Book Review: Big Al

Andrew Clemens, Artwork by Yoshi, For Ages 4-7

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Think about what it would be like to try and make friends if you were the biggest and ugliest fish in the sea. This is the problem that Big Al faces when trying to make friends. He is the friendliest fish in the sea but he is lonely because no one wants to make friends with him.

An important social emotional skill is the ability to make friends and young children often need to learn strategies that they can use. There are a number of books that we recommend for this and Big Al is great for younger children aged 4-7. In the story Big Al uses a range of different strategies such as disguising himself, trying to make himself bigger and smaller. Unfortunately none of these things work.

However in the end when the other fishes are caught in a net Big Al shows that he is a true friend and rescues them.

From this book children can learn to be true to themselves, that they don’t have to pretend to be anything that they are not. They will also learn about the value of accepting that others are different and that real friendship means helping each other.

1 hour Workshop: Neuroscience for Educators – Overview

shinning minds brainIn the last two decades there have been amazing advances in our understanding of how the brain works and educators have been very active in both conducting this research and applying it within learning and development settings.

Pathways to Resilience Trust is presenting one hour workshops to give educators an overview of how the learning from neuroscience impacts social, emotional and academic learning in the classroom.

Expected Outcomes

  • Understand the implications neuroscience has for educators, especially in the area of social and emotional learning
  • Identify a number of ‘neuro-friendly’ principles to help kids build better brains

Topics Covered

  • The amazing brain
  • The mind
  • The developing brain
  • Neuroplasticity made simple
  • The brain’s bias
  • Hand model of the brain
  • The social brain
  • Importance of the pre-frontal cortex


Costs

Face-to-face for schools: $200 per session (plus all necessary travel expenses depending on your location)

Online webinar: $15 per participant.

People gave very positive feedback re the professional development. It was rated one of the best presentations of its kind people had ever see – easy to follow, but not patronising.” – Principal, Logan School.

Sign up today

(07) 3169 2400 M: 0447 032 339

www.pathwaystoresilience.org

Rafe Esquith: Talking About Real Teaching

Rafe Esquith and his students

What is the difference between ordinary and extraordinary students? Rafe Esquith specifically chose to work with disadvantaged kids because he believes that what makes students extraordinary are the people who help them develop, and of course this includes their teachers.

Rafe often puts in 12 hour days in the classroom, arriving at 6 in the morning and leaving at 6 in the evening. As a result many students also choose to arrive and leave at those times as well. It also means that he has the opportunity to teach students topics outside of the defined curriculum.

90% of his students are below the poverty level and none have English as their first language yet they achieve in top 5 to 10% in the United States on standardised tests; which says that he must be doing something right.

He has written 4 books and was the subject of a documentary film “The Hobart Shakespearians” about his fifth grade Hobart Elementary school students putting on their annual Shakespeare play.

His books are highly personal, describing his perspectives, experiences and the techniques he uses as a teacher rather than a prescription for teachers and parents. He doesn’t expect all teachers to be able to put in similarly long hours as he does but he hopes to inspire others by the success his students have achieved.

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There Are No Shortcuts is his first book and is now required reading at Purdue University for the subject Exploring Teaching as a Career.

Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire contains many practical how to directions for most of his most effective classroom activities.

Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World is a slim book that looks at building student’s character and while teachers will find it interesting it is also the best book for parents to read.

Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans: “No Retreat, No Surrender!” is his latest book. Well received by new teachers it also contains lots of useful advice for experienced teachers as well.

Book Review: The Invisible String

invisible-string

Did you know that everyone has an invisible string connecting them with their loved ones? You might think it is impossible but surely you can feel the tug from heart to heart even when we are alone or far from our family and friends.

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst is a favourite children’s story book that was specifically written to address issues of loneliness and separation. It uses a very simple approach with a heart warming message that there is an invisible connection of love. Even if you can’t see or touch it you know it is there because you can feel it deep in your heart.

Many young children experience separation anxiety. Perhaps it is because it is their first time away from their primary caregiver or a close relative has left or died.

In The Invisible String Jeremy lets his mother know that he feels sad when he is away from her, she reassures him with the knowledge that she is still there as they are connected with an invisible string that he only needs to tug and he will feel her love. The invisible string represents the love people have for each other.

The need for a sense of connectedness is important for children to develop resilience. Feelings of separation anxiety can arise which are difficult for a child to manage without guidance. The Invisible String is a great learning tool to address this issue and facilitate discussion with young children around separation anxiety.

Some feedback about this book include

“We can’t read this to a class without a few tears, as this simple story really touches young and old alike.”

“It was a great help when my children’s grandfather died. They could believe that the invisible string reached all the way to heaven and that their grandfather’s love was still with them.”

“Nice picture book about how we don’t stop loving each other just because we are apart.”

“The most requested book in our house, and has held this status for quite some time.”

“Great if you or someone close to you are moving or if a loved one dies to explain how love works at a distance.”

Do You Hear Me? Building Listening Skills in the Classroom

listening

Do you really listen? Many people lack really great listening skills, and so why should we be surprised if kids also are unable to listen. Listening skills are important in classrooms as they allow us to make sense of information communicated. Children with poor listening skills are disadvantaged immediately as they do not understand what is being taught, and have difficulty with social situations.

There is an exercise I like to do when teaching adults to communicate (though you can also use this exercise with all ages) It goes like this: people work in pairs, one person talks about a topic and the other person just listens. They are not even allowed to ask questions, only use non-verbal cues to keep the other person talking.

Believe or not, most people can’t get through this exercise without asking questions or worse yet, just talking about themselves instead of listening. However a good listener can keep the other person talking without a single word.

Listening skills are rarely part of any curriculum and so mostly we hope our students will be able to listen and are surprised when they don’t. Most teachers learn skills so they can communicate their message. However shouldn’t we also be helping kids learn skills to improve their own listening. Here are some practical ways to teach kids listening skills.

1.     Show Leadership and model listening behaviour

One way that children learn social and communication skills is by copying what others do, especially adults. If you want children to listen then you have to also listen to them.

There are lots of activities where teachers can listen to kids. One of my favourites is where you brain storm ideas as you might do with creative writing. You are showing how to listen, you are modelling non-verbal language to encourage the speaker, asking questions for more information and writing down the information. All skills that we would like kids to have as well.

2.     Play listening games in the classroom

There are plenty games and activities that encourage and build listening skills. They are useful as break out activities and also build useful skills.

  • Simon Says is the classic game with a range of different variations.
  • Drawing games, where one group describes a picture that the other group can’t see. They have to try and draw the picture from the description. It also teaches kids to put themselves in the other person’s position and clearly communicate.
  • Follow instruction games. There are many of these. Maybe they have to follow a set of instructions to go to a location. Walk 3 steps forward, turn left, walk 2 steps, turn right etc, or maybe build something or solve a problem.

3.     Get kids to explain information to others

Some people might call this turn and talk, and it works really well when you have self-paced activity time. When one child has finished a task that you taught them how to do, they then have to teach another student how to do that task.

4.     Repeat it back

This is one of the tricks they use in the military. When an order is given to you personally, you can’t just say “Yes sir”, you have to repeat the instruction back to show that you were listening and understood the instruction.

Want to know if kids understand the instructions that you have given, ask them to repeat it back to you. If you have explained something to the whole class then ask students to tell you what you have told them. It is also a great way to find out if what you have said made sense to them.

The core skill here is called reflection. This is where we repeat what was said back to someone in our own words to clarify that we understood what was said. This can also be a great skill to model with students when we listen to them.

5.     Getting kids to ask the right questions (active listening)

While paying attention, listening and understanding first time are important skills, learning how to ask the right questions when you don’t understand is another useful skill. A lot of the time when we think kids don’t listen in reality we have given them instructions that were wrong, incomplete or they failed to follow our meaning. A skill that they need to build up is asking intelligent questions when they don’t understand.

20 questions is the classic question asking game but you can incorporate question asking into any class. Great teachers often start by simply saying something like “We are going to play a game.” and then wait for the kids to ask “What game?”, “How many teams?”, “What is the size of the team?”, “How do we play?”

 6.     Story time

A great way to get kids, especially the younger ones, to actively listen is through stories. Great story readers are always asking the listener what they think is going to happen next, how different characters might be feeling and so on. This encourages thoughtful listening. Having stories read to them is also one of the best ways for young children to develop listening skills and increase concentration span.

Conclusion

The first thing any teacher or parent should do after reading this is to go out and practice their own listening skills. In fact writing this has reminded me that I should do some things to practice my own listening. It is not that we are bad listeners but really good listening is a difficult skill worth pursuing.

If we want kids to be great listeners we have to help them learn the skills be great listeners. Do you have any activities you use to build up listening skills in your students, then please share them in the comments section.

Bonus – Taboo

Here is a bonus game I use to help students learn to listen to multiple sources of information and filter out wrong, contradictory, unhelpful and extraneous information. This game comes under different names, such as Taboo, Hot Seat or I prefer to call it, Don’t Say That Word.

The class is divided up in the middle into two teams, with one team on the left of the classroom and one on the right of the class room. Volunteers from each team are brought to the front of the classroom. Usually I take two from each team so no one feels too shy. The players at the front face the other students so they can’t see the secret word that I will write on the board. Their classmates will give them clues until one of the players at the front calls out the correct word.

Now here is the trick. Players from the left side of the classroom stand on the right side of the room and the players from the right side of the classroom stand on the left side of the room. The other players will call out clues and the students at the front must guess the words. Students always complain, with everyone calling out clues it is hard to listen; which is exactly the point. The students at the front are being bombarded with sentences, clues, sounds, various signals, actions and so on. A lot of the clues are unhelpful and some are often wrong. For example, if you write the word money and someone thinks the word was actually monkey and starts talking about eating bananas and living in trees the students at the front have to filter out this information to work out the correct word.