Monday, February 18, 2013

Bumper Stickers Year 2: Secondary Teachers

Twenty secondary teachers met a few weeks ago to write their semester one case studies. There were teachers in English, S.S., Science, Math, Spanish, French, Psychology, First Nations, Art, PE, Counseling, Learning Assistance.  There were teachers in the first 5 years of their teaching career, and a few in their last 5 years, male and female.  Though they are a divergent group in many ways, they have some important things in common.  They are a group of remarkably committed professionals, who are willing to try things and share their thinking with others.

What has struck me over and over about this group is that they don’t judge each other – or it seems, themselves.  They share freely both their small steps and their grandiose ideas.  They laugh, they tease, they encourage, and they work.  One teacher remarked how great it was to be able to work “with such progressive minded educators and share ideas, strategies and plans to engage at-risk learners”.
At our session, along with their case study we asked the teachers to write a bumper sticker about one or more of the big ideas they gained from doing the case studies. Here are some of the things they said: 

With certain students, extreme circumstances
 call for extreme measures.

Peer interaction and support can play an invaluable role in the lives of vulnerable students

Create situations where
 student’s strengths are showcased

Talking with students about their interests is always appreciated

It is worth it
even if you only help one!

Alternate forms of assessment during tests allows different students to succeed

Change to habits is a process

Connections with kids = win win!

Connect curriculum to lives

Connect, Connect, Connect

Validate each student -
let them know they are worthwhile

Connect and encourage student learning

Physical Engagement is a starting point

Choose Choice

Give choice of hands-on activities to synthesize learning


posted by Judith

Elevator Stories - Year 2: Secondary Teachers

Along with the bumper stickers, this year we asked the teachers to write in 25 words or less, why they thought the project “through a different lens” is different than anything else they have been involved in … There were too many to write here, but here is a sampling of the different ideas:

I think the “Through a Different Lens” project allows you to examine your teaching style, broaden your teaching and assessment strategies, and enables you to  learn from your colleagues.  I think it forces you to do something different (change is good) and ultimately makes you a better teacher.

Sometimes feel as though I am the only one who struggles to come up with strategies and ideas of how to engage and connect with kids. When we go into the sessions I feel part of a “team” that has a wealth of knowledge and experience. I always leave with ideas of simple things to try with kids and with more energy to do it. I feel engaged and willing to try new things and experiment in my classroom.

This project involves collaboration with other teachers (which doesn’t happen as often at the high school level) and support from facilitators. The exchange of ideas is priceless and there is a high level of commitment to reflect and to continue whether or not you are successful. I think that the connections that the teachers at our school are making with the students are life changing!

Because it is a consistent, reoccurring event it provides sustainability to my practice - it makes my practice current, engaging and excites me. 

This project also helped me see that sometimes “success” is not just defined by marks or credits or grad rates. Sometimes keeping students in the building and making them feel valued as human beings is true success. Not all teachers (or administrators) agree with this, but the people in the TADL project do!

TADL allows me to develop my practice without defining (limiting me to) one strategy or program while ensuring a focus on student learning.  The focus on one learner (who I chose as at-risk in my class) ensures accountability to myself - and will also ensure an impact on my entire class.

Focussing on at risk students but the strategies used work for the majority of learners.  The inter-disciplinary sharing is invaluable.

The Different Lens project truly pushes me to reflect on who my students are in the class and what I have tried (specific strategies) to try and improve the success of those students. I must then carefully evaluate the actual result of the changes I have made (for specific students and the class as a whole).  I have never been involved in any professional development that makes me reflect on the results of my practice in such depth.

 This project has provided me with the moral support to keep working with our most difficult students. The importance of encouragement from a fellow staff member to “keep up the good fight” cannot be understated when sometimes we want to give up. There were numerous times this semester when I needed the support of others for ideas and to remind me that what I was doing was making a difference.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Power of Language

The difference between the right word and the almost right word
 is the difference between
 lightening and the lightening bug. 
Mark Twain

Help!  We need a conversation about language.  We have come so far in so many ways but we still go back to language that really doesn’t describe our kids, or our intentions.  Instead of hip replacements, we need language replacements.  We are teaching kids differently, we are seeing great things happen… and then we fall back on language that does not fit.  I have been thinking about this a lot, and reading some articles about labeling, about hurting, about keeping people in boxes.  I know none of us want to do that.  But we need to find new language. 

            So that is my challenge to everyone… what language do we want to use?

Here is an example.  What does low mean?  I hear it quite often, I am sure you do too.   “I have a low class this year”.  “I mix up my groups so I have lows working with highs”, “I have a low group” or a “low student”.  Really?  According to what?  What makes someone low all over?  Okay, I understand that some kids struggle in reading, math or writing, maybe in art or PE, or making friends.  Which of these makes them a “low all over student?”  I know actually, it’s a rhetorical question.  I have never heard any of us describe a student who has difficulty drawing as a low student … but I have heard it a lot when it comes to academics. 

Is that really what we mean?  I don’t think so.

Language is so incredibly important.  If we wouldn’t say to the child “You are low” then do we want to be describing the child to anyone else that way?  Maybe that is kind of the rule of thumb. 

Some of the Canadian groups for children and adults with disabilities have put forward “People First Language”.  People first language puts the person before the disability, it describes what a person has, not what a person is.  For example, Johnny has a learning disability, not Johnny IS learning disabled; or Faizal has autism, not Faizal IS autistic.  Or instead of “I have 3 learning disabled kids and 4 behaviour kids in my class” it would be “I have three kids with learning disabilities, and four kids with behavioural issues in my class”. It goes into things like “He receives special education services” vs “He is IN special education.”  “She uses a wheelchair” vs “She is wheelchair bound”.  And so on and so on. 

Does that sound picky?  Ask anyone with some kind of a disabilities… and guess what? It isn’t picky to them.  People first.  In fact, if you want to get serious about this, you find alternatives to the word disability, because it really isn’t,
it’s just different.

I remember years ago when the Performance Standards first came out in BC.  Sharon Jeroski (author of the BCPS) warned us all to be so very careful with the language:  not yet meeting, minimally meeting, meeting and exceeding.  She warned us to be sure that we always said, “the child’s reading is minimally meeting”, not “the child is minimally meeting”.   No child is minimally meeting, just their skill of reading or writing etc.  But again, we get sloppy, and out the words come. 

So here is our struggle in this project.  We are working so hard to make better conditions for kids who have traditionally struggled in school – we need language to describe what we are doing.  Here is some of the language we are using to describe who we are talking about:
            - students who are at-risk of not completing school
            - students who are doing average work
            - students who are doing strong academic work

Is there better language?  Can we do better than this?

Richard Allington, says any kid who struggles is a “curriculum casualty”.  What else is out there?  Any ideas or suggestions?  Please write if you have some.  We want to learn.

P.S. what is a mixed ability group?
Words hold power.