Last week the theme of ritual surfaced time and again. I attended both a retirement party and a funeral; I completed the MS walk; I also heard Father Mike talk about ritual within the church setting.
Why do we have rituals? To celebrate holidays and events. To alleviate anxiety. To cope with difficult circumstance. To grieve. To signify a rite of passage. To honour a life. To gather as family.
Whichever culture we are from, whatever religion we belong to, ritual is present. The elements of the ritual might differ, but the need for ritual remains.
As I walked the MS Walk today for the 25th time, surrounded by others affected by the disease, I felt a closeness with my father. Although he died almost 13 years ago, being part of this event is my way to honour him, to pay tribute to all he did despite the disease. I cannot bring him back, I can no longer visit him, but I can bring him to life through this yearly ritual.
Here’s to you, Dad!
We tried something new last week. Each adult in our building chose a passion. Each of our grade 1-6 students then chose to join one of those adults. The passions included street hockey, baking, film studies, robotics, guitar, yoga, Polish, photography, sculpture, watercolours, book clubs, drama and story writing.
The building was abuzz. For days leading up to the project, students were talking about where they were going, who they were going to work with and what they would be doing.
Students returned to their classrooms energized and inspired. A grade three boy who rarely speaks in class chose Polish and beamed at the end of the session. A grade two student, a new Canadian, told me he was going to golf but quickly added, “what’s golf?” Afterwards his eyes were wide as he demonstrated what he had done: the swing, the path of the ball, the distance even. The day following the project, a young student climbed off the bus clinging to the journal I had given her the day before.
We cannot measure the results of this project on standardized tests. We cannot measure the learning except through anecdotes. Was it worth the time and effort? Was it worth the coordination and logistics?
I sit on a swing at the top of a bank overlooking Strawberry Creek. I hear the water rushing, rolling really, through the rocks below. I pause a moment to listen and an assortment of birds speak as if on cue: chickadees fluttering above me, a woodpecker pecking furiously to impress a mate and another song unidentifiable to my untrained ear.
The sun shines but the wind is cool. The trees do not yet have their spring buds though May presses on. I hear a rustle behind me and look to see a rabbit cavorting in the bush seemingly oblivious to my presence.
A simple change of setting changes my thought process, changes my writing. How often do we give this experience to our students? Reading, writing or even creating art out of the classroom environment? Sprawled on the grass or spread throughout the playground. How might our students’ creations change when we change their setting?
Each day I work with small groups of students: struggling readers and English Language Learners. I absolutely love my job. Yet this week, as I worked with two young students who continue to struggle to learn letter names (sounds are nowhere in my sight lines with them yet), I had to remind myself that they are not yet capable of learning this information.
I teach and reteach. I find creative ways to reinforce the letters. I incorporate sensory matters and physical movement. We laugh and play as we learn. And still, the progress is painfully slow. Often I have to avoid the temptation of saying, “We just went over this.” or “You should know this.” Because, they don’t.
And with as much repetition and direct teaching as they are getting, I remind myself that they are not yet ready. They are trying. They want to know these arbitrary symbols that I call letters. They long to join the world of the literate.
So my journey with them continues: I dig a little deeper for more patience and increasingly creative ways of teaching the same thing, and I look forward to the day when all 26 letters are identifiable.
Who will rejoice more? The jury is out.