Reflection Resurrection

I recently started up an old Sunday ritual that has been helpful along the way in my teaching journey: short reflective sketching sessions. It is something that really helps me reflect on the week I had, while relaxing my mind by “free” drawing and listening to music. I like to listen to TedTalks sometimes and this Sunday I came across Ji-Hae Park: The violin, and my dark night of the soul, which I highly recommend. Reflection, I have come to realize, will play a major role in my teaching. I will be reflecting after each work week, month and school year trying to see what I can improve, eliminate, or experiment with in my teaching.

Reflections
Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him.
John Locke

Here is what came about from this Sunday’s reflective session; this is a sketch that I have been adding to week by week. Writing down what comes to mind during and after my sketching gives me raw insight to what was weighing heavily on me, or what left a light impression. I highly recommend all teachers, and students for that matter, create their own “ Sunday Reflection” –the results will be powerful for that I am sure of.

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Making Connections

I recently watched a magnificent TED Talk by the ever engaging Rita Pierson in her presentation Every Kid Needs a Champaign one of her points is that teachers need to connect with students. To champignon students we must respect them, listen and most of all understand them. This, to me, has been the anchor that sets the tone of what kind of teacher I want to be. Working with children as a new teacher with be stormy at times and choppy at best with rare bluebird sky moments. I am not being negative, quite the contrary, I am setting myself up to not burn out like so many do their first couple of years as a new teacher. I am beginning to realize that my love of children, the joy of learning new things with them, and relishing in the “cute” things they say will not be enough to fuel me in my career quest. I will have to dig deep within myself and hold back what I want my students to understand and focus on understanding my students as individuals first.
This seems easy to any right minded adult – respecting another human being through conversation and understanding. But for whatever reason it is hard to think this way with children. Yes, they are immature compared to their teacher in terms of physiology, and psychologically. But does this mean we cannot connect with them from a place of understanding and respect? If all children felt this from teachers, I am more than sure they will be open to what the teacher wants them to understand in the classroom. Connection is a vital concept for teachers, and the root of creating connection grows from the simplest of seeds: kindness.
Vivian Gussin Paley, speaking at the 92Y Wonderplay Conference 2008, reminds us that the most important aspect for a new teacher is not the curriculum, but that we must be kind to each child. We must connect with them, and let them know we respect them through conversation and the kind of play and talk they want to have. Paley stresses that this (above her infamous “Play” practice) is the most precious lesson new, and experienced teachers can share in the professional education world. If educators (new and experienced) focus on being kind to their students, the connection will follow.

Creative Curriculum

7 days, 7 ways to be more creative is a short and sweet article on unlocking your creative self. Many think that being an artist; I have a bountiful well of creativity. But like everyone I get blocked, sometimes for weeks at a time! I am positive this will happen during my career as a teacher as well.

I never thought I could completely relate my painterly self to my teacher self, but now see the fluid connection: creativity. Teachers need creativity when dealing with students, co-workers and the most of all, curriculum.

“Curriculum is more than pieces of information, more than subject matter, more even than the disciplines…with each person and each situation …takes on different shadings and meanings” (William Ayers on curriculum from To Teach)

To look at curriculum in different spectrums and to unlock their various meanings, we must think creatively. Thinking more abstractly, will not only help us tackle the curriculum but help us teach it in a way so our students are engaged and inspired.  7 days, 7 ways to be more creative gives a great week long guide to sharpen your creative edge. My favorite quote from the article is about believing in yourself as a creative soul,

“Believe in yourself. Many people say they aren’t creative but a little self-affirmation goes a long way. If you want to be more creative, start believing you have the capacity to be creative in the first place”

I challenge all educators to feed their dormant artist, poet, or playwright by following this week long creative challenge. This is something that will not only unlock your creative soul (that has been within you all along) or reinvigorate inspiration within you, but make you look at the curriculum critically, and prompt you to teach it creativity. The end result can only be one of positive experiences between you and your students. I am taking this week to re-invigorate my painterly musings, below is the end result of today’s “aha” moment

Iphone 2012-2013 146

The Dopamine Lollipop

MEMORY and LEARNING

As my spring quarter nears its end- I have felt the increasing stress with due dates and reading workload. The amounting stress leads me to worrying that I will not to be able to remember what I have just read, a vicious cycle that all students go through. It got me thinking how my students will handle stress in the classroom when approached by new learning experiences. In a fabulous coincidence I came across Leaps and Bounds for Teachers with John Medina (author of Brain Rules) the hour long audio interview covers his thoughts on understanding the brain truths of the learning experience of our students. Trying to tackle the overstretched ever confounding question “why it is hard for students to remember what was just taught to them?”
Identifying the two types of memory, declarative memory and autobiographical memory, it is the declarative type that impacts students. Medina gives a good explanation – but basically the definition of the declarative memory is when you declare something as verbal proposition. We process new information then it goes through an immediate memory buffer (this takes thirty seconds), if it is not stored after that (though information is only stored up to two hours) then our brain dumps the information. To avoid “dumping”, that information needs to be repeated, after that information will be placed in our working memory. However, to stimulate the working memory there needs to be another interval of repetition. By Median’s standards- students would effectively learn if lessons were set around an interval of every two hours and thirty seconds.
What struck me the most was how this makes complete sense to me as a student, future educator and person: repetition makes memory sticky. By sticky, I mean it will go into our brain and stick, making it all the easier to open up that “file drawer” to answer a question or recall something. This interval of repeating information every two hours and thirty seconds would have students retaining the lessons and guarantee they are more relaxed while learning. If they miss it the first time, they know they can catch it the seconded time around or the third. Median calls this cycle of repetition The Dopamine Lollipop.
The fear of “missing an important part” of a lesson weighs heavily on most students. This weight surmounts to stress, and we all know stress is a disease in learning. When the brain is stressed it shuts down to all learning, making it nearly impossible to have the lesson stick.
So what do we think? Will creating lessons around repeated intervals help our students learn and remember what they have learned? I know this is something I will strive for in my classroom.

Cover of "Brain Rules: 12 Principles for ...
Cover via Amazon

Love to Hate , Hate to Love Middle School

TALThis American Life

This American Life had a great episode on what it’s like being in Middle School (6-8 grade)
It’s a great listen and gives you raw insight to what goes on in the mind of a young adolescent. Some is a good laugh, some heartbreaking and some cringe worthy moments (“no heavy petting at dances-what it that?”) that fill the tumultuous time that is Middle School.

IN Act 4 – they cover the issue of what student newscasters would like to report in school announcements vs. what they have to(Birthdays, pledge of allegiance, lunch, and school clubs news). But what happens when they get to report on their own observations of the on goings in their school? “Drama occurring with my best friends being gone-duces” or “trick-or-treating is for babies” and “my friend is depressed and always angry with me”. Some reporting falls into the “drama of middle school” category, but underneath their seemingly immature or superficial reports lies real issues that are easy to gloss over. These flash moments of the inner workings of the middle school mind are easy to miss – and I wonder how much we really misunderstand what they are “reporting” to us as educators, parents and peers.

It flooded me with vivid memories of my own experiences -reminding me that though changes in technology, fashion and media are ongoing year by year, middle school seemingly stays the same. A place we love to hate, and hate to love.