Monthly Archives: May 2014

Life: a choose your own adventure – how do you choose?

Made with Quozio https://quozio.com/

Made with Quozio https://quozio.com/

Do you grapple with making choices of how to use your time? Do you find that the things you want to do are often squeezed in after the things you have to do and the things you are expected to do? Or worse – squeezed out entirely? Do you ever find yourself doing one thing and wishing you were doing something else? Or worse: procrastinate, and then feel guilty for doing so?

I do; and I find it very frustrating.

I have a solution:

Live in the here and now and enjoy every moment.

I’m not saying it’s easy, and I’m not saying I’m good at it, but the more I practice the better I get and the more enjoyable my time is.

While some things do not seem like a choice, usually they are; and if they are not a choice, our attitude is.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately because the time I had intended for one thing seems to be very easily devoured by other things. I can choose to feel frustrated about the loss of time for my desired activity, wish I was doing something else and generally feel miserable. The time still passes and I am no better off.

Alternatively I could:

  • view these activities as a choice (e.g. I could leave the house dirty, go without food, let my teeth rot, ostracize myself from family and friends)
  • appreciate that I am able to do them (e.g. I have a house to live in, I am fit and able to clean it and have all the things I need)
  • focus on what I am doing and quieten those wishes to be somewhere else, doing something else (e.g. a lengthy wait for the doctor can provide thinking time that may have been difficult to schedule otherwise)
  • banish feeling guilty about choosing time with people, pleasure (fun), or procrastination, all of which are essential to a happy life.

Procrastination you say?

Well procrastination can give you that all important time to reflect, re-energize and create new ideas.

I am not alone in thinking about the effect of choice upon our use of time. This week the flash fiction prompt posted by Charli Mills was to:

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a decision between two clashing priorities.

In her post Charli talks about “muddled priorities” and being “confronted with distractions and decisions”. She suggested that the writers among us need to “prioritize our priorities so we can swath writing time as if we were farmers of words.” She talks about the need for balance, prioritizing and planning; looking after oneself as well as one’s work; which means making choices about how one’s life is lived.

If we accept that life really is a series of choices and that we have control over the choices we make, then acceptance of the choices and their results must follow.

Sometimes the choices are easy, and it’s simply a matter of going with the flow. But sometimes going with the flow can be difficult; especially when the waters are a raging torrent and you are wishing you could grab hold of the reeds on the bank and pull yourself out for a little respite, such as in the analogy I have used in this first flash piece:

Overwhelming expectations

The waters raged around her, pummeling her against the rocks, tossing her every which way, pushing her under and holding her there until she thought she must drown. She clawed at the rocks and grasped at the reeds, gasping for breath. The bank beckoned invitingly. The torrent sucked her back, playing ‘now you see her, now you don’t’ before swirling her back to bump inelegantly over the rocky shallows, dumping her battered body on the edge. She gulped the air begging respite and revival. Her choice: the safety of the sideline bank or back to navigate a journey through.

 

 

Sometimes the choices are difficult because they appear to promise equally attractive (or unattractive), if different, outcomes. We may think a crystal ball could make the decision easier, but perhaps the only way to find out what the future brings is to live it, as discovered in this next flash offering:

 

Future seeker

“What do you seek?”

“Knowledge of the future.”

“That knowledge comes at a price.”

“I’m willing to pay.”

The eyes as deep as the ocean and dark as coal lifted from the shiny globe, contemplating the petitioner.

The globe’s soft glow in the dimness cast eerie shadows across the youthful face accentuating his desperate need.

One eyebrow raised, questioning. “It involves . . . a sacrifice?”

“I have more money than I could spend in a thousand lifetimes. Just tell me the price.”

The dark eyes flashed.

“Your life.”

He saw it all in a moment, and was gone.

 

Of course, as adults, it is important for us to have developed some self-regulatory skills or nothing would ever be accomplished. But what about children. How can we help children learn to make effective choices?

 

In honour of your time and mine, I will leave that for a future post!

 

I always enjoy reading your comments. I invite you to share your thoughts.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy others. Please click the button at the top on the right to receive future posts by email.

 

 

 

It’s no surprise! Talking education

We all like a surprise, right?

Well, you might say, that all depends on whether the surprise is a good surprise or a bad surprise.

A surprise is simply something unexpected, and everyday life is full of surprises; some so little they go almost unnoticed, others of larger more life-changing proportions. Some are pleasant and others far less so.

What got me thinking about surprises this week is the flash fiction prompt posted by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications.

Charli’s challenge this week is to

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows surprise without using the word. 

I have been thinking of all sorts of surprises I could write about but decided to maintain my focus on education.

There are many opportunities for surprises to occur throughout one’s education, which is not limited to (but probably, dare I say, by) one’s schooling experiences.

For example:

  • Discovering you can read a book, all by yourself
  • Discovering an author whose work you just can’t put down
  • Finding a solution to a problem that had seemed insurmountable
  • Achieving a favourable result in a dreaded test
  • Being offered a place in the course you were wanting
  • Having work accepted, valued and receiving payment

 

There are many situations in which the surprise could go either way.

For example:

  • Being called to the principal’s office
  • Having a parent-teacher interview about your own child, or student
  • Receiving exam results or course placement offer
  • Meeting a new teacher
  • Working in a group to solve a problem

 

Being a lover of stories, especially picture books, it is rare that a situation doesn’t trigger a thought connection to a story or book I have read.

Thinking about the good surprises and bad surprises that could happen in some of these situations made me think of a book I had read to my own, and classes of, children years ago. Maybe you will remember it also.

what good luck what bad luckThe book is What Good Luck! What Bad Luck! by Remy Charlip and relates a sequence of events alternating between good and bad.

It appears, from what I can find out, that it was first published by Ashton Scholastic in 1964 and sold for 60 cents.

Today Amazon has used copies on offer for $34.99 or $122 and a collectible as high as $157.70.

What good luck, I used to have a copy.

What bad luck, it is no longer in my possession.

I was at the stage of mentally composing my story with my fingers itching to get to the keyboard to translate it into print when I glanced at the morning paper1 and came across this headline:

Lesson 1: Bad teachers = bad results

As a teacher who is passionate about education but also critical of top-down force-fed schooling institutions, headlines/comments like these have me vacillating between defiant self- (and professional-) protection and agreement with the criticisms.

Teachers come in for a lot of criticism, some of it deservedly so, other of it not so much.

One quote I love is “Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions”.

On the flip-side of this is “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

While I take offense at this one, sometimes I am inclined to think it alludes to an important quality in a teacher. Frequently those who are expert at something, find it difficult to break a process into a series of steps that would enable an explanation to be easily understood by others. If one has struggled to master a task, the process can seem clearer and easier to explain. However there does come a point below which knowledge and experience must not fall or effective teaching cannot exist.

In her article Bad teachers = bad results, Kylie Lang says that

“C-grade teachers will not produce A-grade results”.

She says,

“Too many mediocre minds are becoming teachers. Universities usher them in, these academic underperformers who fail to qualify for courses with higher entry requirements.”

She says that

“A federal education department report shows a rise in the number of school leavers with poor grades being offered places on teaching courses. This year, 55 percent of Year 12 students that were allowed to undertake teaching degrees had an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank below the average . . .”

It is a bit scary, isn’t it?

She also says that,

“If we are a nation that values education . . . we must attract brighter, more creative thinkers to classrooms.”

I couldn’t agree more. However I wonder where they will get those creative thinkers if higher order thinking skills, creativity and innovation are sacrificed in the relentless quest for scores on academic tests which require students to spit back information forced upon them in hours of didactic instruction and rote learning.

It’s no surprise that anyone who maintains the ability to think outside the square would rather not return to it!

And so to my flash piece for this week, which comes with a warning – there’s no rhyme because there is no reason:

 

What luck!

No books, no talk were in the home.

What luck!

He was happy to play on his own.

 

School began when he was five.

What luck!

Learning from flash cards, how hard he tried.

 

“My boy can’t do it!” his Mum once wailed.

What luck!

With ‘forged’ test scores no child would fail.

 

Leaving school, the options were few.

What luck!

Teaching was the one he could do.

 

Uni years flashed by so fast.

What luck!

Number requirements meant he passed.

 

Then into the classroom he unprepared went.

No future joy for any student.

What bad luck!

 

I always enjoy reading your comments. I invite you to share your thoughts.

 

 

1 Courier-Mail, Sunday May 25 2014

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy others. Please click the button at the top on the right to receive future posts by email.

Is Silence Truly Golden?

Opportunities for talk, as explained in this article, are essential for both the language and intellectual development of young children. Without the richness of talk in the classroom, how can we expect students to develop the language skills necessary to enable them to respond with confidence to any assessment task, especially writing?

Writing to order – done in a flash!

In a recent post Writing woes – Flash fiction I wrote about the difficulty I experienced in responding to a flash fiction prompt posted by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications.

While I did eventually produce a piece in response to the prompt and received some very generous comments (thank you readers), the difficulty I was experiencing made me think of all the school children who have ever been set a topic and told to write about it, sometimes without an opportunity for discussion, reflection or planning, and often without any consideration of interests or experiences. I was feeling particularly sympathetic that week as children in Australia were, at that time, sitting the NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) writing test.

This week, while again struggling with the flash fiction prompt but this time unsuccessfully, I happened across a post entitled The dangers of a single story shared on dangerously irrelevant.  This post is an extract from a longer paper entitled Mitigating the Dangers of a Single Story by Nadia Behizadeh.

While I have not yet read the entire paper, the abstract itself is quite interesting.

Behizadeh begins by saying

“The dangers of a single story in current U.S. large-scale writing assessment are that assessment practice does not align with theory and this practice has negative effects on instruction and students.”

As shown in my previous article, large-scale writing assessment also occurs in Australian schools and, I believe, in the Education systems of many other countries as well.

It is interesting to see that the practice, while widely implemented, is not, according to Behizadeh, supported by theory. One would have to wonder why. Oftentimes teachers lament that those making decisions about educational practices are bureaucrats with little or no training or experience in education. (Pardon me, we all went to school didn’t we?)

In our data driven world where information can be collected on spreadsheets, compared in a wide variety of graphs and tables, and stored indefinitely, emphasis moves from qualitative to quantitative assessment. I believe that this trend towards valuing only that which can be scored numerically is having a negative effect upon children’s learning and their enjoyment of learning. It discourages creativity and imagination and forces everyone to squeeze into the same sized and shaped hole. Some manage to fit more easily and more comfortably than others, but I question the cost to all.

Behizadeh goes on to propose

“A new vision of large-scale sociocultural writing portfolios in K–12 education . . . that builds on the practices of past large-scale portfolio assessment … (and) also encourages students to write in multiple languages/dialects and modes for multiple purposes.”

I love the idea of portfolios for assessment, rather than a one-off test. I would think most professional writers have a portfolio consisting of work at various stages: some as ideas jotted on slips of paper, some in planning stages, others in draft form, others completed and waiting for the next step, and others in publication.

A portfolio allows a writer to work on different pieces at different times and at different rates. Rarely is it imperative for a piece to be completed in an hour or two. (Unless you’re a journalist I suppose.) You can dip in, leave to rest, go back, redraft, edit, start again, and not be required to churn something out for a reader, let alone assessment, more or less on the spot.

As a teacher, too, I loved my children having portfolios of work. They would write a draft of many different pieces and store them in a folder. They would edit and “publish” those only they wished (which was usually most!).

I would conference with them about their pieces, firstly about the content be it story, poem, letter or information discussing what they wanted to say, who they were writing it for and how they wanted the reader to think and feel. When they were happy with their message we might talk about choices of words and language structures. Finally, when they were ready to publish, we would look at the surface features of spelling and punctuation. No teacher’s red pen was ever used to mark their work. The children were engaged with the entire process of writing (we called it “process writing” back then) and had ownership of their work.

We published by sharing our work with classmates, other classes, teachers and parents. We displayed writing on classroom walls, in the hallways and in the school foyer. Each term I would print booklets of the children’s writing for them to take home and share with their families. Many took pride of place on the family bookshelves.

This type of portfolio clearly demonstrates a student’s ability to write in a variety of genres, to develop an idea, to express oneself grammatically, to use editing skills and to proofread for spelling and punctuation correctness. What better than that could be used to assess a child’s writing development?

The two main points I am making in this article are:

  • a one-off writing assessment task does not give students an opportunity to show their best work and puts pressure on them to perform
  • a portfolio of work collected over time provides a clear picture of student ability, development, and next steps for learning

While I began this article by expressing how I was feeling about responding to the flash fiction prompt, I am in no way suggesting that the flash fiction challenge has any similarity to the national writing assessment tasks that are set for children, for it does not.

With flash fiction:

  • I choose whether to participate or not
  • I choose the genre in which I will respond
  • I hone my writing skills, paring away unimportant words to get to the heart of the story
  • I share my writing with willing readers
  • I receive lots of encouraging and supportive feedback on my writing
  • I have a sense of belonging to a community of other writers.

 

This week’s prompt was:

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that begins with a twist. 

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this one, making various starts and writing some drafts but the twist in this one is, I haven’t been able to come up with something I am happy with sharing. But that’s okay because, unlike the children sitting the one-off national assessment, I can choose not to contribute this time, a low-ranking score won’t be collected and placed against my name for all time, and I can get to participate next time, if I choose.

Although I am not contributing a piece this time, I have still learned a lot by the process of trying different things, even if I haven’t found a way to make them work, yet

… and it provided me an opportunity of sharing some of my thoughts about writing with children. There will be more to come!

I’d love to know what you think!

 

PS Make sure you pop over to the Carrot Ranch to see how others have responded to the prompt.

 

 

 

Child’s play – the science of asking questions

Unknown source. Apologies. Happy to attribute if informed.

Unknown source. Apologies. Happy to attribute if informed.

I often say that children are born scientists. From the moment they are born they are actively finding ways of figuring out how the world works, and how they can get it to work for them.1

Some people say children are sponges. But I say they are more than that. They are creators. They don’t just copy what they see. They don’t just repeat what they hear. They find new ways of working things out, new ways of expressing ideas, and new ways of thinking about things. Parents often remark, when children exhibit new behaviours or cute new phrases or ways of expressing themselves, “Where did they get that from? Where did they learn that?” Often the source cannot be identified, for the source is within the child.

An important way to keep children creating their own understandings and ideas is to not only allow them to ask questions, but to actively encourage them to do so, and to help them seek answers to their questions. Adults can be quick to quiet children’s questions for a number of reasons including not knowing the answer, being too busy at the time to investigate an answer, or even considering the question unimportant or “dumb”.

Unknown source. Apologies. Happy to attribute if informed.

Unknown source. Apologies. Happy to attribute if informed.

Remember, many things that adults may take for granted or that they may no longer question but simply accept (possibly as a result of not receiving appropriate answers or responses to their childhood questions) are new and unfamiliar to the child.

Sometimes it is easier to accept than to question for questioning means that something is unknown; and not knowing can lead to feelings of insecurity, doubt and instability. But it is these self-same feelings which drive innovation and progress. If everything was known, there would be no room for improvement, no need for anything new, no need for greater understanding.

This inspiring TED talk by Beau Lotto and Amy O’Toole, Science is for everyone, kids included emphasizes the need for children to be given the opportunity of asking, and exploring answers to, questions.

Beau explains that what we see is based upon our experience, upon our expectations. But he asks,

“if perception is grounded in our history, . . . (and) we’re only ever responding according to what we’ve done before . . . how can we ever see differently?”

He goes on to explain that seeing things differently begins with a question and that questions lead to uncertainty. He says that

The-best-questions-are

and explains that the answer to uncertainty is play. He says that play “is a way of being” and is important for five reasons:

  • Uncertainty is celebrated in play and makes play fun
  • Play is adaptable to change
  • Play is open to possibility
  • Play is cooperative
  • Play is intrinsically motivated

“Play is its own reward.”

Beau says that science, also, is a way of being; and that science experiments are like play.

He describes working with a group of 8-10 year old children, encouraging them to ask questions and involving them in an investigation of a question they posed.

Amy O’Toole, one of the children involved, joins Beau and describes the experiment which investigated the ability of bees to “adapt themselves to new situations using previously learned rules and conditions.”

The really exciting thing about the project, Amy says, was that they “had no idea whether it would work. It was completely new, and no one had done it before, including adults.”

The process of taking the findings of the project to publication, as Beau explains, was rather complex with a variety of complications, taking two years to achieve. The experiment itself took only four months! Publication of the paper made Amy and her friends the youngest ever published scientists.

The response to the paper, The Blackawton Bees is amazing:

30 000 downloads on the first day

Editor’s Choice in Science (a top science magazine)

the only paper forever freely accessible on Biology Letters and

the second-most downloaded paper from Biology Letters in 2011

Amy wraps up the talk by stating that

“This project was really exciting for me, because it brought the process of discovery to life, and it showed me that anyone, and I mean anyone, has the potential to discover something new, and that a small question can lead into a big discovery.”

She finishes by saying that

“science isn’t just a boring subject … anyone can discover something new.”

We might not all make those big scientific discoveries, but it is the questions we ask each day which lead to our own discoveries, no matter how small; it is our curiosity which keeps us learning.

What have you learnt today?

 Changing-the-way-a

1 This is just my opinion formed from observations, discussions and reading. I am not supporting it with research references.

Writing woes – Flash fiction

For the past couple of months, Charli Mills has been posting a flash fiction challenge on her site Carrot Ranch Communications.

I have been really enjoying the challenges as I hadn’t tried writing fiction in such brevity before. I do like having a go at various genres but the main focus of my writing is education and literacy learning. I am currently developing resources for children, parents and teachers which I plan to make available on a future website.

 Having many years’ experience in writing these types of resources, I sometimes think I would be willing to develop any resource requested by an early childhood teacher. Participating in the Flash Fiction Challenge was a way of proving to myself that I could attempt any topic and genre.

 However, I have not found writing a response to this week’s prompt so easy. Charli’s challenge was to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a travel horror story.

 I am not a fan of horror (real or imagined) and I haven’t done enough travel to have experienced a horror story (thankfully) but I was still keen to have a go and keep up my good participation record.

The difficulty I was experiencing with this writing task made me think about writing tasks that are set for children in school. How many children have ever returned from holiday and been set the task of writing about “My Holiday”?

Maybe that’s not so bad, they have all experienced it. But what about other topics that are of little interest to them.

 This week across Australia students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 are sitting NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) tests.

Students in those year levels are set the same writing task . They are givena ‘prompt’ – an idea or topic – and asked to write a response of a particular text type” 

Information on the acara (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority) webstite explains that

“In 2014, as in previous years, the Writing task will be a single common task for all students. The 2014 Writing test will require students to respond to either a persuasive or narrative Writing prompt. However, the genre of the prompt will not be disclosed prior to the test period.”

It goes on further to say that

 “The provision of a rich and broad curriculum is the best preparation for NAPLAN, including the Writing task.”

I think I have a fairly rich and broad educational background with a reasonable level of literacy skills; but I am not convinced that, on any given day, in a restricted amount of time, under the watchful eyes of supervisors I would produce my best work in response to a prompt about which I may have little experience, knowledge or interest.

 

What about you? How do you think you would go?

 

Below is my response to Charli’s horror travel prompt. I don’t think it is my best work.

 

Travel woes

She willed the doors shut forever, knowing that open they must, or she’d be left behind.

She mentally checked and re-checked required items. Surely there was something she had missed?

 Dread gripped her ankles, threatening her balance.

Fear squeezed her chest, constricting her breath.

 Heights and enclosed spaces were not her thing.

 She straightened, attempting to hide the tremble from fellow travellers.

 “Don’t be crowded. I need space, air to breathe.”

 The doors opened. She was swept inside.

 They closed, encasing her. No escape now.

Would she make the distance, mind intact?

 Ding!

Floor 35. Here already.

 

The NAPLAN writing tasks are marked against a rubric of 10 criteria. I wonder what the criteria for flash fiction would be and how I would score.

 

Please share your thoughts.

Versatile Blogger Award!

the-versatile-blogger-award 

About a month ago I was honoured to receive a nomination for the Versatile Bloggers Award from Bodicia who blogs at A Woman’s Wisdom, “A place to discover fabulous storytellers plus book reviews, life and humour.” Her blog definitely lives up to its description and is worth a visit. I am very appreciative of receiving this award from someone with such experience and versatility.

Bodicia was nominated by Michelle James at Book Chat, also worth a visit, as are Bodicia’s other nominations which you can find listed on her post.

The rules of the Versatile Blogger Award are:

  • Thank the person who gave you this award. Thanks Bodicia!
  •  Include a link to their blog.
  •  Next, nominate 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award — you might include a link to this site.
  •  Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.

 

My 15 nominees are:

Ailish Sinclair

Teagan Kearney

Karen Wyld

Vicki Addesso

Susan Buchanan

Paula Reed Nancarrow

Lisa Reiter

Lori Schafer

Karen Oberlaender

Diane Mottl

Greg Mischio

Anne Goodwin

Caroline Lodge

Charli Mills

NannySheCanDo

Apologies to those I have omitted, and to those I have nominated for a second award. I can offer neither excuse nor reason. So be it.

This is the more difficult part – 7 things about myself. At least they don’t have to be interesting!

Seven random things about myself!

blue

  1. My favourite colour is blue, bright blue; blue like the clear June skies; blue like the calm waters on an early summer morning.
©Glenn Althor www.http://obscurepieces.com/ Used with permission.

©Glenn Althor www.http://obscurepieces.com/ Used with permission.

2.   I love butterflies, birds and frogs: pictures, toys, stories, whatever. I used to think I’d like to be a bird with the freedom of flight, soaring above the world. The transformation from caterpillar to butterfly is amazing and inspiring but each stage has its own beauty and purpose; one could not be with the other. And frogs – well they’re just cute!

3.   One of my favourite books is Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. I like to think I’m more like Jonathan than the other seagulls squabbling on the shore.

4.   I love being a parent. Both my children are adults now and the joy at seeing them grown; happy, contributing, compassionate, productive; is immeasurable. To think that I had a little to do with the wonderful people they have become is rewarding, but to know that they are more than I could ever take credit for, is awesome.

5.   I love learning and try to take an interest in most things, but am more interested in ideas than in facts. I’m not much use on a trivia team; unless it’s a nursery rhyme question – then I’m indispensable!

6.   I enjoy puzzles and games, especially logic and thinking puzzles and word games. I love playing games with the family and sharing a laugh. I love computer games.

Nor and Bec reading
7.   I love helping children begin their journey into literacy through reading to them, playing with words and language, telling and writing stories together.  With my own children it was magic, with hundreds of other children it was awesome, and now with my grandchildren it is just amazing. It is a privilege to share in the process.

 

Congratulations to all my nominees. Check out their blogs. You may find something there of interest to you!