Tag Archives: thinking

The industrious child

The advice to go to school, work hard, get a good job seems to be often repeated, as if it is advice given to all young people as they are growing up. Funnily enough, I don’t remember receiving it when I was in school, though I may have been given it. With or without it, I think I was fairly industrious, for the final year anyway, studying six hours long into the evening each day after school. I devoted one hour to each of my six subjects. I needed to work hard to get the job of my dreams: all I wanted to be was a teacher.

I think I have probably always worked fairly hard, even when I wasn’t ‘working’. Maybe I should rephrase that, and say that I consistently put in a good effort, as long as low marks for exercise and housework are not put into the aggregate.  Effort doesn’t always produce the hoped-for results, and sometimes the results can be achieved without any apparent effort. I have not yet found that in relation to exercise or housework, though. I’ll let you know when I do.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about being industrious. She says that

“Making a living as a writer is not exactly the career path any school counselor would promote, but any industrious writer can make it work.”

Tony Wagner - iterations

I hope she’s right. In the current iteration, of which there have been a few, of my teaching career, I am combining my passion for education with my love of writing.

Charli says that

“You have to find a niche … an outlet and fair payment.”

I’m working on those and I’m hoping that this time my effort will produce the desired result.

My niche: early childhood educational resources with a point of difference being interactivity in some

My outlet: a website readilearn, soon to be launched

Fair payment: while some resources will be available free of charge, others, including the interactive resources will be available only to subscribers

The relationship between effort and result is relevant when thinking about growth mindset and praise, both of which have previously been discussed on this blog, here and here for example.

fixed - growth mindset

Growth mindset is a way of thinking about learning proposed by Carol Dweck; of viewing learning as occurring on a continuum of possibilities that may not yet be, but have the potential to be, achieved. It differs from thinking about the ability to learn as being fixed or limited in various unalterable ways.

Much of the discussion about praise, see here, here, and here, referred to how the effect of praising for effort, “I can see you worked hard on this” differed from that of praising achievement ‘Great job!”. Personally, I’m hoping for a bit of both once my website launches. I’d like some praise for the product, but also recognition of the effort. I just have to hope others find it worthy. I definitely don’t want to receive any hollow praise, which I think is a major criticism of the comment “Good job!”.

ryanlerch_thinkingboy_outline

Needless to say my interest was piqued by a statement in the opening paragraph of the post Mindset, abundance by Mary Dooms on Curiouser and Curiouser this week:

“a colleague … and I continue to commiserate on the implementation of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research.”

Dooms goes on to say that “nurturing a growth mindset is a daunting task” and explains that their fear “that growth mindset has been reduced to the grit mentality of telling the students to work harder” is shared by Dweck.

I followed the link provided to an article published in September 2015 in which Carol Dweck revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’. In this article Dweck says that one of the biggest misconceptions about a growth mindset is equating it with effort. She says there is more to achievement than just effort and reminds us that effort has a goal: learning, improvement or achievement. Effort is not made simply for effort’s sake and there is no point if it is not achieving something. She cautioned that we need to be aware of when effort is not productive and to provide students with a range of strategies to use when they get stuck.

She says

“Too often nowadays, praise is given to students who are putting forth effort, but not learning, in order to make them feel good in the moment: “Great effort! You tried your best!” It’s good that the students tried, but it’s not good that they’re not learning.”

She explains that

“The growth-mindset approach helps children feel good in the short and long terms, by helping them thrive on challenges and setbacks on their way to learning. When they’re stuck, teachers can appreciate their work so far, but add: ‘Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next.’”

She goes on to say that having a growth mindset is not a destination, it is a journey. We all have some thoughts and responses that are more akin to a growth mindset and some akin to a fixed mindset. It is important to recognise both and continue to grow in growth mindset thinking. I know I still have a lot of learning and growing to do, but with Dweck’s acknowledgment of the same, I know I am in good company.

Dooms also links to an article by Peter DeWitt published in Education Week Why a ‘Growth Mindset’ Won’t Work. DeWitt states that according to John Hattie, whose work I have previously mentioned here, a growth mindset has little effect on classroom results. Now that’s putting the cat among the pigeons.

However, DeWitt explains that the reason for the low effect is that most adults have fixed mindsets which they transfer to students. He says that, for the growth mindset to be more effective, we need to do things differently.

First of all, he says, ditch the fixed mentality. Don’t see the problem as being with the student, see it in how or what is being taught. Adjust the teaching. (I’ve also mentioned this before here.)

  • Test less for grades and more to inform teaching
  • Provide feedback that supports student learning
  • Avoid grouping students by ability
  • Ask questions that require deep thinking
  • Stop talking!

In fact, what he is saying is that we need to practice the growth mindset, not just preach it.

Teachers with a growth mindset appreciate the incremental

Which brings me back to being industrious, putting in the effort, and responding to Charli’s flash fiction challenge to “In 99 words (no more, no less) write an industrious story.

I’m thinking of putting in the effort as being industrious. I’m thinking of our impression of it and responses to it in others, particularly of the need to recognise where difficulties lie for students and how to praise to assist learning.

“Could do better”

The words blared from the page.

“Needs to try harder.”

Down through the years the judgement repeated.

“More effort required.”

No one tried to understand his unique way of seeing, his particular point of view.

“Doesn’t apply himself.”

He struggled to repeat their pointless words and perform their meaningless tasks.

“Needs to concentrate in class.”

Inside his head the images danced in brilliant choreography.

“He’ll never amount to anything.”

Outside their white noise words crackled a cacophony of dissonance.

Finally, school days done, they clamoured for the inspired works of the overnight success.

“Brilliant!” “Talented” “Exceptional!”

Thank you

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

 

 

 

 

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.

A garden party

The purposes of education are many; but perhaps one important purpose of “free” public schooling is to ensure that everyone is provided with the opportunity of being educated. While this goal is achieved to a certain extent, inequalities of opportunity still exist, many of which are related to socioeconomic status (SES).

letter from Camus

While there is no doubt that a teacher can have a powerful effect upon the lives of students and any teacher would love to receive a letter such as that written by Albert Camus, socioeconomic status is often considered to be the most reliable predictor of success in school and, therefore, in life. There are many reasons for this, few of which have anything to do with intelligence.

According to Macquarie University the majority of students in tertiary education are of mid to high socioeconomic status. The parents of these students may have professional backgrounds and may have attended tertiary institutions themselves.  Most have an appreciation of the benefits of higher education and are able to continue supporting their students, to some extent, while they study.

While students of lower SES are attending tertiary institutions in greater numbers they are disadvantaged in doing so by a number of factors, primarily financial in origin. Although Australia is supposedly free of class distinctions, attitudes towards those from lower SES areas are often demeaning and unsympathetic. Students from these areas may battle to develop the self-esteem that seems to be a birthright for others from more privileged backgrounds. The negativism with which they are viewed, and some come to view themselves, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ready for school - year 2

Ready for school – year 2

I was a fortunate one for, while I grew up in a family with low SES background, my parents saw the value in education and sacrificed much for their children to have the opportunities it provided. The high costs of tertiary education that are now incurred could not have been afforded, but I achieved well enough in school to obtain a scholarship to teachers’ college and a three-year bond (guaranteed employment) when that was finished.

Nowadays there is no such thing as guaranteed employment and few scholarships. Many families cannot afford to have post-secondary/adult students continue to live at home and not contribute to expenses while they undertake further study. This means that students have the additional burden of working while they are studying. Many opt out of study altogether to seek long term employment, often in low paying jobs with little opportunity for advancement. And so the cycle continues. The lack of permanent employment even for graduates makes deferring earnings less desirable again.

caravan

Of course the disadvantage doesn’t just begin when approaching final years of school. The impacts can be observed from the earliest age. (My suggestion for an early learning caravan addresses this in part.) Although education is provided “free” to students, there are many other associated costs that families may struggle to meet, such as books, equipment, and extra-curricular activities such as excursions and incursions.

In most Australian schools, the wearing of uniforms helps to minimize differences that may otherwise be obvious by choices of clothing and footwear. It also helps to reduce costs. Sometimes additional activities can be a drain on family expenses, and while many schools will fund expenses for those in need, not all families are willing to ask for that help.

DCF 1.0

Studies have shown that many children arrive at school without having eaten breakfast. While this phenomenon can occur in any family, it is more prevalent in low SES areas. Some schools are now providing a healthy breakfast for students when they arrive at school. I think this great as hungry children tend to have difficulty concentrating and learning, are often lethargic and may suffer from mood swings and negative attitudes. I know how irritated I become when I am hungry. My family “joke” about not getting in the way of me and my food! How much worse for children who come to school with empty bellies.

Of course these issues are compounded for children who live in dysfunctional families. As much as we may try to be inclusive and equitable in the way we treat them, these students are often the ones who notice their differences and inadequacies and become most self-critical. It can be a very difficult task to change the attitudes and habits of generations.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills talked about attending a garden party. The hosts and guests at this party had obviously enjoyed some of the finer things that life reserves for a few.

lake-pend-oreile-cruise-may-21-31

Charli shared a photo of a rather idyllic spot on an island and challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story, using the above photo as a prompt.

Well the photo is beautiful, but I couldn’t get away, I was stuck at the garden party. I thought it was a wonderful analogy for the rewards that can be had from an education; rewards that may be obvious and perhaps available to many, but rewards that may be out of reach to others because of circumstances over which they have no real control. I thought of Marnie who suffers the double disadvantage of a dysfunctional family in a low SES area; but who knows there is something better out there and wants it for herself.

Thanks to Charli for her prompt, here is another episode from Marnie’s life. I hope you enjoy it.

The garden party

Marnie’s face pressed into the bars of the tall white gate with amazement: white-covered tables laden with food; chairs with white bows; white streamers and balloons; and a band!

But the ladies had her spellbound with elegant dresses and high, high heels; flowers in their hair and bright painted lips.

A man in uniform opened the gate to guests arriving in limousines. Marnie followed.

“Not you, Miss,” said the uniformed man.

Marnie held out her invitation, “Jasmine . . .”

But he’d closed the gate and turned away.

Marnie looked down at her stained dress. What was she thinking?

Thank you

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

Displaying symptoms or true colours

For just over a year now I have been participating in the weekly flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch. I enjoy participating for a variety of reasons, including:

Challenge: I enjoy the challenge of

  • thinking of something to write
  • telling in story or scene in the 99 word total
  • applying it in some way to my blog’s focus on education

Variety: I enjoy writing in various forms and genres and the fiction is a pleasant change from the informational writing that I am primarily engaged with at the moment

Practice: The requirement to tell a story in just 99 words means that I need to:

  • choose my words carefully to make my meaning explicit
  • decide what can be told, what can be implied, and what can be omitted
  • think of alternate ways of expressing an idea or describing a situation or character

rough-writers-web-compCommunity: The Congress of Rough Writers: I have made connections and online friendships with a wonderfully supportive and encouraging group of bloggers, whose numbers are constantly growing.

 

Feedback: The feedback that I receive in response to my flash fiction pieces and the posts in which I embed them gives meaning and purpose to the writing. I enjoy the in-depth discussions which quite often occur in response to the blog’s content and the additional thinking that I often need to do as a result. While it does distract me somewhat from my longer-term writing goals, the immediacy of the feedback is encouragement to continue and I am always appreciative of it.

There are many other reasons and benefits of participating in the challenges. The above are just a few. If you have not yet considered joining in the fun, now might be the time to do so.

This week Charli Mills wrote about a vivid dream that compelled her from her bed in order to capture it on paper before it escaped. She says that

“Characters sneak into our dreams, our waking moments and tease us. We write to find out who they are.”

Thinking about the character from her dream led her to consider symptoms, and the way that symptoms reveal more of who they are.  She challenged the Rough Writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story to reveal a character’s symptoms. 

Many of my responses to Charli’s challenges have been written to find out more about Marnie, who reveals snippets of her life, as if in flashbacks or dreams, at various ages. You can read what we already know about Marnie here.

“Symptoms” seemed perfect for revealing a little more about Marnie. A child such as she would display a great variety, an important one of which would be her attempt to hide those symptoms from others.

Here then is the next part of Marnie’s story, which follows on from the bullying episode shared last week.

 

 Symptoms

The children suddenly appeared: one bedraggled and muddied, the other exuding authority.

“Brucie tripped her. On purpose!” declared Jasmine.

“Come on, Marnie. Let’s get you cleaned up,” said Mrs Tomkins. ”Then we’ll see about Brucie.  Is your mum home today?”

Marnie looked down and shook her head.

“Will I help you with that jumper?”

A jumper? It’s too warm . . .” Her thoughts raced.

Marnie turned away. As she pulled up her jumper, her shirt lifted revealing large discolorations on her back.

Over the years Mrs Tomkins had seen too many Marnies; too many Brucies; never enough Jasmines.

 

Sadly, children like Marnie and Brucie are very real and very familiar to many teachers.

A few weeks ago I shared a post by Julieanne Harmatz on her blog To Read To Write To Be. I always enjoy reading Julieanne’s blog because it helps me walk right back into the classroom, in my mind. The Student Z she described in that post has many “symptoms” in common with other students I have worked with over the years.

This week Julieanne shares ways she provides authentic opportunities for using digital technologies in her classroom. One of the ways is student blogging, and Julieanne linked to a post written by one of her students, Zoe. I was very impressed. I’m sure you will be too.

In the post Zoe shares information about, and links to, her favourite song and singer. She says it is her “favorite song because it teaches you why not to bully.”

The song is a rap version of “True Colours” with additional original anti-bullying content written by 12 year old MattyB to support his younger sister who is excluded and bullied because of her “symptoms”. I have not linked to the song here because I would like you to read Zoe’s blog and listen to the song there.

I was so impressed by Zoe and MattyB, both showing traits of strength and of being an “upstander”, as described by Mrs Varsalona in the comments on Zoe’s post,  that I decided to find out a bit more about MattyB.

Here is the story of how MattyB and his family wrote the song to support MattyB’s sister Sarah.

I love to hear positive stories like this, don’t you?

Thank you

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

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.

 

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.

“If you want intelligent children, give them a book …”

If-you-want-intelligent children

These words piqued* my interest as they wafted to my ears from the TV set in the other room.

Who is that?” I called out.

Jackie French,” he replied.

I jumped up, eager to see and hear more.

Jackie French is a well-known Australian author and advocate for literacy and the environment. She is currently the Australian Children’s Laureate with the task of promoting “the importance and transformational power of reading, creativity and story in the lives of young Australians”.

I was delighted to find that Jackie’s speech was in acceptance of an Australian of the Year Award.

The media announcement released by the Minister for Social Services explains that Jackie was recognised for her “long and distinguished career as a beloved children’s writer, earning more than 60 literary prizes for her books.”

 “Jackie embodies this commitment (to changing lives in our community) and I’d like thank her for the work she continues to do sharing the power of reading and story-telling for young Australians, and her work in conservation.” 

Here is Jackie, Senior Australian of the Year 2015, accepting her award.

Failure-is-not-an-optionA-book-can-change-theThere-is-no-such-thing

 

In this next video Jackie talks about her book “Hitler’s Daughter”. You don’t have to have read the book to glean much of interest from the interview. In the discussion Jackie shares her thoughts about reading and writing. She questions how the ‘world’ in which one is, influences thoughts about good and evil and decisions that are made. She discusses how the need for evil to be resolved in a work of fiction differs between children and adults. She talks about whether it is necessary for a child to apologise for the sins of the previous generation, and how still controversial issues can be dealt with in an historical situation. It is worth listening to if you simply want something to ponder over.

Being an early childhood teacher I am more familiar with Jackie’s picture books such as

Diary of a Wombat, Baby Wombat’s Week, and Josephine Wants to Dance, which are delightful.

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Here is a video of Jackie reading Diary of a Wombat.

I have just discovered that Hitler’s Daughter is available as an audiobook, so it is going onto my list!

 

I congratulate Jackie on her award and thank her for the contribution she is making to the lives of so many and the future of our planet.

 

 

 

*piqued

In this sentence, I am using the word “piqued” to mean “stimulated or aroused my interest”.

How can one word be used to express opposite meanings? I don’t know how anyone is expected to learn or understand the nuances of this language we call English!

When I checked with my thesaurus to ensure I had chosen the correct word, this is what I found:

piqued 1         piqued 2

How many other words do you know that could almost be listed as its antonym?

Thank you

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

Talking the way out

Recently I met up with some teacher friends and, as always happens with teachers, the discussion turned to school, teaching and children. There was talk about the crowdedness and inappropriateness of many aspects of the curriculum, of resources that were ambiguous and poorly written, of time spent practising and preparing for tests, of (other) teachers who were ill-equipped to teach and not interested in professional learning.

It made me sad. It has always made me sad. Sad and frustrated with the inappropriateness of so much that happens in schools and the effect it has on diminishing our most precious resource: the ability to think, learn, innovate and create.

The fact that I am unable to do anything about this situation at times overwhelms me and I just want to curl up in a ball in the corner and cry. That I have spent almost my entire adult life swimming against the tide trying, through a variety of means, to make a positive difference through education with an effect as insignificant as a grain of salt in the ocean, makes my efforts seem futile and worthless. A waste of time and energy. I should just give up.

But, foolishly maybe, I haven’t and don’t. Here I am writing a blog about education. One more way to try; with a website on the way as well. What effect will they have? Probably very little, but at least I am doing something that is important to me; something that gives my life meaning; even if it has no real value beyond that.

I have been out of the classroom now for three years. I escaped before the introduction of new programs which I would have found philosophically and pedagogically impossible to implement. It had always been a balancing act, doing what my employer expected of me and what I believed to be best for the children and their learning. (Of course there is no saying that what I thought was better. The value of my thinking may well have been just in my head!)

Five times before I had left the classroom, only twice for reasons unrelated to dissatisfaction (the birth of children). But I could never shake off my belief that education delivery could be improved. I read widely, seeking alternative ways of making a positive difference but, although I had vowed at each departure to never return, something always drew me back.

Rather than allowing the situation to overwhelm me by accepting that there was nothing I could do; rather than throwing my hands in the air, walking away and admitting that it’s all too hard, I didn’t let go. Perhaps it was foolhardy. Maybe I should. Maybe one day I will. But not yet.

Instead I choose to focus on the good things I see happening; the parents, teachers, nannies and child care workers who strive to make a positive difference. We know we can’t change the whole world. We can’t rid it of all the injustices, inequalities, violence and other wrongdoings against humanity and the Earth. But we can make a difference in our own little corner; and my own little corner has always been my focus. If I can make a difference with something as simple as a smile or sharing a positive thought then I will do it. If I can do more than that then I will, but I will focus on what I can rather than what I can’t.

So for my little bit of positivity today, I am sharing some of what I think are great things that are happening, making a positive contribution to education and children’s lives; some things that make my heart sing and confirm my belief that if we want to, we can make a difference.

marshmallow 5

I have previously shared some thoughts that stimulated great discussion about the famous Marshmallow Test conducted by Professor Walter Mischel.

On All Our Words I recently read a report of an address made by Mischel to the team at All Our Kin.

In that address, Mischel is quoted as saying,

“When a child grows up in a high-poverty, extremely unpredictable environment – in which anything can happen, in which danger is constantly present, in which chaos is always possible – it affects him at a biological level. Those experiences turn into chronic stress, or toxic stress, and they actually change his brain. They limit the potential of the cool system to make long-term plans and be patient and work for a distant goal.”

The author of the article, Christina Nelson writes

“Fighting against the biology of disadvantage requires a sustained effort that begins at birth, or even earlier, which is why creating high quality early care and education is so important for vulnerable children.”

Mischel’s address further supports that view and congratulates the team at All our Kin for their work, saying

“By providing a sense of trust, a sense that the rewards are attainable, that promises will be kept, that life doesn’t have to be chaotic and unpredictable, you folks are providing exactly the basis for the development of the cool system, and for the regulation of the hot system. The kids who have that when they are two years old are the same kids who are successful at the marshmallow test at five.”

The praise from Mischel would not have been given lightly. I’m impressed with what I have read about All Our Kin, including this from their mission statement:

“. . . children, regardless of where they live, their racial or ethnic background, or how much money their parents earn, will begin their lives with all the advantages, tools, and experiences that we, as a society, are capable of giving them.”

family1

The Talking is Teaching program, which was launched by Hillary Clinton as part of the Too Small to Fail initiative, in Oakland aims to reduce educational (and life) disadvantages by teaching parents the importance of talking to their children from birth.

Thanks to my friend Anne Goodwin and daughter Bec I was also alerted to an article in the New Yorker The Talking Cure which described a program in Providence that also encourages low-income parents to talk more with their children.

The author of the article, Margaret Talbot says that “The way you converse with your child is one of the most intimate aspects of parenting, shaped both by your personality and by cultural habits so deep that they can feel automatic. Changing how low-income parents interact with their children is a delicate matter”. The aim of the program is to support parents in non-threatening ways to support their children.

I have previously mentioned a recent publication by Michael Rosen entitled Good Ideas: How to Be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher. This book provides wonderful support for parents of children of any age. In very readable, accessible language, Rosen’s book is packed full of simple, inexpensive, fun and powerful ways for parents to support their children’s learning, effectively but unobtrusively, in their everyday lives. I think this book should be supplied to all parents on the birth of their children.

Closer to home here in Australia are Community Hubs  and other programs such as Learning for Life run by the Smith Family and Acting Early, Changing Lives by the Benevolent Society.

These are but a few of the good things that are happening. I have focussed on community programs rather than individuals (except for Michael Rosen’s book) in this post. I know there are many more great programs, and individual teachers doing amazing work. I’d love to hear about some that you admire.

Thank you

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

 

 

 

 

 

Finding meaning

Always look on the bright side of life’ is a philosophy to which I aspire. Many think I have achieved it but they don’t know how hard I struggle. I do try to find the good in people and situations, but it’s not always my first and instinctive reaction. When I realise I’ve reacted negatively I try to change or hide my negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. But it’s not always easy to convince myself, regardless of whether I convince anyone else or not.

It reminds me of a quote on a laundry bag which has stayed with me in eight different homes in three different states and for well more than thirty years. After all this support I have finally thought to seek out the source of the wisdom and found it to be UK poet and playwright Christopher Fry.

bag

I feel the quote represents me quite well; doing what I can to hold it all together and keeping those negative instincts in check by ‘nipping them in the bud’, all the while fearful of one day just losing it and letting it all out in one mighty swoosh. I guess the expectation of fewer years remaining in which I will need to keep myself contained makes me a little optimistic. (Always look on the bright side!)

I like to think I’m more of a hopeful realist than either a Pollyanna or a negative realistic. A discussion about optimism and pessimism followed a previous post in which I asked How much of a meliorist are you?  But meliorism is more a belief that the world can be improved by the actions of humans than an optimistic or pessimistic expectation of the outcome.

I believe that humans have an amazing potential for improving our world (i.e. every aspect of it). That makes me a meliorist. Recognising what is happening in the world now makes me a realist. A belief that human actions will make improvements in the future makes me an optimist, but not one without some pessimistic fears. While stories of terrorism, climate change and violence fuel the fears, stories like this TED talk by Tasso Azevedo show that improvements can be, and are being, made.

I am an education meliorist. I believe that education is a powerful agent for change and has an enormous potential for improving lives. My optimism that education will impact positively upon individual lives as well as the collective human situation outweighs my pessimism about the outcomes I see in current systemic trends and leads me to seek out educators, like Ken Robinson, Chris Lehmann , Michael Rosen, Barbara Arrowsmith-Young and Rita Pierson who share my vision of what could be.

A quest to improve my own life and the lives of others through education has been a long time passion. Ensuring that my own children experienced the benefits of learnacy, though I hadn’t heard of the term at the time, as well as literacy and numeracy was of great importance to me. I encouraged them to question, to create, to think critically, to read, to learn, to wonder . . .  There is so much we teach our children the list goes on. It is very rewarding for me to see that they have a love of learning and are passing that same love on to the next generation.

Having, sharing and fostering a lifelong love of learning perhaps in some ways contributes to giving meaning to my life. But it also leads me to question life and its purpose in ways that many others don’t.  This questioning can lead to a sense of unease, of lacking fulfilment, of needing to do and achieve more. I know others who better accept the way things are, accept each day as it comes, and are content in their existence. Sometimes I envy their complacency.  Other times I want to shake them and make them realise that there is more to life than this.

But am I wrong? Is there actually less to life than this? It is sometimes said that there is no point in accumulating wealth and possessions as you can’t take them with you when you go. But is there any point in accumulating a lot of learning and knowledge? After all, you can’t take it with you when you go either; but like wealth and possessions, you can leave it behind for future generations. If we lived only for what we could take with us, would there be a point?

I guess what matters is what helps each of us reach that level of contentment, of being here and now in the present moment because, after all, it is all we ever have.

I often think about life, existence, why we are here and the purpose of it all, constantly wavering between seeing a point and not. A recent discussion with a friend about her feelings of emptiness and needing to find more purpose and meaning in life disturbed my approaching, but elusive, equilibrium again. Will I ever reach that blissful and enviable state of contentment: knowing and accepting who I am, where I am, where I am going and how I am going to get there? Who knows? But I can have fun figuring it out. I am determined to enjoy the journey. I don’t think there will be much joy at the end!

Which is all very timely with the current flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch who talks about actions that we take to reach our goals and challenges writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that describes a moment of being.

I hope you enjoy my response.

Being, positive

“It’s positive,” he said.

She smiled. She knew. She only needed official confirmation.

He wanted dates. She supplied.

But she knew the very moment an unexpected but welcome spark enlivened her being with its playful announcement, “Surprise! I’m here!”

She’d carried the secret joy within her for weeks, never letting on, keeping it to herself, waiting. No one would have believed her without proof. But with her whole being she knew.

Finally, after nine inseparable months, she held the child, distinct and individual. She marvelled at the tiny creation whose existence breathed purpose and meaning into hers.

Thank you

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

Reflect and refine

The end of a year is often used as a time for reflection, reassessment, and redefining goals. This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking just that: reflecting on the year that was, assessing her achievements and failures and redefining her goals for the next part of her journey. Charli admits that she didn’t achieve all she had hoped but acknowledges that those shortcomings were more opportunities for learning than failure as such. While she learned more about herself and her abilities she was able to recalculate her goals and redefine her vision.

In education, failure is recognised as integral to learning.

Willingness to

  • have a go
  • try something new
  • seek alternate solutions and ways of finding solutions
  • persist and not give up
  • recognise that success does not always come with a first attempt;

these are effective characteristics of learners, innovators and creative people.

Thomas Edison, after many unsuccessful attempts said,

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

There is no failure in a failed attempt; there is only failure in giving up.

Again, to quote from Edison,

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

C.S. Lewis is also quoted as saying,

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement.”

He says,

“One fails forward toward success.”

The-greatest-glory-in Ralph Waldo Emerson

What helps that ability to rise again is a sense of where we are going, of what we are aiming for and what we want to achieve. This is often referred to as a vision, and it is a vision that Charli Mills has challenged writers to include in a flash fiction piece this week: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a vision.

Having a vision of the future and working towards that future is essential to effective teaching.

As explained by Vicki Davis in her post Thank You Teacher for Your Presence on the Cool Cat Teacher blog, teachers are constantly preparing students for more independent and resourceful futures.

Through learning from a mentor teacher Jackie Catcher was able to refine her vision for effective teaching, which she shared on Three Teachers Talk :

“I learned that to lead students into our subject, we must make them feel valued within our community. We must work to acknowledge their strengths and show them that we are all equals when it comes to developing as readers and writers. We must praise their hard work and determination far more than their failures, and we must make ourselves available both in and outside of class to have meaningful conversations and connections. In the end, we are never too old to change our outlook and education. After all, one teacher can make the difference.”

I constantly share my own, and others’, views about and vision for education on this blog.

I-had-this-dream-Chris Lehmann

Some of those posts are:

Visioning a better school, a better way of educating

Talking interviews

Whose failure?

Imagine that!

Child’s play – the science of asking questions

 

I have also referred to an alternative to traditional schooling that I “failed” to establish in the 1990s. The vision for that alternative was:

“A dynamic centre of learning opportunities

for children, families and communities

which focuses upon the development

of self-esteem and positive attitudes

in a nurturing environment

in which individuals are appreciated

for their uniqueness and diversity

while fostering the commonality of their human essence.”

The-best-questions-are

Which brings me to my flash fiction piece for this week. In it I attempt to draw together many threads from views expressed over the year and finish with an optimism for the future.

 

The power of “No”

It was grey.

For as long as anyone could remember.

They moved about, comfortable in the familiar, avoiding the unknown.

Shadowy shapes beyond incited fear: a threat to all they knew?

Lives lacked definition, blending to sameness, conforming to rules.

“But why?” The tiny voice shattered the stillness.

All eyes turned. Bodies stiffened.

Whose was this unruly child?

“Shhh!” the hapless parents failed to hide their offensive produce.

“Why?”

Again! No one moved.

“Because!” was the parents’ definitive reply.

They breathed. “Because!” they confirmed in unison.

Defiantly the child pressed the dust-covered switch and flooded the world with light.

 

The-principal-goal-of education - Piaget

Thank you

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

I wish you success as your vision takes shape in 2015.

HappyNewYear_by_Rones