The most powerful of teaching tools is REFLECTION

Bird Droppings February 20, 2013
The most powerful of teaching tools is REFLECTION

“It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.” Helen Keller

Helen Keller was one of the most envisioned people to have walked the earth yet never for most of her life did she ever see anything in that she was blind and deaf. AS I have gone through life and learned it is the ability to reflect that inner vision of looking back on what we have done and then build upon it that makes us visionaries. For many of us in graduate school and in our general course of doing things reflection is an integral part of the day. It has been nearly twelve years since I began putting my daily sojourns in life on the internet and sharing with others.

“Collaborative reflection can have a greater impact than solitary reflection because others can push you to look deeper and harder; to go places you may not think about or even be willing to think about on your own. When you tell others your story — when you share with others what you did and why, what happened as a result, why you think it happened, and what it might mean — several things take place that do not happen when you process your thoughts alone:” Hal Portner, Teachers as Learners

So often In the midst of researching and thinking an idea comes forward and or is found that can truly change your course and direction. Recent bits and pieces in my own life have left me thinking and wondering. One such reference is a Foxfire course in teaching that I have been involved with for several years and using Foxfire’s Core Practices. I took this course through Piedmont College and within their education department the attitude toward reflection is paramount. I had a sort of inspiration more recently as my wife was responding to a post dealing with instructors in college and reflective practice. Reflection on our teaching practices is a key element to improving and accomplishing more through our instruction.
I was working with a student recently and developing ideas on how to use digital imaging in various student projects, we all tend to see so different. Perceptions vary so much person to person even with images that are taken on a digital camera you get different views. Many times when I am taking pictures I will end up with reflective images views of lakes, streams, images reflected from cars windows and such. On my one laptop the screen saver is an image at Georgia Tech of a historic building with me taking a picture reflected in the headlamp of the Ramblin Wreck.
I created an image many years back, and was using this image to show students the effects that can be had with careful viewing, camera angles and imagination. In another image a large alligator was lying alongside a pool of water in its enclosure exactly parallel to the pool. The image reflected in the water was literally a duplicate of the great alligator, two alligators lying together touching toes. My students came back with images that made me proud, literally a camera filled with reflections.
I recall a comment from a fellow grad student about mirrors and an article we read recently again on reflecting. One of the images my students came up with was the one student viewing the other as the picture was taken so both photographer and model are in the reflection almost as if standing next to each other. This was a powerful image from a couple of novice teenagers.
It has been a few years since many schools began banning journaling sites on the internet. Still occasionally there will be an arrest for harassment or threats on the websites. In one county several arrests were made directly from information from the website pertaining a few years back to a bomb threat at a school. Personally I still have a problem with banning sites since so many kids communicate this way. What if kids were educated on use and shown innovative ways to work on their sits and be proud of them?

“Collaborative reflection can have a greater impact than solitary reflection” Hal Porter

I was reviewing sites earlier today as I am limited in access on line at school due to our own computer blocks and such. I think it amusing how instead of journaling or messaging kids spend more time finding ways around blocks now a days. But looking back at my morning previews, the journal writing in many of these sites are reflections of individuals lives, a reaching out for others opinions for approval and for social interaction.
I realize there often is a dark side and have read many times where individuals tear each other apart online. This morning I responded to a former student currently away at school that left a note on my own site. I hadn’t heard from them since graduation nearly four years ago, reflection time. My daily sojourn into my own contemplation has been on public display for many years. For me reviewing and pondering as I say the day previous has helped me find answers as I read and as I write, looking for others views and ideas on that subject even though it may be only a quote or thought.
My students who turned to reflection as they photographed into art a contemplative image perhaps have taken a different approach as they view the world much in a similar manner. They see not directly and in living color but in a mirror image with filters and screens so many times or is it us as adults who see through filters and sun screens and image enhancers and miss so much of what really is there. Life is moving, flowing, transgressing, and alive whether we choose to acknowledge that or not. I begin a new journey soon moving from one course of thought to another trying as I can to pass pieces to my students offering bits and pieces as I go.
Years ago I recall my dad getting a small weekly booklet “Bits and Pieces”, full of thoughts and inspirations. It is the bits and pieces we share as teachers that add seasoning to the lessons, it is here we add context. Recently I have been recorded answers to a questionnaire I have designed as a rubric, “The M r. Bird Skittles challenge”. Contained within students offer ideas on what motivates them and why they set goals. This fun exercise makes for good research actually as I compile answers. One aspect brought up by numerous students as to why they were motivated by particular teachers was family stories. In my study number three on why they are motivated by particular teachers. Teachers gave context from their own lives relating to material and content.
Perhaps in my own reflection today it is a good analogy to teaching, for many cooks (teachers) simply throw the meat on the flame and cook. While others will marinate, season, carefully monitor the internal temperature, and even carefully select the cut and quality of the meat before cooking. Some will tell their secrets to others to provide success in that persons cooking. There are so many similarities to teaching. Far too many times I have watched teachers throw the meat out often even without cooking seeing their students as simply savages who can eat it raw. Others just seer the edges a bit and unfortunately there are some who over cook and burn the meat, (I am bored being the result from students!).
I tried an exercise the other day, I made a referral sheet for students to refer teachers and then proceeded to make a teacher evaluation sheet for students to grade their teachers, a rubric of course. Interesting ideas came out as they had a hard time with why they were bored. They say it, but cannot pinpoint why. Maybe bored is an overused word and as in cooking maybe bland is better. Perhaps a tad of seasoning added would change everything.
Many years ago I had a history teacher in college who would walk in, never look at the class, never take roll, set his book on the podium, and begin reading the book. We had the book and literally could follow or read on our own soon people stopped coming as day after day he read from the book. It was not long that less than half the class was there, and those that came slept since it was an 8:00 class. Sadly nearly everyone failed including me. The professor covered the material in minute detail he read every single word in the book, and bland was an understatement, did I mention monotone as well.
A few Fridays back I tried a bit of an experiment. We did essays on, how do you know if a teacher is good or bad. Midst the turmoil and amusement, actually some pretty in-depth answers came from that gem. Coming from a kid who is pretty much a parasite on humanity and the educational system, after two paragraphs of whining and complaining he had an epiphany, look for wrinkles. If a teacher has fifty or more he or she is a bad teacher. Their thought was, wrinkles are caused by being stressed and if a teacher is stressed they are not enjoying themselves and if they are not enjoying themselves in what they do they cannot be a good teacher. I wish I had thought of that. As I thought to this statement, from the mouths or should I say fingers of babes. I watch the news with a heavy heart every day, children killing their families even here locally in our county. There are so many in desperate straits in so many different places. So please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

Wa de (Skee)

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