The infinite value of the multicultural classroom

multiculturalism

I am teaching a wonderful unit on multiculturalism, refugees, migrations and asylum seekers.  Here in Australia, this is a relevant and current issue and there is a lot to discover and explore.  What has made the teaching so much richer than I anticipated is the fact that, across the two class groups, I have seven students who have intimate experiences with migration.  Several are refugees and a couple have parents who migrated here.

I invited each student to share about their family’s experiences and I could not have planned the results if I had provided them with a script.  Completely unprompted, the students spoke about war and displacement, about waiting in a refugee camp for years, about abuse and poor education and family tensions, and about the release and relief that came with resettlement.
For a significant time, the rest of the class sat spellbound as their peers spoke.

There has been a lot said and written about the self-centeredness of adolescence and their inability to engage with non-bells-and-whistles didactic presentations.
I can assure you that engagement can happen in all sorts of ways.  The key is the passion of the presenter, especially when it is an adolescent’s peer.

And none of this would have happened without the fact that I am blessed with the richness of a multicultural class.

 

Engaging Lessons; Life Lessons

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I read a great article recently about the value of real life teaching.  I’d encourage you to check it out…

Obviously, it got me thinking about the degree to which I teach for real life and the ways in which I do it.  Sometimes I am like Teacher A but I strive to be more like Teacher B.  Let me give you a recent example of some life teaching that happened in my room.

Now, we know that young adolescents can be passionate beings, connecting on a deep level with injustices and offering creative solutions (though sometimes misguided or limited by their understanding).  To tap into this and to further their exploration of the issues facing people living in disadvantaged locations, I ran an introductory activity with the help of two of my students.  They were asked to role play with me but in secret.  They were my targets at which I threw every inappropriate teacher behaviour I could think up, disciplining them unjustly in front of their peers for half an hour.  The two kids did a great job of copping what I asked them to do, moving seats, standing up, being sent from the room, being told they were silly for not knowing something I felt they should know (even though the rest of the students didn’t know it either).  You get the idea.

At the end of the time, I called them both to the front of the class and we ‘confessed’ our role playing and allowed the rest of the class to discuss their feelings about what had happened.  Wow!  We certainly did a great job.  There were so many discussion-starter comments from the class about injustice, their feelings toward me during the activity, and their feelings toward the kids who were unfairly treated.  From there we looked at the UN Charter of Human Rights which, all of a sudden  became a living document to the class as they related what I had done to what happens in places around the world, and what we should do in response.

I’m convinced that what could have been a dry, stand-alone lesson on the Charter, had suddenly taken on new depth and meaning.

 

What activities do you do in your classroom to create real-life learning?

 

Boundaries when everything is Google…

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Our school is currently moving into the Google environment, using Gmail for communication between students and staff, creating Docs and making them available on moodle, encouraging discussion threads on Groups, and so on.

I love the level of connectivity it affords me and I’m hoping to get subject specific content online for the students soon.

As a starting point with my Year Eight kids, I sent an email to them to check I had their address was correct as well as to ensure they knew how to access their mail. (I know these kids are intuitively tech savvy, but that is no guarantee they all can do what I need them to.).  Having asked the students to shoot me back an email, I then spent the evening at home on my school-supplied iPad replying to their responses. I also dealt with an email from an older student about an upcoming off-campus event she is involved in.

This is a new world of connectivity for us all.  I love it and I’m wary of it.

And it got me thinking… With the increase in connectivity and access to and from my students, has our teaching day just become significantly longer?  Have the boundaries between work and home become more rubbery?

Now I know that teaching is, really, a 24hour profession; we almost constantly mentally engaged in the job at one level or another*.  We will consider the content of lessons, collect resources, worry about kids and evaluate our effectiveness.  We will blog and tweet and read and grow professionally in our ‘own’ time.  But I believe we, as professionals, need to engage in discussion about boundaries and work-life balance.  We need to ensure that the connected classroom does not ever take us to a place where we cannot easily disconnect.

How do you set boundaries for yourself?  Where do you draw the line and turn off the technology?

I’d love to get your feedback.

 

 

* This reminds me of a couple I met while teaching in Canada in 2005. They were both art teachers but returning to the Ukraine and giving up on teaching to return to producing art.  Why?  In their own words, “You know how it is. When you are teaching you never have enough head space to pursue other things in life.”

 

APCAS Conference & School Camps

APCAS

 

Yes I am!  And I’m really excited about it, partly because I am going to Singapore (I’ve only every seen the inside of the airport there) and partly because it is shaping up to be a great conference.

As you would know from reading my blog, I am a passionate Middle Years teacher and any conference that will continue to hone my skills and increase my knowledge about teaching teens fires me up.  This particular conference will have the added bonus of focusing on some different elements of education (for me).  In part, that includes the chance to check out international schools, where students and staff come from a variety of cultural backgrounds.  I’m expecting it will be a bit like having the world squished into a single school campus…  Hence the conference title, I guess: Global Students, Real Solutions.

If you’d like details on the conference, please have a look HERE.

If you’re attending, please let me know so we can plan to catch up for a coffee.

~~~~~

On another note…  I’m planning our annual Year Eight camp which will take the kids a few hours away and provide them with some activities designed to build relationship, develop team dynamics, and offer some personal challenges to stretch the kids.

Each year I ask myself why we do this.  I know what I want the kids to get out of a time like this but, given the restrictions of time and the (sometimes disappointing) limitations of the camp facilitators, we often don’t quite get there…

What do you do regarding outdoor education and extra-curricula activities like camps?  What have you found that works effectively for students development and growth?  What are your goals and how do you ensure you meet them?

I’d love to get your ideas.

 

 

First Day… Keep Calm…

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It is the first day back with the students tomorrow (after my term off) and I’m feeling a bit like I can relate to this Keep Calm statement.  I have returned to find I have dropped a subject and picked up another, and across the three subjects I will be teaching, the content for all is basically new.  It’s taken a bit to get my head wrapped around the big picture let alone the daily break-down of content.  But I am truly excited about getting into the classroom with the kids.  There has been a lot that’s happened with them while I have been away, including the death of one of the dads just two weeks ago and some behaviour issues that, honestly, I’m surprised have come about.

But all of this is, in part, the life we signed up for when we became teachers.  And working with young adolescents makes it even more unpredictable and fun.  The plans I have will remain the general guide for what we’ll do together, for I truly hope that the kids and I will create some wonderful, unexpected, unprecedented learning together.

It is going to be a great semester.  There will be challenges.  We will succeed, together.

Bring it on!

 

 

Making my world bigger

14 weeks is a heck of a long time, but it has been that long since I last sat at my desk at school and, today, I am back here trying to get my thoughts together in preparation for the onslaught of the semester ahead. And it has been a mixed bag of success.

During my time of leave I travelled overseas for four weeks and then renovated large swathes of our house. In the middle of it all there was the death of my father-in-law and the process of grief for all of my immediate family. While I had been checking my school emails and kept a small part of my brain linked in on school stuff, I have had a wonderful time of doing something completely different.

What did I learn? I guess the most significant thing was that there is a lot of life we rarely have the opportunity to experience and that, for teachers especially, the routines of education can become a rut which might run so deep that we lose sight of other, equally valuable and interesting aspects of life. And this is an important thing to remember (or be reminded of). I am a firm believer in education providing as broad a scope for student learning as possible and so teachers must maintain their own life-exploration in order to ‘be the world’ to their students.

To annotate just one aspect of this… I have had several weeks of project managing trades workers. I have a better appreciation of their levels of skill and knowledge and their ability to do a job (which was taking me quite some time) effectively with the right technique and tools. I especially enjoyed working with my sparkie who took it upon himself to become my electrical mentor, passing off jobs to me instead of simply doing them himself, saying, “Why pay my boss $100 an hour for me to do something I reckon you could do yourself”. Not only did I learn about wiring and installing lights and powerpoints and switches, but I have the satisfaction of bragging that, “I hooked up those lights all by myself!” (Don’t worry; he did check my work before we switched the power back on.)

Does that make me a better teacher? Of course it does. My world is bigger. I have more I can draw upon when teaching my kids. I have increased appreciations and understandings.

 

 

Leave…

 

Today, April 5, is a special day for me.

Here in Australia we have such a thing as Long Service Leave – something that I know is completely foreign to my northern hemisphere readers. Think of it as a paid sabbatical. Basically, once you have worked about ten years with an employer, you are entitled to additional leave.  Quite a bit of it.

Today I fly to America to spend four weeks travelling with my wife and youngest daughter, and visiting my eldest daughter who is studying in Montana. We’ll end up in Canada, where we lived in 2005, visiting friends. After that, I have the rest of the term off. Yes, the whole ten weeks.

What does that mean for this blog? Well, in the short term, I’ll take a break and then see what happens…

What does it mean for me?  I’m hoping, a good rest after a lot of years of busy teaching.

See you soon.

David

 

 

 

Questioning Students

 

I’ve been reading through the book Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov. It’s a great prompt and reminder of the qualities of teaching that help students achieve their best. I’ll mention and unpack some if the techniques on the blog in weeks (months, if it takes that long) to come.

I am a teacher who questions kids a lot. I use questioning as a way of discovering what they know, of challenging them to think further or deeper, and at times as a way of contradicting an opinion fort he purpose of higher-level thought (evaluation or justification).
But I have to admit that there are times when I don’t push the students enough and accept an answer that is less than complete.
Lemov challenges us to only accept answers that are complete and correct and to certainly not complete or compliment the answer for our students. Don’t wake it too easy. By all means, acknowledge the effort and accuracy, but if there is more that could or should be added, seek it.
One other aspect that Lemov mentions about questioning is the need for correct technical language when answering. I won’t allow the more simple language of explanation. I’ll stop a student and ask for a better word or invite others in the group to provide the word.
Questioning can take time. Sometimes I just want to get the content delivered. But I am so aware that the process is usually more important than the end result. I am striving to be more conscious of that on a daily basis.

Howe about you?  How do you promote both questioning and quality answering in your classroom?