Posts Tagged Joe Bower

Creating the Conditions: A Love of Reading

A gr. 6 student reads aloud to gr. 2 students during lunch.

This is the second part of a series on motivation called “Creating the Conditions”. For part one on student discipline, click here.

No charts. No stickers. No pizza parties. No awards. No certificates…. and LOTS of reading!

Following the post by Joe Bower, “Daddy, I Want a Book Buck!“, Joe and William Chamberlain encouraged me to share the story of how Kent School has created a positive culture of reading without the use of prizes and incentives programs.  It is difficult to sum up in a few paragraphs but I will make my best attempt to remember the MANY things that the staff and community of Kent School have done to create the conditions for students to motivate themselves to learn through an interest in reading.

In the past year there have been many moments that have made me step back and take note. Here are a few:

  • A student running into me as I walked down the hall because he was so into reading the book he just checked out from the library.
  • Our teacher-librarian shouting out to a primary student passing by, “Leila, I found some more books on pixies for you” and the student responding, “Yay, I will come see them in the morning!”.
  • A student, who less than 2 years ago was a non-reader, coming into the library and asking for any more Dav Pilkey books.
  • Seeing and being part of the seemingly endless activities in our “For the Love of Books” month. Please check out our teacher-librarian’s blog posts on “For the Love of Books”.
  • Getting the results back from our student survey that asked: do you like to read? 97% said  YES
  • Seeing a teacher holding up a huge poster board that had all the book and author recommendations from students from the previous year.
  • Seeing EVERY teacher in the school reading aloud to their students on a consistent basis.
  • Being part of numerous author and illustrator visits.
  • Checking out all the teacher “Hot Picks” books on display outside their doors.
  • Hearing teachers ask powerful questions about reading; also observing teachers trying new things (to our school – like the Daily 5/CAFE) to help teach and encourage reading.
  • Have a teacher-librarian working virtually side by side with our community-librarian to promote reading.
  • Seeing a line up of kids so excited to read with our volunteer community readers on Tuesday and Thursday mornings before school.
  • Seeing students so excited to write letters to their favourite authors
  • Observing our grade 6 lunch leaders reading aloud to both groups and individual students.
  • Being part of a school-wide “Read-In” in which all our students packed into the library (in shifts) to read.
  • Watching children aged 4 and under take out books in an area of their interest as part of our Family Library Card program.
  • Walking into a classroom and seeing kids sprawled everywhere – in every corner and even in cupboards – choosing a spot in which they LOVE to read.
  • Discussing the idea of our kindergarten students walking to our senior care facilities to have our elders read to them.
  • Seeing students so excited about our book swap and book shops in our library.
  • Observing our teacher-librarian read to our Strong-Start (birth to age 5) students each Friday afternoon.
  • Hearing our staff state how important the teacher-librarian position is to our school and using their voice to ensure that we maintain this in our budget. (although I need very little nudging to keep this as a key part of our budget ;-)).
  • Having our previous librarian choose to go back to the classroom to share her passion with reading with her students AND state that she felt the position should go to our current teacher-librarian who was completing the TL program and was excited for the opportunity.
  • Seeing our buddy readers march from the intermediate end down to the primary end each Friday.
  • Having a student so excited to say to me, “Mr. Wejr – I finally got a book on girls’ hockey!”
  • Knowing that every teacher is committed to DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time – and students are not forced to read books in which they have no interest.  Not enjoying the book? Head on down to the library and get a different one.
  • Watching groups of teachers and staff members meet and discuss on their own time how we need to work to create a culture of reading at our school.

I am sure there are so many things and conversations that occur in our classrooms and libararies that I do not see but the items in the list above have significant impact on our kids’ interest in books. The best part of all of this is that I have had very little to do with leading this culture of reading.  Teachers have used their professional autonomy to meet during professional development time (and beyond) to discuss and implement many ideas to help our students become more engaged readers. One group of teachers used Steven Layne’s book, Igniting a Passion For Reading, to fuel professional dialogue around doing just what the title has stated; these conversations have spread to the staff room, staff meetings and into other classrooms.  At our school, I am so proud to share that we have large number of teachers who are truly excited about reading – they model this in how they teach and what they do every day.  We also strongly believe in the role of the teacher-librarian in our school; our library is slowly converting into a learning commons area and is definitely the literacy and learning hub of our school.

Although this post is primarily to share the story of how a staff can create a positive culture of reading without the use of prizes and other extrinsic rewards, there are embedded stories about the importance of professional autonomy, tapping into the strengths of teachers, teacher leadership, student motivation, staff collaboration, and the power of a school library with a passionate teacher-librarian.

I often hear that students with little home support NEED extra incentives to get them to read.  The staff of Kent school have worked hard to prove this theory incorrect. It is not about pizza parties, book bucks, and stickers – it is about creating the conditions for students to develop a love of reading.

Thank you to the students and staff of Kent School for all they have taught me about the power of promoting a real love of books. Images are a powerful way of sharing stories; please check out the video below for images of what we do to encourage reading at our school (I realize here is a spelling mistake as I could not fit the title in :-)).

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Is Learning A Sport?

Awards: One winner, many losers.

Awards: One winner, many losers.

“Schools are not about awarding the best and brightest, but developing the best and brightest.  Awards take away from this.  We can not let our own bias of our own school experience or beliefs get in the way of what research has told us about effective pedagogy.” — George Couros

“Recognizing every student is no more an exercise in mediocrity than believing all children should graduate from high school.” — Joe Bower

This week the topic of awards surfaced again on Twitter.  As a result, Vancouver Sun reporter Janet Steffenhagen posted part of my blog “Death of An Awards Ceremony” that described the decision parents and staff made to significantly alter the way we recognize kids.  Instead of our year-end awards ceremony, we decided to have a year-end honouring ceremony along with recognizing individuals throughout the year for their individual strengths and passions.  Awards ceremonies are zero-sum, meaning that although they create a few winners, they create many losers. Some great conversations are happening on Janet’s post so please chime in with your views here.

Through twitter and Janet’s post, a common opposing argument to ending awards is that if we get rid of awards we:

“should end all games in a tie”

“might as well get rid of championships”

“might as well eliminate sports teams too”

“are not preparing our kids for the competitive environment that is the ‘real world’”

Sport is huge in my life.  My friends, players and teammates will tell you: I am one of the most competitive players and coaches in the rink and on the court.  I have spent the majority of my adult life coaching volleyball, basketball, and track.  During this time, although the main goal was never to just win but more about the journey and process, I was involved in sports that resulted in a winner and a loser.  I am not against competition (there are still fun, healthy competitive games in schools and classrooms); I am against awards ceremonies and events that place emphasis on the result rather than on the learning.

The key difference between sport and learning is that you CHOOSE to play sports and you go in with the knowledge that there is a winner and a loser.  Students should not go to school to win; students should go to school to learn.  Students should not go to school to compete for some award at the end of the year; students should go to school to collaborate and learn from teachers and peers.  We rob our children of intrinsic motivation by continually offering extrinsic motivators.

Also, for those who say, “if we get rid of awards, we might as well get rid of test scores and grades and entrance exams”; I say: ABSOLUTELY, these also do not promote learning.  I will, however, leave this conversation for another post.

To many people, unfortunately, learning does seem to be a sport.  For those people who believe this, here are some questions to consider:

  • When/why did learning in school become this zero-sum activity that creates winners and losers?
  • Are certain areas of school favoured over others?
  • How do you award the top learner?  How is one learner better than another?
  • How much do politics play into awards in schools?
  • When did learning in school become a place where “some students need that competition to excel”?
  • Is it more about the parents wanting their kids to have awards or is it about the kids needing awards?
  • Who has taught these kids that awards are important?
  • What stays with you for life – the intrinsic motivation of knowing that one can learn or the extrinsic motivation of trophies, certificates and prizes?
  • Do we give out awards for top academic child in the family?  If an argument is that we “need to prepare students for the competitive real world”, why do most not do this within their own families?  (I am still awaiting for me to get to this “competitive real-world” that people keep telling me about – please see my post “School IS the real world for our students”)

Obviously, I am being a little cynical with these questions but hopefully it makes people reflect on the flaws in having learning viewed as a sport with winners and losers determined at awards ceremonies.

If all students can excel in something and all students can learn, how can there be losers?  The answer: hand out awards for learning and make learning a sport.

We need to work to see the value and strength in EVERY child, EVERY day.  If we resort to recognizing only a select few at the end of the year, we are failing the majority of our students.  Let’s tap into our students’ interests and work to honour our students for the strengths and passions within each one of them.

Learning is NOT a sport, it is a journey; an enjoyable journey that never ends.

UPDATE: PLEASE WATCH THIS VIDEO (added from Sue Downey’s comment.. perfect!)

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Death of an Awards Ceremony

This is the time of the year that most schools are meeting and arguing over who is the top student in a variety of categories; high schools have selected their valedictorian (mostly based on who has the highest grades) and majority of schools are gearing up for their annual awards ceremony.

Yesterday, at our staff meeting, a decision was made that will change the way we end the year at Kent.

If you are a person who believes school is all about grades and awards, I am afraid that you will not like the decision made by our school yesterday; if you are a person who loves the idea of the “proud parent of an honour roll student” bumper sticker, you may be frustrated by our school.

June 1, 2010 marked the end of a tradition at our school – a tradition that awarded top students not for their efforts and learning but for their grades and achievements. The staff at Kent School decided to abolish the “awards” part of the year end ceremony.

Academic award winners? No more.  Athletic award winners? Nope.  Honour roll ? Nuh uh.

Part of our school goal is “for each student in our school to recognize and develop his/her unique talents and interests…”.  The key words in this are “each student”.  We do not want to just recognize those that excel in specific areas, we want to recognize EACH student for the areas in which he/she excels.

As a school, we need to move away from the traditional educational hierarchy that says those students who excel in language arts and maths are more important than those who excel in fine arts. We need to move away from recognizing only those students who have figured out the “game of school” and know how to “do” school well.

What motivates students? Grades (and honour rolls) or learning? There are many students that are unfortunately only motivated by grades.  This is not their fault, it is what has been taught to them.  The comments such as “if you want an A, you must do this…” or “if you do this, you will lose marks” have taught students that grades and achievement is more of a priority than learning.  Grades are extrinsic motivators while learning results in more intrinsic motivation.  So, do we want students to motivated by grades or learning?  Learning!

When I ask our grade 4 students what the honour roll is, they have not a clue, nor do they care. Yet, in the past we have awarded certain students for getting good grades by giving them a certificate and telling them that they made this esteemed club called the honour roll. By doing this, what are we teaching kids? Are we not teaching them that it is not so much the process of learning that is important but it is the resulting grades and report card marks?

Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset, talks about the difference between praising students for their effort and ability. If we praise students for “being smart” or “being athletic”, research says that we create students who are afraid to take risks and usually shy away from challenges. What kind of students do we want – those that rise to the challenge and take risks or those that believe that what they can or cannot do is ‘fixed’ and based on how ‘smart’ they are.

Alfie Kohn (referenced in the “For the Love of Learning” blog by Joe Bower) sums it up nicely when he writes this about awards:

“…researchers have found that children who are frequently rewarded — or, in another study, children who receive positive reinforcement for caring, sharing, and helping — are less likely than other children to keep doing those things.

In short, it makes no sense to dangle goodies in front of children for being virtuous. But even worse than rewards are awards — certificates, plaques, trophies, and other tokens of recognition whose numbers have been artificially limited so only a few can get them. When some children are singled out as “winners,” the central message that every child learns is this: “Other people are potential obstacles to my success.”Thus the likely result of making students beat out their peers for the distinction of being the most virtuous is not only less intrinsic commitment to virtue but also a disruption of relationships and, ironically, of the experience of community that is so vital to the development of children’s character.”

So what will our year-end ceremony look like?  Each grade 6 student will be honoured and recognized for their strengths, talents, and/or interests.  There will be no honour roll, no academic winners (and losers), no athletic award winners (and losers) and no recognition that one student’s talents are better than another.  The focus will be on EACH student and not just CERTAIN students.

In schools we always need to question and reflect on why we do things.  Why do we present awards to certain students?  What does this do to help learning in schools?  Why do we state that proficiency in math is more important than excelling in theatre?  How do we motivate our kids?  When our answers to these questions do not place student learning at the forefront, we need to change the way we do things.   At Kent School, we have by no means solved all that is concerning with education, but we have made a step forward.

For another blog on thoughts on the idea of “valedictorian”, please read Eric Sheninger’s blog “Recognizing the Valedictorian in All”

Thank you to Roxanne Watson (my previous principal & one of my mentors) for helping to fuel the passion in this area and starting the conversation with our staff.

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10 Skills for “Doing” School

I think it was Mark Twain who wrote, “I never let schooling get in the way of my education”.  Unfortunately, Twain had a point; there are skills that you need to do well in order to “do” school well in the current system of education.  If a student is unable to polish up on these skills it becomes difficult to achieve success in today’s schools.

Here is my list of the 10 skills (in no particular order) that students need to work on in order to become good at “schooling”.

  1. Stay in your desk – do not get up to talk to anyone, go to the bathroom, or get a drink unless you ask.
  2. Put your hand up to speak – do not call out.
  3. Do what you are told; comply – do not question what is said or how things are done; do not be different.
  4. Do your own work – do not collaborate as we need to know what you know not what your partner knows.
  5. Memorize - do not apply learned knowledge beyond what is needed for the test.
  6. Do your homework – and do all of it, even if you understand it – or worse, you do not understand it.
  7. Line up and walk down the halls quietly – order is important, other people are watching how you act.
  8. Stay on task – do not focus on thoughts other than what is being taught, or until the bell rings.
  9. Excel at numeracy and literacy – do not worry about the arts, PE, or the trades as they are not important.
  10. Strive for rewards – stickers, percentages, letter grades, awards are all important.

Alright, so you can hopefully read the sarcasm in the above list.  I have to admit that as a teacher, I have unfortunately overemphasized these skills many times throughout my career (and still catch myself doing so).  The aforementioned skills will help students to do well in school; if they hone all of these skills, they most likely will get good grades and make their teachers and parents happy.  What being successful at these school skills will not ensure is that the student is educated and will prosper beyond formal schooling; in life outside of formal schooling, there are more important, deeper learning qualities such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving as well as character skills such as love, care, compassion, and empathy that will help students to truly flourish in life.

Unfortunately, we have all been raised in a system that places emphasis on these skills so we all think this is the norm.  We are also in a system that has high class sizes, low teacher support, and a broad and demanding curricula that forces many teachers to have to maintain control and order of their classes just to survive the day.  There are, however,  teachers and educators that are trying to change the system; they are trying to create a system that places more emphasis on student learning and education and less emphasis on schooling.  It is important that we start hearing the success stories of these educators – teachers that are spending less time on rewards, grades, memorization, tests, and control and more time on student engagement and learning.

What it comes down to is determining how we define the purpose of school. David Coulter, at the University of British Columbia, speaks of how schools should be there to help students create their path to lead a good and worthwhile life; how the “good and worthwhile life” is defined is up to each individual.  If we define education this way, we need to question if the skills that are emphasized in the current system encourages students to develop their own path toward a worthwhile life.

The biggest frustration for me is that schooling and learning are not the same things – a student who struggles with the skills needed for school often begins to believe that they are unsuccessful learners.  We need to start focusing on the individual strengths and interests of our students and start putting learning, rather than schooling, at the centre.  By doing this we will hopefully move toward an education system in which schooling, learning, and educating are all synonyms – a system where “doing” school has a much deeper meaning for our students.

For some quality work on this topic, please read the writings of educators/authors David Coulter, Guy Claxton, Sir Ken Robinson, Alfie Kohn and Joe Bower.

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