Monthly Archives: March 2014

What is education, anyway? Pt.2

This week I am sharing a post published on Teachling earlier this year. Teachling introduces her post with a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, an international advisor on Education. Like Teachling, I very much admire his work and would love to see education systems implement his recommendations. I hope you will set aside the 19 minutes it will take to listen to what Ken has to say. You will be amused, entertained and educated. I intended providing a summary of important points from his talk, but found I was recording the talk in full! Teachling has provided a few notes but I would love you to listen to the entire talk and let me know what you think. How can we join the revolution that Ken says we need?

Teachling

Let’s face it, children are basically all the same and should be taught in the same, tried and tested, chalk and talk, fashion. Teachers in schools should focus purely on the 3R’s – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic – and leave that creative ‘fluff’ for kids to pursue in their own time. Children should be viewed as empty vessels and a teacher’s role is to fill them with enough knowledge to pass the test. Some kids are just lazy, hyperactive or incapable of learning, so teachers should let them be whilst focussing on the other kids that can and want to learn. Wait… What? Was there actually a time when people thought this way about education? I do hope that the opinions above are not felt by any person on this earth. My opinions are much more aligned with those articulated in Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk, “How to escape education’s death…

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Flash fiction: Hyperbole – Spider attack!

The third flash fiction challenge from Carrot Ranch Communications:

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a hyperbolic response to a frustrating situation (an hyperbole is an exaggeration).

I hope you enjoy it.

johnny_automatic_spider

Spider attack!

 

Arms flailing like a helicopter, eyes wide like headlights on full beam, her screeches rent the quietude.  

 They came running.

 “What’s wrong?”

 “Get it off! Get if off me!” she shrieked.

 “What? Where?” they asked.

 “In my hair! A spider!”

 “Stay still.”

 They looked. 

 “Nothing. No spider,” they said.

 “Are you sure?” she implored. “Something ran across my cheek.”

 “Maybe this?” He chuckled, untangling a wizened leaf.

 She scowled.

 In agreement, another leaf fluttered down.

 They raised their eyebrows, smirking conspiratorially.

 She stormed away, tumbling over chairs and cushions, leaving them speechless with mirth in her wake.

 

 

I welcome any feedback.

Empowerment – the importance of having a voice

In a previous series of posts I wrote about science inaccuracies in a picture book and questioned with whom lay the responsibility for providing young children with correct information.

While this post builds upon those posts, it also takes a divergent path: the need for children to have a voice; to be empowered to ask questions, to state their needs and report wrongdoings.

On a highly respected educational website Scholastic, with the by-line “Read Every Day. Lead a Better Life.”, in an article about Eric Carle author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, children are told that

“Eric already knows that a caterpillar emerges from a chrysalis, not a cocoon! So don’t bother writing to tell him.”

This seemingly innocuous statement may be easily overlooked but packs a powerful message.

What does it tell children?

The author has been told many times, already knows and isn’t going to do anything about it.

The author is tired of being told he is wrong and doesn’t want to hear it any more.

The author is “right” and not to be questioned. (The book, with its misinformation, is highly acclaimed by millions around the world. However if, in answering a question on a test, children were to write that a butterfly comes out of a cocoon, they would be marked wrong. Explain that to them.)

For me the most insidious part of this message is

He already knows, “so don’t bother writing to tell him”!!!!!!!!

You can’t change it.

You know it’s wrong, but you can’t change it, so don’t bother trying.

Although many societies are now moving to eradicate it, child abuse is still far too common worldwide. Not only must the attitudes of societies change, but children must be empowered, they must be encouraged to speak up and they must be listened to: their voices must be heard.

In a recent child abuse case that occurred at a Queensland primary school, the student protection officer reportedly said that she couldn’t understand why the children who had been sexually abused did not come forward.

couldn't believe 1

The accused had continued in his role as child protection contact for a year after the first complaint was made. The student protection officer found it hard to believe that her colleague was a paedophile;

couldn't believe 2

and still she says she doesn’t understand why the children didn’t come forward!

Click here to read the complete article.

It seems to me the children did come forward if the first (indicates there were more) complaint was made more than a year before anything was done about it.

The children tried to say, but were not believed. The predator was believed and protected while the plight of the innocent victims was ignored. The report states that parents who complained about the abuse of their children were ostracised by the school community and made out to be the “bad guys”.

Is it any wonder that, if not listened to and not believed, and if more is done to protect the offenders than the abused, the children become increasingly reluctant to tell?

After the first children had come forward and not been listened to or believed, may not they have said to others, “There’s no point in saying. They already know. They won’t do anything about it?”

Or what about the parents who were ostracised and made out to be the bad ones?

Doesn’t it make the message very clear – you are powerless. Your voice won’t be heard. Your opinion doesn’t matter.

Carry this message over into countless other situations and you have a population who is afraid to speak up, fearing the disdain of reproach, the embarrassment of being unvalued and the helplessness of one’s message being unheard.

How many times have you felt you must remain silent for fear of ridicule, rejection, or worse?

How many opportunities for creating a positive change have been missed because the task seemed insurmountable or the personal repercussions too unpleasant?

When have you stepped up and made that change happen because you were not afraid to speak up or speak out when faced with an issue you felt strongly about?

What changes can we make to empower children (and adults) everywhere?

By the way, in that article on the Scholastic website, it is reported that Eric Carle believes that “the most important part of developing a book . . .is working with editors to revise it.”

Would it make any difference to the magic of The Very Hungry Caterpillar if, after all these years, Eric Carle rewrote a corrected version with a butterfly emerging triumphantly from a chrysalis?

What would that act tell all the countless children who have written to tell Eric about his mistake, and the many others who wanted to but were told there was no point?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Please share your thoughts.

Related posts:

Searching for meaning in a picture book — Part A

Searching for purpose in a picture book – Part B

Searching for truth in a picture book – Part C

Finding power in a picture book – the main event

Flash fiction – Prize possession: Stripped

The second flash fiction challenge from Carrot Ranch Communications:

In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a character from any perspective who has to part with a prize possession.

I hope you enjoy it:

Stripped

She could hear them.

They didn’t think she could. She couldn’t talk. Why should she hear?

Caressing soft leather covers, fingering embossed lettering, she smelt the welcome of well-read pages and familiar characters.

In her mind.

While they annihilated shelves of prized possessions.

“No value here.”

“Dump them!”

Stripped of speech and movement, her twisted body dumped in her “favourite chair” for “minding” while they pillaged her collection: a lifetime in the making; seconds to destroy.

Laughter. Her eyes flickered. She knew those words by heart. She had written them –

Her last refuge.

Shit!

and that’s gone too!

I welcome any feedback.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Finding power in a picture book – the main event

Teaching critical literacy through picture books

This is the fourth is a series of posts about the role of picture books, especially The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

The purpose of this post is to discuss the importance of critical literacy and the necessity to teach children to

  • think critically
  • not accept everything that is presented in text (oral, visual or print)
  • evaluate the source of the information and the intent of the author
  • match incoming information with prior knowledge,  and
  • question, question, question.

In these previous posts

Searching for meaning in a picture book – Part A

Searching for purpose in a picture book – Part B

Searching for truth in a picture book – Part C

I suggested ways of including The Very Hungry Caterpillar in an early childhood classroom and discussed the responsibility that authors have in differentiating between fact and fiction in story books.

In Searching for truth in a picture book – Part C I pointed out the inaccuracies in The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the pervasiveness of the misconceptions, if not totally attributable to the book, then at least in part. This is verified by Jacqui who, in 2011, wrote on the Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust website

“When speaking to teachers I often find raised eyebrows when I explain that butterflies’ larvae do not make cocoons. The teachers refer to Eric Carle’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, where he refers to a ‘cocoon’.”

Note that Jacqui refers specifically to this book, rather than to sources in general.

As shown by Jacqui, though, it can be difficult, even for teachers without specialist entomological knowledge, to sort out fact from the fiction.

These are two pieces of misinformation contained in the story:

Misinformation 1:

Caterpillars eat a lot of different food

Fact

Most caterpillars are fussy about their diet, some eating only one specific plant, others eating a variety of plant foods.

Misinformation 2:

Butterflies come out of a cocoon.

Fact

Butterflies emerge from a chrysalis.

Moths come out of a cocoon.

Watch these two videos:

This one by Strang Entertainment shows the caterpillar becoming a chrysalis.

This one shows a silkworm caterpillar spinning a cocoon (about 2 mins in).

They are two very different processes.

However a quick glance at these Google search results shows just how pervasive the misconceptions are:

Cocoon to butterfly

butterfly cocoons

Even seemingly authoritative educational websites misinform. Look at the way these two websites promote themselves, and consider the misinformation they are peddling.

The website Math & Reading Help

Maths and Reading Help

states that The Very Hungry Caterpillar is “factually accurate . . . teaches your child to understand this biological process … a butterfly. . .(is) a caterpillar that has emerged from its cocoon”

Primary upd8 which promotes itself as “UKs most exciting science resource”

primary upd8

also suggests using The Very Hungry Caterpillar for teaching about the life cycle of a butterfly.

primary upd8 knowledge

If self-professed “authorities” can’t get it right, how are we laypeople meant to make sense of it. Suggestions like these reinforce the need for the skills of critical analysis to be developed.

Unlike those above, I contend that this book has no place in the science curriculum. Its greatest value is as a tool for teaching critical literacy.

When children have learned about the life stages of a butterfly and then listen to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, they are very quick to pounce on the inaccuracies and immediately want to write to the author and tell him of his mistake.

When told that he already knows and that he isn’t going to change it, as confirmed in an interview reported on the Scholastic website, they are incredulous.

“Why would he do that?” they ask.

Why indeed.

When told that he doesn’t care that it isn’t right, they are indignant.

But herein lies its value:

I am able to affirm their learning: they know more than Eric Carle; and, more importantly, I am able to reinforce with them that just because something is in print, doesn’t make it true.

In addition, it is important for them to realise that misinformation does not occur only in picture books, nor only in this picture book. It is just as common in news media, as shown by this article from Brisbane’s Courier-Mail on December 7 2013

Butterfly emergingtext for photographs

Nor is misinformation restricted to caterpillars and butterflies.

This article, again from the Courier-Mail, on January 26 2014 also contains inaccuracies:

Deadly thirst for glidersFurry flyers text

Squirrel gliders don’t fly, and they don’t have wings.

Suggestions for teachers and parents:

  • point out inaccuracies and inconsistencies
  • encourage children to think about what they are reading and hearing and to evaluate it against what they know
  • support children to verify the source of the information and to check it against other more authoritative/reliable sources
  • help them to recognise that every author has a purpose and to identify that purpose
  • invite children to ask questions about what they are reading and to interrogate the content
  • encourage them to question, question, question.

As demonstrated by the Google results shown above, there is a good deal of misinformation available, often cleverly disguised as fact. Being able to navigate one’s way through it is a very important skill.

Eric Carle says “If we can accept giants tied down by dwarfs, genies in bottles, and knights who attack windmills, why can’t a caterpillar (sic) come out of a cocoon?”

What do you think?

Do picture book authors have a responsibility for informing their audience? Is a butterfly coming out of a cocoon in the same realm as giants tied down by dwarfs? Would we accept a child hatching out of an egg? What parts of a story should be based in reality and which parts can be imagined?

“Why can’t a butterfly come out of a cocoon?” asks Eric.

Well, Eric, they just don’t.

Please share your thoughts.

Flash Fiction – The Avalanche

And now for something completely different for me –

Charli Mills over at Carrot Ranch Communications issued a challenge:

In 99 words (no more, no less) write the aftermath of an avalanche of any kind from any perspective.

  This is my first ever attempt at 99 word flash fiction.

The Avalanche

The trickle began; imperceptible, unheeded and ignored.

Needing more attention, the volume swelled and quickened pace.

Still no attention was forthcoming so the surge became more urgent and incessant in its plea.

“Slow down! Stop me!”

To no avail.

The avalanche engulfed her.

Heat flashed through her body, from feet straight to her head.

Heart pounding loudly, “Let me out of here!” it pled.

With reverberations magnified in each and every cell,

the heady swirl became too much –

she trembling choked. “I’m dying?”

But no:

B-r-e-a-t-h-e   s-l-o-w.

B-r-e-a-t-h-e   d-e-e-p.

R-e-l-a-x.

S-o-o-t-h-e.

B-r-e-a-t-h-e . . .

The panic abates.

Let me know what you think of my first attempt.

liebster2

Paying it forward – a Liebster Award!

Last week I was intrigued, surprised and delighted to find that I had been nominated for a Liebster Award.

I was intrigued because I had never heard of a Liebster Award; had no idea of what it was for or why I should have been nominated for it;

I was surprised because I’d had no inkling that such an honour was about to befall me;

and I was delighted to receive the nomination from fellow blogger, Harriet the Bloom whose blog is “A place for educators to reflect, recharge, and revive.” Thank you, Harriet, I am indeed honoured.

In reality, before feeling delighted and honoured, I felt a little confused. Confusion, if acted upon, leads to learning. So I headed over to Google and Harriet’s blog to see what I could find out.

It appears that the purpose of the Liebster Award is to:

  • provide encouragement for new bloggers with a following of fewer than 200
  • promote communication between bloggers,
  • recommend blogs to others.

Nominating others for the award is like paying a compliment forward.

According to Harriet, the

Liebster rules

Answers to the 10 questions posed by Harriet:

  1. Congratulations! You just won the Liebster Award! What are you going to do next?

The immediate answer is contained in this post. The longer term answer is: keep on blogging!

2. Describe yourself in three words.

Happy. Thoughtful. Loyal.

3. Describe your thoughts on your very first job.

In my early teens I swept out a carpenter’s workshop on a Sunday morning. It was hard, dirty, tiring work. The head of the heavy wooden broom was about 60 cm long and difficult to manoeuvre. It would take about 2 hours to sweep up all the sawdust and I would go home and sleep for about the same length of time to recover. For hours I would be blowing black dust out of my nose, but the crisp $1 note I received in payment was sufficient encouragement for me to return and do it all again the following week.

4.If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

I would love to visit Monet’s garden. I would love to sit on a seat near the bridge overlooking the waterlilies and ponder the big questions of life. I would like to share my contemplations with the artist, his contemporaries and philosophers from all eras. I love the works of Impressionist painters, especially Monet’s Waterlilies and Van Gogh’s Starry Night. The mood evoked by these beautiful paintings is especially conducive to philosophical musings.

5. I like food. What is your favorite recipe?

Whenever we have a family get-together it is expected that I will make a pavlova. It is enjoyed by all generations, and although I make a double (using 8 egg yolks) there is rarely any left over.

However, for birthdays and Christmas with my immediate family (husband and children) I usually make a strawberry torte. It is a special treat that I have been making on these occasions for almost 40 years. While the in-laws find it a little rich for their taste buds, the grandchildren are taking to it in true Colvin fashion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

strawberry torte

6. Give a short summary of the book you are currently reading.

As usual I have a few books “on the go” at the moment, but the one of which I have read most at this stage is “Why ‘a’ Students Work for ‘c’ Students and Why ‘b’ Students Work for the Government: Rich Dad’s Guide to Financial Education for Parents” by Robert Kiyosaki. Of course it appealed to me because of its relevance to education and because I had read others of his books years ago: “If You Want to be Rich & Happy: Don’t Go to School” and “Rich Dad Poor Dad”. In this book Kiyosaki contends that schools don’t educate students for financial success and urges parents to teach children about finances at home. He suggests that playing “Monopoly” is a great way to start. He is greatly concerned about the “entitlement mentality” which he considers to be so pervasive in our society. Some of his ideas are challenging and confronting; others make perfect sense. I recommend the book to anyone wanting to achieve financial independence. I would love the opportunity of discussing his ideas with others.

7. What inspired you to start blogging?

Blogging wasn’t a goal, or even an idea, initially. My intention is to create my own website to market teaching resources that I produce. I have a lot of learning to do before I am ready, and part of that learning involves attending seminars. Some of these seminars recommended having an online presence and building a “brand”. Blogging was suggested as one avenue for achieving this. I decided to give it a go, and have found it rewarding in itself – an unexpected pleasure, delightful detour and amazing adventure.

8. How did you come up with the name for your blog?

My blog is simply my name; that wasn’t difficult.

9. What do you do when you experience writer’s block?

Eat. Procrastinate. Go on with something else. Push through it. Write around it.

10. Which post are you most proud of and why? Provide a link.

This is tricky. I don’t think I’ve written it yet! However I very much enjoyed the comments and discussion that ensued from my series of posts about “The Examined Life” by Stephen Grosz.  The series includes:

A book worth reading: Stephen Grosz “The Examined Life”

Seeking praise – Stephen Grosz revisited

and a guest post by Anne Goodwin in response:

Examining praise: Stephen Grosz – the third instalment!

The discussion stretched my thinking and learning and I am grateful to all participants in the conversation. Learning is what life is all about!

Nominate 10 bloggers for the Award:

As the rules appear to be blurred rather than definite e.g. Harriet’s rules differ slightly from those on Wording Well , which differ again from those on Sea Play Photography, I decided to nominate 13 bloggers.

Belinda Pollard of Small Blue Dog Publishing (Australia)

I’m starting with Belinda Pollard of Small Blue Dog Publishing because it was Belinda’s recommendation that prompted me to enter the world of blogging and tweeting. At a seminar hosted by Queensland Writers Centre last year Belinda urged all writers to have an online presence. She said that Twitter was like the water cooler for writers. I’m beginning to see that she was right. Belinda’s posts about all aspects of writing and self-publishing, including blogging, have been a great source of information for me and I appreciate what I have learned from her.

Belinda, I know you have thousands of followers on Twitter but Word Press tells me that you have fewer than 200 followers on your blog so I hope you are happy to accept this award.

NANNY SHECANDO (Australia)

Next I’d like to introduce you to Hope who blogs at NANNY SHECANDO. Hope blogs about her experiences as a nanny, cooking and craft. She says, “We’re staying young, Peter Pan style, by embracing the creativity and sunshine in life.”

Anne Goodwin (UK)

Anne Goodwin’s website is rich with things to read: short stories, interviews with authors, book reviews, blog posts and more. Anne is one of the writers I met at ‘the water cooler’ and we have had many interesting and thought provoking conversations since then. I love the way Anne has called her website Annethology and her blog Annecdotal. She tweets @Annecdotist. Very clever!

Caroline Lodge (UK)

Caroline Lodge blogs at book word . . . about books, words and writing. She joined with Anne and me and we stood around the water cooler sharing ideas and exchanging thoughts. I’m certain you will find much of interest on her blog including suggestions for blogging, great books to read and writing tips.

PS Cottier (Australia)

For a little bit of poetry I recommend PS Cottier who posts a poem every Tuesday, and occasionally writes prose.

Teachling (Australia)

Teachling is a blog dedicated to improving education with ideas about teaching, learning and parenting. Teachling believes that “Improving a child’s life-chances is everyone’s responsibility” Along with me and millions of others, Teachling is a big fan of Ken Robinson.

I have always enjoyed reading philosophy and engaging in philosophical discussions. I support the teaching of philosophy as an active thinking subject in schools and am excited about the benefits of a thinking population to the future of our world. I have two great blogs to recommend in this category:

Peter Worley’s philosophy foundation (UK)

Michelle Sowey at The Philosophy Club (Australia)

Note: Last year I reblogged one of Michelle’s posts:

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

There’s No Food ( Australia)

A bit closer to home (actually much closer to home, it’s my daughter’s blog) I’d like to recommend There’s No Food. Bec blogs about “wholefoods, vegetarianism, slow living and their existential friends.” She has interesting thoughts about the impact of our food choices on the environment and practical suggestions for changes we can make to our everyday routines.

Obscure Pieces (Australia)

Glenn at Obscure Pieces expresses himself through black and white photography. His special interest is urban and landscape photography. He frequently offers support and comments on my posts and has generously allowed my use of some of his photographs. Thanks Glenn.

Cultivating Questioners (USA)

On her Cultivating Questioners blog, Nicole posts about her experiences as a teacher, especially encouraging her young students to use higher-order thinking skills . I love to see a young teacher so passionate about education.

Nillu Nasser Stelter (UK)

Nillu Nasser Stelter is a fiction and freelance writer and her blog features short stories, flash fiction and tips for writing. I love the ways she uses words effectively in her writing to create a picture or emotion.

Carrot Ranch Communications (USA)

Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications also blogs about writing. As of Wednesday 5 March she launched a flash fiction challenge. Each week writers have the opportunity to accept the challenge to write a 99 word “story”. This is something I haven’t done before so I’m hoping to join in the fun. What about you? I’m sure it’s not as easy as it sounds!

Now my nominees, it is your turn.

These are the things I would like to know about you:

Note: Although I have listed 13 questions, you need answer only 10. You may substitute one of your own if you wish.

  1. What do you value most in life?
  2. What activities do you enjoy and why?
  3. What is something you wish you had more time for?
  4. What is one change you would like to make in the world?
  5. What is something you would like to change about yourself?
  6. What surprises you most about your life – something good in your life that you hadn’t expected, dreamed of or thought possible?
  7. What ‘big” question do you often ponder?
  8. What sorts of things amuse you?
  9. What do you like to collect?
  10. If you could talk with anyone and ask them to explain their ideas and/or actions, who would it be, and why?
  11. What is something you can’t do without?
  12. What is something important you learned about life, and how did you learn it?
  13. What is your earliest memory?

I look forward to reading your responses and continuing our discussions at my place or yours!

Happy blogging!

Footnote:
How to find out the number of followers on a blog:
For Word Press blogs:
View the blogs in the Reader
Click on the blog name at the top of the blog
Lo and behold, you will be provided with the number of followers. Easy for Word Press.
For other blogs
I wasn’t sure how to find out for others not using Word Press so I sent them a message on Twitter asking their numbers. Simple.