Why is naming important?

Walking in Thailand

I’ve been re-reading and re-wondering. Lately my research has made me question my colonial attitudes and wether a sense of place idea is overtly colonial at all. This all led me back to Raffan (1993) who talks about this idea of toponymie or how powerful it is if we name things.

At his point in my research I’m looking at interviewing my teaching partner and myself, both of us are colonial in some aspect, although from different cultures. And in Singapore both of our languages are dominant (even though neither are local). It got me to thinking how important it is to really name a place and according to who?

If naming is important, and naming can establish a sense of place, I guess I wonder who gets to name something, who can change the name, and how do those names gain power. Our colonial aspects here in Singapore have had us change names pretty frequently, and we have lost what we thought were the original names for places (from what I understand). Recently in Singapore, I feel like we have also just started acknowledging the Orang Laut people, which makes me wonder what their names for things are.

Anyway, it’s an old article but, my recent readings brought me back.

Raffan, J. (1993). The Experience of Place: Exploring Land as Teacher. ERIC Online, 16(1), 39-45

Still re-reading

Wow, this is probably the fourth time going through all my lit review papers (well the original ones). It’s amazing what you miss or don’t pick up the first couple of times. When you really get deep into what the papers say (and not what you want them to say) there is a lot of information missing at times. Or the idea is just assumed, or it isn’t researched well enough.

It’s an interesting process, but hoping to have more written than just research notes sometime soon.

Bringing some outdoors indoors

Being a place based educator is usually pretty incredible, during a pandemic there have been a few challenges.

So as a class we have started to bring some of our favourite plants indoors. This started in our civilisations unit, when we created our own civilisation that would represent us. The students, maybe picking up from me, have taken a biophillia approach to life. They love having the plants in and they started to think that plants represented our civilisation.

This led to students bringing different plants in, and now we have plants all over the classroom. It gives us a lot to think about scientifically, how much light or water do they need, how can we make things to support our plants. So far we have LED cardboard light rooms for the night for certain plants, we have different types of soil and we are experimenting with composting plant material. It’s been heaps of fun.

While there have been some challenges connecting to our community, we are doing our best to still connect to our environment.

Teaching Community

re-reading bell hooks

Reading bell hooks again, it seems like when I hit a block with the dissertation research I get back into some kind of critical or feminist theory, fun times for sure.

bell hooks has been someone who has intrigued me for ages, I love reading what she has to say, but this book has been specifically intriguing.

With all the recent (or ongoing, depending on who you read I suppose) talk about anti-racist teaching, I feel like hooks has been trying to address this for decades. Most of what she feels it the antidote for racism is love.

As a classroom teacher, I think the beginning of love is understanding and empathizing. It is crucial for us as teachers to know as much about our kids as we can. The more we know, the more we can relate, the more we can understand where the students are coming from, the more, hopefully, we will be able to show genuine love.

There are some great observations in the book that make me think pretty consistently. She has asked many people (of all races and genders) how often they sit down and have informal talks with black women. Another great thought she confronts people with is, “if you could come back as any person a white male, a white female, a black male or a black female, who would you come back as?” While many people feel like they are not racist, not many people would first choose a black female (from her research anyway).

As always while reading bell hooks I have been deeply challenged about how I view the world and am reflecting about how I can work to make my classroom a little more full of love and understanding (I feel like I missed the opportunity for an Elvis Costello quotation there).

Place Based Learning

Chinatown is a bit empty these days

While my role has slightly shifted my focus on using place to enhance our learning has not. This unit we are looking into how artifacts can help us understand civilisations and societies. It’s pretty exciting because I’ve been telling all kinds of Singapore folk stories.

While we can’t go out to the sites, I’ve been using video, pictures and stories to connect people to the land. While most of my class (all but one) has been here for at least two years, so many students haven’t heard of any of Singapore’s stories. It’s always surprising (even though it shouldn’t be really).

So, the plan is, I’ve started with stories, pictures and video. Today we had a guest speaker who is an archaeologist video conference to tell us about the way archaeology is done here, and some of the findings they have discovered. For the next couple of weeks we will be looking at things that represent the individuals and to finish off the unit we want to think about the things that describe us as a class, here and now. I want them to be able to focus on who we are and where we are in place and time. I’m hoping we can make a little class civilisation that will focus our learning a little more as the year goes on.

Relationships through social distancing

First couple of weeks have been going pretty well. Being back in the classroom is pretty exciting (since I can’t go out and explore with the kids). I’ve been working and wondering on how to build positive relationships in this new world.

Normally, as humans we rely so much on non-verbal communication, and wearing a mask and keeping our distance makes things like this harder. As a class we’ve been wondering about how to create a community in this new world. We haven’t come to any conclusions yet but I’ll list some of our questions.

  • How can we understand how people are feeling when we can’t see their mouths.
  • How can we help if we can’t be so close.
  • How can we respect other people’s need to be in a quiet place if we have to be louder to talk through our masks.

Back in class

Wow, wild summer.

We’re back in class right now, working on social distancing, thinking about what learning looks like when we have to be a little further away from each other. It’s strange to go against instincts to get kids talking, learning together, wondering with each other. It’s strange not being able to go out right now, staying inside, wearing masks, but I guess this is just a strange time (until we get used to it).

The kids, as always, seem to be flexible and want to learn. They understand things are different and are looking to us for ways of being. So I’m trying to stay calm and model alternative ways of knowing and being, while always stressing that I’m still learning myself.

I wonder if that’s all we should be doing in these times anyway. Acknowledging that things are new, wondering and negotiating ways of being in this new world, and looking for ways to make things a little more better where we can.

The happiness lab podcast has really been helping. Thinking about the brain and how it works, helps us to deal with these situations a little better. Hopefully we can keep it going.

Opening back up?

Ramona isn’t really sure if she’s ready to go back out.

It’s been strange hey? We’ve been living this life for the last little while where we shouldn’t really interact with others. Now we’re slowly opening back up, and I think there’s still some uncertainty about how and who to reconnect.

School is strange because of this, I think more so for PYP teachers. We’ve been encouraged to have interactive lessons, lots of group work, thinking and sharing. My particular job is taking kids outside, exploring, asking questions to community members, and then we couldn’t and now… who knows?

I’m not sure how other people are coping with this. If schools are offering counselling for teachers about anxiety, if there is a solid plan in place, if there are options for different approaches. I know this situation has caught everyone off guard, but is anyone doing it really well? Are there big plans for going back into school? Are we all sure of how to handle more kids around? How do we convince kids it is safe now, when we said it wasn’t before? How do we prepare kids for a future that is more like what it is like now?

Anyway, lots of things to think about before we come back in August, lots of different things to prepare, lots of different things to wonder about.

Exploring with Grade 1

We’ve been trying to get some of our younger learners more involved outside while being stuck inside. It’s not super easy, but we’ve been looking at this idea of the world as our zoo. While we are stuck inside we can pretend that we are looking into wildlife preserves outside.

We are looking at different connections, having kids draw environments and discussing what they can see and how things are connected. The main thing I find is we have to work harder at making connections as teachers. While the kids aren’t near us, we have to check in a little more and make those connections more meaningful if possible. Stop worrying so much about the academic side and start thinking more about the personal side. I’ve received some awesome images from kids regarding their discoveries and it’s made my day.