Oct 21st: Grant Urban Lecture Response

On Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 our ECS 210 lecture class was honoured to have Grant Urban as our guest speaker. He was “a husband, a father, a teacher, a learner, an elementary school Vice Principal” and our class’ first guest speaker for the semestre. The assigned topic for Week 8’s class was Curriculum as Lived/Complexity and I thought that having Grant Urban to share his experiences in our class is one of the best ways to teach the topic.

Grant started talking about narrative stories of experience and shared some of his experiences. I agree on his statement that we should not expect and demand our students to leave the baggage outside the door before they enter our classroom. This is because we must accept our students as a whole and adjust our teachings according to their needs. It cannot be denied that not all of our students share commonalities which will make it hard for us adjust. Rather, we must understand the situation of our students, meet where they are, and make arrangements from there. I thought of this notion as a possible application in a high school setting. I believe that high school is the stage where students experience a high identity crisis. Some are not sure who they are and who they can trust. I believe that it is quite impossible for our students to fully leave that baggage before coming into our class. Instead, we have to develop a relationship that will inform our students that we are here to help them in any situation and not just exclusively for class matters.

Afterwards, Grant talked about curriculum. An overwhelming document is just one of the definitions associated with curriculum. Grant shared the relationship between curriculum as planned and curriculum as lived. He mentioned the tension in between the two but we don’t have to choose because we can pave the way to connect both of them. Then, the notion of “arrogant perception” was presented. This concept was new to me but that was just a thought–because I’ve heard the idea of students as empty vessels before. For some reason, maybe due to popularity, I’ve considered myself, as a student, to be  a vessel before which parallels to Grant’s previous idea that it was the teachers’ duty to fill us up with knowledge and new information. However, Kumashiro and Grant were right that students have a former knowledge before entering school. “Everyone went to school in some sort of way” (Urban), and this is right because we learn from our informal school–and we call this informal school as milieu. We learn through our senses. We learn how to do some tasks by observation; we learn not to touch a hot pot because we’ve tried it before; we learn by attaching results from tasting and smelling things; and we learn simple life teachings from our parents and other older people. Stories of school are “composed by others and told by others” (Chung, 2008). From this cycle, we attain new knowledge and pass them.

However, we must be careful on what pieces of knowledge we pass. We often heard the dominant narratives and pass them down which silenced the voices of the minorities. Grant mentioned that “The best way to give someone a voice is to listen to them”. This is one of the best lesson I took from the class. I agree that many of us are too busy to buy some time listening to stories and by being busy, we assume and/or silenced the voices that we must hear. With this in mind, I thought of a small plan on how I can incorporate this with my teaching. I want to listen to my students’ stories and I can do that through their reflections. Writing reflections is a window that opens to share an individual’s stories and experiences and this is one of the reasons why I wanted to be an English teacher–although we can always find other ways to listen to students’ stories in other classes. Reading and writing has always been my way of connection and I wanted to extend that to my students. With this in mind, I remembered discussing curriculum as autobiography in one of our ECS 210 seminar class–that writing really creates a deeper relationship. However, it cannot be denied that one of the things that it makes impossible is the fact that we do not and cannot see and/or learn the whole story by just seeing its pieces. Moreover, the writer will always have the option of filtering which stories to share and which stories to hide.

At the end of the lecture, Grant discussed that environment is also I teacher. I get the point because I do believe that in some ways, our environment teach us something. However, not everyone easily sees and connects to this notion. I ended up having this question of how can I teach my students to see this lesson from milieu. I wanted to teach that but I’m just not quite sure how to do so. Unexpectedly, Grant replied to my tweet and answered “Teach students to view experiences and narratives through different contexts and lenses. Milieu has narratives to tell…” I don’t know what to say as a reply but I am thankful to have this answer. I will provide a space for my students where they can pick up several lenses in perceiving experiences and narratives. Now, this reminded me of the same seminar class that I’ve mentioned previously. The day when we talked about curriculum as autobiography is the same day that we talked about curriculum as place–where we sat outside Riddell Centre and have discussion about the places offered to us. We talked about how our environment became like a common sense that we haven’t notice because it becomes too usual for us. Certainly, there are narratives behind our favourite spot to study in the campus, or behind the controversial University of Regina sign, or behind the parking for bicycles, or behind the uniqueness of the structures of every building in the campus, and we can go on and on with the lists.

Overall, it was really such an honour to have Grant Urban as our class’ first guest speaker. I learned a variety of new notions and attained several more lenses which would allow to perceive things differently. I love how Grant’s lecture can be connected to our assigned reading, as well as to my previous class lectures and seminars. I look forward to continue with this journey, collect more lenses as I go, and share/use these lenses and everything that I learned to my students in the future.

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