Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘learning teachers’


In Our Universities, Technology, The Paradigm Debate on 30/05/2012 at 12:43 pm


A few days back I did a post about how TEACHers are finally “trumping” SCHOLarsand, not with Lightsabers, X-Wing Fighters or even a Death Star…but through their blogs! 


Yep, the pixel is finally proving to be mightier than the crusty old journal… 


Salman Rushdie (aka “Sir Ahmed”) and I have since become very good virtual palsyou see, I needed some advice on how to deal with the ivory tower fatwā that has been issued in my name.

Actually, it’s quite cool having a price on my headbut, come on all you miserly dons£1,999 is hardly worth getting out of bed for, these days!

To be fair, there are more than a handful of brilliant and “blog-enabled” EDUscholars out there – I highlighted the work of Larry Cuban in that last post.

There are others…

These tech-savvy EDUscholar bloggers just “get” that blogging gives them an opportunity to engage the public (remember what we said about “public service), get speedy feedback on their work – and, enhance their academic reputations to boot!


on-the-whole, academics (or “academicians” – never quite “got” that word) have been very slow off the mark with allthingsblogging.

That’s OK – I know it can take time to learn how to use e-mail and put together a PPT presentation…but, and here’s the deal, I just do not get those scholars who seem hell-bent on taking down the blogosphere…


Problem is…unless these chaps (and they are mostly “chaps”) can pass round the collection plate and come up with $852,000,000,000,000,000 (which is, BTW, 13,000 times more than the current global GDP figure) to take us “out” – they might as well pack up their quills and retire.

For example, in the Humanities, many professors just cannot not seem to get their heads around the fact that digital technologies are transforming the way we read, interact and “thunk”.

Collaboration, open-source sharingand “caring” are IN (…big time) – and I (for one) do not care if this just does not “fit” with the type of Literary Criticism we developed in the early 20th Centurythe type of Literary Criticism we are still (mindlessly, in many instances) TEACHing to our university LEARNers.

As far back as 2008 (and that is a century or two on a digital timeline), Molly Flatt was telling us that academics need to get over the “insular intellectual acrobatics”  they pull off in their little academic “guilds” and referreed journals  – and called for academics and bloggers to co-create a new, more interactive platform for literary criticism.

Stanley Fish, professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, tells us that “the Old Order Changeth” – but also does not get why so many of the peeps in literary studies still “do business” as if nothing had changed in the last 50 or 75 years.

And, then we have the “blame-gamers” – those academics and literary critics that sob into their G and T’s and whinge about the decline of “public” criticism or the “death of the critic”.

All the fault of those bloody bloggers!


What these chaps forget is this criticism, in its purest sense, always had a “moral purpose” – to instruct, to guide and to shape. This is what Aristotle believed.

There was no real “art” of criticism until people like IA Richards and other “Cambridge Johnnies” got hold of it and turned it into a “professional science”, to be practiced only by those who had had sufficient “training” to do so – the “scholar”.

Literary Criticism thus became a “business” practiced by-initiates-for-initiates, with little connection to TEACHing and LEARNing (which, again, is what Aristotle believed that criticism should be – moral purpose).

Bloggery…drags “criticism” kicking and screaming out of the ivory tower and takes it back to its roots – an opportunity for writers to educate, inform, and provoke readers – and hence promote LEARNing ….



…and smell the ink from the 3D printer – bloggers cannot be blamed for the decline of film and book criticism in newspapers and magazines…and university registrations!


The “failure” lies at the feet of those who have not…will not LEARN, ADAPT, GROWand get off the planet quicker (while leaving a blogging legacy).

So, you wanna be an ELT Teacher Trainer…huh?

In ELT and ELL, Teacher Training on 04/01/2012 at 7:28 pm

Those of you that know me intimately (well, maybe not “that” intimately) will know that I spend some of my “free time” working with teachers and school leaders on various development programmes and LEARNing opportunities (gotta plug the blog – it is, afterall a brand new year)!

Right now, I’m getting ready to work with a bunch of ELT teachers – who have taken the “leap” and are planning the “transformation” into the role of ELL Teacher Educator (sounds so much better than “ELT Trainer”, dunnit)?

I was pulling together some on-line “bedtime reading” resources together as pre-sessional prep – and actually went back to one of my very first posts (almost a year ago to see what had changed – to see if I have changed)!


In that post, I made a few observations – as have others before and after me:



  • There is no one best “route” for becoming a teacher educator – and sometimes many of the so-called “trainer-training” programmes that have sprung up over the years are a waste of time!
  • There is no one best “trainer profile” – trainers and teacher educators come in all shapes and sizes (but many of them are “rounder” than most – and, not sure why, a large proportion of them still smoke)!
  • Teacher training or educator LEARNing, as a job, is about “service” – to teachers and the profession. It’s about“serving” – not being “served”.
  • Teacher-training is really about who you are, what you know, what you stand forand how you share all of that and get others to “find their voice” and share what they have to offer.
  • It’s bloody hard work – not just about “winning the crowd” or “having a laugh” (what I call the “ka-ka-kee school of teacher training”) – and requires a lot of varied and multiple experiences if you really want to add value to the LEARNing and teaching of others.


NONE of these have changed – over the past 12 months!



What had changed for me, however, was the resources I was recommending to people. In my early days as a teacher trainer, I focussed vey much on “content”. If I was working with ELT professionals, all my recommendations were about ELL – if I was working with engineering lecturers, all my stuff would come from the literature about “engineering education” (go on, I dare you, try and find that kind of stuff)!

With the recommendations I have been making more recently, there’s much more of a “variety” – much more “transdisciplinarity” (is that a real word, acaba)! This has got to be a good thing and it made me realise that I have another area in which I am walking-my-talk.

Yes, reading is good – and sexy – but reading outside of our disciplines, our comfort zones is sexier!


Anyways, I thought I’d share the most recent “bedtime reading list” with you – especially, if you are thinking of taking the “leap”:






What I will say, to wrap up, is also that a few other of my ideas and bits of advice (from last year) also remain unchanged.

Just as we are starting to realise that “intelligence is learnable” (finally), we are starting to see that teacher training abilities can be learned – but require Disraeli’s “three pillars”.



So, what does all this mean for teachers who are thinking about moving into teacher training (or educator LEARNing):

  • Watch a lot – go to as many training sessions as you can, check out as many conference papers as you can, get on the web and find other presenters. LEARN like your hair’s on fire!
  • Reflect a lot – think about the sessions you go to and draw up a list. Think about the “best” training sessions you have been to – ask yourself: What worked? What mattered most? What did the presenter/facilitator “do” and how did that make you feel? – DO IT! Also, think about the “worst” sessions you went to – ask yourself: How did I feel? What got in the way of my learning? What stopped my engagement? DON’T DO IT – EVER!

Most importantly:

  • Get your hands “dirty” a lot – as a wise man (I actually thought it was a woman last year) once said:



You will LEARN more by doing “teacher-trainer-type” things and “failing” than by reading a bookand you will figure out how to make it happen, if you really want it!


Into Tomorrow: Moving the Educational Debate – Ian Jukes

In Guest BLOGGERS, Our Schools, Technology on 09/03/2011 at 8:05 am

Ian’s last guest-blogging post proved so popular that I asked him if he could do another one for us.

Ian – you are a “star”!

During a recent break from my travels I had put some time aside to learn how to use one of the new electronic toys I’d bought on a recent trip. I thought that being a reasonably educated person and having taught at almost all levels of education and being somewhat technologically adept would more than preparing me to learn how to use a simple gadget.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I read the manual and understood very little. At first glance the instructions appeared to be written in tongues. Written by someone who spoke English as a 37th language.

So I decided to do what any educated person does based on my training. I broke the instructions down into even smaller pieces in order to understand what to do.

The problem was that breaking the instructions down into pieces didn’t help because nothing about learning about this gadget was linear.

I did the tutorial and learned a few techniques, but when I tried to do the same thing on my own, I found myself in a whole new situation with no prescription for what to do next.

My son Kyler kept chuckling and telling me how proud he was to see me struggling with what people of his and our generations all over the globe are attempting to do

This was learning unlike anything I’d experienced in school or, when it comes right down to it, I had allowed my students to experience – what I call ready, fire, aim or making it up as you go learning.

And although I’m an author who writes and presents about the need to change how young people are taught in preparation for the Information Age, this event brought me face to face with my own non-digital “programming”.

I simply had no past experiences that would support learning by searching for the critical patterns, feeling free to experience ambiguity and uncertainty and experimenting and allowing myself to fail in the process of learning

Despite being a vocal advocate for this type of education, I found it extremely difficult to walk my talk and to act or take the lead as a learner. The entire venture has left me more convinced than ever that the way we are teaching in our education system is fundamentally flawed.

Much of what we do in schools is simply wrong if we want students to succeed in an age of technology and InfoWhelm where organizing information and continuous learning are increasingly critical skills. Skills as important if not more so than simply recall.

Clearly the public has every right to expect higher standards from our student, for teachers to do better at teaching the basics, and ensure that all kids are technologically and informationally literate if not fluent.

But hidden behind these expectations are powerful assumptions about what schools should look like based on our own collective experiences in the schools of our youth.

Genuinely new solutions are hard to envision because so few of us can imagine the age for which this generation needs to prepare. Most of us grew up in the industrial era, and yet in less than five years, only 8% of the population will be working in industry.

We lived and grew up in schools modeled after the factory, and, by and large those schools worked. The problem is that much has changed while our schools have not. In order to really understand the changing nature of education, we need only ask local schools why all children are “herded” it to a large building or site, and why subjects, regardless of how simple or complex they are, have been fragmented into “periods” lasting from 45 to 60 minutes.

Why does the teacher typically divide and deliver “lessons” on topics dictated by an outside agency of one kind or another? Why are learning activities often unrelated to student interests, purposes and meaning? Why is testing still limited to paper/pencil tests that largely ignore genuine performance?



Why do the teacher, the school, and various administrative and political bodies retain the sole authority over instructional materials, class organization and teaching methods? Why is significant teacher time taken up with classroom management— maintaining order, monitoring student work and conducting quizzes? Despite a whole class setting, much of the time students essentially work and achieve alone, with virtually no opportunity for small group collaborative work.

Little time is spent on commending and correcting students, or on guidance for improved performance. Students have limited exposure to primary sources of information, relevant technology, field trips, outside presenters and little hands-on contact with subject matter beyond the printed page.

The truth is that the purpose and assumptions behind the current approach to schooling has long been forgotten. Assembly line procedures with pay for “work done” (grades), time lines (due dates and paper/pencil tests) and rewards (promotion) are so deeply entrenched that we no longer question them.

And unless we are willing to examine the assumptions that underpin these fundamental “basics” and reinvent schools and education at a deeper level, there is the real danger that all of efforts we are making to raise standards and test scores may just be us rearranging the proverbial deck chairs on the Titanic.

In reality, it’s our collective beliefs, our mental models about education and learning, which are grounded in the Industrial Age that is actually keeping education spinning its wheels at precisely the time that there is the greatest need to change our collective thinking.

These mental models have become deeply entrenched, unexamined beliefs about how the world works. In terms of schools, these collective assumptions dictate what schools should look like, what teachers should do, how students learn and how that learning should be assessed.

We accept these mental models in large part because, despite the fact that many educators will acknowledge that the world has changed and continues to change, the existing educational model “worked” for us.

When our generation of adults went to school, society as a whole could agree on what students should learn and what an educated person should know. Much of what we still are teaching in our schools is based on this view.

Even decades ago however, major researchers in several fields were lamenting the fact that it was impossible to keep up with the information explosion.

Today, anyone who wants to maintain relevancy and marketability as a professional must continue to learn on an ongoing basis. And because there is simply too much information, we no longer expect to “know it all”.

Yet traditional educators still insist on specific topics and content to be “covered“ at different grade levels – that there is a specific set of standards that students need to know and be able to regurgitate on demand in order to be an educated person.

At the same time they are ignoring most of the literature, music, art, science and knowledge that has been added to the human front in the last 30 years; not to mention what we have learned about history, archaeology, geology and other many other fields since technology and advanced dating and research tools have been with us.

How does today’s prescribed curriculum prepare students to live in a world where massive amounts of information are available at the touch of a button?

Learning can no longer be defined by the amount of “stuff” we know and recall, but by how well we can access the appropriate knowledge and information necessary, and then use it to complete real life task, inventing new approaches to solve real problems in the process.

The new age of InfoWhelm and the “flat world” are already bringing with it the need to communicate both locally and internationally with different individuals of varying cultures, and different perceptions. If today’s students are going to effectively operate in this new global economy, education will have to look different than it does now.

There are schools all over this nation (albeit a very small number) where students are already learning through complex experiences that require that they apply and use knowledge.

These experiences range from replicating the Amazon jungle (down to the topography, rivers, plants, animal species and insects) with basic materials to designing products, creating bike paths, printing newsletters and newspaper columns, designing space stations or following the paths of birds and animals on the endangered species list to name but a few.

Students do this in groups and individually. Their work includes math, writing, reading, computer know-how and sophisticated research, communication and interpersonal skills. Skilled teachers guide their projects, as substantive questions, insist on the inclusion of critical skills and continually urge students on to higher standards.

Students are also allowed to determine their own learning goals in consultation with an expert adult, and to measure their learning in relationship to those goals. Although traditional paper and pencil test are included, genuine performance is critical, these students are doing what any successful citizen and worker in the Information Age will be doing and will need to know.

Time lines are flexible and determined by specific tasks. Breaks are taken on an “as needed” basis. Knowing how to find information is as critical as the information itself. Many sources for learning and information are utilized. Individuals work with others as they plan, coordinate and cooperate. They also access their own creativity, acquire self-discipline and come to believe in their own abilities.

Let’s contrast this with a classroom deeply steeped in almost exclusively replicating WHAT the teacher decides to be important and marked by an environment where the curriculum is fragmented into courses, topics to be mastered and test be taken.

At the heart of this type of teaching is an almost pervasive meaninglessness and lack of purpose. In an age of unlimited access to information, students are steeped in a curriculum unrelated to the world they experience outside of school.

Is it any wonder that they must be controlled or that classroom management and student discipline is of growing necessity? The difference between the 21st century school and the Industrial Age school are staggering.

Real education reform cannot succeed until the adults in charge of education have a new mental model that embraces the future. The answers are already there.

But in order to move ahead, teachers not only need to have expertise in their respective disciplines, they need to know how to engage students in meaningful, complex learning experiences.

To do this, teachers will need help in moving away from an outdated factory approach to teaching. And in order to do this, they need support and guidance, not edicts and mixed messages. Teachers also need to have the opportunity to work together as professionals in their schools. They need to experience the conditions for 21st century learning we want them to provide for students and to develop the skills that they themselves will be expected to teach their students.

Genuine meaningful change means not succumbing to the seductive certainties of the past or assuming that the future will be a natural extension of that past.

Only by challenging our assumptions about ourselves and embracing the future one step at a time will we move our schools from where they are to where they truly need to be.

It won’t be easy but do we really want to do less?


Ian Jukes is the Director of the InfoSavvy Group, a Canadian based international consulting company.