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Posted by on in Early Childhood

If I were to believe my early childhood students, singing with children is passe. Being a small sample (this class has thirty students), perhaps I am being overly harsh. But then again, prior classes had also moved into the dizzying array of YouTube videos for preschoolers. Blingy, fast-moving, cartoonish music videos have become the go-to resource for finding music and movement activities for young children. These have supplanted the older, Fred Rogers, style of meeting children where they are, to my profound regret. In my infants and toddlers course, despite my admonitions to the contrary, teachers use videos of people dressed as gummy bears dancing routines I myself would have to practice before doing, and I used to sing and dance in front of audiences. Up-tempo renditions of favorite children’s songs frustrate young children’s attempts to comply with the teacher’s request to “do what they do on the video”. Students say that their activities allow children to have fun and do their best, but their best means just trying to keep up. And those costumed creatures in the video aren’t going to slow down for them.

What’s the fuss, you may ask. YouTube is colorful, fun, and entertaining. Ah, here’s the rub. Music activities for young children are not just for passive entertainment. They are for forging group identity, cultural awareness, and  learning to be with others in a common purpose. In movement, teachers can assess motor issues, and learn what they students enjoy doing. Plus, a music and movement activity allows teachers to bond with children. If teachers have difficulty doing a move, the group laughs, teacher included. How much more warm and inviting this is! Relationships being the center of a great early childhood program, children can connect with adults in community and care.

I do not shun CD’s of such notables as Laurie Berkner, Raffi, or Hap Palmer. I highly recommend them, and have used them often. There are no distracting, over-stimulating visuals. Both teachers and children delight in finding new songs to “do”. My students have brought CD’s into class to dance to. I remember a little guy (now in middle school) sneaking his mom’s Persian music CD into class and asking us to dance with him! Children routinely ask for old favorites (Bear Hunt, anyone?). But CD’s can’t take the place of real singing. I’ve done Raffi’s Something in my Shoe for years, but I memorized it and never did it with the CD. It is too fast. Singing and moving a cappella allows teachers to stop, if necessary, and give support to children. YouTube videos do not stop for anyone.

You can do it! Find songs you like and share them with your students. Let your authentic enthusiasm spark their imaginations. Allow spontaneous and hilarious additions from the peanut gallery! That enthusiasm, and the interactions it allows, is so much more valuable to children than a bunch of dancing gummy bears. Give yourself and your students the gift of real, live musical experiences.

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Posted by on in Literacy

Michigan Judge Stephen Murphy III recently ruled children do not have a fundamental right to learn to read and write. This long lasting, far reaching decision responded to a lawsuit filed in 2016 by Public Counsel, for plaintiffs, students in five of Detroit's most poorly performing schools, including public and charter. 

The case was called Gary B v. Synyder. It named, among others, Governor Snyder, Michigan Board of Education etc. The 136 page complaint, highlighted need for literacy and adequate education for all Detroit schoolchildren, as well as remedies for lack of appropriate facilities, class sizes, learning conditions and access to the proverbial level playing field for beleagured students.

I really don't know where to start or what to say. It is so disheartening to read the backstory of the Michigan Judge's decision that children don't have a fundamental right to literacy.

I saw the story on Twitter about a week ago, have been knocking it around in my head until I found a day to cocoon, do significant research and then write what I think. So that is exactly where I am and not really happy about it. It's just stuck in my head and heart.

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Posted by on in General

brain

I retired this year, after 39 years in the classroom. So I am now on Day Twenty-five of my retirement.

"Well, your retirement doesn't really start until September- you're just on summer vacation now."

I've heard this one often since my retirement officially began fourteen days ago, and to some extent I agree that retirement does not hit now with the same force that it will when the school buses are running and I'm not walking the school doors at 7 AM.

But still.

Every summer in my career, I had a big fat To Do List. Usually it involved re-reading works of literature from my course curriculum. The list also included designing and developing unit ideas, or tweaking and re-configuring materials I already had. I've never taught exactly the same stuff the same way in any two years, and a big part of keeping fresh and refreshed and on top of my game was that summer prep. To be certain, these past several years a lot of the planning has centered on how to do more with less, which corners to cut to accommodate the most recent cuts in the year and the day. But there was always a stack of things I had to do for the fall; like most teachers, I had summer vacations that were not entirely vacations at all.

So yes, my retirement has started as witnessed by the fact that a week or so ago, I was finishing up Lego Batman II story mode and not rereading Light in August. A god working teacher's summer vacation is not entirely vacation.

But even I have been surprised to notice that it's even more than that. I hadn't really appreciated how much of my summer has always been taken up with teacher brain.

Teacher brain is the part of a teacher's brain that never turns off, and it is relentless. It's the part of your brain that is always alert to learning aspects of your students' world. Maybe I'll sample this podcast that my students were talking about all year. I think I'll try to use my snapchat account for a week so that I get my students' references to that app. I have watched The Hill and read Twilight because at the time, my students talked about these things incessantly, and I couldn't put them in context without knowing what they were.

It is also the part of your brain that looks at every single experience from a classroom point of view. In summers when I work a part time job, I didn't just work the job-- I made mental notes of what the job was like and what the work involved and consider that as part of the bigger questions of what I should be teaching these days, or even being able to convincingly and accurately complete the sentence, "You know, when some of you guys get a job, you may well find...." Watching a movie? I'd be thinking about how it might be connected to some of the themes and works I usually teach. Read a book? Every book is not just read, but considered as a possible a recommendation to students. I scanned constantly for real-live examples of various writing and usage issues that come up in the year.Every fall I would go back with my box full of tools, and all year, but especially in the summer while I had the time, I considered every bit of the world I encountered as a possible tool. My Uncle Frank, a history teacher for 50 years in Connecticut, traveled all over creating in his "vacation" time-- and he brought back photographs he took of all the places he went to use in his classroom (and for several years to line the halls of his school). Even when teachers vacation, they don't really vacation. The teacher brain is hard to get to rest. (Are there teachers who don't experience teacher brain? Sure-- the lack of teacher brain is a distinguishing characteristic of most bad and many mediocre teachers.)


I knew I did this, but I didn't appreciate just how much I did it. I bring it up not to convince civilians that honest teachers really do work hard in the summer, because honestly, people either believe teachers spend the summer eating bon-bons while they play the slots in Vegas, or they understand that teachers still work, and I'm not sure minds can be changed.

No, I send this observation out to teachers themselves. Note to you-- you work way harder in the summer than you even realize. More than that, you don't stop viewing the world like a teacher rather than a civilian. Your teacher brain is always running, and your so used to it permeating your entire life that you don't even realize it's happening. Yes, teacher summer vacation is far cushier than what many other folks get, but at the same time, there are so many jobs that do not permeate someone's life 24/7/365. Give yourself credit for that, and maybe figure out how to turn it off now and then before you retire.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

I remember listening to my mother or one of my aunts talk about things I did when I was little. But, for the most part, I could never remember doing any of those things. However, there were certain other things I can distinctly remember in great detail about my childhood… like my dad and me dancing together every night to an old McGuire Sisters record, how my mom would always have a hug and a bowl of chicken noodle soup waiting when I walked home for lunch from elementary school, and how caring and thoughtful my dad was towards my mom.

There is definitely certain stuff kids hold on to as they grow up. Parents and teachers would be wise to keep a few things in mind during the day-to-day with their littles…

The positive words you say to them. Try to watch how many negative or critical comments you toss their way. Balance it out with plenty of encouraging phrases like, “You really did your best on that,” or, “I am so proud of you.” Hearing these things will bolster their self-esteem and identity.

praise

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

I am half way through Erika Christakis’ book, The Importance of Being Little. It is nice to read something written by someone who a) Understands early childhood, and b) isn’t overly academic, and c) isn't too gentle with the idiocies of the corporate early education model. My friend, Rae Pica, also writes with the courage of her convictions. I try to emulate these women.

The point I am at in my reading is the chapter she aptly names, “The Search for Intelligent Life.” She writes that the standards movement, which I do not condemn, by the way, has birthed a marketing volcanic eruption of pre-packaged materials for teaching to standards, everything from plastic leaves to fake logs. Fake food is rampant in preschools. In my preschool career, thank goodness, our policy was that if children wanted to play with fake food, they could engineer and create it themselves. For thinking about food, looking at foods, and deciding what characteristics are the most important to each individual child is certainly more thought provoking (problem solving; creativity, anyone?) than using the plastic foods created by the masterminds of Chinese manufacturing. Children play with their own “foods” with the same intensity. Within the “standards units” marketed by Lakeshore Learning, there are whole kits to teach math to kindergarteners. Adorable plastic cards give your average five year old a chance to “solve problems” written by the company that makes them. But as I have written before, spoon feeding artificial problems to children is antithetical to mentoring their natural inclination to question, and to actively explore solutions.

So, what is a teacher, underpaid and overworked, to do?

For math, throw out the  work sheets and plastic fakery. They are not “academic.” If a child needs or wants a worksheet to solve a problem, you can mentor them by asking what, exactly, they want to know? Do they want to count the birds on the playground? This is statistics and a math activity of their choosing. Ask them to draw a grid (you, know, lines that are parallel, going horizontally and vertically. Ask them which birds they want to count, and then ask them to draw birds going down, and numbers going across. If they ask for help, only give as much as they need (scaffolding). Then hand them clipboards and pencils, shooing them outdoors. We aren’t looking for accuracy. We are looking for a learning process. As Dr. Christakis writes, “The ingredients of good teaching and coaching are learning processes, not facts”.

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