Not the ‘R’ word!

the older you get

For the past few years people have often asked me when I will retire. Some people think I already have. Some think I am too young to be thinking about it (they are either very kind or very blind), and others think I should have done it long ago.

I have preferred to ignore the word ‘retire’ for the negative connotations I thought it embodied and the implication that I would have to admit to things like:

  • I’m getting old
  • I have nothing left to contribute
  • I am passed my use-by date and can’t keep up with modern trends and developments
  • I am ready for ‘God’s waiting room’. (I ‘m not even sure I’d be able to find the right room, and he’d probably keep me waiting for ever anyway!)

Even this morning I heard an ad on the radio that put together the concepts of retirement, having more time on one’s hands, retirement village and nursing home.  If that’s what retirement means, it’s not for me.

When I was fifty-ish and working part-time, I awoke one morning to the realisation that, if I was going to retire at sixty, I had only ten years of working life left. With that in mind I returned to full-time work in order to earn as much as I could so that I could save enough to support myself in retirement. (I think I should have had the epiphany many years earlier!)

When the ten years of teaching full-time as a year one teacher were done, I was still not ready to consider the ‘R’ word. However just at that time an opportunity to be involved in writing curriculum support materials was offered. A short break from the classroom to refresh and re-energise was a welcome idea and I accepted the position.

After eighteen months in the role I reverted to working part-time in order to devote more time to my own writing while establishing a website for peddling said writing. I didn’t consider it retirement, transition to retirement, or anything to do with retirement. For me, the working week was simply a combination of paid work and working for myself. It was not time off.

mystica_Coins_(Money)

Now another eighteen months has past and I am indeed counting down the ‘paid’ working days until ‘retirement’. In my head and heart I still don’t consider it retirement, perhaps a re-alignment of priorities, but others do. I am breaking ties with my long-term on-and-off employer for the fourth and last time. This time there will be no going back. Even though I may have said that on each of the three previous occasions I resigned and still went back; this time I am very doubtful of that occurring. This time it is ‘officially’ retirement, and I accept that if I have more time on my hands to do my own work, then that is a good thing!

It is the enthusiasm that others have for me and hearing them excitedly question, “What are you going to do?”  that has helped my change of heart and I am beginning to accept their use of the ‘R’ word. Denial would be another unwinnable battle. So what if I intend to spend the days of my retirement at the computer? Getting a website up and running might be just an expensive hobby, but not as expensive as others I could think of, like boating or flying! And definitely more fun for me.

The changing view of self as transitioning through working full-time, part-time, being semi-retired, or retired is not unique to me. While some embrace the change, eager to accept every opportunity that freedom from employer demands and schedules has to offer; others like me sidestep in, with a similar appreciation of the freedom from outside expectations but an ever-increasing expectation of self.

retiring with attitude

Last year “Retiring with Attitude”, written by one of my favourite bloggers Caroline Lodge and her colleague Eileen Carnell, was published. I found the title quite intriguing and thought it may apply to me, though I wasn’t sure to which attitude they were referring. However the subtitle “Approaching and Relishing your Retirement” gave a few clues and I knew I had to read it. Were they serious?

In the introduction the authors explain that retirement should be viewed as “a time of further exciting possibilities”. They set out their goals which include convincing readers that the “old” view of retirement (they say “previous”) is no longer applicable; that possibilities abound; that outdated views of ageism and sexism should be challenged; and that “Learning is the most powerful means to handle changes and transitions” that occur in the retirement phase of life.

Retiring with Attitude” is an easy and enjoyable read which I recommend to anyone approaching (from near or far) or already in retirement. The authors have drawn upon their own experiences and many years of research from which to explain options and make suggestions for every aspect of life. While “Chapter 11: This is Your Rainy Day: Relationships with Money” does discuss finances, the book raises many other issues including seeking and accepting support as well as ways to ensure you are not over-committed to fulfilling others needs and requests.

The authors emphasize that there is no one way for everyone to do retirement but that learning and good communication are the key. They say that retirement can be the time of one’s life and that

As an older person you can develop a new identity and redefine your life.

I think that’s the ‘R’ word for me: Redefine. I’ll get to do those things I always wanted to do but didn’t have time for when my focus was elsewhere.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

 

Who wouldn’t be excited with high test scores?

Regular readers of my blog are aware of my attitude to didactic top-down, content and assessment driven methods of schooling students to become machines regurgitating meaningless facts on command. A bit of push and shove it in and belch it out.  For those of you who weren’t aware – now you are!

I probably should apologise for my indecorous description as I’m usually a little more temperate in the way I express my views, but I won’t as that is how I am feeling about it at the moment. The authorities who have the power to make the changes necessary are so caught up in their own murky visions that they fail to see either effects or solutions. Every time I read another report of test scores or hear of another child damaged by a faulty system my frustration grows.  It becomes one of those hysteria blossoming days.

bag

A few moments ago I read a post titled “Vietnam Wallops US on PISA. Vietnamese educators belittle value of PISA” on Diane Ravitch’s blog. Ravitch is an education historian.

As the title suggests, Vietnamese fifteen year old students did better than their US, UK and most other EU counterparts in the 2012 PISA tests, ranking 12th out of 76. What I found interesting about the article was not the results but the attitude of Vietnam’s Deputy Minister of Education and Training. His view that the tests don’t reflect students’ overall competence, reminded me of a letter, shared in my previous post, written by teachers to students sitting the national tests last week in Australia. (PISA are international tests).

In the article referred to by Ravitch, Dr Giap Van Duong was reported as making reference to UNESCO’s four pillars of learning: Learning to know, Learning to do, Learning to be and Learning to live together. His opined that PISA addresses only the first pillar, and in only a limited way. He said that while Vietnamese students did well on the tests, “many … students fail to land a job after graduation. (and that when) they study overseas, many have difficulties in meeting the requirements of advanced education systems like team-work, problem solving and creativity”. Perhaps they are not “out of basement ready” as described by Yong Zhao.

Duong said that the reason Vietnamese students do well on the tests is because the “The whole system operates to serve only one purpose: exams.”

Duong’s admission that Vietnamese students lack the ability to work in teams, to problem solve and to think creatively reiterates the fears of many teachers who are  ruled by expectations of high test results and provided little opportunity to inspire learning, which surely remains the real (if neglected) purpose of education. Counterbalancing one’s philosophy with an employer’s expectations sometimes seems like being caught between a rock and a hard place.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about rocks and hard places. But Charli knows that good can often spring from those seemingly hard places through making connections. She has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows a hard place and a connection.

It is connections that are most important in my two main roles in life: parent and teacher. Neither is easy and neither will result in much good without making connections. I often worry about things I have said and the affect they may have had on others. To be truthful, occasionally it even keeps me awake at night. While I would rather think of my words and actions creating a positive ripple, there is no guarantee that, even when delivered with my best intentions, they won’t do harm.

Trevor Pilgrim shared a quote which puts it this way:

What-a-teacher-writes-on

In his article Pilgrim says,

“teachers have (the power) to develop their students and shape their future lives.  The power to turn them on or off academically, stimulate or dampen their minds and heighten or destroy their engagement and intellectual curiosity.”

Scary stuff!

At about the same time I read an article that said that the influence of teachers is not as great as one might think; that socio-economic status, amongst other things, is more important. While I am happy with the thought of having a positive effect, I definitely do not wish to ruin anyone’s life so am happy to know that my influence is not be the most important to the lives of my students.

For this challenge of Charli’s I am back thinking about Marnie’s art teacher and the hard place she found herself in when she saw the brown muddy mess that Marnie seemed to have made of her paints. That she must respond is a given; but how? Whatever she says will probably have a lasting impact so she must ensure that her response is appropriate. While her initial instinct is to express disappointment, she maintains her professional composure and delays commenting until she has thought it through.

Here is my response:

Brown.

She glanced at the child, usually so eager to please, and knew this was no ordinary day.

Downcast and avoiding eye contact, the child trembled. Her instinct was to reach out with comfort to soothe the hurt; but stopped. Any touch could end her career. What to say? Brown earth/brown rocks? would ignore and trivialise the pain. Any talk now would be insensitive with other ears listening. Any word could unravel the relationship built up over time. Nothing would harm more than doing nothing. Her steps moved her body away but her heart and mind stayed; feeling, thinking.

 Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction

How important is it, if it can’t be tested?

A+

This week, all across Australia, students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 took part in the National Assessment Program NAPLAN.

In previous posts I have questioned the purpose of this type of assessment, the importance placed upon the results, and the undue stress caused to students, teachers and families. You can read some of my thoughts here, here and here for starters.

Of course I am not the only one questioning, and Australia is not the only country in which nation-wide testing is set, and questioned. The tests are no more popular in the US with many students opting out. Diane Ravitch does much to raise awareness of the issues on her blog. Concerns are also raised in the UK, and no doubt elsewhere.

However sometimes something good can arise where it is least expected. Out of the melee of the testing environment this week came a wonderful letter written to students by teachers who know that there is more to each one than the score on a test. A parent of one of the students posted the letter on Facebook and it went viral. The story was picked up by a variety of media outlets.

I congratulate the teachers for writing and distributing the letter. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Check it out on Facebook here, or read some of the media reports:

ABC Brisbane

Daily Mail UK

The Independent UK

A similar letter went viral in the UK last year, and according the ABC article, the letter was based on one written to students in the US a number of years ago. I don’t think the message can be repeated often enough.

Maybe it is one thing to tell the students, but how do we get the policy makers first to listen and then to act?

Perhaps they should have a listen to the discussion by Tim and Debbie, one of my favourite pieces from the 80’s.

Actually, in relation to the letter, I was looking for one of my favourite quotes by Tim but sadly couldn’t find it. He says, “My thoughts exactly. I would have said it if I’d thought of it!”

Thank you

Thank you for reading.

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

My time, your time, springtime!

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that is a snapshot of spring.

 

At the moment approximately 90% of the world’s population are experiencing the season of spring. The rest of us, the 10% who live in the Southern Hemisphere are entering the cooler months. How those seasons are experienced varies from place to place. I have never experienced an autumn that would fit the description of ‘fall’; nor have I experienced a winter with snow. Those concepts are foreign to me. That is not to say that some living in the southern states of Australia haven’t experienced them. It all depends where one lives.

The Australian Government describes Australia as having two main seasonal patterns in six different climatic zones. The Indigenous Peoples of Australia describe the changes as holistic changes in nature and life. In Australia, attitudes to and understanding of the seasons are as diverse as the experiences. While the weather doesn’t always know it, spring is marked on the Australian calendar from September to November. It doesn’t matter to which part of the country you travel, there is always something to see and do in spring.

Springtime in Tasmania 2014

Springtime in Tasmania 2014

Part of the daily routine in an early childhood classroom is observing and discussing the daily and seasonal changes in the weather. Each day the children observe the weather and discuss how it may influence their clothing and activities and the impact that changes may have to their local environment and other things including animals.

Many classrooms have a calendar prominently displayed on which the children’s observations can be recorded and compared. Children are often invited to draw symbols and write words such as those shown here.

weather symbols

Discussions about how warm or how cool it is may also occur, though in some parts there is never really what could be called ‘cold’, just ‘cooler’.

temperature chart

 

Reading stories was always an integral part of my classroom practice and I needed little excuse to read another. When the seasons changed I was always looking for suitable books to read and the first I thought of at springtime was Wake Up Bear by Lynley Dodd, a New Zealander.

Wake up bear

While we don’t have bears in Australia, just these cute koalas often incorrectly called bears;

or hibernating animals, except for this cute little mountain pygmy-possum;

Wake Up Bear is a delightful story to herald spring. In the story, bear has slept all through winter, but when spring arrives he is not quite ready to wake up. The animals each try to wake him up and finally they succeed.

While it was not Dodd’s intention with the story, it made me think about children learning in their own time, “waking up” when they are ready. Sometimes they need to be shown something just once. Sometimes they need a great deal of exposure and support to “get” it. Sometimes it’s better to leave them alone until the time is right. There have been previous discussions about this here my blog, including In their own time and Not Yet.

I thought Charli’s spring challenge was perhaps another opportunity for talking about individual differences and the need to respect a learner’s journey. I’ve gone back to my early childhood roots. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Springtime in Tasmania 2014

Springtime in Tasmania 2014

 Spring

Bees buzz

Wildflowers bloom

Cockatoos squawk

“Gone is the gloom!”

 

Mother duck waits

For her babies to hatch.

Here they come now

The first of the batch

 

So cute and cuddly

All covered in fluff

Eager and ready

To show off their stuff

 

“Patience!“ quacks mother

“There’s no need to rush.”

“One more is coming.

Stand back. Please don’t crush.”

 

With one final crack

Last one’s out of his shell

“I’m proud of you babies.

You’ve all done so well.”

 

Mother duck smiles

As they waddle in line

She knows that each duckling’s

Own time will be fine.

Thank you

Thank you for reading.

Springtime in Tasmania 2014

Springtime in Tasmania 2014

Happy spring to most of you! For the others: enjoy the cooler respite from the relentless heat!

 

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thought about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

Are you ready or what?

When thinking about schooling and education there is always a lot of discussion about readiness and the things that must be done to have a child ready for school, ready for the next class, ready go to college or university . . .

While I agree that a learner must be ready to take the next step, to broaden understanding of a concept or to grasp the complexity of deeper issues; just what that readiness requires is often up for conjecture.

Back in the early days of my teaching experience workbooks of ‘reading readiness’ exercises were frequently used with students in their first year of school. These activities generally required children to identify the one that was different in a group of objects. The exercises, such as those shown below, progressed through various levels of difficulty with the aim of preparing children for reading.
reading readiness exercises

Fortunately our understanding of how reading is learned has progressed since then and it is now recognised that exercises such as those did little to prepare children for learning to read. We now know that the best preparation for reading is to be immersed in language through conversations, with adults especially; to be read to frequently; and to develop a love of books and interest in print by sharing with others. The role of parents in preparing children for reading cannot be underestimated.

This week I watched a video of a presentation by Yong Zhao about a type of readiness he referred to as “Out of basement readiness”. I admit I hadn’t heard the term before but the concept is definitely familiar.

I do recommend you listen to Zhao’s talk. It is interesting, thought-provoking and humorous. I think I enjoyed listening to this talk as much as to Ken Robinson’s on How schools kill creativity which I have mentioned in previous posts here and here, amongst others. However at 55 minutes some of you may not be willing to commit the time. For me, it is 55 minutes of my life I’m very happy to not get back!

I will not attempt to share all the content of the talk; there is too much of value, but here are just a few snippets that resonated with me:

Zhao explains out of basement readiness this way:

out-of-basement readiness - Yong Zhao

 

Zhao says that students are being mis-educated, that they are being educated for something that doesn’t exist, and suggests that we should remove several phrases from the language we use to talk about education, especially

  • Under-performance
  • Evidence based
  • Data driven

 

His description of the traditional education paradigm will be familiar to any frequent readers of my blog. He says that it is “about forcing people to do what some other people prescribe them to do” and that we reduce it to just a few subjects that can be tested.

 

He talks about the “homogenisation” of schooling, and explained that homogenisation was the best way of getting rid of creative people and innovative thinkers.

 

He mentioned kindergarten readiness tests, and suggests that the only test should be whether the kindergarten was ready for the children and parents.

 

He recognises the uniqueness of every student, with different backgrounds, motivations and talents; and stresses the importance of effort. He says, “You cannot be born to be great. If you do not put effort into it you can never be good at it.” He explains it this way:

 “If you put ten thousand hours into something you are good at, something you are interested in you get great talent. But if I force you to spend time on something you have no interest in, you hate and something you are not good at, you at best become mediocre.”

He says that countries that produce high test scores, score low on confidence and interest.

He says,

“Everyone is born to be creative, that’s a human being, that’s our gift: to be able to adapt, to learn and relearn and do new things. But school has typically tried to suppress it (with) . . . short term learning. . . Direct instruction may give the short-term gain but cause long term damages Studies show that if you teach children how to play with the toy, they lose creativity, lose curiosity and if you allow children to explore more they may not test very well but they maintain creativity and curiosity.”

American schools _ Yong Zhao

Zhao says that “our students do not fit into a future world, they create the future world. This is why we need a different type of education.” He says that “education is to create opportunities for every individual student, they are not an average, they are not a probability, they need to be improved as individual human beings.”

our students do not fit - Yong Zhao

I couldn’t agree more. What do you think?

 

I was led to Zhao’s talk via Diane Ravitch’s blog which is about the education system and situation in the US. Much of what she writes has applications further afield and I recommend it to anyone wishing to stay informed of current issues in education.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts on any aspect of this post.

 

 

Colour my world a rainbow!

This week at the Carrot Ranch, through her thought- and idea/l-provoking post, Charli Mills invites writers to respond to her challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that tackles racism.

Charli describes racism as a social earthquake that divides our common ground. She says that Our first step is to recognise our one race: human (with a) colourful kaleidoscope of culture.”

Charli suggests that writers Think about common ground, about the things that rip us apart as humans. How we can recover our identities in a way that honors the identities of all individuals? What breaks the barrier of other-ness? Imagine a better tomorrow that doesn’t need expression in riots or taking sides on social media. As writers, think about genres, characters, tension and twists. We can rebuild.

In my comment on Charli’s post I admitted that I am not qualified to write on this issue. I am fortunate to have never experienced the negativity of racism, the cloak that can at the same time judge one to be invisible and without value or singled out in the spotlight of blame. The responses of those who have, from the moment of their birth, needed to prove the value of their existence are often judged without understanding or sympathy by those who have experienced no such discrimination and whose attitudes are so ingrained as to go unnoticed.

Consider this exchange between work correspondents who decided to meet up at a conference. “How will we know each other?” she asked. He responded, “I’m black.” In recounting this episode to friends, she said, “I’ve never thought of myself as white.” Perhaps until all feel their skin colour is not an issue, any more than eye or hair colour, it will remain so.

I am not participating in the flash challenge this week, feeling unable to write something that would give sufficient recognition to the gravity of the divide that is racism. However I do not want my silence to be seen as lack of concern, or negation of the importance of the issue. Instead I will use my post to amplify the voices of others.

Dr Enyimba Maduka from the Department of Philosophy, University of Calabar in a paper entitled “Racism and Philosophy: An examination of Human and Kantian Racial Thoughts” considers the history of racism and the effects it has had on the mindsets of African peoples and cultures as well as Western philosophies. Maduk specifically targets and explores writings by Hume and Kant.

He says that racism can be understood “as a functional rationalization and symbol for oppression; (that it is) an attitude always directed at the vanquished not the powerful; it is the colonized who are the victims of racism and not the colonizers.”

He also says that “when human persons refuse to recognize the authentic humanity of their neighbours and fellow human beings, they cease or fail to be human persons themselves”. Strong words, definitely requiring reflection.

Listen to Clint Smith explain everyday limitations imposed by, and reminders of, skin colour; and ponder their humanity:

Or read the letter to his future son, expressing his hopes and dreams and fears. His message reiterates Charli’s call to rebuild.

He says,

“do not for one moment think you cannot change what exists. This world is a social construction; it can be reconstructed. This world was built; it can be rebuilt. Use everything that you accrue to reimagine the world.”

Or listen to James A. White Sr. describe the difficulties he had in renting a house, and consider how patient and resilient you may be in similar circumstances. Some of these situations I find difficult to imagine. White Sr. aims to share his experiences of racism in order to stress the message that all races, genders and backgrounds must come together to challenge the status quo.

Or perhaps Nina Jablonksi, an anthropologist, who says that skin colour is an illusion.

While many people deny it, or deny it affects them or their communities, racism is also an issue in Australia.

According to the All Together Now Erasing Racism project, acknowledgement of racism is essential to start preventing it in our communities.

We must all make an effort to ensure that racism stops with me.

I think education and understanding is a good place to start.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

A garden where children flourish

The introduction to this TED talk The best kindergarten you’ve ever seen by Takaharu Tezuka states:

At this school in Tokyo, five-year-olds cause traffic jams and windows are for Santa to climb into. Meet: the world’s cutest kindergarten, designed by architect Takaharu Tezuka. In this charming talk, he walks us through a design process that really lets kids be kids.

Some things that appeal to me about this kindergarten include:

  • the lack of boundaries between inside and outside, and between classrooms
  • the freedom of a child to choose to be in, or to leave, a space
  • the space and freedom for children to run
  • the sounds of happy children
  • the opportunity for children to help each other
  • and the attempt to use architecture to change the lives of children without controlling every waking moment

There are a few things that concern me, that make me feel uncomfortable, but maybe that’s just my urge to control being challenged.

What do you think?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.