Creative Writing, Literacy

Captain’s Log: Week One

We had a great first shift with our creative writing group from Kerry’s Place Autism Services. My partner, Harry Posner, and I had the privilege of meeting five very talented young girls, each with their own unique talents and interests. One girl admitted that she liked “to draw pink hearts, black hearts and broken hearts.” Another girl couldn’t get enough of her grandfather’s homemade English crumpets.

The theme of our workshop is space exploration. Our goal is to find a place where we can make a new start, to take some of the things we have learned in our lives and apply them to a new planet, a new home. By the end, we’ll take what we learned and share it with others.

Admittedly, getting the kids to focus was a bit struggle. You could tell that they were with us, but not fully. When they did settle, they participated and enjoyed writing about friends, high school and food. They wrote goodbye letters and told us what they would miss and what they couldn’t wait to get away from. They wrote about simple things, and abstract things. We asked them: “What does home taste like? What does home feel like? If you’re home could say something what would it say?” Most shared, and those that didn’t looked to be getting a little closer to sharing.

The kids brought plenty of energy to this afternoon’s meet. I was exhausted when I first walked in; I was ‘over the moon’ when I left.

I look forward to hearing from them all next week.


Education, Literacy, Teaching

How to Find Out What’s Really Happening in Schools

  1. If you want to know just how serious your child’s school takes literacy, don’t use the province wide test as a marker- visit the school’s library.
  2. If you want to know how your child’s school values their health, visit the school cafeteria.
  3. If you want to know just how serious your child’s school values their ability to think, ask them how many multiple choice questions made up their final exam.
  4. If you want to see how your child is really doing in math, give them the grocery money and let them do the shopping. NOTE: They can’t spend a penny more or less. They are not allowed to use a calculator.
  5. If you want to see if your child’s school values differentiated instruction, ask them about their most recent assignment and how it was different from the last one that they handed in.
  6. If you want to see if your child really is information literate, ask them to search for something without using Google.
  7. If you want to see if your child cheats on assignments for school, ask them to write their next essay, in front of you, without using a computer.
  8. If you want to see how serious your child’s school values history, social justice and empathy, visit in February and ask about what’s scheduled for Black History Month. 
  9. If you want to know how safe your child’s school is don’t just ask the Principal – speak to the social worker, youth worker and the custodian.
  10. If you want to see if your child is learning anything at school, don’t look at their report cards- just ask them.
  11. If you really want to see if your child is prepared for the future, take a look at how much the education system has changed since you were in school.
  12. If you want your child to succeed, don’t put your failures in life on them. Let them choose their path; choice is everything (unless, of course, it comes in the form of a multiple choice question). 
Books, Literacy

Friends with Benefits- Reasons Why Books Make Good Friends

My wife wishes I was more social. I don’t go out much, and I’m not always keen when my wife suggests we have people over. My wife has plenty of friends and enjoys their time and company. When I tell her that she has too many friends, she tells me that there is no such thing as too many friends.

I have friends; I may not have many of them, but the ones I do have are the best friends anybody could ask for. My three best friends live thousands of miles away from me (Australia; British Columbia; London, England). We don’t see one another often, but we make up for it in emails, texts, talks on the phone, Skype sessions and with our thoughts. We visit one another when we can, and when we do it always feels just right.

The most immediate friends I do have, the ones I can visit whenever I feel like, the ones I can count on in a tough bind, the ones that are always within reach- are my books. Over the past little while I have realized (not sure what took me so long) that I spend more time with books than I do people.

Now, you might think that by spending so much time alone (because most reading is done alone), that I might be lacking in all the good things that comes with being around people and friends. I thought about this and came to some conclusions as to why books make such good friends:

Reading a book is like having a really good conversation. When you read, a conversation is taking place between the writer of the book and the reader. The difference between conversing with a person and conversing with a book is that with a book you can pretty much guarantee that at least one of the parties has thought alot about what they are saying.

A book makes a good friend because a book will never overstay its welcome.

Books make great travel partners.

A book won’t judge me too harshly.

There is a certain level of intimacy when reading a book. You can lay down with it, hold it in your lap, and bring it to bed with you without it ever getting really, really, really awkward.

Unlike some people, some books (fiction in particular) can’t lie.

The pages of an open book are like two arms waiting for a hug.

Good books keep me grounded, humble.

Books make good friends because when you need them you know where you can find them (under the bed, in my bag, on my desk, in the kitchen, out in the garage, in my car, in the bathroom, on my phone, on the nightstand, on the stairs, behind the bar, on the floor).

Books protect me; books rock my world.

My books, like the best of friends, leave me with something after we have spent time together- something to think about.

My wife keeps telling me I have too many books. When she says this I just roll my eyes and tell her that there is no such thing as having too many friends.

Education, Literacy

First Books

The other day I was a volunteer at a high-needs elementary school, a school located in a much different neighborhood than the one I teach at. You see, I teach at a high school that has a Smartboard, computer and television in EVERY classroom; where some kids are dropped off in a Mercedes and picked up in a Land Rover. When I walk into my school  I walk into an ocean of light; the matrix has a wall with floor to ceiling windows that looks out into conservation space. In the summer we see deer going for a stroll; in the winter we look out at scenery worthy of a Robert Bateman painting or Freeman Patterson photograph.

The school I visited the other day was nothing like my school. It was surrounded by a chain link fence; in the place of trees and green space stood apartment buildings as grey as my mother’s weekday roast. Inside, the halls were poorly lit and the paint was well-worn. When I walked into the library I was overcome with a feeling of sadness. The computers looked more like a puzzle where the pieces didn’t quite fit; the books on the shelves looked too tired, defeated, bereft of life.

It was a small school with just over 350 kids (pre-kindergarten to grade five). I was there with First Book Canada, a non-profit organization that looks to get   new books to children that might not otherwise have access to them. A half hour into our visit, we were called into the gymnasium for a school wide assembly.

The entire school had gathered.The kids sat on the floor, the teachers on benches. The volunteers and dignitaries sat upfront, while the press took pictures off to the side. There was a buzz in the gymnasium. The kids were excited. Some of them were too excited. The VP  had to periodically walk through  the crowd point at a specific kid, whisper their name (she seemed to know them all) and put her finger up to her lips. After the usual pleasantries, accolades and speeches the assembly came to an end.

A few kids from each class stayed behind to help carry the books into the classrooms. I was assigned to a grade five class. The book that was selected for them was John Grisham’s Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer. When we got into the class we distributed the books. The kids could barely contain their excitement As a high school Teacher-Librarian it was nice to see kids excited about books. Once the class was settled, I read (more like,  performed) half of chapter one. It was wonderful to be reading to them, to see them with their faces buried in the pages of a book, asking questions and begging me to continue. But sadly for me, it was time to go. We took a class picture and said goodbye (but not before I had the class promise me that they would continue with the book on their own).

Upon exiting the parking lot, the school looked a little different. It had a little more color, a little more life. I couldn’t get some of the kids faces out of my minds. Their smiles were flashing in my mind like spots that appear after looking directly into the sun. They had certainly brightened up my day.

On the way to back to my school, driving through the rolling hills and lush green space, I could not stop thinking about the kids and their brand new books. I know I was making assumptions about their lives based on what I was seeing for such a short time. But I’ve been teaching long enough to know that these kids were experiencing things that I had only read about or heard on the news. They lived in a different city, belonged to a different school board. But if my students were to visit, they would have felt as if they were visiting a different planet.

Back at my school,  I made a pledge to commit more of my time to getting books to kids who may not have access to books at home, or even at school. They need books; we need books. Books help level the playing field because books don’t discriminate. As I walked back into my library I couldn’t help but feel that those kids had made my life all the more richer. Only it didn’t make me all that happy. It wasn’t me that needed more, it was them.

Click on the First Book Canada link above and help get books to kids in need.