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betterteachingfromthinkng

I'm a better teacher now from thinking about my own language learning

February 22, 2024

Let me tell you about me learning English, my first language, and Spanish, my additional language. I want to tell you how my experiences made me a better ESL teacher in particular. (But I can testify that it changed everything about how I taught, regardless of the subject matter.) 

I think I was quick to learn to speak, and was rather articulate at a young age. I also learned to read early, starting at age three. I remember playing with words and sentences even as a small child, making puns and asking adults for clarification. I used to assign words to the objects I saw around me, manipulating them for fun.

When I began to learn the alphabet and sounds, I found great delight at finding similarities and differences in words and word families. Later, as I began to read aloud and do oral presentations in public, I soon learned how to do so with fluency, cadence, and expression because I enjoyed it and also knew it was important. To this day, it is one of the most important things in my life,  and one of the things I’m best at.

(Allow me to briefly insert here that I am totally incompetent in science. I can do math, but I must work hard at it. My handwriting is terrible, and I cannot play sports. My strong points are with language and the Performing Arts, and also with the ability to help people make connections from concept to concept.) [Hence creating this website]) 

I began learning Spanish officially at age eleven when I was in junior high, using a grammar-based textbook, which I enjoyed at the time. I was delighted by the fact that I was learning a new language. I was also thrilled about it because I enjoyed grammar and vocabulary patterns. Most of my formal language learning after that point revolved around explicit instruction in grammar and vocabulary structure. I became adept at it. (It is really important to pause here to point out, however, that this method is not appropriate for most second language learners. As a result, I’ve committed myself as a teacher not to use that method with ELLs!) Eventually, for me, it was not until I began interacting with native Spanish speakers that verbal fluency really began. True, my grammatical knowledge kicked in, including complex conjugation patterns, because of how I’m wired (again, not typical for most people). This was fortunate for me. It was a combination of formal patterns and informal spoken exchange that gave me the boost I needed to grow exponentially in Spanish. There's an article on the audio lingual method forthcoming.

But now I keep in mind the reality that people learn languages in very different ways. I will never assume that my learning style will be my students’. In fact, it’s pretty likely that it isn’t.

In any case, my experiences in first and second language learning informed my teaching methods considerably. Although the specifics of my learning Spanish have equipped me substantially to teach English to Spanish speakers. I am able to use my perspective to teach ELLS of other languages. At various points in my teaching career I taught English to speakers of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean and many other languages, too. I do not speak Japanese, Chinese, or Korean-- all languages which have little similarity to English, but nevertheless I know how to apply second language principles to teach these ELLs effectively. Many learners have a strong accent when speaking English, or struggle with incorrect subject-verb agreement, the inappropriate use of prepositional phrases (is the dog on the bed or in the bed?) or idioms, or inverted word order in sentences. I myself can usually tell when native speakers of one language translate directly from it to English but do not choose the correct word appropriate for the context. I am able to spot mistakes and identify the cause. This insight allows me to know how to help a student overcome the error, which I have found to be helpful.

Learning a new language is not easy, especially under certain conditions. It's not uncommon for native English speakers to think that learning English is easy because it comes easily to them. I always need to remember that things that come easily to one person because of natural gifting, life experience, or environment may not come easily to another person because of the same reasons.

I also need to take into account how each student is affected by his home and school life, his confidence level, how much of his first language he has learned and whether he has learned to read in it, and how much of the second language he already knows (and whether I must simplify wording or use visual cues and so on).

Even when I know the basics of a person's background and current situation, I still can't always know what's going on inside. Why is he struggling? Why is he quiet? Is he scared? Embarrassed? Have an issue at home or work? Feel intimidated by the teacher or classmates? Can’t understand my directions? Have a particular learning style? Am I talking too fast?!? 

I can't know all that affects his learning, but I can press on patiently, helping him develop and grow.

One major turning point in my own learning was when I unexpectedly fell into the role as principal translator and mediator for a group of 44 Americans doing mission work in Mexico. My prior knowledge and foundation – with my dictionary constantly by my side –forced me to grow more quickly than I ever expected!

When I began traveling to Spanish-speaking countries or hosting visitors, I found that that was when I began to grow exponentially in my fluency. I used the grammatical and vocabulary structures that were so important and foundational in my early years (and which I still add to as I can). But I also gained fluency in idioms, synonyms, cultural variations, and nuances never to be found in formal  classroom training.

For me, in large part due to my personality and learning style, the formal, methodical, direct instruction of Spanish vocabulary and grammatical structures were absolutely necessary for my foundation, but my growth in becoming now truly bilingual could never have occurred without real world experiences. So, I would say for me, even the contrived audio-lingual method was effective for me as my foundation, but my real world  immersion was more powerful than my classroom experience ever could be.

learningteachingfaith

Learning, teaching, and faith as I live it

February 9, 2024

 

I am not religious. 

Nonetheless, learning and faith have long been integrated in my life. My faith in God propels me to seek out understanding of the world and my place in it. I am convinced that God is the Author of all creation and has established man's place in it. I like to apply Proverbs 25:2 to faith and  learning: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of  kings is to search out a matter.” God has laid many mysteries in the earth and in the life of man. I believe it pleases Him when man, the crown of His creation, uncovers and makes sense of the mysteries, and seeks to order his life according to what he understands, responding in faith in the Creator. This is how I conduct my own learning, and how I lead the students that I teach. 

For this reason, exercising my Christian faith in education is important to me. As people “search out a matter” in the many disciplines of study, they uncover the truth found within, and become equipped to move through the world in faith, particularly if they are believers, using what they learn. Their faith propels them to learn more in order to serve better. And learning, in turn, increases their faith in the  Creator who established reality.  

Whatever structure of study in a learning environment, if it is shaped by faith, whether overt or intrinsic, it makes room for students to explore learning in the truth.

I have a long history in both Christian and secular education of all age groups, and in my teaching I have as my default a moral compass, a moral framework from which to present any content.  It does not by any means need to include so-called religious content or vocabulary. In fact, I personally believe that sprinkling (or pouring)in Christian vocabulary,and especially Christianese, distracts the learner from accessing truth. I highly value the opportunities to help students learn content and skills, but especially to lead them to make intellectual, spiritual, and  practical connections in what they learn. My classroom is also a welcoming environment where students can feel safe as they face the challenges of growing academically, personally, and spiritually. 

NegativeLabels

Negative labels: How do they impact the academic success of a student?

January 23, 2024

Outlook and attitude – toward self or another person – can make or break a person's success in life. This is certainly true in education. Let's consider how labels can affect the academic achievement of a student.

People can certainly make themselves believe one thing or another about themselves, for good or for ill. The issue of negative labeling or pigeonholing a student according to ability, disability, cultural, socioeconomic status, etc., is a matter to ponder seriously. A teacher can label a student, peers can label a student, and the student can label himself. This can permanently affect the student's academic progress throughout all his school years. Sometimes a label (usually a derogatory one, but sometimes one that is well-meaning but damaging) can give the child a predisposed attitude of whether he will amount to anything in school. In other words, the label itself can cause a child to believe he cannot rise above his characteristics or difficulties.  A wise teacher and an alert parent, too perhaps, can be on the lookout for other defeatist attitudes in the child and encourage him to move beyond them and to think positively about his progress. The teacher or parent can use optimistic vocabulary to affirm a child's worth despite status, disability, or difficulty. Success, too, can beget success. Focusing on past successes can motivate a child to strive for future ones. And if a child has failed in a goal, the encouraging teacher or parent can give him small steps to take so a small but immediate success can occur.

Naturally, a positive or negative attitude on the part of the teacher can make a big difference in the school success of a child with struggles. I remember when I was beginning to teach singing to a young man. He squawked out a bad note one time, and I made a face. I immediately noticed a sagging countenance as he processed my discouragement. Of course this was not an actual disability he had, but it did relate directly to a physical limitation at the moment. I look back now and realize with regret that his progress was not as it could have been. (Without making excuses for myself, as I have just confessed my shortcomings,  I want to say I am also grieving the presence of a bad early influence in my life when it came to being an educator. I had to relearn everything.)

Over the years as I taught students in various difficult subjects (like vocal music or learning a new language), I began to notice that my negative attitude and scolding disposition was not helping anyone. I then had an epiphany and turned over a new leaf. I made a deliberate effort to praise and encourage, even when there was only small progress, such as learning a new grammar concept in Spanish. Now adult students in particular often tell me  they feel very encouraged by my instruction. I have noticed a good bit of progress in them, and I am ashamed that it took me as long as it did to realize that a positive attitude  and words can make a lot of difference.

As teachers or parents, we can help students overcome their negative view of themselves in relationship to school by using positive words and behaviors and avoiding destructive labels. We can speak kindly, expect the best, forgive and communicate that a classroom problem is related to behavior and not personal worth, and treat students with respect. Teachers in particular can also give students opportunities to succeed in their lessons by offering suggestions for reaching goals, adjusting the workload for students with learning disabilities, recognizing achievements, modeling correct responses and procedures, acknowledging cultural differences in values and beliefs and ways of accomplishing tasks, offering instruction in morals, and more.

 

Follow up questions and activities

  • Do you have positive memories of being affirmed as a student?

  • If so, what words did you hear a teacher or a mentor affirm you with? What long-term effect did this have on your life?

  • What negative memories do you have of being corrected as a student? What words did you hear as you were being corrected, if any ?

  • After reading this article and answering some of the questions, please take time to informally evaluate your own practice when working with students. Are there certain speech patterns that you want to be sure to use when affirming a student regardless of their age?

  • Are there certain speech patterns that you want to be sure to avoid when correcting a student, regardless of the age? 

 

Discussion group of educators

Perhaps you can role play scenarios of how to affirm a student when he does something poorly. You can choose a scenario such as a voice lesson, a sports lesson, a math lesson, etc. 

If you feel comfortable with your discussion group, you might share some of the negative corrections you faced in your own school years. What word choices did you find to be the most problematic? What forms of affirmation did you experience even when you performed poorly in a lesson or activity? What difference did that make in your life?

lnguistic diversity

My momentary encounter with the impact of linguistic diversity on special education

January 18, 2024

If you are an educator, no doubt you know that special education is a broad field of education that includes students with physical, mental, and/or emotional disabilities, or other exceptional characteristics such as giftedness and talent. It requires that a student first be evaluated as needing special education, then be given a plan for the sequence of her education as meeting her specific needs and situation. The people involved are the child, her family, and the professionals responsible for providing services.

But cultural and linguistic diversity has brought an added dimension to special education, especially due to an increase in languages spoken in the schools, in that many children have specific educational needs because their culture and/or native language differs from that in the school setting. Some professionals estimate that there is an unrealistic proportion of special education students from another culture or language and are there because of that difference and not because of a disability. They believe it is necessary to take cultural and linguistic differences into account when determining special education needs, partially to avoid inappropriately labeling students that need only language help, such as ESL classes, or cultural acclimation, and partially to avoid using funding that could and should be spent on educating students with actual disabilities.

Along those lines let me share  a little experience  I had while subbing at a public high school.

 I was filling in for the special education resource teacher who provides support classes for special needs students for some of their specific academic classes. She would usually go over the lessons and assignments with them, helping them as necessary. But it was two days before Christmas break, so most of the students did not have any assignments to work on, and mainly just sat in the room chatting, which she said was to be expected on that day. One group was composed mainly of hispanic students, mostly immigrants, who sat together in the back of the room chatting and joking. (I happen to have a lot of personal and professional experience with hispanics and love the language and culture.) Now, I am a very fair-skinned woman; no one ever expects me to speak Spanish. One girl asked me,  “Are you used to being around a bunch of Spanish-speaking kids?” I smiled and said, “Well, I taught English in Guatemala, so I guess so.” They thought that was cute, and we all began speaking in Spanish together. That broke the cultural ice, and the girl who first spoke up took it upon herself  to point out all the kids in the room,  telling me what each of them was “there for,” meaning their disabilities. But a couple of them throughout their conversation were unknowingly revealing that they felt their presence in the support room was based mainly on the fact that they spoke Spanish and were immigrants. I assume that the school district had placed the students there because they needed special help and not because they were immigrants. They have a large hispanic student population, and they are certainly not all in special education. But I did find it interesting that the students themselves felt at least to some degree that it was for cultural and linguistic reasons that they were there.

As an ESL professional, I believe it is important to take cultural and linguistic differences into thorough consideration before automatically classifying students for special education. Numerous assessments, both formal and informal, need to be done first. I predict that as the United States becomes more culturally diverse, schools will hire bilingual, multicultural teachers to help modify the education of these students. Perhaps special education, as we have known it, will be reserved for students with disabilities, and culturally- and linguistically-modified programs will be created.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 19, 2023 

How do we define and measure success in a class of students at various levels of learning and backgrounds? Whose responsibility is it to ensure that all students are achieving at the highest level? 

Defining success in learning needs to be done by first deciding what content and skills students will master. In today's schools, this is done by means of selected standards that are implemented which dictate the material taught, but not the method of teaching. Therefore, teachers who care about student mastery of material need to know the standards for what to teach, evaluate individual students' learning levels and backgrounds, and, accordingly, choose pedagogical methods that will aid each student in achieving success. 

Because a classroom can easily include students with a variety of levels of learning and background, particularly in classes with ELLs, it is necessary for teachers to choose teaching and assessment methods to meet the needs of all students. This requires careful planning and ongoing reflection on the teacher's part. She needs to choose multiple modalities and encounters for students to interface with the content, likewise a variety of ways to assess understanding. The variety of modalities take into consideration a variety of learning levels, styles, and backgrounds. Some examples of presenting words include  displaying them in print enhanced by diagrams, backed up by sound or pronunciation, or found in contextual sentences. Learners can draw a word web, discuss with a partner, point and demonstrate, manipulate vocabulary in sentences, list key words, describe, and so on. In assessment, students with advanced proficiency can, for example, complete a quiz that includes questions followed by blank lines. Those with lower proficiency can have the same questions (or worded somewhat more simply, if necessary), followed by answer lines that open with a prompt that the students finish themselves. Or, some can write complete sentences while others write key phrases with simple drawings, depending on content.

The ESL teacher has the primary responsibility of ensuring that her students achieve at the highest level possible. There are many methods of instruction and assessment in the teacher's toolbox as she considers the learning needs of each student. It cannot entirely rest upon her, though, as it is not fully in her power to overcome insurmountable obstacles that her ELLs may bring to school – duress in immigration, socioeconomic factors, home life, L1 literacy proficiency, and so on. 

I do not wish to perpetuate the one-size-fits-all teaching style of my childhood school years. Instead,  I  recommend assuming the role of understanding students' backgrounds and learning levels to effectively draw on their assets and strengthen their weaknesses.

Defining and measuring ELL success in a mixed classroom 

diverse students in a classroom
Anchor 3
Anchor 1
Writing on the Board

The basic anatomy of a lesson

November 29, 2023

If we were to break the structure of a lesson into its simplest parts, we might be able to simplify it down to just a few simple elements. Lessons can take on any degree of complexity or simplicity, of course. But perhaps let’s  take a look at just some basic elements that may be effective to include during instruction time. 

The opening teaser

To stimulate interest you can think of a quick opening question related to the lesson you're about to present. For example, if you are about to begin reading the book Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, you might prepare a quick-write such as "What is one advantage and one disadvantage of living forever?" 

Or if you are about to study vocabulary for units of foods, also called particles, that each food  comes in, you might ask students to brainstorm the names of particles: a dozen eggs, a can of beans, a quart of milk, a piece of cake, a bag of flour

First encounter with the lesson topic 

While the students are working on the opening teaser, you can put the lesson agenda on the board for the students to see while they finish. Then you can direct their attention to the agenda. Don't hide it unless you have a  logistical reason to do so. Cluing students in to the plan has several benefits.  

Firstly, the more encounters the students have with the words and wording of the lesson the more it will become familiar to them, kind of like building in temporary prior knowledge. To build on as you move through the lesson, another benefit is that the students will feel like you trust them rather than hiding something from them as though they are mischief makers. Trust begets trustworthiness. Thirdly, when they see and hear you using the wording from the lesson agenda and encouraging them to do so as well, they have a better chance at taking ownership of it. Knowledge is power, and power leads to ownership of application.

The instruction

At this point you present the material that you wish your students to master using whatever format or style you believe is good.

Cognitive processing time during instruction

Remember to give students thinking, sorting, and processing time so they don’t become swamped with lesson material.

Using questions regulated by wait time 

Do you know about the principle of wait time? Wait time has been a pedagogical mainstay for several decades now, and there's still a very good reason to use it.

Here's how to employ wait time in the midst of a lesson. One possible way to start using wait time is to tell the students that for the next few minutes we're going to think about questions pertaining to the lesson. You can consider  the types of questions: introductory questions, mid-lesson content questions, or post-lesson inferencing or application questions. You might also want to include several questions from Bloom's taxonomy. You can use your judgment about what kinds of questions to ask to achieve your objectives.

Prepare students for their processing by letting them know that you are going to ask a question and then wait a few seconds, and they are not to answer until you say they can. This will give students a chance to think about the sides of each question.

Caution about wait time

Resist the urge to jump in because of discomfort with silence. At this stage in your lesson silence is your best friend. Very often the students’ insight surfaces at the tail end of the silence. Don't preempt it by breaking the silence.

Resist the urge to explain everything. Some teachers worry that if they don't fill in the space with expected words that the students will not arrive at The Answer. They are not quite trusting the students to work cognitively or metacognitively.  And if the student arrives at the answer herself, more or less, she has a better chance of understanding and retaining it. Allowing students sufficient time to think through a matter also builds confidence. Furthermore, a teacher jumping in  while the students are supposed to be thinking on their own may scuttle the whole mission; some students may be waiting for the teacher to answer for them. If the teacher has demonstrated a discomfort with silence, it may result in dependence upon the teacher's imminent answer. Wait time may be so familiar and simple for many teachers so as to dismiss it as a viable processing technique. But don't let familiarity breed contempt; resist the temptation to overlook this simple but effective tool.

You can also foster cognitive processing by posing a question and then directing students to the Turn and Talk method. In case you are unfamiliar with Turn and Talk, it simply means that students are in pairs or threes and they turn and talk with each other about possible answers to the question that you posed. There are many, many more processing techniques that students can use to grapple with lesson content. To learn more, you might try doing an Internet search for scaffolding techniques, Turn and Talk  for cognitive processing.

Assessment

Assessment is a tool for the teacher to find out what the students have learned and what they may need to revisit.

There are many forms of assessment that you can use for that purpose. Each kind of assessment has its own purpose. consider these.

  • Formative — Checking for understanding through feedback

  • Summative — Determining what was learned by the end of a finite segment of learning 

  • Essay — Students write an essay by responding to a prompt

  • Demonstrative task — Students perform a task to demonstrate skill or understanding 

Evaluating Our Learning

Do you think because  the class had instruction followed by an assessment that you are finished with your lesson?  Even though you have put a lot into this lesson, it might not have its lasting effect unless the class has had an opportunity to evaluate the learning process in this lesson. This last component of the lesson is for the students' benefit, not necessarily the teacher’s. Wise teachers can give the students a self-reflective question or task to ensure the ownership that is so vital to learning.

One method that many teachers consider is something like an exit ticket. An exit ticket is one last simple task for the students to respond to about  the lesson before the students leave class. There are many styles of exit tickets with many purposes. you can consider the style and purpose of the exit ticket you might want to use to conclude your lesson. Here is one example: "I connected with[this part of the lesson]  because… I didn't quite connect with[that part of the lesson] because…"

Another possible exit ticket could say, "I still have questions about[ this part of the lesson]".

At this concluding point in your lesson you may wish to end with a summary statement of the main point of the lesson. And it will go a long way if you also affirm your students' hard work in the task of the day!

meaninfulaccomplishments

My most meaningful accomplishments in the college classroom

diana teaching

December 1, 2023

The accomplishments in the college classroom that positively impacted my students the most were not  lessons, but rather that of building confidence in the hearts of my students.

College Writing  1

Firstly, I taught a composition class filled mainly with students who had failed the class earlier or who had come from the remedial class. These students already felt dumb, and expected to continue to be in my class. On the first day, I faced this challenge head on with the principal strategies of revealing to them that I liked and respected them already, I loved English, I knew they could do it, I planned on having fun, and we were going to work hard without excuses. Those strategies dealt with character and attitude.

Likewise, I worked methodically at building their writing skills with manageable lessons in sentence structure, crafting a thesis statement (and underlining it so they knew they had one), choosing (and eliminating) supporting details, organizing, editing, and so on. I designed useful, interesting activities for them to do with partners, while I circulated. It was more enjoyable for them (not rote or boring), built their skills, was measurable work they could succeed in, and gave them the opportunity to give and receive respect and helpful input from each other.

As part of each major assignment, I gave them benchmarks with due dates that broke the task into parts. The step before the final due-date was the Rough Draft Workshop in which students critiqued their essay in class with a partner (following an enthusiastic lesson on the etiquette of peer reviewing). Though their grade suffered if they came unprepared, they cared even more about disappointing their partner. We, with my confidence-building strategies, had built a strong learning community of respecting each other and learning skills together. After the final exam, I received a note from one, “I appreciate the way you taught and gave back clear corrections on our paper. Writing was my most difficult class last semester and this term it was my favorite and one of the easiest to learn. Thank you.”

Spanish 2 

The second success that was important to me was when I taught a Spanish 2 class that happened to have as one of its members a native Spanish speaker. I need to confess to you that I am not fully fluent in Spanish. However, I am very comfortable with my understanding of basic Spanish grammar and vocabulary and have my own signature style when teaching. I taught the first few levels of Spanish to students of all ages for years  and I consistently received feedback that they enjoyed my class and they learned a lot.

 Nevertheless, it gave me pause when I learned that one of my new students was a native speaker of Spanish. So the first thing I did after getting this young lady's name was to give myself a silent pep talk. ”Okay, Diana, pull yourself together. You know what you're doing. This is one of your favorite things in the world to do. Why would it be any different simply because a native speaker of Spanish is looking to you to fulfill a language requirement? Just do what you always do. Be yourself.

Be kind, be accepting, be yourself.“ So I did.

As usual I explained things in my own signature way. I answered questions and I gave students an opportunity to practice conversation with one another. And I almost didn't notice when the native Spanish- speaking young lady was enthusiastically doing the exercises and conversation practice with her Korean -speaking class partner (The two of them worked very well together). And I almost missed it:  this student was peppering me with questions about vocabulary and grammar. and most times she would say to me with her beautiful brown eyes wide with  the joy of new discovery, ”Oh, wow I didn't know that!”

At the end of the semester this student, whom I had grown to love and appreciate, came up to me and gave me a big hug, telling me that now there were some elements of Spanish vocabulary and grammar that she really didn't know until now. She thanked me for making things clear in a new way. 

Regarding these two accomplishments, I knew I had succeeded when the quality of their writing and Spanish skills improved and their grades rose; the confidence I had built in them produced better writers or masters of a language. But a more meaningful indication to me was that their confidence and self-respect had grown.

Okay, so I am organized in lesson planning and teaching. But that's not the secret to my success.

 My most effective strategy was I believed in them.

Rock

The Rock in the Driveway: A True Fable

Anchor 2

November 26, 2023

We lived in the house that my husband and brothers had spent their entire childhood in. The driveway was a narrow dirt lane created by decades of cars coming and going on it.

Near the mouth of the driveway slept a medium-sized rock. Nature had placed this rock near the side of the dirt driveway. The rock bore as its prominent feature a small but obstinate point near the top. Due to the position of the point, whenever a car entered or exited the driveway, the wheels always rolled over the small but obstinate point and made a bump…bump sound  and jostled the occupants of the car.

So, day after day, trip after trip, year after year, car tires rolled over the small but obstinate point.  It wasn't dangerous. It wasn't a threat to the car. It was merely annoying. To me at least as a relative newcomer; the people that grew up in that house had grown accustomed to the bump…bump, bump…bump. 

 I decided to approach my husband about it. He said, “Yeah, that rock has always been there.”

 “Doesn't it bother you going bump…bump  every time you pull your car in or out?”

“I guess. but that's the way it's always been.”

One day my husband's older brother was visiting. They were hanging out chatting in the driveway. I had just driven home from somewhere, and when they heard bump…bump, they looked at me. 

I got out of the car and walked down the driveway and  greeted them and exchanged pleasantries…Then, “Um, do you think you guys could please move this rock out of the driveway for me?” My husband gave a little laugh.  “Diana, that rock has been in the driveway for at least 50 years.”

I was not to be deterred.  “Well, there are two of you men here. How about one of you just take one side and the other the other? I bet you could get it out in a jiffy.” 

Now it was my brother-in-law’s turn to laugh. “ Diana, can't you see that rock goes all the way down to China?”. My husband nodded in agreement.

(When we were little we were convinced that if we dug down deep enough into the earth we would go all the way down to China because our teachers said that China was about halfway around the world from where we lived. The two men were tapping into our childhood lore with that remark.)

I gave up. 

“Okay, have it your way. I will do it myself!” I ignored the smirks of  bemused skepticism that the two brothers exchanged with each other as I picked up a strong stick that happened to be lying near the side of the driveway not far from The Rock That Went All The Way Down To China. I noticed a small gap under The Rock and pushed the stick in. I, who was not very large, wiggled and lifted, lifted and wiggled the stick under The Rock and without grunting or straining, made it move about 4 inches. By now the two brothers, who had been chatting while I had been engaged thus with The Rock, fell silent and watched the proceedings, stunned, as I grasped The Rock by its small but obstinate point and rocked it ,then rolled it over until it fell outside the driveway out into the grass and out of the way until it cleared the spot where the car used to go bump…bump..

 Out of the corner of my eye I saw my husband and  brother-in-law staring at me open- mouthed. Ignoring them, I wiped the dirt from my hands onto my jeans and walked straight into the house.

Moral: Not every rock goes all the way down to China.

Followup activities to The Rock in the Driveway: A True Fable

For students

Story questions for discussion or writing 

Did The Rock really go all the way down to China? What can we learn from answering that question?

  • What might the Rock symbolize?

  • What might have been an outcome if Diana had given up convincing the men to move the Rock?

  • What are some possible outcomes of adhering to the principle” It's always been that way,especially, but not limited to a family dynamic? 

  • How might the story be different if the brother-in-law were replaced by a neighbor?

 

Personal reflection questions 

  • Is there any difficulty in your life that you believe is a rock that goes all the way down to China? What steps can you take once you have identified that mindset in your life? What resources are at your disposal?

  • Have you ever come up against the mindset it's always been that way?

  • Was it a positive or a negative mindset? 

  •  Is it possible that that situation can change despite It's always been that way? In other words, Must it continue to be that way. or is it impossible for it to change even with effort?

  • Look up the word proactive in the dictionary (even if you know what it means; there might be some information in the definition that will help you with the following questions). How does the word proactive pertain to the story ? and/or write a sentence using the word to describe what being proactive means to you personally.

For teachers

Dramatization of the story

  • To dramatize the story to prepare for discussion  or writing activities, you might want students to read the story aloud taking parts: Diana when she is speaking ,Diana when she is the narrator, Diana's husband, and the brother-in-law

  • How does taking parts in the story help you understand the difficulties of the mindsets, It's always been that way, and That rock goes all the way down to China?

 

Altering the story to achieve other objectives  

  • This is a true story. How would you as an educator change the story elements to teach values and principles to your students?

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