Emily and The Tree

Little Emily loves the Japanese maple in the Maywood yard.  It’s over fifty years old, planted by Emily’s great-great grandmother Retta. And it is the perfect tree for little ones to learn to climb on.

The main trunk divides into two very low to the  ground, so little legs can easily climb into it.  The next branch is a short leg swing above that, providing a perfect spot for a three year old to sit and ponder.  Of course, the natural thing to ponder is how to get up higher in the tree.

“Help me up,” she says.  “I want to go up there,” she says, pointing to a branch that is over my head and absolutely impossible for me to reach.  I can’t put her there.  The only way to get there is for her to climb there herself.

“But I want to go up there,” she says.

“You have to do it all by yourself.  You have to think about it and figure out how to do it.”

If you think that three year old Emily thought about it and climbed up to the high branch, you will be wrong.  I turned around to watch out for her little brother and–that quick–she fell out of the tree.

Boom. Right onto her elbow on a stick.  Instant adult panic that she could have broken her arm on my watch while the parents were away.  Instinctive reaction to protect her, take her away from the dangerous tree and go back to the house for a popsicle.

That’s when she amazed me.  She got up, surprised but not crying, and she climbed right back into the tree.

emily & the treeThis time she had real respect for the tree.  She carefully considered where to place each foot, how to hold on.  Her goal was no longer how to get up to that very high branch.  Her new goal was to master the distance from the ground to that first branch.  And she did.  While I diligently spotted her.

Oh, the Winnie-the-Pooh lessons to be learned from Emily and The Tree.  On the way to school Monday, I thought of how I wanted my students to be more like courageous Emily.  They tend to want me to implant knowledge in their brains, like Emily wanting me to put her on the higher branch.  However, they panic when things are difficult, fear making mistakes, and want to bail on the whole learning process when it doesn’t go as quickly as  they want. They also absolutely, positively do not focus on anything for longer than a nano-second.

“I want to tell you a story,” I began first period class.

“Are you going to yell at us?” they asked. (They are so paranoid.)

“NO! I just want to tell you a story!” (Ok, I might have yelled that a teensy bit. Sometimes their way of thinking makes me crazy.)

So I told them about Emily.

“Are you saying that learning French is like climbing a tree?”

Um, yes.  And then I told them what branch they were currently on and how we were going to climb today to a higher  branch.

“Are we going to fall out of the tree?”  they asked. (FYI, these are high schoolers and 8th graders.)

“Actually, yes, some of you are going to fall out of the tree.  But we aren’t up very high.  You will not die.”

That seemed to calm them down.  Apparently they believe that learning will kill them.

Friday, my colleagues and I attended a workshop on Teaching the 21st Century Learner.  The speaker was good and had extensive handouts of his very scripted presentation that covered all the usual blah-blah about active learning, none of which I can recall without reading the handouts.  His presentation did not teach me nearly as much as I learned from little Emily.

  • Students want to climb high.
  • Students want the teacher to put them where they want to be, but…
  • Students have to do the climbing themselves.
  • Students are afraid to make mistakes, but…
  • Students learn from their mistakes.
  • Students need diligent coaching and spotting while they climb.

I’m tempted to assign tree-climbing for homework, but they would fall from their trees, injure themselves so they couldn’t participate on their sports teams, and I would get blamed for such a stupid idea. I guess instead I’ll focus on how to better coach and spot them.  They do want to climb, and I don’t want them hurt on my watch.

 

Spinning Wheels

Let’s start with a poll:

When I came home yesterday, I immediately noticed footprints leading to the front door.  We hardly use the front door, so we don’t shovel to it.  Maywood Man has enough to do with plowing and there’s no reason for me to shovel a walk that no one ever uses.  There has been snow upon snow all month, so we’re just waiting for spring to deal with it.  Hence, my surprise at the footprints.  UPS knows better.

It was my brother-in-law, come to check out locations for tree stands for next year’s hunting season.  Tromping through the snowy woods in March must mean he’s going a little squirrely indoors.  However, he didn’t count on our driveway being a sheet of ice.  That’s another thing about March this year.  If isn’t snowing, it’s coating us with freezing rain.  So Jim and his truck slid down the driveway to within inches of the Weber grill that waits forlornly for warmer weather.  And then he was stuck at the bottom of the driveway with nothing to do after his woodland walk but sit with Maywood Man sipping coffee until the driveway melted.

Where was I?  At work.  With some difficulty and great trepidation, my Camry and I made it up the slippery slope so that I could go to school and manage squirrely teenagers and their Ipads.

I had a parent conference at noon.  The mother shared that her daughter seems to get overwhelmed by too much stimulus.   It’s not that she can’t focus.  She just can’t figure out where to focus.  I totally get it.  I told her about my sister, the one with Attention Surplus Syndrome. (You gotta love the acronym!) She pays attention to everything. Try riding in the car with her while she drives, notices every realtor sign, and avoids every manhold cover and pothole in the road.  She needs blinders, like a horse.

So what am I supposed to tell this mother whose daughter sits in a class with audio files and video clips and online text and online workbook and online classwork submission all in different apps while doing partner work with classmates who can’t even figure out that I want them on page 152?  She doesn’t need more stimulating activities.  She needs blinders.  I explain that the technology of the paperless classroom is actually helpful for those students who lose all their work in a crumpled mess at the bottom of their bookbags or somewhere in the hallway or maybe under their bed at home, but even as I speak, I know that often I am completely overwhelmed by the “too much” of it all. The mom and I can’t even get our days straight as we talk…the umpteen snowdays have the two of us completely befuddled.

Today, while it pours snow, I ponder remedial work for some students.  There are so many resources available to the students online that they did not have last year.  I search for something that will be helpful.  One auto-correcting activity will not work with pop-ups on the Ipad.  Another has so many publisher errors in it, that I will not use it.  I discover video activities.  I regularly use these in class with paper handouts, but–voila!– all the resources are right there on the Ipad!

Or not.

I click on the video pages to discover that the video activity link does not contain video activities.  It contains all the teacher answers to the workbook.

I’ve spent the afternoon spinning my wheels online.  I’m thinking that I need less.  I need slow.

I like the idea of sitting by the fire with a spinning wheel, simple work.  A manual task that is repetitive and yields a tangible product.  If I’m lucky, I’ll prick my finger and a  magic spell will let me sleep for a hundred years.