Two words that mean the most to a teacher… Thank You!

After all these posts about gratitude and writing about all the things I am grateful for I was delighted to receive this message from the mother of an ex student –

Just to let you know…my son got 99.90 ATAR score – thankyou for inspiring him to reach his potential! 

What is so special about this message is actually not the amazing score, although it is a phenomenally good score!

It’s not even the incredible talent of this young man, and he is incredible!

What is amazing to me is that I taught this boy SIX years ago! He was in Year Seven and wasn’t even in my class. I selected him for an extension group designed to challenge underachieving boys and worked with him for about two hours per week.

Now… six years later I receive this message as he graduates High School.

If ever a teacher had a doubt…

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

– Henry E Adams

Below you can see the article showing my old school and how well they done on the league tables this year. No wonder with the incredibly talented group of boys in that class!

I can’t wait to see what they bring to the world in the future… it promises to be mind blowing.

Back to School and HABA

Whilst enjoying the break over the summer holidays I am also busy preparing for the new school year. The website is nearly ready and the virtual shelves are being stocked with all manner of excellent and exciting handpicked resources.

The shop is coming together nicely and I am very pleased to have been approved as a distributor for HABA. They have an exquisite range of beautiful wooden toys and resources suitable for at home as well as for use in Child Care centres, pre schools and the early learning classroom.

My dear colleagues and critical readers have been busy checking over the lesson plans and units of work I am publishing and I have been delighted by their overwhelmingly positive feedback. The team of writers is growing and we are proud to be producing some innovative and differentiated units of work for 2012.

I’d love to send out some free samples of the units of work.

If you are teaching an Upper Primary class this year contact me for a great FREE unit on Antarctica. It ties in well with any study of Sustainability and is interdisciplinary as it brings together English, Science, History and Geography.

If you are teaching a Lower Primary class this year contact me for a great FREE unit on Procedure Writing using the fabulous book by Carol Goess and Tamsin Ainslie, ‘Can We Lick The Spoon Now?’.

Now, it’s off to the beach. Time to enjoy some more of the summer holidays while we can!

Assessing Ability

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Einstein

In my opinion these words, from a man who may well have experienced this during his own lifetime, should be on the pin up board In every teacher’s staff room. Acknowledging the ability of all students is essential as is the need to assess their ability in a manner consistent with who they are.

As teachers we are constantly charged with the task of judging the ability of our students. Einstein’s words are a stark reminder that to truly understand what a child is capable of means asking them to show you in a way that enables them to shine.

A dyslexic child will rarely be able to effectively demonstrate their true understanding of a topic in a paper and pencil test. Yet sit down with him or her and record the conversation you have about the topic, what a difference it could make. What gems you may uncover in that child’s mind.

A young boy frustrated by pencil grip and finding it uncomfortable to sit still in a chair may astound you with his knowledge of solar energy when instead of delivering a worksheet to complete you ask him to design and build a solar oven capable of melting a chocolate frog.

A girl unable to focus on the page in front of her because she is exhausted after representing the state in gymnastics all weekend may struggle to explain photosynthesis on the paper and pencil science test in front of her. Yet if you ask her to represent the process in dance I am sure you would be astounded.

There is certainly a place for the paper and pencil test but let’s not make education a one size fits all chain store dress. Instead let’s value the children sitting before us and work to ensure that each and every one of them has the opportunity to show what they are made of in a way that is true to who they are.

Never memorise something that you can look up

I can recall my early years of primary school when I was tested weekly on a long list of words to be learned by rote and the struggles I had with memorising the times tables. Luckily the words came easily to me but the challenges I had in mastering those tables! The whole family had to get involved – Mum, Dad, Big Brother and me – all desperately trying to lock them in my brain. In desperation my Dad used to play games of Tribulation with me, all to no avail… I still struggle with remembering my times tables but you
should see how quick I am on a calculator!

Albert Einstein wisely said, “Never memorise something you can look up.” Great news for me with learning the times tables but how does this statement impact on the classrooms of today? With the advent of Google and the explosion of information available to our students what do the words of Albert Einstein mean for teachers of today?

The answer seems quite simple. The goal of our classrooms is not to learn information by rote but to learn how to learn. Our task as educators is to equip students with the ability to seek, find, evaluate and understand information. No longer do our students need to memorise the capital cities of the world, they need to know how to find that information and more importantly still, they need to know how to work out whether the information they have found is reliable and accurate.

 Mary Ann Fitzgerald, Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia writes, “In today’s world of rapidly proliferating information in new electronic forms, individuals must be ready to make decisions about information reliability and credibility.” This level of evaluation is a complex concept and one which needs to be actively taught in all classrooms. In order for our students to function as literate and informed people we need to provide them with the skills needed to synthesis and evaluate information that is
presented to them at high speed.

 The new Australian Curriculum has listed critical and creative thinking as one of the
general capabilities for students. The rationale is that these skills are fundamental
for students in order for them to develop effective thinking and a range of strategies that will enable them to manage their own learning in time. The aim is to create confident and autonomous learners and thinkers in response to a society which demands “anywhere, anytime, ubiquitous learning and problem solving.” (ACARA, 2011)

It will be interesting to see the impact of the move to embrace inquiry-based and “big idea” thinking through the Australian Curriculum. Will children all over the country still be
sent home armed with the task of memorising the basics – capital cities, spelling words for the week, times tables? I dare say so for there is something quite handy about being able to calculate how much 2kg of apples at $4 per kilo will cost me without having to get out my iPhone calculator in the middle of the supermarket. When all is said and done, I am glad we spent all those nights playing Tribulation as a family. Even though I constantly questioned why I couldn’t just use a calculator instead!

Am I a Hyper Parent?

Last night I watched a documentary titled, “Hyper Parenting –Coddled Kids” with keen interest and a lot of self-reflection. After years of being the teacher in this situation…

Could I now be a blossoming Hyper Parent?

The Hyper parent also known as the Helicopter Parent is commonly referred to as a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child. In particular the Hyper parent focuses on the child’s problems and educational institutions. Similarly, Lawnmower parents given the chance would smooth the path before their children and mow down any obstacles they may come across.

Am I a Hyper Parent? If so, is that such a bad thing?

My Mum came to visit yesterday and quoted a doctor who advised that if a child has not eaten a bucket of dirt by the time they are five they have missed the chance to develop resistance to all kinds of allergies and illnesses. Now by no means is he suggesting we serve up bowls of dirt for dinner but the message is that perhaps we are protecting our children from too much.

At a time when my daughter is now completely mobile and into everything I am given cause to stop and assess my responses to the danger she faces.

As a parent I see danger everywhere. Dangers I didn’t know existed prior to giving birth. Suddenly the whole world seems to be made up of sharp edges, pointy ends and uneven surfaces. I constantly feel the need to protect my baby girl from the big, bad world but I am also educated to know the value of making mistakes so that she may develop resilience and empathy for others.

Last night’s documentary quoted the findings of Sergio Pellis who has researched the role of rough-housing and such play in brain development. The research has shown that children allowed to engage in a little rough housing develop more skills in decision making relating to social situations. They have a greater understanding of the nuances of social interaction. Another message that it’s okay to spend a little time getting down and dirty when playing. It seems in our current society our children are engaged in more adult enforced play and less child-oriented free play. It is a symptom of helicopter or hyper parenting and it’s not doing our children any favours.

Organised activities make us feel that we are doing the right thing by our children. Our weeks consist of swimming lessons, music classes, soccer clubs, playgroups and school. All that we feel we must do to enrich our children’s lives so that they may achieve / succeed / thrive. A few weeks ago I was at one such activity watching the end of term Soccer game. At the end everyone received a medal for the game. One of the little four-year old boys started crying and I heard him say to his Mum, “It’s not fair I kicked three goals and I got the same medal as them and they weren’t playing.” And he was right… the boys he referred to were sitting in the middle of the pitch watching ants returning to their colony whilst the game went on around them. It begs the question, Should kids get a trophy just for showing up?

At 11 months of age my daughter has two activities that she participates in on a weekly basis. The first is Swimming and the second is Music. She loves them and I wouldn’t miss them for anything because she beams with the broadest smile when doing both. I was recently challenged though when all her little friends were enrolled in a play class and she didn’t like it. She didn’t respond to the teacher and showed no enthusiasm or delight. And believe me…when she likes something you know it! I had to make the call… keep going to a class that was of no benefit or pull out and risk that she was not enriched by something that the others in her peer group were getting. After last night’s documentary and what they had to say on a similar situation, I am proud to say we withdrew from the class, I got over my guilt and can honestly say she hasn’t missed out. Perhaps I am not a complete Hyper Parent after all?

In recent times there has been an explosion of products on sale to develop early learning. We are all pressured to spend up big to ensure our kids have the right educational toys, learn to read before they can walk and listen to the right music from conception. Parents are spending more and more in efforts to stimulate their babies as much as possible. No wonder those same parents are then turning in desperation to experts for help in getting their babies to sleep! These mini-geniuses in the making are so over-stimulated they can’t switch their brains to sleep mode. I would hate to think that good parenting is equated with purchasing power. Yet we all fall into the trap at one time or another.  What if I don’t buy the Fisher Price Shape Sorter? Will my baby never be able to put a shape into the right hole? My wise friend has made a wonderful toy for her baby – it’s a cardboard tissue box with the plastic removed. Her beautiful baby spends ages placing objects into the box and then shaking them out. How clever! And the best thing about it is that it’s not for lack of money, it’s because her daughter did it by chance one day and Mum embraced it. Child directed play and a golden learning moment.

There is no doubt about the pressure we all feel as parents today. The right preschool leads to the right primary school then the right high school and then gets you the right life! Once you buy into the logic it’s hard to argue the price. But this potential Helicopter parent is going to touch down on the helipad for a little while and take a breather.

Our baby is happy. Our baby is healthy. Our baby is safe. Our baby is loved.

Everything else will follow on from that.

School Choice

I found this great book on my travels and was amazed following my post on how to choose the right school. I just had to read it! Maybe here I would find some answers.

The book was written by Associate Professor Craig Campbell, Dr Helen Proctor and Professor Geoffrey Sherington who are all from the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. ‘School Choice’ is the result of a major four-year research project funded by the Australian Research Council.

Based on extensive interviews with parents, ‘School Choice’ reveals their experience of the school selection process. Some are bruised or frustrated. Others feel that schools, not parents, have the real power to choose who goes to which school.
As more non-government schools open and criticism of government schools becomes common, the pressure on families increases to find the right school. This book examines the anxieties, aspirations and strategies of parents, and how schools are promoting themselves and managing the selection process.

School Choice asks why different families attempt to get their children into different kinds of schools. Who gets into selective academic schools? Why are new low-fee Christian schools becoming popular? Are parents departing from family traditions? Do coaching colleges make a difference? What does it mean when parents talk about religion and values in schooling? What strategies work and what don’t?
The new school market is reshaping Australian society now and for the long term. School Choice looks behind the brochures and websites to examine what’s happening to families and schools, and who are the winners and losers.

I really enjoyed this read and found some interesting information as to how and why Australian families are making the choices they are.