Tuesday, August 30, 2011

This Blog Has No Pictures, and Here Is Why

I'm having a crummy week. 

Despite all my efforts at finding learning in everyday activities and applying educational theories to everyday life, I fail. I am failing miserably this week.

We are just on a bad-week right now. I can't get anything accomplished. I have half-finished blogs. I have half-eaten sandwiches in the kitchen. The dishwasher and laundry are not close to half-done. I want to sit and cry but I can't sit down because the kids will destroy the house and I can't cry because I'm too tired.

My most recent conversation with Za illustrates this. Just imagine me trying to feed Ty while the dog whines and I hear her bumbling about.

Me to Za:

I've tried to get you underwear. I will find more in a minute. Where did you get that money? Where did you find last year's Halloween costume? Why do you have my jewelry? How did you carry your radio downstairs with all that other stuff in your hands? How did you do all of this while I made a sandwich for your brother?

And on. With both kids. Both at the same time.

Me to Ty:

We have to eat because our body needs energy. It's like diesel for your engine (he has a train that needs pretend diesel to run). People need to eat (it's almost noon and he has refused all food this morning).

Me, in my head:

If this kid doesn't eat, he's going to have a meltdown and then I'm going to have a meltdown and then Za will probably join in. He hasn't eaten since dinner last night. My husband will come home and find the house colored in markers and me still in this kitchen, crying over a sandwich.

Ty: Is daddy home yet? I'll eat when daddy comes home.

So I decide that this can be a teachable moment, at least about patience, at the very, very minimal. I explain we all need a time-out. I give Ty his sandwich, take the choke-able money away from Za, the radio with an electrical cord away from Za, the too-long and trip-able costumes away from Za, and my somewhat expensive jewelry away. from. Za. The kitchen is behind me and I can see Ty with his sandwich. I sit Za down to play. I sit down to type this post and possibly rejoin the adult world for a moment.

I sit and close all my Internet windows with partially written posts. I start typing. Za is quiet and I turn around to find her emptying her package of hair bands. (You know the package sold at major stores? The one with six little compartments and about 200 of those suckers jammed in there? They are all over my floor. She looks so happy. I take her picture for this post). We manage to fit all the bands back in the container.

I keep typing.

Ty comes in from eating his sandwich (I hope) and sits at the piano. He counts every key as he bangs it. I keep typing. I take a picture of him doing that for this post. I keep typing.

Za gets up and walks up the stairs. I follow, only to realize that I know why all those rubber-bands fit in the tiny box: the rest are actually all over the stairs and second floor, like gingerbread crumbs leading me to her messes, which include toothpaste on the carpet and her bedding shoved in her closet.

I leave it all and decide to wrap-up this post before I clean. I take the card from my camera and look for the connector-thing for my computer. I can't find it. I text my husband. He has it. Of course. I decide to hit 'publish' and then I hear a noise. I turn around.

Me: Why do you have my purse?

Za: Me want daddy.

Me too Za. And not just for my dang camera-card reader.

SAHM successes are important, and their value will show in our children.  (Or at least how we handle our trying experiences).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Financial Friday: Organic Talk is Free

Situations can change with intelligent debate.

Last Wednesday my "Wonder Why" column concerned the portrayal of male and females on children's television shows. I could say that people had strong opinions, but that would be an understating the situation. I believe in respectful debate, so I tried to listen to all sides. One reader did have this to say:

I think that allowing your child's favorite TV programs and other social norms provoke conversation will not only allow you, as the parent, a portal into your child's perceptions but also feel more organic to the child than sitting him or her down for a "discussion." Many parents make the mistake of formalizing conversation and turn their child off to the idea of talking with mom or dad long before the dreaded preteen and teen phases.

The idea of "organic" conversation spoke to me. When I think of that term, I envision natural, true, unforced talk. I thought of several examples from my children's lives:

  • When putting on their shoes, we name "left" and "right."
  • We discuss colors as we take walks - the mailboxes, sky, trees, vehicles, etc.
  • We say prepositions, or position words, with our objects and locations - the bear is on the shelf, under the desk.
In all of those situations, our conversations are organic and my children understand the lessons well. For example, our discussions over colors leads to deciding if a mailbox is blue, or a light gray.

When Ty did this art project, we had an endless conversation about what you can do with a cereal box.

Instead of eliminating or limiting generally safe shows, using the problems as platforms for organic discussions (preschool or preteen) may be the safer route.

The idea of organic conversations with children seems so simple but I know I don't always follow through with them. What are other opportunities for organic conversations?

SAHM successes are important, and their value will show in our children. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Switching Classrooms, Again

Switching, transitioning - sometimes life changes. 

I taught high school English for over seven years. The job was incredibly rewarding, but when I had 2-year-old Ty and 4-month-old Za, it became quite necessary for me to resign. I could not do justice to two very important jobs: teaching and parenting.

Good-bye message from sweet students.

I started this blog as a way to kill time and explore how my life changed, or transitioned. I wrote about my kids, my life. The teacher in me just didn't disappear though.

Soon it became obvious: I had to write about education. Thus, I began focusing on bridging that gap between parents and teachers. I felt I sat on both sides of that theoretical fence. I knew the two questions asked:

1. Parents asked: why do teachers do this ("this," of course could be a worksheet, activity, lecture - anything really).
2. Teachers asked: why do parents not understand what I am trying to accomplish? Do they not know I want their child to learn?

Are flashcards inherently bad? I need to know.

So I knew of this discordance, this disconnect between the two sides. It is still there, of course, larger than ever, maybe. I knew that with the exception of a few, both teachers and parents wanted nothing but the best for children: independent learners, confident people, well-rounded in academics. Eventually my blog grew into addressing the idea that everyone is a teacher, everyone in society, especially parents. Maybe, I thought, if parents knew why teachers did what they did, maybe harmony would replace hostility. Maybe if parents knew that teachers did not require memorization of vocabulary words as torture techniques, but as a way to activate the knowledge and comprehension aspects of Bloom's Taxonomy, they would support the entire process. Maybe.

And quite honestly, I wanted to tell parents not to ease the teachers' jobs, but because they should know. It is not fair that teachers do all this educational 'stuff' with their kids and they have no idea. Parents should be familiar with this terminology. After all, they will be dealing with it for a minimum of 13 years!

What is Ty learning here? More than educators probably know.

I look back at when this blog started and remember wondering if I would continue with it or discard it after a few months. I kept with it, even when it was hard. I have found some pretty loyal readers. I've had some interesting discussions. I've met some fun people along the way.

And I think it is important. And I can't stop now.

I need to continue blogging, exploring this lack of a bridge between parents and teachers. Parents need to know what teachers do and why they do it. They deserve that. When that happens, who knows. Really, it could be powerful if everyone was in this educational arena together.

When I say that I am switching classrooms, again, I mean that I have taken a full-time teaching position. I will be transitioning again, only in a much different way. I must balance my children and a classroom rather than learning how to become a SAHM.

My new teacher's desk, complete with a bottle of Diet Coke.

I will still be blogging here, though. It is a passion, this explanation of how the teaching world has unknown commonality with the teaching world. Parents and teachers switch classrooms; a room with children is a classroom.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wonder Why Wednesday: Lots of Education Thoughts

I'm rambling today - lots of questions pouring out faster than I can type them. These are loosely connected - like I said, I am really "wondering" today. Feel free to comment and my readers and I can examine this together. 

I was inspired by Brian Harke's article, and this blog is in response to his latest post, High School to College Transition, Part Two: Academic Expectations. (It is a solid article with nice ideas, for all parents of future college students).

I'm not going to reiterate the entire post, or analyze it either. One part stood out to me, and I kept rereading it. Right away, Dr. Harke discusses the manner in which freshman enter college. He says:

High schools often reinforce these expectations [that college will be like high school] by unwittingly allowing students to enter college as dependent learners rather than independent learners. I say this not to place blame, but to recognize that up to this point most students have had teams of people supporting them, keeping track of their academic progress and looking out for their best interests. Since this has been their norm for 12 years, new college students are often at a loss when faced with the reality that it is up to them to manage their academic independence.

I liked that he said "I say this not to place blame" because blaming others for a large problem diverts attention from actually solving the problem. I agree with Dr. Harke wrote that. College, trade school, or a job requires people be independent learners. Can you imagine showing up to work and the boss saying, "Did you read the manual? Nope? No time? You didn't use the time I gave you yesterday? OK, I'll give you some time today."

I can't imagine that, and I know that never happened to me as an undergraduate, and my goodness, never as a graduate student. It probably shouldn't happen in high school either, especially if teachers are training students for a big world they will enter in four years or less. High school teachers do that, though. I've done that. I have enabled students to stay dependent learners instead of growing as independent learners. Why? Well, I can try and explain.

When I entered teaching, I knew not to do that. I just finished college where I studied to hold students accountable for their actions. Then students got tired (from after school jobs and extracurricular activities) or were absent. Whatever the reason they were not learning. They did not have the work done. They did not understand. And I had to do something. I not only re-taught material, I allowed students to finish their worksheets and reading assignments in class.

And no one cared. I felt like I did a disservice, but the grades were raised. I felt like I was teaching students to become dependent on me and not independent learners. I felt like I was telling them one thing but doing another. However grades were improved and everyone was happier. I still feel like I failed those students, but everyone else was pleased.

Which leads me to this very large question: Are schools what parents and society want them to be? To be cynical, I could say that fried food often made with white flour and nothing fresh is part of our school system. I could also look at kids sleeping in classes and being passed from one grade level to the next without earning those grades. I know the school system is made of more than this. (I believe it is more than this). Then why do teachers slacken standards? Why do others encourage them to do so?

More often than not, conversations concerning schools leads to complaints that teachers make too much money while not creating independent learners (just look at the comments under Harke's article). I have never heard a conversation about schools not include some reference to that. I have also never heard a conversation that didn't include the idea that teachers need to do more for students.

Those ideas don't click with me. Imagine me saying that I wanted a better reputed surgeon, or a better masseuse, or even someone who mowed my lawn faster and wanted to pay him/her the same measly wage. A group of friends would laugh instead of nodding their heads as they when money and teachers are discussed.

Does society need to revamp the teaching profession? Part-time teachers? People (doctors, lawyers, engineers, electricians-specialists in some field) teaching math and reading? Showing kids a direct correlation of their present schoolwork to their futures? Something has to change: are teachers going to be held more accountable, and be paid more - OR- are standards to relax so teachers can continue with this pay?

Photo Credit

Monday, August 15, 2011

Brain-Based Learning: Guideline Four

The fourth brain-based learning guideline according to Dr. Sousa is:

past experience always affects new learning.

This is huge, maybe more than the brain based theory from two weeks ago that emotions affect aspects of learning, retention, and recall.

The simplest example I can think that supports this theory is that when children have a positive experience they are more willing to learn a similar task. For example, Ty does multiple puzzles a day. He naturally started with board puzzles and experienced excitement from the reward of seeing the puzzle together. He continues to work his way up to more and more pieces of jigsaw puzzles. Part of that is because he learned the skills. It is also because his past experiences were enjoyable and that transfers to his new learning with so many puzzle pieces.

So what is the flip-side of that? Children who were screamed at in the past for not understanding a new concept may react with fear when they do not understand a new concept. They may lie and say they do understand. They may shut down. They may cheat.

Emotions from past experiences, shame or joy, influences present learning.

Those are two extremes, the positive and the negative of past experience affecting new learning. Capitalizing on this guideline can help parents learn more, in better ways. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Yes, yes I do worry about "Phineas and Ferb"

We should look at the irony in the messages we send young girls compared to the messages older girls sing. 

Over a year ago I discussed what Mickey Mouse directly and indirectly teaches children.  I remarked that even though I strive to limit my children's television viewing, they inevitably see some. Mickey Mouse is a favorite. I allow it, even though I worry its messages muddle the lessons my children's parents teach them.

See these costumes? Should I have done this? Mom guilt riddles me.

As Ty gets older, he naturally moves onto other shows. "Phineas and Ferb" is his new favorite. The show focuses on Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher, who are step-brothers. Phineas is boisterous, which smartly offsets Ferb's reserved personality. They have a pet platypus, Perry, who is also an underground secret agent. The boys and the platypus' antics engage my son.

Every day Phineas and Ferb build outlandish buildings, computers, airplanes, and roller-coasters while Perry saves the area from an evil doctor. The plots occur separately, but typically intertwine at the end. The boys have friends (with minor roles) and parents (with even more minor roles).

My son relates to the creativity on the show.

Aside from the mom, female characters are limited. The boys have a sister, Candace Flynn. Candace's best friend is Stacy. Isabella crushes on Phineas, and she is leader of a the Fireside Girls, which is much like Girl Scouts.

Sometimes I laugh at the show. Phineas pulls ingenious stunts while his British brother says little but pulls solutions out of his hat. Perry the Platypus sneaks around. The mom gets her hair done thirty times a month. We have no idea where the dad is. Phineas shows no knowledge that Isabella likes him, which leaves me wondering the same way I did while Niles liked Daphne on "Frasier." The show has advanced themes that play on a kid's level, but a higher level for adults.

I enjoy the show, which is why it is strange that it simultaneously makes me want to puke and pull my hair out. "Phineas and Ferb" sends messages to young children that are inappropriate and perhaps even dangerous - and I am not talking about what Phineas and Ferb build.

I hope my daughter fails to relate to the female characters on the show.

I've complained before about Minnie and Daisy's lack of character development compared to their male costars. "The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse", a show directed at preschool students, unfortunately sends a simplistic message about females. "Phineas and Ferb," a show directed at elementary students, sends a complex one. Females no longer have bland and simplistic personalities; they have male-centered personalities. "Phineas and Ferb" is anachronistic in its portrayal of girls.  

Every action from Candace is male-focused. Largely, Candace spends her days "busting" her brothers, or trying to rat them out to her mother for their misbehavior. She never succeeds. She instead traps herself in shemozzles striving to tattle. Her mom then sighs at her, and Candace leaves, defeated, wondering why she failed. The men (even Perry) stultify her attempts, every, single, time.

When not worrying about her brothers, Candace is waiting for her boyfriend's phone call, waiting for him to call her his "girlfriend," or preparing for a date. Candace is a maven at disguising her true personality for Jeremy, her love interest. Take the time Jeremy participates in a pet wash. As Candace complains at Perry for being a "meat-brick," Jeremy explains how you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat animals. Candace immediately changes her demeanor and attitude toward Perry, and takes him to the pet wash to continue the front that she loves her pet. When not focusing on her brothers, Candace sedulously works to change herself to please her boyfriend.

The female characters on "Phineas and Ferb" are obsessed with males - whether it be a boyfriend or brother. They are not gormless, but their worlds focus on pleasing men through their actions, sincere or not. Even the minor characters, such as Isabella, strive to gain the affections of males through lies. (How many Fireside Girl badges does Isabella have connected to helping Phineas?) Young girls mimic these female characters, and these characters do not focus on themselves like the males do. Everyone concentrates on males. 

What are these shows teaching our youth? The direct messages seem safe, but the indirect messages scare me. Are they mimicking society? Are they dictating society? Impressing these roles on young children is dangerous: males build and create, females concern themselves with males. This must influences girls who grow up watching such situations play out. What characters will my daughter see in the coming years?

As I travel this parenting road, I worry what shows my children will face as they grow. From viewing a few clips directed at older children ("Good Luck Charlie" and "Ant Farm"), the obvious demeaning qualities in females seem to be gone, but maybe they are present and just less obvious. My infrequent viewing of them may be at fault too, as I only have a four and two year-old and have not watched them in-depth. I have, however, seen the Selena Gomez video "Who Says" shown during breaks of "Phineas and Ferb":

You made me insecure
Told me I wasn't good enough...
Who says you're not perfect
Who says you're not worth it
Who says you're not pretty
Who says you're not beautiful

Older girls watching that video, wondering "who says"? I know who told you that you were inferior. Now you know too.