Tag Archives: different perspectives

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!

Summer and active Learning

It is summer and as an advocate of library summer reading clubs and healthy relaxation activities – camps, stay at home vacations, family visits, road trips you name it…I am fully encouraging all to let the children self select the books, comics, graphic novels that they wish to read through;  I do however maintain that reading for pleasure is not for everyone- and this is ok.  It doesn’t change the fact that as an educator I will be encouraging students to understand how to read for facts- a skill they will require throughout their lives.  Reading for “fun” is liking doing anything for “fun”; each of us has some things we prefer to do over other things.  I am one who reminds parents that indeed not all will relax with a novel- or a movie, or a pair of skates, or a bike ride etc. As an educator with a focus on reading and writing, my goal is first not to scare anyone away from learning in general, then to encourage my students to grow in whichever aspect suits them best…

Active learning implies engagement on the part of the participant- which is one of the reasons we have a resurgence of formal endorsements to encourage everyone to “play.”  For some, reading is a form of play, when the novel allows the reader to imagine different situations and to become concerned about the characters in the story.  And this magical transference between author and reader is an activity which takes place inside the brain and which later translates into emotions, some more clearly understood than others.  But just as the body requires strength to do certain physical activities the leaps we ask the brain to perform when concentrating on mental or cognitive actions are also exercises, strengthening a particular type of focus.

Currently in Toronto, are the PAN AM games which will be followed by the PARAPAN  AM GAMES – when practiced athletes from the American hemisphere convene and demonstrate their courage and ability to perform live at an exercise they have not only honed through continuous practice but which many have simply felt they “had to do.”  Readers and writers can be like this too- needing to read more, needing to write more- and in time, needing to share more.  Our role as educators is to encourage our learners to take chances, within safe environments to stretch a little further, try something a little more challenging, and to help them, the learners “discover” who they might be and what they want to learn more of.  Having written this I realize that many are still hoping that school will be the place where all skills develop- even in 2015 where we as a society have begun to recognize how very much learning can and does take place in non-school environments.

Consider the multiple ways your child engages with life, and add a little reading to this package, then the reading to learn can become real when the child needs to inquire and recognizes some ( not all ) answers may be available through written ( or diagrammed, or graphed or illustrated…) sources.  Imagine though learning how to skip a rope via diagrams- or to play the drums, or to swim…and allow for the hands-on experiences which provide balance to the cognitive action.

Reading and the concept of literacy has expanded to encompass the multiple ways we do engage with the world around us- Enjoy the summer!

Red Herrings and Holiday Musings

RED HERRINGS
In mystery writing, the red herring is the suggestion of a clue- it also misleads the reader as well as the mystery solver. In real life people too are given red herrings- that is – led astray with diversions – tactics meant to exhaust rather than help and which over time wear a person out. When I was beginning my divorce, so many games ensued until I finally stood up in court and said “stop.” But a few years later the very agency claiming to “help” me also created games, of an even nastier nature. When my children were little, I had the energy to be up at 5:30 on a Sunday morning and out the door with two kids in tow hoisting a hockey bag and all the needed equipment for a 7:am practice- we became very familiar with the early am bus drivers! And I grew adept at juggling as many a new parent learns; to organize as much as possible the evening before, to have snacks and treats already in the bag, to bring an activity for the one not playing, and to be ready to cheer for the one on the ice.

Slowly the children do grow up and being able to communicate with their teachers was a blessing. My own background combined education and anthropology, the former allowed me to practice and be hands-on in encouraging, hands-off when it came to the doing of the homework and the practical matters, the latter was a reminder that there is more than one system of learning, and that learning is how all skills are acquired.

And so I once again accepted delayed gratification and put the personal pursuit of higher level credentials on a back burner while accepting almost any and every type of work that would still offer the much needed flexibility a single parent requires. To paraphrase Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) I never let schooling get in the way of real life. And with every day providing further challenges, and positive reinforcement by way of those oh so meaningful little, and sometimes big, gestures which our children offer to us, I turn now and marvel at my young adult children who generously and caringly offer love and affection.

I won’t pretend it was a cake walk- not at all. When we as parents see a child in pain, all caution goes out the window; and each of us can probably recall or if your children are young and growing through the growing pains, can relate to the feeling of pure helplessness at times when one or the other is unwell, and the prayers sent to all the heavens above until the danger is passed. However prayer is only one part of it- action here on earth being as necessary, it seems this long weekend of spiritual experiences and traditions steeped in tales of action and renewal, is a genuine reminder of how much each of us as adults were indeed influenced by personal tales of experiences and challenges that ultimately were overcome.

That other red herring mentioned above? It was an ugly, nasty business that caused headache and heartache, money and time- but- like red herrings in novels, I am able to realize now that it was a diversion and while not yet ready to “laugh about it” am able to recognize that the blessings of friends and genuine caring made me never lose sight of the big picture goals. People ask me why I teach, and I have realized that it is more complicated than a quick surface response would allow. When a learner gains confidence – be it a child in the early grades or an adult changing professions, I am grateful that the experiences I am able to share can actually help another. And it is such a genuine treat to learn with them- to continue to share in the excitement and frustrations that learning any activity may provide; if educating means encouraging thinking and while supplying possible solutions also giving way to a learner’s discovery of a personal path, then one can’t expect every lesson to be ‘magical’ nor every paper to be polished- one can however relish the surprise twists in the learning challenges, be ready to pivot when a student requires it, and if lucky – be there when they surprise themselves with their own achievements.

Holiday and ritual practice may attempt to take the “mystery” out of life by prescribing a set of practices- red herrings as they provide a type of clue, and a diversion from the everyday – they link us to the past and when about redemption or rebirth, remind us how the power of story can transcend a time and a place, can provide hope, and does share the wisdom of experience. But life itself- to me anyhow, remains wonderfully mysterious.

Fiction-Literacy and Action

Considering my own book shelves  makes it clear that the concept of telling a story in pieces has a longer history- much pre-dating the blogging period.

Harriet Beecher Stowe so famous for the book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin published in March 1852, first attracted readers when she published her pieces in an abolitionist newspaper- apparently as a 45 part seriesimagine (!) the excitement for readers when the whole collection was bound and then shared as a complete volume  – actually a two volume book.  Today she is credited with helping to change public opinion globally about slavery– the books having been sold and translated and shipped across the world.  Charles Dickens is another author whose concerns about (1836 and on) social conditions also managed to attract a large audience through the newspapers- publishing his stories in serial installments and generating what today we refer to as  a “buzz” or word of mouth excitement – we tweet about our favorite tv shows/movie character/ musicians, references to the character’s exploits, and -perhaps- consider the situations in reference to contemporary social issues.  Both Dickens and Stowe knew that their stories would only work if readers could recognize the “truth” within the stereotype and character.  And today?  we bemoan the retirement of a TV personality like John Stewart whose regular satire allowed us as viewers to poke a bit of fun at ourselves, while being made aware of very real social issues. And in installments, with each episode capable of illustrating a current concern while the big picture “story” of recognizing social justice/injustice was never far from the scene. 

Perhaps news as “NEWS” – social issues horrific and frightening at times not only have become almost commonplace but require the distilling through a commercial lens.  Can we laugh at the horror? ought we too? and if not laugh, can we empathize with the struggles of others?  Dicken’s famous character Scrooge, epitomizes to many what may have been lost in terms of charitable feelings when people became commodities /objects at a factory and as dispensable or replaceable as any part in a machine – but the story holds sway and stays in people’s minds because we are presented with the three ghosts and the ideal of being able to change the future through present action.  Scrooge actually changes and while not a fairy tale, Dicken’s story provided for this awakening, this way to merge owner and worker, in this space we call humanity.  Harriet Beecher Stowe not only united many in the fight to end slavery, she also united women in an amazing cross cultural and cross economic fashion, when women signed a petition to become vocal on a political level, expressing their outrage at the continuation of practices that set one group of people against another.  Fiction then can change lives when readers have access to the story, and opportunity to care deeply, passionately about others.

But the books and authors mentioned also brought together their personal experiences and their ability to craft a story through researching the lived experiences of others- when teaching and analyzing novels with students it seems imperative to make clear that imagination isn’t either “out there” as a thing itself, or solely inside as a personality trait but is indeed an action, practiced, encouraged, developed and extended which each student is capable  of accessing within him or her self.  Some become better at the craft of sharing this trait- the ability to design in any fashion demands imagination what ever field- the ability to care? I would like to think it is innate if not always encouraged.

Music to teach by:

Early morning, and as light flashed through the blinds and the sounds of a new day began with the street rumble my brain kept hearing David Bowie singing “Ch-Ch changes”, and I found myself marveling at how the singer’s vocals had so captured the feelings of worry and confusion major changes might bring on.  The near stutter evoked palpable fear- and the lyrics continue to suggest why and how major social upheavals will produce this worry.  We have mottoes today such as “change is good” and websites “teaching” how to be a disruptor, yet if people were actually to follow a blueprint for disruption then the bandwagon effect of everyone doing pretty much the same thing happens, and little “ch-ch change ” actually occurs.

Technology and education go together and regardless of what age or grade level one may be  working with, most educators do make use of various forms of “equipment”- computer, phone, i-pad, smart board, digital cameras, and even the lesser in vogue today but which schools may have on hand, audiovisual equipment such as TVs, and overhead projectors.  But the change today is to almost insist that the students are the ones offering the lesson in order to have them demonstrate some understanding of subject matter.   Academics still demands testing, be it in the form of board wide generated formal exams that are meant to provide a summative overview of where a group of students may fit within the big picture perspective of “learning goals” ( formally called objectives) or in the everyone”must” first acquire testing that either welcomes or eliminates students from moving to new levels  (any pre – program assessment test from the SAT through the GRE).

So what really has changed?  The day to day encouragement which in some ways may be reminiscent of apprenticeships of old, with a slight slant.  Many of the younger generation are technologically “gifted” that is swift learners when it comes to using and applying new technology, however this technology to “make sense” of Academic goals is still applied as a “tool” for learning, rather than the end means in and of itself.  Learning coding becomes a new strand neatly placed alongside IT courses, when really it could be right up there with Language Arts- coding is a form of communication – not only do computers speak with one another, but the person versed in code understands a language as does the person using vocabulary specific to any field of study.  And like the acquisition of any new skill, some basics must be learned /applied/understood, before the “creative” aspect that leads to “ch-ch changes” or real innovation will be demonstrated.

Bowie’s  song with its direct appeal that we ought to “turn and face the strange”  continues to be of value- when listening to ( “but I”) “can’t trace time” , the clear concept of a younger generation not becoming a carbon copy of its predecessors but instead further innovating and adding to the picture as a whole is both “disruptive” and positive-the singer readily acknowledging that time itself  may change him-allowing for his own growing and changing, as a reminder that it is not mere rebellion but is new direction.

Has education really changed? Or are we merely participating in that ripple effect which technological changes create? Bottom line, as educators, we are compelled to encourage the students to question-when they do so -like Bowie-they too may “ch-ch-change” things up.

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!

Shake it up!

Once upon a time, in an enchanted__________(forest, pond, stream, house, castle,garden…) lived a little______________(prince, princess, horse, pony, goat, duck…?) and this little_______________decided to join everyone around the _____________?  campfire!  Because campfires are good places to share stories and hot chocolate.  And stories and cold juice.  And stories and popcorn.

The night was clear.  The moon was bright.  Everyone was pleased to take part in the ? making of a brand new KITE! And so the ________________ joined in and discovered______________________________????

Reading involves a full body practice- peek into a kindergarten room and observe the need for movement; some of us continue to need that opportunity to use our bodies in motion while the learning process grows- yet – we have a strong image impacted of reading and writing practice being a solitary studious pursuit.  If you have the time, and inclination, rummage through a children’s section at the library or the bookstore or within your own home collection.  And see if you can really sit still or if at times the words on the page conjure up images that make you not only truly laugh out loud, but also seem to get you swaying to the rhythm – words on the page leaping and colliding and having fun.

Learning- of anything- is a time consuming series of repetitions and practices until a learner feels a smidgen of control, slowly leading to mastery.  And which some remain determined may have less to do with “grit” or “mindset” and more to do with circumstances and options.  If however, we, as educators wish to open up a few doors or at least a window into what various aspects of learning may offer, then we will be needing to demonstrate how and why skills are building blocks for movement forward.  Direct communication – making time for this – becomes essential, so instead of lamenting the fast pace and disconnect of modern times, or extolling the virtues of technology and flipped classrooms, let’s remember that if we present testing or reviews in a positive frame, then the likelihood of students responding in a positive manner improves.

Personalities- we each have one- and we no more wish to be lumped into a “type” then do the students in a learning environment.  That is “mindset” in a nutshell; the suggestion that people may be allowed to think outside the box requires people not to be boxed in or restricted by academic labels-  a label may allow for clearer organization within an institution, but at times denies the learner the very thing education is meant to encourage- growth and change.  Movement: across disciplines, within communities, throughout a learning system, demands numerous skill sets including the ability to fill in the blanks, to extend the story, to make it one’s own, to develop, to grow and to become.

And so they lived…which always struck me as suggestive of more to come…

Standing desks, musical chairs, reading buddies, writing conferences, on and off line; shake it up, and find the mix that works best in your student’s frame.

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.

Weekend prompt

Story sequences: mystery suspense:
Overheard “I find it INTOLERABLE that she didn’t do the work”

Who might have been talking?

Can you flesh out a story from the opening line?

Some writers will claim that they began their novel based on a simple blurb about an incident that they had read in a newspaper, or based on a snippet of conversation overheard in passing.

Slowly characters began to take shape, interacting and developing the plot.

Needed:    A setting – remember – time, place, season, (time can be hour of the day or actual calendar year)

Characters: will you add dialogue?

Problem? What might happen? When? To whom? Is there a why?

Solution: resolution- not all stories are completely resolved- one aspect of a problem is usually cleared up; other aspects may be continued in sequels, or left for the readers to consider.

Prompts for story writing needn’t be the typical SAT form-  argument/example; prompts to encourage a variety of writing styles can be culled from multiple resources.

How to begin: see earlier blog- “brainstorming 101”…

Weekend wishes