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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Why? Because I have the Capacity and no Alternative

The incredible Maya Angelou sat down with Oprah on Mother's Day to promote her recent book and to share the wisdom that naturally emanates from her.  Among the topics were her mother-- whom she describes as a terrible mother to young children but a wonderful mother to a young adult, her grandmother-- the woman she and her brother famously went to live with as young children in Stamps, Arkansas after Maya went mute at age 7, and also a bit about her uncle, residing with them in Stamps.  

The uncle part was new to me. One of the things that draws me to watching something on Oprah's OWN network is that I agree with her philosophy of learning from all that we do: "Treat your life like a class...", she can often be heard reciting.  Because I so emphatically agree, I often watch Masterclass on OWN (new episodes air Sundays at 9) which sits down some type of celebrity that has made an impression on the viewer, the industry, or the world and allows the to speak freely about the road they've traveled to become accomplished and wise (the series began with an hour discussion with rapper Jay-Z and has included the likes of Tom Brokaw, Jane Fonda, and Morgan Freeman). 

When I first saw Maya Angelou's Masterclass, I remember how awestruck I was, just sitting in my living room after putting my daughter to bed hoping for an hour to relax. I absolutely adored her from the moment she began speaking. She is a person that exudes joy with her looks and her thoughts. She sings, writes, teaches, and speaks-- all admirable doings.  I heard her tell the story of her youth on Masterclass that quiet night, and knew I must read her books right away.  This was a woman that could add to my life's class.  This was a woman that even though I would never get to know her, she could teach me a lot about myself.  


I decided to read the infamous "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings", Maya's first book.  Sure enough, I found some inspiration within the first three chapters when Maya is telling an anecdote about her Uncle. She and her brother learned all their times tables "without understanding their grand principle, simply because we had the capacity and no alternative." She described how her Uncle Willie would sit and threaten them punishment if they answered incorrectly or hesitated too long. But that phrase: "capacity and no alternative" struck me.  
It is because phrases like that one exist in our students' minds each day at school that I feel so strongly that we must teach purpose.  Someone as inspirational and intelligent and kind as Maya Angelou grew up thinking she was only learning times table because she could.... Not because knowing them would serve her in any way in her extraordinary life.  Of course, we know the truth: she was learning her times tables so that she could efficiently solve the math that she would learn after and become proficient in using fractions and measurements and data analysis and probability.  However, the fact that she herself didn't not see any meaning in what she was learning beyond that she didn't want to be punished for getting a wrong answer, is a costly error made by her dear Uncle Willie as the teacher.  

With the Common Core State Standards emerging and being implemented, teachers will have to use Student Learning Objectives to present and track information about student learning.  It will, in a sense, force teachers to spend the time looking closely at content they may have been teaching for years and ask themselves the question: how can I teach this so kids will learn?


It's not like in college when you had a four page lesson plan document to turn in before you were observed in your student teaching and they just INSISTED you have a clear objective. As a college student with huge dreams, it was nearly impossible for me to get that specific.  But with CCSS AND SLOs the purpose will have to be well defined.  Students are no longer expected to be able to answer what a synonym for 'big' is-- they need to know that a synonym is a word that means the same as the given word and that they are useful in your own writing to make it interesting and in reading to help edit another persons work.  The way I think about it is, why am I teaching the kids this? And whatever reason I come up with, (I have to teach it so that they are able to ________) I give that reason/objective purpose to them. 

By the way, next time I am making notes for a post, it just might be from a new smart phone, since my upgrade approaches this month :) 
A shout out to Randy's Gadgets Blog for helping me in my decision for what to get next! 

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