12 February 2013

ICOT inspirations and Guy Claxton, entre autres

Wow, Pascale,
There's a powerful lot of reflecting and digesting to be done on your ICOT experience. I must admit to feeling a little overwhelmed today by the depth and variety of the ideas proposed by the speakers. I know that this feeling will pass as I take time to revisit each presenter's contribution to the great educational think tank. When this feeling of overload happens I just have to take a deep breath and centre myself as a brain which is chasing it's tail is 'good to neither man nor beast' (as my father used to say).
Hitherto I've been making longish comments in response to your posts but I think the conversation will be more visible if I keep them shorter and continue the discussion in my posts. What do you think, my dear correspondent from over the hill (geographical, that is!!)?

What I'm contending with at the moment is the fact that the students with whom I'm hoping to develop some of these ideas are as yet hypothetical. I can't yet visualise how things will be in 3 weeks when I'll be seeing 8 largish classes per week and teaching 23 lessons. How will I (at the venerable age of 61) cope physically and mentally with wave upon wave of students whose names I will be endeavouring to learn as rapidly as possible (as this to me is the most basic mark of respect to ones students)? I expect to be confronting my usual weaknesses of time management, hyping up the kids and not being systematic enough, perhaps with a sprinkling of procrastination. A leopard cannot change its spots! However, I hope that my deep understanding of the New Zealand Curriculum, acquired over the last 6 years, coupled with the wisdom of the sort of thinkers you've been privileged to rub shoulders with at ICOT, will help me to keep my teaching mindful and faithful to the principles I believe should underpin education. One thing is certain. I could never compromise my integrity by being motivated by compliance. I would rather put myself out to grass than be a compliant conformist. So what are the principles that will determine my modus operandi? The NZC first and foremost (I intend to devote a post to this later on), Ellis' principles of effective instructed second language acquisition and Newton's principles of intercultural communicative competence. And then of course there are Guy Claxton's Magnificent Eight Qualities that crystalise so well all that I believe about learning and learners.
(oooooo! While googling the link I came across an address of Claxton's called 'The Virtues of Uncertainty: A Character Curriculum for the Learning Age'. That makes me feel a whole lot better about plunging into the unknown [not that I'm timorous - I actually get a buzz out of leaving my comfort zone] That'll be my bedtime reading!)

I've been thinking, looking at your wonderful reports on ICOT, that you and I process information rather differently. I'm an afficionado/a of connected prose and narrative. It speaks to me in a way that bullet points don't. Try as I might, I've never become a convert to brevity and concision (as witnessed by the fact that my favourite authors are Proust and James Joyce, both famously circumlocutory). I'm somewhat spooked by flow diagrams and positively freaked out by graphs. Given the same information in a series of well-crafted paragraphs, I have a much better chance of grasping it. Images are also a powerful part of my learning. But it's time I got to the point of this post, inasmuch as there is one,  Guy Claxton.
I came across Guy Claxton about 4 or 5 years ago, in a serendipitous manner. Dragging my feet on the way to some meeting or other in the capital, I allowed myself a small detour into Unity Books, Wellington's bibliophile Mecca. On my favourite stand I found the recently published
'What's the Point of School'. I randomly opened it at p25 and was immediately rivetted by the following quote: "As long ago as 1856, educational reformer Joseph Payne was deploring the habit of incessant testing - of, as he put it, 'continually pulling up the plants to see the condition of the roots, the consequence of which was that all good natural growth was stopped'. I was hooked. The horticultural metaphor was just right. I bought the book and it has remained one of my 'livres de chevet' ever since.
Apart from the Magnificent Eight Qualities of the Powerful Learner, he crystalised something else that I had been pondering about for years. I'd always had trouble with the elitism of 'gifted and talented' programmes which single out the fortunate few from the also-rans. He clarified my thinking on the fallibility of the IQ test and put forward the concept of expandable intelligence for all. He underlined the damage that fixed-intelligence labels do to learners, ossifying the expectations of both teachers and learners. With the regular and mindful flexing of different 'learning muscles' all learners can develop the dispositions (The Magnificent 8 qualities) that equip them to face life in all its diversity.
I subsequently discovered that Guy Claxton had been working closely with the NZ Ministry of Education since the 80s and was very likely instrumental in shaping the NZC, what's more he was scheduled to do some workshops in Auckland the following month. Of course I signed up. Here he talked about his programme of Building Learning Power. I asked him if he had any wisdom to offer on how to incorporate BLP into language learning. As it wasn't his field he modestly declined to offer suggestions off the top of his head but he did appear very interested in my efforts to promote virtual exchanges between language learners.
As you know, I've been fairly unsuccessful at getting teachers to adopt this idea and involve their students in partnerships with French-speaking students. After initial polite enthusiasm it was generally relegated to the too-hard basket and yet, to my way of thinking, developing a virtual exchange provides scope for developing all of the Magnificent 8 Qualities. I'm eager to put it to the test myself with my new students, delegating to them the responsibility for making it succeed. If there are obstacles so much the better. It seems to me an ideal project. I'm moved to quote a wee section of the Language Learning Area Statement from the NZC. "Interaction in a new language, whether face to face or technologically facilitated, introduces them to new ways of thinking about, questioning and interpreting the world and their place in it. Through such interaction, students acquire knowledge, skills, and attitudes that equip them for living in a world of diverse peoples, languages and cultures." Why, when it's become so easy to connect with people in any part of the world, should we continue to teach language in a disconnected way, for use in some hypothetical future; learning about when we could be learning with or through? Don't let me get started on John de Mado. That'll be food for a future post.......
Phew, end of sermon. Are you still awake?
^. .^


  1. Wow I am very awake! We indeed learn and process information really differently: I enjoy getting the info "second or third" hand from a respected "intermédiaire" before going to the source. Not necessarily the most adventurous way but... I had secretly wanted you to tell me more about your take on Guy Claxton for a long time and here it is. I am also glad that you have an opportunity to consign to the page what you stand by, clearly and loudly. I have heard you before and this has been at the heart of many conversations.I know you will tell me how to go about acquiring the first chunks of language learning to enable this interaction, in TL, happen. I look forward to your post on the NZC now. Surely there is going to be something about formative assessment...
    We have a point in common: I am well used to the concept of sharing good ideas which after polite enthusiasm are relegated to the too-hard basket too: the relative slow uptake of eportfolios by our language colleagues is leaving me perplexed. I am convinced that developing an eportfolio is an awesome way to develop and strengthen Key Competencies in language learners but I have obviously not done a good job at selling it to them... I did throw in NCEA many times even...
    To your relief I am sure, I have nearly "emptied my bag" about ICOT apart from a couple of things I will add. I never envisaged when we started talking about this blog a couple of weeks ago that I would actually be able to write anything. I have put it all out there as it may be something I/we would want to revisit/refer to at a later stage, who knows? I don't pretend that any of it would be of any influence as you are about to go and meet your many students (name tags, does it still work :-)?) In a couple of weeks I envisage that our conversation here will have slowed right down, in frequency and quantity, as you will be otherwise engaged. I ll ensure to probe and poke, such is my curiosity as getting to know your learners alongside you. Eh, are you still awake?

  2. And yep conversation in a post is the way to go! Loving it!


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