Saturday, 17 June 2017

Talking to Boys the Way We Talk to Girls




At a Father’s Day breakfast, my 5-year-old son and his classmates sang a song about fathers, crooning about “my dad who’s big and strong” and “fixes things with his hammer” and, above all else, “is really cool.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with most of these qualities in and of themselves. But when these lyrics are passed down as the defining soundtrack to masculine identity, we limit children’s understanding not just of what it means to be a father but of what it means to be a man — and a boy, as well.

When fathers appear in children’s picture books, they’re angling for laughs, taking their sons on adventures or modeling physical strength or stoic independence. There is the rare exception in children’s books where a father baldly demonstrates — without symbolic gestures — his love for his son (a few are “Guess How Much I Love You” and “Oh, Oh, Baby Boy!”). Just as women’s studies classes have long examined the ways that gendered language undermines women and girls, a growing body of research shows that stereotypical messages are similarly damaging to boys.

A 2014 study in Pediatrics found that mothers interacted vocally more often with their infant daughters than they did their infant sons. In a different study, a team of British researchers found that Spanish mothers were more likely to use emotional words and emotional topics when speaking with their 4-year-old daughters than with their 4-year-old sons. Interestingly, the same study revealed that daughters were more likely than sons to speak about their emotions with their fathers when talking about past experiences. And during these reminiscing conversations, fathers used more emotion-laden words with their 4-year-old daughters than with their 4-year-old sons.

What’s more, a 2017 study led by Emory University researchers discovered, among other things, that fathers also sing and smile more to their daughters, and they use language that is more “analytical” and that acknowledges their sadness far more than they do with their sons. The words they use with sons are more focused on achievement — such as “win” and “proud.” Researchers believe that these discrepancies in fathers’ language may contribute to “the consistent findings that girls outperform boys in school achievement outcomes.”

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Arts education is vital to help foster creativity and innovation

By Susan Davis (Deputy Dean Research for the School of Education & the Arts at CQ University, Australia.)


I have a dream that this nation will achieve its full creative and economic potential and that Arts education will rightfully be seen as central to making this happen. It worries me that current thinking and policymaking around national innovation concentrates on increasing participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects while the teaching of the Arts (dance, drama, music, media arts and visual arts,) is rarely even on the innovation agenda.

It is not that I begrudge the attention STEM is getting, it is just that I believe if we want to be a truly innovative and creative nation we need to put the Arts, very firmly, back in the mix. We should be talking about STEAM in schools and universities with the Arts very much in the centre of it all.

There exists a popular narrative, used to drive the STEM education agenda in Australia (and elsewhere), that says there are significantly declining enrolments in the Sciences and other STEM disciplines. However I question this narrative as justification for major initiatives. I will come back to that later.

First up what are we talking about, when we talk about innovation and creativity?


Innovation and creativity

Creativity and innovation involves putting things together in new ways, it involves risk-taking, experimenting and refining, valuing the role of productive failure, it involves making and doing, and is often collaborative and co-creative. While creativity is about the capacity to putting things together in new, novel and different ways, innovation is often seen as putting them to work and out into the world so that they meet a need, want or interest.

However these capacities don’t get switched on when people hit the world of work, they need to be cultivated across the education lifespan in all subjects in as many ways as possible.

Monday, 22 May 2017

4 Things Worse Than Not Learning To Read In Kindergarten

The year Sam started kindergarten, he turned 6 in October. He was one of the oldest children in his class, and he didn’t know how to read. When he started first grade he was almost 7, and he still didn’t know how to read. Fortunately for Sam, he entered first grade in 1999. And his teachers, Mrs. Gantt and Mrs. Floyd, didn’t panic if a child didn’t learn to read in kindergarten. In fact, they expected that most children would learn to read in first grade. (They also supported and encouraged children who learned to read easily in kindergarten, like Sam’s brother Ben.)


If Sam had started first grade this year, however, he probably would have been labelled as “slow” or “behind.” Because the new standard is that children should learn to read in kindergarten. Even though most educators know that many children aren’t ready to learn to read until first grade. Even though countries like Finland educate kindergarteners by allowing them to play, not teaching them to academic skills. And even though the new standard causes teachers, parents and even children themselves to worry that something is “wrong” if children aren’t reading when they arrive in the first grade classroom.

But guess what? Sam wasn’t “slow” or “behind,” and neither are most of the other children who don’t read in kindergarten. Sam became a fair reader by the end of first grade, and a good reader by third grade. By the time he reached high school he was an honors student. And last weekend, he graduated from college - with a 3.93 grade point average.

So what happens when education standards require that children like Sam learn to read in kindergarten and that teachers like Mrs. Gantt and Mrs. Floyd had better make it happen? Many educators say the result is ineffective and counterproductive classroom practices. Which means that many children actually learn and retain less than they would in a developmentally-appropriate kindergarten classroom.

So here’s my advice. (You can take it with a grain of salt if you like, because I’m not a teacher. But I am Sam’s mom.) If your son or daughter doesn’t learn to read in kindergarten, relax. Because many, many things are worse than not learning to read in kindergarten. Here are four of them: