What is my Personal, Plausible Future in Education?

Photo of Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong Island

Photo of Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell
Buddha 

I offer you greetings, from Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong, on this Sunday afternoon. From today’s twitterverse, I read about how to plot my future in an uncertain world.  Living overseas, contract-to-contract, I write. I highly recommend that you follow the work being done on fastcompany. They force one to think deeply. Read on:

 What unique value do you bring to the world?  

Belief in myself is secondary only to my belief in others.

First of all, how does one answer this in complete seriousness? I do not think that I bring any”unique” value to the world. People tell me that I am “beyond outgoing.” I trust parents.  I believe that attention disorder is wildly overrated. I believe that standardized testing, in moderation, is an excellent teacher’s  friend. I believe that parents and students should evaluate teachers, each year.

I am optimistic in the future of education and have experienced drastic changes for good since I started earning a paycheck. I believe that teachers matter. I believe that empathy cannot be taught by lecture but through experience. I believe that kids want a structured learning environment but demand to laugh and have a lot of fun, as well. I believe that it is harmful to tell a nine or ten-year old that she has anything wrong with her ability to learn.

I believe that you cannot teach effectively when you are sick or pushed to exhaustion. I believe that we all need help to live a meaningful life. I believe in “kid language” and that sometimes peer tutors are the most effective tools in getting students to learn.

I believe that confidence is what I offer my students more than anything else and that classroom teachers cannot overemphasize  impacting real confidence among students. I believe in honoring and not fearing  “tiger moms ” for each successful person has a mom that has fought hard. I believe that “koala mom’s” deserve equal consideration and perhaps listened to even more actively.

I believe that there is little chance for a classroom teacher to  compliment a kid too much. There are just so many good things going on.

What is my life’s purpose?

My life’s purpose is to help others. For me, I try to do this through teaching. I try to do this by inspiring others to teach. I try to do this by working hard.

What is your personal, plausible future?

Hopefully, my future will be largely what it has always been: optimistic, focused, and in the moment. I am too old to think any other way.

What is your vision and plan of action?

To be determined!

How to Teach Fourth Grade: The Fantasy Reading Unit

 

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”

Maya Angelou

 

Mary Ehrenworth has a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College. I first learned of Mary from her work with The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.. I heard Mary speak a few years back on the magical power of literacy in transforming the lives of middle school students. I found her to have a bit of magic herself.  When I realized that she co-wrote Constructing Curriculum:Alternate Units of Study, I knew I had to take a more active role in developing our school’s 4th grade Fantasy Reading Book Club Unit.

Simply put, Mary is one of my heroes of literacy teaching.  If you teach literacy, you should follow her.

From Mary’s writing, our fourth grade teachers are able to teach readers to appreciate that it is ok to find a bit of empathy in villains and recognize the struggles for the protagonist.  She instructs teachers to celebrate the heightened complexity of characters and to acknowledge that we all struggle with good versus evil. This unit is powerful and my students are dripping with excitement to start their book club conversations.

Mary pushed me to realize that not only is it acceptable to teach fantasy to my students, it is wise. To wit; ““Fantasy has been a force for good in literacy” On Harry Potter, Mary writes:” Who wouldn’t love a book that has MILLIONS of children to read.” On the art of teaching: “The best things we can do is to put books into the hands of children….and let those books teach.”

Mary has helped me teach my students that experienced readers take extensive notes to deepen the engagement and to extend the book chat conversations. She helps me to acknowledge and celebrate the different ways students use a pencil to track the actions, thoughts and feelings of the hero. Mary helps me teach “those habits that let you prepare for your book club discussions.”

Mary’s work helps me connect with my students. She instructs me to push research in making up a professional sports team and then compares that work to the research that a writer needs to merge all her characters into a meaningful fantasy.Mary understands the complexity in a classroom setting: “Getting to know a new class of children each year is like getting to know characters in a book.” This quote alone makes me realize that this unit is right for my students

Next week, my students will begin their fantasy book club discussions. Today, as I took notes on their reading work, I realized that many of these kids are profoundly different readers than they were at the beginning of the school year. I am immensely proud of their growth. Alas, I realize that I am merely a conveyor of the wisdom of many fine educators.

Mary Ehrenworth is one such master educator. I am deeply indebted to her work in helping me inspire nine and ten-year olds to read.

 

Mary Ehrenworth

Mary Ehrenworth

 

Constructing Curriculum: Alternative Units of Study

Constructing Curriculum: Alternative Units of StudyRelated articles

Why I Teach.

Man at Work

Man at Work

“Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.Andy Rooney 

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” John Steinbeck 

I taught in Maryland, Singapore, and Japan. I now teach 4th grade students in Hong Kong. In 1985, I enrolled as an elementary education major at Bridgewater State College of Bridgewater, Massachusetts. I have continued to earn a paycheck as a teacher from August 1990, to the present. Until now, I have never seriously considered doing anything else, but teach.

Initially, I merely wanted to help struggling kids find success in the classroom. As a senior in high school, I was an intern for a classroom of learning-disabled, elementary-aged children. I knew I had found my calling within the first week of my internship. I have lived a life of learning and teaching ever since.

So many inspired educators, inside and outside the classroom have affected the way I practice my craft. As a public school student, I learned to value all teachers, regardless of their ability. As a teacher, I teach my students to value themselves and acquire habits of life long learners.

To be an effective teacher, one must model kindness, compassion, organization, intelligence, flexibility, collaboration, an understanding of educational technology, a belief in one’s ability, trust in your teammates, and perseverance. I expect school leaders to offer and house a brain-researched, structured, engaging, differentiated curriculum.

My first day as a teacher was nothing short of a disaster; my Mid-Atlantic based students had little idea what their New England teacher was saying. Still, I talked way too much. My lesson plans were highly organized. Alas, I was painfully unsuccessful as a manager of time. My Boston accent was very thick. My students giggled a nervous laugh every time I tried to communicate. I had little idea how mentally exhausting the job would be.

Today, I am much more relaxed and confident. I seek the advice of administrators and specialists less. Rather, I independently investigate how the human brain actually acquires knowledge. For professional development, I greatly rely on Twitter and my professional learning network. I make the time to read professional trade books more than ever.

My best advice for new teachers is to live conservatively, so that you liberally develop your craft. Demand more from you than anyone else could ever demand. Work hard. Inspire others to believe in themselves through learning.

Teachers, all over the world, why do you STILL teach? How has your teaching practice evolved? What factors are competing with you from doing your best work? Best of luck as you continue your journey.

Do well.

 Reference:

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_teacher.html#uq72kxGKtOewvemU.99

Related articles:

Rethinking Education

education

education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

After reading Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology by Allan Collins and Richared Halverson, I am left with many more questions than answers. The following is a sample of my written notes from the margins of my copy. I highly recommend this book.

We have experienced the knowledge explosion. The dust settled. Can we evolve, adjust and survive?

Have computers extended the human mind beyond the limits of even the finest teachers?

Is technology disrupting local community building?

Are today’s schools mostly knowledge factories where one attempts to learn what “very esteemed thinkers” believe necessary to prosper?

Will we build schools that respect the students’ innate curiosity and need for solving real-life problems? Will we change only when we start losing our client base?

Will we create an environment where we celebrate failure as a sign of pure learning?

Will we allow students to roam freely between learning spaces? Will we trust students to take control of their own learning?

Can we create schools that create organizations and systems that enhance, rather than stifle, innovation?

Am I part of the problem?

Can we recognize and celebrate all that we are already doing to satisfy our students’ far-reaching demands?

Will we allow parents and students back into curriculum development and implementation?

Are we teaching all students successfully? Can we afford to let our students live a life of confinement until they leave high school?

Can we name and end the barriers of learning?

With improved educational leadership, can the need for classroom management be a thing of the past?

Can all teachers be allowed to inspire?

So many of my students are competitive, scared and lacking confidence. Am I allowing my kids to make the most of their time in the classroom?

Can we continue to teach curriculum that we know is out of sync with what students need to know?

Can we create a system that respects students right to question and investigate their own answers?

How much of my work day is bureaucracy of one form or the other?

Why is school attendance still compulsory? Why can’t kids learn from home?

Why are kids graded by age? Never, in the past year, have I been in a room filled with fellow forty-five year olds.

Why are teachers’ editions of textbooks still used in school?  Why is so much of the school day dedicated to tradition, behavior control and consistency?

How come students, parents and teachers do not write report cards collaboratively? Why aren’t all students on an Individualized Education Plan?

Why are Middle and High Schools such pressure cookers?

Can we accept that students are much more tech-savvy and more understanding of the adult world than we are wiling to believe?

Can we pay teachers to pursue their own personalized learning?

Can we allow for more project-based curriculum?

Can we accept that a culture of lifelong learning is what we all need to survive?

Can educational gaming and simulations become more of the day-to-day instruction and not a distraction to avoid at all costs?

Will alternative certificates and “badges” replace standard issue, high school diplomas?

Is High School already an anachronism?

Again, I urge all to read this book.  Your students will thank you.

Reference:

Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology. New York and London: Teachers College Press

  

Image from Google Images

How to Teach 4th Grade: The Poetry Unit

Roque Dalton

 

Like You

By Roque Dalton (Translated by Jack Hirschman)

Like you I love love, life, the sweet smell of things, the sky- blue landscape of January days.

And my blood boils up and I laugh through eyes that have known the buds of tears. I believe the world is beautiful and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.

And that my veins don’t end in me but in the unanimous blood of those who struggle for life, love, little things, landscape and bread, the poetry of everyone.

 

     The second day of Student Led Conference is over and I got to tinker with my school’s fourth grade poetry unit of study. I was able to collaborate with the fifth grade teachers, our literacy coach, my teammates, poets and folks of the twitterverse to hopefully improve learning at my school.

The students and teachers will explore that poetry deals with rhythm, word choice and emotion. We hope to have the teachers and students write together. We want to explore how poetry is a profoundly different writing genre.

The students will ask the same four questions when they read a poem:

1.     “What makes this a poem?”

2.     “What is this poem about?”

3.     “What do you notice about this poem?”

4.     “What tools do you notice the poet uses?”

 

The beautiful Georgia Heard led me to these questions and I love them for their simplicity.

During the IMMERSION week, the teachers and students can explore the following possible teaching points:

“What are the qualities of a mentor poem?”, “What does imagery look like in poetry?” “What poems do you love?” “What poems can you write that are influenced by your reading?” “What could a Favorite Poem Logbook look like?” “How do poets gather ideas?” ” “What is rhythm look and sound like in poetry?” “How is emotion shown when writing poetry?” “Why does poetry sound better read aloud?” “Poets experiment with list poems.” “Poets discover poetry through prose.” Poets are aware of their emotions.” “Teachers and Students read poetry aloud.” “Children read poetry from books.” “Poets use choral speaking and two voices when reading poetry aloud.” “Poetry spans across the curriculum.” “Poets discuss and analyze poetry.”

During the INQUIRY/ANALYSIS WEEK, students and teachers will explore the following possible teaching points:

“We envision poetry from our writers notebooks.” “Poets envision poetry from their narratives.” Poets aspire to choose a topic.” ” Poets discuss the craft of writing poetry.” “Poets attempt to use metaphors” Poets inspire other poets.” Poets search for more challenging and/or varied mentor poetry.” “Poets think of similes.” “Poets discuss and analyze poetry.” Poets work with sound and repetition.” Poets work with details” Poets review their collections of poems.”  “Poets help each other write and understand.” “Poets revisit and re-analyze poetry” “Poets FIND poems.” Poets revise poetry they have written too quickly.” “Teachers write poetry with children.” Poets learn poetry through choral speaking.” “Poets consider the world of visual arts when writing poetry.

The possible teaching points during the MOVING BEYOND THE COMFORT ZONE WEEK:

“Students read poetry many times over from many different perspectives.” Poets give poetry as gifts” Poets discover when to add in line breaks.” Poets reread and notice opportunities for repetition.” Poets attempt alliteration” “Writers draft poetry on left side of a piece of paper and revise on the right.” Poets reread drafts to rate and revise for voice.” Poets attempt onomatopoeia.” Poets return to mentor poems to study craft more closely.” Poets go from the ordinary to the poetic.” Students write poems to guess the meaning of poems.” Children use personification naturally, poets do too.” Poets heart map to find their inner vision.”

I will share the last EDITING, PUBLISHING, PRESENTATION WEEK ideas and teaching points in a future blog posting.

 

References:

 

Dalton, R. (October, 2008 03). Kasama project -like you (como tu). Retrieved from http://kasamaproject.org/culture/718-50poem-roque-dalton-039-s-like-you-como-tu

Graves, D. (1992). Explore poetry. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Publishers.Heard, G. (1999). Awakening the heart. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Holbrook, S. (2006). Outspoken: how to improve writing and speaking skills through poetry performance. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Publishers.

Ray, K. W. (2007). Study driven, a framework for planning units of study in the writing workshop. Portsmouth: Heinemann Educational Books.

 

 

 

Spring Breakdown

First day of Student Led Conferences are over and I am happy to report that the parents and children were generally very happy with the results. Alas, I have to admit that Spring is upon us and I am have to adjust my teaching practice to accommodate to my current situation. The students are all lovely children, however I need from time to time pause for off task behavior. I still will value their personalities. I just need to keep my sanity and offer a more brain friendly environment that does not interfere with my teaching philosophy.

The following is a body of thought on how I hope to make the necessary classroom management improvements. I hope they prove helpful:

  • Discussion- It is time for me to have a talk with the students about “March Madness” and how this time of the year brings out the hyperactivity in children. I will talk with them about it each morning for two weeks.
  • Smile (even more) I find that this helps.
  • “Let go of the reins.” The kids are more developed and independent than they were in August. I will give them their deserved space and choice.
  • Meditate at home. I tried to schedule this at school but I am simply too busy. Teachers will understand what I am talking about.
  •  Brain Rules: I will check my copy of Brain Rules by John Medina for tips on coping with stress.
  • Library visits:I will encourage more library visits and errands. ( This tip is from Dr. Michael Thompson) Watch this documentary video!
  • Ukulele/Chess Lessons– I may offer lunchtime uke and chess lessons in return for more engagement and class time focus.
  • Banana dance: Whenever the students are sitting too long, we do the “Banana Dance” Basically, we get up and dance as silly and stupidly as humanly possible. If the kids only knew I stole this idea from Chris Elliot.
  • Brain Breaks: These look encouraging.
  • Be happy. Keep your problems at home.
  • Inspirational Quotes: Last year, we had a kid bring in an  inspirational quote to share then post on the door. Amazing how this renews a sense of community.
  • Future Focused: I plan to constantly talk about their future.
  • Make note of our remaining days together. This will help them stay on task to get the most of their time left together.
  • Plan shorter intervals of teaching, longer intervals of student thinking.
  • Dojo: I usually abhor behavior reward systems but Dojo looks like it might work.
  • Watch Ken Robinson’s video at home: This animation is good as it gets in reminding me of the overwhelming amount of distractions in this generation of kids. I gain new insight each time.
  • Review the class agreements from the beginning of the year and let the kids make new ones.

 

Teachers; What do you do to combat boredom in the classroom?

Please share your thoughts. I am always looking for new ideas.

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Student Led Conference Week- A Letter to Parents

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”Lao Tzu

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Dear Parents,

This is my favorite week of each school year and a somewhat notable week in the life of your child. This is the week of student led conferences (SLC).

I have just finished up my plans and we are a go for a marvelous week of learning. We will together celebrate social, academic and emotional growth in your child. I am proud of each student and I look forward to our continued learning.

We highly value differentiated instruction. That said, each child in our class is intelligent, thoughtful, witty, kind, caring, soulful, hardworking and optimistic.  Each is learning to lead and make a positive impact in society. All are reading and writing daily. This keeps me ever hopeful for their future.

My role during the conferences will be to facilitate the discussions between you and your child. I will also spend a little time with each of you conversing about the remaining school year and summer goals.

Each year at this time, I remind students to share their love of learning and not any particular test score. I remind them to share their personal growth and not their “rank” in the classroom. I remind them to celebrate all that they are. Please help your child in this endeavour.

Teaching, for me, is a sensitive and complex profession. It always has been. I work best when I remind myself that the students in my keep will remember little of my day-to-day instruction. Instead, they will remember the habits, both good and bad that I have taught them.  I am positive that I have instilled more good habits than bad and I am positive that your child has benefitted from our partnership. Your child is receiving a world-class, international school education

Enjoy your conversation with your child. Have a great week and see you at SLC.

Questions or comments are greatly appreciated.

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