authors, book reviews, Books, Careers, childcare, childhood, early childhood education, education, out of school hours care, reflections of an educator, Unschooling

Teach like Finland?

Okay, I admit it. I am a fan of Nordic noir. I am, therefore, intrigued by all things Nordic.

So you can imagine my interest as an educator in the book Teach Like Finland: 33 Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. How can one capture the joy described as being present in more Finnish classrooms, to make education meaningful for students?

Author Tim Walker, an American primary school teacher,  has taught in Finnish schools for several years. His observations on simple changes that any educator could make in their own learning space, regardless of the systemic educational regime that may be in place, are simple. Most of the them are examples of what good educators already do here in Australia.

The foundation of the book is that educators in Finland seek to promote joyful teaching and learning. Walker builds the book on five principles of happiness that, once basic needs are met, encourage joyfilled and meaningful learning. The five principles are:

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Autonomy

Mastery

Mind-set

Well-being

Now, anyone who works in early childhood education and care, or outside school hours education and care, will recognise many of these principles as being present in the learning frameworks and quality areas mandated by regulatory bodies.

So, why don’t we take these principles and apply them to our classrooms as we do to in our education and care settings? Some schools do. And, as Walker notes, many teachers can do so in simple ways within their own classrooms.

Take the 15 minute breaks every hour, for example. Finnish schools break every hour to give children a leisure and outside break.  Research supports such breaks for optimum performance and wellbeing for both adults and children. In outside school hours education and care we encourage autonomy so that children themselves take a break from one activity or move to another, naturally.

But it seems to me that even in more conventional classrooms, and in our homeschooling and unschooling experiences,  educators can allow small breaks between sessions, times when children take a break from more formal work to select an activity or simply read and talk or play a game before moving on. I used to do the same in my classroom in a community school in which I used to teach, with positive results in learning and in relationship building.

While the books itself is well-researched, with both qualitative and quantitative research, its tone is a little smug. In fact, it is not a joy to read.

The irony of this amuses me.

I still recommend this book for educators and parents, and encourage us all to look at how we teach, not only look at what it is we do teach.

 

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authors, book reviews, Books, Women

A book for Mother’s Day?

Inspired by Lisa’s post on books for Mother’s Day, I thought I’d write about one of my current reads. The main character is a mother and wife. Thus, it’s loose Mother’s Day connection.

At book club recently we discussed adult fairy tales. The patterns in the narrative. The occurrence of a magical event that transforms. The presence of a mentor or helper. The repetition in plot. The novel I write of below does not fit this genre and yet…there is a  thread of the repetition and mentor in all spy thrillers. Think John Le Carre here, for example.

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland is both a domestic novel and a spy/espionage thriller. Written by a one-time CIA analyst herself, the book provides a strong sense of realism. The reader can imagine the day-to-day work of an analyst, the drab ordinariness of what often seems to be an exciting career in espionage to an outsider.

Viven, the  protagonist, is a CIA analyst who comes across a file of Russian agents. One of whom is her husband, the father of her four young children, the husband she loves and with whom she shares a life, worrying about children, schools, money, the mortgage.

What would you do? Much of the first part of the novel involves Viven asking herself that question, amid flashbacks to the first meeting with her husband, the moment they became engaged, the time they discussed having children. Each flashback provided me with the firm conviction that Matt, Vivien’s husband, is a manipulator and not to be trusted – but is he? Vivien herself seems unsure.

Written in first person active narrative, this thriller kept me interested. I admit that I am a fan of thrillers, and of espionage stories in particular. It is a Mother’s Day story with a difference. Not flowery or happy or breezy but an edge of your seat thriller. I kept thinking – What would I do? (The answer is turn him in, to be honest. Vivien’s deliberation and neediness just pains me. Her almost helplessness in the face of the threat that her husband poses is a flaw in the novel.)

Interestingly, the book’s film rights have been sold to Universal Pictures with Charlize Theron taking the role of Vivien. Should be interesting. A possible future Mother’s Day film?9780593079591.jpg

 

 

 

authors, book reviews, Books, Christmas, Life

An almost Christmas sampler: Books of 2017

If you are like me, you read. A lot. Constantly. You have books going at home, on your phone when caught (horror!) without a paper book. Books at work, for work. Articles saved to devour, later. Fiction and non-fiction, for study, for self, for work, for the liturgical year, for intellectual and personal improvement, for escape, for story telling, for philosophy and theology wrapped in narrative,  for book club. Bits and bobs of books floating in your head, because you read a line or a page and move on.

But some books stand out. You remember them, not necessarily because they were good or bad but because something touched that frozen sea within you.

These are some of the  (many) books I read in 2017:

The Dry by Jane Harper: Australian outback. Drought. And an almost colourless main character, detective Aaron Falk. I think it is often hard for a woman author to write a male, and for a male to write a woman. I think Aaron Falk is a simplistic character in a complex story, simply because it was easier for Harper to write a male that way. The story intrigues, however, in spite of  this, and in spite of the author’s obsession with weight – every character is a few kilos over ‘ideal weight’ or thin and at ‘ideal weight’. Can we describe characters without weight? It would be interesting to try. Nevertheless, the book intrigued me enough to make me read Harper’s second novel Force of Nature. I think she grew into her writing in this novel. It tries less ostentatiously to be Australian; it just is. A mystery with a good twist, set in the Australian bush.

The Strike series by Robert Galbraith (yes, the pen-name of J. K. Rowling): I wanted to see what Rowling was like, post Hary Potter.  I wanted to read what has been described as good, old-fashioned detective novels. I think you get hints that this book was written by Rowling – the detail of the world and the curiousity of the characters, for example. I was surprised, however, by the sexist description of women – those pert. high breasts... It may be that Rowling felt this was expected in a detective novel, ostensibly written by a man, with a male detective as the focal point. But what an opportunity missed, to write of women without describing breasts or legs or sexually pleasing looks? Overall, I liked the novels. I enjoyed the plots and the literary inclusions. I am a bit worried that book four, however, will feel compelled to weave romance into the plot. I don’t read detective stories for romance. Actually, I don’t read romance. I guess that says something about me. Good or bad.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: I tried to avoid this book. I hate the celebration of quirky characters that you know, like Ove from A Man Called Ove (a book I read this year by Fredrik Backman, for book club), have hearts of gold under problem exteriors,  in the narrative, but who, in real life, would be bloody annoying. And harsh. And mean. I think, too, that, in contrast to what these novels write, we are more than our pasts and our childhood, even our difficult childhoods (ask me how I know). But I stray. I gave in to this novel, it kept following me everywhere. And though the story and characters were a little contrived, I think Honeyman ( like Backman) is a good storyteller. And I love stories. The stories of who we are and why we are. The stories of different people, communities,  and experiences. The stories of  being human. While I gave this book away ( I keep less and less of my books) I loved it. In the end. Though I saw the ‘mother’ twist coming a mile off…..

download       The Scandal by Frederik Backman (published in the U.S. as Beartown): I mentioned  Swedish writer Backman above. I loved this book. ( You are surprised to hear me say I loved a book, right? After my commentary above. But I did like the books above. Truly. It was just a qualified like). Backman can write characters. He forms plot. He shows us different viewpoints. He tells a really good story ( I cried in Britt-Marie was Here, and smiled in My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologies). A topical story, of a community that struggles , of women and violence, of small town life as it is and not as we wish to see it through rose coloured glasses. Yes, I’ve lived in small, struggling towns.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin : This mught just be my favourite book of the year. Written from several different perspectives it is laugh out loud funny. It is Jewish humour as only someone who grew up in an American Jewish family could write. Yet, the humour reflects an edge, an important story  – why is that when women have affairs with married men, with  a married U.S. Senator in this case , why is it that the women are called sluts and whores and are slut-shamed? Even by other women; by other women who stand up as feminists but still blame the ‘mistress’. Indeed. This issue is so topical, and Zevin tells the story with humour and different voices. A really good read.

God is No Thing by Rupert Shortt : A non-fiction book of essays. Philisophical discussion of God. Theological discussion on scriptural interpretation and the effect of culture and context. Yet easy to pick up, and put down; read one essay at a time if you like. I’m keeping this book.

I Could Do Anything , If Only I Knew What It Was by Barbara Sher: While this is a self-help book, a positivist breezy book, it does contain nuggets of good common sense, even life-changing nuggets of ideas and concepts. It helped me recognise that I am not a careerist, pursuing one career, but a scanner, scanning and experiencing many different things, in  my life  and in my profession and work. And that is okay. I just need to keep reminding myself of that fact (and I need to earn more….). In a rut, both professionally and personally? Read this book. In sections. Not all at once. It is too much positivism to stomach all at once.

Finally, above all, remember why it is that we who are readers read. It just may be because:

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.” – Ernest Hemingway