Tag Archives: Learning skills

Before the Birds Start Singing…

Let's get some thinking done before the birds in trees start singing and the phone starts tweeting.

Let’s get some thinking done before the birds in trees start singing and the phone starts tweeting.

One of the things I enjoy about starting my day between 4:30 and 5 a.m. is the quiet. At this time of the year even the birds aren’t up to sing. The phone doesn’t ring. (Well, usually… sometimes there’s the call inviting me to sub at school but it usually doesn’t come much before 6 a.m.) Unfortunately, email does arrive–but usually at a much slower pace than throughout the day so I can start t feel like I’m catching up. And, depending on what my plan is for the morning, I can of course “turn off” the email. I don’t mind bragging that I can accomplish lots in that hour or two of solitude with no interruptions or distractions.

This morning’s email included a point to an article on a site I particularly enjoy called “Brain Pickings.” (I’d been using the phrase “brain leaks” before I came across it and now I’m not sure but what I like their idea better. The idea of picking someone’s brain does seem more acceptable than looking at what leaks out. Maybe.)

Anyway, this particular article is “The Psychology of Writing.”But it’s really about way more than writing. The article is an in-depth review of a book by Ronald T. Kellogg by the same title. I gather from the review the book “explores how work schedules, behavioral rituals, and writing environments affect the amount of time invested in trying to write and the degree to which that time is spent in a state of boredom, anxiety, or creative flow.”

It’s particularly interesting that the book was written in 1994 – twenty years ago – before we became constantly connected to each other electronically. But it’s not much of a stretch to see some application and connection. Are we really more productive because our smart phones are strapped to our side? (Actually more often they are in the hand at at the ready.) Our “behavior rituals and writing environments” have definitely changed in the last twenty years.

There’s a quote on this site “I write to discover what I think” and I would offer that the psychology of writing is akin to the psychology of thinking.  For some reason, there is a fascination with writer’s environments and habits. Perhaps we could develop an interest in thinkers environments and habits. We may not all be “writers” in the professional sense, but we are all thinkers. I hope.

When I teach writing, my bias is “put the pen on the paper” (or your fingers on keys) and get started. That physical act will often get the creative juices flowing. Thinking is a bit more abstract, but physical acts or rituals can be developed. With the kids at school we sometimes go through a motion of putting imaginary thinking caps on to signal we are going to make a deliberate effort to think. It’s really fun to watch the kids’ countenances change. The room becomes quieter and facial expressions change to a serious, thoughtful look.

Certain types of thinking do require a disciplined approach and that can include consideration of the environment and perhaps some ritual, particularly when we are starting. Reading the habits of great writers can be particularly entertaining–although one might do well to wonder how much was about writing and how much was about branding. I can’t say that I’m conscious of any particular rituals or habits I use, but I’m working on some. I think it would be fun to be a “character.”

I do have some thinking rituals. I actually have two imaginary thinking caps that help me decide how I’m going to think about the topic at hand. One is divergent or lateral and I wear it when I’m trying to generate ideas or look for possibilities and consequences. The other is convergent and I wear it when I’m trying to get focused and task oriented. I’m convinced we should sometimes think about how we’re going to think as much as what we’re going to think about.

The more we write (or think) the more likely it is we will discover what works and what doesn’t work for us. I don’t have a writing cap, but I suppose I could. Writers and thinkers should develop a high level of self-awareness and a few rituals along with it. It will increase our efficiency and output. Let’s put on our thinking caps and read The Psychology of Writing, then give some thought to what thinking and writing environments and rituals work best for us.

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When I Grow Up…

Having spent 11 minutes with this 13 year old (virtually) I can say that I would love to spend some with him in person. He knows what he wants to do but is not so sure he knows what he wants to be. I think he’d make an awesome teacher.

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Nobody Taught Me…

woman_laptop_desk_400_clr_7859

I can figure this out!

A recent LMS (Learning Mangement Systems) newsletter had some fun with this statement. “I can’t use Facebook–nobody has taught me how.” For those of us in the business of education, it was a funny thought–at least initially. How many times have you heard someone say they can’t use Facebook because they haven’t been trained?

Of course there’s a not so funny aspect we’ll get to in a moment, but we chuckle because the “nobody has taught me” excuse is in fact a selective one. Given the addictive nature of Facebook use, most folks tend to jump in with both feet. You might occasionally hear somebody say he or she is not using Facebook because “I can’t be bothered…” But you aren’t likely to hear, “I’m not using Facebook because I don’t know how.” Grandma–who is anything but a technology whiz–is “facebooking” so she can see what the grandkids are doing.

The aspect of this that’s “not so funny” is the lack of critical thinking sometimes applied when things get so easy. Just because you can post almost anything on Facebook doesn’t mean you should. While that might seem obvious, to many it’s not. Unfortunately, once people learn how to type in the box or find things to share, the learning can stop because the desire to learn is diminished or perhaps even extinguished. Now it’s about the desire to share.

What we’re really talking about here is “engagement.” While there are a number of factors impacting whether or not a learner learns, one of the most powerful is his or her desire to learn. The “nobody has taught me” excuse is an attempt to remove responsibility from the learner and place it with the teacher. Kids are particularly adept at this. I hear it occasionally in a classroom when I’m subbing. My usual response to “Mr. Boomsma, we haven’t learned this yet…” is “Well, then I guess we’ll have to now.”

The elementary kids I work with are not supposed to be using Facebook, but I do know this much. They can figure out some complex computer games and software without much help (teaching). And I have caught six graders using a chat function that we don’t cover during class.  Why aren’t they complaining that we haven’t taught them how it works? I do not ever recall hearing a kid say, “Nobody has taught me how to play computer games.”

The will to learn is a big factor in the learning process. Whether I’m teaching kids or adults, one of the awesome moments happens when it becomes apparent the student is “turned on” and wants to learn. I have seen a strong desire to learn overcome limitations that range from a lack of resources to a perceived learning disability. I have said that my biggest challenge as an educator is to convince people they can learn things and it doesn’t change whether the student is five years old or fifty.

A second grader who recently brought a pile of books to read to me–everyone was about the Titanic and we spent nearly as much time with him telling me things about the sinking of the Titanic as we did reading about it. His enthusiasm was contagious and I found myself learning some things I didn’t know. I’m not sure what exactly got him so interested, but he is becoming quite the expert on the Titanic! Since as far as I know the Titanic is not part of second grade curriculum, nobody has taught him this.

But learning is not just about engagement. One of the things Facebook has accomplished is that at some level, it’s extremely easy to use. In this regard, the good news is the bad news, because there are legions of Facebook users who are simply typing some words in a box and clicking “post.” This is, of course, in Facebook’s best interest–speaking of engaged learners, you have to admire Facebook’s ability to figure out how to make their system work.  You don’t hear them saying, “No one ever taught us how to make this work.” They have figured out, for example, that by making some things difficult to learn people will remain gleefully unaware of how much they are contributing to Facebook’s interests, sometimes a great expense to themselves.

The lesson for those who would teach is that we, too, need to figure out how to make things easy to learn. One of my three classroom rules is “We will have fun learning.” I usually have to explain this doesn’t mean we’re going to be rolling on the floor laughing and it doesn’t mean we’re not going to work hard. But I believe we humans are “hard-wired” to learn–it’s instinctive and natural. The “fun” is in the achieving and the intrinsic rewards that accompany learning. Learning is about consequences. As a teacher, part of my job is to make sure my teaching doesn’t interfere with learning. Sometimes my job involves getting out of the way so the students can learn.

 

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Five Minutes — Can you focus?

Well, actually it’s a little under five minutes. Most regular followers of my brain leaks and musings know that I’m a pretty big fan of Sir Kenneth Robinson. I’m going to ask you to spend five minutes with him–particularly if you’re an educator or involved in some way with the development of children.

Of late we’ve been hearing lots of discussion about things like “Core Curriculum” in public schools. Our governor recently issued an executive order “affirming Maine’s commitment to protecting local education control and student privacy rights.” It just may be healthy that we’re giving some thought to who “controls” what students learn.

At the other end of the spectrum, I encountered a man with what he thinks is a wonderful concept he calls “unschooling.” His solution to what he thinks are the fundamental problems with public education is to homeschool. Homeschooling is not a bad concept of itself, but in his home school there are no standards and kids (starting as young as preschool) only learn with they feel like learning. At a minimum, I think that he and his followers are at a doing a terrible disservice to their children. (Don’t get me started on this one… How rational is it to tell a five year old “just learn whatever you like, dear!” A “teacher” using that approach is only demonstrating what a poor teacher he or she is!)

My point is supposed to be that before we join the fray with firm opinions and too often a “don’t confuse me with the facts” approach to how and what we teach, we might spend five minutes trying to focus on this Ken Robinson video. In the interest of full disclosure and proper credit, I first received this from the blog http://classroomsandstaffrooms.com.

(Due to some technical challenges, I’ve removed the embedded video… you can find on site given above.)

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Don’t Take A Vacation From Learning!

Summer Couple

“Let’s not learn anything today, ok?”

Summer Vacation for us is developing into a bit of a ritualistic trip to Lancaster County Pennsylvania–also known as “Amish Country.” There’s a lot to like about our trip–including the fact there’s usually plenty of things to write about and this year is no exception.

Every year we get a little better at leaving things behind and I’m not just referring to Harley Dog and Crash Cat. I mean the usual responsibilities and worries that accompany every day life. Even so, we never feel like we are running away. It’s really more a case of changing venue, experiencing some different things, and truly having quality think  and learning time.

That also means I usually return “ready to write” with a host of thoughts and observations triggered by traveling. However, my first post after vacation is about something else I experienced recently that’s pretty awesome. It starts with the observation posted by someone on Facebook that shortly after we returned there were (then) only forty seven days left until the first day of school. I didn’t need to know that.

I’ve always asked the kids I run into during the summer if they are ready to return to school. There’s nothing scientific about my survey, but as the summer progresses I seem to get more “yes” answers than “no” answers. Of course there are a lot of variables, including the weather.

Am I ready to go back? One thing that’s different for me this year is I’ll be starting my second year as an elementary substitute teacher.

Just yesterday a friend and colleague told me a story. She was visiting with a family from our school district and, as it happened, was having a similar conversation with the children. When she asked one young fellow what he liked about school, he mentioned a few things and included “Mr. Boomsma!” in the top two or three. Since there was no way he would have connected my friend and I, it was a genuine affirmation that he apparently enjoys having me as part of the school environment. (Confidentiality concerns prevent me from knowing who he is and what my connection with him has been.)

I confess I got a little lump in my throat, but after I digested the news I managed to tell my friend that she had made my day. No, she’d made my week… maybe even my summer.

Sure, it’s an ego boost. But there’s something more important about this. When I was considering substitute teaching, I agonized over the impact it would have on my relationship with the kids. After all, Mr. Boomsma was the nice guy who showed up to listen to the kids read, maybe join in some recess activities, and be a good listener to kids who want to talk. If he comes as a sub, things change. Now it’s really about learning and behaving and completing assignments, right? He’s got to be “meaner.”

Well, this little guy has shown me I was wrong. Creating and maintaining structure and discipline isn’t mean, really. Or at least it doesn’t have to be! In my world, one of the reasons kids say they are ready to go back to school is they are missing the joy of learning. There’s an Amish Proverb that suggests, “Learning is far more valuable than education.” And while I would not diminish the value of education, it’s really supposed to be about learning.

Now more than ever, we need to blur the line between learning and fun. I’ll tell you a little secret. I really don’t think that little guy likes me as much as he likes learning. We have that in common–it’s a pretty strong connection and bond.

And you don’t have to be a teacher to help a kid learn and summer is a great time to do that. Take an interest in him. Ask her questions. Get him talking. You just might learn something too!

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Old Enough To Dance?

I can dance!

I can dance!

The kids do make me think. While substituting in a first grade classroom, we had a special guest whose presentation included a pretty cool rock video of choreographed exercise. It took a few minutes to get everyone in position with their “space bubble” around them so they weren’t interfering with each others’ moves. During that set up one of the kids asked, “Mr. Boomsma, are you old enough to dance?”

My knee-jerk reaction to his question was a chuckle that he’d asked it wrong. What he really meant to ask was, “Mr. Boomsma, are you too old to dance?” Because we were busy I just redirected his attention to the task at hand. “Spread your arms and make sure you’re not touching a neighbor… turn around in a circle…”

Unfortunately it wasn’t until later that I realized I should have asked him about his question. Maybe he meant exactly what he asked and I was the one who was wrong. His original question doesn’t make sense, you say? Why would he think I wasn’t old enough to dance? Well I, for one, will never presume to immediately understand another person’s thought process–particularly a child’s. They tend to be literal but they also tend to be free thinking.

But here’s the thing. In retrospect, the question I thought he meant to ask doesn’t make much sense either. Other than my gray hair, what basis is there for wondering if I’m too old to dance? I’ve occasionally joked that I can still do the things I did when I was young, it just takes me longer. Another variation of that joke is that I can still do the things I did when I was young, just not for as long.

Perhaps my young friend doesn’t carry that baggage with him. At least not yet. As a society, we will mold him and make sure he operates with assumptions, biases and prejudices he may not even be aware he has. Sometimes we do it unconsciously. The process brings to mind the fictional Borg collective from Star Trek. “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”

When the video started the kids were mesmerized and I stood back to watch. While I don’t focus on regrets, I do have one from that day.  I should have got right in the middle, created my space bubble, and danced with them. Not only would I have had fun, but I wouldn’t be sitting here wondering if I unintentionally contributed to a perception regarding age that isn’t accurate. There is no age limit on dancing–you can’t be too old and you can’t be too young.

And it’s not just about dancing. It might actually be about everything. Why don’t we wake up every morning wondering what we want to be, what we want to learn, and what we want to do? Why do we wake up tired and then remind ourselves we’re not getting any younger?

In some ways, we can get younger. We can think like a kid–with their freedom of thought and their possibility thinking. I love hearing a kid’s question that starts with, “Mr. Boomsma, what would happen if…”

How easy it is to forget a simple truth: if we truly want to do something, our passion for it opens doors and makes things possible. Some things require practice and there’s a need to balance passion and patience. How ironic is it that I consider an important part of my job in the classroom is convincing kids they CAN do things but I stood on the sideline and missed the fun. What would happen if we just tried a lot more things? What would happen if we put on some music…

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They Are All Winners!

l-r: Mrs. Daniels, Jemyni True, Macee Pearl, Mr. Boomsma, Melissa Burdin

l-r: Mrs. Daniels, Jemyni True, Macee Pearl, Mr. Boomsma, Melissa Burdin

On Friday, March 22, Piscataquis Community Elementary School fifth graders learned the winners of the Newspapers in Education Contest during which they were challenged to create an advertisement for the book “Small People; Big Brains.” Perhaps the even bigger challenge was selecting an ad to publish from the many submissions. Judges finally settled on three finalist ads: first place by Melissa Burdin, second by Macee Pearl, and third by Jemyni True. Each student received a certificate of accomplishment and art kit to encourage the development of their skills.Art Teacher Mrs. Daniels received special recognition for her support of the Newspapers in Education program and this special project:

For your constant understanding and for always being there,

To tell them they can do it and to show them that you care!

Principal Mrs. Orton wondered with the group “if we can expect Mr. Boomsma to write a book every year so get this opportunity again…”

There’s never a lack of stories and inspiration from these kids, but I’m not sure I can keep up! Walking down the hall just yesterday a Kindergartner informed me, “I go to school here and my dad coaches one of the teams here… is that weird?” I tried to assure him it was anything but… adults and children can attend the same school and learn from each other. These people may be small, but they often have really big brains.

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