Blog 10: Do I Puke or Just Write

roller coasterDo I Puke or Just Write

            The shear agony of writing has been like the suspense of riding a roller-coaster:  a cart increases acceleration, inertia moves the cart, and then a sudden 30 foot drop followed with 3 corkscrew turns.  Then, an abrupt stop:  my breakfast travels up to my mouth as the cart slowly descends backwards to repeat all the motion once again.  As I step off the ride of anguish and hell, I feel the euphoria of being a survivor.  As a novice writer, I embarked in English 3009 with feelings of insecurity, apprehensiveness, and fear. I feared being in a class with English majors.  I felt less qualified, and I blamed my English language learning deficiencies.  On the first day of class, my stomach had butterflies, and my breakfast rose to my mouth.  The wild and reckless ride started as Prof Grimshaw entered the class.  I reviewed the syllabus, and I thought, “Oh shit! Hold-on because this is going to be a ride of a life-time… ready, get-set … and go. Through the twists and turns of breaking bad habits, I have discovered through self-discovery and reflection that writing is a ride of hell and heaven, love and hate, tears and laughter, but it all requires work, inspiration, and practice.

In the Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell, the author demonstrates the struggles of a Bat who is insecure about his ability to write poetry. In the beginning, the Bat compares his skill of writing to the beauty of Mockingbird singing.  Bat confides with Mockingbird, and he recites a poem.  Bat gets advice from Mockingbird, and Bat sets out to improve his skill by writing poetry about the animals in the forest.  As I was reading Bat-Poet, I felt like I was Bat.  I have a yearning to write, but I am so scared.  I find that I doubt my ability like Bat did when he was critiqued by Mockingbird.  Bat set-out to improve, and I felt the freedom of empowerment as Bat formed a plan to write about his friends.

As the story progressed, Bat realized the power of reflection, the importance of knowing your topic, and the value of having an audience. As I was reading Bat-Poet, the words from Moon and I and Choice Words echoed in my brain.  I thought to myself:  be honest, develop authority, research your topic, and then reflect.  Bat watched and observed his friend Chipmunk, Mockingbird, and the bats.  He gained authority over his topic by doing his research; then after becoming an expert, he wrote about the beauty of each animal.

Through my English 3009 roller-coaster ride, I can empathize with Bat.  I was scared writing in class, but I harnessed my fears by practicing and trying new approaches. I discovered that my writing did not have anything to do with my English Language skills, and I accepted by insecurities.  In a similar manner, Bat did not stop writing because he was a Bat and not a mockingbird, but he opted to find an audience and he read his poetry aloud.  I also shared a fear of having an audience for my writing.  Through peer editing and blog posts, the corkscrews of having my pieces of writing read by others is a lot less stressful.  As I embark on my writing as a soloist, I am taking knowledge and confidence to explore the world of print by spreading my wings to fly like a bat, but I have to remember to collect my thoughts and share them with those that I care about.

 

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Blog 9: It’s All About The Ingredients

choco cookies.jpg    It’s All About The Ingredients

The smell of fresh cooked chocolate chip cookies can turn any gray sky blue.  Each bite offers a crunch of warm dough that melts the sweet savory chocolate chips.  Each bite is genuine in flavor, but the uniqueness of the cookie depends on the ingredients.  Each ingredient plays an important role, but it is the care and consistency that matters.  In a small bowl:  mix the flour, baking soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl:  Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract.  Mix the butter and the sugar until creamy.  After the perfect consistency has been reached, then the dry ingredients are added.  Once the dough has been formed, the sweet chocolate chips are added.  Then it is time to bake them… In nine minutes, hot delicious cookies are ready to be enjoyed by all.  Fresh chocolate chip cookies are always a crowd pleaser that brings everyone together to enjoy hot fresh cookies with a glass of milk.

In Choice Words by Peter Johnston, Johnston explains in chapter 8 the importance for a teacher to create “independent thinkers” by creating a consistency of noticing, identity, agency, and epistemology (81).  Each ingredient plays a valuable role in obtaining the balance between literacy and learning.  Johnston adds, “We can’t use them as teaching tools as if they stand alone and can be picked up and put down at will” (77).  The perfect consistency empowers students to think with a “reader’s eye” and an “author’s eye” (81).  With the appropriate balance, the teacher enables literacy and learning as “part of the discourse of the classroom, and all interact with one another” (77) to create an environment of “responsible literate democratic citizens”(80).

The irresistible chocolate chip cookies are a reminder to teachers to be mindful of the ingredients you add to your classroom.  For example, if you add too much butter to your cookies, then they will not rise.  In a similar fashion, if you do not provide “vehicles for making learning meaningful to students”, then students “do not develop internal control” (84).  The right consistency produces a delicious cookie that attracts all, but most importantly, the appropriate balance between noticing, identity, agency, and epistemology creates students to have an “expansive social imagination” (85).

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Blog 8: We’re No Longer in Kansas, Toto

wizard of oz

We’re No Longer in Kansas, Toto

            The famous film, Wizard of Oz, portrays the charisma of a young girl named Dorothy who arrives unexpectedly in the Land of Oz. After her unexpected arrival and the death of the Wicked Witch of West, Dorothy sets out on a journey in search of the yellow brick road that leads to the Emerald City.  Through Dorothy’s journey in Munchkinland, Dorothy meets the Scarecrow, The Lion, and The Tin Man.  Together, the four of them take on evil to fulfill their goal:  the Lion desires courage, the Tin Main wants a heart, and the Scare Crow yearns for a brain.  Through adversity and guidance from The Good Witch of the North, the four friends conquer their fears to achieve their goals.  In chapter 7, An Evolutionary, Democratic Learning community, Peter Johnston explains how a teacher has to orchestrate a student’s learning by creating an environment that supports students to be creative, analytical problem-solvers, and work collectively.  As teachers, we use our words and actions to lead students onto the yellow brick road to find their heart, their brain, and their courage through social imagination and placing yourself in other persons’ shoes.

In the movie, the journey of self-discovery was more powerful than providing a direct answer to the Scare Crow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion.  Johnson explains that a teacher can help guide students through self-discovery by the type of questions that are asked.  Johnson suggests simple questions such as, “I wonder…” (68) or “Are there any other ways to think about that? Any other opinions?” (69). Dorothy demonstrates through her optimism she set the tone to help guide her friends through many adventurers.  The friends solved their fears by working collaboratively, considering each other’s viewpoint, and using their imagination to find solutions.

The power of the silver shoes signifies the importance of placing yourself in your student’s shoes develops the viewpoint to see life through multiple perspectives.  As students learn about different viewpoints and perspectives they are challenged to adjust and react.   Johnson categorizes the term, “intermental development zone (IDZ)” (69) in which students learn to adjust to social and cultural situations.  IDZ clearly supports that building empathy will help students acquire the skill of adjusting to various situations, which helped Dorothy and her friends in the film.  For example on their wild adventurer, Dorothy and the trio of friends battled winged monkeys and killed a giant spider.  The different viewpoint shared amongst their friends helped the friends create and support their “social imagination” (70).

As we embark on the yellow brick road, plan to guide your students through many adventurers through optimism and social imagination as they take responsibility to dictate their own learning by considering other viewpoints.

 

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Blog 7: The Joy of Teaching by Leveling Out the Playing Field

children playing.jpg

The Joy of Teaching by Leveling out the Playing Field

            Recess, a time period at school for laughing, playing, running, or hanging with your friends.  Children play at school for 15 to 30 minutes sessions as they enjoy and benefit from unstructured.  With minimal adult involvement, students make decisions, solve problems, and create stories as they play.  The bell rings and the bell is like a switch that turns off a child’s excitement for school.  Children scurry into the class as they settle in their desks ready to learn or ready to tune-out structured learning.  The level of engagement is dependent upon a teacher and the transfer between the minutes after children settle to a lesson.  The quality of teaching is influenced by teacher’s questions, how she guides learning, and student engagement.  In Choice Words by Peter Johnston, Johnston explains how the power differential between teacher and students can be leveled by focusing on “knowing” is more powerful than knowledge itself (58).  Johnston explains that student’s motivation to learn can be more productive through “we” comments than “I” questions (55).  Teachers and students are partners in the process of learning, together teachers and students can successfully contribute to maximize learning.

It is easier said than done for a teacher to level out the playing field with her students.  Johnson explains that a teacher can begin by helping students understand the importance of reflecting (55). Johnson reiterates the point by stating, “The teacher at once validates their voice, shows that she is listening, and opens the possibility for them to reflect on, modify, or challenge what has been said” (55). As a parent, I have found giving a child awareness that they have a voice and their voice matters is a powerful tool.  With my three children, they have learned how to communicate themselves respectfully, but also how to listen attentively.  My children also have learned to reflect by using critical thinking skills to help solve problems.

In earlier blogs I have written that in my home we use Family Meetings.  When a meeting is called, the person who calls a meeting is aware that all family members are on the same playing field; there is not a role that is more important than another.  The purpose of the meetings is to help my children to talk about their feelings with “I” statements, but at the end, we conclude with “we” solutions.

I have to admit that it was easier said than done when my family started using family meetings, but as with any concept when teaching children, I scaffold each step, and I modeled.  The power of reflection has reinforced their self-confidence and self-control.  At the end of meetings, my children hug and cry, but they resolve a problem with objectives of how to improve.  As a mother, I share the power with my children; I do not have to step-in to resolve their problem because they have learned how to have self-control and to solve their own problems.

As a teacher the same enthusiasm that is found in a play yard can be created in a class.  We can encourage our students to be reflective, learn from each other, and challenge them by managing the class, not the knowledge. Johnston shares “emphasis towards knowing than knowledge” (58) is important is dissolving the power differential.  Thus working with children and having my own, I have learned that we cannot want for students but allow them to learn by applying the principles of unstructured play to unstructured or unscripted learning.  We guide them, but students ultimately have the voice and the power for their future and their learning.

 

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Blog 6: I Love Smut

cow kiss.jpg

As a poor migrant family, we did not travel to many places other than Mexico, and my exposure to life was limited due to my strict Catholic upbringing.   My life experience skills were limited to what I learned and saw at school and in the community.  My sheltered life changed when I was introduced to the power of words in fictional stories.  Through stories, I discovered the power of traveling, discovering, and exploring through characters.  Even though abstract concepts were interesting, I was the type of reader who wanted to psychoanalyze and understand the character’s deep thinking and feelings.  As a child into my late teens, I dove deep into fiction to uncover the deep secrets of characters.  Through the years and through the teen tribulations, I found reading was my escape from the drama of life.  I chose the drama of characters rather than real life.  Consequently, the stories and the characters in the books that I read became my teacher for surviving the teen years.

In Choice Words (chapter five) by Peter Johnston, the author suggests that teachers use various strategies to help students transfer learning from content areas, but also strategies and experiences from home to school.  Often, as teachers we separate home and school experiences to deter negative behavior, but we have to embrace the student as the whole package.  Students come with baggage, but as teachers, we guide students to extract positive lessons.  Johnston explains that problem-solving from past experiences can help students in the future (44).  As a strategy, Johnston advises teachers to encourage students to “step-into” characters to help students make connections and transfer life-experiences (43). Johnson recommends that a teacher ask students to put their writer’s hat or to take on a character’s role from a book to help build understanding and empathy.  The connection between a character and a student’s struggle will therefor help a student become aware of their choices in academic subjects and in life.

As a teen, I opted to use the power of “stepping- in” to a character’s life to help me survive adolescence.  As I reflect on my childhood, I found a pattern that the books that I choose to read were topics that generally dealt with similar problems I was experiencing.  For instance, when I started to notice the opposite sex, I wanted to read books about relationships and romance.  The darkness and romance of the V.C Andrews series fed my need for romance.  Through V.C Andrew’s collection of Flowers in the Attic, I learned about sex, romance, and betrayal, but I also learned about the consequences of the lack of moral character.  The lesson of moral character was abandon to fulfill my craving for romance and throbbing hormones.  I remember my first kiss, it was in the dug-out at the baseball field, but I was pissed after the kiss. The kiss was absolutely horrible.  It was sloppy wet, and I felt the young man was trying to gag me with his tongue.  The kiss was nothing like the kissing scenes from the V.C Andrews collection.  I wanted passion, but I did not find it with teen boys.  As a result of being exposed to fictional smut, it curbed my desire to pursue sexual relationships in high school.

As an adult, I had a mental list of qualities that I liked in characters, especially attributes in male characters.  Ironically, I accepted to marry my husband sixteen years ago because he fulfilled the majority of the traits that I desired, but he also satisfied my passion from the V.C Andrew’s collection.  So, the connection between life and reading exists.  My learning went down the dark path, but as teachers we can channel the learning to benefit academic content areas and avoid the smut.

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Blog 5: Family Discussions = Learning Matters

choices            Family Discussions = Learning Matters

Life is full of choices.  You can decide to complete your work, or you can decide to go to a party.  The act of making a choice is more difficult than being told what to do.  Making a choice prompts a person to examine outcomes, measure outcomes to each other, and then react.  In my family, my husband and I have opted to teach our children the value of choices that prompt consequences and learning moments.  I emphasize to my children the power of choices through self-reflection.  In our family, “bad” or “good” choices do not exist because every choice produces an opportunity for a learning lesson. In Choice Words by Peter Johnston, Johnston examines students’ human desires by specifying that students have choices and their choices can empower a student’s learning by instilling life-long skills.  By embracing a student’s voice in making choices, teachers can help students to be independent, learn to self-regulate their choices, and then move forward with a plan by guiding students learning.  Johnson uses the term “feeling a sense of agency” to describe the feeling that children need to be empowered and invest their personal will into their motivation to learn to feel engaged.  Once a student feels valorized for their feelings and thoughts, their confidence will help examine their strategies to guide their learning through “valorization”.

My children grew up with the term “Family Meeting”, which was later changed to “Family Discussion”.  When a family member calls a “Family Discussion”, the meeting entails self-evaluation.  Typically at family meetings, we discuss areas of conflict between the children, children’s adherence to chores, or perhaps reevaluating rules in our family.  At the meetings, we also discuss report cards; the children examine their grades, reflect on strengths and weakness and create goals for themselves.  Through our family discussions, the children have assigned each other chores that need to be completed, they have measured their contributions to the family, they resolve personal biases with each other, but most importantly they create plans and goals of how to improve as a human being.  Over the years, “Family Meetings” have been changed to “Family Discussions” because “Family Meeting” fostered a negative impression; whereas “Family Discussion” depicts that “we” will be discussing matters deeply.

At the meetings, my husband and I do not talk down to the children but empower their role as a valued member of our family.  In response to the meetings, my older daughter Isabelle has expressed, “Why can’t you be like other mom’s and just tell me what to do?”  I reply, “If I tell you what to do, will you value my words the same as you creating a goal for yourself, devising steps of how to achieve the plan, and then measuring your own success?”  Isabelle replies after a heavy deep sigh and the hand on the hip (I am sure the eyes rolled to), “When I make the choice and I do not carrying out the plan, then I am mad at myself.  If you tell me what to do and when it does not work out, then I have an excuse, and I just blame you for my failure.”  The Aha-moment for a parent!

The family discussions are difficult and emotionally challenging.  Self-reflection is our worst enemy, but it call also become our greatest ally.  Through our discussion, the children have learned the power of valorization and they can dictate their choices, words, and/or actions.  Therefore, through self-valorization, student learn to self-regulate themselves with accordance to their work effort, their relationship with others, and their self-production.  As teachers, if we hand knowledge on a silver plate to students and students regurgitate the responses, the students fail to identify and extract learning lessons that can become a benefit to students beyond the lesson.

 

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Blog 4: Call It Fate Or Mere Luck

deck of cards.jpg

Anxiety, fear, and hope filled the hallways as brave students whispered, “What are you going to be when you grow-up?”  Amazed by the break of silence, students would “Hush!” to the traitor who dared to speak at a time that would determine our fate.  All the seventh grade students had to complete a personality assessment to match our character traits with an occupation.  Imagine, our fate determined by a bunch of circles that had been filled. Life stopped for a moment; instantaneously, I graduated from high school, went to college, and I started a career.  Or worse, I dropped out of school, and I lived a life of poverty.  My mind swirled as it tried to catch up with my beating heart.  I was in despair because I did not know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but a mere test would determine my path. I had to have faith that a simple test knew me well enough to determine my future.

Young children are impressionable and easily influenced by role-models in their life.  Easily, a word or two can help motivate a child or shatter their dreams.  In chapter two:  Identity by Peter Johnston, Johnston expresses the opinion that children are “developing personal and social identities” (22). Johnston make an important point to remind teacher’s to consider how they praise students, but also how students can be encouraged to work independently and “constantly developing achievement” (24).  Words are valuable and should be utilized with precision and a purpose.  As educators, the purpose is to build a student’s intrinsic motivation to learn, yet precision describes a teacher enabling a student to seek self-satisfaction and motivation to guide their own learning.

Consequently, after waiting aguishly for the test results, I was told by my teacher, “I am so proud of you.  The test said you are suitable to be a psychiatrist, a nurse, a police officer, or a family counselor.”  My mind stopped listening after I heard the word “psychiatrist”.  My skills had been noticed and named; my identity had been determined by filling-in circles.  I was swept with euphoria as visions of college filled my mind and without a doubt, my head swelled as I tried to envision the role of a psychiatrist.  Despite the blessing of a career, there was a dilemma to instantly knowing my fate, I had no idea who or what was a psychiatrist.  Well, the test achieved to label my identity, but it was my personal will that took the initiative to discover, research, and learn about being a psychiatrist.  Later that evening, I went home in a daze.  I climbed out of my ego-enriched bubble, and I reached for the phone book.  Determined to learn, I dialed the phone number to a psychiatrist.  As crazy as the psychiatrist may have thought I was, I talked to the doctor for two hours about his profession.  In spite of my research of the field of psychiatry or the test results, I did not full-fill the outcome of the test and seek a career as psychiatrist.  I actually became a police officer, yet I have never forgotten the psychiatrist who took the time to talk to a crazy 13 year old.

 

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Blog 3: The Voice Within The Teacher

Cricket.jpg

            I often wish that I could carry Jiminy Cricket in my pocket.  Pinocchio was a lucky puppet to have Jiminy Cricket as his conscious.  Jiminy Cricket attempted to guide Pinocchio, but, as a stubborn boy, Pinocchio wanted to learn on his own.  By the end of Pinocchio, Pinocchio learned the value of independence, decision-making, and friendship.  As teachers, we have to cut the strings and allow our students the opportunity to guide their own learning.   In Choice Words: Chapter 2, Noticing and Naming by Peter Johnson, Johnson examines the role of teacher and students, and he proposes how a teacher can encourage a student to be an independent worker, thinker, and reader by the words a teacher chooses.  In response, as future teachers we are challenged to acquire the theories necessary to help us understand the science of teaching.  Although we can recite Cummings, Vygotsky, Piaget, and Skinner, the science of teaching does not help with the development of the actual art of teaching.  The art of teaching is the automaticity of evaluating, adapting, and executing lessons and conduct modifications within nano seconds.  By the way, I forgot to add that this nano second decision has to be made while managing 27 children, the principal walking-in to evaluate you, and a child throwing up.  During that nano second, I want to pull Jiminy Cricket out of my pocket, place him on my shoulder, and allow him to guide me through the muddle of over consumption of philosophy and whisper in my ear the wisdom of the art of teaching. I have stopped to ask several crickets if they would like the job of being my conscious, but they all have denied to take the job by hopping away.  As a result, I have learned the art of teaching is acquired by being perceptive to student’s needs and how they learn.

Since I cannot find a cricket to sit on my shoulder as my conscious, I must rely on my inner voice that I call my teacher’s perception.  A teacher’s perception is when we can make decisions regarding a child’s instruction within nano seconds to ensure that students are maximizing their learning potential.  Johnson made an important point that children learn the most through positive words; I prefer to use the saying, “you get more with honey than you do with vinegar.”  Through positive words, teachers can demonstrate to students the importance of caring, yet foster a student’s confidence to be an independent learner.  By enabling students to guide their own learning, students will be able to evaluate his or her own learning needs and seek strategies to help with areas of weakness.  Through my experience working in kindergarten, the most important skill a student can learn in a class is to be independent and to take control of his or her own learning.  If you recall, Pinocchio became a real boy when he made his own decision to save Geppetto.  In the classroom, the art of teaching is when a teacher cuts the strings prepares his or her students to outgrow the teacher and the parameters of the classroom.

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Blog 2: Shattered Dreams by Words

Upset childShattered Dreams by the Power of Words

A young innocent child with a vision of becoming president has his dream crushed by a teacher’s choice of words.  Big brown eyes that were once filled with hope and dreams are thus filled with despair and doubt.  Words that turned a child’s life dark.  The child shared, “Why are you wasting your time with me.  I am dumb.”  A mother, who once trusted public education, explains, “My child stopped trying when he was told by teacher that he had to learn how to work with hands because he was not smart enough to go to college.” Simple words from authority turned a child’s fate.   Choice Words, Chapter 1:  The Language of Influence in Teaching, by Peter Johnson explains how the content of words can create a safe environment for students; the environment can enable a student to feel motivated and engaged.

When I was a child, I had my dreams crushed in high school.  I found my inner strength by the support and direction of Mr. Ravioglioli.  Mr. Ravioglioli was a teacher who took time to show his students that he cared.  Mr. Ravioglioli, a law enforcement teacher in high school, took it upon himself to help me believe in myself as a person, as a student, and as a member of society.  Mr. Ravioglioli did not isolate his instruction only to curriculum, but expanded it to include student discussion.  Through student discussion, the students created a safe learning environment in which we could share.  Mr. Ravioglioli taught me to validate student’s feelings but also to help students to believe in their potential.  As my hero, I have always valued the memory of Mr. Ravioglioli modelling a teacher’s commitment to address student’s affective needs.

Mr. Ravioglioli’s influence has helped me to build-up students with shattered dreams.  I have committed myself to use positive reinforcement and engagement to help students to believe in themselves.  During the last three months, I have been working with the student who was told he was dumb.  The student initially reacted with anger, and he even accused me of being “like all the others.”  When I asked to clarify “others” he said, “You are going to give up on me!”  I set a challenge with the student that I would mirror the same effort he demonstrated in class, in his relationships with friends, and with his loved ones. He agreed, and we sealed the partnership with a pinkie promise.  The journey of acceptance by the young man has been filled with moments of insecurity and fear on both our parts.  When I get frustrated, I remind the student of our pinkie promise.  I am honest with the student about my feelings.  I label his actions and ask him to explain how his actions affect others.  Through our journey of bumps and bruises, the student has started working hard to pass his tests and achieve points in the school reading program.  He now walks into class standing tall and with a smile.

The power of words can help a student to focus in school or to give-up.  Johnson use Vygotsky’s theory to justify how intelligence is constructed most naturally in a safe place.  Through social interaction and the use of words as tools to teach our students, students can learn to self-regulated their own motivation and engagement.

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Construction Zone: Brain Stimulation

brain working out

Over the years, I have found writing is like working out. Exercising can be fun and full of triumphant achievements; it can also torment the body and push you beyond your limits.  I have negotiated with my brain to alert my loved ones that I am literally in the midst of a massive over haul of my brain.  My head has been declared a construction zone.  Ideas, imagination, and thoughts are piling high as they are being constructed into words of power.  As brain stimulation is occurring, my heart and soul will shout out, “I shall conquer my fears of writing.”  My voice will say, “I have things to say, and I am not afraid of writing them down.”  My brain will exercise with the power of words, but my words will depict the deep feelings of my imagination.

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