Record for the “Most People Sport Stacking at Multiple Locations in One Day.”  It is an exciting and fun opportunity to practice and share Speed Stacking skills.  Typically, I have had my students become “experts” in a variety of skills, we close off the gym for a day, and they supervise 7 or 8 stations that other participating classes rotate through.  Participants simply have to commit to stacking for a 30 minute period.  

My students regularly buddy up with other classes within the school before the event and do some pre-teaching of the stacking skills.  Even classes who’ve never touched cups are able to participate in the event.  We deconstruct the process and talk about methods that make for good teaching or coaching.  It’s incredibly endearing to watch these Grade 6/7 students take pride in their skills and then to patiently teach younger students to stack.  I’ve watch some of the most challenging boys I’ve ever taught nurture their young buddies, even on occasion sitting behind them, and guiding their hands into the proper positions.  If you are reading this and are in a position to participate in the Stack Up day, I would encourage you to register.  If you are looking to host a similar format of a stations approach, feel free to get in touch and I can forward you with some additional suggestions about setting up and preparing for the day.

Stacks as a Management Strategy

On occasion, I’ve used the cups as a management strategy for students with challenging behaviours.  Ultimately, for students to have the ideal opportunity to participate in stacking and to have the most flexibility for stacking formations, they need to have 12 cups.  With fewer cups, there are still stacking options and they are still able to practice, but they are unable to complete what is referred to as “The Cycle,” a key sequence in Sport Stacking.

During class, students keep a stack of 12 cups on their desks.  When problems occur, they are asked to return a cup.  The key aspect of the management strategy though is that when students are meeting expectations and demonstrating cooperation, they can earn the cups back.  I even allow them to earn extra cups to create a buffer for their impulsive behaviour.  It becomes a very visual strategy to monitor behaviour with logical consequences if they “lose” all of their cups.  Under ideal circumstances, they earn back all the cups and can fully participate in an activity they tend to be motivated to engage in.  Fortunately, to date, I’ve never had a student have to surrender all of their cups, and be entirely unable to participate.

The rewards of bringing Speed Stacking into my classroom over the years have been numerous.  Hopefully, this post has been of some use to you, and has sparked an interest in exploring Speed Stacks with your students.

Have a productive year and happy stacking!

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Seeking Ideal Students for Year Long Positions: Start Immediately – Student Classified Ads / Job Postings

And so it begins…

Another year is under way.  It’ll be another week before classes are settled in our school, and so we engage in planning and activities to reconnect with former students and to learn a bit about new students.  Having students create a classified ad / job posting for the sort of teacher they would like to “hire” is a quick activity that can be done with little preparation and results in some rather humourous responses (and sometimes less than subtle student requests for their preferred teacher).

I typically engage students in a brainstorm, asking them to list 1) words that describe them, 2) things they like, and 3) things which are important to them.  Words that describe them can range from physical descriptions (height, hair colour, eye colour…) to words that describe aspects of their personality (responsible, athletic, opinionated…).  Things they like can include hobbies, activities, favourite foods, genres of books, and essentially anything they deem worthy of mentioning.  Things which are important to them can include traits they appreciate in others, preferences for how things are arranged, and strong opinions about topics that matter to them.

Once they have generated several examples in each dimension, I share with them the example of my posting for the type of students I would like to fill my class with – Seeking Ideal Students for Year Long Positions: Start Immediately.  We isolate some  examples of the aforementioned brainstorm categories, and students are provided with the instructions and the example to use as a model to create their own examples.  Completed examples make for a great beginning of year bulletin board and outstanding examples are fun to include in newsletters to the school community or on school websites.

The text is provided here for your reading pleasure as well as a word document at the end of this post, so you can edit and adjust for your scenario.  I’ve done this activity with positive results in classes with students from Grade 4 – 7.

Best wishes for a rewarding and productive school year.

Student Classified Ad / Job Posting

Draft a classified ad, advertising the kind of teacher you are seeking for this school year. You need to identify a number of things about yourself in order to make potential candidates willing to apply. Use the list of words that describe you, things you like, and things which are important to you to make your sentences.

  • Give lots of interesting details about yourself
  • What types of things do you do well?
  • Are there things you have difficulty with that applicants should be aware of?
  • Talk about the things you are willing to do to make this a successful year
  • Talk about the things you hope to accomplish or participate in this year
  • Describe precisely what kind of teacher will make this a rewarding year for you
  • What kinds of things could this teacher do to make your year memorable

Seeking Ideal Students for Year Long Positions: Start Immediately

Energetic, adventurous teacher with great sense of humour seeks ambitious, enthusiastic students with positive attitudes. I am entering the twenty-first year of my teaching career. I’m 5’10, have dark hair, and blue eyes. I have a variety of interests and try to keep physically active. I enjoy escaping to a local mountain for a day of snowboarding fun. I enjoy soccer, kayaking, cycling, swimming, and camping. One of my favourite things about camping is telling stories around the campfire. I like to laugh often and try to make other people laugh by sharing funny stories.

My favourite subjects are writing and P.E. I like to do jigsaw puzzles and love to colour, design, and create. I prefer action or suspense movies. I enjoy working with kids, traveling, and the company of my cats. I’m a vegetarian who is very selective about the foods I eat (and I don’t like different foods to touch each other on the plate).

I’m looking for a number of students who will treat each other (and me) with respect, who will strive to achieve great things, and who like to laugh. I’m willing to work hard and to make learning enjoyable for open-minded, playful students interested in learning new things, and in working cooperatively to solve problems. I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect the best effort you are capable of. I’m willing to coordinate memorable field trips and to plan exciting lessons about interesting topics.

I have plenty of energy and patience for students who ask for help. I hope to set a good example and I expect to learn as much from you as you learn from me in this coming year. I hope to inspire students to achieve and find success in the classroom and beyond. If you are the kind of student looking for a challenging, fun-filled year, who likes surprises, and can take a joke, please forward your application to Mr. Gidinski at Chaffey-Burke Elementary School. Deadline to apply: Thursday, Sept 10.

Student Classified Ad

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Self-Reflection for Reporting

As I take a break from drafting report cards, I’m relieved that I had students do this linked activity.  It has become a bit of a fascinating process whereby I continue to learn about how students see themselves in relation to reporting.

I did this with my class of Grade 6/7 students and in about 2/3 of the cases, I could use their self-reflective paragraphs, written in third person, as my final term report card comments.  In the remaining cases, it leaves me with pieces that inform my drafting of their reports.  This process has provided me with some relevant information about areas they might have experienced growth in that maybe I hadn’t had the chance to observe and with some descriptors of the types of students they view themselves as that I may not have considered.  It is allowing me to incorporate some of their own sense of achievement during the year (or in the final term) into their report cards, honouring their perceptions of their own growth.

Students were asked to be sincere, honest, and critical in the brainstorming responses and then write a genuinely accurate paragraph depicting what a report card paragraph would look like.  They were permitted to embellish and exaggerate for the “worst case scenario.”

The most fascinating response was a student who wrote a version of his report card paragraph that might be best described as “wishful thinking” or, in another way as “delusional.”  However, he wrote a very critical and precise “worst case scenario” in which he critically identified some of his shortcomings.

His paragraph he would “like to see on his report card”

“Simon” is a well-organized, and hardworking kid who takes precise notes to record all work done in class.  He is friendly and helpful to his classmates which helps build his leadership and communication skills.  He participates actively in class discussions which improves his confidence.  When he is part of group projects, others look to him for guidance.  He is patient when listening to everyone’s point of view.  He volunteers for a lot of school projects and extracurricular activities.  He is a genuine, warm-hearted kid who loves to help people wherever he can.  His work displays an effort to learn and improve.

I could easily refute most of these comments with direct quotes from anecdotal comments I’ve collected throughout the year.

His worst case scenario report:

While “Simon” is a hardworking kid, his grades fail to portray this fact.  I find that he doesn’t ask enough questions in class to clarify what needs to be done on his assignments which leads to him getting a poor grade.  I also find that “Simon” fails to think critically in his assignments and does not explain his points.  I cannot understand them accurately.  He also needs to improve his grammar skills.  His work often comprises of run on sentences.  If he wishes to achieve a better grade, he will have to improve on all of these things.

I had to laugh at the accuracy and candidness of this passage, which is a much truer depiction of the student behaviours and tendencies I have observed, some of which we have conferenced about.  Overall….fascinating sense of himself as a student.

Student Evaluation Reports Grade 7 2012

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The Synonym Continuum – A Vocabulary Building Activity

Looking for an activity to fill those last few hours of classroom time?  Perhaps you’re looking for something for the beginning of the year.  I like to use this as a vocabulary building strategy.  It’s an activity that I refer to as The Synonym Continuum.  It’s a list of synonyms for “big” and “small.”  Students are asked to sequence them in order from the “smallest of the small” to the “biggest of the big.”  It is intended to be an activity where they are actively looking up and confirming definitions for the words in order to compare their size, rather than just guessing at the order.

One of my biggest frustrations with students using a thesaurus is that they tend to substitute a word they find without necessarily being aware of the connotation of the word they select.  When I teach students to use a thesaurus, I typically teach them to use it simultaneously with a dictionary, so that they can be sure that they understand the word they are substituting and that it properly fits the context into which they are inserting it.

The answer key that is provided in intended to be a reasonable but not definitive answer key.  Definitions are included, but many of the words will have a range within which they fit, based on how their definitions are interpreted.  Some definitions help to clearly position some as smaller or larger than others, while some remain a bit vague.  Hopefully, your students will find this a relevant and meaningful activity and it will help them add some variety and sophistication to their descriptive writing.

The Synonym Continuum

The Synonym Continuum Answer Key

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Boys Will Be Boys: Slide show to accompany key note address, February 27, 2015, Fort Nelson

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If only I had something profound to say…

IMG_0295I’ve been putting off doing this for a while now.  There have been plenty of excuses, lots of distractions, and a fair bit of procrastination in the meantime.  There are a few things that have brought my attention back to this site, and particularly to the idea of blogging.  One is that I’ve been really enjoying some of the writing products that have come out of the classroom activities we’ve been doing lately.  (I teach a Grade 6/7 class this year – 18 boys, 10 girls).  Another is the excitement building as I collaborate with a group of colleagues over upcoming Family Literacy Day celebrations we’re planning.  And thirdly, I have a few speaking engagements on the horizon that I’m revising content for in anticipation of the conferences I will be attending in the next few months.

I wanted to start off the blog with some profound declarations that would change the way people thought about writing instruction and about teaching boys.  Every time I try to come up with something  profound, I draw a blank.  So I’ve abandoned that idea and decided that I’d just start the blog, see if there’s an audience for it, and follow where it leads me.  If you’ve read this far, I hope you will consider joining the adventure and contribute to the conversation.

I remember when I first started preparing to present my “Show! Don’t Tell” workshop, a workshop that has consistently gotten positive feedback and is really the foundation for all the writing workshops that I present.  I remember the nervousness as I tried to determine what to include and how to address my audience.  I worried that people would resent me for “telling them what to do.”  It was early in my career, and I figured that more experienced teachers would reject and criticize my “unseasoned” advice.  It wasn’t until I changed my thinking and decided that it wasn’t about giving advice, but rather about sharing the experiences I’d had and demonstrating the results that I had got with my students, that I could feel comfortable stepping into my role as a presenter.  I will attempt to follow that philosophy as I share things here in this space. The intention is that it will be a place to share experiences (some of the triumphant ones as well as the frustrations).  I’ll try to refer you to some of the resources that I have found influential (both in my curricular teaching and in meeting the needs of boys in today’s classrooms).  I’ll try to make this a forum where people can question, share stories, collaborate, and commiserate over the challenges and celebrations that go along with this multifaceted job of being an educator.

I provide the following for your consideration.  It stems from a community night that we hosted at our school.  We invited parents to come (with their students) and participate in what we referred to as a writing event.  In conjunction with our school goals, we thought it was helpful to provide parents with some context and additional understandings about the kind of writing we were asking students to do in classrooms throughout the school.  We felt it would be valuable in engaging parents as partners if we could establish some key understandings about writing.  The following is what we hoped would set the context for conversations about writing.

Setting the Stage for Conversations With Your Child About Writing

Engaging in conversations with your children about writing has the potential to profoundly influence their attitudes about writing and help them to develop their skills. Giving some specific and supportive feedback to a piece of writing can help them develop a willingness to revise and revisit what they have drafted and to participate meaningfully in the writing process.

Here are some things that we know about writing:

1) If you can talk about it, you can write it.

An important part of the writing process is the pre-writing process. Having your child talk about the topics they plan to write about helps to give them a foundation. If they have already thought about the topic, they are better able to transfer the ideas from “inside their heads” onto paper or into a computer. Asking specific questions can help them recall or invent details to make the writing more detailed and descriptive. Conversations, webs, or brainstorms can help a writer select a worthy topic to write about. Students who have difficulty writing can sketch pictures or storyboards of what they want to write about which can give them the foundation to then develop the description and action to enable them to write.

2) Writing is a very complex task.

Writing is probably one of the most complicated, multi-tasking activities we ask children to do. It requires a writer to invent, process and organize thoughts inside his or her head, to transfer ideas on to paper, to recognize and apply proper spelling rules, to use proper punctuation and grammatical structures, to draft, organize and sequence information in text, and to be aware of the purpose and audience of the piece of writing they are drafting. Having children focus on one particular aspect (or a small, manageable set of aspects) allows them to really develop that particular skill without the task feeling overwhelming. This allows them to experience success in increments and, as they master some of the skills, they are better able to perform the necessary steps to complete powerful, informative pieces of text.

 3) Writing is a process.

One of the scariest objects for a writer is the blank page. It is important for students to be aware that getting content down is the key to developing a meaningful piece of writing. It is important to get ideas down. They can be extended, elaborated, reorganized, re-sequenced, re-invented later. Though spelling and punctuation are important, the emphasis on proper spelling and grammar shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with the process of outputting material and creating a draft that can be revisited. Typically, authors spend more time on pre-writing strategies or activities (i.e. planning what they will write about or developing an outline), and re-writing activities (editing, revising, proof-reading, checking for clarity) than in the actual writing of a piece.

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