What is a Bully’s Mindset?

I read an article last week, and watched its accompanying video that discussed bullying behaviour from the perspective of evolutionary psychology.  It suggested that bullies act the way they do not out of a lack of self esteem, but because they have a high one that they seek to maintain, and that bullying builds popularity and social status that eventually lead to greater mating potential.  Furthermore, they’re genetically predisposed to the behaviour and there’s not much that can be done about it, except perhaps to provide alternate pathways for status and achievement to kids hardwired this way so that they they’ll not need to bully others in their pursuit of status and popularity.  To me, this is akin to buying off the gangster with “protection money”. Some of this may make sense in isolation, but it seems to me that there has to be more to the story.  Especially because there doesn’t appear to be any evolutionary advantage to being hardwired to be meek and gentle, and very little to being empathetic, yet all these qualities exist (though I do recognize there are theories to explain each of these qualities too).

This has been bothering me for a week and it wasn’t until I started reading Carol Dweck’s Mindset yesterday that I started to put the pieces together.  Admittedly, I’m only 80 pages in, but as I read, Dweck’s description of those with a fixed mindset continually reminded my of my most difficult, bullying students. These students constantly seek to reaffirm their superiority, they are afraid to take risks for fear of demonstrating a deficiency, and seek the easiest paths to success.

Is it possible then that bullies aren’t genetically hardwired, but come to school with a fixed mindset for social prominence, or are even put in a fixed mindset by our school systems?  Dweck does a great job to explain how people can be inadvertently, and intentionally put into a fixed or growth mindset, yet; she makes it clear that whatever your initial abilities or talents may be, your qualities are not fixed.

“Mindsets are an important part of your personality, but you can change them.  Just by knowing about the two mindsets, you can start thinking and reacting in new ways.” p.46

And so it may be that bullies act from a fixed (but changeable) mindset that drives them to be socially dominant at whatever the cost, and the reason that buying them off appears to work is because they are also prone to take the easiest path to success–and there’s no risk involved with taking a buyout.  As effective as this appeasement model may be (as long as the buyouts continue), it isn’t morally right.  It would appear to me that if we can change the mindset of bullies, we would be off toward a much more successful path.  I am excited to finish reading Mindset to learn more on how I can go about doing that.

Do you think traditional approaches to bullying are effective, or do either of these two perspectives change anything for you?  I’d like to hear and discuss it with you!

ISTE Reflections – It’s the People

A week has passed since ISTE 2015 ended in Philadelphia and I switched into tourist mode with my wife who flew out to join me for a little vacation.  While visiting all the tourist attractions in the city, I often thought about what I’d blog, yet never wrote a sentence.  I came to the conference with a number of learning goals and feel I thoroughly accomplished all of them, and so there’s lots that I could talk about, and I might later, but I keep coming back to the most profound part of the ISTE experience: the people.

This was my first major conference anywhere away from home, and my number one goal was to meet as many of the wonderful educators from my PLN that I’ve been talking to online for years as I could.  Everyone I introduced myself to was so friendly, and many people felt like we’ve known each other for years.  I guess we have. Though I’m not a major player in the online world of edtech, a number of people knew me and introduced themselves too.  This networking was very intentional because I wanted to develop deeper relationships with the people I already knew, and many new friends too.  Just like with students, learning happens better with someone you have a solid relationship with.  I want to be able to reach out to my PLN and ask for help and advice, and receive it from friends helping each other out, rather than as a professional courtesy (thought it’s always appreciated!). I also want to have a greater common ground on which to think deeper with people.  After five days of networking (and learning a lot), I can safely say mission accomplished.  If for no other reason, the people alone made it worth travelling the 4000 km from Nanaimo to Philadelphia.  I look forward to learning working and learning with all of you!


Reimagining Daily 5 and CAFE for intermediate grades: Readers’ CRAFT.


I was first really introduced to the Daily 5 about a year ago when my wife and I requested a meeting with our daughter’s teacher to learn more about this program that was happening in their class.  I immediately liked it, and began to imagine how it could work in my grade 6/7 class. Due to other circumstances (see my last post), I had a lot on my mind and didn’t pursue the matter…  Fast forward a year and I find myself teaching grade 6/7 in that same school my students attend.  There is a whole-school focus to implement elements of the Daily 5, but we have 10 primary divisions and only 5 intermediate divisions.  Needless to say things are often primary focussed and I again found myself thinking about how the this could all work in upper intermediate. My principal ordered a copy of The Daily 5 book (by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser) for each staff member, so I figured I could start with Read to Self and have time to figure our the rest when the book arrived, so I jumped right in with both feet.

Students immediately took to Read to Self and had a sense of purpose with their independent reading that I haven’t experienced before.  We made I-charts, built stamina, learned all about good-fit-books, and plotted our progress…

Read to Self Plot

Very shortly, the class had built up their stamina to sustain their reading for forty minutes and I didn’t know what to do with the time because the book hadn’t arrived yet.  However, The Daily 5 book arrived shortly before Christmas break and I devoured it before picking up The CAFE Book too.  Over these past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to continue.

Next Steps

Now that I’ve read the books, I know how to break down my literacy time, insert mini lessons, conference with students and add new elements of the Daily 5.  The next element will be Work on Writing, but more on that shortly.

What I’m looking forward to right now are those mini lessons and student conferences.  But this is where it’s taken a lot of thought to adjust for upper intermediate.  Much of the Daily 5 focuses on emergent reader strategies, and by grade 6/7 there are few of them left.  Does that mean that I drop Listen to Reading or Read to Someone? No, I don’t think so, but they might look different than what’s presented in the books.  Many of the strategies might look different too, especially under the Accuracy and Fluency headings.

Reading some blog posts at Ladybug’s Teacher Files and Runde’s Room also got me thinking about the CAFE analogy.  I like what these two have done and changed it to Readers’ CRAFT.  First, I connect more to this constructivist approach as it reminds us that we are doing more than taking in items off of a menu (an over simplification, I know), but we, as readers, are selecting the tools needed to build ourselves up as good readers.  I’ve gone so far as to call the new menu a Readers’ Craft Toolbox.

In the Reader’s CRAFT, C, A and F are taken from CAFE to be Comprehension, Accuracy and Fluency, but R is for Response to Text and T is for Text Elements, or Terms and Vocabulary, depending on who you talk to. The author of Ladybug’s Teacher Files uses Text Elements because her grade 5 class is has a high number of ELL students, and that works for her, but I think that’s just an expansion of the Use text features strategy from the Comprehension category.  I prefer the idea of Terms and Vocabulary both because it stays closer to Boushey and Moser’s Expand Vocabulary, and because Jen Runde’s descriptor is: I can find, understand, and use interesting words. Which both speaks to the constructivist in me and is again close to Boushey and Moser’s intent.

Response to Text is the significant difference in the change from CAFE to CRAFT.  I know that it begins to move away from Boushey and Moser’s focus solely on the reading, but in the intermediate grades, where literacy moves from learning to read toward reading to learn, reading responses have an integral part and I feel that they can be integrated into the CAFE structure both formally and informally as students develop as good readers. This structure will help me leverage them better as part of a more holistic program.

Reader's CRAFT

Work on Writing

The next element of the Daily 5 that I intend to introduce is Work on Writing. I’m not quite ready to do that yet because I want to do some more research.  In my reading of books and countless blogs these past few weeks I came across one blog were the author developed a writing menu based on the Six Traits of Writing for a K/1/2 classes.  I’ve used the Six Traits to structure my writing program in previous years and love the idea of integrating it into a CAFE type menu, so I’ll see what I can do for grade 6/7.  Unfortunately, I can’t find that blog again as I write this, but I’ll update the post to give credit if/when I come across it again. But it’s likely somewhere in one of the posts I’ve pinned on my Daily 5 Pinterest Board. I also just noticed (literally) that Jen Runde has rearranged the traits: Ideas, Organization, Voice, (Excellent) Word Choice, Sentence Fluency and Conventions into a VOICES menu.  I think I’ll have to take a closer look at this and see how the Six Trait strategies can be used this way… there’s so much to learn hers, and I’m so excited about it!

More Integration

I also need to spend more time Adrienne Gear’s Reading Power and Writing Power books.  The strategies in those will fit well into both CRAFT and VOICES, so to start, I don’t think that I’ll give students a personal copy of these but will instead give them a blank copy that they can fill in with the strategies that we learn in the mini lessons.  That way, I’ll be able to modify the lists as I learn alongside the students.


CRAFT and VOICES are a work in progress for me, and I still need to figure out if it will be Daily 5 or Daily 4 (I don’t see Word Work working out with my class, unless it’s just a time to work on their spelling program) but because I’ve spent a ton of time on it, and I like to share, this link is a free copy of the CRAFT board and other forms I recreated to setup my Daily 5 pensieve. I’ve provided a PDF of the CRAFT board headers to preserve the fonts because I created it in a Mac version of MS Word that many might not have standard fonts, but I’ve included the .docx file of everything to make it free to change and personalize.

CRAFT Board Headers (PDF, docx)
Individual Reading Conference (PDF, docx)
Individual Writing Conference (PDF, docx)
Keeping Track Conference Record (PDF, docx)
Menu Cards (docx)
Reader’s CRAFT Toolbox (PDF, docx)
Strategy Groups Instruction (PDF, docx)

The files are licensed under a Creative Commons, non-commercial, share-alike license, meaning you’re free to use them and tweak them, as long as you give credit to me for my contribution (as I have done for those I have built upon) and don’t make any financial gain.


Teaching the Tough Topics

In every age there are those topics that are the “tough” ones.  We know there are valuable lessons there, but the content isn’t directly in the curriculum.  Sometimes we skirt around them because they’re often controversial.  They deal with the important life lessons, and the content contained within them is not only controversial (at least to be talking openly about it) but sometimes graphic. Topics vary from sexual health, to aboriginal education, cybersafety, bullying and LGBT rights.  Of course this is not an exhaustive list, but each of these brings up so many questions:  Should we teach about (or through) these topics?  Should we leave it to parents to broach the subject?  Should we inform parents ahead of time if we choose to “go there”?  Should there be some sort of protocol for dealing with these types of topics and appropriately preparing students, and debriefing afterward?  There are no shortages of examples out there, good and bad, that give us opportunity to reflect on, “what would I do in that case?”

Just last month, a teacher in St. Vital, Manitoba showed the Love Is All You Need Video to his grade 7 class and got in hot water when one of his students suffered a medical emergency and passed out as a result of viewing the video.  In it, a “hetero” girl is bullied by the dominant LGBT culture in a role reversal that results in her committing suicide.

Of course, if we don’t teach about these topics, and give students the tools they need to navigate an increasingly difficult adolescence, then the results can be as just as devastating, as was hammered home by Amanda Todd’s suicide, shortly after posting this video on YouTube.

In my classroom, I take these topics very personally and teach through them.  We regularly hold talking circles in which we do our best to respect the ancient tradition, and use it as a tool to build community and have open, frank discussions about the hard topics and what’s happening in student’s lives: both the good and bad.  One of the norms that we rely on, is what’s said in the circle, stays in the circle (with the caveat that I am bound by law to report some things).

Not only has First Nations’ tradition given me a tool to work on these topics, it is one too.  I work hard to break down stereotypes and racial barriers in my class.  Of course, many of the stereo types have deep roots in the Indian Act (in Canada) and in Indian Residential Schools (on both sides of the boarder) and the atrocities that took place there.  Dealing with these has the potential to bring in a lot of graphic discussion and material–but it’s also the truth; and there can be no reconciliation without it.  I think it needs to be done though, and I don’t ask permission and I don’t send out warnings, but I do respect students, I do respect culture and varying viewpoints, and I do both prepare and debrief students.  Perhaps I should do some things differently.  Perhaps not.

What do you do?