It's Elementary!

by Jamie Forrest

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.

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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.
 

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.

 

The Year I Learned There Are More Important Things Than School February 7, 2011

I think I’ve said this before on this blog, but I’m about as middle-upper class as they come.  Although my parents taught me the value of working hard to get what we want in life, I have never wanted for anything.  I have always had food enough to be a little bit picky.  I have always had clothes enough to appreciate style and good quality.  I have always had the opportunity to participate in at least one extra-curricular activity.  Finally, getting a post-secondary education was never a question…  It was only a question of WHAT I would be studying.

I had never even been exposed to poverty.  I was a starry-eyed 22-year-old young woman wearing rose-coloured classes starting her internship in a high school in northern Saskatchewan.  It was that year that I learned, for the first time, that there are some things more important than school.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think that getting an education is important; it’s just that for some kids, it isn’t (and can’t be) at the top of their list of important things to worry about.  When I started interning, I was frustrated by a portion of my students who were frequently late to class, often sleeping and lifeless during discussions or work periods and rarely, if ever, completed assignments.  I couldn’t understand why this happened day after day.  I didn’t know what to do except keep talking to the kids and to try and figure out with my co-op teacher’s help how I could help them get through our classes.

About half-way through my internship (about 2 months after meeting these kids) when I had started taking on more of the teaching responsibility, two things happened that absolutely changed my world.  The first was during lunch supervision one day.  I saw one of my students who was in an afternoon class with me.  He often fell asleep in my class.  The day I saw him, he was sitting with a group of his friends but had no lunch in front of him.  I asked if he had forgotten his lunch that day.  He then told me the story of his family.  He had four younger siblings.  He had made lunch that morning, but their family could afford only one lunch per day and it wasn’t his day to bring lunch.  The siblings all took turns bringing lunch.  I immediately offered him my lunch, which he refused.  That day was the first time that I realized that there are some things that are more important than school.

The second thing that happened was an incident with another student.  This was one of the students who NEVER finished anything!  I was quite frustrated with this students, particularly because this student was so smart!  I had many talks with him about “playing the education game.”  It didn’t matter how smart he was, if he didn’t do the work, his marks wouldn’t reflect it.  One day, I made him come to my room during lunch break and complete one of the assignments.  He seemed happy and almost relieved that I had given him that opportunity.  I didn’t understand it, but was relieved myself at not having to fight him about it.  The next day, he asked if he could come back and work in my room.  I agreed.  This became a daily affair.  We chatted, he worked on whatever assignments he needed to do, not just my assignments.  Then one day I couldn’t be there so told him that he wouldn’t be able to use my room.  He told me that was okay, but the assignment I had given would probably not be done.  I asked him why and he finally explained: His father (who was uneducated) believed that by wanting to get an education, his son was turning his back on his family and snubbing his father in the process.  The father had a bad temper and would often scream and yell and sometimes beat him if he did homework at home.  I was flabbergasted.  I was sick to my stomach.  Needless to say, I told my co-op teacher and we made sure that from then on the student had a safe refuge to work.  That just solidified for me that there are more important things in life than school.

Those incidents during my internship have shaped who I am as a teacher.  They have helped me understand that there are most often reasons beyond laziness and lack of caring that students don’t work in my classroom.  Sometimes I forget in the moment, but I think back on my internship to remind me.

 

Situation – Thanking a librarian January 28, 2011

Filed under: Myself as curriculum maker,Opinion pieces — Jamie @ 7:17 am

This week for my class, we were asked to write of a situation from our early schooling experience.  This came to me immediately:

**************************************************************************************************************

I am a reader.  I don’t remember a time when I haven’t been a reader.  I don’t remember much from before I started Kindergarten, but I do remember going to the public library and coming home with BAGS of books to read.  I lived in Southern Alberta at that time.  Halfway through my year in Kindergarten, we moved to Northern Alberta.  I remember going to my new school and being just enthralled with my new school library.  I was so excited at the prospect of all these “new” books I could read.

 

As I moved into First grade, I had moved on from picture books and couldn’t get enough beginning chapter books.  My teacher recognized both my interest AND the fact that I was quite capable of reading them.  By Second grade, I had moved on from beginning chapter books to full-fledged chapter books.  However, I had also moved on to a teacher who didn’t (wouldn’t) believe that I could read them.  I remember that when our class went to the library, my teacher would not let any of the students venture outside the “Easy” section of the library.  I was absolutely devastated.  I would cry every time we went to the library.  The librarian just sat, seemingly helpless, watching this situation.  Now, as a teacher, I can see that she likely didn’t want to challenge this teacher while the students were around, but she was obviously scheming…

 

Finally, after watching this situation for a couple of months, I guess my librarian couldn’t handle it anymore.  She finally asked me to be a “library helper” during the morning recess each day.  I was ecstatic to help!  If I couldn’t take out the books I wanted, at least I could look at them, hold them, smell them…  (book lovers will get that)  However, when I got there, I learned that not only would I be able to help, but the “payment” for helping was that I would be able to sign out whatever books I wished during my working time.


Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of this librarian.  I moved away from that school at the end of fifth grade, but that situation has affected me for life.  Thank you to all the librarians (and teachers) who work tirelessly to get (the right) books into the hands of the students they work with.

 

 

From Here to There – Reflections on Curriculum January 23, 2011

Filed under: Class reflections,Opinion pieces — Jamie @ 1:50 pm
One of this week’s readings for my class was the following:

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

Much of this reading focused on different definitions of curriculum.  There was one particular section that really got me thinking.  This was a very short section that named and briefly explained each level of curricula from planned to fulfillment.  They names offered were: official curriculum, enacted curriculum, delivered curriculum, and experienced curriculum. (p. 9)


The official curriculum is the entire set of course offerings possible from a particular institution.  For example, in Saskatchewan for K-12, this would include every curriculum guide developed and available to teachers.  This is the body of work K-12, every subject area.


The enacted curriculum is the course offerings actually available within a particular school/institution.  This MAY eliminated some of the curricula from the official curriculum.  At the elementary level, this may not include separate languages.  At the high school level, depending on the size of the school, they may not offer courses in all the elective classes.  With further refinement, this may also be boiled down to the course outline or year plan for a specific class; what a teacher actually wants to teach.


The delivered curriculum is that which the teachers actually teach.  This may follow exactly what the teacher intended with their course outline or year plan, but it may also differ depending on time, situation in the class, the students in the class or other circumstances.


Finally, the experienced curriculum is what the student actually takes from the delivered curriculum.  This may be the whole thing or just a small part of it.

 

I think that the reason this section jumped out at me is because more and more often we are seeing huge academic gaps between our strongest and weakest students in a given classroom.  The older the students get, the bigger the gap gets.  We wonder why, given that the students have had roughly the same schooling experience and exposure.

 

It is obvious that these students have the same official curriculum.  This is determined by the Saskatchewan government and the local school board.  Especially when it comes to the core subject areas, it shouldn’t matter whether a student goes to school in Regina, Moose Jaw, North Battleford or Rosetown, the students should have the same official curricula.  After that, there may be differences.

 

However, if a student goes to the same school, the initial enacted curriculum should be the same.  The classes taught in a particular grade would be the same.  They would be decided by the school board or the school administration.  It is also true, though, that the second level of the enacted curriculum may be different.  Once the initial enacted curriculum has been decided, it is left to the teacher to organize said curriculum.  Different teachers may choose different orders of presentation, plan to use different books, media, projects, etc. and even plan to use different people to teach.

 

This flows directly into the delivered curriculum.  A further separation may occur in the actual presentation of the curriculum.  Some teachers have a more traditional delivery while others have more interaction.  Some teachers choose to use textbooks while others use the inquiry method.  Some of class sizes of 16 while others have 30.  Each teacher brings their own experiences, beliefs and teaching style to the enacted curriculum.  All of these factors can, and do create large differences in what the students are exposed to.

 

Finally, what the child actually takes of the delivered curriculum, even though they have been exposed to exactly the same curriculum, could be completely different.  Just as the teacher’s experiences and beliefs effect the delivery, so do the students’ histories affect what they experience of the curricula.  It is really no wonder that our students come to us with so many different levels of academic abilities.

 

Since I really only have control over one level of this curriculum hierarchy, the question to me then becomes: how can I change the way I deliver my curriculum to respond to these differences in abilities and experienced curriculum?  I have been seeking out professional texts that aim to answer this question.  One of the best when it comes to reading is Donalyn Miller’s book The Book Whisperer.  This book underlines the importance of individualized instruction (based on student interests and needs) to teach common outcomes.  It is a must read.  I have two books on my TBR (to be read) pile that have come highly recommended in the area of writing: Spilling Ink by Ellen Potter and Notebook Know-How: Strategies for the Writer’s Notebook by Aimee Buckner.

 

I am always looking for suggestions of professional reads that take into consideration students’ experiences.  If you have suggestions, I would appreciate them!  I am particularly interested in oral language, math, science and physical education.  Thanks!