Tag Archives: writing

It’s Just Chat and SMS



Last night I saw a magnificent production of Tosca by the Australian Opera. If you had asked me in a text message what I thought of it, I would probably have responded with “great” and I might have added a thumbs up emoji.  what you would not have seen was the way my hand punctuated the air as I wrote “great”, you would not have heard the awe in my tone, the gasp that preceded my word and nor would have seen the look of admiration and delight that flooded my face as I recalled the evening.

Research suggests that when we are communicating attitudes or emotions, approximately 7% is communicated by the words and 93% by the nonverbal aspects of communication – facial expression, tone of voice, gestures and the like.

In my text response to your question about the opera, you missed 93% of the message.

It seems our youngsters are giving up on telephone conversations. They much prefer to text. They have lightning thumbs, and the messages fly back and forth at an amazing speed. These text conversations can be short or sometimes very, very long. And the longer the conversation, the more likely it is that misunderstandings, misinterpretations and false impressions will be built and expanded upon.

Why? Because every time a message is sent, 93% of it is missing! Imagine trying to read a novel or a letter with 93% of the letters missing.

In an attempt to overcome this paucity of information we insert emojis and giphs. They help a little, but not much. You send me a text letting me know you passed a very hard exam, one you had worried yourself sick about. I send back a message that says “Well done” and includes a thumbs up emoji and a heart.

But if you were here with me you would have seen the expression on my face that showed I understood your relief, one that expressed the pride I felt. And you would have known the confidence I felt in you as I gave you a bear hug of appreciation. Instead? Just a couple of words and two small symbols.

It’s a frequently used exercise in drama classes to say the word “yes” in as many ways as possible, implying as many different meanings as possible. The range is amazing. But in an SMS there is only the word. You work out the meaning for yourself, and with no nonverbal cues to help you, there is every chance you will get it wrong.

Why is this so important?

Make sure you understand the weaknesses that exist in text conversations. Save the text chat for the factual, the trivial, for what it was designed – short messages and chat. These messaging services are named as they are for good reason.

If you want to talk about something that involves the exchange of attitudes and the expression of feelings, subjects that have some depth and nuance, pick up the telephone or better still, meet for coffee.

Most importantly, make sure your children and your students understand the dangers of “Chat” and the “Short Message Service”. They will avoid so many hurt feelings, misinterpretations the misunderstandings.

If the conversation is worth having, it deserves 100% of the communication process, not just 7%.




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Filed under Behavior management, Classroom practice, digital learning, internet, parents, Teacher education, technology, Thinking

Bricklaying vs networking

How do we teach kids to read?

Many practices reflect the bricklaying model of reading. The act of reading is made up of several bricks – the phonemic awareness brick, the alphabet brick, the grapho-phonic brick, the sight words bricks, and all the other decoding bricks.
As long as each brick was laid straight and firm we were pretty confident that our kids would learn to read. We have all seen reading taught like this. “Today we are going to learn about long a”, and the teacher compiles lists of words with the long a sound, shows the children texts in which they identify the long a sound, and then they move on to short a. Another brick is being laid.

As our understanding of the brain develops and with it our understanding of learning, and more particularly our understanding of LANGUAGE learning we discover that learning to read isn’t like building a brick wall at all.

Its far more like growing a network.  social_networks2 (1)

Which brings me to my point – remember Whole Language?

Remember the people who advocated for teaching language – reading, writing, speaking, listening – in an integrated manner, relating each to the other?

Whole Language advocates never suggested we don’t need to understand phonics, they never suggested that grammar has no place in language. What they did say was language is a network and needs to be taught as one, each part integrated with every other part.

It’s not rocket science, and it’s certainly not brick laying.

Let’s look again at how kids learn best, by immersing them in the complexity and helping them make sense of it. We begin with the experience and then we help them discover the rules and procedures that enable them to make sense of the experience in a brain compatible manner.

Kids learn to read by reading just as they learn to ride bikes by getting on them and working it out.


Filed under Thinking

Where will we find the poets?

The Common Core Standards have many admirable features. I always like to look at the verbs, and I find a lot that refer to thinking. In mathematics students are asked to construct viable arguments, critique the reasoning of others, communicate precisely, make sense of problems and persevere in solving them and apply the mathematics they know to solve problems. All good. In Language Arts they will be asked to describe relationships, determine meanings, compare and contrast, cite evidence, analyze and evaluate. That’s great too.

But something is potentially lacking in the Language Arts curriculum. In Reading, students are expected to experience a variety of genres, including poetry. But in Writing the focus is firmly on writing arguments, informational and explanatory texts, and the construction of narratives. There is no mention of poetry in writing other than as a side bar that explains that the inclusion of poetry writing is entirely at the teacher’s discretion.

I understand the importance of making our students “college and career ready”, but I also believe our society is enriched and deepened by its commitment to the arts and to the aesthetic elements of our culture.  Poetry ought not to be an optional extra. From the ancient Greek poets to the beat poets, concrete poets, poets of the absurdist movement and voices of our present generation, poetry has been a reflection of the heart of humanity.

Poetry is a particularly important medium for children because its freedom and essentially inventive nature allows children to play with their language as they learn to master it and bend it to their uses. By writing poetry children learn to appreciate the music of language, the rhythms of words, the power of the pause, the brilliance of individual words and the unexpected power of particular word combinations. To deny our children the opportunity to write poetry is to deny them a vital path of effective language learning and an insight into one of the most important paths in our literate culture.

As assessments inevitably follow standards, school districts will keep their focus firmly on ensuring that students are becoming proficient in the things that will be measured. I profoundly hope that leaving poetry to the discretion of the teacher does not push to the margins.

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Filed under Language and literacy, Thinking

Pollyanna, Move Over!

It’s all about optimism. Not the ‘walking about with a mindless grin on your face’ sort of optimism. Not the Pollyanna version either. It is the kind of optimism that underlies the belief that I can probably solve this problem, and even if I don’t, I will have learned a lot along the way.

When my daughter was six she went through a tough time at school. It was no different from the kinds of problems most children face as they learn how to get along with people. Every day we would ask her about the problems she was having. And things kept getting worse.

As a circuit breaker we decided that from now on we would not greet her with questions like “Did Christy give you a hard time today?” Instead we would ask her to tell us some of the good things that had happened. Only when we had a couple of those on the table would we give her the opportunity to explore any of the problems. It worked. Gradually she began to enjoy school again and the morning grizzles disappeared.

I started thinking more about this a few years back. I was attending a couple of lectures as a wifely duty.  You know the sort of thing – it’s important to him so I must fly the spousal flag. Sitting in the lecture theatre it occurred to me that I had a choice. I could maintain my ‘bored but supportive’ stance, or I could look for something interesting. I could make a choice, and I did. There was a lot that I didn’t understand, but within that unfamiliar territory I discovered several fascinating way points. And it got me wondering.

Why do we bother? What is it that makes some people bound through life while others lurk in the shadows? Why do some kids stride forward bravely at every challenge and others stand at the back, scuffing their feet and looking at the ground? Maybe it is because they have lost their optimism, the belief that they will succeed and even if they don’t they will have enjoyed trying and will have learned some new things along the way.

As adults we can help our kids preserve their optimism. They certainly come with it into the world. No baby ever doubted he would talk, or walk, or run. Watch the determination of the toddler to climb up on the couch and you see optimism in action. Our five year olds enter school filled with optimism and eagerness to learn. When I taught a combined grade one and two I used to think I could walk into the room with large sheets of newspapers, tell them we were going to spend the next half hour tearing them up into tiny bits and they would all cheer. They were enthusiastic about everything in life, so optimistic. It’s around grade three that we start hearing them say “I can’t do that”. What goes wrong?

I think one of the things that goes wrong is that we start to focus too much on the end products of kids’ efforts, rather than on the processes. We do the same thing with adults. By doing this we create too many failures. Too much failure makes us into pessimists.

I am trying hard to be an artist. Not all my paintings work. Sometimes the best thing I can do with a finished work is to paint over it with white paint and start a new one. What was that painting? A failure? If that’s the case then I ought to put away my brushes because I have a lot of ‘failures’. But I learned so much about composition, about mixing colors and about what not to do next time. So the end product may not have been a success but the process certainly was. I learned stuff and kept my optimism intact.

A class of seven year olds has just had a spelling lesson that focuses on the spelling pattern ‘ph’. They have made lists of ‘ph’ words, and looked for ‘ph’ words in their reading. At the end of the week there is a spelling test and one little girl spells the word like this: ellephant. The teacher marks it incorrect and the tally of failures for the week goes up by one for that child. If mention had been made of the correct initial letter, the correct number of syllables, the correct terminal letter and the correct use of the ‘ph’ she would have had a 4:1 ratio of successes over failures and come out way ahead. Optimism preserved!

If we want our kids to become skilled thinkers, to exercise the Habits of Mind that characterize successful people,  we need to ensure they remain optimistic thinkers who believe that they will gain as much from the acts of thinking and trying as they will from the end product.


Filed under Behavior management, Language and literacy, Thinking

Why would we expect our children to become skilled at something if they never see a skilled practitioner doing it?

I have spent the last several years of my educational life as an administrator and a consultant. But I remember with considerable clarity my time as the teacher of a combined grade 1 and 2. I was determined to make every one of my students literate,  numerate and able to think as effectively as possible.

I read to them a lot. They read every day and in every spare moment. They also wrote a lot. But it dawned on me that they saw plenty of adults around them reading, but they hardly ever saw any adults writing in the extended, creative and thoughtful manner I was trying to develop in them. Children learn to talk by being immersed in language and striving to join in with the communicating buzz that envelopes them. They learn best to read when they see the adults doing it, when their drive for mastery and independence insists they become able to do it for themselves. How do they become writers if they never see it modeled? I decided  to do something about this.

At the beginning of the next writing period I told my six and seven year olds that I didn’t see why they should have all the fun, that I was going to write too and that I didn’t expect them to bother me. I took a large pad of chart paper to the floor and sat down in front of it, felt tipped pen in hand. Our routines were pretty well established by now, so the kids were all sitting at their tables or sprawled on the floor. Some were drawing and labeling, others  were writing their own often almost indecipherable sentences and some were putting together pretty well formed paragraphs. I had taught them what to do when they got stuck – ‘ask three before me’, check the words on the walls, go to a book and look and just ‘have a go’. They were becoming increasingly independent during this first drafting stage.

But when I started thinking out loud and writing they became curious. They heard me say things like, “Right, what will I write about?” “What is my first sentence going to be?” “That’s a boring word.” “Oh dear. I’ve already used that word. What else can I use?” “Hmmm. How many syllables? What’s the first syllable?” and so on.

One child asked “What are you doing?” and I replied “Shhh. Don’t distract me. I’m thinking.” Another wandered up to me and asked me how to spell a word. I feigned impatience and pointed wordlessly at the chart on the wall that listed what to do when you are stuck on a word, and kept on writing. A little later I sighed dramatically, scribbled through some of what I had written, muttering in a stage whisper “well that sounds just plain silly” and rewrote. I got up, went up to a word chart of adjectives, ran my finger down the list, said “yes!” enthusiastically and then went back to my writing and used the word in the sentence. Every now and then I took a surreptitious look around the room. The curiosity had gradually abated and almost everyone was industriously focused on their own work again. When the bell rang for play time, I exclaimed. “Oh, no. I was just getting in to it. Do you think we could do some more writing after play?” The kids looked at each other, a bit bemused that I was asking their permission, but enthusiastically said “yes”.

We moved together that week from first drafting, to editing to publishing of our stories and reading them to one another. From time to time I would have a parent in the room to help with the process. I still have my little published book “The Day the Teacher Sneezed”. This opportunity for my children to see how it is done provided the boost in their writing that was needed. They had the opportunity to see what the practice of writing actually looks like. In particular they saw the intimate link between thinking and the act of writing. Why would we expect our children to become skilled at something if they never see a skilled practitioner doing it?

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Filed under Language and literacy, Thinking