Wednesday, October 05, 2005

SETT: Can you speak Learnish?

Educating Powerful Learners - Guy Claxton - Keynote address

Another SETT report, and again I decided to do this from my memory and my notes rather than watching the video of Guy again first. (Since it is a keynote, this one is video streamed.)

The main message that I took from Guy's keynote can be summarised as: change a little, learn a lot. What he described were a number of simple, easy to implement ideas that he said could make a big difference to learning and teaching. He did however apologize for the low-tech nature of the ideas he was explaining - but it was good stuff so I don't see why he should apologize for talking about how to improve learning at the "Scottish Learning Festival".

Before I get into the report proper, I was queuing up to get into the Clyde Auditorium and found myself standing beside a chap I knew from the church I went to when we lived in Partick (about twenty years ago). He led the "Boys' Club" at the church and I was one of the other leaders. It was called the "Boys' Club", but one of the "boys" was two years older than me and one of the others was already married and divorced and used to offer me child-rearing advice. :-) So there I was, standing beside this chap who now works at the school where my brother-in-law is the head-teacher. Clearly the world of Scottish Education is a small world!

The person introducing the session told us that this keynote was the best attended so far. Certainly the auditorium seemed to be packed out.

originally uploaded by callumalden.
He started by talking about a plumbing problem he had. He worked away at it with a plunger - but the problem was at the drain outside, not at the sink inside. He was trying to fix the wrong end. This, he said, is what has happened in education - we've worked on the teaching end, but the problem is at the learning end. He went on to describe how discipline is a major concern and that it is the small, low level disruption that is the most wearing. One of the causes of this low-level off topic behaviour may be that the pupils don't know what to do and don't know what to do about it. He said that pupils would like to be challenged by interesting tasks.

One solution he suggested was that children should be learning to learn. He went on to describe an evolution in our understanding of learning to learn:
  1. tools and techniques;
  2. styles and conditions;
  3. teaching thinking;
  4. cultivating transferable learning dispositions.
Example of tools and techniques: mind maps. Children might be able to produce a mind map, but do they have a sense of how it can help them learn? Another example he gave was learning styles. These are often used to divide children as if a particular learning style wa, "bred in the bone". Instead of seeing them as a way of developing learners capacity, we have found another way of stuffing learners in a labeled box. Learning styles are best used to promote discussion and reflection in learners.

Research, he said, has shown that learning about learning has more impact than study skills. He also suggested that if teachers have a more elaborate understanding of learning, they will be better teachers.

A complaint that is often leveled is that learning to learn is just another thing that teachers have to do when they have so much to do already. He put up a cartoon of a teacher carrying a large number of drinks (that were labeled with various educational initiatives). The barmaid offers him a tray, but he rejects it saying, "Don't you think I have enough to carry?" The question he asked was, is learning to learn another thing to carry, or is it a tray? {I have used similar arguments in the past to say that ICT is not another thing to teach, but something that helps you deliver learning more effectively. The problem is that a tray doesn't take any time to master and it's usefulness is almost immediately obvious. The same cannot be said for ICT!}

The next thing he went on to talk about was building learning power. In this scheme, learning and the language of learning becomes highly prominent in the minds of teachers and pupils. Differences can be made with small low-risk changes in habits of language and behaviour. The point of studying is to flex pupils' learning muscles as much as it is to learn stuff. One example is "Nail point" which tries to break the habit of pupils calling out. "Miss, I've finished", where pupils see the point of the exercise was to finish it. With nail point, once finished, pupils work with each other to find a way to hammer the nail point home - "Hammer Time". Pupils not only devised effective extension material, but talked about learning. Performance improved!

He then gave the most interesting definition of intelligence I have ever heard. Piaget defined intelligence as:
Knowing what to do when you don't know what to do
Pupils have to learn about the "four Rs"!
  • Resilience-> Perseverance
  • Resourcefulness-> pupils asking questions
  • Reflective->meta language
  • Relationship->Collaboration
Teachers could create, "What can we do if we are stuck" posters - students generate ideas and continue to add to them through the year. Pupils have to learn to talk learnish! Do we talk learnish to the pupils? An example he gave was how we can help pupils learn to build up their ability to resist distraction? They can draw a line and use it as a self distraction indicator! Every few minutes they note where they are on this distraction index.
We need to be comfortable with uncertainty. Show our own learning - as a work in progress. {This is a technique I strongly recommend to student teachers of Computing - especially when teaching programming. The temptation is just to fix pupils' programs, but we need to learn to verbalise our thought processes when we debug programs to provide a model for our pupils.} We don't know what learners need to know, so we have to make them good finder-outers! ;-)

They don't need to know how to function in a life of tests they need to know how to function in the tests of life.


ed tech manager said...

Hi David

Some really interesting stuff - I haven't heard Guy speak - but have read some of his papers - you might want to read one by Erica McWilliam - same vein

manager ed tech Qld

David said...

I had to re-red my own blog post to remember what I was talking about. I remember being really impressed whith his keynote and quite fired up about it t the time. Bits still re-surface every so often but it's funny how one thing drives out another!

Thankyou for bringing this back to my attention and thankyou for the link to Eric's paper.