Leadership: learning entrepreneurs, stand up!

A delightful 6 minute talk from Derek Sivers (plus an extra at the end) which explains that it is those who follow who give leaders their power. A leader without any followers is a loner. This is a great talk that is worth showing anybody who is interested in making a change in their own lives or the lives of others.

It is also one of those films that can be shown, as it is, to students, to get them to reflect on peer pressure and influence and to encourage them to think about the reasons behind any of the choices that they make. 

I’ve written about the concept of a ‘learning entrepreneur’; a learner who is hungry not for material wealth and power but for intellectual wealth and power. I think this film does a great job of reassuring anybody who is excited by their own learning, but feels that this makes them an outsider. I am sure there’s a tie-in here with the powerful Apple adverts of the 80’s too…

Independent Learning: Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose

Daniel Pink shares his research on autonomy here. With this, he provides us with a valuable insight into the ways in which business can get the most of out their employees by (a) engaging them (b) offering them freedom and (c) enabling them to get really good at stuff. On watching this talk, I wondered if it was possible to consider giving students the 20% time that Pink talks about.

I have since discovered, thanks to the power of Twitter, that many teachers are already testing out the 20% rule in their classrooms.

Rather than offering total freedom and choice in all things, which terrifies every single control freak amongst us (and let’s face, it, that’s most teachers!), perhaps we can divide our learning ‘pie’ up into: 

(a) Task

(b) Time

(c) Group

(d) Process

And offer choices to our students in one or two of these areas within a project or a lesson.

Alternatively, we could simply ask them to plan what they would do if they were given 20% of curriculum time within a subject or topic. Once they’ve planned what they are going to do, then it’s up to them to (a) deliver and (b) reflect on how well it went so they can make more of it next time.

It also makes me wonder what we would choose to do if we were given 20% of our working week to learn and develop something of our own choosing, regardless of its connection to the curriculum. Maybe we’d reveal a new cohort of talented musicians in the maths department or water-colour painters in the PE faculty? When we ask about the learning capacities of our students, do we get the time to reflect upon and ask the same questions of ourselves? Would this help us model learning to our students, I wonder?  

Now that would surely be the mark of a genuinely learning school.

And here’s the 10 minute RSA Animate version of Daniel Pink’s message…I use these to show what I mean by ‘now draw your learning’…not intimidating at all!

Questioning: What makes a problem worth solving?

Here’s Dan Meyer talking about the way in which we can really involve learners in their maths. I see absolutely no reason not to apply the same principles in all areas of the curriculum. Broken down, Meyer advocates an approach that might look a little bit like this:

So..ask the shortest question you can so that the sub-questions are drawn out by the learners in their discussions. Then let the students build the problem.

DRAW ON PRIOR LEARNING: What do we already know that will help us with this problem?

DIVERGENT THINKING & IDEAS GENERATION: What don’t we know that we need to know?

CONVERGENT THINKING & PRIORITISATION: From all the information we have, what do is going to really help us in solving the problem?

IDENTIFICATION: What IS the problem we need to solve?

Oh, and then get them to do it. Which they will be eager to because it’s now THEIR problem to solve.




Groupwork: Learning together & the power of collaboration

Talks like this one from Charles Leadbeater are really useful. They can re-focus our thinking on how we can deliberately foster the skills required in effective group work. In this talk, the importance of developing collaborative-working skills in readiness for the future is very well argued. I would add here that for learners to succeed right NOW, they need to be effective group worker right NOW. Ultimately, if we are to fully utilise the social dimension of humanity, it is far too important to be left to chance. It, just like our other capacities, needs to be mindfully practised and explicitly developed. Our classrooms and school communities could be the hot-houses for just such collaboration. 

I’ve been doing some work on what we mean by ‘group work’ and seeing what we can learn from collaborative learning dynamics.

When introducing group work, I always involve the learners in the assessment process:

The first question I ask students to consider is…

“What makes a quality team member?” In doing this, I ask them to identify what they would like to see, hear and feel when they are being or working with a quality team member. In this way, they can start to formulate their own quality standards for the challenges they are about to face. This becomes their success criteria for the whole learning process. It also generates a student-led plenary discussion both during and after the challenge. This in turn, encourages the students to reflect on the product of their learning IN LIGHT OF THE PROCESS.

The way in which we design learning needs to be as carefully planned as every other aspect of the lesson. So whenever I’m deciding what groups they will work in, I have these as a quick check list:

What is the purpose of the activity – will this group structure and combination of learners enable them to achieve the learning aims?

What are the pre-existing skills, knowledge and understanding in the group; are these well matched/ balanced within the group?

What roles might the group members adopt to ensure that skills and tasks are well matched? (facilitator; team rep; resources manager; time keeper; scribe etc)

What is the social age of the learners; how can we help learners both speak AND listen to each other?

What is the cognitive age of the learners; are they all at the same level of competency – do they need to be for this task?

What is the emotional age of the learners; how will the group members cope when they struggle or face disappointment?

How will I interact with learners; my language needs to praise effort alongside achievement – post-it notes work really well for this, rather than direct interventions that disrupt the group dynamic.

In what ways will I make the skills and competencies I want the students to develop explicit to them throughout the lesson?

If you have any thoughts on this or reflections on how you organise group work, please leave a comment.


Grouptalk: Creating learning through ‘liquid networks and nurturing ‘slow hunches’

Steven Johnson provides us with a fascinating journey through the history of ideas.

In this talk, he makes some very pertinent observations about the architecture of spaces. For me, this raises the question of how we consider working with our existing (and new) learning spaces; nothing new there, granted. But the heart of this talk is to observe the way in which humans as a social species use their social spaces as an opportunity to collaborate and spark off each other in order to innovate.

How, then, do we organise learning so as to incorporate the physical aspects of learning with the emotional aspects (including the emotional responses we have to the spaces themselves) to ensure that the spaces themselves work for us to encourage the establishment of networks and the collision of ideas and nurturing of ‘slow hunches’. I have a few ideas about this, but in the meantime, make a cuppa and put your feet up for 20 minutes and enjoy learning from another great talk. 

There’s also an RSA Animate version of this talk (by the marvellous people at Cognitive Media) which is well worth a watch by you and your students. It’s a great way to emphasise the importance of talk and listening skills PLUS an example of ‘Draw Your Learning’ which is one of my fave plenaries when you set it up at the start of the lesson.

(Adapted from an original post on www.fullonlearning.com)

Creative Learning: Does science need to catch up with art?

Here’s a fantastic TEDx talk from Charles Limb for you. This one is all about creative learning and thinking and made me make some links to some research and development into the inter-relationship between curriculum subjects. If you ever want to demonstrate the absolute need for cross-curricular projects and for collaboration between subject experts, external visitors from professional fields. (Thanks to @limeandginger for tweeting it to me).

The questions he ends with (as all good scientists should end with questions rather than answers, shouldn’t they?!) are as follows:

What is creative genius?

Why does the brain seek creativity?

How do we acquire creativity?

What factors disrupt creativity?

Can creative behaviour be learned? 

Now there’s some excellent enquiry questions to get stuck into…

(Originally posted on www.fullonlearning.com)

Importance of creativity: My learning catalyst

Sir Ken Robinson is for me, the catalyst for my on-going love affair with TED Talks. His first TED Talk, “Why Schools Kill Creativity” has been the same catalyst for many of my friends, colleagues and friends of friends and colleagues of colleagues..well, you know what I mean. I vividly remember the day I was shown the talk, as happens with all memorable learning moments. I had never come across the TED site and here it was, in its full intellectual glory, and the opening act for me was this talk. Since then, I’ve seen Sir Ken Robinson speak on a number of occasions, so there will inevitably be a few of his talks included in this collection. 

For me, this talk was a “YES!” moment. This was what I had been trying to argue for, rationalise and put into practice throughout my teaching career. I have since shared this talk as part of meetings, training or simply by recommending people make themselves a cup of tea, put their feet up for 18 minutes and enjoy. Many of my colleagues have reported that it has marked a “YES!” moment for them too. I hope it will for you if you haven’t seen it. If you have, I recommend using at as a reflection exercise:

How am I developing learners’ creative capacities in my practice?

What do I need to do to ensure learners feel safe to express themselves?

How does our curriculum create space for learner-involvement (as opposed to ‘participation’ or ‘engagement’) in their own learning?

Who’s curriculum is it?

What conditions for learning do I need to design that will nurture the capacities of all learners (adults and children alike)?

What have I done to develop my practice since I last watched this talk?

If nothing else, just enjoy.

Oh, and It’s very funny too.