Monday, 21 March 2016

Preparing for perceptual change

There are a number of `Learning to learn` courses being offered on the KEep Learning website. `Learning to learn` is a strange concept since everybody has the capacity to learn. Pupils now spend whole classes on the topic, if you can call it that. Study tips are one thing within the context of studying `something` but` learning to learn` without content turns the focus onto the pupil in an extraordinarily empty way.

The first `Learning to learn` course is about teaching and learning to develop the four capacities:

"Learning comes in many different forms. Active and participative learning holds the key to Curriculum for Excellence. Knowing how pupils learn and then providing them with challenging opportunities to do so will not only engage them but be pivotal in developing confidence and self esteem. This series of courses will develop delegates’ knowledge and understanding of strategies that can raise standards through developing pupils’ creative thinking to investigate problems and find solutions - a key element to the principles behind the new curriculum."

One of the problems with a paragraph like that, is that the writer may well know what the different terms mean and how they fit together to explain Curriculum for Excellence, but it is a bit short on definitions . I`ve seen this type of writing described as wading through jelly; it`s hard to get a firm grip.

The term `engage` is there, so that is the idea of motivation which appears regularly in documents about 21st century learning, and then there is `confidence and self esteem`, so that is the mental health and wellbeing aspects. So far it is all very psychological.

But then there is the wonderful idea of raising standards through developing pupils` creative thinking to investigate problems and find solutions. Perhaps the curriculum is designed to produce creative problem solvers?
"The new situations and new problems we face today and which we cannot predict tomorrow call for new ways of seeing and dealing with the world. Subject matter is too often used as a way of teaching people to look backward, to recite past performances, instead of as a medium for preparing students for future developments. Content then becomes sterile, even negative, if it inhibits new leads and new solutions. Education must deal with subject matter, not as an end in itself, but as a means of helping children to achieve the intelligent imagination and creativity necessary to find adequate answers to the world’s increasingly complex problems." This comes from Perceiving, Behaving, Becoming: A New Focus written in 1962 which expands the ideas a little but was written more than fifty years ago. If there is a lack of subject matter in the new curriculum it is because it is viewed as inhibiting new leads and solutions. Children must find new ways of seeing and dealing with the world`s increasingly complex problems. It is 2016 and the narrative has not changed but how is it possible to be a creative problem solver without a grounding in knowledge and an understanding of the past? "It is the unsolved problem rather than the factual question and answer that encourages freedom of thought and children’s respect for their own mental processes. It can help them to change concepts in light of new evidence and to build a sense of personal responsibility for increasing knowledge and solving problems." Respect for their own mental processes, freedom of thought, changing concepts? "If the new objective of instruction becomes that of perception building, students may become aware of, or sensitive to, the importance of meaning…They learn how perceptions or meanings are broadened or changed and how they are built. They learn how to learn."
Ah ! Learning how to learn is about changing ones perceptions - not looking backward to the old ways - in order to prepare for future developments. Putting it in a nutshell, it`s about breaking free of tradition.

Other innovations which have the same effect are: early interventions in order to educate parents into the new ways; named persons taking responsibility for children`s wellbeing; education for citizenship and getting children involved in their communities with suitably trained leaders; competency based education because it is skills that educators are interested in, not knowledge; active and participative learning like projects and discussions - all designed to alter the perceptions and values of children while data is collected in order to monitor the effects. It`s an ambitious project.

A clue to where this is going is given by humanistic psychologist, Maureen O`Hara who has links with the International Futures Forum which had an input into Curriculum for Excellence.

Maureen O`Hara, who worked with Carl Rogers during the 60s, says: " Everyone has become distortedly individualistic." (around 14.45 minutes) She is looking for more empathetic groups and cultures that build on the client centred approach developed by Rogers. She believes these approaches are transformative.

It is family values - and that `distorted` individualism that children bring from home to school - that is being worked on in classrooms by exploring and re-imagining perceptions and re-creating meaning; because it is those traditional values that are a threat to the new world order.

Anita Hoge has talked about the behaviour modification and mental health agenda that is taking place in the standards based education system in the United States. "They have a standard for honesty, interpersonal skills, getting along with others - it`s all geared towards collectivism, the whole thing. It`s scored towards group effort, following the group; everything has to do with the group.."

Those children who fail to pass these standards will be subjected to remediation with a particular focus on the early years.

Robin Eubanks has explained that simple stimulus-response behaviourism has fallen out of favour, and this is where the third force becomes important; that is, humanistic psychology and neuroscience, because educators are now aware that they must pay more attention to internal mental models if they are to modify behaviour. Mental models are also called perceptual models.

This is why we have progressive education and children have to `learn to how to learn`.

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