26 January 2015

Items to Share: 25 January 2015

Education Focus
  • Donald Clark Plan B: Boko Haram (Western Education is sinful) a look behind the slogan 'Boko Haram means ‘Western Education is sinful’. What does that mean or at least signify? Why have they targeted education in particular? Why the gender war? Surely education is a universal good? Well, we must look behind the horror to see what’s happening there, as education, in particular our model, is NOT seen as a universal good by all.'  
  • A defence of the fixed mindset | David Didau: The Learning Spy 'The growth mindset has been so universally heralded as ‘a good thing’ that it’s in danger of becoming one of those memes we think with rather than about. A number of commentators have been critical of the way mindset theory has been uncritical adopted and unthinkingly applied, but what if growth isn’t always good? What if sometime we might be better off to be ‘fixed’ in our attitudes and beliefs?' 
  • Thinking Aloud: Expectations | Teaching at the Edge of Chaos 'I do feel that as a society we are too fond of attaching labels to people, only for them to meet the negative expectations that come with such tags. Likewise once tagged, many appear to expect and rely on entitlements that they don’t necessarily need.' 
  • Well-being programmes in schools might be doing children more harm than good (Kathryn Ecclestone) 'Apocryphal depictions of an unprecedented crisis in young people’s mental ill-health and their general vulnerability have been accompanied by increasingly alarmist claims that only schools can address this social “ticking time bomb”. [...] There have been calls[...] for schools to appoint heads of well-being. Yet there is little evidence that programmes aimed at improving children’s emotional well-being are having any impact.'
  • Keeping Students on Board with Concept Maps | Faculty Focus 'The benefits of concept maps are well established. They encourage students to organize knowledge and do so in ways meaningful to them. [...] Students can also use concept maps to forge relationships between new knowledge and what they already know. [ ] But students don’t always see these benefits when first introduced to concept maps, and as the authors of the article referenced below discovered, how concept maps are used in a course directly affects student perceptions of their value.'
  • The Silent Teacher | Blogger, interrupted… 'I had no voice. [...] Like many of us, I had heard tales of laryngitic teachers of yore, venturing forth voiceless amongst the multitudinous hordes of Y11; I too wanted to join this mythological brethren. Silent teaching? Bring it on. [ ] And my lessons were affected – but not in the way I had expected.'
 Other Business 
  • How the Tudors invented breakfast | History Extra 'Most medieval Brits ate two meals a day: dinner around 11am, supper around 5pm. But in the 16th century everybody started eating breakfast, and the three-meal day fell into place. Why the change? Probably because standardised jobs became more commonplace in the 16C, and with them “working hours”. Pushing back dinner and supper allowed for a longer working day, but it also made breakfast an essential starter (2,600 words)' [via the Browser]  
  • BPS Research Digest: When our beliefs are threatened by facts, we turn to unfalsifiable justifications 'It's great to have facts on your side. The fundamentalist is delighted by the archaeological find that tallies with scripture, just as the atheist seizes on the evidence that contradicts it. But when the evidence goes against us, we're less likely to change a belief than to criticise the validity or provenance of the evidence. Now, research suggests that the mere prospect of a factual threat leads us to downplay how much our belief depends on such evidence at all. We become attracted to other, less falsifiable reasons for believing.' 
  • 31 Rolls of Film Taken by a World War II Soldier Get Discovered & Developed Before Your Eyes | Open Culture 'Levi Bettwieser runs the Rescued Film Project, which salvages undeveloped rolls of film from around the world, all shot somewhere between the 1930s and the late 1990s. They have the ability “to process film from all eras. Even film that has been degraded by heat, moisture, and age. Or is no longer manufactured.” And why do they take on these projects? Because, at some point, every image was special for someone. “Each frame captured, reflects a moment that was intended to be remembered.”' 
  • Ben Goldacre's "I Think You'll Find It's a Bit More Complicated Than That" - Boing Boing 'Over the past decade, the woo-busting, pharma-fighting Dr Ben Goldacre has written more than 500,000 words of acerbic, entertaining, enlightening and fearlessly combative science journalism and commentary, busting bad math, manipulative abuse of statistics, institutional corruption, media distortion, and new age rubbish of all descriptions.' A review by Cory Doctorow. 

19 January 2015

Items to Share: 18 January 2015

Education Focus
  • Donald Clark Plan B: Why Finland is finished as a role model in education 'Everyone in education, from politicians to teachers it seems, is a fully paid up member of the Finland Fan Club. Finland has been portrayed as an educational paradise, topping or near topping the PISA tables, with a strong economy that makes it the envy of Europe. Big problem – it’s not true.' Also Donald Clark Plan B: Vocational learning – unwanted child, used and abused? 'How many Secretaries of State have been responsible for ‘vocational skills’ in the last three decades? [61] The skills sector has been subjected to every half-baked whim and fancy for that period. It’s treated like an unwanted child, handed off into care then bounced around the system, itself dysfunctional, used and abused, until the next election comes along.'
  • What to avoid when teaching | Monkeymagic 'While it would be wonderful to think there is a simple, step-by-step formula to a perfect lesson, I’m not at all convinced it exists. In fact, I tend to think any complicated scenarios [...] preclude those sorts of plans beyond the “Stay in touch, keep moving and head for the high ground” heuristics. One of the sections that caught my eye, though, was a list of things that don’t work. That instantly appeals.' (Sourced via the Echo Chamber: an excellent portmanteau source for education blogs.)
  • Why I Hate Highlighters! - HuntingEnglish 'Ok – so perhaps highlighters aren’t the biggest problem in education, but [...] For me, highlighters can represent how our habits of teaching and learning can go unexamined and how we can too easily waste time and money each year by not being truly critical about our practice in the classroom.'
  • Another week, another Ofsted story | Musings and Mutterings of an Idiot Scribe 'Firstly, Ofsted is, and I apologise for my bluntness, bollocks. [  ] Its inspection practices are not evidentially-based and, while much of what it recommends has some proven validity in terms of classroom practice, because of the ridiculous pressure [...] on educational leaders, what should be presented as part of a range of pedagogical practices is instead presented as orthodoxy and dogma.
  • Effective Ways to Structure Discussion | Faculty Focus 'The use of online discussion in both blended and fully online courses has made clear that those exchanges are more productive if they are structured, if there’s a protocol that guides the interaction. This kind of structure is more important in the online environment because those discussions are usually asynchronous and minus all the nonverbal cues that facilitate face-to-face exchanges. But I’m wondering if more structure might benefit our in-class discussions as well.' 
  • Dyslexia Can Deliver Benefits - Scientific American 'These findings raise the intriguing possibility that dyslexia involves certain advantages. The research hints that people with dyslexia exhibit strengths for seeing the big picture (both literally and figuratively) that others tend to miss. And if this is true, the work reinforces the larger idea that differences that people might perceive as a source of difficulty in some domains can become a source of strength in other contexts.' 
Other Business

16 January 2015

On knowing too much to teach...

This post was originally a comment on a comment on this post on another blog, which got a bit out of hand
'it is hard to see how knowing less about the thing being taught can make you a better teacher of the thing being taught.'
This may well be the case in schools—my experience is limited. But in post-compulsory (further/higher/adult) education, one of the most formative learning experiences I have ever had was probably a conversation with colleagues in the canteen of the (then) Salford Technical College, killing time before the start of evening classes (c. 1970). The leader of the Marketing courses posed the question, 'Can you know too much about a topic to teach it well?'

A great question, and Tom had recently joined the college (why, goodness only knows) directly from a senior position in marketing in the private sector, so he was picking up this teaching stuff from scratch (on a sink or swim basis in those days) but he did bring with him his native perspective on consumer behaviour, which implies a (limited) degree of empathy with them, which he extended to students.

45 years later I don't recall the details, but I do remember that my position then was "no". Obviously the more you know about something the better you can teach it!

I was wrong. As a jack-of-many-subjects (but all of them rather "soft" and vague) I was not yet aware of how little I knew about any of them; so I had not actually come up against the problem, but later on I did get to the stage of knowing too much in a few areas.

There are two main problems with knowing too much;
  • One is that of bounding one's own knowledge—confining it to the course curriculum and not wandering off into abstruse detail which serves only to confuse the students. This is a particular problem when teaching introductory courses, when you know that what you are teaching is not exactly wrong, but is drastically over-simplified and does not consider all the exceptions to a rule. The temptation is to explain them, and in so doing to lose sight of the broad picture or rule of thumb which is an essential part of scaffolding the teaching. And there is also the perpetual temptation to show off.
  • And then there is the failure to appreciate students' difficulties. This is of course the root of the traditional caricature of the punitive teacher, who really cannot understand why students do not—or, it seems will not—understand. And it is a particular problem in relation to threshold concepts, because as the term suggests, once they have been grasped it is difficult to see how one could have ever done without them. The teacher is forever on the other side of the threshold from the learner, and has to make a conscious effort to grasp the learner's lack of comprehension. But of course there is no point in trying to teach without having passed the threshold(s). This is a variant of the curse of knowledge, so effectively explored by Steven Pinker in his wonderful The Sense of Style (Allen Lane; 2014).
But it is not merely about knowing too much—it is if anything more of a problem in respect of skills, partly because as Reynolds (1965) suggests, habituation makes it difficult even to remember one's first floundering attempts to master a skill.  (The 'Unconscious Competence' stage of the popular model.)

The title of one of my sites is based on Seneca 'Homines dum docent discunt' ('men learn while they teach' Letter VII to Lucilius On Crowds); it is important to be learning in order to be continually reminded of what it is like to be ignorant or incompetent, in order to get alongside our students. Ignorance is a fragile fruit.

12 January 2015

Items to Share: 11 January 2015

Education Focus

David Didau special!
  • Thanks to you… David Didau | A Skeptical Teacher 'David skilfully explores why it really pays to be aware of the inherent problems of research in the field of education and wary of the conclusions we draw from said research. [...] I felt fairly self-assured that I was not overdoing the ‘Yes but education research shows that…’ line of argument. I’d like to thank David for pointing out several interesting issues that I hadn’t been aware of and reminding me of the somewhat shaky ground that some of my claims rested on.' 
  • Do we really have a growth mindset? | David Didau: The Learning Spy 'This is my bottom line: It is morally reprehensible to expect teachers to sacrifice their home lives on the altar of professional responsibility. If we really valued a growth mindset approach to education we’d make damn sure it was safer for teachers to learn from failure.' 

      • Do Learners Really Know Best?.pdf (Kirschner and van Merrienboer, 2013) 'This article takes a critical look at three pervasive urban legends in education about the nature of learners, learning, and teaching and looks at what educational and psychological research has to say about them. The three legends can be seen as variations on one central theme, namely, that it is the learner who knows best and that she or he should be the controlling force in her or his learning. The first legend is one of learners as digital natives [...] The second legend is the widespread belief that learners have specific learning styles [...] The final legend is that learners ought to be seen as self-educators who should be given maximum control over what they are learning and their learning trajectory. It concludes with a possible reason why these legends have taken hold, are so pervasive, and are so difficult to eradicate.'
      • A Guide to the Flipped Classroom - Technology - The Chronicle of Higher Education 'We've compiled a booklet, downloadable [...], designed to serve as a quick primer on this growing—and sometimes controversial—teaching approach. It contains several recent articles and essays from The Chronicle, along with a list of links for further reading. Downloading is simple: Just fill out [a] form, and the booklet is all yours.
      Other Business
      • Getting Grief Right - NYTimes.com 'When I was trained, in the late 1970s, the stages of grief were the standard by which a grieving person’s progress was assessed. [...] That model is still deeply and rigidly embedded in our cultural consciousness and psychological language. It inspires much self-diagnosis and self-criticism among the aggrieved. This is compounded by the often subtle and well-meaning judgment of the surrounding community. A person is to grieve for only so long and with so much intensity.' Kubler-Ross has much to answer for!

      05 January 2015

      Items to Share; 4 January 2015

      Education Focus
      • The Literacy Blog: Dr Helen Abadzi 'Fundamentally, what she is advocating is that when we are teaching young children to read and spell or do basic arithmetic, we need to introduce new knowledge a bit at a time and we need to practise the skills particular to the manipulation of that knowledge to automaticity' [via the Echo Chamber]
      • Text Savvy: Education-Ish Research '[R]esearcher Deborah Ball (along with co-author Francesca Forzani) provide some measure of validation for many educators' frustrations, disappointments, and disaffections with education research. In a paper titled "What Makes Education Research 'Educational'?" published in December 2007, Ball and Forzani point to education research's tendency to focus on "phenomena related to education," rather than "inside educational transactions". My own take is here.
      • Changing up a game-changer: Teach Like A Champion 2.0 – A (Brief) Review | Improving Teaching ' “It shouldn’t take a dozen years of brutal trial and error, suffering, and fatigue” for teachers to solve problems which are ‘endemic’ in schools. At some point all teachers answer “What do you do when a student gives up and simply won’t try? How do you know what the student who hides silently in the corner is learning?” The 2010 edition of Teach Like a Champion shared solutions; revised and reorganised, Version 2.0 is published this month.'
      Other Business
      • Just For Fun: The Trouble with p » Sociological Images 'In statistics, a little star next to a coefficient generally means that the result is statistically significant at the p<.05 level. In English, this means that there is only a 1 in 20 chance that the finding just popped up by pure random chance. In sociology, that’s generally considered good enough to conclude that the finding is “real.” [...] If one investigates a lot of relationships, however, this way of deciding which ones to claim as real has an obvious pitfall...'
      • Are some diets “mass murder”? | The BMJ 'From low fat to Atkins and beyond, diets that are based on poor nutrition science are a type of global, uncontrolled experiment that may lead to bad outcomes, concludes Richard Smith'
      • Restored forests are fighting climate change [Kottke.org] 'And now some potential good news about climate change. Efforts to restore the world's rainforests have gained traction and are having small but definite effects on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.'
      • Banking Culture Encourages Dishonesty - Scientific American 'Research in moral psychology and behavioral ethics, [...] suggests that the dishonesty may be due something more basic: money and number crunching are an important part of the banking industry. When people are focused on money, research shows, they behave in self-interested ways. Even thinking about money leads people to be less helpful and fair in their dealings with others, to be less sensitive to social rejection, and to work harder toward personal goals. In fact, money can make us so focused on our selfish motives that it can even lead to unethical behavior.'