Triple-purpose Instruction

How_Children_SucceedHow Children Succeed by Paul Tough describes the benefits of adding character development outcomes to educational instruction. He follows different students, teachers, schools and academics to see how they address the question of teaching character.

One concept he describes comes from KIPP Infinity, a charter school in New York. They talk about “dual-purpose instruction”. This is where the teacher integrates character outcomes into each course. The idea being that by working on both skills, the students will be more successful in developing character skills.

Although I like this integration method, there seems to me be an element missing. I believe we should target triple-purpose instruction. Especially for teachers in immersion language programs, we need to be targeting the course subject, character development and language.

An example in a Social Studies course is a lesson on Canadian confederation. The teacher would be teaching the facts and perspectives on why the colonies came together to form this country (course outcomes). They might also introduce a discussion about team work and suggestions for working well as a team (character). Finally, they would would introduce useful vocabulary and draw attention to the verb tense used when discussing historical events. 3 different areas of focus, triple-purpose instruction.

After reading How Children Succeed, I am convinced that character instruction is not only a “nice” thing to do, but can also have a positive impact on student performance. That having been said, we cannot forget to integrate language skills in all courses (especially in immersion programs). In the same way that integration helps character development, it also helps language skills.


Innovate like the Olympics


Start of a swimming event at the 1904 Olympic Games.



Start of a swimming event at the 2012 Olympic Games.


We are currently faced with a difficult task in education. This task is to maintain an education system that our society recognizes from their youth, while keeping up with the changes in our society. People in our society, through their experience as a student, have a conception of what school “should” look like. Pair this with the fast pace of change and innovation in society today and we are faced with a difficult situation. Society doesn’t look like it did 10, 20 or 30 years ago, yet the idea some have in their head of school is as it was then.

I believe that one of the solutions to this difficult situation is to find a balance between the traditional parts of school and the technological innovations that we have access to today. We need to change the recognizable parts of school to better integrate today’s reality. At the same time, we may need to let go of some aspects of traditional education that no longer fit with our goals and introduce new aspects that meet the needs of today’s learners. The difficult part of this is to do it in a way that maintains the image that our society holds of school and to reassure those who are skeptical that the changes are for the good.

I do not believe, as some others advocate for, that the correct course of action is to burn down every resemblance of our former education system. We need to keep many of the traditional activities we offer. Traditions give students a sense of pride in their schools and familiarity. Also, there are many aspects of our education system that work and that we should keep.  What I believe we need to do is push forward with our questioning of our educational practices and innovate them.

An organization that could be seen as an example of keeping traditional aspects of their organization, while innovating to reflect our changing society is the Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The modern Olympic games look little like their old-time editions. The equipment being worn, which Bloomberg did a great article about for the 2008 games in Beijing, is radically different. The business presence in the games is now huge. The use of technology is massive and includes one of the largest worldwide audiences of any event. Even the selection of where the games are held have been radically transformed from the past (can anyone imagine Garmisch-Partenkirchen hosting the games again as they did in 1936?). There have been new sports added and some taken out to reflect the interests of the sporting public.

This change has not been easy for the Olympics, there have been controversies and false-steps. Despite the difficult nature of change, the last Olympic Games in London were a resounding success. They were massively popular and are one of the few events that bring together the people of the world. It is an example of an organization finding the balance between innovation and tradition.

So now, let us try and find this equilibrium in our schools. Balance the traditional aspects of your school with the new innovative aspects of our times to find new success. I believe that this will lead to better student engagement and better learning.

Every French Immersion Teacher is a Literacy Teacher

Picture source:

There was an article in an american newspaper that spoke about the shift to the “Common Core” in education. The biggest change for one of the long-time teachers was the approach that all teachers must teach literacy. For French Immersion teachers, this is old hat. One of the fundamental aspects of French Immersion instruction is that all teachers must also be teaching the language. Students are learning French not only in their language course, but also in Science, Math, Social Studies, Health, Physical Education, etc. It is extremely important that French Immersion teachers are aware of the language instruction piece of their planning at all times, especially when the “subject” is not French. Students need to be able to develop vocabulary about different topics and develop the language that is particular to different situations.

A story that made this clear to me was a conversation I had with a former student who had graduated from Immersion a few years ago. They told me about their trip to France and ordering food in a restaurant. They indicated to me that they felt at ease in most situations, but they could not find the vocabulary they needed when the waiter asked them what they wanted on their sandwich. They had not had a class were they spoke about food for the last 4 years of their school career. This meant they could talk about literature with people easily, but could not remember what the word for pickle was in French. This showed the importance of language instruction in all subjects and how multiple subjects contribute to holistic language education.

In French Immersion programs, even the Foods teacher is a language teacher.

Being a Part of the Change Process

meeting pic

Image courtesy of Ambro –”

Change is not easy. This fact has been hammered home in almost every industry and sector. For all the “hard” or “chaotic” parts of change, we often forget the incredible opportunity to influence outcomes. I had a recent experience that drove this point home.

While at a meeting of colleagues I was getting frustrated with my perceived lack of progress. We were all talking about different possibilities and ways to move forward with technology, but I didn’t think we were getting anywhere. At one point, in frustration, I thought to myself, “This is pointless, why am I even taking part in this process.”

I was able to answer my own question right away. These “messy” parts of change are incredible opportunities to influence decisions and also make sense of questions. What I failed to realize was that the conversation was a group of people making sense of unknown topics together. There is no “right” answer, we come to consensus through the discussion.

I saw this later in the week when I realized that as a result of being a part of the conversation I was better prepared to share my vision of how we should move forward. I also realized that my opinion was largely influenced by the conversation. I not only was able to put my thoughts forward, but accepted the opinions of the others.

The lesson I learned is to be continue to be a part of the change process. Get into the discussions and keep in mind that you are influencing the future.

UbD your PGP

I had a thought the other day as I was struggling with my professional growth plan. Why not use the concept of Understanding by Design/Backward Design for this process?

I started my PGP by looking at the Alberta Principal Quality Standards and trying to speak to them directly. This was not personal and I found it uninspiring. I felt I was focusing on the statement as opposed to what I wanted to work on.

When I started to think about the aspects of my practice I wanted to work on first (my goals), then tried to link them to the Quality Standards, the process felt more worthwhile.

I was surprised by how compatible my goals and the standards were, but it took me looking at the end result I want to achieve to see the correlation.

I am sure that everyone has found themselves uninspired by a required activity. I like this strategy to make these tasks meaningful.

The Pleasure and the Pain


Educators often say they want to prepare students for life after school. This usually entails trying to pass on concrete skills related to work and production. This week I was reminded that there are also other aspects of life that students need to learn how to deal with, namely the emotional highs and the lows of life. I like to think of this as “the pleasure and the pain” of living. Through living we experience events that make us incredibly happy and incredibly sad. These events are often the ones that mark us the most. My question today is how are we preparing our students to deal with the great and not so great events in life?

There have been two events that have made me think about this question in past week. Event one was the start of school. The smiling faces and positive energy made this a great event. There was a genuine positive outlook in the building that made me feel like we could achieve anything. Event two was the funeral of a former colleague. This was emotionally draining and very sad. Both the highs and the lows of this week made me think of the ways that I have been taught to deal with extreme ends of the emotional continuum. Did anyone really talk to me about ways to deal with sad moments in my life, as they did on how to edit an essay? I really can’t say they did.

I do not have answers to this question, but I am thinking about character education and psychological well-being for our students and society.