P4E “Conference” Nov.13th & SQE “AGM” on Dec.4th

Two events will be happening within the next few weeks. First, there is the People for Education (P4E) conference on Saturday November 13th and Sunday, November 14th, 2010. Being held at York University, north of Toronto, in the Schulich School of Business, it has lots of seminars and speakers. Click here to check out the P4E website and where parents can register.

A quick look at the seminar leaders and speakers and it becomes very clear the conference includes everyone who is anyone in the current Ontario education system, be they practising teachers, union representatives, officials from area boards of education, academics doing important work on the brain, staff from the Ontario LD Association and the relatively new Ontario Minister of Education, Leona Dombrowsky.

However, as in all Western democracies, not everyone is happy with the current public education system, whether secular or Catholic. So, for all those parents who want to hear what’s wrong with our schools, the Society for Quality Education (SQE) is presenting Michael Zwaagstra at their Annual General Meeting on Saturday, December 4th, 2010 at Metro Hall in Toronto. It too sounds interesting.

However, don’t be fooled that Zwaagstra is some down-on-schools outsider. He isn’t. He is currently a Manitoba high school teacher who just happened to write a book about: (a) what is wrong with our public schools, and (b) possible solutions to what is wrong.

In my opinion, the (b) is even more important than the (a). Anyone can complain about the education system. In fact, they have been doing so since public education began. However, we are likely talking about tweaking the system, not completely reforming it? Why? Because change in education is always about ten years behind the latest research. So, by the time any kind of reform is fully implemented, it is then time to look at what’s wrong with it.

The crux of the matter is, however, that while P4E and SQE seem to be at opposite ends of the philosophical spectrum, I can’t help hoping that sometime in the not so distant future, there can be some type of partnering arrangement between the organizations. Perhaps some joint research on areas where they agree, like literacy, reading in particular.

Endnote: I will be taking a bit of a blogging break in the next little while.

14 thoughts on “P4E “Conference” Nov.13th & SQE “AGM” on Dec.4th

  1. Thanks Sandy!
    Visitors to your blog might want to know that I was a panelist at the P4Ed conference a few years ago to talk about effective reading instruction. What really struck me were the numbers of young novice teachers and parents who came up to me after to ask about systematic phonics and direct instruction. The teachers had never heard of the studies I cited and told me that they had never been taught how to teach reading. This, after a professor of education on the panel was speaking out against what I said and told about how she had kids “spittin’ out sounds, but they couldn’t read a lick.” Hardly something to brag about. Needless to say the novice teachers admitted they were hungry to learn about what works!


  2. Doretta — This is not an excuse but during the eight months to a year that teachers train to become teachers, it is just not possible to teach the specifics of how to read. I took all that in my master’s and doctoral programs which is why I wrote a book on the topic and operated a reading clinic.

    Pre-service students learn the basics about curriculum planning and what to do first, second and so on with reading. But, you could take an entire year on that topic alone to understand there are two separate stages: the Learning to Read phase is Grades 1 – 3 and involves (a) decoding (identifying letters, letter combinations and word structures), (b) word recognition and word meaning and (c) formulating sentences.

    The next phase which starts in Grade 4 is the Reading to Learning phase — comprehension and of course involves main idea, inference and drawing conclusions, etc.

    So, what I am trying to say is that phonics is one aspect of one part of the learning-to-read process. As such, sounding out is only one small aspect of the initial process and there are technical aids which parents can use to help their children with phonics problems, such as is a Franklin Spelling Ace. Enter the word fizishon and out comes physician. There are even some that show the meaning of the word to make sure they’ve got the right one.

    So, what I am trying to say is there is just so much more to English than sounding out words, such as structures like ance, tion, xious, and tious, prefixes, root words, suffixes, unusual foreign words like bouquet, and so on, that do not have anything to do with phonics.

    In other words, you only need to see a teacher training syllabus to understand that other than the basics of how to teach language arts and language experience, it simply is not possible to spend that much time on reading. Thus the reason for AQ specialty courses.

    The bottom line is that no teacher training program, no public education system and no private school are perfect. None. They are all human institutions. But together, we can make a difference. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t put the time into this blog that I do.


  3. I agree that all human institutions are imperfect, but I think that teacher training programs are extra imperfect. During the year I spent in such a program, I was taught almost nothing that helped me in the classroom. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of a single thing, although there must have been something!

    Given my subsequently-acquired expertise as a reading tutor and author of a remedial reading program, I am confident that I could give a one-day course to prospective teachers that would give them a good grounding in how to teach beginning reading to grade 1 children. A two-day course would be better though. The same thing goes for the more advanced language arts content in subsequent grades.

    In my opinion, most of the content of teacher training programs could be dropped without weakening the preparation of prospective teachers. But, even if teaching training programs were packed densely with all kinds of worthwhile content, I believe that reading is so important that the number one priority should be to ensure that every prospective primary teacher knows how to go about teaching it. In other words, teacher training programs should do whatever it takes to allocate time to teaching reading. And if the professors can no longer find the time to cover important lessons on leaf collections and comparisons of dish detergent, tant mieux!


  4. Malkin, I really don’t know what to say to you. You have your mind made up. To say that you didn’t learn anything in teacher’s college says more about your attitude than the program you took. I mean a person gets as much out of an educational program as they put in. Unbelievable.

    Frankly, I am beginning to see why SQE cannot get inroads into the Ontario Ministry of Education. What can it offer besides dripping anger and sarcasm? I am disappointed. As I have said before, you get more with honey than vinegar.

    I have always been a choice supporter until now. Doretta said in another thread that SQE is in favour of public education, apart from offering choice to parents. Well, I sure don’t get that impression based on what the two of you have written here and on another recent thread.

    In any event, you might find this comment from TDSB interesting. Things in the system are far more complex than you give credit. And, it is not all the current Liberal government’s fault. I can remember, for example, the Association of Community Living demanding that their developmentally delayed children be put in the regular classroom. And, that was during the first Mike Harris mandate. In fact, that is when the trend towards inclusion started.


  5. Teacher education has a lot of room for improvement. It is not nearly intellectually rigorous enough, and too much of the coursework focuses on philosophy and ideology. Massive advances in cognitive science, behavioural science and applications to learning have taken place in the last 25 years, but almost none of this is reflected in pre-service teacher education.

    However, the 1-year teacher prep course cannot possibly prepare teachers for specific grades. Teachers are certified to teach two or three divisions — primary and junior (JK-6) or junior-intermediate (4-10) or intermediate-senior (7-12), not specific grades, and the focus on instructional issues, such as it is, is of necessity broad.

    I doubt, however, that a 1-day (or 2-day or 5-day) course on reading would prepare teachers to teach grade one reading, or any other grade, effectively. Data show that most “teacher PD” is of this type — intense course or workshop presentations — and that only 2% of what is taught or presented in such sessions get integrated into teachers’ behavioural repertoire and instructional practice over time. Two percent!!! Yikes. It doesn’t matter how accomplished or knowledgeable the presenter — the fact is that teaching is a complex skill set and changes are incorporated and refined incrementally.

    What does work? An intensive session (whether 1 day or more than 1 day) at the beginning, followed by bi-weekly or monthly half-day sessions for trouble-shooting, problem-solving, next steps or further skill refinement, coupled with in-class mentoring and coaching over a period of time (at least 1 school year). This model leads to 80% incorporation of new skills and strategies into teachers’ everyday classroom performance. 2% vs. 80% — pretty amazing. Dr. Maureen Lovett, of the Hospital for Sick Children, developed her intensive remedial reading program for secondary schools (the acronym is PHAST PACES) using this model, and they are having enormous success with it, and applying it as well to their elementary program, EMPOWER Reading, which is being implemented in Waterloo Region DSB and other boards. It’s not a whole-class program, however; it is a small-group withdrawal program for children with significant reading delays.

    However knowledgeable the teacher, it would be difficult in the current instructional milieu for anyone to teach an explicit reading “program” in a Grade 1 class, precisely because of the inclusion issue. Except in a few schools with quite homogeneous populations, a Grade 1 class will include children who are developmentally too low to begin “reading” instruction — they have a language age of 18-30 months, for instance, or severe autism or mental health challenges, or developmental disabilities, or sensory impairments. In the last few Grade 1 classes I’ve been involved with there have been 4 or 5 children like this in each class, sometimes more. They require constant teacher supervision. One way teachers address the wide developmental spectrum in the classroom is by using centres and multilevel activities (such as journal writing, “making connections,” drama and other approaches where children can respond or get involved at their own level, whatever that is). No reading instruction model that doesn’t take into account the wide range of developmental levels and special needs in every class can hope to be effective. Schools with many parent volunteers (such as most middle class schools) can use these to help provide more intensive instruction but low-SES schools rarely have these options.

    The onus needs to be on school boards to provide the kind of training at the classroom level for specific grades, since teachers have little ability to choose what grade level or even area of specialization they will teach. Imagine the frustration of someone who prepared extensively to be the perfect Grade 1 teacher and found herself assigned to Grade 8 science on rotary, or the bilingual French teacher assigned to physical education. These sorts of arbitrary assignments happen all the time, and it is the employer’s responsibility in such cases to provide appropriate training to the teachers involved. It can’t realistically be done at the pre-service level.


  6. TDSB accurately recognizes the difficulties faced by teachers, not only when they leave Faculty of Educations, but within classrooms. I always turn my head and walk away when teachers talk about how useless their Faculty of Education training was to them. Each person should take away something new over the course of a year. It’s also true that one year is not enough to fully train a teacher, but no amount of training will necessarily prepare a teacher for a career that is constantly changing.

    To add to the diversity of children that exist in classrooms throughout Ontario, the same diversity exists among the parents who send their children to school each day. Each parent has their own views and goals and it’s hard to fit all these views and goals into a classroom. Parental choice is an option, but the reality is that not all parents will find a school that will meet everything they want for their child. You could easily have hundreds or even thousands of parent organizations in Ontario if parents wanted to organize themselves and others around similar views and goals.


  7. The answer, at least the closest to an answer, is Finland, 2 years teacher training, HS teachers expected to have a Masters in their subject area, ES teachers expected to have a Masters in education. Vast majority of teachers have 2 Masters degrees. Pay is similar to all others in northern Europe. They will tell you if you ask them why they lead the world. There are 2 reasons. 1) We have highly trained and educated teachers, 2) the income gaps in Finland are much smaller that other nations. The wider the gaps, the worse the lower group does. Witness our friends south of the border.


  8. Matt — I left this comment for TDSB on another thread. Thought you might be interested.

    TDSB — My husband (also a retired educator) and I just went to lunch and we chatted about the conversation that is going on here at CotM on a couple of threads. He pointed out that both he and I have been this route before. Only the vocabulary has changed.

    I went to teacher’s college in 1971/72 and got my first job teaching Grade 6 and art on rotary. It was a time when there were few jobs and art specialists were needed. The reason? Four years before, the Hall Dennis Report came out and set classroom methodology on its head. We were the new wave. But, we didn’t use terms like “equitable” or “inclusive” then. Rather we used terms like “child-centered” and “individualization.” Whether inclusive or child-centered, they essentially mean the same thing. Didn’t matter if kids were learning English, whether they were from economically depressed neighbourhoods or had special needs, for the most part they were in our classrooms — although there were a few segregated classrooms called SLD, GLD or ER (educable retarded — not a nice term).

    In my second year of teaching, I had a 3/4 split. And, in that classroom, I had four reading groups, four math groups, a reading centre, a math centre and a listening centre — and remember having at least five or six kids with special needs. We didn’t call their problems special needs then. They were just labelled as LD, ADHD, with a sensory problem (e.g., hearing impaired) or with behavioural problems (including those identified as autistic). Autism then was totally different. For those old enough to remember, autism then meant “Dibs). And, there was no such thing as a teaching assistant.

    Our reading program was completely individualized and pretty much the same as discovery or reading experience is now. Except, and this is the big difference, we squeezed in 15 or 20 minutes a day of phonics and spelling. In math time, I also squeezed in timetables practice and did a daily ten test.

    So, that saying what goes around comes around is true. I just think what we managed to squeeze more into our curriculum units than they do now.

    At the same time we doing all that, we were parents of a child who was initially diagosed as ADHD with learning disabilities. But, even though we both worked in the system where he went to school, we experienced the same kind of frustrations as other parents. In fact, it was worse because the powers that be didn’t think we should be advocating for our son. We had to ignore them to get the help he needed but it was an endless struggle. How much worse for parents who couldn’t just call up the Supt of Special Education and say “what’s happening?”

    My point is that it would be a mistake to think things today are that different than they were four decades ago or even two decades ago– as long as they were after the Hall Dennis report. What has changed, however, is the impact of the unions on practice. The only prep time we had were the 20 minutes a day for French and if you taught Grades 7 & 8, the half day they went to shop and home ec. Sharing lunch duty, yard duty, bus duty and recess duty was a given. So, most of our planning and marking were done at night and on weekends. Meaning, if teachers complain today about not having enough prep time, all they are going to get from folks like me is a rolling of the eyes.

    Just some reflections.


  9. Doug — We have talked about this before. Finland is a much more homogeneous society than Canada, particularly the cosmopolitan nature of parts of Ontario, like the City of Toronto. But, maybe it is time to up the anty on teacher qualifications. How would ETFO, OSSTF and OECTA react to that?


  10. Sandy, I hope you still have opportunities to visit classrooms and talk with teachers to see how much more paperwork and the need for statistical data is involved in teaching today. A form or document that was 1 page or non-existent in the past, turned into 3 pages 10 years ago and 5 pages today. It’s funny to talk to teachers who are busier than ever despite having more prep time than ever. I was less busy when I had less prep time. And yet, people blame the unions for the problems. But the same exists in many jobs. Principals are also busier than anytime in that profession.

    That would be my number one frustration. Teachers teach because they love the job of educating our next generation. But each year, the paperwork makes the job harder and harder.


  11. I would do three things to increase communication.

    First, I would do away with EQAO. As you mentioned, another less dramatic form of testing is possible, but EQAO is the umbrella that influences everything in education today. The need for better test results often hinder any meaningful communication between parents and teachers and schools. Parents wants and needs also often conflict with EQAO.

    Second I would return principals to the federations. The fear of being sued or fired often leads principals to not budge from the rules and policies that are dictated to them. Some protection might allow them to think more about parents and also encourage the best and brightest teachers to think about becoming administrators.

    Last, I would take the lawyers out of education. The fear of being sued plays a large role in decisions made in schools and school boards. Teachers and principals can listen to parents, but the fear of being sued is the elephant in the room. It would also encourage more extra-curricular activities and field trips in our schools.


  12. I have removed my most recent post on how parents and teachers can better communicate because the opposite happened in the discussion. Instead, I have reposted my article on how to write an essay — especially relevant right because this is one of the two main times of year college and university students have papers to complete — November and February.


  13. Sandy

    Good point on the question of upping the quals for teachers. The requirement for an undergrad degree and one year at a FofEd have remained static for years while the level of education across society is forever moving up. Teachers, or at least some of them, complain there’s less respect for the profession than in years past; I wonder if the two are related…?

    If the requirement was increased I suspect there’d have to be real scrutiny of the content; there seems to be some consensus that a lot of what is taught at the BEd level doesn’t translate overly well into prepping young teachers for the classroom so simply adding another level of that sort may not produce much benefit,


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