How the progressive approach can make you a better teacher..even if you teach in a traditional school!

Last week, we had another Progressive Early Childhood Education seminar up North. Before we speak with teachers, we get information on the school and how our approach can complement and not go against their existing curriculum. The approach and basic concepts of progressive education can help any teacher, regardless if their school is progressive or not. So teachers, listen up!

teacher

1. Know your students. Progressive education is child-centered. However, most traditional schools usually have packaged curricula that need to be unpacked regardless of the developmental skills of the students. One size should fit all. In reality, not all the students can follow the same pace.

During the first weeks of class, try to make a short observation log for each student that not only contains basic information but also interests, strengths, and weaknesses that you observed. If you notice a student having hard time with your Math lesson plan, for example, suggest websites that offer free Math activities. They can do this when they get home.

I understand that most school teachers have more than 25 students in a class and this may be difficult to do. But trust me when I say that your teaching can actually become easier if you try to get to know your students more and prescribe ways to work on their weaknesses and highlight their strengths.

2. Make activities more experiential. “Think of your most vivid school memory, whether good or bad.” I asked this from our recently concluded teacher seminar and their replies confirmed John Dewey’s belief of experiential learning or learning through experiences. One teacher said, “I remember a poetry reading contest that I joined and I was supposed to read ‘O Captain, My Captain’. Since the role needed me to look poor, my parents made me dress up in a dirty dress and they washed coffee all over me to make me look dirty. I cried when I saw the other participants who were spankingly clean!! I turned to my parents and said ‘How can you dress me up this way?!’ I had no choice but to read my poem in dirty clothes. Lo and behold, I won the contest!”

I asked that teacher, “Who wrote ‘O Captain, My Captain’?” She answered, “Walt Whitman”. The poetry reading contest happened 10 years ago and not only did she remember the author, I can bet she can recite the whole poem still. Why? Because it was wrapped around the experience of joining that poetry contest.

Children learn through experience and they remember things that they are involved in. I then told that group of teachers, that they are now the memory-makers of their students. I hardly hear children say they remembered something because they studied for it in school. They remember things that they have experienced rather than things they’ve memorized.

3. Use themes close to the interest of the students. In our school, our teacher are keen observers and listeners. They usually know what their students are currently watching, reading, playing , eating, etc. because they engage in a lot of conversations with them. I had to watch through PowerPuff Girls, Barney all the way to today’s Sofia the First and Dora the Explorer; read The Hunger Games Trilogy and other young adult literature and listen to Taylor Swift‘s whole RED album, just to learn what they’re interested in! Once you know this, you can use these to deliver your lesson plan and voila, you will get their much coveted attention.

4. Unleash your creativity! Believe me when I say that all of us are creative. Check out your strength and use that to jumpstart your creativity in your teaching. If you are a teacher who can sing, find songs that you can change the lyrics to suit your lesson plan and sing to your students. If you can draw, why not have illustrations in your powerpoint that you yourself drew? Find new ways to deliver an otherwise boring lesson plan and , again, you will get your students’ much coveted attention.

5. Work with parents. Your students are members of basic family units that influence their beliefs, behavior and values. You will only meet the goals you set for your students if you partner up with the people they spend most of their time with.  Apart from the scheduled Parent-Teacher Conferences, try to have small chats with parents during drop-off and pick-up times.

**We would like to thank the preschool teachers and Bachelor of Elementary Education  students of First City Providential College for last week’s PRESCHOOL EDUCATION seminar! If you want us to talk to your teachers or parents, you can contact us at teachertinazamora(at)gmail(dot)com.

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How an ‘Advanced Curriculum’ can actually ruin learning

This started out as a summary of progressivist John Dewey’s writing on Traditional VS Progressive Education entitled Experience and Education. But when I was writing it, I realized that each point needed their own post!

Let’s start with this:

“..to imposition from above is opposed expression and cultivation of individuality”

There are many schools known to impose skills and information that is not age-appropriate to their students. “It imposes adult standards, subject-matter, and methods upon those who are only growing slowly toward maturity. The gap is so great that the required subject-matter, the methods of learning and of behaving are foreign to the existing capacities of the young. They are beyond the reach of the experience the young learners already possess. Consequently, they must be imposed; even though good teachers will use devices of art to cover up the imposition so as to relieve it of obviously brutal features.” (Dewey, Experience and Education)

A lot of parents are hooked into this perceived “advancement” a lot of schools sell that their students will be taught skills way above their developmental capacity. I’ve seen moms pretending to gasp in disbelief, “Imagine they’re teaching Algebra in the 3rd grade!”** saying it with a secret smile of pride that their 8 year old is already finding the value of X.

What happens ? The students will either seem like geniuses for a short amount of time and forget everything they were taught OR they will be stressed in the process of learning all this information and hate school altogether.

You may say that in a class of 40 children, there are only a few who can’t cope with an advanced curriculum. They are then labelled several things: lazy, slow, or diagnosed instantly with Attention Deficit Disorder. The parents try to figure out what is wrong with their child when in fact, most of the time, it only comes with the burden of a curriculum way outside their developmental capacity.

The teachers are frustrated that their students just don’t get it. “Even though good teachers will use devices of art to cover up the imposition so as to relieve it of obviously brutal features.“, said Dewey. I have spoken to a lot of teachers who have no choice but to implement a lesson plan way above their class’ ability. They’re positive that the kids won’t get it. And yet they continue on and even make tests and exams that cover the impossible because it is in their job description to do so. Even the teachers are giving up!

So does this make the students who pass these advancements geniuses? Maybe. Definitely, there are children whose strength is the retention of information, critical thinking, etc. I believe that there are children who can be given advanced concepts. But it has to be determined if the student is having high grades because he totally understood the concepts, comprehended the topics OR just MEMORIZED the information. Because believe me, a lot of students get high grades from memorizing facts … and then completely forget about them a minute after the exam. So where’s the learning there?

I am also for the exposure of advanced concepts to students who are ready for it. Why not go the next level if a student is obviously ready to do so?  But what about the other students whose strength lies in the arts or sports?  Unfortunately, the current curricula of advancement focus only on the academic subjects such as Math and Science. The purpose of which is the filtering out of supposedly of “slow” students instead of aiming for every child to learn.

**This is an invented example. Heaven forbid there is such a school teaching Algebra in the third grade!

Hello to another journey in 2015!

The journey that was 2014 was long, hard and fruitful for me as a teacher. It opened up a lot of opportunities to be the teacher I always aspired to be. I am thankful enough to sit and list them down to give thanks and appreciation that by the grace of God, I was able to do all these in His name:

1. I think the most mileage I got to spread progressive education and family tips is when I co-anchored “Kapamilya Konek” in DZMM Teleradyo first with friend Maricel Laxa Pangilinan then with broadcaster Jing Castaneda. Now that I’ve decided to move on from the program, I can say that the experience awakened a part of me I never thought was inside me..being a broadcaster! Whoduthunk?! Although my husband always says it was perfect because I usually talked too much (haha), never did I think I would sit behind a booth and speak to thousands of people via radio and TV to talk about family issues!

The Kapamilya Konek team made a heart-warming farewell AVP that summed up my stay in the show 🙂

2. I had my almost TED-talk experience by speaking for HomegrownPH’s Women series. It’s hard to talk when you’re given only 12 minutes to talk about a topic I want to talk about the whole day, How to Educate GIRLS!

3. Our school, Nest, has grown into the progressive school I dreamed of having. Now on its 13th year, I believe our staff of teachers this year is the best we’ve ever had in terms of heart and talent! And this clearly shows in the students and families that they have taught during the year.

4. I, together with some Nest teachers, have been invited my several institutions to train them about progressive education and some have asked for us to help them out in their curriculum development. I’ve always said that I wanted to keep Nest as small as possible to maintain it being progressive and the this opportunity of sharing our knowledge to others was a surprise blessing and opportunity for us to spread the advocacy to other schools instead. Shoot us an email at teachertinazamora (at) gmail (dot) com, if you want us to visit your school or institution.

5. Another collaboration I did with fellow Family Life and Child Development Specialists is a site called Ask Teacher — a child development classroom for PARENTS who want to ask teachers help on their parenting concerns. You should drop by and see!

6. I added “columnist” to my list of descriptions by contributing to the magazine, Celebrity Mom. I write about current parenting and school issues. Faced with word counts and deadlines, my writing entered a whole new level! I think I should set the same minimums for this blog!

Celebrity Mom

7. This website! I have been in and out of this blog for years and yet a lot of visitors have passed and asked a lot of questions about progressive education.. enough to for me to revive it! Thanks for passing by and hope you learn a lot from it!

What’s in store for 2015 for me as a teacher? Hopefully a lot more opportunities like the ones on this list. I have a few projects on the line to become more involved with more schools, more teachers, more parents and of course, more students!

Listen Up!

My good friend Maricel Laxa-Pangilinan debuts in radio tomorrow, April 21, in a DZMM 630 TeleRadyo show called “Kapamilya Konek”. This show will tackle every issue regarding family life as Maricel is known to be an advocate in good parenting. Not only that! Like me, she is also a Master of Family Life Child Development graduate from the University of the Philippines.

She has invited me to come on board every Sunday at 5:00 pm. 630 in your AM dial and Teleradyo in your local and cable channels. Do listen up and savor the different family life issues that we bring to the radio show. You can also like the show’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/kapamilyakonek and join our numerous calls for pictures and questions.

Hope to hear from you as you hear from us!

Maricel

 

The Empty Notebook

This is the story of the Empty Notebook…

Once upon a time, there was a boy who went to school from Monday to Friday. In his bag was an empty notebook which he brought to school everyday.

On Monday, the boy learned how to count and subtract because his Math teacher read him a story called, “Ten in a Bed” by Penny Dale. He did not write anything on his empty notebook.

On Tuesday, the boy learned about volcanoes in Science because his teacher showed a video of an erupting volcano called Mount Pinatubo. They made their own volcanoes in class with a papier mache model and some vinegar. He did not write anything on his empty notebook.

On Wednesday, the boy learned about different colors in Art because his teacher gave him a paintbrush and Red, Yellow and Blue paint. They had fun mixing the different colors to make new colors. He did not write anything on his empty notebook.

On Thursday, the boy learned about Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan because his Social Studies teacher dressed them all up in costumes and made a play about Rizal’s life. He did not write anything on his empty notebook.

On Friday, the boy learned to wait his turn while climbing the slide in the playground. He did not write anything on his empty notebook.

While at home the following Saturday morning, the boy’s mom opened his bag and looked at his notebook. She said, “Oh son, I think you didn’t learn anything in school this week because your notebook is empty.”

The End.

If you don’t get the lesson, I think you should write “I will not judge a lesson by its notes” one hundred times on YOUR notebook.

Why are parents asking for more HOMEWORK?

Recently, I asked a friend why he was transferring his daughter back to a traditional school even if his daughter is clearly having a great time in a progressive school. His answer floored me, “I want her to have more HOMEWORK.”

Wow.

Really?!

You would transfer your child to a system that clearly is not a good fit for her because you want her to have more homework. Of course, I bit my tongue and decided to write about it instead.

First let’s list down what parents THINK homework is:

  1. It is an activity at home that will improve their child’s self-discipline and study habits.
  2. It will lengthen a their child’s focus and attention span.
  3. It will increase their child’s academic standing or grade.

But what if all these are not true? Or at least not based on any significant data or study? Just a practice passed down from generations of teachers and students to the point that it became a permanent structure in itself?

On a progressive standpoint, homework or assignments are part of the curriculum ONLY if it will benefit the learning process started in the classroom. It is not mandatory that teachers give it. Progressive teachers would rather have the child spend his time at home interacting with family members and spending time with an activity they are passionate about like a hobby or reading.

Doesn’t this make sense?

In my experience as a teacher, I have come across a number of homework mediocrity and family discussion. There are parents who do their child’s writing homework (c’mon, fess up parents, they don’t just magically change the way they write paragraphs), projects, etc.

Most of the time, homework becomes a source of stress between the parent and child. Child wants to play, parent automatically says, do your homework first. This is fine as long as the homework is an integral learning experience for the child. Worse is when the parent attempts to tutor their child and end up fighting with them. Is this a significant interaction with your child?

Speaking of significant interaction, I had one year of giving out homework wherein the child asks the parents certain questions. For example, when the children were learning about Philippine Games, I asked them to interview their parents what games they used to play as children. The goal was (1) to research about Philippine games by interviewing their parents (2) to appreciate the games because what better inspiration is there than having your parents talk about them and (3) to be able to write the instructions and relay it to the class the following day.

Great homework I must say. Not according to one parent who wanted me to revise the homework and have her child Google it instead. Great..

So what do we make of the Homework Dilemma?

The ideal situation is that the child in class is so interested in the lesson that he would want to learn more about the the topic when he reaches home. I remember one student who was so fascinated with our Volcanoes lesson, that he gave me a printed copy of all the volcanoes, dormant and active, in the Philippines. I didn’t assign this. He did it all by himself.

Another ideal situation is that the class is so interested in the lesson that an hour in class isn’t enough and the teacher gives them relevant questions to think about at home.

Alfie Kohn’s book, The Homework Myth, suggests the following to make a change in the homework dilemma:

  1. Design what you assign. Teachers should make the homework that they assign rather than relying heavily on textbooks. This makes sure that the homework is indeed relevant to the curriculum.
  2. One size doesn’t fit all. Truthfully, a class of 20-40 students do not have the same skill level.
  3. Bring in the parents. The purpose of homework should be clearly defined to parents. In our school orientation, we always explain that homework is not mandatory and should be linked to the lesson but we still get requests for more homework.. I still can’t explain that phenomenon.
  4. Stop grading. I see parents and teachers fainting so this deserves a separate post all together..
  5. Address Inequities. Kohn suggests that students be allowed to stay longer in school or the library so they have access to teachers and other resources to complete their homework.

For parents, here are my suggestions.

1. Chill. Really, chill out and spend time with your child. Enjoy their presence.

2. Tons of homework does not mean great curriculum or lesson. It may really just be tons of homework.

3. Ask your child’s school about their Homework Philosophy. Hopefully, they have one.

For my friend who’s transferring his daughter to a school with more homework, no amount of homework can replace a child’s happiness while learning in place where she thrives. If you still, don’t get it, read this post over and over again… as your homework.

A Halloween Special: The Concept of Death

It’s the time of year of goblins, ghosts and horror movies and it got me thinking — how do we explain the concept of death to our children?

1. What age is the best time to explain it?

Age isn’t the issue, opportunity is. I told a friend that before she gives her son a goldfish for a pet, she better prepare herself to explain the concept of death because, truth be told, fish have a short lifespan as far as pets go.

2. What should we say?

When death happens in a family, the age old question usually arises “Where will grandma go when she dies?”.  And the usual answer is.. all together now.. “She’s going to heaven.” and the explanation stops there.

First of all, the concept of heaven or what happens to us when we die is anchored on the spiritual belief of the family. It may be the usual answer but the family should have a clear picture of what heaven is before the answer is given to a child.

3. How does it affect the socio-emotional domain of a child?

Death is a reality in life. However, media sometimes depicts death as an ingredient for horror movies and equates it to something scary. Coffins are major props to a scary film and cemeteries become the setting for them. So it’s not surprising that a child feels fear during a wake or a funeral rather than sadness because of the loss of a loved one.

Since it is a reality, it should be explained as a stage in life. Whatever beliefs the family has about it, like sex (oh don’t get me started on that.. probably on the next post), death should be discussed and not swept under the rug. The more a child gets answers from his parents, the less he would depend on media and other people.