Sunday, August 30, 2015

Curiouser and Curiouser

The Back to School commercials and sales,  the thickening of morning traffic, and the last hazy days of summer are all signs that schools will soon be in session again. Teachers and students alike simultaneously love and loathe this time of year. They hate the idea that long summer days are coming to an end, but they love the possibility of a new beginning. 

Elementary and Secondary school teachers may dread having to justify and tailor their lessons to the Common Core, and having to teach to standardized tests. Many teachers want to just teach their students to love learning; to stuff their brains full of interesting information, not for the sake of high stakes tests, but out of the pure joy of wanting to know MORE. They want their students to be curious.

"Curiouser and curiouser," is what Alice said as she encountered the eccentricities and marvels of Wonderland. What teacher doesn't want their students to exclaim the same exact thing?

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his much-buzzed about book Between the World and Me, writes, "...the schools were not concerned with curiosity. They were concerned with compliance." Is this what our schools have become? Places where we starve student curiosity, which is essential to personal drive and motivation, and force compliance upon them: Read this way, write that way, ask these questions, learn this stuff? The future is now, and we are not ready. Our children, our learners have to be prepared for whatever is coming their way. A closed mind won't help them. Tunnel vision aimed at test taking won't help them. Convergent mind sets won't help them. The blinders need to be removed so they can see more, think more, and ask more questions. They need to be curious, and they need to hold on to the sense of wonder we are all born with. 

As parents and teachers, our goals and motives are noble. We want what is best for our little ones. We want them to be super-duper smart, to have access to excellent opportunities and experiences. We want our kids to be the smartest. We sign them up for extra tutoring, and skill and drill them until their little fingers and minds are numb. But what if we are doing more harm than good? The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right? In his book, Curious, author Ian Leslie's writes: "To teach someone to be an engineer or a lawyer or a programmer is not the same as teaching them to be a curious learner--yet the people who make the best engineers, lawyers, and programmers tend to be the most curious learners."

How, as an educator or parent, can you help students keep their curiosity and sense of wonder alive? Well, for starters, you might want to awaken your own curiosity. What are the things you wonder about? And when a student comes to you with a genuine query, you might not be so quick to shut them down and dismiss them. Encourage them to go on that magical quest to find the answers, and to not give up until they do. It will be gratifying to see just how far down the rabbit hole they'll be willing to go.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Power of Words and School Bullying

With a new school year on the horizon, I was tapped to provide a few school bullying workshops at the early childhood and elementary levels. Yes, I said an early childhood bullying workshop. Preschool bullying is an actual thing.

So, by now, you all know me and know that I found a way to incorporate high quality, developmentally appropriate literature into these workshops. I am huge proponent of bibliotherapy, and I strongly believe in the power of words to change lives.

At the preschool and early elementary levels, I chose to focus on the teasing aspect of bullying. Again, it's about the power of words to affect our emotions and how we feel about ourselves. For preschool, the text was Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney. Spoiler alert: This bully goat is a bit of a jerk. He goes well beyond teasing and is actually quite aggressive. My many years as an early childhood educator confirms there are children who behave this way...and worse. In this story, it is the teacher who comes to the rescue. It is important for teachers to be aware of what is occurring in the classroom between students. We understand at this age the children are egocentric and are just learning the concepts of sharing and turn-taking and to expect a bit of bickering, but there is a big difference between this and being an overly aggressive and violent child. 

For the K-2 workshop, I decided to go with the classic Kevin Henkes text Chrysanthemum. In my mind, this is the consummate book of name teasing.  A different book I considered was The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. While a very good story, The Name Jar isn't so much about name teasing, and is actually a story of diversity and acceptance. Chrysanthemum, on the other hand, shows the effects of teasing and the power of words. The reader sees the  protagonist go through changes throughout  the story as a result of the teasing she endures from her classmates. She goes from loving the idea of school to dreading it. She goes from loving her name to wanting to change it. Chrysanthemum again shows the role and responsibility teachers have with respect to school bullying. In the story, we see the passive role the classroom teacher plays which permits the teasing to continue, contrasted from the active role the music teacher takes in effectively shutting down the bullying.

For the 3-5 workshop, I addressed the idea of being a bystander to bullying. This is also about the power of words, and how powerful the absence of words can be. Those who stand around witnessing bullying in action but do or say nothing are actually a party to it. They are capable of stopping the bullying, but choose instead to be in the audience watching the show. The text I chose for this group was Say Something by Peggy Moss. I love this story because the narrator has an epiphany of sorts after being on the receiving end of some teasing. When she realizes what it feels like to be teased while everyone is around watching and doing nothing, she decides from that moment on that she will say something when she sees others being bullied.

It's my hope that the students who attended these school bullying workshops were informed and empowered to stand up for themselves and for others. Hopefully, they learned just how powerful words can be.