Learning and Violence dot Net

I often link to resources on LearningandViolence.net, so I thought I’d give it a little blog post of its own.
Learningandviolence.net is a treasure trove for people who work in adult basic education, literacy or essential skills programs.  Many students in such programs have experienced violence in their past, or are still dealing with violence now. And violence affects learning.

I assume that in any class, there will be students who have difficulties learning because of their experiences with violence, but I don’t want to be a counsellor for these students. I’m not trained and not interested in counselling.

However, as an instructor, I’m interested in helping people learn. I want them to succeed in my classes. So over the years I have learned some strategies for dealing with the effects of violence on the ability to learn, and developed some of my own. (My classroom rules “Just say ‘Pass!” and “Refuse to be bored” are two of those strategies.)

Learningandviolence.net is a huge site, full of resources; a great place to begin is the Teachers’ Room in the student kit in the new section on Changing Education. Did you know, for example, that students who don’t ask for help when they need it, or who constantly put themselves down, may be using old patterns of behaviour that were useful in violent situations? (Not useful in a learning situation, it goes without saying.)

Click on the books and other objects in the teachers room for information, strategies and new insights into situations you will recognize from your experience in the classroom.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll say that I have done a little work on editing or writing a few of the resources on the site, and that Jenny Horsman, the guiding spirit behind the site, is a friend of mine.

7 thoughts on “Learning and Violence dot Net

  1. Pingback: Jenny Horsman for TEDx Toronto | Working in Adult Literacy

  2. Thanks Kate I really appreciate you telling people about learningandviolence.net – but i am puzzled by your response to the teachers’ room writerforacause as to me what we were trying to do with that kit and with those teachers’ resources is say that when we acknowledge that violence impacts learning we will hear less of the stories of violence so many of us have experienced – and instead be able to support more effective learning. Your response makes me think we were less clear than i hoped.

    Often i hear that people are anxious that addressing the impact of violence will mean they hear detailed stories – though once people try it they often report that the detailed stories don’t get suddenly dumped in the room the way they “used to”. The teaching ideas in the kit – and the site as a whole – don’t invite us to become counsellors or to encourage the stories – or even to figure out who has experienced violence or not – but rather to teach everyone as if they might have – and pay attention to helping students to learn to come back from spacing out (such a brilliant survival strategy but so unhelpful in the classroom), to notice their own old patterns and how they get in the way of learning (including such patterns as struggling to always stay in control, or handing over control to others), to help them learn middle-ground between all and nothing (so hard to keep slogging away at studies when we have an all or nothing approach – find that one so often myself) – and so on. I find for myself and others when i teach in this way that this seems to open more conversations and more possibilities about why learning is difficult – helps me to be more curious about what is going on for students and myself…

    So now I’m going to look at the teachers’ room again and try to see what we might need to tighten up…. and I’m curious about your and other people’s reactions to this site and the new materials…….

    • Jenny, I actually want to know the behaviors that indicate a student might have gone through violence so I can approach teaching in a different way in order to be more effective. I don’t want to hear the details, though. The “students” in the teacher’s room give details that I am not prepared to handle, making it impossible for me to learn what I need to from visiting the site. There were other materials on the site (such as essays) that describe behaviors and techniques in a way that didn’t demand I follow the student through their horrible experiences.

      Here’s an example of the differences I am trying to point out. In our county, there has been tremendous strife regarding the issue of illegal immigration and in some cases, human trafficking. There’s a local lawyer who works with victims of trafficking. She explained, in general, how it worked. That was horrible enough, but when she started telling the actual stories of the victims, describing what they went through, I couldn’t handle it. I “passed” on going to forum on trafficking because I didn’t want to subject myself to those stories when I already knew how bad things are and that I can’t handle it emotionally.

      Here’s another example. My daughter, who has experienced abuse and bullying, is taking an online course. One assignment included a graphic selection from “A Child Called It,” a memoir about extreme child abuse. My daughter had a breakdown. That reading was followed by something on the Jewish Holocaust. Being a good student, she wanted to complete the assignment. I had to tell her to stop working, and I contacted the school. After several communications, it was noted that the virtual high school did not have my daughter’s IEP (an individual educational plan for students with disabilities). She could choose another reading and together, we picked out Anne Frank’s diary which does not contain details but is poignant without them.

      As students as teachers, some of us have been close enough to violence that we already understand what it can do to a person. We don’t need to re-live it through someone else. That’s not healthy or helpful, IMO.

      I appreciate your revisiting the teacher’s room materials and for putting so much work into the website! One thing I would like is a list of behaviors that might indicate a student has been exposed to violence (such as spacing out, for example), something that could easily be put into a notebook.

      • I get it now – it is the very explicit material in the stories within the student kit as a whole that is disturbing you – and that i sooooo understand. When we were creating these stories to try to illustrate the ways past experiences of violence can play out and to help everyone and anyone feel that they are not alone we had many debates about whether to put the back stories of people’s experiences of violence in or not – we field tested and piloted – still debating – but in the end have left it in in the first two stories and out in the later ones – people who argued for taking out the detail were concerned about how it might trigger – and my general take is that we don’t encourage students to open up stories of their own experience – the classroom is not a place for good listening and witnessing. But those who wanted it kept in had seen the way that the stories had led many to recognize themselves to feel they weren’t the only ones who had experienced so much – and that such experiences were not unspeakable – and i have seen that be absolutely priceless for some students. I have to confess i found myself swinging from side to side in the argument and I’m still not sure…

        But i do want to steer you to the little books on the table in the teachers’ room – that’s where you will find the clear description of what the impacts can look like as they play out in education and some really concrete strategies for addressing them as a teacher… no stories of violence interspersed there….

  3. Most of the stuff in the Teacher’s Room is a definite “pass” for me. I teach in a jail. I don’t want to hear that much detail about a student’s background. I’ve got enough in my own past to deal with without taking on their baggage, too.

    When I am teaching, I like to know where my students are coming from in general. For example, I want to know about their native country, how long they have been in the United States, how much they understand me, how many years of schooling they have had, what they want to learn, etc. Sometimes students share things like challenges they have had (most often, alcoholism), marital/family status (usually accompanied by problems) and complaints about the justice system. That’s okay, but I tell them I don’t want to know about their cases and that I’m not a lawyer, judge or counselor, thank GOD! I want to motivate them. I want them to know I see their potential. I tell them I am proud of them, that I know how hard it is to learn another language and what they are doing is great. I even say, “I love my students!” and “I don’t have stupid students.” But please…spare me the details. The Teacher’s Room was over the top for me.

    • Thanks for giving the time and energy to check out the Teachers’ Room, and for letting us know you are “passing” on it. ;)
      I too am the first to say that I am not a counsellor, do not want to be a counsellor, but I know that violence is one of the things that interferes with students’ learning. LD, violence, poverty, racism, homophopia, lack of daycare, lack of transportation–the list goes on. So I let my students know about resources available in the community and the program.
      When a student misses class because her kids are sick (often) and she has no back-up daycare, I let my knowledge of the situation temper my judgement, and don’t immediately assume that she is not motivated. I find the information on http://www.learningandviolence.net helps me think about student behaviour more creatively and generously than I might otherwise have done.
      I share your unwillingness to hear the details. To hear stories of people’s painful experiences, especially when you can’t do anything but listen, and you really don’t have time to listen because you have many other things to do as part of your job, wears you down. Keeping myself safe in the classroom means finding a way to work with students without getting overwhelmed.

      • “Keeping myself safe in the classroom means finding a way to work with students without getting overwhelmed.” Exactly! Boundaries are what keep us safe. It’s hard to recognize sometimes when those boundaries are being crossed, however. Because of that, I always appreciate some backup, someone who is a little more alert than I am because I am caught up in the lessons. Also, I do look up my students’ histories just so I know what I am dealing with. Those histories are not detailed, however, and I am glad of that.

        In jail, there aren’t too many places I can refer students to. Actually, there are NO places I can refer them to for legal and practical reasons. It really stinks not being able to provide resources. The best I can do is know I am giving them what I can, which is better than what I could when I was on the outside just raging against things like racism, discrimination, hatred, etc. The serenity prayer is one of my favorites: …accept the things I cannot change…wisdom to know the difference. It’s that wisdom bit that’s the real killer. It takes time to acquire wisdom, which means there are lots of screw ups along the way.

love to hear your ideas or experiences!

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