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Courtney Langton

Courtney is an aspiring high school teacher. Her teachables are History and English, but she's happy to teach anything that doesn't involve numbers or formulas. Her particular interest is in promoting gender equity and anti-oppression both in and outside the classroom. She writes a detailed To-Do list every morning, and enjoys nothing more than a good book and a plate of bacon on a rainy Saturday.

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan's primary interest is moral education. His teachable subjects are English and Music. He encourages critical thinking and hopes to teach his students to recognize, and strive for, what is truly important to them without forgetting to be compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded along the way. He likes making analogies and his favourite is one that compares life to jumping on a trampoline.

LINKS: Blogger
Canadian Chalkboard
Coffee, Calculations and Colombia!
Mewlings
Progressively Unnecessary
TeacHer Finance
It's Not All Flowers and Sausages
So You Want To Teach?
Classroom Confessions
Teach Hub
Web English Teacher
Blogging the Renaissance


ARCHIVES: June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 March 2010

A Super Awesome Week
Friday, March 12, 2010

Being in a class has sapped my originality so you'll have to bear with the title. Nonetheless, I thought I'd update and mention that my prac was generally pretty awesome but more than that, this past week has been one of the more rewarding weeks of prac I've had this entire year.

I remember going into this third block thinking that being in the music department for the entire time might kill me. But it turned out that apparently, I am musically competent! This was a somewhat interesting discovery. The more interesting discovery, however, came in the form of me realizing that as a music teacher, you form a different kind of bond with your students. Part of it might have to do with the fact that music students tend to like music so your students generally enjoy being in class every day. But a part of it also had to do with this feeling of collaboration that you sometimes don't get when you're teaching other subjects.

But the real reason why I wanted to blog about my music prac is because of the particular phenomenon that turned my prac from being "pretty good" to "awesome".

See, because my associate teacher runs a junior jazz band, junior concert band, senior jazz band, and senior concert band, all during lunch and after school, he only teaches 2 periods a day. So what ended up happening was that we'd have period 1 and 4 to prep, but we'd also have to conduct during lunch and every day after school. Busy life. In the end, though, the "extra" prep period produced an unforeseen side effect.

Music kids, as a rule, dawdle after class. To the point where Mr. Walker and I had to chase them out sometimes. However, the students who had fourth period spare (it was a grade 11/12 band class) were never really in a hurry to leave. Well, it just so happened that last Friday, two such students lingered for longer than usual so I started talking to them about their futures (their plans for next year, what they wanted from life, etc). They ended up staying for about half of fourth period. No big deal, right? Happens from time to time...

Except that this week, they started hanging around on an everyday basis. Then, they were joined by more students (a number of whom I'm pretty sure did NOT have fourth period off). Long story short, by the time Thursday rolled around, what happened was that the bell would ring, these students would put their instruments away, and then stand around, looking at me expectantly like I was supposed to pull a rabbit out of my hat. In essence, for this last week, I spent at least half of my fourth period prep time conducting a "character development" seminar. Rewarding for me, rewarding for them, win-win situation (aside from the marking that I would be obliged to put off).

My final words of advice to them today:

"Try hard, do good, and remember that God is in the details."

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Jonathan posted at 7:24 PM - Comments (0)



Why we keep this blog going, despite all the chaos of school
Monday, January 18, 2010


Finally, young teachers need to be in serious conversation with other smart talented teachers. Most schools leave almost no time for open ended discussion about education, and most teachers have no precedent for initiating such conversations. A new teacher who makes conversation about learning and teaching a priority will be much better prepared than the one who knows four different ways to organize a lesson plan book. But this is a complex habit, and one that takes deliberate effort to acquire, and should be actively cultivated during training.

Courtney posted at 10:21 AM - Comments (0)



And all that shimmers in this world is sure to fade...
Sunday, January 17, 2010

It's been awhile since we've posted. I know, that's sorta how we preface every post. We're really sorry. But the good news is that we haven't posted because there's been such a comical amount of stuff happening that's kept us constantly busy and bewildered as we enter the "Job Hunt" phase of our year.

You see, for the first semester of Education, we were all told to focus on doing well on prac and to leave the worrying about the future until second semester. Well, second semester has officially arrived and with it, said worrying. We had a special day last week that involved a slew of school boards coming to Queen's and telling us that there were no jobs. Basically. From what I was able to absorb, the day was primarily centered around 4 things:

1. Applying to the Ontario College of Teachers
Basically, this involves paying hundreds (yes, hundreds) of dollars after we graduate in order to be granted a certificate by the OCT just to be allowed to apply for teaching jobs that don't exist.

2. There are no jobs in Ontario
See Above. Every school board presentation I went to informed me that my chances of getting a job in that particular school board were bad to even worse. Some boards like York Region tried to make us feel better about the fact that only 30% of us will get hired. Other boards tried to make us feel worse.

3. There are plenty of jobs if you're willing to work overseas
Ontario seems to have a mysterious abundance of teachers - especially those that apparently like marking English essays (we are a masochistic bunch). Teachers in other countries seem to understand that there is an improper workload-to-money ratio in this profession. This is usually offset by the understanding that the job is intrinsically rewarding and that we are making a difference in the lives of our future generation. Apparently, we are a youth-loving nation. We're also Canadian.

4. There was something else here I forgot
In its place, I'd also just like to mention that none of the above really came as surprise to any of us. But at the same time, I try not to worry too much about it. I probably should (be worrying) but I figured it's hard to predict the future and all I have control over is what I do at the faculty of Ed. and how I do while I'm on prac. So far, both ventures have proven to be fairly successful. Does that success necessarily translate into the future? Of course not. But I figured it can't hurt to hope.


Being an education is one of those careers where getting yourself to the starting line is almost as hard as the actual race itself. First, you gotta decide that you want to become a teacher and then apply to get into the program (easier if you do it through Con-Ed, though it means you have to decide early). Then you have to make it through the program without losing your desire to teach (no small matter in itself). And then in the end, if you do decide that teaching is the right profession for you, you have to get a job in an incredibly thin market.

Mom wanted a doctor in the family. But would I listen? Nooooooooooooo

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Jonathan posted at 5:15 PM - Comments (0)



Your well-being = your students' well-being
Sunday, January 3, 2010

This blog, as you may guess from the giant, shiny apple graphic at the top of the site (and accompanying description), is devoted exclusively to the discussion of teaching-related issues. When we mention anything about our personal lives, it's always in the context of teaching.

Naturally, this isn't the right blog to be chronicling my New Year's resolutions, right? Well, I thought about it, and I realized that any resolution or goal or decision I make in the hopes of becoming an all-around better person is not only relevant to my teaching career, but crucial to it.

Though most teachers see the year as going from September-August, it's really helpful for us to take a hint from those who follow the traditional January-December calendar and re-evaluate our lives at the outset of the new year. By doing this, we stay on top of goals that may have slipped a bit and get a handle on them before it's too late. We can also decide which September aims may not be attainable, and swap them for resolutions slightly more grounded in the real world.

It's a good idea to have several goals, each pertaining to one aspect of your life. That being said, you want to keep your list fairly small. I've seen people with upwards of 15 resolutions-- if you can't count them on one hand, you'll never attain them!

So, without further ado, my resolutions:

1. Health, Wellness & Stress Management: Go to hot yoga every Thursday night for 6 weeks. Ok, I would love to say "I'm gonna go to the gym every day for the rest of the year!" but let me tell you, that is NOT happening. I know I need to exercise to prevent my stress from overtaking me and to keep colds and flu at bay in time for the third round of practicum, but if I give myself too lofty a goal, I know I'll be back to doing diddly squat before I hit week #2. So one night a week of a fun, affordable, stress-busting activity is what I'm promising myself.

2. Personal Relationships: Wear comfortable but flattering clothes at home and on weekends.  I so wish I could resolve to see all of my close friends at least once a month, or to write long, detailed emails and have phone dates that last hours-- but again, not very realistic given that I've only got 4 more months to complete my B.Ed and, you know, get hired and stuff. So I'll save my keeping in touch with friends resolution for 2011 and stick to something deceptively simple. So, my boyfriend doesn't give a rat's tail about what I wear, but I do think he might appreciate it if I let him wear his own clothes once in awhile. Instead of changing into men's baggy sweats and hoodies when I'm not teaching, I've got a cute collection of women's yoga pants and fitted sweatshirts all ready for my leisure time in 2010. Again, not something that takes much thought, but I think my boyfriend AND the old ladies we see in the grocery store will appreciate my more mature approach to casual fashion. This will be especially important once I have a job, since I will not only be seeing little old ladies at the grocery store, but students and parents as well. 

3. Finances: Stick to the grocery list. I've got a pretty tight budget as I cope with some of the costs incurred by commuting last semester, so I'm trying to cut corners anywhere I can. I want to stick to my budget, obviously, but the most annoying bad money habit I have is grabbing things I don't need in the grocery store. Instead of snatching up (usually unhealthy) foods on impulse, I'm going to follow my list religiously and avoid spending too much on things I don't need. And not having to worry about money frees up a ton of energy that I can then use to create creative, original material for my lesson plans. 

4. Teaching Skills and Job Acquisition: Keep in touch with important contacts. Jon has talked about this before-- as we enter the application and interview stage of our B.Ed year, we're starting to need more reference letters and phone numbers than ever before. It's always good to be able to tailor your references to the position and to use the best possible references in every situation, so I'd like to make sure I have all my mentor-ducks in a row. I'm definitely hoping that by giving them some advanced warning, I'll be better able to secure those letters in time for the deadlines. 

Have you made New Year's resolutions for 2010? Have you noticed that your personal well-being (or lack thereof) affects your students? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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Courtney posted at 12:05 AM - Comments (0)



That's what we're here for too...
Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Sometimes it's hard to talk to kids, especially when they're teenagers. They're in their own world, and they don't look like they're even listening to you. But that's the time when it's most important to find a way to talk to them - not to lecture them, but to tell them things I think are important for them to know." 

- Robert De Niro

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Courtney posted at 8:07 PM - Comments (1)



Phew! Blocks One and Two Complete... Bring on the job search
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wow, the past few months have been crazy hectic for me- hence the total neglect of this blog on my part. I apologize profusely for my absence, and for the lack of warning about said absence. I really thought I could keep all my metaphorical balls in the air (to use a clowning metaphor, always the best kind) but it just got too overwhelming.

Hopefully though, with a nice relaxing vacation (I have been sleeping like CRAZY, probably to make up for all those 4:30am wake-ups) and a 5-week sojourn at the Country Club on West (aka our Faculty of Education), I should be able to return to a brisk-paced blogging schedule.

I suppose the last you heard from me was in November, so I'll give a bit of an update of how the last two months went. This may be a tad on the boring side, but it'll give me a chance to work out my thoughts on my whirlwind first semester, and it might be quite helpful for those of you who have yet to enter teacher's college and are wondering what to expect.

My 3 weeks spent in Kingston in November absolutely flew by. I had a few assignments (mostly lesson plans) to complete for some of my profs, but I also had to cram in a semester's worth of doctor/dentist/optometrist, etc appointments into 3 weeks, catch up with all of my non-teacher friends, somehow arrange an alternate practicum for the spring, try to negotiate a better location and subject for Practicum Block #s 2 & 3, manage the club I founded last year, and attempt to stick to a verrrrrry limited budget so I could afford the ridiculous commuting costs for December. Are you starting to understand why I didn't blog much last month?

Then December came, and I moved all my crap back to my boyfriend's to begin another practicum block. Sadly, all my frantic negotiating with the Practicum Office and my Faculty Advisor's repeated pleas to the Social Sciences department at my host school were fruitless, so with 5 days to go until the block started, it seemed like I would be in the same ESL class with the same 2.5-hour commute as the first block. Don't get me wrong, I adored being with my first associate teacher and I learned a ton, but my first teachable is History and I really wanted to get a lot of experience with that, especially since I'd only taught English during my ConEd placements. 

All was not lost, though-- my first associate teacher, upon hearing that he would have to forfeit another month's lessons to me, accosted a Social Sciences teacher in the office and peer-pressured him into taking me on for the second block of Practicum in December (I'm kidding- my first AT was incredibly generous with his classes, giving me a full schedule load by the second week and really letting me experiment with my own teaching style and giving me a lot of invaluable advice. He's a really wonderful person and a great mentor, as was my second AT. I got really lucky on that front, at least!).

Anyway, December still brought that hellish 5-hour/day commute, but at least I was teaching history at the end of it. I did a lot more observation for the second block, but I got to see quite a variety of different classes, including Civics, Politics, Ancient Civilizations, and Enriched Canadian History. I focused all of my energy into the creation of dynamic, interesting, and structured lesson plans, and that hard work really paid off in my evaluations. I also made a special point of targeting the areas for improvement that my associate teacher suggested, and was able to fine-tune several skills that will prove useful in the future. All in all, I'm quite pleased with the results of my first semester, despite all the crazy.

Looking back on my experiences, I really could have benefitted from a bit of advice that would have helped me easily avoid some of my stress. With that in mind, I'll do a Top 10 Tips-- what a great bonus to make up for months of bloggy drought!


Top 10 Tips To Avoid Going Crazy in Your First Semester of Teacher's College

1. Make all of your routine appointments before school starts. In July or August, get in to see your doctor for a physical and to renew prescriptions for as far into the future as you can. This is especially important if you're moving back and forth between cities like I do, but even if you're staying in one place, having your health and wellness taken care of is a huge stress-relief. Same goes for the dentist, optometrist, pharmacist, etc.

2. Do a Costco run before school starts. It is just such a pain to have to go all the way to the drugstore just because you didn't stock up on Q-Tips or shampoo. Trust me, when November comes, you don't want to waste time on this sort of thing.

3. Create a filing system ahead of time. I collected a whole bunch of resources, forms, spare photocopies, etc from both of my practicum blocks, but all I had time to do was to throw on some paper clips and stash them in a bookshelf. If you get yourself a box of hanging folders in September and label them according to subject or category (i.e., lesson plans, parental contact, interview tips), you'll be far less scattered and far more prepared when you take on your own classes in the future.

4. Make a list of goals for all aspects of your life. You don't have to list more than 5 or 6 goals, but if you have an idea of what you want to accomplish, you'll be able to prioritize better and not fall behind on things that are really important to you. Obviously, doing your absolute best in your practica should be goal #1, but look at the other things you do and decide what to jettison if things get too hectic. 

5. Sit your friends down and explain how busy your year will be. Since you have limited time during big chunks of the semester, try to emphasize quality friend time like going for a chat over coffee or a quiet dinner instead of clubbing or a movie. Explain to your friends that you love them and you enjoy spending time with them, but that you can't just take off to hang out with them after school when you feel like it. If you do this ahead of time, you'll hopefully head off the hurt feelings about being abandoned or ignored and they'll be more likely to arrange their schedules around yours. As a bonus, they'll be ready and willing to help you out in a pinch if you need an emergency printer or drive to the grocery store since they know you're so stressed. Remember, though-- this year isn't an excuse to be a bad friend, just one that is temporarily not quite as attentive as usual. If you schedule in advance and know when to drop everything for someone you love (that marking can wait if your bestie just got dumped), you'll do fine. 

6. Beg for care packages. Nothing brightens up a miserable week of essay-marking like a batch of Grandma's cookies or some quirky socks from Mom. My mom does this on a regular basis because my parents live far away, but even if you're in the same province, a care package can really brighten your day. 

7. Budget carefully. The reality of life as an aspiring teacher is that costs can spring up out of nowhere, there isn't much opportunity for a part-time job, and a real full-time job once you graduate might be hard to come by. With that in mind, give yourself ample wiggle room while budgeting for your B.Ed year. My advice would be to plan your year's living costs into June, instead of stopping the school year's budget at the end of April. You also can't assume you'll get a convenient placement, so include possible rental or transport costs. I managed to be incredibly frugal in November, but that was pretty much cancelled out by $500+ for transportation costs in December.

8. Tape your favourite TV shows and save them for the weekend. Television can be really helpful to help you decompress after a tough day, but make sure you don't get carried away. When I got home from my intense commute and busy day, it was incredibly tempting to just veg out in front of the TV and spend all evening watching the shows I love. Before I knew it, though, it would be time to go to bed and I had wasted all my time zoning out on the couch instead of making my lunch, washing my hair, taking the dog for a walk, etc. I would have been better served catching Jeopardy over dinner (kind of a ritual for me and my boyfriend) and then turning the TV off and saving all my weekly shows for a fun weekend marathon. 

9. Work out a chore routine with your housemate(s) or significant other. My boyfriend was SO incredibly wonderful with me this semester. He deserves a medal, he really does-- a Nobel Prize in tolerance. He generously suggested that since I was taking on such a ridiculous commute, he would make dinner for me every night when I got home (I know, right? He's awesome). This gesture really helped my sanity, but after awhile it became obvious that the arrangement wasn't really working. Though I pitched in on the weekends, from Monday to Thursday he felt like a servant (he didn't say as much, but I know he did). I was so over-extended that I didn't notice his resentment and frustration for far too long. If you want to avoid this situation (and you do), my best suggestion is to take on an equal share of all the chores. Instead of my boyfriend making dinner every night, he would start cooking the meal while I changed and told him about my day, then I would pitch in and make the salad, set the table, pour the drinks, etc. Once we stopped putting all the responsibility of certain chores on one person at a time, we both felt more supported and less stressed.  

10. Keep an agenda and/or a teaching journal. Random brilliant ideas strike me at the weirdest times, and now I have a huge collection of post-its, looseleaf paper, napkins and notes on my laptop to collect and put into one big document that I can refer to for teaching inspiration. As well, keeping a planner or journal will be very helpful for scheduling in all of your responsibilities so you can get everything done. And make sure you really use some of those brilliant ideas!


There, I think I wrote enough tonight to almost make up for a month's worth of silence! Hopefully it's not too overwhelming to read. Oh, one last thing-- I got an incredible early Christmas gift from my sister, a book that I can't recommend enough. It's called See Me After Class: Advice For Teachers By Teachers, by Roxanna Elden. It. is. PHENOMENAL. I'm only 20 pages in and I've already picked up dozens of helpful tips, most of which I would never have thought of myself. She touches on issues in every grade level, so this is perfect for anyone in Education. 

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Courtney posted at 9:38 PM - Comments (0)



A (Gross) Lesson
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This is kinda gross but I couldn't resist posting about it...

So over the course of prac, I got sick. This should come as no surprise to anyone since it's a well known fact that our bodies are generally ill-prepared for all the germs that run rampant throughout the schools. I'm still a little sick, actually, but that is neither here nor there.

Well, most people will be able to tell you that as you near the tail-end of the common cold, you get to that period where your sinuses are all congested and your nose feels blocked even though nothing comes out when you blow into a tissue. This stage in the process tends to irritate me to no end and this time was no exception. I mean seriously, is it not supremely frustrating to blow your nose and get nothing but still be congested?

Suddenly, I had a thought. A few months ago, during my singing lessons, I was taught (when I sing) to breathe from the diaphragm and then, rather than sing outwards through my mouth, sing upwards, through my head, and then out my mouth. It sounds very theoretical until you put it into practice but it does work remarkably well at adding resonance to your voice. And I thought, "I wonder if that theory could work for nose-blowing as well?" So I tried it. I took a deep breath from the diaphragm and blew upwards into my head (and presumably through my clogged sinuses) and then out... and lo and behold! It works! I cleared my sinuses (temporarily at least).

I told you it was kinda gross. But it's also kinda funny. And it *does* work...

Jonathan posted at 8:27 PM - Comments (1)



ratemyteachers.com
Sunday, December 13, 2009

I took some time this afternoon to browse around the site, ratemyteachers.com, more out of curiosity than anything else. I imagine that some of us might eventually find our way onto that website sooner or later so I thought I'd check it out and see if there was any real validity to the site.

As a teacher-in-training, I figured that I would have a rather insurmountable bias by looking up teachers working at King City Secondary school; ergo, I decided to do a quick survey of the teachers I had when I was in high school and see what some of the results were. Now, before you read this, keep in mind that I can be incredibly elitist about my opinions when it comes to comparing myself to the "general public". It's not so much that I think that the general public is always wrong so much as it is that when pitted against an individual, anonymous, opinion that contradicts my own I have a tendency to assume that this individual doesn't know what he/she is talking about. In my defense, however, I do think that the "general public" as whole unit usually winds up with the correct overall opinion unless there are mitigating circumstances.

One of these mitigating circumstances, where ratemyteachers.com is concerned, is that the ratings are divided into 3 categories (which are then averaged out to an overall rating per teacher). One of these 3 categories is "Average Easiness" which I assume relates to whether or not the teacher is a "hard marker". The problem with this category is that it really should be called "Fairness" rather than "Average Easiness." Why? Because "Average Easiness" tends to devolve into "Will this teacher let me get away with not answering the question and bullshitting the answer," which doesn't exactly seem to be the right question; or at least, it doesn't seem to work on the correct scale.

This is what I noticed about many of the ratings for my old high school teachers - that their overall rating was pulled down because the rating in the category of "Average Easiness" was pulled down... and I'm sure (having been a student in these teachers' classes) that THIS happened because these were teachers that wouldn't let you get away with not knowing your stuff or BS-ing your answers. There's no reason they should be penalized for this as teachers but many students seem to live in this egocentric world of self-importance and self-privilege where a teacher that gives them bad marks is a bad teacher, even if these marks are entirely justified.

I looked at some of the comments for some of the teachers who got really high ratings in "Average Easiness" and came across many that said something like "Such an e-z marker! I was such a shitty student and still got an A- lolololololol!!!"

Yeah ok... cause that's the best indicator of a good teacher...

Jonathan posted at 8:37 PM - Comments (0)



P.D. Day
Sunday, December 6, 2009

I attended my first ever "Professional Development Day" last Friday. I must say, it was not like I expected it to be. But then again, my preconceived notions were founded upon absolutely nothing one could call a reliable source (meaning, they were founded upon what my imagination conjured up). I thought we were all going to arrive at school and play trust games where we fell into each arms and such similar things! So disappointed to find that that wasn't the case. Instead, we had 2 hour assembly in the morning - one that was thankfully made far more bearable due to an interesting guest speaker - followed by a few workshops.

It was weird being at a P.D. Day. Having attended a staff meeting during my previous block (teachers make the worst students), the assembly part did not strike me as being too odd. The workshops, on the other hand, felt odd. Now, that's not to say that they were not helpful. In fact, one of my workshops was pretty cool (it was about a grade 12U culminating media project). But it just... felt really weird to be sitting in classroom with people who were not my age. I mean, staff meetings are staff meetings, but to actually sit in a standard sized class and listen to a presentation/lecture is just not the same when the "students" are years ahead of you in age and seniority.

All in all, though, it was not a bad experience. Better than I thought it'd be, realistically speaking (I figured it wouldn't just be fun and games, even though that's what I hoped it would be).

Jonathan posted at 9:42 PM - Comments (1)



A Fleeting Glimpse Into the Mind of a Student
Saturday, November 28, 2009

I thought I'd mention something I experienced yesterday. I was talking to some of my students about university and I mentioned something about the amount of effort you have to put into your work in order to succeed. One of my students piped up, "Yeah well, I'm just not trying very hard right now. Once [If] I get into university, I'll probably start trying a lot harder because then it's like my parents are PAYING for me to be there."

Well, that's not so surprising I guess. The downsides to a publicly funded education system.

Jonathan posted at 3:41 PM - Comments (0)



The Ins and Outs of Our Subjects
Sunday, November 22, 2009

We talked in class the other day about breaking down English sentences to their constituent parts (i.e. subject, predicate, etc... basically grammar stuff) and how practically every sentence in the English language is built the same way. It was actually pretty cool. I won't get into the details of it here because it's long, complicated, and took us 2 classes to fully understand, but suffice to say, it was informative, to say the least.

Somebody put their hand up in class and asked about why it's important for us to know about how our sentence structure breaks down since realistically, no one's ever going to walk up to you and insist that you explain to them where you draw the line between a subject and the predicate. I thought I'd write a bit about my take on the matter.

Kate (see: awesome vocal teacher) likened English grammar to Music theory. And in a lot of ways, I think it's a very apt comparison. We study music theory because we understand that there are certain ways we hear sound and there are certain tendencies we expect when we hear music. Music theory helps you understand that there's a reason why a 4th scale degree almost always wants to move down to a 3rd scale degree; why a II chord almost always resolves to a V chord; why parallel fifths tend to make people with any kind of music sensitivity cringe. In the same way, English grammar helps you understand why almost every sentence in the English language is constructed using a fairly consistent way. In a lot of ways, we don't even realize that we've been conditioned to do all this. But if someone were to construct a sentence in a convoluted way, we notice it because it doesn't conform to what we've come to expect from every sentence ever constructed.

On some level, it's an elitist way of thinking. I once went on a long rant about how the song Fireflies by Owl City irks me SO much because they don't resolve their chords properly. For those of you who are interested/those of you who understand music theory, there is a leading tone - a LEADING tone of all things! - that resolves DOWN to the 6th instead of up to the 8ve. It makes me cringe just to hear it. But I've spoken to a variety of other people (non-music people), who don't seem to be bothered by it. And I always have to resist the urge to respond in some sarcastic, elitist fashion about how they're the reason why so much garbage is churned out by popular radio on a daily basis at the expense of my poor ears.

So you may be asking, is it really problematic if it only bothers those who have studied the subject? Well, the response I give to English teachers is this: music notes that don't resolve are similar to people making spelling errors. And lo and behold, suddenly, it's not something to scoff at anymore. English students tend to get highly annoyed by spelling/grammar errors, even if those errors don't detract from our overall ability to understand the message being conveyed. Why? Because English students understand that there are certain rules we're simply supposed to follow when we USE the English language. As a principle, you're supposed to spell your words correctly. That's a given right? Well, the same thing applies to tonal tendencies.

On top of everything, if you STUDY the subject, very often, you'll realize that there's a REASON why we do things a certain way. Resolving notes isn't simply an arbitrary process; neither is sentence construction. They almost always make our lives easier, whether it is psychologically, or practically. You might not think so when you're actually forcing yourself to apply these rules, but the rules are there to make things easier for you, not harder. Without these rules, you wouldn't even be able to read what I'm writing; nor could I be expected to write in such a way that you would understand.

In a lot of ways, it speaks to our fundamental tendency to connect with other human beings. We put systems in place so that we have a common ground off which we can build mutual understanding. Because if you didn't care about other people understanding what you say, sure, you can invent your own grammar and sentence structure if it makes life easier for you. And maybe, if you really wanted, you could teach other people your own rules. But eventually, your ability to touch others stops; your own personal influence can only carry you so far before you need your product (be it music, words, writing, whatnot) to speak for itself.

And for the records, I guarantee you that Owl City, despite being hugely popular now, will not be a band that people will look back upon when they think "the turn of the decade". There's just no way. Not if they don't resolve their chords.

For the record, I actually really like the Owl City album. Garbage lyrics and non-resolved-chords be damned.

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Jonathan posted at 9:05 PM - Comments (1)



On motivating students
Sunday, November 15, 2009

Last month, I began my placement using reasoning that I believed would motivate kids outside of what they had to do for marks. I told them that e.e. cummings’ “i carry your heart with me” could win them any love interest; I told them that their Twitter musings were poetic and that their Facebook profiles were really character profiles of themselves. What I learned in my practicum was that while the above would win over some of the most skeptical of Canadian students, these particular ESL students just didn’t care about those abstractions—they cared about getting marks. To them, a Facebook page would never get them into university, and they had a very difficult time connecting to material that wouldn’t help them get 95%.

The fact that I modified the motivation I gave them does not mean that I believe they are correct in being disdainful or what they see as abstractions; far from it. I will still mention the importance and relevance of the material in English classes to the outside world. However, after all of my careful crafting of interesting, creative activities to test comprehension, to my chagrin, the kids reveled in being given a quiz. So I decided that instead of fighting them, I would continue to give them activities that tested more than their skills at memorization, but remind them that learning and practicing the (to them) less traditional ways of showing their knowledge and understanding of a book would still get them marks and help them in university.

I suppose over the course of my practica in undergrad I got the idea that every lesson had to be wildly creative and fascinating to my students; that everything the students learned had to connect to them on a completely personal level. In that process, I forgot what it felt to be in grade 12, panicking about being accepted into my program and university of choice. These students do look to the teacher to tell them what skills and knowledge will help as they enter the world of academia, so I have begun to give them concrete, detailed reasons as to why they should learn what I teach instead of why they would want to learn it.

In reality, the students were motivated to learn the specific expectations I was teaching them(in one particular case, how to debate) because they knew that they would have to actually use those skills in a summative assignment the week after, and because they knew that in university, they would often be called upon to substantiate their answers in class and come up with rebuttals to their classmates' points. The kids really responded to that and worked very hard on the assignments I gave them. I did still mention, however, that my friends and I enjoyed many hours spent debating and discussing issues that had come up in class or in the reading of a newspaper article, and that with these skills, they might do the same (and perhaps already did). So in the end I integrated some parts of my former teaching philosophy with my newfound method of motivation. 

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Courtney posted at 10:47 PM - Comments (1)