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Posts tagged ‘reflection’

Toward Personal Learning: Book Club Post 1

I’ve been reading Stephen Downes’ book Toward Personal Learning, which is a collection of blog posts, speeches, and articles (and is free via his website). It is part of my summer learning, making time to do the important things. Reading is one of those important things, and so is talking to people, so I invited people to share their thought about this book as a summer book club, using the tag #TwardPersonalLearning

As I read I keep a copy quotes that jump out at me, and these two really did:

“Good learning empowers; it doesn’t needlessly constrain.” p.59

“That’s the thing with education. What we think is the ‘outcome’ of the process is never really the outcome. If you simply case whether or not they learn how to code REST interfaces, that’s all they will learn. But if you want them to acquire a wider range of skills, you need to place them in a more challenging environment (and then encourage cooperation so they have a decent chance of success in that environment).” p.64

They come from a section that is a written conversation – replies to real questions by students. That is the first meaningful thing for me. Conversation with students. Let’s write that again: Conversation with students others. Even before discussing content, valuing the inquisitiveness of others and engaging with people whether they hold ‘respected’ posts in life, or something less outwardly glamourous, but none the less needed, wins for me. Every one of us on this planet is a person. Every one of us learns, as we all breathe, eat, sleep…

A story…

A friend described a situation once, where she was travelling and there was something wrong with the plane that caused a great delay. Everyone waiting to board was left in the waiting lounge, sitting, some tired, some impatient, all wondering what was wrong? It became clear that it was easy to dehumanise the situation and get angry at ‘the plane’. After some time, a very pale woman was escorted off the plane, and had obviously been taken seriously ill during the previous flight. What followed was curious. First there was a face to the problem. Then announcements came. We are sorry for the delay… The captain is doing… (‘the captain’ was an important figure of course) The cleaning will prepare the aircraft… (?? ‘the cleaning’?! not even the cleaning staff) And then a series of people went on to the aircraft to clear up whatever needed clearing up and make it ready for the next journey.

I asked that friend to please, please look at those people, in their eyes, and smile at them as they come off that plane because they are people, not ‘the cleaning’.

I’m sure it happens in everyday life, whether with cleaners, or the person at the supermarket loading shelves, but it also happens in education. We’ve all heard ‘there are no stupid questions, only the ones unasked’. Oh so true, but how many of us really live it? Do we ask, and do we value the asking of others enough to reply? Sometimes there is a divide between teachers and students that seems less of a gap and more of a chasm. I am glad that in this book, Downes respects and answers the questions of students with such considered and genuine answers.

Back to the book…

“Good learning empowers; it doesn’t needlessly constrain.” p.59

Yes indeed! That reminded me of another section in the book: New Forms of Assessment: Measuring What You Contribute Rather Than What You Collect, p.35, where Downes suggests a ‘what if’ situation. He looks beyond considering process instead of outcomes, Downes also talks about outcomes, but the sort that are byproducts of the process and that contribute to an ongoing learning, instead of the insular, individual demonstration of knowledge that is common in formal academic assessments. He asks what if students were rewarded for cooperation, helping one another, contributing new resources to repositories, contributions to the common good?

It is far easier to pose these questions than to enact them within academic settings, but that is not to say it can and does not happen. It is common for people to be awarded a percentage of a grade for participation, or attendance, so why not provide some sort of framework/criteria/guidance to go with it? Constructive participation with peers and engaging with the wider community to introduce new ideas… (I’m dreaming on paper) Why not?

Two quotes came together to teach me something:

“How many teachers tell their students to blog without giving them examples of what good blogging looks like?” p.59


“That’s the thing with education. What we think is the ‘outcome’ of the process is never really the outcome. If you simply case whether or not they learn how to code REST interfaces, that’s all they will learn. But if you want them to acquire a wider range of skills, you need to place them in a more challenging environment (and then encourage cooperation so they have a decent chance of success in that environment).” p.64

Oh my. On p.59 the discussion centred around internet use for young people, and so the above sentence also said (in brackets) … examples of what (age appropriate) blogging … but for me the message was simpler and really belonged with the paragraph that happened a few pages later, quoted above. It also relates to good learning empowering. With true learning comes genuine exploration. We go into our unknown and that is when we learn, expanding our known. Then we have learned.

How can I expect you or anyone to learn without a hint of what to do? It was a look in the mirror for me, and yes, I do ask students to blog. Although that could be replaced with A.N.Other activity’s name, that example worked for me.

It reminds me of the concept of a gesture someone shared with me:

It’s about good intentions. Do we offer the hand, but give the fist, or hold something back in that closed hand? As a teacher I want to live what I teach. I want to offer the hand and give the hand. That involves respect, patience, and a willingness to learn too. Those are my goals.

So far I am eating up this book like it was made of freshly picked fruit. It is making me think, and it so VERY well referenced! I am curious what parts stood out for you, meant something, or made you think of other stories or instances in your own learning. Please do join in, comment or share your own thoughts.


A brilliant typo

It’s coming to the end of the semester and student minds are beginning to focus on assessment tasks and performance exams.

A student came to me with an early draft of an essay that was part outline, part drafted text, and in it there was a brilliant typo. The student had either mistyped or autocorrect had it’s way and changed mediation to meditation.

The essay notes read like this:

Learning is meditated by the child’s behaviour. Meditation is key concept in child development and culture- it enables the child to interact with their individual development.

Although it wasn’t what they meant, it stuck with me so much that a few weeks later I told the student I thought it was actually the most meaningful typo I had come across and I wanted to write about it. There are so many things that I profoundly like about it. Firstly there are key concepts of learning, behaviour, children, development, culture, and interaction. That might just be a whole world right there. It made me think about how they worked together, like a steampunk model of the universe, orbiting and balancing with one another. Image CC-BY-NC-ND by Andrew Poole

The associations with learning, especially at exam time, are anything but resembling a child’s behaviour. Children play. Learning should be play, or at least incorporate elements of play as fundamental – play as in experimenting, experiencing, first-hand, where you are at the helm, making the rules and experiencing the consequences of how concepts work or not in practice, in dedicated time, deliberately, and with all our attention. Playing is hard work, and can include incredible precision. The difference between play and work? Perhaps this has to do with ownership. My work becomes play when I feel in control of the parameters, and also when I am allowed to fail, or have iterations to get to the final product. When we play a game, outside in the field hiding behind trees, and someone spots us and we’re ‘out’ then oftentimes the rules get adapted so we can continue. Are we not engaging in a new strategy? Persisting, demonstrating some form of resilience to continue toward the goal. Having another go so we might ‘win’, or climb the tree, or stand on the mound in the middle of the field, or get to whatever the goal might be.

Going back to the inspiring typo:

Learning is meditated by the child’s behaviour.

I imagine these melting into one, becoming transient stages of one another. The link for me was the ‘is’… back in school I loved grammar, and although it doesn’t apply to this sentence, when there is a simple state of being verb, the subject and predicate commute – you can reverse the sentence. In this case there is a helping verb, so it doesn’t work, but I took the principle and applied it to the concepts:

What if learning is a form of behaviour and this in turn is a form of meditation?

In different traditions, various types of activity can be prayer, so perhaps different activities can also have meditative qualities. I don’t know if I really know what meditation is. I think if I thought I understood, I would be wrong as well, so there’s comfort in admitting that I don’t know. I do know that reflection, stillness, and activity are all important components in my learning and it helps when I can regain my childlike mindset. I don’t mean a mindset of folly. Just as exams bring out the worst connotations of learning, sometimes the idea of being an adult somehow invokes images of being through or finished with all that experimenting, learning, growing. Am I going to get taller? No, I’m an adult. Am I going to stop growing? No, I am childlike.

See where I am coming from?

so if I rewrite the brilliant typo to demonstrate what it made me think, it could go like this:

Learning, childlike behaviour (play), and reflective Meditation is are key concepts in child my development and culture- it they enables the child me to interact with culture their individual and development.

without all the visual edits, and put into the right order, here’s where it took me:

Learning, play, and reflective meditation are key concepts in my development. They enable me to individually develop and interact with culture.

It was the best typo. Thank you to the student for being willing to share that developmental draft, and for letting me write about it. Featured image CC BY-ND–NC by the-sillies. Above image CC-BY-NC by Lee Davenport

A long and winding road

A conversation is something I relish, not chit-chat, not pleasantries, but a real conversation. I began my journey on this road slowly, because I read slowly, and actually I hear voices when I read – so a conversational book is completely perfect. My post about it is going to be notes, just because. The quotes below are things that struck me. When I was younger I used to buy two copies of books and sometimes cut out fantastic quotes. I remember both the top of p.105 of Sartre’s Being and nothingness, and p.84 of Great Expectations. That probably tells you something about me.

I found out about this book club about We make the road by walking  by Myles Horton and Paulo Friere in a very round-a-bout way and decided to have a read and join in. I purposefully did not read any posts before drafting this one. Bryan Alexander is the man at the centre of the book club, and you can read his first post about it. I didn’t want spoilers as I haven’t read the book before. Saying that, after I wrote this, I then looked at half a dozen posts and thought how lovely it was that people have all sorts of insights. I have notes and resonances, and glimpses. I will have more time to write after next week, and then may develop some of the themes and will certainly comment on other’s writing, if belatedly. Time is relative and flexible, I hope. Here we go: Read more

Jumping in

(2 min read on beginnings, transitions, and silence) This week was the first week of the term in many places across the UK, for my university, my local primary school, my children’s schools and colleges, and no matter how many times I’ve done it, the beginning reminds me of holding your nose and jumping into the water. Sometimes it’s beautifully warm, sometimes shockingly cold, then there’s the first time you jump off the side of a boat or a pontoon into the sea and realise it’s salty. You don’t know what it will be like until you’re in it.

(Image CC BY-NC-ND by Elvis Kennedy)

I knew what the summer was like. I developed a routine of study, writing, reflection, and stillness. Yes, my routine included slowing down to silence. In fact I found balance so that several times in the day I could put my finger on just the thought I wanted, like having a clearly tuned radio. Now I jumped into the water and am swimming in the stream of the new semester. It is refreshing, there are great people, but there are new things to balance – a current to navigate. I wonder if there is a secret to managing change and maintaining the balance and stillness.

Today is Saturday, and although it is grey and slightly drizzly, I can still taste the summer. There are raspberries in the garden to pick and the magnolia and the rose are still blossoming. If I let myself, I can feel that stillness, but today it took time to find it. I had to physically lie still and then let the mental static go before I could see through the noise. The noise isn’t bad. It isn’t actually noise at all. It is all the important things – every week has challenges…

I had a special sort of day last week where the shower door fell off, the loo (toilet) broke, and my car clutch went. When I went to start the car it sounded like 22 mid-sized chicks having a squabble in there, along with some metallic grinding noises… Good thing I cycle.487357814_73150e2772_zI did say it was a special sort of day, and there were plenty of things to think about and it made my brain look like this: (Image CC BY-NC-ND by Jason Hunter)


Bizarrely though, it was a good day. There will always be everyday things that float into our worlds and minds like puffy clouds in the sky. Maybe it is when we allow them to block the view or rain on the picnic that they become noise.

For me it’s learning balance and developing skills of switching between one task and the next. Blowing away the clouds that shouldn’t be in the front row of the theatre of my mind, and allowing the spotlight to shine where it should.

Slowing down to stillness? Yes.

It is not about how long it takes, but about always remembering that it is an ongoing process, and it is only when I forget to listen and push back the distractions that the noise clouds my vision. Here’s to focus and finding the groove.


Image CC BY-NC-ND by Josh N

Learning in Public: Part 3

This is a critical post about performing. I take you inside my mind to illustrate the good and the challenges of performance. Going from the practice room to the public platform is something that all musicians do. In school, at university, or with a teacher this is something that is trained into you and facilitated. There is performance class, there are opportunities to ‘air’ the music first, but what happens when you leave that environment and are on your own? Do you keep it going? Do you still push yourself? Few graduating musicians are likely to play the same concerti they prepared for their final recitals as recital material and certainly not as regular ‘gig’ material. And what of the learning opportunities? When you leave your teacher’s studio, there are no more regular performance classes, and depending on what you do there may not be any peers to play for….unless you create the opportunities. This is the story of the opportunity I created, my thought processes, and the results. I’m learning in public. (Featured image CC-BY-NC by C Steele) Read more

Looking back and moving forward

Last week I held the last of three sessions for the Connected Classes project. They wove themselves into one of my university modules and became the content. The students in my class were studying one-to-one teaching in music, and they all had taught a student of their own throughout this term. Our usual ending sessions had to do with looking at the wider picture, troubleshooting, and reflecting on the experiences over the term and and so we used (and expanded) those ideas to engage with them as part of our #cclasses sessions.

We had one of the librarians visit us and watch what was going on. She wanted to see me teach, but I told her this would be like no other session she had ever seen, I probably wouldn’t even seem like the teacher! I invited her to bring her headphones and join in. She did listen, but didn’t tweet – instead she made notes, and I asked her permission to share some of her notes with you. So here you have an observer’s account of what went on… Read more

Respectfully yours… from the parents

Last week we heard from the parents in our #IVTchat and it was certainly interesting. I’m not going to soliloquise about it here. The good thing was that it made us think and we had a full discussion afterwards. I sometimes feel my head spin as I could (and did) contribute as teacher, parent, and learner. All I will say here is that life is a complicated cocktail, and with the right ingredients it can be completely magic. Just being aware that there is always more to the picture than we can see is a first step – and understanding that the impact of a teacher can be so very valuable – either to instigate and then reinforce the positive support from home, or to be a source of support where there is less to be found outside the lesson. There was so much to think about! It made us reflect on our own experience and perhaps look at the wider picture of lessons in a slightly different way. Read more

What’s in #YourJar ?

It’s a blog game

called #YourJar


This is a blog challenge for everyone to join in with- whether you are a learner or teacher (and that covers pretty much everyone!) this one is for you. Chrissi Nerantzi proposed the idea as an in-person activity for the 2016 UK National Teaching Fellow’s Symposium. It worked well in person, and it will work well online too. Here’s the challenge:

Everyone gathers three things to put in a real or figurative jam jar. This is #YourJar and the things in it represent some aspect of your learning or teaching. (If you were in a conference setting, everyone would put their jars on a table, labelled with names on the bottom, and people would select a jar that looked interesting and then seek out the person to find out the story behind the objects.) For this blog topic game everyone can post a photo of the jar, or of three things in a glass if you have no jar – and then you describe them. Explain and say why you have chosen those things? You can be as intuitive or erudite as you like.

Read more

It’s all about Repertoire

Five weeks in… already?! So how is it going? Are you finding your way? What are you getting from MUS654?

My university students are drawing together a curriculum for a year’s musical tuition for a someone – the age, the level, the instrument is all up to them. You may be doing that too, or perhaps just following along and reading bits to stretch your musical brain.

Someone asked me this week what did I want to accomplish with all of this?? and I said that I hope to give people the keys to think differently, to think about the things that they do or might be doing. Take a parallel, an analogy- when I came to London I didn’t like it.  As a post-graduate student coming from a different country, although London has a way, I couldn’t quite apprehend it – spatially, socially, or culturally – at least not in the space of those first 10 months I spent there. My experience involved carrying a cello an hour and a bit across London to and from music college where I didn’t know anyone and didn’t understand the routines or the ways it all worked.  I needed a key to somehow unlock the maze that I was busy running around in.

MUS654 is not an answer booklet, it’s no A-Z of teaching, but it is a catalyst, a tool to help you find or even custom-cut your own keys.  once you have the keys, you can have more freedom to go where you like. Think of the topics in the sessions as different houses, and we get to glimpse into some of the rooms – certainly not all of them – but a glimpse can give some insight into a topic or way of thinking, and you can take it from there. So far we’ve taken a tour of a neighbourhood of topics, and from here on out we are going to look at how to connect it up with both specific issues, and with links that bring the topics together.

Have you done a few tasks? Shared any thoughts or ideas? Commented on someone else’s tasks? Let’s hope so!


Timid? Quiet? Ah, perhaps that’s something deeply learned…  What are some of the first demands placed on a baby? What do the parents say? — Hush, don’t cry. DON’T CRY. HUSH. — as a mother of three, my heart sank a little bit. Yes, I did it too.

So could it make a little sense that children, that people, that we are reluctant to share things?Hopefully not. Please have a voice! As intellectually curious learners lets be keen to promote a culture of learning.

(Photo CC-BY byDiba Tillery)

 This week in #MUS654 we are looking at Repertoire. After having grounded ourselves in the musical building blocks – what do we already know, and what is out there, and how do we expand our horizons. As you will know, we learn by doing, and so I hope that you are able to do some of the bits of MUS654 and sharing your creations and insights. Have a voice, as we make the learning community! You can catch up on yesterday’s hangout with Ralph Stelzenmüller HERE and please join us next Wed. at 6pm BST for our next hangout.

Here’s to the upcoming weeks,


Those beautiful books

I wake up happy. Yesterday on twitter, an acquaintance from an educational course encouraged me to share my experience with writing a first book – I have just finished the first complete draft – and that was the most lovely extended hand of an invitation. Haven’t blogged for a while, as there has been just too much typing to do, so I thought I’d ease myself back in with a story. I love stories, and this one is short, true, and lovely.

Last night at around the table there was the usual lively discussion. Grandparents were hearing the news of the week from different grandchildren and there were happy sounds of eating and drinking. It was a good family meal. At one point, a teenage child disappeared and reappeared with a large book, nearly two feet long, hardback – I thought it was an artist’s sketch book to show to people, but it wasn’t. Any guesses what this exciting book was?

The atlas

It was an atlas – found at a charity sale in the village. It cost 20p.

The book was laid out on the floor with great respect. – It is so beautiful; I just have to keep seeing its pages. I want to put them on my walls, and look at them all the time – even the cover is beautiful.

It was a completely genuine display, and and it made quite an impression on me. To the older generation around the table it was an atlas- a very nice one, but an atlas all the same. As someone said – yes, and there was one of those books in every school desk, too. But for this teenager who has grown up in a world of Googlemaps, these pages were fresh and displayed the aspects of terrain and contour so beautifully. I want to have those eyes that see things with beauty and adore the unique contribution they can make.

…so a pause to look at the early morning stars now that everyone is up (before the dawn). I said that I didn’t recognise any of them… and I was told – the summer triangle is rising, Vega, the tail of Scorpius… -and if you’re ancient of days that’s how you know spring is coming. Those are the summer stars rising.

I am distracted now, but that was really the whole story. ‘Just a book’ was actually inspiring and beautiful, but somehow that was easy to miss. I’m not saying that every book is inspiring and beautiful, but I am sure there are things around us everyday that are and that we miss.

On that note, I am off to watch the night sky fade as the sun comes up over the fields.

I will compile thoughts on the experience of writing a book, but that’s a story for another day.

night and morning