This workshop was timely and significant for teachers and students returning to school in these unsettling times. I enjoyed the idea of meaningful texts acting as windows, mirrors or sliding glass doors. Some texts allow us to see through a window and into another world from a safe distance, yet still have empathy and connection with those they come across. Other texts act as mirrors and reflect who we are and allow us to understand ourselves better. Finally, some texts are sliding doors, which allow us to actually step into another world, experience something life-changing, and bring back that "experience" to our real world and life.
More than ever, this year's start will need to foster shared experiences through texts. With shared connections and vocabulary, a community can be formed. This can come in the form of read alouds, heart maps/identity webs or the classroom library.
For texts to be most effective, keep in mind several things. Choice is important. If you give them a focus of a topic or theme, students can choose any type of text and level--poems, novels, picture books, graphic novels--and still come together to talk and share their opinions on the common theme. Relevance is another key component. The text needs to be significant to them and engage their senses and mind.
What do we as educators want learners to become? Critical, creative problem-solvers. Instead of students simply extracting information, they need to be able to transact and interact with the text. What do they connect with? What are they interested or frustrated with? What's important to them? They need to be able to feel safe to express their opinions, ideas and viewpoints. Building the courage and the capacity to share with others is essential. Disruptive thinking interprets the book in different ways; at the book level, head, and the heart. Being able to ask questions, not just answer them, is more important.
Source: Celine Feazel, Sept. 1, 2020, Summer Institute workshop
Here is a brief summary or highlights from the book, Boy Smarts.
Guideline 1: Gender exists along a continuum from extremely feminine and extremely masculine at each end. There is more variance within a gender than between genders. Takeaway: Provide a range of activities to meet varied needs--from rambunctious, physical play to quieter activities, such as chess and reading.
Guideline 2: Boys need movement. "Movement is central to multi-sensory stimulation and mimics real-world interactions." It also helps stimulate their brains, to process information and make sense of stressful situations. Boredom is stressful for boys. Takeaway: Provide movement activity breaks, centres or group rotations, and allow fidgeting and doodling whenever possible.
Guideline 3: Testosterone must be channelled, as high levels account for increased irritability and impulsiveness, as well as rambunctiousness. However, if testosterone dips too low, they may become grumpy, nervous or bad-tempered. Takeaway: Boys need activities to channel their boisterousness, instead of being reprimanded or medicated.
Guideline 4: "Men consistently outperform women on spatial tasks, including mental rotation, which is the ability to identify how a 3-D object would appear if rotated in space. A new study shows a connection between this ability and the structure of the parietal lobe." (Brain and Cognition, Nov. 5, 2008). Takeaway: Design activities that involved opportunities for spatial and abstract reasoning, such as measurement, pre-algebra and graphing in math. Also, building models, mind-mapping and using graphic organizers are great tools to analyze information.
Source: Boy Smarts, Barry McDonald, 2005
Willingham's cognitive principle is that factual knowledge must precede skill. The current mode of thinking nowadays is that only critical thinking is necessary and the actual content, information, or knowledge is merely interchangeable; after all, one can do an Internet search and find information on any topic in seconds. However, thinking processes are intertwined with knowledge, perhaps surprisingly.
READING COMPREHENSION REQUIRES BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE
One study shows that even poor readers with high background knowledge of the reading understood the text better than good readers with low knowledge. Background information allows chunking (grouping of information), which allows your working memory to have more space to connect ideas and thoughts, leading to better comprehension.
Four ways background knowledge aids comprehension:
The "fourth-grade slump" is a phenomenon that hits underprivileged homes. Up to grade three, most students are good decoders, but reading comprehension becomes increasing important in grade 4 and up. Because comprehension is dependent on background knowledge, privileged kids come to school with more knowledge about the world and a larger vocabulary.
COGNITIVE SKILLS REQUIRES BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE
Thinking critically or logically often comes from what you know. To solve a problem, you first check your long-term memory to see if your solution already lies there. Think of the world's best chess players; it's not necessarily their reasoning or planning skills but rather their recall of board positions. They may have up to 50000 board game positions in their long-term memory! This goes for chefs, who can look at a kitchen pantry and whip up a delicious meal quickly, while regular folks may end up scratching their heads and end up making macaroni and cheese. In class, someone who has memorized the times tables will be able to solve a problem requiring that information faster than someone who has to figure it out by counting. This saves a lot of room in working memory to solve the rest of the problem.
Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Willingham hopes you realize that actually knowledge is necessary for imagination that leads to problem solving, decision making, and creativity.
Source: Why Don't Students Like School?, Willingham, Daniel T., 2009.
Matthew Crawford, a writer and research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia feels that today's education needs to return to its practical, hands-on roots, not its current state of representation in the virtual world. Crawford worries that since attention is a stimulus-driven, goal-directed and a limited resource, children, in particular, are subjected to and bombarded with continuous stimulus-driven attention of ads and manipulative messages. Social media is designed solely to have users engaged constantly and returning to their platforms. "Distractibility," says Crawford, "might be regarded as the mental equivalent of obesity." He worries that all this clutter of digital noise may dampen imagination, as well as the clear sense of self. Who are we as people or individuals, when so much of our self-image is now being shaped by marketers, friends and followers? Crawford also feels the philosophical movement of individualization and autonomy has gone too far. "I think, therefore I am, " stated Descartes, in the Age of Enlightenment. However, so much of reality, argues Crawford, now resides in our minds as representations, and the physical reality of the world has lost its meaning and value. Crawford wants genuine individuality and agency, which comes from skilled practice and experience affecting objects in the real world.
Professor Guy Claxton of Winchester University feels that attentional habits are a part of good learning habits, such as collaboration or listening. He believes this disposition of attention can be shaped over time, but not explicitly in the form of a workshop or lecture. He suggests approaching it from the point of losing mindfulness. The goal is when students are distracted, how quickly can they return to attention? Some classes work on a scale of 1 to 10, to see how distracted they have been in a week. Other classes will use a show of five fingers: 1 = not distracted; 2= vaguely distracted; 3= minor distraction; 4 = major distraction; 5 = I was the distraction! The goal is to get kids interested in their own distractibility and to gain greater control and assume responsibility. Another method is for students to keep track of their own distractions, marking a tick every time they are off task on a line scale of completely distracted and completely focused.
Source: Attention: Beyond Mindfulness, Gay Watson, 2017
How did such creative and novel ideas such as the iPhone, the Apollo 13 rescue mission, or Picasso's Les Demoiselles come about? Did they merely appear out of thin air, or is there a more logical and replicable explanation? According to Brandt and Eagleman in The Runaway Species, there are three categories (cognitive operations or strategies) that all innovations can fall into: bending, breaking and blending.
Bending takes the original item and then changes one or more aspects of it, such as shape, size, colour, or viewpoint. One basic example is Monet's many views of Rouen Cathedral in the 1890s. A more practical example of bending would be the invention of the polarized windshield. In order to not be blinded by headlights in the past, the idea of glare-resistant windshields were suggested. The problem: a calcite crystal was six inches thick! However, Edwin Land used "orthogonal thinking" and made sheets of glass with thousands of tiny embedded crystals. Miniaturization solved the dilemma. Other examples of bending include umbrellas, cars, jazz, language, architecture and television signals.
Breaking involves taking something whole, taking it apart, and reassembling something new out of the fragments. The first cell phone systems followed in the footsteps of radio and TV broadcasting, a single cell tower transmitting signals everywhere, but only a few people could make calls at one time. Bell Lab engineers then divided the single coverage area into small cells, each with its own tower, thus solving the problem of too many users. Another example of breaking comes from motion pictures. In the early cinemas, scenes in movies were told in real-time. Soon, filmmakers began to cut the beginning and endings of scenes. Then in Citizen Kane, we see time moving rapidly in years, and soon montages of long scenes can be done in seconds. Other examples of breaking include the following: computers, carbon copy, LCD screens, acronyms, and MP3 files.
Blending combines two or more sources in novel fashion. A classic example would be the Egyptian Sphinx, part human, part lion. With advances in genetics, professor Randy Lewis was able to splice the DNA of a spider to a goat to create Freckles the spider-goat; she's a goat but her "superpower" is she can secrete spider silk in her milk. This spider silk will be used to weave ultra-light bulletproof vests in the future. We also have fish and pigs that glow thanks to the jellyfish gene. Creoles are the blending of languages. Children in a remote village in Australia used their parents' baby talk (which combined 3 languages, Warlpiri, Kriol, and English) and then created their own syntax, known as Light Warlpiri. Blending is nearly limitless: a kingfisher + train = Japanese bullet train; soccer + volleyball = futevolei in Brazil; copper + tin = alloy bronze.
Source: The Runaway Species, Anthony Brandt & David Eagleman, 2017
This chapter definitely gets into some practical classroom suggestions related to mindfulness: mindful memory, field of vision, mindful seeing, and taking a pause.
But it starts off with the first thing of the day: attendance, and its value. The authors stress the importance of not only knowing who’s present, but acknowledging their value and their state of mind. It’s important to establish that connection, first thing. I realize that with online attendance, I’m not making that eye-to-eye contact that I normally had in the past (partly because of the way my computer is facing), so I plan on going back to a paper and pen method (along with the online, as well.)
The root of mindfulness is attention, focussing on what’s important. Mindfulness also reduces mind-wandering. Being able to prioritize between relevant and irrelevant information is critical for mindfulness. Learning mindfulness is a useful skill for both teachers and students alike.
Mindful Memory is a technique that stresses process over product. In other words, although the goal of memorizing is important, the process and experience of paying attention while memorizing is equally as important. One activity is the Memory Game. Phase 1: Put a dozen objects on a table and cover them. Then students look for a minute, cover them up, and then recall the items on a piece of paper. Phase 2: Place new objects, but use Take 1 to calm their minds to focus attention prior to seeing the objects. Variation #2: While teaching a regular class, suddenly pull then over to a table and do the Memory Game again. Variation #3: Play music or read a story aloud while the students memorize new objects. This is testing the effects of distraction and multitasking on concentration. Finally, reflect and find out how students felt after each of these three variations of the memory game.
The Field of Vision activity shows where you look affects what you see--a kind of “mental shortsightedness.” What you expect to see affects what you notice. This activity entails going outside, and covering the ground with many little twigs. Pick a short twig about 7cm, and say you will place in amongst the twigs and the students need to find it. They face away and then you pretend to place it on the ground but actually put in behind your ear but with a little bit showing. See how many students actually see the twig in your ear, the “last” place they expect. Finally, ask the students what the point of the activity was.
Mindful Seeing involves simply seeing and looking--and nothing else: no judgements, no opinions, no assumptions. Then apply mindfulness to look for something--”thinking, and deciding or attributing meaning.” The difference is looking at something vs. looking for something. This exercise leads into the notion of first impressions, and how mindful seeing can help you from getting caught up in making quick judgements, which later might be found to be false.
Taking a beat or a Pause aids in mindfulness, even if it’s just one breath in and out. This momentary pause can help you determine four things: 1) the simple facts with no emotion or interpretation; 2) how you feel about it; 3) what you think about it; 4) what might be the best to do. Start with neutral objects, before moving onto objects with more emotion attached. This will give you the best chance to come up with a good plan or idea in any difficult situation or circumstance.
Source: Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness, Deborah Schoeberlein David, 2009
Chapter 2: mindfulness in the morning
Deborah David believes the morning is the perfect time of the day to begin mindfulness. It’s basically saying “Hello” to the day, and acknowledging and appreciating its value. An intention is another important aspect of mindfulness, as it helps orient your day with a clear focus in mind, like a ship’s anchor in the sea. “Intention focuses attention on a particular objective, and mindfulness harnesses awareness to sustain your focus.” An example would be “to aspire to express more patience today when I work with a particular student.” Five key points about intentions: 1) set the intention; 2) notice your experience while recalling your intention; 3) return to your intention; 4) do something to support your intention; 5) acknowledge later your success with your intention. It’s important to be realistic, especially early on, with your intentions. Start small and be specific. The author feels that since the process of working with intentions is perhaps the most important goal, don’t feel bad on the days that your (best) intentions fail miserably. The author talks about a variation of Take 5, where when you notice during your breathing session a thought or feeling comes to mind, simply say “thinking” or “feeling” and then return to notice your breathing. At the end of the chapter, David recommends trying to be mindful of all the little activities you do, from brushing your teeth to eating breakfast. I tried it for a short while, and I did notice things that I normally would have normally missed completely. I tried to fully “experience” my shower, my shaving, my teeth brushing. Trying to fully be aware and attentive of life is a novel experience, but challenging and wearing on the mind, as well. Ultimately, try to pay attention and be present and live in the moment, and having a good start in the morning helps pave the way for the rest of the day.
Chapter 3: on to school
David recommends modeling your own mindfulness to your students, which supports their social and emotional learning (SEL). The five main competencies of SEL are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. If teachers can model SEL competencies while implementing the curriculum, that promotes maximum learning. A great intention is to model SEL competencies to your class. During the day, notice when you are becoming distracted or stressed, angry or anxious, steady or confident. Go through the 5 steps of being aware of your intentions, as well as mindful breathing. David also talks about the importance of being mindful and present when students first step into the classroom; they are aware of a calm, welcoming teacher, or a harried, unprepared one. Also, the transition to work should not be a power struggle but rather a shift of their attention and interest to something else as desirable. Introducing Take 1: Mindful Breathing (for students) is a great way to prepare students to become self-aware and attentive to their breathing, as well as their environment. Finally, David describes mindfulness for students as finding that perfect balance between too much attention and concentration and too little. For example, holding a pencil. If you hold it too loosely, it wobbles and creates scribbles; too tightly, and your hand begins to cramp up. Effective learning activities need to find that balance, as well, and the author cites riddles as an example. There is enough ambiguity involved, but complexity and creativity are needed to solve them. Some similar type of morning or brain work would be a good idea to start off the day. So remember to model SEL to students, including times when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and start the class day with activities that require both mindfulness, as well as creative and critical thinking.
Source: Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness, Deborah Schoeberlein David, Suki Sheth, 2009
Brief Summary of chapter 1
“Mindfulness is a conscious, purposeful way of tuning in to what’s happening in and around us.“ Paying attention and being aware has many benefits: mental focus, academic performance, emotional balance, capacity for kindness, empathy, and compassion. You can’t often change events and people’s actions around you, but you can change how you experience them: respond, rather than react; being mindful presents to you more choices when you are in a calm, focussed mental state. There’s also mindful teaching--being present and fully connecting with the students and their learning; the contrast is mindlessness--completely going through the motions, not really listening or creating flow. Finally, the best way to teach something is to learn it first with practice, then application--”experiential foundation.” Take 5 is a simple but effective start with Mindful Breathing.
Source: Deborah Schoeberlein David, Suki Sheth, Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness, 2009
Most movers and shakers, visionaries and thinkers in the technological field--past and present--generally hold an overall positive standing in people’s eyes. Think Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, Musk, Brin and Page, Bezos, to name a few. Sure, they have all had moments in their lives where people have given pause or raised an eyebrow or even outright questioned their actions. But for the average person, I am quite certain that most of them would gladly switch places with these renowned individuals in a heartbeat.
Evgeny Morozov is not of those people. In fact, he is quite the opposite--a contrarian, with strong opinions, analytical skills, and solid, well-developed arguments filling up his dense book. As an educator and writer, I feel it is critical to keep an open mind to all sides of an issue, especially one that has so much current and future impact on our global society.
It is interesting that he describes himself as a “digital heretic,” a solitary, whispering voice in the desert, trying valiantly to spread his message over the sounds and shouts of this juggernaut that never sleeps.
Morozov’s premise: “Silicon Valley’s quest to fit us all into a digital straightjacket by promoting efficiency, transparency, certitude , and perfection.” He goes on to say that their evil twins--friction, opacity, ambiguity, and imperfection--may not so “evil” and should deserve a place in our society. Humans, after all, are imperfect.
Source: To Save Everything click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism by Evgeny Morozov, 2013
Encouraging Creativity in Kids
Vancouver Writers Festival
Studio 1398, Granville Island
This workshop, led by Marie-Louise Gay, was informative, inspiring and entertaining. The following will be a collection of ideas shared by Ms. Gay, distilled somewhat through my perspective into four broad categories.
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.