intro to section 9

It’s my first week back, and, for the most part, it was a good week.

This semester I have two grade 9 academic courses- both bordering on 30 students. They’re shiny! Attendance and attention is consistent. I have a few scattered throughout who are visibly looking a little out of place, and performance backs this up. But none of them are on our usually comprehensive “at-risk” list that the elementary feeder schools send us. I’ve read these notes in the past and always been encouraged by the warmth and compassion expressed by the 8 grade teachers, and gained so much from their insights. But apparently, this year we have more grade nines from outside our catchment areas for some reason. So, for the first time since I’ve started teaching here, I have concerns about students in my class that isn’t backed up by data anywhere that I can find to help me.

I’m worried that they’re going to get lost in the shuffle.

Cause my 1p9 course is going to keep me running.  I’ve taught applied level classes every year for the past 10 years at least, and I have known that 70-80% of these students had diagnosed learning disabilities, and the other 20% had learned bad behaviour, or severe economic deprivation or neglect or ….

So I’ve whenever I’ve looked at the IEPs for the diagnosed students, I’ve realized that I’ve been doing most of the recommended teaching strategies as a matter of course.

1p9 is different.

The learning blockages are way more severe. Attention difficulties way worse. And memory issues and anxiety are through the roof.

I think this is the best way to illustrate it.

I have a student who I will call Brad (i have never taught a Brad in my life).  On Friday, I saw him in the hallway 10 minutes before class. He asked me for help. He couldn’t find C8. C8 is our classroom. It is the classroom he has been in with me for 3 days previous. It is just down the hall from where we are standing. Unfortunately, I have to do 20 things in the next ten minutes to prepare for the rest of the students in that class because I need to try to set up success for all of them. So I can’t walk him there. But I slow down, and point.

He shows up to class 10 minutes late, in an anxious state, saying he couldn’t find the room.
And I believe him.

Unfortunately, the IEPs haven’t been uploaded yet, so I have no data other than my observation and anything the feeder schools have sent on what the majority of these students are dealing with.

I wish I could spend more time doing research but I had to do hall duty for half of 2 of my three preps, which I do support…
but hell. I need to know.

My first two days with this group were great. In fact, the second day was so good as to be miraculous, and I drove home full of hubris, singing, “I can teach anybody, I can teach aaaaanyone.”

I forgot that the students who have behaviour issues tend not to show up for the first two days.

So, I have this group thursday, last period. It is boiling hot in the room, and I’m trying to get them to write a paragraph. Modeling first, using highlighters to demonstrate the different parts. Me demonstrating on the computer and projector. And it’s nuts. The student whose behaviour issues are most severe (he’s in grade 10- didn’t earn a single credit last year) showed up that day.

I wasn’t prepared. I was basing my lesson on the class I had the day before.


I tell them that I had planned to do other work, but that I would let it go cause it was so hot once everyone had finished their paragraph, and show a video instead.

We never really got there.

The next day, I do a behaviour boot-camp based on With All Due Respect, by Ron Moorish. I make it fun, I make it interactive, kineasthetic, interpersonal, visual… and 6 out of 9 of them still act like little shits. And this is with having an EA in the room. not sure about her yet.

I also have the sweet-tempered LD students who have other challenges. I don’t know exactly what these challenges are yet (no IEPs).

But one of them feels anxiety from the bad behaviour of the others and starts to cry. And wants to talk to me privately.

I know her a little from my work with the spec ed program last year (she’s actually in grade 10, moving from 1L to 1P9), and I ask her if anyone has behaved badly towards HER. (cause I would have drop kicked them out of the room if that happened.) She said no. So I said that if there was anyone that should be crying because of the bad behaviour in the room, it should be ME! I tell her that I’m on it, and that I need to teach everyone how to behave, and I ask her to give me three weeks. In the meantime, I offer her several escape routes. But she won’t take them.

This is a new thing for me. I’m going to have to learn how to help her develop internal strength. I know that she’s come a long way (from anecdotal reports from the spec ed team last year).  But she’s clearly got some distance. I’m going to appoint someone in my 1D classes to make sure we have Kleenex in the room.

And I have another lovely who struggles with this. My musical pal, “Zorba”, had a total meltdown after his first music class. And I had never seen that happen to him. And my rescuing instinct kicked in- I am so glad I don’t have kids. But fortunately, we have an excellent Child and Youth worker, and she gave him what he needed. He needed to be patient with himself.

Anyhow, I think this is the major lesson for me for this year- learning how to help the sweet strugglers who get overwhelmed by anxiety and breakdown find their strength. It’s something I can relate to. deeply. I just don’t know that the way that I’ve been learning is the right way to help them. but at least I understand it.

I’m going to learn a lot this year.








big fonts, and big hair

A number of years into my education career, while at a massive Professional Development conference, I realized what I could do if I ever got really burnt out at the teaching gig. I could take a good idea  (it doesn’t need to be original, although I flatter myself to think I’ve got a few of those, but the majority of B. Ed. students feel insulted that they should be asked to read theory, cause theory has no lesson plans. So you can really grab any idea from the past 2000 years of pedagogical history and they won’t notice) and write a book about it in big font- 10 point at least, 12 point if you’re going after the elementary market- and that book will contain really that one idea, a lot of acronyms, and a bunch of heart-warming anecdotes. I’d get a publicist, get a big tease blow-out hair-do, and do the speaker circuit. Maybe adopting a bit of a drawl when I’m touring the States. (I think I’ll need to set up a US address as well).  Bitter much? You fucking betcha.

Despite my well-honed, I-should-know-better bitterness, I play Charlie Brown to Lucy’s football more often than not. So when I read in The Atlantic that Lee Sheldon has a new classroom approach involving gaming and education, I bit. Look, I forgive Melanie Plenda when she says that Sheldon is a pioneer in what she calls “gamificaton”- gack. how can anyone think they’re doing anything good for education when they themselves invent such a lazy indutrialized capitalist word like that. Surely we can work with what has been in place for longer that the 8 years that Plenda affords Sheldon’s solitary grunt work- Ludology. Ludology is the study of games. Homo Ludens- the person who plays.  Surely we can work with that noble root.

But I order the book regardless. I played dungeons and dragons as a kid. I’ve been a gamer on and off, digital and analog, since then. As I was learning to become a teacher formally, I was hanging out on educational MUDS and MOOS and reading about Seymourt Papert and Amy Bruckman.

When I entered the traditional highschool classroom, in 1998, the technology wasn’t there to do the things I wanted to do. So I applied what I’d learned from web sites, and tried to make my classroom a website- with knowledge nodes and yarn. It was a big mess. but it was instructive.

The last 5 or 6 years have been rich in technology, and poor in pedagogy.  We all know this. I won’t say more.

Because I was very curious about Lee Sheldon’s book, because it talked more about the ethos of gaming and gaming technology. And it referenced Jane McGonical. And I had seen Jane McGonical’s Ted Talk and it had addressed some ongoing questions for me. Why is it that the kids who struggle in our classrooms, the ones we protect from feelings of failure, these are the very same ones that are happy to game and when they aren’t successful at a level or a task, they are INSULTED! they DIE! they are told that they SUCK!!! but they don’t care. They get up off the mat, and they try again. Jane McGonigal addresses this in her Ted Talk, “Gaming can make a better World” and I highly recommend it.


So I ordered the book. It came today.
And now I don’t want to read it.

If you’re going to write a book called THE Multiplayer Classroom, published by Nelson, hardcover, with 12 point font, you’d better reference Seymour Papert and his work with Logo, and if you’re going to talk about MUDs, you damn well better talk about Amy Bruckman. And I’d be interested to know why you don’t make any mention of the work that Mary Flanagan or Jennifer Jensen have been doing.

And I’m also curious about whether the politics of gender are addressed here.

The book is purported to be for any level classroom. But I don’t think his students are my students.

I will dig in. And we’ll see.






ipads, take 3

ENG1P- Ipad beginning 2013


GOALS  for ipad introduction


1) initially, ipads should have very few apps


2) establish from the start that we are doing this for marks, skills


3) orient to ipad routines and attitudes


4) figure out best app for workflow, and for regular writing/journaling


eng1p- to group or not to group


what’s his name, the With All Due Respect guy says that arranging students with attention difficulties in groups is quite unfair to them, giving them too much to overcome.

I’m also so often aware of how sensitive, and socially volatile the 1ps are, not to mention vocal.

But I have also seen the power of co-operative learning in these classes in particular.

And the attractive power of the social is impressive.

Plus, there’s the teaching of socialization…

and my dream of a classroom community.

It will be interesting to see how that plays out if my classes stay as small as they were predicted to be in June…


“We need to examine every aspect of the class- room-what we teach, how we teach it, how we organize and manage students, how we re- spond to questions, how we solve problems, and how we talk about concerns. Within this framework of SociallyConsciousCooperativeLearning (Schniedewind&Sapon-Shevin,1998), children learn and live a philosophy of mutual care and interpersonal responsibility.”

eng1p-binder or no binder, homework or no homework


so, in Exceptional Learners, it talks about how homework is a significant difficulty for the LD student. Partially because of their learned helplessness. So they will often forget to do it, bring it home, bring it back, etc.

I have seen this, and it makes sense. No one can tell you you got it wrong if you didn’t do it.

But there’s another factor about homework in the 1p classroom. Socially, many of them don’t want to identify as kids who care about school. And, of course, we’ve grouped them in the class of kids who aren’t expected to do well at school. So they don’t want to be seen with a backpack in the halls, or coming too and from school. Is it reasonable for me to try to compete with that pressure?

is it necessary?

Then of course there’s the home environment. Do they have a quiet place to work? Do they have support at home?
Because of the social pressure, they’re not going to want to stay at the library, after school, or be seen to.

if they were to be given a “detention,” which was really stay after school and do your work with me… would that work? would they be seen as bad-ass, and have an excuse?
probably not with all students, but maybe?

there’s no reason to have binders if they don’t have homework. We can keep their work in duotangs at school.

But I don’t like infantalizing them that way- we start with this expectation that they won’t be “good students.”

Then again, is it necessary? what are the advantages?


purchasing power

Margaret Christakos posted the following on facebook after the “Do you Copy” event that she organized in response to the Post-Script conceptual writing show:

“last night at the Power Plant event my son and daughter staffed the book table. total book sales at this free event, 1 book. tonight at dinner my daughter said, I don’t get it, why wasn’t anybody buying the poetry books? a lot of people looked at them, they’d rifle through them and look interested, then put them down. I did my best to explain.”

i was that 1 person. And it got me thinking about the opposite question: why do I buy poetry books?

i bought Adam Seelig’s book, every day morning in the (slow), at the event because I loved what he read from it, and wanted more. And when I buy a book AT an event, that’s usually the reason, a desire to prolong the experience, to revisit what I heard and let it deepen, and see what difference the page makes. (and oooh boy- whatta difference! beautiful, beautiful book!). So, that’s why I bought that book in particular.

I probably already owned … 70% of the rest of the books on the table? I am currently re-organizing my poetry collection. It contains multitudes. I tried to do a bit of culling last night- surely, I thought, there must be some books here I can bare to part with. I found 10. 4 of them were because I had two copies.

I often feel like I’m in a bit of a unique position when it comes to the economics of the poetry world. If you cross-index lovers of poetry, and experimental poetry in particular, with income, I would be willing to bet that there’s an inverse relationship between love of said poetry and disposable dollars. I love dangerous poetry, but, as a teacher in the public school system, I have one of the most secure, and, arguably, most socially conservative jobs. And I have no dependents.   So, I’m not constrained- if I see a book that I want, I can buy it without having to do a calculation in my head about whether or not it’s prudent. I’ve only arrived at this position in my life in the past 5 years or so. And, believe me, I understand the privilege of it. It hasn’t always been like this.

I also feel secure as a reader of poetry. I’m fairly used to buying a work of experimental poetry, something that friends have been raving about, getting home, opening it up, and not having a fucking clue what is going on. I know that’s this is not my fault! That there is value in reading “the difficult poem,” or, as I prefer to think of it, poetry that confounds my readerly expectations. I know it requires work on my part-this is no easy consumer transaction. And if none of the strategies I’ve acquired in the past 15 years help me see how the poem is operating, I have time, in the summer at least, to do a little homework- read an interview or bio, read a review, find an online reading, etc.  So, if I do have this experience after buying a poetry book, I don’t feel like I’ve been had.

During my undergraduate studies, I took a course in Contemporary Canadian Poetry with the most excellent Prof. Marilyn Rose at Brock University. The syllabus consisted of 6 single-author anthologies by Ralph Gustafson, P.K. Page, Erin Mouré, Lillian Allen, Stephen Heighton, and George Elliott Clarke.  So we read each anthology from cover to cover. And we discussed the poetics of these anthologies- I began to have a deep appreciation for how a book of poetry is constructed- the value of the book as part of the meaning of the poetry inside it. The course took place in the fall- we followed the Governor General’s awards, and their coverage, and considered their critical and economic impact. I began to look at bookshop windows more critically- most often it seemed that every category of GG nominations was represented in the front window, except for poetry. I’d venture inside. Where’s your poetry section? In the back, on the bottom shelf, behind the boxes, where it can’t hurt anybody. It was then I learned that a volume of poetry is considered a best-seller in Canada if it sells 500 copies if the author is a man, 300 if the author is a woman. I don’t remember the source for that stat, and I have no idea if the numbers have changed.

I am creating a public library. Each year, I bring box-loads of my books into my classroom. There is always extended time for students to paw through these books. Sometimes the books don’t make it back into my boxes. I always see this as a sign of success. Great artists steal. So, I hunt down another copy.

There’s more to explore here- why and how people do or don’t buy poetry. And when?

Aaron and I going to explore these questions in the (as yet unnamed) podcast we’re launching in the fall. Stay tuned.




reading fur(l) 1



fur(l) parachute-
jumping. falling, but with a parachute. usually we say the parachute unfurled, yes?

we are being instructed to furl the parachute.
does this mean we are being asked to jump without one, essentially?
what does furl mean again?
“to wrap or roll (as a sail or a flag) close to or around something”

maybe this is wrapping the parachute AFTER the jump?

but this isn’t just furl. this is fur(l). so also a fur parachute?
makes me think right away of that fur tea-cup. Magritte?

so I’m thinking of female sexuality.

and what of the fact that it is both and fur and furl? both noun and verb.
although, I supposed one could “fur” a parachute.
but why one would want to…?

i am drawn to the title because of that bracketed letter- I’m drawn to the book.
it signals to me that there is language play here, that meaning is complex, indeterminate.
it is also a convention of the poets and theorists that are interested in language in the ways i am.
it is a signal- this author is part of my tribe.
this is an appeal to ethos for me.

ok. first poem.


this is a difficult poem.

I don’t remember exactly what cases are in grammar. I studied german years ago, and I know it had them.

so I feel anxious. I will not understand things in this poem.

I am trying to relax and let that be ok. PLus, I can look things up.




well, before I find out what this means grammatically, i read “noman.”
i’m also thinking it has something to do with naming?

(reads wikipedia entry)

aw, fuck. why didn’t i take linguistics?

ok. well. bracket this.

nomanitive slantorations.

slant- tell it slant.

wulf and eadwacer:Wulf and Eadwacer is an Old English poem of famously difficult interpretation.

“The short lines and refrains of Wulf and Eadwacer, along with the stream of consciousness narration have made it a popular feminist reading. These features aided by the rhythm and syntax, cause the emotional buildup of the poem.”

I misread the table of contents as a poem.


accessibility, the difficult poem, labour, pleasure, and a variety of high school students


I’ve been reading in tandem Charles Bernstein’s wonderful, and wonderfully titled latest collection of essays, Attack of the Difficult Poem, and Donato Mancini’s book on Canadian reviewing and review culture, “You must work harder to write poetry of excellence.”

It’s been a while since I’ve read any poetics at all, and I find the thoughts in my mind beginning to bubble. It has taken me a while to get to the point I’m at now- to actually formulate thoughts about this stuff, thoughts where I imagine a reader, perhaps friends, colleagues I might deliberately invite to read this, or perhaps people who will find their way here through links, and searches, etc.  And I’ve been resistant because, well, it’s work. It’s work that I enjoy, and once I get going, I really enjoy it, and feel the joy of thinking/feeling/writing/reading, and ultimately the joy of creation. But it’s work- there’s no denying it. And aren’t I supposed to have my summers “off”? I have left my house, because Skyrim is there, gone to a purveyor of coffee.

But I feel compelled.

Attack of the Difficult poem includes an essay, The Difficult Poem, that was originally published in Harper’s. I read, and find myself cheering as I do:


But I also find myself thinking of my high school students, and Bernstein audience. The reader of Harper’s, I would suggest it’s safe to assume, is one who is willing, interested in, and perhaps even eager to read what might be called “difficult prose.” It would certainly be seen as such by my high school students. While the essays in Harper’s are certainly not stylistically challenging, they use relatively sophisticated syntax and diction, they take time (and word count) to develop their arguments, and they tackle issues of politics, and aesthetics. Does it not take work to read Harper’s? And certainly a level of work that my students would find prohibitive.

Bernstein also has a classroom audience, and I should say here that I am a huge admirer of his pedagogical approaches. I have used his Wreadings in my classes as both creative writing exercises and exercises in literary criticism.  I have adapted his Poetry Profiler for use in my classes. And I feel that I am still learning from him, as he continues to generously share his syllabi, his exercises, his process, his thinking about teaching. But again, his classroom is very different from my classroom. His students have voluntarily signed-up to take his courses. Most of mine are forced to be in my presence! Even the students who take the creative writing course as a high school elective don’t necessarily take it by choice, and they are not necessarily favourably disposed towards poetry of any kind.

Their perceptions of what is difficult are so different from mine. And when I say “perceive,” I don’t mean to suggest that they are wrong. Because, if they perceive something to be difficult, then that perception makes it so.

The student, for example, who balked at Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem, Love is not all.
I had to struggle to see what she found difficult about it.

and of course, what we are supposed to do is make things easier for students, aren’t we?

of course not. But in our zeal to remove the extrinsic difficulties in the classroom, the barriers to the texts we study, we might find ourselves removing the intrinsic difficulties of reading and writing by choosing texts that contain very little in the way of challenge to our students, and writing tasks that do the same.

and all of this is challenging enough in an ENG3U class, where just being there accords students with the seal of academic success. They are University bound. They can handle the challenge, or at least have decided that they want to, or are being pressured to. But they’ve managed to pass ENG2D.

In the Eng1p class, where writing a paragraph seems like insurmountable labour, where learning disabilities, attention disorders, and language processing issues that I am only beginning to very vaguely understand compound the challenges in the act of reading, where being there is a sign that you can’t handle the challenge of the academic class, how do you teach the difficult poem? Do you teach the difficult poem? What is the difficult poem for these students? What kind of difficulty would have value?

I feel as though I’m thinking again about discomfort in the classroom- the idea of productive discomfort.



teaching 1ps


the thought that haunts me. I don’t want the dominant mode of this class to be tricking them into learning.

is it possible to cultivate an ethos of learning and creative play in that place?
what would it take…

I dreamed about them last night. The first day with the new class. A magician showed up, unannounced, and out of the blue. I let him perform for them. I told them he was an illusionist. I made them write down this word and then asked them to brainstorm what it might mean. I did the same thing with the word “innovative,” which had just come up in conversations. These two words written clearly on the blackboard.


Continuing Teacher Education – Teaching Students with Communication Needs (Learning Disability)


I need to take this course