Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

Click on "contact", won't you, and wave right back at me?

My Framework for Learning - Chapter 1 !

So far in this blog I have mostly posted safe stuff - ideas, tricks and projects that I know of or have facilitated or run myself, and then I've made comments on the side about why I think they're valuable.

In the meantime there are fifty gazillion ideas puffing about in my head. I am the sort of person who looks for the kernel of truth in everything anyone says, and yet I will never commit to one proposition, or embrace it outright, since I am always playing devil's advocate. So no matter what YOU say or whatever thought I think, my next step is always a sort of "yes, but no". My brain is full of "Yes, but no"s. Yes but no is my key policy platform! My ideology! At my worst it makes me inconsistent, seemingly two-faced (I would never betray someone, but my wife has noted what a diplomatic chameleon I am, and how I can appear to support contradictory perspectives depending on who I am with - since I appear to agree with everyone!).

Yet to me the best thinkers are full of doubt. They're tentative, open to correction. Politicians scare the bejeebers out of me - how can they be so SURE?

Despite this, all the bits and pieces of the teaching/learning puzzle are beginning to form a definite shape in my head.

Which is funny, because the stuff I was doing in my classes three years ago fits the model I am now more able to articulate, although my appreciation of the possibilities of the web expanded continually (for instance, my Beyond Borders website is beginning to look to me rather clumsy with its paranoid approach to student privacy and safety).

So, I'm going to post a series of blogs exploring my framework for learning. It will NOT be revolutionary! It will, without doubt, be a kind of patchwork of a hundred beautiful conceptions expressed delightfully by others. The patchwork has a Steve Collis flavour added to it I'm sure.

I'll keep links on this series of blogs on the left hand side of this website, and then when I'm done, whenever that is, if ever, I shall compile them into one page.That way I can record the process and the product!

Definite Thought #1: Students need knowledge and skills.

Let's say a student wanted to learn the piano.

You could explore 'what is music' with the student, study the history of music, debate music and listen to music. You could team the student up with other musicians. You could ask the student to assemble and disassemble the piano.

At some point, the student is going to have to learn to play the bloody thing, right? This means hours and hours of repetition, correction, discipline, memorisation, exercises, scales, blah blah blah. The core business of piano playing is piano playing.

I teach French. I hated languages at school, but embraced French at University and spent 5 intense years learning the language from scratch. French is knowledge and skills. It's memory, it's patterns, it's practice shaping your mouth right to get the right sound or accent. The core business of learning French is French.

So, whatever definite thoughts may appear from here on in, let's get one thing straight: the mind is made for training: in Maths, Science, Music, Language, Logic, Arts, and so on. When I was a baby I learnt the skill of grasping. When I am 80 I may learn to play lawn bowls.

Traditional teaching techniques target knowledge and skills.

Definite Thought #2: Knowledge and skills are only relevant or valuable in the context of society.

And this is where everything goes down the toilet in our schools, because the current teaching model is to kidnap some poor, unsuspecting, otherwise happy 5 year old, and throw them into Kindergarten, and then another twelve years of a funny shaped box with chairs and tables, and a screen out the front where an adult writes things that are, the student is assured, of great significance.

To separate the knowledge and skills from social contexts is to render them meaningless.

"Sir, why do we have to learn French? I won't ever need it in life. Everyone speaks English."

"My dear student, the very fact you have asked this question means that you have not yet found French valuable. Therefore I shall drown myself in the Seine immediately. You are released from further French study."

What's the flipping point of the knowledge and skills if they're not useful in the students' social contexts?

I hate that awful artificial box that is the classroom. It cuts students off from every social context except a bunch of peers and a weird thing called Sir.

30 students and 1 power-broker meet routinely to engage in bizarre rituals.

Students have almost zero perspective on what they are achieving, apart from an abstract notion of 'doing well at school so I can get a good job'. (Which patently misses the point - the goal of education is not so they get jobs. Anyway what's the point of a job? To participate in society. To give to society and get back in return.)

Classrooms cut students off, I say. Take a step back from them and look how artificial, and just plain weird, they are. They NUMB the students.

Definite Thought #3: Acquiring knowledge and skills ought to occur in the context of a quest to participate in society. The young person ought to be positioned as a valuable contributor, listened to, cherished, nurtured, challenged.

Because there MUST a reason. There MUST be a motivator. There MUST be a greater good. There must be a CONNECTION between the knowledge/skills and, well, life.

Now, for some disciplines, this bit is quite straightforward. The music student performs for family, or church, or at a community event. The student's learning is funnelled into the benefitting of others, and the student experiences the most fundamental psychological reward that comes from bringing and offering something valuable to the world.

Also, there seems to me to be something almost intrinsically relevant about practical subjects - students making useful objects from wood or metal, or works of art to display at home or elsewhere, or physical education which is fundamental to health and energy, and is fundamentally social, playing into competition and cooperation with peers. Ironic, since I've always been very weak in these disciplines.

Other subjects can and should feed into similarly social activities.