Dear Students – 30/31 #SOL20

Dear Students,

I don’t quite know where to begin this letter, or at least, this is the umpteenth time that I’ve begun this letter because writing is all about the drafts, which, of course, you already know, because you heard me say this when we were in class. I mean, I know my purpose for writing, but I worry about my purpose for reading and whether or not this letter will adequately convey the complexity of my thoughts and the incongruence of my emotions. I started drafting an outline, but this isn’t an essay or a poem or a short story or any of the usual forms of writing. This is the kind of message that sort of follows one’s heart.

letter planningAnd, I definitely don’t want this to come off as some tearful, needy, “I am not complete without you” burdening message because, let’s face it, I’m the adult in the room. And that is disingenuous, and no teenager needs to feel the burden of an adult’s emotional life. You need us to keep teaching and supporting your learning, so I think what I want to do in this letter is share a little bit of my learning and we can figure out where this goes.

One of my most significant lessons has been from my writing, here, on this blog. At the beginning of March, I committed to writing a post every day for 31 days, and here I am at Day 30. Wow, I can hardly believe it. There were some days I wasn’t sure if I’d make it and some of my writing really sucked, but there were some days when I just had to just write something and post it without worrying. Just let it go. Stop aiming for perfection in every piece. Get it done and move on.

I guess what I really learned here is that just like me, you are going to struggle with writing. But, what you need is a teacher that writes. Regularly. In fact, maybe even daily. And another lesson that grew out of this daily practice of writing was a heightened sense of awareness. I started paying closer attention to the world around me, my neighbours, my dog, and this grew a kind of curiosity in me. As I wrote about them, I wondered about their challenges and how they were doing in this time of “social distancing”.

Irony: the opposite of what is expected. Do you see it here? But, maybe it’s more than irony. Maybe it’s a paradox, two seemingly contradictory ideas that hold an essential truth. That is, the physical distancing actually brings us closer to one another socially. Do you think that might be true?

Did I tell you that I’m practicing lessons using Screencastify? It’s taking time to plan, but I think it’s going to be really helpful for learning at home. I’m making a lesson on essay writing, but what I really want to do is make a bunch of lessons on creative writing; how punctuation can convey – remember conveyor belt – ideas in your writing. I want you to look up words and use visuwords to build better ways of expressing your thinking. Furthermore, I could also do a lesson on transitional words, and in light of this opportunity, phrases as well.

And, this increased use of technology is taking up a lot of my time! I had three hours evapourate like water on a summer sidewalk yesterday (see that simile) when I impulsively decided to change my WordPress blog theme and couldn’t get the functions working; it was a lesson in patience and perseverance. It’s still not exactly as I want it, but the truth is, I made a change and I’m going to keep making those changes, slowly and intentionally, so I can get better. Tomorrow, which is indefinite and unsettled, but I’m going to stay open to the possibilities.

And did I mention that writing daily is really helpful? I did? Oh yes, I did.

But what I didn’t tell you is how many different forms of writing there are. Take for example, this one, right here. This is epistolary; a story that is carried by letters. Ideally, you would reply to this letter, and then I’d reply, and we’d have this story of our time in quarantine during COVID-19. We could call it, Letters in the time of COVID-19.

So I am posting this letter from my blog in the Google Classroom today, and I’m going to wait for you to reply so we can build this story together.

Negotiating New Year’s Day Reflections with poetic "Possibilities"

New Year’s Eve is the night where we celebrate on the precipice between past and future. It is a time to reflect and prepare for a meaningful year, so I decide this morning that I will reflect and think about possibilities.

I woke up to the CBC radio show, The Current, with Sherry Turkle. I’ve used her Ted Talk, Connected but Alone, with students and we usually have some really interesting discussions about the use of cell phones in our social lives. Students readily admit to an addiction. But some of Turkle’s statements in this radio interview made me wonder.

Now, I know that she is a well educated scholar who has done extensive research on this topic, but my own personal experiences with my teen aged children and my own students make me wonder about some of her claims. To begin with, both my boys, much like me, dislike talking on the phone for anything other than purely pragmatic purposes, yet we are lovers of radio and podcasts. When communicating with family, we prefer face to face interactions, or the next best thing, the written word. We enjoy long conversations at the dinner table, in the car, or on walks with the dog. Both sons write long text messages in complete sentences and tell me that they care about word choice and punctuation, knowing how imprecise diction and punctuation can skew a message. These are young people who have grown up with computers and cell phones. On the other hand, my over 60 husband frequently sends out messages, sans punctuation, which leave me frothing at the mouth in frustration as I try to figure out his possible meaning.

Another idea raised by Turkle bothered me. She talked about students exhibiting a decline in empathy, yet I see students involved, concerned for the planet, for refugees, for social justice. In Canada, we elected a young Prime Minister whose philosophies of inclusion and social justice are humanitarian and grounded in empathy. She said that the markers of empathy in children have declined in the past ten years.

Yet, I was reminded of a British documentary series which followed the lives of school children as a sociological experiment. The series recorded observations and interviews with the children every seven years starting in 1964.

In the first series of the documentary, 7 Up, young British children are seen throwing rocks at a Polar Bear in the zoo, and at the 7 minute mark of the video, the audience witnesses two young school boys having a full on fist fight in the school yard while others carry on playing, and a teacher is slow to respond. In interviews, the children say that they are “concerned for the poor”. I wondered if there is a gap between the action and the word.

And as I scrolled through my Twitter feed over coffee, this Upworthy video called Cyber Seniors appeared. I open the video file and watched this with my husband:

There is a Senior’s residence right beside my son’s high school, so I’ve resolved to bring this idea to the school Administration. What a wonderful way for students to contribute to the community, to learn about patience, and teaching someone else is always the best way to learn.

This idea that New Year’s Eve gives me time to reflect upon the past and prepare for 2016 requires that I step outside of my own experience and reflect. With or without technological connection, I must do this. Language, whether spoken, or written, always mediates between the lived and the shared experience. I do think Sherry Turkle’s message is important; we are connected but alone. But, technology can document our experience and allow us to emotionally, if not physically, connect and hopefully, empathize. Technology is full of possibilities, if we choose.

As with anything new, time must pass, observations must be made, and reflections on the purpose and meaning must be drawn. And where there are gaps, whether they be economic, academic, or otherwise, the reflective empathetic person is called to action, called to possibilities.

May your year be full of possibilities and poetry. 
https://soundcloud.com/brainpicker/amanda-palmer-reads-possibilities-by-wislawa-szymborska