Monday, 21 July 2008

Working with adults

Working with adults is challenging. I was thinking about this recently when someone asked me about my thoughts on coaching teachers and I remembered a list of statements, about working with adults, produced by Robin Fogarty and Brian Pete.

Here they are. See if you agree or disagree:

1 Adults seek learning experiences to cope with life-changing events.
2 For adults, learning is its own reward.
3 Adults prefer survey courses to single concept classes.
4 Adults want to use new materials.
5 Adults are quick to re-evaluate old material.
6 Adults prefer to learn alone.
7 Adults prefer to sit and be taught.
8 Adults prefer 'how to' trainings.
9 An eclectic approach works best with adults.
10 Non-human learning (books, TV,) is popular in adult learning.
11 Adults don't like problem-centred learning.
12 Adults carry reservoirs of personal experiences.
13 'Real world' exercises are preferred.
14 Adults let their schoolwork take second place to jobs and family.
15 Adults transfer ideas and skills easily into their work setting.
16 Adults are self directed learners.
17 Facilitation of groups works better than lecture formats with adults.
18 Adults expect their class time to be well-spent.
19 Adult learners are voluntary, self-directed learners.
20 Adults are pragmatic learners.

Sources: (Knowles 1973, Zemke, 1995)

Point 10 might be different these days as the internet is not included. Malcolm Knowles focused his attention on the learner is his seminal peiece The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. his contention is that adult learners are an entity unto themselves.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Writing a six word story

During our end of term 2 holidays I heard an interview with Amy Hempel on Radio National she talked about short stories and quoted Gertrude Stein who once wrote a 4 word short story titled Longer: "She stayed away longer." Jill Wilson referred to the interview on her blog Chopping block. As a result of this I remembered the six word short story that Ernest Hemingway wrote: ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn.") and is said to have called it his best work. Is the story apocryphal? In Author! Screenwriter!: How to Succeed as a Writer in New York and Hollywood by Peter Miller on page 166:

More than thirty years ago at the beginning of my career, I had lunch with a well-established newspaper syndicator who told me the following story: Ernest Hemingway was lunching at the Algonquin, sitting at the famous “round table” with several writers, claiming he could write a six-word-long short story. The other writers balked. Hemingway told them to ante up ten dollars each. If he was wrong, he would match it; if he was right, he would keep the pot. He quickly wrote six words on a napkin and passed it around. The words were: “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.” Papa won the bet: His short story was complete. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end!

Wired magazine asked sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers from the realms of books, TV, movies, and games to take a shot themselves. You can see the full list here: Wired six word short stories.

Here are some of my favourites:

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.- Margaret Atwood

The baby's blood type? Human, mostly. - Orson Scott Card

Bush told the truth. Hell froze.- William Gibson

Don't marry her. Buy a house. - Stephen R. Donaldson

Easy. Just touch the match to - Ursula K. Le Guin

Teacher Magazine decided to run a competition of their own after getting the idea from Smith magazine:

The six-word memoirs published by Smith include one from TV chef Mario Batali ("Brought it to a boil, often"); another from an anonymous student ("Deferred all math homework to Dad"), and this from a long-suffering English teacher: "Grading AP essays, I crave Tolstoy."

Here’s the specific question Teacher magazine used:

If you were writing a mini-memoir of your teaching life, what would your six words be? Your memoir might be funny, inspirational, profound, mundane, deeply true. Want to play? Mull it over, doodle with pen and napkin or your favorite digital tool, and post your memoir for all of us to read.

A few results:

They asked. I listened. We learned. (Majorie)

Life on the bell curve's edge. (Amy B)

Every day is a new adventure. (Amy E)

Reading creates new worlds—let's go! (David)

Exercised the muscle of the mind. (Nancy D)

Please, don't ask me for more! (Kim after a hard year)

No growth, no life. Struggling, soaring. (George)

This sure gets away from edubabble we often have to read and listen to as part of our working lives.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Is google making us learn differently?

Last week at a conference keynote presenter Tom March talked about the iPhone and showed clips of the things google can do. One idea I took from this was that he thinks that we need to change our thinking about how we organise schools and teaching.

Serendipitously on the way home I picked up the latest Atlantic Monthly and there emblazoned on the cover was 'Is google making us stupid?' This is an interesting article about the effects of the Internet on the brain; the contention is that the Internet has changed our thinking. The author Nicolas Carr says:

For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

On the other hand this seems like another world from the world many kids, that I see in schools, experience. On the one hand we have the amazing technology but on the other hand there are lots of kids struggling with basic reading and writing. I find that I'm often skimming and scanning through articles but I still take time to read BOOKS. As Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain says, deep reading is deep thinking.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Negotiating the curriculum nothing's really new

"Nothing's really new Sam." This was a statement made to me when I mentioned that I remember attempting to negotiate the curriculum in the 1980's after Garth Boomer's book 'Negotiating the Curriculum' was published.

Boomer's approach was essentially inquiry learning - issue or problem, question, hypothesis, test, and conclusion. Negotiating the curriculum adopted four questions:

1 What do we know already?

2 What do we want and need to find out

3 How will we go about finding out?

4 How will we know, and show, that we've found out when we have finished?

Pretty straight forward really and it stands the test of time.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Achieving outstanding numeracy outcomes

Searching for effective teaching practices to improve numeracy outcomes is a key factor in our current work in Victoria as Teaching and Learning Coaches. The report What’s ‘making the difference’?: achieving outstanding numeracy outcomes in NSW primary schools aimed to establish what educational practices make the difference in enabling primary school students to achieve outstanding numeracy learning outcomes and to explore to what extent and how such educational practices could be successfully transferred to other schools.

This project, undertaken between January 2001 and February 2004, set out to investigate which numeracy practices in NSW schools were achieving outstanding numeracy results. Effective numeracy practices were identified at 45 case study schools. Those practices were then trialled in other schools that wished to improve their numeracy outcomes. The trialling was supported by extensive professional development for teachers. Successful numeracy practices included:

The use of hand-on materials to support the understanding and development of numeracy concepts

Small group work to encourage discussion and exploration of ideas

Use of open-ended questions by both teachers and learners to establish, consolidate, extend, reinforce and reflect on concepts, skills and applications

Discussion during lessons to enable students to engage with and understand new and established mathematical concepts

Catering for individual needs of students through consistent and varied assessment, differentiated teaching and learning, and opportunities for interaction with the teacher or peers

Collaboration in planning between teachers which provided opportunities for innovative teaching and

Whole-school commitment to numeracy with all teachers implementing policies and programs consistently in all classrooms.

Schools trialling the successful numeracy practices found that a Key Group, usually supported by the school principal, was crucial in driving the project and in supporting continuing change at the school level. Continuity of teaching styles appeared to sustain and improve numeracy achievement. Schools which demonstrated greater than expected growth in numeracy achievement over the life of the project focused on either the language of mathematics or the use of practical resources to support concept development in numeracy. An important outcome of the project was the finding that quality professional development of teachers that improves their specific knowledge of numeracy teaching and their ability to direct and embrace change leads to measurable improvements in the numeracy outcomes of students.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

The Best Slow Dancer

One of the great sites that you can subscribe to is Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac. The title of this cought my attention as writer of Slow Learning Blog

The Best Slow Dancer
by David Wagoner

Under the sagging clotheslines of crepe paper
By the second string of teachers and wallflowers
In the school gym across the key through the glitter
Of mirrored light three-second rule forever
Suspended you danced with her the best slow dancer
Who stood on tiptoe who almost wasn't there
In your arms like music she knew just how to answer
The question mark of your spine your hand in hers
The other touching that place between her shoulders
Trembling your countless feet lightfooted sure
To move as they wished wherever you might stagger
Without her she turned in time she knew where you were
In time she turned her body into yours
As you moved from thigh to secrets to breast yet never
Where you could be for all time never closer
Than your cheek against her temple her ear just under
Your lips that tried all evening long to tell her
You weren't the worst one not the boy whose mother
Had taught him to count to murmur over and over
One slide two slide three slide now no longer
The one in the hallway after class the scuffler
The double clubfoot gawker the mouth breather
With the wrong haircut who would never kiss her
But see her dancing off with someone or other
Older more clever smoother dreamier
Not waving a sister somebody else's partner
Lover while you went floating home through the air
To lie down lighter than air in a moonlit shimmer
Alone to whisper yourself to sleep remember.

"The Best Slow Dancer" by David Wagoner from Traveling Light.© University of Illinois Press.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Is multitasking a myth?

I recently read an article in The Australian by Ruth Ostrow about the need to slow down, that we are leading busier lives and need to "flick the off button."

She quotes research by Hewlett-Packard that shows that IQ falls by 10 points when people multitask or get distracted by electronic communications, which is the "equivalent to smoking a joint or not sleeping for 35 hours."

Harvard lecturer Tal Ben-Sharar, who was in Australia for a Happiness and its Causes conference in Sydney believes most people suffer from what he calls TBD (Too Busy Disorder). Rostrow's article goes on to say that Ben-Sharar described a controlled experiment that showed the majority of participants felt "overwhelmed" by the things they needed to do, half of them to the point of feeling depressed.

"People today are chronically busy and then they front up to therapists, asking: 'why am I not happy? I have a wonderful family, great work, friends? they are suffering TBD."

In another reference Ostrow refers to Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz's book The Power of Full Engagement, which discusses being completely present as the way towards productivity. They suggest 'working in focused spurts ... as opposed to doing marathons that exhaust us. ... we take pride in our ability to multitask and wear our ability to put in long hours as a badge of honour. As a result, we never have full attention or peak energy.'

Is multitasking is a myth

As often happens when you begin thinking about a topic such as multitasking a serendipitous connection occurs. In my case it was coming across a blog about multitasking by John Medina.

Here's what he says in his opening paragraph:

Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time. At first that might sound confusing; at one level the brain does multitask. You can walk and talk at the same time. Your brain controls your heartbeat while you read a book. Pianists can play a piece with left hand and right hand simultaneously. Surely this is multitasking. But I am talking about the brain’s ability to pay attention. It is the resource you forcibly deploy while trying to listen to a boring lecture at school. It is the activity that collapses as your brain wanders during a tedious presentation at work. This attentional ability is not capable of multitasking.

Students often claim that they can do more than one thing at a time but the evidence that the brain focuses sequentially one concept at a time should give us reason to think about the overstimulation that kids experience.

But more of this later, after I've had time to let the ideas wash around my brain and then, to paraphrase E.M Forster, write another blog post to find out what I think.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Thinking of the big idea

Photo by Millicent Bystander

There is a fascinating article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell about big ideas and the importance of someone looking at a familiar fact with a fresh perspective. It's about thinking. The following extract from the article is about Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures, LLC--the idea that cancer can be detected long before a tumor is formed. Myhrvold, one of Microsoft's pioneers, brings intellectuals from different disciplines together to brainstorm new ideas--in this case physicist Lowell Wood meets with a group of doctors:

Last March, Myhrvold decided to do an invention session with Eric Leuthardt and several other physicians in St. Louis. Rod Hyde came, along with a scientist from M.I.T. named Ed Boyden. Wood was there as well.
“Lowell came in looking like the Cheshire Cat,” Myhrvold recalled. “He said, ‘I have a question for everyone. You have a tumor, and the tumor becomes metastatic, and it sheds metastatic cancer cells. How long do those circulate in the bloodstream before they land?’ And we all said, ‘We don’t know. Ten times?’ ‘No,’ he said. ‘As many as a million times.’ Isn’t that amazing? If you had no time, you’d be screwed. But it turns out that these cells are in your blood for as long as a year before they land somewhere. What that says is that you’ve got a chance to intercept them.”
How did Wood come to this conclusion? He had run across a stray fact in a recent issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. “It was an article that talked about, at one point, the number of cancer cells per millilitre of blood,” he said. “And I looked at that figure and said, ‘Something’s wrong here. That can’t possibly be true.’ The number was incredibly high. Too high. It has to be one cell in a hundred litres, not what they were saying—one cell in a millilitre. Yet they spoke of it so confidently. I clicked through to the references. It was a commonplace. There really were that many cancer cells.”
Wood did some arithmetic. He knew that human beings have only about five litres of blood. He knew that the heart pumps close to a hundred millilitres of blood per beat, which means that all of our blood circulates through our bloodstream in a matter of minutes. The New England Journal article was about metastatic breast cancer, and it seemed to Wood that when women die of metastatic breast cancer they don’t die with thousands of tumors. The vast majority of circulating cancer cells don’t do anything. “It turns out that some small per cent of tumor cells are actually the deadly ones,” he went on. “Tumor stem cells are what really initiate metastases. And isn’t it astonishing that they have to turn over at least ten thousand times before they can find a happy home? You na├»vely think it’s once or twice or three times. Maybe five times at most. It isn’t. In other words, metastatic cancer—the brand of cancer that kills us—is an amazingly hard thing to initiate. Which strongly suggests that if you tip things just a little bit you essentially turn off the process.”
That was the idea that Wood presented to the room in St. Louis. From there, the discussion raced ahead. Myhrvold and his inventors had already done a lot of thinking about using tiny optical filters capable of identifying and zapping microscopic particles. They also knew that finding cancer cells in blood is not hard. They’re often the wrong size or the wrong shape. So what if you slid a tiny filter into a blood vessel of a cancer patient? “You don’t have to intercept very much of the blood for it to work,” Wood went on. “Maybe one ten-thousandth of it. The filter could be put in a little tiny vein in the back of the hand, because that’s all you need. Or maybe I intercept all of the blood, but then it doesn’t have to be a particularly efficient filter.”
Wood was a physicist, not a doctor, but that wasn’t necessarily a liability, at this stage. “People in biology and medicine don’t do arithmetic,” he said. He wasn’t being
critical of biologists and physicians: this was, after all, a man who read medical journals for fun. He meant that the traditions of medicine encouraged qualitative observation and interpretation. But what physicists do—out of sheer force of habit and training—is measure things and compare measurements, and do the math to put measurements in context. At that moment, while reading The New England Journal, Wood had the advantages of someone looking at a familiar fact with a fresh perspective.
And not a Thinkers Key or Green Hat in sight.

Malcolm Gladwell, "In the Air," The New Yorker, May 12, 2008, pp. 58-59.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Training in real life systems

All right, allright, I get the message, I need to write some blog entries. so here's the first one for 2008. What a slackarse I've been!

I've begun a new job called a Teaching and Learning Coach - raa, raa go get 'em. The job is to work with teachers in schools to develop their teaching skills in order to improve students learning, which is why we teach, although some of us seem to forget this. The system has at last recognised that the most effective professional learning takes place in the workplace, the classroom. Here's a couple os snippets from McKinsey research 2006/7 'How the world's best-performing school systems comeout on top':
...despite substantial increases in spending and many well-intentioned reform efforts, performance in a large number of school systems has barely improved in decades... you could define the entire task of (a school) system in this way: its role is to ensure that when a teacher enters the classroom he or she has the materials available, along with the knowledge, the capability and the ambition to take one more child up to the standard today than she did yesterday. And again tomorrow.

...despite the evidence, and the fact that almost every other profession conducts most of its training in real-life settings (doctors and nurses in , clergy in churches, lawyers in courtrooms, consultants with clients) very little teacher training takes place in the teacher's own classrooms, the place in which it would be precise and relevant enough to be the most effective.
There you go. Makes sense doesn't it.