Activism: Does it Matter?

Everyday my Inbox is full of entreaties to protest for, petition in support of, and donate to a myriad of causes. Most are in response to the continuing assault on the environment, human rights, immigrant rights, education, and to fight the Trump administration’s agenda.

Although I am a supporter of the activist spirit (as I myself have been activist, both passive and active), I wonder sometimes how much of what I sign, write about, or donate to, has any effect whatsoever. Sometimes I feel I would be better occupied by continuing to educate future people– so that these same issues, and the clearly destructive decisions by those in control, can at last be eradicated by a more intelligent, compassionate generation.

Of course, how we engage with current events and social issues is also being watched by those whom we teach. How we deal with them is watched by our own children. If we do nothing, say nothing, then they will think there is nothing to be done. And so, the cycle continues.

So—even if it feels as if we gain no real ground by venting our discontent with the status quo and the wrongs of the world, through our passive and active acts of protest, perhaps we should continue to do so. Diligently, conscientiously, but not randomly. We cannot hope to fix everything, especially by passively signing every petition on social media or in our e-mail. We must make our truth a reality by living it.

Being honest about what we believe in and support, without negligent judgement, or pressure (especially on the younger generation) is an important first step. Showing, instead of telling. Encouraging others’ exploration into issues that concern us all. And then, asking those who read or hear us to decide for themselves.

It is our responsibility, almost a sacred duty, to educate and prepare the next generation. But we need to be prepared to ask and answer the hard questions, always and without fail.

And occasionally, delete some petitions in favor of others. Small but significant steps.



Week 3 Discussion for Online Course, “Shaping the Way We Teach”…

This week’s discussion was on “Destroying the Teacher”, and handing over the reins of teaching and learning to the students. I think we all agreed that the modern classroom still has a way to go in making sure that learning, even that of English Language Learners, is always student centered. The following was my response to the article “Destroying the Teacher: The Need for Learner Centered Teaching” by Alan C. McLean:

I  found the article very thoughtful, as well as illuminating. The reading really opened my mind further to what I already know and struggle with daily: The need for less “teacher talk”, not seeing myself as the center of all knowledge in the classroom, and the need for increased student participation in their roles as self-directed learners. Too often have I done students the disservice of assuming that they had nothing to say, not allowing “the silence” that is necessary for adequate thinking time and reflection. I used to struggle with this “dead air”, and the mentality that I must be the one to fill it. Looking back on this, it seems almost egotistical, and served only to comfort myself…not the students! I am now actively trying to change all that. Since I have become a “resource instructor”, the pressure to “perform” for my students, as well as my supervisors, has decreased dramatically, and I can look at my teaching practices, as well as my students’ learning styles with a clearer mind. I am, on a daily basis, looking for ways to encourage active learning and critical thinking in my students. First, I have to LET GO. This has been hardest.

When the students are hesitant to speak, or worse, just regurgitate what I have said, hoping that is what I want of them, I know I have missed the mark. So I stop, and ask them to discuss the learning with a partner, or share in a way that makes them most comfortable (body language such as thumbs up or down); we sing, we move, interact with the Activboard (technology), we play thinking games (Like I-Spy with vocabulary picture cards, where the students take over and direct the learning, just by playing, describing, making mistakes, and rethinking)! I use a little hand puppet, whom I call “El Monstro de Palabra” (mostly with my Spanish-speaking kindergarten group), who elicits responses in English and Spanish mixed, raising their awareness to the beauty of language, being bilingual, and that phonics can be fun! I incorporate art, science, and social studies, as well as cultural themes into the lessons, to increase student interest, and help them to make a personal connection to the learning. I bring my own realia,  such as photos, artifacts, and my personal collection of science items, while encouraging them to do the same.

I make mistakes, and laugh about it, turning that into a lesson. It is not always perfect, and on some  days, I just can’t get them as interested. When that happens now, instead of being personally affronted, I change tack, and open a discussion, sometimes about anything…just to get them talking! It’s amazing how much more interested they are in learning, when a teacher shows any interest in their lives, and is willing to share their own personal anecdotes. Ah, but I still have so much to learn and try!

I am really interested in trying the role-playing…just have to figure out how to make it work in the short hour I have with each of my groups. I wish to stop “oversimplifying” content for them, allow them to falter, and find new ways to deal with a learning situation. I was pleased to see, in the video, a “getting to know you” survey…something I have used in recent years. But most of all, I want to get them talking…that is my biggest goal, and is, after all, the work I am charged with!

Addendum: On Silent Thought in reflection: Students are no different from teachers in their relative discomfort with silent thought…at least it seems to me. But the value of breaking this pattern is evident in what is going on in most classrooms today as in the past…teachers front-loading information without allowing enough time for students to digest it; students “regurgitating” only what they think teachers want to hear, or not sharing at all; students not reflecting on their learning in any meaningful way. I used to use a “quiet reflection” activity at cloze, called “ticket out the door”. Although this is not actually “silent”, in that it is not just quiet thinking, the students could sit and reflect on what was learned, what it meant to them, and what they liked or disliked about the lesson. It was completely anonymous, and very brief, a slip of folded paper I collected as they literally walked out the door. Their responses were very telling, sometimes touching, sometimes troubling. With the exception of the occasional non-committal, but well-meaning comment (like: “I love Ms. N and she is the best teacher”, or “It was fun and cool”), I looked  for real thinking, and sought to take the “temperature” of the class as a whole. Some comments would say things like: “I really enjoyed Math today. I thought it was fun when we used manipulatives! It helps me with my multiplication” or “I learned about science, like different kinds of rocks, igneous and sandstone…”; Or the less positive comments: “I didn’t get it.” or “My favorite lesson is PE!”.  All of these were valuable for me, because I would make adjustments to my teaching, or use a particular comment as the impetus for the next day’s lesson. I am definitely going to bring this back, but I think adding just silent thinking time…perhaps just before written reflection…will really help students to tap their critical thinking skills, and to express themselves more meaningfully and completely.