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Teacher Tom: "But How Do They Learn To Read?"
""But how do they learn to read?"

It's the question most often asked by doubters when first learning about play-based education. Most people "get" that play is important for young children, at least to a certain degree, they're not ogres, but they just can't get their minds around the idea that most children, when left to their own devices, will actually learn to read without adult intervention.

First of all, from a purely developmental perspective, preschool aged children should not be expected to be reading. This isn't to say that some preschoolers don't teach themselves to read. I've known readers as young as two. And at any given moment, there will be a handful of four and five-year-olds at Woodland Park who are reading books on their own because that's how human development works: some children start speaking at three months and some barely utter a word until after they've celebrated their fourth birthday; some are walking by six months and some aren't up on their feet until they're closer to two. Parents might worry, but the truth is that it all falls well within the range of "normal." The research on reading indicates that the natural window for learning to read extends to as late as 11 years old!

Of course, in today's America, a child who is not reading by the time he is seven or eight is thought to have some sort of learning disability when the fact is that he is perfectly normal. A couple years back a University of Cambridge team reviewed all the available research on the topic and concluded that "formal" schooling should be delayed until children are at least seven, and that, indeed, pushing it earlier is damaging children's "academic" achievement, especially when it comes to reading.
Studies have compared groups of children . . . who started formal literacy lessons at ages 5 and 7 . . . (T)he early introduction of formal learning approaches to literacy does not improve children's reading development, and may be damaging. By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who stared at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later.

Their recommendation is that the best "academic" education for children under seven is the sort of "informal, play-based" environment we offer at Woodland Park because that is how the human animal is designed to build the foundation for all future learning.

The sickening thing is that today's kindergartens and preschools are charging pell-mell in the wrong direction:
A new University of Virginia study found that kindergarten changed in disturbing ways from 1999-2006. There was a marked decline in exposure to social studies, science, music, art and physical education and an increased emphasis on reading instruction. Teachers reported spending as much time on reading as all other subjects combined.

With the advent of the Common Core federal public school curriculum in the US (and it is a curriculum despite it's advocates' insistence that they are merely "standards") with its narrow focus on literacy, mathematics, and testing, it has gotten even worse since 2006. Indeed:
Last year, average math scores . . . declined; reading scores were flat or decreased compared with a decade earlier.

We are proving the research: we are damaging our children. This is why I remain so consistently opposed to what is happening in our public schools. By law I'm a mandatory reporter of child abuse in my state. This might not fit the legal definition, but it definitely fits the moral one.

That still begs the original question: how will they learn to read?

As I learned from Carol Black's brilliant essay entitled A Thousand Rivers, when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1439, very few people could read. In fact, reading was primarily the domain of the clergy who needed the skill to read and create Bibles. But the printing press suddenly made printed matter widely available. With no notion of formal literacy education, Europeans were left to learn to read on their own, passing on the knowledge from one person to the next, from one generation to the next.

Literacy rates steadily climbed for the next couple hundred years, then surged around the time of the American Revolution when Thomas Payne's pamphlet Common Sense became a runaway hit, selling over a half million copies and going through 25 printings in its first year. It's estimated that 2.5 million colonists read it, an astronomical number for the time. And it's not easy reading. Nevertheless, historians credit this viral document with inspiring the 13 American colonies to ultimately declare their independence from British rule.

People wanted to read, they needed to read, so they learned to read, which is why literacy rates in those original 13 colonies were actually higher than those we see today in in our 50 states. A similar thing has happened, albeit at a faster pace, with computer technology. I have a distinct memory of Dad buying an Apple II+, a machine that came with no software. Instead it came with thick instruction manuals that taught us how to write our own programs. You could take classes on "how to work your computer." Today, our two-year-olds are teaching themselves as these technology skills have gone viral. The idea of a computer class today is laughable, just as a reading class would have been laughable in 1776.

And just as "walking" or "talking" classes would be laughable to us today, so too should this whole nonsense of "reading" classes. Yet shockingly, we continue to go backwards with literacy to the point that most of us seem to think that it's necessary that children spend days and years of their lives at earlier and earlier ages, being drilled in a utilitarian skill that past generations just learned, virally, over the natural course of living their lives. No wonder children hate school. No wonder they are bored and stressed out.

Certainly, there are children in our world who are "at risk" for not learning to read, including those with actual learning disabilities, as opposed to the manufactured ones we are currently slapping on normal children who are simply taking a little longer to getting around to reading. And for those children, as well as for those who are being raised in illiterate households, intervention may be necessary. But for the overwhelming majority of our children, the greatest literacy challenge they face is our obsessive rush for more and more earlier and earlier. We are, in our abject ignorance, our refusal to actually look at the evidence, teaching our children to hate reading, which is in my view a crime not only against children, but against all humanity."
children  reading  play  literacy  pedagogy  teaching  schools  carolblack  unschooling  deschooling  play-basededucation  kindergarten  sfsh  history  gutenberg  thomaspayne  tomhobson  walking  howwelearn  necessity  coercion  learningdisabilities  talking  education 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Alexandra Lange on 3D printers versus the sewing machine
"In March, Slate Magazine's Seth Stevenson provided a public service when he borrowed a Solidoodle 4, pitched as the "accessible", "affordable" 3D printer, and attempted to print a bottle opener from Thingiverse. [http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2014/03/solidoodle_4_testing_the_home_3_d_printer.html ] Results, as they say, vary, but he ended up, after a series of phone calls and false starts, with "a functionless, semi-decorative piece of plastic."

The bumbling encounter with technology is a popular stratagem for Slate, but here it pointed directly to the reason we're not seeing a 3D printer in every den. I've seen those rhino heads, those dinosaur skulls. They do not fill me with delight, but remind me instead of the cheap toys my kids bring home from birthday parties and I throw away in the night. Why bother? How is printing your Triceratops at home more creative, more making, than buying one from a store? In either case, step one is scrolling through pages of online options, pointing and clicking in 2D.

Stevenson concluded that 3D printing was no place for amateurs, but for tinkerers. Those able to work under the hood of the printer: to understand the terms in the manual, to customise or create their own products for Thingiverse. For such tinkerers, neighbourhood printing hubs like Techshop, where subscribers can go to use physical or digital tools, make more sense. Designers taking advantage of 3D printers' capabilities for rapid prototyping and small-batch production have already started farming out the actual printing to places like Shapeways. When we stopped having to fax even weekly, we all got rid of those machines.

But then Stevenson took a turn toward the larger question of craft. He wrote, "Once upon a time, people purchased sewing patterns (like a program from Thingiverse) and yards of fabric (like filament) and they made their own clothes. I wasn't alive back then, but I'm pretty sure the process sucked."

I must be older than Stevenson, because my mother and grandmother sewed clothes for me. My mother, aunt and I have all sewed clothes and quilts for my children. They are not amateurishly constructed. We managed to make them while also holding down full time jobs. And judging from the extremely active online sewing community, the active trade in old machines and patterns on Ebay, and the ease with which one can locate a scan of a thirty-year-old sewing machine manual, the digital age has not turned sewing into a novelty, but spawned a revival of interest. In fact, if 3D printers are truly going to become a consumer good, they have a lot to learn from the sewing machine.

Because Stevenson snidely generalised from his own limited experience, he missed the instructive dialogue between craft and the machine age. Post-industrial sewing is not a freak but a respite. In Evgeny Morozov's recent New Yorker essay on the new makers, he quotes historian Jackson Lears' critique of the Arts & Crafts movement as "a revivifying hobby for the affluent." I'd say middle-class: (mostly) women who aren't seeing what they want, at a price they can afford, in the marketplace.

There’s an appetite for the "refashion," recycling an old dress or an adult T-shirt, and turning it into something new. Once upon a time, the use of flour sacks as fabric prompted grain-sellers to start offering their wares in flowered cotton bags. If some boutique grain company began doing that again, there would be a run on their product. Under the technology radar, there's a community of people sharing free patterns, knowledge and results, without the interpolation of brands, constantly obsolescent machinery, or the self-serving and myth-making rhetoric Morozov finds in Chris Anderson's Makers. There are the answers to the questions "Why bother?" and "How creative?" Rather than sewing being a cautionary tale, 3D printing can't become a consumer good until it learns a few lessons from why we sew now.

Number one: what's not available on the market. If you have a girl child in America, it is often difficult to find reasonably-priced, 100 per cent cotton clothing for her without ruffles, pink or purple, butterflies and hearts. If you go to the boy section, you run into an equally limiting set of colors, navy and army green, and an abundance of sports insignia. A full-skirted dress, a petite skirt, prints for the plus-sized – there are plenty of styles that are not novelties but, when not in fashion, disappear from stores. Online you can find patterns to make any of the above for less than $10, and fabric at the same price per yard. Online you can find step-by-step explanations, with photos, of how to make that pattern. That world of patterns is vast, constantly updated, and historically rich. Yes, sewing your own garment will take some time, but then you will have exactly what you want. That's why women bother.



Second lesson: recycling. Say my mother did actually sew something amateurishly. That's not the end of the story. A mis-printed jet-pack bunny is so much trash (unless I buy a second machine like a Filabot to remelt my filament). A mis-sewn seam can be ripped out and redone. An old dress can be refashioned into a new one. A favorite vintage piece can be copied. Sewing does not create more waste but, potentially, less, and the process of sewing is filled with opportunities for increasing one's skills and doing it over as well as doing it yourself. What are quilts, after all, but a clever way to use every last scrap of precious fabric?

So far, 3D printing's DIY aspects seem more akin to the "magic" of an ant farm, watching growth behind glass. Sewing lets the maker find their own materials, and get involved with every aspect of the process. 3D printing could do this, and there are classes, but even at the Makerbot showroom the primary interaction seemed to be ordering from Thingiverse. My local sewing shop has to teach more women to sew to survive; I don't see the printer makers coming to the same conclusion.

In addition, the machines themselves are constantly becoming junk. It's not unusual for new technology to change quickly. That's the fourth Solidoodle since 2011. Makerbot is on its fifth generation. It is early days for 3D printing, and the machines may eventually stabilise. But the rapid obsolescence suggests a lifecycle closer to that of a mobile phone than of a washing machine, which might also turn consumers off. The sewing machine was considered a lifetime purchase.

Last but not least, sharing. This is the one consumer area where 3D printing approaches sewing's success. From the Free Universal Construction Kit to full-body scans, the idea of open-source, free, and social-media enabled printing has been built-in to the 3D process. Showing off what you made is better when you created it, rather than printed it out. On the sewing blogs, the process pictures are half the fun, and most of the interest. What does it really teach your children when you can get doll house furniture on demand, except a desire for ever-more-instant gratification? For me to believe in 3D printers as a home machine, I'd have to see the digital file equivalent of women in their off-hours, making up patterns as they go along, sharing mistakes, dreaming better dreams. 3D printing feels bottled up, professionalised, too expensive for the experimentation of cut and sew and rip and sew again.

Stevenson wrote, "most people would much rather just get their clothes from a store — already assembled by people employing industrial-level efficiency and a wide variety of materials," and that's true. What Solidoodle and Makerbot and the rest should be looking at is the people who have seen everything in the store and found it wanting."
alexandralange  2014  sewing  3dprinting  makerbots  making  makers  repair  reuse  glvo  sharing  obsolescence  process  howwework  cv  waste  utility  technology  fabrication  alteration  thingiverse  purpose  usefulness  solidoodle  makerbot  recycling  agency  need  necessity  patterns  clothing  wearables  techshop  shapeways  sethstevenson  craft  lcproject  openstudioproject  homeec  repairing 
may 2014 by robertogreco
The kid who couldn’t spell (from the archives) « Re-educate
"I asked a friend who works at a progressive school how he handles kids with glaring deficiencies in subjects that are deemed important by society: subjects like writing and spelling. “I’ll tell a student, you don’t have to write perfectly for me every time. But for times when it needs to be perfect, you need to show me that you know how you can deliver perfect.”
stevemiranda  pscs  tcsnmy  writing  spelling  necessity  curriculum  self-directedlearning  pugetsoundcommunityschool 
july 2010 by robertogreco
Will technology improve writing? Check the proof! | The Principal of Change
"My dad, who just turned 80 years old in May, was born during the time of war in Greece. Although he wanted to go to school, his country needed him to serve, & he was not able to serve past grade 2. Later in life, my Dad moved to Canada, worked hard and eventually owned his own restaurant. My Dad taught all of my siblings the importance of hard work, but he wanted to ensure that we could get an education that he was not able to receive. Because of this, he had worked extremely long hours and actually never learned to read and write in English (he was able to slightly in Greek).
georgecouros  facebook  literacy  writing  necessity  learning  technology  social  online 
july 2010 by robertogreco
Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change - Google Book Search
"...examines the attempts by designers to combat the tawdry, the unsafe, the frivolous, the useless product, once again providing a blueprint for sensible, responsible design in this world which is deficient in resources and energy."
design  books  sustainability  scarcity  energy  necessity  method  process 
october 2007 by robertogreco

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