Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Sir Ken Robinson and Jerome Bruner.Personalised Learning-tapping the personal world of the learner.

A must read!

I was re- reading Sir Ken Robinson’s latest book (which mustbe a must read for creative teacherslooking for inspiration in this age of educational conformity) and was captured by his thoughts about the two worlds students live in. 

One world- the personal one – all but ignored in classrooms. The other the world they live in.

It is this personal world that was/is the world that creative teachers help students value and explore. This the world that pioneerteachers like Elwyn Richardson described in his recently reprinted book ‘in theEarly World’ and the world that Sylvia Ashton Warner used to write her Maori students reading books.

Elwyn - NZ pioneer teacher
And it is the world that would provide a fertile world or teachers to explore with students who are seen as failing today – students whose lives are not capitalised on in the way that Elwyn and Sylvia did.

It was Dr Beeby, the Director of Education, from 1939 who first encouraged New Zealand teachers to recognise their students as individuals.

Great curriculum

Personalised learning takes into account the thoughts, and feelings  of the students- individualised learning simply takes individuals through preconceived learning . Students learning through the internet is individualsed.

'Two worlds'
Sir Ken writes as human beings ‘we all live in two worlds. There is the world that exists whether or not you exist.’ And ‘there is another world that exists only because you exist; the personal world of your own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, the world within us. We only know the world around us through the world within us, through the senses by which we perceive it, by which we make sense of it’.

All students’, he writes, ‘are unique individuals with their own hopes, talents, anxieties, and aspirations. Engaging them as individuals is the heart of raising achievement’. ‘How we think
about the world around us can be deeply affected by the feelings within us, and how we feel may be critically shaped by our knowledge, perceptions and personal experiences.

The trouble is the conventional curriculum pays little attention to this inner wold and we see the result disengagement t in this in our classrooms. , Sir Ken writes, ‘making education personalised has implications for the curriculum, for teaching, and for assessment’.

‘He  continues, ‘ human achievement in every field is driven by the desire to explore, to test and prod, to see what happens, to question how things work, and to wonder what if’. ‘Developing young people’s creative and scientific abilities is central to a worthwhile
education.  Elsewhere Sir Ken has written that ‘creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy but this emphasis is not to be seen in our schools where ‘literacy and numeracy, as a result of National Standards, have all but gobbled up the entire curriculum’.

While clearing out my bookshelves I came across a book by Jerome Bruner (Towards a Theory of Instruction) which also focused on
What are the school's teaching beliefs?
the valuing of students feelings, questions and theories they hold and how to challenge and clarify them. His thesis in his book that schools do not have a coherent theory of instruction to underpin their teaching/learning and while published in 1966 I believe this to still be the case; when I check school websites  such beliefs are noticeably absent. 

Bruner writes that growth occurs when students can move away from ‘just in time responses’ to making reflective decisions based on prior experiences. Students move from actions to a means of recognizing patterns and expressing them symbolically to finally understanding them abstractly.  If teachers rush students through this process students fail to learn. They end up with what some call fragile learning – learning they are not confident to use. Much maths teaching falls into this category. With appropriate dialogue (personalised help) young students can ‘discover things of great depth and wisdom’

What's on their minds?
I wonder how many classrooms reflect this depth and wisdom. How much evidence the use of ‘notebooks, the sketch, the outline’ showing tentative thinking and reflective work? I wonder if teachers can show how students’ prior ideas have been recognised and changed through teaching. 

Bruner believes that such an open exploratory approach to education needs to be part of the class culture. Culture counts. Classrooms should be communities of inquiry. This is in conflict with current models of teacher determined intentional teaching. Mental growth according to Bruner is not a process of reaching defined standards but more a matter of ‘spurts and rests’. It is a series of self-rewarding sequences related to the needs and gifts of the student with the reward of deeper understandings. Learning starts with uncertainty leading to curiosity and a resolution of the problem and there is no unique sequence for all learners.

 ‘Knowing’ Bruner writes, ‘is a process not a product’ Bruner writes, If we do nothing else, we should somehow give to children a respect for their own powers of thinking, for their power to generate good questions, to come up with informed guesses’ and later ‘to leave the student with a sense of the unfinished business of learning’ It is all about protecting /amplifying the will to learn.

Competence develops when students put the energy into things they see the point of. ‘We get interested in what we get good at’. The problem is that the intrinsic will to learn can be a problem when students are expected to follow content they have no interest in acquiring and such situations ‘school often fails to enlist the natural energies that sustain spontaneous learning –curiosity, a desire for competence’

The teacher’s role is vital in personalised/creative .inquiry based classroom. Bruner has written, ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation’ and, I would add, an appreciation of the diversity of thought and creativity of every student an also the appreciation also of the role of emotion in learning.  Students need to develop a positive feeling for any learning.

Bruner’s book is ‘about how to stimulate thought in school, how to
Kid's views recorded
personalise learning, and how to evaluate what one is doing’. 

‘Children , like adults, need reassurance that it is alright to entertain and express highly subjective ideas, to treat a task as a problem where you invent an answer rather than finding one out there I the book’, and today I would add the internet. He adds ‘children in school expend extraordinary time and effort figuring out what the teacher wants’.

Bruner write teachers need to ‘establish in the child’s mind his right not only to base his own private ideas but to express them in the public setting of the classroom’. And of course this applies to personal language and artistic expression.

Let's value 'their' ideas
It is time for teachers  to work out what personalised learning really means and  to appreciate the great value it offers to provide real learning for their students – learning that values their feelings, attitudes, talent  and gifts,  the questions and prior ideas of their students and how  their ideas change through  creative teaching.

Sir Ken Robinson’s book could well be the basis of a Bruner’s ‘theory of instruction’ for any school who feel the need to break out
Great book
of current formulaic imposed ‘best practice’ teaching.

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