Category Archives: English academics

On giving and receiving advice!

“Buyer beware” is an old saying- and one I usually put into practice- after all, education plus experience is meant to be worth something- isn’t it?  and of course- everyone makes mistakes …

As I type this my left eyelid is swelling, my left cheek is bruised and my left side of my face- well- I hope it won’t be scarred.  In any event three red welts have already encircled that left eye and I either look like a prize ring boxer or a lady who went for plastic surgery and it didn’t take.   In reality I am neither- neither the boxer nor the person undergoing plastic surgery- an ordinary teacher rushing to a bus with books in an unusual position-books in one of those “neat- little- carry- on- carts” that some people seem to either push or pull effortlessly and what others- who hardly ever carry a thing- exhort as the latest and greatest non technological advance- “imagine” – it slides on wheels! and suddenly all one has to do is pile it with all the paraphernalia that we who teach or carry objects to and fro usually lug in bags over the shoulder or the wrist, – “freedom?!”

Up early double cup of coffee- lunch made, books in order- bus at the corner – just go! And everyday except this morning- no problem- today = the unwieldy “neat-little-carry-on-cart” just toss everything in and – boom- flat on my face on the sidewalk- the – neat -little- carry-on-cart standing at attention after it had picked up speed and smashed into my ankles- I was pulling rather than pushing it- and hadn’t realized that the objects inside would have had to have been placed- “just so” to give it ballast- either way- kind gentleman and his dog looking extremely worried as I begin to stand up- my face had hit the ground- hard; glasses cutting into my cheek may have prevented further damage as no ground went into the eye proper- but I do look a sight! A bit scary really – for even with 1/2 hour of an ice pack (actually a frozen bag of corn- peas would have worked too!) the bruising and cuts are evident.  So …advice to the ones who may consider purchasing one of these “neat-little-carry-on-carts” buyer beware- give me an old fashioned bag or two any day, and I will restrict the carts which I push  to carts in a grocery store.  And don’t look askance please if you should see a lady carrying her books old-fashioned school girl style – in her arms- instead of in one of those “neat-little-carry-on-carts”; mine will be going in the garbage can while my head is still on my shoulders;  and next time someone suggests I could make my life easier if I were to*…I might just buy a pair of running shoes…instead.

Thanks for reading.

*sit down, relax and put my feet up- that didn’t work either- but that’s another story…

I had a basket of citrus fruit so…

citrus photography

Funny, we say “Oh that’s a lemon”  as an English expression for when something, say a second hand car, doesn’t work to expectations.  We also remind people to “make lemonade” or not waste the product.  I simply love the image of a bunch of cheerful bright colours, and this image reminded me of a children’s poem:

Oranges and lemons sang the bells of St. Clements

Oranges and lemons
Say the bells of St Clements
You owe me five farthings
Say the bells of St Martins
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey
When I grow rich
Say the bells of Shoreditch
When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney
I’m sure I don’t know
Says the great bell at Bow

Now we hear many an injunction to bring back PLAY- one of the better ways to incorporate play, and if it isn’t happening at a kindergarten and other elementary class near you, make it happen by having a small group(s) of children enact actions to some of the “tried and true” nursery rhymes.  Remember “London Bridge is falling down” ? when making a bridge and moving underneath it and taking turns being the bridge itself, children and the adults helping are encouraging literacy.  In the poem above, children hear both rhythm and rhyme.  For a slightly older child, have him/her look at the poem, speak it a few times, then try to write it from memory.  Help by offering a prompt – but not till asked 🙂 And if working with a child at the age to be curious about geography a mini history/geography lesson may happen.  Apparently the rhyme dates back to the mid 1600s and was actually danced to!

Lemons, limes and oranges, tart, semi-tart, and sweet- something for every taste; they add a dash of freshness to any environment.  Got a lemon?

Here is a science experiment just made for the lemon: http://www.education.com/science-fair/article/lemon-cleaning-products/   and a new use for the copper penny. 

 

 

 

Academics for all subjects

A reading is thinking poster

With science / math write-ups we also READ

Begin with prediction: = hypothesis

Visualize: what object are needed for (this)experiment? What amounts?

Connect: get all objects ready in one place / choose one set for the controlled object, the other objects will act upon – with experiments, the idea is to challenge yourself- (safely) and see what happens if…you are asking questions while trying the experiment

Summarize-
the write up tells others what happened
Instead of “clues from the text” the “evidence” is the section in a science write-up known as results- here you have a chance to decide what may not have worked. For example; if you were trying to change a liquid to a solid and doing a simple experiment with water- changing liquid water to solid ice, and the ice didn’t freeze- why not? Was the cold space not cold enough? Perhaps in class you created a mini refrigerator (tin foil and packaging and cardboard box…) and this did not stay cold- what could be done differently next time- where could something be changed?

Science constantly builds upon earlier experiments. When we try something at home or in class, we are practicing to see if a method “works”.

Take cooking for example: you are given a brand new toaster- you like toast nicely browned- first time you plug it in at set the number to 8 out of 10- Oh oh- too crisp- try again, 6? Just right. But wait, now put a bagel instead of another piece from that original loaf of bread. The texture is different and so might be the toasting time.

When scientists speak of the control object, they are saying one object stays the same, while another object changes. In the above case, the toaster stayed the same, while the bread products were changed.

New slice of bread- a piece of Challah- Oh oh- turning temperature down to 4- why? Why might it burn faster? What ingredients were in the Challah slice that are different from the regular piece of white bread, and different from the bagel? We do science experiments all the time, without realizing and labeling them as experiments or science!

In academics, we are asked to share what we are thinking in a write-up. This write-up may be answering questions on a teacher prepared worksheet- it may be drawing a picture of what we just did, it may be going online, and sharing over the internet by using a blog, a wiki, or a tweet  The write-up means one thing, regardless of how and where it is placed- communicating so another may understand; much of the time in school, students often ask- “will this be on the test?” – their point- shall I memorize the “fact” to be able to retell it? In less formal, ongoing assessments, the test begins with the student, and is a part of the student’s inquiry to understand more. A student encouraged from the start to share his/her understanding of what took place, is a student being encouraged to “do” academics- it need not be an either or situation wherein a student is labeled non-academic if we remember that academics simply refers to recognizing bits of theory behind a form of practice. And it is “easy” to share nowadays how recognizing both theory and practice may improve performance. Take Usain Bolt- who isn’t impressed by the lightening speed of this man? And if students are shown how there became a science to his athletic training, science is removed from an esoteric activity and placed smack in the centre of life skills; like being able to tie one’s shoes even if wearing slip-ons with Velcro, it is good to know how to do something, good to be able to feel a purpose behind a set of skills, good to take part in learning. We teachers, parents, adults, want and NEED the next generation curious, active, communicative, and participatory. For not only “science” but humanity will then continue to move forward.

Stepping off my soap-box to wish all a productive and learning filled year!

Teaching for social justice- it matters

Teaching for social justice is different from teaching to prevent crimes. And perhaps this is part, only a part, yes, but still an integral part of the problem. I currently live in Toronto, and ten minutes from my home three young people were shot – one died. I learned of the event via twitter- before it was reported on the news. The person hardest hit was a teacher, a young man of promise – he died- the other two young people, a boy and a girl, late teens, early twenties, hospitalized. No one knows why the event took place; except it is summer, it was a hot evening, people often congregate outside.

I realize what a horrific event transpired in Ferguson. I know what a horrific event took place a stone’s throw from me. I worry about both my young adult children who go out at night, and come home using public transit. I worry about the random acts of violence- but yes I am lucky- for to date, I haven’t seen a reason to worry about the police. Whether in Manhattan, where I lived for a period, or here in Toronto, Canada, the men and women who make up the police force have always been, on the occasion I have had direct contact with them, thoughtful, courteous and direct. Knowing they now patrol the area actually provides a sense of well being. Because one of the victims was a teacher, many children in the area were affected as well. How to explain – to answer the “why?” when the criminals weren’t caught? How to remind that basically this is a safe community, that crime and criminal acts can take place anywhere, and that there are, for lack of a better term- “bad people” out there, but one doesn’t have to emulate them.

I know that each of us presented with young minds puzzle at how to teach towards understanding. How to encourage the growth of a caring society, one in which mutual respect exists. One without fear of the very people, our police, who are expected to protect us from just such unthinkable events as what befell the young teacher this summer. But just as we don’t want to turn into a police state, don’t want to need patrol cars on every corner, we must teach that violence is not cool. Because if we teach hatred towards members of a service profession- and the police like the fire department, are providing an essential service, we will not be encouraging people to believe that there might be a place for them within these professions.

When we teach children to care about their place in society we are teaching that they in fact have a place in society. That they belong. That they in time may be able to make a difference; and that is why yes, teaching the stories of others who have made a difference can help. For if indeed these stories may then become part of the backbone of courage that many of our young people will require as they go through life, then we must tell the stories through a whole school project- not in isolation, not as a race or gender issue but as a part of living history- an opportunity to encourage a literacy based, project based, arts integrated, science practiced, full STEAM ahead, school.

When we teach for something we have become proactive. We have become empowered, as teachers, concentrating on transformative curriculum, rather than focused on disciplinary lectures- but the learning has to start early! From preschool up children absorb what they see and hear going on around them- home and school, community and practice. Teaching to prevent crime? Reminiscent of Up the Down Staircase, or To Sir with Love; books and movies in which the teacher wins some and loses some, and everyone marvels at the teacher’s ability to fight the system itself. What if instead, the system and the educator work together? Returning to a whole school approach, and community interaction; when I was little both the Fire Department and the Police came for visits- and we went to the Firehouse and to the Police museum. People who are part of one’s community may lose a bit of mystique, but the community will gain in understanding that the goals of one section are in tandem with the goals of a peaceful society.

For it IS about peace. It is horribly sad to consider why youngsters would need to find surrogate families within gangs and there is as much wrong with our system today as there was in the time of Victor Hugo, but, if we justify looting and robbery, we are saying “might makes right” – in Hugo’s day a character is hounded and imprisoned for stealing food- the greater picture of a hungry society being presented through the eyes of a main character and his villainous tormentor- a member of the police – and readers can’t help but side with the Jean Val Jean character. I can’t imagine what the police in Ferguson were thinking when releasing the video showing Mike Brown behaving like a thug, and stealing from a store; except perhaps to try and de- saint the young person. But – we have been shown the video, and that brings up, why had the character in our modern times believed it was OK to torment the shop owner/employees? In short, why did that action take place at all? Missing in Ferguson appears to be any kind of peace, if looting is common place, if kids are racially profiled, if anger was so close to the surface that it boiled over into this past month of stand offs.

In the end then, regardless of subject we must teach Why something matters. We as teachers, matter. Our students and their hopes and dreams, matter. Each and every person, matters. Again, it begins in preschool, and it can’t be over taught. It must be reiterated each and every year. I didn’t invent the concept – and as a concept it is older than you or I. What matters today is that we remove it from a conceptual ideal and place it squarely into real discussions, real and safe communication, real and daily practice. We must make caring – matter.

information about the incident in Toronto may be found here: http://www.cp24.com/news/victims-of-lawrence-heights-shooting-not-targeted-by-gunmen-police-1.1903477

an American teacher’s set of suggestions for how to teach about Mike Brown may be found here: http://rethinkingschoolsblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/teach-about-mike-brown-but-dont-stop-there/

Privacy and Policy – Healthy Schools


Privacy and Policy


School is a public place
be it a private institution or a member of a public board- it is not “Las Vegas”, and this is a good thing. This means that parental involvement can be encouraged beginning with the principal who sets the tone, and continuing through the teachers and on to the students who ought to happily or disgruntledly, depending on a day’s adventure, share the news of the time spent in the institution. Imagine, spending 12, 13, or even 14 years depending on when a child began in a more formal learning environment and how that learning environment impacts on all the growth and development to come.

So when parents ask what do I look for in a learning space; openness is one of my main points on a checklist – was the principal prepared to take time to offer a tour of the space? Did the principal book an appointment and follow through with genuine interest in you and your child when as parent you asked questions about both the curriculum and the social aspects of the learning environment? Has the teacher allowed you to inquire directly about your expectations for the school academic program, and provided a relatively clear outline – do please allow for teaching moments, that teachers may indeed respond directly and appropriately when the students in the room surprise and please, with comments and active participation in the projects or other curriculum actions-an outline that will allow you as parent to also become curious about the learning that is expected to be covered in an academic year.

And if visiting a school when the programs are already in service, I listen. Total silence may mean exam/testing time, otherwise it is an odd thing to expect within a school. I like hearing the hum of student inquiry, the murmur that at times may mimic Katy Perry’s “Roar” and, laughter is always good. Children who are comfortable, communicate.

Middle School sets its own demands; notice the entrance to the building, and the amount of students in class, not the hallways, once a bell has rung. At some schools hallways are used as extra classroom space; this is fine when the school entrance way is monitored- unfortunately in today’s environment, schools do need to be aware of who is entering or exiting a premise, and in some institutions no loitering in the hallways is permitted due to safety precautions. At other institutions the hallway monitors have become not merely a fixture of the place, but a very welcome and responded to, resource. These adjunct staff are there as friendly reminders that the school is a safe space, and for the child who must return to a locker mid period, or use the washroom, knowing that hall monitors move up and down throughout the building may provide an additional sense of welcome and subliminal comfort.

High School creates new challenges! So many choices and a new type of pressure- which whether parent or child, we all seem to absorb. And even if logical thinking reminds one that the future is really not totally determined by the activities chosen in High School it is doubtful we will be able to totally convince a teen of this. Media does add to this pressure; high school becomes a microcosm of “life”. The kids though, do still need and benefit from all levels of parental awareness; ask questions of the academic type before your child begins- and don’t be afraid to question a school’s suggested template for your child. Applied versus academic- why? Full year courses versus a semester program, how will this possibly challenge (positively or negatively) your child- some students in semester programs go a full calendar year between undertaking classes- for example, a September to February class in English etc. in grade 9 followed by a February to June class in English during the grade 10 year has left a large, full calendar year, gap – imagine! One reads about the summer time slump- and that is only two months outside of full class programming! 14-18 year olds only appear independent; they still require a near magical dance on the part of the parents to weave together the combinatory goals of healthy mind and body which are rapidly developing during these High School years.

Home and School; a dynamic combination; sharing resources; growing = a healthy future.

This article first appeared on Together Academics, learning skills with Ali
To learn more- please email; mytutoringspace@live.ca
As always, best regards,
Alison (Ali)

Double-entendre

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/double%20entendre

Why Not?

Simple expression-usually suggesting no reason not to do something


Why Not?

Simple question- actually requiring a response; particularly valuable in a classroom

on a limb…

It is everywhere! The statement that ” the only way to do a good job is to love what you do”.  UM- not necessarily, and not really what we need to be proclaiming on classroom walls- as students rarely love drills- rarely love rewrites, rarely love the extra practice that must be undertaken to improve in any form of craft- or academic work.

How could we change it up then? This has been a constant desire of mine- to create a learning environment where all students receive the respect and opportunity to grow regardless of how much “hard work” both the educator and the student must apply before changes appear evident- and hard work isn’t always fun, nor is it always something one loves to do.

When we constantly toss about ideals that suggest “Passion” is all that is needed the craft behind the making may get lost in the dream that suggested “love is all you need”.  I love the Beatles and all that they stood for, but would hazard a guess that not one of them really meant the statement literally.  We need to get back to the core sense of practice, refining a skill and /or set of skills that will become, if not actually automatic, as close to automatic that an individual may muster and be able to call upon these skills as needed.

I cook, and when asked the secret ingredient have been known to answer “love” so indeed we all employ the suggestion that adding CARE will make a difference.  And I am for caring classrooms everywhere- but not to the detriment of students being giving only the promise of learning without the practical tools.  To truly empower students we need to offer guidelines; students whether in a regular or a flipped classroom, whether home-schooled or one of 50 in a classroom, benefit when the rules are clearly laid out, when the rubric is explained, and when the student is shown how to do something.

Practice may not make “perfect” but it will promote understanding; if the reasoning behind the practice is questioned, then dear teachers, do please have an explanation ready.  Or depending on the age group of your students, think about sharing something that will spark discussion regarding why some types of practical actions do not always appear to be on target but indeed get the results- a classic film comes to mind- the original Karate Kid– hard to forget “wash on, wash off” as a muscle builder…

Sports and the Arts both offer a form of apprenticeship during which time participants improve their practice under the guidance of “master coaches”.  The two words were juxtaposed on purpose, for mastery is what in the end produces that amazing result- the one that moves beyond rote and adapts or is applied to a specific situation, creating grace in action, be it a line on a page, a puck spinning towards a goal, or a new computer application.  We all improve through practice if and when the areas where improvement is suggested are clearly defined, and clearly demonstrated with /through examples where these practical changes made a difference to the finished product.

It is about product in addition to process, and if/when we forget this we short change a student.  Students are very self aware, and to be up lifted do not need simple pats on the back; they too want to recognize results and be proud of their own accomplishments.  When a student is able to say “I worked hard on this and believe it says what I wanted it to say” the student is taking ownership of his/her learning- isn’t that really what as teachers we wish to produce?