Category Archives: educator

– Olympic participants 2014; Values and lessons

Four years ago I wrote a post sharing my love for the Olympics and the values that many of the Olympic athletes show and share(https://mytutoringspace.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/why-i-love-the-olympics/). How lucky we are, as spectators, to not only be able to watch and cheer but also to be able to learn and teach these ideals to our students. What becomes clear, time and again, is how excellence, or at least the pursuit of excellence, removes barriers and can connect across politics, across nationalities, and unites people even while the notion of competition itself suggests separation and distance among players. How sad then to read some of the tweets and posts that denigrated the players who selected to recognize the limits of their own physical prowess and who bowed out of a competition; be it an American or a Russian,(or a competitor from any other county), who did so out of a desire to stay healthy and have the option of participating again.

What then do the players teach all of us? That true sportsmanship is demonstrated on and off the field, and how “real life” is even more heart warming than all the TV commercials (though these do pull at heart-strings). I wish all the arm-chair critics who comfortably tweeted nasty comments about players, would realize that behind the choices are individuals who, by making it to the Olympics, have already proven tops in their fields, and who deserve encouragement for demonstrating that sometimes, not participating is the correct choice. Canada’s great hockey player, Sidney Crosby, and his determination to take care of himself when it was necessary ( http://proicehockey.about.com/od/nhlnewsscoresstats/a/Sidney-Crosby-Concussion-History.htm )is an excellent example for all young children learning a sport and needing to recognize the importance of pushing oneself, yes, but within limits. Cheers to both Men’s and Women’s hockey teams; thanks for making such hard work look like fun ūüôā

Kudos to the female free-style skiers who honoured Sarah Burke, (http://lastwordonsports.com/2014/02/15/canada-honours-late-sarah-burke-on-flag-day/)- and demonstrated these 2014 games exemplify that individuals can and do make a difference and how individuals can change established systems.

For those of us who were kids in the 70s Sochi also represented huge Global changes. After the laughter at the toilets, and the army barrack style residences, let us recognize the enormous change that had to take place before Russia could even appear “welcoming” – – but that is also because of growing up in the 70s when all things “USSR” were simply “foreign”, and shows like “The Man from UNCLE” still popular in reruns on the TV. It was a “spy versus spy” world, not restricted to the last page of a MAD magazine; in 2014, the smiling Matrushka doll that highlights a portion of the downhill ski run is a lovely touch; and though some may see her a “folkloric”, to me, watching from home, she seemed to be pleasantly wishing all the runners well.

As a spectator, I continue to send a global “thank you” to each of the participants for giving the rest of us an opportunity to cheer. For a couple of weeks, we could believe, not only in the supposed superiority of a country based on medals won, but in the true magnificence of the ideal- competition through sport – peace through participation.

From the “so what” to the “now what!”:Turning points

The word just hung there:”ma’am?”; non confrontational, a simple inquiry yet the word startled.  And as someone who deals in words, teaching, explaining, cajoling, always, always, encouraging (learning entails growing -yes?) was surprised by own reaction: recoil! BAM a word that shouted “older now” so – time for a little perspective:

Kids are now young adults ūüôā

experience is a great teacher : I have a lot of experience

milestones are meant to be celebrated-

and laughing remains the best medicine, so…I laughed and realized the shop-clerk was right- “ma’am” it is, and no offense meant or taken. But how often over the course of a day do the little encounters add up, and help make or break our energy level. Labels do have meaning, and in the education system, labels are what students hear a lot.

“Is this a test?” ( translation: does it count? will we be judged?)

“special” – loaded as a term – helpful for administrators and parents to categorize and access resources/ hurtful is misused

“common core” in the States, “EQAO” in Canada, basic standards for determining levels of “right” reproduction of knowledge; ask a learner to submit a reflection piece = asking a learner to demonstrate his/her ability to problem solve, today’s “authentic knowledge”- to connect his/her own experience with whatever was/is the topic at hand. And this means exposing feelings, something schools do not appear to have been great about encouraging.

When I review the arguments for or against the Humanities, dearth of job prospects (versus what may exist through studying the hard sciences- actually we all know the real need today is for skilled workers-period), countered by (the)need to develop caring, empathetic human beings as fully reflective and creative as can be I am reminded of how filled with connotative dissonance the arguments are. Just like “ma’am” had the power of suggesting an image I wasn’t sure I was ready for, the suggestions that “hard sciences” may be harder does a giant disservice to those practicing within the Humanities. Scientists needn’t be cold and unfeeling, liberal art majors needn’t be social butterflies, and years of teaching and learning has brought home the very real message that hard is linked to difficult for most people- when in fact what we find difficult may be one of two things- something we do not have a natural aptitude for and/or something that has not been clearly explained, step-by-step, to become if not adored, at least doable. Harvard Professor Howard Gardner* wrote a thought-provoking book on the importance of learning a discipline thoroughly and how it comes to follow that through learning one thing well, other things will need to be looked at and studied as well. No vacuums, but interactive communicative skills that allow for interdisciplinary meeting and sharing of both ideas and ideals.

To be of service when parents and older students ask for suggestions regarding post secondary school choices, my responses return to the questions of “so what” and “now what”; really- how would this decision affect you? how could this decision allow for growth/change and dare I use it? authentic learning. Marks versus goals, labels versus dreams. “everyone/no one is going there”- so what? is this a positive for the learner or a negative? Social aspects of a learning environment do affect outcomes – but- as one grows so may ones social needs change. “Now what” may involve the filling out of forms- or simply the making it through a waiting process- one thing I know for sure- the “Then what” is part of the dream making. What ever else we may be doing as educators – and with thanks to a great educator who is celebrated and honoured today, the third Monday in January, let us make sure we leave room for the dreams –

For full speech of Martin Luther King’s I have a dream: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

*http://www.amazon.com/The-Disciplined-Mind-Standardized-Education/dp/0140296247

Reading Help: great selections for all ages/links/sources…

Please don’t be “a snob” about your children’s reading choices- think of Captain Underpants (http://www.amazon.com/New-Captain-Underpants-Collection-Books/dp/0439417848) as a chance to have a child enjoy the humour a well written satire will produce, accept the comic novels and graphic stories such as “Dork Diaries” (http://www.dorkdiaries.com/home/ interactive website accompanies the series) and be pleased when you see a child reading independently and comfortably. Readers read*, almost anything and everything, and develop vocabulary, empathy, and thinking skills, while learning to appreciate different points of view; a classic today, such as Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (http://www.amazon.com/Wuthering-Heights-Dover-Thrift-Editions/dp/0486292568/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1385496533&sr=1-1&keywords=wuthering+heights) was apparently a “shocker” when first published (1847) and shipped in brown packaging – ūüôā

As promised, today’s feature will be links to other sites where annotated bibliographies allow for less random choosing of books as presents ( it IS Holiday season).  In addition to Amazon, which often offers readers a chance to peep inside with their on line http://www.amazon.ca/Anne-Green-Gables-L-Montgomery/dp/0486283666 click to look inside button – a very good activity to practice as an inside look will quickly show the reader the grammar and vocabulary of the book, and Oprah‘s website where detailed reviews are posted, the following also have proven helpful.   http://www.oprah.com/taglib/index.html?type=bookmark&tag_name=kidsreadinglist&display_name=Kids%20Reading%20List

Oprah’s list is extensive and clear/ separated by age groups: Please remember to try to find out what interests the young person you are selecting for.  For example, someone might be very into a series and even if having read a library copy may wish to have one for personal use. 

 

For younger readers, Indigo provides: http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/search/?keywords=younger%20readers , while also offering the following with adult readers in mind:
http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/heathers-picks/ Heather’s picks is an easy go-to source before heading to the store, although I do enjoy browsing a book store and holding a copy while weighing its merit as a gift; reading is a particular habit and not everyone enjoys the same material. In fact, books, like other art forms, vary in appeal…

Ok that’s the basics, then too there are local library lists, such as this one posted on the Toronto Public Library website: http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/books-video-music/books/booklists/teen-reads.jsp with their selection for teens-

I used to ask students to browse the sites and read the descriptions, then compile a list of twenty books they would choose. This allowed me to put together a package based on my budget and the choices on the list. For younger students, the reading of excerpts on line, together with an adult, can be a pleasant reading activity.

http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/yrp Lots of good, helpful information here, advice to parents, and a statement I agree with: “The importance of book choice is highlighted, which increases motivation to read”

The following is a book list geared to educators and organized by grade level (American). The list is extensive and comes with a disclaimer in the beginning pages, a reminder that such lists are a “work in progress” – a comment that always reminds me that so are we- as educators, constantly striving to improve…

Click to access part1b.pdf

*If you have a young student struggling with reading, do not hesitate to select text with visual appeal, and even move into readers geared to the English as a second language learner; the repetition of words and specific vocabulary choices in such readers will help increase fluency as well as offer an opportunity to read a complete passage. Please remember that there is a huge difference between someone “not liking to read” and someone having trouble reading. “Not liking to read” can be a personal choice made by many a bright, capable individual who simply prefers other activities as a means of relaxing, but who has the skills to read as needed- for academics and for other areas of life. “Not being able to read” could indicate other problems; http://www.interdys.org/ International Dyslexia Association which is American based; the Canadian Pediatric Society has devoted a full page to links with articles and advice for new parents and parents in general:
http://www.cps.ca/issues-questions/literacy

Reading for some will rank right up there with any activity – some love music, others dance, still others hockey, football, soccer etc. Don’t forget the motivation that reading about a “hero” could provide.

Thanks for reading …

Aside

Peeved.  A polite way of expressing annoyance. Working with children and adults I am privy to a lot of stories, and am stunned to realize that in spite of Toronto, Canada, being multi-ethnic and a hub for business professionals from … Continue reading

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Calling, vocation, purpose and play

Why bother? Becomes a big question for so many students at this time of year with graduations on one level – real as in complete with ceremonies – and private, the changes that each of us feels taking place as we publicly or quietly move ourselves forward. Spring and the Academic Year working together, there is a sense of renewal in the air.

Somewhere between the “I don’t wanna Grow up” (Toys R Us slogan) and the making of plans for the tomorrows, the sense of play or pure enjoyment without reason (too much analysis can spoil the fun) may be lost – we have all heard how important “play” is, yet it bears repeating. I keep a simple page from “Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman” by Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist (yes English teachers do read Science materials, and social studies, and history…but that’s another post on how reading, writing, and improved test taking are not isolated skills) where the physicist comments on his own break-throughs and discoveries, sharing how he had needed to return to “doing things for the fun of it” to experiment (in his case literally, with electron orbits) to reencounter that “flow” situation where time and energy meld and the simple actions of “doing” take on a creative force and become the purpose itself- pleasure through the learning and the discovery.

Some students seem to know early exactly which direction is meant for them- with others the changes and choices present too many options- or not enough- and the need to allow oneself the time to grow can seem overwhelming. How important then for us as adults to remember the discomfort that “growing pains” do create, and that there is a difference between the ideal and getting “there”.

Have your ever…?

It is such fun to present students with a topic often used as a journal writing entry and instead, open it up to discussion.¬† Have you ever…can become a form of “truth or dare” when students turn the question back to the teacher; whether parent or educator, “Have you Ever…?”¬† WILL generate story-telling.¬† You have been warned. ¬†And the lovely weather means, if you are able get the students¬†outside for this activity then do so.¬†¬†

What comes next? Exams, quizzes, final Independent Study Projects, Year End wrap ups, and for some – those make-up projects to balance a less than stellar performance earlier in the term.¬† Much has been written and spoken about the ways in which schooling allows some to “slack off” and miss deadlines – it would be more productive of educators to note how many students each term do require the option of earning course credit through the end of year submissions- portfolios often more accurately portray a student’s ability than a single mark on a test.¬† It always seems contradictory for educators to rail against any form of standardized testing yet not build in the option for students to compile work that might indeed allow for personal expression.¬† The classroom and the curriculum is one of the last bastions of independent yet collaborative work; join with the students, try a Have You Ever…?” ¬†in the staff room with fellow teachers, and surprise yourself – Listen, truly listen…and Enjoy!

 

Weekend wishes and summer dreams

Oh my goodness, the day has slipped away and I understand how a student can be surprised when deadlines loom and a project is not near done.¬† “Busywork”- that is what it is called; when one is truly hustling yet has little for others to take note of – despite the energy expended.¬†¬†

Must be seasonal.  Confession: I enjoy summer school and have for years, participating as a student, teaching as an adult.  Now that it is May, I have the same sense many experience during the last weeks of  August, an expectation of classes and a renewal of sorts. 

With the beautiful weather expected to hold over the weekend and all sorts of local events happening I wish everyone a super pleasant Mother’s Day –¬†if you are celebrating and,¬†if not- a great weekend regardless.

How to destroy a student’s interest in School:

Take one student

Make sure the student you choose has an active,engaged, outgoing, participatory character

Instead of making note of all the above, instead of praising the student for his/her positive contributions to the school latch onto to a minor indiscretion and then, blow that indiscretion sky high

It is easy- it is happening at a school near you..,

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“He Didn’t Knock”

The lines in the title for this post come from a 1995 movie Dangerous Minds. “He didn’t knock” repeats the character of LouAnne Johnson http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNLZjVmcHh8 – wondering at the amazing disconnect between the principal at the school, and the students the teacher had come to know and care for. As mentioned, the movie came out in 1995- I wish I could write that things have changed, that such a scene in varying degrees couldn’t possibly continue to be played out in real schools today.

I know of a school where many of the teachers actually do “teach from the heart” and so can see their students as individuals – looking beyond type to real character. Such teachers are not unique, however they are at times hobbled by a system that would neglect the child in favour of a “rule” – I have said it before and I will say it again- people make mistakes- and children are people. And each child’s transgression ought to be viewed independently and in light of the whole environment in which an action took place. When I hear or see an administrator who is so bound up in punishment and whose attitude has demoralized staff I know that politics has taken over and the kids individually and collectively will suffer. When students attending a school function spontaneously chant the name of a former principal they are sending a strong message – when that same principal- who cannot punish everyone – decides to make a scapegoat out of one child in reaction, a child who wasn’t even involved in the chanting but who happened to be aware of the event- that principal oversteps the bounds of the job.

Teachers are continuously encouraged to be “life long learners”; to continue to learn and grow, and to take seriously their responsibility to the students in their charge. Do we really not expect as least this much from the administrator? To be able to demonstrate flexibility in relation to situations may stave anarchy; to be rigid and cruel is to practice behaviour associated with the term demagogue. Sadly, the “He didn’t knock” syndrome isn’t restricted to characters in film. LouAnne Johnson, whose text School is Not a Four Letter Word notes “too many rules can impede a child’s progress”; the wrong restrictions do damage. Principals needn’t demonstrate the overwhelming ignorance of “He didn’t knock” – such characters are modeling only one thing- power.

I have been on a soapbox today having recently met a “He didn’t knock” style principal. Have readers any advice how to awaken such a closed mind- the truly most dangerous kind?

Brand New Week-

I nearly wrote Brand New Earth, with this past week featuring so many activities around the theme of “Earth Day”¬† the¬†focus on cleaning up, recycling and encouraging caring for the planet¬†became contagious; all around I could see effort being made to get outside and engage with nature.¬†

I am always impressed by how quickly younger children will not only participate in the Earth Day programs at their school, but also how the students become advocates for greener living once they understand the purpose behind the suggested changes. 

-sending¬†a global “thank you” to fellow educators for sharing great resources and posting a few links below:

 http://scan-werecriticaltothinking.blogspot.ca/2012/04/great-interactive-resources-for-earth.html

http://erblearn.org/parents/admission/isee   for parents considering private school come September

http://www.collegeconfidential.com/

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7393502n¬†¬† interview with Sam Eshaghoff:Sam Eshaghoff is a teenage con. He took the SAT for other students, who paid big money for high scores. Now that he’s been caught, Sam has some test-taking advice, but consider the source.