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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Writing and Being a Writer

When I was five years old I asked for a typewriter for Christmas. I was so excited. I was going to be able to write! When it arrived, it was plastic. It was pink. It was awkward to use; when I chose a letter I had to turn the dial and then it would print. It was awful. I was incredibly disappointed. Here we are more than 50 years later - I can still feel that deep disappointment.

Why do I mention this event? Because it shows how I am pushed to write. I will wake up in the middle of the night and have a book or an article or a chunk of text in my head. If I don't get up and write it down, it will keep me up all night. I know from experience that there is no point in fighting it.

I have boxes and boxes of journals. I have files and files of journal entries on my hard drives. I have more books unpublished than I do published. And, I have many books in print. Not that the books couldn't get published - more that I haven't even tried yet. I am too busy writing to do the last part - the part that puts the title on, gathers together a Table of Contents, and writes a submission letter. If you're not a writer, I'm sure this all sounds foreign to you; writers will know exactly what I mean.

I've been reflecting on what is going on for me as a writer between blog entries. Why are there gaps? Last night, as I finished the last blog entry, I realized what I had been doing between the last blog of 2012 and the first of 2013. Sure, part of it was family time over Christmas. A part of the time was also spent writing journal entry after journal entry about the events in the school in Newtown, Conn. I couldn't talk about it. I couldn't listen to much of the news. But I could write. I probably will never share that writing. Nobody else needs to be burdened with it.

Another part of the time was spent in a back-and-forth with my cousins and siblings across Canada, the United States, and Europe as we put finishing touches on a family history that tracks my grandparents back to their engagement in 1904 through to the 110 descendants that came from that marriage - most of whom I didn't know prior to beginning the family history (we were not close to my Dad's family). We have gathered 640 photographs, most of which have only ever been seen by one or two people. And we've gathered stories. Lots and lots of stories.

I did a family history for my Mom and Dad and my six siblings a few years ago. I also did a book about my father-in-law's adventure in Canada as a young man (1936-1938). It is a fascinating account of his two years in Canada as communicated through his hand written journal. Again, only published for family.

I also spent time working on another book that will feature my paintings. I have two books of paintings already in print (available in local art galleries and through Connections Publishing). It is exciting to gather the paintings of the last few years together and figure out the words that will accompany them.

And, I began a book that will feature the photographs of a well-known environmentalist hermit priest who lives in our area. It is rare for this part of my writing life to be featured in this blog as this blog is about learning and assessment.Yet it is writing.

The other writing project I've been working on has been underway for more than three years - it is a book written with Sandra Herbst called A Fresh Look at Grading and Reporting. It is now in the final "back and forth" time with an editor and should go to design soon. It will be published in Canada with Connections Publishing and in the United States and internationally by Solution Tree Press.

It will take a few months to get into design and in print - but hopefully before summer we'll see that resource. As to the other writing projects related to Education? Well, I've learned not to talk about what I'm writing because I never know how a writing project will go. Sometimes it flies and is completed in no time. Other times it hits a road-block and I have to leave it to simmer for a while.

My Mom was also a writer and published author. Her last and biggest project was autobiographical in nature - about being a war bride. It was never published. It isn't quite ready for publication. I regret that her words are not in the world the way I think they need to be. One day I will add my story to her story and it will be published - even if it is just for our family - because who we are and what we value resides in the legacy we leave behind. For writers that means words - maybe in books, maybe not. Even though books may not be as available in the coming years we can use words and images to leave a record of our thoughts, our hopes, our dreams, and our knowledge.

As a writer, I believe I have an obligation to add, in a positive way, to the conversation. That means I try to write my way through the complexity of ideas and emotions towards the simplicity that is found on the other side. As Mark Twain said, 'If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.' It is worth taking the time to write and write and write and publish that which is worth having in print.

And for me, that deeply reflective process means a slower publishing cycle. And while this blog can provide a way to get my thoughts and ideas out there - quickly - I have to wonder if my 'stream of consciousness' thinking is helpful or whether it is 'just another source of guilt' - one more thing someone doesn't have time to read. :-) Yet I also know that as I link with many of you through twitter and blogspot I am finding some amazing accounts of life and learning. So, please don't stop writing. We all need to tell our story.

Done. My reflections on writing.

What about you? What's your story? Why and how do you communicate?

All my best,


Monday, 28 January 2013

Watercolour Painting and Mistakes

Watercolour Painting and Mistakes

You might not know I paint with watercolour paints.
It is a humbling experience - always.
And every painting I share is an absolute gift because it emerged in spite of me :-)

Someone asked me to tell them about this one of my paintings. It is called "Stretching Beyond Safety."

"Oh, it was a mistake,' I said.

"What do you mean it was a mistake? I love it."

"They are flowers from my daughter's garden. I thought it would be neat to do a taller painting but I only had wide paper so I taped off the left side. Then, when it was finished, it looked awful. So, I broke through the tape and painted beyond. It turned out okay. In fact, most of what people say are my best paintings were awful just before they got to be amazing... at least to me... :-) Watercolour painting is about making mistakes and creatively solving them. It is kind of like walking. People write about walking as a constant process of falling down. In fact moving from one place to the other is a process of constantly correcting our mistakes."

"You should write about that in your blog - that is what you talk about.... it's assessment in action."

So here it is.
My blog about mistakes.
Otherwise known as a good life well lived... mistakes made... and learned from :-)



I'm been noticing the importance of kindness lately. Maybe it is because the calm of Christmas has been replaced by the busy-ness of January and back to work. Maybe it is because I have been trying to be kind more often as part of my New Year's resolution and our grey, west coast weather can make me feel low. Or, maybe it is because I've been reflecting on the kindnesses my granddaughter has been experiencing both at school and at 'Fire Camp' work experience. Whatever the cause  today I remembered the Random Acts of Kindness book I loved so years ago. I went searching and found their website and some interesting research.
"A recent study, KindnessCounts, conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Riverside, broke new ground by showing the benefits derived by tweens when they were taught happiness-increasing strategies.

For a month, several hundred 9 to11 year olds performed and recorded three acts of kindness each week for anyone they wished. Another several hundred kept track of three pleasant places they visited during the week.

Not surprisingly, the results were consistent with adult studies. When kids performed acts of kindness or took notice of the pleasant places they visited during the week, they significantly increased feelings of happiness and satisfaction.

But those who performed acts of kindness received an additional benefit.  Measuring how well children were liked or accepted by their peers, the study showed those who performed acts of kindness gained an average of 1.5 friends during the four-week period – good support for the idea that “nice guys finish first.” ...." and the article goes on. Follow the link to read more.

Many years ago I read somewhere that we are often more kind to strangers than to people we know and love. As I reflected, I remembered arriving home after a hard day and feeling justified in being grumpy to my husband and children. Yet, they had done nothing to deserve it. In fact, they deserved my very best self. I made a vow. I would be as kind to my loved ones as I am to strangers. It is something I continue to try to improve more than 18 years later. While I think I am much better, when my grumpy-self makes an appearance, I have to find a way to make myself scarce (getting exercise is the best way for me to transform grumpy into happy). Or, if that isn't possible, I confess my grumpiness and I own it. And, I give people an option to not spend time in my company.

Let me make my connection to assessment... when we co-construct criteria around our processes, we give people a chance (whatever their age) to say what matters to them. And, as a result, we have better understanding of what it takes to make the process we are co-constructing criteria around work for everyone. It helps us bridge our different experiences, our differing knowledge, and our differing ways of showing and doing... and allows us to be more considerate, more kind, and more able to build positive relationships with those around us.

All my best,


Be the change you want to see.... Ghandi

Small kindnesses, small courtesies, small considerations, habitually practiced in our social intercourse, give a greater charm to the character than the display of great talent and accomplishments.


from Thoughts on Virtue (1996)

Evidence of Literacy Learning:-)

 The Connections Students Make

 The grade one student came to the school office with a look of concern on his face.

"How can I help you?" the principal asked.

Looking concerned the child said, "My teacher wrote a swear word in my classroom."

"Oh. Thank you for coming to see me. Shall we go and have a look?"

The child nodded. Off they went. In the classroom the child went to a chart on the wall. 

"Look. There it is. See. F.    C.K."

The principal looked and thought quickly.

"Have you learned about vowels?" she asked.

The child nodded.

"Do you know that every word needs a vowel or it's not a word?"

The child nodded.

"Is there a vowel?"

After looking carefully, the child shook his head.

"Is it a word? Is it a swear word?" 


"That's good then?


"Thank you for coming to see me. I'm really impressed you've been practicing your beginning and ending sounds. I'm glad we were able to solve the problem."

The principal found the first grade teacher having lunch and told her the story. They had a chuckle and celebrated the literacy connections the child had made. But taking no chances, the chart was quickly reprinted with beginning and ending sounds displayed in slightly different order :-)

 With thanks to E.M. - you know who you are :-)

 PS I'm going to be in Kelowna this week for the Literacy Summit! There are great people coming together to share their learning. I am looking forward to it. To find out more.... Literacy Summit Information Link

Thursday, 17 January 2013

How To Be a Teacher: Thoughts for a New Semester

Take advantage of teachable moments. Pose questions. Invite learning.
Help construct minds. Build dreams.
Appreciate learning shown in different ways.
Listen. Laugh with children. Harvest thoughts.
Play to learn. Find connections. Dare to be different.
Don’t get mad, get curious.
Fall in love with your kind of mind.... with all kinds of minds.
Watch children. Set goals... and re-set them.
See the humour. Look for joy. Smile.
Reflect. Think about your learning and theirs.
Build futures. Dream. Read every day.
Take vitamins. Keep the healthy heart and brain in mind.
Find the opportunities in problems.
Cherish comfort of loved ones. Take pleasure in the moment.
Have a life outside of school.
Work with others. Challenge yourself. Go to bed early.
Greet each child every day. Be present to others.
When in doubt, ask the learners.
Drink lots of water.
Create a threat-free, shame-free learning zone.
Avoid boredom. Take a risk. Learn something new.
Look for the passion for learning. Touch hearts.
Help everyone see where they are going and the different ways of getting there.
Create time. Involve students more. Allow time for muddling.
See mistakes as information for next steps in learning and teaching.
Recognize, rather than reward, learning.
Believe in the power of children.
Believe in the power of you.

© 2013 Anne Davies

Practical and Possible: Developing an Assessment Plan

Practical and Possible: Developing an Assessment Plan for Next Semester

This is a great time of year to start thinking about how you are going to plan, teach, and assess next semester so it can be even better. We all know the value of ‘beginning with the end in mind’ but sometimes that can seem overwhelming. A helpful first step is to deconstruct the curriculum so you know exactly what needs to be taught, what the evidence of learning could be, what samples and models you might use to support learning, and how you are going to evaluate.

This important work is increasingly urgent as educators cope with seemingly constant curricula changes across North America. And, with the implementation of the Common Core in the United States, we are also challenged to plan from the beginning for more thoughtful student engagement and more higher level thinking. Quality classroom assessment has a key role in this work. Here is one sample of an assessment plan developed during a summer Institute. It is from an upper-level languages class (Spanish). I am also adding some photos of plans from other subject areas at other levels (see below).

As this teacher, and other teachers like her, work(s) with colleagues, they will construct criteria together, score samples of student work, and check for inter-rater reliability. This means their informed professional judgment will likely be more reliable and valid than external tests (ARG, 2007; Burger et al., 2011). Also, because it is clear students will be involved in co-constructing criteria regarding their learning (such as 'thoughtful discussions' and 'reflection' and 'in-depth understanding'), quality classroom assessment will lead towards the learning results this teacher (and the curricula) want to see.

If you want more help with creating an assessment plan for you and your students, I take you though 10 easy steps in Making Classroom Assessment Work (3rd Ed). I am always thrilled when people tell me they used it to guide their learning about classroom assessment as a PLC team or school faculty. You can also download a free assessment planning booklet (scroll down the left side) that will guide your work as you get ready for the new semester.

Spanish II – An Assessment Plan (High School)

Notice this plan is in student friendly language so it can be posted and shared with students as well as their parents. It was developed after the teacher carefully analyzed what students need to learn. The teacher has a more detailed listing of learning outcomes to guide her work.

Notice that the evidence of learning in the upper left hand quadrant includes triangulated evidence of learning (products, observations, and conversations) in order that the teacher’s professional judgment is more likely to be valid and reliable.

Thanks to R. Pass for sharing her assessment plan (DRAFT)

Note: We always recommend people label assessment plans DRAFT. It allows them to be 'works in progress' which they are and have to be until we meet the learners and understand their needs in relation to what needs to be taught.

--> To learn more... You might want to consider attending one of our August Institutes in Canmore or Atlantic Canada (details expected soon). They will help you to start the year off on a great note!  The two Canmore Institutes are titled A Fresh Look at Grading and Reporting: Building an Assessment Plan that Makes a Difference and Assessment is Learning: Activating and Engaging Learners Through Quality Assessment. Plan to attend!  We would love to see you there!