Education Week

This week is Education Week in Newfoundland and Labrador. A time to celebrate education, teachers, schools and students. We are all partners in education – what I get from my students inspires and encourages me to try to be a stronger and more engaged teacher. We both – students and teacher – learn from each other and hope that the lessons we teach are positive and lifelong.

Students today have issues that I never had when I was in school. I’ve been asked about bullying and have to admit that so much of it takes place outside of the physical building and on the internet. Students no longer have control of who has their image – the number of cameras around them is amazing and every good and bad movement of theirs can be recorded. So many of our students work  – for as many different reasons as there are students – and their time is very scheduled and their schedules very demanding. Access to everything – good, bad and ugly – is easier and students battle so many demons as they go through the day.

Teachers have issues that are new versions of old issues as well as completely new issues. Technology presents new opportunities for learning and teaching – if you have it and have time and support to learn how to utilize it. The same camera issues impact teachers  – we don’t know who is recording us. We have policies to follow, curriculum to develop and committees to join. We are accessible 24/7. It’s a new version of the educational world.

Yet, we keep on keeping on. With all the challenges out there, we all continue to persevere and build on our strengths. We all meet our challenges and find ways to work with them. Students and teachers work together and make choices to enhance the lives of both. I cannot teach without students – not just because they fill the room, but because they fill my mind with ideas and my plan book with goals. I always hope I am giving them an education that no one can take away. Sometimes it might be a lesson from a novel, sometimes it might be how to approach a question – either on a test or an application. Sometimes it might be that it’s ok to be yourself. Sometimes it might be that you’re not always right. These are lessons I try to teach while I teach methods of development, theme and other literary terms and analysis.

School is for so much more than novels and math and reasons behind historical events. It’s for learning how to time manage. It’s for learning how to approach situations and do your best. It’s for learning time and place and appropriate and inappropriate. It’s for being social. It’s for learning when not to be social. It’s for learning who you are and the role you play in your world and the world of others. Once you know these things, no one can take it from you. Once you have that education, no one can take it away. Teachers and students partner in this education and I have to say, there are days I learn as much from them as they learn from me. Maybe more.

So, for this education week, I want to say thank you to my partners. It’s a great partnership and I appreciate you all. Happy Education Week!

Banned Books? Seriously?

This week is Banned Books Week. I will admit, I always find the idea of banned books ridiculous. Here we have a legion of kids who we are trying to get reading and what happens – books get banned! In some ways, it’s the best thing for them – perhaps more people will read them to figure out what’s so wrong about them. But banning books just seems so very wrong.

I teach. With that job, I make decisions that will impact students daily. However, within these decisions, there is still choice and there is still freedom. Students are given the time to work on something  – the decision is made to assign work. If they do not do it, they have decided that they would rather choose the negative consequences of not doing work over the positive consequences of having their work done. If I assign a book, students choose if they will read it or not, thus making that positive vs negative consequence choice again. And further to that, if I assign a book and they read it, they will make decisions about how they feel about the book – did they like it, did they hate it, was it believable, did they agree with the theme – so many decisions happen, just by reading a book.

To be fair, when I was in the library, there were a couple books I did not put out, even though I purchased them. One book, very detailed about suicide methods, I debated internally and then got advice from the Guidance Councillor. She got advice from the board Educational Psychologist. We determined that due to school climate, it might not be a good idea to put out, however, I could put it in the catalogue for those searching for a book. This was to have a conversation with the person checking it out, just to gauge some of their reasoning behind their interest. This was not an easily made decision, but it was one that we felt kept choice in the hands of the students.

So, if I ban books, I’m taking that choice away. I’m saying that they can’t be trusted to make up their mind about an issue and that they are not strong enough to resist the messages of that book. There’s magic? Obviously the child reader is not strong enough to resist devil worship (even if the devil isn’t mentioned at all). There’s sex? Well, when will we hold the baby shower as they will obviously be pregnant with twins within minutes of reading it. There’s “alternative lifestyles”. Road to heck, seriously, the road to heck. However, if I let a child read a book that may contain what some deem “questionable themes”, I’m letting them explore the world. They might learn about something more than I could ever teach – how friendship can help save the day. How love is love, no matter the gender. How hate can win if you let it – but here’s how to stop it. Books can bring you the world – you just have to be ready to explore.

Plus, who’s to say that things I feel are wrong are wrong for everyone? Who’s to say that what I don’t like to read because I disagree with it won’t open up the eyes and mind of a child? I applaud not making anti-Holocaust materials available from retailers, but for the child that is doing research, that move is one that limits their ability to see both sides. We can only trust that they know enough to come out on the side of right – the Holocaust did happen (and genocide continues to happen)  – but they won’t be able to understand the personal side of it all if we keep it from them.

According to the ALA, the top ten banned books of 2013 are:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
    Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
    Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

‘Captain Underpants’ has done so much for literacy, especially in hard to reach boys. ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’ is a great way to introduce issues in First Nations studies. ‘The Hunger Games’ has no religion in it (maybe that’s the issue!). ‘Looking for Alaska’ and  ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ tell of teenage life, perhaps dramatizing it a little, but show a specific journey people take at  that point in their lives. None of these books are banned for being poorly written. I would guess most are banned because the complainant didn’t read it before their child did and are mad about them getting a hold of it.

If you don’t want your child to read something, don’t let them. Discuss it with them and determine what they have to do, maturity wise, to read a book. Give them lessons in history and context and allow them to apply those as they approach their reading. Talk to them about communication and encourage them to ask questions as they read. Have a read-a-long with them so you know what they’re doing. Be prepared to tell them a book is a little too mature for them and explain what that means. Communicate. Don’t ban. Allow them to choose and help them develop their ability to choose well. They’re the ones who will be making those choices in the future and we need to make sure that it’s a skill they have.

And with that, 19 Banned Books with redone titles, just to make them a little more palatable.

 

 

Movies and teaching books

Almost anytime I assign a novel, I get asked ‘Miss, is there a movie for this?’. Often, these days, given our use of popular literature and the movie industry tendency to make books of popular literature, the answer is yes. Yes, there is a movie. Yes, we can go see it (if it’s coming out now). Yes, I have seen it. Yes, we are watching it in class.

Because yes. I will show the movie in class. Now, that might seem like an easy lesson plan – show a movie for three or four classes. And, well, it means I’m not talking as much, which is, perhaps, easier for everyone. But it’s got a purpose. By showing the movie, I’m presenting a world to students, a world though up by others based on the same material they read. I’m presenting to them a visual of a text, a visual that may or may not line up with the visual they created for themselves. It’s always interesting hearing the reactions of kids as they see how characters are presented, especially if they really liked the book.

I often start with the movie – I don’t treat it as a reward, I treat it as part of the learning. Sometimes that will depend on the adaptation of the movie – I will start a novel study with ‘Hunger Games’ or ‘Divergent’, but I’ll finish ‘A Christmas Carol’ with the Muppets singing their way though that classic tale. In some ways, even if it’s worst case scenario, knowing the students at least know the story (from watching the movie). In other cases, it’s a chance to see who has connected with the novel. There are students who get quite offended if the movie doesn’t portray their favourites in the right way. There are others who don’t like how the setting they imagined is portrayed. Others notice their favourite parts are changed or left out and exclaim on their disappointment. It’s beautiful to watch their reactions, hear their conversation and talk with them about the edits they would make. Someone took the exact same book you read and made it into a visual – do you agree with what they did or not?

There is always the worry about students not reading the book, instead relying on the movie to teach them the story. And it’s true, that happens. That always has happened, as long as there have been movies based on books. Or Coles notes based on books. Or a kid in the class that reads the book and doesn’t mind telling others the storyline. I’m upfront and tell kids when I’ve seen a movie. They know I will go see movies as soon as they come out if I can. I tell them they may even might get questions asking the differences between the movie and the book. They are told that just knowing the movie will not be useful – and most realize that putting in the work to understand the differences between both without reading the book is a little much. Some try, this I know, but most give it away, in their answers or even in casual conversation that they then support in their answers. It’s hard than you think to pretend you’ve read a book and much easier to just read the darn thing.

Movies are a beautiful thing and there are people out there reading the books and then making them into masterpieces. Enjoy, critique and compare to the visuals in your imagination.

In summary, may I present the inspiration for this blog: the Mockingjay Part One Trailer.

 

Organize yourself!

I am not the most organized person. Well, compared to some,  I am super organized and the poster girl for keeping things in order. Or at least that’s what I’m told. However, when writing or creating, I try to make a plan – map things out and get it all in order before I start. This is a skill that took a while to develop and one that I appreciate any and all help to make it easier. There are a few great sites I use and encourage students to use – especially those who say they don’t need to make any outlines for their work.

Popplet is a website and app (for apple) that helps you web information. You can

Screen shot of popplet I made with my English 3202 last year. Popplet itself can be found here.

Screen shot of popplet I made with my English 3202 last year. Popplet itself can be found here.

use it to present information or to map your ideas. I like using it with students for study, especially since I can colour code each idea (and colourcoding is my life!). Popplet is free to start – you just need to sign up with an e-mail address. However, if you want more than five popplets, it costs 3$ a month or 30$ a year. For me, it was worth it but for students it might not be. They do offer an educational option – popplet groups. This option offers a lower cost for popplet accounts for student groups – a cost between 2.00 and 0.50 per account depending on how many students are signing up. For teachers or schools that want to use this as a good organizational tool, it’s a great price.

With popplet you can do some great maps. You can then set up timings and order and present them to others or just keep it for your own usage. If you’re using it for organization for essay writing it’s excellent – simply put the name of your topic in the center in one colour, then follow that by linking your three topics. Then, link your info for each topic. You can find connections and from that build transitions from section to section. Making each section a different colour will help you see your topics that much easier and from that, help you organize. You can also add pictures and video. AND, you can embed it into a website, well, if your site supports flash. Mine apparently does not. You can access your popplet account on the web or with your apple product. Whether you use it for essay organization, for exam review or for presentations, popplet is pretty nifty.

There’s a neat app for apple called MindMap. It’s 1.99 at the app store.

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Horizontal

With it you can plan maps, much like you can with popplet. When your iPad is horizontal, it gives you a map much like popplet – choose a central circle then put your topics around it, adding sub topics as you go. When you turn your iPad vertical,

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Vertical

it gives you a more textual outline, more like you would write on a piece of paper. You can edit it in either form, which ever works best for you. If you want and have e-mail set up on your iPad, you can send it to someone (like, perhaps your teacher who required an outline for that paper you’re working on?). The vertical option does have colours, but the horizontal does not – I like popplet better for mapping because of that, but the mindmapping vertical is great for those who like to make lists, not maps.

 

If you like to type your ideas out, ReadWriteThink has a great free essay mapper. It leads you step by step through your five paragraph essay – asks you for a few lines and sentences explaining your topic, three topics that support your idea

Mapping it out!

Mapping it out!

and details that prove each of those topics.  By simply clicking the arrows, you are prompted to move through your details. At the end it allows you to print, save or share. Very useful for writing the traditional five paragraph essay. And free! All you need is a computer – you don’t even need to sign up for anything. A teacher could just print off the pdf of a blank map if they don’t have access to the technology, however, as long as students have access to a computer, there’s no reason they shouldn’t pass it in.

One of the biggest questions that students don’t understand when it comes to essays is coherence. One of the biggest comments I give when I pass back essays is ‘focus’. These tools will help all students working on essays achieve coherence and focus as they attempt to write the perfect essay.

Information for next week

For those of you here to find information for Prince of Wales Collegiate and our schedule for the first week of school, here it is:

    Teachers will begin school on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014.
    Students will begin school on Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

      Level One will meet at 9:00am (dismissed at 10:00)
      Level Two will meet at 10:00am (dismissed at 11:00)
      Level Three will meet at 12:00pm (dismissed at 1:00)

    Wednesday, September 4th will be a regular instructional day for all students

    If you are returning to us as a level four, you will meet at 9:00am in the library on Monday, September 8th.

School pictures will be taken on September 11th and 12th.
Meet the Teacher night will take place on September 11th at 7:00 in the gym.