Let the children boogie – What teachers can learn from Bowie & Jean-Jacques Rousseau

bowie

Having hit David Bowie pretty hard since his death this year and this corresponding to another reading of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile or On Education. These are the things Rousseau & Bowie have taught me about facilitating children’s education. I try to have them as my compass but sometimes it’s hard in the current climate.

1. Try not to interfere negatively with or suppress children’s natural tendencies & aptitudes.

2. Try only to teach something when the child is ready to learn it.

3. Try not to make rote-learning the dominant mode of education for a child.

4. Try to let children primarily learn in context and through experience and ‘projects’.

5. Do not treat a child’s attempted acquisition of moral knowledge differently from their acquisition of other types of knowledge. Hold both in high regard.

Advertisements

How being mindful in class has made me a more effective & reflective teacher.

What we do, think, say and feel as teacher is embedded in social structures that most often are invisible but no less real. The social structures of schools and classrooms are complex, layered with aspects of power, and usually taken for granted. Mindfulness is a fruitful way to unpack or come to see these structures more clearly, thereby coming to know your pupils, way of teaching, social interactions more fully.

Being in a school environment where mindfulness is encouraged can open opportunities for learning & reflecting. Focusing on critical incidents within your day in a state of mindfulness creates space for knowing through a process of stopping & reflecting.

The term ‘critical incident’ can be defined as:

  • An everyday event that stands out,
  • Vivid happenings that are considered significant or memorable,
  • A problematic situation that presents itself as a unique case and promotes reflection,
  • Highly charged moments and episodes that have enormous consequences for personal change and development.

There is a growing emphasis on integrating mindfulness into the field of teacher education. For me it has provided a rich tool for analysing critical incidents to improve my teaching practices and help me model the process of reflection on critical incidents with my pupils.

Critical incidents are not ‘things’ that exist independently of an observer and are awaiting discovery like gold nuggets or desert islands, but like all data, critical incidents are created. Incidents happen, but critical incidents are produced by the way we look at a situation.  – Tripp.

As a result, its our interpretations and feelings which make an event significant and critical. In order to turn an event into a critical incident, we do more than simply label it. We investigate some of the underlying structures that produce that kind of incident.

Not all critical incidents have to be dramatic or obvious either. It is only through mindful reflection that these rather typical incidents can be unearthed for examination. Mindful reflection involves discovering underlying meaning of what is usually taken for granted and entails observation of what events constitute turning points, change in group conversations, uncovering something that had already been going on without detection or acknowledgement.

Small events, sometimes even unnoticed situations within the classroom have been turned into critical incidents. Their ‘criticality’ is based on justification, significance, and then meaning given to them in a context of inquiry and provokes a will to reflect on that particular event, thereby rendering it visible and susceptible to further analysis and change.

Questions worth reflecting on when dealing with a critical incident are:

  1. Whose interests are either served or denied by the actions in my ‘critical incident’?
  2. What conditions are sustaining this action?
  3. What power relationships between the school, senior staff, teachers, support staff, parents or children are being expressed?
  4. What structural, organizational and cultural factors are likely to prevent the school, senior staff, teachers, support staff, parents or children from engaging in alternative ways?

Common Misconceptions Of Mindfulness With Children – Makes Them Calmer, Makes Them Happier.

The consistent misconception around mindfulness I hear from parents, teachers & children is that mindfulness practices make children calmer and happier.

This isn’t strictly true. Children who practice mindfulness are actually just as calm or ‘uncalm’ as they have ever been & they are often ‘running on’ the same amount of happiness or unhappiness as they have been before mindfulness was introduced into their lives.

What mindfulness practice does provide for children is support for difficult situations. Every child whether they practice mindfulness or not should and will regularly find the world tough. They will often not get what they want and get the things they don’t want. This causes them distress. Whether it is with friendships, in their learning outcomes or simply wanting something they can’t have.

If you offer no support or tools to children who find themselves in uncomfortable & upsetting positions they may abandon what they are doing or negative emotions will overwhelm them regularly and they can’t function.

But if it is you as the teacher or parent run over and try to rescue the child from this ill-ease too quickly and too comfortingly, the message you send is that it is was right to get upset because failure or frustration are terrible things that we should avoid as much as possible! This isn’t the reality we live in. Life is full of sufferings; like being attached to concepts of ourself or a desire to have things a certain way.

Its in these incidents mindfulness practices should be encouraged and will help children. Encourage children to persist but suggest a period of mindful breathing or a friendly but ultimately matter-of-fact kind of response to their upset. This gives a more mindful, positive and ultimately realistic message about how to deal with issues in a calmer and happier way.

Just Because I Practice Mindfulness, Doesn’t Mean I’m Perfect.

RoadSignPerfection

Well that wasn’t very mindful‘. – The dreaded accusation that can be thrown at anyone who ‘outs’ that they practice mindfulness.

When difficulties have arisen with parents in the past in relation to them or my interactions with their children I have had to deal with this statement.

It’s a difficult one because more often than I would like I do do things that are indeed ‘not mindful’ or compassionate!

My intention is to be as mindful as I can. This can fluctuate from day to day, hour to hour and unless you are a Buddha, a guru, Jesus – (or an estate agent 😉 ) you will sometimes do things that aren’t always compassionate. I’m a learner of mindfulness just like the children and my other co-workers.

What concerns me about the introduction of mindfulness into education is the unattainable expectations that could come with it; from parents and staff, to children and management/leadership.

What is required is a supportive atmosphere – where people are not demonised for what they haven’t done mindfully, but rather celebrate the everyday mindfulness they do conduct and the effort that is being put in.

Place & Time: The Vital Role Geography & History Have In Promoting Mindfulness In Schools

Place & Time

This principally includes how History shapes culture, events, consciousness and identity and the lessons which it offers to our understanding of present and future; and geographical study of location, other people, other places and human interdependence, locally, nationally, and globally. Like the arts, this subject seeks to give children an understanding of:

  • Who they are,
  • Change and continuity,
  • Cause and effect,
  • Why society is arranged as it is,
  • The interaction between humankind and the physical environment.

In opening up children’s understanding of these matters the subject may range beyond the boundaries of what is conventionally included – for example Forest Schooling, which can make up a school’s curriculum.

Place and Time not only provides links to other curriculum areas but lies at the heart of the children’s everyday lives, showing how the past can impact upon the present and ultimately, the future. The subject aims to equip children with the basic skills required to be confident and capable members of the community, as well as to appreciate the importance of the role they play in respecting and preserving the society they are a part of. Lastly, ‘Place & Time’ provides a platform from which children can communicate their ideas and query the existing world around them. For many, Place & Time will be the first time that ‘big questions’ about the world have been asked and is an opportunity for such questions to be debated and philosophised.

The approach to history is for children to know that things have not always been as they are now, and by implication that they need not remain the same in the future. This is the teaching of Impermanence in its clearest form. They will also learn of some of the best examples of wisdom that have taken place in history and learn from these historical examples. Children, through history, also come to recognise that whilst many things have changed and will continue to change there is a degree of Interdependence with the past; that of seeing connections between what happens in the modern day and how things were done in the past; including the principle of cause and effect (Karma); particularly through local study. Through the discipline of social history and the interpretation of primary resources children can practise empathy, compassion, morality and patience. With a better understanding of primary resources they also practise treating things with care and doing no harm. 

The study of human geography emphasises the interdependence of people across the planet. The children learn about how other children in the world live and about the sufferings that occur. They learn to appreciate how fortunate they are to live in a stable affluent society. Physical geography encompasses valuing nature, conservation and recognising threats to our world. Studying the rainforest inspires children to raise money for a conservation project, and charity work on a local and global scale should be encouraged. Understanding and possible application of the 10 One Planet principles should also be encouraged and central to both local and global human geography study.

This Is How You Integrate Mindfulness & Learning

mindful mind skills

‘It is about maximising children’s learning potential through good teaching and the proper application of evidence about how children develop and learn and how happy teachers teach more effectively.’

‘Any school which strives to educate the whole person should also ensure proper academic standards.’

– The Elephant’s footprint

Exploring, knowing, understanding and making sense

To enable children to encounter and be able to explore the wealth of human experience through introduction to and active engagement in, the different ways through which we make sense of our world and act upon it: intellectual, ethical, spiritual, creative, social, emotional and physical; through language, mathematics, science, the humanities, the arts, religion and other ways of knowing and understanding. Learning is grounded in a mixture of amazement and curiosity which constitutes childhood wonder. Further to this we would encourage children to know & celebrate how the learning strategies they employ are closely related to many mindful principles.

Learning Strategies* Mindful Principles
Managing Distractions, Noticing & Present Moment Right Mindfulness, Right Effort & Meditation
Responding (Not Reacting), Thinking Aloud, Thinking Time & Responsibility Right Mindfulness & Right Concentration
Meta-learning, Reflection, Revising & Planning Impermanence, Interdependence, Meditation, Wisdom
Making Links, Questioning & Trying Things Out. Right Effort, Patience, Meditation
Listening, Empathy & Collaboration Interdependence, Loving Kindness, Right Speech, Right Action,  The Middle Way, Patience

 *Based on Guy Claxton’s (Co-author of the Elephant’s Footprint) work on learnacy. [http://www.buildinglearningpower.co.uk/images/blpia_extract.pdf]

Fostering skilful behaviours

To foster in children skilful behaviours on which learning and a rewarding ethical life most depend: mindfulness practices,  mindful speaking & deep listening, inquiry & debate, literacy, mathematics, science, information technology, the creative and performing arts; but also in practical activities: communication, compassion, creativity, invention, mindfulness, problem-solving & reflection.

Exciting the imagination

To excite children’s imagination in order that they can advance beyond present understanding, extend the boundaries of their lives, contemplate a world possible as well as actual, understand cause and effect, develop the capacity for empathy, and reflect on and regulate their behaviour; to explore and test language, ideas and arguments in activity and form of thought. To experience the delights – and pains – of imagining, and of entering into the imaginative world of others, is to become a more rounded person.

Enacting right-speech & deep listening

Right speech & deep listening can help children grasp that learning and reflecting on mindfulness practices is communal and that understanding builds through joint activity & potentially promotes wisdom. To help children recognise that knowledge is not only transmitted but also negotiated and re-created. To continue to advance our pedagogy in which dialogue is central: between self and others, between present and past, between different ways of making sense.

By listening to our pupils we will become a better schools. If a school is an advocate of children’s voices. They will recognise the importance of listening to their learners and their opinions about their school and their education and indeed the children are invited to input into their ‘community curriculum’.

What children have to say:

Managing Distractions

Ignoring chats when you’re supposed to is one aspect of managing distractions. It’s when I try to put a stop to anything that might cause me to stop learning. It’s an important skill to practice because it helps you learn better. (For example if someone is doing funny faces try and ignore them. Try focusing your mind on your own work).

Noticing

Noticing is an important skill because many amazing things happen in the day and it’s sad to miss things.

Perseverance

This skill is important to practice. It is when we keep trying even when things look difficult.

Present Moment

Focusing on what is happening now. It is an important skill because if you don’t focus on the here and now you can be confused or you can miss out on what is happening in the now.

Reflecting

Is a very important skill because it allows us to look at something we have done and gives us a second chance for example; My dad was once shouting down the phone and I shouted “Stop shouting.” I reflected on this in the afternoon and realised that it wasn’t a very good idea to shout myself.

Meta-Learning.

Meta-learning is knowing how you learn best and what you find is the easiest way for you to learn. For example some people are tactile learners, they need to you use their hands. Some are visual and some like to listen best. It is also about knowing who is best to work with on certain topics and who is maybe better to avoid due to distractions.

Revising

Revising is an important skill that we practice. Sometimes our teacher sends us back to look over our work because it could be wrong or need changing (but not always) it gives us a second chance to think again (revise it).

Planning

This skill is important because if you don’t plan, you don’t know what you are doing! And the thing that you want to do is more likely to fail!

Trying Things Out

Not saying no. This skill is important because it’s when I take a risk with something You’ve never done before. You might miss out on something you really like or are good at.

Questioning

Sometimes it is good to question the things we read or hear. This can help us get a better understanding or change our opinion on something.

Reasoning

Having a reason for doing or saying something. Explaining why my answer is right is reasoning in maths.

Making Links

This skill is important because it helps us make a web of knowledge and helps us use our knowledge in different subjects. For example today we were learning about shapes and space, we learnt that half a sphere is called a hemisphere. We soon made a link between this maths knowledge our geography knowledge. Because the globe is made up of two hemispheres.

Interdependence

Doing something with others. This is important because when we are older we have to work well with all different types of people. Understanding that we all share the space and are connected.

Listening

Listening and not talking. This skill is important because it helps me learn from other people’s ideas. It also helps me understand other people’s opinions & points of view.

Collaboration

This is when we work hard as a class to achieve something. This is an important skill because if we work well together we can achieve more.

Empathy

Trying to know how someone else is feeling. This skill is important because how I react to someone can make that person feel happier.

Responding not reacting

Mind before mouth. This skill is important because you might hurt someone else and regret it afterwards.

Can The Testing Of Children Ever Be Compassionate?

They knew me. They encouraged me. They helped me through tough times. They cared for me & I learned. 

I can’t claim that every child looks forward to our mental maths test or spelling tests. Many will run up the stairs into class and it will be the first thing they ask about. When I tell them there will be one today and will give a little ‘yes!’ and clench their fist.

The UK education system and particularly the changes to the primary curriculum have given the ill-informed impression of order and uniformity in how children learn. There is an unhealthy assumption that children perform in neat, straight lines of progress, roughly in line with some bizarre ‘master child’ who is deemed to be the archetypal ‘average’ learner. – What a thought and what a poor child!

There seems to be no room for sickness, bereavements, neglect, abuse or parental involvement. Nor is there appreciation for difference, diversity of talent or aptitude.

For tests to be effective, they should focus on being ‘checkpoints’ for the understanding of key foundation concepts only. Used exclusively as low-stakes internal processes, not external end points. They certainly are not an adequate or reliable way of assessing depth, criticality or enjoyment of a subject.

Our school is clear that there should never be the assumption that everything that is worth learning can be tested in an examination. There is compelling evidence in the field of cognitive psychology that regular low stakes testing can help build secure knowledge of concepts in the memory, and certainly for those elements of knowledge schema to aid the more interesting and complex ideas involved in learning. It’s just a question of how this is done in a compassionate way.

I would suggest:

  • We only mention examinations in terms of an aside – something that will happen but isn’t central to the importance of what is being learned.
  • We always go beyond the syllabus if that’s where the children’s learning is heading.
  • We focus on what makes learning really memorable in the long term.

The first point is actually hugely important. If we can have this attitude towards testing, not only will it benefit the child and their understanding of what real learning is, but it also gives the teacher for the first time organic and reliable evidence of what the children really know. Not what they have learnt simply for a test & to soon be disregarded.

The third point is particularly profound. The principle should always be that learning is something to be loved for its own sake, and that when a child has a passion it is the duty of a school to allow it to thrive.

Luckily my school is very clear on this and our use of assessing children’s progress. First and foremost we ensure we know the children incredibly well as individuals. This is the most effective way of assessing what learning a child has undertaken in a school year. We also acknowledge that learning can be represented in many forms and that written work is not the only valid means of checking a child’s understanding. Other interactions with their learning are held in just high regard. Interactions such as verbal discussion or other creative means. There is also the understanding that it may take more than one attempt to get through a ‘checkpoint’ and the border remains open to further attempts throughout their time at school and is fine to carry on from one class into the next. To give children only one shot at success is an act of gross irresponsibility and is certainly not compassionate towards the child.

They knew me. They encouraged me. They helped me through tough times. They cared for me & I learned. 

Written in response to Dr Debra Kidd Teaching Notes From The Front Line.