Tag Archive for education

The Value of Pineapples

Pineapple Pic

Over the last couple of decades or so, high stakes standardized testing has become part of the American classroom status quo. There is talk of increased “academic” time, academic achievement goals, and adequate yearly progress. Several times a year teachers and administrators gather together to pour over their data and try to decipher those numbers into meaningful classroom experiences. As hard as they may try not to, it’s pretty much guaranteed teachers will peek over their own reports and ask about their neighbors’ scores. After all, this is serious stuff. Not too different from their student counterparts, they’ll nervously ask, “What’d you get?”

What scores are they referring to? Their overall classroom math and reading scores.

Frequently a teacher’s scores may be a bit lopsided. Their overall reading scores may be vastly higher than their overall math scores. It may be that they have a class full of students who naturally lean toward the verbal side of things rather than the mathematical. Perhaps the teacher is a bit shy of math themselves and isn’t completely comfortable teaching the material. Maybe math is taught at the end of the day and by the time they get to it the kids are exhausted and tuned out. Or maybe it’s vice versa? Maybe the overall classroom scores are biased towards math and reading scores are lacking? Worried for job safety, feeling defensive over all the work and love they poured into their students, and maybe a bit of dented pride – the cry of “but how can I be accountable for both scores? Math and reading are like apples and oranges. I can’t be held responsible if they don’t get both subjects!”

So much emphasis on apples and oranges. Maybe some apple fritters and orange juice. Fried apples and orange sherbet. But what happens if you’re a pineapple?

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I like to imagine a time long ago, when humans lived communally in tribes and each was assigned a responsibility based on their natural gifts and inclinations. Maybe there were warriors, shamans, healers, gatherers, farmers, textile workers, and caretakers. Someone had to be leaving behind all those artifacts right? There must have been artists, dancers, scientists, musicians, and problem solvers. I’m sure there were those responsible for diplomacy and social justice as well. In a time when you HAD to rely on each others’ innate talents for the benefit of the tribe as a whole, every members’ gifts were valued and utilized to their maximum capacity.

Fast forward in time and we still have people who perform those functions. But we put limits on who can participate. We devise hoops and hurdles to jump through. And then there are only so many available “spots” open for those who make it through the obstacle course. From our earliest experiences, our five year old selves learn quickly that only apples and oranges are valued. High praise for those who are reading in kindergarten. Kudos to those who can “carry the one” with ease. But if you’re a pineapple, and your skill is of the visual/spatial variety – you can replicate pieces worthy of the Louvre and you quickly understand that your talent is less valuable. That’s “fluff.” Crayons are for “free time.”

What about pomegranates? You may be able to brush the strokes of heaven with your musical talent, but you quickly learn that “we don’t sing songs past second grade.” Music class? That was deemed unnecessary in lieu of practicing how to fill in bubbles, because we all know “musician” isn’t a real job. Whether we want to recognize it or not, our classrooms are filled with pineapples, pomegranates, blueberries, even a mango or two. Our beloved apples and oranges come in other flavors as well; there are Pink Ladies, Galas, Clementines, and Kumquats each with their own unique perspective to share. What I fear, is that our exotic fruits are beginning to believe they hold no value. They have nothing to contribute because when they look in the mirror, they see neither an apple nor an orange.

When you make a fruit salad, letting the flavors chill and mingle in the fridge for a few hours makes it so much yummier. THIS is why many of our overall classroom scores are lopsided or failing all together. In our rush to achieve health, we have forgotten that we need those extra bioflavonoids that come from a varied diet. If we continue with this dichotomous course we truly run the risk of losing a piece of our humanity. Most of our game-changers would have been classified in the exotic section of the grocery store and some of them would have had to have been special order. Albert Einstein? The Indian Custard Apple. Mozart, Kurt Cobain? Pomegranates. Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla? Boysenberries. And I’m pretty sure Leonardo da Vinci was a Rambutan.

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…And the little boy who grew up believing he had no value, whose talents weren’t recognized or cherished because they didn’t translate well on a Scantron sheet, he’s a Pineapple.

A beautiful, bright Pineapple that stops our fruit salad from becoming dull and predictable. Please know I see you, and I value you. And as long as you can remember to value your own Pineappleness, you’ll be a game-changer too.

Differentiation

One of the greatest challenges a classroom teacher faces is to deliver new information to a group of 30 or more people and do so in a way that is interesting to everyone, meets everyone’s learning style, and is at an appropriate level for everyone. Why is this so challenging? Because it’s pretty much impossible!

When you have 30 humans in your charge you have 30 different life experiences, 30 different brains, with 30 different ways of processing. So, we teachers do the next best thing we can: differentiation! Essentially differentiation means we try to give each student a way to process something that is different than what we might give to someone else based on their needs. It can get pretty complicated when you have a whole classroom of students. However, we’re lucky here because no one knows your child and what they need as well as you do. So you can differentiate the suggestions in these guides in precisely the manner that your children need at exactly the speed in which they need it. When it comes to an optimal learning environment…it doesn’t get much better than that!

In order to help you though the process, I will offer some suggestions for differentiation along the way. Rather than saying “for 2 year olds do this” I will label the differentiations with much broader strokes – let’s call them readiness stages instead of age ranges. Not all 2 year olds are the same and their learning experiences shouldn’t be either. Some 2 year olds are highly verbal and are ready to rhyme. Some are even ready for letter recognition. Some won’t be ready for that for another year or years! We want to help our little ones stretch just a bit beyond what they currently grasp easily, not to overwhelm and frustrate them. The key is to listen to your child’s cues and let THEM tell you what they are ready for.

Sensory Stimulation

Our sensory perception greatly contributes to our sense of wonder and enjoyment of our world. The smell of chocolate chip cookies baking, the sound of jingle bells on Christmas Eve, the sight of our best friend walking up to our door…for most of us, these sensory experiences induce great feelings of pleasure and contentment..AND we are also very likely to remember in great detail what these experiences entailed. Yet another way we can use brain science to give our little ones a boost in memory power.

Our sensory system is intimately entwined within our limbic system — the seat of our base emotions. The smell of those chocolate chip cookies?? We may associate that delicious aroma with the anticipation of our first sweet bite, the feeling of love emanating from our mother’s kitchen, the contentment of basking in the warmth of the oven contrasted by the coolness of that glass of milk; Intense, pleasant memories. Change those chocolate chip cookies to cooked Brussels sprouts and you may have just as intense a memory, albeit not as pleasant. Chances are you’ll still remember exactly what the kitchen looked like when you were forced to clean your plate…maybe even remember what you were wearing and what was on the t.v. that night. The more intense the sensory experience, the more intense the emotional response, and ultimately, the more clear the memory.

For our purposes here, our goal is to be able to use those feelings of joy and contentment as a tool to solidify our child’s journey in his world around him. We truly want her to gain a “sense” of the world around her so that she can move through her space more eloquently.

Scaffolding

Scaffolding is a brain based, research backed technique that truly makes a difference in the efficiency of learning!

Our brains work best when they can create a “network” of neuropathways—neural connections weaving in and around other neural connections. As much as I think the analogy of the brain as a computer is belittling to the intricacies of what makes up human intelligence, I have to admit there are many similarities. Our brains store information kind of like the folders on our desktops. It’s easiest for us to remember newly acquired information if there is already a “folder” with some kind of similar knowledge stored in it. For example, when an infant is first learning about what “dog” means, there may be a folder already created in their minds titled “that weird thing with lots of hair I saw at the neighbor’s house.” Then, every time she comes in contact with something four legged and furry, she will take this folder out, compare it to the notes already on file and either add more information or create a new folder or maybe even a couple of subfolders titled “weird furry things that say woof” and “weird furry things that say meow.” Essentially, this is scaffolding; building new knowledge on top of already acquired knowledge. Just as scaffolding makes building a house with many floors easier, educational scaffolding makes deep understanding of a subject easier.

With this in mind, I have written these guides around a certain topic that would ordinarily be intriguing to those of the preschool set. Animals, things that go, their bodies…these are usually the things in their world of which they immediately take notice. So we can capitalize on this pioneering spirit. A few decades ago this technique was called a “thematic unit.” Today, many schools are calling this “experiential learning.” Whatever the label, when we are able to connect something to any aspect that we’ve already learned…it kind of acts like neuronal glue!

One of the ways teachers routinely help students make these connections is -usually while reading a book- we ask them to think of something that relates the text to themselves, the text to another piece of text, or the text to the world. This technique will work well in any situation, not just while reading. For example, you and your three year old are at the zoo and they see a zebra for the first time. You might pose the following questions: Whoa! That animal has black and white stripes! Have you ever seen an animal like that before? (text to self) I remember one time we read a story about a zebra wearing pajamas. Do you remember that story? (text to text) My favorite part of that story was when the zebra ______. What was your favorite part? (text to self) Do you think that zebra would wear pajamas? (text to world) The idea here is to help your child make connections – to create a new folder that is connected to as many other folders as possible – so that if one folder accidentally gets “deleted” he’ll have the information stored somewhere else!

Multiple Intelligences Theory

Multiple Intelligences Theory was pioneered by Dr. Howard Gardner, a psychology professor from Harvard University. Essentially the idea behind MI is that we have more than one type of intelligence and our “IQ” in each of these intelligences can vary. Originally there were thought to be seven types of intelligences, but each year there seem to be a few new ones added to the list. For our purposes, we will concentrate on those first seven:

Verbal/Linguistic – rhyming, letter/sound/word recognition, phonetic awareness, storytelling, listening comprehension, expression, vocabulary development

Visual/Spatial – painting, puzzles, play-dough, sculpting, drawing, daydreaming, designing, decorating, making mental pictures, video, pictures, photos

Logical/Mathematical – problem solving, volume, puzzles, quantity, sorting, patterns, predict, analyze, “how and why,” board games, games with rules

Musical/Rhythmic – rhyming, pitch, rhythm, timbre, tone, singing, playing instruments, listening to music
Bodily/Kinesthetic – fine and gross motor skills, body awareness, pinching, throwing, kicking, grasping, crossing the midline, dancing, recognizing body sensations, dramatic play, “dressing up,” expressing emotions through the body
Interpersonal – understanding others’ emotions, making friends, empathy, recognizing body language, understands others’ perspectives, cooperation, communication

Intrapersonal – understanding own emotions, labeling feelings, daydreaming, setting boundaries, solo play
One of the main differences between this theory and the traditional sense of IQ is that there are so many more ideas of what it means to be gifted. Michael Jordan might be considered gifted in his bodily/kinesthetic intelligence, Nelson Mandela gifted in his inter and intrapersonal intelligences, and Johnny Cash within his musical/rhythmic intelligence.

As with ANYTHING, especially in education, there has been some grumblings regarding this theory. First of all, “the academics in charge” don’t like the word theory. So for our intents and purposes we will view the word theory as “idea.” There has also been contention around the word intelligences itself, the difference between M.I. and Learning Styles, as well as whether or not brain scans have entirely discounted the theory altogether. But here’s the thing: Any teacher who has been doing this for awhile will tell you that when we present information in many different ways it “sticks” better, for which I have coined my own term: The Folder Theory. But since no one knows this theory but me and a handful of parents I’ve told about it, we’ll stick with Dr. Gardner. His list is a handy way for us to make sure we’ve presented new information in a well rounded manner, stimulating different aspects and perspectives of thinking. In addition, I’ve seen it work firsthand. A student doesn’t get it, still doesn’t get it, wait…what did you say?, Nope don’t get it. Has the exact same information from before but this time sings it…oh! Now I get it!

We seem to naturally have a preference for one or two intelligences from birth. Since we will tend to do more of what we are good at, because it feels good to excel, those one or two intelligences tend to become stronger and the other areas, if not exercised, may “weaken.” Those of us who have a natural inclination towards verbal/linguistic or logical/mathematical usually do well in traditional academic settings. However, if our tendencies lean more toward the visual/spatial or musical/rhythmic there is a POSSIBILITY of struggling in a classroom setting. This is not because there is anything wrong or lesser with these areas, only that the traditional classroom is filled pretty much solely with verbal and mathematical opportunities. We need to think of our primary intelligence as our learning language. It is through this language that we can translate other areas.

I have seen more times than I care to remember bright and enthusiastic children, who are very capable of learning, labeled with disabilities simply because their primary intelligence didn’t fit into the box of a traditional classroom. Instead, we should act as translators and travel guides, interpreting what we see along the way in a language they can understand. For instance, if our child’s learning language preference is visual/spatial we must find visual ways (without words) to explain math concepts, etc. If I only speak English and I attend a trigonometry class taught only in Mandarin, it does not mean that I am learning disabled because I didn’t understand the trigonometry. I needed someone to translate the lesson into a language I can understand.

However, the more early experiences that encompass ALL of the multiple intelligences may prevent such a lop-sided experience altogether. Our goal as parents and teachers should be to provide our children with varied and engrossing sensory adventures that stimulate EVERY learning language they are born with!

Take Me To Your Leader

9-8-2015 1;09;45 PMThe first time I was on the other side of the conference table, my daughter’s kindergarten teacher explained to me that she was a “leader” in the classroom. Poof! My teacher to English translator went into action. I knew what that meant. That meant she was bossy.

Vacillating between concern and pride, I pondered what this meant for her future…President? CEO? Felon? Mafiosa? Fast forward a few years and any concern I had was quietly squelched as I watched tiny golden curls dance furiously along to the soundtrack of the movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. (If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching this movie let me summarize it for you: Set in the Old West, a young stallion horse refuses to be held captive by the U.S. Army. The soundtrack includes titles such as “Run Free,” “You Can’t Take Me,” and “Get Off of My Back.”) Goosebumps jumped up and down on my back as I listened to my baby’s 42 pound body belt out her favorite lyrics:

I can’t be beat and that’s a fact
It’s OK – I’ll find a way
You ain’t gonna take me down no way
Don’t judge a thing until you know what’s inside it
Don’t push me – I’ll fight it
Never gonna give in – never gonna give it up no…

Now a senior in high school, I consider that bossiness one of her best qualities. She’s darn near immune to bullying and peer pressure. Of course there are times when I momentarily forget how endearing that quality is – whenever her stubbornness butts heads with my stubbornness. After all, I’m pretty sure the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in the pigheaded department.

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Americans in general seem to have a love/hate relationship with independence. Our country was founded by a bunch of rabble-rousers refusing to be told what to do. Images of the Boston Tea Party and James Dean adorn every Americana collection in the U.S. We idolize the image of the Rebel, the “Don’t Tread on Me.” Yet when our children are young we seem to do everything in our power to quash their individuality and autonomy. Rather than encourage their own sense of self we label them “defiant” and require them to fall in line because “I Said So.”

In our house questioning is valued. If the kids believe a boundary we’ve set is unfair they are encouraged to say so. They are encouraged to negotiate and ask for clarity. Sometimes in the process we discover that a boundary was unjust, that we couldn’t give a clear reason why it was set in place and so it disappears. Sometimes the kids learn to see things from a point of view they couldn’t before, they grow and accept the boundary. And sometimes they still think it’s unjust, but we consider it non-negotiable, and a respectful butting of heads ensues.

I welcome the head-butting wholeheartedly. I know that means that they will have practiced standing their ground at home where it is safe and will be more liable to give an abusive relationship the boot. They will be less likely to stay in a job where they are miserable. They will be more likely to shake the world. That when something is important to them, they’ll be able to stick their heels in the dirt and belt out, “Never gonna give in, never gonna give it up, no….”

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