Category Archives: Teacher education

It’s Just Chat and SMS

 

 

Last night I saw a magnificent production of Tosca by the Australian Opera. If you had asked me in a text message what I thought of it, I would probably have responded with “great” and I might have added a thumbs up emoji.  what you would not have seen was the way my hand punctuated the air as I wrote “great”, you would not have heard the awe in my tone, the gasp that preceded my word and nor would have seen the look of admiration and delight that flooded my face as I recalled the evening.

Research suggests that when we are communicating attitudes or emotions, approximately 7% is communicated by the words and 93% by the nonverbal aspects of communication – facial expression, tone of voice, gestures and the like.

In my text response to your question about the opera, you missed 93% of the message.

It seems our youngsters are giving up on telephone conversations. They much prefer to text. They have lightning thumbs, and the messages fly back and forth at an amazing speed. These text conversations can be short or sometimes very, very long. And the longer the conversation, the more likely it is that misunderstandings, misinterpretations and false impressions will be built and expanded upon.

Why? Because every time a message is sent, 93% of it is missing! Imagine trying to read a novel or a letter with 93% of the letters missing.

In an attempt to overcome this paucity of information we insert emojis and giphs. They help a little, but not much. You send me a text letting me know you passed a very hard exam, one you had worried yourself sick about. I send back a message that says “Well done” and includes a thumbs up emoji and a heart.

But if you were here with me you would have seen the expression on my face that showed I understood your relief, one that expressed the pride I felt. And you would have known the confidence I felt in you as I gave you a bear hug of appreciation. Instead? Just a couple of words and two small symbols.

It’s a frequently used exercise in drama classes to say the word “yes” in as many ways as possible, implying as many different meanings as possible. The range is amazing. But in an SMS there is only the word. You work out the meaning for yourself, and with no nonverbal cues to help you, there is every chance you will get it wrong.

Why is this so important?

Make sure you understand the weaknesses that exist in text conversations. Save the text chat for the factual, the trivial, for what it was designed – short messages and chat. These messaging services are named as they are for good reason.

If you want to talk about something that involves the exchange of attitudes and the expression of feelings, subjects that have some depth and nuance, pick up the telephone or better still, meet for coffee.

Most importantly, make sure your children and your students understand the dangers of “Chat” and the “Short Message Service”. They will avoid so many hurt feelings, misinterpretations the misunderstandings.

If the conversation is worth having, it deserves 100% of the communication process, not just 7%.

 

 

 

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Filed under Behavior management, Classroom practice, digital learning, internet, parents, Teacher education, technology, Thinking

“School-wide Ban on Mobile Phones Gets Kids Learning and Talking”

 

Oh yes. I do understand. The kids are sitting around in the playground texting to each other instead of talking. The sports equipment is still sitting in the tub in the corner of the classroom because the kids aren’t playing at recess, they are on their phones. A stroll around the classroom during work time invariably reveals at least one kid taking a sneaky look at social media under the table.

Ban them at school! It’s a quick and easy solution. And it will work – while they are at school. But once they leave school and have their devices in their pockets again, what will they have learned?

It’s similar to achieving good behaviour in school by instilling fear of the strap. The strap didn’t teach kids about fairness, justice, honesty, respect, concentration or focus. It just taught kids to behave while the strap was around. If the reason for a child’s correct behaviour is fear of the back of dad’s hand, he’ll wait until dad’s not around and then do as he chooses. We know this. That’s why we banned corporal punishment in schools. Because it doesn’t work.

We need to teach our kids how to control their own behaviour, themselves, regardless of straps, wooden spoons and the backs of dads’ hands.

We need to teach our kids how to control their devices rather than letting their devices control them. Simply removing them from their grasp for a few hours each day doesn’t teach them anything about how to thrive in a digital world.

We should be embracing the digital. Our kids need to learn when to use these devices appropriately and how to use them effectively. They won’t learn those things of we simply take them away from them. You don’t teach a kid how to be safe on the road by not letting him drive.

Mobile phones and tablets can be powerful assets in the classroom, but both teachers and students need to learn how to use them. We provide powerful insights into the influence the digital world is having on how our kids think and how they learn in our book ‘Thinking In A Digital World”. We then describe practical strategies to help parents and teachers integrate these technologies into living and learning in ways that promote learning and thinking both within and outside the classroom.

 

 

 

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Filed under Behavior management, Classroom practice, digital learning, internet, Teacher education, technology, Thinking

Understanding social media – safety

In our most recent book, “Thinking In A Digital World”, we explore the changes in our world as a result of digital media. The digital world is pervasive and here to stay. So is social media. It’s up to the grown-ups to understand it and help our kids navigate it safely and use it productively, creatively and enjoyably.

Let’s look at safety first.

Over two billion people actively use Facebook each month. If your privacy settings are set to “public”, you are giving them all access to your thoughts and images. Is this what you want for yourself? More importantly, is this what you want for your children?

The internet has virtually unlimited memory. The photos you posted two years ago? They are still there. The photo you posted and then deleted? It’s still there too. Nothing disappears and clever people can find it all. Their motives are not always benign.

Take a look at the blue band across the top of your Facebook page. You will see a tiny down arrow on the far right. Click on that and then select ‘settings’. This will take you to the General Settings page. On the left-hand side, there is a panel – select ‘privacy’ .

Now you can decide just how widely you want your posts to circulate. My Facebook privacy is set to ‘friends’ for everything. I’m not interested in ‘friends of friends’ seeing my posts, because if I use that setting I may as well make everything ‘public’ and accessible to the entire two billion users. The moment I allow ‘friends of friends’ to see my posts, I have lost control.

I don’t include my phone number when invited to by Facebook. If a friend wants my phone number I have the opportunity to send it to them via private message. I don’t want the world, or even all the people on my Facebook friends list, to have my phone number.

I also have the opportunity on this page to check and change the audience for posts that in the past I may have set as accessible to public or friends of friends. That will limit any future access to those posts of mine, but it will have no impact at all on the people who have already seen them.

I have set the visibility of my friends list to ‘friends’. I thought about setting it to ‘only me’ because that gives me the tightest control, but this is a social medium after all, and I don’t mind my friends knowing who I have as a friend.

I don’t want to find myself showing up on a variety of search engines and so I have selected ‘no’ when asked if I want search engines other than Facebook to see me.

As an adult, I have the right to make my Facebook life as open or as closed as I choose. I made a decision a long time ago to restrict my friends to people I had actually met face to face. This changed when I discovered a very small number of people on forums with whom I had been exchanging ideas over an extended period.

I have allowed ‘friends of friends’ to send friend requests and sometimes I regretfully reject requests from people I have never met. These requests can arise because I have commented on a friend’s post and one of their friends is interested in my comment and would like to interact more with me. But I don’t want hundreds of friends on my personal Facebook page. I want the concept of ‘friend’ to bear some similarity in the digital world to its meaning in the physical world. On the other hand I know there may be a few exceptions.

Finally, if you look again at the panel on the left you will see the ‘blocking’ link. Select that and see how you can remove people who are becoming tiresome, offensive or threatening. This is perhaps the control we need to point out more than any other to our children. I read with dismay the stories of people being bullied online. It’s hard to be bullied by someone if you no longer listen to them. If I find myself being insulted, abused or bullied online I have options.

If I started the thread, I can delete it.

If there is a particular person being objectionable, I can block them.

Grown-ups and kids

As an adult, I can choose for myself how private I want to be. I like my privacy, but I also like to share thoughts and experiences with others. My privacy settings reflect that.

Our children need to be kept safe until they are old enough and wise enough to judge people and their own safety. Until that time I advise setting privacy to ‘friends’ only, and to emphasize the ability to delete and block.

You can find our book on Amazon and Book Depository

https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Digital-World-Taking-Kids/dp/1475834942/ref=redir_mobile_desktop/141-8227627-3796363?_encoding=UTF8&dpID=51JpLMMv5AL&dpPl=1&keywords=Buoncristiani&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_FMwebp_QL65&qid=1514614626&ref=plSrch&ref_=mp_s_a_1_5&sr=8-5

https://www.bookdepository.com/Thinking-in-Digital-World-Martin-Buoncristiani-Patricia-Calton-Buoncristiani/9781475834949?ref=grid-view&qid=1517801728077&sr=1-2

 

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Teach for America/Australia is the equivalent of rice and fresh water.

I try not to be controversial. Today I will fail.

I have just read this in one of the more respected Australian newspapers:

“The government is also planning to increase the number of Victorians in the Teach for Australia program, which accelerates non-teaching graduates into disadvantaged schools.”

This is a spin off from the American program “Teach For America” and it has siblings in other countries around the world including the UK.

This initiative takes high performing graduates from pretty much any discipline and places them in disadvantaged schools after a six week orientation course during the summer. The idea is that they will teach from the beginning, but under the guidance and support of more experienced and highly skilled teachers.

We all know that disadvantaged schools could benefit from more teachers, smaller classes and more individual attention, so what’s the problem?

Well, look at it this way. We have long waiting lines in many hospitals for orthopaedic surgery, so maybe we need to fast track some surgeons. Give a high flying archaeology graduate a six week crash course in hip replacement and a mentor to provide a bit of pre and post op advice and we’re hunky dory. In some communities there is a lack of police, so let’s get an A grade English student, giver her six week’s training, a gun, a set of handcuffs and a police car and the community will be safe. Can’t find a mechanic to fix the electrics on your car? We need to fast track a few Fine Arts graduates. And so it goes.

If this sounds crazy in each of these professions, why is it OK for teaching?

To make matters worse, these graduates are placed in disadvantaged schools, where teachers are already under extreme pressure simply trying to keep up with the academic, social and emotional needs of their students. Additionally these schools are often under resourced with top notch teachers. The best teachers have the choice of the best schools. I have had first hand experience of how hard it is to attract first rate teachers into a super challenging school environment.

We know from experience in the USA that Teach for America graduates tend to burn out fast. Their initial contract is for only two years and there is frequently a high turnover as they return to their original career paths, fortified by the experiences they have gained in these low income, disadvantaged, struggling schools. One of the greatest advantages of this fast turn over is that school districts save money because they avoid the salary increases that come as employees attain greater seniority.

Teach for America, Teach for Australia and all the other manifestations of this short cut to teaching are dismal examples of our lack of understanding about what quality teaching needs. They demean and undermine the profession of teaching in a way that would never be countenanced by any other profession. It grows out of the misapprehension that since everyone has been to school, everyone can teach, as long as they are smart enough.

If a six week trained teacher in a disadvantaged school is getting better results than a fully trained teacher then I suggest we need to look closely at the fully trained teachers. A starving child may do better on some rice and fresh water, but that doesn’t comprise a balanced, healthy diet. A balanced healthy education needs teachers with the full range of skills and knowledge, just as a balanced healthy diet needs the full range of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

Teach for America/Australia is the equivalent of rice and fresh water.

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Handwriting – the beauty of variation

Keyboards are everywhere. I marvel at the speed with which my own kids manage to pump out text on a full sized keyboard or with their thumbs on a smart phone. In the USA there is a growing debate about whether or not children need to be formally taught cursive writing. The new Common Core State Standards do not mandate its teaching. In Australia we have seen frequent discussions about the problems faced by final year high school students being required to write extended passages long hand in exams, when they are unused to the practice during their school year. They feel they lack fluency and their hands ache!

For some years now I have been troubles by the weird and wonderful ways in which I see young adults holding pens and pencils. They look awkward and they revert to keyboards as soon as practicable.

When I taught grade one and two children  a major part of my curriculum was teaching them how to hold their pencils efficiently and how to form letters that would lead to fluent, legible, effortless handwriting. The refrigerators in the homes of my students were festooned with examples of their early attempts.

There are those who regard this particular learning process as a waste of time,  as clinging to an old, outmoded technology.

I disagree!

How often do we set things that are essentially different up against each other for comparison and competition?

Which is better, the movie or the book?

Which side of the brain is most important, the left or the right?

Who is smarter, men or women?

Which do you prefer, oysters or chocolate cake?

Which is better, a photographic or a painted portrait?

These comparisons don’t work.

Neither does the question, ‘which should we teach, keyboarding or handwriting?’

There will always be a place for the handwritten, just as there will always be a place for the painted.

Just because a child can easily take a photograph of a tree doesn’t mean that we should not give him the opportunity to draw or paint a tree. There is something about the artist that is revealed in a painting, a personal response to the subject matter and a reinterpretation of the literal truth that comes about when a subject is painted or drawn.

So it is with handwriting.

We know that every person’s handwriting is unique. Why? Because the movements of the pen on paper are influenced by the character and experiences of the writer. They keyboard gives us the vocabulary and the syntax. The pen gives us something of the person. Another manifestation of the marvelous variations between people can be seen in the formal, controlled and perfectly formed handwriting of one person, the tight, tiny, cramped writing of another and the expansive, impetuous scrawl of yet another.

Our handwriting is one of the things that proclaims our individuality.

How many of us hold dear the early attempts of our children to write us notes, the love letters of an early sweetheart or even the handwritten name of a long dead loved one in a favorite book of poems?

We seem to be very good at throwing out our babies with the bath water in education.

Let’s not do it again.

Let’s continue to teach our children the intimate, expressive art of handwriting as well as the efficient, expedient skill of keyboarding.

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The Power of ‘Yet’

I can’t do that.

I’ve never been any good at that.

Nah, its not something I’m any good at.

Too hard. Always has been.

How many times have you said that?

How many times have you heard that?

It’s a cop out!

Carol Dweck, the author of ‘Mindsets’ has described the word YET as powerful.

Every time you allow one of those ‘can’t’ comments to pass unremarked and unchallenged, you contribute another brick to the wall that surrounds and limits human achievement. In yourself, your children, your students.

Every time you add the word ‘yet’ to the statement “I can’t do that”, you remove a brick, you begin to create a doorway, an opening in the walls that hold us all back from achieving above and beyond what our limited expectations tell us is possible.

Make ‘yet’ a powerful word in your vocabulary.

brick-wall-with-sky-showing-thrublog

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The Second Time Around

The upheaval in our politics over the last couple of days, together with an invitation to act as a mentor, have got me thinking. Can it really be “more wonderful, the second time around”?

In the small number of years since I left my role as an elementary (primary) school principal I have frequently thought, “I would be a much better principal now, if I had the chance again.” Why am I thinking this way?

I am an artists as well as an educator. I have an easel in the house and there is usually a painting on the go. I find myself irritated when people stand with their noses up against the canvas, perusing every brush stroke. I like to do that with my work and with the work of others because I am interested in the techniques. But I want people to stand back from a painting and take it in as a whole. As a practitioner I need to understand the bits and pieces that go to make the finished product. I need to understand how colors are laid on the canvas, which ways the brush strokes go, how one area is blended into another. But to really understand the painting, I need to stand back.

So it was with being a principal. To really understand the profession, I needed to stand back. While I was in my school, walking the hallways, sitting in my office, talking with teachers, watching lessons, I was almost entirely preoccupied with the technique. Every day was so full of technical decision making and procedural, managerial necessities – the brushes, the paint, the mixing and the application. Teaching too. I now have the time to read, to explore the reasons for teaching the way we do, time to examine the details of approaches that seem to work better than the ways we have traditionally done things.

We don’t often get a chance to do things a second time around, but mentoring can be a surrogate. I enjoy my work with schools as a consultant because, among other things, it gives me the opportunity to communicate a point of view that isn’t enmeshed in the close up detail of practice. My contribution to a school is firmly rooted in years of experience as a teacher and a principal, but just as importantly it has the added element of having been able to stand back and take in the whole picture. I may not get a chance to do things ‘a second time around’ but I hope this opportunity to stand back and see a bigger picture can be useful.

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