Tag Archives: Student

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.

1 (7)

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.

Thank you

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

Who wouldn’t be excited with high test scores?

Regular readers of my blog are aware of my attitude to didactic top-down, content and assessment driven methods of schooling students to become machines regurgitating meaningless facts on command. A bit of push and shove it in and belch it out.  For those of you who weren’t aware – now you are!

I probably should apologise for my indecorous description as I’m usually a little more temperate in the way I express my views, but I won’t as that is how I am feeling about it at the moment. The authorities who have the power to make the changes necessary are so caught up in their own murky visions that they fail to see either effects or solutions. Every time I read another report of test scores or hear of another child damaged by a faulty system my frustration grows.  It becomes one of those hysteria blossoming days.

bag

A few moments ago I read a post titled “Vietnam Wallops US on PISA. Vietnamese educators belittle value of PISA” on Diane Ravitch’s blog. Ravitch is an education historian.

As the title suggests, Vietnamese fifteen year old students did better than their US, UK and most other EU counterparts in the 2012 PISA tests, ranking 12th out of 76. What I found interesting about the article was not the results but the attitude of Vietnam’s Deputy Minister of Education and Training. His view that the tests don’t reflect students’ overall competence, reminded me of a letter, shared in my previous post, written by teachers to students sitting the national tests last week in Australia. (PISA are international tests).

In the article referred to by Ravitch, Dr Giap Van Duong was reported as making reference to UNESCO’s four pillars of learning: Learning to know, Learning to do, Learning to be and Learning to live together. His opined that PISA addresses only the first pillar, and in only a limited way. He said that while Vietnamese students did well on the tests, “many … students fail to land a job after graduation. (and that when) they study overseas, many have difficulties in meeting the requirements of advanced education systems like team-work, problem solving and creativity”. Perhaps they are not “out of basement ready” as described by Yong Zhao.

Duong said that the reason Vietnamese students do well on the tests is because the “The whole system operates to serve only one purpose: exams.”

Duong’s admission that Vietnamese students lack the ability to work in teams, to problem solve and to think creatively reiterates the fears of many teachers who are  ruled by expectations of high test results and provided little opportunity to inspire learning, which surely remains the real (if neglected) purpose of education. Counterbalancing one’s philosophy with an employer’s expectations sometimes seems like being caught between a rock and a hard place.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about rocks and hard places. But Charli knows that good can often spring from those seemingly hard places through making connections. She has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows a hard place and a connection.

It is connections that are most important in my two main roles in life: parent and teacher. Neither is easy and neither will result in much good without making connections. I often worry about things I have said and the affect they may have had on others. To be truthful, occasionally it even keeps me awake at night. While I would rather think of my words and actions creating a positive ripple, there is no guarantee that, even when delivered with my best intentions, they won’t do harm.

Trevor Pilgrim shared a quote which puts it this way:

What-a-teacher-writes-on

In his article Pilgrim says,

“teachers have (the power) to develop their students and shape their future lives.  The power to turn them on or off academically, stimulate or dampen their minds and heighten or destroy their engagement and intellectual curiosity.”

Scary stuff!

At about the same time I read an article that said that the influence of teachers is not as great as one might think; that socio-economic status, amongst other things, is more important. While I am happy with the thought of having a positive effect, I definitely do not wish to ruin anyone’s life so am happy to know that my influence is not be the most important to the lives of my students.

For this challenge of Charli’s I am back thinking about Marnie’s art teacher and the hard place she found herself in when she saw the brown muddy mess that Marnie seemed to have made of her paints. That she must respond is a given; but how? Whatever she says will probably have a lasting impact so she must ensure that her response is appropriate. While her initial instinct is to express disappointment, she maintains her professional composure and delays commenting until she has thought it through.

Here is my response:

Brown.

She glanced at the child, usually so eager to please, and knew this was no ordinary day.

Downcast and avoiding eye contact, the child trembled. Her instinct was to reach out with comfort to soothe the hurt; but stopped. Any touch could end her career. What to say? Brown earth/brown rocks? would ignore and trivialise the pain. Any talk now would be insensitive with other ears listening. Any word could unravel the relationship built up over time. Nothing would harm more than doing nothing. Her steps moved her body away but her heart and mind stayed; feeling, thinking.

 Thank you

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

Are you ready or what?

When thinking about schooling and education there is always a lot of discussion about readiness and the things that must be done to have a child ready for school, ready for the next class, ready go to college or university . . .

While I agree that a learner must be ready to take the next step, to broaden understanding of a concept or to grasp the complexity of deeper issues; just what that readiness requires is often up for conjecture.

Back in the early days of my teaching experience workbooks of ‘reading readiness’ exercises were frequently used with students in their first year of school. These activities generally required children to identify the one that was different in a group of objects. The exercises, such as those shown below, progressed through various levels of difficulty with the aim of preparing children for reading.
reading readiness exercises

Fortunately our understanding of how reading is learned has progressed since then and it is now recognised that exercises such as those did little to prepare children for learning to read. We now know that the best preparation for reading is to be immersed in language through conversations, with adults especially; to be read to frequently; and to develop a love of books and interest in print by sharing with others. The role of parents in preparing children for reading cannot be underestimated.

This week I watched a video of a presentation by Yong Zhao about a type of readiness he referred to as “Out of basement readiness”. I admit I hadn’t heard the term before but the concept is definitely familiar.

I do recommend you listen to Zhao’s talk. It is interesting, thought-provoking and humorous. I think I enjoyed listening to this talk as much as to Ken Robinson’s on How schools kill creativity which I have mentioned in previous posts here and here, amongst others. However at 55 minutes some of you may not be willing to commit the time. For me, it is 55 minutes of my life I’m very happy to not get back!

I will not attempt to share all the content of the talk; there is too much of value, but here are just a few snippets that resonated with me:

Zhao explains out of basement readiness this way:

out-of-basement readiness - Yong Zhao

 

Zhao says that students are being mis-educated, that they are being educated for something that doesn’t exist, and suggests that we should remove several phrases from the language we use to talk about education, especially

  • Under-performance
  • Evidence based
  • Data driven

 

His description of the traditional education paradigm will be familiar to any frequent readers of my blog. He says that it is “about forcing people to do what some other people prescribe them to do” and that we reduce it to just a few subjects that can be tested.

 

He talks about the “homogenisation” of schooling, and explained that homogenisation was the best way of getting rid of creative people and innovative thinkers.

 

He mentioned kindergarten readiness tests, and suggests that the only test should be whether the kindergarten was ready for the children and parents.

 

He recognises the uniqueness of every student, with different backgrounds, motivations and talents; and stresses the importance of effort. He says, “You cannot be born to be great. If you do not put effort into it you can never be good at it.” He explains it this way:

 “If you put ten thousand hours into something you are good at, something you are interested in you get great talent. But if I force you to spend time on something you have no interest in, you hate and something you are not good at, you at best become mediocre.”

He says that countries that produce high test scores, score low on confidence and interest.

He says,

“Everyone is born to be creative, that’s a human being, that’s our gift: to be able to adapt, to learn and relearn and do new things. But school has typically tried to suppress it (with) . . . short term learning. . . Direct instruction may give the short-term gain but cause long term damages Studies show that if you teach children how to play with the toy, they lose creativity, lose curiosity and if you allow children to explore more they may not test very well but they maintain creativity and curiosity.”

American schools _ Yong Zhao

Zhao says that “our students do not fit into a future world, they create the future world. This is why we need a different type of education.” He says that “education is to create opportunities for every individual student, they are not an average, they are not a probability, they need to be improved as individual human beings.”

our students do not fit - Yong Zhao

I couldn’t agree more. What do you think?

 

I was led to Zhao’s talk via Diane Ravitch’s blog which is about the education system and situation in the US. Much of what she writes has applications further afield and I recommend it to anyone wishing to stay informed of current issues in education.

Thank you

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

 

 

I feel good!

A lot of good feelings and thoughts have been passing around the blogosphere in recent weeks including the #1000Speak for Compassion project and, closer to (my blogosphere) home, the Carrot Ranch with  Charli’s Mills’ flash fiction challenge and the responses by the Congress of Rough Writers.

Hearing these good things is good for my soul which could otherwise become burdened down by the cruelty that is experienced on a personal, local and global level.

Areas of Queensland and the Northern Territory were, over the weekend, devastated by severe weather, other states by fires, parts of the northern hemisphere by cold and snow. Nature itself is so destructive, why do humans think we have to add to it?

Many homes in Central Queensland were destroyed by damaging winds when the cyclone hit. In the early morning news the following day there were already reports of looting. It seems incomprehensible to me that people would do that to each other. Stealing from homes of those left vulnerable and sheltering in a community evacuation centre!

In the same bulletin there was a report about people receiving payments from the government while training to fight overseas for terrorist groups. The list goes on. The news media are not the best places for seeking uplifting stories or developing a habit of meliorism.

applications-internet

I turn back to my blogger friends for their stories of compassion and inspiration, and thoughts of how we can raise children to be kind, caring and compassionate.

My two most recent posts, Who cares anyway? and #1000Speak for Compassion, addressed the issue of compassion and received a number of comments which added more interest and value to the topic. Most of those who responded have also shared their thoughts about compassion on their own blogs, each post as individual as they. Here are a few links to get your reading started:

Charli Mills writes about Literary Compassion

Anne Goodwin about Compassion: Something we all need

Geoff Le Pard: Me, me, me; You, you, you #1000Speak

Sarah Brentyn: 1000 Voices for Compassion

Irene Waters: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion – mine is but 1

Sherri Matthews: How to save a life

Christy Birmingham: To Writers Who Struggle with Self-compassion #1000Speak

Lori Schafer: #1000Speak about Compassion: Through the Eyes of a Rat

I am very happy to belong to a community that values kindness and compassion. As at least one  blogger commented though, it may be difficult for someone who has not experienced compassion to express compassion for others. Compassion may be a natural feeling, but it also may need to be learned. It reminds me of those famous words, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” and also of a story shared by Lata on Hot Cup of Kaapi as part of the #1000Speak for Compassion project. (Note to self: Remember this!)

In my last post I shared two ways of showing compassion suggested by Daniel Goleman in his video Why aren’t we more compassionate?:

Pay attention

Consume ethically

At about the same time as I was reading these posts about compassion, I also read a post on one of my favourite educational sites Edutopia about Creating More Compassionate Classrooms.

The author of this article, Joshua Block teaches at The Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, which you may recall I mentioned in a post about Chris Lehmann and Visioning a better school, a better way of educating. I was certainly impressed by Chris Lehmann, so I expected to be impressed by this article and its suggestions, and I wasn’t disappointed.

In the article Block talks about the Academy establishing an Ethics of Care as described by Nel Noddings. I am both embarrassed and disappointed to admit that I hadn’t previously heard of Noddings but I will be looking more in depth at her work in the future. So much of her work is pertinent to these discussions we have been having about compassion, including her understanding of the terms sympathy and empathy, for example. The article about Nel Noddings, the ethics of care and education states that

“We learn first what it means to be cared-for. ‘Then, gradually, we learn both to care for and, by extension, to care about others’ (Noddings 2002: 22). This caring-about, Noddings argues, is almost certainly the foundation for our sense of justice.”

It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Block questions how he can create a more compassionate classroom without adding to the demands already placed upon him as a teacher. He wonders what a compassionate classroom would look like and suggests

“A compassionate classroom environment is not an environment that lacks academic rigor. In this environment, students are understood to be complex people. Here, young people feel that they belong. Here, they meet challenge and encouragement while we ask them to be the best versions of themselves. Compassionate classrooms are places where student voices and student ideas are prioritized.”

I do like the sound of that classroom environment.

Block goes on to suggest six practices that help to develop that environment:

  1. Remembering to Check-in
  2. Informal Conferencing
  3. Increasing Personal Connections with Content
  4. Asking Better Questions
  5. Expressing Belief in Student Abilities
  6. Being Flexible and Accepting Failure When It Happens

I think each of these practices could fit under the banner of being attentive, of really tuning in to the needs of the students. They are all great practices that should form the basis of establishing any classroom environment.

Joshua Block has his own blog: Mr J Block: Reimaging Education and his article can also be accessed there, along with many other interesting posts and information.

Now back to the title of this post and my flash fiction response to the challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week to: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about feeling good.

I trust that somewhere in Marnie’s life she had a teacher (or more) as compassionate as Mr J Block.

I feel good!

She stood at the door for one final glance. Not much had changed, but it felt, oh, so different. They were gone. Gone!

Almost twenty years had passed since she’d stood in this spot; since she’d fled their cruel ways. Twenty years of dodging shadows, double-locking doors, and fearing the phone’s ring.

But no more. They were gone. Gone! And for more than five years! Five years to track her down! All that remained was the house. She’d sell of course.

With the door closed behind her she almost skipped down the stairs, her heart singing, “I feel good!”

Thank you

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

I’m (not) dreaming of a white Christmas

Last week the flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch was to write a story using two objects, people or ideas that don’t go together. There was quite an assortment of responses, including mine. You can read them all here.

This week Charli has continued in the same vein, challenging us to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pairs something seasonal with something odd. 

In Australia that’s easy. We’ve already got Christmas in summer. Most people around the world would say you can’t get much odder than that!

But it is summertime in Australia and Christmas is just around the corner.

While we enjoy warm days at the beach and in the pool, picnics in the park and barbecues in the back yard, hoping the big storm doesn’t get us this time (like the one that hit Brisbane on 27 November); those from whom we have inherited our Christmas traditions are cooling down in the Northern Hemisphere, many looking forward to a (not too) white Christmas.

 

Shops here are playing traditional (northern) carols with snow, sleighbells and mistletoe; decorations are tinged with fake snow and cards show snowy scenes with families huddled around the fireplace.

While there is an increasing number of songs and books with an Australian flavour many are merely innovations on the traditional such, as “The Australian Twelve Days of Christmas”, “Aussie Jingle Bells” or “An Aussie Night before Christmas”.

Some Australian Christmas picture books

Some Australian Christmas picture books

One innovation that I particularly like is The Twelve Underwater Days of Christmas by Kim Michelle Toft. Kim is an Australian who uses her talents as author and illustrator to educate children about the things she feels passionate about: ocean life and coastal habitats. Her illustrations, hand-painted on silk, are absolutely stunning.

12 Underwater days

In addition to the visual beauty of the book there is great value in the supporting information through which Kim explains the importance of conserving each of the creatures included in the book. While written by an Australian, the application of the book is not limited to our shores. Creatures from all over the world adorn the pages.  If you ever wished to own a book simply for the beauty of its illustrations, this is a great choice.

One original song I enjoyed listening to on the radio as a child is “Six White Boomers”. Despite the reasons that make me reluctant to mention it this year, it is a delightful tale of a joey who rides on Santa’s sleigh, pulled by six huge white kangaroos, to be reunited with his mother on Christmas Day.

Peter CombePeter Combe has written two albums of original, but with a traditional rather than specifically Australian flavour, Christmas songs for children, including this one:

Some Christmas traditions popular with Australian communities are Nativity plays, carols by candlelight and Christmas parades. Many classes and schools perform their own end-of-year “break-up” concerts to which parents and the wider community are invited.

Using the traditional Nativity play as the setting, Mem Fox created an original and fresh story in Wombat Divine. It is a delightful tale of Wombat who loved everything Christmas. When finally he was old enough to be in the Nativity Play he rushed along to the auditions. Unfortunately it was difficult to find a part that was just right for Wombat. Can you guess which part he got? You’ll have to read the book to find out! Children all over the world will identify with Wombat and his predicament and enjoy the heart-warming tale.

Books are wonderful gifts to give or receive at any time. The titles I have mentioned here are perfect for giving, reading and sharing at this time of year. When I was growing up there was always a book for Christmas and birthdays, a tradition that I have continued with my extended family and friends. You can almost, but not always, guarantee that if it is a gift from Norah, it is a book.

After my siblings and I had grown up and swelled the family numbers with partners and children of our own, my Mum used to say, “There’ll be no presents this year.” It wasn’t that she wasn’t a giving person, for she was. It was just that there were so many of us! When she passed away this year she had about fifteen grandchildren and eight grandchildren, in addition to her remaining nine children and their partners. (I’m saying ‘about’ for grandchildren and great-grandchildren in case I’ve missed some in the count!) You can imagine how daunting a task it would be to go shopping for all these people ranging in age from six months to sixty! However it was always surprising how frequently she did not follow her own rules and had a small something wrapped up to present to many of us.

This year there will be no presents from Mum, and more sadly, we will be without her presence.

Although I have borrowed my Mum’s words, “No presents” for both flash fiction pieces included in this post, the stories do not cast aspersions on her generosity. I have simply explored how the oddness of no presents or presence at Christmas time may have impacted Marnie, a character I have been developing in my flash fiction pieces, at different times in her life. At this stage of my writing I am still investigating her character, discovering a little more with each flash piece as her once indistinct figure begins to step out of the shadows and take shape.

This first piece is written about a difficult time for teenager Marnie and a situation that may be the catalyst for her leaving home.

 

No presents

Marnie jerked backwards avoiding the predictable grope. In so doing she collided with her mother, sending her sprawling onto the tattered sofa.

“Aargh!” her mother screamed. “Look what you’ve done!”

Marnie watched the liquid from the upturned glass merge with the patchwork of stains collected in the carpet. If it was her blood it would not have mattered more.

“I … I’m sorry,” she stammered. But her sorry was for all the years it had been like this.

He smirked, raising his hand to strike, “No presents for you this year!”

“That’s right!” She ducked. “No presence!”

 

So as to not be too dismal at this time of year, I have written a second piece about a younger Marnie for whom there still seems a glimmer of hope.

 

No presence

With faces as bright as their Christmas wear, the children bubbled into the room, each carrying gifts for the Kindness tree, “for those less fortunate”.

Parents fussed, removing smudges and replacing wayward hair before blowing kisses and hurrying off for the parade.

And there was Marnie: no parent, no Christmas dress, no gift, no smoothed-down hair; no smile.

One last chance.

“Marnie!” I beckoned, and held out my Christmas cape and crown. “Will you be my special helper?”

Our eyes locked communicating more than any words. Her smile was my reward.

“I’m proud of you,” I whispered.

Thank you

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

Visioning a better school, a better way of educating

school cropped

I spent a good part of the 1990s working towards creating an alternative to traditional schooling for my own daughter and the children of similarly-minded parents. For an assortment of reasons, none of which had anything to do with education, we didn’t get the school operational. There is a big part of me that still longs for that alternative and I am always interested to hear of situations which espouse similar beliefs and attitudes to mine. When I do, my heart starts to race and I want to holler and jump for joy, shouting from the rooftops, “See it can be done! This is how it should be! This is what children need!” I want to be in there with them, a part of it all, learning from and with them, and perhaps even adding a little to their learning, should I be that impudent to suggest it possible.

Yesterday was one such occasion. I popped over to Tara Smith’s A Teaching Life blog and read her post “Preparing for a student teacher”. I always enjoy reading Tara’s blog and could identify with much of what she was feeling while preparing to welcome a student teacher into her classroom. But what got me most excited was a video of a talk given by Chris Lehmann at the 2013 MassCue (Massachusetts Computer Using Educators) conference.

Chris Lehmann is the founding principal of the inquiry-driven Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia. The achievements of both Chris and the SLA are rather impressive. You can read about them here, here and here. Chris is one excited, enthusiastic and inspiring educator.

The video of Chris’s keynote address to the conference is rather long at almost 1 hour and 8 minutes (in comparison the mostly 15-minute TED talks that I often watch). I admit that when I saw how long it was I baulked, wondering if I had that amount of time to “spare”. Fortunately something in Tara’s words induced me to do so. After all I didn’t have to watch it all, did I? But watch it all I did. How could I not? His dream was my dream:

I-had-this-dream-Chris Lehmann

And then Chris added:

 ‘all these people showed up and breathed life into that dream’

Here is his talk. If you don’t have time to listen to it all, I give you a few of my favourite quotes. (You may have already encountered some of these ideas before on my blog!) But who knows, he may have other thoughts that resonate with you.

People-send-us-their Chris Lehmann

Chris says that many people often ask why schools can have so many problems when there are so many passionate, dedicated teachers. He answer is simple: ‘We have a systemically screwed up system and if you put a good person in a bad system the system wins way too often.’ He says that ‘the factory model of education . . . no longer works for our children if it ever did.’

Chris says that one of the biggest problems with many schools is that students are being repeatedly told to do stuff that they may never need or even care about. He says, ‘If we were to write a students’ bill of rights the first statement on it should be this question:

 

‘Why do I need to know this?’

 

 

He then goes on to say that ‘They shouldn’t even need to ask it because the reason should be so apparent through the work that they are doing that is meaningful and relevant to their life right now.’

He says that kids can do amazing things but that the sad thing is that unless it can answer a question on a state-wide test, no one will care! He says that using data from standardised tests is dangerous and that the best data comes from the work students are doing in class every day.

He says that better questions to ask of schools would be:

‘What is your college persistence rate?

How many of your graduates five years out are either in school or in a job where they are over the poverty level?

What does a student survey of your school tell you about whether or not the students feel valued and feel that their education is valuable?’

 Personalised-instruction Chris Lehmann

These are just some of the things that Chris Lehmann says schools should be:

  • Inquiry driven
  • Student centred
  • Teacher mentored
  • Community based
  • Places of collaboration and incredible passion with
  • Integrated learning
  • Project based

 High-school-should-not Chris Lehmann

In traditional classrooms the assessment tool is a test. Chris talks not about tests but about projects. He says,

“If you really want to see what a kid has learned it’s about the project, it’s about what they can do, what they can create, what they can transfer, what they can make, what they can do with their own head, heart and hands. A true project is when kids get to own it.’

Every-moment-of-time-a Chris Lehmann

Technology-needs-to-be Chris Lehmann

His goal is to educate people to be ‘thoughtful, wise, passionate and kind’ and says that

‘ what were really trying to do is nothing less than trying to change the world.’

This brings me back to my two previous posts How much of a meliorist are you? and Can you make a difference? which drew quite a debate (unintended) about whether we believe we can, or should, try to change (i.e. improve) the ‘world’. I think Caroline Lodge who blogs at book word sums it up quite nicely for educators, saying

‘ I am a meliorist. How can someone in education stay there if they are not? The kids improve their skills and understanding, the world turns, and sometimes (like this summer) seems on the way to hell in the proverbial handcart. But there are SO MANY people working to improve the world. Educators as special people in this.’

For Chris,

‘The link between an inquiry-driven education and a care-driven education are three simple questions:

What do you think?

How do you feel?

What do you need?’

 

He says, ‘Everything you do should empower children.’ Thanks Chris. My words exactly!

He says,

‘Kids can do real work. We have to dare them to do that, we’ve got to help them, we’ve got to facilitate the work and we’ve got to get out of the way.’

The Science Leadership Academy is not the only ‘school’ of note. In response to previous posts, including Food for thought and Are you ready to embrace the future Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch left comments and links to information about a school attended by her children, the Minneapolis’s School of Environmental Studies (SES). Charli linked to this article about the school and another on Edutopia that includes a 10-minute video that she says aptly describes what makes SES a learner-based school. She also provided a link to a very impressive student project developed by two of her daughter’s classmates, and a link to a video produced by students explaining the school. Overall, if I represent her views correctly, Charli was very happy with the education her children received at SES and the impact that project-based learning had on their lives.

These are just two of the many wonderful schools out there empowering learners. If you know of others, I’d love to hear about them.

Thank you

I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post. I’m happy to follow the discussion wherever you lead.

 

 

Reading is all it’s cracked up to be: 10 tips for an early childhood classroom!

This post almost didn’t get published. It almost fell through a crack into the never-never. But just in time the safety net sprang into action and saved it from obscurity.

That may matter more to me than it does to you, but as an educator I hear too often about children who ‘fall through the cracks’, who fail to thrive in the school system, who miss out on the inspiration and timely support that would empower them on their journey to life-long learning.

Like those children, this post was an also-ran. It didn’t quite get it, didn’t quite reach the expectations. But then I read something that confirmed for me the importance of sharing my message.

You see, the love of reading is contagious. It can be caught from anyone, anytime.

However, it can just as easily be extinguished; and the danger of that happening seems to be lurking in school systems packed too tight with lists of must do, must learn and must achieve expectations.

I consider it imperative that teachers prioritize time for children to develop a love of literature and reading that will expand their horizons and create a worthwhile companion on the journey of their lifetime.

Here are 10 easy tips for keeping the love of books alive in an early childhood classroom:
  1. Read aloud to children every day, ensuring that a variety of books and genres are being read and shared.
  2. Have a great supply and variety of children’s books available: picture books, fiction and non-fiction, collections of poetry, beginning chapter books, funny books, sad books, books about animals, space, people . . .
  3. Display books with covers facing out and give them pride of place. Make a display of ‘favourite reads’.
  4. “Sell” books to children (you won’t have time to read them all) by showing the cover and some illustrations; by telling what they are about, what happens, and what the children will enjoy about them.
  5. Make a reading corner with carpet, pillows and bean bags that invites children to get comfy while they read.
  6. Provide time for children to choose and read independently.
    • This can occur during quiet times set aside on a daily basis in which everyone, including the teacher, reads for 10 – 15 minutes. e.g. D.E.A.R. (drop everything and read) or U.S.S.R. (uninterrupted silent sustained reading).
    • It can also be integrated into reading group or literacy centre activities.
  7. Share the enthusiasm for books by providing time for children to excite each other about the books they are reading in a sharing circle.
  8. Display books written by the children and allow access to them for independent choice. Include them in the sharing and ‘selling’ sessions also.
  9. Make a time to visit the school library for reading and borrowing.
  10. Invite other adults to the class to read to the children e.g. teacher-librarian, administrators, support personnel, parents and grandparents.

Let me know in the comment box a favourite tip of yours.

This week I have read some fabulous posts by teachers who are making sure there is time for joy and independent choice in their literacy classrooms. I will share these with you below.

The article that convinced me to share my thoughts was one that was not so joyful.

Written by Alexander Nazaryan, a first-year teacher, the article appeared in the Opinion Pages of the New York Times on July 6, 2014. He talked about not being able to meet the needs of his students and explained that it was not the fault of the students though, the fault was that they were mostly of poor and immigrant families.

He felt that asking these students to write about their own experiences did not have ‘the pedagogical value of a deep dive into sentence structure or a plain old vocab quiz.’

I was immediately struck by the similarity of a statement made to me by my son’s teacher thirty years ago. At the time I was leading an in-service workshop about teaching writing. I would have been talking about ways of engaging students in the writing process by giving them opportunities to write at length about things of interest to them; by encouraging the writing of a first draft to get the ideas down; by providing opportunities for redrafting, rewriting and editing; and opportunities for feedback by sharing their writing with peers; and by making the most of teachable moments through individual conferences with each student.

This teacher exclaimed that there was no way the children would be able to write anything of length as not one knew what a paragraph was, or indeed what a sentence was. The students were ten years of age and in their fifth year of school. I believe the statement to be more an indictment of the teacher’s inability to appreciate what the children could do, rather than an accurate estimation of their abilities. I knew for a fact that at least one student was more than capable of writing at length with a variety of sentence structures and correct paragraphing. I was certain he wasn’t the only one.

I am inclined to agree with Nazaryan that ‘Expecting children to independently discover the rules of written language is like expecting them to independently discover the rules of differential calculus.’

However trying to teach the skills of literacy through a barrage of meaningless drill and practice exercises in a joyless classroom is doomed to failure, and the children, sadly, will fall through the cracks.

What the children need, in my opinion and unlike that of Nazaryan, is a balanced approach. The skills of literacy need to be taught in a meaningful context.

That article and others, like this one from HuffPostParents about a year one girl who had to sit on the floor for weeks while her classmates sat at desks make me want to cry.

However it is not all bad, and there are some wonderful things happening.

Below are links to posts by or about teachers who are being far more inspirational to their students and other teachers on a daily basis.

very inspiring blogger

Tracking back to my post of July 9 The Very Inspiring Blogger Award (nominated by Geoff le Pard) I hereby nominate them for A Very Inspiring Blogger Award:

Vicki Vinton, blogging at To Make a Prairie

Matt Renwick at Reading By Example

This article by Brett Vogelsinger and posted on the Nerdy Book Club

Steven Peterson at Inside the Dog

Julianne at To Read To Write To Be

Carrie Gelson at There’s a Book for That

Used Books in Class

Three Teachers Talk

 

This brings me back to the reason that got me thinking about cracks, and children falling through the cracks in the first place. This week’s flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications was to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a crack. 

Here’s my response:

The Crack

She willed the earth to open up and swallow her whole. But it didn’t. She just stood there trembling, attempting to hold back the deluge that threatened to engulf her.

She strained to remember, knocking her head with her fist. Quick. Try. Try. What’s the rule: i? e?  

She stammered an answer.  Wrong again!  Too many rules! Stupid rules! Broken – just like her.

She fled, eyes stinging, mouth twitching; and as she passed, with one hand grasped the confiscated unicorn sitting askew the teacher’s desk.

Away they flew, the assault of mocking laughter fading far below.

 

 

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post, including my flash piece.