Bio: Matthew Worwood is Associate Director of Digital Media & Design at the University of Connecticut, as well as a Doctoral Student at Johns Hopkins University. He works within the learning sciences, with a particular focus on instructional design and the use of digital media for learning.
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I’m English, and sending a Christmas card with a winter image on the front and a warm message inside is a significant part of our Christmas tradition. This article offers 5 tips for the family Christmas card tradition.
Before social media, we used the phone and letters to connect with friends and family. However, Christmas made things a little more complicated; there weren’t enough hours in the day to communicate with everyone. Christmas cards helped address this problem. They offered a simple way to send good wishes for the holidays. This practice began a tradition in England that has endured without too much change (see a little more about the history here).
When I moved to the U.S., I realized this tradition had evolved a little differently; it was all about the family picture on the front. I’m not criticizing this tradition, but I did tell my wife that I want a family picture that has a little festivity and captures our little ones’ personality. However, sometimes this wasn’t possible, and we ended up with the summer family vacation photo or the official family photos taken during the Fall.
A few years ago, we were in the U.K. for Christmas, and I was super worried about how our Christmas card would go down with the family. A few offered me the, “oh, that’s a nice picture” comment, but there was one family who just hit me up with the banter and jokes about the perception of that perfect family image – which, as we know, doesn’t exist.
Fast forward a few years, and I’ve identified 5 tips for the family Christmas card tradition, which I think offers an appropriate balance for my American/British children.
5 Tips the Family Christmas Card Tradition
- The weekend after Thanksgiving, we transition into the festive spirit by painting pictures for our Christmas Cards. We use paints because they make this activity extra fun and produce a nice vibrant image to capture with the phone. It’s a great way to get Christmas started!
- I identify the Christmas card template before we begin painting; this helps determine if the boys are painting landscape or portrait. It also allows you to identify the best Cyber Monday sales.
- We blend the U.K. and U.S. tradition; we include pictures of the family and homemade festive pictures. This strategy reduces the need to find a festive picture of the children, which can’t exist in November.
- We let the kids paint freely; this creates a nice balance between perfect family pictures and messed up drawings. However, I do require that they are Christmas images, and they draw in pencil before we get to the paints. I’ve also found the “how to draw” videos on YouTube to help the two youngest. (so perhaps it’s not a total free frenzy)
- This year I’ve also taken up my Mother’s tradition of writing an annual family update to share with close friends and family that I only connect with over the Holidays. I see this as a great way to record a yearly journal, which I’m now storing in Google.
There’s nothing original about these tips; I’ve seen other families with similar traditions. some even make the cards, which is taking it to a whole new level. I’ll also add that although it can reduce the pressure on securing a perfect family picture, it does require time for the activity. However, this activity is now part of our tradition and provides some cool annual paintings for the boys to store in their safe keep box. Just avoid making this activity too complicated; it should be fun and festive!
Oh, I’ll add that the family who gave me the banter, they sent me a family Christmas card this year, which in good English humor was a fully American style Christmas card. I’ll be watching them carefully to see if this becomes a trend in the future.
When new folks hear my accent, they nearly always ask the same question; “do I like it here?” My answer is nearly always the same; I love the ice-cream, I’ve adjusted nicely to living outside a major city, and I absolutely adore having four true seasons. Specifically, I LOVE the Fall in New England. This love unearths an innate interest in photography and painting, partially because I have a desire to capture the contrasting colors of the Fall foliage.
I never act on these feelings. I worry they will lead to another thing; making me concerned about my capacity to learn the necessary skills needed to master another tool. A paint brush is a tool. A camera is a tool. To express my feelings of the Fall foliage, I will need to master these new tools.
This introduces the topic of this blog article, a tool like camera is something that either exists or doesn’t exist in our home or in our classroom. For those familiar with this concept, you’ll know I’m beginning to play around the edges of sociocultural theory, which includes investigations into how individuals interact with tools inside their environment. This includes how a learner perceives a tool, and how a learner is influenced by other people when using the tool.
My question for readers of this article is how do parents influence the way a child perceives and uses a new tool like a camera? I thought about this question when I gave my eldest a camera and asked him to take pictures of the Fall foliage. I think this question is also something to consider as we look into gifts for Christmas!
You may also like – Photography and Creativity: What’s the Connection? 3 Question Interview with Photographer, Dan Kane
I’ve been amazed about his interest; he’s been snapping away, holding it like a pro, and even switching over lenses when he wants a close-up of a flower. This experience makes me think about the action of giving a young child a tool for the first time. To what extent does this experience influence their creative destiny?
There’s a whole bunch of things whirling around in my mind as I consider this question:
- What is the relationship between our first access to a new tool and sociocultural theory? Is receiving the tool enough to set a child on their way? Or do they need mentorship to use the tool purposefully? If it’s the latter, will my inadequate photography skills make this experience irrelevant? I think not!
- What about equity? I remember reading how Bill Gates was fortunate enough to gain access to a computer at a young age. Access to this tool (and environment) initiated a life-long curiosity for computers, which obviously contributed to his future success. What if he never received this experience? Would he still be as successful? Here’s another crazy thought – what if he had received the same experience, but a few years later?
- How does this relate to gifts for Christmas? Twenty years from now, will our child recall the moment they received an electric guitar for Christmas?
- Finally, what if we have too many of these experiences when young? Might we reduce our focus of exploration on one single tool? In Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers, he uses Beethoven as an example of what is known as the 10,000-hour rule. This is considered the approximate time it takes for an individual to master a set of skills at the necessarily level to produce majors changes within a field. What if we have a child who is destined to become Beethoven with a Piano, or Gates with a computer, but we keep giving them new things to try out that they never have an opportunity to put in the hours needed to master one single tool?
Clearly, I’m enjoying my Thanksgiving week and allowing my mind to wonder on a bunch of thought experiments. To conclude, I’ll simply say that my boy has enjoyed access to my old camera and has responded well to my inadequate mentorship. I’ve suggested he stay in auto settings for now and focus on capturing “interesting” images of the Fall foliage. However, I’ve given him complete creative liberty of what he chooses to photograph.
I’ll conclude on this – if he becomes the next Beethoven of photography, we can credit me as the parent who introduced him to this tool – right?
This article continues a series on how to deliver effective feedback during a pandemic.
A few years back, I was able to produce weekly posts on Dadsforcreativity; sadly, I haven’t been able to reestablish that routine – life was certainly different with only one little one to contend with each week. That said, I’m committed to reintroducing the DadsforCreativity: Three question interview. This series is when I reach out to experts in a particular space and ask them questions about cultivating creativity at home – or other items relevant to education.
Last month I wrote an article supporting our children’s schooling during the pandemic and introduced a topic related to delivering effective feedback from a distance (or better stated – delivering effective feedback during a pandemic). To further explore this topic, I reached out to Christopher Devers (@chrisdevers) at Johns Hopkins University. Professor Devers received his Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has an MS in educational administration from Purdue University. Dr. Devers is interested in applied metacognitive processes and how people learn. Specifically, he explores learning using videos, mobile devices, and online environments.
What are the main methods of feedback we typically expect as part of a formal learning experience?
Generally, I would argue that there are two main ways that students receive feedback — first tests and assignments, and second from teachers — both are valuable but serve different purposes. Tests help students discern what they know or do not know, as well as facilitate retrieval practice (see Roediger, Putnam, & Smith, 2011). Feedback from teachers can help students know where they are, where they are going, and where to go next (see Hattie & Clarke, 2018).
What challenges do you anticipate this year as teachers work to accommodate homeschooling once again?
Given all the unique educational situations, we should relax and be flexible! There are a few things that might be helpful to remember when teaching in digital environments. First, even though we are moving online, much of what works in face-to-face situations will likely work well in digital environments, given some creativity. For example, self-explanation (see Chi, Lewis, Reimann, & Glaser, 1989) works well in face-to-face environments and can be used in digital environments with programs like Flipgrid. Second, be mindful of everyone’s limitations — administrators, teachers, students, and caregivers — be cautious of simply trying to check things off the list just to get them done. Third, keep it simple and do not overcomplicate things; use what works. Last, have fun and be creative!
What advice do you have for parents as they try to support their child’s learning from home?
Be patient. Administrators, teachers, and staff are working very hard to support students in this unique situation. As with any learning experience, face-to-face or online, focus on using strong evidence-based practices (see Dunlosky et al., 2013). Additionally, when evaluating educational apps, be sure that they follow the principle of multimedia learning (see the Mayer, 2014 chapter). Twitter can also provide fantastic educational resources; I suggest following me (@chrisdevers), Dan Willigham (@DTWillingham), Paul Kirschner (@P_A_Kirschner), Robert Slavin (@RobertSlavin), Regan Gurung (@ReganARGurung), Retrieval Practice (@RetrieveLearn), and Learning Scientist (@AceThatTest). Curt Bonk’s (@travelinedman) website includes some creative resources about online education.
It’s a little challenging to have a parenting blog and not talk about Covid-19 and homeschooling, mainly because DadsforCreativity explores topics related to early years education (my eldest is 9, and my youngest is 3).
As I reflect on the transition to homeschooling in March, I break into a hot sweat – it was intense! And I’m an educator. I’m supposed to be good at this stuff, right? In reality, we know the challenges we faced as a society were immense. We all experienced an increase in anxiety in response to the challenge of delivering on very different work commitments while also supporting our child’s schooling. We had to organize schedules for the home computers, identify work areas, setup daily zoom calls, and submit assignments on Google classroom. All this excludes the everyday parenting that equally intensified, as our children became quickly agitated by events.
Some of us have begun to repeat this experience as schools return to another turbulent year. Given this situation, I thought I’d put together some articles that explore relevant topics in response to the increased responsibilities that we now experience (though in different ways). The first of these articles focus on supporting effective feedback during the lockdown, which we know can be highly effective for constructing knowledge.
Take Away: We’re not educators, but we can provide information so we are supporting effective feedback from a distance.
During the initial stages of the outbreak, useful feedback was one of my significant concerns as we made the transition, especially when introducing new topics (e.g., fractions). Although feedback comes in lots of different ways, I’m sure we all recognize the teacher’s important role when it comes to administering feedback. I’m not talking about grades, they have a role to play, but they are not considered an effective form of feedback from a learning perspective. I’m talking about the human interactions we experience in the classroom, the moment when the teacher poses a question and responds to the puzzled look on the child’s face, or when they discuss a problem presented on a worksheet and see an opportunity to elaborate. There’s also the conversations in groups that a teacher overhears as they make their way around the classroom—fellow students sharing misunderstanding about the material, which is then quickly addressed under normal conditions. Finally, a good teacher routinely evaluates their success in administering instruction, and this typically includes tapping into a sixth sense regarding engagement.
How well did we do at replicating this level of feedback during the lockdown? I’m not sure of studies that have explored this question, but I remain concerned as we begin the new academic year.
As I think back to my role as a parent during this situation, I think the most significant contribution I made – from a homeschool learning perspective – was reviewing my boy’s work before submitting to Google Classroom and maintaining communications with their teachers. I recognized when my eldest had rushed through a worksheet and not addressed the questions correctly; I could pick up signs that my middle son needed more support toward the concept of estimation. And I concluded I don’t know enough about fractions to help my eldest son in any way when he was beginning to struggle. Consequently, I engaged with the teacher and shared my interpretations of how my child was progressing in response to the new material. These communications were sometimes short notes added to worksheets or more direct emails when necessary.
This final sentence addresses the main point I’d like to make. I believe that lockdown brought me closer to my boy’s schooling. Over the summer, I continued to challenge one son on his sight words, another son in his letter sounds, and another son on his multiplication. I was precise. I knew what they had done during the final semester. I knew their ability level and utilized this information during reading sessions, selecting apps for the iPad, or engaging discussions during dinner.
This new knowledge of my children is something I continue to cherish. I believe it brought us even closer together as a family. It certainly expanded my understanding of their learning beyond quarterly grade reports. However, as we begin the new school year, I think it’s important to highlight that parents are not teachers. We can’t effectively deliver feedback on our children’s work. We also don’t have time. Consequently, I recommend focusing our efforts to support one of the most crucial components of learning – feedback.
As parents, we have an opportunity to observe how our children respond to the temporary normal of formal schooling. We can review their worksheets, ask them questions, and, most importantly, communicate our observations to the teachers. They need our support. We need to be their eyes and ears as they deliver the instruction from a distance. They need this information to provide useful feedback, which I feel remains challenged under these current conditions.
We also know when our child has had enough time on the computer. We need to find ways to address this situation; a bored, hungry, frustrated, and fidgety child will struggle to master new concepts. As we communicate the information to teachers, we also need the patience to recognize they require time to process the data and consider a solution. What time of the day is most productive for your child? When is it appropriate to introduce new material? How might you revisit this material later in the day?
I write this article with a recognition of my boy’s privilege; during lockdown, I had the knowledge and time to support their schooling. This situation is not the same for everyone – which is why I believe we need all children to return to school ASAP. But I digress!
My point is simple. I hope that as the new year begins, we as a system of schooling can develop more robust methods of communication channels between parent and teacher. This communication channel is not one way; it must be a back and forth throughout the year. It’s something the system has always needed; we might not have an opportunity to be better.
Enough said. I’ll be following up with a 3 Question Interview with an expert in this space very soon.