Tuesday, November 3, 2015

There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about…

There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about… I am not sure who wrote this quote but I noticed it at one of our inquiry meetings and I thought a lot about it since.  I agree.  When we work together and move in the same direction we are so much more powerful than when we walk alone.  I have had three different experiences this fall that bring that quote alive.

INQUIRY:  Inquiry is a very powerful tool for moving us forward and helping us discover what we care about.  At the Indigenous Perspective Inquiry supper meeting last week, teachers talked about WHY it is important that all of us and all of our students learn more about Aboriginal culture and perspectives.  We talked about the history that we know so little about, about raising empathetic and knowledgeable students, about giving our kids “patience and time” in learning (Principles of Learning), and about providing culturally relevant curriculum that students can connect with.  As a group we are moving forward through questions and discussion, and through supporting each other as we learn more.

ABORIGINAL BOOK CLUB:  Based on some fabulous advice from Laura Tait (Nanaimo school district) and other provincial leaders in Aboriginal Education, we started an Aboriginal Book and Video Club three years ago.  Last week thirty of us met to discuss our seventh book “April Raintree”.  First we listened to an educator from our district share her story and bring the novel alive by making personal connections, then we shared our own responses.  This book club has opened conversation throughout the district, it has created a safe place to talk, and it has helped us as a community discover not just what we care about, but some first steps in what to do about it.

VISION SETTING:  I have had the chance to work with two schools this fall as they have looked at their goals and vision for the next 5 years; and then as they have made a plan to bring the vision alive.  When we are given the opportunity to dream collectively – there is a great deal of positive energy that is focused on goodness. It tends to bring out HOPE, optimism and a clearer picture of what we collectively care about.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Changing Up Reflection

At the beginning of almost every inquiry meeting, we all spend a few minutes thinking and writing about the Through a Different Lens Project, things that we have tried, questions we have, thoughts about what is working or not working for our students, etc.

Last Thursday, instead of writing we used play-doh as the way to represent what was on our minds.  It was an interesting way of trying to encapsulate the ideas that we were thinking about.  Here is a sample of what we were thinking:
- the first picture represents the feelings of not having enough time to go into depth on some of the concepts that this teacher would like to pursue with her students... time gets disrupted and disjointed and this teacher wished for more time to pursue the ideas her kids are interested in.
- how grateful this teacher was that she had another pair of hands in the classroom to draw a few of her students out
- the table with 3 legs represented thoughts about one student who the teacher worries needs more social involvement, so the table is wobbly
- the forth picture represents thinking about strength based approaches; all the ways to help kids find their passions / interests and strengths
- and the last picture represents science fair and this teachers thoughts about her students who don't have the home support  to pursue the project.

It is good to try out new approaches with kids and adults - it exposes us to different ways of doing things, and different ways of thinking about teaching/learning. By doing this we might even help some kids find a new strength or passion.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Aboriginal Book and Video Club Gatherings

This past week Naryn Searcy, Anne Tenning and I have been planning the session we are going to be doing at the FNESC (First Nations) conference on Dec.13. We are going to be talking about the Book Club we began last year, about Through A Different Lens, and also about English First Peoples; sharing ideas on what we have done, and and also what we have seen as a result.

As part of the process of planning I had the opportunity to have short interviews with 8 SD67 staff about the book club, and 8 students about English First Peoples.  I left the week feeling unusually optimistic about the future and the bridges we are making.

The Book and Video Club appears to have taken us as a collective of educators a step forward in a number of ways -- it has exposed those of us who are not of Aboriginal ancestry to literature, ideas, stories, we might never have been exposed to.  It has given us a tiny bit of understanding and a thirst for more.  It has given us an appreciation of First Nation culture and a desire to make our schools better places for our students of Aboriginal ancestry.  I heard all these things in the interviews.  It is an exciting place for us to be.  I also heard from educators who are of Aboriginal ancestry that they are thankful for the journey we are on together.  That the more we all work together, understand the history and culture ... the better our schools will be.  We all seem to be thankful, not just for the books and the authors who have visited - but for the chance to talk honestly with each other, ask questions, and think quietly about where we have been and where we can go.  It is surprizingly energizing to be on this journey, and  I am so thankful for it personally.

Some of the ideas I heard this week that connect with the book club are:
- one principal bought every staff member a book by a First Nations author
- one S.S. teacher has all his kids reading Indian Horse, and is thinking of how to organize an entire S.S. class around literature
- a number of people are buying books by First Nations authors as gifts for Christmas.

In addition to the book club, I had the chance to talk with students who are taking First People's English.  I talked with students who are of Aboriginal ancestry and students who are not.  I was so interested in what they told me.  Everyone in some way talked about building a community of understanding, or feeling so open to learning, or of feeling challenged to think differently.  One girl talked about learning so many things that were preparing her for life -- what being educated is really all about; how it was changing her perspective.  I was shocked at the reflectiveness of kids in grade 10 -- and wondered if I was anywhere near as reflective as they were at that age!

Recently in the BCTF magazine there was an article called "Raising the profile of First Nation courses".  Here is a quote "40,537 students completed English 12 compared to only 184 students for English First Peoples 12".  Provincially so few of our students are being exposed to English First Peoples.  In 2013-2014, we have three courses being offered here at Princess Margaret.  We have 30 students in grade 10, and 60 in grade 12 being exposed to materials, experiences, field trips and culture of our First Nations people.  All eight of the grade 10 students said that FOR SURE they were going to take First Peoples English 12.

We are on a journey in SD67.

Ideas for ENGLISH in Through A Different Lens

A few weeks ago we met as a group of English teachers that work in Through A Different Lens to share ideas and learn from each other.  There were 10 teachers in middle and secondary school that shared ideas on topics such as teaching novels, parody, characters, ethics, and parts of speech.  There were far too many ideas to share in this blog but there are a few short ones that I’ll write here.

            One teacher shared a strategy she uses for building character.  This can be used for pre-writing or just as beginning to understand who the character in the novel is.  Students can focus on different characters in the same book, or a character in their own book.  This strategy can also be used as a pre-speech idea if the students are talking about themselves.
            Students collect 10 items important to their character – this can be pictures or it can be 3D objects, a class assignment or a homework assignment.  This teacher used the website www.theburninghouse What are 10 items you would want to take with you if your house burned down?  What are 10 items that your character would want to take with them?  Why are those items important to them?  What are the connections?  She suggested the items be put on a white board and then they could write brief explanations about each item.    

Here are examples from the website:

            A number of teachers talked about the use of a value line in class discussions, and how it is interesting to do value lines both pre- and post-.  Pre- helps kids think about the topic, but they may be quite unsure what they think about it at that point.  Post- helps them think about how their thinking might have changed by learning about the topic.
            An adaptation to the value line if students are not quite ready to commit to the whole class, is to put the students in groups of 4 and put a piece of masking tape down on the desk and then use different coloured poker chips.  Students place their poker chip on the line and have an opportunity to talk with others about why they placed it in that spot.

            How do you get students to stop using low-level words in their writing?  One teacher had them list the low level words around a gravestone and then they could refer to it when writing to be sure they did not use those words.

            There is a great website called readwritethink.org where you can get templates for making trading cards.  These can be used for developing cards on characters in novels, or non-fiction people in content area subjects, or organisms in science.  www.readwritethink.org card creator

            Classroom weeblys, twitter in the classroom, using Padlet.com as a wall for classroom conversations, developing units around interests such as zombies, or playing games such as avalanche when teaching skills.

            Comox School District has put together an amazing website with many ideas for reading and writing.  Have a look.  It is filled with ideas.  Go to Comox School website and look under resources for Literacy.

It was a great morning.  Thanks to all for sharing your ideas so freely.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Learning Place

Entrance to the school

Sometimes it is good to go away and see what others are doing.  It helps to see things from others perspectives.  It kind of jolts you into rethinking or thinking differently.  This past week I was fortunate to go to Haida Gwaii (the joys of working part time).  I got to walk on the beach and through the forest, go to art galleries and museums.  I got to soak in the beauty and the culture.  I also had the opportunity to visit a school in Skidegate and sit in on a teacher meeting about reading for the CR4YRs project (Changing Results for Young Readers).

This elementary school was both beautiful and unique, and what I was struck with was the obvious presence of the Haida culture.  The school itself had natural light, and a lot of natural wood – beams and carvings, nooks and crannies, places to sit and think, murals on the walls with sayings about nature, slanted walls in places … and there was also a great deal of the Haida language present, and art, drums and painted paddles.  There were photos of elders who speak the traditional language in the foyer of the school. The teachers explained that the children take classes in the Haida language – Haida immersion they called it.

Looking down one hallway
I was struck by how beautiful and rich the school felt, and how welcoming and special it was.  Even the classrooms were different, not square boxes … just a little bit different. A few slanted walls, a different kind of entrance way, a padded bench here and there.  I loved being there with natural light coming through the ceiling around the beams.  School … an interesting learning place.

Student Art
If I was a child of Haida ancestry, I think I would come to school knowing that my culture and language were appreciated and respected.  And if I wasn’t of Haida ancestry, I would be so curious about the culture and attracted to it. 

It made me think of our schools.   How inviting are they to kids and parents of various cultures, especially our students of Aboriginal ancestry?  What could we do to show appreciation and respect for their culture?  How can we make our schools a place where all kids can more easily belong and connect?

Language Posted

by Judith King

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