Tag: learning (page 7 of 10)

Things I learned this week – #4

CC BY cooldudeandy01

On a personal level, I learned that when taking a toddler on a trip to somewhere (reasonably) far away like the National Railway Museum it’s always a good idea to ensure they have a very good sleep the night before, and to take a buggy. Even if you think they’re too big for it… 😮

Top 3

Tech.

  • Some (big-name) people have had problems with their Twitter page outranking their personal blog or website. Lifehacker, as you would expect, has aquick-and-easy fix (which I’ve already carried out here!)
  • I got my hands on a Pro code for BumpTop, the 3D desktop app, this week. I concluded it’s ‘interesting’ rather than useful.
  • My mother’s in the market for a point-and-shoot digital camera, so this warning by Lifehacker to stay under 7 megapixels to avoid photo noise and diffraction in such devices is timely!
  • I love this video of mini-ninjas unboxing the Google Nexus One. Best. Unboxing. Video. Ever. 😀
  • YouTube has a multi-video uploader (I found out thanks to this post). Unfortunately, it would seem that Google Gears – which powers it – isn’t yet compatible with Mac OSX Snow Leopard?!
  • Charles Leadbeater has an article in The Guardian in which he expresses concern (quite rightly) about corporate control of cloud computing. You get what you pay for, I suppose…
  • RockYou, who provide apps and services for Facebook users, had a security breach recently and user account details were stolen. An analysis reveals, worryingly that some of the top passwords included ‘12345’, ‘123456’, 123456789′ and ‘password’. Unbelievable! 😮
  • Ethan from Flowtown.com got in touch to make me aware of what they do. Put in an email address, get details from various social networking (and other sites) about the person that owns it. Here’s what it has to say about me (not all correct!):

My (slightly incorrect) profile on Flowtown.com

(I don’t live in Doncaster any more and I’m not on Facebook…)

Cloud computing will grow faster than almost all other tech sectors, but it is not taking over the world because of concerns over reliability and security.

  • Stephen Downes has produced an interesting visual overview of how ideas diffuse in the blogosphere in 2010 compared to 2005 (see above). I’d contend that it’s a bit more complicated than that – as a commenter points out, there’s no mention of Facebook. And what about half-way houses like Posterous? And Delicious/Diigo networks?
  • If, as I kept getting this week, you get the WordPress ‘Fatal Error: Allowed Memory Size’ error, here’s what to do!

Productivity & Inspiration

Education & Academic

  • According to another study, kids spend 53 hours a week on media, apparently (via TechXAV):
  • D’Arcy Norman defined educational technology as “whatever stuff you need to use to support the practice of effective teaching and learning”. That’ll do for me! (via OLDaily)
  • Ludoliteracy is a book about games in education. It’s a free PDF download. (via OLDaily)
  • Will Richardson makes a good point: this is the first generation of students not to have a choice about using technology in their learning.
  • In the UK, languages are becoming ‘twilight subjects’ in state schools.
  • There is no adequate evidence for ‘learning styles’ (via @hjarche). Stephen Downes would argue (I think) that no evidence doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but I’d defend myself with Occam’s Razor… 😉

Data, Design & Infographics

  • This video games by the numbers infographic is interesting. The average age of gamers is 32 and the average amount of time playing per week 18 hours, so I’m still justified in ramping it up! 😉
  • I like this hand-drawn overview of the electromagnetic spectrum (via Cool Infographics):

  • Digital access varies hugely worldwide, according to this graphic.
  • I’ve never heard of the term ‘information architecture’ before, but these are some useful resources! 😀
  • Google Earth can be used for stunning data visualizations (via datavisualization.ch):

Misc.

Quotations

He who knows enough is enough, will always have enough. Lao Tzu

It is never to late to be what you might have been. George Elliot

The man who is swimming against the stream knows the strength of it. Woodrow Wilson

Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils. Louis Hector Berlioz

Knowledge will give you power, but character, respect. Bruce Lee

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning. Louis L’Amour

Disconnecting from change does not recapture the past. It loses the future. Kathleen Norris

And finally, as Nick Bilton from the New York Times states, and (appropriately) Scott McLeod links to, we’re all human aggregators now:

If someone approached me even five years ago and explained that one day in the near future I would be filtering, collecting and sharing content for thousands of perfect strangers to read – and doing it for free – I would have responded with a pretty perplexed look. Yet today I can’t imagine living in a world where I don’t filter, collect and share.

More important, I couldn’t conceive of a world of news and information without the aid of others helping me find the relevant links.

Learning Score

Just to mix things up a bit, I thought I’d do this as a series of videos – it seemed appropriate to the subject matter. Learning Score is a visual planning tool for educators. And. It. Rocks. :-p

  1. Official promotional video
  2. My quick overview
  3. Planning a lesson from scratch in 10 mins

1. Official promotional video

2. My quick overview

3. Planning a lesson from scratch in 10 mins

You can get a 14-day free trial at http://www.learningscore.org/trial, but if you’re quick you can get a longer trial at http://www.learningscore.org/bett! 😀

Things I learned this week – #1

This is the first of a planned weekly series in which I reflect on what I’ve learned during the previous 7 days. As I explained in My digital reading workflow these links are culled from blogs and tweets I read.

Happy New Year! Feeling guilty because you haven’t made a New Year’s Resolution? Perhaps you could try the New Year’s Resolution Generator! (via swissmiss) It came up with ‘This year I will… declutter’ which seemed most prescient for me. 🙂  I’ve already made my Commitments for 2010 but for those who need things broken down step-by-step, they could do worse I suppose than try out mySomeday (via Mashable). Oh, and Zen Habits claims to have The Definitive Guide to Sticking to Your New Year’s Resolutions. 😀

Before I go any further I must point you in the direction of this eye-candy:

The Known Universe by the American Museum of Natural History zooms from the Himalayas to deep space (via FlowingData)

100 Extraordinary Examples of Paper Art (via BoingBoing)

While we’re on the subject of design, swissmiss had a useful blog post on Japanese design principles. There are seven basic principles:

  1. Fukinsei (imbalanced)
  2. Kanso (simple)
  3. Kokou (austere)
  4. Shizen (natural)
  5. Yugen (subtle profound)
  6. Datsuzoko (unworldly)
  7. Seijaku (calm)

I’d like to think that this blog has elements of 2, 5 and 7. 😉

Not that I write much any more, but I was interested to (re-)discover that some people claim to be able to tell whether a person’s handwriting is ‘male’ or ‘female’. To be fair, if they managed to decipher mine they would only be able to tell that it was ‘messy’… In other quirky news (for which BoingBoing is an excellent source), it turns out that “there are more people currently alive in Asia, Africa and Latin America than the total number of people who died—anywhere, and for any reason—during the entire 20th century.” Wow. More at Census of the dead, in infographic form.

It’s been 5 years, apparently, since Google first started blogging. They’ve no got so many blogs that it’s difficult to keep up with them all. If you, like me, are becoming overwhelmed by the unread items in your RSS reader, why not get everything delivered by email? If you’ve got a decent system (see my How I deal with email) it can be a very efficient way of keeping up-to-date. The trouble is, of course, that some blogs don’t have an subscribe-by-email option. That’s where FeedMyInbox is useful. Enter website URL and your email address and, hey presto! If you want a quick-and-easy way of getting all of the links from your Twitter followers, try ReadTwit. It creates an RSS feed of tweets that contain links from people you follow. You can put that through FeedMyInbox too. And if all that sounds like too much effort, why not try LazyFeed? (via @heyjudeonline) :-p

Talking of productivity, Hans de Zwart (who has recently been promoted to the cool-sounding Innovation Manager: Learning Technology) has a great post on The Influence of a Workspace on Performance. In it, Hans cites a book by Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness of which I wasn’t aware. His main thrust is highlighting the discrepancy between the exquisitely designed office space he works in, designed by David Leon, and the stupidity (his word) of being locked down to Windows 2000 and Internet Explorer 6. As Hans quotes David Leon as saying,

Innovation depends on bright people. These people cost more and are far more valuable than the buildings they occupy… but it is a proven fact that the environment in which they work has a major impact on their effectiveness.

For that reason we design workplaces and buildings round the needs of people and the business aims of their organisations.

He contends – and I agree – that should go for digital surroundings as well as physical surroundings. I recently reorganized my study, including building my own desk, to get things just right. 🙂

Motivation and productivity can be affected by surroundings, but a great deal of it comes from within. As Chris Guillebeau notes, there will always be people who say that you “can’t” do something. His reply (or rather, that of one of his readers) is:

Reading a lot of books is definitely a worthwhile thing to do, but one that takes dedication and motivation. How To Read a Book a Week in 2010 (via @chrisbrogan) is a useful reminder as to why setting yourself a definite target (e.g. one per week) is more useful than a hazy one (e.g. read more books).

And finally, some quotations I came across that I warmed to immediately. The first comes from a blog post on The Innovative Educator entitled My Top 20 Education Quotes from 2009:

Many of the most brilliant and creative people didn’t really discover what they could do and who they were until they’d left school and recovered from their education.

Minds are like parachutes – they only function when open. Thomas Dewar (via @timekord)

If you can find something everyone agrees on, it’s wrong – Mo Udall (via @russeltarr)

The only one thing I can change is myself, but sometimes that makes all of the difference. (via @Vincent_Ang)

Stuff to which I didn’t find a segue:

Can’t wait until next week? See the tweets I favourite in real-time at http://twitter.com/dajbelshaw/favorites

Research supporting collaborative, enquiry-based learning.

Model of Learning - Tools for TeachingOne of the great things of studying in the Education Library at Durham University (instead of at home, in my study) is the books I randomly stumble across. For example, I pulled Models of Learning – Tools for Teaching off the shelf today and it fell open at Chapter 7, entitled ‘Learning through cooperative disciplined inquiry.’

This is perfect for me. One of my Performance Management targets for this year – the one focused on my own classroom practices – is about piloting enquiry-based learning with one of my Year 7 History classes. In addition, I’ll (hopefully) be presenting with Nick Dennis at the SHP Conference in July 2010 on this very topic – including the way technology can help! :-p

It’s always good to have some scholarly research to back up one’s actions, so if you’re planning to do something similar here’s some quotations to help you!

The most stunning thing about teaching people to help kids learn cooperatively is that people don’t know how to do it as a consequence of their own schools and life in this society. And, if anything is genetically driven, it’s a social instinct. If it weren’t for each other, we wouldn’t even know who we are. (Herbert Thelen to Bruce Joyce, circa 1964) p.95

The chapter is based on case studies across the age range, but also contains this nugget on p.98-9:

The assumptions that underlie the development of cooperative learning communities are straightforward:

  1. The synergy generated in cooperative settings generates more motivation than do individualistic, competitive environments. Integrative social groups are, in effect, more than the sume of their parts. The feelings of connectedness produce positive energy.
  2. The members of cooperative groups learn from one another. Each learner has more helping hands than in a structure that generates isolation.
  3. Interacting with one another produces cognitive as well as social complexity, creating more intellectual activity that increases learning when contrasted with solitary study.
  4. Cooperation increases positive feelings towards one another, reduces alienation and loneliness, builds relationships, and provides affirmative views of other people.
  5. Cooperation increases self-esteem not only through increased learning but through the feeling of being respected and cared for by others in the environment.
  6. Students can respond to experience in tasks requiring cooperation by increasing their capacity to work together productively. In other words, the more children are given the opportunity to work together, the better they get at it, with benefit to their general social skills.
  7. Students, including primary school children, can learn from training to increase their ability to work together.

The authors go on to summarise the evidence about improved learning through collaboration on p.99:

Classrooms where students work in pairs and larger groups… are characterized by greater mastery of material than the common individual-study/recitation pattern. Also, the shared responsibility and interaction produce more positive feelings toward tasks… In other words, the results generally affirm the assumptions that underlie the use of cooperative learning methods.

It’s not hard to get started with cooperative learning (p.100):

[A]n endearing feature is that it is so very easy to organize students into pairs and triads. And it gets effects immediately. The combination of social support and the increase in cognitive complexity caused by the social interaction have mild but rapid effects on the learning of content and skills.

The authors dismiss claims from some teachers that ‘gifted students prefer to work alone’ as the evidence does not back this up (Joyce 1991; Slavin 1991). They believe it may rest on a misunderstanding of the relationship between individual and cooperative study; partnership still requires individual effort. There’s no need to be concerned about students’ ability to work together (p.101):

In fact, partnership s over simple tasks are not very demanding of social skills. Most students are quite capable of cooperating when they are clear about what has been asked of them.

The Teacher's ToolkitI’ll not go into them here, but the authors mention a number of ways in which teachers can foster ‘positive interdependence’. They also suggest the ‘division of labour’ into specializations. Instead of learning only a part of what every is supposed to be learning, they have found, ‘jigsaw’ activities and the like lead to more learning across the spectrum. Many of the activities they suggest are, in fact, featured alongside others in one of my favourite education-related books, The Teacher’s Toolkit.

The teacher’s role in cooperative learning moves from that of instructor to ‘counsellor, consultant and friendly critic.’ (p.107) The authors note that this ‘is a very difficult and sensitive’ role ‘because the essence of inquiry is student activity’. Teachers need to:

  • facilitate the group process
  • intervene in the group to channel its energy into potentially educative activities, and
  • supervise these educative activities so that personal meaning comes from the experience

The upshot of this is that ‘intervention by the teacher should be minimal unless the group bogs down seriously’ (p.107).

The authors suggest a 6-phase process for cooperative learning:

Phase 1 – Students encounter puzzling situation (planned or unplanned).

Phase 2 – Students explore reactions to the situation.

Phase 3 – Students formulate study task and organize for study (problem definition, role, assignments, etc.)

Phase 4 – Independent and group study.

Phase 5 – Students analyse progress and process.

Phase 6 – Recycle activity.

In conclusion, the authors note how universally cooperative group investigation can be used (p.111-2):

Group investigation is a highly versatile and comprehensive model of learning and teaching: it blends the goals of academic inquiry, social integration and social process learning. It can be used in all subject areas, and with all age levels, when the teacher desires to emphasize the formulation and problem-solving aspects of knowledge rather than the intake of preorganized, predetermined information.

Design the (e-)book cover for #movemeon!

I’m very pleased to see that other educators have run with the #movemeon idea I floated. There are now literally hundreds of tweets that have been tagged – you can view them in real-time here, or an archive here.

My favourite way of viewing them, is via visibletweets.com using the ‘rotation’ animation:

#movemeon viewed with visibletweets.com

Once we reach a significant number of tweets – I suggested 1,000 – then I’m going to collate them. Using the self-publishing service Lulu.com there will be a freely-downloadable e-book along with a book purchasable at cost price. 😀

I’ve put together a wiki at http://movemeon.wikispaces.com to depersonalise things – it’s about the ideas and the collaboration, not me, after all! You’ll find the same links as I’ve given above over there.

We do, of course, need a cover for the book and so it’s time to crowdsource that. On the wiki is a page with a template to provide your contribution. You know you can do better than my feeble effort, provided to get things started:

#movemeon cover idea

Please do share this with as many people as possible. Not only would I like the book to look as good as it can, but I’d like to make sure that as many educators as possible can tap into the wealth of tips and ideas that have been shared. I’ve certainly learned a lot! 😀

How I mark students’ books.

Marking books

I’d love to mark blogs (or even Google Wave) rather than exercise books. In my previous school I used Posterous-powered blogs with my Year 10 History class. However, in some situations it’s just not practical for various reasons. This isn’t the post to go into the ins and outs of why this is the case. This is the post that explains how I mark books with some justification behind my actions. One reason for putting my system online is to get feedback as to how I can improve it.

Let me just say right from the outset that I don’t mark as often as other teachers. Or as often as they claim to, anyway. In fact, during these half-term holidays is the first time I’ve marked my classes’ books this year. I would have ordinarily have liked to look at them before now (after 2-3 lessons) but setting up a new Academy kind eats into any free time you’ve got…

One more thing by way of context. It’s usual, but not universal, in England for Key Stage 3 students – whom I’m talking about here – to get one lesson of History (my subject) per week. Marking their books at the end of the half-term means they’ve got a maximum of 6 lessons work in there.

With that out of the way, let me explain how I go about marking. I do it in two ‘waves’:

First wave

Crap at History?

In the first wave I’m concentrating on the following:

  • Encouraging students
  • Completion of work
  • Understanding of key concepts
  • Spelling of key words
  • Factual errors (to correct)

If I notice a pattern across books (either all or a subset of them) then this informs my teaching and/or direction of Learning Support Assistants.

I used to mark in green, after hearing that some students find red a ‘confrontational’ colour. However, after having students in two separate schools complain about this, I’m back on the red. That’s handy, as green pens are more expensive and harder to get hold of!

Sometimes I fall into the trap of ‘ticking’ work. There’s really no point in this, but I do it to reassure students that I’ve seen a piece of work that doesn’t really require any comment. I focus my time and effort on things that are likely to make a difference to their learning. Sometimes this is reinforcing/correcting understanding of a key concept; sometime it’s encouraging a student; sometimes it’s drawing attention to spelling of key words. It depends on what you’re teaching and who the student is.

Second wave

Marking: the Second Wave

Once I’ve been through exercise books with a red pen, I revisit them (the ‘second wave’). The purpose of this is to:

  • Make a summative comment on how each individual student is doing.
  • Inform the student on work that’s missing from their book.
  • Highlight 3 ways they can improve.
  • Enter data into a grid showing homework completion.
  • Add notes, comments and indicative levels to my (online, Google Docs-powered) gradebook

Before I started to do this (or an iteration of it) I noticed that students wouldn’t read the comments I made on books. Having an obvious bookmark (such as that provided by the full-page feedback) gets them reading what I’ve said. By observing a colleague at my previous school I’ve also realised the importance of building time into a subsequent lesson to let them read what you’ve said. :-p

Conclusion

This marking system takes time. The thing that actually takes the most time is the chasing up of books that haven’t been handed in for marking, students who haven’t completed homework, and monitoring the catch-up work of absentees. Once students get used to the system, however, they seem to like it. After all, they know that I’ve been through their books carefully and given personalised feedback. They appreciate that. 🙂

Comments? Suggestions? Use the comments section below!

My presentation @ TeachMeet Midlands 2009

TeachMeet Midlands 2009

This evening I’ll be attending TeachMeet Midlands 2009 at the National College for School Leadership in Nottingham. If you’ve never heard of a TeachMeet before, they’re based around the idea of an unconference, ‘facilitated, participant-driven conference centered around a theme or purpose.’ (Wikipedia) I’ve been to a couple before – both of which were additions to the BETT Show – and they’re great events. There’s a fantastic buzz around the place, people passionate about what they do, and it’s a wonderful way to not only meet up with people you’ve only talked to online, but to come across new faces as well! 🙂

My (micro)presentation

I’ve signed up on the TeachMeet wiki to do a 7-minute micropresentation. Initially, I was going to talk about my role this year as E-Learning Staff Tutor and a bit about my Ed.D. on digital literacy. However, TeachMeets should be a lot more focused on classroom practice, so I’ve decided to instead talk about what I’ve been doing with my Year 10 History class.

This year I saw my having a new, fairly able GCSE History class as a good opportunity to try out some new methods and approaches to the course. As students at my school now have four lessons of their option subject per week instead of three, I decided to have one of them timetabled in an ICT suite. The room I was allocated has tiered seating and laptops, which was even better! :-p

After looking at various options, I decided to use Posterous for their homework blogs. Reasons for this include:

  • Blog posts can be written by email.
  • It deals with media in an ‘intelligent’ way (e.g. using Scribd to embed documents, making slideshows out of images)
  • Avatars allow for personalization.

I set almost no homework apart from on their blogs. This means that on a Friday they start an activity using (usually) a Web 2.0 service and then add it to their blog via embedding or linking. The only problem with this has been Posterous not supporting iFrames, meaning that Google Docs, for example have to be exported to PDF and then uploaded. Students are used to this now and it doesn’t really affect their workflow.

Examples of student work

Links to all blogs can be found at http://mrbelshaw.posterous.com

Student feedback

I should, perhaps, have asked for parental permission to video students’ opinions about this approach. From what they tell me, they greatly enjoy working on their blogs. In fact, a Geography teacher at school has hijacked one of my students’ blogs so she does work for both History and Geography on it! I think they appreciate the following things:

  • Presentation (a lot easier, especially for boys, to produce good-looking work)
  • Multimedia (they’re not looking at paper-based stuff all the time)
  • Collaboration (they get to work with others whilst still having ‘ownership’ of the final product on their blogs)

It’s a system that I’d definitely recommend and I shall be using in future! 😀

Short URL for this post (for Twitter, etc.) = http://bit.ly/4jD6V

Schools and the Procrustean Bed: are we really ‘personalising’ learning?

‘There is something about the Procrustean bed about schools; some children are left disabled by being hacked about to fit the curriculum; some are stretched to take up the available space, others less malleable are labeled as having special educational needs.’ (C. Bowring-Carr and J. Burnham West)

Procrustean BedI mentioned the above quotation in a blog post way back in 2006. I was concerned then about the various ‘agendas’ in education, and that’s even more the case today. The ‘personalising learning’ agenda is supposed to be about tailoring educational experiences to each and every child yet, in 2009, we still have classes of 30 or more children with one teacher standing in front of them. The focus seems to have moved onto technology as some type of ‘saviour’. In that respect, it’s sad to see Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), compulsory in English schools since the beginning of this academic year, being used simply as file repositories.

Whilst some schools may talk about ‘appropriate’ or ‘accelerated’ entry, it’s difficult to see how this is in the best interests of students. In most cases it’s a strategy for schools to squeeze as many exam passes from their students as possible: whilst those studying the highest level of exams have extra lessons in those subjects, those at the other end of the spectrum are re-taking basic examinations until they pass them. It’s hard to see how this completely examination-focused approach is ‘personalisation’ in any important, meaningful sense.

What is needed is a complete rethink – of the curriculum (based on competencies?), of learning spaces (like any of these Futurelab suggestions?), of the structure of the school day, of staff/students ratios and relationships, of the nature of ‘schooling’ and education in the 21st century.

What do YOU think? Is ‘personalisation’ working in YOUR school?

(image taken from this university course page – assumed fair use)

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Flow and the Autotelic Classroom

PositiviteitI’ve mentioned the concept of ‘Flow’ recently after reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal work Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. As is often the case with books that are discussed a lot, on the front cover it has a quotation indirectly urging you to buy it. In this case it’s an accurate and brief exhortation from a New York Times review:

Important… Illuminates the way to happiness.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I thought. But after reading it, I can confirm that it’s a life-changing book. I’d add the qualifier “at least for me,” but it would seem that pretty much everyone who’s read it agrees. 😀

flow_bookBeing a teacher by both trade and vocation I have, of course, thought of the implications of the concept of ‘Flow’ for my classroom. How can I promote Flow states in my students? There’s certainly a lot of institutional things that militate against it in the average secondary school – not least the ringing of the school bell every 50 minutes! 😮

I was looking through Csikszentmihalyi’s book for a succinct definition of what ‘autotelic’ means, but he teases out the concept throughout his work. That’s not at all a criticism, as he does it well, but it does make it rather difficult to get across in the space of a blog post! Autotelic comes from two Greek words – auto (self) and telos (goal) and ‘refers to a self-contained activity, one that is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward.’ (p.67) I think the current Wikipedia definition of Autotelic explains the term a little better:

Autotelic is used to describe people who are internally driven, and as such may exhibit a sense of purpose and curiosity. This determination is an exclusive difference from being externally driven, where things such as comfort, money, power, or fame are the motivating force.

These externally-driven motivating forces are known as exotelic, with Csikszentmihalyi keen to point out that most things we do involve combinations of autotelic and exotelic factors.

If this difference obtains in the real world – and I think that it does – then it is vitally important that we educate young people how to become more autotelic and therefore achieve Flow states. The idea of Flow is perhaps best summed up by this graph (many thanks to Wes Fryer for making it available under a Creative Commons license via Flickr and including it in his blog post from 2006)

Flow graph

I believe that any educator seeing the above graph for the first time will see something they recognise: the fine line between creating a learning activity and experience that is too easy, too hard, involves too much challenge or involves anxiety for the learner.

The state of Flow, Csikszentmihalyi states, is not good in and of itself, but ‘because it increases the strength and complexity of the self.’ There are good and bad forms of Flow: for example the Marquis de Sade ‘perfected the infliction of pain into a form of pleasure’, but then almost everything and anything can be either good or bad depending on context. In the classroom, allowing one student to achieve a Flow state should not be to the detriment of another.

Csikszentmihalyi sets out four ways in which those who have developed autotelic habits can transform ‘potentially entropic experience[s]’ into Flow states. These quotations are taken from pages 209 to 213.

1. Setting goals

A person with an autotelic self learns to make choices… without much fuss and the minimum of panic… As soon as the goals and challenges define a system of action, they in turn suggest the skills necessary to operate within it… And to develop skills, one needs to pay attention to the results of one’s actions – to monitor the feedback… One of the basic differences between a person with an autotelic self and one without it is that the former knows that it is she who has chosen whatever goal she is pusuing. What she does is not random, nor is it the result of outside determining forces.

2. Becoming immersed in the activity

After choosing a system of action, a person with an autotelic personality grows deeply involved with whatever he is doing… To do so successfully one must learn to balance the opportunities for action with the skills one possesses… To achieve involvement with an action system, one must find a relatively close mesh between the demands of the environment and one’s capacity to act.

Involvement is greatly facilitated by the ability to concentrate. People who suffer from attentional disorders, who cannot keep their minds from wandering, always feel left out of the flow of life. They are at the mercy of whatever stray stimulus happens to flash by. To be distracted against one’s will is the surest sign that one is not in control.

3. Paying attention to what is happening

Concentration leads to involvement, which can only be maintained by constant inputs of attention.

Having an autotelic self implies the ability to sustain involvement. Self-consciousness, which is the most common source of distraction, is not a problem for such a person. Instead of worrying about how he is doing, how he looks from the outside, he is wholeheartedly committed to his goals.

4. Learning to enjoy immediate experience

The outcome of having an autotelic self… is that one can enjoy life even when objective circumstances are brutish and nasty. Being in control of the mind means that literally anything that happens can be a source of joy.

To achieve this control, however, requires determination and discipline. Optimal experience is not the result of a hedonistic, lotus-eating approach to life… [instead] one must develop skills that stretch capacities, that make one become more than what one is.

Conclusion

How does one go about starting to seek Flow activities? As Csikszentmihalyi quite rightly points out, it does not really matter where one starts, as you will end up at the same place:

The elements of the autotelic personality are related to one another by links of mutual causation. It does not matter where one starts – whether one chooses goals first, develops skills, cultivates the ability to concentrate, or gets rid of self-consciousness. One can start anywhere, because once the flow experience is in motion the other elements will be much easier to attain.

This will be a relief to educators, like me, who have control only over what goes on in their classroom. We can help make a difference! How?

  • Build goal-setting and target-achieving into the work we do on a weekly basis. Make students feel the ‘buzz’ of having planned for, and achieved, something.
  • Develop concentration skills. Build up students’ ability to focus on details for greater periods of time gradually over a series of lessons.
  • Get students involved. Don’t let them just sit in the corner and be passive. Help them to play an active role in what goes on in your classroom. Involve them in their own learning!
  • Share instances with students of when you have had to overcome adversity to achieve something. At a time when people are feeling down, give them something to be cheerful about. Model autotelic behaviour. 🙂

If that’s whetted your appetite, I’d encourage you to invest in the book and watch this video of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in action at the TED Conference (2004)

What are your views on Flow? Are you au fait with Csikszentmihalyi’s work? Add your views in the comments. 🙂

(Image by JasperVisser @ Flickr)

More on Teaching as a Subversive Activity

As part of my ongoing research for my Ed.D. thesis on the concept of digital literacy and what it means to be ‘educated’ in the 21st century, I’ve been revisiting musings on the purpose of education.

One of my favourite education-related books of all time is Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity. Whilst some of the examples in the book are no longer so culturally relevant, the main thrust of it was so ahead of it’s time that today, nearly 40 years later, we’ve still not caught up!

Here’s my paraphrase of one of my favourite sections. It comes towards the middle of the book in a chapter entitled ‘New Teachers’. Postman and Weingartner set out to ‘put before you a list of proposals that attempt to change radically the nature of the existing school environment.’ (p.137):

1. Stop buying textbooks

I’m absolutely with Postman and Weingartner on this one. As they put it, ‘texts are not only boring but based on the assumption that knowledge exists prior to, independent of, and altogether outside of the learner.’ The authors were writing in 1969, before the Internet. How much more is this the case in 2008? Of course, as with most things discussed here, such a move would have to be done en masse – either whole-school in the case of an independent school or academy, or local authority-wide in the case of state schools.

2. Get teachers to ‘teach’ subjects other than those in which they are ‘specialists’

I like this one. I teach ICT, although I don’t particularly enjoy teaching it. I’ve also taught English and Geography in my four-and-a-bit years of teaching. My degree was in Philosophy and my MA in Modern History. I think it’s really important for teachers to see the ‘bigger picture’ and not develop a parochial attitude towards their subject.

Postman and Weingartner talk of ‘the desire of teachers to get something they think they know into the heads of people who don’t know it’ and how teachers teaching subjects other than their specialism would put a stop to this. I think there’s less of the lecturing and narrow-mindedness these days due to there being more of a focus on skills, but I still think things could be shaken up a bit.

3. Transfer all primary school teachers to secondary schools and vice-versa

This would be great! Not only would we get much more of an insight as to what goes on, but we’d get a chance to experiment with different approaches. I read the blogs of a few primary school teachers (including Tom Barrett’s) and my wife teaches part-time in a primary school. I have somewhat of an insight, but I’d love to have an opportunity to teach, say, Year 5 or Year 6 for a week. I think that’s all it would need to be to still be an eye-opener! :-p

4. Make every teacher who thinks they know their ‘subject’ well to write a book on it

Thankfully, I don’t think this is necessary in the 21st century. Those who feel like they need to force their opinions on others can just blog… 😉

5. Dissolve ‘subjects’ and ‘courses’

Hmmm… not entirely sure about this one. I can see the reasoning behind it – it would potentially ‘free [teachers] to concentrate on their learners’. As I was reading recently, the lack of trust of teachers has led to a situation where anything that can’t easily be measured and assessed isn’t valued. That needs to stop in order for us to bring creativity back into the average classroom.

6. Limit the amount of words teachers are allowed to utter in declarative and interrogative sentences

Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I can see the point.

7. Prohibit teachers from asking any questions they already know the answers to

This would lead to a vastly different approach to teaching and learning. To use an awful phrase, the teacher moves from the ‘sage on the stage’ to the ‘guide on the side’. That is to say that the teacher wears his or her learning credentials and ability on their sleeve. With the type of (online) real-world publishing available these days, there’s no need for rote and stale learning.

8. Declare a moratorium on all tests and grades

Hallelujah! I’m forced to teach to the test. My GCSE History results were poor last year, therefore I’ve got to focus on exam skills, hammering home content as well week after week. At Key Stage 3 we have at least three tests per year for which I’ve got to prepare students. They’re very content-heavy and I see most classes for one 50-minute period per week, so I’m somewhat hide-bound.

Comment-only marking and fewer, lower-stakes tests would liberate me. I’d really start to enjoy my teaching again, seeing it as a learning journey with students. 😀

9. Require teachers to undergo some form of psychological counselling

At first this sounds like Postman and Weingartner having a dig at teachers. That’s actually not the case. I like to think of myself as a fairly reflective person, having studied Philosophy for most of my adult life. One does come across colleagues, however, who seem to have chosen teaching for all the wrong reasons, or have stress/relationship/other issues. As the authors put it, the purpose would be ‘to give teachers an opportunity to gain insight into themselves, particularly into the reasons they are teachers.’

10. Classify teachers according to their ability and make the lists public

Harsh! In the USA, some states pay teachers more based on the qualifications they hold. Independent schools in England certainly take it into account when employing people. Qualifications have only a tenuous relationship to ‘intellectual ability’ (whatever that is) but at least it shows a willingness to continue learning.

11. Require all teachers to take a test prepared by students

This is a great idea! It would mean that teachers would have to stay up-to-date (in some respects) with youth culture, which would in turn inform their teaching. 🙂

12. Make all classes optional and withold teacher’s pay if no students choose to go to their classes

They do this, I believe, at the controversial Summerhill School. As with some of the other points above, it would require a whole different mindset and a debate on the purpose of education which we haven’t had for a long time. It could have the negative side of making teachers who pander to the whims and fancies of teenagers the most popular. However, if there are some sort of checks and balances, I suppose it could work…

13. Require teachers to take a one-year leave of absence every fourth year to work in a field other than education

Postman and Weingartner pour scorn on those who ‘simply move from one side of the desk (as students) to the other side (as teachers)’. Well, I’m one of them. I’d love to have experience in another field, but find it difficult to know where to look and feel it would damage my career (such as it is) were I to come back into teaching. Such a scheme would, as the authors state, ‘evidence, albeit shaky, that the teacher has been in contact with reality at some point in his life.’ Of course, one has to define what ‘reality’ is and I’m not so sure that the authors’ recommendations of ‘bartender, cab driver, garment worker, waiter’ are so relevant these days… :-p

14. Make teachers provide some sort of evidence that he or she has had a loving relationship with at least one other human being

Well… I can sort of see the point. But really?

15. Require all the graffiti found in schools to be reproduced on large paper and be hung in the school halls

These days, especially given the current fad for ‘student voice’, learners have lots of opportunities to voice their opinions. I don’t believe this particular suggestion would be helpful! 😮

16. Certain words and phrases should be prohibited

The authors suggest the following: teach, syllabus, covering ground, I.Q., makeup, test, disadvantaged, gifted, accelerated, enhancement, course, grade, score, human nature, dumb, college material, and administrative necessity.

I’d add the following: Ofsted, value-added, Fischer Family Trust, performance management, and residuals

CONCLUSION

I enjoyed going through this list again. My 3 recommendations from it:

  1. Allow more flexibility in teaching – primary teachers in secondary, and vice-versa. Teachers from one subject sitting in and team-teaching where appropriate in subjects where they are not ‘experts’.
  2. Create meaningful assessments, ones that don’t reward regurgitation and aren’t high-stakes.
  3. Stop schools’ reliance on textbooks. I’d plough the money into 1-to-1 netbook programmes for all students!

What are YOUR thoughts?

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