It’s all in how you look at it

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Is the jar half full or half empty?

Many years ago I was employed to be an “agent of change” in a school. My job title was Resource/Remedial Teacher and my role was two-fold: to fix up the children who were “failing”, in reading especially, and to “teach” the teachers more effective strategies for teaching and learning. To say it was a difficult role is an understatement. Think of the old lightbulb jokes.

psychologist lightbulb

It is just as difficult for change agents.

But the job wasn’t without some rewards.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Easy fix

Teachers considered that one brief session each week in a small group of other children would not only be sufficient to “fix” a child’s learning difficulty, it would also fulfil any requirement to provide differentiated instruction for the learners in their classrooms. “He goes to remedial,” both explained the child’s lack of progress and released the teacher from the obligation to make any other concessions or attempts to support the child.

Improve teaching

It soon became obvious that the attitudes of teachers fitted into two opposing “camps”, with a smattering of differences along a continuum stretched between. There were those who focused on the children, what they knew, what they needed to know and how to help them learn. These teachers were creative and innovative in their approaches, trying out new ideas and constantly on the lookout for ways to engage, motivate and inspire children.

There were those who were focussed on what was to be taught, on their lesson plans, assessment and results. They expected the children to attend, respond and learn because that was what was expected of them. If the students failed to learn what was taught, the teachers questioned neither their methods nor the content for its suitability to student needs. Rather they found the fault to be with the students who were lacking in some way. Their view was of students as empty vessels to be filled, and if they did not fill from what they were offered, then it was the vessel, not the method of filling that was faulty.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

So many times the teachers would complain that they had “taught” the work but the students hadn’t learned it.

In “my world”, if there was no learning there had been no teaching; and I found this attitude difficult to comprehend or accept. Nonetheless I tried to be understanding, patient and supportive, listening to and restating their complaints to ensure them I had understood. I would then make gentle suggestions like “Have you tried?” “Have you thought about?” Rarely was I successful in getting them to reflect upon, interrogate or make adjustments to their practices. I guess if they saw no fault with their practices, why should they change?

A current focus in assessment driven school programs is what the students can and can’t do, with the main focus on the “can’t”. I much prefer changing perspective to the “not yet” thinking and growth mindset of Carol Dweck.

success

 

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about perspective. She challenges writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that has a shift in perspective. It is right up my alley. Thanks Charli!

Inside

They slumped around the table, eyes transfixed on hands clasping coffee cups, bemoaning their lot, each desperate to outdo the other in frustration and despair.

“They just don’t get it.”

“I’ve tried everything.”

“They don’t listen —”

“They’re so rude —“

“In my day we wouldn’t dream —“

Outside

They welcomed the kiss of sun upon their cheeks, the freshness of air to their lungs; and breathed as one in wonder.

They found cloud-painted sky pictures, brightly coloured beetles in green grass stalks, claw-made scratches in the rough tree bark; and brimmed with wonder.

and dared to dream …

Thank you

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

Ignorance is bliss … Learning to be explicit

My Dad used to say that what I didn’t know wouldn’t do me any harm. He was not impressed when a brother wrote in my autograph book when I was in my early teens that what I didn’t know wouldn’t do me much good either!

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

I’m torn between the two. I have come to realise that the more I know, the more there is to learn.

the more I know the more there is to learn

This learning journey never ceases. Each step is just one further into the unknown. I seem to know less now, or need to know more now, than I ever have before. How can that be?

There are those around me who are content with who they are, with where they are, with what they are doing, and wake up to each day wanting no more than it brings. I strive to achieve that contentment, and practice the joy of being in the present moment, believing strongly in its rewards. But at the same time I strive to do more, to learn more, to achieve more. The doing and learning is joy in the present moment, for me. It is both exhilarating and disheartening to realise that the learning journey stretches so far ahead.

Learning about learning

I have spent almost my entire life thinking and learning about learning and education, particularly literacy education and the education of young children. Though the journey has been long, my knowledge is narrow and small, and of absolutely no use in a trivia quiz, unless the question happens to be about a nursery rhyme, and then don’t ask me too much about its “real” or original meaning.

When I set upon my journey to create a website of teaching resources that I had made, I thought it was an easy thing. I had many resources already made. I just needed to get some illustrations done and put them on a website. What could be simpler than that?

Simple?

Every step I take drives me deeper into complexity, into the unknown. Unravelling the complexity demands that I be explicit, that I see and describe each minute step.

Being explicit

I always considered the ability to be explicit, to see and understand each step, essential to effective teaching in an early childhood classroom. If one was unable to see the exact spot where a child was going wrong, where a misunderstanding had been formed, or a misconception learned, or the potential for its occurrence, it was difficult to either prevent or repair it. I considered that ability to be one of my strengths as a teacher.

Over the past few years when I have been giving art briefs to illustrators, my need to be explicit was stretched anew. I had to describe in precise detail exactly what I wanted. It was no use saying I wanted a castle on a hill and expect that the artist would be able to fill in all the details I could see in my mind. I had to explicitly describe it in detail:  did it need a moat or a drawbridge, was the drawbridge to be up or down, were there turrets or flags, and if there were flags, what colour and design they would have, how many windows, how many people, and what were they doing and how were they dressed …

© Norah Colvin Artwork by Kari Rocher Jones

© Norah Colvin Artwork by Kari Rocher Jones

Then it was time to start thinking more specifically about what I required of the website … More complexity to unravel!

Oh for a journey across the seas rather than deeper into complexity!

It is said that it is darkest before the dawn. How much darker will it get?

A recent comment by Sarah Brentyn of Lemon Shark alerted me to the fact that although I have mentioned my website in previous posts, I had not made it clear that the purpose of the website is to make my resources available through subscription i.e. to sell my resources. While some will be available without subscription, many will be available only by paid subscription. I have received a quote for establishing the website, which I am considering. I have previously referred to it being my jetski. I think I was fairly explicit about my requirements in discussions with the designer.

However, I want some of my resources to be interactive, not downloadable, used only on the website by paid subscribers. It appears that creating the types of interactivity I have in mind will be more problematic, but they are what I consider will be my point of difference. I have had to learn to explain, very explicitly, the types of interactions I require. I even made videos demonstrating the interactions in the hope of achieving greater clarity.

However, it was while being explicit about these steps that I realised I had omitted something from my website brief that will be necessary for the interactions to be used effectively, if they can be made at all.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

And so I go in my merry dance – up the ladders and down the snakes, hoping to fall into a pool of clarity rather than a puddle of complexity.

Thank you for allowing me to express my muddle through writing in an attempt to make sense of it all.

Thank you

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

 

Breathe – a sense of wonder!

Life is short – enjoy every moment!

I have been privileged to spend time with young children throughout my adult life: my own, children I have taught, and now my grandchildren. Spending time with young children is one of the best ways of maintaining a sense of wonder and awe in the everyday. Opportunities abound, if one is willing to see the world afresh through their eyes,

to notice:

  • the softness of petals in a newly opened flower
  • the collection of pollen on a bee’s legs as it rests within the flower
  • the snail’s silver trail on the pavement

to question:

  • where the puddle goes after the rain
  • how the toothpaste gets into the tube
  • how aeroplanes stay in the air

 to wonder:

  • why the sky is blue
  • where clouds come from
  • why tigers have stripes and kangaroos hop
  • what came first: the chicken or the egg

One of my favourite ways of bringing the wonders of nature into the classroom is through observations of a live butterfly kit. We would watch the tiny caterpillars hatch, eat voraciously as they grew larger and larger, and then pupate before emerging triumphantly as beautiful butterflies.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

There are many opportunities to notice, to question and to wonder:

  • What will happen if the caterpillars eat all the leaves?
  • How big will the caterpillars grow?
  • How long will it take for the caterpillar to change into a butterfly?
  • How does the caterpillar breathe?
  • Does the caterpillar know it is going to be a butterfly?
  • Does the butterfly remember being a caterpillar?
  • What happens to the caterpillar in the chrysalis?
  • Why do they poo so much?

We got to know that when a caterpillar was ready to pupate, it made a ‘j’ shape, hanging from under a leaf or branch, or from the top of the butterfly house. It would stay that way for a number of hours. Children (and teacher) would sneak over from time to time to see if anything was happening.

As soon as the caterpillar started wriggling, we would quietly rush over to watch as it shed its last skin to become a pupa. It is an amazing spectacle, one that is not often seen “in the wild”. In fact it is a very quick process, and unless someone just happened to be watching at the time, we would miss it. Although we didn’t see every caterpillar pupate, we saw enough to appreciate and wonder.

Equally as exciting was watching a butterfly emerge from the chrysalis. As the time was approaching the chrysalis would become transparent and we could see the shape and colour of the butterfly’s wings through the chrysalis. Watching the butterfly push open the chrysalis and emerge with crumpled wings was amazing. Oftentimes the butterflies would emerge in the mornings before the children arrived. But sometimes they waited, and we all watched as the butterflies pumped up their wings and spread them to dry in readiness for flying.

When the butterflies’ wings were dry and they were almost ready to fly we would remove them from the house. If we timed it just right, we could hold them on our fingers, transferring carefully from fingertip to fingertip without touching the wings. When they were ready to fly, we would go outside and release them. The children loved to look for the butterflies at lunch time and learned that observation was the best way to appreciate them.

varied eggfly

Varied eggfly © NorahColvin

The children’s interest and excitement was shared with anyone who visited the classroom: administrators, other teachers and children, siblings and parents.  I tend to think that the children’s sense of wonder may have ignited a spark in others too.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a breathless moment. Write about life.

Watching the short stages of a butterfly’s life is a good way to get children thinking about life, its beauty and its frailty, its dangers and its strength.  Watching the transformations that take place can certainly take one’s breath away. It is this that has inspired my response to Charli’s challenge.  I hope you enjoy it.

Breaths - life is not measured

Eclosion

I heard the scurry of footsteps. Then he was in the doorway; eyes ablaze, breathless.

“Come … quick … Miss,” he said, punctuating each word with puffs and pants.

Before I had moved, there were others behind him, imploring me to come.

With quickened pace I followed, hoping that I, that all, would be in time.

Others were there already, clustered around. I peered over their heads, expectantly, holding my breath in a vain attempt to make time stand still.

“Ahh!” we breathed in unison and awe as we watched the butterfly emerge from its now transparent shell.

Thank you

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

 

Thankful and inspired: schools and education

Earlier this week I read a post by Kimmie of Stuck In Scared about Ten Things of Thankful. I have also read many other posts about things to be thankful for. These posts prompted me to share something for which I am thankful: schools and education.

I know that I often write about what I consider the shortcomings of traditional schooling and make suggestions of how schools could be improved. However I live in a country that values education and in which every child has a right to a free education. For that I am thankful. Those of us who have access to schools and education are the lucky ones.

This week I have been listening to Malala The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzia with Patricia McCormick (Indigo).

Malala-The-Girl-Who-Stood-Up

Malala’s is an inspirational story of courage, and how one person can change the world. In this trailer for the movie of her story to be released later this year, she says,

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

In her speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, Malala says,

“I am just a committed and even stubborn person who wants to see every child getting quality education, who wants to see women having equal rights and who wants peace in every corner of the world.”

The Malala Fund, of which she and her father are co-founders and to which she donated her prize, “empowers girls through quality secondary education to achieve their potential and inspire positive change in their communities.”

She calls world leaders and people everywhere to take action and make education their top priority, for all the children of the world, not just their own children.

This is one of my favourite quotes from the book:

Malala - teachers

I think one of her most influential teachers must be her father.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I’m sure you have found Malala’s story just as inspirational as I have.

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Life is like . . . a game of Snakes and Ladders

Well, maybe not the whole of life; that would be rather two dimensional; but certainly parts of life. I’m feeling a little that way at the moment about my website plans. No sooner do I seem to find a ladder to climb up, than I encounter a huge snake, and down I go again. At the moment I seem to be stuck in a three-steps-forward three-steps-back dance.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

I won’t say that everything one needs in life can be learned from playing Snakes and Ladders, but there are certainly some good lessons to learn from playing games. I mentioned some previously in Are you game? written in response to a flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch; and observed them recently when playing Snakes and Ladders with my five year old grandson:

dice

  • Getting along and taking turns
  • Acceptance – accept the roll and respond accordingly: don’t try to pretend it wasn’t a “proper” roll (e.g. dropped); or attempt to change the count by skipping or counting twice on a square
  • Resilience ­– stay strong and focused and don’t crumple with repeated setbacks: okay, so you’ve been swallowed by this same snake three times now; next time you just might overcome it
  • Persistence – keep going: you might roll a succession of small numbers but each moves you closer to the goal
  • Humour and fun – always look for the light side: it is just a game after all, it’s not the winning that matters, it’s how you play it. (On the board that we played, one of the ladders ended on the same square as a snake’s head! What could we do but laugh!)
© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

I guess those are lessons I need to apply to my website “game”: I have made some good progress preparing resources; I have had some work illustrated; and I approached a web designer for a quote. The ladders seemed to be lining up just right.

Then I landed on another snake!

In a comment on a previous post Anne Goodwin, who blogs at Annecdotal and is author of the soon-to-be-released Sugar and Snails, suggested that I be mindful of my Unique Selling Point (USP).

I think my USP is probably the same as what I consider my Point of Difference (POD): resources that are interactive. Unfortunately, judging by the quote I received, the POD snake has an extreme appetite.

In a post about his self publication journey Geoff Le Pard, author of Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle who blogs at TanGental, stated that he wanted to spend as little “real” money as possible. I know that I need to spend some to achieve my goals, and as a way justifying the expense to myself, if not to anyone else, I decided to consider it a “retirement jetski”.

My retirement jetski

My retirement jetski

However an initial quote indicates that the interactive component of resources could end up costing as much as a Bugatti or a Lamborghini!

Okay, I am exaggerating – a little.

But I think I’ve slid down the back of that long snake and need to do a little recalculation as recommended a short while ago Charli Mills. I will let you know how I go extricating myself from the loop.

Snakes and ladders – Opportunities for learning

In the meanwhile, here are some suggestions for parents to make the most of learning opportunities while playing Snakes and Ladders with their children over the long summer holidays. We don’t want the progress that children have made during the term to be swallowed up by those snakes as was suggested as a distinct possibility by Sarah Brentyn in her post Harry Potter or Sidewalk Chalk? on her blog Lemon Shark. While I provided some suggestions for preventing that slide in a previous post, these suggestions are specifically for

Making the most of “teachable moments” while playing snakes and ladders:

On each turn, ask children to:

  • identify the number rolled on the dice and move their tokens the corresponding number of squares, counting them out. Ensure they do not count the square they are on.
  • tell the number they land on.

Other opportunities for discussion:

  • Who is coming first? What number are they on? What number are you on? How many do you (they) need to catch up? Could you (they) catch up with the next throw? Why/Why not?
  • How many do you need to throw to land on a snake, on a ladder? Do you want to land on a snake or a ladder? Why or why not? If you land on a snake (or a ladder), will the number be higher or lower than where you are now?
  • What number do you not want to roll if you don’t want to land on a snake?
  • What number do you need to roll to land on a ladder?
  • How many do you need to win?

Ask the children what they notice about the way the numbers are arranged. How does it differ from a usual 100 board? ( On a Snakes and Ladders board, 100 is at the top and the numbers “snake” back and forth across the board. On a 100 counting board, 100 is at the bottom and each row of ten numbers goes from left to right.)

100 flowers outline

100 counting board © Norah Colvin

Ask the children why the numbers may be arranged differently (eg 100 has to be at the top so you can go up the ladders, numbers go back and forth so you can just keep going).

But most of all, just have fun!

Thank you

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

 

Which came first – the chicken or the duckling?

First of all in this post I would like your opinion, if you are happy to give it, about a story for young children I have been working on.  This is it:

Ten Little Eggs

 

I recently revisited a series interrogating whether it is important for authors to ensure the correctness of information in picture books, and where the line between fact and fiction should be drawn.

I questioned the inaccuracies in Eric Carle‘s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar and whether it mattered that what emerged from the cocoon was a butterfly rather than a moth (butterfly caterpillars don’t spin cocoons, moth caterpillars do).

Responses varied greatly, but seemed to be evenly divided, from it doesn’t matter at all to it matters a lot. You can read the responses on the posts here, here, here, here, and here.

I realise that the comments are subjective and personal and greatly dependent upon the readers’ experiences with the book and attitude towards the well-known, highly respected and prolific author.  I wondered what the attitude would be to my less worthy story.

My intention was for an amusing twist at the end with the realisation that the 10th hatchling was slow because it really was a chicken, not just “chicken” as in scared.

However, when I researched incubation times for chickens and ducklings, I discovered that ducklings take longer to hatch than chickens. Therefore the story not only doesn’t work but, if I was to publish it, I would be misleading readers. While it is also unlikely that a chicken’s egg would turn up in a duck’s nest, it is possible and I am not as concerned about that inconsistency. However I stopped working on the story because of the inaccuracy and have let it sit.

A suggestion made by Steven during the cocoon/chrysalis debate was that a page of facts at the end of the book would overcome any inaccuracies in the text. This made me think that perhaps I could include a page of facts about chickens and ducklings to counterbalance the inaccuracy in the story,  for example:

Chickens and ducklings - Would you believe

Thank you

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

Experiential learning – what’s good and what’s hot

farm

I am a proponent of learning by experience, of learning through one’s own explorations and making one’s own discoveries. In early childhood centres it is sometimes called ‘hands on’ learning. The recommendation is to provide opportunities for children to learn by doing rather than simply by listening to someone tell about it or by reading information in a book. For example, experiencing the sights, smells and sounds of a farm create an enriched understanding of farm life that is not possible simply from looking at pictures of farm animals in a caption book. Activities like mixing and making with modelling dough, or building and creating with construction sets provide opportunities for developing numerous skills and understandings.

That’s not to say that experiential learning is best in every situation or that learning from the explanations of others, including reading information in a book, is less worthy. Indeed there is a place for each and it is important to get the balance, timing and application right. You would not need to view many posts on my blog (for example here and here) to realise that I am a proponent of reading also and believe that instilling a love of reading is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child.

In their book A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown discuss the differences between explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge.  This chart shows my understanding of some of the differences.

Explicit and tacit learning

 

Michael Polanyi  The Tacit Dimension

I think it would be undisputed that there is knowledge best learned through explicit instruction and other best learned through experience. I am sure you can think of many examples in your own life, like riding a bicycle, learning a foreign language or playing a musical instrument.

But what about teaching young children about heat? It is not far into the life of any young child that they are cautioned about the heat of an oven or stove, heater or barbecue plate. But what is “hot” if you have never experienced it?

Thomas and Brown say that “when a parent first tells a child not to touch a flame because it is hot, the child will almost always put out her hand and get burned” because the child has only been given the explicit part of the information, the part that could be articulated: that “Fire is hot”. When the child is burned much more information is learned by the body: that it hurts and is unpleasant. The child is then able to make connections with other similar “hot” things and situations.

I think neither of the authors nor any parent would suggest a child be burned “for educational purposes” but the power of experience can be seen in this example. Perhaps it also helps to explain why young children need constant reminders to stay away, or precautions need to be taken to protect them, from hot things. Without the burning sensation they have not formed a true understanding.

thomas and brown - learning

At my previous school our year one classes were always visited by the local fire fighters who talked about fire safety, explaining the difference between “good” fires (like birthday candles, barbecues and campfires) and “bad” fires, while warning that even good fires could quickly become bad  if not monitored correctly.

They talked about the need for smoke alarms in the home and the importance of having escape routes and meeting places planned and practised. They ensured students knew their full name and address and the procedure for calling emergency (000 in Australia) if the need should arise. These are things that all young children should know.

firetruck

The children were always excited about the firefighters’ visit as they got to look at the firetruck close up, maybe even sit in it or, if they were lucky, see how high they could spray water with the large hose. The tacit knowledge learned through this type of experience, combined with explicit knowledge provides a context that allows children to learn the realities of fire danger and the importance of safety. It wasn’t unusual for the crew to receive a call and rush away during one of their visits, adding further to the overall experience for the children.

Thinking about heat and education, and the hold that explicit knowledge and its testing has on current practice makes me think of the story about a frog in a pot of hot water.

The story says that if you were to put a frog into a pot of hot water, it would jump out immediately; but that if you were to put the frog into a pot of cold water which is warmed slowly, the gradual increase in temperature wouldn’t be noticed and the frog would be boiled alive.

Perhaps this is why some educational practices are accepted without question. People have become so used to them, with small incremental changes seeming insignificant and unworthy of comment. However the cumulative effects over time can be enormous. By the time they are realised, making amends would require so great a change, possibly a total restructuring, that it would defy plausibility.

It is this thinking that has led to me my flash response to the challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the phrase, “Man, it’s a hot one.” I hope my contribution is a little more environmentally friendly and suitable for young children than boiling frogs.

Man it's hot

Thank you

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