Posts Tagged ‘dispositions’

Playing with ideas strand

October 28th, 2009

In this Day 2 strand of the Shifting Thinking Conference we will be drawing on both the published ideas of some key educationalists and each others’ ideas as we attempt to think differently about what school could be like.

Session 1: What’s the point of school?

Facilitator: Ally Bull

This session will involve taking some of the key ideas from Guy Claxton’s latest book, “What’s the point of school?” and thinking and talking about what the implications of these ideas are. What are the implications if we see education as building our learning muscles, rather than filling our minds with important stuff?

Session 2: Keeping it complex

Facilitator: Rose Hipkins

This session will make space to think critically about the deep ideas that underpin the familiar structures and practices of school. We’ll explore different metaphors for organising schools and learning, including those introduced in Disciplining and Drafting or 21 Century Learning? (Bolstad and Gilbert, 2008).

UPDATE: Read Rose Hipkins’ post-conference blog about this session

Session 3: Shifting thinking through literary engagement

Facilitators: Sue McDowall and Juliet Twist

Acts of reading deeply, like the acts of cultivating, nurturing, and tending that are part of gardening, generate knowledge that transcends the acts themselves (Sumara, 2002, xiii).

Come prepared to talk about a book (fiction or non-fiction) that has shifted your thinking and to hear about one that has shifted ours: Why Reading Literature in School Still Matters: Imagination, Interpretation, Insight (Sumara, 2002) – a book that explores the transformative potential of literary engagement.

Sumara, D. (2002). Why Reading Literature in School Still Matters: Imagination, Interpretation, Insight. Manwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Session 4: The book club with a difference

Facilitator: Rose Hipkins

Come to this session ready to talk to a partner about a book that’s shifted your thinking. (Bring the book with you if you can). Let’s think and talk about how the ideas in these books connect with each other.

Conference: November 2009 , , ,

Opportunities to Learn

October 18th, 2009

I have just attended a symposium in Washington DC that was designed to provide a conversation about the kind of education that would be most likely to provide young people with the tools they need to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The conversation drew on perspectives from educational theory and practice, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and the wisdom of the contemplative traditions. So what did I learn that might help us as we think about shifting our thinking ­ and that of our students’ ­ to 21st century thinking? The first thing that struck me was that there were few new insights from the educators.  On the other hand, the importance of positive relationships and the need to actively support the social and emotional well-being of young people ­ as a necessary condition for cognitive achievement ­ was reinforced again and again. This is not new knowledge but it is useful to be reminded how important these factors are if young people are to actually have the opportunity to reach their potential. These are qualities also needed by 21st century educationalists, as argued by Christopher (May 18).

There were two ideas that I thought might contribute to our discussion, both of which focus on the nature of the curriculum and pedagogy.  I will begin with the first idea which I think of as “opportunities to learn”. In this context there were two areas raised that gave me particular food for thought and I am sure many of you will be able to add insights that will extend the points made.

Drawing on current research into brain development, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson, argued that as the brain is plastic, and will change in response to experience, education literally changes a child’s brain, its function and structure. This is particularly true in the early years but is also true during adolescence (and as we now know, it is actually never too late as brain cells continue to make new connections throughout life). However, an early investment is healthy brain development is better! In this context Davidson argued that a very important skill to learn was that of self regulation; the ability to regulate emotions. There are times where having  negative emotion is a helpful response but not if it persists beyond the point it is useful. He gave the example of a student having an argument between classes and suggested that if the negative emotion is still lingering in the next class it will interfere with the ability to learn. If these kind of disruptive events happen frequently then the opportunity to learn will be seriously impaired. He also pointed out that in the last 100 years the average age for the onset of puberty has gone from 16 to 11 (in some cultures). However, one of the parts of our brain – the prefrontal cortex ­ is not fully mature until early 20s. So this gives a lengthy time in which the capacity of the brain to regulate emotions is not as well developed which led Davidson to pose the question “can we teach our children to better regulate their emotions, to recover from adversity more quickly”? His research suggests that a productive avenue to pursue is interventions derived from contemplative practices which can assist regulate emotions and make for more steady attention (this might be as simple as having quiet times during the day or taking a more formal approach such as meditation). He also suggested that qualities such as empathy, calmness, and cooperation are best seen as skills that can be taught and learnt and not as fixed personality characteristics. Other speakers also cited research that showed that practices that support social and emotional learning have a positive impact on academic achievement. The point was made that there is a need to practice these ways of being, as the state a mind is in on a daily basis will become its “normal” state.

The second area was also one related to supporting the opportunity to learn. One of the other speakers, the psychologist Nancy Eisenberg, apart from also reinforcing the importance of young people being nurtured through positive relationships, explored the importance of emotional regulation as well – and ways educators might support learning to self regulate. Her research indicates the importance of adults modelling such practices and using reasoning to talk through issues and emotional responses as this helps young people to learn to manage themselves positively. A negative practice, she argued, was to take a punitive approach as then the young person only focuses on themselves and their punishment and doesn’t learn about the consequences of their actions on others.

Both these examples reinforce the importance of an education that is holistic ­ that provides the opportunity for students to be educated as cognitive and emotional, ethical and social beings whose lives are deeply interconnected with others. It is a reminder that developing particular habits of mind are just as important as developing cognitively, well in that these are intertwined.  Educators have long understood the importance of educating the whole person and this is an approach that is evident in curricula that emphasise knowledge and competencies (as described in the New Zealand curriculum). It is interesting to see the growing evidence from other disciplines of the importance of these competencies for any learning. It is also an ongoing challenge to develop ways of supporting students to actually develop their competencies so they are truly prepared to deal with, learn, and thrive, in the complex world in which they live. I know there are many schools that are already supporting students to learn “habits of mind” and that they have been doing so for many years. It is a timely reminder that such learning is just as important – and perhaps more so ­ in the context of a 21st century framework.

Shifting schooling , ,

Responding to change and uncertainty

June 24th, 2009

In a recent Teachers Work project we provided a small group of teachers with a professional learning experience that aimed to encourage them to become more conscious of their existing tacit beliefs about education. In this project we noticed that despite the similarities between what the different teachers said about this professional development,  the teachers seemed to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity in a  range of ways.  This made us wonder about  the personal and biographical factors that influence how different individuals respond to change. We tried an activity with the teachers based on the Thinking Object: Change and Growth.  When reflecting on change in their own lives most of the teachers mentioned a “sense of belonging” or at least the support of others (both within and outside school) as being important factors that influenced how easily they coped with change.

It seems to me we talk quite a lot about the importance of students feeling a “sense of belonging” to school but maybe this is just as important for staff. Do we create learning environments where teachers (as well as students) feel they belong – so that they are secure enough to be able to take risks, try out new things, be open to new ideas? What are the factors that encourage risk taking and innovation? What are the best ways to support teachers (who after all have been conditioned by 20th Century ideas about schools) to try out new ideas and model the sorts of learning behaviours we want for our students?

Teachers' work , , ,

Key competencies: Is anything different?

June 15th, 2009

There is something niggling at me about the key competencies – but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. This somewhat rambling blog is an attempt to clarify my thinking. Any comments/ insights will be most welcome – I do hope my confusion isn’t infectious though!

When the revised New Zealand Curriculum first appeared I was really enthusiastic about the key competencies and excited by what I saw as their potential to transform education in NZ but now I’m not so sure about how powerful they really are.  The key competencies are described in the NZC as “capabilities for living and life long learning”. As such they are closely connected to the vision, “Confident, connected, actively involved life long learners.”  This presumably means that the development of these competencies should be the goal of education and if they are the goal then may be we need to think  differently about what we are doing in schools.

It seems to me, that we don’t really have a way yet to think and talk about the key competencies without treating them either like another content area, or a set of generic skills. What is the relationship of the key competencies to the learning areas? How are they really different from the Essential Skills of the previous curriculum? We talk about competencies being broader than skills – that they embrace attitudes, knowledge, skills and dispositions – but do we think about them differently from how we think about skills? We talk about including key competencies in planning, and incorporating  them into or weaving them through learning areas as though they were objects. It seems to me that regardless of the intent of including these competencies in the curriculum, the result is that the only way we can make sense of them is to make them fit with how we currently think about what we do in schools. Perhaps the key competencies are taking the shape of the container they have been poured into (and now I am treating them as things!)

If we were to ask ourselves how each learning area contributes to the development of confident, connected life long learners  and focus our teaching on that wouldn’t we be developing key competencies (even if they didn’t appear in the curriculum document)? After all, the essence statements (in the curriculum document) for each learning area seem to embrace the competencies people need to function effectively in society. Does it matter then whether they are developed through science, or social studies or art? My gut response is that yes a broad curriculum is important for all students, and that each learning area will contribute in a particular way to the development of the key competencies, but is that more important than learning something in depth? Does breadth or depth better serve the purpose of developing the capacity of an individual to participate fully in society? If the purpose of public education is to develop these competencies in all students, might it be that different students would develop these competencies through different pathways? Are there really core subjects (learning areas) that all students need to be exposed to?

I do think that all the different learning areas have the potential to develop the key competencies as long as we are teaching them for that purpose. What I’m not so sure about is how comfortable I really am with the idea of a learning area simply being the vehicle for developing key competencies! I seem to carry within me some deeply held, but barely conscious beliefs about what’s valuable in education. These beliefs are sometimes in conflict with what I know at another level to be important ideas. I know these beliefs are there because they sometimes surface when I think about new ideas about education in relation to my own children!  I doubt that I am alone in carrying these deeply held, yet seldom accessible beliefs. Perhaps it is these belief systems that are the real barrier to educational change as we subconsciously subvert new innovations to  fit with what we already know.

If this is so, perhaps the real function of the key competencies is to remind us of what should be important in our teaching. I think the challenge  is how we use them to help us think differently, rather than squeeze them into something that is familiar to us.

Shifting schooling , , , ,

Dispositions and development

May 12th, 2009

I’m back from the NZCER curriculum conference in Wellington on Friday, where we did a lot of thinking and talking about what’s next—in the new curriculum, in teaching and learning, in 21C education. I was thinking, of course, about all of these in relation to this blog space and the questions we have about 21C education. Then layer Ally’s musing about service, Rachel and Josie being back from AERA where they spoke and listened about service learning, and the whole idea of dispositions. Throw in Chris’s idea that all 21C teachers need to be learners themselves (how did I miss this important idea?! that’s why we’re thinking together…) and suddenly I’m bewildered about what, in fact, a disposition is in the first place and how we increase the stores of teachers who somehow have these mystical things.

Chris wanted to know things about those of us writing here, wanted to know something about who we were and what made us tick. Well, I’m a developmentalist–I think about the changes in adult sensemaking over the course of their lives. I think about how to create contexts that welcome adults in their current sensemaking and also enable them to reach beyond their current thinking if they’d like to. I care about how these contexts make new things possible for people –in their thinking and in their practice.

So the thing is, what is the connection between development, context, and disposition? Suddenly I’ve fallen into a red hot panic that this thing that we’re trying to study—“21C teacher dispositions”—isn’t a THING at all. Have we checked to see what our particular vision is of what a disposition is? Is a disposition something that an individual is born with? Is it something that an individual develops? Or is it something that is an interaction, not held by an individual per say but reflected by individuals?

I’m thinking here about Richard in our study (all the names we’ll use are pseudonyms, although those in the study reading this might want to contribute in some way, and might recognise themselves). Richard was one of the most 21C teachers I’ve ever met. He had each of the ways of think-ing and be-ing that I wrote about in my last blog, AND he was made up of all the curiosity and love of learning which Chris reminded us to value. He sat in a room with us, and he talked about education and his context, telling us about his pathway to education (multiple subject area expert, picked his content because of the process of teaching that was most interesting to him), his goals for the kids (all process-based—no particular content goals), and his orientation to the world (to learn learn learn—and to push his ideas up against very different ideas to learn from them). But therein is the issue. Richard was in a context—with colleagues who valued him and learned from and with him, students who followed his lead, parents and community members who let him be the kind of wacky guy he was—that enabled the full expression of these ideas. He was part of an on-going group of teachers who had conversations to push ideas around. This group, decades old, had changing membership and purpose, with the constant force the conversation people had together over time.

So does Richard have particular personality traits that enabled this way of being in the world? He was open and curious and passionate. Did he have the perspective of being developmentally sophisticated (more on development on another day)? Or did he have a context that allowed him to be in the world in this way? Or do these three things create each other? And where do we intervene in the system to help more teachers become as alive and passionate as Richard, as filled with not only 21C ways of looking at the world but also 21C ways of INHABITING the world? Do we create contexts—using schools and the new curriculum and technology and other pieces—that allow teachers to BE different? Do we look for teachers who have these sorts of traits in the first place? Do we seek to develop these dispositions (and how do we do that)?

At the Curriculum Conference, when we were talking in tables about all the things that get in our way of enacting these 21C ideas—timetabling, NCEA, needs for teachers to cover classes, money, etc.—I had this serious vision that there were some relatively simple answers just out of view. I think these answers will require us to change everything we think about, but once we’ve made that change, a future vision will slot into place relatively quickly. I can nearly see it out of the corner of my eye. But what about Richard? What about you, Chris? Can you see it? Can others? And is it a thing to be discovered, or is it a thing to be developed, or is it a thing to be co-created? All of these? None of these?

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” (Albert Szent-Gydorgyi)

Teachers' work , , , , , ,

21st Century teaching and social responsibility

April 30th, 2009

I had intended to look through some of the data from the Teachers Work project by now and see what I could find that either supported the dispositions Jennifer identified in her blog or suggested new ones. However – somehow the time has got away on me and I haven’t done that, not yet anyway!  I have been thinking hard though about another teachers’ work project I am involved in and as part of that thinking I have been re-reading “Learning as Transformation” (Jack Mezirow and Associates). One chapter in that book that particularly grabbed my attention is one by Laurent A Parks Daloz about Transformative learning for the common good. When I was reading that, it struck me that there might be similarities between C21st teachers and the individuals he describes who have committed their lives to the common good.

The reason for wondering about the connection is that when I have asked teachers (in various projects) about what they think the purpose of education is nearly all have said something that includes some ideas about producing citizens who contribute to society in some way. The NZ Curriculum also talks about students becoming “contributers to the well-being of NZ” , which I guess is hardly a surprising goal for a state funded education system. So it seems to me to be only a small step from this to expect teachers to be driven at least to some extent by a sense of social responsibility. However, social responsibility through a 21st Century lens might look quite different from social responsibility through a 20th Century lens for example. For Parks Deloz a commitment to the common good is not a final product but a “stance of openness to necessary and on-going dialogue with those who differ or may not yet be full participants on the commons”. This sounded 21st Centuryish to me!

He also defines social responsibility as the capacity to identify one’s own self with the well-being of others. He says that we all have the potential to reflect on the formation of our own selves and through that develop a larger sense of self that identifies with all people and ultimately with all life , but whether or not we do that depends on the particular conditions of our lives. In their study on people who had committed their lives to the common good Parks Daloz and colleagues found that these people  had at least some of these key characteristics in common – they felt recognised and valued as children, they had at least one parent who was socially engaged, they grew up in diverse communities and they were mentored. What all had in common was what he describes as a “constructive engagement with otherness” ie  a significant relationship with someone who was in some way different. The important thing about the relationship was that both the differences and the similarities were acknowledged and the interplay between them. Anyway this is all a very long way of wondering whether any of those characteristics would resonate with teachers in this study? (I don’t think we have currently got data that would shed any light on that but perhaps some of the participants in the study might reply!) Are there particular life experiences that contribute particularly to producing 21st Century teaching dispositions? If there are can we replicate them (or at least their essence) in some way for others? What is the role of diversity/ otherness (I’m not sure what term to use) and our orientation to it in 21st Century education? The more I think about this, the more confused I get! (Perhaps if we muddy the water enough, Jennifer, we can ask the fish what water looks like!)

Teachers' work , , , , ,

21st century teaching dispositions

April 23rd, 2009

This teachers’ work thread in this blog comes in part from a research project we’re doing here at NZCER that attempts to understand what it looks like when teachers are working in 21C ways. As Ally wrote in the very first entry of this thread, our curiosity was to try and figure out even what we mean when we talk about the actual practice of 21C teaching and learning (you can read that here).

In our meetings and our talking and our rereading of data, we still haven’t quite figured out what exactly we mean when we talk about what it takes to have teachers who teach in 21C ways. Is this a curricular set of choices? A pedagogical set of choices? A way of being in the classroom? A set of theories or beliefs a teacher might have? We are happy to engage with any of those ideas.

Our first stab at it, though, is to wonder about whether there is a set of dispositions/ beliefs/ philosophies etc. that individual teachers might hold that would lead us to believe that perhaps they were more aligned with 21C ideas about education. After a couple of different sorts of data collection, the research team pulled together a set of ideas about what these dispositions etc might be. We thought we’d share them here and talk about them together to see how readers connected with them.

We found that some of what we all gravitated towards in those teachers we spent time with that we agreed had "it" was a particular set of ideas about which they were thinking. I think of this as thinking dispositions. It wasn’t always the specifics of what they were thinking that we were particularly drawn to, but the fact that they were questioning the old ways of doing things. And it wasn’t even enough to be questioning these different bits—they had to be questioning those old ways in a connected package.

The other main component of "it" in the teachers we all somehow agreed were 21C teachers was the way they showed up in the world. This was a kind of attitude, a way of being in the world, a set of personal characteristics which they might have had whether they were doctors or teachers or taxi drivers or accountants. (This distinction is not iron-clad but I hope it’ll get more clear as I talk about it here.) I’ll give examples of the elements of both the thinking and the being dispositions.

Thinking dispositions: 21C ways of thinking

  1. 21C teachers need to be thinking about education in new ways, and they need to be linking those ways together. They need to be thinking about the purposes of schooling, the role of knowledge and content, the relationship between pedagogy and curriculum. They don’t necessarily have to come up with the same answers or focus on the same connections, but from our perspective they have to have a mindful awareness of the often taken-for-granted pieces of schooling.
  2. 21C teachers need to be thinking about students and the relationships between students, teachers, families, and communities in new ways. Again, there aren’t right and wrong answers in this category; it’s the fact of the wondering about new kinds of relationships that signals to us the 21C teacher. Other teachers, who were doing innovative and interesting things in their classrooms but were not ever questioning the one-teacher-with-many-students-in-a-single-cell-classroom, did not strike us as 21C.
  3. 21C teachers need to be thinking about the future. This one might strike readers as even more obvious than the others, but we found it was often missing even for those teachers who had self-selected as being particularly interested in 21C learning. Unless teachers were open to ideas that the 21C might be quite different from the past and that those differences might be unknown and unknowable, they did not seem to us to be really engaged in 21C teaching.

Now each of these thinking dispositions seems fairly obvious to me as I type. Of course teachers should think in new ways about school and schooling, about relationships between those traditionally inside schools (e.g. students and teachers) those traditionally outside (e.g. communities and families), and about what future they’re preparing students to enter. The discovery we made on the research team after talking through the data, though, was that many many teachers—even those explicitly interested in 21C education—in fact do not think about these things and instead swim in the water of them, unquestioningly. This makes perfect sense (the old saying, "If you want to learn about water, do not ask a fish" comes to mind). And it has to change if we’re to see 21C teaching.

Being dispositions: 21C ways of being

We also saw what we thought of as individual characteristics in those teachers with more 21C ways of being. We found that while there were a variety of characteristics that seemed useful for 21C teachers, there were three that seemed to us to be mandatory and one that seemed, if not mandatory, at least important. You’ll see as you read that these are often tightly entwined with the Thinking dispositions above, in that some of the thinking may give rise to these ways of BEing and some of the BEing may give rise to new ways of thinking. Nevertheless, I’ll marshal on and act as though they’re separate for the purposes of useful explanation.

  1. Openness and reflectiveness, about practice, about self. Those teachers who we thought of as 21C teachers were deeply engaged in reflection about themselves and their teaching. They were constantly asking themselves why they did this or that, why students responded in particular ways, why schools were set up as they were.
  2. Comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity. To teach in new ways which prepare students for an unknown future requires a kind of comfort with things that are new and uncertain. Some of the teachers we worked with thrived under this uncertainty; others tolerated it. Whether they thrived or tolerated, all of them had to be able to cope with uncertainty and ambiguity without shutting it down or running from them to make our list.
  3. The capacity for juggling multiple things at once. Because each of these pieces is so entwined in practice, for us to recognise one of the teachers in our study as 21C, she had to be able to handle more than one thing at a time. In fact, it was important for these teachers to hold on to multiple strands of these ideas simultaneously in order to synthesise across them or put them together in new ways. Someone who thinks first about mathematics and then about literacy and then about science, or who thinks first about students and then about community members and then about the future, is unlikely to put the ideas together to create a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
  4. The ability to author these ideas. Here’s the one we weren’t totally convinced about and so we’ll hold tentatively here. It seemed to us that in order to show up in ways we recognised as 21C, you had to actually put these ideas together in some kind of self-generated packet. We didn’t care exactly what the ideas were that people were putting together, nor did we mind if people weren’t putting the ideas together in ways that were aligned with our ideas. What mattered to us was that each teacher was putting together his own package. If a teacher could quote from a book or resource where someone else had done a masterful job of putting these ideas together, and even if he was putting those ideas to use on his own, we did not necessarily believe that this was a solidly 21C teacher. For us to really believe in the solidity of it, a teacher had to put the ideas together in her own way and use them in her own way. Reading things and citing the ideas of others was great, but citing an authority outside yourself as the reason you knew what you knew seemed to us to be a less robust way of holding these ideas.

So that’s the list of them, or at least that’s the list I take away from the discussions we had (my colleagues may pile on and show me their different perspectives). We believed that if we saw these thinking and being dispositions in a teacher, we’d recognise that teacher as 21C. Without those dispositions, the teacher could strike us as a fantastic, helpful, intelligent, wonderful teacher, but not as a 21C teacher from our perspective.

We intend, over the next weeks, to play with some of these ideas about dispositions and to put flesh around this initial skeleton of our thinking. But we want readers to help too. As we write, we’d like you to think about where the holes are in our thinking. Are there dispositions we’re missing? Are there some here you don’t believe in? Perhaps we’re misguided with the idea about dispositions generally and you have a better way to put these ideas together? Come along and play with us!

Teachers' work , , , ,