03 February 2013

The International Conference on Thinking

Just a week ago I returned from Wellington, NZ, where I attended ICOT 2013, a rich and varied conference on thinking. Every two years, a group of thinking experts get together and present the most recent research and practice in the area of thinking. This particular conference focused mostly on how current theory could best serve educators, both in their classrooms and their staff rooms.

The International Conference on Thinking took place over five full days as I also attended a Masterclass with Guy Claxton, whose work I have blogged about before. So interesting was the range of speakers and ideas, that I think it is the most thought-provoking conference I have attended in ten years. I won't attempt to deal with every aspect of the conference in one blog post as I will be returning to a number of the themes throughout the year. However, I do want to convey the most significant idea I took away from the conference.

Whilst in Wellington I learnt a Maori proverb that asks:
He aha te mea nui o te ao? (What is the most important thing in the world?)
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! (It is people! It is people! It is people!)

And what this proverb came to mean for me, after a week of thinking about thinking, was the importance of empathy. If we are to manage the 21st century with all its possible technological, psychological, environmental, social, and cultural challenges, it would seem that empathy is the key.

One particular speaker, Brendan Spillane brought this to life in his breakout session on the Thursday, but he also touched on it in his five minute ignite session on the Monday, which I highly recommend. He spoke beautifully about how our opportunity to communicate with others in a generative space enables us to be fully human. I have returned to work with that notion in the forefront of my mind. I know it has already coloured my relationships with staff and the planning of learning programs for students.

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!

10 January 2013

Asking Questions

In my quest to explore ways to teach thinking I've been canvassing a variety of theories and practical applications. I recently finished reading Make Just One Change by Rothstein and Santana which offers a unique classroom strategy: teaching students to ask questions. 

This very clear text explains the process of teaching students how to formulate their own questions about any subject or topic being covered. It sounds incredibly simple but it is rarely done in schools. The authors offer a detailed procedure for embedding this strategy in regular classes (but not everyday), and show how the strategy serves a variety of purposes.

I have experimented with a similar notion of questions as students are reading their novels. I have discussed this strategy, which I picked up from Cris Tovani, in an earlier post. However, I believe that the question strategy offered in Make Just One Change shows how students can be led to a deeper level of thinking. By insisting that teachers refrain from giving examples as students formulate their questions, it means that the ideas must come from the students' minds. It also means that a more personal engagement with the concept or material at hand is achieved as students are formulating their own questions, and working towards answering them. 

Cognitive Load Theory suggests that people are more likely to retain information when they have an interest in it. Apparently the more interest in a subject, the more likely the new information will be able to attach to existing information. I know from personal experience that devising my own questions for essays during my MA changed the learning immensely. Learning how to ask your own questions creates autonomy and a greater connection with the work is made in the process of mastering that material.  

One last point about this strategy is its potential for use in teacher/staff development. Aside  from using this with students, I will employ this strategy when presenting my research findings to adults, which I will need to do several times this year. I hope to generate interest at different points of the presentation so that my audience cannot sit passively through the educational 'show and tell'. 

18 November 2012

Opportunities for Learning

I'm sorry I don't have time for extended discussion today but I did want to reference this blog post from Mind/ShiftStruggle Means Learning: Difference in Eastern and Western Cultures. Alix Spiegel writes about a UCLA professor, Jim Stigler, who has been studying the differences in how East and West approach "intellectual struggle". 

We seem to be spending more and more time talking about persistence and self-regulation, and about tinkering and successful failures, that I thought this post offered some different insights into how people might learn. 

I am not necessarily advocating students work though their thinking with a full audience. I do firmly believe the process counts as well as the product, and allowing time for that process to occur in a supportive environment should be the aim of all teachers. 

The Mind/Shift post is well worth a read.