Tag Archives: experience

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

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. 

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?

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

Value the Student, not the mistake!

 Schools claim to be teaching “values needed to become a part of a democratic society” – “values” – to me, this is a “heavy word” suggestive of concepts like responsibility, integrity, openness to new people, new ideas, and a recognition that students may make mistakes. What lesson will a student learn when a punishment for an action is much greater than the crime? Is it wise to teach students that one slip is never allowed? I am not perfect, and when I tutor I may be “encouraging excellence in those I teach” but  – why do some school administrations persist in believing that draconian measures might teach students “values”? When a punishment is so much greater than a crime, will a student really learn anything more than that bullying is allowed as long as the school administration is the group doing the bullying? And then what? When they grow up and the school years are long behind them do they practice empathy- or operate from a “holier than thou plateau” – the latter message implicit from their observations of their own school years.

Teachers and administrators model behaviour. How a school administration deals with students on a one-one or group basis sends a message loud and clear to the entire population- some student families have more clout than other student families. Unfortunately that is almost the only message that is transmitted. When a teacher continuously picks-on and embarrasses a student in front of the group – this is bullying. When a Vice Principal behaves in one fashion with a parent present only to do an about face when only the child is present – this is bullying. When a child contributes hours of overtime to school groups and causes , when a child actively works for the benefit of the group, that student is modeling positive behaviour. And students can see it. As a private tutor I am one step removed from the formal institutions, and an ear for both parents and students. I have learned to trust the students’ evaluations of what they are hearing and seeing taking place in the space where they spend so many hours- their school.