I had lunch yesterday with a former student of mine. It was my first year teaching. I was 21. She was 10. It was the early seventies. It was some forty years ago.
She proceeded to tell me how I changed her life through an art lesson on perspective and, specifically, on ‘how to see’ and to draw a tree. Her description was detailed and formidable. The actions I suggested and the emotions created in her changed the way she has looked at things since.
This former charge of mine then continued with countless other intricate stories of her learning and my teaching. I listened in amazement—and, admittedly, with much pleasure.
One of the things she said she loved most was that I was present. I listened and genuinely seemed to care.
I was flattered at having such a profound impact on this person.
Not All Good
But, I know, it wasn’t like that for all students in my classes throughout the years. I am sure not all had the benefit of my good side. What about those times when my weaknesses were in play?
My skilful switchblade of sarcasm.
My impatience and dreadful dismissiveness.
What about those times?
What impact did that have on some children?
Hey teacher. Choose your impact.
“Starner replied that he multiplexes rather than multitasks. Multiplexing means doing tasks that reinforce each other. For him, taking notes and having conversations are tasks that parallel and enrich each other. They are multiplexed. On the other hand, he doesn’t try to manage email during a conversation or while walking down the street. That would be multitasking. “If the wearable task is directly related to the conversation, the the user’s attention is not ‘split’ and multiplexing can be pretty effective.”
As Thad Starner explained to me, distraction can be avoided by multiplexing rather than multitasking…. We have no difficulty absorbing all at once the music of a parade, the sight of uniformed marchers, bright sunlight, an autumn breeze, a pain in one’s knee, the smell and taste of hot dogs, and the clasp of a loved ones’s hand.”
I love this distinction. NCTE’s notion of ”managing multiple streams of information’ makes sense when viewed as multiplexing. People have been interpreting this as multitasking – and this has been grossly incorrect in my opinion
See on kk.org
Engagement of video games has ‘become a Pandora’s box containing bait for the reptilian brain to feast on’
“The incessant warfare (the child) takes part in is not virtual to the child, it is his reality…at a superficial cognitive level they’re aware the game is only a virtual reality, but at a deeper, emotional level they know it is not. After all, it is happening to them”, says Csikszentmihalyi.
Csikszentmihalyi is clearly a world renowned expert in motivation, happiness and creativity. You likely know his work on ‘flow’. In fact, you are perhaps a real believer and apply it in your educational practice with students.
Csíkszentmihályi described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
“To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results.’” Wikipedia
Many schools have ‘flow’ rooms or, at least, try to design educational experiences to engage students in the ‘zone’ – or a state of flow.*
“We are headed for ‘a quantum leap into an abyss of insubstantiality’.”
Csíkszentmihályi fears that ‘in one or two generations children will grow up to be adults unable to tell reality from imagination’. We are headed, he suggests, for ‘a quantum leap into an abyss of insubstantiality’.
What do you think?
*Note: It has been central to my ‘way of being’ in classrooms for many years. I even had my most recent classroom – and, indeed, have this blog called “The Construction Zone’. (‘Zone’ doubles for ‘state of flow’ and for ‘zone of proximal development’ (ZPD).
Respecting the Student’s Desire to Know
Or, can we afford not to?
I would suggest that respecting the student’s own ‘driving questions’ is a major strategy in the achievement of those standards. Following this assumption, we need also to provide the tools for investigation and to create a school or classroom culture of support and expectation. In order for this model to work, students must learn the requisite metacognitive skills.
“If students are not able to assume control of their own learning, we do them them a serious injustice.”
Where is the ‘locus of control’?
I have always been amazed at the arrogance with which we as a society assume control of a child’s learning as they enter school. From birth and before entering school, children are immersed in a complex, unstructured learning environment. And assuming supportive caregiving, these children learn a wealth of information. They learn the major part of a language (or even more than one!), much about mathematics, science and the world around them.
“Please consider the amount a child learns before s/he enrolls in school.”
How do they do this? Inquiry. Natural inquiry. Curiosity. Questioning. Problem solving. Resolving discrepancies. Trial and error. They are in charge of their own ‘curriculum’. They set their goals…ask their questions… generate their strategies… invoke them… and consider the outcomes. This is obviously an extremely powerful recipe for success. Please consider the amount a child learns before s/he enrolls in school.
What is learning? Cognitive and…?
Think of learning, if you will, as having two major distinct aspects. One is cognitive. The other is ‘other aspects of self’ – including social and affective. In this latter area I would include passion and motivation… the ‘heart’… the ‘fire’. Often learning has been divided into ‘process’ and ‘product’.
However, I wish to propose that we consider both the ‘product and process’ as ‘content’ – in some ways the cognitive aspect. Perhaps we as educators still spend too much time on the ‘product’ aspect of this false dichotomy, yet we do acknowledge and attend to the ‘process’ to some degree. We do address to some extent ‘how to learn’ and we teach strategies for this to students.
We turn process into product!
The humorous part of this, of course, is by the very nature of doing so, we turn ‘process’ into ‘product’ as well. It becomes something else to be tested and measured. Please understand that I do not negate the importance of high standards for either product or process. I have incredibly high expectations for students and would expect high quality results in both these areas. It is how we get there which I question. And the theft of the locus of control for learning in order to focus on curriculum delivery is not the way to get high standards in either the short term nor, in fact, for our larger goal of life long learning.
“The theft of the locus of control for learning…is not the way to get high standards.”
Don’t steal. It’s not nice! :-)
It seems that what we need to do is more fully support the project-based learning model. It is a ‘natural’ model that can be improved and enhanced through some formalization at school. But we shouldn’t rob those children of the most powerful and necessary attributes of learning – those of passion and being in charge of self… of all the meta aspects… of all the ‘fire’ and intrinsic reasons to learn.
So imagine a child as she moves from a world in which she has been the author/producer/director and actor of her own learning to that of mere actor… taking direction from others as to what to learn… to say… to perform. And it is for the next 12 or more years that this is the case… except for glimpses when she is asked to ‘do a project’.
“Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods.” (Neil Postman)
Lest you think I am some sort of wide-eyed radical who would like to see the curriculum tossed out the window, let me assure you, that is not the case and it would be simplistic to dismiss me as such. It is not I who is the radical one. It is, on the other hand, radical to take a healthy, inquisitive, self-motivated learner and to institutionalize that learner to the extent that robs them of their passion and motivation in the name of ‘curriculum delivery’.
“It is not I who is the radical one. Those who institutionalize healthy, inquisitive, self-motivated learner are radical.”
Curriculum as a landscape to be discovered
Do I disagree with the curriculum content that exists in government documents? That is a question for another discussion, but for purposes of this article let me answer ‘no’. I believe it is necessary to have this breadth and depth of a knowledge base articulated and available in some organized fashion. It provides a landscape to be discovered, explored and understood through the school life of a student.
Who manages the learning?
What worries me is the way in which it is approached. Let me continue with my previous description of kids before school. Before kids enter school they essentially command both aspects of learning – ‘cognitive’ and the ‘other’. Upon entering school, the ‘cognitive’ is the focus. The ‘other’ is essentially taken over by the teacher. The management of learning is under the teacher’s jurisdiction. It then becomes necessary to contrive activities to engender ‘motivation’ or ‘passion’. And this gets to be the case progressively as the student proceeds through the grades.
Things people assume about me.
- Don’t assume I negate the benefits of ‘direct instruction’.
- I am not laissez faire. I expect and demand high quality work.
- Don’t think I let kids run amok. I am a strict disciplinarian… in that I do not tolerate ‘slacking off’. But I do like a certain amount of ‘chaos’ in my classrooms. But that chaos relates more to ‘active learning’ than to ‘fooling around’.
So… how do we do it?
So how do we start towards this vision? As I suggested, we need to perhaps further adopt a project-based learning (PBL) model. And I believe that students’ driving questions are at the heart of many types of project-based learning. This blog contains many posts related to PBL, questioning, the zone of proximal development and the role of information and communications technologies:
- PBL – Who IS in Charge? What Tools can Help?
- PBL – the New Worksheet
- Scaffolding for Deep Understanding
- PBL? Am I Doing it Right?
- Metacognition: A ‘Way of Being’ in the Classroom
- The Science of Passion-Based Learning
Just how powerful is the role of one’s own question in learning? It may be the single most important factor in learning… both in school and outside school. Passion – the emotional force of a driving question – raises one’s motivation, increases energy and focus, carries one through uncertainty and difficulty, and heightens one’s own expectations.
“Once you have learned how to ask relevant and appropriate questions, you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.”
Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner//