Thursday, 23 July 2015

Thinking outside the box

Earlier this year I was talking with my daughters about - well just about everything really, as we do, and the phrase "thinking outside the box" was used by me to which Isabelle answered...
"well I think inside my box, because it is bigger on the inside, and travels through time and space".
Which of course made us laugh (as my daughters call themselves Whovians - Isabelle has been knitting a LONG  Fourth Doctor scarf for the last few months)...

BUT
This got me thinking...
There is so much focus on thinking outside the box that we are forgetting about the boxes themselves.
Maybe children come to preschool thinking creatively in their radically different boxes - a safe place to think, but also with the ability to share ideas with others... the ability to look into each others boxes, to be inspired.

I get what the phrase is about... thinking outside the box... it is that one way of having a box - that box we are told we should have in school... that one way to approach life - change your box to look like this and all will be well. But of course we need to think out of the box all the time when things within the box don't work!

I, though, work with preschoolers... children not yet conditioned by this one box way of thinking. Children that are filled with play and creativity - who are still learning about taking inspiration from other boxes in order to furnish their own.

If we are all encouraged to "maintain" our wonderful variety of boxes (and by maintain I mean stay true to your own individual creativity, as I assume a box would change over time with new experiences and inspirations changing the fabric, design and technology of the box) - then there would not be the need to think outside the box, but to think by connecting, by box collaboration.

Loris Malaguzzi talked about a 100 languages that became 1 in school... which is more or less the same sort of thinking as this box theory I am developing here (lol). What we as preschool teachers need to learn is how to identify the boxes and how to enable the children to stay true to them and how to learn how to learn, be inspired and interact with others to fuel their box creative drive.

How, though, can we who have been taught to think within a specific box refind our childhood box of creativity?
I believe it can be done through play.
I believe that if we as teachers/adults take the time to mess about with ideas, with loose parts, with nature, with each other... to play then we can learn as children learn... and down this learning path is where we will find our original packaging ready to be filled with all our experiences.

David Hawkins developed the idea of Messing about - and was one of those people that had inspired Malaguzzi. I do recommend that you take some time to find out more about his ideas, as I have found them so valuable in developing a better understanding of my role and responsibility as a teacher and how I can improve my interaction skills with children... by better understanding play and learning.

So I am never going to ask a preschooler to "think outside the box"- instead I want to arm them with the strength to never exchange their box for the standard issue at school (it would be even better if we could persuade the politicians to think "outside the box" or better still refind their original box - and encourage schools to be a place of play, learning, creative and critical thinking - a place that allows children to be creative and to collaborate).




Sunday, 19 July 2015

Phronesis

I often see how teachers have an understanding of situations and a knowing of how to proceed that can be hard to define where this wisdom comes from... its not directly from books, but from an intrinsic understanding of their profession.

Recently I saw the following comment


"- it is tricky. and I have to say, a lot of it does just come from experience. In the example I gave above about the boy who did not respond to his name being called, I just "knew", from that very first day, that I was looking at "something". I didn't have any idea what at that point of course. and it very well could have been a child that was just recovering from a major ear infection with hearing loss and discomfort. but it was "something" and no checklist would have given me the answer. "

"I just "knew""

This knowing does not always come from textbooks, it cannot be taught in the same way as knowledge - and yet it is a form of knowledge.

Luckily the ancient Greeks came up with a word for it "Phronesis" - it sort of means something like common sense, but that really is not a good enough explanation - it is more like practical wisdom - the ability to figure out what to do in any given moment while also knowing what is worth doing - you are wise about your intentions, wise about your ends, and at the same time you have a clear understanding of the means that you need to actually get there.
In the teaching world this means that the teacher is able to apply personal practical knowledge, taking into account the context of the present situation - and then will be re-applied to the teacher's knowledge-base to expand on. Its the knowledge gained by practical experience... practical experience that is reflected on.

If we are to build on our phronesis maybe then we need to be continuously reflecting - unpacking our experiences to learn from them...

some questions to help unpack our experience as teachers include...
  • can I identify my learning goals (ends)?
  •  what are the intentions of my instructional choices?
  • what are the means (resources) available to support the teaching/learning - do I understand how they can be used?
  • am I able to make decisions about what is "worth doing" at my setting? (the why of what you are doing, why this and not something else)?
  • Do I understand the intricacies of the children's lives?  The context being an important part of how to proceed. (remember it can be important when working as a team that these questions are also asked together, as well as an individual, so that you can gain better understanding of your role within the team)
  • am I spending time reflecting and connecting these questions and answers?
I am by no means any kind of expert in how the word phronesis is interpreted - this is just my attempt at understanding how I apply phronesis to my work. To my understanding of what I do. As I feel that my past experiences have given me knowledge, and an understanding of how that knowledge can be used and received - and enable me to understand the present and make better choices about how I can support the children I work with. The difference between a teacher having experience and a teacher being phronetic is how the teacher reflects on the experiences, learns from them, applies this to his/her current work situation - of "just knowing" when " no checklist would have given the answer".



You can read  Phronesis - what is that? a blogpost by David Coffey. for another short introduction on phronesis being important for teachers





Or to to find out more (and in depth), you can read this paper by Jeannie Kerr or this one by Kathryn Boney to see how phronesis and teaching are important.
Phronesis means practical wisdom. Aristotle distinguished between sophia and phronesis in the following manner. Sophia involves reasoning concerning universal truths, while phronesis includes a capability of rational thinking. In order to practice phronesis, Aristotle felt that political abilities were required, as well as thinking abilities. Aristotle categorized there elements of character (ethos) in the following manner: 1) phronesis (how to act in particular situations), 2) arete (virtue) and 3) eunoia (goodwill). He also felt that phronesis was both necessary and sufficient for being virtuous. To depict phronesis, we developed two overlapping circles, not unlike the symbol for praxis. In the case of phronesis, the intersection of values (depicted as human figures holding hands in a circle) and knowledge (depicted as a book) are used. - See more at: http://ian.umces.edu/blog/2013/08/29/its-all-greek-to-me-the-terms-praxis-and-phronesis-in-environmental-philosophy/#sthash.ePZPQIhm.dpufPhronesis - what is that?
Phronesis means practical wisdom. Aristotle distinguished between sophia and phronesis in the following manner. Sophia involves reasoning concerning universal truths, while phronesis includes a capability of rational thinking. In order to practice phronesis, Aristotle felt that political abilities were required, as well as thinking abilities. Aristotle categorized there elements of character (ethos) in the following manner: 1) phronesis (how to act in particular situations), 2) arete (virtue) and 3) eunoia (goodwill). He also felt that phronesis was both necessary and sufficient for being virtuous. To depict phronesis, we developed two overlapping circles, not unlike the symbol for praxis. In the case of phronesis, the intersection of values (depicted as human figures holding hands in a circle) and knowledge (depicted as a book) are used. - See more at: http://ian.umces.edu/blog/2013/08/29/its-all-greek-to-me-the-terms-praxis-and-phronesis-in-environmental-philosophy/#sthash.ePZPQIhm.dpuf
Phronesis means practical wisdom. Aristotle distinguished between sophia and phronesis in the following manner. Sophia involves reasoning concerning universal truths, while phronesis includes a capability of rational thinking. In order to practice phronesis, Aristotle felt that political abilities were required, as well as thinking abilities. Aristotle categorized there elements of character (ethos) in the following manner: 1) phronesis (how to act in particular situations), 2) arete (virtue) and 3) eunoia (goodwill). He also felt that phronesis was both necessary and sufficient for being virtuous. To depict phronesis, we developed two overlapping circles, not unlike the symbol for praxis. In the case of phronesis, the intersection of values (depicted as human figures holding hands in a circle) and knowledge (depicted as a book) are used. - See more at: http://ian.umces.edu/blog/2013/08/29/its-all-greek-to-me-the-terms-praxis-and-phronesis-in-environmental-philosophy/#sthash.ePZPQIhm.dpuf
Phronesis means practical wisdom. Aristotle distinguished between sophia and phronesis in the following manner. Sophia involves reasoning concerning universal truths, while phronesis includes a capability of rational thinking. In order to practice phronesis, Aristotle felt that political abilities were required, as well as thinking abilities. Aristotle categorized there elements of character (ethos) in the following manner: 1) phronesis (how to act in particular situations), 2) arete (virtue) and 3) eunoia (goodwill). He also felt that phronesis was both necessary and sufficient for being virtuous. To depict phronesis, we developed two overlapping circles, not unlike the symbol for praxis. In the case of phronesis, the intersection of values (depicted as human figures holding hands in a circle) and knowledge (depicted as a book) are used. - See more at: http://ian.umces.edu/blog/2013/08/29/its-all-greek-to-me-the-terms-praxis-and-phronesis-in-environmental-philosophy/#sthash.ePZPQIhm.dpuf

Friday, 17 July 2015

Through the Eyes of the Child 2015

 
In 2014 I started a project with the children called ”Through the Eyes of the Child” - the idea being that children talk about what is important to them and then try to capture this using the medium of photography.
There was an aim to do this worldwide, (with the idea that children would be able to discuss whether or not there were common themes of childhood across the globe) but even though there was a quite a bit of interest it never got to the point where we could share images and our documentation with each other at the end.

This was of course disappointing as MANY hours had been poured into creating the website, working out how to share the images etc etc... it was, though, an opportunity to learn. To learn that even we adults need to just go with a process in our learning and not have a product.
So I am taking that knowledge and starting the project again. As it is a project worth doing.

Last time the group decided together on what was important to them... it was so interesting to listen to their ideas, and argue for why they were important in a way that would convince others of the importance. In the end LOVE, PLAY, PAINTING and TRAFFIC SAFETY were considered important and the children were given 3 weeks to try and capture these themes on camera.

They were given experience with the camera before hand (so they could go through the whole click happy phase), and we learned together with the children that by giving them a "five photo max" each day made the reflecting time manageable for them... sorting and reflecting on many photos became overwhelming.

This term it will be done slightly differently... in fact I will be doing it with my group twice... a one-week prototype and then reflecting on this to see how the five week project will proceed. Hopefully by the end of it the children will feel more competent in using the camera to document their own learning/what is important to them.

The learning is maybe not as important as using the camera to voice what is important. In a way, I do not want the children to be focussing on what they are learning all the time... I want them to play and for the learning to happen within it. I feel that by encouraging the children to talk about what is important I will learn more about the children and can support their learning better, and hopefully the children will discover more about themselves and each other and can build on this wisdom too.

The one week pilot.
I have 8 children in my group, so I will be dividing them into pairs. Each pair will get a day with the camera. They have to work together about deciding how to spend their 5 photo opportunities (I am thinking about letting them delete a photo during the day if they feel they need to take a more important one). Working as pairs also encourages dialogue. At the end of the day I will sit with the pair and talk about which of the photos is the most important for the day and why. This photo and their thoughts will then be saved, but not shared with anyone else. I plan to save the image in a powerpoint presentation so that I can document the children's words together with the children. This will take Monday to Thursday. On Friday we will sit and look at the four photographs of what has been shared. The dialogue will about looking for similarities and differences in the photos - have the children taken images of the same kind of thing... do others agree with them that that moment was the most important during the day? The ultimate goal is to see if there is an common theme in their photos/reasons for choosing the photo.

 

The four week project will be the same (of course I might make adjustments based on my observations of the pilot). This time each pair will have four days - Monday to Thursday to document what is important - this time they will have the benefit of the pilot, so it will be interesting to see how it affects their method of selecting and taking images.
It will mean that potentially there are 20 photographs to reflect on - as yet I am not sure if this is too many or not... but the pilot will help me make adjustments. On the Friday I will sit with the pair and do the reflection time, saving the images in a powerpoint presentation that will get added to over the weeks. Again it will be important to include the children's words - their motivations as to why those photos should be a part of the presentation and not the others.
This will mean the presentation will have 16 photographs to look at - and why there is a fifth week... because then we can go through the photographs at our own pace - it might take one session or 5 sessions - or more... but I do feel the first session should be a quick run through of all the images and reading the texts to the children like a storybook... and to start the dialogue after that. Again I will understand more about how this dialogue should proceed after the pilot.

I feel quite excited about this project - and feel it will allow me an important insight to how the children view their preschool lives. 


There will be no need to register. The old Through the Eyes of the child website and the old Through the Eyes of a Child blog I will not be using - as it consumed far too much time to maintain them... but I will leave them up and accessible as a reminder of what has happened, although I will be transferring the posts from there to this blog, to make things a bit easier...
There is a facebook page connected to the project - also called Through the Eyes of the Child... you are welcome to drop by and share if you are joining in the learning process of this project... either you follow the same sort of process as I am, or develop your own... it would be great f you could share what you learn.






Monday, 13 July 2015

Building a Bridge - Da Vinci Style


When I was in Milan I visited an exhibition about Leonardo da Vinci and it really got me inspired... as I could see so many of my preschoolers interests woven into a project about his thinking, creations, drawings etc etc etc...

Bridge building was also one of the contruction ideas that I tested when I was there - and I knew exactly which children in my group this would inspire...

There was a book you could buy at the exhibition about this, but I felt it was just too pricey - and I have been looking for the same book elsewhere and not found it, but I have found other interesting books.

Da Vinci designed a bridge (1485-87 sometime) that could be constructed without nails or adhesive - a self-supporting bridge - and this can be replicated in the classroom if you are interested...

Check out the images below and you will see... and, yes, this is all I am going to give you, as it is the same information that I will give my preschoolers...

 You can see how the sticks weave in and out to offer stability - under, over, under over - the middle row doing the opposite to the two outer rows... a bit like weaving in a way.

   

As you see once the bridge frame is constructed you can then build a pathway over it - I think this image makes it easier for children (and me) to make that leap from model to actual bridge).

The top bridge is made with long flat wooden blocks, the following image might make it more clear as to what sort of blocks are used.

All images come from google searches and Amazon (which sold a da Vinci bridge kit for a sum of money that I felt was too much for my budget, and that we could improvise with blocks that we already have - possibly kapla, but we also have a some others that are longer and thinnner that are just bef´gging to be used in such a project).

Below is a film on how the brdige is constructed. If you want to find out more details about the bridge and other Da Vinci inventions then please check out Leonardo's Inventions

                  

Here is the bridge I built at the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition in Milan.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Circle Time - To do or not to do...

I have, over the years, frequently seen discussions around whether or not young children should be engaging in circle time...

and really this is one of those things that cannot be a "to do or not to do" as it is, as with most things in life, not about what we are doing, but why we are doing what we are doing.

If the circle time is just a part of the daily routine... a have to... that is done on automatic... with the same schedule of day, weather etc etc - then maybe its time to think why exactly you are doing that? Are the children engaged? What are the children learning? What is the point of the circle time?

 


The only "circle time" I have is when we meet for eating... and we chat... and also, and very importantly, for our philosophical dialogues... which have been as long or as short as the children have shown interest in... my role is to facilitate THEIR dialogue... BUT children learning to listen to each other has not come overnight... this has been something we have done through other playful activities to support the children's listening skills... and the better the children have become at listening to each other (have the patience, respect and interest in what another child is saying) the better the children have been in their dialogues... this I measure by their enthusiasm, how active they are (how inactive I need to be) and also the length of the dialogue itself... sometimes I see they need to break it off as they are restless, sometimes they tell me they do not want to finish yet...

Circle time needs to meaningful... circle time in itself is not a bad thing, it is just another tool in the teacher's kitbox... it's just to be reflective, to know and understand why you use circle time, how you use circle time, and how you are supporting the children to be active participants of circle time... it cannot be a little activity on the side... it needs to be woven in to the fabric of what you are doing... both to support the projects, but also activities to support the circle time...

I do lots of self-regulation games, listening games, listening art and self-regulation art... and also games and play outside and role play... all sorts that enable the children during our philosophy sessions (circle time)...

I do not do calendar or weather... unless this is meaningful to what we are doing with the children at the time...

I think practising to sit still and be quiet are not good skills, they are passive skills... but learning to be an active listener, to be able to self-regulate - will help children in their learning now and for the rest of their lives... in school but also in their social/emotional development too.


Below is a list of some of the activities I have done with the children to support their listening and self regulation skills... to enable the children to be active participants during our circle times.

 The Best Position for Listening - this was a circle time activity to explore how we sit to listen... it involved us sitting in a circle talking, going to table to draw, to come back to the circle to share and explore...

The Listen Dance - using movement to support listening skills... listening is more than just using your ears

The Bubble Game - i think this is absolutely the children's favourite game to play... and they have no idea why I am so keen to play this game...

Mirror Mirror - listening with eyes - another fun game (and tricky)

Kandinsky - art inspired listening play... also great for turn taking, which is an essential part of being in a dialogue.

Art and self regulation - this paint by letters is about self regulation, the dialogues that occur when you do not keep to your area... this is not art to be creative in the art sense... but art to be creative in the social sense.

a hundred languages - a hundred ways to listen... if we are to listen to children... if children are to listen to each other we need to be able to listen in many different ways.

There are 42 posts linked to listening... from activities to my explorations of what listeing is ... as well as images to remind people who have listened and participated in one of my workshops. Please explore some of them if you have time and inclination... there are also 73 posts linked to philosophy with children that you might also find interesting.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Perspective...

How often do you check your setting from the height of the child?

It really does make a difference on how you see things...

It can also be valuable to take photographs from the height of the adult and the height of the child to see the difference too...

The above image if two photographs taken from the exact same point... the only difference being that on the one on the right I was crouching, being a small as a child...
Suddenly the room feels bigger, I see things that I missed when I was standing up - but I still see all the way up to the ceiling (for some reason some places become afraid of putting things high up - I feel that we should be encouraging children to lift their eyes... to be observant of many things around them, and not just what is at their height - like being spoon fed - of course there still has to be an awareness of what the children can see and why it is being put where it is being put).

This is one image from my visit to Garden Gate Child Development Center on Martha's Vineyard, where I visited as part of their ECE retreat earlier this month.

More posts will be coming from this visit.