All posts by Rebecca Michelle

Life in Color

Wednesday is Deepavali (also spelled Diwali), so Singapore is decorated, lit up, and celebrating. A friend and I ventured to Little India last Friday night for absolutely delicious banana leaf rice  and masala dosa (also spelled thosai). We looked around at everything for sale at the Deepavali market, did a little shopping, and walked away with flowered henna on our hands.

We’re celebrating in school tomorrow and it will be fun to see everyone in traditional Indian dress. Very comfortable, too!

I haven’t been taking a lot of pictures lately but do want to share some of what I have seen and snapped. Singapore now has a neat bike sharing program, which has added to the already robust (but still dangerous) bicycling culture here. Technically it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk but everyone rides on the sidewalk because it’s safer than riding in the road. I normally don’t mind but sometimes I walk faster than the people on bikes. And sometimes they don’t react when I’m running and the only place for me to go is in the road.

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I took this a few weeks ago at the hawker during a downpour. That temple was under construction when I was here two years ago, so it’s really cool to see it completed.
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As good a parking spot as any and perhaps preferable for not being on the sidewalk.

In addition to enjoying the various cultures that exist in Singapore, I’ve also really loved living in a truly local part of the island that feels completely different from the work world where I spend most of my time.

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The main road near my apartment that I cross to get to the MRT

And finally, since we’re talking about color, here’s a sunset walking home late from work one evening:

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It’s a beautiful world out there. Take a look.

What does learning look like?

Play a game with me. (I love games.)

Picture a teacher. Any teacher. A teacher you’ve had or a teacher you wish you’d had. A teacher you liked or a teacher you didn’t. Picture that teacher in a classroom. What does the classroom look like? Where’s the teacher? What’s the teacher doing? Put some students in that room. Where are the students? What are the students doing?

Try to keep that picture in your mind while reading the description of what my grade ten classroom looks like on a typical day.

Current Classroom
All students have laptops. They’re working, some talking with others but mostly just sitting quietly. Some are listening to music. The desks are in three clusters of four, one cluster of five, and two rows of three. I’m not sure who set them up that way. The students go back and forth from our class blog, which contains links to all resources they’ll need for the day, to whatever it is they’re working on. Some have printed copies of the linked resources and some are using pocket translators to help. There are notes from whatever we’ve recently discussed on the board. As the teacher, I’m either sitting in a spare student desk or on top of the cabinets at the side of the room. I have a laptop, too, and I’m probably on it.

We spend the beginning of each class reading through and then sharing the news. We discuss or review a few things together as a large group. Students complete a task, we discuss, students complete a task, we discuss. Sometimes these tasks are done independently and sometimes they work together. Sometimes students submit responses or assignments on GoogleDrive and sometimes they comment straight onto the blog. Often, they do neither and we periodically discuss for a few minutes after students have talked in their groups.

I’m willing to bet my classroom doesn’t look much like the one in your head.

The classroom in your head probably involves a teacher standing at the front of the room. Depending on how old you are, the students are probably in rows, though maybe groups of four. If you’re picturing a high school class, the students are probably taking notes while the teacher talks. Maybe there’s a PowerPoint presentation that the teacher is using, or maybe there are notes written on a transparency or perhaps on the board, again depending on how old you are. In this classroom, I’m willing to bet that the teacher is “teaching” and the students are “learning” and that the roles and responsibilities of both are clear. Anyone walking in could see that the teacher has the information and the students are supposed to take it in and understand it.

And if that’s not the classroom in your head, I’d love to hear what the classroom in your head looks like!

Even though my classroom might not match what we often think of when we hear “classroom” or “teacher” or “learning”, I have no doubt that my students are indeed learning. I can make this claim based simply on what they say in class, whether we’re having a discussion or they’re asking for clarification while working. I can make this claim based on individual conversation I have with students while checking up on their progress. If necessary, and sometimes it is, I can also provide samples of student work and show you the data I’ve collected and tracked on each student.

Anxiety
And yet.

And yet there’s some anxiety, anxiety for me as the trained educator in the room. What am I actually doing when others walk in or walk by the room? What am I actually doing that requires me to be there? I feel a sense of insecurity because I’m doing what I think is right by my students but looks inactive as compared to what others may do in their classes. The reason my classroom looks the way it does and I organize my classes the way I do is because I know, because I have learned, that with access to curated resources, assistance as needed, and feedback on their progress, my students will be just fine.

I might not be “teaching” in the traditional sense, but the point isn’t that I teach; it’s that students learn.

A few months ago, I read Michael Horn and Heather Stacker’s book Blended, which argues for disruptive innovation in schools. The authors explain that disruptive innovation comes from attempts in the business world to make products and services available to more people at lower cost. It was while reading this book that I began to rethink (yet again) the way that schools run and, more specifically, what I could do within my own classroom to meet students where they are and let them learn in the ways that make the most sense to them.

Future Classroom
Disruptive innovation in schools means making education and educational opportunities available to more people in ways that education may not have been in the past. In order to receive a diploma, everyone used to attend a building called a school. Considering schools in the context of disruptive innovation makes us ask, is that necessary anymore? Horn and Stacker describe models of schools that are a mix of remote and in-person learning experiences, either determined by the students themselves, by a the student in conjunction with a counselor, or by the student’s results on assessments. The very idea of a classroom, then, is called into question.

If I could, I’d design a school that looks like the one described in earlier writing here. I still believe that building peace is the purpose of education and that our students need a toolkit to make the world a better place. As much as I can, I design my grade ten curriculum around the real learning that is necessary for solving world problems and realizing one’s role and responsibilities as a citizen of the world. While my students have due dates, deadlines, and specific assessments, I’m trying to make my classes more flexible by providing students access to a wide range of resources and a choice about which ones to use.

There’s a long way to go. I know. There’s a lot of working, dialoguing, and understanding that has to happen. None of this happens quickly and I’m trying to be patient. I’m trying to be satisfied with one small change at a time. This isn’t the type of change that happens quietly, either, which is why I write about it.


Play a game with me. Design your ideal classroom or school or learning environment. Why do you think it should be this way or look like this? Comment below or send me a message.

Thank you for your thoughts, as always.

On Music

Music is a world within itself
With a language we all understand
With an equal opportunity
For all to sing, dance and clap their hands
-“Sir Duke”, Stevie Wonder

Listening
Though my auditions for my high school’s jazz choir were never successful, I did learn and grow to love “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder, the choir’s closing number at every concert. My favorite part was a section in the middle of the song where the vocalists would imitate the instruments of the band. Their rendition of that song comes back to me surprisingly often.

Regretfully, I’m not really a music person. Instead, I am fascinated with musical people, the ones who inhale music the way I do books. Music occupies such a prominent role in their lives and they know so much that I don’t, which is always interesting to me. My favorite way to learn about people is to investigate what they love and why.

In the Jane Austen novels I read when I was younger, people used to quote poetry and verse. Those were universals, areas where everyone was able to participate. Our modern universal is music in all of its varieties. Regardless of its form, there are elements of music that stand out to that, that we can all relate to. I’ve written before that there’s often a song playing in my head and I know I’m not the only one.

Knowing Me
There are songs I listen to in the dark, loudly, face down, huddled under the blankets for protection.

There are songs I hear when I’m running particular paths with screaming lungs.

There are songs I seek out when I’m feeling empty, groundless, numb, swirling in a void heading nowhere.

There are songs I turn to in moments of unbridled joy, passion, excitement.

There are songs I listen to out of anger, knowing that I’m fighting to reclaim them, to make them mean something other than what they’ve come to mean.

There are songs I don’t listen to anymore, songs I’ve grown out of or away from.

There are songs that make me laugh, songs that make me cry. Songs that push me harder and songs that remind me to slow down.

There are songs that hold me together when nothing else does and songs that tear me apart. Songs that make me realize what I’ve forgotten and remind me where I am.

There are songs I’ve listened to on repeat for days, unwilling to let go of the safety they provide. There are songs I’ve avoided for months at a time, unwilling to engage with the emotions they provoke.

Toward the end high school and continuing into college, a friend and I sent song lyrics back and forth, writing found poetry that reflected what was on our minds. I still have those many pages of lyrics saved as a Word document.

Discovering You
And then there are the songs that people have shared with me. The mixes my music-breathing friends made for birthdays, summer parties, or just because. I’ve listened to some of those mixes so many times that I will forever associate certain songs with “So-and-so’s Summer Mix” or “So-and-so’s 21st Birthday Mix”. One of my favorite songs came from a breakup mix (“So-and-so’s Second Summer Mix 2”).

Just as sharing books is a form of intimacy, I see sharing music as much the same. When you send me a song, you’re giving me a part of you that I might not otherwise be able to see. You’re asking me to accept something that matters to you with an open-mind, knowing that my own preferences might differ, but wanting me to understand what makes you tick.

And I will listen. I will always listen. And then ask why you like it, why you shared it, what stands out to you, how you found it. I want to know why this resonates because I want to engage with you, learn more about you. I want to be part of your life and I want you to know that I’m curious about who and what you are. So I listen, I ask, and I listen again. If your music has lyrics, I often read them. What’s in there for you?

We share with people we care about, people who we hope also care about us. We invite them into our lives and hope they’ll accept. We show them pieces of ourselves and gauge their reactions before stripping ourselves bare, exposing one thing at a time.

And when we find something that connects us, we are overjoyed. We are ecstatic that someone has welcomed that piece of us, that someone is invested in us and our well-being. We call these people our friends, our lovers, our family. We feel at once affirmed, validated, secure in who we are.

We know, in that moment, that we are doing okay. We know that we are okay.

You’ve got the music in you
Don’t let go
You’ve got the music in you
One dance left
This world is gonna pull through
Don’t give up
You’ve got a reason to live
Can’t forget
We only get what we give
-“You Get What You Give” – New Radicals