Activities for an 11-Week Old

We have a pretty active little girl, and we both think that it’s important to keep her engaged with her environment while developing her cognitive, social and gross motor skills. After eleven weeks of practice, we’ve learned what her favorite activities are and have a pretty good selection of activities that our daughter engages in daily.

Some of her (and our) favorites:

  • Tummy time! Our little one only likes it on the boppy. She’s been working hard since birth to hold her head up, so she has no problems in that area. We give her a selection of chime toys and her black and white mat to grab as she plays.
  • Walking. She loves to put weight on her legs. With daddy’s help, she can move about a foot across her play mat — usually toward her toys.
  • Reading. We read as many books as we can each day. Favorites right now include those thFuzzy Bee and Friendsat rustle and board books with high contrast shapes and characters.
  • Music time. Music often overlaps the other activities. Favorites right now include the ABC song, the Itsy Bitsy Spider, the Wheels on the Bus, Motown and Mozart.
  • Swinging. Grandma and Grandpa gave us a swing that our little one loves to spend time in. Sometimes she’ll sleep in it, but often she’ll coo.
  • Mobile time. Our daughter spends about an hour a day — not at once — under her mobile. She loves to talk to it and gurgle in response to it.

When you add in naps and eating, she’s a pretty busy little one!

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growth vs. fixed mindsets

Our faculty summer reading assignment is Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.

It’s the first of my summer list that I’ve read. I started here because it was a pretty easy read, and it was a good way to get rid of all the slush in my brain from grading final exams and reading for classwork.

Honestly, I think it’s a book that could be read in pieces as needed. It was extremely repetitive and the anecdotes were more tiring that explanatory.

There were two positives that I drew from the book, though.

The first was that I really understood what my parents did in raising me to be a learner. I don’t know if they consciously set out to do it or if they just did what seemed natural to them, but the entire section on how to raise growth-minded children could have been a picture of my parents. I did fairly well in school, but every time my parents were told “how smart” their daughter was, they had the same response. “Thank you, but she also works incredibly hard.” Or “thank you, but she also really enjoys challenges.” Or my favorite, “thank you, but she also has a lot of fun with [insert any subject but science].” And those things have always stuck with me. I’m definitely not afraid to try because to them and, by transfer, to me the successes became the hard work, the challenge and the fun rather than the grade.

The second part that I loved was the section about being a growth-minded teacher:

How can growth-minded teachers be so selfless, devoting untold hours to the worst students? Are they just saints? Is it reasonable to expect that everyone can become a saint? The answer is that they’re not entirely selfless. They love to learn. And teaching is a wonderful way to learn. About people and how they tick. About what you teach. About yourself. About life.

Exactly. I’ve always found teaching to be somewhat of a selfish endeavor. Most times I feel I learn more than I ever teach, and I love it. I have basically made a career of experimentation and risks and endless learning. Who could really ask for more?

mutuality

My school had the great fortune of having Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, of Homeboy Industries as the commencement speaker for this year’s graduation ceremony. Most of his address to the graduates issued a challenge to see the world in terms of a call to kinship.

But he also told a story of Cesar Chavez, who was asked by a reporter, “These farm workers, they really love you, don’t they?”

According to Boyle’s story, Chavez responded, “the feeling is mutual.”

That was the single most important part of his address for me personally. Not three days before, I was sitting in an office with three co-workers when a student walked in to give me a goodbye hug (for the summer). When the student left, one of my fellow teachers said to me, “Your students just really love you. It’s just so apparent to everyone.”

There were nods all around the room, and I became flustered. I never know what to say to something like that. It has occurred at each of the schools I’ve worked in. I don’t really know why. I am by far not the “coolest” teacher. The pacing and assignments in my class are what I will admit–not to my students, of course–a little nuts. Yet, it happens again and again. Sometimes it’s met with resentment from the adults around me. Sometimes it’s met with actual admiration (although, I still think underserved). But all of the time, I never know what to say.

Until now.

It’s mutual.

on purpose & gratitude

This is my second year teaching at a school. It’s also the fifth school that I’ve worked at–not always as a teacher. There have been struggles with each and every job. Most of the struggles internal. For me, teaching is not just what I do. It’s who I am.

I’m a teacher. As much as I am a sister. And a daughter. And a writer.

And with all of those things, I have to do it right. Some of this means I have to do it on my terms, but a lot of it means that I need purpose.

And that’s been the greatest struggle for me in my current school. Admittedly, I was only there part-time last year at 10 hours per week. This year’s part-time status had my hours jump to about 30, but I still struggled. And this all came to a breaking point on a student retreat in which I broke down in front of the adult I was paired with for a reflection.

I just don’t know what my purpose here is.

More than any place I’ve been, I didn’t feel that my students wanted a teacher. They want grades. They want to pile up APs. They could care less what I have to say about being a citizen, a person, a friend. They don’t want lessons on expressing themselves or commanding their own voices. They just want to memorize and get an A.

In my first full-time teaching job, my mentor told me that my students would likely forget the subject I taught, but they would never forget what I taught them about being a person. And I’ve held onto that because I really believe it to be true.

The only thing that really matters to me is that my students learn to think for themselves, act with integrity and work to make the world a better place than it is. Yes, I harp about their writing skills and put them through a brutal semester-long curriculum in writing, but it’s not really about the writing. It’s about the discipline, the accomplishment, and the thought process behind it all.

Just as I had resigned myself to another a year of not understanding, the clues started to come in slowly.

Handing in a 14-page term paper, a student said, “I’ve never felt so accomplished in my life.” I didn’t know how to respond.

But the best was my course evaluations. Everyone warned me not to read them because the students would use them as a way to “get back at me”, but I had to merge the responses. And I realized that although I may not have seen it, my teaching was working. I was thrilled that in addition to “essay” and “writing”, the most common responses were “improved”, “learned”, “confident”, and “helped.”

And then I walked into my classroom on the last day and was greeted with a surprise white board full of thank yous, including this one:

Makes the ending of the year just a little bit easier.

“in some countries that would be considered walking”

By some strange twist of fate, I have been asked to and have decided upon “helping out” with the cross-country team where I work. I do not say coach because, well, in the grand scheme of running I know nothing. (And more importantly, if someone walked into my classroom and started calling herself a teacher, I’d be pretty annoyed.)

At any rate, the title of this post was overheard during a drill.

When I went out to run alone yesterday, I thought about this. Not about my speed because I am ridiculously slower than the students with whom I work. But I thought about it in terms of effort. Usually when I run, I do it at the easiest pace I possibly can.

And I wonder why I make such slow progress.

So, I eliminated music from my runs. Which was a really hard thing for me to do. But I completed a two-hour run without music and knew that I would be okay relying on the sound of my breathing and my footsteps.

Once that hurdle was passed, I decided to make a conscious effort to improve form and speed. Doing the same thing in the same way over and over again (slowly in my case) just ensures that you can do that very thing in the same way forever, I realized.

And already I feel much better about my progress this week.

Nice to know that “to teach is to learn” applies to coaching as well.

what are we teaching our girls?

When I returned to the all-girls school where I teach today, I was reminded of something that has been bothering me since I started running.

Women have an unnatural obsession with weight. And sizes.

I wouldn’t have minded comments about how healthy I look or questions about how my running is coming along.

But that’s not what I got. And I just stopped to think. How does this translate over to how we teach our girls? If we are leading by example, this isn’t a very good one.

This comes after other comments last week. I had students tell me that if their coach had to work with a woman, at least it was me because “you’re close enough to working with a [guy].” Not offended at all, I asked what they meant.

You don’t put up with sh*t.

Why does that have to be a male trait? I don’t think we do girls any great favor by making them think that being practical, having high standards and being straightforward are male qualities.

For a long time, I called myself a tomboy. I actually still do sometimes. But really what’s so boyish about what I do? It’s all just being human in my mind.

the homework question

“I think people confuse homework with rigor,” said Donna Taylor, the Brooklyn School’s principal, who views homework for children under 11 as primarily benefiting parents by helping them feel connected to the classroom.

In Homework Revolt, More Schools Districts Cutting Back – NYTimes.com.

As a teacher, it’s hard to know how much homework is enough homework. The wheels in my head started turning with this article because it’s something that is a new question with every new class I teach. Every year, every class section gets a different amount of homework. And even within classes sometimes individual students get a different amount of homework.

The simplest explanation for even giving homework is that it is practice.

In a perfect world, that’s a great way to ensure that students do exactly what you showed them to do over and over again until they memorize whatever the given concept is and are able to do it on their own.

In reality, there are very few students who grasp a concept on the first introduction to it. And there are even fewer students who can replicate that concept (whether it is solving a math problem or writing a sentence) on their own. And repeatedly.

My theory on homework?

It’s deeply rooted in the construction of the curricula. It has to do with the day’s lesson plan, with the longer unit plan and with the course goals as a whole. That’s a lot to take in at one given moment. And it took me a couple of years of practice to be able to do it without hours of thought beforehand.

The two most basic purposes of formal education are to teach and assess. The teaching part, mainly the construction of the lesson, is mostly the responsibility of the teacher. Yes, it does help to have willing students. And it does help to have students a grade level. But both of those things can be overcome with appropriately constructed lessons.

The part where I think educators don’t always agree is in the assessment. Yes, the students have to perform in some manner: on a test, in a written essay, in a presentation. But the assessment has to be crafted carefully. It has to be presented in a way that students don’t even know they’re being assessed so that the moment that assessment is much more formalized, it’s second nature. It would seem that this type of teaching could take way longer than teachers are willing to invest in for a single lesson, but it really doesn’t.

That’s where the homework question is easily answered. Homework should be assigned and created as both a product of informal assessment and as a means of additional assessment. That is to say if the class (or a student, for that matter) has mastered something in class and has proven her mastery, all is needed is a simple review. In that case, homework can be as easy as “remember this topic so well that you can write it down when you walk in tomorrow.” The student doesn’t need to take pen to paper for hours. Simply remember. And they do. They’ll think about it over dinner at volleyball practice or as they drift off to sleep. And when they walk in the next day, most will be able to tell you what you taught the day before.  In the instances where a topic is too much for the students to master in one setting, homework should be a gentle scaffold. Ten to fifteen minutes of review of the day’s work and left off in a place that the lesson can be easily continued.

In both scenarios, the quick review of the homework the next day is an additional assessment and shapes the lesson for the day–along with the homework for the next night.

The problem is not the homework itself. The problem lies in what the homework is used for. If it serves any purpose other than continual assessment, then I have to agree it is just a waste of time. It serves no one–teacher or student–to give homework assignments that are simply collected and thrown on a desk or in a basket for later grading.

So, yes homework is necessary. But it doesn’t need to be hours. It needs to be a well-crafted tool that is used by both teacher and student equally to complete the educational experience.