Monthly Archives: March 2016

Formal Schooling and the Death of Literacy

Paul Thomas in this post describes the literate home environment of his early childhood days, an environment that created his advantage, his privilege in becoming literate.
He also describes the tedium of school days that had to be endured rather than enjoyed, and decries the cult of measuring and labeling texts and students that “murders literacy among our students“.
He goes on to say that “The very best and most effective literacy instruction requires no textbooks, no programs, and no punitive reading policies.
Literacy is an ever-evolving human facility; it grows from reading, being read to, and writing—all by choice, with passion, and in the presence of others more dexterous than you are.
I couldn’t agree more.
If you enjoy this post by Paul, check out this follow-up post Everyone Learns to Read by Direct Instruction on his blog the becoming radical. You may find many other posts of interest as well.

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radical eyes for equity

My privilege is easily identified in my being white and male, but it is the story of my life that better reveals my enormous privilege established by my mother when I was a child.

I entered formal schooling with such a relatively high level of literacy and numeracy that from those first days I was labeled “smart”—a misnomer for that privilege.

From Green Eggs and Ham to Hop on Pop, from canasta to spades, from Chinese checkers to Scrabble—games with my mother and often my father were my schooling until I entered first grade. And none of that ever seemed to be a chore, and none of that involved worksheets, reading levels, or tests.

Formal schooling was always easy for me because of those roots, but formal schooling was also often tedious and so much that had to be tolerated to do the things I truly enjoyed—such as collecting, reading…

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Adventures in Learning

I have never been physically adventurous; never dived off a high cliff, surfed a rolling wave or bungeed into an abyss; I don’t like heights and get no thrill from the thought of a roller-coaster ride. I don’t believe it’s fear that holds me back. It’s lack of interest and opportunity: I never sought it and it never sought me.

When I was very little I earned the nickname “Possum” because, apparently, I was a climber and constantly getting into mischief. I soon had that knocked out of me by a combination of physical and verbal admonitions. Perhaps this contributed to my dislike of heights, but I think my disinclination for the adrenalin rush of physical activities was inborn.

Fear probably does contribute to my reluctance to participate in other height related activities such as parasailing, hang gliding, gliding and hot air ballooning. Each of these does have a certain amount of appeal and I think I would love the experience, if I was brave enough to take the leap. One day perhaps.

Not only were my explorations through climbing curtailed, I was also discouraged from conducting my own investigations and from asking questions. While my parents encouraged reading through library membership and giving books as gifts, my father was often heard to say, “What you don’t know won’t do you any harm.” Though I read avidly, self-selected material was almost exclusively fiction. Non-fiction was the realm of textbooks set for study in boring school subjects with enforced memorisation for regurgitation in exams and then promptly forgotten.

Fortunately, I gained some sense of the limitations of my own experiences and thinking and endeavoured to avoid limiting my own children in similar ways. Only they will be able to say how much their experiences and learning were restricted. Neither is into extreme physical challenges and I certainly didn’t provide them with opportunities that may have encouraged such activities. However, I did encourage them to be curious, to ask questions and to investigate. I closed the door on thinking that revered ignorance and opened the one for adventures into learning.

It is important for parents and teachers to realise the impact of their attitudes, expressed and otherwise, on the developing attitudes of their children. There is a lovely poem Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte that expresses it rather well.

Below is a list of a few further ingredients that I consider essential for maintaining the fun and adventure in learning throughout life. I’m sure you will think of many more.

Children learn best when they have time to:

  • play,
  • choose,
  • grow and develop,
  • think,
  • problem solve,
  • make many attempts,
  • develop independence,
  • create,
  • be,
  • question,
  • wonder,
  • imagine,
  • explore, and
  • discover

in an environment of respect and encouragement that is unhurried and non-competitive.

While I often say that children are born scientists, constantly exploring the world and conducting experiments to find out what works, we can sometimes take their discoveries for granted as their investigations confirm for them something it seems that we have always known; for example, that something dropped will fall. However, any question that a child asks can be a springboard into further learning. It is the questions asked that have driven science discoveries and understandings: questioning, wondering and imagining.

It is these adventures into the unknown, the exhilaration of learning, that drive me and that have inspired my response to the flash fiction challenge by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) write an adventure, experienced or witnessed. I hope you enjoy it.

As she reached for the unicorn-shaped balloon the man smiled and winked. She hesitated, accepted the balloon, and pushed back through the small audience. Something made her turn. The bystanders, the man, and the balloons were gone. Puzzled, she scanned the crowd for her mum. A sudden gust puffed out her skirt and, as she clutched the unicorn, lifted her high and away: across the city, over the fields, beyond the horizon; and back. She gazed at the patchwork unfolding:  beautiful, connected, serene; and recognised herself a part. As she descended all was as before. Only she had changed.

And if you are wondering about a unicorn-shaped balloon, it is possible:

Thank you

 

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Thankful and inspired: schools and education

I have just watched the movie “He named me Malala”. The message has not lost its importance or impact. Sadly the need for her message to be heard and responded to has only grown over time. I share this post again as a reminder of Malala’s courage, strength, and determination. She says, “The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.”

Norah Colvin

In recent posts there was some discussion about the importance of education, the value of schools and the role of teachers. I thought it timely to re-share this post, first published in July 2015.

Earlier this week I read a post by Kimmie of Stuck In Scared about Ten Things of Thankful. I have also read many other posts about things to be thankful for. These posts prompted me to share something for which I am thankful: schools and education.

I know that I often write about what I consider the shortcomings of traditional schooling and make suggestions of how schools could be improved. However I live in a country that values education and in which every child has a right to a free education. For that I am thankful. Those of us who have access to schools and education are the lucky ones.

This week I have been…

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Starting with one

© Charli Mills

© Charli Mills

There’s an event worth celebrating at the Carrot Ranch this week. Two years after posting her first prompt encouraging writers to hone their writing skills by joining the 99-word flash fiction posse, Charli Mills has posted her 99th.

I’m proud to say that I’ve been there since the first, riding the range of story prompts with others who have gathered around the campfire to share stories, wise words and writing tips in response to the nurturing offered by Charli’s warm, honest and generous spirit. It is she who is the hub around which has formed a community that is welcoming, supportive and encouraging. She is the one who keeps the wheels turning, the imaginations stirring and the words flowing.

rough-writers-web-comp

© Charli Mills

It is fitting, therefore, that her 99th challenge is to in 99 words (no more, no less) write about the idea of “just one.” If all it takes is just one, what is the story? Explore what comes to mind and go where the prompt takes you. Bonus challenge: eat cake while you write, or include cake in your flash. She is the “just one” who, week after week, writes an inspiring post, sets a thought-provoking challenge, ropes in the writers and compiles the stories into a collection as diverse as the readers. It would be interesting to know how many writers have answered every prompt. I don’t think the number would be large as even I didn’t manage to ride every muster.

I take this opportunity to congratulate Charli on her initiative. In this recent post she restates that “the original intent of Carrot Ranch as of March 5, 2014 was to create a bully-free zone where writers could learn to access creativity through problem solving (the constraint); write from a unique perspective (diversity); read and discuss the process or prompt (engagement).”  There is no question that she has achieved that and more. I have met many wonderful writers, bloggers and friends through my visits to the Carrot Ranch. If you are not yet a visitor, I suggest you pop on over. You’ll be warmly welcomed.

one

Recently I received as a gift a book called “One: How many people does it take to make a difference?” The book is filled with many wonderful quotes, stories and suggestions; too many to share, in one post anyway. I decided to open the book to a random page and share what I found. This is it:

“If someone listens, or stretches out a hand, or whispers a kind word of encouragement, or attempts to understand, extraordinary things begin to happen.” Loretta Gizartis

Loretta Gizartis

That’s a pretty powerful quote. The effects of Charli’s “just one” contributions are easy to see. The quote is equally applicable to teachers and the effects that they may have upon the lives of others.

Readilearn bookmark

It is lovely when teachers are publicly (or privately) acknowledged for the positive influence they have had upon a life. Charli did this recently when she acknowledged a high school teacher who had encouraged her to achieve more than she thought she could.

stephen hawking - teacher

Last month when announcing the Top Ten Finalists for the Global Teacher Prize Stephen Hawking acknowledged one who had had a powerful effect upon his life. He said,

“Thanks to Mr Tahta, I became a professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, in a position once held by Issac Newton. I have spent my life attempting to unlock the mysteries of the universe. When each of us thinks about what we can do in life, chances are we can do it because of a teacher.”

Even teachers need mentors and many can name one who has made a difference to their lives.  As if in response to Charli’s challenge, this week Vicki Davis, the Cool Cat Teacher, nominated “just one” personal mentor who had taught her the most about teaching. Of Maryfriend Carter, Vicki says,

“I’m grateful for her mentorship and encouragement in my life. She changed my thinking about teaching as she taught me about teaching. She single-handedly convinced me that testing doesn’t work and what does.”

But not all who teach the most important lessons in life are “professional” teachers. There is a great saying that goes something like, “When the student is ready the teacher appears.” I often say that my own children have been my best teachers. But I have also been inspired by other wonderful teachers too. I have mentioned many of them in previous posts including here, here and here.

However, my response to Charli’s flash fiction challenge aims to demonstrate that even the smallest, seemingly inconsequential, action can have a powerful effect upon the life of another. Sometimes we learn of the effects, sometimes we don’t; but when we do, the effect can be magnified. I hope it works.

The Power of One

Only much later, through a chance meeting with mutual friends, did she discover her power of one.

“I know you,” said the other, pointing her cake fork. “You’re the one.”

The old fear gripped, twisting tight. Her cake lost its appeal.

Which one?” another asked.

“In the foyer. On the first day. You spoke to me.”

“Oh,” she reddened, shrinking to nothingness inside.

“I was so nervous. You made me feel welcome, at ease. I’ve been wanting to thank you.”

“Oh,” she lifted her fork, smiling. “You’re welcome.”

“If only you knew,” she thought. “I did it for me.”

Thank you

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Scary monsters

This week at Carrot Ranch Communications Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a monster story.  Being an early childhood teacher I think immediately of picture books. Two of my favourites are The Gruffalo, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, and The Monster at the End of this Book , written by Jon Stone and illustrated by Michael Smollin.

The Gruffalo

The Gruffalo is as fearsome as any monster you are likely to meet with its “terrible tusks, and terrible claws, And terrible teeth in his terrible jaws”; “a poisonous wart at the end of his nose” and “purple prickles all over his back”. The quick witted mouse, who imagines the Gruffalo into storybook “reality”, must find a way of ridding himself of the monster’s inherent danger and once again uses his ingenuity to escape.

I’m not sure if it was Donaldson’s intention, but I think this is a great analogy for the monsters we create for ourselves such as self-doubt, unrealistic expectations, and (you can add your own monster here). Not that I’d be sharing that thought with young children.

In this video Axel Scheffler explains his concept of the Gruffalo and even hints, a couple of times, that he too may be troubled by that all too common of personal monsters, self-doubt.

Monster at the end of this book

Throughout The Monster at the end of this Book Grover, from Sesame Street, pleads with the reader to not turn the page as there is a monster at the end of the book. You could almost say he is immobilised by this fear, or that he tries to immobilise the reader. Of course it is a lot of fun and provides much laughter. When we (reader and Grover) do get to the end of the book, he is rather embarrassed to find that he, “lovable, furry, old Grover” is the Monster. He tries to assure us that we, and not he, were the scared ones.

Of course Grover wasn’t the monster only at the end of the book. He was always the “lovable, furry” harmless monster. It was his fear that was the real monster. How often are we immobilised by our fear, and how often when we take that jump despite it, do we find our fears to be groundless? Sometimes I think, or is it only me, we are our own worst monsters setting ourselves impossible targets with too-high expectations that lead us only to disappointment if we don’t achieve them.

But if we view ourselves as works in progress, in the process of working out where we want to be and how to get there, we can find contentment in what we achieve along the way, in where we are and how far we have come, rather than ignoring those milestones and looking only at how much further we must (in our own minds) go.

It is all too easy to contribute to the development of children’s personal monsters by doing to them what we do to ourselves: setting unrealistic targets, expecting too much, insisting on error-free work, measuring them against external benchmarks … To avoid this, we need to view them also as works in progress and encourage them, through a growth mindset, to reach their own milestones and goals in the time that is right for them.

Like the mindset of the mouse in The Gruffalo who was able to think on his feet and overcome the obstacles, or that of Grover who realised there was really nothing to be worried about at all.

We need to be not afraid of the monsters under the bed or in the cupboard, most of which we have created in our imaginations and stuffed there, sometimes with the assistance of others, allowing them to multiply like wire coat hangers until there is no room left for anything good. I have taken the theme of internal monsters for my response to Charli’s challenge.

Open, close them, open anew

The picture was clear. Taken with wide open shutters and long exposure, then developed in black and white for extra clarity, the result was undeniable and exactly what would be expected.

“You’ll never amount to anything.”

“That’s rubbish.”

“Pathetic.”

“You’re always the troublemaker.”

“Because I said.”

“Shut up!”

“Stop asking questions.”

An existence devoid of value was drilled with reminders hurled unrelentingly from birth. Well-schooled in self-loathing, the lessons were regurgitated without effort or question. The monsters without had created the monster within. How could one escape from what was recognised only as truth?

And now for something a little lighter:

The Monster Mash

Thank you

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Delivering a sneak peek for Easter

Launching soon - readilearn2

For the past few years I have been preparing early childhood teaching resources for a website that I hoped would be up and running by now. Unfortunately, there have been some delays with the developer. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a resource with an Easter theme to give you a free taste test. This will be of interest mainly to early childhood teachers or parents of young children. Everyone else is excused.

The resource, called “Easter Delivery”, is a story about twin bilbies, Benny and Belinda, who get to deliver eggs to the families of some friends for the first time. It incorporates addition concepts and is suitable for use with the whole class on the interactive white board.

The story involves the children in helping Benny and Belinda work out how many eggs they need to deliver to each family and the combination of packs they could choose. The maths concepts are probably most suitable to year one students but teachers may use their discretion about how much maths to include.

Included is an information sheet about the resource and three printable follow-up activities:

  • Benny and Belinda’s Easter Activity – children record the number of people in their own family and draw and calculate the number of eggs Benny and Belinda would deliver
  • A Happy Easter Card from the Bilbies – a card with a picture to colour and blank inside for children’s own messages
  • The Bilbies’ Easter Colouring Page

The resource is available clicking on the image until Thursday 24 March 2016. Hopefully it will be available on my website for Easter 2017!

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

Yes. It is a bit of shameless promotion but it is also a gift for you to use if you would like to in the lead-up to Easter. The resource is not downloadable, but I am happy for the link to be shared with your early childhood teaching friends and colleagues. While it is not a requirement of use, I’d really appreciate some feedback. Please use the poll or share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I do appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Learning environment

 

gardeningIn last week’s post I shared information about research projects students could become involved in to be scientists in real life. Some of the projects such as Project BudBurst and BudBurst Buddies encourage junior scientists to observe and record changes in plants throughout the changing seasons. Many commenting on the post agreed that projects such as these would make the learning of science come alive. Pauline King the Contented Crafter even commented that she may have to reconsider her opinion of schools if children were involved in projects such as these.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Shortly after posting I read an article on Co.Exist describing a preschool that doubles as urban farm where Kids learn among the plants and animals in this design for a radically different education environment.”  A bit like my concept of an early learning caravan, the school does not actually exist. The design was entered into and won an architecture competition. It is an interesting concept and I especially like the suggestion that children spend more time learning about nature through experiencing it in wild spaces in the outdoors rather than only through classroom activities and books, both of which do have their role.

Jeannie Baker - planet changing

I have previously shared the wonderful books of Jeannie Baker which have strong environmental themes encouraging children to care for nature and appreciate the natural wonders and beauty of the world around them.

2015-09-19 11.09.45 2015-09-19 11.11.04

This morning, thanks to a recommendation from Sarah Brentyn who blogs at Lemon Shark, I received another lovely book in the post that will sit among my favourites. The Curious Garden by Peter Brown tells the story of how a curious boy helps transform a city from a drab grey concrete jungle to a one filled with gardens and gardeners. The story affirms the belief that the actions of one person can make a difference.

Never-doubt-that-a-small - Margaret Mead

I am currently listening to Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment and the Human Prospect, an interesting and thought-provoking book by environmentalist David W. Orr who challenges the focus of schools and advocates for learning outdoors in the natural environment. He may approve of the preschool farm, but he’d probably be more in favour of a forest preschool.

This, however, is only a small part of his position and I do not wish to misrepresent it. In an article, which reads like a chapter from the book, Orr describes “Six myths about the foundations of modern education, and six new principles to replace them”. The part of me that strives towards meliorism is seriously challenged by the picture Orr paints. The picture books, stories, and research projects are fine; but there’s much more to be done if we want to do more than simply wish for a greener future.

I agree with Orr wholeheartedly that education for, with and through the environment is essential; and that many of our problems are caused by miseducation. However, I had not thought about education in the way that Orr explains. I think I’ll be sharing more of his work in future posts.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.