Sunday, March 30, 2014

Boarding Schools - Not as fun as you'd think

What finally hooked the kids on this book, Ojibwe in Minnesota, was the boarding schools.

They were mortified.  They quoted Anton Treuer's writing in outrage -

 - Mrs. Aakhus,' Kill the Indian in him and save the man'. They said that

"I know"

-  They didn't even know their parents when they came home.

I know.

- They wouldn't even send them home if they had died.

I know.

- They didn't even know the same language as their parents.

I know.

- They didn't have a role model, Mrs. Aakhus, they didn't have their parents.

I know.

My students' compassion is awakening. Maybe they will learn with more compassion and see the young boy (from my previous post) patting the book in the far off corner, too.

On Powwows and Birch Bark Canoes

For the past two weeks, we've read 40 pages of Ojibwe in Minnesota.

It's been slow rowing....

This book has a lot of dense information.  Most of the kids were having a hard time getting into powwows and birch canoes.They were struggling with the fact that they were gong to have to re-read the information and build new knowledge.

I heard complaining from some of the most dedicated students.

But what keeps me going...

is that one kid who hides his book on the top of my book shelf.  He takes it down at the beginning of the class and pats it and looks at the pictures over and over.  He is coming home.  We are learning about his history.  He doesn't add to the conversation much, but he sits and smiles quietly and discreetly.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ojibwe in Minnesota

Because English Language Arts standards of Minnesota stress nonfiction and encourage the study of Minnesota Native Americans, my 8th grade class has been reading Ojibwe in Minnesota by Anton Treuer.  When I set the books out on my desk, there was instant controversy...

"What!?  Why don't we study Norwegians in Minnesota?"

"I think Native Americans are boring"

"Why do they have powwows?  Who cares?"

"Reservations aren't fair.  Why do they get special rights?"

Of course,  I was proud to hear;

"Finally, something interesting."

"I know all about this; my grandpa is half Ojibwe.  I go to powwows all the time."

And I knew.  This is why this is in the standards.  They needed a gentle lesson in racism.  We had read all year about the Holocaust in Germany, and now, the same type of  racism is being studied about our own state.  I think it's time to squirm.  I think it's time to look in the mirror and call ourselves out.  I could see the one boy, called Chief by his uncle, stroking his book and smiling.

Last Friday, I left the first chapter of Red Earth White Earth by Will Weaver for the kids to read with their sub.  I'm curious about their reactions.  I wonder if they see Guy's father's tantrums and think about the things they are saying about the reservation just a few miles away. Will they be mad that a dad could be so heartless and rude and realize they may be on the same path?

I'll find out today.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Clue

Last week, I decided to give my 8th graders a day off reading and a day to play Clue - They were pumped!


The next few class periods were filled with learning and insight, but not for the kids.  I'm  the one who did the learning that day.

The State of Minnesota has spent millions of dollars testing students every April to be sure schools are cutting the mustard, but I say why not take a look at Colonial Mustard to get "A Clue" at students' reading and perseverance. Reading rules to a game is a "real life" application of why it's important to read and read well.

Some students just dug into their work, maybe they didn't want to read the instructions for a board game, but they realized that they needed to get the task at hand done in order to play the game.  On the other hand, some students looked at me with blank looks on their faces and hollered out; "I don't get it".  These kids were waiting for someone else to explain the rules to them.

As we started to play the game on various spots on the floor, I noticed some students taking charge.  Some students would skim the rules again to be sure they were doing it right.  Some students had never played the game before and even though they had a hard time with the directions of the game, they watched what everyone else was doing and asked questions. I was proud of these kids, because even though Clue can be a difficult game filled with higher levels of thinking, it was these kids who decided that they were up to the challenge. I was most frustrated with the frustrated kids.  Students who didn't try because they were scared to try.  Students who hollered out "I don't get it" without reading the instructions.  Some of these kids just sprawled on the floor with their cards showing and complaining that the game was too hard.

Next year, I will requisition 6 or 8 Clue games.  On the first days of school, I will assign 4 kids to a game and watch how they play the game.  I will be able to learn their learning styles and levels of perseverance.  I will see which kids have parents who take the time to play board games with their kids.  I will see which kids need coaching through their reading assignments.

I will know more about my students and abilities from this than any test anyone could give them.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Carpe Diem

In Senior High English, we are writing our life philosophy essays.  I'm writing about taking life by the horns and living life to it's fullest. This is my first draft as I'm showing students my writing process. 

My life philosophy is to “Seize the Day.” Life is too short to waste watching television or being lazy.  Life is too short to not tell someone you love them.  Life is too short not to live life to the fullest and make a bucket list of amazing things to do.
          In Seth Godin’s blog post, “Welcome to Paris”, Godin explains how you only have limited time when you go on vacation and how wise it is to bring this attitude to everyday life.  We should look to the people around us and enjoy them and their ideas.  We shouldn’t waste time with our e-mails or facebook but look to real people and talk face to face.  Life is meant to be lived real-time rather than virtually.
          Robert Herrick’s poem, “To the Virgins, to make much of Time”, also offers the philosophy of living each day to the fullest;
          Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
          Old Time is still a-flying:
          And this same flower that smiles to-day
          To-morrow will be dying.
Herrick tells us that the pleasures of today may be gone tomorrow, so we should get out and enjoy them while we can.  Enjoy the sunset before it turns into evening.  Dance while your legs still work. 

When I think of gathering flowers while I can, I think of my sister and how she slowly lost her eyesight.  She didn't expect to lose her eyesight - she just did as a result of the Graft Vs. Host Disease from her stem cell transplant. Luckily, my parents had taken my sister and I on many vacations when we were younger. Missi got to see Mount Rushmore, Washington D.C., Colorado, Hawaii, and Disney World before she lost her eyesight. Last year, my mom and dad decided to bring our entire family of 12 to Disney World this Christmas. My sister needed chaperoning.  She needed us to guide her way through the crowds and obstacles.  All I can think is how relieved I am that she got to experience the sight of Cinderella's castle while she could still see.
Personally, I try to work hard everyday to be present and helpful.  I want to remember every experience that I'm thrown into.  I don't want to take my life for granted. 

 Eventually, I will take this five paragraph essay and keep adding to it.  I want students to see how writing can be improved.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

On Grattitude

Earlier this week, I found this blogpost , "The Forgotten Thank You" by Nicholas Provenzano. It made me realize all that my students have done for me.

These past years, my days have been filled with a lot of personal worries.  When I mention worries of my sister's eyesight or struggling health, they listen.  You could hear a pin drop.  I'm so thankful that they care.  It makes all the difference in the world to me.

Some of my students share some of the funniest stories.  Some of the stories are told in front of the classroom, full of animation and giggles.  Not all students have the guts to draw in an audience, and when I come across a giggle or two within their journals or writing.  I smile.  Most of these stories are about snowmobiles or the evil of twerking.

Not all students share everything with me, but sometimes, they really spill their guts out. Kids go through a lot.  That's all I have to say about that. 

I could think of many  times they make me smile and bring real meaning to my life.  I'm so lucky to have one of the hardest jobs in the world.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Big Ideas

For the past months, Senior High English has had an interesting mix of ups and downs.  I find it interesting how kids can vary their maturity.  Some days, they're spot on, and I'm amazed at their abilities.  Others days, they get the cold-steely-eyed stare of a pessimistic literature teacher wondering what she did to deserve them.

Luckily, that literature teacher forgives and forgets and remembers that they are just kids.

Yesterday, we circled up and had a discussion of big ideas.  It always surprises me how deep these kids are and how some of them are really interested on what others think.

Is there destiny? Are we fools to think we have any control over our futures?

Is true-love predestined?

How did people first start talking about aliens?

I loved that the paraprofessional in our room opened up and started talking about her big questions. 

 I love this job.