Monday, 27 November 2017

The same activity a different reaction

I have been helping out a few days a week at a local preschool...

The other week I shared a blogpost about the space project sensory play... where images were projected onto the wall (using translucent fabric to capture the images before reaching the wall and thus allowing the children to feel as is they were in space - OK with a bit of imagination!!!).
I did this with the group of children that I have been helping out with since September - I have got to know these children, we have created a relationship, they know my limits and my expectations.

I arrived at the preschool last wee and was told that I would not be working with the same group as usual, but that the parallel group wanted to  experience space in the same way. I had zero time to prepare... this will affect the outcome - I did not know the children in the same way (although the children like and trust me, which is an important start) - I did not have the memory stick with all the space images that i had downloaded in preparation - images that had been carefully selected from what I had learned from the children - what they knew, what they were interested in and images that would surprise them and offer them new areas of learning in their play. It meant I had to quickly download  some images in a space of 10 minutes that could be projected (working out the computers at the setting rather than my own computer which I am much faster at).

The activity was also at the disadvantage that we as educators had not talked with each other about how the rhythm of the morning would flow - which I believe is essential.

And finally it became clear that this was a group of children that had huge problems with listening - listening to instructions to find out what was going on, listening to each other (and therefore respecting each other's limits) and even listening to themselves of understanding what they themselves wanted... it meant they had a very short concentration span.

So despite the children coming in as small groups they all seemed to experience the space light sensory on a very individual front with minimal interaction... yes they could inspire each other to test things out, but they did not engage in social play in the same way the previous group of children had.

Of course the fact that it was all very last minute could have had a huge impact. BOTH groups have children that are in need of a support teacher being in the group to enable the social functioning of play - but in this second group there were almost half the children that did not listen to the adult or anyone else - and for me this presents a problem...

Children cannot be empowered if they are not listening - they miss out on important information, they get themselves into situations that negatively impact others and then refuse to listen to their peers when there is outrage... The whole group is not functioning optimally if there are so many that refuse to listen to other, that refuse to respect others, that are unable to see the social boundaries that allow us to interact positively with each other. They are able to see injustices against themselves but feel entitled to do the same thing to others and run off laughing.

To be honest, there needs to be a whole load of work being done before we get to this kind of play with the expectation that there will be a social play of the usual kind... the play is younger than what it should be in the sense it was side by side as the youngest children at preschool - rather than the 3-5 year olds that this involved (although these are still young children). The play was immature.
The play for children is always in the place where the children are... what I have to do as a teacher is shift where I am to support the children develop their play and to learn more form it...

This is why it is so important to get to know the children you work with... their interests, their needs... so that the play, the activities, the experiences that are being offered not only challenge them appropriately, but support their development - and also so that you as an educator know what to expect (even though children can always surprise you).

It means changing the environment to meet the need of the children - adapting activities - and changing your own perspective.
Since I started at the preschool there have been a lot of changes in the environment - a lot to do with the fact they have children that easily get over stimulated and the setting is designed like a giant corridor where parents and teachers and children have to walk through the entire preschool to get from one department to another (I really wonder what goes through a designer's head when they think this sort of preschool model design is a good idea... it is not... I have yet to meet a teacher that says this sort of design is anything but terrible - as they attempt to engage the children as others march by and disrupt on their way to going outside - not their fault, they are just being children. BUT if you are a designer and are reading this PLEASE don't make preschools where a class has to walk through another room where children are learning and playing just to get outside or inside - make corridors that go by the learning spaces instead!!!!).

I think as educators we need to start with the children, of enabling them to communicate with each other and to really listen and respect each other... because then the play and learning will happen on a deeper and richer level. It does not mean that you should not be doing fabulous experiences, it simply means you need to be aware of what the potential outcomes might be if you want the children to engage in complex play before they are ready for it... we have to learn to crawl walk before we run - it is the same with play.

the children did start building - but only two of them were truly engaged - unlike the previous group where all were interested in testing and trying out in their own ways and together

exploring shadows... it took more work from me to engage the children this time round

last time the children went looking for more materials to test out... this time the children were not as interested... this is fine, not all children need to be interested, BUT had I known the children better I would have been better equipped to provide materials that would have sparked their interest.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Experiencing the universe...

This is a just a quick post to share some images from this week...
I am helping out some days at a local preschool on the days that I am not writing or travelling to Gävle...
The preschool has a space project happening at the moment... so the two days I was there this week I took in some of my materials for the children to experience a sensory approach to space...

The first session the children got to play with small lights, loose parts and coloured rice on a tray I brought back from Palestine (it is big with large sides, so perfect for sensory play on a small scale). The children were engrossed in the play... exploring how light went round planets from what they have already learned about space - but mostly it was about feeling the rice, experimenting with the lights and interacting with the materials... it was about filling and emptying and not so much about designing patterns... but I also think this indicates what their needs are right now... they have a hunger for sensory play. The play was peaceful, the children talked with each other, and it was enthusiastic... peaceful in the sense that they were able to sort out differences through their words (and well chosen words) rather than using their bodies...

Today I hung up two semi-transparent curtains with a small space in between so that I could project images of space onto it... going through the first then the second and then onto the wall... each layer also displaying the image projected... it gave the feel of being in space. I put a big mirror on the floor too, in order to give it a more infinite sort of feel. I would have liked the room to have been darker to get a bigger impact of being in space... so maybe waiting to do this in the afternoon would be better - as it is dark by 15:20 here in Stockholm at the moment (it will be earlier than that before long!)

The children came in groups of four to be able to explore the experience... and once they had the chance to do this they could come back and start using construction materials to create a space station... the images being caught on the materials... the shadows found themselves in outer space.

Enjoy the photos and films...

spreading out the coloured rice... blue and black...

experimenting with light

light from the bottom

light from the top

the rice was out of date... I had bought it for my daughter over a year ago... cheap rice for her student days... but being a family of rice snobs this was not yummy rice and she did not like it all, so she let it just sit at her student home... I rescued it and it is now being used for a much needed sensory activity

glass beads and light exploration

some of the loose parts that could be used

experimenting with light and movement

The next session
the set up

one of the teachers needed to test to it too!

we dressed a duplo figure (female one) as an astronaut... using silver tape

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

the attitude of autism

Earlier today I shared a tweet by @GladaMonstret

"En Elev som uppvisar en glad o öppen personlighet blir färre gånger tillsagd vid dåligt beteende jämfört med en elev som har "pissoff-attityd" Vuxna tillrättavisar inte dåliga beteende utan det de uppfatta som dålig attityd"

I shared this - and translated into English - as i agree

"This is so true - joyful children who misbehave do not get reprimanded as much as children with a "pissoff attitude" for the same amount of misbehaviour - attitude is what teachers are reacting to rather than the behaviour/actions"

I think I would like to take the time to translate it more accurately (as I tried to keep to the limits of a tweet, which is not always the best thing)

A student that displays a happy and open personality is reprimanded fewer times for their bad behaviour compared to a student that has a piss-off attitude. Adults don't reprimand bad behaviour but what they perceive as a bad attitude

This then got retweeted with a  "well yeah.." comment...

It got me someone frustrated as this is the EXACT problem that I am facing with my son at school.. after years of him not being taught the way he learns, of being in an environment that overstimulates, of not getting the support he has the right to - he has suffered from depression and has developed that piss off attitude which is more about self preservation than it is about disrespect.

The fact that educators feel the need to correct attitudes MORE than misbehaviour is totally inappropriate... if they want children to have a more positive attitude then why not take a look at why the child in your class/group is angry and pissed off - and meet the child's needs there, instead of telling them are wrong. Often this child feel they are wrong all the time - like my son, because he does not under stand instructions if they are more than 2 stage instructions (and he struggles with that) then classroom situations are hard, because he desperately wants to be seen as clever he will call out when he knows stuff (which is seen as rude), when he sees other children being rude or misbehave or call out he will point it out... the children then attack him verbally and the teacher lets it happen - making him feel small. He needs so much preparation for changes and transitions that teachers forget again and again to do (mostly because they are over worked) so he gets anxious... and for my son and many others like him (autism/adhd) anxious looks like angry or pissed off to an adult - so suddenly my son is being reprimanded because he is loudly having a meltdown.
he will refuse to do work at school... which irks teachers no ends... but of course he has gone into full scale panic.

I decided to take a look at this person who reacted this way... I mean if I want educators to really understand my son and children like him, then I need to take the time to understand where these comments are coming from. So I took the time to read this person's blog and it became clear that this new teacher was frustrated by the behaviour of students who were neither listening or learning the way the teacher expected them too.
THIS is a problem of the teacher training where the focus is not on meeting the learning styles of children, but on training methods of teaching to meet the needs of getting grades and meeting curriculum expectations. This is also means teachers are not being adequately prepared to meet the needs of those children who cannot learn by these methods, or think these methods are boring.
The school system also does not allow teachers the time to really get to know their students, to understand how they tick, to take the time to understand their learning strategies, to discuss with other teachers about possible paths of learning. Also the whole school system built on grades and testing is this right or wrong approach which kind of re-enforces follow the route rather than use your imagination to find a new route... after all that could mean ending up in the wrong place and getting it wrong... it could be a huge risk... at the same time it could be the way to finding the solution - these learners are more off-road learners. Off road teaching requires bravery, it requires an environment that is supportive from teaching peers and directors to ensure teachers don't get lost. Sticking to the road might be the safest bet - but its not always the most exhilarating.
Our learning journey cannot just be sitting on the highway getting from A to B. If it is then of course there is going to be resistance in the class - there are going to be those "are we there yet?" children, there are going to be those who need a break to stretch their legs etc and of course those that prefer the small roads where either you go fast and enjoy the thrill of the bends, or slow down to see the details.. and all of those diversions, pitstops, adventures etc that could happen when you slow down and take the time to pause at a bend in the learning journey that offers a deeper understanding.
Of course in a class of many students this is going to be hard to meet the needs of all their different travelling preferences... not all are even going to like travelling by the same mode of transport... you can't just shove them on the same school bus and expect them to just sit there and learn until the destination, some adults have decided the location of, is reached.

So back to the attitude...
Malaguzzi said "Nothing without joy" - this is the same for educators and learners. There needs to be joy, there needs to be a feeling of security and safety and mutual trust - without this there will not be real learning. If a teacher keeps pressing the learning without addressing the joy, the security and trust then there is a massive chance that bad attitudes will develop... reactions to needs not being met, of frustration... and then the child is further punished for having a bad attitude.

Being rude is not acceptable, I am not condoning disrespect. But we need to take the time to understand where it is coming from. How can we lift these children/students so that they can enjoy school too.

For me it starts in early childhood and that it should actively continue from there...

The below film is the ad from Burger King about bullying which illustrates what I am saying to an extent...

That 30% of children are bullied worldwide is shocking what is MORE shocking is that only 20% of bullying is reported to adults... in the film above you can see that people are more concerned with their burger than the child... ignoring uncomfortable scenes seems to be the preferred choice as ONLY 12% choose to interact on behalf of the bullied child. Looking at statistics from USA (stop bullying) the least bullying happens during recess and the most in the classroom... in the classroom - what is the teacher doing? Why is the teacher blind to this, or is the teacher like the 88% in the Burger Kind ad... if this is the case then of course there is going to be some bad attitude happening... the classroom is NOT a safe space.

This month is anti-bullying month... and this week is anti-bullying week...
I have continued this post a couple of days later so more has happened on twitter... today I reacted to the anti-bullying week with a feeling of mistrust... sometimes it feels like too many think they have "done something" about bullying because it has been highlighted for a week...
The thing is this kind of thing needs to be highlighted every day of the year, every year... it should not be antibullying, it should be about supporting the children to have positive and open relationships with each other, it should be about respect and valuing each other, it should be about creating a safe space through mutual trust and respect... that cannot be done by pressing the children on learning geometry and reprimanding them when they don't listen and focus because they are too busy trying to survive the classroom climate.
If we are giving children the best start in life in the early years education, with plenty of time to focus on play and social interactions... Original Learning... together, individually, with enthusiasm through play, with respect and trust - and that the learning continues in this way but becomes more advanced, detailed, in depth and challenging to meet their evolving cognitive development... and there is STILL the focus on play and social interactions... where children are empowered in their learning rather being dictated to consume knowledge... then I also believe there will be less need for these anti-bullying awareness campaigns.

The problem is the school system is failing both educators and learners - and instead of pausing and making the necessary health changes the educational body is being patched up, bandaged and medicated to continue the learning journey. Of course there is going to be bad attitude... most would complain to travel a route they don't want to take when not healthy...

So what would I like to see changed?

  • That early childhood education is valued more. As this is the foundation of learning.
  • That play is valued more.
  • That the idea of Original Learning is valued and used for the entire educational journey we make
  • That educators get more time to listen to their students
  • That educators are trusted to meet the needs of their children/students
  • That children/students are trusted by their educators
  • That there is more time for social interactions on multiple levels
  • That a democratic classroom involves respect, equal values, participation and responsibility (Reflections on play and peace - and there are other posts about democracy I have written) adults and children.
  • That teachers are educated in the many forms of learning, not just one or two models of learning -  including understanding autism, trauma, ADHD, discrimination etc etc etc
  • that risky play is seen as an essential part of learning... (and risky play includes social play). Children do not need to be protected from everything otherwise they will never truly understand risk, danger and be able to keep themselves safe... or fully comprehend the risk/danger they impose on others by their actions.
  • That children are valued as citizens NOW, not as future citizens.

I know there is more, much more to add to this list.. but maybe 11 points is good to start with... it is the 11th month.

and yes... this is my son!

Maybe there is chance that my son can regain the fantastic happy disposition he once had before school robbed him of it... and instead of apologising for this attack on his ability to have a positive attitude they reprimand him for reacting. Being autistic is about surviving the day - coming home trying to reload the batteries to be able to survive the next day... there is NO energy left for learning unless the right resources are put in place so that there is not the need to consume so much energy to just survive.

So next time you have THAT child in your class that is giving you a bad attitude. Take a deep breath, count to a hundred, and try and find out what the root of the problem is... and if you don't have the time for that... make a noise... we need to shout out;  as educators we NEED more time for our students, we need time to vent with a supportive co-worker or a specialist that can give advice, we need time to learn about the child, we need time to build trust, we need time to create a safe space, to find the fun... THEN there will be time to learn...

its not easy.