Posts Tagged ‘thinking’
“If I wanted to become a better carpenter, I’d go find a good carpenter, and I’ll work with this carpenter on doing carpentry or making things. And that’s how I’ll get to be a better carpenter. So if I want to be a better learner, I’ll go find somebody who’s a good learner and with this person do some learning.”
Last year I was asked to create a presentation unpacking metacognition for a school. Given that I had been talking around and about this topic in one way or another for several years I thought I had a fair idea of what I wanted to talk about. However I decided to dig a little deeper and expand my understanding of the topic.
My usual research routine when I am deepening my understanding about particular concepts is to gather information from a range of sources into one folder on my computer and then to read through and extract the key ideas and concepts. My goal during this phase is to gain a clear enough picture of the ideas and concepts so I can build a narrative for teachers that they can easily grasp the concept. This strategy of reading broadly and narrowing down ideas and concepts until I have clarity was something I found worked at high school and its value was reinforced at university due to the amount of reading we had to do.
As I read and gathered the ideas and concepts I had one of those “Ah ha” moments that transformed the way I thought about learning and teaching. Let me take you through a quick summary of some of what I put together for the presentation
Metacognition is broadly defined as “thinking about thinking” and includes activities such as:
- Learning about how people learn
- Developing an awareness of one’s own learning processes
- Monitoring one’s learning strategies and assessing their effectiveness
- Consciously managing one’s own motivation and attitudes toward learning
- Making adjustments to one’s learning strategies when appropriate
Attribution Theory research indicated that high academic achievers had particular beliefs and habits. They were clear that it was the application of strategies and effort that lead to success, that failure was the result of the incorrect application of a strategy or lack of effort, and high achievers formally used many strategies. Low academic achievers on the other hand attributed success to luck and failure to lack of ability (fixed mindset), and either were quite informal or didn’t use any specific learning strategies.
This led me to explore what were the habits of effective self-regulated learners.
Two strengths of Self-Regulated Learners
Two of the habitual strengths of self-regulated learners are that that are able to self-monitor and self-modify their behaviour to achieve their goals.
Self-Monitoring Learners know what they are trying to achieve (they are clear what they are working on), they have identified a strategy they are going to use to achieve that goal (and can transfer these strategies across learning areas), and they monitor their progression towards that goal.
- “Am I making my points clear and understandable?”
- “Am I getting closer to a solution or farther away?”
- “Have I convinced my reader?”
- “Does this solution make sense?”
- “How can I keep track of what I know?”
- “How do I decide which paths to go down?”
- “How long should I try this approach?”
- “When should I switch to another strategy?”
- “What should I try next?”
- Monitor their progression towards a goal
- Use self, peer and teacher feedback to adjust their strategies to more effectively progress towards their goal
- Self-modification behaviours can be taught in minimal class time (literally a matter of minutes over the course of a semester) and can improve students’ performance in the short term and long term
- Once the behaviours are internalized, students continue to use them but focus their attention on the content they are learning.
What this means
What my reading of the research implied to me is that we can teach meta-cognition and develop all our students’ capacity to be effective learners. My “ah ha” moment actually was that this is exactly what WE SHOULD BE DOING in every class. My thought was …
Where else in your life do you learn to be an effective learner if not at school?
What teachers can do in their classes to develop meta-cognitive, effective learners includes:
- Clearly articulate the student learning goals and success criteria (and support students to set their own personal goals and success criteria)
- Support students to identify their fundamental beliefs about learning (growth versus fixed mindset) and shift their beliefs
- Discuss and highlight to students the range of strategies to achieve those goals, and
- Provide students with sufficient opportunities to monitor their progress, receive feedback and, modify their strategies
If a school took on the above aspects in a consistent, coherent and progressive way, rather than hope the students gain these skills by osmosis or do it naturally (as they high academic achievers mostly do anyway) then the overall learning performance of the learners (students and teachers) within the school will improve.
Other worthwhile articles to read (and videos to watch) include:
- Using Metacognitive Strategies and Learning Styles to Create Self-Directed Learners
- Teaching Metacognition: Insight Into How Your Students Think Is Key To High Achievement In All Domains
- The Development of Metacognition in Children and Adolescents
- How To Weave Growth Mindset Into School Culture
- Help Students Train their Inner Voice
- Austin’s Butterfly – Building Excellence in Student’s Work
- The Learning Challenge – James Nottingham
Rachel Grieve in her article recently in The Conversation discussed the importance of spreading the scientific thinking skills across the curriculum. And as researchers and teachers realise the more that we develop the cognitive abilities of students the more they can become independent learners and drive the learning.
However, the biggest barrier to implementation is not in recognising that developing students to be meta-cognitive is important but in the HOW. How could schools go about structuring their learning to have this happen? What could be some of the approaches that schools could embed to support the development of critical thinking, resilience and grit? I have put together some references, workshops and articles to start you on your way.
The University of Western Australia has developed the Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education (CASE) program which is an intervention program design to specifically develop cognitive abilities in students. The program is based on five principles: Concrete preparation, Cognitive Conflict, Social Construction, Meta-cognition, and Bridging. The evidence base for Thinking Science Australia shows a noticeable improvement in students’ ability, not only in Science but in English and Mathematics also.
Mt Alvernia College in Kedron, QLD has been implementing the Thinking Science program with their Year 8 students for the past few years and will be running a two day workshop on August 1 and 2 in Brisbane for all interested parties. The two days will involve hands on practice and training in “using cues and questioning to engage and facilitate student-based conversation and to promote intrinsic learning” and all the practicalities of how to develop a thinking environment. You can find out more information here.
This is a brilliant website reflects the work of Tait Smoogen and his foundation on developing extraordinary learning environments. Tait is in the midst of unpacking the principles of what leads to extraordinary teachers and extraordinary learners. What he has identified thus far include: The Power of the Puzzle, Deep Observation, Meta-Active Thinking, Talk-it-out, and Co-Constructing the Curriculum.
There are also a range of articles that are worth reading which flesh out this area
If you haven’t been living under a dragon, you’ll know that the beloved Harry Potter film franchise draws to a close this week with the release of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.’ The author of the book series, J.K. Rowling noted in her speech at the film’s premiere that “..no story lives unless someone wants to listen.’ And listen, a generation of young people did. But they weren’t the only ones. In schools around the world, teachers were listening to and seeing the impact of the Harry Potter books on young people firsthand. They could hardly avoid it. At one stage early in my teaching career, I can remember asking the class to open their wide reading books, only to find that of the 24 students in the class, nineteen were reading one of the Harry Potter stories.
Individual teachers and whole school communities found creative ways to include Rowling’s endearing fantasy series into their programs. From the humble book review (an easy sell once you suggested that the student could deconstruct a ‘Potter’ book) to discussions at staff meetings of using a house system similar to that of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy and projects too varied to describe, across all subject areas. School libraries became havens for lovers of all that was magical with enthusiastic staff directing thousands of listless kids towards the series, holding Potter- themed events and running extra-curricular activities, often resplendent in their own ‘Gryffindor’ gear.
I vividly recall watching one of the documentaries that came out when the final book in the series was released, way back in July of 2007. A small boy was asked by an interviewer who he thought would win the final, extravagant showdown between Harry and the tyrannical Lord Voldemort. His face literally glowing as he gazed back at the presenter with the conviction that only a child can possess, he emphatically replied: “Harry Potter.” Aside from a love of the story itself, this suggests an optimism that is the core ingredient in Rowling’s famous work. It is an optimism that teachers can continue to draw upon as they journey with students down the winding path of education in the new paradigm. Like Harry himself, this boy was small, dishevelled and bespectacled but his sense of infinite possibility represented the fire in this generation that schools must feed and nurture, in order to retain the idealism, imagination and innovative abilities so inherent in children. As Sir Ken Robinson, another visionary Brit, states: ‘Creativity is as important as literacy.’ Harry Potter has been so loved by so many millions, I think, because of the escapism it provides through the merged imaginative abilities of author and reader. It is this extraordinary relationship that educators must now look to for answers in this era of fundamental educational change.
In the end, the Harry Potter stories, which symbolise and make manifest the experiences and values of Jo Rowling herself, are about empathy, courage, leadership and resilience. They also act as a powerful argument for developing an unfettered imagination. These are the attributes that educators across the globe are now trying to bring to the centre of the twenty-first century classroom, in more explicit terms than ever before. Papers are written on them, think-tanks brainstorm ways to develop them in students and schools invest heavily in building them into their learning and teaching communities. I hope that I will always walk into a classroom and be able to find a copy of a Harry Potter book at a table, in a school-bag or on an e-reader. Kids (and many adults) love these stories because they recognise the value of the qualities listed. They want to be like Harry, Ron and Hermione. They understand intrinsically that the possession and development of these qualities can solve the challenges of the twenty-first century. This is, I believe, why the series resonates with young people as no series has before it. Jo Rowling’s difficult life experiences led her to reflect on finding a way though and ultimately, in the face of great societal challenges such as social inequality, climate change and the technological tidal wave, this is what young people must do. Looking for a ‘how to’ book on navigating the twenty-first century world and empowering kids to do so with a sense of wonder and hope? In case you weren’t sure, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’* is the first in the series.
Thank you, JK Rowling.
*The US edition is entitled: ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.’
As we forge our way deeper into the Information Age we’ll actually have more and more online (or cloud) resources available. There is a wealth of educational resources already out there so I have gathered some of the one’s I have seen recently that might be of interest to my readers. Items were sourced from Mashable, EdNews, and a whole range of websites.
Rather than type them all out in the blog I have simply attached a downloadable word document that has all the links in them!
It is currently a frustrating and challenging time in education. It seems as if teachers and educators are speaking one language and having one set of outcomes for the students they teach, and politicians, the media, and parents are speaking another.
Because they are.
It is occurring because they are standing in different paradigms. We are in the midst of the biggest paradigm shift in the human existence and we all are experiencing issues that I suggest are normal to the shifting of paradigms.
To give you a sense of this and give some context to what the education system will be going through over the next few decades let’s look back at the last global paradigm shift.
Pre-Industrial Age to Industrial Age (up to mid-1700’s)
Prior to the Industrial Revolution (1770’s) a broad (or liberal) education was limited to the wealthier middle and upper classes who could afford tuition. For the most part education was provided by religious organisations and focussed on Latin, scripture study and Aristotle’s works (logic). This was appropriate to the social and economic structures of the time as it was the wealthy middle and upper classes that controlled trade and political power. There was no need to educate the large proportion of the population as they only needed sufficient education to ply their trade (which for most people was quite local). Life for the masses was subsistence living and life expectancy and quality of life was quite low for the majority of the population.
During the 18th and 19th centuries there were several important developments that led to the creation of the current educational system.
Firstly, following the Reformation, education theory took a leap forward with Comenius (1592 – 1670), amongst others, proposing the idea of human learning as a progression from youth to maturity and from elementary to advanced knowledge. This lead to the concept of universal education covering topics and subjects that were actually useful to the life of the increasingly urbanised towns and cities where the population had grown significantly. There was resistance to this movement as “too much schooling would make the working poor discontented with their lot”. The class system saw the education of the poor as a threat.
It was really the Industrial Revolution that spurred Governments into providing national education systems because industry required workers with more than limited reading skills and a catechetic focus. As the period of the new Industrial Age progressed and democracy widened, development of public education was slow. It took many years and an extraordinary amount of investment and political will to develop the educational systems. In countries such as Australia and the USA the push was for a common model of education to reduce ignorance (and thus crime) and create good, moral and law-abiding citizens. In the UK the public school system was initially developed in-line with the entrenched class system and later theories of “intelligence” to ensure a divided public education system.
Regardless of the country, public education focussed on what could be considered a factory-model with children in “date of manufacture” groups, “one size fits all” teaching and curricula, where most learning was by rote, memorisation and instilled in students “the advantages of being orderly, clean, punctual, decent and courteous, and avoiding all things which would make them disagreeable to other people”. To ensure quality control students were tested to determine if they knew what they needed to know to work in industry. As the prosperity of the countries grew, this industrial educational model embedded into the fabric of society and the systems and structures have become entrenched in how western society functions.
During this growing Age of Industrialisation this educational approach worked well.
It allowed for the economic and social rise of people from the lower classes. In the countries that educated their populations, there has been a huge leap in the quality of life and life expectancy for the masses. It expanded trade for manufactured goods and services beyond localised villages and created opportunities worldwide. It prepared people to operate in an industrialised and urbanised society. It allowed for countries to efficiently build their infrastructure and economic output around an industrial framework (as Seth Godin points out in “Lynchpin”, most corporations and organisations still follow the factory formula). It allowed for economies of scale by being able to educate large groups of people quickly using minimal resources.
For around two hundred years worked really, really well.
What there is to note is that in the shift of paradigms during the Industrial Revolution are:
- It took a while for the infrastructure, governmental systems, and educational practices to create the public educational systems to be formulated and then mature to be effective
- It took visionary political will working over a long period time to ensure the embedding of the paradigm
- There was resistance by people and organisations in power
- Economic necessity and profitability drove the change
- Education lead to the increasing democratisation of the countries as people gained the knowledge and wherewithal to create a more equitable system for all.
- Corporate, government and educational working structures and systems began to match the new paradigm for efficiency and prosperity purposes
- People were educated and trained to fit the new industrial paradigm
Industrial Age to Information Age (1980’s ff)
With the advent of personal computing, the internet, and social networking there has been another profound paradigm shift in humanity.
No longer is information scarce and knowledge held by the few. There is a wealth of information and knowledge accessible within moments. Experts around the world are at your fingertips on any topic you wish with increasing access to live feeds, videos, lectures, blogs, podcasts, webinars, and so on. And this will become progressively richer and expansive over time with better search engines, more validated and expert voices going online, and the exponential growth in computing technology and software.
No longer is trade confined to your local suburb, state or country. Individuals and organisations can develop niche markets and create sustainable income by reaching out to individuals and marketing worldwide. Companies can compete globally online. In some domains there is no longer the need to have the same bricks and mortar investment to run a successful company. Everyone now has access to creating businesses (not just those with capital, wealth or power).
No longer is media only the purview and voices of the rich and powerful. Individuals can express their views, argue and debate, follow the news, create the news, campaign, learn about what is happening in the world … all from home. A progressively greater number of voices will be heard and interests served.
I could go on but you know many of these things and probably see much more than I. In its essence we are at the beginning of a period of human history that is rapidly changing. We cannot predict what the world will look like in 10 years let alone by the end of this century.
What you should note however is that:
- It will take a while for the infrastructure, governmental systems, and educational practices to create the new public educational systems to be formulated and then mature to be effective
This will cause much of the debate raging in countries as they compare themselves via assessments like PISA and then explore and develop structures and systems that are forward thinking and prepared for the constantly changing world. I suspect that Finland’s model of education will lead the world for many years to come.
- It will take visionary political will working over a long period time to ensure the embedding of the information age paradigm
This is one of the challenges because we have yet to see people with the political will to challenge the status quo and plan for the long term future. In fact, the system of short terms for political parties and pandering to the status quo has resulted in a democratic system that only allows small incremental changes.
- There will be resistance by people and organisations in power
We are currently witnessing this quite a lot from the poor media portrayal of schools, politicians and parents still thinking purely from an industrial age concept of the world, and businesses trying to model the education system on their industrial model
- Economic necessity and profitability will drive the change
As prosperity becomes driven by opportunities arising from the Information Age Paradigm then this will become more so. I suspect that there will be a greater diversity of blended industrial and information models arising for companies and corporations. We never lost the need for agricultural structures and systems with the shift away from a purely agricultural paradigm.
- Education will lead to the increasing democratisation of the countries as people gained the knowledge and wherewithal to create a more equitable system for all
Notice the rise of organisations such as Avaaz, GetUp in Australia and Wikileaks. As people are more informed and able to collaborate and organise over vast distances there will be a resultant increase in the rise of equitable democracy.
- Corporate, government and educational working structures and systems will begin to match the new paradigm for efficiency and prosperity purposes
See Google, Facebook, Amazon, Zappos, Intel, etc. Their workplaces are models of creativity, fun, industriousness, and innovation.
- People will be educated and trained to fit the new information age paradigm
Educational systems and approaches will change. The one size fits all teacher directed model is already experiencing challenges and digital native students are no longer satisfied with boring, content-focussed education. I can imagine that within 10-15 years the development of educational hardware and software will match to address the wide student interests and academic variance that exists within our schools. Currently we are dealing with the technological challenges that our funding and infrastructure does not allow for.
It is interesting to note that educational approaches such as inquiry learning, divergent thinking, and differentiation has been around for decades (much like Comenius educational philosophy was around for decades) and is only slowly now being implemented in schools. However, there is no throwing the baby out with the bath water. Great education has always been great learning.
The work that we (Intuyu Consulting) focus on in schools is working with them to shift their thinking, staff culture, staff planning and structures to the new information age paradigm BEFORE they necessarily have the technology in place. Technology has always been an accelerator … not the answer. We empower the staff to be the creators of what works for them and their circumstance as they stand in the bigger picture. What we have found is that they are enlivened and begin to work with each other and the students to create exceptional learning, projects and results while still operating inside of the current educational and funding paradigm.
 Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history, www.educationengland.org.uk/history
 Chitty C (2004) Education Policy in Britain Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
 The Evolution of Education in Australia, http://www.historyaustralia.org.au/ifhaa/schools/evelutio.htm
 Sir Ken Robinson, Changing Education Paradigms, 2010
 Lynchpin: Are you Indispensible? Seth Godin, 2010
Creative Commons Copyright: Intuyu Consulting 2011
Archimedes did, apparently, when he stepped into his bath and noticed that the bath level rose by the volume displaced by the volume of his body. Archimedes yelled “??????!” (or Eureka which is Greek for “I have found it!”) before he went running through the streets half-naked excited about his discovery!
Insights come to us seemingly only at certain times and the process doesn’t seem to be reproducible. But insights is what is at the core of our learning and the learning of all human beings. What if we could make it reproducible?
David Rock in his recent book, Quiet Leadership, has given us an insight into insights.
David discusses recent neuroscience research that suggests that there are four stages to insights. The following is my paraphrasing from David Rock’s book and other researchers.
The First Stage: Awareness
Consider that the brain forms mental maps that gathers the information it has stored into some cohesive whole. As a way of accessing the information and ordering it has organised the information and patterns it has discerned into some map and then uses these maps to interpret and relate to the world.
In this first stage the brain is immersed in new information. It could be new perspectives about something we are examining in a class or heard on TV or are currently reading in a book. New information is essentially being processed and the brain is attempting to fit these ideas, thoughts and concepts into its current mental maps. As the brain attempts to integrate the new knowledge it begins to see that there is a dilemma because the new knowledge is creating a different mental map than the one that currently exists but the brain has not yet worked out how to reconcile this conflict by creating a new metamap or by reconfiguring the existing maps.
The Second Stage: Reflection
If one is to develop a consistent process of having insights and thus more productively then there needs to be more second stage “reflection” time in our days.
MRI scans show that people’s brains give off alpha-band waves just before they come up with an insight. Alpha waves correlate with people shutting down inputs from their external senses and focusing on internal stimuli. When we perform tasks that engage the conscious, logical mind we decrease the alpha-band waves. So reflection is NOT helped by asking your students to reflect by writing down their reflections (which is what many teachers do). The writing process should occur after true reflection.
Studies have shown that during reflection we are not thinking logically or analysing data; we’re engaging a part of our brain used for making links across the whole brain. We are thinking in an unusual way, tapping into more intelligence than the three to five pieces of information we can hold in our working memory. We are allowing the brain to think across the whole dataset of ideas, images, thoughts, knowledge to connect and reconfigure its mental maps without any new input from the conscious or working memory.
A simple process to reflect is to sit still and close your eyes (this removes about 70% of external stimuli) and focus on your breathing. Listen to the way you inhale and then exhale for about 60 seconds. Then open your eyes just a fraction and close them again. This sends you deeper into the alpha-band state. Listen to the way you inhale and then exhale for another 30 seconds and then open your eyes and write down your reflections. During this period you don’t think about anything logically just focus on your breathing.
By the way, we have all experienced this process naturally. Quite often we have insights when we are lying in bed before we go to sleep or when we wake up. It is in the quiet “non-logical”, “non-thinking” times that we suddenly go … “ah-ha”!
Third Stage: Insight
At the moment of insight our mental maps have been reconfigured or a new mental map has suddenly snapped into existence. In this moment the body releases various neurotransmitters like adrenaline as well as possibly serotonin and dopamine. This is why there is a sudden excitement and a rush throughout the body.
The intense motivation from having an insight is short term. If you can get people to take tangible actions while the insight is close at hand, even just to commit to doing something later, this will be a big help to ensuring new ideas become reality. If you don’t take some action then and there the insight and new mental map is not reinforced and the insight is lost.
At the NSW Conference on Engaging Learners Through Innovative Practice one of the keynote speakers was Dr Curtis Bonk (you can follow his blog here http://travelinedman.blogspot.com/). He spoke about the wide range of internet resources that are now available to motivate and engage learners.
Curtis generously sent me his new book The World is Open which expands on his talk about how the web is revolutionising education.
The main thrust of the book and Curtis’s talk is that technology and the availability of information and resources is now at the point that
“Anyone can now learn anything from anyone at anytime”
Let me quote some sections from the text”
“… Thomas Friedman argued that our world had been flattened by many technologies, most significant of which is the Internet, with its ability to find nearly any piece of information we might seek in the exact moment of need. As he showed, the commerce-related implications of this premise are enormous”
“In the twenty-first century, education trumps the economy as the key card to participation in the world. It is education, after all, from which robust economies are built.”
“We are living in a time period of the most monumental changes and challenges to arise in education since Plato held his first classes at his famed academy, Hekademeia, later known as Akademeia. Even in those days, learning in different locations and times was facilitated by technology as teachers and learners were shifted from exclusive reliance on oral traditions to instruction that included the written word. This, of course, was a historic transformation for the people of the planet because learning could now take place beyond a singular geographic location and moment in time.”
Curtis goes on to not only point to how we are now at a similar transformational period in human history but gives a range of examples. Here are some resources for you!
1. Notschool.net: is an international ‘online learning community’ offering an alternative to traditional education for young people who are unable to engage with school or other complementary provisions such as home tutoring or specialist units.
2. CALM Chemistry: a free web tool to assist learning chemistry
3. Jing: A simple way to add visuals to your online conversations. Teachers can use it to explain processes online.
4. WolframAlpha: a computational knowledge engine that is quite remarkable! It gives you access to an extraorindary range of facts about anything in the world.
5. Geothentic: Geospatial technologies plus Authentic Learning. Geothentic provides an online environment for teachers and students to solve complex geography circumstances. Brilliant!
6. Nautilus Live: Follow along as Dr. Robert Ballard and his team undertake an exciting expedition on the E/V Nautilus to map the sea floor and study underwater volcanoes. Be there in real time.
7. Virtual Tours of the Louvre: go for a tour through the museum (many museum sites have these functions now!)
8. Turning the Pages: turn the pages of historical documents in the British Museum
9. ARCHAVE: the ARCHAVE system is an immersive virtual reality environment for archaeological research.
and many more. Check out more by downloading Curtis’s presentation here sydneykeynote – curtis bonk.
Two items I want to end on:
1. While the technology and resources are here to make classrooms more engaging and have the students drive their own learning, few teachers take it on. This article shows some research into this (Research-dispels-common-ed-tech-myths).
2. Third world countries are becoming the source of innovation that will drive the future. Don’t believe me? India has come up with a $35 tablet computer that they hope will be used throughout their school system. (India unveils $35 tablet computer) And we complain about getting netbooks in schools and politicians are trying to end the computer in schools program!
What great websites for learning do you know of and would like me to speak about?
In last week’s blog we begun a discussion about developing leadership whilst student’s are learning. This week we explore, what John Maxwell calls “the quickest way to developing leadership“.
F.F. Fourneis, in his wonderful exposition Coaching for Improved Work Performance, discussed four common reasons why people do not perform the way they should:
- They do not know WHAT they are supposed to do
- They do not know HOW to do it
- They do not know WHY they do it
- There are obstacles beyond their control
Despite that this was originally written about work circumstances it is apparent that this can also be said about students in a school situation.
The first two reasons are normally dealt with reasonably well within a classroom environment. We provide excellent explicit teaching on the WHAT and the HOW of doing specific tasks. Having well designed assessment rubrics go a long way to providing students with what they need to show that they have develop knowledge as well as skills and capacities.
Reason three, the WHY, is sometimes not addressed well in classes but can be developed with well designed “tuning in” sessions and linking to the students’ understanding in other areas. A strong WHY will have the students engaged, passionate and enabling strong transference of skills AND knowledge.
Reason four, however, is poorly dealt with by many schools, and in fact most people rarely develop the wherewithal to overcome the obstacles that life throws at them unless their survival is at risk!
[Interestingly, a social psychologist at a conference once shared with me how in a survey he performed of his clients he discovered that 6% changed their unproductive habits from advertising, 17% from an emergency (e.g. heart attack, cancer) while over 70% because a close friend or family member nagged them until they changed!].
One can consider that one major aspect of leadership is the ability to overcome obstacles to achieve the goals you set out to achieve. You look at any successful individual and you will find that they failed many times before they succeeded and what made them successful and leaders in their areas was that they learnt how to overcome or get around obstacles (the youtube video below gives some examples of this).
John C Maxwell in his book Developing the Leader Within You suggests that there are only two things that allow for powerful problem solving and leadership: the right attitude and the right action plan.
Given the importance of attitude to being a leader, next weeks blog will go in depth about the right attitude. At this point I just want you to consider that in a content focussed curriculum and school environment the right attitude of students is to give what the teachers want and what the assessments ask for that will give them the best marks. This does not naturally develop leadership.
With respect to the right action plan John Maxwell outlined the following process to develop the problem solving approach that will give people the ability to tackle the obstacles they face
- Identify the problem – quite often we attack the symptoms not the cause. Identify the real issues that lie beneath the symptoms
- Prioritise the problem – quite often we become stopped because we seem to have too many problems or things to deal with. Being able to list the issues and them prioritise them will allow students to grapple with the reality of the situation and learn how to deal with what is most important first
- Define the problem – defining what is the problem you will tackle (e.g. a critical question the students will tackle in an inquiry learning project) gives direction to the solution process. Maxwell discusses 4 steps to this aspect
- Ask the right questions
- Talk to the right people
- Get the hard facts
- Get involved in the process
- Select people to help you in the process – I have observed that many people try to solve problems on their own and get stuck. What I have found is that the answers always lie in community. Consulting as widely as possible will allow for solutions that you, as an individual, have never thought of.
- Collect problem causes
- Collect possible solutions
- Prioritise and select the best solutions
- Implement the best solution
- Reflect on and Evaluate the solution
You have probably noticed by now that this process IS the process of project-based inquiry learning. Pure inquiry learning, where the students choose a critical question to research and then go about in a discovery approach to answer their question, requires the skills and capacities I have just outlined.
What I ask you to reflect on is … how are you developing your students in the above process EXPLICITLY? Do you have rubrics that the students fill out to train them? Do you have particular practices you use in the class to do this? Do you have specific templates where the students can ritualise this process?
Feel free to comment on the blog!
Next week .. developing the right attitude!
It is interesting when you start reading out of your field how many interesting ideas one discovers that are applicable to education.
Ken Blanchard is one of the world leading experts on management and leadership. He is the author of a series of books called the “One Minute Manager”. He, and his team, have sold millions of books and empowered managers and leaders in a range of industries worldwide in simple and effective approaches to developing leadership and managing their organisations.
In “Leadership and the One Minute Manager” I discovered an interesting table (see Figure 1 below) where the One Minute Manager discusses “Situational Leadership”. The principal behind the approach reminded me greatly of how inquiry–learning, project-based learning can be designed to empower and develop skills in young people. It actually reflects the essence of what Bertram Bruce from the University of Illinois pointed out about the stages that teachers must go through to develop skills in leading inquiry learning (Figure 2).
The table outlines the relationship between four developmental levels and the four leadership styles that a manager / leader would use with the person in that developmental level.
- Directing – for people who lack competence but are enthusiastic and committed. They need direction and frequent feedback to get them started.
- Coaching – for people who have some competence but lack commitment. They need direction and feedback because they are relatively inexperienced. They also need support and praise to build their self-esteem, and involvement in decision making to restore their commitment.
- Supporting – for people who have competence but lack confidence or motivation. They don’t need much direction because of their skills, but support is necessary to bolster their confidence and motivation.
- Delegating – for people who have both competence and commitment. They are able and willing to work on a project by themselves with little supervision or support.
So if one was going to develop independent learners who are responsible for their own learning teachers would need to use a variety of leadership styles. Teachers would also need to ensure that the students develop competencies and skills. They need to have the basic knowledge as well as the skills to use that knowledge.
However, how many teachers become stuck using one leadership style? Some are all about directing. Some are all about supporting or coaching. If a teacher does not use the appropriate leadership style to the student (and it gets even more complicated because students can be in different developmental levels for different subjects … and the One Minute Manager actually shares a story about this) then we can actually be counter-productive to learning.
What do you see? Tell us in the comments section of the blog.
Next week we will discuss another aspect of leadership … how do you actually set up your teaching to develop leadership.
I have had an interesting time this week as I went and visited a range of schools to observe teachers teaching (or should that be … provide a space for learning to occur?). I was able to sit in on a range of teachers and the variety of approaches they use to promote learning.
Before I get into the topic of teacher practices I think I must start by saying that good inquiry learning requires elements of explicit teaching, practicing, skill development, and inquiry. It is a mistake to think that you do not have explicit teaching or rote learning as part of the process. Why? Well … if you examine how the brain builds knowledge .. repetition is critical (look at anyone trying to learn a new sport). Explicit teaching is critical … you cannot develop critical thinking skills without having a knowledge base.
So let’s discuss practices …
The context where inquiry learning works best is one where the students (and teachers) are developing certain capacities and skills whilst learning about something. In a content focussed curriculum there is no focus on skills apart from that which has content understood.
They are two different paradigms and lead to two different outcomes.
In the paradigm of developing skills and capacities in our students … everything you or the students do is an opportunity to develop the skills and capacities. Let me give you some examples.
Two teachers were team teaching and while one led an inquiry into a particular topic the other teacher listened in and occasionally added reinforcement to what was said or added to the inquiry to help the students. It was excellent as I watched to see how the two teachers interacted with each other and with the students. The inquiry was engaging and had the students thinking and interacting. It was led purely by asking questions and the students responding. There was even one point where the teacher had one of the students come to the front and share about a practice they had in the class (around literacy) for the other students. One practice I suggested afterwards … to support the learning of the students and to develop a capacity … was for the second teacher to write notes on the whiteboard of the inquiry as the inquiry runs. That way the students see a role model on how to take notes. If the teachers practiced this all the time and then later in the term / semester had the students taking notes as the teacher modelled it .. then they learn note taking skills much quicker (and improve literacy).
A teacher was running a game (called 10 seconds I beleive) where a person had to walk across the room and do it in exactly 10 seconds but without any watches apart from the timer the teacher held. The students then had to guest what time it was done in and the aim was for the walkers to get as close as possible to 10 seconds. This game was a great maths exercise as the students needed to work out “closeness” as well as strategies for thinking about marking time, etc. The teacher used her interactive whiteboard to put the numbers in a grid and had each student fill in their own grid before she filled in the group grid. It was a very rich exercise and I was really pleased about the range of practices and scafolding she had in the session. The one practice I suggested (again to continue to developing particular skills in the students) was to get up a second window on the Interactive Whiteboard and automatically graph the tries so the visually oriented students can see how it their tries are getting closer to the magical 10 second mark.
There are lots of examples of practices that teachers can invent standing in .. “what capacity will I build in my students now?”. Rather than leaving the training of internet research skills just to the ICT lesson … what about doing it in class interactively with the interactive whiteboard and show them your thinking as you search for information (use google, wikipedia, and a range of resources). Discuss about how some information is useful and not (have them say) as you look at things online. Have them give you the keywords to look up and inquire about whether they give good results or not.
A great inquiry learning unit will have lots of embedded practices that teachers have consciously placed in their to develop particular skills.
What are your practices … share your ideas in the comments section!
For those of you interested … two great links with great ideas.
1. http://www.aalf.org/ : A website about one-to-one learning and the teaching practices you can use to scaffold learning as we enter a more one to one environment with technology
2. http://www.sharpbrains.com/: An excellent resource about neuroscience and the brain. It is a general website but some of the articles are extraordinary (e.g. Is Working Memory a better predictor of academic success than IQ?: Dr. Tracy Alloway summarizes a recent landmark study, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, which tracked children over a six-year period. Key finding: Working memory can be a more powerful predictor of academic success than IQ scores)