Sunday, November 29, 2009

Things that get in the way

It's been a pretty stressful week one way and  another.

Work's been busy, home's always busy - just getting everything done that needs to be done. Making ends meet is a constant counterpoint to whatever else is going on in my life at any given time.   I may or may not be coming down with something - and to top it all off, I spent yesterday taking my son to the hospital for emergency surgery on his hand.

In the midst of all this, I'm trying to find enough spare time (and enough spare synapses) to process - and document - the thinking I'm doing about things educational.

One of the things that's becoming obvious is that it's incredibly difficult to assimilate anything new when you're already stressed. Hardly a unique or original observation, but one that's been reinforced again recently.

Timing is as important as time.

A number of years ago now I started learning Te Reo Maori. I really enjoyed it, and I have made several attempts since then to refresh and improve my ability to speak and understand it. So far I haven't got very far.  I'm not sure if the reasons I can identify are genuine reasons or just rationalisations. I feel guilty, frustrated and resigned about it by turns. But the bottom line is, there's more I want to do than there are hours (or kilojoules) available to do them all, and much as I want to do it, the timing just hasn't been right  yet. Meaning it hasn't got to the top of my priority list yet. 

One of the lessons I've absorbed on my way through life (social conditioning) is that this really means I lack the dedication, the genuine desire to learn Te Reo, and the intellectual honesty to admit those failings. In other words, there must be someone at fault, and it must be me. However much my adult rational self may know that putting food on the table for my kids, and holding down a job, being available to my friends and family when they need my support know, reality... are legitimate priorities, part of me is equally sure that the only reason for not doing something is lack of trying hard enough.

I suspect we are still teaching our kids those same unhelpful lessons.

The reality is that life does get in the way sometimes, and we do have to prioritise what we do. Sometimes all the pieces fall into place, and we can make huge strides. Not only is learning not linear, but it's not constant either. It happens in fits & starts (the 'clumpy universe' again). So why do we insist on designing learning environments and curricula for our children that behave as if they are? 

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Conference notes: transitions

Jennifer Garvey-Berger on change / transitions
  • Rilke quote - cf transformative learning 
  • linear change - "how our brains understand change" - thats why we find change hard, don't like it... cf visual-spatial: non-linear, not same issues with change
  • spontaneous orders instead of linear progressions  (eg curriculum)  
  • ball in trough diagram - change by evolution (go over) or revolution (through)?
  • fear of loss - what is it that you fear to lose?
  • what will become of it when you change? 
  • The neutral zone - have let go of one reality but not yet embraced the next
  • [??being PRESENT (Senge)  is the key to the neutral zone?? / ??Theory U??]
  •  new beginnings are like babies - need nurturing
  • will falter sometimes, don't  start fully formed

Monday, November 16, 2009

Achieving mastery

I've spent a bit of time over the past week or so mending holes in the wooden deck outside my house. As I write this, my son & a family friend are out there finishing off.

They're much better at it than I am. For one thing I, being a woman of a certain age, have had no formal instruction in which side of a saw is the sharp side, how to hold a hammer, or how to select the appropriate kind of nails for a job.  I've picked up a bit here and there - helping my dad or my husband, asking questions, watching home improvement shows, or just asking the blokes at the hardware store.

As a result I have my own somewhat idiosyncratic way of doing things. For one thing, I'd much rather spend 30 minutes chiselling off a centimetre of wood to fit a wide plank into a narrow gap than spend 20 minutes setting up a circular saw to do the job. In fact I discovered this weekend that I'd rather chisel it off than use a handsaw to do it too. I found myself reflecting on that as I banged away at the chisel yesterday, because it seemed a bit perverse to be honest. It's less efficient, it doesn't do nearly as neat a job,  and it's got to be at  least as much effort.

I realised though that what the hammer & chisel give me that the circular saw doesn't is a sense of mastery. I am confident that I know how to use the hammer & chisel to achieve what I want to do, and that means the effort I put into it feels like a worthwhile investment - I have confidence that the job will be done - adequately, if not elegantly.

The circular saw on the other hand is a whole different story. I have used one a time or two, but I haven't yet become confident that I know why it doesn't produce the output I think it should. If I mess things up with the hammer & chisel, I understand enough about it to know what I need to do differently, and so I can learn and improve. That makes it fun. The circular saw is still a black box experience.  I can follow instructions, clamp and guide and guard my fingers - but when it doesn't do what I expect (it slides off true and puts a bow in the side of the plank I'm trying to rip) I have no idea why. That makes it frustrating, depressing, and dangerous. I don't feel as if I learn anything new by practising, I just embed my incompetence deeper. Perhaps one day the penny will drop and I will understand what it is that I don'tunderstand now, but I don't believe it. And that makes all the difference.

So - for now, I will look at the planks I have replaced with satisfaction, even if the ones my blokey mates have done for me are more level, squarer, and not split at the ends because the nails were too big. I don't care. I'm grateful, of course, and I can admire their workmanship.  But not far below the surface of the grateful adult is a jubilant (and slightly defiant) kid crowing because I DID IT MYSELF!! And I think my wonky, split, uneven boards are wonderful.

A little mastery goes a long, long way.

P.S.Thanks, guys! And one day I'll get you to teach me how to use a circular saw properly.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thinking about change: Becoming a more fully functioning person

The "thinking tools" Jennifer Garvey-Berger introduced us to at the Shifting Thinking conference were familiar in some respects, but different enough to offer some new and interesting ways of looking at the process of learning as transformative change  (Mezirow, Senge).

Anyone who starts their presentation with some great poets and philosophers is on the right track for me.  Jennifer used a Rilke quote to kick off her first presentation.  I didn't make a note of it but I'm hoping it will be up on the conference website soon because it seemed to capture the spirit of transformative learning and learning as personal growth (Rogers). I'm sure I've dealt with that in other posts in my other blog but I can't for the moment find it - harrumph. However, the idea is captured in this quote from The Good Life and the Fully Functioning Person (1953) which you can find quoted online here.
The good life is a process, not a state of being.
It is a direction not a destination.
The direction which constitutes the good life is that which is selected by the total organism, when there is psychological freedom to move in any direction.
This organismically selected direction seems to have certain discernible qualities which appear to be the same in a wide variety of unique individuals.
The good life, from the point of view of my experience, is the process of movement in a direction which the human organism selects when it is inwardly free to move in any direction, and the general qualities of this selected direction appear to have a certain universality. ....

Rogers identifies the characteristics of this process as  
  1. An increasing Openness to Experience ...a movement away from the pole of defensiveness toward the pole of openness to experience. The individual is becoming more able to listen to himself, to experience what is going on within himself. He is more open to his feelings
  2. Increasingly Existential Living increasingly tendency to live fully in each moment. ...the self and personality emerge from experience rather than experience being translated or twisted to fit pre-conceived self-structure... [so that]... one becomes a participant in and an observer of the ongoing process of organismic experience, rather than being in control of it.
  3. An increasing trust in his Organism a means of arriving at the most satisfying behavior in each existential situation. 
His conclusion is that "It appears that the person who is psychologically free moves in the direction of becoming a more fully functioning person." That, I believe is the touchstone for effective pedagogy (and in fact all successful human relationships) - to conduct ourselves ina a way that contributes to the other party (in this case the learner, and since teaching is transactional, ourselves as well) becoming a more fully functioning person. 

This is in fact closely echoed by the National Education Goals (NEGs) that govern New Zealand's education system, which specify
Goal 1: The highest standards of achievement, through programmes which enable all students to realise their full potential as individuals, and to develop the values needed to become full members of New Zealand's society.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Shifting Thinking Conference

First, let me acknowledge that I love conferences! I love the luxury of having days set aside just to mingle with other people with similar interests; the stimulation of being exposed to different expertise, different environments, different world views, different experiences; the discussions; the sense of new possibilities and perspectives; and the revelation that there are so many other people in the world who care about the things I do.

Shifting Thinking was like that, and with the extra bonus of being a bit outside the square. I came away at the end of the two days feeling a bit excited about the conversations we had begun, and a bit unsettled by some of them, a bit frusrated about the sessions I didn't get to.

The best of it
The Day 1 highlights for me were Jennifer Garvey-Berger's conversations about the nature of change and the four thinking tools she introduced us to.

The Day 2 highlights for me were Perry Rush's session, called "Who says schools have to look the way they do?"  and the group session with parents from local schools, called "Who are the experts?" (I'm glad I read the synopsis, because the title almost put me off.) As it turned out, two of the people presenting this session had children in the same class as my youngest,  so we had a considerable amount of shared experience to draw on.

And in between, no less exciting was the opportunity to visit Te Papa Tongarewa's new interactive Our Space with Diana-Grace Morris, to explore the interactive map, an interactive multimedia feature called simply "The Wall" and the High Ride.  It was great to see our little group of middle aged respectable educators (me included) squealing like kids with the excitement of exploring and creating. Woo-hoo!

The whole conference had a real buzz to it, with an exciting combination of willingness to challenge existing mindsets and positive attitude.

And the rest
The only exception was the second speaker on Day2, Cathy Wylie who didn't really seem to get the point of the event. Where other speakers used the opportunity to reflect on their own professional and personal journey, on tools for creating collaboration and positive change, and on mapping out the way forward into the 21st century, Wylie gave a muddled, negative and inaccurate address that added nothing of value. She'd obviously not prepared properly and seemed to have only covered about half of her material, so maybe the good stuff was yet to come. Although she's positioned herself over the past 20 years as an expert on the New Zealand version of school self-management and community ownership, Wylie really doesn't ever seem to have got the point of the reforms, and this address bore that out, with inaccuracies of fact, and very little evidence of analytical insight or fresh or original thinking.

If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always had
The lesson I suppose is that we all have to work with what we've got - and shifting the mindset of the system as a whole will need us to engage a large number of practitioners in all kinds of roles who don't understand, or don't have the energy or the insight to look beyond what they have always had. So part of the challenge will be how to re-frame those people and those characteristics in our own attitudes and practice that are currently "part of the problem" in ways that allow them to become "part of the solution".

So how do we learn to stop doing what we've always done, in search of what we've never had? It's not easy. Perhaps the first step is to practice stepping out of the comfort zone and doing things differently. This is one of the things Jennifer Garvey-Berger challenged us to think about - but that might be a separate post.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Feral Learning in hard copy

One of the really exciting things that's happened in the hiatus since I stopped blogging has been the publication of Learners in a Changing Learning Landscape in Springer's Lifelong Learning series. Check out Chapter 6, Getting to know the Feral Learner.

Writing this chapter for publication was a great learning experience, and helped me to crystallise my thinking about feral learning.  It also demonstrated how much I still have to learn about preparing material for publication. I was very lucky to have Jan Visser's help & support.

The book is an interesting collection of perspectives on the 21st century learning environment and has just received this year's James W Brown Publication Award of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT). We share the award with the authors of another important book that came out last year: Richey, R., & Klein, J. (2007). Design and development research. New York: Routledge.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It's a "clumpy universe"

One of the triggers for my return to the blogosphere  was attending the Shifting Thinking conference organised by NZCER last week. It was a really stimulating event - which I intend to reflect on in future posts - and turned out to be one of a series of events that have brought me to this point. Participants at the conference were actively encouraged to respond to the conference procedings via tweets and /or blogs. Not having an active blog to post to became a problem. Twitter is great, but there are some things you just can't cover in 140 characters.

To cut a long and twisty story short, a number of factors have converged (as they do) to motivate me to make the change and get blogging again. Hence the refernce to the clumpy universe. Just as matter (stuff) is not evenly distributed throughout the universe but forms clumps within the larger emptiness, so things are not regularly distributed throughout my life. When enough things converge, it forms a node that changes the surrounding environment. Feral learning (life!) is like that too, uneven and clumpy. In this case, the clumpy universe drives me back to blogging.

So - here we go: housework done (sort of); groceries bought and put away (mostly); brain engaged (more or less); and a bit of spare time to blog in (not really). Why do I bother to mention those things? Because my life is multi-dimensional. Things that happen in one arena carry over to influence what happens (or doesn't happen) in another. And now that I've got everything ready, I'm out of time and going to bed.

New beginnings

Well, it's almost exactly three years since my last post over at Mary's M.Ed Journal . In the mean time a lot of things have changed, one of them being my primary email address - and another being my ability to recall my password.  One of the advantages of a linear thought process is presumably that it makes it easier to backtrack when you forget things or need to revisit them. In my non-linear, visual-spatial world, it's not that easy. (Conversely it's always interesting.) Somewhere over the past 3 years of trying out various social networking sites, web applications and the like I've lost all track of how to access my earlier blog. So, now that I've conceded that I can't go back I'm ready to move on.

One thing that hasn't changed though is my interest in education - feral learning - and my own learning journey. So here I am again.

Like last time, this blog will be intermittent, reflective and personal. I hope it will also be of interest to others, but its primary purpose is to provide a vehicle for me to work through and to express my response to some of the ideas and experiences that shape my understanding, my world and myself.

If there's anyone else out there reading this, welcome along - and please leave me a comment.