Wednesday, 28 September 2016

We are about to batten down the hatches

because there is a super storm on the way. We have been warned to expect high winds, power outages, flooding and more. This morning's paper has a list of what and what not to do. Right.
I just went and put a load of washing on the line,
You see, at the moment we have blue sky and sunshine. I know it isn't going to last. There are other signs. I don't doubt the storm warning - or that we will see some wild weather. Right now though it might be possible to get some things almost dry before bringing them in and having the living area look like a Chinese laundry for the umpteenth time this year. 
I vaguely remember the storm of 1964 - the one this is supposed to be rivalling. We lived in a rural area, a dairying district. The farmer who owned the land next to the school had to put his cows on the school oval which was on slightly higher ground. The "flats" they grazed on had so much water on them it wasn't safe for anything else. We lost power of course - but it was less of an issue than it might have been because, like everyone else, we had a wood burning "slow combustion" stove - a bit like an Aga. My father sent the school buses home early and we all went to bed early as well. The following day it had blown out and the little ones came back to school full of tales of all the damage done. Some of the older students were still busy dealing with fallen trees and other damage.
A naval boat ran aground a short distance up the coast and there was doubtless much more damage elsewhere but we didn't know about it.
Now the news will, power permitting, be out there as it happens. It has made me aware of another problem. Some people won't get any news. They don't get a paper delivered. They won't have any power. At the present time it looks as if it is going to be a lovely day. There will be students who go off to school in nothing more than one of the standard school cotton-polyester tops. People will go to work dressed for this morning rather than taking precautions for this afternoon. 
There is an assumption about information now, an assumption that information is disseminated quickly and easily to everyone. There is an assumption that everyone is informed. There is an assumption that people will hear news and warnings and make the necessary arrangements, that they are connected to the internet and that they have mobile phones.
I have a friend who, since the loss of her husband earlier in the year, now lives alone. She came late to the event on Saturday, late because she had a flat tyre. She is frail and slight and had no hope of changing the tyre herself. She had just got herself out of her car to try and get some help - which meant getting her walker out as well - when someone came out of a nearby house and, seeing the situation, changed the tyre for her. When she eventually arrived she said to me, "It's time I got a mobile phone." I agreed. She needs one now. She won't always find some stranger so willing to help. People are more likely to pass her by now - on the assumption she has such a thing and can call on other help.
It makes me wonder what will happen when the power gets knocked out though. Is our reliance on such communication actually causing us to communicate less than we should?

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

So the "terrible twos" are the result of

"poor parenting"?
There is a teacher turned therapist spouting this in the paper this morning. I wonder how that will make parents feel.
Apparently it is all to do with "expectations" and "taking children into inappropriate situations" - like taking them to the pub. (Well actually I agree with not taking them to the pub. I don't like going to  such places myself - but then, like them, I don't drink alcohol.)
But is it really just poor parenting that causes the temper tantrums of a two year old?
I can remember being two. I can remember being two very clearly indeed. I also know that most people have only very hazy memories of being two. Why should I remember and others not remember? The answer to that is both simple and complex. 
The simple answer is that I had a lot of language at my disposal by then. I'd been through that sort of temper tantrum stage long before that - when I didn't have the language to express what I wanted to say.  I still had temper tantrums - tantrums of sheer frustration at not being able to do things I saw other two year old children doing apparently without any trouble at all.
But I remember being able to talk to adults - and adults talking to me. I can remember asking questions, wanting to know why and how - and a good deal more. Where was I going to take my train today? What was there? How long would it take? 
I do not remember being bored. I do remember my mother saying, "Be quiet Cat!" Being a reasonably obedient kitten I would lapse into silence - for a few minutes.
If you can ask questions about your world - and get people to answer them - and if you can make sense of your world and what is in it then you know more about where you fit into it. You know what others expect of you and how you are expected to respond. It's possible to explore your world.
So yes, if a two year old is having a temper tantrum in the pub or the supermarket or somewhere else where largely adult activities are going on it is possible that "poor parenting" is to blame. Even telling a child to "hold this for me please" or asking "which one will we get?" might help - and parents in a rush might not ask that. 
I think there is something else though - and it is that language issue. It is about not being able to ask, not being able to make sense of your surroundings. It's about wanting something because you are, quite simply, bored at being expected to sit still in the child seat of the trolley.
There is a local boy I know. I have watched  him grow up. From the very start his mother provided something for him to do every time  I saw them. He started with soft toys and age appropriate things in his carry cot and graduated through to serious picture books by the age of two. He would "read" these to himself while his mother went rapidly through the shopping list. Once in a while we coincided at the checkout area and he would tell me about his toy or his book or the fact that they had just been to the library.
He went off to school this year, already able to read - and yes, his two older siblings were the same. His mother said to me, more than once, "It's so much easier when they can talk to you and you know what they want."
I think she's right. And yes, that is partly about good parenting. It is about learning how to communicate, listening, speaking, reading, gesture, emotion and more. It is about words and books and nonsense rhymes. It takes time to learn all that, the child's time and the time of the adults around the child.
Are the "terrible twos" then about something more than "poor parenting"? Are they about "time-poor parenting" and the sheer volume of knowledge, especially linguistic knowledge, a child needs to access in order to begin to make sense of the world?

Monday, 26 September 2016

It is back to work today and

a week before the schools break up for the last break before Christmas.
I know some grandparents who are not looking forward to this. They will have their grandchildren full time while "Mum and Dad" are at work. 
One of our neighbours is a "stay-at-home Mum" and she isn't looking forward  to the break either. 
     "I don't know how I'll keep them entertained," she told me. I know she was looking for ideas - preferably ideas that don't cost anything.
I don't remember school holidays being like that. We didn't get entertained. We were expected to entertain ourselves - and entertain ourselves out of the house at that. Even before we went to school we were expected to do that. It had to be pouring with rain before we were allowed to "play inside". 
Of course, for most of the time, we lived in the country. Children on farms were expected to help. Those of us who lived in the small rural communities were also expected to help.  My brother could drive a tractor from a very early age. I can remember being given a broom that seemed much bigger than me and being told to sweep the floor of the shearing shed. I collected eggs (and was terrified I would drop them) and fed calves  (and wondered if they would bite me) and did all manner of other things. You just did those things - and then you went off to do what you wanted to do. I did not learn to milk or round up the sheep but I did get satisfactorily and happily grubby.  In most places it was assumed I could do whatever was asked of me. I wonder about it now but, at the time, it was a source of huge satisfaction to feel as if I was being useful.
We wandered in the bush. The snakes avoided us - or so it seemed. We knew they were there and to "never pick up a smooth stick". Out there we built "wurlies" and "cubbies" (small shelters).   
The communities were small enough that everyone knew everyone. If we really, really, really needed an adult to help we always knew where to find one - such as the day that one of the boys fell to the ground after a tree branch broke under his weight. He knocked himself out and we thought he was dead but, by the time someone had run for an adult, he was sitting up and saying "my head  hurts". He was taken home for the rest of the day. Now he would probably be rushed off in an ambulance. All I can remember is his father saying to the Senior Cat, "I suppose if it hurts there's something there to be hurt."  We avoided tree climbing - for a couple of days. 
There are only two local boys - brothers - I know of who have climbed a tree. None of them has built a cubbie. Most of them have only ridden bikes up and down their driveways and perhaps on the footpath outside their home. They don't know how to use public transport...and even I would be put on the bus or train  in the care of the conductor (we had them then) to get off at a certain point and then go to one or the other of my respective grandparents. My maternal grandparents meant walking down the platform and about fifty metres along the path and climbing through the back fence. My paternal grandparents meant walking back past the little shop and in the gate. I suppose if I had not arrived questions would have been asked but  it was just assumed I would arrive. Now, a child alone like that would be the subject of investigation  by social services.
Perhaps we were lucky, luckier than we realised. We had to entertain ourselves and we knew how to get there.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

I hope I can say this without sounding

too much as if I am "blowing my own trumpet". One of the reasons I want to say it is also to say "thank you" to the people who read this and who came along and made the event such a success.
Yesterday I was given an acknowledgment for doing my job. Yes, okay I have been doing it for forty years - and no, I have never been paid properly for doing it. Sometimes though life chooses you and you don't choose life. I was given the ability to do something and that something needed to be done.
I've been writing communication assistance aids or "communication boards" for more than forty years actually but the work for adults which led to my job started forty years ago. D....actually had the precise date I designed the first board for him so he could go off to Thailand and "at least be polite to the local people" he was trying to help. That was the 18th September 1976. He told other people what I had done and a trickle of requests became a flood which, at times, has threatened to drown me.
D...wanted that acknowledged and so, apparently, did a lot of other people. I had so many emails on the 18th I thought my in boxes would crash.
And  yesterday the local crew, organised by Middle Cat, the Senior Cat and my friend R.... turned out and gave me something incredibly special. I have absolutely no idea how to photograph it so that  it can actually be seen but it is a little silver pendant designed by D...'s daughter. It has my internet avatar - the cat sitting on the pile of books - on one side and, on the other, is a message in Blissymbols, "To Cat, thank you in many languages from all of us". Okay, I admit I shed a tear. It's extraordinary, truly extraordinary. The workmanship is superb - and was much admired by a master craftswoman who was present yesterday.  You can even see the whiskers on the little cat!
Middle Cat had, when things had reached a point where I couldn't back out, said, "Well look, we'll keep this  thing small and intimate. We aren't inviting many people." 
There were enough to fill the hall of the church the Senior Cat attends - and the church donated the use of it for the afternoon. People I know there dealt with an amazing afternoon tea - of which I ate almost nothing because I was too busy trying to make sure I said "hello and thank you" to everyone.
My friend R.... , a former Senator, did me the honour of a short speech - standing in for D...who lives in Wales. (He's also, like the Senior Cat, 93 and said he was a "bit old to be travelling that far".)
I think I actually enjoyed myself once the "speech" bit was over and my diverse family and friends were noisily communicating with one another.
Thank you for turning out on a rather bleak afternoon and for making it so special. 

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Something is happening today

and I may blog about it tomorrow but right now I am feeling more than a little apprehensive. (It is not helped by the weather which is decidedly dreich - the Scots among you will understand what I mean.)
It made me think again about an article in Guardian by Graeme Innes, the former Human Rights Commissioner. He was trying to argue that the Labor Party here in Downunder should appoint a person with a disability to the Senate to replace a senator who has just resigned.
No, I am not putting my paw up for the job. I live in the wrong state for a start. It isn't the sort of job I would want and I am too ancient a cat to start in politics.
I didn't put my paw up at the state election before last when a group I was involved in decided to run two candidates for the state election. I was asked and I said no as kindly as I could but also very firmly. In the end they ran one candidate and a very young girl agreed to be second on the ticket for tactical reasons. Nobody at all was expecting them to come anywhere near actually winning a seat but the politics of compulsory preferential voting is such that they thought they could influence the outcome to favour people they believed would be more supportive of people with disabilities.
What happened was something nobody expected. First of all a fortnight out from the election the first candidate died suddenly and unexpectedly. His name had to remain on the ballot paper. His preferences flowed to the second candidate. The "party" in question had more publicity than they could otherwise have hoped to have.
And....the second candidate got in for an eight year term in the upper house of the state parliament. Nobody, least of all the second candidate, expected it.
She's done a damn good job too. At the beginning she must have been feeling absolutely overwhelmed. I know she was stunned. She told me that herself. "I don't believe it" came from her lips more than once.
One of the reasons she has done a good job is that she knew she needed to listen to advice - and she has had some good advice. The other is that she has recognised that she has to represent the interests of everyone, not just people with disabilities.  
I think Graeme Innes has made a mistake there. He's suggesting that someone should be appointed because they have a disability and that they should be there to represent people with disabilities. That's not the answer. You have to appoint someone with ability and they have, in the case of a senator, to represent their state - although the reality is that senators vote along party lines. That doesn't preclude the person being appointed from having a disability but they do need to have ability as well.
I wonder what will happen at the next state election when she has to "stand" again. Will she get the votes she needs for another term? Does she want another term?
If she does then I hope that voters will recognise her ability.

Friday, 23 September 2016

I see that Michael Mopurgo is

suggesting that children should be read to in the last half hour of the school day and sent home with something to think about.
It's a good idea - but it won't happen. There will be too many other things that schools think children "should" be doing.
I only ever taught one mainstream class. They were ten and eleven  year old children from a very poor area. There wasn't much money around, especially not for books. 
Most of their parents didn't think books were that important. They sent their children to school because the law required it but many of them didn't have great expectations or ambitions for their children. They assumed their children would do the sorts of work they were doing and most of those jobs required no post-secondary training. Some of the children knew they would leave school as soon as they were old enough and go and work where their parents worked. This was particularly true of the boys. The girls tended to think of life in terms of shop assistant or nurse's aide and then marriage and children. When I asked them what they wanted to be most of them looked at me blankly. One boy answered "doctor" and one girl answered "teacher". 
When I suggested that I would read a book to them and that they could choose the book they were even more confused. I told them I was going to teach them all to knit. They could make themselves football beanies while I read to them. Their confusion grew.
But, I taught them to knit. Two of the girls could already knit. They came from European backgrounds where such things were taught at home. We taught the rest of the class - and only one boy objected. (I had given them a history lesson on knitting and told them how it was once a skilled occupation for men with a seven year apprenticeship. ) 
And they sat there and knitted slowly, very slowly. I read to them. We read Roald Dahl, Ivan Southall, Colin Thiele, Randolph Stow, Gill Paton Walsh, and more. If they got through the work I had set I would read to them during the week and, whatever else happened, on Friday afternoons the last "lesson" was me reading to them. 
         "Just one more chapter! Please miss!" 
Their parents were wary at first. Was I just wasting time? They admitted that their children talked about the books at home.
I took over the school library in the following year - in those glorious far off days when schools had real libraries. My students from the previous year were in there immediately demanding more books like those I had read to them. They started to think it might be possible to be something more than their parents were. 
I don't know how many of them read now. I haven't seen most of them for many years. I am not likely to see them again. Somethingt tells me though that some of them might have retained the need to read virus. I hope they have.
If I had to go back into that same situation I would read to them again - but I would do it more often because I didn't do it enough. 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

They are ditching the Reading Recovery

program in the schools in a neighbouring state of Downunder. This does not particularly surprise me. It's an expensive program to run because it involves individual tuition.
For those of you who don't know anything about it the RR program is an early intervention program for beginner readers. If children are underachieving at the end of their first twelve months they are given  intensive, individual tuition in tailor made sessions with a specially trained teacher. It's expensive to run.
I have a good friend, now retired, who worked on this program through a university in the UK. She has lectured on it, written about it, trained teachers to use it and worked with children  who were in need of extra help. 
The Senior Cat has also taken a great interest in the teaching of reading. He is still interested in the topic. He worked closely with an excellent "Reading Resource Centre", a marvellous resource for teachers in this state. He did an intensive three month "study trip" for the Education Department in the UK and Scandinavia looking at reading schemes, talking to teachers and academics. He brought back a great deal of material and the RRC used it. The government disbanded the RRC not long after the Senior Cat retired. They said it was too expensive to run, that the courses it ran should be taught by the teacher training people.
In teacher training college I had just two lectures on the actual teaching of reading. My initial course was the junior/primary school course but reading - all important reading - rated just two lectures. I considered myself fortunate that I had all the resources the Senior Cat had amassed. Of course I went on to learn a great deal more about children with learning difficulties and that helped as well.
I know reading gets a little more attention in teacher training now but it is still not nearly enough. I know too that the RR program has been criticised - and I would agree with some of those who have criticised it. Nothing is perfect. Yes, it is expensive too. 
But not learning to read is even more expensive. If you can't read you can't educate yourself. If you don't read you won't educate yourself.
I think there may be another problem with which nobody has fully come to terms. We test children, we test children in ways that are supposed to diagnose "the problem" and then "solve the problem". We see the education of the child as a problem which has to be solved. We've forgotten to teach them what reading is like for the sheer enjoyment of reading. We want children to read for a purpose and their reading time has become more and more limited. There is pressure on them to "read and succeed" rather than "read and relax".  Instead of letting them loose in a library to explore we tell them they "must" read  this or that. It's become a chore, even a bore. 
If we want children to read then we need to read to them from the very beginning. We have to tell them that reading is not just simply that something that must be done because the teacher says so. We need to provide them with the skills, the place, the resources and the time to read for the sheer pleasure of reading. 
There is absolutely nothing more important in the education of the child.  
I will now get off my soap box and go back to reading.