Monthly Archives: September 2012

Beyond the 3 R’s

row of students

Besides the usual reading, ‘writing, and ‘arithmetic, I’m all for teaching our kids alterative paths of learning that will serve them for life, and not only to shine on standardized tests.

Taken one of my favorite blog posts, from the site Zen Habits, about forming life skills, I’d like to share ten ways both parent and teacher can help your child flourish this school year and beyond without textbooks:

1. Frugality.  No, you can’t “have it all,” and frankly, don’t need to. Teach about being content with what’s already  in your life, and treating all things with care and appreciation.

2. Critical thinking. This is something that is a  forgotten art, due to so much info overload, and the mantra of supplying the “right answer”. Let them explore the whys beyond the whats, and don’t be afraid to have them ask questions.

3. Charity. Learning to share one’s money and times is so important in becoming  a well-rounded humanitarian. Giving to others and to worthwhile causes strengthens character, and a sense of connectedness to others.

4.Compassion. “Walk a mile in my shoes” is not merely an oft-heard saying, but true. When we can develop the habit of empathy for others, the urge to put others down, or be inconsiderate is less likely

 5. Reading. Not just for book reports only, reading can open doors to ideas and experiences that can’t be found on the computer or TV screen. Let kids see us reading for the pure joy of it,, and they’ll pick up the habit.

6. Motivating oneself. Setting and achieving goals is how one moves forward. When our kids learn how to set their own sights for a desired outcome, they are better equipped to use their inherent creative powers.

7. Listening. It’s one thing to be constantly talking, but there’s another aspect to that—keep quiet and listen to the other person. Just because one is quiet doe not mean you’re only waiting to get your own point in. Listening is as important as talking to someone. That’s how dialogues are formed.

8. Paying bills. Meeting financial obligations, no matter how small, develops trustworthiness, and also, the being aware of reasoning behind creating those bills in the first place. Being n debt is not a given, but a choice that far too many of us have gotten ourselves into.

9. Anti-competition. Now that’s a hard one, as being No. 1 always seems to be desired, and at times, necessary, to have success in life. As adults, we too, need to step back from so much competitiveness, and focus more on teamwork and cooperation.

10. Finding a purpose. Teach our kids that they are here for a reason, to make a difference on this planet, to enrich the lives of others. They are not accidents of life, and need to be constantly reminded of their originality, and how to put it to use wisely. In doing that with the young ones, we also reinforce  that we are here to create lasting contributions and relationships.


Hidden Treasures Between the Pages….


If only I could get the kids I teach to see how reading is  the best adventure of all—beating out screen time over and over….

Unable to connect the dots of thinking

children-thinkOne of the tasks I do at one of my sites is assist middle- and junior-high  students with critical thinking/character building activities.

Working with 4th through 8th graders, I am constantly amazed at how far too many kids don’t really know “how” to think reflectively. When given a quote to respond to on paper, the majority of students hit a brick wall, and were not skilled to verbalize clearly, if at all.

For example, one of the quotes was Gandhi’s “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Students were asked to show how this statement applies to their lives, in more than just a sentence or two. First of all, they didn’t understand what the statement meant. [These were 7th and 8th graders.] Then, they went on to just re-copy the words. Or, they were unable to formulate any thoughts beyond that sentence or two without expressing frustration, extreme fidgeting, and/or being terribly grammatically incorrect. Anything that required looking beyond the surface of an obvious answer was uncharted territory, and they were stymied.

Even whole-class discussions before the writing proved fruitless, as the simple rules of courteous dialogue weren’t followed. It’s difficult to share ideas when students constantly horn in and belittle, instead of  listening to each other.

Rather than get upset, I held brief one-on-ones with the more willing students to find out where their heads were at. For starters, most of them had never heard of Gandhi, or his accomplishments. Then, they didn’t feel it was important to be an agent for change; they were more pre-occupied with iPods, and new shoes. They actually saw “thinking” or reflecting as being “too hard” or just busywork. What they wanted was more mindless worksheets, where supplying the “right” responses was equated with true learning in their minds.

Practicing expository writing with clarity and purpose outside of standardized tests had little or new appeal, and showed up in their finished products. Rather than learn to see revising and editing as steps on the journey of critical thinking, they went for the easiest way out– just fill up a page with words, whether they related to the quote or not. To them, seeing a full page meant “getting the work done,”  not expressing a personal idea.

What concerns me is that being educated nowadays has shifted focus from being a well-rounded individual who is productive, into becoming a reservoir of hollow facts ready to spout off at any time, only to “sound” smart, but not really understand.

Most were able to recite the latest lyrics, ad slogans, and current slang, but overall, incapable of answering the deeper “why” questions, feeling that this skill is not really necessary for academic success. How sad it is that they are missing out…..

Hurray For Playtime!

After a decades long absence, most schools in my city are restoring recess—a much-needed break in the school day

school play

It’s been proven that unstructured play aids in strengthening social, and cognitive skills, along with giving kids time OUTSIDE, away from the ongoing screen time of computers and Snartboards. Moreover, physical activity truly helps in the fight against childhood obesity.

Since I’ve come back to work this year, I’ve noticed a slight decrease in that post-lunch crazies that can make afternoons drag like cement blocks. They seem to listen a bit better, and attempt at staying more focused. It remains to be seen how my kids fare this year.

On Backpacks, Books, and Ballpoint Pens

It’s the start of a new school year, and in many districts throughout  the country, schools started up as early as three weeks ago.

My city is one of those who embraces the August return, so I’ve been back at work, despite the waning days of summer

One point about my guest teaching is that I’ve seemed to create my own niche of obtaining long-term stints—filling in for medical leaves, unfilled posts, etc. It’s a real blessing as I get to establish lasting bonds with the teachers, students, families,  and administrators with my assigned schools, and also reinforces the fact that ALL teachers, whether regularly assigned or in a more fluid way, are following a true calling to enrich the lives of every child that sits under their tutelage.

On the other hand, it involves doing the work for that subject—the lessons, conferences, and professional development that occasionally can be daunting. But being originally trained for teaching, it’s like riding a bike—those learned habits really never leave.

This year was no different from the others, as I witnessed a an endless parade of shiny new [and expensive!] backpacks waiting to be filled with textbooks and homework. Due to warm weather, shorts were often the order of the day when temps soared in the 90’s. Bu t most kids were excited anyway—glad to be back in the routine of class, lunch, and recess.

After years of teaching Spanish to urban grade-schoolers, my new learning “pool” to swim in is General Music, which is what I was originally trained for—Music Education.

So coming full circle, it’s been very interesting to see how my current crop of  kids at my two schools have little connection with the traditional formats, and are much more knowledgeable about hip-hop, rap, iPods, rather than the orchestral families. 

So the new challenge has been handed to me, and we’ll see how this season’s clay will take shape in creating not mere urns of spouting facts, but  evolving into endless spouts for expansion.