Differentiation and the Individual Learning Journey

For a long time now, various strands of thinking have been coming together in my head, almost without any effort on my part (though I knew it would be hard work when I started to pull them together, and so it’s proved).

I believe in planning. In some circles, saying that is received with surprise, almost as if there’s a natural conflict between creative, engaging teaching and the logically sequenced processes of the planning effort. In fact, I’ve found the opposite to be true, though the relationship between planning and delivery does contain an essential paradox: freedom needs boundaries.

This mirrors debates about creativity which have rolled through the last century. Daniel Goleman’s excellent, neuroscientific article about creativity (link below) doesn’t entirely debunk The Fabian Society’s influential ‘four stages of creativity’ model of 1926 and whilst it’s evident that the interplay between different areas of brain function is more complex than simply left brain/right brain, that tension between focus and relaxation is clearly the core of the creative process. As Ken Robinson says in ‘Changing Education Paradigms’ (find it on YouTube or RSA Animate), creativity is the “process of having original ideas which have value” – the Holy Grail we’re all looking for when figuring out how to teach that next session.

So I’ve been trying to achieve two things: sell the virtues of planning to trainee teachers (and, sometimes, my own colleagues) and figure out a process for achieving and recording genuinely differentiated learning, which doesn’t rely on assumptions or boxing off students into learning styles silos.

After several months, and run-throughs with some very good-natured guinea pigs (thanks Certs students), I think I’ve got it. Or at least got it down enough to present to my peers as something worth giving a go – I’ll be doing that tomorrow and Wednesday and look forward to coming back to the comments box without too much egg on my face.

All the best processes are simple, radical and elegant (the Thinking Environment is a case in point). I don’t – yet – aspire to elegance, but simple, radical – I hope so. Radical enough to begin to make a real difference to how we view our students and, more importantly, how they view themselves.




Young Adults and Social Media – a discussion?

I’m sure this will just be the first blog of many, following Friday’s ‘Teacher Training and Technologies’ conference at the University of Huddersfield.  My head has been spinning for days now with all that I more-or-less absorbed there; I was certainly inspired and I’m still figuring out what I learned.

What’s most present with me, though, is how much working with younger adults is given as a reason for limiting the use of social media in education.  I’ll be upfront here – I have no experience of teaching under-19s or parenting over-15s, so I’ve a four year experience gap which could account for the fact that I’ve never found any reason not to treat young people as equal thinkers, of one another and of me.  It seems to me that there could be something dangerously infantilising about the assumption that young adults need to be actively protected by their teachers, to the extent that activities that could potentially enhance their learning are denied to them without consultation.

Harsh?  Naive?  Maybe and I will prepare to stand corrected by anyone who can come right back at me with a rationale based on experience.  What I’d love is an open-minded discussion (I mean, rather than fixed-position debate).

My hope is that, given a chance to use social media safely in an education context, anyone who takes that chance will learn a lot about how to make their personal social media use safer too.  One of the many comments that has stayed with me since Friday is that Facebook, for example, isn’t the reason for bullying but the vehicle.  As are mobile phones, chat rooms, emails – and voices.  “Do we really want to start asking people to stop talking to one another?” asked one workshop participant.  Well…no.

The argument that young people need to be protected from social media at college or university is surely grounded in the assumption that they are not mature or wise enough to be able to keep themselves safe.  Of course this will sometimes be true – and twelve years’ teaching experience has shown me that it’s just as true of adults.  Bringing explicit discussions around safety and boundaries into the classroom, negotiating and providing good practice guidelines, facilitating students to think for themselves about their experiences – surely these are effective constructivist tools which can empower students to make themselves safer in life, as well as in their studies.

I’ve survived an attempt to bully me (by an adult) on Facebook so I do know how painful and undermining it can be.  My confidence took a wobble when this happened, early into my experimentation with Facebook for back-channel discussions.  Luckily, I had the resilience and support to take a step back, see how what had occurred  – and reconfigure my boundaries.  I learned a lot from that experience and it strengthened, rather than damaged me.  As a metaphor for life, it’s a powerful one.

I don’t teach under-19s but I train teachers who do.  I’d love to know how you think social networking could support young people’s engagement with their studies and whether or not you think you could help them keep it safe.

Reflexion vs Reflection

I’m not sure I trust ‘instinct’, I tend to think it’s a very fast thought…however in figuring out what I think about my practice, the ‘feel’ often comes before the ‘thought’.  Sometimes months before (I’m a slow thinker).

I have felt for some time that the definition of being reflexive could be summarised in the question “Why do I do what I do?” and that at its heart was a connection with values work.  But being asked to define ‘reflexion‘ as opposed to ‘reflection‘ got me doing the goldfish mouth.

A Twitter exchange (is there a word for that?  Tweetfest?) with @RevJSmallwood today (thanks, Rev) brought the lightbulb moment:

Reflection = I did this, this happened, I’ll do this next.

Reflexion = I did this because (this is how my values played out, that theory held true), this happened, I’ll do this next.

Reflexion goes to places reflection can’t, because once you’ve figured out what’s happened on a meaningful level (eg equality is an important value to me), you won’t do it again.  You know why you did what you did and you won’t go round the same loop twice.  You avoid that whole trap of ‘reflection ping-pong’ (well I did this last time and it didn’t work, so I changed it and now that doesn’t work, so I’m going back to the first thing and maybe it will work this time, etc etc…)

But reflexion can only take place once the educator has connected with their values and has a level of self-awareness which allows them to interrogate their practice with honesty.  And, of course, where they have given themselves time to think.

What do you think?

Overcoming Resistance

Having started this blog in giddy excitement, I find myself resistant to using it – in fact, I haven’t opened it again in 2012.

Yesterday, I found myself telling Year 1 Cert Ed/PGCE students that I was “frightened of blogging.”  Laura asked me why.  We’d been exploring untrue limiting assumptions that morning, so I mentally phrased a question for myself:

“What am I assuming that’s causing me to be frightened of blogging?”

The answer wasn’t far away – the dominating, untrue, limiting assumption:  “No-one wants to read what I write.”

Quick as a flash, James said:  “You write on Facebook and we all want to read that.”  He was right.  I don’t think twice about tweeting or posting on Facebook.  I was left with no logical defence but the resistance was still there.

Trying again with the Thinking Environment approach (www.timetothink.com) I might try to ask myself another question:

“It’s possibly true that no-one wants to read what I write.  So what am I assuming that causes that assumption to make me frightened of blogging?”

Again the answer presented itself quickly:  “It would be a waste of time.”  Even as my brain was processing this I knew that the answer was a firm, heartfelt, “NO!”  It would not be a waste of time to blog into an unread ether, even if that was the case.  The purpose of the blog had always been to educate myself primarily, to shape my thoughts and practice so that I could better support others to learn.

So here I am, my determination reinvigorated.  Let’s see what happens.  And thanks to Northern College’s Year 1 Certs students for inspiring this thinking.

Teaching for a Social Purpose

Welcome to TeachNorthern’s blog:  Teaching for a Social Purpose

It’s about getting the message out there that teaching CAN change the world, and probably should.

Learning to blog is very out there, isn’t it?  You’ve can’t blog privately for a bit until you’ve got your confidence up.  I’ve thrown myself in head-first and chose WordPress because I liked the name…time will tell if I figure out how to get across the theory and practice of Teaching for a Social Purpose in a manner that anyone will want to read.

This blog is based on a dozen years’ fascination with teaching and teacher education, working at The Northern College in Barnsley, England.  The views expressed are my own, and not the organisation’s, though I hope our values continue to chime harmoniously for the next dozen years.