Monthly Archives: May 2016

Smile! It’s contagious

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that changes with a smile. It reminded me of the old television program I used to watch when growing up: Candid Camera.

Like the situation set-up in Car without a motor, people were presented with an improbable situation, a misrepresentation of reality, a lie. We laughed at their responses; and they laughed when told to “Smile, you’re on candid camera.”

The situations were all meant to be fun and the majority of the people, those we were shown anyway, responded in good humour. However, we don’t always respond with such good humour when we feel we have been lied to intentionally, or mislead for whatever reason.

The story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a good example what happens when one habitually lies. Nobody likes to be made a fool of, and generally people try to take what they are told at face value, rather than question the veracity of the speaker’s tale.

Nobody likes to be caught out telling lies either. However, it seems that, no matter how much we protest against or attempt to excuse our own lies, lying may be a part of human nature.  Not only that, there may be many different reasons for lying. If you can, recall the last time you told a fib and your reason for doing so. But please don’t share. I’m not interested in true, or false, confessions.

I recently watched this fascinating Ted talk by Kang Lee who asked Can you really tell if a kid is lying?

Lee states that there are three commonly held misconceptions about children and lying:

  • Children only start to lie when they are of school age
  • Children are not good at lying and adults can easily detect their lies
  • If children lie at a young age they will become pathological liars for life

Lee then goes on to disprove these misconceptions, citing studies that show that “lying is really a typical part of development. And some children begin to tell lies as young as two years of age.”

He goes on to suggest that children who lie at a younger age than others are advanced in development of the two key ingredients for successful lying:

Mind reading: I know something that you don’t, and I know that you don’t, therefore I can lie to you; and

Self-control: “the ability to control your speech, your facial expression and your body language, so that you can tell a convincing lie”.

He explains that both mind reading and self-control are essential to function well in society, and that

In fact, deficits in mind-reading and self-control abilities are associated with serious developmental problems, such as ADHD and autism. So if you discover your two-year-old is telling his or her first lie, instead of being alarmed, you should celebrate –

I dare say that the typical Candid Camera scenarios relied upon these two ingredients also.

Lee also demonstrates that most adults, including parents, social workers, child-protection workers and police, cannot detect when children are lying. However, he explains that, hidden behind the neutral facial expressions, there are a variety of fleeting emotions including fear, shame, guilt, and possibly “liar’s delight”. These emotions, too subtle to be perceived by the naked eye, can be detected by “transdermal optical imaging” which detects changes in blood flow.

The benefits of the imaging go beyond just lie detection but can be used in assessing people’s health, including pulse, stress levels, mood and pain levels.

While teachers weren’t listed among those tested for detection of children’s lies, it stands to reason that they would be no better than those included. It makes me wonder about those times when a child may have been punished, not through evidence, but through someone’s conviction that he was lying, or that he was telling the truth. Maybe you were one of those innocents who wasn’t believed and suffered punishment as a result; or was believed when lying to protect another and suffered the punishment anyway.

I know I was never able to convince my mother. She always knew when I was lying (Who me? Never!) Maybe, like Emily in my flash fiction story, I should have been more careful to hide the incriminating evidence! But, as Lee says, Sally should celebrate that Emily is displaying developmentally appropriate, or even advanced, behaviour.


Investigating the suspicious quiet, Sally found Emily perched on a stool in the bathroom, smiling at her reflection. Sensing Sally’s arrival, Emily turned on her “innocent” face and hid her hands behind her back.

Suppressing a smile, Sally asked, “What’re you doing?”


“I think you’re doing something.”

Protests belied guilt smeared on the face.

Sally enveloped Emily, and turned her lipstick-painted face towards the mirror.

“How did that get there? ” she asked, feigning seriousness.

“Don’t know. ”

Sally pointed to the brush in Emily’s hand.


Their eyes met in the mirror, and smiles turned to laughter.

Thank you

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A bunny breakfast

Kimmie's rabbit

A little while ago Kimmie, who blogs at Stuck in Scared, posted this lovely picture of a creative breakfast she made for her Littlie on Easter Sunday. It is not only visually appealing, it is delicious and nutritious.

When my grandchildren visited for a sleepover recently, I thought they’d enjoy making their own for breakfast. We discussed it the evening before and they were excited to do so, adding their own suggestions and insisting that the ingredients be listed. G2 decided to write the list and I helped her decide, or simply told her, what letters were required.

This is our version.


This is what we did. (I did the cutting. G2 did the decorating. G1 played with his dinosaurs. Both children ate!)















Such a simple but enjoyable activity with a nutritious reward at the end.

Thank you Kimmie for the inspiration!

Thank you

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Room for one more

Squirrel Heaven

Have you ever squirreled anything away? I have.

In the year prior to my 50th birthday I squirreled away every $5 note I received. By the time my birthday arrived I had stored over $1000: enough to purchase a charm bracelet to mark the achievement of a half-century. Now, almost a decade and a half later, it would be impossible for me to repeat the process. From using cash for most purchases at the dawn of this century, I now use mainly card and rarely carry cash. How quickly and, unless giving thought to it, almost imperceptibly the changes occur.

To some, the differences in the seasons in the part of Australia in which I live are subtle, with the changes almost imperceptible, at least when compared to the four distinct seasons occurring in many other places. However, changes do occur and are obvious to those who are attuned to them, especially the Indigenous Peoples of Australia.

I was reminded of this when listening to A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, a book recommended and referred to numerous times by Charli Mills. I second her recommendation.

A Sand County Almanac

The book is divided into twelve chapters. In each chapter Leopold describes the subtle differences that occur from month to month in the environment around his home. I marvel at the detail of his observations and the knowledge that he gleans from subtle changes. In March he says,

“A March morning is only as drab as he who walks in it without a glance skyward, ear cocked for geese.”

He then goes on to say,

“I once knew an educated lady, banded by Phi Beta Kappa, who told me that she had never heard or seen the geese that twice a year proclaim the revolving season to her well-insulated roof”,

and asks,

“Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth?”

Sadly, I think many of us, myself included, are aware of the fluctuations in temperature and the coming of the storm season, but not so attuned to the habits of animals and seasonal variations in plants. The majority of our native trees are evergreen and, in our insulated and insular cities, changes in the natural world are less obvious. Indeed, many seasonal changes are obscured by artificial means.

In cooler climates animals have adapted to the changing seasons in various ways. Some migrate; some, such as squirrels, store food for the winter; and some hibernate.

While some Australian birds, moths and other animals migrate, I am not aware of any squirreling away large stockpiles of food to see them through the cooler seasons (please inform me if there are any I should know about); there is but one native Australian mammal hibernator, the mountain pygmy possum.

I have been thinking of this in relation to the flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week. While Anne Goodwin, blogging at Annecdotal may have instigated her thinking about squirrels, Charli included the metaphorical as well as rodent  variety.

Until visiting in London in 2014 I had not seen a squirrel as they are not native to Australia and, until checking just now and finding this article, was not aware that any had been introduced here. I saw many cute grey squirrels in parks and gardens in London and I was quite fascinated by the tiny creatures.

© Norah Colvin 2014

© Norah Colvin 2014

However, I was disappointed to find that they are not natives to the UK either, but introduced from North America in the 19th Century, and are doing just as much damage to the native fauna as are many introduced species here. At least when I visited Hamley’s, the most amazing toy store, the only toy squirrels I could find were red, the native kind.

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

The squirrel toy was purchased to add to others collected as mementoes of countries visited; and joined my panda from Beijing and hedgehog from Belfast.

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

In a couple of months, I am accompanying my grandchildren and their parents on a quick visit to Los Angeles and New York. I am determined to expand my soft toy collection, but am wondering which animal might be an appropriate choice. If you have a suggestion, I’d love to hear it please.

Meanwhile, back to Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a squirrel. It can be about a squirrel, for a squirrel or by a squirrel. Think nutty, naturalistic, dinner or ironic. Go where the prompt leads and don’t forget to twirl with imagination.

I decided to go with the theme and make my own toy story.

toy box

One more?

They knew when she left – airplane tickets in one hand, luggage in the other – that it meant only one thing.

“Time to plan,” announced Kanga, the original and self-proclaimed leader.

“It’s too crowded!” moaned Little Koala.

All stuffed in the box inhibited thought.

“Right. Everybody out,” said Rabbit, taking over.

Squirrel, last in, was first out, twirling her tail.

Soon everyone was out, exchanging opinions. Inevitably disagreements erupted. Ever patient Kanga quietened them.

“We always make room. We will adjust. We will welcome the newcomer. Once we all were different. We still are. But we learn to get along.”

Thank you

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3 + 2 = 5 Let me count the ways!


That we live in a print-rich environment is undisputed. Even in country areas one cannot travel far without being bombarded by print. In addition to road signs there is a plethora of billboards advertising the best places to sleep, eat, or play that can be found just ahead.

Environmental print is the genre with which many children first engage successfully with reading.  Ask any parent who’s detoured around fast food outlets, hidden shopping catalogues, or camouflaged cheaper brand names of identical products.

That we are immersed in mathematics in our daily lives is just as evident but doesn’t always receive the same recognition. I think this may in part be because people often think of mathematics as abstract algorithms and theorems that we (they try to get us to) learn in school; and that have no apparent application to our lives beyond the walls of the classroom.


However, even the examples mentioned above are just as rich in mathematics are they are in print. They include distances, and perhaps time, to the destination, cost of items, opening hours, and number of attractions. Anyone travelling a distance with young children will have answered questions such as “Are we there yet?”, “How much further?”, and “What time is it?

As I say in my statement about mathematics on my readilearn site,

“Mathematics is all around us. We use it every day for a huge range of purposes from deciding on the sequence in which we dress ourselves, to calculating how much time we have available for an activity.”

mathematics readilearn

One of the resources suggests 25 ways for parents to keep their children thinking mathematically over the school holidays. I have shared these ideas previously in Counting on the holidays.

25 ways to think mathematically

Recently I was at the gardens with my two grandchildren (G1 and G2, aged 6 and 4), their mother, and my Hub. The children consulted a map and signposted paths to follow the Children’s Trail which had various sculptures along the way. I am undecided about the value of distracting children from the trees and plants, as if the vegetation itself would not be interesting enough. However, the children enjoyed locating the sculptures in the sequence numbered on the map, and reading the accompanying information. They were engaged in purposeful reading and mathematical thinking in context: real life learning!

 © Norah Colvin 2016

Pandas on the Children’s Trail © Norah Colvin 2016

As we headed back, G2 made a comment that showed she was engaged in mathematical thinking of her own. She observed that there were two children and three adults, which made five of us all together.

“That’s right,” I confirmed. “There are five’. I thought for a little while, then added, “And do you know what? As well as two children and three adults, there are two boys and three girls.” The children looked at the group and confirmed that I was right. They laughed – a different interpretation.

This gave me an idea for a thinking game: how many other arrangements of three and two could there be?  I wondered if the children would like to play along. I had never attempted this before and had no idea if there’d be more, or if we had already exhausted all options.

I looked at the group. I noticed our shoes: three had closed shoes and two had open shoes. I thought about our names: three shared one surname, two another. Then we were on. Everyone was thinking of ways we could be arranged into groups of two and three.

Sometimes we sorted according to different characteristics, as in the previous examples. Others times we used a simple yes or no sorting, such as two have hats with brims and three don’t have hats with brims. This is the easiest sorting to do, and the first that children learn.

G2 made many suggestions of this type of sorting for one and four.  One has the characteristic, the others don’t. This was age appropriate for her, and it was great to see her joining in confidently and contributing to the discussion. G1 was able to engage in the more complex thinking required for the groupings of three and two.

 I was amazed at the number of different combinations we came up with, and that each of us was combined with others in many different ways.

These are some of the ways we arranged ourselves into groups of two and three (not physically, just in our discussion).

Arranging ourselves 3 + 2

This seemingly mundane activity has potential for developing thinking and learning by encouraging:

  • thinking about things in new and different ways
  • looking for similarities and differences
  • observing detail
  • sorting according to different characteristics – which is important to both maths and science (think animal and plant classification)
  • having fun with maths
  • having fun with family

But wait, there’s more: When we left for home, two went in one car and three in the other!

I think this would be a great activity to do with young children learning about number. It may be a challenge for teachers in Australia where children wear uniforms to school but I’m already thinking of how it could be done with toys or illustrations. It’s not quite the same as doing it with the children themselves, but it could be fun. What do you think?

teddy bear sorting

You won’t be surprised to discover that I have prepared a readilearn resource for sorting as well!

Thank you

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


Eroding thoughts

Uluru © Norah Colvin 2015

Uluru © Norah Colvin 2015

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about erosion, but not just the literal kind. She says “It can be natural, cultural or something different.” Of course I must answer my usual call to tackle the “something different”.

Generally, erosion refers to the wearing away of the earth. Sometimes it signifies the disintegration of our resolve, our self-image, or of our spirit. Just as various strategies can be employed to prevent erosion or to repair damage incurred by the land, there are strategies that can be used to shore up one’s resolve, build self-esteem, and mend a sagging spirit.

rejection slip

Perhaps nobody knows this better than writers with their stashes of rejection slips rated from encouraging to just plain rude, or non-existent. Few have achieved success without first receiving a downpour of those slips, who haven’t had to work at their skills and accept the edits without eroding their intended message. Sometimes it seems that, with every move, one lands on the “Go back to start” square; and that, while it feels like things are in motion, the end doesn’t appear any closer.

go back to start

Or maybe nobody understands the fragility of the spirit and self-esteem more than does a teacher; and of the importance of building on prior learning to take children from where they are to places they haven’t thought possible; to ensure their esteem stays strong and is not eroded by unrealistic expectations and the tedium of a repetitive diet of something meaningful only to others.

Welcome pack

Welcome pack

I have written many times previously about the importance of establishing a supportive classroom environment, and of using affirmations in growing children’s confidence and self-image.

This doesn’t mean a diet of empty praise, but it does mean that all individuals are recognised for what they can do, and are valued for the contribution they make to the classroom community. Included in these writings was a series, inspired by a Twitter discussion with Anne Goodwin, on praise culminating in Seeking praise – Stephen Grosz revisited and including a guest post by Anne.

The Clever Children Resource

I have also developed resources to support children’s growing confidence and self-image for inclusion on my in-progress website readilearn. One of these resources is a story called The Clever Children which teachers can personalise for use with their own class.

The Clever Children printable

Children write about and illustrate something they can do. The pages are then added to the story which is printed and collated into a book which can be placed in the reading corner or taken home to read to parents and siblings.  My children always loved being a part of this story. I am looking forward to other children being a part of it too. The story aims to build, rather than erode, self-esteem and a love of books and reading.

Which brings me back to Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story, using the power of erosion.

The Nature Principle

For my flash I combine two ideas:

  • Richard Louv’s suggestion in The Nature Principle that, for physical and mental health, we need to be more attuned with nature
  • the need for resolve and inner strength when faced with issues that would erode it.

It’s not really a story, perhaps, but a moment in time. I hope you enjoy it.

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The rock

The rock, promising permanence, beckoned: perfect for contemplating expanses beyond while pondering life and one’s significance. She sighed, and succumbed. The waves, licking repetitively at the base, soothed somehow; as if each grain of sand stolen from beneath her feet loosened her tension. Becoming one with the rhythm, her heart sang the melody as her mind slowed, releasing all thought. Feeling whole again, as solid as the rock, and with renewed strength, she prepared to face those who sought to erode her. Though tides would rearrange and redecorate, and often do their best to annihilate, they could not obliterate.

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Teacher appreciation

Readilearn bookmark

In the US, for the entire month of May, people are encouraged to acknowledge and show appreciation for teachers who have influenced their lives. Although the first week is the main focus, I think it is wonderful to have a month dedicated to appreciating teachers. While I always felt the appreciation of my students and their parents, there seemed to be little shown in the community beyond that and it was often a struggle even to get World Teachers’ Day acknowledged in some places I worked.

In previous posts here, here, and here, for example, I acknowledged teachers who had a positive impact upon my learning and my teaching. In this post I even shared a letter of appreciation written by a parent about me. It was lovely to read Emily Case’s Reflections on Teacher Appreciation Week and the acknowledgements she received from students and parents.

From time to time I have shared the work of other inspiring teachers, and discussed with many, teachers who had influenced them. I was pleased to read this email in which President Obama honoured his fifth grade teacher, Ms Hefty. He said that she made everyone in the class feel special, and reinforced the value of empathy, a message which he carries with him every day.

Thank you to my wonderful students, and their lovely Mum who made this for me!

Thank you to my wonderful students, and their lovely Mum who made this for me!

He wrote of librarians and their important role in bringing people and books together, and of programs to provide books for those who might otherwise not have access. He acknowledged that reading for just 20 minutes a day can have a powerful effect upon one’s life. I’m delighted to say that on those issues the President and I agree. They are familiar topics on my blog.

For me there is nothing like passionate educators sharing their love of learning and the joy they receive from working with children.  I have to admit that it gives me goosebumps; but I am a softie at heart.

In this post I am delighted to share with you a TEDX talk by teacher Lisa Lee who shares her passion for education and admits, as I also have, that she has learned more from her students than they ever learned from her.

In the video she shares her belief that

“Every single person has the capacity to make a difference”

She also discusses the Common Core, but perhaps not in the form those words may conjure up for you. She speaks of the common core in the heart, and says it must come first. I can do nothing other than agree with her words:

The common core – everyone one of us needs to be “valued, respected and accepted and seen as who we are”

I hope you enjoy the video.

Please share your thoughts and, if you care to, your appreciation for a teacher who inspired you. As President Obama said it can be a teacher who inspired you, a book that changed you, or a college that shaped you.”

Thank you

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Bug me, please!

Monarch butterfly

That I have an appreciation of and fascination with insects is no secret as I have written about it many times previously.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Some of my earliest posts formed a series in which I suggested using Eric Carle‘s Very Hungry Caterpillar story for developing critical literary, encouraging children to question the authenticity of what they read and the qualifications and intentions of the author.

Carle’s purpose with the story was to entertain, not to teach, and he was therefore unconcerned about inaccuracies in the butterfly life cycle.

The book, popular for its bright colourful illustrations and inspiring story of an ordinary caterpillar who becomes a beautiful butterfly achieves the author’s goal to entertain.

In a more recent post Revisiting The Very Hungry Caterpillar I provided a summary of, and links to, each of the four original posts which explained my recommendation that this very popular book was more relevant to teaching critical literacy than science.

© Bec Colvin

© Bec Colvin

Acknowledging the importance of maintaining Wondering in the everyday and an attachment with nature in wild spaces, I described my excitement at being able to observe every stage of the ladybird’s life cycle up close in my own backyard; an excitement that had perhaps exceeded observing the butterfly life cycle in the classroom with our live butterfly kits which had allowed us to Breathe – a sense of wonder!  I even shared a section of a television interview in this post about Talking Interviews.

I talked about some insect themed classroom and teaching resources in The comfort zone. Others are listed on my page Early Childhood Teaching Resources and are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers and Teach in a Box stores. These, and many more, will be available on my readilearn website when it launches later in the year. Here is a sneak peek at some that will be included:

9 square insect puzzle Busy Bees 100 chart Busy Bees and Insects subitising Busy Bees birthday chart Busy Bees Celebrate 100 days of school One Lonely Ladybird

But the truth is I don’t really love all insects. I’m not too keen on cockroaches, though the native Australian giant burrowing cockroaches are pretty cool. And although I am aware of vital roles of insects in the environment

  • as a food source for many animals
  • as pollinators for flowering plants
  • as decomposers

and I know that without them we’d basically not have an environment, in fact, we wouldn’t be; I often wonder whether we would be all that worse off without disease-spreading mosquitoes and flies. However, it seems that they too are vital to the health of our planet, whether we like them or not. It’s a bit of a “can’t live with them and can’t live without them” situation.

This brings me to the flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills of The Carrot Ranch this week. She has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) include insects in a story. How could I resist? In fact, the real challenge was choosing what to put in and what to leave out of the post, and how to not be predictable in my response.


It took just one, then the word was out. The streets were abuzz with the news – a triumph of social media.

“Kyle’s having a barbecue. Tell everyone. Don’t bring anything. There’s always plenty.”

The excitement was palpable as guests swarmed towards Kyle’s. Some, initially unsure, flapped about nervously. Others, more experienced, felt they were dancing on the ceiling. Eventually all were on their way.  The waft of seared flesh left no doubt about the location.

Kyle was ready when they arrived. “Who invited you?” he grinned and waved, as he knocked them out with the can of spray.

Well, what would you do?

#9 on this list of Ten thing about flies you may not know says,

“The use of pesticides on crops to try to kill flies and insects is actually causing more damage to the ecosystem than the flies themselves.”

It’s something to think about next time you reach for that fly swat or can of insect spray.

I’ll leave you with a bit of nostalgia with a television advertisement, starring Louie,  from my childhood days.

Thank you

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I’ll just look that up: lazy or smart thinking?

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I often lament that I was born too soon. I love what can be done with information technology and am constantly learning more of its uses. I am in awe of what can be achieved with the aid of digital tools. Unfortunately, some things, because they can be done, are vastly overdone.

I remember being at an education conference in the early 80s, at the time when computers were becoming more common in classrooms and in homes. A presenter at the conference excited us about the wonders of digital technology and its ability to ease our work load. He predicted that computers would be used to do so many of our menial tasks that by the year 2000 we would have so much spare time we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves.

His prediction, in my opinion, was way off the mark. While the use of computers has greatly enhanced our capabilities and our knowledge, it has also driven us to constantly do more. I notice this particularly with data collection in schools. If it can be quantified, then it must be quantified, analysed and compared. Whether what is being measured is of any value is of no consequence. If it can be done, it will be done.

1985 was the year I first used a computer at school and bought my first computer for home. They were Apple IIe (huge) desktop computers. I can remember how excited I was to be able to program little games using BASIC coding language. There were some good problem solving software programs on floppy disks I used with children at school; and my son played his way through the series of Ultima role playing games.

Back then, the thought of having a computer that could be carried in a pocket was as absurd, to the general population, as having a phone that wasn’t attached to a wall. Fortunately, there were others with imagination and vision who were able to make these things a reality.

I recently read a post on Daniel Willingham’s blog Science and education entitled The brain in your pocket. The brain that he is talking about I carry in my handbag. In fact, I often have two with me, though I’m not convinced that this supports the theory that two brains are better than one.

In the post Willingham shares some observations about our current use of technology to replace thinking. He suggests that, as thinking requires effort, people don’t like to engage it and find ways to avoid it. He referred to this as “miserly thinking”, a term coined by Robyn Dawes in the 1970s.

Two strategies for avoiding thinking include use of:

  • Memory – repeating earlier actions or doing things the way you’ve always done them; such as ordering the same item from a menu or always travelling the same route to work
  • Associations – using strategies that worked in other similar situations.

Willingham then shared this question as a test of miserly thinking:

bat and ball question

He suggested that if you, like many others, answered 10 cents you were using miserly thinking triggered by the word “more”, immediately thinking that subtraction was required and not checking to see if the answer was correct.

He used this to demonstrate a similar effect that use of the internet has had upon thinking in recent years, when answers to many questions are just a motion (click, tap or swipe) away. In more recent years of course nearly everyone is carrying a smartphone in a pocket or handbag, that is, if it’s not grasped firmly in hand. This easy access, he suggests, makes people less reliant on their own memories as they look to the internet for a quick answer.

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Research cited by Willingham suggests that a higher use of the internet for answers reduces the ability to solve problems like the bat and ball question shown above. He says thatpeople who are more cognitively miserly are more likely to search information out on their smartphone.” He adds that “The reason is not clear. It may be that low-cognitive-ability people seek information—look up a word meaning, calculate a tip—that high-ability people have in their heads.

He asks the questions:

daniel willingham questions

What do you think?

I love having the “external memory” that I can use to find out what I want to know when I want to know it. Previously I would have had to remember to look it up at some other time. If I didn’t know the right question to ask, or the appropriate term to look under, I may have been left in the dark forever.

I love being able to spell check my work or check a dictionary or thesaurus to confirm that I have used a word correctly. These things enhance my knowledge and improve my skills. I am a bit peeved at the idea that it is those with low cognitive ability who look things up. I thought it was a smart thing to do!

Do these actions make me a miserly thinker and decrease my cognitive skills? I really don’t want to think about that, but I sincerely hope not!

I first became familiar with Willingham’s work through his book Why Don’t Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. I thought I had mentioned it in a previous post, but if I have, my search feature, upon which I am reliant, couldn’t find it. I’ll have to remember to do so in the future!

Thank you

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


Welcome to my world

When children enter school for the first time it takes a while for them to adjust to the unfamiliar culture and environment which pertains only to school. They need to settle in, get used to the new routines, and understand what is and is not allowed.  A supportive classroom environment with established procedures for welcoming new students makes for a smoother transition.

Children also need to be familiarised with the physical surroundings so that they are able to confidently navigate their way to, from and between their classroom and places like the amenities block, the office, the canteen, the library, and the playground.

Students moving from one school, or even one class within the same school, to another, also require a period of adjustment. While some understandings of the culture from the previous situation may be transferrable, there will be some aspects which are unfamiliar. No two classes or schools are identical or have the same set of rules and expectations.

school rules

I saw the difficulty experienced by each of my children when the newcomer in an established group. While both were confident and resilient children, verbally able to express themselves, both struggled initially to find their place within already established friendship groups that were comfortable and confident in their familiar surroundings.

My son changed schools at the beginning of his second year at school and was the only addition to an existing class. A more sensitive teacher with established procedures for welcoming new students may have eased his transition. Although, due to delivery delays, he was wearing his previous school’s uniform, his teacher failed to realise that he was new to the school and class and did nothing to help him integrate into the group or to familiarise him with school procedures and facilities.

ist day of school

Bec’s first day of school © Norah Colvin

The situation for my daughter was a little different. Her first experience of school was at age nine when she entered year four. Although I had explained what she might expect, everything about the culture and the environment was unfamiliar. While her teacher was a little more sensitive and did what she could to help her settle in, there was much about the established culture and environment that others took for granted.

When we are familiar with and comfortable in a situation it can be easy to forgot how unfamiliar and daunting it can be to someone new to an environment in which nothing can be taken for granted, nothing is known for sure.

I always established a welcoming classroom but the experiences of my own children confirmed its importance. If they, as members of the majority culture, found it difficult, how much more difficult would it be for those from minority groups.  I suggest that every teacher should have in place procedures for welcoming new students.

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Here are just a few suggestions:

Welcoming a new class of students at the beginning of the year:

  • Provide many opportunities for students to get to know each other through group activities, discussion circles and paired work with many different combinations of children
  • Explain expectations and rules. It is no fun being chastised for a misdemeanour that resulted from lack of knowledge as opposed to poor choice
  • Take students on a walk around the school showing them places they will need to visit (as well as any places they are not allowed); for example:
    • Toilets
    • The office
    • The library
    • The playground
    • The canteen
    • Where to eat lunch, and to dispose of their rubbish
    • Where to line up
    • Where to place bags and other belongings

school directions

Procedures for welcoming new students throughout the year may differ slightly. It is not always practical to repeat the same procedures that were used when familiarising an entire class.

However, students still need to have the expectations explained to them, as some may differ from what has already been experienced, for example: are they required to put up their hands for individual release when the play bell rings or are they dismissed for play en masse; do they keep their water bottles on their desks or are they stored somewhere else; do they line up with a row of boys and a row of girls or are the rows mixed?

I always found it a useful practice to include newcomers when messages were sent to the office, the canteen or the library, for example. This would help children get to know and be known by other school personnel, as well as get to know their way around the school.

Until their own friendship groups were established I ensured there was a friend to “look after” them at break time, showing them where to sit, where to play, where to line up and, especially, to play with them. There were always plenty of willing friends.

I have been thinking about the importance of showing students around the classroom and school this week in response to the flash fiction challenge at the Carrot Ranch. Anne Goodwin, author of Sugar and Snails, took over the reins from Charli Mills this week, prompting writers to compose a 99-word flash on the theme of showing someone around a property As usual the prompt allows for a variety of interpretations and Anne suggests that we not let out imaginations be confined by four walls.

I never like to think of imaginations being confined and in recent posts I have talked about the importance of imaginative play, even introducing many to a new term: loose parts play.

I decided to play with loose parts this week, and include a welcoming environment. It occurs in a home, rather than a school. I hope you enjoy it.

New world

Thinking it much too quiet, Sally excused herself from the conversation.

She peeked through the door. A sheet was draped from the top bunk to the curtain rail. The drawers were stacked staircase-like, their contents piled high in the corner. Emily, adorned in crown and cape, watched Jessica, in cowboy boots, fossick in the overturned toy box. Max sat nearby reading to assorted stuffed animals. All three sensed Sally’s presence simultaneously.

“Mum! Look what we made!” beamed Jessica. Sally suppressed her initial reaction: mess.

“Come in. We’ll show you! This is our cave. This is our mountain …”

Thank you

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