Tag Archives: teaching

Library, factory or smart phone?

I have just had the privilege of participating in five days of learning about ‘Classroom Instruction That Works’ by McREL. One of the nine research based and proven strategies to enhance student learning is looking for similarities and differences and the vcreation of metaphors is a powerful way to do this.

So, let’s have a shot at it!

Is your brain: A library?

Library

Do you somehow seem to inhabit a huge store of information and do you hunt for the place where what you need is stored every time you think? Is thinking about pulling the right ‘books’ off the right ‘shelves’ and then putting the contents of the books together in an operable amalgamation of what you know?

Or is it more like a factory?

Factory

Is your brain an incredibly complex manufacturing process? Do you feed in the raw materials of experience and perception, process them with the innate capacities of your mind and then produce thoughts, feeling and actions?

I suspect the closest metaphor for the brain is actually the smart phone.

smartphoneInside my Iphone I have a huge library of information that grows and changes every time I do anything with it. It is an electronic factory that processes every interaction it has with the world outside, be it via my keystrokes or because of its connection to the world through the internet.

The Iphone I pick up this morning will be subtly different from the Iphone I put down last night. New connections will have been made between programs, new updates will have appeared for my apps, bits and pieces will have been coming and going through the night as the internet itself has changed and grown.

My Iphone is a plastic, dynamic accumulation of interconnections housed in some protective hardware – a case that protects it from the knocks and accidents the world can inflict.

It’s amazing, but its nowhere near as powerful as the human brain.

Imagine the possibilities when we combine the power of our brains with the power of the smart phone, the tablet and the internet.

As part of my work with McREL I had the thrilling experience of visiting a primary school on Friday where those possibilities are opening up.

Every classroom had an Apple TV. The kids had Ipads and Iphones on their tables. They used them to research, to check word meanings and spellings, to share their work with others and with the class. These devices were becoming as common place as paper, pencils, and books in these classrooms. But I was aware, as were the teachers, that they are only skimming the surface.

Imagine the opportunities these media will provide as they extend children’s brain power into the internet, as they provide tools for collaboration and demonstration, as they extend the possibilities for creative, innovative thought beyond the here and now.

It makes we wish I was forty years younger so I could be around in another forty years and look at the world these kids will have created.

I am an optimist!

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Bricklaying vs networking

How do we teach kids to read?

Many practices reflect the bricklaying model of reading. The act of reading is made up of several bricks – the phonemic awareness brick, the alphabet brick, the grapho-phonic brick, the sight words bricks, and all the other decoding bricks.
bricklayers-Southend
As long as each brick was laid straight and firm we were pretty confident that our kids would learn to read. We have all seen reading taught like this. “Today we are going to learn about long a”, and the teacher compiles lists of words with the long a sound, shows the children texts in which they identify the long a sound, and then they move on to short a. Another brick is being laid.

As our understanding of the brain develops and with it our understanding of learning, and more particularly our understanding of LANGUAGE learning we discover that learning to read isn’t like building a brick wall at all.

Its far more like growing a network.  social_networks2 (1)

Which brings me to my point – remember Whole Language?

Remember the people who advocated for teaching language – reading, writing, speaking, listening – in an integrated manner, relating each to the other?

Whole Language advocates never suggested we don’t need to understand phonics, they never suggested that grammar has no place in language. What they did say was language is a network and needs to be taught as one, each part integrated with every other part.

It’s not rocket science, and it’s certainly not brick laying.

Let’s look again at how kids learn best, by immersing them in the complexity and helping them make sense of it. We begin with the experience and then we help them discover the rules and procedures that enable them to make sense of the experience in a brain compatible manner.

Kids learn to read by reading just as they learn to ride bikes by getting on them and working it out.

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Why I am kicking myself now.

There are moments when my conscience strikes a killer blow. It happened to me when my son was in his second year at university and clearly facing a few challenges. I knew he was a very intelligent young man (as are all our sons, right?) but his grades did not seem to reflect his ability.

I asked a question that I really should have asked years before. I’m an educator. I’m a parent. Why hadn’t I woven the two together into a seamless whole? Human? Fallible? Guilty to both.

So, what was the question?

“How do you study? How do you read the text book?”

His answer floored me.

“I just read it!” he said, with a look of incredulity that I should ask such an obvious question.

After a moment’s thought I asked him “Do you use a pen or a highlighter? What sort of notes do you take? How do you transfer the material in the book into your working memory?”

He had no clear idea what I was talking about.

Why hadn’t I realized years ago that in 14 years of formal schooling no one had ever actually taught him HOW TO LEARN?

He had been taught mathematics, geography, history, poetry, wood and metal working, literacy … but he had never been systematically, developmentally and consistently taught HOW TO LEARN.

If he was at school today he would be systematically taught how to pass tests. That’s not the same as being taught how to learn. That’s just about how to perform in a task and a context that has virtually nothing to do with life anywhere other than in the classroom. Learning to pass tests is a closed system confined to the school and of no value to the creative thinker and independent, life long learner in the world outside.

What should he have been taught?

At least he should have been taught how to interrogate a text, how to recast the information into graphic form, how to isolate the main points and the supporting points, how to create a mind map that integrates the new information with what he already knew, how to identify new vocabulary and build up a word bank of all the words that belong to that family and understand the threads of meaning that make them family (electricity, electric, electrician, electron, electronic, electromagnetic and so on) and how to formulate questions that demonstrated what he did understand and revealed what he didn’t.

At least he should have been taught that to “just read it” guarantees that the information will be here today and gone tomorrow.

But most importantly he should have been taught how to be a metacognitive, self aware learner. A learner who understands how he learns best, who can monitor his own learning and understanding, who can adjust his learning strategies when he finds what he is doing isn’t working as well as it could, that learner is well on the way to becoming a life long, independent learner.

In our book “Developing Mindful Students, Skillful Thinkers, Thoughtful Schools” we explore and demystify the importance of metacognition and provide a wealth of practical suggestions for the classroom.

And that makes my conscience trouble me even more.

Why didn’t I know all this when my kids were young?

Why didn’t I monitor what was happening at school more closely?

How did 14 years go by without me realizing that my son didn’t know how to learn effectively because no one had ever taught him?

Maybe that is why I am so passionate about it now.

 

 

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A teacher? You can do so much better.

In San Francisco today, i overheard a conversation between two women on the train. One was discussing her daughter, who she described as studying environmental science, loving every minute of it and being very successful in her studies.

She then commented that her daughter had suggested teaching as a career.

“Teaching? You can do so much better than that” she had told her daughter.

Her mother’s friend added her perspective. “Why would she want to be a teacher when she could be a real scientist? Teaching is something she could always go into later, when she is older.”

I bristled when I heard the words “Teaching? She could do so much better.”

Therein lie our problems. Teaching is seen as a career for those who can’t do any better.

I refuse to mention F#*^%nd again so soon. The place where it is harder to be a teacher than to be a doctor.

Until we fix this perception of teachers we will never fix our educational system.

Fixing this problem is complex and it will take a very long time. When will someone have the courage to start?

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Corwin Common Core Institute

Around 850 participants. We will presenting two sessions of two hours each. I am very excited by the opportunity to learn from the other Corwin authors and I look forward to sharing what I learn on this blog. Let’s get the show on the road!

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