Parish passion play evokes a profound response

This past weekend I had the extraordinary honor of portraying the role of Jesus in our parish Passion play during three separate Passion weekend liturgies.

For me, the first performance proved to be, by far, the most challenging. Yet, despite having completely forgotten two lines of my opening speech and taking the theatrical concept of ‘ad-libbing’ to a whole new level during the last supper scene – many people in the congregation appeared not to notice the miscues and if they did, it didn’t seem to matter.

Following the liturgy, an elderly woman still in tears with voice trembling described the impact our drama had on both her and her husband. Another middle-aged gentlemen praised the performance, while still another indicated that his young daughter was quite distraught and convinced that I was Jesus and had indeed died on the cross.

Someone else involved in the drama astutely observed that the story of Jesus’ betrayal, death and impending Resurrection ‘never gets old’ – especially when different  people take on the role of Jesus year after year. Each person brings a very different perspective, personality and unique approach and interpretation to the role.

During the opening song, Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord, as I walked down the center aisle of the church with my apostles, I waved and smiled at as many parishioners as possible. The reactions on those faces I was able to engage ranged from warm reciprocal smiles, to stone-faced indifference and awkward confused ‘get me outta here’ looks. I couldn’t help but imagine that, in many respects, Jesus may likely have faced a similar array of reactions during his triumphant procession into Jerusalem over two thousands years ago.

To be a part of such a powerful, redemptive story (the central story of Christianity) in such a public way – is a holy gift of grace. To be able to perform it with your family and friends, not once but three times before a captive community of believers –  is truly a blessing and sacred memory which I will forever treasure.

Related links: Provocative film has youth talking

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Apples Aren’t Just For Teachers

Today’s post, by Rolland Chidiac, summarizes how the integration of an iPod touch into his classroom has impacted his  students.

by Rolland Chidiac

In this day and age, it seems as though there are advancements in technology and new types of consumer electronics entering the market everyday, and as each day passes, these innovations and electronic items seemingly become more advanced in what they can do and their ease of use. A perfect example of such an item is the Apple iPod touch (which will be referred to as the “touch” from this point further).

Essentially, the touch is an Apple iPhone without the phone or camera (Harris, 2008). The touch is a sleek and compact device that combines MP3 player and Internet access capabilities while relying on a unique touch screen user interface controlled entirely by finger taps and swipes (Dyrli, 2008). I have to admit that I was not in ‘touch’ (pardon the pun) with any of the enthusiasm of this device or the technology that goes into it until I was ‘face to face’ with it in my classroom.

The first time I really paid any significant attention to this type of technology was around Christmas when my grade 1 and 2 students told me all about it! After listening to their narratives about the touch I began researching it myself as it sounded like something that I could really get into and enjoy. One of the first things I did was contact the School Board’s Information Technology & Research Consultant and after a brief discussion I was offered, and gratefully accepted, the use of a touch in my classroom to engage my students in their learning. According to Herrington & Kervin (2007) classroom teachers are looking for ways to use technology as a means to engage students in meaningful and immersive learning environments. Based on the discussions I had with my students about the touch, I believed that the use of it in my classroom would give them the above mentioned opportunities to engage in meaningful learning while using this new and exciting technology.

Language Literacy

The ability to properly read and write is beyond measure in our society and it is in the Early Years (Kindergarten) and Primary (Grades 1-3) grades where the foundations for these important skills begin. For this reason, I decided to put the touch to the test and see whether it can, among other things, motivate and excite my students in the area of language literacy. The students in my School Board are immersed in language literacy through the use of the Four-Blocks literacy framework. The Four-Blocks framework involves four different approaches to teaching children how to read – Guided Reading (focus is comprehension), Self-Selected Reading (focus is on read-alouds and time for reading books of their choice and at their level), Writing (focus is learning what writers do and then doing what writers do), and Word Study (focus is on reading, spelling, and using high frequency words correctly) (“The Four Blocks Literacy Model”, n.d.).

The touch is a device that is what I would refer to as, Four-Blocks friendly. Within hours of researching the iTunes Store (a software-based online digital media store operated by Apple Inc) I was inundated with the large amount of applications that lent themselves well to being integrated into the model with which I teach my students to read and write. For this reason, I decided to formally focus the use of the touch and its capabilities to excite and perhaps improve my student’s performance in language literacy, specifically in the realm of reading and writing.

Inclusion & Equity

Along with a focus on using the touch to excite and improve my student’s ability to read and write, I saw an opportunity to further educate my students about concepts of inclusion and equity. The use of the touch in my classroom will allow the students and I to continue to be true to our class’s mission. Our class’s mission is to work towards moving closer to Jesus in our words and actions. This mission is at the forefront of all that we do in our classroom. From the way we talk to each other to the things we do to each other, our goal is to make positive choices that we believe bring us closer to Jesus as we journey through our lives. I would argue that being inclusive and equitable are two great examples of the positive choices that can be made to move closer to Jesus. The concepts of inclusion and equity are dealt with on a daily basis in my classroom and I would go as far as to argue that these concepts are revisited daily in Primary grade classrooms.

Language Literacy & The iPod Touch

With a language literacy focus for the use of the touch I researched and acquired applications that would allow my students to continue to work on reading and writing activities that they are familiar with (e.g. levelled readers, sight word flashcards, etc). The only difference being that they would use the touch as the ‘medium’ to do their ‘work’ rather than an actual paperback book or writing paper.

The initial excitement of having the touch in the classroom was quite overwhelming. Due to the excitement and for most, little to no understanding of or experience using the touch, several days were devoted to experimenting with the device in order to become familiar with the unique touch screen interface that is controlled by finger taps and swipes as well as with the on screen keyboard. Once the initial excitement wore off a little, we went to work on using the language literacy applications that I had installed for their use.

At last count, there were approximately 60 applications that I had downloaded on to the touch for student use. For brevity sake, I will highlight some of the more popular applications in order to demonstrate the positive effect it has had on the students learning. One of the applications that the students use is entitled Sight Words 1. This application is a flash card program which displays high frequency sight words (also known as Dolch words) in a very simple format. This application also has the option of voice pronunciation that accompanies each sight word which I believe to be a powerful tool because the students can have confirmation of how a word is actually pronounced without having to ask anyone. This program has proven to be quite a powerful one with my students. What started out as an activity that they would do on their own has turned into a group activity where students work together and compete in order to acquire new sight words and practice their speed at decoding. This application has proven to be useful for all of the students – both the high level and low level readers.

Another application that is really popular with the students is Melvin’s Marvellous Words which is a sight vocabulary matching game. This game is geared towards the lower level learners but has proven to be a powerful application because it appeared to assist those students with their self confidence. There is a group of students who started their grade 1 year with what I would refer to as an anxiety when it comes to reading. Due to their lack of sight words and Jolly Phonics sounds they would become upset when they were asked to read with me. Over time, these students and I have worked together to reduce this anxiety and this application has further assisted in that regard. Moreover, the middle and higher level readers have also enjoyed this program. They have acted as great models for the lower level readers and enjoy ‘mastering’ one of the touch’s applications.

In general, the students have enjoyed the levelled reader applications and the more ‘fun’ literacy based applications. Levelled readers are texts that are rated based on their difficulty and can come in different forms (e.g. short books, comic strips, etc). In level ‘A’ texts simple sentences are presented and as the levels progress through the alphabet (e.g. B, C, D, etc) the sentences get more complex and the words become more difficult. I have been able to acquire level ‘AA’ to ‘I’ texts which is a span from JK pre-reading to the end of grade 1. These levelled readers have discussion questions at the end that help build interest and comprehension. Also, these texts give the students the opportunity to work on reading fluency (levels beneath and at their instructional level), decoding, and comprehension (levels at and above their instructional level) in informal (on their own time) and formal (working with me as I observe and conference with them) situations.

The really high level readers in my class continue to enjoy the Archie comics that have been downloaded onto the touch as well as the non fiction type texts (e.g. Fastest Cars and Bikes). They have discovered the amount of ‘fun’ they can have with tongue twister applications and the ability to celebrate and learn more about their faith with the Rosary applications.

From the point of view of writing, the students have really enjoyed using the ‘notes’ application on the touch. This application is one that came preloaded and is basically a lined piece of paper that they can write on. Using the onboard keyboard, the students can use the application to write fiction or non fiction text. Many of the students have used this application with a partner. They would brainstorm what they wanted to write about and then began typing out their narratives.

However, this application has also been used to work formally with one particular student in the class. One of the students in my classroom community struggles with writing and tends to demonstrate negative/anti social behaviour during most times where writing or major amounts of attention are required. He has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for his behaviour but does not require (and I use that term loosely) modifications/accommodations for academics as he is quite intelligent and has demonstrated this in a variety of ways. His negative behaviour interferes with his academics, especially when it comes to writing. This student enjoys technology very much – so much so that it is built into his behaviour incentive plan (he chooses to use the classroom computer for his daily reward time).

As he worked with the touch he appeared to enjoy every minute. I have worked with him and his writing using the notes application. When he used the touch to work on his writing (e.g. brainstorming, simple sentences that make sense, etc) he tended to sit in close proximity to me and demonstrated great concentration on the task at hand. As he typed out his ideas, we discussed what he was doing, how he was doing it, and why he chose to do what he was doing.

As he was engaged in his writing using the touch I was able to question him regarding development and organization of content, form & style, and conventions. At the end of his writing time we talked about what he had done and I guided him in reflecting on what he had just worked on. In this case, the touch was allowing this student the opportunity to demonstrate his knowledge and skills in language, specifically writing, while at the same time allowing me to acquire authentic assessment of his knowledge and skills.

Inclusion And Equity And The iPod Touch

With only 1 touch and 20 eager students, I thought it would be prudent to prepare the students for the reality of this situation – that they would not have instant and unfettered access to the touch. Moreover, I wanted to work through the idea that although it would be used by everyone, certain students would have more opportunities to work with the touch than others. I wanted to be transparent with them regarding the reasons behind the initial decisions I had made while not singling anyone out and making them feel bad. In the beginning, the students and I created an anchor chart regarding the rules associated with the use of the touch. The rules were created during a classroom meeting and most of the inclusion and equity portion of this project took place during classroom meetings.

Classroom meetings are grounded in conflict resolution and are mainly used in my classroom to develop positive problem solving skills. Instead of a teacher directed solution, these meetings give students another way to solve problems. Class meetings also build community by providing a healing, inclusive, supportive environment for students, and they normalize conflict and its peaceful resolution. Class meetings often deal with situations of inappropriate or unacceptable school behaviour which are comprised of, but not limited to, issues of exclusion and situations that are perceived to be unfair. Once trust is established, students feel freer about bringing problems to the meeting because they realize that the goal is not to punish students, but solve problems and discuss issues that are of concern.

After the creation of the rules for the use of the touch the students and I entered into a discussion of what it means to be inclusive. For the students in my classroom inclusion is the knowledge and feeling that they belong – that they are welcomed, appreciated, and celebrated equally, as unique individuals. They did not have much difficulty with this concept but they did struggle when we talked about equity. Equity, or being treated equitable, was a little more difficult for some of the students because we talked about it involving the ‘needs’ of students. The concept of fairness is quite big in the primary grades and students want to be treated fairly and have a keen sense of what is and what is not fair, but not from an equity perspective.

When we spoke of equity it was explained that equitable treatment was about ‘needs’ and that in order for things to truly be fair it is important that each student get what they ‘need’ in order to be on the same ‘playing field’ as everyone else in the classroom community. They really needed concrete examples of what it meant to be equitable in order for them to really understand what the concept is all about.

Once the students and I understood what it meant to be inclusive and equitable we could further discuss conflicts arising in our classroom community and ways of solving those problems from an inclusion and equity perspective. What started as a narrow point of view to talk about the use of the touch has evolved into a broad perspective on ways of approaching conflict and solutions to the conflicts.

The students have adopted a compassion for their classmates and have worked very hard to be supportive of their classmates. Issues did arise during classroom meetings about not having had much time using the touch and around people not following the rules that we, as a class, established for the use of the touch. As the class processed the issues and worked through the perceived problems they would come to the realization that being equitable allowed us to be inclusive and to continue on our mission of walking towards Jesus.

Conflicts around the touch do not come up as often as they did at first and the conflicts that have and continue to arise are being dealt with on the spot where some type of compromise/solution has been struck. Their capacity to appropriately deal with conflicts/issues, without my intervention, has increased since introducing the inclusive and equitable perspective for assessing problematic situations. What began with a way to deal with the introduction and use of a fun and useful technology has grown into a way of looking at and dealing with everyday life issues.

Conclusion

Aside from not having an iPod Touch for each student in the classroom, a major frustration that became common place was the lack of wireless internet access. There were many instances where students could have accessed important information or specific application capabilities had there been access to the internet. Having experienced this frustration with the students I believe that being able to access the internet would have added to the richness of the touches capabilities. Based on this discovery I can’t help but wonder if wireless access to the internet at schools would be or even is possible.

From an IT perspective I am not versed in the logistics of this type of endeavour but can attest to the usefulness it could have on a child’s quality of education. For example, when the students and I were working on Social Studies it would have been helpful to use the Google Earth application to explore our community from the confines of our classroom. With the touch, a projector, and access to the internet we could have had a bird’s eye view of the community and explored local landmarks (e.g. School, Church, Home, etc). This is just one example of an opportunity that we were not able to explore because of the lack of internet access.
Despite some minor frustrations, the use of the touch in my classroom appears to be a success.

The mere excitement that accompanied it was enough to motivate students to pay more attention to what was going on. They became accustomed to the way I tried to integrate it into whatever we were talking about and doing. From a general perspective, it seems to have caught their attention and engaged them in their learning. Specifically, it was quite effective in the realm of language literacy and technological literacy. In terms of language literacy, it was an excellent tool that allowed the students to continue to practice the reading and writing skills that were being taught through our Four Blocks literacy framework.

From a technological literacy standpoint the touch allowed my students to become equipped with the technological ‘know how’ to operate and become proficient using such a device. I am of the belief that the use of the touch did (and continues to) excite my students in the area of language literacy. In terms of improving their performance in reading and writing I can say that the use of the touch has led to a greater interest in demonstrating knowledge and skills that was not there before.

This device has created a healthy competitive aspect to the classroom community that did not really exist before its use. Moreover, it is this competitive aspect that has led to a need to excel in reading and writing that was not as noticeable as it is now.

Along the same lines, the students have also demonstrated what it means to be inclusive and equitable. The use of the touch in the classroom was a great way to explicitly teach my students about the concepts of inclusion and equity. What began as ground rules for the use of the device grew into a means to ensure that everyone in the community felt welcome and accepted and that people’s needs (academic/social) were being met. Through classroom meetings, we were able to explore these concepts and really look at situations that demonstrated an abundance of, or lack of, equity and inclusion.

The students have adopted and taken to heart another way of looking at conflicts and issues that arise in their lives which will help them as they grow and develop. From such a small device came a big reward and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experiment with and watch my students reap the benefits of such technology.

Rolland Chidiac teaches at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic elementary school in Cambridge, Ontario and can be reached at – rolland.chidiac@wcdsb.ca.

References:

Dyrli, Kurt. (2008). Getting in Touch. District Administration, 44 (12), 35 – 38.

Harris, Christopher. (2008). An iPhone for Every Student. School Library Journal, 54 (11), 22 –
22.

Herrington, Jan., & Kervin, Lisa. (2007). Authentic Learning Supported by Technology: Ten suggestions and cases of integration in classrooms. Educational Media International, 44 (3), 219 – 236.

The Four Blocks Literacy Model. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2010, from http://www.four-blocks.com/overview.htm

Photo: Peter Forret’s Photostream


Meningitis Awareness Day Act Passes 2nd Reading

As I proudly watched via webcast recently Waterloo Liberal MPP Leeanna Pendergast introduce, during Second Reading, Bill 2 the Meningitis Awareness Day Act in the Ontario Legislature – I could not help but be swept up in the historic significance and emotion of the moment.

In a rare show of solidarity uniting members across all party lines, Pendergast’s Bill unanimously breezed through Second Reading on March 13th. Bill 2 designates April 24 as an annual Meningitis Awareness Day to coincide with World Meningitis Awareness Day.

Voices cracked with emotion and eyes moistened as member after member invited to speak to the bill stood up and paid tribute to both Pendergast and Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada founder Kathryn Blain. But just as importantly, many of the members also took the time to publicly educate their colleagues and the viewing public of the main symptoms of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD): fever, stiff neck, headache, vomiting, rash and sensitivity to light.

IMD occurs when bacteria infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord. The meningitis bacteria are spread from person to person through close contact involving secretions from the nose and throat through common actions such as sneezing, kissing, sharing drinks, lipstick / lip balm or utensils for eating. There are five strains of IMD, four of which are preventable with vaccines.

It was the tragic death of one of my former students, Michael Longo (19) in 1995 from IMD which prompted Blain to create the MRFC in 1998.  Another local outbreak in Waterloo Region in 1997 tragically snuffed out the young lives of two other promising bright lights, Michelle Risi (16) and Melissa Maharaja (18) and caused widespread anxiety accompanied by a series of neighbourhood vaccination clinics.

IMD kills approximately 10 per cent of those it attacks, often in a matter of hours, and leaves in its wake one of every five survivors ravaged with lifelong mental and physical ailments such as: blindness, loss of limbs, and hearing impairment. The key to stopping the onslaught of IMD is through prevention (vaccination) and early detection; though its flu-like symptoms make it extremely difficult to detect.

Thankfully, in times of extreme distress, a parent’s gut instinct will often take over and intuitively tell them that something is radically wrong with their child. This is no different in the case of meningitis. A parent should immediately heed their intuition and head with their child to the nearest hospital emergency room or clinic.

The fact that IMD strikes approximately 200 Canadians each year and that the very young (children 2 and under) and adolescent populations are most at risk, was not lost on the MRFC. During the past decade it worked diligently to successfully lobby the Ontario government so that today it includes the meningitis vaccine as part of the routine childhood immunization schedule for all Ontarians, along with vaccines against the two other major common causes of meningitis, Hib and pneumecoccus.

Still, after reflecting on our provincial health system’s disease prevention strategy and the humbling prospect and honour of an annual day to raise awareness of an indiscriminate killer, meningitis, I am reminded of the words of famous Canadian communications professor Marshall McLuhan, “A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.”

Despite the establishment of a Meningitis Awareness Day and an overall decline in the past decade of IMD in North America (in part due to provincial immunization programs) it would be foolish for us to let our guard down against this and other insidious infectious diseases. The two-headed spectre of ignorance and misinformation are ever present dangers looming on the horizon.

Truly frightening movements like the small but vocal anti-vaccination lobby, many of whom have been emboldened in recent years by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy (ex-Playboy model and Beverly Hills 90210 star who claimed that her child had developed Autism after being vaccinated) and the now-infamous and thoroughly discredited ‘Andrew Wakefield study’, still linger in the public consciousness.

If unopposed and allowed their fifteen minutes of fame on wildly popular TV programs like Oprah, such irrational fringe groups and their ‘chicken-little like’ mentality threaten to undo, in mere moments, what took decades of pain-staking advancements in medical science to achieve in the war against deadly global infectious diseases such as: polio, tuberculosis, measles, mumps, rubella and meningitis.

Due to Blain’s empathy, tenacity and leadership, millions of Ontarians now have free access to meningitis vaccines that, ironically, would most likely have prevented the untimely death of her only son. By educating one another about meningitis, we take up Blain’s torch, honour her bold vision, the memory of her son and, ultimately, all those families whose innocence has been forever shattered by the indiscriminate, sometimes cruel hand of fate.

Photo: Michael Longo – circa 1994

Related Links:
Press Release, Bill 2, Meningitis Awareness Day Act 2010, Passes 2nd Reading

Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada