The Story of Charlee Rae

Hello everyone!  You may, or may not, have noticed that it’s been a while since I’ve written here on our blog.  I have a confession – a little secret I kept from the online world for 35 weeks.

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This was me four weeks ago! I was 33 weeks pregnant and it is a good thing we snuck out to do these photos because a few days after this I was in the hospital until the birth of our baby.

Meet our daughter, Charlee Rae! Charlee was born November 6th.  She weighed 6lbs4oz and was 48.5cm long – a decent size baby considering she was born premature at 35 weeks gestational age.

Charlee came into this world screaming a loud pitched and beautiful HELLO! She clasped her tiny hand around her Pa's finger and hasn't let go since.

Charlee came into this world screaming a loud pitched and beautiful HELLO! She clasped her tiny hand around her Pa’s finger and hasn’t let go since.

My pregnancy with Charlee was an experience.  The first trimester found me very sick all the time (nothing new, I know, but seriously…the puking!)  I also suffered a hemorrhage at 7 weeks pregnant and spent the weekend in emergency at the hospital getting blood tests and ultrasounds.  The second trimester was a breeze; I felt great, looked great and cruised through those three months.  The morning I started the third trimester I woke up and vocalized, “I’m done!” The third trimester was, well, terrible for me.  I was hospitalized for four days at 32 weeks and was; therefore, not allowed to go back to work (I haven’t been teaching since October 15th).  I was hospitalized a second time on Hallowe’en and that time I didn’t leave the hospital until Charlee was born on November 6th.  Actually, I DID leave the hospital.  I was sent to Vancouver via helicopter the day before Charlee was born because there wasn’t space in the special care nursery here in Victoria.  To top that all off, I developed pre-eclampsia halfway through my 35th week of pregnancy (combined with placenta previa and an anterior placenta).  Charlee was born via a “high risk” c-section, but all turned out just fine.  You can read the full story on our family blog if you’re keen to know more.

So, 36 viles of blood, 35 weeks of carrying this baby, 10 ultrasounds, three hospitalizations and one high risk c-section later our baby girl arrived!

Here are some photos of our champion little girl.


Charlee’s best “milk drunk” face.

Charlee loves her Pa's fingers and holds tight to them whenever she can!

Charlee loves her Pa’s fingers and holds tight to them whenever she can!

This is my life now.

This is my life now.


After 11 days in the special care nursery in Vancouver, Charlee passed her car seat test like a champ!

After 11 days in the special care nursery in Vancouver Charlee passed her car seat test like a champ!


On Monday we were so happy to finally be heading home.

Our first night and day at home. A new pace to this former busy, jam-packed life.

Our first night and day at home. A new pace to this former busy, jam-packed life.

We love this little fighter so much. She put up with so much while in the womb - we know she's going to be just as resilient in this big, wide world.

We love this little fighter so much. She put up with so much while in the womb – we know she’s going to be just as resilient in this big, wide world.

I intend to stay connected with the education world via this blog while I am on maternity leave for a year, after all, I can’t leave Meaghan hanging!  That said, I might only pop in every now and then until we get a set routine in our new life.  See you all soon!


Guest Post: Assessment NOW

Our guest post today is from a local teacher in our district, Jessica Hoyt. Jessica works for the Learning Initiatives department of our school district and is here to share about assessment practices.

The invitation to write this blog post has allowed me to reflect and crystalize my thinking after the Solution Tree Assessment NOW Conference that was held in Victoria last week. The keynote speakers included Ken O’Connor, Anne Davies, and Damian Cooper. So, first of all, a big thank you to Meaghan & Karley for this opportunity to unpack some of my thinking…after my brain has had some time mull over assessment in all its glory. Perhaps my musings will spark a connection or question for you in relation to this messy and integral process in teaching and learning, called assessment.

attachmentMaya Rudolph has perfectly captured what my face probably looked like when someone mentioned the A-word, assessment, during my early days of teaching. However, over time, through conversations, reading and research, trial and error, I have become more comfortable, actually excited, to discuss assessment practices in education. It is that something that I keep coming back to, it’s that thing niggling at the back of my mind; I reflect on how I can make it meaningful, purposeful and motivating for my students as well as informative and helpful for parents. Overall, I try my best to keep assessment as the driver of my planning and instruction.

attachmentAt the conference, one of the presenters explained that the word assessment comes from a Latin word that means “to sit beside.” In essence, it is a conversation, an ongoing dialogue to communicate and help students along in their learning journey.

During the various presentations and breakout sessions there were some reaffirmations as to what I should keep doing in addition to some reminders as to what I should throw away, or stop doing in my practice. There were also some moments where the assessment clouds parted and I experienced new thinking.

Keep Doing

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    Figure 1 Example of co-constructing criteria for group work and follow-up student reflections.

    Co-constructing criteria: Students partake and uncover what makes powerful, quality work, using exemplars at the outset and then their own work as the unit of study unfolds. When quality is identified during the beginning stages of the learning journey, students can use the criteria to goal-set and then search for evidence of meeting goals and criteria in subsequent pieces of work. Students as self-assessors = huge impact on learning and achievement! Anne Davies’ examples of co-constructing criteria reminded me of the agency and importance of slowing down to involve students in the assessment process right from the very start. This way, the students have been actively engaged in constructing the criteria, in their language. They know specifically what to look for in their own work (instead of me simply handing out a rubric, which makes sense to my teacher brain, yet a key ingredient is missing – student voice). Keep kids in the driver’s seat by involving them in creating criteria.


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    Figure 2 An amazing resource by Moss & Brookhart to get the learning target party started!

    Create and post learning targets in student friendly language: use for metacognitive purposes and to unveil the mystery as to what skills, competencies and dispositions students are working on for each lesson/unit.


  • Performance Standards: use for baseline, mid year and end of year assessments as well as to communicate student learning along the way. Students need a clear picture of expectations and ways to increase proficiency (available for reading, writing, numeracy & social responsibility). I love these BC homegrown documents!


Stop Doing

  • If you give a student a mark and feedback, you are wasting your precious time. I always forget this one! Research shows that giving simply a mark has no impact on student achievement, but providing a mark and feedback also has NO IMPACT on student achievement. Why might this be? Once a mark is stamped on a piece of work, this is a signal to the student that the learning is over; however, I was reminded that if you provide feedback and NO MARK, this will boost learning gains by 30%. Thus, formative feedback, assessment for learning, is the best bang for our buck if we want our students to show increases in development and achievement over time; this ultimately leads to students feeling successful and therefore motivated. The following quote by Ken O’Connor resonated with me “Everything that is assessed and/or checked DOES NOT need a score AND not every score should be included in the grade.” In summary, the bulk of the learning is accompanied by ongoing, feedback (check out: Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam).


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    Figure 3 How can we ensure students are able to participate and engage in the task, at their current level of readiness?

    Fair means equal: NOPE “Fair does not mean equal; yet, when it comes to grading, we insist that it does.” (Patterson, “Breaking out of Our Boxes,” Phi Delta Kappan (April 2003), p. 572).


Differentiated instruction is something I have been exploring and developing in my practice over the past six years. That being said, I’ve realized that I have some work to do when it comes to differentiating my assessment of learning. Damian Cooper’s Redefining Fair: How to Plan, Assess and Grad for Excellence in Mixed-Ability Classrooms seems as though it would be a good starting point for me to dig deeper into this issue that has niggling at the back of my mind since the conference. This leads me to my next point…


An aha! Parting of the assessment clouds

  • Tiered instruction and assessments: Damian Cooper made an analogy to ski lessons that illustrated the importance of working with students at their current level of ability. He explained that prior to ski lessons at Whistler, three ski instructors were positioned at the bottom of a hill and asked the students to take five turns down the slope towards them. Based on this performance, students were then grouped into lessons that would push them to the next level of proficiency. Tiered instruction and assessments are similar to the skill lesson scenarios: “Tiring is a readiness-based instructional approach in which all students work with the same essential knowledge, understanding, and skills, but at different levels of difficulty based on their current proficiency with the ideas and skills. Tiering enables a student to work both with critical content and at an appropriate challenge level” (from Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe).


Damian Cooper also described the importance of Lev Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development.” Our role as teachers, like the ski instructors, is to know what is it that the student can do on his/her own and to then push to the next level. Thus, this does not mean that the ski students who are going down the green runs stay there the entire lesson; it means that this is where they start and this level will allow the students to build essential skills and competencies alongside the

Figure 4 Similar to a run at the ski hill, students self-select their appropriate level of challenge

Figure 4 Similar to a run at the ski hill, students self-select their appropriate level of challenge

instructors so that when they feel ready, the students can choose the appropriate challenge on their own. (Very conveniently, the three levels of challenge in the graphic of tiered assessments shown above align with the ski metaphor with green, blue and black levels of challenge). I still have hard questions about designing learning and performance tasks that allow for varying degrees of challenge as I want all of my students to have an opportunity to achieve at the “black” level in various aspects or domains of learning; this is my new wondering that will need to be explored further.

Questions to ponder…

How might tweaking some of our assessment strategies change the culture from marks and grading to a culture of learning?

What is a question in relation to assessment that you are thinking deeply about right now? What are you trying and what are you noticing?

Teach it Tuesday: French Centres

IMG_3296Ahhh… I finally started! I’ve been talking about this one for quite a while now it seems. I started planning French centres last year and have been actively gathering ideas and resources ever since until yesterday we finally started them in class. And so far so good! There are a few areas that need some adjustments but that’s all part of trying out something new.

I chose to go with six centres so that all my students are in groups of four. I’ve kept it organized so far by posting the centres on the board with the groups below and then I can just rotate the cards around so students know where to go.


The centres are general ideas for now and I’m hoping to have them more polished by Christmas break but this is what I have for now:

1. DuoLingo

We have all set up DuoLingo accounts so when the students are at this centre they just log onto the iPads and get started. Super easy for me and they LOVE it!

2. Vocab

This station will be one of the stations I will change up frequently. . Right now they are working on finding Mots Amis (words that are almost the same spelling in French and English) and Mots Familiares (common French words we know) in flyers that I have printed off. They cut out the words they recognize and glue them in the right column on a sheet. My plan is eventually to have some vocabulary activity books (similar to the ones on our Teachers pay Teachers store) that students can work through in groups.

3. Conversations

I had planned this station last year but was having so much trouble trying to find time to set it up until… Teachers pay Teachers to the rescue! Someone had already done the work! (Find it here) For this centre I have a box of the questions and then the reference list that says what the question means and how to answer it. Basically students take turns asking the questions to each other and if they know how to answer it right away without help they get 2 points, if they need to ask for help or use the sheets they get 1 point, and if they don’t answer it then no points. At the end of the centre I have them write down their score for the day and they will be competing against their own scores each week to see their improvement. I was worried that the 15-20 minutes would be too much time for this station but once they got the hang of it everything went smoothly!

4. Tellagami

Karley wrote about this app last year here. This app is so much fun for students to use and I am very excited about my plan to use it as a tool throughout the year (when I get my full time, full year contract!) Every student is creating a character on Tellagami and then they are going to make the 30 second video a basic introduction to their character. The plan is that every time I do centres they will make a new video for the same character so first round is introductions but after this it might be a 30 second description of their hobbies, or foods the like, or summer plans… whatever fits in with our French vocab!

5. Reading

This station is pretty straightforward – they read out loud to each other. I left about 5 books and magazines in French on the table and each student read for 3-4 minutes and then they discussed what they thought was happening in the story. Once the centres are going smoothly, this will be the station I will spend the most time at assessing oral language and helping guide comprehension. For now they seemed to have a lot of fun reading children’s books!

6. Activity

This is another centre that will have a lot of changes depending on what we are focusing on. Right now they are making “All About Me” posters in French. I got these posters from a colleague and they are really fun, pretty simple and look really nice when they are done. I like that it has the creative component in designing the poster and the basic introduction language that they will be using in their Tellagami videos.

So those are my six centres for French right now and I will keep you posted as to how everything is working out.

Any suggestions for my centres? Has anyone used a centres based approach before?

What are some good picture books with simple language I should get?





Bonus and Virus

Back when I was in the Katimavik program we had weekly house meetings. We always started the meetings with our “bonus and virus” of the week – like a high point and low point. This past week has been CRAZY in my teaching world (Halloween candy + daylight savings + full moon = Why do we do this job?!) and although normally I am a very positive person, especially when it comes to blogging, there were some tough moments! But don’t worry there were lots of amazing, I can’t believe I get paid to do this moments too…


IMG_3288The Book Draw! This is an idea I got from one of my profs in university and I had totally forgotten about it. Every so often he would bring in a book to give away and we would all write our name on a piece of paper and he would draw a winner – simple as that! He said his reason for it was so that we would do it with our classes one day. Well two more years of university and two years of teaching have gone by but this past week I remembered that and decided to give it a try.

It was perfect timing because a) I had received a $25 gift card for a book store at the conference I was at for Pro D and b) the book store was having a big sale on hardcover teen reads! I managed to get 5 books for about $30 (so I only spent $5 out of pocket!).

On Friday I put three of the books at the front of the room and told the class I was going to do a book draw simply because I like books and I like them. Everyone put there name in, the draw wasn’t tied at all to behaviour or work habits or anything, and they were so excited! Happy students and excited about books/reading – winning combination so far…

The best part? Drawing the name of a student and having the rest of the class cheer for him as he went to choose a book. What an awesome group! It warmed my heart and felt so great – best way I’ve ever started a day at school! I think I will do the book draw about once a month and I’ll keep looking for books on sale to make sure it’s realistic and affordable for me.


I’m not going to lie – there were MANY tough moments this week to choose from. But that’s a part of life and I know the ways I can prepare myself better for the weeks to come.

The biggest “virus” I went through this week was what I’m going to call my “Math Assessment Meltdown.” I’ve been struggling with math assessment since my final practicum… I find it really hard to find a place where I feel I have a good idea of where every student is at without marking everything.

IMG_3290Friday afternoon I was three hours into my marking load when I felt like crying or screaming or hitting my head against the wall. How did I get so behind? Why was I doing all this marking when the answers are in the back of the book? Why did this seem like the best way to assess math? And why was I only half way through the pile of work in front of me?

So I did what I’ve always sworn I won’t do – I packed everything up and brought it home with me! I have strict rules with myself to maintain balance in my life and usually that means no work on the weekend (unless I have to do a little bit of prep from my home computer). I allow myself to stay as late as I need during the week but the weekend is my time and not for marking. But I just couldn’t sit in the room anymore and I needed to get some of the marking handed back on Monday so home the work came.

As I was walking around doing some errands after work I started thinking about this marking overload – This can’t be what every teacher does? I must be missing something! So I put the call out on Facebook to my lovely teacher friends who came rushing to my rescue with tons of ideas, and I talked to my friends and family trying to figure out what would work best for me.

As it turns out my “Math Assessment Meltdown” has turned into a much bigger and more productive thing… It has started an important conversation about what we can do as teachers to assess students without spending a ridiculous amount of time up to our elbows in papers and red ink.

I am so happy I asked for help (although I wish I’d asked sooner!) and I can’t wait to delve into this assessment stuff with a few more innovative ideas in my toolbox.

What was your Bonus and Virus this week?

Any tips for effective math assessment?






Guest Post: Connecting to Nature Through Art

This week we have a special guest post from Meaghan’s teaching partner, Carol McDougall. Carol is a middle school teacher, author and now an education coordinator for a gallery here in Victoria. She will explain more about her projects…

I have arrived at a place that was very unexpected and yet it feels that many steps have brought me here. I feel very fortunate to be a part of something that aligns so much with what I feel is important – kids, nature, and the fine arts.

I am in a new role as the education coordinator for the Robert Bateman Centre Gallery. Not yet ready to leave classroom teaching, which I love, I have spent this fall combining these two jobs.

Several years ago I was inspired to write, illustrate and self-publish “A Salmon’s Sky View.” I wanted children to become engaged readers by participating in an art response. I used my book to collaborate with teachers who incubated salmon in the classroom during my graduate studies. I observed an increase in literacy, creative thinking, and understanding of the salmon life cycle through arts integration. In 2009 the Canadian Science Writers awarded my book as the best science book for youth. I offer workshops in learning through the arts.

As an educational consultant, I have been developing inquiry-based programs for the Robert Bateman Centre gallery, which are tied to the new BC draft curriculum. I have been piloting these programs and providing professional development. I am working with and reporting to a supportive group including Robert Bateman’s daughter Sara who is an educator. We have narrowed down 6 ideas to three themes “Birds” “BC Animals” and “Looking at Art”

There have been many highlights but two are outstanding. Firstly, I spent the morning with Robert Bateman at his home and studio. He is an amazing artist, a committed conservationist and a fascinating and generous person.

Secondly, I truly enjoy the field trips with classes. We have spent a great deal of time preparing for these and I soak in the pleasure of watching these classes sprawled and sketching with genuine artistic intensity. They all love the art but are drawn to what I call the bird song gallery, the African gallery, and the ‘you be the curator’ gallery.

African galleryBluebird sketchyou are a curator

They are connecting to nature through art and it makes my heart sing.


It was this photo of my principal, which really resonated with me. He is a very busy man who is so dedicated he has accompanied us as our much-needed chaperone. The painting ‘Vancouver Island Elegy’ mesmerizes him.  I want everyone to feel that deep connection to art and nature.


How are you connecting people to nature through art?