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Archive for October, 2012

The more I think about assessments of students the more I cringe. I cringe because I have a perception of the word assessment that indicates comparison, quantity, and judgement.

The definition of assessment, from thefreedictionary.com, is “the evaluation of a student’s achievement”. Evaluation; achievement — both of these words hit me the wrong way. Is life all about being 100%? It is about being better than the rest? But then, that is my interpretation of these words, based on my training in the old style of education.

Today, as we struggle to cut the ties to the old ways and move into something bigger and better, we have the challenge of figuring out what that bigger and better is.

The goal of my blog series has been to look at that from my perspective and my perspective is about empowering children/youth to act from their core values and the core Self. I want members of society to choose right over wrong and to make choices that contribute to the Greater Good. I want them to be seekers of knowledge and of Wisdom, and I want them to continually strive to become more self-aware and to use their natural gifts and passions as they walk their paths in life.

With this as my goal, “assessment” is about observing in order to recognize abilities, interests and natural talents. We then use this information to provide the environment, the resources,the opportunities and the supports to experience, to questions, to think, to explore, and to share knowledge and insights. My responsibility is to take students from wherever they are right now to the next step of their journey, of their knowing, of their abilities.

I believe that our goal is to get children engaged in a variety of experiences, providing them with the opportunity to:
* enhance their natural gifts and talents
* become knowledgable and skilled (at some level) in all areas of life
* become aware of their own abilities and interests, and
* develop the knowledge, awareness, and skills to choose a path in life
I believe that this experiential learning is the goal in itself and that there is no need to say “Johnny is a “B” student in math”, etc.

But, what if a student isn’t living up to his/her potential? What if he/she is opting out of the experiences? What if we can’t get a student engaged in the process?

I am reminded of the Wisdom that I learned while working in social services. “When a parent’s top priorities are putting food on the table and a roof over head, it is not the time to try and teach them new parenting strategies. Their thoughts are elsewhere.”

If a student is opting out, overwhelmed by some other priority, why is it that we are still so determined to make them strive for that “A”? If a student is opting out it is our responsibility to help the student identify, cope with, manage, and/or change the “story” that lies beneath the behaviour. The skills needed for this part of their personal story is where our primary focus should be, for this student, at this point in time.

When a student is coping with a dying parent, for example, it shouldn’t be our priority that he/she excels in math. We can help the student with coping, with expressing emotions and thoughts in some way, with finding ways to carry on with life the best that they can during times of stress, and with finding balance – it is ok to laugh when most of the day you want to cry.

Somehow, I believe, we have gotten caught up in a “need” to push our children and youth to new levels of abilities rather than guiding them into and through new experiences and possibilities. To me, it seems that our assessments point out what the students can’t do rather than celebrating what they can do.

There are more layers to this, I know, and more perspectives, as my voice is just one from the Fire of Truth.

How can we mesh this perspective into the bigger picture? How do we insure that we are doing the best and being the best that we can be as mentors? How do we assess ourselves?

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Off on a tangent again. ….

This morning I had the fortune of reading a blog by Rachel Nash (a G+ member). She spoke of how a teacher’s role of being the source of knowledge is now obsolete. Students don’t need us to give them answers. They have the internet.

This Wisdom really shakes up our world because the world is now at the students’ fingertips, just a keyboard away, whether that is on a computer or a phone! So, what then is our role?

Although the internet is fantastic for sharing the “what”, the knowledge, whether that is learning about Antarctica, empathy, or personal growth there is something more. What is left for us to teach? As I discussed in a previous blog, knowledge is just knowledge without experience and then it becomes Wisdom. Beyond the “what”, we get to provide opportunities for experience, opportunities that the students may not get on their own.

* As mentors, besides providing opportunities to experience knowledge, we also role-model Wisdom, passing on the core values, the 7 Teachings etc.
* We get to take students to different sources of knowledge, to places beyond where they would think of looking, beyond their current interests and levels of awareness.
* We get to be “eyes and ears” for them, picking up on clues that will help them become more self-aware, more empowered, and more connected to their life’s path.
* We get to be a conscience of sorts, helping them in those moments when they are not living by the core values or being true to themselves.
* And we get to pass on our Wisdom, by telling our own stories, sharing our perspectives of the Fire of Truth, whether we are talking about elephants, politics, or relationships.

Elders As Teachers
One of the things that I believe we are at the risk of losing during these changing times is the respect for our Elders. If we focus on the passing down of knowledge then our students do not need Elders in their lives, they just need a computer. But there is more to life than the “what”. Our Elders are a source of great Wisdom. They have had many more years of experience in this world and have spent many more hours contemplating the different elements of life. They have listened to, learned from, and meshed together many more perspectives from around the Fire of Truth.

It is my understanding of the Native Traditions that age alone does not make one an Elder, with a capital “E”. One earns that title. Teachers, (those in the pre-elderhood stage) are Elders-in-training; they are gathering knowledge and experiences; they are developing their Wisdom; they are passing on this Wisdom to the youth of the day; they are mentoring; and they are, hopefully, still seekers – seekers of knowledge, seekers of different perspectives, seekers of experience, seekers of Wisdom.

Respecting our Elders — do we teach that? Do we role-model it? Do we include this in our classroom plans, giving it as much importance as learning computer search skills or creative thinking? Can we be doing better? Perhaps we should ask some Wise Elder for their thoughts on this!

Elders - Our Source of Wisdom

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Last week, I wrote a blog about the 7 Teachings and my goal was to expand on each of the characteristics. I got side-tracked.

Today, I want to go back and take a closer look at “Humility”. In the Native traditions, the teacher of Humility is the Wolf. Two main points are common to all the stories shared to explain this Wisdom: 1) when you meet up with a wolf, the first thing he does is bows his head and 2) all that he does is for the pack, the greater good.

The wolf bows his head. For me, this show of humbleness and respect says, “my “me” is insignificant in the bigger picture. I am but a “dot” in the landscape”. It says, “your “me” is of great importance and deserves respect.” It says, “my “me” and your “me” are equal.”

How do we teach this? I think the Fire of Truth is key. We each sit at the fire, seeing the Truth from our own perspective. Although the views may be different and even contradictory, they are still views of the same fire, the same Truth. My view is no less or no more than yours. We are equal. Our views are equal – equal in that they provide a different perspective of the Fire, of Truth.

I think we also teach this by helping others (and ourselves) celebrate others’ successes, their skills and their gifts and talents. Jealousy will often rear its ugly head and try to belittle others’ achievements and abilities in an effort to protect our own egos, to make our selves feel bigger, better, stronger, wiser. This is the ego voice shouting in our ear. But if we silence the ego voice and listen from a place of core values, of the 7 Teachings, we can see that the other person’s talents are his contributions to the greater good and that we, too, have special talents and contributions to make.

Some gifts are more visible than others, more easily recognized; some gifts seem to hold greater importance in our society than others but that is just society’s ego voice speaking. An actor, a football player, a musician, a doctor, or the head of a country is no greater and no more important than the person who sweeps the floor at a fast food restaurant or spends his life feeding pigeons in the park. Neither are they more important than the fish in the sea or those pigeons in the park.

As mentors, we can role-model and guide this respect for all things. We can teach, through our actions, that we are not better than anyone else including the students, that students with high academic achievement are not better, that the athletes with many medals are not better, that the valedictorian is not better. We can show this by listening to each student with our full attention and with respect. We can encourage every student to share his/her Wisdom and encourage every other student to listen, with respect. We can celebrate achievements in the group, no matter how big or small. We can help students recognize and respect the small achievements, teaching them to see these small accomplishments as big milestones.

All the wolf does is for the pack. Everything we do is for the greater good. It is about how we use our “me” to support and expand the “we”.

Throughout my blogs, I have focused on helping students identify their gifts and talents and helping them develop these abilities. While this is important, very important, it is also vital that we remember that the greater good is, well, “greater” than the “me”.

Imagine that you are an artist at heart. That is your gift to the world or I should say “perceived gift to the world”. Imagine that, however, your skills are not helping you pay the bills. … and you have a family. Do you put your “me”, your talents, your art, before your family? Do you let them suffer so that you can fulfil your destiny to paint? Are their other gifts, talents, and life purposes that are are to be used?

Humility: the “me” is not more important than the “we”. We have a responsibility to the greater good, to contribute, and sometimes we have to be patient and put our “me” aside while we fulfill other responsibilities. And sometimes we have to be creative, finding different outlets for our gifts and talents.

One of my favourite sayings is, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. I can put my interests first; I can disregard the interests and needs of the group; I can do what I want, when I want, if I want; I can put the “me” above all others. But that doesn’t mean that I should.

Humility reminds us that the pack, the greater good, is more important, that the “me” contributes to the pack, the whole, not moves outside of it.

As I surfed the net, looking for interpretations of this Teaching, I found a video by MarcusDuffy1. I was not only intrigued by his perspective of the Truth and of “humility” but I was excited to find a real-life example of how technology can be used to expand the information discussed in the classroom.

Check out Marcus’ video here >>>

What does humility mean to you?
How do you role-model and guide this in the classroom?

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This morning I was awake from 1-5, kept up by the urge to write what resulted in a conversation about experiential learning.

I did manage to get a little more sleep after that was out of my head but, now, another scenario is playing in my head and won’t let me start my day. So here I go again — spewing out the image as best I can so that I can move on with my day!

The Scenario
* The multi-aged group of students meet, as a whole, to discuss the content of the day, whatever that might be and however that might be presented.
* The students then start discussing approaches to explore the content and gradually the students divide up into smaller groups, each focusing on the topic from different perspectives and/or abilities.
* In the scenario playing out in my head, the students were of high school age and I saw students from Grade 9 eagerly engaged in discussions with students in the higher grades. I also saw students who were not as academically inclined migrate away from this group and form their own little group, attacking the issue from a different perspective. The groupings happened naturally, without labels and without judgements or hierarchies.
* Mentors — with an “s” — moved about the area, supporting, observing, and bringing their “best of the best” to groups that needed and/or matched their expertise.
* The mentors included those trained as educators, psychologists, artists, scientists, writers, and so on.
* I saw a scientist mentor working with a group of kids who were recording their observations but had some difficulties with the literacy side of the report. The mentor says, “Let’s call in Mrs. X. She is really good at proofreading and at teaching grammar.” …. the science mentor moves out and the English teacher moves in.
* The mentors aren’t all teachers. The mentors aren’t all paid staff.
* At the end of the day the teachers meet to discuss observations, to add to each child’s portfolio, and to brainstorm ideas of how to empower each child’s talents and enhance the skills that need a little tweaking.

That was the scenario and, now as I look at it in writing, I get all excited at the possibilities as well as a little overwhelmed at the work and energy put into this learning environment. And I have questions…

* how multi-aged is the group? Perhaps a split of: 5-9 year olds; 10-14 year olds; 15-19 year olds
* is there a point where the “jack of all trades” learning ends and the focus is more on developing the specific talents and passions? Perhaps the 15-19 year olds are at an arts school or science school or mechanics school, etc?

And…?
What are the red flags that you see? What are the possibilities? The adaptations of this vision? Inquiring minds want to know!!
~Debbie

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Today I was going to move on to another characteristic of the 7 Teachings, but my brain had other ideas!

I awoke in the middle of the night and thoughts started flying here and there until finally I just got up. I think my brain has something it wants to think about and it won’t quit gnawing on the bone until I start typing … so here we are at 3:30 AM and I am about to open the gates to whatever it is that wants to be written.

Knowledge + Experience + Contemplation = Wisdom

The experience part is what has been keeping me awake. First I’ll just share the stories that were flashing in my head and then we’ll see where things lead.

1. When applying for the position at a parent/teacher support centre I presented an activity that could be used to teach children how to fold paper, developing eye-hand coordination. The activity? Folding a face cloth.
My point was that children can learn so many valuable lessons and develop so many skills through daily household chores. With the face cloth, can you see how much easier it would be for a young child to fold a cloth into 4 than trying to manipulate a piece of paper in the same way?

Practicing with the face cloth develops the dexterity to copy the process with paper. Concepts such as 1/2 and 1/4 can be introduced. Self-help skills are being developed. If it is a group activity then we are including social skills. If handled right, we can also add pride and self-esteem to the list. And perhaps, if you want to get creative, you can move from the facecloth to a napkin and learn some fancy folds! The list goes on.

It is only “folding a facecloth” if we see it just as that. But with planning, the opportunities are endless!

This same philosophy can be used for all areas of development. Daily life experiences hold the potential for unending learning. …

2. Imagine students being responsible for their meals. Preparing the menues, the shopping lists, the budget, the meals themselves, the clean-up, and whatever else it might entail.
Imagine everyone being responsible for all elements on a regular basis. That’s life.
Imagine the enhanced support to those who have an interest in nutrition (menu planning), budgeting (financial), cooking (food preparation), etc. Imagine how the “best of the best” mentors can be brought in for each of these areas to expand the knowledge, the skills, and the Wisdom.
And imagine these talented individuals sharing their knowledge with others as everyone works together on this common task/routine.
And … (one of the scenarios that flashed through my mind in the past couple of hours).. they want to stretch their budget by growing their own food. Just think of all the experiences that can be incorporated into this process and the number of other passions and talents that can be nurtured!

3. Picture the group of students who want to have a football team at the school. Everyone gets involved. Imagine all students getting experience in all areas of the process – including playing, (part of the “jack of all trades” education).
Then imagine those who are interested and/or gifted in certain areas, getting that “best of the best” mentoring…
The team will need some basic equipment… how do we fund that?
The team will need shirts with numbers on them… how do we fund this? And can the students make them?
What else is involved? Benches? – who can build them? Goal posts? … lines on the field? … and the list goes on, guided by the students, planned by the students, acquired by the students…

OK, so that is what was playing in my head over and over and over. What is the underlying ideas?

* practical application: the teaching, the passing on of Knowledge and the provision of Experience takes place through life experiences.
* hands-on: the students are involved right from step one and are empowered to pull everything together, to work together, and to share in the process
* “jack of all trades”: getting experience in all areas of a project provides basic knowledge and skills for all types of responsibilities
* supporting talents: beyond the “jack of all trades” teaching, individual interests, talents, and passions are supported and mentored, developing in-depth knowledge, skills, and Wisdom
* team work: we are all in this together; some people have strengths in one area and some have strengths in other areas; everyone has something to contribute;
* respect: following the team work discussion, the students can celebrate each other’s strengths without judgment or jealousy

How does this fit within a school system? The first thoughts may be that to achieve all this would take up way too much time in a day and there would be no time left for classes. This would mean a “mind shift” .. these components of the day are the classes, or some of them anyway.

Comparing the scenarios to that of the facecloth, what can we teach through the meal planning?
* Math: measuring, calculating…
* Literacy: reading, writing menus and recipes, invites to guests, letters to suppliers…
* Science: chemical reactions when certain foods are mixed together; the food sources…
* Geography: where the foods come from; which foods grow best in which areas of the world, in which soil times, climates…
* History: how menus, meal-planning, and etiquette has changed over time, and…
* Cultures: different foods, different routines and rituals, beliefs…
* Finances: budgeting, fundraising…
* And: team work, community, self-esteem, self-confidence, time management, planning ahead, back-up plans, problem-solving … and so on.
It’s all a matter of how the process is set-up and the mentoring that takes place throughout.

Of course there are “yah, but’s” … “but” I bet there are also solutions to those barriers.

That’s it.. my brain is happy now; well, tired actually and wants to go back to sleep!
Night. Again.

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Assessments

There are days that my brain works like surfing the net — you look for one thing, find a link to something else, then something else and so on until you stop and say, “How did I get here?”

This weekend the goal of my blog was to look at The 7 Teachings and ended up focusing on “Wisdom”. From that conversation, I ended up thinking about what teachers and mentors need to provide in order to help children develop wisdom.

Now, that leads into thoughts about assessments. Although it would be interesting to look at how one would assess the development of Wisdom”, what keeps rumbling around in my head is assessing the teacher!

Although the vision isn’t clear yet I see something that looks like this:

Students: are learning, exploring, experimenting, questioning, documenting, analyzing, contemplating, and sharing. They are learning about themselves, about their world, about their impact on the world and their way of contributing to the greater good. They are learning how to mesh knowledge with their experiences, creating Wisdom, and they are learning how to share their Wisdom with others and receive others’ Wisdom to add to their own.

Teachers: are providing the opportunities, experiences, and resources to empower the above. They are helping all the students discover their talents, their interests, their motivators, their style of learning and processing information, and ways to contribute and share information with others. Although teachers already do all this at some level, my vision takes it to a whole new level. Rather than the focus being on the content, it shifts to the environment and to the uniqueness of each child.

So what does this mean for assessment? It means, to me, that for the students, we are not assessing their level of abilities, but rather “documenting” observations about their personal styles, interests, etc, providing a picture of what can be provided to expand their self-awareness, skills, and so on.

And, as for the teachers, well, the list is quite extensive. “Content”, the “what”, is the vehicle for all the above to be delivered rather than the source of the grade. So, along with planning for the content the educator is planning for multiple learning styles, communication styles, personality styles, strengths, needs, and personal passions. During the activities, they are observing and interacting with the students not only to expand the knowledge on the content but also to gather information about children’s development and personalities. This information will be used for future activities.

On the surface, I’m sure most teachers will say that “I do this already”. This is where my vision gets a little foggy. I can see the difference but it is still blurry. Perhaps it is because the possibilities are endless; maybe it is just way too much to expect of a teacher; perhaps it is because I have not witnessed anything like my vision to be able to put it into words.

I think child care centres are the environments that are settings closest to my vision. But, here again, I think we can do more. Not only are we missing, in my opinion, the inclusion of the core values and 7 Teachings, but we are not celebrating and empowering the unique characteristics to the fullest.

If I was in the classroom now and wanted to assess how I was doing, I’d be looking at (the short list):

* the environment: thinking areas for introverts and extroverts
* the environment: times spent outdoors, connecting with nature, using natural settings as the classroom
* the environment: using the local community as the classroom and as a source of mentors
* resources: tools available for use by writers, artists, builders, scientists…
* observations: strategies to document and use observations of each child
* observations: compiling a portfolio for each child, gathering information about the whole child, about the SPICES development
* program-planning: using “content” to inspire, to challenge, and to empower each child
* program-planning: basing the “how” to deliver content on awareness of each child’s abilities, interests, passions
* program-planning: resources and support to help each child gather information for a personal portfolio, enhancing self-awareness
* program-planning: finding a balance between empowering personal strengths and developing skills in all areas (ex. empowering the skills of the introvert while at the same time helping them develop skills for “extrovert” situations)
* team development: involving the child, the parents/caregivers, and the community in the planning and implementing of experiences beneficial to the child’s growth
* personal contribution: bringing my personal passions and talents into the classroom, bringing the “best” of me to inspire the children

This is quite the “short list” but very powerful — and challenging to do. On one level it is a matter of a checklist to make sure that we are doing our job but on a deeper level, there is the accountability. How do we ensure that this is happening and happening well? How do we support the teacher or teachers in the classroom? What resources are needed?

What would you add to this list?
What does your vision look like?

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This morning I posted a blog about The 7 Teachings and ended up focusing on the teaching of Wisdom.

Throughout the day, my thoughts kept coming back to the discussion about what this means for us as mentors. If our goal is to create an environment where a child can…:

* receive and discover knowledge
* mesh knowledge with experience
* contemplate discoveries for development of Wisdom
* share Wisdom with others

…then we need to…. and this is where my brain started flashing ideas left and right. Some images and ideas I caught and others came and went too quickly. And some ideas were brilliant but I didn’t write them down and now they are lost.

The following are some of the ideas that I remember from today’s meanderings:
* find that balance of “giving knowledge” and allowing for hands-on discovery
* provide a variety of experiences and opportunities for exploration
* provide a setting and opportunities for the introvert as well as the extrovert
* allow explorations in any form, letting each child find his/her own way to discover the knowledge and its implications
* provide and teach various ways to to explore (scientific experiment, acting, painting, writing etc)
* provide and teach various ways to contemplate and reflect, to get a deeper understanding of the subject and mesh it with current knowledge, beliefs, etc
* provide and teach various ways to communicate one’s perspective with others, to share the knowledge and to share the Wisdom
* and to find the balance between expanding their comfort zone by having them try new strategies and techniques while at the same time enhancing their personal styles and favourite techniques.

The goal is not (or should not be) to create writers out of everyone. Yes, we want everyone to be able to write at some level, but writing may not be a child’s strength or interest. They may want to create physical representations.

The goal is not (or should not be) to assess the end product but to help each child become aware of talents and interests, to be a “jack of all trades” with experience in a variety of areas, to continually strive to improve their abilities, to mesh knowledge with experience, to become Wise, to share this Wisdom with others, and to contribute to the bigger picture.

The goal should be “what did you learn from this” and “how can this Wisdom be used during your journey of contributing to the greater good”.

Education is not about the grade .. it’s not really about judging abilities in any manner. It is about providing experiences and opportunities and helping students get the most of the events, guiding them to think, to experience, to experiment, to contemplate, to share, and to use the Wisdom that they acquire.

Now, my thoughts focus on early childhood education. The goal of preschool programs is to mesh discover and skill development with play. Educators and support services keep an eye open for signs that a child needs extra help in certain areas in order to help them developmentally, intellectually, and emotionally, so that they can make the most of their life experiences.

There is no “failing” at being a toddler; there is no grading of ability to print their name; there is no “holding back” if they are unable to sort items by colour. All children play in the same environment, in an environment filled with activities that will enhance and challenge each child, at his/her own level of abilities, using each child’s interests, personal challenges and strengths. As an educator, it is about recognizing where a child “is” currently and taking them to the next level.

What ideas came to mind for you as you contemplated the role of Wisdom in the classroom?

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