It’s The Thought That Counts -Literally!

Imagine handing out a math test to your students with the following instructions:

Communicate in writing or in drawing:

  1. The process you will use to find the answer;
  2. Reason(s) to support your choice.

Please note: marks will be deducted if you write down the actual answer 🙂

This is the idea I got while scribing for a student during a standardized math test. Listening to him think aloud and watching him contemplate on ideas of how to go about in solving the questions was truly an exciting experience—one that would interest me, as a teacher, so much more than looking at the final answer.

The feeling of excitement was almost the same as that of reading a good book where you’re eager to flip through the pages to find out what happens next, but at the same time don’t want to skip over or miss any of the important details.

manipulativesI could tell that the student was enjoying the process of entertaining his thoughts and deciphering the puzzle (question) as well. Watching him jump from one thought to the other, as he experimented with his manipulatives, was like watching a detective trying to solve a crime scene. But suddenly, the climax fell to an end. It was interrupted by his own voice as he shouted, “The answer is ___ !!”

It fell to an end because instead of taking the time to follow through on his own thoughts that were heading in the right direction, he rushed himself to a different path as he was more interested in the final answer and whether it was right or wrong.

But it’s the journey in piecing together the puzzle that makes looking at the final piece all the more enjoyable—not just for a teacher interested in understanding the students’ thought process, but for the student as well.

By nature, the brain likes to play detective. It becomes bored when things get too predictable. Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that:

“Neurons really exist to process information. That’s what neurons do. If you want to anthropomorphize neurons, you can say that they are happiest when they are processing information.”

Figuring out the solution or reaching a goal in general is definitely rewarding, but from my perspective, not as rewarding as the journey, memories, and adventures created during that process. After all, your brain will always be left asking, “what’s next?”

Focusing on the thought-process and understanding how students think was not only an enjoyable experience overall, but I believe it can actually help me become a better teacher by allowing me to pinpoint where the focus needs to be. 

Everybody’s Children

In Congo, the saying goes: “When a woman is carrying a baby, it’s her baby. But when the baby is born, it’s everybody’s child.” Unfortunately, this reality only exists on a minor scale in today’s society and most likely confined to one’s inner circle; which is why this documentary was really hard to watch. The refugee crisis is closer than ever and one can only begin to imagine the tales of struggle they are going through. Although I had some sort of previous understanding of the problems faced by refugees, this documentary definitely opened my eyes to details I never might have even considered about their daily struggles.

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First, I must admit that I was one of those people who thought that Canada had some sort of system put in place to take care of refugees. I was shocked and confused as to why and how could there be no such thing. In the words of Ann Woolger-Bell, “Most Canadians presume that anyone that comes into Canada asking for asylum as a refugee, that there is a system in place where they are sheltered, welcomed and assisted. There is nothing. They are numbered among the homeless!”

They are numbered among the homeless?!! This is truly heartbreaking! I mean, even from a political and economic perspective, if we don’t guide them to finding the right path now, we will have to face the consequences that surface as a result after. It’s really just delaying the problem.

Second, it was pure sadness to watch how Joyce and Sallieu, two unaccompanied minor refugees, live such lonely lives at such a young age. Even when they have tears of joy, there is really no one around to celebrate with. Although I was happy to see that they are both resilient and able to maintain an optimistic look on life, I couldn’t help but think that the hug Joyce received at church from a stranger might have been the only affection she received all year. Similarly, throughout the documentary, all Sallieu hoped for was someone to talk to and share ideas or even just a meal with. No one from his school even knew that he lived alone or had any idea of the struggles he was facing. I believe that much more support could and should have been provided to these students. In an indirect way, teachers could have also provided support by incorporating essential skills/knowledge and truly authentic tasks tailored to address their current struggles directly into their lesson plans.

Finally, Joyce and Sallieu’s view on school is that it is some sort of bridge that just needs to be crossed in order to find success and happiness. They believe that one-day everything will be ok once they have a degree because it will enable them to find a job and thus be happy. This is great and all, but in my belief, not the right approach. First, “Canada” was that bridge to happiness, and now “school” has taken on that role. By the time they started applying to college they really had no idea what it is they wanted to do. Although Salliue was interested in becoming a firefighter, I felt he chose this path only because he wasn’t really exposed to other interests at school. Instead of providing them with a platform to discover their interests and abilities, school was just something they wanted to bypass in order to find happiness.

We Were Children

Coincidentally, as I was reflecting on this movie/documentary and the readings around it, a song came on the radio which truly captured my thoughts. It was an Indigenous version of ‘O Canada’ but with lyrics surrounding the painful experiences of the Residential School System and the bridge toward Truth and Reconciliation. I tried to find it online but had no luck. This line “They cried to be heard again” truly touched me, especially after watching in disturbing detail the horrific experiences of those innocent children. Because these stories have been hidden from the public eye for so long—and I would argue that to some extent they still are—every time they have to retell their stories in order to be heard, tears come down as painful memories resurface.

Battiste highlights that “Once modern society became convinced of the absolute right and virtue of its values and institutions, either real or imaginary, it set out to convert all other societies with which they came into contact …the modern educational system was created to maintain the identity, language, and culture of a colonial society, while ignoring the need to decolonize” (Pg. 30). Erasing or reshaping ones’ identity toward a uniform “dominant” society is the perfect recipe toward creating a generation of LOST. They are neither part of the dominant society nor do they belong to their own. Simply put; one cannot know where they are going without knowing where they come from.

Battiste’s words really spoke to me because aside from the dark and hidden history of the Residential School system, many of the problems she mentioned are starting to take shape in the new generation of my own culture. Since the emergence of private Eurocentric schools in Egypt, new generations have increasingly come to devalue the need to learn their own language and are slowly starting to lose interest in their own culture. It’s amazing how much influence schools can have on shaping identities of future generations and even more so, how teachers can significantly change the path of many lives by building bridges. As teachers, we have a major role to play within Truth and Reconciliation and must understand that not only do we affect the lives of the students we interact with, but the many generations they will lead. While Battiste’s writing was directed more toward expected change from the government, I believe that actual change will occur from a bottom-up approach when we as teachers engineer safe and stable bridges that introduce our students to a world of hope and possibilities.

Here is a song that may capture some of the memories surrounding Residential School Experiences: 

Reimagining the Urban: A Canadian Perspective by Beverly-Jean Daniel

Daniel’s article offers a re-examination of the term “urban” as one that is conjoined with the “suburban.” She argues that the misconceptions of the “urban” are partially derived from American media and that of presenting Canada as a “multicultural mosaic” without referencing its colonial history. Daniel also points out that urban problems such as “poverty, unemployment, and ethnic and racial diversity” are not confined to urban spaces, but rather also experienced in the suburban under “the illusion of financial stability.” Finally, she introduces the idea that the inevitable restructuring nature of society resulting from the globalization movement should also be represented in leadership figures.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this article as it allowed me to take a mindful look as to how my thoughts or preconceived judgements about the term urban came to be. I immediately became aware of the fact that I never allowed myself the opportunity to come to my own understanding of what “urban” actually means, and it was even more disturbing to realize the ease at which my thoughts became habitual based on the images portrayed in the media.

While I was in agreement with most of the ideas represented in the reading, I found myself on an opposite end with regard to further anchoring Canada’s history of racial injustices into current curriculums. From my perspective, I think the negative spillover effects resulting from this idea will far outweigh the positive-inclusive attitude originally desired. I believe it is vital to display an honest and accurate representation of history into current curriculums but in doing so­, one has to considerably take into account the psychological aspect in the process. Rehearsing negative mental images of racial injustices into a young developing mind that may or may not have access to additional resources may lead one to interpret the text through a narrow lense.