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Saturday, May 29, 2010

31. This Teaching Life (4): JIm's poem and Cathy's response

Kathy Iozzi works at Warrandyte High as an Integration Aide. She used to be a primary school teacher, and brings a wealth of teaching experience and a raft of exceptional skills to her work.
She works with "Jim", a year 9 student, who is a member of my Year 9 class. Jim transferred into my class at mid year in 2009, and I've been lucky enough to have the same class for English in Year 9.

I asked Kathy to tell the story of Jim's Poem from her perspective. Here's what she wrote.

Kathy's Response to Jim's poem

In a week when the school's focus is on Naplan, and students' achievements are based on an all-important score on a series of tests, it is a good time to stop and think about all the other things not measured on these tests - the things students achieve every day, that may seem small or insignificant to others.

One such student comes to mind: Jim. He's a year 9 boy who has Aspergers, along with severe anxiety, who finds most tasks challenging, particularly those involving higher order skills. He lacks confidence in his own ability, and his automatic response to tasks is to say, "I can't do that!" It can be very difficult to change his mindset.

One particular day during an English class he was presented with a poetry task: he was to write a series of poems about himself, his ideal family and his real family. you could see the look on his face; a smile was replaced with a frown and he quickly called me over to tell me how stupid the task was, and that he wouldn't do it, and that it was too much work! During the period we talked - or I should say, I talked - because he was sulking, about the task. Every idea I suggested was quickly rejected. I thought we were in for a horrid week trying to get the task completed.

During a private study period later in the week Jim started to ask me a few questions about the task, and with encouragement and prompting he started to put some ideas on paper. It was only a few steps - but at least we were getting somewhere. A few ideas developed into not just one but three poems. He had achieved something. He was proud of his achievements and was eager to show his teacher that he had completed the tasks.

He came to show me his completed poems a few days later. There was a look of apprehension on his face as he handed me his work and asked me to read it. He was taking a risk, something he generally avoids; he couldn't predict the outcome and was clearly out of his comfort zone.

While I was reading his work, I began to feel tearful. He had not simply written three poems, and got the job done; they were fantastic poems that gave an insight into him; he poems said things that, without this task, would not have been expressed. He kept asking me, "Do you like them? Are they any good?" When I told him they were brilliant and I was so proud of him, he couldn't stop smiling, and he said, "I didn't think I could write a poem."

I said, "Your mum would love to read this poem." The following Sunday was Mothers' Day, so I suggested, "Why don't you make it into a card and give it to her for Mothers' Day."

He was hesitant at first; he was still not totally convinced that his poem was as good as his teacher and I were saying, but he came round to the idea, and spent an English class typing the poem up, colouring the heading, and putting a little note with it for his mum.

He gave me a copy of the poem to keep, and thanked me for helping him at the start. Then he said, "This is the first time I have given something I have written as a gift." Once again, Jim was taking a risk.

When I arrived at work on the Monday, Jim was waiting for me at the office door. He was eager to tell me that his mum loved his poem, and that she was going to keep it. "My poem must be really good if Mum is keeping it," he said.

There is no Naplan test for risk taking, perseverance, or believing in yourself. But these achievements say more and will have a far greater impact on Jim's learning than any comments on progression points on a report. The disappointing thing about this is that work of others within the school to create an environment where students like Jim feel comfortable enough to have a go has no place in the measures used to assess and record the school's performance.

Cathy Iozzi

A final comment from me
Much of the time, teaching is just plain hard work. On the truly bad days, when the kids are resistant and angry, teaching is a bit like being pecked to death by ducks. It's a rare day when everything goes well, when the kids are fully present and fully engaged, days when something 'really important' happens; it's a rare day when the planets are in alignment, and when the gods smile on our endeavours. But such moments do occur - like this moment with Jim - and when they do, they deserve celebration.

30. This Teaching Life (3) : The story of Jim's poem

I'll call him "Jim". He's in year 9. He is 14, and by far the smallest boy in the class. He joined my Year 8 class midway through 2009, after some difficulties: he was unhappy, the victim of much teasing and even some bullying. Jim settled into my class reasonably well.

On a couple of occasions this year, Jim has become upset. He sees himself as a 'poor student'; he lacks self confidence, especially when it comes to English.

When this happens, he tunes out; he won't speak - in short, he sulks. On one occasion, I set a 'Journal Writing task': 'You are to write 200 words in fifteen minutes - that's around 15 words a minute.'
Jim immediately became distressed. This time, he spoke out:
'200 words!! No way!! How am I supposed to write 200 words?' he shouted.
'That's the task Jim,' I said.
He was about to go into a very public sulk.
I spoke to the whole class" 'And I'm sorry, but people who don't complete the task during the lesson will have to stay in at recess time.'

Cathy - Jim's Integration aide - moved to his side and tried to calmo him down.

After 15 minutes I checked the 'word counts'.
'How many have completed fewer than 100 words?' No hands went up.
'Between 100 and 150?' A few hands went up, but Jim's was not one of them.
'Between 150 and 200?' Most of the class put hands up - including Jim.

At the end of the lesson, as he walked out the door, I smiled at Jim and said, 'I knew you could do it!' I thought I detected a slight grin.

We've recently started reading Stephen Herrick's verse novel: love, death and nose hair. Herrick opens his book with a poem entitled: My Name. The central character Jack 'talks' about his name. It's followed by 3 poems about Jack's family:

The first, called My Dream Family, presents an idealised family scene; the second, called My Real Family turns out to be a very negative, pessimistic account of Jack's family - a father who never showers, a mum in pink curlers ...; the third is called My Family- the truth.

Jim wrote his poems, and showed one of them to me at the end of the lesson:
I read it, and was deeply moved, especialy by the last line. I'm pretty tired these days, and still a bit emotionally raw, and a bit prone to tears. I often cry at the end of movies, for example.

As I handed his poem back to him,I said: 'You made me cry, Jim.'
He looked at me, incredulous.
'Are you joking?'
'No - your poem made me cry. It's a lovely poem - and very powerful. Especially the last line.'

I wiped the tear away.
'You're joking, aren't you!' Jim said.
'No - I'm not. Show it to Cathy. But don't tell her what happened. Don't tell her that your poem made me cry. Just let her read it - and see what happens.'

Here is Jim's poem:

Reality Dinner

What I told you in my dream family, only some
of it is true. My dad died when I was 1
so I never got to know him.
So one day I asked mum what foty team dad went for and mum
said Fitzroy which merged to Brisbane just before dad died.
My dad loved footy
playing it and watching it
if Brisbane lose he
would get upset.
I have followed him going for the Lions
and I love the AFL it is my favorite thing,
I am very into it
I also play footy for the Warrandyte Bloods.

Mum only bakes occasionally because she is
A very busy person
and she does lots of good things for
Our family.
and dinner is usually late at night but
I like it like that.
My brother lives in New Zealand
And my sisters Maddie and Nicolette are always on their laptops,
So they don't usually have time to talk to everyone.

Our dog Chloe is barking her head off at the dogs outside.
It is really annoying.
Everyone still has to go to school and work
And I still play 3 sports - tennis, footy and basketball
And Maddie and Nick play two sports
and Mum plays squash
she loves it a lot.

I really love my family
they mean the world to me and they are
Always there for me.

I just wish my dad was here with us.

Jim showed the poem to Cathy. Later I asked Cathy to write about her response - which had been as I expected. She, too, had been moved to tears. She suggested that Jim give the poem to his mum, for Mother's Day - which was the following week. Which he did. Jim prefaced this gift - his poem - with a short note to his mother:

Happy Mothers' day mum, I hope you
have a great day with everyone. Here is
a little poem that I have been doing in
English and I thought you might like it.
You are the best mum and you always
will be. Love from Jim.

29. This Teaching Life (2) Meeting Dean

No matter how bound we humans may feel - shackled by our upbringing, our habits, our strengths and shortcomings, our vision and our blindness, by the expectations of other, and by the expectations we place upon ourselves - there is a creative spirit within us, there is a soul within us, that can be freed.

An old friend - Peta Heywood - from the Education Faculty at Latrobe University - rang me about four weeks ago:
'Can you help me? I'm trying to find a placement for a Master of Teaching student. He needs to do a ten week internment. You don't have to supervise his teaching; he's a graduate student - he has a Dip.Ed, and he has registration. He needs to teach at least 10 classes a week - more if possible. You will be his mentor, and advise him about the Action Research project he's required to do.'
There must be a catch, I thought.
'Is that all?' I asked.
'Oh - the school receives a payment for your involvement.'

As his name suggests, Dean Damatopoulos comes from a Greek background. He is 22, and became engaged at the end of his first week in the school. He's teaching two days a week at a Greek school in Oakleigh. Dean indicated that his wants to research Appreciative Pedagogy. I'd never heard of it.

Deam is young, inexperienced, hard working, friendly, and open to suggestion. He sat in on classes for two days, then started teaching my year 8 and 9 classes on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

So, what is 'appreciative pedagogy'?

I’ve begun reading a background paper on Appreciative Pedagogy (AP). It’s by Yballe and O’Connor, and sets out the basic principles.

Leodones Yballe & Dennis O’Connor : Le Moyne College

Appreciative Inquiry

AP grew out of AI (Appreciative Inquiry), an approach to organisational change and renewal developed in the early 1990s by Copperider. Several ideas underlie Appreciative Inquiry:
• In particular, the generative power of positive imaging.
He argues that positive images (ideals and vision) have a “heliotropic effect”; that is, they energize and orient human behavior toward the realization of the ideal.

The approach involves establishing an image of the organisation. The image should be drawn from both people’s accumulated experiences of the best of what is (i.e., their peak experiences and moments of heightened energy, success, and pride) ... These experiences contain the threads with which organizational members can weave a common dream—the positive image of what can be.

• The methodology involves a social process of inquiry and joint discovery. Usually carried out by organizational members themselves through face-to-face interviews, the process legitimizes everyone’s curiosity about what works for self and others and allows the unveiling of each other’s peak experiences.
Through this process, the organisation is able to develop a vision, one that is grounded in the reality of personal experiences. The focus of the approach is the positives. It is not problem focussed or diagnostic.

Appreciative Pedagogy

The key features of AP are:
• Valuing success as the building blocks of positive vision.
• Belief in the profound connection between positive vision and positive action.
• Valuing face-to-face inquiry

Yballe and O’Connor argue that AP can be applied at every level of schooling / teaching/learning, and set out to demonstrate

how AP provided ... a framework for identifying and highlighting student’s learning experiences, for extolling peak experiences as potential models of effective behavior, and for clarifying concepts and models in both undergraduate and MBA organizational behavior classes.

Finally, the writers argue that the are great benefits from an AP approach -
Some are immediate, and some are cumulative.

1. We have observed more energized and sustained interactions. ...

2. Students feel a sense of safety when publicly speaking up; they experience less fear and inhibition. The positive focus honors their experiences. When asked, “How did that go?”, students often respond in the following ways: “This made it easy to talk to someone about my best performances,” “I could talk for hours about my proudest moments,” or “When I talk about failures, I cover up many facts, even from myself.”

3. A fuller and hopeful view of the future (images of what they can be) emerges versus an empty view(what they should not be).With all this focus on the positive, many wonder what happens to negative experience. After all, life is not all roses.We believe that although negative experience may be useful in drawing attention to important issues, we ultimately learn best from what works well.