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Posts Tagged ‘learning’

Scaffolding

scaffold (n)
1: a temporary or movable platform for workers (as bricklayers, painters, or miners) to stand or sit on when working at a height above the floor or ground; a platform on which a criminal is executed (as by hanging or beheading); a platform at a height above ground or floor level
2: a supporting framework
(Merriam-Webster)

Our baby daughter is learning how to walk. By herself, she can take about four to five steps before she topples over. For a few weeks now, though, she’s been whizzing around our apartment, supporting herself against furniture, walls, the occasional parent that stands nearby. Pretty much anything that can offer her some vertical support while she trains her balance.

She’s intuitively making use of scaffolding.

It’s a central concept in the socio-cultural theories of learning, most of which are influenced by the work of Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky’s grand thing was the thought that whatever a person learns to do by herself, she first has to learn how to do with the help of others.

Vygotsky coined the term “Zone of Proximal Development” or ZPD for short, which is the level of skill where one can perform the task with help but not yet on their own. Scaffolding, then, is the social help coming from peers or teachers that enables the learner to perform the task.

Granted, our daughter is mainly using non-social scaffolds when she zooms past me, holding on to the couch, but when I’m holding her hand to support her, it’s a classic case of ZPD in action.

I started thinking about the concept on my way back from band practice last weekend. Whenever I get out of the house all alone, I indulge by listening to TED talks or other podcasts on my iPod. The one that got me thinking about the topic was the TED talk by Deb Roy about his research into how his infant son learned to talk.

He mentions an interesting finding during the talk. Immediately before a child learns a specific word, her caregivers start to use that word in very simple contexts, easing the child onto the level of being able to use the word. What that means is the caregivers appear to subconsciously detect when the child is getting proficient enough in her approximation of the word, and then they react to what they detect.

That’s one heck of a scaffolding system.

As a future teacher, scaffolding is a very interesting concept, not least because of the critical element of timing.

If you hold the hand of a baby learning to walk, and you don’t let go even when she could already perform the task herself, you are not scaffolding her. You are doing the baby a disservice.

If you are a teacher who hears pupils discussing amongst themselves while performing a task and offer uninvited answers, you’re not scaffolding them. You are doing them a disservice.

Scaffolding is all about listening and perception. Furthermore, it’s about allowing a certain amount of uncertainty from the learner. The fraction of a second that the baby stands up unassisted and sways back and forth is not necessarily a sign she is about to fall over. It might be her way of adjusting her balance and getting ready to take the next step.

Similarly, the question from the pupil and the hesitation might not signal that they are about to abandon the task. More often than not, it’s a way for them to think aloud, to activate the part of the mental network that contains the answer.

Besides, if you always keep supporting and scaffolding the learner, when will you ever know that they have passed the ZPD and are able to perform the task on their own?

Thank you for stopping by! There’ll be a short break in posting, as we’re heading off to beautiful Munich for the weekend to see our friends, but I’ll be back here, posting about the wonderful Central Europe insightings sooner than you think! And while you’re waiting, why not comment or subscribe? 🙂

Love,

Sari

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He listens well who takes notes.
Dante Alighieri

Last weekend, I started a Book of Me. I had read Havi’s post about the concept before, and as I was reading her archives as a substitute for message boards that I gave up for Lent (and yes, there’s a whole other post on the topic of “how’s that working out for ya”), I rediscovered the idea.

And loved it, loved it, loved it. And then spent a few days agonizing over the format – after all, it’s a Book of Me, so it needs to be wonderful.

The Book

Then, last weekend, I was decluttering a stash box i.e. a storage container that becomes a graveyard for homeless knickknacks, and discovered a book.

I had bought it to be the guest book for my high school graduation party back in 2002. I bought it from a friend’s mom’s stationery shop that specialized in Nepalese hand made paper products. There were a few pages of guestbook entries from a few events, and then empty pages. Beautiful, empty pages.

I sat with the guilt of not using the book to the purpose it was bought for. I read through the entries. The well-wishes from people in a life ten years ago. The congratulations on the choices that were the only possible ones at that time, and ones that brought me to where I am today. The jokes from friends that are still friends, and from friends that are now distant acquaintances.

And then I took out the pages with writing on them.

I did stash them away, because I am not yet ready to let go of those memories. They’re no longer standing between me and my process of finding out who I am.

On the first blank page, I wrote “The Book of Me”  with colored pencils.

The only problem was that I didn’t really have anything to put in the book. A few thoughts, yes, but not too much substance.

A work in progress

On the list of things to accept and welcome:

– I am a work in progress. Therefore, The Book of Me will forever be a work in progress.

It will not have seventy insightful ideas from the get-go, and that’s all right. It’s a document of learning, much like my MA thesis. Coincidentally, I’m also often frustrated by my thesis data not revealing its results to me with 15% of the work done.

I might have a tendency of wanting to see results without putting in the work. Maybe.

Also, if I give in to my craving to have a book full of wonderful insights, they will not be insights. Instead, they’ll end up being a prescriptive list of things I think I should be doing. That has not been working so far, so it’s time to try something different.

– I am allowed to write and draw and doodle on the blank, beautiful pages even if I’m not 100% sure that something is true. Or that it will be true for me forever more.

See previous (the “work in progress” part). Also, writing in pencil makes the updating process just a teensy bit easier.

– Even though Havi and others address themselves as loves, sweeties and honeys in their Books of Them, I don’t have to.

I thought about the whole addressing thing. For some reason, it is difficult for me to call myself darling, love, sweetie or other caring pet names. Fortunately, because it’s The Book of Me, I get to decide how I want myself addressed.

And maybe put in a bit of self-inquiry about why that is difficult for me and how I could make it a drop easier.

The Book of Me – a work of art or science?

When it comes to the blog, one of the things I’m looking forward to is getting to use the whole experiential reflection-and-analysis cycle on myself and my own glitches. It’s one thing to journal about something, but using a structured and conscious process might yield something different entirely.

And the results of that – dare I say it – nearly scientific research are just the thing to collect in my Book of Me.

Furthermore, science progresses and findings are replaced by new, more accurate findings. This is generally not seen as a bad thing, but rather a sign of, well, progress. I might want to take a leaf of their book to mine. 🙂

One part of the process that I’m still looking for is revision. How do I remember to go through my findings and actually do what I’m told?

I’ve tried the whole writing-things-down-as-routines -thing, several times, and for some reason I don’t do what it says on the page. I might do it for two days in a row, and then on the third day things start to slide.

Some combination of routine and study mode is probably what I need. After all, if I’m reading scientific findings, it’s sort of like reading for an exam, right? Even if I don’t know when that exam comes and what it will deal with?

So if, for instance, the third page of my Book says something along the lines of “if someone offers you a job, tell them you’ll give your answer tomorrow, and then spend the evening thinking about whether or not you can actually handle the extra work,” the exam might be a call from a prospective employer. It might come two weeks from now, three months from now, or much later.

But in order for me to pass the exam, I need to remember the finding. Failing the exam, in that case, would be saying “yes” straight off the bat and then realizing I’m much too busy to actually perform the task.

And yes, failure contains the makings of learning something new. In my case, a failure did indeed contain the seed of that particular insighting.

As someone said, if you don’t learn from your mistakes, they’re a waste of time. Writing things down reduces the risk of more time wasted on something you actually knew but didn’t remember.

Do you have a Book of You? Is your approach scientific or something else entirely? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

For more scientific self-help shenaningas, subscribe to the feed and join me again in chasing down some juicy insightings!

Love,

Sari

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There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge. . . observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination.
Denis Diderot

In Finland, teachers need a Master’s to teach professionally. Temping as a teacher is a possibility even without a degree, but if you apply for a job and there are two candidates, one with Master’s and one without, the one with the degree must be hired.

This is why teacher training is a university undertaking. And since teaching is something where books only get you so far without any experience, the training has a lot of written and spoken reflection tasks.

You get to (or have to, depending on your point of view) reflect on your own experiences as a pupil, your experiences in practical teacher training, your experiences after such fascinating courses as Planning And Evaluation (where you do get to plan and evaluate, by the way – just not with live pupils but with your peers), and after the whole shebang you do a roundup reflection of the whole teacher training process.

When I did the training, it became somewhat of a frustrated joke that all you really need to do to pass the courses is to write five pages of blah, blah, blah about what you did and how it made you feel. However, there was a lot of work besides the reflections, though. Why is it that the reflections felt like (and for so many teacher trainees, still remain) the epitome of uselessness?

The big picture

One reason for the frustration, at least to me, was the thought of “what’s this all worth?”

As a teacher trainee, you’re super busy with your homework, exams, planning your trainee lessons, not to mention your life around school. During our school years, we’ve gotten used to homework and exams – we know what they’re about and why they’re useful. Planning lessons is also homework, in a sense, because the plans are reviewed by the supervising teacher before the lesson. Furthermore, anyone who has ever taught a lesson in their life understands the significance of having some kind of a plan in place.

Compared to that, the reflections seemed out of context. They seemed like useless introspection. They didn’t really seem to have any connection whatsoever to what teaching is actually about.

That’s because at least during my years as a teacher trainee, no-one explained the big picture.

Because teaching is something you learn by doing, you have to gain experience to learn. However, because teaching is also something that is widely researched, there is a world of information about the ins and outs of most aspects of teaching.

Experiential learning is a bridge between the practical and the theoretical, and reflection is a key part of that process. It’s also a natural process that we constantly use, unconsciously, to create our theories of what life and the world are all about.

If someone had explained reflection to me in these terms when I started my teacher training, I probably would have had far less frustration during my studies. Fortunately, I found drama education as my minor, and learned about the cycle of experiential learning through those studies.

What does theory have to do with real life?

One of the most persistent misconceptions about sciences in general is that theories have nothing to do with real life. The logical extension of that opinion is that if you do not work as a researcher, you don’t need to know about the theory and new findings that take place in your field.

Let me ask you this: let’s say you look outside and notice that there is a lot of white stuff on the ground. You glance at the thermometer and see it’s below zero centigrade (or between 20 and 30 °F). Do you wear your sandals and a t-shirt? Unless you’re trying to prove a point or show off how gutsy you are, the answer is probably no. Instead, you wear a few layers of clothing, a coat, maybe woolly socks, a hat and mittens. Why is that?

You have a theory in your mind about “winter”. The white stuff might or might not be snow, which is a phenomenon that mostly occurs when it’s cold. The thermometer displays the temperature outside in a theoretical manner – there’s a scale from cold to hot, and the thermometer evaluates the temperature and gives you an estimate in terms of that scale.

Furthermore, you know that your body temperature is around 36°C or 97°F, and that the colder air outside will lower your body temperature, wreaking havoc on your health, unless you insulate your body. You know that by wearing layers and fluffy materials such as wool, the air trapped between the fibers will insulate the body, keeping you warm.

That’s all theory. You might not be aware of all that knowledge, but it’s there. It’s something children have to learn. And it’s pretty complicated, if you look at it all written out.

What I just did there is reflection and analysis all wrapped up into one. For this tiny experience – deciding what to wear when it’s winter – it’s pretty simple to roll them up, since it’s often a conscious process.

Ever ran off to the bus stop and noticed midway through that you’re freezing? Chances are, you were unaware of the weather outside until it was too late. In that case, you made unconscious choices without considering all the aspects of the situation.

Or maybe you were fully conscious that yes, it’s freezing out there, but the woolly longies and bobble hat just don’t go with my outfit and I’ll only be outside as I’m walking to or from the bus stop. In that case, you were aware of the situation and decided that one choice – your outfit – had to be prioritised over another – your traveling comfort.

There’s theory back there.

Experiential learning and theory

The experiential learning cycle has four active stages.

1. Action, resulting in Experience

2. Reflection

3. Analysis

4. New Action modified by the findings, resulting in New Experience

…followed by reflection, followed by analysis… You see why it is called a cycle. I decided to call the first and fourth steps Action instead of mere Experience, because you can only control your actions. Controlling your experience is only done by controlling actions. Whatever happens, you can only receive the experience.

If you tend to reject the experience, that’s actually a New Action. When you experience something, you might unconsciously reflect and analyse it based on your theory of life, and then decide that you will take the action of rejecting the experience.

Suppose you have a theory of life that tall, black-haired people are unpleasant. If you meet a new person that’s tall and black-haired, they might end up being the most wonderful, loving and pleasant person you have ever met. Chances are, though, that you will not change your theory – you’ll just deduce that this individual is wonderful and pleasant, and other tall, black-haired people are still unpleasant.

This is how the cycle goes:

1. Experience:

The tall, black-haired one does something wonderful

2. Reflection:

Huh, I felt really good and happy when that happened. I never expected them to do something that wonderful.

3. Analysis

According to the theory of Tall, Black-Haired People, this is not characteristic of the group. This is unlike my previous experiences of the group. However, my theory of Friends suggests that this is characteristic of that group. I will therefore continue to classify this person primarily as a Friend and as an anomaly in the Tall, Black-Haired People category.

4. New Action

Treating the tall, black-haired one in a more friendly manner.

If the process is unconscious, it could take anything between a few seconds and several days. If you bring the process into the conscious mind, writing things down or speaking them out loud, it will take a few more minutes. However, it will bring to light possible flaws in your thinking and give you a more objective – dare I say it, theoretical? – view on your thoughts and knowledge.

What are your thoughts and experiences on the experiential learning cycle? Does my explanation of theory make you want to scream in despair? You’re welcome to reflect and ruminate in the comments. 🙂 If you want more, go ahead and subscribe! Lovely of you to pop by – keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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This…whatever-it-was…has now been joined by another…whatever-it-is… and they are now proceeding in company. Would you mind coming with me, Piglet, in case they turn out to be Hostile Animals?
Winnie the Pooh (A. A. Milne)

The above quote is from the Winnie the Pooh story where Pooh and Piglet follow the tracks of a potential Woozle – until they realize they’ve been following their own paw prints around a little group of trees.

That’s kind of how I feel whenever the holidays and the turn of the year come along. My mental image of a year is a circle quite like the face of a clock, with New Year up around 12 and the beginning of July on the bottom. (Unlike a clock, however, my year goes – and has always gone – counter-clockwise, so January ticks along from 12 to 11 and so on.) And the proverbial clock is about to strike twelve tonight, which makes me want to look up from the paw prints I’ve been following and figure out if I’m going in circles as well.

Not that going in circles is a bad thing, mind you. Or rather noticing you’re going in circles.

Just before I started writing this post, I did a bit of Shiva Nata for the first time in a while. I did Horizontal level 1 arms to warm up and then started with Level 4 arms. The number pattern is the same, but in level 4 you go from horizontal to vertical and back to horizontal with each step. So if Level 1 begins H1H1-H2H2-H3H3-H4H4, Level 4 begins H1H1-V2V2-H3H3-V4V4. And so on and so forth.

It’s the same circle, but on a different level. There’s an underlying pattern – the number sequence – that gives you a road map for going through the new part.

And that, to me, is the beauty of going in circles. The fact that you notice you’re going in circles is evidence to your pattern perception abilities. The geographical equivalent is the “there’s that wonky tree again, we must have passed it three times already – what’s wrong?”. In social situations, the wonky tree might be the nasty treatment you get from yet another lover, or the way every conversation with a family member always ends up with them blaming you for something you didn’t do. You’ve gone around in a circle, and it’s time to notice the wonky tree.

When you notice the pattern, you can do something about it. You can also observe whether it’s the exact same pattern or if there’s something new to it.

This New Year, as many times before, I’m trying to get my house organized and start with the Flylady system. The first step is to shine your sink, and the idea is to make it a habit and build from there. I must have started the habit ten times since finding Flylady in December 2006 (funnily enough, around the year clock’s strike of twelve again). It’s a pattern that many others have, too, judging by the magazine stand covers – Get fit, organized, out of debt and into your new swimsuit in just days! seems to be a good selling point in January, whatever the year.

The interesting thing was that I noticed a change in the pattern. Or rather, I noticed that something had indeed stuck with me from the previous X times of starting with the system. We routinely make the bed now, which was something that really really didn’t happen, say, five years ago when we first moved in together. I’ve also acquired a decluttering mindset, almost by accident. Giving stuff to charity when new stuff comes in is no longer a gruelling process, it’s a natural consequence of noticing how much happier I am when things actually fit in their closets and drawers.

Some cultures apparently think of time as not linear but spiral. That is, life flows in concentric circles like a staircase, and when you notice you’re back in the same spot in the horizontal axis, your vertical position has changed so you have a new perspective on the past – taking a look down the stairwell, if you will.

To me, the thought makes a lot of sense. In fact, I tend to think the spiral has an expanding quality as well, at least ideally. When you see the familiar wonky tree coming up, you might be able to avoid it beforehand. Whatever you learn, whatever you encounter, if you reflect back on it and observe the landscape, you have the opportunity to expand the circle and acquire more perspective.

That way, you won’t end up chasing yourself around a group of trees forever.

Thank you for stopping by, and may your year 2011 be plentiful in insightings and all that is wonderful!

Love,

Sari

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All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind.
Martin H. Fischer

Being the mother of an infant is fascinating. Thanks to the Finnish parental allowance system, I have the opportunity to stay at home for the major part of her first year of life, and observe how she makes sense of the world. The rate at which she learns things is flabbergasting. And as a future educator (and a student working on my MA thesis) I can’t help but draw generalizations.

Case in point: the pacifier

For a few months now, our daughter has accepted the pacifier for what it was meant to do – soothe and pacify without the element of feeding. Now that she’s slowly getting the hang of using her hands, she’s started to grab her pacifier and investigate the mechanics of the object closer.

For those of you who haven’t handled a pacifier in a while, it’s not a complex object. There’s a rubber (or silicone, in our case) nipple, which is the part that goes into the mouth – traditionally speaking. On the other side, there’s a round button-like “handle” with a picture on it. And on the sides, there is a plastic flat edging in a kind of four-leaf clover shape, so the child won’t slurp in the entire pacifier. In other words, there are five different bumps on the pacifier in addition to the “part that goes in the mouth”.

Guess how many ways there are of putting a pacifier in one’s mouth? Or rather, guess how many ways our daughter has come up with?

See, the “handle” part of the pacifier, directly opposite to the nipple, is perfectly sized so that when her gums are itching from teething, she can gnaw on it. If we try to help (and I use the word in very broad terms) and turn the pacifier the “right” way around when she’s doing that, she’ll take it out and turn it back around. As in, “You guys, don’t come and tell me how I should be enjoying the pacifier!!”. 🙂

That’s creativity for you.

As she was winding down for a nap just a few moments ago, she clearly started to practice putting the pacifier in her mouth the “right” way around. For a nap, she does prefer the pacifier the traditional way around. 🙂 She kept taking the pacifier out, eyeing it very carefully, and then bringing it back to her mouth.

The wrong way around.

The right way around, but letting go too soon.

The right way around, but not grabbing it with her lips before it fell away.

Grabbing my hand as I took the pacifier handle and moving my hand as a crane to aim the pacifier in her mouth.

Over and over again.

My attempts to help went completely unappreciated. 🙂 The circle of trying – failing – getting frustrated – trying again – failing – getting really frustrated kept repeating, until she totally lost her cool and started crying. At that point it was okay for me to give her the pacifier, hold her close and let her fall asleep.

It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes for her to be completely at ease with handling the pacifier and being able to grab it when it falls and put it back in two seconds. When she’s there, I doubt either of us will even remember the learning process. It will just feel like she’s always been able to do it.

But that’s not the case. Every single skill she has is the end result of a relentless process of experimenting, getting feedback (at the moment mainly physical), taking corrective action based on the feedback and experimenting again.

And again.

And again.

Why does it feel like it comes naturally, then? Well, for one reason, all she does all day, every day, is experiment. Every single encounter with the surrounding universe is an opportunity to experiment, get feedback, and adjust accordingly.

The other reason is that we, her parents, go through this exact same process all the time, too. We interact with the baby, get feedback (e.g. giggles = yes!, crying = I’m uncomfortable, and a multitude of other responses), and adjust our behavior accordingly. And we don’t remember the learning process, either.

This is also the reason why it’s pretty exhausting to be home with an infant – whenever she’s awake, we’re both learning, and that takes energy.

I’m so glad you could tune in again! I’d love it if you shared your own experiences or insightings on the topic!

Love,

Sari

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