Posted in Miscellaneous

Personal Reflections About Literacy

Reading and writing have both played significant roles in my life. I don’t remember when I first learned to read, but I do have very early memories of my mom reading to my siblings and me. We read the Book of Mormon early each morning as a family. We read scripture stories on Sundays and during Family Home Evening. At night, we read picture books. One of my favorite authors was Bill Peet. His illustrations were always so engaging, and his stories were full of adventure and excitement. Cowardly Clyde, Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent, How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head, and The Whingdingdilly were among my very favorites.

Cowardly Clyde (Reprint) (Paperback)Stories were always an integral part of family’s interactions together. One of my favorite bedtime activities was listening to my dad’s Mary, Sarah, and Carl stories. These were the names of three fictitious characters that were about the same age as my older sister L’Anita, my younger sister Bethany, and me. These curious children had some of the most grand and exciting adventures together! They lived in the countryside, isolated from civilization, so there were always fun adventures to be had. They loved to explore and would often embark on day-long outings in hopes of discovering secret places and hidden treasures. These stories were always so magical to me, and they were the foundation upon which my love for reading and writing grew.

You can imagine how exciting it was for me to be able to read these stories and others on my own! Some of the first books I ever read were the Frog and Toad books. Oh, how I loved these two warty friends! I always wished that I could join them on their escapades. Probably my most favorite book in elementary school, though, was Shiloh. Dogs were my favorite animal, so this heart-warming dog tale was very near and dear to my heart. I loved my life as a child, but being able to read suddenly opened up worlds without number into which I could enter and be a part of. I felt as if Shiloh was my own dog and that I was the one having all the adventures with him. I remember riding right alongside Harry Potter during a Quidditch match and casting spells myself at the dreadfully annoying Draco Malfoy. Reading was especially rewarding during difficult days. Bad days never lasted very long because I could escape into someone else’s life and enjoy the excitement and fun of their experiences. And even though I eventually had to re-enter reality, much of the joy I experienced with my fictitious friends lingered with me.

My love for reading eventually grew into a love for writing. My experiences with the stories I’d read expanded my imagination, and I began creating stories and characters of my own. My writing abilities expanded to poetry, as well. In fourth grade, I wrote a poem and entered it into a literary contest. The theme was “Anything is Possible.” I actually remember the poem! It went something like this:

“I wish I could fly in the sky so high

And see all the beautiful things go by.

I wish I could have the wings of the things

That fly in the sky so high.

I wish I could fly! I wish I could fly!

Anything is possible, so why can’t I?”

Well, I won first place! I received a plaque with my name on it and was absolutely thrilled. This experience boosted my confidence in my writing abilities, and I continued to compose. In seventh grade, I entered another poem into a literary contest and was awarded again, this time with a publication of my work in a collection of literature written by students of all grade levels. I was so excited to be a published writer!

As I’ve grown older, my writing experiences have unfortunately been increasingly disappointing. I feel that the older I’ve gotten, the less I’ve been allowed to use creativity and imagination in my writing. In high school, my writing opportunities consisted of research papers and formal essays. Employing humor and creativity in my work was frowned upon, and I was even penalized at times for being too “informal.” Writing began to feel more like a chore than a chance to create something special and unique. I felt like my childlike imagination was being choked away by weeds of robotic formality with its unnatural tones and forced use of advanced vocabulary. The voice in my writing was not my own, and I felt like I was writing what the teacher wanted me to write rather than what I felt naturally inclined to.

My reading experiences were very similar. No longer was I allowed to read engaging stories that taught important lessons and principles while masterfully employing the use of various literary techniques and functions. Instead, I had to read the “classics,” books that, in my mind, were entirely incapable of communicating any messages to me. I tried tirelessly to dig through these stories to find meaning and purpose. I labored painstakingly to discover the “main ideas” the author was trying to communicate. But in the end, there were only specific answers that were acceptable. And guess who decided what answers were acceptable or not; that’s right, my teacher. Again, there seemed to be no room for my imagination to direct me to my own personal discoveries. I was forced to conform to a specific train of thought and understanding about literature.

These experiences and many others have shaped the way I view literacy now. I’ve developed through these experiences a belief that the purpose of literature is ideally to establish a connection between the writer and the reader. After all, the intent of most writers is to communicate something to their readers. There are any number of ways these connections can be made. Because each person is unique and different, the connections made between writers and readers are likely different for everyone. Literacy, therefore, is simply the ability to connect with literature. Being able to read a work and come away having learned something is, in my mind, a manifestation of literacy. As a child, I learned so much from Bill Peet’s stories. I was literate! Sometimes the messages we understand are different from those that others do. They may even be different than the ones the writer was originally trying to communicate, but that doesn’t mean the reader is not literate. Let me use an example to illustrate what I mean. I have often studied the scriptures with the intent to discover principles that I can apply into my life that will help me become more like the Savior. I may be reading about the importance of keeping the law of chastity, but come away feeling that I need to serve others more. The message I gleaned from my study was completely different from the message being taught by an ancient prophet. Does this mean that I am not literate, that I am not capable of understanding what the author was trying to say? Of course not! I was still successful in meaningfully connecting with the literature I was reading. This is literacy.

People cannot be forced to be literate in the same way. I hope that I, as a teacher, can learn to avoid forcing my students to learn from literature the things that I want them to learn. Instead, I hope to be able to teach them how to make their own discoveries in their experiences with reading and writing and use what they learn in meaningful ways.

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Posted in Miscellaneous

The Ron Clark Story

One of the most inspirational education films I’ve ever seen is The Ron Clark Story, which aired on TNT in 2006 and can be viewed online. This is a compelling movie about an elementary school teacher who moved to Harlem, New York in hopes of making positive changes in the lives of troubled inner-city youth. I mourned with him through the challenges he faced during his first few months of teaching and rejoiced with him when his diligent labors bore fruit. Ron Clark’s inspiring story is one that every educator should become acquainted with.

There are so many things about this teacher that impressed me. The first thing that struck me is how he recognized the innate potential of each of his students. This is a great strength, and it helped him to weather the fierce storm of recklessness and disrespect from his students. Even though he almost gave up at one point, he stuck with it and showed confidence that they could succeed. It is so important for teachers to have this attitude.

Another thing he did that impressed me is how he found positive things to say to his students. He observed them, discovered their strengths, and then offered encouraging comments. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference at first, but these efforts slowly softened his students to a point where they trusted him. It is essential for teachers to recognize and acknowledge the strengths of their students. Doing so gives them confidence that they can succeed in the future.

I also love how he thought outside of the box and utilized very unique tactics to gain the interest of his students. His chugging a carton of chocolate milk every 15 seconds to get his students to pay attention to an English lesson was genius! He realized that he had to be creative to reach his students, and he was willing to sacrifice his pride and time to get them interested in learning. These efforts eventually allowed him to use humor during his instruction, which helped him relate to the students.

His use of rules was also very effective. It certainly took time before the students respected the rules, but Mr. Clark was firm and consistent. He was not afraid to hold his students accountable and call them out for disrespecting his rules. He also used rules as teaching tools. At one point in the film, he pointed out to his students that each of the rules he had displayed in the classroom represented a skill they had developed. What an effective use of classroom rules!

One last thing that impressed me was how much time Mr. Clark spent outside of school helping his students. He left his comfort zone and went to each of their homes before school started to talk with their parents about his goals for their children’s learning. He encouraged them to meet with him after school for tutoring and even offered to feed them. I was so impressed that he was even willing to cook dinner for one girl’s family so that she would have time to study.

Mr. Clark’s deep concern for the welfare and success of his students is truly remarkable. He is an amazing example to all of us of what a true teacher should be. As far as he was concerned, his job as a teacher reached far beyond the classroom and into the personal lives of each of his students. This attitude helped him to change countless lives for the better and instilled within each student a feeling of self-worth and confidence in their abilities. What an inspiring film! I strongly encourage all education-minded individuals to take the time to watch this movie and find ways to apply what they learn. I promise a rich experience!

Posted in Elementary Education Preparation

Social Competence Part 2: Young Children

Social Incompetence

In the course of my observations of young children behavior, I have noticed a lack of understanding of distributive justice and how to effectively and appropriately solve problems. For example, Hudson was playing an alphabet game at a table with several other children. There were countless copies of each letter for the children to use, but when one of the children reached for a certain letter, Hudson quickly and firmly established that the letter was his. This example shows that Hudson did not understand that objects, such as letters in an alphabet game, can and should be distributed equally between those who are participating in the game. There were clearly several other copies of the same letter. Hudson, had he understood distributive justice, would have been able to share and divide the letters so that each child had equal amounts.

not-sharingFurthermore, Hudson showed a level of inability to solve problems in effective and appropriate ways. At one point, he and another boy were playing with the blocks together. Every time Hudson placed a block on the building they were constructing, the other boy took it off and replaced it with a block of his own. Hudson’s solution to this problem was knocking the other boy’s blocks down – eventually demolishing the entire structure. Obviously the boy was not happy with Hudson’s reaction. Hudson, had he understood the principles of effective problem solving, could have asked the boy nicely if he could help, simply built something of his own, or found a more appropriate and agreeable solution.

Social Competence

I observed impressive levels of social competence in some of the children, particularly in emotional regulation and delaying gratification. I was surprised by Ayden’s ability to control his emotional reaction to a situation he did not like. While the children were all participating in a group activity, Ayden was talking and goofing off with one of his buddies. The teacher asked him several times to stop talking and to settle down. When his behavior persisted, the teacher asked him to move away from his friend. I could tell by the expression on his face that Ayden did not want to move and was unhappy about moving from his friend. But he reluctantly did as he was told. He could have continued to pout and sulk, but instead he quickly put a smile back on his face and jumped back into the activity with enthusiasm. This showed me that, despite his age, Ayden already has a remarkable ability to control his emotions.

Abby also demonstrated social competence in her ability to delay gratification. The final group activity was learning how to make apple pie. When the children understood the process, they excitedly went to their tables to make their own pies. Abby was the first one to her table, and I could tell that she was eager to make her pie. However, she saw the others arriving at the table and decided to wait to have her pie until everyone else had theirs. She even helped the teacher pass out pies to the other children before finally claiming her own. Abby, like many other children would have done, could have thought only of herself and grabbed the first pie she saw. However, she recognized that the others were just as excited as she, and so she waited for her pie until all the other children had been served.

Real Life Application

shutterstock_100149449-300x217Clearly, children cannot and should not be expected to understand and apply the same principles of social etiquette on the same level as adolescents or adults. They are still learning about themselves and others and are developing knowledge of what is appropriate behavior and what is not. For example, parents and/or teachers should celebrate over the ability a child has to work together with others to build something with blocks. They should and rejoice when children refrain from hitting others when they will not share a toy. This shows that a child is learning appropriate social behavior. Adolescents, on the other hand, should be expected to do such things. Social competence for an adolescent might be demonstrated in their ability to reach out to a shy individual and include them in his or her peer group. They can also use past experiences to comfort a friend who is going through a difficult time, or demonstrate other behaviors that require deeper understanding of healthy social characteristics. Children, because they are so young and tender, cannot possibly develop that understanding without time, experience, and instruction from older individuals.

People develop socially over time. As they learn from their own experiences, the experiences of others, and the instruction of parents, teachers, and peers, they will begin to understand the principles behind appropriate social behavior. Characteristics that facilitate socially competent behavior can be found in individuals at numerous stages of life. They can appear in early childhood and, if one is steered along the right trajectory, can continue to develop and increase throughout one’s life.

Posted in Elementary Education Preparation

Social Competence

The world is filled with people who exhibit different levels of social competence. There is the one who never thinks before he or she says something offensive, and their friend, who can always tell when someone is down and will cheer up even the most distressed individual. And of course there are the roommates who never wash their dishes, get toothpaste all over the mirror, never flush the toilet, and cannot keep their side of the room clean. There are several characteristics of a socially competent individual that we will discuss, and we will also talk about how those characteristics can be recognized in the behavior of both children and adolescents.

Aspects of Social Competence

Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation consists of various ways of adjusting the way one reacts emotionally to situations in order to accomplish objectives. Suppose there is a player in a pickup basketball game who cannot refrain from trash-talking his opponent. He jeers, taunts, insults, and challenges his foe in an effort to upset him and negatively affect his performance. A socially competent young man would, rather than taking out his frustration on the offender, decide to sit out for a few minutes in order to calm down before playing further.

Perspective Taking

Perspective taking is one’s ability to perceive and relate to the thoughts and feelings of others. Suppose there is a young woman who, after performing poorly on a test, yells at her roommate out of frustration and disappointment. Rather than judging her friend or getting angry, the roommate should remember the time she got a bad grade on a test and recall how she felt. She should then try to comfort her friend and tell her that she is not alone and everything will work out.

Distributive Justice

Distributive justice is the way an individual believes concrete substances should be divided in a fair manner. Suppose several adolescents participate in a service project and are rewarded with Krispy Kreme donuts. After everyone has a donut, there is still one left. One member of the group suggests that the last donut be given to a certain young man because he worked a little harder than everyone else and deserves a greater reward. Everyone agrees that this is fair and the young man receives the deserved treat.

Display of Empathy

Displaying empathy is being able to perceive various emotions, feel emotions from another’s perspective, and “respond emotionally in a similar way.” Suppose a young woman, Jane, experiences a break-up. Her friend Mary notices that something is wrong but does not know what happened. Mary inquires of Jane and learns about the break-up. Mary has also experienced the same thing only months before, so she comforts Jane and shares with her some things that helped her get through her break-up.

Social Problem Solving

Social problem solving is the ability to prevent and resolve conflicts in ways that are agreeable to oneself and to others. Suppose Sue participates in a sleepover with some friends. They all decide to watch a movie but cannot agree on which movie to watch. Each girl gives a list of reasons why her choice is best, and soon a small argument develops. Sue recognizes the problem and suggests that they watch none of the movies proposed, but instead watch one that everyone can agree on and enjoy. She names off several movies when suddenly all the girls squeal when they remember a favorite chick flick they had not seen for a while. Immediately forgetting their recent argument, the girls snuggle up together to watch the movie.

Achievement Motivation

Achievement motivation is one’s persistence in tackling challenging tasks. Suppose a young man is trying to learn how to throw the discus. The technique is difficult and requires a great deal of time and patience. He works hard during the season and puts in a lot of time, but still he does not perform as well as he wants during his track meets. When others would give up and fall into discouragement, he continues to work and work until finally, his senior year, his work pays off and he places first at the state meet.

Delay of Gratification

Delaying one’s gratification is saving a tempting action for a more suitable time and place. Suppose a young woman has a test coming up in one of her classes for which she needs to study. Her friends invite her to go to the movies on a school night. As much as she wants to go with her friends, she knows that if she goes to the movies she will not be prepared for the test and will perform poorly. She decides to wait until the weekend after her test to go to the movies with her friends.

Moral Self-Regulation

Moral self-regulation is one’s ability to control and adjust his or her reactions to situations that would require an abandonment of personal standards. Suppose a young man goes to a party with several of his friends. Shortly after they arrive, one of them pulls out a can of beer from a bag. He opens it, takes a swig, and then offers the drink to the person next to him. When the beverage is finally offered to the young man, he does not want to be the only one of his peers who “chickens out.” However, he knows that drinking from the can like his friends would be acting against his moral standards and religious beliefs. As much as he wants to fit in with and impress his friends, he decides to decline the drink.