In their own time

This quote by Albert Einstein is one of my favourites:

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”

Without the addition of a date to signify, I would find it difficult to separate out the memories and distinguish how far apart events occurred or in which sequence.

If the “The only reason for time“ was applied to the school situation, it might be quite different, for example,

“The only reason for time is to ensure that everyone is doing the same thing at the same time.”

 

school cropped

In previous posts I have talked about the importance of having a growth mindset and the power of ‘not yet’ thinking. Most respondents to these posts agreed on a preference for thinking about their own goals as not yet achieved, rather than as failed to achieve. Much like for a twelve month old child who is not yet walking, ‘not yet’ implies no failure, just steps in the right direction, an expectation of success, when the time is right and the child is ready.

For many things we do in life there is no hard and fast rule about when they should be achieved. Most developmental milestones are presented as an average, a range of ages during which time most will achieve. But the edges are blurred and, unless attainment falls way beyond the guide, there is generally no cause for concern.

When it comes to school learning there is much more anxiety about achievement and reaching particular benchmarks by certain ages. Anne Goodwin hinted at this is her comment on my post Reading is out of this world. Anne said,

“we need to create the conditions in which children want to learn to read and to continue reading regularly. Sadly, I think some kids are put off by attempts to teach them to read before they are ready, which just gives the message that it’s hard or boring or both.”

She said that we need ways to “get them in their own time, to where they need to be.”

Anne is right. Children may be put off reading by attempting to teach them before they are ready; just as often, I would add, by inappropriate methods that present reading as a series of unrelated skills devoid of context, meaning and enjoyment.

Children may come to reading at various ages and in various ways. Some read early. Mem Fox says that, if she were queen of the world, “children would learn to read easily, long before they came to school”, like my two did.  Others suggest a “better late than early” approach or not hurrying the child.

I think it is important to recognise that a ‘one size fits all’ approach has no place in education. I would love Mem Fox to be queen of the world and for all children to learn to read easily and with joy before school age, but there is much to do for that ideal situation to exist. David Elkind says that no one believes in hurrying children but parents, educators and legislators can always find a reason to do so.

Being out of step with peers can be a great cause of anxiety; and anxiety begets anxiety which further impedes learning, as shown in this presentation by Heidi Lyneham.

To improve the situation for learners we need to recognise that

  • Learners learn in their own time. We need more flexible timeframes that honour each child’s development and learning journey.
  • Learners learn in ways that are as individual as they are. However there are conditions which improve the chances of learning occurring, such as these conditions for literacy learning  as proposed by Brian Cambourne.

In her comment on my post Reading is out of this world, Nicole Hewes indicated support for this view by describing how she assisted a student’s learning by providing books about whales, a topic the student was greatly interested in.

Along with the recognition of different timeframes, there must be recognition of and value placed upon the time required by students to develop the skills; and time and opportunity must be provided for that development.

Just when I was writing this post, Bec, who loves to look after my reading and learning needs, sent me a link to this article by Pernille Ripp who asks,

“Why do we forget that time to read is the one thing readers need the most to become better readers?”

And then Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch posted her flash fiction challenge for this week: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a 2 a.m. story.

Time: everything was pointing in the same direction.

Thinking of a learner’s timing being out of sync with that of others made me think about waking up in the middle of the night (say 2am) and not being able to get back to sleep; knowing that one should be asleep; that everyone else is asleep; that one needs to be asleep because there’s a “big” day head. And all the while the anxiety grows as quickly as the ability to sleep fades. Maybe you can identify?

Wakefulness

One moment deep asleep. Next, upright; breath still; ears intent; staining to hear above her pounding heart.

Nothing. Just the familiar: fan whirring, palm frond swishing against the house.

Must investigate: bravely, fearfully.

With limbs trembling, palms sweating and mouth dry, she eases her legs out of the bed, puts her feet on the floor, pushes herself up and pads to the window.

Peeking out she scans the yard, illuminated by the full moon.

Nothing. A dream?

She pads back to bed. 2am.

“Ooh! Only three hours!” She closes her eyes, wishing hopelessly for sleep until morning’s liberation.

Thank you

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

26 thoughts on “In their own time

  1. Pingback: Embracing Failure | TanGental

  2. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Another post that is stimulating and thought provoking. I can relate to this on many levels. I sometimes wonder where I would have ended up had my reading of maths been handled differently. Steiner schools work on the principle of not pushing until the child is ready but even with them the group waits til all are ready. This makes it difficult. Not being able to sleep at the right time is nothing but a pain. Time goes so much slower of a night. Great Einstein quote.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Irene, and thanks for commenting on so many aspects of it. Steiner school do have a ‘better late than early’ approach, but that doesn’t suit all children. As you say, the children are still taught as if their learning clocks are in sync. I’m sorry that you are one of the ones who was disadvantaged by the way you were ‘schooled’. Sadly there are too many others who suffer/ed in similar ways. I was watching a segment on TV about using flash cards to teach children from 5 months of age. I have very mixed thoughts about it.
      I’m glad you like that Einstein quote. I wonder about the truth of it quite often when I try to distinguish the time difference between things that happened 3 months or 3 years apart. If I couldn’t label the time, I’d hardly know the difference. (Well, maybe not 3 months and 3 years, but 3 years and 10 years there’s not much difference!) Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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      1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        I feel that we are really turning into a society where from birth our child has to be seen as brilliant. Constant learning. Children do learn constantly but it used to be in fun, childish ways not with our parents and grandparents buying every game with the thought of what it can teach them. Some things just have to be fun. I don’t know a solution to the problem of teaching the child when it is ready. Once you have a group of people I can’t see anyway around it other than teach to the middle ground, set harder extra work for those that are advanced and hopefully have time to give extra assistance to those that are behind. An idealistic world. Barrington school has grades 1 – 3 with one teacher, and 4 -6 with another. I think this works well as the bright younger ones can start on work the older kids are doing. It must be a real strain on the teacher though.
        School for me wasn’t bad. I was bad for me. I made a conscious decision to be bad at a subject because the teachers raved about how good my brother was at it. I then discover later in life I probably would have loved it. My stupidity but the young don’t have hindsight. 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks for those additional thoughts, Irene. I agree with you that learning should be FUN! I think too many parents feel that their child’s academic progress is a reflection on their parenting. And in lots of ways it is. But I think there are a lot of more important traits that are also a reflection on parenting, like creativity, curiosity, kindness and compassion; things that are more important to life than a grade on a school subject (though those are important too to some extent). I’m not aware of the Barrington school. Is it a private or public school? I’ll have to google it. Some schools use composite classes (of 2 or more year levels) simply as an organisational tool for dealing with numbers of students that don’t fit nicely into class sizes. Some of these work well, others less so. I like groups of children with mixed ages such as you describe (grades 1-3 and 4-6, for example) and often referred to as family groupings, which is based on a different philosophy and a less lock-step approach to education. I have seen some great examples of where it has worked very well. Montessori schools are usually organised this way.
          Interesting isn’t it, your reason for “choosing” to be bad at a subject. We cannot be sure of the effect of our words. What is intended to be encouragement can often (obviously) have the opposite effect. How precocious were you? 🙂

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          1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

            Barrington school is a public school which is servicing an outlying area so the pupil numbers are not small. It is often under threat of closure as Gloucester is only another 6 kms away. Some of the students though already travel over an hour to get reach Barrington and it has managed just to keep operating. It has very good results from the pupils who I think benefit from the mixed classes.
            I don’t really know how precocious I actually was. I believed I was below average although I know that wasn’t true either.

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            1. Norah Post author

              Thanks for providing that extra information about Barrington, Irene. Did you mean that the numbers are small? Small school are always under threat of closure.
              I don’t think you were below average either! 🙂

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  3. writersideup

    I truly can’t stand when children are being pushed to do things before they’re ready. It’s been a terrible trend in the past couple of decades 😦

    And I LOVE Albert Einstein 🙂 Did you know he didn’t talk ’til he was about 3 years old? Talk about proof that people shouldn’t always be assumed to be “behind” in these ways!

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  4. TanGental

    Let’s start in reverse. The beauty of your FF piece is it rings true for so many, tells a lovely story and uses neatly alternative phrasing to make the reader jump, much like the voice. The quotes form you and Bec are ones I didn’t know and I love them. Dropping Nietzsche into a conversation is so this century! And I have mentioned before my own education nearly floundered on the obsession wit expecting pupils to achieve X by Y. Back in the 1960s, if you couldn’t afford a private education then you wold only get a good one if you went to a grammar school and not a secondary modern. To do that you needed to pass your 11 plus. I failed. Not by much perhaps but enough to be put into the absurdity of an interview where my love of Paddington Bear saw me through (I am convinced). Had I not made it to a grammar school I doubt I’d have found it easy to go to a good university etc… Yet this self same failure at 11 managed three A levels and a first class degree in law. I was lucky; how many weren’t?

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Geoff. I love hearing the story of your success and how you were saved from ignominy by Paddington Bear. Sounds like a lovely episode for a series “Paddington Bear saves the day!” It is amazing the effect that such a seemingly insignificant event can have upon the outcome of one’s life. That is something that has always inspired, and terrified, me as a teacher. We can never know the effect that our words and actions can have upon another and their lives. I hope that my positives have outweighed the negatives, but in that we can never be sure.
      Thanks for your kind words about my flash. They are having a positive effect. 🙂

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  5. Sarah Brentyn

    This —> “a ‘one size fits all’ approach has no place in education.” It never has. Not when I was a child, not now that I have children. Also, love this quote: “Why do we forget that time to read is the one thing readers need the most to become better readers?” So much in this post! I got to some links but am really looking forward to reading about The Hurried Child Syndrome.

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  6. Pingback: It’s 2 a.m. « Carrot Ranch Communications

  7. macjam47

    I agree with David Elkind. “Parents, educators and legislators can always find a reason” to push children to learn something even when they aren’t ready. It’s as though they can earn a badge and the accolades to go with it, if their children, students, schools in their district accomplish forced goals. Who are we kidding!

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    1. Norah Post author

      So true, Michelle! While it is unavoidable to a certain extent that we (parents, educators and legislators) will be judged on the performance of our young people, we should not be fearful of children developing in positive ways in their own time, if the environment and support encourages it. Thanks for joining in and extending the discussion. 🙂

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  8. Bec

    Hi Nor, what a great post, thanks for all this information about learning and pace. It’s so valuable to be able to see these insights which are so clear in the way you have put them, but can be so obscured by the way we (in society) ‘do’ education. I love your FF, too, and can absolutely relate to it. Although I have already shared these sentences with you, I’ll write them again as your FF has made me think of these words from Stephen Donaldson in the fourth book of the third Chronicles of Thomas Covenant:

    “She did not know how to stop fretting. Instead she gnawed on her fears as if she hungered for them; as if at the marrow she would find sustenance.”

    Reading the comments from Anne and Charli too reminds me of an article I read in the most recent issue of Womankind, about how Sundays can be stressful days for many folks as it is the time when we are in some ways idle, when our minds end up searching for little pangs of anxiety or stress on which to dwell. How anachronistic; it’s in a print magazine, so I can’t share it here. But it was a very insightful and interesting piece. The author recommended baking a cake, or doing art or writing or craft – something with an end goal or outcome to occupy the mind and distract it away from staring into the abyss (though these things are not so easy at 2am). What was that Nietzsche quote? If you stare into the abyss, the abyss will stare back into you? I suspect he may have been slightly more eloquent than me….

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Bec. Thank you so much for your comment. I love the way you have picked out certain elements to comment on and add encouragement.
      We have discussed those words of Stephen Donaldson before, but it is interesting to see them in print. I can certainly identify with the concept. The words very effectively paint the picture.
      And it is true about Sundays too, though I am often too busy to search for the anxiety. It jumps on me because I haven’t achieved what I wanted – but not necessarily on a Sunday, or only Sundays!
      I looked up the Nietzsche quote, so thanks for sending me there. The first part is also interesting and I must remember it: “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster ,,,” Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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  9. Annecdotist

    Beautiful integration of philosophy, pedagogy and fiction – and what a thrill to have my comments from a previous post quoted in this one – you are so generous in acknowledging the various contributions to your thinking.
    We were looking at clocks in the British Museum last week – a “timely” reminder that our current dedication to closely monitored time is a relatively recent phenomenon.
    Can easily identify with your musings and your flash: horrible to know that, when we wake in the night, we’ll be just nodding off again when it’s time to get up, and the those night noises always sound scary. I do like to get up early, but early for me is 7 rather than 5, but I hate being compelled to – it just feels so wrong to be woken by a screaming alarm.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Anne, for the generosity of your comment and support. I struggled to write this post and really wondered about publishing it at all, so the depth of feeling in your words surprises me when I thought mine to be rather on the trite side. It is the encouragement of readers, such as yourself, that helps me push through the days when motivation struggles for the light of day.
      I would have enjoyed pondering the history of time with you at the British Museum. I don’t remember seeing clocks when I visited; but I didn’t have a great deal of “time” for looking around!
      I’m with you on those early morning alarms. Working part-time, and with a flexible start time, has put me out of the habit of rising early, and now I struggle to do so. I have to leave home early (for me) this Friday morning. 😦 I think the anxiety about waking in time might interrupt my sleep!

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  10. Charli Mills

    Reading your posts is like opening a box with multiple gifts inside. I learned a new Einstein quote (I like that one), interesting studies for further reading on your topic and a flash fiction that I can relate to. I used to get Sunday night anxiety and would have trouble going to sleep for that early morning alarm. I liked my job; I didn’t like the time. My internal time-clock is off from “normal.” Whenever I try to normalize it to a schedule, I suffer sleeplessness at night. The more I’d stare at the clock and tell myself to sleep, the more I’d be wide awake!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Charli. The warmth of your encouragement means a lot to me; particularly when I wrestle with what to write and whether to write anything at all. Sending words out with the wind, wondering if they’ll ever make landfall can be extremely daunting at times and the effort can seem incredibly pointless (and I’m not fishing).
      To find such a fertile spot of welcome and opportunity as you have created makes me a little less fearful and helps me maintain motivation. 🙂

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