Monday, 24 February 2014

Yesterday I got a pair of shoes..

Yesterday I got a pair of shoes, new shoes. They came in a box, a shoe box sized box. Not very exciting but the box served its purpose and delivered the shoes as it was meant to.

Today I got a box that looked very exciting. It was a big box wrapped up with pretty coloured paper and
ribbon. It had smiley stickers and interesting pictures stuck onto the coloured paper. I was very eagerly tearing of the paper and ribbons to get inside the box.

Inside the box was another box. What fun.

Inside this box was a pair of shoes. Was this pair of shoes better than the shoes I got yesterday? Was this pair of shoes more shoe like than the first pair of shoes? Nope. Both days, just a pair of shoes.

Teaching. Planning exciting boxes to show a pair of shoes? Is that what we do?

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Shallow, Deep, Profound

Some of the teacher training I am involved in uses the model:




We use it while we are discussing coaching and its relationship to teaching. It covers a great deal and promotes a lot of discussion over a range of topics.

Teachers tend to think that we are trying to get children to operate deeply and sometimes profoundly. That is true but that itself, the rush to deep as I call it, can cause serious problems with the quality of the subsequent learning if we have not 'paddled around in the shallows enough'. I am an advocate of spending enough time in, and also in revisiting, the shallows of learning.

Shallow is not a bad place to be. It is not limiting learning. To be 'in at the deep end' can be very damaging to a child's view about their ability to learn.

Clearly the word 'shallow' can be pejorative.

What a shallow person she is. Not a nice thing to say or to have said about one.

He only has a shallow understanding implies a gap; something missing that could be present.

The language associated with Bloom's Taxonomy of lower order skills and higher order skills creates a similar urge to move to those, clearly, more attractive higher order things!

If you are told that teachers questioning is 80% recall and understanding, the two lowest levels of Bloom's, then you will feel there is a need to move to the higher end. I might take a somewhat different view. I might be quite pleased that you were spending appropriate time at the 'lower' end.

Why do teachers need to ask lower order questions?

If you know why this is then you might not be so sniffy about these kinds of questions. There are learning reasons, remembering reasons, recalling reasons, assessment reasons, and other reasons. Do you know these reasons and why 'paddling in the shallows' is so critical for quality learning?

There are also some bad reasons for asking lower order questions. You need to know these and modify your practice appropriately.

Paddle lots, please, for the sake of the children.

Inspired by Linsey. A very thoughtful teacher.

We gain information by listening and hearing.

We gain information by looking and seeing.

We gain information by hearing and seeing.

We gain meaning by thinking about what we see and hear.

We gain meaning by thinking appropriately about what we can think about.

We gain meaning by linking what we see and hear to what we have already seen and heard and thought about.

We begin to secure what we understand by active thinking.

We can remember because we know and can recognise similarities.

We can remember because we know what it is not.

We can recall because we have remembered and we have practised remembering enough.

We have learned if we can do all of these.

Thank you, Linsey.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Engagement - is it a matter of definition?

It might be but I suspect it is also a word which is heavily coloured by your view of what the purpose of education is as well.

Let me try and say what I believe engagement is and what it is not. I will also try and explain why I think these things. My focus is really on learning and I am influenced by the work of cognitive scientists such as Dan Willingham and my favourite, Dylan Wiliam.

I also hold strongly to the view of working memory as being a feature of all learners; a very limited route into the brain and an easily disturbed input. Distraction to the material (I can’t think of a better word) held in working memory will be highly damaging to learning. That distraction can be internal or external and teachers can add, inadvertently to the level of distraction. Teachers can also present material in chunks that are too large or too many which will prevent working memory from operating effectively.

I also think that there are some different purposes relating to learning which may be phase specific. In early years there can properly be an emphasis on providing children with experiences. If one has never been taken to a zoo, for example, by one’s parents then it would be important for some of that experience to be replicated by the teacher. Taking children on a visit or taking part in a classroom activity that mirrors the zoo experience in some way is valid. It is also inefficient as a learning process for several reasons. But I don’t see a way around this inefficiency.

So, what is it that I am using as my definition of engagement?

First of all engagement is a process that a child carries out in their brain when they are thinking. It is the processes that a learner uses to pay attention to the learning stimulus and to then make sense of that stimulus. In a simple example if we were teaching a child that 2 + 2 = 4, then one thing that they must do is to pay attention to what we say. The information that we transmit must get into working memory. It must get in undistorted and ready to be processes, again within working memory. Paying attention, knowing which parts of the environment to attend to and which bits to avoid are key to what I mean by engagement.

So the first part of engagement is to pay attention to what matters and to disregard that which does not matter. The teacher’s role in this is critical and a good teacher will know what to emphasis and what to disregard, or at least waive, as inclusion might do more to distract than support learning. One reason why I think humans will remain as teachers for a long time yet and not be replaced by machines!

After attending to the 2 + 2 = 4 lesson content the learner has to process this so that it makes sense; is memorable; can be used - initially in a very limited way, and later in more complex ways; attached to what is already known. To do this a learner must try to link the new knowledge about 2 + 2 = 4 to existing knowledge. The more links and the more secure these links the better the understanding.

We can teach children how they can engage more effectively.

I do not recognise as valid terms such as an engaging lesson nor an engaging teacher when I am thinking about the brain processes of engagement. I use engagement in a very specific way.

I think we also need to make sure that children can be attentive, not meant as trivially as looking at, but looking at and thinking about.

One of the issues with engagement as a teacher created process is that the teacher is offering some learning opportunity to a child and if the child does not know what to pay attention to, if the stimulus has a feature of attractiveness for the learner then we are at a loss to know what the child will attend to and engage in, in a sense of what they will think about and puzzle over.

That might be enough. Let’s see.