1000th Tweet

twitter-bird-calloutIt wasn’t so long ago when the thought of me using Twitter on a regular basis was something I wouldn’t have considered as likely.   At that point I considered Twitter as just another social media application, like Facebook, designed to allow people to post about what they had eaten last night (and I have a friend who does just that, insisting on photographing and posting any meal she has when at a restaurant, etc, prior to starting to eat), or for celebrities to show off, or in a number of cases embarrass themselves for the worlds media.

Then a colleague introduced me to the use of Twitter as a tool for professional learning and sharing teaching or other ideas around education with practitioners from around the world.    That was around 6 month ago and I haven’t looked back since then.   I have found myself regularly, and at stages daily, visiting twitter looking to see what ideas and discussions were out there.    That said, most of my contributions to Twitter thus far have been in the form of retweets of tweets which I have considered useful, interesting, insightful or worth sharing.

So this blog entry marks my 1000th tweet.   Not much when compared with veterans of twitter however for me it marks almost 1000 ideas, discussions or thoughts which, without twitter, I may not have had access to.

Thank you to all who have I have followed for the ideas you have provided and I look forward to further interactions with you.    I intend to do as my colleague did for me, and encourage others to engage in using twitter for professional learning purposes.    I also intend to contribute more of my own thoughts rather than just retweeting.    If you are reading this, do you know of educators not using twitter and if so have you introduced them to the possibilities?    How many professional development programmes can boast that they can provide as many, or as broad a range of, ideas as twitter can?

Keep tweeting, as I certainly will.

Learning styles……yes please.

vak2Learning styles has become a little bit of a discussion area as of late, including on twitter, with research showing that the assessment of students to identify their learning styles and then the use of this data to inform teaching has little or no value.   Meanwhile a number of trainers and training organisations still seem to be providing training and professional development either on learning styles or at least including reference to it.

So here I am wading into the discussion.

Firstly let me be clear that I am not about to enter into the discussion in terms of which of the two viewpoints mentioned above is correct and which is incorrect as I believe another option is possible.   I also see little value in an “I’m right, you’re wrong”  discussion (This is the title of a De Bono book looking into the tendency for discussions to be grounded in black and white or right and wrong as opposed to considering alternative viewpoints and ideas, in case you haven’t read it.   It is a personal favourite of mine).   This is about my viewpoint, based on my experience and the context within which I work and have worked.

For me the key question is what is the purpose of learning styles as a concept?   My answer to this is that the concept of learning styles is to highlight the fact that students learn in different ways such as through visual, auditory and kinaesthetic stimuli (I am using the VAK model of learning styles as this is the one which was originally introduced to me some many years ago as opposed to the later VARK model which I never really identified with).      An aspect of this may be the use of a questionnaire which shows students that they have differing tendencies, as part of a programme of developing students understanding of how they learn.    So for a teacher, and a student, it is about the fact we learn in different ways, and I would also add that these ways change depending on what we are learning and the context within which we are learning.

Just to be clear, I believe the use of a questionnaire to develop data on learning styles, which is then used to inform teaching is of little value as the learning style preferred by students will be affected by the intended learning, the activities designed to promote this learning and also other contextual variables.   In addition to this the divisions of VAK are artificial and only put in place in order to help or ease our understanding of the concept.   It amounts to classification of students into either 3, for VAK, or 4 if using VARK, arbitrary groups.   The use of this kind of approach at a time when there is continual discussion about students’ individual needs is very poor in my opinion.   It reminds me of a scene from a Monty Python movie where a man addresses a gathered crowd telling them that they should not follow him as they are all individuals to which the crowd chants back, “We are all individuals”.

That said learning Styles, as a concept, is useful in that it serves to identify that we all have styles of learning.    As such a teacher that uses a single approach is unlikely to cater for the needs of all students within their class and as such they must look to a variety of approaches and, increasingly, to making learning student centred where the students decide their approach to the learning, such that it suits their style in the given learning situation.   So learning styles is of value, as a concept, however learning styles, in terms of VAK and questionnaires to identify which students are visual learners, etc. is not.   Not sure where that puts me in the discussion I mentioned at the start, however that’s for you to determine.

One size fits all.

answers_smI recently worked with some teachers looking at how ICT could be integrated into lessons and how they might support this process.   During the course of the session I made the point that the approaches which work best are likely to be different for different teachers.   I also raised the fact that the context within which they operate may also impact on which techniques and approaches work.      An approach that might work in an inner city boys primary school may not work in a rural girls secondary school.    As such teachers need to be searching for ideas, experimenting and generally being proactive in their approach.   They cannot afford to wait for a professional development session to deliver all the answers.

This got me thinking about the theories and models which we use in education, as well as about some posts I have read recently.     I previously blogged about how a few people had raised issues with De Bonos thinking hats (http://educationandtechnology.me/?p=93) .    Now personally I like De Bonos thinking hats in terms of a teaching tool which, in certain situations, can be very useful, however equally I can see that in other situations it may be inappropriate.    I can also see that for some teachers it may not suit their teaching style however this does not mean that the tool is lacking in value.     Equally where De Bonos thinking hats is useful, I do not see this is adding to its value.    It is a tool and its usefulness or lack thereof depends on the context within which it is used and the purpose for which it is used.

Thinking about this further, I considered Blooms taxonomy which generally I have found to be treated as fact.    An earlier discussion with a colleague, who introduced me to the SOLO taxonomy (http://classteaching.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/using-solo-taxonomy-to-develop-student-thinking-learning/) , led me to question this.    Both Blooms and SOLO are just 2 of a number of models or tools which we can use to help us in our teaching.    They may be appropriate in certain circumstances and inappropriate in others.

So to my point: We as teachers need to be open to new ideas and to listen to others suggestions.    It may be that we disregard these new ideas as inappropriate however we need to remember that this is based on our personal preferences and on the context within which we operate.    The idea itself cannot be considered as appropriate or inappropriate when devoid of context.    Equally we need to apply different models at different times rather than relying on a single “correct” model.    Teaching is a complex task, so the more tools and ideas we have available to us, the more effective our teaching is likely to be.   Personal Learning Networks are a key part of this.