This past week was a great week.
It wasn’t perfect, of course. We are imperfect human beings working with smaller imperfect human beings. In the interest of transparency (and if you really wanted to know) I could make you a list of all the things that could have gone better, or of the behaviours that could have been better, but that’s not what this post is about. Just trust me, everyday there is something. And that’s okay…it’s the whole imperfect human thing. The main goal is learning from those mistakes, and as I read on Twitter this week: the only real apology is corrected behaviour. @zellieimani
Yet there it was. A great week.
We did several lessons on sketchnoting technique in ELA, a way of compiling main ideas from a speech, story, etc. using a combination of text, images, and connectors. It’s accessible to all students, as it can be as simple or detailed as you choose to make it. One student said how much he hates taking notes off the board (which to be clear, we never do!) and that he loved being able to put what he wanted into his notes. By the third lesson, the students listened as I read a story to them with the suggestion (but option) to sketchnote along with me. Every student participated. Every one.
I’m exploring more and more with the ideas of the thinking classroom, in particular having students up out of their desks and using VNPS (vertical non permanent surfaces, so in my room that’s whiteboards.) After having sat and observed for quite a bit while my intern was teaching, it was good to remember how hard that is on students. In another tweet I read, “Behaviour issues are often students just reacting to the difficulty of remaining in this passive position for too long.” (Ariel Sacks) And even it if isn’t causing behaviour issues, it certainly isn’t engaging, and if I’m not paying attention then I’m not learning. So my new mission is using VNPS almost every day in some way, and the kids are totally into it. Just this week we used it for our sketchnoting practice in ELA, in problem solving survival scenarios for a motivational set, and in social we brainstormed solutions (plus pros/cons) for our environmental issues from last week. I’ve added a mini gallery walk to the end of the activity, so the groups do a small loop of the classroom to see what other groups were thinking before sitting down and discussing as a whole class. My timing has been a bit off since returning to full time teaching, and our discussion got cut off by the bell on Tuesday. I apologized to the kids, saying that my pacing is still a bit off, and that we’d have to finish the next day. A boy piped up, ‘That’s okay. Class went by so fast!” The engagement of the thinking classroom at work!
To go backward one week, I want to mention that we also took the thinking classroom and combined it with the walking classroom to make a ‘walk and talk’ activity. There was a set of 10 separate questions on chart paper in the hallway. Students were in pairs and given different starting numbers. Then because our school is a perfect square, they literally walked a lap of the school talking about their question. When they came back, they added their thinking to the chart paper, looked at the next question, and started on their next lap. As I circulated, it was great to see students who wouldn’t normally talk to each other, walking and talking about the issues. Sometimes when students are to discuss something with their ‘elbow partners’ they will talk for a minute and then wait till the time is up, so I’m curious why it was easier to walk and talk. Is it because we do this all the time naturally? Was it because it was awkward to walk beside someone and NOT talk?
The next class, we put the papers back up in the hallway and students got to choose three different ones to read the responses on, plus a news article that I had added to the chart papers, before we debriefed as a whole class again. It was a success both days, as students were asking if we were going to ‘walk and talk’ the next lesson too lol.
So just to allay the idea that it’s a teaching utopia in the middle years, here is Arts Ed 8. We are doing some music skills right now, and I had the students choose an instrument to become a mini-expert in (as much as you can become a mini-expert in three hours lol.) Then I set up a schedule where the expert group teaches their classmates as learners. To be honest, it was a bit hit-or-miss. Some groups were well prepared and did a great job of instruction but there were kids not trying or had their phone out or were just generally not working with the ‘teachers.’ Wow. That was an eye opener for some of them to be on the flip side! But each time they taught a new group, they revised their instruction and got more confident, until this week it really clicked. I sat in with the ‘voice’ group as they had been struggling more. They finished a bit early, so I grabbed a boy in grade 12 who I knew enjoyed rap. He came and (without even realizing it) taught a whole lesson on rap music, giving a bit of its history, pointing out levels of language in the lyrics, explaining what an ad lib was, and more. The kids were captivated. And at the end of class, a boy from the piano group stayed to tell me that ‘it was so much fun today. I learned three different songs and I even remembered them!’ A great week.
Finally Friday. It’s the week before the week-before-Christmas. Every day I stopped by the office to say what a great day it had been. Kids are getting exponentially ramped up, and maybe I thought it couldn’t continue. Brené Brown calls that the ‘idea of foreboding joy’…when things are going really well you’re waiting for something bad to happen! We do games day in ELA on Friday’s. Students can choose who they are playing with and what game to play – lots of language based games like Apples to Apples, Scrabble, Anomia. Visual games like Pictionary, Blokus, and Tellestrations. A group of boys who’ve designed their own way to play Guess Who with four boards lol. And I brought a new game called Spice Road that I grabbed two kids and had them learn how to play it…it’s pretty complicated but they caught on quickly (and I totally lost!) As admin was doing a walkabout, I waved him into the classroom to see two things: the level of engagement kids had (lots of laughing and having fun) and the level of noise in the classroom (it wasn’t loud at all.) But mostly, I still love to see them interacting socially with each other – talking, taking turns, relationship-building, strategizing.
More than ever, I’m committed to having students move more, sit less, with as much engagement as possible in both strategies and content.
Yep. There it was. A great week.
Tervetuloa. Welcome. Tawâw.
There are not enough teacher memes out there about school life in December. It is harried, and tiring, and exciting, and frustrating, and joyful, and…it’s essentially a paradox of emotions where time is moving too fast yet simultaneously not moving fast enough. Today was evidence of both lol.
The weekends are no different, thus the reason I didn’t manage to get a Sunday night blog post written. Late night hockey games and getting home at 11pm doesn’t really help for motivation either.
Because I am insistent upon not missing a week of blogging, but can’t manage to formulate a complex thought in my head right now, I’m perusing my phone for some recent posts I’ve saved from social media to share with you. Of course, tonight when I was checking my bookmarks in Twitter, I realized that nothing was saved from beyond a week ago. I’m hoping a quick update will find them again. (IT DID! Whew.)
So here is my collection, an homage to the perennial Christmas classic ‘My Favorite Things’ from “The Sound of Music” which, to be honest, I have never once seen from beginning to end. This is the part where I’ll see if my younger sister actually reads my blog…she is a musical aficionado and will likely be mortified that I’ve never watched it. This is likely a good time to add that, despite a couple of catchy songs, I can’t stand the musical “Grease” either. Ha ha.
“The kind of teacher you will become is directly related to the kind of teachers you associate with. Teaching is a profession where misery does more than just love company – it recruits, seduces, and romances it. Avoid people who are unhappy and disgruntled about the possibilities for transforming education. They are the enemy of the spirit of the teacher.” Christopher Emdin @chrisemdin
“The importance of focusing on behavior: A student’s behavior is a much stronger predictor of future success than test scores are, according to a large-scale study encompassing 574,000 ninth graders. Teachers who helped students improve their behavior (measured by things like attendance and suspensions) were 10 times as effective at improving their students’ graduation rates and GPAs as teacher who focused on test scores.” @edutopia
“Social justice teaching is not a lesson or a unit. It’s about building a lens for students. So that students may look for social justice in all content areas and all classes and their personal lives and then some.” @PresidentPat
“I always hear that our job as teachers is to prepare students for the “Real World,” like it’s some magical land far off in the future where kids and their experiences actually matter. My question is always “isn’t their world real now?” Brett Kirk @brettkirk97
“Each school is a unique organism comprised of the collective struggles, history, & hopes of the community it serves. There’s no sweeping ‘fix’ for education just as there’s no curriculum that’ll work for all students. The only ‘fix’ is getting knee-deep in the humanity of it all.” Amy Fast @fastcrayon
“We are not just teaching history as some detached narrative. If we do our jobs right, we are teaching our students how to see history around them, how to confront it, and ultimately how to see themselves in it. In those moments, the past and the present collapse.” Kevin M. Levin @KevinLevin
“As writers we live life twice, like a cow that eats its food once and then regurgitates it to chew and digest it again. We have a second change at biting into our experience and examining it…This is our life and it’s not going to last forever. There isn’t time to talk about someday writing that short story or poem or novel. Slow down now, touch what is around you, and out of care and compassion for each moment and detail, put pen to paper and begin to write.” Natalie Goldberg
“Continually ask yourself: what’s important? To you? To the author? To others? What’s interesting? New info? Connections? Surprised?” Tanny McGregor @TannyMcG
“Fill the page with the breathings of your heart.” William Wordsworth
“One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.” Gretchen Rubin @gretchenrubin
“Things that are good for your planet are also good for your mental and physical health. Clean air, walking, working less, oceans, forests, plants, avoiding artificial chemicals. A kind, vibrant, verdant world is good for us. The ultimate act of self-care is to protect the planet.” Matt Haig @matthaig1
“No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.” George Evans @kruevans
“This is the path. These are the ingredients. But none of it is possible until, as the great theorist David Hawkins once said, we realize that ‘the more magic gift is not love, but respect for others as ends in themselves, as actual and potential artisans of their own learnings and doings, of their own lives, and thus uniquely contributing, in turn, to their learnings and doings. Respect for the young is not a passive, hands-off attitude. It invites our own offering of resources. It moves us toward the furtherance of their lives and thus, even, at times, toward remonstrance or intervention. Respect resembles love in its implicit aim of furtherance, but love without respect can blind and bind. Love is private and unbidden, whereas respect is implicit in all moral relations with others. Adults involved in the world of man and nature must bring that world with them to children, bounded and made safe to be sure, but not thereby losing its richness and promise of novelty.” Sam Chaltain @samchaltain
Tervetuloa. Welcome. Tawâw.
Is it what happened that’s making you mad? Or is it the story you’re telling yourself about what happened that’s making you mad?
It’s not a bad idea everyone once in a while to check yourself.
Sometimes we live in a little echo chamber, either in real life or online. It’s easy to gravitate to ideas and people that you agree with, and then reinforce our beliefs with their validation. It feels good because it’s comfortable and safe.
But after a while, the story we tell ourselves isn’t always the most accurate. The memories we have are probably being recalled through blissful rose-colored glasses, or conversely, whatever color the opposite emotion might be. Grey? Black? Was it really as good as we remember? Was it really as bad?
When we use reading comprehension strategies with students, we encourage them to make connections to their lives, to other things they have read, or to the world around them, in an effort to both make sense of what they are reading and to internalize it in some way. To make it stick. It feels like our memories work that way too. I’m not always remembering just the facts of what happened, but how it made me feel, and the ripple-effects it had.
And therein lies part of the problem: it has been colored. It has been changed.
And in my remembering, often over years, it has changed me.
So once in a while, it’s a good idea to separate facts from feelings to get nearer to the reality of the story. I needed to do that this week. *Correction: I needed help doing that this week.* It’s hard because it requires some intense personal reflection. Working out my own biases and perceptions helped to clarify why I was upset: not to discount the emotions involved in it (those are real) or to diminish the anger (I was still mad) but to see things in as clear a light as possible.
Meeting with my liaison students this week, this came up for some of them as well. Thinking about our own part in relationships, not just putting it off onto the other person. Recognizing areas that we haven’t been honest about, especially being honest to ourselves. And most importantly, thinking of how to move forward…mending broken connections, making a plan to catch up on work, advocating for ourselves, and (sometimes sheepishly and reluctantly) acknowledging our own failings and thinking of ways to make it right.
It’s important to question all the stories we hear. I picked up a copy of “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” for reading time. It’s a true story, and although not one of the most captivating books I’ve read recently, it was interesting. (Not sure how it ends yet…I’ll be done it on Monday!) I also follow the Auschwitz Memorial on Twitter and was surprised to see that they don’t endorse the book. “Due to the number of factual errors it cannot be recommended as a valuable educational reading to understand the history of the camp…the book is an impression about Auschwitz inspired by authentic events, almost without any value as a document.” The story is colored by memory and feelings, and had I not come across that, I might have taken everything in the novel as fact. As I lend my book out, I’m copying the caution from the Auschwitz Memorial in it so that people read it with a more critical lens than I did.
In Social 8, we have been using Concentus.ca and Tolerance.org to examine our Canadian stories, specifically to determine how Canada’s identity has been shaped by our history. It has been interesting to watch as students wrestle with the idea that Canada has always been a welcoming and open-hearted country, juxtaposed with the facts….Acadian deportation, internment of Ukranian and Japanese Canadians, treatment of indigenous people in residential schools and the 60s Scoop, the Chinese Head Tax, turning away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, and much much more. Cognitive dissonance in abundance as they weighed the story and the facts.
In an era of fake news, it’s a horrifying thought that we are undoubtedly forming new stories in our lives based on information that isn’t even true. There are days I really long for pre-internet ignorance when things were never in doubt. (But then I need a recipe off allrecipes.com, need to know how to get water stains out of cowboy boots, or dm someone overseas and I wonder how I could live without it lol.)
I’ll finish with a tweet by Ashley Semrick (@HelloSemrick) where she poses the following questions:
Who is telling the story? Who is being left out of the story? Why are they being left out? What do we do with parts of our history that make us uncomfortable? Who gets to decide which parts of history are told? Does telling your story give you a voice? Does not telling it take your voice away?
As we go into this first week of December, write your own story (good job Lori N. on starting your blog!) and make everyone welcome. Tawâw. Tervetuloa.
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