Reflections

It’s the end of March, 3 months into 2016, 25% of the year gone already!    2 out of 3 terms of the academic year finished!!   Where is the time going?

It is that time to reflect once more on the promises I made to myself back at the start of the year.   I honestly cant believe that we are already 25% of the way through the year as it seems like only yesterday I was writing my promises.   It seems like only yesterday that I returned to the UK after 7 years living and working in the Middle East.   Am going to chalk it up to “time flies when you are having fun” however I have to admit it hasn’t all been “fun” thus far.

So to my resolutions and progress to date.

  • To blog twice per month.

After a very busy February with #29daysofwriting and a blog every day I have became a little tired during March which has caused me to seek to recharge my batteries allowing some of my resolutions to lapse a little.    That said I have still managed to maintain and even exceed this target as part of #44weeks.    Currently I am managing to write a post weekly as opposed to every two weeks.    It is my hope to continue this going forward.

  • To tweet on average 1.9 time per day or more

My contributions to twitter have significantly dropped as a result of my need to recharge.    In February I managed over 230 tweets within the month however so far in March I have only managed 70 tweets.   70 tweets is above my target however only just so this is an area I would like to improve on.   I think I also need to acknowledge that most of my tweets in March have in fact been retweets as opposed to new content.     This has served its purpose in March however I think it is important that I am contributing to the twitterverse rather than just consuming.

  • To achieve Google Certified Education Level 2

Still have made no real progress on this one.   Given the Easter holidays it may be something I can address over the coming weeks.

  • Read at least 1 book per month

My reading in February significantly dropped as a result on writing so much for #29daysofwriting.  Sadly in March I have done little to address this.    I therefore need to get back into the habit of making time to read at least every couple of nights.

Easter

Overall I am still doing reasonably well against my targets however a reduction in my momentum is clearly evident when compared with January and February.   I would suggest that this is inevitable however I would also suggest that the Easter break comes at the right time to allow to recovery and a reset for the next term with renewed momentum.

Bring on term 3!!

 

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Time to recharge

The last week or so has seen me less engaged in the social side of education, including blogging and tweeting, than normal.  I have also been less engaged in reading and almost totally disengaged in anything akin to exercise.   I have found myself content to arrive home at the end of each day, do some prep work for the following day and then lapse a dazed state watching popular TV watching.

Looking at my twitter activity over the last few weeks I have returned to the point of re-tweeting some brilliant posts and ideas from others rather than contributing anything much new myself.  This is something I am a little critical of as in my early use of twitter this was the limited extent to which I was involved.   At that time, and on reflection, I vowed to make an effort to be a sharer but also a contributor and therefore a return to sharing alone represents a step backwards.

The question at hand is why this has happened and why I now find myself in this situation.    I think the answer to this question lies in looking at all the things that went on during February.   During February I took place in #29daysofwriting during which time I wrote 29 blog entries, 1 for each day of February.   I also took part in #teacher5adaysketch and made some attempts around getting a little bit fitter as part of #teacher5aday.

I have previously written on the benefits of treating life as a series of sprints as opposed to a marathon (you can read this posting here) however there is a down side to this approach.    The downside for me appears to have hit me during the last few weeks.

race

My sprint through February has left me a little depleted in terms of energy and motivation.    As such my TV watching has been an attempt to recharge my batteries and build up on my currently depleted reserves of energy.

Looking back at my posting on sprinting through activities I still stand by my comments however in hindsight I will add one additional point.  If you plan to sprint through an activity be aware of the impact it will have on your energy reserves and the fact that following the spring you will need to rebuild these reserves.  Also, the bigger the sprint, the bigger the required recharge period so after 29 blog posts in a month, plus a number of other activities I need a larger recharge period than if the sprint was focused on a lesser or single activity.    Looking back I now see the importance of including a period for recharging within my plan and making sure you stuck to it.

I now feel I am coming out of my recharge period, which is further helped by the bank holiday weekend.   With that in mind, onwards and upwards!!

 

 

Percolating on thinking!

coffee

Peculation is the term used by Benedict Carey when discussing how ideas form for writers.    He suggests that big projects or more extensive assignments are best dealt with through having the bigger task in mind throughout, but with smaller related build up tasks contained within the lead up to the main task.   The idea here is that this makes use of Zeigarnick effect where mental goals, such as completing the main assignment, leads to greater awareness of ideas, concepts or objects related to the goal even when we are doing a separate or even unrelated task.   As a result of this effect we may pick up and even learn things while about our main goal while undertaking and intermediary task.

He also suggests that, linked to this, we should start with a bigger task rather than smaller tasks.    My normal approach has always been to start with smaller easier tasks such as reading a variety of literature during my Masters study from a few years ago.    I always felt this helped my confidence and eased me into the bigger task in hand.   All my reading and note taking then led to tackling the actual writing part towards the end of the time window I had allocated for completing my Masters study.      The reality of the matter is that when it came to the writing part I struggled long and hard to get everything done and often not quite to the standards I would prefer.   Carey suggested that I should have started with a larger writing task as this would have focused me and made me more perceptive of linked or inconsistent ideas or observations within the literature as I read through it.  As such new ideas related to the topic in hand would be more visible to me plus would prove to be easier for me to link to existing knowledge.    This is turn may have made it easier for me to build my final dissertation.   So maybe I could have read only a couple of journals before writing a more lengthy summary document or analysis, then going on to read further as opposed to trying to do all the reading up front and leaving the writing until the end.

Carey’s comments focus very much on the subconscious side of things in that we don’t actually perceive our increased perceptiveness relating to the goal or outcome in mind.   I also believe there is a part to play for the conscious mind.    I think this is best summed up by Coveys comment, “start with the end in mind.”    Students need to know where they are going with their learning.   Linked to this they also need to know where they have been, their previous knowledge and how this links together and how this might link to the new learning at hand.    Only then can students truly understand the route taken in their learning journey.    I am particularly fond of Microsoft OneNote as an app for keeping a live mind map of learning although I will discuss that further in a separate posting in the coming weeks.

The more I think about how we learn, and the more I think about thinking, the more possibilities arise for how learning might be modified or changed to hopefully bring about improvements in the quality of learning.

 

Sources:

Carey, B. (2014) How We Learn, MacMillan Publishing

Covey, S. (1989) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Free Press

Inconsistency in the quality of teaching

I have came across the above statement or similar statements across schools both here and in the middle east.   At first reading I would suggest that everyone, myself included, will take this to be a negative comment.   On reflection I am not so sure it necessarily is negative or in fact that it tells us anything.

Consider the “average” school and lets consider that the measure of quality of teaching is student outcomes.    Now I know this is a very limited model however it will hopefully serve its purpose in terms of proving a point which could equally be proven by using a different measure for the quality of teaching.

Within this “average” school there will be some above average teachers where outcomes come out as very positive.   There will also be those that come out as below average.    Would this be considered as consistent as clearly having different qualities of teaching would suggest inconsistency?

Lets assume what is meant be inconsistency is an inconsistency when compared with the national profile for the quality of teaching within any given school.    In this case our average school now becomes consistent in terms of quality of teaching.    Consistency is therefore referring to the distribution of individuals within the school with regards the quality of teaching, and how this compares to other schools.

Modifying the scenario a little lets say that some of the so called “weaker” teachers performance only gets worse while the stronger teachers only get better.    Our average still remains the same however is the school any more or less consistent given the wider variance between teachers and given the difference between this profile and the profile of the “average” school?

If some of the teachers formerly within the “average” band improve this would shift the average and change the distribution.   Is this inconsistency and if so could it not be viewed as a positive inconsistency?

Now I was considering using some further examples however have decided not to.  Instead I will point out my belief in the fact that teaching is a social activity involving a class full of students and a teacher all interacting.   Given it is a social activity involving 30 or more human beings and therefore influenced and affected by a multitude of different dynamic variables, consistency is highly unlikely.    Teaching is very much like chaos theory in that it is highly sensitive to its conditions, which are frequently changing.    As such how could any school be expected to demonstrate consistency?   Like chaos theory, we can only possibly perceive a pattern by looking at the much wider picture, as under close inspection we see nothing except the variability and the differences.    How might an inspection team or an internal mock-sted see this big picture?   I doubt they would do so how can a judgment indicating an inconsistency be arrived at?

And maybe something different, unique or not fitting in with the usual run of play may be a positive thing.   So maybe consistency isn’t all it’s meant to be!

Emotion and Dentistry

teeth

The other day I visited the dentist.   It has been a couple of years since I last visited the dentist partially due to being busy and partially due to a dislike for dentists.    To be honest, a dislike is a serious understatement.   An irrational fear of dentists and dentistry may be a much more accurate description.

The dentist, being a professional, took some time to explain what he was going to be doing and through this I could identify with his plans.   I understood all that he said yet this did not allay my fears.    My fears went beyond logic.

My fears were based on my previous experience and also based on an emotional response.   Although the explanations provided by the dentist, which I understood and accepted, went some way to addressing my previous experiences they did little to deal with my now automatic emotional response.    My emotional response thereafter drove my actions.

The visit to the dentist ended with a future appointment for further dentistry work albeit with a sedative being prescribed.   This is far from what I had hoped to achieve in this visit to the dentist.

As I sit somewhat embarrassed by my inability to deal with a simple dentist appointment, I reflect on how emotion was able to overcome logic and how this has implications for teaching and learning and also for teacher professional learning.

Consider the highly engaging and exciting lessons which promotes a positive emotional response in students.    This may result in a positive perception of the lesson and the teacher however the students actual understanding of the learning materials may be less positive or the depth of learning may be purely superficial such that with the passage of a short amount of time the learning will be lost.    Also our emotions are situational and therefore the location and context play a part.    As such the positive emotional response may only occur where the student is working within the exact same context within which learning previously took place.     Approaching the same learning material in a different context therefore may not draw the same emotional response which may limit a students’ ability to access their previous learning.

Consider the case of a teacher who does not like technology due to many years of teaching experience in which either technology was not used or when it was used it was either ineffective or prone to fail as new technologies can be.     For them an emotional response is developed to using technology in lessons.   Even although we may be able to share the justification and benefits of using technology in learning we may be unlikely or have significant difficult in overcoming this emotional response.

Consider the teacher which students perceive as boring or uninteresting.   This teacher invokes a less than positive emotional response in students.   This less than positive response impacts on the success of learning activities within this teachers’ class.   Even if this teacher was to do something “interesting” or “fun” it is likely that this would be of limited impact as it would first need to overcome the initial negative emotional response for the lesson as experienced by students.

My dentistry experience was traumatic for me even although I know it should not have been and even although I am aware that there was no rational reason for my fear.    Emotion and emotional responses can have a significant impact on individuals and as a result on their actions and on learning.   Even where the logic is clear it is possible that emotional response can result in actions where are counter to accepted logic.

I will be giving emotion and emotional responses more consideration in future including my own emotional status.   I may even re-read Golemans Emotional Intelligence and the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman’s book “Emotional Awareness: Overcoming the obstacles to Psychological Balance and Compassion”.       As to the dentist I had sedatives to help for now until I can overcome my emotional response.