Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Quality learning through paying attention to attention


'Paying attention to attention'

Seems a simple idea but  a powerful one. 

Too many students spoil what they do by rushing through their tasks working on the principle that 'first finished is best'. When teachers allow this 'mindset' to be an implicit part of the school culture students are not encouraged to stop and think ( or
Ten year old observation
reflect) about whatever they are undertaking and , as a result, a frenetic atmosphere can result. Slowing the pace  allows no time for teachers to give students ( particularly those struggling) appropriate help.

One wise old teacher ( long retired) once told me, as a result of this many students never get to finish most tasks they undertake . He called them the 'three quarters of a page kids'. If teachers were to look closely at the work their students 'complete' they will find many students who have achieved very little.

One solution is to have different expectation for every students and to make sure every student is able to  exceed their previous 'personal best'. Any book , or research work, language work or
Quality book work
piece of art  should show qualitative improvement but, all too often, it is hard to see any improvement - particularly for children having difficulty
.


The traditional answer to this problem is to place students into ability grouping - a strategy that research shows  does more harm than good.. Students inability to do reasonable work is more the result of an 'opportunity' rather than an 'achievement gap.

What is required are teachers dedicated to ensuring all students are able to show growth and to do this requires 'personalized ' teaching .

This brings us back to my one piece of advice - the need to 'slow
Scientific observation 10 yr old
the pace' of students work and the need to develop a learning culture that values quality over speed.


Every task can be 'slowed down'  but it requires teachers to provide ways to help students to develop a sense of craftsmanship. This of course will take time but if quality learning is the end point it will be worth it.

One easy way to develop this sense of quality learning through slowing the pace is through drawing.

Many years ago I read that in the future learners will need to be helped 'to pay attention to attention'; to the act of observing. Many students (and adults) look but do not see.
.

This was the point of 'observational drawing'.

 Before you begin  a drawing activity ask the class who are the best artists - students will have internalised who are the artists and why ( usually those who can draw 'real'). As a teacher the aim is for students to believe they are all artists. Teaching is the business to changing minds - to develop positive attitudes in any area of learning.

 Try it out with a simple leaf ( or photo of an insect).. Get the students to draw with no instruction. It will take students a few seconds to complete. Put the drawing away and get students to do a new drawing but this time tell students to take their time, to go really slowly, and to draw every thing they can see. For students attuned to rushing get them to look harder and to add details the might have
Science drawing 8yr old
missed,

When the second drawing is finished get them to compare their 'before and after' drawings and to consider what they have learnt.  And , as a teacher, give credit to the variety of interpretations from the real to the 'interpretative' so as to break down stereotypes about what makes a good drawing.

Simple stuff but it is the core of scientific observation and the basis for  imaginative interpretation through art. Drawing, it has been said, is the act of asking questions and drawing answers. Evidently  surgeons, through slow drawing, learn much about organs of the body.

The slowing of the process of learning is valuable in all areas of learning.

Whenever  students present their findings, including the thinking as part of process, there are ways 'slow the pace' so as to elaborate and extend their thinking. This includes aesthetic and design aspects. The best examples are students' completed exhibits for science, technology or art fairs. The same thoughtful presentation of student inquiry should be reflected on the classroom walls.

Several writers have written about this need to 'slow the pace of work' so as to achieve quality work and in the process provide the the time to come alongside the learner to provide sensitive help bur always leaving final decisions with the learner. The need to avoid this dependence has been well written about by Jerome Bruner.

Kingfisher 10yr old
Guy Claxton is another who has written about this need for reflective thinking in his book 'Hare Brain Tortoise Mind'.

Carl Honare has written a book 'In Praise of Slow' - about doing 'fewer things well'

Another writer Professor Maurice Holt has called for a slow school movement' - a  educational
movement  relating to the 'slow food movement'.

I personally like the phrase the 'haiku curriculum' - a curriculum based on the value of simplicity and depth of thinking. And I like the quote from 1930s film star  Mae West who said 'anything worth doing is worth doing slowly' but I don't think she was talking about teaching and learning.

The virtual world is 'trumping' the real world.
Drawing in the museum

I had the occasion to watch a five year old so busy on his i-pad that he couldn't be encouraged to watch some fireworks being set off!  All too often the virtual world trumps the real world. In contrast, the same five year old, was later photographed doing a drawing of a dinosaur at the Auckland museum oblivious to museum visitors walking past him. That's the power of focused attention - a lesson Leonardo da Vinci taught us centuries ago.

Kawa kawa
Computer scientist Clifford Still has written that for every hour in front of a screen a person need he equivalent time sitting by a tree or river to compensate; there is little time for 'wired' students to 'stand and stare'.

I believe that in this age of distraction ( and the associated ADHD students) that helping students 'slow the pace' by encouraging the elaboration of what they are asked to do is important and worth the effort.

.So 'slowing the pace of work'  to do 'fewer things in depth' is powerful advice

Check out these links

The power of observation More Power of Observation

Observation a basic learning skill

Observation and learning styles

Observation and imagination

Teacher's role in observation Bill Guild

Simple but Deep

The Power of Observation - Bill Clarkson

Guy Claxton's' Hare Brain Tortoise Mind' More Zen less Zest

The thoughts of Jerome Bruner

Carl Honare's  'In Praise of Slow'

Maurice Holt's 'slow education movement'

Slow food - slow teaching

Slow learning for fast times - Andy Hargreaves


Is this the future?






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