Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘questions that matter’

What are the 3 QUESTIONS you have to ask EVERY student you meet?

In Classroom Teaching, Teacher Learning on 15/09/2013 at 2:37 am

In a recent post…I asked my own version of a question that has become ever-so-fashionable in the blogosphere of late:

Quick Fix 02


…I had friends that really gave me a “hard time” for getting so “touchy-feely” (YES…they were all “Brits”) with my bouts of bloggery!

Come on, guys – you know how I feel about that stuff…


Quick Fix 00


That having been said – it does feel good to do these shorter posts!

HEYI might even turn them into a book!


But, and in my defence, I have been feeling these feelings for so longthey just spilled out!

Problem was…what also accompanied these feelings was an uncontrollable urge to do one of those very “Top 10” postsposts I have grown to love ‘n hate…as you well know!


Must fight the “urge”!


My original question was a heartfelt one… – OK, it was created by a feeling of pissed-offness (at paying so much money for a very average LEARNing Opportunity):

What I want my TEACHers to say to me


BUT…I “meant” it…HONEST to God!


As I thought about that “core question”…and, the fact that so many of us TEACHers were meeting so many of our students – for the first time this week, a couple of other questions peculated to the surface, too:


3 FQs (Core Questions)


Questions so few of my TEACHers asked me…ever!


Not touchy-feely at all – very practical.

Practical questions that give students a “voice” (on ‘Day One’)…and help us create the “climate” we need for REAL LEARNing.


…and “feel” the difference between:

Quick Fix 01


10 Questions…all GREAT SCHOOLS should “ASK” this year…

In Our Schools, Our Universities, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness on 04/09/2012 at 8:07 am

…and “answer” with their TEACHers!


A couple of weeks ago, after having been bitten by the social media “Top 10 bug”, I did a post entitled 10 Things All GREAT TEACHers “DO”…(and “KNOW”).

This post was meant to be the follow-up but, as so often is the case, I got side-tracked by “life”. The idea was to focus on the Top 10 questions that these teachers might have asked…in order to get them to where they is – after all I had suggested that:



Earlier today, however, I stumbled on Grant Wiggins’ latest blog post – Thinking about a lack of thinkingGrant likes to do “longer posts”, too. See…it’s not only me – and thank God he does!

It’s been bugging me for a while that so many blog posts on education are full of little more than wordbite-sized motherhood statements, cookie-cutter advice and flimsy sets of tips n’ hints…all packaged in “Top 10 lists”!

RANT over!


Anyways, in his post Grant bemoans the “absence of thought” in students, teachers, administrators and policy-makers…and reminds us that “education is the enterprise of making people more thoughtful”.

He got me thunking about whether the fact that many of us in education are so busy “working IN” the business (and, we are) is the reason that we forget that “working ON” the business is also the on the “job description”.

More than thatthunking and working ON the business of EDUcation and LEARNing are exactly the things that will get us out of the holes that have been dug by others (for us) and the holes we are busy digging for ourselves…


The problem is that this overemphasis on “working IN” the business is very much the result of how our schools, colleges and universities “do business”. So, I decided to change the focus of the post and, as many of us are starting a new “school year”, and want to suggest a few questions that perhaps our schools should ask… 


My Top 3 Questions are these:




…because thunking about them helps us re-engage with the question of “purpose” in our schools, colleges and universities – and (inşallah) hold back the tide of “valuing what can be (easily) measured”…and get us back on track with regards our efforts to “measure what we value”. 


We also need to do a bit of a “reality check” and align that purpose in the wider context in which we find ourselves today. This question helps:


…because the future really ain’t what it was!


Grant, in his post, discusses what it means to be “thoughtful”. He tells us that thoughtful people ponder the “consequences” of what they do. One question I love – that does this is:


…but, perhaps more importantly, thoughtful educators ask “tough” questions, of themselves and of others – questions we do not often ask:


This last question, as Guy Claxton has noted, can be a lot more fruitful than banging our heads again the brick wall of “motivation” and the question “How can we motivate our LEARNers?”


But, then again – a couple more questions are needed:

…and a couple more:


You see…LEARNacy is not just for LEARNers it’s for TEACHers and their institutions. If we are not asking thoughtful questions, how can we hope to role-model it…

Between a ROCK and a very HARD PLACE (Pt 05) – “The End” (or is it)?

In Curriculum, ELT and ELL, Our Schools, Our Universities on 15/08/2012 at 3:54 pm

Obviously, as Flash noted, not very much!

It was a bit of a challenge for me to select an appropriate “opening image” for this post (especially because I used all me best ones for that bloody summary postThe “STORY” so far…).

The most important thing is – I kinda left Part 04 by saying something about me “answering” the following questions:

How dumb was that?

What was I smoking that night? I mean – the balls on the guy – suggesting that I had the “know-how” and “savvy” to fix this stuff. Not only that – I got all holier-than-thoupretentious and spiritual, even – with that touchy-feely stuff about:

 Sorry about that! You have to admit though, the Dexter quote was pretty “cool”yes?


Actually, I bet half of you are just reading this to see how badly I fall flat on me face with this one, right?

So, here goes nothing…



The fundamental “whinge” at the heart of this overly-long “serial rant” is that…

“we” in education (more specifically – ministries, departments of education, school administrators, curriculum co-ordinators, course designers, teachers and…my dog) have introduced systems of curriculum pacing (more specifically – sets of curriculum pacing guides, grounded on either test specifications or textbook content pages) designed to keep teachers “on track” and “on schedule” vis-à-vis the so-called outcomes we find on our curricular – but, in practice, tell” teachers what to teachwhen and how to teach it and how “fast” to “get through” everything (often in terms of weeks, days, class periods and – for crying-out-loud – even minutes).

I ain’t finished, boys n’ girls… 

These curriculum “support” tools, we are told, are essentially to make sure “no child, or young adult, is left behind” – but we all know it’s more about “not flunking the test”. The reality is, and “we” all know this (by “we” I refer now to all those poor saps that have to breathe life into these documents – by racing, non-stop, from page-to-page-to-page from pop-quiz-to-pop, from…you get the point) – is little more than an attempt to ensure “standardisation” of the teaching that takes place in a school or system.

Wait for it… 

The result? These types of practices and pacing guides prevent teachers from being the great LEARNers, QUESTIONers and CONNECTors that they can all be, almost always guarantee these same TEACHers have to go back to traditional forms of “teacher-centered instruction” and make adaptations to the curricular (or simply “dump” stuff) that make them even more ineffective – yani, usher in “factory model TEACHing”! 

Oh, yes – almost forgot!  

These very same practices reinforce “assembly line LEARNing” in students, hinder real and meaning growth in our kids and young adults – and make them hate “us” (and by “us” I mean all those lovely teachers). 

And, to add insult to injury many of them STILL fail the bloody tests…


Now, I’m guessing a few of you are asking…“Why the HELL did you not just say this (the start of the first post) – and save me almost 10,000 words of READing”?

Where’s the FUN in that?


The “real” question, of course, remains:

Who should we “give the finger”sorrypoint the finger at”?

I told you earlier – we do love our blame games in education…


If you want my “two cents”I know, I know…but I’m gonna give it to you anyways!

This goes TWO ways – Firstly…

…and then…



You see…the problem is NOT really about “pacing guides” at all.

It’s about the assumptions, the beliefs, the so-called “knowledge”…that we have allowed to “rule” our decision-making across our schools, colleges and universities!


INSTITUTIONSI say unto thee (the image is mostly because I forgot to jump on the “Olympics-cum-blogging-band-wagon” in time):


TEACHers (well, some of us)…I say unto thee:


…and (for BOTH):



…oh, yeah…not to forget:

Just so you know how “great” Usain Bolt really is…

Let’s stick with the running / racing theme for a minute – I might not have hitched my blogging-wagon to the Olympics, but I did use The Flash as part of this mini-series…

Most of us know that:

…the thing is…when the Greeks thunked up this notion, what they were really thunking about was (essentially) that a curriculum represented a  purposeful progression towards some predetermined goalThat goal, however, was never about how much “content” we could spoon-feed into the mouths of their LEARNers…nor was it simply a matter of how fast they could shovel that “content” from the “pacing guide” into the classroom.

BTW, and only if you are interested, the ancient Greek TEACHers did not have “fixed timetables” of 45-minute periods (or “doubles”) and they certainly did not have standarised, “do-or-die” paper-based “tests” – just in case you are interested!

The predetermined goal these ancient akademies had in mind was all about how they could best make a real difference to the real lives of their very real LEARNers – how, you might say, they could best contribute to a significant (and sustainable) improvement in those LEARNers.

…and make the world a better place!

Not too shabby…and, before I forgeta purposeful progression towards integrating LEARNing, development and performancecome on, you “know” the rest.

Curriculum needs to be viewed as the interactive process of designing, experiencing, evaluating and improving what LEARNers can do with what they knowthis cannot be done by TEACHers alone. It is (or should be) a true process of “classroom co-creation” – not a process that is done in a dark, smoke-filled back-rooms inhabited by “curriculum planners” and their love of “pacing guides”!

Effective curricular need to be more than about what we are TEACHing today (or Monday morning…and, God forbid, at 3 pm on Friday afternoon). 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 institutions and TEACHers only conceive of curriculum as a “document”, we might as well pack up and go home. A real, living, 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” in the classroom.

This takes “time” – and more questions than you can shake a stick at…

However, and even before this, a curriculum should answer the question “what are we here to do for our students” – it needs to be the fundamental expression of our purposes, aims and convictions (as TEACHers and institutions). That purpose needs to be centred on the type of LEARNer we want to “create” – and describe the abilities we want to see in each and every single one of those LEARNers…

Just as a curriculum needs to be seen as an expression of an educational philosophy, it also needs to be viewed as a roadmap or framework of educational values that informs problem-solving on a day-to-day basis.


In a word (or several), 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 (and frequently “burned-out”) TEACHer.


If a “poor” curriculum (or “pacing guide”) 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 uses iterative revisiting and expansion over time – and one that makes room for co-creation by TEACHers and LEARNers.

Once we have a “graduate profile” the mental image of the type of LEARNer we are in the “business” of “building” – then we can worry about the type of “content” we can “choose” to make this happen. 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 – as well as their “place” in all of this!

Now, around about NOWif you ain’t “nodded off” (or gone back to Twitter to look for another Top 10 List)…you might be asking:


Institutions …HAVE TO:

  • Inspire their staff and TEACHers – “dare them to dream” about doing something different in education.
  • Support staff and TEACHers to access their own thunking, values and underlying assumptions about education, LEARNing and TEACHing.
  • Establish forums that allow TEACHers (and other staff) to explore their beliefs of what constitutes LEARNing, a “successful” education, curriculum, assessment, and what it means to “produce” 21st Century LEARNers (and “graduates”). 
  • Develop explicit statements about the whole educational process they are seeking to create for their LEARNers (not just mission statements for “wall decoration”).
  • Create a “graduate profile” for the ideal student at their institution – a generic abilities framework that describes what graduates can DO with they KNOW.
  • Dedicate resources and support for the creation of a curriculum framework focussed on student achievement of the desired abilities and LEARNing outcomes (not simply outputs or knowledge) in a principled, developmental and iterative, spiralling manner. 
  • Expose staff and TEACHers to the concepts behind the “LEARNing revolution” and “LEARNing paradigm” and offer wider professional development opportunities that help staff look at education from the point of view of the LEARNer.
  • Create mechanisms that relate an “evolving” study of curriculum and assessment practices to an on-going search for more effective ways to teach, create significant and engaging LEARNing opportunities for students and support that LEARNing through processes of assessment-for-learning, self-assessment and collection of longitudinal performance data across the whole career of LEARNers.
  • Build professional development systems and communities that assist individual TEACHers and teams to plan, teach, assess and evaluate their own practice (and move away from a generic, one-off, “expert” workshop model). 
  • Put someone “in charge” of LEARNing, curriculum & assessment, and institutional effectiveness.
  • Establish a “participative mechanism” for all TEACHers to take ownership of the curriculum and evolving the abilities framework that forms the basis of the “graduate profile”.
  • Support all disciplinary teams to explore wider opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and the creation of “shared” projects and LEARNing opportunities for students – in addition to establishing mechanisms for different teams to share knowledge, best practices and innovations with others.

TEACHers should not have to try and do these things on their own…or feel they have to “break the rules” to do the “right thing”. Institutions have to have a purpose and systems that “feed” and “nurture” all staff and TEACHers – after all, we all know that:

…as much as we know “sages on stages” break more “things” than their own legs!

…you know what the really “sad” thing is?

I have spent all this time banging away at me keyboardrunning up a couple of half-decent “blogging soaps” – but YOU (yes, the person reading this) probably “know” all this.

YOU care about this stuff

YOU care about your LEARNers

YOU care about your own growth, development and LEARNing…

…or, you wouldn’t be taking time from your family and friends to read another 2,000 words from some silly blogger that you ain’t even met!

The question is:

How do we reach those that don’t read things like this? …and, really “need” to!

Take care – keep up the “good fight”…

The “STORY” so far…

In Classroom Teaching, The Paradigm Debate on 11/08/2012 at 1:21 pm


Now, I know some of you have been saying that the so-called “rock” is my Twitter account – and the “hard place” is the Blog! But, come on – I was on holiday and am trying to make up for my lack of bloggery all this (and last) month

It’s true – I have been over-doing it a bit these last few days…but that is the “blogging bug”!



A few weeks ago, inspired by a number of LEARNing Conversations I’d been having with some lads and lasses here, I decided to tackle the “challenge” of “pacing guides”. Although I had done a fair few posts on allthingscurriculum – it seemed that many of the people I was chatting with were getting a bit, shall we say, “miffed” at the “pressure” their institutions (they claimed) were putting on them (as TEACHers)…

However, as I explored the challenge more I more – I started to see that it was not as “simple” as it looked (remember what Dexter told us). It was not just a single “rock” that was weighing us down – but a whole series of (very) “hard places”. “Hard places” and “rocks” that we did not even agree on…

I started a couple of poststhe posts became a “series”the first series got “interrupted”I started a couple more “side-posts”these became another “series”! Twas not only my co-bloggers that faced “DEATH-by-BLOGGING”…

BUTI had to finish…yes, I am a little “anal”, too …have a “mild case of OCD”aren’t/don’t most of us in the EDUcation game?

So, I have decided to finish what I started and do the Pt 05 I have been putting off for so long…but Pt 05 of what? Here’s a quick summary of all the posts – in case, like me, you have spent the summer playing (ultimate) Jenga – and you’ve “missed” a few of them (afterall, tis Sunday tomorrow):


Between a ROCK and a very HARD PLACE…(Pt 01)

Although this post was originally conceived as a “rant” about “pacing guides” (and our overuse of them in curriculum planning these days), it actually ended up more as a search for the answer to a question – “What are we here to do for our LEARNers”? The post also considered why it is that even “great TEACHers” are sometimes tempted to “settle” for “factory model TEACHing” – and classroom practices that do little more than create “assembly line LEARNing”


Between a ROCK and a very HARD PLACE…(Pt 02)

This time I finally got to me “rant”! Here I seriously “stuck” it to all those pacing guidelines that make our lives “hell-on-earth” – but ended up asking the question “So, who really gets stuck between this rock and hard place”?


Between a ROCK and a very HARD PLACE…(Pt 03)

In this post, I tried to answer the question I had finished up Pt 02 with – and looked at both TEACHer and LEARNer perspectives on the matter. Here I used a highly-scientific research model (I asked a few “mates” what they thunked) – and it uncovered a few surprises (and a little more understanding of how the “blame game” is still being played in our schools, colleges and universities)!


Between a ROCK and a very HARD PLACE…(Pt 04)

This was perhaps the most “fun” post I did in this series – and, it involved an interview between Superman and The Flash on the very nature of “pacing” in sports (and how we had “screwed up” royally when we dragged it – kicking n’ screaming – into education). Flash showed himself to be a surprisingly “smart EDUthunker”!



THEN, I got side-tracked…by these:


Can a teacher “create” LEARNing THAT LASTS?

This was the “monster” that actually stopped me finally getting to Pt 05 of the “ROCKS n’ HARD PLACES” mini-series! This was essentially because I wanted to talk about the “design flaw” so many of our institutions are “built” on. In this post I explored some definitions of LEARNing, trashed them and (then) suggested some questions that might help us get to a better definition and LEARNing THAT LASTS (with a little help from my friends at Alverno).


LEARNing THAT LASTS – the “Pinterest” VERSION!

Here I responded to “blogger feedback” on my murderous act of “bloggery” – and, this post was a mini-version of “LEARNing THAT LASTS Pt 01” – for the visually-talented and textually-challenged. Mostly a summary of the first post – with all the best “pictures” and very little text.


Questions Students Ask (aka “LEARNing THAT LASTS” – Pt 03)

Here I introduced the “story” of one of my dear TEACHer friends – going through a bit of an end-of-year crisis prompted by some of the questions his students had been asking (with “something else” happening in the “background”).


Questions Students Ask (aka “LEARNing THAT LASTS” – Pt 04)

In this post, I summarised the “LEARNing Conversation” my TEACHer friend and I had – we looked at some of the other questions that perhaps we could be LEARNing students (to get away from the “question horribalis” that had been bugging him so much). We also touched on the question of whether “good STUDENTS” are, in fact, “good LEARNers”. Mmmm…


Questions Students SHOULD Ask (aka “LEARNing THAT LASTS” – Pt 05)

This post was essentially a “confession” – a confession that, despite often presenting myself as “Mr. LEARNing”, I also dabble in the “dark arts” of TRAINing and TEACHing. Shock! Horror! I tried to show (I thunk) how my “student LEARNing questions” had actually evolved from Alverno, my experiences with coaching / mentoring and, wait for it, a very specific version of the “TEACHing Paradigm” – a model developed by those wonderful “Sith Lords” at 4MAT. I finished this mini-series by also suggesting a few more (really) tough questions that we might want to consider LEARNing all our students


If I have been LEARNed anything from all this bloggery – it is that:

…and, that the desire to blog even more survives the very act of blogging itself!


Mmmmm…if you managed to get through that lot, perhaps you are ready for Pt 05:


The “question” is – “Am I up for it”?

Questions Students SHOULD Ask (aka “LEARNing THAT LASTS” – Pt 05)

In Classroom Teaching, The Paradigm Debate on 10/08/2012 at 8:39 pm

The “secret” (and, it ain’t Victoria’s) is OUT!

Yes, it’s all true…I too “flirt” with the “Dark Side” – the “Sith” who practice the dark arts of TEACHing and TRAINing. However, and as I pointed out, this is a “version” of the TEACHing/TRAINing Paradigm that does put LEARNing at the heart of its approach.

This is the end of this “dizi” – promise!


I am, of course, talking about 4MAT – developed by renowned educational theorist Bernice McCarthy.

This is my attempt to get 4MAT on a single “image”:

…Yep, as I thoughtfailed miserably!


But (if you haven’t already gone back to Twitter)…just take a closer look at it (if you are also not already familiar with the model)!

  • What do you think the numbers 1-4 represent?
  • Why do you think each number has a “question” attached to it?
  • What (the heck) does “feeling” and “thinking” have to do with the questions?
  • How do you thunk “doing” and “reflecting” are linked to the terms MEANING, CONCEPTS, SKILLS and ADAPTATION?


The thing is – you were probably asking a few of these questions yourself (or some that were very similar).

That’s how we is – that’s how we are “wired”! When students, however, ask questions like the ones noted by my (now infamous) TEACHer friend:

…we realise that they must have been “re-wired” in some way by school, by their experience with our curricular (and assessment methods), by TEACHers!

As the man sez:

If we want LEARNing THAT LASTS (with students who have been “traumatised” by all these things), we have to help them “re-discover” that natural talent we all have for asking questions – as it our questions that “drive” our LEARNing!


4MAT, in a nutshell, is basically a method of helping anyone LEARN – and has been used in thousands of TRAINıng and TEACHing contexts all over the world for the past 30+ years.

Yes, it’s a “model” (and I know many of “us” hate models as much as we do “pacing guides”) – but hear me out!

Bernice and all those lovely chaps at 4MAT (it has grown a wee bit since the early days – see, for example, 4MAT4BUSINESS or 4MAT4BIOLOGY or 4MAT4COLLEGE (to name but a few), have grounded the model on a surprisingly simple “cycle of LEARNing” – an “instructional approach” that begins with LEARNer engagement – and moves to knowledge acquisition to skills and fluency development to creative adaptation.

It is also backed-up by more research than you can shake a stick at! Now, you see why I can be forgiven for dipping my toe into the “ways of the Sith”!

Maybe, it’s a bit unfair of me to talk of them being “Sith Lords” in this way. I mean nearly of us, when asked what we “do”, will say “I’m a TEACHer”. Some of us might also say “Oh, I’m in the TEACHing game”even though, we are really in the “business of LEARNing”!


What Berniceknew” was that LEARNing is not really about TEACHing or TRAINing (à la the “LEARNing by LISTENing” models of knowledge transmission that were around in the mid-80s – and, by that, I mean the 1880s as well as the 1980s). She decided she wanted create an instructional model that was based on, in her opinion, the FOUR essential ingredients of LEARNing:

Any TEACHer, worth her salt, will recognise that almost all “great lessons”, great programmes even, will have all of these elements.


However, and perhaps more important than these ingredients (joking – will come back to these later, promise), the 4MAT model is grounded on the “interplay” in how people perceive (“feel” and “think”) and process (“reflect” and “do”) – and thus, LEARN.

As you see, we start to see the terms MEANING, CONCEPTS, SKILLS and ADAPTATION – kicking in here (I knew it was a mistake to start off with that all-you-eat-buffet image). Actually, when I think about it – I have not done justice to this bit of the model. Why not pop over to YouTube and listen to Bernice tell you about it herself? She does a far better “job” than I ever could…

BTW – thank you Symbolcoach for making these so easy to find


Now, if you “read” or “listened” well enough, you’ll have picked up that 4MAT does, in fact, stand on the shoulders of such “giants” as John Dewey, Carl Jung, and David Kolb – and also has its own FOUR 4MAT LEARNing Styles:



Simple (and “intuitive”) enough, yes?

The fact that each different “type of LEARNer” has a “favourite question” hints at a core “assumption” of the 4MAT model – WE all LEARN by seeking answers to our OWN questions.

You can check out all the other main assumptions HEREa quick “check” of these should help you see if your own beliefs are aligned with those of 4MAT.

Again, if you do this – you should see why I enjoy flirting with these “Sith Lords” so much!


…Come on! Not used a comic character all bloody weekThe Thing is kinda “cool”! 


while different LEARNers might have a preferred “LEARNing style” (and “question”), effective TEACHing (or TRAINing) requires that all LEARNers be encouraged to “focus” on all FOUR question types.

Fair (and “intuitive”) enough, yes?


This is where the power of “instruction” comes into play with allthingslearning – and, the 4MAT model encourages teachers and trainers to look at the types of questions they typically focus on before taking steps to ensure that the LEARNing opportunities they design do (in fact) “balance” attention to all four question types – and LEARNers.

And, NO

  • What is this?
  • This is a pencil!

…are NOT on the list!


What I really like is when we elaborate on these basic question words – and see the core  questions that students can be “LEARNed” to ask themselves:


Now, obviously – these questions (and others like them) work really well in day-to-day lessons, weekly assignments and bigger picture or longer-term projects. They can also be used to inform reflection or feedback sessions, guide team meetings and set the agenda for counselling sessions. But, they are much more effective when placed in a “questioning culture” – a classroom (and “online”) culture in which the “rules of the game” have been established by the types of LEARNing conversations we looked in Part 04 (…of this never-ending saga)!

I won’t try pulling the wool over your eyes – I am not totally convinced that all the terms and concepts used in the 4MAT model are totally aligned to my own views on “effective classroom practice”. As I said, we TEACHers do tend to put on our “doubting Thomas caps” when we hear the world “model” – as with any “tool”, the way the “handyman” uses it (or adapts it) is often more important.

But as “models” go, it does contain many of the things that I thunk “matter” (and matter a “lot”) – especially for those of us that might be new to the “game” or want to “play” the game a little differently (or better…).


One of these has to be the fact that the 4MAT model is based on a cycle of LEARNing  (not a single “lecture” or page from a “textbook”) that focusses attention on:

  • LEARNerEngagement”
  • TEACHer and LEARNer “Sharing”
  • LEARNerPractice
  • LEARNerPerformance” (and hopefully “feedback”)

…all fuelled by a “question-driven approach”.


This type of approach can, and should, also be used to encourage students to reflect on and evaluate their own LEARNing and the LEARNing opportunities they are provided (whether you “go-4MAT-or-not”) – via additional questions, such as:


Questions like these give us “answers” that can start to create even more “win-win” student LEARNing – and, teacher LEARNing to boot!

Now, I’m not sure if my “dear TEACHer friend” (I’m still waiting to see what he says when he reads these last few posts) would also consider these questions a “bit much” – but, you know what – what he didn’t say (after we wrapped up our little “chat”) was that he was still fed up with me banging on about TEACHers asking questions of themselves.

In fact, he offered me another of his favourite quotes – as soon as he got home:

Especially, if that “talking” is all about getting through the “pacing guide” or the “test”…


Me thunks…I’m now ready…for Part 05 of that “other dizi”!

Questions Students Ask (aka “LEARNing THAT LASTS” – Pt 04)

In Classroom Teaching, The Paradigm Debate on 10/08/2012 at 2:40 pm

Just like my friend…- a good teachera teacher who really cares about his studentsa teacher who works really hard to make the biggest difference he can… – a lot of us “blame” the systems, the schools, the curricular, the tests we have to work with. We are “human”, too!

We all know that a “good STUDENT” is not necessarily a “good LEARNer” (what did my darling Padmé say earlier?) – we all know…that much school LEARNing (often and sadly) is not really LEARNing at all…it’s just STUDYing (moreso in some countries than others)…worse, it’s just STUDYing designed to help TEACHers cover the “pacing guide” and achieve “test success”!

Now, I’m not saying that covering the curriculum…and passing “the test”…are a waste of time (OK – maybe I am, especially when the curricular “suck” and the tests are, shall we say, “crap”)! What I am saying is that we, as TEACHers, have to reflect on how we might be “supporting” all these things by doing stuff we know is “wrong”, how we might have adapted ourselves (often reluctantly or unconsciously) to things that we know (in our heart-of-hearts) are “harmful“…to the LEARNing of our students!

In our rush to create as many “successful STUDENTS” as possible, are we perhaps using a “classroom currency” that is holding them back from becoming “successful LEARNers”?

Let’s stick with my friend’s story and our “chat” for a minute or three.


So, I bought him another drink…and asked if he had ever used the following questions at the start of an academic year:

He told me that that he never had…but I saw a “smile” come back to his face. He told me that he often started the year with a discussion around “the rules of the game” (in the classroom and the “acts of STUDYing”)…but, he really liked the idea of upfronting this with a “LEARNing conversation” on the nature of “success” – in school, at work ,in life (as it does really exists – after school – really, really)! 

The second question, he told me, looked liked one that could help “change” a few habits – even, “flag” that he wanted to “do” business differently (in line with the list of things that students “need”) and that he could “do” that “business” differently “with” the students and build it into his “rules of the game”!

I told him that I would “steal” that idea, too!


I also asked if he had tried to get them away from his “question horribalis by getting them to ask two slightly different questions:

He thought these two were “pretty neat” (his words) and could help students take a closer look at the curriculum – take a bit of “ownership”. However, he wanted to know why I would want to “encourage” them to use such similar questions to the one he hated.

Basically, I said, the second question is just about acknowledging that (for most students) the “mode of assessment” IS the “curriculum” – and, while we might not be able to change the “test” (or create more “meaningful curricular”) overnight, there are bigger issues than the short-term goals of the “test” – goals that emphasise LEARNing THAT LASTS and what students need to do with what they LEARN long after the test is over and done with…

…and, it’s the TEACHer’s job…yes, I said the “TEACHer’s job”to assist in the discovery of this “truth”!


We talked for a while about the whole “questioning culture thingy” and the “currency jobbie” – and then he said that a part of his big problem this year was that he had quite simply “forgotten” that a big chunk of the “currency that matters” is the questions we use with students or (more importantlythe questions they LEARN from us.

What he said then really “hit the spot”!

“You know what? These two questions could really have helped me put a stop to those other silly questions, couldn’t they?” – OK, maybe not what he said exactly (word-for-word) – but this was, “I guess I forgot to invest in the right questions this year – I guess I forgot that my job is not to just cover the curriculum…but LEARN them stuff that makes my doing that a bit easier”!


We were on a rollI suggested a few more:

These he liked – and were similiar to other “activities” he did use at the start of the year. He had always loved that last question – used it as a way to encourage more “critical thunking” in his students. The thing was, he noted, was that he’d never really used it in discussions on “approaches to LEARNing” or “LEARNing styles” – this is because (he said) the activities he used did not move beyond “awareness” to “action“.

I reminded him of a couple of things on the “list” (I can never remember them all – thank God for iPads) – and suggested a couple more questions that would fit in with his “contract-building” and “the rules of the game” activities:

These he liked – but told me they might need a translation! I did not recommend Google Translate!


He reminded me that I’d said something about “goals” and I told him about four other questions that I’d found really useful to pull all the other LEARNing conversations with students “together”:

OK – he told me I might be “pushing” it with those ones! But, he liked them, too…especially, the “insights” he could glean about his students from these (and similar) questions.

We also talked about how questions like these really “set the tone” for a more collaborative, a more “personal” relationship with studentswe all know how much students are just plain tired of all the “fake relationships” they experience in school, college and universities. This “tone”. we agreed, was the very basis of “engagement”.

What was really interesting (for me) was how he had “changed” in the 10 to 15 minutes since he’d had a bitch about the curriculum and tests (and, it wasn’t just the other drink I had bought him). The questions had helped us “connect” more, helped us “explore options“, helped us “map out” a couple of strategies – together.

All of them (even the ones about “heart” and “values”), he told – me made a lot of sense. Sense he had not used in many of his classes this year (bloody curricular, bloody tests)  – but sense that had energised him and reminded him about what really matters…


Far from “having a go at me” or “me” being a pitbull with “him” – what we had co-created was as authentic a collaborative TEACHer LEARNing conversation as you can get.

We LEARNed eathother so much…ohh, that more of our institutions created these types of “spaces”…facilitated these types of LEARNing conversations for TEACHers…

Hey, you never know…more “chats” like this might actually lead to a few more real changes to all those curricular and tests we love to hate!


He did ask me if I had come up with the idea for all these “student LEARNing questions” from my trip to Alverno (I mentioned this in the post – Can a teacher “create” LEARNing THAT LASTS?).

I think the Alverno questions had helped but I also told him I’d got a lot of the ideas from books I had stumbled upon:

1) Peter Block’s – THE ANSWER TO HOW IS YES 

2) Michael Marquardt’s – LEADING WITH QUESTIONS 




…I also told him that I’d modified a lot of the coaching / mentoring questions I’d been exposed to over the years – and also by “forgetting” loads of stuff myself.

I guess Will Rogers was right when he said:

…I think most of us need to do all three and remember we can sometimes LEARN best from “high-voltage experiences”!



I also had to “come clean” with him…and tell him that I had developed a lot of these “student LEARNing questions” from a bunch of guys working with the “Dark Side” – the “Sith” who practice the dark arts of TEACHing and TRAINing.

In my defence (theirs, too) – a “version” of the TEACHing/TRAINing Paradigm that does put LEARNing at the heart of its approach.


And, you thought the “end was in sight” for this “dizi”!

– More on this later!


Questions Students Ask (aka “LEARNing THAT LASTS” – Pt 03)

In Classroom Teaching, The Paradigm Debate on 10/08/2012 at 12:08 pm

This last set of posts was never meant to become a “series”…a “soap” ! Perhaps, I have been watching too much Turkish TV of late…the summer re-runs!

In fact, I haven’t even finished the last “dizi” I was working on…Actually, the more I think about it – the more I realise that I have just been putting off Part 05 (of the Rocks n’ Hard Places series)…

Ne se! This set of posts seems to be “growing” into “required reading” for that finale!


So, in the last post, I finished up with a question:


I was, of course, asking after the long list of things that students “need” – to get them to LEARNing THAT LASTS:


  • to be involved in diagnosing and formulating their LEARNing needs
  • to participate in setting their own LEARNing goals
  • to be involved in the planning their LEARNing opportunities
  • to be in control of choosing and implementing appropriate LEARNing strategies
  • to be encouraged to identify meaningful LEARNing resources / materials
  • to be seen as “proactive LEARNers” (rather than “reactive students”)
  • to feel that their experience and backgrounds are valued – and that they are respected as a “whole person”
  • to LEARN in a “warm, friendly and informal climate” that provides for flexibility in the LEARNing process
  • guidance and support that maintains their motivation to LEARN and keeps them actively involved in their own LEARNing 
  • to know why they should bother to LEARN something
  • opportunities to solve real-life (and relevant) problems (not be spoon-fed content)
  • opportunities to discover, critique and create
  • to LEARN-by-doing and engage in active experimentation (and reflection on mistakes)
  • “just-in-time” teaching (not the “just-in-case” variety)
  • instructional support that is task-oriented and contextualised (rather than memorisation)
  • peer support and group-based activities, as well as individual attention from teachers 
  • to know that their needs form the basis of any curriculum and that self-direction is the core principle of any instructional methodology
  • to share responsibility for and take ownership of monitoring the progress of the LEARNing experience
  • to be involved in evaluating LEARNing outcomes and measuring their success
  • to experience a sense of progress towards their goals – and success

…just in case you needed a recap…an “özet!

I guess what I was doing with this “list” (and asking TEACHers how many of these things they “facilitate” in their classrooms and the LEARNing opportunities they “offer” their LEARNers) was suggesting that greater involvement (or “engagement”) in planning and decision-making could perhaps stop many students donning the t-shirts Guy Claxton tells us so many students actually “wear” under their uniforms!

University students do not seem to have that problem these days…they are more than happy to put their feelings on their chests!

What puts a lot of students off school (or college) is STUDYing (specifically TEACHing-driven STUDYing)LEARNing (or rather greater involvement and engagement) in formal LEARNing environments and opportunities is not usually a problem at all…

And, so are you my darling Padmé!


That list was something I did a few months back – and, in a way, summarised all the “best practice” we have built up in androgogy (“adult” LEARNing). In that post, I actually argued that these “needs” were also common to “kids” (and pedagogy, too). However, getting to the points on the list requires TEACHers ask a lot of questions about “where they are right now” – and “doing something” about any “soft spots” they uncover. You know, making a few changes to how they “do business” – adapting, growing, LEARNing

but that’s not really the point right now. 


The point (and the “story” behind this post) is how some people responded to that last post (and its “longer” version) ….especially a “dear friend” of mine that read them both – and decided to “have a go” at me!

Now, this friend of mine (he does not know I am writing this – hence the lack of “name-dropping”) is a really dedicated TEACHer. He is a good teachera teacher who really cares about his studentsa teacher who works really hard to make the biggest difference he can. He also reads my bouts of bloggery on a pretty regular basis and is usually very complimentary...frequently sending me things that he finds and link to the stuff I write (I’m guessing around 10-15% of my “quotes database” comes from him)!

This is why I was a bit taken aback by how wound up he was when I last saw him!


He told me that he “got” what I was saying (even enjoyed thunking through a few of the questions)…BUT, he also mentioned that he was getting a bit frustrated (he used a more “colourful” phrasal verb – in actual fact) that I had not covered enough ground on the “student side of things“. He pointed out that I never touched on the questions that students have in real classrooms” in the “real world”“not once, not bloody once” (his words) – very common questions like (again his words):



He threw in another one (or three):


Now, I was guessing that something else was going on in my friend’s head (it was – and he told me later that a lot of his kids had “failed” the year and were having to do “summer school” – summer school that many of them would not get through)!

Normally, I’d let him blow off some steam – tell him how much I understood what he was going through (my wife LEARNed me that) and buy him another drink!

But, I decided to ask him why he thought that his “kids” (they are, in fact, younger adults – 19 to 22 years old) asked questions like these.

His response: “That’s just the way many students are these days…maybe that’s the way they have always been!”


Couldn’t let that go, could I?

…I asked. 


He didn’t answer immediately…so I reminded him of a quote he had sent me a few weeks back – a quote he had fallen in love with:

Yes, even I can be a bit of a pitbull – an “evil” one at times!


He thunked a bit more and finally said:



We all created the “monster” that we all currently have to “deal with” …

motivate” ….”cajole” ….”trick” ….”put up with” ….”get through the test”!



As I said, I had sensed there was “something else” happening inside my friend’s head  – it wasn’t just the frustration these questions had created in my friend when the students “used” them in the “real world”, in his “real classroom”.

He had worked really hard all year (trying, IMHO, to “do” the impossible) – but felt he had “let down” many of his students.

Let himself down!


He qualified his “mini a-ha moment” by saying, “…the real problem is that…”

I’m guessing many of you might feel the same…from time to time!


We’re not done just yet…but I’m trying to avoid another “one-shot OPUS-MAXIMUS”!

More on the “story”…tomorrow!

It does get better…and has a “happy ending”!


LEARNing THAT LASTS – the “Pinterest” VERSION!

In Classroom Teaching, The Paradigm Debate on 29/07/2012 at 1:41 pm

A few days ago…feels like “years” with this bloody heat here in Ankara – I did a post calledCan a teacher “create” LEARNing THAT LASTS? 

The feedback was great – some said it was a real “THUNKing” post that got their juices flowing


A couple of others said…”too long”:

“Age of distraction”…”content is king”…”wordbites” 

you know the deal!


So…to help “win” back my clients (both the visually-talented and the textually-challenged)…this is the PINTEREST version!

The question we all need to ask more.




Duh! We actually pay money for these dictionaries? 

OK – BUT is that it?


Mmmm, also true – BUT is that it?

Nice – and very true. BUT….I say again, is that IT!

Novel – got me attention! What happens “between” these two?

Wiki – not too shabby here! Well done – BUT is it enough…still?

The other question we need to ask – sometimes more than the first one! 


I mean have we not heard what “the” man said:


This is what we need to do – boyz n’ gurlz…


So, ask a few more questions…with TEACHing friends, perhaps!


Mmmmm – this is gonna hurt a few heads!

 This one, too 😉 

The “killer”….how many times have we asked this one at a TEACHer’s meeting?


I need an aspirin! BUT wait…this is THE question….THE QUESTION!


This is the ANSWER….


This is what the question produced…at Alverno!





Duh! So, why has so little changed over the past 5, 15, 50 years….???  And, this is the stuff the LEARNers have to do…do we need to do this to….as TEACHers?


Maybe we need to do this!

Well said, my man….you been workin’ out?



These are questions that every institution, every department and every TEACHer needs to ask. Institutions and departments “work” because of TEACHers (not as we may think the so-called leaders that run departments and institutions) – TEACHers are the “fuel” that fire up the “engine”. 

We know:



BUT…As we noted above:

…thunking about LEARNing is the “key” – and thunking about LEARNers.

So, what do LEARNers need – hadi bakalım!  (Google Translate STILL sucks)!


And – this is the bit that might “tire” a few of my “critics”…


  • to be involved in diagnosing and formulating their LEARNing needs
  • to participate in setting their own LEARNing goals
  • to be involved in the planning their LEARNing opportunities
  • to be in control of choosing and implementing appropriate LEARNing strategies
  • to be encouraged to identify meaningful LEARNing resources / materials
  • to be seen as “proactive LEARNers” (rather than “reactive students”)
  • to feel that their experience and backgrounds are valued – and that they are respected as a “whole person”
  • to LEARN in a “warm, friendly and informal climate” that provides for flexibility in the LEARNing process
  • guidance and support that maintains their motivation to LEARN and keeps them actively involved in their own LEARNing 
  • to know why they should bother to LEARN something
  • opportunities to solve real-life (and relevant) problems (not be spoon-fed content)
  • opportunities to discover, critique and create
  • to LEARN-by-doing and engage in active experimentation (and reflection on mistakes)
  • “just-in-time” teaching (not the “just-in-case” variety)
  • instructional support that is task-oriented and contextualised (rather than memorisation)
  • peer support and group-based activities, as well as individual attention from teachers 
  • to know that their needs form the basis of any curriculum and that self-direction is the core principle of any instructional methodology
  • to share responsibility for and take ownership of monitoring the progress of the LEARNing experience
  • to be involved in evaluating LEARNing outcomes and measuring their success
  • to experience a sense of progress towards their goals – and success

So, the real question is:

Can a teacher “create” LEARNing THAT LASTS?

In Classroom Teaching, The Paradigm Debate on 26/07/2012 at 10:41 pm

Some of you (that drop into the blog from time to time) will have noticed that my “bouts of bloggery” have been a bit few and far between over the past few weeks (with the exception of the mega mini-soap I have been doing on the Rocks n’ Hard Places in “curriculum pacing guides” – BTW, I’ve taken a bit of “time off” before I do Part 05)…

The reason? Well, I’ve been working on a book with an old pal of mine here in Ankara (trust me – “books” are far more hard work than throwing out a few hundred words of “blog-o-rrea” every week or so). I won’t get into the details of the book (but Part 04 of Rocks n’ Hard Places will give you an idea of how we are trying to make it a bit “different”) – suffice to say – the idea of “LEARNing that lasts” is a big part of it.


Now, some of you might say – “Duh! Of course, LEARNing should last…if not, what’s the point?”

…and, you’d be right!

…even though we know (in our heart-of-hearts) LEARNing needs to be at heart of our decision-making in education, it is NOT…well, not “LEARNing of the LASTing variety”!

Oh, God! He’s off again…

Hear me out! Hear me out!

I promise this is not a “rant” – well, not too much of a “rant”!


You see, in the institutional coin toss between LEARNing and TEACHingand, despite what we might think we know about “probability on the heads or tails frontTEACHing still comes up trumps with more frequency than it should!

You see… 

Most people have a perspective on TEACHing (especially, it would seem, politicians and so-called edu-reformers) – they have a viewpoint, an “opinion” on TEACHing. Usually, this viewpoint is all about that a crap job educators and teachers are doing these days – and how we could all do a far better job if we just used more technology or did more standardised tests).

Yeah, right!


Teachers, however, especially “thunking teachers” tend to take a TEACHing PERSPECTIVE” (they take a “stance”, they take a position) – and this position informs their “practice”).

Think about the “difference” between the “have” and the “take” for a minute – very different, yes?

Taking a TEACHing Perspective is usually more “principled”, more “conscious”, more “informed– in classroom TEACHing it means what is said and done in the classroom is more likely to be based on more principled approaches or methods, and guide what teachers do in the classroom. Nothing wrong with that – if only more politicians and “self-anointed reformers” did the same (or just knew what the hell they were banging on about)!

However, we also have to realise that TEACHers “grow up” in educational institutions – some of them do teacher education programmes, some of them take the more academic track (but end up doing more TEACHing than research – what they are trained to do). Both of these groups, so the research tells us, do more LEARNing on-the-job or keep on with the ways they were LEARNed (by others on-the-job) – in institutions. These institutions “socialise” TEACHers into certain ways of thinking, certain ways of doing – or acting.


The problem is – wait for it – most of these institutions are (still) grounded on a fundamental “design flaw”. In fact, we could say – or rather, I would say:

Barr and Tagg said it better than I ever could (over 15 years ago)…


They elaborated (over 15 years ago)…


A lot of  teachers “heard” them…a few institutions “read” the article…but…not much has changed since then – 17 years ago!

Which is why, lads n’ lasses… so many teachers still focus on “taking a TEACHing PERSPECTIVE” rather than “taking a LEARNing PERSPECTIVE”.

Even though we know (don’t we?) that…


Perhaps, this is why we see so such “poverty” in the way we define LEARNing. For example, look at how this world-famous dictionary “explains” what LEARNing is:

Shiriously? Is that the best we do???


What about this one? I stumbled on this yesterday…in a (very) popular blog for teachersby teachers:

Me thinks I might have to stop defending me teacher-blogger pals, if this the best we can do!

Sorry, guys – this just does not cut it…


This one? This time a favourite of psychologists and therapists:

OK – I’m seeing “something” here. But, did Hannibal’s behaviour really “change” in a LASTing mannerClarice?



As much as the “novelty” of this one (from a world famous “self-help guru” – also a “teacher”) almost got me, again it just lacked the “stuff”!


Actually, and it pains me to say this, but Wikipedia managed to come up with a half-decent definition:

Shock, horror! Credit where credit’s due, boys and girls! Pity they won’t be around much longer!

Tony, stay focussed – we’re talking about “LEARNing that LASTS”!


OK – in an earlier post, I told you about a little place I visited a fair few years ago – Alverno College, in Milwaukee. A place that had quite a profound effect on how I (now) “do business” in education.

In that post, I think I said something like – the “guys” at Alverno made me see…


You see, they “invented” the phrase “LEARNing That Lasts” (you have to check out “The” BOOK, if you haven’t already – it became one of my LEARNing “Bibles” – and still is)!

For example, take a look at their “definition” of LEARNingcompare it with the ones we have just looked at… 

Much better, yes? 


What I saw in the work the faculty at Alverno had been doing (since 197322 years before Barr and Tagg talked about their “design flaw”) was that to get to “LEARNing that LASTS” we have to move on further than what students “know” – we have to move onto what they can “do” with what they know. Even more than that – we also have to move onto how they can “keep improving” what they can do with what they know (and LEARN – with us)!

It’s a mouthful…I know!

It’s also about how students think, feel and actand how these things impact their decision-making, choices and interactions with otherswell beyond “graduation” and their “formal” education…

That is “LEARNing that LASTS”LEARNing that makes a significant and sustainable (and “real”) difference to the lives of LEARNers…


Now, I’m guessing that around about “now” – the question on your lips is:

…sure it is!

That was the exact same question I had all those years back!


Did they have bags of money? Did they have more resources than God? Did they have hundreds of teachers just sitting around twiddling their thumbs?


They just realised “something” was not “quite right” – they realised that they could be doing better…and that “something” was all about…


Bet you your next pay-check that you thought I was going to say “LEARNing”yes?


Remember a bit earlier – we were going on about having a perspective on TEACHing and taking a TEACHing PERSPECTIVE. The same “distinction” is true of curriculum. Most educators “have a perspective on curriculum” (we hate it – especially when it comes in the form of a “pacing guide”) – but very few of us:

Sorry about that…could not resist…this is a looooooooong post!


This is what Alverno set out to do.

However, what I think (IMHO) they were “really” doing was starting out on a journey that ultimately would lead them to “take a LEARNing PERSPECTIVE” – and create a “real” (educational) “LEARNing Organisation”.

This was very significant – a very radical (institutional) change!

They realised that “rethunking education” and LEARNing was not just about changing course content (or course codes) – it requires new thunking about curriculum, assessment, and teacher development.

What did Dexter say?


They just “got” that reinvention of their approach to curriculum and assessment first required that they make explicit their assumptions (and values) about LEARNing itself.

Now, you see why I have been asking so many questions…and inviting people to do the same on the blog (with a little help from Peter Blockfor those of you that want to go back to Türkçe).

The result – Alverno established its core purpose as being to develop those abilities students need to be successful as LEARNers, employees and citizens. In doing so they redefined curriculum around an explicit set of eight abilities:

…and developed a collaborativeinterdisciplinary pedagogy and LEARNing process capable of continuous improvement, and…(wait for this ONE)…required students to demonstrate competence in the eight abilities as a condition for graduation.

They actually…and this will make you crap your pants (if you work in a “testing unit”)…they “did away with”grades – and opted for a system that focussed on “results”!

And…you wonder why I fell in love with the place…and all the lovely faculty there!


Now, if you are a “HOW-Guy” (rather than a “WHY-Guy” or “Gal”) – you have probably realised that I have not fully answered the question:

…and, you’d be right!


I am actually thinking (yes, right now – as I type away) whether to split this post into two (Mmmmm, split it up I might) – but hey, what the hell – you survived this far!

Welcome to Tony’s OPUS-MAXIMUS…for the month!

They focussed on TEACHer LEARNing! Well, actually, it was a bit more like a process of Q-CBL and CPD for Educators (I’m still working on that acronym – not quite there, yet)

…and “yes”…I do own the “rights” to that one!


Like all sensible institutions, the Alverno guys, knew that:

So, they started a series of LEARNing Conversations in their faculty teams (within and across all their teams). They also knew that there was a huge difference between questions like:

Just about “heads or tails” it is not…


The core question they started with was, of course (canlarım benim):

Now, if you want (and you need a “rest”) – take 5 minutes and write your own version. Tweet it to 10 other teachersand see what you get back (seriously)!

The point here is that teachers can answer these questions on their “own” – but with collaboration, the benefits really start to kick in.

Institutions you have no choice! If you want to do “right” by your TEACHers and LEARNers!


The Alverno faculty did not stop there (though I hear it took around 6 months to get something half-decent on that first question). They then tackled these two:

They look pretty self-explanatory – do not be fooled! It’s the “LEARNing conversations” around these questions which is the focus. The “process” is what gets “results” – the “product” is sharing, clarification and “adaptation”!


There were others:


And, they just kept getting better and better;

Now, here we have a couple of seriously heavy-weight questions – as soon as we put the focus on LEARNing (and LEARNers), all that “content” just seems a waste of time.

OK, that’s a bit harsh – but, compare the question “What CONTENT do I want to TEACH?” and the question “What TYPE of HUMAN BEING do I want to help BUILD?”

…no contest really!


This is where Alverno really began to evaluate what they were TEACHing – and started to reinvent their curriculum around the set of eight abilities we noted above (do take some time to wander around their website – just been updated and very cool)!

These two questions alone should give teachers days-and-days of fun – especially, when part of a “curriculum renewal” project.


Obviously, I am cutting a few corners here (that’s what we bloggers do, yes?) – they had many more questions that they worked to get to grips with and what they were doing was starting a long (a very long) process of trying to work out how they, the faculty, could best “cultivate” integrative and expansive capabilities across the lifetime of their LEARNersknock this off in a long weekend, we cannot!

To do this, they also had to bring the two side of the coin together – with TWO of my personal favourites:


…followed by my all-time favourite – that “question-of-questions”:


“The” BOOK I mentioned earlier, tracks the first 20 years of the Alverno “project” – a longitudinal study of how the faculty at the college created “LEARNing That LASTS” for their students with their highly acclaimed curriculum/assessment (and LEARNing-TEACHing) model.

Their “project” continues today…as it should…as it will always!

…I hear someone scream!


“You got me to read over 2,000 words – not including all the text in the images – and you ain’t even answered the question you posed in the post title”!



Always wondered what it would be like to say something like “that”!

I am not that “mean” – for me, what the Alverno project shows is that it is very possiblevery possibleThe secret – creating “LEARNing That LASTS” is essentially a question of:

…and ongoing “adaptation”:

After all, “adaptation” is LEARNing – for both LEARNers and TEACHers!

In this post (though it was not really my “plan” – blogging is kinda like that), we’ve explored the nature of LEARNing. I offered my own definition (birthed with the help of many hands), as well as other (not always so great) definitions.

When we think about TEACHing in this context – it is really all about helping or supporting this process and includes all of the things that we do to make it happen – whatever that definition might be (and this will “vary” according to context – in addition to teacher or institution).

These things we must be “aligned” – to what we believe, what we say we believe, what we “do” and, most importantly – what we do to “improve” in everything we do to make LEARNing happen (and LAST).


The starting point is to make these things “explicit” – for ourselves, initially – working with “others” (or on twitter) takes care of the rest…

The Alverno model has become a next practice model for “doing business” very differently in education and a way of “adding real value” to students – value that is praised by the business and community organisations around Wisconsin and the U.S.

Alverno got it so RIGHT…so many years ago!


And, the set of Q-CBL questions developed and used by Alverno faculty are the nuts n’ bolts of the three questions every teacher (and institution) needs to ask on a regular and on-going basis:


The other question:



In the end, and this will not be in “the book”:

I am such a “geek”!


FORGET Wiki – Try Asking YOURSELF!

In Curriculum, Our Schools, Our Universities, The Paradigm Debate on 18/10/2011 at 8:49 pm

No apologies for the…



I promised to do a follow-up to yesterday’s post on allthingscurriculum or rather how to TAKE a curriculum PERSPECTIVE.

However, I was reminded me (by one of my dearest Akademe friends) that I should really be backing-up some of myEDUrants” with pearls of wisdom from “authorities“…in the field.

So, off I went to Wikipedia


I really do not know why so many educators  and academics get so upset when LEARNers mention the “W” word.

I mean…it was set up as a “peer-reviewed, free encyclopedia“, an encyclopedia of the people, for the people – if you will. Is it not…the living, breathing embodiment of both the free culture and open-source movements?

Besides, they have a great logo!

Cool….so what does Jimbo and his gang of “peer reviewers” have to say about “curriculum“?

They tell us that curriculum is:


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

Wikipedia has got it soooooooo WRONG….Give us a bloody break…


Even my dogs do not buy that (and they are pretty “chilled”)!

Jimbo – love your work – most of it! But, gotta tell you…

I know you are a busy guy and can’t get through all your mail…but:

And, in case you “missed the meeting”, too…


Hang on a minute as I was reminded – maybe I should look into the “authorities” behind this definition. So, I checked out Jimbo’s “sources“. This was tougher than I imagined.

Basically, I was LEARNed that if I want to “disagree” with what Jimbo is telling me – I have to “take on” the World Council for Curriculum and Instruction and J F Bobbit (a member of the esteemed “Efficiency-Minded Thinkers“). One of these is not too much of a worry (sadly, he passed away in 1956 – and Dewey did a good enough job on my behalf before that)…


But, I would like to introduce the WCCI to my other little doggy…”Cuddles“:

Here goes nothing…

Any understanding of the term curriculum that is strongly linked to the notion of a “teaching plan”or worse – the “order of content” (as with the traditional textbook approach to TEACHing) is fundamentally flawed.

It confuses the “means”(TEACHing) with the “ends” (LEARNing) in education, sees LEARNing as a body of knowledge to be “transmitted”, and views LEARNers as little more than passive walk-on actors on a sound-stage designed for someone else – the TEACHer

Furthermore, curriculum planning processes that focus almost exclusively on content also fail to fully expose LEARNers to the processes used by professionals and “real people” to practice their arts and crafts and gain knowledge by carrying out tasks requiring higher order thinking, collaborating with others and developing their own generic and discipline-specific abilities in the process.

Bit of a mouthful, I know…

More importantly, this approach to designing “LEARNing experiences” and environments for LEARNers fails to adequately consider orientations to problem-solving and creative thinking, student dispositions towards LEARNing and collaborative practices (their talents), and the need to understand and value multiple “voices” in planning and decision-making.


Why do I say this?

I guess I could tell you that the original (Latin) meaning of the term “curriculum” was “racecourse” (Wiki does this, too) – and the understanding that a curriculum represents a meaningful and purposeful progression to some predetermined goal.

But, I won’t…a student expressed my thoughts on this that far better than I ever could:

So you get here and they start asking you, “What do you think you want to major in?” “Have you thought about what courses you want to take?” And you get the impression that’s what it’s all about – courses, majors. So you take the courses. You get your card punched. You try a little this and a little that. Then comes GRADUATION. And you wake up and you look at this bunch of courses and then it hits you: They don’t add up to anything. It’s just a bunch of courses. It doesn’t mean a thing. Willimon and Naylor (1995: p.57-8)


What I will do is tell you what the “mother” of all curriculum questions needs to be:

  • What are we here to do for our students? 

Closely followed by her two “younger sisters”:

  • What should students be LEARNing?
  • How do we know that LEARNing is taking place? 

Sadly, like many questions in our schools, colleges and universities – these three are so often ignored because they are so important.


The problem here is that we cannot just stop with three questions – TAKING a curriculum PERSPECTIVE (as the folks at Alverno have showed us) requires a great deal of “reflective savvy” and even more questions.


There are other questions, for example, that touch more directly on the level of Curriculum Literacy across an institution or team of teachers:

  • What is curriculum for us?
  • What type of metaphors do we use when talking about curricula?
  • How do we conceptualise the process of curriculum design?
  • What type of metaphors do we use when discussing the planning of curricula?

We can of course top these off with the “trinity” of Educational Literacy questions we have been looking at these past few weeks – applied to Curriculum Literacy:

What really bakes the noodle, however, is when we have to think about the following:

  • What is the relationship of curricular to TEACHing?
  • What is the relationship of curricular to LEARNing?
  • What is the relationship of curricular to assessment?
  • What do we know about the curricular-to-TEACHing-to-LEARNing link?


This is because we have to delve deep into LEARNing Literacy, too – sorry!

And, then – tackle a few of the “bigger boys” (or “girls“):


And, that’s without touching on a few of the issues raised by Discipline Literacy:

  • What is the nature of knowledge?
  • How is knowledge created – or “co-created”?
  • Where is all this knowledge? 
  • What different “types” of knowledge do we “value”? Why?
  • What does it mean to truly “know” a discipline – or a range of disciplines? How do we know this?


Where teachers and educators do not ask these types of questions (or their institutions do not support them in such “philosophical time-wasters” – trust me, I have heard them called far worse “names”) – they continue to equate curriculum with “TEACHing plans” and they are even more likely to limit their planning to a consideration of “content”.

This, in turn, is likely to maintain the fragmented view of this content (we have had since the 19th Century), a mono-disciplinary view of education (we have had since the 19th Century) and a tendency to focus on decontextualised “just-in-case” TEACHing (we have had since the 7th Centurythe same type of TEACHing that happens without being accompanied with a great deal of engagement or “real” LEARNing!

Curriculum is not a collection of courses that are “delivered” and on which content is “covered” – it certainly is not “…a basket of instructional bricks to be stacked in any order” (Tagg, 2003) …or even instructional bricks that must be stacked in a “certain” order…’cos that’s the way we have always done it!

Curriculum needs to begin where it ends – with the LEARNing of individual students and with the LEARNing of teachers and educators about how this can best be realised.


OK – I will admit that many educational institutions, recognising the weaknesses of such conceptual models of curriculum, have turned their attention to outcomes-based approaches or “LEARNing objectives”. In doing so these institutions have worked to “improve” their curriculum by identifying and defining the LEARNing outcomes they use to answer the key question of “what should students be LEARNing”.

Sadly, many of these curriculum renewal initiatives have failed as the “LEARNing objectives” or outcomes developed are, in fact, TEACHing objectives and are often cast in the language of curriculum planners (Watkins, 2003) – not the language of LEARNers and what LEARNers can DO with what they KNOW and LEARN.


Why is this?

Many TEACHing teams and curriculum planners embark on their task by defining what LEARNing outcomes are, running workshops that draw on concepts from Bloom’s taxonomy (or the updated, and very fashionable, version produced by Anderson and Krathwohl), telling teachers and educators what “verbs” they must use to prepare an “effective” curriculum and then (probably to avoid any loss of “face”) sending off individual departments to “re-write” their own curriculum documentation.

Nothing wrong with this, if workshop facilitators are not operating with the “read-a-book-and-tell-the-world” model of training – and the departments being “trained” really “get” it!

In this approach, however, curriculum renewal is all too often seen as the process of writing a new curriculum or “new teaching plan” and often ends up as little more little more than reorganising the deckchairs on the Titanic – “tweaking” curriculum documentation rather than exploring the core purpose of the institution and assumptions about the nature of LEARNing.

No-one’s fault…perhaps


The type of questions I have touched on today are by no means exhaustive – but they are exactly the stuff that gets the “reflective savvy” pumping through the veins (if we bother to “ask” them and “make space” for people to consider them)…

They are the type of questions that help institutions and their teachers “move” to the type of conceptualisation that sees curriculum as an expression of educational values and beliefs (à la Alvernoand a coherent roadmap for supporting the holistic development of all students (à la what-we-all-should-be-doing).


It’s not rocket-sciencebut this is never an “easy task” (I mentioned blood, sweat and tears – in my last post) and, after reading all these questions, a few of you might be thinking over a couple of other questions around about now:

  • Should we bother to spend the time and effort to LEARN about and implement this type of curriculum perspective? 
  • Should we bother to spend the effort to LEARN about and implement new ways of TEACHing and ASSESSing and LEARNing students?

Hell, yes!


It’s nigh on impossible for me to thank everyone who contributed to this list of questions (and LEARNed me) – I have “gathered” them over many years, from many people and even more books or articles. To mention a few – obviously, the Faculty at Alverno are top of my list. Also, Terry O’BanionPeter Koestenbaum, Edgar Schein, Peter Block, and “Cuddles“! My thanks also to Mark Smith (of InfEd – a “source” we can all trust) and Laurence Raw – who always reminds me of “what matters” in the “game“!