A. Grace Martin

Author, Student Teacher, Optimist and Promoter of Self-Empowerment


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PSII Friday March 13, 2015

Posted by agracemartin on April 25, 2015 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Today I was observed by my university consultant. I taught the Science 14s about cooling systems using PowerPoint notes and YouTube videos. I think that my engagement of the students was very good. As far as a note-taking lesson that is both engaging and effective, I would rate this lesson as a 9 or 10 for my Science 14s.

I think that it is important for my to include “Please take off your hats” on the first slide of every PowerPoint. I do not notice hoods or hats because it doesn’t bother me, however I must follow the school policy.

I was very happy to see the boys in the class so engaged in the cooling system of vehicle engines. I thought that the videos I used enhanced their learning. I think that I asked good questions, had good pacing, and used good analogies to explain concepts. My university consultant commended me for a good speaking voice with good volume and enunciation. I think that one of the most important considerations when teaching Science 14 is having personal interactions and building positive relationships with the students. I absolutely love my class and am so happy to teach such wonderful young adults. I do not need to pretend to be cool because I’ve never been “cool” or “funny” but I can be relaxed, open, accepting, and have a joking sense of humour. I have been able to get to know some of the students interests, and I am hoping to incorporate them more into my classroom. I’d like to find some experiments that involve exothermic explosions, but have not found many that would be safe and easy for a classroom.

I had a fun class with my 9As today. They were all caught up with the 9Bs so I had some extra time to play a game called “This or That.” My teacher associate pointed out that I was able to hit the interests of every student in the classroom, especially some of the “at risk” students. Again, personal connections are very important to student engagement and learning. I also wanted to have a fun class with the 9As because they were so chatty earlier this week and I had to lay down the law with them. This way they have seen my assertive side as well as my fun side. I look forward to getting to know each of my students.

Thursday March 12, 2015

Posted by agracemartin on April 25, 2015 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Today I gave the Science 14s a lecture with direct instruction, notes from the PowerPoint, and an assignment. I was sure to differentiate the assignment for the K&E students to be fill-in-the-blanks, matching, and multiple choice instead of written short responses. The Science 9s also received direct instruction on energy transfer and generation of electricity. Hoods and hats were not even an issue because I put a memo to remove them on my first slide, and students self-monitored. Both of the Science 9 classes were amazing 10 out of 10 lessons. However, that is just compared to my first lessons. Therefore my next reflections will use this lesson as a benchmark. If I gave an equal lesson to this one tomorrow, it would be an 8 or 9. There is always room for improvement, but I am very satisfied with how well I am doing so far.

Today I am reflecting on something that my teacher associate/mentor told me, “expect the best publicly; prepare for the worst privately.” I must never let the students think that I’m floundering, and at times previously I have dared them to misbehave. I can change my wording to set students up for success by giving the positive expectation of what TO do while ignoring instructions of what NOT to do.

I am also thinking about having my head on a swivel. Teachers have so many things to do all at once, and being observant of all students at all times is crucial. I need to learn how to multitask giving instructions and scanning the room at all times. This is why I think it is more beneficial for me to stand at the front rather than walk around the room. I cannot see student’s faces when I am circulating. Also, I think that circulating is a better method for a physical classroom structure with table seating in which students sit at slightly different angles. I would not want to change the current grade 9 seating plans because it is working well for them. After seeing how they go off-task and chat too much as it is, I do not think that tables would help their learning process.

I talked with my TA about how students give almost anyone the benefit of the doubt and almost any new classroom management strategy. A lot of what I’ve learned at the university has been tested and researched in only a few classes and only for a short period of time. Can these strategies be done throughout the year consistently?

PSII Wednesday March 11, 2015

Posted by agracemartin on April 25, 2015 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Here are my notes from today's lesson:

• At the end of the day, do not say, “Who is going to go tell the principle why you are late because you were so bad?” • Instead when they are quiet say, “See, you can do it. You are capable of behaving maturely.”

• Consider being planted at the front of the room.

• Jigsaw did not work.

• Cue with an agenda. Tell them what we are going to do today.

• Let them know what to do. Whatever is on the slide, write it down…. De-clutter slides

• Especially for the students who were not here, tell them to write their notes on the handout.

• Differentiate notes… for K and E either make their assignment true/false or matching, or fill in the blank, or multiple choice. Make K&E do less writing. Give them very clear instructions


Today I realized that the lab I did with the Science 14s and 10-4s could have been completed in 45 minutes and it may have been more productive with less down time. I think that the components of the lab were effective, but I was very surprised at the lack of written responses on student lab report sheets. Even when I pointed out exactly what they were to write for observations, some simply chose not to. I am not sure yet how to assess this. I give the lab a 6 out of 10, but if it were quicker I think it would have been an 8 or 9. Students really enjoyed setting toilet paper on fire using petroleum jelly or Crisco lard as a continuous fuel source. They also enjoyed playing with thermometers, holding the ends and asking about the mercury inside. The quick quiz formative assessment was indicative of very low understanding of the concept of friction. Very few students understood that friction was the resisting of two objects being rubbed together.

Today I had the 9As for a forty-five minute class, which I will give a 5 out of 10 for learning and my early mistake of not cuing. I give myself a 9 out of 10 for classroom management to salvage the lesson and not lose my authority. I am considering planting myself at the front of the room, rather than circulating throughout the classroom. In PSI my mentors and university consultant encouraged me to circulate past every student. However, that takes me out of the line of sight of the grade 9s. My PowerPoint slides were cause for confusion with the lower achieving students. The K&E (knowledge and employability designation) students were overwhelmed by too many words. While I thought that I was preparing students for proper note-taking by providing them with bolded words within the slides, apparently they do not understand that while all information is relevant, only key words have to be written down. I started by telling them that I would go over thermocouples for them. I could tell that after two slides I had lost them. So instead I let them return to their groups and circulated with my explanations. I realize that they were tired after two slides because I did not properly cue them and say, “We are not doing groups today. We are taking notes from the PowerPoint slides. I will explain each concept to you and expect that you will copy down notes into your booklet. Everything is laid out for you in your booklet to make taking notes easier.”

The problem that I had was that the class did not work hard, but instead chatted and wasted time. So I brought their attention back to the front to go over the concepts. I said, “I’m sorry to those of you who were actually working hard, but most of you were not. We are going to get through this material and if you don’t pay attention, I will have to keep you back from your next class.” I had to pause frequently in silence to wait for students to stop chatting. Well the bell rang and students began to stand up I said, “Sit down. I did not excuse you. We are not finished yet. Don’t put away your binders, get out your booklets and write down the definition of the piezoelectric effect.” I stood silently at the front and stared at the students. The educational assistant asked a great question about piezoelectric crystals that I answered. Then I dismissed the class. When talking with my teacher associate/mentor afterwards, he was very glad that I followed through on my consequences, but wouldn’t advise holding them back again. I sincerely hope that I will never have to do that again. I want my students to know that I care about them, and while I will continue to hold an unconditional positive regard for every student, I am going to assert that there will be consequences for their actions. Tomorrow I will set my students up for success by giving them an exact agenda and expectations. I will have both the 9As and 9Bs for forty-five minutes. I will welcome them all into the class, ask them to remove their hats, and silently wait until they settle. When they do settle I will wait for another moment and then say “thank you, see I knew that you had it in you, that you are a fantastic class and you are very capable.” Then I will tell them our agenda for the class.

Book Signing Event

Posted by agracemartin on April 9, 2015 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (0)

My fantasy novel Spirit Rider will be promoted at the Lethbridge Chapters bookstore on Sunday April 26, 2015 from 12-4pm.

PS2 Practicum Log March 10, 2015

Posted by agracemartin on March 10, 2015 at 11:40 PM Comments comments (0)

For my second lesson with the Science 14s we reviewed convection, conduction, and radiation before moving on to the particle model of matter, Brownian motion, and temperature. First we addressed that hot air rises because it has more kinetic energy and is less dense than cooler air. To illustrate, I blew up a balloon and held a lighter beneath it. The balloon popped because the hot air expanded. This also illustrates that particles are in motion. To further student understanding of Brownian motion, the students placed drops of food coloring in a tray of milk and observed its apparent stability. Then students dipped a soap-covered Q-tip into the suspension and found that the food coloring moved to the sides due to an interaction with the soap.

The students experimented with rolling bouncy balls, a tennis ball, and a golf ball along different surfaces to demonstrate friction. They came to the conclusion that bumpier surfaces restrict the ball’s motion, and therefore have more friction. While this activity was fun for some students who willingly participated, others did not feel as engaged.

The final set of notes that I asked this class to take was on the difference between kinetic energy, thermal energy, and temperature. After this concept was explained, I split the class into three groups to play trivia. I thought that trivia was an extremely beneficial activity because it promoted collaboration within teams and stimulated a healthy amount of competition between teams.

We finished the lesson with teabag rocket experiments. I asked students to hypothesize what could cause the lifting of the burning teabag, and got some very close answers about hot air rising. I hinted at the potential for an exam question because a convection current is responsible. Overall I felt that the instruction and engagement of this lesson was also about an 8 when compared to my first lesson. However, formative assessment through trivia answers would make the success of collective student understanding a higher 9 out of 10.

Then I taught my introductory lesson to the grade 9’s on the energy connection to electricity. I found the content of energy transformations taught through the process of a story and class brainstorming of energy examples was very effective for the group of students. The jigsaw idea to promote student-directed learning and peer collaboration was well intended but did not have the desired results. I had the 9A class for 45 minutes, which was the perfect amount of time for our activities. Class ended after students had had time to perform background research into each sub-topic (thermocouples, thermopiles, thermo-electric generators, piezoelectric crystals, and light bulbs).

However, I had the 9B class for 90 minutes and then gave them additional time to teach one another their sub-topic. I was able to get the 9B’s further ahead in their understanding of electrical transformation in power grids, but realized that their retention and comprehension of thermocouples was very weak. My teacher associate/mentor pointed out that I could have reprimanded the students for not paying attention to their work. Since many groups went off-topic and chatted instead of working hard, it is no wonder that they did not fully understand the content. I have decided to go over each of the sub-topics in the next class. The next class will involve more note-taking and lecture-based direct instruction to get students back on track. I think that it might be beneficial to give more content up front, and then do activities to deepen understanding after. I will also need to keep in mind that my 9B’s need to complete two 9A-equivalent lessons each time that I have them in my classroom in order to keep up with a balanced schedule. As my teacher associate/mentor explained, testing is much easier when you can administer the same test to both groups on the same day.

I would give the first half of today’s class (the entire 9A lesson) an 8.5 out of 10. However I should have been firmer in the second half of the 9B’s lesson, and so I think that it only deserves a 5 out of 10. It certainly did not flop, but the last half was not successful as far as student learning and engagement are concerned.

PS2 Practicum Log Monday March 9, 2015

Posted by agracemartin on March 10, 2015 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Today was my first day of teaching a class of Science 14 and 10-4 (K & E) students. We introduced the flow of heat energy from hot to cold objects and the three ways in which thermal energy transfers: convection, conduction, and radiation.

Since this is my first lesson with this class, I will (almost) arbitrarily assign its' success as an 8 out of 10. This will be my reference point for reflections over this first week of classes.

I modified my lesson plan while teaching to accommodate the interests of my students. I noticed that the energy transfer story was not hitting home, so instead I brought out my Newton’s cradle and slinky to demonstrate mechanical energy transfer as an analogy for heat energy transfer and conservation of energy.

I think that sitting in a circle was very beneficial for establishing an informal environment. The Science 14s are mature enough to handle conversations with give-and-take commentary. I think the structure included everyone, keeping them accountable to the same conversation. I found this especially useful because usually the class splits into two groups at the back of the room, which could potentially make class discussions feel disjointed. Pushing the desks aside and arranging the chairs in a central circle also freed up enough space to do our kinesthetic activities.

1. Convection: We modeled convection as water particles that had to stay within a pot (an enclosure of chairs). As the bottom particles warmed up, they rose to the top, meaning that a student would walk up the middle of the space, then cycle back down again after cooling. As the "water" got hotter, two particles left the top of the pot to become water vapor. Two people bubbling out of the pot and circulating above it then modeled air convection currents.

2. Conduction: Students stood in a line and modeled energy transfer through direct contact by giving high-fives down the line.

3. Radiation: We then sat back down and did the “wave” to role-play heat energy radiating away from a source without direct contact.

I think that taking notes of each concept’s definition was also important. I only had one slide for notes, but noticed that in my formative assessment of a quick quiz, or exit slip, that convection and conduction were not easily remembered. Therefore, we will review the difference between the two concepts in our next class.

Accommodating for Individual Needs of Students who are Visually Impaired

Posted by agracemartin on March 5, 2015 at 12:10 PM Comments comments (0)

I worked with my colleague Jodie on this assignment do develop a learner profile as part of an IPP or ISP. Want to know more about Jodie? Visit her website at: jodieeinarson.weebly.com

Accommodating for Individual Needs (IPPs)

By: Jodie Einarson and Grace Martin

Characteristics of students who are blind or have low vision:

- Having poor to no visual perception.

- Students with visual impairments or low vision are able to use their remaining vision for learning but need a combination of compensatory visual strategies, low vision devices, and environmental modifications to access and respond to visual information.

- Visual impairment can involve a loss of visual clarity, and/or peripheral vision. Some conditions may result in reduced or loss of colour vision, sensitivity to light, or rapid, involuntary eye movements. These factors affect the student's degree of visual efficiency

- Low vision students usually are print users, but may require special equipment and materials.

- Low vision is defined as limited or diminished vision that cannot be corrected with standard lenses

- Clumsiness can occur when the eyes misjudge a distance. Sometimes young children who do not walk well actually have problems with their vision.

- May appear to also have a short attention span.

- May blink frequently or squint when looking at an object, reading, or watching TV.

- Crossed eyes, eyes that turn out, eyes that flutter from side to side or up and down, or eyes that do not seem to focus

- May become very isolated and stop doing activities they once loved

- Skim reading may be very difficult due to eye fatigue. Eye fatigue can cause headaches, and can also affect their study time.

- Difficulty recording notes

Learner Profile


1. Assistive Technology

• Device: Ideally we would give Orrin a laptop or tablet. We can borrow one laptop from the school’s laptop cart. Unfortunately, this would not have Zoomtext software as it is expensive software, but we can manually zoom in on Microsoft Word (and on most computer pages like websites). If the laptop cart is unavailable to borrow from, Orrin may use the teacher’s laptop while in class. Orrin having a laptop would allow him to successfully read and write all assignments. This approach would require some supervision to teach him how to zoom-in on a particular device. The other students should be aware that Orrin requires this device because he cannot see assignments as clearly as the other students do.

• Large print: If computers or tablets were not a possibility from the school, the teacher would have to take care to print all assignments large enough to be read by Orrin. Large lined pages and markers could be used by Orrin to write on to make his own writing more visible to him. This approach helps to solve the problem of when Orrin has homework and cannot take home a school computer or tablet. After the teacher has prepared this assistance, Orrin can use it independently. The other students won’t notice this assistance as much, but if it’s brought up the teacher can explain that large print helps Orrin read.

• Audio Technology: We could apply for grants to purchase Orrin a device with speech-to-text and text-to-speech software and a headset for the device. This software would aid Orrin in reading and writing because he does not need to rely on his eyesight to do so. Since he is also an orally processing thinker, he can better express his ideas verbally. This gives him more independence when completing assignments. If funding is still an issue, then audio books (textbooks on tape) can be given to Orrin during textbook research/reading time. The parents should be notified that Orrin is using this technology at school to help him get his ideas down efficiently.

• Braille Textbook: If a textbook is available in Braille version, it should be given to Orrin for use in class and at home. Or, Braille books on related science subjects can be found and purchased using the school’s book budget. Since it is difficult for Orrin to read small text, Braille is an assistive resource that would allow him to read science content independently. The parents should be aware of this approach in case they have not used Braille with Orrin before, and to be aware that the books are school property and must be returned.

2. Environmental Accommodations

• Physical Classroom Setup: Teacher must be aware while setting up the classroom with minimal furnishings, consistently located materials, and clear pathways. The lab area’s perimeter could be well defined with brightly coloured tape on the floor so that he can distinguish between different areas of the classroom. The teacher could put a high-contrast coloured fabric on the back of Orrin’s chair to help him find his seat. His desk should be placed in an easily accessible spot.

• Classroom Maintenance: The teacher must teach students how to properly maintain a tidy classroom by pushing in their chairs and returning materials to their proper location. This helps Orrin navigate the classroom and find materials that he needs.

• Noise Pollution: The teacher must control the student’s noise level during instruction because Orrin is an auditory learner and needs to be able to hear the teacher speak in order to learn. In this way, students can begin to respect Orrin’s auditory needs, including saying his name clearly when they wish to talk to him.

• Noon-hour Club: Since Orrin has a difficult time making new friends and engaging in social interactions (like communicating with peers over lunch hour), peer supports can be put in place to help Orrin feel accepted at school. The club could focus on nature, anti-bullying, leadership, alliance club, etc.

3. Academic Accommodations

• Differentiating product: Orrin can compose music and lyrics to express his knowledge of a concept in science. He is interested in music and has musical-rhythmic-harmonic intelligence. Allowing Orrin to compose would utilize his strengths to demonstrate his understanding. Orrin’s intrapersonal intelligence is expressed through this approach. If the topic is difficult to express through song, then Orrin can record verbal reflections. Other students should be allowed to differentiate their products as well.

• Differentiating instruction: Teacher’s verbal cues and relationship with Orrin are very important. The teacher should check in with Orrin to see how he is doing and use verbal assessments with him. Orrin can tell this teacher if he/she is using the proper volume for him to successfully understand. The teacher and Orrin can agree upon a hand signal that Orrin can give if he cannot hear properly. Students should know that they should use verbal cues with Orrin as well, like clearly saying his name. This should help with peer communication and enhancing Orrin’s social interactions.

• Differentiating process: For assignments, the teacher should encourage quality over quantity. In science lab reports do not have to be as formally structured, but instead focus on content. During lab experiments, Orrin should be paired with one of his friends who is not visually impaired. An expectation should be established that the friend is in charge of gathering materials and recording data, while Orrin is in charge of data analysis, interpretation, and lab report discussion. Since Orrin is not taking a large part of the experiment, the teacher can provide physical models of the systems that we are studying. If Orrin can manipulate the models then he is learning through his tactile preference as a kinesthetic learner. Parents can be informed that Orrin is being included in classroom activities according to his strengths.

• Differentiating content: If the science topic allows it, content could be focussed on nature and birds to appeal to Orrin’s interests.

Other Considerations

Peer Explanation:

• The teacher must explain to the rest of the students that Orrin has a visual impairment and needs adaptations to be successful. The teacher can explain that if a person has a slight visual impairment they can be helped with glasses, but Orrin cannot be sufficiently helped by glasses and so accommodations are made so that he has “better glasses” if everyone cooperates to help him.

Effectiveness Assessment:

• Asking Orrin how he feels about the accommodations can assess their effectiveness. Orrin is good at verbally expressing himself and he is self-aware of his needs and weaknesses. If he feels more confident in the classroom then the accommodation has been successful.

• Orrin’s academic performance can be an indicator of the accommodation effectiveness. If his grades improve, that is a measurable response.

Parent Communication:

• Open communication should be available to all parents at all times.

• The teacher can help Orrin’s parents find grants to pay for the laptop and Zoomtext software that he prefers.

Reflection on Students who are Gifted

Posted by agracemartin on March 5, 2015 at 12:05 PM Comments comments (0)

I wrote this reflection for my Educational Psychology of Exceptional Learners class after a group presentation on Code 80 students in Alberta.

Reflection on Students who are Gifted

Learning about gifted students was a very insightful project for me. I enjoyed this project because going into it I knew nothing substantial about highly talented or gifted students. As an aspiring physics teacher, I tried to think about what learner exceptionalities I would most likely find in my future classroom. I am glad that I chose this exceptionality because now I feel better prepared if I were to be teaching a student of this description.

The most important things that I have taken away from the research are the qualities of gifted students and the implication that acceleration is not always the best option for helping them. Some of the amazing qualities of gifted students that I learned were: verbal proficiency, curiosity, creativity, intensity, logical thinking, depth of comprehension, rate of learning, range of interests, and ingenuity of applying their knowledge. With such an advanced student in the classroom, acceleration seems like a logical strategy to support them. However, while acceleration places an exceptionally talented student with his or her intellectual peers, it is often a good idea to encourage social development by keeping these students with their same-age peers.

The research made me think about gifted students in inclusive classrooms. Differentiation means that we provide the help, support, and resources that all individual students need in order to be successful. Although gifted students do not seem to need as much help as students with learning disabilities or behavioral disorders, that does not mean that they do not also deserve and need our attention just as much. Since gifted students are often bored, it is valuable to give accelerated worksheets after they have completed their grade-level curricular expectations. That way they are not bored while their peers complete grade-level requirements at a slower pace. Alternatively, all questions and projects can have open-ended questions in which students are encouraged to go as deep into the problem as they desire. These open questions appeal to their individual strengths and interests while promoting classroom inclusion.

Not every student is the same and so not every strategy or program will benefit all children with exceptionalities. As a teacher, it is important for me to incorporate multiple ideas and strategies to appeal to as many students in my classroom as possible. Not every gifted student is accelerated in all areas, nor do they need the same programs. Gifted students can present vastly different abilities and behaviours. If I have multiple perspectives to draw upon, I still have strategies available to me if some do not work for a particular student.

It is realistic that I would face a gifted student who is bored and disengaged with the course content. One challenge could be that a student would not be diagnosed or even coded as gifted. Sometimes gifted students go unnoticed because all of their work gets completed accurately and they often do not present a behaviour issue. Others will try to hide their extraordinary talents for fear of being labeled “different.” I also learned that many students have had their code 80 removed so that teachers no longer need to follow up on the status of a gifted student. If I suspect that a student might be gifted in one or more areas, then I could try testing the waters to see if the student has escaped notice as being gifted. I could do this by giving that student accelerated work in areas that they show interest (or boredom) in and see if they enjoy the advanced material.

Another set of challenges could arise from a student’s behaviour. A gifted student’s advanced verbal proficiency could lead him or her to talk incessantly, use a large vocabulary to manipulate others, or complain loudly. They could escape into fantasy or demonstrate tunnel vision when applied to an area of interest. If I were to encounter these behavioural challenges, then I know that I would have to identify the causes and present solutions to them in a timely manner. I would have to reassure my student that he or she is valued, that I want them to work on areas that interest them, and that I care about their feelings. By establishing a relationship I would hopefully have the awareness to propose behaviour interventions. Perhaps a student is simply bored, like “Sarah” in our group presentation case study, and just needs more stimulation.

If I had a gifted student in my PSII practicum, I would first discuss all potential strategies with my teacher associate. If my T.A. agrees, I will ask the principal and the child’s parent. Depending on the needs of the student, acceleration may be a good idea for the particular class or classes that he or she excels in. If acceleration is not an option, perhaps my T.A. and I could take turns pulling the student aside to discuss their areas of strength, give additional higher-level worksheets, and later check-in with them to see how they are feeling. I would like to use learner contracts and independent studies as an approach to frame their additional coursework. Unfortunately, both of these options take the gifted student away from his or her peers. I would like to see if that student could help tutor others who are having difficulties in class. I think that it would be valuable to conduct group projects that have open-ended questions, meaning that the gifted student could choose to excel in their designated sub-topic as a part of the group. To further include my gifted student, I could construct all of my lesson plans using a universal design for learning and differentiated instruction that include hands-on activities. This would help not only my gifted student, but also all students in my classroom.

If one day I receive a gifted student in my physics course, I now feel far more prepared to give them appropriate challenges and support to set them up for success. In a high school physics class, I would encourage a gifted student to self-monitor and set individualized goals. Since I intend to teach using a flipped classroom, a gifted student could quickly go through the provided video for homework and complete assignments collaboratively with peers at school. This would establish a habit of doing homework and could increase social development for a gifted student, preparing them for a future in university if they choose.

Validity of Standardized Tests and Solutions for Change

Posted by agracemartin on March 5, 2015 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

I wrote the following paper for my Evaluation of Student Learning class on the topic: Assessment of Validity in Standardized Tests.

Validity of Standardized Tests and Solutions for Change

Validity of Assessments

Authenticity arguments improve our assessment instruments to be both reliable and valid (Winke, 2011; Chapelle, 1999). Reliability means that the assessment results are reproducible and repeatable (Davies, 2011; Chapelle, 1999). Validity, according to Chapelle (1999), is the overall quality and acceptance of an assessment, including concurrent validity—which measures the same skills and knowledge as other assessments—and predictive validity to predict future performance or skill development.

Standardized testing may or may not be valid. Wiggins (1993) believes that conventional test design assumptions are false because they are based on being able to break knowledge down into elements and being able to know a particular concept in absolutely every context. Standardized tests do not assess whether all students everywhere have the same “knowledge” because genuine intellectual performance is individualized (Wiggins, 1993). A test’s reliability, concurrent validity, and predictive validity can be quantitatively measured, though the statistics of these tests shows a narrow perspective; teacher’s opinions are an important component in determining exam validity (Winke, 2011). For a particular language exam, teachers disagreed with the time dedicated for testing, inappropriate length and difficulty of the test, and the singling out and social labeling of ELL students (Winke, 2011). Many teachers said, “the test stressed and frustrated some students, made them feel inadequate, humiliated, or embarrassed, or led them to question their self-worth” (Winke, 2011). Valid tests must be developmentally appropriate, fair, feasible, and practical for students as well as statistically reliable, concurrently valid, and predictably valid (Winke, 2011).

On the contrary, Slomp et al. (2014) argues that content, concurrent, and predictive validity evidence have failed; we now call upon construct and consequential validity evidence. In standardized tests, complex constructs, such as writing ability, are less likely to be assessed completely (Slomp et al., 2014). Studies found that “class time was diverted from regular instruction to focus on test preparation [for] low-level skill-and-drill work rather than higher-order literacy skills; teachers fell substantially behind in their course material; and teachers felt compelled to prepare students for the test even though they questioned its usefulness and validity” (p. 294). Test standardization stunts the growth of innovative teachers but reinforces veteran teacher strategies that lack diversity (Slomp et al., 2014). Tests constrained writing as a construct by ignoring the importance of differentiated assessment (collecting multiple evidences of student learning over time), limited pedagogical diversity by encouraging convergent thinking, and marginalized students and teachers by undermining diversity in the classroom (Slomp et al., 2014).

Not everyone agrees on what it means to have valid assessment. Davies (2011) says that validity is the extent to which the evidence from several sources aligns with the learning objective. While the above articles argued the validity of standardized tests, a more practical approach can be taken in classrooms:

"Evidence of learning needs to be diverse because it requires performance and self-assessment or reflection to demonstrate application and the ability to articulate understandings. This means that written work or test results can never be enough. Observing application of knowledge, listening to students articulate understandings, and engaging students in demonstrating acquisition of knowledge can be valid evidence." (Davies, 2011)

Davies (2011) argues that triangulation of evidence increases both reliability and validity. Triangulation involves observations, conversations, and collecting products (Davies, 2011). In triangulation, standardized tests only make up a small portion of summative assessment under the category of collecting products, and therefore are not entirely valid.

My Personal Connections

My grade 9 Social Studies teacher instructed our class heavily on Russian history, the implications of communism in the USSR, the industrial revolution, and the implications of capitalism on North American society. I remember studying dutifully; I could have been assessed as understanding all course content with impeccable detail. Yet, when I wrote my PAT (Provincial Achievement Test) it focused on applying ideologies to made-up economic situations. Everyone was frustrated: our teacher had thought that she had prepared us as well as she could, while my classmates and I felt like we had not been assessed on what we had learned. The standardized test caused a lot of anxiety and confusion. I ended up feeling that school put an immense pressure on answering as many questions correct as possible, making me stop caring about what I had learned. Was the time taken to learn content and facts wasted? While I value the history that I learned, I certainly felt as though Alberta Education did not.

Many of my teachers since have revolved their instruction around exam content. Ironically, I have not learned subject matter as in-depth in such courses when compared to my excellent teacher with passionate and engaging differentiated instruction. I have found that both high school students and teachers put far too much emphasis on test results. I placed a huge priority on my grade 12 Social Studies diploma, but afterward intentionally forgot all course content. If I had been re-assessed later, I doubt I would have received honors. I do not even remember what we covered. I do remember getting an 83% in grade 9 and a 95% in grade 12, but I believe that I learned more in the former and was not validly assessed in either. I do not feel that standardized testing promoted the longevity of my learning.

As a tutor, I have worked with students who experience test anxiety. In tutoring sessions, one girl seemed like a 70 percentile student and yet her quiz and exam grades were failing. I encouraged her to ask her teacher for an oral interview. As a student teacher, I watched my teacher associate give oral re-tests. Without the writing component and formal situation, many students were able to verbally explain their understandings. Yet we expect students to perform well on standardized tests even if it disadvantages them. Why do this?

My Conclusions on Test Validity

I do not think that standardized tests are valid forms of assessment. Concurrent validity is meaningless to me because I do not care if a test can measure the same knowledge as another test—that way of thinking justifies a cyclic loop of poor tests. I like the idea of predictive validity to gain insight into future skill development, but why would I want to label my students’ future success based upon past exams?

I believe in Winke (2011)’s consideration of teachers’ professional opinions as important in assessment validity. Standardized tests encourage teachers to focus on getting students to achieve high marks instead of focusing on student learning and assessing students fairly. As Slomp et al. (2014) suggested, I think that teachers are pressured to focus on testable skills, narrowing their assessment and limiting student choice in demonstrating their knowledge. Not every student has an equal opportunity to perform well on standardized tests, which can have negative psychological impacts on students.

Valid assessment must include more collections of evidence than just examination statistics. I identify with Davies (2011) triagulation of observational evidence (such as watching the scientific method being applied during an experiment), conversational evidence (class discussions, student-teacher interviews, peer feedback, written conversations, and group work records), and collection of products (summative projects, exams, quizzes, and assignments, as well as formative assessment notebooks, journals, photos, student worksheets, graphs, and work-in-progress portfolios). To me, triangulation of evidence is the most valid form of assessing a student’s knowledge and understanding—something that standardized test results cannot fully convey.

Implications For My Assessment Practice

I plan on teaching high school physics, which means that I unfortunately cannot prevent standardized diploma exams from influencing my students’ grades. To work around this barrier, I intend to incorporate PAT-like questions into my regular assignments. While I will still require students to show all of their work, I can structure the practice problems in either multiple choice or numerical response formats. I hope that familiarity with the standardized format will alleviate some anxiety in this situation. I can validly assess student coursework through triangulation of evidence from multiple sources such as homework checks (for observed participation), experimental lab reports, assignments, projects, quizzes, unit tests, and presentations.

If I am pressured for higher student test achievement, I could compact my year-plan timeline to include a full week of review and test preparation at the end of the semester. I want to avoid this because I do not wish to transfer excess pressure onto my students. As well, this time could be better used to delve deeper into the key learning objectives. I will try to avoid teaching for the test, and instead strive to focus my attention on the learning processes of my students. This approach could arguably help my students do better on exams anyway, since their learning experiences have been richer. I feel that validity must help educators improve their assessment instruments, and that frequent assessment and feedback will enable learning for higher achievement in my future students.


Chapelle, C. A. (1999). Validity in language assessment. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 19, 254–272. doi: 10.1017/S0267190599190135.

Davies, A. (2011). Making classroom assessment work. [Book]. Solution Tree. 555 North Morton Street, Bloomington, IN 47404.

Slomp, David H.; Corrigan, Julie A.; Sugimoto, Tamiko. (2014). A Framework for Using Consequential Validity Evidence in Evaluating Large-Scale Writing Assessments: A Canadian Study. Research in the Teaching of English, 48(3), 276-302.

Wiggins, G. (1993). Assessment: Authenticity, context, and validity. Phi Delta Kappan, 75(3), 200-08.

Winke, P. (2011). Evaluating the Validity of a High-Stakes ESL Test: Why Teachers' Perceptions Matter. Tesol Quarterly, 45(4), 628-660.

Visiting an English Language Learner Program

Posted by agracemartin on March 5, 2015 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

The following is a reflection assignment from my Social Context of Education class in which I visited a middle school program for English Language Learners (ELL) also called students with English as a Second Language (ESL).

When I visited the middle school’s ELL program, the first thing that I noticed was the clearly amicable relationships that the teacher and educational assistant had with the students. The teacher knew what activities each student was interested in. I noticed that a student was using the Internet on the teacher’s computer, and the teacher asked, “When did you start playing that game?” To me, this demonstrated the teacher’s authentic awareness and personalized connection with the students.

This relationship seemed to make the students feel comfortable and at liberty to joke around. The teacher had a relaxed manner with an easy sense of humour. When students talked out of turn, they were not berated, punished, or even singled out. The teacher would simply say, “Hmm, I wonder why I’m hearing voices but no hands.” He did not once tell students before class to speak English only, allowing them to talk with their friends in any language they chose. In class, however, he said, “Please try using English—even if you are talking across the room when you shouldn’t be.” I liked this style of classroom management because it encouraged practice of both the English language and North American school norms. If I were to apply this strategy in a classroom without ELL students, I would adapt it to say something positive, like: "please use proper grammar" or "be polite even when you are talking out of turn."

While sitting at the back of the classroom, one of my fellow student teachers made a comment about a few of the girls being too young to have nose piercings. I sincerely hoped that none of the ELL students heard this comment, and I whispered to my colleague that it is culturally and religiously significant in South East Asian countries for girls to get piercings on the left-hand side of their nose. This further reminded me of the incredible importance of knowing your students’ backgrounds to avoid offensive or uncomfortable situations due to misunderstanding.

The teacher started the school day with a daily writing page. He wrote a prompt on the board: “if you were principal of our school, what would you change? What would stay the same?” I noticed that the teacher first asked if anyone knew what a principal was. It would not have occurred to me to ask this question, but the teacher knew his ELL students might not recognize the word at first glance. One student did not know the meaning of “change,” so the E.A. quickly said, “to make different.” I thought that it must be an acquired skill to give a simple definition quickly, and that a teacher might need some practice to do so. I was struck by the fact that I take communication in the English language for granted, especially with what I would deem to be “simple” words. I am not accustomed to defining common words, which could be a challenge for me if I have an ELL student in my future class. I am more than willing to practice this however, because simply vocabulary can also benefit a wider range of students with differing reading levels.

I liked the daily jobs, in which one student had to read the calendar, and one student had to read the weather forecast for the day. This got two students a day speaking in front of the class in English. I thought that it was a great idea to have another board with common language on it that the teacher changed each day. He wrote, “What a horrendous morning! Today Is Moonday February 2rd, 2015. Tomorrow iS Tusday and. Yesterbay was Suhday. Different animals had tales…” This looked like an effective daily exercise to correct mistakes and spelling of very common words.

As the class corrected the spelling together, one said that it was the wrong “tale.” Immediately the teacher said, “Oh wow! You know what that means! We need to get out our book for what? That’s right, homophones!” I liked this strategy because it is clearly a fun way to sprinkle in homophones into daily instruction. The students got excited about homophone time. They drew a monkey next to the word tail. Pictorially, such visuals seem to be the best way for ELL students to differentiate between homophones. After drawing pictures, the students came up with simple sentences to practice their writing.

For a while I wondered why the teacher asked students to color their pictures. It was a very time-consuming task. Surely the time could be better spent? Then I realized that it was the end of the period. Coloring provided a break without changing the class. Also, slower-working students were allowed to continue coloring while the class worked on their corrections on the board. I later asked the teacher and he commented that all of his ELL students are immigrants who have not acquired skills that we normally do in elementary school, like coloring and using scissors. He has to be very patient and offer his students a lot of time to complete their work.

Then the students were split into groups. The four groups were reading, playing apples to apples, playing boggle, and reading games on the iPods. Each group went to each station and rotated. It was beneficial for me to work with a small group because I was able to answer questions and get a good feeling for their level of comprehension.

Before teatime, the teacher held interviews (meaning that he sat at the front of the classroom to talk with students by asking them questions, then allowing the students to interview him). It was an approach to encourage student conversations in English and also gave the daily job students time to serve tea. I appreciated that the teacher took time to get to know his students and learn that they enjoy having tea when talking in a circle. This clearly made a strong, culturally significant connection with them. He told us that for him, the biggest part of his job is identifying his students’ needs and modifying his instruction to meet those needs.

In my future science teaching, I can help ELL students by giving definitions in two ways: one as the science textbook definition, and one using simpler words to be more commonly understood. When I teach science courses, I can offer multiple ways to say the same thing, meaning that I can teach a concept using different words. On examinations, I can differentiate tests to have the same question worded in different ways and give ELL students more time to complete their work. This approach contributes to a universal design for learning (UDL) that can also benefit students with learning disabilities as well as ELL students.

In the future, I can give more time for ELL students to write notes down. I think that one way to approach this is through a flipped classroom. Students can watch a lecture video at home at their own pace, pausing and rewinding the video until they understand the content. In class, I will then have more time to answer questions that arose from the video and give students time to collaborate with their peers while working on practice problems or other projects.

I think that the most important implication for my future teaching is for me to know my students and do background research into their cultural values. Truly the first step in the teaching profession is to build relationships.

Free Book Give-A-Way! Spirit Rider by A Grace Martin

Posted by agracemartin on February 16, 2015 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Book Give-A-Way on Goodreads!

Open until March 10, 2015

Enter to Win!


Sexuality, Differences, and Finding LGBT Support in Alberta

Posted by agracemartin on February 11, 2015 at 7:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Today in my Social Context Education class we had a group present on homosexuality in Alberta. Our conservative province with its ex-pastor Gordon Dirks as minister for education passed Bill 10, saying "the bill was designed to ensure that children would get GSAs if they desired them." Yet Bill 10 allows school boards to reject student requests for gay-straight alliances (GSAs). How exactly does this protect our children? 

This topic made me think about the welfare of our students. No person should be made to feel unsafe in our educational system. The Alberta Teacher's Association Code of Professional Conduct explicitly states that in relation to pupils, "the teacher teaches in a manner that respects the dignity and rights of all persons without prejudice as to race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical characteristics, disability, marital status, family status, age, ancestry, place of origin, place of residence, socioeconomic background or linguistic background." But bill 10 allows us to discriminate against gay-straight alliances and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) students based upon parent disapproval?

Okay, Alberta, I grew up in a conservative rural town, too, in which we weren't exposed to a lot of differences. The movie Brokeback Mountain was met with a lot of disdain, and arguments of "get that out of my face" were common. I, too, was ignorant of the importance of gay rights because I did not have enough expose to the topic. Sorry MLAs, but you can't use ignorance as an excuse. I did my research and so can you. No one should stand behind legislation that marginalizes students. Welcome to the 21st century, where people have finally woken up to the fact that homosexuals are normal human beings who deserve the same rights as anyone else.

The student presentation in my Social Context class made me want to watch the entire short film that was referenced. I came home and viewed: Imagine A World Where Being "Gay" The Norm & Being "Straight" Would Be The Minority! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnOJgDW0gPI). This short film describes a young, straight girl who is bullied because of her heterosexuality--which she cannot help.

Well, I just love how YouTube puts similar videos on the sidebar, because it led me to several others! A couple of minutes on BuzzFeed's If Straight People Had to Come Out (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkFewRm_YC4) satirical representation had me nodding. Then I watched the short film "Boy," about a transexual youth feeling caught in the wrong body.

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I watched a few others on YouTube but the next one worth noting was another short film called "What Have We Done" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stqswTez1bw). It was a good recap of the past few classes in Social Context, referring to homosexuality, bullying, and suicide. I recommend it for an eye-opening watch and don't worry: there is a happy ending.

So what did I learn today? As it turns out, I'm quite passionate about standing up for my students--no matter how different from the norm they are. Not bad for a small town conservatively-raised country bumpkin, but this isn't exactly news. What I learned today was that (to my disgust) the government actually passed Bill 10. Albertan MLAs, I'd like to see you stand up for LGBT kids and teachers, too. 

Talking About the Uncomfortable Subject: Suicide

Posted by agracemartin on February 9, 2015 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Teenagers experience emotions much more intensely than adults do. Throughout the teen and young adult years, the prefrontal cortext is developing. In adults, the prefrontal cortext is responsible for decision-making and puts the brakes on our emotional center, called the amygdala. Since this is still developing in teens, they FEEL every situation more intensely. This is why teens always say, "adults just don't get it," because as adults we tend to forget how difficult it was for us to grow up. As adults, we tend to look back upon our teen years as melodramatic and juvenile, but that attitude de-values the experience of teenagers. If a teen tells you that they feel bad, don't tell them to "suck it up," but rather be understanding and give them tools to deal with their emotions.

Suicide is a very uncomfortable subject. In my Social Context class today, we had a presentation about suicide geared towards what teachers need to know. I really appreciated their approach to this topic because it was focussed on making students feel acknowledged, cared for, and open to talk. If someone has personal issues or experience with this topic then it can bring up a lot of intense emotions. As educators, we need to recognize that approaching this topic must be done with sensitivity.

I recently watched a Ted talk called Why We Choose Suicide (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1QoyTmeAYw) by Mark Henick in which he shared his struggles. While watching this video I felt pretty down by talking about such a sad and intense sob story. It brought up sad memories and I started reliving struggles as a teenager. In junior high (middle school) I struggled with suicide, and later in high school I helped friends through similar struggles with suicide. As I watched and listened, I was waiting for Mark to get to the message of hope. It didn't come in the way I expected. Mark Henick brought up the idea of "collapsed perceptions." I think that understanding "collapsed perceptions" is an important part of helping individuals who are suicidal. Mark asked: how can suicide be a choice when the person doesn't think they have any other option?

What I find to be most important when talking about suicide is not the sob story, statistics, or statement of how dangerous suicide is. What I find to be the single most important thing to include in suicide prevention talks is changing the way that we think about suicide. As Mark Henick argues, changing the way you think changes the world. Thinking about and discussing suicide is a very uncomfortable topic, but talking about it might just save someone's life.

In the future, I am sure that I will deal with suicide issues in my classroom. I am comfortable with this topic because I have lived through it, helped others through it, and become a stronger person for overcoming negative thoughts and self-talk.

The thing that I want to talk about with my future students is that they have a wonderful potential within them. They deserve to overcome the tough times. They have an amazing life purpose that they haven't discovered yet, but when they do will give out and get back so much more happiness than they've ever experienced. Many great people have faced tough times; they are not alone. They are also not alone in getting help. Teachers, counsellors, family and community resources are available to help, and it doesn't make them "weak" to access these resources. The main thing is to never give up hope. 

Teachers: reach out, ask if a student you are concerned about is suicidal, acknowledge their emotions and pain, show them you care, and talk with them about how you can help. With compassion you can ask, "are you thinking about killing yourself?" and ask "what can I do to help you?" Never promise to keep it a secret because you are legally bound to report this to the counsellor and administration, but assure the student that their peers do not have to know. You are there to help them, not publicize their feelings. Thank them for coming to you and opening up to you.

In short, the presentation I watched in Social Context class today summarized what to do with three simple words in the acronym, A.C.T.





Recognizing Hidden FNMI Racism in Canada

Posted by agracemartin on January 30, 2015 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Sir Ken Robinson said, "If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original." As an educator, I am going to go out on a limb here and admit that I have been wrong.

My past thinking has been wrong. I am guilty of stereotyping and I am going to admit it in hopes that others recognize their own harmful stereotypes too.

In my Social Context class we have been studying critical pedagogy. This is different than critical thinking, which involves making objective and rational decisions based upon a collection of evidence. Critical pedagogy is defined as a philosophy of education and a social movement that combines education with critical theory, but it is more than that. The desire for social justice comes from a deep caring and compassion towards students, and from this compassion comes the awareness of unequal opportunities that students face and a desire to level the playing field. Critical pedagogy requires the disclosure of one’s subjective beliefs to understand where the writer/speaker is coming from.


My subjective beliefs sound airy-fairy, partially because of my spiritually leaning toward the core ideals of all major religions: to love everyone, to not pass judgements on others, and to be as giving and compassionate as possible. But I don’t think that we need to “label” these values as religiously-oriented. So let us take away the dogmas and say that I value being a good human being.


Of course it is very difficult for us to not judge others. We contextualize our interactions based upon our pre-judgements and that is not a bad thing.

We learn new content by relating it to something that we are familiar with in our past experiences. Where we come into a problem is when we judge others based upon their “labels.”


Ask me if I am discriminatory and I will immediately say no. I love and honour all people as individuals. I am a supporter of equal rights. I believe that both men and women are equally capable in the workforce. I believe that people who live with disabilities should be identified by their strengths. I believe that you deserve to marry the partner that you love no matter what your sexual orientation is. I believe that your age is not a number so much as a personal feeling. I believe that all religions are to be respected as long as no one is harmed by it. Finally, I believe that skin colour is an honoured part of an individual’s heritage but that is the only way that it should matter.


I grew up in a middle-class family. My mother reprimanded us for using the phrase, “that’s so gay” until we understood that it was inappropriate and derogatory. We respected that not everyone would be raised with the same religious beliefs as us. My parents were open and honest about treating people equally. We would get outraged at the prospect of racism against people who were black (probably because we have black family members).


Yet even with such a tolerant and well-educated family, I somehow managed to adopt stereotypes against Aboriginal Canadian peoples. If you had asked me this morning if I was racist against FNMI (First Nations, Metis, and Inuit) people, I would have said absolutely not.

Isn’t ignorance bliss? I thought that because I am against racism, that because I enjoy learning about different cultures, that because I believe in equality, that I was not racist and could never allow racism to go unchecked around me. Somehow, I was not aware that my stereotypes are racist.

I love nature. I am deeply spiritual and identify with any spirituality that honours our connection with the earth. I admire FNMI artwork. I love watching Pow Wows and hoop dancers. I have not yet but am looking forward to attending my first drum circle. How could I possibly be racist?


I have had friends from multiple different heritages which have never influenced my relationships with them. I have had friends who identify as FNMI and that has not influenced my friendships with them, either. I have, however, stereotyped that most people on reserves have intensive problems including poverty and alcoholism. I have thought that part of Canada’s economic problem is giving welfare checks to one native person after another. I have nodded in agreement at the saying, “If I need a drug-tested to do my job, welfare checks should require them too.” I have felt disgust at reservations for asking for more money, because apparently the handouts that we give them are not enough. I have felt anger over the fact that I have thousands of dollars of student debt because I did not get a free ride like FNMI students do. I was especially offended when a colleague said that [he or she] would be highlighting [his or her] status to get a job—and would likely get the job above a more qualified individual because of [his or her] visible minority FNMI status. I have seen homeless people in my city and cast my eyes away thinking, "Oh please, not another drunk native asking for booze money." I have wondered why can't we just let the past go and move on? Even though I have always been aware of these sentiments within me, I did not realize until today that I was racist toward Canadian Aboriginals. That is because I have also seen wonderfully successful people of Aboriginal descent. I have been friends with them. I have seen many FNMI individuals studying hard alongside of me at my university. I even checked "yes" to the education practicum form question: would you want to teach on a reserve? In my mind I was not racist because I did not apply these stereotypes to all FNMI individuals--just some.


This, I think, is the real heart of the problem. Privileged middle and upper class individuals in Canada seem to be blind to the inherent racism in our country.


Wonder what changed my mind? I started reading a MacLean's article for my Social Context class. At first I was taken aback by the title: “Canada’s race problem? It’s even worse than America’s.” Then I started reading. Here is a quote from the article: “If we don’t have a race problem then what do we blame? Our justice system, unable to even convene Aboriginal juries? Band administrators, like those in Attawapiskat, who defraud their own people? Our health care system that fails to provide Aboriginal communities with health outcomes on par with El Salvador? Politicians too craven to admit the reserve system has failed? Elders like Chief Ava Hill, cynically willing to let a child die this week from treatable cancer in order to promote Aboriginal rights? Aboriginal people themselves for not throwing out the leaders who serve them so poorly? Police forces too timid to grasp the nettle and confront unbridled criminality like the organized drug-smuggling gangs in Akwesasne? Federal bureaucrats for constructing a $7-billion welfare system that doesn’t work? The school system for only graduating 42 per cent of reserve students? Aboriginal men, who have pushed their community’s murder rate past Somalia’s? The media for not sufficiently or persistently reporting on these facts? Or: us? For not paying attention.”


Another part of critical pedagogy is asking some hard questions about the status-quo. Consider the idea that those in poverty are kept in positions of disempowerment in our society due to hegemony—a system of dominance without overt oppression that is upheld by societal structures and generally accepted by the populace. If we want to bring about change, then let’s live by the proverb, “a fear named is a fear tamed,” and admit that Canada is not as racially tolerant as we would like to believe.


If you are like me, then while reading these articles you will start to feel an overwhelming mix of emotions, one of which being “I just realized that I am a part of the problem.” Another emotion might be a feeling of hopelessness. What can we possible do to fix such a messed up situation? Since this generation is the product of reservation schools taking away parental role models, can we give mass counselling sessions to teach parenting skills? Is there a way that we can overcome genetic predispositions to alcohol and substance abuse?


Then go ahead and read this article to the bottom: “Welcome to Winnipeg: Where Canada’s racism problem is at its worst. How the death of Tina Fontaine has finally forced the city to face its festering race problem.”


This past August of 2014 a young girl by the name of Tina Fontaine died in Winnipeg, which has apparently brought the issue of racism against Canadian FNMI peoples to a head.

Thankfully, there is hope. I believe that awareness cultivates understanding, and understanding can instigate change. Hope lives in every advocate for change.

I was especially inspired by Michael Champagne’s Tedx talk from 2012. Michael Champagne says "those labels--that oppresion--do not define you" and advocates for a focus on opportunities, as evidenced by his group AYO: Aboriginal Youth Opportunities.


This Ted talk led me to several others. As an Albertan citizen, Judge John Reilly’s talk hit a little closer to home for me.


When referring to a case of domestic violence, this judge realized that there “was a need to empower victims. She was accepting beatings like that because she didn’t know any better. She needed somebody to teach her that.” I also appreciated when he defined justice as every child having a safe bed at night.


I then found the video Reshaping racism by Matika Wilbur. I was struck by the usage of “American-Indian,” because I will admit, I am confused at what exactly is the most respectful terminology to refer to people of this North-American aboriginal heritage. As far as I am concerned, an Indian person is someone from the country of India. From my understanding, FNMI is the best terminology in Canada.


I have come to the conclusion that awareness is the most important factor in this discussion. Sometimes the solution can be as simple as raising awareness to think again. Growing up, I played Cowboys and Indians. I dressed as an Indian girl for Halloween one year and was very excited because my I had found a gunny sack and thick brown face paint to look as authentic as possible. Yet if someone had said, “here’s some great black-skin-tone face paint, why don’t you go as a black person?” or “this wig stretches your eyes so that you can look Asian,” my family and I would have called them racist. So how was me dressing up as an Indian not racist? Nancy Marie Mithlo gives a great TedTalk on this subject.


So what’s my big take-away?


Well my next Social Context class will certainly be one with an interesting discussion after reading the two above articles.


More importantly though, I am willing to admit that I have been wrong. I have passed judgements. I have not recognized my stereotypes as racism and for that I apologize not only to others but to myself. I am willing to forgive myself for not being aware of my double-standard. My colleague reminded me that it is very important not to dwell in guilt, but let new realizations like this spark a desire to promote change. Now that i have admitted my wrongdoings, I am ready to search for solutions. I am open to suggestions if you want to contact me!


What’s the solution?


Naming the issue as one of racism does not solve anything. The problems of poverty are still present. To quote the MacLean’s article, “federally funded reserve schools receive 40 per cent of the funding that non-reserve schools do, amounting to a per child gap of $2,000 to $3,000. Many reserve schools don’t have libraries. One in three doesn’t even have running water.”


Come on, Canada, we can change our system. We need to stop giving repeat “hand-outs” in the place of much-needed “hand-ups.” Seriously, let's give all Canadian citizens what they NEED, and stop throwing money into a broken welfare system that promotes learned helplessness. Help these individuals take back their dignity. Stop portraying FNMI people as “Indians” in the media. Put funding back into our educational and social work systems. Most importantly, we need to stop thinking of poverty, violence, and substance abuse as an "us" versus "them" problem. It's the 21st century and we are all Canadian citizens. Let's put our heads together and see what good we can do. Social justice advocates for change. If we encourage our youth the possibilities and opportunities are limitless.

Promote self-empowerment! 

Gender Neuroscience, Stereotyping, and UDL

Posted by agracemartin on January 29, 2015 at 3:30 PM Comments comments (1)

Should we give teenage boys and girls different high school curricula based upon brain development differences?

I don't believe so.

The following in my personal response to a reading assignment for my Science Curriculum and Instruction class. The reading was an excerpt from "Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults"

I believe that gender stereotyping places limiting labels upon students. Since there is no causal link between cognitive abilities and gender-based brain development, I do not think that any special treatment should be given to either gender. While generalizations can be made, it is dangerous for us to begin stereotyping based upon these generalizations. Even if the research says that boys develop good attention, planning, and organizational skills more slowly, that does not mean that adolescent males are incapable of these tasks. Even though the author of the article that we read predicts that girls could benefit more from earlier math and science courses (because they reach specific levels of cognitive development before boys), I disagree with considering any gender-based high school curricula.


Brain development is a product of both nature and nurture. Nurturing teachers can reduce classroom stresses to establish a positive learning environment in which habits can be taught to overcome developmental delays and place every student on an equal playing field.


I think that it is important as an educator to understand the differences between neural development of boys and girls, but that this understanding should be used to integrate teaching strategies into a universal design for learning. All students could benefit from a teacher instructing students to put a particular sheet in a particular section of their binder to alleviate student disorganization. A teacher who gives exact schedules and reminds students not only about due dates but the content involved in each assignment is not just appealing to disorganized students but is setting clear and consistent expectations. I think that it is unfair for any teacher to require rapid decision-making of their students, not only because boys’ frontal lobe develops more slowly than girls’, but also because students with learning disabilities are put at a huge disadvantage if you require a quick decision. A universal design for learning differentiates instruction to give all students an equal playing field, and that often means more time allotted for students to think and process information.


One thing that I learned from this article was that males have more neural connections within the two hemispheres of their brains while females have more connectivity between hemispheres. The left and right hemisphere connections in females help them to change tasks more quickly, and understand concepts holistically. I think that good classroom management can also overcome this apparent adolescent male disadvantage. Teachers can cue students and give them countdowns before transition times, which prepare all students for a change in setting. Then, if a teacher wants students to see the big picture of a concept, it may be prudent to use graphic organizers and deliberately “spell out” the related ideas with a multimodal approach. Multimodal teaching strategies appeal to all learning styles (visual, auditory, read/write, and kinesthetic), again leveling the field in a differentiated classroom.



Media and Gender Roles

Posted by agracemartin on January 22, 2015 at 4:10 PM Comments comments (0)

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We viewed the above video in our social context class and discussed the implications for educators. Even though advertising portrays hyper-sexualized gender roles, at least there are individuals like the creators of this video who are willing to challenge our stereotypes. The media puts pressure on both our male and our female students. Boys don't cry. Real men get ripped muscles. Girls are sexual objects. Women need a multitude of beauty products and fad diets to be beautiful. 

What messages are we sending to our kids? Why can a girl not be athletic, strong, powerful, and masculine? Why can a boy not be sensitive, caring, insightful, and in touch with his emotions?

Load this video to 58 seconds and consider the role-reversal:

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Media and Critical Pedagogy

Posted by agracemartin on January 22, 2015 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (0)

The mass media influences us all--whether we are aware of it or not. In my social context class, we discussed how students are constantly being inculcated due to advertisements. Worse, corporations don't seem to care how many toes they step on.

This makes me think that we need to be diligent as educators to encourage critical thinking and critical pedagogy in our students. Let us question the status quo. Why is society the way it is? Who has the power? Who is making the big choices on what we see on television and internet advertisements, and in the news?

To investigate this concept further, we viewed the following video. I found it to be informative and interesting. This clip ranked the movie "Shadows of Liberty" to the top of my to-watch list.

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Confrontation With �??Otherness�?? Assignment

Posted by agracemartin on January 22, 2015 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Too often we take our senses and abilities for granted. Our vision, hearing, and motor skills are often the first abilities to come to mind when talking about physical impairments. What about the ability to speak? Some students have select mutism or are completely mute. How do these people cope with their daily lives? From a less intense perspective, it is interesting to note that some individuals are introverted and choose not to voice their opinions in front of groups of people. What is it like to be one of those students, one who observes and listens to others first?

I spent a school day not talking. I began first thing in the morning, which was fine because my husband and I do not really talk then. I gave him a kiss, went to the door, and turned to call my dog to let him out. I realized that if I were permanently mute, I would have to try re-training my two-year-old dog to respond to clapping and hand signals. Thankfully he heard me walking and arrived at the door shortly. The next obstacle that I faced was while walking to school. I saw two people in my class and wanted to call out to them to say hello. When I realized that I could not, I felt rather lonely and “shoved aside” because neither person noticed me. Upon arriving in the classroom, there was a note on the board to sit with your major, and all tables were full. I sat alone and waited for another science major to arrive. When they did, I waved, but again they did not notice me and tried pulling up chairs to crowded tables. The teacher sent them my way, but I felt very shunned. My instructor tried to find a small whiteboard for me to write on, but apparently they were all being used in another classroom. I ended up writing notes on post-its to communicate, especially during pair-shares.

I found that my mind was more distracted because I could not actively participate. I took the initiative to write things down, but that process was longer than speaking would be, so I needed more time. I noticed that if I did not take that initiative, I could easily use my mutism as an excuse to not be engaged with the content. I always wanted to talk, and caught myself whispering—even just to myself.

Lunch hour did not present much of a challenge because I was not eating socially with friends, but instead attended a professional development lecture in which I sat, listened, and took notes. This structure certainly was not a detriment to my learning, much unlike the discussion-based Education classes.

In Social Context class I felt very lonely and invisible. At break someone asked me a social question, but did not wait for me to get out my computer or a post-it note to write a response. In pairs or small group discussion, others would patiently wait for me to communicate by writing, but it was a timely detriment. During whole class discussions I experienced a very high degree of anxiety. I noticed that I was not even formulating my ideas in the same way because I was not expecting to answer questions orally. I started to fidget and feel a lot of frustration because whenever opposing views to mine were voiced, I felt extremely bottled and disempowered to raise a counter-point.

I was frustrated specifically that no one seemed to understand the underlying imperialistic tones for the English majority-speaking language. Although it is a good point that if an individual is attempting to learn a language, the best way to learn it is to practice it frequently. However, one student said if those students want to speak their native tongue, then they can leave the building. What is it saying if you have to get out of the building to speak your own language? Is there any free choice in students being forced to use the dominant language at all times? I wanted to chime in so badly.

The most difficult moment for me was when another person said that they were not sure if they would want to see society changed, that it was sufficient. I am extremely opposed to this view. While I would not deny that we are arguably a more efficient society than medieval times, I believe that our society is riddled with inequalities that should be brought to light and addressed. I feel that anyone who argues differently has become too comfortable with their privileges and is blind to the social injustices inherent in our current structure. Therefore it was extremely difficult not to express my desire to see educators encouraging students to question the status quo. Even if I had tried to write down my opinion, it would have taken too long and the moment of that discussion quickly passed. Not to mention that I could not seem to formulate my thoughts into words because all I felt was emotional frustration and anxiety in that setting.

Going into this confrontation with differences assignment, I thought that I would gain insight into introverted students, but I did not. I could not seem to get over the fact that I could not cognitively focus and comprehend at my usual level. I felt emotional about being ignored, frustrated that I was distracted from the teacher’s instruction, and annoyed that I could not communicate in a timely manner. I feel that I gained an insight into what a learning disability must feel like, because I apparently process information by engaging with it and formulating responses to it in my own words. Oral participation keeps me accountable to the course content, so I can see how some students with a disability acquire a sense of learned helplessness. I realized that if I had wanted to, I could have skipped the readings and no one would have been the wiser. Class discussions do not hold all students accountable to the information.

This made me think about differential assessment. If not all students can present a triangulation of evidence in the same way, then it is the responsibility of the educator to evaluate that student’s understanding in a way that is fair. In my case, a teacher would not have been able to collect conversational evidence by listening in on my group’s discussions, nor able to collect observational evidence shown by participation. The only evidence that would be accurate for a student who is mute to showcase his or her understanding is through written work. This would be quite a disadvantage for someone who also had writing difficulties. The entire process of assessing such differentiated needs seems to be a very tricky grey area. I think that the inequalities some students face makes it difficult for teachers to provide an equal playing field for all. I think that it takes a lot of determination on the part of the teacher to recognize, come to understand, and propose solutions to these disparities.

My Paper on Anti-bullying and Self-Worth

Posted by agracemartin on January 7, 2015 at 2:20 AM Comments comments (0)


By: A. Grace Martin

Course: Education 2500 

Date: April 2014

The late Nelson Mandela said that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

As a student of personal development, I believe that every person has an astounding capability to recognize and fulfil his or her potential. I wish to share this idea of self-empowerment, so I have learned to employ the strategies of positive self-talk and goal-setting in order to become a good role model for others. Since I feel confident in myself, I know that I can teach others how to attain this feeling as well, which is important in schools because the relationship between confidence and learning cannot be undervalued (Piek et al., 2005). With the increase in college and university graduates in today’s society, my colleagues and I have become the most educated age group of our time. Now imagine if we and all of our children confidently aspire to achieving higher and higher goals. I believe that educating people to realize their worth and potential will be the next great catalyst for change in our world.

I think that my success as a teacher will come from my experiences, research, hard work, professional development, and inherent talents. My time in the Education 2500 course: Orientation to Teaching, has been useful in confirming that I am an excellent candidate teacher and would enjoy teaching as a career. My strengths of confidence, dedication, organization, adaptability, creativity, and leadership will serve me well as a teacher with good classroom management and communication skills. Unfortunately, I am weak in the area of previous experience working with children, save babysitting and tutoring. I acknowledge that I will have to volunteer and take summer jobs that will pertain to instructing children if I wish to acquire this practical experience outside of the education program.

I am a dynamic person with many fields of interest and expertise. I feel that I will be an interesting teacher because of my wide array of personal interests, which include: a published fantasy novel (Spirit Rider and others yet to come), creative hobbies (painting, writing, and music), physical health (proper nutrition and exercise), and mental health (stress management and emotional wellness). Already, the grade fives in my practicum have found me to be interesting, friendly, and knowledgeable, which are all attributes that I wish to develop even further as I progress through my career.

As a tutor I have engaged with junior high and high school students to find that explaining concepts comes easily to me. I have had research experience in the sciences—mainly biophysics—which has given me a deeper understanding of the scientific method and allows me to use interesting examples while teaching science. My academic background in biology and physics qualifies me to instruct secondary math, biology, chemistry, and physics classes. Tutoring these subjects has been especially rewarding to me. The best educational context for my knowledge-set would be a high school physics classroom. However, my talents and dispositions as a teacher make me flexible and I would be comfortable teaching all elementary and junior high school subjects.

I did not seriously consider teaching youth until just this past year. I originally pursued university with the intention of getting a Ph.D. so that I could teach as well as do academic research. At this time I cannot pursue the biophysics graduate studies of complementary health that I desired. Instead, I made a decision to teach at a high school level. I have now realized that I could easily continue to an Education Master’s degree if I wished to pursue school further. My thesis could focus on complementary health education as a means of developing positive self-image. I can integrate my passion of scientific research and health and wellness into teaching. In the future, I can see myself as an empowerment leader. I believe that an individual can excel at many things when they unlock their potential, and that I could be a successful teacher, author, and motivational speaker.

Through this course I have developed several beliefs on learning and teaching. Every individual has a need to feel loved and accepted, therefore learners respond well to a caring, trustworthy, and respectful attitude. Students need specific, clear, and repeated instructions to follow and learn by making personal connections to the material. I believe that teachers need to adapt and be flexible for each situation that they find themselves in. A great teacher goes beyond the curriculum to inspire, motivate, and facilitate a student’s personal and career goals. Teachers help students to realize their own potential through encouragement and challenging activities. Finally, teachers should dwell in the learner’s place with them by remembering what it was like to be in their shoes. These beliefs are the foundation for my nascent style as a teacher.

The reality of teachers’ work lives seems to have both benefits and drawbacks. Teachers work many extra hours every week to complete planning and marking. I like that I would be working the same business hours as my husband, and that I could take my work home with me every night so that I could be with him. Of course the drawback to this is being distracted by my work or distracted by my family and perhaps not giving optimal attention to either in the evenings. I feel that I could work around this obstacle by arriving to work earlier in the morning. I also know that two months off during the summer essentially balances out to the same total vacation hours per year when you consider the extra daily hours worked. I like the versatility of my specialization as a female in physics because I am more likely to get a good job, however my first job may require me to travel a certain distance outside of Lethbridge, which again contributes to long working hours. If I feel burnt out by teaching, my writing and marketing of my published fantasy novels could be hindered. On the other hand, being in a classroom may stimulate my creativity and motivate me to write more. I feel that compromise is unavoidable and that we must do our best to balance every aspect of our lives to feel fulfilled.

One of the most pressing issues for me to address as a teacher happens to be what I am most passionate about: teaching self-worth. I know that we can combat bullying by promoting its opposite. My interest in this topic comes from my childhood experiences with bullying. You would think that anyone who has felt the pain of being bullied would feel empathetic towards others in the same situation, but I beg to differ. In my understanding, bullies only lash out because there is an inexplicable hurt or anger within them that is difficult to face. I was bullied in the fifth grade, yet somehow in the seventh grade I became the bully. As an adult I feel immense guilt and remorse for my teenage bullying and wish to prevent others from making the same mistakes that I did. I think that every person experiences a feeling that they are not good enough in some way (such as athletics, academics, social skills, or physical appearance). I would like to teach individuals to see themselves in a more positive light, so that they can become the best that they can be. Feeling worthless will get you nowhere; feeling empowered will motivate you to pursue your deepest dreams.

Research studies have been done to evaluate the effects of anti-bulling education in classrooms (Andreou et al., 2008). Since bullies enjoy attention, other children may unintentionally reinforce aggression by becoming silent bystanders, thereby making the situation a school-wide problem that should be addressed by entire classrooms (Andreou et al., 2008). It is interesting that short-term programs have been successful in changing students’ attitudes towards bullies, victims, and intervention, but unfortunately these outcomes are not sustained in the long term (Andreou et al., 2008).

The Andreou et al. (2008) study outlined three distinct topics to be addressed over three hours of instruction time each: awareness raising, self-reflection, and a commitment to new behaviours. Raising awareness and describing the different types of victimization may be beneficial for young students who do not identify certain situations as bullying. Self-reflection in the Andreou et al. (2008) study focuses on participant roles adopted by the children, and causes, benefits, feelings and consequences involved with bullying. This is where I think that the emotion of empathy must be instilled through intensive role-playing activities, such as watching vivid film clips or being read an emotionally stirring book. For teaching empathy to be effective the children must identify with the content being presented and feel for the victim. Finally, a commitment to new behaviours could involve presentations of peer conflict situations, ways of solving them, and a formulation of new class rules (Andreou et al., 2008). I believe that these rules should focus on a establishing a sense of community, a desire to protect one another, and a feeling of pride in providing an inclusive and safe environment for all students.

Although most students express anti-bullying attitudes, surprisingly few will intervene when witnessing a classmate being victimized, as their thoughts on what should be done conflict, causing their by-standing behaviour to show inconsistency (Andreou et al., 2008). Anti-bullying programs targeted to altering peer attitudes seem successful, but there are confounding variables within the programs such as age, maturity, attention span, and age-related social skills (Andreou et al., 2008). Personally, I believe that long-term classroom programs that focus positively upon the intervention of bullying by peers is a huge step in the right direction, but that these programs must have a heavy focus on self-esteem.

The past research into bullying has clearly shown a negative correlation between bullying and self-image (Piek et al., 2005). However, the correlation may be deeper than this. Children from disparate backgrounds, upbringings, age groups, and genders may be affected differently by bullying. For example, children with motor coordination disabilities were studied to understand the association between instances of bullying and the child’s sense of self-worth (Piek et al., 2005). Piek et al. (2005) reported that students with motor problems experienced the same amount of victimization, yet they had different responses to these experiences. Girls with coordination disabilities were most affected by bullying, as their self-worth significantly showed a negative impact after bullying events (Piek et al., 2005). Therefore, it is not so much the amount or frequency of bullying that matters most, but the extent to which the victim perceives the bullying that must be given attention.

Taken together, the studies of Piek et al. (2005) and Andreou et al. (2008) show the importance of proper focus when teaching an anti-bullying program. It is one goal to stop bullying from getting any worse in a school, but quite another to reverse its lasting negative effects on students’ sense of confidence. This is a difficult issue to solve, because every individual sees themselves differently, and will respond to lessons in self-worth in varying ways. It is further difficult to make generalizations on programs that should be implemented at different schools, because certain schoolchildren come from varying backgrounds and because age groups can vastly change in maturity and attitudes even between successive grade levels.

I believe that one of the best approaches to anti-bullying is teaching positive self-image and encouraging supportive peer behaviour. This should be done over long-term school-wide programs as a part of the Health class curriculum. Cultivating a sense pride in a safe school community gives students something to “hang their hats on,” which signifies an important benchmark to them that they continually strive for. I hope to be a teacher on the leading edge of this movement for healthy self-esteem, as I encourage students of all ages and backgrounds that they can become more than they are in every way.


Andreou, E., Didaskalou, E., & Vlachou, A. (2008). Outcomes of a curriculum‐based anti‐bullying intervention program on students' attitudes and behavior. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 13(4), 235-248.

Piek, J. P., Barrett, N. C., Allen, L. S. R., Jones, A., & Louise, M. (2005). The relationship between bullying and self‐worth in children with movement coordination problems. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 75(3), 453-463.

Positive Learning Experience: Intro to Communism

Posted by agracemartin on January 7, 2015 at 2:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Welcome to Communism:

It was a small town in middle-of-nowhere eastern-central Alberta. Our grade nine classroom knew each other very well and the eleven of us got along. Most of us played hockey, and a few spent the majority of their time working on their family farms. Our parents were either farmers or worked in the oilfield, as a substantial tank farm was the only claim to fame that our small town could support. And so we attended our K-9 school and enjoyed our last year at the top; we were the older kids that all the others looked up to. Our close-knit class still had its divisions however. Our academic performance broke down into two 90 percentile students, about five 70 percentile to honour students, and about four that hovered above passing.

We had a particularly strict teacher who taught Language Arts, Social Studies, French, and Art to every junior high class. The rules were clear and no one dared to misbehave in her class. I remember her classes being so strict that we were docked marks if we did not underline our assignment titles in red ink—ensuring, of course that the words did not float up into the top margin of the page. I daresay that she was the most remarkable teacher that any of us would ever know, in that she taught us more in her subjects than we ever learned even in high school. We knew that she demanded much and all attempted—with the more than occasional failure—to meet her expectations.

It was our third year with her as a teacher when she did something unheard of in our ninth grade social class. One day she announced that for the following unit, we would all assume the final mark that was the class average. She said that she had already cleared it with our principal and superintendant, in an experiment to see how cooperation would help all members of the class. Her theory was that the higher-graded students would give help to those who were struggling, and in so doing each would raise their marks, on account of the whole.

I was outraged. Being one of the only two A+ students in the classroom, I saw no gain to be had by spending extra time on others when it would drop my grades so drastically. I recall thinking, “What’s the point of working hard when everyone else just gets to ride on my shoulders?” It is funny now that I thought so highly of my academic performance then, but I certainly understand why I was upset by this new concept of “sharing.” On the other hand, a few of the students whose marks already sat around the class average were very open to the idea, and said that we could make it work. The class clown laughed and said that one of his buddies would surely corner him in the hallway and threaten a foot to his rear and fist to his nose unless he did his homework.

Our teacher let every person speak his or her opinion, but did not comment herself. After everyone had spoken I was fuming and about ready to leave the classroom entirely, when she picked up her marker. My teacher nonchalantly went to the whiteboard, pausing as if for emphasis. Now I can almost see the smirk on her face as she wrote down three words that would become my favourite lesson in social studies:

Welcome to Communism.