The Importance of Routines (In the Time of Pandemic)

Wokandapix / Pixabay

I have had students tell me that they are not feeling all that motivated to do school.  Some of these students are “attending” their classes from their beds.

My carefully edited response to this is, “Don’t do that.”

Get up.  Shower even.  Get dressed.  Have a work place.  And get to work.

I have found routines to be very helpful in getting my work done–and not just school work.  Routines during the time of the pandemic are essential.

I think we are made for routines–throughout human history, our lives have been patterned by the seasons.   We picked berries in summer and killed salmon in the fall.  Then we planted in the spring and harvested in the early autumn and killed pigs in the winter.  We had festivals and ceremonies to commemorate these annual occurrences.  In the Old Testament, God established a pattern of worship that celebrated his providence and holiness and the Christian Church established a calendar that would teach the people the story of God’s faithfulness.

Things are different today, at least before the pandemic; we can get berries, salmon and pork year-round.  Air conditioners and furnaces keep us at a steady 21 degrees Celsius through all seasons.   And the pattern of our worship calendar is down to, basically, two annual events–Christmas and Easter.

We were made for daily patterns too.  Wake up, shower, eat a quick breakfast, go to school, class-break-class-lunch-class-break-class-home, watch something, eat dinner, homework, friends, bed.  Or something like that.

Then came the coronavirus.  Covid-19 with its social distancing and quarantines has messed up our annual patterns–we didn’t go anyplace for Spring Break.  It messes up Airband and Sportsday, and Grad.  This is very disappointing, but the effect of the disruption of our daily patterns can be even more significant.

We sleep and when we wake up we spend our time on a screen, either for school or for fun.  Without a more robust routine, the day can devolve into a featureless morass of sedentary listlessness.

Wake up when you wake up–lay around in bed until you feel like getting up–grab a granola bar as you walk past the kitchen to the couch–watch three screens at the same time till you don’t feel like it anymore–then do it some more because there is nothing else to do–heat and eat a frozen thing–return to screens and maybe fall asleep–take 5 minutes do something your mother asked you to do–back to the screens…

This can mess you up bad.

Creating a daily routine can have important mental health benefits, and by creating one, you can make room for the important things in life.  I found that having to create a new routine has helped me refocus.

Here are my suggestions for routines:

  1. Set an alarm, or at least get up when you wake up.
  2. Sit still, without a screen, while you drink the hot beverage of your choice.
  3. Be deliberate about all your meals.  Fry an egg or make a sandwich.
  4. Do devotions.
  5. Set aside time to produce something–don’t just consume.
  6. Set aside time where you do something your mom or dad wants you to do–and give it the time it needs to do it well.  Inform your parents of this plan so they don’t randomly ask you to do little things all day.  But be open to helping whenever needed of course.
  7. Do something physical every day–I go hiking up “My Mountain.”
  8. Don’t fill up your free time with screens–read a book!!

Some students have a difficult time with school under the current circumstances.  Motivation is only one of the struggles they are experiencing, but it’s a big one.  This is something akin to what many experience when they move out of the house or start their first year of university.  The motivation doesn’t come from employers or professors.  It’s got to come from within.

For grade 12s, this is a lesson that was going to have to be learned in September.  You’ve just got a jump on it compared to other years.

How to Wake Up Well

Here is the message I delivered to our school’s chapel today:

Click on this link: How to Wake Up Well

 

Survey Shows that Christians are Less Likely to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading and watching The Walking Dead it’s that the Zombie Apocalypse is filled with life-and-death moral decisions.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created conditions in which hospitals have had to make difficult decisions–life-and-death, moral decisions–about who gets a ventilator and who does not.

There are two ways to go in this.

Either you give them to the patients in the most need at the moment, or you give them to patients most likely to recover.   If you go the first route, more people will die, if you take the second path, you are denying treatment to people who need it.

A recent Pew Research Center discovered that religious people tend to say we should give the life-giving treatment to the people who need it most.  And the less religious folks lean toward the more utilitarian–give it to those most likely to recover.

Pew survey shows that Christians are less likely to survive the zombie apocalypse. Click To Tweet

When zombies lurch through our streets, the life-and-death, moral decisions increase–it’s like you need to make one every 20 minutes or so.

Zombie narratives are about these moral dilemmas.  Actually, they are about the difficulty and the necessity of making a practical decision–no matter how hard it is, and it’s usually agonizing.

The research by the Pew Research Center shows us that religious people will not necessarily take the practical path.  With the increase in the number of deadly decisions that need to be made during the zombie infestation, consistently taking the non-utilitarian route will result in the death of more people.

Would anything be gained by the less practical approach?  More people would likely die, but society would be built on the idea that those who are sick or old would receive the care that they need.   That foundation is worth considering.

Teaching in the Pandemic (3)

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

We’ve just completed the first week of school in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  It went very well.  I think that the majority of students were ready for it and are happy to be connected to the school again. That’s my first observation.

A Few Observations

  1. I’m putting in just as much time I would have during normal school.   In order to have effective online schooling one needs to communicate with students and their parents.  Every Friday, we post the general outline of the objectives and activities for each of our classes.  This is very helpful for both parents and students, but it takes time to create it.  Most of my communication with individual students during normal operations would be a quick conversation before or after class.  Now I have to compose an email or a message.  Then there is the production of learning materials–I’m making videos and creating documents that would not be necessary if we were in the presence of each other.  A lot of this work is important, even when there isn’t a pandemic–now it’s essential.
  2. Students are, by and large, happy to be at school.  They’ve told me so.  They like having something to do besides watch TV, play video games and argue with their siblings.  The felt like they wanted to be “doing something productive.”  They like the connection to, not just friends, but acquaintances and even teachers.  I don’t think they necessarily appreciated what they have at school, despite the homework.
  3. We’ve shifted from content to competencies.   This is the direction that the government has been moving education so it might accelerate some teachers’ shift to the new paradigm. You can’t lecture very well in this mode of teaching; you can’t expect students to sit passively and learn content for a test, if for no other reason than the test is no longer secure.  In this learning environment, students can be more active, doing the work of learning, while the teachers provide feedback on their work and create resources for the next steps in developing essential competencies.  Active students learn more than passive students.
  4. Speaking of competencies.  Students are having to become more competent at producing, revising, communicating and collaborating in digital environments.  It’s amazing what kids have had to learn out of necessity.   Many of these skills will be necessary for future learning and careers.
  5. Students are learning more self-discipline.  At least, if they aren’t learning it, the effects will be significant.  I can tell when a student has arrived into the digital classroom, but once they are there, I can’t tell very well if they are engaged, or even if they are in the room.  I can assign work and tell them I expect them to be working on this for the next 30 minutes, but I can’t tell that they are.  If they need to knuckle down, it’s just their knuckles.  It’s up to them. Until now, many have been reliant on others to do that work.  I think this is great. Some have told me that this is hard–to be self-disciplined.
  6. From where I am sitting, student learning has not been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic at all.

 

Teaching in the Time of Pandemic (2)

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

I don’t think I’ve ever had a more relaxing spring break than this year.  We didn’t go anywhere, or do anything.  We left the house once a week trips to the grocery store. That’s it.  Consequently, it was the longest spring break I’ve ever experienced.  By the end, I was so relaxed.

Then came the week just past.

Teachers got the marching orders.  We got schedules for classes and the list of expectations.  We went to work researching, planning and creating resources.

I loved what I was doing.  One of my favourite things about being a teacher is linking content to students to skills, in other words, I like planning.  And then trying to figure out how to optimize the technology to do it.  So I happily dug into the work.

By Friday, I could barely stand.  My back was seized up from my hips to my neck.

I hadn’t really paid any attention to my body–my mind was completely engaged, and it expected the body to do it’s bit; it just couldn’t keep up.

Reflecting on it, it was a combination of stress and too much sitting at the computer.

But I have sat at the computer for days without these effects.  Just two weeks ago, my gaming buddies and I met online for our bi-annual Game Weekend LAN Party.  It was supposed to be in Seattle, but we cancelled of course–so we worked out a four-day schedule of gaming, and went at it.  By the end of it all, my back was the same as when we started–it was like jelly.

So I figure it’s not just sitting.  It must also be the stress.

And when I teach in “real life” there is some stress as well, but then I walk and stand all day long.  All last week, I just sat.

It would have been a good idea to get away from the computer this weekend, but that wasn’t possible.  So I sat in front of the computer for two more days.  I got up every once and a while and I think that helped.  I’ve been stretching some.  So it’s not as bad as it was.

Here I am, sitting at the computer, awaiting my first virtual class.

If you have any suggestions as to how to get the back loosened up, and then keep it that way.  Let me know.

 

Teaching and the Pandemic (1)

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

It’s six in the morning, and I’ve been working at the computer for the last two hours.  Covid-19 has changed our lives.  Even for those who aren’t sick, or don’t know anyone who is.  Some of this change is very difficult–people’s jobs and businesses are at risk.

My life is not changed so drastically.  But I wanted to write about how the coronavirus changed my teaching, and that story started this week.

Spring Break was extended a week in order to give teachers time to plan for remote teaching and learning.  It wasn’t until Monday morning, in the swirls of ever-changing edicts from the Ministry of Education, that we received our marching orders.

Our principal said that we are not going to turn into a school where isolated students perform fill-in-the-blank tasks to earn a grade; we will remain Abbotsford Christian School, we will just do that differently.  This means “engaging hearts, nurturing minds and shaping God’s world.”

So now we have to figure out how to do that with our students.  We need to have full class instruction, meaningful one-to-one conversations, and small group discussions.  We need to create opportunities for them to do as well as think.  This involves teachers learning new technologies with enough proficiency that we can teach students how to use them.

It involves a lot of clear communication with both parents and students.  Today I will send out an email to the students, and their parents, in each of my four classes, informing them of the plan for next week.  To write that letter, I need to know exactly what I am doing and how I am doing it.  A tall order.  I worked till 10 last night and woke up at 4 this morning to finish these letters.

Now that I know what I am doing, I will create the resources.  For me, this will be making instructional videos, documents, and assignments.  Thankfully, these don’t need to be done until Monday.  So that’s the plan for the weekend.

In the middle of all this, I received an email from a student who had turned in an assignment that was 3 weeks overdue.  They said, “I handed in my assignment yesterday and I was wondering why my mark still indicates it’s missing.”

I would have been able to get all this work done without getting up so early, but today is grocery day.  I used to go to the grocery store almost daily.  Now we don’t even go every week.  Shopping also now includes parents who are isolating themselves in their homes. Two weeks ago, this took half the day.

The rest of this school year will be a lot different than we expected–for me, it will mean a lot of time in front of the computer.  For my students too, I expect.  I am excited by this challenge.  And I am confident that, although my student’s social lives might take a bit of a beating, their education, and I use that term in a broad sense,  will not.

Lysol Wipes and Moral Retardation

Hoarding Lysol

What got me about the Vancouver pair who were buying all the Lysol wipes from Costco and selling them for inflated prices on Amazon, was not just that they were doing it.  It was the attitude–they were proud of it.

They had no idea that they were doing was morally reprehensible.  I have previously written about this issue regarding cutting in line at the border.  It’s the same garbage, different pile.  It has to do with moral development; some people get stalled out, morally speaking.

Moral Retardation

I did some research to figure out what was going on with cutting in border line ups.  According to a guy named Lawrence Kohlberg, there are six levels of morality.  If everything goes well, as you grow up, you will move up the ladder, hopefully, to the highest level, but for one reason or another, people can get stuck.

  1. The first level is called “Obedience and Punishment” where people will simply obey the rules because you could be punished if you don’t.
  2. The second stage is called “Individualism.”  At this stage, people make moral judgments based on self-interest.
  3. The next level of morality is based on “Interpersonal Relationships.” Here one is concerned with living up to social expectations and roles.
  4. Some face moral choices based on a perceived duty to “maintain social order.”  This fourth level begins to consider society as a whole in moral decisions but sees the rules and laws as coming from an authority.
  5. The fifth level is “Social Contract and Individual Rights.”  At this stage moral questions are less black and white because there is an understanding of differing moral values and opinions.  And rules and laws ought to be negotiated with others in society.
  6. The last level approaches moral judgments with ” Universal Principles” in mind.  These abstract principles are arrived at through moral reasoning.  Then they are internalized and followed even if they come into conflict with society’s rules and laws.

When our Vancouver pair was grabbing up all the Lysol, there was no rule against it, so they have achieved level one. Yay!

What about level two?  Their plan was clearly based on self-interest, 100% as far as I can tell, so I think we can congratulate our couple for clearly having advanced to stage two.

Everyone wishes, out of self-interest, that they had thousands of $20 items that people would be willing to pay $80 for.  I do that all the time, but these conditions are rare.   These occasions will pop up occasionally when there is a big change.  Like a global pandemic for instance.  We all see the opportunity, some people grab at it, others resist it.  At level three, our subjects would be considering what other people are thinking.  This appears to have no effect on their behaviour because there were a lot of people who were looking askance at their truck full of product.  But perhaps they have achieved this level; I don’t know if they would charge their parents $80 for the wipes.  But clearly they’d do it to their neighbours, so I am going to say they have not achieved level 3.

They certainlly haven’t gotten to level four, because there is a blatant disrespect for the “authority” of society.  If everyone behaved as they did, the effects of the pandemic would be far worse than they would be otherwise.  Because their behaviour can only work if there are a few who do it, it is, in principle, a behaviour that is immoral at the fourth level.

The last two levels actually allow for some flexibility in one’s approach to rules and laws, but neither would accept their behaviour under our current circumstances.

My diagnosis is that people who attempt to buy up all the necessary supplies from Costco in a pandemic (and those who sell candy at exorbitant rates on the elementary school playground) are stuck in the second stage of moral development.

And that’s probably fine if you are six years old.

That Doesn’t Count as a Hymn

Photo by Michael Maasen on Unsplash

We usually sing at least one hymn in church every week.

I don’t know, but there might be a hymn quota.  A requirement of some sort that we sing a hymn every week to appease the hymn lovers.

I am one of these, a hymn lover.

But sometimes I am unappeased.

If there is a hymn quota, certain conditions must be met and a specific standard must be achieved in order for a song to meet the hymn requirement.

If there is a hymn quota, certain conditions must be met and a specific standard must be achieved in order for a song to meet the hymn requirement.Click To Tweet

When the Hymn Doesn’t Count

  1.  When you change the harmonies.  One of the reasons we like to sing the hymns, is we like to sing the harmonies.  We know our parts.  Something special happens when we are able to contribute something musically beautiful to the praise and worship of our Lord.  If we sing one of our favourite hymns, say “Holy, Holy Holy,” but I can’t find my part, the discrepancy between the joyful worship I might have experienced and the frustration I actually experienced . . .  Well, it would be better if we didn’t sing it at all.
  2. When you add a flakey chorus or bridge.  Perhaps the fad is over, but for a while there we were always singing hymns with new choruses added.  A few of these were quite good, most added nothing to the song, and some are downright bad.  If we are going to sing hymns with added choruses, they should be only those in the first category.  Otherwise, just toss it.
  3. When it’s not a hymn.  There are songs that sound like hymns, but they aren’t really hymns.  Let’s sing these songs, but they can’t be counted as having sung a hymn.  “In Christ Alone” is one such song.  It’s wonderful, but it doesn’t count.
  4. When you change the lyrics.  The song has already been written.  If you want another song with a different theological emphasis, write it, but you can’t rewrite this one.  It does us no harm to sing in words that are not contemporary–it might do us some good.
  5. If it’s a Sunday School song from decades ago.   Hymns are old Christian songs, but not all old Christian songs are hymns.  It is a condition for many under 30 to lump together anything that happened before their birth into the category ‘old.’  Consequently, a young worship leader can easily conclude that “Pass It On” is a good old hymn. It is not.
  6. If it was ever sung by the Gaithers.
  7. When you change the musical style of the hymn, it’s awesome.

Different Musical Styles

Perhaps you expected me to rail against changing the way a hymn sounds.  That’d be a silly thing to complain about.

 

How to Rock the Literacy 10 Assessment

Wokandapix / Pixabay

I just finished a weekend of marking the brand new Literacy 10 Assessment–brought to you by the Ministry of Education in British Columbia.

As I read through hundreds and hundreds of student compositions, I wanted to talk to the students that wrote them, or their teachers and tell them if only they did this or that little thing, they’d get a far better score.  There are some pretty simple ways you can get better results on this assessment.

Why do well?

But before I get into how to do well, perhaps we’d better talk about why.  This is not one of those “high stakes exams” we hear about. One of those that determine if you get into university or how much funding your school gets. This doesn’t have that kind of baggage–that’s a good thing.  The response of the narrow minded is “then it doesn’t matter.”  This is absolutely correct if having an accurate assessment of one’s reading, writing and thinking does not matter.

If students do their best on this assessment, the results will provide them with some valuable information about what they are good at and what they can work on over the next few years to improve important competencies.  Competencies that, once developed, will certainly be personally relevant.  This is not an English test, it is about literacy–the skills it assesses transcend English class, and reach beyond high school graduation.

The Structure of the Literacy 10 Assessment

Part A

Students are given a selection of texts.  These include graphs and diagrams as well as as various passages including narrative and expository.  Students will answer a variety of questions on these texts–these are not typical multiple choice, but a variety of forms that break the mold of traditional assessments.

There are two writing tasks in Part A.  A Graphic Organizer and a Critical Response.

This section is called “What They Say” in that students write about what other people say about a topic.

Part B

This section is called “What I Say” because here students are invited to enter into the conversation.  Students can chose between Literacy for Information and Literacy for Expression.  Each of these have readings and a prompt for an essay.

How to do well.

Tip #1 — Understand the task.

There are three writing tasks on this assessment.  The Graphic Organizer, a Critical Response and Writing for Information/Expression.  The expectations for each task are very different, so students must understand which task they working on.

  1. Graphic Organizer — Here the student is expected to organize ideas found in texts.  They will organize ideas one a graphic organizer–a table, a pyramid,  a Venn Diagram, etc.  Here they show an understanding of cause/effect, coordinate and subordinate ideas, explanation/example, etc.  Students are asked to make assertions and briefly explain.
  2. Critical Response — This section is nicknamed “What They Say.” This is a multi-paragraph response.  For clarity’s sake, let’s call it an essay.  Students must have more than 1 paragraph.  Technically 2 is fine, but I suggest a minimum of 3.  Write an intro that ends with a thesis statement–be explicit.  A minimum of a one-paragraph body that starts with a topic sentence.  And a conclusion.  Most students should try for two or three body paragraphs.  Again, this is “What They Say”;  The instructions say, “With reference to one or more of the texts.”  Students should show they’ve read the texts.  This is important: students don’t offer their thoughts or ideas here–their task in this section is to clearly communicate what others are saying.  Students should write about the texts–not about what they think or know.   This is not a personal response, that comes later.
  3. Literacy for Information or Literacy for Expression — This section is nicknamed, “What I Say,” and it offers students more freedom in what they say and how they say it–they may write an essay, or a story, or even a poem.  In this section, students are given a prompt to which they respond in writing.  Readings accompany the prompt.  Students may use these as inspiration for their own writing, but there is no requirement that students refer to them.   It is important that students answer the prompt and not allow the readings to pull you off of this task.  Tell students to dare to be different–write a story, use dialogue (but know how to format it).  Show their insight and creativity from the first line!

Tip #2 — Be Specific

For all of these tasks, be specific, not general.  Clear, not vague.  Make sure the support is relevant and specific.  Back up all of your assertions with specific evidence or examples.

Tip #3 — Give Students a Word Count

For some reason, the creators of the assessment are very reluctant to give students a word count.  I don’t know what the reason is.  Anyone who has taught grade 10 students knows that most will write a one-sentence answer to any question unless specifically told to write more.  Then most a quite willing to comply.  This will also the case on the Literacy 10 Assessment–if they write a 50-word response to any of the essays, they will do poorly, and there is no need for this.

For the Graphic Organizer, don’t over-write.  The exception is the Graphic organizer.  Two sentences per box will be fine.  A quote doesn’t hurt, but it is not necessary.

For the essays tell students that they should write a minimum of 300 words.  A 600 word response is completely appropriate.

Tip #3 — Exceed Minimums

When then instructions say, “With reference to one or more of the texts,” refer to at least two.  When the instructions say multi-paragraph, write at least 3.  Exceed minimums, but don’t get carried away–don’t refer to all the texts multiple times and don’t write a seven paragraph essay.  Good writers know when their point has been made and don’t need to compensate with volume.

Tip #4 — Read for Main Ideas

Most of the tasks in the assessment revolve around picking up on the main ideas for each text.  Students should practice this in their classes, and they should focus on this as they read the passages on the assessment.

Tip #5 — Capitals and Periods

I’ve marked provincial exams for more than two decades, and have always been baffled as to why so many students consider the caps and periods optional, as if they were some sort of stylistic device that only pretentious professionals employed.

If you know what a sentence is.  Show that you know.

If you don’t know what a sentence is, toss a few periods and capitals into your writing. It can’t hurt.  At least the assessor would get the idea that you’re trying.

Tip #6 Refer to Texts by Name

And put this name in the proper format.

Tip #7 — Read It Over

Typos and spelling mistakes don’t leave a very good impression.  Ideally, every spelling and grammatical error that remains in each composition should only be the ones the student is not aware of.  If they know how to spell “environment” they should not allow “emviromint” remain uncorrected in their essay.

Tip #8 — Paragraphing

Reinforce the importance of paragraphing to your students.  It shows the students understanding of structuring writing, and it makes their writing easier to understand.

So, topic sentences, specific evidence with explanations, and transitions will really boost those marks.  It’s fine if students don’t write in paragraphs, but only if they legitimately don’t understand paragraphing.  That’s one of the things we are assessing.

Tip #9 — Answer the questions even if it’s not relevant to you.

Sometimes students will be asked to give a personal opinion or reflection to an issue or an idea.  They need to put some effort into this, even if they honestly don’t have an opinion, reaction or to describe something they learned or how their opinion has shifted.  They should explain why they don’t have an opinion, or talk about an opinion that a student might have.  A specific response in these cases can bump students up a mark.

Silent Night, Holy Night

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

My third-grade teacher taught us how to sing the carol, “Silent Night” in Dutch.  We sang it for the residence of the retirement home.  I still remember the Dutch lyrics, but I never really knew what the words said.

My dad was commenting on the song the other day and complained that the words of the English version of the song have very little of the depth found in the original German or the Dutch translation.

I dropped the Dutch version of the song into Google Translate.  The third verse goes like this:

Silent Night, Holy night,
Salvation is brought.
To a world lost in debt,
God’s promise is wonderfully fulfilled.

Keep in mind that the translator has no consideration for the rhyme, but notice the focused theological assertions.

I don’t need to remind you of the third verse that we sing every year:

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, oh, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace

Unfocused.  A little weird.  Confusing.

I agree with my dad; something has been lost in the translation.

Just for fun, the Original German version has a whole different tone:

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, oh how laughs
Love out of your divine mouth,
For now the hour of salvation strikes for us.

© 2020 crossing the line

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑