Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Slow food movement - and teaching as well!

  Posted by Picasa A significant movement in the culinary area is the ‘slow food movement’, a reaction against the ‘fast food’ industry.

The fast food industry is product of our fast moving industrial age providing reliable, efficient food, on demand, to consumers. Even those who work in such outlets cook everything to precise timing and heating instructions. Nothing is left to chance. Outcomes, inputs, and measurable targets, are all defined and the last thing they need are cooks!

And the food is bland, or at the very least reliably the same any where in the world – but it is quick and no doubt profitable; standardized food for standardized people. We are what we eat it is said.

We have become ‘fast food nations’. Everything is in hurry – even childhood according to David Elkind author of the Hurried Child. Everybody is rushing to prove success or achievement, none the least the education ‘industry.

The ‘slow food’ movement was reaction against this industrialized approach to living. Followers believe one should take time over food and enjoy the subtlety of the cooking;take the time to try out new dishes and to enjoy the conversation and the wine. Or at the very least enjoy a home cooked meal around the table interacting with members of the family or friends

We now need an educational equivalent of the ‘slow food movement’ so as to value the richness and relevance of any learning experience. Students need to appreciate that the act of learning is at the very heart of their identity and a high quality life and as such should not be rushed.

The standardized ‘fast education’, as exemplified by the curriculum statements of the past decades, has resulted in a loss of appetite for real learning. There is just no time. Gwen Gawith writes we have an ‘obese curriculum’. She has also called it the ‘KFC Curriculum’ – ‘I’ll have two strands, three levels and fifty plus objectives to go!’

As a result there are now many teachers who can no longer remember earlier times when learning was based on educational ideals and the development of student talents rather than achievement targets. The pace of change , the need to plan and assess every objective, has , according to educators Dean Fink and Andy Hargreaves in their latest book ‘Sustainable Leadership’, undermined teacher confidence and competence leaving no time to respond flexibly to students’ needs.

Even the much heralded literacy and numeracy initiatives are imposed on teachers leading to a bland uniformity of teaching – an improvement on the shallowness of standardized curriculums but resulting of a narrowing of the curriculum ‘menu’. This has resulted in other, equally important areas, being neglected; in particular, an appreciation of the power of tapping into students’ interests, concerns and talents as the basis of all learning.

What we need is learning that is sustainable and self renewing; experiences that provide students with a sense of challenge and mystery. We need to move away from having every intention and criteria decided before we even involve students. Learning is a ‘risky but potentially exciting personal journey that can’t be preplanned. If there is no risk or desire to continue learning there is only bland achievement.

The remedy is for teachers to learn to slow down and help their students live life to the fullest. To do this they will need to stop deterministic teaching and learn to listen to their students. What is it that captivates students' curiosity? How can they to tap into their students concerns? They then need to use all their professional skill and artistry to practice what Jerome Bruner calls, ‘the canny art of intellectual temptation’; creative teaching.

Teachers, by providing their students such a menu of rich, real and relevant experiences, will rediscover a sustainable joy in teaching.

This is real learning and learning. Chasing ideas. Trying to sort things out. Each adventure leading on new areas to explore.

All humans have a hunger to learn, to understand, from their own perspective, the meaning of life; and this hunger can only be satisfied by personally meaningful experiences. As Fink and Hargreaves say in their book, it about the quest for human transformation and sustainability – the desire to make ones mark and to leave the world a better place. A curriculum based on such ideas ‘emerges’ – calling on the content of the various learning areas as needed.

Whatever is chosen needs to be done well. There are important lessons to be learnt by students in taking the time to do the very best work they can – as compared to their previous 'best' experience.

As Mae West once said, ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly!’ Deep learning is more like love than lust. Targets don’t improve it. Tests can’t measure it.You just know in your heart when you are achieving something beyond your current expectations – and as well the brain supplies dopamine to reward you.

Such deep slow learning is an experience to be remembered and to be savored in reflective moments. ‘Slow leaning’, according to educationalist Guy Claxton, ‘is essential for our lives – it draws on the creativity, ingenuity needed to address complex problems’.

So let’s move away from trying to prove fast measurable achievement in our hurried schools, based a narrow range of ‘paint by numbers’ tasks, and start to think of providing deep learning experiences.

Learning that is deep and slow, sticks; and once students get a taste for it they will equipped to seize learning opportunities throughout their lives. Less is definitely more! Quality rater than quantity.

Let’s all join in behind the ‘slow teaching’ movement!


Anonymous said...

At last.

Anonymous said...

Education to enjoy - that would be a change. Schools are just too busy to think - which is ironic. Measuring everything and savoring nothing. Learning intentions, criteria - but whose? A process approach without artistry or spirit. Standardized teaching rules. Creativity has been lost in the rush to prove achievement.

Anonymous said...

But how would we 'measure' such aesthetic enjoyment.It would drive our technocrats crazy. Every meal would be different and individuals would choose according to their own desires. Possibly by if they want to return for more!

Anonymous said...

Enjoy learning - what a wonderful idea!

Clark Quinn said...

I had a slightly different take, where it's in parallel to 'fast learning', as opposed to in competition. However, I agree that learners need to understand a life-long approach to learning, and acquire meta-learning skills and self-motivation, etc.

I naturally think of systems to augment this (I like toys), but along with the curriculum elements I've suggested elsewhere, I agree that we need to rethink our pedagogy. Spiral curricula, meaningful projects, service learning, etc. Count me in!

Bruce Hammonds said...

I agree , it is not 'slow learning' v 'fast learning' .Both are relevant depending on the situation. This is the point Guy Claxton makes in his book 'Tortiose Mind and Hare Brain' . Have run off your PDF file ( 'The Value of Learning About Learning') to read at my leisure!

Thanks for the comment.