Tony Gurr

What is LEARNing?

In Learning & Parenting, The Paradigm Debate on 30/10/2011 at 12:20 pm

The translation is in the “comments” section!

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A friend of mine is getting ready to deliver a presentation to a group of parents on how they can best help their kids with school and homework. We’ve been brainstorming ideas on the types of things she can do and I’ve been suggesting that she get them active, involved and questioning – you know with activities, games and reflective discussions (rather than the typical “edumercial lectures” parents get at things like this – when they do actually happen).

Makes sense, yes? – Getting them to “live” LEARNing – rather than telling them about it.

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This morning I stumbled on a post that almost made me re-think the advice I had been giving my friend. The post was written by Phil Cullen (a guiding light on the AustralianTreehorn Express initiative) and in it he relates a conversation that he had with a parent:

I asked a parent how learners learn at school. He thought about it quite seriously and then remarked. “The teacher teaches them something, maybe from the black-board.  She then questions them and might set a test or the kids write something down.”

I wondered how many other parents (and remember that a parent is, essentially, a child’s fırst and most influential TEACHer) would agree with this kind of conceptualisation…we haven’t got a bloody chance, have we?

Unless we help parents LEARN more first!

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The central challenge here is that it is not really this parent’s understanding of “what LEARNing is” that is the real problem – it is what he (or she) does with this understanding that needs to really concern us. If children are “taught” that this what LEARNing is all about (before we even get our hands on them), they are being put on the road to LEARNing illiteracy before getting to the really “good stuff”…

For years I have been working with teachers and lecturers (especially those who have not had much formal training in LEARNing and TEACHing) to help them gain the type of LEARNing perspectives that make a real difference to the lives of their students – maybe I have been barking up the wrong tree

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A few years back Chris Watkins did a brilliant paper for those lovely chaps at ATL and in it he outlined what he considered to be the three main “ways” of thinking about LEARNing:

What is LEARNing (Watkins taxonomy 2003)

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Clearly, the parent Phil chatted with is operating with the first of these – LEARNing is all about the TEACHing! In a way, this view is wholly understandable – we’ve all had great teachers who LEARNed us really well.

But, we all know there is a great deal of TEACHing that takes place in classrooms all over the world – with very little LEARNing!

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And, this is exactly because:

TEACHing is not LEARNing

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The critical issue is, however, what happens if some primary TEACHers also work with this conceptualisation? Hang on, what happens if our kids then get to meet high school TEACHers who think the same way? And, what the hell do we do if the higher LEARNing of little Durmuş and little Kezban is also topped off by lecturers who think in the same vein?

As I said before…our kids haven’t got a bloody chance, have they?

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Time to GET REAL…

Life is not orderly, neat and easy! 

The world is a complex place….getting “complexer” with every keystroke and blog post.

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Little Durmuş and Little Kezban need to develop “habits of mind” that mirror this complexity. They ain’t gonna get these if our starting point is a view of LEARNing that is grounded on what a teacher “presents” and the quality of “tests” that teacher uses.

This is why so many of our education systems have become little more that “bureaucratic EXAMocracies” (and the ADHOCocrats that run them) that do more to switch our kids off LEARNing – and ensure they are poorly-equipped for the brave new world they will have to enter…………

TRUE…the notion of LEARNing as “individual sense-making” is a huge improvement…but this too is also not sufficient (unless, of course you fancy yourself as a 21st Century Robinson Crusoe).

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For example, if we take a closer look at the so-called habits of mind we say kids need to develop (or rather the “ability set” or “talents” they need to LEARN) – we see a whole new “emerging curriculum”:

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Kids are not going to LEARN these by being “told” about them – they are not going to LEARN how to do something with what they LEARN “about” these things from a blackboard (even a technologically-enabled version). They have to LEARN by “doing” them….and have these things reinforced by seeing grown-ups “walking-their-talk”!

This starts with parents

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Or, does it?

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In one of my very first posts…I talked about the idea of the “LEARNing parent” and challenged mummy and daddy to reflect on whether they were, in fact, being good role-models for their kids. The problem was, and a couple of people reminded me of this, parents have been LEARNed by TEACHersand by their own experiences of education and the schools they went to.

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When I work with TEACHers and lecturers on their understandings of LEARNing, I often begin by asking them:

What business are WE in

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This freaks a lot of people out (teachers do not like “drafting in ideas” from the world of allthingsbusiness) – but I find this approach to be far superior to starting the conversation with a question like “What’s school all about?“…especially, when we ask a few more questions:

  • Are we in the MONEY-MAKING business?
  • Are we in the TESTING business?
  • Are we in the TEACHing business?
  • Are we in the LEARNing business?

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EDUcators “hate” the first one – after all most of us wear those famous t-shirts (Will TEACH for FOOD) at the weekend!

They just “know” the second is “wrong” (even though we are increasingly being asked to buy into the “examocracy mentality”). They also get that we cannot justify placing the “means” before the “ends” when answering the last two questions

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What freqently bakes their noodle is when we move onto a fifth question:

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I do not care what “subject” a TEACHer teaches…what “discipline” they owe their loyalty to…all TEACHers and EDUcators recognise the moral imperative of putting put the cart before the horseINTELLECTUALLY.

The problem is that many of us do not walk-our-talk…we, too, have been “socialised” in the same school systems that have created the parents that operate the “foundation feeder programmes” of our schools…and frequently feel powerless and unable to “fight the machine“.

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Many of us have also been brought up in the “cultures of blame” that hold us back from being the TEACHers we all know we can bewe often choose the wrong questions to ask:

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What Phil Cullen’s conversation with his parent has got me thunking is whether I need to be doing more work with parents…whether all of us in EDUcation need to be doing more with parentsand not just marketing our schools by telling half-truths about the number of exam passes we can manage in an academic year!

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So, here’s an idea – why don’t we seriously set up real partnerships with our parentsLEARN them what we know is rightand take back our schools, colleges and universities...together!

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Politicians might be able to resist TEACHers’ calls for change

– but can they really resist the same calls from LEARNing parents?

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  1. LOL – so sorry I totally forgot that I had used the Turkish version of the “caption”.

    Here’s the translation – “I expect you all to be independent, innovative, critical thinkers who will do exactly as I say!”

    T..

    • Robin – totally agree. Such a pity how 7th Century “Church LEARNing” made us all “lose” sight of this 😉

      At the end of the day, Plato and his mates had it right – it is not the “teachings” that matter and, as a result, we have to get back to “TEACHing students” not courses…

      T..

  2. Ironically, what you are describing here (in terms of what we want students to learn) harks back to the very old idea of education as the inculcation of virtues. OK, our list of virtues may not be the same as Plato’s or Aristotle’s but the basic idea is the same: encouraging certain habits of thought.

  3. Hi Tony. This is Phil Cullen. I thought that you and your friends might like to know of the circumstances of my asking the parent how he thought children learn at school.
    It was at the local football club which I attend, as is my wont, for choir practice each Friday…a habit I developed around various country towns over the years for stress-relief from teaching, which you and your contacts would know about. He had, for some reason, just finished sounding off in a loud voice about the present day kids weren’t f&%g taught properly; the f%&$*#g teachers were too f7583g lazy; didn’t use enough stick etc. etc.
    His knowledge of schooling was based on his own experiences and his own kids weren’t doing their homework and didn’t seem to care much about school or learning.He just wasn’t happy. My question settled him down and I followed it up during the following week by emailing him a little article that I had written about the useless things that are taught at school.
    He said nothing about it last Friday night. I think that I got to him; and hope to follow up with any useful article about schooling that I can find…just for the heck of it. I’ll wait for him to mention it….that’s if, in the meantime, he doesn’t punch my lights out for being a nuisance…he’s a big fellow; and I’m a wizened old geriatric.

    • Hi Phil – so glad to hear he did not punch your lights out (we need more people like you to help get some “sense” out there) 😉

      When I did my post yesterday, a very good friend mailed and suggested I was “pissing into the wind” with my suggestions that we get more parents involved and learn ’em stuff – your story showed me even the biggest of Aussie blokes (I spent some time in and around Oz) can “get” it. We have to believe we can make a difference and we have to find our voices – and help others find theirs (as Mr Covey tells us). A teacher helped me find mine when I was a young kid growing up in inner-city Manchester – paying back and (more importantly) paying forward are important – and if we make a difference one child, one student, one teacher…..and one parent at a time – that ain’t too shabby 😉

      Keep up the good fight, my friend 😉

      T..

  4. Our central heating broke down recently, and I had to call someone in to fix it. A man named Kevin turned up, fixed it quickly and then he struck up a conversation:
    He: “What line of work are you in?”
    Me: “I work with schools on understanding learning”
    He: “I think schools have become places for coaching students in exam marks”.
    After I had picked myself up, Kevin went on to explain how his daughter, just going to university, had plenty of A stars but (in his words) “little useable knowledge” from her schooling.
    I was surprised and relieved to hear such a clear critique from an everyday parent about the condition of many schools today: exam factories. But then the British Social Attitudes Survey (2010) asked its large representative sample to respond to the statement “schools focus too much on tests and exams and not enough on learning for its own sake”. 64% of the population agree. So Kevin is in a clear majority of the adult population (excluding politicians).
    See more of this article: Watkins, C. (2013). “Keeping your focus while all around are losing theirs”. Bay House and the GEIP Jpurnal of Educational Research, 1(3), 4-5.
    soon to be uploaded on my web-site (with lots more resources like it) at http://chriswatkins.net

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