Stories Are Magic Potions: Use With Care

 

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The Fourth, Ever, Newbery Award Winner, 1925

I’m back to reading the Newbery Award winners. The fourth-ever winner, published Julyimg_8887.jpg 9, 1925 (according to the information provided on the dust jacket) was a curiosity to me because, rather than a novel, it is a collection of stories collected from the native people living in South America.

 

As Dr. Rutledge points out in The Psychological Power of Storytelling (2011),

Stories have always been a primal form of communication. They are timeless links to ancient traditions, legends, archetypes, myths, and symbols. They connect us to a larger self and universal truths.

I was looking forward to reading these tales, thinking that they would connect me to a deep string of humanity that would be tied to nature. Instead, the first story alarmed me with a message of self-destruction.

 

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Initially, I hesitated writing in this old copy of “Tales From Silver Lands”, but it helped me engage with the text. 

As is normally my custom, I began my reading, writing notes in the margin of the text. I immediately loved the description of setting and character development, so I marked the IMG_8015text to share with my third grade students who are just beginning to learn how to “set a story” in a place and time. The author begins his book speaking of his experience visiting a tiny village in Honduras. Although the buildings and road differ greatly from the homes and streets that his readers of 1925, and even today, know, the children playing in a cool stream on a hot day resonates with all. In fact, I was greatly inspired by the use of the inclusive language, “…as any other little chap of his age, white, brown, or yellow” (p. 2), connecting his readership with the people he was writing about.

 

All of this served to butter me up to appreciate a terrific tale that had been told and retold for hundreds of years by the indigenous people the author was visiting. The amazing literature had cast a spell on me. I was bent on learning what would happen to some of the first humans to inhabit the jungle. There were birds singing, animals meeting and talking in harmony, and hardworking, talented, and powerful human heros. Just when you think that this sensational salve is a love potion promoting literacy, irony cuts through the beauty like the machete that the two young men in the story use to level every single plant of a part of the jungle.

The premise of this first tiny tale is that there are two talented brothers who are told to clear land in a forest to begin their adult lives. The father of these youths tells them to do all of the work within seven days. A wise owl discusses the problem of losing his habitat with a wizard of the jungle. The two hatch a plan to thwart the sons by deceiving the father.

At this point, I am wondering who I am to route for; the humans who seem to have an IMG_2687impossible task, who I empathize with, who are set up as the heroes of the tale; or the owl/wizard team who are about to lose their homes. The way the wizard attempts to stop the sons is through turning the father against them. The father is told that his hard-working sons are lazy and not clearing the land. Each time this happens, the father increases the amount of land that they must level. Now, this seems to go against the owl/wizard’s plan, and yet they continue their scheme until the sons are finally asked to do more work than they can handle.

Here, I want to tell you that it is only because I am planning on blogging about this book 6280907548_55d7291e4a_bthat I am reading it so carefully. If I hadn’t, I am sure that I would not have been able to shake the spell of the story. I like the hundreds of people who heard the story told by the elderly woman of the Honduras village that Charles Finger visited, who, incidentally, was depicted as smoking a cigar when Finger found her, and then threw it down to tell the tale; I, also, would have been completely mesmerized by the plight of the young men who wanted to please their father, earn their inheritance, and be successful in life. Just like a character in a fantasy fiction who has a spell broken awakens, realizing that his love had been an aberration, I found myself shaking my head at the human-size iguana who helped the human youths by showing them how to harness the power of the forest animals to clear every plant from the land that the very same forest animals use to make their homes, find food, and live.

Another reader and endless listeners of this tale would surely be swept in by the poetry, “I must do what I can, Is the thought of a man,” the seeming teamwork between human and beast, the defeat of evil in prevailing against the efforts of the wizard, and proving oneself to elders. I can easily imagine the recipient of such powerful storytelling being completely sucked in. What is the problem with this? Only that the storyteller was misleading listeners. Granted, the themes of working hard, never giving up, being ingenious, and listening to nature are all valuable lessons, but curtained in this spell of a story is the theme of humans enslaving the earth. It isn’t a surprise that the two youths are victorious in the end. The old iguana who “climbed into a tree and stretched himself along the branch of it where he could best see, and the birds gathered in a great circle, and matchless melody going up to the sky” would rest there until the next human cuts his tree down, also. Then more humans would cut down every tree that those singing birds occupied. When the magic of this wonderful story melted from my brain, I was aghast at the horror of the animals who were depicted as happy to help the humans destroy their habitat. The storyteller was sharing a tale that convinced listeners that nature wants humans to destroy her. In the end of the tale the brothers plant fruit trees on their newly cleared land. Do you think that they would tolerate the singing birds, who helped them clear the land to plant the trees, eat the fruit that grew there? Certainly not.

Again, I recognize that the themes within this tale were useful to previous generations. Humans struggled to master technologies, easing their existence on this planet. We have benefited from the inspirational stories of our elders motivating us to assimilate the best character traits for growing into the mature species we are today. Rather than this blog ending on a negative note, I’d like to challenge future storytellers to use their power for positive change. It is time to harness the magic of terrific tale telling to empower youths and adults alike for creative, innovative aspirations of helping humans come together to live harmoniously. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for the “love potion” of storytelling to be transcendent than amorous, anyway?

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I couldn’t even believe what I was reading! Be careful with the power of storytelling. Use it for good. 

 

Rutledge, P., Phd. (2011, January 16). The Psychological Power of Storytelling. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/positively-media/201101/the-psychological-power-storytelling

Getting to Class; Turn Day One Jitters into Day Won Class

It’s August. Back to school sales are raging. Letters are arriving that tell students who their teachers will be this fall. Nervous energy is buzzing through bodies… Not just students’. Teachers worry about the first day of school, also.

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August First, 2018 — This is what I saw when I pulled up to my building.

 

Here is a couple classy ways that I deal with the start of school jitters:

  1. I have a goalONE goal for the first day. I’ll accomplish more than the one thing, but I measure my success based on this one thing. It isn’t the same every year. Sometimes it is learning everyone’s name. Other years, all I wanted was to get everyone back home safely. Nowadays, my goal usually centers on classroom management. I like  the momentum to begin in my favor, so I establish myself as captain. The class is my crew. “Any questions? That was rhetorical. Put your hand IMG_5681.PNGdown.” I don’t just withhold my smile until Thanksgiving; I’m not even pleasant for several weeks into the year! Of course, I am kidding. The pleasantries are paired with the smile, and it is more like Christmas when they appear. It’s my Christmas present to the crew class. Oh kay, seriously… don’t make it impossible or too vague, like “I want everyone to like me,” “Everyone should have fun,” “The class should love school…” They sound good, but are disastrously defeating. Simple is always best. “Everyone will leave the first day knowing the rules of the classroom; If nothing else, they will understand my expectations, period” 
  2. Meet that first goal and your golden! There isn’t a number two. I lied when I said, “Here’s a couple things…” The whole point of the one goal is for there to only be one thing that you are concentrating on. Okay, but if you are interested, there is one other thing that I do before the school year begins that has seemed to help: I make up some sort of slogan for the year. This is something that I have never shared with anyone, so it is rather ironic that I am blogging it to the world! It began this practice when I was long-term subbing. Before the year began, I came up with a little mantra that I used to keep me pumped up. It didn’t make any pedagogical sense, but it seemed to get my blood moving. I would tell myself, “We (yes, I use the royal pronoun when referring to myself; I am not multi-personality; at least, one of my personalities does not think so;) are going to kill it this year.” (I almost typed an exclamation mark at the end of my personal rallying cry, but it was really just a small whisper that I told myself.) Last year it was something like, “Everything before now has just been practice. This year I’m going to make it happen.” Notice how the motto is generic. In this way, it is difficult to fail. If I just do something different or better, I am successful. I don’t attempt to define “It”*.

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    My classroom on Aug. 1, 2018 gives me the jitters:) The castle has been “stormed”!

Remember this one last tidbit of advice: The person that you are warring against, when it comes to overcoming nervous energy is YOURSELF. Everyone experiences his/her own battles, and therefore each will need his/her own battle strategy. Win Day One, and you are on your way to a year won in more ways than… You get the idea.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

*This is the same “It” that defeated the Knights Who Say Ni from Monty Python’s “Search for the Holy Grail.” Or, is it the “It” described by Dean Moriarty, when he is listening to jazz in a night club in San Fransisco in “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac? I think it lies somewhere between the two.

Restraint is Classy

I have class; I’ll pass.

I had a professor in college who taught a generic introductory counseling course. I’ve always remembered one lesson that he taught: “Do not overreact.” When a kid tells you something, don’t show your cognitive cards; hide your inner thoughts until you have all of the facts.

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The Captain of Class Models Calm-ness During Evacuation Drill

A kid tells you that another kid did something hideous; An unclassy person would jump to conclusions before all of the facts were gathered. It would not show class to start yelling or become accusatory. This would shut down the road of communication between you and the one sharing information. If you fly off the handle and begin bashing the behavior, the spicket of information will surely close and you won’t be able to effectively help the youth.

It is very possible that the kid telling you about his/her “friend” doing something inappropriate was in fact talking about him/herself. The student might just be feeling you out; What would my teacher’s reaction be if he/she learned I did this? I have had kids say they did outrageous things that they hadn’t, just to gage my reaction. If you don’t give them a reaction, they know that they can tell you anything.

One of the most common bad behaviors in elementary school that this could be applied to is stealing. When students come up to me and tell me about something that was “stolen”, my first reaction is to lessen the accusation. “Is it possible that the object is just lost?”

Student: “I just had my pencil on my desk; No, it was STOLEN!”

Me: “Could someone have thought that the pencil was theirs; Was the pencil unique to you? Would you be able to easily identify it?”

Student: “Oh, yes. I know my pencil!”

Me: “Before we begin accusing people of being thieves, lets just do one  more sweep of your work area; Also, we can ask your neighbors if they have seen a random pencil floating around.”

Student: (sometimes reluctantly, but usually calm) “Fine.”

Nine times out of ten, the object turns up having NOT been stolen. The pencil or other object was completely unidentifiable as THAT student’s, and someone else was using it. It is always a hoot when it is right on the floor under the student’s work area.

Some more examples:

Kid: “So and so kicked me”/Me: “Is it possible they were just swinging their feet, and they accidentallyScreen Shot 2018-04-08 at 11.38.36 PM touched you?”

Kid: “That person said something inappropriate. They said ‘hell’.”/Me: “You know, in some families and cultures, that isn’t a hugely awful expression…”

Kid: “My partner deleted my whole document!”/Me: “Do you think that he/she did it because they were mad at you, or is it possible that this was simply an accident?”

Find out the whole story, learn all of the facts, empathize with the rationale as best you can or is appropriate, then act. Throughout all of that, do not let emotions muddle your investigation. Also, don’t project your prejudices. You just found out someone did something considered very bad. Perhaps the person even confesses it to you. Do not even look alarmed. Pretend you hear this all of the time. Chances are, it happens all of the time, all over the place, whether you have experienced it, or not.

Out-of-the-Box Thinking Requires a Box

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The Captain of Class serves students salsa that was made in class.

It usually takes a few minutes for people to “get” the shirt that I am wearing in this picture. In my opinion, it doesn’t hurt to encourage plain old thinking. But, stick a box under it, and now we have something clever.

 

The SAMR Model presents a hierarchy for technology use in the classroom. To “Substitute” regular “oldschool” teaching methods with an iPad is the least creative way to use technology. Instead of typing on a typewriter, we use a computer that spits the document out of a printer. This is deep-inside-the-box-thinking.

There is minimal enhancement of learning when “Augmentation” occurs; Technology improves upon instruction through substitution in slightly creative ways. There is an App called “Tape Measure” that uses augmented reality to measure the lengths of items that you see on your iPad screen. This is pretty awesome tech, but you could just use a plain old tape measure. The thinking is feeling the walls of the box for weaknesses.

Transformation takes place through “Modification” and “Redefinition”. When an instructor redesigns a lesson with the use of technology, she “Modifies” the box of traditional teaching. It is like walking through C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe to a land of fantasy when kids use Nearpod.com to visit places around the world. Sitting at a desk, they can virtually hike mountains, explore Machu Picchu, and visit the Louvre.

The ultimate transformative activity technology can offer comes when “tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable” (SAMR, n.d.). This “Redefines” the box.

The SAMR model is great for understanding and evaluating technology use in the classroom, but I have found myself feeling badly if a lesson doesn’t “redefine” something. Creativity doesn’t work that way, though. In order for a sphere to stand out, there needs to be a collection of cubes surrounding it. You can only bend the rules if there are rules in the first place.  

Classroom management… This blog is supposed to have something to do with managing the classroom. The following image shows my class behaving outside of the box.

IMG_2333 I showed up to collect my students from physical education with Mrs. Krajcir, and told them to put their left foot on the black line. What happened cracked me up. My “Number 1” guy (They line up in number order.) did not see all of the out of the box-ness that was happening behind him! Originally, I snapped the shot to show everyone how classy Mr. One was, and plenty of people were shown. But, on further reflection, I am just as fond of the rest of my class for thinking/behaving so creatively. Look at their left feet. Nearly every single one is on the black line!!

Even though I love to have fun and fool around in class, teasing my students and kiddingly giving them all a hard time, I have very strict rules and guidelines. My expectations are extremely demanding. Just look at the leader of the line. That is the “box” everyone else is “Thinking outside of.” (Yeah, I ended with a preposition; Think outside the box;)

 

Kihn, M. (2005, June 1). “Outside the Box”: The Inside Story. Retrieved April 21, 2018, from https://www.fastcompany.com/53187/outside-box-inside-story

SAMR. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2018, from http://www.schrockguide.net/samr.html

Tape Measure. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2018, from https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tape-measure/id1271546805?mt=8

Instructional design/SAMR Model/What is the SAMR Model? (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2018, from https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Instructional_design/SAMR_Model/What_is_the_SAMR_Model%3F

When Hardly Working Is Classy

Working hard is not nearly as classy as being a “hard worker”.

Probably every teacher has seen a writing assignment where a kid has written the same phrase or sentence over and over in order to make his writing look longer. A shorter, better-written response is much more valuable. We have seen the student who writes numbers all over a math assignment, but clearly the kid has no idea what to do with them. These kids may be working hard, but what would be better is listening to instruction, studying, and following directions. Yes, it is harder to take fifteen minutes and really figure out a difficult problem.

You have to be a hard worker to want to do this. If you put on a show of toiling, but everything that you are doing is wrong or low-quality, you will end up working harder in the long run.

I have been using Google tools for a few years, but this year Google Forms has transformed my teaching. I feel like I had been the one working hard, and my teaching has turned into the classy hard worker for me. Through Google classroom I assign “quizzes” that I create in Google Forms. It took a little fooling around to get the forms just right, but some of my most recent quizzes have graded student work automatically, provided students with scores and explanations (I populated the quiz with these), inspired self reflection, and even taught data analysis. Let me explain the last two concepts: I have my quizzes programmed to allow students to see other students’ responses. When a kid finishes taking his quiz and “submits” it, he clicks on “see previous responses”. This provides pie graphs for each multiple choice question displaying the percentage of students’ choices. Also, it shows every written response, minus any names. In this way, students can weigh what they wrote against what they see their peers producing. This has greatly benefited all of my students. The hard workers are going crazy to outshine each other, and the struggling writers are reading exceptional paragraphs produced by peers. Parents can see all of this, too. They can assess their child’s standing in writing ability.

This principle can be applied to classroom management, also. Kids that work hard to impress the teacher, but goof around when they can get away with it are not classy. The kids whom the teacher can count on; the ones that may not work extra at getting attention, but do everything exceptionally; they’re the classy ones. More than quantity, quality has class. Would you rather half the class making shushing sounds to help quiet the class, or two kids who communicate to the rest that the faster they all quiet down the quicker they can get to recess. The hard workers don’t have to work hard. Their “hardly working” shows class.

“An Open Door to Class” 

When I first began teaching, I experienced a paradox of parental push and pull that almost killed my career. Teachers in the previous grade had allowed parents of my students to visit their classrooms almost daily to help with centers, management, and classroom activities. To make a long, painful story incredibly short, these parents were unhappy with how little I had them come in. They pushed me to have parties when I did not want to; Then visibly and audibly bad-mouthed me right inside my own classroom!

The next year, I did not do what you might have guessed. I went ahead and told my new parents that I was going to have an “Open-Door Policy”. One of the main complaints the year before was that parents felt like they did not know what was happening in the classroom. Now they would have as much access as they wanted. One of my families had moved to the school from out of state and really appreciated being able to walk in whenever she wanted to check on her daughter. I tried not to let on, but this was not a comfortable experience all of the time. I used joking and banter to shake off the nerves. 

A school shooting brought more and tighter security limiting my classroom’s “open door” on the following year. When parents were already in the building, helping with other classrooms, though, they would pop into my room to say “hi”. This has persisted, and I have grown to love the feeling of excitement that comes from the unexpected visits. It keeps me on my toes.

Looking back at that early time of my teaching, when I wrestled with having parents visit my classroom, I can admit that part of my reason for not wanting the visits was my insecurity. I was afraid the students would not listen to me. When I told my parents the next year that they could visit any time they pleased, I was telling myself, “this class better behave.” I was holding myself accountable. Each time a parent was in my room and it was a positive experience, it made me feel more and more secure in my behavior management. I came to realize that kids will not always behave perfectly when parents are around, but if I showed strength, understanding, and leadership it exuded security that parents and students alike respected.

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Today is a new era in “Open-Door-Ness”: Video Conferencing. Many teachers are video taping their lessons in order to flip their classrooms. What if, in addition to that, we live-streamed our rooms? Put a link on the classroom website for a Google Hangout that anyone who logs into the school district’s Google account can use to access a stream to the classroom. If a kid is sick, he/she can still be part of the class. That student can leave comments in Google docs, slideshows, and Google classroom. I have done this when I am out of school, sick for a day. When I assign an online activity, I can watch my students complete it and comment on their progress. They feel like I am there and love it.

This is more than just breaking down the walls; It is spreading the light of education into nooks and crannies.

From “Control” to Classy

Positive behavior management is the opposite of trying to keep your classroom “under control.” Attempting to rein in student misbehavior is more managerial than visionary. I think of the Stephen Covey’s story from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”: A manager is the person organizing groups of people cutting down trees in a forest. This person has flow charts and graphs. He has incentive programs and awards the hardest workers. The workers need people like this to motivate and corral effort so that things get done. But, there is one person who climbs the tallest tree before it is timbered. This person gets to the top and yells down to the managers and workers, alike, “Wrong forest!” This is the visionary, the true leader, the person who should be in charge.

I see positive behavior management as creating goals for performance that is lofty, idyllic, and visionary. This vision is extremely abstract for the third graders whom I teach. For that reason, I have adapted a word for it that is both elusive, but also seemingly tangible: “classy”. At the beginning of every year I discuss the school rules and classroom expectations with my students, just like every teacher. But then, I bring them from the typical everyday behavior that all students should practice into the clouds… “That normal niceness might ensure that you don’t get into trouble, but my students are much more than that: You are classy.” While a student may not be allowed to lay his head on his desk in another classroom, my classroom is filled with bodies that are sitting up straight, with shoulders back and heads up, because they are proud to be there, excited to learn, and


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 hard-working, listening students. That is classy. The best part about this philosophy is that it isn’t hard. Also, most teachers are and model classy behavior. Why not expect it from students? Why don’t teachers touch the walls, running their fingers along the tiles and lockers as they walk down the halls? Not because the principal told them not to; Not even because they don’t want to catch germs/sickness from collecting the dirt onto their fingertips (this is the general rationale); It is because it is “unclassy” to touch stuff that isn’t yours, period. I make nearly everything BIG PICTURE classy. I want my students to see the world from the tippedy top of the classiest tree. Don’t just identify the fact that we are cutting down the “wrong forest”; figure out which one is correct. Where are you heading? Perhaps getting to the top of the tallest tree shows you the ocean, beyond the woods. Maybe, you can finally view the moon and stars.

Covey, S. (2013). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (25th Anniversary Edition). Place of publication not identified: RosettaBooks.