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Author Visitation Part 2: Student-centered Learning

iraq-81479_640Dear Readers,

In part 2 of sharing my visitation experience at my local high school, I want to discuss a method of teaching that I not only witnessed, but was a part of.  Mrs. Carey, the journalism teacher of the three classes I visited, conducted something called student-centered teaching. She of course has a curriculum, but she has her students give input on how they want the course to look like. She even allows them to provide feedback and give suggestions. Before I visited her classes, I was nervous and even slightly uncomfortable with the thought of lecturing in front of her students. I had even prepared a powerpoint. However, my experience was anything but and the powerpoint certainly was not needed.

The structure of my visit was very student-focused. I don’t like to talk about myself too much, so I was relieved when Mrs. Carey told me that it would be a very laid back conversation that was driven by the questions I would be asked. So, instead of standing in front of the students and lecturing to them, I sat amongst them and talked with them. It was of course more comfortable, but it was also much more personal and effective. The students were free to ask what they wanted to know and for those who had other responsibilities, they were free to work on them solely or simultaneously while listening to me.

What I love about this teaching method is that it gives students some control over what they should control: their education. Administers may see students as children, but for the most part, especially when they’re in high school, students know how they want to be taught and what works for them as well as what doesn’t work. The best thing about this method is that it signifies how teaching is indeed a partnership. A teacher may believe they have the best teaching method around, but if it’s not working for the students, then it’s not working. A teacher needs to understand their students and work with their students in order for education to be successful.

So, if student-centered teaching is so great, why isn’t it used more often? Why are policy-makers more interested in result-focused education instead? There are of course plenty of reasons, and I believe one of them to be an issue of control and power. I believe it correct to assume that some feel student-centered teaching to be a relinquishment of power and control for teachers and policy-makers. On the contrary, I believe that if students are spoken to, spoken with, and most of all, if they are heard, the teacher in turn gains much more respect and power in the classroom. The students that I visited were anything but out of control and disrespectful, and this does not mean that they don’t get unruly like all students do. Their education is just a matter of understanding the following principles:

1)   Students have a voice that need to heard.

2)   Education is a 3 way partnership: Teacher and Student, Student and Parent, Parent and Teacher

There are, of course, other successful teaching methodologies, but I believe this one to be one of the best.  To Mrs. Carey and all the other student-centered teachers out there, you’re doing a great job!

Peace and love,

Ariffa

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The Chains of an Educator

chain-196821_640

Bind-by-the-constraints-and-constrains-because-they’re
Blinded-by-the numbers-and-false-meaning
Bound-are-your-hands-and-your-words
Building-limits-to-their-minds-and-their-dreaming

Bought-I-am-not-to-the-idea-that
Being-one-is-being-all-and-the-same
Bought-I-am-not-to-the-idea-that
Being-an-educator-is-just-someone-to-blame

Being-bound-by-blindness-begs FREEDOM

For  educators  to  teach  and  students  to learn  and  all  to  be  heard  for
Fires  of  greatness  will  rage  and  burn
For  they  will  no  longer  be  quelled  and
Flying   and   soaring   will   be   their   minds   and   hearts   when   you   are

Finally    and    truly

FREE

Ariffa

Education and the Flawed Systems: Interview with Scholar Abel Godfrey

photo-4Hi Everyone,

Today, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and do something very different which is interview a character from my novella Kingdom of the Sun. His name is Scholar Abel Godfrey, a favorite character of mine because of what he represents and stands for. Enjoy!

Me: Thank you, Scholar Godfrey for joining me today! I am both honored and slightly embarrassed.

Scholar Godfrey (laughs): Why is that?

Me: Well, I did create you, so I feel like I’m talking to myself in a way.

Scholar Godfrey: If you created me, then how are you talking to yourself? Is there part of you in me?

Me: Well, no. Actually, you were my hardest character to create because of that. I guess that’s why you’re my second favorite. The others were either variations of myself or combinations of people that I have known or heard stories of.

Scholar Godfrey (smirks): Ja, is there or is there not part of you in me?

Me (pauses and thinks): I believe that we are part of each other. Although you do not possess some of my traits, you are what I want to be and represent. You were created from my passion and desire for true education… You are what I created. And I create what you are whenever I teach others through my words.

Scholar Godfrey (smiles wide and nods): De wa, Mrs. Bevin, it is also an honor to be here with you and part of you.

Me (smiles shyly): Thank you so much, Scholar. So, let’s start with the first question. How would you describe your teaching style?

Scholar Godfrey (leans back and folds his hands onto his lap): I would say it’s personalized and interactive. I enjoy getting to know my students and learning how to pick their brains and bring out the best in them. I don’t like simply talking or lecturing; rather, I enjoy interacting and talking with them and not to them.

Me: So, would you say there’s one certain way or method of teaching? And what I mean is, do you believe there to be one standard of teaching that all should abide by?

Scholar Godfrey: The only standard that a Scholar, teacher, or professor should abide by is the need, desire, and will, to fulfill your purpose which is to influence, inspire, and invigorate a life so much that when a student leaves your classroom, they leave brighter and stronger and the imprint of what you have done is with them forever.

Me: Beautifully said, Scholar.  I’m sure our readers would love to know what it’s like to be educated in the kingdom of Sooryan.

Scholar Godfrey: The biggest difference in comparison to the American system is that the kingdom of Sooryan does not remove God from its schools and government. Sooryan’s education system is also structured to suit the needs of its people in a way that is practical, honest, and effective. For example, there is no purpose of a student taking four years of study for a trade like cooking or construction that is better served with hands-on experience in the field.

Me: Indeed. One of the many flaws with the American system is that it tells our students to go to college to receive a good job, and when they graduate, employers expect them to miraculously have the experience that is required.

Scholar Godfrey: Yes, that is what I understand.

Me: I have once described America’s teachers as unsung super heroes who are expected to do so much more than what should be asked of them. The pressure for them to conform to a system that forces them to treat students generically is unbelievable. What can you tell us about Sooryan’s Scholars?

Scholar Godfrey (glances at his gold robe): Our Scholars are like rays of light from the sun. We give hope, guidance, and warmth, and our people give us the same in return. The people of Sooryan are nothing without the Scholars, and the Scholars of Sooryan are nothing without our people. This is understood and recognized by all.

Me: So would you say that the Scholars are treated like royalty?

Scholar Godfrey (smiles softly and nods): Benar.

Me: Scholar, my absolute favorite quotes from you are “History is a powerful weapon,” “History and truth are not always one and the same,” and “There is always more than one story.” What you said rings so much truth in today’s world and time, and I get so frustrated with people’s inability to see that.

Scholar Godfrey: Well, I am not surprised. History is powerful weapon because of people’s inability to see it as one. Imagine the lives that would be changed if people would simply question…if all sides of a story were told.

Me: Sticking with the same topic, Scholar, may I tell you one of my life’s dreams?

Scholar Godfrey (chuckles and leans forward): Of course.

Me: I want to change the name of Columbus Day and call it something like “Native Peoples Day” or “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

Scholar Godfrey: In this life and the next, I think that would make bring honor to many.

Me (laughs): And make many upset as well! But that is all part what it means to light up the darkness.

Scholar Godfrey (laughs): Agreed. There are many in the dark who wish to remain there and keep others there with them.

Me: Then, let us continue to light up the darkness, Scholar.

Scholar Godfrey: I shall be with you all the way.

Me: Thank you so much for joining me today, Scholar Godfrey. And to my readers: peace and love.

Response to “Praise, Smarts, and the Myth of Self-Esteem”

iraq-81479_640Dear Readers,

Last week, Vera, a long-time follower of mine and a wonderful blogger, recommended that I read a blog post from A Holistic Journey titled Praise, Smarts, and the Myth of Self-Esteem. As the title suggests, the article discusses the theory and the author’s belief that it is more effective to praise a student’s efforts as opposed to their smarts.

My Story:

Before I tell you my opinion about this theory, I will share a bit of my background in education. Before I even started school, my mother made sure I was well prepared…very well prepared. Before I even started kindergarten, I knew how to read, write, and spell at a level well above kids my age. When I was not in school, I studied and read, and I read and studied.

In middle school, my mother did set a standard for grades: I was to get As and some Bs. Did this stress me out? No. Because ingrained in me was something very important: if you work hard, your efforts will be rewarded. So each time my mother read my straight A report card, she would say “keep it up,” or “if you keep it up, maybe you’ll get a scholarship.” It was not “keep being smart” or “if you stay as smart as you are now, you’ll get a scholarship.” Because the concept of hard work was ingrained in me, I believed I was smart because I worked hard, and because of that, I believed everyone had it in them to get the grades I did if they worked as hard as I did. And yes, I received multiple scholarships.

 Do I Agree?: Yes and No

Diana’s post states that “when we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” This is something I respectively don’t agree with fully. I think parents tell their children they’re smart because 1) they truly believe it and/or 2) they want their children to believe the same.  There also needs to be a distinction between praising and complimenting. Why shouldn’t we honestly compliment our children and students for being smart? Everyone likes to feel good and should always feel that way.

Setting up for failure:

When it comes to praise, feedback, and the like, there is a BIG difference between the realistic and the ridiculous. For example:

1) I believe that girls should not be told they’re princesses. I’m not talking about affectionately calling a child a princess (every girl is a princess), but instilling in their heads that they are indeed royalty above everyone else. There has actually been a study done about the negative personality effects of this. I’m sure you can imagine; however, see the “Not every child is the same” section.

2) Students are told at a young age that college will get them anywhere, that a college grad is superior to one who is not, and so on. Yet, when we look at the percentage of unemployed and heavily indebted college grads, what should we think? Yes, college grads should of course be praised, but they must be prepared with a realistic view of the world.

3) Parents need to teach their children that they are not the greatest in the world, that there will be someone out there who is better at something, that they will be competing against many, many other people, and that the only way to be truly successful is honest, hard work. I will never forget the story about a teacher’s graduation speech that discussed these very same topics and the backlash he received from parents who were blind to the reality of the world.

Not every child is the same:

Diana’s post states that praising a child’s smarts can cause stress and pressure. This may be true, but I believe that the way praise and feedback affects a child depends on their personality.  Yes, some may feel pressure, while others may just let it roll off their shoulder, and others may take it humbly or to the head. Isn’t the lesson of humility, maturity, and comfort with one’s self all part of growing up and getting older?

I cannot stress the significance of individuality. And what I mean is, not everyone who works hard will receive the same results. This was something I learned the hard way. Before I was an English major, I was in pre-med and no matter hard I studied, cried, and prayed, I got Ds, Cs, and Fs. Up until that point, I always got As because of my hard work. And it took some time to understand that no matter how hard one may try at something, if they’re not good at it, they’re just not good at it. Another way to put it is like this: I have a horrible singing voice. No matter how hard I may try, no matter how many lessons I may take, I will never be able to sing beautifully.

Bottom Line:

As Diana’s post states, “I absolutely believe in the inherent worth of every individual, and that no child should feel unloved or unworthy – because there is no higher glory than that we bear the very image of God.”

Yes, I do believe that it’s more effective to praise a child’s efforts. I also think that it’s okay to compliment a child on their smarts, being realistic about it and their future. We are all not the same. Not everyone who goes to college is smart, and not everyone who doesn’t go to college is stupid. We are all capable of doing great things…in our own way, in our own time.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

The Definition of a “Good” Education

Dear Readers,

Two blog posts ago I discussed the words that came to mind when I saw two men giving free education to impoverished, homeless, and orphaned children in India. As promised, I would like to continue the discussion.

Take a look at the first picture and the ones below. Then ask yourself this: “What is the true meaning of education?” “What is a ‘good’ education?”

Before I answer these questions myself, I will say that some of the greatest discussions and lessons have been in group circles with nothing but chairs. I actually remember being in my college poetry class and how my colleagues and I were so excited whenever we were able to have our session outside the classroom with nothing but the grass as our seats and our laps for our desks. Now I say, “whenever we were able” because we were not the only class with the same desire.

When I was a volunteer ESL teacher last year, I had nothing but flashcards, a 4 x 2 whiteboard on a pedestal and barley working markers. My classroom was in a small cafeteria with 15-20 students who I shared one bathroom with. And you know what? I couldn’t have been happier. And most importantly, they couldn’t have been happier and they couldn’t have learned any more than other students who were more “fortunate.” We were satisfied because the job got done.

So this brings me to what many may argue but what I believe in my heart and soul:

Education does not need technology

Education does not need desks

Education does not need rigorous and pointless testing

Education needs teaching from teachers, not computers

Education needs passion and compassion

Education needs care

Education needs teachers to be judged by the difference they make, not by test scores

Education needs love

Education needs individuality

You know, I sometimes feel that if we come from less, things that others take for granted will be worth so much more.

So, if you’re wondering about what makes a “good” education, just take a look at the faces of those young children and you’ll know.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

You and The Characters of Kingdom of the Sun

securedownloadHi Everyone,

In Tuesday’s blog post I discussed the similarities that many of us share in terms of situations, difficulties, and even personalities. I briefly touched on how an author’s ability to create personable and relatable characters is key to making readers emotionally and mentally connected with a book. This is something that I enjoyed doing very much with Kingdom of the Sun, and I was asked a great question by Sarah at childrencount.wordpress.com about what the characters of my book are like. So, I have decided to provide a list of the main characters of Kingdom of the Sun for you.

Because I tried to create each character to reflect experiences you’ve had or heard and/or personalities you know or have, I decided to do this list in a unique way. Instead of listing each character’s traits like prideful, witty, etc., I will describe them in accordance to the type of person they are and represent. Their specific traits and qualities are things that I want you (the readers) to decide for yourselves.

Helena: The protagonist of the story who views the situation of the kingdom and her societal position as unfavorable. She represents someone who sees themselves as having more value than how they are treated.  Helena also represents the person who harbors the desire and thirst for change.

Sadine: She is the close friend of Helena who represents a good-natured, hard-worker who wants nothing more than to please her superiors and remain in good standing with them. This desire leads to her inability to see Helena’s frustrations and the kingdom’s real issues.

Aria: The nine-year-old son of Sadine. Aria’s level of understanding and maturity makes him a very close friend and ally of Helena whom he adores.

Queen Delilah Nightfall: Successor of Queen Daisy who desires power and respect but cannot seem to gain or earn it. Queen Delilah represents the person who sees themselves above others and yet lives off of praise and acceptance. She also stands for the person who received their societal position by means other than hard work.

Queen Daisy Dimday: The predecessor of Queen Delilah who achieved her societal status by outward appearances and masks. She is someone who thrives off of attention and will do anything to maintain her masks. As Helena states in the book, “Daisy and Delilah were quite different. However they were very much the same queen.”

The Scholars of Sooryan represent who educators are and should be.

 Scholar Abel Godfrey: Scholar Godfrey represents the person who is always our greatest ally and friend when it comes to truly understanding how we think and feel. He stands for the educator and person that brings out the best that each of us has to offer.

Scholar Aiden Jenson: The assistant of the kingdom’s Royals who represents the person who does their job simply because they have to, love it or hate it—no questions asked.

Scholar Johnny Doane: The witty, flirty Scholar who brings smiles and still knows how to be serious when the time is right.

Scholar Mandela Lani: Scholar Lani represents the very strict educator who loves order and does not like to be challenged.

Scholar Cynthia Baxtor: The motherly figure of the story who is beautiful inside as she is outside.

Scholar Molli Martin: This Scholar represents the person who is fearful of speaking and showing their true opinion and feelings, the one who lets others do the talking for them.

Scholar Gerald Ramsey: Scholar Ramsey represents the person that always has your back. He is also a reminder of how one’s outer shell doesn’t necessarily represent who they are on the inside.

Other Scholars:

Scholar Hinatea Shaw

Scholar Leana Crossli

Scholar Jameson Radcliffe

Scholar Howie Griffin

Scholar Ken Himora

Scholar Nora Livingstone 

So, that’s about all of Kingdom of the Sun’s characters. I hope that you’ll find some of whom you can relate to or “know.” I absolutely cannot wait to have this book published! You can actually read the synopsis here. When you read the book itself, I’d love to hear your own ideas and analysis of these characters.

Thank you, Sarah, for your awesome question, and I of course welcome them to any of you who have any.

Peace and love,

Ariffa

Guest Blog Post: Childhood Dreams

ariffa-300x298Hi Everyone,

This week, I had the pleasure of being a guest poster for the blog of author Faith Ann Colburn. I highly suggest that you check out her blog as well as her book, Threshold: A Memoir.

The title of my guest post is Childhood Dreams where I discuss my own childhood dream and how I was seemingly lost until I figured out what that dream really meant.  This post highlights the significance of following our dreams and how they should never, ever be forgotten.

Please check out the post, and let us know what you think!: Childhood Dreams

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

The Superman Dilemma in Education

super_hero_flying_silhouette_116437Hi Everyone!

Four posts ago, I wrote something called The Superman Effect in Education. It discussed how teachers and students should be treated like they are super heros, meaning they should all be valued and appreciated. I received a lot of great responses on this post, and one in particular stood out:

“I always shied away from the whole “superman” analogy for teachers, because I think we shoot ourselves in the foot, when we don’t make it clear that we are only human (thus, the public’s unreasonable expectations of us).”–Bethany @ Journey to Ithaca

This is such a great comment because it reminded of something I talked about in another post called the Detachment of Education, in which I discuss the absolutely unrealistic expectations and burdens that are placed on teachers. Bethany’s comment was a reminder of that discussion and the dilemma that comes with treating teachers like super heros.  Yes, I believe that teachers are indeed super heros. However, I also believe this:

1) Teachers = Humans

NOT Teachers = Robots or Teachers = Superhumans

As I said in my “Detachment of Education” post: “I truly feel that it is a common belief that teachers are supposed to be magical robots with no feelings or emotions, and that they are placed on Earth to only teach strictly from the text to magically and easily instill knowledge on their students who all magically receive it in the same way.”

Oh, and unless they are truly robots, they cannot honestly and efficiently grade 100+ term papers in one school night.

2) Teacher ≠ Parents/Guardians

Teachers are not responsible for educating students on manners and common sense, you know, all the things that parents/guardians should do. And yet…

So, here’s a trick question: Can teachers be treated as super heros without the expectation that they literally should be?

Here’s my answer: I believe that the basis to all of this is the need for all teachers to be treated with respect and understanding. Respect what they do, understand what they do. And for the parents and students, respect and understand that you are a vital part of a successful education as well.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

The Power of Imagination

Dear Readers,

I often forget how truly powerful and vast our imaginations can be, and nothing reminds me more than the reading of a book. I’ve lost count of the numbers of times that I have felt such a deep connection to characters in a novel that I experience a sort of deep sadness when the book is complete. And I’m sure I’m not the only one that has felt disappointment, and even anger, when a film adaptation of a book is horrendous or a character is depicted in a way that did not necessarily match up with who I pictured in my mind. And when this happens, I often think back to something my 12th grade English teacher told me: “I stay far away from film adaptations because I don’t want the image of the book and its characters to be ruined. They’re mine.”

And she was right: our imagination, this powerful thing, belongs to us. It is amazing that we can take words and create them into meanings and imagery that apply to us and reflect certain aspects about ourselves. It’s amazing how we can take the words of someone else and make them part of ourselves. And it is even more amazing that one author’s imagination can ignite inspiration in someone else. The same goes for any artist.

This is why I love reading and writing, and why I wish so much more emphasis was placed on these subjects as opposed to science and math. It is often said that children should be encouraged to dream and use their imagination. This is true, but why should they stop as they get older? I don’t think many realize that imagination is what writing is all about. For example, a teacher or professor may give an essay or presentation assignment on a book, and receive an immense variety of topics and themes that stood out to each student individually. I found it so interesting to listen and read about aspects of a novel or play that I never thought about or perhaps see a view on a character I never considered. It was like getting a sneak peek into the minds of my peers, understanding them a bit more.

Growing up, my favorite books for my brother and I were After Hamelin, Marco Millions, and of course, Harry Potter. We often talked and joked about why we liked them so much, and we eventually agreed that they took us to a different world. Our bodies may have been snuggled in our beds, but our minds and imaginations were taken on an amazing journey that we wished would never end. Have you ever looked up from a book you were reading and forgot that you were in the real world? Yeah, it was like that, and I hope that Kingdom of the Sun can give you the same feeling.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

What Matsui Can Teach about Education & Community

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons, provided by Chris Ptacek.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons, provided by Chris Ptacek.

In 2009 the Yankees won the world series against the Philadelphia Phillies…mostly because of Hideki Matsui.  Now, this is just personal opinion, but I am not the only one that feels this way.  That night, Matsui became the first Japanese-born player and full-time designated hitter in the history of MLB to win the world series MVP award.  Matsui was my favorite athlete even before this happened, so I was of course extremely upset when the Yankees did not sign him the next season.  And although Matsui played for other teams, he remained my favorite player, never forgotten by Yankees fans and non-Yankees fans.  And it was yesterday afternoon that Matsui signed a minor league contract with the Yankees, officially retiring as one.

I sat teary-eyed through the entire ceremony not because Matsui is my favorite athlete but because of what he stands for.  The best way to describe Matsui is quiet, humble strength.  You see, Matsui is the only Yankee to hit a grand slam at his first, I mean first, at bat.  He went 4-4 and 3-4 on his first two days back after returning from wrist surgery that had him out for several months.  And through it all, Matsui remained humble and a true definition of a team player.  He actually apologized for getting injured, and shies away from talking about himself.  He has stated that he felt like he didn’t deserve the MVP award, and although most players would name this as their shining moment in their career, Matsui named a victory against the Boston Red Sox as his favorite moment because the Yankees won the game in a total team effort.

The way I feel about it is that one can be a great baseball player and have awesome numbers, but if your attitude sucks and you’re all about yourself then, to me, those numbers mean absolutely nothing.  Besides his quiet strength and humility, what I like most about Matsui is that the man has a sense of humor.  He is known for playing jokes on his teammates and every once in a while you could catch him making faces at the camera.  Oh, how I miss watching him play!

So, how does this relate to education?  Well, say there was this great teacher, and you asked him or her what their best/favorite moment was in their profession.  What would you think if the teacher said, “Winning educator of the year” as opposed to “Watching my students evolve” or “Seeing my students light up when they understand something” or “One of my students telling me that I’m their role model”? Matsui represents greatness by being great through others.  One is a great player and a great teacher through the action, influence, and aid of those outside themselves.  With education being more and more about testing and numbers and treating students like they’re all the same, I know that it can be quite difficult to truly teach and help a student.

Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr

Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr

Matsui represents how a community should be.  A community should be, well…a community.  This simply means placing others above yourself and being there for them and actually caring.  Matsui reminds me of who I am, who I want to be, and who I have to be in order to consider myself truly successful.  I am only as great as the impact that my words and life has on others.

Thank you, Hideki Matsui.  I hope and pray that one day I can share these words with you in person.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

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