Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Personalising education by introducing the spiritual dimension - an antidote to linear standardized teaching An Irish contribution to the debate

Educational ideas from Ireland

'Learning by Wandering' by Marie Martin

I have just been looking at a book ,'Learning by Wandering: an Ancient Irish Perspective for a Digital World'  sent to me  because the Irish author Marie Martin had made use of some of my writing from an e-zine I wrote in 2009. I felt it a bit of a honour to be included in her book alongside well recognized  international  educational writers she made reference to.

The book is all about 'restoring' a vision for education in a digital age ; to help reengage learners meaningfully in their own learning. 'Restoring' because Marie draws on her extensive knowledge of  cultural perspectives of ancient Irish understanding of learning as nourishment for the human spirit, expressed in early Ireland as 'learning by wandering'.

A synthesis of old and new

She believes that a synthesis of ancient wisdom and new technologies can transform our current education system - one that is alienating too many students.. What is missing is 'spiritual' dimension in learning.

Marie is an educational consultant in Northern Ireland specializing in the use of technology in education and presents widely on the use of technology . 'Education by wandering' she sees as an alternative to the narrow mindset that perpetrates current education. Learning by wandering relates to how  very young people learn making meaning of their diverse experiences that attract their attention and equally learn by wandering through the internet to satisfy their personal quest for learning.

It is an fascinating book, ideal for an Irish scholar with an intense interest in creating future learning environments integrating modern information technology  but it is equally relevant to educators anywhere.

Personalized learning.

  Her idea of  learning as spiritual journey to nourish and enable each individual  to realize their  innate potential is, for me, an excellent definition of 'personalized learning'.

Relates to Maori spiritual beliefs - Hauora

Spiritual well being
The books Irish cultural dimension  aligns  well to indigenous wisdom worldwide.

There is a real alignment with the Maori cultural beliefs about learning.  An important Maori dimension is the concept of hauora  or well being which includes  physical, social , mental and spiritual elements ( wairua).

This syntheses of ancient wisdom and education for the future provides a real alternative to the current education system based as it is on linear fragmented thinking  and one that largely ignores the spiritual needs of their students; schools today are far to obsessed with sorting, testing and grading students.

An inspirational book for teaching in Modern Learning Environments?

The book provides insight  for educators wanting to develop authentic learning in the new flexible school building that  now being built ; Modern Learning Environments (MLEs).

A modern learning environment
Modern flexible  buildings provide a real opportunity for new thinking but many fear that, unless new thinking underpins them, they will go the same way as their recent predecessors the Open Plan Schools of the 70s.

 Marie believes that humanistic holistic thinking is required rather than the current reliance on hyper rational testing and assessment based on narrow targets. I would add along with the destructive use of ability grouping and streaming.We have taken standardization and testing as far as we can go and   too often technology has been seen as a tool to improve existing traditional teaching rather than  to inspire new thinking.

A synthesis of wisdom of the past and modern technology

Marie Martin's  book is about a new vision for education based on , as mentioned, a synthesis of wisdom from the past  and the information rich world our students live in.  It is a vision based on a love of learning with students exploring what attracts them ( 'learning by wandering'); an education that 'nourishes the spirit' of each learner. It is a vision that bridges the growing disconnect for many students between school and life beyond the classroom.

Marie sees learning as an individual spiritual quest 
Gathering data outdoors

Modern schools need to provide 'liberating and mind expanding learning experiences' and to  allowing students to 'search for personal meaning'. Such an education, Marie believes ,will 'liberate us from the spirit starving narrowness and rigidity' that has dominated Western society in recent decades. Marie envisions learning with an 'adventurous, ever open mind... a mind that constructs its own knowledge by going where the spirit blows ...there is no end point... there is always more to learn. The process is its own reward. Learning nourishes the spirit and the mind,'
'Seek, use and create'

A pedagogy for new learning environments
Such an approach seem wells fitted to the new flexible buildings and the availability of modern information technology; technology that is not an add on but integral to learning as students 'seek, use and create their own knowledge' as the New Zealand Curriculum says.

Prophetic voices from the past

There have been prophetic voices about curriculum and pedagogy coming from educators since the early 20th C . John Dewey held out for a vision of learning that can capture 'the substance of truth that nourishes the spirit'. Beliefs  such as that : 'students are individuals; that learning is the product of the active relationship between individuals and their environment; and that learning is best organised through collaboration between students and between students ; and the value of
As relevant as ever
 creativity, emotional involvement in learning and participation in a community of learners.

Marie draws on a range of current educators to support her position.  Papert believes such such an approach helps 'creative people recover from the school experience' and  Armstrong who 'believes  education is ultimately about achieving happiness which comes from living living life life to the fullest.' Fullan  calls for 'a total re culturing of schools'.

A discourse of possibility

The book is all about a discourse of possibility ( a phrase she attributes to my own writing)  of teachers and students becoming co -learners.  In this process 'the knowledge built up inside one's head and also expressed outside ones head in the form of something tangible, something shareable; empowered by technology.

Visiting a 'modern learning environment' one would expect to see evidence of the tangible and shareable products of the students' personal studies.

A radical departure from current reforms.

This a radical departure from current educational reforms based on an emphasis on  de-contextualized literacy and numeracy and the alienating use of streaming and ability grouping with their genesis in a past 'factory'  sorting and grading approach to learning. This is an approach based on students as creator not consumers of knowledge with the use of technology as central as the book once was.
Evidence of research - a 'learning wall'.
Modern technology she sees as  truly transformational,  a move away from the linear approach of the book. Learning is now available anywhere anytime - what counts now is the 'spirit' to learn of the student. Schools need to evolve into true 'learner centred learning communities' that 'welcomes divergent perspectives' 'seamlessly integrating technology into the learning process' with students able to 'share their learning to the benefit of others'.

A holistic spirit centred education

Valuing students thoughts and questions
This vision is in contrast to much of current educational reform with learning determined by  teachers. Future  learning is often unpredictable and in a constant state of evolution as learning unfolds and mutates.

Non linear learning adventures.

Prescribed 'chunks of time bound lessons' are replaced in a transformed learning environment  where 'students and teachers excitingly and joyously stretch themselves to their limits in pursuit of projects built on their own visions' - 'non linear information adventures'.

Modern technology has made the 'primary source of knowledge available to everyone' able to contribute to students projects - all learning needs to be focused on the students' 'quest for meaning, purpose and transcendence'. 'this is a holistic, spirit centred vision of learning' that can heal the alienation and disaffection so many students feel about their current education.

A culture of timidity now prevails

Seymour Papert
Too many teachers today are 'victims of  the culture of timidity' ( Papert) that is 'inherent in schools as they come under pressure to concentrate on learning outcomes at the expense of the learning process.'

A love of learning

'What students need most today is to find love of learning in the learning place' (Barth) continuing 'the primary purpose of education should be to nurture this capacity in an environment that is hospitable to learning'. Guy Claxton writes 'a school is a place to learn how to learn, are prepared for the rest of life rather than a life of tests'.

The importance of the teacher.

Marie writes that it is the teacher not the technology that makes the difference; that the attitudes towards learning that are inculcated and modeled by the teacher to be vastly more important than any technology - or for that matter the provision of  new flexible learning spaces. Students need to be 'exposed to teachers who love learning.'

So  for teachers' , writes Marie Martin, 'fostering a love of
learning is the key priority. Part of this is the need to emphasize the need for 'hard fun in the learning process'.

Living walls displaying learning artifacts

Another priority is giving the students responsibility for creating and displaying learning artifacts on, what she calls ,'the 'living walls'. The aim of the teacher is to help students 'become creators and shapers'  or as the New Zealand Curriculum says 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'. Teachers work with students , scaffolding learning so as to free them up to be able to construct their own learning.

Teachers as co-learners

The teachers are co-learners, facilitators, coaches and guides  integrating technology to transform learning into a  collaborative experience based around negotiated authentic learning challenges integrating content from the various learning areas as well as integrating technology to search out and express their findings. Some call this project based or inquiry learning. Marie is  enlightened by Thomas Friedman's  'hierarchy of meaning which progresses from raw data, to information, to knowledge and finally wisdom'. Schools following this approach would be full of demonstrations,
Thomas Friedman

Quality of relationships vital

The quality of the relationships between all involved is vital. Hargreaves states 'the teachers are not deliverers of  learning but but developers of of learners  and that good teachers understand the importance in the learning process of caring relationships and emotional engagement with learning'.

 The same author  decries the 'soulless standardization' of today and claims that school reforms have had no place for joy, spontaneity,  creativity and relationships - the very things that fuel the passion to teach and learn whether in the traditional or virtual classroom.

What visitors should expect to see.

All visitors should leave well satisfied about the quality of the in-depth learning outcomes for the students and feel confident that the unique gifts and talents of students ave been given the opportunity to be realized. Such a learning environment would be 'exhilarating and mind expanding' for students, teachers and visitors alike.

Artifacts - science, technology, and art . Evidence of student involvement

Learning is dynamic and unpredictable - not linear

Marie has come to the conclusion  that 'learning is dynamic and unpredictable'.; it is dramatic voyage into uncharted seas and if this is accepted 'we can free ourselves of learning as linear, controllable, and transferable from teacher to pupil.

This would enable us to be open  to possibilities   to 'change the way we think
and learn' . Such learning is endless as Barth reminds us 'learning is from birth to death'.

Learning is a rich and messy process.

Marie concludes her journey , wandering, or quest by reminding us that 'learning is a rich and messy process ' and is to 'enjoyed and loved for its own sake.'

She writes, 'we are living in a digital age of rapid and emerging change. What we need in these turbulent  and messy times ....are life long messy learners, technologically literate mobile learners who love to learn anywhere, anytime.

 All learning is in a state of constant evolution, learning is no longer a destination'.

Her book is about 'learning being loved for its own sake... born of an endless quest for meaning and transcendence, a quest that which ever impels the learner to wander'. A spiritual journey'.

Hoffner writes, 'in times of dramatic change it is the learner who inherits the future. The learned find themselves in a world that no longer exists'. This lost world is no place for future orientated schools.


John the Brave said...

Hi there. This book sounds great - I called the University Bookshop here in Dunedin to order a copy and they tell me it will cost $150NZ give or take! Eek! Any ideas of getting a cheaper version?

Bruce said...

Hi John the Brave. Probably hard to get. Suggest you buy Welby Ings new book Disobedient Teachers. Or try her address mmartin@mmrtech.org.uk