Category Archives: Self esteem

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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Writing poetry with children

Horses go galloping

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to write about galloping. What keeps replaying in my head is the phrase “The horses go galloping, galloping, galloping” interspersed with the lines from “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes, a poem I learned at school.

The Highwayman came riding, riding, riding,

The Highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

tomas_arad_heart

Learning poems at school was a joy. I love poetry and, in younger years, used to read a lot of it, less currently. Perhaps I should say I loved poetry, but that would unfair, just as it would be unfair to say that I no longer love an old friend that I haven’t seen for years, for at the moment we meet up again the connection is just as strong as ever, the ties never broken.

Oftentimes when I read Charli’s challenges I know how I will respond immediately. Other times I need to massage the idea until I hit just the right spot. This time the horse has bolted and the paddock is left empty without a horse in sight. All I’m left with are my thoughts of poetry.

Fortunately, as an early childhood teacher with a love of picture books, recent years haven’t been completely devoid of the poetic form. While not necessarily written in what might be considered “poetic language”, many are written in rhythmic rhyming verse. Others contain verses within the story, such as the refrain in The Gingerbread Man or the song in Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.

The gingerbread man

A title recently added to my list of favourites, through repeated readings and recitations by my grandchildren, is Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas by Australian author Aaron Blabey. Its rhythm, rhyme and sense of fun is an absolute joy. We laughed together at every reading by G1, and every recitation by G2. It begs to be read and re-read, recited and recited again. Sadly, I got to read it aloud only once, and even then not all the way through! “Hey,” I protested in vain. “I like to read picture books too!

piranhas don't eat bananas

Of course there are also many books of poems and rhymes written for children, including Nursery Rhymes, though many of those weren’t written with children in mind. There are also some that fit into a horsey theme such as

In addition to reading poems and stories to my class I also enjoyed writing poems with them. At this early childhood stage the poems would be more rhythmical verse, sometimes rhyming and sometimes not, with only the hint of an introduction to poetic language.  I have previously written about writing our versions of I Love the Mountains, a traditional camping song.

I have also written some resources for supporting teachers when Writing Christmas poems with early childhood students. These are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store and soon to be included in readilearn resources. With easy-to-follow structures, writing these poems give children immediate boosts to their writing confidence.

I had been thinking for a while that I should write some new versions suited to other times of the year, but hadn’t prioritised it. However, when I read Rowena Dreamer’s post Mr’s Poem: Through My Window on her blog beyondtheflow, another idea sprang to mind. Rowena discussed the writing of a poem “Through my window” that had been set as homework for her son.  I immediately thought of the sound poems that I had taught my students and wondered if the structure could be adapted for sight poems.

The structure of a sound poem

This is what I came up with:

I saw as I looked through my window

You’ll notice that I haven’t exactly maintained the structure. This is what happens, particularly when young children are writing their versions. It is to be expected and accepted. The purpose of the structure is to support, not restrict.

I then wondered if it could be used with the other senses and, at the same time, realised that four verses, four senses, would just about reach the target of Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about galloping. With no other ideas galloping into view, how could I resist giving it a go?

Disappointingly, I found the structure less accommodating for smell and taste, and had difficulty in conjuring different words to use for each. For example, I wanted to smell and taste the freshness of bread and the sweetness of apples. I had thought touch would be more difficult but have realised that’s not the case. The repetition of the word “felt” for both touch and emotion is perhaps not ideal though.

I would love to say more here about the necessity for teachers to experiment before setting tasks for children, and of the value of learning from the process rather than the product, but I think I’ve probably said enough in this post.  I will just share what I’ve written which, though responding to Charli’s challenge, doesn’t actually fit the criteria of flash fiction. However, if you’d be kind enough, I’d still love to know what you think.

Market Day

I heard

as I sat curled with a book

the thundering of hooves

the snorting of nostrils

the jangle of stirrups.

I felt anxious.

I saw

as I looked through the window

the horse at the gate

the rider on the path

the bag in his hand.

I felt excited.

I smelled

As I opened the bag

The freshness of bread

The sweetness of apples

The promise of coffee.

I felt famished.

I felt

As I savoured my lunch

The crunchiness of crusts

The crispness of apple

The warming of coffee.

I felt satisfied.

Yum! Fresh produce.

Thank you

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The importance of community

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about the importance of belonging to and having the support of a community. Charli is talking about the supportive rural community where she lives and describes the way everyone rallies around to help in times of need. No asking is required. Everyone responds and pitches in, like spokes on a well-oiled wheel.

Charli also talks about the importance of the online community, reminding writers that spending time on social media is not a bad thing but an essential part of building community. For many of us introverted writers it is the easiest way of linking up with like-minded people. We gravitate like moths to the flame for our weekly meet-ups around the Carrot Ranch camp fire where Charli stokes the flames to inspire writers and build community.

Charli says that,

“Community is my foundation. All else pushes out from that hub like spokes on a wagon wheel.

Community is the hub; it’s our core. From the community, spokes of opportunity open up to reach the wheel that drives us in the writing market — readers.

An organic community is one that occurs naturally. It’s the kindred-spirits, the shared-values bloggers, the like-minded who gather to write, read and discuss. We might be from varied backgrounds, genres and experiences, but we find common ground in our process, ideas and words.”

People are social creatures, and that sense of belonging to a community, whether large or small, is something most desire. The type of community in which I have spent most of my life is the classroom community, typically an early childhood classroom. As with any other, it is essential that all members of a classroom community have a sense of belonging and feel valued and respected.

Creating a welcoming classroom with those essential ingredients: having a sense of belonging and feeling valued and respected were always high on my list of priorities as a teacher.  I tend to mention this frequently and have done so here, here and here, to list just a few.

That these ingredients, along with the other essentials, learning and fun, were thoroughly mixed through everything I did is what characterised my classroom. In my classroom, the community knew that everyone, whether child, parent, support staff, or volunteer, was welcomed and valued for the contribution each made.

Routines and expectations enabled the classroom to function effectively and I tried to add a little fun to lighten up even the dullest of routines expected of us. One routine that will be familiar to many is the daily roll call. The teacher sits or stands at the front of the room calling, in a repetitive monotone and in alphabetical order, the name of each child who responds with a half-hearted, “Present, Miss”. Meanwhile the other children wriggle and fidget waiting for the tedium to finish.

But not in my classroom. Within a matter of days my children knew their position, and probably that of many others, in the roll. While I marked attendance on the roll each day as required, I didn’t call the children’s names. Each child in turn stood  and greeted the class warmly, “Good morning, everyone!” The class and I responded by returning the greeting to the child. Everyone was involved all of the time, a community in action.

This five minutes of the day was always fun and filled with smiles and laughter. Some children jumped up with arms outstretched and called out loudly. Some popped up quickly and back down with a quick greeting. Some did a little dance and sang the greeting. Others greeted us with a new language they were learning, or their own first language.

When the children were confident with the order, we would sometimes do it in reverse order. This gave them a little more to think about, but it didn’t take them long to get the hang of it. The children who were usually last on the list enjoyed being first for a change.

When new children joined our class, their names weren’t always immediately added to the roll in their permanent alphabetical location as the rolls were printed fortnightly. This gave us a great opportunity to discuss where in the roll the child’s name would be. Sometimes we had to discuss more than the first letter in family names to determine the correct placement. Oftentimes this would be one of the first things children would insist upon. They wanted everyone to feel welcome and fit in to our warm classroom community.

Adding a little bit of fun to an otherwise tedious task had other benefits:

  • Building community,
  • Recognising individuals.
  • Being engaged,
  • An opportunity for activity
  • Learning alphabetical order
  • Developing memory

We could also have a bit of fun seeing how quickly we could line up in alphabetical order, each time improving on the last. It was a quick way of making sure everyone was there after an activity or break.

It is this theme of community that Charli has used as her flash fiction prompt this week, challenging writers to, in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about how a community reaches out. I hope you enjoy mine about a classroom community.

Belonging

 He waited quietly as yet another teacher heard his life story; a story without hope of redemption or the expectation of a happy ending. With each familiar incriminating snippet, “more schools than years”, “single parent”, “transient”, “neglect and abuse”, he’d instinctively glance towards the teacher. Instead of the usual furrowed brow and flat-mouthed grimace, he found sparkling eyes and a turned-up smile.  He peered into the room. When the children saw him looking, they waved him in. He hesitated. Then the teacher said, “Welcome to our class, David. We’ve been waiting to meet you. Come and join us.”

Thank you

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I found it first!

Launching soon - readilearn2

In my previous post Not lost but found I discussed the notion of adopting the title “Founder” when describing my relationship to readilearn my soon-to-launch website of early childhood teaching resources. The title both bemused and amused me at first but I have now accepted its appropriateness. In fact, I realise that readilearn is not the first thing I have founded.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Create-a-Way was perhaps the first that I founded. It was a home-based business offering educational sessions for children of before school-age and their parents. The impetuses for founding Create-a-Way included:

  • The decision, made before Bec was born, that I would parent and educate her (The alternative to keep teaching the children of others while entrusting her education to another didn’t make sense to me.)
  • A dissatisfaction with playgroups that were simply bitch and coffee mornings for mums and squabble sessions for children left to their own devices
  • A realisation that parents didn’t stimulate or foster their children’s intellectual growth because they didn’t know how, not because they didn’t care

I saw a niche that would honour:

  • My passion for education and need to be doing something in that area
  • My firm belief in the importance of early years learning
  • My appreciation of children’s innate curiosity and need to learn coupled with the joy of sharing their sense of wonder and creativity
  • My certainty in the power of reading and education to improve the lives of individuals and society
  • A conviction that there are better ways of educating than simply accepting the status quo.

And best of all, I could do it with Bec! (Although she is not in this photo.)

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

I express this passion and these basic beliefs repeatedly. They are what make me. They are my driving force; the threads that weave their way through everything I do, holding them and me together. They were the basis for my attempt at founding an alternative school; they guided my classroom pedagogy and now the preparation of resources for readilearn.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

It’s funny looking back now at the documents I wrote, it seems almost a lifetime ago (well almost all of Bec’s lifetime and more than half of mine), on an Apple IIE computer. I’m still proud of what I offered and truly believe in the value of sessions such as these. However, I can see that, while there has been little change to my passion and beliefs over the years, if I were to do the same thing now I may update some statements to more closely match my current understanding of a growth mindset.

The thought of doing the same again now is not far from my imaginings. The format of Create-A-Way sessions forms the model of another project I would love to found The Early Learning Caravan. Maybe Steven’s suggestion of crowdfunding would be appropriate for getting it started, but that’s not a project for the immediate future.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

I wonder if my inability to simply accept what is could be considered rebellion? What is a rebellion? I’m thinking of these terms as this week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a rebellion.

rebellion definition

The rebellions of which Charli writes are of a larger scale, more in keeping with the first definition.

In this TED Talk Ken Robinson urges us to Bring on the Learning Revolution making “the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning — creating conditions where kids’ natural talents can flourish. I’m proud to be a rebel fighting in the same revolution as Sir Ken.

In addition to these larger scale rebellions and revolutions there are many that take place on an individual and daily basis in our families and classrooms, and on our streets. Some of the battles, such as  teenage rebellion are fought for justice, independence and identity, a natural and necessary part of growing up. But the need to establish one’s individuality, one’s separateness as a person begins years before that, as anyone who has ever had anything to do with a two-year old can testify.

Sometimes the same battles are played out over and over and parents wonder why the children just don’t accept that they need to clean their teeth, wash their hands, put on their shoes or whatever, rather than battle over it each and every time. It is this early childhood rebellion that has inspired my flash fiction response to Charli’s challenge this week. I hope you enjoy it.

crying

You’re not the boss of me!

Eyes blazed defiance, daring a struggle which could end only in tears and frustration, or a standoff with no real winner. She was ready to flee the moment there was a hint of movement. Our eyes met. I contemplated my options. Did we have to do this now?

Again the challenge: “You’re not the boss of me!

I pretended to read.

Another volley, quieter: “You’re not the boss of me.

No response.

Soon she was snuggling beside, pointing to pictures.

I read aloud.

We laughed at the antics.

As I closed the book I said, “Ready? Let’s do this.”

Thank you

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You’ve got a friend in me

 

One of the greatest contributors to a child’s happiness at school, indeed for happiness in life, is friendship. Talking with children about their day at school will more than likely contain some reference to their friends; who they played with, who they didn’t, who was absent, who was mean. If they felt sad during the day it was possibly because someone wouldn’t play, wouldn’t let them play, or was mean.

Getting along with others seems to come naturally to some children, especially to those who see positive social skills modelled by parents and family friends, who are given lots of opportunities to mix with others of all ages, and who are encouraged to express themselves and their feelings. Other children don’t find it so easy, sometimes due to lack of positive role models, but often for other reasons.

Most children require some explicit teaching from time to time, for example to share, take turns and to use friendly words. Many schools incorporate the development of friendship skills into their programs. Some schools, such as one that employed me to write and teach a friendship skills program in years one to three, develop their own programs. Other schools use published materials such as the excellent You Can Do It! program which teaches the social and emotional skills of getting along, organisation, persistence, confidence and resilience.

In the early childhood classrooms of my previous school, we used the songs, puppets and stories included in the You Can Do It! Program. We also involved children in role play and discussion, providing them with opportunities to learn the language and practice the skills in supportive and non-threatening situations. Having a common language with which to discuss feelings, concerns and acceptable responses meant issues were more easily dealt with. More importantly children learned strategies for developing positive relationships and friendships with others. They came to understand their own responses as well as those of others.

SMAG ccbyncnd

I have talked about friendship in many previous posts, including here, here and here. My online friend Anne Goodwin, who blogs at Annecdotal even wrote about it in a guest post here, and I described friendship trees that I used with my class here.

Friendship tree

In this post I want to acknowledge a new friend and a long-time friend. (I can’t say ‘old’. She’s younger than I!)

My new friend is Pauline, The Contented Crafter. At the beginning of last week Pauline announced a very generous giveaway for Christmas which I shared with you here.  Pauline invited readers to nominate someone as a deserving recipient of her beautiful Christmas light catcher. She posted the nominees and their stories here and invited readers to vote for the two they would most like to receive the light catcher.

pizap1

I nominated Robin, a friend of over thirty years. That must be deserving of an award in itself! In case you missed her story on Pauline’s blog, I include it here so that you can understand why I value her friendship so highly.

I have a wonderful friend for whom this beautiful light catcher would be a perfect gift. Each of its strands holds a special significance, as if Pauline had her in mind.

She gifted her friendship to me more than thirty years ago and, thanks to a miracle and the protection of angels, it is a gift that continues.

Over twenty years ago, on my birthday, she was involved in a serious car accident. My birthday became her life day, a constant reminder that life and each passing year is a precious gift. 

Her many injuries, requiring numerous surgeries over the years, did not injure her bright, cheerful nature and positive outlook on life. Although she lives with constant pain you wouldn’t know unless you asked, and then only if she chose to tell you.

She has an enormous generous and loving heart, and her home is warm and welcoming. Family, especially her two grown daughters and her dear Mum who passed this year, is important to her. She loves to bake and craft individual gifts for her family and friends. She is always busily thinking of others.

She is a gifted musician and amazing music teacher. She plays the flute and sings like a Robin. She incorporates music and fun into classes for children and lessons for adults learning English. All come to her classes eager to learn and leave singing with joy and acceptance.

At Christmas the family gather round to decorate the tree and “remember the moments” marked by ornaments made by smaller hands, collected on travels, or signifying achievements and occasions like graduations and engagements.

I know my friend would treasure this beautiful light catcher as another reminder of life’s precious gifts and moments that make it magic. Thank you Pauline for the opportunity to express openly how much I value her friendship.

You can find out more about Robin on her website and even purchase her wonderful CD “Notes from Squire Street”.

Robin - Notes from Squire Street

I am very excited to say that Robin is included in Pauline’s list of winners. In fact Pauline’s generosity is being extended to many of the nominees, and even to one for commenting on the post. Very soon Pauline’s light catchers will be dispersing rainbow light of friendship and joy around the world. I think that is a beautiful and generous gesture.

Thank you

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

 

 

School’s out for another year!

Teaching is forever in my heart

It is almost the end of another school year in Australia. I can’t believe that it is now four years since I left the classroom, both sadly and probably, to never return. I often hear advice given to never say “never”, but although a large part of my heart remains in the classroom, I’m fairly certain that I’ll not physically return; not full-time anyway.

It is also the end of the first year of formal education for Gorgeous 1 (first-born grandchild). I’m pleased to say that he has had a wonderful year and very much enjoyed attending school. His parents are happy too and relate many positive things about the teacher and the ways in which she has nurtured the children. That makes grandma happy too.

However a few queries have been raised in recent discussions. One of these is with regard to class allocations for next year. The parents commented that Gorgeous 1 won’t know what class he is in, including teacher, classmates or classroom, until he turns up for school on the first day. They wondered if this was common practice and about its purpose.

Sadly, I think it is a fairly common practice for which a variety of reasons may be given. However I’m not convinced that any of the stated reasons are justified or have any real validity.

I very much liked the way my most recent school dealt with class allocations. I thought it worked well for everyone: children, parents and teachers.

Towards the middle of October children were asked to identify three friends they would like to be in the same class with the following year, and any they wouldn’t. I never emphasised the “not like” part but made sure that children knew it was there if they wished to use it. Few did.

friendship choices

 

At the same time parents were invited to submit in writing things they wished included for consideration when class allocations were made. Requests were to be specific to their child’s needs; for example friendship issues or the type of teacher thought best suited to the temperament,  learning style or needs of the child. Identifying a teacher by name would invalidate the request.

The process of allocating children to classes was time consuming with many things to be considered; including, for example, the distribution of children of high, mid and low achievement levels; boys and girls; children from non-English speaking backgrounds; children with disabilities or requiring support with learning or behaviour.

Current class teachers collaborated to draw up lists which were checked by an administrator to ensure even spreads and that parent requests (not revealed to the teachers) were complied with. It was no small feat. We would go into the meetings armed with lists of children’s friendship groups on sticky notes, scissors, coloured pencils, erasers, and more sticky notes. It was always amazing to see the classes come together.

The best part of this process occurred in the second-last week of term when teachers and children met their new classes for the following year. Another feat of organisation. Class teachers told children which class they would be in and distributed to each their portfolio of work to be given to the new teacher.

All year levels met in their respective assembly areas, divided into their new classes, met their new teachers and went off to their new classrooms for about 45 minutes. The new teacher would explain class expectations and topics the children would learn about. Sometimes the teacher would read a story or engage the students in discussions about what they had learned in the current year and what they were hoping to learn in the following year. Oftentimes children returned with a small gift from their new teacher; for example a book mark, pencil or eraser. They always returned excited.

In addition to stories and discussions, I would always ask my new students to draw a picture of themselves, write their name and anything else they would like to tell me about themselves or their picture. I would also take their photograph and attach it to their drawing. In addition to the portfolio of information coming from the previous teacher, this would provide me with valuable information that I could use when preparing for the new year.

Michael likes dogs

In addition I would have a letter and a small gift ready for my new students. The letter helps to create a positive connection, makes them feel special and helps to ease the transition back to school after the holidays. It also ensures they remember what class they are in and who their teacher is. It lets their parents know as well.

end of year letter

 

I think this is a wonderful process and one that should be adopted in all schools. It has many benefits; including:

  • helping teachers get to know important information about students before the year begins and aiding preparation.
  • reducing the anxieties of children and parents over the holidays, wondering about which class they would be in and which teacher, even whether they would be in the same class as their friends.

Once children knew their new classes I arranged their seating and named their groups to match. This provided opportunities for children to bond with future class mates as well as identify their class for the following year. There would be no unnecessary confusion or anxiety on the first day of school.

I’d love to know what you think of this process or of other processes with which you are familiar.

With the holidays just around the corner I provide links back to previous posts which provide suggestions for maintaining children’s learning in informal and fun situations.

Learning fun for the holidays, without a slide in sight!

Counting on the holidays!

Let the children write! 20 suggestions to get children writing during the school holidays

20 suggestions for maintaining reading momentum during the school holidays

The lists are all available for free download and distribution to parents from my Teachers Pay Teachers or Teach in a Box stores.

 

Thank you

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

Well I declare

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is making declarations. Specifically she is declaring herself an author, making it clear what her writerly intentions are. I also have declared my writerly intentions. In previous posts, here, here and here, I shared my goal of establishing a website with early childhood teaching resources of my creation.

In her post Charli expresses it this way: success for her is publishing books. She wants to write books for readers who want to read them. Not only that, she wants to market her books “well enough to eat more than hand-picked dandelions from (her) yard”.

Change books to early childhood teaching resources and, for me it’s the same. I want to publish teaching resources that teachers want to use, that enhance their teaching and improve children’s learning. I’d also like to do well enough to not be reduced to eating dandelions from my backyard.

Some writers consider “educational writing” less worthy and lacking in creativity. “Oh educational writing,” said one disparagingly, “that’s so prescriptive,” and quickly moved on to discuss others’ more literary pursuits.  

I know some educational writing can be prescriptive. I have done some of that formulaic writing myself. However the resources I am creating do not conform to a formula, are not worksheets to be completed by students sitting quietly in rows.

I am developing a variety of resource types, some with interactivity, to help develop understanding and skills in a meaningful context. Many encourage critical thinking, problem solving and purposeful applications. Many are built around my own original stories and poems as well as non-fiction texts.

I have chosen this path in order to support teachers with ready to use teaching episodes and parents with suggestions for nurturing their child’s development. Prescriptive? Far from it. And please don’t prejudge my educational writing against the stereotype of formulaic worksheets and textbooks which are far too abundant and easily accessible on the internet and in bookstores.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

From the declaration of writing goals to a declaration of another kind, repeated often on my blog: my appreciation of all things early childhood, especially literacy and picture books, and the importance of reading to and with children on a daily basis.

The years from birth to eight, especially those before formal schooling begins, are crucial to a child’s development and have an enormous impact on future happiness and success.  It is during these years that basic skills and language are developed along with attitudes to self and relationships.

noisy nora

The picture book Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells is a delightful book about a middle child who fails to get the attention of her parents who are busy with the older and younger siblings. Finally Nora declares that she is leaving and never coming back. With Nora gone the house becomes unusually quiet and the family go looking for her. At last she declares herself back again as she clatters out of the broom closet.

(This information from Wikipedia explains why my cover differs from the one in the Amazon store.)

I took Nora’s declaration as the basis for my response to Charli’s flash challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) declare an intention in a story. Is it one person, a character speaking up or speaking out? Is it a group or a nation? Create a tension before or after the declaration. It can be private or public, big or small. Does it have power to those who state it or hear? What does it change?

While I wrote it with Marnie in mind, it could be about any number of others in oppressive situations and seems particularly appropriate to those trapped by the horrors of domestic violence which is at the forefront of our news at the moment. Unlike Nora, who declared she was leaving and never coming back but didn’t really leave, Marnie definitely won’t be coming back.

from "Noisy Nora" by Rosemary Wells

from “Noisy Nora” by Rosemary Wells

Leaving

It was time. No more would they treat her this way. No more would she accept the cruelty of their world. She was more than this, more than they made her believe. With cash from a secret job stashed in her pockets, a few clothes in a backpack, and hope in her heart, she left. No need to follow a bag through the window. No need to wait for night’s darkness. No. She navigated past their stupor of beer, smoke and flickering screens; paused at the door to declare, “I’m leaving,” then closed off that life as she left.

Thank you

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What is failure?

rough-writers-web-comp

Regular readers of my blog know that for the last eighteen months I have been participating in the flash fiction challenges set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch. Each week Charli posts a prompt and invites readers to submit a response in exactly 99 words. I have participated since the first prompt and have missed only a few, maybe one or two.

I enjoy the way the prompt stretches both my thinking and my writing. I appreciate the opportunity to engage in fiction as a diversion from the mainly expository writing (and reading) I do; and to engage in a supportive and encouraging group of Rough Writers.

Since education is the focus of my blog I have given myself the added challenge of targeting an aspect of education in my response to Charli’s prompt. Mostly I have succeeded, though sometimes the posts may be a bit convoluted and the links rather tenuous, but nevertheless, I have been mostly pleased with my ability to find a link.

This time I didn’t think I was going to do it. While I grappled for a suitable link, none was forthcoming and I thought it was going to be an F, a no-show, this time.

F

You see, this week Charli is talking about the destruction caused by forest fires and other catastrophic weather events. Though Australia suffers its share of natural disasters, I am fortunate that I have never been more than inconvenienced by them. I haven’t suffered the loss of family, property and livelihood that others have; nor have I worked in a school where loss was experienced on a large scale. You could say I have lived a sheltered life, and I am grateful for it.

So without a personal experience to share, my next thoughts were to the curriculum. But I am an early childhood teacher, and young children don’t learn about catastrophic events unless they have a personal experience of them. The Australian Curriculum introduces learning about natural disasters in year six.

Another dead end. The F was looming. Would it engulf me?

Then inspiration! I remembered watching a video in which the possibility of an F being the new A was mooted.  I’m sure you’ve all heard about 60 being the new 40, for example; generally put forward by the 60s rather than the 40s I conjecture. But this was a new twist.

The article on Mind/Shift How we will learn entitled When Educators Make Space For Play and Passion, Students Develop Purpose introduced me to a Harvard education specialist named Tony Wagner who, like Ken Robinson, advocates for a reinvention of the education system.

In the video Wagner says that “What the world cares about is not what you know, but what you can do with what you know.” Content is now available through a quick internet search. We don’t need to have instant recall of numerous facts.

Instead of content, Wagner lists a set of core competencies he considers important. He says that to be lifelong learners and active and informed citizens, the following abilities are required:

  1. To ask questions through critical thinking and problem solving
  2. To work collaboratively
  3. To be flexible and adaptable
  4. To show initiative and be entrepreneurial
  5. To communicate effectively in both oral and written modalities
  6. To access and analyse information
  7. To be curious and imaginative

I agree that each of these attributes is important. I think I have mentioned many of them in previous posts.

Wagner goes on to say that what is needed is innovation: the ability to generate new and better ideas that can be used to solve the problems facing us today. He questions whether America’s reputation as a leader in innovation is as a result of or despite the education system. He then asks the audience to identify what the following four people have in common.

Bill Gates (Microsoft)

Edwin Land (Polaroid camera)

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)

Bonnie Raitt (folk singer)

Did you, like the audience, think them to be dropouts? Wagner identified them as not just dropouts; they were Harvard College dropouts! Steve Jobs (Apple) and Michael Dell (Dell computers) were dropouts.

This fact about innovative dropouts inspired Wagner to investigate conditions that encourage the development of innovators. He interviewed many young innovators, asking if there had been an influential teacher or mentor in their lives. While not many could name one, those identified were outliers, engaging students in teamwork and interdisciplinary work involving problem solving and risk taking.

Wagner also interviewed people from innovative organisations such as IDEO, whose motto he quoted: “Fail early and fail often.” (“That’s because there is no innovation without trial and error.”) It was from a think tank at Stanford that the idea that an “F is the new A” came.

F is the new A

There are iterations, not failure, Wagner says, and he questions the way parents and teachers try to protect children from making mistakes saying that real self-confidence was only to be gained from learning that you could recover and learn from mistakes.

Tony Wagner - iterations

So perhaps in thinking about failure, I haven’t really failed. I’m learning. It is only to be hoped that the failures in fire management that Charli talks about in her post lead to improved management practices in the future.

For my response to Charli’s prompt, to  in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the need for help in an extreme weather event, I have chosen a weaker BOTS (based on a true story) from my childhood. The link may be tenuous but hopefully not entirely non-existent. I hope you enjoy it.

Storm

A big storm was coming. Two older ones were put in charge of two younger ones. They sat at the fence, watching. Soon other neighbourhood kids gathered, sharing storm stories, waiting.

Green clouds swirled as dark clouds played leapfrog races above. The children watched the storm rush closer; mesmerised by its beauty, mindful of its power.

Soon the winds whipped up, chasing the other kids home. The older two called to the younger, but they were nowhere to be seen. Mortified they hurried inside to alert their parents.

What relief. They were already in, telling of the storm’s approach.

Thank you

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

The expectation of labels

 

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In some circles labels can be used as an attempt to define who you are, either to yourself or to others; for example the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the foods you eat, the technology you use, even the books you read. The use of labels can lead to stereotyping and expectations based upon particular characteristics while other, and equally salient, qualities specific to the individual are ignored.

Applying labels to children can serve similar purposes: to define and explain particular behaviours or characteristics. Labels can range from an informal “naughty” through to medical diagnoses such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder).

Whether the result of an informal observation or a professional assessment, labels can have a profound effect upon a child and family members. The label sets up expectations that may limit the way the child is viewed; so that only those characteristics specific to the label are noticed and responded to. The child is viewed as being “the label” rather than an individual who displays those particular behaviours or characteristics, at this moment.

People tend to see what they want to see and ignore evidence that doesn’t support their thinking. So if a child is labelled disruptive, it is the disruptive behaviour which is noticed and acted upon. Similar behaviour in a child not bearing the label may be overlooked or excused. While the focus is on one, usually negative or limiting, behaviour other positive characteristics and strengths may be ignored.

pygmalion effect

Unfortunately, once a label is applied it is often difficult to remove and it may be used as an excuse for a child’s failure to learn or progress; after all the “fault” is considered to be with the child, not with any methods used or not used. Sadly too, labels can be misapplied or not fully understood. This may accentuate differences that are non-existent or less serious than the label implies.

However not all effects are negative. There are many positive effects of labelling a child’s condition or behaviour; including:

  • increased opportunities for the child, family and teachers to receive support through funding of programs, assistance of trained personnel and professional development
  • enhanced understanding through discussions using a common language with specific meanings and applications
  • increased awareness in the community with further opportunities for advocacy as well as greater acceptance and tolerance
  • the development of programs aimed specifically to support individuals with the condition.

But are all labels negative? What about giftedness?

Previously on this blog there has been some discussion about praise and the effects of different types of praise. The discussions were initiated in response to The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz and can be found here and here. Grosz suggested that praising a child could cause a loss of competence. Why would you continue to try if you were already “the best”?

Claudia M. Mueller and Carol S. Dweck support the notion that Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children’s Motivation and Performance. They suggest that labels such as “smart”, “clever” and “intelligent” can be just as damaging as those with deficit connotations.

Dweck explains her ideas more fully in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, my current audiobook “read”. I have previously mentioned Dweck’s theory of ‘yethere and here.

In the book Dweck talks about how praise creates mindset. If one is praised for being smart or clever, then one develops a fixed mindset: “I am smart. I can achieve because I am smart.” If effort is required then one is not smart. Those with a fixed mindset avoid challenges that might jeopardise the view of themselves as smart.

On the other hand, praise for effort encourages a ‘yet’ or growth mindset: if I try it again, try harder, try it a different way, then I will do better. “I can learn”. There is no risk of becoming ‘not clever’. A growth mindset recognises the importance of effort, persistence and motivation.

fixed - growth mindset

Dweck says “don’t praise the genius – praise the process”.

Giftedness” is a label that was once applied after achieving a high result on an intelligence test, and was just as sticky as any other: there for life.  Giftedness was considered stable and unchangeable. It is obvious that many “gifted” students could fall into the fixed mindset trap. Thanks to Dweck’s work on mindset, attitudes to IQ scores and the concept of “giftedness” are now changing.

Teachers with a growth mindset appreciate the incremental

Students can be encouraged to develop a growth mindset by learning about how the brain works. When they understand that labels aren’t fixed and that learning can be improved, they will become more confident and may find more enjoyment in some of the challenges that school offers. Encouraging students to recognise how they view themselves as learners and to substitute “growth” for “fixed” thinking will have a remarkable effect upon their confidence and success.

Encouraging this growth mindset may be one way we can look out for each other, one way of “getting your back”.

To write a story (in 99 words, no more no less) about a character who is called to have the back of another was the challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week. In her post Charli is talking about labels of another kind, labels that can be just as damaging or just as useful. She talks about having another’s back, being there to offer support when needed.  A parent, a teacher, a friend can be there at any time to offer support for a learner on their path to discovery. My response captures one such moment.

Growth: a mindset

Marnie propped her head on one hand while the pencil in the other faintly scratched the paper. She hoped it wasn’t too obvious that she didn’t get it. But she didn’t get it. She didn’t get last year, or the year before. Why should she get it now? What was the point? Her brain just didn’t work that way. She was dumb. They had always said she was dumb. No point in trying.

Then the teacher was there, encouraging, supporting, accepting. “Let me help you,” she said. “You can do this. Let’s break it down into steps. First …”

Thank you

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

Don’t gloss over glossophobia

 

Many crepuscular animals freeze when caught in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. With vision more suited to dark than light, they are temporarily blinded by the brightness. They become confused and, not knowing which way to turn, freeze. Others, like the Australian kangaroo, may panic and move erratically with unpredictable changes in direction. Any large animal on the road puts itself and any unwary motorist in danger.

Freezing in fear is a reaction not exclusive to animals. Humans are just as likely to freeze in fear, or perhaps panic and behave erratically unsure of how to respond. Some people find being “put in the spotlight” quite unnerving and exhibit similar responses to animals caught in the headlights.

While Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch was talking about a real deer caught in the headlights this week and challenged writers to in 99 words (no more, no less) write the common premise: “I ran over a deer (or other animal) and have decided to nurse it back to health, I decided to apply the challenge to a human situation.

Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is quite common. Many people suffer mild symptoms of reluctance, “butterflies” or sweaty palms. Others suffer more severe symptoms including total avoidance, panic attacks and other forms of physical distress.

Being called upon in class can be distressing for some students, particularly if they have been singled out or ridiculed for not knowing the correct answer in the past. Helping a student to overcome this fear requires patience and understanding. It may require an approach from many different angles and the support of a variety of personnel, as well as a desire by the student.

The student will require support to develop self- esteem and self-confidence as well as knowledge of the subject. A sensitive “not yet” approach by a teacher who offers support, and encourages other students to be supportive, will contribute greatly. It may take time for improvements to be noticeable as changing an established mindset, from “I’m a failure” to “I’m learning”, takes effort.

In her post Charli included a quote from the Tahoma Literary Review which included the suggestion that rescuing a deer and nursing it back to health may be used as a “metaphor for the protagonist’s desire to rescue his/her life by rescuing another’s.” It is not too big a stretch to think that, for some teachers, “rescuing” their students could enable them to “rescue” themselves; improving the lives of others improves their own through the ripple effect.

I have chosen this “rescue” as the theme of my response to Charli’s challenge: a breakthrough for Marnie in the development of her confidence and willingness to have a go in a class where students are developing a growth mindset under the guidance of a sensitive teacher.

Like a deer in the headlights

Like a deer in the headlights she was immobile. She’d dreaded this moment. Although she’d tried to fade into the background, she knew she couldn’t hide forever. The room suddenly fell silent, all eyes on her. Would she fail?

“Marnie?” prompted the teacher.

Her chair scraped as she stood. She grasped the table with trembling hands attempting to still her wobbly legs. They waited.

Marnie squeaked.  Some looked down, or away. Some sniggered. Jasmine smiled encouragingly. Marnie cleared her throat, then blurted the answer.

“That’s right!” congratulated the teacher.

The class erupted. Marnie smiled. Their efforts had paid off.

Thank you

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