Little Things

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Often it’s the little things that make life in our classrooms easier.

GOLF PENCILS. One of the biggest roadblocks to getting down to business is the old “I don’t have a writing utensil” problem. Instead of getting all uptight and letting it derail a portion of a class period, I keep lots of golf pencils on hand. It removes the hassle. “I need a pencil” + “Okay here” is a lot less stressful than “Goll dangit kid! Can’t you just be responsible? I guess you’ll have to go to your locker or borrow from a friend or give me your shoe so I get it back!” (Who really wants a high school student’s shoe? I mean … really.)

CARPET SQUARES. I listen to lectures better when I am a doodling. Some people like to have something in their hands to play with to help them focus. Other people are tappers. While doodling and fidgeting are usually not distracting to others, tapping can be, so I keep carpet squares on hand. The students can drum them with their hands or a pen or pencil and it pretty much muffles the sound altogether. My tappers and the people around them can all be happy at once.

WHISPER PHONES. Reading aloud is helpful to some students. It’s one more kinesthetic layer to their learning. Obviously, if you have a room full of students trying to read, some prefer quiet though. Reading aloud isn’t quiet, unless you whisper into a whisper phone (which can easily be made with two PVC elbows). You hold it like a phone and whisper it into one end and the sound travels to your ear through the “C” without broadcasting to the room. I can have a room full of silent readers with a handful of students quietly reading to themselves out loud. This works well too for students who are checking their own writing for errors in a quiet room and need to listen for errors (because we often catch errors with our ears that our eyeballs miss).

DRUM. Reading your own writing aloud in front of peers is for some reason less scary when you have a drum accompaniment. Weird, but true. Also, if you teach English, the drum is vital for any reading of “The Telltale Heart.”

None of these ideas are mine. I’ve learned of them from other educators over the years, and like a chef using someone else’s recipe, I’ve tweaked them to make them work in my classroom.

Kids these days: They just don’t know how to communicate …

 

The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.

~ Kakuzo Okakaura

There are all sorts of posts on social media and comments being made about how “kids these days” are becoming less social and less able to interact socially/intelligently because of smartphones and tablets and computers and drones and wifi and cyborgs … (WATCH THIS–> We are ALL cyborgs now. ~ Amber Case)  but I can tell you that this weekend I took a road trip with three 12/13-year-old girls who spent the entire weekend reading, writing, researching, AND speaking with one another both through traditional language (speaking), through writing (texting, messaging) and through visuals (Instagramming, SnapChatting). They type; they talk; they make videos; they share images; they giggle; they consume viral content; they CREATE content; they experiment; and they are just like I was when I was 12, except that they have modern technology–(just like I had modern technology when I was 12. It just happens to be 26-year-old technology at this point in history).

Here is one of the many non-digital activity the girls participated in this weekend.

Here is one of the many non-digital activity the girls participated in this weekend.

 

I understand why people see it this way. There are people (kids and adults) who over-use the technology that is so readily available to us. There are people who rarely see sunshine, or have hunched backs from constantly huddling over screens. There are people who have taken waaaay too many pictures of themselves (myself included). But, I do not believe for a second that modern technology hinders communication. Social media is a form of literacy. If you don’t learn it, you will become, in a way, illiterate. Refusal to learn is refusal to live life to its full potential.

The girls spent a lot of time using their screened devices. I am the mean mother who still hasn’t purchased a smartphone (nor a stupid phone) for my daughter, but she has an iPad from school and her friend has two smartphones, so she let my daughter borrow the smartphone she no longer uses, as a wifi-ready device for the weekend. There were several remarkable things I’d like to note about what happened our trip.

On the way to South Dakota, the girls decided that they wondered what it would be like to time-lapse themselves for the entire way there. One of the girls time-lapsed herself sleeping the other night and that idea spurred this idea. They set up one of the iPads and began time-lapsing the trip. Then they decided it would be pretty awesome to not only have a time-lapse of themselves, but also of the road, so they set up a second iPad. We had simultaneous time-lapsing going on. It was a rather nifty experiment.

This was part of our self-guided statue tour of the USD campus.

This was part of our self-guided statue tour of the USD campus.

 

The next thing that happened was they did a lot of sharing through digital communication. They also talked … a lot. They would be talking while they were sending each other digital content. Color-me-impressed with how much talking occurred this weekend. (It was nearly non-stop.)

These girls are documentarians. If you wanted to create a timeline of our weekend, you could. You might be overwhelmed by the massive body of work, but you could definitely chart our activities through the girls’ pictures and posts. At the end of the trip, my daughter’s two friends told their moms to follow me on Instagram so that they could see what their weekend was like. As a mom, I would really like to be able to see that. If my child is away from me, I would find it a blessing to know what she did while she was away. (Now that my oldest daughter is away at college, this is especially true!)

Anytime the girls were unsure of something, they researched it online. The answers are there. We were able to talk about website credibility through this. We were also able to practice concert etiquette–one of the important components being–>put your phones away during the concert! When the girls started to interact in catty ways with girls who weren’t physically there, we had the opportunity to talk about how staying out of “the drama” of being a girl is really better than engaging in it. If someone baits you online, it’s best to not take the bait! We had some excellent conversations. If someone says “like for a #TBH DM” don’t hit LIKE. Don’t do it! I learned some things this weekend, but I think they did too.

We saw three separate concerts while we were at USD this weekend.

We saw three separate concerts while we were at USD this weekend.

 

At one point during the trip, there was a “fight,” as often happens when you get three girls together for any extended period of time. After said fight and after a little parental intervention (AKA group therapy sesh), I witnessed the three girls work out a problem they were having through Snapchat. One of them sent an (intentionally) unattractive photo of herself to the other with the message, “Why can’t we be fweinds?” right before the concert started, and then they were all holding in laughs and giving each other knowing looks that conveyed “WE ARE FRIENDS” or “fwiends” if you will. Up until that point, I thought Snapchat was a good-for-nothing app that served only as a way to send inappropriate images to one another under the guise of “safe anonymity”. It still CAN be that–no doubt about it–but if we educate our children how to use such apps responsibly, then amazingly enough, even Snapchat can be useful.

In addition to all the things I mentioned above, we also saw three collegiate orchestral, concert and symphonic band concerts, went thrift store shopping, took a self-guided tour of the statues of the USD campus, went swimming, sang songs, visited the National Music Museum where we were all able to take a crack at playing the gamelan and my youngest daughter got to spend (face-to-face) time with her big sis.

We took three "groupies" as the girls called them or "us-ies" as Dave Guymon calls them (which I favor due to the connotation of "groupies" in my generational vernacular. We took one at every concert.

We took three “groupies” as the girls called them or “us-ies” as Dave Guymon  calls them (which I favor due to the connotation of “groupies” in my generational vernacular). We took one at every concert.

 

So, do these devices make us less social? NO. We may socialize in different ways, but we are not less social. Are kids super-self-centered in that they take a thousand selfies per minute? YES. Have you ever heard of a generation of adolescents who have not been self-absorbed though? They may have shown their self-absorption in other ways, but kids have always been on some level (varying by individual, of course) of the belief that they are the sun and the rest of the people in their lives are the world–revolving around them. Being self-absorbed at that age is NORMAL. My friends and I used to stare at ourselves FOR HOURS … (no hyperbole here … ) in the mirror making weird faces and bursting into laughter. HOURS. Now, they just do it into a screen and possibly make a montage of the most awkward photos or a mashup or a meme. If my friends and I could’ve done the same, we would’ve.

YES: Our kids do lead digital lives, but they haven't stopped interacting socially with one another. They just are doing it in new ways. Their kids will do it in new ways 20 years from now. Just like I did in new ways than my parents. It's called change. It's what happens as time marches on.

YES: Our kids do lead digital lives, but they haven’t stopped interacting socially with one another. They just are doing it in new ways. Their kids will do it in ways currently unimagined  20 years from now.

 

Balance. Of course, we need balance in everything we do–not just in digital VS. face-to-face interactions, and technology vs. nature–but in work vs. play, health vs. indulgence, physical vs. mental activity, fun vs. serious, and so on. Technology changes communication, but in my opinion, communication is easier today than it has ever been. Communication is more creative today than it ever has been. And kids are the same as they ever were; they just have new ways of expressing themselves.

In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

~ Eric Hoffer

Rigorrrrrrrrrr

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seth m via Compfight

I like what (most) educators mean when they say RIGOR (and OF COURSE I love love love the bojangles out of relevance, which typically leads to engagement) but truth be told, the word rigor just makes me think of stiff corpses …

<tenting hands à la cartoon villain>  … You’re thinking about them now … aren’t you? …

Unfortunately (for me and anyone like me), any time you get a bunch of dorks together to talk about curriculum the dead body word comes up, every stinkin’ time. It’s been in use for a good long while now too, so I think it’s outlived the buzzword phase. We’re probably stuck with it. However, after typing rigor into thesaurus. com, I’ve curated a brief collection of of alternatives for the aforementioned word that I would very much like to avoid, if possible, when discussing anything but the state of a cadaver from this point forward:

AUSTERITY –> After all, standards should be of a stern and unwavering nature, no? (Curriculum should not be austere; standards should be.)

FIRMNESS or RIGIDITY  –> Standards should be unmoving, stationary targets. (Again: The curriculum should be fluid, adaptable, and ever-evolving to best meet and exceed standards, but the standards themselves should usually stay put–until we discover a problem. Then they should be altered immediately.)

PRECISION –> Of course standards should be clearly defined and exact–so should curriculum.

ASPERITY –> This one means harshness or sharpness, which is way worse than THE WORD THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED’s definition, but as a word, it is much more auditorily pleasing.

TRADITIONALISM or CONVENTIONALISM –> These are, after all, qualities that curriculum and standards sometimes take on if rigor’s intended meaning is misconstrued. Maybe, if we called it one or all of these things, it could serve as a warning to people when they started getting away from academically or intellectually challenging (the definition I use for rigor) curricula to stale, inflexible, stoutly traditional or boringly conventional curricula. (There’s nothing wrong with some traditional or conventional methods, so please don’t slay me with your words, dearest readers who favor traditional or conventional methods in education. I just firmly believe that educators need to stay fresh and open to the idea that there is always a possibility of something better out there as we continually learn more about learning.) In other words, when we are dealing with a rigorous curriculum–cool. When we are dealing with a stale, unwaveringly, boring, traditional-for-the-sake-of-tradition curriculum we can say … Whoa, slow down there, doggy. We’re getting into the realm of inflexible traditionalist conventionalism and we’re going to need to shorten your leash a little.

OBDURACY –> This means unmoving, stubborn, unyielding … When you get down to it, standards should be these things, but the people who write them shouldn’t be. WE, the keepers of the curricula, have to be flexible enough to see when something that was “set in stone” needs to be sandblasted.

PUNCTILIOUSNESS –> This is my favorite. It is more in line with what I think of when I think of what curriculum and standards should be, but is also just a cool words that does not conjure up any morbid thoughts for me. It feels pleasant on the tongue and sounds lovely in the air. Punctiliousness is an attentiveness to detail. Isn’t that agreeable? Maybe even … charming? Okay … that’s probably taking it too far, but it’s a heckuva lot better than corpses … frozen, immalleable, ossified corpses. (Shut up! I’m closing out of the thesaurus.com tab right now …)

None of the words on the above list mean fun things–not that education ALWAYS has to be a circus of entertainment. (Though wouldn’t it be cool if we actually included a standard for fun? Then again, any attempt to standardize fun would probably make it less fun … so, never mind.) Education should be fun when it CAN be, but it can’t always be. Curriculum should be suitably challenging, even difficult at times (not that fun and challenge are mutually exclusive). And again, I think that rigor (gag!) as it is usually intended in curricular discussions IS a good thing. I just wish we could agree on a more palatable* way to say it.

*I thought up the word palatable without the assistance of thesaurus.com.

#slowchated Week 5: Balancing Life as an Educator AKA The Wild Ride

This is cross-posted here –> SLOWCHATED.

Now that week 6 is nearly coming to a close, I am ready to publish (the overly long) reflection of Week 5. (Brevity in writing is NOT one of my strong-points. Brevity in speaking is a specialty, so don’t ask me to TELL you about Week 5; you’ll just have to read about it here). Please note: I consider this a draft, but since it is overdue, I’m going to go ahead and hit “PUBLISH” and go back and edit later, which WILL include re-working the jacked up format.

Jeffrey Farley (@FarleyJeffrey) summed Week 5 up best:

During Week 5, we managed to explore this wide topic deeply (& sometimes irreverently) & the moderator (yours truly) was tricky–a cheater really–who had all sorts of sneaky question maneuvers. For example, Question 1 was really two questions. I posted Qs1 with the intention of focusing on the positives we see in education. On the daily, there are so many negative stories in the media that it’s easy to get bogged down with a poor attitude towards our profession. WE know what GOOD STUFF is happening every single day, but it’s a rarity for the media to share it–especially the NATIONAL media.

* Q1.1: Eds-> Tell me something good! In your current position, what brings you joy?

* Q1.2: Edu-Friends-> What are some positive observations you’ve made about education?

The responses to these questions were heartening. Here is a sample. (To see more you can check out the archive. It’s included at the end of this post.) We saw plenty of references to … … supportive administrations:

… staff camaraderie …

… teachers treating students as their own:

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… a little system-bucking, here and there:

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… and of course, plenty of references to our students:

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Day 2 was more practical …

Q2: What are some steps you have taken (or should take) to ensure your work-life balance? #slowchated

Like so many educators, Kevin Ashworth (@SLOlifeKevin) noted that TEACHING is what brings him joy:

Plenty of others chimed in with some sage advice as well.

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Day 3 was opposite day.

* Q3: What are some factors/habits that guarantee teacher burnout?

In short, if you want to burnout, devote your life to nothing but curriculum and standards, never forgive yourself for messing up, hang out by yourself ALL THE TIME, NEVER HAVE FUN and be sure to grade EVERYTHING.

Day 4 proved to be another day of tweaking the format:

* Q4.1 Edu-Newbs: What challenges have you faced regarding work-life balance?

* Q4.2 Edu-Vets: If you were to give a piece of advice to a newb teacher about work-life balance, what would that be?

I will let the tweets speak for themselves. (Remember the archive has so many more. This is just a sample.)

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The Day 5 question was admittedly a loaded question. It made all sorts of assumptions about the #slowchated participants, but it is an open forum, so anyone had the right to challenge it. Some embraced the question and others did question the question, which led to some spirited dialogue.

* Q5: How do you remain positive in a climate of edu-cynicism, edu-ugliness, & edu-enemies?

And I appreciate those who questioned the question …

… and the resulting dialogue …

During week 5 this video went viral, which only served to solidify my belief in the sentiment behind the loaded nature of the Week 5 Question:

I was disenchanted to find out via Facebook friends that this exact style of training had been used recently in a Nebraska district. *Sighhhh* (I sent this video in an email to my principal and director of learning begging them to NOT jump on this bandwagon.)

This question definitely brought out my inner-snark. I get so disheartened when I see report after report about how those in power are attacking our profession under the guise of accountability, so I am at some times swayed into negativity. It’s what gives me my fight though. It’s what keeps me here–because I believe that I can do some good and I can advocate for our profession and my colleagues and my school. My tolerance for policy that is NOT GOOD for students is NIL, so I have to be here to change it. Giving up to the incessant cynicism directed towards our profession will not do anyone any good though it does serve a purpose, I suppose. It forces us to think critically and reflectively about our own practices AND justify them when necessary. Entertaining our own cynicism from time to time can keep us sharp. It can keep the fire burning to fight the good fight.

Question 5 sparked deeper thought from another #slowchated participant as well. Ross LeBrun couldn’t stick to the 140 character limitation, so he wrote this–> HOW MUCH PENCILS? in response to the DAY 5 question.

Day 6 brought us full circle and focused us back on THE GOOD STUFF because THERE IS SO MUCH GOOD STUFF IN EDUCATION!

* Q6 (is not really a Q): Tell us about something you recently witnessed IN YOUR SCHOOL that you consider a POSITIVE ED STORY

I will leave you with another mere sampling of stories that will make you feel good about our profession. Check out the archive for others AND look for them in your own school. You WILL FIND THEM!

And here is the ARCHIVE:

Work Life Balance + Staying Positive in a Not-Always-So-Positive Climate #slowchatED

 

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Image: J. L. Comstock. A System of Natural Philosophy: Principles of Mechanics (Pratt, Woodford, and Company, 1850) 72

 

This week, during #slowchated, we will be discussing work-life balance for educators, as well as ways to stay positive in a not-always-so-positive climate. (What I mean by “climate” is not necessarily the current climate of your individual school–though I do realize that for some a negative school culture is very much a reality–but rather the societal climate/attitude towards the current state of education. Think: Policy, lawmakers, Common Core, and bad press.) What can we do to stay positive when it seems so many have a negative view of educators, or don’t understand what it means to be a teacher in this day and age? What can we do to make sure that our well-being isn’t compromised in the name of our careers? We often talk about nurturing the whole child, but how about nurturing the whole teacher?

You will notice that when I moderate, I cheat in the question department. I want to be inclusive to everyone who might join in, so I sometimes throw out questions for two or more target groups. For example, for Monday, I asked one question for educators in general and another for “edu-friends”– anyone who might be here to support educators or give his/her two cents. Of course, if educators want to answer the Q1.2 or if edu-friends want to answer the Q1.1, that is totally okay. As each day begins, I will post the question(s) for that day below. Stop by to see the updates, or jump into the chat HERE –> #SLOWCHATED.

One of the most convenient things about #slowchated is that you can join in at any time during the week. Unlike most Twitter chats, this chat is asynchronous. It is available at your leisure. It can be as intense or as relaxed as you’d like it to be.

MONDAY:

* Q1.1: Eds-> Tell me something good! In your current position, what brings you joy?

* Q1.2: Edu-Friends-> What are some positive observations you’ve made about education?

TUESDAY:

* Q2: Eds-> Tell me something good! In your current position, what brings you joy?

* Piggyback Q of the Day:  What time management strategies do you use to keep your schedule in check?

WEDNESDAY:

I’m going to take a page out of the @lit_teacher moderation handbook and do opposites today. Yesterday we talked about steps we take (or should take) to ensure work-life balance. #slowchated Today we’re going to talk about the opposite.

* Q3: What are some factors/habits that guarantee teacher burnout?

THURSDAY:

I’m cheating again with 2 questions today.

* Q4.1 Edu-Newbs: What challenges have you faced regarding work-life balance?

* Q4.2 Edu-Vets: If you were to give a piece of advice to a newb teacher about work-life balance, what would that be?

FRIDAY:Warning–> This is a LOADED QUESTION.

* Q5: How do you remain positive in a climate of edu-cynicism, edu-ugliness, & edu-enemies?

SATURDAY:

Yesterday’s line of questioning induced a bit of my inner snark. Today, let’s refocus on the positive side of education. Take a moment to reminisce about what led you to teaching. (Feel free to share those factors with us. *another sneaky bonus Q!*)

* Q6 (is not really a Q):
Tell us about something you recently witnessed IN YOUR SCHOOL that you consider a POSITIVE ED STORY!

iCrave balance

For as much as I believe in technology integration, changing with the times, and embracing new ideas, I still love doing things the old-fashioned way.

This post was mainly inspired by this:

This is the library of a college near my home. I took some students to a workshop there last week and one of the students took us on a tour of the campus. It was a lovely workshop for the most part, and the campus was delightful overall, but walking past a library without a (traditional) book in sight (I’m certain there were e-readers present) stirred a sadness in me.

One of my students even said, “This is a total turnoff. I will not consider this college nor any college that has a library with no books.” Of the students who gave me (unsolicited) feedback, none of them were happy about the bookless  library. Three of them said it made them sad. One seemed more angry than anything … maybe even outraged.

I am guilty of getting overly wrapped up in technology. I have become concerned that I’m more interested in documenting my life and my children’s lives that I’m not living it as fully as I could be if I (more frequently) were to set the iPad down or unplug from my (slow and cumbersome at-home) wifi connection and go outside. It’s not that I never set foot outside or spend time with my children. I just have realized how much of my time is involved in social media, reading the latest articles, networking with peers outside of my school, and … yes … I must admit … dinking a round on games and mindless surfing.  (Do people still “surf the web”? I just realized I haven’t used that phrase for ages. Hmmm.) But there are still things that I like to kick old style. Reading a book is one of them.

Other things I still like to do the old-fashioned way:

  • write letters (but I love personal emails too)
  • visit places in person (though if I never make it to Paris, some of the cyber tours I’ve taken are pretty slick)
  • look at pictures (I realized this when I was going through the scads of photos I have of my youngest daughter as I was putting together a slideshow for her graduation party, which we are in the throws of planning as I type. *sighhhh*)
  • hang out with friends (though hanging out with distant friends/loved ones via Skype or Google Hangout is a decent substitute)

It has been assumed by some that because I am a tweetaholic, or because I work in a 1:1 iPad school, or because I sign up for PD at every turn that I’m ONLY into technology, but that’s not true.

I love the simple things in life–a good book, a cup of tea, receiving a letter from an old friend, taking a walk with my daughters and husband, petting my dogs.  However, I also love social media, streaming entire television series on my computer, and iMessage AND what technology has done for the classroom.

I suppose it’s a balance between modern and “old”  that I crave.