Term 3. Ugh.
Ugh – I can hear you groaning. The thought of going back to school can give you a physical pain.
My advice is to be gentle with yourself. Especially in the first few weeks. Try to get home early, try to carve out a little more space for YOU. Don’t let the beast grab you by the throat (until at least week 3).
And if you feel a little edgy about relaxing your way into the term, if you’re one of those people who feels like you should be doing something, well here’s something relaxing you can be doing. If you didn’t catch the ABC’s four part series called Revolution School, you really must watch it. It made me think about lots of things and I’ve got a heap of questions resulting from my viewing.
- If academics (Hattie, Snowball, Rogers) mentoring teachers could have such a great effect on a school why don’t we do more of this?
- When did Kambrya teachers do the work related to Teacher Standards and if standards are so important, why wasn’t this featured more in the series?
- Were there any renegade staff who weren’t on board with the changes implemented and opposed the trajectory the College was travelling along?
- What would this series look like if it was in a Primary School setting?
- What things did the school ‘ditch’ in order to adopt new programs such as the Positive Psychology Wellbeing Program?
I think that even just watching, thinking about and reflecting on programs like this adds something to ourselves as teachers. We do so much of our work in isolation – despite the fact that we’re meant to be shifting to team teaching and collective learning experiences and all that good stuff. I know I still feel very much alone in my work as a teacher. Being able to look at others teaching and then potentially discuss it with others is a rich and productive experience for me.
I can also say the same for my beloved series Offspring. I recommend this for the sheer ridiculous hilarity, great fashion and convoluted plot lines. If you need your mind to be taken OFF teaching – then that’s the show for you.
Happy Term 3, soldiers. See you on the front line.
Things I’ve Said This Week
Every now and then I hear myself saying things out loud while the voice inside my head is frowning and saying Seriously? You’re seriously saying that out loud? Of course this contrary juxtaposition of verbalisation versus cognitive process is always always ALWAYS prompted by my kids. It’s fair to say my kids make me say dumb things, strange things, unusual things. They make me say things that should never be said.
Here are my best examples from this week. Things I’ve said, while my brain listens with disbelief.
- “I’m not sure if Noah invited unicorns onto the ark.”
- “Well, they say elephants never forget and I’ve heard people joke that goldfish can’t even remember swimming around their goldfish bowls. But I can’t comment on the memory of a Blue Whale and I certainly don’t know which animal has the best memory.”
- “Can you please just get dressed instead of standing around wet and naked and playing the cat like it’s a banjo?”
- “It is 5:30am on a Thursday in the school holidays. Why are you awake and out of bed?”
- “Don’t shove the cat up your poncho.”
So – don’t leave me out here hanging. Listen carefully this week and gather some of your own and share them here, so we can all shake our heads together!
Grocery Shopping With the Kids. (Alternate Title: Kill Me Now)
Shopping with the kids is an exquisite kind of torture. It costs me $4 before entering the supermarket to get the requisite sausage sizzle which is being sold by boy scouts or ballroom dancers or hot-rod racers – always an organisation my daughters have little to no connection with. Within minutes of entering the supermarket, the sausage is sliding down aisle two and somebody is crying. I gain six minutes of alone shopping time while the kids go back out to buy another sausage – but that does cost me another $2.
I always trawl through the aisles first, leaving dairy, breads, meats, fruit and vege until last. I really should change this because these are the essential items I go in to buy. But by the time I’m going around the all important ‘periphery’, my kids are wild and crazy playing an engaging game of tips that involves all kinds of rules associated with the black and white checks on the periphery’s floor. Somewhere near the mince I always seem to be making a speech that goes like this:
“Girls – stop! Can you see any swings around here? Can you see any trees? Is there grass? No – that’s right. It’s not a park. It’s not a playground. It’s a supermarket. We don’t run and leap about and chase around in here.”
Sometimes in the throes of this speech other parents cruise by with toddlers in their trolleys or kids dragging behind them. I always thought they were detouring past me so their kids would catch a whiff of my lecture. Now that I type this and think about it, I realise their trolleys are empty and they are probably trying to send me an important parenting signal. “Do this area first dude!” They are probably trying to say. “Save this lecture for the privacy of aisle 3.” Hmmm – mental note – conduct parenting experiment and shop in reverse. Note effects. If any.
I always know when we are precisely mid-way through the shopping experience because somebody will need to use the toilet. It doesn’t matter if we went before we left. I wonder sometimes what’s in the sausages. The supermarket toilet is a skanky place. And I’ve seen every supermarket toilet within a forty kay radius of my house. It’s true for all of them. My kids seem completely unaware of the germs and filth that welcome us as we all shuffle into the cubicle while our abandoned trolley is left in aisle 5. They actively try to touch every surface and they are always shocked when there’s no paper towel in the dispenser. Seriously.
Back in the supermarket I will occasionally run into a friend I haven’t seen in forever or a friend I really need to speak to. This is a situation I both love and loathe in equal measure. There’s nothing that brightens the coma of shopping quite like a quick goss with a mate. On the flip side, my kids hear the words “Hey Gab – great to see you,” as a direct translation to “On your marks, get set, GO!” They will race up and down aisles, do circle work around me and my friend, hit the deli up for a free frank, find the Free Fruit For Kids stash and stock up. The youngest has recently added stealing the mushroom bags to her ‘when mum’s not watching’ repertoire.
My kids love the check outs. They like self-serve or real person in equally. If we go for a real person, my kids engage them in conversation and some poor gap-year 18 year old looks at me with a pained expression and says something to Sophie like “I’m not sure what colour most unicorns are.” Alternatively, they may provide running commentary on the goods we are purchasing. “We’ve just got a cat. This is for his kitty litter tray. He peed on our bean bag last night and mum said a bad word. We’re going home to make cupcakes it’s just easier from the box mum says. We’re getting this play doh for my friend’s birthday….” Blah blah blah. Sometimes the real person is a delightful older person who appreciates the running commentary and seems to really enjoy the girls’ chatter. I avoid those types though because they seem to scan more slowly, trying to draw out their time with us like a wistful wannabe grandparent.
If we use the self-serve it is a definite “special occasion”. The kids are drawn to that machine like bugs to a flood light. They can find a barcode within seconds and I realised the other day I was in about Year 9 commerce before I realised what a barcode even was! They talk to the automated voice. Yep. Let’s just sit with that for a moment.
So they figure the voice on the machine is a lady named Vanessa. They believe she is Siri’s sister. The process goes something like this. Scan, dump, chatter. Repeat. By the time all the groceries have been chucked through, I am frantically bagging stuff reminiscent of an Aldi experience but a lot more expensive. The girls raid my wallet and try to insert coins, then insert notes and then insert card. It is a very stressful experience for me and I have to guard my PIN closely.
As we left the supermarket the other day, the youngest scabbed an onion bag from the checkout bin. I gathered up our millions of dollars worth of groceries and turned around to find her wearing it as a mask and looking like some sort of fishnet ninja. I stopped and took a photo. Because what else can you do?
Why I have a crush on Jane Caro.
Did you catch ABC’s The Drum last week? Of course you didn’t because it’s on at five thirty and you were either in a meeting, driving home, marking essays, pinning up kids work or slapping up something that resembles dinner before sitting down to finish reports.
Anyway – you can catch it here and I recommend you watch it. Fantastic!
Jane Caro spoke with passion and I’ve taken the time to note down her best comments here. If I could put them on t-shirts and coffee mugs and tote bags and bumper stickers I would. Jane for Education Minister.
“We don’t have a problem with the quality of our teachers. I think we have to be really careful how we talk about teachers because frankly if politicians had set out 30 years ago to systematically destroy the morale of the teaching profession they couldn’t have done a better job and if you can think of something that would more damage the results of students than to drive down the morale of the people who teach them, I’d like to hear it! I think perhaps we could slate home some of our declining results in fact to the declining morale of the teaching profession.
Every time someone uses that pernicious term “quality teachers” they should have to go and wash their mouth out with soap. We have human beings who decide they want to be teachers. Some of them will be brilliant. Some of them will be very very good. Some of them will be adequate. Like journalists. Like politicians. Like lawyers. Like doctors. We have human beings.
And sometimes a brilliant teacher might go through a divorce and not be so good for a few years. Damn these teachers – they’re like the kids, they’re human beings… they don’t fit these models where we pour the money in and think we can turn them into “this”! Sometimes having a not so great teacher is a really good experience because if you expect your kids to walk out there and always have an understanding and emotionally nurturing boss surrounded by supportive and never interfering colleagues you are living in cloud cuckoo land. We needs kids to be resilient.
Teachers are human beings. We need to give them more professional development. We need to give them more time to hone their teaching skills and to enjoy being a teacher in a classroom. We need to stop ramping up accountability with performance standards that drive good teachers out because they’ll have to fill in forms instead of coming up with creative lessons.”
Jane Caro. ABC’s The Drum. June 14th 2016
I have two daughters. And they both like to talk. (Please don’t make some comment like “I wonder where they get that from?” It’s not as funny as you might think. Plus I’ve heard it before.)
My life is in a constant state of conversation and unless you have experienced it, you truly can’t understand completely. Occasionally we have to ‘pause’ conversations so that we can go do the groceries, or go to sleep, or go to a birthday party. The convo resumes after that event. Some of the most savage fights my girls have are over whose turn it is to talk. The people who seem to notice it most are my friends who have only boys in their home. They say my girls are noisy, full on and loud – but they don’t mean it in a wild and busy kind of way, they mean it in a chattery, vocal kind of way.
Here are some snippets:
- The Old Lady
Context: As I was leaving the Woolies car park, I had noticed an old lady walking along. As I shifted my car into reverse, I was conscious of not running over said lady.
“Where’s that old lady?” I mutter as I shift in my seat and reverse out of the car park.
“What old lady?” Sophie asks.
“I don’t know, Soph.” I inch the car back, making owl movements with my head trying to spot the old lady.
“But what’s her name?” Sophie insists.
“I don’t know.” Shift into first gear, nudge forward. “If I knew her name I’d say ‘where’s Margaret?’ But I don’t know her name so I just said ‘where’s that old lady?’ I was just thinking out loud so I didn’t reverse over her.” I flick the indicator on and give way.
“But who is she?” Sophie asks.
I cannot stifle an exasperated sigh. “You don’t need to worry about it Soph. You don’t need to worry about it.”
- The Thai Restaurant
Context: Two seconds after The Old Lady conversation.
“Thai Restaurant.” Olivia announces looking thoughtfully out the car window. “It looks like thigh. Thigh Restaurant.” She giggles. “Imagine that… a thigh restaurant.”
- Pig Catching
Context: I had bought a rolled leg of ham to cut for school sandwiches. The girls were watching me peel away the netting.
“Oh wow,” Sophie drawls. “Look at that. That’s so cool. What is that meat anyway?”
“It’s ham,” I say, slicing into it.
“And it’s in a net because that’s how you catch a pig,” explains Liv.
- Cool numbers
Context: Over breakfast.
“Mum?” Soph asks – possibly as an attempt to avoid her weet-bix.
“How do you write eighteen?”
“It’s a one and then an eight. That’s eighteen.” I write the digits in the air.
“No,” Soph says. “How do you write it with the letters.”
I frown – eight is always tricky to spell – and then begin the spelling out. “E-i-g-h-t-double e- n.”
“Could you write that down for me?” she asks.
“Yes – after your breakfast. Why do you want it written down like that?”
“I just want to know how to write cool numbers like that. You know eighteen, thirteen, ones like that.”
Context: We got a new cat. A kitten. Do I regret it? Yes. Do the kids love it? Yes. Rock, hard place. We’ve all done it.
Me: “Hey Olivia did you tell your friend Lyssa about the kitten? She really likes cats doesn’t she?”
Olivia: “Yeah – she married her cat.”
- Cat Talk
Context: Sophie carries the new kitten around like a clutch bag. The other day I came in to find it wrapped around her neck like those foxes women wore fifty years ago. She had secured the poor thing by holding it’s legs and he was yowling his head off. I am repeatedly telling Sophie “Put him down, he’s trying to tell you no!” This was a similar context – Sophie was holding the cat and the animal was meowing and squirming in no uncertain terms.
“Soph,” I said in my most firm but patient tone. “Put the cat down! He’s telling you NO. Trust me. I can speak cat.”
“Me too,” adds Olivia. “And I can also speak imaginary friend.”
Context: A long car conversation had ensued about God, Heaven, what happens when we die, what happens before we are born, where our spirit goes and what our spirit is. These conversations always involve a fair bit of me trying to wrap things up with “Yep, it’s all a great mystery” and the girls firing questions – each one more existential than the last.
“What I believe,” Olivia says with authority, “what I believe* is that stars in the night are little holes that lead to heaven.”
It is a beautiful thought and for a moment we are all silent. Then she adds…
“And the blue sky is like heaven’s lake. And if you die on a cloudy day like today you need to find a patch of blue to get through to heaven.”
Sophie thinks. Then adds: “And you turn up and God goes ‘You’re all wet!’”
The constant conversation sometimes makes my ears bleed, but if I take the time to listen I’m always guaranteed a laugh or some insight into the amazing ways these little girls are understanding and experiencing their world.
But seriously, when I fall into bed at around 11pm, I can still hear them talking – even in their sleep.
*yes – she repeats things for effect – she should be on Q&A
Choose Your Own Adventure
Here’s an excerpt from the talk I gave at the recent Teacher Development Network Meeting held by the Catholic Education offices of NSW.
Basically my opinion on the Professional Teaching Standards. Let me know what you think. (Remember this is a short excerpt from a much larger piece.)
The story I want to share with you today is a choose your own adventure. Can you remember those books that kept us flicking backward and forward? Making choices and regretting decisions, reading and re-reading to find out what if? We called them pick-a-path books and as a young reader they made me feel both completely in control and completely out of it.
Each day I’ve spent in a Primary, Catholic classroom has been a choose your own adventure. Possible titles may have included:
Staying Alive – a week with Kindergarten – have you caught the virus?
Herding Cats – a day with Stage 1 – how many will you bring home?
Twelve Going on 22 – Stage 3 dramas, traumas and proformas – who will you share your camp cabin with?
But today’s Choose Your Own Adventure I could call:
What really matters to me as a teacher? Professional Standards or Personal Ethics – how do I determine what matters?
You’re adventure begins at 8am. Fully charged with coffee you’re standing in the classroom preparing madly for the day ahead. Nerves jiggle in your stomach as you glance at the clock. The external observation is happening today. You’ve worked tirelessly for several years to reach this point. You’ve collected evidence, you’ve documented, you’ve been refereed and you survived that awkward moment where you had to go back to that one particular referee and explain to them that they hadn’t addressed the standards. You’ve missed many a family gathering to create this work. You haven’t been to bed before midnight since the Christmas stand down period. Secretly a part of you is just over it – you’re sure you’ve learnt something through the process but at times you’re not even certain what it is. You shake your head and straighten the resources on your desk. Time to focus. But then, you notice Mrs Zanthet walking past your classroom window. You take a sharp breath in. Mrs Zanthet is a single mum and she often comes to school seeking money under the guise of a medical emergency. As she walks in your door, you glance over her shoulder and hope the External Observer isn’t arriving. Mrs Zanthet holds a hand over her mouth and with a gummy voice explains that she’s had a dental emergency. She asks you for fifty bucks.
If you tell Mrs Zanthet that she’s lying go to page 30 and lose your job.
If you palm Mrs Zanthet off to the teacher next door, go to page 27 and lose your colleague’s respect.
If you offer to escort Mrs Zanthet down to the office where the Principal can help her access the correct support services, read on and know that you’re a good teacher.
After walking Mrs Zanthet down to the office and after reassuring her repeatedly that you don’t think she’s a flaming idiot, you make a dash back to your classroom. You really want to get the SMART board switched on and calibrated and check that the interactive screens you stayed up preparing last night on your laptop. You hope they will work on the classroom PC. But just as you are clearing the last door of the warren that is the admin building, the AP calls your name. Elouise is warm and thoughtful as a colleague, consistent and patient with the students and you have seen her deliver lessons that are engaging and productive. The school is lucky that she came on board six months ago. Even so, Elouise has raised the bar and there’s a pressure that throbs through the air whenever she takes the floor at staff meeting.
“How are you?” Elouise touches your arm and smiles brightly.
You make a face, admit you’re feeling nervous.
“You’ll be fine,” Elouise is full of confidence. “Have you decided about Brian?” she asks.
You shrug and feel the familiar pulse of anxiety behind your breastbone.
Brian is the one – the student that Glen Capelli would describe as the tiger in your classroom, the one that Sue Larkey would diagnose as being on the spectrum, the one that Bill Rogers was thinking of when he wrote every single one of his behaviour management books, the one who Father Mick (the Parish Priest) says has been sent to test you, the one who Andrew Fuller would describe as The Negotiator and Steve Biddulph would recognise as under-fathered. Brian’s from a low-socio-economic family, didn’t attend pre-school, still cannot read and struggles endlessly to make any progress. So far he has come up just short of being eligible for funding of any description. You suspect some kind of expressive or receptive language disorder – or perhaps the effects of something sadder and more sinister like foetal alcohol syndrome. And whilst the better part of you feels great compassion for Brian, his endless oppositional behaviour, swearing, aggression and blatant disrespect for you means that you have also had some less than Catholic thoughts about him.
Elouise had suggested that Brian be removed from the class for today’s External Observation. The idea – as tempting as red wine and chocolates at four pm on a Friday afternoon – tugs at something bigger and more earnest within you. The idea rankles. It’s at odds. It doesn’t ‘fit’ with the notion of an accomplished teacher. And it doesn’t fit with your personal teaching philosophy.
But then you remember this morning as you left the house. You can see your partner’s face as they wished you luck, you remember their embrace and the talk of a holiday. It’s a holiday you’ve longed for, and the pay rise will cover it, but in order to get the pay rise, the standard needs to be achieved. A flash of uncertainty folds through you and you frown – surely Brian Kobrook isn’t standing between you and a holiday.
If you start dreaming of pina coladas and agree to ship Brian off to Elouise’s office with a folder full of busy work, turn to page 100 and tuck your tail between your legs as you do so.
If you admit to Elouise that you said a full round of the Rosary last night just praying that Brian might have his first day off in eighteen months, turn to page 101.
If you take a deep breath and reassure Elouise that you’d like to keep Brian with your class, knowing you have fifty management strategies in place and a secret stash of jelly beans for bribery turn to page 99 and know that if Brian was capable of thanking you – he would.
As you power walk to your classroom, you pass Meredith who’s out on morning playground duty. She gives you a huge smile and an encouraging wave.
“Today’s the big day isn’t it?” You nod and she rushes over with open arms to hug you. “You’ll nail it,” she says looking you in the eye. “And just think of the celebration you can have tonight once it’s all over!” You smile and nod, but inwardly feel frustrated. It doesn’t end tonight. This is an endless and ongoing process. But it’s important – you remind yourself and watch as Meredith walks away.
Meredith is always so light hearted and happy – even on the most stressful days. She talks about the TV shows she’s addicted to and the rock climbing she enjoys on the weekends. She has been teaching for sixteen years – five more than you – and you can tell she’ll be teaching until she’s sixty… or even the requisite seventy if she can manage it. You once asked her about how she gets all her work done, how she navigates the enormous workload of red tape that accompanies teaching and more specifically the standards. She told you that she decided long ago that she was happy to remain as a stock standard proficient teacher. She said the kids were her top priority.
At the time you had thought that perhaps she was just a stock standard teacher and it was probably a good thing that she stayed at proficient level. But after a year of watching how Meredith works, you’ve grown to realise she’s an exceptional teacher. Last term she had her Kindergarten class cooking and tasting a new vegetable every Friday and later during this term, she’s organising a whole school book swap bonanza. Meredith takes the time to talk to parents after class and always has time for play ground chit chat with the children – even if she’s not on duty. Meredith has every Kindergarten student falling in love with Literacy and Numeracy by the end of Term Three. Her passion for learning is infectious. Meredith is a highly accomplished teacher. She just doesn’t have the paper trail to prove it.
Not for the first time, you question these standards that you’re pursuing like a demon, but then as you move past Meredith you notice Bernard – the school’s newest and youngest teacher – in the Library. He looks upset… again.
If you decide to stop by the Library and check on your colleague turn the page.
If you decide to scuttle off with eyes downcast, turn to page 666.
And that’s where the adventure ends… for now. Let me know your thoughts….
The Five Whys
Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?
The Five Whys is a great tool to have up your sleeve.
It promotes deep thought, critical thinking, concentration, creativity and thought development. The best thing is that you don’t need to prepare anything!
Here’s how 5 Whys works.
Present a statement, idea or image that students should consider. Something that can be framed with the question WHY?
“Households should be fined if they don’t recycle.”
“Refugees should go back to where they came from.”
“Kids should be allowed to vote for our government.”
“All schools should have exams every day.”
Ask students to respond by explaining why.
Then, ask them to reflect for a moment on the answer/ response they gave and then ask again WHY?
Repeat five times!
So – how do you structure this so that students get maximum learning? There are a few ways:
- they can journal each of their five why responses
- they can pair up or work in small groups with one student being the responder and the other/s asking “why?”
- you can invite one student to respond, as the questions get harder you can ask them to invite a friend to help them
Here’s an example that could prompt a writing task.
Statement on board – Goldilocks is really a villain. Why?
Student A “Because she breaks into the bears’ home and wrecks their stuff.”
Student B “Why?”
Student A “I don’t know. Maybe she was homeless.”
Student B “Why?”
Student A “Hmm – maybe she ran away from home.”
Student B “Why?”
Student A “Ummm…”
Student C might jump in: “I know, I know – she might have been locked up by pirates and she’s trying to get home.”
Student B “Why?”
Student C “Because she doesn’t want to be a pirate. She wants to be an interior designer. That’s why she was testing out all the bears’ stuff!”
Student B “Why?”
Student C “She’s got lots of talent with furniture and she’s creative! She could probably do a redesign on the Three Little Pigs’ houses.”
And from there, you could ask students to write Goldilocks’s back story or her future… what happened after she left the bears’ house? See how the five whys prompts thought and even creativity?
Conduct a science experiment then ask “What can we conclude from this experiment?”
Student D “That the sun makes ice melt.”
Student D “Because the sun’s hot.”
Student D “It’s a ball of fire, a ball of gas actually.”
Student D “Because it exploded, gas exploded. I think that’s right.”
Teacher chooses to stop there – detecting uncertainty and therefore assessing what student knows and understands about the concept – possibly making a note of student’s understandings ready to address next lesson.
Teacher “Okay – so maybe we’re not certain on why the sun is hot but we all agree the sun melts things because the sun is hot. Who has a different conclusion from this experiment? And who is ready for me to challenge their conclusion using the five whys of torture!?”
The five whys are great for preparing debates, expositions, arguments and advertisements. You can make them fun, serious, creative and even like a game.
Here are some fun statements:
“Teachers should be allowed to swap their lunch for a student’s lunch.”
“Schools should have water slides.”
“All classes should have a pet cat or pet dog.”
“Burgers are better than pizzas.”
“People who are left handed have a better personality than people who are right handed.”
So, my teaching friends, tuck the Five Whys gemstone into your bag of tricks and give it a go when you get the chance. You can be flexible with it – teaching tools work best when you wrangle them to suit your style and your class.
Let me know how you go…
The Think Board
The ThinkBoard is one of my favourite tools because it’s so versatile. It’s a simple ‘thought organiser’ – basically just four boxes, but the power of this tool lies in the fact that it asks students to represent their understandings in multiple ways. And that’s when we start to see evidence of a deep conceptual understanding. And isn’t that what we’re on about as teachers? Trying to get our students to show us what they know in as many ways as they can?
So a ThinkBoard looks roughly like this:
Don’t stress – I’ll attach a PDF Thinkboard_template that you can print off.
In the middle you can put the question you want students to solve or the idea you want them to represent or you might get them to write their name.
In the other four areas, students represent their ideas/ answers/ responses in different ways.
I use the following basic ‘guide’ – but you can come up with your own.
1 quadrant is a written response
1 quadrant is a drawing / symbolic response
1 quadrant is a ‘making’ or creative response
1 quadrant is any other way of representing an idea
Let me share some examples and ideas:
Okay – so after doing some work on creating a fair share and how we allocate things evenly I worked with students in small groups to represent their ideas on a ThinkBoard. I took a photo (see how I put their name tag nearby – I’m a thinker!) and hey presto – assessment evidence all collected.
Quadrant 1 – they were given a blob of green play-dough and asked to show a fair share
Quadrant 2 – they were given a tub of plastic teddies and asked to show a fair share
Quadrant 3 – I drew ‘trays’ and asked the students to show a fair share of counters (I was able to manipulate this to offer extension thus differentiating!)
Quadrant 4 – I scribed for students after asking them to tell me something they know about how to do a fair share.
So – how could you use this in your classroom?
Here are some random ideas from me:
Have students consider the book they are reading or the novel you are enjoying as a class. Think about the main character. In quadrant one, find four websites the main character would like. In quadrant two, draw the main character. In quadrant three compose a ‘tweet’ the character might compose to describe his/her latest predicament. In quadrant four, suggest what might be coming next in the story.
After studying insect life cycles in Science, provide students with large A3 ThinkBoards. In quadrant one, have them draw the life cycle. Quadrant two, have them write the cycle in words. Quadrant three, have them represent the cycle using other materials maybe play-dough, fabric, cardboard, pipe cleaners etc. Quadrant four, suggest that they are given magic powers to be able to ‘talk to the animals’ for just one day. What questions would they ask their insect?
Use laminated A4 ThinkBoards. Give each child a board with a number you’ve written in the centre (here’s your chance to differentiate). Challenge them to represent that number in four different ways! Some kids will just run with that. For others you might suggest:
Quadrant 1: write it in words
Quadrant 2: draw that number of flowers or lollypops
Quadrant 3: find that number of small objects that can fit in the space (eg paperclips, toothpicks, counters, beads etc)
Quadrant 4: list all the places where you might see that number
ThinkBoards are the bomb! They’re the never-fail, keep ’em thinking, not so boring, very-little-preparation kind of tool that brings real learning into our classrooms. What I enjoyed most about ThinkBoards was the opportunity for delicious ‘teachable moments’ that were unique to each child – and the same with feedback!
So – hit the photocopier. Run off a class set of a4 size and laminate. When nobody’s looking, do an A3 set as well! Print a heap on plain paper, both A4 and A3 size and just keep them kicking around near your desk. Next time you find yourself contemplating a lesson that’s going to be kinda boring… consider the ThinkBoard. Chances are you’ll think of a way to make to it work!
So this week I’ve really thrown myself into my new novel on Post-Natal Depression (relax, it’s not as bleak as it sounds). I’m trying to crack open the theme with some humour, irony and a 4 year-old. I thought perhaps you might enjoy a little sneak peak at the work in progress. Now, keep in mind that for an author putting drafts out in public feels a little like walking around naked. So you all better give me some uplifting feedback (or this novel will get real depressing, real quick!)
Okay – here goes…
DRAFT: Mummy’s Just Losing Her Mind excerpt (C) GJ STROUD 2016
It is breakfast and today’s topic of conversation is dogs. Abby is talking about them relentlessly, each breathless word punctuated by the blobby slurp of weetbix.
“Cats don’t like to swim. Dogs like to swim though. Most dogs. They like to swim but they don’t like getting a bath. Monty likes to swim, doesn’t he? He likes it when we throw a stick and he jumps in to get it and swims it back to us. Do you know what I dreamed about last night Mummy?”
“What?” I spoon gluggy weetbix into baby Liddy’s mouth.
“I dreamed Monty could walk on just two legs. That’s what I did dream about. That our dog was a walker. A swimmer and a walker. And in the dream….”
Her voice is a pneumatic drill in my head. I haven’t had enough sleep and I can’t tolerate her bright and chipper outlook. I feel hung over. That’s Motherhood: one great big hangover but no wild party the night before, no hazy memories of champagne and chardonnay, no crazy funny stories to recount. The Motherhood Hangover comes after a night of shitty old ‘wake ups’ where you put in a dummy or catch vomit or deal with wet sheets or comfort a screamer.
Lydia gives a hearty sneeze, spraying me with chunks of weetbix and a good dose of mucous. I sigh and The Little Part Of Me pangs I wish I was going to work. This is work of another kind. A work that, if it was advertised, you would say; “They couldn’t pay me enough to do that.” It is another day of Mothering.
“Mummy?” Abby pauses but only for a second. “Mummy!”
“Yes,” I blink. The Big Part Of Me takes a breath and returns to reality.
“Are we going shopping today?”
“Yep,” I smile and nod.
“Goody!” She leaps from her chair, twirling and coiling through the kitchen like a gnome doing ballet. “Can I wear a dress?”
Lyddy smiles at me and then sneezes again.
It takes two hours to get to the Newsagents. This is not because we live out of town, this is just how long it takes for the three of us to get dressed, eat breakfast, pack snacks, stock the nappy bag, eat the snacks, re-pack the snacks, get in the car, strap up, load the stroller and drive to the main street. It is nine a.m. and I am exhausted.
The newsagency is not pram friendly. For a start there are three steps up, just to get into the door. Once inside, there are forty trillion things at pram level and Lydia (who is in the pram) attempts to grab every single one of them. Fortunately, the newsagency aisles are too narrow for the pram to squeeze through. Unfortunately, this means that I have to leave Lyddy wedged between the local papers and the busty girls on Zoo magazines while Abby and I go in search of the craft supplies. Abby wants to make a card for Daddy’s birthday. We have just selected a packet of coloured cardstock when I hear Lyddy start up. It is The Little Grizzle.
“I’m just here, Lyddy,” I call out. An old man looks up at me. He is probably not judging me, but I frown at him anyway.
“Maybe we could get some stickers?” Abby is asking. She touches an overpriced plastic packet of golden stars.
“I don’t think we need those, darling. I think Daddy would like you to draw…” I trail off. Lydia is working up to The Big Grizzle. I peek over the craft display. She has pulled half a dozen local papers off the shelf and is shredding them up.
“I’ll just check on Lyddy,” I say, leaving Abby with all the glorious temptations.
I weave my way around the aisles and displays making shooshing noises to Lydia as I approach. I pinch the pram’s seatbelt buckles and drag her out, but her arm is caught. As I tug, the whole pram rises up causing more newspapers to slither to the ground.
Lydia starts to bellow. I wrangle her free from the pram, hoping I haven’t dislocated her shoulder or caused the front wheels to lock. A woman behind me is trying to get past but I have wedged the pram so firmly, the end of the aisle is completely blocked. She mutters something and walks away.
“Come on, Abs.” I call out. “Just bring your stuff. We’ve got to go.”
So what do you think? You want more? You couldn’t relate? You laughed? Smirked? Smiled?
Leave me a comment…puhleaaaaase!!
Teachers, I See You
Teachers – take heart! There are parents out there who ‘get it’, parents who support us, trust us, respect us and think we are doing a brilliant job.
Read and enjoy this beautiful piece from my new and amazing friend Amy Cox.
Teachers, I see you.
I know you chose to teach because you love children and that you take your professional responsibility very seriously. I’m sorry that in recent years your role has been reduced to bureaucratic hoop jumping that makes you feel like your competence and integrity are in question – I trust your professional judgment.
Teachers, I see you.
I know that you are required to perpetually send copious amounts of assessment data and accountability reports to Education Department officials and that while you see my child is becoming negative, stressed and withdrawn, you don’t have anything left of yourself to find out why – I believe that you want to help re-engage my child. (I also wonder what possible reason the government really “needs” all that data?)
Teachers, I see you.
I know you know that all children learn best through play and the fact they can’t sit still to “focus” on the mandated curriculum is because developmentally their need is to move, climb, run, play and investigate. Instead, despite this being backed by decades of research, political policy makers insist that you must explicitly meet literacy and numeracy targets within a set time frame. I know that you hate that you have to push a child who simply isn’t ready, because your job would be on the line if you support that child at their own pace.
Teachers, I see you.
I know your Employer Code of Conduct prevents you from questioning what you know to be morally and ethically against the core values of authentic teaching and learning. I see you putting on a brave face for children and parents.
Teachers, I see you.
I know that good Teachers feel they are failing in their professional responsibility, because a good Teacher has a heart – they are there to nurture and support the whole child: emotionally, socially, physically AND cognitively, working with each child at their level of development to help them grow. I know your hands are tied by a system that values cognitive work above all other intelligences, because it is more easily measurable by policy makers.
Teachers, I see you.
I know that you can’t speak up on behalf of children, although I know you want to. So as a parent, I will do it on your behalf.
Politicians, I see you.
I know you feel the need to be globally competitive and test scores seem to be the obvious measure. I want you to know that I think you have forgotten that we are talking about CHILDREN.
I think that your advisors don’t seem to be in touch with current research in child development and wellbeing. The mental health of our children matters. You say we want to raise a generation of innovators and creative, critical thinkers but you are STANDARDISING and testing everything to the point that kids are afraid to question, they don’t know how to play without adult direction and their creativity and confidence is eroded and their social and emotional competence is severely lacking because they are STRESSED OUT.
Children deserve a childhood. Children (of all ages) NEED to play without rigid rules that prevent them from taking healthy risks, children NEED the arts, children NEED to move a lot. These things are just as important as numeracy and literacy, but we are treating them as inferior – they are not. Our children are burning out. Teachers are burning out. Parents are picking up the pieces. Our children are being hurt. The pressure is too much.
And for what? Your ego?
Australian Education Reinventors – protecting childhood