Room for Improvement: If and when we do Eminent again…


Before the new year, I compiled a host of the TALONS‘ responses to reflective prompts on their work created during the Eminent Person Study, highlighting the means and methods they employed to create stellar examples of public speaking in their Eminent Addresses. Being able to have each of these reflections assembled in one place – thanks to Google Forms, and a bit of code that helps display the various responses – creates a different type of feedback that allows us to glimpse the how of what is inevitably a successful aspect of the project.

When we are successful, it appears, it is because we put an exceptional amount of work into the product: we rewrite, and edit, and draft, and rewrite again. This sort of work is generally undertaken with the help of supportive peers and parents, and presented alongside a cohort of individuals similarly striving to achieve something grand. These are important insights to hold onto as we look ahead at creating future memorable learning opportunities for ourselves and future classes.

Perhaps equally as inviting is the opportunity to investigate what happens when things could be better, though. And so now later than intended, but still hopefully of value to the class and readers of this blog, here is the flip side of the Eminent data.

During which assignment do you feel you created work you believe could be improved?When it comes to work the TALONS would have liked to improve, the results are more divisive than when asked about where they believed they had been successful. Where a majority of the class felt that their Eminent Address had been the most successful, different aspects of the project reveal themselves as areas for future growth.

Among the contenders are the Interview and Night of the Notables (either on the night itself, or capturing their work in a follow-up blog post), followed closely by Document of Learning, and Introductory post.

Traditionally, the prospect of obtaining an ‘expert’ interview on a related topic to one’s Eminent Study has proved a sticking point for many TALONS over the years, so it is perhaps unsurprising that it should lead the field for this particular question.

This grade ten response distills much of what generally constitutes this difficulty:

The problem with my interview was that I couldn’t get one. If an assignment like this ever comes up again, I would be sure to contact more people (even if there is only a slight chance they would be able to help with my research), and to contact people earlier on. 

Indeed, whether or not an interview can be obtained is generally the result of having cast one’s net wide enough, if not allowing enough time for meaningful responses to be offered.

A grade nine echoes this sentiment:

I feel like I could have sent out my emails earlier, so I’d have an interview by now. I was procrastinating on my interview and sent my emails rather late. I also could have emailed more people because I think most of the people I emailed didn’t see my message or they just didn’t want to respond. 

However, even with enough time and emails heading in the right direction, one of the grade nines cast more specific advice for themselves forward toward next year’s study:

Next time, I will prepare for my interview as early as possible, and send more convincing emails that will increase the chance of me getting an interview. Having conducted some research on how to form emails, I want to: 

  • Make the title / subject line less vague, and keep it short
  • Write less text, as people are lazy and won’t want to read all of it
  • Avoid lengthy introductions
  • Compliment the reader
  • Use bold / italics to emphasize important points

However, even when successful, this grade ten was able to take away valuable lessons from the experience:

Although I did end up conducting an interview, I later observed that my questions might have garnered more of a helpful response if I had chosen a specific and narrowed topic. For this assignment, the questions that I asked could elicit a very long and extensive response, and because I asked so many of these kinds of questions, it became difficult to delve deeply into one specific area, as the interviewee felt the need to address all of the questions. In the future, I would try to narrow my questions to the most important area of study for the purposes of my research and understanding. 

In the cases of other aspects of the study the TALONS would like to see improved, a common thread that emerges in reflection is the race against time. As in the interview assignment, many members of the class can likely empathize with their classmate who wrote,

I feel that I definitely could have done a better job with my [Document of Learning, Library Field Study, Biblography]. But, unfortunately, Night of the Notables crept up on me and I had to put all of my efforts into [my Speech, Learning Center]. 

Even when it came to Learning Centers, this sentiment is likely familiar:

I believe I did fairly well with my Learning Center. However, I believe it could be improved the most out of all of my assignments because since it is such a big assignment there are many places where it could be improved. I would firstly start my learning center sooner, for I had to work well past midnight many days in a row leading up to NotN to finish it. 

This grade nine agrees:

I was happy with my Learning Center, however I believe that I should have put more time, effort and thought into the creation and presentation of it. 

As does this one:

The one thing I would have liked is for more time. Between juggling math, the environmental project, being project manager, elective homework, and extracurricular activities, starting my learning center was slowly making its way down the list. 

Which is a real-world application of the experiential learning TALONS is proud of providing: we often choose which of our tasks will garner our utmost effort, and occasionally even large projects – or aspects of complex projects – don’t get the amount of time or effort we feel they deserve in a perfect world.

Time is, in the world of work as in life, unfortunately a scarce commodity, and we are each tasked with making decisions about how we allocate it. And I doubt that as an even trade, many of the TALONS would exchange success in their Eminent Speech for a more successful turn in one of these other aspects of the project.

However, the sensation that we have not used our time wisely this time around can often be the best impetus to using it differently in the future, and for those who this year felt that their swap wasn’t an even trade (inasmuch as they didn’t spend time on their speech instead of other eminent assignments), I would hope that this sentiment leads to a more informed use of time in future opportunities.

Eminent Person Study: Documenting Transformative Learning

Screen shot 2013-10-20 at 12.29.44 PM

We began talking about Eminent Person the other day by discussing Gardner Campbell’s quoting of Gregory Bateson’s work, and the idea of:

“…breaches in the weave of contextual structure.”

As I’ve mentioned here many times in the past, many experiential aspects of the TALONS program, and authentic learning wherever it happens for that matter, seek to create “breaches” in each participant’s “contextual structure.” In each bringing past experiences, expectations for ourselves and others, and other “contextual structures” to bear on the learning at hand, when these expectations are exceeded – above, beyond or laterally – we are given a view of the world and our relation to it that didn’t until then exist.

The knowledge of this expanded plane of perception leads us toward the action required to establish it as a new self-evident truth of existence. And we do this as individuals as well as cultures:

  • We see our first live concert and witness the magic of music as something made by people, and go about learning to play the guitar;
  • We watch Chris Hadfield sing with Ed Robertson and a choir in Toronto and know that the world is now this small, this connected;
  • We conduct interviews with experts thousands of miles away, and give speeches, and glimpse in ourselves strengths and talents we didn’t realize we there, and are never quite the same afterwards.

In a way it is impossible to settle for the previous way of imagining the world, and are forever drawn to the expanding horizon. And I think this is where the Eminent Person Study finds its particular stripe of ritual power from every autumn, as the new grade tens settle in to their first major opportunity for individual and collective learning, and the nines learn from their example.

The TALONS alumni often come away with having witnessed something profound:

In a way, I think Night of the Notables, especially the speeches, is the gr. 10 initiation. When I finished that speech and went to sit back down amongst the other gr. 10s, it was like taking my place among the elite. And every time someone came back, they passed the test, I suppose. I saw you all a supportive group being each others’ safety nets.

Having been privileged to be a part of the last seven incarnations of the TALONS Eminent studies, I’ve come to revel in the realization that:

From the college kids in the back to the grade nines sitting in the second row (to the teacher grinning in the balcony), everyone in the TALONS orbit [gathers] to give it up for those whose task it is this year to set aside their fears, come together as a group, and dare to do something exceptional.

The experience is something shared, yet something unique to each of us. And it is this particular aspect of the learning process that I wanted to honour in redesigning the project outline and assigned expectations to focus on the sharing of and in one another’s journeys through the project.

Alumni quotes

Alumni Advice

The project’s goals remain largely the same, but I have tried to have the various assignments move away from presenting a finalized product toward capturing a study in progressBiographical research is intended to be connected to each learner’s personal goals – expressed in blog posts from earlier in the year, or their IEP – and field studies and Night of the Notables postings are designed to become a synthesis of both presentation and reflection of individual learning.

Groups will be formed to facilitate commenting and feedback to help further one another’s inquiries into biography (and autobiography), and it is my hope that these conversations will begin to constitute an assembled ecosystem of narrated learning artifacts. The challenge I am looking to confront specifically this year is emphasizing an ethos of social media sharing and documentation to effectively archive and organize this year’s learning for future reflection and growth.

Because we hope to be transformed positively from this experience, each of us. But if we are to make these journeys, and come to these new perceptions, there is an almost moral obligation to share that wisdom with others who might make the trip themselves, something I’ll be interested to see unfold in the coming weeks.

On Notable Nights

It is always quite the task to put one’s finger on just what it is that happens at Night of the Notables. Even as they have added up over the years, and the alumni that return to the event are now three and four years into university, I still come home struggling to contextualize and make meaning of just what I saw tonight.

I was involved in bringing the evening to fruition, sure; in some ways integrally. But in some ways, I feel as though the TALONS teachers might be more custodians and caretakers of these traditions and ritual rites of passage. I think this perspective is what the alumni come to share in, to some degree; there is a connection to the people on stage who might be five or six years younger, but have stepped through – or are stepping through – this doorway, and who know what it is to be transformed.

The new alumni, the grade elevens, sit behind the current grade ten notables, their former younger classmates, with their grade twelve TALONS classmates over their shoulders. There is an epicenter that radiates from the stage, where the grade tens on stage, or in the front row, and this year’s grade nines are in the second. And the MPR (our school’s multi-use, theater / cafeteria space) is changed during the speeches into a cradle for the grade tens whose turn it is this year to be great.

In the last two years, the (separate morning and afternoon) classes have each performed fourteen interwoven dramatic monologues in their characters as eminent people, an astonishing feat to behold, where one after another, they break free of tableaus and from seats in the audience (descending the stairs after beginning from the balcony), holding the audience in their palm of their hand for two minutes, and then passing the ball to the next.

They finish one another’s sentences, answer mimed cell phone calls between speakers, and pass one another letters as transitions, together creating something that is honest, magical, and their own. There is prolonged  thunderous applause. Standing ovations.  In all, it is quite a thing to see happen. Truly. Even if it is hard to say just what it is that happened up there on that stage and in the halls of our school tonight.

Because just as it feels a little bit my own, how I take in the night’s triumph against the backdrop of those that have preceded it, how everyone in the room experiences the evening is measured against their own sense of the vulnerability felt by those in the present ‘hot seat.’ From the college kids in the back to the grade nines sitting in the second row (to the teacher grinning in the balcony), everyone in the TALONS orbit has gathered to give it up for those whose task it is this year to set aside their fears, come together as a group, and dare to do something exceptional.

To those TALONS this year: my hat is off to you. You rose so naturally to the challenge set before you, furnished with those you had wagered with yourselves, and looked us dead in the eyes from the stage, transformed before us. As I said to a group of notables a few years ago – some of whom were in the room tonight: “You will know success in this life for what tonight has taught you about the personal nature of success, the irrationality of fear, and the necessity of friendship.”

Teachers and Ritual Power

Notable class of 2012

Andrew B. Watt struck me appropriately on the Sunday night before Night of the Notables with a post – you would do well to read in its entirety here – that makes a great many points that each are deserving of attention and reflection. But there are a few that I want to highlight here.

 I had an unexpected bonus conversation with my friend C.T. today, which revolved around some of my favorite topics: magic and the ability to change consciousness; the passion for creating art; the mysteries of saints; and the power of teachers.  During this last part of the conversation, we segued to a discussion of the challenge that some teachers put forward — which is that, in an effort to advance their own work and career and power, they wind up trampling on the capacities and capabilities of their students. Indeed, the teachers reap the rewards of the students’ labor, and the students take on the negative consequences of the teacher’s own bad work.

I’ve long admired Andrew’s blogging and the breadth of knowledge and opinions he brings to a range of mutual topics of passion like history, politics, teaching, philosophy, as well as an often fearless interrogation of his practice. He was one of the first people whose blog I subscribed to, and someone who I’ve kept in loose touch with online over the past four years, reading one another’s blogs, offering the odd comment, and feeling sometimes like he’s a colleague who merely works down the hall (if that hallway reached Connecticut). 

This year we discovered that we shared a birthday, and Andrew spent it tweeting me pictures and commentary from the Metropolitan Museum in New York City while I hosted a barbecue in my Port Moody backyard.

Andrew B. Watt is all kinds of awesome, if you didn’t already know.

And so the point that Andrew’s raising is something that I consider seriously, and one I’ve considered alongside Klout scores and notions of celebrity in the era of the blogged classroom. But he takes it a level (or several) deeper:

We were talking about it in a magical/spiritual context. We’d both read a book recently in which a magical society’s inner circle of adepts was teaching rituals to their outer members which made the members feel powerful, but was in fact transferring power to the adepts… and shifting a lack-of-power onto the the students… not merely lack-of-power, but in fact negative-power.  A learned helplessness.

This is something that I think my TALONS colleagues and I are constantly in negotiation with: trying to figure out where to draw the line between at various times leading, supporting, facilitating, or merely observing the learning in our classroom, and interjecting ourselves too much into the process. If the outright goal isn’t to graduate participants in the program capable of owning their own goals and the action required to attain them, it is to at least introduce them to the ways in which such ownership can be attained.

This involves the difficult notion of ‘letting go,’ of occasionally allowing kids to fail, and then to frame these experiences as opportunities for future growth.

As much as parents or teacher/facilitators can position themselves to aid in the learner’s success, in the end the impetus for success rests in their hands. School should be about the creation of opportunities for students to realize and seize their own opportunities, and I look forward to the pillars of the TALONS program as treasured rituals of passage in the life cycle of the class: the Fall Retreat, Night of the Notables, cultural outings, the Adventure Trip, In Depth.

There is the artifice of tradition, and the singularity of the present moment in time, crystalized between the held gazes of the current participants.

But Andrew frames the question in an interesting way to consider:

 One of the things that magical teachers do (which exoteric/ordinary teachers like myself and many of my readers do not do) is give their students rituals to perform for their empowerment and spiritual growth.  C.T. had attended a workshop in which one of the presenters pointed out that some of these rituals do what they say they do — they empower the performers of the rituals so that they experience spiritual growth.  But, C.T. said that the presenter also warned about the opposite — rituals that disempower those who perform them, such that they think they’ve made spiritual progress, but in fact they have actually inflated their egos and empowered the teacher who has given them nothing of real value.  Meanwhile, the teacher gains power from the ritual performed — they get a toehold in the mental and emotional framework of the student, and the student is more inclined to treat further ‘empowerments’ as worthwhile and valuable, even as they are disempowered to seek further growth elsewhere.  Insidious.

Only mildly crushed by the prospect of not being considered a ‘magical’ teacher, I am keenly interested to think about how to bring about rituals that ’empower the performers of the ritual so that they experience spiritual growth,’ how to put the choice to act – or not – in the learner’s hands and see what meaning they can make of the experience.

How is it that we go about creating learning that is magical and transformative?

Whether growth is spiritual, intellectual, social, or emotional is, if the experience is crafted just right, up to the participant in the moment itself; where the teacher should find themselves in all of this a precarious balance, I think, and indeed, “one of those deep imponderables that can really roil the soul of a teacher and make them question the validity of their career.”

And perhaps, it is the one deep imponderable that drives all of the others.

Passing the Torch

I liked this idea Elaan posted from a pro-d conference that many of our district’s middle school teachers and admin are attending in Portland. Aside from puzzling me as to whether or not the 90s really are alive there, this reminded me of something that happened in the TALONS classroom last year:

For the new myths to be written, in other words, the old myths need to make room for them. And while there is a great empty space where the banner used to hang, there are already plans for its quotes and paint-stained hand and footprints to be deposited and scattered about the cupboards and closets of the room so that the ghosts and wisdom of TALONS past will still be speaking to us.


The last day of school, in fact, has in the past few years evolved to include the traditional closing circle, as well as speeches and ceremonies thanking the grade tens for what they have meant to the room, and wishing the grade nines the best as they set about inheriting the mantle of program leadership.

Two months later the process starts all over again. From Jeff’s blog, this September:

That’s what I wanted to replicate during this [retreat.] I wanted the grade 9s to feel as comfortable around us grade 10s just as Alvin did for us. I knew that there needed to be somebody in our cabin to take on Alvin’s role and I did my best to welcome the grade 9s and answer their questions. Even though we all come from different schools and different backgrounds, I just wanted to show that there is one thing we all had in common – we are part of the talons family.


The other night, I came upon a few TALONS alumni awaiting the Six String Nation presentation by Jowi Taylor, madly scribbling and filling a sheet of paper with a rhizomatic frenzy that I was told was an attempted visualization of “A TALONS Family Tree.” The resulting diagram had four tiers, reaching former members of the program now in university, the armed forces, or working through a gap year, and even as a somewhat preposterous enterprise – “Who do I marry?” someone shouts from the concession being set up in the kiosk nearby at one point. “You marry [so and so]. But you’re also kind of married to [so and so].” – there is something deeply meaningful, and more than a little poetic, being negotiated in the process.

In a chaotic web involving a few different colours of pen and pencil, different personalities, social bonds and archetypal tendencies serve as the forefathers and mothers, elder cousins and brothers and sisters, of their manifestations in the current group.

The visual effect is messy in the beautiful ways of spider webs and neural networks. Fundamental questions about what constitutes a community, and the possible roles in its creation are being interrogated, and the result is a contribution to personal folk lore and heritage that is passed between the hands of learners in the program, where everyone passes through the stages of newcomer, apprentice, leader, expert, and wizened elder between the ages of thirteen and nineteen. 

With the onset of the Eminent Person Study, there have been a few opportunities for the program’s alumni to provide input into the process as their younger counterparts set out on one of the year’s early rites of passage. Liam, Jonathan, Andrew and a few other alumni made themselves available as practice interview subjects a few weeks ago, and Iris, Zoe, Toren, Chelsea and Richard (grade elevens) have all come by the TALONS classroom to check in with various members of the class on their project progress or offer input into classroom discussions.

Part of this, they tell me, is that they miss the classroom. Its energy, the people. But what their presence and contribution to the classroom environment communicates to the current members of the program is that their present station in the chain is something to be missed, and that it is something to be held closely.

Shared Solitudes

Looking upTonight you reigned in triumph, and I hope that you each savour what this experience has revealed of the possibility you hold within yourselves. You will know success in this life for what tonight has taught you about the personal nature of success, the irrationality of fear and the necessity of friendship. Do not despair that you only get to experience the tonight’s of life but once apiece. They are only tests to give you strength for the examinations you will be soon be free to embark upon under your own steam. We owe it to the present moment, and to our present selves, to live as the sum of our experiences, and with tonight you mark certainly that you possess the raw material to write your own life’s work of eminence. I stand in awe at your strength and determination to courageously explore, discover and express your unique voices in this world.

A Letter to my Students, on a Night they were Alive

I talked the other night, at the conclusion of this year’s Night of the Notables, about our relationship with the dark. I alluded to our recent practice of Night Solos, and how they put us in touch with an elemental piece of ourselves that comes with an immersion in a solitary unknown. It seemed a natural connection to make after watching the same group of TALONS become transformed on a stage they shared in fluid harmony that transported and transfixed an audience made of the class’ extended family community.

Deep seatsParents, friends, alumni, administrators and school board trustees, a scattering of internet radio listeners from across the continent, and graduates of a program that has roots in our district back to the mid 1970s – all gathered to indulge and rally around spectacle that this year’s cohort inevitably finds to represent their admiration and investigation of a kindred spirit, someone who “left a ding in the universe.”

In many ways, this has always been the story of Night of the Notables. But this year has seen the TALONS program run with two full grade nine/ten cohorts totaling 56 learners. In the seven years since I attended the first incarnation of the district gifted program’s as a new teacher who gave one of my future colleagues my TOC card, we’ve all come a long way through this week, where the gallery walk and “cocktail” hour was barely enough time to scratch the surface of each of the TALONS interactive and illuminating learning centers, and the grade tens were briskly off to the theater for the presentation of speeches.

Deadmau5A traditional rite of passage for the grade tens, this year saw the formally individual podium speeches transformed into two half-hour series of interwoven monologues, each presented in the characters of their eminent people.

The unknown isn’t as mysterious as we might think,” I borrowed from Stephanie‘s address as astronaut Roberta Bondar before continuing on about sitting alone in the dark.

“If we’re all sitting in the dark alone, we can explore and discover that unknown – which is all that any real learning is – just like we can give speeches, and create something new and magical and precious and ours, if we are supported by each other, all sitting in our own dark.”

Clint's Acceptance SpeechThe people on stage the other night were able to do it because everyone in the audience was up there with them, whether they were sitting in the dark as peers, or mentors, alumni, parents, and whether they did their sitting five years ago, or will years from now.

Thank you for being here to share this evening with us.

“That which you create,” Jonathan Toews wrote in his Notable address in 2010, speaking as IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, “Is yours to rejoice in.”

Indeed."That which you create is yours to rejoice in."Check out the TALONS Flickr set of Night of the Notables here.


Macleod's Books II

As sometimes happens, I didn’t sit down at work today – unless you count the few minutes I spent helping a guitar student figure out how to add piano to the upcoming QR-code-musical-Easter-egg-hunt I’m setting up (and will tell you about later), or taking part in a few of the interviews throughout the day. But it was a memorable and energizing to live as “the bridge and the Bondo” between two communities of learners who make my job an invigorating blend of my own personal passions combined with professional exploration and experimentation in developing an enriching space for learning.

Today our class spread out, both in the physical building, and across the continent in search of learning through uncovering the experiences of others. And for brief sessions throughout the day, my greatest teachers (both TALONS learners and members of my personal learning network) became each others’ greatest teachers. In asking questions, the TALONS contributed the subject, and an audience, for the people I learn from and with every day – people like Stephen Hurley, and Rodd Lucier, Zoe Branigan-Pipe, GNA Garcia and Giulia Forsythe, Zack Dowell and Dave Truss, as well as Andys Forgrave and McKiel, and Leslie Lindballe (seriously though: no Jabiz?) – to talk about what they’ve learned about life, and work, and how they’ve learned it. By responding, and lending their reflection and wisdom to the questions, my colleagues were able to step into our classroom today because of the social – both physical and digital – networks I’ve brought into my life and learning.

This is how it all went down:

Eminent Person Study: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Macleod's BooksWith a new fall, the current incarnation of the Talons class sets out on one of the pillars of the program, encountering a person deemed Eminent in the annals of history: someone who has changed things and left the world indelibly marked with their unique gifts. The importance to gifted learners of such projects is arguably of special relevance, as much of the Betts’ Autonomous Learner Model concerns itself with developing social-emotional learning in youth prone to being isolated or singled-out in traditional educational or work settings.

“To be nothing but yourself,” ee cummings tells us, “in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.” And while every learner, young or old, could benefit from finding a new path through the weeds to self-actualization, the Eminent Person Study, culminating in the tradition of Night of the Notables, is an opening salvo in Talons years that sees the program’s grade tens resolutely begin to inhabit their Role Model shoes, and set out on a life of individualized learning that won’t end.

In the years I have been blogging as a Talons teacher, the Eminent Person Study has been recorded and shared frequently here, as learners stretch themselves in aspects of research, presentation, reflection and personal growth along the way. Some of the memorable moments worth collecting for reference at the beginning of this year’s study are:

  • On Seeking Eminent People A familiar class debate about finding the ‘right’ Eminent Person, and how this process is effected by, and effects, the notion of His/Her-story.
  • To Find Your Own Way… A collection of links to grade nine speeches from a few years ago that saw the class take on the task of writing from the perspective of someone who may have known their Eminent Person from a diverse array of perspectives.
  • Eminent Person Wrap Up and Examples A grab-bag of links to speeches, learning centers, and reflections on the Night of the Notables 2009.
  • The Interviews Take Flight Part of the Eminent Person research process involves seeking out an expert on their Eminent Person, or a related field of inquiry. A few years into the process, this post offers a look at some of the tactics that began showing dividends across the class’ blogs.

The PodiumAs each culmination of the Night of the Notables expands with the diversity of the class’ individual pursuits, it is inspiring to look back at last year’s Notables reflections and wonder what visions this group might realize in the coming fall:

It’s just…yeah. There was so much stress (and caffeine) but then we had the grade 9 speeches, and the class got to spend 2 days rolling around in the puddles of everyone’s excessive amounts of talent. And then there were all the learning centres which blew my mind….and then the grade 10 speeches. THE GRADE 10 SPEECHES. THEY BLEW MY ALREADY BLOWN MIND. Every single one of them.  


I would like to thank all of the TALONS, for making this a great night, a special night. Each of your learning centers brought something special, and really is what makes this night what it is. All of your learning centers were amazing, and each was unique in its own way. It really is hard to pick out a best or a worst, because each is so different, it’d be like comparing Pineapples to Dogs. However, there was one I really thought stood out, and that was Donya’s, being right beside her learning center I had the liberty to spend a bit of time inside there. When you look from the outside you really don’t see, experience, or comprehend how it is different from everyone else’s. It is when you stepped into that you, did you really experience the atmosphere of the room, and authenticity of the demeanor. It truly was like you had opened your eyes and saw, unplugged your ears and listened.


I sat there in a sort of anticipation as Jenna got off the stage, and then before I knew it, I was up there, standing behind the podium, and grabbing the mic out of the stand. I think when you’re up there, you don’t really focus on the audience. You focus on giving your speech. I really didn’t notice the audience at all, and it felt like I was in a practice session by myself, still walking around the top floor of our school. It went by so fast. I can’t describe how it felt, because I can’t remember it. But I do remember the lights, the cheering, the yelling “VERA WONG” from one of my friends, and the “it’s VERA WANG, stupid!” from another one of my friends.


Night of the Notables left me awestruck, amazed, and inspired. I realized that all my pre-N.O.T.N. stress was well worth the great moments that came with it. For me, some of the more memorable moments of the night were the ten minutes we were all getting a pep talk from Mr. J, the five minutes we were all singing the same familiar notes of “Don’t Stop Believing”, and those three seconds of dead silence after your speech, followed by the thunderous cheers from your classmates. The energy from that night will stick with us our entire life.


In search of the elusive Eminent Person Interview

Macleod's Books

Macleod's Books

When I began teaching TALONS (2006), the requirement for learners’ Eminent Person Studies to make us of an interview with an expert presented an age-old sticking point. Documents in the program binders inherited from teachers of the original, locally-developed gifted program supplied handouts and tips for students conducting their first interviews (back then, only either in person or by phone), that went so far as to include a practice interview with a parents of one of each student’s classmates.

As a former student in the older program, I remember The Interview retaining an ominous hurdle in my young education. I was jealous of a friend whose parents had raised him ordering their pizzas, and fielding solicitor’s calls, and in doing so given him the casual ability to speak with confidence to adults, strangers, over the phone. My fear was apparently widespread, as a very slim minority of my first students reported successful interviews with experts they had contacted outside their or their parents’ sphere of personal connections.

Even through last year, this amount of apprehension about garnering an expert-interview was considerable enough that we dusted-off the Practice Parent Interview (and may yet again this year in some capacity) as a means of raising the level of comfort and confidence before setting out to tackle their Eminent Person interview (a 50 mark component built into the class’ research of their studied person).

However coincidentally – as I don’t think the parent-interview was solely responsible for the result – last year also marked a steep increase in the success rate in our expert interviews. Experiences like Andrea’s became more common:

This year is different even though my person isn’t as well known and I wasn’t very optimistic. I first started by e-mailing the Corrie ten Boom museum in Holland to get the dimensions of the Hiding Place where she concealed the Jewish people in her home. Because I am an English speaker and wrote my question in English they redirected my email to Emily Smith in San Diego who volunteers at the museum in the summer and wrote the book “A visit to the Hiding Place-The life changing experiences of Corrie ten Boom.” This book that she wrote is only available online, but Emily Smith gave me her personal address to send the money order to because she check her work mail only twice a month. I ordered the book to help me with my project and I got it a week ago and it is filled with many pictures and personal items which I could not find anywhere else. Last week I also realized that I need to serve Corrie ten Boom’s favourite food at the Night of the Notables and none of her books mention anything about what she enjoyed eating I decided to email Emily Smith again. The next day I received a reply not only mentioning her two favourite foods but with links to recipes I can use to make them.  

Today in class I asked how many people had independently contacted and conducted conversation with an expert, either in person, by email or other means, and nearly everyone raised their hand. Four years ago this number would have been one, or two, out of a class of thirty.

How much does this owe to the culture of learning developing in a classroom that has been evolving as a continuous 9 / 10 split since 2005?

How much does it owe to the evolution of my own pedagogy in relation to technology and student learning networks?

And how much of this is the observation of the tidal shift in how the emerging generation, who views technology as an underlying fact of life, rather than ornamental, or merely entertainment, can use technology to empower individualized learning?

This year there are already a great many examples of TALONS learners taking their quest beyond the school’s walls and even Canada’s natural borders, and coming home with excellent primary or secondary source information from a global field of experts. Like Andrew, they are getting better at leveraging the web for their own personal study:

I decided to try contacting the authors of the people who wrote books about [Tim Berniers-Lee], ones that I had taken out from the VPL.  The first name I typed into Google was Robert Cailliau.  I read the Wikipedia article on him and realized that he had actually helped Mr. Berners-Lee develop the Web.  And so I went about trying to contact him.  I used the links at the bottom of the page to find his home page, and from there his e-mail address.  I sent him an e-mail, explaining who I was, and what the project was about, and my request to send him a few questions.

Such efforts – in Andrew’s interview, Jenna’s discussion with NYU professor Brooke Kroeger, and Richard’s pending email interview of Tony’s Blair’s biographer – are examples of a rise in digital literacy that will likely provide a firm foundation in developing this month’s Eminent Person Study 1.

For this year’s TALONS learners seeking their first interview, here are a few pieces of advice shared on TALONS blogs in the past year, and links to several of the letters which yielded successful interviews (Successful interview letters: Louise, Saskia, Donya, and Ariana).

Show yourself to be serious, prepared and grateful for the help

  • State the purpose of your contact up front: I am _______________ and I am doing a research project on the life of ______________.
  • But avoid being blunt The above should take more than one sentence, and can include information you have already found on the person, or the field, a summary of how you found the person, or some background on the rationale behind your choice of Eminent Person or the project itself.
  • Humble yourself Be accommodating in setting up the interview, such that all the person must reasonably consent to is answering a few already-prepared questions. Acknowledge clearly – repeatedly – that your interviewee is going beyond the call by granting you some insight. Thank them for their time, even if they can only help by providing you with more phone numbers, emails and people to contact in their stead. Politeness (and here we will include grammar, spelling and formal language) will go a long way here.

Interviews are very valuable. Go the extra mile to get one.

  • Send lots of emails so that at least a few are likely to reply
  • Send emails to different types of people related to your eminent person ( a variety of perspectives helps)
  • Ask questions in your email that couldn’t be found online. If they think you are interviewing them so that you don’t have to do any research of your own, they won’t answer.
  • Do a phone interview if you can because you will get much more information and much more detailed information. I wasn’t convinced at first but am now definitely sold on the merits of phone interviews.
  • Prepare lots of questions for your phone interviews (at least 20-25)
  • Research your interviewee ahead of time so that you can ask better questions
  • Compliment your interviewee’s work in you original email and during your interview
  • Say lots of thank yous at the end of a phone conversation.
  • Send thank you letters immediately after your interview as it shows a lot more appreciation that an email two weeks later.

On Sunday, I sent off e-mails to curators at 7 different art galleries. Yesterday I came home to three replies.

  1. Show that you spent time and effort on your e-mail. If you do this people are more likely to spend time and effort on their reply back.
  2. Explain about yourself and the project you are undertaking. (I think half the reason I got such a long reply back from the Phoenix Art Museum was because the curator grew up in Victoria.)
  3. Demonstrate that you researched your topic well before coming to others for supplementary information. This way, it doesn’t appear that you are asking questions with answers easily available online or at the library.
  1. For more reading on the Eminent Person Study, including links to examples of speeches and learning centres, see last year’s Night of the Notables wrap up post