Tag Archives: critical thinking

#readilearn – Learning literacy and mathematics with Easter classroom activities – Readilearn

The celebration of special occasions such as Easter may bring interruptions to the usual class program with preparation for special events and performances such as Easter Hat Parades. It may also signal time to inject some fun into the program. But involving children in Easter activities doesn’t mean the learning has to stop.

In this post, I explain how using readilearn early childhood teaching resources keeps the children thinking and learning while having fun with Easter-themed resources across curriculum areas. (Note: All readilearn Easter-themed resources can be found here.)

Cultural studies 

An inclusive classroom acknowledges all traditions celebrated by its children.

Find out whether Easter is one of the traditions celebrated by the families of children in the class and discuss how it is celebrated.

If you have already investigated Family traditions and celebrations, you will know which children celebrate Easter and which do not.

For children who don’t celebrate Easter, be sensitive to the expectations their families may have for their participation.

My personal view is that it is beneficial for children to learn about the traditions of others but that they can opt out of activities and celebrations if families wish. In my experience, few families have Continue reading: #readilearn – Learning literacy and mathematics with Easter classroom activities 

readilearn Lessons for the interactive whiteboard – Christmas – Readilearn

I loved the addition of the interactive whiteboard to my classroom about ten years ago. I embraced the use of computer technology from when I bought my first home computer in 1985 and first used computers in my classroom in 1986. The interactive whiteboard was a way of making use of the technology inclusive. Instead of one or two children taking a turn on the computer while the rest of the class were engaged in other things, we could all be involved at the same time, if desired.

I used the interactive whiteboard with the whole class for introducing topics, brainstorming ideas and explaining concepts. It was great for modelled writing lessons and collaborative reading. I found it particularly useful for demonstrating the processes to follow in the computer lab.

I used some purchased software, but also spent a lot of time creating activities to teach or practice particular concepts or skills. Versions of many of these lessons are now available here on readilearn.

Continue reading: readilearn Lessons for the interactive whiteboard – Christmas – Readilearn

Teaching critical thinking in early childhood classrooms with The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Readilearn

teaching critical thinking

Teaching critical thinking in early childhood classrooms is important. Discussions about The Very Hungry Caterpillar can help develop critical thinking

Continue reading: Teaching critical thinking in early childhood classrooms with The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Readilearn

A cheap shot?

Michelle demonstrates through her article what she states in her final paragraph as the benefit of involving children in philosophical enquiry. She says, “We get children thinking critically, rigorously and sceptically, so that they’re less likely to succumb to ill-founded beliefs or be duped by self-deception, spin or rhetoric. We help children develop their reasoning, so that they become more adept at building logical arguments and rationally defending their views. We encourage children to question the assumptions underlying different points of view, enabling them to challenge dogmatic beliefs. And we cultivate deep and deliberative thinking – often neglected in traditional schooling, which tends to focus more on getting ‘the quick right answer’ – so that children have a chance to explore the nuances of complex ideas.”
Who could disagree with that?

The Philosophy Club

The New Yorker has disappointed me again, this time by its recent coverage of a series of children’s philosophy workshops at the Brooklyn Public Library.

Rebecca Mead’s article, ‘When Kids Philosophize’, reports on the Tilt Kids Festival’s philosophy workshops – billed on the Festival website as an opportunity for children, aged 6 – 12, to “explore some of life’s biggest questions” and “engage in deep conversations about … key themes in philosophy” with acclaimed philosopher Simon Critchley and some graduate student guests.

On the face of it, ‘When Kids Philosophize’ offers a light-hearted glimpse of what went on during three of the short workshops. But the article’s mild humour has the unfortunate effect of trivialising the important the task of engaging children in philosophical discussions.

I personally found little to smile about in the volley of random questions, irrelevant observations, unsubstantiated claims and juvenile distractions that were…

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It’s a steal

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about theft; of family pets, of the apples from her garden, of property, and even of good name through myths and false accusations.

I didn’t have to think for long to come up with three fairy tales that deal with the issue of theft. Why three? Because three is the fairy tale number. I’m sure most of you will be familiar with these two traditional fairy tales: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and Jack and the Beanstalk. Some will not be familiar with Joan Aiken’s more modern (1968) fairy tale A Necklace of Raindrops.

girl and bear

If you were to search online for teaching resources to support use of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in an early childhood classroom, you would have much from which to choose. Many of the available resources are worksheets and printables with few requiring children to think beyond the surface level of the story.

The same is true for Jack and the Beanstalk. A search for supporting teaching resources also brings up a plethora of worksheets and printables for colouring, cut and paste and writing activities.

While it’s no secret that I am not a fan of worksheets, activities such as those may have a place if they are used to stimulate language development through retell and role play, support beginning readers and writers in a meaningful context and develop basic mathematical concepts. Children might also be involved in activities associated with the story such as making porridge or growing beans.

However children can be encouraged to think more deeply through discussion of the motives and feelings of the characters and the morality of their actions. After all, both Goldilocks and Jack were guilty of break and enter and theft; Jack repeatedly so. Jack didn’t follow his mother’s instructions and was “conned” by the man with the beans. Goldilocks was also guilty of vandalism.

A strategy for encouraging thinking:

Ask children to:

  • retell story events
  • tell about the character and character traits
  • make a judgement about  the character’s actions: Was what Goldilocks did good or bad? Was what Jack did good or bad? (Note: It is best for children to make and record this judgement independently of others before sharing their thoughts. The method of recording would be dependent upon the age and ability of the children. They could, for example, write the word “good” or “bad” in a book; or colour a picture of the character e.g. green for good, red for bad.)

Tally and/or graph children’s responses.

Invite individuals to explain the thinking behind the decision. A lively discussion may ensue, particularly if there are mixed responses. It would be of interest to note which children maintain their position, which waiver and which change their opinion.

Other questions can also be asked, and children can be encouraged to ask questions of their own, for example:

Questions re Goldi and Jack

Hopefully the events of these stories will be just as fanciful to the children as the settings. Most children will not have records of breaking and entering, and any incidences of petty pilfering or even vandalism will have occurred as part of their learning about property and ownership. Some appropriation of another’s toys or breakages in frustration or misuse are common and nothing to cause concern about future morality.

a necklace of raindrops

While the setting of A Necklace of Raindrops is equally fanciful with the personification of the North Wind, talking animals and a magic necklace, the situation, involving schoolyard jealousy and theft, may be more familiar. You will find few teaching resources to support it in an online search.

book 3

Here is a brief synopsis:

A man frees the North Wind from a tree.

The North Wind gives the man a necklace of raindrops with magical powers for his baby girl, Laura.

Each year a new raindrop with new powers is added.

Laura must not remove the necklace.

At school Meg is jealous of Laura’s necklace. She tells the teacher who insists Laura remove the necklace.

Meg steals the necklace.

The animals help Laura get the necklace back.

The North Wind punishes Meg.

(Note: My few words have not done justice to Joan Aiken’s beautiful story. If you can, please read the full version.)

The story is rich with opportunities for discussion with children, including:

Envy and jealousy — feelings familiar to many children who may have taken, borrowed or used something that didn’t belong to them. They may have squabbled about ownership or use of an item or had someone take something of theirs. Learning a sense of ownership as well as sharing is important in early childhood.

Telling the teacher — sometimes called “dobbing” in Australia. When is it important, when doesn’t it matter? What were Meg’s motivations?

Honesty — Was it okay for Meg to tell her father that she had found the necklace on the road? Why did she tell him that? What would he have done if she told him the truth?

Finders keepers” — Is it ever okay to keep something you find? When might it be okay to do so?

Following the rules – The teacher insisted that Laura remove the necklace. What could Laura have done or said? What else could the teacher have done? Was it fair for Meg to tell the teacher?

Stealing the necklace — Was Meg good or bad to take the necklace? Why?

Why did the magic not work for Meg?

Was the North Wind’s punishment of Meg appropriate? (He blew the roof off her house so she got wet.)

Thinking of these issues familiar to many in the schoolyard and playground made me think of Marnie who has experienced some similar situations. In this episode a boy dobs on Marnie for having a unicorn at school. Toys weren’t allowed, but this boy knew it meant Marnie was troubled again and needed the teacher’s help. A teacher is also called upon in this episode when Marnie has locked herself in the toilet and won’t come out. In both those instances the children were dobbing for good reason.

In this episode Marnie is purposefully tripped and falls into a puddle losing hold of her “security” unicorn, and in this longer episode we find that, later that day, the same boy took her paint brush, and stashed it out of reach on a high shelf. He hadn’t taken it because he wanted it, as Meg had taken the necklace. He had taken it simply to torment, be mean and bully.

Children, like Brucie, who tease, torment and bully are often themselves victims of similar behaviour. They feel powerless, lacking control in their own lives, and probably lowest in the pecking order at home. Targeting someone more vulnerable provides an opportunity to find a sense of power; for a while at least.

So that’s where I’m headed for my response to Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a thief or a theft. 

Motives

The morning started badly; nothing unusual in that. He’d been woken in the night by shouting, slamming doors, and screeching car tyres. Nothing unusual there either.

There was no milk to moisten his cereal, only a slap to the head for daring to ask. He grabbed his bag and disappeared before she used him as an ashtray, again.

Looking for a fight, he couldn’t believe she was just sitting there clutching her stupid unicorn. He snatched it; danced a jig to her wails, then threw it onto the roof.

“I’m telling,” said a witness.

“Who cares?” was his response.

Thank you

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

What measure success?

 

A+

I have often expressed concern about what I consider to be an over-emphasis on standardised and national testing and the pressure it puts on students to achieve. I explained some reasons for my misgivings here and here and here, for example.

As a parent and a teacher the most important thing I want for my children is for them to be happy. After that I wish for them to be healthy and successful. But what is success? In a recent post I referred to a seventy-five year study conducted by George Vaillant who came to the conclusion that success means leading a happy life and that “warmth of relationships throughout life have the greatest positive impact on ‘life satisfaction‘”.

bee 5

Last week I wrote about spelling tests and spelling bees and the effect that doing well, or not, might have upon a learner’s self-esteem as well as attitude to self as a learner, attitude to school, and to learning in general. While writing it I was not aware of an article written by Kate Taylor and published in the New York Times on April 6 2015: At Success Academy Charter Schools, High Scores and Polarizing Tactics.

I discovered the article via a series of stepping stones from Lloyd Lofthouse to  Diane Ravitch to The New York Times.

Taylor opens the article by describing how the struggles of students to learn are made public, for all to see; posted on charts in hallways and reproduced in class newsletters. To see one’s name at the bottom of the list in a red zone, clearly showing that year level expectations have not been reached seems to be rather harsh, and humiliating for the child. Perhaps even more so if the teacher considered the student was just not trying. The teacher, it is reported, had difficulty watching the child take the tests for fear she would be upset by his mistakes. Months later the child scored 90% and was warmly congratulated.

Taylor goes on to say that the school, which has mostly poor black and Hispanic students, outscores many students from more affluent areas with results much higher than average on the state wide tests. I know that everybody loves a winner and that we all want our students to succeed, but at what cost? The article describes the school as being very rigid with a competitive atmosphere that requires strict adherence to rules.

Last week in my post A sprinkling of semicolons I shared an article by Ron Berger who talks about regular students whose “teachers have helped them develop the skills and mindsets necessary to produce work of exceptional quality, and have built classroom and school cultures in which exceptional work is the norm.” He says that most of the work comes from students in low-income urban schools.

I suddenly became fearful. Were the students and schools described by Berger similar to those of the Success Academy schools as described in Taylor’s article?

In both cases the students were from poor areas and they achieved remarkable success with most attending college. Austin, as described by Berger, made six drafts of his butterfly drawing before it was considered to be “scientific” enough. I wondered how much, if any, duress he had been under.

The article described Berger as the Chief Program Office of Expeditionary Learning Schools. I followed the link to discover a little more about Expeditionary Schools, checked with Wikipedia and other sites that came up in a Google search, including Open World Learning which says that expeditionary learning (EL) “fosters curiosity about the world by creating learning situations that provide something important to think about, time to experiment, and time to make sense of what is observed.” It also says that EL schools “promote rigorous and engaging curriculum; active, inquiry-based pedagogy; and a school culture that demands and teaches compassion and good citizenship.  EL schools are based on the Outward Bound model, which starts with the belief that we learn best through experience.

This all sounds wonderful and praise-worthy, and I was feeling a little happier about what I had shared. However, if there’s one thing I have realised after a lifetime involvement in education is that the written statements of any educational institution sound wonderful and praise-worthy. It’s the way the principles are applied in practice that makes the difference.

I didn’t like what I had read about Success Academy Charter Schools in the New York Times, so I thought I’d better check out their website to discover what philosophy and principles guide them. First thing I spotted was a letter from a parent responding to the article in the New York Times! The parent, Polina Bulman, painted a very different picture of the school from that offered in the Times.

Bulman describes the decision-making process she went through in choosing the Success Academy for her five year old daughter. She shares what had concerned her and explains how those concerns had been answered. She describes her daughter’s happiness at school and the progress she is making in all areas of her learning. She has nothing but praise for the school, and concludes her letter, which she shared on Facebook, with these words:

“I was so touched by the warm and welcoming atmosphere. I had a chance to hang out in the hallways, listening to what teachers say to students as they pass by, and watching what teachers and staff members say to one another. I saw so much collaboration and kindness, so much teamwork. The best thing is that as a parent I feel like a part of this team and am proud of it!”

These words are in quite strong contrast to those of the New York Times.

The “Approach to Learning” statement of the Success Academy explains that students are engaged in only 80 minutes of direct instruction each day and that the rest of the time they are engaged in small group instruction and hands on learning.

 

So what does all this mean?

For one thing, just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a school by its policy statement.

For another, you can’t believe everything you read, even when the source seems trustworthy, you must question the author’s credentials, viewpoint and purpose in writing, “What barrow are they pushing?” (I’m upfront about my biases!)

And mostly, question, question question.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

These are important lessons for readers of any material and of all ages. I have talked about the importance of developing critical literacy in a series of posts about using “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” in the classroom. No, definitely not in science lessons, but in lessons to discuss those very points discussed above:

Don’t believe everything you read

Check an author’s credentials and purpose in writing

 And question everything.

While I applaud the end result of Austin’s butterfly drawing, I question what the process may have been. We are not privy to that, though the supportive voices of students in the video do give us an inkling. I hope for the sake of all students that it was one of encouragement and support rather than pressure. Additionally I hope that the report in the New York Times got it all wrong. But if that is so, what is Taylor’s agenda and why would she attack these particular schools so fiercely?

Note: I wrote this article a couple of days ago and upon re-reading it now I have a couple of further thoughts re my advice to check an author’s credentials and purpose in writing. I have not followed my advice. I failed to check out the author of the NY Times article. However I think it is fair to say that Lloyd Lofthouse and Diane Ravitch are both anti the emphasis on standardised testing; and the Success Academy is probably reliant on the tests to measure its “success”.

There is no black and white truth. There are only shades of grey.

Thank you

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

Who wants five-year old sheep? Bah!

Recently, thanks to a recommendation by Anne Goodwin, I read a great article on the website of The Writers’ Centre at Norwich. This article is called “Fuelling Creative Minds” and was written by Meg Rosoff. The article is part of The National Conversation about writing reading, publishing and bookselling, or why books matter.

Rosoff introduced her article by questioning what we consider to be success in life. She discussed a study of 268 men over seventy-five years conducted by George Vaillant who concluded that “warmth of relationships throughout life have the greatest positive impact on ‘life satisfaction‘”.

Rosoff said that,

“If you live a happy and fulfilled life, then you die successful. “

but wondered why, then, “do we persist in measuring success in terms of salaries, job titles and assets?” if they have little real impact on one’s happiness.

Rosoff suggested that a good place to start thinking about attitudes to success is in school.

The next part of her article was devoted to attitudes towards success in schools. Rather than provide just an outline of her thoughts, I am quoting them in entirety, as I don’t want to misrepresent her ideas and she says it all so well. While she discusses specifically the situation in the UK, I think many readers will recognise similarities to their own locale. I have highlighted parts that I find particularly noteworthy. I do recommend, however, that you follow the link and read her article in full.

Excerpt from: “Fuelling Creative Minds” by Meg Rosoff and published by The Writers’ Centre Norwich 1 March 2015

“In the twenty-first century, educational success is largely determined by the government.  The government puts in place a series of goals that evaluate children as young as three against measures of socialisation, reading proficiency, an understanding of numbers, the ability to answer questions in an acceptable, established manner, and later – during GCSEs and A levels – the ability to pass exams in up to twelve subjects and write essays in a strictly approved fashion.  

Success in school requires hard work and a competitive approach to study on the part of students – but more to the point, a successful student is one capable of achieving goals as defined by the exam graders, as defined by the government.

A successful student is one capable of matching learning to this very specific series of goals.

In other words, a child who reads all day is not a successful student.  A child who writes brilliantly and with a distinctive voice but can’t spell, is a failure. A child who loves history but can’t write an essay in the approved manner, is doomed.  A child who loves stories, who loves to dream, who makes unusual connections, whose brain works in unconventional, peculiar ways – but who can’t multiply 11 x12 – is not a successful student.

Successful students must sit still and concentrate for long periods of time, temporarily memorise large amounts of information, understand and achieve received goals, think inside the box.  A desire to please and a willingness to conform are key.

The least successful children in this sausage factory will be branded from the age of five. Children with parents or carers who don’t talk or read to them enough are most likely to fall into this category of early failures. As are dyslexic children.  Or eccentric thinkers. An irregular schedule, disorderly home life and financial instability all interfere with the attainment of ‘success’ as determined by the government.

Less support at home, fewer books, a less regular schedule, a less orderly home life, less healthy meals, less consistent love – all these economic or emotional disadvantages further condemn the five year old to failure.  Food banks, immigration problems, substance abuse problems, unemployment, parental absence or mental illness – all of these elements interfere with the attainment of ‘success’ as determined by the government.

I see them when I visit secondary schools – the children branded failures because they can’t get on in school. Because they’re bored, or not very verbal, or not very good at sitting still and taking information in as required in a classroom situation – or the ones who just don’t see why thirteen years of their lives should be spent taking exams they’re not good at, absorbing information in a manner that hasn’t changed much in two hundred years.  ‘Not a student’ is a label that has condemned decades of children to a diminished sense of what they’re capable of in life.  When in fact all it means is, ‘does not thrive within government parameters’.

Do I buy into the idea that these students are without value?  Of course not.  Put them in a different sort of learning environment or teach them something that stimulates their imaginations and they’ll be fine.  But sit them in a classroom for thirteen years with a series of targets chosen by a government that knows nothing at all about education and they’re doomed.

In contrast, the most successful children in this whole process of learning and taking exams will get all A*s and go to Oxford or Cambridge, after which they will go on to have what most people consider to be the most successful lives – the best jobs, the highest salaries, large and comfortable and expensive houses and cars.

And yet.

In a 2014 book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, award winning American essayist and educator William Deresiewicz concerned himself with what’s going at the top level of American education.

‘Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose … great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.’

This was written about Harvard and Yale but applies just as well to elite British universities. Like the highest rated state primary and secondary schools, these institutions take few risks – they admit top performing, highly driven teenagers and turn out graduates with no motive to question the status quo, no motive to question the structure of society or the weight that society puts on a certain kind of success.  

If you win a beauty contest, you don’t dedicate your life to challenging society’s perceptions of beauty.

William Deresiewicz continues:

‘So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk.’

All of this is happening at exactly the moment at which the world most needs risk takers: individuals willing and able to retell the story of society in a more positive way.  People willing to take risks with meaningful social and political change. Hardly anyone would disagree that our political system needs changing – free market capitalism has led to terrifying extremes of wealth and poverty.  The pharmaceutical industry needs meaningful change along with the system of drug patents that price simple, inexpensive drugs out of the reach of entire populations whose lives they might save. The legal system favours those with money, as does education, as does housing.  In the meantime, there is little financial motive to stem – or even acknowledge – the devastating effects of global warming.  It is difficult to think of a single aspect of life on earth today that couldn’t do with rigorous deconstruction and rethinking.

If schools are going to train a better class of political leaders, entrepreneurs, scientists, parents, and social policy-makers, they’re going to have to ask themselves which qualities to promote.  If we require a more compassionate, more radical, less class-riven and self-centered definition of success, where does it begin?

I would like success to be redefined.  I would like a successful man or woman to be defined as one who thinks creatively and laterally, who questions authority and accepted wisdom, who lives thoughtfully, generously and not entirely for personal gain.  To be successful, I believe, it is important to leave the world a little bit better than you found it.

How do we do this?  By listening to the wise and enduring voices of our civilization – by encouraging each new generation to read history and philosophy and to think big thoughts – about religion, politics, ethics, love, passion, life and death and the origins of the universe.  The extraordinary imagination of our species – as expressed in poetry and fiction, music, art, dance – might someday spill over into cures for cancer and war and inequality. This will happen not by thinking about what we are, but what we might be.

A further striving after knowledge and meaning is the proper goal for education.  Everyone doesn’t need to achieve A*s.  But everyone needs to learn how to live a good, creative, questioning life.

What we don’t need are more five-year-old failures and more excellent sheep. “ 

Thank you

 

Thank you for reading. I always appreciate your thoughts and feedback but, if you have some to share about this article, I’m sure The Writers’ Centre would love to hear them too. If you have time, please copy and paste them over there as well to keep their conversation going.