“Can We Start Reading Now?”

It’s a Friday afternoon in the KCS Library, shortly after the Silver Birch program has begun.  There are swarms of children racing to the library after school to sign out books…..Silver Birch books!  Some of these students already have a book checked out for the weekend, but are worried that they may finish it early and not have anything else to read the rest of the weekend.  “Could I borrow a second book, just in case?”  How can I say no to such enthusiasm for reading?

The OLA’s Forest of Reading® Programs have been a tradition at KCS for over ten years.  Passports and reflection sheets, sharing thoughts and opinions through blogging, author visits, house competitions, and impromptu discussions in the hallway and classrooms are all part of the Blue Spruce, Silver Birch and Red Maple programs.  And like all traditions, enthusiasm for the program is passed from sibling to sibling.  I am often asked, the first week of school, when will it start this year?

I just love the BookBuzz around the whole school! Some things I’ve overheard:

  • “Did you like Space Raiders?”
  • “I liked The Swallow: A Ghost Story better than I thought I would!”
  • “Are there any more books by David Skuy?”
  • “My goal was 10 books last year, but this year I’m going to try to finish all 20!”
  • Clover’s Luck is here!  I can’t wait to read it!”
  •  “I’ve read all the books!  What else can I read?”

Not surprisingly, this tradition is my favourite time of the year.  There is an increased enthusiasm for reading, and even the most reluctant of readers can be found sitting on a beanbag chair in the library with a book in their hands.  At KCS, we are continuing to grow our culture of students who read for the love of it.  And there are many additional benefits. As People for Education published in a report, “Students with a more positive attitude towards reading tend to be more successful in all subjects”. (Reading for Joy, 2011.)

The Forest of Reading Program – It’s the Super Bowl of Reading!

Judy Dunn-Hoggarth
Teacher Librarian

Teacher, Meet Brain.

Teaching with the Brain in MindThat’s how it felt to read Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jenkins. While the bond between the brain and learning has been known for centuries, the two have been notably coy. It is only recent research which has started sharing and subsequently sparking the intimate side of this complex relationship. And like the rush of first love, it will blow your mind.

My measure of a great book on education is the degree to which it ends up highlighted. Barely a page of Jenkins’ book escaped my yellow swipe. Starting with Neuroscience 101, Jenkins addresses many of the major areas related to learning and highlights the research and implications it has for teaching. From birth and beyond, he looks at preparing the brain for school; the connections between movement, emotions, and one’s physical environment with learning; managing the social brain; and optimizing motivation, engagement, critical thinking, memory and recall. Clearly affecting a significant chunk of the school experience, Jenkins is devoting his career to having teachers ‘teach with the brain in mind’.

Some insights include:

  1. The brain changes and can even grow new neurons throughout life. Nature and nurture both clearly play a role in defining who we are, with growing evidence revealing that nurture can override some nature, even to the degree of changing the impact of our genes.
  2. Exercise offers much more than just physical health. If you desire a denser and better brain, make regular exercise a lifelong habit.
  3. Much of what distinguishes teenage behaviour is rooted in the enormous changes taking place in their brains. Teens even temporarily regress in a number of abilities, such as their ability to recognize emotions in others.
  4. While collaborative learning gets most professional press these days, brain research supports the integration of group activities with traditional learning tasks for optimal learning.
  5. Emotions play a central role in learning and can hinder as much as enhance the brain’s ability to remember. Teachers would benefit from mindfully leveraging them.
  6. Frequent opportunities for movement, and breaks where no new learning happens, are important for long-term storage of learning.

Teachers, indulge in the intimate details of the learner-brain relationship. Meddle even. This is one couple that needs you in the middle.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

This article was first published in SNAP Etobicoke, May 2013.

Our mission, should we choose to accept it

The KCS mission is “To be the defining force in developing lifelong learners by stewarding an environment that prepares us for the next challenge.”

QuestioningAt our first class meeting of the school year, the grade 7s looked at some pretty interesting and mindboggling questions. Was it algebra? Physics? No, they were questions about themselves, like the following:

  1. Five years from now, your local paper does a story about you and they want to interview three people about you. What would you want them to say about you?
  2. If you could spend an hour with any person who ever lived, who would it be? Why? What would you ask?
  3. Describe a time when you were deeply inspired.

These questions come from an activity called The Great Discovery, from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey. You can read them (and try to answer them!) for yourself here: http://www.emporia.edu/dotAsset/f1d87806-07e0-48e8-919d-92637f6e028e.pdf

As a teacher, I was taking a responsible risk. I didn’t know if my students were ready to tackle these questions. They really impressed me with their thoughtful answers. Thanks to all the wonderful teachers they’ve had at KCS, they were prepared and they were able to take on the challenge.

After considering the questions, we came up with personal mission statements. I know, 12 year olds making mission statements sounds like a stretch! It turns out they have a wonderful grasp of what they would like to get out of life.

  • To make a difference in the world
  • To always be a good sport and to work hard
  • To be a leader and excel at my job and hobbies
  • Be positive and do not worry
  • Never give up no matter what tries to stop you
  • Live life to the fullest
  • To challenge myself to do new and harder things
  • Don’t give up. Keep trying
  • Have fun and work hard
  • Always strive for perfection
  • You can’t like it if you don’t try it
  • Always be happy and positive
  • Always try and never give up until you achieve your goals in life
  • To make a positive difference in the world
  • Don’t give up
  • You only live once
  • When you’re down, get back up
  • Be a good sport, it’s just a game
  • Your past decides your future
  • Be happy and positive
  • To be a leader in the world

The mission statements are displayed in our classroom for the year so that we remember our missions. We’ve chosen our missions. What’s yours?

Ms. Gaudet
Citizenship Coordinator, Grade 7 History & Geography

Thinking, Doing and Checking Assumptions at the Door

By the time this is published, the four months of construction on our house should be nearly done. The experience has left me with more than just an addition.

Shop Class as SoulcraftBrowsing for a good summer read, I stumbled upon Shop Class as Soul Craft by Matthew Crawford. Crawford was a 14-year-old electrician, who moved on to tinkering with car and motorcycle engines, then went to university to earn a PhD in philosophy. Hired to work in a think tank, he assumed he had reached the pinnacle of achievement. He was highly educated, well paid, well dressed and looking forward to the intellectual challenges that would surely ensue.

Assuming the prevailing attitudes of the day, he grew up with the notion that university and the jobs it led to were a higher calling than the trades. University was for people who were good at thinking, while college was for those better at doing. Reverence was reserved for the former.

Not many people have so fully walked down both paths as Crawford. His voice of unique experience reveals that our thinking had more than a fair share of nonsense. First, the notion that all work following university requires supreme thinking he found to be supremely hollow. The many people he met working in the trades spent their days pondering and solving complex problems the likes of which he never found at the think tank.

Equally revealing, Crawford outlines the evolution of both work and attitudes surrounding it. Prior to the onset of the Ford Motor Company and other more efficient models of machine-making, the trades were recognized for what they are – pursuits that offer endless thinking as well as doing, that bring evident value at the end of a day’s labour. The rewards inherent in self-reliance have vanished for many of us today. Of course, university is a training ground for significant work. It simply isn’t the only such training ground.

Smart thinking includes scrutiny of assumptions. Thanks to the scrutiny in Shop Class as Soul Craft, and made real by our home renovation, my summer has included this unexpected bonus of appreciation and humility. Encourage youth to find their calling, and check assumptions at the door.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

This article was first published in SNAP Etobicoke, October 2012.

The Leader in All of Us

Read any good books over the summer?

I hope you all had time to enjoy the ‘dog days’ of summer. I know you didn’t have homework to supervise and uniforms to wash. While you may have continued working, I hope summer offered you time to slow down and curl up to a good book.

Our teachers did. All of our teachers read the book The Leader in Me, by the late Stephen Covey, renowned author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Every summer, KCS faculty read a common book that relates to an area of focus for the upcoming year. I stumbled upon The Leader in Me while browsing through the shelves at Chapters last Christmas. It told the stories of schools around the world, not too many, that had embraced what we also embrace at KCS: Habits that matter and ubiquitous student leadership. These are exceptional schools that have had exceptional impact. We’re on the same path.

Everyone has the power to be a leader. In fact, we exert our influence all the time, often without even knowing it. Last week all faculty watched Drew Dudley’s TEDxToronto talk “Leading with Lollipops” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVCBrkrFrBE ). A few words and an impromptu gesture on his part served to keep a peer in university and catalyzed a relationship that led to marriage. And he doesn’t even remember it. We’re all leaders, whether or not we know it. By recognizing and encouraging leadership in everyone, children included, there’s no limit to the positive impact on the world.

This may not have been the theme of the books you read over the summer. But I thought you’d like to know that this was the theme of what we read. Leadership is ubiquitous at KCS. And little by little, our students help make the world a better place. There’s always room for more. We hope you’ll embrace our Habits and join us.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics

You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

How a Regular Dose of Fiction Can Make You a Better Person

“We have discovered that fiction at its best isn’t just enjoyable. It measurably enhances our abilities to empathize with other people and connect with something larger than ourselves.”

–     Dr. Keith Oatley, University of Toronto

My son had the benefit of being mugged the other day. Thankfully, it happened through fiction, in this case, Eric Walters’ book Shattered. He also had the experience of working in a soup kitchen, meeting people who are homeless, and hearing their stories.

My son is a reluctant reader who will only independently gravitate to baseball magazines. Like many other parents of reluctant readers, I do back flips trying to entice him to read books. On a recent occasion, with six baseball-based novels in hand, my son said the following: I hate fiction. It’s not real.

Too bad for him, I had just read about the work of numerous psychologists, as explained in Oatley’s blog post “Changing Our Minds by Reading Fiction” at www.sharpbrains.com. He pointed out that fiction is a simulation for our social and emotional worlds. Though not true stories, they are real in their ability to act as experience that shapes who we are. And in fact, these researchers do find evidence that readers of fiction change as a result. Knowing of their work, I gave my son a bigger response than he expected.

Life is social. Experience is valuable. Reading fiction offers an infinite array of social experiences, equipping readers to better understand and navigate the complex and sometimes precarious social world in which we live.

Being mugged is something I hope never really happens to my son. Working in a soup kitchen and hearing the stories of those who seek warmth and a meal there is something I do hope happens to him, though as yet he’s not open to the idea. So be it. Thanks to fiction, he’s already started checking it out.

And while he’s still pinning his hopes on a future in baseball, I know he’s being prepared for much more.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics

You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

A Good Read

On the weekend, I finished reading a book entitled, Inside Out Coaching:  How Sports Can Transform Lives by Joe Ehrmann.  The author is a former scholarship athlete who played football in the NFL.  He now coaches high school football, writes and speaks about the impact coaches have on children.  He certainly provides an important and thoughtful perspective on a coach’s influence.

While reading the book, I made notes on a number of quotes/stories that he references.  Two of my favourites are below.  This morning I forwarded the first story on to my son’s soccer coach as I know he’s experienced similar situations to this one over the past few years.

From page 193
The following is the story of the coach and a conversation he had with one of his players. Please note the quote is taken directly from the book and does not reflect the everyday vocabulary of the author of this post.

“Do you understand what cooperation is?  What a team is?”  The player nodded in affirmation that he knew.  “Do you understand that what matters is not whether we win or lose but that we play together as a team and do the best we can individually and collectively?”  Again, the player nodded yes.  “So,” the coach continued, “I’m sure you know that when a coach makes a bad call or the referee drops a penalty flag you shouldn’t argue, curse, or call them a peckerhead.  Do you understand all that?”  The player again said he did.  Coach continued, “And when I take you out of the game so another player gets an opportunity to play, it’s not good to call your coach an idiot, is it?”  The player shook his head.  “Good,” said the coach, “now go over there and explain all that to your mother and father.”

From page 214
We are all familiar with the saying, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”  Ehrmann prefers Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy’s retort:  “The only must win was World War Two.”

Derek Logan
Head of School

Find Humour

At last week’s Chapter’s Night, I’m guessing about four hundred of us walked out with a copy. I was one. Jeff Kinney has written a new book for his Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series. This one is aptly named Cabin Fever, which is why I am as happy as my son is to have it.

Daylight savings has been ‘righted’, the days are cool and nights are long. It is also report card season. And while it is wonderful to read about all of the learning and progress happening with each of our students – it really is, you should be very proud – that reading is still being done inside, hour after hour.

Today, my two breaks included one to go outside and do some yard work (Be active!) and the other to start reading the new Wimpy Kid. Now, I assure you, most of my reading is not of this genre. However, I take my hat off to Kinney for the millions of hearty laughs he has provoked, a good portion of which came from me.

I took particular pleasure in the section where Greg, the self-imagined ‘hero’, comments on his school’s removal of play equipment from the yard. This unfolds in ridiculous but entirely credible ways, such is Kinney’s talent. It reminded me of the recent news story of an east-end school that banned all hard balls because of safety threats – no soccer balls, footballs, basketballs or tennis balls allowed. If the adults at this school had asked Gregory, or just read the book, they might have reconsidered the wisdom of their ill-considered ways (creative thinking could lead to a better solution than banning). This section also reminded me of an article by Amos Oz I recently read in UTNE called “Fanatics Attack: The Best Defense Against Extremism Includes Empathy, Imagination and a Healthy Sense of Humour” (also known as KCS Habits, I happily noticed). Humour is important indeed!

Whether you’re stuck inside, debating letting kids play with soccer balls, or trying to understand the extremists who keep creeping into our newspapers, we would do well to keep humour close at hand.

So if you were one of the four hundred who bought a copy of Wimpy Kid Thursday night, and if you thought it was just for your son or daughter, I recommend you think again. Pick any page and start reading. Chances are, it will help you with whatever serious thoughts are on your mind.

And if you’re concerned about your child reading this stuff, you can blame it on us. Find humour is something they’ve been told to do.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics