Tag Archives: communicating

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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Filed under Classroom practice, Language and literacy, Teacher education, technology, Thinking

Let’s hear it for the tiger mothers!

tiger-cub_1714112iIf you ask any young mother who is the most important child in the world to her, she will reply, “mine”. We would expect nothing different. This feeling doesn’t change when the child turns five and goes to school. Every loved and wanted child is the centre of his or her parent’s world. Pity the child who isn’t.

And so it seems odd when a teacher complains, “She thinks her child is the most important child in my classroom”.

Of course she does, and the sooner you acknowledge this, the sooner you will be able to set up a productive relationship between teacher and parent.

No parent sees a class full of children from the same point of view as the teacher. Good teachers strive to ensure that each child is treated as one among equals.

But no parents view their son or daughter as simply ‘one among equals’.

As a principal I have dealt with many an irate parent in my office. Sometimes their sense of outrage has seemed totally unreasonable from my viewpoint, where their child is simply ‘one among equals’. But it’s this sense of my child being the centre of the universe that leads parents to cry ‘unfair’ and demand to know, “what are you doing to punish the other kid?”

It’s easier to deal with the Tiger Mothers who look as if they might leap across your desk and tear your throat out at any minute, if we understand why they feel like that. They are protecting their young, the centre of their universe, the most precious thing in their lives, at a time when they feel their cub might be under threat.

Give me a Tiger Mother any day rather than the disinterested, unengaged parents who never walk through the school door or pick up the phone and dial the school’s number.

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On Books, Ipads and Kids

l was sitting recently in a doctor’s waiting room. Next to me was a young boy of eight or nine completely absorbed in a shoot-em-up game on his Ipad. His back was bent over and his eyes were glued to the screen in total, absorbed focus. People came and went, the ladies behind the reception desk asked questions, offered advice and gave people forms to fill in. The doctors came out from time to time to usher their patients into their consulting rooms.

The boy saw none of this. He was totally occupied killing aliens.

How do we learn about the world and how it operates? We learn much by observing – by watching and listening to the people around us and by trying to make sense of what we see and hear. But what is this lad seeing and hearing? What world is he striving to make sense of? A world full of aliens, where his job is to shoot them.

Would I have minded so much if he had sat there absorbed in a book? Might I not have been pleased to see him engaged in such a traditional and respected activity? Perhaps, but there is a significant difference between the involvement we achieve when reading a book and when we are shooting aliens on an Ipad,

When I read, I set the pace.

When I play a shoot-em-up on my Ipad, the game sets the pace.

I know that if I lift my eyes from the page of my novel, when I look down it will still be exactly as I left it, I can re-enter its world exactly where I was before I looked up. Not so with my Ipad game. A momentary lapse of concentration might see me dead or missing magic charms, extra powers can popup out of nowhere or I could be suddenly, unknowingly ambushed by a whole new set of aliens.

l am the player, but l am not in control. The level of engagement in these games is of a very different order from the level of engagement in the most engrossing book. To stay in the game the player needs to remain totally disengaged from the environment and everything going on around.

We see children involved like this with tablet games in restaurants, on public transport, in cars, anywhere that adults want a bit of peace and quiet. It is so easy to keep a child occupied with a tablet. But what are they missing out on? The world is going on around them and they are not a part of it and so they are not learning about it.

We have a lot of work to do. Our children are living in a different world and we adults need to understand that world so that we can help our children make sense of it. If we don’t, they will make their own sense, but their decisions will lack the wisdom, experience and advice that parents have always handed their children as their road maps. To fail to do this is to abdicate our responsibility for helping our children grow up.

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July 10, 2013 · 1:42 pm

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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Education Bingo!

I may find myself ‘hoist with my own petard’ if someone at one of my PD sessions calls out ‘bingo’, but it’s worth a shot!

When I was a school principal I found myself in the company of a bunch of realists who could easily become cynics when faced with yet another departmental briefing meeting. We would remain relatively polite, waiting for it all to end so we could get back to something useful.

One of our group introduced us to Buzzword Bingo. That had the potential to change everything.

Of course, being teachers at heart, we are all softies and never want to hurt anybody – something that bedevils the profession when principals have to deal with non-performing teachers. So we would only ever play this game with the best of intentions.

All you need is for someone to create a bingo sheet containing all the anticipated buzz words – the words you just know you will be hearing, given the topic and the speaker. Distribute them surreptitiously to the audience and wait for the first person to call “Bingo!”

Of course, if this does happen in one of my sessions, I will know that the audience must have been well prepared because I had used some sort of advance organizer to prime them for the content, and I was thoroughly on topic because I used all the words the topic demanded.

Here’s one to get you started.

Buzzword Bingo

21st century

strategies

high-order

value added

authentic

accountability

inclusion

schema

rubric

framework

outcomes

fluency

diversity

research

technology

metacognition

whole child

engagement

Hands on

differentiation

life-long

benchmark

scaffolding

choice

mindset

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Digital Etiquette

“It’s out of control and it’s scarey!”

That’s how many parents and even teachers feel about technology and their kids right now.

I visited a primary school recently and the kids had ipads and iphones on their desks. And yes, they were connected to the net. The teacher expected her students to make use of the resources available. “Don’t forget to use your online dictionary if you are not sure of a word. And remember the web sites we bookmarked in case you want to check up on some of the information.”

Many of the children had brought their own devices from home and others were using the ones provided by the school. A BYOD policy made best use of limited funds. The goal in this school is to embed the technology in the children’s learning to such an extent that an ipad is no more remarkable than a book or a paper and pencil.

A few nights later I attended a forum on children and cyber safety.

I could feel the fear.

A big subject was sexting – kids taking photos of their ‘girl and boy bits’ and sending them to each other. Some kids, particularly girls, had suffered excruciating embarrassment and humiliation thanks to this practice.

The technology is dangerous, right? This proves it.

No, it doesn’t prove anything. Kids have written obscene notes about one another and circulated them for generations. We haven’t blamed the paper and pencil. Rumors have been whispered and spread about sexual behavior and many an innocent kid’s reputation has been damaged thanks to the malice of a few bullies. We don’t ban whispering.

OK. But they spend hours staring at the screen and firing away with their thumbs on the keyboards. They even bring them to the dinner table, have them when we go to visit grandma and when we occasionally take them out for dinner. They never talk to us.  They are always texting their friends.

Really?

Well, I remember my parents telling me it was not OK for me to kneel on my chair at the dinner table, that I could not walk around the house eating a bowl of spaghetti, that I should finish up my phone call because dinner was ready and that I was to get my ‘head out of that book’ when I came to the dinner table.

These technologies have roared out of the woods and taken over so much of our lives so quickly that we haven’t learned how to deal with them. Our lack of good manners and decent behavior isn’t the fault of the technology.

We haven’t had the time yet to develop a digital etiquette.

So let’s get started.

Sexting isn’t the fault of the smartphone, Twitter, Facebook or the digital camera. It’s the kids who are sexting. It’s the kids we need to talk with because the problem is their behavior. Until someone explains to them clearly what the dangers are, they will continue to get themselves into trouble. And it’s bullying we really need to deal with, not sexting.

My parents taught me how to behave when I was around other people. I didn’t always get it right, but there was no way in the world I would have been listening to my transistor radio or Walkman when I was sitting at the dinner table.

There is a small restaurant I frequently go to for lunch. Orders are taken at the counter and there is a sign that explains, “Please be polite enough not to talk on your cell phone when you are giving your lunch order.” I like that sign.

I’d like to see a small basket on each table in restaurants with a notice explaining “We know how you love good conversations. Please place your phone in here until you have finished dining with your friends.”

We all need a bit of help developing our digital code of behavior, our set of good manners, our digital etiqette.

 

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Inspiration

I spent some time in an inspirational state primary school on the outskirts of Melbourne last Friday. It got me thinking about the inspirational moments in my own schooling and who the teachers were who inspired me … and why.

Grade 3 Mr Ross: I remember him writing us a letter from New Zealand where he was spending his holiday. When he came back to school he taught us a Maori song.

Grade 6 Mr Quinn: he was kind.

Year 7 Mr Ok***e: I spent a year with a caliper on one leg and he would ‘keep an eye on me’. I remember him letting me have his chair rather than sit on the floor during a whole school assembly and telling me I didn’t need to pick up papers during a litter drive.

Year 9 Mrs Burs***i: She taught us French, brought French cakes into school one day and lent me a paperback novel ‘Dickon Among the Indians’ because she thought I would enjoy it. She was also reputed to wander about her garden topless so there was a frisson of scandal about her.

Year 11 Mr Gr**t: because he was handsome and I was young and impressionable.

Year 12 Mr Ma****e: who would become so engrossed in his English literature class that he would mutter “Damn their eyes” when the bell rang mid conversation.

Year 12 Mrs Eng**h: She gave up her Saturday mornings to take me painting and came in an hour early one day a week to teach me. I was the only student in her year 12 Art class and she didn’t want to have me miss out on the opportunity to study Art.I have always felt I let her down because she said I was destined to become the first female director of the National Gallery.

Year 1 University: my English professor, a frail elderly man, entered the lecture theatre, stood behind the lectern and sang one of the Border ballads. It brought tears to my eyes because it was so moving.

What stands out in this recollection?

The teachers who inspired me did so because of their passion, their ability to extend my view of the world, but most of all because they connected with me as a person, they cared and they demonstrated their caring. That’s why I remember them. They knew me.

It’s a very long time since I was at school but some teachers have never deserted me, they continue to reside in a corner of my mind and form part of the network of experiences that have formed me and my view of what education should be about.

I keep hearing that relationships are at the heart of successful teaching.

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