Category Archives: arts in education/writing skills

Giving Voice

In Education we were taught that if we were to be in a helping field, then master teachers like Paolo Freire could be read to exemplify the caring component.  And in practice, over the many years when lucky to engage with so many different school programs, so many different communities and cultures, one begins to combine the theories of Anthropology, and the theories of Education, to uncover how they offer a symbiotic relationship for practice. And in entering any new space, classroom, work space, volunteer organization, keeping that mantra front and centre allows one to absorb the culture, and when lucky to fully participate in it. Then one may also offer opinions, for such opinions will be based on the community and not merely from an outsider’s point of view. And that is how communities of care change, when new voices are shared without fear, and when room is made to accommodate one more.

Personally, my mantra has borrowed from the Hippocratic oath simplified in “First – DO NO HARM!” And combine Head and Heart with every action – bring to the room the thinking /feeling individual one is, and look for these two characteristics in others.

The End Result: a space where all involved have a voice- their own.

 

 

 

Encouraging Student Voice

We often do “would you rather…” with children, and young adults as a quick and generally pleasant way to generate free flowing discussion and an alternative to brainstorming in the formal sense.  A simple way to start the in class process would be to pose a question, open ended, and to have the students respond directly- no need for a “hands up” but to simply begin calling responses and engaging in the questioning with one another as well as with the teacher- warning, the room is bound to become noisy. 

 

For example, would you rather recall a positive or a negative memory? The Why and they Why Not become intertwined in the student’s responses.  If there is a Writing area in the classroom it is a good idea to begin posting the examples free style; that is do not organize the responses- if suggesting what a mind map may look like then let the ideas pop up on the black board or electronic white board as the come; the results will be an area filled with ideas.  And Students thoughts will digress.  As they begin to argue their points of view, they will also be supplying a supporting point, and considering the “story” within their point of view.  Perhaps most importantly they will have a direct understanding of what is meant when a teacher states “there is no right or wrong answer to this question,” for it is an opinion piece and students MUST be encouraged to validate their own opinions.  

 

Surprisingly with all the current talk in Education about teaching diversity and teaching empathy and teaching creativity, there seems to have become a sense of each of the above as being distinct fields of thought. Perhaps because this allows for someone to become a specialist in a field; it makes for jobs? When the natural outpouring of ideas amongst students tends to flow towards ideas of social justice, towards why anything might be wrong or right, towards how their current experiences do give them an understanding of the greater social order, even when it hasn’t always given them a voice or an outlet through which to express their thoughts, or a means of putting together thought and action.  We could all recall the famous quote from artist Picasso on how everyone is born an artist but some – well to paraphrase – some have all those unique and curious thoughts and unique and curious actions – squashed by others who see very restrictive and prescriptive educational concepts as being the only way to teach! When Educators have guidelines in a curriculum along with a modicum of Freedom in how to apply these guidelines, the results tend to amaze.  Kids own their memories, and their passions.  And are not born with prejudice or indifference or even a lack of ability to care- yes each statement must have its qualifying accompanying comment that indeed there are exceptions to every “rule,” however; when we recognize that regardless of what neighbourhood we teach in, the wealthiest or the poorest, the students are learning about the world in more ways than the time in the classroom can provide, and we as Educators do a disservice if we don’t allow the students to honour their own experiences, and to learn how to express these experiences in a manner that later can be empowering.  As long as the spoken and written word continues to offer the student a powerful means of expression, and if the student wishes to add any of the other artistic endeavours to the process so much the better – for what began as an open ended discussion can spill over into a full scale problem solving individual or group project; and the best type of advice from the Educator at this point becomes only the truly formal suggestions of how it either has been done or could be done- letting the students run with ideas is safer than running with other objects!

Participating

Things for Teachers to Remember:

Children and young adults are a “little bit of everything.”  Too often as we approach the final portion of an academic year, we are busy thinking tests, reviews, scores, and how to get it all done in time. We also have to evaluate the pupils, and suggest not merely for those upcoming reports but also for the files, the notes we make on the students and that allow us to intelligently discuss what worked, who worked, and how they worked throughout the academic year.

And I remember how with the youngest who were still at the picture book stage, we often used metaphor to get the point across that they as children were “allowed” to have all the emotions, to be all the fish in the pond, not merely a static “happy fish” or happy smiling face. Then as children complete middle school literally for many “trying on roles” and enter High School as the young adults we encounter, they are beginning to solidify an image- if not quite their true image. As Educators we have to keep encouraging them to continue to not restrict themselves into one specific personality trait or one specific mode of practice- for this I turn to the already famous to share how so many had more than one profession, more than one talent, more than one fixed and celluloid image.  And for those who have gone on to become rock stars, or sports heroes or even Nobel Scientists there is also their other characteristics as well: Einstein famously playing music, rock stars who become spokes people for environmental issues, Environmentalists painting or capturing their beloved outdoors in photographs or on film, and for the students skeptical if they can break their “molds” and the expectations of their peers we happily have a host of relatively recent young adult movies where the actors actually do try on other roles to the chagrin of peers and with at times extreme growing pains- these may be shared to generate free style brain storming and writing exercises.

And we as Educators ought to recall for ourselves those “hobbies” which once brought pleasure and remember to share our efforts with our students so as not to be one dimensional to them, either. When we care about students from a holistic perspective we share a little part of our personalities, too.  We might not be “the biggest fish in the pond” but we can keep swimming and demonstrating that each of us is a valuable part of the whole, for when we do so we validate our students’ efforts and make real the notion that yes it is good to try new challenges, to encourage ourselves as well as one another, and to perhaps even uncover hidden talents and new dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using the “Why Not”Principle

Students have consistently asked me how to form a simple construct for assessing a method of experimentation be the experiment about academic work, or events that take place beyond the classroom.  While no one has any exact or foolproof “method” for assessing if any action is truly “safe,” the “why not” principle offers a legitimate way to self reflect before taking action– note: in emergency actions, this principle also will mean trusting one’s gut, as the more one indulges in self reflection, the stronger the “gut reaction” will be to help one recognize adverse situation when they materialize.

This method was both taught and demonstrated to me way back in my own childhood- it meant simply asking oneself, “why not” then pausing to write down or mentally list the reasons that something might be a “bad idea.”  And if one came up with more than two listings in the negative column- then don’t do it- especially if it might potentially hurt others.  Today this might even qualify as my “life lessons on empathy” since we are reworking so much that many an “old school” educator used to consider “compulsory knowledge,” the type that was expressed beginning in pre-school and reiterated throughout one’s academic career.

The “why not” principle also is often faster than listing all the “whys.” Plus students have shared that it is less ambiguous- less likely to be contorted by selfish pursuits. Give it a try- “why not?”

 

 

 

Through the Wardrobe

With Thanks

Funny how we interpret things; in a music video Bowie is shown stepping into a large wardrobe, and for many I already read they view it as his coffin- I saw it as the Wardrobe in the CS Lewis story, with all the magic awaiting on the other side- he is of British origin and for so many that story is a beloved one, and one that also has religious overtones. When I read the CS Lewis books as a child, I hadn’t felt any religious overtones, because to me it was a fantasy tale, and I accepted it as such. But that is the magic in the writer; the ability to allow for the story to become real even with the fantastic set of characters, and to also be giving us a set of morals and metaphors and guidelines for growing. When one reads about the children removed from London and other dangerous areas during war time, and recognizes that the kids in the real London of the real world also were sent away we uncover a depth about “war time” different from simply reading statistics. We can begin then to imagine Lucy burrowing into the warmth of an old fur coat, wrapping herself in its texture, and wishing she could be, together with the other children, a bigger player in the troubles affecting the real world; and so the fantasy begins. And it is not only in story that children do save the day; this happens each and every day for each and every adult blessed with a second generation around. Yes on the literal sense of children inheriting the world, but more deeply than that, for their very presence becomes a reminder of life itself.

I choose to hope that such a great artist was thinking of the future, his future, as holding a special parallel universe in which the child in him would be able to continue to create, to participate and to learn, sharing through love to help bring a positive force of peace.

and we still have the music…

to listen and find out more about David Bowie you may follow the official twitter accounts…

 

For 2016: Schooling and Positively Purposeful

One activity a day please –that is to FOCUS on;

YOGA

Yes

Open

Gesture stretch move repose

Actions to allow learning to settle

As an actual person from the 70s (1970s) I do recall the wave of books and fringe groups discussing TMR and meditation along with green tea and incense burning- but I was more into other things. Today in looking at Curriculum and asking why and where school wide learning balances The Arts and Phys Ed with core Academic subjects, and questions about exam preparation, student worries ( anxiety is too much a buzzword to truly apply to all students ) and what simple additions could have lasting effect on a schools atmosphere, two things continuously surface. Basic nutrition for all, and peaceful meditative practice.

 

Settle isn’t a bad word, in fact it is a word with multiple meanings- we despairingly suggest one shouldn’t settle for something that doesn’t automatically appear to be the perfect fit, yet we applaud those people who appear to be “settled” as in having found some stability from which to grow. And now that winter storms may soon engulf a city in snow, little is more pleasant than to look outside and see a streetscape where after the wind and blowing pellets, the snow has actually settled. Consider then how we discuss the feeling of ideas swirling around and refer to this as a “brainstorm.” And how one field of thought exhorts: create mind maps, another, put it in a list, and ever others, just begin and let the writing flow. But still there will be the students who can’t begin, some who can’t sit still, others who appear glued to their seats but whose pencils rarely make a mark on a page, and between these extremes are the students who simply need to understand what the term calm actually means. Enter “YOGA.”

 

In 2016 YOGA is not “fringe” but decidedly mainstream. And the beauty of it is that it is portable; certainly trained professional teachers will manage classes and here a person may learn exact techniques and increase, level by level, until able to move the body into near magical poses; however back to basics when it comes to a school wide system, and the goal of simply encouraging students to “be.” And doesn’t each of us benefit from having the ability to allow for inner calm even when under stressful situations? So let’s start with the youngest students and increase the practice throughout the grades and remove any discomfort in allowing students to “zone out” for a brief period – active daydreaming if you will, instead of just pushing the call for “makers,” let’s recall that thinking requires quiet time, too.

 

And as we as Educators continue to push for “Healthy Schools” let’s nourish the body too! If full time lunch programs are not doable in a district could healthful snack breaks fit into the budget? Having participated where schools offered something as simple as a ½ orange or ½ banana to students twice a day and recognized that the break also allowed for light conversation, then valued the renewed vigor when students tackled coursework, can vouch that sometimes even the simplest of gestures have lasting benefits. Makers and doers, thinkers and tinkerers, schools owe it to their staff and students to create and encourage learning awareness; one of the better ways is to help increase school wide non-analytical action. The reflections can occur during the relaxed periods; instead of being imposed upon students may begin to find reflection a natural occurrence. And then, when asked to consider various options, recognize that in addition to brainstorming, allowing ideas to settle is worthwhile too.

Doable; writing to express

When we teach writing skills and encourage students to blog, we also need to encourage them to try different writing styles and at times not only read but also write simply for the “fun of it.”

And as is often mentioned teachers are encouraged to model writing “off the cuff”-

This one is titled:  DOABLE

Modern multitasking: put vegetables in the oven on slow roast –suggestions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, eggplant …turn to 375 degrees as slow roasting brings out best flavour; apply hair colour; clean bathroom while waiting for hair colour to settle= food roasting will not only provide later nourishment but lovely smells; clean washroom = spa like feel when showering to remove hair colouring and refresh, and if have in suite laundry- well, then, do that too! Total time two hours from start to finish- now enjoy the roasted vegetables and walk out the door knowing home is clean and fresh upon return.

Note: buy fresh vegetables in advance and if laundry not in- suite, then while doing laundry after shower, clear emails, post correspondence, and plan week-blogging,  banking, bills, and invoicing time too!

Super woman; could even get in a pedicure and yoga meditation while waiting for nails to dry…Multitasking works!

Extra bonus points: find the literary devices inserted

Differentiated Instruction

A request came to elaborate on my last blog post, and clarify how a similar lesson was offered in different fashion to different students.  The Topic was the “Chinese New Year”  and I had mentioned in the last blog post how a couple of  students questioned the widely used title for the holiday- feeling the title had ignored their place of birth and own celebrations.

Together we discussed how families celebrate holidays, and looked at the skeleton of a human body.  The lesson moved on to talk about how skeletons may appear basically similar but the skin and outer garments of a person suggest both our similarities and our differences.  Then, we created an outline for the holiday itself- the Lunar Calendar, and using a combination of graphic charts, Venn diagrams, and reference material, on and off line, were able to highlight how and where the material – reference material- differed from the student’s personal practical knowledge.  His way of celebrating within his family- the specific traditions- became the focus of a written piece, the general traditions which appeared in common to the people of China and the other South Asian communities which we had looked up became affixed to a poster, and diagrams were extended to highlight how and where traditions may have changed, with reference to a timeline.

A simple question formed the basis of a full project, leading to a number of sessions while one aspect of inquiry encouraged deeper research and the review of geography plus history texts.  Given that literacy involves more than the deciphering of words on a page, the project enhanced literacy and began to involve math as well.  Statistics present in population charts, and cultural change over time brought us back to the present day, and the ways in which a topic may be extended.   Another student not of South Asian background had grown curious and was given the task of sharing one of his family customs- provided similar effort at understanding background and connecting the personal to the global would be shared.

The students were of different ages and at different grade levels- the expectation then was for the project work to demonstrate their different understanding of “how much is enough” – by not setting a page limit or restricting the amount they could share, the students “created”  work to share and were influenced by peer comments- questions and responses which I encouraged them to write down.  This was not a full class project – other students were working on other activities.  And it is only one example of how educators must become more open to what students may be asking, and when their students are craving some outside- of- routine work.

Much as I have put aside the assigned test prep packages and instead suggested articles in the Economist and other magazines to higher level students prepping for standardized  tests, and saw the test scores of said students jump – it was a pleasure to see the interest in the younger  students mentioned above, and to note that  when the standardized tests were offered, these students scored high as well.

Students had been encouraged to look for patterns, and to develop a personal set of inquiry based responses to their readings.  They were also encouraged to aim for accuracy over speed.

My personal pet wish: that the learning which goes into programming for students deemed “special ed”, be they remedial or gifted, would be training encouraged and expected for all new incoming teachers, so that differentiated instruction could become a part of programming across the board, and in large sized classes the movement among groups of students become more fluid.  Students themselves quickly absorb attempts to stream, and note which tables they are seated at, which work they are given, and which level they are expected to participate at.  Mind set and flow-two ideas that are meant to work together.

Best practice may entail “best fit”

NEWS FLASH!  This just in:  “one size doesn’t fit all in education!”  and science is here to prove this!  Imagine that!

Yes I am being a little off the cuff and facetious when in fact am grateful that neuroscience has made advances to remind all of us that the brain can be plastic; however, the idea that many would benefit from direct individualized instruction is hardly a novel concept.

So, to extend the metaphor for a moment:

Shoes- those wonderful objects that today come in all shapes and types and sizes to protect our feet, offer comfort, and in general aid us in walking, climbing, marching or dancing through our day- well we have a metaphor for these very objects- a parable in fact- suggesting that one should “walk a mile in another’s shoes” before issuing any type of judgement.  But- how many people attempt this?  In short we rarely expect to be able to interchange shoes as readily as we might other outer garments- t-shirts and sweaters for example.  We know our feet make a particular impression, molding the footwear to our shape/walking in another’s shoes remains an ideal as does finding the “perfect” general curriculum; and, students of all ages from Kindergarten through Post Secondary continue to try on various courses, various possible roles, as they navigate a school system that while declaring a goal of personalized growth and development must, by its very nature as an institution- the system of schooling itself must restrict that very necessary trying on because the system has to offer a general set of practical courses.  If students are to make headway, they are sometimes squeezed into a pair that is a little too tight, or given last year’s style and expected to “make do” or suddenly told that what ever they had been wearing -oops- learning now needed to be unlearned to accommodate new directives; and, thankfully, most students do have the brain power to accept these restrictions and to, even while they continue to expand their personal collection of what might fit, continue to challenge themselves through trying on various shapes and styles.

And then there are those who might require a special shoe maker.  Shoes tailored for a particular need, a specific learning requirement.  Just as a custom order takes both time and proper skills to design, develop and produce; individualized instruction requires more than simply stating it will be one-one.  Smaller class sizes do not automatically entail better instruction- the instructor entails better instruction.

This blog entry was sparked by reading a “new” article on better ways to develop “successful, confident readers” and I was startled to discover that once again “Science” was being called upon to support the obvious and that these – as stated above- genuinely remarkable insights into how the brain works were now being touted as buzz words.

Communication is multi- faceted: personal, impersonal, direct, oblique, concrete, abstract, oral, written, spoken and read.  When teaching reading and writing skills it is necessary not merely expected that all these variants on how we share feelings and ideas, recognizing as well that tone and attitude, rhythm and rhyme, picture and graph, movement and stasis be highlighted.  Then the skills, slowly or quickly as the learner requires, need to be established through practice.  All of the above require time.  Education: personalized.

this blog post appears first here on Together Academics where private specialized instruction is created and tailored to the needs of the learner -it may be referenced by special request

Brainstorming 101 :)

“whoosh” I hear a sound- a lovely children’s book first reader*, not the sound of your brain exploding at the thought of writing an essay- though we do say “brainstorm” for a reason.

The more ideas you put down on the paper (or type into the computer) the better chance you have to clearly focus an essay.  And focus is key to composing a clear thesis.

Whether you prefer a Tbar or a mind map or a series of doodles, please remember we can’t comment on a blank page, and as students, one learns from the teacher’s comments.  So please do get something onto the paper– and then begin: 1) do I need to research this? 2) is it in keeping with the class assignment? 3) can I find enough information from in-class readings to support my points? 4) why am I interested in this topic? and 5) write as much as possible for a few minutes without researching to determine if you do have points to make- these free style paragraphs later offer insight into where you thought you were headed with the essay and help you when you need to respond to exam questions or formal tests- writing is an action and in the doing, fear about “making a mistake” can be alleviated – simply seeing the words on the page may help one to begin the process of eliminating extraneous material and zeroing in on that important focus which will establish the essay topic.

So… please let the sounds appear in print; clear the brain by depositing the words onto a page, and recognize that revisions, organizational structure (read- outline) and basic housekeeping (grammar, punctuation, citing sources etc.) are Step 3- they come later- more about Step 2 in tomorrow’s entry.  

*http://www.annickpress.com/Woosh-I-Hear-a-Sound-Annikin-Edition

an all time favorite if you have a little one