How often do you breathe?

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I am a busy person. I always have been. My mind or my body is usually in motion, and anyone within earshot will confirm that my mouth usually offers a running commentary for my unsuspecting audience. At the front of a classroom, this translates into a need for  more “Wait Time”.

It seems obvious enough that allowing wait time is important in the classroom; giving students time to think of answers before blurting out the right one, waiting for silence before continuing on with a lesson, making room for quiet reflection to ebb in the flow of a busy classroom.

But while this is true, I have also found that I, too, need to open myself to wait time in my own life. Instead of busily racing from Pre-internship into the madcap chaos of our last three weeks of studies, I have found a need for solitude, reflection, and the digestion of the last three weeks. I found myself asking questions and reflection upon the experience, over and over again:

What did I learn? What did I do? What was important to me? What am I proud of? What would I do differently? What kind of teacher do I want to be?

…and so on, and so on. My brain seems to suggest answers constantly, filtering and filing the good ones. Sometimes the answers come in the middle of the night. Other times they pop into my head when I am having a completely unrelated conversation with family or friends. And so my brain, my spirit, my body, and yes, even my mouth, continue to process this experience. I never would have thought that 3 weeks in a classroom could have such a profound effect on me.

As I pause this weekend, before returning to classes, a 5 word truth hits me:

Purposeful pauses provide profound providence.

I have come to appreciate the value of reflection. Reflection doesn’t always reveal immediately what messages are most valuable, but if you give it enough wait time, the cream rises to the surface.

So looking ahead to the next steps, I realized today that just because I am busy does not mean I shouldn’t breathe. Even though I have an aggressive plan for the remainder of my degree, the breaks and pauses now also have my attention. Perhaps this is the root of my next Health Action Plan… taking time to breathe.

So, I will leave you with a question – How often do you “breathe”? What form does it take – journal reflection, incessant rambling, spin class, or something else?

Making room in the schedule for “teaching”

When I walked into my 3 week block this month, I thought my eyes were open. I knew that we only had 10 teaching days available because of extracurricular events. I knew I needed to be prepared, well planned lessons in-hand and ready for the class. Knowing all of this still did not prepare me for the fluidity of the classroom schedule.

I have enjoyed every minute in the classroom, but I have been surprised by the activities IMG_0484and interruptions that detract from “classroom learning”. There were the planned interruptions; a Grade 7-8 ski trip to Mission Ridge, a visit from the high school one day, followed by a tour AT the high school the next, the school-wide “Carnaval” Day, and of course the division PD Day and Teacher’s Conference. These things I knew about and planned for.

What I (and sometimes even my co-op teacher) didn’t anticipate were the other interruptions – half the class leaving mid-lesson for band practice, the Student Council members leaving to tally points in each classroom for Hawaiian Day, an impromptu pep rally for the Boys Basketball team before they headed to the City Finals, vaccination day (bringing with it a lot of drama and chatter in a Grade 8 class). Though a blessing to be in a school with many resources and funding, it can still be a curse in the classroom.

Students absences also created challenges; family vacations, extracurricular performances, sports and illness kept me on my toes.  Even when students are physically present, sometimes students are not mentally ready to learn, or the lesson doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Sometimes technology got in the way of my smoothly planned lesson. Wi-Fi can be sketchy, and buffering videos can be a dangerous game in Middle Years. Squeezing in the last 10 minutes of a video before a Friday ski trip worked!

And so, through the craziness of it all, I found my best weapon is flexibility. I have been thankful for my ability to go with the flow. Whether it was planning some differentiation in my lesson for those students at the head and the back of the pack, or a mid-lesson refocus because a concept needed additional explanation, I have been proud of my ability to react “in the moment”.

Whether the teaching occurred within my preconceived “lesson time”, or on the ski slopes, or during a brief interaction in the hallway, responding to student needs in the moment is one of my favorite challenges of this profession.

Inquiry… then and now

I have lived through my fair share of “inquiry-based” learning, as a student and as a mom of 4 kids. Back in my school days, science fairs seemed to be presented in a way that gave students permission to delve passionately into a particular inquiry of their choosing. For me, this happened in Grade 8.

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Microfiche Reader, old-fashioned inquiry

I remember creating my Science fair project on the Human Eye and how we perceive colour. Back in those days, we didn’t have the internet to provide prompts and inspiration. We didn’t have a computer in our house and research meant looking through our 1965 (or thereabouts) version of Encyclopedia Brittannica. If I found the data antiquated (which I usually did), I would peruse our local library, or in dire  circumstances, I would even go to the Mississauga Central Library branch, which had far more resources; even video tapes and microfiche! It was a lot of effort for limited information, which we took for “gospel”. In the Education program, we often hear of the importance of teaching children how to properly research, choose credible sources and question intent. Resources are vast and diverse of worldviews. 30 years ago the data was harder to find, but we took it for face value.

 

But I digress. When I was judged on my colour project, I distinctly remember one of the judges asking me about the difference between tan and beige. I suspect his inquiry was based on the clothing trends of that decade. My display was visually appealing and colourful, but not as innovative or controversial as some other projects, such as dissolving nails and teeth in a glass of Coke. Looking back, I can’t tell you what the rubric looked like or how we were assessed. I investigated, I learned, I presented information. But was it inquiry? By definition, yes. But inquiry can be so much more.

I like how this video relates inquiry based learning to this Australian school’s mission to foster a desire in all students to make a difference; a personal, communal, national and global difference. This is something that I truly believe is the key to inquiry – why do I care and how can I make a difference?

So how can this impact how we present inquiry in the classroom? Consider for a minute differentiated learning. This is a topic that my fellow teachers Kendra, April and Emma are exploring with me for our own current inquiry-based learning. There is a wonderful variety of students that present themselves in any given classroom; different types of performers, “high” or “low” achievers, hands-on learners, EAL students, struggling readers and writers.

A Science Fair project can set up all sorts of successes, or challenges. Just look at this project designed by a frustrated mom a few years ago:

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One mom voices a common sentiment among parents and students

My son’s Grade 6 Science project is one example of lack of motivation. A few years ago, he, along with a partner, created a display that showed how solar panels could power a small computer. They enjoyed the hands on challenge of making it work, however they did not see the connection to real world problems that they hadn’t experienced. If they had explored a community that had scarce power, would this have deepened their inquiry into how this could provide a viable alternative for remote communities or countries? Would this have seemed more meaningful to expand the hastily written journal or reflection?

Also, this brings up the point of choice in presentation style. I am sure that if they had been given the opportunity to video blog their reflections, they would have been able to produce much deeper, meaningful reflections on their work. As someone who (for the first time ever!) did my very own video reflections this past term with my teaching partner, April, I am a firm believer that giving a choice of method will increase the content and understanding tenfold.  Here are 72 ways students can show what they know!

As I approach my 3 week block, I am planning for a Unit in ELA – Short Story Writing in the Suspense genre. I think of the students in my class – the same brilliant mix of students I mentioned above, and I wonder – How will inquiry based learning help them to achieve success in this unit? How can I, as an educator and a facilitator, motivate them to share their creativity with others?

My ultimate goal is that the students will want to share their finished products. Not only does this step complete the inquiry process, but it opens the experience up to not just personal, but rather, communal learning as well. I will keep you posted!

And so, readers, I ask you: What topics excite you? Does inquiry follow naturally in these areas, and does this always translate to sharing with your community, and beyond? How do you foster inquiry in others?

 

Reading between the students

… AKA “The Emotional Exit Slip”

I have been working with children and teens in various roles for the last 9 years; Sparks/Brownies, soccer coaching, math and reading tutoring, reading volunteer, and as a parent of 4 kids of my own. Currently I have the privilege to work in a Grade 8 classroom as a pre-service teacher. I have seen the dynamics of the schoolyard, a classroom, a gymnasium full of little girls. I have been the shoulder that my own kids have cried on through the ebb and flow of popularity and belonging.

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Some kids often feel left out

That is why when the below story popped up on my facebook feed from 2 years ago, it was a welcome reminder of one teacher’s method that has stuck with me since I first read it. It speaks to the very heart of the “connectedness” that I believe is key to a child’s success in the classroom, and in life. Rereading this article, I was reminded that the teacher in the story started using this strategy right after the Columbine shooting. In the wake of the LaLoche tragedy last month, I believe this type of “emotional exit slip” is a way that teachers can keep a pulse on their students’ mental health.

Below is an excerpt of the original article published in 2014 on www.momastery.com:

“Every Friday afternoon Chase’s teacher asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week. The children know that these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student whom they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.

And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, Chase’s teacher takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her and studies them. She looks for patterns.

Who is not getting requested by anyone else?

Who doesn’t even know who to request?

Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?

Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or “exceptional citizens.” Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down- right away- who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.”

Having two of my own kids in middle years right now, this speaks volumes to me. The recent RAP training that I completed spoke of the four quadrants of the Circle of Courage – Belonging, Mastery, Independence and Generosity. As a middle years teacher, I believe that using the above strategy provides a safe “emotional check-up” with each student in a non-threatening way. But this is only the first step. By looking at the patterns – the lonely, the outcasts, the students who may be bullying or bullied – a teacher can find where a student’s circle is broken, and develop one-on-one and classroom strategies that enable those students to connect with someone. Maybe it’s a classmate, a reading buddy in a younger class, an older mentor, or a teacher. Connectedness and positive self-esteem can make a huge impact on a student feeling like an important part of the class, school and community. Ultimately these are the experiences that our students will remember, and without these connections, learning cannot begin.

So teachers, how can you foster connectedness in your classroom? Do you see other ways to use the data this activity collects?

Parents, do you check in with your kids who they connect to in the class? Does it change week to week? How might this help your understanding and connectedness with your own child?

The riddle of the English language

Below is one of my favorite poems that demonstrates the ridiculousness of the English language. We use words that originate from Latin, French, Germanic roots – it’s a fascinating read if you are interested. Being in the Middle Years B.Ed program, I sometimes feel like I am trying to piece together my own pre-existing knowledge and experience with the new theories, pedagogies and practices that we are learning about.

Much like the PFL perspective of transfer that we learned about this week in ECS 410, I know that I am learning for long term application. I may resist stripping away past knowledge and beliefs that no longer work in the new paradigm, but this Negative Transfer is important to analyse. Do I let go of past learnings? Do they still hold value? Do I marry them with new ideas to create something unique, perhaps my teaching philosophy?

So, I invite you to do two things:

  1. What have you read or learned lately that you are still processing? Have you old ideas that are getting in the way of embracing this new knowledge? By comparing and contrasting the old with the new, you open yourself up to a deeper, stronger understanding once you truly reflect and resolve this within yourself.
  2. Just for fun, read the poem below aloud. How many words can you confidently pronounce? How might you use this in the classroom?

Spelling - Teaching Spelling - Spelling Rules

If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world. After trying the verses, a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months of hard labour to reading six lines aloud.

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,

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Teaching starts at home

I recently read an article about a special one-day parent conference organized by the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and its parent involvement committee. This conference was designed to bridge the gap between what happens at school and home. As a parent, I can totally relate to the struggles that parents have when faced with their children’s homework. With busy lives and the pressures of work, it can be tempting to hope that your kids finish their homework during classtime, or at the very least, know how to tackle their homework independently. But more important than ever, our kids need us to be present in their lives – emotionally, physically, spiritually, and yes, also mentally. Parents, as well as other key adult figures in a child’s life, model attitudes about learning, questioning, communicating, compromising. This got me thinking, “What kind of attitudes do I model for the children in my life?” If you ask yourself this question, as a parent, a teacher, or any role model, what attitudes come to mind?

Since a new year tends to be a good time for reflection, I invite you to take a minute to consider a few more questions with me:

  • Have I embraced the new day with excitement and enthusiasm? Here are 5 positive ways to start the day.
  • What kind of ripples am I sending out for the rest of the day – for myself and for others? My emotional state reflects on those around me. Our mirror neurons, as I have learned this week in RAP training (Response Ability Pathways (RAP) and Circle of Courage), offer us a way to directly influence the attitudes of those around us, especially our students. Here’s an article that shares how mirror neurons can influence perspectives in the classroom.
  • Am I present in the moment? This goes for time spent with family or friends as well as in pre-intern classes, at work, church or volunteer experiences. Living in the moment; putting down the cell phone, closing my laptop, and focusing on the interactions around me – this is the biggest focus for me in the new year.
  • Lastly, am I looking at my experiences in a mindful way? Also tied to living in the moment, this can help me to model for others the ability to focus on the things I can affect. For some ideas on the Art of Now, visit this blog.

I look forward to asking these questions often in the next few weeks, and sharing any new revelations they bring. Do you have other questions you are asking yourself this year? Please comment below with your own questions, comments or resources! Happy beginnings!

Aurasma in the Classroom

My group did a presentation this term on Aurasma, and how to apply it in the classroom. We’ve created a pinterest board called Aurasma in the Classroom which offers lots of ideas for you. Feel free to share, borrow and comment!

 

 

 

Embrace the chaos

Well after many technical difficulties with our reflection  upload last week, I am choosing to write my reflection.

My lesson this week was an ELA Lesson on Bias and Perception in the Media.  I found a terrific resource on the website http://mediasmarts.ca/  which allowed students to experience bias in the media firsthand.

Getting lesson plan ideas off the internet is terrific, but there is often a LOT more to think about than just cutting and pasting an idea in the Development section of your lesson plan. Though I loved the original lesson idea, I quickly realized there were many  additional considerations: classroom management, the logistics of selecting groups and scheduling the interviews, and what the students would do with “downtime” since some groups would be finished more quickly than others. I realized that this had the potential for disaster, but knew this idea, if done right, also had the opportunity to make an impact on the students. Since I had already submitted my final lesson plan, I crossed my fingers, read and reread my plan, and hoped for the best.

I had emailed my co-op teacher for some advise about which students would make the best “arguers”. I had a few ideas but felt she would best know her students and that this really would have an impact on the outcome of the lesson. We discussed it in the morning and and she recommended two students that were on my short list. The two students did a fantastic job. They were mature, committed to the “scene” and really sold the conflict to the rest of the class. We changed the story from arguing over a textbook to a “Stolen” Pencil, which is apparently a recurring issue in our classroom. This really added to the impact since the students themselves all had personal bias with this issue in the past.

After the lesson, my co-op said she was very impressed with my classroom management skills at the beginning. Coming into class from recess, the students were already wired from a meeting for the musical and some other extra-curricular chaos going on. So even by starting the class with a big conflict, I managed to get them settled and focused quickly.

I was really proud of the students’ insights, meeting the purpose of the lesson and their engagement. Their interviewing skills were good, and the presentations showed exactly the type of biases that we see in the news. This would be a great lesson to segue into analysis of different media for bias.

It was great to end off the pre-service with a fun, engaging lesson. I also learned that my classroom management skills are better than I thought. Compared to Phys Ed. this was a breeze, and the outcome was totally worth the chaos.

 

 

 

 

 

VTENJC – the irrelevant content

Since I had been to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum as recently as last month, I thought I had a pretty good critique of what the First Nations exhibit did, and did not say about the reality of Treaty and the historical and present treatment of First Nations people.

However, as soon as I received the Scavenger Hunt page for the First Nations Gallery, I forgot about what I knew or didn’t know. The only thing that was important was being the first group to complete it!

My group whipped through the exhibit, filled out the answers in record time, and even had time to criticize the hidden message for VTENJC.

Pointing out 6 little letters at the end of a secret message might seem petty, but really, doesn’t this just reflect the lingering messages that are or are not shown in the First Nations Gallery.

What was most disappointing about the Gallery was its lack of recognition of the current affairs of First Nations, (and Metis and Inuit were barely mentioned). The display made it seem as if they were a people in the past, frozen in time.

Despite the above, I felt that the suggestion mentioned in the Clio Club article of a first person reenactment would be less useful in Saskatchewan, as I think there are far more meaningful and culturally rich ways to experience a First Nations worldview directly through guest speakers or outings; pow wows, tipi raisings, etc.

Another idea that “Cultivating Thinking in Museums” offered was the idea of Time being something we don’t give ourselves or our classes the luxury of taking, but that it is of utmost importance to give students time to reflect on art pieces. In addition, modeling this behavior of critical thinking and making connections can begin before the visit. I think showing some samples in class prior can give student the opportunity to “practice” reflection and critical thinking and also set their expectation for the museum visit ahead of time. This will establish the sense of purpose before going on the field trip.

I found the articles that were shared in Social Studies really offered some great ways to incorporate critical thinking into a field trip such as this one, where there are many misrepresentations. I would like to incorporate many of these ideas into a field guide for myself so that my field trips are always purposeful and successful.

We (are all Treaty people) Day

I first heard about We Day in 2012, when my daughter came home from high school 5 years ago and enthusiastically wanted to support the cause by buying a $10 bracelet that someone in a developing country had made. We looked online at the program together, and when I found a better way to support them through “betterworldbooks.com” by buying $400 in previously loved books. She was less impressed with this idea than the bracelet, so we ended up doing both. The bracelet still sits in it’s original box, never having been worn by my daughter, nor her younger sister. Shouldn’t we

When I read the We Day article, I was not surprised, but neither was I stirred up by the hype. In the years since it’s inception, it has grown into a glitzy, star-filled show, attracting the likes of singers, politicians, and celebrities. The big We Days are by “invitation only”, and offer an exclusive, snob-appeal approach to garnering both attention and interest. Indeed, it has become trendy to help the impoverished.

On October 14th, I had the opportunity to attend the We Day at Campbell Collegiate. This did nothing but exacerbate my feelings. The organizers stood at the front, played loud music and showed inspirational slide shows of their work overseas, with image after image of a huge, goofy, happier-than-happy grin on his face, surrounded by the local people. It was almost laughable how over the top it seemed.

The new target country that Campbell Collegiate had selected for this year is India. They proceeded to present videos on the three pillars of assistance that they could select to raise money for; Education, Food Security, or Water Sanitation.

As I watched the three videos, I could only think of Canada’s aboriginal peoples – the First Nations, Metis and Inuit. Compared to the These groups have dealt with proven education gaps, astronomical food prices and supply issues limiting their food security, and Boil Water Advisories, in some cases for over 20 years. Can We Day not inspire our youth to make the same kind of impact on our own people? There are those that desperately need our help within Canada, so why don’t we see this help?

It might be that it makes us feel good to help those in need around the other side of the world, in a different climate than our own. We are not as aware of WHY they are in that situation, so we can do something good that they themselves could not do. We can blame harsh climates, lack of tools and education to explain their need.

I wonder if we don’t want to help our own aboriginal people because we know the history that colonialists created, have lived and listened to the justification of their “problems” and this affects our empathy for their current plight.

Perhaps helping our own people would tarnish our “image” of Canada, bringing our National imperfections to light.

I do not know the answer. But although We Day supports both Local and Global initiatives, and even has a #WeStandTogether angle to help FNMI people in Canada, I am curious how often this is selected by our Canadian schools, teachers and students. I wonder if homelessness or hunger are issues that are more visible to the majority of Canadians. Shouldn’t we look first to help our Aboriginal people, who have the highest affliction rates of all these social issues? Isn’t this what “We are all Treaty People” means?

So I will leave you with these questions: What do you think is the reason we prefer to look beyond our borders to help in big ways? What will you do to change this?