Saturday, 14 June 2014

Te Kotahitanga Series: The idea of being "too soft" and also having high expectations

Eventually all of my ideas and thinking around using and implementing Te Kotahitanga will be in one blog - but for now... here is a small... but potentially huge idea that I had on my drive home from the supermarket.

Recently my Y10's and I have been reading the novel 'The Bone Tiki' by David Hair. It is easily one of my favourite New Zealand historical novels.

I say its an HN mainly because it delves deep into our Maori culture and plays with a lot of traditional and relevant themes around culture, the idea of being Maori and what it takes to BE Maori and also the many elements of Maoritanga and Maoridom. It offers historical events and helps show to a relatively young audience some of their own history in their own words - with likable and relevant main characters.

Anyway - last week I set my students a couple of chapter summary and homework tasks. Simple enough - just needed maybe 10 minutes of their time at home. However, they didn't do it.

We spent the next English lesson going through most of the first one - of which it was an absolutely fabulous lesson. Loads of kupu hou (new words) and they seem to now have the linguistic bug of looking for new words by searching in the dictionary for definitions and through the thesaurus for synonyms.

A few lessons later once we'd managed to get through the next chapter (issues around that...will get to that in a minute..) - I gave out the next chapter summary. We did the cloze activity together as a class at the end of the lesson and the rest they were expected to do for homework.

They didn't do that either.

Following lesson I asked a colleague whether I was being too.. where she interrupted me and said the words "too soft." I continued, "too lenient."

For me there are a couple of issues - well more than a couple:

- access to dictionaries at home
- completing homework - when there possibly just isn't time. Extra curricular activities, family expectations, church, community tasks etc.
- access to the internet or someone who can help them (maori kupu)
- remembering what happened in the book
- not having the book to reference at home

Because - it's not that they can't do it. They do it quickly and efficiently in class. They are eager for my appreciation of them completing the task to the best of their abilities and they often suggest new words to add to the already humoungous pile of kupu hou we are collecting.

It's slightly frustrating with the access to internet, dictionaries etc - even more so that I'm STILL on the hunt for the lost 30 or so books that have seemingly dissappeared into thin air - despite emails, questions at staff meetings, surveying and asking staff I see, and asking students to be on the lookout as well. And... despite the Google Docs Booking sheet I created... and there was only one other booking made (on the whiteboard...old booking system) and my colleague that booked the previous way didn't look on the online booking sheet. So - am forced to only have 9 books in a class of 23. Slightly difficult. I will find the rest eventually. Preferably BEFORE we finish the book.

But the students can do this. Me being "soft" isn't a factor to them being able to complete the tasks.

In any matter - I don't think I'm being "soft" though I can understand where my colleague was coming from. It harks back to my Tapu series. Everything does.

I have high expectations for my students to do their work. I try to make it as interesting and as relevant as possible. Perhaps I am a bit too lenient in regards to homework being completed in class rather than having meant to be done at home.

After that quick conversation - I did dicsuss with the students about my expectations - they completed the set work from the last chapter and we moved on with reading the next chapter. I marked their work and they all did well.

What is the problem then?

That being understanding of a students' situation or even the knowledge that they have so many other things going on in their lives, that sometimes setting homework is just irrelevant and doesn't get done - can be construed as being 'soft'.

In NZ - the word 'soft' comes across as not being 'hard' enough.

'Soft' means a plethora of different words in NZ. Being 'hard' has similar connotations - of course in the opposite direction.

The real problem is that 'soft' has a particular negative connotation that I'm too nice.

I am a compassionate person, and often try to see the situation from the students perspective before anyone elses. When you have 33 students all complaining that they don't have time to complete homework at home - you have to listen and change what you're doing.

And sometimes you do need to be 'hard'.

I have high expectations - I don't allow my students to use the word 'gay' as a negative connotation and I expect my students to act positively towards and with others. I expect students to have an open mind and be interested in learning. At times I often have too high an expectation. Not to say I should lower it or make my expectations more easier.. I just have to reassess the situation and co-construct with my students - and that's okay.

But in a world where some students only get hardness - sometimes they need to see the other side to it so that they can choose who they want to be and how they want to act and react towards others.

And that is all. :)