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Happy Teacher’s Day!

March 8, 2011

Here is my delightfully messy desk, piled with love notes.  What?  You mean in other professions the people you work with don’t write you notes decorated with hearts and trees and houses?  What kind of a work environment is that?!

Tomorrow in Lebanon is Teacher’s Day.  This is the only country I’ve heard of that takes a day off in recognition of it’s teachers, and I have to say, it’s nice to be appreciated.  Today I received some beautiful handmade cards and a popcorn necklace, “In case you get hungry, then you can just eat!”  Genius.


“What does it mean . . . ‘from?'”

March 4, 2011

“Where are you from?”  It’s seemingly a simple, straightforward question.  I was at the big, rectangle table with a group of students several weeks ago, and heard students comparing notes about where they are from.  We are lucky to have an interesting mix of nationalities – although only 3 of the 21 students are completely non-Lebanese, meaning they have no genetic ties to Lebanon, the rest are a schmorgesborg of Lebanese, Lebanese-American, Lebanese-British, Lebanese-Jordanian, etc.  Most of the kids that fell into one of the Lebanese categories who were at the table identified themselves as Lebanese, although a few recognized that they were born elsewhere.  One student said he was born in Cambridge, England (he was), and attempted to prove it by saying so in an “English” accent (it wasn’t).

Then I was surprised when one student with two American parents and a clear–cut American accent asked,  “Miss Lauren . . . what does it mean, ‘from’?”  (Now, trust me, this girl knows the word from and can use it appropriately in a sentence.  This is the same child who wrote the above poem on the family computer at home, color editing is hers)  I had assumed that she would identify herself as an American.  Clearly she was thinking otherwise, and frankly, why not?

“Well, my family was here, and then moved and I was born in Saudi, and then we lived in China, and now we’re here!!! So I don’t know!”  Then she continued working on her drawing.  She wasn’t sad about the situation . . . “happily perplexed” is probably the phrase I would use.

Since that conversation, I have heard Hannah telling others, confidently, that she’s from Saudi Arabia.  This, it seems, is a logical response, seeing as that is where she was born.  I can respect that.  The rest of the class still think she’s Chinese.

To: P.O. Box 0101110101

February 28, 2011

Bill Gates for the Washington Post, on teacher development.

Dear Mr. Gates,

Firstly, thank you for all the work you’re doing – researching, funding, and supporting education. You are making an effort to improve the educational experience of children all over the world, and that is truly commendable and very helpful.

Although you didn’t specifically put it this way, I think it’s important to make clear that a “crisis in education” shouldn’t be pegged with the country’s economic standing. I hear a lot of politicians justifying spending on education by showing what it can do for our country economically or politically. Sure, if we started doing some in-vitro math drills, we might end up with American 6-year-olds who surpass other 6-year olds on meaningless tests, but there would be a cost, and it would most likely be playing around with glue and paper scraps, which I think is really important. I’m terrified to think that educational policies are being written by those looking out for our nation’s prosperity and economic standing, rather than for, oh you know, our children.

Again, you didn’t put it this way, but when I hear the U.S. being compared to educational systems elsewhere, I certainly start thinking about politics. I don’t think I’m the only one. What does it say for our society if the primary way we justify education is for the economic gain of our country? I think the end-goal of most parents isn’t to raise children that are economically competitive, but to raise children who are happy and have the tools to reach their goals. I hope you agree.

Right on about giving teachers feedback and training to improve the quality of education for students.  In my school, we use videotapes of ourselves to discuss what-went-well and what-was-crap (these aren’t the professional terms), and it is terrifying but extremely helpful as a teacher. When I read this, I thought about the trend in many U.S. school districts of replacing administrative positions traditionally held by educators, and instead, seeking business-oriented resumes. Although delegating business-y things to an appropriately minded person would free up administrators to help in the classroom and give feedback, what I notice is that these people are being REPLACED by people who have little or no educational background. Who will provide the feedback? Who will provide the training? I say this, also, with the pretext that my own administrator has helped shaped my beliefs and strengthened my skills in the classroom, and I can’t imagine what kind of teacher I’d be otherwise. On a side note, have you ever watched yourself on video? It’s truly a horrific experience, but gets better after the first few times.

Also, if you could make a way to embed video into Publisher documents, my student portfolios would be totally rad.

xoxo Lauren

Books for Inspiration

February 18, 2011

“How did they build it like in the middle of the water [moat]?  Look at it from the inside.  I wish I could live in this castle and have like dinner.”

What I love about children is that they can get inspiration from almost anywhere – something as simple as looking at the sky can open a discussion with a million questions. A piece of cardboard on the playground can be treasure.  Triangle shaped paper can turn into a mountainous creation.  They incorporate ideas into their work easily, and watching them do this is unbelievable.

Large picture books made for adults are typically relegated to coffee tables, but we’ve found them quite useful in the classroom lately.  When students were focussing on building “Lebanon City” over the last few weeks, we got books about the world’s skyscrapers, Frank Lloyd Wright, Islamic Architecture, and English Castles.  The blocks’ area was dominated by a group of about five boys before, but these books did an incredible job at tugging the interest of most children in the classroom, involving them someway in the building of the city. 

As students marveled at the pictures, sitting with them was a lesson in itself – a lesson about their own relationships with architecture.  I heard stories about old family buildings that are falling apart, “very very VERY” tall apartment buildings, churches, mosques, and stairs.  Looking for books that coincide with their interests has helped their thinking move forward, and made the play in our classroom rich.

“KG2B Class” Newspaper

February 3, 2011

These two students started the day with Lego “cameras,” and ended it with a four-paged newspaper.  When I offered them the use of our class camera, they were excited to take pictures of everyone in the class.  They took photos of people working in various parts of the classroom, printed and cut them, and arranged them according to how many people were engaged in each activity.  After noticing that they only had 4 pages to work with, but five stories, they looked to The Daily Star, Lebanon’s English newspaper, and determined that they could include more than one story on each page, as long as there was a line separateing each story.  They wrote a short synopsis of the event, and asked for the names of the projects people were working on.  The newspaper, “KG2B Class” was well received by classmates as it passed around from one person to the next. 

“5 girls in the art studio making dresses. For a fashion show.”

“They’re building a ‘Folum.'”

“Three people working in the writing [center].”

“They’re cleaning up the blocks.”

January 10, 2011

 After noticing that a handful students were “stuck in a rut,” drawing the same subject, rushing, or using a select few colors, I wondered if changing the materials available to them would provoke a different kind of work or a different way of working. I decided to cut standard size printer paper in half.  Then I cut it in half again.

Working with these small papers, I noticed that students were spending more time on their drawings than they had with paper four-times its size.  Pictures were more detailed, and many students filled in the entire paper, which only happened occasionally with the bigger size.  Could something as simple as changing the paper size transform the way students work?

This got me thinking in a different way.  Sometimes when we talk about giving children quality materials, I assumed that the more space they have the better.  For students who plan to spend a long time on detailed work that uses every centimeter of paper, are we doing them a disservice by presenting them with large paper?  For children who are exposed to quality art through books and galleries, can we make their goals more achievable by presenting them with smaller paper?

I’m still here.

January 5, 2011

I hope that 2011 will bring a year of more consistent blog posting for me.  I won’t lie.  I haven’t thought much about this space in the last month or so.  We’ve got a lot to talk about.

Above: Tiger Houses