Friday, 18 December 2009

A new style of teaching

Well, as if I haven't already transformed my life enough this year, I have had another big change. This time with my teaching. I teach antenatal classes for those that didn't know. It's my profession and obsession and the best job in the world.

Recently I had been hearing rumblings of a different approach, called "Concept Bases Courses" or CBC. A friend of mine was doing it and I went along and watched. I couldn't see a huge difference in the approach but something was different because the group were responding very differently. I booked myself onto a study day.

That was in November and was the catalyst for my knitting renaissance as the tutor taking the study day suggested that we bring some knitting. I can't thank her enough for that, but there was more to come. I'll try and explain the CBC concept, or how I see it:

Most antenatal classes are currently centred around giving information - on the stages of labour, interventions, risks, benefits etc. This is the model I have been working to since I started teaching 5 years ago. Recent research has shown that those who go to antenatal classes are not making different choices to those that don't go - the informed choice we are trying to give them is not changing their experience of childbirth. Some more research has shown something more alarming: that we are making the experience more stressful for the people in the group who prefer not to have all the information beforehand. The research calls these people 'blunters' and suggests that they are less satisfied with their experiences in labour if they have been given more information than they wanted at antenatal classes.

So, what is the solution? Lots of people do want information and you can't fail to give them what they probably came for. Alex Smith has been pioneering a new approach for which she has coined the expression CBC. This is based on a lot of theories, the blunters research is just one. Another is Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) which suggests that the words we use to say something have a lot more significance than we might think. For example, the CBC approach would favour phrases like "dealing with intense physical sensations" rather than "pain relief". To some this might seem to be just a matter of semantics, or worse, giving unrealistic expecatations to clients. This is one of the reasons that CBC is contraversial at the moment.

Personally, I feel that people already know that labour is considered to be painful in our culture, and don't need an antenatal teacher saying the word all the time. After all, if we talk about pain, see pain written down, think about how to relieve the pain and cope with the pain, what are we focussing on, expecting and possibly bringing about? PAIN. If we focus on intense sensations we are already expecting to be able to handle them. This opens the client mentally to means of coping - massage, breathing, positions, mobility, water, support etc. But is this enough? In reality most first-time mothers use more than that so are we setting them up for failure? I don't think so.

I think that colluding with the rest of society in making women expect intense pain is setting them up for failure. A client recently told me that she didn't have choices in labour. After her induction and failed epidural, the doctor told her that she needed to have a caesarean and it had to be under general anaesthetic. My course had not shown her that it was her choice to book for a hospital birth, to accept an induction, to opt for an epidural, long before the caesarean was offered. Who can say how much each of these decisions contributed to the eventual situation where she didn't have a choice, but I think it is clear that she made choices. So what did my class do for her? Gave her enough information to feel informed when agreeing to interventions? Was that my intention? How are my classes serving my clients? Giving them what they wanted, or giving them what will actually benefit them? Whose place is it to decide what the clients need?

All of this is so complex and variable that I could talk myself round in circles but at the end of the day, my classes are not helping people to achieve a normal birth, which we all know is the best possible start for a new family. So, I changed.

It happened quite quickly. I don't remember making the decision to teach my first CBC - I just noticed one day that I was doing it. (A bit like pushing in second stage!) I hadn't observed a CBC or talked about planning one in the study day, so I was unfettered by other people's ideas. It was just me and the concept, and what came out of it was great. My first class was scary - I almost lost my nerve the night before. How was it different? I had no projected durations for the activities, no firm idea of how many of them I would get through, I had all new teaching aids and activities, I wasn't using the things I had used regularly for months or years, I didn't give the information I usually do, I used different terms. Basically, everything was different and it was very unsettling.

But that first class was magic. I was sat there at one stage looking at the group. One group of 4 were sat on the floor around a piece of flip paper drawing with charcoal and pastels, another group of 2 women were sat at a table making a list together on A4 lined paper and the rest of the group were sat on chairs around a piece of flip paper where one of them was making a list. They had all chosen to do it their own way, something I have been trying to encourage for years. One of the men was holding a massage ball later and said that he hadn't even thought about any of this stuff (massage, touch etc.) and I said I was glad he came. He looked me in the eye and said "So am I, I genuinely am". This was 2 hours into the course.

I was worried that because there wasn't so much information, the men wouldn't be as keen to book a day off work to attend so I was delighted when all of the men came to at least one session and one of the men told me he was so impressed after the first class that he had rearranged things at work to make sure he could attend all the classes.

Then came the second class. This one took me totally by surprise. The group had mostly opted for the low-information sessions in the first week which vindicated my new approach. On the second class they all decided they wanted information and lots of it. They wanted to know all the risks of caesarean section, for example. I gave them the information, but they didn't want to know much about assisted birth and hardly anything about induction. Was this unconcious incompetence - they didn't know what they didn't know - or just them asking for what they wanted?

One of the reasons that the CBC approach is contraversial is that it is believed to be about not covering interventions. The knee-jerk reaction to this, which I had myself, is negative and I understand that. But that is not what CBC is about. If the group want to talk about interventions, then we talk about interventions. Alex speaks of giving the "homeopathic dose of information" - a snippet that will either satisfy or prompt further investigation. Those for whom the snippet is sufficient are happy with the response. Those who want more have avenues to get it, either in 1-2-1 time with the teacher or through e-mails or handouts. No-one is left wanting information, but no-one is given more than they wanted.

After getting halfway through this first CBC I started an evening course that I intended to be more like the old-style but I found on the first night that I couldn't do it! The group read a pack of quotes from women about contractions and the first 3 compared contractions to period pains. I have used these quotes for years and never realised that to spend so much time talking about pain is not helping them at all, it's just focusing them on the negatice aspects of labour rather than what they can do for themselves. I won't be using those quotes again. I found different ways of doing what I had planned and got through. The second class was more CBC and the remainder of the course is likely to be less and less information-based.

When it came to the second half of the daytime course, which I use for the postnatal activities, there wasn't much to change. I already use activities which promote the clients' belief in themselves as experts on their baby. I tweaked some things, though, and added in some new stuff. I had the same absence of time projections and moved through activities as seemed appropriate at the pace dictated by the group. It felt lovely and the clients enjoyed it.

I don't think I will be looking back, but where does this sit with my assessing career? I will be assessing teachers doing Topic Based Courses and those doing CBC and can I keep my feelings about information overload in check? I know the answer to that, but it is an issue. The movement toward CBC is gaining momentum, particularly among students. Maybe I am going to be in demand as an assessor who understands the CBC appproach. I hope so!

This was a long blog entry, and one that has been brewing for a while. I would welcome comments from the teachers who read this. Comments about the blog, about the approach, about the way I have done it, about your thoughts and plans.


Thursday, 3 December 2009

and another thing about kinitting....

It occured to me today as I sat with a friend, listening to her talk and knitting my daughter a duck, that I have a productivity issue.In common with many people who work from home, I have a problem knowing when to stop working. I work until 10pm several days a week and often later. I try to make every moment productive, which is one of the reasons that I struggle these days to do things with the children.

So, when my children are elsewhere, (school and nursery or playgroup), I am working. I might be teaching or preparing class plans, or keeping in contact with clients and colleagues and sometimes playing on the computer to escape but always alone. I have found it hard to share that time because I feel it needs to be productive.

Previously, I would have found it hard to make time for a friend during child-free time for this reason. But today, I was sat there happily listening, giving my friend the ear she needed although my children were all happily busy somewhere else. The difference was the knitting. Although I wasn't working, I was doing something productive. Not only was I producing something physical, I was also relaxing my mind. I arranged today to see another friend during child-free time for Stitch and Bitch as she calls it. I prefer Knit and Knatter! So I am more sociable now because of knitting.

And one more thing before I stop typing and start.... guess what...... knitting. I was sat with a group of women last night. They were here for a class I was teaching. There were 5 heavily pregnant women, one woman with her 6-week old baby, and me. The urge to knit was overwhelming. I did resist, but only just. I got my knitting out to show them but managed not to actually put needle to needle. It must have been the oxytocin in the air.

I am going to meet the knitting group next week. I am so excited - it will be combining 2 of my favourite things: knitting and wine.

I finished Annie's rabbit today. She was delighted and took the thing everywhere with her. She even sat in the bathroom while Annie had her bath. Then disaster struck - after bedtime, with Lily (the rabbit) tucked up in bed with her, and being slowly chewed, her pom-pom tail came off in dozens of little pieces. Annie was distraught but we managed to settle her again. To be honest, it wasn't a very well made pom-pom. I just hope the head doesn't suffer a similar fate tomorrow.

So, it's on with the duck for Lexxy now. It has come on leaps and bounds - it gained a back, a bottom and a front this morning and is now about to get a head. The slightly secret elephant for Dave is coming on well too and if I can get some yarn on Saturday, I will be able to start the jacket for Lizzy. I am starting to understand why everyone on Ravelry has several projects on the go at once.

Goodnight all,

Mel x

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


It's ben so long since I posted - not really grasped the idea of a blog, I fear!

The mid-life crisis has continued but has taken a couple of new directions, one of which is knitting. I used to knit when I lived with my parents and I don't remember doing any since leaving home more than 20 years ago. Then someone suggested I bring some knitting to a study day I was going to and I did. I quite enjoyed it and found it enabled me to listen in a different way to usual - without the background noise. A friend explained it to me tonight but I don't expect I will explain it as well. It's about the act of knitting occupying the neo-cortex, the thinking brain, and allowing the more instinctive brain to function without interference.

Regardless of why it happens, it certainly happened for me. I had dug out my old knitting bag which had my once-treasured bamboo needles in as well as a pattern book and some yarn. I had knitted a toy bird for my sister and the pattern was in the book, so I decided to knit one for a friend's little girl. By the time I had finished that bird, I had another 3 projects on the go and was hooked.

I hadn't realised that there was a gap in my life until it was filled and I began to feel more content than I ever remember being. Although my teaching job is creative, there is no physical product from it and that is something knitting gives me.

The children love it. My second project, which is almost finished, is a pink rabbit for Annie. Waiting in the wings is a duck for Lexxy, a cable cardigan for Lizzy and an orange elephant for Dave (long story). They often ask if they can have something knitted - another toy or a piece of clothing and I can happily say "Yes". They love the finished bird, which goes to its new owner tomorrow. They are fascinated by what I am doing and like to have me sitting near them when they are playing. It is something I can do around them that I enjoy and is productive, and yet can easily be broken off from to talk, look at things or give cuddles.

Then I found an amazing community - Ravelry. There are hundreds of knitters and crocheters (spelling?) around the world on there, each recording their current and finished projects, their queue of projects waiting to be started and their stash of yarns. I found there is a knitting group that has been meeting at least twice a month in the pub in my village. How amazing is that? Unfortunately, they meet on the night I teach but I know one of the group moderators and that might be more flexible soon. I am so excited about getting more into that site and the people on it.

When the people I know talk about getting together now, I have 3 words for them: "Do you knit?" I have had a knit and chat meet-up tonight and have another planned for 10 days from now and another before Xmas. Who knew that something you do on your own would be so sociable? I think I feel justified in spending an evening sitting with a friend if we are knitting and producing something, rather than just sitting and chatting.

Knitting fills in little gaps in my day when I don't want to get into anything big but I don't want to twiddle my thumbs either. Knitting enables me to think about things in a different way, without my brain intruding, if that makes any sense. I look forward to having a few minutes to knit at the end of the day to help me wind down. I am excited about getting the yarn for Lizzy's cardigan and getting going on something bigger than a toy. I am excited.

This Xmas my parents are coming to stay and for most of her life, my mum has been an avid knitter. She stopped knitting quite suddenly recently but doesn't know why. I am hoping that between now and Xmas she will dig out her knitting bag and we can recreate a family memory of mine: sitting in my family home knitting with my mum and my Grandma. Lizzy is just learning to knit so the 3 of us can do women's things together - a bit of a Red Tent experience.

My goals for 2010 include relearning to crochet. I did it as a teenager and made a very wonky giraffe for my brother, but my skill level was never very high and I am looking forward to working on it. There is so much to look forward to.

Another goal for 2010 is to blog more!