Lessons learned (as of August 1, 2016)

Just a quick post on some of the lessons I’ve learned this past year! Some many of the little lessons build into larger themes and teachable moments.  And I’m sure I’ll be learning many more along the way!

  1. Theory vs Practice

Earlier in the school year,  I was particularly compelled to pursue this topic/ questionHow can educators effectively engage themselves and their students in respectful practice in the classroom- an environment with varying power dynamics? Click here to review the scholarly articles that I reviewed on the topic, or here: https://blogs.ubc.ca/inquirydbautista/the-research/Having completed this literature review before going on practicum and being in the classroom, I was looking forward to applying these insights into my everyday practice. I quickly realized that academic content can be very different from real life  experiences. While mentally prepared to heed some of the pointers suggested by texts about community building, the way I actually went about creating such community differed. Mainly, tailoring community tips to fit within the mould of the school itself, the classroom, and the students. There is no one definitive method to community build, no ‘cookie-cutter’ ‘one-size-fits-all’ model that can be easily implemented without a hitch! I first had to become familiar with the school’s culture of athletics, for example. I also took into consideration the classroom environment that my school advisors had previously implemented even before I arrived. There was no point in drastically revising a classroom community that had already been established. I also made a point of trying different icebreaker activities with students to get to know them better. Some of these activities bombed.. (2 truths, 1 lie took much longer than intended, and was much more difficult to get students to generate!), and some worked well with adaptations!At first, I was hesitant to stray away from how activities had been suggested as previously implemented, as I wanted to recreate the same results as referenced as previously successful. I wanted the same success as noted in these articles too! But after getting to know students, by creating a student survey and asking them their favourite artists, I was able to incorporate their interests (with some modifications) into classroom content. One particular example I was quite pleased to find out was how much my students loved hiphop & rap, and listen to similar artists that I do.  too!

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 4.04.55 PM
Socials Studies 9 lesson on Divine Right and absolute monarchy during the French Revolution. Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ mentality conflates the rapper’s identity to that of a god, which is a modern notion of ‘divine right’. Using memes to help underscore this concept was a joy for both myself and students, even though it took a little longer to make! At the end of my time with students, a few referenced this particular lesson for being so memorable! 🙂

2. Modelling

As teachers, we get really excited about the types of activities we can prepare for our students, and can be quick to assume that students will be able to understand what we want of them. What we think is straight forward, can in reality be extremely subjective depending on how the instructions are received or comprehended. So, modelling works best as a way to set expectations and help guide students to where you’d like them to be. Note, guiding, as opposed to telling them exactly what you do is what they have to do. Giving some breathable room allows for creativity, and an exploration of students’ own interests (à la Inquiry-based learning!). Visual instructions always come in handy, but providing examples of past work that you’ve done or other students’ have done helps as well.

When it comes specifically to the English classroom and writing, there is often a tension about how to get students inspired to write, and to care about their writing, especially when you come to your poetry unit. When I was a student, I was extremely reluctant to foray into the world of poetry- and even now still. (Reason for this is perhaps for a later post about the way poetry is taught / portrayed in our world). I found it useful to do the same assignments with my students so that they could see what I would produce. If they saw that I was working while they were working, and on the same content, it encouraged them to get to work as well. It’s important to have students realize that the activities we prepare for them are something that as teachers we value and enjoy too! I also shared with students my own writing from their age to help compare some of the errors I made. I think there’s a special connection that can be established when students realize that their teacher has experienced some of the same things they’ve done, and are not just being assigned ‘useless’ ‘busywork’.

As mentioned, I was nervous about teaching poetry because it wasn’t a topic I was particularly ‘strong’ in, because I’ve never felt particularly creative. I decided to use an emoji haiku activity that allowed students to connect with a multimodal medium they were more comfortable with. First, we picked 3 emojis, then brainstormed words that were associated with the emojis, then wrote a haiku based on them. I definitely got some good laughs when students submitted these emoji haikus and shared them with the class!

A whimsical emoji haiku that I modelled / did with students! Who doesn’t love puns?

It’s true, making examples and modelling activities takes more time in lesson planning and lessons itself, but doing so definitely pays off in the long run. Scaffolding or modelling helps as formative assessment, and pays off when you go to do formative assessments; you can enjoy the work that your students have done based on the expectations you’ve already laid out with them!

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