What motivates you?

Posted by on 21 Jul 2017 | Tagged as: 3rd Grade, 3rd grade, education, Education Professional, Learning Styles

As a teacher, I am constantly being told (by non-educators!) that I must “motivate” the students. What they usually mean is: make lessons entertaining. They think it should all be fun and game-like. It is similar to the now-passé concept of “learning styles” (link opens a new tab and directs to a study released in 2015) where teachers are encouraged to provide many different types of tasks (it has since been determined that people will learn regardless of the type of task they are given – -although some people are more engaged by specific tasks, the learning occurs regardless).

In an ideal world, if I had VERY small class sizes, only one or two “preps” (lessons to prepare each day), and access to abundant materials that I did not have to prepare or collate in advance, more of the lessons might be engaging to more of the students. However, I can guarantee that even then at least a couple of students would not feel fully engaged for any one lesson. Why?

Because we don’t all think the same way, engage with life the same way, have the same expectations for physical interactions or social time, pursue the same interests… because we are individuals. Students do not all begin a school year at the same level in the various content areas (subjects, for those of us old enough to remember “3-Rs” years). Students may be ill, distracted by out-of-school events, or just dislike the topic or task.

When I homeschooled our TWO children, who were clearly not the same in most respects, I did manage to adapt and adjust for their needs and interests most of the time. Even then, knowing them better than anyone else in the world knew them, I sometimes didn’t quite hit the mark. Still, they learned and grew and are turning into fine young adults. That was just two, with abundant time and energy to think about and generate everything that was needed and wanted. And sometimes, even with the best intentions, I didn’t make it engaging. And sometimes, that was part of the lesson.

Think about it: not everything in life is a competition (and it shouldn’t be); not all tasks are accomplished cooperatively (and needn’t be); many of the necessary tasks appear to be without reward (until they are completed and the final product is useful or beautiful, or…); and sometimes tasks are distasteful, uncomfortable, and tedious. In real life, not everything is fun. Most tasks require the ability to focus for longer than a few minutes (without a sound/movement/visual to pull you back to the task). Most tasks in life are NOT inherently rewarding.

In the real world, of course, I have a much larger class size — 20 or more (sometimes more than 30) students. Children I have generally never met, whose families and communities I may not fully “get” until part-way through the year. Children with vastly varying life experiences and challenges. In elementary school, I have about 6 preps: Language Arts/split between “Reading” and all of the other related skills; both “on-level” and differentiated (we don’t have a current curriculum, so much of this is teacher-created or found); Mathematics/split into the lesson of the day and “differentiation” when I can (this will be easier this year with a curriculum in place!); and Science and Social Studies (when I can fit them in). I have students who come in and out of the classroom, depending on which specialist teachers they see – some I see pretty much only at the very beginning and end of the day, others all the time except ten minutes here or there… I have to account for kids who are absent, who are ill, who have attention or language processing issues, whose vocabularies are limited, who are well-above grade level in all areas, who have traveled to other countries or never gone outside the county they were born in… I have “nuclear” families, extended families, single-parent families, kids with two households, kids in foster care or living with relatives or friends for a while, I have kids living in the home their grandparents were born in, and kids who are homeless. I have hungry kids, tired kids, wiggly kids. I have concrete thinkers and kids who are surprisingly able to connect abstract ideas.

I have kids who master the concept I need to teach in three minutes, and some who will still be struggling with the same concept three months later.

I have some who think the task at hand is inherently fun; and others for whom a reward of candy and games when they finish one question with help is still not enough.

I have students who are just disengaged… it’s not through an “X-box” or a “PS” so they don’t care.

What are we teaching our students when we start to think about education in terms of “fun-only” tasks? I have students who enter third grade not knowing how to hold a writing tool for maximum flexibility and strength, who struggle to write — not just the ideas and conventions, but the PHYSICAL act of writing or drawing, or cutting out paper, or … because those are “hard” and teachers in previous grades, and their own parents, think they are not necessary skills. But, think about it — there are third graders every year who cannot open their own milk cartons because their hand strength is too poor. I have had students who cannot put a straw into a juice pouch for the same reason. The only thing I can tell that keeps these children from having the hand-eye coordination, core control, stamina for learning is that they have never had to really use their bodies.

If it’s hard to write, their parents put them on a computer. If it’s hard to sit, they are propped up. If it’s hard to walk as a toddler, someone carries them or puts them in a stroller, or … Many of my students don’t seem to do things like build forts, play with building toys such as blocks, or even color with crayons in coloring books. They have tablets and video games, they even have cellphones. But they do NOT have an awareness of their own bodies. Other students have been accomplished horseback riders, skilled hunters/fishers, avid creators with found objects, dancers, musicians, sports players…

So, what motivates them? Depends on the child.

Many students enjoy seeing how they do compared to the class — others are beaten down again and again when they are ALWAYS at the bottom of the results. I don’t keep track of progress on public boards any more… I give the competitive kids ambitious personal goals instead. And I give the kids who are less-skilled personal goals that will be attainable but still show strong growth.

Many students like to work toward rewards — stickers, small prizes, time to play games. Others aren’t motivated by external forces — they have a more mature approach and realize that they are working toward their own goals. They prefer to be told what they are doing right and supported in the areas where they can improve — those students love to track their own learning.

Many students like to play games with material they are learning, but just like anything else, some children struggle to be successful whether as an individual or as part of a team… letting down one’s team is a big deal in third grade.

Many students like to work with others, except those who don’t — maybe they are just not that social, maybe they get confused when there are lots of ideas; and sometimes they are TOO social and have articulated to me that when they work in groups they cannot help but visit and so they prefer to work alone so they can focus on the tasks at hand.

Some kids LOVE videos that demonstrate tasks and concepts. A few really don’t. Some love music. Many don’t. Some love to MOOOOOOVE! Many don’t.

Some read well and happily at or above grade level and enjoy “popcorn” reading (where their names are picked randomly); many don’t.

And so it goes.

I started thinking about this because I have goals for my summertime. The most important goal for me was to heal from the stress of being sick and teaching all last year (and half of the year before). The reward? I have more energy and strength!

Another goal was to lose a few inches that I gained during the testing interval… since I don’t have a scale at home I don’t know what weight I reached, but let’s just say that the larger sizes I always keep on hand for allergic reactions weren’t quite comfortable even on non-reactive days! The reward? I am more comfortable not only in my clothes but in my movements.

Another goal was to re-organize my office space (requires cooperative support)… not getting there very fast… the reward will be that I can put craft supplies away, and have a desk for doing lesson planning — freeing up the living room for RELAXING in the evenings with small projects and books to read.

A final goal was to get the front entrance garden back in form. The reward, once I am done, will be a more attractive home to return to after a long day at school, more visiting space when guests are over, and a few flowers for bringing inside. And I am getting there… but slowly.

My students’ goals are even more diverse — every year we start out with what they hope to learn: multiplication often tops the list, followed by “curly” handwriting (we do cursive in our school); some want to write better/longer stories. A few know we’ll do bird reports in our room. Many want to study science of some kind (which I fit in when and where I can). Almost none say they want to learn to spell more words — but it is necessary. None have ever articulated that they want to understand parts of speech, or new punctuation marks! They don’t generally perk up when I mention we will be doing more difficult addition and subtraction, or be writing more than two handwritten pages at a time! But again, those are necessary. And most of them seem to think that the learning will just happen, that a single lesson is all it takes… a common misconception even in middle school. The idea that they need to review, revisit, rework, and rethink many times before they have mastered a task or internalized the learning is very distant and difficult for them.

Which is the final point about motivation: not everything can or should be accomplished in one go, or the first time, or instantly, or easily. When we turn all the necessary tasks that kids do into games, into fun, they miss out on the opportunity to learn about patience and persistence. As an adult, I often have to wait: Wait to have a meal; wait to find out the results of a project; wait one’s turn at licensing; wait for a response from a job application; wait, wait, wait.

What motivates a person to tolerate waiting? Practice. Practice in school, and in the family. Practice learning that a question needn’t be answered immediately; a boo-boo doesn’t need a kiss this minute; a flower takes weeks to grow from seed…

What motivates me? Seeing progress, whether it is insignificant or ground-breaking. Knowing that sometimes I won’t see progress and that is okay, too.

What motivates me to get out of bed in the morning? My family. My students. My Wally. My friends. My garden. My music. My books. Learning new things, and sharing with those around me. Making the world better in the small ways that are possible for me.

What motivates you?

I am

Posted by on 13 Jul 2017 | Tagged as: musings, poetry

young
in jovian years but four and a half
in celestial years not-yet

old
by mercurial reckoning now
pushing twohundred-sixteen

Sweet sixteen
around the corner peers
old age staring back

Traveling through time is no trick; existing though…

Existence for longer than an eyeblink

That’s the neat trick.

Trying to stay upbeat, (however…)

Posted by on 12 Jul 2017 | Tagged as: citizenship, climate, economy, editorial, environment, Green Living, Politics and War, science, weather

Climate change.

I worry about the future, not that I would likely live to see the worst effects in my lifetime, but my children might — and if they have children, my grandchildren will.

Already, I believe that our climate has irrevocably altered. Things I enjoy like chocolate, coffee, vanilla… those may disappear in a couple decades, because the species that produce these treats are not likely to be able to adapt quickly enough to changing climate patterns. In our own part of the world, for several of the last ten years we have MISSED the “pre-spring” summer. When I was in college, we could count on getting a couple of weeks of near-summer weather in March before the rains returned. It would gradually warm up, and although we could expect rain as late as early July, we knew that mid-July to mid-September would be dry. So did the plants and animals, and growth cycles adapted to the peculiarities of our rainy season.

Here are two articles that I believe are based on science, that describe what has happened in the past when certain parameters are met.

NY Magazine 9 July 2017

CNN Sixth Mass Extinction 10 July 2017

I do necessarily think this will happen, but I think the possibility exists. What can I do about it? I am continuing to attempt to live lightly, with fewer purchases in general; trying to take fewer trips by cars with combustion engines; trying to eat locally when possible (with my allergies though I must supplement with additional food sources from far away…); using up and wearing out, recycling, upcycling, and other ways to prevent materials that have finished their first use from entering the waste stream.

I try to teach my children (my own children as well as my students) to be thoughtful, aware, and safe. I know that a worst-case scenario will be devastating world-wide; already such awful conditions exist in many nations near the equator, in areas that suffer drought, famine, and weather disasters on a regular basis. Cholera in Yemen. Fires in Europe and North America. Hurricanes on the East Coast and … this could be a long list. Long story short? Things are changing. They are changing quickly and the old ways of dealing with limited resources won’t work.

It’s not just the economic picture, which will definitely have to adjust; with many on the losing end finishing in poverty. It is the ecosystems that will suffer the most: animals in the wild, plants, the oceans. As each species adapts or, more likely succumbs, to the changes, our world will never be the same. Already, some changes are inalterable. They may not all be bad in the long run, but we will need to change to keep up with them.

For me, step one is to be aware. The second is to address in my own life that which I can without withdrawing from society and waiting to die. The third is to contact my elected officials, friends, others who may care; yes, I vote! But I am ill-equipped with my allergies to participate in demonstrations or sit-ins, my professional training and avocational interests do not equip me to invent a device or material that can restore our atmosphere and biosphere. For other steps, I must hope there are people who will fill in.

Am I worried? Yes. Do I lose sleep over this? Not often — Not sure what the benefit would be of that! But I am doing what I can, to the best of my ability. And I still hope, because my children and my students are worth it. I do what I can.

Do you?

Today’s Garden Tour

Posted by on 12 Jul 2017 | Tagged as: fun, garden, Gardens and Life, good things, Wally!

It’s raw, unedited, and not sure how much will make sense, but decided to try a quick video after I watered the garden this morning. Taking it easy today… will do more garden tasks tomorrow!

Today in the Garden…

Posted by on 09 Jul 2017 | Tagged as: garden, Gardens and Life, good things, Green Living

Tom, Grant, Allison, (and I), and Wally worked to get the area by the fish pond, under the peach and through to the chestnut cleared out a bit and ready for the hammock. Also got a bit of pruning on the apple tree and ceanothus — not usually done this time of year, but they were overgrown and leaning in the wrong direction. And a few other things… the yard is FINALLY looking like someone cares, and to be honest, so is the house. Swept floors, got a start on cleaning the kitchen’s surfaces/sinks/cupboards… and stopped before anyone was too badly hurt.

In no particular order…

Mid-process leveling the slope to a former hole dug before we bought the land…

Gooseberry ready for action!

The prunings under the apple tree – we left a lot!

Grant rejuvenating the lilac by the fishpond.

Six tags from plants that did not survive last year, at least two of each need to be replaced…

The space by the fishpond that was cleared today.

And last but not least… the hammock!

Allison enjoying the best part of yard work!

Growing Up, Growing Older, Growing Wiser: Growing

Posted by on 02 Jul 2017 | Tagged as: fun, garden, Giving, good things

I have always been a gardener, I think — I love to be IN gardens, I love to TALK “gardens,” and I love to CREATE gardens.

There is a strange shift, however, when one moves away from “gardens” with annuals and shorter-lived perennials to plants that could conceivably be enjoyed by people two or three HUNDRED years away. There is a sense of hopefulness and eternity when one plants a tree, or a rose bush. There is a sense of purpose when one cultivates fruit trees alongside carrots or strawberries.

When I was a child, we ALWAYS had a vegetable garden (at least after I turned 7, we didn’t have a garden in Puerto Rico, or when we lived on base anywhere that I know). My grandfathers (2 out of 3) always had a vegetable garden, and my Grandad made sure that there were gorgeous flowers as well.

As a young adult, I grew things in pots, and at a couple apartment complexes, had permission to take a small bit of land at the margins, too.

One of the first things we did when we moved to this land, was to plant trees… apple, pear, plum, cherry, peach, dogwood, fig, medlar, chestnut. Many of the trees were planted to provide shade for the land that had previously been forested, knowing that as they grew they would create an oasis of cool green during our typically dry summers. We didn’t restore the “natural” landscape, but carved out a small space for favorite specimens from around the world. We left the back yard “mostly” natural…

My sons grew up knowing plants. I taught them the healing properties and health benefits of the plants in our yard including the native plants and weeds! They still know how to prune, when to harvest, proper preparation for cooking, and a lot about planting and maintaining gardens from one-season crops to tender perennials/hardy annuals to permanent plantings.

I had planned to have the yard to a point by now when I could safely get about even with a wheelchair, but as we know that didn’t happen! Instead, I am rethinking many things about the less-permanent plants, and attempting to re-establish both irrigation and garden beds. Growing older has meant that I cannot garden as intensely as once-upon-a-time, but I hope I am starting to show the children of the next generation that with planning and a lot of hard work at the beginning that gardening yields huge rewards.

I have learned much from the plants (and the animals) in my small world: take your time, don’t cut corners if they yield an inferior or less-durable result, rest as you need (still working on this), sometimes “things happen” and like it or not plans must change, gardens are best enjoyed with other people, and one needs to be patient – you don’t rush genius! I am still working on that last bit as well!

As a teacher, I have a lot less time and energy to garden. But I bring my gardener’s mind and experience into the classroom. Remembering that children are growing, but so are adults. We are not “finished” products yet! The garden continues to grow, to evolve, to become “more” — and so will we.

Bright blessings from our garden on this cool, overcast Salish Sea morning!

Last Day of June

Posted by on 30 Jun 2017 | Tagged as: garden, Gardens and Life

Fully in bloom,
a fluffy cloud of fragrance
surrounded in bees.
Summer has arrived at the chestnut tree.

Received a new cellphone with a VERY good camera. Will be playing around with it tomorrow, July 1. So many beautiful things to see in the garden this time of year!

Wally pics

Posted by on 23 Jun 2017 | Tagged as: critters, Gardens and Life, good things

No need for words, but this is Wally, now settled in and enjoying life with us after four months.
He is now four months away from being two!

Not-quite-summer vacation

Posted by on 17 Jun 2017 | Tagged as: 3rd Grade, caring, education, Education Professional, Vacations

It’s not-quite summer in our part of the world.

My students finished their last day of the year this past Wednesday. Like all endings, it was a bittersweet day for me. I handed out their report cards, we talked about how they can keep up with all the progress they made — and how if they spend their vacation NOT reading and NOT thinking about math the entrance to fourth grade won’t be as easy as it could be; and how if they just read for an hour a day and keep practicing their math facts they will find fourth grade a lot more manageable. I sent them home with worksheets, and a little toy, a rainbow crayon and fancy pencil and a little journal for writing and drawing in. We played some games…

Then they were dismissed, and I walked the few who weren’t being picked up by doting families to the buses, and waited with the other teachers for the signal for the buses to leave. One fifth grader (from my first crop of third graders) was in tears as her bus left the lot and we waved them on.

And then back to the room to pick up the pieces of my heart that the kids left all strewn about.

Yes, their summer vacation has started, but it’s still not-quite summer.

I am moving rooms this vacation — the new teacher in our grade will have my old room, a nice, secure location right in the middle of all the other third grade teachers. I get a room that has some advantages over the other but also some potential pitfalls. We are working to figure out ways to minimize some of the potential disruptions to my class’s learning environment. I spent several hours Thursday and Friday working in the two rooms — emptying out one and filling the other. Thankfully, I have help from unexpected places, but it’s still a gargantuan task.

So, for me, it’s not-quite summer.

I am getting some lovely new tables for the students to sit at, smaller than normal school tables but I am going to provide something called “flexible seating” where the kids get to decide the best locations to work (after some training!). I will have a smaller class, and this is the year to try a change. If it doesn’t work, we can go back to the old desks in nice, neat rows… I don’t think the kids would prefer that! We’ll have some open space to sit on the floor when I am doing whole-group teaching, and there will be space for some tables at the sides and back for group work. I have a couple of very small “teacher desks” that this year will be side-by-side because that’s the best layout for the room. I don’t really believe in carving out a large slice of the room just for my use, so I try to find ways that I can move among the children and teach from several spots.

It’s not-quite summer.

On the first day of summer, I am playing in a concert with the local orchestra. Then it will be summer — a concert with only three actual rehearsals. I would have been panicked at the thought only two years ago, but here I am — able to pretend to know what I am doing at least part of the time…

And so, as it’s not-quite summer I am sitting here with a blanket on my lap and a dog on my feet relaxing in the evening and not-quite planning lessons for the class that I don’t have quite yet…

Just dreaming. Dreaming of summer.

We. Are. Here.

Posted by on 03 May 2017 | Tagged as: Gardens and Life, hope, musings

The universe is changing,
but we are here.
The stars break forth, coalesce, dissolve, and reform
and we are here.
Species come and go, diversify and disappear…
while we are here.
The weather changes, and everywhere
we are here.
We. Are. Here.
Despite change, despite struggle, despite fear…

We go on.

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