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Black Ants & Buddhists

Presentation on Mary Cowhey's award-winning book focusing on teaching critical thinking in the primary grades.

Courtney Joiner

on 11 July 2013

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Transcript of Black Ants & Buddhists

Black Ants & Buddhists
Courtney Joiner

Diving In
Reaching For More
"Every time I admitted I couldn't answer a question, a new learning opportunity arose. I saw that when I modeled critical thinking and intellectually curious behavior, children imitated these habits of mind".
(pg. 61)
Facing the Facts
"Critically thinking young children about the world requires the teacher to be a learner. I always tell my students that we have to feel safe enough to take risks if we are to learn well. That goes for me as a learner as well. "
(pg. 194)
Questioning the books &
Building Realistic Connections
"Usually history is taught from the perspective of powerful White men. We can rest assured that our students will get more than their fair share of that in their educational careers. I try turning history around telling the story from the perspective of other groups whose voices we don't usually hear."

I decided to write this book because people often ask me questions about the way I teach. The central question seems to be, How can teachers of young children use language and literacy to teach about the world (history, geography, social studies, science) with rigor, depth, and challenge in a way that engages and empowers young students? I believe theory emerges from the practice, and the very best teaching merges theory, practice, and reflection.
(Cowhey, pg.18)
"I want these children to grow into critically thinking citizens, not passive consumers of mass media fed by spin doctors".
(pg. 12)
* "The black ants helped us explore a variety of perspectives and helped us learn, then compare and contrast, the rules of a variety of spiritual traditions. The ants helped us look at ants and the world and ourselves as Americans through others' eyes."
Chapter 1 - Introduction
I chose to teach critically because I believe young children are capable of amazing things, far more than is usually expected of them. I am not talking about raising a score on a standardized math test (although that often happens). I am talking about thinking critically and learning to learn, learning to use basic skills lie reading. writing, solving mathematical problems, analyzing data, public speaking, scientific observation and inquiry as an active citizen in your community. I believe young children can think about fairness and are deeply moved and highly motivated by the recognition of injustice. I chose to teach critically because it let me keep learning alongside my students. It keeps my work fascinating, funny, and fast paced. I teach this way so that I can hear every child's voice and see each jewel sparkle". (pg. 18)
Multicultural Education is......
* antiracist education * pervasive * critical pedagogy
* basic education * education for social justice
* important for ALL students * a process
Chapter 2 - Compassion, Action, and Change
Chapter 3 - Routines: A day in
the life of the Peace Class
Chapter 4 - "It takes a village to raise a first grade"
Chapter 5 - Talking About Peace
Chapter 6 - Learning Through Activism
Chapter 7 - Teaching History So Children Will Care
Chapter 8 - Nurturing History Detectives
Chapter 9 -Seeing Ourselves & Our Families Through
Students' Eyes
Chapter 10 - Responding When Tragedy Enter the Classroom
Chapter 11 - Building Trust with Families &
Weathering Controversy
Chapter 12 - Going Against the Grain
Re-imagining Food Drives:
Who are the "Poor People" anyway?
* challenging stereotypes
* teach understanding of the complexity of the causes of poverty
* introduce local activists and organizers as role models addressing needs
and working for long-term solutions
* empower children to take responsibility in their community
* remove the stigma of poverty

"They collected and volunteered no out of pity, but out of understanding and empathy. They learned to transform their compassion into action". (pg.35)
It is not enough to be compassionate.
You must act.
~Dalai Lama
8:00 - arrive and prepare
8:50 - greet arriving children and families.
children do morning and helper jobs
9:00 - sustained silent reading
9:15 - morning meeting
9:45 - handwriting or spelling/ word study
10;00 - snack
10:15 - writing workshop
11:0 0 - share writing from writing workshop
11:15 - reading workshop
12:00 - lunch and recess
12:45 - read-aloud
1:15 - math
2:15 - science and social studies
2:45 - closing circle
2:55 - cleanup
3:00 Dismissal
When a class has a predictable structure and can do routines with confidence, it can have more flexibility (to accommodate more spontaneous child-centered learning) and can do more elaborate projects and ambitious work as students transfer familiar skills to novel situations. (pg. 39)
"As a teacher, I can have several nervous breakdowns a day, or I can take deep breaths, laugh, rethink things fast, change my plan,and keep the thread". (pg. 39)

"I learned that good teaching takes more than a teacher with a curriculum teaching her students in a classroom with the door shut. Not only can it be so much more, but to be effective, it must be so much more".
(pg. 59)
Bring guests in, take the kids out, and feed children's imagination and their language.
Keep mental inventory of people you know, their occupations, and what their passionate about.
Always look for opportunities to build connections, increase authenticity, bring it to life with an expert or field trip.
Access a wealth of resources through students, families, and the community.
Realize that you can't be everything to everyone, build up more role models for the class
Children will begin to identify with others and imagine themselves in the future.
Still looking intently at his cracker, Allan said softly but clearly, "Maybe kids could go on strike to stop the war in Afghanistan." That took my breath away. In this brief dialog, these first graders moved from a perspective oriented toward their own desire for play and pleasure to a consideration of real political reasons that people, including children, might strike. (pg. 84)
"If we are to reach peace in this world, we shall have to start with the children."
- Gandhi
* Let the children lead
*Have patient, thoughtful
engagement in dialog
Learning through activism is powerful because the need to use vital academic skills for social justice motivates their acquisition.
Writing (reports, letters of thanks, new articles, speeches)
Speaking, Singing,Listening
Researching (asking good questions, finding answers)
Gathering and representing data
Noting observations
Making posters and banners
Raising money
Getting to know political leaders and how to access them
*Most Importantly* - Critical Thinking
It empowers children and their families in concrete, authentic, replicable ways. (pg. 103)
"I want my students to pursue questions that don't have easy answers."
Teach history as a contextualized story
Meaningful, challenging and developmentally appropriate
"Educated consumers" of history and current events
People who can recognize injustice and take a principled and effective stand for justice
Great ways to engage students...
Captioned drawings
Venn Diagrams
Schema Theory
" I believe in teaching multiple perspectives and alternative historical theories, presenting what evidence is known and letting students draw their own conclusions." (pg. 157)
"Some people ask me why I teach first grade this way. This is my only chance to do it. I really do not think they are "too young to handle the truth." The become aggressive learners, demanding evidence in search of the multiple truths that make history."
Question what you think you know
Consider Multiples Perspectives
Search for Truth in History (Lies My Teacher Told Me)
Children long to see themselves and their families in the classroom and teacher.
visually through photos and posters
through literature
by sharing about your story and your

"All of these little stories, these sharings,
are invitations to children to help them
feel affirmed and connected, like they
belong in this classroom community
"Like it or not the world does impress and challenge us, as well as sadden and startle us. Like it or not, the world comes into our classrooms, so all of our teachers and learning, one way or another, is mediated by the world. If I attempt to igore that..., the outcome may be little or no learning at all." (pg.181)
1. Remind parents to limit exposure to mass media, especially television
2. Check with families to see how/if they may have been personally affected by the tragedy.
3. Listen to children: help them identify their feelings, concerns, questions
5. Be truthful but brief
6. Brainstorm with children some action they can take to help the victims/survivors
7.Focus on those who triumphed
Rules of Thumb
Home Visits
Allows the teacher to see family interactions, gain perspective of the diversity in home-life of each student
Letters to Parents
Gives the parents a heads up on their children's behavior, positive or negative, in the class.
Inviting family members to volunteer in the classroom gives them new insight into their son or daughter daily learning experiences.
Communication tool that explains the content material the class will be covering each week and special projects or events that are coming up.
"I would be limiting my students and myself if I didn't consider trying anything new that could possibly result in a mistake. Strong parental involvement and consistent, honest communication with families is my best insurance when (if not) I make mistakes or have to handle challenging situations."
Try to embrace contradiction
It is easier to bring up concerns than act out defensively
Be humble. Ask for help and advice
Apologize right away for mistakes
Seek guidance of an insider
"I can't fight every battle and still have the energy, sanity, and focus to keep teaching positively, keep loving my family, keep loving life."
"If you teach critically, and if teaching critically is different from the dominant culture in your school, you may feel like you are going against the grain, swimming against the grain, swimming against the tide."
Crimes of Nonconformity
Doesn't each lunch in the faculty room
Allows parents into the classroom
Had family events in the evenings
Students don't walk in line
Students are loud in the hallway
"My principal has demonstrated that one can often make deeper, more lasting institutional changes through a series of subtle, thoughtful, deliberate moves over years than by hasty, bold actions and decrees that generate backlash and resentment. "
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