May 11th, 2016

Pro-D days sometimes have ripple effects. My VP, Harley Rollins, awesome human being by the way, told me about a session he attended which might be pertinent to my Grade Seven class next year: Morning Meetings. OK, the title is a bit inauspicious, but it represents a major shift, a shift in thinking that springs from primary inquiry and reggio provocations and crosses with the intermediate program and critical thinking. I will publish Brawnwyn’s slides with her permission, provide a link or contact info. TBA.

First, a provocation is set out in the morning. Wow. What a major pain in the you-know-where. Do I really need to ‘set up the scene’ in the morning? Do I need to set up props? This looks like play. Give me a break. Can’t students just come in and adapt to a “self-regulated routine,” in other words DIY? DIY is not a bad thing, not even a lazy thing. DIY is necessary for survival in the intermediate grades. Students should be increasingly autonomous and increasingly responsible for materials management. Teachers continue to expend effort but they do not duplicate what students can and should do. Good teaching can have many iterations. The ‘provocation’ is an invitation, a special gesture, a thinking tool. As intermediate teachers, we sometimes rush to the critical thinking/important questions too soon and skip the incubation period that good ideas and inspiration require. Then we wonder why it’s the same students over and over who have epiphanies. Are they just the chosen few or did we forget to reach the others? Do they not need an incubation period or are they secretly incubating elsewhere? If we skip that soft introductory phase, it may be by-passing a critical bridge that many students need to get to the other side. Without the introductory phase, they might get stuck and not be able to cross. Provocations (provocative questions) with manipulatives (to build connections/bridges) can make learning accessible to more students.

Second, a sharing circle happens. This happens only a few minutes later. Whether or not students engaged in the warm up activity, all are welcome to share in the discussion based on the focus question and all are required to listen in. The focus question might have personal relevance and then lead into content areas.

Third, students might engage in a written reflection.

May 2nd, 2016

A thoughtful group of educators shared their thinking today at our district pro-d day through focussed conversations and a keynote presentation. Here are some thoughts that were shared about inquiry in a brainstorm today:

Inquiry in the classroom might look like:

  • asking questions that lead to more questions
  • accepting ambiguity and not having all of the answers
  • organized chaos
  • taking time to develop rich questions and readiness to inquire
  • unknown destination
  • teacher defining parameters: from too tight to too loose to degrees in between
  • kids shifting their view of what learning is

Leyton Schnellert was our keynote speaker. He talked about three models of pedagogy:

  1. transmission: You are an empty vessel which I must now fill.
  2. generative
  3. transformative

The revised B.C. curriculum seeks to adopt a transformative pedagogy. According to Leyton (my apologies if I get the wording wrong):

  • Learning is connected to place and people, here, now and before.
  • Social Responsibility is no longer optional. We cannot relegate SR to a box. We are all responsible for nurturing human flourishing.

But back to inquiry … Inquiry, practically, can take many forms. It can be open ended project-based learning. It can be problem based learning where the problem is defined. It can be open ended such as Learning Through Design, eg. Maker Days. Inquiry still requires mini lessons and ‘common conceptual explorations.’

These are a few highlights of what I learned from my colleagues and Leyton today. I will be referring back to this post in the future as I reflect on how my practice fits into these frameworks. In the meanwhile, what a great day of learning. Go forward with courage! 

March 22, 2016

I heard an incredible interview this morning on the Current with a family, including their son who has Down Syndrome. This really challenged my perceptions on living with Down Syndrome. Inspirational!

March 16, 2016

North Americans might be less familiar with Europe’s annual international song contest, Eurovision. I love this year’s entry by France. A great message: dare to be yourself and accept differences.

You can appreciate it whether or not you speak French. Enjoy! 

March 11, 2016

Spring Break is a great time to re-charge, to assess how things are going in class and to consider what I need to change or improve in the third term. In the past few years, my tentative forays into the world of iPads have felt superficial and unnecessary. So I’m thinking about iPad features that could improve the quality of learning and documentation in class.

  1. Camera – What can we capture in still photos that we miss when we are going about our busy daily lives? Photos are like a ‘pause’ button so we can stop and reflect.
  2. Audio recording – so that I can listen to samples of student speech without interruption by the usual hustle and bustle of the classroom.
  3. Show Me – Using this app to combine still photos that can be marked up with audio explanations.

And finally, a blog feature I discovered lately that has huge appeal to me is Project 365, a photo project where photos and captions are uploaded daily. Photos for the sake of photos is too open ended for me. I’m still working on how to have a specific focus and purpose for the photos in such a project. I love the ideas of language rich captions that are paired with meaning laden stills.

I discovered Project 365 via Linda Yollis’ inspirational blog:

March 6, 2016

“Fiona is my namesake and friend. A friend since age 13 when we cycled into goodness knows what situations and for miles and miles and miles. She has never abandoned me even with an ocean and 5000 miles in between. So therefore I will contribute to this article just to say from me; Fiona my friend I wish you miles and miles and miles of freedom and may your pedals go around the world and give you a lot of happiness just as they did when we were cycling around the country roads in 1969 (children of the sixties wow ! a great era). You deserve it. Peace and Love.

Fiona Campbell Watson. (nee Crocket). a pal in Scotland UK.”

March 5, 2016

Fiona MacNicol is retiring after 31 years with the Richmond School District. Her retirement party last night had the room buzzing about her legacy. With pride, her former Student Teachers were saying, “I was one of the lucky ones.” Indeed, to have spent three months of practicum inside her intentional, play based, literacy rich classroom has set many a new French immersion teacher off to a great start in their career.

When I came to Dixon Elementary, Fiona introduced me to educational thinkers such as Vygotsky, Nel Noddings and Leyton Schnellert. But it wasn’t just about name dropping. References to these people’s ideas were always embedded questions. Fiona embodies inquiry and curiosity. She is always thinking, wondering, questioning. (And then she speaks truth to power, which rattles some!)

The emcee wore a kilt (you killed it, Lee), a nod to Fiona’s Scottish heritage which made me think about another crucial part of Fiona’s legacy. Fiona pays attention to questions of identity: cultural heritage, learning style, preferences, likes, dislikes. She sees children as individuals, not widgets, and she has had enough flexibility in the structure of her teaching to allow children to flourish, to feel good about themselves, to express themselves, to move about the room, to play, in short, both to be (in the moment) and to develop a sense of their future selves.

While all of this may sound like a bath of warm feelings, let me point out another truth about Fiona. She is an intellectual giant. She is smiley and huggy but she knows what she is talking about. Play is serious business. Learning is serious business. Why does she run her classroom in this particular way? She can quote you the research her practice is based on. And beware, she might convert you.

We party attendees were standing around yesterday reflecting on Fiona’s legacy and trying to process the immensity of the impact she has had on us. But true to her style, Fiona doesn’t stand still for long. She is always moving forward in her life. We’ll miss her. We love her. And she has invited all of us to come visit her in her new homes in the Okanagan and Mexico. And when we show up, she will be genuinely pleased to see us.

I wish you well, Fiona. À la prochaine.

February 27, 2016

I am in love with the Reggio inspired loose parts story telling that I’ve seen going on in primary classes lately. Time to try it out in my Grade Six classroom. I’ve collected some materials and placed them in glass jars on our window sill: buttons, smooth rocks, ribbon, feathers and more.

This week I told the loose story (excuse the pun) of our Canadian federal government. I took a large piece of grey felt to represent Canada. I used buttons to represent MPs elected across the country who travel from their constituency to Ottawa to sit in the House of Commons (piece of green felt) and back again. A piece of red felt was also placed beside the green one for the Senate. I used a very sparkly button for the Queen’s representative, our Governor General. A white ribbon represented the Rideau Canal (why not). The class was extremely attentive to the story telling and were surprised by how much travelling the buttons do.

Next week, it will their turn to tell me about their country’s government and to tell the story using loose parts.

February 21, 2016

I look forward to Pro-D days and I dread them at the same time. This is why: they require a mental and emotional investment that I’m not always sure I have to give. This Friday morning, Pro-D Day, I woke up “d’une humeur massacrante” (ie. in a bad mood) in spite of the fact that I’m a morning person and usual quite jovial early in the day. Would the day be worth it? Would the buffet that was offered to me be up-to-scratch? Would it be worth attending? (Never mind the fact that it is my job to attend!)

A colleague of mine told me the day before (because my negative mindset had already formed the day before and I articulated it to him) that “not to worry, just sit with growth-mindset colleagues and it will be a great day.” To a very large degree this is true. (One can sit with growth mindset colleagues and regardless of the PD offerings, one can have a rich day of learning and reflection.) In spite of my attitude, the keynote and the break-out sessions I attended were outstanding and in this blog post, I’d like to share some ideas from the keynote that really resonated with me.

Silent Reading/Noisy Reading – Ah that time after lunch when kids are free to choose a book of their choice and should spend many, high quality minutes with their ‘eyes on the page’ engaged in a super high quality activity, reading. When I started my career, I was advised to read during this time – you must model reading. No problem. I love to do this.

But what about the kids who love to avoid reading because they just want time to pass? They need a check in. They need a focus. They need accountability.

What prompts can we use to give a focus:

– “In a few minutes, I will ask you to read me sentences out loud and to tell me why they are important”

– “In a few minutes, I will ask you to describe the plot line to me…”

– “In a few minutes, I will ask you to describe the setting to me and to read me a sentence that describes the setting.”

Reader, I have the following questions for you (please answer in the comments):

1. Do you offer Pro-D, ie. give workshops? If so, what do you notice about the mindset of attendees? What are the greatest ‘atouts’ ie. positive qualities of attendees? What hinders learning the most?

2. In your class, what does silent reading look like? “Eyes on the page” minutes are precious. How do you make those minutes count? What can “accountability” look like?

I have many more questions but I’d love to hear answers from whoever in the blogosphere is reading this. (A conversation is like a tennis game, we both keep having to hit the ball to keep the convo going. A blog can sometimes be like a ball machine, but preferably not.)

February 7, 2016

Comme c’est le Nouvel An chinois, il faut en profiter pour mettre l’accent sur le subjonctif! Voici des voeux à afficher, à employer, bref, à exploiter en tout moment au cours de cette période de festivités:

Que la joie et le bonheur vous entourent aujourd’hui et pour toujours.

Que tous vos voeux se réalisent.

Soyez heureux et prospère.

Que la Nouvelle année vous apporte la joie, l’amour et la paix.

Que les trésors emplissent votre foyer.

Que vos affaires prospèrent.

Que l’argent et les trésors soient abondants.

Que le pays prospère et que les gens vivent en paix.

Par la suite, les élèves peuvent écrire leurs propres voeux du Nouvel An chinois en employant une structure semblable.

February 4, 2016

British Columbia’s revised curriculum includes more aboriginal content than before. Until now, the 10,000 years of First People’s history has barely been a blip on our educational radar in this province. It has not been completely absent, but it is now front and centre.

In the conversations of the last few weeks, one phrase has been quoted a lot, “If not here, then where?” If we, here in Richmond, B.C. don’t know about our local history and teach it, it will not be taught anywhere. This is why we must know and teach our local history.

Here is a link the powerpoint that was created by our school district and shared at last Friday’s curriculum implementation day: First People’s Principles of Learning.<– click to view

January 31, 2016

I love to punctuate the flow of a lesson with the following one minute activities.

1. Des billets de conversation/Conversation starters: Hand out slips of paper or write a sentence starter on the board. This prompt starts off the conversation. Designate talking partners as A and B and tell them who should start the conversation. Alternate between A and B partners. Example, “Ce weekend, je suis allé(e) …”  or “A polygon is …” Repeat this several times with different sentence starters or do it just once. But don’t reveal what future sentence starters will be or you will overload working memory. Let students focus on one thing at a time!

2. Un Billet de sortie/Ticket Out the Door: An oldie but a goodie. What was one big idea you learned today? Write it on a Post It note and hand it in as you exit. The teacher stands at the exit so that this step cannot be skipped. A ticket out the door can also be a verbal answer to a question.

3. Un Tour de l’école/A Lap of the School: Sometimes students have worked really hard and their brains need a little rest. How about one lap around the school where no talking about school is allowed? Upon our return, we will hopefully feel re-energized. (It is also a chance to quickly re-arrange the room or hand out materials for the next activity.)

Why? According to research (I’m going to have to go back through my resources to look for the proper citation), if a university lecture is paused every ten minutes so that students can verbally summarize important ideas to a partner for two minutes, the retention of content doubles. As for Number Three, taking a minute or two out of the day to socialize and re-energize meets our socio-emotional needs, n’est-ce pas?

January 30, 2016


I’m so excited that you dropped by for a visit. Should you choose to poke around this website, you will find:

– blog posts on educational topics

– French book recommendations

– links, resources and more

I promise to update this blog daily whenever the time and inspiration to write converge.

A+ (no, I’m not giving you an A+, this is French for ‘see you later’ akin to CUltr and is short for “à plus tard”)

Mme Veilleux