Sunday, August 18, 2019

Nurturing Guilt

I wanted to keep some of this private, but I've realized that guilt needs some nurturing for it to be a productive force. And, I have to admit that guilt has its face in much of my life's business; white guilt, colonial guilt, childhood guilt, sibling guilt, parental guilt, teacher guilt. Yet, despite my hesitation to speak or write about this, I know that guilt unacknowledged or untended grows like weeds choking up the host leaving no room for other forms of life. It's like those few extra pounds around my hips that I can ignore if I never observe myself from behind. Some things need to be acknowledged, others can be hidden with the right clothes.

So here is part of the story.

A long time ago, I sought therapy to help me manage the stark reality of having a severely disabled child. I was convinced that my actions during pregnancy had caused my daughter's seizure disorder and impending very dependent life. I was responsible for this mess, but now someone else, someone innocent, had to share the cost with me.

During one of our hour-long sessions, I seemed to have a moment of clarity in which I saw all the guilt that I had carried forward from my mother, letting it weigh me down as I willfully ignored the burden, and I could see myself passing this on into the future to my three children. I couldn't let this happen, so I asked Dr Boulais for parenting advice and he was succinct; "I tell everyone the same thing. Deal with your own shit."

Now, twenty-five years later, I have realized the many benefits of having to care for my disabled child, given up the selfish notion that it was my fault, and what seemed to be irreconcilable has been reconciled for me. I feel like this is cause for hope as I face the truth of my white privilege, the truth of our colonized curriculum, and the lack of diversity in the buildings in which I teach.

Although I have shed some of the childhood, sibling, and parental guilt, I have to admit that I do feel guilty for Canada's role in harming our First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples. I do feel guilty for the residential schools, I do feel guilty for the reserves, and the lack of clean drinking water at Attawapiskat, a national disgrace.

But that guilt needs tending, it needs some action, so as these summer days shorten and new ground is about to be broken with Indigenous Studies in grade 11 English at my school, I am going to nurture that guilt. I am going to deal with my own shit. I am going to raise up and celebrate our First Nations, Metis, and Inuit, and I am going to need some help if I am going to become an ally. The seeds of guilt can transform and take on new purpose when exposed to the truth and when nurtured out in the open.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Learning from EduTwitter challenges

I was distracted from my online course on FNMI cultures yesterday though I did stay on topic. A Twitter thread caught my eye and I followed the discussion throughout the day and well into the night. I read most of the responses and thought carefully about the issues being raised as well as the way in which the central "edu-influencer" both responded and was responded to.

I think the whole discussion started with @doxdatorb posting this:
This was followed by a link to a thoughtful critique of @MeehanEDU's gamified "Dream Rush" which can be found here:

This prompted a response from Dr. Debbie Reese, whose profile states: 

Tribally enrolled: Nambe Pueblo. Founder: 
American Indians in Children's Literature. 
PhD Education; MLIS. ALA's 2019
 Arbuthnot Lecturer. She/her.

She responded with: 
"You've arrived" -- sounds innocuous. It wasn't. 

"uncharted" -- you mean "uncharted by colonizers" 

"our race" -- you expect Native kids to join that "race" and "yearlong wagon train"?

This definitely got me thinking about the blindness of our bias and how we need "edu influencers" from the margins to challenge all of us and our thinking. It certainly helps that I'm enrolled in a course on First Nations, Metis, and Inuit in Canada since I'm already open and learning, but I would hope that we, as educators, can be open enough to the critique of others (especially those working on the margins of dominant culture) that we don't ignore, or silence them.

I made a list of what I learned from this:
  • don't erase debate from your Twitter feed (as done by @MeehanEDU)
  • consult, consult, consult before you publish
  • there are dangers in the commercialization of education
  • respond individually to people on Twitter and avoid "cut and paste" responses
  • don't hold your creation "too close to your heart" (thanks to @XanWoods for that metaphor)

This Twitter discussion was difficult and made me very uncomfortable at times. I wonder how often someone on the margins flinches in discomfort in the classroom? I am working on making my classroom a place where these discomforts can be shared and I don't mind if this makes me the most uncomfortable one in the room.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mother's Day Reflections

I had a profoundly emotional moment in class last week which brought me to tears and then suddenly a flush of embarrassment.

We had been live on VoicEd Radio with Stephen Hurley and my students in grade 10 Academic English were being interviewed. My mother in Goderich, and my husband at home had promised to listen in.

I had been moving about the room trying to encourage students to work through the hashtags for the Twitter chat, to respond to the five questions that I had timed to be released every 10 minutes, and ensuring as many students as possible could share their voices on the radio.

Of course, I was anxious and somewhat fearful, because I'd never done this before. It was a new experience and I wasn't quite sure about the outcome. It was very public, and I felt very exposed.

But the hour passed fairly smoothly, and many students were engaged and participating. Some were excited and willing to share their thoughts on live radio. I could feel my heart swell whenever they got up to the microphone and I wanted to reach out and support them, but didn't as they made their way through the questions from the host with thoughtfulness and honesty.

And as we signed off, a text from my mother came in. I raised my voice to share the text, and then was suddenly overcome by a wave of emotion. I paused and broke. Tears flowed and my peer tutor stepped forward to read the text message:

"I can understand why you love your job. Those young people are SO worth caring about."

After a few gentle hugs from the students, I composed myself and the ebb of embarrassment appeared. It hung around for several hours and into the next day, until this day, Mother's Day, I realized what it was.

It was the moment of parental recognition that said, "I understand you." This Mother's Day I'm reminding myself of this power to hold and validate the worth of our children.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Unlearning - Journal 1

We are one week into this unit and I couldn't be more excited, more overwhelmed, and equally, more afraid. I'm excited by the range of topics and enthusiasm that some students are finding, I'm overwhelmed by the notifications streaming into my Twitter account, and I'm afraid that this might not be sustainable.

But, I'm equally inspired to keep moving in this direction as I've learned more about my students and their thinking on a range of topics than I could have in any other format. Using Twitter for research allows them to find their own voices, make connections with others in their field of interest, and most importantly learn how to dialogue in shared spaces. It allows me the opportunity to share articles and credible sources which may help their research, broaden their perspectives, or even deepen their understanding and appreciation for the complexities of life.

Going into a library is a wonderful experience for me, but students often don't know where to begin. To navigate a library they need to take a mass of information and sort, select, and distil the information down to the narrow focus of their research topic. On the other hand, Twitter allows them to move in the opposite direction; from small bits of information across the surface of understanding and then to deepen when they find what they need.

Image result for it's complicated by danah boydThis unit has brought me back to the trajectory of my learning when teaching Media Studies. It's reminded me of Dana Boyd's point that “In a world where information is easily available, strong personal networks and access to helpful people often matter more than access to the information itself...
Rather than focusing on coarse generational categories, it makes more sense to focus on the skills and knowledge that are necessary to make sense of a mediated world. Both youth and adults have a lot to learn.” 
― Danah Boyd, It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

I have a lot to learn over the next three weeks.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Using Conversations as Evidence of Learning

(This happened last year and the name of my student has been changed.)

George drops by my class every morning.

“Hi Miss!” he shouts.

He tells me about his girlfriend, and asks for breath mints
because he got rushed out of the house and didn't have time to brush his teeth. He showed me pictures of the sheep on his family farm.
A supply teacher told me that he dropped by when I was absent and left me an apple.

Several weeks back I saw him in the principal’s office and rather than understanding that his location
might reveal a discipline problem to be concerned about, he waved enthusiastically to get my attention.

If someone were to record the number of times the name “George” is said in a period, I believe that it
would exceed the names of all other students. Getting George’s attention is difficult. Getting George to
understand and to learn is difficult. Liking George isn’t difficult.

I’ve always known that technology can be the great leveller in the classroom and this definitely applies to
George. In our professional learning this year, we decided to record student voices and to see what
learning takes place that is not evident when they write. George loves speaking so using a voice
recorder and interviewing him after a reading task was easy and he was engaged the entire time.
But was he learning? And, if there was learning, could I hear it?

This classroom intervention, this intentional interruption in my teaching practice, sparked so many thoughts and questions and changes in me. I have started to pay closer attention to the types of questions that I ask students and I listen more. I sit in small groups and let them direct the conversations making connections between the skills that we are learning in class and their lives.
George pays closer attention when it connects with his own life and I’m getting a better understanding of what he understands.

Last year, our Literacy Achievement Collaboration Group allowed teachers the time to reflect on students and themselves; it provided a learning environment that had high expectations for learning, and which was rigorous and demanding, but allowed for many voices in the interests of
growth. I feel like this is what needs to happen often with George and other students just like him and I am making this my focus for this year.

I always set myself goals for improvement, and this year I want to make the changes that will allow me to use conversations as evidence of learning. And, I know that there are those students who are reluctant to speak (my youngest son was one of those students) so I will find ways to hear what they are learning. I found this interesting idea to help promote peer to peer conversations and will work this into the group discussions this year.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Continuing the Conversations on Cell Phones

This semester, I have three grade 9 classes, and even though they are exciting to teach, they can be very distracted, very scattered, and very much in need of classroom and teacher supports to keep them focused on the learning.

I've been following the debate around cell phone use closely. I saw a report on CBC news about a Social Studies teacher in Toronto who had ordered the pouches for his class; the report included a brief interview with students who reported being able "to focus more", so I sought the approval of my principal and we decided to run an experiment out of my class.

I ordered 30 Yondr pouches (seen in the image) for experimentation and spent time planning how I might use them, when I might use them, and I began drafting a letter Informing parents.

Donna Fry wrote recently about cell phones here:  She seems to question the banning of cell phones, and asked some very valuable questions.

When have we scaffolded the development of self-regulation with mobile devices? 
When have we empowered students by showing them how to connect with experts from around the world? 
These questions or similar concerns were expressed by other Department Heads at my school. Before I could take action, I felt that I needed to understand the debate more clearly and I wanted to engage my students in the experiment.
A Classroom Experiment:
One day during a station activity where students were trying to use literary devices in creative ways (write a menu or advertisement for Hyperbole cafe), I noticed that they were particularly rambunctious and nearly every student had a cell phone out and in use. I observed many Snapchat users and overheard discussions about a social situation that was drawing their attention. 
The next day I spontaneously decided to take action. I brought the pouches into the class and had students lock their phones before doing 6 vocabulary stations. The students knew about the pouches and understood that I was supporting them in creating a sense of focus; at least, that was my intention. I had students complete a Google Form about the experience and the next day I ran the stations again, with different words, and this time with their phones. I was fortunate to be in the middle of a collaborative inquiry cycle and had 7 teachers observe my students during the vocabulary stations so I got lots of interesting observational data.
What Happened?
On the first day using the Yondr pouches, I asked my students how they felt about working at the vocabulary stations without their phones and these are their unedited responses:

Before the activity, your phone was locked in a Yondr pouch. How did this affect the way you tried to work through the tasks at the station?
Did not effect me at all because I don't use my phone in English.
It made it easier to concentrate
We needed to search some songs up and it was hard to do when the phone or the Chromebook was locked away so it was hard.
It didn't change it much, I still did the work the same as I usually would have.
Doesn't matter I didn't have a phone
It made it a bit harder because i couldn't look anything up

It didn't really affect me to much, only when I may of forgot what a word was but I couldn't search it up.
I found that it was much less of a distraction for me and my group members because i was able to focus more on my work and the entire group was able to focus and contribute to each station.We also were able to complete most of the stations in a reasonable time because we did not have a phone to distract us from our work, i think everyone can talk to a neighbor or group member and still complete work without access to our devices.
I found it made it easier to not have my phone because I wasn't constantly checking it, or wanting to go on it. I wasn't even worried about it and I got more work done, probably because I was more Focused on my work than my phone.
I'm fine without my phone. It didn't effect me very much.
Couldn't look up the words which made it tricky

On the next day, when they could use their phones, teachers observed students struggling with vocabulary and making decisions to skip words rather than use their phones to look up definitions.
Donna Fry wrote about the power of cell phones as sources of information. However, I discovered something unexpected with my students. 
What I Learned and Next Steps:
I should preface these next statements by the fact that I am a seriously dedicated social media fanatic and I have an obsession with Media Studies. 
Lesson #1: My observations in this early stage of my experiment, have led me to feel that often grade 9 students don't see their cell phones as "powerful computers".The distraction is the powerful pull of social media and the chance to interact virtually with their peers. In my school and in my classes, this is mainly Snapchat with some limited use of Instagram. As someone who once held the philosophical belief that  if the lesson is "engaging enough" students will use their cell phones wisely. I've realized that I'll never be as engaging as their peer group or some Youtube videos. I can and have spent hours designing for engagement, but if the teenaged mind is consumed by emotions generated by the amygdala and they are immersed in some peer group drama, they will not be able to focus with or without a cell phone.
Lesson #2: But the experiment taught me even more. It's not all about focus. It's actually about working memory. My students relied on their phones so much, and the ways that they consume music is so different from previous generations, that they did not have working memory of songs or vocabulary words that we were using in class. 

Lesson #3: It can't be all or nothing. Students need help understanding how and when to use their cell phones. They need help managing the use of the phone in and outside of the classroom.

This isn't going to be an easy fix. We aren't going to solve this with traditional measures or absolute controls. We need to continue the discussion, to involve students in understanding the potential and the dangers of cell phone use.

I'm continuing by listening to the debate on CBC Radio's Ontario today.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Reading to Children

Reading to Children:

This week, my students in Grade 9 Applied English chose children's stories and read them to some young children at the school Daycare program.

To be honest, they were somewhat apprehensive at first, and entered the room which was bustling with the activity of busy, energetic young children.

I got the sense that they didn't quite know where to move, where to sit, what to do. This wasn't a classroom or an environment with which they are familiar, so it took a bit of prompting, some encouragement and eventually the natural aspects of storytelling just took over.

And then something remarkable happened...
I've tried several times this year to create some experiential learning without much success. Cost is always a factor and with cut backs being experienced everywhere, it's difficult to find rewarding experiences for my students. However, this experience was unanticipated and the payoff was something unexpected.

Reading to younger children gave my students in Applied English a boost to their confidence. I don't even think they realized the changes they experienced, but I could see it visibly in the way they walked back to the classroom, in the way they then approached their own reading. More importantly, it showed up in my data; I had them write two short reading comprehension quizzes right after reading to children, and the results were nothing short of remarkable.

Nurturing Guilt

I wanted to keep some of this private, but I've realized that guilt needs some nurturing for it to be a productive force. And, I have to...