Archive | May, 2013

The Best Reflection Question E-V-E-R

10 May

Image“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 

― Søren Kierkegaard

This quote screams TRUTH louder than a Blue Whale’s lustful invitation during the mating season (200 decibels!).  Children are constantly searching for ways to understand their own world.  And as educators, it is our responsibility to facilitate this process.  When I was working toward my master’s degree in education at Columbia University, my professors loved to tout the importance of encouraging children to verbally reflect on their experiences in the classroom.  But that’s just part of the whole enchilada (or pizza if you’re more into the American/Italian clichés).  What about the other part of the reflection equation?  Like, um, me?  I mean, it’s all-good that we need to help kids learn how to reflect on their learning.  But don’t I, the teacher, need some reflection time as well?    YES! Because Teacher reflection + Children’s reflection = Super Awesome Happy Success Reflection!

But what are some good questions to ask the children and ourselves?  There are many of course.  But there’s one reflection question in particular that I hold in the highest regard.  I give this question Knight status.  Yeah that’s right.  It is Sir Question to you. I believe Sir Question is extremely vital to the quality of the satisfaction a teacher will feel in and out of the classroom. And the award to the most important reflection question goes tooooooooooooooooooo….

What did I (we) learn from this experience, and how will I (we) us this new knowledge to move forward?

You’re probably thinking, “Hey! That’s two questions in one!  Allen wrote an entire paragraph – and a circumlocutory paragraph at that – to make a big deal about how this one question was so important.  And then he put in a second question?!”  Ok maybe you’re not thinking that.  But I’ll bet you’re wondering what hell “circumlocutory” means.  I felt like using a big word to describe being unnecessarily wordy, so I went to and found it there.  Get the irony? A wordy word to describe a wordy paragraph? He-he.

Ok so anyway, back to this awesome question for teacher to ask.  I try to ask this question at least twice/per day: one time to the kids as a whole group, and one more time to myself after the kids go home.  Since I started doing it consistently, the positive impact on our learning in the classroom has been tremendous. 




The Sour Cream Incident

4 May

I paced up and down the dairy section of Topps Supermarket in search for sour cream.  Knowing that dairy products in Thailand make for slim pickings, I wasn’t necessarily expecting to find it, but still had a raging hope that the fermented pearl of lactic goodness would be hiding somewhere among the million other weird products. I had already decided that it would be there, especially after drawing up a beautiful schema in my head for why I needed sour cream that evening: you see — I was meditating at home earlier that day, and then my still mind decided to feed itself the psychological equivalent of heroin – it injected my heart with DESIRE.  I induced a tantalizing lust to bake my own fatty, unwholesome, scrumptious balls of grease.  And to validate this desire, I forced my mind into hard labor – I quickly devised a romantic scene from childhood of my grandmother, Luba teaching me how to make “ponchiki” – Russian doughnuts.  Then we would smother the sizzling doughnuts with spoonfuls of sour cream and sweet clouds of dusty powdered sugar.  A strict warning to all: if you have never tried this, it’s simply amazeballs!  DO IT!

I’m sure your mouth is watering by now, and so you can understand why my pacing up and down the aisle turned into a crestfallen dally, which quickly turned into a mope, and eventually turned into a blatant loitering session of despair.  I just couldn’t get myself to believe that the sour cream wasn’t there.  I needed a miracle – something to snap me out of my woe.

Miracle gently tapped me on the shoulder.  Her real name was Tasanee, as the pinned nametag on her polo shirt suggested.  Tasanee must have been sent by the gods who show mercy on grumbling nudniks like myself (Nudnik is a Yiddish word that means one who complains…I’m familiar with this word from years of personal experience.).  Tasanee was beaming at me with a look of commiseration.  I was sure she was there to pull me out of my predicament by helping me find the sour cream. But in fact she did something quite different.  Instead she politely gestured her hand with an open palm toward the girl who was promoting and serving up samples of Hagen Daz ice-cream.  She was perfect for the job: tall, skinny, pretty, killer smile, no speaking skills required, and she fit perfectly into her low-cut 1960s skirt.  I figured, it was time to give up my quest for sour cream and wait in this ridiculously long line for a small taste bud-teaser-spoon of ice-cream.   Seriously, it was kind of silly to observe the 6 or 7 shoppers shamelessly waiting in line for such a teaspoon.  I laughed at myself while I waited, since I was being just as silly.  When it was my turn, the ice cream girl quickly scanned me with her eyes, and then handed me two mini paper cups of ice cream!  I gratefully took both cups, but intentionally put on a look of inquiry.  Why two when everyone else gets one?  She responded with: “Khun Doo Sow Djai Mak!”  Which translates to: “You seem so sad!”  I glanced at Tasanee who was nodding her head with an empathic yet stern look of agreement, as if telling me, “Hmmm, yes, indeed, you look quite sad.  You’re better off with double rations tonight.”  And then the three of us all laughed together.

I was overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude and light-hearted cheer.  Two strangers went out of their way to respond to my feelings of sow djai.  Indeed, this sour cream plight of mine is quite trivial, yet I somehow feel a greater significance in the outcome of this story: an exchange of smiles and joy.  And those few moments of ice cream were sooooooooooo good.  I left the store with yogurt as my alternative to sour cream.

This story would be good fodder for the writers at Mentos Mint Company.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  How their commercials are super corny, and in the end, the protagonist and the other actors look at each other, tilt their heads to one side, and exchange dumb smiles.  That’s pretty much what happened here.

And now, off to bake ponchiki and smother them with yogurt and sugar! Sweet!