Top 5 Guiding Memes

I’ve been thinking about a response to a blog I read last week around how we gauge the impact of conferences on our work, specifically the IRA Conference our team attended last year at exactly this time! Immediately following our time away, each of our team members chose to reflect about one takeaway that resonated with us.

But what have I done with what I learned since then? Can I trace the growth of ideas that may have been planted then?

I can measure the impact on my work in some profound ways but I’ve chosen to represent some of these ideas as memes.

1. Steven Layne gets 2 memes because his work has found traction in both my reading and writing beliefs. Listening to him speak is like entering a story; he’s animated, passionate, entertaining and persuasive. In fact, once you’ve heard Steven Layne, it will be his voice that you hear when reading his books, whether professional texts or picturebooks or novels. His book Igniting a Passion for Reading was brought to life in our sessions by the same name where participants were given his text and a shopping spree based on the interests of their students. He’s published another book since then entitled, In Defense of Readaloud in which he expounds on the power of a teacher reading aloud to students from kindergarten to grade 12. He convinced me of the power of a teacher ‘selling’ reading by sharing what they’re readinBlog Hot Readg with students. His ‘Hot Read’ idea has found resonance in every session I’ve been part of this year and I still have teachers singing its praises as they finally reach a student with just the right book. In fact, this meme is based on JP Robarts’ Grade 6 teacher Ryan Matthews adopting a Hot Read box for his students to display what he’s reading.


2.  More recently, I’ve taken up the challenge that was first expressed by Steven LaBlog don't ignore people whenyne, though my supervisor has adopted its sentiment everyday. We anticipate shifting our focus to writing as we move forward in our professional learning series, Journeys into Literacy

3. One of the keynote speakers at IRA last year was Dav Pilkey of Captain Underpants fame. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to his presentation as I was never a big fan of his books. In fact, I may be guilty of encouraging some of my boys in past grade 6 classes to ‘move on’ from that series. And then I heard Dav speak. I was completely taken by his story. He talked about his childhood and how his teachers talked him out of reading by discouraging what he wanted to read. He shared a long list of change agents who struggled to learn but changed the world, like Steve Jobs. He shared his success criteria for a great read as a 10 year old boy: short, tons of illustrations because pictures tell the story, humorous, subject matter had to be cool…all opposite of what his teachers wanted him to read. He challenged us to get out of the way and let kids find clues to the universe in whatever book they choose. When he asked,

Blog Who approves your reading

I walked away changed. What if I had to defend my reading? I’m a convert to the series being a potential gateway to reading for so many reluctant readers. In fact, a current project that a colleague, Niall Cooke, and I collaborate on is called Reaching our Reluctant Readers, an homage in many ways to Dav Pilkey.

4. Linda Gambrell was an unknown to me before I attended her session: Reading Non Fiction Text foblog choice=motivationr Knowledge AND Pleasure. Right out of the gate, she shared her belief that “high interest books can ameliorate a higher complexity or challenging text.” Her research is clear: students who are allowed to choose their own reading materials are more motivated to read, expend more effort, and gain better comprehension of the text. This is no surprise to teachers as they see grade 2 boys and girls wrapped around a DK book on Dinosaurs despite not being able to necessarily read all the text. How much easier is it to read a book when you bring a wealth of interest and background knowledge? Gambrell is also a writer whose column, The Seven Rules of Engagement, was a key reading early in our Journeys into Literacy session this year. You can find that article on our Literacy Matters site under resources.

5. Had I never heard Penny Kittle or Kelly Gallagher speak before or read their work, I know their wisdom would warrant a meme. But it was their colleague Thomas Newkirk whose ideas inspired me to read and think more deeply. His talk, based on his book Minds Made for Stories, continues to percolate in the background of my thinking. He asked us: What sustains us as readers? Narrative. Newkirk makeblog reading is a form of rewritings the claim that narrative structure, the rise and resolution of tension across time, propels reading forward and plays a role in all forms of writing whether expository, persuasive or otherwise. He believes, “Story is the fundamental instrument of thought.” Another staggering claim from his book? Reading is a form of rewriting…that we have to mentally rewrite text that we struggle with to make sense of it. And isn’t that what we are doing when we leave tracks of our thinking in the margins? The power of what the reader brings to text has infiltrated all of my projects around reading this year. I wonder if we underestimate the importance of what students bring to make meaning of text.

I remember upon my return from the IRA conference wanting to post some of the powerful quotes that I recorded from my sessions because I felt I needed to continue to digest them like nuggets you hang on a fridge. One year later, they’re memes!



Capturing Your Assets

               When you scroll through your camera roll on your smartphone, you’ll find the big celebratory ‘moments’ in your lcamera rollife last year, the vacation shots that took your breath away, the screen captures of ideas or writing that you didn’t want to forget.   You easily and quickly share these moments electronically with your friends and family, or in person if you’re telling a story or recalling a text.

Last week I was reminded again how valuable a simple photo can be. An Apple Educator was sharing his ideas, beliefs and tools to support assessment. I learned a new meaning for a familiar term: assets. When I think of assets, I think of those investments and items that we own that reflect value or our monetary worth. He used ‘assets’ to name the collection of documented artefacts of learning that a student owns: anything that shows a students’ learning that can be captured, collected and shared in some way. I’ve been pondering that word ever since.

Do I consider the documentation of learning as an asset? What implications would that have for my practice? When is a photo an asset?

Across our sessions, our team seeks to make our thinking visible in a variety of ways. We were intentional about documenting some of the learning at our last Journeys into Literacy. As a means of gauging the impact of our professional learning series, we invited participants to engage in a photo elicitation technique (as described by my supervisor in this blog post) Each person chose an image and then recorded thoughts on how that image was a metaphor for his/her own journey as a reader this year. Each participant shared their image and story whiPhoto Elicitation minele a recorder captured the thinking in writing. Everyone could have taken a picture with their iPad or smartphone to capture their images and notes as documentation of their reflection. Unfortunately, I realized too late that I had not specifically asked everyone to do this! While I have some photos, I regret not having a photo of every participant’s image and thinking as currently my team is in the process of analysing that data. The artefacts we did collect have become a valuable resource as we find common trends and authentic expressions of learning: profound moments of sharing that speak to a variety of themes around memories, struggles, persistence and renewal. I only wish we had a photograph of every person’s photo elicitation sheet, not just the thoughts captured by the person writing down another’s thoughts. It’s a bit like the telephone game where the further you get from the original message, the less likely it reflects the real story.

These unique opportunities to grab a snapshot act as windows into thinking to inform our practice in response to what we see/hear, whether in sessions or classrooms. Documentation of learning, in our case the process of taking a picture of our photo elicitation, has served two purposes. Just like in the classroom, we intended to give voice to participants’ reflections of their learning. But as we continue to analyse these artefacts, we are realizing that we too are learning important information about ourselves and our work next year. In this way, documentation is not only reflective for teachers but prospective as our team feeds forward that learning. What an asset!

Imagine documenting an inquiry, a course of study, a whole year, through images! What evidence of progress might jump off the screen? Further, when is a photo an asset…a curated record of your thinking that is invested into your ‘learning’ account?

We actively post images to our twitter, facebook and instagram accounts as teens and adults. I imagine students would also benefit from collecting, curating and celebrating the assets of their learning not only with their teacher, but their peers and the public.

When is the last time you came back from vacation and said, “I wish I hadn’t taken so many photos?”

How might we all benefit from regarding learning artefacts like photos as assets?

What more valuable asset do we own than our thinking and learning?

When You Share Your Reading Life

This post was originally published on April 19, 2015 on my team’s Edublogs site:  Literacy Matters ( In honour of today’s 70th celebration of the liberation of the Netherlands, I’m sharing this post here.

A wise friend once told me that some of the most memorable journeys are the ones when you learn something about yourself. I’ve found that to be true in travel, but hadn’t considered its resonance in other areas of my life. Now, I might have anticipated that I would benefit from learning professionally at this year’s Journeys into Literacy, for instance: how selecting multimodal text engages the audience emotionally, how pacing impacts energy and how silence can foster reflection. What I could not have imagined was the impact Journeys into Literacy would have on my personal learning, that is, learning about myself. After examining one of my reading paths and choosing to share my reading life with participants, I realized how important this pursuit was to ourselves and our classrooms.

Every session started with a focus on self, since, as Sarah Ahmed and Harvey Daniels claim, “Our selves are our main teaching tools.” Our professional learning series was focused on reading comprehension, so we began by looking at ourselves as readers. What were we reading? We recorded our personal reading list (aka our reading diet) and we wrestled with whether it was a balanced diet both outside and inside the classroom. We reflected on how often we were reading what our students were reading, My Reading Path.jpgbalancing the demands of time but knowing the power of putting the right book in a child’s hand to spark and feed the love of reading. How well do I know my students to guide a book recommendation? Was I putting students on a path to becoming lifelong readers? Kelly Gallagher suggests that many of the books we read are on a reading path and that one book becomes a stepping stone to another and so on. He traces one of his reading paths back twenty years!

Which made me question: Was I too on a reading path?

I scoured my bookshelves. All that data. Where to begin? I started with book ends. At one end, a book that catapulted my reading life and made an indelible impression on me: Ondaatje’s The English Patient. At the other end was my most recent read in February: Michael’s Us Conductors. After sifting through stacks of novels, I discovered, or uncovered, some themes that surfaced repeatedly across more than a dozen novels. The stories were invariably connected to or set in the Second World War. This conflict and its tragic impact on life was told through stories that saw strong-willed women making sacrificial choices so often in the best interest of their children. They embarked on journeys that forced them to grapple with their identities, where each foot stood warily in two different cultures. These stories revealed the personal costs of migration and how one comes to terms with, or comes to redefine, the concept of home.

My Reading Life.jpg

And I was gobsmacked.

My mom was already a widow and mother when my father and the allies liberated the Netherlands at the end of the Second World War. She chose to come to Canada to start a new life, not always an easier life. Although I grew up on some iconic stories of the war, I don’t recall many stories of her life before the war. It was as if that chapter of her life was closed and she had put all those memories in a box. She would say (in her accent), “You don’t know hall-f de story.” She died when I was 21 and I can’t help but wonder if I’ve been grappling with her story and my identity ever since through my subconscious choice of texts. I have been exploring questions that I never got a chance to ask…through my reading.

To be sure, the stories in these novels were not carbon copies of my mom’s story, but the resilience of these recurring themes was undeniable. Thomas Newkirk believes, “We read to make sense of ourselves.” In my case, this certainly rings true. I learned that my reading path was a journey of self-discovery. But after my decision to share it at Journeys into Literacy, I came face to face with the prospect of how sharing our reading life with others builds bridges between readers and a stronger reading community. After one of our sessions, a participant approached me to say, “I think I know your next book on your reading path.” And I thought, this is exactly what we want happening in our classrooms! When you share your reading life with others, they come to see you in a new light. Indeed, they become instrumental to guiding you to your next read because they know you much better. In a classroom, I’ll share my reading life that speaks to the age of readers I’m teaching, whether YA or Junior novels. Both teachers and peers play a powerful role in nurturing the reading lives of those around us. You never know if the book you’re reading right now may be critical not only to your own reading life, but to a fellow reader in the future. Of course, the side effect of all this is: we learn the stories and sometimes the struggles that we have in common.

Just today I finished that ‘next book’ recommendation, Blum’s Those Who Save Us, about a daughter coming to learn of her mother’s former secret life in Europe during the Second World War. That apt recommendation galvanizes my belief around the power of sharing your reading life with others.

Stop pretending…#MakeSchoolDifferent

Upon accepting the challenge to contribute to this meme, I checked out a few other posts first.  I was inspired by their authentic voice, their “putting it out there” stance.  So I plan to do the same with this proviso:  all of my points are applicable to me and my role right now too!  When I say stop pretending, I’m looking in the mirror to some degree.

As we continue to work diligently at improving education for everyone at every level:

  1. Stop pretending you’re a literacy or English teacher/leader if you don’t read. We need to get in the game of being, modelling and inspiring lifelong readers.  I know and face the challenges of not enough time to read, but I cannot overstate the power of teachers reading what kids are reading.  It infuses belonging in our classrooms, it lends authenticity to our instruction and it shows you care about what kids are reading.  If you haven’t read something new this year, start with one novel. Junior and YA novels do not demand a lot of time.  Start with one you know is getting buzz in your class…and if there’s no buzz, create some!
  2. Stop pretending you’re a literacy or English teacher/leader if you don’t write. Let’s choose to be ‘assigners’ no longer.  Let’s all write with them. You learn pretty quickly how demanding or uninspiring the task is when you do it yourself in front of them.  If we’re not instilling the will to write with the skill to write, then writing is just an assignment and not an avenue for saying what I have to say.
  3. Stop pretending it’s ok that you don’t enjoy your class or your job. If you’re not enjoying their company, they’re not enjoying yours either. And neither are their peers.  (I was reminded of the kind of community we want when reading one of Michelle Cordy’s points this morning, see: There’s something to be said for elevating our responses to others to create a community of respect.
  4. Stop pretending you know when you don’t know or being someone you aren’t. This one requires that all levels, admin and supervisors and colleagues, create space for everyone to be authentic.  Recently some teachers shared with me that kids are afraid to speak in case it’s wrong. Of course, adolescents have always recoiled at being wrong or seen as different.  But, what behaviour am I modelling, what language am I using to embrace an “I’m not sure” stance?  Am I all-knowing in my class? In my staff?
  5. Stop pretending you can avoid improving and tweaking your practice. Share with your students and your colleagues what you’re working on to improve your practice.  When we attend professional learning sessions, let’s share what we learned and why we are learning.  Imagine students knowing that we are working at getting better at teaching them. Imagine sharing with colleagues that you’re working on an area of your practice to make it better.  Innovation and curiosity are contagious.  Frankly, ‘new’ is exciting, and it might just be the boost we all need to lift us to the end of this school year!

Kudos to my supervisor Sue Bruyns for pushing me in my practice and creating space to try new things.

Take a risk, make a move.