Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December Greetings


            Winter Holidays – what a boring title for all the excitement that Kindergarteners and First Graders feeling bubbling inside themselves for the last weeks and days of November and for all the weeks and days of December. 

            The holidays have such interesting names, though.  What do they mean??
                        Santa Lucia
                        Las Posadas
            Even the most ordinary, New Year’s Day, is a puzzle… how can a day be a year??

What wonderful names!  What mysterious names!  What happens on those days?  Why are they?  Where are they??  What are they?

We will roam the globe and touch briefly on each one, whether we have anyone who regularly participates in it or not.  As I have said before somewhere, my responsibility to the children of the privileged, the monocultural children I mostly teach, is to (try to) help them to see that their world view is merely one, not The One.  
They will be puzzled, I am sure.  I don’t mind puzzling them a bit as long as they begin, just Begin, to wonder about the rest of the world.  As Anne Green Gilbert says, “Curiosity leads to Awareness, Awareness leads to Change.”

What's Wrong With Pencils

What is Wrong with Pencils

Very little is wrong with pencils
In fact
They have stood the test of time
Many years
As the best tool for printing
And learning how

The part that is wrong is erasers
Pink cylinders
Appealingly stuck on the ends
With metal
Much too tempting not to try

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Taking Words Away

It is the ninth week of school in my Kindergarten, and we have been Doing Words for four of them.  We seem to be getting a new Word three days a week, tracing the letters with me, reading the Word to a partner, and reading them to the class in Word circle on those days, keeping them all in a pocket.

Each child is reading them all to me on a fourth day.  As always, I hold the cards and the child reads.  If he doesn’t know it right off, I put it under the others; nine times out of ten the child will remember it when it comes back around. 
Sometimes the child doesn’t remember it, and I give one clue.  (Because all these Words are captions for someone or something or some time that has power for the child, which we discussed when she got the Word, I know what the clues are.)  If the clue works, the child will shout out the Word.  Then I put the date on the back of the card and let her keep it in her Word pocket.  If the clue doesn’t work, I take the card away, saying, “I guess that Word isn’t important after all” in my most unemotional voice.  The next time that child reads all his Words to me he may remember it, which is fine; if he doesn’t, I take it away in the same “Oh, well” voice.
 For my twenty-three children, these four weeks have produced about a dozen Words each, or about 300 Words altogether.  I have taken away eleven.  As is almost always the case when a child doesn’t remember his or her Word, it is most likely that I have not asked the right question.
 Of these eleven Words, four are copycat Words, that is, a Word that one child at the table was getting so the second child said it too.  These were “princess,” “house,” “transformer,” and butterfly.”  Four are Words for generic things in the classroom:  “pencil,” “paper,” “puzzle,” “writing.”  Three are Julia’s:  Julia is the youngest child in the class and exists only to play:  “princess,” “Jessie,” and “Tasha.”  (It is very unusual that children forget names.  Forgetting “princess” surprised me more, because she is one.)
 The children in this class are not readers, and all but two of them don’t particularly want to be.  Doing Words is another routine for them, in which each one gets to focus on himself or herself, for a moment, and  have the undivided attention of the teacher for another moment.  This last is a gift to both of them, worth way more than rubies.
 And who knows?  Maybe some will learn to read books, too!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Some thoughts on intersensory integration

            One of the best things about working on my new book, Red Flags for Primary Teachers:  Vision and Neurodevelopmental Issues and What to Do About Them, is that I have taken the time to read lots of books by lots of amazing thinkers about the workings of the body, the brain, and the eyes.  I have stacks of books by my bed and I try to read and reread them all as often as I can.
            Jane Healy has written two of my favorites, Failure To Connect (1998) about how computers affect children, and  Endangered Minds:  Why Children Don’t Think (1990), about the plasticity of the brain (yes, in 1990).  Here are a few of her ideas with commentary from me.

            “These systems [listening, looking, touching, and moving] should become automatic so that around age seven children can integrate them smoothly.”
  To me this says that the old-fashioned kind of play is still the best for children seven and under.  When I was a little girl, of course, there were no computers or televisions and barely any phones.  Radios with tubes and manual typewriters were technology’s state of the art when I was seven.  When it was time for us to play, we went outside.  We walked, we ran, we climbed, we played hide-and-seek all over the neighborhood.  The boys played baseball where they could, the girls built houses for their dolls (it would never have occurred to us to switch those roles).  Once a week, most of us had a piano lesson or a ballet class or a dentist appointment, but mostly our time was spent with each other.  Moving and creating, wandering and exploring, talking, whether inside or outside, was what we did.  Without knowing it I had to use all my senses to walk over to Jill’s house, because there was traffic even on our street.  And when I went over to Susan’s, there was a big hill to get up and down, there were wildflowers in the vacant lot, and at Susan’s  … her mother loved to teach us to cook.
            When anyone was sick, of course, it was no fun, because there were no vaccines for anything except smallpox and each of us, in turn, was contagious and isolated.  Then all we did was read and whine.
            No computers, no Wii, no TV for us. Just whole-body, three-dimensional sensory experience and social interaction.

“… good play materials are fully under the child’s control (in accordance with natural scientific laws, such as gravity).  They not only empower the young learner/problem-solver, but subtly convey major principles of how the world works.  For example, cause and effect – as well as self-control – are easy to learn when you’re trying to hammer a nail into a board (if I miss, then I might hurt my finger), but hard to learn when … things jump around the screen without a visible source of propulsion. One can’t really understand or see what makes [the computer] work….”
 Personally, I am not truly convinced that there are not tiny people inside the computer, working at more than lightning speed to make connections like an infinite number of Ernestines with nearly invisible phone cords.  From using the computer we do not learn about how the world works and the laws of nature, and most of us do not even learn how the computer works!  Healy’s example of the hammered finger creates a cause-and-effect continuum that cannot be matched by anything I do to/with/on a computer.  A young child with a computer has to believe in “magic,” by which I mean an interaction  she not only can’t understand but does not need to try to.  This is a huge social learning as well as an operational one.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Greetings! September has arrived again!


            Here we are in August again, thinking about the start of school in a few weeks.  This year, however, it is a brand new world I will enter in September.  No, I am not retiring, but I am planning to.  In June 2012.  After teaching my last year in public school….  In KINDERGARTEN!

            Imagine my surprise when my principal decided, in June, that I would be teaching Kindergarten this fall.  I am still surprised, not to say shocked!  It does have its points, however:

  • I will get to Do Words with Ks for the second time in my life (not counting all the demos in classrooms all over the place, of course)
  • It will be fun to watch all the older kids’ faces when they see me in K
  • The whole thing will be experimental, because it will be just for one year and I will get to try Lots Of Things I’ve never done
  • And I will definitely be taller than everyone.  (This past year Caleb, age 6 1/2, came up to my eyebrows!  Bovine Growth Hormone has a lot to answer for.)

Stay tuned.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Spring Loss

Spring Loss

Now is the grieving time of year
            For teachers
            For children
The community we have built
            And all loved
            And lived in
Since the very first week of school
            Is now over
            Almost  extinct

There will never be another
            Like this
Never again will we be part
            Of this group
            Of this class
And we will all feel a big hole
            In our days
            In ourselves

School’s out

There can be Too Much Teaching!

There can be Too Much teaching!             May 29, 2011

I just read an interesting article about how young children learn.  The two possible answers laid out in this research article were that
1. children learn when they are taught by teachers, and
            2. children learn by exploring and constructing their own understandings of their world.
            And the correct answer is:  number 2.

To repeat a mantra I’ve believed in for years:  There is no causal relationship between teaching and learning.  Now, as a result of these clearly presented studies of young children approaching unknown tasks with and without teacher instruction, I add a corollary to my mantra:  Teaching can absolutely get in the way of learning.   

             In the studies reported by Slate, researchers showed two sets of preschool children a new toy.  With one group the researcher explained how it worked, then left them to play with it; with the other group she acted as though she had no idea how it worked, said “maybe I could try this” a couple of times, and left them to play with it.

            The “instructed” children imitated what the teacher said was the way it worked and did not explore further; with the other group the children applied their own ideas and strategies to the task and discovered – or constructed – a way for it to work.

            Waiting for children to explore and learn needs time, for both the teacher and the children.  Time seems to disappear in direct proportion to class size:  when there are fewer children, there is generally more time for each one. One advantage of a class where children are constructing their own knowledge is that the teacher/adult doesn’t have to spend as much time putting out the fires that spontaneously combust when children have little ownership of what is happening in their school day.

            None of this is to say that teaching and teachers are not useful, important, necessary:  nothing is further from the truth.  Children’s minds are delicate and burgeoning all the time, and must not be overridden.  (This is one of the many reasons why technology is not good for children…but that is another topic for discussion.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Head-Moving While Reading, from RED FLAGS for Primary Teachers

It is September; Valerie is appropriately tentative as she reads a simple repeated book.  She is really reading, though, as opposed to reciting a book she has heard before.  She is a tall, self-contained child, a little shy.
I know she is really reading because, she is moving her head from side to side, using her whole head to track the words.  Even in September, this is a flag.
Certainly it is helpful to turn your whole head to see things that are to the right and to the left of your body.  Knowing what is on either side of you is essential when walking, running, driving, and doing other activities.  When you are reading, though, turning your head is an unnecessarily large movement which does not serve you as a reader.  One of the things you must do as you read, obviously, is to track words from left to right across a page, interpreting the black squiggles as letters which make sounds which make words in some indefinable way inside her brain.  But the page is not very wide, and moving your head as you read is, at the very least, inefficient. 
It is actually not a terrible thing to move your head if you are five or six but it is not a good habit to get into.  Every year Valerie will have to read more in school; moving her head will make her tired, and reading will not be fun.  She will also not be fluent enough: moving her head takes more time; she must learn to read ever faster to keep up.
I want Valerie to hold her head steady while she reads, and to move only her eyes.  Her eyes must learn to move independently from the movement of her head. So I will routinely do exercises with her, as she reads with me, to convince her to keep her head still and move only her eyes to track print.

Try  BEANIE BABY to start with.... 
            If a child continues to move his head back and forth as he follows the pencil or other item back and forth, first tell him he can’t move his head. If the head is still turning as the child reads, put a Beanie Baby on his head to stabilize it.  Sometimes (with children older than seven – they are embarrassed), I use a beanbag instead.  Any small stuffed creature will do, but my favorites are Beanie Babies because they are usually just the right size to balance on a primary head.
            Children should be able to track without moving the head by age 6.
For the first few times you ask her to read with a doll on her head, she will laugh and wonder if you are out of your mind.  If she turns her head, though, the creature will fall off.  Having it there, providing proprioceptive input, will build an awareness of keeping her head still while she reads.  To become a competent reader, it is absolutely necessary to acquire this efficiency, the efficiency of not moving.  Sometimes a little pressure on the top of the head helps – I am not sure why – and will help her develop a habit of not moving her head.   (If you have lice issues in your school, put the dog or the beanbag in a plastic bag overnight every night.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Education - poem


Is not a science, although
            Investigation can play a part

Is not a craft, although
            Organization can play a part

Education is an art
            Inspiration and constant revision

New Blog!

It's Here.  Who would have thunk it?  Wicked cool.