“Māra,” by Moira Wairama

During the last week of term, I introduced many of my E.S.O.L. students to “Māra,” a poem published in Issue 52 of the New Zealand Junior Journal, a journal of writing geared towards students working in level 2 of The New Zealand Curriculum. The full journals, with illustrations and audio recordings, are available here at no charge: http://literacyonline.tki.org.nz/Literacy-Online/Planning-for-my-students-needs/Instructional-Series/Junior-Journal.

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A pēpepe I met in the Auckland Domain

 

In a smooth blend of English and Māori, the speaker invites us into her māra (garden) to meet all of the insects she meets there. The (free) audio recording available on the educators’ resource site highlights the poem’s magical, musical quality, capturing students’ attention in a way that simply handing them the poem as a silent reading assignment could not.

Though the poem is a great example of how students can use imagery, rhyme, and meter in their poems, I find one of the most important things this poem does is highlight the bilingualism and biculturalism that is so important to New Zealand. While I am an American citizen teaching English to non-native speakers, I feel a responsiblity to honour and lift up Te Reo wherever feasible in my teaching as well, and to set a norm in my classroom that all languages are equally precious. Of course, though the poem incorporates both languages, I don’t know if it actually tells us anything particular about Māori culture, so I should be on the lookout for more poems that do this. Learning English is never about replacing what one has grown up with but about adding something new. This is a topic for a future post, but does anyone have suggestions of other poems appropriate for young children that incorporate multiple languages fluently? I’d love to start a solid collection. Thank you!

Most of the articles in the journal come with teacher guides, but the poem does not, so I’ve written up some activities and prepared a vocab sheet for pre-teaching the Māori words and some of the Tier 2 English words that non-native English speakers would need support with. I included some questions to prompt a discussion about the concept of being “special” and what it means to consider something or someone special. My sessions with these students are each quite short, so we don’t have the opportunity for full on CoI, but as always, I’d love to hear of your students’ responses – just hit “reply” below! Adjusting for your students’ needs, I would discuss the unfamiliar words first, so that they have context. Then listen to the poem, giving each student a copy of the poem (from the journal) to have in front of them. Then proceed with the discussion and writing activity.

The guide is available here: http://tinyurl.com/maraguide

After a few drafts, I publish the students’ poems on the wall and give them a chance to read their poetry to each other. It gives each student a chance to showcase their own work and be publicly proud, to review what they have done vs. just turning in an assignment and never seeing it again, to recognize their own work as publish-worthy art, and to learn from and about their peers. I’d love to hear your experiences, successes, and challenges of young students writing and sharing their work!

What colour is “cold”? 

Yesterday I hosted a little poetry lunch with my students. I brought in sandwich makings, and they shared their own writing with each other. Each student was proud to perform their own work, and we gave everyone snaps and commented on parts of the poems that resonated with us or asked about parts that made us wonder. When everyone had read their identity poems that they had written with me, I suggested they head back to the larger group to make sure they had time to play before the next class, but they all chose to stay and read more🙂 One girl read a poem she wrote inspired by the colour blue, and her classmate wondered why she had included images of snow and ice in the poem. We talked about why that might make sense and how colours are often used to symbolise temperatures and feelings even if they don’t always actually look that way in real life. 

  • Do different types of weather have colours?
  • Can you feel a colour? What does it mean to feel blue? How might that be different than feeling like green or yellow?
  • What makes us associate certain ideas and feelings with certain colours? 
  • Can personalities have colours? 
  • Could you write a poem from the point of view of a colour itself? Try it out🙂

I have minor synaesthesia,  which for me just causes me to have strong associations between certain numbers, letters, and words and certain colours. If you or your students experience colour connected to other senses too, it can inspire insightful poems and new ways of seeing the world. Fun to get different kids’ perspective on how they experience and conceptualise colour in different ways. 

Do you or your students have some colour poems or questions/muses to share? Pop them in the comments. Thanks and have a beautiful weekend!

“The back of the world”

Hobo-Dyer Equal Area - Two-sided: North-up Africa-centered/South-up Australia-centered
Hober-Dyer South Up

The other day we were talking about geography, and one of my young students asked casually, “The poor countries are on the back of the world, right?” Wow. Ouch. “It can seem that way, huh?” I said after collecting myself. “Because we often see more wealthy countries highlighted on the map. But check it out.” I spun my globe beach ball that I had brought in from home. “The earth is a sphere, so there actually is no back, front, top or bottom.” We talked about north, south, east, west, the equator, and hemispheres. I try to use the globe for accuracy whenever possible and avoid the terms “above” or “below” when referring to locations, but doing geography with my kids has brought my attention to how difficult it is not to let those phrases crop into my daily speech.

 

The Mercator Map I grew up with privileges the Northern Hemisphere and particularly North America and Europe, front and centre. It certainly has its place, but since most people today use world maps not for direct navigation purposes but for global awareness and understanding relationships between countries, I find it curious that the Mercator has remained so overwhelmingly dominant in classrooms and homes. The Oxford Cartographers write that “Maps not only represent the world, they shape the way we see it.” They go on to say:

 

Five thousand years of human history have brought us to the threshold of a new age. It is an age typified by science and technology, by the end of colonial domination, and by a growing awareness of the interdependence of all nations and all peoples. Such a moment in history demands that we look critically at our view of the world as portrayed by the World Map. Surprisingly, to a significant degree this view is based on the work of cartographers from an age when Europe dominated and exploited the world.

Traditional map projections, of which the Mercator is one example, have tended to show countries incorrectly in proportion to one another, exaggerating the size of high latitude countries such as Canada and making tropical regions such as Africa appear much too small.

Read more at http://www.oxfordcartographers.com/our-maps/peters-projection-map/.

Hobo-Dyer Equal Area

I also love the Hobo-Dyer equal area and “South Up” maps available at ODT Maps. ODT has published a great little article with some history of different map orientations and projections and a discussion of some of the limitations of flat paper maps, particularly if we are familiar with only one type.

 

“Up” is over our heads, and when we mix “up” with “top” and “north” we do ourselves a disservice. We confuse all the other things we associate with “up” and “top” (like “good” and “heaven”) with north; and all the things we associate with “down” and “bottom” (like bad and hell) with south. So Australia is “down under” (under what?) and Antarctica is “the bottom of the world.” Antarctica doesn’t even show up on this “What’s Up? South!” map of the world. Some world! But then … it’s hard to show the whole planet — which is after all a three-dimensioned sphere — on a two-dimensioned piece of paper. Along with that extra dimension a lot of other things have to go. A map can show one or more — but not all — of the following: directions the way they are on the globe, distances the way they are on the globe, areas the way they are on the globe, or shapes the way they are on the globe. When maps show things the way they are on the globe it’s common to say they’re true, as in; “This map shows true directions.” But the language of “true” and “false,” like that of “top” and “bottom,” carries so much extra baggage it’s not much use. It’s more useful to be familiar with many different kinds of maps, each with its own slant. It’s like getting to know a poem in a language you don’t understand. Each new translation reveals a facet the other translations ignored. The more translations you read, the surer your “triangulation” on the poem you’re trying to get to know. The best way to understand our world is to view it through as many lenses as possible, to see it from as many vantage points as we can.

(…)  Each projection translates the globe from its own unique perspective . The equal-area Peters is often contrasted to the constant compass-bearing Mercator because they are so glaringly different. At ODT, Inc. we appreciate this contrast because it shocks viewers into questioning their assumptions about maps in particular and life in general. It helps people to “think outside the box” by exploring how what they see is predicated on what they expect to see. The “What’s Up? South!” map is similarly shocking though in another way. The continents are actually shaped much like they are on a Mercator but look unfamiliar because we’re not used to orienting our maps to the south. But sometimes all we need to do to solve our problems is turn them upside down.

 

Why are all sorts of different kinds of maps not more widely accessible and seen today? Think about your own upbringing: Where did you grow up, and and how did you see your country represented in literature and the media? How did this impact your identity and ideas about your country’s place in the world?

Muffins, Maths – and Poetry?

This week one of my students baked carrot-apple muffins as part of his maths lesson. Finding the recipe, discussing each ingredient, sounding out the words and copying down the ingredient list was all part of English study. The project doubled as practical maths as he developed literacy around fractions and figured out how much we’d have to make in order to have enough for each child in his class plus staff. “You do baking for maths?” a classmate exclaimed. “Baking is also science!” another teacher pointed out. I wish we had the resources to have every lesson for every student have a practical component! Unfortunately our kitchen isn’t big enough for more than a couple of people at a time, and it makes me think about how privileged we are to have kitchen access at the school at all. 
The whole class is working on cinquains and other poetry this week. They are tying this into their unit on the Olympics, and some wonderful imagery around sport is coming out of this study. They began by looking at photographs of athletes and brainstorming words they would use to describe the image. Does anyone have suggestions of some fun baking poems to connect it all together? They should be short and straightforward enough for a kindergarten student to make sense of and read most of the words with help within a few minutes, and fun enough that it will keep their interest (think Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky-esque). Thanks!
For any bakers out there, here is the recipe we used! A gem from The Minimalist Baker, one of my standby recipe blogs. Vegan, of course. http://minimalistbaker.com/easyrecipe-print/8877-0/
It is also gluten-free, but if you have only wheat flour on hand and no one you’re serving is gluten-intolerant, that works just as well. Pretty customisable. We didn’t have any walnuts and just left them off, no harm. Easy to do with a group of kids and/or in a small space because there are lots of little things to prep (the flax egg, grating the carrot) but only requires one large mixing bowl. 

World news 

This month I’ve started ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) support at a rural Auckland school. The school is inquiry-based; students learn by exploring their world and asking questions about the things that matter to them. I’m in my element at this school. My students are motivated and take responsibility for their own learning. At any given point, different students in one room may be working on different things, and they cheerfully support each other. Throughout the school, I have felt a strong emphasis on community and on learning for learning’s sake.

My job is to pull out small groups for speaking, reading, and writing instruction targeted to students’ individual needs and interests. In addition to levelled PM readers and an expansive library of children’s literature, we have been using Newsela and Kiwi Kids News, two sites that offer news articles packaged with related educational resources. Newsela begins with articles written by the AP, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and other global news sources and adapts each article to at least five different reading levels, so students whose reading abilities differ can access the same subject matter. Articles are searchable by grade level and reading standard, and many articles are available in Spanish. Kiwi Kids is published by and for New Zealand educators and families. Both sites include teacher resources, quizzes, and writing prompts.

In each meeting, we read a short article, discuss it, and write for a set amount of time in response to a prompt or share and edit their writing from earlier. Our first time, I asked my students simply, Is it important to read the news? Why or why not? It seems like a simple (obvious?) question, but it is more complicated than I originally thought. I would hope most people agree that having a general idea of what is going on in the world and in one’s community is important. Personally, I always took it for granted – I grew up with NPR radio surrounding me in the car and the house all day long, and generally scan headlines first thing when I wake up each morning. However, people disagree as to how and how often they prefer to access the news. Many people insist they prefer not to read the mainstream news often because there is so much negativity. Not only is it unpleasant to read about violent or natural disasters, it can be discouraging to read again and again about tragedy about which you feel helpless. On the other hand, others maintain that we need to be as aware as we can be in order to make a difference, and that staying up-to-date about global current events is integral to understanding the interconnectivity of social justice issues around the world and doing effective ally work.

Some other things I try to think about when selecting news sources for myself and to share with my students:

  • Bias – every article is written by a human being, and human beings are necessarily biased in some way. Consider the POV of the writer, what their goals are, and how my own perspective impacts how I understand the information being presented.
  • Balance – How much do I seek out a balance of local news, global news, political news, arts news… How much do I read from major/mainstream newspapers, smaller/independent journals and websites, blogs, opinion pieces, print vs. online… etc.
  • Audience – Who is likely the intended audience of this piece of writing? Do I fall into that group? Why or why not? How might this piece be received differently depending on the reader’s current and past experiences?

What do you think? My students agreed it is important to read the news, but for different reasons. If you work with children or have your own, what do they think? You might be surprised. Discussing these questions with our students keeps us all thinking critically about the news we consume. If you or your students are feeling overwhelmed, Kiwi Kids has some Advice If You Are Upset By The News.

Who bears the responsibility to act?

This week I have been wondering, who bears the responsibility to fix human beings’ mistakes? What does it mean to be responsible for something? What does it mean to take responsibility? Can you “be responsible” for something without taking responsibility? Can you “take responsibility” for doing something about a problem without being responsible for it? Why are most of the world’s injustices and crises being worked on by people who did not cause them? 

Over the past two summers, I have had the privilege of working with extraordinary teenage activists at Youth Empowered Action Camp. Young people come from all over the world to spend part of their summer working hard with other activists, attending workshops, and learning how to be the most effective change-makers they can be on the issues that matter most to them. Many campers are working on environmental protection, and one of my mentees is starting a school club to get high school students mobilized to stop climate change and make the connection between factory farming and the massive harm that animal exploitation wreaks on the environment (more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector combined!) One of my 12-year-old campers in Australia (yes, she came to the USA from Australia for activism camp!!) is working to end live export. Since camp ended just a couple of weeks ago, she already has been gathering petition signatures, met the director of Animals Australia (!), and made progress on planning her animal rights-focused YouTube channel. 

Another camper is working to change the name of her school so it no longer honours a confederate leader. It was named after this person in protest of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling against segregation. (Both links above include more info about the problems and petitions to support the campaigns.) 

Another camper, a young woman originally from the USA but currently living in Beijing, is working to improve the air quality in China and get children access to masks. Did you know that the pollution is so bad now that children have to wear masks to go outside? And if, like many children, they don’t have access to masks, they have to just stay indoors because it is not safe? The latest exciting news on her project is that a company is donating 500 masks to her school. 

These young people are standing up and taking action not because anyone told them to but because they are compelled by their own sense of justice and urgency. Here is an account by a camper I worked with last year who named YEA Camp as the coolest thing she had ever done, and came back as a mentor this year: http://yeacamp.org/2016/02/read-this-teens-answer-to-the-question-what-is-the-coolest-thing-youve-ever-done/
These teenagers are so inspiring to me and show us the future that can be. Too often, potential activists fall prey to the bystander effect and diffusion of responsibility: Sometimes the more atrocious and urgent the problem is, and the more onlookers there are to the problem, the less likely someone is to actually intervene, because we each assume that somebody else must be taking care of it. What does it take for someone to step up and do something? What makes us choose to act on certain issues over others? Please engage with these ideas in the comments, and I would love to hear: Do you consider yourself an activist? What inspires you to take action? What are some obstacles that have discouraged you from taking action on an issue or issues that matter to you? What resources and support would you need to make the difference you would like to?