Category Archives: English academics, tutoring help, learning together, home schooling, test prep

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!

 

 

 

 

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.  

 

 

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

Growing in all directions!- Pruning still required :)

Man made needn’t be a bad thing: pruning an essay will also get results! 

Tree of love - stock photo

           Shape your writing to share your story so that Readers get the picture.

         Begin with a topic that can be researched, and grow into an essay.

Then after gathering all the references to support your main points, write the rough copy.

Give it shape, let it breathe (at the very least, overnight) then, edit it, leaving your own style to shine through. Make a clear point, support it and the marks will grow…

    always preview before posting/ handing it in!

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 🙂

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 – 🙂

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…
http://www.p12.nysed.gov/guides/ela/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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