It's Elementary!

by Jamie Forrest

2010-2011 SMARTBoard Year-end Reflection May 19, 2011

Filed under: SMARTBoard Grant — Jamie @ 2:51 pm

FUTURE SUCCESSES

I think that there are two components that are absolutely essential to the success of this project. The first is access to the equipment. The data projector, laptop and SMARTBoard have been invaluable to the learning and integration of the technology in my classroom. Though I think that the students would not get the same benefits nor would the lessons have the same impact, I think that a data projector would still serve some of the purposes and provide some of the benefits. If there was no access to the laptops, it would be essential to have a teacher desktop permanently attached to the data projector.

Secondly, the professional development is so important. It provides us glimpses of new technologies that we can then explore and integrate at a later date. As teachers, we don’t have the time to seek out new tools because we can get lost in cyberspace. However, if we are introduced to a tool (or two) during a PD session, then we can use the little time we do have to direct our exploration and focus on those few tools.

MENTORSHIP AND LEADERSHIP

My leadership role has been informal but impactive. Because of the make-up of my classroom this year and the special needs of several of my students, as well as because of my own health issues, I have not been able to take on the same active leadership role that I did last year. Instead, I have approached teachers one-on-one to provide ideas or technology support when possible or when requested.

REFLECTIONS AND SUCCESSES

Again, given the make-up of my class and my own personal health (having been on sick leave for part of the year), I did not make the same gains in the realm of technology this year as I did last year. However, when I do some deep reflection, I feel like I’ve had at least one big success. Using the SMARTBoard to teach writing has been invaluable. I have seen an incredible improvement in student writing being able to move things around, edit, and correct with the students on the SMARTBoard. Trying to teach young students that the order of their words or sentences can have large impact is difficult. However, having the kids physically move the words around on the SB and read each new configuration has resulted in the lightbulbs going off!

Some of the smaller successes have been the access to immediate information in the guided inquiry we do, the exposure to different tools, and the confidence the students have when facing technology.

YEAR END REFLECTION SUMMARY

 

This has been a very difficult year for me.  I am a little disappointed with the progress that I have made with my students this year.  I have definitely grown in my own personal development and I have exposed the students to many new technologies as well.  I feel like they have made progress in their awareness and interest, but less so in their actual knowledge of using the technologies.  This was disappointing given the major gains that I made during the first year of this project.  It has been a learning experience also accepting that not every year will be the same and that some years, with some students will be exceedingly successful and others we will only make small gains.  As long as we are moving forward, we are moving in the right direction.

So, in the end, I don’t think that I achieved my goals of using a wiki to communicate useful links to my parents, of collaborating with another class or even of having my students create a presentation using a tool of their choice.  However, the students are aware of how to use the computers and several different pieces of software, how to blog, how to turn on and off the SMARTBoard, and some of them (though not all) did create multimedia presentations using PowerPoint and video editing software.

 

Have you read “Out of my Mind”? April 1, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jamie @ 9:15 pm

I am working on a project for my M.Ed. class.  If you could be so kind to help me out by answering one question, I’d appreciate it!  Thank you.

What does the book “Out of my Mind’ by Sharon Draper teach us about being a better teacher?

 

What’s the point? March 26, 2011

Filed under: Class reflections,Opinion pieces — Jamie @ 11:53 am

I’m sure that we’ve all finished a day in the classroom, sat in our chair, and asked ourselves “What’s the point? Why do I do this job?”


We might find that we all ask these questions for different reasons: standardized tests, students who can’t read, students with behaviour problems, seemingly no support from parents or administrators, more and more paperwork, feeling like we need to prove ourselves, more curriculum to teach, less time in our classrooms with our kids, feeling like we are not just teachers but also doctors, psychologist, priests, counsellors, speech paths, police officers, parents…


I have felt all of these things at one time or another during my 10 years teaching. Some years are better than others. Some groups are better than others. Overall, the good times have far outweighed the bad, which is why I am still teaching. However, it is still makes me think: What is the point of teaching? I look at this question now not in the defeated way mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, but in an objective, overall purpose way: What is the goal of education and teaching? What do we want to accomplish?


In pondering this question, I read Nel Noddings’ 2005 article What Does It Mean to Educate the WHOLE CHILD? Noddings begins her article by situating the climate created by the No Child Left Behind policy in the United States. She underlines “its unattainable main goal of 100 percent of students proficient in reading and math by 2014.” (page 8 ) This statement seems to be making the point that the goal of education is to make sure our kids can read and do math. But is that it?


I share with you now a situation of a child I once taught. It is a situation where most of us have experienced similar feelings about a student. This boy that I taught was very smart; very very smart. He was also very troubled behaviourally. He was getting into all sorts of trouble at school. I remember sitting with a colleague, trying to figure out how we could reach this young boy, and saying: “This child will either be the head of a Fortune-500 company or the head of a gang when he grows up.” I felt so strongly that this boy had the smarts and the will to do anything with his life and that it would all depend on the decisions he made along the way. Noddings addresses this same idea on page 10 when she says that “too many highly proficient people commit fraud, pursue paths to success marked by greed, and care little about how their actions affect the lives of others.”


So where does this lead me? I KNOW that education and teaching is more that reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic. I KNOW that my role as teacher is more than just teaching academic subject areas. But then, what is the goal? Noddings suggests several different visions of what that goal is.


Regardless of which vision fits your own, Noddings sums them up best: “They are meant to broaden our thinking – to remind us to ask why we have chosen certain curriculums, pedagogical methods, classroom arrangements, and learning objectives. They remind us, too, that students are whole persons.” (page 10)


This brings me back to the story of the boy who could do anything. I did my job by teaching the academic subjects. He could read, he could write, he could do math… But did I do the rest of my job. I’d like to think that I tried. I tried to give him a voice. It tried to teach him right from wrong. I tried to teach him that we all have choices and that our choices affect us, those around us, and that some decisions can go even further. I tried to teach him that he can and does play a role in our society as a whole. I tried to teach him that there is always more than one way to do things, more than one right answer… I tried to teach him that people are of value. Did he learn any of these things? I don’t know. He left our school a couple of years after I taught him. I often wonder about him.


Noddings leaves us with a series of questions (suggestions?) of how to more effectively lead to the education of the whole child:


So in the end, my belief is that the point of teaching IS to education the whole child. Although it IS important to teach the students how to add, read, and craft a well-written sentence, it is also my job to teach them the power of the words they choose to use and the far-reaching effects of those words. It is my job to teach them how to be a good friend and how to take responsibility for their actions. It is my job to make them aware of what is going on in the world and about how they can be a part of the change they feel is needed. I’m not sure how, yet. I try things. I try some of the things listed above. I try other things. I stumble, I fail, I succeed, but I’m doing something. That’s my point. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I teach.


So, what’s your point?

Noddings, N. (2005). What does it mean to educate the whole child? Educational Leadership, 63(1), 8-13.

 

Reflections on Dei and Weenie March 19, 2011

Filed under: Class reflections,Opinion pieces — Jamie @ 4:43 pm

This post is inspired by two articles I read for my university class:

  • Dei, G. S. (2003). Schooling and the dilemma of youth disengagement. McGill Journal of Education, 38(2), 241-256.
  • Weenie, A. (2008). Curricular theorizing from the periphery. Curriculum Inquiry, 38(5), 545-557.

 

 

    Initially when I read these articles, I was just left with a bunch of questions and self-doubt. Perhaps I was reading these articles in a very negative frame of mind, but there were my initial reactions…

  • How much are we expected to adapt to the many differences in our classrooms?
    • I did my internship in a community where many of the students were bussed in from First Nations reserves around the city. This community placed different values on “time” and the written word than our school system does. We function by a bell system where we have to be at a certain place at a certain time. Most of our assessments (in high school especially) are based on what the students can produce and share through the written word. (exams, assignments, etc.) Given that is the way our school system is built, right or wrong, how much should be change our expectations to accommodate the students who have different sets of values?
  • What about parents who don’t want to share?
    • Both of these articles talked about including the family and valuing their histories in order to essentially value the students. However, I have several families this year who came to Canada, either through choice or necessity, who do not want to celebrate their cultural stories. They want to assimilate and become as “Canadian” as possible. How far do we push this and encourage this to not alienate these families and create the opposite effect?
  • What about preparing the students for a future in the Canadian business/professional world?
    • While reading these articles that placed emphasis on the individualization of instruction and on incorporating as much as possible the students’ cultures and value systems, I just kept wondering if we are not, to a certain extent, setting our kids up for failure once they leave the school system. Once in the business world, employers don’t care whether your cultural background values time or not, they just want you to show up at work on time. They don’t care what you eat for dinner each day, they just want the work done. They don’t care if you are tired and weak because you are celebrating Ramadan; they need you to do the job you were hired for. I realize that I am white, middle class, and have experienced absolutely no form of racism, EVER, in my life, so I know that I am bringing my own backpack of values and beliefs (that happen to mesh well with the business world), but at the same time, the business world is the way that it is, isn’t it?
  • How is a teacher supposed to know all the cultural nuances if there are many different cultures in the classroom, especially is parents and students don’t share? Where are teachers supposed to find this knowledge?
    • Contrary to the recent movement in the United States, teachers are not, nor can they be expected to be Super Heroes. We have lives of our own outside the school, families, our own educations, friends, etc. We cannot possibly spend all the time required to learn about all the different cultural backgrounds, histories, languages, values and beliefs of all the students we encounter on a daily basis. We have no one in our school systems to help us learn. I try to learn from my students, but most of them don’t know their own family stories and parents are not always willing to share these stories either. I would like to know more, do more, but how?

 

After listening to the discussion we had at the last class during the round table, I had some new perspectives.

  • Sometimes we talk too much. Incorporating students’ stories, cultures, values and beliefs might be as simple as shutting up and listening once in a while.
  • Even if I can give just one student a place to be safe and share their stories, I am doing my job.
  • Allowing students to share their stories, regardless of background, or whether the stories are “culturally” based or not, empowers the students and allows them to share THEIR stories. It makes them feel important and valued.
  • Curriculum is life. A student’s life is their curriculum to this point. It is important to value their curriculum.
  • Students as curriculum makers… We need to start where the students are and go from there.
  • With younger students, we can get them to tell their own stories through a literacy program… “Buffalo Books” from Frankie…

 

Then since last week, I have also done a bit of reflection and done a bit more research…

  • I realized that in many of my initial comments, I made some pretty broad assumptions that again come from my own personal values and beliefs… For example, when I was talking about the Canadian business world, I made a bit assumption that being a part of that world would be everyone’s goal. This is surely not the case, even though that is what I might value. I realize that this is what I would want for my own children, but that it is part of a value system that I will be choosing to continue in my family. That does not mean that everyone in Canada believes or wants the same things as me. I have a very hard time accepting when people’s values don’t mix with mine. This is often where I run into problems in my daily life as a classroom teacher. I think that everyone should value getting an education and get very very frustrated when I ask parents to do certain things with their children and they don’t value the school system enough to do them. I find myself making snap judgments about them: “Don’t they care about their kids?” I need to remember to take a step back and realize that one thing likely has nothing to do with the other.
  • I was on Facebook this week (of all places) and somebody posted this video. It is another RSA Animate video. This time is highlight’s Jeremy Rifkin’s talk about the evolution of empathy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g What really struck me about this video initially was the part where he talks about the evolution of a child’s story. This video really made a deep connection for me with these two articles. It took the reflection and their meaning to a much broader space than the initial readings. It became less of the individual cultures that I have in my classroom and more about just dealing with my students and with people in general with more empathy. If we were to do that as teachers and as a society, we would not have to worry so much about the individual nuances that I struggled with throughout this reflection.
 

Curriculum Maker Inquiry February 26, 2011

Filed under: Class reflections,Myself as curriculum maker — Jamie @ 11:59 am

One of the major assignments for my current M.Ed. class is a Curriculum Maker Inquiry.  The assignment was done in parts.  We were to tell three-four stories of experiences that had an impact on us at the time.  I have blogged about these experiences.  The first story I shared was a poem that I wrote about my experience having to quit gymnastics due to a back injury.  The second story I shared was about a teacher that had a big impact on me.  The third story was about a teacher librarian that did something wonderful for me.  The fourth story was about two interactions I had with students during my internship.  You can follow the links to read more.

The next part of this assignment was to reread these stories and examine them in terms of the four curriculum commonplaces: teacher, subject matter, milieu and student.  The following is what came out of this examination for me.



When I examine the places where these stories took place, three of the four of them are places where I really felt were “home”. They were places where I felt most comfortable. They are places where I spent a lot of time. They are places where the people I knew the best and cared about the most were. The only one that doesn’t really fit in is the hospital. And looking back on the story, thinking about it, rereading it… I think that the role of the hospital was minor compared to the role of the gym. So, the milieu of my most important stories seems to be generally important places in my history.


When I look at the teachers in these stories, I have a hard time really pinpointing who the teachers were, exactly… It seems to me that the teachers were everyone and everything about these situations. The people obviously played a huge role in my learning. They taught me good things and they taught me bad things… They taught me by their words, their actions and their reactions. The situations themselves and life taught me things. They pushed me, challenged me, and forced me to think outside the box. I also think that because of these challenges, I taught myself a thing or two as well.


In the teacher commonplace, you may have noticed that I wrote a lot about what those teachers taught ME. I am certain that other people may have learned a thing or two from these situations too. However, since they are my memories, and my stories, it is almost illogical for me to focus on what others learned. I can say that in my gym story, my parents probably learned how to change their focus from the gym to other things in life. My coach learned how to let go of the gymnast in me and support me outside the gym. In the library story, my librarian might have learned how to work around teachers that have a difference of opinion. There are others, but how can I say for sure if this was new knowledge for them? I can only be certain of what I learned. So, the true student in these stories was me.


When I look through this list, I notice the LACK of traditional school subject areas. Not one of my stories includes things I learned from the world of academia. All of these things have to do with my moral and personal development. These situations changed me. They changed what I believed. They changed how I looked at the world. They changed how I faced problems. That is what I learned.

 

So now, the next part of this curriculum maker inquiry is to look at how these stories have affected the way that I create curriculum for my students. I really wasn’t sure how to represent this learning. I did a lot of thinking about this. The only thing that really kept popping up throughout this project, and throughout this class, is MY role in my classroom. It has been about what I have learned, about what I am teaching, how I am teaching, how I am interacting with my students. So, I used a picture of myself to represent my learning and how it affects my role as curriculum maker for my students.


My Brain – My attitude truly affects the interactions I have with the world and with my students. I need to pay attention to how I approach my academic curriculum and my interactions with my students; particularly with the subject areas and with the students I find most challenging.

My Eyes – My eyes allow me to see beyond the initial interactions and impressions of my students. Many students have tough exteriors, tough home lives, tough attitudes. It is my job to see beyond these. I need to find a way to see beyond my feelings and frustrations.

My Ears – My ears allow me to listen to my students. I listen to their stories. I listen to their frustrations. I listen to their celebrations. Listening is a huge component to creating the relationship necessary with my students in order to teach them.

My Mouth – One of the most important things that I learned from revisiting my stories is that words can truly make or break a person. I need to be super careful about the things that come out of my mouth. I really have to be careful that the things I say are not off the cuff in frustration or anger, especially on days when I am tired or not feeling well. I also need to find opportunities to praise my students as much as possible.  Particularly those students who don’t often inspire praise.

My Heart – I truly believe that half of teaching is creating relationship with my students. Connecting hearts is the basis for the whole kit and caboodle (as my grandpa would say).

My Gut – Over the years, I have learned to trust my gut. It is important to listen to these feelings, even if that means sometimes forgetting about the lesson I’ve planned to talk about what needs to be addressed in the class emotionally. I need to follow my gut when I need to ignore some of the emotional things going on to get the academic stuff done too. It goes both ways. I also need to guide my students to understand the difference between a gut feeling and an emotional reaction and how to decide which feelings to follow and which to work through before reacting.

My Feet – Finally, sometimes we just need a swift kick in the butt. My students, their parents, me… We all need it sometimes.  I also use my feet to walk away from situations.  Sometimes, the best thing that we all can do when facing certain people or situations is to just walk away and find a better place to be.

 

What do you think? Have I missed anything? Do you have any other further suggestions? I appreciate any feedback offered! And thank you for reading.

 

Teacher Appreciation Week – So Far February 16, 2011

Filed under: Opinion pieces — Jamie @ 7:13 am

We have had only two days of Teacher Appreciation so far, but I feel so blessed.

 

Yesterday, our day started with a staff room table full of muffins, baking, donuts, and candies from our Admin team.  It was really nice.  Then the bell rang and we got all of our students into the gym for our weekly morning assembly.  Our parent council was there.  They had a Barbershop Quartet sing us all songs for TA week and they gave us cookies that said THANK YOU in icing.  What a great day!

 

Then yesterday, my principal knocked at my door about 15 minutes before lunch.  She had me pick an apple out of a basket and told me to take a little extra prep and to come back just before the bell.  Now, you might say that 15 minutes isn’t much, but I still appreciated it!  I came back to my room and this is what I saw:

Each apple is a Thank You note written from a student in my class.  I was so touched I was almost in tears reading them…

 

Then we came into the staff room for lunch and this was on our table:

This bouquet was made of strawberries, pineapple, and canteloupe.   It was beautiful.  It was accompanied with a note.  “Thank you to all the St. Mary Staff that works so hard for our kids.  - Anonymous.”  We thought we knew who that was, but we weren’t sure!

 

Then a member of our parent council walked in with two big wrapped boxes.  One contained a kettle, one a toaster.  And I don’t know about your staff room, but ours’ were falling apart so it was much appreciated!

 

Today, we have lunch being provided for the staff by admin.  We were told that the week was building to tomorrow, so I can’t wait to see what is to come!  Wow.  We are spoiled!

 

My role as educator? February 13, 2011

Filed under: Class reflections,Opinion pieces — Jamie @ 5:14 pm

A reflection on the following article:

Dewey, J.  (1938).  The need for theory of experience and Criteria of experience.  In J. Dewey, Experience and Education, pp. 33-50.  New York: MacMillan.

Also mentioned is the following article:

Jackson, P.  (1992).  Conceptions of curriculum and curriculum specialists.  In P. Jackson (Ed.), Handbook of Curriculum Research, pp. 3-40.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

While reading this article, there were two major ideas running through my head.  The first revolved around things that I have control over.  There were a few quotes in this article that made me ask several questions about my own practice.  Here are a few of these quotes and the questions that I ask myself almost daily as I reflect upon my teaching practice.

“Does not the principle of regard for individual freedom and for decency and kindliness of human relations come back in the end to the conviction that these things are tributary to a higher quality of experience on the part of a greater number than are methods of repression and coercion or force?” page 34

“Every experience enacted and undergone modifies the one who acts and undergoes.” page 35

“ “growth” is not enough; we must also specify the direction in which growth takes place,” page 36

  • How do I run my classroom?
  • Do I provide for individual freedom or do I expect my students to produce the same products in the same time with the same methods?
  • Am I kind to my students?  Do I place value on the human relations that take place every day in my classroom or do I stop them from flourishing?
  • What kind of experiences do I provide for my students?
  • Do I provide experiences that breed creativity in my students?  Are they experiences that make them want to try new things, regardless of the results? Or does what I do make my students ask “Is this THE right answer?”
  • Do I provide experiences that breed a love of learning in my students?  Are they experiences that make them want to find out more when the bell rings?  Or does what I do make my students close the book and walk away, not thinking of it again until the next class or worse yet, saying that they hate the subject matter?
  • Do I provide experiences that teach my students that they are valuable?  Are they experiences that make them feel like they have been heard and that they offered an important contribution to the class?  Or does what I do make them walk away wondering if anyone even knew that they were there and had an idea to share?

Many of these questions come back again and again for me.  You can see parts of them in my blog post “Teacher as Curriculum Maker” and in “From Here to There – Reflections on Curriculum.” Many of these questions are also raised in this RSAnimate video “Changing Education Paradigms.”

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U (My video embedder isn’t working at the moment…  I’ll try embedding later.)

 

However, when reading further into Dewey’s article, we also see that there is a second side to this situation which he calls “interaction.”  Philip Jackson might have called this “experienced curriculum.”  This is part of the development of our students over which we, as teachers, have no control.   “The environment, …, is whatever conditions interact with personal needs, desires, purposes and capacities to create the experience which is had.” page 44   I have control over the environment that I create within my classroom.  I can create a setting and circumstances of learning through my lessons and activities but the experience is ultimately created by the mixing of that which I create and what my students bring to the classroom with them.  (Which means that I should perhaps reword my reflective questions from above…)

 

Dewey continues by stating that the educator has “the duty of determining that environment which will interact with the existing capacities and needs of those taught to create a worth-while experience” page 45.  Although I agree with this statement, it is especially disheartening to me because as Sir Ken said in his video, I have 27 students with very little in common but their age.  They each come to me with different experiences, different stories, different strengths and different interests.  How am I to create one environment to interact with each of these individuals to create a “worth-while experience?”  How am I to ensure that my students learn the curriculum that they must because they are in the third grade?

 

Further, Dewey introduces the idea of collateral learning – the “formation of enduring attitudes [and] of likes and dislikes” which “may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history that is learned.  For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future.  The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.”  page 48.  This is, what I feel, should be the ultimate goal of education.  However, with all the differences in abilities, interests, histories, likes and dislikes and so many students with so little time, I wonder how I am to achieve this?  Is there one right way?  I think not.  What worked last year does not work with this group.  Where do I find the time and the answers?  Emily Pacini, in her blog post on Collateral Learning writes the following:


“A point not to be ignored is that fact that collateral learning is collateral because of the fact that it occurs as a result of a given stimuli. Without that initial spark, it does not exist by the very definition of the word. What that tells us as educators is that one experience flows from another, so that learning a concrete set of knowledge can lead to the formation of less tangible qualities within an individual. Dictated ways of learning can lead to self-generating principles.”

 

Perhaps then, the lessons in which I engage my students, although one lesson with one or a few methods will lead to my students self-generating their own learning outside the walls of my classroom…   I really enjoyed reading this article.  However, it seems that the more I read for this class, the more questions I have!  So, I will keep questioning, keep reading, keep searching and keep teaching.

 

 
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