Newest Article!

An Apple a Day

The teaching of children should not be sacrificed in favor of paperwork - ever!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What's Your WORD?

When I saw the movie "Eat, Pray, Love" after reading the book of the same name, I was teaching a course at the university in which we explore "identity" and how it is socially, culturally, politically and ethically constructed. I've written about this before, but since our identities seem to go through formation and reformation throughout our lives, returning to this topic once again is appropriate.

In the movie and the book, author Elizabeth Gilbert, is faced with a question from her Italian friends. "What's your word?" For example, the word for Rome is "sex"; the word for New York is "money or commerce." What's your word? her friends wanted to know. Liz had no idea.

There is a difference between who I am and who you say I am. Who I am - if I were to define myself in one word - is not about what I do, or what roles I play, or my position in society or my family. I look at my students and I realize that quickly I assign "words" to them. However, in the context of education, we call these words "labels."

Labels belong on cans, not people.

Now I can define myself and label myself - I just don't want YOU to label me.

Some claim their word and with it comes a change in thinking, in perspective, in opinion - watch how each individual cause uses their word to sway the opinions of others, even those who were traditionally against them. Your word is powerful. But it's better to claim your own word than be assigned a word by others.

Parents and teachers alike need to consider how they've attached labels to the children in their care. Without knowing it, children do claim for themselves the word you've assigned to them. For better and for worse.

Words are powerful things. Words "do." They embody. They move.

So - what's your WORD? Who do YOU say you are?

Monday, July 27, 2015

An Elephant Never Forgets, but Kids, Well, Not So Much

We know that our kids tend to forget an awful lot over the summer. That seems to be short term loss. But I'm more concerned about long term.

I taught Earth, Space, and Environmental Science to gifted 6th grade students in a middle school. I spent a great deal of time trying to make real world connections to the subject area, tried to make it exciting, and tried to make it relevant to these 12 year olds. It seemed to be working. Then, a year later, I posted the following on Facebook "This is a quiz for last year's science class - What littoral zones can you see in this pond?" and posted a fabulous photo of a nearby pond that offered them great examples of one major concept they learned last year. Or so I thought.

They responded to my post:

"Ummm, I don't remember"
"Nope, no clue"
"It's the uhhh uhhh. it's the surface zone!? or the bilateral ANNA!!!! :'(zone? I'M SORRY MRS. CARUANA!!!!!"

Sorry they should be! How could they forget? We spent SO much time on it. They traveled in their neighborhoods and took pictures of ponds nearby and identified the zones. They drew maps, colorful and with legends of each of the zones. We went to our pond on the school grounds and evaluated its health based on the littoral zones present.

And it seems, they've learned NOTHING. Or they forgot. Which is worse?

Research tells us that what we need to create positive learning environments and teach in an engaging, relevant, yet rigorous way to promote achievement and life-long learning. What happens when you've done all that and still, they forget?

Kids forget an awful lot of things. Littoral zones aside, we all know they forget their homework. They leave things at home, on the kitchen table, in their lockers or at the parent's house that they stayed with on the weekend. Forgetfulness is the middle schooler's defining trait.

I'm hoping they grow out of it! And I'll bet so are you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Accentuate the Postive

The lyrics to the song go like this - 

"Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative; don't mess with mister in-between."

And yet as teachers we are pulled in both directions and do indeed find ourselves "in-between."

The Common Core standards and the expectation that we are daily collecting data on how well our students are doing actually force us to focus on the "gap" between what is expected and what our kids can do at any given moment. When you focus on what's not being met, you focus on the negative.

On the other hand, proponents of inclusion, responsive teaching, and issues surrounding our diverse student populations beg that we focus on our student's strengths, talents, and interests - their assets. When you focus on what a child does well, you focus on the positive.

Is there a way to do both? According to our song, we better find a way to focus on the positive first and foremost, or else!

"You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom, down to the minimumOtherwise pandemoniumLiable to walk upon the scene."

Read more: Bing Crosby - Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

Can we monitor students' progress by displaying how well they are doing instead of how poorly? 
We can collect that daily data, make those charts and graphs, and still be asset-minded. It's a choice.

The positive mindset is one that is more flexible. It promotes a more positive learning environment and can break the fixed mindset that says "If we treat students like they will always struggle, then they may always struggle" - both can be self-fulfilling prophecies. 

But it will take more than changing your mind from negative to positive thinking about the ability of kids; it takes action. 

What will you do differently this year?