Browsing articles in "Day to Day"
Nov 15, 2011
Comments Off on “I Had An Epiphany.”

“I Had An Epiphany.”

He is 17. A total of 8 credits. His attendance, spotty at best. His troubles, plenty.

Yet, he’s here.  He is here and ready to learn.  Today.

He tells me that a night ago, as he was getting ready to go to sleep, “I had an epiphany. I just realized out of the blue that it’s up to me. I mean, no one else will get me to where I want to be, but me.”

I ask, “Hmm, so where is it you want to be?”

“I don’t know, probably the military. But more importantly, I just had an epiphany that all the things you’ve been telling me about owning my learning and it being my education, with the emphasis on my decisions, are right.”

“So, what now?”

“Well, I got get as many credits as I can.”

“What’s the first step to getting the credits?”

“Probably, showing up. That’s my biggest challenge, after that, the work, but first showing up.”

I smile. He smiles. And then he grabs the netbook from my desk and proceeds to work steady, even while the rest of the class is quite distractible. He works uninterrupted until I ask to see what he’s got so far. He shows me … progress.

Now, if this is where the story were to end, it would be great. Simple motivation and a reminder to keep doing what I’m doing. Connect with kids, continue to remind them that they have power to direct their learning and rely on the fact that eventually the message will sink in and when it does, I’ll be there to help them.

But it doesn’t stop there.

He’s human. Not a case study, just like his learning it doesn’t come to a neat package. It’s going to require a constant re-evaluation and reflection on where he is and what he needs.

But starting from an epiphany is fine with me.

****Author’s Note: Although the gist of this reflection and the conversation is true and accurate, I have changed some of the details and timing to protect the identity of the student.

Nov 9, 2011
Comments Off on Some Days…

Some Days…

“There are good days and there are bad days, and this is one of them” -Lawrence Welk

Some days you aren’t on your game. You feel like you are missing a beat. You feel like you never quite get to that gold standard.

Today was one of those days.

One of those days you wish you could have back. It was full of those moments you wish you could redo. It was my fault, a combination of poor sleep, restless thoughts, building frustration and the feeling of isolation.

I’d love to pinpoint the minute the day got away from me, but I can’t.

But it is today that I question my reactions the most. Which student of mine was having that day? Who will have it tomorrow? How many students try to tell me it is that day and I don’t hear them?

I think I might learn the most from my inability to perform at my peak today. I take the opportunity to recognize my “areas of need” and build upon my “next steps”. Today will stick with me, as a learning opportunity, but that’s because I get to choose. I’m not stuck learning by someone else’s schedule. I’m not being assessed on what I couldn’t do today.

You realize on these days that all the bluster of consistency, achievement, assessment is all awash in inconsistency, failure and judgement. That mastering learning may be about minimizing these days and taking advantage and creating more of those days.

You know, those days when you are on your game. When the right word is right there. Those days when the rhythm is your soul and everything you touch turns to gold.

Some days are like today where my learning is personal, my growing is optional, and my ability to decide what I demonstrate is my own.

Nov 7, 2011
Comments Off on Reading that is Working…

Reading that is Working…

I have committed to giving my students time to read.  I haven’t assigned anything specific with their reading, just read. It is silent, personal, yet public.  I’ve done it in a few ways:

  1. Choice: Students choose their books. There is no innovation here. I let students choose anything that might interest them. Some have chosen novels (The Notebook, Go Ask Alice, Thirteen Reasons Why and Acceleration), memoirs (Night, When the Game was Ours), I’ve had a few choose collections of essays (Arguably, End Malaria), some have chosen non-fiction texts (How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Book of Awesome, etc.). They have been all over the literary map.  I’m happy about that. We don’t judge the reading here.
  2. Be Personal: The reading happens in silence. Students get comfortable. Reading is an inherently personal endeavour. You get to create (some post-modern theory for you) the book as you read and imagine. All my classes have come to expect the silence and offer it.  It is interesting to watch as students get absorbed into the text.
  3. Be Public: After the reading time is up, often 20 – 30 minutes, a few students book talk their book. Informally, they’ll stand up, show the cover, talk about the plot (so far) and give us a run down of their thoughts.  I often open it up to questions where students can explore the book, ask for predictions, etc.
  4. Talk About it: I’m working my way through everyone in each class and sitting down and talking about their reading experience. The conversation is relaxed, though we record it, and it has headed into many different directions depending on the nature of the student.  Some students want to talk about the issues, others like to talk about the characters, while others talk about what they’ve learned.  I will always direct the conversation about the nature of the act of reading, what they do well, what they feel interrupts their reading, etc. This conversation usually lasts 10 – 15 minutes.  I usually do this while the rest of the class is reading, just outside in the hall.
  5. Recommend: We are creating a user-generated reading log in the classroom, if they liked their book they are to write up some details about it on the wall. This becomes the first place for people to get ideas for their next book.
  6. Connect: Students are encouraged to reach out find other readers, in the class, school, world and connect with them. Some of my students have tweeted the authors in an attempt to connect. I’m letting students decide how they want to connect. They have found great success on Twitter.

I’m not writing this because I think this is innovative or incredibly brilliant. Actually, I think it is simple. In such, I’ve made a few observations.

  • It has become a class quest to find some good books for reluctant readers.  The readers who are active love to talk about their book and I encourage them to personally recommend it to people they think might like it.
  • Students, self-described as haters, have read 1 or 2 books in a few weeks.  They read. If I’m not talking with a member of the class, I read. It is now one element of being in our community of reading.  It is now cool to read a good book and recommend it.  One student comes into class, late, breaks the silence by saying, “You have to read this book. I hate reading, but I read this in 2 days.” All this while thrusting Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher into the air.  I’ve had a student, in workplace English, read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and ask if he could just read it all period because he was so close to finishing.
  • At the beginning, students wanted to know, “What are we going to do with this book?” before they opened it. I’d just say, “Read it. Enjoy it.” They were reluctant, but now they get it. Reading doesn’t have to be work. It doesn’t have to have an essay or assignment at the end to justify their reading it.  That conversation demonstrates that the student can read for meaning, that they can understand form and style and it gives them an opportunity to reflect on their skills and strategies, all right out of the curriculum document.
  • I have heard multiple times, “This is the first book I’ve read cover to cover.”

I think my success is fourfold: flexibility, unstructured/informal, personalized interest (a dedicated conversation) and ultimately, it is time.

Nov 3, 2011

I Wimped Out.

Totally and utterly, I wimped out.  I backed away from my ideals and didn’t have the tough conversation today.

I like to think of myself as a man of principle. I am willing to say what I believe and willing for those beliefs not to be popular. I take pride in being able to take honest feedback. I also take pride in having the courage to engage in “challenging conversations.”

And so, when the opportunity arose, someone asked for my opinion, I whimped out. I decided not to engage. Was it the pressure of the crowd, the desire not to be “that guy”?

I don’t know why. I wish I had, but something prevented me from “getting into it.”

How often do we “hold our tongue”? How often do we refuse to engage? How many others share our thinking, but because it is challenging the status quo, decide to close their door, refuse to engage in the public discourse?

How do we create a culture where people are encouraged to engage in the conversations?

How do we ensure that people don’t wimp out like I did?

Nov 2, 2011

Busted. Cheaters Never Prosper, Well, Sometimes…

A colleague of mine showed me some student work today. It was brilliant. It was a creative representation, a drawing. Clearly some effort had been put forth. In passing, I said, “Let’s hope it wasn’t traced.”

Sure enough, we Googled it. It had been copied. It wasn’t hard to find at all.

She had decided at some point, the risk of getting caught was worth the effort it took to create something original.

She had decided at some point, the chance of getting caught is small enough.

She had decided at some point, it’s time to jump through the hoop of school, rather than actively engage in the process.


When a student takes the shortest route from assignment to mark, they are telling us that learning is not to be found and doesn’t matter. The mark matters. That’s it. I think there are two factors in play:

  1. The work, the community, or the learning is inauthentic. Students know when they are being made to do “busy” work. This is not to say every assignment that a student has cheated on is “busy” work, but I would presume that giving students an authentic opportunity to learn something that is meaningful will result in engagement in the task.
  2. The student has been sold on the marks economy and believes that marks are akin to success and the process doesn’t matter. This saddens me the most as this is mostly adult-driven. We, the adults, have created an atmosphere of competition and a feeling that students marks are indicators of value. This student feels that the opportunity to feel value is not to try, but to achieve the number.


In the end, that student will learn, hopefully, but how many others are looking for the shortest route. How many others have found the shortest route and weren’t caught?

Nov 1, 2011

“I’ve Let Myself Down”

That’s what one of my students told me when reflecting on the semester, so far.

In the conversation, she reviewed a litany of failings and missteps. The tears soon followed. She didn’t offer excuses. She had let herself down. Missed assignments, lacklustre effort, and skipped classes don’t help her case. But, she’ll do it.

She recognized, in that conversation, that the first step of learning is desire.

“If you’ve let yourself down, how are you going to work towards picking yourself back up?”

“How can I help? What do you need from me?”

These were my responses. We didn’t need to go over the grade, the repeated grammar errors, or the contradictory attitude. She didn’t need that. She needed to know, she’s still on the road. And that to me is why I’m here. Yeah, to worry about the grammar and reading, but to support, nurture and facilitate the attitude of, “I’ve made a mistake, I need to improve. What can I learn here?”

That to me is a student-directed classroom. At the core, the student heart open, brain waiting with a desire to learn.  I’m still present. I still have to help her get there, but it’s not me telling her she let me down. It was self-directed.

I liked that she said it. It let me know she was learning.

Oct 15, 2011
Comments Off on When Arbitrary Decisions Affect Learning

When Arbitrary Decisions Affect Learning

Lately, I have been struck by the arbitrary.

75 minute classes.

10% essays.

180 day school years.

Age-based class division.

Mandatory subjects.

Exams. Essays. Grades.

Arbitrary, arbitrary, arbitrary.

We recognize that these things are often/sometimes barriers to student learning, yet we set them up year after year.

I am not an educational historian and in fact, I’m sure someone could rationalize these decisions and these procedures. But I’m left feeling some unease. The unease is our unwillingness as a system to recognize the nature of these choices and change them. Our reluctance to acknowledge the mountains of research that may in fact, direct these decisions in the opposite direction.  But because we’ve done them, we do them.

Although, I am a shameless idealist, I’m not naive to the fact that there are other things influencing these decisions. The economy, politics, and society’s reluctance to change have all affected student learning. I appreciate that with a system this large, there is much more nuance in these decisions. But they remain ill-explained and ill-advised for an encouragement of rich learning opportunities.

But what about in a classroom? What about in my classroom?

I’m left asking myself how many decisions do I make, that are arbitrary, that influence the nature, direction, and efficacy of the learning?

I need to become more conscious of the decisions I make and ensure that they are not made flippantly, but rather they are reasoned and purposeful. After that statement, I feel like I must defend myself, saying, most of my decisions are made with purpose and are reasoned with evidence, however, I know there are a host of little “seemingly” insignificant arbitrary decisions that I make or I allow to be made that affect learning.

So where does this all leave me? I feel that many of these decisions are so out of my control, that I shouldn’t bother worrying about them. Much like the baggage that a student walks through the door with, acknowledge it and work with it, but I do. I worry about these things very similarly. I wish I could make them go away and students would have an opportunity and environment that enriches their learning at every turn.

Oct 3, 2011
Comments Off on The Myth of Consistency

The Myth of Consistency

I have my good days. I have my bad days. I have my days where students leave thinking they can conquer the world. I have days where my students leave feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders. Despite my best attempts, I’m definitely not consistent.

I’ve taught certain courses year after year. Every year different. Every year the students in the class picked up on different elements. They fell in love with different elements. Despite the class having the same course code, the class wasn’t the same. It definitely wasn’t consistent.

Sure, they all learned the curriculum.  They got to a point where their skills had improved. They achieved what they needed to to get the credit. But some worked harder than others. Some worked more creatively than others. Some learned more than others. Some started behind others, some started with the skills already in tact. They definitely weren’t consistent.

And there it is.

Consistency doesn’t happen from day to day, year to year or student to student. Consistency in education is a myth. Consistency is about connecting to the curriculum. Consistency is about recognizing that teacher to teacher things are different.

We need to start explaining this to parents and to students.

Things are different in this class. Not just the methodology of instruction, but assessment, and that’s because the students are different in this class. If we can learn to embrace student-directed learning, we’ll understand that learning isn’t consistent. It is messy. It is inefficient. Learning doesn’t happen the same way, ever, so why are we creating the myth that it should?

Sep 8, 2011
Comments Off on And We’re Off…

And We’re Off…

If the first three days are any indication, this will be an excellent, interesting semester where I will learn much, be challenged often, and laugh every day. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

I tried something new in my Applied level class on Tuesday. First day, I gave them an assignment. An assignment that counts. In fact, an assignment that I knew would be difficult for them, an oral presentation. Most often, these are the most difficult of assignments to get the Applied level to do. This goes mostly to the nature of the students, but also to the confidence it takes to stand and deliver in front of a group of your peers. So, I decided, we’re starting with it. No ice breakers, team-builders, nothing. I gave them 15 minutes to prepare their oral presentations and then one by one they took to the front of the room and presented.  Now the structure was simple. They had 32 seconds to tell us something. They had to show enthusiasm. I told them that, yes, it counted and frankly, this was their first impression of them as a student.

And they killed it. It was excellent.

At this point, they hadn’t built the roles they will play in the class yet, in fact, they hadn’t been introduced to each other.

Thirty two seconds is long enough to say something, but short enough that it doesn’t get awkward for those that struggle.

Most importantly, I chose to start with this oral presentation assignment because now they know, no one gets a zero. We strive to “be great” and now there are no excuses. We have established that they have all completed an assignment and that they have all, so far, achieved success.

So, first day, everyone’s passing. Everyone is successful. Now, I’ve also learned something about them, they’ve put themselves out there and they are able to immediately see how I give feedback. Honest and to the point.

With this they are on the road to success and we’re off…

Aug 2, 2011
Comments Off on Being Called Weird, Odd and Peculiar is Fine By Me

Being Called Weird, Odd and Peculiar is Fine By Me

Hearing student feedback can be scary. You have to check your ego. I got a flurry of feedback from my most recent summer school students.


They repeatedly called me names:

“Weirdest teacher I have ever had”

“Very odd”

“He was different.”

“Unorthodox, some might say a tad peculiar.”

“At first, the teacher seemed kinda weird, he had a teaching method that I wasn’t used to and at first I didn’t like it. Or him for that matter.”


I get it.

I’m a little out of the box for many students. What followed in their feedback is what allows me to continue exploring the ideas of relationships, exploration, creativity in the context of a ‘regular’ high school classroom.


“I’ve been inspired through curiosity to keep learning.”

“This whole course has made me curious and that’s what kept me going each day; I knew something crazy and unexpected was due to happen!”

“At first the teacher seemed kinda weird, But after a few days I started to understand why he did the things he did, and now he has one of my favourite teaching styles.”

“I don’t look at learning the same way. I feel empowered to do more.”


I’m not saying I nailed it. I’m not saying it was perfect execution and you need to be different to be effective. I’m not saying that these students were not just kissing ass for a few extra percent.

However, I take from this that standing out there, alone in a field is ok. It feels awkward at times. You open yourself up to much critcism and skepticism, but I’m okay with that. I’m willing to be that odd teacher that does things differently, if it gets students to look past the grade and into the heart of what learning is all about.

Being called weird, odd and peculiar is fine by me.


“Mr. Kemp is the weirdest teacher I have ever had the pleasure to learn from.”

6 color styles available:

Style switcher only on this demo version. Theme styles can be changed from Options page.