Category Archives: and proof.

Ears wide open

If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others. Haim Ginott  (Columbia University) 

Over thirty years of teaching and working with both children and adults and the validity of the statement quoted above remains strong-and not merely for children- Any administrator would do well to focus on reinforcing strengths – a teacher’s strength, a parent’s strength, a volunteer’s strength, and a community’s strength – and in this way when the focus is on encouraging the positive any negative that might need to be addressed is seen as what it is – simply a deficit that could be improved with strong positive action.

Brainstorm- separately and together to decide if it will take a combined effort or requires looking outside the community to enhance a program, apply a solution or indeed access much needed funding; each School Culture being unique but the overall goals being similar: to enhance and encourage student growth and development, to see sustainable growth over the years, and most importantly to recognize students, families and the “school family” as all a part of the solution, each participant leading rather than simply following the leader for then respect between and amongst the parents and their children has a space within which to Grow.

Summer is traditionally not merely “time off” for Educators and many students it is also a reflective period; though now with year round schooling in places, summer learning programs, emphasis on camps and the competition for some camps as strong as the competition for some Academic programs, much needed Reflective time is often ignored.  Personally I create a T bar on a scrap piece of paper and on one side begin listing all the positives; by the time that one side is full, the other side is often close to blank or has only the truly major needs for the coming weeks and I am able to smile at what is the positive as I approach anew.  And when active, the time to “worry and fret” is minimal so that actions towards clearing the residual issues produce results-even if not always bankable results.  This bankability is what affects many an educational institution, even ones not interested in labelling themselves an institution such as small tutoring practices, or community resource outlets, or student led activities that to the students fill their personal need but aren’t expected to become formalized.  And with each active participatory endeavor, adults and children come closer to uncovering their personal goals, dreams, and talents, while remaining the most important resource any Educational environment should be working with!

My positive side nearly always begins with names-the people I am pleased to Thank.  So on this very warm July morning, armed with a cup of strong coffee and a pencil I will exit my computer for a brief reflective practice, and bask briefly in the warmth that considering the positive allows.  Try it!

 

 

 

 

Everday Learning

In praise of popular culture

Only a real fool would equate being excited to read the latest novel, watch the latest show, or participate in the latest technology as a “waste of time!”

We do our students a disservice when we insist on their learning only the “traditional ways” as much as we do cultures a disservice when we insist that people drop their traditional ways.

Students do need to be aware of the world “out there” and how technology is bringing home the concepts and actions of people globally.  For when we allow students to uncover their own curiosity and engage in a variety of activities we give them the strength to challenge themselves and when we offer a variety of story (I personally for example hate the idea of parrots and the imitation of anything becomes negative teasing if not downright bullying), “diverse,*” yes, but for depth characters must engage in challenges and students must be able to see themselves also overcoming obstacles.  For this reason I not only read Young Adult novels, pore over magazines, and exalt that TV shows may now be watched at leisure since “prime time” may be taken up with other activities.

After all I not only wish to be able to make conversation with other educators and administrators I also want to register genuine enthusiasm for what students may found engaging. With year end right around the corner and the continuous emphasis on testing and summatives and portfolios, TV actually becomes a great relaxer for students who might otherwise not have a mini paper topic handy.  Assignment: Choose a popular or special TV show and apply all learned to date examples of Literary conventions that fit the particular plot or story.  This exercise consistently generates enthusiasm while giving students a chance to recognize how praise is as important as unpacking the plot; too often the students will simply rewrite the plot or  story line, however if a shared show is reviewed together, then the students will have the model for how to be genuine in praise.  This later allows students when asked to help with peer editing to be more confident in expressing comments on their peer’s assignment.  They know it isn’t enough to simply state a grade or percentage- they recognize that it is more beneficial to suggest where points could be improved or extended and when a “plot twist” may encourage a reader to wish for more.

So when I am asked, “have I watched” or “am I familiar with,” I often encourage the students to share why they found it important, via oral discussion – to give less talkative students the chance to share and to further recognize the students who may have strong oral speaking skills that better demonstrate their knowledge than the requisite paragraph or two would do.  Not everyone is a writer, or would choose reading as a favorite pastime however many students will feel strongly about aspects of popular culture.  And I too am learning when I hear the passion of “fans” for a particular character or a special story; we are expected to model life long learning and curiosity aren’t we?

What popular culture also permits for is the discussion of necessary topics- schools have no right to ignore their proper role in also furthering and growing cultural biases.  Bias is an unusual word- it is not necessarily negative, and if a school encourages students to lean towards the open culture of RESPECTING DIFFERENCES then the bias of the school is towards not merely speaking about empathy but actually taking action through a whole school approach to questioning “accepted” behavioural practices and to understanding how much politics and fashion have not only illustrated cultural “norms” but also worked at reevaluating the expected normative vision to effect the change neccessary for generational “progress” to occur- we do want our students to be constantly striving to make not only their lives more comfortable but also the lives of others too; the “Human Race” actually refers to the entire group- not the isolated few who may manage to find a place in the top economic arenas.  Shows like “Survivor” reminded all of the ways each person has different talents and also reminds viewers that winning at the expense of everyone else is a questionable form of wining at all. If as Educators we argue that some (school) tests are not actually accurate preparation for “life” then we must also argue fully and deeply which practical topics and actions should be taken to empower our students to effectivly stick up for one another- not merely themselves.  And we must as Administrators, principals, and parents, encourage the entire staff to feel that the “complaints department” actually exists and that vocalizing discomfort about any aspect of a sitution will not be greeted with tactics meant to “silence the complainer” but instead, be the safe and secure situation which not only our students but we ourselves as adults ought to expect and ought to receive.

*Please don’t order books for school shelves simply because they fall into the category without at least reading a copy and deciding if the story has a lesson for all members of the group otherwise the stories are not empowering but isolating of specific groups!

 

Classroom reflections

Blended Learning as a Tool, not a Crutch

Best feeling for an educator? hearing actual excitement in the student’s voice about anything they are pleased to be accomplishing!

Blended learning in the classroom may make this possible, even if not every student has a personal learning device. But only recently have educators begun to share how much planning must actually go into a classroom activity that properly uses technology as an asset to the lesson, as an opportunity for self paced review, as a chance to challenge oneself in any of the core curriculum areas or strands, and as a tool for the teacher to instigate personal lesson plans. And like the dreaded accountable lesson plans of yesteryear, blended learning requires a skill, and most definitely time to prepare. 

When students recognize that “watch this video then do the exercises” is not an option but part of the course material, teachers offering material at the correct level and pace for the majority of students in the classroom are teachers who have first watched the video, practiced the accompanying exercises, and been able to evaluate their potential effectiveness in his or her particular learning environment, and then been willing to observe the variety of reactions to the self paced learning established.  This requires being a reflective practitioner, not simply supplying websites akin to the multiple printed pages of extra sheet-work which used to be (and may still be) in stacks for the access of the one’s who finished regular assigned exercises quickly.  The benefits of being a “seasoned educator” and currently working one to one means having time to hear the complaints which students from k-12 feel comfortable voicing in a safe and  non-school environment.  And indeed students may love technology, and for the younger set, the elementary students who are offered the bonus use of an open computer once all regular work is completed, they do enjoy that “freedom to play” though they tend to “play” on prescribed websites.  Older students though actually want to feel that any time spent on an educational pursuit translates into marks- and even with all the vocal squawking from educators that marks do not make the person, students actually enjoy some form of visible recognition for their hard work and some form of noting their own achievements!

Tests, quizzes, levels of accomplishment, challenges, problems to be solved, badges- formal academics, and Minecraft basics? Yes. Gaming and personal goals to get to the next level are the challenges set by anyone determined to practice and improve, and then practice some more, regardless of whether an athlete, an artist, a business owner or an academic! And when any type of advice is requested, the hope is that once applied, such advice will enable the asker to make it to the next level- else why bother asking if trial and error is sufficient? Because as Humans our society improves when we share knowledge; teachers have a value in the classroom and on the street. And students quickly learn that they can learn from their peers, from their parents, and from the formal and informal lesson plans that everyday life offers.  Not everyone is gearing directly toward higher academics, but the skills sets of focused activity, group and individual participation, personal motivation, and ability to inquire, to request information and to then personally evaluate the responses received- these are skills for Life. And Educators’ work load is only appearing to have been made easier with the concept of “blended learning” or the idea of students becoming “self-paced” for learners of all levels, and all ages, require solid challenges and a chance to also become “the instructor” sharing their personal understanding of any activity, being peer to peer guides, and whenever possible, even teaching their elders for in such a fluid learning environment the conversation may actually be “spontaneous” rather than contrived (look at a student teacher’s notes and one may find actual hoped for dialogue appearing in the lesson plans!) with the surprising by-product once removed from the goal, of increased marks and scores on those tests which are still the basic means to evaluate any learning endeavor.  

 

 

Academic writing: some specifics to prepare for

Students who wish to do well on exams should know as much as possible about the topic”

An actual educator’s suggestion or an exam prompt for an SAT or other Standardized test? Reading and writing labs across the globe deal with the mechanics, the “how to” of crafting an essay, few of these labs have the time to question if the student’s answer will even be relevant to the teacher’s question. And this is where the mechanics, -the how to- even if deliberately applied, surprise a student with a less than stellar mark- and then they arrive at my door with a bleak outlook on their academic prospects and an even bleaker expectation of how they might improve.

With School year 2014-2015 approaching, and students currently choosing timetables, some lucky few may actually be selecting courses they have a strong interest in-but a large number choose a class based on availability, the course being required, and /or “others” as in friends, being in that time slot. Surprise, the course outline does contain a timetable, a syllabus, and very important- the teacher/professor’s expectations- here is the “secret” to identifying a topic which will demonstrate one was actually a participant in the course- something that educators really do look for! 🙂

To write 5 pages or 15, or 150 is considered part of the gradual learning process- but to jump from a “5 paragraph” essay to 3-5 solid pages of information is very difficult for many who weren’t shown that the information must be balanced with opinion to help focus an argument. Random inspirational quotes can be found – begin with one and ask- what does it mean? followed by how do you know? And, could we research the origin of the quote? this little exercise moves one from blindly copy/ pasting words, to actually wondering about those words- who said them? why do we continue to pass them around? how is it we are able to grasp at the metaphor if the quote offers within it a metaphor? Do we know if we are “right”? Now what inspired the teacher/professor to offer a particular course? Does he/she tell us in the course outline? Do the suggested reading materials offer a “clue” to how others view the main topic? And did any of these readings hold any real appeal to you- the student?

As early as grade 3 we formally introduce metaphor into the curriculum. If “Hope Floats” can it be a heavy object? If Emily Dickinson later further adds that “hope is a feather” she has given readers a simile, a concrete object to recognize and discuss, but back to the emotion that is floating somewhere- and offer bubbles and balloons and other light weight objects, before discussing a very heavy weight topic- the concept of “hope”; a feeling? an emotion? is there a difference? Hold a circle time and share Pandora’s Box; have the class suggest the meaning, and openly discuss what the author was teaching a reader.

“Education breeds confidence; confidence breeds hope; hope breeds peace.” Confucious (Kung Fu Tze)

In this current global situation, education and its ability to encourage tolerance is ever more required; how we teach “critical thinking” will effect the kind of communities, diverse, exploratory, and engaged, or private, contained and fearful of others, that we as educators help to grow.

Adjusting actions; writing well

 ” When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action    steps.” Confucious

   Now how does the above quote mix with students and their goals in a class?  Thinking of Einstein and Edison, and the idea of imagination plus persistence, and trying new ways to achieve the same result- that is tackling a question from as many new ways as possible.  Science and Math, require students to recognize this, what about Language arts?  Do we also offer the student the chance to adjust the action steps?

 

Yes when we clearly understand the actions being undertaken- all too often have I heard from a student that they had studied and studied and still not achieved the hoped for results.  Then there is the concept that marking or scoring written work is subjective- up to a point- yes, however more to the point, teachers are expected to clarify in advance through sharing a rubric, sharing examples, and sharing or modeling how stronger writing may be achieved.  First strategy is to understand the question; open ended questions are rarely as “open -ended” as they may at first seem.  Anyone who has coached students for Board Exams will recognize the need to point out qualifying terms that allow for an argument to be created.  We often suggest that students turn the question into a statement –  doable for part one.  Part two requires a quick T-Bar chart for the necessary brainstorming- even gut reactions may surprisingly not result in enough points to create an essay- that is why the T-Bar allows students to quickly recognize if their point of view may be supported with  “evidence” from either the texts, or classroom discussions, or personal experience.  On to Part three- writing – as much as possible without worrying about spelling or grammar or punctuation- uh huh- writing.  Students who become increasingly comfortable expressing their own points of view, become increasingly stronger at supporting these points- again through the texts, classroom discussions, and/or experience.   Writing starts to move away from a programmed 5 paragraph response into a personalized reaction to an issue- for there is always an issue being examined.  Whether the writing is asking an elementary student to share a “favorite summer experience” or a middle school student to comment on a recent sporting event, or an IB high school senior to develop a thesis dealing with ecology and inter global business ventures, there is a specific choice that students are making; comparing activities (camp was the best) discussing a highlight of a sporting event (description and personal experience), evaluating the choices and making predictions for future expansion of business in a caring world; the process is similar:  students are being asked to take a stand and commit to a point of view for the duration of the essay.  Even Comparative writing requires this focus. 

 

Parents and educators worry about how to increase a student’s reading and writing skills.  The writing skills reflect two major things: vocabulary and ability to effectively use the vocabulary to create both an argument and an image.  Grab a paper and discuss an issue, express a point of view.  Grab a magazine and do the same thing.  Follow your child’s lead as to interests- if sports, review the sports section of a major paper; the article doesn’t even have to be “today’s” – if fashion, look at the fashion magazines and comment on a story together.  Almost anything that is read, will help grow a student’s vocabulary- and if you hear your child chuckling at a graphic novel- read it too.  The informal discussions help a student to express his/her ideas, to move beyond “I just liked it” to get to the steps above- to be able to think a bit more about what was appealing.  But please don’t turn it into an exercise that frustrates- sharing ideas in a safe way allows for ideas to be expressed.  Grammar and punctuation can be practiced and edited for.  Ideas, they are the surprise element in any essay; sometimes the best way to encourage a child  is simply to allow the student to explore, to discard, and to- yes it is a popular thing again- play!

What might really help?

I remember when the concept of distance education was being discussed in graduate school only from the potential to aid students in rural areas or students who might not otherwise have had access to teachers.  Many an hour was spent debating the merits of this “future form of teaching and learning” and this was only a little over a decade ago.  Today we take for granted the relative simplicity and beauty of communicating over distances thanks to personal technology. But with this growth in on-line learning has developed a new breed of student- the student who will buy a credit without doing the work. Of course, not all students who sign up for distance education plan on cheating, in fact, I think many do not even realize that this is what they are doing in asking a tutor to “just sit beside me and answer the questions when I take the test”.  Or am I still being willfully naive?

     A recent rash of requests to do just that – to either write the paper for a student, or to take the test for a student has made me wonder.  Though not yet an epidemic, is this the future of education?  And I know that there are “tutors” willing to do the full work for the student which says something else about the education system- too many underemployed.   

  Yes competition can be fierce. Today’s student is growing up tech savvy and a student’s discovering ways around a system is not something new.  What to me is new is that adults are often behind the student and encouraging the practice.  When we as tutors share knowledge in such a way that students, regardless of age or background, can feel empowered and able to use the skills and move beyond the basics to create their own set of “personal, practical knowledge”  then as tutors we will have achieved a basic goal of education: to encourage curiosity in others, to facilitate growth.  “Character education”, “problem solving skills” “lessons in empathy”, are the new buzz words and hardly a curriculum can be found that isn’t touting these phrases.  What might really help? Reading skills everyone, comprehension practice, readings from the literature of other countries/ other cultures/ other time periods.  Learning by doing happens when the words on the page have an effect on the reader and affect change.  Change is good – it is a part of growing.  I challenge you to find a classic, modern or traditional, or one of today’s “best sellers”, that doesn’t, in one way or another, through the story, further the development of all three.  Active reading is a wonderful key.

A “disciplined” mind…(connotations and denotations)..

Reading and rereading

I am going to borrow from Howard Gardner’s The Disciplined Mind (1999) and share the following ” An individual understands a concept, skills, theory. or domain of knowledge to the extent that he or she can apply it appropriately in a new situation” …” This formulation entails an acid test for understanding: posing to students a topic or theme or demonstration that they have never before encountered and determining what sense they can make of these phenomena” (pg 119) The goal simplified- genuine understanding

Many many students pass a TOEFL or equivalent exam without being able to communicate directly, or comfortably leave a message on a voice mail, or understand the lecture or text they are expected to follow. If we believe we are sharing not just the grammar and structure of the language but a new way of thinking about the world that has been formed through the use of language,and is applied within the context of the culture, then it becomes necessary to encourage experiential learning, The idea of real communication changes the relationship between the teacher and the students and insists on a collaborative approach. It is in the balance of encouraging fluency while listening for accuracy, and providing opportunity for the learners to practice ” open ended discussion activities” that the teacher is not only needed, but also where the teacher will need to be most aware and most prepared.