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What do we teach?

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As a teacher there are many curriculum’s that we teach.  We teach the official government curriculum, we teach the curriculum of place based on where we teach, we teach a hidden curriculum of privilege, we teach students how to behave at school and in future workplaces, we teach students how to regard the world around them and what their place is in it.  This is not a light task.  When I think through all the things that I teach I come back to a speech given by Mark Gatto while receiving an award for his teaching.  It’s worth a serious read and think, he says a lot of things about how school works and what we actually teach.  This is something I want to keep in mind as I start my teaching career.  

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Home/School Tensions

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As adults we wear many hats, we confidently move through different spheres and negotiate our identity to fit our surroundings.  Where do we learn to do this? One of the first times children will encounter this phenomena is as students in a classroom.  To fit into their teachers expectations they will either conform or rebel.  As a teacher we reward the students who conform but perhaps we should reward those who are able to stay true to themselves enough to rebel.  There are many ways our lessons can cause tension for children and their families, especially when they don’t quite fit what we consider “normal”.  As a teacher we need to think very carefully through our lessons looking for assumptions we make that may increase tensions for our students.  We also need to help students who are struggling to adapt to the classroom by showing them the ways we wear different hats in different environments.  We are the teacher and we need to help all students to adapt to our classroom as easily as possible.  

Oral Storytelling Prezi

http://prezi.com/zddrit5sshw0/untitled-prezi/?auth_key=c54b4fd2de38b58f159645d9054f53d294c1b905&kw=view-zddrit5sshw0&rc=ref-1533793

I am a firm believer in the power of story and I am learning to become an oral storyteller.  This prezi is meant to accompany my presentation about my journey.  It does include an annotated resource list at the end which includes resources I’ve found to be very helpful on my journey.  If you’d like to hear my whole presentation I’m happy to come and present to any size group.

Also it has come to my attention that today is world storytelling day! Happy coincidence!! Here’s a link to the canadian site which lists a lot of the major events happening across the country today and links to alot of the great storytelling groups this country has!

 

 

Classroom Interrupted

There has been a lot of discussion about standardized testing in Saskatchewan since the government announced their new testing plan. As an educator I am greatly concerned about the direction this forces education down.  

Firstly, as a teacher I work hard to create relationships with my students, getting to know them and their skills.  We build a rhythm to our days and a way of being together.  Then enters “the test”.  This interrupts our learning time, disrupts the assessment i’ve been doing, and stresses the students.  I do my best as an educator to lessen this impact on the students and help students do their best on these type of tests.  

Secondly, these tests are assessed by a teacher during the summer, one who does not know the students.  How fair is this assessment to the students when they are assessed by someone who does not know them.  It is at best just a snapshot of a period in time, a day when perhaps they were sick, struggling or skipped breakfast.  In contrast as a classroom teacher I am constantly assessing and relating to my students giving them every chance to show their skills and seeing a pattern of growth over an extended period of time.  My relationship with these students allows me to know when they are having an off day and also to support them when they struggle with a task. 

There are lots of arguments against standardize testing and I join this discussion respectfully questioning how this can be in the best interests of the students.  As a teacher I feel I have a right to express my feelings on this issue. I am concerned that teacher’s voices are being disregarded in this decision, that our knowledge and professional opinions are not considered enough.  

Do we judge parents?

As an educator I often find myself being asked by parents for advice about raising children, despite the fact I don’t have any kids of my own.  There’s this belief that I must have all the answers, however rarely does anyone have all the answers.  Often I end up just reassuring parents that they are doing the best thing.  That being said I do sometimes find myself making judgements about parents.  If as a teacher I feel the pressure of being responsible for this child how much more pressure must the parents feel.  If I add to that with my judgement does that not work counter to my purpose to be a partner.  Sometimes judgement can even be implied.  Take for example a school readiness checklist, if the child doesn’t meet all the criteria does that not judge the parents as poor.  Is a checklist really necessary? If the parents believe the child ready shouldn’t we trust them? By implying deficits and gaps before a child even begins school are we not already privileging the formal curriculum over the family? 

As a teacher I want to be a partner with families, so letting families tell me about their child and their strengths seems like a better conversation to have.  Working together with the family and helping support them and the student is a much more appealing role than one where I sit in judgement of a family because I perceive a deficit in the child.  I need to check my judgement at the door and instead listen to the family, rejoice in their child’s strengths with them and support them in helping their child grow in all areas.  Deficits are only perceived when children are compared to a “norm” instead of viewed as capable individuals.  It might be time to get rid of the idea that there is a perfect norm that all students should be like.  

Book List

For ECE I’ve been reading “Places of Curriculum Making” but this week I want to respond to it a little differently by collecting the various picture book titles that are mentioned in this book because they are excellent resources to help students discuss belonging and identity.  

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The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi is a book about learning to value our differences.  I have read this beautiful book and the message that we can try to fit in but that our differences make us special made me fall in love with this book.  The main character comes to a new classroom from Korea and decides to ask her classmates to help her choose a new “american” name.  On her journey through this process a classmate learns her real name and begins to encourage her to keep her special name.  I would use this book to start a discussion and story sharing where students are asked to share what makes their name special, what stories are told about their name in their family and where did their name come from.  

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What you Know First by Patricia MacLachlan is the story of a child leaving the home they know for the unknown.  Patricia’s stories are always well written, the words perfectly chosen and manage to convey so much in the least amount of text.  This story is no different it is incredibly powerful and tells the importance of remembering our past while remaining open to change.  This would be an excellent book to open a discussion about memories of places our students have been and honour the journeys that brought us all to the common classroom we are in now.  It would also be a great book for when a students leaves or joins the classroom to give them an invitation to share their stories about moving.  

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Tea with Milk by Allen Say is remarkable for more than just Say’s amazing illustrations.  This story expresses the frustrations of a young woman as she tries to find her home and identity. This book would be great to use with teens or students struggling with finding their identity, especially when that identity may be different from what their parents would like it to be.  The exploration of the main character as she breaks from tradition and tries to find her place will resonate with teens who are searching for their own identity and could serve as an excellent prompt to share the things that make us distinct from our parents.  

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Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter Yarrow.  I must be honest that I grew up on this song and so will always consider it with great fondness.  I will also always prefer it as a song story rather than a storybook.  My bias aside, it is an excellent story about growing up and the things we leave behind as we grow.  This could be an excellent introduction to a sharing session where students bring in something they once loved but have now outgrown and share the memories that they have of it. 

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Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein is an essential book for any classroom library.  Mr. Silverstein’s poetry is funny, thought provoking, and child friendly.  I still avoid picking my nose thanks to his poem about the sharp tooth snail that lives up your nose to bite off fingers. Sometimes his poetry manages to be profound even in it’s silliness and gives a way into tough topics without the need for a lengthy story.  Even if he just helps you as a teacher find the playfulness of childhood it is worth the price of the book.  

Story is Central

For our lives and for our students we must remember that story is central to our identity and our understanding of the world around us.  We process our lives and represent ourselves to others through the stories we tell.  This concept isn’t earth shattering or new to many people but it is sad that so often these stories are shut out of the classroom curriculum.

 For my Early Childhood Education class we are reading “Places of Curriculum Making: Narrative Inquiries into Children’s Lives in Motion” by J. Huber, M. Murphy and D. Clandinin.  The first chapter of this book suggests that we should refocus our classrooms onto the teacher and students stories and allow the curriculum to flow out of this shared narrative.  Instead of privileging the formal school knowledge we would see students as knowledgeable individuals and ask them to share their knowledge with their peers.  This worldview also makes it possible to view the students lives outside of the classroom as rich in learning experiences.  Families are then seen as powerful learning communities and partners with the school and teacher.  When students stories are heard and they are known as individuals many of the concerns about oppressive educational practices can be addressed.  When the knowledge they bring to the classroom is valued then the classroom becomes a place where multiple worldviews can be heard and seen.  Acknowledging our students power as story tellers and curriculum makers can actually become a powerful pedagogy of change and anti-oppresive education.  A classroom that gives room for all to share their stories, to be heard and known is intrinsically different from classrooms where only the teacher has knowledge and only that knowledge is valued and shared.  

I am new to this journey and I am not sure how to balance the requirements that are imposed on me as a teacher through the formal curriculum and standardized assessment with the desire I have to implement a child centred curriculum.  How do I ensure my students meet the standards set while still taking time to listen to their stories and honour their needs? Are these two worldviews as opposite as they feel to me?  

I know it’s not fair to end a blog post with questions but I don’t have answers to these questions yet.  I’d welcome any feedback.