A few years ago I was scared of my thoughts. More accurately, I was afraid of how people would react to my thoughts, my ideas, my values. Maybe it was because I was living in a conservative country and working at a conservative school. Or maybe it was because my values, at the time, were still forged in anger and seeped in rage. I was driven by an obstinate defiance. I was always pushing back against existing hypocrisies, instead of standing for anything on its own merits. There was little wisdom to my beliefs. Even less understanding. Whatever, the case I was constantly anxious about what I said, what I shared and what I wrote. I was scared of my thoughts.
But recently, things feel different. Not only do I not feel scared, I feel that my ideas are valued and even celebrated. This acceptance and sharing of diverse thinking is a testament to a healthy learning environment. The fact that all members of our community feel valued enough to share their ideas no matter how different from the status quo is what makes UWCSEA East such an amazing place to work.
Let me tell you a bit about my last few days. Last week, I was part of a Share Your Beliefs session with our current grade elevens, as part of their TOK (Theory of Knowledge) exploration of faith. It looked a bit like this:
Your role is in session 1; when you be based in a single classroom and you will have three sets of some 13 students come your way; one set at 8.30am, one at 9.00am and one at 9.30am. The students are all mixing up for each session, so all will hear from you and two different people; in all cases students hear from an atheist and two people of different faiths. We have several speakers from outside school coming too.
The aim is for you to share with students your beliefs, and to have a short discussion/debate with them. This will then form a solid platform for later analysis and comparison.
The following faiths were represented:
This is the second year in a row that I have been able to talk about my unique melange of Zen inspired spiritual atheism with a group of young people. I spoke about how my Buddhist principals have shaped my ethical and moral choices when it comes to teaching, parenting, and being an active and thoughtful member of the human race. I pulled no punches and spoke about my animosity and disdain for organized religion based on the effects of Islam on my country of birth, Iran. I spoke about how a belief in a patriarchal omniscient deity just doesn’t jive with how I view the natural world.
In short, I was able to have a very open and frank conversation with a group of young people about who I am and what I believe, without fear of reprisal from an angry community member, because by making this sharing of ideas possible, UWCSEA is telling students and parents that we value a range of ideas. We are saying that no one idea is correct or carries any more weight then any other. We are free to hold our unique beliefs, but we must be open to the idea that others may disagree. This melting pot of ideas may seem obvious to anyone who has studied or worked in a progressive environment, but I think we all know that open-minded is not always the case especially when it comes to religious matters.
Second story– My daughter is in grade two and their current unit of study is about food and where it comes from. They were recently visited by Cowboy James, who spoke to them about his experience on a dairy farm and growing up in rural Canada. (BTW Cowboy James is our head of school) Kaia was curious and excited to hear about this process. At home we began to talk about my current decision to become vegan. Our entire family is vegetarian, but the vegan thing is new. It was great to watch Kaia negotiate her understanding of our family’s choices in the light of Cowboy Jame’s message and what I was telling her about food choices.
After our family chat, we thought that it would be great for Kaia her share some of her thoughts from our conversation with her class. So today, Kaia and I gave a 25 minute presentation, which we prepared yesterday, to her class about why our family chooses not to eat animals. It was great. She helped brainstorm the slides, find the pictures and got up in front of her class and shared her thoughts, with just a little help from me.
If you are keeping score– Atheist, Vegan, long haired, bearded and tattooed! It may not seem like much to you, but this is the first time in my career where I feel at home where I work. The first time I feel I can be my compete self. I think a school with such freedom of ideas should be celebrated and upheld as a model for effective learning communities everywhere. I cannot imagine having opportunities like the ones I just described in too many American schools. It is precisely because of this celebrated diversity that I work internationally. I also love the cross pollination of ideas between ages groups and school divisions.
Third Story– Some students in my grade seven BTC (Be The Change) class are working on an action project about labor rights and treatment of migrant workers here in Singapore. As luck would have it, our grade nines recently did extensive work on the topic with TWC2. So they were perfect mentors for my middle school kids. I quickly sent an email to former students and all week, I have had several grade nine students work with the grade seven students as secondary sources and sounding boards. It has been a fantastic opportunity for both groups.
In closing, I wanted to share my gratitude to finally work at a school that puts its money where its mouth is. The examples I shared are just a few episodes that happened to me this week. I am sure there are many such expereinces happening everyday, everywhere in our school. So often we get so lost in the bureaucracy of school administration that we forget how powerful a school should be.
UWCSEA is a special place not only because I can share my quirky liberal values, but because I am sure that my daughter is the recipient of a plethora of conflicting ideas as well.
Final note– I am excited because I can write about my ideas without the fear that an administrator might “find me out.” Instead, I will email this post to our leadership team confident that they too will be proud of the community we are building here at East.
How does your school work? Do you have open channels for an exchange of ideas? Are you doing anything to promote cross-divisional sharing and learning? If so what are you doing? What are some frustrations that you face being yourself?
I have been thinking and writing a lot about nature and the outdoors lately. As I slumber through a post-trip funk, I just returned from Chiang Mai after six days of caving, trekking and rafting with kids, I can’t help but continue to reflect on how valuable those times outdoor are to learners and teachers. I have a mammoth post brewing about my recent trip, but I wanted to scratch out a quick post about a simple experiment from yesterday.
I was teaching my grade 7 BTC (Be The Change Class) and I had planned for students to share memorable experiences they have had in the outdoors. Trying to get the kids to realize that it is difficult to care about anything or to take any action if they don’t have actual experience with it, I wanted them to mine their own experiences for times when nature meant something. Armed with Sam Sherratt’s recent post, I wanted a way to build a bit of awe and wonder.
So often, we allow ourselves to over-think how to get kids to shift their perspective and feel curious. I realized that I did not have to plan some huge trip, or create an immense experience to show kids that we are surrounded by wonder. All we have to do is notice it, move amongst it by changing where we work and think and learn. I needed something quick and easy and different.
We have a small patch of green space on our campus (not enough for sure) but it is what we have so I worked with it. I took my class down to the grass and we shared our natural experiences beneath the shade of the trees, the floating clouds and the slightly damp and muddy ground.
Nothing earth-shattering, I know. But you should have see the excitement and ease with which the kids adjusted to this new environment. Read for yourself the affect of such a tiny shift of going outside to learn can have on a student’s day.
I think that going downstairs into the grassy area was not really something we normally do at school, so it was a different experience, but also really fun. It was exciting and surprising to hear everybody else’s stories about interacting with nature and also to share my stories too. A lot of people had stories where they had done similar things that i had done in the past and it was interesting to relate to them with my own experiences (such as interacting with dolphins, whale watching, drinking out of streams, snorkeling etc.) . Additionally it was really nice to just be outdoors and get a bit muddy, relax and just hang out with friends instead of being in the air con all day and working on our laptops like we usually are.
Today was a very different class because we went outside into nature and talk about our outdoor experiences. I really liked it because I am more of an outdoor person and we got to talk and reflect about how we take nature for granted sometimes. I found today’s lesson very relaxing, and was fun at the end when we got to chill and play tag. It really taught me how much fun you can have without our expensive things and how we should all help conserve the small amount of nature we still have.
Today in BTC we went outside to a green area, close to the gate where the buses go out. We sat in a circle in the grass, and talked about our experiences with nature, whether it was wildlife or not. I learned that a lot of us had really interesting encounters with nature especially in regard to wildlife. Several people had gotten close up to manta rays, others with lions, and even more to turtles. I recounted when my family and cousins went to Hawaii for a vacation when I was 5, and we were swimming in the ocean when my cousin spotted a green sea turtle. my cousin, brother, and I went over to the turtle and just started swimming along beside it. The turtle didn’t go away and we spent over an hour just swimming next to it. It was an amazing experience. We also talked about how living in an Urban area can cut off our connections to nature and how our senses get dull over a while if we don’t connect with nature. We also talked about how we don’t need aircon all the time, or the environment around us doesn’t have to be clean all the time.
We ended with a short lay in the sun and a quick game of tag. Next time you want to get kids excited about being outside, all you have to do is take them there. It is amazing what a little breeze, some mud, grass and a few clouds can do for a kid. Now I am left thinking about how can I authentically incorporate more experiences like this into what we do on a regular basis. Do you have any ideas or suggestions?
It is the marriage of the soul with Nature that makes the intellect fruitful, and gives birth to imagination.
It is that time of year again. My favorite part of the year actually. Tomorrow, I will travel to Chiang Mai, Thailand to meet my mentor group for five days of camping, caving, trekking, and rafting in the jungle. Like most years, I am ready for a week of disconnecting and really connecting with the kids I teach. I always look forward to getting my nature fix and spending time in my own head, free from the noise of everyday life and routines.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the power of nature and the affect it has on learning when I criticized a Toys R Us commercial. And I have been thinking about the “ubiquitous exposure” to nature ever since. We have spent countless time and energy making sure that every kid who needs access to technology can have it. Through the implementations of 1-1 programs world wide, many students, like their adult counterparts, now use technology without even thinking about it. It has become part of what we do. And this is (can be) great.
What bothers me, however, is that we still are not thinking about a “Nature 1-1 program.” These types of outdoor trips are still an extension of what we do in schools. Even at a school like UWCSEA, where we are committed to the five elements of our learner profile
And Outdoor Education is valued equally with academics, it still feels like a trip like this, one that only happens once a year is only part of our student experience here at school. So how can we change that? Even as I write this, I am keenly aware that our school gives students so many opportunities to go on trips and participate in hands-on-activities. We are luckier than most. I also realize that I need to speak with our outdoor team and learn more about their curricular links to what the kids do on a daily basis. But I cannot help but think about how can people living in urban, technology rich environments make sure that our students are influenced by nature and the outdoors everyday? I am thinking of school gardens, maybe even chicken coups, or outdoor classrooms, regular camping trips closer to home, or weekend hikes to local parks. A school greenhouse or animal center. And how can we make all of these things a reality for all the students– as part of what they do, instead of an opportunity for some kids who choose to take them on.
From my last post many teachers shared amazing stories of schools in Europe and other places committed to the concept of learning outside, and I love that idea. But how do we transform our schools to function in that way? How do we create schools that give students that ubiquitous exposure to nature? I know that my students will learn so much from the ten days they are in Chiang Mai. We will trek and suffer and feel discomfort, but I also know that we will grow in nearly every aspect of our profile. I just hope that we can continue those conversations and experience when we get back to the urban jungle and back to the daily grind of school.
I guess these are the kinds of things I will think about tomorrow as I feel my feet sink into the mud and the sun shine on my back. Or maybe not, maybe I will just enjoy the river and the fires and the conversations and the kids and our learning as we sleep beneath the stars and be grateful that at least we can go into the jungle once a year.
Yesterday, we had our parent teacher conferences. And while like most teachers I find the exercise exhausting, yes sometimes even commiserating with other teachers in the spirit of camaraderie, I actually like the process. For the most part I enjoy meeting parents and telling them how great their kids are. I like to see my students with their parents to get a sense of what kinds of relationships they have with each other. Are they nervous, or timid, or funny, or courageous around their parents? A teacher can learn a lot about a kid by how they act around their parents. I like to watch moms and dads and the banter and tensions they bring to the table.
After every marathon stretch, eight hours yesterday, I am always left thinking about learning. And school. And grades. And a whole slew of other thoughts I can’t seem to capture at the moment. After last night, I haven’t been able to get over a certain phrase.
Yes, I know she is doing fine, but there is always room for improvement. Right? What else can she do? How can she do better?
I must have heard these words from the mouths of every parent I met. Irregardless of their grades or their skills. Didn’t matter if they were high pressure parents or easy going ones, they all wanted to know how their child could do better. This got me thinking.
Our students, for the most part, work hard. Really hard! I am often in awe that these twelve to fourteen year olds sit in class all day, do homework, participate in services an activities, and hang-out with their friends. They are engaged with the school material, they ask about rubrics and articulate their learning. They reflect, make portfolios, and ask for help. They are simply amazing young people. They do all of this all whilst dealing with hormones, growing up, balancing countless relationships with their friends, teachers and yes parents. They are online and offline and everywhere in between.
So what must it feel like, to work this hard, to do the best you can for twelve years and to constantly be told, no matter how or what you do that there is always room for improvement! It must be devastating. By the end of the night, I was no longer hearing how can my child do better, but I was hearing how can my child be better. I could read it on the face of every kid while they listen to their parents praise their work and talk about how proud they were, only to hear that big but at the end of the conference. I could see them smile and sit up straight and beam with pride and confidence only to watch them deflate, when after the praise every parent ended with, “But how can she do better? How can she improve?”
Is this what we want? A learning environment where feedback and growth and improvement have trumped simply saying, “Job well done! I am proud of you. Now take a break! Enjoy your learning.” Are we so fixated on our kids “succeeding” and remaining competitive, that we cannot simply let them bask in the glow of their accomplishments with out constantly raising the bar? How can kids feel successful if every time they do, we tell them to do better?
I want to formally challenge the notion of constant improvement as a motivator for learning. So many parents also told me that their kid is working under potential. “He is actually really talented, but he just needs a push. He won’t do much unless you force him to do it.” Am I wrong in thinking that this doesn’t sound like learning?
I would hope that when a child is self-motivated and passionate and self-aware of their needs and strengths and weakness, that they can and will push themselves to improve. And if they don’t perhaps they are not ready to commit to their learning. This same kid, also should know that sometimes they just need a time-out. A break. Constant growth and improvement is not sustainable and should not be the perpetual expectation.
Parents, if you are reading this– I get it. I am a parent too. Every time I see my daughter slacking off or not working to her potential, or not achieving some unrealistic expectation of mine, I too want to remind her that she should work harder, slower, smarter. Even when she does well, I too catch myself saying, “How can this be better?” It must be natural to want our kids to be their (the) best. I too want to tell her teacher not to let her lose focus, but I think I could honor her independence more and feed her confidence more, if I were to sometimes just let what she does be enough.
I want to say to her, “I am proud of you honey. I cannot believe how hard you worked and how much you have grown. I am so impressed by how much you have learned. You really seem be aware of what you are doing. I trust you and know that you are doing your best. Take some time to relax and enjoy what you have done and all that you have learned. Thank you for being such a great learner.”
Nothing more! I keep the, “There is always room for improvement,” and the “What could you do better,” to myself this time. I am curious how this would affect our kids. I am willing to bet that kids would leave parent teacher night a bit more confident. A bit more proud. They would nod their heads knowingly and smile, because they know that their parents do not expect any more from them. At least for now?
What do you think? How can we find ways to talk to kids in way that motivates them to want to improve, while honoring the work they have done? How do we move away from this trap of demanding never-ending improvement?”
I had a great day today. When I got home around four pm, I was feeling tired, in a way only the sun can bring about fatigue. I was calm and feeling content and peaceful. Getting out of the car, my kids were sweaty, hair wind-swept and their feet were dirty. They carried with them flowers they had found on the ground to give to mommy, who was at home recovering from a cold. In short, I was basking in the glory of a day well spent at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Bollywood Veggies. See for yourself:
As my children prepared for bedtime, someone in my network posted this article with a link to the following Toy R Us commercial.
I was immediately stewing in indignation. I tweeted a few angry tweets and shared the video clip on Facebook, but was left unsatisfied. I knew I would not be able to leave this alone until I wrote about it and explored why I was so upset.
I am lucky. I do not live in the US where my kids are constantly bombarded with TV ads. But I do still feel the effects of corporate bullying on our family’s collective psyche. And ads like this are more than just a cute way to get kids to buy toys. Ads like this are weapons used by consumer culture advocates to create a new generation of kids who are becoming more and more disconnected from nature, and more and more obsessed with consuming corporate culture.As parents and teachers, we have a responsibility to say something, do something when we see flagrant disregard for our own values in the face of this consumer attack.
It’s hard being a parent. I get it. I love the movies. I even love the toys. I occasionally shop at Toys R Us. I have two kids, how can I not? But at the end of the day, how far I allow my kids to be manipulated by this kind of garbage is up to me.
I sat Kaia down and showed her the commercial and asked her what she thought. She is seven. She mentioned that a trip to Toys R Us to get whatever she wanted sounded pretty cool. (She actually used the word amazing!) My rage was palpable. But what about today, I asked. Didn’t you have fun? Would you rather spend time in the toy store or sitting under that fig tree we saw. (This tree was amazing by the way)
No, the farm was really cool. She said. It was fun seeing all the fruit trees and watching the Skinks in the mangroves. Ah, there it was satisfaction! The fact that kids love nature is no mystery. I can remember countless hours spent exploring western Marin county and Samuel P. Taylor Park. But like most things in their lives kids need our help to gain exposure to nature. I am beginning to wonder if addressing Nature Deficit Disorder is not a bigger problem than showing kids how to use iPads. Take a look:
Why are we not having regional conferences on how we can bolster our schools outdoor programs? This problem with urbanization and distance from nature, seems to be a global problem. The thing that makes me so mad about the Toys R Us ad, is that it is hard enough getting kids to engage with nature without the not so covert corporate interference. But their tactics are nothing new:
So what now? Who cares? What do we do?
1. First step, should always be to talk to our kids! Our own children as well as the ones we teach. Show them the ads, talk to them about the messages, show them alternatives. Expose them not only to nature, but show them the contrast to the corporate culture that thrives on their disconnections from nature. I plan on showing this post and the videos to my Be The Change class first thing Monday. I suggest you do the same.
2. Take the kids outdoors. Embolden your outdoor ed programs. Take your kids outside and let them play and explore and get dirty. Teach them the names of plants and animals. Arrange field trips. Spend your weekends as a family in nature.
3. Speak up. Tweet, share, write about these companies and tell your friends to do the same. In this day and age of connectivity, it is audacious for a company like Toys R Us to make an ad like this and not expect massive blow back. Show them that we are here and not happy about what they are teaching our children.
4. Boycott? Not sure on this one. I am not against toys. I remember the thrill of going to Toys R Us as a kid, and I see the value of toys (even corporate ones) I want my kids to be aware not shielded. I want them to notice and see the grotesque commercialism of some products and ideas versus other more Eco-friendly ones. I want my kids to be able to enjoy a great day at the Nature Reserve and come home and play with dolls they love. I know corporations only listen to the dollars and cents, but I would like to think that a powerful campaign could do more than not buying my kids toys. However, I will limit my shopping at stores like Toys R Us and try to find alternative stores that offer better toys.
5. Let’s make some posters and videos and projects to get kids excited about nature and share them amongst our schools. Student generated ones would be even best. I will ask some groups in my Be The Change course to take up this cause. I will share what they create.
I feel better! I had to get that off my chest. I wish you could have seen the look on my kids faces as they ran between cocoa and coffee trees barefoot today. As they saw a “real” scarecrow. Felt the humid heat and enjoyed the rain drops. Felt the mud between their feet and saw where bananas come from.
Sorry Toys R Us! I have never seen them look like that leaving one of your stores. It was a magical day. One that was much more exciting and memorable than wandering your florescently lit aisles looking at toys that try to show my kids how to be girls.
Would love to hear your thoughts! What are you doing as a parent or a teacher to get your kids exposure to nature? What project ideas do you have? How can we show Toys R Us that this type of message is unacceptable?
moves us from
mine to ours.
i can feel it in you
just as you’re feeling
it in me:
denizens of a developing
unattached and untethered
blurred and modified
copied and copied and copied.
in which we give and take
remix and build and create
and share and evolve.
and not for profit
call me an idealist
and I will call you one too.
and ready to be
made into you,
as i take you into me
and carve a we.
this is buddha
this is marx
this is freedom
this is sharing
this is free
give credit where credit is due
then take the thing and add to it
this new thing,
the one that belongs to neither you or me
give it away and let a third voice sing it free.
i am creative commons licensed
everything i think
i feel and create
is there for you:
give it away once you’re done with it,
tell people where you found it
don’t try to make money from it.
Last week, I got my favorite Creative Commons License (Attribution, Non-Commercial, ShareAlike) tattooed on my arm. I didn’t tattoo the symbols on my arm, because I think it is cute to cite photos I use for presentations. I tattooed the license on my arm because I see it as a badge of honor! Despite some of the criticism I have recently read, I see the vision of Creative Commons:
Our vision is nothing less than realizing the full potential of the Internet — universal access to research and education, full participation in culture — to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.
as something bigger than just teaching kids how to use images they find on the Internet. I see The Commons cause as bigger than piracy and media use. I see Creative Commons as the building block of a new culture. A culture in which cooperation trumps competition. Where we understand the derivative nature of human intellectual and artistic growth and try to build new laws to deal with a world where Everything is a Remix.
I see Creative Commons as an alternative to the very concept of copyright, and not only in the field of digital media. I hope to inspire kids to see their ideas are extensions of generations of thinking. I hope to challenge the idea of intellectual property as something that can be owned. I want kids to see that they are a link in an infinite chain of ideas. I want kids to see that while companies can copyright genetic codes in food production or own powerful medicines, that perhaps they can create a world that would be better served with a culture that chooses to share and build upon ideas, rather than owning them. Perhaps we can create a culture beyond commercialism and profits, one were we strive for sustainability and evolution.
I know these ideas may seem romantic, idealistic and perhaps a bit naive. I was raised on Imagine and Blowing in the Wind. Did you expect anything less? So while like the UN, the actual power of CC may be limited, I chose to tattoo the label on my arm because I value and love the idea of a shared commons. A place where the cultural and natural resources are accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately.
What are your thoughts on Creative Commons?
Today, as my grade 7 students were working in small groups, I heard someone say,”Stop being such a homo. That is so lame and gay.”
I walked over very calmly, sat down and said:
Can we have a very quick but serious conversation? I heard you just say, “Stopping being such a homo. That is so lame and gay.” I just wanted you to know that I would prefer that we didn’t use that kind of language in our classroom. I don’t think it is very kind to use words like Homo or Gay or even Retard in a derogatory way, do you know what derogatory means? It means to use it in a negative way. To use those words in a way to be put someone down. I don’t think it is okay to use words like Homo or Gay or Retard to put people down. There are most likely people in our class who might be homosexual or know people who are homosexual and if we use it as a put down, then they feel badly about themselves and that doesn’t seem fair. I know from experience because many of my friends who are homosexual have told me that language is powerful and the words we choose affect people in ways we cannot always see. Does that make sense? So please do not use the word Homo or Gay or Retard as a put down in our class again. OK? Thanks.
I’ve been meaning to write. It has been a while. I know. Did you miss me? I missed you. Missed you terribly. Missed the idea of you sitting there nodding or shaking your head, connected to my thoughts. Each one spilling from my fingers onto your screen into your psyche and daily thoughts. Or maybe, you just skim the words on a phone on a train in the night, soon forgotten. Who am I to know where you and I will meet? What will stick and what will float away. All I can do is write. I’ve been meaning to. It has been a while. I know. I missed you.
The problem is and always has been for most writers, I suppose, that I couldn’t make the time to get it right. A batch of half baked ideas taking up space does not always invite publication or sharing. So we swim with our premature ideas, hoping they will keep us a float long enough to make it a shore of completion.
The problem is that if there are enough of these incomplete thoughts, we may feel we can float forever and never need to actually give our ideas shape or voice or form. I see clearly now, that enough is enough– it is nearly October and I have yet to write the year’s first blog post. Here are my random thoughts looking for form:
I am cynical and distrustful of technology these days. It all feels trite and superfluous and outdated and stale. I tried to look for what I still value, really value in the Ed-Tech mold and there is not much. I do howver keep coming back to these ideas from Connected Learning.
I guess my goal this year is to define the aspects of this graphic that matter to me and really look at where and when technology is helping me accomplish these things in my classroom. I am planning a two-day workshop on the topic, so I best have my thoughts really clear.
But even in my personal life, the technology and even my network feels stale. Perhaps it is because I haven’t blogged in a while and have lost touch with the core of my audience. Perhaps I am in the midst of a necessary reflective period. Maybe I just need a break, or a detox. Not sure, but all I know is that I am not seeing technology like I have in the past. I am hyper-critical, aware and observant about the role of tech in my life.
So what is working? My classroom for sure! I am loving the lessons I learned from #TCRWP. I have fully embraced the workshop model. Complete with writer’s notebooks and mini-lessons. There really needs to be a post about this transition soon, but this post is not it. Let me just say that I love the idea of writers teaching writers how to write, instead of teachers teaching students how to write. I am very enthusiastic and I hope inspirational to the young writers in my room. I have removed the publication (blog) aspect from our writing work up to this point, and I couldn’t be happier. I am approaching blogging, writing and publication with a different outlook.
I have always advocated the openest form of online sharing and writing, but I am reconsidering my philosophy this year, and focusing on helping kids understand the stages of writing: Collecting, Drafting, Revising, Editing and Publishing. We are as a class discussing what it means to move through this process. Discussing along the way what it means to be a writer and the role of audience. It has been nice to write in private notebooks and work on skills and confidence before we share. We are getting ready to introduce blogs soon, but I am working on a new approach and will share our parent letter and explanation as soon as we go public.
What else is there to say? It has been a great opening to the year. We have been working on a new formative assessment procedure and a new reading program. All in all it has been a year of change and growth, but also one of nailing things down and building upwards. I just needed this post to get the wheels greased again.
So please do not forget about me here in your corner of the Internet. I am here and muttering and scribbling and changing and growing. Who know some of these half baked ideas might just be useful to you. Let me know if they are, because who are we kidding, I still need to know you need and want me.
I was not a huge reader in school. I liked books and I read what was required, but I was not a bury-your-nose-in-a-book-at-all-times kind of worm. Not like some kids I see in my classes today. That is until my last year in high school, when our student teacher Mr. Schmitt walked into class with a bag full books he had bought with his own money and asked us not to tell anybody what we were about to read.
“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”
Dr. Samuel Johnson
“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold…”
That was all it took. That opening sentence. I was hooked on books. I’m still not sure what made him feel that reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with a group of seventeen year old was a good idea, but thank goodness he did. Because after that I started to devour books. I started by reading everything Thompson ever wrote. Following names and ideas from his pages, I read The Beats, Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski. I developed an insatiable appetite for books and ideas that I have barely begun to satiate twenty years later. In short, I love books. I have been reading one book after another since I was nineteen. I do not understand people who “do not read.” What does that even mean?
My point? Patience, I am getting there. During my lifelong stint with reading I have only not ever finished two books. (That I admit to, there are a few others Pale Fire and Dante’s Inferno should be on the list too) Not finishing those two books haunts me to this day, because I was three quarters of the way through both before some freak incident made me stop. I was 900+ pages in War and Peace when a move to Angola forced me to abort the book, and I just couldn’t pick up steam again. If I had to read one more fifty page description of a battle or a ball, I would have killed myself. The second book? Again 900+ pages into Don Quixote before a tsunami literary washed it away.
I hated both of those books, but I was determined to finish them. And the fact that they lay half baked in my reading repertoire bothers me to no end. I will, someday, go back and start from the beginning and finish them both. Because I want to be able to say honestly and wholeheartedly that I have never not finished a book. Making this declaration is important to me.
Why you may ask? Who cares? Life is too short, you may say. Why waste time on reading what you don’t like? I hear you ask. Well dear reader, reading what you don’t like and never putting a book down, no matter how boring or difficult is the point of this post.
At the start of summer I began to read Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. After nearly two hundred pages I was still not sold. His scattered verbose meta-narrative style just wasn’t doing it for me. I complained on facebook and was told by many friends to stop wasting my time and just move onto something I would like. At that moment, the seed for this post was sown. A few days later I saw the film Liberal Arts in which the two main characters have this great conversation about reading books for fun.
Before I get started let me state that I know there is no one way to read. I am fully aware that my OCD with text is abnormal, and yes I know I too sound a bit like a snob. I can handle that. Here’s the thing– books for me are not entertainment. I have Master Chef and lame Hollywood super hero movies for brain numbing junk food. Books are my sustenance, my protein. They are my exercise. I am a bit nervous about pushing this exercise metaphor as I do not actually exercise, but conceptually I understand the concept– you push your body beyond physical comfort to force your muscles to exert extra energy, which in turn helps them stay fit and grow. This is the same reason I read. Books are dumbbells and elliptical machines for my brain, my heart, and my ideas.
I read books to help keep my intellect and imagination fit. I read books to help me write. I read critically, intensely and with passion. I seldom, if ever, will pick up a random book cause it looks fun or easy. I do research. I choose books that I hope will stimulate me. I choose books that I think will be a good work-out. So when I make a commitment to read a thousand pages of Rushdie over the summer I am not just going to stop because I don’t like it. Liking it has nothing to do with why I chose it. At this point in regime, I am forcing my brain to articulate why I don’t like it. What about it do I like? What is working in terms of craft and style. I read as a writer, not for pleasure. I return page after page, rep after rep like exercise in order to be a better thinker.
My point– as a teacher what do you tell your students who want to give up on books. As I mentioned earlier, I know that an unyielding commitment to books is my style and may not the best way to read for everyone. There are many ways to read. I get that. There are also many kinds of readers, and forcing a struggling reader to finish a book he hates may do more damage than good. I get that.But at what point to we ask our students to get on the bench and pump the weight.
In closing, by no means am I making a judgment on people who stop books or choose to read for fun. I guess I am looking for some well argued reasons why people read for pleasure or feel that it is okay to abandon books when they do not meet our expectations. I want to hear from you about what kind of reader you are and how you talk to your students about books. If you are a student, I would love to hear about your reading routines.
What kind of reader are you? How do you mentor the readers in your class? Am I crazy? Where do you agree? Disagree with what I have said?
For the record, I am now almost half way through the Midnight’s Children and things have changed! There is a bizarre magic realism plot forming (weirdly like the X-Men) and I am finally finding my groove. I am actually enjoying it. Glad I did not give up. Sometimes the best things are the ones that are the hardest to get to.
So I am pretty stoked. Excited. Ecstatic really. A few weeks ago, I tweeted something along the the lines that someday I hope to be able to teach a class on, “The History of Rock and Roll. Film or Digital Storytelling.”
But because I teach middle school and at the moment our school does not offer any of those electives, I felt my dream would be just that– a far fetched fantasy forced to flounder somewhere in the future or worse disappear as yet another ephemeral tweet. That is until, I became creative and active in making my dreams come true.
We have quite a robust after school activity program at UWCSEA. This year I facilitated four terms of Middle School Master Chef. And don’t get me wrong, I loved it. It was so much fun to watch kids take risks and learn new skills in the kitchen, but for next year, I was on the hunt for something new. I almost committed to a High School Mountain Biking club, when it hit me! Why not offer my dream class as an activity? It is not the same as a class, as we only meet for an hour a week, but for the time being it is better than nothing.
Below is the email exchange between the me and the activities director:
I have an idea for an activity that I have had for a while and if you think it is worthwhile and possible I would like to offer it next year.
So my idea is this: The History of Rock and Roll. Open to HS students, it is a chance to get together and study, explore and listen to the most important bands, songs, and albums of rock music from the 1950′-the 2000s. We will explore the historical and social context of the music, while looking at lyrics, musical structure as well as lasting impact on the world and rock music.
I have alway wanted to teach this as a class, so if you think it will work, I can write up a more formal blurb and come up with a pretty comprehensive plan.
Let me know what you think.
Hi Jabiz -
To be honest I’m not sure. History of R&R sounds interesting but as you say, it is a class – not sure that it has the content to be included in the Activity programme. We really need activities to be active learning and interactive, so learning about something doesn’t really hit that does it?
I totally get what you are saying about this being more of a “class” as for the active learning or interactivity of it I have some ideas:
- Perhaps we learn to play a song from each decade and perform at the end of a few weeks.
- Perhaps we create a digital story (exploring tech, film, and media) at the end of each decade.
- Perhaps we can share our work and learning on a blog and/or youtube channel
- Perhaps we create an iBook documenting the learning.
Or maybe we blend all three:
We discuss and learn about music from every decade, learn to play a few songs throughout the term, which we perform and document the learning through film, media and digital storytelling. Finally we consolidate all of it in an iBook helping us learn (interactivity ) how to use iBook author software etc…
As you can see I am really passionate and excited by this possibility. If you tell me what some of the guidelines are I am sure I can make it work and I know there are kids who would be interested. Perhaps, we can chat in person so I can explain further.
Sounds great Jabiz – love the ideas!
Will include it – please check when I send it round.
image by zentrad
And just like that I am teaching my dream class. The basic idea is as descried above, but I am a swirl in a brain storm at the moment. I am open to any suggestions or ideas. It will be for High School stuents, which will be a great way for me to get to know them better and a great way for me to stay in touch with my grade eights moving on next year.
I cannot think of a better way of getting to know and bonding with people than talking about and playing music. I will plan out a rough outline this summer, but in the meantime any ideas, or bands or songs or films or anything you can share would be great.
Just think- This could be me