Monday, 17 August 2015

The Perils of "Growth Mindset" Education

"An awful lot of schooling still consists of making kids cram forgettable facts into short-term memory. And the kids themselves are seldom consulted about what they’re doing, even though genuine excitement about (and proficiency at) learning rises when they’re brought into the process, invited to search for answers to their own questions and to engage in extended projects. Outstanding classrooms and schools — with a rich documentary record of their successes — show that the quality of education itself can be improved. But books, articles, TED talks, and teacher-training sessions devoted to the wonders of adopting a growth mindset rarely bother to ask whether the curriculum is meaningful, whether the pedagogy is thoughtful, or whether the assessment of students’ learning is authentic (as opposed to defining success merely as higher scores on dreadful standardized tests)." Alfie Kohn: "The Perils of "Growth-Mindset" Education: Why we're trying to fix our kids when we should be fixing the system"

Challenging my Perception of Reading

Recently I have been challenged about my perception of reading. The truth is: I love books. I love reading, and always have done. I was the kind of kid who had six books sitting on my bedside table in various stages of progress, and would read under the bedclothes at night. And I have always wanted my boys to enjoy books too, reading to them faithfully pretty much every day of their lives. The reason is that I truly believe their lives will be the richer for being readers. I cannot imagine living without the forays into other worlds that great books provide. I cannot imagine not engaging with all the wonderful characters that inhabit my imagination as a result of extensive reading. English was always by leaps and bounds my favourite subject at school, and the area in which I excelled. But it is also true to say that my formal study of literature slowly destroyed some of the pleasure I derived from books. After achieving an A grade in A-Level English Literature, I was utterly fed up with tearing apart books I loved and over-analysing characterisation and author intention. For that reason I decided not to take my formal English studies any further and studied something new and different at University. I have never wanted my boys to be forced to read so much that there is no joy in it.

Recently, though, I have been challenged about my attitude towards reading, my prejudice towards it. It has gradually dawned on me, though it may seem glaringly obvious really, that not everyone is as enamoured with books as I am, that there are people around me who do live happy and successful lives without this literary dimension. I live with one: My husband is not a reader. And last summer, when we had a builder working on our house, I asked him about books he had enjoyed in an attempt to get some recommendations for my sons. He confessed, "I only read my first book last year - and that was only because my wife insisted!" Well! I was flabbergasted. Yet, here are these men to whom reading is simply not important. And the thing about this realisation is that it has made me analyse what I value, and the way I regard activities my boys engage in, whether consciously or subconsciously. Do they have to be reading or looking at books for it to count as real learning? Well, of course not. It's just that in some deep part of myself I wish so much that they would. Much to my disappointment, the two eldest are not great readers. Does that make them - or their choice of other passions and pastimes - disappointing to me? It shouldn't, should it? That is why this article "Addicted Generations" challenges me so deeply. It is a timely reminder not to cast my eye so disapprovingly towards my gaming son, who now talks about pursuing a career in technology. Just because it is not my passion doesn't mean I cannot encourage him to pursue his chosen path wholeheartedly. Who knows, in this new digital age, how far it may take him?

“Imagine a little girl reading her book intensely. While she reads, she can tune out everything around her. She reads under her covers with a flashlight. She reads in her bath. She walks on the street reading her book, likely bumping against a pedestrian. She spends every extra dime she has on books. She is never without a book or two in her bag. She would like to read at the dinner table if her parents let her … Most people I know will react to this girl with an automatic approving and wistful smile. How bright! How intelligent! How curious! How gifted! I was that girl.”
“How do people react to gamers who are as passionate about games as book lovers are about books? Negative, prejudiced and stereotyped. It is almost a fashion to bash gamer children and their irresponsible parents who are bad for letting their children be glued to the screen.”
“My son is also talented and passionate about many other things. … He loves to spend time with his family. He is not isolated from us. In fact, every game he wins or loses, the first person he shares and critiques with is me, his ‘mother’. No, not all teen gamers want to run away from their family, wear black, and start shooting at strangers. He loves his extended family and is close to his cousins … When you characterize gaming negatively as an addiction, remind yourself that the opposite of addiction is connection. If you see a child who is gaming, connect with them. Engage with their passion as you would engage with a child who is pursuing passions approved by the society. Get to know them and then tell me that a gamer child is disconnected, antisocial, and a danger to the civil society.” #nexstep2nirvana

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Seabirds on Skomer

In recent years we have enjoyed watching the seasonal wildlife series from the BBC - Springwatch, Autumn Watch, Winter Watch. These programmes have stirred our fascination with British wildlife, and on several holidays we have tried in vain to spot seals and dolphins in our coastal waters, usually at just the wrong time of year. So it was wonderful to find a late-June visit to Pembrokeshire coincided with puffin nesting season. Excitedly we arrived at the nearby boat departure point for the Island of Skomer, which we had become familiar with seeing on our TV screens, and set off in search of seabirds. Well, with our track record, we thought we might be lucky and see a few. How delighted we were, as the small boat approached the island, to find ourselves surrounded by puffins, bobbing on the water and flying overhead with their funny little orange feet sticking out beneath them. Charming little clown-like penguins! Disembarking, we spent the day walking around the beautiful isle, and saw not only more puffins, right at our feet guarding their burrows in their hundreds, but guillemots, oyster catchers, fulmers and razorbills. The boys enjoyed watching and photographing the puffins, particularly.

Skomer is home to 50% of the world's population of Manx Shearwaters, and our smallest son was upset that the only birds of this species we saw were dead ones, many of them, hunted in their burrows by predatory gulls. On an evening boat ride later in the week, I was able to report back to him my sighting of thousands of "manxies" - alive and well -gathering offshore to return to the island after dark having spent the day fishing out at sea. Skimming along in our boat beside the flock was, indeed, an amazing experience, and I felt very novice with my standard Canon camera alongside all the birding experts who were thrilled to see this rare species in such numbers.

As well as a week on Wales' stunning beaches, our boys' love and understanding of native sea bird species was stirred in an unforgettable way - and resulted in some great pictures, and some beautiful artwork too!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Not necessarily a bad parent

"Taking your child out of school doesn't necessarily make you a bad parent"

Well, phew .... I breathe a sigh of relief reading the title of this article from The Guardian, which concludes: "The trouble is, an education system that knows the grade of everything and the value of nothing is an education system that has forgotten what education is for. How can education foster creative and inquiring minds when disagreeing with what educators think is best has become a crime? It’s great to do well at school, get good grades, go to university and join a useful profession. But it’s dreadful to insist that families and children who don’t fit that mould, and think other things are important too, are inferior, wrong and in need of punishment."
"Here, Here," Deborah Orr!

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Tuesday, 4 August 2015

3 year old independence

Recently my three year old has become a lot more independent. He is simply able to do a lot more for himself - from reaching things to toileting, feeding to dressing himself. He delights in doing things without help - often insisting loudly, "I can do it myself!" And he is asserting himself with his older brothers, too. In recent months some friends have asked me whether he will be going to nursery, and I have been considering it. I have heard friends say how independent their three year old has become 'since starting nursery' and I worry that my boy will be missing out on some crucial and foundational educational process if I do not enrol him in September. The interesting thing is observing that three year olds become more independent. Could it be that this happens because of their stage of development - with or without nursery? My little son and I have talked about whether he wants to go to nursery or not. He has strong opinions. We have visited a number of local nurseries together to check out the opportunities on offer. One of them had an awesome pirate ship climbing frame which my son thought was a great attraction. But none of them have blown me away. In fact none of them really seem to offer anything better than home - and some of them, far less. In some, I have surveyed the crowd of little faces looking up to greet us and just felt sad. Sad that we parents are told repeatedly that these 'settings' are the best places for our tiny children, that we come to believe they are better separated from us, that this is necessary for their development. I'm not convinced. I know that there are many situations where parents need to put their children into childcare, and I know too that there are many super nurseries where staff work hard and children are well looked after. My three older sons all went to nursery and had many positive experiences there. But we ought not to be led to believe that this is the best and only course for us as parents. We have decided my smallest son will not go to nursery. He will just continue learning, playing and growing at home with his older brothers. Some people might say that choice is a luxury and whilst, in some ways, I know that I am fortunate to be at home with the boys, it is just that - a choice. Whether our children are in nursery or not, as they grow in independence, we can all find ways to give them more of ourselves, our time, our attention, our company and conversation, to build those strong relational foundations, that sense of belonging, from which small children can step out and explore the world. Whether our children are at home or at school, giving them more of ourselves - especially when we are all tired and grumpy - is continually the greatest challenge of all.

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Monday, 3 August 2015

Technology Club

My husband has talked for so long about starting a STEM club (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) and these are subject areas which are far more his areas of interest and expertise than mine. The problem is, with work commitments, he never has the time or the energy. So, earlier this year, I decided I needed to start a technology club myself. My main motivation was the fact that I needed to do these type of projects with the boys because of their interest in these areas. And I figured I'd be more likely to actually do these things if I started a club and we joined with others to motivate us. My inspiration came from Caroline Alliston's "Technology for Fun". I had met Caroline at The Big Bang Fair one year, and our former home education group had started a group which we attended a few times before we moved away. My eldest son never wanted to follow the instructions, though - preferring to take the projects in his own direction. So I wanted my club to encourage the children to work independently by keeping the tasks open-ended and allowing them to run with them in their own way, working on their own or with friends, and helping one another. I decided to run the club at home and, therefore, numbers needed to remain quite small. Having put the word out on local networks, the club has involved four families besides ourselves - fourteen children aged 4-14.

The advantage of being at home is that we can use the tools which we have in our shed, and my eldest son delights in helping everyone use the tools they are not familiar with. At the beginning, I purchased a couple of Caroline's books, and decided to start with Technology for Fun 2, which seemed to have some good projects for our mixed age and ability group. I asked parents to buy a technology kit for each child, based on the kit list in the book, and easily ordered from Spiratronics at reasonable cost. (I think I spent about £20.00 on kits for my three boys.) I set up a closed Facebook group so that, in advance of each session, I can post other items we need to collect for our next project - bottle tops, pizza bases, cardboard boxes or whatever. Most of the items have been easy to collect or to source at very low cost.

So began some great times of learning - crazy, chaotic, noisy times ... but great fun. I have loved seeing the children tackle each project with such enthusiasm and confidence. I give them a brief introduction at the start of the session, and then they take the instructions and off they all go - in various directions. It is great to see them figure things out in pairs or groups, and to tackle problems together to tweak and improve their model if it isn't quite working. And, in some ways, us Mums being learners too has helped because the children take the lead. Quite often, one or more Dads have been able to come and join in. And, best of all, after an hour or so, each child has a unique creation, which demonstrates how they have taken the project and put their own stamp on it. Often, their creativity has exceeded my own imagination, or they have taken the project forward in a way I could not have imagined. Such an easy thing to organise, really, with such great results for autonomous learning. Why not start a group yourself?

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