Art for Artsake

I have to say that I have had a quite a philosophical struggle with how to teach art.

My early childhood philosophy is around creativity, providing good quality materials to use and encouraging quite a freedom of expression – think the hundred languages of children ( Loris Malaguzzi, Reggio Emilia).  The teacher becomes an artist too – modeling through participation in the art enriched environment.

However, primary teaching or my perception of primary level art is quite different to this.  I’ve taught a couple of art lessons that have felt quite fruitless – full of method and chaos, children competing to fill the page the fastest and complete the task.

I have really had to step back and work out what I need to do to create an environment that encourages creativity but provides specific learning to enhance the creativity.

So after some thought and reflection and the advice of others I have actually combined both aspects over 2 lessons.  The first will look at particular techniques and the second will allow the students to unleash those techniques in a creative expression.  I have also set the scene and got the students thinking about the upcoming art 2 weeks in advance.  In this way I am modeling that art is a process.  That it involves thinking and planning.  I can’t wait to evaluate whether this type of planning meets both the needs of the children and the needs of me as a teacher to feel comfortable and passionate about what I am teaching.

Cultural Diversity

One of the things I was really excited about when I first saw my class of year 3 and 4 students was the different faces I could see in the room. Having a culturally diverse classroom can provide a certain richness in ideas that a homogeneous classroom may not. There is also a level of understanding about respecting each other and ones’ culture.

On my second day one of the girls suggested that I call the roll to help me learn all of their names. I used as many languages as I could to greet them but what really surprised me that was instead of copying me, they responded with their own languages!

Later that day a couple of the kids commented to me about how I did the roll differently. I said ” did it surprise you when I spoke in te reo Māori?” “I’m Māori!” One of them exclaimed enthusiastically.

You know those lectures , readings and Ministry of Education documents that suggest that students do better when their culture and identity is acknowledged? It’s such a buzz when you do something you believe in and the outcome proves that what you value is valid.

Coming from an early childhood background I would never think twice about speaking in te reo or any other languages for that matter. I have almost taken for granted that the ECE environments I have worked in have been culturally rich places that have woven children’s cultural identities into the fabric and stuffing of their education.

It all comes back to having a sense of belonging. I belong here, I am respected and I feel safe.

Am I Nuts?

I’ve been a bit quiet this year… Well with my blogging, but all with good reason. I decided in late December 2012 that I would complete a Graduate Diploma in Primary Teaching in 2013 while continuing to work full time. Nuts? Yes, I know!

Although I have a strong teaching philosophy from my early childhood background I wanted to know more about the primary curriculum. Fortunately, because I have experience in the primary sector as an ORS teacher, it has not all been completely new to me. I have been able to build on my prior knowledge.

I am currently on teaching practice and that itself was slightly weird to begin with. The office manager thought I was a reliever so asked me for my MOE number (which I have as a registered teacher), the reading recovery teacher is the ORS teacher for one of my moderate needs students at a different school and one of the parents is the education support worker for one of my students. It seemed that I couldn’t just ditch my “professional” hat to be the student teacher. I’ve engaged in a professional discussion with the Principal’s mentor about e-portfolios, discussed literacy in early childhood with another teacher and attended an education rally with the Principal.

It has turned out to be quite an interesting experience!

Top down approach

Today I have been reflecting on the top down approach of education in New Zealand.  From the moment that a child starts school there is an expectation that they will be at a certain level from there on in.  The focus is on achieving standards in the years above and neglecting the fact that they haven’t even begun their formal education.

What has happened to valuing the here and now?

Where is the acknowledgement of child development and readiness for learning?

Tonight I skimmed my way through a book about Montessori and a book about Steiner education.  Both seem to have a theme about waiting for a child to be ready to engage with formal reading, writing and math.  To quote Steiner education:

To meet these three before their time is like meeting the three witches in MacBeth rather than the three benign sister fates, the true guardians upon their way” (F. Edmunds, An Introduction to Steiner Education p18)

I quite like this quote.  MacBeth tackles the philosophical arguments of free will and fate yet neither are determined by the end of the story.  Are we too focused on determining what our children shall learn?

My own view of how children learn about literacy and numeracy is about how we present environments rich with the opportunity to engage with these things on a day to day basis.  How do we invite children to want to know about these things?

I am worried about the Governments plans to start schooling children at age 4.  Where will ones’ childhood go? The focus will be on testing and meeting standards.  Four year olds are very young children.  Trust me – they are not ready to sit down and learn.  Some are unable to control their bodies enough to sit still long enough for a 15 minute mat time!

Are we then just setting kids up to fail if we are not present with them at the level that they are ready for?

To finish with Maria Montessori: “Our educational aim with very young children must be to aid the spontaneous development of the mental, spiritual and physical personality…”

Spontaneous.  Sums it up really.  Being in the here and now with children.

Standing up for Early Childhood Education

There are a lot of people out there that view Early Childhood Education as a glorified baby-sitting service.  That it’s where you send your children when you have to go back to work, or where you drop your kids off so that you can attend your weekly zumba class.  The government went one step further to announce that you didn’t need to have 100% qualified teachers at centres and if you did you wouldn’t receive any additional funding for your service.

I feel that I am constantly defending Early Childhood Education as a profession.  Sometimes I wish I could pull out a one page summary of the content that was covered in my Graduate Diploma of Teaching and hand it to those who think we just “play” with kids. The first lecture I attended was presented by Diti Hill and we discussed postmodern theory, critical theory and ethics and politics in early childhood education.  This content was stretching to say the least and perhaps not even I was expecting something as in-depth as this.

If you actually listened to quality Early Childhood Teachers talking about teaching you would find that the conversation extends beyond what Sam had in his lunchbox and whether Kim had her nappy changed.  We talk about learning, about dispositions for learning and we are constantly planning in the past, present and the future.

Numeracy, Literacy, Science, The Arts, Physical Education are all woven into the experience. We follow an emergent curriculum.  We think about creative ways to expose children to these concepts and then extend their interest and learning.  It is more than putting out the play dough or opening the sandpit cover. The Best Evidence Synthesis for working with children in the early years really highlights the intricacies involved in  providing a strong base for future learning. We also have a wonderful document called Te Whariki which personally I think should be the handbook for “how to live your life”.  It is so rich with information. We are so lucky to have such an amazing curriculum document.

So when a colleague made the comment to me the other day “because you don’t have the experience in teaching” you can see why I felt a little bit offended for someone in their 5th year of teaching.  (I’m assuming this comment was made about me being early childhood trained).

I am very lucky that in my current role I get to work in both the early childhood, primary and secondary school sectors.  Sure the curriculum looks slightly different at each level but the integral essence of teaching reaches across them all.

I understand that not all Teachers in ECE are brilliant, not all are qualified and some work for the equivalent of charter schools where quality is compromised by making money.  But there are also some AMAZING Teachers out there that have an early childhood teaching qualification.  Good quality Early Childhood Education is incredibly valuable and we must start recognizing its importance in developing life long learners.

Knowledge vs Strategy

So I went on a numeracy refresher and what did I learn? I have HUGE gaps in my own knowledge about Maths.

We did the IKAN test as part of this course and I failed miserably.  It is a test about speed and recall and basically if you don’t have that knowledge then you simply don’t have the time to answer it.  I started off ok but the first question that threw me was because I wasn’t sure what it was asking me also meant that I missed the next question (tick tock!). By the time we got to the stage I could see that I had gaps all over the place and I was feeling extremely flustered (and unmotivated!) about my mathematical ability.  The problem was that I had the strategy to work out the problems but no instant recall of knowledge.

But all is not lost… what this helped me realize is that many students miss out on basic numeracy skills/knowledge.  To effectively teach maths we must make sure that all students are comfortable with maths and have the mathematical knowledge “blocks” to build on.

Helen Walters, the presenter of the course, really highlighted that we need to teach numeracy like we teach literacy.  That we need to use rich language to describe what we are doing with numbers.  That the hieroglyphics of numeracy can confuse some children and that plain language is a better way to introduce concepts around number.  She also suggested that numeracy was integrated into areas of learning and not sitting out there by itself on its lonesome.

Helen also gave many different ideas on how to increase numeracy skills in your classroom.  A lot of them are embedded in how we view maths in early childhood education.  I began to see the links between the two curriculums.  The way that children have experience with maths in the early years should continue into school!  Numeracy is all around us and children will be interested in it if we present it in interesting, relevant ways.

I’m feeling a lot more confident about teaching maths when I view it in this context.

Math is not a swear word

I have never been a fan of maths.  I put it down to having very limited memorable maths experiences at primary school.  I remember there were some cuisenaire rods involved… and um yip thats about it.  I also remember crying in my first week at intermediate because I was the only student in my class who didn’t know their 12 times tables.

At High school I only passed School Certificate maths because my Teacher told me I was going to fail so I wanted to prove her wrong.  I got some tutoring and scraped in with a C.  In 6th form maths (year 12) my Maths Teacher wore dreamcatcher earrings and was quite often seen by other students down at the pool hall midweek with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.  I got 32% that year.

But its not all doom and gloom.  In 4th form (year 10) I had a wonderful math Teacher called Mr Smith.  Mr Smith managed to get our whole class performing at 80% or above.  We aced the other classes in our year at Mathex (a team competition) including the accelerated classes. It felt so good to be achieving in Maths!

At University I had to make the decision on whether I continued to Stage 3 Psychology to complete it as my major.  To do this I had to pass Stage 1 Statistics.  I persevered despite all my friends in my class repeating the paper for the 2nd, 3rd or 4th time.  I passed and I was able to advance in Psychology. I DID A MATH PAPER AT UNIVERSITY LEVEL!!!!! WOOHOO!!

So here I am as a Teacher myself, a little scared at times of Maths but willing to embrace it and about to embark on some professional development so that I can ensure that the children I teach do not have the same negative experiences as I had.


The BLENNZ learning library was officially launched today.  The piece I wrote last year of supporting visual literacy was included.

It is really awesome to have such amazing stories of teaching and learning in one space to share with other people.  It also help lift the profile of BLENNZ but also the incredible work that our students with vision impairment are able to do.

Ka pai to all involved!

What’s my role again?

Quite often I have kids on my caseload whose vision impairment is such a small part of who they are as a learner.

The problem is that our service is a little “too good” at times and we fill the gaps where other services are unable to provide.  I am constantly catching myself out and having to be clear that something isn’t vision related or that it is someone else’s role.  But I’m still a Teacher and I find it too hard to walk away when I know that quite possibly I may be that child’s only help.

A child on my caseload has just started school and is WAY behind his peers in his learning.  His slight vision impairment may have prevented his opportunities for exposure to print media and literacy but having been involved with him since Kindergarten I know that there is more to this.  The school are struggling with this child who simply is not ready for school and needs full support.

Up until 2006  you could stay at Kindergarten until age 6 and be supported by an Education Support Worker (ESW) so that you could gain the necessary skills and development that an Early Childhood environment can provide before starting formal learning.  Legally you don’t have to start school until you are 6 but if you are a child with a disability it seems that you have no choice!

Some children who transition from having full support in Kindergarten do not get full (or any) support in School because the funding is so much less and the eligibility has a smaller parameter.  For a moderate needs child on my caseload I am not restricted to what support I give that child and their educational team if the child’s vision impairment is impacting on their ability to learn.  That is because I work for a school and the child is dual enrolled with us.

So the child that I have used as an example is at risk because he isn’t physically/emotionally/socially ready to start school and at the moment I am the Teacher’s “go to” for advice and guidance.  Sure, I can provide help with the literacy programme but to be entirely honest the suggestions are not all going to be coming  from a vision impairment perspective but because of my experience with learners in Early Childhood and those at Level 1 on the curriculum.

I know that the hour that I spent in the class and the  list of resources that I collate will be a HUGE contribution to not only to the Teacher but for the child.  But if I didn’t do that who would?

So what is my role again?  I’m a Teacher, committed to the learner.



Professional reading: Code of Ethics for Registered Teachers (NZ)