Tag Archives: demonstrating respect

Volunteering and School Credit

I blogged a few weeks ago about how important it is to give back to a community, and with students in High School requiring a minimum of forty volunteer hours to graduate, know that many wait until their final year to grab the credit while others get “hooked on volunteering” from their grade nine year.

Students please be aware that mockery is a form of bullying.  It shouldn’t need to be said but indeed some students are so disturbed by what they see when they go to volunteer, they later adopt a bravado and can be heard joking about the very people who only a few hours earlier they were meant to be helping!  Empathy is aparently not as natural an emotion as we would like to believe.  In fact volunteering itself becomes a skill, and each station or space where one offers to be of service will have its own guidelines or rules for new volunteers to first apply, then with commitment and practiced observation skills, share their own techniques and what might further the organization.

It is important though to think carefully before signing on to volunteer, even if only to gain those needed High School credits.  Are you a behind the scenes or front line person? have you an actual interest in learning more about the particular situation? Can you do the work as it is described?

Agencies in the service industry might also appreciate office help and provide a solid reference for the needed first job. When the sign goes up to volunteer consider the following:

  • have I patience?
  • will I be comfortable in an unusual setting (as in some place of worship, or community hall where one might not regularly attend)?
  • is there a language requirement?
  • is there any minimum amount of hours for the training which could require more than the school demands?
  • am I comfortable in a crowd?
  • is it a hands on position ( hospital help, working with children or adults…)?
  • is it one to one after the training or will I always be part of a team?
  • will I have a chance to learn something new? ( always one is learning-here perhaps a new skill)
  • if athletic could I share these skills and help others?
  • if academic could I share these skills and help others?
  • have I a particular interest in any field where volunteers will be welcomed (could range from gardening, to robotics, or museum work, or learning a trade and shadowing a skilled worker, apprentice style, while helping as required)
  • have I truly considered trying something new and where my skills might be most useful?

Having worked with volunteers who ranged from High School age to seniors I have learned some come with high anticipation to simply “begin” and others shyly wait at a door pondering the fit.  Both are extremely useful once shown the ropes and allowed to choose where and how they feel they may contribute most.

Please do take it seriously and recognize that whichever place you decide to help with your time, energy, and enthusiasm will begin to count on you- and be respectful as if it were a paying position.  Some organizations are only able to do the work they provide due to the help of caring volunteers.  And don’t be frightened to try something “unusual” as you may learn something about yourself in the process.

2015-2016- a year to explore!

Modern Women of Influence

Too often it seems the “classic” women of influence are early suffragettes and women who made a difference as “sidekick” to the men who in their time received the accolades.  So classes of students may “discover” that in addition to Watson and Crick and the DNA model there was Rosalind Elsie Franklin, molecular biologist, and then students may question what is meant by the term”sexism”.  My problem with any learning that appears to polarize rather than to unite is that reductive and reactive stance; men were credited- women were ignored.  Perhaps a change of pace would have some looking into the “men behind the women”, noting for example that although a writer like George Sand had to take on a pseudonym to first be seen as an independent author (and then read) being a ‘special friend’ to Chopin didn’t hurt her creativity or her career.  Or take George Elliot ( George appears to have been a popular choice of male name for female writers !) born Mary Ann (Marian) Evans, her biography reminds one that her positive relationship with philosopher and critic George (actual name- male) Henry Lewis may have contributed to her prolific writing and the novel Middlemarch.   

When we share stories of strong females, we have an opportunity to also speak about social change over time, to note where and when women had influence: ancient Egypt had a female Pharaoh, China an Empress dowager, and Britain (today and) in its history many a powerful Queen.

Fast forward to Madonna and Beyonce– female powerhouse singers, dancers, entertainers, breaking the financial barriers too!  Beyonce’s start was as lead singer with the musical group Destiny’s Child– a group managed by her dad – who apparently resigned from his job to manage the  group.  Madonna remains unique in her determination, and her quote: In 1996* she said: “I came to the realization that a strong female is frightening to everybody, because all societies are male-dominated – black societies, poor people, rich people, any racial group, they’re all dominated by men. A strong female is going to threaten everybody across the board.” ( *amybrown.net)

The quote in itself opens discussion.  Why should strength on the part of a female be threatening? When and where have societies embraced rather than obscured female talent? How do politics/economics/education and opportunity inter-mesh, and in what ways can history enlighten girls of today – offering both a form of mentoring (they did it!) and a timeline with potential for further changes. Of course not only history: sports, the arts, politics, economics, current leaders, modern technology; examples abound and females of influence may be found in each sphere. Please remember though- women and men make up the whole, and society benefits when both genders are open to communication; to fully celebrate women of influence let’s not create a further polemic and instead encourage mutual appreciation, and keep the whole class curious about invoking positive social change.

Multi-culturalism and learning

Young student to his teacher, ” Why do they call it ‘Chinese New Year’? I’m from Vietnam and I celebrate it too!”

Maps, look at population charts, find some of the history for both countries, discuss foods, customs, language, and what it means to celebrate in a “home country” versus in an adopted country.

Recall and share a comment from another student “Russia is part of Asia too!” – once again maps, populations charts, history…

What it really means to teach a “diverse group of students”.  It means to be aware, to be open, to respect cultural differences, to recognize family practices versus “global” ideals.  And to learn with one’s students.  When we learn together, we give each other “voice” and when we listen we move beyond words and expected understanding of the words to the personal and how each student may or may not “relate” to a concept.

Kindergarten through grade 12 and for many – a number of years in post secondary- that is really a lot of time in the places we label “school”.  As educators we need to be aware of how our own understanding of vulnerability is affected when children voice their confusion, and to join the students in their research and review of concepts that adults may be “taking for granted”.  Our purpose after all is to encourage their thinking skills, their curiousity, and their desire to learn more.  But first we do have to create a safe space wherein they may question us.  And if we do not have the immediate answer- or better yet if we ignore the immediate answer and instead join with our students in the search for answers, we just may be modelling what inquiry – makers, and doers, is all about.

To all who may be celebrating the Lunar New Year Festivities- Enjoy!

Personal Practical Knowledge: thoughts

– or why I encourage journaling, yet would rarely ask a student to show those scribbles or notes on a page. Private musings are more than brainstorming – they are personal and deserving of respect.

There is a difference between personal private writing, and the writing that students are asked to share.  Somehow though we appear to have taken words and as is often the case, given them new definitions:  journaling or diary keeping used to be a private activity- part of that personal practical knowledge base- an activity which some did automatically, while others needed encouragement to recognize how private scribbles or drawings or practiced writing would and could develop into thoughts on a page- today we have a multitude of “fake diaries” – for example the whole series of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or Dork Diaries”  enjoyed by many and yet- such practiced writing leaves some question how to appreciate what may in fact have been a private piece of writing for example “Diary of Anne Frank” ; a piece of writing that even when reread for the umpteenth time makes me marvel at the author’s fortitude while shuddering that we so blithely read over,  and, if a class assignment, dissect her (Anne’s) private wonderings.  That she continued to believe the world could be a “better place” in spite of everything that the horrors of WWII created, is a marvel; that we read the Diary and may not clearly remember to establish within our own students the expected set of boundaries/ that private writing generally has a right to remain private, and that writing which is submitted for marks or review is public- and if we ask students to attempt the Diary style of writing, to recognize that the assignment is different from the personal, practical, private writings or drawings or marks on a page that truly deserve the title of journaling or diary.  It is a privilege when a student approaches with an example of personal writing writing done for “fun”,  or to express a need, and wanting to share.  And it is within this notion of privilege that as educator my comments on this personal work are carefully selected to encourage, to empower, to grow.  Bearing in mind that as educator we are expected to be critical, and aware that critical includes the positive,  any encouragement offered is genuine, suggested areas for improvement only suggested not demanded, and gratitude for the trust implied in the sharing, extended.

Thank you: two simple words that we as educators must remember to include in our conversations with students if we are to truly be modeling a growth mindset, an attitude that allows for constructing and committing to practice.

Permission Granted – please DO

Sometimes a Great Notion… book and movie title and real life experiences…

I love using various art forms to enhance any level/grade lesson when English Literacy is the core focus.  We respond to art on two levels- primal and almost intuitive and academic- with the theories and knowledge which we have been taught engaging us in a dialogue with the object at hand.  Children who haven’t yet been “taught” to discuss the piece therefore comfortably share if they “liked” it! Watch a group of young children enter a new space, be it an art gallery or a playground, and see how they maneuver over the ground, tactile, involved, curious, and participatory.  The “new” emphasis on “maker” areas being developed within classrooms is really a return to a “tried and true” methodology; the idea that children and adults will gain through the combination of theory and practice- each on its own being only 1/2 of the story.

Here then to making math- the 1+1=2 understood as a form of literacy as well.  WE read scribbles, in what ever language, and we – people- humans- imbue these scribbles with “extra” meaning.  When the theory is unpacked, sometimes it is hard to believe that we have, as people, developed so many various ways to communicate our ideas, emotions, and hopes for the future- yes hopes, as I believe every artist/ writer/ designer and maker is offering a vision that contains within it a myriad of dreams and options for change.  Whether one is studying the presumed cognitive reactions of the mind and developing new theories with current scientific “facts” that today allow one to “see inside the brain” or creating music to share a set of emotions, creating/ making /doing /= participatory; ACTION is happening.

So as we enter into a holiday season that easily lends itself to the spirit of craft making, let’s cheer for those individuals neither famous nor well known who actively take time to: create personal decorations, write notes by hand, bake a present, sew an outfit,build a piece of furniture, carve a toy, redecorate their own living space…the list goes on and on…and reminds us to allow children to participate in these creative endeavors too- for they become the adults among us who maintain the ability to offer expression and with simplicity, beautify a day.

Participatory Action

Giving Thanks –

For friends who mean it

For children one is blessed with

For abilities even if not always being allowed to share them

For love- in the way my children grow and develop

For knowledge, that others contribute and share

For history- personal and global- that helps when things need to be placed in perspective

For laughter- the personal chuckle and the broad belly burst

For today

Having spent a number of years in the States,  November continues to mean Thanksgiving- a time when the country appeared to generate goodwill, and when giving thanks on a personal level, regardless of religion or ethnic background, allowed for sharing; giving thanks for simply being able to.

Not Censored

An adult student shared with me the other day the existence of a website that features racist jokes! Now I am a believer in Freedom of Speech, and the need to not censor material- to put one’s effort instead towards educating people about the difference between funny and mean.  Yet I wished I could shut down such a website – initially I had thought how to interpret the joke- then realized it ought not to be explained.  We live in a world that is increasingly censored- and this too is bad for too much “protection” from the way some people may be raised, the ones who were taught intolerance instead of understanding and who become frightened of the “other” members of society and therefore resort to mean- in the form of jokes, in the form of actual violent actions, in the form of joining groups that encourage violence towards others- in short, bullying on a grand scale- may result in a generation that is unprepared to fight the “bully” either in a formal fashion (voting down any bigot who chose to run for power) or in an informal fashion by declaring such “jokes” not funny.

Yes I too had moments when my children were little when I wished I could simply wrap them up in bubble paper and coat them with some type of protective shield.  And teaching is a strong reminder that thinking and doing are symbiotic, and that we must expose our children to the underside of society as well as to “all things positive” if we are to be raising thinking, feeling, adults who will participate fully in society.  So in spite of truly wishing that such websites as the one mentioned didn’t exist,  I recognize that not only does the promise of “Freedom of Speech” allow for anyone to say anything, I am going to also be aware that when selecting and suggesting books for the YA set, that we look at what the act of censorship has over time restricted- for example why or how a book might have “enraged” a community or an individual enough to request that schools pull it off their shelves, or that libraries not feature a copy.  What was in the story, the writing, the setting? what actions did the characters ask us as readers to consider?

A simple example are the writings of Samuel Clemens- aka Mark Twain.  When one recognizes that Twain was asking readers to see the wrong in racism, and doing so by giving a reader a child’s insight into the adult society of his time*; or that a reading of Wuthering Heights** suggests that education and upbringing might not only challenge the status quo, but also challenges us as readers to consider in what ways social status continues to affect individual actions, then we are giving students a chance to consider for themselves what makes a book a “classic”; what messages resound across both time and space and continue to be questions that people have yet to answer fully.  We may strive for a  Utopian society, and may enjoy along with students the action adventure that went into a series such as  The Hunger Games, while secretly breathing a sigh of relief that today’s world is not the one depicted in the dystopian*** novel.  But how to continue to improve; to encourage the best in others? Reading continues to be a strong means of encouraging dialogue- and through dialogue- real freedom of speech- as in genuine communication, perhaps we are taking one step forward- I continue to hope so.   

*Huckleberry Finn

**Wuthering Heights – by Emily Bronte- the blurb for the novel states “Wuthering Heights was initially thought to be such a publishing risk that its author, Emily Brontë, was asked to pay some of the publication costs”

For a list of Dystopian literature see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dystopian_literature

Remembering “why”.

The things we remember:

today is November 11, officially Armistice day, and across the globe many communities are paying respects to soldiers – be it the soldiers recalled from the events of WW1 or soldiers who still must fight in a military in 2014.

In Ontario much talk is going back and forth over the value of making the day a National event- since some Canadian provinces already observe the day as a full day of remembrance and use the time up to November 11 to teach about not only the horrors of World Wars but also the hopes that are generated by activists for peace- Planting seeds of peace, encouraging inquiry, focusing on the present generation and all that it may accomplish is an act of doing and making- combining two terms in popular usage today, and sharing that basic desire – that somehow, horrific events are not only not forgotten, but that the meaning of words like “freedom”, “citizenship” and “rights and responsibilities” aren’t just words to be matched up on a test but words that have value, that carry promise, that offer a lifestyle within an ideology of purpose.  Not everyone will grow up to be prime minister, or president, or even interested in the political forum.  But everyone growing up in a world where there may still be a threat of global violence ought to be made aware of how many people have -over generations- risked everything, in the hopes of building ( making and doing ) places where the opportunity to attempt harmonious living will be a mandate for social action.

We memorized poems when I was in school, and the Remembrance Day full school assembly meant total involvement- K-6th grade for at least a month before – from the Canadian Thanksgiving in October, through to the November event.  And through these activities we built up a variety of skills-  plugging a sentence from a poem into Google pulled up the full piece; imagine being nine years old and able to use the word “damn” in front of the whole school because it was central to the poem being recited-  “Men who could stand before a demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries without winking…”  demagogue- vocabulary building, poem credit goes to Josiah Gilbert Holland, author,  time: American Civil War- linking then the concept of Remembrance to beyond one specific point in time and beyond one specific place.  English Literature, social studies, geography, history, public speaking and drama class rolled into one action.  Granted, as an adult I know now that my elementary school (public) would have been labelled “progressive” ; and I am aware of how much design went into encouraging us to become makers and doers, to question as well as observe, to participate in the lesson by moving beyond the rote aspect of committing to memory, and to attempt ourselves to evoke the need to care within our listeners- the majority of whom were peers.  “Lest we forget” always meant much more than wearing a poppy- it included actively collaborating on projects designed to encourage respect for ourselves, for each other, and for our world. 

spot the differences :)

remember the “can you count the changes” in images from children’s exercise books-

These two images have much to offer for an in-class discussion and an on paper assignment:

Courtesy of Norman Rockwell

https://i0.wp.com/aaaaarte.com/img/2009/12/img-article-norman-rockwell-gallery-launch_144229432655.jpg

what clues suggest a change in mood? which ones suggest a story behind the image? which character has undergone the most transformation?

have fun with it!

Experiential knowledge and Story time

Thinking of Reading Strategies and what might work best for each age group when found myself circling back to the simple concept of “story”.  We tell a story; we share a story; we read a story; and we critique a movie if the story within it lacked “substance” or simply asked us as viewers to work “too hard” to follow a plot and grow with the characters.  And readers of all ages too want to identify somehow with the characters- to be taken on a Roller Coaster Ride, perhaps, to be given a slow and steady walk from beginning to end- maybe; Readers “know” if a book appeals, even before we teach students how to formally analyze plot and character development and where to look for symbols and themes.

Had the pleasure yesterday evening of being reminded of this when a student became enthusiastic about the social issues within To Kill a Mockingbird– a modern “classic”, filled with so many nuances and options for discussion that I had to marvel anew how the book had actually been taken off of some reading lists.   The characters in this story have become near stereotypes, representing segments of society to be either admired or feared.  Racism, social conscience, economic differences within society, justice- a justice system for all?, children versus adults and understanding of “big” issues, social norms and social responsibility, individual versus society- the list of discussion topics goes on.  And though Harper Lee’s book is not the only one to call attention to the discrepancy between the way the world ought to be and the way the world often- in fact-is, this text may either make a reader grateful that it is now 2014- and issues depicted belong to the last century, or sad, that it is now 2014, and issues depicted may still be prevalent, in spite of many reasons to believe that by now, “everyone”  should know better.

Story then is what keeps a reader’s attention; the young child laughing as Mortimer climbs up the stairs “thump, thump, thump, thump”, the older child learning Greek Myths along with following Percy on his adventures, the high school student reacting to a character in The Help, or marveling at the formality within Pride and Prejudice, is absorbing how others- writers- have seen their society, and chosen to encapsulate in written form aspects of social interaction, some comedic, some tragic, some simply “as is”, that we, readers, might gain a little bit of insight and also question what we take for granted- how we interact with others; how others interact with us.

Story, oral and written, keeps us engaged. Young students require help in building vocabulary that will later be used to decipher the stories they are expected to read and make sense of through their academic years. One of our bigger tasks then is how to encourage vocabulary building, vocabulary usage, vocabulary extensions. And this task begins in preschool, where we sing songs, use movement and gesture to get at emotion, encourage play acting of various characters, and in general start the foundation for literacy acquisition. In doing so we are also encouraging the beginning of empathic relating, the ability to care about another and to feel that the other’s experience matters. Stories help us to move across artificial and real boundaries, boundaries of time and space, boundaries of religion and race, boundaries of culture and country. And while I am one who finds reading can actually transport a reader from the here and now into the story itself, I work with struggling readers daily. So I look for as many variations of story as possible, to cultivate an ability to encourage the reader to move beyond his or her own stereotype- a label possibly imposed by an academic institution- and to read first for pleasure in the story, then to evaluate the story; to read at a level that allows for absorbing the big picture within the tale, and to connect that image with what the student already has experienced. And regardless of age, to allow for the recap- the retelling of the story, the part when the student is able to say “I did this” (meaning I did the reading) for while retelling may not be the same action as summarizing or analyzing, retelling offers a strong practical reward- the student hearing his or her own voice while sharing ideas.  Isn’t this a central goal of a writing conference?