December 28, 2005

From Limitation to Possibility

Great post by Borderland:
“Vision controls our perception, and perception becomes our reality.”
This is a quote from an excellent video that I recommend to anyone who
is responsible for nurturing the development of other people.
Dewitt Jones is a former National Geographic photographer who turned to writing and lecturing on the creative process. The video, Celebrate What’s Right With the World,
features riveting photography and asks the question, “What’s here to
celebrate?” It’s a voice of optimism and encouragement urging us to
exercise our imaginations and explore our human potential to transform
ourselves and each other, to become more fully alive in the pursuit of
a vision of a better world.

December 26, 2005

If you're not helping...

After posting two  comments to this post by David Warlick, I then read this at Remote Access:

Business Week Online has a round up of the best ideas of 2005. Some of them include the fading importance of geography, the knowledge economy morphing into the creative economy, social networking for the @ generation, podcasting, and going green.

Once again I ask, as teachers, how are we preparing our students for this future?

Is the writing on the wall yet? With so many teachers making the same point (a point that has been made continually for the past 30 years or so, perhaps even continuously!), the question that begs to be asked is, if kids are doing all this underground learning (i.e. learning IN SPITE of school), then when are schools going to get the hell out of the way?

Last mindless personality test this side of 2005

Oh.  So tell me something I don’t know! I’m a loner, like D’Arcy Norman. Last mindless personality test this side of 2005. Visit at your own risk…


You scored as Loner.





Drama nerd








Ghetto gangsta




What's Your High School Stereotype?
created with

December 24, 2005

Learning for a small planet

This new project of Etienne Wenger's looks interesting.

Learning for a small planet is a unique project to
develop new learning models for the 21st century. Many of the
challenges we face today can be understood as learning challenges: economic
development, the creation of a world culture that is both global and diverse,
the environment, health, regional conflicts—to name a few. Increasing our
learning capability is therefore an urgent imperative. But in order to do so, we
need new models about how to proceed and new visions of what is possible.

Some new models are emerging. In the last decade, for
instance, the concept of community of practice has inspired people and
organizations across all sectors to explore new ways of supporting learning. It
is time to take a systematic look at what is happening, analyze what we are
learning about learning, and explore where this could lead us.
for a small planet
is an attempt to do this: Firefox Extension

From Camaban, I run, not walked, to the new Firefox extension that allows you to post direct to various blog platforms from within Firefox 1.5. Yes! At last!

Santa Clara University Recruiting Students With Blogs

Carol Cooper has a post that caught my eye:
Santa Clara University has launched a student recruitment campaign
using text and photo blog written by five students who are posting
their lives at the California university. The goal is to provide
prospective students with authentic, firsthand accounts of student life.

Now there's an enterprising idea. Course it could backfire: if either the blogging students wrote negative stuff, or their accounts were edited to play up the positive sales-points of the university. But if the bloggers were genuinely good writers, then it would certainly be an interesting experiment.

Unis giving blogges space to work is not new, as I blogged earlier this year. Warwick Uni in the UK is doing very interesting things, and all the more impressive because this initiative isn't overtly a marketing ploy.

A life worth reading about

Robert Fulghum is the author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, which if you're like me you'll have heard of but never read (hey, I WENT to kindergarten! Got the t-shirt, don't need the book). Well, Bud Hunt has a link to Fulghum's website, and on it I found this blurb about his latest book.
Fulghum says
"I wanted to write a book I would want to read
- one I would want to keep and read again - one that was a product of a
life I would have to live to write it."
That made me stop and ponder: "a life I would have to live to write it."

What kind of life do I want to have? If life is my story, what kind of story do I want to read?

December 23, 2005

Another newspaper writer bites the dust

Bud Hunt writes his last newspaper column (for now). This guy could write his own book on writing. Bud's piece includes some interesting tips for December writing and building communities.

December 22, 2005

Connectivism blog: When learning goes underground...

Altho this blog was originally about autonomous language learning, it soon became clear to me that what I am interested in is learning. Period. Although this blog is not devoted to blogging technology or the use of blogs in education, much of what is written on such blogs is often highly relevant to learning, often because blogging and social software raises so many interesting issues regarding learning and teaching, and forces teachers to re-examine many of their beliefs and values.

Here’s an example:

An LMS was the main learning tool (which was a good choice for the program - many of the learners valued the centralized nature of communication and content presentation). After a short period of time, however, groups of learners "broke off" from the program and started holding discussions through Skype, IM, wikis, and other tools. Learners selected tools that were more tightly linked to the types of learning tasks occurring. When the learning was content consumption or simple discussion threads, the LMS was fine. As the learning became more social, learners started using tools with additional functionality…What is the cost of learning "going underground" (i.e. off the radar of the institution)? The biggest impact is that the group of learners no longer has access to the thoughts of the entire group. Small communities form - but are not linked back solidly to the main group. Groups form due to ineffective learning design (tools, content, and process). Second, the organization loses its central role…The concern is that the failure of the organization to provide tools results in a less effective learning experience for all learners…It is the responsibility of the school/college/university to provide the ecology in which learning can occur.

No school today - white Christmas

It was lightly snowing when I left home, but by the time I'd got to the crossroads above...There were no students in the classroom at 9 am. All the power went out for about 20 minutes around 8.50 am, all over the city. Power back now (obviously!) and anyway, I got a good friend with me.
And listening to this

Yay! 2008!

Sometime during the night, this site passed 2,000 visitors. I’m so chuffed, tho I’m not sure why. Is this a symptom of our society’s fixation with numbers? What the hell!

Thank you all for visiting and commenting. I learn so much from the comments.

December 20, 2005

What I'm reading

Space by James Michener.

Second Wind by Dick Francis

Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

All old books! At a place I work, there’s a shelf of these past-their-sellby-date books which teachers freely add to and take from.

December 19, 2005

Why Johnny and Janey can't read and Mr and Ms Smith can't teach

Just want to quickly blog this article by Mark Federman, (PDF Warning!) to come back to later when I have more leisure (yeah, right).

It was one of a number of thought-provoking articles listed by Will Richardson, the first of which was this, and the two of them together prompted these thoughts:

When I read “America’ education crisis”, I want to know, who’s speaking? Because one person’s “crisis” can be another person’s “great leap forward” and yet another’s “opportunity”.  For some it means that America is risking no longer being able to compete on the world stage in terms of jobs, creativity, entrepreneurship  But if the educational system is rotten beyond repair, a crisis might seem good news….

On a technical note, since I upgraded to Firefox’s latest offering, I can no longer use the extremely useful “BlogThis” extension, dammit, but the plus side is I’m rediscovering the usefulness of the Blogjet.


To tango

Nothing whatever to do with autonomy (except my own)…

A link from Will Richardson’s blog led me to this blog site by Darren Kuropatwa, which in this posting includes a beautiful video of tango dancers dancing to a performance by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. My wife bought this CD a few weeks ago so I’ve been listening to it a lot recently.  The CD is in the car at the moment, and as it’s below freezing outside, I ain’t gonna get it now, but it’s track 5 on Disc 2 of this CD, track title Libertango.

It’s a rousing piece, played with appropriate verve, and the necessary Latin combination of serious recklessness. Perhaps it’s a quirk of my present mood, but this piece evokes the serious immediacy of life and its demands. The stunning movie Frida (and its music soundtrack) did the same for me, too.

December 18, 2005

And a cartridge in a pantry

As it’s that time of year again, here’s a seasonal post: And if you want more, check out the links in EFL Geek’s original post:

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
My tulip sent to me:
Twelve drummers drumming,
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lawyers leaving,
Nine lazy Hansons,

Eight maids a-milking,
Seven warts on women,
Six geezers laying,

Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a cartridge in a pantry.

Memory maps

Ever heard of Memory maps? Neither had I till I read this post by Paul Allison. Click on over to Flickr to see it in action.  Neato. Really makes me wish I could do this kind of thing with my students.

Updated update:
Paul Allison's original blog posting on this includes a comment by Susan Ettenheim, in which she refers to an amazing flash movie by Jon Udell which is really exciting. Check it out!
Update: If you sign in to Flickr and go to the nycwp group, you can read the instructions for how to make a memory map (not the flash movie), which instructions I'll paste in below for your convenience, at no extra charge (well it IS Christmas):

So you want to make a memory map, but don’t know how? Here’s a simple guide.
1. Go to Google maps.
2. Zoom in to the area you want. There are two easy ways to do this:
3. The first method is to enter an address in the search field on the Google page. Google will display a map with a red flag marking the address. Unfortunately, the flag may not be in the exact right place (or you might not want the flag; I don’t know how to get rid of it short of starting over). Click the “x” to close the address bubble.
4. The second method is to double-click on the map where you want to display. This centers the map on that location. Then use the zoom tool on the left to zoom in. You can double-click or click and drag anywhere on the map to move the map around.
5. Change to the “Satellite” view by clicking the link on the upper right.
6. Fine tune the position and zoom to display the area you want. The scales of the map and satellite pictures are slightly off. Choose the view you want to use for your memory map, map, satellite or hybrid.
7. Capture the screen. Pressing Alt-PrtScn or shift-apple-4 copies an image of the active window into the clipboard memory or to the desktop as a picture.
8. Paste the captured screen in or open it in Photoshop.
9. Crop the picture>Save for the Web
10. Save the picture to your website folder in the "other" folder.
11. Upload the picture to Flickr. I recommend adding the tags “memorymap memory map” and something to do with the location.
12. Edit the picture’s title and description. Press “save.” Flickr will now display all of your pictures.
13. Select your new picture by clicking on it. Flicker displays it with some tools at the picture’s top edge.
14. Click on the “add note” tool and enter some descriptive text about a location on the picture.
15. Before pressing “save,” click and drag the square that appeared in the upper left of the picture to the correct location on the picture. You can move the square’s corners around to change the square’s size.
16. Press “save.” If you need to change the note’s text or the location of the box after you press “save,” just move your mouse cursor over the box and click. You can now edit the note and move the box.
17. Add more notes. You’re having fun now…

December 17, 2005

How to measure success?

The Blue Skunk Blog has a nice mixed salad of entries, including a link to the Bulwer-Lytton equivalent for bad sex in literature awards and an outsourced Santa cartoon, but what I wanted to mention was this pdf file published by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) entitled “Measuring Sucess: How will we know when we get there?” It examines the question of whether, after twenty years and billions of (presumably US) dollars, the effort to bring technology into (presumably US) schools has been worthwhile. It ends with a quote from Reinventing Government by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler:

  • What gets measured, gets done.
  • If you don’t measure results, you can’t tell success from failure.
  • If you can’t recognize failure, you can’t correct it.
  • If you can’t see success, you can’t reward it.
  • If you can’t see success, you can’t learn from it.

Not sure I agree with the first or the last one, but some food for thought.

December 16, 2005

Borderland: teaching schema theory to kids by talking and thinking aloud

Update: Doug kindly points me to the post I mention below.

I've enjoyed reading Doug's blog for almost a year now (his profile: "I'm from the government. I teach your kids" was what first caught my fancy), but I've especially enjoyed his long, thoughtful postings about teaching and especially about teaching reading, since he decided to switch tacks a little. I can't find the post I'm looking for, but he said something along the lines of, that he'd decided to forgo blogging briefly about lots of interesting websites and bloggers he'd been reading, and instead focus on one subject, reading/literacy, and blog about that in depth.

Anyway, do check out his blog, because he's writing some thoughtful posts, and I find they have value even though I'm not teaching reading: they are also musings about teaching and learning in a broader sense. (And I'm thrilled to discover that Autono Blogger is listed on Borderland's blogroll.)

Borderland :
Yesterday I told the kids that they (fourth graders) had filled in enough blanks for a while. I asked them if they'd ever seen a paper with a sentence on it that had a word missing, and they were supposed to write just the missing word. Heads nodded. Hands raised. One kid said, "Lots!" I told them that the reason teachers gave them those papers was that they are easy to do and easy to grade. Right or wrong, mark it and move on. One of the kids said, "Sometimes the answers are already on the page." I'd forgotten about those things. Some worksheets have a "word bank" so that all you have to do is look at the choices and pick one that seems to fit the space. I told them that they were going to be filling in blanks for me, too; blank pieces of paper. Some of them smiled. They know their teacher is a bit crazy, and he's having fun messing with his students' minds.

December 15, 2005

Teachers vs administration conflicts

Miguel Guhlin blogs here about conflicts involving blogs, teachers and students, but the conflicts he refers to have broader implications, too. How much freedom to teachers have, in fact? Teachers like to think they are the ones in charge of what students are learning, but in reality their hands and feet are tied in so many little ways. A more realistic image might be that schools and institutions are created, and many people are hired to run these places; amongst those hired are teachers, but they are by no means the most important, nor are they the ones making the key decisions. They are hired to fill a slot.

An integrated approach to learning

From Jo Mcleay’s The Open Classroom blog:  students choose a project to investigate… dissolving faculty… sounds interesting and kind of along the lines I and my colleague have been thinking about recently.

At the same time there are rumours and whispers around schools in general that faculties or key learning areas may be dissolved in favour of an integrated approach to learning. That we should not be looking at discrete subjects like SOSE (Studies of Society and Environment) or Science or English but at ways of providing learning experiences for students where they choose a project to investigate and learn what they need to learn in any discipline as they need to learn it. I don’t know of any specific school doing this but I have heard that some are thinking about it. I’m sure some schools out there are doing this or something like it. I’d love to know how it’s going.

US perceptions of college education

A bit of celebrity gossip revealed some interesting perspectives on college education. Which ones are genuine, I wonder? Some pearls of wisdom here, tho I’ve no idea who Olsen is.

December 14, 2005

"They resisted the work, resisted me, and resisted the system..."

Can you identify with this? I can.
They resisted the work, resisted me, and resisted the system that had them in such a foreign place. They resisted and behaved badly because they were afraid of failure, because they had so many other pressures placed on them, and because by behaving badly, they could gain a little respect from their peers by not appearing “stupid.” Yet we all knew what was going on…. we all knew about the resistance and the face-saving. The students and myself, we all knew. And we all knew that many times they just played me. They sometimes played me because they are in a system where everyone is played in some manner because someone has to win and someone loses. That’s just the way it is. They put on a face that allowed them to survive a difficult and foreign system and that face was one of belligerence and defiance. But I wore a face, too. My face was one of the educated, of the elite. They would never see themselves in my face because they couldn’t see through the mask. Look how we all lost.

Another conference in New Zealand

Having attended one  conference in New Zealand recently, I’m now wondering if I can attend this one, on blogs and blogging. I’d love to go.

Tour of Paris?

Fancy a virtual tour of Paris? Click here.

Yokohama JALT presentation

On Sunday, I presented at Yokohama JALT on “Introducing Self-Directed Learning at University”. They were an interested and interesting group of people, and I learned a lot from talking them. Afterwards, I updated my Powerpoint presentation and have uploaded it here (Powerpoint slides) and also here (as a Word doc).

I was particularly delighted to meet Renate Suzuki, Yo JALT’s Program Chair, primarily because she is a fun-loving character who put me at my ease within seconds of our meeting, and also because I’ve been reading Renate’s blog for a year now at least.

December 10, 2005

The undivided self

In a comment to this post, Roger provided a link to the Center for Courage and Renewal. I've only glanced at it, but it seems interesting, and relevant to me now: the identity and integrity of the teacher...invites educators to reclaim their own wholeness and vocational clarity...the shape of an integral life.

I've begun to realize that for some reason, I've learned over the past 20 years to divorce a lot of myself from my teaching . And I don't want to do that any more. This habit not only cuts me off from many of my own inner resources, but it also makes me do the same to my students, and as they have been accustomed to doing the same (perhaps by the same forces that developed the habit in me), we end up with a lot of unreal people in the classroom.

It has recently struck me as odd that, first a sterile environment called "the classroom" is created, one which looks like all the others, has almost no distinguishing characteristics, and has no character whatsoever; then, because it is sterile, a lot of money needs to be spent to try and bring resources into it - so each classroom has a dvd, video, CD and cassette player (every year they add a new one as technology develops); textbooks need to be bought by teachers and students, then videos/DVDs, etc need to be brought in.

Self-directed learning link

I discovered this thanks to delicious. Mentions Knowles, whom I've heard of in the context of adult education. Want to come back to this site later.

December 08, 2005

JALT presentation

I'll be doing a presentation on autonomy this weekend. Here's a link to my powerpoint slides.

December 07, 2005

Bird flu awareness

Earlier this week, teaching staff all got this in their mailboxes. It shows the spread of avian flu around the world, with casualty figures (infected and deaths). Vietnam is the worst hit with 93 infections and 42 deaths, followed by Thailand (21, 13) then Indonesia (12, 7), Cambodia (4, 2) and China (3, 2). Well that's the ones we know about at least.

If we travel to any of those areas, we are required to tell the school, and the school is required to inform the Foreign Ministry.

December 06, 2005

Clare Sudbery

Here's an interesting idea: take pics of people's houses (or possessions, or offices, cars, shoes, whatever) and invite people (students. Students are people. Usually) to guess whose they are.

Clare's blog is a hoot. And she's a bona fide writer, as if you couldn't tell. Very talented. And British. Which just goes to show you, doesn't it?

December 05, 2005

Professional development

Aaron posted a comment about professional development, which I will reply to here. Thanks, Aaron. I haven't thought about this much, to be honest. My feeling about PD is that it is best left to individual initiative. Blogging is a great way to do this: it's social, it's not forced on anyone, the individual can find and create his/her own communities of learning. It's fun! "Gentle leading" sounds nice, except that institutions have their own agendas, one of which is the protection and furtherance of its own survival. In other words, perhaps gentle leading by an institution might be more about the survival (prestige, funding, recruiting new students, fulfilling quotas, etc) of the institution than about the personal growth of the teachers/staff. If that is the case, you can be sure teachers and staff will pick up on it, and this awareness of theirs will affect their motivation to attend PD sessions!

Sources of information

EDN: Virtual Community Project: Graphics Exchange Magazine
Another interesting article from Brian's archives:
The River Oaks CD-ROM is a by-product of an innovative educational model developed by Alger called the Information Artist Instructional Model (IAIM), a teaching model built on three specific tool sets that Alger calls "Strategic Exploration", "Theatre of the Mind" and "Pioneering New Media" and a general set of learning principles labeled the "Ecology Of Learning." IAIM formed the basis for the development and implementation by Alger's class of The Virtual Community, a special comprehensive project to develop a model community.
I haven't read it all yet, but this caught my eye: he told the students that their most important source of information will always be people, places and things.

The other day, I spent some time in class discussing with two students the movie The Day After Tomorrow. They had watched the movie and wanted to talk about it. Unfortunately, they had little to say about it. Filling the vacuum, I asked them some questions that I had, even tho I haven't seen the movie. My first question was, what facts about global warming did they learn from watching the movie? They went away to think. They came back, and it became clear they were not sure what a fact was.

Next question: how do you check whether a "fact" is true? Or whether it comes from a reliable source?
A: well, it was on the Internet/in a newspaper.
Q: How do you know what is on the Internet or in a newspaper is true?
A: (silence; apparently they had never considered this possibility).

I expounded at length (i.e. ranted) about some recent issues in the news that had been in almost all the newspapers, but turned out to have little or no basis in fact.

Have these kids been schooled too much? "Just remember what I tell you; remember what's in the textbook coz you'll be tested on it." And no time left for considering whether it's true, or how you check whether a source is reliable or not.

EDN: Curriculum: The Design of the Prerequisite

EDN: Curriculum: The Design of the Prerequisite
Brian has some tasty food for thought on the subject of curriculum in this article.
Just blogging here for future reference.

December 04, 2005

People make individualization possible

I really liked this comment from Brian:
The idea that technology makes individualization possible is folly. People make individualization possible, not technology. And besides, nesting a "new" technology within a far more pervasive and confining technology called curriculum does not lead to any meaningful change.

I think the reasons why meaningful change may not result from nesting "new" or even "social" technology within the more pervasive and confining technology of schooling are that
a) teachers are not, in fact, in the real driving seat as far as what really happens in schools,
b) because there are too many vested interests in the present system, which is primarily a managerial system, rather than an educational one.

In my present cynical mood, I interpret teachers' cries for meaningful change in formal education to be like burger flippers in fast food chain starting to say, "Hey! Isn't it time we fast-food cooks made some decent-tasting, flavourful, truly nourishing food?? Heck, we have the technology to do so! Only those stuffy, boring, corporate suits are in the way! Well, they've had their say for too long!"

Oh, yeah? I'd love to see you try!

Squeezing education into schooling?

I wrote here: In short, humans now understand (I think) quite well what education really is or can or should be. The headaches come when we try and squeeze that understanding into the framework of school.
Maybe we don't have to anymore.

No more experts, thank you.

Brian had some highly intelligent (i.e. complimentary) comments to make about one of posts

His blog led me to this one, and lo and behold, the same theme crops up. It seems teachers everywhere are rising up and starting to rattle their chains! Is this the repetition of an age-old phenomenon, I wonder, or something startingly new?

Bruce's post reminded me of Gatto's book, which perhaps can be summarized as a very long and powerful argument against the tyranny of experts in all aspects of our life, not just in education, accompanied by a detailed (and disturbing) description of how (and why) experts have been so exalted in our society.

I wonder tho: are teachers really in the driving seat, as posts like this suggest? Is it actually possible for teachers to reclaim control of what happens in their classrooms? What if teachers are not hired to educate (tho they are permitted to believe that this is their function), but to manage kids? Wouldn't this go a long way to explaining why teachers feel they are in charge and autonomous, until they start trying to do things that deviate from their manager roles?

On a slightly different note, the above post reminded me of this comment, which I have yet to respond to. It also reminded me of Dave Warlick's post about No More Staff Development.

Remote Access: What are Schools For?

Remote Access: What are Schools For?
Sheesh, I dunno. Seems like, far from being a subversive secret, everybody knows the true agenda of schools!
I've been in a number of fantastic classrooms, but few "good" schools. Schools are the bureaucratic organizer to make things easier. They are the place of collection where kids are sent to, but they often seem to be little beyond that. It is classrooms that are important. It is in classrooms that kids get together to learn.

Just as in the digital age newspapers have had to learn that they are in the news and reporting business and not necessarily the newspaper business, schools and teachers need to learn that it is not about us, classrooms should not be about teaching, they should be about learning. This does not in any way let us off the hook.

Radio Waves

Wow, this looks a cool idea. Found the link in the John Johnston's notes for his lecture on podcasting. John is a primary school teacher in Edinburgh, UK, who is doing some interesting things with audio and podcasting.

I listen to podcasts, but I haven't ventured into podcasting myself. Of the 200 or so of my students this year, I only know of 2 who are actually blogging, so at this moment I don't the extra work would be worth the candle. Tho I feel like trying just so that I can say "I can podcast!"

Effortless Language Acquisition: Thai Innovators

Effortless Language Acquisition: Thai Innovators
Fun. Friendship. Two of her three key elements address NON-LINGUISTIC factors... ie. emotional/social factors. Aj. Arisara recognizes the primacy of the student's emotional experience. Without "fun" and "friendship"... there is no "firm foundation".

I've said it before and will keep beating this tired drum... EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE should be the first consideration of any lesson plan. Before goddam "language points". Before "learning objectives". Before "class management" issues. Before everything else.

I've found that f2f interviews with students individually have greatly helped to form an emotional basis for my relationship with students. I find both students and I can be more honest when no-one else is listening to us.

December 03, 2005

Adapting to the learner

Whoa! Taking a closer look at EdTechUK's post, from which I got the link to the Learner's Charter, I also saw a link to the Personalisation and Digital Technologies report by Hannah Green

Here's the first line:
The logic of education systems should be reversed so that it is the system that conforms to the learner, rather than the learner to the system. This is the essence of personalisation.

It is clear that many people can see what needs to be done. The next step is action.

Personalized learning

I blogged earlier about Guerrilla Learning, a book about various activities and approaches to rekindle children's natural curiosity and allow them to get an education as opposed to a schooling.

Although it can be of value to teachers in schools, there is one obvious obstacle, which kind of highlights a major problem with schools and schooling: that to develop their potential, each child needs personal attention at least some of the time, and needs a personalized learning plan. No child is like another exactly, and they develop in different ways and at different speeds and times.

One of the first things my colleague and I did when we started our experiments in autonomous learning, was to break the class down into smaller groups. We did this primarily to make class management easier: in a large group (more than 5), students become affected by a different dynamic where the fear of not conforming to the group takes precedence over personal performance or motivation (hence countless examples of students hiding their true English ability so as not disturb the group "harmony" - or less charitably, not to attract the group's negative attention in the form of malice, spite or even ostracism). Students can speak up in a smaller group, so the purpose of the class (speaking in English) can be more easily and fruitfully obtained if the class is divided into small groups of between 2-5 students each.

During a visit to a Language Self-Access Centre, I was reminded of the importance and value of learner profiles, something I had learned about when I was Learning Advisor at Sussex University Language Centre. The profile is, obviously, for an individual learner, not a class as a whole.

The terms "learner-centred" versus "teacher-centred" have been bandied about quite a lot, and AJ posted about what might hide behind this kind of rhetoric. But I'm slowly waking up (duh!) to an obvious fact: that it is very hard to truly accommodate learner-centred learning in a regular classroom. Because a regular classroom environment is geared towards managing a group of people, making them adapt to the environment, not accommodating itself to each individual in the room. It is based on a factory model or industrial model of production, a system created to maximize productivity, not to allow individuals to flourish and bloom and explore their potential.

Searching thru AJ's blog for his posting on "learner-centred" versus "teacher-centred", I came across frequent references to what he calls "individualizing", i.e. a personal learning plan for each individual student.

Although I realized a long time ago that a class is not the best environment for learning a language by far (I still haven't figured out what it IS good for), and I later figured out that breaking a class up into smaller groups makes for more effective learning and teaching, I didn't realize until recently that a class is fundamentally incompatible with individualized attention. At the same time I realized that individualized teaching/learning is the way to go if I'm serious about creating the opportunity for real learning (as opposed to jumping through hoops, or pretending to learn, i.e. playing the game of school).

It took me a long time to arrive at this conclusion because I spend the bulk of my teaching hours in a classroom: that's what I'm paid to do. Helping students individually, creating or helping them create their own individualized learning plans , would be great, but it would be too difficult to do in a class. That's what you do in a self-access centre, with a learning advisor.

However, that is what I am trying to do now. I've managed to create a syllabus (not in all my classes, just a few) where students can work on their own in varying degrees of independence, while I talk to students individually or in pairs.

I've started creating learner profiles for all them, using info gleaned in an interview. At first, knowing that there are in some of my classes some students who are way ahead of the others in terms of language competence, I imagined that I could suggest to them the possibility of working together to create a personalized learning plan that they could pursue inside and outside of class, sidestepping the class syllabus. However, so far, none of them has taken me up on this, with one exception, which I'll describe later.

What I'm doing now is interviewing students one by one with the primary aim of getting to know them better. To some of them, mainly those who are at risk of failing the class for various reasons, I am giving specific suggestions for extra work they can.

This is fun. The hardest part is setting up work or activities for the rest of the class to be getting on with while I'm conducting interviews; it would be easy to give them "busy work", but I want to avoid that, as one purpose for the interviews is to identify activities (work) for them that are meaningful and of personal value. I suspect that one common reason why many of those that are at risk of failing are at risk is because they find so much of what they are required to do in class meaningless. Some of them have explicitly told me so.

Perhaps it is this realization that is causing Will Richardson's mind to bloggle: that technology is making individualization possible, even within the classroom, while at the same time making the classroom irrelevant, obsolete and unnecessary. While this is very exciting, it fails to take into account why capitalist countries have a Soviet-style educational system. It fails to take into account that a factory- or mass-production model of education must entail the concept of management, which, as anyone knows who's seen Chaplin's classic Modern Times, means being able to slow down production as well as speed it up. It means being able to manage and control the output so as to avoid the chronic problem of overproduction. Thus, a scientifically managed school system must be in contradiction to a humanistic approach to the development of the full potential of the human being. That is why the system created schooling, not education, and why so many people (including the technophiles) are so eager to escape the schooling environment in the search of true education (homeschooling, private schools, free schools, etc).

In short, humans now understand (I think) quite well what education really is or can or should be. The headaches come when we try and squeeze that understanding into the framework of school.

This might be an interesting test: read this (link to pdf file) Learners' Charter (thanks to EdTechUK for the link), and this set of interesting questions which ask (link to Word doc) Are We There Yet? (from a link on the KPS blog, by cj)

Personalized learning. What other kind is there?

skippy the bush kangaroo

skippy the bush kangaroo
Is this education....or just a gimmick?
when he feels like livening up his biology classes, university of washington lecturer greg crowther bursts into song to the melody of "sugar sugar," the bubble-gum '60s tune. "glucose, ah sugar sugar," he sings. "you are my favorite fuel from the bloodborne substrate pool / glucose -- monosaccharide sugar -- you're sweeter than a woman's kiss / 'cause I need you for glycolysis."

What else I'm reading

Also into Tom Peter’s Seminar, after reading AJ's references.

Some exciting ideas in it, many along the lines Kathy Sierra writes about.       Amazon UK      Amazon Japan

What I'm reading

 Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education with or Without School  
Grace Llewellyn, Amy Silver, Jane Dystel

If you are concerned about your children's schooling, but not sure why or what to do about it, this book might be of help. Although the authors’ experience is limited to the US, much of what is written applies equally to other countries, including the UK, especially in the light of these two books.
It describes activities and approaches to helping you give your child an education, as opposed to a schooling, whether your child is still at school or homeschooled.
The title is taken from a quote by  John Taylor Gatto (see below).
Amazon UK
Amazon Japan


If you've been following this blog, you'll know I was deeply impressed with and influenced by John Taylor Gatto's books, especially The Underground History of American Education.

Reading this has helped me better understand what is going on in my classrooms: what are the forces at work, what are the dynamics in play.

Questions I had were:
  • Why are students so incurious?

  • Why are students so lacking in initiative?

  • Why are students just waiting to be told what to do?

  • Why are students so docile and quiet in class, yet so full of energy outside? (most of them)

  • What is real learning?

  • How come it is so rare to see real learning in class?

Now I understand better how they are products of a system. Even before I'd read Gatto or McVeigh I suspected that students' body language was that of people in jail, that of people who sensed that they were undergoing something that essentially is not for them, something that does not have their wellbeing or interests at heart, but has some other agenda, wants to mould them to its own image. This is soul-sapping, even if it is not understood consciously.

Gatto identifies 8 pathologies caused by schooling:
  1. indifference to adult world - toys are us

  2. no curiosity, poor concentration - bells to ring the changes of class

  3. poor (non-existent?) sense of past, of how they came to be here. Little sense of how the past has predestinated the present.

  4. A poor sense of the future, of where they are going, of how tomorrow is inextricably linked to today.

  5. cruel

  6. uneasy with intimacy

  7. materialistic

  8. dependent, passive and timid

Gatto suggested some approaches and activities that he had tried, that attempt to counterract these pathologies.

One thing I've been doing is interviewing my students individually, trying to get to them know them better. I need to know them better if I'm going to make suggestions about activities or assignments. I'm trying to develop activities that promote reflection, growth, as well as language development.

Mind bloggled

Will Richardson's mind is bloggling after listening to Stephen Downes, again. Time to get radical, eh?

On the whole, I'm all for the kind of changes and innovations that Will and so many other bright minds (Dave Warlick, and so on) are writing about. But I always have a slightly niggling unease about the sense that all this enthusiasm may be partially (in some cases perhaps wholly) driven by haste and fear (I'm thinking here of a comment in one of Dave Warlick's recent posts Bits of string, but several other bloggers have mentioned Thomas Friedman's book The World is Flat, which I haven't read and am frankly biassed against as I was not impressed with his previous The Lexus and the Olive Tree ). And sometimes I wonder if the rush isn't being fuelled by technology itself - because all this stuff is happening, because we can do all these things, we must otherwise we'll be left behind.
Just because we can do something doesn't mean that we should.
And secondly, my own personal leaning is towards harmonising the technology with innate human needs, and I don't mean the need to keep up with one's neighbour, but the need to learn, to grow, to communicate, to participate in and help maintain or create a community, to create/share beauty and creations of value and usefulness. If in the end the technology and all it brings just leaves us more tired, more breathless, more stressed than before, if it does not help us to relax and enjoy and feel grateful, feel wonder and suprise at this existence, what in hell good is it? | Teacher gleans federal kudos for bookless classroom | Teacher gleans federal kudos for bookless classroom

An interesting tid-bit, also from Jeff Utecht's Thinking Stick blog:
Mangus, who teaches in the Granite School District, fell into bookless teaching a few years ago. He had been looking to the Internet for social-studies lessons. But when the sixth-grade teacher found a math Web site, a light bulb flickered.
"I thought, 'Wow!' " he said. "This is so much better than what I'm doing."
Mangus sought out computer donations, mainly from high schools getting technology upgrades. He secured a computer for every child in his class.
He pointed students to a Web site for math. He introduced the concept of the day, then asked the students to solve problems on their computers. As soon as they answered correctly, students were asked to stand. Those standing are dispatched to help peers, a practice Mangus found reinforces their knowledge while helping another child to gain it.
By the end of the school year, his students' test scores were 20 percent higher than those in any other sixth-grade class — even gifted and talented students, Mangus said.

The Thinking Stick

The Thinking Stick
Jeff Utecht, now teaching English at an American school in Shanghai, has some interesting things to say about learning in general as well as tech-mediated learning. Here's a recent one I enjoyed. It's part of a longer one that is well worth reading:
My question:

…I ask you what is the skill we need to be teaching students? I agree that the close reading is what makes the pursuit worthwhile, but with all the information in the world…how do we get students to know what is worthwhile of a close read. Sure it’s easy in your classroom, you the teacher say: “Read this”, but how do we teach students to become life-long readers? How do we teach them to “get the gist” so that they understand that Shakespeare is worth a close read?

An ESOL/English teacher:

Logically the ‘catch the highlights in replay’ point makes sense, but aesthetically/reflectively I’m not sold. That sort of analogy seems to approve of ‘condensed Beethoveen’ approaches to music appreciation–skip the valleys and only play the crescendi and climaxes–don’t experience the whole, just the ‘exciting parts.’ Same with literature or history. It boils down to the decontextualization that happens when only the highlights are valued, and not the buildup that leads to them.

Similar with the book-search-by-’the latest read everyone is talking about’-method. Everyone is probably talking about the most advertised recent hype, so I’m not sure I want that to be my guide to quality (I doubt such a search would lead many to anything published more than a year ago, much less centuries ago).

And my point was that ‘getting the gist’ is the easy part–it seems to be mistaken for knowledge and understanding these days–when I’m saying that slowing down and becoming intimate with a word- and idea-smith through close reading is what’s at risk.

How do we teach them to not ‘get the gist’ but slowly savor the flavor of literacy? I’m using two methods–one traditional, one 21st Century– right now teaching _Of Mice and Men_.

Teaching and Developing Online

Teaching and Developing Online
A very cool flash movie to introduce online learning.

Via Teaching and developing Online

December 02, 2005

Building a House - Wikibooks

Building a House - Wikibooks
As I'm now in the early stages of building my own house, or rather finding a builder who will build me the kind of house I want (and putting me into debt for the rest of my life), I was interested to read this. Apparently, building a house is a lot easier than I thought....

Main Page - Wikibooks

From Jerz's Literacy blog, I go to Wikipedia to find out what a wikibook is, and discover that the book of the month for December is an online course and reference for the Japanese language
Main Page - Wikibooks

cj's: On the virtues of loopiness

Chris Bigum of Deakin Univ, Australia, blogs thusly about education:
We live in what is argued to be an "evidence-based" world. Anyone care to offer any evidence that the current system does much other than impress on the young that they are stupid, dumb, can't cut it? Where is the evidence that "the system" actually prepares the young for the contemporary world? Much huff and puff, zip evidence.

There is much to be said for systems that encourage and nurture idiosyncracy, loopies, people who will think way outside the tiny little square that claims to capture all of human wisdom. It would be ok to have a uniform system if we lived in a 1950's world where much was predictable, linear, not much different from the year before. But we don't. We need a system that supports people to think, to challenge, to be rewarded for being loopies (well argued loopies). In a dangerously unpredictable world, educational certainty is a handicap we can well do without. A system whose sole purpose would be to produce eccentrics would do more to secure the future of humanity on the planet than the deadeningly dull certainty and conformity of the educational here and now.

This continues a theme cj started earlier (and perhaps even earlier than that):
The more one reads research, talks to teachers, students and most other folk who are somehow involved in or with schooling it is clear that, at least for secondary schooling (I think similar crits of primary and tertiary are possible but it is at its most glaring here) is a game that almost no one believes in.

There are many instances where humans do foolish, sometimes heroic things for no good reason. Indeed, biologists tell us that along with a blind mole rat in Africa, we are the only species capable of giving up our life to save the life of another of our species. One can understand moments of foolishness and heroism. It is part of being human. These are events which contribute to a sense of who we are and why we are.

With Secondary schooling we have a system which, in my view, is increasingly difficult to justify. It is a form of what might be called organised child abuse which repeats itself over and over again, year in, year out.

At another blog, cj has this interesting posting, which includes a link (Word doc) to a very interesting set of questions, entitled "Are we there yet?":
A colleague passed this short piece by Herb Childress on to me. While it is written about High School, much of the commentary could apply to schools generally. I know there is a lot of this kind of material about but if I have learned anything about formal systems of education it is that winning a battle never means you have won. Just as in a war, you have to maintain your position, reinforce it, repeat it, rework it and sell, sell, sell it. There is a way to think about this that can be derived from my weird little interest in actor-network theory but I don't want to muddy the simple notion which is about vigilance and the policing of wins and boundaries.

Herb's piece reminded me of the terrific checklist of questions that Trudy has developed in relation to good learning.

The piece by ethnographer Herb Childress, 17 reasons why soccer is better than school, is worth reading: his observations of highschool students (tho I wish he'd chosen a more readable design than red on black, urgh! squint!)

Innovate: Organic Education

I recently subscribed (or joined, I don't rightly recall) to Innovate, which looks a cool site. Innovate is a publication of Nova Southeastern University.
Yesterday I got an email from the Innovate team which included this tidbit:
We open the December 2005/January 2006 issue of Innovate with a startling hypothesis by Hugh Osborn: the right educators and other leaders could start the evolution of an innovative, 21st century educational model for about the cost of developing a couple of textbooks. Sound intriguing but implausible? Then read the interview.
You can read more here

I haven't had time to do more than skim the first part of this article, which is about something called "organic education", but here's my take on what I read:
However, it became clear relatively early on that lasting innovation was not a part of the public schools' agenda... The reasons for this are complex, but the root cause is an incompatibility between the way our educational system is organized and innovation itself. ..The Soviet Union's planned economy was mechanistic: top-down, command-and-control, and fatally non-innovative. Our school system is highly mechanistic, with top-down decisions (like textbook content), no merit pay, rote learning, unions instead of professional guilds, and other artifacts of the Factory Age.

One might ask how it comes about that the "leader of the free world" developed a Soviet-style education system, as presumably this didn't happen overnight, nor was it imposed on the population by imperialistic rulers from out of town. But let's read on.
Innovative organizations and systems share a different, organic structure, like an organism made up of collaborative (and competitive) parts. Comparatively, we can describe their organization as bottom-up and more horizontal, or "flat" in the terms Thomas Friedman (2005) uses in his latest book. America is history's great organic experiment—our capitalist economy is organic as is democracy. Organic systems are empower-and-connect systems in that if you empower people with responsibility and tools and connect them in collaborative structures, the result can be an extraordinary release of imagination and initiative.

OK so far, tho nothing here that hasn't been said already by such as Tom Peters. Let's read on, shall we?
We define the three organization levels of our education system: (1) the student-teacher interface in the classroom, (2) the district level where local budget and policy decisions are made, and (3) the state/national level where politicians define diktats that lead to red tape. Organic education is a bottom-up scenario in which organic forces replace existing mechanistic approaches at all three levels. Because of the power of organic systems, doing this does not require an act of God or Congress, but just solving the one big problem...Organic education places virtually all the major problems and issues in our schools in a completely new light, one that will be of real use to those policymakers and educators who take the time to understand it. But most importantly, it acts as an instrument to force transformation of the American education system and is not simply another monograph that advocates change. The scenario uses an extremely powerful organic device to make the status quo become a non-option. Thus it is not just another pie-in-the-sky look at a rosy, technology-enhanced future. We will see this as we build a forcing function that can make the transformation nearly inevitable.
(My emphasis) Intrigued? I certainly am. The most potent argument about education I've read recently is that of John Gatto, who argues that the educational system is totally screwed because it's a system; it cannot be improved by tinkering. Gatto suggests home-schooling, or even charter schools, at least anything that is not dictated from above but organized and agreed on by the local principal people involved. This sounds similar to what Osborne is saying.

I'm still sceptical, but intrigued enough that I'll be coming back to read some more later.

World Aids Day

Today was World Aids Day, tho here in Japan, you might have been forgiven for not noticing.
I wonder what, if anything, teachers are doing to spread awareness and information about AIDS in this country, a country where apparently the numbers of HIV-infected people is increasing, contrary to the trend in all other industrialized countries. Should teachers be addressing this issue at school? In class?

Some more info here. This article focusses on Liberia where Mercy Corps is starting a new HIV/Aids Awareness program through soccer. Tho the article makes no mention of it, a former professional soccer player George Weah who recently just failed in a bid to become Liberia's next head of state.

George Weah used to play for AC Milan. My kids still have an AC Milan shirt with his name on it, which they bought in France in 1998.

December 01, 2005

Facing History and Ourselves

Reading this post about a teacher's bad day, I clicked on the link Facing History because I was curious what the "universe of obligation" might be. I didn't find out (yet) but I did see this, which is interesting. It's Matt Damon talking about an incident in school in 8th grade, which turned him on to school and history. I wonder what you think about it? (Scroll down to the bottom of the Facing History page).
Matt Damon Interview
Former Facing History student discusses impact of the program in his life and on his work as an actor. Watch video...

United fans say goodbye to Best - Yahoo! Sport UK

Continuing my transformation of this blog... Soccer was a big part of my life when I was growing up, both watching and playing it. I remember the pure excitement of watching England win their one and only World Cup, in England in 1966. One of the most famous players of that time was George Best, who passed away earlier this week. George's story is one of rags to riches and fame, which all seemed to go to his head. Alcoholism was a lifelong problem for him.
George Best was the Ronaldinho of his day, who started his professional soccer career at the age of 17, playing for Manchester United. Yesterday there were tributes and a 1-minute silence at Manchester United's ground Old Trafford. The present manager of Man Utd, Alex Ferguson, was there, as was former Man Utd manager and England manager, Sir Matt Busby.

Best has often been called the most naturally gifted player from the British Isles, rivaled only by Pelé and Diego Maradona on the world stage. Maradona himself has frequently named Best as his all-time favourite player [1]. Pelé once stated that George Best was the best player he ever saw play and named him as one of the 125 best living footballers in his 2004 FIFA 100 list.

United fans say goodbye to Best
Old Trafford remembers Best

Best's funeral is to take place in his native Belfast on Saturday, Dec 3rd. It is expected to be the biggest of its kind in Britain since the 1997 death of Diana, Princess of Wales.