Sunday, February 08, 2009

Quotes

I've been meaning to collect these for quite some time. Quotes that somehow made me come to a realization. Here are a few random ones from off the top of my head. They may come from surprising places!


"Once you have glimpsed the world as it might be, as it ought to be, as it’s going to be (however that vision appears to you), it is impossible to live compliant and complacent anymore in the world as it is."

-Victoria Stafford

-Just read this one today on in the Transition Towns organizations' information. Couldn't sum up my mindset more succinctly than that I don't think.

This next one is going to seem WAY OUT THERE. It's amazing how what's on your mind and what you hear will connect into a realization that is completely unconnected to the meaning of what's being said.

Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plans are horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics. But when I say one little old mayor will die, everyone loses their minds!!

-The Joker from The Dark Knight

Ok, there's the quote that stuck with me. Here's the context of my life as I was watching this. I'd moved into teaching which is, I've discovered, largely about planning. I had very poor planning skills and, in fact, I was resistant to planning and organizing prefering to simply engage with life as it happened. I had a parent riding me about challenging her daughter and demanding to know what I would be doing to help her improve so I was obssessed with the idea of planning. I didn't like it, wasn't good at it and was convinced that over planning was a problem anyway. When I heard this I thought about the truth of what The Joker was saying (which is what makes him so scary). Then my mind flipped over to all the planning I had to do and hit me WHY I had to do it and why it was so important. People want to know what the plan is - what's going to happen - so they can prepare for it and so that they know there's a reason and (hopefully) a logic behind what they're doing. The Joker twisted this to his own nefarious ends in the film but it hit me that if I set a plan that was clear and well thought out in motion people would follow it. And they have!

The unexpected spin off is that MY life has gotten much more purposeful and focused and I am calmer and more relaxed. I now spend enormous amounts of time pre planning before a term. At least 3 solid - 4 solid days for every six week period. That's before I do all the actually day to day planning. But I'm calmer and life is easier for everyone else as well. If there's any questions eveyrone can quickly refer to my planning and it's all taken care of. Amazing paradigm shift for the man who believed that an unplanned unstructured life was the way to go.


Repetition is the mother of skill.
-Tony Robbins

Ok - I listened to some Tony Robbins. I certainly could see how you could criticise this guy but he actually does make a lot of sense. My problem is that he charges $10,000 for a weekend workshop. Ridiculous. Anyway it's true. You can't learn anything and get good at anything without massive repetition. Until it becomes second nature. And that my kids, is why I'm making you work on nouns AGAIN.

Think of the best coaches you know. Names that come to mind are Vince Lombardi, for example. What were they know most for? Teaching fundamentals to people who were already the best at what they do...
Invariably when I hear people say "Teach me something new," I know they're not into mastery....
I' m now taking Tae Kwon Do and I have the good fortune of training with a grand master of Tae Kwon Do in the United States. His name is Joon Ree (sp?). He taught me to go from the frame of mastering simple things over and over again. Everything he teaches to become a black belt breaks down to seven simple moves. Isn't that interesting? He says that most people who never make it to black belt never get there because they come in saying "Teach me something new," and he says "No no you have to master the fundamentals and if you do those and do them over and over again you'll become a black belt."

-Tony Robbins (abridged and condensed)

I just listened to this as it's the clearest illustration of what I've come to believe. I've seen it time and time again. In chess it's the middle 4 squares you must concentrate on. That and 4 fundamentals called development, time, material and space. All I did was get some ideas on how to develop my pieces, to attack the middle squares, to control space on the board and my chess game jumped from completely hopeless to intermediate fairly quickly. I didn't even get time down. All the memorization of openings I'd been trying was a waste of time because all I had to do was undertand what the other person was attempting do so I could counter it.

Writing - surprisingly can break down to VCOP. Vocabulary, connectives, openers (of sentences) and punctuation. Discovered this while observing at a school this year. An approach that is becoming widespread in England.

Poetry - breaks down to four fundamentals: Imagery, Rhythm, Rhyme, Word play

Acting: Ask these questions when approaching any scene.
Where are you?
Who are you talking to?
What do you want and is what you want extremely important? (the answer should be yes...as in life and death if possible
How are you going to get what you want?

Anyone want of volunteer any other sports fundamentals. I know that football is largely about controlling the ball and the space on the field (a bit like chess)

When calls of going "back to basics" in Education are being trumpeted this is what they're trying to say. Focus on the fundamentals. I think "going back to basics" means going back to how things were taught in the past...Which in fact largely didn't (I don't think) focus on fundamentals. It involved alot of wrote memorization which may not be the best way to go. But anyway - Fundamentals baby. That's what it's all about.

You are not your job.

-Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in Fight Club.

Nuff said. Simple idea. Difficult to put into practice in reality. Too much of our identies come from our jobs.

It's Official - I've joined Transisition Towns

I've joined Transition Towns Brixton. I discovered Transition Towns when I first did research for my environmental blog. Unfortunately that blog is almost dormant - though I'm throwing the odd thing on. Transition Towns are in the links on the side over there: http://www.transitiontowns.org/

I'm really excited! Time to take the next step and create change beyond my own personal actions and the eco-footprint of my home!

Transition towns is a global movement that started in small town England. The goal is to transition your town or city to one which is low carbon and environmentally sustainable. It's amazing how the movement has gone global. It has spread on the initiative and power of those who simply care and are determined to do something about the problems we face.

I've discovered a great blog: If you want to join or discover any information check this out. http://transitionculture.org/

Let's get green people!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Just in case you thought I was gone....

Week 1 on returning from Canada.

Friday: Land. Xbox from Amazon is left on my front porch and stolen. (Nice one Amazon!)
Saturday: Demand money back - buy Xbox elsewhere. Play Xbox endlessly.
Sunday: Go to school. Plan for 8 hours.
Monday: arise 5:00 am Plan, teach, mark, plan Leave work at 8:30. Arrive home 9:30. Play xbox until 12:00

Repeat above pattern from Tuesday to Friday. That's right....I put in over 70 hours that week.

Saturday...play xbox.

Sunday.... Plan for 8 - 10 hours.

Monday work till 8:00.

Tuesday - Gen arrive back! Yay!

Then till now...pretty much cut back to leaving work at 6:00 and then playing xbox! Ha ha!

Ok...the xbox thing is a little pathetic.

I'll be posting again shortly.

Just found out one of my long lost high school aquaintances has her own blog now. Check out Jennifer Lester at her blog - see side panel.

I'm off to bed.

HAPPY NEW YEAR ALL!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

It's Official.

It's official! I'm coming home for Christmas. I just got my passport back from the Home Office of Immigration here and I couldn't be more excited. I hadn't told anyone back home so as not to worry anyone but I sent in my application in July - only to get a letter back stating that they would not begin to process my application until the day it expired - Namely October 14th. They also held all my documents. Anyway, suffice it to say that I was worried about not getting it back in time for Christmas as the processing time stated it could take up to 14 weeks!

I called last week and was told by some monkey in a call centre that the documents were being processed - that was all the information they had. No I could not call anyone else, no I could not go into an office, no there was nothing I could do, no they could not look into it. If I wanted to ensure I had my passport I could only withdraw my application. They finally suggested writing a letter. I figured... here I am married to a British citizen, working as a teacher (an area in which Britain desperately lacks qualified professionals) and I haven't broken any laws. Wouldn't it be a fairly straightforward and quick process?

So I wrote a letter, attached my flight itinerary to prove I actually had bought the tickets and spent several days trying to get a recommendation letter from my head teacher(which was no problem). I sent the letter urgent delivery at 4:30 on Tuesday and came home to find the package had actually arrived that day! I have a passport and a visa! THANK GOD!






Can't wait to come home and see everybody. I fly out 3 weeks tomorrow!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Journies through the Summer of 2008

Our travelling exploits from the end of the school year in July to October 2008. Starts with the karaoake bash that kicked it all off and moves through Brighton, Edinburgh, Brecon (Wales), York, Stratford and Liverpool.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thoughts on Another Week of Teaching.

I'm really starting to enjoy this. I mean I really am.

I'm starting to get it.

There's a lot about teaching I arrogantly thought I understood but it turns out I was dead wrong. I thought book work and worksheets were for bad teachers who had no imagination. Turns out book work is important in terms of students improving their writing skills, understanding, and pride in their work. It works as notes to refer back to and as a record of their progress. Turns out worksheets set up the framework for those who can not work independently, provide information in addition to focusing writing and discussion.

Learning Objectives are not only crucial; they make teaching possible. Target setting is incredibly important in terms of focusing students so that they can concentrate on areas of improvement in a progressive and manageable way. Example instead of working on spelling, paragraphs, handwriting, vocabulary and punctuation... Target: Start sentences with a capital and end with a full stop. Once you can do that we take the next step.

I thought all the technical "boring" stuff like punctuation and grammar was, at least to some extent, a waste of time. Turns out that stuff is incredibly important and also has loads of meaning behind it beyond what you would simply see in the students written work. Punctuation, for example, determines rhythm, word emphasis and connects thoughts. Dry terms like punctuation, connectives, paragraphs, conjunctions, prefixes, suffixes, verbs, nouns, phrases, clauses, rhythm, imagery, themes and metre are all actually important and interesting.

Teaching involves lots of interesting questioning. Thank you Socrates.

The role of a teacher is a simple one. To teach in a classroom you will simply be a: Law Maker, Policeman, Shoulder for Tears, Punching Bag, Leader, Thinker, Disciplinarian, Role Model, Opponent, Priest, Writer, Authority figure...

[Deep Breath]

Upholder of the System, Shouter, Pleader, Beggar, Comedian Keeper of the Peace Evaluator Judge,Organizer, SchedulerAdminstratorPaper CutterComputer fixer docTORFOOTBALINFLATORCHESSCOACH...

[GASP]

...and then Monday ends and you go home and prepare for 4 more days and at least half a weekend of the same.

(Notice how the use of punctuation, spacing, and letter size affected the rhythm and meaning of the text? Ahem. But I digress)

Anyway I had the most amazing history class about the Indus Civilisation today. It's a civilisation which is 4,500 years old and was only excavated in the 1920's. It's in the Indus Valley which is between Pakistan and India. They were incredibly advanced - at least as much so as the Roman's and the Egyptians and they existed BEFORE them. Amazing. The students have engaged at a very high level. They're fascinated. Likely because no one has heard of these guys before. And possibly because my teacheing partner and I are doing such an amazing job. Hee hee.

Look up the Indus Civilisation. It's incredible.

I'm also lucky to be at my current school. I went and visited another school which is owned by the same organisation that owns mine (I'm in a private school, remember). The stress level of the staff there was palpable. Apparently, the students are much rougher at that school since it's in London but the students seemed engaged and well behaved. It may have been a battle to get them there , I suppose - things are never as simple as they seem when an outsider walks in a classroom. It was the feeling coming off the staff though. They seemed extremely harried, negative, and stressed. I just don't know what was causing that. Certainly we feel that way at my school and at my previous school...but that feeling of frustration and anger doesn't seem to ooze out of everyone at the school. It's a shame...it's just around the corner. Who knows though maybe I'll check it out in a few years.

Right now I like where I am.

Dear Obama

Please save the world.

Yours Truly,

Edukator

p.s. No pressure.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Power of Leadership and Role Modelling

What is leadership?

Ultimately it's the person who sets the tone, the standard, the agenda and - most importantly - defines how we are to behave and look at each other.

Barrack Obama has already had a profound effect on me. I have been watching his speeches and debates throughout the campaign, have read his book The Audacity of Hope, but it is his acceptance speech which has floored me. His graciousness, humility, strength and honesty are all (to me) awe inspiring.

It made me think about how I interact with my students for:

As a teacher we know that in order for people to learn a skill we must model it for them (do it or show it), point out how that thing works (an essay, poem, football pass, or music piece) then have them practice it until they can do it independently. Children naturally watch adults and those around them to learn how to behave as well - and in the exact same way. I would argue that adults look to those with power the way children look at adults. How are we to behave? What are we to do to get what we want? What is acceptable to do to get what we want?

So I changed the way I've been dealing with my students. I've notice they're fighting a lot and pulling me into their conflicts...but then again I'm being quite angry and blunt with them quite often to try and get them to correct their behaviour...are they modelling me? So I've removed myself a bit from the direct conflicts and started talking about respect and how to deal with situations where we don't agree. In fact, I'm consciously Barrack Obama. I even showed them some of his speech when he got elected! Whoo hoo!

With that in mind; here he is!

Barack Obama Acceptance Speech Part 1 of 2

video

Barack Obama Acceptance Speech Part 2 of 2

video

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How Long Does it Take to Fall in Love with a Country?

Perhaps it's the cumulative effect of my exploratory journeys across the land in which I now reside that have enflamed in me something resembling a fondness for this strange and complex island or maybe I'm just getting used to it but...

I'm actually starting to feel like I like it here.

Living and working London has been one thing but in the past 6 months I've been to Wales, Scotland, York, Stratford, Derbyshire, Brighton and Liverpool.

In London I've managed to see Hampton Court, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, The Thames, The London Eye, Brick Lane, Oxford Street, Covent Garden, The Tate Modern Art Gallery, The Tate Britain Art Gallery, The Natural History Museum, The British Museum, Somerset House, Soho, Greenwich and Greenwich Park, Canary Wharf, Borough Market, The National Portrait Gallery, St. James' Park, Hyde Park, seen the Changing of the Guard...been to the Globe Theatre...

and the list goes on but..

...it's only in the last week or two that I've actually started to enjoy living here.

I think a huge part of it is working at this school and feeling like I'm starting to get this teaching thing figured out. I came home a week ago on a high (which I wrote about on this blog) and I haven't really felt the old negativity since.

I can now navigate London with out anxiety. I know the lay of the land - it doesn't seem so confusing, claustrophobic, cramped and dull as it once did. I don't feel so claustrophobic in general.

I wrote numerous posts about how crowded this country is and how, for some reason, the Brits have to put fences, hedges, and what not in the line of sight at all times. The result is you can literally never see farther than 100 feet. Watch any British TV show - that's how it looks. I always assumed they were filming in some quaint area of the country. That's everywhere. Also - all pubs, stores and restaurants are tiny compared to Canada. I'm now starting to understand the British love of the "cozy." Everything is so small that you start to treasure a warm quiet spot. The result is I'm starting to feel at home.

I've also gotten used to the architecture. This country is full of brick. Everything is hard, dark, echoey, cold, loud and looks somewhat worse for wear. To be blunt - a lot of it is not that pretty (though I've discovered that much of it is). I did't like all the hard brick and stone for a long time. It's not that comfy feeling to a Canadian. I've gotten used to it now and I actually enjoy the good parts of it.


Above: Clapham High Street. Not too far from me. Typical looking street.

I no longer stare at the way people dress with amazement. I mean, compared to Canada or the US people here dress really strangely. Those who are "stylish" are off the charts compared to Canada and then there's the strange national obsession with the drab, tweed, hats...hard to explain but I found the dress here bizarre for ages.




I now have a feeling for pop references and politics. This might not sound like much but think of how many times you talk about a famous TV program, film or politician in a day. Remove 60% of your knowledge of that stuff and see how you feel. I tried to glean information about it from the news rags and gossip columns they have here but it's all very distorted. Keep in mind they have THE most blatantly biased news papers in the universe here as well. They don't worry about neutrality as much as in North America. Some (The Daily Mail) are downright fascist leaning. I am now starting to get comedians references to people and events - which makes them much more funny!

Accents: I can understand most accents now. I've picked up on most common idioms so I have some sort of idea as to what people say and mean. I'm telling you - it ain't easy in this country.

I've gotten a better handle on the people of this country. Especially after travelling around it. How can such a small island have such a HUGE number of cultures and classes? It's amazing and confounding! First of all I'd like to address the concept that the British are quiet. They are not. Even they think they are...but they're wrong. The Brits are WAY louder than Canadians. For instance - there's a shouting match going on outside in the street at the moment. The Brits talk more, use more words, and are all around more chatty than Canadians. Once you get into the upper classes the repression gets more severe and they definitely get quieter but as you go down the ladder...oh boy. There's can't be anyone in North America that can compare with the sheer volume and verbal aggressiveness of the working class British. Just can't see it. People will get in peoples face here like nothing I've seen.

Something about travelling and meeting people from different areas has given me an appreciation for the regional differences that exist. There really are MASSIVELY different cultures which exist beside each other within this country. To be honest, I don't know how the country actually holds together. We call Canada a country of two solitudes because we have two different cultures (English and French)? This must be the country of 1000 solitudes then.

The Brits are constantly racked with doubt about national identity. 'What does it mean to be British?' they ask. They no longer run an empire and they are now an extremely multicultural society. I was surprised to find they are as confused about being British as Canadians are about being Canadian. (Funnily enough, the Scots and the Welsh have no such problems.) How does this fractured society hold together? I suppose it was the class system upon which it was built which held it together. That system still exists. People are classified by accent, culture, and where they live in a way that we Canadians can't really grasp until we've been here for awhile. Is it love of God and Queen? I don't really know except that in a country so much anger seems aimed across the classes....everyone considers them self a part of the country.

I suppose it's the shared history that creates the connection. The HISTORY! People here can routinely tell you the history of their family, a building, or a product. They can build context for everything. I've never been to interested in history much farther back than WWII but this place... how can there be so much history, so many fascinating places, so many key events and figures of the Western world crammed into such a minuscule place. It's incredible. It's won me over. I had an anti-English bias when looking at history as I looked at it as a method of cultural oppression. We in Canada, for instance, weren't even able to study our own history until the 60's or 70's. Now that I've been here and have seen so many amazing sites... and it's not just the history of Kings - it's the history and development of all the people of this land that's so fascinating. The Roman Empire, The Anglo-Saxons, the Celts, Scots, Druids, the Normans...these aren't abstract concepts here. You can SEE the things they built, hear the accents they left behind, and engage in the cultures that developed over the last 2000 plus years. Amazing.

It's the modern Britain that I'm coming to grips with though. The tendency for people here to be negative and to put down their own country is something I've found confusing. I suppose it's the fact that many people here have taken a shit kicking for a long time that causes this. Some of it is also the "don't be soft" culture. Men can't say they like each other so they say as far to the opposite as they can to express affection. I've gotten used to the differences in products, foods, TV and film. At first I didn't like them, found them alien and was uninterested. Now I'll miss my Marks and Spencers, curries, TV shows, celebrities, brand names, tubes and trains and everything else when I leave. And the music! I mean the music here is incredible. I'm only peripherally involved in the music scene here and I can't get over it. There's also the theatre of course. Amazing - the sheer volume of it. Though I'd put the best of Canadian against the best of the Brits any day!

I now fear that when I go back to Canada I'll pine for Britain. How weird is that?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Liverpool

We went to Liverpool this weekend where a young John Lennon and I hung out outside The Cavern.

Check out our photos at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dave_n_gen/

I was blown away (again!) by the history of the place. This was not so unexpected as Liverpool is well known as the location of one of the world's most important ports...until the last 100 years or so. It has been absolutely devastated by various economic factors starting with WWI, being bombed in WWII and then being part of "the north" when Thatcher basically abandoned everything north of London in the 80's. Things have improved since Liverpool won the right to be "The European Capital of Culture" for 2008. This has led to a massive regeneration in the last 5 years or so.

It's the home of the "most mistrusted accent in Britain" - scouse. The term "Scouse" apparently comes from the name of a stew that sailors ate. It's a blend of English, Irish and Welsh. Why it's mistrusted is beyond me. No idea other than, maybe, after 100 years of poverty the cities of Liverpool and Manchester have produced a fair number of criminals. I was told by a local that 8 of the top 20 most deprived areas in England reside in Liverpool. I personally like the accent a lot more than the Essex accent which may be the second most mistrusted accent. (But then, I had a miserable time in Essex) The Beatles made the accent famous but they don't really sound like a lot of the scouse I've heard. The Beatles sound way more laid back and softer than the high pitched accents of the many Liverpudlians. As with everything though there's a huge range of accents in the city and, as is usual in this wacky country, some of them are almost incomprehensible.

Liverpool was a massive and incredibly important port which ruled the shipping industry for centuries and so the people of Liverpool became wealthy and prosperous. The darkest part of it's history involves the role of Liverpool in the slave trade. Millions of West Africans were kidnapped and brought to Liverpool where they were sold, traded, or shipped to America. The economic windfall from slavery obviously greatly increased the purses of the people of Liverpool. In one century alone (I believe it was 1600 - 1700) 9 MILLION Africans were stolen from their lands. Shocking stuff. I learned all about this at the Maritime Museum at Albert Dock which contains the Slavery Museum. It's a sobering and powerful display and I admire the government of Liverpool for allowing such a frank look at an unflattering piece of their history.

Here's something that will blow your mind. I had the best meal I've had in England at a place called The River Diner. And...it was fish and chips. This fish fell apart and melted in your mouth, the chips were fantastic and even the salad on the side was sublime. There's something here called "mushy peas" which I usually find disgusting. Basically it involves making pea puree and putting a dollop of it on you plate. I hate peas so I can't stand this stuff. THIS mushy pea contained mint - didn't really taste like peas and was fantastic. Gen had a tomato soup which was clearly made from real fresh tomatoes - the bread that came with it was incredible. I'm telling you! It was great!

Albert Dock (which I previously mentioned) was some sort of massive industrial dock has now been turned into a huge museum/restaurant/shopping area that's amazingly beautiful.

Most of all though - I dig the Scousers! They're laid back in attitude though also incredibly lively and yappy. They're passionate and very social. I had the good fortune of watching the last 10 minutes of a Liverpool/Chelsea football match in a pub and as I stood among the sea of shaved heads, moustaches, and burly men shouting at the TV I thought "This is great!"

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Just What are We Voting for?

I just read an article about Tony Blair in The Gaurdian called "Look Back in Wonder" that completely shook me up and not at all in the way that the writer had intended. It's a re-vist of a a book called "The Blair Revolution" written by Peter Mandelson in early 1996 - almost 13 years ago. Mandelson was in the New Labour government at the time and was the architect of Government policy. The article made a list of issues that were not on the agenda in 13 years ago and it's jaw dropping. They include:

1. Very little on foreign policy other than Europe. The U.S. was barely mentioned.
2. Ignorance of climate change (tiny mention)
3. Mobile phones are unmentioned luxuries
4. There was no: text messaging, web, email, or blogs. That's what the article mentions...I also think of no: Youtube, Google, MySpace, Facebook, spam, camera phones, ipods, Apple was nowhere to be found, organic movement, hybrids, video download issues, nuclear threat from Pakistan - Iran - Pakistan or North Korea, no war in Iraq, no Al-Qaeda...
5. Gay rights are barely mentioned with almost no reference to gay marriage (this became a central rights issue to New Labour during it's term)
6. Race and migration are not mentioned. "Polish plumbers" (The Poles now form a major work force due to large numbers of immigrants) or Islamic radicals
7. Hedge funds
8. Music downloads
9. No mention of credit crisis
10. Nothing substantial about the National Health Service (which has been a major issue)
11. No mention of terrorism outside problems with Ireland (Ireland is no longer a concern)
12. No mention of wars with Iraq or a special relationship with the U.S.

All these things became MAJOR issues in the 12 years since.

So what then...are we voting for in Canada, the U.S., here in Britain or anywhere else when we cast a vote? We have absolutely no way of knowing what the person we are voting for is going to have to do. Who could have predicted 9/11? Who could have predicted the credit crisis and it's economic downturn? In 1996 there wasn't even a hot housing market. Canada was barely limping out of a horrible recession and the dotcom bubble was just inflating.

We think we're voting for an alternative to what has come before, a person that shares our values and one that we trust or hope will lead us through the issues of the day. What we're really voting for, I think, is a someone we hope is a great leader, who shares our values and will lead us through any and all unknown crises that will arise. We want this person to have the wherewithal to identify what needs to be done. Most of all we want them to be able to bring people together and unite them to handle whatever problems arise with the best intentions of the people at the forefront of his or her mind and as a key to the policies they implement.

With that in mind I choose Barrack Obama. To me he is one of the few politicians I have found to be truly inspirational, who I believe has the greater good at heart when he acts, and has the ability to create a more positive and unified politic than currently exists. Wish I could vote for him. Canada? I see no one like that on the scene at the moment - certainly not Harper. Dion a little maybe and here in Britain...I don't see anyone like that here either. Guys like Obama only come along once in awhile though. They're rare and that's what makes them so special. I hope he gets elected and I hope he turns out to be what he appears to be.

It's a bit scary to think that when you vote for someone you're voting for them to deal with problems that haven't even been invented yet, don't you think?

Read "Look Back in Wonder" at http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/oct/11/tony-blair-peter-mandelson

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Good Day

Well I walked out of school today on a cushion of air. When things go well (finally) it renews your faith in why you decided you might want to be a teacher to begin with.

(not my class...shhhh)

I planned and executed my first Drama class that was worked the way I wanted it to. I came up with a concept, planned it, executed it, used drama techniques I have learned along the way when I needed (in other words I was able to think on my feet), the students co-operated and got along well, and everything ran like clockwork. It was fantastic.

This may be a bit boring for non teacher's but here's how it went (for posterity).

I came home on Thursday night and realized I was supposed to run the Drama session the next day (I'm alternating weekly lessons with another teacher). I knew the theme was supposed to be spooky stories (Halloween is approaching after all). No idea what to do. I thought I might read them the first part of a spooky story and then they would have to come up with the ending. I went online to find spooky stories but they were too gory or long in many instances.



I opened "Structuring Drama Work" by Jonothan Neelands and looked for ideas. I found one which called Objects of Character which essentially means you give the students some objects that a character owns and they have to figure out who the person was. I thought that was interesting. Then I stumbled across one called A Day in the Life in which starts end of a story (or at a dramatic point) is given or created and the students have to work backwards to build scenes running up to that point. So...

It thought wouldn't it be interesting if I gave the students objects for a person who had disapeared and challenged them to figure out who the person was and then build the story up to the point in which they disappeared. And it worked!

I was worried they'd just come up with all kind of gore, screaming, fighting and mayhem so I we discussed some different reasons people might disappear other than being killed. Maybe they were on the run, kidnapped, or left volutarily without telling anyone? Then I showed them some objects and asked them what we could tell about the person by the objects they had left behind. All I showed them was a dictionary, a pen and a set of headphones. The ideas they had were really creative!

I separated them into groups and gave each group a bag with 4 objects in it. These objects were found in an apartment in which a person had disappeared. These were the only objects left and we knew nothing about the person other than they were gone.

They had 5 minutes to think about who the person might be.

They then had 5 mintues to create a tableau showing the moment at which the person actually disappeared. They would show this to the rest of the class and we would see if we could guess what was happening.

They would then have 15 - 20 minutes to create the story leading up to that point.

We would then present and the groups would get feedback.

It went brilliantly.

Key points things I did:

The warm up:
Doing a proper stretch and warm up for 5 minutes before starting was essential.

The mental set:
Bringing up some ideas about what could be done before starting. Also stating the obvious such as "Of course they could be horribly murdered but let's challenge ourselves to think of other possibilities" before starting. I learned this by watching the Drama teacher last week.

Time:
When doing my final acting class at University I was amazed at how little time we were given for tasks and how that helped us focus. The thing is we were adults so I think students need more or they basically freak out and start yelling and don't focus. 15-20 minutes is still short and the last thing you want to do is run out of time before they can come up with something good and work through their ideas.

Keep it simple:
Keep tasks simple and build on them class by class. I learned this through the Physical Education classes we're doing at school and by wathing the other teacher I'm working with there. I've been guilty of piling on too many ideas in too short a time in the past. It also makes more sense as the students need time to work on a specific task for awhile so they can engage with it and learn it before moving on.

I also realized that you are not meant to select 1 technique from each of the 4 sections of techniques in Structuring Drama and use them all in one lesson.

Performance and Feedback:
Once the performance is complete ask the students for a few things they liked about the scene and some suggestions to think about for improvement next time. Then give your own ideas. (This actually helps me think of thigns to say as the students bring up very valid points)

But there's more...

Also had a great grammar class in which I used erasable whiteboards with the students for the first time. I first observed these in a math lesson a last week. The math teacher gives each student and small whiteboard on which they can write answers with an eraseable marker. She asked them some questions and they wrote answers on the boards and held them up. They were reviewing things they had worked on previous to that class. This was amazingly effective as it was low risk for the students, they all got to have their answers seen by the teacher, and they DIDN'T SPEAK! They were quiet and focused (which is the hardest thing to get students to do). Then they continued with a focused lesson.

I took this and used it in Grammar. I put sentences on the whiteboard in the classroom and asked students to write down the nouns, verbs, or adverbs etc in the sentence. Then I could see who knew what, students were quiet and focused and they actually learned the aspects they dind't know once we talked about the answers. Brilliant.

All my other classes went well as well.... it was a good day.

I'm starting to feel like I might be able to do this job. I'm starting to love my school. I'm even starting to not feel so much like an alien in this country. All in all things have gone well.

Parent teacher night next week though. Should be fun.