A libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners of all ages. Comments, emails and links to other educational stuff welcome.
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Category archive: This blog
My regular reader (me) will by now have noticed (and I have) that postings here over the last few days have become somewhat intermittent. And indeed they have. And what is more this is how this here will remain for the next month or two. Some days I may put stuff up here during that time. Other days, not. Happy holidays everyone.
I am off to France for a long weekend, and posting here while I’m there may not be possible. I may put stuff up here while in France, perhaps about French education, but then again I may not.
A few days ago the dog ate my homework. Remember that? Probably not, because, who reads this that devotedly? (If anyone does, feel free to comment to that effect. By the way, don’t you think that this dog, a real dog this time, is very amusing? I do.)
So anyway, what was this metaphorical dog? Basically, what happened was that as the deadline for posting here approached, I got stuck into a domestic housekeeping job. Arranging my embarrassingly large collection of movie DVDs recorded from off the telly in alphabetical order, as it happens. And I found myself enjoying it. Something about the fact that I wasn’t doing it for anybody else, and thus nobody was bossing me, and the fact that I’d been meaning to do this for ages, and knew that the sense of increased order and driven-back entropy would please me greatly, once the task was done. So, instead of breaking that off and writing some piece of drivel for this blog, I carried right on into the small hours of the next morning (not that small actually) and only when it was done did I put the posting for what had become yesterday, to the effect that there would basically not be a proper posting. And that was the dog that ate my homework.
I permitted this canine consumption because I was treating myself the way I believe that children should be treated. The most depressing thing about regular school-type schools, such as I help out in, is the way that children are constantly interrupted. There they are, often concentrating on something else with amazing completeness, and they are interrupted, and told to do some “work”. If they allowed their extraordinarily expressive bodies to communicate that they would much rather not be doing this “work”, insult is often added to injury, in the form of a teacher telling them that they must “learn to concentrate”. I sometimes think that this is the most damaging lesson that schools ever teach. Someone who can and did concentrate is turned into someone who not only doesn’t, but who ends up believing that they can’t.
We all know how to influence humans, small or big. Wait for them to do what you want, and then thank them, praise them, compliment them. I recall one of my early sessions with Small Boy, where the body language in response to all my “suggestions” about what we should do was deafeningly hostile. He did it (probably because he feared a scene with his deceptively small and charming mother if I snitched on him) but made it clear that he was not amused. In the end, in sheer desperation, I got him to just draw something. Anything. What he drew had, I thought, little merit, and I said, well, I don’t much care for it. If you like it, then great because at least one of us did, but I’m not impressed. I don’t believe in lying about things like this, which may make me a pompous swine, but there you go, I don’t. But nor do I believe in withholding praise where praise is due. I also told Small Boy that he had concentrated on his task superbly, and I now knew that his powers of concentration were considerable. My goal is now to have him choosing activities which he knows I regard as appropriately educational, from an ever expanding menu, as it were, so that he is able to get that little bit more into the habit of doing concentrated work, of a sort that he finds not uncongenial. (This is a compromise between the authoritarian ethos of the school, and the anti-authoritarian ethos of yours truly.)
Once again, I don’t believe I have to explain much of this to the home-educators. They know all about the almost superhuman powers of concentration that an uninterrupted child is able to wield.
And just as I don’t like interrupting children who are concentrating on something, almost anything, so too, I thought, I would refrain, that evening, from interrupting myself. I’d put up a holding post saying: sorry, nothing here today. And then explain the very educational principle being upheld later. I.e. now.
Good night, and back to arranging my embarrassingly large classical CD collection into chronological order by composer. Which I am actually not enjoying that much, and from which I needed a break.
Metaphorically speaking. I’ll tell you what the dog was, literally, tomorrow. I hope. I promise nothing.
As regulars here will know I (a) try to ignore America, but (b) regularly fail, because America is so cute and quaint and yet, to an Englishman like me, still just about understandable. And I can’t help switching to American to describe what I am experiencing today, which is what we here in England call a cock-up. My computer screen has conked out.
So, what have I learned?
First, I have learned, yet again, that computer catastrophes are seldom that catastrophic. Most computer catastrophies sort themselves out in due course and turn out not to be. So I need to post stuff on the internet every day? Yes. Can I do this, right now, this evening, long after the computer shops have shut, on my regular computer? No. But, I now have an irregular computer, in the form of an Asus Eee PC, which I have successfully, albeit after a bit of thought, connected to the internet. I didn’t use some magic code to access my router (?), through the ether, which I still don’t know how to do, which is stupid, and which I have learned that I should find out about. But I did use a bit of wire, and here I am blogging again.
And second, I have been reminded that pretty much any experience can, especially if I follow the example of those Americans with their learning experiences, be turned into a learning experience.
Yesterday was a busy day here, for me putting stuff up anyway. (I have no idea if anyone much is reading this stuff.) But, I have not been entirely idle today, education-blogging-wise. I have just sent off a bit to this blog, suggesting that the Butterfly Book should be available as a free download. And I have also been beefing up the blogroll and website list here, a bit, an activity which I intend to do a great deal more of in the weeks and months to come. (Further suggestions for these would be most welcome.) But, I know, that isn’t very much. There should be rather more tomorrow.
Another Tuesday, another evening helping out at Kings Cross Supplementary. I came away from this evening’s efforts very content.
One of the things that got me down about the previous school I helped (or tried to help) out at, which I used to call Paradise Primary (mostly because of the lavish physical surroundings), was that the longer it went on, the worse it got. Basically, the children I was teaching gradually worked out that I had no power over them, and that they could do as they pleased. At first, things went well, for as long as the fear of the unknown pertained, but gradually it became futile. Plus, being on my own in the common area of the school, while the real teachers operated in their own classrooms behind closed doors, I never got a chance to discover what decent teaching looked like, or, perhaps more fundamentally, how much teacher stroppiness was regarded as okay, and how much was too much, which meant that I probably erred on the side of not enough. Not enough, that is to say, to get any teaching done.
At Kings Cross Supplementary, I can feel myself becoming a better teacher. But it’s not just me getting better, it’s the rules of the place. All the children at Kings Cross Supplementary are there because their parents have chosen and paid for them to be there. So, if a child refuses to do what we reasonably demand, assuming that it is reasonable, he will be in trouble at home as well as getting into a fight with us. Maybe I’m deluding myself, but I get the feeling that, in this regime, I might one day become so good at teaching that I might even become the kind of teacher that a child might choose to be taught by, might actually want to be taught by. What I am sure of is that I am already becoming better at being the kind of teacher that parents want their children to be taught by. They want me to cajole, urge, intimidate, charm, frighten, coax, their basically defenceless progeny into becoming better educated. And I’m getting better at that.
This evening, for instance, I did the same thing as I did the week before. First hour: Small Boy. Second hour: helping Mr Vora with his maths class. Setting aside Mr Vora (which is disrespectful but it will keep this posting to a manageable length), I found myself doing better than usual with Small Boy. I don’t think it was any one thing, more a whole range of things, working in combination with each other. Including ...
The Butterfly Book. Sorry to keep going on about this, but it really is very good. Just about foolproof, in fact. Just do what it says. I do. It works, at any rate on Small Boy. I also followed, more than previously, Irina Tyk’s advice about not digressing from how it sounds to what it means. See the end of paragraph two of this posting. This meant we made speedier progress, and kept things simple and unconfusing. In fact, Small Boy got really into it, and seemed to be quite enjoying himself. Nothing like understanding everything and knowing all the answers to make you content. Last week we went from Lesson One to Lesson Three. This week: Four to Nine.
At Paradise Primary I was sent in to the school armed with an utterly defective and in some parts just plain wrong doctrine of how to teach reading and writing. These Supplementary Schools, on the other hand, have a doctrine about how to teach reading and writing that seems wholly correct, and in which I have complete confidence.
I took my own advice (see my thoughts at the end of this posting) about being more of a confident man.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, or if not what you should be thinking. If I can’t do Alpha Male body language and assertiveness to one six year old, then I really must be some kind of an idiot wimp. Indeed. I’m just saying, I was more Alpha Male this time than hitherto. And this also seemed to work. After all, Small Boy had to be there. It was compulsion either way. Was it straight take-it-for-granted compulsion or do-anything-you-want-except-what-you-actually-want-which-is-run-about compulsion, compulsion-with-apologies, and this time I tried straight compulsion. He seemed happier, or at any rate no more unhappy. (There’s at least an entire blog posting in that conundrum.)
The compulsion was tempered with praise. I made Small Boy do what I wanted, but when he’d done it, I said well done. All that I see and all that I hear and all that I read tells me that the human animal (unlike the dog animal) responds best to and learns best from praise rather than criticism and punishment. Correct all errors in a deadpan, matter-of-fact way. (That’s wrong. It’s no big deal, but it is wrong. Don’t worry, you’ll soon get it.) But, tell them what they did right with great enthusiasm and warmth.
In between bouts of demanding obedience, and geeing along with praise, I allowed short breaks, during which Small Boy could tell me anything he wanted to (today it was a discussion about the baleful effect of large class sizes at his regular school), and which I ended by resuming the lesson after what I considered to be a proper interval of time.
I daresay an informed observer with a video camera could have spotted several other things I did right, and several other things I’m still doing very wrong. Which I trust I will learn about and work out in the weeks and months to come.
Two things strike me about this resumed blog, so far. First, not many other people are reading it, as yet. But second, the writing of it, and then the re-reading of it, is doing me a power of good.
I suppose the usual way for an Education Blog to function over Christmas would be to shut down for the holiday. But I’m going to keep this blog going, with something here every day right throughout the Christmas season.
I am making a point. Education used to be an industrialised process. (For many it still is.) But for many others, it has become something that they can do for themselves, any time. At any time of the day, at any time of their lives, and at any time of the year. Scarce educational resources, strenuously deployed by educational professionals, are now being engulfed by an abundance of stuff you can learn about whenever and however you want. So, just as this blog got airborne at some random date in November, when it just happened to suit me, instead of at the beginning of the “academic” year, so too, contrariwise, will it just bash on over Christmas.
But old school education is absolutely part of the territory here, so here are a few old school websites to enable you to learn ...
Christmas seems to come upon us very quickly, at a time when teachers have many other things to do to. The aim of edna‘s Christmas Page is to give many links, all tested for their active status, suitable for classroom use, from the evaluated resources in the searchable edna database.
... about ...
In Czechoslovakia, the night before Christmas is spent fasting. A child who does not touch food all day is promised that he or she will see the golden pig (reminiscent of the golden boar which Freya, the Scandinavian Queen of Heaven rides through the night skies, and of the boar’s head served at medieval English midwinter feasts).
Although the majority of people in Thailand are Buddhists, the Thai people love to take part in celebrations. Christmas is not a holiday here but the students from our school still celebrated it by singing, dancing and playing party games.
Any excuse eh?
In praise of the pencil
I realise that the sidebar is still a mess
I’m back (again)