Tony Gurr

Learning to FLY…

In Our Schools, Our Universities, The Paradigm Debate on 19/03/2011 at 8:57 am

I have never been a fan of flying…

Now, I bet the first idea that popped into your heads is that planes scare me.

Quite the opposite.

The problem (for me) is that modern air travel is just not “real” – we walk through a series of steel and glass tubes, to sit on another pressurised “tube” made from aircraft-grade aluminium with tiny double-glazed “peep-holes” – and then, we are “delivered” at our destination through another tube! If we are really “lucky” and choose our carrier carefully, we get a cup of coffee and a sandwich (without paying through the nose)…

Come on…that is simply “not” what the experience of flying is all about!

I was reminded of this type of experience on my recent trip to İstanbul.

When I first got to İstanbul (over 27 years ago), I fell in love with “ferry-hopping” across the Bosphorus. I loved the feel of sea water-filled breezes on my face, the wind in my hair, all the sounds and smells (and having to dodge the little “gifts” from the “martı” overhead).

The whole experience was exciting, earthy and very real (especially in the winter).

This time, I was really looking forward to it – the problem was that I had to use the “newer” Deniz Otobüsleri (the so-called “Sea Buses”).

OK. So I did not have to walk down a tube to get on the Deniz Otobüs but I definitely had to sit on one to cross one of the most impressive and exciting waterways in the world.

I could see all the “treasures” Istanbul has to offer along the skyline and the seagulls flitting across the waters (the windows are a reasonable size) but all I could hear was the hum of the air-conditioning and the faint commentary coming from a series of LCD televisions.

I couldn’t “feel” anything, I couldn’t “smell” anything and I couldn’t talk to anyone (iPods need to be banned on public transport).

The conductors, all very nice chaps, would not let me out onto the “deck” (against the rules) and asked me to sit down in my very “comfortable” chair (bigger than the seat I had had on the plane – and with more leg room)…and then kept a very “watchful eye” on me, in case I made a break for the door!

I know that İstanbul Deniz Otobüsleri A.Ş, like many airline and ground handling companies at airports, had intended to make my trip as comfortable and efficient as possible (and many other passengers seemed not to mind at all – they were more interested in listening to İbrahim Tatlıses on their iPods, no doubt).

But, in actual fact, they only managed to numb my senses and disconnect me from the whole experience.

The good news was that when I got to Beşiktaş iskelesi – I found “my İstanbul” again – all was not lost.


So, why am I blogging about this?

Well, it made me think about students, our learners and the way that we “package” learning experiences and opportunities for them. All too often we, as teachers, “slice and dice” knowledge into neat little chunks – and “deliver” them in a “logically-sequenced” (and all too often “rigid”) series of “lessons”.

We focus so much on the “packaging” that we forget that it is really all about the “experience” and the feelings these experiences create in our learners.

Real learning is about feeling that sense of “flow” and about getting to that level of engagement that makes you not mind missing a few hours of sleep (after class). It is about experiencing the thrill of growing, of knowing you can do more with what you learn, of rushing back to tell friends and family what you learned today – and sharing that.

It is about connecting – and it is messy!


In an earlier post, I talked about the need for teachers and educators to think about how we learn “outside of the classroom” and look at ways to bring these realities into the rooms we “teach” inGuy Claxton’s observations on “real learning”:

…in real life people:

  • Watch each other and copy or adapt what they see.
  • They go off by themselves to practice “hard bits”.
  • They ask their own questions and select their own “teachers”.
  • They make scruffy notes and diagrams to help them think and plan.
  • They create half baked ideas and possibilities and try them out.
  • They run through things in their head imagining how things might play out.
  • They imagine themselves doing something better and use this to guide their practice.

When we look at how many of our schools, colleges and universities “do business”, we see that many of them still have not “got” this – this is also true of many parents, too.

This “obsession” with packaging teaching, as Claxton reminds us, essentially stems from our focus on the “4Rs” of education:

  • RememberingReasoningReciting and Regurgitating.

Not, a focus on helping our learners to upgrade their talents in terms of “new 4Rs” of conventional wisdom in learning today:

  • ResilienceResourcefulnessReflectiveness and Reciprocy.

Sadly, it’s still the case that most of our schools, colleges and universities want to “produce” good students – rather than good learners.

There’s a big difference!

All of Claxton’s elements are about how people “experience” the act of learning – just as I wanted to step onto the open deck on “my Sea Bus”.

Yes, it would have been “messy” – but I would have “felt” it and I would have been far more “engaged” in my round of ferry-hopping. Actually, I loved my trip to İstanbul – the sea-bus trip was a minor “blip” (as was getting stuck in rush-hour traffic).

That’s life!


Thinking about the plane journey into İstanbul and my trips across the Bosphorus reminded me of a story I once heard (and apologies to whoever told me this as I can’t remember where I heard it).

There was a group of experienced, certified airline pilots taking a 4-week training course to learn how to fly a new type of aircraft. The pilots had to commit to a 100% attendance requirement, do a series of “homework” exercises – and then pass a written test at the end of the programme.

One pilot (the most experienced) missed a few sessions (his wife was having their first baby), another attended all the sessions but missed a few of the homework assignments (because he spent his spare time sitting in the cockpit to get a better “feel” of the new plane), the third attended all the sessions and did all the assignments (but “failed” the written test as he was feeling a bit “under-the-weather” on the day of the test).

All three “failed” the course – but 3 other pilots (with the least experience and who all enjoyed “messing about” in class – I wonder why they did this) passed the written test with flying colours!


I know which three I’d rather have flying my plane to İstanbul next time.

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