Category Archives: Thinking

The ability to think effectively and efficiently is at the root of all successful learning throughout life. The ability to think ABOUT our thinking – to think metacognitively – puts us in the driver’s seat when we are learning. Metacognitive thinking makes it possible for us to understand, monitor, adjust and assess the appropriateness of our thinking for any learning task.

Election confusion

My mum was English, a royalist and a Tory through and through. My dad was a socialist. I never questioned who they voted for, it was obvious. They voted for a philosophical position, not for policies. I don’t recall them ever arguing about policy. I don’t think they were interested in policy. They expected their party to govern according to a pretty well-known set of priorities, and they expected the elected government to just get on with it. What political information they did get was from the newspaper.  This was at a time when the role of a newspaper was to provide factual information, a time when opinion was clearly marked “Editorial”.  They believed that polite people didn’t discuss sex, religion or politics.

What’s changed? Everything.

We are drowning in a swirling tide of information and opinion. Most of the time we can’t distinguish one from the other. Is this what he thinks? Or is it what he knows? Who knows?

Television, radio, social media, newspapers, billboards, bumper stickers – they are all pelting us with information. For the first time in the history of the world, we get to interact with it all in public. We can engage in heated debates with strangers on Facebook, we can phone in to talk back programs on the radio, we can see out tweets across the bottom of the TV screen. Our opinions and observations have never been so important, so ‘out there’. We are all experts, we all have our say. But it’s all so superficial, and there is so much of it.

We are drowning in a swirling tide of confusion because none of this ‘information’ stays still long enough for us to stop and think. Were they going to bring in a “death tax”? Is there a massive caravan of rapists and murderers at our southern border? Are immigrants from Eastern Europe taking all our jobs? Is our economy booming? Or is it going down the gurgler?

Someone said of the loser in our recent Australian Federal election, “It isn’t you Bill. It’s the country.” Thomas Jefferson said that “a well-informed electorate is a prerequisite to democracy”. We think we are well informed because there is this unending supply of commentary being thrown at us and we are being given opportunities to voice our own opinions.

The trouble is we are not bothering to discriminate between what is information and what is opinion. We get caught up in a helter-skelter cycle, where everything moves fast, one voice, one meme, one slogan following another, never giving us time to think.

We are not taking the time or making the effort to interrogate the truth of the things we are told.  People are sharing posts on social media without having a clue about their origin or their basis in fact. We are confronted by billboards defaming politicians from every side. We see slogans everywhere and we take them for truth.

There are plenty of fact-checking web sites, but people rarely use them. Instead, they decide they like the look of something, it fits with their preconceptions and they hit the “share” button.

This is how we are manipulated. This is how we are misled. And this is how democracy will be further damaged. If we don’t learn how to manage the digital, information world we are creating, it will manage us.



Filed under digital learning, internet, parents, politics, social media, technology, Thinking

It’s Just Chat and SMS



Last night I saw a magnificent production of Tosca by the Australian Opera. If you had asked me in a text message what I thought of it, I would probably have responded with “great” and I might have added a thumbs up emoji.  what you would not have seen was the way my hand punctuated the air as I wrote “great”, you would not have heard the awe in my tone, the gasp that preceded my word and nor would have seen the look of admiration and delight that flooded my face as I recalled the evening.

Research suggests that when we are communicating attitudes or emotions, approximately 7% is communicated by the words and 93% by the nonverbal aspects of communication – facial expression, tone of voice, gestures and the like.

In my text response to your question about the opera, you missed 93% of the message.

It seems our youngsters are giving up on telephone conversations. They much prefer to text. They have lightning thumbs, and the messages fly back and forth at an amazing speed. These text conversations can be short or sometimes very, very long. And the longer the conversation, the more likely it is that misunderstandings, misinterpretations and false impressions will be built and expanded upon.

Why? Because every time a message is sent, 93% of it is missing! Imagine trying to read a novel or a letter with 93% of the letters missing.

In an attempt to overcome this paucity of information we insert emojis and giphs. They help a little, but not much. You send me a text letting me know you passed a very hard exam, one you had worried yourself sick about. I send back a message that says “Well done” and includes a thumbs up emoji and a heart.

But if you were here with me you would have seen the expression on my face that showed I understood your relief, one that expressed the pride I felt. And you would have known the confidence I felt in you as I gave you a bear hug of appreciation. Instead? Just a couple of words and two small symbols.

It’s a frequently used exercise in drama classes to say the word “yes” in as many ways as possible, implying as many different meanings as possible. The range is amazing. But in an SMS there is only the word. You work out the meaning for yourself, and with no nonverbal cues to help you, there is every chance you will get it wrong.

Why is this so important?

Make sure you understand the weaknesses that exist in text conversations. Save the text chat for the factual, the trivial, for what it was designed – short messages and chat. These messaging services are named as they are for good reason.

If you want to talk about something that involves the exchange of attitudes and the expression of feelings, subjects that have some depth and nuance, pick up the telephone or better still, meet for coffee.

Most importantly, make sure your children and your students understand the dangers of “Chat” and the “Short Message Service”. They will avoid so many hurt feelings, misinterpretations the misunderstandings.

If the conversation is worth having, it deserves 100% of the communication process, not just 7%.




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Filed under Behavior management, Classroom practice, digital learning, internet, parents, Teacher education, technology, Thinking

Such bad manners

You’ve heard it. The friend who complains about the behavior of other people’s children. I was with one of those yesterday. “Those kids spent all the time texting. We may as well have not been there.”

I asked the obvious, “What did their parents do?”

“They didn’t seem to be able to do anything much about it. I don’t think they were happy.”


I think I would understand if the kids were teenagers. Changing adolescent behaviour is for the bold and the brave. But it should never have got to this. They weren’t always teenagers. They were once small children, open to our suggestions, amenable to our standards. Small children are waiting to be shown and told what is right, what is acceptable and how to behave.

That’s why we need to be aware of the impact digital technologies and devices can have on our lives. That’s when parents must learn and understand about these technologies, so that they can set behavioural expectations.

I learned when I was a child that I could not read at the dinner table, that the television would be turned off at meal times, that I could not just leave the table when I felt like it if  Aunty Dot was visiting. My parents insisted that I say hello to visitors and politely answer questions before going off to play. I knew I couldn’t go into someone else’s house and just turn on the TV. I learned all this and more because my parents taught me. I became civilised. I knew how to behave.

If we don’t teach our children “netiquette” where will they learn it?

If children sit at the table texting instead of interacting with people, don’t blame the technology. Blame the lack of behavioural expectations. Look back in time to when the child was five, six or seven and Mum and Dad failed to take the phone or the tablet away at appropriate times, when rules were never made about devices at bed time. That’s why the teenager sits in the room glued to a small screen, or won’t get up in the morning.

Grown ups must wake up! We have been caught out by the speed of the arrival of these devices. But we have no excuses any more. We can see around us what happens when we give our children a free reign to access technology whenever they feel like. It’s like giving them a lolly shop with no rules. Don’t be surprised if all they want to eat is candy bars, and don’t be surprised if they spend all their free time on their devices.



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Don’t Let Google Replace Your Brain

You’re sitting in front of TV one evening and someone asks, “Where is Kazakhstan?” What do you do if you don’t immediately know the answer?

Ask Google?

If you just ask Google you will be missing out on so much. Most worryingly, you will be missing out on giving your plastic brain an opportunity to improve itself, to develop new neuronal pathways and to strengthen the ones it already has.

If, before saying “OK Google” you try and think about it for a while you will be giving your brain the food and exercise it needs to thrive.

You will call on memory to remind you of all the things you have heard and read about Kazakhstan in the past – in newspapers, on TV, on the internet. You will sift through those memories, comparing them and discriminating between the ones that help and those that don’t.

You might try and visualise a map of Europe and the Middle East and see if you can associate the placement of Kazakhstan with the placement of other countries that you do know about.

Perhaps you will remember the old atlas on the shelf under the coffee table and you will pull it out and search for Kazakhstan. While you are looking in the atlas you may well notice where numbers of other countries, as well as Kazakhstan, are located. You will see the names of major cities and if the map is a relief map you discover Kazakhstan is largely made up of desert areas.

Someone else in the room might know a little more than you and together you might be able to come up with an answer.

There are so many good things you can do for your brain before asking Google. Yes, Google will probably post a map with a little red marker for Kazakhstan and it might feel like a great shortcut way to what you found in the atlas. But look at all the things your brain missed out on doing – remembering, comparing, associating, filtering, connecting, visualising, browsing and thinking interdependently with others.

Just as eating a diet of mushy ‘pre-chewed’ food would risk the health of your teeth, a regime of fast facts and information via Google risks the health and development of your brain.

Google is great. But don’t let it replace your brain!

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“School-wide Ban on Mobile Phones Gets Kids Learning and Talking”


Oh yes. I do understand. The kids are sitting around in the playground texting to each other instead of talking. The sports equipment is still sitting in the tub in the corner of the classroom because the kids aren’t playing at recess, they are on their phones. A stroll around the classroom during work time invariably reveals at least one kid taking a sneaky look at social media under the table.

Ban them at school! It’s a quick and easy solution. And it will work – while they are at school. But once they leave school and have their devices in their pockets again, what will they have learned?

It’s similar to achieving good behaviour in school by instilling fear of the strap. The strap didn’t teach kids about fairness, justice, honesty, respect, concentration or focus. It just taught kids to behave while the strap was around. If the reason for a child’s correct behaviour is fear of the back of dad’s hand, he’ll wait until dad’s not around and then do as he chooses. We know this. That’s why we banned corporal punishment in schools. Because it doesn’t work.

We need to teach our kids how to control their own behaviour, themselves, regardless of straps, wooden spoons and the backs of dads’ hands.

We need to teach our kids how to control their devices rather than letting their devices control them. Simply removing them from their grasp for a few hours each day doesn’t teach them anything about how to thrive in a digital world.

We should be embracing the digital. Our kids need to learn when to use these devices appropriately and how to use them effectively. They won’t learn those things of we simply take them away from them. You don’t teach a kid how to be safe on the road by not letting him drive.

Mobile phones and tablets can be powerful assets in the classroom, but both teachers and students need to learn how to use them. We provide powerful insights into the influence the digital world is having on how our kids think and how they learn in our book ‘Thinking In A Digital World”. We then describe practical strategies to help parents and teachers integrate these technologies into living and learning in ways that promote learning and thinking both within and outside the classroom.




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Logographs, Alphabets, Emojis and Giphs. What next?



Our first attempts at written communication were with burnt sticks on cave walls. We told each other about the big game we had hunted. In Egypt we got much cleverer and developed a complex set of hieroglyphs to perpetuate our thoughts and experiences for others to read at a later time. The Chinese were cleverly beavering away developing pictographs – little images that represented objects, and ideograms – more little pictures, this time representing concepts. All of these are logographs – little pictures that represent the ideas and things we want to communicate to others. Perhaps the biggest problem with logograms is that they tell us nothing about how to pronounce them.

It was around 1500BC when the Phoenicians decided to take a different route and develop an alphabet – a system of writing where the symbols each represented the sounds of the spoken language. That’s how we write today. We string sounds together to make words, and words together to make sentences.

This was a profound change because it changed our brains and how we think. The use of the alphabet is strictly linear – one letter after another in a straight line. We can point to the beginning of a word or a sentence and know with absolute certainty that the end of the word or sentence will be at the end of the line of letters. This linear system influenced everything. It imposed a particular kind of order on our experience of the world.

At first, it only influenced the literate – a small, privileged minority. The invention of the printing press made books available to the masses and then their brains began to change too. The world became linear. We expressed time as a straight line – past – present – future. Music was written down in straight lines. Stories progressed in straight lines from the introduction, through the various episodes of the plot to the final denouement. We were taught to argue in straight lines, one step at a time, and if we didn’t understand we would say, “I don’t follow you.”

Enter the digital world. We learn that time isn’t necessarily a straight line at all – there is something called a time-space continuum and space certainly doesn’t exist in straight lines. Jazz is full of riffs and recursive elements. Intuition is becoming respectable again. When we read on the internet we switch and shift constantly, jumping from one hyperlink to another. Perhaps we become so enmeshed in the world wide web that we never get back to where we started at all. Movies and television stories constantly move back and forth in time and often end with frustrating question marks and ambiguous conclusions. The straight line is giving way to the web.

The arrival of the SMS has revolutionised the way we communicate with each other. Youngsters hardly ever use the telephone to actually phone anyone. They text. And although it looks as though their texts are still based on the good old alphabet, the link is starting to break down. CUL8R – is a whole new way of writing. Letters and numbers have become symbols for whole words rather than standing for a single sound. Our ‘alphabet’ is turning into logographs. Ask any eighteen year old what LOL, or ROFL means and they will have no hesitation in telling you. They no longer ‘spell it out’ because they are moving away from the linear alphabet. This is changing the way they think too, but that’s a whole other story for another time.

Among the LOLs and ROFLs we also see little round faces with stylised expressions. These emojis pepper the logographs because we still need to communicate the more subtle elements of communication – things like our feelings. The range of emojis is growing at an astounding rate and they have gone way beyond little yellow faces. Each one is a small ideograph – a picture representing a concept.

And the giph is yet another attempt to overcome the things that this new, infant script is lacking. Giphs are tiny, one-second videos that loop over and over. Frequently they show a face dynamically expressing a particular emotion. The eyebrows pop, the mouth sneers, the face breaks into an enthusiastic laugh. Now we can communicate the subtleties of body language without the use of an alphabet. That’s impossible to do with a logograph.

In this digital age we increasingly think in complex, intersecting webs rather than in straight lines. Whether we will so adapt the linear alphabet with emojis and giphs that it becomes a new form of written communication remains to be seen. This generation’s brains are wired differently from ours. One thing we can be certain of is that they will mould the world to suit themselves, and that will include all the ways we communicate. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.




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Understanding social media – safety

In our most recent book, “Thinking In A Digital World”, we explore the changes in our world as a result of digital media. The digital world is pervasive and here to stay. So is social media. It’s up to the grown-ups to understand it and help our kids navigate it safely and use it productively, creatively and enjoyably.

Let’s look at safety first.

Over two billion people actively use Facebook each month. If your privacy settings are set to “public”, you are giving them all access to your thoughts and images. Is this what you want for yourself? More importantly, is this what you want for your children?

The internet has virtually unlimited memory. The photos you posted two years ago? They are still there. The photo you posted and then deleted? It’s still there too. Nothing disappears and clever people can find it all. Their motives are not always benign.

Take a look at the blue band across the top of your Facebook page. You will see a tiny down arrow on the far right. Click on that and then select ‘settings’. This will take you to the General Settings page. On the left-hand side, there is a panel – select ‘privacy’ .

Now you can decide just how widely you want your posts to circulate. My Facebook privacy is set to ‘friends’ for everything. I’m not interested in ‘friends of friends’ seeing my posts, because if I use that setting I may as well make everything ‘public’ and accessible to the entire two billion users. The moment I allow ‘friends of friends’ to see my posts, I have lost control.

I don’t include my phone number when invited to by Facebook. If a friend wants my phone number I have the opportunity to send it to them via private message. I don’t want the world, or even all the people on my Facebook friends list, to have my phone number.

I also have the opportunity on this page to check and change the audience for posts that in the past I may have set as accessible to public or friends of friends. That will limit any future access to those posts of mine, but it will have no impact at all on the people who have already seen them.

I have set the visibility of my friends list to ‘friends’. I thought about setting it to ‘only me’ because that gives me the tightest control, but this is a social medium after all, and I don’t mind my friends knowing who I have as a friend.

I don’t want to find myself showing up on a variety of search engines and so I have selected ‘no’ when asked if I want search engines other than Facebook to see me.

As an adult, I have the right to make my Facebook life as open or as closed as I choose. I made a decision a long time ago to restrict my friends to people I had actually met face to face. This changed when I discovered a very small number of people on forums with whom I had been exchanging ideas over an extended period.

I have allowed ‘friends of friends’ to send friend requests and sometimes I regretfully reject requests from people I have never met. These requests can arise because I have commented on a friend’s post and one of their friends is interested in my comment and would like to interact more with me. But I don’t want hundreds of friends on my personal Facebook page. I want the concept of ‘friend’ to bear some similarity in the digital world to its meaning in the physical world. On the other hand I know there may be a few exceptions.

Finally, if you look again at the panel on the left you will see the ‘blocking’ link. Select that and see how you can remove people who are becoming tiresome, offensive or threatening. This is perhaps the control we need to point out more than any other to our children. I read with dismay the stories of people being bullied online. It’s hard to be bullied by someone if you no longer listen to them. If I find myself being insulted, abused or bullied online I have options.

If I started the thread, I can delete it.

If there is a particular person being objectionable, I can block them.

Grown-ups and kids

As an adult, I can choose for myself how private I want to be. I like my privacy, but I also like to share thoughts and experiences with others. My privacy settings reflect that.

Our children need to be kept safe until they are old enough and wise enough to judge people and their own safety. Until that time I advise setting privacy to ‘friends’ only, and to emphasize the ability to delete and block.

You can find our book on Amazon and Book Depository


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TRUGS and what it means to “teach reading”?

If I gave you a list of foreign words, taught you the generally applicable rules for decoding those words, then invented a game to let you practice this decoding, would you be able to read a novel written in that language?

Would I have taught you how to read in that language?

How about these words? I’ll teach you how to pronounce every one, then give you a poem written in this language:

noll, fyra, femte, atta, tjugoforsta, tjugo, tolv, arton, tack, hejsan, kvall, nej … and so on

Could you read it?

Or could you just ‘word call’ it – make every word sound just right but have no idea what the piece was about?

In other words, is learning to pronounce single words correctly, without any syntactic or semantic, context really reading?

Of course not!

Reading is about making meaning and without any syntactic or semantic cues individual words have wavering, shifting meanings, and sometimes no meaning at all.

So why is it that a card game that helps children to decode individual words, devoid of meaning or context, called ‘Teaching Reading Using Games’ or TRUGS?

Quite simply it is NOT a reading game. It’s a coding game. And reading is about far more than coding and decoding.

The game is fine, and the ability to decode words through phonemic analysis and the application of grapho-phonic rules is an important skill, but let’s not pretend that playing the game is the same as teaching reading.

In an article in The New Yorker of June 3, 2013, Adam Alter writes:

“These studies suggest a sort of linguistic Heisenberg principle: as soon as you label a concept, you change how people perceive it.”

Names are powerful. The change the way we think.

So please, let’s not call this game TRUGS.

It doesn’t teach reading.

It is a great decoding game.

How about calling it Teaching Decoding Using Games  instead? TDUGS?

You can read more about this here:


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Teach for America/Australia is the equivalent of rice and fresh water.

I try not to be controversial. Today I will fail.

I have just read this in one of the more respected Australian newspapers:

“The government is also planning to increase the number of Victorians in the Teach for Australia program, which accelerates non-teaching graduates into disadvantaged schools.”

This is a spin off from the American program “Teach For America” and it has siblings in other countries around the world including the UK.

This initiative takes high performing graduates from pretty much any discipline and places them in disadvantaged schools after a six week orientation course during the summer. The idea is that they will teach from the beginning, but under the guidance and support of more experienced and highly skilled teachers.

We all know that disadvantaged schools could benefit from more teachers, smaller classes and more individual attention, so what’s the problem?

Well, look at it this way. We have long waiting lines in many hospitals for orthopaedic surgery, so maybe we need to fast track some surgeons. Give a high flying archaeology graduate a six week crash course in hip replacement and a mentor to provide a bit of pre and post op advice and we’re hunky dory. In some communities there is a lack of police, so let’s get an A grade English student, giver her six week’s training, a gun, a set of handcuffs and a police car and the community will be safe. Can’t find a mechanic to fix the electrics on your car? We need to fast track a few Fine Arts graduates. And so it goes.

If this sounds crazy in each of these professions, why is it OK for teaching?

To make matters worse, these graduates are placed in disadvantaged schools, where teachers are already under extreme pressure simply trying to keep up with the academic, social and emotional needs of their students. Additionally these schools are often under resourced with top notch teachers. The best teachers have the choice of the best schools. I have had first hand experience of how hard it is to attract first rate teachers into a super challenging school environment.

We know from experience in the USA that Teach for America graduates tend to burn out fast. Their initial contract is for only two years and there is frequently a high turnover as they return to their original career paths, fortified by the experiences they have gained in these low income, disadvantaged, struggling schools. One of the greatest advantages of this fast turn over is that school districts save money because they avoid the salary increases that come as employees attain greater seniority.

Teach for America, Teach for Australia and all the other manifestations of this short cut to teaching are dismal examples of our lack of understanding about what quality teaching needs. They demean and undermine the profession of teaching in a way that would never be countenanced by any other profession. It grows out of the misapprehension that since everyone has been to school, everyone can teach, as long as they are smart enough.

If a six week trained teacher in a disadvantaged school is getting better results than a fully trained teacher then I suggest we need to look closely at the fully trained teachers. A starving child may do better on some rice and fresh water, but that doesn’t comprise a balanced, healthy diet. A balanced healthy education needs teachers with the full range of skills and knowledge, just as a balanced healthy diet needs the full range of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

Teach for America/Australia is the equivalent of rice and fresh water.


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Handwriting – the beauty of variation

Keyboards are everywhere. I marvel at the speed with which my own kids manage to pump out text on a full sized keyboard or with their thumbs on a smart phone. In the USA there is a growing debate about whether or not children need to be formally taught cursive writing. The new Common Core State Standards do not mandate its teaching. In Australia we have seen frequent discussions about the problems faced by final year high school students being required to write extended passages long hand in exams, when they are unused to the practice during their school year. They feel they lack fluency and their hands ache!

For some years now I have been troubles by the weird and wonderful ways in which I see young adults holding pens and pencils. They look awkward and they revert to keyboards as soon as practicable.

When I taught grade one and two children  a major part of my curriculum was teaching them how to hold their pencils efficiently and how to form letters that would lead to fluent, legible, effortless handwriting. The refrigerators in the homes of my students were festooned with examples of their early attempts.

There are those who regard this particular learning process as a waste of time,  as clinging to an old, outmoded technology.

I disagree!

How often do we set things that are essentially different up against each other for comparison and competition?

Which is better, the movie or the book?

Which side of the brain is most important, the left or the right?

Who is smarter, men or women?

Which do you prefer, oysters or chocolate cake?

Which is better, a photographic or a painted portrait?

These comparisons don’t work.

Neither does the question, ‘which should we teach, keyboarding or handwriting?’

There will always be a place for the handwritten, just as there will always be a place for the painted.

Just because a child can easily take a photograph of a tree doesn’t mean that we should not give him the opportunity to draw or paint a tree. There is something about the artist that is revealed in a painting, a personal response to the subject matter and a reinterpretation of the literal truth that comes about when a subject is painted or drawn.

So it is with handwriting.

We know that every person’s handwriting is unique. Why? Because the movements of the pen on paper are influenced by the character and experiences of the writer. They keyboard gives us the vocabulary and the syntax. The pen gives us something of the person. Another manifestation of the marvelous variations between people can be seen in the formal, controlled and perfectly formed handwriting of one person, the tight, tiny, cramped writing of another and the expansive, impetuous scrawl of yet another.

Our handwriting is one of the things that proclaims our individuality.

How many of us hold dear the early attempts of our children to write us notes, the love letters of an early sweetheart or even the handwritten name of a long dead loved one in a favorite book of poems?

We seem to be very good at throwing out our babies with the bath water in education.

Let’s not do it again.

Let’s continue to teach our children the intimate, expressive art of handwriting as well as the efficient, expedient skill of keyboarding.

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