Little Do We Know

The Sad Little Fact by Jonah Winter is a whimsical, yet poignant and very contemporary commentary about who decides what is fact and what may be shared as “facts” as determined by the “authorities”.  Pete Oswald effectively portrays the authorities as long-legged, red fisted partial torso figures. The burying of facts is both a literal and figurative image which sparks conversation and controversy.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of cracking the spine of this picture book for all of our grade 3 – 8 learners. Each conversation reached a different depth of discussion that I had not anticipated. I credit that complexity to our educators who, on a regular basis, are providing our students with opportunities to use and strengthen their critical thinking skills as it relates to information consumption. Our students are very versed in how to ensure that multiple, reliable sources are used while researching topics and they easily and authentically pose, “I wonder” statements when pondering information.

Entering into this Read Aloud “tour”, I had anticipated a conversation about global warming, as the story line leads the reader down that road, but I had not anticipated the rich and impassioned conversations about residential schools, Google Home devices and processed foods to name but a few.  In most classes we were also to also refine the conversation from an initial global perspective to a local one, as we discussed how we all need to be “fact finders” instead of blindly believing others ~ whether we are researching life on other planets or school yard misunderstandings. Our conversations even included some clever connections such as the wondering if the “facts” were developed/created in a “fact’ory. Needless to say, our students are rarely passive consumers of good quality texts.  They actively engage in each experience.

As I normally find when I venture on one of my school-wide Read Aloud tours, each introduction to the book becomes more powerful as the thoughts and ideas from previous classroom discussions enhance each subsequent one. It seems to take more and more time for me to get to the first word in the story.  For this tour, we found that the biographical information about the author created the opportunity for lots of background knowledge building. We were intrigued by Winter’s reluctance for a social media presence; especially as an author in 2020. Yet, as we finished the story, our students had effectively drawn the connection between how he depicted the “authorities” and the factory-like assembly line creation of fake facts and his reluctance to join the world of social media.

On the same day that I completed my final read aloud of “The Sad Little Fact”, I received an unexpected invitation to join a friend and see ‘Little Women”, Greta Gerwig’s current adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 classical tale of the four March sisters. I found the movie emotionally riveting from beginning to end, through all of the timeline variations (I was thankful at times for Jo’s change of hairstyle as it aided in my confirmation of where we were in and in which storyline).  It was one of those movies that I will undoubtedly enjoy again, but with a pen and paper close by ~ as the richness of the dialogue needs to be appreciated a second time. Having said that, there was one quote that didn’t need tools to document it, in order to remember it, as it resonated in my mind, as soon as it was articulated in the film.  “Writing doesn’t confer importance, it reflects it”

And there is was ~ that serendipitous moment of connection between “The Sad Little Fact” and “Little Women”.  Could it be that both Greta Gerwig, through the character of Jo Marsh, and Jonah Winter were both using their words to warn us of the perils of the written word and our current abandonment of authenticity? It is becoming increasingly challenging to decipher fact from fiction.  Gone are the days that we could unequivocally trust that the written word was indeed factual? We are bombarded with “fake news” and it is becoming more and more challenging to know what is fact and what is fiction.

 I love how Gerwig portrays the stand-off between Jo and her editor to emphasize that very point.  “The right ending is the one that sells”, he states, when Jo blatantly answers, “She doesn’t marry either of them”.

So….is all lost? Or is this a call to action?  What is our role as educators when it comes to teaching our students about how to distinguish between fact and fiction?

Come write with me…..

Words on Fire

“To be without learning is to be without eyes” is the only phrase, singularly situated in the middle of the first page of Jennifer Nielsen’s latest young adult novel, “Words on Fire”.   It is a Lithuanian proverb.

The theme of being “without” is intertwined throughout this beautifully crafted, emotional and thrilling young adult novel.  Audra, the main character, who has led a very sheltered life up until now, is suddenly thrust into a world of survival, discovery and more importantly into a world of books, words and ideas.  It’s a world that had been intentionally kept from her. Her only connection to the written word was her knowledge of the letter A, as the first letter of her name.   So it makes perfect sense that she begins her journey without a deep understanding of the power of the written word and ends up risking her life once she realizes that words have the power to save a culture which is doomed to extinction.

For those of us who love to devour books and can’t imagine a world without them, Nielsen effectively uses Audra and Lukas’ interactions as a vehicle to explain how words, when intentionally blended, can transform the worlds of their readers.

As Lukas shares with Audra, “This is a book of ideas. Someone thought the idea and put it into words on paper. That became a seed, and every time someone reads those words, the seed is planted in their minds too, and it grows and spreads and becomes a plan, and those plans begin to change the world”.

As educators, that is the magic that we want to share with our students. We want our students to do so much more than just “read” the words on a page. We want them to see their power, to know that they (our students) can take those words and use them to create, dream, plan and make a difference.  We want our students to become completely immersed in their reading world like Audra when she shares, “I loved the feel of the paper between my fingers, the smell of the ink. Every word was a symphony, singing in me of other lands, of other people, of places where new ideas were encouraged, not made illegal”.

But beyond becoming immersed in a world as readers, we also want our students to know the power of creation. We want them to use words, play with words and combine words to create other worlds, to create characters and to create tantalizing images of places that others will want to visit.

As this heartwarming tale comes to an end, whether intentional on the part of the author/publisher or just a serendipitous detail, I found tears rolling down my check, in tandem to Audra’s, as on cue, with a 3,2,1 countdown.   When you read page 321 you will know the reason for the tears!

I challenge you to read this book, to share it with your students and to then take up the task of writing with them as they explore the power of words.

Come write with me.

#Oneword 2020

And just like that, we find ourselves ringing in, not only a new year, but a new decade.  Last night at midnight, as the multi-coloured ball dropped in New York City, the revelers were adorned with 2020 glasses, the streets were lined with 2020 balloons and multiple images of 2020 were sprayed across the television screen.  We all knew that this next year was going to be 2020 ~ it naturally follows 2019. But there was something about seeing it so vividly displayed that solidified the reality of a new decade.

For the past few years I’ve committed to selecting #oneword as my first blog post to ring in the new year and in this case, a new decade.  With the images of 2020 still fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but make the connection to both the popular ABC newsmagazine show 20/20 and the sharpness or clarity of vision that is associated with 20/20 vision.  Ah, should my #oneword for 2020 be VISION?  Although I could find a number of connections and possible tangents to explore with that word, I wanted to narrow the focus and be more precise. Plus, I learned from my #oneword last year, “PRESENT”, that selecting a word that has both the capability of being a verb and a noun brings a richness to the selection and creates the conditions for me to revisit it multiple times throughout the year within various contexts.  As I begin to reread the first few lines of my post, transforming a few of the words and playing with punctuation my #oneword seems to magically jump off the page.

For the 2020 year my #oneword is going to be FOCUS. I want to purposefully narrow the work that we’re doing at school and focus on a few initiatives and do those well ~ instead of spreading ourselves and our efforts too thinly.
A few weeks ago I had bookmarked an article that peaked my interest, “Focus is the Gateway to Business Success” by Dr. Jim Taylor. Within the article, Taylor shares, “Focus is so important because it is the gateway to all thinking: perception, memory, learning, reasoning, problem solving, and decision making.”  He also provides his readers with a few tips bring focus back into focus.

1) Declutter your mind and your work space

2) Master your technology

3) Practice the 4 Ps ~ Perform, process, present and productivity

Lately I’ve been finding it challenging to stay focused on any one task for any length of time.  Even today as I’m working on this post, my phone is close at hand and each notification draws my attention from my laptop to the possibility of something more interesting on another device. Hence the reason that it has taken most of the evening to pen this post.

As we venture into this new decade, which holds limitless possibilities, my goal is to purposefully embrace those possibilities with both precision and focus so that we can yield meaningful and measureable results.

As you ponder the possibilities of this new decade, what will your Focus be?

Come write with me…..