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, Books, childhood, compassion, family, Life, Unschooling

Divergent…and other stories

“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.” …

This quote, from the novel Divergent, highlights why some of what I read is Young Adult fiction.

I read for truth. Truth and hope. Divergent_(book)_by_Veronica_Roth_US_Hardcover_2011

Young adult novels, regardless of genre, reflect the virtue of hope. They are not afraid to honestly portray hope as a human desire. The worlds of YA novels are not tainted by unnervng, unforgiving, unending cyncicism. For, while cynicism, exists, as in Quicksilver by R. J. Anderson, the cynicism of  a girl who is different and who learns to mistrust others, there also exists a parallel of hope . Maybe things can be different. Maybe “… two people who care deeply about something bigger than each other,……drawn together by a shared commitment to that common ideal or goal” can describe both friendship – and love.

It is this hope that marks the call to action one encounters in YA fiction. YA fiction has a strong voice. It is often written in first person. It bends genres – think of Eleanor and Park – romance fiction but also realistic fiction, with some humour and the marks of pop culture. The novel, of despair tinged with hope and love, with a celebration of  different, is also, in its way, a coming of age and school story , with overtones of philosphical fiction (What does it mean to be us? What  is love? Who and what are we?).

Young adult fiction forms and informs the reader (And for those of us who are no longer young adults, it reminds us of this formation and youth).

Who can forget the strength, resilience and search for roots in Dicey, from Homecoming and Dicey’s Song?

Or the advice given to Opal, in Because of Winn Dixie, to hold those we love loosely, in the palms of our hands.

Young adult fiction encourages new writers. The writing is often superb. Articulate voices craft these stories. They invite us into the narrative, into the minds and souls of the characters. We become a different person after immersion in the lives of others.

We remember. And we look to the future.

We, like the young adults for whom YA fiction is written, begin to understand more of our complex world and more of the complexity of others.

YA fiction pushes us towards positive change.

authors, Books, childhood, family

Your favourite author at age 11?

I remember when I was eleven. For a time, we lived with my grandparents in a three bedroom apartment. It was a year when I only attended one school (a milestone in my sixth grade year, in comparison to the four different school of the previous year). I moved to a new school (yet again) at the start of the year. And, in the wide school library, I discovered the author E. L. Konigsburg1048816

The first book I read by Konigsburg was Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elisabeth. Yes, it inspired me to start a ‘witches club’ for, like Jennifer, I was new to the school and area and wanted to make my mark, knowing I would not fit in easily.  Then I discovered From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. A book I have savoured. A book that continues to inspire my love for museums (and my occasional wish to run away!).  A book I have shared with many children, my own and others, that still inspires each generation.

What did I like about these books and this author?

I liked the honesty about the little things in life. The details. The conversations.

I liked how Konigsburg weaved stories of growth amid the realisation of adventure in the every day…and in the everydayness of the stories. Konigsburg had the  ability to perceive the extraordinary within the ordinary,

I enjoyed (enjoy) her descriptions. Plain. Unadorned. But never simplistic.

I appreciated, and do so even more today, her use of phrasing. A word here, a word there, clusters of text that made me catch my breath and know, inside, that my own story had been articulated.

The characters’ lives, in each of those two books, suggested normalcy. And normalcy was a perfume for me as a child, in my own mixed-up, muddled-up life.

The stories of Elisabeth, and Jennifer, and Claudia and Jamie, whispered to me that, maybe, one day, I could write too. I already scribbled stories and novellas in the back of my old school exercise books. Konigsburg’s writing encouraged me to believe that I, too, could write stories like her. Stories of childhood and life.

E. L. Konigsburg, like Cynthia Voigt, wrote of children and for children, with raw, compassionate honesty. With terse but haunting descriptions. Of plots and characters that echo life with that hint of more.

Because “Having words and explanations for things is too modern..” ( ‘From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’).

What was one of your favourite childhood novels?download