November 5

Learning is Subjective

SubjectiveBold statement, isn’t it?

Perhaps standardized tests wouldn’t like that statement, or even the curriculum for that matter. Nonetheless it’s true. Think about students in university: they are learning a variety of topics and taking from them what they will need to apply themselves in the real world. If an artist reads a picture book, is he going to focus on the literary devices present in the story, or the drawings that accompany them? Yes, there is subliminal learning that will occur during any lesson, but it is important to acknowledge what our students are interested in and what they will choose to take away from the lesson.

Once we open ourselves to the idea that students take away things that they are interested in from class, then we are able to adopt a student-centred approach to teaching and learning. How do we ensure that a lesson has something that every student will be interested in? Multi-modality in our approach to education is our best option. As Trent (2009) defines in Re-Placing the Arts in Elementary School Curricula: An Interdisciplinary, Collaborative Action Research Project:

“Multi-modality refers to the increasing combination of multiple modes of meaning – linguistic, visual, and auditory” (page 15).

Trent provides this definition to defend his claim that lessons in various subject areas can, and should, be integrated with the arts. As a subject that unfortunately gets overlooked by teachers, art is an important component of almost every subject area; not to mention it sparks interest for students that are not fond of the concept matter at hand. Abt-Perkins (1993), contributor to The Astonishing Curriculum, provides an exceptional example of how student success was fostered and achieved in a science class by allowing students to adopt a multi-modal approach to their education. While reading research reports:

“Our students resisted our framework and replaced reports of research processes with story plots, scientists with narrators, and scientific subjects with characters. They seemed interested in knowing the story of how the information came to be, not just the information itself” (page 100-101)

Does this mean that the students didn’t fully comprehend the research report because they were reframing it to be a literary story? On the contrary! This example goes to show how learning far beyond the teacher’s expectations can be achieved by framing the subject matter in a way that students enjoy and relate better to.

During each of these readings, the idea of subjective learning and incorporating art kept bringing be back to the same scene of the same movie. In Mona Lisa Smile, Julia Roberts shows her students that learning doesn’t have to be taught from a textbook and that it is encouraged to form your own opinions and guide your own learning. The following scene depicts this concept:

Just as the interpretation of art can be subjective, so can the learning that occurs within our classroom walls. By challenging our students to reframe the concepts being taught into relatable and enjoyable themes, as achieved through multi-modality, they will be more engaged in their education and learn far more than what we can provide to them.

November 3

Indian Residential Schools’ Impact on Canadian Education

I’ll admit, History was not one of my favourite subjects growing up. The way it was taught felt like stories rather than realities. The focus was on devastating harms committed over 50 years ago in countries that seemed to be on the other side of the world. The approach was “this is what happened and this is why we should never do it again”. But what about the devastating harms that occurred right in our own backyards? Why aren’t those topics at the forefront of our history classes? As Canadian’s, should there be a larger focus on being taught information that has a personal connection to each and every one of us, which may even lead us to work towards uniting everyone in our country?

We Were Children
The video We Were Children shares the harsh realities of residential schools in Canada:

“Beginning in the late 1850’s, over 150,000 Aboriginal children were legally forced to attend Indian residential schools in Canada. The schools were part of a wider program of assimilation designed to integrate the Aboriginal population into “Canadian society.” At their peak in the 1950’s, there were 80 Indian Residential schools across the country. Today there are over 80,000 Indian Residential school survivors. The last Indian Residential school closed in 1996” (We Were Children, 2012).

Decolonizing EducationThere was so much pain suffered by First Nations, Inuit, and Metis (FNIM) peoples in our country, and yet teachers and the government gloss over or skip altogether the realities of our country’s past. This paints a picture of continual denial, neglecting to incorporate these lessons into our so-called perfect Eurocentric education approach. As Battiste outlines in her book Decolonizing Education:

“Eurocentric education policies and attempts at assimilation have contributed to major global losses in Indigenous languages and knowledge, and to persistent poverty among Indigenous peoples” (page 25).

The difficult part for the teacher is deciding how to address the issue and the pain of what happened, without turning it into just another history lesson routed in this Eurocentric framework. How do we address this important part of our country’s heritage without placing all FNIM students on a pedestal? What is the best way to present this topic so that students can become aware, learn from the mistakes of the people before us, and use this knowledge to make the world a safer, more inclusive place?

I believe that as more and more people accept the reality of what happened to FNIM people and as education policy adopts a restorative approach to fully including these students in our education, we can begin to heal as a population. The importance of this topic is not to simply teach students, but to make them think and feel. Ayers states:

As Prime Minister Harper admitted in the public apology to First Nations individuals, the residential school system, unfortunately, was very effective in its goal of destroying the Indian in the child. It’s time to celebrate First Nations history, culture, language, ceremony, and worldviews. By incorporating this knowledge consistently throughout the Canadian curriculum, we will not only ensure increased academic success for indigenous students’, but we will also education all students to love their neighbour and cherish our differences.

October 22

A Passion for Learning

We take so much for granted in our lives. Shelter, healthcare, free speech… the list goes on. And yet, there are still people who cannot see how fortunate they truly are. Education is something that many people take for granted, especially those who have never known otherwise.

The documentary “Everybody’s Children” shares the story of two refugees who fled to Canada and are attempting to integrate into our society. While there proves to be a lack of support in place for refugees, the two individuals, Joyce and Sallieu, never lose faith. Imagine the struggles they are going through: their lives previously were not positive, they move to a foreign place, and there is a lack of guidance when they arrive. And yet, they are thankful for everything in their lives.

Two things struck me about this documentary. Joyce demonstrates a strong sense of faith, thanking God for everything he has provided her in her new country. Her ability to hold on to her faith despite everything that happened in her life is a strong testament that God is good to those who have an unwavering faith in Him. The second thing that struck me was Sallieu’s passion for his education. He never once took his education for granted. He consistently tried to be the best student that he could be, striving for the top mark in every class. This got me reflecting…

There is a true lack of passion for learning in many of our schools. Students believe that they are sent there against their will and that it is just a waste of time. Think of all the better things they could be doing: playing video games, sleeping in, watching TV… and yet, they have to come to school for 8 hours a day.

This lack of passion is a problem. No wonder teachers have to implement so much classroom management: we are forcing children to be students that don’t want to be. Take, for example, the back of one of the tests I created for my grade 7 class:

Hate School
Does this child currently have a passion for learning? No. Is he capable of developing a passion for learning? Most definitely.

Teacher’s have to work that much harder to cater to their students, proving to them that education can be enjoyable. We must work to make education the best part of our students’ day. But more than anything, we must instill in our students a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to learn so that they never forget how fortunate they truly are.


October 20

Stop, COLLABORATE, and Listen

I know of way too many teachers to come to school in the morning, close their door, attend to their students, and leave at the end of the day. This isolation is a harsh reality for many teachers in the profession. While some may view this trend as demonstrating full attention to students, this may not be the most beneficial thing for their learning. It is very important that teachers learn to adopt an “open door policy” when it comes to collaborating with their teaching peers.

As someone who loves collaborating with others, it seems like a daunting task to block out other teacher’s ideas and focus on what I am doing. Not to mention, it may not be the most beneficial thing for my students. As Cooper suggests:

“With so little planning time available and so much vital work to be accomplished, we must harness the power of web technology to ‘work smarter, not harder’” (page 233).

Just as the web is a great resource to improve our teaching practice, other teachers in our school are a direct resource that we can use to our, and our student’s, advantage. I think it’s imperative that teachers have a consistent time and place where they can get together with their colleagues to talk and collaborate on ideas. This is a time to talk about what’s working and what isn’t working, gather ideas on what to do with the student that just won’t do anything, vent frustrations, and perhaps even split the workload!

Collaboration2Especially as someone who is currently a teacher candidate, collaboration is key. I like to hear innovated ideas that other teachers have implemented to improve learning for their students. Unfortunately, much of the time teachers have to collaborate is during their lunch periods. If teachers don’t reach out to one another to collaborate, there may never be the opportunity to learn from one another, which brings us back to the “show up, teacher, go home” trend.

Ideally, there would be some kind of system that can be put in place to make collaboration feasible and encouraged among teachers. This can be with teachers of the same subject, same grade level, or teachers who have worked with the same students before. Additionally, Cooper speaks of the importance to collaborate with all kinds of teachers:

“While it’s natural to collaborate with a colleague who teaches the same course, it can be just as valuable to work with a teacher in a different department” (page 238).

When teachers collaborate, teaching practices improve, teacher performance increases, and student receive a well-rounded education. Seems like the right approach to me…


October 15

Ask, Don’t Tell: The Classroom Environment

The classroom is a very unique concept. Students and a teacher are in a room together for 7 hours every day, which can be longer than some students spend awake in their own homes each day. What does this mean for the teacher, and more importantly, what does this mean for the students?

Hopkins (2011) and Ayers (2010) introduce us to the world of positive environment creation, in relation to our school classrooms. Hopkins presents five key themes that every classroom should account for:

  1. Everyone has their own unique and equally valued perspective
  2. Thoughts influence emotions, emotions influence actions
  3. Empathy and consideration
  4. Needs and unmet needs
  5. Collective responsibility for problem solving and decision making

Not only do these themes encourage the development of an accepting and student-centred classroom, but they also promote the well-being of the students. This can be either social, emotional, cognitive, psychological, or otherwise. All of these themes are key to creating the highest functioning future generation.

Ayers complements these themes by discussing the multiple purposes that classrooms face and the challenges of incorporating all of these needs into one classroom environment. The following quote struck me from this reading:

We as teachers have our own ideas when it comes to creating a learning environment, but sometimes our “adultness” removes our focus away from our students. We must consciously remind ourselves that the classroom is a shared environment and that we must hear from our students in regards to what environment they learn best in; we must ask, not tell our students where they want to learn.

In was regular during my time in elementary school that I would walk into a classroom on the first day of school and leave on the last day without the classroom environment changing. This meant that the same store-bought posters defining “perseverance” and telling us to “stand out and be unique” stared back at us for 10 months straight. Did that poster encourage me to persevere throughout the year? Not really. Would the concept have had a larger impression on me had we all created a piece of art that defined what perseverance meant to us, and then had them posted around the classroom? Probably. Why? Because the classroom would have been my environment for learning, a product of my creativity and learning.

This is exactly why the teacher must learn to step back from their authoritative role when it comes to creating a positive and enriching learning environment. The classroom might be home for the next 10 months to 31 people: 30 of which are students and 1 being the teacher. Who, then, is the environment truly for? Let students create their collective learning environment. Allow them to collaborate on the rules and goals of the classroom. Most importantly, ensure the students feel at home and included. The more comfortable the students are in their environment, the more enriching their learning will be.

October 14

Report Card Wows and Woes

Some kids get a laptop.

Some kids get grounded.

Other kids get a pat on the back. (… me)

In a child’s educational career, report card season can be one of the scariest and most dreaded times of the year. Every student wants to do well in school, but when it comes to report cards, their successes or shortcomings are in plain view for their teachers and parents to see. Can, then, the stress that comes along with distributing report cards be overshadowed because of the importance they contain?

Report Card2
Many teachers would probably say that report cards might be the least favourite part of their job. No, not because they take a very long time to write. Rather, it is difficult for teachers to represent months of a student’s accomplishments and experiences on a single sheet of paper represented by a single grade. If not analyzed properly, students and teachers might only see the grade and pass judgement based on that. However, it is almost impossible to paint a complete picture a months of work for anyone under those circumstances.

Despite multiple criticisms about the process, report cards are essential for informing parents of student progress, as they traditionally serve as the overall measure of assessment of a child’s success in school. Growing Success, albeit a government document, discusses the purpose of report cards:

“The report card grade represents a student’s achievement of overall curriculum expectations, as demonstrated to that point in time” (page 39).

This information can be used to communicate to students, parents, school administration, psychologists, and even college and university admission departments. So, yes, report cards do serve a useful purpose in the educational development of a student.

But back to my initial question: Can the stress that comes along with distributing report cards be overshadowed because of the importance they contain? I think the main problem with this whole situation is that there is stress, period. I understand that some students may not be proud of a particular mark they received, nor do they want to share it with their parents. Cooper had a great response to this topic, as one of his Guiding Principles states:

“A report card grade should not be a surprise to the teacher who determine it, nor to the student and parent who receive it” (page 212).

This is to say that teachers should be aware of all of their student’s progress, the student should be a self-reflective learner and know where they sit in terms of their achievement, and parents should be active members of their child’s education, thus getting involved with their learning and having check-ins with the teacher along the way.

And if parents or students are still scared about the upcoming report card distribution, you could always send home this letter a few days before they’re released:

Report Card