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The classroom garden

Expecting every child in a class to respond to the same stimuli, develop at the same rate and achieve the same targets is like casting a handful of mixed seeds upon the soil and expecting them all to flourish.

Just as each seed has its own specific requirements of soil type, temperature, sunlight and water, so too does each child have its own needs, interests and learning requirements.

Differentiation is no less important in the classroom than it is the garden and tending to the learning and development needs of each child requires understanding of individual needs, appreciation of learning styles and a program that includes both a nurturing and expectation of individual growth with a sprinkling of well-timed instruction, support and attentive praise.

 

This week Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications posted a flash fiction prompt that immediately conjured up an image of a classroom as a well-tended garden in which each individual is appreciated for its own value and receives whatever is appropriate to foster its development.

Charli’s challenge is to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes fruit.

Here is my response about a little tree whose time has come:

A fruitful harvest

Little Tree stood alone at the edge of the orchard thinking, “What’s wrong with me?”

The other trees grew tall. Their branches, laden with bright green leaves and sweet-scented blossoms, seemed to whisper mockingly.

The sun shone. Rains watered the soil.

Their blossoms turned to fruit, a plentiful harvest.

Confused and dejected, Little Tree avoided the celebratory festival.

Then all grew quiet. The bigger trees rested, preparing for the next season.

Suddenly an insect orchestra and an unfamiliar fragrance startled Little Tree.

“What’s up?” it asked.

“You!” they buzzed relishing the richness of its golden blooms.

 

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

 

Featured image: rjp, Bird seed https://www.flickr.com/photos/zimpenfish/437991798/

 

 

Glenn's citrus

Are you a lemon or a grapefruit? – Ten articles about creativity

I am a great fan of creativity.

Imagination and creative thinking are what inspire and drive improvement, innovation and progress.

I affirm my belief in the power of creativity in my header: ‘Create the possibilities . . .’

In this post I share articles and blog posts that discuss creativity. It is not an exhaustive list, just a few to get you started. You will notice that many, but not all, are from Edutopia, a website that is ‘dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process through innovative, replicable, and evidence-based strategies that prepare students to thrive in their studies, careers, and adult lives’; and TED, an organisation of people who ‘believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.’

  1. In this article on Creativity and education Judy O’Connell says that

‘Every student is creative in some way, and the job of educators is to release and support that creative talent in an appropriate manner.’

She adds that

‘Teaching creatively and for creativity entails taking students on a creative journey where their responses are not predetermined.’

In her article Judy lists some features of teaching for creativity and includes a video of a new school in New Zealand that she suggests fits the criteria. It is quite exciting and worth a look.

  1. In this article shared on Edutopia Do Standards Kill Creativity Claus von Zastrow suggests creative ways of teaching creativity while teaching standards.

Linking of subject areas, as we used to do through ‘themes’ in the old days, or more recently ‘integrated units’, before subjects were divided and each given their own slot in the timetable, was one suggestion.  A number of varied and interesting comments accompany the article.

  1. I have previously shared this TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson on How schools kill creativity here and here. If you have not yet listened to it, please do. As well as sharing a very important message, Ken is a very entertaining speaker. I’m sure you will enjoy it.

4. Following on from that talk is this article by Bruce Price shared on examiner.com Ken Robinson and the Factory Method of Education. The article shares an animated talk by Ken Changing Education Paradigms.

Bruce does not agree with Ken’s views and warns readers to be sceptical of information imparted by Ken. He says that Ken’s opposition to traditional schooling is unhelpful and argues that, unlike most others referenced here, that creativity cannot be taught.

5. In this article by Deepak Kulkarni Recreational and Educational Value of Math Puzzles shared on Edutopia the suggestion is made that creative problem solving can be taught using maths puzzles.

6. A variety of Techniques for creative teaching are shared on the Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching website which states that

in order to teach creativity, one must teach creatively’.

7. In yet another article shared on Edutopia, Andrew Miller states enthusiastically Yes, You Can Teach and Assess Creativity! Andrew provides suggestions for recognising creativity as well as teaching and assessing it.

8. Also on Edutopia, Diane Darrow talks about Creativity on the Run: 18 Apps that Support the Creative Process.

9. In this rather long TED talk on his life, authenticity vs karaoke culture Malcolm McLaren postulates that ‘we’re living in a karaoke culture, with false promises of instant success, and that messiness and failure are the key to true learning.’ He talks about his own schooling and attitude to creativity.

10. Michael Michalki shared an article on Edutopia regarding what he considers the 7 Tenets of Creative Thinking, including:

Believe you are creative

‘While creative people believe they are creative, those who don’t hold that belief are not.’

Work at it and ‘produce an incredible number of ideas — most of which (may be) bad. He says that

‘more bad poems were written by major poets than by minor poets’.

Go through the motions – ‘Every hour spent activating your mind by generating ideas increases creativity’; visualise what you want and go for it.

On his own website Creative Thinking, Michael Michalko suggests many more ideas for getting you to think creatively.

The header of Michael’s website states that “A grapefruit is a lemon that took a chance.”

lemons and grapefruit

So which are you: a lemon or a grapefruit?

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post and let me know whether you agree or disagree with the value of creativity and if it can be taught.

Thanks for reading.

image courtesy of www.openclipart.org

I’ve got the music in me – let me count the ways!

For any hearing person, music is integral to our lives.

Every country has a national anthem which may be taught in schools and played or sung at many and varied ceremonies and occasions, inspiring unity and national pride. Many other organisations such as schools and colleges have their songs praising their strengths and fostering a sense of identity. Couples have their special or ‘theme’ songs.

When we enter a store we are serenaded with music chosen to make us feel comfortable and entice us to stay longer and buy more.

Joyful advertising jingles with their subliminal messages encourage us to memorize the product name and make it our next purchase. These jingles can stay in our heads for years, like this famous one about Louie the Fly:

A few bars of a song can revive memories from long ago. I have written about this previously in a flash fiction piece, Vagaries of time.

Music can call us to dance, to relax, to sing, to cry. It can be chosen to match our mood, or can help to create a mood or atmosphere. The soundtrack of a film or television show tells the audience what to expect and how to feel.

Music is also an integral part of education and learning. Learning information in a song can help one remember. Many people like to have music playing when they are reading or studying. I did when studying towards my high school exams, but now I prefer quiet when I write. Programs such as Accelerated Learning recommend using Baroque music to help learners stay relaxed and focused, increasing retention.

I have previously written about using songs in the classroom, such as I love the mountains which I learned from Bill Martin Jr. and affirmation songs such as those of Anne Infante here and here.  I have also composed class songs and chants such as Busy Bees chant, and used songs to support class work, for example The Ugly Bug Ball when learning about mini-beasts.

I have used music to calm and settle after play breaks, and music for activity between seated activities. I used songs in the morning to signal to children that it was time to be ready for the day’s learning, including action songs or songs about our learning, for example a phonics song:

Image courtesy of Anne

Image courtesy of Anne

But of course, once we were settled, every day started with an affirmation song, or two. It got everyone into a happy expectant mood. It’s hard to be sad when singing (unless it’s a sad song).

 

image courtesy of www.openclipart.org

image courtesy of http://www.openclipart.org

. . . and  songs in the afternoons to send the children home happy and singing with joy.

As a year level we would sing songs to settle the children when lining up to return to class after lunchtime play. The children hurried to join in and sang their way joyfully into class. This is quite different from when I was at school and we would line up in silence and then march into school in step, subdued and quietly obedient.

I composed songs as a child but did not continue the practice as an adult, except for one: a lullaby that I sang to soothe my baby girl to sleep. A few years later I decided to learn to play the keyboard from a very talented musical friend who guided my writing of the accompanying music. This remains my one real musical accomplishment!

For someone who does not consider herself at all musical I certainly enjoy, and promote the use of, music in many different ways.

On that note, I leave you with my flash fiction response to the prompt set by Charli Mills of Carrot Ranch Communications: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story influenced by a musical score.

Final act

A collective gasp interrupted the music mid-beat.

All eyes turned synchronously, as if worked by unseen strings, towards the French doors, burst open and revealing a silhouetted figure framed by billowing gossamer-like curtains.

Out of the darkness the figure emerged: clothed in black with coat tails flapping, a top hat in one hand and a white-tipped cane held aloft in the other.

The conductor revived the orchestra as the figure glided across the floor, seized the heroine decisively and whirled her around and around.

The spell now broken, the cast joined in the dance to tumultuous applause.

I hope you can imagine the score that would be written to accompany this piece and its change of moods.

What score would you give it?

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of the article or my flash fiction piece.

https://openclipart.org/image/800px/svg_to_png/192642/Children_holding_hands.png

Life is for living

Many would agree that to enjoy life to the full we must live in the present moment, appreciating what we have and being mindful of our surroundings and others.

Most would also agree that a certain amount of preparation for the future is necessary to both enjoy and deal with what lies ahead.

marshmallow 5

In previous posts I have referred to related ideas including The importance of emotional intelligence and the ability to delay gratification, for example when studying towards a degree or saving to purchase a car. Recently I wrote about future-proofing kids by preparing them to embrace the future. Schooling is often considered a preparation for the future, for ‘what you want to be when you grow up’.

firefighter and nurse

Are the concepts of living in the present moment and preparing for the future contradictory?

Generally I would say that a balance is needed. We need to live in the present while making some preparation for the future. Hopefully the choices made can still be appreciated now and enjoyment is not all delayed until the future “When I . . .”

Recently I read an article that caused me some concern because, it seemed to me, there was little balance between appreciating the present and preparation for the future. Of greater concern was that the one for whom balance was lacking was not the one making the choice.

 

The article described a situation in which a 3½ year old was being taught to use scissors by an occupational therapist. The teaching, which had been occurring in regular sessions for over seven months, began before the child was three years of age.

Like I did, you might assume the child had a developmental delay which required regular sessions with the occupational therapist (OT). However no mention of that was made in the article.

The parent, writing the article, described feeling sad while watching the child experience difficulty in using the scissors.  Additionally, it was mentioned that the child had not been requested by the parent to use scissors at home as it just made the child miserable.

After seven months the parent finally broached the subject with the OT, asking why the use of scissors was being pushed at this time.

It was the reported response of the OT that caused me greatest concern.

The OT explained that when the child entered kindergarten at age five, the ability to use scissors appropriately would be expected. The lessons in learning to use scissors were being given to avoid the child being behind when beginning kindergarten. The OT went on to further explain that the use of scissors was not developmentally appropriate until age five!

The OT, presumably a trained professional, who believed it was not developmentally appropriate for a child to be using scissors until age five, began teaching a child to use scissors before that child was even three years of age!

The child was miserable when using scissors and the parent was saddened when viewing the attempts!

If using scissors is developmentally appropriate at age five, then when the child is entering kindergarten, unless there is a development delay, coordination or muscular problem, that child will easily learn to use scissors appropriately, without the need for lessons from an OT. Forcing a child to practice a skill before developmentally ready is definitely not in the child’s best interests.

Think of the wonderful things about a child of two or three years of age; the things they are learning and doing. I am always amazed at how quickly children learn and progress. They grow up so quickly and are only little for such a short time. Why try to pressure them through to stages beyond their current development? These years of enormous growth and potential are precious. We are adults for most of our lives. What is wrong with appreciating the special two-ness or three-ness of a child? It will not matter in the future if scissors can be used at age three, age five or age seven.

If the child is constantly pressured to perform in ways that are not developmentally appropriate then feelings of inadequacy, loss of confidence and self-esteem may ensue, resulting in an ‘I can’t do it attitude’, a fear of failure and unwillingness to have a go. I believe many perceived behaviour problems are problems only because the expectations are not relevant to a child’s stage of development.

When adults strive for a child to achieve beyond the age expected norms they are not appreciating, but rather showing a lack of respect for, who the child is and for the stage of development. This is not living in the present. It is attempting to live in the future, which can become very scary if one does not feel it can approached with confidence.

One may hope this scissors example is an extreme and isolated incident, but sadly pressure placed upon children by expectations that are not developmentally appropriate is far too common.

Teaching colleagues here in Australia often express their dismay that children in the first three years of school are crying every day because they find the expectations upon their learning and behaviour too great.

I hear similar stories about trying to rush the children through from the UK, Canada and the USA. Maybe it is happening in other places too. Sadly the pressure of unrealistic expectations doesn’t achieve anything positive for the students, the teachers or the parents.

How different would schools be if, instead of being considered a preparation for life, they were focused on living life now? If three year olds were appreciated and respected as three year olds, five year olds as five year olds, and eight year olds as 8 year olds, rather than as apprentices for the adult they will one day be, how different would their school situation be?

An affirmation song I used to sing with my classes is one by Anne Infante called Just the way I am.

The song is made up of a series of verses about appreciating oneself just as one is – now, not in the future – including characteristics such as responsible,  lovable, confident and friendly; for example:

I am beautiful and I like me,

I am beautiful and I like me,

I am beautiful and I like me,

Just the way I am.

I have written about using Anne’s songs of affirmation in previous posts, here and here.

What do you think? How have you seen developmentally appropriate programs in action? How have you seen them disregarded? What have been the effects?

 

Further reading: The Cost of Ignoring Developmentally Appropriate Practice

 

 

Water wise

My first thought when reading this week’s flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch: in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about water, was of the street on which I had hoped to open an alternative to school twenty years ago. I thought I could write about the property which, located on the corner of Water and Love Streets, seemed ideal. I thought I could write about the vision of our group “The Centre of Learning Opportunities” with its focus on the children’s program “Kids First” and how our centre would cater for children and families. I thought I could write about how we would implement our motto “Create the possibilities” which I have also adopted for my blog. But just like the centre itself, it didn’t eventuate.

Instead I thought a little deeper, considering how water is the substance of life, how fortunate we are in developed countries to be able to turn on a tap and access clean water whenever we want. According to the UN almost 8 million people do not have access to clean water and more than 2 million do not have adequate sanitation. Millions of people die each year from diseases related to water. The projections of water availability and access are quite alarming.

I thought about the use and misuse that is made of water in our rivers and streams and of a local issue that was reported quite recently.

I decided to write a poem about the journey of a river, from its beginnings high up in the mountains down to the sea; how it starts out crystal clear but picks up toxins as it wends it was down. You can probably guess that my next thought was of education; of how children begin full of wonderment and creativity but, as they are subjected to years of schooling, collect toxic thoughts and attitudes.

That may seem a bit harsh I know, and I have written a poem before comparing what I consider Education is to what I think schooling is.

education-is-2

However I thought I’d try to write a poem as an allegory of the schooling process; likening the way we are polluting our waterways to the way we are polluting and muddying the minds of our children. I’m not very happy with my first (fifth!) attempt, but I have met the word requirement and Charli’s ‘deadline’ is fast approaching.

Let me know what you think.

 

Water

It started way up

In the highest of hills     

So crystal-clear pure

With a life to fulfill

 

It babbled through forests

And danced in the streams

Marveling  at wonders

Before never seen

 

It passed through the valleys

Irrigated the farms

Taking the runoff

And doing no harm

 

Down past the villages

Watered them too

Acquiring their discards

Now murky like stew

 

Passing by factories

Spewing out waste

Picked up their burden

And left without haste

 

Weaving its brown trail

Way down to the sea

From its mouth vomited out

A poisonous mix

Deceiving all living things

Expecting a gift

However I don’t want to leave you on a negative note. I’d rather acknowledge that there are many wonderful things happening in schools around the world. There must be, or we couldn’t be making the advancements we do.

 

I have shared many great things with you before like some of these great articles on edutopia.org. Just last week I shared information about a prize for innovation in inclusive curricula being awarded for a program, Big Questions teaching philosophy to children. Listen to any TED talk to be amazed at advancements and innovations.

I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of the article or my flash ‘poetic’ fiction piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured Image -- 1106

A win for Big Questions!

Norah:

I think this news is too exciting to ignore!
I hope you think so too.
Congratulations Michelle.
A forward step for education and the future!

Originally posted on The Philosophy Club:

We’re excited to announce that our in-school program Big Questions has just won a prize! It’s the inaugural Prize for Innovation in Inclusive Curricula, awarded by the Australasian Association of Philosophy. It’s both a fabulous honour and a wonderful source of encouragement to have the Big Questions program recognised in this way by the major professional association of philosophers in our region.

The prize is intended to develop more innovative approaches to teaching philosophy: approaches that present the discipline as accessible to a wide range of participants, that off-set well-known disparities of participation, and that can be expected to improve retention rates of under-represented groups in the profession.

Students engaging in the Big Questions program.

Students at Mahogany Rise Primary School engaging in Big Questions 2013 .

In our submission for the prize, we argued that one relatively untapped but very promising avenue for making philosophy accessible to a wide range of participants is to…

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very inspiring blogger

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award – Acceptance

birthday-cake-25388As a birthday gift to me (though he didn’t know it was my birthday) Geoff Le Pard, who blogs about the Universe and whatever occurs to him at TanGental, nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.

Needless to say I was both surprised and delighted. I could say that I aspire to inspire, but I think even that would be a great exaggeration.

 

In his post Geoff provides three reasons for selecting me:

  • I see life through a prism
  • I have a firmly fixed moral compass, and
  • He wishes I’d taught him at school!!!!!

The first two I am not sure about, but I am definitely honoured by the third. Thank you Geoff. I will endeavour to attain this high bar you have set.

The rules for accepting this award are:

1. Thank and link to the amazing person(s) who nominated you.

2. List the rules and display the award.
3. Share seven facts about yourself.
4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
5. Optional: Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

 

Thank you, Geoff. I am honoured.

These are seven things about me:

1. I am passionate about education and the power that education has for transforming lives. I believe that everyone has a right to an education. I have spent all of my adult life involved in education in some way; and most of my childhood was spent in school!

2. I am the third of ten children. What that tells you about me I’m not sure, but I believe we are more than the product of our birth order and environment; that each of us has the power to make choices about how we want to live our lives. I’m not saying environment and genetics don’t play a large role in who we are, but I am saying they do not determine everything.

3. I have two adult children of whom I am extremely proud and who I love very much. They are what is important in my life. They each have a wonderful partner who I also love, and my son has two beautiful children who I adore. My family gives me an enormous amount of pleasure. I am very fortunate to have all of them living close to me.

4. I enjoy playing games, especially word games like Scrabble, Upwords and Balderdash. I especially enjoy playing them with my family. We often spent days playing games together when the children were growing, and had grown, up. We’re having a bit of a rest now that the grandchildren are small and doing the entertaining. I’m sure we’ll have three generations playing together again soon. We collaboratively do the ‘Big Quiz’ (40 trivia questions) in the local paper when we get together on Sundays, hoping that someone in the family may know the answer. None of us fair too well on the sporting questions!

5. I have a silly sense of humour. I enjoy word plays and puns and alternate meanings for words and sayings. In my head I finish words and statements with ridiculous things before the person speaking has even time to finish them. I laugh uncontrollably at something I think is funny, like this silly senior’s password email that arrived in my inbox this week:

windows

6. I think life is short and should be fun. We don’t know how much time we have so we should enjoy what we’ve got. This doesn’t mean we have to be out partying and playing all the time. It means we need to focus on enjoying what we are doing in the present moment, no matter how unpleasant it may be. It also means making choices and accepting responsibility for the choices we make.

7. I love learning. Learning gives so much joy. There is too much to learn in one life time, and it is scary now that the road ahead is considerably shorter than the one already travelled. I hope that in my days of teaching I have inspired in children a love of and joy in learning that they will carry with them throughout their life travels.

Nominating 15 other amazing bloggers is the hard part. Not because there are not 15 amazing and inspiring bloggers, but because I have nominated many before for a Butterfly Award, a Versatile Blogger Award and a Liebster Award. Not only that Geoff has nominated many of these same bloggers for this award, and Charli Mills has nominated them also.

We have a wonderful community of very supportive and encouraging bloggers. We each write our own blogs about our own interests, explaining our ideas and points of view. We read and comment on each other posts sharing points of convergence and divergence, and often adding further insights.

Rather than re-nominate bloggers I have nominated before (and be assured that you are all very deserving of this award and if you wish to add the Inspiring Blogger’s badge to your blog I am happy for you to do so) – over the next few weeks I am going to do a little more exploring to seek out other inspiring bloggers to add to our growing community.

A big thank you, to each and every one of you, for encouraging and supporting me on my blogging journey. Having your company is what makes it all worthwhile!

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts on any aspect of this article.

 

Previous nominees:

Liebster Award

Belinda Pollard of Small Blue Dog Publishing (Australia)

NANNY SHECANDO (Australia)

Anne Goodwin (UK)

Caroline Lodge (UK)

PS Cottier (Australia)

Teachling (Australia)

Peter Worley’s philosophy foundation (UK)

Michelle Sowey at The Philosophy Club(Australia).

There’s No Food ( Australia)

Obscure Pieces (Australia)

Cultivating Questioners (USA)

Nillu Nasser Stelter (UK)

Charli Mills Carrot Ranch Communications (USA)

 

Versatile Bloggers

Ailish Sinclair

Teagan Kearney

Karen Wyld

Vicki Addesso

Susan Buchanan

Paula Reed Nancarrow

Lisa Reiter

Lori Schafer

Karen Oberlaender

Diane Mott

Greg Mischio

Anne Goodwin

Caroline Lodge

Charli Mills

NannySheCanDo

 

Butterfly Award

Ruth Mancini

The Nerdy Book Club

Two Writing Teachers

Raising a literate human