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Teaching Empathy? It’s a Process: Drama in the Primary Classroom September 6, 2017

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Uncategorized.
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By Rachael Jacobs

Recently a lesson on the Stolen Generations, conducted at a Sydney school, went horribly wrong. Year 4 students were engaged in a day long ‘role-play’ in which they were told they would be removed from their families.

According to reports , a nun entered the classroom in the morning, with a letter from the Prime Minister, and told the class they would be taken away from their parents, as they weren’t being looked after properly. The exercise continued for five hours until the end of the school day when students were informed that this was a lesson on the Stolen Generations, and were asked how it made them feel.

While there was extreme concern expressed from the media and parents, Drama teachers all over watched this episode aghast, wondering how such a potentially powerful lesson had gone so wrong.

It seems an attempt was made to use the drama conventions of teacher-in-role and role play. These are two strategies found in the beautiful and transformative pedagogy of ‘Process Drama’.  Process Drama is a powerful teaching tool when used ethically, but it seems it wasn’t employed carefully in this instance. This lesson seemed much more like ‘invisible theatre’ where the participants did not know that they were in a fictional context or that the teacher was in role.

Invisible theatre is more commonly used with adults, whereas Process Drama has a pedagogy of care built in. In Process Drama, students know they are in the drama and in the fiction.  Students and the teacher move in and out of role; they don’t play themselves, rather they take on the roles of other people. At the end of a particular strategy or moment in the class, students may need to de-role (get out of role) and discuss and debrief the moments when they were in role. It’s a process students are familiar with. We see small children playing and going in and out of role all the time. When educators use drama in this way, they are protecting their students in role. Through role, we avoid the manipulation of ‘psycho-drama’ and can explore the space where the real world and the fictional world overlaps.

The teachers in the school concerned were acting with the best of intentions. They may have seen highly transformative learning experiences, such as Jane Elliot’s Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes experiment  and attempted to replicate these lessons.  It should be noted that the Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes lesson sparked outrage at the time, but is now considered a watershed moment in addressing racism in schools.

However, there are limits to Process Drama’s reach. Process Drama has been critiqued for its attempt to replicate the experiences of disadvantaged people at critical times in history. Can we really ever understand what it’s like to be part of the Stolen Generations, and is it offensive to suggest that we can replicate those experiences?  Indigenous children’s writer, Trina Saffioti, whose books were used to inspire the school’s lessons, was deeply uncomfortable with the exercise, stating that it almost cheapens the experience .

While it’s true that we can never truly understand what it was like to be a part of the Stolen Generations, the ability to see life from another’s perspective may be the most important lessons that one can ever learn.

It is abundantly clear that those facilitating these lessons were ill prepared for the nuances of this delicate teaching strategy. The transformative power of drama is still largely misunderstood in schools. New teachers can have as little as two hours training in Drama in their teacher preparation courses and this is a failure of our system . Many teachers would like to use drama to enhance empathy, challenge students’ worldviews, and to facilitate deep and critical thinking, but often don’t know where to start. If teachers make a misguided attempt, or no attempt at all, we deny our students the opportunity for them to engage with complex issues through an incredibly powerful pedagogy.

Lessons that are uncomfortable are not always bad, in fact learning itself is a dangerous act. Students cloaked in safety and shielded from discomfort will not be able to reach their potential, both as learners and active citizens. The Stolen Generations are also a dark part of Australian history which must be recognised by all members of our community if reconciliation is to occur. Students and schools are not exempt from this. Far from being too young, these students are in a prime position to discern racism, prejudice and injustice.

The school and Catholic Diocese have bravely said that these lessons will continue, albeit in another form, emphasising that the intentions were sound, but the execution was flawed. We need educators who are risk-takers, willing to tackle big issues, particularly our shameful treatment of indigenous Australians.

It would be incredibly sad if this isolated incident prevented teachers from being creative and using drama effectively in their classrooms.

 

Dr Rachael Jacobs is an Arts Education lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia.

 

 

Don’t feel guilty about screen time for children April 12, 2017

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Role of the family.
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by Joanne Orlando

Parents have been struggling to contain their child’s technology use to the recommended screen limit of two hours a day. With schoolwork, homework, communication , social media and fun, that limit doesn’t acknowledge our new reality. But at last authorities have listened and the guidelines for children’s screen use have caught up to the digital age.

The guidelines used by the federal Department of Health are based on those developed by the American Academy of Paediatricians. The academy’s new guidelines acknowledge the dramatic change in our device use and the need for children to use technology throughout their day. Even the long-held recommendation that children under two should get no screen time at all has been dropped.

The important message from the new guidelines is to shift our thinking from ‘‘ screen time’ ’ to ‘‘ screen quality’’ . Some new time measures are provided for younger children: one hour for children 18-months to five years. For children aged six to 18, the academy has passed the baton to parents to decide. Parents are asked to take a more nuanced approach and keep check of what their child does on a tablet, computer, TV or other digital device rather than counting minutes.

This is a sound approach as 30 minutes of playing a game that centres on stealing cars and dealing with drug lords (one of the most successful online games in the world) is quite different to spending 30 minutes creating music on a device. The previous guidelines were developed in the 1990s in response to research on children’s viewing of violent and sexual content . But the new guidelines are based on recent research that shows that use of today’s interactive devices can have valuable learning benefits . Technology can enhance the development of children’s language and literacy, stimulate creativity and allow children to work with ideas in deep and meaningful ways.

While loosening the guidelines is a great move for families, it may bring a new kind of stress. Parents often feel uneasy about guiding their child’s technology use. This is fed by the constant messages that tell us technology is bad for children . It’s a strong message that has led to parental uncertainty about what is best for children and how to guide their tech use.

The guidelines ask parents to take the lead and encourage educational content. However the term “educational” can be quite hard to pin down if you’re not an educator. There are more than 80,000 apps labelled as educational in the iTunes store but not each of them is a quality learning experience.

Unfortunately many “educational” apps are not designed by an educator, nor even someone who knows anything about education. To assess if a site or app is educational , consider what is beneficial for your child to learn and check if the app works towards that.

Educational does not necessarily mean a school lesson. Activities that are creative, stimulate imagination and allow meaningful connection with others are great – think, as examples, of developing a music playlist, video-chatting with mum while she is away, using an online recipe to cook, taking photos of the family and creating an online album, and using a video to learn how to draw.

Encourage children to apply what they have learnt on their device to an off-screen scenario. Follow up what your child has learnt online by looking at realworld examples. The more ways a child can apply their knowledge, the better the educational experience.

Many parents separate their child’s technology use from family activities and this exacerbates their unease in parenting around technology. Not only will playing or creating together online help with decisions about screen quality, but it is also a great way to bond with your kids.

 

Dr Joanne Orlando is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. This article was originally published in the November 22, 2016 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition.

Think again before you post online those pics of your kids February 13, 2017

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Role of the family.
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By Joanne Orlando

You might think it’s cute to snap a photo of your toddler running around in a playground or having a temper tantrum, and then posting it on social media. But did you ever think it might be a mistake, or even illegal?

The French government earlier this year warned parents to stop posting images of their children on social media networks.

Under France’s rigorous privacy laws, parents could face penalties of up to a year in prison and a fine of €45,000 (A$64,500) if convicted of publicising intimate details of their children without their consent.

This new legality is powerful food for thought for parenting in the Facebook era. As adults, we often express dissatisfaction at the ways young people post their lives online. But if we turn the mirror on ourselves, do we as parents actually have the right to make our family photos public? If so, which ones?

Sharing pictures

Part of the issue is our tendency for over-sharing. A recent study by Nominet, which handles the UK’s .uk domain name registry, found that parents post nearly 200 photos of their under fives online every year.

This means that a child will feature in around 1,000 online photos before their fifth birthday. We’ve even got to the point where if you don’t upload photos of our baby, others question whether you are a committed parent.

This new norm means that many children will have a powerful digital identity created by someone else. This process can be likened to the manufacturing of celebrity identities, where parents can potentially shape the public persona of their child in any way they want: child genius, disobedient, fashionista, fussy eater and so on.

How do you think your own mum or dad might shape your online identity? Do you think it would be an accurate portrayal of who you are?

There is also the issue of Likes and comments on those photos. Without realising it, are we choosing to upload posts about our kids that we hope will get the most audience attention? If so, how is this skewing the identity we are shaping for them?

The web never forgets

We often tell our kids that once something is on the internet it is there forever, and this is a core concern for kids. Research shows that parents often haven’t considered the potential reach and the longevity of the digital information that they’re sharing about their child.

Your child won’t have much control over where that home video of her having an embarrassing first singing lesson ends up or who sees it.

And for this generation of kids, the publicising of their lives can start even before they are born when parents broadcast photos to all their friends and their friends’ friends of the antenatal scan.

Parents’ actions are generally not maliciously intended. In fact, they actually often see they are exposing something personal about their own life in such posts rather than that of their child.

There’s also benefit from such sharing. Posts about your child bed-wetting might help a friend find solutions, or boost their patience for dealing with a similar issue with their own child. Many parents find this community of support important.

Given the relative youth of social media, it’s hard to say exactly how growing up online could affect children’s privacy, safety and security. But social media has also been around long enough now (Facebook is now 14 years old) that it’s important to seriously consider the issue.

It’s time to question how individuals (both children and adults) should manage boundaries around sharing personal information, and how they can control information that is shared about them.

Posting embarrassing photos of others on Facebook without consent is definitely tricky territory, but what constitutes embarrassing is slightly different for everyone, which makes this new issue even more of a minefield.

Get the kids involved

The answer of how to approach this new-found issue might be to listen to what kids have to say about it. Recent research from the University of Michigan asked children and parents to describe the rules they thought families should follow related to technology.

Adults tend to think of these rules around how much time kids spend on screen, but about three times more children than parents thought there should be rules about what parents share and don’t share on social media. Many kids said parents should not post anything about them on online without asking them.

Both children and parents considered positive images, events and news more appropriate to share than negative ones. An image of the child playing on the swings at the park is a lot less likely to resurface than a YouTube video of them having a tantrum because their breakfast is not in their favourite bowl.

If you’re a parent looking for advice or sympathy about a behavioural problem, then a community approach is still very helpful, just don’t post an image and your child’s name as part of the post. This will help to limit the searchability and reach of it.

Asking your children’s consent is also part of the issue and part of the solution. Asking if your child likes the photos of them and whether you can put it up online can be a very quick and respectful conversation. It also sets up a great approach to your kids understanding digital etiquette.

Parents sharing photos of their kids online isn’t only about digital identity. It’s also about our obsession with taking photos of our kids, particularly when they shine (or don’t shine) in their respective activities.

This can make kids feel pressured to perform to help mum and dad get the right snap to share. What the children really want to see is you taking notice of them and acknowledging that they and their actions are important.

 

Dr Joanne Orlando is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation on December 27th, 2016.

Including all children – a student teacher’s reflection September 20, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Inclusive Education.
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By Robert Mccluskey

I am currently studying at Western Sydney University and am in my last year of the Master of Teaching (Birth-12) Program. I have recently completed a professional experience placement in a long day care centre.

During my time at the centre one of the learning foci in my studies was the design and implementation of an inclusion plan for a child with disability. This was a new experience for me, as I hadn’t worked with many children with disabilities before so I was initially quite nervous that it would be beyond my capabilities as a pre-service educator.

Initially, I was concerned that without knowing the specifics of a child’s diagnosis, and the impacts that it may have on their learning and development, it would be difficult to cater for any of the child’s additional needs. So I spoke with the parents and staff, to learn more about the strategies that were currently being implemented and to find out about the long term and short term goals. I also researched the diagnosis in greater depth, in an effort to understand the day-to-day impact that it would have on the child’s learning.

What did I do?

The main focus for the inclusion plan was for the child to initiate in parallel and social play situations. This was done by prompting the children to play in groups, creating situations for partner play through transitions, i.e. each child picks a friend, and a construction project in which the children built and evolved a miniature construction site in the centre’s outdoor play area. It was important when implementing any of the learning opportunities for all of the centre’s staff to be informed beforehand so they could support the inclusion plan’s success.

Benefits for the child?

I found that forming positive social relationships helped generate positive self-esteem in the child. (Dunlap, 2009). I also noted that through these social relationships, the child was also able to further develop important social and language skills. (Flint, Kitson, Lowe, & Shaw, 2014). Children benefit from positive social interactions with peers and educators they respect. The inclusion plan I designed was focused on the parent’s main goal of nurturing and expanding on the child’s social interactions. In developing this plan, I hoped to see a notable benefit to all the children. Throughout my studies I learnt that inclusive practices don’t only benefit children with disabilities, but can positively support the development of all children.

What made the inclusion plan successful?

The inclusion plan’s success was largely due to collaborating with families and the educators, the ongoing dialogue with parents and staff about the child’s progress which allowed for constructive feedback to be provided. Both these elements were critical to the development of the program and its success.

Benefits for me

In working with a child with disability, I was able to understand the importance of being able to implement a range of teaching strategies so as to be able to include all the children in my care. This is a lesson that I will definitely take into my professional future, it is clear to me that stronger inclusive practices are beneficial to all of the children involved.

References:

Dunlap, L. L. (2009). The importance of play. In An introduction to early childhood special education: Birth to age five (pp. 352-387). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Pearson.

Flint, A. S., Kitson, L., Lowe, K., & Shaw, K. (2014). Literacy in Australia: Pedagogies for engagement. Milton, Australia: John Wiley and Sons Australia.

 

Robert Mccluskey is a final year student in the Master of Teaching (Birth-12) Program offered by the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. His post was initially published on the education blog site, Online Community of Practice, and is reproduced here with his permission.

Teacher stress and wellbeing – How can we build a sustainable workforce? August 8, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By Daniela Falecki

Teacher stress is high; in fact teachers exhibit higher levels of stress than any other profession (Stoeber & Rennert, 2008). Whether this be day to day stress related to required tasks, or stress due to institutional stress factors, teachers are struggling (Curry & O’Brien, 2012). As teachers battle exhaustion, so does their ability to cope and remain buoyant in the face of the increasing social and emotional demands placed on them, which directly impacts wellbeing (Parker, Martin, Colmar, & Liem, 2012). How do I know this? Because I too am a teacher.

Supporting teacher wellbeing is crucial because:

“Teachers worn down by their work exhibit reduced work goals, lower responsibility for work outcomes, lower idealism, heightened emotional detachment, work alienation, and self-interest. When teachers become burned out, or worn out, their students’ achievement outcomes are likely to suffer because they are more concerned with their personal survival.” (Richardson, Watt, & Devos, 2013, p. 231).

A study in the UK went one step further to show that teacher wellbeing had a direct impact on students’ SAT scores with a variance of 8%. This means teacher stress and wellbeing has a direct impact on student outcomes (Briner & Dewberry, 2007).

Wellbeing is a broad and complex area that, when discussed in a school arena, is typically centred on meeting student needs. Yet go into any staffroom and the topic of conversation will be centred around how tired, stressed and overwhelmed teachers feel. While burnout is high in experienced teachers, of greater concern is the attrition rate of beginning teachers who leave the profession because of a “lack of congruence between expectations for one’s career and the actual reality of the work” (Curry & O’Brien, 2012, p. 179). The one thing we do know is that in order for students to be well, teachers themselves must also be well (McCallum & Price, 2010). So, what are we doing to support teacher wellbeing? More specifically, what are we doing to better prepare pre-service teachers who are entering the profession?

Thankfully, we are now starting to see interventions that support teacher wellbeing beginning to feature alongside student wellbeing programs (Jones et al., 2013). A major contributor to this could be the rise of evidence based interventions coming from the field of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology is a field of inquiry concerned with what makes communities and individuals thrive (Waters & White, 2015). Instead of exploring a deficit model of what is not working by asking questions such as ‘what is causing teacher stress?’, it looks at what is working by asking ‘what does teacher wellbeing look and sound like?’

This means sharing with existing and pre-service teachers about the numerous domains of wellbeing and their associated interventions. These may be in the form of Seligman’s 5 pillars known as PERMA (2011),  the 6 domains of psychological wellbeing by Ryff and Keyes, (1995), or the ten items for flourishing by Huppert and So (2001) .  By giving teachers evidence based tools to strengthen their wellbeing, we are not only building well teachers, we are preparing them for how to better teach wellbeing to young people with simple and practical strategies. These interventions can range from reflecting on being our best possible selves, keeping a gratitude journal, performing random acts of kindness, working with growth mindsets, setting and achieving goals, and identifying character strengths.

This does not mean we throw out the good work that is already being done in teacher education; it means we need to review what is working well and plan for ways we can more specifically address these positive interventions. Just as we explicitly teach wellbeing to young people, we must also explicitly plan ways to build a more sustainable workforce.

Bibliography

Briner, R., & Dewberry, C. (2007). Staff well-being is key to school success. London: Worklife Support Ltd/Hamilton House.

Curry, J. R. P., & O’Brien, E. R. P. (2012). Shifting to a Wellness Paradigm in Teacher Education: A Promising Practice for Fostering Teacher Stress Reduction, Burnout Resilience, and Promoting Retention. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 14(3), 178-191.

Howard, S., & Johnson, B. (2004). Resilient teachers: resisting stress and burnout. Social Psychology of Education: An International Journal, 7(4), 399-420. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11218-004-0975-0

McCallum, F., & Price, D. (2010). Well teachers, well students. The Journal of Student Wellbeing, 4(1), 19-34.

Parker, P. D., & Martin, A. J. (2009). Coping and buoyancy in the workplace: Understanding their effects on teachers’ work-related well-being and engagement. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(1), 68-75. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2008.06.009

Richardson, P. W., Watt, H. M., & Devos, C. (2013). Types of professional and emotional coping among beginning teachers. Emotion and school: Understanding how the hidden curriculum influences relationships, leadership, teaching, and learning, 229-253.

Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being: Simon and Schuster.

Stoeber, J., & Rennert, D. (2008). Perfectionism in school teachers: Relations with stress appraisals, coping styles, and burnout. Anxiety, stress, and coping, 21(1), 37-53.

 

Daniela Falecki is a sessional lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. She is Founder and Director of Teacher Wellbeing (www.teacher-wellbeing.com.au)

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