Leaping with no net: autism for teens in Ontario

Last Thursday night, I attended a 2 hour session for parents of autistic children, run by one of our local support providers, Kerry’s Place, titled: Planning for Transition to Adulthood. Our son is 14, in grade 9, and as the presenters said, “it’s an optimal time to start planning.”  The room was set up poorly with yucky flourescent lighting, a variety of chairs, and some flip up tables.  Bottled water, and chocolate chip cookies were offered but most people had brought their Tim’s.  The projector was mounted in a way that made the size of the screen about 36 x24, and a ream of handouts were given to us.

Screen Shot 2019-03-25 at 9.06.41 PMSo when I say “our local”, I mean that Kerry’s Place is one of really 2 providers that can offer my family anything as we live in Elora, Ontario.  It hasn’t always been this way.  [insert a brief history on Autism funding changes in Ontario since diagnosis.]  Our son was diagnosed when he was in grade 2, at the age of 7.  It was a long time coming, and we did it privately, structuring the payments for the required psycho-educational assessment over two calendar years.  At the time, he was diagnosed with PDD-NOS which stands for Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not otherwise specified).  Then the definition of autism changed (around 2013) and the amount of funding for autism didn’t increase, but the umbrella that we were all standing under got a little smaller.  That’s not quite the right analogy…we were hopeful that with an all-encompassing definition that support for autism would be more generalized but more plentiful.  But really what everyone needs is a different umbrella, after all if you’ve met one person with autism….you’ve met one person with autism.

colorful-colourful-creative-100671.jpg

Services at this time became more centralized….and that means focused on cities.  I get it, I really do, it’s a numbers game.  But at the same time, specialized groups in schools, or local camps for students, started to evaporate.  It’s a really old, really hard-to-win argument….should we integrate or should we offer specialized programming?  Our board, for example, has tried to make each school able to support its local students with autistic needs.  Yet, the hubs in the schools for autistic students have disappeared.

Right now, our family has been on the waiting list for 2 1/2 years for ABA treatment.  He has received two sessions since his diagnosis, and his spectrum traits are not severe at all. We compensate by trying to find awesome, autism-supporting groups in the community where he can be himself, and get some social experience.  But the needs are still there.  Needs like finding others like himself.  He says “Being with people who are not on the spectrum, is like eating toast without the butter.” That’s a direct quote.  I feel like I’m always telling my son who he could be, and he needs opportunities to develop his own identity and to recognize his strengths for advocacy, for education, for employment.

Thursday’s workshop was quite intimidating.  As our son moves from 14 to 18, the programming becomes further away from us geographically.  We’ll need to think about education, transportation, legal rights to care/intervention, housing, all the things you normally need to think about preparing for an empty nest….except I’ll always be thinking: will he survive or thrive in this environment?  Having local, continuous support, will be one of those key pieces that make the difference.  We learned in our workshop about critical funding supports for each of these that will require hours of preparation and planning, priming and probably panic for each of our children to be the best version of them as adults.

41378817_10155425167790356_6047983898946699264_o

With the proposed changes to autism funding, to both communities and the absorption by our publicly-funded schools, we are facing dire consequences.  You see, the programs and funding for children with autism are already lacking if not non-existent, especially in Centre Wellington, so cuts will just mean impossible situations for families.

This summer, I am reaching a little further for a suitable summer camp as our local one has been cancelled…again.  The camp I’m looking at looks absolutely fantastic, with a 1:3 ratio of counsellors to campers, but the cost, even for a double-income family like ours, might be prohibitive.  I called our local office of Child and Family Services to inquire about funding maybe in a loophole under ‘child care’ or ‘support services’, and it doesn’t exist.  The camp itself gave me a list of charities that might help with funding and I will diligently go through them one by one asking, explaining, and hoping.  But can you imagine if I wasn’t a persistent, educated parent or if my son’s needs were greater or if I had more than one child with special needs or if I couldn’t drive let alone summon the courage to write all those emails? With each variable, the severity of this lack of funding is compounded.  There were people at our meeting who had driven for 2 hours to be there….it’s offered in a central area, once a year.  Can you imagine the vast array of reasons that might make the parent of an autistic child unable to attend that meeting?

Post script: I have to recommend that you read the book: Neurotribes by author Steve Silberman http://stevesilberman.com/book/neurotribes/— It’s available by audiobook as well as in print, and if, like me, you do a lot of travelling, then the audiobook is very digestible.  I’ve never read a more complete book on autism and the challenges that society faces going forward than in this book.

Looking back on my PD journey in 2018 in #OntEd

Waking up to more cutbacks in #ontEd funding is never fun.  So I decided to look at the data.  This post is all about the different ways I developed professionally in 2018.  There were so many great happenings around the province this year.  It never ceases me to amaze me the passion that Ontario educators have for generating their own professional development, voluntarily with a little help from organizations to cover classrooms, and provide accommodation and transportation.  In an effort to be radically transparent, I’m going to try to use these hashtags so you can see where the funding comes for me to be able to participate in these events:

#self-funded = one way or another I usually provide transportation, accommodation, registration, resources for myself in order to be able to attend.  I need idealistic people in my life in order to take the creative risks that I do so for me, it’s worth it.  #babyI’mworthit

#OLA = Ontario Library Association, I have volunteered for the Ontario School Library Association (my school library subject association) for 5 years now.

#UGDSB = The Upper Grand District School Board does backflips to try to make sure that its staff are well-supported.  I love working here.  As a weirdo school-librarian, eLearning teacher I have lots of strangely specific needs for PD and UGDSB always helps me somehow.

#OTF = Ontario Teachers’ Federation is invaluable as a resource for professional development.

#OSSTF = Ontario Secondary Schools’ Teachers’ Federation is the union representing many education sectors in Ontario including teachers.  They have started to really recognize their value as providers of professional development in a new, reinvigorated way.  I like this direction a lot!

Of course we have to start with the incomparable work done by the Ontario Library Association’s Superconference in January 2019.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to volunteer as OSLA’s co-planner for 2018 with Jess Longthorne and again in 2019 with Diana Maliszewski.  Having an elementary expert alongside my deviant secondary brain has made a marvellous madness of Superconference elements.  There’s something for everyone.  I’m really really looking forward to our line up of outstanding school library speakers, our inaugural OLA Sandbox of makers and maker strategies, and our OSLA Spotlight speaker Chelsea Klukas. #OLA

My board UGDSB Applied Strategy workshops with Sandra Herbst involved 4 release days to work with consultants and the incomparable SH to appeal to our applied-level students through strategies on the triangulation of assessment.  Having this time to hyperfocus helped my school create valuable tools and shifts in thinking towards using conversation and observation more effectively each teaching day. #UGDSB

I completed a webinar series from Edugains and Brian Weishar on inference with my colleagues in the UGDSB. It was so rich and so informative that it has immediately become part of my teaching practice both in the classroom and as part of my school library program.  Brian must spend hours making these webinars as they are hugely interactive and use all sorts of critical thinking activities.  I can’t find the webinars anywhere on the Edugains website, but there are some inference resources.  Better yet: here’s Brian’s blog. #self-funded I was able to take some of these great ideas and share them with UGDSB’s literacy leaders because our own UGDSB optimist Sandy Kritzer believes in me. #UGDSB

I have to let you know that there is this secret underground lair where professional development is happening called VoicEd Canada and it is awesome.  My guru who lead me here is Stephen Hurley and although he does a lot of the work, he is joined by amazing educators across the country!  There’s always something going on and their podcasts are archived.  Hello!  Archive your stuff people so we can use it later!! #self-funded

FOLD
FOLD publishes a regular list for diverse Canadian reading.

Where do you get the best reading lists in Ontario?  From Amnesty International Canada’s bookshelf and from the Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD).  If I’m marking something to read that’s relevant to me both as a human and as a teacher in an Ontario secondary school, it probably comes from one of these two sources.

The first shoutout to the Ontario Teachers’ Federation for their series of webinars called OTF Connects.  I have participated in numerous webinars but the quality of the content in these is generally wonderful.  I even tried one myself!  Big thanks to Trish Morgan for keeping this resource alive for Ontario educators. #OTF

union
The important work of unions.

My own union OSSTF has done some remarkable re-engagement work for its members this year.  As someone who has served on my branch’s executive every year since 2000, this important work needs to be supported, and I really appreciate the way that District 18 has held  rejuvenating local workshops for its members.  #OSSTF

PD Todd Pottle
Todd Pottle visits elearning teachers at UGDSB

As an elearning teacher in the UGDSB, I am really well taken care of.  Sean Hamilton and Pam Eurig recognize that we are doing ground-breaking work to make online learning a viable and dynamic experience for students.  They even convinced the fabulous Todd Pottle to visit Guelph one day.  able supported to attend both the CONNECT conference and the BOLTT conference each year.  Both conferences offer different foci for different audiences.  ELearning is best supported at BOLTT but CONNECT’s work is better-grounded in the research. #UGDSB #self-funded

I’m still fondly remembering the work done by the Ontario Teachers’ Federation on their 2 day Wellness conference in the spring.  I learned a lot about self-preservation, balance and remembering that every interaction with students can make a difference in their mental health.  Highlights: dancing my understanding of support networks with Leigha Turner and Jenn Coleman #OTF

Eden
Asking Eden Robinson a question!

I am thrilled by the success of our ODSS staff summer book club reading Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster. UGDSB’s own Colinda Clyne has been very gracious in provoking and promoting FNMI voices and she provided us with many many books this year. She even visited one of our meetings and brought cookies.  #rockstar  It was so successful that we also co-read Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers.  I have hopes that this will continue in 2019, possibly starting with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, who visits Brampton’s Rose Theatre in February 2019. #UGDSB #self-funded

This is the 3rd year that I have presented at the Ontario Teachers’ Federation Pedagogy B4 Technology conference, in Markham, Ontario  and I thrilled to do it.  This conference’s focus on the practice of teaching with the use of technological tools is just right for it’s length, breadth and optimism!  I look forward to it because the questions and the speakers really motivate me to focus inwards on my own educational values, and I return to my school feeling rejuvenated and ready for action. #OTF

PD Mindomo
Tina Ginglo’s course inspired this Mindomo reflection.

I was so motivated and enthused by the idea that I was stepping back into the classroom again as the new creative writing teacher at ODSS, that I INSANELY signed up to take Tina Ginglo‘s Writing Part 1 AQ through York University.  I’m only insane because of the time commitment not because the course isn’t AWESOME.  And this awesomeness is what got me through because as a veteran teacher of 21 years, I STILL learned something and was thrilled to have time to focus on my teaching practice of writing itself, to gather new resources, and to develop really practical tools for teaching writing.  Thank you Tina! #self-funded

I have admired the work of ECOO for years and they have propelled me into being that person at school that people rely on for innovation and technical support.  Imagine a world where self-professed geeks and nerds want to show you their cool stuff for 3 days and you have, what is now known as the, Bring IT Together conference. My favourite day is the first one, where you get to hyperfocus on hands-on learning in workshops that are 1/2 day.  This year I chose to work on 2 topics: gamification using BreakoutEDU and computational thinking through knitting.  I learned so much from Kim Gill and Lisa Noble and I am still working on these ideas.   I usually apply to present so that my registration is subsidized but this is harder to do each year without additional support.  #self-funded #UGDSB

What’s next in 2019?  We’ll see.  I know, as well as you do, that we’re entering leaner times.  I wanted to write this post to remind myself as well as you that there are many many opportunities for PD.  Just because we can’t always get together face-to-face doesn’t mean that we can’t learn.

All the best for a happy new year of professional development.

 

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

Son of a TricksterSon of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A set of this book was generously purchased for our school by our First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI)consultant at the board office. 5 pages into it many of our teachers were too scared to teach it and put it down. Boldly daring to say “You can’t scare me!” Eden Robinson, I read the whole thing ….you know, with my ‘I love reading anything fantasy’ brain, not with my ‘I run a secondary school library and must consider my sensitive audience’ brain. And I loved it! Would I teach it to a whole class at once? No. But we summoned our courage to offer it as a selection to senior level English classes in a literature circle format, and it was chosen, read and students loved it.

And who wouldn’t? There’s a healthy amount of crass language, for sure, but that shouldn’t keep readers away from Robinson’s rich characters and the trouble that Jared encounters.

As an FNMI choice, Robinson introduces us to some Heiltsuk beliefs but not in an instructional way. I mean, I feel enticed to know more about the culture but not in a way that is pedantic or alienating. As a reader, I’ve been invited to participate in an immersive cultural experience set in modern day but with timeless implications for these stories. I think this approach will also be appealing to readers.

After hearing Robinson speak this month in Oakville, I hope she would be happy to learn that this book doesn’t belong in an FNMI canon of literature but instead as part of a canon of great writing. As someone who enjoys fantasy fiction, who is open to new ideas, cultures and language, and as someone who certainly wants to understand truth and be part of reconciliation, I highly recommend this book.

View all my reviews

Put all your money down on literacy intervention

After reading Reading and Writing: The Golden Ticket, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my role as both teacher-librarian and Literacy Lead in my job.  The article is very stimulating if you’ve got a minute.

I really felt motivated by the article from the Globe and Mail, and although I know this course is about writing, my current passion for helping students in my school become proficient on the OSSLT, is to focus on their reading.  Very often we put our attention on the output, writing, but the really tricky part for secondary teachers in particular, is to focus on reading, or the input of language ideas.

 I’m the Literacy Lead in my school and this is a fairly new role for me in that I’m taking this lead position for the 2nd year..  What that looks like is that I’m designing the literacy interventions that we’re going to make happen for our grade 9s and 10s this year.  We know that we’re hitting a fairly consistent 81% success rate with our test results (above board and province average) but this doesn’t seem to make a difference for the other 19%.

19%.  19%.  19% .

I say that over and over again because that’s nearly 1 in 5 of our students.  The administration seems to only be concerned with looking good on paper and we’re 1 of 3 schools in our board who raised a % in our success rate.  The rest is up to me to make happen.

We have an early intervention course, similar to what is described in the article that is run in grade 9 who are deemed at-risk by their grade 8 teachers. Unfortunately this course is often taught by brand new teachers or teachers who lack the commitment to the continuity of this crucial piece because they’re LTOs.  I wish that someone like the senior English teachers, would teach it instead.  I asked if I could teach it and they gave me creative writing grade 12 instead.  Not that it’s a horrible trade-off but you have to go where you’re needed, right?  More on creative writing in another post.

 I had the blessing of funding and support to do a research project about 7 years ago which allowed me to test my hypothesis that grade 9 literacy intervention would prevent behaviour and lack of school engagement later in high school.  This is about the time when school to age 18 became mandatory in our province.  So what I did is I took aside students from a data point of view and thoroughly examined their Ontario Student Records (OSRs).  I found that the one thing they were most likely to have in common is that there was some sort of family trauma around grade 4 or 5.  A divorce, a death in the family, an illness, or an injury that derailed that poor kid in grade 4 or 5 affected their literacy path for the rest of their academic career.  Not surprisingly then, when we were able to do a Woodcock-Johnson test on 20 of these students, they came out as having reading skills stunted at about a grade 4 or 5 reading level.  As the teacher-librarian in chief at my school, I developed relationships with these students and peppered them with literacy attention from my end. That could be individualized help on their assignments, or simply convincing them that reading all 25 volumes of The Walking Dead was a worthy pursuit. Many of them shook my hand as they walked out the door upon graduation.  It was very satisfying.  In fact, I think I’d say that it has changed the way I think about literacy forever.

If I had to pick a winning bet on where to put the most money in Ontario’s education system today, I’d put everything down on literacy in Ontario at the intermediate level. It is the golden ticket.

My ongoing professional learning

My love affair with Mindomo continues. Here I am trying to explore the Ontario College of Teachers’ Standards of Practice. I’m focusing here on just one of these standards: Ongoing Professional Learning.

https://www.mindomo.com/mindmap/beliefs-and-learning-about-our-own-writing-0586b22d3bd64316b6f45a9e97b86981

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 10.32.07 AM

Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez

ScarboroughScarborough by Catherine Hernandez

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my favourite book that I’ve read this year HANDS DOWN. It first came to my attention because I enjoy reading from the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen book list each year.  I enjoyed the audiobook version through Audible as Hernandez narrates her own book. I listen to audiobooks a lot on my commute to and from work, but this summer, I used the audiobook to motivate me as I was weeding my garden. I found myself, on more than one occasion, weeping openly in my yard.

It’s a small but mighty hyperfocus on a neighbourhood in Scarborough, Ontario. It centres around the a Family Literacy centre which feels so real that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Catherine Hernandez has done this work before, which is to say, scraping together a program and creating a culture of welcome using virtually nothing at all. The families that come and go each come to the centre for a different reason, and each child has unique challenges. 3 children’s lives, in particular, are emphasized: Bing, Sylvie and Laura. Through their lives, Hernandez calls the reader to attention and reveals the crucial necessity of outreach programming.

The book is so poignant, so concise, as if no words are wasted. The overlapping timelines, character development and continuous threads allow the reader to see cause and effect repeat with often catastrophic results. Hernandez masterfully builds hope and then thwarts it with a harsh blow of reality, making each development really earn its place in building to the conclusion.

It turns out that Hernandez splits her time between writing and the theatre which maybe why I can tell that we’re kindred spirits. This book could easily be staged or turned into a film. The images in my mind while listening were like a movie. I’ll be following Hernandez’s work and waiting impatiently for the arrival of whatever she’s written. I can’t say enough about the power of this book. Just go get it.

View all my reviews

Habibi by Craig Thompson

HabibiHabibi by Craig Thompson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Graphic novelist Craig Thompson first launched into my world having written Blankets. Habibi is not new but it is a clear favourite of one of my favourite students (I know we’re not supposed to have favourites) whose family moved here from Nepal just as she was starting grade 9. She said “Mrs. King you have to promise me that you will read this book this summer.” So I did.

Main character Dodola, an orphan, a child-bride, a slave, a prostitute, latches onto another orphan named Zam. Together they try to struggle through a horrible desert existence finding their love (habibi in Arabic) through story-telling and making a home in whichever safe place they can. Dodola and Zam are separated and escape their harsh realities by remembering the cozy life that they had built together, always thinking of each other and wishing to return to this comfort. The book is epic, and filled with Thompson’s beautiful and devotional attention to bringing the stories to life through exquisite detail in the drawings.

Like Blankets, Habibi is in my secondary school library with a red sticker on it, warning readers that the content and graphics are for mature readers only. Unlike Blankets, Habibi isn’t really about sex…it’s about rape and prostitution and I could compare some of the themes to Margaret Atwood‘s book The Edible Woman, in which the women are pretty much consumed by patriarchy. There is a Westernized exoticism of the culture, the locale of the setting, and especially of the incomparable beauty of Dodola that strikes me as appropriation, if not plagiarism. There I said it. It’s beautiful, it’s well-executed, but is this Thompson’s story to tell? There are credits to the mentors that Thompson used for accuracy. Perhaps this is why Thompson has faded away himself. For the sake of my devoted student, I will keep my comments about Habibi focused on the positive.

View all my reviews

School Library Makerspaces: Grades 6 – 12 by Leslie Preddy

School Library Makerspaces: Grades 6-12School Library Makerspaces: Grades 6-12 by Leslie B Preddy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a secondary librarian, without planning time, without my own students focused on design/construction/creativity, I’m launching a full-time makerspace this fall that is filled with mostly donated items from the now-extinct home economics and fashion programs at my school. We have a severe shortage of electricity because we were built when libraries contained only books and the occasional microfiche reader. Nonetheless, after successfully executing at least 1 makerspace per semester for the first two years, I’m confident that a full-time makerspace will bring two qualities to my library learning commons (LLC) culture that I struggle to maintain on a daily basis: creativity and community. What I mean by that is that libraries were made for consuming information and to truly understand the nature of manufacturing/designing/inventing we need to shift to becoming as much creators as we are consumers….in life, in general, for all people, but certainly for the students in my LLC. The other thing that students (if not all people) are sorrily missing is community. They need to have places to hang out and learn from each other while enjoying the company. Flashback to the quilting bee, the hunt club, or as I experienced it, the 4-H homemaking club.

So with these ideas already in mind, I approached this book, particularly excited because it’s aimed at grades 6 – 12 whereas so many other resources on makerspaces are targeted at elementary folks. I purchased the book after having listened to author Leslie Preddy speak at a library research conference called Treasure Mountain in Connecticut a few years back. Maybe I read it already, maybe I’ve picked up most of what Preddy has to say through other means, but I found that for a book devoted to secondary makerspaces, that it was lacking in innovation. I suppose what I wanted most was to feel a reassuring hug with a few sure-fire strategies for success and didn’t. In fact most of the book is devoted to Pinterest-style pages of what to do with very little. I already thought of that.

The meat of this book is in the first 8 pages where Preddy suggests creating library-style pathfinders with instruction videos on how to get started. This is an idea I’ll definitely take away. She suggests that signage and mentoring are the best ways to get students started. She also says that it might take some time for students to move to independent experimentation and to just keep the students coming back and soon it will take off. She briefly mentions some sort of badging or achievement system where students can move from novice to mentor, but doesn’t really expand on it.

I’ll be continuing my quest for secondary makerspace guidance as Preddy’s book, for me and my needs, fell short of the mark.

View all my reviews

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Milk and HoneyMilk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Who writes an internationally-acclaimed book of poems in the year 2018? Rupi Kaur does. I’ve had this book in my secondary school library for a year now and this summer was my first opportunity to get my hands on it. When I’ve asked how my senior students are enjoying it, they look at me with a combination of melancholy and knowing that once I’ve read this tome, that my soul will be appeased. Rupi’s book is divided into 4 sections and ranges in style from simple couplets to rants. The collection is punctuated by her very artistic doodles…sometimes realistic, and sometimes abstract. Largely it describes her past and her ability to choose bad partners which might stem from the abuse that she suffered as a child. The last chapter is optimistic though as Rupi learns to express through her pain through poetry. I’ve highlighted 4 short passages to take into my creative writing class this year as I’m sure that it will appeal to my grade 12s. Even though there is some graphic content, I can lead my students to read more on their own with a few teasers.

I’m out of the target demographic for sure on this book, but I can still appreciate how it is crafted, released in a small, manageable chunk, and has mass appeal for today’s young people

View all my reviews

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

The Last Kingdom (The Saxon Stories, #1)The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having really enjoyed seasons 1 and 2 of The Last Kingdom, I was hoping for deeper insight into the history of the Danes invasion and spread across England. The book is pretty similar to the series but I was able to experience Cornwell’s masterful layering of description, action-packed faction and history. Unlike many historical fiction books, his explanations, including a glossary of place names and a map, make this book very accessible to read….especially for someone, like me, who has learned history mostly from books and travel.  I’m passing it onto my brother-in-law now and I’m not sure that I’ll seek out the next one.  If it fell into my hands, I would read the whole series, of course, but I’m not going to go looking for it.

View all my reviews

I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb

I'll Take You ThereI’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a huge Wally Lamb fan and I have read just about everything he is written so of course I was excited to sink my teeth into I’ll Take You There. This is a purely selfish choice ….just love me some Wally Lamb.

Wally Lamb seems to be playing with more magical realism in this novel than I’ve seen before in his other work. There is a certain feeling of playfulness as our main character Felix experiences a sort of “It’s a Wonderful Life” / A Christmas Carol visitation by the ghosts of his past in order to work out a future plan of action. Felix is a film projectionist and heroines of classic movies invite him to step into the film of his life at certain points. It feels a bit like a Deus Ex Machina allowing Felix to re-experience his life. Some of the major events in the book are revealed through this revisiting, allowing Felix’s adult-self to observe his child-self dealing with family trauma. At times this writing technique seems contrived, but once I got to the halfway point in the novel, I couldn’t put it down. It’s not Felix, but his sister Frances, who is the centre of the huge family secret, and she captured my attention and I devoured the rest of the book in a day.

If you like your Beach Reads sad (and who doesn’t? for the Catharsis alone!), then this is a great little gem.

View all my reviews

Mrs. King’s recommended reads

I’m teaching grade 12 creative writing this fall and I’m so excited about it. I believe that to be a good writer that you need to read and write as much as possible.  At my library, students and staff can sign out any seven books they want to for the whole summer.

If you’re reading this, then you might be excited too.  Here’s a list of the books that I highly recommend

a) because they’re written really well

or

b) they connected with me personally and I want to share this part of me with you.

Life Changers

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

100-Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon (non-fiction)

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman (non-fiction)

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (non-fiction)

The Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant

Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

The Wars by Timothy Findley

Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf (non-fiction)

Just Juicy

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Origin by Dan Brown

Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Dataclysm: Who We Are by Christian Rudder

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolffson and Andrew McFee (non-fiction)

Spin by Clive Veroni (non-fiction)

 

Indigenous Nationhood by Pamela Palmeter

Indigenous Nationhood: Empowering Grassroots CitizensIndigenous Nationhood: Empowering Grassroots Citizens by Pamela Palmater

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s difficult to award stars to a book that is so important for people to read, but also difficult to come to terms with. This book has been with me physically for the better part of the year. In October I attended Treasure Mountain Canada (TMC) in Winnipeg, Manitoba…a city I’ve had very little to do with until this event. The day before TMC the Manitoba School Library Association invited participants to engage with the First Nations and Metis people of the area through a series of workshops. The day began with smudging, drumming, and very personal time with the workshop facilitators. I was drawn to the sessions by Melanie Florence and Niigaanwewidam Sinclair. We talked about a Canadian history that I had never heard before and I started on a learning quest this year.

I worked with teacher-librarian Jennifer Brown and book distributor GoodMinds to get a list of must-reads on the history and present of First Nations people in Canada and this book was at the top of Jen’s list. She warned me that this is not an easy book to read, but the legacy of Canadian law, the colonial strategies that are obvious and subversively embedded in our governance look very much like a violent strategy to do away with First Nations people altogether. Palmater speaks on multiple issues affecting First Nations people that start as assimilation but often lead to neglect through lack of funding. This lack of funding today is apparent in things like the state of drinkable water for First Nations people, the inattention to crucial problems like missing and murdered Indigenous women, and the inability to grant land rights that prevent massive oil pipelines to run across treaty land. Throughout the book Palmater references the history of First Nations people and also Canadian history and law.

Palmater created the book by harvesting her own blog for each chapter. Stylistically, I wish that Palmater had introduced each section of the book to give more context and flow to the book. Because it’s based on a blog though I will share these links which were more impactful to me as the reader:
For the convincing arguments that Palmater makes to define Canada’s systematic violence against Indigenous people as genocide:
http://www.pampalmater.com/harpers-in…
For its deconstruction of the horrifying statistics of the number of Indigenous children who have been removed from their homes by government officials and are now in care rather than with Indigenous families:
http://www.pampalmater.com/jordans-pr…
For its coverage of the Donald Marshall inquiry and the revelation to me of the international opinion of Canada’s history with First Nations, Metis and Inuit people: http://www.pampalmater.com/justice-mi…

My life has been forever changed by just the beginning of my reading. I plan to do more.

View all my reviews

Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan E. Coyote

Tomboy Survival GuideTomboy Survival Guide by Ivan E. Coyote

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ivan’s voice is so refreshingly Canadian…I feel so strongly about this voice (new to me but not new) and its place in the Canadian canon. Ivan speaks from the heart of the Yukon, and then BC and although they have had lots of urban experience, there’s a rural twang that’s everlasting. Ivan speaks of rural isolation, attachment to family, and struggling to make ends meet. Interwoven in this memoir is the gradual revelation of Ivan’s sexuality and gender identity, which becomes more certain as Ivan does. This book is not only sensitive and sweet, it’s really freakin’ funny. I laughed out loud while listening to the audiobook on my commute. If I had to compare Ivan’s sense of humour in their writing to another author, I’d say somewhere between James Herriott (the veterinarian stories you read in your grandma’s bookshelf) and Terry Fallis (a sardonic wit mixed with Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town). I think Ivan E. Coyote should be considered for the prestigious Stephen Leacock award. There. I said it. Don’t miss out on this gem.

View all my reviews

School libraries and eLearning: Answering the call for access and equity

Michelle Campbell and I presented at CONNECT 2018 in Niagara Falls this week.  After some very encouraging conversations at Treasure Mountain Canada in October, we decided to take our ideas about the intersection of school libraries and eLearning success to the wider audience at this conference.  CanConnect attracts some of the greatest education influencers in the province, if not the country and has the power to implement our ideas and philosophy nationwide.

One of the first times I benefited from Michelle’s brilliant work was when she invented UG2Go, the single point access for all of Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB)’s digital resources.  She did this to solve the problem of multiple logins and passwords that were a barrier for students when working in these spaces.  Here’s the elementary portal:

Screen Shot 2018-04-25 at 10.02.55 PM

and here’s the secondary portal:

Screen Shot 2018-04-25 at 10.03.13 PM

Each of the buttons on the secondary portal lead to a drop down menu containing appropriate digital resources in each.  We have both sponsored and subscribed digital resources here.  The invention of UG2Go was a game-changer for me as a teacher-librarian because I could direct staff and students to one place for everything.

Do you remember when we were kids that there were these Block Parent signs around the neighbourhood?  Block Parent meant that you could go to that house for help for whatever reason.  School libraries are like the Block Parents in schools.  No matter if you need academic help, tech assistance or just want a place to be yourself, you can find this place in a school library.  The shift to learning commons means that school library staff now aim to have this same safe experience in all of our resources: physical and virtual.

 

In UGDSB, the addition of robust digital resources has made it even more attractive to all students, but especially to students who break the mould.  Many of our students come to the school library learning commons well before and after school and on no bus days just for our hospitality and wifi.  The library is not a quiet library anymore as learning takes on many forms.  The library learning commons is also safe for creative risk-taking in learning.

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 7.16.47 AM.png

So why, when we were first rolling out eLearning courses, didn’t the school library come to mind?  Why are we an after-thought now that the stakeholders realize that many of the students taking eLearning require some face-to-face help to be successful? I hate to be repetitive but this is largely because the education system bought into the digital native myth, leading everyone to believe that new generations of children would innately be comfortable using digital technology for all of their tasks.  What we’ve learned from decades of mediocre success rates is that students need equitable access to technology and technology instruction needs to be explicit and in context of learning. Students need to learn how to learn and that above all, digital technology is an additional layer to this learning not an innate process.  Even now, boards are eliminating teacher-librarians and technician jobs and instead creating unstaffed learning commons and e-learning hubs.  Much of what I do day-to-day involves personal coaching of staff and students in designing and implementing deep learning tasks both online and offline. I provide technology, professional development, just-in-time support and continuity across the school. Why shouldn’t our eLearning teachers and students have the same support? Face-to-face I am able to create a safe, participatory learning environment where we tailor our daily work to the individualized needs of staff and students.  Online I’m still challenged to find a way to embed my library work in online spaces.  New developments in collaborative technology and a shift in philosophy to include school support staff would go a long way to improve success rates in eLearning students.