Posts Tagged ‘teaching and learning’

Saying the same thing over and over again on this blog, is not too surprising I guess.  After all, the words that appear here are most often a reflection of my thoughts, my passion and those issues that inspire me to blog in the first place.

I’ve said it many times before:

The job of a teacher is to inspire, to challenge, to excite their students to want to learn …..

If we can’t inspire the students in our classroom, we are simply not doing our job.  If we are unable to challenge them with tasks that provoke them to think, reflect and grow, we are still not doing our job.  And if we are unable to excite in our students a desire to learn, to ignite a passion and love of learning, then learning will just not happen.

Although I’ve blogged these thoughts often, this time the words are not just mine.  Instead they are said, very passionately, in a powerful video released just a few days ago: This will revolutionize education.

Talking about the impact of technology on the learner, the words spoken in this video go against popular belief by stating that rather than being in the midst of an education revolution, we are instead in the midst of an evolution.

The words spoken are impassioned and exciting.   The style is slick and captivating.   But for me, the standout comments come toward the end of the video, when the important role of the teacher is highlighted.

The fundamental role of a teacher is not to deliver information, it is to guide the social process of learning …

The most important thing a teacher does is make every student feel like they are important, to make them feel accountable for doing the work of learning ……

And then the final impassioned lines of the video state the case very clearly:

….. what really matters is what happens inside the learner’s head and making a learner think seems best achieved in a social environment with other learners and a caring teacher.

It is indeed through the influence of the teacher who creates a nurturing and caring classroom environment, that our students are able to learn, grow and achieve.

We must never doubt the incredibly strong impact that teachers have on their students.   Creating a caring, nurturing and safe learning space within the confines of each classroom is what it really is all about!  It is the role of teachers

  • to take time to get to know their students
  • to provide individualized programs which nurture the skills of each learner
  • to develop in each student an ‘I can’ attitude from which confidence can grow
  • to ensure a safe and secure classroom where risk taking is encouraged
  • to create opportunities in which students can be actively immersed in new learning
  • to guide students’ learning by providing them with a scaffold they will be able to use throughout their life to pursue future learning
  • to encourage students to be patient and to not expect that learning is instantaneous
  • to foster an understanding of the value and benefits gained from collaboration
  • to guard against students competing against each other
  • to help students appreciate the value of learning by doing

When I first saw this video, I shared my find on Twitter re stating it’s words.  It was clear from the number of RTs this tweet garnered that the interest of others was also stirred.   Penny Bentley threw out a challenge to me when she asked:

With this question sitting in the back of my mind over the last few days, I realize that this is the kernel of the issue I constantly grapple with when I try to inspire within students and teachers alike a love of reading and a love of learning.   Inspiration has many facets.  It encompasses much.  And it requires the guiding hand of a teacher to ensure that it happens.

What does inspiration involve and aim to achieve in our classes?

  • to awaken the mind of the learner
  • to arouse focused attention
  • to fill students with enthusiasm
  • to excite passionate interest
  • to motivate students to go one step further than they may do otherwise
  • to initiate activities in which students can learn with and from each other
  • to enable the student to also be the teacher
  • to stir imagination
  • to encourage risk taking
  • to create excitement
  • to arouse and enthuse involvement and participation
  • to light an insatiable spark within the heart and soul of the learner
  • to stimulate learners to be lifelong learners!

I will forever be grateful to my mentor Judith Way, who, more than four years ago, lit that spark within me which makes me constantly reach out for the new, explore the unknown, savour my discoveries and be driven to share all that I’ve learned, discovered and explored with others.

Read more about this inspirational teacher and mentor in one of my earlier posts: An interview with Judith Way – 2010 VicPLN Program Mentor.  She blogs at The Way Forward and tweets often as @judithway

Take a few minutes to watch.  The words and visuals of this video may also resonate with you for some time!

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Lifelong learning has become one of those catch phrases that pops up all over the place.   We read it and we use it.   It is a topic I have often blogged about.

In a couple of weeks, I look forward to sharing some of my thoughts on how teachers can and should develop their own lifelong learning skills when I make a presentation at the 2014 Pearson National Teaching and Learning Conference, but addressing the importance of developing lifelong learning skills in the students we teach is of equal value!

In a blog post written a couple of years ago: Learning to learn: 10 essential skills for teachers  I wrote about the importance of teaching students how they can learn on their own:

Lifelong learning:  One of the most forgotten aims of education is to teach students how they can learn on their own and that school days are just a stepping stone to never-ending lifelong learning.  Incorporate examples into your lesson that demonstrate the power of self-discovery, exploration, learning and mastery.  Today’s online world is replete with opportunities for all of us to determine our own learning path.  Specifically demonstrate the vast range of sources available to achieve personal goals.”

And in an earlier post when I was discussing which I thought to be the better learning model PLNs or PDs I found myself again writing about the importance and value of developing lifelong learning skills:

New skills, new thoughts, new pedagogy, new knowledge:   The gift of learning how to learn on your own cannot be over emphasized.   The continuous engagement, immersion and self-paced learning afforded by learning with and from a PLN is beyond belief.   Providing a springboard for continued learning and exploration, the very nature of a PLN aims to support an individual’s lifelong learning.”

Knowing that there’s more to it than osmosis, perhaps now is as good a time as any to pause and consider how to develop students’ lifelong learning skills.  When teasing out an issue, it is of course appropriate to start with a definition of what we are talking about.  So looking at the simplest definition lifelong learning is defined by Macmillan Dictionary as

a process of gaining knowledge and skills that continues throughout a person’s life”

While this is a neat and concise definition, I beg to differ a little.   To me, lifelong learning is more about developing a set of skills by which an individual can pursue knowledge.   Learning these skills in an educational setting, be it school or university is what it’s really all about.  Teaching students how to learn should be the gift that educators aim to impart.

The set of skills we need to focus on to successfully develop lifelong learning skills are many and varied, but could include any or all of the following:

  • Search strategy skills: Learning how to define a problem and then setting about locating, selecting, organizing, presenting and finally evaluation information gleaned, discovered or learned is an essential strategy.
  • Critical thinking skills: Learning not to take information, particularly that which is located online, as gospel is very important.  Students need to be shown how to check and verify the authenticity of information.
  • Problem solving skills: Learning how to go about solving problems will depend on the nature of the issue being explored.  By providing students with opportunities to brainstorm together and suss out different paths to follow to get to the end solution are important learning skills to incorporate into our everyday teaching.  The value of collaboration cannot be over emphasized!
  • Lateral thinking skills: Being able to think outside of the box lends itself to self directed learning and exploring.  Students can gain much by completing exercises that force them to think beyond the obvious.
  • Presentation skills: Being able to present information in a clear and coherent way so that others can interpret it is an essential life skill.  Learning to interpret both visual and written presentations is equally of value.
  • Communication skills: Learning to use social networking as a learning tool among our students is vital.  While there is much discussion about responsible use of social media, are we teaching our students how to use these tools to expand their own learning?
  • Interpersonal skills: Appropriate verbal and non verbal communication plus listening and questioning skills, being responsible and accountable for actions, awareness of social etiquette and expectations alongside self management skills are essential for working as a member of a team.   Learning from and with others is what it is all about!
  • Confidence building skills: Developing an ‘I can’ attitude and assertiveness is so very important.  Education must aim to instil confidence in our students so that they know they can learn, explore and achieve successfully on their own.  Providing opportunities to do this is essential.
  • Self-directed learning skills: By giving our students the opportunity to determine what and how they will learn is a valuable way for them to determine the path of their own learning.  If educators constantly set the agenda for students, there is little scope for them to discover the joy of learning on their own.  They need opportunities – many of them – to become active learners who direct their own learning path.  Self directed learning can be very powerful.
  • Project planning skills: Being able to set parameters for the scope of a project as well as setting and sticking to a time line for the completion of a project is an imperative skill to ensure learning continues throughout a lifetime.  Being able to self manage and set achievable tasks is something that follows us throughout life.

Above all though, educators need to inspire in students a love of learning.  By igniting a passion and a hunger to learn, educators will be setting students upon a path of lifelong learning.

This TED Talk by Ramsey Musallam outlines three key rules to spark learning and the imagination of students:

  1. Curiosity: Questions can be windows to great instruction
  2. Embrace: Taking risks through trial and error should be an informal part of what we do every single day
  3. Reflect: Intense reflecting on information gathered is a powerful source

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A Facebook friend shared a fabulous ad which appeared a few weeks ago in The Age – My Career section:

Job Ad

It’s a classic – no?

Apart from making me chuckle, this ad made me pause to consider the role of teachers: what it is we aim to achieve in our role and why we decide to go into teaching in the first place.

While passion and a love of kids are essential ingredients to being a successful educator, the role of a teacher is complex and demanding.  Most often, the full complexity of the job is not understood until working in the field.  Learning, mastering and perfecting a myriad of skills and techniques becomes a lifelong pursuit for all who work in the education sector.

Following the results of a recent OECD survey of 106,000 teachers from 34 countries in which 2059 Australian lower secondary school teachers and 116 principals participated, it was somewhat dismaying to learn that only 39% of Australian teachers included in this survey believed that society valued the teaching profession.

In a press release of The Teaching and Learning International Survey  which was conducted last year, it was stated that “Most teachers enjoy their job, despite feeling unsupported and unrecognised in schools and undervalued by society at large…”

The OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) finds that more than nine out of ten teachers are satisfied with their jobs and nearly eight in ten would choose the teaching profession again. But fewer than one in three teachers believe teaching is a valued profession in society. Importantly, those countries where teachers feel valued tend to perform better in PISA.”

It’s  encouraging to read that “teachers who engage in collaborative learning have higher job satisfaction and confidence in their abilities” a fact that lends support to my belief about the incredible benefit to teachers of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs).

Teacher feedback on the value of formal appraisal programs however, may well come as a surprise to the many schools who are implementing stringent programs.  While around 80% of teachers get feedback following classroom observation and 64% from student feedback, it seems appraisals are not necessarily translating into valued recognition of teachers’ skills.

But formal appraisals have little impact on career advancement or financial recognition, according to most teachers. Annual pay rises are awarded regardless of performance in four-fifths (78%) of schools and 44% of teachers work in schools where formal appraisals have no impact on career advancement.

Around half of teachers also report feeling that most appraisals are carried out merely as administrative exercises and 43% say they are not strongly related to how they teach in the classroom.”

It is interesting that this comment was echoed in a feature article published in the Education Age a few weeks prior to the OECD press release.  The article “A tick of respect keeps good teachers teaching” written by Emily Frawley, a Melbourne based secondary English teacher, reflects on the significant amount of time given over to teacher appraisal:

A lot of my time at the moment is being taken up with filling in performance development plans, documenting course outlines, having students fill out surveys on me, going over the data from my VCE student’s exam marks, having other staff observe and provide feedback on my practice, visiting and critiquing my colleagues, and attending meetings to discuss how to standardise the way I teach, assess and provide feedback to my students.”

Underlining this requirement to be accountable, Frawley states that it is the lack of respect shown to teachers as a profession which undermines the societal value of the teaching profession.  Her article is hard hitting and impassioned – well worth a read.

My awareness of the OECD report came from a recent article in The Age by Michael Preiss “Australian teachers feel undervalued: OECD report” (June 25, 2014).  Rather than highlight the valuable role of teachers in society, this article instead focuses heavily on the amount of time teachers spend disciplining students who interrupt.

Reading the OECD report itself, or its press release gives a far better picture of today’s teacher.   Better still, this video sums up the report’s findings well:

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George Dantzig, born in 1914,  was an American mathematical scientist who made important contributions to operations research, computer science, economics, and statistics.  Just recently, my husband related to me a famous story about Dantzig:

Arriving late for a class with Professor Jerzy Neyman, Dantzig noticed two statistic problems on the blackboard.  Assuming they were a homework assignment, he copied them down and worked on them even though they “seemed a little harder than usual”.  A few days later he handed in the completed solutions to the two problems.

Six weeks later, an excited Professor Nayman visited Dantzig to tell him that the problems he had solved were two of the most famous unsolved problems in statistics!

An amazing achievement – no?

Isn’t it incredible what we can achieve when we don’t know the difficulty level of something or alternately when dogged determination is applied to either reach a conclusion or master a skill?

I found myself reflecting on the ‘I can’ attitude I regularly share with both students or teachers with whom I am working.  Having an ‘I can’ attitude to tackling the new – be it a skill or concept – creates a mental set for successful achievement.

I firmly believe that an “I can” attitude is a key ingredient to us being able to achieve almost anything.

Adhering to this approach has helped me tackle a myriad of life experiences in both my personal and professional life which I’m sure I’d never have broached if I hadn’t developed that “I can” attitude.

Instilling a belief in ourselves that we can accomplish, we can learn, we can master a new skill or concept is an essential ingredient in both teaching and learning!


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A disaster struck last weekend.   The ringer on my iPhone died!

How would I cope!?  No more hearing its chime when someone called, no more beeps and bings to remind me to be somewhere or do something ….. and ….. worst of all ….. no way to locate my iPhone which I invariably leave in some remote corner of the house!

Woe betide me!

Knowing I wouldn’t last the stretch of more than a few days, I quickly made an appointment to see a Genius at my local Apple Store.  “Genius” is the term used in Apple Stores for tech support personnel.  My appointment was last Thursday – my first day off work.  With genuine care and concern, the Genius assigned to assist, took me and my iPhone in hand.  Apart from quickly gaining confidence from the constant reassurance given that a solution was in sight, I felt empowered as a list of possible solution paths were given to me to decide upon.  So, instead of feeling totally helpless, I felt like I had some  measure of control.

Many a time have I visited an Apple Store to have a ‘look-see’, but this is the first time I’ve made an appointment with a Genius to have an issue resolved.

In short – I was impressed and would like to publicly acknowledge my thanks to Employee 1510989577  – the Genius who assisted me.   He was reassuring, caring, courteous and most of all efficient as he worked through various steps to resolve my problem.

But I got more out of my visit than just having my iPhone issue resolved.   I got to see, close up, how an Apple Store looks and works.   This is what I saw:

  • Great atmosphere:  There was an exciting buzz happening all around the store.  Even though my visit was quite early in the morning, there were stacks of people around – some looking, some playing, some chatting and some listening.
  • Peaceful appearance:  The large instore space is simply furnished with large, solid bench height desks and simple stools comfortable enough for a long sit.  There’s no clutter.  Everything looks fresh.   Despite the intense activity, a calmness pervades.
  • Controlled noise level:  Despite the large number of people – both Apple employees and customers – it wasn’t ‘noisy’.   It was easy to share conversations with the Genius attending yet impossible to eavesdrop on conversations occurring right next to me.
  • Within reach explanation:  The Genius attending to my issue clearly and patiently ‘educated’ me.   Not a geeky or nerdish word was shared.  Computer jargon quite simply didn’t form part of our exchanges.
  • Incidental learning opportunities:  Resolution of my problem took quite a while, so for some of the time I was sitting around with nothing to do.   I really enjoyed reading tips about getting the most out of Apple products which are displayed on a large screen behind the Genius Bar – an ‘added bonus’ to my visit!
  • Varied learning spaces: The Apple Store is, my Genius explained, separated into various zones: problem solving (referred to as creative help) at the Genius Bar for Mac Computer users, a sign in spot with ‘meet and greet’ Geniuses, online demo spaces of Apple hardware, one-on-one training, face to face support,  small group workshop or instruction and programs for children.

My visit left me realizing that I’d gained much more than I’d bargained on.   Rather than just receiving tech support, my visit turned into an experience – a great experience!    I didn’t expect this.

So what can Apple teach us about learning?  Based on what I saw, heard and experienced – lots!

  1. Being showered with individual attention sends a powerful message to the learner that they are valued and important.   Channels for learning are enhanced by a teacher who instils this belief into the students in their class.
  2. Teachers who value their students for who they are and what they know are showing them a respect  to which they are entitled as human beings.
  3. Reassurance is powerful.  It not only creates a sense of confidence within oneself, but it also creates a confidence in the instructor.   Reassurance thus enhances learning.
  4. By being asked to act on guided choices or alternative approaches, the learner will feel empowered and in control.   This is a magical ingredient for successful learning to occur.
  5. Creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere is important and valuable.   Feeling the buzz in a classroom lets both students and teachers feed off each other as they look, play, chat and listen to each other.
  6. Clean and clear open spaces allow easy movement in and around the classroom.  Appearance helps to create a calm, no nonsense atmosphere.
  7. It’s difficult to share conversations in a noisy classroom.   An ability to concentrate is also seriously impeded.  Ensuring furniture, wall, floor and ceiling surfaces are treated so as to control noise level is essential.
  8. Speaking and explaining to students at a level within reach is essential.   Jargon has no place in a classroom.  Being able to easily grasp concepts and rise to the challenge of tasks sorted into slowly increasing levels of difficulty will ensure that students do not fall through the gaps.
  9. Creating avenues for incidental learning provides the learner with much value.  Wall displays, dedicated computer/plasma screen displays or dedicated hotspot learning centers scattered around the classroom are just some of the ways that learning can be fostered.
  10. Creating a range of varied learning spaces within a classroom supports group teaching as well as differentiated teaching and learning. By establishing distinct areas in the classroom, an understanding of what can be mastered in that space will be easily grasped by students.

When considering my experience last week, I realize that I had been subject to the A-P-P-L-E service which I referred to in a previous post: 10 things school libraries can learn from Apple:

The Apple Store teaches its employees to follow five steps in each and every interaction. These are called the Apple five steps of service. They are outlined by the acronym A-P-P-L-E. They are: Approach with a customized, warm greeting. Probe politely to understand the customer’s needs. Present a solution the customer can take home today. Listen for and address unresolved questions. End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.”

Clearly I will be visiting my Apple Store again – even if I don’t need a solution to a problem!

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