Tuesday 31 July 2018

The Story of communication

This post has been brewing for a while... and my reflections have deepened due to chats with Kierna Corr who has stayed with me over the last few days and we have visited a preschool director (Soledad from Aspen preschool - link at the end to read a post about a previous visit to her preschool) in Botkyrka (Sweden's most immigrant rich commune) and also Annika who is responsible for the preschools in the Rinkeby/Kista area (another immigrant rich area).
The purpose of our visits have been to learn more about how can we better support the children of immigrant families - especially with language... with communication.

But before we can start with the children there is a need to start with ourselves... as educators. So this post will focus on that before moving onto the children and learning...

How do we communicate?
To create a safe space...
to explore ideas...

Do we speak in different ways depending on who we are talking to... and why do we do this? Is it appropriate?
When we communicate are we leaving enough space for others to communicate their ideas? Are we actually, truly, open to these ideas, or are they just words?
Why do we listen to some ideas and not others? Whose ideas do we give the most value to? and why?
What part of communication do we prioritise? Listening? Speaking? Reading? Writing? Why?
What are our expectations of others when it comes to these four areas of communication? Do we hold ourselves to the same standard of expectation as we do our peers, or the children...

Sometimes I think as adults we can struggle to create democratic classrooms, or listening classrooms, or even respectful classrooms because we did not experience this ourselves - we do not truly know what it looks like or feels like. So we have to be creative.

I also think that schools tend to focus on teaching children how to debate... and so teachers are debaters rather than skilled in dialogue, which is very different.
Debate is about getting your point across (whether you believe in it or not in school as a practice in the art of debating) - therefore debate is not so much about finding the truth, or the strength of the facts, but about the ability of the person talking - their passion, their ability to communicate, their ability to out-voice other ideas and opinions.
While dialogue is exploring ideas and opinions together, being open to learning from them, being willing to change your mind if the facts, the research point in a different direction from what you thought you might take at first... or it might just lead to understanding others better and a deepening of your understanding of your own opinion. Not just repeating your own opinion over and over without it ever evolving or without ever benefiting from a greater understanding of others. 
I feel that teaching children to debate is a great skill, but it is just one form of communication, and is not a great one for creating a great classroom atmosphere, of allowing children to learn from each other, for allowing children who are weaker in communicating but have amazing ideas and opinions that can benefit from others to shine.
I also think that debating means educators might be less open to try new things, because they excel in proving that what they know is the right way.
I also think that a school system that tests and has right and wrong answers is also going to produce teachers/educators that are going to need a whole load more bravery to try new ideas... as getting it wrong meant failure in school... that is a hard feeling to shake.

Are we, as educators, really comfortable with unpacking our own prejudices so that we can face them, learn from them and evolve? I think there are many things that we do without reflecting on, small, everyday things, that are steeped in stereotyped behaviour and tradition. These actions can accidentally exclude, even if that is far from our intention. This is why we need to be open with ourselves and how we communicate with others. What is a our view of the child? How does that impact the way we talk with them... do we see them as competent, do we worry about risk, do we stress about physical contact (you don't hug in school)... how does this impact the words and intonation and your body language?

What about the classroom? Does the layout/design of your classroom encourage communication? What kind of communication? Between the children or only from teacher to children - where they listen passively? How do you design a classroom to support active listeners? What is your knowledge about how the children listen? What does real listening look like?

I received a letter from my son's school in preparation for the new term starting in the latter half of August... there it stated (yet again) the need for "studierro" STUDY PEACE - what does this mean? Sometimes it feels that the teachers are expecting silence and to sit still so that the children can learn... but really there is only a small minority of children who need silence in order to be able to learn.. and even fewer that appreciate sitting still as an effective way to learn.
If children are spending their energy on trying to be quiet and trying to be still, then there is less energy being spend on listening, language acquisition, learning and participating in lessons... and also less time for the educator to be facilitating the learning as time is being spend on micro-managing children to sit still and be quiet. So how do teachers create learning environments? That allows all the children to learn... including those that need to move and need to make noise in order to access knowledge?

This might mean the traditional classroom will not work... and there is a need for flexible seating... but equally it might mean a traditional classroom does work with a particular class and a particular teacher (as long as the teacher is open to seeing the needs of all the children and is not just trying to convert all the children into sit still and be quiet learners... as no matter how good you are at making that happen it does not guarantee you that all the children are learning effectively. Silence and compliance does not equal learning.

The norm is an important part of what makes up our society... our expectations of others, what we accept and what we do not... that hitting, violence, being rude, murdering etc are not part of the norm... what we wear is also part of the norm, how we speak, the words we choose, swearing, what foods etc... there is a need for them to create community and also to create a kind of ethical code. The problem is that these norms can be too small and too restrictive and they have a nasty habit of excluding... this is why, we as educators, need to look at the norm we participate in, our own context, and how that impacts our communication.
In the below images if have drawn the norm as a rectangle... the small circles are groups, for a variety of reason that get excluded from the norm, and very often educators strive to include them. The problem is that these children, these groups have to learn how to become a part of the norm, and their differentness is highlighted as a problem... my son with autism/ADHD refuses to adapt, while my daughters have been able to (but at a great personal expense... complete exhaustion and sometimes depression - in fact when I was with my 17 year old as she got her ASD diagnosis the doctor complimented her on her self awareness and the fact that if she continued to work on that her autism would go away... I pointed out, as a mother with ASD that the autism does not go away, what happens is that we get better at hiding it so that neurotypicals feel more comfortable - we learn how to step into that box)

Educators learn various strategies etc to help children enter that box, become a part of the norm... and in this very process alienate even more the identity and the differentness of the child. Whether it be autism, or being an immigrant, a different home language, a different culture or religion, or skin colour, or family or. or , or ... there is no real inclusion.

What we need is to expand the norm... this idea of what is acceptable... to learn that neurodiversity, languages, cultures, religions, ethnicity etc etc enrich our communities. We need to communicate, to listen and to understand... to allow not just the educator but the whole classroom and the whole of society to understand and include and to accept.
To ensure that the rectangle that represents the norm includes all the children and all the groups and that there is a mutual respect and adaptation so that all can stay true to their identities.

I sometimes hear that this cannot be done in a classroom that we need change in the whole of society... but I argue that it is in the classroom that we need to start making the change... so that bit by bit the future looks more accepting, more understanding more respectful, and more peaceful.

If we are learning to dialogue instead of debate
If we are learning to listen to understand rather than listening to answer
if we give children the time to learn rather than instructing at a hurried schedule
If we are open to evolve as educators rather than just do what we have always done
If we are brave - to face our mistakes, to stand up for what is right.

Communication is essential for change. And language is a part of that. so the up and coming posts will be about communication and language... and since I believe in the 100 languages I will attempt to reflect from many perspectives and also on the many ways we communicate and can support language acquisition.

In the meanwhile... here are a few posts to read...

The story of a word - one of my posts exploring the importance of discussing what words mean between colleagues... are we communicating on the same page, or are we interpreting words differently and creating mixed messages?

Oral Language - the verbal child - another of my posts reflecting on language development

The importance of the spoken language - another of my posts... this one reflects on why there is so little focus on non-verbal communication.

Teacher Child Conversations - Dickinson
quality dialogue, open ended questions, also about non-contextural, not just context based vocabulary (ie past and future)...

Why the babies brain can learn two languages

Body Language - how we read body language for deeper understanding of what others mean... that women are better than this than men on the whole, that women with young children are even better... and men with nurturing jobs like nursing arts etc are good too... dues to being in tune with non-verbal. Films without sound had actors gifted in body language to communicate the story... with words/sound, this is not needed, it needs to be verbally good as well as body language skills
negotiating over the phone it is about the words and the stronger argument... face to face it is about the performance

Aspen Preschool in Botkyrka

Reggio and the power of words - a blogpost from Without Windows.

Learning for Life - here you can follow Kierna's 4 week adventure with the Churchill Fellowship - learning about migrant children and the early years in Berlin, Norrköping and Stockholm.

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Light, colour and reflections...

Yesterday I shared a post with a film where I played with prisms, and also shared two films about how do prisms work and rainbows...

in those films there was the statement that white light could be created with just the colours red, blue and green and that the full spectrum was not needed to create white light...

So in the first film I made today there is some playing with these ideas... of red, blue and green light and the shadows...

What is really interesting when you play with light like this is that when you move the red light it is not the red shadow that moves but the green one... this could be a great stimulus for children to think about why this is the case... they can present their theories and why they think this...

here is a film showing how you can do this experiment on a bigger scale (I was just using torches/flashlights with coloured plastic over them) - my next investment would be the lamps as in the below film

In the next film... it explains why the shadows are different colours... and why they are not the colour that you would maybe first expect...

The local lake where I live has been a source of lots of inspiration... to slow down and notice the small things, and to appreciate what nature has to offer...
I also think nature can inspire our experiments inside (and outside)
For instance I love watching how the light reflects off the lake and creates patterns on the trees surrounding the lake, and overhanging the water... the ripples in the lake caused by the wind, and also the movement of fish (as was the case today... in some places it looked like the water was boiling because the fish were feeding off the seeds falling from some of the trees.

I am thinking trying out the same experiment another time but with a less reflective tray to contain the water... to see how this will impacts the reflection on the wall. I am also interested in floating other things on the surface too, including oil.
The great thing with the water and light play is that there is so much science and learning happening at the same time... not just about light, but also about floating, about the impact of movement, of wind...
could the tray be put on a speaker so that sound can create waves?

I think if I was working with very young children I would set this up as a usual water play session but change the lighting so that it created patterns on the wall to see how the children react... do they notice the patterns... does this change their way of playing and pouring things?
I would select the materials for pouring and floating carefully to be a part of the shadow making, with transparent, opaque and solid materials...
I think most children will want to experience the water first... so this is not an experiment I would try with children as their first contact with water for a while... it would be an experiment that has context... either we had noticed the reflections outside on the lake together and decided together to recreate them back at the preschool, or it would be a development of their water play...

Monday 16 July 2018

Playing with prisms

I have been avoiding the heat of the sun here in Sweden and been playing in the dark again - this time with prisms

here is a short film from the first play session

I think if I had made the room even darker it would have been more effect-full...  but even in semi darkness it was fascinating... and obviously good for children who are afraid of the dark, so they can participate without dealing with fear...

To learn more about prisms... and some experiments you can do... finding the colours, understanding that it is the white light that IS the colours, and how to turn the rainbow back into white light... then watch the film below...

This film is intended for you as an adult to learn more about prims and to feel more assured when playing with rainbows and prisms...
each raindrop acts like a mini prism

If you prefer to watch something in Swedish about prisms, then check out the film after...
the film is designed for children... but is still useful for adults too...

Hope you have fun playing with prisms and rainbows...

Saturday 14 July 2018

Layers of Colour

When I am in Athens next year to be a keynote speaker where I will be talking about play learning and the very youngest preschoolers I will also be presenting a workshop on play - with a focus on light and shadow, similar to workshops I held this year in Jenin, Palestine.
But at the moment I am collecting ideas, testing out the ideas and developing them - so that the play-workshop in Athens can push our play and imagination a little further...
Here is a short film of today's testing...
I have an idea of layering colours to create shadows... and this was my first test to see how we can create temporary art installations... and I want movement to be a part of this also.

This activity can easily be connected to Mondrian if you add strips of solid material/black card or frames and hang them between/round the cellaphane to create the Mondrian look
In this link you can see some Mondrian inspiration in the Hague... including coloured shadows...
Mondrian art on buildings in the Hague

This is of course just the first test of an idea which is slightly more complex in my mind, but I just wanted to see if it would work, and how it would work, to think out how to develop it further...

Friday 13 July 2018

The story of a hug...

I recently read a short article about the benefits of hugs (touch) and babies... and just how it impacts the brain and development of the child.
The post was shared in a group about early childhood education as a reaction to the fact that some settings are writing no-hug policies.
And while I think physical contact is incredibly important to the well-being and development of each child, I also think we cannot just go round hugging every child as a pedagogical plan to develop their brains... we need to think about consent.
As a person who does not like hugging all that much, and also the mother of children where hugging/touch is not something they are keen on outside of the family I think we have to be aware of how we reach out to others.

As an early years educator I have learned to hug and touch to me the needs of the children... it has come out of empathy and an intellectual place. I have a huge respect for children who do not want to be touched and will wait for a signal, or will gently test to see if a hand on an arm, or holding a hand is what they need... sometimes it is just about sitting next to them... that is contact enough.

A hug or touch is a sensory experience. And if you are a person that is easily sensory overloaded then it can be difficult to appreciate the intentions of the hugger as all you focus on is the overload sensory experience and how to deal with that.

I have worked with children that have needed a firm hand rather than a light touch - the firmness was a better feel than the light touch which triggered a kind of discomfort - some children love to be tickled... others experience it as pain. I worked with one child that would stim a lot when very excited... hands waving so much she was unable to eat her apple, but if I applied pressure to her back in an up and down movement she was able to release the joy through me and focus on her apple. The moment I stopped was the instance the stimming started. I have no problem with stimming, but it was getting in the way of her eating her apple with the other children, and this small gesture enable her to be included in the group activity.

I think what it boils down to is love.
Jools Page has researched and written about Professional Love which I have written about on numerous occasions on my blog over the years. This is such an essential part of working with people.
Not just young children... but all people.
I think if we are coming from a place of professional love then we are going to be incorporating consent too, it is about showing care for the whole child/person and being aware of their emotional needs... understanding when a hug and when touch are essential to enabling the child to develop and reach their own potential, and also understand what form of touch is the most supportive and caring and respectful in the situation.

Today I read about children (albeit older ones) receiving electric shocks in a school in Massachusetts as part of their education... to condition them... and from what I can gather it is clear that the shocks are not being used in a therapeutic way but more as a way of control and punishment.  Professional love should be something that is used throughout the education system.
We see the lengths teachers go to protect their children in USA and the awful mass-shootings in schools... it is clear that professional love happens... but maybe it should become more official.

If you explore what the word love means you will see there is great diversity in its definitions... but essentially it involves caring for, or identifying with another. Also as I explored love I cam across the chinese word REN... Confucius never apparently completely defined it, because of its diversity... but it kind of comes back to love, humanity and interactions with others. Which is what we want for our children in schools... and this can mean touch and hugs.

There is the science (neuroscience) to back up the effects of touch - there is research about the catastrophic effects of when children do not get the physical contact that they need... (see links below)...

we need to ensure we are meeting the needs of the WHOLE child.

other links for further reading
Tracey Seed - Cuddling
Not touching - likened to child abuse
På svenska - in Swedish... research projects about touch in preschools - necessary or bad?
No touching kids policies is good for teachers - not quite the text I was expecting to read... as it seems to be written by a person who does not like being touched, but still important to read.
Losing Touch - how teachers are afraid to have physical contact with children in their care.
What the lack of affection can do to you
The Influence of touch on child development
The human touch: a neglected feeling - the importance of touch throughout life
Touching Empathy - that lack of physical touch can actually kill babies...

Saturday 7 July 2018

The story of trends

This is a post where I explore the idea of trending in education...
this is something that I have looked at before, but feel the urge to explore it again...
especially after reading this post -
Why Low-tech is trending in education - when here in Sweden it is all about digital learning that is trending, and that is so apparent in the proposal for the new preschool curriculum. This made me think... should a curriculum be specifying trends in this way? Or should it be phrased in a more open way? So that ALL media are seen with equal value and not some (that are trending at the moment) are seen with more value... because we do not know what the future holds...
I am not saying that the digital world should be ignored, what I am saying is that it is one of many learning languages to express thoughts, ideas and explore.

A few days ago I posted about The Political Nature of the Reggio Emilia Approach and part of that post was a TEDtalk about the dangers of a single story... and I think trends are a part of this... we get fixated on an idea and follow that trend, and quite often trends are not being questioned, or pulled apart or fully understood as they should be... they are simply followed... and it becomes a single story.

Sometimes a "trend" is not fully understood which means that only a part of it is being spread... for instance within The Reggio Emilia Approach is is often the aesthetics rather than the the full complexity of the approach where our view of the child is explored - and the child is seen as competent and capable and a co-learner, where democratic learning and listening is integral to the approach, where it is about the whole community, etc etc and not just what the classroom looks like.

At the same time trends are almost a necessity... they are spoon fed alternatives to the status quo... which sadly is the only option in a profession that is  valued so little, that not enough time or resources are available... to be truly reflective there needs to be more time for teachers to explore pedagogy and ideas individually and, more importantly, together as a team without it impacting he children.
There needs to be enough time for educators to meet and discuss the children, discuss their teaching methods, explore research and pedagogical approaches etc so that they can evolve and also properly understand... that theory supports their practice, and that their practice is based on their understanding of the theory - so if they do not understand the theory it is going to impact the quality of their practice. If they are only given access to certain elements of pedagogical approaches, then they are not getting the whole story.

Also I think when it is trends, what happens is that you are just window dressing your status quo... the core of your practice is not being addressed it tends to be a change that barely scratches the surface. This, I feel, impacts diversity.
Diversity of ideas, of gender, of religion, race, politics etc etc...
Its kind of like changing the colour of your computer without changing the programming... we need to update the whole system, not just make it look prettier, or more expensive or more modern... The change has to happen within.

A relationship with the third teacher - this post looks at the need to go beyond the look and to meet the needs of the children and the context you find yourself... and to resist the trends, but to create equality.
What is equality? What do we mean by this in the classroom? How do we achieve that? How can we help children become aware of a cultural equality in their greater community if they are in a setting that tells a single story? What does the classroom say? Who does it validate? Who is not seen? And how does that impact us?

Process not product - this post explores how we create learning spaces that are about the process of learning rather than the product of attained goals/grades. About the need of diverse materials and diverse approaches to learning and play... there is not one way to learn, there are many diverse ways to explore the same topic.

Hygge in Preschool - actually this is a bit of an eye-roll at the use of Scandinavian words in the English language and that they are trendy. I mean I am very much in favour of preschools and schools being caring environments, that feel safe and comfortable for the children and staff to develop meaningful relationships that allow genuine learning. But to say we need to create hygge... set the room up in specific ways or do certain activities is lending itself to trend... of stopping listening to the children and doing the whole copy and paste... even if it is with well-meaning intentions...
What do the children YOU work with need to feel safe and secure? How can you develop meaningful relationships with them? How can you design the room so that it is meeting cozy needs of comfort but as well as waking curiosity and stimulating learning?

The story of a dining table - this post was written in response to someone writing that if you were "true Reggio inspired" you had tablecloths on the meal tables... tablecloths do not make you Reggio inspired... but if it is right for your setting... the culture and the context... then of course be my guest, put a table cloth on the meal table and enjoy the experience. What is Reggio is reflecting on how you honour the child... is a tablecloth necessary for that... sometimes maybe, other times not... The important thing is to reflect on how do we create respectful environments for and with the children.

The Early Years has more to do to Embrace Diversity - this is a post written by Laura Henry and explores the need to be more diverse in how we view diversity. We cannot simply think of diversity on one way... most often race and religion... it is so much more complicated than that... and includes the children, the setting, the staff and the families...

outdoor v indoor, learning v play - this post reflects on how we as a profession look at learning and play as well as the indoors and the outdoors... seldom do we talk about all of these things with equal value. Too often outdoor play is promoted as a trend, rather than as a place of natural learning and play... and while I think there is a real need to encourage more outdoor learning and play it is interesting to see how to is being done... "outdoor classrooms" "Forest school" is like shifting one thing to another place rather than evolving, expanding and embracing it all.

Sometimes I think even "risky play" is becoming a trend, rather than there being a full understanding of what risky play is, how it impacts the children now and in the future, and also how it impacts us as educators... how do we develop the skills needed to be a guide of risky play... do we "teach" it, or do we create the space for it... I find many articles about the need for it, but seldom about how to support the educators on how to embrace it in their daily practice. And i think this is the danger of trend... we do not go deep enough, partly because not enough time is given to educators to explore ideas, and partly because critical and creative thinking is still not valued as much as academic thinking. Also the fact that we are raised in a standardised school system with grades and right and wrong answers, we are not used to learning by failing... making mistakes and learning from them is a part of risk taking, it is also a part of process learning... and yet there is seldom room for this kind of practice - it has to be "correct" all the time. Teachers are afraid of reprimand, of getting it wrong - and so would rather hide their mistakes than learn from them... there are of course some brave teachers that defy the system and do what is right, boldly go where no teacher has gone before - and suddenly the universe and its great diversity is available for the children to explore...