Some Things Never Change

While some things never change…..maybe some things shouldn’t have changed!

This summer I find myself back at a family resort that we’ve been coming to for the past 15 years. Last year, I was the bad guy and decided to change our family’s summer plans and rent a cottage on another lake for most of the summer. But my youngest son still found a way to get himself invited back to this resort with another family. When I listen to my kids talk about their experiences here, how could I not help but give in and come back “one more year”. They talk about playing cards until all hours of the night by firelight, about getting caught in storms while out boating, about making crafts and about dining room antics.

When I describe this place to others, I start by saying, “Picture the summer resort in the movie, Dirty Dancing, without any sign of Patrick Swayze”. The cottages are definitely circa 1960 ~ complete with the rustic furniture and hand-created artwork adorning the panelled walls. The windows open just enough to let the bugs in at night, but not enough to create any type of airflow on the most humid of days. The evening activities are things that we would rarely do back home, such as Bingo, Samba lessons (now updated to Zumba lessons), Karaoke, Magic shows and “just like in the movie”, the week ends with a Talent Show. But once again, no Patrick Swayze jumping off the stage and into the crowd. As you make your way to the dining hall for your three mandatory meals, Beach Boys tunes and the occasional Johnny Cash song are blaring from the loud speakers. The recreation director does a great job of getting people involved in beach baseball, sand castle building, beach volleyball and horse shoes. Not much has changed in the last 15 years.

Now, not only have we been coming for the past 15 years, but we’ve been coming the same week for the past 15 years, along with many of the same families. Years ago, when the resort was in its prime and the American dollar was much healthier, this place was booked solid ~ to the point that you had to reserve your cabin in February. This year, we called three days before arriving and there was a cabin available. Times may have changed financially , but watching the sunset over Lake Huron, sitting around a campfire until midnight while telling stories and watching the most incredible night sky full of stars never gets old.

One of the families that we’ve come to know drives up here from Michigan each year. Grandma and Grandpa foot the bill for their two kids and their own families, who live elsewhere in the States. It’s the one time each year that the whole family is together. Grandpa is a retired shop teacher, so you can imagine our beach chats. I love listening to his stories about when he was teaching and his views on how education has changed. He certainly didn’t have a lot in the way of materials, tools etc. for his students, but they always learned a great deal. Tonight he was telling me about how he used to sharpen all of the tools himself, so that his students had the best possible opportunity to create their masterpieces.

What “tools” do teachers sharpen today so that their students can create masterpieces?

Grandpa talks with such pride about his days in the classroom (his shop) and he laments about the fact that over the years all of those “industrial arts” programs have continued to be cut. That is a point that we agree on ~ That is one thing in education that shouldn’t have changed!

We have a significant number of students in my current school who would greatly benefit from having more opportunities to fix and build things with their hands. We do what we can by bringing in old motors and bikes for some students to repair, but it’s only for a chosen few. I recall as a student having a choice of Industrial Arts or Home Economics when I was in grade 7 and 8. Those courses are no longer available at the elementary level. Students have to wait until they are in Secondary school and even then, there are so many mandatory courses, students only have a few opportunities to take such “elective” courses.

As we go into this new school year, we are going to reach out to our school community and connect with some church groups to see if there are volunteers who will come in one afternoon a week and share their talent (knitting, woodworking etc) with some of our students.

My chats with Grandpa often lead to comparisons between the American system and our Ontario system of education. I love learning what other countries deem as important when it comes to educating their youth. I strongly defend our system, yet deep down I realize, like any other system, we can always learn from others and continue to improve.

Well it’s off for a rousing game of Bingo…. I can bet that there will be the four corner game, where the winner has to yell, “I have BO!”. We all groan, but deep down we’re thrilled that some things never change.

Mulling! Important or not?

It’s been a few days since I’ve posted another blog entry, but I must say I haven’t forgotten about it. In fact, I’ve been mulling a lot about it since I last asked myself my over-riding question – How do we motivate students to write better – become better communicators and, I suppose, tied up in all of that, motivate them to write about things they know about and enjoy the process. I think that last part is almost instinctively vital for most teachers – we want kids to enjoy whatever we ask them to do. I mean, “You aren’t going out for recess, until you write for 2 minutes straight!!”, is a strong motivator, but what quality will we get from that type of motivation? Will we end up with engaging writers, who show a passion for their topic?

And so since the last posting I mulled. Actually looked the word up and one might say the first two meanings are appropriate!  Mull is actually an island off the coast of Scotland and I actually was on an island for a part of the week on a family holiday. Lots of time to mull. And mulling is a term used to heat and spice wine, for example! Ah, a glass of wine! Might be better for me than the Diet Coke my friend is always warning me about.  But the mulling I was doing had more to do with “to go over extensively in the mind; ponder or ruminate”.

Now there’s a good word – ruminate – actually has some roots in a cow chewing its cud, over and over again as it moves it from one stomach to another, (you knew cows had 4 stomach compartments, right?) Well, they do and I suppose that’s a good metaphor for the ideas I’ve been tossing around about motivating kids with their writing.

And then, like that proverbial light bulb, I got another flash! Do we ever teach kids how to ruminate over a topic? If we did what would that look like? When we give them a “QuickWrite” are we doing the writer and the topic justice? Should they be allowed to ruminate or ponder a topic for a bit? What kind of writing would I produce if someone walked into my office one morning and held up a stop-watch and said “Write for 2 minutes!” What would I produce?

So I guess the question for today is “How important is pre-planning, thinking about one’s topic, pondering, ruminating (if you will) to the whole writing process? How is that done? How does it begin? Practically speaking, what does that look like in a classroom of 30 learners, all of whom have different likes, dislikes and abilities. What’s a teacher to do? And is this stage one or some other stage.

What do you think?

Come write with me!

Sue …..