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

Green Kids Craft Box Review #TeacherMom

Thanks to thoughtful grandparents, my daughter received a subscription to the Green Kids Craft Box for her birthday. She gets to look forward to a fresh box each month, and I don’t have to pull out my hair trying to make room for one more toy. Win-win!

First off, what’s in the box? Over the course of two boxes so far (one with a Green Energy theme, the other with Robotics), my daughter has:

  • built a self-propelling wooden boat
  • baked herself a cookie in her own solar oven
  • launched “rockets” using a straw
  • built an art-bot that drew for her
  • navigated courses with her magnetic robot
  • Created a pulley “Glide-bot” (which now resides on our filthy sliding glass door)

As a mom and a teacher, I absolutely love that she has something to fuel her curiosity and creativity for hours on end.

My favorite element of this box is the fact that it provides interdisciplinary opportunities:

  • She has to read loads of instructions (which are very detailed with pictures), so she’s working hard on her reading and comprehension skills.
  • She has to take a lot of measurements, so she’s developing her ability to convert between inches and centimeters, along with other basic math skills.
  • Science skills are by the boatload here (pun intended, I guess, as she actually did build a little boat): hypothesizing, experimenting, data-collecting, reflecting, etc.
  • Even engineering and art (definitely a win for the whole STEM/STEAM endeavor) get a work-out as she has to figure out pulleys, gears, and brads, plus general aesthetic design.

I’m guessing that if I spent enough hours combing Pinterest, I could maybe find most of these activities. However, the fact that I don’t have to go hunt down a bunch of obscure materials is worth my time. And there really is something magical for kids about receiving your own little parcel in the mail made just for you, especially with the added anticipation of a monthly subscription!

Overall, I’d definitely recommend these boxes to the 5-8 year-old crowd!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Sharing Benchmark Scores With Students? #TeacherMom

I recently came across this article from Fountas & Pinnell entitled, “A Level is a Teacher’s Tool, Not A Child’s Label.”

Fountas and Pinnell believe very strongly that students’ reading levels have no place in teacher evaluation or on report cards to be sent home to parents. Too much emphasis on levels can lead to misconceptions on the part of families. Informing parents of the level at which their child is reading can make them uneasy.  They may see the level as a very exact measurement, but students don’t always read at a precise level. Parents also talk with other parents, and if they find that their child is reading at a lower level than other children, they might panic. But they don’t understand the intricacies of how those levels work the way you do.

I completely understand where Fountas & Pinnell is coming from here. As a teacher myself, I was glad during my daughter’s last parent teacher conference to possess the background knowledge of these assessments’ imperfections — we chatted about their subjectivity and the uneven spacing between levels (for instance, in the program my school used, it was an extra wide gap between levels T and U for some reason).

I also worry about our students and their parents taking too much stock in these assessments and therefore experiencing pressure, lack of confidence, and yes, even labels. And I recently wrote about my quandary over whether to share scores at all yet with my first grader (Will it Help Or Hurt to Review Scores with My First Grader?).

All that said, I believe that in order for students to take the wheel in driving their own learning, they should be able to reflect using available resources and data to inform their decisions and progress. Not to mention the whole idea of “No secret teacher business!

So is there an in-between place here?

The more I reflect on this, the more I believe there can be — but with some important considerations, including, but probably not limited to the following:

  • Data should only be one piece of the feedback puzzle. Reading benchmarks are a much less frequent and much more formal form of assessment. Students should rely much more on regular formative assessments as they make course corrections in their learning/growth.
  • Seek transparency not just about the data itself, but on its limitations. That it’s not an exact measurement. That there is a definite degree of subjectivity. That it’s meant to compare individual students’ levels against their own progress — not against anyone else in the class.
  • Are students developmentally ready for the type of data you can share? If, as in the story I shared in “Will It Help or Hurt to Review Scores with My First Grader,” the student has yet to even comprehend the nature of data, then it would be counterproductive to share.
  • Ensure there’s a clear connection between the data, metacognition, and “what’s next.” Help students tune into their own thinking about their progress, and maintain a dialogue on the strategies that will best help them move forward.
  • Ensure that students understand that the data is never the goal, but a guide. The goal is always learning, and data serves as lampposts along the way.
  • Protect intrinsic motivation. Students should want to progress for the sake of progression, not for the sake of their levels moving up.

There’s not necessarily a clear-cut answer to the question of whether we should share benchmark data with students. But as long as we are actively engaging with our students to help them take ownership over their progress, we are on the right track.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto