Category Archives: arts in education/writing skills

A Blog posting…

A Rant about “Labels”

“Fresh before” does help us grocery shop- we can buy with ease products that we believe will stay fresh on our shelves or in our cupboards until consumed.  And when we understand about such labels that products may still be both tasty and healthful even after the stamped date- we can buy the products often on discount and not only save money on the goods, but also contribute to the environment via causing less waste and with the current public awareness of “less than perfect” produce being equally tasty and good, awareness is changing the way we shop for food-

Labels, and awareness of how they may be positive and negative at the same time is essential for all connected to Education. For every sign that used to be posted on a clasroom and which read “Failure is not an option” the counter (or opposite) sign in a Science lab might show Edison and his maxim about trying to find the right formula at least a thousand times.  What then is the “ideal sign” for a classroom wall?  WELCOME! and in here there will be no labels.  

For children learn quickly what is considered their own ability and their own strength in relation to the others in the classroom.  Affixing additional labels may help administration in using computers to slot the children into various groups- it doesn’t however help the students themselves.  Most labels in Education have to do with funding- how a school, or a district, or class, or individual students may receive “extra,”- and when the entire school district receives funding, the neighbourhood benefits- however, when a student is mislabeled the student may be removed from one group of peers and placed instead within a community of “misfits” to then on struggle to not only make sense of “Schooling” which becomes a place where little learning is happening, but to, if actually graduating – to graduate with the label of “problem, trouble, slow, applied, special needs, remedial,” and then either reject what schooling offered, or challenge this same system anyhow by going for a future that those labels couldn’t have predicted! In particular the concept of “Special needs” ranges from highly gifted and talented to students with multiple exceptionalities- who may also be gifted-and students who are mis identified as hyper or attention deficit when their inquiry or their attitude or their foundational knowledge base or their background makes the particular class and teacher student interaction one of challenge versus “empty vessel to be filled.”

In so many ways though, that concept of children as “empty vessels” must be overturned in favour of children as learners- period.  And children must challenge, everything and nearly everyone in order to grow- new ideas will not come unless children and adults are both thinking, and both actively willing to be “imperfect,”  to make, create or build something that might not in the completed project match the original vision, but then to question how to improve upon the construction.  Classrooms where inquiry is respected have students who challenge themselves, and who bring extra information to the benefit of the group- like in the workforce where cultures aimed towards growth will find employees participating beyond clocked hours in contemplating how and where to focus energy on improving, and no one is saying or groaning “homework” because the problem solving is the challenge and the actions to be taken provide a stimulation for brain and body- healthy challenges that permit contradictions and design thinking.

We speak of “design” as if it were a simple process, when in fact design is a holistic attitude towards the combination of use (function) and form.  And then in schools we over crowd, underpay, and underfund the neediest of school districts, whose students may even later be sent as “overflow” to higher income neigbourhood schools and once again relabelled; how to “use” as in place these extra students? with the goal often of continuing to claim “setting standards” which may translate to keeping the formal test results up and proving on paper that learning took place.  Integration?  Diversity? Ministry tests as goals or as cumbersome to the whole concept of education?

Labels matter- we all are aware of this – and even the popular “you matter” becomes another slogan when much needed time per pupil, per person, per individual is shortened to mandated minutes, and a stopwatch always clicking off minutes prevents the actual interactions – creating encounters instead of communication.  Young, youngish, older, and seasoned Educators can agree that statistics do not capture commmunity, that labels, even the so called positive ones, may mask the personality of the person and that as human beings, each of us recognizes almost instinctively when in fact we do matter- and when we simply do not or have not “fit in.”

The produce table is now selling “less than perfect” vegetables; and in many elementary schools the notion of wearing “less than perfect” hats continues to catch on- almost like a movement spread from teacher to teacher, and community to community, this new ideal of accepting “not perfect” doesn’t mean “discard” but instead encourages taking a chance- try the produce – try the exercise- try and try again.

For 2017- do “try” until the right combination of people and place and actions allow for the almost unexpected exclamation “perfect!” till we begin- again.  Best wishes…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Teachers, Everywhere

April might be the official Poetry month, but this poem written by Naomi Shihab Nye seems “just right” for back to work/back to school after any type of holiday: 

Famous

 

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.


Teaching tends to feel like this – from one Educator to another..best wishes for 2017! …to learning, and not forgetting this is what we do…  #teaching

 

Something that is very necessary

Winter, Summer, Spring or Fall- New Year’s Day and Everyday-

LET LOVE GROW: TREAT YOURSELF AND ALL AROUND YOU TO A LITTLE KINDNESS AND CARING – Beginning NOW….

consider…

 

dmd-1

dmd-2

Definition of normal

  1. 1: perpendicularespecially :  perpendicular to a tangent at a point of tangency
  2. 2 a:  according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle b :  conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern
  3. 3: occurring “naturally”          (Webster’s Dictionary)

Whatever you are celebrating and however you celebrate, Wishing  YOU pleasant experiences and a “positive” Holiday!  

( and if like me, you believe the Arts may teach us something, enjoy this movie too!)  

“Art” and giving Thanks

Smiling when I think of certain art pieces and children’s reactions when they first encounter the “Art” ; with the approaching American Thanksgiving weekend my thoughts have been on a space across the Ocean- Barcelona Spain where Museums feature two children’s favorites – Picasso and Miro!

Critics may enjoy declaring “a child could do that,”- and then ought to remember Picasso was known for suggesting that everyone needs to hold onto that early child each of us grows up from, and to honour the excitement that provides entertainment when we as adults encounter something new.  But it is Miro and the work of Miro which personally holds strong appeal: bright colours, fun shapes, stories within stories…

This weekend as many families either shop or watch a Football game, and wonder if they are allowing the children too much screen time, head on over to a museum with that very computer on line or simply google the artist and have the children self select which picture amuses; then look up the image and try to draw or colour a picture in similar fashion.  Many of the artists also look at “Nature” from a personal perspective, and with the weather on the cusp of a new season,  a brisk neighborhood walk after the Thanksgiving meal can find “treasures” – leaves and whatever else depending on which part of the States one is located in.  Paper, children’s glue, tape, crayons, even the boxes that may have accumulated from the extra groceries purchased in preparation of a gathering all may become “art supplies” and when children see Art that has moved beyond representation, to encompass the imaginary, (Miro admired Calder- with parent’s help a clothes hangar is suddenly transformed into a hanging mobile..) the spirit of play and creativity may emerge.  And just think- as parents you will be encouraging a life long love of this “maker concept” that you may be hearing about from teachers… it begins with first taking a Look. Artists do see our world differently, able to question and suggest where some areas could be improved ( consider the cast of “Hamilton” (the Broadway play)  and their fervent appeal to future leaders to respect Humanity and to honour the Freedoms those very Founders depicted in the play were fighting for.

images which continue to make me smile: 

  1. my children
  2. their art work
  3. places and experiences we have together…

and often the “unexpected!”  

Happy Thanksgiving! When people come together to simply celebrate “being together.”  A unique non-denominational day that allows each of us to take stock and consider the extraordinary; that a country could be filled with so many with different roots, and that over-all the simple celebration of harvest time could grow to be the event which for a brief weekend may remind everyone that there is a common ground.  

P.S. remember to have the children sign and date their creations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dressing Up, Acting Out, Enjoying being a Student!

 

Junior High and the first foray into – wait for it- Makeup!

and in schools today there are still students who exit their homes, faces scrubbed, to make it to the school washrooms fifteen minutes early- in time to apply the newest in eye shadows or lipsticks etc. to apply a slightly different persona for the duration of the school day- a little flirty maybe, a little tough?

Not only the girls – many a young man adjusts his cap, the walk, the talk, the total “attitude” to either appear cool or to be what he considers necessary to “fit in” and there is the unspoken recognition that some of it is also to be different from the adult expectations of the day. And Schools furiously dictate notes and send home written mandates for what is expected dress, and style, as if this surface view ever truly reflected the students posturing, or the student’s understanding of where they fit into the hierarchy of a campus, the code of “behaviour” that operates beyond principal, teacher or family and is centered in “teenager” – the wonderful growing space between twelve and twenty!

Shouldn’t we be celebrating these changes instead of being afraid of them? Fashion after all is a clear example of not only how ephemeral “the right outfit” may be, but of politics, the arts, technology, power structures, group versus individual behavior, male versus female dominance, cliques, teams, belonging and experimenting. And while our children may not actually wish for our votes of approval regarding their specific ways to not necessarily rebel but indeed to grow, we needn’t be the ones constantly worrying about societal approval when instead the people truly deserving if unable to ask for our approval are our kids! And kids do find it hard to ask for that so very basic statement of “I trust you!” that some parents forget is central to allowing children to take chances- for that trust doesn’t and mustn’t mean that if a child wishes to share his/her being upset regarding anything, that guilt (the result of disappointing trust) be laid on top of anyone – or any other type of discomfort.

Guilt is not a cleansing nor a helpful emotion- and the discretions kids make rarely deserve such a depth of negative control; instead children require the openness to discuss what did or not appeal- what did or did not in their opinion “work.” And to be given the time to communicate without pressure to conform. 

We worry- that is part of our role as adults, but we mustn’t worry so much that we forget to indulge and enjoy the wonderful uniqueness that our own children display- thankfully not clones– young, growing, learning, and displaying their own personalities enroute to being what society will later label, “adults.”   In the interim, let’s note their individuality with respect, let’s smile at what they find amusing, let’s recognize who they feel are hurtful, and do what we can to understand how they must, to grow, experiment on their own- not living vicariously through an older generation but making their own mark and establishing and dismissing their own set of goals and dreams while they gradually and sometimes fearlessly break away from the staid and the safe to attempt to understand what skills they possess, how these skills can be further developed, and whom they might inquire of for opportunity to learn more.

Principals, teachers, administrative staff and parents will continue to appear to be communicating about the kids in the exchange of letters home or phone calls or in person “meet the teacher,” nights, but the reality is after and for a number of years all of the above will be talking about and around the children, while the children make plans themselves to challenge one another, to encourage one another, and to spread the very basic attitude of “growing up” by either supporting one another or in the worst of situations, ostracizing one another.  The best we as the recognized adults may do is be there, to listen without preaching, and to love without scolding.  We owe this to each new generation. They depend on us for it.

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For an interesting overview of clothing and the concept of vulgarity- tops too short, hair too spiked, pants worn too low, anything “different,” an excerpt on the “idea of vulgarity” (remember people make these rules up and they change constantly over time!) –  is shared in the recent Harpers Bazaar magazine Sept. 2016 – Vulgarity-The Basic Instinct-As Joan Juliet Buck writes- “in your face is never out of style!”

School uniforms may be the rule- but kids- they just wanna be cool! Remember the old mantra- “Don’t sweat the small stuff” – and focus on encouraging instead of confining. Ms Buck also mentioned “Decibels” and tiny children enjoying a “shrill shriek” – enter a Junior or senior High School and listen for a brief moment! “piercing shrieks for the sheer fun of rendering the air” and laughter, and …yup- Learning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clear Example of STEAM in Action

Rio Olympics 2016! Absolutely lovely-

How can anyone still be questioning the value of either the Arts in Education or Sports on the curriculum?

Technology brought us the action and thanks to Time Zones and solid internet connections we were able to enjoy the blend of cultures and courage that strutting one’s talent in front of millions demands- and in “real time” watching as spectators from home while the action in Rio splashed or danced or cycled or ran or jumped…across our screens.

So Science and Technology and Engineering developed and improved the internet allowing the Olympic events to reach Global audiences – unlike those earlier Olympics which took place even before radio announcers- Imagine! when only those in the stadiums really were able to participate as spectators – the rest of the world believing that such events were for the economically wealthy who could afford to be there in person – today we rejoice alongside those in attendance or empathise when an athlete sheds a tear…

But the ARTS improved on the entire set of performances- from the opening ceremonies which greeted athletes and spectators alike, through to the closing speeches and the recognition for Tokyo to carry the torch.  In between we watched, cheered, groaned, and admired the marvelous differences in HUMAN BEINGS- from the gymnasts to the wrestlers; seeing the marathon runners feet firmly on the ground and the pole vaulters defying gravity to surprise themselves at times with their own wins; and quietly cheering the people working behind the scenes – yes the coaches who actually appeared front and centre but also all the designers and artists who helped build the stages and platforms, e.g. the landscape for events like the final Olympic mountain biking- blending with natural structures and terrain but finished by landscape artists who enhanced a “natural” area; and Kudos to the designers and artists who used fashion sense and modern technolgy to create the costumes the athletes wore- combining the best of known materials with the cultural symbols expected at a multi country event;  -ARTS< SPORTS<TECHNOLOGY, Global reach- all exemplified in that amazingly constructed new space for holding the Olympic torch-

Four years of participatory planning and practicing and communicating and learning and growing- for everyone co-ordinating the events whether as particpant or volunteer would have experienced the sense of competition that goes into every milestone each of us accomplishes. Ultimately, like each of the athletes, we are competing with ourselves.  And from the youngest in preschool through post -secondary education, every formal or informal student of life knows this.  And as Humans we need that encouragement from one another to become the front runners, to have the ability to “pick ourselves up and try again” or even to keep believing in our abilites and desires to do more- to learn more- to achieve more…

As countries look at expenditure for the Sports, the Arts and for Technology – let’s look at EDUCATION- and recognize that there is a place for each type of learning and learner- for only through working together could any event produce such positive results- the Olympics celebrate the HUMAN SPIRIT; our schools should be celebrating this too!

 

 

 

 

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!

 

Picking a Cause

“I don’t know”

Is there a teacher at any grade who hasn’t heard that comment at one point or another? And not in relation to a specific question/answer such as a Mathematical equation, but in relation to the more general questions which we as Educators ask: What type of books do you enjoy reading? What topic have you selected to research? Did you include a personal reflection at the end of the unit? Will you be ready to present next week?

What do you think…? is behind the questions, and such a question in itself is scary for many to answer.  Lately I have been wondering why we make it so difficult for students to consider their own “meta-cognition” or personal responses and evaluations of their own understood if not spoken “gut reactions” to situations because as educators the entire “take back Education” movement is only partially resonating and if an Educator is unable to model expressing opinions beyond teaching to the test, and then sharing only a series of prescribed responses, the students are neither seeing nor hearing the multiple ways in which we as adults and as engaged members of society do wrestle with many ideas- the simple and the complex, from how to organize the environment (complex unless objects like desks and chairs are fixed, then each teacher may stamp a personality on the room) to what ought to occur when a bell goes (simple as this action has been practiced and is prescribed) and only if we begin to share more openly the doodles, notes in margins, rehearsed speeches and other actions each of us allows ourselves to express privately will that sense of their doing so become more than “come on class it is mind mapping time!”

Years ago I began teaching my youngest students to enjoy their wonderful smelling erasers and to use them for their best copies only- and to draw a line through any inaccurate word or number and to write the corrected response on the page that later in preparing for any test or quiz the students would see the areas where they had felt challenged and be able to see also the changes made. When I switched to higher grades I was stunned to discover how many students simply copied in the correct answers and didn’t take time to question why any changes might be suggested; Learning to Question WHY became a strong theme in middle school and often carried over to High School.  But still, High School students could stare, startled, at the question, ” Did you enjoy the…?” as if enjoying any aspect of school, or learning or even attending an out of school event hadn’t been organized with the hope that students would not only participate but also communicate why such events -curricular or extra-curricular were of value.  Yes, even as adults we really simply wish to be participatory and not always analyzing every detail however it is essential when we prepare programs, and these I have recently done also for fellow teachers, that we encourage those involved to suggest not only improvements but also what to keep.

And then it dawned on me how much more responsive individuals are when not worried about their placement within the “group,” and how much quicker to venture an opinion and to share insight.  Somewhere between grade five and grade nine- those middle school formative years, students move from not worrying about sticking out as individuals to almost cloning themselves within many a school environment! And with all the current discussions about the culture of a school- its atmosphere and its opportunity for students to extend themselves we must then make time for all students to get some quiet time for reflection, and time to communicate directly and the only way we as Educators make this possible is through open and expected mini conferences and whole school collaborative activities.

Tests abound; we continue to prepare students for them whether we label them “common core” or any other title, but none of these formal tests come anywhere near the types of constant decision making all of our young adults are faced with deciding upon, sometimes hourly! And for these real decisions, there is only trial and error- and kids recognize that aspect of participation, and we as adults owe it to all of them to respect each and every choice without condemnation and with the understanding that being an “Educator” is supposed to instill; “supposed to” – for each of us is “human” and as capable of going for the wrong door as any television contestant who publicly demonstrates the mistake making that can happen.  We must therefore recognize that the real value for some students when self challenging using a game like Minecraft is the safe aspect of where the trial and error will take them- only inside the game after all. But we must also recognize that school should not be the place that provokes negative; we need more than posters that speak out against bullying on the walls, we need active demonstrations of how students need to get along for the school itself to thrive and then we will be teaching the reflective stance when we encourage the students – all the students not only those who elected to be student representatives on council – to share in decision making- and to recognize when erasing a mistake is of value, and when placing the better solution on the table will actually provide results.