Monday, June 12, 2006

Slow learning needed for fast times!

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Dean Fink and Andy Hargreaves, in their 2006 book ‘Sustainable Leadership’ introduce the important idea of ‘slow learning’. They draw on the ideas in psychologist Guy Claxton’s books ‘Hare Brain Tortoise Mind'; and ‘Wise Up’. Claxton is concerned with developing students 'learning power'.

Slow learning they believe is essential for our lives and learning by giving depth to our experiences and providing insight for creativity and ingenuity. All too often, in contrast, students are rushed through learning to cover curriculum material. First finished is best seems to be the order of the day!

As a result ‘slow learning’ is neglected in schools.

Those who appreciate ‘slow learning’ develop important future attributes:

• They are tolerant of fleeting and ambiguous ideas
• Are relaxed, leisurely and playful
• Are willing to explore without knowing what they are looking for.
• See ignorance and confusion as the beginning of learning
• Are receptive to spontaneous ideas
• Treat ideas that come ‘out of the blue’ seriously.

This is in contrast with recent suggestion to use precision ‘intentional teaching’ and achieving pre-set goals. When students are 'hurried' by teachers not enough time is allowed for ideas to incubate, or develop serendipitous connections with other areas of learning.

Claxton believes that an emphasis on current problem solving may be OK for problems that have answers but of little use with difficult problem with no clear answers. Such 'wicked' or 'messy' problems need time and often result in unforeseen solutions. Slow learning values intuition and imagination and avoids rushing into 'premature judgments'. Schools in contrast currently place a premium on rational criteria based thinking.

Ironically the other kind of thinking that is neglected is 'very quick' thinking. According to Malcolm Gladwell, in his book ‘Blink’, many important decision are made in the 'blink of an eye' without time to gather information to consider. To be able to use such insightful, or intuitive thinking, deep prior experience is required. For example a fireman knows in a ‘flash’ what to do as does an expert teacher helping a learner. Both call on wisdom slowly accumulated from hard earned previous experiences.

It seems creative thinking is paradoxical. Some of the best thinking is really slow while in other situation acting quickly is vital. Quick and slow thinking depend on each other.

The trouble is, it seems, is that schools use neither. All too often school learning is about producing something and is neither deep nor better just faster. Real learning is more than achieving teacher designed intentions or achievement targets.

Another author, Maurice Holt, is an advocate for the ‘slow school’ movement saying, ‘you can’t go on force feeding pupils and expect to get foie gras.’ Less, it seems done well, is definitely more.

The message for schools from all this is to 'do fewer things well'. To study topics in depth. Slower schooling means deep rigorous learning to challenge learners prior ideas and assumptions. Some learning, of course, needs to be fast and snappy but not all of it.

As Mae West put it best, ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly’.

Good advice. Let’s slow down learning, do it in depth, and enjoy the experience.

On our site we have lots of good ideas to develop such quality learning.


Anonymous said...

Excellent advice - the 'hurried child is a sign of our frentic self centered times.

Anonymous said...

Thank God! I have found this site. I'm very concerned how education is heading. It's being corporatised: ie everything is run at such a slick, hectic pace, with hours spent developing meaningless data thats used to create n illusionary image. The real subtext is 'how to screw every drop of juice out of staff'- working them into the ground- spending quality time with teenagers seems secondary and barely recognised.
There is a slogan at our school- 'teaching comes first and everything else is secondary'... but honestly it feels the other way around!!!!
And this is a real worry. When you find time to actually talk to kids they flock around you like the pied-piper, they are so starved of adult attention.
Is this really the sort of environment we want our adolescents to be developing in? We need to listen to their stories- because that is the ONE things teenagers are crying out for: TO BE LISTENED TO!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

It is always about doing things well.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Couldn't agree with you more Steve. It is about time teachers fought back but I am afraid too many teachers are just so busy complying to all the imposed demands they prefer to do 'the wrong things well' rather than risk doing 'the right things badly! Wouldn't it be great if teachers took the time to listen to student's voices ( or their own) and helped them develop their own curriculums. It is ironic that the current Minister is now asking schools to do just this when it was 'they' who took us down this false path in the first place!