Thursday, January 31, 2013

International Conference on Thinking

Last week six Project Facilitators had an opportunity to attend the International Conference on Thinking in Wellington. We all had papers accepted, so we also had the opportunity to present our work to an international conference.

The conference was advertised as a fascinating 5 day conference to expand global thinking around the themes of  ‘future survival’, ‘personal furtures’ and ‘future society’.  ICOT13 and was a remarkable opportunity to:

  • connect with cross-discipline ‘thinkers’
  • experience world leading speakers
  • excite the senses with insights, discussions and inspiration.

An important aim of the conference was to acknowledge and value the culturally diverse range of concepts about, and approaches to, thinking and learning….

And so the week began… Below I will just share our abstracts and what each of us presented at this conference. Over the next few weeks I am sure those who attended will share a little of what they experienced at this conference.

From the left: Lorraine Sands, Wendy Lee, Margaret Carr, Carol Marks and Gillian Fitzgerald (Robyn Lawrence who also attended is not in this photo)
Life-long teaching and learning: connecting aspirations for children to professional learning for teachers

Margaret Carr and Wendy Lee
This paper will argue that education in the early years can play a role in constructing life-long learner identities. The authors will focus on one dimension of this – children authoring their own learning - and outline the ways in which pedagogy and assessment can combine together to contribute to a strengthening of this capacity. We will call on our own research with young children in school classrooms and early childhood settings. We also refer research by Carol Dweck which provides evidence that even at an early age children have sometimes developed an investment in reputation and in being right, a ‘fixed’ mindset, and their capacity for creative thinking and curiosity is diminished by this. Our research describes some of the ways in which teachers in the early years have encouraged what Dweck calls a ‘growth’ mindset. In particular we provide evidence of the consequences of narrative assessments in doing some of the work of constructing a capacity for children to author their own learning and to develop a ‘growth’ mindset. This teaching and learning includes enabling a recognition of possibilities and opportunities for ongoing learning, inviting the engagement of valued adults outside the educational setting and facilitating meaning-making and communicating in multimodal ways.

In our view there is also a link between children authoring their own learning and teachers’ capacity for agency, dialogue and ‘growth’ mindset. The open-ended nature of the early childhood curriculum in Aotearoa/New Zealand affords teacher agency and dialogue. This paper will outline the ways in which professional learning programmes for teachers can also encourage life-long learning mindset with teachers.

Gaming - Do You Know Me?

Carol Marks
Do we create an environment where the use of ICT’s is controlled in ways that are meaningful to teachers but is limiting for children? This paper provides an opportunity to think more deeply about what we say and do when using ICT’s that can impact on learning, using popular culture and gaming in early childhood.Gaming is still an emotive subject and people have strong views about it, either for or against so it is an opportunity to explore the learning that occurs when young chidden are engaged in gaming. As Beck and Carstens said “Sooner or later, those who grew up without video games will have to understand the gamers”. Children are rewarded for the effort they put into gaming, they are developing dispositions for life long learning so we need to take their efforts seriously.

Growing thinkers from infancy up: learners who are inspirational, innovative, industrious and interconnected.

Lorraine Sands
The Centre of Innovation research at Greerton Early Childhood Centre (2006 -2008) was characterised as a dispositional milieu where working theories were explored through a narrative research methodology.  As the research progressed, the teachers at Greerton strengthened the way we were listening to, and watching out for young children’s questions to enable them to become deeply involved in exploring the world around them.  We had been very clear about involving babies in this question asking and exploring community and over time we began to see evidence of leadership emerging as children were immersed in this culture of learning and teaching.  We became interested in understanding how we might wrap our babies in an environment that would ʻgrow learners, thinkers and leadersʼ (Dweck, 2006); the kind of learners that are inspirational, innovative, industrious and interconnected. The strong ethical foundations built at that time have continued. All teachers, families and children (where possible), have given their permissions for this research to progress. The journey was deeply embedded in the Principles of the New Zealand, national early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki (1996) and responsive, reciprocal relationships were at its heart.

The Centre of Innovation research was the catalyst for continued exploration by the Greerton teaching team. The relevance of our original research questions continued to shape our thinking. The questions reflected our interest in the children’s investigations. The umbrella question was: How does a ‘question-asking’ and a ‘question-exploring’ culture support children to develop working theories to shape and re-shape knowledge for a purpose? This work was essentially concerned with developing a cultural setting where thinking children could thrive.


Lingering Longer in Possible Worlds. Pedagogical companionship: supporting the thinking of others

Robyn Lawrene
This paper presents data - narrative assessment, photographs and video - that documented the investigations and findings of an action research project that investigated the power of companionship as a pedagogical approach that strengthens thinking and learning in the everyday lives of young children.  This action research centrally included teachers and families, all of whom readily gave approval for the documentation to be used and shared.

In 2011, teachers at Lintott Child Care Services (a community based service in Hamilton New Zealand), engaged in action research through Professional Learning with Educational Leadership Project, exploring the role that children and teachers play in developing shared leadership in their learning environment. Their continuing research in 2012 explores the possibilities teachers have as leaderful companions to increase their awareness of children’s thinking as they, through play and social interactions, construct everyday working theories about the world around them. Paying close attention to children’s sustained play and investigations supports the natural context for developing thought and trying out innovative and flexible ideas. As teachers we seek to be persons that encourage and support children to be life-long learners and it is commonly recognised (Gopnik, 2009) that understanding the flexibility of the young and open mind and using that knowledge to guide pedagogical practice opens up the opportunity for paradigm shifts in thinking about learning.

Strengthening learning partnerships with children and parents to advance stakeholders' understanding of dispositional learning

Gillian Fitzgerald
This presentation looks at a kindergarten team who were very much influenced by the work that Professor Margaret Carr, Wendy Lee and Professor Guy Claxton had done around dispositions; Carr defines dispositions as ‘participation repertoires from which a learner recognises, selects, edits, responds to, resists, searches for and constructs learning opportunities’ (2001, p. 21). Dispositions are linked to our attitudes and feelings about ourselves and our views about the different identities or ‘possible selves’ (Carr, 1995, p. 4) that we can be and become; and how they worked together to share with tamariki and whānau, their understanding of the importance of dispositional learning alongside the development of skills and knowledge. 

They recognised the significance that their skills in being able to articulate clearly this new approach, would have on advancing stakeholders understanding of dispositional learning.  Although the journey began with the teaching team incorporating dispositional language within a learning story framework to highlight the learning that was occurring, they recognised that this alone wasn’t enough so began using other methods such as planning stories and presentations to support the process.  The team embraced the work of Professor Carol Dweck developing a growth mindset; a growth mindset is when people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. (Dweck, 2008) by taking a growth mindset approach to the task they stepped outside their comfort zone and into unknown territory, that of research and public speaking.  Not only did this journey highlight the importance of building relationships based on respect and reciprocity, it also meant they walked the same path which they asked their students to walk every day, that of a ‘life long learner’.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Celebrate your own style and creativity

Over the past few days I have been trying to find some great little videos on arts, children and arts, arts in ece and so on. And as it turns out, this is quite a challenge. A lot of the videos you find on the net are 'instructional videos'. Videos that tell you how you can get a child or a group of children to, pretty much, just copy what you've come up with (well actually, you haven't even come up with the idea as you are copying a video's instructions).

Then I found this TED talk given by children's book author and illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka - who, not surprisingly, is also a great oral story teller. This is a video well worth watching as Jarrett touches on a range of topics that we should value highly in ece as well as in our adult lives: creativity, arts, literacy, ICTs, role models or more broadly 'important' people (he mentions his grandparents, a children's author who visited his school and commented on one of his drawings, and quite a few other teachers).

(This video doesn't display fully on our blog, so just follow this link and it will open on the TED website.)

During his talk, Jarrett talks about "the greatest piece of advice" he had been given by one of his art's teachers. He tells the story of how he was attending arts classes and had just received a book that would teach him how to draw cartoon images just the way they were supposed to be:

"And all the color just drained from his [teacher's] face, and he looked at me, and he said, 'Forget everything you learned.' And I didn't understand. He said, 'You have a great style, celebrate your own style. Don't draw the way you're being told to draw. Draw the way you're drawing and keep at it, because you're really good.'"

Celebrate your own style - so simple, but so true. And what an important message to both teach to the children in y/our care and to apply in our own lives.

If you follow this link you will be redirected to another TED page, which also contains the video of Jarrett's talk, as well as a list of 10 books he and his 2 young daughters recommend. Feel free to add more reading suggestions to the comments of our blog. Or if you would like to read more about the theory behind literacy and/or arts have a look at the resource section on our website as we list some of the books we find really useful in our practice. To find out more about Jarrett have a look at his website.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

When did we go bad?

Jordan and were driving along and saw something that stood out as not being the norm.  It was a beautiful sight to 
My moko, Taylor, enjoying the outdoors.
behold, flowers, long grass, sunny day and a group of six young children, BY THEMSELVES, walking through the grass having conversations and enjoying their time together.

When I saw them my first reaction was what a beautiful picture this made.  But why did it stand out in my mind?  Jordan also commented that it was unusual to see children out experiencing the freedom to explore and engage with their environment, not his direct words but this is what he meant. 

Jordan then said that he remembered hearing about children in America and children in Africa and how the children in Africa made up their own play but the children in America didn't have time to do this.  He said that he thought the children in Africa were happier.   I was surprised at this comment as this was his abridged version of the movie "The Babies"  which I watched several years ago and had probably shared my thoughts on it with him.  This is an amazing movie if you have not watched it you can get the DVD from the video stores.  I reminisced about the movies and the wonderful way in which the African child had freedom of movement and the joy of being cared for by everyone.  He also added to this and said, "Yes, the African child could make their own things to play with and move around, imagine if we could live like that here in NZ."  

Then Jordan asked me, “When did New Zealand go bad?” Jordan is 13.  I asked for some clarification of this comment and he said, “Well, when did we get gangs. And years ago when there were murders people would have talked about it for weeks because it wasn’t normal and now it is just another murder and we are not as shocked. Back when you were a kid there wouldn’t even have been gangs.”

I said that I am not too sure that much has changed - there were gangs, there were murders and there probably were people who abducted children.  I think the thing that changed is that we started listening to America through the media.  The media brought instant news from every part of the world and suddenly we became aware of dangers.  

Years ago I read a book, which I have passed on now and cannot remember the title, but in the book the author talked about the 70’s when children could freely play in the neighbourhood maybe up to as far as 2km away and over the years the boundaries had moved in.  Children a few years ago may have been able to play on the street outside the house and now possibly the norm would be within the front yard and where you are visible to an adult.  In this book, which I must find the name of, the author wrote about living dangerously and the biggest danger at the end of his study was driving or being driven in a car.  He went through all the possible dangers for children and then put them into context - things such as stranger danger - often it is the people that know children who are the most likely to harm them.  The reports we get from overseas about children being abducted generally are people known to the children, possible in marital disputes and mostly the children are returned.  He suggested we have listened too much to the media and not really filtered out the sensationalism and put it into reality context for New Zealand. 

Back in the day there were groups of children freely playing within the neighbourhood. They would arrive back home when they were hungry, be uncontactable by cellphone for hours and hours, have bikes to go great distances, climb high trees and have the ability to explore and imagine for a whole day.  They would return home exhausted, hungry, healthy and happy having had the time to play outside.

I would like to ask these questions, “When did New Zealand go bad?”  “Are we any different today than yesteryears?” 

How sad it is when a beautiful picture of children outside, unsupervised by adults, having fun together evoked the response of "This is something we do not see anymore".  It stood out as being something different, not the norm.  Have we really moved so far away from being a safe country?


I both look forward to and dread the arrival of the New Year.  Initially I look forward to catching up and celebrating with loved ones, counting down to midnight and the excitement about the year ahead, however, hovering in the background is the prospect of reflecting back on my often failure to achieve last year's resolution and the dread of setting a new one.

This year is going to be different!  Over the Christmas break I had a chance to reread ‘Tuesday’s with Morrie‘ by Mitch Albom.  It’s a wonderful book that had originally been given to me by my brother in a time when I needed inspiration. It's full of wise words from Mitch’s old professor Morrie Schwartz.

Every time I read this book a different quote speaks to me and this time it was this one:

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”(p.42)

The idea of ‘devoting myself to loving others, the community around me and to creating something that gives me purpose and meaning’ sounded to me like a perfect New Year's resolution.  It wasn’t going to be about loosing the weight I’d recently gained or getting fit by going to the gym 3 times a week, it was going to be about something deeper and more meaningful.

Now no resolution is going to be achieved without setting goals, again something my brother had taught me, so I am in the process of breaking down 2013 into individual months, beside each month I’m placing a goal, which again I break down into smaller tasks and aligning these against each individual week, so that I know exactly how I am going to reach my goal of keeping my New Year's resolution.

My challenge to you is to create your own New Year's resolution for work!  Find your own inspiration to take you past the mundane to something inspirational.  Are you able to discuss developing a goal as a team?  Look at pushing your boundaries, taking on what Carol Dweck calls a ‘growth mindset’.  

"In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities." 
(Quote from,  Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006) Ballantine Books)

Challenge YOURSELF!  Step outside YOUR comfort zone!  Look past just focusing on yourself, then make YOUR plan!  

  I’d like to finish this blog with some more Morrie wisdom.

“As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you'd always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It's growth. It's more than the negative that you're going to die, it's the positive that you understand you're going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.” (p.117)

Happy New Year