Thursday, 18 October 2012

Writing From Memory

I attended a PD last week about a daily writing exercise that focuses on writing from memory. It only takes 15 minutes and then can form the basis of future writing. Students are given a trigger word, say shoes. You give them about three minutes to jot down as many memories they associate with shoes as they can. Then you ask them to pick the memory that stands out most in their mind. They single out that memory. You ask the students just to think about the memory, while you ask leading questions. For shoes it could be, "Are they new or old?", "Are they your shoes?", "Are you wearing them?", "What colour are they?". This gets them to examine the memory in more detail. Take about two minutes to do this. Then say, "Go!" or "Write!" or some equivalent and the students are to write for ten straight minutes. Their memory needs to be in the present tense and start with, "I am...".
Students are told not to erase anything, just keep going. Also, that if they hit an impasse or a block to doodle on the side. Keeping the pen moving keeps your brain moving and taking the pen off the paper can easily take your mental train off its rails. Also, spelling doesn't matter. Just write down your experience. At the end of the ten minutes have students finish the sentence they are writing and put down their pencils.
These drafts are saved for a week or two, to allow for the writers to become detached, and then reviewed. The students pick a piece from that week that they like and then work on revising and polishing it into a final piece.
The rationale is:

  • This gets students into the habit of writing, because it is hard work.
  • They are generating a lot of text, which increases fluency.
  • They are learning how to develop detail in writing.
  • The motivation to write is authentic as the topic is something important to each individual.
  • It instils confidence.
An inspiration for this method was Lynda Berry's book What It Is. It is a graphic novel that outlines writing from memory, and is itself an example of it. There are two questions we frequently ask ourselves when writing:

  1. Is this good?
  2. Does this suck?
Both undermine our writing and Lynda suggests every time students (or ourselves as writers) we ask ourselves one of those questions we answer ourselves with
A first draft is never meant to be perfect or better than someone else's writing. It is solely to get our ideas out of our head and onto the page. I think it is a great way to practice writing and to get people who would classify themselves as non-writers interested in writing.

If you want to read more about it, or just want to check out an awesome graphic novel, click the book below and buy it!
picture from
Here's what I wrote (unedited) in the 8 minutes provided. The theme was shoes.

Monday, 15 October 2012

What If Isaac Newton Didn't See That Apple

Newton was a very bright man and wrote on a wide variety of subjects. Suppose on that fateful day something else caught his eye as he lounged in an orchard. Not an apple, but a book. Perhaps dropped by a worker in the orchard. Newton examines it, enthralled. A wind blows through the orchard loosing many apples. Thud, thud, thud, but he takes no notice. The book is a diary and chronicles the orchard man's daily life: work, family, hopes, dreams, failures, successes. Newton, captivated, wonders what laws govern writing and turns his scientific mind to the task.
He thinks, experiments, revises, and experiments again. Someone else is left to describe the laws of motion, but Newton gives the world:
The Three Laws of Writing
  1. A pen in motion tends to stay in motion, while a pen at rest tends to stay at rest.
  2. A final piece is the product of inspiration and perseverance.
  3. Any energy a writer puts into a piece is met by equal and individual energy from the reader.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

My Fab5

Fab5 is a conference for teachers in their first five years of teacher, as well as pre-service teachers, like myself. It is put on by the Manitoba Teachers Society in both Winnipeg and Brandon. The conference spans three days.
Kirsten, Jennifer and I with Mitch.
After registration there was a light supper provided and some mingling. I talked with some friends I knew were coming and got to know some Ed students I hadn't had the privilege of meeting before.
The highlight of the night was keynote speaker, Mitch Dorge. He is the drummer for the Crash Test Dummies and loves to share the lessons he's learned with others. His energy, enthusiasm and silliness are contagious. The clapping, shouting, knee-slapping, feather-beating, rubber-chicken-abusing, and ninja-screaming band he turned all of us into is ample evidence of that.
Through his activities, stories and an amazing drum demonstration Mitch urged us:

  • To know the unique energy  we have and bring 100% of it to everything we do.
  • To realize that everything we say and do affects people - the intended and the unknown.
  • That we have something to learn from everyone, regardless of how MUCH they know.
It was a great way to get started and a message worth remembering.
Afterward, there was a mingling time and I got to speak with some MTS Staff Officers and meet Mitch himself. He posed for some pictures and took time to get to know everyone who spoke with him.

I had two sessions Continue the Adventure of Laughter with Mark Essay and Resiliency with Audrey Siemens.
It's obvious why Mark does a session on laughter: he is hilarious! He used stories, actions, wacky voices and was incredibly engaging. He shared that laughter is relaxing and world-wide, comes from interaction, and is contagious. He gave a lot of practical tidbits and strategies, but two things especially stood out for me.

  1. If I want enthusiasm and engagement in my class it is MY responsibility to maintain and sustain it.
  2. That if we are subjected to limitations we learn not to exceed them and will continue that way even when the limitations are removed (or weren't real in the first place). We need to provide a classroom where the lid is off and show kids that it is safe to jump as high as they want.

In the second morning session Audrey shared wisdom from teachers she works with and her own on how to stay resilient as new teachers. We came up with a group definition of what resiliency means. I thought the metaphor of individuals as jugglers was very apt. We juggle a series of balls: work, family, health, friends and integrity. All are made of glass, which may shatter if not kept aloft, except for work. Work is a rubber ball. We also received a stress apple in this session and it is a great, tactile reminder of the juggler metaphor.

My two afternoon sessions were Classroom Management with Blake Stephens and Teaching Aboriginal Topics with Wade Houle.
Blake has spent many years working with children with behavioural difficulties and shared his experience with us. He stressed building relationships, rationally detaching and active listening. I appreciated his story about helping students avoid trouble instead of getting them into trouble. He used some very memorable metaphors, like carrying around a bucket of sand and equality is banning glasses. He stressed the importance of using positive language: "You can go outside when..." v. "You can't go outside until...", and that I can't stop doing what I enjoy just because I'm busy. Blake's insights are going make my future classroom a better place.
Wade used his session to share, share, share. He gave us over 30 lesson plans and activities, with exemplars and explanations. To have things that have been successfully used in class is invaluable. One particular activity, the tic-tac-toe, stands out for me. It had nine assignments in a grid. The students had to choose 3 of them to do and they must all be in a winning tic-tac-toe line. It's a fun way to provide choice, but Wade used it even more effectively. Each row was an assignment geared to a different learning style. Visual learners could go along the top row. Students without a strong preference could choose a column and do three different types of assignment. So, now the instrument of choice becomes an instrument of differentiation as well. I love it!

The final day's sessions focused on showcasing MTS Special Area Groups of Educators: specialized associations within MTS that provide resources and development for members. I chose to go to A Window to the World: Blogging in the Classroom with Leslie Dent Scarcello & Erin Malkoske of ManACE, and Creating an Environment of Mathematical Literacy by Tricia Licorish of MAMT.
Leslie and Erin shared how they started blogging personally and with their classrooms. Their rationale is that blogging:

  • Increases engagement
  • Gives an authentic, worldwide audience
  • Makes connections
  • Is a way to pay it forward
  • Enables discussion about digital citizenship
They gave a quick tutorial on how to set up a blog on blogger and shared important considerations, like setting criteria for posts and comments, and adminstration and parental permission for posting online.
They showed a few of the blogs that inspired them and on one of them there was something amazing! An assignment to guess a fictional character by the apps on his/her fictional iPhone and then create an iPhone, apps and personalized case, for a character that has been studied during the year. It's engaging (I want to do it right now) and to be successful you really have to get inside the character's head and then make inferences.
Tricia's session was practical and hands on. She shared websites that she has found very helpful and activities for all streams. We were able to wander and try out the activities ourselves, to see how they work and to fix them in our memories. We each left with a CD full of Math resources and built an infinity card with rules for adding, subtracting, multiplying and diving integers. I'm so thankful for sessions like these. I feel like these activities and lessons shared with me are building a foundation for my career. The more I have to draw on for planning, the more I will be able to focus on effective teaching when I am in my first classroom.

For the PD sessions alone this conference is well worth the cost; however, it was much more than that. Two breakfasts, a lunch with dessert, light supper, snacks, drinks, wine and cheese are included. You get a free text book, time to network with colleagues, presenters and MTS staff. There are also extra prize draws. I almost won one, but the wrong Tyler was called.
I'm very glad I went and plan on attending for the next 5 years as well! Fab5 is fabulous!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Course Outlining

In my senior years science methods course we are tasked to develop a crowd of course outlines as one of our assignments. Fellow blogger, MissL, has posted her first draft on her blog and I thought I'd do the same. It's good to get feedback: from peers, from those marking me, from anonymous people selling miracle diets. I have never had to make a course outline and I know that being good at something takes practice. So, what's good and what needs improvement?