On Following the Learning (comic book style) #TeacherMom

One of my favorite comic strips is Darby Conley’s Get Fuzzy. Clueless dog Satchel, delusional cat Bucky, and somewhat-socially-awkward bachelor Rob make up more of a hilariously dysfunctional roommate scenario rather than a pet/owner relationship.

With more advanced humor and vocabulary than I’d expect my 7 year-old to be able to catch, I was hesitant when she asked to borrow a copy for her bedside shelf. But holding true to the belief that we should never stand in the way between our kids and a good book, I agreed.

Despite my skepticism, I wasn’t too surprised when she fell in love with the book — after all, the pictures alone provide plenty of humor she can relate to. But what did surprise me was in-text learning she was reaping.

Where I thought she’d gloss over enigmas like idioms, proverbs, and cultural references, she instead started asking me to fill in the blank. I found myself explaining:

  • the history behind “Houston, we have a problem” (because of the day Bucky applied Nair all over his body in order to compete with a furrier cat and Satchel said, “Houston, we have a Persian.”)
  • the meaning of the phrase “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime” (because of the day Satchel had a hungry dog friend over that wanted Rob’s nachos, and Bucky observed, “Give a dog a nacho and he just eats for a day, but if you teach that dog where to buy nachos, you’re stuck with it for the rest of its natural life.”
  • the iconic reference to the old comic strip, Garfield: “I hate Mondays” (since Bucky was having a tough day with stale food, sat-in tuna, and a non-tasty bug in his water).

Overall, this is was a good reminder to me that when we follow our kids’ interests, the learning follows, even in unexpected circumstances. We’re so tempted to instead start with the long checklists of content so we don’t “miss” anything. But there is rich abundance of learning to be had when our children take the lead in their learning, if only we’re willing to trust them to uncover it.

And as a bonus, big sister now spends bedtime giggling away with her little brother as she shares comics with him, too.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

5 Thoughts on Raising iGen Kids with Opportunity over Fear #TeacherMom

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

The attention-grabbing headline pulled me in, but nothing seemed terribly unexpected as I scrolled through the article. I nodded through passages like, “hanging out alone in her room with her phone…” “dramatic shifts in behavior…” “proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent…”

Until I got to one phrase that made me stop short.

“I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones.”

It was the identification of my own child, born in 2010, as a member of this iGen group.

In a brief episode of primal fear (after all, this article says the iGen are in mental health crisis), my mind flicked through every contact my child has ever made with a smartphone, like some kind of frenzied mental Rolodex.

But as I slowed, regrouped, took a few deep breaths, I remembered something: exposure is not the issue here. It’s connection.

I’ve written many times about the importance of cultivating digital citizenship (see 3 Reasons 1st Grade Isn’t Too Early to Teach DigCit, 3 Reasons HS’s too Late to Teach DigCit, Digital Citizenship: A Richer #Edtech Perspective) and the conclusion is always the same: we must view digital citizenship with a lens of opportunity instead of with a lens of fear.

This, of course, requires purpose, balance, and prudence on adults’ part. And with the very real and weighty issues presented in The Atlantic in mind, I would like to share 5 ways we can cultivate a sense of opportunity over fear as we teach our iGen kids digital citizenship.

#1: Recognize that their childhoods won’t mirror ours — and that’s ok.

As some neighborhood kids recently got together to play in our backyard, I noticed them huddled around a smartphone:

If I were to share such a photo without any background, people might jump to the same conclusions they did when the photo below was shared of kids in a museum (ie, “Kids these days!!” or “Look at them glued to those devices!!”)

But the context they’d be missing would be that this is what it looks like when digital citizenship becomes woven into the fabric of daily life. Right before I snapped the photo, these kids were darting around the yard creating a stop-motion movie of their make-believe play (and the context of the above tweet is that these kids were using an interactive museum tour app).

Of course, this can also be what zombie-land phone addiction looks like, but that’s why it’s so important to seek out and be aware of context.

#2: Model appropriate balanced use.

There are those who feel the need to altogether keep devices out of their young children’s physical sight-lines — and while this may be a temporary solution, it removes the opportunity for open dialogue with our children about how we use our devices. They need to hear not only what we do with our phones, but what strategies we employ to keep obsession at bay, especially in the face of social media.

#3: Make the good you do with your device louder than the bad they hear about.

Speaking of modeling, educators Edna Sackson and George Couros have inspired my thinking time and again about this concept:

Cyberbullying, white ribbon week, internet safety — these are all good and important concepts to cover with our children. But if they are exclusive, then we are missing a huge opportunity.

#4: Emphasize creation over consumption.

Videos like the one below help convey the incredible ways we can view, express, and share the world around us.

And resources like this might help them comprehend the sheer creative potential they hold in their hands (and to appreciate how far we’ve come in a short period of time):

Of course, consumption has its place and we should have honest conversations about our sources and habits there, too. But an important part of citizenship in general is that in a community, people need to both give and take.

#5: Emphasize the personally meaningful ways you are using tech to enhance relationships.

This “Dear Sophie” video inspired me so much back in 2011 that I decided to do the same with my own kids. This is a beautiful example of how we can leverage the technology to connect with our loved ones in historically unprecedented ways.

Our iGen kids are part of an exponentially shifting period of history — and of course, this is just the beginning. Our best bet for helping them navigate safely is to embark on the journey together.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

So Apparently Even Babies Get Supply/Demand #TeacherMom

Supply and demand. Anyone who took basic high school economics probably recalls this handy chart:

My highly scientific representation of supply/demand

What I didn’t realize was that apparently, babies are also in-the-know. At least when it comes to mealtime in the highchair:

Yeah, that’s totally a smirk as he feeds the dog.

See, here’s what happens. Even if I know he’s hungry and even if it’s food I know he loves, when I load up his tray with large quantities of said food, it promptly lands on the floor or (more frequently) the dog’s belly.

↑ supply, ↓ demand

But when I give him just a few manageable pieces at a time, he usually eats every bit himself, even with a begging pup at his side.

↓ supply, ↑ demand

The more I’ve observed this fascinating phenomenon, the more I’ve wondered about its application to (where else?) the classroom.

  • Do I ever “load up” my students so much that they shut down (too many instructions, information, etc. at once)?
  • When I’m trying to get through a large amount of material and overload my students, is it still about the learning? With the supply/demand principles, does it even end up as efficient as I’d hoped?
  • When does overload actually work, and how does it differ from the above scenario (immersion, etc)?

My not-even-one-year-old baby seems to grasp that he should give a scarce supply greater attention — and I’m pretty sure it’s because he’s onto the fact that the scarcity is because I’m giving him greater attention as I sit close, notice, and adjust to his needs over the course of meal time. And if my baby is onto me, I’m pretty sure my students usually are, too.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Rethinking Calendar Time #TeacherMom

Counting popsicle sticks. Singing songs about weather. Chanting the days of the week. The Calendar Time routine has become a veritable staple in many PreK-2 classrooms.

Which is why I don’t make this challenge lightly. But between research and my own observations, I can’t help but wonder whether Calendar Time is pulling its weight proportionate to its allotted time/energy.

Research

Calendar Time for Young Children: Good Intentions Gone Awry” (May 2008) by Sallee J. Beneke, Michaelene M. Ostrosky, and Lilian G. Katz raises some important questions with regards to our use of calendar time. The two biggest include:

  • Developmental readiness, especially with regards to temporal understanding (“According to Friedman (2000), the ability to judge the relative time from a past event or until a future event in terms of the calendar year is not in place until sometime between 7 and 10 years of age”).
  •  The skills we work to cultivate during calendar time are often better suited toward guided group/individual work that is more easily differentiated.

The article offers several alternatives that would be more developmentally appropriate and effective for the intended outcomes of Calendar Time, such as:

  • Showing the story of the day’s schedule with a picture schedule
  • Shared photo-journals or artifacts chronicling class happenings
  • Time-linked displays to document learning
  • Project work that brings time-related concepts to a more immediate and relevant sphere

They conclude,

“Teachers who intend to keep calendar a part of their daily classroom routine will be more effective if they develop ways to incorporate the calendar that require little time and reflect young children’s limited development of time concepts.”

Personal Observation

I witnessed just how valuable the alternatives can be in watching my own daughter’s temporal development unfold. When she was about 4 years old, I noticed that she could never keep track of how soon events would occur — life became an endless stream of questioning to find out how many days before _____. In response, I decided to create for her what we called our “week wheel,” on which we stuck pictures of frequent events (which she illustrated, of course). Quite apart from saving my sanity, this handy tool also provided a hands-on method for her to better comprehend what comes next.

More recently, she started asking me what day of the week it was — every single day. For a long time, I didn’t think much of it; I dismissed it as simple curiosity. Until I realized that she was creating her own picture calendar out of the one included in the weekly bulletin at church.

Each day, as soon as she heard the name of the day, she’d dash back in to check what she’d planned for herself for the day, meticulously crossing off the day before. Honestly, I can’t think of a better way for her to learn the days of the week than this kind of authentic, personal application.

Obviously, such strategies become more complex when there are 20-30+ kids in the mix — a whole-group Calendar Time seems sensible. But what seems more efficient isn’t necessarily going to be effective. We can and must get creative to find ways to meet our kids where they are in all their diverse needs and interests.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Combating Summer Slide (Without Workbooks)

During our big summer project (building a deck!), I decided to let my daughter jump in with the painting. I thought it would be a simple opportunity for her to experience some ownership over our project. Turns out, it was much more.

For one thing, her questioning was endless. The difference between primer and paint, the purpose of even brush strokes, the relevance to the overall design, and so on.

For another, she identified several valuable life lessons. My favorite was when she told me, “You know, things aren’t always as quick and easy as they seem. I thought I’d finish painting this board in just a minute or two!” It was also wonderful to help her observe the patient, and often tedious, preparation that is required for a job well-done.

As I reflected later on, I recognized the richness of that learning experience. Her critical thinking, reasoning, communication, and comprehension skills were sharpened again and again — with a depth and authenticity that all those summer workbooks can never even come close to matching.

Now, summer slide is a legitimate problem — particularly for children from lower-income families. Take a look at some of the figures:

via Oxford Learning

Our family is certainly fortunate to even have the time and circumstances to have the experience I described above. But as teachers and parents, we would be remiss to assert that the summer slide solution for children from disadvantaged homes would be to load them up on workbooks. The best programs recognize this; as an ASCD Educational Leadership article described,

“In addition to reading and math instruction, Horizons programs give children the sort of enrichment typically enjoyed by more affluent youngsters, such as field trips to museums, camping in the mountains, Broadway shows, and music instruction. Without programs like these, most of our students would be sitting at home watching television while their middle-class peers were off to camp or on a family vacation.”

In my community, the public library, local schools, and local university all offer programs designed to help kids access authentic learning experiences. And it is delightful to watch that access grow all the time.

Whatever our circumstances, we should always be on the lookout for experiences that will help our children make connections and cultivate skills — and no matter how simple, personal interactions go a long way.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

How Our Desperation for Results Skews Process: Potty-Training Edition #TeacherMom

Potty training. I doubt I’m alone when I say it’s the bane of my parenting existence.

Because it’s not just the task at hand — with a child that’s highly suspicious of toilets, at that.

It’s the pressure.

Pressure to prepare the child for “what’s next” (ie, places where diapers are frowned upon. Like junior high school, for instance).

Pressure to keep the child from falling behind peers.

Pressure to be reminded that on average, those kids in Japan are getting potty trained way earlier than kids in this country.

Teachers, sound familiar?

As parents and teachers, we all set forth with ideals to cultivate empowered, autonomous, thriving kids. But as the pressures rise like flood waters seeping into the bottom of a boat, we start to bail out everything to do with process in a desperate frenzy to get results.

And that’s generally when treats, bribes, and punishments start taking a more prominent role.

The biggest concern with this isn’t that we’re trying to help our child make progress in their development. It’s that we start working from a place of fear instead of understanding. When we’re driven by fear, we no longer start with the individual child and his needs/readiness. We instead start with ourselves: our timetables and our pressures. We listen less and dictate more.

We can start with the child while still inviting him to move forward in his progress. But whether it’s potty training or reading or multiplication facts — be sure to reflect & check that fear at the door!

featured image: Mark Michaelis

“Mommy, What’s Rape?” (addressing those unexpected extracurriculars) #TeacherMom

As parents, we tend to expect that our kids will pick things up from classmates at school.

Like comparing who has seen what movie, who can afford some new gadget, who is allowed to have a phone, or even who knows what swear words.

But I never fathomed that rape might join the list of discussion points among first graders.

I stopped in my tracks and turned to face her, asking her where she had heard that term.

She told me that before school had gotten out a couple weeks ago, she heard another student dare a kid to rape a classmate.

She had also heard the word used by the Witch in a song in Into The Woods, so we added alliteration and non-literal word usage to our list of sophisticated topics of the day (thanks a lot, Stephen Sondheim).

Once I recovered from the initial shock that I was having this conversation with my 7 year-old, it wasn’t as difficult as I would have imagined (had I actually been able to anticipate that conversation to begin with, of course).

And I realized that there were some important lessons to be shared as both a teacher and a parent when it comes to these “unexpected extracurriculars:”

#1: Keep the communication channels wide open at all times. This advice shows up in the parenting books so often that there are probably readers out there rolling their eyes right now. But let’s get a little more specific with this.

Had my response to questions about sensitive subjects in the past been met with embarrassment or shame, I seriously doubt my daughter would have been willing to ask more.

We also needed time together when she felt comfortable striking up the conversation — for some parents, that’s in the form of a bedtime routine that includes specific questions like, “What made you feel happy today?” or “Was there anything that made you feel confused?”

#2: Build off your child’s existing schema. Part of me wondered, is now the time for the talk? But I knew I did not want her introduction to the topic to revolve around sex at its very worst.

So, instead, we built our discussion around concepts with which she was already familiar. In this case, I focused on the notion that we have always taught her that she is “the boss of her body” (meaning that no one has the right to touch her body without her permission). Thus, the information came across as a more natural next step in an ongoing discussion, rather than an onslaught of bombshell-style information she may not have been ready for when she asked her innocent question.

#3: Revisit the idea of safe adults.  This entire facet of our conversation reminded me just how complicated it can be to ask our children to talk to adults when someone says or does something that makes them feel uncomfortable. What if it’s a friend who says it? How do we know when we should just walk away, or when we should get help? How do we tell if what they are saying is actually threatening people’s safety? Who are the safe adults at school we should talk with?

These and other questions are essential and not nearly as straight-forward as we would hope. But as long as we keep it an ongoing discussion, we can hopefully increase the odds of our child learning to correctly discerning the answers.

As we become more aware of the unexpected lessons our kids and students face, we will be better equipped to help them navigate them. Please share ways you have approached these kinds of lessons with your kids at home and/or in the classroom.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto