Skills Development Takes Practice

When a child moves from the early years classroom to the primary classroom it’s very tempting for all concerned – teachers and parents – to perceive that there’s a whole lot of ‘babyish’ learning to be left behind and that now they should move on fully to the more grown up business of learning lots of ‘stuff’.

However, if that were true, then wouldn’t all adults be walking around with perfect interpersonal skills, listening to each other, being sensitive and thoughtful, sharing properly, respecting others’ property and their own, managing their emotions effectively and being nice to others.

The fact is, these are skills that take practice. One really feels for educators who have been screaming these messages from the rooftops for many many years and have hardly been listened to, swamped in the sea of pursuit of the next 1% on children’s grades.

Jenny Mosely, the originator of ‘Quality Circle Time’ has known this for a very long time and has been advocating that Circle Time was not just a valuable practice for very young children, but all the way to higher secondary.

So, it really doesn’t surprise me when I come across articles like this one:

KQED – Mindshift – The benefits of Teaching Lessons Learned In Preschool To Older Kids

I believe the article is absolutely correct to draw attention to the fact that weakness in these critical skills has negative impacts on academic achievements and longer term economic achievements. The reality is that where education systems don’t give due attention to these issues throughout the years of schooling, it will produce students who will struggle to fulfil their potential.

Time spent on social and emotional skills and the development of self-regulatory habits, effective skills of studying and learning (including understanding how the brain works) is time well spent to ‘sharpen the saw’ so that children can truly excel.

Talking About It – To Doing It

Here’s a great article that talks of the frustrations felt by an educator who couldn’t reconcile the fact that we now have learned so much more about how children learn, how the mind works and what is effective in education, yet little or nothing has really changed in the classroom.

So, he figured he’d bring about some real changes within his sphere of influence. Here. the results of what he did are shared. However, note the cautionary tone at the end about the excuses put up by other teachers, even when they saw his new methods working.

The article also includes a nice reading list at the end of materials that the teacher shared and discussed with the teachers. I am convinced that especially in Middle and Senior Schools we need to spend much more time helping students to gain insights in to how their minds work, how they learn and how to harness these for effective learning.

Mindshift Article – De-Programming Kids From How to ‘Do School’

We Need to Care …. Wow, Who’d Have Thought It?

Here’s an interesting article from Mindshift that makes a brief visit to some of the latest research findings about the power and influence of belief, expectations and attitude in learning outcomes.

Mindshift Article – Believing in Possibilities

There are a couple of aspects of the piece that left me saddened. Firstly, that some of these things really need to be said. Over 10 years ago i coined a phrase that has been part of the bedrock of all my approaches in education; “We’re not here to teach stuff, we’re here to teach children.” What I sought to convey was that the child and not the silly old nonsense in the textbook (or our administrative convenience) had to drive decision making processes of every teacher and administrator in schools. The second concern was the fact that the author of the article felt the need to acknowledge that despite the growing mountain of evidence, mainstream education is so woefully, painfully slow to change.

Somewhere, do we have to face an unpalatable truth that dare not be spoken – are there vast numbers of people in education who actually, really don’t care very much about children? People for whom it’s a job to be done to pull in a salary, for whom the idiosyncrasies of individual children are a pain in the neck?

I believe the writer is spot on when he talks about the crucial impact of care and acceptance for a learner to truly flourish and fulfil their potential. let’s face it – vast numbers of children today can’t even find much of these in their own homes, let alone in their school.

The final paragraph that talked about the critical fifth ‘C’ really struck a chord with me. That fifth C is Character – something I made a very particular point of including in the four core values of our current school. We’re in the early stages of the school’s development, but it’s heartening that Character already figures on the agenda in discussions amongst teachers, teachers and students and in the leadership team. In time, I believe the importance of Character and effective development will see subtle changes that will further enhance the ways that we build character development in to the school experience of every child.

Learning Naturally

A fascinating article about the experiences of some pupils and parents in a school with a very natural, child-driven approach to learning.

Mindshift Article – harnessing Children’s Natural Ways of Learning

As I read the article, I was continually reminded of how ‘unnatural’ children must find so much of what actually goes on in most schools and how we came to create such (sometimes bizarre) relatively unproductive, even harmful practices.

The task at hand is to undo this harm, to move towards learning methods that work and that respect the innate humanity in the child.

More evidence on the Importance of Sleep

Here’s a nice article that looks at some of the most recent research on sleep, why it’s so important (for adults and children), the impact of going without and ways to address the need. I fear that, if we were to do detailed study of the habits of children in our schools related to sleep we would find vast numbers blighted and undermined by poor sleep habits in the home.

It is our job, as educators and parents, to help our children to establish good sleep habits:

Mindshift Article – Why Sleep Might be More Important Than Study

Technology Etiquette

As technology’s role gets bigger in our lives it’s bringing up uncomfortable challenges in all sorts of places, but not least in the classroom. This is not such an issue at the school level where mobile phones are still not welcomed. However, at a college level it is bringing many changes.

Even in school in the computer lab teachers are finding it more and more challenging to deal with the fact that some students are making choices to explore other things outside the realm of the classroom when they are meant to all be concentrating on something determined by the teacher. Is this really an different to the old days of students gazing out of the classroom window, or playing that game where you give all the outward appearance of being engaged in the lesson but actually are miles away in a world of your own?

When there are Indian schools taking steps to introduce IT in to all aspects of learning, have we got our research right about how it will be used, whether it’s really supporting learning and whether we have effective plans in place to deal with the downside and the risk factors. For example, a prominent school in Mumbai, Podar International, recently requested all parents of the 800 or so pupils to purchase an iPad.

There are some debates that continue to go on about whether wi-fi around young children all day is really a wise thing. Beyond that, have the teachers had the requisite training to ‘control’ how these tablets are being used in the classroom? For the average Indian teacher, until now, learning has been inherently teacher-centric. I can imagine the only way many teachers will be able to ‘police’ the tablet use is to dictate that they are switched off for large parts of the school day.

If you had all the motivation issues addressed in advance, the issues about students wanting to treat the classroom as a place where they are learning, with full trustworthy ownership of their own learning process (without any requirement for duress or ‘extrinsic’ motivation!) then this could all be wonderfully empowering. However, if those issues haven’t been addressed, then i fear this could become a major challenge to effective learning in the classroom.

Here’s a Mindshift article on the issue of technology etiquette in the new wired world:

Mindshift Article

Academic Honesty Under Threat

I found this article both worrying and interesting as it deals with an apparent decline in academic integrity with greater and greater numbers of students resorting to cheating. What’s more, it’s clear that this isn’t particularly cheating by students at the bottom of the performance ladder, but often those near the top.

Mindshift Article on Academic Dishonesty

It would be all too easy to explain away what’s happening on the basis of general societal slide in ethical behaviour, but I think instead it is more important to consider seriously the extent to which the education system itself may be leading to systemically driven failure.

We have education systems that claim to acknowledge that if you want to have motivated students you should focus on effort, not on outcomes – yet maintains the big and ultimate rewards to be dished out on the basis of outcomes. We have a system in which, in most countries of the world, too many children are being encouraged to believe that their success in the future will be determined by the right ‘labels’ on their CV. As a result, admission in to all but a handful of colleges is deemed almost to be a badge of failure.

We need a system that doesn’t put every product of Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, IIMs and IITs on pedestals as demi-gods, whilst looking disdainfully down on those who have come out of so-called lesser colleges. The fact is that in a healthy education system I (ME) would be responsible for my achievements – not the institute in which i studied. So, I can be acknowledged to be a weak product out of Harvard because I didn’t put in the effort and make the best of my time there, or a great output of xyz university who squeezed out every ounce of opportunity to learn (and continues to do so long after leaving college).

Employing people, even in a country like India, is getting increasingly expensive. Employers have to be sophisticated and smart enough to gear their systems to find people with the right attributes and not take easy, short cuts that involve blindly taking those who are the products of a handful of colleges. Then, students would not place all their focus on such narrow definitions of success, but would be aware that there are infinite ways to succeed. Then, they might be more willing to treat examinations as a means to test themselves and show themselves in a true light, rather than being tempted to resort to unethical means.

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