A Year of This, Makes A Lifelong Learner

Learning is fun

Learning to grow food is fun

photo credit:Barrett Garden Work Day -photopin.com

While schools have switched from chalkboards to keyboards, skills like how to think independently and how to collaborate with others are not taught by a computer – those skills are taught by great teachers who have a huge impact on our lives.

The memory of our favorite teacher stays with us after we finish school, because they are among our first adult leaders, other than our parents.

My favorite teacher was my grade three teacher, Mrs. Pulsford, way back in 1970, in Vancouver. She was a bar-raiser, mentor, and earth angel who cared about us, and turned us into students that cared about what she was teaching.

1. Great teachers encourage you to never give up on your dreams

The hippie/scholar knew that music education helps kids do better in subjects like math.* When she played guitar in music class, with an orchid in her velvet black hair for flower power, she motivated me to sign up for the school guitar lesson program.

“Teachers open the door but you must enter by yourself”
Chinese Proverb.

2. Great Teachers Teach Us That change Starts With Us

First she connected her students, by forming groups of eight students to read aloud together. We bonded, and belonged, and generated positive peer pressure and better grades. Our open book comprehension tests vaulted our reading levels. When we moved our chairs into a circle to read, we felt like the nomads we studied in our textbooks.

The summer after that class, I read every junior mystery book at the local public library due to my new love of reading.

Once she connected the students to one another, she connected us with our school community, when we tackled the school litter problem. Our low tech anti- litter campaign was bootstrapped with paper, crayons and safety pins.

Our hand drawn flowers had tears rolling down them, and the words “litter makes the flowers cry” under them. We pinned them to our jackets, and wore them outside at recess and lunch.
When a student littered, we said: “you dropped something”, and the awareness we raised helped us eliminate the litter problem.

3. Great Teachers Honor Our Individuality And Unique Talents

Why fit in when you were born to stand out?
-Dr. Seuss

Celebrating our differences in a system that rewards compliance and conformity was a feat. Mrs. Pulsford balanced the teeter totter of conformity and individuality so well, that we fit in by being ourselves.

I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself.
— Rita Mae Brown

She believed in our gifts and talents, and, like a magician, with gemstone eyes behind black framed glasses, she pulled the best out of us.

One day our group was assigned to bake a chocolate cake. Allowing eight kids to access the forbidden teacher’s staff room, turn on the oven, operate an electric mixer, and break eggs was the epitome of trust, and we didn’t disappoint her.

We learned to stop spilling batter on the recipe when we could no longer read it. We measured and mixed the ingredients and cleaned up the mess. We learned to do something we had never done before with a group. This made our future math problems on measuring and dividing a breeze.

Like birds learning to fly, our self-sufficiency and confidence grew:
Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn it?
They fall, and falling,
they are given wings.


4. Great Teachers involve us in experiencing new things

Entrepreneur Richard Branson’s believes children learn more from travelling than being in the classroom.

Tactile and interactive quantum learning moments aren’t achieved through technology. The incubator in our grade three class housed baby chicks, which we could pick up, to feel their warm, downy feathers. We loved those chicks, and were sad when they grew too big for the classroom, and had to return to the farm, but we understood.

She placed the baby teeth we lost in glasses of Coke, so we could watch them disintegrate until they vanished. We grew green bean plants in the windowsill of the classroom and stuck our fingers in the soil to test the moisture level and decide if they needed to be watered.

With thirty four students in her class, Mrs. Pulsford was constantly changing the environment to make it exciting to learn in. We either had a class outdoors, with no walls, or we visited another classroom to see how they learn, so learning never became stagnant. We learned by doing.

5. Great Teachers Re-imagine the old ways of doing things

Entrepreneur Mark Cuban says: “99.99 percent of the things we do in business are being done the way they have always been done. No one has re-imagined how things should be done. That is what successful people do” *

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Albert Einstein

6. Great teachers make learning fun

As co-creators in a relaxed environment, we were free to explore and make mistakes. Happiness was conducive to acquiring knowledge and common sense.

As she read ‘Jabberwocky’ by Lewis Carrol, to us, her voice changing from soft to loud to emphasize the beat of the nonsense words, and circling our desks in stereo, she transported us to the dark swamp of tangled language, and engaged us in her passion for poetry…

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,…
And the mome raths outgrabe

7. Great teachers ask “WHY NOT?” 

For homework, she asked us to mail a postcard to her home address. We could either  make a postcard or buy one, then address it, write her a message, buy a 6 cent stamp and affix it, and place it in the mail box outside the drugstore. We learned where mail came from, and how to use the postal system.

She surprised us when she mailed a hand-made postcard back to each of us at home. Mine had a pink flower drawn on the front, and a message inside that thanked me for my postcard with The University of British Columbia campus on it, where she had studied. Years later, this is where I studied, inspired by her.

8. Great teachers raise the bar by getting out of the students’ way

My takeaway from her class is that life is our greatest teacher, and our family, friends, and adversaries are our teachers. Our passion exists in the joy of learning and our curiosity about the future.

Someone once said: “you have no friends, no enemies, only teachers.”

If you desire to be a lifelong learner, and a lifelong dreamer, then all you need, is one year, like the one that I was lucky enough to have, back in grade three.
#raisingbiz #lifelonglearning #AnnHoy #teachers #teaching #impact

#greatteachers #engage #encourage

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/32561453@N05/9985350765″>Barrett Garden Work Day</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Learning is fun

Learning by Doing

Hat tips to:

Seth Godin – Education System essay



photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/32561453@N05/9985399006″>Barrett Garden Work Day</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Losing Your Fear of Poetry

little tree by ee Cummings

little tree by ee Cummings

When I taught ESL, my students dreaded analyzing poetry. I was able to relate, as I once feared the condensed rhythmical words myself, for their power to humble students and teachers alike. But I pushed past my fear, and delved into the dark dungeon of poetry, and unearthed a treasure, which I have been richer for ever since.

You feel a poem, not in your mind, but in your imagination. The meaning of poetry is in your interpretation of it, as long as you can provide supporting details to back up your statements.

Poetry communicates the sentiment to us, before we understand the words. It goes beyond words and magnifies our experiences, senses and emotions with life enhancing energy.

Here is the poem little tree, written in 1920, followed by the analysis:

Little Tree
E. E. Cummings

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid

look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
“Noel Noel”

When we read a poem like “little tree” in class, and I would ask what it was about, the students would fall silent, as if they didn’t know the answer.

Then I would ask them to free-write their ideas about the poem, stream of consciousness style, without concern for grammar or organization, to capture the essence of the poem.

Their scribbles didn’t lie; they understood the poem, and a rough outline emerged for their analysis as proof on the page.

This helped them gain confidence in their own interpretation, and allayed their fears. They would be on a time deadline during their test, so they needed to get their initial impression down quickly.

Then they organized their free-writing scribbles under the headings we had discussed in class, such as: theme (what the poem is about), title, the rhyming pattern, or meter, (if any) the stanzas (or the group of lines forming recurring metrical unit of a poem, or a verse) the length, the imagery (words that paint pictures). Also, the narrator (the voice that is speaking and to whom the narrator is speaking to), and figurative language such as: similes –comparisons using like or as, and metaphors – (indirect comparisons where two unlike things have something in common), and personification – giving human qualities to inanimate objects. Also, literary devices would be a heading under such topics as: symbolism (one object representing another), and word connotations and inferences, alliteration – repeating the first letter of a word, onomatopoeia – words sound like their meaning, and hyperbole – (exaggeration). In addition the headings could include comparisons, contrasts, tone and style.

Most of my students were from South Korea, and were preparing to write the S.A.T., T.O.E.F.L., or BC Provincial English exam, to apply to American colleges. They came to the study academy to prepare for the English portion of the tests, which included poetry. They had been issued a list of around one hundred outmoded poetry terms to memorize by their high school teachers, which added to their poetry paralysis. Only about ten percent of Greek and Latin derived terms on the list are used to analyze most poems. The majority of terms would confound a PHD in Literature. I told them that the terms were secondary to their understanding of the sentiment of the poem, so their focus would shift to interpreting the meaning of the poem.

After discussing in class the main points and theme of the poem, the students were ready to write their analysis, which would go something like this:

EE Cummings poem “little tree” is about a tree that has been taken from the forest to become a family Christmas tree. There is no rhyming order, but the words form the shape of branches of half a Christmas tree and reinforce the subject. The poem is narrated by the sweet voice of a child speaking in simple diction, emphasized in the use of lower case letters, like a child first learns to print in school. The child says the tree is “so little”, “like a flower”, a simile that invokes our senses by comparing the tree to a spontaneously beautiful, colorful, sweet smelling, and delicate item. It also invokes the reader’s sympathy, and affection, as EE Cummings uses the metaphor of the tree as an orphaned child, who needs a mother.

Personification of the tree draws us into the theme of the poem – the tree is given human emotions when the child asks the scared tree: were you sorry to come away? Then the child makes the tree happy by giving it the spangles to hold, and promises: ”you’ll be proud”, and you will be so beautiful the passersby will stare! This is a picture poem that helps us visualize the tree framed up in the window. Cummings uses the imagery of the tree wearing ornaments like jewellery on its’ arms and fingers to personify the tree. The spangles are also personified, as they have been sleeping all year in a dark box, and have been awoken out of a dream like a flower bulb waiting to be planted in warm earth in the spring to flourish, or “shine”. The tree is also given a voice, as it is a “silent tree”.

The style is simple, with a playful tone, and full of sentimental emotions.

Cummings displays a reverence for nature in the spectacle of the decorated tree: ”Your beauty will cause my little sister and I to dance and sing”, and in relationship with nature – the tree increases the child’s happiness, as the tree is transformed by the child, naked at first, later dressed, cool, but later warm, afraid, but later proud. The child becomes a protective parent – comforting the scared tree by kissing its’ cool bark with warm lips, and hugging you safe and tight like a mother. The tree symbolizes nature’s innocence and the gifts of beauty it bestows on humans.

Lastly, I would tell the students ways to increase their mark, and asked them to share their feelings about how the poem impacted them, or if they could draw a comparison between an aspect of the poem and their own life experience. I told them my cherry on top was to say that I was similar in age to the narrator of the poem when I first read “little tree”, and forty years later, it makes me feel young again as I remember the wonder that I felt as a young child setting up our Christmas tree.

By analyzing the poem, it was clear the students lost their fear of poetry, and gained an appreciation of it.

Texasunderrgraduate writing centre – Texas Education.com

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