Stop, Start, Continue…and CHANGE!

How often do we take the time to really think about what we are doing and more importantly, WHY we are doing it? Do any of these sound familiar to you in response to WHY something is part of our teaching and learning:

  • It is written in the parent handbook that we will do it.
  • We did it like that last year.
  • The parents really like it.
  • It’s a fun activity for the kids.
  • We have all the resources for that already.

I read a great article by David B Hawley, International Baccalaureate (IB) Chief Academic Officer, titled: Stop, Start, Continue: Conceptual Understanding Meets Applied Problem Solving. As I began reading, I realized he was going to give suggestions on 3 things: What to stop doing in our schools, what to start doing in our schools, and what we should continue doing in our schools. I quickly thought that of the three things, maybe one or two would be useful (I am somewhat cynical at times!) but as I read on, I really found myself nodding along to all three lists. So much so, that I wished I had written my own list before reading his!


Stop reading now and write your list before you read his article or scroll any further!   Seriously!


What would you put on your list? Better yet, have your whole team or department or faculty do it.

What would I say?

STOP: Teaching to the masses. I believe that a more individualized approach to education is the way of the future. I think when we start to really reach individuals instead of teach grade levels, we’ll start to make a difference.

START: Talking about what isn’t working as a way of moving forward to something more positive. We tell the kids that they learn from their mistakes – let’s be brave and share ours with each other.

CONTINUE: To try new things and to always be curious.


Here is the summary of David Hawley’s thoughts:

What Should We Stop Doing?
  • Stop teaching as if we have the answers.
  • Stop rushing.
  • Stop talking.


What Should We Start Doing?
  • Start looking for problems to solve, actions to take, and beauty to create.
  • Start teaching with new discoveries about the brain in mind.
  • Start seeking out authentic, high-stakes audiences for student work.


What Should We Continue Doing?
  • Continue with your professional development, and model the growth mindset in action.
  • Continue to place our work with students in global contexts.
  • Continue believing in the potential of every student.

In international schools, there is a lot of teacher movement and it is hard (at times) for newer teachers  to feel like they have ownership of how things are done. Tradition is great and definitely has its place, but so too does being open to new ideas and hearing fresh voices on change.

Change can be a difficult topic for people to deal with. What if the things that end up in the STOP column are things you really love? What if the things that are suggested you START to do, terrify you?

When I was at Nanjing International School in September to talk about iPads, I used a model for change that was shared by another teacher from another course and tweaked it a little to suit our purpose. The basic premise was to get people thinking about change and how they would proceed.

STEP ONE: Determine what is ‘comfortable’ for you.

iPad Zones

In many ways, I loathe the word ‘comfortable’. To me it seems soft, too laid back, and too much focus on what the teacher is ok with rather than what the students deserve. But we have to start somewhere, so let’s be honest and say what makes us comfortable.

STEP TWO: S-T-R-E-T-C-H from there!

iPad Zones2

I love this one! I think we all know that stretching is good for us and the long term benefits are amazing, so what are we waiting for? Where will we change happening? What will we stop doing?  What will we start doing?

STEP THREE: Don’t start a riot!

iPad Zones3

What would send you into a panic?  What are your roadblocks? What are you really not ready for? I like this outer ring because it forces people to give a voice to those things they can’t or don’t want to do. It opens up opportunities for self-reflection on professional development needs, it offers people the chance to mentor other teachers, and it lets leaders know how best to support their teachers.

What will you STOP, START, and CONTINUE doing in your school or classroom?




Mean, Rude, Bully

Photo by Miss Blackflag via Flickr

A while ago, I came across a really great article via A Mighty Girl that was originally published on the Huffington Post.

Rude vs. Mean vs. Bullying – Defining the Differences by Signe Whitson is an excellent article that draws attention to the distinction between these three types of behavior.

Why is the distinction important? Because not all behavior that is unpleasant is actually bullying. Many people are quick to use “bullying” as a way to define all innapropriate behavior but it is actually it’s own special breed of nastiness. It is more than rudeness. It is more than being mean. Take a look at these examples from the article:

Rude = Inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else.

What it can look like: Burping in someone’s face, cutting in line, snatching a pen or marker from someone’s hand, laughing at someone who just made a mistake, bragging at their own success.

What makes it ‘rude’: Rude behavior is typically spontantious, based on thoughtlessness or poor manners and not intended to hurt others.


Mean = Purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice).

What it can look like: Words said in anger or in the hopes of making themselves feel superior next to another person (“You’re so fat/ugly/gay”).

What makes it ‘mean’: Intention. Mean behavior is designed to cause hurt to the person it is directed at.


Bullying = Intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power.

Consider this from the article:

Experts agree that bullying entails three key elements: an intent to harm, a power imbalance and repeated acts or threats of aggressive behavior. Kids who bully say or do something intentionally hurtful to others and they keep doing it, with no sense of regret or remorse — even when targets of bullying show or express their hurt or tell the aggressors to stop.

Bullying may be physical, verbal, relational or carried out via technology:

Physical aggression was once the gold standard of bullying– the “sticks and stones” that made adults in charge stand up and take notice. This kind of bullying includes hitting, punching, kicking, spitting, tripping, hair pulling, slamming a child into a locker and a range of other behaviors that involve physical aggression.

Verbal aggression is what our parents used to advise us to “just ignore.” We now know that despite the old adage, words and threats can, indeed, hurt and can even cause profound, lasting harm.

Relational aggression is a form of bullying in which kids use their friendship–or the threat of taking their friendship away–to hurt someone. Social exclusion, shunning, hazing, and rumor spreading are all forms of this pervasive type of bullying that can be especially beguiling and crushing to kids.

Cyberbullying is a specific form of bullying that involves technology. According to Hinduja and Patchin of the Cyberbullying Research Center, it is the “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” Notably, the likelihood of repeated harm is especially high with cyberbullying because electronic messages can be accessed by multiple parties, resulting in repeated exposure and repeated harm.


So why do we need to define and differentiate?

Well, the more obvious might be to stop everything being lumped into the bullying category and thus diluting the impact of this word and increasing the eye-rolling when this word is (over)used.

The less obvious and more important would be that kids, parents, and teachers need to be mindful of the difference so that they are able to spot the difference between a flippant encounter and another attack against a victim of repetitive bullying.

Kids need to know that all of these behaviors are inappropriate but there are some that are worse than others and should not be brushed off as “kids being kids”. Ever.

Reading, Thinking

Growing A Reader



Our daughter is almost 2 and a half years old. I never read to her when I was pregnant (sorry research, but that just seemed weird) but we did start reading to her  from a pretty early age – maybe 4 months old? We have a stuffed bookshelves of books, a book box by her bed and another in the window of the living room, more in a drawer beside our bed, and others stacked around in piles. In addition to books, her dad likes to bring her catalogs for farm equipment, lego toys, toy tractors…and so these are part of her library too.

Recently I have been noticing more about her behaviour as a reader. 

In “The Bear Snores On” we now pause at the page (below) where the bear wakes up and sneezes so that Lizzy can point out that “The bear has ABCDBCBCBDBCD’s coming out of his mouth! That’s funny!”


When we read one of the Usborne books from a boxed set, we have to start with her point to each piece of text on the cover and asking “What is this?” (The answers being: The people who printed the book, the name of the book, the person who wrote the book, the person who drew the pictures). The book is turned over and we talk about the writing on the back too.  Inside the book, she’ll point to the words and I’ll tell her that they are the words that make up the story. When we’ve gone over this, the story can begin.


And after looking at a “First Words” book, I asked her to tell me what all the pictures on the front cover were and to my surprise, she could name them all. Likewise, she will often ask for books to be re-read multiple times (“Read it again! Read it again!) and will now laugh in the funny parts and respond more to what is actually happening in the story.

All this got me thinking.

We have been reading some of the same books for 2 years now so it is not surprising that she knows the stories by now.  What I am surprised by – or maybe more curious about – is how her behaviours as a reader are changing. She will ask for a book to be read to her as soon as she wakes up. She will pack a book in her little backpack if we’re going out for the day. She definitely goes to sleep pretty easily if we first read books to her.And she has started pointing to the words (albeit randomly) while I am reading. So, do we have a reader? And, why should we care?

So I watched some TV…

Bill Clinton was on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and he talked about the “Too Small To Fail” initiative of the Clinton Foundation, designed to support parents and children in closing the 30 million word gap.  Essentially children of higher socio-economic parents who have the time and the resources to read to their children will have enabled their child to hear 30 million more words than his or her lower socio-economic peers.

More on the 30 million word gap from Rice University.

And more on the Language Gap from Stanford University.


And then I bought a book…


Raising Kids Who Read – What Parents and Teachers Can Do by Daniel T. Willingham. (Here is a great NPR Q&A with the author).

This book poses some really great questions and focuses your attention on three components of reading:

  1. Decoding
  2. Comprehension
  3. Motivation

There is a lot of ‘chicken or the egg’ type thinking going on as you examine these three points. I would argue that our daughter is motivated to read, and is beginning to comprehend what she is reading, but is unable to decode. In schools, we often start with a desire for students to decode words and then they are ‘readers’. We then drill them on comprehension and by the time they are 11 or 12 (or maybe earlier, sadly) we are focused on how to motivate them to read in the first place.

Willingham talks about comprehension being born out of experience. He gives an example of a sentence in which it is mentioned that surprisingly, the sails of the boat were made of kevlar. A student may be able to decode ‘kevlar’ and comprehend that if something is ‘surprising’ it is atypical, but unless they have come across kevlar in a previous experience, they are unlikely to make the connection as to why this is surprising.

So, how do kids gain this experience? By reading, sure, but by speaking and listening and experiencing. And by talking. Harvard Graduate School of Education professor, Catherine Snow – one of the world’s leading experts on language and literacy has conducted research which shows that talking with children leads to a larger vocabulary, and that leveraging this broader vocabulary through further discussion and storytelling leads to improved literacy outcomes.

Bari Walsh wrote a great article, How To Raise A Voracious Reader. Consider the implications from this extract of his article:

A large body of research — much of which arises from the pioneering literacy work of HGSE Professor Catherine Snow — has shown that rare or sophisticated words are the building blocks of a robust vocabulary in children. And it turns out that rare words — those that don’t appear on an age-defined list of 3,000 common words — show up more often at the dinner table than they do in the picture books we read to our children, says Fishel, an associate clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.

A 2006 paper by Snow and Diane Beals found that children between the ages of three and five heard about 140 rare words when caregivers read aloud to them from picture books. At the dinner table, they heard about a thousand rare words. “That was the real jackpot,” Fishel says. “Kids who have bigger vocabularies learn to read more easily and earlier, because they can decipher the meaning of more words when they’re reading.”

And it’s not just listening to words – it’s using them to explain, remember, and tell stories. Research shows that “kids who know how to tell stories are better readers,” says Fishel, whose recent book on the topic is Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids. “The dinner table is a place where we encourage our kids to tell us stories. When you ask your children open-ended, ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions, or when you ask them to reminisce with you, you’re helping them build their narrative skills.”


Kids who know how to tell stories are better readers.

Consider the implications of this in your classroom. How much time is dedicated to story telling? How often are children given the opportunity to talk? What are your kids doing when they are eating their lunch and how could you support language development and the building of robust vocabulary during this time?

The Family Dinner Project offers some practical tips for parents who want to use dinner time to build these skills with their children. This is great place to start if you have questions about why and how the FDP works.

The solution to ‘Growing A Reader’ is not in buying flashcards or comprehension workbooks. The solution is spending more time talking with your children. Sharing your stories. Encouraging them to share theirs. Talking and listening. And having experiences that promote talking and open the door to conversations.