Wednesday, 31 December 2014

January poetry day 1

To kick off our writing this first month of the new year, Maria ( and I are once again giving each other random words to spark a poem into life.  I'm going to try and explore my mother's dementia through these poems.  I may find that tricky though, having looked through some of the words we have plucked from the air but it seems a good place to begin.  This one is for you, Mum.

For the kicks
Do not misjudge her or assume you know
Something still, which she chooses not to share
With you, the unknown once known mystery
Creeping soft in those new shoes on the tiles,
You knock and enter before the response
Which waits forgotten in the tepid air
And throw cheerful loudness into the hush
Of a morning spent asleep and dreaming
Of time passed but still remembered with joy
Causing that rare understood smile to bloom
Which whispers I am alive and live still.
But this door is locked tight to you and I
Have lost the key, misplaced it somewhere dark
And new brightness can shine there never more.
Once, far away, I loved life for the kicks
I clutched it, I laughed and played and was glad.   

Monday, 22 December 2014

How much is enough and when do you know if it is too much?

A couple of friends of mine were interested in ways to support their children with their learning at home.  It's a really tricky and very personal decision as to how much you support (as opposed to interfere) with what your child is doing in school.  I think that ultimately, you need to know your child and understand what the school is doing for them in terms of providing learning opportunities that are stimulating, challenging and fun.  Doing too much at home can turn a child off learning completely but equally, missing opportunities to reinforce and extend learning if the child is keen (see also happy to be manipulated with rewards - it's all for their own good after all) is a shame if you have the time for it - I'm not suggesting parents wear sackcloth and ashes because they have busy lives and don't have the time, by the way.  I probably make my seven year old do quite a lot at home compared to many within a similar education setting but this is grounded in what I hope is a sound philosophy to encourage the naturally enquiring mind and instill a love of learning which does requires discipline. 

A lot of what I have come to expect from children has been informed by my own teaching experiences. I know that it is hard to stretch children (not literally although sometimes that is very tempting) in a class of 30 where you have: gifted and talented; special needs; low achievers; behavioural issues; difficult home circumstances; non-existent aspirations and self confidence; chaotic family situations and not forgetting the quiet ones who don't call attention to themselves because they are guaranteed to get on with whatever is asked of them and just keep their heads down.  You have to provide for each and every one of them.  In such a mix as this, where Every Child Matters and you as the educator are expected to get them all to a level of competence which the government deems acceptable, there is a distinct pressure to tick boxes and provide evidence for everything which happens in class: its educational purpose; how it links in to a myriad of other expectations and where it takes the child next.  And I haven't even begun to talk about the fun that should be an integral part of learning.  Is there even time for fun?

The school where my son goes is fine.  It was in special measures and isn't now.  His teacher is brilliant and he does really interesting projects.  There appears to be plenty of opportunity for investigation and self directed learning.  So why do I also expect him to do a maths programme, a reading comprehension programme, spelling, multiplication tables, silent reading, listen to me reading and then read to me?  Every week day.  Wow, even I think I sound like a control freak/dictator when I see that little lot.

So let me explain.  You remember when you used to take worksheets home for homework?  This is essentially because parents like their children to have homework.  Seriously.  Even parents whose children never actually do their homework, complain when nothing comes home.  So, clever people who saw a niche to be filled, created programmes that can be used in school and at home.  These are pretty good really as both the teacher and parent can see just what the child is doing and where they need to improve.  In class, in no way does it replace teaching by an actual human being but they are great for consolidating ideas and previously taught concepts and they can provide a challenge too.  The reading one is especially good for comprehension.  A surprising number of children are brilliant readers but when you ask them, have no idea what they have read. To be a good comprehender,  essentially, you really just need to read a lot and think about it a lot.  Why did that happen?  Did you expect it?  What would you have done?  Why was that character acting in that way?  What did she really mean when she said...?  Would you have done anything differently in the same situation? You get the idea.  Unfortunately, a lot of children don't enjoy reading so reading short books online with built in questions at least gets them into the habit.

Habit.  There it is.  Personally, I really do think that having a reading or studying habit is something which has to be learned and encouraged. If you need to use online programmes (like Reading Express) with built in reward systems and celebration assemblies in school for when goals are reached, then great.  It is creating a habit for learning.  The same goes for the maths programme (like IXL, MyMaths and Mathletics).  As for spelling and multiplication tables, the spellings they come home with once they are in key stage 2, will mainly be the tricky words that can't be read by knowing phonics patterns - they just need to be learned.  Sometimes there are little tricks to learning them, often not.  Ditto for multiplication tables.  Squeebles is probably as fun as it gets with those.  Again, a built-in reward of game playing is an integral part of its lure.  But ultimately, it gets the job done and immediate recall of multiplication facts is invaluable for all aspects of maths so whatever it takes to learn them...

Lastly, the reading.  Reading stamina needs to be built up.  As adults, we rarely read aloud (unless to a child) so it is unsurprising that this slightly alien way of engaging with a book is unpopular with many children.  However, we need to be hearing our children read so we can be sure that they are recognising what the punctuation is there for, using correct intonation and expression for dialogue, pronouncing words correctly and understanding what they mean, reading at the right speed... the list goes on.  And of course, we hope that they are enjoying it too.  Reading silently to yourself is a quiet, focused skill that children have to practice.  As they go up through school, they will be expected to be reading longer and more complex books and as they go into secondary education, textbooks will rear their ugly heads (unless ipads take over but even information on them needs reading before any understanding can take place).  I also read to my children at bedtimes and these are usually books which the children find exciting and fun but are either too long or have complex sentence structures, plots or language which would slow a seven and four year old down so much as to render the reading completely boring and pointless.  Books that I include in this category and which have been very well received include: Five Children and It; MoonFleet; Samauri, The Hobbit - you get the idea.

A love of reading comes from hearing wonderful books!

Nobody ever said it was easy being a parent and knowing the right thing to do.  But it's a pretty exciting journey to be on.  And if mine never finish learning and being interested in the world and their place in it, I will be happy with the job I've done.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

'I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.' Mary Shelley.

Girl power, female emancipation - hurrah we cry.  Of course women having choices is not a luxury but a given.  Or at least it should be and hopefully will be for all women across the globe in the future.  However, recently there have been a couple of things in the media which have offered an opportunity to refocus ideas on female agency and what it means or could mean or is interpreted to mean in the twenty first century.  I have also just been to see a recording of The Old Vic's The Crucible this week, in itself a magnificent thing for many reasons but it did make me think about women, their roles and representations in a way that  I haven't before.  Of course, this isn't to say that what I was awoken to isn't something that many scholars haven't considered in the past.  I am only me though and as this blog is written by me, I am giving my small brained opinion.  To paraphrase Mark Kermode; other opinions are undoubtedly more erudite and freely available (just google it).

The two news stories, one which has been rumbling around for weeks and another which is new, have provoked what I believe is referred to as 'a storm of debate'.  The first story concerns a professional footballer who has served a prison sentence for rape.  He has been released and was to return to his club but public outcry has led to the club having to change its mind and disallow him from renewing training.  In line with many commentators who have tried to talk about this issue without appearing to play down rape, it goes without saying that rape is a heinous crime for which their can be no apologists.  However, I don't think that the furore about this case is really about rape.  After all, he was found guilty and served his time.  Surely the debate is around our justice system and what we expect from it.  If, as it is widely suggested, the penal system seeks to punish and rehabilitate, then it has done its job.  Surely no good comes of further punishing somebody by preventing their reintegration into a society which requires atonement and the person to go back to being a law-abiding tax-paying society-contributing individual.  Perhaps then this is about the lack of atonement?  Although he has apologised to his family, girfriend and club, it appears that he hasn't said sorry to the woman involved.  As this case is currently being fast tracked to a review, it would appear to have more to it than currently is in the public arena. I suppose the point I am trying to make, which links into the female power thing and is my opinion based on what has been widely reported, is that as a young woman, enjoying freedoms unheard of to many women around the world, choosing to drink so much that you can't remember anything but are sure that you didn't consent to sex with a man whose hotel room you entered of your own free will after a night of excess which left you comatose, appears foolish in the extreme.  We have power, yes, but with that comes a responsibility to not let yourself down and always being aware of what is happening so that you can make good choices. 

The other case concerns a case in court brought by a county council who wished to gain compensation for a seven year old girl in their care who was left severely brain damaged by her birth mother who drank to excess while pregnant.  The council argued that the mother had committed a crime by doing something that she knew would damage her unborn child.  The result was that the court found they could not rule in favour of the child because at the time the 'crime' was committed, the foetus was not a human being.  In other words, it didn't count.  And as a result, the little girl doesn't count either.  Speakers and thinkers on women's rights were quick to point out that you cannot legislate for a particular time in a woman's life and that essentially denying her what other women could expect as the norm - drinking alcohol; would infringe her human rights.  In addition, it would prevent vulnerable women from seeking help.  Crap.  Women know that they shouldn't drink when pregnant.  The baby cannot do anything about it.  She can.  Stopping drinking for nine months is not too much to ask is it?  The vast majority of women know that they are going to be pregnant, know when they are pregnant and know their responsibilities.  You have rights but so does the child.  The power is with you as the mother to be to step up to that responsibility and ensure that the child has all the best chances life affords it.  If you cannot do this, then you should do something about being pregnant in the first place. 

And now seamlessly on to Arthur Miller's The Crucible.  What struck me about this was the way that the women held all the power.  The old woman, Rebecca, was the fount of all knowledge and certainly a voice of common sense.  The instigator of the terror, Abigail, wields her power carefully over her lover and increasingly forcefully and wildly over her friends and stealthily over her lover's wife.  Tituba, a suggested practitioner of the dark arts, finds her knowledge misused by others for their own purposes.  The men are powerless in the face of the extraordinary goings on which defy sense in their rigid society.  The girls are bored, stifled by rules that govern every aspect of their existence.  It is little wonder that when they want to cut loose, it has spectacular consequences.  By the end of the play, it is the men who retake the reins of power; the court decide the fate of those they have come to restore order to.

All of the above made me more aware of the power we strive to have as women and the responsibility we need to be mindful of (both to wourselves and others) when we achieve it.

Monday, 1 December 2014

'Advent: the time to listen for footsteps - you can't hear footsteps when you are running yourself.'

I must admit that I do find waiting and generally being patient pretty tricky.  However, I do love Advent, that time before Christmas which is filled with anticipation and hope.  This year I am going to think more carefully about what I am thinking about and why.  I have a tendency to rush through life.  It is because I recognise that this time on Earth is so very fleeting and precious and I don't want to waste any of it.  I may never get to travel the world or write a book which is deemed good enough to  be published but I am going to have a jolly good time while I am trying to do these things along with everything else.  Having children makes life whirl past at ever increasing speeds - some things are unbelievably quick; how did they get to be so old so quickly?  I want to be in this moment, I want to see it all and feel it all and most of all, live it all.  With them.  This is it.