Learning Starts with “Me”

Learning is all about making connections. A vast, but relatively simple system of neurons, axons and synapses, in our brains, is constantly changing as we are exposed to new stimuli.Sensory stimulation strengthens these connections, whilst synapses that are seldom used end up in the recycle bin and are eventually eliminated altogether. Simplistically, this is how we learn and also how we forget. And it all starts with “me” …

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Careful the Things You Say

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn

Steven Sondheim, Into the Woods

The Witch in the famous Sondheim musical was singing her cautionary song to parents, but the message is just as important for teachers. Continue reading Careful the Things You Say

Wildely Out of Touch with Our Teens

Hamlet and The Picture of Dorian Gray are the prescribed texts for South African government schools’ Grade 12 English First Language exam this year. As my Matric students might say, “Whaaaaaaaaaaaat??!!?”

Please do not mistake my alarm for a personal aversion to these texts. I am a classicist at heart and will defend the inclusion of Shakespeare in the English curriculum till my dying day. “Hamlet” is one of my favourite dramatic texts; dense with existential anguish, wit, dramatic irony and a great big knock-down-drag-out in the final act. I adore Oscar Wilde and am loving revisiting “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” in preparation for helping my private Matric students.  I’m chuckling away as I reread it, giving frequent mental nods and bows to the genius of Wilde and his acerbic wit. I, however, am not an 18-year old student.

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Case Study: Drowning in the Stream

Erin’s mom phoned me at the start of Term Two: “Erin’s failing Geography. She just can’t understand it – can you help?”

Can’t understand Geography? Surely any applied science at high school level is quite easy to grasp. So I dug a little deeper: Continue reading Case Study: Drowning in the Stream

One Size DOES NOT Fit All

Imagine if schools issued school uniforms in the same way that they issue education? Imagine if they decided on an average shoe size that students in that grade ought to be wearing and issued each child with a pair of shoes in that size?

It doesn’t take much effort to extend the metaphor to envisage the struggle of students for whom the shoe doesn’t fit. Students whose feet haven’t quite yet grown to the expected “norm” would swim about in their shoes, tripping and stumbling, not managing to keep up with the others; no matter how hard they tried. Those who happened to have larger feet would be in a different kind of discomfort; feet squished into a painful, blistering space that hobbled and injured them. It sounds cruel, doesn’t it? Of course schools would never do that – and parents would never allow it. So why do we allow a “one size fits all” approach to curriculum design, teaching and testing?

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No Shame in the Swap Shop

It’s back to school for South Africans on Wednesday and that means very tight belt-straps for families who’ve been kitting-out their kids.

In 2106 it will cost a parent around R1 000 to get the basic uniform and phys-ed kit for their child. This is just the summer uniform. Then there’s the school fees and the stationery. Sometime near the end of January, once books have been covered and glitter-pens-cos-everyone-else-has-them purchased, parents will breathe a collective sigh of relief and perhaps even plan a date night … and then sports teams are chosen!

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21st Century Kids Need 21st Century Schools

It’s 2016 and in many countries we’re still subjecting our children and teenagers to a school system that was designed over a century ago, to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution.

I love teaching. I don’t enjoy working in a school; so I no longer do. I’m not a fan of our outdated, “Victorian” school system in South Africa. I don’t believe that subject-specific norms-based assessments provide anywhere near an accurate reflection of an individual’s intelligence, talent or potential. However, the Matric exams remain as the final hoop to jump through before being granted access to a world of further study, or work.

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