Monthly Archives: February 2016

Remember to remember

I’m not so sure. And I’m glad of it.

‘Learning as remembering’: the purest definition of measurable learning, but cognitive not ontological. I understand learning as predicated on other characteristics, for example ‘meaning-making’, ‘identity change’ or ‘attitude change’ as characteristic of personal growth. I’m warned that all learning involves long term memory. As teachers are we ventriloquists, then? I thought we were trying to initiate agency.

Let’s take that last one – attitude change: an individual goes through sets of challenges and conflicting principles that lead to an intrapersonal change in personality: can they necessarily recall the experiences and process that lead to that change? They may experience a disorientating dilemma in the process of manouveuring through various thresholds, they may ‘feel’ overload, or cognitive dissonance, being pulled one way and another in decisions, and there may be an adolescent tension in bringing everything to mind and balancing all judgments before summarising their (newly emergent or existing) point of view. (I use the ‘word adolescent’ to describe any stage of liminal disorientation where change occurs and we are not clear what is happening to or around us).

Reflecting (as a skill of thinking-learning needing practise) may allow them to revisit who or what their previous disposition was, but I would propose that already, like a snake shedding its skin, they have firmly rejected previous incarnations of thought and attitude. They cannot resist the step-change; they must continue to move forward. Therein, something is learned, but it – this transformation – is not entirely based around memory, nor is it easy to track, measure or assess. Identity change is subtle, yet dramatic, and learning – whatever that looks like there – plays a part in that process. Is it metacognitive, or natural? Is there a difference? Should those step-changes in growth be metacognitive, or should they be allowed (empowered) to learn by trial and error? To learn to make mistakes and bad choices to learn from in future (if…).

What I’m trying to describe is a little bit like that old TV show The Wonder Years, where the kid has a sense of deep epiphany in each and every episode (while Joe Cocker sings over the credits). Unfortunately, most ‘personal change’ is not so easily understood in the lived moment: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards” Kierkegaard said, as an adult. Personally, I feel young people live in a state of perpetual becoming, so aren’t predisposed to look forwards and backwards as routinely and consistently as we adults do. There is a learning taking place in each and every sensorily loaded moment, if we are alert to our environment. How is this tracked?

It’s curious how educators get better at educating as they get older; at least, this has often been reported to me by students who associate older teachers with better gatekeepers of knowledge. Curious because we get further away from adolescence, these key stages of confusion in life, as we get older and possibly have less in common with students’ Lifeworld, which is so important for us to see and understand as educators. Remember what it was like to be a teenage student, to be curious about the world, to want answers, to look to others to guide us through that process of explanation. To ask questions rather than be the receipient of questions.

And what do we give them? Not meaning-making about the reasons for the state of this weird world, but emphasis on recalling details – dates and definitions, numbers and words – because…well, the meaning of that is lost on me.

Because – I think – we want everyone to retain things, because it’s easiest to see and measure that and be satisfied that we’re doing a proper job.

I raise this, just because of the definitions around the term ‘learning’ as redolent on memory, as if this learning thing always has a fixed concrete point, whereas the reality of it is its wonderful abstract, incongruous nature. Evidence is a brilliant thing for asserting knowledge, but it’s not the be all and end all of what we know – only what we know up to now.

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Shrinking down and bitesizing

In support of essay writing for the re-sit GCSE, bite sizing content is a simplifying method of making things tangible to others. I am writing to advocate replication of form for writing, showing step by step how I hope to achieve more congitive discussion in students moving from whole class group to small, co-operative discussions to individual tasks. I use the context of the Spoken Language Study unit.

FE students of the GCSE re-sit appear to favour the ‘more brains are better than one’ approach of co-operative working. With analysis of text, we start with some situated cognition to create relevance of the significance of Prosody: highlighting real world contexts and reflecting on uses of those functions in individually conceivable and relevant contexts: job interviews, naturally; hanging out; talking to parents; talking to friends parents; talking to teachers; answering a police officer; being in court; working in a call centre, etc.  This allows some subjectivity and dramturgy, i.e. ‘how would you respond if….?’ There’s a lot of contextual validity for this unit, which helps make these relatable and to improve comprehension.

I stress the questions ‘how’ and ‘why’ to make things tangible. We are working on the spoken language unit, so:

How does Malala Yousafzai (or whomever) use spoken language features to make her speech impressive.

Why does she do those things?

I break the mark scheme down into a series of easier questions as sub-heading to respond to:

  • Who is the audience? How do we know?
  • Is the audience engaged? How do you know?
  • Is the speech impressive to you (or not)? Why?
  • How do you use similar speech patterns in different contexts?

We use a table for analysis, where students fill in notes as they watch videos and record the times of incidence. The notes, in combination with those answers, is halfway to compiling an essay.

So far, we’ve repeated this method over and over with videos linked to each vocation course: Gordon Ramsey training chefs, the Rafa Benitez rant compared to Kevin Keegans, make-up TV adverts and tutorials, etc. This gets them in the groove for the main event (Malala).

The downsizing method appears more effective to promote gradual independence. Nothing original here. It goes from whole class analysis and discussions, which FE students seem to find most palattable, to smaller group discussions, to individual analysis, repeated several times in short video-lead drills. At the moment, we literally repeat these methods over and over for reinforcement, with a lot of explaining that this method is designed to coerce students to work things through by themselves, ultimately. In the first and second instance, the teacher may complement the students’ notes with tips to connect to the marking criteria, on widening discussion, and on writing-up.

Through this spoken language unit, it’s been far easier to handle outbursts and behavioural cconflicts, by tuning attention of ‘volume, intonation, stress’ to the immediate moment, e.g “I noticed a lot of giggling when Billy answered the question with a monosyllabic response. Why is that?” (‘We feel awkward, like you’) and “Why have I hesitated for two minutes here?” (‘You’re waiting for us to be quiet.’).

Finally, using Strategic Communicative Actions (truth statements) helps scale up analytical data to justify responses, e.g.

‘True or false: Malala uses contractions in her speech to emphasise clarity of her words.’

NB: this last has not been tested yet; usually they are simpler, such as:

‘A policeman may talk slowly to show his control and authority. True or False?’ This is followed with the question ‘why do you say that?’ to stimulate discourse. Ideally, you arrange T/F questions to culminate in a more discursive answer, such as ‘It depends…’

That’s it. Working so far, I hope. I can see how this method can be transferable to online learning, but the initial group discussion stages are imperative to encourage discussion as first response and generate ideas. This would be difficult to establish at this level online as face-to-face is still a domain of assurance and allows more spontaneity in soccratic questioning responses to live ideas.





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Penumbral Places – a cartography of disorientation

#digifest16 #www16

Here is my contribution to the call from Chrissi Nerantzi for images of a tapestry of digital learning and teaching. I present an image metaphor from Black Crag in Cumbria of my niece in the moment of capture, the winds blades circumventing change around her fixed geographical point. If it looks akward, well I never said I was an artist (and I almost added a graphic from fitbit) and my fiddling around with layers is problematic, to say the least, as seen.


How symbolic is the concept of layers! I usually retreat to nature to escape the fugue that social contexts contain us within. When we scaled the small fell of Black Crag and reached the trig point, a strong gale ensued. Not daunted, we all felt we had to capture our triumphant endeavour with – variously –  cameras, iPads, SmartPhones. My own original shots seemed to absorb the brunt of the winds in an image, as all came out distorted by its power revealing dales that appear to undulate. Layers start to be constructed as soon as we emerge into the raw purity of nature. I’ll try to explain what I mean by that.

There are so many metaphors in nature: maps, orientation, being present in a moment but elsewhere simulataneously. I’m discontent with metaphors, sometimes, because in my research I want to get to the core meaning, rather than wrap ideas with further labels. Metaphors are though, I suppose, helpful tools to make the abstract in language more tangible.

I often take my research with me on hikes, as the obfuscation becomes less obscure and I can focus and think in transcendent footsteps, almost to literally clear my head. I mean ‘intrapersonally’. I discovered this powerfully when I walked 700 km along the Camino de Santiago, years ago – the Field of Stars. Walking is a profound method of situating ourselves to landscapes and, well, our selves.

In nature, we are omnipresent: we’re social and in solitude; we exist in a moment, but may be elsewhere in our thoughts; more often than not these days, we take our devices with us to capture the liminal moments we uncover. Some use images, some use words and some use numbers to represent what they find. Our tools let us have it all ways.

This is what I conceive of as psychogeography and a metaphor for the real essence of mobile learning.




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