Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My Gift is… My Words

Grade ten went by in a flash for my son Max. It has been the best year, since Kindergarten, that it could possibly have been, and for this, I am grateful.
A friend, whose son I had the privilege of teaching in Kindergarten, once said that she hoped that her son would head off to senior science classes with as much verve and anticipation as he headed off to Kindergarten with. I too hoped this for my fella and I am thrilled to say that he did just that.
To Max’s Science teacher this year, I am grateful for the time spent with hands on experiments and for rekindling in Max the wonder and magic that science holds.
To his English teacher who noticed Max’s creative abilities, was openly appreciative that he paid close attention and followed the class expectations, and nominated him for a Leaders of Tomorrow Award, I am thankful.
To his Physical Education teacher/coach/mentor, who inspired him to be the best that he could be, given his gifts and talents and for pushing him to go further beyond the school and into a different community to honour one of those gifts, I am truly grateful.
To Max’s Social Studies teacher who noted that Max works hard for every mark he gets but has a passion for maps and geography and makes connections between the past and present with regard to politics and history and who also nominated Max for a Leaders of Tomorrow Award, I thank you!
To his Aunt, when in grade one when Max was sad, held his heart as she let him sit on her lap during recesses and then once again invested in him while teaching him in grade ten about all of her passions for photography and graphic design, I am thankful.
To his Math teacher who was aware that Max made/makes good decisions surrounding schoolwork and deadlines and saw that although Math is a great challenge for him, with his diligence, he can do much more, I am so very grateful.
To the Principal who strives to create a dynamic team and not only asks the students to be responsible for all of their actions, but respects them and genuinely likes the students, I offer out my thanks.
My sixteen year old has many positive guides in his life and will continue to flourish knowing that he belongs at Gus Wetter School.
Thank you and create a great summer!
Max at the High School Christmas Banquet

Monday, June 27, 2011

Play On...

“in Just spring when the world is mud-
luscious”… beloved poet e. e. cummings writes
“and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

I first heard this poem when I was in my early teens and I immediately fell in love with it. It may have been because it was an easy poem to memorize and recite or maybe it was because it seemed simple. As I approach fifty, Cummings words touch me in a very different way, often with sadness and a yearning for the freedom that my childhood held. Simplicity, would be the last word that I would use to describe this rich poem.

For children, play is work. I love to see how young ones delve into their play in order to make sense of the world around them. How they slip into absolute freedom and joy with their play and then fall into bed, peacefully with utmost satisfaction for a day well spent. Children dig in the dirt with intensity of purpose and walk away when they are finished not when the “job” is completed. When working with youngsters, it has always been important to me to allow them to exhaust themselves with a particular toy or activity before giving it up to someone else or giving it up for something else. I never liked the idea that a child should have a toy for a set time and then pass it on to the next. I have had some accuse me of not insisting on sharing when in actuality I did, and do agree with sharing but only if a child is finished with the particular toy that is desired by another.  When my son was five, we bought him his first stomper rocket. It was a surprise gift that I had put in the trailer and was going to bring it out when we were camping. That particular trip, and along with a group of friends, we arrived in the pouring rain and set up the trailer. A few of the kids went into our trailer to play games and when the rain lifted, three other fellas, who had found the rocket, asked if they could play with it. “Of course.” I said, assuming Max would be included. Max was considerably younger. Max never said a word to me all the while knowing that I always let him play until he was finished with something. Finally, after a few hours, he asked me if he could play with his new rocket too. It was the only time I remember interrupting and asking others to “share” the toy. 
Kids in the Sand...
 Today, my daughter Jillian, begins her summer vacation and Max begins his summer job. At age fourteen and sixteen, I want them to remember the importance of play and although I do not want to schedule it in, I want them to value its importance and I wonder how I will continue to do this.
As an adult I have, at times, forgotten how important it is to play. I have a tendency to delve into the work, that is no longer play, and get fussed by deadlines and agendas. Although I specifically run for my heart and take time for activities like golfing and skiing, I wonder about the kind of play that young children immerse themselves in like skipping and swinging.
As I type this, my sixteen year old Max is figuring out the helmet camera that I just won while fourteen year old Jillian puts together a new Lego® creation.
And so I ask you,
“when the world is puddle-wonderful
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
do you play?
e. e. schaffner

Monday, June 20, 2011

On Spelling...

In my experience, spelling has not seemed to be connected to any other part of language learning. When I have a look at my own children and their spelling knowledge and skills this also seems to be evident.
Jillian learned to read before she went to grade one. She taught herself and at age 14, reads voraciously. She is also an awful speller having to use many strategies in order to spell well and she seems to have no attachment to caring about this challenge of hers.
Max learned to read along with his primary school classmates and has followed a so-called “normal” pattern with the learning of new material. He only reads what he has to read and prefers to ponder and create more than take in. He is a terrific speller making connections between like words and transferring his knowledge of one word to many. Phonics makes sense to him, as do exceptions to spelling rules.
In the box called school, Jillian is a straight A student with very little effort and Max works hard for B’s.
What does this all mean?
Well first off, it is only fascinating to me, not important, as I know what their gifts and talents are and how to encourage those to be used for good in this world. As a teacher, I felt that this was my greatest responsibility after keeping them safe physically and emotionally.
However, part of my responsibility was also to teach academic skills. I am a writer and know that one becomes a better writer by writing and so I wanted my students to write and write and write – freely. This meant that spelling had to be thrown by the wayside in the initial stages of writing. However, in order to produce polished pieces, editing was necessary and with editing comes spelling correctness.
One of the strategies I used was to have handheld electronic dictionaries available throughout the classroom as well as a variety of hard copy paper dictionaries. But the greatest strategy that produced far-reaching and long lasting results came to me when I had a triple graded class of 6-8 year olds. It unfolds as follows:
When you, the student, are doing a spelling edit on a writing piece and you come to a word you are not sure of:
1.       Ask how many letters there are in the word and then put that many blanks on a piece of paper, white/chalk board etc. eg: The word “like” would look like this _ _ _ _
2.       Attempt to fill in blanks – must be quick and brief or I would give hints and sometimes fill in the blanks with an explanation. Say child writes, lick for like, I then would put a check mark above l and i and erase the c and k and see if he/she can fill those blanks in.
3.       If child cannot, I remind them that there are many words that end in this silent letter and we must get used to remembering this. Invariably they write ke for the ending of the word.
This entire process should not take long - just seconds. Other students can take these same seconds to help their classmates and I would suggest students that may be a resource for each other. For instance: I remember a child needing to spell the word dolphin and so I asked that child if they could think of someone in the class who loved dolphins and might be able to assist them. Sometimes I would ask a child if they remembered someone else needing that word a few days ago and then the child would remember and ask said child to help them.
When I accidentally fell into creating this strategy, it was out of need and a noticeable desire for all. For the first two days it was mayhem and after that it was so smooth that one hardly noticed the goings on and spelling became a secondary focus.
What I did notice is that the students were becoming good spellers maybe it was because they were beginning to see and make connections and because the words that they wanted to spell were from their personal thoughts and vocabulary. I am not certain.
What I do know is – it worked!

(I hope that this is stated clearly enough.)