Posted in Miscellaneous

Young Artist Gallery Stroll

In my various travels, I’ve been able to attend some amazing art galleries and museums.  I’ve seen the Louvre, the d’Orsée, the Rodin Museum, the National Gallery, the Tate Modern, the National Portrait Gallery in London, and the Smithsonian, just to name a few.  These museums and galleries contain artwork that is technically amazing, inspiring, and connects to the human soul through drops of paint or clay.

On July 19th, I attended another art gallery.  The art displayed there will never grace the walls of the Louvre or the Smithsonian; probably no more than 150 people ever saw it.  And if it was graded, it might not even receive an “A”.  Yet, it was one of the best art galleries I’ve ever been to.

This summer, special education teacher candidates (including myself) have been teaching at elementary school summer programs for students with disabilities in the neighboring districts.  The Young Artist Gallery Stroll displayed the artwork these students did in class.

My class’ artwork

On a technical level, did their art compare to Monet, Rodin, or Bernini?  No.  Does that matter?  Not really.

So what does matter then?

As I walked around the room, looking at the various artwork, I saw their personalities come out in their artwork.  Art helped them express something about themselves; then, they got to share it with others.  That’s one important part.

Several of my students and their families were able to come.  My students were bursting with pride as they walked around the room.  People kept telling them what a good job they did.  So, they got recognized for a job well done.  That’s another important part.

It made me realize some important things about art in the classroom.

1. Art does not have to be perfect to be enjoyed.

  • Not a single project there was perfect, but it was one of the most enjoyable experiences with art I’ve ever had.

2. Focus on art as a form of expressing yourself.

  • Giving some choices for the project lets students show their creativity.

3. Give recognition for a job well done.

  • Make sure that you have some way of telling your students what a great job they did.  It not only makes them feel good in that moment, it might also inspire them to keep creating throughout their lives.

Posted in Miscellaneous

Goals: Getting Those Desired Results

I am a planner. I am one of those people who makes to do lists about what I need to make to do lists for. I am one of the nerds who actually uses my BYU planner multiple times a day and I am proud of it! I love planning events and I always need to know what is happening next.

When I would go into my parents room, their office, or call them on the phone in a stressed and overwhelmed state, I was often asked the same questions and given the same advice: “Have you made a plan? Do you have goals and to do lists?” My parent would then sit me down, ask me about the problem, and help me come up with a plan. “How would I accomplish all of the tasks that were required of me?” We would talk it out and even write down days and times for my goals. I am so grateful for what my parents taught me about the importance of plans and goals! As we make goals for our own lives, we can also teach the importance of goals to our future students.

Setting personal objectives and being motivated in life is achieved by setting end goals. When you make a direction for yourself, the path becomes clearer. However, in order to make sure this goal is not too lofty or unattainable, it is important to make smaller, simpler goals first. This way, as you attain each goal, your motivation will increase and you can better measure your progress towards larger and more long term goals. Also, writing your plans and goals on paper makes them more concrete and attainable. You see your plan, you know what it is, and you can start working on it. Be sure to remember to also be adaptable. Life has many twists and turns so you must be flexible when working on goals.

    So how do you make goals and how can you help your students make goals? The Mind Tools website at http://www.mindtools.com/page6.html offers some helpful ideas. For example, it mentions the use of the acronym SMART. Each letter stands for something that assists you in making “smart” goals. S stands for specific or significant; M is for measurable or meaningful; A for attainable or action-oriented; R for relevant or rewarding; T for time-bound or trackable.

The first meaning for each letter in SMART works great for task-based goals while the second meaning works well for aspirational goals. For example, a task-based goal in a classroom may be to learn to spell every word on a weekly spelling list. Using SMART goals, your students can adapt this goal to say “In order to learn all of these spelling words, I will learn three new words a day by spelling them out loud and writing them down three times each as well as using them in a sentence during the day. By the end of the week, I will know all of the spelling words on the list and will be ready for the spelling test.” This goal now has a specific and measurable plan for its accomplishment. A student’s aspirational goal of becoming a better listener can be broken down using SMART and could include such things as such as making eye contact, focusing on what is being said, and taking action as needed. To help your students attain their goals, be sure to remind them about their goals, have them write their goals down, post them in the classroom, have them talk to fellow students about their goals, etc. These are all great ideas to help your students have something to continually work for.

It often feels like we are “too busy” to write goals or make plans. There is so much to do and time is precious! No worries, I know the feeling! However, I promise you that the few minutes of time you use to make a plan will be more beneficial to you then working on a task with no direction. You will feel more confident and able to tackle what’s ahead of you when you can see the “big picture”, and you know what, where, when, and how to do it.

As teachers, we want to encourage our students to make goals. The beginning of a new school year is a great time to help them come up with a few goals and steps towards their achievement. This helps the students and the teacher know where they are headed, what they want out of their school year, and helps them feel a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence when they are able to see their progression. Both daily as well as large goals have great benefits. If a habit is started young of making plans, goals, and to do lists, it can be carried on to be used as a future tool. Just like how my parents helped me make plans for my life, we can help our students do the same.

Posted in Miscellaneous

How Are You Smart?

Before you read further, please take a few moments to watch this video:

I have a beautiful niece who has a disability similar to Hyrum’s called Asperger’s Syndrome. Like Hyrum, my niece has many of the same interests as other children (and boy does she have a great sense of humor!), but she is also different in some ways. Like Hannah said of her brother, these differences “do not make [my niece] bad, just different.” At the same time, these same differences create one of the greatest challenges for teachers: teaching children with disabilities. Because every disability is unique and has varying degrees of severity, it is difficult to understand how to tailor education to the individual needs of these students. How then can teachers rise up to meet this challenge? After researching this topic I have learned several things that I believe will help teachers more effectively and confidently teach children with disabilities.

Philippe Ernewein, a renowned teacher at Denver Academy in Colorado, said that “schools are built upon this question of asking, ‘How smart are you?’ and… need to start moving towards this question: ‘How are you smart?’” He believes that children with special needs have learning differences rather than disabilities. Therefore, all children are smart and capable of learning in different ways. For example, some children have “body or natural intelligence” (athletes, dancers, etc.), others are “logical/linguistic and quantitative learners” (mathematicians), and some have great “spatial intelligence” (artists, musicians, and performers).  Effectively teaching them is simply a matter of discovering how they learn best and then incorporating those styles of learning into your teaching. Mr. Ernewein is convinced that asking “How are you smart?” about each student will yield deeply desirable results. “I think asking this question will truly revolutionize the learning experience and change the story of learning for tens of thousands of students,” he said. “It’s going to unlock unfathomable potential, talent, creativity, [and] innovation that I think honestly has been punished, marginalized, and overlooked for far too long.”

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, “currently 2.4 million students are diagnosed with learning disabilities and receive special education services in our schools, representing 41% of all students receiving special education.” Clearly, understanding how to teach children with special needs is becoming increasingly important in our schools.

ImageIn addition to learning how to teach children with disabilities, I believe it is also important to teach children about disabilities. So many of the challenges children with special needs face are a result of the misunderstandings of their peers. I read an article that suggested several ways to teach children about disabilities. A few of them include inviting individuals with disabilities to share their experiences, encouraging children to ask questions about disabilities, teaching children to question norms and to recognize stereotypes about those with disabilities, and modeling respectful and appropriate ways to talk about disabilities. All children need to understand, like Hannah does, that disabilities do not make children bad or weird. It simply makes them different, and we are ALL different.

Understanding how to teach children with disabilities should be a high priority of every good teacher. Though these children may have unique needs in the classroom, it is so important that teachers dedicate the time, effort, and commitment required to help these children succeed. I applaud teachers like Mr. Ernewein and others who dedicate their lives to helping students with special needs. There is much we can learn from them! They will be the first to tell you that teaching children with disabilities will be challenging. But our investment in their success will give them confidence in their potential, and they will be able to accomplish things that they didn’t realize were possible.

What are your thoughts about disabilities? What ways of teaching have you found to be effective for those with special needs?

Posted in Miscellaneous

For the Love of Teaching

A few weeks ago, along with many of you and millions of other members of the LDS church, I had the opportunity to watch the missionary leadership training meeting put on by church leaders. Wasn’t it such a wonderful meeting? As a future teacher, I paid especially close attention to President Packer’s talk on teaching in the church. ImageAs he related his experience of sitting on a cliff on a postage-stamp sized island near Okinawa as a young man, trying to decide what options lay ahead of him, I reflected back on my own decisions that led me to this career path. While I’m sure none of them were as glamorous as sitting on a beach overlooking the ocean like President Packer’s was, and I’m not even sure I could pinpoint a specific moment when I decided to be a teacher, I could relate to his desire to influence young people and improve the lives of the youth through education.

Obviously, because you and I chose to be teachers, we appreciate education and the art of teaching. It turns out, though, not everyone feels this way. You may have seen this article floating around the Internet, which counters the argument that teachers are simply glorified babysitters. The article shows that teachers make significantly less money then an actual babysitter would make if they had the same hours. In my secondary education classes and in my observations of current teachers, I’ve seen first-hand  that teachers are overworked and underpaid.

If this is true, then why would someone as brilliant as President Packer decide to devote his life to teaching? Why would a bunch of bright, well-educated students such as ourselves decide at the beginning of our adult lives to enlist in what the world sees as a thankless cause?

I don’t know about you, but I’m doing it because I love teaching.

Like I mentioned earlier, I can’t pick out a specific moment when I decided I would dedicate my life to grading hundreds of essays and teaching the finer points of English grammar. I can, however, tell you all about the teachers that made a huge impact in my life. I can tell you about the English teacher who was so enthusiastic about her subject it was contagious. She was so interested in our success, I felt like I could do anything she asked of me, even with her high standards. I can tell you about my sophomore high school advisor who was incredibly invested in making sure her students were gaining the skills and experience they needed to change the world, because she truly believed we could. And I could tell you about my orchestra teacher who constantly pushed us to become better because he saw potential in each and every one of us to be our very best.

None of these teachers were simply a glorified babysitter. They didn’t sit around and lecture us just to pass the time. I’ve realized that each of these teachers that made an impact on me had a few things in common:

  • They loved their subject and were constantly learning more. My English teachers were always looking for new, great literature, and my music teachers were attending conferences and taking us to competitions to learn from outside clinicians. What a great opportunity to sharpen their skills!

  • They truly cared about their students. I know each of these teachers took an interest in me personally and didn’t just see me as one in a crowd. My high school advisor was constantly keeping up with our extracurricular activities and giving us tips for how to succeed in other areas of our lives. She provided us with service opportunities to strengthen our resumes and encouraged us to follow our passions.

  • They were interested in progress, not just assigning a letter on a page. I remember my English teacher once challenging me to achieve a perfect score on an AP essay. For weeks she pushed me to reach my goal, and when I finally got back a paper with the perfect score on the top, we had both achieved something.

This is the kind of teacher I want to become. Not just a glorified babysitter who gives kids a place to be for eight hours a day five times a week, but someone who inspires others to love learning. I want to give students the skills they need to be successful and achieve their dreams. I want to encourage young people to reach their full potential and become the best they can be.

I’m doing it for the love of teaching.