In which I learn something about exercising I should have known before

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Just to be clear, I don’t smile like this when I’m actually working out.

I’m hesitating to write this post and I’ve started and stopped a few times, composing it in my mind and throwing it out again. Body image and weight and exercise are such loaded topics and I personally get annoyed and sometimes roll my eyes a great deal when people over-post about their new miracle weight-loss program that everyone must try (for only X number of dollars a month and you only have to cut out these amazing foods and sweat like crazy and take these pills) works so well. Sure it does. And the emperor’s new clothes are so beautiful too.

First of all I feel I need to explain a bit of my background for those who don’t know me personally. I’m 34 years old. Until I left high school I was a very active dancer and I kept up with my dancing on and off through my first degree at University and then would randomly take a class here and there and choreograph and dance from time to time. Not as much lately. As much as I wanted it not to matter I was very proud of my body. I was always slim and fit with very little effort and I ate whatever I wanted but I enjoy healthy food and was never big on junk food but I ate a lot. When I turned 30 I noticed my metabolism slowing down and when I was 33 I gained 15 pounds in one year. This meant weird unexpected things like none of my clothes fitting (expensive revamping of my wardrobe) and a general feeling of discomfort in my body. Suddenly kneeling down pinched fat around my legs and felt weird. I had a harder time getting around and my back started to ache a lot of the time.

But I am a woman in my 30’s and all this is to be expected. I tried to come to terms with this new body that is still me as best as I could. I cut back on the amount I was eating, started running, bought clothes that fit me a bit better and just tried to deal with it. Afterall, there’s nothing unnatural about a woman gaining a little weight, especially around the middle, as she gets older, right? And it’s not like I was even outside of my healthy body weight according to charts, but I still felt uncomfortable in this body just like I felt uncomfortable in my now too small clothes.

Running and cutting back on eating when I was full helped. I stopped gaining weight but I didn’t lose any. That’s normal. Cardiovascular exercise isn’t a good way to lose weight but I felt a bit better. I can go upstairs without getting out of breath for example. I can even sprint for a bit and then drop back to a run without dying! These are big things! Then friends of mine were doing this program where they were eating according to, thankfully, realistic standards and doing 30 minutes of exercise every day and they seemed to be having pretty good results so one day when it was too hot to go out for a jog I went looking for a good exercise video and found the website Fitness Blender. They had all these free videos for just about any kind of exercise and level so I tried it out and liked it. I did a one week of a free 5 day set of exercise videos where each video was only 30 minutes and I loved it. By the end of the week I felt stronger, I was more flexible than I’ve been in who knows how many years and I’d lost 3 pounds. Some of my clothes that I’d given up on fit again and I just generally felt more “right” in my body.

I don’t know why I’ve shied away from strength training for so long. I tried with the wii active and liked it but the pause between exercises was always such a pain, having to put down one thing, move the controler, push buttons, it was just too much extra stuff that meant an hour workout only gave you about half an hour to 45 minutes of actual workout time. These videos transition pretty quickly from one activity to the next in a way that makes sense and I like that they show different levels of difficulty.

So why am I writing about this in my blog about teaching? Exercise is so important. I feel like we need to be teaching our students and also adults about just how important it is. That doesn’t mean necessarily going to a gym or running endlessly on a treadmill and it certainly doesn’t mean popping diet pills to lose weight. It means listening to people who know what they’re talking about. Not doing just one kind of exercise and not pushing yourself past the point of pain constantly but doing a variety of exercises even for a short amount of time every day. I also don’t want to imply that being healthy looks or feels the same for everyone. It’s not easy and we have huge societal problems with the cost of healthy food and issues about how what is healthy for one person may not be healthy for another. I’m not saying “This worked for me so everyone should do these things!” because I don’t think that’s true. But I do think that being healthier makes you feel better, regardless of weight or strength or flexibility. Being healthy feels good.

I feel like I’m getting my body from my 20’s back. I touched my toes with straight legs yesterday for the first time since I was 18. The ache in my back is gone, even when I bend over to do something. I have more energy than I had before. I hope I’ll be able to bring some of what I’ve learned into my classroom, making time EVERYDAY for little bits of exercise, using sites like Go Noodle to get myself and my students moving.

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Inspiration to Teach

Inspiration comes in many forms and I’m sometimes surprised by the things that will spark an idea for my classroom. Sometimes it’s a song I hear on the radio or something I read in a book or a video on youtube. Most of the time it’s something completely unrelated to teaching and not when I’m consciously looking for teaching ideas. However, there are times when I’m actually out for some inspiration for new ways to approach this wonderful and mysterious madness called teaching.

Last week I took part in Learn East, an annual summer PD session that focuses on better ways to use technology in education. I’ve gone 5 of the past 6 years and always find so many amazing ideas. Generally I hear so many great ideas that it’s hard to know which to try out first. I learned about some great websites to try as well as Mystery Skype, Plickers (look them up, they’re really cool) using MineCraft as an educational tool and a score of apps to try out. I always come out of those conferences feeling inspired and wanting to get into the classroom to try some out. I know that I can’t use everything I’ve learned right away, that would be crazy, but some things like Plickers and Mystery Skype I would like to try out this year, though how I’ll use them will depend on what I’m teaching of course.

The other self directed inspiration source I’ve had this summer has been Donalyn Miller’s book Reading in the Wild, which I wrote about starting to read here. I finished it up today and was so happy to find lots of great form ideas in the back for ways that she tracks data on her students’ reading progress. Throughout the whole book I kept thinking of examples of students I’ve taught and even friends who are like the students she used in her examples. I thought about how when one of my friends suddenly became a reader and liked a lot of the same books I did and wanted to discuss them after, how much more that increased my enjoyment of the books I was reading. I thought about how my best friend and I don’t always agree on books but even that arguing about them deepened our understanding of our books and how I want to bring that kind of “wild reading” and sense of having a community of readers into my classroom.

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Reading this book also inspired me to read more. It validated my standpoint that I should read at least most of the books that I put in my classroom library and that reading “children’s books” is not a waste of my time because it means that I can have more meaningful discussions with my students. There was a story at the end that Miller shared that brought a tear to my eye. It was about a student who was not a wild reader and had trouble sticking with reading and would rather wander the classroom or help out during independent reading time. I’m sure we’ve all had those children in our classrooms, sometimes three or four in a class. The story goes on to talk about how she discovered the Twilight series and loved it and read the whole thing and moved on to other books from there. To me it illustrated that even though I strongly dislike that series for SO many reasons (the writing, the relationships, the plot) that if a book brings someone into a love of reading, even if we don’t like it, it’s not all bad and hopefully that bridge book will lead to better books and the person will later be able to look back at that book and realize there are many better books out there.

Look at all these books just itching to be read!

Look at all these books just itching to be read!

Tonight there is going to be a discussion about Reading in the Wild on Twitter with the hashtag #ShelfieTalk. I’m looking forward to hearing what other educators thought of this book and what inspirations they will take from it to their classrooms.

Understanding the Need for Individualized Learning: A Runner’s Guide

I hated running.

I wanted so much to love it and I just didn’t. My parents were runners for many years. I had friends who went on about how much they loved it. I read articles about how running was like meditating; it gave people a sort of Zen experience away from the hassles of adult life. I wanted so much to love it and I just didn’t.

Two years ago I decided to get this zombie running app that I’ve blogged about before. Someone had suggested it and, while I’m not a zombie fan, it sounded fun with listening to a story and your own music while running. So I tried it. I liked the app. I fell in love with the story and the characters, almost breaking down in tears at one very moving story line. But it wasn’t helping me to run. I started off with the goal to run one song, walk one song. It worked pretty well for a while though sometimes near the end I would walk more than one song but I could never get myself past that point. I tried making goals of running two songs, walking one, but could never sustain that past the first few. I tried running every second song plus running during all the story bits but again, I couldn’t manage that during the end of the run. I tried adding new music. Nothing seemed to work.

There were a few things that in hindsight I can see I was doing wrong. One: I was running from my house on the same route every time on concrete sidewalks with some hills, especially at the end. Two: my route was too long for starting out like I was. I was running out of story long before I got home and found it hard to keep motivated when the story mode was done. Three: I didn’t know how to set realistic goals for myself and felt discouraged when I didn’t meet my unrealistic goals and that disappointment made me hate running. Four: I decided that I needed to run with other people for motivation so I went running with two friends who were not runners and I felt really terrible after because my two non-runner friends could run faster and farther than me when I had been plugging away at this whole running thing for months. So I kind of gave up.

Two summers of trying and I thought that maybe running just wasn’t for me. Maybe my body just wasn’t built that way. Maybe I needed to find some other exercise outlet. But people kept posting about their “great runs” and how much they loved it and so I decided to give it one more try. In April I bought a Zombies Run 5k training app – again, I’ve blogged about it before. It started me off SUPER slowly. 15 seconds of running to a minute of walking, again with some story thrown in and TONS of encouragement. I started going to a trail around a lake nearby that goes through the woods so I had some nicer scenery to look at and the trails were easier on my knees. I still had some set-backs. There were times that I wouldn’t quite do all the things they were asking me to do in the app (squats, stretching, skipping) but I kept at it and finally managed to jog 5k without stopping in June. Today I ran my 3rd 5k race and I’m getting faster. I’ve started adding some running in to my slow jogging and, surprise surprise, I love it. I get why people love it. I feel better and I’m getting back in shape and it’s awesome. I’m still much slower than most people but I’m okay with that.

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So what has this got to do with teaching and Individualized learning? While I was running and really getting into the “zone” (cause I can do that now) I was thinking about how this experience has been very much like a classroom learning experience and very eye opening to me that it’s not just a theory that everyone learns differently. I mean, I’ve seen it before, in dance rehearsals for example where some people need to count it out, some need to watch it a million times, some need words to remember and some just need to do it. But I’ve almost always been on the faster end of picking things up. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who tries something and really goes at it full tilt and if I find it too challenging I tend to give up.

We all learn at our own speeds and our own ways. The problem being in our classrooms while we say we recognize this fact, we’re still pushing the whole class to, say, master their multiplication facts by March or be reading at a level R by the end of the year. And that’s not realistic at all. As a teacher, we’re like a coach. We need to find something to motivate each student to learn whatever skill we’re meant to be teaching as well as find which ways they learn best at their own speed. And we have to do that for all the students in our class and somehow have them come out with all the same skills?

Like running or exercising, learning is good for you. No doubt about that. It is in your best interest to exercise, just like it is the students’ best interest to work hard and learn. But just because something is good for you, that doesn’t mean you want to do it all the time, every day in the same way. I feel like a lot of these things are pretty obvious and should be self evident but in the reality of the classroom it’s insanely challenging to follow sometimes. There are things, like reading for example. I let my students read anything they want whether it’s “at their level” or not because sometimes you want to read easier things and sometimes having subject matter that’s fascinating is enough to bring you through a challenging read. But as a coach maybe I need to do a better job of helping students to make those realistic goals for themselves so that they feel they’ve accomplished something and don’t feel discouraged too often if they don’t reach their goals and how to help them bounce back when they don’t meet a goal on their first try.

I also hope this learning experience will help me empathize with students who need to go slower with their learning. Sometimes it’s too humid and you just need to walk or take a rest day. And sometimes your brain is just not there yet and is making connections in the background you can’t even see yet, but it’ll happen at it’s own pace.

Wild Reading

Back in June, we got an e-mail asking if anyone was interested in reading a book on reading instruction and then participating in a Twitter chat about the book in late August. I signed up and got sent this lovely book by Donalyn Miller called Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Key’s to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits.

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It sat abandoned on my desk until the end of July when I was doing my big clean and I remembered I had agreed to read it and participate in this talk so I had better start reading it. I’ve only read about a third of it so far but I am loving every bit of it. I love picking up a book about teaching and feeling that the author just gets it right away. First of all, she’s talking about one of my absolute favourite topics, reading, and advocating teaching how to insure that students not only read, but actually enjoy reading so right off the bat she’s in my good books. She calls people who read for pleasure “Wild Readers” instead of good readers, which I also love. Not only does it keep from stigmatizing people who struggle with reading by defaulting them to the “bad readers” category (I guess it makes them tame readers?) I also love the image of being a “wild reader”.

And of course, while I’m reading along, I’m picturing in my mind all these ideas from the book and other random ideas sparked from her book in my mind, imagining what I want to do in my classroom this year. This is challenging as I don’t know for sure what I’m going to be teaching this year, but as I don’t know, I’ll go with the assumption that I’ll be teaching Grade 5 again as that’s all I’ve taught for the past 6 years so chances are that’s where I’ll end up again. I’m picturing having my library laid out better than last year, with some extra seating options around the room for reading. I’m imagining making a new display on one bookshelf that my two students who choose to be class librarian for their class job get to create, displaying their favourite books for the class to see and choose from. I’m imagining having lots of book talks where students reading differing books can talk in small groups about what they’re reading and have some full class discussions as well. I’m picturing having a display in the hallway about book heros, having each student pick one hero from a book and explain what makes that person a hero. And I’m planning what kinds of data tracking I want myself and my students to use to celebrate their reading.

I love reading. I’ve always loved reading and I love filling my classroom with books and watching my more reluctant readers finally find something that they love to read and discover that they are readers too. I love talking about books with my students, my friends, anyone who will listen. I love the idea that reading instruction does not have to be bogged down with reading logs (Ug!) or lengthy book reports (yuck!) or whole class novel studies (Ick!). As a new teacher, I sometimes struggle with listening to what I feel to be true about learning versus what I’m being told is true by an “expert” about learning. In my view, a student is not going to learn to read fluently, with comprehension, etc. unless they learn that reading can be enjoyable as well.

Independent Study

A few weeks ago I was looking at my memories of past years on Facebook and I saw a few things I had written in French while I was away in Shippigan for a 2 week course to improve my French. I’ve taken a few courses since then, nothing as intense, and I do make an effort to speak to my colleagues in French as much as possible at school but I felt like my French hadn’t improved enough to justify taking my oral evaluation again. The last time I took it was just after I got back from Shippigan. I got Advanced which is good but I want to have Advanced Plus as it may be able to open a few more doors for me in terms of jobs. Reading these older statuses and seeing that there were a few mistakes in the grammar made me think that it is possible my French has improved since then so I am going to make another attempt.

I got an e-mail today giving me a date and time next week to call the evaluator. I wish it was still done in person instead of over the phone, though it will be nice to be able to have a few notes in front of me and to be able to walk around while I talk but I prefer being able to see people when I talk to them.

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To get ready for this evaluation, I’ve been listening to French talk radio in the car for the past few weeks and looking up a few phrases but not doing much in terms of preparation. Now that I have a deadline though, I’ve upped my preparation. I found all my French books and dictionaries to read through, I put some French music on Spotify and wandered around the house talking to myself about various topics that they might ask about. I realized I don’t know very many theatre terms in French so I spent about an hour on translation sites looking for the correct terms for things like stage manager, sound board, chorus, and set. Some, like fly operator, I couldn’t find.

Doing research, study, learning in general can be challenging without a goal I find. If I’m interested in a subject, I’ll look up some information and read a bit but unless I have a use for that information, I rarely go in depth into it. For example, if I’m reading something on facebook about a scientific discovery, I might crosscheck one other site if I’m interested in the topic, but if I am going to teach about that scientific discovery or if I have a friend who is really interested in that topic who I know would like to talk about it indepth, I might do more digging. It’s the same with learning or improving a language. I enjoy French. I like being able to speak it and understand it fairly well but without a clear incentive to improve my French I’ve been fairly content to just be happy with the level I’m at. I think this is also true of students. They need to see why the information is important and why it is beneficial for them to learn and practice whatever we are teaching them, otherwise the learning is going to be superficial.