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PRACTITIONER-RESEARCHER  December 2010

PRACTITIONER-RESEARCHER December 2010

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Subject:

Re: How do i~we explain our educational influences in learning to improve our educational influences as practitioner-researchers within the social and other formations that dynamically include us?

From:

"Salyers, Sara M" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Practitioner-Researcher <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 28 Dec 2010 16:36:22 -0500

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Hi Heather,
Your job sounds truly formidable and very rewarding! I recognize exactly what you mean about the transition to self reliance in learning. (My students get fifteen weeks to make it and we are under pressure to reduce that!)

There is a book I think you might like, if you have not already read it that describes the condition of the learner who has been 'processed' by being told what to do and when and taught to memorize the 'right answers'. The book is 'Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain' by Caine, Geoffrey and Caine, Renate N. (You can get it pretty cheaply second hand.) The Caines describe something they call 'learned helplessness' - a condition you will recognize immediately simply from the label! They argue that it has a neurological component in that forcing a habitual kind of thinking focuses the brain itself on particular set of activities carried out in a particular part of the brain. Executive thinking (creativity, imagination, originality, independent ideation, analysis and critical evaluation are executive function which occur in the frontal lobe. When we are focused on such activities the frontal lobe lights up. When we focus on different types of thinking, e.g. memorization, compliance, recitation and repetition the brain downshifts to a different area. When this is the primary area of 'exercise', it becomes more and more difficult for executive function to resume or the frontal lobe to to become the primary center of activity. Thus the model of traditional teaching that has been employed for the past century in America, the US and their spheres of influence has the effect of a partial, neurological lobotomy.

I am coming to the view that changing the stories is key to everything.
love
Sara
________________________________________
From: Practitioner-Researcher [[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Heather Goode [[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Monday, December 27, 2010 11:54 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: How do i~we explain our educational influences in learning to improve our educational influences as practitioner-researchers within the social and other formations that dynamically include us?

Hi Sara

Thank you for your comments and insights regarding your students. I am in South Africa and manage a foundation programme for "under-prepared" students which becomes an access path to higher education and degree studies. More than 95% of our students are second language students from approximately 12 to 15 languages and a proportion is also from other African Countries.  Due to the variations in previous school experiences and the language barrier, past performance is not the best predictor of success or intelligence. We are planning to explore different entry requirements in the next year as a result. For us significant factors relate to attitude, motivation, hard work and a transition into taking responsibility for learning. Enabling students to make the transition from being told what to do (in a fairly authoritarian education school systems) to doing what it takes to succeed in tertiary without someone checking your "homework" every day is a big challenge. Changing the stories is a part of that.

In the last year we have included Paulo Coelho's the Alchemist in our English module and followed this with an oral on the student's dreams. These, with other strategies have enabled us to change the kinds of conversations lecturers have with students while still meeting academic criteria.

To give these students a fair chance and equip them for higher education in two semester programme (after 12 years of mixed standards in schooling) is daunting.

My thesis will be focusing on mentoring of my academic staff to enable them to better meet these challenges. My lecturers vary from brand new to experienced but few have an education background. For me, AR is then a much more adaptive strategy to meet
These lecturers where they are and assist them to improve practice.

This means I have two areas of research - foundation programmes and development of academic staff!

Your news is encouraging and evocative of what we are also seeing.
Thank you
Heather
Sent via my BlackBerry from Vodacom - let your email find you!

-----Original Message-----
From:         "Salyers, Sara M" <[log in to unmask]>
Sender:       Practitioner-Researcher <[log in to unmask]>
Date:         Sun, 26 Dec 2010 15:43:35
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:     Practitioner-Researcher <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: How do i~we explain our educational influences in learning to improve our educational influences as practitioner-researchers within the social and other formations that dynamically include us?

Dear all,
I hope you have had, and are having, a miraculous Christmastide. And, as it is Christmas, I would like to say thank you.

This is the most extraordinary gathering of hearts and minds to which, I think it, has ever been my privilege to be admitted. Thank you so much Jack, for allowing me to be present in this inspiring and moving community of real, living humans being.

Final grades due by Dec 17th, and then simple exhaustion, have kept me from contributing to the most recent discussions - but the beauty and power of the dialog here has certainly needed nothing from me. I have loved most of what I have read and wanted to say thank you, in particular, to Brian for initiating the I/it/thou/ discussion, to Jack for the Buber quote (I am just reading 'Between Man and Man'), to Joan for:
 "I really do believe that this has to start with the individual and work up, rather than with the systems and structures and work down.  Ideally, of course, the two work in a complementary way; so that if those responsible for creating and maintaining the systems and structures can be aware of and responsive to, issues that arise from the 'bottom up', then that is where the real transformational change will come... Traditional approaches have not worked, and if we are to achieve this paradigm shift, we do need to achieve new ways of thinking, being and doing." (Amen)

To Pip for, "If we don't understand our own 'I' - who we are, what has influenced our development, what our own particular family/wider group/culture holds dear, then we are dangerous educators indeed." (What's wrong with our Prussian based education systems in a nutshell!)

And to Jean for, "I am a firm believer in the power of theory, but I would also like to read the stories in which the theory is embedded and through which the theory is generated. I would like to read those stories, because I think it is through sharing our stories, and theorising our practices in a narrative form, that we can find strength from one another and learn better how to work together for everyone’s benefit." (Amen, amen and amen.)

For me AR and this list are priceless gifts. Without them, I am almost alone on a journey that seems as profound in its implications as it is challenging - to no one but myself. Because of them, because of you, I can profit and draw from many years of instructional wisdom and experience to offset the newness of my own, very recent teaching career. (I worked as a TV writer/producer before this.) Because of AR and all of you, I have somewhere to go with the urgency of what I am seeing and what is happening in my classrooms and of where, it seems to me, that it may be leading. AR gives a framework and structure to the only kind of practice I can imagine employing - or wanting to: the practice that is new every time I enter the classroom; the one that is continually challenged to define and refine itself by the dynamic interaction, dialog and energy which occur there; the one that, *because* it is informed by what happens, and so must run behind and ahead of that to distinguish what it sees, its context and implications, rewrites both myself and the world as I understand it. This for me is AR. Because of this list and all of you here, I have a place to bring my excitement and my, occasional!, desolation so that my voice has a place in a chorus of others and I feel myself collaborating and reaching for something much, much more and which I cannot yet define (perhaps I never will), with a community of others who seem to be grounded in, and constantly prodded and pushed by!, love.

I'm behind on all my own research. I have not yet sent Jack my thesis outline; I have not uploaded the self-and-class films I took; I have not evaluated the results of my formal/universal English strategy. But I wanted to share this with you all, (and especially Jean!),  before I start trying to catch up. Here is my story about the stories *we* have, the stories that have been told about the students I teach.

I wrote here a while ago about a class that is being dropped by my college. It is called the DSPW (Developmental Studies Program Writing) 0725 or 'Basic Language Arts'. Students who take this course are allowed to 'graduate' into developmental studies (Transitional Studies) proper. If they pass that, they can go on to English 1010 (or 101). That should give an idea of where they are on the academic scale. The college VP came to one of my classes (he was attending classes to stay grounded and in touch) and remarked to me at the end of class, "Of course you know the prognosis for these students? It's really pretty bleak!" And I think that was when I realized that my belief had become certainty, that what happened in my classroom depended not just on who and what I was being, but on the expectation *I* held for and about these students. On Dec 16th, 15 out of the original 20 students in that class had completed the course (75%). Three passed with an A (and one of those was accelerated to 101, the third in 25 years of the program), four passed with a B, four with a C and one had an E  grade (exemption from repeating). 60% retention and pass may not seem huge, but it *is* significant for this group, of whom 1 in 400 are expected to go on and graduate college. What it says is not something about my abilities, but something about these students. They are damned first by a colonizing, irrelevant and compulsory education system that is anathema to the human spirit, (the model in the UK, the USA and in many former British 'colonies'). Then they are damned by the story that is told to, about and, finally, by them and about themselves, to explain their 'failure'. We inherit that story in our community colleges and we tailor our programs accordingly. (Just as we 'dumbed down' our hideous school curricula to accommodate them in the 'no child left behind' program.) It is really hard not to buy into this story because they themselves project it so hard. But when you *don't* buy into it, when you look for the 'problem' as being something other than their intrinsic 'deficiency' you find the answer *in* that something other. You find the way to defeat their own story *and* to develop strategies that are meaningful and personal and non-colonizing! (I love that expression.)

For me, it seems obvious how central my 'I' is in the classroom. It is, or it should be, frightening how important it is. Who I am being, how I am being and what *I* expect determines who my students will be and what they will allow themselves to become. That should make teachers tremble, I think. And I have more proof of this, if more were needed!

I've been using very simple 'immersion' strategy to help my students 'acquire' academic English easily and naturally. This semester, I realized why the huge gains I see in writing ability often have a big impact on other instructors. I've seen people laugh, gasp and refuse to believe this wasn't 'cheating'! It's not because the strategy is so awesome. It's because there, in black and white, is the death of our story about developmental students; it is the absolute proof that these 'rejects' and 'failures' are as bright, as insightful and as capable as we will allow them to be. I'm so glad I've grasped this because I've been asked to make a short presentation at our next in-service (Jan) to help pilot the strategy. Now I can use that 'shock', and what it really comes from, to help change the story about our students for others. Finally, I'd like to share one of my favorite 'progressions' . I hope you enjoy it - *and* its implications for who these students really are.

Class Blog: JT: Jan 26, 2010 6:14 PM
The "alchemist," by Paolo Coelho, is a story of a young shepard. The shepard is learning about the meaning of life. He does this through his experiences along the way. He dreams of having a beautiful women, of seeing the worlld, and of finding treasure. He meets exiciting people along the way. Those people send him in new directions throughout his quest. The shepard soon becomes wise to the ways of the world.

Class Blog: JT: Mar 2, 2010 6:52 PM
I do find the audio book popping up in my head, voices if you will. People I interact with on a daily basis, have a very slow way of speaking english. I hear them drag-out and miss-pronounce words. I can't give them too much grief, since I do the same thing. However, at times like these, I think of "The Alchemist." The English used in the audio book is very precise. The narrator does not use unneccessary dialog. The experience makes me want to use more precise dialog. I feel that if my words get anymore snappy, I will lose my job. I look forward to the next audio book; so that I can get this one out of my head. It will be quiet again! Ahhhh!

Class Blog: JT: Apr 20, 2010 5:45 PM
I find that lack of time and energy keep me from doing activities I really enjoy. Sitting down and reading a book of any substance is a time consuming process. Therefore, reading often gets put off. The audio book was nice because I did not have to stop what I was doing to enjoy it! I could still eat and drink while listening. I could still drive and listen to it. I could still work and listen to it. I hope you see a theme. Because of their versatility, audio books get an approval from me. Another great facet is the rewind option. If I lost track or trailed off for a moment, I could simply rewind the book and listen again.

love
Sara

________________________________________
From: Practitioner-Researcher [[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Pip and Bruce [[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Sunday, December 19, 2010 1:41 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: How do i~we explain our educational influences in learning to improve our educational influences as practitioner-researchers within the social and other formations that dynamically include us?

Hi all

What a wonderful dialogue to be engaging in at Christmas time. I do appreciate the words of those who have contributed so far.

I have not read Buber (must track a copy of "I and Thou" down) but his emphasis, as cited by Jack in the reference below, does seem to move from the 'I' of ego to the 'I' of self-understanding, and that's where I totally agree with starting with 'I'. We teach who we are, as someone wrote, and if we don't understand who we are, what our own values are and how they might interact with the values of our students, then I think we are in danger of a particular form of imperialism that may well be quite unhelpful to our students.

Bruce (my husband) and I co-wrote a paper for the ALARA Conference this year in which we both reflected on how our limited understandings of others' cultures can impede their learning, even when we think we're trying really hard (see http://wc2010.alara.net.au/Formatted%20Papers/1.3.2.EDU.2.pdf if interested). If we don't understand our own 'I' - who we are, what has influenced our development, what our own particular family/wider group/culture holds dear, then we are dangerous educators indeed.

That's why I really appreciate the living educational theory emphasis on accounting for our own values, and showing how we live them out in our practice. To me, it's a fine example of moving from the 'I' to our wider societies.

Happy Christmas to all, especially you folk shivering in the snow in the northern hemisphere, while we have just had refreshing rains to break drought conditions in several places in New Zealand! Funny old world, isn't it!

Love

Pip Bruce Ferguson

(In case you wonder why I'm just 'Ferguson' in the paper with Bruce, I drop my maiden name of Bruce when I co-write with him. It does people's heads in to have a Bruce Ferguson and a Pip Bruce Ferguson, or they think I'm terribly submissive - like hell!)

On 20/12/2010 1:42 a.m., Jack Whitehead wrote:

On 19 Dec 2010, at 12:24, Brian wakeman wrote:

It's the balance issue here I suppose I'm alluding to...... Getting through the "I" stage..... not becoming bogged down in self-reflection without emerging to the action, intervention, and the working together with colleagues to improve, develop and change (for me now, not directly with students in school any longer but working with trainee teachers, overseas research scholars, and more mundanely with adults in a church watercolours group).

Dear Brian and all - I first encountered the writings of the Jewish Theologian Martin Buber in I and Thou, on my initial postgraduate course, and here is the quotation that helped me through the purely egotistical 'I' stage in my humanistic journey, even though the language is gendered:

"How much of a person a man is depends on how strong the I of the basic word I-You is in the human duality of his I.

The way he says I - what he means when he says I - decides where a man belongs and where he goes. The word "I" is the true shibboleth of humanity.

Listen to it!

How dissonant the I of the ego sounds! When it issues from tragic lips, tense with some self-contradiction that they try to hold back, it can move us to great pity. When it issues from chaotic lips that savagely, heedlessly, unconsciously represent contradiction, it can make us shudder. When the lips are vain and smooth, it sounds embarrassing or disgusting.

Those who pronounce the severed I, wallowing in the capital letter, uncover the shame of the world spirit that has been debased to mere spirituality.

But how beautiful and legitimate the vivid and emphatic I of Socrates sounds! It is the I of infinite conversation, and the air of conversation is present on all its ways, even before his judges, even in the final hour in prison. This I lived in that relation to man which is embodied in conversation. It believed in the actuality of men and went out toward them. Thus it stood together with them in actuality and is never severed from it. Even solitude cannot spell forsakenness, and when the human world falls silent for him, he hears his daimonion say You.

How beautiful and legitimate the full I of Goethe sounds! It is the I of pure intercourse with nature. Nature yields to it and speaks ceaselessly with it; she reveals here mysteries to it and yet does not betray her mystery. It believes in her and says to the rose: "So it is You" - and at once shares the same actuality with the rose. Hence, when it returns to itself, the spirit of actuality stays with it; the vision of the sun clings to the blessed eye that recalls its own likeness to the sun, and the friendship of the elements accompanies man into the calm of dying and rebirth.

Thus the "adequate, true, and pure" I-saying of the representatives of association, the Socratic and the Goethean persons, resounds through the ages.

And to anticipate and choose an image from the realm of unconditional relation: how powerful, even overpowering, is Jesus' I-saying, and how legitimate to the point of being a matter of course! For it is the I of the unconditional relation in which man calls his You "Father" in such a way that he himself becomes nothing but a son. Whenever he says I, he can only mean the I of the holy basic word that has become unconditional for him. If detachment ever touches him, it is surpassed by association, and it is from this that he speaks to others. In vain you seek to reduce this I to something that derives its power from itself, nor can you limit this You to anything that dwells in us. Both once again deactualize the actual, the present relation, I and You remain; everyone can speak the You and then becomes I; everyone can say Father and then becomes son; actuality abides.

(Buber, p. 117, 1970)

I think the reference is - Buber, M. (1970). I and Thou.  New York: Charles Scribners's Sons.

Love Jack.

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