Category Archives: learning

Back to life – starting over

I’m resurrecting this blog after many years (last update was 2010).

I will write about some chronic issues that I’ve encountered over the years, and which never go away or seem to improve. These are the major speed-bumps in my teaching.

After teaching for over 30 years, and now approaching retirement, I want to pass on whatever wisdom or insight I may have acquired with regard to teaching English to college students in Japan, and if possible, to throw some light onto these major stumbling blocks or obstacles.

The major obstacle, I’ve found,  is a culture gap: a gap between (obviously) my English/British/European culture and the Japanese, but also a gap between European and Japanese values, and perhaps between the older and the younger generation.  The gap is only partly linguistic: it is not just because they don’t speak or understand English and my Japanese is still limited. It is also because of major differences in values. The problem becomes one of how to identify these differences, and then how to talk about them and resolve them if possible. Until recently, I had no real way to talk about them with students, except privately with a very few interested ones, and mostly they would agree with me but be unable to offer any practical suggestions for future action.

Here is a brief summary of some of the issues I encountered, with a list below of other topics I plan to address in future posts: Continue reading Back to life – starting over

Personal Construct Psychology

I (think I) first came across the ideas of Kelly and his Personal Construct Pscyhology in a paper or two or three, written by in-Japan-teacher Gregory Hadley.

Well, I’ve just spent a happy hour lost in the maze of James Atherton’s Doceo site, and came across this page on Kelly and Personal Construct Psychology.

Atherton also included a link to Phil Race’s website, in particular to this Powerpoint presentation on a further theory of learning, Ripples.

(Atherton teaches (taught?) teachers for many years. His writings are aimed at college teachers, but some of the theory of learning stuff would apply to learners of many (all?) ages.

Learning styles? Rubbish!

Harold Jarche shares his scepticism of the learning-styles theory, and I must say I tend to agree. Simple logistics is one objection I have. It sounds great, benevolent and taking into account students’ individual differences and needs, but read this and see if you still agree with it.

The list he offers, tho, has much in common with the principles of instruction espoused by many who subscribe to Multiple Intelligence Theory.

Use Cast‘s Universal Design Principles:

* Multiple means of representation, to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge,
* Multiple means of expression, to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know,
* Multiple means of engagement, to tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation.

Here, for example, is an extract from an article by Thomas Armstrong, a long-time proponent of MI in education and the author of a number of books on the subject:

One of the most remarkable features of the theory of multiple intelligences is how it provides eight different potential pathways to learning. If a teacher is having difficulty reaching a student in the more traditional linguistic or logical ways of instruction, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests several other ways in which the material might be presented to facilitate effective learning. Whether you are a kindergarten teacher, a graduate school instructor, or an adult learner seeking better ways of pursuing self-study on any subject of interest, the same basic guidelines apply. Whatever you are teaching or learning, see how you might connect it with

  • words (linguistic intelligence)
  • numbers or logic (logical-mathematical intelligence)
  • pictures (spatial intelligence)
  • music (musical intelligence)
  • self-reflection (intrapersonal intelligence)
  • a physical experience (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence)
  • a social experience (interpersonal intelligence), and/or
  • an experience in the natural world. (naturalist intelligence)

For example, if you’re teaching or learning about the law of supply and demand in economics, you might read about it (linguistic), study mathematical formulas that express it (logical-mathematical), examine a graphic chart that illustrates the principle (spatial), observe the law in the natural world (naturalist) or in the human world of commerce (interpersonal); examine the law in terms of your own body [e.g. when you supply your body with lots of food, the hunger demand goes down; when there’s very little supply, your stomach’s demand for food goes way up and you get hungry] (bodily-kinesthetic and intrapersonal); and/or write a song (or find an existing song) that demonstrates the law (perhaps Dylan’s “Too Much of Nothing?”).

You don’t have to teach or learn something in all eight ways, just see what the possibilities are, and then decide which particular pathways interest you the most, or seem to be the most effective teaching or learning tools.

Here are a couple of old but fun-to-read critical articles of the learning styles theory: Learning styles don’t matter (the whole heterodox site is worth investigating), and Do learner profiles enhance learning?

Bloggy thinking?

Harold Jarche points out that blogs are good for conversations, but not so good for longer, more sustained thought, and his own entry is a good example.

Homework is only one activity that lacks evidence to support its continuance. Subject-based curriculum, age-based cohorts and reliance on unsound models like Bloom’s Taxonomy to measure learning outcomes are other examples.

Oh, really? There are good reasons for looking critically at these pedagogical methods, certainly, but I’d like to see more evidence that these are “unsound models” before I make up my mind. And where is the evidence that NOT assigning homework is a “sound model”?

Oh, I forgot, this is a blog, where you can throw out such comments and not have to provide any supporting evidence. Is this kind of gratuitous criticism (and how hard is it to knock homework?) part of being a good conversationalist, or just another nail in the coffin of rational debate?

Finally, I’d like to quote Shawn, at Anecdote, on the importance of conversation, “… most learning comes through interacting with people. Learning richness increases as multiple perspectives are described, discussed, challenged and explored.“

Actually, Shawn writes, learning is social—it benefits from conversations. Not quite the same thing. And I’d disagree that MOST learning comes throught interacting with people. I think this idea may be a distortion of ideas from Vygotsky and Bakhtin who (if I remember rightly) suggested that even reading or thinking are in fact dialogues or dialogic activity.

In fact, this suggestion kind of contradicts what Shawn writes in the previous paragraph: people don’t think they’ve learned anything until they’ve reflected on what happened. Reflection can be prompted or encouraged by others, but other people are not necessary for reflection (and therefore learning) to happen.

And even if it is true that most learning comes from interacting with people, it doesn’t necessarily mean that interacting with people provides the best or most efficient or effective kind of learning.

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Personal Learning Environments

My friend Aaron has been banging on about these for over a year now: PLEs or Personal Learning Environments.

Justin Medved’s post on this subject comes via the NextGenTeachers‘ blog. Be sure to click on the link to Ray Sim’s Personal Learning Environment map, and read the three (1) related (2) posts(3) on Ray’s blog Sims Learning Connections. I like the graphic mindmap. I want to make one, too.

In steps the Personal Learning Environment or what I like to call your PD TREE.

If you had to map the sources of your own professional development, what would the root system that feeds your learning look like?

Where do you look to gain new knowledge and information that helps you become a more informed citizen?

What mediums does this information come in and how much control do you have over it?

Who, what and where are your main sources for current information that help you develop and improve as a teacher?

Where and how do you enhance your own skills?

Are these not good questions to ask all teachers to reflect on?

Ray Sim’s over at Sims Learning Connections recently shared his own Personal Learning Environment and I found it really impressive. More importantly it is an example of what is POSSIBLE with today’s access to information.

I just blitz-bookmarked all the blog refs as PLE on delicious. It’s particularly interesting to see how PLE differs from PKM and LMS, how the thinking has evolved. Also, see Aaron’s post on why he prefers PLE to “e-portfolio”.