Thursday 14 March 2013

This Isn't Rocket Science

I remember growing up enjoying helping others (and being helped), but I also remember that there was a certain prescribed way through which problems were approached and addressed.  Of course, I am talking about school life here and when I went through school throughout the 80s and early 90s there really wasn't a lot of room for divergent thought.  I accepted that, and I was especially comfortable with that because I was also raised in a home where there wasn't a lot of room for interpretation of things - especially school.  "If the teacher said so, then I believe it happened", I could almost hear my dad say.  (My parents were good advocates for me, but they also believed the teacher).  Largely, my history is reflected in how I currently approach my own life, including in the professional realm.

Is it wrong, then, for me to forge a different path through education when I turned out fine (I think) using the old ways?

Not really, because I think specifically about one student I am teaching right now and how his history as a child, let alone as a student, could be called dysfunctional at best.   I think about how this student would not have survived past grade 8 in my school growing up because the philosophy that prevailed was somewhat of a hardnosed one.  It served its purpose for that time period, but these days with students arriving with increasing "baggage" it is hardly fair to expect such kids to succeed in life when they are tossed from school because they don't meld with the type of kids schools would like to cater to.  My student needs to be handled differently.

Really, back when I was growing up the cool teachers were the ones who could connect with anyone.  They weren't aloof, or untouchable thinkers, or judgemental, they were the opposite.  They were conversational, they were approachable, they were genuinely concerned about all the kids they came across.  This is what made the teachers cool - the fact that they cared.  Now, fast forward to now.  How many teachers are like this now?  A lot (at least at our school!).  Teachers work exceptionally hard to meeting the needs of a great diversity of kids, not because we have to, not because of any school or provincial programs or initiatives, but because we understand that kids need to be cared about.  And when kids feel cared about they are more likely to respond favourably when it comes to learning something about school.  I can speak to this first hand.

The point is this: my student shows signs of commitment to the school and his progress.  I will be honest, there have been a couple of times when I was not expecting the good work that was done, yet he was given the expectations, he "showed up" and completed it, and he indicated growth and maturity beyond what he had previously demonstrated.  Something's working (and it has to do with school).

Building rapport through showing sincere interest in a student will get you a lot more mileage than playing "catch-up" with counsellor and LAT intervention, student suspensions, and district discipline hearings.  And the best part is it's a whole lot more rewarding.  This isn't rocket science.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Scavenger Hunt (Grade 4/5)

Before the winter break, I introduced my class to a novel, "The Breadwinner" by Deborah Ellis.
This story takes place in Afghanistan and before we began discussing the novel I wanted my students to know a little bit about Afghanistan.

So how could I introduce material about Afghanistan in away that was exciting and engaging for my students? I turned to my "Different Lens" support team and with a lot of support and encouragement we developed an Afghanistan Scavenger Hunt!


It does take time to set up a Scavenger hunt. It is not something you can do in just 1 hour. However, once you have it organized and sorted out, it is much more worth while than having students read out of a text book or from a handout.

My students were active and excited and they remembered the information that they learned through the scavenger hunt.

Not all activities were written activities either. I wanted to make sure the information was accessible for different types of learners. Students had to cut and glue, sort pictures, take pictures, uses maps, find information in a timeline, and read short paragraphs.

 The stations were set up all over the school so students were able to move around and interact with a partner.

Students worked in groups of 2 or 3 so that there was room at each station.

Students worked together to solve the clues and they had a great time doing it. We met up in the gym afterword and went over our answers and discussed the scavenger hunt. It was a wonderful experience and I will do it again!

This was engaging for all students, however, I found that this was especially encouraging for my students who usually struggle with reading skills. Those particular students could use their partner's strengths, and though they were not as strong academically, they shone as leaders, helping to navigate from clue to clue. They used the variety of tasks to their advantage, and they didn't get overwhelmed by the different tasks, as some of my academically strong students did.

This was very successful for my first time and I will definitely adapt the scavenger hunt and use it again to introduce other material to my students.

I strongly recommend trying a scavenger hunt prior to a unit or as a unit end review. Very powerful!

Post Courtesy of Kendall Kulak

Sunday 3 March 2013

Start Somewhere and Move Forward: Learning About First Nations

Last week I had the opportunity to listen to a group of six First Nations educators who work in various districts around the province, with the Ministry of Education, and at the VIU.  They were speaking to a group of teachers involved in the Provincial Reading Project “Changing Results for Young Readers”.  The question they were addressing was “Many of us are wanting to make our classrooms, schools, and districts more inviting to our Aboriginal students.  We want to make our teaching more relevant and connected to their lives.  But … we really don’t know what to do.  Can you help us?”  Some of us in our project “Through a Different Lens” have been asking this very question.  We are losing too many of our Aboriginal students from our schools.  We are trying to make a difference but there are big gaps in our knowledge – and many of us don’t know what to do.

Here are 8 things they talked about:

1.  Acknowledge traditional territory around the province.  Put up a map of BC that shows the territories and have students in the classroom talk about the territory they were born in, the territory they currently live in, and any other territories they have lived in.  Imagine if all of our students knew even that much.  The Ministry of Education has a poster map that can be ordered on line.  I have just ordered 15 copies for any teachers in the project who would like to have one in their classroom.  (Suggestion:  Ask someone from your local First Nation Community, or one of our Aboriginal teachers or support workers how to do a proper acknowledgement of the local territory.  For an example see SD61 website, or an example on the Changing Results for Young Readers website – see “resources” and then “Indigenous Principles of Learning”.)

2.  Love Reading:  Read texts as an adult.  Read them to learn.  Have book clubs so that more educators begin to understand the issues, thoughts, feelings… become more aware.  Here are a few texts you might begin with:

            Indian Horse - Richard Wagamese
            The Truth About Stories – Thomas King
            Three Day Road – Joseph Boyden
            The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie
            Smoke Signals – Screenplay / film:  Sherman Alexie
3.  Model Reading using Picture Books with First Nations texts.  Use First Nations text for reading strategies and think alouds in class.  See FNESC k-3 and K-7 for authentic First People’s texts.

4.  Watch 8th Fire.  It is said that it takes 7 generations to heal from trauma.  8th Fire is a four part series produced by CBC.  It “is a provocative, high-energy journey through Aboriginal country showing you why we need to fix Canada’s 500 year-old relationship with Indigenous peoples; a relationship mired in colonialism, conflict and denial.” The four episodes are called:  Indigenous in the City; It’s Time!; Whose Land is It Anyway?; At the Crossroads.  It is being aired on Sunday mornings at 11:00, and began on January 13.  For more information go to the CBC website.  (This originally aired in 2011; all 4 episodes are available on line).

5.  Strong Nations ( is a website that you can go to find resources.  Terry Mack, who began Strong Nations, vetoes Aboriginal resources so that people who go to the website will know which materials are good resources for teachers and classrooms.  There are resources for young children, teens and adults.  It is a great website.

6.  Bring Aboriginal people into your classroom.  Many schools are now asking elders to be present in their schools.  Invite people in.  (Check with your local community or member of the district Aboriginal staff for guest speaker protocol.)

7.  Build relationships with Aboriginal students and families.  Building relationships with our students and families is a given.  We know how important this is.  But these women went on to suggest that you build relationships with Aboriginal people who you can ask questions to, who can help you understand.

8.  Learn about First Nations.  Learn more through the organization called “FNESC”

Start somewhere and move forward:
The Time is Now

Thanks to Anne Tenning and Dustin Hyde for reading this blog and giving feedback.  More to come!

Post Courtesy of Judith King