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Self-Directed Life Newsletter: Fear vs. Curiosity
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Hey guys,

How was your week?

I shared a very interesting post this week on the Facebook page describing a teacher’s experiences using podcasts in the classroom.

Long story short, the teacher found that listening to podcasts (which he felt a little guilty about since the students could have been reading) not only got his students excited to learn, but they actually read and wrote MORE than before.

“I recently discovered my students voluntarily reading a story together, all at the same time. And they were inspired by an unlikely medium — podcasts — which is obviously ironic, as many people like podcasts precisely because they don’t have the time or inclination to sit down and read.”

“[W]hile listening to an episode of Serial in class, their collective eyes fixed on the transcripts displayed on a screen at the front of the room. And I was startled — happily so — by their shouts when I was tardy in scrolling down.” — How podcasts in the classroom can encourage literacy

Okay, so what’s interesting about this?

There are a lot of fears around each new technology that arrives — fears that it will replace a better learning method (remember the post saying audio books are not cheating?), fears that it will make kids lazy, and so on. These fears have always existed. (Socrates warned about writing, saying it would “create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories.”)

Partly, I think these fears come from either-or thinking: podcasts OR books, audio books OR paper books, television OR reading, playing outside OR playing video games, and so on.

When you help children direct and manage their own learning — not just read about it (and maybe blog about it :"P), but actually DO it — you find very quickly that everything is connected. You stop worrying about whether video games are a black hole that leads to being assimilated into the Borg — you find that video games can lead to MORE reading, MORE writing, MORE making, and so on.

After all, what are key skills? Well … they’re skills that are essential for living, working, making, doing.

If they’re key skills, we absolutely, positively need them to do anything important.

Imagine doing anything important without, say, writing.

Parents are afraid of certain interests because they seem anti-reading, anti-writing, and so on. Yet, kids have learned to read through Calvin and Hobbes or Garfield comics. Kids have learned to read and write so they can play (and communicate with other people in) a video game. 

People were afraid that texting would destroy kids’ ability to write (although we’ve been bemoaning that apparently declining ability for decades) but 93% of teens say they write for their own pleasure. People thought e-books would kill paper books; they didn’t (NYT link). And young people read more than their elders.

If you believe a skill is key, you should be curious how it will manifest in your child’s work. How will writing figure into his love of Minecraft? What will he be reading? Making? How will he share it with others? Who will he collaborate with and what will they build?

The point isn’t to isolate skills and make them the priority (cough school cough) — it’s to do meaningful work. If a child is just consuming an interest and not producing, of course they won’t be using key skills. But if you feed ANY real interest and support it so that child can immerse himself, explore, experiment, travel, look, share, build — that child is going to show you exactly what key skills are for.

HOW will my child write/communicate during this project?

If he isn’t writing, how IS he communicating? (Is he, perhaps, writing in a way I don’t think of as “real” writing? Is he emailing, messaging, making signs, creating invitations, making list of character traits, designing a D&D quest, etc.?)

And if he isn’t communicating, why not?

Without knowing the answer to that question, do writing exercises accomplish anything?

Fear leads to a chute mentality — reduce choices to shuttle kids where you want them to go.

Curiosity makes you want to know and understand.

You want to see what’s going to happen.

      Where will this go?

      What will he do?

      What will he learn?

      What connections will be made?

If things go horribly wrong — what will that look like? Learn more about THAT. How can we avoid this in the future?

You can’t ensure success by investing in trying to avoid any possibility of failure. (Give it a shot and report back to me.)

Lead with curiosity. Explore fears.

How do children learn? How do YOU learn?

What skills do they use to do the things they need and want to do? What happens when they need a skill they don’t have or haven’t mastered?

What about you? What are your key skills? Are they the same ones you learned at school?

Without curiosity, we probably won’t ever learn the answers to these very interesting questions. Fear can drive out curiosity. Luckily, curiosity can drive out fear.

Curiosity, creativity, discovery and wonder; they aren’t traits of youth, they’re traits of learning.

If you want to feel younger and you want to replicate the conditions of youth, do that. — Benjamin Salka

I shared this in the PBH Facebook group and got near-zero interest, which was surprising to me. A glimpse into a preschool classroom trying to support PBH-type learning:

“Last year a group of children had sourced some card from the make and do area and were using it under their shoes to ice skate. Initially I sat and observed what they were doing, apprehensive about jumping in too soon and changing their agenda to mine. After my observation I began to question them about what they had created, this led them to sectioning off an area of the carpet for the ice rink and one of the group quickly went to write a sign for people to be careful. When I asked where I could pay so I could have a turn, another child went to get a cash register whilst someone else wrote a price list as they informed me it cost more for an adult to skate then for a child. Over the course of the morning they had set up an area to keep the ice skates so that people could leave their shoes when they were on the rink.

This activity lasted for nearly two hours with an adult dropping in to check on how things were progressing as the morning went on. During this time each child that was part of the activity had done some form of writing in a variety of different contexts (lists, signs, menus). They had used money and had exchanged coins up to the value of £1, recorded numbers on the bottom of the ice skates so children knew which size to pick up and the team had worked together, negotiating different roles, using different materials and adapting them to suit their need and lastly they all had fun!”

I mentioned in the group that I found the question “Where do I pay?” to be too leading. Adding a cash register is something I’d wait to see if the children did on their own vs. prompting them so early in the process.

I’m also curious about whether the teacher tried to keep this going the next day and onward — this is an interest that in our school might have spiraled into months of work as children imitated one another (“I want skates, too!”) and improved on each other’s designs (“I’m adding a number like the skating rink has on their skates”) and shared ideas about how to make their rink more realistic (“Our skating rink has benches”) leading to possible field work (“How could we find out more things the skating rink has?” “We can go there!”) and so on. Sometimes we think about an activity as having a certain lifespan so we just let it die when it might keep going and going and going … until the kids are building a life-size Zamboni. ;)

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ICYMI: A good thread in the facebook group about how to reenergize your work/studio space when the kids have lost interest.

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I shared an article on Facebook called “Why we need female superheroes” — I loved what was said about public pedagogy” — “how societies are taught ideologies … how you learned what it meant to be a man or a woman … how we learn what we know about other people and about the world.”

I was reminded of this quote that Lucy Calkins shared in her book, Raising Lifelong Learners:

“Children learn from their families what to love and value. Some parents have the impression that they shouldn’t impose their values on their children. But if parents don’t teach their children values, the culture will. Calvin Klein and R.J. Reynolds teach values. Good parents are what Ellen Goodman called counterculture. They counter the culture with deeper, richer values.” — Mary Pipher

Our family culture — built through our daily actions and choices — tells our children what we value. Without it, they would look elsewhere to find out what matters.

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“In Sweden we trust children to learn on their own more than in other countries … [but] it’s still possible to go through 12 years of schooling without anyone asking you what you’re interested in learning.” — Adultism

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Are you your own worst critic? Being too hard on yourself isn’t just unproductive, it sets a bad example for your kids!

“[S]tudies are showing repeatedly that beating yourself up too often is counterproductive, as is excessive self-criticism.

Rather, showing yourself kindness and respect isn’t being self-indulgent, it will help you overcome setbacks and find greater success.”

“This isn’t about having a big ego. … [P]eople high in self-compassion are honest about their own short-comings and contribution to failure, but they don’t beat themselves up for it. Rather, they comfort themselves, they recognize failure and mistakes as part of life, and they see the situation as a chance to grow.”

“[Students] who had a habit of showing themselves more self-compassion…were more interested in finding ways to learn and improve rather than being overly hung up on their grades and how they compared with their peers. The self-compassionate students were also more likely to respond to their disappointing performance by saying they would make the best of the situation, rather than looking for ways to distract themselves from what had happened.”

A simple trick to borrow from this research is simply to treat yourself with the same kindness that you would a close friend. … [Y]ou’d be nurturing, not angry, and that’s the way you should aim to treat yourself too.”The dangers of being too hard on yourself

The next time you’re beating yourself up, think about what you would say to your child in the exact same situation … then start again.

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Finally, another great email from the mailbag — keep them coming! I read and respond to every email, so if you have something to share, hit reply and let me know! (And if you don’t see my reply, check your spam folder — still nothing? Try contacting me through the site!)

“How do I do my back to school meeting with parents of my 1st grader after reading your message?

I always begin by showing them the Calvin & Hobbes cartoon below. but… How do I not lie to them? Because if I believe 100% every line of what you are saying and the premise of this cartoon, I lie. I still stick my whole group in a square classroom with curriculum goals and expectations.

And even when I say to the parents that I don't care if their child is not yet a reader by the end of 1st grade because I would rather concentrate on them being thinkers, inquirers and decision makers, they gasp for air because they feel pressured by society, by the next grade level.

Even if I tell them that families rarely have 15 kids at a time of the same age, and that it does not make sense to keep parking kids in same age litters, they know like me that this is the system we are working with and that pushing its limits is really hard.”

“Every day I try to create a space where thinking is going. As we were exploring our school's forest last Friday after a mere 8 days of school, one of my student said: ‘I'd better put my inquirer’s hat on and think about good wonder questions.’ It is those small steps that show me that what I try to do may make them want to be in charge of the learning process again… because, even after only 2 or 3 years in preschool-pk-k, they are already pretty formatted to do what they are told and they even expect it.

Merci and keep fighting for change! — L.

Thank you as always for your continued support. If there’s anything you need, reply to this email and let me know! Have a great week!

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