Mentoring Moments: Importance of Our Names

I always wanted to write why the name each of us are given is important to consider. Each year we have the privilege as an educator to touch and impact families as we teach their children. I emphasize as a teacher we teach children that belong to many cultures and backgrounds…As a teacher we have so many opportunities to reflect on pronunciation of names, spelling of names and the chance to talk about each individual story behind the name that we are given. As we celebrate World Teacher Day this month reflect on the privilege we hold as teachers to embrace diversity, be inclusive and bring about change in the education system that we work for towards a better future for all.

This blog starts with you getting to know me a bit better as an Educator in Ontario. Nilmini is my middle name- it was given to me by my parents because “Nil” in Sinhala means the colour Blue. “Mini” in Sinhala translates into “Gem”…Nilmini means a Blue Gem a precious stone, and important name that I was given. I love it…I never really thought about how when I was born the white part of my eyes had grey and blue tones….Moreover, now as an educator I reflect on why my name holds a special place in my heart since it is also apart of my heritage the beautiful country I was born in Sri Lanka before I immigrated to Canada with my family as a child.

“Each year we have the privilege as an educator to touch and impact families as we teach their children.” @NRatwatte

Ask your students about their Name Stories

As an educator there is no better way to build a trusting relationship than to ask students about who they are so you can connect it to the curriculum that is being taught each year.

  • Build in lessons through out the year to get to know your students names
  • Their heritage
  • Their traditions
  • Call students by their names – real names
  • Don’t change them since they are long
  • Do give them pride and ownership in using their own name

Some Books that can help you start the conversation about Names

Name Jar

I love using this book to discuss the importance of keeping our language cultural name and customs. The book helps us talk about inclusion practises in a school setting and importance of feeling belonging.

Chrysanthemum

No better book for me as a teacher since my name is very long and I go by my middle name Nilmini that is a family tradition.

They call me Number One

A book I start the conversation with about the importance of making students feel welcome when learning about the First Nations Peoples of Canada and the Residential School System.

Growth Mindset to Teaching

I encourage you as an educator to embrace the differences and not shorten names but call students by their real names to give them respect for their identity. Names are apart of each individual identity since they are interconnected to who we are, our cultural heritage or our customs.

  • Ask Questions
  • Encourage sharing
  • Embrace the Learning

In my culture we have a “letter sound” that is given to us when we are born according to our horoscope and that is the sound that we use to name each child according to be prosperous in our lives. These traditions carry with us over the generations because they are meaningful and they encourage customs that hold our heritage over the centuries close to our hearts.

Reflection Question: Think about why your name is important; write down your name story that you can share with your student during a lesson and courageous conversation.

Yours in Education,

Nilmini

Welcoming Refugees … by any other name

St Louis Jewish in Germany Refugee Ship 1939

Turned Away: Tale of St. Louis and the fate of its 907 German Jews.

Welcoming Refugees by any other name

While reading the Toronto Star, I came across an article by Martin Regg Cohn writing about his experience meeting refugees making their way through the Vermont forest into Canada. This made me think about black slaves coming to Canada through the Underground Railroad beginning in the late 1700s. This further got me thinking about all the people who have come to Canada seeking refuge after being forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, natural disaster or just to find a secure place to live and raise their family.

Canada (and its previous names of British North America, Upper and Lower Canada, and New France), has always been a destination for refuge. Today and before confederation in 1967, our nation would not have grown in population or diversity without the seekers of refuge. There’s been significant waves of refugee seekers over Canada’s last 250 years. I was surprised at the extend of the list!

This is a partial list from the Government of Canada’s Canada: A History of Refuge

1776: 3,000 Black Loyalists, among them freemen and slaves, fled the oppression of the American Revolution.

1783: Sir Guy Carleton, Governor of the British Province of Quebec, and later to become Lord Dorchester, safely transported 35,000 Loyalist refugees.

1789: Lord Dorchester, Governor-in-Chief of British North America, gave official recognition to the “First Loyalists” – those loyal to the Crown who fled the oppression of the American Revolution to settle in Nova Scotia and Quebec.

1793: Upper Canada became the first province in the British Empire to abolish slavery. In turn, over the course of the 19th century, thousands of black slaves escaped from the United States and came to Canada with the aid of the Underground Railroad, a Christian anti-slavery network.

Late 1700s: Scots Highlanders, refugees of the Highland Clearances during the modernization of Scotland, settled in Canada.

1830: Polish refugees fled to Canada to escape Russian oppression.

1845-1851: Irish refugees escaping the Great Potato Famine.

1880-1914: Italians escaped the ravages of Italy’s unification as farmers were driven off their land as a result of the new Italian state reforms.

1880-1914: Thousands of persecuted Jews, fleeing pogroms in the Pale of Settlement, sought refuge in Canada.

1891: The migration of 170,000 Ukrainians began, mainly to flee oppression from areas under Austro-Hungarian rule, marking the first wave of Ukrainians seeking refuge in Canada. 1920-1939: The second wave of Ukrainians fled from Communism, civil war and Soviet occupation. 1945-1952: The third wave of Ukrainians fled Communist rule.

1947-1952: 250,000 displaced persons (DPs) from Central and Eastern Europe came to Canada, victims of both National Socialism (Nazism) and Communism, and Soviet occupation.

1950s: Canada admitted Palestinian Arabs, driven from their homeland by the Israeli-Arab war of 1948.

1950s-1970s: A significant influx of Middle Eastern and North African Jews fled to Canada.

1956: 37,000 Hungarians escaped Soviet tyranny and found refuge in Canada.

1960s: Chinese refugees fled the Communist violence of the Cultural Revolution.

1968-1969: 11,000 Czech refugees fled the Soviet and Warsaw Pact Communist invasion.

1970s: 7,000 Chilean and other Latin American refugees were allowed to stay in Canada after the violent overthrow of Salvador Allende’s government in 1973.

1970-1990: Deprived of political and religious freedom, 20,000 Soviet Jews settled in Canada.

1971: After decades of being denied adequate political representation in the central Pakistani government, thousands of Bengali Muslims came to Canada at the outbreak of the Bangladesh Liberation War.

1971-1972: Canada admitted some 228 Tibetans. These refugees, along with their fellow countrymen, were fleeing their homeland after China occupied it in 1959.

1972-1973: Following Idi Amin’s expulsion of Ugandan Asians, 7,000 Ismaili Muslims fled and were brought to Canada.

1979 -1980: More than 60,000 Boat People found refuge in Canada after the Communist victory in the Vietnam War.

1980s: Khmer Cambodians, victims of the Communist regime and the aftershocks of Communist victory in the Vietnam War, fled to Canada.

1990s: By the 1990s, asylum seekers came to Canada from all over the world, particularly Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa.

1992: 5,000 Bosnian Muslims were admitted to Canada to escape the ethnic cleansing in the Yugoslav Civil War.

1999: Canada airlifted more than 5,000 Kosovars, most of whom were Muslim, to safety.

2006: Canada resettled over 3,900 Karen refugees from refugee camps in Thailand.

2008: Canada began the process of resettling more than 5,000 Bhutanese refugees over five years.

2015: Close to 6,600 Bhutanese refugees arrived in Canada. Canada completes a seven-year commitment and welcomes more than 23,000 Iraqi refugees. Canada commits to and begins resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees.

2017: Canada announces historical increases in multiyear resettled refugee admissions targets, as well as new commitments for resettling refugees from Africa and the Middle-East.

2018: Canada resettled more than 1,300 survivors of Daesh in 2017 and 2018.

If it were not for Canada’s generosity to refugees and immigrants, my mother’s family would not have made it to Canada. Her family consists of Scots Highlanders escaping the Highland Clearance in 1830, British Loyalists and Quakers refusing to participate in the War of 1812, and Irish refugee escaping the starvation of the Potato Famine between 1845-1851. My Northern Irish immigrant father, on the other hand, was escaping bad business deals.

Canada, as a place, has not always been generous to refugees. In 1939, the William Lyon Mackenzie King government turned away 900 Jews escaping Nazis rule in order “to keep this part of the continent free from unrest and from too great an intermixture of foreign strains of blood” (Prime Minister King, 1939). Note that a third of these Jewish refugees died in concentration camps. During World War 2, Canada allowed less than 5,000 Jews into the country – a small quantity considering the numbers for the United States (200,000), Great Britain (195,000), Argentina (50,000), and Brazil (27,000) welcoming Jews into their countries.

In what we now call Canada, British governments created their own refugees through the expulsion of the thriving community of Acadians in 1755 and the ongoing expulsion of indigenous peoples from their traditional lands.

Be aware, that once settled in Canada, people were not safe from human rights violations. In 1941, 22,000 Japanese Canadians were interned in camps along with 660 Germans and 480 Italians. My very intelligent mother-in-law lost her opportunity to complete her high school education after being interned in Lemon Creek, B.C. Many of the internees were born in Canada but were treated as foreigners. The Chinese, who’s hands build Canada’s first national railroad, paid a Chinese only Head Tax for every person entering Canada between 1885 and 1923.

Given its history of welcoming refugees, why is there such a great debate about the current refugee crisis in Canada? If I look at the past refugees and immigrants, a great deal of immigrants could be classified as WASP – White Anglo Saxon Protestants who spoke English. Canada has opened its doors for non British, non English or French speaking refugees and immigrants. In the early 1950s, Canada welcomed my children’s grandparents from Yugoslavia. All the families and relatives lived in one house until each family could afford to buy their own house (this is not unlike what some families do today). The Yugoslavians did not speak English, but they were White.

As classroom teachers, we know who is coming into our country as it is evident from our classroom compositions. I often share that if it were not for refugees and immigrants, I would not have a job as a teacher. I have taught many refugees from all over the world including Africa, Bosnia, Kosovo, Thailand, Syria, Iraq and the Middle East. I have been honoured to teach them and to hear their stories.

I believe that the current refugees are receiving pushback from some Canadians (i.e. who’s families were also immigrants and refugees) because many of the refugees coming to Canada are not White. I believe that this pushback is solely due to racism.

Refugees and immigrants, regardless of place, time, or label, sacrifice everything for a chance at a better life when they set foot in Canada. When talking about human rights in my classroom, I always remind my students that if we do not stand up for the human rights of others, ours could be at risk.

If Canadians allow for the discrimination against our current refugees, we are setting ourselves up for a future of more discrimination, regardless of status in Canada. Do Canadians really want to repeat the tale of the St. Louis and the fate of its 907 German Jews? More recently, do Canadians want to see more children like 3 year old Syrian-Kurdish Alan Kurdi lose their lives while their families seek more secure places to live?

Alan_kurdi_smiling_playground

This blog is dedicated to the refugees I had the honour to support as a Red Cross volunteer this summer. I wish you all success in your new country, Canada.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

References

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2018/08/20/my-border-encounter-with-a-migrant-family.html

https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/refugees/canada-role/timeline.html

http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/1174272-canada-turned-away-jewish-refugees

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_head_tax_in_Canada

https://www.dummies.com/education/history/world-history/canadian-history-for-dummies-cheat-sheet/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Alan_Kurdi

Report Cards Are Coming: Professional Reporting

Growing Success K-12
Growing Success K-12

Elementary Report Cards … the mere mention of report cards can send some teachers into anxious ridden days and sleepless nights. Even after 17 years of writing elementary report cards, I anticipated that my levels of anxiety would be non-existent but, no, for me, the thought of report card writing still stresses me out. I know of some colleagues who are so anxious about report card writing, that they had to seek medical support.

The source of this anxiety is embedded in inconsistencies in how report card policy is implemented. And the source of the inconsistencies is rooted in the process of educational policy implementation. With each level of educational policy implementation gatekeepers, such as boards of education, superintendents, schools, administrators, and classroom teachers, all interpret and change the policy based on their own context and their own perspectives (Ball, Maguire, & Braun, 2012).

As report card policy initiatives are translated into real life, the policy stakeholders, like administrators and teachers, adapt and reinvent their interpretation of the policy into school contexts. Since the education policy guidelines tend to be abstract and non specific, confusion and disjointedness results (Ball, 1993), and teachers end up decoding and recoding the policy text such as the reporting policy, Growing Success (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010). Even with the well written Growing Success document (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010), the process of understanding and translating report card policy can result in various degrees of intentional and unintentional interpretations (Fuhrman, Clune, & Elmore, 1991). Or, in other words, there are inconsistencies in report card policy implementation. Competing theories between policy authors (i.e., governments and school boards) and report card implementers (i.e., principals and teachers) can cause conflicts between the vision of policy and the practice of policy (Timperley & Parr, 2005). This can result in gatekeepers’ experiencing “most carefully planned” initiatives unfolding in a “non-linear manner” (Timperley & Robinson, 2000, p. 47).

This policy implementation process results in the practice of report card writing that look different from the vision of the report card policy writers. Therefore, because of this flux,  report card formats and content can change from school board to school board, school to school, year to year, administrator to administrator, and sometimes even term to term (Note: this is strictly based on my own experience over 17 years). As noted earlier, at every level of implementation, each person put their own spin on the policy. The result is that teachers have to deal with changing report card writing expectations. Inconsistencies directly result in teachers having to spend a great deal of time trying to meet the expectations of different stakeholders. Teachers then have to use their professional judgement to interpret these expectations.

The document Growing Success (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 152) states “ Judgement that is informed by professional knowledge of curriculum expectations, context, evidence of learning, methods of instruction and assessment, and the criteria and standards that indicate success in student learning. In professional practice, judgement involves a purposeful and systematic thinking process that evolves in terms of accuracy and insight with ongoing reflection and self-correction.”

Further, Growing Success states that “successful implementation of policy depends on the professional judgement of educators at all levels, as well as on educators’ ability to work together” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 2). It is through educators’ collaboration that educational change becomes reality; it is how policy becomes practice. “Teachers’ professional judgements are at the heart of effective assessment, evaluation, and reporting of student achievement.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 8). So teachers, working with other stakeholders, using their professional judgement need “to clarify and share their understanding of policy and to develop and share effective implementation practices” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 2).

Below is a breakdown of the Growing Success policy based on areas I have needed information on while writing report cards. This is not an exhaustive list. Please refer to the documents noted below for further information.

Growing Success Reporting Chart

Ontario Report Card Policy Breakdown with reference to report card writing

The Growing Success document notes the following “It is important that teachers have the opportunity to compose and use personalized comments on report cards as an alternative to selecting from a prepared set of standard comments. School boards should not enact policies that prevent teachers from providing personalized comments on report cards. It is expected that principals will support best practice and encourage teachers to generate their own comments.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 64)

Given the focus of encouraging “teachers to generate their own comments”, having a bank of pre-approved board-wide report card comments available to elementary teachers may or may not be forthcoming.

After the above analysis and reflection regarding report card writing and professional judgement, I ask myself “What has helped me the most in report card writing?”

My answer is collaborating with other teachers. It is in the discussion, co-creating, and sharing of report card comments that I have been supported the most in my writing of the Progress, Term 1, and Term 2 report cards. For me, sharing report card comments does not mean that I simply “cut and paste” my colleagues’ work. This does not happen because I write comments through the lens of my own teaching practice. My colleagues’ shared learning skill comments often inspire me to write comments especially for challenging students.

In writing report cards, I use my professional experience and knowledge that has resulted in the development of my professional judgement. So my advice to any teacher who is being challenge in report card writing is to reach out to your colleague … for advice, support, or debate.

I believe that when working collaboratively, teachers are better together … especially when writing report cards.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

 References

Ball, S. (1993). What is policy? Texts, trajectories, and toolboxes. Discourse, 13(2), 10-17.

Ball, S. J., Maguire, M., & Braun, A. (2012). How schools do policy: Policy enactments in secondary schools. New York, NY: Routledge.

Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. (ETFO). (2016). The elementary provincial report card continued implementation update – Grades 1 to 8, Professional Relations Services, PRS, Volume #66, January 2016. Retrieved from http://www.etfo.ca/SupportingMembers/Employees/PDF%20Versions/The%20Elementary%20Provincial%20Report%20Card%20Continued%20Implementation%20Update%20-%20Grades%201%20to%208.pdf

Fuhrman, S., Clune, W., & Elmore, R. (1991). Research on education reform: Lessons on the implementation of policy (pp. 197-218). AR Odden, Education Policy Implementation. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2000). The Ontario Student Record (OSR) Guideline, Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/curricul/osr/osr.pdf

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Growing success: Assessment, evaluation, and reporting in Ontario schools, First Edition, Covering Grades 1 to 12 Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/growSuccess.pdf

Timperley, H. S., & Parr, J. M. (2005). Theory competition and the process of change. Journal of Educational Change, 6(3), 227-251.

Timperley, H., & Robinson, V. (2000). Workload and the professional culture of teachers. Educational Management & Administration, 28(1), p. 47-62.

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Solution Tree Press.

Celebrating Our Student’s First Language Through Music

Do you recognize the lyrics to this song?

Lyrics better!

I didn’t until one month ago, when my students began a project I created about celebrating songs in other languages. This project came out of a desire to change one part of my music program. The most important part of any arts program is student creations. In my class students create songs, ostinatos, percussion compositions, raps etc… You name it, my students have probably created it. However, I felt that the part of the music curriculum that focuses on exploring forms and cultural contexts could be improved. I felt like the music that I was bringing in was authentic and reflective of my student population but the problem was, it was always initiated by ME. So I decided to try something new and it has been the most amazing project.

I am very fortunate to work in a very diverse school where many of my students are bilingual or multilingual. In previous years, as many songs as we learned from different communities and cultures, I didn’t feel as if I was really helping my students increase their multilinguistic skills or supporting them through their cultural identity journey. In the past, I felt that my students learned a lot about cultural music through units I created, but I wanted something deeper this time.

The idea for this project was inspired by a project called “Dual Language Identity Project” http://www.multiliteracies.ca/index.php/folio/viewProject/8. In this project, students were encouraged to write stories in their first language to support their acquisition of English Language Skills. I really liked how the students had ownership and pride in their linguistic skills in their first language. The inability to write proficiently in English was not placed as an obstacle for their expression.

My students differed from the students in the “Dual Language Identity Project” because they have a lot of proficiency in English. Most of my students were born in Canada and spoke another language at home until they came to school, but are now fairly fluent in English. However, I recognized the pride that came from the “Dual Language Project” and I wanted to emulate that. Being a music teacher, I decided that we would complete a project with songs. Students chose a children’s song from their first language and created a lyrics book so that our younger students could learn the songs. For many of our younger students who do not read or write in their first language, it also gave them exposure to text in Punjabi, Singhalese, Urdu, Guajarati, etc.

In addition to completing the project to increase student’s engagement with their own personal cultural music, I had some other goals with the project:

a)     To increase the exposure to languages that were unfamiliar to them. The project helped students become accustomed to hearing and interacting with people who speak different languages and have different cultural backgrounds. At the beginning of the project, with 6 or 7 different songs being played at the same time in the classroom, students would look up and sometimes react to the sounds of other languages. However, a couple of weeks into the project, students started asking questions about the songs instead of reacting negatively.

b)    To increase students’ pride in their cultural identity. At first, students were very shy to share their cultural heritage. Four weeks in, however, I have heard about students’ family trees and the multitude of different languages that are spoken in my students homes every day, and many, many other stories. I believe that holding onto first languages and culture has positive impacts on the social and emotional well-being of students.

c)     Studying the linguistic structures of one language really helps the growth of language acquisition skills in all languages.

d)    I have been looking for ways to include my incredible multicultural families into our music program and this was a perfect way.

To complete the project, students were primarily placed in groups based on their first language. If they were multilingual, they were allowed to pick which language they wanted to join. If they spoke no other language, they were allowed to choose which language they were interested in learning.  Today, my student who does not speak another language performed quite a lengthy song in Guajarati!

Some students worked alone by choice, others worked in groups of approximately 4 or 5. The students were given an IPad to use as a reference tool if they needed it.

In the first period, the students spent most of the time listening to different songs they might be interested in using. Some students found it difficult to find songs online so they asked their families that night at home for ideas.

20170614_133730

Their next job was to work together to create the books. The students wrote one lyric per page and drew a picture that corresponded with them. They were also responsible for including an English translation at the back of the book and a title page at the front. All of the books were between 6-12 pages.

Title better!

The books turned out amazing and I can really see the desire each group had to create a polished product.

Teaching the younger students has been really fantastic as well. It is so special to see a grade four student connecting with a grade one student who both share the same language.

20170621_135116

In addition to watching the most amazing interactions between students, I had one student who did not speak Japanese but was really interested in learning a Japanese song so I told her go right ahead. Wow! She learned that song in no time. She was even teaching a rather reluctant student in my class to sing it (and he HATES singing). I felt like this project was a miracle worker.

I watched students of Trinidadian background learn songs in Urdu and students who are sometimes rather shy in my class absolutely shine as they shared their deep knowledge of their language and culture. Artistic students helped consult on picture and colour choices

Everyone had something to bring.

Everyone was allowed to choose their direction and course.

Were there mistakes in their multilingual writing? Yes, there were. For those of you who are proficient in Punjabi, my students literally sounded out the word foot and wrote it in Punjabi instead of writing paair. However, I could hear students discussing and trying to figure out how to write certain words, helping them to grow in their first language. Some rarely get this opportunity. I also listened to a 10 minute conversation between two students who speak Tamil about the translation to English. They were working with the song “Nela Nela Odiva” and the direct translation was about the ‘moon running’. They talked it out for a quite a while and decided that the ‘Moon was moving quickly’ made more sense.

I learned a lot about my students, their interests and their cultures through this project. I learned that some of my students work hard on their Saturday morning to learn how to write in Hindi, Singhalese, Punjabi, Tamil and so many other languages. I learned that Guyanese kid songs are incredibly difficult to find on the internet (that might be my next project).

Music is about connecting with who we are as expressions of ourselves and I feel this project helped me to get to know my students more deeply. It was also a powerful way of learning and working with cultural music.

Learning Academic Vocabulary

It is the time of year to start reflecting on what went right and what you would like to improve on for next year. As teachers, it is important to say “I did a good job this year on helping Paramjot learn his timetables or Kayla adjust to a new school and make friends.” However, in more cases than not, we spend time looking at what we can improve on as that is what makes us good teachers.

If I had to choose one area that I would really like to improve in the next couple of years is helping my students acquire academic language in music. This has been an area of my program that has challenged me over the past five years as I feel that the vocabulary is not ‘sinking in’. I feel like we use it to describe the music we are listening to, but when we try to use it again a couple of weeks later, the students have forgotten it. I feel like I am constantly re-teaching the vocabulary.

I teach at a school where there are many English Language Learners, so vocabulary in general is a challenge for them. After doing some reading about vocabulary acquisition for ELLs (there is a great monograph from the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat called “World of Words”) I learned that many of my students come to school about 1000 words behind their peers. This means, as teachers, that we are constantly in a catch up game for our students.

After thinking about why the vocabulary acquisition part of my program is not working, I think one problem is that I do not place enough emphasis on it. We play, compose and rock out all day in music class, but we don’t spend as much time talking about the music. I feel the other problem that could be plaguing that part of my program is that I try to introduce too many words at once, which overwhelms the students.

The other issues are that most of the approaches that are suggested for direct vocabulary instruction don’t really happen in music class. We rarely, if ever, do shared reading, and making inferences from context can be more challenging when the new words are used orally instead of in a reading passage. I also see how word analysis can be really challenging, as a lot of the academic vocabulary that we use is in Italian. Students are therefore unable to look for clues in prefixes and suffixes that they might know from other subject areas.  

The one suggestion that I have read about that I am going to try for next year is called 30 on the wall. The goal is to target 30 subject specific words that students become “intimately familiar” with by the end of each year in every subject. 30 words seems really manageable and by the end of their five years with me they would know 150 words very well-related to music. It would take some forethought and planning to target a specific set of words, but that is going to be my goal for the coming year. I will spend some time this June looking at a natural progression of vocabulary words, which ones will work best with the curriculum expectations for each grade, and which words are most useful and transferable in my students’ academic career.

But at the end of the day, as we work towards our goal, I will still take time to raise a glass and proclaim….

 

 

 

vocabulary

 

Helping English Language Learners in Music

Music Class can be tricky to navigate for our ELLs (English Language Learners). Although music is really fun and engaging, learning lyrics to songs and terms for describing music can be challenging to remember.

Lyrics to songs can be difficult for ELLs as there are often slang words, incomplete sentences or words that are used in unusual ways. Lyrics manipulate grammar rules and each genre can have its own style of communication, depending on its origin. In addition to lyrics, vocabulary for music has the same challenges as many content subjects, which is that the vocabulary is often not used in daily life. You don’t hear people talking about how forte, vivace or legato a song was. As the vocabulary is only used for such a small portion of their school week, it is very hard to internalize. 

My student population has around 70-80 percent of students on the STEPS of Language Acquisition. In trying to help my ELLs be successful in music class, I have used the following:

1)      Song selection: My team is very selective when choosing songs to sing in class, and we are always looking to make sure songs are not too long, often repetitive and that new vocabulary is not too overwhelming for students to learn.

2)      Patience: We take time to let students internalize one section of the song before we move onto the next. If we are learning a song that is a little longer, we only focus on one verse for part of a class and visit the next verse in subsequent classes.

3)      Visuals: There are diagrams and visuals to support students in discussing music. (You can find mini posters about the elements of music on the website Teachers Pay Teachers).  Also, illustrating a song can help solidify meaning.

4)      Actions: We often add actions to many songs to help us understand the meaning of what we are singing.

5)      Cooperative Learning: We do some whole group and teacher led instruction to learn some new vocabulary and lyrics. However, more often, students work together as pairs or groups towards internalizing the lyrics and their responses to music.

6)      Use music that represents the culture and language of your students: Using songs from a student’s culture allows them to feel valued and they become the expert in the room.  Finding authentic arrangements and scores can be difficult. Making a connection to a member of the community that can help you is a very important asset.

7)      Make it fun: Ultimately, music should be a fun way to engage with language. So encourage the students to enjoy themselves!

Even though music can be challenging, it can also be very supportive when learning a new language. About 15 years ago, I decided to move to Japan to be a teacher. I ended up loving it so much that I stayed there for three years. In my own personal journey of learning a new language and writing system, music played an important role. I listened to a lot of Japanese music and bopped and bounced along to the music in my home, car and at school. New vocabulary stuck in my brain from the songs that I heard, and I enjoyed learning how new vocabulary was written in Kanji (the Japanese writing system) from the inside of CD covers. Listening to music was great as it was the one Japanese activity in my day that didn’t require a response from me. Music can play a very important role in the acquisition of language.  

Welcome Boozhoo ᐊᕆᐅᙵᐃᐹ Bienvenue

front-entrance-v2Welcome Boozhoo  ᐊᕆᐅᙵᐃᐹ  Bienvenue مرحبا بكم  בברכה  欢迎  환영  स्वागत

It’s been over a year since Canada opened its doors and hearts to thousands of Syrian refugees. They, along with countless others from nearly every country, chose to make Canada their new home.

Along with the joy, angst, and tumult of moving must also come stress and bit of culture shock from so many new routines, signs, systems, official languages, and day to day decisions. Each of these are indeed daunting to any new arrival at our border including my own. Here’s my story.

In this post I wanted to parallel some of the memories, experiences, and feelings. Since the PM’s name hasn’t changed, I wondered if there were other things that still mirror the experience of moving to Canada nearly 40 years later. As the expression goes, “plus ça change plus c’est la même chose”. However, this time I’m not the nervous student stepping across the threshold of the unknown and into a new classroom. I am the smiling face that greets them on the other side. Here are three tips that help out in my learning space.

Firstly, remember immigration to Canada is nothing new. This can be a great chance for students to learn more about one another in the context that almost all of us have an arrival story to be discovered. That’s how my ancestors got here in the early 1900s.

Our nation was able to flourish because of the generosity of our its First Nations People, it is our privilege to continue making it greater by making room in our hearts and neighbourhoods for newcomers. This is not different in our classrooms whether it is by providing time to learn about a new arrival’s country, culture, and customs or a little extra ELL support. In doing so, teachers can plant seeds of cultural literacy in the classroom and foster an inclusive environment around everything we have in common.

Secondly, not everyone is equipped or able to embrace each new member to the community, but as a family of learners we can always be respectful, polite, and supportive. Whether it is having students initiate a brief conversation, offer help navigating the halls at school, or an invitation to play at recess – a bit of kindness goes a long way to making someone feel welcome. With a little time and encouragement, educators can turn this into an incredible mentorship opportunity that develops and empowers students into school ambassadors.

Thirdly, have students share classroom norms and expectations, not you. Instead, why not build in time for whole-class inclusion activities and ice breakers when new students arrive? Whether it is a game of OctopusHoedown tag(Chain tag), or Electricity students get to interact with one another through movement instead.

Over the past 4 decades, I have come to love our move back to Canada in 1978. Reflecting on this is what got me thinking about my own quasi-immigrant (repatriation actually) experience that prompted this post in the first place.* The lessons and lenses gained from all of this now guide my instructional practice and ensure that there is room in our hearts, minds, and classroom to welcome and support new citizens to Canada.

*It’s been a while since I’ve hauled these memories out of the vault – my first through the lens of an educator rather than student.

Who? What? Where?

One of the anchor charts in my classroom states that Reading is… Remembering and Understanding. This is what I use to help students understand that good reading is so much more than word decoding. In my classroom I am often faced with trying to help students who have difficulty in their reading comprehension. They lack the ability to recall what they have just read or their recall is very generic and lacks specific details. I have developed a game to help improve a student’s ability to recall the specifics around characters, main events and setting. This learning task is called Who? What?  Where?

IMG_1794This is a three phase unit. The first step is to model it using a read aloud novel. After each chapter we pause and take a minute to review the characters that were a part of that chapter, what were the main events that occurred in that chapter and finally where did that part of the story take place. I do this for about two or three chapters into the novel. From there we move to a graphic organizer where they now have to answer questions I have created about a chapter after it has been finished. The questions are designed to elicit one or two word answers and thus can fit easily in the boxes on the page. The other purpose for the short answer is to focus on comprehension and not spelling or sentence structure. After each chapter I ask three questions, one of each type. As the chapters progress, the questions become more and more specific and thus a deeper recall gradually begins to occur with my students. The students earn points based on their ability to recall accurate information. For most students this is a motivator by itself.

IMG_1795The final stage of this unit is to transfer the learning that has occurred to an independent reading task they complete. This is called their Book Project. They are able to select a book that meets the following two criteria:

  • It has to be at a level that is just right or challenging for them (teacher approved)
  • It has to be a narrative (thus focusing in on the three elements of a story characters, setting and main events)

From here they now have to read their novel, decide on a way to share their understanding of the story (that best fits their learning style) with their classmates and teacher. It is here during this summative task I find out what gains have been made by students in their reading comprehension as well as finding further gaps that need to be addressed in the upcoming reading lessons. A natural progression that occurs is also the move away from just basic recall and the move to more critical literacy questioning and answering. But as many students have taught me, they need to have well grounded foundation skills prior to moving into higher level thinking skills.

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Is Math Neutral?

The notion of neutrality speaks to the experience of being impartial or unbiased. It speaks to the absence of asserting value, power or privilege over another or the act of being impartial, unprejudiced and nonpartisan in nature. There are many areas of teaching and learning where the existence of prevailing politics is named and sometimes challenged: Whose stories do we include in the social studies/history curricula? What literature is considered to be the cannon? What art forms are considered cultured? But when educators think about the tapestry of math education, this notion of it being neutral tends to be widely agreed upon because of the perceived objectivity and absolutism that characterizes the ideas that are explored. But I wonder…is math really neutral?

“Math is about numbers. Surely it is neutral.”
This year, in supporting English Language Learners in math, I have learned many new Mandarin and Cantonese words from my students. More specifically, I’ve learned the inherent ways that Chinese characters are written to nurture a conceptual understanding of quantity. For example, the number eleven is written 十一 which means “ten-one” or can be understood as “ten plus one”. Similarly, the number twenty is written 二十 which could be understood as “two tens” or “two times ten”. Finally, the number thirty-three is written 三十三 Which could be understood as “three ten and three” or “three times ten plus three”. The fact that the word for the number eleven, when represented in English, has no relationship to the the concept of quantity speaks to the way numbers are represented are not neutral. This discrepancy in language representation speaks to the biased nature numbers are conceptualized through language. Thus proving an inherent bias in the ways in which numbers are conceptualized and number sense is acquired. Similarly, the bias toward English representation of numbers can limit the conceptual understanding of languages that represent numbers in a more conceptually friendly way.

“Math is about problem solving. Every has the capacity to solve problems.”
Consider the following problem: Brandon travels to the city using the subway. Each car seats 30 travelers. How many people might be on the subway if there are 10 cars? What background knowledge might students need to have in order to understand the context yet a alone respond the the problem mathematically? While the problems we pose to our learners may involve numbers that can be calculated and manipulated in flexible ways, the context, when coming from particular experiences, can deny access to the learning that needs to be achieved. In other words, if the context from which we invite students to explore math concepts can be carefully crafted in order for our learners to be able to relate to the ideas, they can also be unintentionally crafted in ways that could limit students access. In this way, contexts are never neutral because they come from a particular place of knowing or experiences that not all students have access to.

So there you have it. I’ve explored two very simple ways bias is experienced in math discourse. The presence of even one form of bias discredits the neutrality of math. If math, a lens for viewing the worlds through numbers, shapes and patterns, can be ladened with bias and politics, what else about the schooling experience share this similar trait?

Field Trip to the Toronto Symphony

Last month, all of my grade four classes went on a field trip to Roy Thompson Hall to see the Toronto Symphony Orchestra play their annual concert for students. I love going on this field trip. For most of my students, this is the first time that they have ever seen an orchestra live and for many of them it is a rare occasion that they visit downtown Toronto. They ooohhhed and aaahhhhed as we passed by the CN tower and marveled over the fancy seats at Roy Thompson Hall.

Before, during and after the field trip there were many details to organize to ensure a safe, fun learning experience for everyone involved.

Before the Trip

Logistical Planning (A couple of months before the trip)

  1. My first stop before planning the field trip was to ask my administrator for permission to go. I was asked to fill out some forms with information about costing, busing requirements and date of attendance. After my administrator gave the green light to plan, I made contact with the coordinator for student field trips and decided on a date.
  2. (Note: In my very first year of teaching I inadvertently booked my school on a field trip. I was calling two different locations and trying to enquire about dates for both. I had not booked or signed any contracts with either place but one of the locations turned around and sent me a bill for around $500 dollars for not showing up to the field trip day that we had spoken about on the phone months before. Through lengthy discussions with the location the situation was resolved. So learn from my errors and be VERY explicit when discussing dates with potential locations.)
  3. After the date was selected and my administration approved the forms I added the date to the master calendar of my school so that nothing else got booked on that day.
  4. Once I booked the trip, I approached my office staff for a cheque to pay the deposit.
  5. I followed my school’s protocol for ordering the buses and kept the confirmation in a safe place.
  6. The next step was to prepare a parent letter for field trip. (Here is the letter….Toronto Symphony letter 2016)

Logistics (The final couple of weeks leading up to the trip)

  1. I put a plan in place for students who did not be attend the field trip. For my school, this was all the grade 3 and 5 students in split classes. The teacher of the grade 4/5 class stayed back and taught all the grade 3 and 5 students during the day.
  2. Also, I ensured that there was a plan in place for students with special needs. I was the extra support person for the class that required assistance. I stayed with a group of high need students the whole trip.
  3. I spent a lot of time preparing students for the assignment that they were required to complete post field trip.
  4. In class we reviewed expectations on a field trip. I was very explicit. We all did role plays of good audience behaviour at the symphony. What would audience behaviour look like at a symphony versus a rock concert. It was a lot of fun.
  5. With so many details to remember, I sent an e-mail to my administration and all the teachers attending the field trip one week before the trip to review all of the information required for a successful day. Hopefully this list will help remind you of a few items for the day.

Hello everyone,

 Here are some final pieces of information/reminders about our trip on Thursday and a schedule of the day.

  1. Our office staff has provided me with a master list of all emergency contacts for every student in grade four.
  2. Just a reminder that all grade four students will be having pizza day this Wednesday not Thursday.
  3. Remind your students to eat a big breakfast on Thursday. Lunch will be slightly later than normal on Thursday so remind them to fuel up before we leave. I have told your students not to bring their backpacks or lunch bags with them on the trip as their will be no space for them. However, I have told them a small purse or a small string bag would be fine.
  4. Remind students that there are no devices on this trip and students do not need to bring money.
  5. Remind students that there will be time to visit the bathroom before the concert and after the concert at Roy Thompson Hall. Please encourage them to use the bathrooms at those times so that they are making every effort to watch the one hour show.
  6. Please ensure that all students with medical needs bring their epi pens and puffers on the field trip.
  7. My cell phone number is ———-.
  8. This year the organization of the TSO student concerts have changed slightly.  “Ushers will meet you at the main doors of Roy Thomson Hall to guide you and your class to your assigned seats.  Please note: there are no hard tickets for this concert; ushers will be working from a seating plan. I have the busing and seating information package and will be bringing an extra copy for both buses on Thursday.
  9. I have attached the schedule for all students not attending the trip.
  10. Finally, remind your students to look awesome on Thursday as we are having a fancy dress up contest!”

 

During the Field Trip

Before we left I handed in the attendance of students on the trip, the bus number and an emergency number to the office staff. I then helped students find their seats on the bus and at Roy Thompson Hall. I was very careful about who my students were sitting beside and worked hard to ensure that the students were making good choices all day long.

After the Trip

Follow up activities

Besides having an amazing, awesome fun day with the students, all five of my grade four classes had an assignment to complete in the last hour of school when we returned from the trip. Leading up to the trip, I spent a lot of time prepping the students for what they were going to hear and see at the symphony. We spent a lot of time analyzing pieces of classical music and using word banks that they would be using for this assignment. In addition to analyzing music, I also showed the students the actual assignment and wrote examples of a level 4, 3, 2 and 1 answer. Every student also received a paper with a word bank that I have from Musicplay’s Listening Resources and a list of the songs played by the orchestra.

Here are the Anchor charts for grade 4 assignment and Grade 4 symphony assignment for your use. Hope you and your students have an amazing, wonderful, excellent, awesome time on your next field trip!!!