Cursive: The Debate Thickens…

Last fall I had occasion to sit at a table with some key players in the Ministry of Education.  I happened to have a conversation with an individual who quickly let me know her feelings about the current trends in Education.  She prefaced her remarks by saying that she was “speaking as a parent” and complained to me about the lack of time her child spends in the classroom learning the basics of cursive writing.  She also complained about the lack of use of textbooks.  I have pondered those comments for a number of months now, wondering if there were many other parents who shared her sentiments. I wondered if we had somehow failed to communicate the importance of 21st century skills to parents such as this. At the same time, I wondered if she was right. Have we disregarded elements of a traditional classroom that really should be preserved within our current educational environment?  

Flash forward to April 2014 and May 2014.  I was privileged to meet a wonderful individual, Heather Victoria Held, (http://www.heathervictoriaheld.com) who makes a living as a calligrapher and teaches handwriting to interested individuals – individuals like me.  I have always been drawn to calligraphy and, on occasion, have been lucky enough to add to my own personal collection of fountain pens and inks.  It was through the local pen store, Phidon Pens, that I learned about Heather’s classes and eventually signed up for Handwriting Parts 1 and 2.  

 

At the beginning of the first class, Heather provided some rather strong arguments to advocate for the continued use of the actual physical writing process as a way of organizing one’s thoughts and ideas. She spoke eloquently about the meditative quality of cursive writing and pointed out that our brains actually process thoughts differently when the physical act of handwriting is involved.  I chatted with her for a while after class.  She found it curious that my job involved teaching others how to imbed technology into daily learning yet here I was, taking the handwriting class.

It was late that day as I reflected on her ideas and was doing some research (on the computer)  that I stumbled upon the following blog post: http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/03/cursive-print-or-type-the-point-is-to-keep-writing/

  As I read, I compared the ideas listed with my earlier conversation with Heather.  I was reminded once again of my belief that we must have a strong pedagogical foundation for 21st century learning. We must continue to build upon what we know are effective teaching strategies.   As I have stated before, technology integration is not an “add on”.  It is designed to be woven throughout daily learning both inside and outside of school hours.  In present day learning, the choice of an appropriate tool for the task may very well include the use of pen, ink and paper … or a computer.  Each is not mutually exclusive of the other. Maybe this is a different example of a blended classroom – blended with traditional learning within the context of 21st century skills. Maybe using cursive writing is just the tool that a struggling writer might use to challenge the brain to process thoughts in a different way. Maybe I need to challenge my own brain in this way too?   

 Hmm… I just may decide to take a fountain pen to work from now on.  What about you?

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When you least expect it….

I was catching a bit of the early morning news recently and found myself drawn to the TV screen.  It wasn’t a good fascination.  It was more like one of those scenes in a movie when you know something is going horribly wrong but you can’t tear yourself away.  It wasn’t anything horrible by most people’s standards.  It was simply another popular feature of the station where listeners enter a contest and the lucky winner experiences a make-over – hair, nails, wardrobe, make-up – the whole thing.  Those who enter always have a story to tell and out of all the stories submitted, the winner is the one deemed by the TV station to be the most deserving of a chance to become someone else – in appearance, anyway.

What drew me to the TV screen was that month’s winner – a 12 year old girl.  TWELVE!!!  Apparently she wanted a makeover so she could learn how to put on her make-up properly and have time to practise before her Grade 8 graduation.  Physically, she was already beautiful.  Why was a makeover needed in the first place????

Now I have to admit that my thoughts began to swirl and I started to seethe as I pondered this scenario.   I asked myself…

      …Was this whole process truly the young girl’s choice?  Did she somehow believe that she wasn’t good enough and entered the contest in order to fulfill someone else’s standard for personal beauty?  Is it possible that she submitted her entry for fun and was totally secure in who she was as an individual?  What role did advertising play in all of this?

Questions, questions, questions….  The more I wondered about why the decision was made to have a 12 year old on the program, the more angry I became.

Within a few moments, when that particular live segment was finished, the camera shifted back to the morning announcers. One proudly indicated that the young lady was a beautiful girl and expressed her belief that the young lady would look even better with proper hair, make-up and clothing.  “Better??? By whose standards???”  I thought to myself.

Then I heard the following:  “And now something for the boys – Monster Trucks are coming to town!!!!”…  I was stunned.  Is this the best we can do in our society?  Makeovers for 12 year old girls and Monster trucks for boys????  Seriously??? Gender bias at its proudest moment???  My anger was immediately replaced by overwhelming sadness.  I was appalled by the whole segment.

Off and on during the day,  I reflected on the morning’s events and wondered why I was so upset as a result of the broadcast.  I began to wonder if I had ever given such negative messages unconsciously to my students. I know that we need to encourage our students to be the best that they each can be and give them constant positive messages in order to counteract the negatives presented to them in every day life. But do I always do that?

How do we, as educators, do that? How do we keep ourselves from perpetuating the same kinds of biases?  Similar messages are everywhere.  We hardly recognize them ourselves.

How many times in education are we guilty of the same kind of preconceived ideas or assumptions?

How many times have we given silent agreement when we stay silent instead of offering a  challenge to statements such as these:

….. “His parents can’t read.  I’m not surprised that he is having trouble”  (Really? Because a parent had issues with academics, does that really mean their children will struggle as well?)

or ….

” She comes from a poor family.  She’ll never amount to anything” (Really? Since when did an annual income govern one’s ability to learn?)

or even….

“Why should I spend my time with _______?  He/She will never learn anyway.”….  (Really?  Can we really believe that another human being is so lacking in value that even an investment of time is wasteful?)

I’m certain that the news broadcast had no idea about the message I received that day.  I didn’t even realize it myself until I took the time to think about what I had seen and heard.

What was your message to your students today?  What were you modelling?

 

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Enduring Impact

I’ve been missing my dad lately.  When I least expect it, something will trigger a memory and an image from my youth will pop up.  My dad has been gone for quite some time now.  He passed away somewhat unexpectedly at the beginning of a school year – that in itself is another story, not for this forum.

Now don’t get me wrong.  The “missing” part is not the “I-wish-I-could-spend-just-one-more-day-with-you” kind of “missing”.  It’s more the “If-I-could-only-have-an-adult-conversation-with-you,knowing-what-I-know-now” kind of missing.

Allow me to explain.

The more I become a reflective practitioner in my professional life, the more I realize how much I still have to learn as human being, which includes trying to understand someone else.  It includes having brave conversations, about a variety of topics.   Among those conversations, you hope to arrive at an understanding of both yourself and the other individual(s).

I realize now that I missed many opportunities to have those kinds of conversations with my dad.  When I think of him, I remember that he was a very strong-willed individual who worked hard every day of his life.  His motto was: If a job is worth doing at all, it’s worth doing well.  I learned my strong work ethic from him.

He valued education, having had limited opportunity to spend time in formalized learning.  I also appreciate the intrinsic value of learning and consider myself to be a life-long learner.   Dad was inventive and a creative problem-solver.  He often referred to himself as a “fabricator” – a builder – when he spoke about his trade as a welder.  I like to consider myself to be like him in that I am constantly working to unravel the puzzle of technology integration within the educational system.  As for creative…. well, anyone who knows me can attest to that…

What I didn’t know was WHY my father was the way he was.  I really didn’t understand the man behind the actions.  I wish I did.  I wish I could…. some day I hope to get the chance to ask him.

In our classrooms, we have opportunities each day to have conversations with our students, our colleagues and individuals within our larger school community.  Do we take the time to really talk to someone?  Do we take the time to listen, to engage in those conversations which lead to greater understandings of each other?  I believe it was John Hattie who said “Know thy impact”….

What is our impact?  What will our students remember about us?  What will be their enduring understandings of the time we spend together?

Let’s talk….

 

 

 

 

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Trust the Process

Recently I was asked to support a group of learners with whom I have never had a lot of prior contact.  Having never worked with these individuals before, I was not totally sure of their needs as far as technology integration was concerned.  I was told they were a tough crowd. I only had one brief opportunity to begin to build the relationships I have found to be key when I work with educators and technology.   I admit it……..  I was stressed……. extremely stressed….

Don’t misunderstand me.

I have never backed away from a challenge and the parameters of the day were hardly a challenge.  I welcomed the chance to work with these educators!  I had no doubts about my ability as a presenter.  I knew I was more than capable of delivering an effective presentation.  It certainly wasn’t about the numbers of attendees or having to provide more than one session or even about the length of the presentation.

It was about “control”.  I was out of my comfort zone.

There were too many unknowns.  I was in venue where typically I do not work.  I had limited details about the framework of the day.  I was using a technology tool which I normally use in one-to-one situations.  As the day approached, I found out there were things going on behind the scenes that made me extremely uncomfortable.  I was thrilled to be offered the support of one of my colleagues who works in the Spec Ed department who gave me some excellent advice.  She told me to keep things simple.  She told me to trust myself.  She reminded me that the most important part of the workshop would be the time we could give to let the participants play and learn by doing.

So….. I did not prepare a powerpoint or Notebook presentation or Prezi…. in fact, there was no slick, scripted presentation with carefully rehearsed words at all.  Instead, I created a general, one page outline for myself of important information I believed these educators would need to be effective with technology use in their roles.  I looked at the resources available to them and made particular notes for myself as reminders of their whereabouts.  Within the session, I built in time for the participants to actually use the technology and play.  At the end, I built in time for participants to share their learning with each other.

I thought more about my audience and about each learner which is what I should have focused on from the out from the outset.

I believe the presentations went well.  Individuals were appreciative of having the time to work things through for themselves.  There wasn’t much sharing at the end.  That’s ok.  Before the second group left, I made a point of asking if there was anyone who still had a question or personal learning goal that I hadn’t met.  There was a moment of silence, then one participant indicated that the two questions she originally had were answered.  My “aha” moment came when asked what she wanted to learn, one participant said ” I just wanted to know how to turn it (the device) on”.

Reflection:  Sometimes as educators, we get caught up in what we perceive are the expectations of the job.  We work so hard to do what we think needs to be done.  We listen to the countless number of voices who pull us in so many directions.  We forget to keep things simple.  We forget to trust our instincts.  We lose sight of our audience as individuals with unique needs.  We try to control each moment and bustle through our days and our lessons without taking the time to pause, reflect, evaluate, re-adjust.  We forget to let go and….

…..trust the process.

I’m grateful to my friend and colleague for reminding me..

It was a good day…

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Interesting Blog

http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/03/how-real-world-technology-use-has-inflitrated-change-classrooms

A friend of mine is taking a media course and sent a link to the blog listed above.  What are your thoughts regarding his statements?  Do you agree or disagree?  Have you seen some the same things in your classrooms or in other classrooms in your school?  I’d love to read your comments about this so please use the space below!!

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It’s a Tool…

More and more lately I’ve been hearing the following phrase in educational circles when the topic of technology integration emerges in conversation:

 “Technology integration is not an instructional strategy”.  

I agree- sort of….

Technology, by its very nature, is designed to be embedded into teaching and learning. When used effectively, technology is embedded in learning- is seamless, integrated, and does not draw attention to itself. Technology as a tool for instruction becomes an integral part of learning.

What bothers me about the phrase quoted above, though, is that the conversation often ends up evaluating examples of entry level technology integration (as presented in the Technology Matrix – http://fcit.usf.edu/matrix ). These examples are often deemed to be “useless”, and therefore “ineffective for any long term change” and hence cannot be called an instructional strategy. I take exception to this lack of logical thought.

Every teacher needs a beginning point of entry with the embedding of technology into their learning and that of their students. Every one of us is unique. Every one of us brings our own experience into the classroom with every subject and with every learning activity. When it comes to using technology to enhance learning, we all have to start somewhere. I have witnessed so many entry points in my last few years as a technology coach. For some, the first step is simply having someone in their classroom to stand by if the wireless fails. For others, hooking up a projector is the first step along the pathway to tech integration. For others who are comfortable with technology, following another educator on Twitter might be the first step that will move them along the continuum of tech integration. Even something so small as a change in the physical configuration of a classroom can mirror a shift in thinking that ultimately changes the classroom climate forever where tech integration is concerned.

Allow me quote George Couros who recently wrote the following on his blog:

…if you want to innovate, you must disrupt your routine… if you want to change things in the classroom, you have to change the way we do things organizationally. People are more likely to embrace change when they experience it.

In my opinion, that’s what technology does. It disrupts. It changes a mindset. It provides the conduit for change. It needs to be experienced in order for the user to change. It might not be an instructional strategy in the truest sense of the phrase but changes in instruction can’t help but happen when educational technology is introduced.

Again, to quote George Couros, “With little changes in the way that we do the things we have always done, you can start a ripple that can lead to a big wave.”

Where can you begin to embed technology into what you have always done in your classroom? What can you change in your instructional practice? Where will you begin?

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Striving for Excellence

On Family Day, I had occasion to watch some of the Olympics (finally!!) with family.  As always, I was intrigued not by the events themselves, but by the stories behind them.  To me, the competitions pale in the light of the featured biographies of athletes – their thoughts about the competition, their training, their commitment to put their passion into practice.  I love the news features about the culture of the host countries.  I look for those tiny news blurbs when a broken ski is replaced by a coach so a competitor can finish, or the winner of a long distance event staying hours at the course to welcome the single competitor as he crosses the finish line when no one believed he could finish at all.

It is these moments of excellence of character that remind me of the challenges that we, as educators, face today.  Often we believe that we are not doing anything special, that our creativity in meeting the needs of our students is nothing spectacular.  We adapt our methods so specific learning styles can be addressed, We look for content that just might engage that one child who seems so disinterested in life (let alone learning).  We are committed to reaching those children who believe that nothing they do is of value because we want them to understand that we value them, not what they do. 

So…. as Olympians are recognized for their excellence in the field of athletics, let’s look for our own champions and give them the recognition they deserve.  Who among your staff can be acknowledged for excellence in teaching, in learning, in caring?  Who do you know that demonstrates their commitment to excellence?  Who are your leaders?  I challenge you to seek them out, acknowledge them, congratulate them and sing their praises to world.  Let’s celebrate together!

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Lifelong Learning

It seems to me that the number of teachers actively enrolled in Masters of Education programs has been growing significantly over the last few years – or maybe it’s just my awareness of this – similar to past experiences where I have bought a particular model and colour of vehicle and, “suddenly”, I see many examples of the same vehicle wherever I drive.

I know that teachers go into a Masters of Ed program for many reasons, just like teachers actually go into teaching for a many different reasons.  However, completing a Masters program after you have been in the teaching profession for a great number of years is not so common. I know why I chose to pursue this level of education.  I know why others within my Masters cohort made the same choice.  But regardless of the “why” or the “how”,  I have to admit that participating in a Masters program has been the greatest challenge in self-knowledge that I have ever undertaken.  I am not the same person as I was when I first began my studies in the summer of 2010 –  not personally, not professionally.  I do not have the same view of academia as when I first started.  I do not have the same perception of what it means to be an educator and a  “life-long learner”.  I do not have the same view of myself as a member of the human race.  What I do have is an unending commitment to continue to be a reflective practitioner, to continue to live my life according to what I believe and to embrace who I am as an individual.

If you wish to travel along my first adventure into self-discovery, feel free to read my MRP.  If you wish to come alongside as I continue to learn and develop as as a educator, feel free to follow my blog.  I would love to have company!

Further to that,  it would be my pleasure to hear your thoughts, to walk alongside you for a while and share your company.

So………

  • …follow my blog as I attempt to make my thinking visible to others…
  • …tweet to me on Twitter…
  • …add a comment…

Let’s learn from each other.

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