Category Archives: Education

Improving Education in Manitoba-Someone Thinks They Have The Answers

mural of children broadway avenue saskatoon by denyse klette

Michael Zwaagstra in December articles in the Winnipeg Free Press and The Carillon bemoans Manitoba’s results on national and international academic tests that show our students performing poorly. According to Zwaagstra there are three keys to improving education in our province

1)more tests

2)teaching basics

3) direct whole class instruction.

Mr. Zwaagstra’s articles fail to report however on the three areas where our province gets top ranking.

1) Manitoba has the highest child poverty rate in Canada. I suspect we have more school kids who live in families lacking the basic necessities for healthy living than any other province.

2) Manitoba has the highest rate of adult incarceration in Canada. This leads one to believe we have more school kids with a parent in jail than in any other province.

3) Manitoba’s percentage of children in foster care is one of the highest in the world. It follows that we would have more school kids who are separated from their families than in any other province.

Could those three things impact children’s ability to learn and do well on standardized tests? If we focused on eradicating child poverty, on finding alternatives to such massive incarceration and looked for ways to improve foster care might that affect test scores more than the three remedies Mr. Zwaagstra suggests?

child-wearing-glasses- free photo pixabayAs a university education supervisor I have spent a fair bit of time in the last five years in inner city Winnipeg schools. Just before Christmas children in one school got free eye- exams courtesy of some caring Manitoba optometrists who volunteered to come and test children suspected of having vision issues. They discovered forty kids who should have been wearing glasses and provided them all with prescription lenses. One wonders though how those kids’ inability to see properly might have impacted their education and subsequently their scores on standardized tests in the past.

The six core area schools I know well devote time and money to providing breakfasts for children, setting up and staffing parent rooms where families can come for counseling and support, providing after school programs to keep kids out of gangs and off the street, arranging for kids to have dental work done at school by volunteer dentists, obtaining a stock pile of winter outerwear for children who come to school dressed improperly and the list goes on and on. These shouldn’t necessarily be the things teachers and administrators focus on but they know they are vital to their students’ ability to learn so they make them a priority. Could finding ways to relieve educators of those responsibilities allow schools to spend more time, energy and money on actual teaching?

hoop dancer hugh john mcdonald school winnipegThat being said I am curious about the statistics behind Mr. Zwaagstra’s contention that regular assessment, teaching basics and direct class instruction is lacking in Manitoba schools. In the six weeks before Mr. Zwaagstra’s article was published I made nearly forty visits to Winnipeg classrooms. The education students I supervise must include a plan for assessment in every lesson and they do. During almost all lessons I observed, teachers were doing some whole class instruction and they were teaching the basics as best they could even though they had students whose reading and numeracy competencies were spread over as many as six different grade levels and every class had newcomers to Canada just learning English.

It is indeed troubling that Manitoba’s students have a low standard of academic achievement. Many of the reasons for that stem from long standing societal issues and addressing them will be much more costly and complicated than doing more tests or telling teachers they aren’t using the right instructional methods.

Other posts………

What I Saw in a Classroom Yesterday

Rap, Reimagining Winnipeg and Designing Fishnets

A Pen or a Wing?


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Lesson Not Required

stone-soupShould a children’s book teach a lesson?  Yesterday I noticed a call on Facebook from a former student of mine who is now a teacher. She was asking people to share names of good children’s picture books that teach a lesson.  

not-afraid-of-anythingThis caught my attention because I write stories for children. When I am preparing a manuscript for submission I always carefully read the instructions from the book publisher or magazine editor about what they are looking for from perspective authors. Many clearly state they are NOT looking for children’s stories that teach a lesson. one-dog-canoeThey are most concerned about whether a story is written in a way that will capture the reader’s interest  and not whether it will indoctrinate children with some moral truth or teach them a life lesson in an overt way. 

andy-and-the-lion I think the very best picture books motivate each reader, whether that is the child listening to the picture book, or the adult reading it to them, to think about something new or consider something familiar in a new way.  And that something  can be different for every reader. going-on-a-bear-hunt

This post features a few of the many picture books my grandson and I have enjoyed together in the last four years.  These six are examples of books he has asked me to read to him over and over again and because of that I assume he thinks they are good books.   He and I have never discussed whether they teach a lesson, but I looked each one up online and apparently every one of them teaches children many lessons.  I’m glad my grandson and I didn’t know what they were.sylvester-and-the-magic-pebble

Other posts………

Picture Books Have Changed

Perfect for Pre-Schoolers

Remembering Maurice Sendak

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Education

Cool Stuff

I just finished another round of supervising student teachers in inner city Winnipeg schools. I get to see and hear about some cool stuff on my visits. Like …………………

  • grade sixes designing habitats for imaginary animals
  • grade sevens decorating ancient Greek vases with mythological characters
  • grade eights using graham crackers and Kool Whip to demonstrate all the different ways the earth’s tectonic plates move
  •  grade ones smelling lots of different containers and trying to figure out what’s inside
  • grade fives touching and feeling real animal furs and deciding what they may have been traded for at a Hudsons Bay Trading Postfriendship-poster
  • a teacher reading a bunch of modern fairy tales that encourage children not to blindly accept stereotypical gender roles but to be respectful of individual expression.
  • a physed teacher who collects used and new skates in his office so every kid in the school gets to go the rink
  •  grade twos designing and building houses for the three little pigs that the wolf can’t blow down
  • grade threes measuring objects with the footprints of a giantbe-what-bulleting-board
  • kids writing and illustrating their own fairy tales
  • kids who didn’t get breakfast at home being fed at school
  • a whole class making puppets, writing puppet plays and performing puppet plays
  • physed classes playing aboriginal gamesnarwhale-bulleting-board
  • a teacher making hot chocolate for the school patrols on a really cold day
  • small groups of students learning math games with playing cards
  • forty one kids in a school getting free glasses after optometrists volunteered to test the eyes of students the teachers were worried might have vision problems
  • junior highs playing this absolutely cool electronic learning game called Plinkers

I will miss my school visits and look forward to the the next round in spring. 

Other posts…….

Visiting a A Quaker School in Costa Rica

Visiting a School in Jamaica

Visiting Hopi Mission School


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What I Saw in A Classroom Yesterday

welcome to our school different languagesI was visiting one of my student teachers in a junior high classroom in the inner city yesterday.  I started jotting down things I saw. 

  • Labels in both Arabic and English for items in the room like the pencil sharpener and clock. 
  • A numbered treaty document signed by all the students and their teacher which listed their responsibilities. Some of the treaty items the teacher had agreed to were listening to kids and giving them time to think. Some of the treaty items the students had agreed to were trying their best and showing up for class on time. 
  • A piece of chart paper that recorded the results of a class brainstorming session about bullying. 
  • A series of posters for the seven sacred teachings- courage, honesty, respect,wisdom, truth, love and humility.
  • A large sign providing the number of hotline children could call for help if they were experiencing abuse. 
  • A poster with the United Nations Rights of a Child in kid friendly language. 
  • A colorful poster on the door that featured an acrostic for diversity D-different I-individuals V-valuing E-each other R-regardless of S-skin I-intellect T-talents or Y-years. 
  • Boxes of granola bars for kids to eat if they had missed breakfast. 
  • A Canadian flag right beside a poster that read We Are All Treaty People. 
  • A map of all the treaty lands in Manitoba and the communities in them.  Some of the students had put their names on sticky notes and attached them to the map at the spot where their family came from. 
  • Shelves filled with board games and books. 
  • Students with skin color, language and dress that indicated they came from many different countries. 
  • Plastic containers filled with supplies like pencil crayons, scissors, pens and notebooks for kids that didn’t have their own. 
  •  A poster that declared… Always determine what’s right instead of who’s right. 

As I looked around I thought most of these things would not have been in a classroom I was a part of as a child.

Other posts……..

The Children are Watching and Listening and Wondering

Counting on Their Fingers

Crossing the Line

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Filed under Education, Winnipeg

My Mom Starts School


Here is my mother ready for her first day of school in 1931.  I found this gem recently as I was helping to move my Aunt Viola who is also pictured here carrying a rather beat up looking lunch kit.  My aunt had penciled in on the back of the photo Dorothy’s first day of school. My Mom has a book under her arm.  I wonder if it was a grade one reader. My Mom told me that each grade had their own reading book with poetry and fiction as well as stories about nature and history.   I just love the girls’ hats, their woolen stockings and from the material sticking out of both of their sleeves they may have been wearing matching dresses or tops. This is on their parents’ farmyard. Look how my grandma has laid out neat little flower beds with stones. 


My Aunt Viola also had this photo of the Kansas School in her collection. See the children arriving for class in a horse and buggy?

Mom and her siblings went to the Kansas School in school district #1699 in Drake Saskatchewan.  It was called the Kansas School because most of the children who attended were from families that had immigrated to Canada from Kansas in the early 1900s as my own great grandparents had. The one room school had grades one to eight and Mom thinks there could have been up to 50 children attending.  Mom walked the one and a half miles to school with her brother and sisters, cousins and the neighbor kids, no doubt one of them her best friend Mildred, who lived just across the road. Sometimes in winter an older cousin took them to school in a sleigh. 


Mom with the other children in grade one at Kansas school during the 1931-1932 school year. Mom is third from the right.

Mom’s teacher in grade one was Agnes Regier and Mom really liked her. Agnes was also Mom’s first piano teacher and Mom told me that at the end of her first school year her class put on a musical on the porch of Miss Regier’s house and all their parents came to watch. Mom remembers how they used to chant their spelling words out loud together letter by letter. 

At recess they liked to skip in pairs and they had skipping rhymes to chant as they did so. Mom said they also played lots of cricket using the tree stumps on the school yard as wickets. 

In September my grandson started school in Saskatchewan and as I look at the photo my son sent of him setting off for his first day of junior kindergarten it is interesting to compare it to the photo of my Mom doing exactly the same thing…… setting off for her first day of school in Saskatchewan 85 years earlier. 

Other posts……

My Dad Was Once A Teacher

Remembering My Grandpa

Why Was This Special?


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Filed under Education, Family

Love My Job

highschool-group-of-seven-4Had a great day at the Winnipeg Art Gallery last week with a grade nine class from the high school in Steinbach where I used to teach. I had a group of interested and thoughtful young women on my tour of the galleries. None of them had every been to an art gallery before and they loved it! “Could we come back?” they wondered. highschool-group-of-seven-3 They were very impressed by the Group of Seven paintings. They were intrigued by one of Esther Warkov’s whimsical landscapes. They came up with some really original ideas when I asked them to use our trays of manipulatives to create a personal Inuit wall hanging in the Our Land exhibit.highschool-group-of-seven-2They had definite preferences about what they had enjoyed in the galleries and told me which of the works they’d seen they would like to take home and hang in their bedroom and why.
highschool-group-of-seven-5In the afternoon I guided a different group from the same school as they created their own landscapes in the style of the Group of Seven. highschool-group-of-seven-6They were attentive and engaged. highschool-group-of-seven-1Their work illustrates this blog post.
I had such a good time with this group it almost made me sorry I’m not still teaching.

I Love Art

Olympus Inspired Art

The Exquiste Corpse

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Filed under Art, Education, WInnipeg Art Gallery

A World of Faith

John Hull a British religious educator says, “Religion is a major source of conflict in our world. People won’t be at peace till religions are at peace. It must be part of every child’s education that they learn to respect other religions and understand them.”A-World-of-Faith-Stack-Peggy-9781560851165

A World of Faith by Peggy Fletcher Stack is one resource for inter-faith education I can recommend. The book explains in “kid friendly” language the principles of twenty eight different religious groups. It introduces children to the founders of each faith and tells them about the practices and rituals of that particular spiritual tradition. Even more enlightening than its words are the illustrations by Kathleen Peterson. She has created a collage of colorful images that bring to life the important aspects of each faith group. All the pictures have interesting borders which detail symbols central to the religion described on the page. This is an excellent book for parents to read with their children and use as a starting point for discussion about how other faiths are similar and different from their own. I have placed a copy in our church library.

Other posts…….

Freedom’s Child

Responding To Changing Understandings of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The Children Are Watching

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Filed under Childhood, Education