Over the last week or so I have taken some time off and not been as active on social media, my blog, and otherwise online as I had been previously throughout the year. This is not due to spending time planning for the year ahead, to reading books or to anything else that might be considered productive. In-fact I have spent at least a few days of the week or so off just engaged in watching TV box sets. The problem with this is that at various points in this period of “vegging out” I have found myself feeling guilty as to my inactivity.
Over the last year to date I have read a variety books about how to be effective, productive or how to get the best from myself or from the teams which I work with. This includes reading Andrew Cope’s Being Brilliant, Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit among others. Each of the books talks about how we tackle obstacles, build positive habits and generally work smarter. They are all about making the most of the limited resources in relation to time and also our limited cognitive resources. None of these books talk about vegging out in front of Game of Thrones for two or three days. It may be that this reading plays some part in my feelings of guilt. Clearly I am not making the best of my cognitive abilities or the time I have available to me if all I am doing is watching John Snow mount his defence of Winterfell. As a result I feel guilty for wasting my valuable resources. Clearly I should be doing something with my time.
My current reading of Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death however has got me thinking that maybe I need to reconsider the factors which lead me to feelings of guilt. Becker talks about a paradox of individuality versus our finite lifespan, and of thought versus body. Clearly most of my activities focus on thought, in planning, in writing and sharing thoughts, in working out how to make most of my time and resources and of putting into practice the outcomes of my thinking. I have built a habit of these efforts; how can I make best use of my time? How can I prioritize tasks? How can I ensure I get all tasks that need doing done? This habit then leads to the feeling of guilt when I try and break with the habit and sit and watch TV for hours on end. But what about what Becker refers to as body or what about a break from thought?
As I am not really a fitness focused person I think a break from thought as opposed to action focused on body or fitness aligns more with my priorities. Considering thought or our cognitive ability as being of limited resource might it not be necessary to provide this resource some respite occasionally? Might a person not feel re-energized following a period of rest from thought? Could it be that a limited period of vegging out might have a positive outcome?
As I return to the online sphere after a short break my guilt is the issue which worries me as opposed to the time spent sat watching the TV. The guilt indicates that internally I feel I shouldn’t be spending any significant time sat glued to the screen. Yet I enjoyed some time catching up on some TV. I felt relaxed. I felt at rest. Is a period of TV watching or similar vegging out just another luxury which in moderation has its place? At this point I would suggest it is and therefore hopefully when I next decide to sit down for a period of serial TV watching I may be able to do so and enjoy it more, devoid of feelings of guilt.
Do you have any time set aside for vegging out during the summer holiday period? Is it your guilty pleasure or just a big no no and a waste of time?
It is now the 1st of February so this represents my first posting as part of #teacher5aday29daywriting. The plan being to write and share a posting during each day of February which would be significantly more than I have previous posted, and actually may represent more postings in a single month than I normally create in a year. That said however the plan is just to get the postings out there sharing my thoughts as opposed to actually spending a significant amount of time rewording and trying to create the idea post. As such no more than 30mins will be spent on the creation of any one post.
My first posting is actually a little at odds with #teacher5aday29daywriting as I have been considering the tasks and things I do in general. At the start of the year I wrote of my new years resolutions (Read here). The purpose of the resolutions was to set some targets for myself to make sure I made the best use of my time, and in particular the time I have available outside work. My thinking was along the lines of work life balance, ensuring that I read, that I collaborate and that I get fitter than I currently am. I have recently reflected on where I am on these resolutions with the view that things are going quite well (Read here). My outlook on better use of time was to spend more of the time doing things I considered as “constructive”.
My recent reading has given me cause to sit and reflect a little. On reflection I note that I am achieving quite a bit in my non-work time in terms of blogging, twitter and also my reading. My fitness is also improving and an area of focus although the progress here is slow. In terms of books I am now on my fourth book of the year. As such I could be considered to be more active than previously, prior to the resolutions. I may be making more effective use of my time.
In reading “How we learn” the importance of non-activity is highlighted in relation to those “Eureka!” moments and in relation to learning, and how the mind makes connections. I have often used to find myself picking up a pen and pad of post-it notes with random ideas just coming to mind. I therefore wonder if by being so active I may be reducing the number of opportunities for my mind to make new connections and generate those creative ideas. I wonder if, rather than seeking to remove those seemingly idle moments, watching TV for example, I should in fact be trying to ensure that there are a measured number of such moments purposely planned within my week. I would suggest that although it is inappropriate to have too many TV moments, it also inappropriate to have too few.
On that note I will post this and go back to watching “The Chase” on TV. I wonder if any creative ideas will jump to the fore of my mind!
We often look at concepts and ideas as either being positive or negative in nature. The fact is however that things are not that simple or that black and white. The complexity of ideas was drawn into focus as I read the term “desirable difficulty” in the book, “How we learn”, which I am currently reading. How could something “difficult”, a negative term, be considered “desirable”?
During the course of my day I was working on an analysis of different tablet computers options for use in my school. As part of the process I was listing the benefits and the drawbacks of different devices such as the iPad, MS Surface, etc. One point I listed was that of the standardization of the iPad which I considered a positive. At the same time the customization and user personalization of the MS surface was a positive. As I looked again I identified the strength of the iPad as a weakness of the MS surface and the strength of the MS Surface as a weakness of the iPad. The strength of standardization within the iPad was actually also a weakness in the lack of customization or personalization it allowed for in the same device. An the strength in the MS Surface turned out equally to be its weakness. In both cases each feature was both a strength and a weakness. To make use of the strength in an iPad I had to acknowledge and tolerate the weakness. The same being true for the MS Surface.
Another term I have heard recently, which I myself am fond of, is the term “disruptive innovation”. Again we have a positive in “innovation” but a negative in “disruption”. Yet when we talk of disruptive innovation we are referring to an overall positive.
“A disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leaders and alliances. The term was defined and phenomenon analyzed by Clayton M. Christensen beginning in 1995”.
As we initially explore the new innovation it causes disruption which is likely to be viewed as a negative feature of the innovation. I would suggestion that during this phase the change is not likely to be seen as an innovation and more as just a change and possibly an unwanted change. Someime after the initial change when people reflect they will see the benefits, at which point the change will come to be considered as an innovation and the disruption as a necessary step in the progression towards an end.
Any idea cannot be seen as purely positive or negative. It is better viewed as having some positive features and some negative features, with individuals seeking to identify both. Also the resulting perceptions regarding positive and negative features cannot necessarily be viewed as static as changes in perception may occur over time. The idea “is” positive, would therefore be better phrased as the “idea currently is perceived to be more positive than negative”.
The question is how the above might impact on education. How often do you give thought to the views, beliefs and ideas you hold to be true?
We think with both our body and our mind. Daniel Kahneman outlines the experiment where individuals are made to smile or frown through putting a pencil in their mouth. They are asked to either put a pencil length ways in their mouth or pointing forward from their mouth, however not explanation is given for this. They are then asked about how they feel. Those with the pencil length ways indicate a greater tendency towards happiness whereas those with the pencil pointing outwards tend towards unhappiness. No explanation is given to participants as to the reasoning for pencil. The actual reasoning for the pencil is to cause participants to either smile, as a pencil lengthwise in your mouth will cause, or frown as a pencil pointing outwards and therefore held in place by pursed lips will cause. This suggests that physical attributes or events can result in mental changes, in this case changes in emotional state. If we take this idea and consider how we might make use of it in education it seems to suggest that the physical position, etc of students could have an impact on their learning. This could have implications for students being seated for periods of time. or for classroom movement. It seems to link to the use of brain gym in class which although evidence suggests it doesn’t have a direct impact on learning, it does energize students and in my experience puts them in a better frame of mind ahead of or during learning. Basically the physical activity changes the mental conditions which impact on learning including emotional state.
Linked to this is cognitive loading and its impact on simple activities such as movement. We might make students move round a classroom doing group activities however where cognitive load is high, such as where students are having to engage in critical thinking on a topic, they will find the simple activity such as movement difficult. Kahneman discussed how, if you ask someone a complex maths question while walking, there is a high likelihood the person will stop at least momentarily in order to think through the problem prior to answering. This raises some questions with regards higher order thinking activities combined with movement.
Cognitive loading very much relies on what Kahneman described as Agent 2 or the analytical part of the mind as opposed to Agent 1 which is the intuitive part of the mind. This again could have interesting implications within education especially with regards to examinations as the mind will often present what appear to be intuitively correct answers in an effort to avoid the effort of having to analyse the problem in hand. In some cases these intuitive answers will be correct however they can also be misleading. As teachers we therefore have a duty to prepare students to deal with these intuitive answers such that the avoid being mislead.
As teachers we also need to look at how we can use mental priming to best effect. Priming is where a visual, auditory or other cue has a direct mental of physical effect. As I mentioned earlier a smile can result in feelings of happiness. We could use images in our classroom to try to encourage students to smile. Maybe a picture of a smile or a picture of a class of students working together will all participants smiling. This second example might also serve to set the tone and have an impact on the ability to get students to work collaboratively within class.
Students are human beings and as human beings they think as other human beings do. As we strive to make better education systems I think a key step is to encourage teachers to dive into the rich texts that exist with regards how humans think and behave. The more I read from different authors on the brain, thinking, creativity, etc the more I realize how much I don’t know about learning and the more I want to know. Through such reading we can generate ideas, test them in class and draw conclusions as to the potential for such ideas to impact on the quality of learning; We can become better teachers of the small thinking human beings which join us every day in our classrooms.