Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Who am I ? Developing a positive learning identity.

Photo from film Boy?

The things all teachers should keep in the forefront of their minds is how the classroom experiences they provide contribute their students developing a positive sense of self - a positive learning identity - and positive feelings, or memory, about what they are learning.

All to often the demands placed on schools to 'deliver' and 'account' for progress in literacy and numeracy are the priority. A look at how time is apportioned in classrooms indicates schools priorities.

The experiences students have at school determine how they see themselves for better or worse. We all have questions in the back of our minds about: Who am I? Where am I going? Am I worth it? Life, and learning, is about developing a positive story of themselves.

This is important as the image we hold of ourselves determines our future actions and responses. We all know of people who get into trouble when they lose the plot!

How our brains develop a sense, or concept, of who we are was the topic of a recent radio talk. The theme of the talk was research about dealing with amnesia (where patients are locked into the present moment unable to 'time travel') and dementia (where only past events are recallable - 'a death of memory').

It would seem to be something teachers should think about? How do students develop positive memories about themselves and the things they do? Are their students developing positive 'feelings for' such things as mathematics as well as other people ( both in their class and other cultures).

No one measures such things. I guess it is far to hard but it is vitally important for teachers to keep in mind as they interact with their students.
The radio talk mentioned how people are different people in different contexts -some difficult students are no trouble to other teachers.

There appears to be two identities a personal identity you have of yourself and a social identity that others have of you. Somehow most of us develop a unified sense of self.

It seems we are made up of the stories we hold in our minds about ourselves - or memories. The more positive memories, or stories, the better. What we feel effects what we think.

Throughout our lives we all weave our own stories; we are the sum of all our personal narratives. As we gain new experiences we all constantly connect with past experiences which in turn colour how we respond to a current experiences. Our feelings determine our response.

When students indicate they can't do an activity teachers needs to think about how to make it more personally meaningful to the individual student.The teachers artistry is the ability to tempt their reluctant students to have a go so as to change their minds. It is important , the radio talk said, for people 'to create positive stories of growth'.

The provision of interesting experiences, within the students capability, that attract students attention is preferable to teachers plodding their way through predetermined progressions. Sense can only be made by the learner, but only if they get the story, or message, of the experience.

Personal narrative writing is a wonderful way for students to celebrate the small dramas in their own lives and ought not just be 'ticked of' as another genre for the teachers to cover. Through such stories ( or pieces of personal art) students are given the opportunity to 'invent' themselves and, for teachers, the opportunity to appreciate the real life experiences of their students . Helping students craft, or 'forge through revision', powerful writing ( or art)is the art of the teacher.

Such writing and talking
( scribed for the very young) is the beginning of students getting a 'feeling for' the power of writing and reading. This sense of 'voice' is missing in many primary classrooms.

Getting back to memory, there are different sorts of memory. Automatic memory of a skill that you just know what to do with having to explain. Episodic memory about particular things that can be put into words and is connected to the past, and, finally, semantic memory where the knowledge is abstracted and not tied to a specific event. It is the last two that contribute to who we are

The radio presenter quoted John Locke who said, 'the self is made by memory.If we lose our memory who are we?' Without memory we are nothing. One wonders where all the material teachers teach goes? Certainly many students have not captured it their memories - such teaching ( no matter how well planned) didn't make enough sense to them. They didn't see the point of school.

Evidently ones sense of self is secure by the early twenties. The years between 15 and 25 are times, it has been shown, when most people have the richest memories, memories that provide significant 'signposts for the rest of our journey'.

Students personal writing about their early experiences would reinforce a positive sense of self. Telling stories is a skill that improves with experience and age.It is a way of sharing wisdom. Maybe those morning talks were more important than we thought - and maybe it is time to reinvent them, and to focus them to ensure our students develop a positive story of themselves. Certainly many older students seem to have lost the plot! Reading and writing would then become valuable bi products. With patients who have memory problems success has been gained through 'reminiscence therapy'. Students also can gain by connecting with their past felt experiences.

A positive sense of self provides a role in making future decisions, and positive memories allow us to imagine possible futures. The past and our memories are the making of who we are.

Our classrooms ought to reflect such students' stories past and present. It helps students answer the question 'How do I know who I am?'


Anonymous said...

The revised New Zealand Curriculum is premised on students becoming 'confident life long learners' and 'seekers , users and creators of their own knowledge'. This is in line with the 'story' in your blog.

Don't see much of these ideas in schools.

Janice's Clever Classroom said...

Gail Loane has just published an excellent book on writing called "I've got something to say - leading young writers to authorship" - can be ordered from the author at gailloane@wave.co.nz
not a word about national standards or curriculum in it - just wonderful!
Janice Corbett

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Janice

Gaile Loane is a star in my line up of creative teachers. Must sort out a copy of 'Iv'e Got Something to Say' for myself.