Thankfulness

I’m thankful that my partner and children are here with me right now.
I’m thankful that we are warm, safe and dry.
I’m thankful that I was able to prepare and serve my family with warm, wholesome food. Non equine.
I’m thankful that I have a voice and the opportunity to use that voice for good.
I’m thankful for the music of The Roches.
I’m thankful that the view from my window is of fields, trees and sky.
I’m thankful for the purring cat who is lying in such a way as to make typing on a smartphone rather awkward.
I’m thankful for the relentless curiosity of my boys.
I’m thankful that I love, and am loved back.

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Mindful Gratitude

Sometimes you read something so powerful, so moving that it touches the deepest recesses of your mind. When the writing resonates so perfectly with one’s own experiences and emotions, it really does feel like a ripple through the fabric of being. Sometimes it happens unexpectedly.

I’m writing this ten minutes after just such an experience, and every impulse I have makes me want to reach out with love and gratitude to the author of those words for what they have unknowingly bequeathed me. For the first time in almost 30 years, I have cried, unselfconsciously, freely and completely.

I don’t know the author in real life, but I have resisted commenting in the blog in question, or DMing him on Twitter. I think I’m fearful of being thought a crank or some kind of internet weirdo, or simply causing embarrassment.

Instead, I’m going to throw a few words into my own patch of cyberspace, in the hope that serendipity will lead the author here sometime, and that he will realise these words are intended for him.

Put simply, I had no conception until tonight of the raw power of words written honestly and from the heart. I simply don’t have the vocabulary to express how profoundly life-altering my accidental bedtime reading turned out to be. That’s what I want to tell the writer. That, and thank you.

Go forth & multiply…

Let’s get one thing straight before we start. Notwithstanding the education secretary’s push for a knowledge based curriculum, I’m taking it as a given that children are being taught their multiplication tables in all schools. I say this, because I’ve not yet encountered any schools who don’t already do this. My own love of the multiplication tables is simply a recognition of what a brilliant tool they are for allowing the human mind to make some very complex calculations.

multi

Multiplication is one of the four basic arithmetic functions; we sometimes liken it to ‘repeated addition’, and it is a skill which learners need to master quite early on, in order to become competent at mathematics. The comparison to addition is revealing, because if children do not learn the basic multiplication facts from 0 x 0 to 9 x 9, then repeated addition (or counting on in increments of n) becomes, for most children, the default strategy for resolving a multiplication problem.

In a nutshell, here’s the rationale for learning the multiplication tables. It doesn’t require any particular skill; it gives the learner the ‘knowledge store’ to multiply together any pair of single-digit integers; it provides a secure foundation for all subsequent work on multiplication and division problems. My own approach to teaching these has always been a case of little and often, alongside the occasional dedicated lesson. I suspect that this kind of rote-learning is best approached using simple, well-practised reading, writing and chanting drills that don’t require many resources. It doesn’t necessarily make for a massively exciting lesson to observe, but it’s time well-spent, easily differentiated and easily assessed. Bat off any criticisms that this approach is “drill & kill” – the evidence says it works, and its critics have yet to propose a better method: (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/135467999387289#preview)

Clearly, secure knowledge of multiplication tables is far from the whole story – this knowledge is not in itself a cure all, but what I’d like to see is very simple. A much earlier and more rigorous approach to learners securing these facts early on, rather than it being a long, drawn out process which, leaves some pupils entering secondary education yet to gain mastery.

The follow-up to this post will examine the introduction of formal methods of performing/recording calculations and (hopefully) a case for the earlier introduction of algebra. I’m excited, even if you’re not!

Post script:
I’m generally cautious of anecdotes and the extension of personal experience to reach broad, general conclusions, but, frankly, this made me smile when I remembered it. At my primary school in the late 70’s, the writing out of multiplication tables was the standard punishment. Our class tables league was dominated by girls & boys, myself included, of a ‘naughtier’ persuasion! It may all just have been a coincidence…

Toward digital citizenship – data footprints in the silicon sand

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“If you want to be really worried, think about how little the average person actually knows, then remember that half of all people know less than that.”

I really have no idea about the origin of that “quote”, merely that, over the past couple of years, I have heard it expressed several times, in slightly different ways and contexts. Reading this: Ceop warns over ‘alarming new trend’ in online sex abuse http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21314585 prompted me to think about it in a slightly different light.

Since Marc Prensky coined the term digital natives back at the start of the millenium, considerable think-time has been devoted to trying to pin down, or justify, various definitions of the term. Often these are different in nuance, sometimes they vary widely. For this reason, I’ve preferred to think more in terms of digital citizenship. I feel that this neatly sidesteps issues of individual birth-era, and focusses instead upon the extent to which the individual engages with the digital landscape; is knowledgeable about their own position, role & responsibilities within the digital landscape, and the degree of control they exert over that engagement and position. Still with me?

We all have a digital identity, each & every one of us. Possibly, you may be exempt if you are born into a tribe somewhere isolated in, say, the Nicobar Islands, but broadly-speaking, this is the case. Fragments of your data are accumulating in cyber-space every time you engage with a computer, phone, camera, ATM, local government, the health service, education, shop-checkout and so on. From a civil-liberties & privacy perspective, this will remain a hot-topic, and rightly so, but this is how things stand.

As parents and educators, we have to fully understand the digital culture in which we live, but also recognise that the landscape seen and experienced by us will be very different to the terrain seen and experienced by others, particularly youngsters. Even where the technological trappings are the same, the interactions can be very different; my partner and I have identical phones, for example, but use them, and the apps on them, very differently. One thing we share is an awareness of the potential dangers of our hardware and information falling into the wrong hands.

Ultimately, there is a plea here. Adults, particularly parents and educators need to become smarter about our digital identities; only by doing that are we in a position to guide younger people correctly in learning to make informed decisions about all of their digital interactions/transactions.

Young people, no matter how technologically adept, are only nascent digital citizens. There may be exceptions to this, but they are few. Several young people have recently learned to their cost that provocative comments, even made without any serious intention, can lead to hard prison time. The eponymous main character of Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet The Spy, learns the difficult way about how the things you do (in Harriet’s case, keeping a dossier on her schoolmates) may come back to bite you. The hazards and pitfalls are not themselves new, but the digital context of now means that the consequences are potentially more far-reaching and durable than ever before.

I’m trying to educate myself and my own children to stop, and think simply & proportionately about any potential risks of every digital interaction. Without being hysterical, a seemingly innoccuous outburst on social media or an ill-judged photograph are exactly the kind of things that could cause ongoing problems throughout life. This is without even delving into the darker territories of cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking and sexual exploitation

Our tech-savvy kids need us to step up and be effective digital leaders. This isn’t some one-off that can be dealt with through a couple of dedicated ICT or PHSE lessons. It can’t just be an Internet Safety Day, or an assembly. It can’t be left until KS3; it needs to start in the home before kids even start school. In short, we need to embed the core tenets of digital citizenship into every digital transaction we undertake, and teach kids to do the same.

In future posts I will try and tease out some of the individual strands of digital citizenship, focussing more on the specifics of the role of mentor/parent/educator. As always, I’d love to hear the views of others.

This is a bit of a must read.

The random musings of iesha small...

“Britain was a society run mostly by cliques and groups of friends who had first met at public schools and Oxbridge.  Public school education remained the key for anyone hoping to make a career in the City, the civil service or the higher echelons of the army. Schools such as Eaton, Harrow and Winchester might educate only some 5 per cent of the population but the still provided the majority of political leaders, including many of the cabinet” – A History of Modern Britan. A.Marr

The above describes a Britain of the past, 1945, to be exact.  Mired in tradition and social inequity and trying to create a new identity in the aftermath of two recent, devastating wars.  However, as I sit writing this post in a Britain 70+ years later, I wonder just how much has really changed?

This post is my response to the #blogsync initiative, with this…

View original post 1,303 more words

Punctuation for meaning

Could we improve children’s understanding of punctuation by making a more explicit link between punctuation and meaning right from the start of the learning to read process?

NC English wordle

I’m going to share a poem that I encountered many years ago (top infants, as it happens; I’m in my early 40’s now).

One day when I was feeling sick,
I paid a call on Dr. Nick,
Now Doctor Nicholas said to me:
“You must use hair oil in your tea,
Put plenty of sugar in your ears,
Use cotton wool when the weather clears,
Take country walks when you go to bed,
Use feather pillows on your bread,
Use butter for your daily dip,
Good soap and water you should sip,
This tonic for you I will prescribe,
And if you do as I describe,
Rarely, if ever, will you feel sick.”
“Oh thank you! Thank you, Dr. Nick!”
I took my coat I went my ways
And I’ve been healthy all my days
I’ve followed the doctor’s words to the letter
To tell the truth I’ve never felt better.

I’ve tried to find the author of the poem, but to no avail. All I know is that appeared in an British reading scheme book. It was paired with an article about the loss of an American space rocket on launch, because of an erroneous hyphen in the launch programme code.

I do have a good memory, I suppose, because the poem has stuck with me. What I love about it, as the sharp-eyed reader has already spotted, is the way that shuffling some of that punctuation actually renders Dr. Nick’s advice fairly sensible, if of questionable medical benefit.

Paired with the space article, they made concrete the idea that punctuation itself is often the final arbiter of meaning. You put that comma there, your sentence now means something a little, or a lot different. This is a point which is often overlooked during the process of teaching pupils to punctuate. I think that there may be a sound reason for this. As they learn to read, children encounter punctuation in the texts they are learning from. Generally this will happen substantially before children are dealing with punctuation in their own writing. In this context, it makes sense to teach punctuation from a reading-focussed perspective. In reality, I suspect common practice reinforces the idea that punctuation’s purpose is as an aid to the reader, rather than an aid to allow the writer to convey meaning more effectively. Yes, I’m thinking of the dreaded “small breaths at commas, bigger breaths at fullstops” habit. Worse still I’m-thinking-of-the-teacher-reading-a-text-without-expression-pause-or-modulation-and-certainly-without-any-nod-to-any-kind-of-punctuation-to-try-to-show-what-writing-without-punctuation-sounds-like. I’m sure we’ve all done it at some point!

The corollary of this is that by the time children encounter punctuation as writers, many of them still have a preconceived idea of the main purpose of punctuation, which is not often enough debunked. By the time they start using “more ambitious” punctuation, many children will take an approach that treats punctuation as little more than cake decoration, chucking in exclamation marks as though they are going out of fashion, not daring to use anything as mundane as a full-stop.

The wordle at the top of these page is made from the full text of the UK National Curriculum document for English Trying to find the word punctuation in there is a little like “Where’s Wally?” That’s “Where’s Waldo? for my American readers.

I’m not going to say much more than to repose that opening question:

Could we improve children’s understanding of punctuation by making a more explicit link between punctuation and meaning right from the start of the learning to read process?

The pen is mightier than the sword Part 1

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Handwriting is not dead. Despite reports to the contrary, despite a plethora of technologies for creating text, nothing yet matches the speed and immediacy of a quick note jotted down with a mark-making implement on a scrap of paper.

It’s probably not a stretch to suggest that a handwritten letter or card remains one of the most intimate means of non-verbal communication of thoughts, ideas and feelings. It is certainly true that the majority of students hand write the bulk of their work, at least at primary level. This will likely remain the case for the foreseeable future.

With this in mind, it is frustrating to witness students struggle to master basic ‘stylus skills’ (a non-gendered alternative to ‘penmanship’). In the UK, we are also in the unfortunate situation where handwriting quality has historically counted for only a few percentage points in Y6 English tests.

As with many things that we could do better in schools, a focus on improving handwriting sits comfortably with the concept of marginal gains, beyond the opportunity to clinch a couple of extra test points.

1. The physical act of writing something down makes a stronger memory than typing it. It improves learning

2. Fluent/neat writers are better able to keep pace with their own thoughts. Laborious writers struggle with this, leading to a loss of coherence, or a tendency to use simple, workaday language.

3. The fluent/neat writer generally suffers lower levels of muscle fatigue; they can sustain their effort for longer and produce more writing for a given time increment. How can a student demonstrate their abilities if they are not able to produce an adequate body of work.

4. The fluent/neat writer can create documents that are visually pleasing in and of themselves. Laborious writers can obviously see the gulf between such documents and their own, yet lack the skills to produce them.

As with any physically expressed skill, we are all at different points on a continuum, and as with any physically expressed skill, there are almost non of us who could not make improvements. There is no ‘just can’t’ get out clause. It will be difficult. It will take work and a certain amount of dedication, but improvements can be made and should be sought.

This is really a plea for systematic, properly taught, properly supported and properly resourced handwriting teaching for every child. More than this, it’s a plea for non-acceptance of bad handwriting.

This is part one of a two-part post.