Monthly Archives: November 2013

Goals of education

The following quote from Jean Piaget, Swiss psychologist (1896 – 1980) is one that has driven the direction of my own thinking about education. It has guided many of my choices both as a teacher and as a learner.

When I listen to the creative ideas and view the innovations demonstrated through TED talks, I know that the principle goal is being met by many.

When I hear about the wonderful work being done, such as that by The Philosophy Foundation and P4C (Philosophy for Children), to introduce school children to philosophic enquiry, including critical thinking and reasoning, I know the second goal is also being met.

“The principle goal of education is to create people who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done – people who are creative, inventive, and discoverers.

The second goal . . . is to form minds which can be critical, can verify, and not accept everything they are offered.”

What do you think?

How did your education help you achieve these goals?

How do you see these goals being achieved?

3D Christmas tree display

10 reasons for including Christmas in the classroom

The end of the school year in Australia is fast approaching; assessment is almost done and reports completed.

After a hectic year, thoughts are turning towards Christmas and the long summer holidays.

However the teaching and learning in the classroom doesn’t stop until the final farewells on the last day of school.

These last few weeks of the school year allow a little more flexibility and time for spontaneous explorations of children’s interests after the curriculum’s imposed learnings have been achieved. Sure, skills still need to be practised and extended but the pressure is not so relentless.

As the thoughts of most children are on Christmas and what they will do during the holidays, why not harness those interests and that excitement to make classroom learning meaningful and fun while developing important social and cultural concepts and understandings as well as practising and extending literacy and numeracy skills.

Over recent years there has been some controversy over whether Christmas should be included in school programs, some arguing that it is not inclusive and excludes those students whose cultural backgrounds neither recognise nor celebrate Christmas.

I have a number of reasons to support my argument that Christmas should be learned about in school, and my reference is to secular rather than religious celebrations which are best left to organisations dedicated to that purpose.

I would like to say that the main reason is that I love Christmas (the excitement, the anticipation, the decorations, the gift-giving, the celebrations with family and friends)!

But that would not be true.

My focus is educational:

  1. Cultural respect: Most children in Australian schools celebrate Christmas. Including Christmas in the classroom program acknowledges this and draws upon their interests and prior knowledge.
  2. Cultural awareness: Investigation of traditions celebrated by other class members, community groups or countries develops a recognition of other perspectives, including those who do not celebrate Christmas and those who celebrate other traditions such as Hanukkah, Ramadan or Chinese New Year.
  3. Cultural understanding: Learning about the traditions of the dominant culture in which one lives makes one more comfortable within that society, more able to converse about important events and holidays, and able to develop shared experiences i.e. helps to develop feelings of being included, rather than excluded by participating in the outward traditions. However, this knowledge does not necessitate participation or belief.
  4. Cultural acceptance: Learning to understand that, although not everyone shares the same beliefs or traditions, we all share a common humanity and that there is good in everyone is important for creating a peaceful and nonjudgmental world.
  5. Self-awareness: Christmas is a time for reflecting on the year’s achievements and behaviour e.g. whether you have been “naughty or nice” or whether you have worked hard are superficial questions which can lead to deeper introspection. This self-reflection can lead to celebration as well as to the setting of positive goals for improvement.
  6. Other-awareness: Recognising one’s own strengths can help to identify, recognise and appreciate the strengths and achievements of others.
  7. Emotional intelligence: Children learn to recognise and describe their own emotions, and the emotions of others. They understand that not everyone thinks and feels the same way about similar events and learn to respect the thoughts and feelings of others.
  8. Social-awareness: Recognising how others think and feel about certain events can develop feelings of empathy. Children are more likely to find common ground upon which friendships can be built.
  9. Being kind to each other: Christmas is all about sharing and giving. In a classroom these can lead to discussions about working cooperatively and collaboratively, getting along with each other, and giving the greatest gift of all: friendship.
  10. Enjoyment, recognition and fun! I couldn’t stop at 9, and I think the inclusion of fun in the classroom is one of the most powerful ways to engage and motivate learners!

Decorating the classroom is one way of setting the scene for explorations of Christmas traditions while encouraging the children to work cooperatively, take pride in their shared achievements and talk about how Christmas is celebrated (or not) in their families.

It became a tradition in my year one classroom to make a large 3D Christmas tree to adorn our classroom wall and become the focal point of our learning.

We would sit in front of it to have our discussions and read our stories.

To the display surrounding it, we would add child-made decorations, stories and poems they had written, holiday messages and gifts.

I would photograph each child in front of the tree, holding a sign with the message e.g. “Happy Christmas 2013”. These photographs would then be added to calendars which became a Christmas gift for parents.

The children loved doing the tree, partly because of the inherent excitement at the end of the school year with Christmas holidays imminent. But they also loved doing it because they were working together, making something meaningful to them; and as they worked together and saw the tree take shape, they realised that what can be achieved together is far more (as well as more fun) than they would have achieved on their own.

And while they were busily tracing and cutting, they were talking and sharing ideas and thoughts with each other and with me. We began to learn a lot about each other’s experiences, traditions and feelings.

Having made the tree together, the children had an enormous sense of collective pride in what they had achieved, especially when all those viewing it remarked upon how lovely it looked.

While I include instructions for making the tree here, they are also available in my TpT store as a slide show or printable step by step instructions.

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What do you think? Do you think Christmas should be celebrated in schools?

What reasons would you add to my list? What do you disagree with?

Leave a comment or indicate your thoughts below.

SOLE Man

I love listening to TED talks.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.

The mission of this organisation is Spreading ideas, a goal dear to my heart.

I always find the talks fascinating, challenging and inspiring. I feel quite humbled by the fact that there are so many clever, creative and innovative people in the world. However, at the same time, I feel reassured, knowing that our collective future and the future of our planet is in such capable hands.

Recently I listened to some talks by an educational researcher, Sugata Mitra,  winner of the 2013 TED Prize.

The TED Prize is awarded to an extraordinary individual with a creative and bold vision to spark global change. . . . the TED Prize supports one wish to inspire the world.

Mitra’s wish is to build a School in the Cloud, a school where children learn from each other. He introduces the idea of the Self Organized Learning Environment and invites people around the word to help him achieve his wish by downloading a SOLE toolkit to bring these Self Organised Learning Environments to their own communities.

The toolkit is a step-by-step guide which is designed to “prepare you to ignite the fire of curiosity in kids at home, in school or at after-school programs.”

A SOLE is basically a small group of children learning together, using the internet to answer questions of interest to them, with minimal teacher intervention.

There was much in Mitra’s talks that I agreed with, such as

schools as we know them now, they’re obsolete. I’m not saying they’re broken. It’s quite fashionable to say that the education system’s broken. It’s not broken. It’s wonderfully constructed. It’s just that we don’t need it anymore. It’s outdated.

“Encouragement seems to be the key.”

“There is evidence from neuroscience. The reptilian part of our brain, which sits in the center of our brain, when it’s threatened, it shuts down everything else, it shuts down the prefrontal cortex, the parts which learn, it shuts all of that down. Punishment and examinations are seen as threats. We take our children, we make them shut their brains down, and then we say, “Perform.”

much that intrigued me, such as the grandmother method

“Stand behind them. Whenever they do anything, you just say, ‘Well, wow, I mean, how did you do that? What’s the next page? Gosh, when I was your age, I could have never done that.’ You know what grannies do.”

much that inspired me, such as

“I think what we need to look at is we need to look at learning as the product of educational self-organization. If you allow the educational process to self-organize, then learning emerges. It’s not about making learning happen. It’s about letting it happen. The teacher sets the process in motion and then she stands back in awe and watches as learning happens.”

and much that I wasn’t sure about, that led me to question, such as, 

“Could it be that we don’t need to go to school at all? Could it be that, at the point in time when you need to know something, you can find out in two minutes? Could it be — a devastating question, a question that was framed for me by Nicholas Negroponte — could it be that we are heading towards or maybe in a future where knowing is obsolete? But that’s terrible. We are homo sapiens. Knowing, that’s what distinguishes us from the apes. But look at it this way. It took nature 100 million years to make the ape stand up and become Homo sapiens. It took us only 10,000 to make knowing obsolete. What an achievement that is. But we have to integrate that into our own future.”

As well as listening to TED talks, I also love reading about philosophy, especially the inclusion of the study of philosophy in the school curriculum.

While following up this philosophical interest, I came across this great blog post by Michelle Sowey, “Can you kill a goat by staring at it? A critical look at minimally invasive education“.

I couldn’t resist the title, of course, but imagine my delight when I realised that Sowey was critically appraising Mitra’s SOLEs from a philosophical standpoint.

Sowey saw much to agree with in Mitra’s talks, but for her also, the talks raised many questions.

These are points of convergence that Sowey saw between  Mitra’s approach and that of philosophical enquiry in the classroom:

  • both are curiosity-driven
  • both involve collaboration of students
  • both seek to engage children’s interest in big questions
  • both support children in exploring ideas and sharing discoveries
  • both offer the prospect of intellectual adventures that spring from children’s sense of wonder and their ability to work together.

Sowey went on to say:

“What’s more, Dr Mitra’s proposed curriculum of big questions includes many deeply philosophical ones, such as ‘Can anything be less than zero?’, ‘Will robots be conscious one day?’ and ‘What is altruism?’”

Then came the BUT:

Sowey went on to say

“There are two major points of difference, though, and it’s here that I see cracks in the veneer of minimally invasive education. It differs from collaborative enquiry in that (1) it features the internet as a principal learning medium and (2) it renounces the guidance of qualified teachers or practitioners.”

Sowey raised concerns including the need to develop in students the ability

  • to assess the credibility of internet sources
  • to challenge faulty arguments
  • to question claims that are dogmatic, propagandistic, biased, pseudoscientific or downright erroneous

She went on to say:

“We need to make sure that kids develop thinking and reasoning skills alongside skills in research and information awareness. For this, the support of a competent guide is indispensable, equipping children not only to assess the reliability of different sources but also to evaluate the many arguments they will encounter.”

I agree wholeheartedly with this.

She then goes on to say:

“To dismiss the infrastructure of schooling altogether because of traditional standardisation is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Surely it makes more sense to repurpose that infrastructure in ways that better nourish children’s curiosity, critical thinking and creative exploration.”

which makes perfect sense to me also.

Although I am not a fan of traditional schooling and have made that stance very clear in previous posts, I have expended a lot of energy in trying to establish what I consider to be a better approach. The goal of nourishing “children’s curiosity, critical thinking and creative exploration” was always high on the agenda.

I encourage you to listen to Mitra’s inspirational talks, and to read Sowey’s compelling article in its entirety.

Sugata Mitra “Build a school in the cloud

Sugata Mitra “The child-driven education

Michelle Sowey “Can you kill a goat by staring at it? A critical look at minimally invasive education

I will leave you with Sowey’s concluding statement:

“We need the incisiveness and probing of critical and creative thinking to get deep into the viscera of the facts and anti-facts, the experts and anti-experts. And we need the incisiveness and probing of good teachers to go deep into children’s thought-space: to discover what they’re understanding and what they’re not, yet.”

What do you think?

Please share your thoughts.

Can you kill a goat by staring at it? A critical look at minimally invasive education

This article is thought-provoking; raising questions, issuing challenges and suggesting solutions. Teaching philosophy in schools is one of those suggestions with which I wholeheartedly agree.
I reblog this article in celebration of World Philosophy Day, the third Thursday in November.
I have also referred to this article in my post “SOLE man”

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In his renowned ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments in developing countries, Dr Sugata Mitra gave children access to an internet-connected computer and left them to learn what they could, unsupervised, with apparently remarkable results.

Photo 1 (Hole in the Wall 1)

At an internet kiosk in a New Delhi slum, local children figured out how to search the Web, learned English, gleaned information from a variety of websites and taught each other what they had learned. Similarly, with access to a streetside computer in a south Indian village, Tamil-speaking kids managed to figure out basic principles of DNA replication by playing around with English-language web material on their own. ‘Minimally invasive education’ is how Dr Mitra describes this method, alluding to the high-impact, low-disruption techniques of minimally invasive medicine.

Photo 2 (Hole in the Wall 2)

Hole in the Wall: Minimally Invasive Learning Stations designed by Dr Sugata Mitra. Top photo: source unknown. Bottom photo by Philippe Tarbouriech, Jaipur, Rajasthan.

This novel educational approach has garnered…

View original post 1,797 more words

Thinking about Philosophy

18457-Bubbles-Comic-webThe third Thursday in November has been identified by UNESCO as World Philosophy Day, and the theme for this year is Inclusive Societies, Sustainable Planet”.

A round table discussion will include topics such as “the growing inequalities between rich and poor within many countries and between countries and sustainable development” including “concepts of social justice, solidarity, exclusion and inclusion in different societies, as well as issues related to the vulnerability of various groups – including women, children, young people, people with disabilities, minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees, people living in poverty – and the interfaces between these issues and sustainable development.”

18457-Bubbles-Comic-webThe development of global citizens who are able to reason, think critically and contribute positively to the world by the ability to identify, discuss and suggest ways of resolving such moral and ethical issues can begin with the study of philosophy in schools.

Peter Worley, co-founder of the charity The Philosophy Foundation, is just one of many philosophers who believe that children are able to engage in philosophical discussions, and are convinced of the importance of placing the study of philosophy at the heart of education.

In his article “Class Act”, published by The Philosophers Magazine (April 2, 2013) Peter Worley explains why he considers philosophy should be taught in schools. The following is an excerpt from that article. Please follow the link to read his article in full.

“The “basic” argument: Thinking and reasoning are even more basic than the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) given that reasoning (the fourth “R”?) and the concepts involved in reasoning underpin all three. Philosophy is the subject that specialises in conceptual thinking and reasoning, therefore we may appeal to a very basic educational need for doing philosophy, i.e. conceptual thinking and reasoning.

The “truth” argument: By honing the concepts that we use in all other truth-seeking subjects (e.g. the sciences), philosophy, which is singularly concerned with concepts and reasoning, is the subject best placed to improve the thinking on which the other truth-seeking subjects are based, thereby improving our efforts to reach truth. (This is to paraphrase an argument owed to Catherine McCall.)

The incoherence argument: When incoherence occurs between disciplines (or simply in the way the world seems to “hang together” or not) one needs the tools to deal with such incoherence, to be able to attempt to make sense of it. Philosophy is the subject that specialises in making sense of incoherence. Therefore philosophy should be taught. (This is a paraphrase of an argument put forward to me by Stephen Boulter.)

It is worth noting that incoherence is just as much a feature of school children’s lives as anyone else’s. Just think of the way the children learn objectivity in the sciences but then are taught something like universal relativism in other aspects of their schooling, perhaps in religious education or the classroom mantra “opinions are never wrong” and such like.

The inescapability argument: Philosophical problems are inescapable. Every time you read something in a newspaper or on the internet you are faced with a philosophical problem: how do you know when something is true? When the teacher teaches you about atoms and shows you the atomic model: how do they know that atoms look like that if they’ve never seen one? If it’s true that philosophical problems are inescapable then surely there is an argument for preparing people/students for how to respond to these problems intelligently and philosophically. (This is a paraphrase of an argument put to me by Michael Hand.)

Perhaps the last word on teaching philosophy to children should go to Montaigne, who wrote, back in the sixteenth century: “Since philosophy is the art which teaches us how to live, and since children need to learn it as much as we do at other ages, why do we not instruct them in it?”

I am grateful to Peter for permitting me to reproduce this excerpt as my contribution towards the celebration of World Philosophy Day. For more information about Peter’s publications, please visit

The Philosophy Foundation.

Watch this video to listen to Peter and Emma Worley, co-founders of The Philosophy Foundation, explain why it is important for philosophy to be taught in schools:

Teaching philosophy in schools

You may also enjoy this entertaining and enlightening video, written by Emma Worley, “What has philosophy ever done for us?” (adapted from Monty Python’s Life of Brian):

What has philosophy ever done for us?

What do you think? How important is philosophy to you?

Friendship tree

Friendship trees

Summer_2010_ClipArt10_HeaderThe end of the school year in Australia coincides with Christmas and the summer holidays.

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This coincidence provides an opportunity to not only reflect on the year’ achievements, but to share appreciation of friendships made throughout the year while developing understanding of Christmas traditions.

During the last few weeks of the school year, I use friendship trees with my early childhood classes for these purposes.

About three weeks before the end of the school year each of the children make their own tree which is then displayed in the classroom until taken home on the last day of school. By then the trees are filled with messages of friendship and affirmation which the children write anonymously to each other each day.

Although the end of the school year is when I use friendship trees in my classroom, they could be used at any time throughout the year. However they will work better when the children have been working together for a while and know a little about each other.

These are some of the benefits of incorporating the friendship tree into the class program:

  • Is inclusive with its emphasis upon friendship
  • Provides an opportunity for reflection on friendships made
  • Encourages students to comment positively to classmates
  • Affirms students by the receipt of multiple positive comments
  • Encourages a giving attitude
  • Provides an opportunity to discuss Christmas traditions (tree as a bearer of gifts) as a way of developing cultural understandings
  • Develops understanding that kind words and actions are the greatest gift

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How it works

  • Children make and decorate a “friendship tree”, attaching or writing their name prominently on it. Trees are then displayed in the classroom.
  • Each day children select a name “from the hat”. (In preparation I prepare a class list of names in a table, one name per row, which I print out and cut into strips for the students to select and write their messages on.)
  • Children write a friendship note to the child whose name they have drawn, but they are to not tell anyone who it is or what they have written.
  • They may return the name and select another only if it is their own name or the name of someone for whom they have already written a message
  • They are to write something they like about the person, something the person is good at or something they appreciate about them.
  • I check what the children have written, ostensibly for readability, but also to ensure appropriateness of the message. However I have never had to edit the content. I have always been impressed by the messages the children write.
  • Children then fold and “secretly” place the messages into the tree of the recipient.
  • On the last day of school children take their trees, filled with positive messages, home to read and share with their family.

Before children write their first message, we brainstorm what a friendship message might be. These are some examples:

Thank you for being my friend.

I like the way you laugh at funny stories.

You are a good writer.

You always do the right thing.

Thank you for playing with me.

However these ideas are only a starting point. I have always been amazed at the very appropriate and personalised messages the children write for each other. They really do notice the lovely things their classmates do throughout the year, and the different things that make them special.

Here are photographs of two  friendship trees I have made, one decorated for Christmas, the other for friendship:

Friendship tree

completed tree

A cardboard cone (with a cut-off top) is attached to a cardboard base. A smaller cone (removable lid) tops the tree. Children lift the top to place their messages inside.

If you would like to use a template for making the cone or view step-by-step instructions, I have made these available on the website TeachersPayTeachers. Please click here to follow the link.

If after viewing this site, you decide to join up as I have, I would appreciate it if you refer your membership back to me my using this link. Thank you. tomas_arad_heart

I hope you and your students enjoy the friendship tree experience as much as I and my students have!

Let me know how it goes.

Clipart courtesy of www.openclipart.org

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How was your day?

Have you ever been asked that question and simply answered, “Same ol’ same ol’” without making any attempt to elaborate or delve deeper into the day’s activities.

If so, did this mean that you didn’t enjoy your day and that there wasn’t anything interesting in it?

Sometimes much of what we do on a daily basis can become routine with activities seeming to flow from one to another without a great deal of change or significance worthy of a remark.

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There are many reasons people don’t immediately share what has happened in their day, and the lack of a truly amazing outstanding event may be just one of them.

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Similarly, in response to the question “What did you do today?” school children, often simply answer “Nothing” (as described by SHECANDO) without making any attempt to elaborate or delve deeper into the day’s activities.

Parents and others often jump to the conclusion that the child’s day has been uneventful and boring and, unless the child later volunteers some information, or the parent has a specific question to ask, that may be the end of the subject.

However, just as with adults, there may be a number of reasons the “Nothing,” response is given, including the generalised nature of the question.

Some reasons for this failure to elaborate, although unspoken and often unidentified, may be:

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Courtesy of eLearningbrothers

‘I’ve just finished a hard day, I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

“So much happened today, I don’t know where to start.”

“I don’t think you’d be interested in anything that happened to me.”

“I can’t really think. What do you want to know: something bad, something funny or something amazing? I didn’t get into trouble.”

Additionally, if children are not already practiced in the art of sustaining conversation with an adult, then these discussions will rarely come easily or spontaneously.

Sometimes specific questioning, requiring more than a yes/no answer, may elicit a more detailed response that in turns leads to a more in-depth discussion of the day’s events, e.g.

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“Who did you sit with at lunch today?”

“What games did you play at recess?”

“What story did your teacher read to you? What was it about?”

Knowing something of what occurred during the day helps parents formulate appropriate questions to elicit conversation.

In my role as a year one classroom teacher I believe in the importance of these conversations between children and parents for a number of reasons, including:

  • to keep parents informed of what is happening the classroom, which in turn encourages a positive attitude and participation;
  • to develop children’s language skills by engaging them in conversations which require them to describe, explain, respond and exchange ideas;
  • to develop children’s thinking skills and memory, “What did I do today?” “What did I learn?” “What happened before/after lunch?”
  • to provide a time for reflection and review e.g. “What can I do now that I couldn’t do before?” “When we were doing x, we had to y. Oh, now I get it. That means . . . “
  • to provide opportunities to sort out feelings and emotions  experienced during the day, but not yet dealt with e.g. “I don’t know why that happened at lunch time. Tomorrow I will . . .”
  • to strengthen the child-parent relationship by sharing ideas, attitudes and events in their daily lives.

In addition to giving children reminders before they left for home in the afternoons, I developed a strategy that specifically targeted the need to provide parents with a window into the child’s day in order to arm them with sufficient information to instigate robust discussion.

I called this strategy

Class news

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Each day I published class news which the children pasted into a book to take home and read with parents. These days many teachers, like Miss Hewes, use a blog to keep parents informed. However there were no blogs around when I began doing this in the 1980s!

The class news consisted of three main sections:

  • News of individual students
  • Class things we did today
  • Class reminders

News of individual students

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Courtesy of eLearningbrothers

Each day 2 – 3 children told the class about an item of interest to them e.g. an activity, a recent purchase, a family event, or a wish.

After each child shared their news, the class and I cooperatively composed a brief summary (one or two sentences at first). I scribed and the children read. Later in the day I printed this out for the children to take home and read to their parents.

As well as being a very effective literacy learning strategy (which I will write about in a future post), it helped parents get to know the names of classmates and a little about each one; it provided a discussion starter about which their child could elaborate. It also affirmed the children by providing each a turn of “starring” about once a fortnight.

Things we did today

In this section I would tell parents briefly about a few things we did that day, e.g.

“Mrs Colvin read “Possum Magic”. We talked about what it would be like to be invisible and discussed what we thought would be good and not-so-good about being invisible. Then we wrote our very own stories about being invisible. We had some very interesting ideas!”

“We learned about odd and even numbers by finding out which number of different objects we could put into two even lines.  Where can you find some odd or even numbers of objects at home?”

“In art we learned about lines: straight lines and wriggly lines; long lines and short lines; jagged lines and curved lines; thick lines and thin lines. What sort of lines can you see in your pictures?”

When parents are informed about things that have happened during the day, they have a firm basis for opening a meaningful discussion with their child. This in turn validates the child by giving importance to the child’s activities.

I often included a question to help parents realise that they could easily extend the child’s learning at home.

Class reminders

A reminder or two would be included if particular events were coming up, or payments needed e.g.

“Sports day tomorrow. Remember to wear your sport uniform and running shoes.”

“Friday is the final day that excursion payments will be accepted.”

These reminders helped to reduce the possibility of a child being upset by forgetting or missing out on a class activity. They also provided parents with another opportunity for discussion and the ability to enthuse their child with the anticipation of future events.

Publishing the class news like this every day did eat into my lunch time, but the advent of computers in the classroom helped as I was able to set up a template and print copies on the classroom printer. In the “olden” days of the spirit copiers, every day meant starting out again and having to go to another room to churn the copies out by hand.

I continued using this strategy throughout three decades of teaching because I believe in its power to develop readers and talkers, and to involve parents by keeping them informed of classroom learning and activities. Having already received a child’s answer of ‘nothing’ to the question “What did you do today?” I was determined that no child from my class would have a reason to answer in the same way.

What questions encourage you to open up and talk about your day?

What questions encourage you to keep your mouth shut?

What do you think of my daily class news?

What other strategies do you suggest to encourage communication between parents and children?

All images courtesy of www.openclipart.org unless stated otherwise.