“What are those dots on your face?”

Four-year-old: [looking up from Lego helicopter] What are those dots on your face?

Me: They’re called acne. I’m not sick. They’re just part of my skin. Most people get some pimples when they become teenagers, and a lot of people, like me, have them as adults too. They come and go.

Four-year-old: They look icky.

Me: Sometimes they feel icky on my face, too, and other times they feel fine. Sometimes I even forget they’re there.

Four-year-old: But I don’t have them.

Me: I know, not yet. You’ll probably get some when you’re a teenager, but you may not. Not everyone does.

Four-year-old: [silence as he plays with Lego set]

Four-year-old: [suddenly reaches toward my face]

Me: Please stop and wait. Were you wanting to feel the dots on my face?

Four-year-old: Yes.

Me: Okay. That’s fine with me. It’s just important to always ask before you touch someone’s body. Can you try asking, “May I please touch the dots on your face?”

Four-year-old: May I please touch the dots on your face?

Me: Sure! I don’t mind. Just please be gentle. Thanks for asking.

Four-year-old: [feels gently, wrinkles nose] Ew. [pulls hand away, smiling]

Me: Yeah, they’re kind of funny sometimes. It’s okay to feel them because I said it’s okay. When you want to touch someone’s body, you just have to ask first if it’s okay. Only if they say “yes,” then it’s okay. If they say “no,” it’s not okay and it’s really important that you respect that. I said yes, so it’s okay.

Four-year-old: [feels my face one more time in interest, then goes back to Legos]

I have a variation on this conversation pretty often. I hope the message gets through. Also. I find it really interesting that it is so, so much easier for me to be body positive around young kids. Most of the time, I’m super self-conscious about my acne (which has been particularly strong for aroung twelve years or so), and really hate it. And then I hate that I hate it, and I feel like a bad feminist, because I know it’s just part of my body that I can’t control, and it doesn’t inherently make me ugly, and I shouldn’t cover myself up, and blah di dah all of that that’s easy to say and difficult to feel. And then I tell myself my feelings are valid anyway. And then I get into a big argument with myself and just end up putting on some basic concealer to go to work and forget about it. Somehow, with four-year-olds, that whole self-conscious narrative just melts away. I’m just me. And they’re just them. And that’s okay. Wow.

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. 

“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!

Lesson Plan: “Where I’m From”

Last week, I had the privilege of introducing an origin/identity poem discussion and writing exercise to my fourth graders. In this lesson, students study and discuss George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From,” and they write their own poems inspired by Lyon’s work. Lyon is the poet laureate of Kentucky, currently working on a project to collect poems from every county in the state. My lesson plan for this study is posted below. If you do a similar activity with your students, please post your experiences in the comments!

Wherever you are in the world, you and your students can use her form to explore how memories shape identity. Encourage your students to use vivid sensory details from sights, smells, sounds, sensations, and tastes that resonate with them deeply. The stronger and more important each image is to you, the stronger and more meaningful it will be for the reader.

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Integrity in Teaching

This is a response to the article “Integrity in Teaching: Recognizing the Fusion of the Moral and Intellectual,” by Deborah Ball and Suzanne M. Wilson (1996). Since the article discusses student-directed and inquiry-based learning, I thought it was an appropriate thing to share with readers of this Philosophy for Children blog. Happy reading and please join the discussion in the comments!

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Teaching: “Knowledge endeavor” or “moral enterprise?” There is a tension in the academic community between those who say teaching is about transmitting content and those who approach teaching as primarily about engaging with students’ wellbeing. Ball and Wilson use two examples from their third grade classes to illustrate the point that these two ideas are inseparable.

Wilson begins by giving an account of a unit she spent discussing government with her third graders. A discussion of the history of how Lansing (their home city) became the capital of Michigan yields a number of misconceptions – some vocabulary confusions, some geographical, some about the nature of government. Instead of slamming down the discussion by correcting her third graders’ misconceptions right away, Wilson engages her students in further discourse, encourages them to respond to one another, and learns a great deal more about their thinking and understanding.

Wilson continues with an example of a fascinating third grade math lesson. She works hard to foster student-directed learning in her classroom, and encourages students to come to solutions and new knowledge through inquiry, active experimentation, and debate. During the episode she relates for this essay, her students are trying to figure out how to compare the sizes of different fractions. A portion of the class comes to the conclusion that five fifths is more than four fourths because there are more pieces. Wilson is befuddled but ends the lesson at a loss of what to do.  “Having worked hard to create a classroom culture in which mathematical ideas were established with evidence and argument,” she writes, “I found that many students were no longer so influenced by my views” (169-170). With five minutes left before recess, she asked students to journal about their thinking: “I was humbled to see that, even when I do choose to tell students something, there are no guarantees, and I remembered that this was one of the things that spurred me to make my classroom more centered on the children’s thinking in the first place” (171). While I grew up with and nearly always promote student-directed learning, one thing I noticed that makes Ball and Wilson’s techniques unique is that the content of their teaching is quite purposefully teacher-directed, but the process and method of the learning is student-led. This is a new model of shared responsibility for student learning.

The writers go on to discuss the potential challenges to their inquiry-based methods of teaching. More traditional modes of teaching might yield the correct answers more often, but their experience has shown that students can often give the “correct answer” without actually having the underlying understanding. For instance, it is common for students taught mathematics traditionally to understand the correct answer in one situation but not another – e.g. representing six pieces coming together to represent one whole using manipulatives, but still insisting that a sixth plus a sixth equals a twelfth when using just numbers alone without the manipulatives (presumably adding across the top and adding across the bottom). Instead of providing examples (e.g. same size pizzas getting cut into different numbers of pieces), Wilson chose to encourage students to come up with their own examples. These examples did not provide the correct answer right away, but they demonstrated students’ thinking in a way that working with only teacher-provided examples would not.

We also must consider that many subjects will arise in the conversation that the teacher did not intend to bring up. Some may engender discomfort, and some students will be more or less uncomfortable depending on their experiences. When some of her students made derogatory remarks about welfare, and Ball had no lived experience with the subject, luckily some of her students were able to advocate for themselves. But what about the students who remained silent? When discussing serious and sensitive topics, is there a point at which the teacher has a responsibility to step in and steer the discussion? And if so, at what point and how is this to be done without squashing student creativity and self-advocacy?

A central theme of this essay is how to approach every topic with intellectual honesty. Bruner (1960) claims that any subject can be taught honestly in some way to any student at any developmental level. Being intellectually honest means both taking the subject matter very seriously and taking each student and their individual thinking seriously. What does this mean when a student’s entire framework of understanding is at odds with conventional wisdom? Even once Wilson’s students understood that a cookie was the same size no matter how many pieces you split it into way, five fifths was considered more because you could share the whole thing with more friends. In a poetic way, one could argue they have a point. But according to the conventions of mathematics, they are wrong. How does an educator honour the poetic truth in the student’s understanding of a situation while explaining the mathematical flaw?

Ball notes how happy she was to see four young girls in her classroom, three who were students of colour, debating mathematical proofs – a domain too long dominated by white men. However, she worries that in her quest to respect her students’ critical thinking and learning process, she let her students leave third grade without the skills to defend themselves against the erroneous notion that women have lagging mathematical skills. Providing our students with only one or two conventional perspectives on a mathematical idea or historical event robs them of the nonstandard but valuable insight that they can achieve for themselves: “History would be something others do, not them” (186). However, as educators we have the responsibility to “represent the subject matter in ways that are honest and true” (178). If we leave our students believing that five fifths is more than four fourths or worse, have we failed them? Worse, if we teach social studies and do not ensure that our students see people like themselves represented in government positions and historical turning points, do we leave our students believing that they do not have the opportunity to be moral agents in the shaping of their world?

Conflict resolution

Hello lovely readers. With the school year in full swing, I’ve been spending a lot of hours with five-to-seven year olds in child care and student teaching. And sometimes (often) kids get frustrated. A parent asked me to write out some of my strategies for conflict resolution when siblings fight, so here’s a few things I try to keep in mind when tensions escalate. I’d welcome feedback! Thanks 🙂
1) Stay calm. This may seem obvious and also easier said than done, but kids really tend to take their cues from the people around them. If I get really anxious about something, they’re likely to get more anxious too. So if the kids are upset about something that seems like it isn’t actually a big deal, I just honor and acknowledge their feelings and then try to model calm and reasoned problem-solving. Of course if there is a serious problem, I communicate that to them, but as calmly as possible, and tell them what needs to happen or again model effective problem-solving.
2) Acknowledge their feelings and de-escalate. We take deep breaths and I remind them that we need to use words to communicate in order to solve a problem. Sometimes I use some modified techniques from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication. http://www.wikihow.com/Practice-Nonviolent-Communication Though I try not to become too scripted, as that can seem disingenuous and thus be counterproductive. I ask “what are you feeling right now?” and “What do you need?” and work with them to try and find a way that we can all get what we need without anyone getting hurt (physically or emotionally).
3) Share my own experiences. I think it’s important for kids to realize everyone (adults too) gets frustrated and angry, that it’s not bad to feel emotions, and that there are constructive ways of expressing those emotions without hurting anyone.  Last month, I had a conversation with some kids about punching vs. other ways of expressing anger without hurting anyone – e.g. I told them sometimes when I get upset, I throw a pillow or go in the backyard away from people to have a good scream. They laughed at the idea of my throwing pillows, which also helped de-escalate the tension.
4) Collaborate to find a solution. I give kids autonomy and try to always give them choices or ask them what they think we should do if it’s a situation with any flexibility, and I thank them for their helpful ideas. Then in the few circumstances in which there really can’t be any compromise, I feel comfortable putting my foot down, and they’re more likely to listen.  I also encourage them to ask each other for what they need instead of having me give orders (e.g. “Did you ask Maria if you could have a turn next?” instead of “Maria, let Joshua on the swing now.”)
5) Always give reasons when I ask or tell them to do something (and I try to make a clear distinction there!) or when I say no. Most of the things I’m not willing to compromise on have to do with staying safe/healthy. I am lucky that most of the kids I work with are very responsible about not crossing the street without an adult, not touching the hot stove, etc., so I don’t have to say a flat “no” very often.
6) Problem-solve instead of punish. Once a child I was watching punched another child in the middle of a mall. I first quickly made sure they were all right and then told the child firmly “It is never okay to punch” and “we have to discuss this now,” but also told them “I’m not angry. I’m not angry, but we have to talk because I can tell something is very wrong.” We re-located to the closest quiet space (happened to be a couch in a bookstore) and continued “I know you wouldn’t have wanted to hurt [name], so you wouldn’t have done that unless something was really upsetting you. Please tell us what happened.” I assume the best of intentions. First the child clammed up and refused to speak at all, but when he realized I wasn’t punishing him, he was able to tell us why he was upset with the other child, and we discussed ideas of how to solve the problem without hurting each other. He eventually apologized but not before he was ready (as an apology is pretty meaningless if it’s not genuine).
7) Specific positive reinforcement. I try to point out things I’m really happy about to encourage repeating, instead of saying “no” all the time. “Thank you for telling us before you stopped your bike in front of me.” “Thank you for biking carefully and stopping before each street.” “That was so kind of you to offer to help your brother.” “That was so kind of you to offer to share with your sister.” Etc., etc. I also avoid just saying, “you were really good today” or similar because that doesn’t really give them any new information, and also can inadvertently imply that sometimes a child is “bad.”
Hope this offers some food for thought! I am always questioning and refining conflict resolution with a goal of honoring kids’ experiences and empowering them to stand up for themselves with peers and thoughtfully, effectively resolve conflicts – suggestions always welcome. Thanks again!
Post-script: To end, have a smile – This is the first photo I saw when I searched for “kids fighting” online … This looks like goat kids playing to me, actually! They hit their strong foreheads and horns together for fun. =)
kids fighting