Evidence based?

I have been doing a bit of reading lately about science based and evidence based medicine after being exposed the the world of integrative and alternative medicine. It really is interesting that we can latch on to emotion and anecdotes, in place of scientific fact, double blind clinical trials and so forth. I am not claiming to be an expert on any of these ideas at all, but it does highlight something I have blogged about before – the danger of having so much information at our finger tips online that may be inaccurate and may be biased towards information we have sought out previously on the internet.

This is particularly tricky when it comes to scientific information. If you are anything like me, you don’t have a scientific background so scientific documents are hard to interpret and analyse. And that’s if you are able to get hold of them in the first place! It is really not surprising that we lean towards more decipherable, easily obtained and quickly consumed forms of information from the news media, blogs, Twitter and so forth.

What does this mean for our practice as teachers though? At EduCafe last week, Dr David Moreau touched on some similar topics. He talked about information on neuroscience looking ‘sciencey’ on the internet and programs that claim to train your brain without the evidence to back them up. He also mentioned that Brain Gym and learning styles had no scientific evidence base supporting them. This is somewhat worrisome since some teachers still talk about both these things. Listening to teachers’ language (myself included), we say “I believe it works…” “the kids really enjoyed it” “I think it is really important…”

I wonder if all this intuition, which is an important part of teaching, can get in the way of rigor, evidence and fact. I look at all the things I believe are important in education and I can back them up with readings and respected educationalists who believe similar things but is that really akin to a scientific trial? And does it need to be?

The other side to this is the argument that in complex times we can no longer use ‘best practice.’ Instead we need to look towards ’emergent practice’

Cynefin_as_of_1st_June_2014

(From Dave Snowden’s work on complexity theory.)

Like everything, I think we need a balance. I think we need to be well informed and critical consumers of information. For this, I think educators and parents need a reliable, open, user friendly source of information about educational and neurological research, much like Sense about Science. I also think we need to embrace emergent practice; try things out, learn what the impact is, make a call about whether we need to amp it up or shut it down, then share our learning with others. We have so few hours with students each day, how can we justify that what we do with those hours makes a real difference; whether the proof is small scale findings from an emergent practice or a rigorous scientific study…

EduCafe Term 4 2015, with guest Dr David Moreau

We has a great discussion at EduCafe last week, kicked off by Dr David Moreau, who talked to us about his work with the Center for Brain Research at Auckland University.

Dr Moreau has kindly provided a link to his presentation – here – and a video of a very similar presentation he did in Wellington recently:

If you are interested in getting involved in the MovinCog initiative, here is a link to their ‘participate’ page.

And here are the key ideas from our conversation:

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What can leaders learn from how teachers help kids learn?

I was in a classroom recently when a five year old came up to the teacher and said “They won’t let me join in their game.” At this point, the teacher had a choice. She could help the child to solve this issue for himself or tell the group to let him join/find him another activity to do. One option could potentially take ages and require plenty of ‘scaffolding.’ The other option would take a matter of seconds, but the child wouldn’t learn anything from it. Well, he would learn that the teacher would solve his problems for him and he didn’t have to do that for himself.

We are generally pretty good as teachers at taking option one. This teacher certainly was. She provided questions and prompts that gradually built up so the child could solve his own problem, which he did.

I think most of us do pretty well at thinking about what skills and dispositions students need and growing these in our students.  Most of us would look at the scenario above and think, “So what?! Who doesn’t do that?!” But do we do this when leading other teachers?

  • Do we say when we don’t know?
  • Do we nut tricky problems out together?
  • Do we ask probing questions?
  • What about genuinely curious questions?
  • Do we help teachers to feel comfortable being in ‘the pit’
  • Do we help teachers know what to do, when they don’t know what to do?
  • Do we help teachers become even better learners?

Or  are these strategies we use only with students? Are we more likely to provide answers, share the things we know or do, share a great reading… All with the goal of helping and growing teachers’ capacity but the message really is –

“I am the know-er. You are the learner. Now here is some information.”

Wouldn’t we call that ‘spoon feeding’ if we did it with students…?

Do we actually, really, collaborate? Or do we just love the buzz word?

I attended an Edge Works workshop last weekend that was fabulous and I’d like to share something that came out of it for me. This is something I have been gently mulling over for a while but something one of the participants (sorry, I forgotten his name…) said resonated with me. This clever chappie talked about the difference between communication, consultation and collaboration.

Communication

“The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium.” – Wikipedia.

I guess communication would be taking something someone knows and sticking it in someone else’s head.

Consultation

“The action or process of formally consulting or discussing.” – Wikipedia.

Hmm… I thought the rule with definitions was that you couldn’t use the word its self in the definition? So in this scenario, there is more than one party involved in some sort of dialogue, but one is more powerful than the other. Perhaps this is what we do in schools when we want ‘everyone to get on board.’

Collaboration

“Working with others to do a task and to achieve shared goals.” – Wikipedia.

Now this must be one of the most over used words in education at the moment! I’d like to unpack it further. I have come to think that we use the term ‘collaborate’ when we do anything together, which I suppose is pretty accurate usage but I think we can break it up.

Division of labor – Say we are planning a school trip… we will organise it together, but I will organise transport, you will organise activities etc. Not a silly use of time, right?

Team work and lower level collaboration/cooperation  – I think this is lots of the collaboration we do as teachers. We might plan lessons together, discuss things in staff meeting together, help each other organise assembly, share ideas and practical solutions etc…

High level collaboration – I think this is what we tend to do less of. To me this means:

  • Making sense of ideas together
  • Thinking together to create new meaning and new understandings
  • Pushing everyone’s thinking and practice forward…

This is backed up by a great little blog post about building collegiality in schools, by Robert Evans. Have a look here.

How many discussions in our schools are genuinely collegial? How deeply are we collaborating?

Transformational? Pfft! I don’t have time for that!

I’ve been thinking lots about thinking lately and decided to put some of it in a blog post. This has all been spurred on by doing one of Jane Gilbert’s papers, where there is a massive focus on thinking and becoming an ‘intellectual adult.’

I thought I thought lots until this paper. However, I have now come to realise that I worry and I plan and I go over situations where I messed up a lot in my head… but I don’t do as much transformational thinking as I thought I did.

By this I mean the kind of thinking that often takes a long time, is difficult and not immediately rewarding, is metacognitive, analytical, creative… and transforms a little piece of you when you do it.

People talk about the difference between transactional vs transformational leadership and I have thought a bit about how this might apply to my day to day work over the past couple of years. However, what about transformational thinking? I’m not sure many of us do heaps of that. Which is slightly worrisome, because if we are in the process of re-imagining schools and education this is exactly what we need to be doing!

So how do we make time for this? How do we value it? I guess there could be lots of school systems we could put around it but on an individual level, what do we do? I think we need a (transactional) system to allow to this so I have started trialing a little system to see how it works for me. I have a doc with three headings:

  • Transformational: To Read/Watch/Listen/Talk To
  • Transformational: Thinking – this is where I put half thoughts, questions, reflections, ideas that I need to mull over and so forth.
  • Transactional – this is where the traditional ‘to do’ list goes as well as ideas that I can put into action with no more transformational thinking involved.

So far this has worked well. When I am reading, listening to a podcast, attending a conference, I add bits under each heading. Then the aim is to tackle all the transactional things as per normal but also do some thinking on my own or with others on at least one of the transformational things. I’m also trying to prioritise the Transformational docs a bit more.

What systems do you have to value your own thinking time and be more transformational in what you do and think about? How do you make this a priority?