Tag Archive | teaching

Wish we could get the heart back into learning

I miss having children around. I miss being able to show them things and take them places and those quiet little cuddles at any time.

The former village school – now a nursery

It was wonderful watching their amazement as they learn and enjoy the world and grow. In fact, I’ve even missed them so much I’ve thought of returning to teaching.

Then I come to my senses when I remember.

I remember all the reasons why I left. Like my unhappiness at having to force kids to do stuff that didn’t seem appropriate or relevant or worth anything. Like having to drive and pressurise and push until they got the required points. Like having to teach stuff in certain ways when I could clearly see it wasn’t what the child needed. Having to implement stupid policies devised by  some idiot who knew little about the needs of kids. And worst of all, watching their keen little faces glaze over with apathy as another boring objective is confronted; practices that just made kids feel bad and switch off. And worse still, giving them the blame for their failure instead of acknowledging that the fault lay with the approach not the kids.

And that was years ago – it’s ten times worse than that now.

I used to think I was just a cynic. But current remarks from parents and colleagues and recently one new young teacher who was so unhappy because what she felt she was required to do to kids wasn’t really ethical, let alone valuable, make me think I have a cause to be so. And some of the articles on the Secret Teacher site support that cynicism. They make for grim reading.

I used to teach in a small village school, where we all knew all the kids, where everyone functioned for the good of everyone else, where the climate in a school was one of care and nurture directed at the children And their happiness and enjoyment was important.

I don’t sense that about schools any more. I only have to walk in one and something in me shrivels. But thankfully I feel it among the home educating community.

The home educating community seem to base their educational provision on something that all educational provision should be based on: a love of learning. They at least are putting the heart back into learning.

Kids come into the world already programmed to learn – it’s as natural as survival and part of it. But schools change learning into something else – into point scoring, usually for the good of the school.

Keep a child’s love of learning intact and education follows naturally. It’s so sad that the educational system has completely lost sight of the pleasure of learning as they turn it into big political business.

So I’m sure glad to know so many wonderful parents who are brave enough to follow their hearts to learning, rather than the politics!

There’s no magic strategy to ‘teach’ your child to read

Bit of a shock/horror title I know. But further to my last week’s post on reading when I was talking about the book ‘Rethinking Learning to Read’ there was something else I wanted to tell you. Something most people don’t know.

Create a relaxed approach to enjoying books

We don’t know because we’re led to believe the opposite. We’re led to believe that there is a specific strategy for teaching reading that professionals know but parents don’t.

The real truth is – brace yourself – there isn’t!

There is no one single magic approach to reading that will guarantee that your child will read.

This is what Harriet Pattison shows in her book. And I was talking to another academic about this recently, a professional who is engaged in teacher training, and he confirmed that there is no strategy that training teachers are taught in order to get kids reading. They are in exactly the same position as parents!

Okay, so teachers learn a bit about the psychology of learning (soon forgotten) and about various schemes, and graded readers and devices like phonics or whatever the latest fad is. But nothing is fool proof, will work for all, because everyone is different and responds differently. But those differences don’t have to be difficulties – only if you’re in school.

There are a multitude of activities that parents can encourage that will help their child to read; games for example, reading aloud to them, shared reading and stories, providing material for their reading, allowing them to use computers and computer games and similar, texting included, encouraging any reading material comics included, providing a reading happy climate, reading themselves, reading signs when out etc.

What is more important and something that parents can do easily, is provide a reading rich environment and encourage – without pressure – a relaxed approach to enjoying books and print. When home educating, it doesn’t matter when a child reads fluently – there are all sorts of ways to learn (films for example). It’s only in school, where learning is print based, that anxieties mount and ‘difficulties’ are created. Out of school, there doesn’t have to be a difficulty.

It’s important to acknowledge and encourage your child’s own personal relationship with reading, which means you might have to keep out of it sometimes! Something teachers can’t do. Perhaps the only ‘difficulty’ is keeping our anxieties under control.

Children are inquisitive about what we do, about stuff online, about phones and words and stories. Your encouragement of that interest will be what eventually leads them towards reading.

And that is something that all parents can do. No magic strategy involved!

Kids don’t particularly needs schools to learn!

For some, it’s scary to think about their children learning without schools or ‘proper’ teachers. Especially if that’s all you’re used to.

Getting your head round that idea is a problem for most home educating families when they start out.

They learn just as well on the floor, lying down, wriggling about, having a chat...

They learn just as well on the floor, lying down, wriggling about, having a chat…

Because parents mostly believe that in order to learn kids need the following:

  • qualified teachers
  • to be taught
  • to be in classrooms, sitting still mostly
  • to be told what to do, when to do it and how
  • to follow a curriculum
  • to learn in incremental stages
  • to be tested regularly
  • to learn through academics

But those who’ve been home educating a while are discovering that other ways of learning work just as well without any of this stuff in place. Successful home educated graduates are proof.

For example they’re finding out that, contrary to the points above:

  • Qualified teachers can help children learn – granted. But equally there are plenty of other adults, parents being among them, who can also help children learn by being engaged with them, by answering their questions and encouraging more, by being interested, facilitating experiences and spending the time. Time that teachers don’t have.
  • Anyway, children also learn without teaching, through the incidental activities they do, through conversations, explorations and investigations.
  • Learning can take place anywhere. At any time, doing anything, however wriggly and unstill they are, without ever entering a classroom actually – given the right climate. And many are proving it now.
  • And they don’t always require to be told what to do, when to do it and how, if at all!
  • So therefore a curriculum isn’t always necessary. It’s just a useful tool which you can use or lose, depending on how you want to use it rather than have it use you!
  • Some learning is built on understanding that’s gone before. some learning happens in a kind of non-structured patchwork that’s being proven to be equally successful. It depends which approach suits the child and family’s needs best. Stage- or grade-led learning is not the only approach that works. Or a guarantee of successful education.
  • Testing IS NOT necessary. I repeat; testing is not necessary. It doesn’t advance the learner. It’s just another tool you can use or lose depending on your preference. (There’s a previous post which explains here)
  • And there are all sorts of non-academic ways to learn; conversation, watching films or YouTube clips, experiential, practical and firsthand, trips, trial and error, field study. The more the learning experience ignites all the senses the firmer it will be established!

It takes a while to trust in this process. You have to open your mind, your eyes, and watch and learn how your children really are learning without any of the conventional requirements you might have thought were needed.

But trust this; there are thousands of home educated young people now proving this to be true!

(If you want to know more there’s a long chapter on learning approaches in my book Learning Without School Home Education‘)

Times to leave the kids alone

Back in the dark ages of teaching I had a class of 41 at one stage! As you can imagine it was difficult to see that every child got their needs met.

20170120_115136

It may have been a very old fashioned set-up but there was time for one to one teaching – just like home ed!

I switched from there to a small village school with only three classes and about sixty kids in the entire school. I had 14 in my class and it was an absolute delight. I could properly teach instead of manage crowds. Every child read to me just about every day and I got to know each of them individually which gave me a better chance of meeting their particular needs. Sadly, such days are just a distant bliss. The system has changed so much that real teaching on this scale is impossible. We misguidedly think big is better – it isn’t, always.

There was a down side to these tiny classes however; it could be a bit intense – the poor kids couldn’t get away with anything! A little natter. A little mischief. A little bit of relief when Hawk-eye wasn’t watching them.

I realised that this wasn’t always healthy. They needed a bit of time to swap notes, share concerns with their desk mate, just let off steam and skive a bit which is human after all. So I decided sometimes I had to turn a blind eye and just concentrate on the important misdemeanors. Not that there were many of those because we’d built a relationships of respect and trust in each other. You can do that with small numbers; build relationships.

It also taught me a valuable lesson for home educating.

Home educating one-to-one can be very intense. It would be easy for it to become overbearing. You have to learn to not watch the kids all the time. And certainly not ‘EDUCATE’ all the time.

This is beneficial for all sorts of reasons, as well as to save you from insanity and education overkill. If your kids are constantly directed and monitored and dare-I-say controlled they never learn to be independent. To think for themselves. To decide for themselves. To imagine and invent and create their own activities and consequently their own education. To be in charge. This is a set of skills lacking in young people when they get to Uni; they don’t know how to take charge, of themselves even, let alone their workload.

I know some home educating parents worry that if they’re not directing, instructing or ‘educating’ their kids all the time they will be considered neglectful.

This is rubbish. It may be the mentality of those who don’t understand the true nature of home education or self-directed learning, which is on the increase (think online courses), but it doesn’t have to be your mentality.

Leaving the kids alone is an essential part of their self development. Learning things together doesn’t take much time really. There will be plenty of time for their own activities – which they have to think up, even if they need some starters as to where to look or some stuff strewing around to tempt them. Each of you in the home ed household needs to learn to respect others’ space and time and to leave each other alone to achieve it, to develop in their own individual ways. They’re bound to be learning all the time through doing so.

So, for education’s sake, for self-development’s sake, make sure there are times you leave the kids alone!

Don’t weed your children’s learning!

I find the need to be outside quite hard to accommodate this time of the year. I have to sometimes push myself out in dreary or battering weather to get some daily doses of the tonic everyone needs for indoor spirits. Without it I know I go stir crazy! So I tog up most days and get a daily walk.

Summer memories

Summer memories

It’s easy in the summer. All coffee breaks can be out there. And there’s plenty of light for walking after work hours. And weekends inviting me to garden, even if the format of that is just chopping back the weeds.

I’m not a great gardener. I find it a bit confusing. I’m puzzled by the desire to nurture some plants whilst killing others. Buttercups, daisies and dandelions spring to mind – what a delightful burst of yellow they are. I have great trouble classing them as weeds and pulling them up or worse still spraying them. There’s a hierarchy of plants I just don’t buy in to.

I have the same dilemma with education. There’s a hierarchy that’s evolved around academia which puts some important subjects and skills, like creative ones for example, in the ‘weeds’ category. And I think this is more to do with snobbery than value.

I admit, there are some skills that are invaluable for kids to learn – reading springs to mind. And it is essential for living in our society to have a practical comprehension of language, numbers, scientific concepts and technology. We want to communicate, budget and cook for example and need to skills and knowledge to do so.

But outside those practical applications why should our children’s learning be controlled by what others deem as essential subject matter? Why should the Romans be more important than Evolution. Or non-essential Grammar be more important than creating a story? Or the skill of long division be more important than the skill of inventing for example?

When we home educate we can really examine the curriculum. And this leads to examining the questions; what’s really important to know? And why is it important to know it?

Within the educational system, most of the why has evolved, not from value to the child or developing adulthood, but for the convenience of measuring them and perpetuation of the system – and the politics surrounding it. A truer reason for what we ask our children to learn is that it’s relevant to the child now as well as their lifelong development – what curriculum would cater for that?

What is more important when we’re guiding our children’s learning is not so much what they know, but cultivating a desire to know, to find out, to continue to learn. In fact, that desire is already there when they’re born – our job is to continue to nurture it rather than chop it off like some do dandelions.

We can look up knowledge and facts at any time, these days. Yet we’re constrained by the idea of curriculum that started way back when compulsory education did, when knowledge wasn’t available to all. Far better to consider a curriculum of skills, experiences and a cultivated mind that can be inventive, creative, and which nurtures the desire to develop continually, rather than weeding out the child’s true interests whilst enslaved to subjects for some extrinsic curriculum and killing their desire in the process.

Or maybe not use a curriculum at all and see where your learning life takes you!

Put yourself in a learner’s shoes

Being back in the position of a learner again would do all teachers good. Because you forget what it’s like and forget to look at learning from the position of a learner.

I’ve been reflecting on this. Because I find I’m a complete beginner in my new role in the bookshop, which I talked about before. Trying to work complicated tills is as alien to me as flying a spaceship and I realise what a horrible feeling it is when you can’t do it!

Kids are in this position all the time. And I bet they don’t like it either. But we don’t often give consideration to that. Even worse; we get annoyed when they don’t ‘get’ it, as if they’re doing it deliberately – I’ve certainly experienced that both first hand and observed, in schools and out.

I’ve observed that people who are trying to teach can be more concerned with their own agenda – that is, making someone learn – than with the learner’s needs and the manner in which they’re best able to learn it.

I believe the distinguishing feature of a good teacher lies with the focus (- subject matter aside). A good teacher is not focused on what they want to teach. A good teacher is focused on what or how the learner needs to learn. And if the way we’re teaching  isn’t working for the learner we need to look at changing ourselves, rather than trying to blame the learner, as so often happens.

Parents who are home educating have the opportunity to keep that focus balanced in favour of the learner, unlike teachers in schools who have to teach to the demands of a school’s agenda. Which, let’s face it, has nothing to do with most of our learners’ needs!

Being a complete beginner at something, or not knowing how to do it at all (me on the tills!) is a wretched position to be in. But many teachers and parents forget that as we sit smug in our elevated position of knowing and showing.

So we should take ourselves back to our own learning days and remember what it felt like (like getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time). And have some compassion for a learner’s position, rather than impatience. Impatience prevents the learner from learning well. Learning needs to be a positive experience for them to truly flourish.

Thankfully my teachers in the shop have enormous patience with me. The same patience I like to think I had with the learners in schools and my own two home educators here.

But maybe patience isn’t the point. As I said above, the point is the learners needs, sometimes what’s needed in a home ed household is to take advantage of the great flexibility you have with learning, try various approaches or just leave it for another day when the learner is more receptive or mature.

For unlike in the bookshop, there’s no queue of people waiting to see whether your learner can do it or not, or restrictions on when they need to do it. And that was one of the reasons you opted to home educate wasn’t it?

So, put yourself back in the position of a beginner and remember to educate to your learner’s needs and not to some other agenda!

All for a pound!

When I decided to stop teaching in schools (way back in the dark ages) I planned ahead how I was going to manage without income and a mortgage to pay. Of course, that’s a lot easier as a single person without family.

But I got a job waitressing on weekend evenings and gave riding lessons in the day. I worked every day in order to save.

I remember thinking as I served suppers in a posh restaurant that, even with the stress of getting hot meals out on time, even with customers who treated waitresses like dirt, it was amazing to earn money doing a job that seemed so easy compared to the same hours in a classroom!

There was an occasional embarrassing moment like when I served the parents of the kids who were in my class. But dad just laughed it off saying ‘Blimey – I didn’t realise teachers were so badly paid’.

‘Well, now you know,’ I said plonking his plate down and scurrying off.

How we have any teachers at all putting themselves through they crap they endure for the pittance they’re paid is what amazes me now. According to the news, they increasingly leave.

But I miss the teaching and the children. So am hoping to involve myself in some tutoring soon, maybe helping those who struggle through a system which neglects their learning differences, or those who don’t fit into schools’ narrow little targets.

However, it’s also because writers, like teachers, are so poorly paid. You wouldn’t think so because it’s only ever the high-earning writers that you get to hear about like Dan Brown or Stephen King for example, who earn thousands. For lesser writers like me, every book I sell makes me less than a pound. And with the pirating of e-books, I don’t get paid at all.

Back to the bookshop!

Obviously books get passed around. And I’m very happy that they do. But when you next stand in a book shop and think you’ll get the book in ‘other ways’ perhaps you’d spare a thought that if you’re not paying for it, the writer won’t get paid for their hours of hard work either! And it is hard work. Hard as teaching – I should know – I’ve done both full time.

Hence I find myself back working in the book shop for Christmas, mostly so I can treat the girls, turn the heating up (I’m writing this with mitts on!) and maybe have something a little sumptuous for us all too.

I admit it also does me good in other ways; it can be very reclusive writing all the time. And although I revel in your delightful appreciative messages (thank you – do keep them coming, it keeps me going), real human connection is also needed and I get to see what people are reading and chat about books.

So, if you didn’t know that ordinary writers like me were so poorly paid, now you do!

And now you also know why we are so grateful when you buy our books rather than getting them in ‘other ways’.

THANK YOU!