Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Third Annual Celebration of Teacher Thinking

Every so often I read a post that has me nodding in agreement and leaves me smiling and full of hope for education. This post, by Vicki Vinton of “To Make a Prairie”, is one of those. I hope you enjoy it!

To Make a Prairie


I know many teachers and students around the country are already back in their classrooms, but for the third year I’d like to mark what here in New York City is the start of the school year by sharing some of the incredibly inspiring and thoughtful comments that educators have left on this blog over the last twelve months. Those months have been marked with ongoing conflict about the Common Core Standards, the corporatization of public education, standardized testing and certain literacy practices. Yet, if the comments below are any indication, it’s also been a year in which teachers have increasingly found their voices and are using them to speak out with passion, knowledge, and the conviction that comes from experience about what students—and they, themselves—need in order to be successful. And if I see a trend in this year’s comments, one of the things teachers are speaking out about…

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Who tests the testers?

A recurring theme on this blog has been the inappropriateness of, and the difficulty faced by children sitting, large-scale external exams which require an immediate response to a stimulus that may have little relevance or interest to them. I have written about it here and here.

Making a judgment about student progress or achievement from one piece of writing, particularly one completed under conditions not necessarily conducive to encouraging one’s best work, is problematic.

It would be unrealistic of me to expect that everyone would agree with me, (though who wouldn’t want everyone to agree with them?) but it is always affirming to find that others share similar views. Maybe if enough people voice their concerns, change may occur.

Recently I read an article in our local newspaper that had me nodding in agreement. The article NAPLAN writers have trouble writing a writing test by Mary-Rose MacColl explained that a good part of the reason students didn’t do well on the NAPLAN writing task this year, is that the task itself wasn’t well written!

MacColl said that the task was wordy and the standards themselves (the criteria against which the writing is marked) poorly written. She pointed out how ludicrous it was for the ACARA CEO to write a letter explaining to parents that students should not view the test as ‘pass or fail’ when many children were experiencing extreme anxiety in the lead up to the test and parents were withdrawing their children from the tests in increasing numbers.

In addition to writing newspaper columns, MacColl is also a writer of fiction. She is pleased that the focus of NAPLAN is on persuasive rather than narrative writing, and goes on to describe some wonderful writing that is going on her son’s class.

Many teachers are doing wonderful things helping students develop a love of writing. Unfortunately, those setting external assessment tasks aren’t listening to the professionals.

I have given only a brief indication of what Mary-Rose MacColl had to say. Please read her article to fully understand her views.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

It’s written in the stars

An interest in star signs is worldwide. A google search of ‘star signs’ brought up 126 000 000 results in 0.15 seconds. You can find out what your star sign is, famous people who share your sign, get a description of your personality, find out who you are or are not compatible with, and what the future holds for you.

But how accurate do you think your star sign is, and how accurate are the predictions?

Are they any more accurate than a teacher’s predictions of a child’s future?

Think back to your school days and the comments written by your teachers on your report cards. Have you lived up, or down, to their expectations?

Comments sometimes described me as conscientious and said that I worked hard. At other times I needed to work harder, and was told that I could do better, that I needed to concentrate more on … (insert subject name – any will do). Comments in opposition, like the two sides of a coin or the twins of my star sign Gemini.

However teachers do not always know, and cannot always predict future life journeys of their students.  Consider how inaccurate were teachers’ predictions for people as diverse as Einstein, Edison, Churchill, Darwin and Pasteur who showed little promise while at school. Disney was accused of lacking imagination, and Salvador Dali of daydreaming. John Lennon’s teachers were not impressed when he answered “happy” in response to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The list of successful people with unforeseen potential is long. I’m sure you know stories of many others from all walks of life. Maybe yours is one!

Over at the Carrot Ranch this week, the flash fiction prompt by Charli Mills is to: In 99 words (no more, no less) focus on the personality traits of a character informed by the zodiac.

Mine is not exactly about the zodiac, but about another form of prediction equally as accurate.

As expected

A lawyer, a doctor and a journalist walked into a bar, ‘Class of ’99’ emblazoned on their backs.  

Talk flowed freely.

When someone mentioned old ‘four-eyes’ Proffet, laughter erupted.

“Thought he was a prophet,” they chorused.

“Mark my stars,” the lawyer mimicked, wagging his finger. “You need to learn to be less argumentative.”

The doctor peered over her glasses and giggled, “And you miss, will never amount to anything!”

“Remember Prophet’s favourite, ‘most likely to succeed’?” said the journalist. “Saw Daniel last week, handing out horrorscopes, on corner of Main and Black. Hardly recognised him. Poor sod.”

Thank you

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

I’ll leave you with a song about a star someone was born under. Not my star, and not the zodiac either, but a popular song when I was growing up.

I was born under a wandering star  sung by Lee Marvin in Paint Your Wagon

Fifteen blogs for inspiration!

very inspiring blogger

Recently Julie Stock nominated me for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Thank you Julie, I am totally delighted to accept. Julie blogs at ‘My Writing Life’ Julie writes about her journey towards being a published author and offering help to others who are in the same position.

It is only a short while ago that I posted an acceptance for the same award from Geoff Le Pard. In that post I promised I would do some exploring to seek out other inspiring bloggers to add to our growing community. Since then I have also created a page listing awards for which I have been nominated and those whom I have nominated. I’m sure a quick look at that page will suggest many worthwhile bloggers to follow.

Here are the rules of the award:

  • Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
  • Optional: follow the blogger who nominated you, if you don’t already do so.

Map with Indigenous Australian place names

The seven facts I am sharing with you in this post are seven locations in which I have lived that are named using a word from the languages of Aboriginal peoples of Australia. Although I have lived in more than 20 homes for varying lengths of time, only seven locations have Aboriginal names.

  1. Yuleba: “the place of water lilies”, about 420km west of Brisbane: birth until about 10 months.
  2. Kallangur: “a goodly or satisfactory place”, about 20km north of Brisbane: 10 months until 61/2 years. I started school at Kallangur walking the approximately 2 miles (3.3km) to and from school with my older brother and sister.
  3. Wooloowin: “fish”, a suburb of Brisbane: 1970 – 72 (teacher training).
  4. Duaringa: “a meeting place on the swamp oaks”, about 116km west of Rockhampton: second year of teaching.
  5. Koolyanobbing: “large hard rocks”, approximately halfway between Perth and Kalgoorlie (i.e. in ‘the middle of nowhere’): about 18 months during 1977/78.
  6. Wagga Wagga: “the place of many crows”, approximately 450km south-west of Sydney: 1979 (university).
  7. Jindalee: “bare hills”, a suburb of Brisbane: 1997-2004 (though have lived in adjoining suburbs since 1981).

In this post I am nominating fifteen blogs that I have not before nominated for an award. If I have nominated you previously, you are still on my list of wonderful blogs to follow (see page).

It is up to each nominee whether they wish to participate by accepting the award and/or paying the compliment forward. The purpose of my nomination is simply to share with others how valuable I consider the blog to be.

 

Julieanne To Read To Write To Be

teacher versus mum

Irene Waters Reflections and Nightmares

Linda Petersen Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Staying Sane Blog

Geoff Le Pard TanGental

Carrie Gelson There’s a Book for That

Matt Renwick Reading by Example

Michael Michalko Imagineer7’s Weblog

A.J. Juliani Teach Different

Three Teachers Talk

Sarah Brentyn Are you kidding me?!

Shelley Wilson Live Every Day with Intention

Ross Morrison McGill @TeacherToolkit

Jean Cogdell jean’s writing

Tara Smith A Teaching Life

I hope you find time to visit some of those blogs. There is much to inspire!

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts on any aspect of this post.

I-think-therefore-I-am-I

Food for thought

Thinking is as much a part of life as is eating. Something to think about is often referred to as ‘food for thought’; and food for thought is just as important to wellbeing as is food for the body. When I’m not thinking about where I’ll partake of my next meal, or what I might eat, I’m often thinking about education.

I recently read an article on Selected Reads called Teacher’s Guide to Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions which included a review of a book by Rothstein and Santana entitled “Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions“.

I will be upfront and admit that I have not read the book and am commenting on the review alone which states that the book brings together “several years of research and experience into a methodology for applying their groundbreaking thought and technique.” It goes on to say that “The basic argument … is pretty basic: for our students to achieve excellence and equity, we need to teach them the skill of question formulation.” (my emphasis)

 

I really have no argument with the premise of the book. In fact, it sounds like a pretty good read to me. I have even previously blogged about the importance of asking questions in these posts: Child’s play – the science of asking questions  and What you don’t know …

 

What I wonder about is: If it is so important for students to learn to ask questions, why do we spend so much time in school teaching them to stop asking questions and to learn just what is presented to them, whether they like it or not?

 

Aren’t children born asking questions? Aren’t they pretty good at asking questions (verbal or otherwise) to figure out what they need to know about the world? Why then do we sit them in desks all day and force-feed them content for future on-demand regurgitation?

 

I consider it to be a bit like inviting someone to a feast but feeding them pap, which is the essence of my flash fiction piece written in response to the prompt suggested by Charli Mills this week at the Carrot Ranch: In 99 words (no more, no less) include food in your story.

 

 

Food?

His eyes widened, flitting across the table, scanning the feast, a smorgasbord of sensory delights. His mouth moistened and tummy growled.

Where to start? A bit of this. A little of that. A whole lot of that! Mmmm!

He rubbed his belly and licked his lips.

Suddenly he was marched away and slammed onto a hard wooden bench. A bowl of colourless pap was flung at him.  “Eat this!”

He recoiled.

“Eat it!”

The overfilled spoon was shoved between tightened teeth.

He gagged.

“It’s good for you!”

He spluttered.

Over time he learned. “Not so bad,” he thought.

 

 

Okay. Maybe I’m exaggerating. Maybe I’m painting the picture darker than reality. Maybe. But sometimes that is necessary for even partial recognition of the situation to occur. You know about the swinging pendulum.

 

The picture painted by Scott McLeod of dangerously ! irrelevant is no brighter. In his post The declining economic value of routine cognitive work  he says that while most employees (in the U.S.) are engaged in non-routine cognitive and interpersonal work; routine cognitive work is what students are mostly engaged and assessed in, and what traditionalist parents and politicians advocate. So while work tasks may require “problem-solving, intuition, persuasion, and creativity”, school tasks involve things such as automation and repetition.

 

My wish is that all parents, school administrators, education policy makers and teachers do as Rothstein and Santana suggest – let them ask questions!

 

Of course I couldn’t write a post about food and questions and not mention the blog of one of my very favourite questioners, Bec, who writes about “wholefoods, vegetarianism, slow living and their existential friends” at There’s no food. There’s much food for thought there!

And now for something a little bit different: The edible cookbook. It’s a cookbook you can read, cook and eat! I wonder what questions its designer was asking to come up with such an innovative and interesting design.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please join in the discussion or share your thoughts about any aspect of this post, including my flash fiction.

 

 

 

 

How inclusive are you?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called Benefits of inclusion.

In that post I linked to this TEDx talk by Dan Habib, Disabling Segregation.

In the talk, Dan advocates for the inclusion of students with differences in mainstream schools. He explains that there are benefits for typical children as well as for children with disabilities.

The benefits include:

  • better communication skills
  • higher academic achievements
  • wider social networks, and
  • fewer behaviour problems.

He also says that typical children learn to be more patient, caring, compassionate and loving.

He decries the fact that although these benefits are known most children with differences still spend most of their day segregated.

In that post I also referred to article on The Cool Cat Teacher’s blog in which Gary Dietz, author of Dads of Disability, shared 5 practical lessons for elementary classroom inclusion.

His suggestions are:

  1. ‘Meet the student “where the student lives” (where they need to be, at their level of development)
  2. Presume competence
  3. Be creative in your use of ‘adaptive’ technology
  4. Listen to parents and help them listen to the child
  5. Give “overlooked” children the same chance to shine as the superstars.

The post received many wonderful comments, including some by Gary, which continued the discussion. It is worth having a peek back to see what people were thinking if you are interested.

Because your response to that post was so positive, I thought I would share with you some others that I have come across since publishing it.

On her blog, teacher versus mum, an Adelaide teacher wrote a post called When inclusivity becomes exclusion. In the article TeacherMumWife questions whether it is the attitude of teachers towards students with disabilities that impedes the progress of inclusivity.

TeacherMumWife describes a situation at a school in her local area as one promoting exclusion, rather than inclusion, through its lack of preparedness. She describes the aggressive and fear-inducing behaviour of one child and condemns the attitude of parents and teachers who question whether the school is the best place for the child. She asks, “isn’t it about time teacher attitudes got a kick up the bum, and teacher training programs and systemic funding be modified to reflect this need in our classrooms?

respect

I personally favour the idea of inclusion and believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and given a fair go. However in a situation such as that described by TeacherMumWife, a situation that many teachers are faced with on a regular basis, I have to admit teacher guilt in also questioning whether the regular classroom is the best place for the child.

A child with aggressive and disruptive behaviours, who injures teachers and classmates and who disrupts the learning of other students, in my opinion, is not giving others a fair go. I do not think accepting them into the classroom is equitable. If a child with special needs is placed into a classroom that is unable to provide for those needs, then it is not any more satisfactory for that child than it is for any other participants in the classroom.

There is already a great deal of pressure upon classroom teachers. The expectation that a general classroom teacher should be able to cater for a great diversity of special needs in addition to the range of diverse abilities and needs in a group of twenty-five to thirty or more students is, I believe, unrealistic in most current educational systems and environments. Qualifications to teach special education requires additional years of study. Teacher training, here is Queensland anyway, is already four years. How many years will it take to prepare teachers to cater for all needs that may present themselves at the classroom door?

People_16_Teacher_Blackboard

I agree with TeacherMumWife that more training is required so that teachers may develop a greater understanding of differences, and develop a genuine empathy for parents of and students with those differences. Additionally education must receive more funding to provide trained teachers and support personnel to work with students with special needs, and enable them to be more integrated into a situation which caters to their needs as much as to the needs of others.

 

A commenter on the blog agrees, saying, “The teachers involved in any class environment, have a right and expectation not to be placed in a situation they are not trained for or feel threatened by the situation they find themselves in.” He describes the progress of his ASD daughter from early primary to high school years.

Blake Wiggs, an instructional coach shared an article called Rethinking tolerance: Ensuring all students belong on Edutopia. He explains an exercise conducted with his students that highlights a similar situation to that noted by Dan Habib in his TEDx talk: that people form friendships with those who are similar to themselves and that perceptions of those who are different may be influenced by stereotypical thoughts. Blake’s article did not address disability specifically but the activity and attitudes are relevant just the same. He noted three necessary ingredients for creating a more tolerant environment, including:

  1. Create a culture of acceptance
  2. Address feelings of isolation
  3. Foster meaningful relationships

 

I think Jamie Davis Smith would agree with those. In her post, I’m so sorry my daughter’s disability is such an inconvenience for you shared on HuffPost Parents, Jamie expresses a parent’s frustration at the lack of consideration shown to those with disabilities. However she is not talking about school inclusion, but acceptance and inclusion in society.

Linda Petersen has a many positive suggestions on her Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Staying Sane Blog. Linda shares stories of her lifetime living with people with disabilities. In her recent post she says,

Every child is a joy! Imagine yourself in the mother of a disabled child’s shoes. Have empathy for that mom. Join in her admiration of her child, and maybe you will also internalize the concept that “God don’t make junk!

 

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

 

Sounds like . . .

Kookaburra in my backyard

Kookaburra in my backyard

The flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week is all about sounds, specifically a sound that heralds change.

Of course I think immediately of the school sounds: the bells, buzzers or sirens that mark the beginning or end of a school session or day; children’s laughter in the playground interrupted by the cry over a scraped knee or elbow; the hush that overtakes the classroom when the teacher’s footsteps in the corridor announce her arrival; the monotonous chant of sounds parroted repeatedly as cards of letters are flashed in unrelenting sequence, marking the imposition of content-driven curricula where once were child-centred approaches and talk was king.

I think, too, of the sounds of nature that tell me of the changes in the day: the birds that sing outside my window heralding each new day – the kookaburras, butcherbirds, magpies, little corellas and koels; the rainbow lorikeets that chatter noisily telling me that evening is on its way; the screeching and whooshing of fruit bats as they wing their way across the darkening sky; the thud of a possum landing on the fence and the scratching of its claws as its scrambles from tree to tree under cover of the night.

Cockatoos looking for food, Hamilton Island

Cockatoos looking for food, Hamilton Island

We are fortunate in Australia that we don’t have a great number of large menacing animals terrorising our neighbourhoods. Sure dingoes, crocodiles and sharks may be scary but you don’t often come across them, and our most dangerous animals are more likely to be small and quiet and sneak up on you, like our spiders, snakes, jellyfish and ticks. There are no sounds associated with these to give you a warning.

That’s not to say there are no scary sounding animals. Any sound, if you don’t know what is making it, has the potential to be scary; as in this 99-word flash (memoir):

Awakened suddenly, I didn’t dare breathe. The sound was unrecognizable: guttural, movie theatre loud in surround sound. I sat up. The sound continued. I wasn’t dreaming.  I nudged Bob. No response. Gripped with fear but needing to know, I tiptoed to the window and peeked through the curtain slit. I expected to see The Creature from the Black Lagoon. There was nothing. Now it came from the front, inside the house? My son! I tore down the hall. He slept peacefully! Back to the bedroom. Bob awoke. “Did you hear that?” he asked, wide eyes staring . . .

The following day I phoned the Queensland museum and attempted to explain what I heard. The fellow at the other end of the phone mimicked the sound exactly!! He identified it as a male brushtail possum warning others of its territory. These possums are very common in our area and I was amazed that I hadn’t heard this particular sound before. I hear it frequently now as every night they are moving about in the neighbourhood trees and running along our fences and roofs. I have never again heard it at the intensity of that first time, and now that I know what it is, it is no longer scary. In fact, possums are rather cute, as long as they are not living in your roof, eating the produce of your garden or stealing your Christmas puddings!

This video gives a hint of the brush tail’s sound I heard:

Another sound that I found quite unnerving at the time of first hearing was that of the mutton birds in the still of the night while we were holidaying on Heron Island, just off the Queensland coast at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. I had always thought the cry of the curlew to be quite eerie, but it didn’t match that of the mutton birds whose cry was more like that of the banshees.

I have written about this frightening experience in the following 99-word flash (memoir):

The boat tossed mercilessly. I battled to contain my insides while all around were losing theirs into little paper bags offered unceremoniously to obliging staff.

Finally, just before landfall, I joined in. Then it was over – for me. Bob’s queasiness laid him up for the night; but I went to tea.

The path back to the cabin was unlit but for a splash of moonlight. Suddenly horrific wailing assaulted my ears. Was Bob being murdered? I hurried back. He was fine, but the eerie sound unsettled us far into the night.

In the morning we laughed: mutton birds nesting!

I was fortunate to have not tripped and fallen as the mutton birds nest in burrows and these were dotted all over the island! Of course, once the source of the sound had been identified, we were no longer concerned.

While my two snippets of memoir don’t fit Charli’s criterion of fiction, they are about sound and I have used them to point to the power of education to change one’s situation. When the source of the sound was unknown, it was frightening. Once we knew what it was, it was no longer scary.

Knowledge is power. There is a saying, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you” but there is also another that says “What you don’t know won’t do you much good either”. I have written about this previously here.

Conspiracy theorists believe that those with power withhold knowledge from the masses (e.g. aliens are among us); but I believe that schools that favour test marks over individual development; content over creativity and critical thinking; and conformity over diversity are conspiring to contain the masses. One of the easiest ways to suppress and maintain control over others is to keep them ignorant. I am not suggesting that schools keep students ignorant, but they could do a lot more to maintain children’s natural enthusiasm for learning. I look forward to sounds that will herald positive changes in education.

 

I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.