Messages that Transcend Time

I teach in the Teacher Education Program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (also known as OISE). I recently came upon a very large table laden with mounds of journals “up for grabs” for all of our 2013 graduates. There was an extensive range of titles among the many offerings, and most of the journals were somewhat dated—some even going back several years.

One journal caught my eye. It was Orbit, a well-read resource published by the university, and written for educators in schools and elsewhere. This particular issue, Vol. 37, No. 1, from 2007, displayed a bold heading, “Promising Practices in Special Education.” I immediately recognized it as an issue to which I had contributed. I wondered—were the words I’d penned back then as relevant now?

I carefully read the piece I’d written, and was happy to see that even though years had passed, the core messages were still timely.

Before I share some of these messages here, I first want to take a moment to say that I’m sorry that Orbit is no longer being published. Launched in 1968, each issue targeted a theme, and provided an effective way to communicate important information to the multitude of teachers within our school systems. I salute the many accomplished editors and authors who worked on Orbit, and I applaud all those who continue to prepare and write articles for other journals and information-filled magazines that help to keep educators—and parents—in the know. And, it’s great to see “oldie-goldie” copies of useful resources being shared openly and broadly so people have a chance to read and think about previously extended ideas, and compare and reposition them in ways that align with their current realities.

So, here is a sampling of sentences extracted from this particular article that I wrote six years ago. The words seemed to resonate with readers back then, and I hope they will do so now.

The best approach for working with high-ability learners is to provide lots of relevant educational opportunities, and to take into account a variety of learning styles and preferences. Children can also be encouraged to become actively involved in planning their learning experiences. This enables them to take responsibility, to set reasonable standards for themselves, and to feel good about their accomplishments.

Most importantly, parents should facilitate children’s play because it lays a foundation for learning how to get along with others.

Each child and situation is unique. Recognizing giftedness is a matter of identifying exceptional learning needs at a particular point in time—and then, of course, providing the right kinds of opportunities for the child’s optimal development.

Any testing process should be an ongoing process and not be based on a single test. There should be regular evaluation of children’s abilities as they mature. It should be diagnostic (that is, indicating areas where children are very capable and less so), and it should specify programming implications.

If a child is being appropriately challenged and feels happy about life and learning then that is good. Moreover, there are many ways to provide learning opportunities beyond the classroom. Examples include mentorships; community service partnerships; extracurricular programs; real and virtual travel; career exploration; and educational offerings at places such as galleries, theatres, music venues, and museums.

Offer children choice within an abundance of suitable learning opportunities, celebrate their day-to-day accomplishments, and provide them with guidance, love, and a nurturing environment throughout their school years. That’s the best readiness for university, and for life itself.

For more information about this and other articles by Dr. Joanne Foster, visit

Helping Kids Remember Their Learning: Five Tips for Parents


Joanne Foster, Ed.D.

As the school year draws to a close, parents may be concerned about whether their kids will retain the knowledge they’ve acquired over the past several months. Here are some suggestions parents may want to consider. 

1.    Talk to kids about what they’ve read, refreshing their memories, and encouraging them to think more about or even extend the material.

(“Remember that interesting book you read at school? Who was the author? Maybe he’s written something else you’d enjoy.”)

2.    Follow up and build upon projects or assignments that captured their imaginations.

(“That bird feeder you designed was terrific. I’m curious. What other animal feeders might be created using your ideas as a starting point? Why not investigate?”)

3.    Don’t nag them to reread all their notes from the year. And, don’t engage in scare tactics like telling them they’re sure to forget everything if they don’t review regularly. Adopt and convey a positive attitude.

(“I know that you’ll want to be on top of things come September. When you’re ready, and if you want, I’m happy to help you spend a little time going over stuff before school begins again.”)

4.    Encourage kids to organize their materials and store them some place accessible at the end of the semester so they’re easy to find and refer to later on. 

(“Here are a couple of storage boxes you can use. And, some colourful folders and marking pens. Do you need anything else?”)

5.    Keep a record or make note of what may have proved difficult for your child. That is, what might warrant some attention so as to enable him to feel more competent and confident when new course material kicks in next fall? Ask your child if he’d consider extra help or a mentor or trying some exciting activities that will boost his skill level.

(“I’m proud of your efforts, and the way you persevere when things get tough. Let’s figure out if there’s anything you want or need to focus on over the next few weeks, and use the time to explore possibilities in interesting and fun ways!)

For more ideas on encouraging children’s optimal development, visit

Intelligent Questions

Sometimes parents ask kids well-intentioned questions like, “What did you do in school today? ” (I dunno. Lots.) Or, “How was your day?” (OK. Fine.) Or, “What’s new?” (Nothing much.)

The kinds of questions we ask generate the kinds of answers we receive. Vague inquiries will often prompt vague responses. More specific inquiries can lead to more specific replies – and these tend to be more informative and insightful.

Many instructors routinely ask teachers-in-training to write “reflections” about their experiences working with students in school. The papers are supposed to be about the aspiring teacher’s thoughts and feelings, their experiences in classrooms, and their developing understandings about learning processes. These reflection tasks are a way of getting people to think about day to day occurrences, and the significance of them, so they can use that information going forward. The premise is excellent. However, the process becomes more valuable when there’s a framework to help get past broad generalizations like, “What was it like teaching?” or “How was the experience?” Questions like these can prompt shallow answers, or over-arching ones. If the goal is to stimulate thought and get down to the nitty-gritty, then prompts have to be targeted more carefully. A little bit of guided inquiry can spark more meaningful reflection, and more intelligent thought. 

And, so it is with kids. 

I share here some guidelines that generated spirited dialogue among “student teachers” who were asked to reflect on their four weeks of practicum placements in secondary school classrooms. Subject areas differed, and included math, technology, physical education, and others. If you think of the questions as being like bridges leading from a place of doing to a place of reviewing, the doing (the experiences) became the springboard, the questions provided the direction, and the reviewing (the answers) were thoughtful, and inspiring. Best of all, they gave rise to different perspectives, new ideas, and additional questions! Discussion ended up revolving around the importance of choice, rapport, extra opportunities to stretch oneself, respect for individual differences, autonomy, and more. And, although these topics related to what student-teachers felt they valued in their own learning, the areas of focus apply to ALL students.

So, with that in mind, parents are welcome to use the following four prompts to generate some reflection among children and adolescents who may be reticent to respond to questions, or who just may not know where to begin when talking about school or day-to-day happenings. These have been adapted, and can be targeted more specifically as well. (A few possible alternatives are in brackets.)

1. What was the most exciting (inspiring, creative, unusual) thing you saw (or did) at school?

2. Who or what made you happiest?

3. Did you feel frustrated (bored, confused, overwhelmed, disappointed, annoyed) at all? Why? What did you do about it? (Heads-up: Yes/No questions just lead to Yes/No answers unless you add on to them.)

4. What do you wish you’d done differently? Why?

Thoughtful reflection is just the beginning. Thoughtful action matters, too!

For more information and related articles, go to

Solving Problems Creatively Together: How to Build Group Intelligence

hands joining in the centre

Intelligence and creativity can be actively developed. This is true not just for individual people, but also for groups of people—teams, businesses, families, cities. Read more

Ten Tips for Teachers

In this blog, I offer ten ideas for effective teaching. Although the suggestions are primarily geared for educators, I invite parents to read them so as to become more familiar with what I believe teachers should aspire toward in order to provide children with the best possible learning environments and supports.


By Dr. Joanne Foster

Are you a teacher? Do you focus on intelligence-building? Are you nurturing students’ development to the best of your ability?
Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself:

1. How can I challenge myself to become a more effective teacher? What specific steps can I take to increase my competence?
2. How can I better prepare, manage, and enhance the learning environment for my students?
3. What do I know about the individual? That is, where is this child at in terms of identity formation? Self-confidence? Resilience? Moral reasoning? Areas of strength and weakness in different domains?
4. What skill sets has this student already mastered? How can I build from there, and what kinds of assistance or scaffolding would be most beneficial to nurture his abilities at this time?
5. How can I motivate this child so that she becomes more excited about and invested in learning?
6. How can I improve upon my connectivity and collaboration with parents? Other teachers? Students?
7. What do I do to model, encourage, and teach students about a growth mindset—including positive habits of mind, a sense of industry, goal-setting, and how to cope when things get tough?
8. How do I encourage creativity in my classroom—and beyond?
9. What sorts of strategies do I use to differentiate programming, instruction, assessment, and other aspects of my teaching so as to address individual learning needs and facilitate a proper educational match for each student?
10. How do children co-create the learning in my classroom? To what extent and in what ways are they actively engaged in developing their own intelligences?

Refection is an excellent impetus for positive change!

February, 2013 – Joanne Foster, EdD

Ten Learning Ideas for the Holidays (and Beyond…)

Ten Learning Ideas for the Holidays (and Beyond…)

By Joanne Foster, Ed.D.

Parents may be pondering how to foster their kids’ productivity over school break—not so much as to pester them, but just enough so as to give them additional incentive to keep learning. Here are ten suggestions to help encourage both doing and thinking:

1. Read – an excellent way to acquire insights

2. Reflect and record – take note of any creative and off-the wall ideas; goals; hopes and dreams; things to investigate (What’s striking? Confusing or disturbing? Thought-provoking?)

3. Online discovery – see what kinds of programs, courses, extra-curricular activities, enrichment might be available in the days or weeks to come (but be prudent)

4. Exercise – a strong body fuels a strong mind

5. Focus on interests, passions – this might include hobbies, areas of strength or weakness, or curiosities you may not have time to explore when otherwise busy

6. Bolster inquiry skills –read up on how to develop better questioning techniques—not just queries geared to “yes” or “no” answers (Knowing how to ask good questions can generate more thoughtful responses.)

7. Get ahead – determine what will be on tap for the next semester at school, and get a jump on it

8. Review feedback already received – see what constructive messages were conveyed last semester, be open-minded and think about how to apply them next time around

9. Become more attuned to what’s happening in the world – the best learning is that which is relevant (tied in to meaningful experience), so make an effort to draw connections between what you’re learning and what’s occurring around you, then network and talk to people (family and friends) to broaden your understandings

10. Allow time for relaxation and recreation—it’s important to feel refreshed

Meeting with the Teacher: When? How to Make it Worthwhile?

Parents often wonder, “When is the best time during the school year to meet with my child’s teacher?” and “How can I ensure that such meetings are as productive as possible?” Here are some practical suggestions.
Blog – Time to Meet the Teacher

Meeting with the Teacher:

When’s a Good Time? How To Ensure It’s Worthwhile?

By Joanne Foster, EdD

First semester started a few months ago, and by now most parents have a pretty good idea of how their child is doing at school. Some kids are bringing home A papers, while others are getting marks in the B, C, or D range. There are youngsters who are achieving excellent grades in only one or two areas, or who are having difficulty in particular subjects.

And how are the kids feeling? This will vary, depending on how they’re doing at school. Some kids will be happy, confident, or excited about their progress. Those who are experiencing issues of some sort may be sad, worried, or frustrated.

By this time in the school year, parents generally have a sense of whether their child is functioning at a level that is on par with the previous year’s work, and whether that is in the upper, mid, or lower range in relation to grade expectations. If parents don’t have a sense of this, it’s time to meet the teacher.

Similarly, if grades are low—indicating some difficulties—or if a child is upset or is discouraged abut learning, then it’s also time to meet the teacher.

What follows here are some tips to help parents initiate and engage in meaningful meetings with their child’s teacher.

  • TAKING PRELIMINARY STEPS: Start by thinking carefully about what you want to address. Talk with your child about any concerns you or he might have. Listen carefully. Ask questions. Have a look at his assignments. Find out what he’s proud of, bothered by, enjoying, or possibly avoiding—and why.  Reassure him that a good school year is still in the making, and that you’re available to help make that happen. Talk about the importance of touching base with the teacher so as to be able to develop or reinforce home and school connections, which will benefit everyone involved.
  • MAKING ARRANGEMENTS: Contact the school to arrange a meeting with the teacher. Try to be as flexible as possible about the timing so you won’t have to wait too long. Note what you want to discuss, and let the teacher know this in advance. Prioritize. Select one or two key issues, not a whole raft of things. That way you’ll be focused, and the teacher will be prepared. Make brief notes, and bring them with you to the meeting.
  • STAYING FOCUSED: Identify your concern clearly, and then think about phrasing key points in the form of three or four questions. This can be useful for purposes of discussion. For example, “Bethany is having trouble with math this term. She’s discouraged because she’s done poorly on several assignments. Why is she finding it so difficult? What can she do to strengthen her understanding of the material? How can we help her?” This combination of facts (pinpointing the concern), and inquiry (why is the problem occurring, what can the child do, and how can parents assist) serve to get right to the heart of things. However, ask questions one a time (not as a barrage), and pay close attention to what the teacher has to say so that a productive dialogue ensues.
  • CREATING A FRUITFUL EXCHANGE OF IDEAS: Stay calm. And, be honest, open, and conversant if the teacher has questions or suggestions for you. A meeting with the teacher is a collaborative opportunity to explore and resolve concerns (yours, hers, your child’s) but there may be surprises that come to light along the way. The teacher may have some observations or recommendations you weren’t anticipating, and your comments or perspectives may be unexpected as well. Respectful listening, and a willingness to work through things together become extremely important.
  • FOLLOWING UP: As the meeting winds down, try to ensure that there are some “take-aways” for everyone. That is, a proposed action plan for you, for the teacher and, potentially, for your child. It’s also prudent to set up a time to meet or talk again in the near future so as to ascertain if recommendations are working, or if they require some sort of adjustments. If your child is going to be asked to take initiative or responsibility for change, then you and the teacher will have to convey that to him, while continuing to work collaboratively and being available to offer guidance, encouragement, and support as needed.

Parents who have questions about their child’s educational program or progress, or who observe their child feeling troubled, should consider meeting with the teacher.  Those meetings are likely to be more productive and beneficial if parents take the time to reflect upon these five points—thinking about how they might fit into any overall plan on behalf of their child.

Revisiting an Exciting Approach to Teaching

Revisiting the Mobius Response Model: A Fresh Twist for Differentiated Learning for All Children

By: Joanne Foster, EdD

First Published by TeachHub January, 2010

Revised October 2012, and now geared for parents, too!

Say goodbye to cookie-cutter curriculum and its conventional approach for all learners.

Say hello to the Mobius Response Model that lets children’s learning needs point the way for differentiation—in support of high-level development

The Mobius Response Model (MRM) represents a creative structure for responding to individual learning needs. It offers a user-friendly metaphor for effective education by focusing on and connecting four critical foundational points for appropriately differentiated learning: (A) planning, (B) assessment, (C) activities, and (D) learning environment.

What is the Mobius Response Model?

The model’s name comes from the Mobius strip, a two dimensional surface with only one perceptible side, discovered by mathematician August Ferdinand Mobius in 1958. If you give a simple strip of paper a twist and connect the ends, it changes form entirely!

No matter how you cut it lengthwise, it unravels into an array of linked strands. As you continue to work with it, it becomes something surprisingly new and different with every additional lengthwise cut, even though it always remains connected. The Mobius strip has curious properties—a twisted cylinder with no distinct inner or outer sides, giving it a kind of never-endingness, and a double track edge toward excitement and unpredictability.

Try it!

To create a Mobius strip, start with a long ribbon or paper rectangle with points ABCD. Give the rectangle a half twist. Join the ends so A is matched with D and B is matched with C.*

The MRM provides parents and teachers with an innovative way to think about education, and about creating and applying a seamless range of educational opportunities for all learners.
You can write what matters most on each the strip and it will stay uppermost. Thought and action? Challenge and creativity? Effort and resilience? You choose. From a Mobius perspective, meeting a child’s learning needs, and encouraging high-level development, is a transformative process. The impetus begins with planning, and then moves forward from there, twisting and turning flexibly in Mobius fashion as required, paying close attention to three other important points—assessment, activities, and learning environment. (The A, B, C, D of the Mobius strip.)
Using the Mobius Response Model: “Design & Build” Elements for Differentiated Learning


In order to respond effectively to children’s diverse learning needs, interests, and academic levels, planning is paramount. This means looking at short, medium, and long term objectives for each area of study. It involves cultivating and using administrative, consultative, technical, and other kinds of supports as needed, and developing and sharing an array of resources. It also means becoming familiar with school policies and practices concerning Individual Education Plans for those who have special needs. Most importantly, parents and teachers can help children become better planners themselves.


Good planners know that ongoing and meaningful assessment should be woven into children’s learning experiences, thereby ensuring steady increases in challenge levels. A variety of assessment formats enable teachers to be diagnostic—that is, able to identify students’ areas of strength and weakness, and becoming better prepared to respond suitably. Parents can encourage children to think carefully about what they have to learn and why, to pause and self-evaluate works-in-progress, to ask questions along the way, and to be accepting of setbacks, using them as stepping stones for further learning.


The ultimate goal of activities is to provide a means of facilitating a meaningful learner-learning match. The best approach is flexible, continues to work for the child, and offers a wide range of options. By pre-assessing a child’s level of understanding in a given area, it’s possible to design activities that are well-suited to the individual’s knowledge, preferences, and interests. Learning should be scaffolded as it happens, with assessment occurring regularly. Parents and teachers can find and create many opportunities to work with one another, and with children, to set and reach planned learning objectives.

Learning Environment

A motivating and robust learning environment can foster high-level development in all children. In such an environment, the teacher diagnoses student ability on an ongoing basis and builds from there, using multiple teaching strategies, changing group formations, and clear criteria for learning outcomes. Parents, teachers, and children work proactively and collegially with others, are attuned to and celebrate individual diversity, and tap into technological advances. Adults can help children plan and monitor their own goals. Parents can support children’s learning by becoming informed about high-level development, and advocating for more and better educational resources, effective policies, and appropriately targeted professional development opportunities for teachers.

So, what’s new about the Mobius Response Model?

It provides a conceptual framework for identifying, encouraging, and supporting children’s optimal development. Its innovation and potency lie in the seamless coming together of all four elements.

Like the Mobius strip, the impetus is to have a smooth approach, reflecting never-ending possibilities for children’s growth. Planning, assessment, programming, and environment are the cornerstones, distinct, yet equally essential. And, with whatever matters to each parent and teacher still tracked uppermost—be it an emphasis on thought and action, or something else entirely in support of children’s heightened development—there are no limits to strengthening differentiated learning experiences at home or school.

The MRM is a creative conceptualization that both amplifies the value of a differentiated approach, and leads to vitality and engagement in learning. Like what inevitably happens when working with a Mobius strip, there will be increased excitement as learning unfolds in many surprising, positive, and infinitely interconnected directions! For more information about learning go to:

*Instructions retrieved from

Kids Are Natural Scientists

When they’re allowed to discover for themselves and aren’t over-programmed or over-instructed, kids play the way scientists work–they observe, develop hypotheses, then test their hypotheses. Free play is essential to the development of curiosity and discovery