Read on for more about education, tutoring, and learning.
I recently attended the open house of a DC-area playgroup based on the Reggio Emilia method, an educational approach for young children that developed in Italy after World War II. At the open house, the playgroup's founder emphasized the importance of a child's "third teacher," his or her environment. (The first and second teachers are parents and teachers.) She explained that she observes the babies and toddlers as they play, then adapts the classroom environment prior to the next session to cater to the children's current interests and development needs.
What a simple and seemingly intuitive move, and yet it's one that I rarely do at home. Sure, I put away gear as our (now-11-month-old) baby outgrows it, but I haven't usually had a deeper strategy behind the way I arrange her environment on any particular morning. After becoming aware that I could more consciously arrange Maya's surroundings, though, I started paying more attention to what I set out for her.
When I noticed the baby sticking her hand into my glass of water and wiggling it around, I filled a pan with water and put it on the kitchen floor, where she played with it gleefully, splashing and exploring.
Later that week, a relative watched the baby and said she gravitated toward a pile of clean laundry--socks in particular. My first reaction: Now we're going to have to refold everything! My second reaction: The next morning, I presented her (the baby, that is) with a pile of socks, and she took great joy in tossing them in and out of her Bumbo seat, making little shrieking sounds. Later that day, after I dumped blocks out of a basket, she began putting them back in, one after another, which is something she had not done before and which seemed inspired by the movements she'd done with the socks.
Then, the next day, I took the baby back to that pile of laundry. (Even when we fold our laundry, we don't get around to putting it away that often.) She was indeed passionate about playing with the clothes, and they led to a whole range of games: the what-color-are-these-pants sorting game, the can-you-find-the-rabbit cloth game, and that old classic, the up-and-down are-they-hats-or-boxers game.
It's not that hard to make minor changes to an environment based on a child's behaviors. Consider doing so for older children as well. Is your child excited about knitting? Arrange a basket of yarn and/or library books about knitting on your coffee table. If your child likes to bake, provide a shelf in the cabinet for appealing baking supplies, and occasionally add a container of sprinkles or a new cookie cutter.
You can also use this method to facilitate academics. Did your child struggle to find sharpened pencils yesterday afternoon? Rearrange your office supplies so that a cup in the living room holds several sharpened pencils, with a small pencil sharpener resting on a shelf nearby. Figure out where a stack of looseleaf or construction paper would get the most use, and place it there. Move, add, and remove components of your and your children's environments to make the most of your space and their passion for learning.
I'm reading Alfie Kohn's Feel-Bad Education: And Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling (Beacon Press, 2011). The book is a collection of 19 of Kohn's previously published essays, each arguing against a component of traditional American education in favor of more progressive thinking. He rejects the zero-tolerance policy, grades, homework, and standardized testing, citing research that shows all are counterproductive. Kohn challenges educators to create academic environments of true critical thinking and to emphasize and model uncertainty and investigation in the learning process.
I love what Kohn says about how to discuss readings with a student. He warns against the artificial simplicity that can result from asking if a child agrees or disagrees with a text. Though he acknowledges that it's possible to improve upon that question by asking "Why do you agree or disagree?," he suggests an even better approach. Ask your child, "What questions do you have that you didn't have before you read this?"
Add Kohn's question to your collection, parent-tutors and other educators. With it, you can encourage students to think deeply, remind them of the importance of questioning, and prompt deep discussion.
Now I suppose I should ask--what questions do you have that you didn't have before you read this? (If you decide you want to ask them, feel free to do so in the comments below!)
In 2008, before the Obama v. McCain election, the rap video "You Can Vote However You Like" went viral. The rappers? A group of middle school students with a passion for politics. The teacher? Ron Clark, founder of the Ron Clark Academy and teacher extraordinare.
At the Ron Clark Academy, a twisty blue slide starts on the second story and spits riders onto the main floor lobby. A large wheel "sorts" (inspired by the Hogwarts sorting hat) new students into four academic houses, as the entire school cheers. Educators from across the globe attend RCA's teacher training sessions and can observe classes in session in a school where teaching is definitely a performance art.
Clark is the author of The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator's Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child (2003), The Excellent 11: Qualities Teachers and Parents Use to Motivate, Inspire, and Educate Children (2004), and, now, The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck--101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers (2011).
Having just finished The End of Molasses Classes, I can say that it's an inspiring read for all educators, parents included. And if you don't know something, don't worry:
Whenever I am talking with my students an they ask me a question I don't know the answer to, I will say, "Oooh, let's look that up!" I act genuinely giddy at the prospect of finding out information that I don't know.
As parents and teachers, that level of interest and curiosity is important to show our children.
I admire Clark's passion and his emphasis on a student's holistic well-being. He's clearly interested, above all, in helping students feel empowered and competent, with a "constant thirst for knowledge" and an appreciation for high standards, both academically and ethically.
Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by the number of books I would need to read to be a "well-educated" person. Every time a colleague references a "classic" that I haven't conquered, I cringe and add it to a Word document full of unread literature. I also fall prey to guilt-inducing, bookseller-funded Top Book lists:
"The Top 10 Books of 2011"
"The Top 10 Books of Last Week"
"The Top 10 Books of Yesterday"
"The 150 Epic Poems Every Writer Should Reread Annually"
So it was a relief to encounter Joshua Bodwell's essay, "You Are What You Read: The Art of Inspired Reading Lists" in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Poets & Writers. He opens with an epiphany--"I won't get to all the books I want to read in my lifetime"--and backs it up with statistics: there were 300,000+ books published in 2010. As he points out, that's almost 900 books a day. No one could get through them all, or even through all the good ones. And, of course, there are the millions already out there on the shelves.
Once you give up on the idea that everyone has to read particular books from a universal best-of list, you can embrace the idea that you have your own literary niche. Relish the knowledge that you can follow a theme or author to its natural works of literature, replacing the should-reads with the want-to reads.
Bodwell made his own list of books, "Bodwell's Baker's Dozen," of books, both old and new, that inspired him over the past year. I think this is a valuable idea for all of us--and for our children and students. (You can do the same with movies, television shows, or even music.)
Any of these lists can provide an insightful look back into your mind over the past year. In that spirit, here's my list:
Of the Books I Read in 2011, Here Are 25 Notable Ones (and Some Audio Books)
I read books about education:
- Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Children a Real Education With or Without School by Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver (More about this book in my post from 10/28)
- Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun by Dayna Martin
- The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma
- The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World as Your Child's Classroom by Mary Griffith
- Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy
- Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living by Tsh Oxenreider
- Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes by Jenny Anderson and Paula Szuchman
Books for older children:
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
- Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
- The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall (More about the Penderwick series in my post from 7/18)
- The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
- The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall
And much younger:
- Dear Zoo: A Lift-the-Flap Book by Rod Campbell
- Dinosaur's Binket by Sandra Boynton
- I Kissed the Baby! by Mary Murphy
- Look, Look! by Peter Linenthal
And books about children, including how to prepare for and then raise them:
- The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two by William Sears, M.D.
- Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age 5 by the American Academy of Pediatrics
- New First Three Years of Life by Burton L. White
And how others prepare for and raise them:
- Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace by Ayelet Waldman
- Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
- Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein
- Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family by Catherine Newman
And how they cope when their children struggle or suffer:
- Blue Nights by Joan Didion
- Journey to the Edge of the Light: A Story of Love, Leukemia and Transformation by Cristina Nehring
I also used Audible.com to listen to these plays, most of which I'd recommend, though generally for teens and adults:
- Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz
- Dinner with Friends by Donald Margulies
- Great Men of Genius by Mike Daisey
- Molly Sweeney by Brian Friel
- Sight Unseen by Donald Margulies
- Speed the Plow by David Mamet
- The Tale of the Allergist's Wife by Charles Busch
- A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller
If you've read How to Tutor Your Own Child, you probably saw Chapter 6, "iDon't Think iKnow Where My Homework Is: Helping Kids Connect and Organize for the Twenty-First Century." In it, I address how to maximize the educational impact of 21st-century technologies.
Now, I wish I could go back and augment the section about Facebook--since the book's publication, I've become much more familiar with Facebook accounts worth following. While I can't amend the book, I can share information via this blog. So here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite Facebookers. For the most part, I'm letting their sites' descriptions speak for themselves:
1. How to Tutor Your Own Child -- Obviously this recommendation is biased(!), but I do try to provide information that will benefit parent-tutors, from book recommendations (e.g., Cheaper by the Dozen) to educational conversation starters ("The 45 Most Powerful Images of 2011") to video resources (YouTube's education channel).
2. Children's Book-a-Day Almanac -- "Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey."
3. Play at Home Mom -- "We are a group of moms who have a firm belief in positive parenting and play based learning. We hope to inspire, educate, uplift, and empower you all to be the best moms (and dads) you can be. "
4. Read Aloud Dad -- "Read Aloud Dad is all about children's book reviews, read aloud tips and advice for all those who are involved with reading to and with children!"
5. Tinkerlab -- "TinkerLab aims to help parents tap into a child’s natural curiosities through creative experiments that support independent thinking, enthusiasm for the wonders of the world, problem posing and solving, and the imagination. The projects and ideas shared here are child-centered and value the processes of exploration, experimentation, and curiosity."
6. Grammar Girl -- I did mention Grammar Girl's podcast in the book, but not her Facebook page. "Grammar Girl provides short, friendly tips to improve your writing. Covering the grammar rules and word choice guidelines that can confound even the best writers, Grammar Girl makes complex grammar questions simple with memory tricks to help you recall and apply those troublesome grammar rules."
7. I Can Teach My Child! -- "Helping you be your child's first teacher--Activities and resources for parents of children birth to 5 years."
8. Our Montessori Home -- Advice and resources from a Montessori family.
9. teachmama.com -- "My goal is to sneak in a little bit of learning for my kiddos--disguised as fun--every day."
Thanks to all of these Facebookers for their contributions to families everywhere!
Readers, what sites provide you with inspiration? Do you use any of the same resources that I do, or do you have other recommendations? Use the comment section (below) to share your favorite Facebook groups.