Monthly Archives: August 2011

Sound and light shows

Given the flooding that recently hit the east coast I now realize that the storm I was listening to and seeing flash across my otherwise calm skies managed to leave a great deal of damage in its wake.  This note was written on Saturday evening, August 27th, and upon wakening to news of the flood I hesitated to share it… see post script as well, thank you …

It’s raining, it’s pouring and the last thing I want to do is fall asleep and start snoring…I confess, I LIKE a good rain storm.  The sound and light show this past hour has been terrific, rock concert loud with electricity appearing to be bouncing off the lower than usual flying planes on route to landing.  And I am the only one on my street standing outside revelling in it! It could come from my enjoyment of movies, where rain is such an often used symbol for change, but I; I don’t know, but ever since I first learned about Thor and the others who might be wreaking havoc or simply playing a game of bowling in the sky I have enjoyed contemplating what (other than the scientific facts) might be going on up in the skies. Which brings me back to the Humanities, the wonderful fables, analogies, myths, legends, archetypal legends, and narratives that suggest how rain is both a fertility symbol (plants do need rain to grow) and a cleansing, quieting prelude to new beginnings.  The images are strong and can be found throughout cultures- My front door was wide open, and Nature’s Rain Stick was helping me plan for tomorrow-

The News of Hurricane Irene brought home the strong potent reminder that “Nature” can be a lot more than merely entertaining.  While I had enjoyed the power that the sky was sharing, and been distracted from personal worries by the local storm (Toronto was not affected by Hurricane Irene) many were experiencing horrific scenes:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/americas/irenes-death-toll-jumps-as-us-towns-battle-floods-millions-wait-for-power/article2145442/

“We were expecting heavy rains,” said Bobbi-Jean Jeun of Clarksville, a hamlet near Albany, N.Y. “We were expecting flooding. We weren’t expecting devastation. It looks like somebody set a bomb off.”

Irene killed at least five people in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The first known casualty was a woman who died trying to cross a swollen river in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

The death toll for 11 eastern U.S. states had stood at 21 as of Sunday night, then rose sharply to at least 38 as bodies were pulled from floodwaters and people were struck by falling trees or electrocuted by downed power…”  (Globe and Mail see ink above)

Not exactly the simple poetry of idyllic walks or fantastic dreams- a harsh reminder to respect nature and our place within it. 

 

 

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I do not like my computer right now-

I confess: I find some activities super energizing and others just plain tiresome.  I am constantly trying to “love” learning more about the inner workings of this machine, but know I am not going to become a “techie” any day soon.  In fact, I constantly amaze myself by how much more there is to learn before I will be able to claim to be treating this computer as much more than a glorified typewriter.

What then does keep me slogging away at the keyboard and attempting understanding of computer codes?  An irritating inability to quit and admit defeat.  I want to understand the computer with the same ease and fluency that many of my students exhibit.  Earlier today, my painstaking gathering of email addresses in alphabetical order so that I could issue a (new for me) marketing blurb was something that another, more skilled user, might have accomplished in under 1/2 an hour- and I didn’t feel that marvellous once the deed was done.  Yet creating the brochure had been a lot of fun, and the follow up of sending it forth ought to have elicited, if nothing else, a sense of relief. Done, and done…

The tedium then must be the result of my recognizing that little technique had been exhibited in the actual sending of the mail, just painstaking repetition, and as often happens when I think about learning, I began to wonder how to make the experience not only more enjoyable for myself, but also how to remember that feeling; how to best understand the efforts many students offer- efforts that suggest the students remain confused about where and how to improve their written submissions, just as I remain puzzled over what button I could have pressed to speed up this afternoon’s process.

This machine has “a lot of potential”.  We describe students the same way, and a report might suggest “Bobby is/is not working to ‘potential’”.  But what is potential?  And how annoying to offer that remark on a report without more clearly defining goals and steps that could be taken to achieve them.  As I prepare for the upcoming school year and excitedly look forward to reconnecting with students and their families and hearing from others who are in new situations, I have decided to challenge the whole notion of “potential” and replace the term with others I find more satisfactory: acquiring, achieving, absorbing, demonstrating, focusing on, and uh hmmm, and learning.  And should I see that “Bobby” is finding something tiresome, I will remember what it feels like to struggle with an unknowable task – and change direction.  Learning through doing? Certainly.  But also learning with understanding. Nike may have a point with their “just do it” slogan, but it is also about doing it right.

On the need to clarify –

On the need to clarify-

I keep this page amongst other pages in a simple file folder for students and parents of students to read.

I do not know who to attribute the original work to- any ideas? thank you as always, best regards,

Please right-click on the reading to enlarge – can you relate?

What’s important?

What’s important? Students (regardless of age) ask this question all the time. Along with, “why do we have to read this?” and “what difference does it make?” And I really want to answer – YOU- You are what’s important. And somehow I have to make you see this, and believe that learning involves relating to the material from a personal perspective, not merely what I or others might say about the work.

We spend so much time in formal classroom situations reminding students to take notes, prepare for tests and quizzes, and to accept marks as the basis for evaluating learning. I wonder though if enough time is actually spent on questioning why some students tune out and choose NOT to demonstrate knowledge. Teaching privately has given me the opportunity to listen when a student “simply doesn’t relate” to a reading that is on their school’s curriculum, Often this is because the reading has been offered as a stand- alone, and not integrated into a whole with other parts of the program. Yet many of the texts do require context to be fully understood. I think often of an experience I had when interning at the New -York Historical Society.

A teacher brought her inner city class to the museum and upon meeting me (then a docent ready to conduct a program) declared loudly ” I hope you can do something with these dullards!” and promptly disappeared for coffee. Fortunately this teacher was an extreme case- most teachers appreciated the out of classroom experience and the chance to broaden not only the students’ but also their own perspective. That teacher though, had made it clear to all in the vicinity that she placed little value on the field trip and even less value on her students’ feelings. Yet the arts, and the study of the humanities, deal precisely with feelings and the opportunity to encourage empathy. The affective stance is important not only for creative growth, but also to build bridges between communities and encourage understanding of different view points. That particular teacher chose not to be involved- ok- but labelling her students “dullards” had been the real shocker. For the record, they were a pleasure to work with. I was able to have them make connections for me and suggest why the exhibit might be relevant to ANYTHING they had been learning in class to that date. And by getting the students involved they taught me about their school and I came to realize that the teacher hadn’t wanted the field trip- a parent had donated the excursion as a “gift” to the class. It may have been that enforced action that had irritated that teacher so strongly; in similar fashion students can reject being told that a text has value.

A caveat: not everyone will find books relaxing or a way to indulge in a mini-escape. Not everyone will become “a reader”. But everyone can be encouraged to question an author’s purpose, to actively listen to the author’s point of view and to present an opinion in a clear, informed manner. This is what academic writing insists upon.

fingerprints

Almost every article that I have read lately states we are supposed to be “authentic” and these readings have left me confused…are the writers suggesting that “authentic ” is a NEW concept? I tell students that as they find their voice their writing will become like a fingerprint, suggestive of who they are and what they are comfortable speaking up for.  But until they find that voice they must try on many styles, and have fun playing devil’s advocate- debating a concept on the side they might disagree with, challenging themselves to think through the opposite set of arguments and come up with support, practice writing from different perspectives, and try reading aloud, hearing the sounds of the words and listening for patterns as they speak – one of the best forms of proof reading.  Mostly though, I want each and every student to know their opinion is valued- but please, go back to the source and find the support in the reading, the research, the notes, and use the sources to back up the opinion- practice- and the writing is bound to improve.

SHARING OPPORTUNITY!

OPPORTUNITY

by: Edward Rowland Sill (1841-1887)

THIS I beheld, or dreamed it in a dream:–

There spread a cloud of dust along a plain;

And underneath the cloud, or in it, raged

A furious battle, and men yelled, and swords

Shocked upon swords and shields. A prince’s banner

Wavered, then staggered backward, hemmed by foes.

A craven hung along the battle’s edge,

And thought, “Had I a sword of keener steel–

That blue blade that the king’s son bears, — but this

Blunt thing–!” he snapped and flung it from his hand,

And lowering crept away and left the field.

Then came the king’s son, wounded, sore bestead,

And weaponless, and saw the broken sword,

Hilt-buried in the dry and trodden sand,

And ran and snatched it, and with battle shout

Lifted afresh he hewed his enemy down,

And saved a great cause that heroic day.

“Opportunity” is reprinted from The Little Book of American Poets: 1787-1900. Ed. Jessie B. Rittenhouse. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1915.

 

 

Musings on Power

Got up and took a hot shower this morning and gave thanks for small blessings-

Did everyone enjoy the recent long weekend?  We, my children and I, spent the time from June 30 through July 4 without electricity due to a fault in the power line.  Amazing what we take for granted like the use of a stove, fridge, tv, internet, washing machine, dryer, phone numbers on phone, light in the evening and early morning, and yes, that wonderful hot water.  My kids being younger and imbued with the spirit of adventure took cold showers for the first two days, then accepted a neighbour’s generous offer and showered next door.  And we camped in the city filling a large picnic hamper with ice to chill small items like milk and cheese, and discovered a new use for tea lights when I placed twenty tea lights in a cake pan and by lighting all made a hot plate that really did slowly warm items. We even experimented with a bar-b-que kit purchased at a Shoppers’ drug mart for just over $6.00!  But I won’t even pretend that it was fun.

Now though, when I think of power and what it means to flick a switch and have something/anything turn on, I know the beauty of peace- it works.  I can imagine how ridiculous I must have sounded to the phone operator when calling our energy company to say that our air conditioning unit was controlling our home! It was! The air conditioning unit had somehow become the home’s main power switch and the only way to keep the power running was to continuously turn down the thermostat- at 14 degrees were freezing; I called the company to send out a technician and he put in writing that he had never experienced anything like this before.  Hmm- but didn’t know what to do.  Enter a real electrician and four and 1/2 hours in the hot sun later and a rewired meter box- but- this being the long weekend no hydro inspectors were available to connect the newly wired box to the main line.  And so we waited, giving me plenty of time to contemplate the word “power” and all that it suggests.

We as teachers do have a form of power- and like any type of power this must be handled carefully.   As I work with summer students and prepare for the new school term I am extremely aware of the expectations students have and the pressures they encounter. Like my current home’s formerly blocked power system, (now in working order) often a student will benefit from having the pressure turned down to low to allow for new ideas to circulate.  Sometimes the student may benefit the most when learning is begun anew, with a focus on the here and now, and fresh connections being formed – so that a student may experience his/her own power surge through mastery and control of the process.  A flick of the switch? No- but well timed intervention to encourage growth and renewal.