Tooty-Fruity Rooty-Pursuity: High-schoolers and Semantics

From The History Place.com

     "Hey, I got my rights!" the student hollered gleefully.

     "Yes, you do," I agreed,continuing to pass out homework assignments.

     "I got the right to be alive, to be liberfied, and to be happy. And homework don't make me happy!"

As the class chuckled and high-fived and fist-bumped and revelled in their pseudo-victory, I considered the semantics of his all-too-common misinterpretation of that part of The Declaration of Independence.  A teachable moment ensued.

How many students really do think that the "right" endowed to them is to be happy as opposed to the right to pursue happiness?  And to what extent, if any, does the misinterpretation impact their inflated sense of entitlement? 

I love arguing semantics with teenagers because frankly, they're good at it. Thus, you're always in for a real challenge when you do. No doubt you've experienced this sort of comment whether as a parent or an educator: "Well, you didn't say X, you said Y." 

They revel in argument, so whenever possible, using it as the basis for analysis yields fruitful critical thinking.  In our book, we refer to them as "Legal Lemurs", those individuals who can rip apart a rule or policy based on semantic omission or phrasing. It's what leads teachers to emit that unearthly growl.

Using an analogy may help us in the distinguishing of the two meanings for lower-level students:
What is the difference between having the right to be given ice-cream, or having the right to go get ice-cream? What is your responsibility as it pertains to the rights given to you?

As a comparative analysis, it may help students get to a point where they actually acknowledge that they are responsible for their lives and choices. Oh, glorious day, right? This triple-dip assignment--analysis, writing or discussion, and character-building--may push them an inch forward.

I encourage you to write your own analysis before assigning or discussing the topic,though, thinking through things such as how rights imply choices and how responsibilities grow from choices. We may have the right to pursue happiness, but that right also implies a choice as to how, when, and whether to do so. It also leaves the definition of happiness wide open. Further implications to address would be the potential negative impact of that pursuit on another person.

Just because we have the right to do so something doesn't mean we should. A parent has the right to pursue his/her happiness, but not at the emotional expense of a child. Encouraging this depth of thinking emerges more naturally when we've delved into our own thoughts on the topic, first. If you don't have time to actually write your thoughts out formally, consider at least creating an outline. You'll enjoy yourself just an eensy bit more, I'd wager.

You could also have some fun with "the love of money is the root of all evil" (not money alone).

Mindy and some of her former students write more about effective teaching for high-schoolers in Transparent Teaching of Adolescents.  Join the conversation! 


Respecting Neanderthals

First, I need to state that David Hutchens' Shadows of the Neanderthal is a lively, humorous adaptation that I do appreciate. Additionally, Gombert's illustrations are appropriately quirky and fun. I have no issue with this short text as a reader. For anyone seeking a quick grasp of the need to be flexible and open-minded, it's a wonderful choice. In fact, it would probably work nicely as a choice for high-school students, given its ease of accessibility to the morals.

My issue is that it is required reading for a graduate level Education course.

(Spoiler Alert)

Shadows of the Neanderthal: Illuminating the Beliefs that Limit Our Organizations

It's Plato's "Allegory of the Cave".

Why not just have us read Plato's "Allegory of the Cave", perhaps followed by Hutchen's analysis of the principles within the text?

Maybe I'm over-thinking this and shouldn't feel that my intelligence has been insulted. Really, it's as though I've been told that I'm incapable of grasping the point from The Republic. Maybe an undergrad course,sure. Maybe an organizational/leadershippy sort of course, sure. By all means, everyone should read and understand these principles.

Teachers, however, particularly those working at the graduate level and no matter their content area, need to be able and expected to grapple with a seminal text.

Project RESPECT, initiated by Secretary Duncan,calls for a rebuilding of the profession of teaching. I humbly suggest that one building block be avoiding the quick and easy way to one of the most powerful messages ever written.

Mindy Keller-Kyriakides is the author of Transparent Teaching of Adolescents: Defining the Ideal Class for Students and Teachers.  Become part of the conversation!


High School Students and Teacher Evaluation: One Success Story

Last week, I had the joy of meeting up with students I hadn't seen in over ten years. It was a powerfully emotional moment for me as I remembered just how much I loved and liked these people. They are just...wonderful.

Because our book, Transparent Teaching of Adolescents, just came out, we took some time to meet and catch up on our lives and celebrate what we had created together: our classroom experiences in English courses and Theatre courses.

From a classroom management perspective, the class functioned as a dialogue, a constant flow of What are we learning? How are we learning it? and, more to the point, How well is the teacher teaching it to me? It was constant evaluation.

Talking with students who themselves had become teachers was very cool (one is teaching in China). But what was exceptionally intriguing was seeing that our classroom dialogue had never really ended; it had just seamlessly morphed into a book.

This text is our conversation of what I did as a high school educator that worked well or epically failed.  It models our approach to projects and assignments and the dialogue.

Not everyone approves of this method, though. Stanley Fish,  professor of humanities and law at Florida International University in Miami, and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, former instructor at the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins and Duke University and author of 11 books--in other words, much more of an expert than me--asserts that there is danger in relying on student evaluations.

In his article, "Student Evaluations, Part Two", he assures us that college students have no business evaluating their instructors because the students really don't have the necessary skills or appropriate motivation to do so for any effective purpose.  Thus, it doesn't take a huge leap of logic to figure that he would say the same (and more vehemently, no doubt!) of high-school students.

I guess it wasn't so much that I catered to my students' feedback; rather, I listened to it. I took what was pedagogically sound and kept it. Fluffy stuff, such as "We don't want any homework" was dismissed. However, as Aristotle gently reminds us: "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without [necessarily] accepting it." Isn't that what evaluation is all about, anyway?

Much like our classroom experiences together, without student input, this book wouldn’t have happened. Through Facebook, Skype, and Skydrive, we were able to collaborate virtually from across the US and internationally. We have a beautifully eclectic group in this discussion, including students who dealt with me as student-teacher, first-year teacher, and veteran teacher.  Thus, the overview readers receive spans several phases of a teacher-in-the-making.

By the time they reach high school, teenagers know the teaching business.  They know what works and what doesn’t, how to get under a teacher's skin and how to avoid doing anything. Seriously capitalizing on their input is at the heart of our conversation.

By creating a transparent atmosphere that encourages student feedback, teachers not only tap into the students’ critical thinking skills, they also strengthen rapport—a crucial component of an effective high-school classroom management plan.

Transparent Teaching of Adolescents takes the reader on a journey and time-line from before the school year begins until it ends. With so many new teachers leaving the profession in less than three years, one of our goals is to re-ignite the passion of those who find the task of teaching high-schoolers increasingly overwhelming.  Our other objective is to provide new secondary teachers with a sense of the whole of teaching before they take on class loads.

So, it's not a book about just me, the teacher, chirping out strategies for you to consider, and it's not just the good stuff. Students also examine my mistakes as both a new and veteran teacher. After all, we learn more from our mistakes, don't we?

We invite you to join our conversation and let us know what you think!


A Wish for Teachers

As you begin your journey this year, I wish you that first-day joy, idealism, and enthusiasm everyday. And after that first week, I wish you peace and stillness of mind when everything around you is turbulent. And as you make your way to spring break, I wish you an unyielding perseverance and positivity that flourishes despite your environment,  colleagues, or administrative  choices. 

Of course, I wish you success with your students.  But more than anything, I hope you learn, so that your students can see that learning never, ever, stops.

Thank you for what you've done, what you do, and what you will do, everyday, for the children we place under your care and understanding.

Image from  http://www.botanicalpaperworks.com/blog/read,article/190/seed-paper-even-grows-in-sidewalks


Reading with Toddlers: Guest Blog Post

 I'm pleased to introduce my former student Victoria Grant,  previously an elementary teacher, now stay-at-home mom, blogger, and a co-author of Transparent Teaching of Adolescents. 

Some toddlers really love their reading time. But what do you do if you have a reluctant reader? Reading to a toddler can be a little tricky!! Their short attention spans and varying temperaments can prove to be more than challenging.  One of my friends asked me if I had any tips for her reluctant reader. Here are some of things that I have found that have worked for me.

·         Set up a reading corner or location you read every day. When B was an infant, I had a rocking chair. Now that he is out of a crib, we read in his bed.  I think when he gets older and can read on his own, I will make a special place in his room for reading.

·          It really helps that we read before nap and bedtime. He knows what to expect and loves to pick out his own story. I also found that mid-morning was a great time for reading at this age.

·         Toddlers really thrive on consistency, so setting up a special location and time can really help and make reading enjoyable for both of you.                     

·         Don’t expect your toddler to sit through a long story.  Try shorter stories with lots of pictures.  Ask them about the pictures and quiz them on what they see. They love to show you what they know.

·         Choose a topic they like.  I started to notice around the age of two that B started picking out books he wanted to read. Those books were mainly about cars and dump trucks.  So that is what we read! Every now and then I throw in a book I like, but he usually sticks to his automobiles.

·         Try finding books that deal with a particular situation your toddler might be dealing with.  Maybe he or she is starting preschool or a new baby is on the way. Reading about these subjects can help ease any fears they may have and may make for a smoother transition. 

·         Try downloading an e-book on a tablet or Ipad.  They think it’s pretty fun “swiping” the pages, and you’re still reading to them.  Most children’s books are online, and they usually have great illustrations.  You can find lots of titles on Google, Apple, and Amazon App stores. Some are even free to download!

I hope you find these tips useful.  Reading is so important for your little one; it builds the foundation for them to become independent readers, not to mention a little bonding time for the both of you. Sometimes B and I don’t finish a story, and that’s o.k. You want your reading time to be a fun and enjoyable experience.  

Happy Reading!!