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Posts Tagged ‘#socialartist’

Nancy White left us on day one of her MOOC #change 11 week with a challenge to share examples of social artists. Honestly, I was still had a hard time wrapping my mind around what a social artist is and what is social artistry. It took an email exchange with Nancy to me thinking more about it. I could have named some well-known ones but I’ve decided instead to share one that isn’t known who is affectionately called “Mrs. H”.

Mrs. H is now a retired teacher but during her last year of teaching (1999-2000 school year), she approached me at the start of the year to help her out.

Mrs. H wanted to find a different and new way to motivate and encourage her grade 2 class (some 25- 7 year old students with approximately 6-8 English as a second language (ESL) learners- a few not speaking a single word since they had just immigrated that summer). She felt that stickers just didn’t cut it anymore. I went back to her with the idea of developing a class web site (now remember, this was over 12 years ago and technology was definitely not where it is today especially in the public schools!). Mrs. H had no clue how to set it up or even where to take it so that’s where I stepped in. Working together, we developed the site and quickly saw how the students took an immediate liking to it.

It became a labor of love each weekend as we would set up a new theme of the week and posted a piece of work that each student had completed during the past week. What was incredibly amazing was to witness how these 7 year olds emerged out of their shells, were extremely motivated to learn, and to produce “quality work” (there were even students begging to re-do their work because they felt it wasn’t “their best” and they desired to have their “best work” published weekly). In the case of the ESLers, they preferred to stay in Mrs. H’s class instead of having their ESL classes. They were the ones who seemed to make the greatest progress- they became not only confident in using English and interacting with their peers but they also seemed to acclimatise to the culture much quicker than the other ESLers in the school.

The principal soon caught hold of what was going on (parents talk!) and I was hired (in addition to my other full time work in the business sector) as a “tutor-in-the-classroom” to work alongside Mrs. H to teach her class technology, journalism, and media literacy. Mrs. H found a way to integrate technology into almost all her lessons and very soon the classroom extended far beyond the four walls of her classroom at that public school. We brought in a few donated computers and installed them in her classroom so that her students had full-time access to the internet whenever they needed it.

The web site became a tool for bridging families (in situations of divorce and in situations where extended family lived in another country) which in turn provided greater support and feedback to the students. Apart from the web site, the students learned interviewing skills, reporting, journalism, and videography. They put their skills to use when they invited different speakers from the community. They also paired up with a school in Japan and started corresponding with their grade 2 class quickly learning that they weren’t all that different after all.

But the results, which cannot be translated into a grade score that academic institutions and boards of education insist upon, of Mrs. H- as a social artist, practicing the art of social artistry (and not knowing it!) were very tangible when she hosted a special evening for the families of her students. On that night the director of the school board, the principal, the vice-principal, Mrs. H, and I witnessed what an impact Mrs. H’s “desire to motivate her students” had. Every single student was present and every parent (even those who were divorced or separated) were present to celebrate the students’ achievement and success in a special previewing and awards ceremony of the students’ participation in a multimedia project for elementary schools in the Asian Pacific Economic Council (APEC). Her class was chosen by the Ministry of Education in Singapore to participate and one the groups in her class (and they were the ESL group!) won first place in Canada. The “intangible” in this case was witnessing families coming together to celebrate and elevate the young learners.

From time-to-time Mrs. H will bump into a parent or student from that class. The “kids” are now young adults in university and most are still close friends and hang out in social media sites. From what Mrs. H has heard, a few are hoping to teach and be able to inspire children in the same way that they were inspired by their extraordinary social artist teacher!

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