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Learning what? Learning how?

So often education is outcome focused. Students are taught to take tests. They are taught to the test.

Rats. What’s the assessment?

In. What do I have to do?

A. Can you show me an example?

Maze. Do you actually have one that you’ve made?

It’s difficult to see a way out; it’s difficult to see a why and even more challenging to figure out how. 

Sometimes it isn’t about the actual tangible outcome- the essay, the script, the thing you make, the most important part is relational, understanding the process. The immediate goal does not encapsulate the longer term benefits of the task. Try explaining this to a student who says – but I need to get a certain grade or I can’t do the next class/task… Just tell me what you want me to do. It’s not just the students who are task oriented. Learning gain is a buzzword, and just after the definition, the section on the .gov website labelled ‘Why does it matter?’ begins with ‘Capturing how students benefit‘. Those two words in close proximity make my neck hairs hackle: capture and benefit. Certainly the concept of learning gain is not at all bad, but the wording makes me think.

Maha’s tweet rings true of how many academics find themselves learning on the job, but also it is true of teaching in so many other contexts, including for those on the other side of the teacher’s desk. Good performers aren’t necessarily good teachers. Students aren’t born as great learners. Neither ‘teaching’ nor ‘learning’ come from the tap on the head of the fairy’s magic want that suddenly ‘learns you’ something. The learning- acquiring the se skills and understanding the processes- takes place somewhere beyond the textbook. The answers on the exams are not The Answers, they are tools- rungs on a ladder, paving stones in a path you are building, maybe even the trowel used to build.

Why do people miss the how? (especially in formal learning settings)

  • How takes time.
  • How is sticky.
  • How is where the perseverance kicks in.
  • How involves failure.
  • How needs help.

How also takes working with the ‘what’: knowledge, experiences, and a desire and willingness to engage with deeper learning. Even when there are teachers who do understand the how, the students can be hung up on not seeing an immediate why. Sometimes, the development of the how doesn’t produce visible ‘results’ until later, maybe well after that class, publication, event. Those seeds take time to grow, which makes it difficult to quantify in terms of standard metrics.

But I’m not a brick in the wall. I’m a person.

Image CC-BY-SA by Yi-Mei Ho

 

It is a dilemma to be in it for the long haul, the ongoing goal of learning, and to live in a real world where people are driven by demonstrating things, achieving, quantifying, and monetising. Perhaps as educators and co-learners, we can value the learning space and build some of that elasticity into existing classes, jobs, experiences so that those we learn, teach, and interact with can grow with us – for the sake of developing a repository of skills. Then if and when they build a path with their skills to a certain career, they will be prepared.

Learning Out Loud: Finding a Voice

Over the years I have gotten far more brave with my own learning and with sharing aspects of the journey. There is no destination in sight, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t arrival points. This post notices one.

Sometimes progress in learning is difficult to see – looking for the wood through the trees is a phrase that comes to mind, and there’s an excellent passage in the book The Forest People by Colin Turnbul where one of the forest dwellers is shown a clearing for the first time. He climbs a mountain and upon coming out of the forest into a clearing this was the scene:

On the plains animals were grazing everywhere; a small herd of elephant to the left, about twenty antelopes stared curiously at us from straight ahead, and way down to the right was a gigantic herd of about a hundred and fifty buffalo. But Kenge did not seem to see them.

Sometimes we cannot simply understand what is before us, even if we are in it. The same holds true for learning. As we progress day by day, today is likely to resemble yesterday, with small changes. It is only when we step back and look at progress over weeks or months that we can see changes clearly. Read more

Sowing seeds for learning

I am struck by how ideas form. This morning was like waking up under a bucket of cold water with various inputs – all enlightening, some glimmering sparks like stars, while others made me aware of darkness. Over the past few days thoughts have been bubbling about learning, as I read writings of others.

‘Learning is this’, ‘learning is that’. It makes me itch when theorists or educators so firmly define learning as a something. Imagine the teacher standing over the desk, asking the student, ‘What are you doing? Why aren’t you learning?’ really? Who could be expected to answer that? I certainly didn’t know how to answer the substitute teacher, so just turned my face back to the book, in grade school.

Sometimes learning is as etherial, something delicate and almost passive that is woven into our essential everything. I cannot just ‘learn’ just like I can’t just dream, but I can become more receptive to having ideas, and if you know me, I am indeed likely to blurt out with an ‘OH!’, mid conversation, because something popped into my head. Is that step one? It’s probably step 47, but recognising it is a good thing and certainly fits along the path somewhere. It is far less often the thing that happens when someone shoves a book under my nose and says: learn this.

What is learning? -Can anyone put their thumb on it?

Learning happens through experience and is the result of experience, but is not an experience. Thinking existentially: I am learning. Read more

What can you do? looking ahead to 2018

At this time of year, there are countless reviews – looking back, the year in brief, the best moments… It is important to look back, to review and reflect, but also to move forward. Yes you can are three very powerful words. I wonder if we hear these enough? Do we say them to our families? Do we say them to our friends? Do we say them to ourselves?

Saying them is the first step. Living them comes with time.

There is an art to progress, and perhaps it is a delicate blend of the details and the doing. That doesn’t make sense by itself, but imagine the scene:

The tree growing its leaves: each leaf has incredible detail, but the leaf doesn’t make a tree, but it would be impossible to have the tree without the leaves, and the quality of the details makes the whole so much more rich. Read more

Pedagogy of Harmony

The title of this post comes from a phrase coined by Stephen Downes in a Mastodon conversation where he said:

“This and the related discussion led me to think of a ‘pedagogy of harmony’ as my own perspective (as opposed to pedagogy of small, say, or pedagogy of slow – buy also, on reflection, as opposed to Friere’s pedagogy of the oppressed (and later pedagogy of hope’)).

What is a ‘pedagogy of harmony’? I’m not exactly sure, but it combines a feeling of well-being and comfort and inclusion.” (source link to the full thread here)

A day or two later, I received an email from Matthias Melcher suggesting perhaps the concept could perhaps be explained by melodic dissonances and maybe with an audible demonstration. This unexpected email sparked a firework of ideas in my mind. I’ll do my best to put a few of them in an understandable order here.

My frame has to do with painting different images of harmony, how we can practically understand it, and what it has to do with people and pedagogy/learning (that ‘p’ word is a good one, but laden with baggage). Humour me with explaining and dancing around a topic that is as big as history itself, well nearly.

Read more

On Performance

Last night I had the pleasure of performing a recital accompanied by my friend and colleague on the University’s lovely 1876 Dancy D Steinway piano. Oh I love my cello and I love to play for people. Performing for me is interesting because I am trained to do it, but in life I do many other things as well and this kind of solo performance is a slice of the pie. Finding balance is a quest. (recordings from the concert are at the end of the post, in case you want to skip the reflective part!) Read more

A Mad-lib Burst of Creativity

I love a good story, and hopefully my students will too! Tomorrow we meet for one last session at the end of the term. At this time of year tensions run high. There are huge expectations on people and with exams and concerts looming, we could all use a little light-hearted silliness.

I made my class a little game: A Mad-lib (I made more games too, but thought I’d share this one) Read more

Are hugs free?

This question popped up in conversation last week, and it was one of those to which I had an instant reaction:

Of course hugs aren’t free. 

Wait- Why? How? What? Surely they are?

For me it was about considering the who and the what and the perspective. There are many things that don’t cost money but still come from somewhere, or someone, and are not blowing in the wind, removed from attachment or origin. Read more

California and the Ukulele!

California here we come! (yes, again!!) Remember that crazy trip where my students fundraised their way to America? and then it became a credit-bearing class? The one that also became a book? Well this is that class, we’re getting ready to hit the sunshine in 2018!

…not just yet, actually the class doesn’t ‘officially’ start until the new year, but the students joining me this year started their work back in May. They spent the summer fundraising and playing together and now they have been devising workshops for groups of students in primary schools and also for staff as well. The sessions for staff aim to give camp councillors the foundations for some fun summer workshops they can use with their campers.

Every year the cohort on this module is different. Last year I was busy preparing formal recital material with one of the students so we could perform as a duo. This year the group have formed a folk band with me on cello, a drum/bass, ukulele, and singer. They will be teaching the underlying chords and components of some great tunes, as well as presenting elements of their own instruments and interests. The singer will be teaching some traditional Polish songs, and the ukulele player just shared this with me: (can you identify the tune? … my 10 year old can!)

I can’t wait to see what they come up with in the coming months. This is one of those classes where students put into real life use the skills they have learned throughout their degree. We’re even hoping to go to a conference together.

Our trip to California is in February, and in the meantime we’re working on fundraising to buy ukuleles for all the kids we work with. We would love to do workshops and leave instruments with each of the schools. Watch this space for updates on our trip and fundraising.

As they say … pass it on!  🙂

The Delay, The Wheelchair, And The Northern Lights

Booked in to fly from Kamloops to London I was sad to leave beautiful friends, but eager to see my family again. I spent time in the morning soaking up the surroundings one last time, and all was well. The taxi driver and I talked about London, as he grew up there, and all the changes that have happened over the past 20 years with the roads.

Delay number 1.

It was only a 14 minute delay, and heck, they sent an email about it. No worries.

but then, another few minutes, and then a bit more, and then we took off. The land was too beautiful to think of delays, but as we came in to land in Calgary, over the loud speaker came, “We have a passenger making a very tight connection to London…” Everyone was lovely and let me right to the front to get off first, but then… Read more