Monday, April 27, 2015

Author Book Signing: Spirit Rider

I absolutely loved having a book signing yesterday at Chapters in Lethbridge! This was my first event to promote my fantasy novel, Spirit Rider, and it was wonderfully successful.

For too long I was apprehensive about promoting my work because I don't like "selling" myself. I took a piece of my own advice, however, and quoted from my book that:
"You do not serve yourself, nor anyone else, by remaining small."

A reporter from the local newspaper, the Lethbridge Herald, did an author profile after my book signing event. You can find it here:

As always, you can find me at:
My website
Twitter @agracemartin
Facebook Author and Teacher


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Validity of Standardized Tests and Solutions for Change in Education

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.

As always, you can find me at:

Twitter @agracemartin
Facebook Author and Teacher

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

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).

Visiting an English Language Learner Program

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.

As always, you can find me at:
My website
Twitter @agracemartin
Facebook Author and Teacher


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

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

Book Give-A-Way on Goodreads!

Enter to Win!

Open until March 10, 2015
Enter to Win!

Spirit Rider
The Series of Kanesha's Heart: Book 1
Like a beacon of light in a dark world, the soul of a young magician walks the border between this world and the next. The spirit rider must unify her kingdom of magic, or all shall perish. The lands of dragons, trolls, goblins, unicorns, fairies, warriors, and magicians collide as the spirit rider seeks unity. Her journey unveils the great strength that each individual on Earth inherently has within them. For great strength lives within us all…

Enter to Win!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Recognizing Hidden FNMI Racism in Canada

Recognizing Hidden FNMI Racism in Canada

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!

As always, you can find me at:
Twitter @agracemartin
Facebook Author and Teacher

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sexuality, Differences, and Finding LGBT Support in Alberta

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Sexuality, Differences, and Finding LGBT Support in Alberta

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! ( 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 ( satirical representation had me nodding. Then I watched the short film "Boy," about a transexual youth feeling caught in the wrong body.


I watched a few others on YouTube but the next one worth noting was another short film called "What Have We Done" ( 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.

As always, you can find me at:
Twitter @agracemartin
Facebook Author and Teacher

Monday, February 9, 2015

Talking About the Uncomfortable Subject: Suicide

Talking About the Uncomfortable Subject: Suicide

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 ( 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.

As always, you can find Mrs. A. Grace Martin at:
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