Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘Deep Learning’

The Mother of all Curriculum Myths …(the RE-boot)

In Curriculum, The Paradigm Debate on 07/07/2013 at 7:26 am

Learning,

Reflecting,

Thunking,

…in big, bad İstanbul

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I lied…

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This one will be the last of my 500K celebration re-boots – but I wanted to try a little experiment.

This post was written in February 2012 and represented the very first time I had ever tried to get my thunks on curriculum down on paper (in a systematic way)…drawing on all the things I had learned over the past couple of decades.

However, when I decided to do the re-boot – I wondered what it might look like if I took away all the quirks that I use in my bloggery style.

You’ll notice there was no opening graphic

…there are no weird bits of bolding, no quotation marks (on words and phrases that do not really need them), no imagesat all!

Does it make a difference?

Can you still SEE (or HEAR) me?

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YOU tell ME…

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This be the REblogged post (header)

While cruising blogland this week (not sure if that little phrase is as suitable as it could be but my daughter is still telling me I have to stop saying surfing the web – as it shows my age), I saw that a number of bloggers had discovered the work of those really sensible folks at ICG (Independent Curriculum Group).

I’ve been following the schools that make up ICG for some time – impressed by the fact that all of them are really walking-their-talk with regards teacher-generated curriculum.

Come on…who is not going to be impressed by a bunch of schools that know their stuff with regards student learning and who put that stuff at the heart of their decision-making? 

Apparently, quite a few of us!

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What got the blogosphere buzzing this week was that the ICG schools had boiled their thinking down to a series of neat sound bites (sadly, sound bites still seem to get more attention than the serious thinking that underpins them these days) – and created a set of myths: 

  • Basic Facts Come Before Deep Learning This one translates roughly as, “Students must do the boring stuff before they can do the interesting stuff.” Or, “Students must memorize before they can be allowed to think.” In truth, students are most likely to achieve long-term mastery of basic facts in the context of engaging, student-directed learning.  
  • Rigorous Education Means a Teacher Talking Teachers have knowledge to impart, but durable learning is more likely when students talk, create, and integrate knowledge into meaningful projects. The art of a teacher is to construct ways for students to discover.  
  • Covering It Means Teaching It Teachers are often seduced by the idea that if they talk about a concept in class, they have taught it. At best, students get tentative ideas that will be quickly forgotten if not reinforced by a student-centred activity.  
  • Teaching to Student Interests Means Dumbing It Down If we could somehow see inside a student’s brain, its circuitry would correspond to its knowledge. Since new learning always builds on what is already in the brain, teachers must relate classroom teaching to what students already know. Teachers who fail to do so, whether due to ignorance or in pursuit of a false idea of rigor, are running afoul of a biological reality.  
  • Acceleration Means Rigor Some schools accelerate strong students so that they can cover more material. ICG schools are more likely to ask such students to delve deeper into important topics. Deep knowledge lays a stronger foundation for later learning.  
  • A Quiet Classroom Means Good Learning Students sitting quietly may simply be zoned out, if not immediately, then within 15 minutes. A loud classroom, if properly controlled, included the voices of many students who are actively engaged.  
  • Traditional Schooling Prepares Students for Life Listening to teachers and studying for tests has little to do with life in the world of work. People in the work world create, manage, evaluate, communicate, and collaborate, like students in ICG schools.

 

Now, lots of you might think that these myths are pretty obvious – but the fact that we still have so many soft spots in our schools and education systems (around the globe) tells me that these myths are, in fact, based on the underlying assumptions that guide the decision-making of many teachers, their administrators and schools and the ministries that (all too sadly) hold the reins of our educational systems – and that these assumptions remain invisible to many.

What was interesting for me was that the ICG myths were not, in the traditional sense, directly linked to the what we believe curriculum is all about – despite the very name of the group that produced them. However, the fact that so few of the myths might be viewed as curriculum issues shows the quality of thinking that these schools are engaged in…IMHO!

I have to say, however, that I felt the list was missing something…not just a few other myths that we could all probably add to the list…something bigger!

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For me, there is a more sizeable myth that underpins the set suggested by ICG. This mother of all myths lies at the work of veteran educators like Harry and Rosemary Wong and has been most effectively hinted at (or sound bitten) by people like Ann Parker:

Effective teachers don’t cover the curriculum… – they uncover it.

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The myth is essentially this:

Curriculum is best conceptualised as content – arranged as a teaching plan

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Now, I’m not sure where this mother of all myths came from – but we can feel its omnipresence in almost every corner of education. We find it in universities and the way (far too many) lecturers see their own curricular as being the topics they will cover and the order in which these topics are to be delivered to learners.

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Wikipedia (*) has also helped to promote this understanding through its definition of what curriculum is all about:

…the set of courses, and their content, offered at a school or university

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There are still many teachers in our primary and secondary schools that begin their lessons with utterances like ‘What page were we on last time’? – and then instruct students to turn to the next one for today’s lesson… It is this type of approach to learning and teaching that has led many a teacher to believe that they could not possibly survive without the textbook – and has created the even more cynical and insipid version of this myth:  

Curriculum is best conceptualised as the content pages of our textbooks!

Wouldn’t publishers and their textbook writers just love this understanding of curriculum to win out?

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The thing is that it wasn’t always like this – and the solutions to this challenge do not seem to be available on our present or future list of how to fix things in education. As we look at commentary on the future of education in today’s blogosphere and the solutions to many of the challenges we currently face in education, we keep coming back to one word – technology! 

Sorry, that is just dumb

Technology is not going to save education – the quality of thinking from those involved in educational decision-making is going to do that. And, the starting point is challenging the underlying assumptions and myths that all too often dominate our decision-making.

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The Greeks and Romans had nowhere near the technology that the average family home or teachers’ room has access to today – but they had a far superior conceptualisation of what curriculum is mean to be all about:

…the original meaning of the term curriculum was ‘racecourse’

and the understanding that curriculum represents a meaningful and purposeful progression to some predetermined goal.

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Far from being about delivering the content on the course outline or covering the textbook, this understanding of curriculum got it right with its emphasis on purposeful progression and a predetermined goal

Yes, the Ancient Greeks and Romans knew that curriculum needs to begin where it ends – with the learning of individual students and with the thinking of teachers and educators about how this can best be realised.

If we look closer at what the great teachers of the time did with what they knew about curriculum, we also see many things that are missing in more modern conceptualisations of what curriculum is all about: 

  • A curriculum should answer the question what are we here to do for our students – it is the fundamental expression of our purposes, aims and convictions (as educators and institutions).
  • Curriculum thinking cannot be divorced from the values and beliefs of those involved in creating it. A great curriculum uncovers the underlying assumptions and aspirations that educators have for their learners and themselves – it is more than content, it is a conscious educational philosophy given form and substance.
  • Just as a curriculum needs to be seen as an expression of an educational philosophy, it also needs to be viewed as a framework of educational values that informs problem-solving on a day-to-day basis. A curriculum needs to scream this is who we are and this is how we do business – not simply list a series of dry topics to be presented by an equally dry teacher.
  • A curriculum has to be centred on learners, their learn and what they can do with that learning…!
  •  Effective curricular need to be more than about what we are teaching today (or Monday morning). Curriculum needs to move beyond now into the future learning of students and graduates – and is only as good as the way it prepares learners to keep on learning after the experience of formal education is over and done with.
  •  When teachers and learners only conceive of curriculum as a document, we might as well pack up and go home (these words are a rough translation of what Aristotle said). A real, breathing curriculum is one that teachers and learners see as an on-going process of questioning of what ought to happen and an on-going process of problem-solving with regards how to make that happen in practice.
  • Curriculum is a process, a process that gives us a way to imagine, explore, and critique ways of thinking about the purposes and practices of a curriculum. This very process helps teachers and educators grow as much as their learners – it allows them to revitalise their subjects and disciplines and look for more ways to cross traditional boundaries so as prioritise making a real difference to the real lives of their very real learners.
  • Assessment and curriculum are the currency used by teachers and students and they should embody the very nature of the relationships we hope to build in and out of the classroom. As such, teachers and educators need to have a central role in designing not only the learning opportunities and assessment activities – but also the curriculum itself. Before students can own a curriculum, teachers have to be invested in and believe in it.
  • Curriculum also needs to be viewed as interactive process of designing, experiencing, evaluating and improving what learners can do with what they know – this cannot be done by teachers alone, it is (or should be) a true process of co-creation.
  •  If a poor curriculum is one that looks more like a tick-box checklist of things to be poured into the heads of students, a great curriculum is one that has at its heart a meaningful sequence and structure that involves iterative revisiting and expansion over time – and one that makes room for co-creation by students. Concepts, themes and topic areas need to be revisited with greater sophistication, learners need to be given opportunities to demonstrate earlier understandings and also be presented with newer challenges and projects imagineered to lead them to higher ability levels – challenges and projects that also explore their evolving view of both learning and the world they are building through that learning.

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Perhaps, it is no coincidence that these ancient teachers did not have textbooks (or iPads) – neither did they have publishers, textbook writers and software developers constantly hawking their wares back then!

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In a nutshell, we need to start viewing curriculum as:

the expression of educational beliefs – in practice – or the whole educative process

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Yes, it is true that in today’s world content, textbooks and course outlines need to be factored in – but if we limit ourselves to these components, we are actually preparing the ground work for all of the myths that ICG have outlined for us.

If we do not include a vision of the type of graduate we are working to create (and not just a version for wall decoration), teacher talk will remain at the heart of the teaching process – and covering it will still be equated with teaching it.

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We need to see curriculum for what it really is – not a document (or table of contents from a textbook) but what we do with what we believe it is all about:

  • Graduate Profile
  • Content
  • Course Outlines
  • Textbooks
  • Projects
  • Self-Study Modules
  • On-line Learning Resources
  • Practice Activities
  • Homework
  • Assessment Critreria
  • Tests
  • Feedback
  • Student/Teacher Interactions
  • Teacher Values
  • Educational Beliefs
  • Institutional Vision

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Curriculum needs to be about choice and principles (I stole that from Covey) – and those principles need to be:

  • Spiral
  • Purposeful
  • Explicit
  • Values-centred
  • Learning-driven
  • Future-orientated
  • Living
  • Dynamic
  • Teacher-owned
  • Creative

 

Now, tell me if that ain’t better than the myths and their mother!

 

 

(*) Since this post was first published (on 20th February, 2012) Wikipedia has changed its definition of curriculum…Mmmm, do not ask me why.

The Future is NOT in LEARNing …(the RE-Boot)

In Adult Learners, Teacher Learning, The Paradigm Debate on 06/07/2013 at 7:45 am


big bad İSTANBUL

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I know, I know…been doing a few too many of these RE-boots of late and you are getting fed up of them!

Actually, there is a method in my recent bout of bloggery madnessto be honest…a few methods – I’m reviewing ideas for a couple of new book thunks, I’m getting the chance to catch up on a few image credits that I have skipped (by accident, honest to God!) and I’m looking at a few ideas for new posts!

I’ve chosen this one – not because it was really popular…but, because I liked it!

‘Tis my blog afterall…

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This post followed a slightly more quirky post entitled “Not all LEARNing is created equal!” – and I was trying to thunk through the issues of RElearning, UNlearning and UPlearning…without wanting to stab someone in the head (or throat…the eye, even) every time they came up in conversation!

I am not a violent man…by nature…I do, usually, have a high tolerance for ambiguity (and “bullshit”)…but I just cannot cope with people who make up wordbites in order to have a stab at their 15 minutes!

But, this one was calmer than my usual “rants” – see what you thunk!

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OK…quickly look at the “title” of the post, again!

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WTF (with doggies)

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Now, I bet you never expected to see THAT kind of title on THIS blog!

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In one of my recent posts – Not All LEARNing is Created Equal – I finished up by using Alvin Toffler’s well-known, but over-used, quote:

UNlearn and RElearn (Toffler quote) Ver 02

…and suggested that schools, colleges and universities really needed to do a great deal of UNlearning and RElearning – if they wanted to get serious about moving from the SUPERFICIAL LEARNing we see so much of and “pick up the ball” in terms of the type of TRANSFORMATIONAL LEARNing our students need.

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I began to wonder about this – and did a bit of thunking.

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What I discovered was that Toffler did not actually “say” this – what he actually put down on paper was:

“The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction — how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.

(Future Shock, 1970: p.271)

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And, you can imagine my shock when he revealed that he was using the words of Herbert Gerjuoy – after they had had a casual chat!

Do I really need to go back and re-edit all my graphics and images???

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Maybe, the future really is all about UNlearning and RElearning

Maybe, I need to change the name of my blog…

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Maybe…

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Actually, (if I was really honest) I “stole” today’s title from Kathy Sierra and the wonderful blog she runs with Dan Russell – Creating Passionate Users (go on…click on it, you know you want to)!

Kathy’s post is also not that “new” – it dates back to 2005 (so I’m guessing it’s OK to swipe her title). Kathy also lets us know that she was “inspired” – also “code” for “nicking stuff” in learning and teaching circles – by John Seely Brown over a decade ago)!

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Come on Tony – get to the bloody point, won’t you?

There are plenty of other blogs that use far less words than you…and package their sound bites for easier “consumption”!

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OK – so the “deal” is that Kathy wrapped up her ideas in a neat little “timeline”:

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Kathy also explained her rationale:

Yes, we’re under pressure to learn more and to learn quickly, but the future goes to those who can unlearn faster than the rest, because you can’t always learn something new until you first let go of something else. And learning to let go of rules is one of the first things we have to learn to be quicker at. Sometimes that means letting go of something that served you well for a long time. And that’s the toughest thing.

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And, finished up by saying / asking:

Forget LEARNing (Home Alone graphic)

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Now, this is a pretty “sexy idea” – and I can see why so many people picked up on it in the business world.

It’s interesting that many of the people who did run with the idea have a “busyness background” – both Alvin Toffler and John Seely Brown, for example.

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Even Kathy’s powerful examples show her background and focus:

  • UNlearn what your target market is (because it just changed).
  • UNlearn the way you advertise and market (because your market just got a lot smarter).
  • UNlearn the way you approach your brand (because it’s no longer within your control).
  • UNlearn the way you teach (because learners need to unlearn and learn simultaneously)
  • UNlearn the way you treat your employees (because before you know it, that “meets expectations” review might come back to haunt you on a blog )
  • UNlearn the technology you use (self-explanatory… we’re all living this one)
  • UNlearn the methodology you use
  • UNlearn the designs you use
  • UNlearn the words you use to describe your business

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I agree that these suggestions are pretty critical if you are involved in running a business – if you do not do these things, basically you go out of business! The difference is that “in business” we see a lot more STRATEGIC LEARNing or SURFACE LEARNing that gets us what we want – and we all know that “faking-it-till-you make-it” is a pretty common strategy in business circles.

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We can’t do that in education – there’s more at stake than “sales” or “profit maximisation”. SURFACE and SUPERFICIAL LEARNing do not cut it…

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Besides, we also need to ask whether UNlearning actually “exists” in the “real world” – whether it is a real “thingy”! Hey, maybe this why Toffler did not use the words we so often attribute to him…he is a very smart cookie…

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Covey tells us (and you know how I loves me “Uncle Stephen”):

3 Constants (Covey quote) Ver 03

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What I take from this is that no one ever really UNlearns anything – we just LEARN more and make different choices.

Hopefully, we make “principled choices” – and this is the start of TRANSFORMATIONAL LEARNing.

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One of the key elements of TRANSFORMATIONAL LEARNing is “perspective transformation”.

Mezirow tells us that this:

“…is the process of becoming critically aware of how and why our assumptions have come to constrain the way we perceive, understand, and feel about our world; changing these structures of habitual expectation to make possible a more inclusive, discriminating, and integrating perspective; and, finally, making choices or otherwise acting upon these new understandings” (Mezirow 1991, p. 167).

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If we are to ensure that our schools, colleges and universities change the processes and practices that have led to the widespread levels of SURFACE and SUPERFICIAL LEARNing we see these days, they need to TAKE a LEARNing Perspective – not just “have a perspective on learning”.

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This means asking some tough questions – the first of which are:

  • Are our schools, colleges and universities LEARNing institutions or TEACHing institutions?
  • Do our schools, colleges and universities “teach” STUDENTS or “teach” COURSES?

If we are honest (and many institutions have already walked down this path), we see the need for more (similar) questions:

  • What are we here to do for our LEARNers?
  • What really “matters” in an education system?
  • What stops students from LEARNing in our schools and system?
  • What is wrong with the way we are currently “doing business”?

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It is questions like these that really get the “perspective transformation” engine fired up – and help us see the need to TAKE action and start walking-our-new-talk:

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  • What does it take for a LEARNer to flourish in the complex realities of the 21st century?
  • What can we do to expand and improve the LEARNing of all our students and staff?
  • What can we do to dramatically increase the ability of our schools and our teachers to LEARN and keep on LEARNing?
  • How do we know this?

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4 types of LEARNing Ver 03

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Hey, with questions like these who has time to worry about UNlearning and RElearning ?

let’s just get on with the LEARNing and make better choices!

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Can I keep the name of my blog, now?

– allthingsUNlearning just don’t seem like such a great idea after all!

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NB: You know, yes?…that the “F” in “WTF”…means “flip” (or maybe “frak” – at a push)!

Not all LEARNing is created equal!

In Our Schools, Our Universities, The Paradigm Debate on 23/02/2012 at 1:27 am

 

Stay out of school (Margaret Mead quote) Ver 03

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Maybe it’s because I’m a “Brit” – but I never really got the “Immortal Declaration” and it’s not just because we were not allowed to finish our Earl Grey and cucumber sandwiches at a certain “tea party” way back in 1773.

It’s also not about the fact that some of the Founding Fathers wanted to “hang onto” their slaves while penning the phrase “all men are created equal” – and took almost another 75 years to realise that perhaps the declaration should cover women, too…

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OK, OK – we Brits didn’t do a great job on the issue of women’s suffrage either and our women had to burn down the Prime Minister’s house and get themselves trampled by the King’s horse before they were allowed to vote on the same terms as men!

Tony…get back to LEARNing! …NOW!

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It’s just that the Immortal Declaration ain’t truewe are not created equally.

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Just as LEARNing is not created equally in our schools, colleges and universities

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OK…he’s back on track!

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For many years (and far too many words) I have been asking why it is that our educational institutions cannot evidence the LEARNing they “create”and why most do not even try!

I’m not talking about standardised test scoresthese frequently do little more than evidence the lack of real LEARNing in our schools. And, I’m certainly not talking about the way “top universities” cream off the best high school students and then take credit for “results” they had little to do with.

I’m talking about the real “added LEARNing value” that schools produce. Very few…and I mean VERY few educational institutions can do this.

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For me, institutions and teachers can usually produce one of four types of LEARNing:

4 types of LEARNing Ver 03

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We know this – we all know teachers who manage (consistently) to get that little extra from the students and groups they LEARN with, teachers who change lives…and we also know teachers who do not!

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Now, some of you may look at these and say “Tony, aren’t all these more associated with the learning styles and preferences of students themselves”?

True – but the purpose of an educational institution is to “produce” (or “co-create”) LEARNing. So, I’m guessing it’s pretty fair to ask these institutions to tell us what type of LEARNing they “really” produce. Besides, we all know that what we DO says more about us than what we SAY we DO – and evidencing what we DO is a basic prerequisite of quality assurance, isn’t it?

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Most of you will have got your heads around the DEEP and SURFACE varieties by taking a look at (for starters) at the work of Marton and Säljö (1976) and a whole pile of related research papers that you can’t even remember (says a lot, yes?). And, while we all might know that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to LEARN – we recognise that the former is all about “real understanding” and “LEARNing for the future”, while the latter focusses on “acceptance” of established information and facts (and perhaps, shock-horror, “memorisation”).

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Research into DEEP LEARNing, for example, tells us that many of its characteristics are:

  • Looking for meaning
  • Focusing on central ideas and arguments
  • Active interaction
  • The ability to distinguish between evidence and argument
  • Making numerous connections
  • Relating new knowledge and ideas to previous knowledge
  • Linking classroom learning to real-life

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However, if we only look at DEEP and SURFACE LEARNing as “approaches to study” by students themselves – we actually come up with a neat little “get-out-of-jail-free card” and can abdicate all responsibility for LEARNing by simply “blaming” students for any form of “failure” that crops up. Basically, we can turn around and say all these characteristics are the things that students have to / should “do” themselves (in order to be successful) – and if not…hey, we did our “best” with “bad” tools!

Most other business organisations and companies would give their right arms for a “trick” like this!

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The question remains:

How do most students LEARN these approaches to LEARNing?

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Students are not “born” with the ability to relate new knowledge to old. There is no “gene” that fires up and allows students to relate classroom LEARNing to the “real world” – they LEARN this stuff from their LEARNing experiences, they LEARN this from “schools”!

They also LEARN this from how we TEACH them (over years and years), the LEARNing experiences we design for them and they way we reward them – as teachers.

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The potential of education to make a real, meaningful difference to the lives of students is well-known to teachers familiar with the work of Dewey (even more so if you know a bit about Aristotle, Plato, and Confucius). But, it was Jack Mezirow that really flagged the need for institutions and educators to focus more on  TRANSFORMATIONAL LEARNingDEEP LEARNing on steroids!

Yes, a lot of his work was directed at “adult” LEARNing – I’ll give you that. But, what school teacher worth her salt does not think about the need for critical reflection, self-knowledge, autonomy, participation, and communication (not to mention “humanism”, “emancipation” and “equity”) in the classroom?

What school principal would stand up and say (publically) that she is not interested in creating “educational experiences” that develop critical and autonomous thinking in all students and allow them continuously evolve their “meaning schemes” (specific beliefs, attitudes, and emotional reactions) and engage in on-going “perspective transformation” that makes them better learners, better people (mummies and daddies, especially) and better citizens?

OK – they might not use those actual words but you get the idea.

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TRANSFORMATIONAL LEARNing is what we know (in our heart of hearts) education should be about. I mean isn’t the point of all education supposed to be about making REAL differences to the lives (and futures) of REAL people (even “little” people)…

The sad truth is that many schools, colleges and universities say this is the “business” they are in – few can prove it.

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The forth type of LEARNing is an interesting one – interesting because it is not discussed a great deal. A second cousin of SURFACE LEARNing it is also another “extreme“– but an extreme that is more common that we would imagine.

SUPERFICIAL LEARNing was coined (and “trademarked” – WTH) by Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2004) and, as you may imagine, it also has a number of characteristics:

  • Reliance on rote learning or memorisation
  • Passive reception of information
  • Few, or no, connections made to previous knowledge
  • Focus on formulae needed to solve problems
  • Course content viewed simply as material to be learnt for examinations

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However, it is not the characteristics per se that expose SUPERFICIAL LEARNing for what it is – but rather, according to Cohen et al., what this variety of LEARNing tends to be encouraged by;

  • Excessive amounts of material and inert, discrete knowledge as facts
  • An excessive amount of material in the curriculum
  • Relatively high class-contact hours
  • Lack of opportunity to pursue subjects in depth
  • Lack of choice of subjects and methods of study
  • Cynical or conflicting messages about rewards
  • Poor or absent feedback on progress
  • Fear of failure, and, therefore, attempts to avoid failure
  • Lack of independence in studying
  • Lack of interest in, and background knowledge of, the subject matter
  • Assessment methods that create anxiety and that emphasise recall or application of trivial knowledge – rather than asking students to apply understanding
  • Lack of reflective analysis of learning and assessments

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Now, I’m not sure if you would agree with me – but as I look at this list, I see many of the things that schools systems, institutions and teachers “do to students” and far fewer “approaches to study” (on the part of students).

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I get that many institutions cannot “prove” the LEARNing they produce in students (but more should try). It’s tough to break habits we have had since the 7th Century!

However, every single school (and system), college and university could look at how it “does business” – to gain a better idea of what type of LEARNing it is really all about – and perhaps start thinking about what it needs to UNlearn and RElearn before playing the “get-out-of-jail-free card”.

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TEACHers, too…

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We are, after all, the most powerful determinant of the type of LEARNing produced by our institutions!

The Mother of all Curriculum “Myths”

In Curriculum on 20/02/2012 at 10:20 pm

While “cruising blogland” this week (not sure if that little phrase is as suitable as it could be but my daughter is still telling me I have to stop saying “surfing the web”as it “shows my age”), I saw that a number of bloggers had “discovered” the work of those really sensible folks at ICG (Independent Curriculum Group).

I’ve been following the schools that make up ICG for some time – impressed by the fact that all of them are really walking-their-talk with regards “teacher-generated curriculum”.

Come on…who is not going to be impressed by a bunch of schools that know their stuff with regards student LEARNing and who put that stuff at the heart of their decision-making?

Apparently, quite a few of us!

 

What got the blogosphere buzzing this week was that the ICG schools had boiled their thinking down to a series of neat “sound bites” (sadly, sound bites still seem to get more attention than the serious thinking that underpins them these days) – and created a set of “myths”:

  • Basic Facts Come Before Deep Learning – This one translates roughly as, “Students must do the boring stuff before they can do the interesting stuff.” Or, “Students must memorize before they can be allowed to think.” In truth, students are most likely to achieve long-term mastery of basic facts in the context of engaging, student-directed learning. 
  • Rigorous Education Means a Teacher Talking – Teachers have knowledge to impart, but durable learning is more likely when students talk, create, and integrate knowledge into meaningful projects. The art of a teacher is to construct ways for students to discover. 
  • Covering It Means Teaching It – Teachers are often seduced by the idea that if they talk about a concept in class, they have taught it. At best, students get tentative ideas that will be quickly forgotten if not reinforced by a student-centred activity. 
  • Teaching to Student Interests Means Dumbing It Down – If we could somehow see inside a student’s brain, its circuitry would correspond to its knowledge. Since new learning always builds on what is already in the brain, teachers must relate classroom teaching to what students already know. Teachers who fail to do so, whether due to ignorance or in pursuit of a false idea of rigor, are running afoul of a biological reality. 
  • Acceleration Means Rigor – Some schools accelerate strong students so that they can cover more material. ICG schools are more likely to ask such students to delve deeper into important topics. Deep knowledge lays a stronger foundation for later learning. 
  • A Quiet Classroom Means Good Learning – Students sitting quietly may simply be zoned out, if not immediately, then within 15 minutes. A loud classroom, if properly controlled, included the voices of many students who are actively engaged. 
  • Traditional Schooling Prepares Students for Life – Listening to teachers and studying for tests has little to do with life in the world of work. People in the work world create, manage, evaluate, communicate, and collaborate, like students in ICG schools.

Now, lots of you might think that these myths are “pretty obvious” – but the fact that we still have so many “soft spots” in our schools and education systems (around the globe) tells me that these “myths” are, in fact, based on the “underlying assumptions” that guide the decision-making of many teachers, their administrators and schools and the ministries that (all too sadly) hold the reins of our educational systems – and that these assumptions remain “invisible” to many.

 

What was interesting for me was that the ICG myths were not, in the traditional sense, directly linked to the what we believe “curriculum” is all about – despite the very name of the group that produced them. However, the fact that so few of the myths might be viewed as “curriculum issues” shows the quality of thinking that these schools are engaged in…IMHO!

I have to say, however, that I felt the list was missing “something”…not just a few other myths that we could all probably add to the list…something “bigger”!

For me, there is a more sizeable myth that underpins the set suggested by ICG. This “mother” of all myths lies at the work of veteran educators like Harry and Rosemary Wong and has been most effectively hinted at (or “sound bitten”) by people like Ann Parker:

The myth is essentially this:

Curriculum is best conceptualised as “content” – arranged as “a teaching plan”

 

Now, I’m not sure where this “mother of all myths” came from – but we can feel its omnipresence in almost every corner of education. We find it in universities and the way (far too many) lecturers see their own curricular as being the “topics” they will “cover” and the “order” in which these topics are to be “delivered” to learners.

Wikipedia has also helped to promote this “understanding” through its “definition” of what curriculum is all about:

There are still many teachers in our primary and secondary schools that begin their lessons with utterances like “What page were we on last time”? – and then instruct students to turn to the next one for today’s lesson… It is this type of approach to LEARNing and TEACHing that has led many a teacher to believe that they could not possibly survive without the “textbook” – and has created the even more cynical and insipid version of this myth: 

Curriculum is best conceptualised as the content pages of our “textbooks”!

Wouldn’t publishers and their textbook writers just love this understanding of curriculum to win out?

 

The thing is that it wasn’t always like this – and the solutions to this “challenge” do not seem to be available on our present or future “list” of how to “fix” things in education. As we look at commentary on the “future of education” in today’s blogosphere and the solutions to many of the challenges we currently face in education, we keep coming back to one word – technology!

Sorry, that is just “dumb”

Technology is not going to “save” education – the quality of thinking from those involved in educational decision-making is going to do that. And, the starting point is challenging the underlying assumptions and myths that all too often dominate our decision-making.

 

The Greeks and Romans had nowhere near the technology that the average family home or teachers’ room has access to today – but they had a far superior conceptualisation of what curriculum is mean to be all about:

Far from being about “delivering the content on the course outline“ or “covering the textbook”, this understanding of curriculum got it “right” with its emphasis on purposeful progression and a predetermined goal. Yes, the Ancient Greeks and Romans knew that curriculum needs to begin where it ends – with the LEARNing of individual students and with the thinking of teachers and educators about how this can best be realised.

If we look closer at what the great teachers of the time “did” with what they “knew” about curriculum, we also see many things that are missing in more modern conceptualisations of what curriculum is all about:

  • A curriculum should answer the question “what are we here to do for our students” – it is the fundamental expression of our purposes, aims and convictions (as educators and institutions).
  • Curriculum thinking cannot be “divorced” from the values and beliefs of those involved in creating it. A great curriculum uncovers the underlying assumptions and aspirations that educators have for their learners and themselves – it is more than “content”, it is a “conscious educational philosophy” given “form” and “substance”.
  • Just as a curriculum needs to be seen as an expression of an educational philosophy, it also needs to be viewed as a framework of educational values that informs problem-solving on a day-to-day basis. A curriculum needs to “scream” this is who we are and this is how we do business – not simply list a series of dry topics to be presented by an equally dry teacher.
  • A curriculum has to be centred on LEARNers, their LEARNing and what they can do with that LEARNing…!
  • Effective curricular need to be more than about what we are TEACHing today (or Monday morning). Curriculum needs to move beyond “now” into the “future LEARNing” of students and graduates – and is only as good as the way it prepares learners to keep on learning after the experience of “formal education” is over and done with.
  • When teachers and learners only conceive of curriculum as a “document”, we might as well pack up and go home (these words are a “rough translation” of what Aristotle said). A real, breathing curriculum is one that teachers and learners see as an “on-going process of questioning” of what ought to happen and an “on-going process of problem-solving” with regards how to make that happen “in practice”.
  • Curriculum is a process, a process that gives us a way to imagine, explore, and critique ways of thinking about the purposes and practices of a curriculum. This very process helps teachers and educators “grow” as much as their learners – it allows them to revitalise their subjects and disciplines and look for more ways to cross traditional boundaries so as prioritise making a real difference to the real lives of their very real learners.
  • Assessment and curriculum are the “currency” used by teachers and students and they should embody the very nature of the relationships we hope to build in and out of the classroom. As such, teachers and educators need to have a central role in designing not only the learning opportunities and assessment activities – but also the curriculum itself. Before students can “own” a curriculum, teachers have to be invested in and believe in it.
  • Curriculum also needs to be viewed as interactive process of designing, experiencing, evaluating and improving what learners can do with what they know – this cannot be done by teachers alone, it is (or should be) a true process of “co-creation”.
  • If a “poor” curriculum is one that looks more like a “tick-box checklist” of things to be poured into the heads of students, a “great” curriculum is one that has at its heart a meaningful sequence and structure that involves iterative revisiting and expansion over time – and one that makes room for co-creation by students. Concepts, themes and topic areas need to be revisited with greater sophistication, learners need to be given opportunities to demonstrate earlier understandings and also be presented with newer challenges and projects imagineered to lead them to higher ability levels – challenges and projects that also explore their evolving view of both learning and the world they are building through that learning.

Perhaps, it is no coincidence that these ancient teachers did not have “textbooks” (or iPads) – neither did they have publishers, textbook writers and software developers constantly hawking their wares back then!

In a nutshell, we need to start viewing:

Yes, it is true that in today’s world content, textbooks and course outlines need to be factored in – but if we limit ourselves to these “components”, we are actually preparing the ground work for all of the myths that ICG have outlined for us.

If we do not include a vision of the type of “graduate” we are working to create (and not just a version for “wall decoration”), “teacher talk” will remain at the heart of the teaching processand covering “it” will still be equated with teaching “it”.

We need to see curriculum for what it really is – not a document (or table of contents from a textbook) but what we “do” with what we “believe” it is all about:

Curriculum needs to be about choice and principles (I “stole” that from Covey) – and those principles need to be:

Now, tell me if that ain’t better than the “myths” and their “mother”!