As usually seems to be the case with me and blogging, I only get around to writing when the universe conspires to remind me, with a degree of a repetitiveness that I just can't ignore, that something is important enough to blog about. Psst...People are wondering about this, Bryn - look, over here! And here! And there! Riiiiggghhhttt. Got it. Clearly, I am a little slow on the uptake. Anyways. This time, it's apps.
I When it comes to technology, I am a bit of an oxymoron; I am hugely passionate about its (informed) use in schools yet I fiercely limit my own children's access to it. In large part this is because my time with my children is limited and I want to spend that time interacting with them, not having them ignore me while they stare at a screen. I want to read them great books, draw pictures, do crafts, bake and play board games with them; I want to build connection and memories in the small amount of time I have between getting home from work and bedtime every night. Not that I needed validation for choosing this approach but I smiled when an article entitled "Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent" crossed my path; apparently the guru himself and I are on the same wave-length.
However, I freely acknowledge that there are many times when technology just makes life easier (like, you know, nightly, when I'm making dinner and answering 400 questions and helping create some fantastical beast out of toilet paper rolls and wishing that I could just.let.go. a little bit and turn the damn tv on and therefore make dinner in peace). In those times, I want to be able to turn to high-quality apps that do more than just entertain my child (once an educator, always an educator. Sorry, kiddos). But in a sea of 40,000 apps in the iTunes Education category alone, how does one even begin to choose? Well, I've been fortunate enough to stumble across some really great ones, have a few recommended to me and found a few on great sites such as Common Sense Media. I share my favourites with you here - on my page aptly titled Great Apps & Websites.
A disclaimer, of sorts, before you click that link - I am very picky about the apps that I share. As mentioned before, there are tens of thousands of apps out there; I list 14. Why? Because a) there is a huge difference between a high-quality learning app and a game that has had the education tag slapped on it for effect, b) with few exceptions, apps are generally about practice rather than learning. Or playing, with a little bit of practice sandwiched in there somewhere. I have tried to find the apps that will truly help your child learn something new, whether they know it or not, and c) if I wouldn't choose it for my own kiddos, I'm not going to recommend it to you.
I have also chosen apps that are as general as possible in their scope (if your child is obsessed with space, there are some pretty wicked space apps out there but I did not mention them here) and promote the development of broad thinking skills as much as they promote skill-specific practice.
Your time is limited. Searching through the app store only to come up with mediocre apps is frustrating and not in your child's best interests. Hopefully my list helps you find a few apps that will inspire your kids to think and wonder and learn and maybe will even connect you with some other great gems along the way. Please share them with me if you find them!
Homework and homework policies have been all over social media lately. A Texas teacher sent home a note with what is essentially a no homework policy, a parent posted it and it took off from there (you can read all about it here). I began thinking about homework and how best to administer it long before it reared it's head online, however. I have done my own research (which shows that research overwhelmingly does not support homework in elementary schoil), I have experimented with various different ways of assigning homework and have lived it as a working parent trying to carve out a bit of time with my child between dinner and bedtime; from all of that, I have distilled these 5 thoughts about homework.
1. Fitting it in is hard.
Families these days are busy. Kids these days are busy. Very busy. And as much as I have searched for a way around it, I cannot seem to find one (if you've figured it out, please please let me know!). As a parent, I believe that after school activities play an important role in giving my child skills they will need as an adult, so I'm not willing to cut those out. So when do we fit homework in?
2. Family time is precious.
As much time as our children spend at school, it is still home life that shapes who they are. Time spent with family - eating dinner, playing outside, curled up on the couch reading books - is so important to growing kind, caring citizens. Too often, these things (or sleep!) are set aside because families feel pressured to complete home reading logs, flash cards or other well-intentioned homework assignments.
3. Practice anything and you will get better at it.
Landing firmly on the pro side of the homework debate is the fact that practice really does make perfect...or better, anyway. Research shows that the more time you spend with a skill the more likely you are to master it. Therefore, homework, when designed as practice of previously learned concepts, does help your child improve and solidify their skills. That being said, there are many other things your youngster can and should be practicing - sports, music, social interaction, crafting, building, and more!
4. Learning is about more than just reading, writing and 'rithmetic.
While no one can argue that reading, writing and math are hugely important, there are many, many more things to be learned in this wonderful world of ours. Focusing solely on reading and math (which tend to be the two homework items sent home in the primary grades) means that there are many missed learning opportunities in other areas.
5. To reward or not to reward?
An extremely common practice in the primary grades is the reading log - kids record the number of books they read each night and then return it for a small prize once they have reached a certain number. Seems like a fairly good system for motivating kids to read and, for many kids, it works really well. However, for some children it moves them from enjoying reading for the simple pleasure of entering another, imagined world through the pages of a book to reading for external rewards. Many students are eventually turned off by the expectation that they will read nightly, often a book that is not of their choosing.
In the end, we all want what's best for our kids. Sometimes, we lose sight of the long-term goal - creating healthy, literate, numerate, curious and kind adults - in favour of having the "smartest" student in their grade. We live in a highly competitive society and it feels good as a parent to know that your child is doing well in comparison to their peers. As teachers and parents, however, we need to remember that children are developing along multiple strands - physical, social, emotional and academic - and it's our job to support them in all of these.
Unsure of how to meet your child's needs in a developmentally appropriate way? Having trouble letting go of homework? Check out this amazing post from parent.co for a fantastic list of ideas (click on the picture below to link to it).
Awhile ago, I wrote about some books I have been reading that have really got me thinking about the language we use with kids (see that post here - you'll learn about one of the most influential professional books I have ever read. Seriously.). In addition to these books, a couple of other opportunities have continued to drive my learning in this area. The first was a professional development workshop I attended (about spelling, of all things. Structured spelling, which is phenomenal btw. But that's another post) where the presenter was a master at using great language. I couldn't stop noticing how empowering it was and how naturally it seemed to come to him. The second is an ongoing conversation with a good friend (and kindie teacher) about ways to talk to my daughter when she's upset because I sometimes just feel so inept in this area. She always knows just what to say, which never ceases to amaze me.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that a) words matter. A lot. and b) we are not all extremely skilled at using the right words. I am one of these not so skilled people. Sure, I know how to talk to kids, I know how to make sure that they understand me, absolutely. But what doesn't come naturally to me are the simple changes in phrasing that empower kids, that allow them to feel like they can do just about anything, that what they are doing is meaningful and important. Thankfully, although this skill doesn't come naturally to me, I believe that it can be learned (and I have that good friend who is wonderfully skilled in this area and willing to answer all my crazy questions). So, on that note, I thought I would share a few common phrases that we all use with kids and some powerful alternatives.
Instead of "What a lovely picture. What is it?" try "Tell me about your picture". This slight change removes the sense that the child's picture is unclear (which, if it's anything like my 3 year old's artwork, it likely is, but they don't know that) and puts the child in the driver's seat when it comes to their own art, giving them a sense of agency and accomplishment.
Instead of "Who can tell me the answer?" try "Can anyone offer a hypothesis?" followed by "Interesting hypothesis. Does anyone have another one?" Although you may have to explain the word hypothesis a few times at first, this simple change in phrase makes it easier for students to take a risk and offer an answer because you are implying that you are not expecting the correct answer, simply their best guess. Note that you have to be willing to accept multiple hypotheses and be open to the idea that an unexpected one may, in fact, turn out to be correct.
Instead of "Not quite. Does anyone else know the correct answer?" try "Oh wow! Great mistake! Here's why..." As with the word hypothesis, you are making space here for students to be willing to take risks and potentially be wrong. If mistakes are treated as positive things, students will be more willing to make them, knowing they lead to growth & learning, rather than to just plain being wrong. You will be creating a culture of inquiry in your classroom.
Instead of "This is how you will do ______." try "As scientists/readers/writers/historians, how should we approach this?" Aside from simply moving from a telling to an asking stance, this rephrasing allows students to see themselves as scientists/readers/writers/historians and encourages them to use the mindset of that particular role to solve a problem. Can you guide them along the way? Absolutely! Try saying "As a scientist, I think I would..."
Instead of "I'm proud of you." try "I bet you're proud of yourself" or "How did accomplishing that make you feel?" The purpose of this rephrasing is two-fold; 1) it removes the idea that the child is subordinate to the teacher and 2) encourages the student to seek an internal motivation for completing something. The more kids rehearse this, the more natural it becomes.
Instead of "Good try but..." try "Which part are you sure about and which part are you not sure about?" or "I see that you got the first part right. How else could you spell that second part?" I love these two because they put so much emphasis on having the student use their knowledge to figure out the correct answer. They will also give you, the teacher, a ton of insight in to what the student knows and doesn't know and where you should take them next in their learning. Asking students how they went about figuring something out is incredibly powerful as it develops their sense of themselves as a capable problem-solver.
Finally, instead of "I see that you're feeling frustrated/overwhelmed/angry." try "How does your body feel right now?" followed by "Sometimes when our bodies feel like that, it means we are feeling ________________. Do you think this is how you're feeling?" This allows students to begin to internalize the process of recognizing how their body feels when they are experiencing a certain emotion, allowing them to learn to self-regulate over time. Of course, follow this conversation up with some things the child can do when they feel that way - breathing, visualization, reading, etc.
Hopefully you find these helpful. I know that I will be slowly working on using these phrases more and more in my teaching; I would love to hear how your attempts go!
This post was originally published in 2015 and still holds true today. If you have a little starting kindergarten or know someone who does, have a read, share it around and remember, it takes a village.
It's that time of year...Back to School. Every year at this time, Facebook and Pinterest are filled with posts about the 50, 75 or 100 things your child needs to know before they start kindergarten. Talk about stressful! Admittedly, the parent in me read those lists and mentally tallied up the things that my kid could do and the things she couldn't; the educator in me just cringed and reminded me that the developmental continuum is at one of it's widest points as our children enter K and this is not the time for comparison (is there ever a time?). Cue my lovely, oft-mentioned Kindergarten teacher and friend who very eloquently responded to one such post just the other day. Her response was so on-point that I asked her to guest blog about it here!
As a Kindergarten teacher and mummy to my first entering 'my zone', I'll admit I won't read these lists. I find them way too stressful and frankly, I'm maxed on stuff to worry about. While I don't generally think it's reasonable to make uninformed comments on random posts, I threw caution to the wind on this one and refered to my inner guide,: my heart.
If I were to make a list of the things the kids coming in to my class every year need to know, my list would look something like this:
Some things your kid really needs to know before entering school
- That you love them, always.
- How to love themselves, always.
- How to navigate mistakes as learning and opportunity.
- How to see there is magic in differences.
- How to be a good friend.
- How to laugh and enjoy fun.
- How to take care of themselves, each other and their place.
- How to achieve and maintain a happy heart.
- How to love books, print, art, stories, nature, playing, inventing games.
- How to love and be loved...
There are so many things that I could add but they would all be heart centered. It's my jam. My colleagues and I can and will teach the rest of the stuff (it really is just stuff).. It's important stuff but... it's stuff. What really counts, what really matters, is that kiddos feel safe and loved, that their bucket is full and that they can share that with others.
Parents, we know you're doing your best, we honour that. Many of you need to honour that in yourselves too. Don't worry about lists! Read this and feel it, for you AND for your kids. Don't we all need a little more of this? There's nothing your children can't do without the village that makes up their team. Teachers are part of your team and most importantly, your kid's team. We realize that children are each on their own journey. They each come with their own unique strengths and challenges. We too, want for your kids to be happy, healthy and successful, however that looks for them. We are in this together.
Oh, remember to take a minute to breathe and laugh too. Time passes so quickly, don't miss the moments worrying about lists.
Beautiful, isn't it? My humblest thanks for joining me on this, Robyn!
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!