St. Valentine is Asking, “To Treat or Not to Treat?”

Let's foster friendships instead of sugary treats

St. Valentine is Asking, “To Treat or Not to Treat?”

Are you planning to send Valentine’s Day goodies into school? Traditions are important in families, in cultures, and in creating a sense of community. When holidays come around throughout the school year, students get excited about taking time away from the everyday academics and bringing some traditions into the classroom. Enter Valentine’s Day, with its chocolaty treats, candy hearts, and little paper cards adorned with trendy characters. The students have their Cupid arrows aimed at a Valentine extravaganza.

And, as the home bell rings at 3:30pm on Feb. 14th, the teachers are left with desks glossy with chip oil, carpets decorated with spilled drinks, and a recycle bin brimming with forgotten cards. To me, this tradition seems wasteful, lacking in nutritional value, and rife with potential allergy threats. At the risk of being a Valentine’s Day Scrooge, I saystop the madness!

Here is what I would like to see in my classroom: Yes! Let’s honour the Valentine’s Day tradition by making crafts and cards for our loved ones. I will cherish every misspelled, crooked handicraft my daughter brings home to me. My classroom always welcomes creativity and artistry. And yes! Let’s have a celebration. Let’s join together as a classroom community and have some fun. I am a big believer that fun most definitely belongs in school. I will set some time aside on Valentine’s Day, during which we will take a break from our work, crank up some feel-good music, and play a few games. I would like our Valentine’s celebration to be full of laughter, friendship, and togetherness.

Here is what I don’t want to see: No sugar! No junk food! Please don’t send in the over-processed, store-bought, unhealthy treats. I know, I know, there is a place for food being synonymous with celebration, but please, not in my classroom. We just don’t need it. And no, Supermom, I don’t even want your beautifully decorated, heart-shaped cupcakes! Of course, I appreciate the effort you put in and the happiness those cupcakes bring your child. But, I also see the kids who feel badly that they didn’t bring a treat, or feel labelled because they can’t eat your well-intentioned goodies due to religious or health reasons. Many schools and school boards are laying down strict guidelines on treats being brought and shared at school, as we strive to teach kids healthy ways of eating.

And nope, I don’t want to see the little Valentine’s cards. I know, I know, your child loves picking out their box of cards and deciding who gets what. I do appreciate the writing practice this practice entails for younger learners, but I see little value beyond that. Inevitably, these cards end up causing hurt feelings. Even when there is a lovely wee note for everyone in the class, there still may be some subtle put-downs perceived. Trust me, someone will be upset that they were intentionally given the least popular member of One Direction. And don’t even get me started on the waste and the commercialism of all that paper!

So, I say, bring on a classroom party filled with entertaining activities that foster community and friendship among students. But let’s teach our kids that fun doesn’t have to equal commercialism and sugary treats. This year, let’s celebrate heart day in a heart healthy, save-the-planet way.

This is just one teacher’s opinion. Thoughts?

As always, enjoy the journey!


10 (Plus 1) Tips To Help A Struggling Reader

Painful Parenting Problem Solved!

10 (Plus 1) Tips To Help A Struggling Reader

A parent recently contacted me, concerned because her child was having difficulty learning to read. It’s painful to see your child struggle when gaining a skill, and worrisome to know they are falling behind their peers. 

Don't worry, I'm here to help! Try these 10 (plus 1) tips to help your beginning reader catch on and catch up.

  1. Don’t forget to breathe. Try not to be stressed. If you are anxious, your child will pick up on it and will feel anxiety around reading, too. Fretfulness and stress are the enemy of understanding. Learning occurs fastest when it is enjoyable. 
  1. Figure out if your child knows the letter names and sounds. Beginning readers must understand that letters represent specific sounds (phonics). If your student is stuck there, then you will need to practice phonics. Put out letter tiles and get the child to pick which one says “ah” or “rr,” etc. Play rhyming games and word games in which the child identifies starting and ending sounds.
  1. Build on success! You want your child to feel good about reading. Read simple books together, but just have the student read two words that you are sure they know. For example, if you are confident your child knows “the” and “and,” every time you get to those words in the story, pause, point to the word, and have them say it. Start with common words (such as to, it, I, me, a, there, etc.) then build on more difficult words. Eventually, you can have your child read one page and you read the next. By sharing the workload and letting a child start with what they already know, you will be able to build confidence and excitement.
  1. Read the same books over and over. Let your child feel successful, because they know a text really well. It doesn’t matter if your child is “reading” from memory. Every time a struggling learner feels confident at interacting with words, you are taking a step in the right direction.
  1. Read books to your kids often. Write notes to them, as well. Frequently, let your struggling reader just listen and enjoyendlessly trying to sound out words can be frustrating and make reading a tedious chore. Show that reading is about enjoyment and communication.
  1. Use what your child loves! Is your child excited about dance? Basketball? Horses? Computers? Cooking? No matter what excites your child, if you tie reading and writing to your their passions, they will connect and respond better. 
  2. Many children need to get their hands involved in their learning. Let your child try making letters and words out of Play-Doh or pipe cleaners. Practice spelling words into sand, flour, slime, or any other tactile medium. Sometimes engaging more senses helps children activate memory and understanding.
  1. Sometimes kids have trouble focusing on a single word when there is too much text of the page. You can make a reading window by cutting a small, rectangular hole out of a strip of cardboard (I like to use a bookmark). Then you can place the window over one word at a time, blocking out any other distractions. Later, you can move to putting the bookmark just under the line that is being read.
  2. Help your child notice words everywhere. Find familiar words (or even letters) on signs, menus, computer screens, toys, text messages, etc. Practice reading or letter sounds in a fun, easy, on-the-go fashion.
  1. Talk to child’s teacher for more ideas. Explain your concerns and have the teacher articulate their concerns (if any). Ask about extra reading opportunities in the classroom, and what the teacher’s program is for addressing struggling learners. Trust me, your child is not the only one having a difficult time! Children learn differently and at different rates (and sometimes those who take the longest to get started go the furthest in the end).

Bonus tip: Take a break. Give your student a break. Have some non-reading related fun together. Downtime is vital to any skill acquisition. Don’t feel guilty if sometimes reading practice gets bumped for soccer, building a snowman, or even (gasp) watching a little TV. Learning to read is a marathon, not a sprint, and those muscles need their rest (as do you). 

For more info on a free non-profit website that supports children with reading difficulties and the parents struggling to help them, click here

Don’t forget to enjoy the journey!


Get an A+ in Understanding School Assessments: The Rubric

What is a rubric and why do teachers use it to assess students?

Get an A+ in Understanding School Assessments: The Rubric


Seriously, what in the world is a rubric?

I’m not quite old enough to have been educated in a one-room schoolhouse, but I definitely attended school in a simpler time. I grew up receiving hand-written report cards, before computer technology was a required subject and before week-long standardized testing reduced kids to tears. Back then students still failed and skipped grades and comments on the top of a kid’s work read things like, “Great job” and “Fantastic.” It seemed like everything my classmates and I completed was synonymous with “outstanding” and usually handed back to us adorned with a shiny foil star. Ah, those were the days!

However, education, like most things, continues to grow and evolve and the grading system is no exception. Wise teachers and principals came to realize that telling every student that they are “super” doesn’t push kids to strive for better or help them recognize areas for improvement. I definitely agree. Students of any age respond better to direct, descriptive feedback than they do to vague words of praise. Enter the rubric. It’s not exactly new, but to parents who are used to letter or percentage grades, this may seem like an entire shift in the system of academic evaluation.

A rubric is generally a document that outlines the specific expectations for a project, paper, or scholarly endeavour.

Rubrics were originally designed to assess student writing, but now they are being used all over the curriculum, from gym class to the science lab and all subjects in between. There are some big pushes in education these days, such as project-based learning and student-led evaluation, which lend themselves to being graded with a rubric. These handy charts are used to assess many standardized provincial tests, such as Ontario’s dreaded EQAO. The Ministry of Education documents are littered with rubrics and teachers are expected to use them as often as possible.

So here’s what you need to know. Basically a rubric is just a chart that tells a student what is expected of them. Teachers will then use that chart to grade the student’s performance on a task. Rubrics should be given to students at the beginning of the assignment — the idea is that all the expectations are communicated before the kids embark on their project. These charts are usually divided into four levels, although some teachers use five. In a four-level rubric, level four is the highest and level one is the lowest. Basically, if your student is level three, it means he or she is where the system expects — the student is meeting the provincial standard. If students are at level four, they are exceeding expectations and if they are at level two, they are approaching expectations. Level one is when you need to worry. That implies your student is not producing or demonstrating her understanding at a sufficient level.

Most rubrics are set up as a table, with the four levels across the top and specific categories the teacher is assessing on the side. For example, a teacher looking at a writing piece may assess these categories: ideas, conventions (spelling, grammar, punctuation), author’s voice and presentation. The chart may say something like, “Level Four, Author’s Voice: gives a clear message and consistently shows the writer’s personality.” The idea is that rubrics are less subjective, but obviously grading is still skewed, as words like “consistently," “personality," and “clear” remain open to interpretation.

The levels do not exactly equate to letter or percent grades (a level four isn’t necessarily an A, level 3 a B, etc.) but school boards continue to use a letter grades for report cards, so teachers often do line up the rubric levels with more the traditional grading system.

So, what can you do as a parent to help your child who is being assessed with these rubrics? 

1) Don’t be intimidated by the jargon. Rubric is just a fancy word for an assessment chart and if the teachers are doing their jobs well, both you and your kids will know this early on in your child’s school years.

2) Understand the direction of the rubric for communication with the school (level 4 = yippee, level 1 = yikes).

3) Ask your children to show you the rubric when they tell you about a project. If they don’t have it, feel free to ask the teacher to give on to you. You are entitled to know up front how your child will be evaluated. Obviously, a teacher isn’t going to create a rubric for every piece of work that is assessed, but there will definitely be one in place for larger pieces of writing, projects, and the like.

4) If you have the time prior to submitting work, have your students highlight the rubric showing where they feel they achieved for each expectation. Later you can compare the students' perception of their skills with the teacher’s assessment. This can teach both you and your child a lot about their ability to self evaluate.

5) Every once in awhile, be sure to shove all the rubrics, percentiles, and report cards in a deep, dark drawer somewhere and just have fun with your kids. The best way to create anxiety in your children around grades and assessment is to be anxious yourself. Don’t worry, it’ll all be ok! Whether striving for level 4 or an A+, remember school is just one part of your kid’s life.

Keep smiling and enjoy the journey!