Thursday, April 30, 2015

c'qui vient d'se passer

This is the title of a song by the band eXterio.  Though I can never remember all of the words to the verses it is still one of my favourites.  It is a favourite because of two reasons.

(1) I love the refrain
The chorus of this song is as follows:
On va s’souvenir longtemps de ce moment
Mais c’qui vient d’se passer, 

Mais c’qui vient d’se passer, m’appartient à présent 
Tant pis pour les absents

For those of you who don't speak French, here's a rough translation:
We will remember this moment for a long time,
But what just happened, belongs to me in the present,
Too bad (or tough) for those who were absent

This song is a memory catcher.  With each new adventure, this song captures the moment and reminds me that it is something precious to hold tight.

(2) This song was introduced to me by one of my favourite high school teachers.  I had her every year of high school and learned a lot from her.  When I was in grade 12 I was a peer tutor in her grade 9 French Immersion class.  For an activity she had the students get into four groups and write a four  line rhyming verse.  Each line had to be eight syllables and needed to be about something that we did that year.  When they were done writing, she had the students substitute their verses into the song as we sang.

This song caught their memories.

Every time I listen to the song, I cannot help but think of her as well.  As I finish my course work for my B.Ed today, I cannot help but hope to make a difference in a student's life like she made in mine.

This has been such a great year.  I have made so many new friends and deepened bonds with old friends.  Eight months is too short a time to share life with someone and I wish that we didn't have to go our separate ways just yet.  In the words of Shakespeare, "Parting is such sweet sorrow..."

I will remember this year and these people.  As we go forward and out onto our adventures, I will hold tight to the moments that have shaped my journey.  These memories and these friends are so very precious.

Many thanks to all the other Teacher Candidates and all the best in the future.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

10 Things that I've learned at the Faculty of Ed

I've heard many people make jokes about "Teacher's College."  The general consensus of current Teachers and Teacher Candidates is that it is something to endure--a gate that must be passed through, even if the surrounding fence could easily be stepped over.  After going out on practicum and experiencing teaching, the lecture style classes that we have back on campus seem so... well... they just don't seem as productive.
Queen's University flag on a ship's mast
Because of the negative mentality surrounding the classes, I have spent the last couple of days reflecting on this past year.  Apart from placements, just what I have learned at the Faculty of Ed?
  1. I have learned so many new classroom activities.  At the start of the year, I wasn't really sure where one of my profs was going with the course--and honestly, I think we all are still a little confused at the end now--but she did give us a lot of activity ideas and resources that we could use.
  2. I have learned that there is something to be said for collaboration.  You will never think of everything, but when multiple brains are working toward the same goal, new possibilities will present themselves.  I am so thankful that in one of my courses we had to present different ways to integrate historical thinking into a classroom.  There were so many amazing lessons that I've cataloged away.
  3. I've learned a lot more about law.  I don't know someone who likes reading laws for fun and while we had to for one of our courses, it was useful and more informative than I thought it would be. I never realized how much the law impacts education--from daily structure to anti-bullying programs and technology in the classroom.
  4. I have learned so much about teaching individuals with exceptionalities.  While I am still a long way from an expert, I feel as though my eyes have been opened to an area of teaching that I didn't truly understand before.  Understanding, accepting and accommodating students with exceptionalities was foreign to me at the beginning of the year, but I feel better equipped now.
  5. (Already at five!) I can say that this year I have learned a lot about First Nations from a historical perspective and from a closer examination of negative stereotypes that are still prevalent in society.  We talked a lot about cultural practices and how to make connections to First Nations in the classroom.  Without these lessons, I would have been ignorant of the issues.
  6. I have learned that "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten..."
  7. I have learned the importance of choice and asking learners what they want to learn.  So many of my teachers this year have taken the time to ask us what we wanted to learn and then structured their lessons accordingly.  I want to remember this when I teach because even within the parameters of the school system and within the curriculum guidelines there is always room for student input.  It is so very important.
  8. I have learned that poverty is not about being lazy or being stupid.  Poverty is an illness that can take the highly qualified and lower and has a huge impact on the children it touches.  Once within its grasp, it is very difficult to get out.  As I teacher, I need to be aware of poverty so that I can combat the negative stereotypes and so that I can help those struggling through.
  9. I've learned that redundancy can kill the best of topics.  Don't use too many lessons to teach the same thing because even the best lesson won't be able to resuscitate an exhausted topic.  (This was perhaps an unintentional lesson...)
  10. Lastly, number ten:  I've learned that a large part of learning is reflecting.  I feel like this has really been hammered home in the last few weeks, but as I reflect on past experience and lessons, I am better able to see the path I took from then to now.  It's humbling.

And there you have it: 10 things that I have learned at the Fac of Ed.  Given more time, I think I could come up with a few more, too.  This year has been pretty productive after all.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Value of Homework

* I want to start this post off by saying that I really don't know what the "right" take on the homework debate is and I am only laying down my arguments.  I think that it is healthy to challenge arguments so that we can either see their strength or watch them crumble. I also want to note that I did not do any quantitative research but am merely noting what I have observed.*

Image of people sitting around a round table.  Focus is on the open note book and laptop on table.Just before Christmas, we had a guest lecturer in one of my classes.  At this point, I cannot remember the overall topic of his lecture, but I remember vividly that he was anti-homework and that as he passed out an article on the subject, told us that we should be the same.  One of the main arguments is that there is no definitive benefit to overall grade outcome.  In response, if the homework serves no productive purpose, then yeah, there's a flaw somewhere.  That doesn't mean homework is bad, it just means that THAT homework is bad.

Second, many argue that kids should be able to play and have fun while they are kids and that homework takes away from this time.  Yes children should play and have fun, but what is wrong with spending an hour working on skills and developing other areas of your brain?  Homework should not be designed to steal ALL of a student's time.

Third, I have read that many people think that independent work should be done in an environment where there are teachers to help and supervise.  I don't know about you, but this last one seems counter-intuitive just based on wording alone.  I think that students should be able to get help and as a teacher-to-be, I would want to help and give guidance.  But I also think it is important for students to work through problems on their own and develop problem solving skills without a teacher within arm's reach.  But more on this in a moment.

I know that everyone hates homework.  Let's be frank: do you know anyone who, at the end of the school day, said, "YES! More homework to do! That's exactly how I wanted to spend my evening!"  No?  I hated homework in school.  Studying for spelling tests in elementary school was the worst.  What?  More math equations?  Can't I just practice my equations at school?  Wait... you mean you want me to read the textbook on my own time?

I hope that you can see that I am being a little silly here.  I have heard so much anti-homework spiel lately that I think people have forgotten or are ignoring the benefits of homework and as such, I wanted to add an argument for the other side.  Again, yes, I know everyone hates homework, but I think that when done properly, it is helpful.  I am thankful to my past teachers for assigning homework because they helped teach me valuable skills.

So, without further ado:
Three Reasons to give Homework

1. Homework provides practice opportunities.  Especially with regard to letter formation, spelling or math equations.  Realistically, in a classroom of 20+ it is impossible for the teacher to give each student the amount of time they need to individually practice their skills because everyone is at different levels.  It is helpful to assign a worksheet for for so that the students can work at their own pace.  I am not talking about a billion worksheets, but a few is manageable.  It is also empowering for a student to practice addition or multiplication at home and then come to class and be able to answer questions faster because of that added practice.  These skills become easier and less time consuming with practice.

2 & 3. Perhaps most important: homework teaches self-regulation (2) and time management (3).  Pause on that for a moment: Self-Regulation and Time Management... These are such important skills.  Without the ability to self-regulate, students struggle in staying on task with their assignments and projects in high school, then in university, and then in their adult social and work lives.  It's cyclical.  If students cannot manage their time properly, they will have trouble organizing their workload.  When both these skills are lacking, the amount of work can quickly rise to dizzying heights and students can feel over stressed and anxious.  While moderate stress is conducive to a good work effort, too much stress and anxiety does more harm to an individual's body and work product.

Because I had to do smaller research projects in elementary school (when, let's face it, the overall grades don't count for a lot) I was able to develop the skills I needed for high school.  I then had larger assignments that were worth more and would affect my acceptances to university.  The big point being that education is meant to build on itself.  You start learning skills in grade school and you expand, elaborate and improve those skills with age and practice.

How can we expect students to enter high schools, university or the workplace and complete longer essays (in academia) or create better projects when they did not have to do the groundwork in elementary school?  How will they know how much time to spend researching, writing, building or practicing if they only ever had to worry about working during the time the teacher allotted?  How can they learn to keep themselves on task when there is a push to only have them work when they are at school and the authoritative teacher is telling them it is time to work?

Children need to know how to schedule their work and social lives.  These skills can be acquired and practiced through homework in elementary and high school.  To a child, homework can be stressful and it can be seen as pointless or tedious, but it serves a higher purpose.

I'll end with an analogy.

Not every child who takes music lessons likes to practice.  (Me being a prime example).  Practicing songs over and over again can get boring and it doesn't always seem like fun to a seven or eight year old.  In those cases, if the child does not practice, they will not develop the skills needed or they will develop them a lot slower than if the child practiced a lot.  In the same way, homework, while not always enjoyable, provides students with the opportunity to practice and develop important skills.  All that's needed is a balance.

Thank you for reading.

Monday, April 20, 2015

8 more days of classes.

I've been back at school now for a week with less than two more weeks left.  It's hard to believe that there are only two weeks left of my B.Ed year.  After coming back from placement, none of the Teacher Candidates want to be back in our classes, but it's the homestretch and we're almost there.  It's hard to get back in the assignment mindset.  It seems like in these last few weeks that we have so many little things do that it is almost difficult to keep track of them all.

And yet, despite the fact that most of us wish we were already out teaching (or in some cases, wishing they were in master's programs), it is good to see these friends again.  We've all had such different experiences on placements and in our alternative placements and it is such a treat hearing about their adventures.  I will really miss these people when school is over and we all leave.  I'm so happy to say that I've made some wonderful friends this year.  Friends that I will carry with me wherever I go.

As I try to stay on top of everything, I just keep reminding myself that, as of today, only 8 more days of class.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Walking through History

I never realized how "young" Canada was until I walked through cities that are centuries older than the ones I'm used to.  Sure, I've known that Canada was younger.  In learning about the history of Canada, you can't really ignore that fact, eh.  But, it's another thing to see with your eyes and in a way feel how much older the cities are.

In the cities and villages I've seen in the UK, the craftsmanship does not differ only in physical structure but in materials as well.  It's funny the things that you don't realize until you encounter something different.  I never realized how accustomed I am to brick houses until I saw houses built from big stones and plaster.  Or realizing that my schema of a neighbourhood is of wide streets, big houses, long driveways and open lawns.  And then I encounter narrow alleyways, painted houses with no driveways and lawns surrounded by hedges or walls.  It's still a neighbourhood, but it's different.
View of Edinburgh Castle and the surrounding city from Holyrood Park

For me, I think the coolest realization is that the structure of the towns and cities here is almost completely the reverse of Canadian cities.  I don't mean in layout specifics--I don't really know much about how one organizes WHERE things are in a town.  What I am talking about refers more to the history of when things were made and how that affected how they "grew."  In Canada and the States, many cities are built on grid patterns.  Buildings are chunked into rectangular or square blocks.  The roads are also fairly wide and roomy, especially roads that are expected to handle a lot of traffic.

Not so in the UK.  Because the cities are so old, they predate many of this current road-planning mindset.  Roads are an afterthought, and in the less populated areas of the country (that I've seen) it's clearly evident in their narrowness and in the manner in which they wind through the terrain and around settlements.  This leads to roundabouts at every other junction.  And while I've seen a more block-like structure in the bigger cities, they still aren't always the squares and rectangles that I am accustomed to in Canada and some are more triangular or oblong.

I find these differences fascinating and it speaks to the history of the cities.  These ancient places have seen more people and events than I can fathom. Part of the wonder and amazement that I feel as I walk through these cities stems from the almost tangible weight of time that lines the streets and buildings like dust.  As a lover of history, it is just so cool and awe-inspiring!

Things I've learned about France (or at least Normandy)

Well there we go, my second European country. In some ways, very similar to England (a lot of meat and potatoes, fancy churches, pay toilets...