Sunday, September 30, 2018

Christopher Columbus: Hero or villain?

Around this time of year, the debate over what October 12 should be called comes creeping into conversations online, in the break room, around the dinner table and in the classroom. The central question is: "Should we continue to honor Christopher Columbus or reclaim the day as Indigenous People's Day?"

Currently at our school, in fifth grade, students are studying the transdisciplinary unit of inquiry where we are in place and time as they explore the central idea: expansion causes consequences. During this unit, they inquire into decisions made by European explorers and colonizers, the causes of their actions, the changes that ensued whilst considering the perspectives of indigenous peoples and Africans who were affected by these Europeans.

To meaningfully dig into the ideas presented in the "Columbus Day v. Indigenous People's Day" debate, a fifth grade teacher with whom I work led her students through the AVID strategy Philosophical Chairs.

First, she had students watch the TED-Ed video History vs. Christopher Columbus by Alex Gendler. As they watched, students took notes organized by a hero/villain t-chart.

To prepare for Philosophical Chairs, she had the students practice with low-risk topics (and used this slide deck as support).


With each example, she promoted the use of academic language, encouraging students to use the sentence stem below.

To prepare further for philosophical chairs, we had the students watch the video one more time, adding to their notes they had previously taken. First, we had them pick a side: Columbus Day or Indigenous People's Day.

Then, as they watched the video, they were to look for evidence that would back up their opinion. To aid in their comprehension, we used an EdPuzzle version of the video, which periodically stops and suggests important pieces of evidence that they could potentially include in their t-chart.

Finally, after all the preparation, students were ready to begin the routine of philosophical chairs. We had them write their opinion and one supporting piece of evidence on an index card and then separated the students by "Pro Columbus Day" on the west side of the room and "Pro Indigenous People's Day" on the east side.

The teacher facilitated the conversation by asking students to both share their opinions and supporting evidence and listen to the points provided by the alternative side of the argument. Students' attention to each other was evident as they shared their own evidence only after repeating what they had heard their peer say from the other side of the room. As students heard evidence that swayed their opinion, they changed sides of the room. Students remained engaged and civil throughout the conversation and brought up strong reasons for why they felt that either October 12 should be remain Columbus Day or be renamed.

We closed the conversation by praising the students' participation and inviting the students to act on their learning: "Now that you know what you do about Christopher Columbus and the consequences of his actions, what will you do with this information?"

In the elementary classroom, there are certainly lots of ways to thoughtfully examine multiple perspectives of a contentious issue. The AVID strategy Philosophical Chairs is an impactful strategy that provides students an opportunity to develop inquiry, oral language and argumentation skills.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The PYP Attitudes are going away!

Before the roll out of the official Enhanced PYP documents last fall, rumors started to swirl within the IB World Community about what changes to the program would be coming from the IB. One such rumor was that the IB was doing away with the PYP attitudes.

Last fall when The learner in the enhanced PYP was released, one line mentioned what was happening to the attitudes: "'Attitudes’ in the PYP have now been subsumed within the descriptors of the learner profile," (p. 4).

It is important to point out that although the PYP attitudes will no longer be articulated as a separate list of dispositions we want students to feel, value and demonstrate, the PYP is still committed to and focused on "the development of personal attitudes towards people, towards the environment and towards learning, attitudes that contribute to the well-being of the individual and of the group," (p. 24 of Making the PYP Happen).

Subsuming the PYP attitudes within the descriptors of the learner profile aligns the focus of the development of international-mindedness and reinforces how central the learner profile is to not only the PYP, but to all programs under the IB umbrella.

Special note: If some of you are like me and have never heard the word 'subsumed' before, it is defined as "to include or absorb [something] in something else". :)

In order to "see" where these attitudes are within the descriptors of the IB learner profile attributes, I created a poster (based on the IB learner profile poster) which highlights the attitudes in the PYP.

Tolerance is the only current PYP attitude which doesn't appear by name in the descriptors of the IB learner profile attributes, although students obviously work on being sensitive about differences and diversity in the world and being responsive to the needs of others as they develop many of the attributes of the IB learner profile.

My hope is that being able to see the attitudes highlighted in this way within the descriptors of the attributes, teachers, students and families will be able to easily understand how the development of the PYP attitudes support the students' development of the attributes of the IB learner profile.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

What are you doing that I can't allow?

Almost 20 years ago, I was a 17 year-old high school student heading to southern Colorado to spend my summer working at a camp in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. As a "camphand" I was preparing myself to clean toilets, wash dishes and do anything else necessary to help the camp run smoothly.

During our 2-week staff training at the onset of the summer, I learned not only how to be a camphand, but also how to help campers who where showing behaviors not allowed at camp. NOTE: I also learned how to drive a stick-shift on the side of a mountain in an old rusty truck nicknamed "The Beast"; but I digress.

That summer, I learned and practiced using a standard set of 3 questions that can help a child self-regulate and independently identify an alternative behavior that is responsible, respectful and safe.

These 3 questions have served me well since because:

  • They are quick.
  • They give power to the child, without embarrassment or condemnation.
  • They keep me calm in the face of a behavior that is irresponsible, disrespectful and/or unsafe. 
  • Just like Dr. Sharroky Hollie suggests, these 3 questions help validate and affirm the child, while building and bridging between the students' home culture and language with the school's culture and language.
Any time you encounter a child showing an unexpected behavior at school you consistently ask these 3 questions:

  1. What are you doing that I can't allow?
  2. Why can't I allow that?
  3. What will/should you do instead?

It is important to understand that children will most often answer with "I don't know" or "I don't remember" at least at first. If you encounter this, BE PATIENT! Calmly tell them that that is okay and that you'll give them time to think.

If after giving a student the appropriate wait time you believe that they truly don't know how to answer these prompts, take the opportunity to make it into a teachable moment. Again, this is the Build & Bridge part from Dr. Hollie.

Remember: All behavior is communication. Perhaps a student is running because they think it is a more efficient way to move down a long hallway. Maybe they are talking to an adult in a way that seems rude and disrespectful, because that is the way they've learned to communicate in order to be heard. If a student doesn't know how to read, we help them learn. We also have the responsibility to teach them the skills necessary to be able to demonstrate expected behaviors in school. 

Note: In a recent communication with my former camp director , I learned two things:

  • This technique is known as (or based on) "Perception Check". Even after doing a quick Google search on "Perception Check" I'm unable to identify to whom this technique might be attributable. 
  • The technique actually involves 4 questions, with the fourth being  "WHAT do you feel you need to do now?" I feel like this question is appropriate when some sort of reparations are called for.