Teaching Environment

This Monday I had the privilege of watching David Suzuki and friends share their insights about the environment and about our right to have environmental security and stability in our Canadian Constitution. As Dr. David Suzuki noted, “what’s more important than the right to breathe fresh air, drink clean water and eat healthy food?” What amazed me most about the Blue Dot Tour is how everything is interconnected. David Suzuki’s overview did not just include environmental history – Medicare by Tommy Douglas, heterosexism/racism/sexism, voting rights, equality for all, democracy, sustainable economics, social action, taking care of the weakest, planning for the future, First Nations rights, etc. were all discussed. All the things I am really passionate about are interconnected and this was a liberating realization. (Now if I could only get my hands on that speech)!

David Suzuki’s point that resonated most with me was that there is no environment. “WHAAAAT?” I thought, “that doesn’t make sense coming from an environmentalist?” But it is true! There is no separate entity that is environment and a separate entity that is humanity We are the air. We are the water. There is one blue dot and everything in it is connected. What we put into the world, we put into ourselves. What we do to those less fortunate or animals or Mother Nature, we do to ourselves (in the long run, at the very least).

I left feeling inspired, yet so small. It is a daunting task to change the worldview of many and to put eco back into economics. How do we change our habits? How do we reverse the damage we have caused? I know I cannot begin to solve all of these issues but I can contribute to the solution by TELLING politicians what I want and what they can do for me instead of letting them pull the strings. I can recycle. I can walk. I can take the bus. I can research and try to only purchase organic foods and fair trade products (to the best of my ability). I can avoid using chemicals. I can sign petitions to save the bees. I can encourage my municipality to embrace eco-friendly choices. I am NOT POWERLESS. I will be a positive drop of water in the bucket… and maybe I am just one drop, but if everyone is a positive drop in the bucket Dr. Suzuki reminded us that “we can fill any bucket.” So far over 55,000 Canadians have signed the petition to have environmental rights be recognized in our Constitution and I have faith that there will be many more “drops” to come. POSITIVE CHANGE IS WANTED. POSITIVE CHANGE IS NEEDED. AND POSITIVE CHANGE WILL HAPPEN!

For more information visit:

Blue Dot

‘Shoulders’ by Shane Koyczan and The Short Story Long

Today is the day we Decide

Teaching Acceptance

One of my favorite things about being a Student Support Teacher is bringing awareness to all students about those with varying abilities. I truly believe that presenting kids with facts and personal stories about my work at Camp Easter Seal, Astonished, Best Buddies, or Campus for All is the first step to a more inclusive society. Simply put: kids (and adults, too) cannot be inclusive if they are not accepting. They cannot be accepting if they are not tolerant. They cannot be tolerant if they do not understand. They cannot understand if they are not aware! And I couldn’t be more happy that it is part of my role to bring awareness to students so that one day they can also share an inclusive mindset!  Attached are some resources I have used to help bring awareness to students in Grades 3 to 12 about varying abilities. I urge you to use these inclusive resources (or others) and share your stories with your students!

The first link I adapted into a presentation with personal pictures of my experiences in the world for high school students. I found that many students were using the r-word in a non-malicious way. They had never really been told why it is a terrible word to use and I think this is a truth for many people, including adults. You cannot really blame people unless they are made aware; that was my mission! For the most part, it has worked. I still may hear the r-word from time to time but it is often followed by an “I’m sorry” or “I should have used the word ‘stupid.'” I know that even the more challenging kids were touched by my presentation; you could have heard a pin drop and their mouths were on the floor! To me that is a start and I will continue to work on it, one day at a time. I believe that people cannot “un-know” something; they may be able to ignore it but it will always be in the back of their minds. I urge you to fill your students’ minds with positive thoughts, too!

The second link connects you to the book Ian’s Walk: A Story About Autism that I read to the Grades 3/4 class. I found it helpful for students to complete a multiple intelligences survey about themselves first. That way we could discuss how everyone is a bit different and smart in their own way. We also talked about how we are all unique or a bit weird at times. Students were very responsive to this piece and it was nice to bring awareness at such a young age!

In summary, just go out and do it! It may seem like the road to inclusion is a long hike but take it one step at a time and eventually positive change will occur!

Trauma, Brain and Relationship: Helping Children Heal

“Early childhood trauma changes the biology of the brain. Well, early childhood support also changes the biology of the brain!”

Curriculum encompasses more than just the written documents. We cannot ignore the social curriculum that our students bring to our classrooms. This is a large part of our jobs. As someone who has not experienced trauma, I often wonder how I will reach out to students who have or are currently experiencing trauma. I think it starts out with building relationships of trust and respect and creating that inclusive and safe classroom environment. This video gave me a lot more confidence in my abilities to help students. For instance, one of the individuals suggests that students only need one person to connect with and that person does not have to be knowledgeable about trauma or healing; they just have to be willing to help and listen. This video is worth the watch and a good reminder that we need to find ways to balance the written curriculum with the social, hidden, null, etc. in order for learning to take place. Our classrooms are not separate entities and our students are not empty vessels.

Be The Change: #nicenominations #raknominations

If you have been alive in the 21st century and do not live in a cave, then you have probably noticed the neknomination craze that has infiltrated social media. Yes, infiltrated. For those who do live in a cave, a neknomination involves young adults, often teens, who record a video of themselves drinking and then nominate two others to “up the ante” within the next 24 hours. Neknominations have led to many deaths, whether because of alcohol poisoning or poor decisions after the fact (http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/deadly-online-neknomination-drinking-game-has-officials-concerned-1.1673468; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/neknomination-craze-claims-fifth-victim-as-20yearold-bradley-eames-is-found-dead-after-downing-two-pints-of-gin-9131987.html). Furthermore, they are a desperate cry for attention and shine a light on how we glorify binge drinking in our society even though it poses a major issue in all aspects of our society: health care systems, families, unplanned children, mental health issues, crime rates, etc. Adults over 18, although legally allowed to consume beverages, should reconsider their decision to participate in neknominations. Although it seems like “just a fun thing to do” it can have large consequences on future generations and those that take it too far. And if they think it doesn’t impact the future generations of underage children, they are wrong. About 11% of alcohol is consumed by underage teens. Furthermore, about 40% of underage children binge drink regularly making them more susceptible to alcohol dependence. Drinking also impacts memory and learning development in teens (http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm). The neknomination trend is now in our high schools and our students will face peer pressure to participate. There is nothing to be proved by chugging a beer and so I wonder why are people participating in this like a herd of mindless sheep? I miss the days when the internet was about cat videos. If we could bring back that cat videos, that would be great – or people could go get a hobby!

However, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. What started as a terrible cry for Facebook likes was turned into raknominations (random acts of kindness nominations) or nicenominations by Mr. Lindeque of South Africa (http://www.news.com.au/technology/online/south-african-man-brent-lindeque-turns-neknominate-on-its-head/story-fnjwmwrh-1226818264791). Since then, people have started to pay it forward (http://globalnews.ca/news/1136156/online-drinking-game-neknominations-inspiring-canadians-to-pay-it-forward/). I think as educators we need to promote what we love and make our own raknominations or nicenominations. Bashing what we hate will not work but educators and adults can be leaders who steer kids in the right direction. My attempt at a nicenomination was made for just that purpose: to get students to do something positive with their time. Children are the next generation in this world and I want it to be a happy future, where kindness is the only thing people binge on. This video also highlights how easy it is to do nice things. My best friend and I simply cleared out our closets and donated to Carmichael Outreach. It was easy! But it felt great (a level of greatness that cannot be accomplished by chugging a few beer).

There is always a way to make things better and I think nicenominations do just that. I do not have a classroom currently, but I would invite teachers to do nicenominations with their students, as it ties into the cross curricular competency of becoming responsible citizens and relates to their daily lives. Furthermore, I think it is important to get students to be themselves and not follow the crowd of “mindless sheep.” Be the change!

“Digital Divide among Youth: Socio-Cultural Factors and Implications”

Technology is a very integral part to our instruction and is fundamental for a well-rounded education. It is relevant to our 21st century youth and prepares students for a working world that revolves around technology. Technology is not going away; we need to prepare students for jobs that have not even been invented yet and technology is the key ingredient. I believe our society is going to become more dependent on technology and it is crucial that we give our students the skills to “use internet resources in specific contexts” and understand “how to evaluate online content” in this globally competitive market (Parucek et al., 169).

This article by Peter Parucek, Michael Sachs and Judith Schossbock outlines a study on the digital divide based on gender, socio-economic background and culture between fourteen-year-old youth in Austria. It is interesting to look at results from other places because we can compare and contrast our experiences. The findings were “that eLiteracy must be improved by the educational system, because social constraints can otherwise hardly be overcome” (Parucek et al., 163). Furthermore, we need to try to close the gap between people of different “socio-demographic differences such as gender, social status and educational level” (Parucek et al., 163). In today’s global market, eLiteracy is as important as reading and writing.

To close the digital gap, students rely “on the equal distribution of digital literacy in society” (Parucek et al., 169). Parucek, Sachs and Schossbock express the need that “young people both have access to new services as well as the necessary cognitive capabilities to use them” (161). I thoroughly agree with this solution, as it is very practical and straightforward. However, I do not think resources are evenly distributed between schools and divisions. When I taught at a school for an ECS class there was not an IPad or computer in sight. A chalkboard hung in the very place where SmartBoards could be found in most schools. In another school, software changes resulted in over three months of computer issues making them inaccessible to students. This greatly impacted many students’ IIP goals and ability to be successful in the general education classroom. Some schools are now requiring students to bring tablets to school but this is only possible and fair if everyone can afford this expensive technology. The authors suggest promoting more female role-models in the technical field (Parucek et al., 169) and I believe this coupled with an equal access to technology would promote students to pursue and technological field. Too often, however, resources distribution is far from fair.

In order to improve eLiteracy we must change our instruction as teachers. Technology should be incorporated in our lessons and modeled for our students. My favorite part about this article was the recognition that there is “a severe lack of media competence… among the Digital Native” (Parucek et al., 169). It bothers me when people assume young adults do not require explicit instruction to use technology. If I had a dime for every time this happened to me in university I could retire tomorrow. Young people may be more proficient with technology than their grandparents but there are far too many tools and applications to be an expert in all areas and explicit instruction is still a requirement for success. Furthermore, students need to be explicitly taught how to use technology appropriately. Many teachers have posted pictures of themselves online to show their students how quickly a picture can be seen by millions of individuals all over the world and cyberbullying is also a topic that needs to be discussed.

Although explicit instruction should remain, student focus changes when we incorporate technology in our classroom. I thoroughly believe that making students remember random facts is a waste of time. Unless their goal is to win every game of Trivial Pursuit, students do not need to regurgitate information commonly found on Google. Parucek, Sachs and Schossbock note that “today’s young people grow up connected with peers and they make use of the possibilities offered by the web. To deal with questions and problems, they no longer turn to explanations offered by institutions, but rather look for support from peers on web sites” or turn to search engines (169). This makes it all the more pertinent that we not only show students how to use technology but how to critically examine what they are being told. If they do not critically look at what they read and watch, students will run the risk of being manipulated by large corporations, peers, and politicians. Students need to realize that not everything they read on the internet is true and they need to be explicitly taught how to find and identify credible sources. Teaching students to identify the intended audience and purpose – which is a major part of the English curriculum – can help students make an educated decision.

Beyond audience and purpose there are many ways we can use technology in our English classrooms: assess students online, write blogs, create online portfolios, search for resources, etc. However, this requires every student to have access to the technology used in class. As English teachers we also have to be aware of copyright laws. These laws are infuriating to me because I am from the generation that “steals” our music online and streams our movies “illegally.” It just seems like in a world where knowledge is at our fingertips, nothing should hold us back. But alas, we must follow the copyright laws if we plan to keep our jobs.

Technology is a fundamental component to a well-rounded and relevant education. We need to adapt our teaching strategies to reflect the world that our students live in. Most importantly, we cannot assume that students know how to successfully utilize all technology and critically examine what they are hearing.

“Whose English Counts? Indigenous English in Saskatchewan Schools”

After our class talking circle on February 3, 2014 I was sparked by what Night shared. To refresh all of your memories, she talked about her university professor calling out her accent in front of the entire class. My first thought was, what accent? My second thought was what kind of teaching practice is that? We should be celebrating differences and not ostracizing our students for them. Night mentioned that she still is bothered by that today and that shows the impact that teachers have on learners.

Andrea Sterzuk’s article “Whose English Counts? Indigenous English in Saskatchewan Schools” also highlights the impact teachers, speech pathologists and educational psychologists have on our most disadvantaged students. This article was written in 2008 and contains a lot of data from 2004 but it is still relevant because the education gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students is a current concern, which is addressed in the Continuous Achievement and Improvement Framework and the First Nations and Metis Education Plan. We cannot ignore these issues because “by 2016, First Nations and Metis children will make up 46.6% of the student population” (Sterzuk 9). If we do not find ways to include diverse learners and their diverse experiences “it is only a matter of several decades before half of the population of Saskatchewan will not have access to the necessary skills and education to gain access to employment” (Sterzuk 10), which is one of the main purposes of education. What will happen if the majority of our people are being suppressed like a minority?

I was very aware that education was used to assimilate First Nations individuals, for instance at Residential Schools. However, I never thought of the linguistically oppressive practices and procedures that have negative effects on Aboriginal students (Sterzuk 11). That is the thing about being a person from the majority: you are not forced to realize all the ways in which you are benefiting. Sterzuk expresses that “Indigenous English differs systematically from standard English on phonological, morphological, and lexical levels and in terms of pragmatics, syntax, and non-verbal language” (13). Not only does this mean some of our students will have an accent but they also learn differently. Indigenous English speakers learn more through storytelling and listening (Sterzuk 12). When these learning styles are ignored, Aboriginal students often fall below grade level and require additional support.

Since my future goal is to become an Educational Psychologist, I was very interested in the piece about biased assessment and misdiagnosis. In my inclusive education course about assessment we often discussed the bias found in standardized tests used to diagnose and label students. Some common tests that assess general intelligence levels are the WIAT – III and WISC – IV. Current tests that assess written and oral language are the TOWL – IV and TOLD-IV. Written spelling is assessed by the TWS. Throughout the course we got to deconstruct these tests and find their strengths and weaknesses. Although all of these tests are assessed numerous times to make sure they are unbiased, it is true that making an unbiased test is almost impossible to do. However, more than one test should be used to assess learners to help detect errors. Furthermore, the results are impacted a lot more by environment, the fairness and accuracy of the test giver and the current mood of the child on that day. If these factors are not considered then the child could be misdiagnosed. It is important to note that testing is never a first resort and it often takes up to six months for the testing process to start. Although there will always be misdiagnoses, the current team approach often combats these issues. It is the responsibility of the teacher and the LRT to keep data on a student and to apply tier 1 interventions (Response to Intervention) if they notice a problem. Testing only occurs when many strategies fail to work over a long period of time and the goal is never to label a student but to help them. I do believe that people are misdiagnosed but I would suggest that First Nations students are marginalized more by exclusive English teaching practices because very few learners go through the testing process, yet many of our First Nations students are struggling. Also, because of federal jurisdiction on aboriginal education, testing, which is provincially funded, is often very hard for First Nations learners to access (which is another problem entirely).

As teachers we need to make sure we are varying our teaching strategies. We need to consider how all of our students learn best and incorporate these techniques as much as possible. Sterzuk states that “students should not be penalized for their differences” (14) and I would expand that idea because differences should be celebrated and encouraged. Sterzuk calls for a document that “outlines the characteristics of Indigenous English” (16) but I have not seen such a document. Would it not make more sense to differentiate instruction and not penalize someone for their accent? I mean, characteristic sheet or not, I should be able to teach all my students effectively and a learner inventory will let me know how my students learn best. It is our job as educators to teach without bias and to find ways to help our students succeed. No student deserves to be called out because of their differences and everyone deserves to be in an inclusive learning environment that supports their learning style. Our class seems very passionate about including First Nations learners and I have no doubt in my mind that we will include First Nations resources, differentiate our teaching strategies and assignments and not judge our students based on how they talk.

Types of Curriculum

Type of Curriculum Definition
1. Overt, explicit, or written curriculum Is simply that which is written as part of formal instruction of schooling experiences. It may refer to a curriculum document, texts, films, and supportive teaching materials that are overtly chosen to support the intentional instructional agenda of a school. Thus, the overt curriculum is usually confined to those written understandings and directions formally designated and reviewed by administrators, curriculum directors and teachers, often collectively.

 

2. Societal curriculum As defined by Cortes (1981). Cortes defines this curriculum as:

…[the] massive, ongoing, informal curriculum of family, peer groups, neighborhoods, churches organizations, occupations, mass, media and other socializing forces that “educate” all of us throughout our lives. 24

3. The hidden or covert curriculum That which is implied by the very structure and nature of schools, much of what revolves around daily or established routines.

 

Longstreet and Shane (1993) offer a commonly accepted definition for this term.

. . . the “hidden curriculum,” which refers to the kinds of learnings children derive from the very nature and organizational design of the public school, as well as from the behaviors and attitudes of teachers and administrators…. ” 46

Examples of the hidden curriculum might include the messages and lessons derived from the mere organization of schools — the emphasis on: sequential room arrangements; the cellular, timed segments of formal instruction; an annual schedule that is still arranged to accommodate an agrarian age; disciplined messages where concentration equates to student behaviors were they  are sitting up straight and are continually quiet; students getting in and standing in line silently; students quietly raising their hands to be called on; the endless competition for grades, and so on. The hidden curriculum may include both positive or negative messages, depending on the models provided and the  perspectives of the learner or the observer.

 

In what I term floating quotes, popularized quotes that have no direct, cited sources, David P. Gardner is reported to have said: We learn simply by the exposure of living. Much that passes for education is not education at all but ritual. The fact is that we are being educated when we know it least.

4. The null curriculum That which we do not teach, thus giving students the message that these elements are not important in their educational experiences or in our society. Eisner offers some major points as he concludes his discussion of the null curriculum.

The major point I have been trying to make thus far is that schools have consequences not only by virtue of what they do not teach, but also by virtue of what they neglect to teach. What students cannot consider, what they don’t processes they are unable to use, have consequences for the kinds of lives they lead. 103

 

Eisner (1985, 1994) first described and defined aspects of this curriculum. He states:

There is something of a paradox involved in writing about a curriculum that does not exist. Yet, if we are concerned with the consequences of school programs and the role of curriculum in shaping those consequences, then it seems to me that we are well advised to consider not only the explicit and implicit curricula of schools but also what schools do not teach. It is my thesis that what schools do not teach may be as important as what they do teach. I argue this position because ignorance is not simply a neutral void; it has important effects on the kinds of options one is able to consider, the alternatives that one can examine, and the perspectives from which one can view a situation or problems. …97

 

From Eisner’s perspective the null curriculum is simply that which is not taught in schools. Somehow, somewhere, some people are empowered to make conscious decisions as to what is to be included and what is to be excluded from the overt (written) curriculum. Since it is physically impossible to teach everything in schools, many topics and subject areas must be intentionally excluded from the written curriculum. But Eisner’s position on the “null curriculum” is that when certain subjects or topics are left out of the overt curriculum, school personnel are sending messages to students that certain content and processes are not important enough to study.

 

Unfortunately, without some level of awareness that there is also a well-defined implicit agenda in schools, school personnel send this same type of message via the hidden curriculum.

5. Phantom curriculum The messages prevalent in and through exposure to any type of media. These components and messages play a major part in the enculturation of students into the predominant meta-culture, or in acculturating students into narrower or generational subcultures.
6. Concomitant curriculum What is taught, or emphasized at home, or those experiences that are part of a family’s experiences, or related experiences sanctioned by the family. (This type of curriculum may be received at church, in the context of religious expression, lessons on values, ethics or morals, molded behaviors, or social experiences based on the family’s preferences.)
7. Rhetorical curriculum Elements from the rhetorical curriculum are comprised from ideas offered by policymakers, school officials, administrators, or politicians. This curriculum may also come from those professionals involved in concept formation and content changes; or from those educational initiatives resulting from decisions based on national and state reports, public speeches, or from texts critiquing outdated educational practices. The rhetorical curriculum may also come from the publicized works offering updates in pedagogical knowledge.
8. Curriculum-in-use The formal curriculum (written or overt) comprises those things in textbooks, and content and concepts in the district curriculum guides. However, those “formal” elements are frequently not taught. The curriculum-in-use is the actual curriculum that is delivered and presented by each teacher.
9. Received curriculum Those things that students actually take out of classroom; those concepts and content that are truly learned and remembered.
10. The internal curriculum Processes, content, knowledge combined with the experiences and realities of the learner to create new knowledge. While educators should be aware of this curriculum, they have little control over the internal curriculum since it is unique to each student.
11. The electronic curriculum Those lessons learned through searching the Internet for information, or through using e-forms of communication. (Wilson, 2004)

 

This type of curriculum may be either formal or informal, and inherent lessons may be overt or covert, good or bad, correct or incorrect depending on ones’ views. Students who use the Internet on a regular basis, both for recreational purposes (as in blogs, wikis, chatrooms, listserves, through instant messenger, on-line conversations, or through personal e-mails and sites like Facebook, My Space, Youtube) and from personal online research and information are bombarded with all types of media and messages. Much of this information may be factually correct, informative, or even entertaining or inspirational, but other information may be very incorrect, dated, passé, biased, perverse, or even manipulative.

 

The implications of the electronic curriculum for educational practices are that part of the overt curriculum needs to include lessons on how to be wise consumers of information, how to critically appraise the accuracy and correctness of e-information, as well as the reliability of electronic sources. Also, students need to learn how to be artfully discerning about the usefulness and appropriateness of certain types of information. And, like other forms of social interaction, students need to know that there are inherent lessons to be learned about appropriate and acceptable “netiquette”  and online behavior, to include the differences between “fair usage” and plagiarism.

Table from: http://www4.uwsp.edu/education/lwilson/curric/curtyp.htm

A Very Long and Random but Important List of Resources: First Nations Education, Treaty Education, Anti-Oppressive Education, Inclusion, Body Image, Bullying, Wealth Inequality, Teaching Tolerance, etc.