Student, Teacher, and Mother in London, Ontario, Canada.
I am currently an Master of Professional Education candidate, and a member of the Ontario College of Teachers with a qualification in Foreign language (French) and social studies. I am also a mother of three beautiful children living in London, Ontario, Canada. This site was created as part of my requirements for my MPED at The University of Western Ontario. I am a certified Teacher in both the United States and Canada. I want to start by sharing a personal experience which really had a great influence on me in choosing learning stories as the main topic for my MPED capstone. I have had the opportunity to work as a high school French Teacher in one of Detroit’s charter schools. It was my first year as a teacher (on my own), teaching the “unfortunate kids”. I say unfortunate, not only because they are being stereotyped, but also because they feel unlucky, unsuccessful, and unhappy. As I watched the students entering my classroom, I saw in their eyes a threatening look. This class of students had a reputation! I was anxious had I found out shortly after I accepted the job that this group of students had had eight different teachers either fired or quit the year before. However, I would never set myself up for failure and I was here to stay. The teacher that left right before I came told me: “Maha, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!” For three months I was practically destroyed and hopeless. I cried myself to sleep many nights. At this point, I decided to change my strategy. I would back away from the “school’s desirable outcomes” based on evaluation and curriculum and take my own approach with these students.
The school was expecting a specific set of outcomes following a prescribed curriculum. I was more interested in meeting the students’ needs. Of course, their learning development was important to me, but it wasn’t going to be possible if I didn’t relate to them. As a French language teacher I don’t only teach vocabulary and grammar. I also teach history, culture, and traditions. Further, as an Arab American/Canadian living in Detroit, I had a lot to share with them about my own culture, and the cultures to which I was exposed growing up. Overtime, I had them open up to me and share their culture, their beliefs, and how they did things at home as well as their relationships with their families. In the words of Clark, “Young children are also the holders of rights as well as needs. These rights include the right to express their views about matters.” (Clark, P.333) This doesn’t only apply to young children. Even teenagers are “skillful communicators and meaning makers” and want to be listened to and “engage in the process of constructing meanings rather than being filled with knowledge.” (Clark, P.334)
Opening up a classroom enabled me to share my beliefs and backgrounds, but also offer opportunities for them to compare, appreciate and respect other cultures and traditions; in other words, respect each other. There was so much that we didn’t know about each other’s personal backgrounds. “Listening to young children can increase adults’ understanding of their lives.” (Clark, P.339) Their attitude changed by 180 degrees. I was happy and relieved because I was able to relate to them and keep a peaceful and positive environment in the classroom. In addition to that, from listening to them (assessing them) I was able to modify my lesson plans to meet their specific needs and at the same time watch them improve academically in my class. I even had them surprise themselves by knowing and achieving what they thought was never possible. Their self-esteem and self-competence improved a lot. Even administration was impressed with how much these students developed in French. And as an “unfortunate” African American living in Detroit, to me this was the best thing I ever did in my first year as teacher. I succeeded to a point where my students loved me more than any other teacher they had ever had.
I tell the story to illustrate that I believe that the best way to assess students is by listening to them. When listening to the students, we are then able to ask for clarifications by communicating with them. It also provides students with the feeling of being appreciated understood and listened too. Children of all ages should always be viewed as “curricular informants”; having input into what happens in the classroom. By bringing in their “prior knowledge” to the classroom teachers can then use this information and plan the activities accordingly.
During my MPED journey, I personally related more to the New Zealand Early Childhood Curriculum Te Whariki, as it is a sociocultural curriculum that focuses on four major principles: Empowerment, Holistic development, family and community and relationships. It also shares a lot of Vygotsky’s theories of early childhood development. This means, that a child learns best from the values they share with their families and others within their community including in their classrooms. The activities they demonstrate, such as learning stories, represent the way children see and think about the world. Therefore, their development is based on the child’s culture. In order to consider the child’s interests and support his or her identity and belonging, we, as teachers, need to plan learning that is holistic. Which means that learning should be focused on all the needs of the child’s life (emotional, physical, rational, intellectual, creative and spiritual). Assessment on the other hand, should not be used against the child. It should be a way of helping children motivate and improve their learning. I hope this site will influence the way we teach and assess students by inviting their voices into the use of learning stories as an assessment tool.
Clark, A.(2001). How to Listen To Very Young Children: The Mosaic Approach. London, England: National Child Care in Practice, Volume 7,. 333-341.