“The Magic of Validation” by Jennifer Gonzalez at Cult of Pedagogy

Today I came across this fantastic, reasonably short, clear, conversational, and insightufl article about the importance of validation in teaching and in all our interactions. Not only does Gonzalez explain what validation is and why it is important, she talks us through a number of concrete examples of situations in which validation can be challenging, and exactly how to approach it. Have a look! The Magic of Validation

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What are the responsibilities of a teacher?

I had the privilege during my travels in the States last month to visit a democratic free school (based on the Sudbury model) and a homeschool resource centre. I graduate from a different democratic free school seven years ago (🙀), and I found myself drawing a lot of parallels but noting a few key distinctions.

In both communities, the spaces are clearly student-centred, with couches and large community tables in place of rows of desks. Students have access to shelves and shelves of all different genres of books, musical instruments, computers, art supplies, and other resources. There is a School Meeting once per week in which the community votes on key issues of importance to the community. There is a small Judicial Committee composed of youth and staff that handles small issues that concern just one or a few members of the community.

At this particular democratic free school, to graduate, students must write a thesis demonstrating their readiness to leave the support of the free school community and enter the adult world. One of the staff members pointed out that he would never have been able to do that when he was a senior graduating from high school. It does seem to be a more authentic way of demonstrating one’s readiness to move on to the next stage of life than a bunch of letter or number grades given to you by an authority figure that are supposed to tell you about what facts you have memorised.

Some key differences between these models of education and compulsory schooling: facts (which can be and often are easily forgotten) vs. skills (which will serve us for life), and what to think vs. how to think.

Since August, I have been teaching New Entrants (five-year-olds) in a wonderful, student-centred, progressive school. I adore my colleagues and administration and am fortunate to have a lot of liberty in how my classroom runs. Our syndicate is embracing play-based learning, and there has been a marked shift to supporting skill-building and tamariki (children)’s own inquiry process. I have been trying to work out how much of my unschooling and free school background I can bring into my classroom while still working within a conventional school environment. So that brought me to re-examining what my role is. What is my responsibility as an adult in the classroom?

There is clearly:

Do no harm.

Nurture my children’s natural curiosity.

Facilitate opportunities for deeper inquiry.

Facilitate development of strong social-emotional skills so that tamariki grow up able to articulate their own emotions and successfully navigate conflict with others.

Nurture an environment in which each child feels welcome and supported and sees their culture and identities represented.

What more would you add to this list? What are the concrete actions we are/should be taking to fulfill these responsibilities every day?

How do we support the children?

#postcards4families

If you’re anything like me, this week has left you nauseated and feeling paralysed. The ongoing detention camps, Justice Kennedy’s resignation, the blow to unions, the court’s upholding the Muslim ban, it’s all overwhelming. And still, we can’t let it paralyse us. Self care is essential; please do what you need to do to recharge and keep fighting. Part of being an educator means standing up for kids. It means creating and demanding safety. Here’s a simple activity we can do with little ones to demand justice for children and families:
Write a post card to Trump demanding justice for children and their families, take a photo of it, and post it with the hashtag #postcards4families —> the organizers will donate $5 per post card to RAICES, a non-profit providing free and low-cost legal services to under-served immigrant children, families and refugees. If you’re a kid, write your age, and they will credit it as a postcard they match. (Ones by adults are great too! but they are focusing on donating for kids’ cards at the moment.) Info and addresses at the link below. The organisers have created a page to post the images to. Or/and if you have the resources, run a fundraiser yourself! Please share!

https://www.facebook.com/postcards4families/

#postcards4families

Activity: Make Your Own Bingo

Hi friends! Just wanted to share a fun activity I love to do with students. It’s easily adaptable for small groups of three or more students or a large class. Note: I generally have kids do this in pairs to encourage cooperative learning (at least two students per bingo board). It adds another layer of skill building because they have to talk everything out and agree.

1. Have each student draw a Bingo board on a blank piece of paper, or use my pre-made ones available for free on TPT 🙂 3×3 Bingo Board or 4×4 Bingo Board

2. Write a list of terms on the whiteboard (or a large piece of paper/poster if you don’t have a whiteboard).  This works for almost any set of vocab or ideas that you want to help your students review.  Students must write the words or draw a picture to represent the word in each box. Everyone’s bingo board should look different but have more or less the same words. If you’re including drawings, remind the kids to draw quick sketches, just enough info so that they understand the picture – it’s not an art contest! When the bingo boards are complete, erase the whiteboard (or turn over the poster).

3. Call out the terms in a random order. Children either put a light line through the word when they hear it or use markers if you’d like to re-use the boards. Small pieces of cardstock, small coins, dried broadbeans or lima beans, or even stickers with the backings still on work well (stickers can double as a fun reward when they are finished).

4. 3 in a row/4 in a row wins BUT in order to get credit, the student needs to read each word and define it/spell it/use it. For example, below are some boards my kids created to practice prepositions and WH questions. They had to show me something that was (e.g.) on something else and ask a WH question that made sense. Bonus: Get the rest of the students involved by having them answer the questions and discuss.

Have fun and let me know how you go with your boards! I’d love to see some of the things your students create. 
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Violet Vegan Comics

So pleased to find this blog of vegan-message-themed comics and poems for all audiences! Here’s a page devoted to comics especially written For Little Ones.

One of my favourites is“Where Are You Going, Deirdre?” It is based on the true story of a brave mother who risked her life to hide her calf in order to keep him from the farmer. Through colourful illustrations and kid-friendly dialogue, we see a young human learn the sad truth of what happens to the infants dairy cows are forced to birth. The story ends happily, with the girl helping the farmer understand that the baby belongs with his mum, and deciding to turn his farm into a sanctuary. Children wonder:

  • Is it sometimes okay to take something that doesn’t belong to you if you think you need it? Why or why not? [If children say yes, explore the difference between taking something without hurting anyone very badly – e.g. a mother who steals bread to feed her children – vs. physically harming someone, killing, or separating families.]
  • What is the difference between want and need? [Younger children could make contrast posters or pages in their Philosophy Journals with pictures or words showing Want on one side and Need on the other.]
  • Is it possible to love animals and hurt them at the same time? What does it mean to love?
  • Many people do things they know are wrong because everyone they know does it too, and this makes it even harder to stop. Why is it so difficult to break habits? If lots of people do something harmful together, does it make it less bad? Why or why not?
  • Do we have a responsibility to help others/our friends make compassionate decisions? Why or why not?

The poem“Nature Returns” envisions Earth after humanity. Through beautiful personification and vivid imagery of the Earth “stretching” to recover from what people have done to her, the poem opens important questions about our impact on and responsibility to the Earth:

  • Does the Earth belong to people? Explain your answer.
  • What does it mean to take care of the Earth?
  • Have you ever wondered if plants have an awareness of what is happening to them?
  • If a forest doesn’t know what is happening to it, does it make it okay to destroy it? Why or why not?
  • Does nature have inherent value [for itself, not for someone else]? Why or why not/explain.

When you finish reading a comic or poem, check out Violet’s section on Things to Make And Do to get creative or get out of the house.

Let me know what your favourite poem or story is and how you discussed it in the comments below!

What Do We Tell The Children?

“Say that silence is dangerous, and teach them how to speak up when something is wrong.”

It goes without saying that I’ve been reeling with grief and shock this week. Here are some concrete words I was able to pull strength from in my conversations with students this week, from The Huffington Post. The article bears reading in full:

What Do We Tell The Children?

“Tell them bigotry is not a democratic value, and that it will not be tolerated at your school.”

“We need to teach students how to disagree—with love and respect. These skills will be priceless in the coming months and years as we work to build a democratic society that protects the rights of all people ― regardless of the cooperation or resistance those efforts face from the executive branch.” 

Now we regroup, and we tell the people we love that they are loved and they matter over and over and over again. My question to myself this week: How can I most effectively leverage my skills and the privileges I have left to stand up for and support the young people who are going to spend a key portion of their formative years under the reign of a bigot who promotes sexual assault?

If you are devoted to this same goal as a fellow educator and/or advocate and/or restless globetrotter, I’d love to hear your ideas below. More to come soon.