Monday, December 21, 2009

The Brain Needs a Vacation Too

I don't think as educators, we have learned to teach in the natural rhythm of the whole human. Holistic teaching is important. A child who is anxious, tired, stressed, excited, or overwhelmed will not learn. Do we take these things into account when trying to teach? Right now, myself and my kids are on a much needed vacation from school--they have a break from homeschooling, and I am having a break from working on my master's program. And yet I'm using this time to explore interests and concerns outside of my regimented program. In fact, I think I am probably learning and growing more as a teacher right now by following my own curiosity. Sometimes, what I'm reading isn't even directly related to education. I've been reading a fiction book and online religious history resources, and yet I can't help but feel that the reading I'm doing is directly impacting what kind of teacher and mother I am becoming because I am flowing with my spirit's natural learning rhythm and the needs of my own heart. By pressing incessant duties upon children, could it be that we are denying them these basic skills in life long learning, reflecting, and growing inside?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How my philosophies of life influence my educational goals

This is an excerpt from a paper I wrote for my History and Philosophy of Education class:
"So how does my metaphysical philosophy drive my educational goals? Well, since I believe that the universe was created by a good God according to patterns and principles, and that it is a reflection of Him, it must then follow that one of my main goals in education is to guide students to see and discover the patterns and principles in creation so that they can live in harmony with the creation and its Creator. Since I believe that the nature of God is goodness, love, justice, and wisdom, then my second goal in education is the be a model of God’s goodness, love, justice, and wisdom in my interactions with students that they may come to know and be like Him. I also believe that humankind is made in God’s image, and yet that image has been marred by sin. In response, God sent Christ as our redemption. Therefore, another educational goal I have is to treat all my students with dignity as God’s image bearers as I train them to treat others with dignity. Not only that, but because of the effects of the Fall, my goal is to guide them into the knowledge of Christ and His grace as I am able and mediate for them before God in prayer for their souls’ salvation. I also intend to support and train students as they work on developing their full potential so they might shine more brightly as tiny reflections of God on the earth. Finally, since I believe reality is absolute, my next educational goal is to teach reality as something to respect as we respect God—not something we create for ourselves. And because reality consists of a deeper spiritual dimension with its corresponding physical dimension, I also purpose to make sure I teach with depth and not just coverage so that my focus is not mere rote learning that touches on the mere physical surface of things.
Now how are my educational goals influenced by my epistemological beliefs? Since I believe that the revelation of Scripture enlightened by the Holy Spirit is the best way of arriving at truth, my goal is to make that revelation integral to my conveyance of knowledge. This may be directly to my children at home or in a private religious school. Or if teaching in a public school, it may be indirectly as I live out and teach its basic principles. However, I intend to make clear through words and actions that the quest for knowledge can rightly be attained through a variety of other methods, such as reason, senses, intuition, and authority, when they are balanced out and used in an attitude of humility that remains open to correction.
My axiological beliefs also influence my educational goals. Since I believe in right and wrong that is absolute according to God and Scripture, one goal I have is to implement rules and curriculum that best align with those absolute moral standards. Since I believe there is a type of absolute beauty that reflects God and His glory, I also set an educational goal of helping students develop a taste for that beauty (as best as I can ascertain it), recognize their unique preference for various aspects of that beauty, discover the beauty around them, and create beauty within their lives."

Technology and Education in a Postmodern World

Postmodernism and technology in education has been on my mind a lot lately. It is rather frustrating because due to the No Child Left Behind Act, Americans are too distracted with the the need to bring children up to an unrealistic and frustrating standard, that the massively changing culture with new needs, is being forgotten. Even in my master's studies, sometimes the focus keeps coming back to bringing up reading skills, that the need for widespread educational change is shoved aside. Reading is important, but pressuring children to learn how through testing is not the answer.
LISTEN UP, people--the world is no longer the same as it was 10 years ago!!! Information spreads so rapidly and new knowledge is being accumulated exponentially. The American school system and its beauracracy changes slow enough without new information and ideas expanding at such a quick rate. Homeschoolers and children in more innovative countries are going to speed ahead while children in our public schools languish in a worn out system. Jesus said, "You cannot put new wine in old wineskins." Why do we keep trying to put the new culture with its easy to access information, networking mindset, and need for creativity and innovation into the old top-down authoritative, regimented, competetive, and structured educational system?
Some of the teachers and administrators (the really good ones), keep trying to fits the square pegs into round holes, and because children are adaptable creatures, some manage to fit. However, it is time to venture outside our comfort zones, learn to TRUST local schools, teachers, and children to teach and learn and innovate, and hold them accountable for long term holistic results that include happiness, stability, creativity, and adaptability, and not test scores which mainly test how well students can memorize and take tests. If we encourage teachers to differientiate intruction, why do we not differentiate testing as well? Is taking tests well what we want students to know? The real question is: what skills do they need for the 21st century? I'll bet you one thing--they are not the skills that most of us have been teaching. See this site for a great article on the subject.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A change in my role as a teacher

"The approach chosen by the learner is much more efficient than an approach chosen by others because the learner is fitting things into the mosaic of his/her understanding of the world."
--Uncommon Sense
By Alan White

Taking the above quote into consideration, what then, is the role of a teacher?
We often think of teaching as:

Transference--We imagine ourselves transferring knowledge from our brain into the child's brain. This image, however, does not work because the child's brain is configured in a different manner than ours with different background knowledge, cognitive development, and interests. That information will fit in that child's brain(or not) in an entirely different manner than it did in ours or than it might in another child's.

I think we are better off thinking of teaching as:

Introducing or exposing--Rather, I think we should see ourselves as presenting information to be acquired and used as needed or wanted. Different children will be ready for the information at different times and will apply it in different ways according to their development. When we go from merely exposing to intense structured instruction along with stringent assessment, we assume that students each start at the same level, ready to learn at the same pace, in the same way. There are always students at a distinct disadvantage, and we are always setting some up for frustration when we use high stakes assessments.. However, when we use our wise powers of observation and depth of knowledge to notice expressed and hidden needs or desires of our students and expose them to the missing pieces of information or needed skill sets without continuous pressure and manipulation to perform, we grant students brain liberation.

Learning is severely limited when coupled with anxiety and pressure. Hopefully, we teachers and homeschool parents remember this; the question is-- referring to NCLB--When will the policy makers get the picture? When schools and teachers feel pressure and manipulation to bring up test scores, they will use those same tactics of fear and manipulation on students to get them to perform well. Are these the kind of schools we want? Atmospheres of fear, manipulation, pressure, and competition? Research has shown that increased anxiety inhibits learning: so what kind of atmosphere of learning do we want? This is why I think the unschoolers have something to teach us. Once we learn it, then maybe we can discover the true balance of roles between teacher and student and between accountability and educational freedom.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Unschooling--Radical or respectful?

I never thought I would be writing this. . . I never thought I would be hailing the possiblities inherent in the homeschool movement we call "unschooling." For those "unschooled" in "unschooling," it is the method of education promoted by John Holt in the 60's I believe. He advocated homeschooling, youth rights, and natural child-led learning. Many "schools" such as the Sudbury Valley school and Free schools were based on this same type of philosophy. A quote of John Holt's posted on Wikipedia says, "My concern is not to improve 'education' but to do away with it, to end the ugly and antihuman business of people-shaping and to allow and help people to shape themselves." To many, and Christians, especially, this appears dangerous as if he were promoting rebellion against authority and the willful independence of children despite (as Christians believe) their inborn sin nature. I too, used to think this whole movement was pie in the sky humanist dreams.

However, I am beginning to think differently. I am not an all out John Holt or unschooling advocate, and yet I think we have a lot to learn as educators and parents from the unschooling movement. What you say? Well, it has to do with the rampant sin that teachers and parents are too often guilty of, and that is "MANIPULATION." Teachers sometimes call it "motivation," and parents sometimes call it "punishment" or "discipline." There are good and true examples of motivation and discipline; nevertheless, the line is easily crossed from them into the realm of manipulation, bribery, threats, and guilt-inducing behavior. As Christians we say that God gave us free will, and He is a gentleman--He will not violate our free will. God does not give us the "spirit of fear." And yet how many times do we resort to these low down tactics in order to get our children to obey us? How many times have we violated their free will through fear inducing tactics? Scripture says, "And, you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." It says of children "of such are the kingdom of heaven." And how often is schooling a futile exercise that provokes them to anger and frustration as they are drilled and pushed in directions that go against their will, their personality, or their cognitive readiness? How often are they treated as if they can never hear the Lord's voice for themselves? How often do we model "fear" as we worry over the choices they want to make rather than gently guiding and modeling as we exude confidence and faith in our children's (or students') choices and God's leading. Worse still, is when we manipulate children through an unhealthy emphasis on grades, test scores,punishment, and competition to get children to make us look good or do our will. We are to raise children up to follow the Lord's will--not our own. And with all this, we wonder why kids don't love learning. Scott David Gray, an advocate of the Sudbury Valley Schools (which promotes an unschooling philosophy in a "school" setting) said, "No environment can be called intellectual, when the subtext of everything said is that 'this stuff is so boring that you would never be interested in it if we didn't force you.'" Wow! Now if that doesn't speak to all those workshops we teachers go to titled "Motivating Your Students to Learn."

I have learned through my experience in education that many teachers go into education in order to be the "god" of their own little world where they can command obedience to their own set of laws, indoctrinate children with their own favorite books and lessons and activities, and punish when their will is violated. In fact, I have been guilty of this horrendous attitude. One way that unschooling has opened my eyes to this atrocity, is in showing me the model of a true teacher. One who is a servant, not a boss. One who waits for a child to trust him or her enough to open up the inner workings of their mind to their teacher, willing to be discipled, asking for help, or just watching their model live the mature life before them. The appreticeship model that respects the child as a complete human being with free will, choice, and an ability to be led by the Lord with gentle guidance and instruction---that is what education is missing today. Yes, that requires humility because it requires teachers to change their roles from being the "boss" to being a servant. So I guess unschooling is rather radical; what makes it so is not its over-the-top optimism but rather, its humble respect of the child.

The Futile Search for the Perfect Curriculum

After reading some of my previous posts, I notice that I am an educator in search of the perfect curriculum. If you know anything about homeschooling moms or even school districts, you know that we are always in search of that magic bullet--the perfect curriculum. In fact, we are often known to switch curriculums with nary a moment's thought because of our "roving eyes." There is something deep down nagging at us that there has to be a more appropriate scope and sequence that will more closely align with this child's or these children's or this district's needs. There has to be something easier, more efficient, more research-based, more brain-based, more Christian,more secular, more child-friendly---you name it. Is it possible we are conducting a futile search?
After reviewing my previous comment on a curriculum based on fractals, it started me to thinking. Fractals are the geometry of "savage" nature. Children are curious by "nature" and a part of creation. So a fractally created curriculum would be perfect right? And yet, every child's DNA contains a different pattern. Each brain organizes information in its own unique way. . . .therefore what systematic curriculum could possibly work for every child? In fact, how can anyone--other than God and the child himself---create a perfect curriculum for someone else? Me thinks those unschooling folks have a corner on this market. . .hmmmmm. . .

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Revisiting, reflecting, and revising---the 3 R's of the good teacher

It's reflection time again. We've just finished our first big unit of the school year, and I'm reevaluating and readjusting before we begin our second. I've also done some revisiting of my old blog. It had figuratively began to gather a little dust, so I've dusted it off and decided to try my hand at writing again.
Since I last wrote, I've adjusted how I do my homeschool. Just like a good writer continually rereads and revises their work, I think a good educator is constantly reflecting on their work, revising it, and making it better. People are not static, and they never develop in a simple and predictable way. So why do I imagine I can create the perfect curriculum that will suit us all from here on out? However. . . I was rereading how I did my homeschool last April, and you know what? I'm thinking I kind of like it, and might want to try it that way again. So now, the question is, how do I strike the balance between being a "double-minded" educator blown with every wind of curriculum or method and being a flexible teacher sensitive to the changing needs of her students?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Fractals and their connection to education

I've never really liked math--learning it or teaching it, but I find that as I get older, I am beginning to appreciate it as God's language of order. I've especially become fascinated by fractals. For those unfamiliar with fractals, they are (in non-math language) the geomentry of nature. For centries, man has thought of geometry as circles, squares, and other man made shapes such as cubes. Our buildings, etc. can be expressed as mathmatical formulas. It was always thought that nature, on the other hand, was wild and chaotic and random. Scientists and mathematicians have now discovered, however, that even nature has a pattern. When the random chaotic points and lines of nature are put into a computer, amazing patterns within patterns appear that are precise and infinite! Now if that isn't evidence for a good, eternal, and orderly God, I don't know what is!
It has also been discovered that when we pattern our technological devices after fractals, they become more efficient than when we use basic geometrical shapes. This is what enables tiny devices in cells phones and computers to work so well at such a small level. This got me to thinking. . . what if I structured and organized a curriculum according to a fractal-like pattern? Is it possible? Would that make it more efficient and cause the connections in the human brain to retain information more effectively? Mmmmm. . . .now only if I were a mathematician. . .

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Making my homeschool more efficient

After the birth of my fifth child, I have been trying to streamline my homeschool to make it more efficient. Since I love the chronological method of teaching history, and since almost every other subject can be tied to history quite easily, I've discovered that except for independent skill practice in the 3 R's, I can pare my homeschool down to basically one large lesson each day if I integrate my subjects with history as my spine. Not only is this much easier scheduling wise, but I believe it aids in retention and learning as more connections are made. Definitely a more holistic way to learn! Hopefully, I will start posting my daily lessons online so keep posted!