Posts Tagged ‘ Education ’

Nancy’s Imaginary Line

NYC - Central Park: Children's Zoo - Lehman Gates

Last year, one of my teachers, named Nancy, poked her nose into my office with an impish look on her face. She said, “I know you’re busy, but I just HAVE to tell you about what happened with my class this morning.”

Nancy had taken a group of students, aged 7-9, to do what she thought was an exciting outdoor activity. She was impatient to get through the instructions so they could get to the fun.

Her little group stood restlessly around the closed box which contained the equipment for their activity.  She took out 2 pylons and placed them approximately 3 metres apart and asked students to, “Please stand behind the imaginary line that is between the two pylons.”

The students walked over to the space between the two pylons and all stared down at the ‘imaginary line’.

“How thick is the imaginary line so we don’t step on it?”

“I like pink, is it okay if my line is pink?”

“Oh, my line is a zigzag line, so where do I stand?”

“What does an imaginary line really look like anyways?”

“How will I know if the line moves because it’s ‘imaginationish’?”

“Why do they only make pylons orange?” (He was focused on what was holding this line together.)

“Is the line tied to the pylons?”

“Which side of the line do we stand on?”

“Is the line on the ground or off the ground so we know how high to step?”

“Could we please use an imaginary rope instead?”

“How long does the line really go?”

I should tell you that this group of students was not typical. One of Nancy’s talents is working with students who do not naturally show their learning in ways that have come to be accepted as bread and butter in a regular classroom. She is able to find the way in, help them find the tools they need, and build their confidence in showing what they know and can do.

This beautiful exercise in imagination and creative play would never have been allowed to unfold if Nancy had remained focus on the objective of the lesson. Too often, these opportunities, to listen to students and see their ability to play with ideas, are missed when we are looking for a single, correct response.  Good questions, good activities, and good assessment practices, open us up to the minds of our students. And even though they might be completely off base, or travelling down an unexpected path, they provide information to us about their learning and their mental processes that is so critically important.

Nancy learned a great deal that day about her students. She had a glimpse into a world where these students where brilliant masters of their own design. They weren’t learning disabled. They weren’t behaviour kids. They weren’t being rude or trying to derail the lesson. They just wanted to wonder. And Nancy….she just let them.

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How I Read My Summer Vacation

All right, let’s face it – summer vacation is officially over. And sadly, with such a beautifully warm past few weeks, it seems like we had to mourn it twice. Now that I have successfully completed the seven stages of grief, I want to tell you about what I read this summer, since that seems to somehow connect where I finished last year and where I am beginning this year.

Alfie Kohn: Beyond Discipline (From Compliance to Community)

I picked this up because we were talking with staff about the purpose of discipline and school rules. Of course, we want students to be able to come to a place that is safe and caring, but we also want to prepare students for a world that is often otherwise. Good citizens are not those who blindly follow authority. They ask hard questions, agitate for change, and demand to participate in their own community. How we handle students who choose to challenge us speaks volumes about the kind of citizen we want our students to be.

Peter Senge: The Fifth Discipline

Not a light summer read. Hence, I am not done. But I really appreciate what he has to say about leadership. Right now I’m at the place where he is talking about translating personal vision into a shared vision. This doesn’t happen at the yearly retreat, but in the day to day conversations where we keep in front of us why we work in schools and what we want that to look like.

Heather O’Neill: Lullabies For Little Criminals

I finally gave in and read this. Didn’t want to, because I knew it would be sad. What else could a story about a ten-year-old girl being raised by her junkie dad in Montreal be? But, at times, the narrative is so incongruously beautiful, it aches.

Kathryn Stockett: The Help

Read this before you see the movie. Or just read the book. For those who don’t already know, it’s about a white woman in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 60s, who collects the stories of black housemaids and publishes the book. You don’t need to be a historian to understand the enormity of such a taken risk. Aside from the social commentary, the characters are what make this book.

Ron Ritchart, Mark Church & Karin Morrison : Making Thinking Visible

If you are an educator, or work in any sort of learning environment, you must, I repeat, you MUST, read this book. I can barely even think where to begin with my comments on this book there is so much to it. Every time I sit down with this book (when I’m taking a break from Senge), I find myself tweeting out every second sentence. There is much that is applicable here in terms of our work with assessment. We need to hold up the looking glass for our students so they, and we, can understand their mental processes, and then help them become better thinkers. I love the deconstruction of Bloom’s taxonomy (description can be a higher order of thinking if done right) and the notion that understanding is not a type of thinking, but the goal of thinking. Another little tidbit: we teach stuff so students can learn to think and understand their world with that stuff, not just so they can tell the stuff back to us.

So that’s that, folks. It was delicious.