Tag Archives: experiential knowledge

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!

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.

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?

How to choose?

Profession or calling, enterprise or extension of self- how does one really decide?
Students entering grade 12, or first and second year University, or even earlier- here in Ontario, in grade eight, being asked to project forward, to pick their own learning stream, to choose applied or academic, to “guess” which courses truly will fulfill the goal of satisfied, independent adult “one day”. And then, to their surprise, when at University, to learn how many students ( just like them) are now changing direction, “discovering” through course selection new interests, new opportunities, and their own voice. Such a beautiful discovery; recognizing when to take to heart the comments of advisors and professors, when to decide one’s own goals, when and where to focus both attention and action.
When we look at pictures of High School students from the early 60s when streaming was in effect, almost an entire class when off to University in the pursuit of similar goals- I have heard first hand stories of a class in which all but one entered sciences, followed by medicine, and that one, first obtained a degree in commerce, then entered medicine as well! Today’s more individualized timetables suggest a more personalized approach to course selecting, but is this the reality?
A VIP for a Bank told me he hadn’t been considered good at math in High School, not showing interest- then took a commerce course and loved discussing what to do with “widgets”. For the record – he deals with a tremendous amount of “math” today. There are similar stories, and of course the current jokes about how it might be more worthwhile to put one’s hope into the non academic aspect of school, and encourage a student to focus on an area where showing talent; schools for the arts, and sports oriented programs seem geared to recognizing that there is more to an individual’s “one day-someday” plan than the letter grade, however, when a student’s inklings are for academics, then let us not put down the high scoring community. Too many students still suggest to me their middle school fear of being considered nerdy (actually they often use a much stronger term) if they do achieve, and wish to achieve top grades. It is therefore not surprising to recognize the way in which highest awards are often given to the newest newcomer students- students whose families continue to focus on education, students whose families risked a great deal to make life anew in Canada, and one of their dreams was a full education for their children.
When we collectively consider “school” we may need to reassess the messages we are sending to the very students involved: are we creating an inclusive environment where students needn’t wait till post secondary or later to begin to find their voice? Are we offering within the school the safety of genuine communication, between peers, between students and teachers, between parents and teachers, between administration and the entire community? Somewhere, between “get 100” and “fail forward” we need a new slogan; a concept of opportunity shared, versus hierarchical put downs that seem so accepted within our educational settings.

Together- whole child, whole heart, whole community; holistic education. Let’s get it together !

Aside

Two ubiquitous postings float the internet nowadays: one is a paraphrasing of Churchill’s famous saying-paraphrased into “Keep calm and – ______________ ” fill in the blank here. Some make me smile ( “Keep Calm and Mother on” ) others make … Continue reading

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True story:

I’d love to build the kind of school that banned the word “punishment” & replaced it with “here-Read this!”

CHANGE

The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.”
–Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.,
U.S. Supreme Court justice

 To me the quote suggests that wisdom sees the individual in a situation and is able to listen and put reason and context into a judgement.  

I joined Mothers against Drunk Driving before I became a mom.  I am the last person to be in a position to defend a student for being slightly under the influence- but I also know kids- and know that schools inadvertently encourage drinking when they set up rules and arbitrarily decide who will be punished.  I also know that kids have their own code of honour and expecting one student to call out fifty more is a ridiculous notion.   

“Zero Tolerance”- imagine if that really were put into place beyond the school system- no need for a legal profession then/ after all, no need to weigh the crime of a stealing of a loaf of bread ( Victor Hugo – yes- Les Miserables) against the crime of cold blooded murder- no need to weigh anything at all- no need for perspective, understanding-balance- just… punishment.    And no worries if the punishment fit the crime- OH – but that’s a dystopia-  can’t possibly be what one wants from or for an education system.  

Teach Literature to students really offering them an understanding of the issues at hand and sit back and listen to how much kids do care- and stop sending mixed messages.  As a mom, I know the difference between a small infraction and a major one, and silently or vocally as the occasion demands praise the positive and give thanks that the testing the waters of adolescents is, in the grand scheme of things, about generally safe exposure to new ideas and sometimes, new tastes.

Change-  Kids change – when adults let them; over punishment doesn’t allow for change and may in fact push the student in the opposite direction.  People -and kids are people too- need to feel a sense of control over their lives.  Remove that sense and all that is encouraged is rebellion.  I know of a beautiful young student whose participation at her High School has been exemplary, whose one indiscretion is being held up without being weighed or even set beside the four years of non-stop team school participatory action.  Zero-tolerance? As adults, as educators, as parents, we ought to be fighting tooth and nail against such an empty slogan; a zero-tolerance society is not going to create future leaders who are capable of recognizing exceptions.