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Archive for August 6th, 2016

I’m not one for fads and one I’m hearing a lot of at the moment is mindfulness. At a recent English Teachers’ conference in Christchurch, keynote speaker Nathan Mikaere Wallis gave an entertaining presentation on the adolescent brain – pre-frontal cortex development, gender differences and the now widely-accepted fact that the brain doesn’t fully develop until the early to mid-twenties. At the crux of his presentation was communicating with young people in way that validates their feelings, and hence we hope, increases the likelihood of forming the types of positive relationships that are so crucial for learning.

Nathan’s three tips are:

  1. Calm the brain stem
  2. Validate emotions
  3. Cognitive training

I started thinking a lot about the first step in regards to a Year 10 class I teach this year. My class of 27 learners have many and varied literacy issues which makes English a challenge for many. Their not naughty so much as really challenged/intimidated by the subject content. They arrive late, take ages to settle, need lots of bathroom breaks (?), struggle to follow simple instructions and do not readily engage with many of the activities we’ve trialled this year – and we try lots. To be honest, some days, I feel as if I am in a scene from Monty Python…

In your writing journal X…

The one you write in …

Because we are writing ..

No about your holiday, not my holiday …

No not refill, your journal. With the red cover…

No you can’t go and get it from your locker, we’re 20 minutes into the lesson …

Okay, just use refill …

Yes you can use some of mine!

The amazing thing is that despite these challenges, our relationship is still generally positive. But I feel a sea change brewing. At the mid-way point, I fear I’m in danger of losing them as assessments mount and frustrations rise (for all of us).

I scribbled in my conference guide mindfulness activities and then, in a very unmindful manner, rushed off to the next workshop for more Aha! moments but never enough time to put them all in action. To be honest, I think I mentally shelved it after returning to school, surviving Week 1 and thinking, those kids will never go for that bumph.

But if the status quo isn’t working, you are forced to look outside the square. After scanning a set of podcasts, giggling at the image of practicing mountain breathing together, I’ve found a site I can see working. Not only will it enable me to incorporate mindfulness into the lessons, I can link activities with curriculum goals. The site is Mindful Teachers and it features heaps of ideas and resources. Here’s a few that could work for my cohort:

Five senses activities – precursor creative writing. Some of these we already do (like the eating one) and some we have trialled before (going for a walk and making lists of what you hear etc) but some are new (love the rainbow walk idea).

THINK Questionnaire – I plan to teach formal writing skills this term around cyber bullying using some really awesome NetSafe DVDs that will hopefully connect with a talk all Year 10s had last term from local police on this topic. The questionnaire will be a great starter and the focus questions can become quick writes for their journals (or refill?!) As these students often struggle with developing ideas, the more thinking they do around the subject, the better.

Non-competitive games – goes without saying that these guys prefer to be moving. They also have some pretty dysfunctional relationships and I’ve noticing more cliques forming in the class as well as the odd put down so anything that encourages a sense of unity/team building could also be helpful.

Community service projects – After hearing Jo Weggery (Mt Aspiring College) present at an Otago English Teachers’ Association day out last year, I’m very keen to do similar. Jo had also noticed how disconnected with the wider world her Year 10s were so developed a community project idea that involved a series of planning and promotional activities allowing some scope to tie in with required assessments but also build their sense of self-worth and community links. After exams last year, my Year 10s attempted their first NCEA Level 1 assessment, the Static Image task. It was a disaster. None of them passed (great intro to NCEA), we were moving around classrooms after a fire in the school hall meant our normal class had to be used for NCEA exams (and will gain this year). I would much rather do an activity like this later in the year. They can still make a static image but not for assessment. Because Taieri College is located in a small community outside Dunedin, there is plenty of scope for community service projects. We already have links with the Mosgiel community and just need to tap into them more. I see this as being more meaningful than a half-hearted attempt at a poster and much better for their personal growth and development as they prepare to head to NCEA in 2017.

So lot’s of scope there and I’m sure there are plenty of other resources with opportunities to look beyond bell ringing meditations to stimulating some synapses, calming that brain stem and awakening that pre-frontal cortex. I’d love to hear about resources others have tried too.

 

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