A-Z of my year – 2018

I first wrote a post like this in 2016.  I didn’t write one last year. Here is one for this year. It has seemed more difficult this year than in 2016, but perhaps that’s just my memory, or perhaps it’s because I am in Kerala, away from home and access to some of my resources.

 

A – A better year than 2017. Announcing one family wedding for 2019 and one family engagement

BBettyBaymaas Homestay

CCotswolds. Cycling. Caring

DDurham with Lisa

EE-Learning 3.0Existentialism. Ethics. Epistemology

F – Fifty. This year’s number.

GGolden wedding. Garden. Good friends

HHexham. House improvements. Hot summer

IInclusion paper published.  India

J – John, my future son-in-law

KKerala. Kitchen renovation

L Lanzarote. Lisa’s visit 

MMcGilchristManchester

N No Things. This year’s most intriguing idea.

O – Offers made on two houses, but we are not moving yet

P – Philosophy. Physiotherapy

Q – Questioning the meaning of life and death

RRome. Retirement?

SSedberghScampston Walled Garden. Speke Hall 

TThe Trossachs. Tennis Elbow

U –  Uncertainty

VVatican City 

W –  Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Watering the garden this summer. Weight-training

X –  eXtravagant holidays for a special year

YYork

Z – zzz – time to end this year and this post.

Reflective learning and metacognition Frank O’Hara style

Meta reflectionsSource of image: http://lockergnome.net/questions/61184/are-reflections-within-facing-mirrors-delayed-unique

Anyone who has taught for any length of time will have at some stage encouraged students to reflect on their learning and will be familiar with the work of Donald Schön , Kolb, Gibbs, Brookfield, Mezirow, and others. Many students are required to keep learning journals which are thought to encourage metacognition i.e. learning about one’s own process of learning. Jenny Moon has written about this extensively in her book, Learning Journals: A Handbook for Reflective Practice and Professional Development.

The term meta crops up regularly in the Modern & Contemporary American Poetry course (ModPo) in relation to meta poetry, i.e. poems about the process of writing a poem.  This week’s assignment (the third in the MOOC) has been to do a close reading of Frank O’Hara’s  poem – ‘Why I am Not a Painter’ –  and through this discuss the differences between poetry and painting.

Why I Am Not A Painter by Frank O’Hara

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.

Source of poem: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/why-i-am-not-a-painter/

For a audio reading of this poem click on this link – http://ia600401.us.archive.org/10/items/audio_poetry_105_2006/OHaraWhyIAmNotAPainter.mp3

As Al Filreis (ModPo convenor) explains in a video discussion of this poem – this poem is a meta poem. It is a poem about a painting that behaves like a poem and about a poem that behaves like a painting. This poem is process oriented. It is a poem that shows you how you can have a meta painting in a poem and how you can have a meta poem in a poem. It is a meta meta poem.

In the light of this discussion I have been wondering how we could encourage students to engage in meta meta reflection, i.e. reflect on their reflection. Many students find reflection and reflective writing difficult, but the video discussion incorporated a lot of points that I thought might be helpful for reflective writing in general.

  1. Consider what you want to represent and how you want to represent it.
  2. Think about structuring the writing in three parts i) Present your case, set up the story ii) Through reflection on your observation and experience, begin your analysis iii) Turn back in on yourself and relate your analysis to your own learning.
  3. Frank O’Hara is one of the New York School poets. He writes present tense narrative – ‘I do this, I do that’ and keeps us in the moment.  This style would serve as a helpful illustration of how to write freely for students engaged in reflective writing.
  4. O’Hara’s poem also depicts the passage of time, the process of unfolding over time. Reflection is not a fast process but a gradual unfolding.
  5. In O’Hara’s poem the composition/process determines the content rather than the content determining the composition. This focus on the emergent process, which will often be unpredictable and surprising, seems to me to be a necessary element of deep reflection.

I have written about reflective learning before (see for example – Reflective Learning and the Glass Half-Empty), but these thoughts from Week 7 in ModPo are welcome additions.

FSLT13 Reflections on teaching

Focus on your own learning experiences, how do you learn best? How have your own learning experiences influenced how you teach? These are the questions asked in the first week of the FSLT13 course (not yet a MOOC. According to Stephen Downes you need more than 150 active participants – Dunbar’s number – to be a MOOC, but that begs the question of what we mean by active).

So thinking about the questions for the first task on reflective writing …

…. I qualified as a teacher in 1969 – rather a long time ago. Last year for FSLT12 I was a tutor on the course and didn’t really have time to think about this question, but I was impressed by all the participants’ posts and in particular the autobiographical response made in a series of blog posts by Fred Garnett about how and why he came to be the teacher that he is.  (See Stephen Brookfield’s work on becoming a critically reflective teacher for further information about reflective writing using an autobiographical lens).

Reflecting on this, I know that condensing more than 40 years of experience into one post is nigh on impossible, but as it so happens, I have recently watched a TED talk by Ken Robinson – How to Escape Education’s Death Valley.

This talk is about school education. I spent quite a few years teaching in schools and teacher training (teaching how to teach in schools) so a lot of it resonates. In fact I think he’s spot on. Through the years I have taught all ages from the youngest of children to adults at Masters level. Years ago a wonderful Head teacher, to whom I am eternally grateful, insisted that I teach the youngest children (4/5 year olds) telling me that if I could teach these children (kindergarten), then I could teach anyone – and I have found that there is a lot of truth in this.

Ken Robinson in his talk says that ‘the role of a teacher is to facilitate learning – that’s it’.

In recent years I have thought a lot about the role of the teacher and despite my many years in the teaching profession, as the years go by I think of myself less and less as a ‘teacher’ in the traditional sense of the word. This thinking started a few years after I qualified as a teacher with the sudden realisation/revelation that teaching isn’t about me, but about the learners.

When we are new to teaching all we can think about is ourselves and our ‘performance’ and unfortunately many teaching situations and practices encourage performance (we are observed, assessed, inspected, judged). So we end up with a focus on questions such as Have we planned the lesson effectively? Do we know the subject? Will we engage the learners? Will we be able to explain the subject? All a focus on me as the teacher instead of on the learner.

As time went on in my teaching career I began to realise that I was the least important person in the process and that my focus should be on the learners – what were they learning, were their learning needs being met, did I know who they were? But having been a teacher trainer I know that you have to go through the first step, i.e. who am I as a teacher, to get to the second step, who are the learners.

My current approach to ‘teaching’, if you can call it that, is a strong belief in learner autonomy and negotiated meaning and a belief that learning is emergent and cannot be controlled by the teacher whether or not it is prescribed. Recent research  into what kinds of learning environments promote emergent learning and how these environments are experienced, confirm time and again that learner experience is unique to the individual (see this wiki for examples), which really shouldn’t come as a surprise, but which makes me wonder about the logic of the teacher planning learning objectives.

Stephen Downes has said that to teach is to ‘model and demonstrate’ and to learn is to ‘practise and reflect” – but as Cris Crissman has pointed out in a comment on my last post – a teacher is also a learner, so also ‘practises and reflects’. To ‘model and demonstrate’ probably needs unpicking.

Anderson et al. in their Community of Inquiry model write about ‘teaching presence’  and Stephen Brookfield in the podcast posted on the FSLT13 Moodle site, make it clear that whilst a teacher may be learning alongside learners, there is still a need for intervention – but the manner of this intervention has to be carefully thought through, particularly with regard to power relationships. At what point does intervention become interference? There is a delicate balance here to be understood and worked with.

I think I learn best when I have a good sounding board and safety net (teacher), but also when I feel empowered and in control, so this is how I try to teach. Catherine Cronin articulated this very well in her keynote this morning to the ICT in Education Conference in Ireland in terms of student voice . Hopefully a recording of the keynote will become available soon.

I have written about many of these ideas before, but they just seem to keep coming up again 🙂

#fslt12 Week 2 is underway

There is loads of great discussion on the FSLT12 MOOC Moodle site  and there have been a number of fascinating blog posts which have been aggregated on the FSLT12 MOOC WordPress site

As with all MOOCs – even if you have plenty of time – it’s difficult to keep up with everything – if possible at all. A couple of my colleagues have both in the past, when I complain about feeling overwhelmed, reminded me of the importance of not trying to cover everything, but focussing on the bits that interest me and following those through. Good advice, but often easier said than done because its ALL interesting 🙂

Click on the diagram to see the course schedule more clearly

Last week the focus of the FSLT12 MOOC was on reflective practice and this generated wonderful examples of reflective writing in practice, not only from those participants being assessed. These can be found in the Moodle site and on various blogs. There was less discussion of open academic practice (which was the parallel theme for last week), but I’m sure that will be sparked off by Frances Bell’s presentation tomorrow

Frances Bell, “The Role of Openness by Academics in the Transformation of their Teaching and Learning Practices.” Wednesday 30 May 2012, 1500 BST 

Link for the session here

Check your time zone here

Frances has asked that we do some reading before attending the session. See The Role of Openness by Academics

A parallel theme this week is the Teaching of Groups and discussion has already got going in the Week 2 Moodle forums  in response to Mary Deane’s audio about this in relation to Belbin’s team roles

What are your personal experiences of group work and how do you manage group work if using it as a teaching strategy? If you are interested in these questions, then do join the discussion.

Finally, a new activity starts this week. This will be explained in the second half of the live session tomorrow, but there is also information about it on the Moodle site

There is so much going on that I will definitely be filtering and carefully selecting the threads I want to follow this week – but the good thing about MOOCs and open courses is that the information remains online long after the course finishes, so hopefully allowing time to fill in the gaps later.

Reflective Learning and the Glass Half Empty

I have been told twice, very recently, and quite often in the past – that I am a glass half empty person. In other words I am a pessimist and the implication is that this is not good. Good would be (I have been told) – to be a glass half full person – an optimist.

I have thought about this a lot – as you do when you feel that you have been criticised – and I honestly don’t feel that the criticism is justified – not because it is not true – it is (I am definitely a glass half empty person) – but because I think there is real value in being a glass half empty person and especially in relation to reflective learning.

For me being glass half empty means that I am usually prepared for the worst – so ahead of time I carefully analyse situations, I go through everything with a fine toothcomb, I try to anticipate what might go wrong. I also try to surface assumptions, I ask critical questions and I really can’t be doing with ‘appreciative inquiry’! I come from a science background and science progresses not by proving things but rather by disproving. I strongly believe in learning from mistakes and that as an educator/teacher/learner I have to try and ensure that I, and those I learn with, are not afraid of failure. There is plenty of research to show how inhibiting fear of failure can be. For me a ‘can do’ attitude comes from knowing, through careful analysis and preparation, that it can be done!

I am thinking about this now because the first activity in the #fslt MOOC asks participants

To reflect on your overall experience to date as a teacher; what kinds of students have you taught, what have you discovered from the experience, and what have you most enjoyed in your teaching?

I may not actually do this activity but it’s interesting to think about how I might approach it if I did?

Being a glass half empty person, to complete this activity I would probably select a critical incident in my teaching career (and there have been many :-)) and analyse why it was a critical incident and what I learned from it. To do this I would need to do more than simply describe the event – I would need to critically analyse it, looking at it from a number of different perspectives – my own, those of the learners involved, my colleagues and the literature – as suggested by Stephen Brookfield’s four lenses.

But how would I know that my analysis was critical and not simply descriptive? Jenny Moon’s writing on this has been significant in developing my understanding.

In her book ‘A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning: Theory and Practice’  she includes a number of exercises to help learners develop their reflective learning skills and abilities. One of these activities (which is freely available on the web – search for ‘An example of a graduated scenario exercise – ‘The Park’ A means of introducing and improving the quality of reflective learning’) provides three accounts of a critical incident in which each account becomes increasingly reflective. Jenny Moon then describes the shifts that occur in deepening reflection.

When I worked on Oxford Brookes’ online reflective learning course as a participant in 2007 (and Jenny Moon is a tutor on this course), with another participant Bernie Gartside, we explored these shifts in detail.  I have summarized our work in the diagram below. (Click on the image for a clearer view).

Characteristics of Reflective Writing

So in my analysis of the critical incident I selected, I would hope to see some of the characteristics described in the diagram above.

And finally, what I have learned from John Mason, who writes about the teaching of mathematics, in his book – ‘Researching your Own Practice: The Discipline of Noticing’ –  I know that I am unlikely to ‘notice’ changes in my learning unless I ‘mark’ them in some way. There are many ways of ‘marking’ learning, especially these days with multimedia at our fingertips, but my blog serves this purpose as I explain in this video, which is also posted on the #fslt Moodle site.