Tag Archives: success

Not lost but found

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I am struggling with a writing task at the moment. Part of the reason is that is has been at the back, rather than the forefront, of my mind as I worked on other tasks, and part of the reason is that it involves self-promotion in a marketing kind of way. It confuses me a little, because haven’t I been self-promoting all the time I have been writing a blog? Surely putting my ideas out there is at least presentation, if not promotion, of said ideas.

With the goal of sharing original early childhood teaching resources and stories for children on a website of my own, I began writing a blog and engaging in social media about two and a half years ago. This was in responses to advice received from attending writing seminars and reading books about website development. Preparation of resources for my website took a back seat for a while as I engaged with other writers in the blogosphere.

Now it is time to turn the focus back onto the website, the launch of which is fast approaching. With an extra effort over the past couple of weeks, I now have sufficient resources to begin. Additional resources will be uploaded at relatively frequent, if irregular, intervals, not unlike adding to my blog.

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I have no issue with ideas for additional resources or blog posts. My stumbling block is the content for my bio and promotional information about the website. It should be easy, I know, but I am struggling to find the answers to these questions:

  • What do people want or need to know about me?
  • How can I promote my resources in an honest way that entices people to sign up to a paid subscription?
  • What is a fair price for subscription?
  • How can I persuade potential subscribers that they will get value for money?
  • How can I ensure that subscribers do not feel let down by the available resources or ripped off by misleading promotion?

These questions arise even before I begin to tackle the really difficult one:

  • How do I connect with my target audience: early childhood teachers?

I know I am not alone with these concerns.

Recently Sarah Brentyn, who blogs at Lemon Shark, questioned the validity of her profile, enflaming my anxiety by stating that “It’s seen by far too many people who judge you by those 10 – 20 words.” The thought to change my blog’s About page, with far more than 10-20 words, hasn’t yet moved beyond that guilt-ridden thought. And while I know it is not suitable as is for my website, perhaps editing or rewriting it is a place to start.

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Throughout the year Anne Goodwin, who blogs at Annecdotal, shared the process of stepping out from under the covers of introversion to promote her debut novel Sugar and Snails.  In her post One huge leap for Anne, one teeny tiny step for womankind, she questioned how to balance celebrating her achievement with the suspicion that many would be unimpressed. In another post on Book pricing: a cautionary tale Anne questioned pricing and value and shared the hope that people wouldn’t feel ripped off. I am fairly confident that Anne’s concern on each of these issues turned out to be unwarranted. Will mine be the same?

Charli Mills of Carrot Ranch Communications also frequently writes about marketing and the importance of finding one’s niche. In September she declared her position saying,

“My intention … (is) to write and publish novels. My intention is to be a successful author. Success to me is publishing books I want to write for readers who want to read them. My secondary goal is to market well enough to eat more than hand-picked dandelions from my yard. Many will say it’s a fool’s dream.”

Charli has expressed it well. Substitute “early childhood teaching resources and stories for children” for novels and it could be me. I hope that neither Charli nor I are dreaming the impossible. Charli at least has a long list of credentials.

I have spent some time looking at other websites which may be considered competitors and looking at bios on others. If there’s one thing I have discovered it is this:

compare - give up

There is a multitude of websites offering early childhood teaching resources. Some websites offer all resources free. Teachers love freebies. There are also many websites with resources available to subscribers. Why would anyone want mine?

However, I’m not going to give up now.

compare - none

I hope there are many early childhood teachers who will see sufficient value in my website to pay the annual subscription. As far as I explored, I have not found anyone offering interactive resources similar to mine. It is possible that they exist and I just haven’t found them. However, I am hoping that teachers see value enough in these alone, and consider the other resources a bonus. Time will tell. If it returns nothing but the pleasure of achievement, then I will consider it my jetski. If it does more than that I will be well pleased.

So, if I am not going to give up, maybe I just need to get on with the task of writing my bio and promotion paragraph. The other day I read a bio that described the website owner as its founder. Hmm. I thought. Maybe that’s a title I could use.

founder of readilearn

I was amused at the thought that I would found something that hadn’t been lost. It just hadn’t been before. I thought about other things, briefly mentioned in other posts, that I had founded:

Create-A-Way, educational sessions for children of before-school-age and their parents.

Centre of Learning Opportunities, envisioning an alternative way of educating.

Perhaps I can now add another to my list. I just need to get the bio written.

What advice do you have for me? What should I include? What should I leave out? What is the most important thing of which I need to be mindful?

Thank you

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

 

Power tools

 

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) include a tool in a story. I open this post with a quote by Jackie French I used to close my previous post.

Jackie French - books - tools

Books are a great tool. So is the ability to think creatively.

Being literate is a key that opens many doors. Being able to think opens many more. You could say they are the power tools of education and success.

In his book The Outliers (recommended to me by Rowena who blogs at Beyond the Flow), Malcolm Gladwell talks about the role of intelligence in success. He says that “intelligence only matters up to a point”, and that “past that point, other things — things that have nothing to do with intelligence — must start to matter more”. He raises the question of what those things are.

He makes a suggestion to

“Write down as many different uses that you can think of for the following objects:

  1. a brick
  2. a blanket”

and calls it a “divergence test”. Rather than asking you to come up with a one right answer, a divergence test “requires you to use your imagination and take your mind in as many different directions as possible.”

Gladwell describes the test as a measure of creativity, of the ability to come up with imaginative and unique responses rather than a list of commonplace uses. He considers this imaginative thinking combined with intelligence, not intelligence alone, to be what is required to make new discoveries such as those that may be awarded Nobel Prizes.

Can this sort of creative thinking be taught?

Edward de Bono certainly thinks so. As long ago, dare I say, as the late 60s I read (and did) The Five Day Course in Thinking, a series of puzzles to help readers (thinkers) understand their thinking strategies. The puzzles in the book are divided into three sections: Insight Thinking, Sequential Thinking, and Strategic Thinking.

Over the years I read a number of de Bono’s books including but not limited to Lateral Thinking, Six Thinking Hats, How to Have a Beautiful Mind, Teach Your Child How to Think, Textbook of Wisdom and Why I Want to Be King of Australia. I had a thirst for learning how to think, as thinking had not been encouraged and memorising content had not come easily in my younger years. Discovering that I was able to think, and think outside the box, was empowering.

I enjoyed using de Bono’s strategies and teaching them to my own children as well as to children in my classrooms over the years. His Six Thinking Hats are used in classrooms worldwide as are many others of his thinking strategies.

six hats

In this video de Bono talks about creativity, creative thinking, and thinking “outside the box”:

Tony Ryan is another educator who believes it can. He has published a number of books that aim to get students thinking in creative ways. His Thinkers Keys “a powerful program for teaching children to become extraordinary thinkers” is designed to do just that.

Tony Ryan says that we now need to think beyond the square and think “outside the dodecahedron”.

In a comment on a previous post about Lifetime Changes, Steven linked to an amusing video showing the reactions of 21st century children to our earliest computers, tools of technology. This is it in case you missed it:

I combined the notions of books, creative thinking and technology as tools for learning, productivity and success with a little bit of backward (historical) thinking to inspire my futuristic flash this week. I hope you enjoy it.

tools for learning

Relic

The family shuffled amongst the haphazard collection of primitive artefacts without attempting to disguise disinterest or disdain. The waiting seemed interminable in this “so-last-century” outpost.

Haven’s seen one of these before,” they’d been told. “I’ll need to order a specialized tool as well as the part. Shouldn’t take long though. Look around while you wait.”

Confidence in the simpleton’s tools “upstairs”, even if the correct parts arrived, was as low as their interest.

Hey look!” one called. “Is this …?”

Can’t be.”

All destroyed centuries ago.”

Would be worth a fortune though.’’

They opened it.

A book!” they gasped.

Thank you

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

The right place at the right time

Charli Mills Serendipity

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about serendipity and describes it this way:

“Serendipity is the gift we find accidentally when we make a choice or life chooses a course of action for us.”

I often think of serendipity as being in the right place at the right time. There are many occasions in my life where that has occurred, and probably millions more when I’ve missed by a millisecond, but many of those I’ll never know.

Our lives have been improved by many discoveries made through serendipity. This article on NOVA lists seven Accidental Discoveries  in medical science that have changed health outcomes people around the world:

  • Quinine
  • Smallpox vaccination
  • X-rays
  • Allergy
  • Insulin
  • Pap Smear
  • Penicillin

Joseph Henry - seeds of discovery

Lexi Krock, author of the article reminds us that, though some elements of serendipity, of chance, may have been involved in the discoveries, there was also a great degree of hard work, preparedness, creative thinking and an openness to possibilities. In fact Krock says that having an open mind is the most important ingredient. She quotes the words American physicist Joseph Henry:

 “The seeds of great discoveries are constantly floating around us, but they only take root in minds well prepared to receive them.”

I came to that article through The story of serendipity on Understanding Science, which also talks about lucky coincidences, such as the story of Newton and the apple. This article states there is more than being in the right place at the right time to make a serendipitous discovery, including:

  • Background knowledge
  • An inquisitive mind
  • Creative thinking
  • The right tools, and
  • Good timing

Another who attributes success in part, to serendipity, to being in the right place at the right time, is Malcolm Gladwell. Thanks to a serendipitous recommendation by Rowena, who blogs at Beyond the Flow, I have just finished listening to Gladwell read his book “The Outliers, The Story of Success”.

Gladwell argues that there is more to success than just intelligence and hard work. Yes both are important: intelligence to a certain level and hard work to a greater degree. Through “The Outliers” Gladwell popularised the idea of 10 thousand being the “magic” number of hours to practice for success to occur, citing sporting heroes, The Beatles and Bill Gates, amongst others..

However there is much dispute to this “rule”; and I must admit that, although I thoroughly enjoyed listening to and thinking about this book, it raised as many questions as it provided “answers” and I found myself wondering how much manipulation had gone into the figures to make them match his ideas, rather than the other way round. I am not saying there was any manipulation, I just wondered.

However, one point he was making, that I think has value and fits with the theme this post, is that one’s circumstances; one’s family, environment and time, including birth year and month, play an enormous role in one’s success. These are things over which we have no control.

According to Gladwell’s discussion of timing, I am correct in describing myself as “born too soon” in my Twitter bio. I was born just a few, but too many, years before the twelve month period that saw the births of Bill Joy, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. I didn’t have the opportunities they had either.  Gladwell explains the importance of their timing, environment and opportunities in his book.

In this Q and A Malcolm explains what an outlier is, what he thinks of as success, and how he thinks we should think of success. As well as the coincidence of Joy, Jobs and Gates, Gladwell says that “a surprising number of New York’s most powerful and successful corporate lawyers have almost the exact same biography: “they are Jewish men, born in the Bronx or Brooklyn in the mid-1930′s to immigrant parents who worked in the garment industry. “ He also says that “a hugely disproportionate number of professional hockey and soccer players are born in January, February and March.” Coincidence? He explains why.

In her post Charli Mills states that

“Serendipity holds no guarantees, but we can take the gifts it offers.”

The gifts were there for the hockey and soccer players born in the first quarter of the year, but stacked against anyone born in the final months of the year. Likewise, serendipity held false promises for me when I was working towards establishing an alternative school.  Meeting the expectations of the Education Department proved no barrier. Meeting town planning requirements was much more elusive.

The first property with any real potential we investigated was in Skew Street. Not surprisingly the odds were skewed against us and we couldn’t proceed there.

Shortly after we located a much better property: more central, with ample indoor and outdoor space and a large playground. The arrangements seemed ideal, and the street names were much more promising. It was on the corner of Water and Love Street. Surely that had to bode better for us than Skew Street. Serendipity.

Unfortunately, though it was definitely the right place, the timing was wrong. At the final moment, when leases were to be signed, a member of the organisation, who had been absent from previous meetings and discussions, turned up, objected and put an end to our plans.

While some of us did continue to search for another location, it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack; there were few that met town planning requirements, and even fewer that met ours. Parents who had expected their children to start with us decided they could wait no longer and made other arrangements for their children’s education. The last minute loss of the ideal property rocked us to the core. With much heartbreak we finally admitted defeat and disbanded. Having read Gladwell’s book I am now willing to accept that it was not because I didn’t work hard enough but because there were other factors working against us.

I decided that, in response to Charli’s flash fiction challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that reveals or explores a moment of serendipity, this time I would provide Marnie with a positive experience, the beginning of a new phase in her life; serendipity working it’s magic.

doors

The wrong place at the right time

Marnie was puzzled. The card definitely said 225; but there wasn’t any 225. There was 223, and 227, but no 225. She peered at the crack between the apartments as if willing 225 to materialise. Exhausted and confused, unsure of what to do next, she slumped on the step.

“Can I help you?”

The question interrupted her muddled thoughts. Seeing kindness in the eyes, Marnie explained her predicament.

The woman read the card.

“Street, not Avenue,” she said, pointing to the sign. “Are you Marnie? Lucky I got the wrong bus today. I’m Josephine. Come on. It’s not far.”

Thank you

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

It’s all in how you look at it

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Is the jar half full or half empty?

Many years ago I was employed to be an “agent of change” in a school. My job title was Resource/Remedial Teacher and my role was two-fold: to fix up the children who were “failing”, in reading especially, and to “teach” the teachers more effective strategies for teaching and learning. To say it was a difficult role is an understatement. Think of the old lightbulb jokes.

psychologist lightbulb

It is just as difficult for change agents.

But the job wasn’t without some rewards.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Easy fix

Teachers considered that one brief session each week in a small group of other children would not only be sufficient to “fix” a child’s learning difficulty, it would also fulfil any requirement to provide differentiated instruction for the learners in their classrooms. “He goes to remedial,” both explained the child’s lack of progress and released the teacher from the obligation to make any other concessions or attempts to support the child.

Improve teaching

It soon became obvious that the attitudes of teachers fitted into two opposing “camps”, with a smattering of differences along a continuum stretched between. There were those who focused on the children, what they knew, what they needed to know and how to help them learn. These teachers were creative and innovative in their approaches, trying out new ideas and constantly on the lookout for ways to engage, motivate and inspire children.

There were those who were focussed on what was to be taught, on their lesson plans, assessment and results. They expected the children to attend, respond and learn because that was what was expected of them. If the students failed to learn what was taught, the teachers questioned neither their methods nor the content for its suitability to student needs. Rather they found the fault to be with the students who were lacking in some way. Their view was of students as empty vessels to be filled, and if they did not fill from what they were offered, then it was the vessel, not the method of filling that was faulty.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

So many times the teachers would complain that they had “taught” the work but the students hadn’t learned it.

In “my world”, if there was no learning there had been no teaching; and I found this attitude difficult to comprehend or accept. Nonetheless I tried to be understanding, patient and supportive, listening to and restating their complaints to ensure them I had understood. I would then make gentle suggestions like “Have you tried?” “Have you thought about?” Rarely was I successful in getting them to reflect upon, interrogate or make adjustments to their practices. I guess if they saw no fault with their practices, why should they change?

A current focus in assessment driven school programs is what the students can and can’t do, with the main focus on the “can’t”. I much prefer changing perspective to the “not yet” thinking and growth mindset of Carol Dweck.

success

 

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about perspective. She challenges writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that has a shift in perspective. It is right up my alley. Thanks Charli!

Inside

They slumped around the table, eyes transfixed on hands clasping coffee cups, bemoaning their lot, each desperate to outdo the other in frustration and despair.

“They just don’t get it.”

“I’ve tried everything.”

“They don’t listen —”

“They’re so rude —“

“In my day we wouldn’t dream —“

Outside

They welcomed the kiss of sun upon their cheeks, the freshness of air to their lungs; and breathed as one in wonder.

They found cloud-painted sky pictures, brightly coloured beetles in green grass stalks, claw-made scratches in the rough tree bark; and brimmed with wonder.

and dared to dream …

Thank you

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

A creative mistake

Today I am sharing a lovely post published by Marilyn Warner on her blog Things I Want To Tell My Mother. Her post Ooops! is just a short one but it includes some mighty fine reminders:
• that mistakes can become successes if one doesn’t give up
• that mistakes are only failures if one chooses them to be

The ability to accept mistakes as inevitable, and to embrace the messages in them as stepping stones to success are important attitudes for learning at any stage. (And as Marilyn says, we are not talking here about life-changing, heart-breaking mistakes with tragic consequences, just the little ones that can be redefined if we don’t give up.)

Enjoy!

Thank you

 

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

Things I Want To Tell My Mother

It would be a mistake to hire a 4-year-old to be your carpenter.  Cute, maybe, but still a mistake.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner) It would be a mistake to hire a 4-year-old to be your carpenter. Cute, maybe, but still a mistake. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Using the wrong fork is  embarrassing, but it's a minor mistake. Using the wrong fork is embarrassing, but it’s a minor mistake.

Texting and speeding and driving the wrong way is a serious mistake. Texting or speeding and driving the wrong way can be a very serious mistake.

Years ago, before my dad’s Alzheimer’s and my mother’s dementia, they were included in a tour of one of the 3M facilities. When I asked how they’d liked it, my dad told me details from a businessman’s perspective. My mom’s perspective was different.

She remembered ACM—the initials of Acrylate Copolymer Microspheres—from the tour. She nicknamed them “A Creative Mistake,” and they became an inspiration.

In 1968 3M intended to create a super strong adhesive for the aerospace industry. But there was a mistake in the plan, and the end result was an incredibly weak product.  Years later, the reworked mistake became Press’n…

View original post 278 more words

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.