Thursday, June 13, 2013

IDL Yr. 2, Failure and Success

June Reflections

This year has flown by. I tried to take on new challenges as the year unfolded and I have ventured into the global stadium. Our class joined The Global  Read Aloud and I encouraged and mentored the teachers that wanted to integrate iPads and computers into their classroom.  We acquired more iPads and opened up their use to all of the teachers in the school and some have started to use them.

Even after years of using technology with children I always find new challenges to overcome. When I see new Apps, or great new ideas, or opportunities for my class to take on  a new way to build learning it excites me. I have to take it on. I can't always do it all, but I like to find great new ways to help my students succeed.

 I understand how hard it is for some children to communicate, to fail even when they have given their all. I understand how difficult it can be to march to  a different drummer. I have a special spot in my heart for children who struggle because school is not always an easy place for them to navigate. I know that many gifted children face challenges as diverse as others special needs children. Children come to us eager to learn, eager to please and eager to be accepted, Some make it look so easy, and some struggle every day.

I came to teaching as a second career after having children. I was hooked on education after seeing the new directions that learning was taking at the time. I visited classrooms that made teaching and learning an adventure. Along the way I took many courses on using technology as a tool to provide open ended learning opportunities for children with learning disabilities including giftedness.

I learned how helpless it feels to fail. School always came easy to me and I never quite understood how some people struggled to understand a new concept or remember a lesson. I always just knew how to write an exam essay, how to memorize a textbook, or how to anticipate what questions would be on an exam. Then, out of the blue, I learned how to fail... How desperate it feels to try to understand, how frustrating and powerless you feel.

In my last year of Education at University I ended up in a class "Elementary Mathematics From Advance Standpoint" A great math class for soon to be elementary teachers..right?? Not so. It was a class that looked at advanced mathematical proofs using whole (elementary) numbers. A class in advanced number theory. A class that only serious Math scholars and unsuspecting education students took. The Faculty of Education had mistakenly thought it was a class in basic math for teachers of primary students. The first day we were told all of the education students would fail. We did. All of us. We could not withdraw as it was required for a Math major and those of us enrolled were all a few courses from graduating. Withdrawl meant not graduating.

I was a mother of three and a student. I cold not, not graduate. The stakes were too high. The cost of daycare, classes and raising family had taken its toll and we needed to move into the land of the working. Every day I went to class and took notes, I got support from a doctoral student. I redid every question over and over. I still failed. I started to freeze on our daily quiz. My mind totally blanked out. Panic flooded me. I went to the Dean Of Education to get help. He told me to relax, my marks were high,  I would be fine. I wasn't. I turned to the Professor, a semi retired math genius, for help. He said married women  belonged at home  with their family, and education wasn't a real subject. I tried harder, I started to memorize all the proofs I could. The problem was we were never given the same type more than once.

In the end, I failed. I couldn't retake it as it was only taught by one professor. However, the course was removed from the the Faculty of Education requirements and without being required enrollment dropped, and the course did too. Too late for me. I was able to complete two independent study courses to graduate, and  more importantly I learned what it was like to fail. I have never forgotten that course. I still have the hundreds of pages of proofs I wrote out and memorized and my heart jumps when I see that look of confusion and fear in a child's eyes.

How does this relate to my teaching over the last year? It is with me always. I need to find new ways for children to succeed and be confident learners, to be able to take risks, collaborate and feel good about themselves, not the panic, fear and emptiness I felt.

This has changed my perspective on learning. I don't believe in Mastery learning, or in final answers. I believe that if you write a math test you should be able to take it home, get help, correct it, and rewrite the very same test, or take it home to practice with mom and dad first. I believe that we are there to help children succeed, to find ways to help them support their own learning, take risks, and to celebrate their success. I believe there are better ways to learn and the children will find them. If we let them.

This is what drives me to push them to do their best, to help them find new ways to succeed, to work together, to create, to engage in authentic tasks that compel them, guide them and inspire them. This year blogging was the most important tool in my box to make that happen. We invited in First Nations people to teach us to weave, to drum, to draw, to make button blankets, to listen to their stories and to appreciate their history. They taught us Arctic games, showed us their tools, and how to build an igloo. We went to Fort Langley and documented the trip, blogged about what we learned and then took time to learn about explorers from The Government archives and public domain logs, maps, and pictures. There was no test. We participated, blogged, and shared. We taught each other about the explorers we followed, and joined them on their journeys.

Every year I worry that I didn't actually test them. I listened. I read, I talked with them. They wrote, drew, and even made videos. I am not sure that every child learned everything about every explorer. But they did learn about some of the explorers, they learned about our past, and they learned how to learn more. They participated actively in first hand, authentic interviews and Aboriginal activities. They can tell me their stories.

For me the journey has been inspiring. I have seen some of my reluctant learners step up and become writers, Some have become directors and some have had their chance to shine, They blog for fun. They blog from home. They have a purpose to draw and their artwork is amazing. (Could be a book on its own.) Others have become mentors and and have been inspired to publish more. Their blogs are growing rapidly now and have become eportfolios of their year with me. They have added field trip photo galleries and some will add their artwork too. I love to see them take pride in their work and consider it important.

Now, having said all this, I must say that we have not commented as much on each other's work as would have liked. Most likely, because we do so verbally. Next year we will have to find a partner class to blog with to solve this. In fact I saw an amazing site that sets weekly blog challenges for students. It leads them through activities to learn about blogs, blog rolls, commenting, reaching out, and connecting.

I think this will be a great way to reach out and get in a weekly blog club. Also we will go ahead with Global Read Aloud again and as we make new blog partners we will Skype more.

I have started BYOD and some of my class have done so. It was done with little fanfare and students use them as they would the class iPads, We have used Creative Commons and public domain images or their own pictures for all their work. The year started slowly, but in January we reached a tipping point and the blogs took off. Now the year is running out and it feels like we just got started. When I think back to September I am amazed at all the class has accomplished and how much they have grown.

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