Starting DLMOOC: Mindsets and Learning Strategies – Some initial thoughts and beliefs

The Deeper Learning MOOC is starting on Jan 20th and even though it is the summer holidays in Australia, the line-up of topics to be covered is too good to miss out on so I’m starting my 2014 PD a little early

In the preview week, there is plenty of reading to do on Mindsets and Learning Habits and Strategies. I’ve had a particular interest in this my whole educational life, especially since having my own children (all grown now but still learning!). We chose to put them into an alternative primary school because we did not want to see the love of learning they had  (and all children have) die before they got to high school. We thought better to nurture it by thinking ‘outside the box’ rather than attempting to revive it during adolescence.

Watch young children’s play before they enter school, Eduardo Briceno’s Four Learning Mindsets (see below) are very evident, so what happens when children go to school? Well, perhaps it’s that mistakes are pointed out but rarely are they pointed out as opportunities to learn (challenges), maybe abilities/ lack of ability are revealed for others to use as forms of ridicule (sport, art, music, etc), what’s it’s never made clear is that abilities are not fixed – most kids’ know’ what they ‘are good at…/they are bad at …” by about 7 or 8 years old.  It ends up being all about perceived performance and not really about learning. Parents demand it; educational institutions make sure it happens. And most kids ‘get it’ and stop trying. Or do they?

I believe there is a growing disconnection between ‘in school’ and ‘out of school’ learning and the culture of learning. Just go to a skate park, or watch a bunch of kids playing Minecraft together; or learning how to parkour or krump. Kids are keen learners and  again, display all four of the Learning Mindsets as they take part in these types of activities:

  • “I can change my intelligence and abilities through effort” (Growth mindset)
  • “I can succeed” (Self- Efficacy)
  • “I belong in this learning” (Sense of belonging)
  • “This work has value and purpose for me” (Relevance)

They’re also applying collaborative techniques and learning-to-learn skills especially via social media (YouTube videos/cheats/tutorials/walkthroughs, community forums). Real deep learning is alive and well — outside of school.

Self-Directed Learning - How to Wire a Car (planning, reading, tutorials, forums, trying, persevering)

Self-Directed Learning – Electrical Wiring of a Car

Carol Dweck’s quote in “The Effort Effect” summed this dilemma up nicely:

The key isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed.

I suspect education departments, politicians and the media of creating the Fixed Mindset culture that we are struggling with currently. They have created a pervading atmosphere of a talent competition while discounting and neglecting the whole concept of mastery of subjects, skills and abilities.

(As further proof, in Australia, we are currently witnessing the phasing out of many apprenticeship and competency-based education programs.)

Whew! Nothing like a little rant a bit of deep reflection about current attitudes and beliefs to kick off a MOOC.

I look forward to reading, discussing, listening and learning more about this crucial and timely topic.

*******************************************************************************************************

Krakovsky, Marina. “The Effort Effect. “Stanford Magazine Mar. – Apr. 2007: n. page. Stanford Alumni. Web. 10 Jan. 2014.

http://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=32124

Operation Lift Up Thine Eyes

Photo courtesy: elenahneshcuetphotography on Flickr CC

Shhhh, don’t tell anyone but I’m on a secret mission at my school. Libraries have always been a place of sanctuary for those who find the social culture overwhelming or less than friendly. I’ve decided to take that role one step further and become proactive rather than just offer a haven. My secret mission is to find ways to boost  the growth of that positive culture of support learning communities are meant to have. I want to try and shift general student culture a little from the teen gossip/judgement/exclusion/bullying that is a  growing global trend. I want to try and move kids closer to a culture of acceptance/self-confidence/assistance/inspiration. I’m convinced the library can play a central role so I have several small operations I’m launching from our corner of the school.

OPERATION: 43 THINGS

43 things is a social media site all about setting goals and supporting others to meet their goals. Participants are able to blog about their progress, give and receive ‘cheers’ for their progress, comment to encourage others and share tips on how they’ve succeeded in reaching a goal. On Thursday I introduced 43 Things to one of the classes I teach in Library. Last week I had them think about some goals for their wide reading. On Thursday they set up accounts, typed in their goals and blogged about why the goal/s they set were worthwhile to them. Being the social media savvy bunch that they are, they also quickly found each other on the site, subscribed to each other and ‘cheers’ and positive comments flew back and forth. The classroom teacher and I are ‘following’ them too to monitor appropriate online behaviour and to offer our positive encouragement. So far it’s been very successful.

OPERATION: TED Talks Thursdays

I’ve started a school account for TED Talks and am compiling a play list for TED Talks Thursdays. Starting on March 22 we will be showing a single TT on a fortnightly basis in the library on the big screen. I want to amaze, amuse and inspire the kids; I want them to think about possibilities and get a glimpse of the people out there in the real world making a difference. TED Talkers are truly passionate, often wonderfully geeky (that’s a compliment) or unique and they make our world so much better. Excellent examples of why we should value uniqueness and accept others for who they are.

OPERATION: Poster Plaster

There are a heap of great motivational posters out there that go waaaaay beyond those fuzzy waterfall photos with syrup-y sayings under them (guaranteed not to grab any kids attention never mind consideration). I’ve been busily collecting samples on my Pinterest board and am hunting up places to purchase or recreate where possible. Here’s a link for the place to purchase the Holstee Manifesto and the Cult of Done Manifesto. I want to put some of these high impact posters up around the library and around the school.

There are a couple of other plans rolling around the back of my mind but these are my current plans. I think they fit in beautifully with our school motto — “Lift Up Thine Eyes” and I’m looking forward to observing and noting any effects they may have at school. I’ll let you know how it all goes.

Paradigms and School Culture — pt 2

When a group of people share the same world view, when their paradigms are consistent with each other or are sufficiently homogenous in their core assumptions, then a common ‘culture’ emerges…. parallel behaviours, common speech patterns, common ways of explaining … In short, the group becomes tribal. Thus the principal, if he or she wishes to develop a strongly cohesive culture for his or her school, must address those elements which handle the school’s environment for learning. … there are always some common ideas which do emerge when you listen carefully … There are, in short, common paradigms which will give clues for action and planning. (Beare, 1989, p. 18)

Here is one excellent piece of advice that needs to be taken as a person learning to lead. Listen. Listen for clues when parents and potential parents speak about the school. Look for clues to their paradigms.

As a person who takes potential families through on Tour Days I will now be listening more closely for this. Do their paradigms sound similar to ours. If not, if they have other maps of what schools should be, but like what they ‘see’ (horses, happy children, beautiful bush setting) then sooner or later ‘things’ will not be the way they like. Equally I must check that they clearly hear and understand our school’s paradigms.

Beare, H. (1989). The movement to create excellent schools. In Creating an excellent school: Some new management techniques (pp. 1-22). London: Routledge.

Paradigms and School Culture – pt.1

I am no stranger to the concept of school culture. As a past parent and current staff member of an alternative school, our school culture is one obvious difference to the mainstream of schooling … especially to someone from the outside looking in. Visitors to the school often comment of the positive, vibrant ‘feel’ of the school, can’t put their finger on what it is, but isn’t it great.

But it’s not all a bed of roses. There is a re-occurring issue, common to all schools I’m sure, parents who withdraw their children because they don’t like the way we do ‘things’.

Reading the first chapter of Prof. Hedley Beare‘s book, “The Movement to Create Excellent Schools” for ETL504 gave me much food for thought on our school’s culture and the importance of paradigms (a word I’ve read many times and thought I understood but now do understand quite clearly).

Beare (1989, p. 17) speaks of the common ways of thinking about organizations (including schools): the industrial model (organisation as machine) and the organic model (organisation as living organism). And then introduces a third idea stemming from more anthropological concepts and the study of micro-culture of organisations. His quote from Jelinek, Smircich and Hirsch’s 1983 research (1989, p. 17) really caught my attention:

Our ways of looking at things become solidified into commonly accepted paradigms limiting what we pay attention to; new ideas in and of themselves can be valuable. Culture as a root metaphor for organisation studies is one such idea.

It wasn’t so much the second part about culture that caught me but the first part about limited ways of looking at things because of our paradigms.

I’ve recently read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits book. His excellent metaphor of paradigms being like our personal map of reality was clarifying for me. This quote clarified paradigms even further and clarified the essence of the above-mentioned issue that I couldn’t work out ’til today.

There seems to be a communication gap at school. People enrol their child at the school, years may pass then an incident arises, a decision is made and they become dissatisfied, saying that’s not what they thought the school was about and withdraw their child. We have a school philosophy document. Parents are given it, encouraged to read it and whole school meetings are organized to come and talk about the school and its practices and events. Yet this is a repeated scenario at the school and I’m guessing at other schools too.

Our recent staff meeting centred around a family leaving the school dissatisfied over a decision made. During the course of our meeting it became clear that even the teachers did not have a consistent view or understanding of the basis of decision. The three of us who have been at the school less than 10 years had a completely different understanding of how the decision fit in with the philosophy than the two senior teachers. I think we were all a bit surprised. How could this be? My thought now is that it is a paradigm problem.

Beare states:

Each paradigm, it is important to realise, is an approximation to reality. None of us comprehends reality in all its fullness, and we all observe selectively. We then proceed to develop meanings by drawing similarities and generalisations.(1989, p.17)

And:

Thus you are certain to have a paradigm which represents to you what a school, schooling and your particular school are. Indeed it is wise to make that paradigm explicit, at least to yourself, for it will provide the key to explaining why you do what you do as an educator. There is some vision about education, a set of core assumptions, which drives your whole professional life forward. (1989, p.17)

So I stop now to unpack.

“what is my paradigm about school and our school. What is my map of this reality? and why I do what I do? ” –Big breath in–

Well I know why I came to alternative education. When I grew up, I had many questions. Many. But I quickly learned that school was not about that. It was about sit down, be quiet and do what the teacher says. Say what the teacher wants. The main purpose of school seemed to be about finding out what the teacher thought and wanted and then saying it back like you thought that too. I was a ‘good girl’ until I reached high school then I stopped caring what adults wanted me to say and do (didn’t we all?)

I went to uni during the peak of the behaviourist theory wave and was very offended by the similarities I saw apparent between ‘token economies’ and other reinforcement techniques and the white rats in the Skinner box experiments. The kids we were going to teach did not appear to be going to get the chance to ask questions and find answers either. We were meant to trick/bribe them into learning. I wrote some scathing paper about my opinion in a curriculum and instruction class that was not ‘correct’ and lowered my mark and I was very disillusioned with the education scene.

So looking back over that landscape, I believe school is meant to be a place where children can explore and ask and find out about everything. They are building their life and most have a pretty big enthusiasm for it when very young. I think a system that is more interested in showing results and maintaining order than authentic learning will squash any enthusiasm that a child has for learning by about the age of eight or nine. I’m not advocating chaos or free schooling. I’m advocating negotiated, individual/collaborative learning with a strong emphasis on inquiry-based programs. I believe teachers should be strong guides; resourceful and motivated to journey into unknown territory, to continue to learn alongside students, but maintain the integrity of the process, making sure there is ‘plan, do, review’. Respect should flow from this expertise and integrity.

Beare’s next challenging question:

Those who are associated with your school also have their own paradigms about the school. Do you know what they are? How do the parents, your teachers, and the students typically depict the school, to themselves and to others?

I believe this is a question we as a staff need to explore and clarify so that we can communicate even more clearly and cohesively to the parent body.

Beare, H. (1989). The movement to create excellent schools. In Creating an excellent school: Some new management techniques (pp. 1-22). London: Routledge.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markvalentine/2253176731/