Tag Archives: communication

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

Babies and Bath Water

I am reading a fascinating book: ‘The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains’ by Nicholas Carr. I strongly recommend it. I was particularly drawn to his analysis of the differences between ‘deep reading’ and the kind of interconnected, hyperlink driven reading that we engage with when we read on the internet.

Deep reading is the thoughtful, internalized reading we engage on when we read a book from cover to cover, when we engage with it at a deep level and contemplate the characters or the ideas contained within it. It is essentially linear – we start at the beginning and go on to the end.

Internet based reading is a different animal. It is filled with distractions and opportunities to be sidetracked that take up working memory as we decide whether to ignore them or follow their seductive paths. Carr is afraid that this kind of reading – and it is fast becoming the predominate form of reading – will lead to superficial thinking.

In a recent conversation with a university professor friend I heard her bemoaning the kind of ‘gist thinking’ that she felt was becoming far too commonplace among her students. “They think they understand, but they are satisfied with just the gist of the idea”. This, I think, is exactly what Carr is writing about.

But when something new comes along we are naive to think it will simply replace what has gone on before. Every new medium does not mark the previous media for obsolescence. People feared that TV would bankrupt cinemas. It has done no such thing and multiplexes thrive and continue to grow. We thought TV might destroy live theatre, but it has not. Certainly the CD led to the demise of the cassette tape, but that was because the CD did exactly the same thing as the cassette tape – only better.

Internet reading, with its interconnected, networked nature involves a very different kind of thinking from the deep, linear thinking that a good book offers. They both have us thinking in different ways, and both ways are powerful.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. We need to teach our kids how to navigate the rich, interconnected world of the internet. We need to encourage them to make connections, to link old knowledge with new discoveries, to create networks in their understandings than are essentially horizontal, broad and integrating. But we also need to make sure they see the value of deep reading, of mining at depth a rich seam of knowledge. There is a place for ‘gist’ thinking, but it doesn’t replace deep thinking.

 

 

 

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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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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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Library, factory or smart phone?

I have just had the privilege of participating in five days of learning about ‘Classroom Instruction That Works’ by McREL. One of the nine research based and proven strategies to enhance student learning is looking for similarities and differences and the vcreation of metaphors is a powerful way to do this.

So, let’s have a shot at it!

Is your brain: A library?

Library

Do you somehow seem to inhabit a huge store of information and do you hunt for the place where what you need is stored every time you think? Is thinking about pulling the right ‘books’ off the right ‘shelves’ and then putting the contents of the books together in an operable amalgamation of what you know?

Or is it more like a factory?

Factory

Is your brain an incredibly complex manufacturing process? Do you feed in the raw materials of experience and perception, process them with the innate capacities of your mind and then produce thoughts, feeling and actions?

I suspect the closest metaphor for the brain is actually the smart phone.

smartphoneInside my Iphone I have a huge library of information that grows and changes every time I do anything with it. It is an electronic factory that processes every interaction it has with the world outside, be it via my keystrokes or because of its connection to the world through the internet.

The Iphone I pick up this morning will be subtly different from the Iphone I put down last night. New connections will have been made between programs, new updates will have appeared for my apps, bits and pieces will have been coming and going through the night as the internet itself has changed and grown.

My Iphone is a plastic, dynamic accumulation of interconnections housed in some protective hardware – a case that protects it from the knocks and accidents the world can inflict.

It’s amazing, but its nowhere near as powerful as the human brain.

Imagine the possibilities when we combine the power of our brains with the power of the smart phone, the tablet and the internet.

As part of my work with McREL I had the thrilling experience of visiting a primary school on Friday where those possibilities are opening up.

Every classroom had an Apple TV. The kids had Ipads and Iphones on their tables. They used them to research, to check word meanings and spellings, to share their work with others and with the class. These devices were becoming as common place as paper, pencils, and books in these classrooms. But I was aware, as were the teachers, that they are only skimming the surface.

Imagine the opportunities these media will provide as they extend children’s brain power into the internet, as they provide tools for collaboration and demonstration, as they extend the possibilities for creative, innovative thought beyond the here and now.

It makes we wish I was forty years younger so I could be around in another forty years and look at the world these kids will have created.

I am an optimist!

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Oh the drama, the drama!

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Filed under Behavior management, Teacher education

International Conference on Thinking in New Zealand January 2013

Please join me at the International Conference on Thinking in New Zealand January 2013 where I will be speaking on the relationship between language and thinking.

This is an opportunity to hear from cutting edge thinkers, researchers and practitioners who are drawn from such fields as education, health sciences, the arts, sciences, sports, government and business.

The Conference themes of ‘Future survival’, ‘Future society’ and ‘Personal futures’ impact on everyone, from all disciplines.

Over the five days of the conference you can participate in full day master classes run by invited speakers. Listen to the world leading keynote and featured presenters and participate in a stimulating program of over 250 presentations and workshops. Combine this with a magical ‘tour’ program, artistic performances, two receptions, a conference gala dinner, and you are sure to have an unforgettable experience.

Check out the conference here
http://us2.campaign-archive1.com/?u=4ac5b170022f98e9de26c12f4&id=6748c307f2


Supported by Massey University of New Zealand

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