Sometimes listening to my students talk in their book club meetings makes me want to cry big fat sentimental tears of joy.

When my ENG4C class begins its book club meetings, they discussions are shallow and clunky and stilted. I have to intervene to keep the discussion flowing.

We’re in our second last meeting and my group of boys reading Crank are so invested in the story they talk about it at lunch and text each other about it after school. Boys who used to groan about reading are raiding the library for more books by Ellen Hopkins.

My other guys who are reading Looking for Alaska are discussing how angry and sad they were at a certain point (except for one who’s claiming it didn’t affect him) the others are all begrudgingly admitting that they cried.

I don’t need to do anything now during these meetings. I’m just watching them and listening to them.

It’s kind of beautiful.

Here are the books my kids love:

Looking for Alaska


It’s Kind of a Funny Story

The Perks of Being a Wallflower


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Now what?


Photo credit

After TED and Saturday’s workshops, I asked myself the above question and then quickly remembered– Oh yeah! I’m bringing two students to the Board Office (insert angelic chorus and shaft of light beaming down from the heavens–just kidding. I’ve worked there. I know.) to share their experiences with Ning and bookclubs with some intermediate teachers.

I feel like I’ve missed a lot of class lately so I was feeling a little guilty but now as I sit at home at 3:30(!) sipping a caramel machiatto and eating some cookies and reflecting on the day–guilt be gone! I did–or rather–we did good today!

My super smart and talented friend Heather who I abandoned last year to return to the classroom asked me if I’d be willing to come and speak at the final sessions of a series of Creating Strategic Readers workshops. Now while I’m thrilled to be back in the classroom there are a number of things I really miss about being a learning coordinator:

  • having time to direct my own professional learning
  • being a part of important board initiatives
  • being in the loop
  • the salad bar in the cafeteria
  • being able to go to the washroom whenever I want (!)
  • But mostly — I miss working with all the cool people (particularly Heather–or H-Dawg as I like to call her. It’s her street name. It’s a thing. … never mind)

So when Heather asked me to come in I was really excited–also because I got to share things that I’d actually tried with students–unlike last year where I had to speak in theoretical terms which was often frustrating. Heather also asked me if I could bring some students.

I chose two girls from my 4C class last semester. They weren’t the highest achievers in my class and they weren’t the stereotypical “good students”, but they were really great kids–one very outgoing and confident, and one a little shy and quiet. We drove down to the board office and I explained to the girls that I would talk for a bit, but that the teachers would be way more interested in what they had to say.

The girls rocked! It was so awesome when a teacher asked me a question and I was able to redirect to the girls. eg/ Teacher: So did you find that the boys in the class were more engaged when using your class Ning?

Me: Girls?

Superstar student #1: Oh yeah!

Superstar student #2: Totally!

Superstar student #1: Like Andrew–he’d never read a book before!

Teacher: But what about bullying? How did you find the other students were when it came to saying inappropriate things?

Me: Girls?

Superstar Student #1: Well, like Ms. Barker was monitoring everything so we know we couldn’t say bad stuff–not that we would–

Superstar Student #2: Yeah, and actually I felt like the opposite happened. Like even if you didn’t really like someone, you were still writing positive comments. It’s like were a big team and we all want to help each other out.

Me: I paid them to say that.

So cool. The girls were great. I think the coolest part was what we talked about when on the way home. The girls talked about how teachers needed to be open-minded and try new things and they liked it when teachers tried to value the things they did outside of class. I know they were only two of my students, but it was so nice to feel like all of my hunches about what made good teaching were true at least for them. Plus they were so much more credible as experts than I ever could be.

No, the coolest part was when I overheard a teacher say to another teacher “They’re awesome!”

And sure, some of the teachers were resistant, or they felt like they couldn’t do this with their students, or that it must take way too much time, but now that I’m a classroom teacher, my response is simple: Yes it takes time. Yes there are challenges. But it’s worth it to me because I see the difference it makes in my students’ learning. If you feel like you’ve got enough challenges right now, or you don’t think it’s worth the time, don’t do it. I’m just sharing.

So liberating. Seriously. Last year when teachers would push back or come up with excuses I would get really defensive. Now I smile and nod and say, “Then this may not be the right choice for you.” And I can say that because I know what works for me and it’s totally worth it–especially when I hear Superstar Student # 2 say “Wow I think we really rocked that, don’t you?”

Yep. We rocked that.

ENG4C Unit 3

Feeling a little brain dead after this unit, so I’m not going to provide much of a rationale except to say that this is a continuation of the previous unit in that students will be continuing to explore the issues and themes from their book clubs. The focus is on the writing strand, but there is also a media creation component. I just wanted to also add that these are not the lesson plans. These plans are to lesson plans as essay outlines are to final essays. They will change and evolve over time. I haven’t even met my students yet so how do I know exactly what they will need to learn!

ENG4C Unit 2

The big idea for this unit is “Relationships and Identity” or “Relationships and Choices”. It is based on the fantastic Fourth R curriculum that is a joint project by TVDSB, CAMH Centre for Prevention Science, and The Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (UWO). They have created curriculum for a number of different courses including a book club for ENG4C that explores issues such as eating disorders, mental health, sexual identity, bullying, violence, peer pressure, and substance abuse.  I have supplemented the book club lessons with lessons on reading strategies and media connections. The culminating task is a reading portfolio where students select evidence from the unit to demonstrate their mastery of (I hope!) a variety of reading strategies, speaking and listening strategies, understanding of content, ability to make connections, etc. They will explain their choices in an informal report that will serve as practice for the report the write in the next unit.

In the next unit, students will be completing a research report connected to one of the themes in their novels.

The overall focus for this unit will be the Reading and Literature Studies strand of the Ontario ENG4C curriculum.

Again I invite your questions, comments and suggestions!

One more thing: When looking at this on the blog, you can choose toggle full screen by clicking on the square in the right hand corner of the document below. It will make it much easier to read.

Eng4c Unit 2

ENG 4C Unit One

Submitted for your approval: Unit 1 of ENG 4C, Barker-style. This is just the outline of course, but my plan is to make each strand a major focus for each unit. The first unit is mostly diagnostic but the focus will be on the Oral Communication strand. I’ve included links (wherever possible) to the resources I plan to use and I have also attached my course outline (planning version, not official version) so you can see how this unit fits into the whole. I know the last thing my teacher friends want to think about right now is planning but I’d love any feedback you’re willing to provide.
ENG4C Unit Plan 1

ENG4C Assessment Plan