“What is a lesson plan?”

These past few months teaching in Israel have been such a whirlwind. In no uncertain terms, it’s been a positive experience, and I’m glad I’m here. It has also been one of my most challenging experiences, and has pushed me to grow to a new level of adaptability – an essential skill for a teacher anywhere in the world! Interestingly, it has also required me to behave and eventually become more confident and calm in order to be successful.

During my last year teaching in New Zealand, I was always surprised at how much time I seemed to have (compared to studying and teaching in the States- albeit while simultaneously completing my Master’s). Here, I always seem to be running out. Of course, part of this is the extra time it takes to get things done while learning about how things work in a new place* – this is true everywhere. But to thrive in this culture, I need to readjust how I conceptualise time and what it means to be prepared.  Continue reading

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“How did you get that hair under your arms?”

Welcome to your latest installment of thought-provoking questions kids ask me. When kids ask, it’s usually genuine surprise – they actually do not realize that most people grow hair all over their bodies. Why would they? If their only models of adolescent/adult cis-gender women are people who remove all the visible hair other than what’s on their scalp, how would they know? I was lucky to be raised by women who discussed body changes openly and honestly with me since I was very young, but I imagine it’s a surprise to many children when they begin to grow body hair, the way it is a surprise to some young people when they start menstruating. The interesting thing to me is that kids do not tend to see it as something bad, just sometimes interesting if it’s outside of their experience. “Why do you have hair,” a non-judgemental genuine question of curiosity, is related to but different from the question I get asked by older people. Why is the default to ask “Why don’t you shave,” when no one ever asks “Why do you?”

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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. 

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.