Monthly Archives: August 2012



If you want to know all about Winnipeg’s latest piece of public art Emptyful see the story on my blog Destination Winnipeg

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The Traits of Good Writing

What are the traits of good writing? How can you give writers specific feedback that will help them improve and feel more confident about their writing skills? I’m heading back into the classroom again next week as a university faculty advisor, acting as a mentor and assessor for student teachers. New educational ideas bombard teachers at a hectic pace that often leaves their heads spinning. It makes it hard to pick out the quality strategies that are actually helpful.  One such strategy I will certainly discuss with the senior and middle years English teachers I’ll be supervising is the 6+1 or Seven Traits of good writing. I used it as an organizational and assessment tool on almost every assignment I gave to my high school students.

The concept is pretty simple. Instead of reading student essays or short stories and assigning an arbitrary grade like 17/20 you grade the piece for seven different qualities. You assign six points for each of the seven traits on the chart above.  The system developed by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in Portland Oregon has provided a common language for teachers to talk about writing with students and has been shown to improve student writing scores on standardized tests. I like it because it helps students pinpoint what areas of their writing they need to work on. For example–students might have great ideas in their writing and you can give them full credit or 6 points for that, even if the words they choose to express those ideas aren’t the best. They might only get 2 points for their word choice. You would then work with the student to improve the quality of their word choice. You could provide information and support so they would learn how to choose words that are more descriptive, detailed and appropriate for kind of writing they are doing.

This poster from Scholastic gives a quick synopsis of what each trait is about. The system gives credit where credit is due and doesn’t let one negative quality of the writing overshadow all the others. Sometimes, for example, a writing piece may be poorly presented. It could be typed in a font that is hard to read, the paragraphs aren’t indented, it is handed in after being scrunched up in the student’s backpack with the remains of their lunch and it is illustrated with crudely drawn diagrams. The overall impression would make the teacher give the student a poor mark. In the 6+1 traits system the most you could deduct for those things would be the 6 presentation points and the student could still get full credit, or a full six points for something like conventions if they had used correct grammar, punctuation and spelling or a full 6 points for voice, if their writing was fresh and original and conveyed their passion for the topic they were writing about. 

That’s just a brief introduction to what 6+1 trait writing is all about. There are hundreds of books and websites that explain the strategy in greater depth. I think the seven traits are helpful not only to teachers and students but to anyone who wants to improve their writing skills. 

Other posts about writing……..

Helping Children Become Writers

Writing For Children Not As Easy As Thought

Six Things To Do Before You Begin Writing A Novel

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Learning About the Chinese Cultural Revolution from Fifth Graders

“My great grandma hid in a haystack while the Red Guard stole everything from her house and then burned it to the ground. “

“My great-uncle escaped from China to Hong Kong by swimming through shark-infested waters.”

“My grandparents walked all the way from Shanghai to Hong Kong with seven children. It took many months.”

“My grandma was a member of the Red Guard. She was accused of helping counterrevolutionaries and was arrested but she didn’t blame Mao Zedong. She loved him then and she still does.”

“The Red Guard tortured my great-grandpa by making him drink so much water he got all bloated and swollen. It was very painful. His crime was spelling a word wrong on a poster he made about Mao Zedong.”

“My great-grandpa committed suicide, because the Red Guard took away his business, his house and his family.”

“My grandpa and his family escaped to Taiwan during the Cultural Revolution and I am very glad they did, otherwise I might never have been born.”

I was assigned to teach grade five social studies when I first began working at an international school in Hong Kong.  We were studying modern Chinese history and to help my students understand the turmoil-filled 1960’s I read them a novel called Red Scarf Girl by Ji Li Jiang. It is a first person account written by a woman who was eleven years old when the Cultural Revolution began in China.

    The children readily identified with her since they were eleven years old too. Ms. Jiang’s family was tortured, abused and imprisoned because their ancestors had been rich landlords. There was no greater crime during the Cultural Revolution than having a family tree, which included a member of the upper class, especially a landowner.

After we finished reading the novel the students’ final assignment was to write a letter to the author.  As I graded their work I was surprised how many of the kids had included stories they had heard from relatives who had lived in China during the revolution. The quotes above are all from my fifth grade students’ letters.

Another girl wrote, “My great-grandpa was a Chinese landlord too. The communists took away all of my great-grandfather’s land. His son, my grandpa, ran all the way to Hong Kong to escape.  My grandpa’s brother stayed in China and joined the Communist Party.

  One of the boys in my class talked about his aunt.  “My aunt grew up in main land China and she was brainwashed to believe that Chairman Mao was some sort of immortal god.  Instead of getting good schooling my aunt just learned propaganda about Chairman Mao.  This ruined her life.”

 Children in my class who were not Chinese but were of other Asian backgrounds wrote two of the most interesting letters. One girl said, “I am not Chinese. I am Korean. But I just want you to know that I am from South Korea not North Korea. I am not a communist!”

 One of my students from Japan had a burning question she wanted to ask. “Do you hate Japanese people? I hope not because I am Japanese. I know my ancestors attacked China during World War II and were very mean to your people. But I know how sad you were to be blamed for your ancestors being landowners. I hope you won’t blame me for my ancestors being your enemies. I want to be your Japanese friend.”

Although I was supposed to be teaching my students modern Chinese history they were actually teaching me by sharing their unique family experiences and perspectives. 


Filed under Books, China, Education

Le gamine au velo- The Kid With a Bike

Want to see a movie that will warm your heart? Looking for a film that will grab your attention in the first few minutes and never let it go? Interested in a modern fairy tale that isn’t saccharine? Then the Belgian film Le gamine au velo or The Kid With A Bike is for you! 

We saw the movie tonight and I’d have to agree with the majority of critics who have given it rave reviews. A young boy named Cyril is abandoned by his Dad, following what we assume is the death of his grandmother who was helping to care for him. Of course Cyril, like most children, has utter faith in his Dad’s love for him and refuses to believe that his father has abandoned him in the state home for adolescents where he’s been sent. The scene where his Dad tells Cyril the brutal truth–”I don’t want you anymore” made me so angry. The Kid With A Bike title stems from the fact that Cyril rides everywhere on his bike. It is a bike returned to him by a kind-hearted woman who buys it back after Cyril’s Dad sells it for some ready cash. 

Cyril’s savior is Samantha, a hairdresser with an open mind and a caring heart who takes him in as a foster child and loves him even when he lashes out at her in anger, gets involved with a local gang and makes her lose her boyfriend. 

My favorite scene in the movie was when Samantha goes to Cyril’s room at night. She thinks she hears him get up. Cyril doesn’t want to talk so he hops back into bed and pretends to be asleep. Samantha sits down on his bed and after a time of silence during which Cyril refuses to answer any questions she asks, she leans over to brush Cyril’s ear and hair. Finally he says softly, “It’s so warm.”  Samantha asks, “What?”  Cyril whispers, “You’re breath.”  It is a tender moment, when you realize Samantha is beginning to crack Cyril’s tough exterior. 

This movie leaves lots of unanswered questions. Why does Samantha choose to keep Cyril? Where is Cyril’s mother? Where is Samantha’s family? Why would the man Cyril assaults and robs choose to forgive him? Why does Cyril’s Dad feel he can’t take care of his son? Will Samantha and Cyril’s relationship work out in the long-term? But these questions don’t detract from the movie and certainly don’t prevent it from tugging at your heart-strings and making you hold your breath as Cyril confronts a variety of dangerous and difficult situations. 

Le gamine au velo is hope inspiring and makes the viewer want to believe that love and forgiveness can set the world straight. 

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A Controversial Wedding Photo

One of our wedding pictures once started a controversy. I had posted this photo on Facebook for our anniversary.

A colleague at the school where we were teaching at the time spotted it, and inspired, suggested all the married couples on our faculty post pictures of themselves on their wedding day on our staff room wall, labelled with the date on which they’d been married. The woman, who had been married herself for over twenty-five years, thought all the photos of happy couples would be an inspiration to those on our staff who were still single, and those who had only recently wed. She couldn’t have been more wrong.

Several of the single people on the staff, who had chosen not to marry, were offended by the display of wedding photos. They said it implied that in order to be happy in life you had to be married. Other single people, who wished they were married, but had never had the good fortune to meet the right person, felt ‘left out’ of the wedding photo display.  Some expressed their opinions rather vehemently. They said if we were going to display personal staff pictures they should be in a category that could include everyone on our faculty.

We were teaching at a faith-based school and that week during one of our morning devotional times, a woman I had worked with for several years shared something she had never admitted previously to her colleagues. She had been married in the past and had gone through a very difficult divorce just before coming to work at our school. It was not a divorce she wanted or was happy about, but there was nothing she could do. I realized after she had shared her emotional story that the display of photos of happily married people in our staff room might have been difficult for her to view as well. That got me thinking further. What about the widow on our staff or the young father who had lost his wife to cancer? How would the photo display have made them feel?

One single woman on our faculty shared her concerns about the wedding photos with my husband and he immediately took our photo down. Other married couples soon followed suit, when they realized blatantly displaying pictures of their wedding day happiness, may have been hurtful to others. There was talk of doing a photo display of staff member’s high school graduation photos instead.

I have been a regular columnist for a regional newspaper called The Carillon for many years. They produce an annual special edition of the paper in which they feature photos of couples from the newspapers’ reading audience that have been married for twenty-five, fifty and sixty years.

I’ve always looked forward to that issue, and am interested in all the wedding pictures of people in the community I know. I even submitted our photo when we had been married for twenty -five years. I never even stopped to think about the fact that perhaps widowed, divorced and single people might be saddened or feel inadequate or excluded if they happened to look at the wedding anniversary issue of the paper.

Should we publicly celebrate wedding anniversaries? Since many marriages in our society don’t last for a long time, the fact that two people manage to ‘go the distance’ together is surely something worth commemorating. It is important though to make it clear marriage is not better than other lifestyles, but simply a way of life that if happy and rewarding and long-lasting, should be cherished.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like……….

Diamond Anniversary- A Family Affair


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I Guess I’m A Democrat

I just took an online quiz called I Side With.  You answer a series of multiple choice questions about American domestic policy, foreign policy and social policy issues and your results are processed to see which party you align most closely with. I know I’m a Canadian and not an American citizen, but I’m reasonably knowledgeable about American politics and took the quiz just for interests sake. I had to give my opinions about a host of topics including the war in Afghanistan, abortion, the death penalty, global warming, affirmative action, gun control, immigration, gay marriage and Super Pac advertising. The results? On 92% of issues I side with the Democratic Party. On 8% of issues I side with the Republicans. 

If you’d like to try the quiz yourself –here is the link.

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Story Update

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called It’s A Small World about Mandy Sun, one of my students in Hong Kong who lost her wallet in a store in India. Through a story I wrote about Mandy on my Hong Kong blog the clerk in the store was able to get my e-mail address and contacted me to find out how she could get in touch with Mandy. Mandy just e-mailed me to let me know she now has her wallet back and it contained all of her money and credit cards. Mandy says…..”People are sooooo nice!”  Mandy also told me she and her Mom  had been in India on a mission assignment at an orphanage and the store that returned her wallet was a supermarket near the orphanage where they shopped for groceries. 

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Filed under Hong Kong, Reflections

The Famous Five

famous five manitoba legislature

Statue at the Manitoba Legislature that recognizes the famous five women who fought to have women recognized as persons in Canada

Walking across the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature this summer I stopped to photograph this statue of the Famous Five created by Helen Grange Young and unveiled in June of 2010.

“You are not persons,” the Supreme Court of Canada told these five women in 1927 when they petitioned the court to determine whether as ‘persons’ they were eligible for appointment to Canada’s Senate.

The court said they weren’t really people and therefore ineligible for Senate appointment. The five women then appealed to the British Privy Judicial Council who ruled in 1929 they were indeed people.

The women have become known as Canada’s Famous Five for their important contribution to women’s rights in Canada. 

The five women are……….Henrietta Muir Edwards. She founded the Victorian Order of Nurses and set up a house in Montreal for single working women, a forerunner of the YWCA.  She was married to a doctor and had three children. Emily Murphy was a bestselling author married to an Anglican minister and the mother of four daughters. She was the first female appointed as a magistrate in the British Empire. She was instrumental in having the Dower Act passed which ensured that upon the death of a man his widow was entitled to at least a third of his estate. Irene Parlby sponsored the Minimum Wage Act for Women in 1925 and as the President of the United Farm Women of Alberta did much to improve health care for rural women and children. She was the second female cabinet minister in Canada. Married to a farmer and the mother of one son, Irene was the first woman given an honorary degree by the University of Alberta. Louise McKinney was an excellent debater and a member of the Alberta Legislature where she was instrumental in passing legislation to support people with disabilities, immigrants, widowed and single women. A teacher, she and her husband traveled together. Nellie McClung is perhaps the most famous of the Famous Five because she played a key role in women getting the right to vote and run for public office in Manitoba in 1916. Manitoba was the first province to give women the vote in Canada. She was married to a pharmacist, had five children, and was a best-selling novelist. There are also statues of the Famous Five in Ottawa on Parliament Hill and when I visited there I posed with Emily Murphy. Here my daughter-in-law and her sister and I are between Irene Parlby and Nellie McClung who is holding up the newspaper with the headline Women are Persons. My husband and daughter-in-law sip tea with Henrietta Muir and Louise McKinney.I’m glad to know there are statues of the Famous Five in Winnipeg and I don’t have to go all the way to Ottawa to see them.  Around the sculptures in Winnipeg is an enclosing circle of brick engraved with a quote from Nellie McClung. 

I want to leave something behind when I go; some small legacy of truth, some word that will shine in a dark place.

A photo from this post was featured in an exhibit at the Supreme Court Building in London England.  You can read about that here

If you enjoyed this post you might also like these posts about other Winnipeg sculptures

James Bond Is From Winnipeg

Seal River Crossing

Holocaust Memorial in Winnipeg


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Filed under Art, Canada, History, People, Politics, Winnipeg

An Inuit Art Primer

Inuit art is a contemporary and not a traditional art form that was created almost purely for commercial purposes. If I had to state the most memorable and surprising thing I’ve learned about Inuit art that’s it!  The Winnipeg Art Gallery  has the largest collection of Inuit Art in the world.  When I started giving tours there I knew very little about Inuit art so I decided I needed to educate myself. I did lots of reading and research and here are ten interesting things I learned. 

1. The birth of Inuit Art was almost an accident.

In 1948 artist James Houston visited Arctic Quebec. He bought some small Inuit stone and ivory carvings home. The Canadian Handicrafts Guild sent him back up north in 1949 to buy hundreds more for their annual sale. 90% sold in three days. Between 1951 and 1952 Houston toured the Arctic telling the Inuit what they should make and what materials to use. Soon sales of Inuit art had grown to such a large volume the Hudsons’ Bay Company took over managing the business. And thus the Inuit art industry was born. 

2. Some people think Inuit art is the result of a giant government-sponsored welfare project.

The Canadian government promoted Inuit art and adopted it as a symbol of the north. They wanted it to thrive because they saw it as an answer to the problem of unemployment in Canada’s north. Up to 25% of people in some communities are involved in creating art. 

3. There really wasn’t very much Inuit art being made before the early 1950’s.

Not many artistic artifacts dating before 1700  have been found. Some animal and human figures, masks, ritual objects used by shamans, pendants, and lots of small models of flying or floating polar bears have been preserved. In the late 1700’s more objects were made at the request of traders, missionaries, and whalers who began to visit Inuit communities. They wanted models of hunting scenes, cribbage boards, and Christian images. Some explorers asked the Inuit to make maps with paper and ink and to draw wildlife scenes for them. They began to add more details to their carvings and make them bigger to please their customers.

4. Inuit sculptures are not only made from one kind of stone.

A whole variety of different kinds of stones are used as well as lots of other materials like walrus ivory, antlers, driftwood, and whalebone. Many different tools are used to create sculptures including axes, hatchets, chisels, mallets, rotary grinders, files, rasps, Emory, clothes, and sandpaper. 

5. There are predominant themes in Inuit art.

Animals play a vital role in Inuit life and art.  Older Inuit spent years watching, stalking, and killing animals, so they know them well.  Everyday life is another important theme–people preparing food, hunting, playing games, and sewing. The family is a recurring theme particularly mothers and their children.  Younger artists often carve figures that have to do with ancient shamanism and the supernatural. The older artist will not carve these kinds of figures because they believe them to be evil. For nearly two hundred years the Inuit have been predominantly Christian, converted by zealous missionaries. Some have explored Christian themes in their art. Inuit legends and myths are also frequent themes. 

6. Art from six key areas of the north can be very different

This is because each region has different materials available to use to create art pieces. Also, each region has had different outside influences. The personal tastes of the advisors and entrepreneurs who work with Inuit artists and buy their work have a big influence on the kind of art they do. Influential artists in certain communities have developed their own personal styles and that has influenced other artists in their community. 

The Owl stonecut on paper by Lukta Qiatsuk- 1959

7. Although 80% of Inuit art is sculpture there are other important art forms as well. 

Drawings and paintings done with colored pencils, acrylic paint and water-color recall the glory days of the hunt and traditional camp life. Textile arts are mostly the domain of Inuit women who create tapestries that are often very colorful and large. Printmaking is also a staple of Inuit art.  I have explained how that came to the north in my post The Globalization of Art From Japan to Cape Dorset. 

8. It is hard to categorize Inuit art.

Much of it was made for commercial purposes to be sold as souvenirs. Various labels have been suggested for Inuit art. Is it fine art, folk art, tourist art, ethnic art or Canadian art? Fine art galleries like the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Canadian Museum of Civilization began to collect Inuit art already in the 1960’s, but other national art establishments like the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery only began to embrace it in the 1980’s. All four of these galleries now have separate Inuit art curators. 

9. Inuit art does preserve culture, language, stories and the Inuit identity. 

While Inuit art provides a record of traditional Inuit life and has become a vehicle for cultural preservation this was not the purpose for which much of it was created. It was art that was made for export and not for teaching Inuit children about their heritage. 

10. Many modern Inuit artists want their work to show the reality of life for the Inuit today. 

Will they choose the path of innovation or tradition? Younger artists see their work more as a means of self-expression than a way to preserve Inuit traditions.  They tend to be more experimental. In the past Inuit art was never abstract. This is changing. 

I am looking forward to learning much more about Inuit art as  I continue to read and research and explore the large collection of Inuit art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. 

Much of the information in this post comes from the book Inuit Art: An Introduction by Ingo Hessel

If you enjoyed this post you might also like………..

Two Diverse Members of the Group of Seven

The Dark Side of William Kurelek

Is it Art?


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Filed under Art, Canada, Culture, History, Winnipeg

In the Middle of A Movie Set

They’re filming a movie in our building! When I got home from the gym yesterday morning I could barely get in the front door of our condo.  The Ashdown Warehouse was serving as a set for a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation movie about political leader Jack Layton . I asked some of the crew about the film and they told me the foyer, front steps and two suites in our condo were being used in the movie. They were very apologetic about any inconvenience caused to the tenants and were extremely polite and courteous. 

Later in the day when I left the condo to buy groceries I saw tons of equipment at the end of our hallway. Turns out the two condos where interior scenes were being shot were on our floor. A film crew member I rode down with in the elevator told me one condo was being used for the livingroom of Jack Layton and his wife Olivia Chow’s home, and another condo was where the bedroom scenes would be shot. When I got back from the grocery store, I rode up in the elevator with a filming assistant carrying Chinese take-out food in a bag. Turns out it was being used in the next scene they were filming. 

It took most of the day for the them to do the shooting. When I was taking the trash out in the late afternoon, Sook-Yin-Lee the woman who plays Olivia Chow and an older Asian woman who I assume must be playing Olivia’s mother, came out of an apartment near ours with a make-up artist following behind with bags full of cosmetics. 

I couldn’t believe how many people and trucks and pieces of equipment it took to film a few scenes from a movie. A whole block of the street adjacent to our front entry was closed off for movie vehicles and personnel. One of the crew told me they were moving on to Selkirk, Manitoba to continue filming. 

I know that Winnipeg has become a popular spot for making movies, especially in the Exchange District where so many historical buildings have been preserved. I’ve seen film crews in action before, but had never noticed any on our street. It was pretty exciting! Although we had to use the back doors for a while during the day, the inconvenience was worth it just knowing the place where you live was being used as a movie set. I can hardly wait to see the film when it comes out!

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Filed under Canada, Culture, Movies, Politics, Winnipeg