Upskilling: Project-based learning

In a burst of COVID-19 lockdown energy I decided to raid our Book Closet and read, re-read, learn and re-learn from some of my home education pedagogical inspirations.

Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners” written by Lori Pickert was the first book I picked up.

Like many of the books I have read over the past decade, “Project-Based Homeschooling” is full of practical advice. The “how to” is intertwined with the “why you should”.

One of the things that I like about this particular book is that project-based learning isn’t touted at the “only” way to home educate. Ms Pickert outlines all of the very excellent reasons why it should be part of a child’s learning experience, possibly making up the majority of their learning, but she doesn’t do so in a way that generates a feeling of pedagogical “tribalism”.
I appreciated that tone from the outset.

Here are the key points that I took away from my re-reading of this book.

  • Children should be given the opportunity to self-choose, self-direct and self-manage their own interest projects.
  • Our job is not to “teach” them, but to observe, support, give our attention to their work and mentor them.
  • We should align our daily habits, our routines and our values so that we can create a family culture that reflects the importance of the child’s project work. (And our own projects too!)

As Ms Pickert says:
“Make the space. Make the time. Gather the materials. Prioritize the experience. Commit.” p.39

Re-reading this book has been timely for me as Miss Oh has been working on a substantial passion project with one of her friends. She has been asking me for support with this, so I wanted to revisit the encouraging information about mentoring a child’s project before I began to help.
It is extremely important that I reduce the chance of any “foot in mouth” issues on my part that might lead to her becoming discouraged.

One of the simplest, and most important, ideas that we are implementing is that of regular “Project Time”. Miss and Master Oh have each chosen a day when they will get my full attention for their chosen project.
My responsibility, in my own words, is to show up and shut up.
Reflective listening, guiding them with questions, helping them note their ideas and then sitting back and watching what they come up with.
It sounds simple when it’s written down but, depending on your temperament, it can be incredibly difficult to do in practice.

But just like the Oh Waily kids, I need to practice my mentoring skills, learn from my mistakes and figure out what to try next when I mess up. That takes care of the ‘modelling’ aspect of this type of learning.

“This is how we master a skill, a tool, a material, a technique – through play, through practice, through making and fixing mistakes.” p. 37

Some other big ideas that I’ll be doing my best to implement include:

  • Let them make mistakes and then let them solve their own problems.
    Don’t “rescue” them, but don’t abandon them either. This is the point where you mentor problem solving.
  • Encourage them to do their own research.
    Don’t “help” in order to save them time, thereby robbing them of an opportunity for some great learning.
  • Encourage them to do “Fieldwork”.
    i.e. use community resources, visit with or contact experts, etc.
  • Model resilience when they hit frustration points.
    Use this simple, calm and reassuring response from the book: “Now we know what doesn’t work. What should we try next?”
    I love this so much because it gently directs back in to problem-solving mode without drama and links to the last idea…
  • Project calm acceptance that mistakes are inevitable.
    Then encourage them to understand that the response to mistakes is to try to find a solution in order to move forward.

There is a lot more to this book than I have distilled here, and a lot of very specific suggestions about what you can do to promote a great learning experience for your children. There’s more detail on why you should seriously consider incorporating this approach in to your home education toolkit and what benefits your children will gain. They are significant.

If you are interested in learning about how to implement this sort of child-led learning, then this book is a good guide. And if the following quote, one of my favourites, appeals to you then this might be a book that would sit well on your shelves.

“With a slow pace, an open and inquiring mindset, and calm acceptance that problems are inevitable, we set the tone for a thoughtful approach to meaningful work. We begin to create a family culture that values interests, intellect, perseverance, resilience, and sharing.”


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Cohorts are not the answer

Of the many things that our government could be doing to improve the lot of kids in the education system, this ISN’T one of them.

Yes, I have a bias. I could not envisage sending my 5 year old off to school when it was almost time for her to go. I couldn’t see how she would cope with the long days, and quite frankly, I wanted her to have a childhood full of free time, exploration and fun. No, I’m not an overprotective, paranoid about the wicked world, mother.

I began to read more about childhood development and growth as the time drew nearer, and read, and read and read. I listened to experts talk about their research. In these times of ‘don’t trust the experts’¬†I know just how outdated that sounds.
I then took what I learned from all of this reading, watching, listening and I weighed it up against what I could see in my own home, in front of my own eyes. I didn’t abdicate my decision to ‘experts’ but I took on board what they said and engaged my own ability to think critically.

At no point in all that reading did I come across anything that advocated for children entering earlier formal learning environments. In fact, pretty much everything I came across – that I could assess as ‘independent’ information – said the exact opposite. We should be sending our kids to school and a formal learning environment at a much later age. Especially boys.
We should be advocating for kids to be entering into academics after the age of 7… NOT at 5 or even 4.

It worries me then, to read this statement,

Of 1117 public submissions on the cohort proposal, nearly three-quarters were supportive, including 76 per cent of parents and 80 per cent of teachers.

If you are the parent of a young child, or have friends or family who are one of that 76%, please, please, please do NOT sit back and let this happen without any research on your part.  Please, for the sake of your children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews, get people to look at the extensive amount of work done on the developmental process that children go through.

And think about what you want your education system to look like – will we continue to take steps towards following the high-performing Asian model of stress-filled academics that can burn children out, or will we follow the integrated yet high performing Finnish model which allows for developmentally appropriate learning and plenty of free time to bed in all that knowledge acquisition.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers which option I think would serve our country’s children best.

At what point did it become acceptable to stress out and measure every aspect of our kids? ¬†When did we stop thinking about them as kids and start thinking of them as vessels that need to be ‘filled with education’ so that they are ‘prepared for the real world’?

If you have kids in school, the only time they’re actually in the real world is when they’re out at the grocery shop helping you pick stuff off the shelf. ¬†School is not real life. ¬†It isn’t even a work-like environment, unless all of your colleagues come from the same socio-economic group, your very local neighbourhood and share your birth year. ¬† Please do us all a favour and disabuse anyone who suggests it ‘prepares them for the real world’.

School isn’t a bad thing. Kids need to learn, and not everyone is able to or wants to educate them at home. That is totally fine. There are fabulous teachers out there who do a great job of it. ¬†For them to do a great job though, requires they have kids in their classrooms for whom the work is developmentally appropriate and who are physically and emotionally ready for the experience. ¬† The more we squeeze the starting age lower, the less¬†we are listening to the ‘experts’ understanding of what goes on with our children’s brains, bodies and emotions.

FOMO on behalf of our kids’ early educational attainment and their future is going to create a new generation of Millenials, only this group won’t be the all about me generation, they’ll be the anxiety ridden, never feeling like they are smart enough generation.¬† All that testing, grading, ranking and comparing to others will do wonders for their self-esteem… won’t it?

Yeah, right!


Here is the link to the Stuff article that inspired this part rant, part plea.

The horse, and getting back on it.

Well that was the world’s shortest NaBloPoMo. ¬†I fell off the wagon on the third day!
Oh well, I figure that I’m always telling my kids not to give up when things go a bit pear shaped, so here I am. ¬†Keeping on going.

Sadly there is little to report on the home educating front around the Patch today.  Courtesy of a late Spring cold everyone is feeling well below par and so I caved in and let them do as they pleased.

Instead, I will share my favourite quote from our* October Quotes series. ¬†It speaks to the core of home educating for me. ¬†And as an ex-Anthropology graduate, I can’t possibly pass over¬†Ms Mead’s observation.

margaretmeadquote

 


When are kids too young?

This article from Science Alert came wandering across my web view today. ¬†It’s called “New study suggests we’re sending our kids to school too young“.

My initial reaction to reading the title was, ‘well, duh!’

The idea of sending my just-turned-five year old children off to school simply turned my guts when I thought about it. ¬†I just couldn’t see how they would cope with a full school day at that age, either physically or mentally. ¬†They were wiped out after the two hours at sessional daycare that they went to for a couple of days a week so that I could take care of my fitness needs. ¬†And as I would hear from folk about their new-at-school kids needing to take the kiddie equivalent of mental health days (or possibly recover from exhaustion) it simply re-inforced in my mind that we had made the right choice for our kids.

The issue with this particular article is that it isn’t the first research to show that we start our kids far too young at school. There have been others, and it was a bit of a hot topic a couple of years ago too. ¬†With even more interesting links and references to follow up, this article¬†from the New Scientist is well worth reading through. ¬†It’s called¬†“Too much, too young: Should schooling start at age 7?

The sad and concerning thing is, that despite a lack of evidence supporting the current school starting age and more supporting the positive effects of a later start, governments around the world are pushing towards an even earlier start for our babies.  The official age that children must be in school in New Zealand is six, but the majority will have begun at five if they are going to go at all.  So here it is a cultural norm rather than a compulsion issue.  And unfortunately it seems very few folk are all that keen on questioning it.

And that makes me quite sad.

Joyful illiteracy, the best start

It’s no secret that I have become very interested in the Finnish education system over the last little while and on reflection I think there’s a lot about the way they do things that backs up why we chose to home educate. ¬† I came across this article in The Atlantic called The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergarteners of Finland¬†by Tim Walker. ¬†It pretty much encapsulates a lot of my ideas about the need for younger children to have A LOT of free play time and not foisting academics on to them.

Personally I still struggle with letting go of the need to do maths or reading, but I am relaxing more about it the longer we home educate. ¬†It’s so ingrained to think that kids need to be taught everything that I am constantly facing my own issues around what I think we¬†should be doing. ¬†Some days I win that battle beautifully, other days – not so much!

Sitting here on the fringes¬†of our education system it worries me to see us following the US / GERM model where the need for more ‘accountability’ is based on ideology rather than based on observable facts & research. ¬† More testing and more emphasis on the outcome rather than the journey. ¬†We are beginning to treat our kids like a commodity – their worth is tied to their test scores !! ¬† Really ?!?!

You want to narrow the gap, but you open things up to competition. ¬†Ummm, yeah. ¬†Not sure how you see that working. ¬† Competition & league tables¬†must lead parents to create an imbalance in opportunity through the financial ability to buy in zone. ¬†I’m not sure how you can’t see that this increases¬†the gap you are trying to close. ¬†A little bit more funding does nothing to even the playing field when you are talking about serious money at one end of the spectrum.

Also, how about instead of screwing your teachers down by making them accountable, you consider lifting them up with professional development and improving the working conditions? ¬†Any reasonable business person knows that a successful company is built through happy, engaged and valued staff. ¬†If you want to look at schools in a business-like way, which is of course the GERM way. ¬†So why are you making things harder rather than easier? ¬† Why aren’t you elevating the status of teacher and addressing the training, mentoring and long-term retention. ¬†Why aren’t you attracting the best and brightest to the profession, if it’s the teachers who aren’t holding up the standards? ¬†As the boss of the school system, perhaps your hiring skills suck and you aren’t actually that great a boss to work for.

It’s all smoke and mirrors, political ideology trumps the needs of the child – and it is one very big reason why we will continue to home educate. ¬†Whatever mistakes I make as a parent trying to do this will be outweighed by the positives my kids will gain from having the freedom to focus on what they want to learn and how they want to learn. ¬†It’s going to be much better than having them value themselves on the basis of somebody else’s idea of what scores highly in a written test.

I really hope your lovely little school child is that monkey there, or heaven help his self esteem and mental picture of himself !

Testing

Apologies for the rant. ¬†Whenever I think about this topic it starts to grind my gears. ¬†We don’t have to face this because of the path we’ve chosen, but I hate to think of all those lovely little people being told to climb trees when clearly they are much better swimming in the open ocean – and then feeling stink about themselves because they can’t do it. ¬†Heartbreaking to think of it !!

For more about the Finnish style, take a look at these videos over at YouTube.

Happy viewing!

Project Based Home Education – let’s learn

PBHYou may have remembered me posting about the difference between teaching and learning at the beginning of the month.
Well, I decided to try and get out of my own way.

Luckily for me, there was a Fall course for Project-Based Homeschooling and I took advantage of it.  I signed up in a fit of self-improvement with the hope that I will gain some insight and skills.
I’ve had the book for an age and had read most of it, but was a bit stumped about how to tackle it in my day-to-day life. ¬† I’m pretty good on the accessibility of things around the home since I’ve had a strong Montessori bent since Miss Oh was a little snippet of a thing. ¬† I don’t squirrel supplies in the tops of cupboards or behind layers of Mummy-guards, so I feel comfortable on that front.

What will need the most help is likely to be my observational skills, recording skills and communication skills.

Just a bit to work on then.

But it’s well worth it to expand my understanding, and hopefully open up new avenues for all of us in this ever-changing journey.

In the meantime, I’m off to re-read the book and finish it off entirely before we kick off next week. ¬†I’ll try to drop back and let you know how I’m doing. ¬†I suspect that it might be at the end of the six weeks rather than any time in between, but I may surprise myself.

Feel free to share your experiences of having project based home ed as part (or all) of your home education lifestyle… I’m always happy to hear how others go about things.

Kids can learn by themselves? Really?

knowledge ahead
Well, apparently they can.¬† Who knew?¬† ūüėČ

Any home educating parent, that’s who.¬†¬† Especially those who follow an unschooling or natural learning style in their homes.¬† The rest of the world is slowly, ever so slowly, cottoning on to the idea that kids can learn just the same way as adults – through following their interests and being self-motivated and self-directed.

Today’s article comes from the USA.

http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/07/18/students-teach-themselves

And if you are in any doubt that this is possible, take a wander across to YouTube and do a search for Sugata Mitra and his marvellous experiments in the slums of India.  There are a few, so perhaps starting with his TED Talk.

 

School starting age

School starting age: the evidence is an article from a Cambridge University researcher.
It raises some questions about why we are continuing an educational trend that seems to have no benefit to the children.

Studies have compared groups of children in New Zealand who started formal literacy lessons at ages 5 and 7. Their results show that the early introduction of formal learning approaches to literacy does not improve children’s reading development, and may be damaging. By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later.
– See more at:
http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence#sthash.WeVQOu7L.dpuf

Presumably this article is referring to this work carried out at the University of Otago by Dr Sebastian Suggate. ¬†The university’s own press release can be found here. ¬†But the pr√©cis is this:

Starting in 2007, Dr Suggate conducted one international and two New Zealand studies, each one backing up the conclusions of the other; that there is no difference between the reading ability of early (from age five) and late (from age seven) readers by the time those children reach their last year at Primary School by age 11.

It seems that lots of early language development may be a greater predictor of later reading. ¬†So why are we hearing refrains that the world is ending if kids aren’t all reading Harry Potter by the time they’re six? ¬†It strikes me that we’ve turned learning and gaining an education into some sort of competitive sport – for the kids and parents alike.
This is not to say that we should ignore children who are struggling to gain basic skills, I just think we need to be a bit more open to the reasons why the skills aren’t being shown. ¬†Is it an actual learning difficulty, or is it simply a lack of interest and not being ready to engage yet?

As a home educator I can see whether my kids are really struggling or simply not interested, because I’m the teacher. ¬†I’m with them all day, every day. ¬†They can’t fudge me. ¬†And if I’m unsure I watch them closely for a while and accept that if it’s disinterest that I need to either wait until they are ready, or offer an alternative way of coming at the skills. ¬†If it truly was a struggle then I would investigate why and how I could meet their needs.
Perhaps this is not possible in a school setting and therefore, partly out of panic (accountability for kids not meeting set peer levels), it is all too easy to force learning on an unwilling child.

I’ve been hearing some dreadful stories lately about how some teachers can’t or don’t deal well with children who have serious learning issues to overcome. ¬†The teacher who says¬†that a child with severe auditory processing disabilities suddenly “clicked” with skills instead of acknowledging that it was the new technology that the parent had found, and was absolutely the reason why there was such a profound change, is appalling. ¬† Imagine what a little bit of a delay in interest rather than an actual learning disability would be deemed in this teacher’s classroom. ¬†Most probably the child would be considered ‘lazy’ or thought of as less intelligent.

Unfortunately this has turned into a bit of a rant, when it was meant to be a simple sharing of interesting information.
Let’s just say that Albert Einstein had it right,

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Videos

Coffee Youtube-128Today’s post is a very short one. ¬†Perhaps attributable to a NaBloPoMo hangover?

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I’ve created a new page here called “videos”. ¬†Yes, I’m showing my age. ¬†Perhaps I should have called it YouTube or Media or some other funky, techy name. ¬†But I am what I am. ¬†And Videos it is.

Currently it is only inhabited by three actual links to YouTube, but I do promise that more will be forthcoming. ¬†I just want to make sure that I don’t double up and that what I put on the page is actually worth listening to.

So sit back with a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy.  I hope you find them thought provoking, funny and interesting.

Sir Ken

If you haven’t come across Sir Ken Robinson before, then you might want to take a look at some of these YouTube talks.

TED 2006: Do schools kill creativity?

The RSA Animate version of Changing Paradigms.

I especially like the latter video. ¬†The visuals are fantastic. ¬†May I suggest you spend a little bit of time and see what he has to say. ¬†He’s also very witty and funny.

Certainly an alternative view on education.  Enjoy, come back and tell me what you think.