The Scorpio Races captured my imagination through Stiefvater’s ability to transform the landscape and the natural elements into characters.
I have lived on an island for a long time, and I understand the unique sense of isolation that most islanders feel and that drive some away. Stiefvater draws on the isolation of the place to fuel the tension between characters. The conflict between Gabe and Puck is none other than the island of Thisby. Gabe has to get away. The island of Thisby, his home, is closing in on him. “This island […] That house you and Finn are in. People talking. The fish—goddamn fish, I’ll smell like them for the rest of my life. The horses. Everything. I can’t do it anymore” (38.69). But not every islander feels claustrophobic. Some need to stay because it’s their home, and they couldn’t bear leaving. Maybe it’s a matter of loyalty or maybe some just fit where they are. Puck will stay.
I didn’t actually realize there wasn’t much to the island until a few years ago, when I started reading magazines. It doesn’t feel it to me, but Thisby’s tiny: four thousand people on a rocky crag jutting from the sea, hours from the mainland. It’s all cliffs and horses and sheep and one-track roads winding past treeless fields to Skarmouth, the largest town on the island. The truth is, until you know any different, the island is enough.
Actually, I know different. And it’s still enough.
The island is not just the place where the characters are, but it is a force in their lives.
I also lived in the northern part of Canada where the natural elements not only cause inconvenience and make life hard, but they can actually kill you. Stiefvater describes a wind that tears ‘the mist to shreds’, acts “ruthless” (6), and “rips at [Puck’s] hair, pulling it out of [her] hair band and whipping the strands across [her] face” (46). This is the November wind fierce, cold, and deadly. But Thisby is an island and the ocean that surrounds it is also fierce, cold, and deadly. The ocean is not a neutral force. It has a relationship with the characters. Sean’s connection to the ocean is obvious.
The water is so cold that my feet go numb almost at once. I stretch my arms out to either side of me and close my eyes. I listen to the sound of water hitting water. The raucous cries of the terns and the guillemots in the rocks of the shore, the piercing, hoarse questions of the gulls above me. I smell seaweed and fish and the dusky scent of the nesting birds onshore. Salt coats my lips, crusts my eyelashes. I feel the cold press against my body. The sand shifts and sucks out from under my feet in the tide. I’m perfectly still. The sun is red behind my eyelids. The ocean will not shift me and the cold will not take me.
Ever present, natural elements are never to be underestimated or forgotten.
My first and deepest connection to this story was through its atmospheric writing. Stiefvater creates the setting in ways that are completely recognizable to me. I know this place. I have felt its November winds. And when I finished the book, I missed the place as much as I did the other characters.
Motivation is a slippery idea. We all aren’t motivated to do things in the same way. Heck, we’re not even motivated in the same way consistently in our own lives! One time I might be motivated to finish a task because there is an external reward, but another time I am motivated by the sense of satisfaction I get from a job well-done. Sometimes it seems that nothing can get me motivated.
How is it then that some people seem to have such high levels of motivation?
Many people think there is a connection between how much we are invested in the task, or how much we care about it, and our levels of motivation. I guess this make sense. The next question is how to find something to care about that much?
Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, believed that each of us is called to our own heroic journey. Not the running into the burning building to save the child kind of hero, but a kind of hero journey of our lives that transforms us and opens us up to our true selves. For Joseph Campbell, it’s not that we need to go out looking for ways to be a hero; we need to learn to answer the call.
Literature is full of examples of the heroic journey. Some like The Hobbit explicitly follow the pattern of the hero monomyth. Other stories only use parts of the cycle. As we work through Pay It Forward, consider how this lens, the hero’s journey, might apply.
What motivates Trevor? Did he answer the call?
One thing that I have come to value and understand at a deeper level because of [the IThink] practicum, is collaboration. There have been times when we had to work on our own and most of us realized as the months unfolded that silos are pretty useless. Our thinking is better when the experiences, deep thinking and reflections are shared. —Heidi Siwak, Ontario Educator
I am your teacher. You are my students.
I dislike these roles. They act to separate, isolate, and compartmentalize us. And everyone acts as if this is the way it should be.
I want us to have a different experience. I want us to feel the rush of each other’s insights and the weight of our collective thinking as we work together to first learn and then reflect on our newly acquired perspectives.
Imagine the possibilities!
As I create/construct/write this post, I am conscious that I do so in the present tense even though the semester and our time together is drawing to a close. I don’t want this reflection to be an end though. I want it to be a beginning…a beginning for all of us to consider what collaboration means and what we need to do differently the next time we are in a learning environment (which for some of us may be all the time and everywhere) to move towards working together to do the learning that we could not possibly do alone.
This semester I created opportunities for collaboration by:
- organizing seating in groups
- encouraging you to share your thinking with each other
- building in a peer review component for all writing/creating
- using the question formulation technique to help us generate relevant and meaningful questions
- having teachers model what small group discussion and collaboration can look like
- bringing outside voices in like Mr. Chris Baird
- doing the work with you like the poetry anthology and the re-framed blog
- providing many exemplars of learning
- holding a class read aloud of a common text
- conferencing with you
- blending our learning especially in Google Docs, but also with Mindomo
- encouraging self-direction and reflection
- building in metacognition
And yet, my voice dominated the space.
I don’t want to learn alone. I want to learn with you because your ideas, your questions, your challenges, your a-ha moments will not be the same as mine, and they will teach me.
Take a moment to reflect with me. What else do we need to do or to know that will move us along the collaboration continuum? What other types of support or strategies might you need to build your collaboration skills?
What does it mean to be “learning ready”? And why has this notion captured my imagination completely. I have decided to curate other’s thinking that in some way connects with what I am understanding to mean “Learning Ready.”
My thinking started here…
The Fisch-Richardson conversation via The Fischbowl: What options exist for our young people today beyond high school? What is the conversation that we should be having with our teens about their lives? How has the story of high school, college/university, job changed? In 2013, Karl Fisch thinks about how he can best support his kids (and his students) in thinking about their futures. Will Richardson joins the conversation with this comment that ends with the phrase “learning ready”.
From Seth Godin’s Blog of December 2010
The world’s worst boss
That would be you.
Even if you’re not self-employed, your boss is you. You manage your career, your day, your responses. You manage how you sell your services and your education and the way you talk to yourself.
Odds are, you’re doing it poorly.
If you had a manager that talked to you the way you talked to you, you’d quit. If you had a boss that wasted as much of your time as you do, they’d fire her. If an organization developed its employees as poorly as you are developing yourself, it would soon go under.
I’m amazed at how often people choose to fail when they go out on their own or when they end up in one of those rare jobs that encourages one to set an agenda and manage themselves. Faced with the freedom to excel, they falter and hesitate and stall and ultimately punt.
We are surprised when someone self-directed arrives on the scene. Someone who figures out a way to work from home and then turns that into a two-year journey, laptop in hand, as they explore the world while doing their job. We are shocked that someone uses evenings and weekends to get a second education or start a useful new side business. And we’re envious when we encounter someone who has managed to bootstrap themselves into happiness, as if that’s rare or even uncalled for.
There are few good books on being a good manager. Fewer still on managing yourself. It’s hard to think of a more essential thing to learn.
From David Prices’ post via MindShift March 23, 2015
This post moves towards a more concrete definition, or at least part of a definition, of what learning ready is. It provides a checklist of six “Do its”-motivators for learning socially-that schools need to integrate into their learning environments:
- Do it yourself
- Do it now
- Do it with friends
- Do it for fun
- Do unto others
- Do it for the world to see
Yet schools who have opened their learning environments and integrated [the six learning] motivations into their learning programs are not only enhancing engagement–they are preparing their students for the adaptive, entrepreneurial future that awaits them. In short, they have realized that the best way to prepare young people for the world beyond school is to immerse them in the world beyond school, as often as possible. (my emphasis)
The idea that classroom learning needs to be authentic and relevant to students, that it needs to connect to their out of school lives, that it needs to be meaningful is a nice thought. The trouble with this thinking is that many students don’t get it, want it, understand it. What happens outside of school stays outside of school, and that includes everything from personal devices to passions. We need to figure out how to blur the lines.
Some of my classes are engaged in blogging this semester and although we are slow out of the gates, I have high hopes for our progress.
I am taking a page from David Theriault who introduced me to the Re: Framed Blogging Project, where students design blogs around their personal interests and once a week post a blog entry that re:frames some aspect of their school learning.
So in one course where we think a lot about ethics, values, dilemmas and worldviews, a student who has created a blog around her love of music might re:frame a post around the idea of bands selling their music to corporations to be used for advertising purposes, which gives her the opportunity to think about the paradigm of short-term vs long-term through a personally relevant lens.
In another class, we have been exploring Joseph Campbell’s hero journey monomyth and Carl Jung’s archetypal theory. Students might choose to re:frame a post around this content. Some students just competed at the Regional First Robotics Competition, and I bet that the journey from building the robot to being awarded the top seeded rookie team took the team through many of the classic stages of the hero’s journey.
I love this idea of re:framing the content because it will help all of us break down the barriers of what we think learning is, of what the value is of any particular content, and of what our connection to the process is.
BUT first, as with all assignments in my classes, I need to do the work too, so here is my first re:framed post.
I thought about re:framing Since You’ve Been Gone, the most recent YA novel I’ve read. There is much to consider about the way Morgan Matson portrays Emily’s family and the ever present conversation about balancing the needs of the individual and those of the family (community).
Or the list! Matson uses the device of a list to hook us into the story. Don’t we love lists–making them, reading them, tracking our lives with them.
But since this blog centres around learning and the learning process, I will re:frame Campbell’s heroic journey as a way to consider the learning process.
Heroes. They take on danger. Stand-up to bullies. Protect us. Inspire us. They make a difference in the world. Some of us probably aspire to being heroes. Some of us just can’t help ourselves.
My husband is a hero. He has saved the day for many people. Not with the Harry Stamper kind of heroism, but with the kind that ensures that a car load of city-bound kids get to have their day of fun by rescuing their vehicle from a malfunctioning alternator. Or the kind that pulls cars out of ditches (mostly me, but others too), or that stands up for disenfranchised youth against the outcry of white privilege. It’s subtle, but he, too, doesn’t know how to fail.
Those heroic attributes-bravery, risk-taking, confidence, perseverance, self-sacrifice, determination, responsibility, personal ethics-they are also the attributes of the learner. Learners must be engaged in the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will allow us to live the life we want. Joseph Campbell encourages us to find and follow our bliss:
“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
The call to adventure.
Ok. So we need skills and knowledge (reading, writing, math, science etc.), and the courage to take on the adventure that is our lives. It’s what we want to do when we grow-up. It’s how we want to live our lives. It’s about how to be ‘learning ready’ when we leave high school.
Refusal of the call.
We think of learning as something that is done to us. We think of learning as showing up. We think of learning as being caught up. We think of learning as a straight line between point A and point Z. We think of learning as a series of marks or grades.
And yet something just doesn’t feel right, does it? There’s little connection between the disparate parts of my day. I don’t feel like engaging in the work. I’m not excited by anything I’m supposed to be learning. I’m tired. I’m bored. I have no passion. Is this it?
The call to adventure repeated.
What is learning then? What does it look like? Feel like?
- not the same for everyone
- tingling…goose bumpy
What do I need to know? To do?
- ask questions
- think critically
- engage my imagination
- consider the long view
- get involved
- make time for learning
- know thyself as a learner
- what’s the plan
Leaving the traditional factory-based model of learning behind (the ‘sit and get’ learning, worksheets, chapter end questions, whole class novels, etc.) is not for the feint of heart. What if I haven’t blogged before? Or I hate writing, period? Or I’ve never completed independent work? What if I am a slow reader? Or so shy that I can’t speak up in a group discussion? What if I have not thought critically about a text? Or participated in an inquiry?
Will I accept the challenge that learning presents for me?
The Meeting of the Mentor
It is the teacher who helps us to face the unknown learning tasks. She teaches us skills and knowledge, and gives us feedback, advice, or guidance. However, the teacher can only go so far with us. Eventually, we must work independently to demonstrate what we know, what we have learned, and what we have yet to learn.
(Sometimes the teacher is required to give us a push to get the learning started.)
Crossing the Threshold
We have to be committed to our learning goals because they will get us to where we need to go…they will help us follow our bliss. It’s hard work, but we must agree to face the consequences of the challenges put before us — increased confidence and motivation as we produce work and receive feedback; confusion and an erosion of motivation when we don’t. This is really the moment when the learning takes off!
Assignments, Portfolios, Tests, and the Processes Involved in Learning
There is always method to the madness that presents itself to us. We might not always be able to discern it, but there is a plan at work.
At some point, we need to shed the doubt and just go for it: trust the process, the guidance of the teacher, and the overall plan.
First semester is beginning to fade, but I hope that the learning that this year’s grade 9s did is permanent. We had a terrific semester with the Global Read Aloud (especially in Goodreads and Tackk Board), Skyping with our new friends at Oakland Language Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina, reflecting on ourselves as learners with Jac Calder’s class at Midland Secondary School in Midland, Ontario, and beginning the work on an interdisciplinary wiki textbook called Global Perspectives: A Collaborative Textbook for Teens by Teens . We also shot a lipdup/music video based on issues around dignity and tolerance featuring the Madden Brother’s song “We are done.”
And a big thank you goes out to Ms. Black, who not only taught grade 9 English for the first time ever, but who did so with the kind of passion and energy that makes English come alive for students. Ms. Black and her students were great collaborators on many of these projects, and I look forward to our future adventures in learning!
Stay tuned for our video release!
Have a terrific 2nd semester everyone!
Famous people work hard and fail over and over just the like the rest of us. Have a listen to Will Smith share his thinking on greatness and making your life count.
Throughout history there have been those who have succeeded because they failed.
In the arts….
One big idea that weaves its way through all of my teaching (and my learning) is the idea that we can learn anything. We need to work at it though. We need to extend effort. We need to be persistent. We need be prepared to take risks. We need to be ready to fail and fail and fail. We need a plan to get back up and try again. We need to surround ourselves with the people who will support us in our learning. But we must always remember that we need to do the work.
In the above video, Ed Sheeran shows us what growth mindset in action looks like. Not only does he take on something that he has never done and never gives up, even when he really wants to, he also makes his learning visible. You might think that that is no big deal because he is Ed Sheeran. But I don’t think that’s true. Remember that this is a guy who has gone from busking to selling out arenas around the world because he believed in himself and he worked hard at it. He says in the video “9 Days and Nights of Ed Sheeran” that “if you can’t sing or play guitar, I couldn’t either. It is possible. You don’t have to be born with a special magic gift or anything, you just practice.”
We don’t have to be famous to have a growth mindset though. We do need to think about our beliefs and goals and the work that we need to be doing to realize our best self. Consider each of the following questions. Take time throughout your learning process to check in with yourself. How are you doing?
What’s your next step?
Why the Global Read Aloud?
Global collaboration is necessary to show students that they are part of something bigger than them. That the world needs to be protected and that we need to care for all people. You can show them pictures of kids in other countries but why not have them speak to each other? Then the caring can begin. –from GlobalReadAloud.com