Tag Archive | teaching

Learning is for living – not just for targets

We’re a such quick-fix target-driven nation now. Both in work and education.

Everything is about results – measurable results. A quantifiable outcome a god-like goal, out-valuing the process of getting there, whatever it costs you. Tangible results overtaking what education is supposed to be for; building a warm, happy successful life.

Some of the stuff on the English curriculum provides a good example of what I mean, with its dissection of English into obscure parts you can’t even pronounce let alone remember or apply to the context of our daily living. Some of the maths can be the same. Small kids are expected to understand complicated mathematical concepts at a younger and younger age, concepts that are not only irrelevant to their young lives, but which make them feel like failures, as they grapple to comprehend them. So schools can put ticks on sheets and politicians can pretend this system is working.

Education is as long term a process as growing a tree!

It’s tragic. And it doesn’t have to be that way, as many homeschoolers prove, as they leave the more complex and academic stuff for when the children are older yet still achieve mainstream outcomes such as qualifications.

What’s even more tragic is that the target-led approach to learning puts many kids off. Too many rigid targets means learning becomes for targets only not for the experience of enhancing a life – which is really what education is for. And it suggests that learning success is dependent on falling into these measurable compartments, at specific times, which it isn’t.

Becoming educated is instead a long, ongoing, experiential process that continues beyond specific learning outcomes and can be the result of many diverse approaches that do not need to be measured to be successful.

I look at it in a similar way to growing things.

To grow a tree you’d need to provide the right environment for it to grow in; the right soil, the right place, the right climate. The right climate needs to be conducive to its ongoing growth. It needs the right nourishment, compost and care, and the right support to hold it up to start with, not to be overshadowed by too many others.

These are not outcomes, just un-measurable on-going processes that guide the tree towards flowering and healthy growth. But measuring them along the way will not make them grow taller or bloom brighter. Neither will it make them grow faster.

So now apply that to education.

For a child to learn to their potential they need the right environment; a base that provides for their need for love, security, calm, safety, encouragement. A place for them to flourish in their own time.

They need the right climate that will change as their needs change and grow; different things at different times, sometimes quiet and solitude, sometimes buzz, sometimes inspiring others, sometimes comfort, a feeling of belonging, acceptance of their differences as all kids are different. They need a climate where they do not feel afraid of failure or being trampled by others.

Then they need the right nourishment. Not only in the form of healthy food, but other types of nourishment which comes in the form of stimulation and exercise for their minds, bodies and spirits. A wealth of experiences and opportunities to discover who they are and what they can do.

And they need the right support from others they can trust, peers and adults, friends and family. Support that’s able to adapt to their changing requirements. Warm loving encouragement that shows them ways to have a go, to discover their potential, develop new skills and work with any weaknesses.

These conditions will compost into an education that can be applied to living a life – a real life, not just a set of outcomes only useful in one instance of time.

Targets and outcomes are often only valid within a given period of time.

But education is for life, to build an understanding of learning as a life-long attitude and opportunity to enhance and improve that you can never fail at simply because, if what you’re doing is not working for you, you can change it.

This is the beauty of home education. Through home educating you can ditch the obsession with targets and short term outcomes and educate towards an ongoing learning life that can diversify approaches until the right one is found. One that is free from the idea of ‘failure’. One that instead perpetuates the idea that learning is for living – not just for targets!

For more notes on this see my ‘Home Education Notebook’ available from Eyrie Press where it’s on offer and Amazon.

Advertisements

Fascinating approaches to home education

I had a long and thought provoking comment from Nav on my recent post ‘The Hypocrisy of Educational Discrimination’, about her home education – did you see it?

It was so interesting I invited her to expand the ideas she’d touched upon about their approaches in a post here. She describes being inspired by many other thinkers which she’s condensed in to five big ideas that influence their home education. I think you will be inspired too so do read on. Here’s her piece:

A Vernacular Home Education By Nav K

A science session outside with friends

I’m an English psychiatrist of Punjabi-Indian heritage, on an extended career break (possibly permanent one) and my husband is an English writer (with recentish Cypriot heritage mixed in). We live with our two primary school aged children in a rather small house, on a bit of land in rural Ireland (a move we made partly to make home education possible for us). My husband and I have always been drawn to the vernacular (I’m using that to mean designed or developed specific to the place) and to being part of nature, rather than separate from it. These ideas have guided our home education and made it a family and personal journey.

I’m the main educator in our home and I can’t tell you then that we follow a specific approach such as Unschooling, or specific school curricula, or Reggio Emilia or Charlotte Mason approaches – I think we are probably drawing on them all to different degrees in pursuit of the best education that we can access. I have some favourite educational thinkers (a bit of Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky is very influential and contemporary thinkers Kieran Egan and Gillian Judson are wonderful guides) but I also try to read widely and influences come from many thinkers outside the discipline of education. As a result, we’ve developed some underlying big ideas / philosophies or principles for our family education, which keep evolving of course, as we learn more together. The overall aim is not just to get clever, but to develop wisdom.

5 Big Principles and their influence on our learning:

  1. Seeing the grand, beautiful whole

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”~ Albert Einstein. Recent research into the brain has shown that the right hemisphere tends to take in a whole, complicated ‘picture’ of the world and the left brain specialises in breaking this down into smaller pieces (I’ve simplified this incredibly here). The writer Iain McGilchrist argues that humans have let the left brain dominate too far. For example, the left part of our brain helps us develop computers and artificial intelligence but would not be able to “see” what could go wrong by hurtling down this path so entirely and so quickly. Did you know that many university biology courses now have little or no outside-the-classroom work, looking at plants in their natural setting? If you love nature and plants and want to study them at that level of education, you’ll probably end up in a lab looking at tiny, tiny details through a computer aided microscope and manipulating genes for 3 years. So at home we use technology such as the laptop and internet but in a careful, thought out way for our learning and much of what we do means going outside, visualising and manipulating with our bodies, using all our senses if possible. We’ll do maths through dance and art rather than a online maths app. When we aim to discuss any topic that involves breaking something into its parts to study them closely, I try very hard to bring the whole back together again with my children.

  1. Everything is connected

All the educational school ‘subjects’ could be described as different but true ways of seeing the world and as individuals we might find ourselves able to understand or enjoy some ways of seeing in preference to others. At home we often discuss how knowing something of all these major ways of seeing the world could complement each other, rather than just being separate entities and I try to help my children find connections, for example the maths in music, dance, and nature (or any of these to learn maths); how science tries to pinpoint things more precisely, but so does language. We spend a lot of time exploring metaphors and analogies for anything we study. Have you noticed how all the greatest thinkers on any aspect or area of expertise have used striking metaphors? (Einstein being an example above!).

  1. Serious practice leads to serious fun!

(I stole that quote from my children’s wonderful music school director and it has become a mantra at home when things are tough.) Persistence and tenacity, focusing on small specific goals in each practice session to gain mastery at something the children have chosen to pursue (like learning to play a piece of music or completing that story or poem) rather than giving up when it gets tricky, allows you not only to feel the pleasure of mastery but then get incredibly and ably creative with it. We talk about this a lot at home using examples of people whose work inspires us. For example, the artist Georgia O’Keeffe who is widely recognised as starting American Modernism mastered painting ‘life-like’ from observation before she went on to develop her own original amazing style, as did many other great painters.

  1. Learn from inspirational masters and experts

We rarely find ourselves using specific teaching materials aimed at primary school these days. We find someone who inspires us or is an expert, somehow. This is usually through reading their books or finding their work on the internet. For example, we love the Royal Institute Lectures for science and maths, available online. We sometimes manage to persuade experts leading classes for adults to let our older daughter attend (like a recent series of archaeology lectures about our part of Ireland). We grab skilled friends to teach us what they know whenever they visit. I support the children to learn anything science or maths related and my husband focuses on creative writing because of our own knowledge and experience in those areas.

  1. Play to learn

Play is necessary for health, learning and for having fun! We make a lot of time for unsupervised free play. From experience we have found huge benefits to adventurous physical play, particularly outside: there is lots of rough and tumble wrestling, tree climbing, exploring rivers, swimming in lakes and the sea (when we can make it happen); but also other quieter (…well sometimes quieter!) forms of play, like fantasy / role-play and constructional play. We try to encourage that it occurs outside, in all weather. If quantum physics entanglement theory is correct, then whatever we spend time looking at (and perhaps listening to, smelling, tasting and touching) could help us become a little bit of what we interact with. So if the children spend much of their time out together with other nature, they might truly be part of it, value and defend it, rather than covet and relate more to screens and machines.

There is a lot more to our personal and vernacular home-education than I can write here and there isn’t the scope to give each big principle or the thinkers behind them, the words or time they are due, but I hope I’ve made a fair attempt at describing some of them.

After lots of encouragement to do so, I am currently busy putting together a simple website to document and share these ideas in greater depth. I hope they will be useful to parents thinking about, embarking on or already on a home education journey. If you would like to know when it goes up on-line please send an email to home.edgeucated@gmail.com

The teacher who couldn’t read

A little while ago I read the most amazing story on the BBC news by John Corcoran. He was a teacher for 17 years who had hidden the fact that he couldn’t read.

The teacher John Corcoran who kept it secret that he couldn’t read or write. Read his moving story

A teacher who couldn’t read? How shocking is that?

Or is it? Is it more shocking that someone who was so devoted to trying to better himself, despite his inability to pick up this skill, should be so ashamed of it that he had to keep it secret.

But perhaps the real shocker is the fact that our so-called inclusive society so looks down on people who cannot read that they feel compelled to do so?

Read his amazing story here.

The subject of his story is something that often bugs me; that we make judgements about people’s intelligence and about them as people just because they are different from us and cannot develop the skills required for reading in the same way we might.

Reading is a skill – a multitude of skills combined together – just like driving, for example. The ability to drive is also a set of skills that some people never manage to acquire, despite persistently trying. Reading is the same; a set of skills that because of the differences in people, some are unable to develop the same way as others.

We are all different. What works for some doesn’t work for others. Do we acknowledge that? For some things we do. For reading we seem to forget it.

Some learners need very different approaches, need very different time frames, in order to get to grips with reading.

But this is not an indication of low intelligence or ignorance or a defect. It’s just how some people are.

The readers among us are not superior to the non-readers. Just as the drivers are not superior to the non-drivers.

We’re just different.

Let’s take away the snobbery, the pressure, and the judgement people like John and others like him have felt over the years and let’s support everyone in their differences, whatever they are.

Let’s live up to our claim of being an all-inclusive society and stop the shocking judgements that exist about those who do not read in the same way as others so that there’s no shame or secret surrounding it. And so that more can tell their story and get the proper support they need without feeling as bad as he did.

An imperative lesson

Some are starting work out there, even before it’s light

It is beautifully quiet where we live now. So quiet you notice the slightest noise; a fox’s bark, an alarmed pheasant, or the tiny scamperings of the mouse who has found its way into the roof space above the ceiling.

So we’re really sensitive to the rumblings of heavy machinery past the cottage at 5am.

The vegetable cutters start early. Some work through the night. I’m woken by the clanking of the rigs and trailers. I also have a sudden sense of gratitude that it’s not me turning out in the freezing cold and rain that I hear hammering down.

The gangs of workers are dropped off for their working day in dark, cold, muddy conditions, no shelter, no heat, cutting the cauliflower and broccoli that’ll be ready for you in the supermarket later today.

Surrounded by growing food, it was easy for our home educating children to learn where food comes from and what’s required for it to grow, that this doesn’t happen in super markets, but out on the earth.

And that it needs certain conditions; dependent on the elements of the earth. And it’s important that we all know how those elements are sustainable – if we want food to be sustained that is!

Stuck in a city centre, as far removed from the earth as I am from the Houses of Parliament, I worry that this essential part of education will be neglected. And families these days might not want contact with the earth and the elements, cosied as city dwellers are by the convenience of pavements, transport, concrete, shopping under cover and easily accessible eats!

So how to get across the importance of understanding the precious resource that the planet is – the only resource actually, for everything comes back to what it gives us – and how not to pollute it so much?

We need to learn to exist without creating the waste our lifestyles produce; by not subscribing to the hypocritical politics that ignores the real issue of consumerism, not be seduced by the commercial hype that continues to suggest that it’s okay to keep buying plastic bottles, disposables in any form, pollutive cleaners like wipes and chemicals. And remember that all our consumerism wounds the planet, contaminates the place we’re dependent on for our food.

Part of any child’s education should be to understand this stuff. Part of our duties as educators is to prioritise this understanding – to get kids back to the earth and caring for it as part of their everyday existence. Along with the simple idea that everything manmade that we buy will eventually pollute in some way, or has already done so in the manufacturing of it and that might come back to haunt us through the food chain (one example here)

A sombre lesson – worth the learning.

What small change can you and the kids make to your family lifestyle to stop your contribution to it? (Here’s an inspiring contribution from one family)

Learn to love the earth, buy less plastic for a start!

What are your objectives for your kids?

I came across some interesting writing about education recently, ironically on the TES site. Ironic because it’s from a head teacher and quite often their ideas don’t tally with ours as home educators! But he seems to have a more enlightened view of education generally and how, in many cases, schools are getting it so wrong.

Colin Harris writing in the TES

Author Colin Harris has posted quite a few articles that many of you may be interested to read, whether you home educate or not.

It’s good to hear concerns about the schooling system by one who works in it yet who remains big enough to recognise its failings. As we are all in the business of educating – a business which can embrace many different approaches, as most home schooling families do.

I was particularly drawn to his comments about having fun in education and that schools should ‘ring with laughter’. So true. Years ago – pre the ruination by the National Curriculum – I can remember my classroom ringing with laughter. And this house did when we were home educating.

The post that particularly caught my eye this time was this one about kids just being numbers in a giant machine. How often have I made that comment on this blog and about them being cloned – as he says! But he also talks about a set of outcomes for education that are not based in test results (amazing, coming from someone in the system!) Instead, competencies necessary for adulthood and I thought they were so relevant to home education I’d copy them here:

  1. Being able to think for oneself.
  2. Being able to use language appropriately.
  3. Being numerate.
  4. Being able to manage and control oneself.
  5. Being able to forge relationships with others.

Whilst we were home educating we had certain objectives in mind. These were nothing to do with qualifications (although they became part of them as the children reached that stage, through mutual decision-making about the path they wanted to follow as they grew), but were instead based around personal development. We wanted the kids to know who they were, what strengths and weaknesses they had, how to get the best from themselves, how to integrate their best into life, and to have confidence. With confidence they can go forward a get what they need for where they need to go. And confidence is built through achieving; failure being a necessary educative part of that achievement and how to overcome it. It’s built from having no shame attached to failure, from feeling worthy and of value, from good relationships with others based in respect, and from knowing your own mind (number one above).

These are the things we wanted to develop in our children. I think they’d probably agree they’re getting there, for they’d also probably agree that you are never finished, never finish learning and growing and changing and the chance to do that is life-long.

Whatever you work towards through your home educating or through school, consider carefully what you want in the broadest most personal sense, and beware the danger of cloned thinking!

Open eyes to the school establishment

Looking forward to reading this

I try my hardest not to resort to school bashing. But I still get accused of it. Just because I won’t stay silent about all the things wrong with the school system.

And if that’s school bashing then I’m sorry for it. It’s just that parents need to have their eyes and minds opened beyond the conditioning the establishment perpetuates, especially the idea that school is right for all.

It isn’t.

Take testing for a start. Kids don’t really gain anything from being tested. They’re just being used as pawns in the game of one-upmanship played by politicians, institutions of education, between professionals and commercial enterprise. Test results are not what education is about. Few home schooled kids are tested throughout their learning lives yet still go onto to achieve qualifications when the time comes.

Take the idea that all kids have to achieve the same thing, at the same time, in the same way, or they’ll be failures. This is a form of emotional blackmail that is totally untrue. Kids doing things in this way is for adult convenience and has nothing to do with personal success or failure. Thousands of home educated kids learn in different time frames, their needs and competence at the time dictate when, what and how. And generally end up in the same place as school contemporaries.

Take a look at the curriculum. A school curriculum is not designed to be educatively enlightening. It’s designed to be measured. Thus increasingly neglecting essential subjects like the arts, the practical and sports. At the same time negating skills in these areas and a huge percentage of children who would be good at them.

Take the idea of going to school for the socialization. What a joke! Nowhere post school is the social model inside one replicated. The model where you’re clustered together in groups of same age, with people who are as social inept as you are, where friendships are enforced and where there is a hierarchy of respect rather than a mutually earned one. Thousands of home educated kids go onto Uni, interviews, work with a such high standard of social ability, conversation and initiative, it’s often what wins them the place.

Take the idea that school dynamics, bullying, crowds, unhealthy competition, and the shame of failure makes you stronger. Complete balderdash! Most kids are weakened by those experiences and often made desperate. Home educated kids who don’t have to endure such indignities – for that’s what they are – become strong, confident, competent and motivated people.

And finally, take the idea that the children need to be told what to learn, when to learn it, and how good at it they are, in order to become an educated person, which is an idea the school establishment imposes. Another load of tosh. Thousands of home schooled children take charge of their own education and are motivated to go on learning throughout their life which sets them up effectively for the diversity of the working culture this generation will be facing.

School is one way of doing things. A way sold to thousands by the establishment. But it’s also political. And politicians wants us to be obedient to the establishment for it makes their life easier.

But the establishment doesn’t have the monopoly on education.

Schools and teachers do the best they can with the job they’ve got. Schools and teachers work well for thousands of families. Many children achieve and are happy there. But that doesn’t mean all will or can. This isn’t about school bashing. It’s just about opening parents’ eyes to an alternative ideas.

Do what works for you. But don’t do it with your eyes shut!

Is this all that matters to parents?

So schools are doing their best to get punters before the term starts again.

I’ve just seen this banner hanging outside a school on my travels.

I found it incredibly sickening.

Are exam results the only thing kids go to school for? Are they the only thing that is the measure of an education or an educational establishment? Are results the only things that parents care about so the only thing that will ‘sell’ the school to them?

Is this all there is to sell?

Where does it say what EXPERIENCE the young people are going to have there? Does that not matter at all? Would you not as a parent want to know about your child’s LIFE in school while they are learning?

Okay I’ll stop ranting now and instead put my brain to answering the question; what would I like to know about a school that would induce me to consider it?

Here’s the five things that I came up with to put on a banner:

  • the widest range of inspiring activities your child will ever experience with a high proportion of adults to help them
  • encouragement of individualism, independence in learning, and choice making, irrespective of age
  • development of respectful relationships between ALL, regardless of age, stage or hierarchy
  • equal importance placed on ALL subjects including the practical, physical and creative and the freedom to choose between them
  • NO testing or publication of any results, emphasis instead on personal development

If schools don’t want to be considered as factories, as some are accusing them of being, then they should stop measuring themselves on a factory style output. Education is about developing young PEOPLE. Not producing commodities. Or percentages!

Tell me; what would your five most important things be?