Top Ten Lists: Teaching Grade 1

The 10 best things about teaching Grade 1:

  1.  Teaching and learning at its purest form.  What do they know?  What do they need?  How do I get them there?
  2. Such amazing growth in learning — you can watch the child blossom right before your eyes.  “Can I read this to you?”

    Reader’s Theatre

  3. They love science and learning about how the world works.
  4. Opening up the world of reading to a child.
  5. Collaborating with other early primary teachers:  awesome people.
  6. What we do makes a difference in a child’s life.  Isn’t this why we became teachers?
  7. Almost anything will be greeted with enthusiasm if you approach it the right way:  “Today we get to go outside and help clean up the school grounds!”  “Yay!!”
  8. The kids still love school and their teachers.
  9. You can sing and dance without worrying about how well you do it.
  10. You can celebrate special occasions with all the enthusiasm of childhood.

The 10 worst things about teaching Grade 1:

  1. They haven’t mastered tying up their shoes efficiently.
  2. Winter clothing: boots, zippers, gloves, and where is it?
  3. Hundreds of specific little Prescribed Learning Outcomes.  Just let us concentrate on the important things:  literacy, mathematics, social skills.
  4. You can’t give them written directions.
  5. Sometime during the year, they need to learn how to read = enormous responsibility.
  6. Desk and supplies management and the vanishing glue syndrome.
  7. Pencil sharpening.  Enough said.
  8. Cloakroom organization or “Someone stole my shoes!”
  9.  The interruption, or “You mean you won’t stop talking to the class to take care of my problem?”
  10. Tattle tales
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Learning in a Time of Abundance

In Will Richardson‘s “Why School?” he talks about the idea of learning in a time when information and ideas are available freely and easily.

” Today, if we have an Internet connection, we have fingertip, on-demand access to an amazing library that holds close to the sum of human knowledge and, equally important, to more than two billion people with whom we can potentially learn.” (Richardson, Why School?)

As has been discussed many times and in many places, our current education system is based on an industrial model, which is designed to share a specified, already-decided body of knowledge with standardized children who can all learn at the same way at the same time (standardized tests, anyone?).  Richardson is saying that this made sense in a time when information was hard to get and children needed experts to share that information.

Guess what?  That’s not our children’s world.  Information is NOT scarce today.  It is everywhere.  It is overwhelming.  Do our children need a single, powerful source of information?  Do they need to memorize facts so as to have them at their fingertips?  Do they all need to know the same thing at the same time?

What does it take to be a successful adult today? It’s not about instant recall of facts or ability to follow directions.  Today adults need to be able to find information, critically evaluate, synthesize, analyze and CREATE.  It’s about finding and collating that wealth of information out there and transforming what you find into something useful.  “Useful” could mean making lives easier, helping others, improving the situation, or creating art which is meaningful and makes others think and feel.

Jan Muehlfeit, the chairman of Microsoft Europe, quoted in the New York Times: “The school system is behind — we are not teaching creativity or measuring emotional intelligence. Ultimately, I believe that 70 percent of education needs to be tailored to the individual talents of the student.”  This is a businessman, heading a big division in a very big company, bemoaning the fact that schools aren’t teaching creativity or emotional intelligence.  Note that he is not concerned about recall facts or technical skills.

Children still need basic skills and knowledge, of course.  They need guidance and practice in reading, writing, communicating, mathematics, basic principles of science, history, geography and technology.  They need basic life skills.  It’s our responsibility to make sure children have the tools to learn and create.  That’s not the same as doling out preset bits of information.

Educating children from the perspective of abundance, of easy access to information, experts, ideas and collaborators worldwide, requires, I think, a very different mindset from  what prevails in schools now.  Richardson says, ” . . it’s about asking questions, working with others to find the answers, doing real work for real audiences, and adding to, not simple taking from, the storehouse of  knowledge that the Web is becoming.”

He also argues that teachers need to become “networked and connected” themselves in order to be effective teachers to our students.  I think many of us are doing that in our personal lives, with smartphones, iPads, email, Facebook, and more.  The challenge is to start seeing the potential of these devices in our classrooms: not to use them to do the same thing in a different way, but to use them in a transformative way, to create new learning.  “The emphasis shifts from content mastery to learning mastery.” (Richardson)  School as it is now is an institution totally disconnected from the demands and opportunities of the real world.  Our students deserve better than that.

Check out Will Richardson’s TED Talk, or follow him on Twitter at @willrich45

If you read Why School? or watch Richardson’s Ted Talk, I’d love to hear your reactions.

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A Different Kind of September

I have been starting school in September for 53 straight years (minus one for a maternity leave).  Just writing that in print amazes me.  But this September was different.  I didn’t start a new school year because I retired from teaching in June, but  it wasn’t until September 4th that my new reality sunk in.  That day I had a waking version of your basic teacher nightmare:   I had that panicky feeling that I had forgotten that I should be in the classroom, fully prepared, with two dozen little faces looking back at me.

I almost thought of changing the title of this blog.  I never did come up with the time or energy to take the risk of starting to blog when I was in the classroom full time, and now that I’m not, does that title really hold true?  After thinking about it a bit, I decided that yes, it does.  To quote another colleague, “once a teacher, always a teacher”.  A colleague of mine emailed me the other day and quoted a student asking a classmate “Why did Mrs. Xenis expire?”  Well, I may have “expired” from active teaching but kids, teachers and learning are still very much on my mind and in my heart.

I left full time classroom teaching because I wanted more balance in my life.  It’s an interesting experience at this stage of my life to be setting priorities.  What’s really important?  Where do I want my energy, heart, and time to go?  My family is first, always.  What about friends, reading, theatre, community work, gardening, reflection?  Oh, yes.  But my passion for children, for finding ways to help them be what they are meant to be, for working with teachers, for new learning about learning is still there.  So now I need to find new ways to explore and express that passion.  This blog is intended to be one of those ways.

I am still talking to colleagues, working with inquiry and SmartLearning, reading books, articles, tweets, following education news.  I still have opinions, run across new ideas I want to share, and heaven knows, I have years of experience in the classroom.  I think I still have something to contribute to children and teachers.  So here’s what you might find on this blog:  book reviews, reflections on classroom experiences, reflections on my new adventures in learning, reactions to articles, blogs and tweets, and responses to conversations with friends and former colleagues.

So, a different kind of September.  I’m not starting a new school year.  I’m starting a new adventure,  learning to live my life with a different perspective.

photo credit: <a href=””>timoni</a&gt; via <a href=””>photo pin</a> <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

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