Today’s English class was the most fun I have had in a long time. I wanted to exercise the kids’ minds and get them thinking laterally. I also wanted them to enjoy it. A lesson with a difference seemed to me a great way to start our final week of term and inject some interest into our online classroom.
I began by presenting my students with the contention that a box of chocolates is a salad.
This was not a popular suggestion.
“No it’s not!” one student said… quite defensively, I might add. “Salad is salad. Chocolate is chocolate. You can’t ruin chocolate like that!”
But, I asked, what is a salad if it’s not simply a mixture of vegetables? Chocolate comes from beans… and if you add nuts, or fruit, or herbs like peppermint, then it’s definitely a salad.
We spent quite some time redefining food, presenting the most persuasive arguments we could think of, and debating the nature of reality.
Every time it sounded like the students might be in danger of reaching a consensus, I made another suggestion.
Ice cream, on its own, may just be ice cream – but the minute you put it in a cone, or add fruit or chocolate, it’s a salad. Coffee, like chocolate, is made from beans. It’s a salad.
“No!” was the response. “Coffee is hot – it can’t be a salad.”
So then I really twisted it up.
Is coffee soup? Is cereal soup? Or is it a salad with too much dressing? According to one student, and I quote, “Soup is not what soup is.”
Is the English language a metaphorical salad? Because it’s a mixture of a whole bunch of languages, right? The flavours are all mixed, but the parts are still recognisable if you know what you’re looking at.
Is the English language a sticky weed? Or velcro? Because you know, it takes something from every other language it swipes past. Maybe it’s double sided tape…
I am not ashamed to say that I really had fun. Despite their groans and protestations, I think they did, too.
Perhaps the most satisfying moments, though, were two comments made by different students:
“You’ve just entirely ruined the English language.”
“These have been the most problematic fifteen minutes of my life.”
What started out as a brain tease turned into a really interesting discussion about how we use language and define things in our own ways, and often assume that everyone else understands what we’re talking about, and that everyone else agrees with us.
It’s safe to say most of them enjoyed it… but it’s also safe to say that I enjoyed it more.
Today in one of my classes, a student commented that they were ruminating on the answer to a question. I responded that I hadn’t even noticed her swallowing it in the first place. I laughed, and she looked at me blankly.
As I explained to my class, the word ‘ruminate’ has two different meanings which are related, but quite different according to context.
To ruminate means both “to turn over in the mind,” and “to chew cud” as cows and other ruminant animals do. Both senses of the word were being used in English by the early 16th century.
It comes from the Latin word ‘ruminatus’ and carried both meanings even in Latin. It is related to the name of the rumen, that part of the stomach from which cows, buffalo, deer, moose, elk, sheep, goats, llamas, camels and giraffes bring up their cud to chew it over again.
One might think it might be more of a challenge for a giraffe, a llama or a camel to achieve it because their necks are so much longer, but it does come naturally to them. Personally, I’m thankful that it’s not something I’m required to do at all.
It is this idea of bringing things back and chewing them over again that relates the two senses of ‘ruminate’.
It’s also normal and healthy for people to think things over carefully, especially serious or important matters. That can prevent hasty or unwise decisions being made.
The danger of rumination arises when thoughtful consideration gives way to overthinking.
Overthinking is a term that can describe behaviours that range from overly prolonged deliberation to being caught in destructive cycles of fear, doubt, criticism or agonised indecision.
Overthinking can result in drawing wrong and sometimes dangerous conclusions, relationship breakdown, self abuse, substance abuse, and self-destructive thoughts and behaviours. It can affect sleep, emotions, physical condition, and mental health, anxiety levels, concentration and performance.
Overthinking doesn’t solve anything, and often actually makes things worse.
It’s probably better just to leave the rumination to the animals.
Rumination and Overthinking #thoughts #words #language #psychology #emotions
It seems that I haven’t just dropped the proverbial ball when it comes to blogging regularly, I’ve gone and lost the jolly thing. I last saw it a couple of weeks ago, when it bounced a couple of times before rolling away through some very prickly bushes and falling into a seemingly bottomless hole.
The thing is, life since that drafted virus unleashed itself on the world has been tumultuous.
I could tell you I haven’t written anything, but that’s not true. I have written some really great lessons and three entire new units because what I had planned (and written) previously wasn’t going to work in an online learning environment.
I could tell you I didn’t have a quarantine project, but that isn’t true either. I’ve had two, both of which happened by necessity rather than design.
Project One: reinventing my career Initial Observations: Teaching from home is a whole lot more work than it sounds. All that extra time online is very tiring. Final Observations: Challenging and exhausting, but enormously satisfying. Most students engaged really well. More positives than negatives. Verdict: Aced it.
Project Two: supporting my father as he spent a couple of weeks in hospital before transitioning into residential aged care. Initial observations: Lots of phone calls. Mountains of paperwork. Huge emotional adjustments. Further Observations: Decisions are hard, even when you actually have no choice. Emotions are hard. Being on one mental and emotional roller coaster while your dad is on a completely different one can only be dealt with by hanging on for dear life and completely faking any appearance of knowing what you are doing. Verdict: Aced it. Especially the part where I looked like I knew what I was doing.
It should also be mentioned that these two significant challenges occurred simultaneously. I didn’t have time to scratch myself, much less spend any more personal time online than I did.
So really, I’ve achieved far more since mid-March than is apparent from my nonexistent output of either blog posts or fiction.
I admit that I have seriously contemplated walking away from writing and/or blogging. Even while considering that, I knew that was the stuff of emotional and mental exhaustion, because I still have ideas and plans bubbling away in the back of my mind. I am not ready to quit, and I would be letting myself down if I did.
I will get my mojo back, even if I’m not sure when that might happen.
I wrote in Tuesday night’’s post that the first day of teaching my classes remotely/online was challenging.
I thought it would be good to follow that up at the end of the school week with my insights after a few more days’ experience.
Things definitely got better as the school week progressed.
All of my students seemed to relax and interact more normally as the week progressed. I think some of them found it really awkward and a bit artificial at first, and many others— myself included— just didn’t know what to expect.
I had to make my expectations for behaviour and interactions super clear via email to a couple of kids. I actually made an explicit list of what I expected and what they were not welcome to do. This helped to set boundaries for them, and they changed their attitude accordingly. Things were a lot better after that.
My students have done some great work this week, and I have been able to give positive and constructive feedback to encourage them. This also encourages me: I can do this. The kids appreciate my effort and input. My classes are benefiting from the structure, the lessons and the encouragement I have given them. It doesn’t matter if I feel it’s not the same or not enough, or as though I am treading water. I am good enough. My teaching is valuable. I can do this.
I am so thankful for my school and its consistent, uniform approach to the delivery of lessons and learning material. I’m also super glad we have followed the same routines and timetables.
In times of turmoil and change, schools, teachers and students all have the greatest chance of success when everyone is on the same page and things are kept as consistent and stable as possible
In my discussions with friends and family who teach elsewhere, I have learned that this isn’t happening elsewhere. Timetables and class sizes have changed for some, some have new classes they’ve never had before, and others have no streamlined or consistent method of delivery or assessment. One poor soul is trying to deal with all of those complications and more. I am trying to be as supportive of that particular friend as I can be, and have suggested that if the school has left it completely up to him to manage, he might follow the practices my own school has implemented so that his students have some structure and consistency with his classes at least. He’s going to do that, and suggest those same things to his colleagues.
Teachers worldwide are struggling with the same anxieties, challenges and logistics that I am. I am note alone. Nor are my students.
We should not be discouraged if we don’t get through the regular program, or if things don’t always work the way we’d like them to.
Our online classrooms provide valuable connection and communication for the kids. It helps them to feel less isolated and cut off, and gives them regular opportunities to think and talk about life beyond corona.
Ultimately, my students are safe and healthy at home, and learning every day. Those are blessings that should not ever be taken for granted in this strange coronaverse of 2020.
I can honestly say I am looking forward to another week of positive, encouraging lessons and interactions after a well-earned rest this weekend.
As a teacher, I know there is no substitute for being in the classroom, engaging with the students and supervising their work, making suggestions or guiding their thinking. When you create a constructive, productive learning environment, students thrive.
Over the past few weeks, my school has worked really hard to reproduce that in an online learning environment. My colleagues and I have put a great deal of thought and preparation into making our students’ experiences of learning from home in online classes as interesting and beneficial as they can possibly be. From where I stand, we’ve done a great job of preparing for teaching and learning from home, and I really hope that our students and their parents feel the same way.
Today was our first day of teaching and learning remotely. My students were well behaved and cooperative. Most seem to have coped with the challenges of doing school at home, some of them sharing an environment with their siblings who were also doing their lessons at home, quite well. We got through everything I had planned for those initial lessons. Judging from the work they handed in today, the kids generally worked as well as they usually do in a classroom environment.
I don’t know how they all felt at the end of the school day, but by the time 3.30pm rolled around, I was exhausted.
Make no mistake: online teaching is really hard. It’s mentally demanding in ways that physical presence in the classroom is not. It’s harder to hear students when they speak, and it’s harder to be sure that everyone understands what you say or what you want them to do. Even marking the roll poses new challenges when you can’t simply identify empty spaces in the classroom. Things that have become instinctive for teachers are now impossible, and we find ourselves reinventing pedagogy, teaching, communication, and the delivery of lessons and lesson materials.
You can no longer maintain classroom management by circulating around the room or standing in strategic places so you can see what kids have on their screens. You can’t just look over a kid’s shoulder and remind them of a principle or fact that they need to consider. You can’t make a teaching point of quickly correcting an error or oversight.
To an extent, one has to just accept that and move on. If a student is easily distracted or willing to be inattentive, that is understandable: there’s a lot going on, they’re at school without being at school, they’re in their own environment, and some of them are genuinely anxious about the dangers and the restrictions that Covid-19 has brought about. Really, the best you can hope for is to find a way to gently bring their attention back to the task and try to re-focus them.
It’s a tricky set of circumstances for the kids as it is, and adding learning at home to the strangeness of social isolation and distancing is a situation that some kids — and some teachers — will undoubtedly find awkward at best.
Still, it’s good for all of us, kids and teachers alike, to have a routine and a variety other things to think about. It is healthy and constructive use of the abundant time we would otherwise have on our hands at this point in time.
As tired as I was, they day did end particularly well. After spending 90 minutes with one of my classes this afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised when three of my students thanked me for the lesson. In the past, wishing each other a good afternoon or a pleasant evening was not unusual, but having students actually thanking me for double English after lunch on Tuesday is totally new.
I spent the rest of my regular school day responding to the work they submitted, and giving my students some feedback on their ideas and responses. It was nice to be able to
At 4.15pm, I made myself a cup of coffee and almost cried into it with gratitude for my good but mentally exhausting day, and for the caffeine upon which I would rely for the next couple of hours while I cooked dinner and did everything else I needed to do.
When dinner was done, I looked at my husband and asked if it was too early to go to bed. “It’s 6.15pm,” he said. “So probably, then?” I asked. “Yeah. Probably.”
Maybe I’ll just spend the time between now and bedtime thinking about what gift I’m going to buy myself for Teacher Appreciation Week. Whatever it is, I will have earned it.
One teacher’s thoughts on the first day of teaching and learning while #StayingHome #teachingfromhome #TeachFromHome #TeachingOnline #teachertwitter
I’ve mentioned here before that I enjoy a good pun. Today, to my delight, one of my students came up with a pretty good one, so I responded in kind.
It happened in history, where my students were mapping the three arenas of WWII.
Student A: Syria. Sy-ri-a. *grins* Are you…syyyyyyrias? Me: Hey, I was just dam-ask in’… Student B: That’s SO bad.
Well, we laughed hard. And then student A explained it to the rest of the class, and they laughed too.
Poor Student B, though. As Student A explained, he put his head on the table and moaned, “It’s like having my dad in the room… twice!”
Still, it it wasn’t enough to stop him from piping up a little later.
Student B: Did you know that it wasn’t just Darwin, Broome got bombed too? Me: Yes, the Japanese swept right across north-west Australia… Student A: Haha! That’s genius! Student B: No. NO. That’s awful! Me: I didn’t expect you to bristle like that. Student B: I’m leaving. *walks out of the room* Student C: Where’s B? Me: *just as B is walking back in* I made a joke and he flew off the handle. Student B: No. *walks out again*
It was a fun moment which we all enjoyed, but it also made the facts the students were working with more memorable. Once we’d had a laugh, they all just kept on working.
Opportunities like that don’t happen all the time, but when they do, they are welcome.
Humour is such good medicine, and it makes excellent social glue. It was wonderful to be able to laugh together during a week when the world seems far more uncertain and a lot less enjoyable than it did a couple of weeks ago.
I’m thankful that my students have the confidence to express themselves in my classroom, and that they do it in ways that are clever and fun. It really is a huge blessing to be able to have such great rapport with my students, and these kids make it easy to keep going to work every day.
These anecdotes were retold here with the permission of the students involved.
Most of the time, when people protest about the way the English language is abused, it’s a case of the language continuing to evolve as it has always done.
One such example is the practice of verbing, which takes the noun form of a word and transforms it into a verb form… like ‘verb’ and ‘verbing’.
Just last week, I was talking with a friend about how annoying she finds it when people say “I’m going to action that.” I’m sure she sought me out for the conversation because I’m both a word nerd and an English teacher.
“Action is a noun! A bloody noun! How can so many otherwise intelligent people get that wrong?”
“It grates on us because it’s recent,” I said. “We’ll get used to it.”
“No, I won’t! It’s just wrong!”
“You know Shakespeare did it?”
“Verbing. He did it all the time.”
“You and your Shakespeare. It’s like he’s the answer to everything.”
“You know he invented the word ‘friending’, right?”
She rolled her eyes and walked away. She didn’t even flinch at my use of the term “verbing”, which is exactly the same thing as “actioning” in terms of the language. After all, ‘verb’ is a noun, too.
It is the recent examples of verbing, such as “actioning” an idea, that we notice because we’re not used to hearing them yet. When Facebook was new, people complained the same way about “friending”, but these days nobody thinks twice about that. At some point in time, someone decided that it was okay to talk about bottling fruit, or shelving books, and now those terms are just everyday language.
It is also true, however, that some things people commonly say are, quite simply, wrong.
My pet peeve is when my students are talking about sport or some other kind of competition, and they say “We versed Team X”.
This is a common bastardisation of the Latin versus, which means ‘against’. It is commonly used for sporting matches and legal cases, and is generally abbreviated as v. or vs., as in Black v. White or Blue vs. Red.
My first response is always to ask whey they wrote poetry about another team. “You played them. You opposed them. You clashed with them. You competed with them. You did not write poetry about them.” Then I explain how the different words work, and what they actually mean.
The reason “versed” is wrong is because the words ‘versus’ and ‘verse’ have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Because ‘against’ is a preposition, it simply doesn’t make sense to say “We againsted them”. It is not verbing, by any stretch of the imagination.
The first time we have that conversation, they look at me with confusion. Some have a glazed look of fear, like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. This never fails to entertain me. The second and third times, they roll their eyes.
Over time, the tedium of having the same grammar-nerdy conversation persuades them to start using the language correctly. They learn, I win, and so does the English language.
Today my students investigated the words and phrases coined by Shakespeare.
I started by giving them a list of the words and asking them to highlight which ones they knew and used. This really engaged them, and it was great to see their motivation change as they realised that Shakespeare’s language isn’t all lofty poetry and words that finish in -eth.
I followed that up with some great videos and a website resource to extend their knowledge and reinforce their learning.
An unexpected bonus for me was the overall positive response to the exit quiz I made for the end of the lesson.
Of course, it wasn’t all enthusiastic. I’ve been teaching Year 9 English for long enough to know not all kids are going to respond positively, so I do at least try to make my quizzes fair so that they can express their feelings honestly, and kind of fun so that they actually want to do them.
They know there is no obligation to respond in a way that will make me feel good, and I know my students, so I’m confident that these responses are an accurate reflection of attitudes throughout the group.
Wait, what? Boring?
Thankfully, the next set of responses explained that. The 26% who found the videos boring are probably the ones who preferred the website based resource instead. That’s a relief!
There was a surprise waiting for me, though.
The funny thing is, I didn’t even know there was an option 7. I must have accidentally hit ‘return’ while making the quiz on Google Forms. I don’t know if Option 7 was perceived to be better or worse than ‘boring’. I’m telling myself that since they could choose multiple options, Option 7 was checked by those with a good sense of humour.
This was the closest I got to asking the students to identify themselves. If they don’t have to tell me their names, they are more likely to give honest responses. I’m not-so-secretly excited that so many of them identify as dragons.