July 28, 2015

Biesta (2014) risk of education

Biesta, G. (2014). The Beautiful Risk of Education. London: Paradigm Publishers.

The beautiful risk of education (2013) adds to ideas Biesta presented in his previous books Beyond Learning (2008) and Good education in an age of measurement (2010).  Biesta maintains that schooling has three aims: socialization, qualification and subjectification (i.e. becoming a subject). In this latest book, Biesta proclaims that education needs to embrace risk rather than reduce risk, and he discusses this with reference to creativity, communication, teaching, learning, emancipation, democracy and virtuosity.  Current educational policies aim to make education stronger, more secure, more predictable, and risk-free. However, Biesta asserts that policy-makers oversimplification of learning is potentially damaging and veer away from what education ultimately means. After all education is not a simple transfer transaction between machines. Education is a complex social-interaction between human beings and slow, difficult, out-of-comfort-zone learning that pushes boundaries is the powerful learning that sticks. Instead of seeking to reduce risk, education needs to embrace risk as an essential part of teaching, learning and schooling.

Biesta voices concern over the relatively recent paradigm shift from the traditional teacher as an authority to the constructivist teacher as a facilitator of learning.  Biesta interprets constructivism as a theory of learning not a theory of teaching, and he makes a clear distinction between learning from (leren van) and being taught by (leren aan).  A teacher should not be reduced to an agent that speeds transfer of knowledge from one vessel to another.  Teachers are essential in a learning environment to empower learners to reach beyond their immediate known grasp.  Biesta reminds us that we need to remain aware that teaching does not necessarily result in learning and indeed we cannot predict any of the effects of teaching.

Biesta also discusses teacher education. He declares teacher education has become over-simplified by structuring programs on narrow pre-defined competencies. To be qualified to teach, learner-teachers merely demonstrate achievement of separate competencies. Biesta sees it as insufficient to have knowledge and skills of separate parts of teaching because teachers must be able to perform multiple tasks in complex learning contexts with multiple conflicting factors.  Teacher education also provides a role modelling function so that learner-teachers become aware of the social expectations and shared traditions of teaching. It is this apprenticeship role within an active Community of Practice that Biesta values.  Biesta proposes an alternative to current competency based teacher education, that develops virtuosity and replaces narrow competencies with teachers’  judgements. Biesta states that learner-teachers can learn virtuosity by studying the virtuosity of others. But who is judged as being a virtuoso? Which contexts allow virtuosity to be seen?

July 28, 2015

Williams (2012) Karl Popper

Williams, L. (2012). Karl Popper, the enemy of certainty, parts 1 – 5. The Guardian.

Karl Popper (1902-1994), a philosopher of science, sought to explain how scientific theories could be verified as true. As a teenager, Popper was attracted to the irrefutable explanations of Marxist ideology; however, he grew to oppose these unfalsifiable claims. Throughout his adult life, Popper supported political moderation, tolerance and liberalism, and furthered understanding of politics, scientific methods, and epistemology (the part of philosophy of that deals with knowledge). Popper’s ideas are now commonly incorportated into research methods and are even considered common sense.

Popper disagreed with logical positivism and empirical science that verified ideas through experience and experiments. As patterns and theories became evident, scientists appeared to look for further evidence to support (rather than refute) their case, with any exceptions being explained through additional subsidiary and ad hoc hypotheses.

Popper insists on falsificationism.  Regardless of how much evidence supports a theory, if one thing can disprove a theory, then the theory is not scientific. Popper asserts that exceptions prove that a theory is false, and that exceptions do not warrant additional explanation. Popper tolerates pseudo-sciences, such as psychology, because they do not make completely false claims, but instead stumble across interesting half-truths in non-scientific ways. Popper maintains that destructive testing is the only viable scientific method. He seeks refutation, and insists that confirmation too simple and feeble. The weakness in Popper’s demand for falsification is not theoretical, but behavioural.  In reality, scientists do not reject theories because of a single exception, which shows a weakness in a theory.

Kuhn sees Popper as too idealistic. Kuhn states that scientific theories are governed by ever changing paradigms, which have a constant core theory and changing subordinate hypotheses which are introduced and adapted as new evidence emerges. If a long held core theory is totally disproved, then a paradigm shift occurs. However scientists appear to hold on to theories even when evidence disproves them.

Lakatos holds a more refined version of falsificationism. Lakatos claims that rather than deliberate whether a scientific theory is true or false, the research methodology and methods should be examined to establish whether the research process is improving or deteriorating.

Feyerabend disagrees with Popper. Feyerbend protests that auxiliary ad hoc hypotheses are essential because science does not adhere to epistemic ideals nor fixed principles and methodological rules. Feyerabend proclaims that the truth can only be judged in relation a specific situation and context.

July 27, 2015

Glaser & Strauss (1969) Grounded Theory

Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of Grounded Theory. Chicago: Aldine.

Used to explore unexplained phenomenon, Grounded Theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) is a qualitative research methodology derived from pragmatism (Mead, 1967)  and symbolic interactionism (Blumer, 1969). Grounded Theory was designed as “a reaction against … ‘grand’ theories produced through the logico-deductive method of science” (Denscombe, 2007), i.e. speculative theories that are neither grounded to research nor to the real world, so can lack validity and be irrelevant to the people they concern (Layder, 1993).  Grounded Theory does not test hypotheses nor merely describe phenomenon. Through empirical fieldwork in social settings, Grounded Theory explores participants’ perspectives and actions to generate theory grounded in the complexities of the real world. Researchers strive to be open-minded and theoretically sensitive.  Data is not forced to fit any preconceived ideas.

Grounded Theory has an emergent structure.  The research questions, literature, sampling, data collection, coding, categories, concepts all remain open throughout the cyclic and cumulative research process so that emerging concepts can be explored further.  Grounded Theory is not random, but follows lines of enquiry in consistent but yet flexible ways.  Research processes and interpretations are recorded in memos to provide an audit trail. The social setting is clearly defined.  The research questions focus on “What is happening… ?” and “How are…?”.  The literature review is an ongoing process.  Representative sampling is not used, and instead flexible theoretical sampling (purposive and criterion sampling) is used to explore concepts further.  Everything is considered data, e.g. semi-structured and unstructured interviews, focus group interviews, transcripts, observations, journal/blog entries, questionnaires, professional documents and academic literature.  During interviews, open questions are used to empower participants share experiences and perspectives. Data is coded using gerunds to remain close the participants’ words and actions. However, the data does not speak for itself (like in ethnographical research), but instead is analysed through cycles of constant comparative analysis, which compare data to data to identify emerging categories and concepts. Cycles of constant comparative analysis continue throughout the research process until a point of saturation is reached and new data fits into existing codes and categories.  Although sometimes not accepted in more traditional research settings where quantitative experimental and statistical analysis still reign, Grounded Theory is recognised as authoritative empirical research rationale. Grounded Theory is interpreted.  Researchers can identify with a Glaserian or Straussian version, or follow first or second generation theorists.

July 26, 2015

Matthiesen & Binder (2009) PhD or EdD?

Matthiesen, J., & Binder, M. (2009). How to survive your doctorate: What others don’t tell you. Maidenhead, Bershire: Open University Press.

PhD is an abbreviation for Doctor of Philosophy. However a PhD in Education is neither a study of philosophy nor a study of the philosophy of education. Although, philosophical beliefs affect a researcher’s choice of research methodology and methods, a PhD is a research degree. A PhD thesis needs to show original research, contribute to the international field, and use empirical evidence and theoretical argument. The research should also be published in peer reviewed journals. According to the Australian Qualification Framework, “Graduates at this [doctorate] level will have systematic and critical understanding of a complex field of learning and specialised research skills for the advancement of learning and/or for professional practice”. Doctorates are the highest degree awarded by universities. PhDs are often completed full-time in 3 to 6 years, but also part-time from 5 to 8 years. Traditionally PhDs are completed on-campus with close supervision. I find the insistence on being on campus interesting because a PhD is the most autonomous learning offered in formal education settings. However, many universities that offer bachelor and master degrees by distance do not offer PhD programs by distance. I prefer distance learning because I can move away from classroom one-size-fits-all learning and adapt learning to my individual learning needs.

Doctorate degrees differ throughout the world. In the Netherlands, PhD candidates usually complete research that is predefined by professors and/or research groups, apply for advertised positions and are hired by universities as research assistants. In comparison, in Australia PhD candidates define their own research, apply for scholarships, and are considered students.

My PhD in Education is a self-managed research degree which is overseen by two supervisors. My whole PhD will be assessed after five years when I submit a thesis of 100,000 words to an international panel of academic researchers who are experts in my specific field of education. These experts will have no connection to my research process or supervision so as to remain as impartial as possible.

In comparison an EdD, a Doctor of Education degree, is a professional degree that is structured for a cohort of students, who together follow taught courses, submit course work for assessment throughout the program, and completed a final smaller applied research project and dissertation of usually 55,000 words.

I am doing a PhD because I love learning and am a better teacher when I am actively learning.  I frequently prioritise my work over my learning.  Moving my autonomous learning into a formal learning context empowers me to prioritise time for my learning.  Australian universities, with their history of excellent distance education, offer programs that suit my lifestyle.  I have had problems with European universities accepting my postgraduate qualifications from universities outside Europe.  However, Monash University is rated 6th in the world for education and that will help prove the value of my degree.  I’m looking forward to being on campus in Melbourne in October 2015. I’ve registering for four full-day research workshops alongside my confirmation panel interview and meetings with my supervisors.

March 31, 2015

Schratz (2014) European competencies

Schratz, M. (2014). The European Teacher: Transnational Perspectives in Teacher Education Policy and Practice. CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal, 4(4), 11-27.

Teacher education is usually focused on a single context—country—with strong national traits that limit teachers’ mobility. However, European teacher education appears to share common competencies. Schratz, Paseka and Schrittesser (2011) describe six interrelated and overlapping domains of teaching. 1) Reflective discourse to objectively and subjectively analyze, develop, explain actions. 2) Professional awareness to balance simultaneous involvement and analysis. 3) Collaboration and collegiality to actively share with and across education communities. 4) Ability to differentiate and deal with various forms of diversity. 5) Personal mastery to continuous develop, learn and reflect. 6) Teaching skill and subject knowledge to link to bind the other five domains.

From a European perspective, teacher education needs to be aware of complexity of teaching and teacher education and include self awareness, reflection, diversity, uncertainty, collaboration, and professional image. The European Union shares similar teacher education competencies and identifies a further three desired changes. 1) The impact of social change requires teachers to contribute to students citizenship, promote lifelong learning, and link curriculum competencies to school subjects. 2) The diversity of students and contexts means teachers need to deal with diversity, organise context to facilitate learning, and work collaboratively with all stakeholders. 3) Increasing professionalism requires teachers to activity participate in inquiry and problem-solving learning, and take responsibility for continuous professional development.

Snoek, Uzerli and Schratz (2008) add further suggestion to address the needs of European teachers, i.e. teachers working within Europe with national and transnational policy values. 1) European identity to have a sense of belonging to country and Europe to maintain diversity within unity. 2) European knowledge including other European education systems. 3) European multiculturalism to be open to other cultures. 4) European language competence to enable communication across several European languages. 4) European professionalism to learns across and from various contexts. 5) European citizenship to value democracy freedom, and autonomous active citizenship. 6) European quality measures to ensure quality of education across contexts using Bologna/Copenhagen processes.

Europe wants to position itself as a knowledge society. With less focus on national boundaries, and increased European and international cooperation and research.

March 25, 2015

OmniFocus App


Why didn’t I think of this solution sooner? Good writers purposefully generate and organize ideas during writing processes. Pre-planning and pre-organizing (initial) ideas limits writing. The same principles apply to task management. As unforeseen complications surface, task and time management systems need to be easy to adapt. I thought lack of time was my problem, but inefficient collection, undefined task-steps and unclear overview were my real problems.

Task-steps I had to remember were swirling around in my head. A constant awareness of to-do-lists was distracting and disturbing a healthy work-life balance. Not anymore!

The OmniFocus iOS app has changed how I work. OmniFocus supports flexible bottom-up task-management of complex projects. I now clarify steps when they first surface. On my iPad, I record, collect, cross-reference and prioritize task-steps from phone calls, social media and email messages, meetings and conversations. I make front-end decisions about deadlines and cross-reference steps as part of projects (e.g. grants) and context (e.g. admin office). OmniFocus clearly shows the long-term big-picture and smallest of open details. With a simple click, I can see everything I need to address with specific people and technology, everything that needs to be done to complete a project, and what needs to be prioritized today, tomorrow and later this week. When I meet a person, I now address all issues across all projects during one conversation. The cross-referencing of task-steps is essential to deal with a huge volume and variable workload. OmniFocus goes beyond what calendar and lists can achieve.

As issues surface, I dismiss/delete, delegate, do or defer. We live in an age of over-information. An essential 21 Century skill is filtering information. If it isn’t relevant, I dismiss and delete. If I can delegate, I do so. If it takes less than two minutes, I do it. If it takes more time, I enter it in OmniFocus and defer completion of the task-step to a later time. I can either immediately allocate the item to a project, context and deadline, or later review and add information, including photos and correspondence. OmniFocus creates alerts to review tasks. Red and orange bullet-points show the urgency of task-steps within projects and contents. Entering new dates is easy with +day, +week, +month options. At time of writing, I have 137 tasks organized in OmniFocus. I’m not worried about the workload. I have an overview and can easily reprioritize tasks and adapt planning. I sleep well.

January 30, 2015

Hoskins & Fredriksson (2008) learning to learn

Hoskins, B., & Fredriksson, U. (2008). Learning to learn: What is it and can it be measured? Luxembourg: European Commission Joint Research Centre. Retrieved from http://www.jrc.ec.europe.eu/

The transfer of knowledge and skills from teachers to learners is no longer effective education. We need to empower learners for an unknown future in a rapidly changing technological and global world. Education needs to empower learners to learn to learn.

Learning to learn is not a skill, but a complex competency. Not content nor context based, but transdisciplinary. Competencies are broad and complex, combine knowledge, skills, attitudes and values, and require high levels of cognition (Tiana, 2004). Competencies are measured in real world tasks not general theoretical abilities. Learning to learn is a key European competency necessary and beneficial to individuals and society (Eurydice, 2002).

Defining and measuring learning to learn is difficult. An interdisciplinary theoretical approach is required. Stringher (2006) collected over 40 definitions which spanned metacognition, socioconstructivism, sociocognitive and sociohistorical approaches, lifelong learning, assessment studies, learning strategies, and cognitive psychology and social cultural paradigms. Cognitive psychology examines collecting, processing, constructing, storing and retrieving of knowledge. Whereas, social cultural paradigms examine social contexts and interactions.

Learning to learn includes managing time and information, learning individually and collaboratively, being aware of needs and processes, pursuing and preserving, using guidance, building on prior learning and life experiences, applying knowledge and skills in different contexts, being motivation and having confidence (Educational Council, 2000).

Learning to learn is not intelligence: a fixed mental capability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience (Gottfredson, 1997). Learning to learn is not problem solving: use of cognitive processes to confront and resolve realistic cross-disciplinary situations with unclear solutions and disciplinary areas (PISA, 2003). The European assessment framework includes cognitive domain (identifying proposition, testing rules, using mental tools), affective domain (motivation, strategies, self-esteem, perceived support), and metacognition (problem solving, accuracy).

The University of Helsinki defines learning to learn as ability and willingness to adapt to novel tasks, and self-regulation of cognitive and affective perspectives (Hautamäki, 2002). The Helsinki assessment framework includes context-related beliefs (societal frames and perceived support), self-related beliefs (motivation, action-control, identity, assignment acceptance, self-evaluation, future orientation), and learning competencies (learning and reasoning domain, self management and affective regulation).

The University of Bristol defines Learning Power as a complex mix of dispositions, lived experiences, social relations, values, attitudes, beliefs that shape engagement (Deakin, Crick, Broadfoot, Claxton, 2006). The Bristol assessment framework includes growth orientation, critical curiosity, meaning-making, dependency and fragility, creativity, relationship/interdependence, and strategic awareness.

January 25, 2015

Socrative App

Necessity is the mother of invention. After years of wanting, lack of time finally enabled me to use Socrative, an assessment app, www.socrative.com


My best learning occurs when I’m out of my comfort zone and complaining shows the limits of my comfort zone. I now relish complaints because they mean learning will happen. My complaint was lack of time and constant rushing.

Three classes of Year 1 Bachelor of Education students were learning about language teaching approaches. I had covered four approaches. Groups of student were then responsible for teaching a language teaching approach using any digital technology. We covered 28 teaching approaches. As agreed, students’ uploaded learning resources to our Facebook group—where each view is recorded. Disappointingly, most student posted their resource but did not view others. So I announced … a quiz. Finally an opportunity to introduce Socrative.

However, realistically I had no time to write a quiz, other tasks just had to be prioritized. But then I realised student-teachers needed to learn to create and critically evaluate test questions. So each group wrote three test questions, about their approach, for a digital test environment, i.e., true/false, single answer and multiple answer choice questions. Students created clear questions and and correct ‘keys’ and incorrect believable ‘distractors’. Groups were supported to select and improve one of their questions. In retrospect, students should have sent questions digitally, instead I typed the best questions from each group’s paper notes into Socrative.

I would have liked to explore Socrative before use in class, but no time. So the students and I explored Socrative together. First we did the ‘Teacher Paced’ quiz, answering questions, reviewing class responses on the smartboard and discussing each teaching approach. Simply because we were curious, in teams students re-did the same test using the Socrative Space Race. Re-doing the same test was judged by students as valuable (and fun) repetition. Finally we used Socrative Exit Tickets. Students all used the symbol . as their name to remain anonymous. Socrative asked 1) How well did you understand today’s material? 2) What did you learn in today’s class? and 3) Please answer the teacher’s question. This immediate anonymous feedback will help me take my learning and teaching to the next level. I have wanted to use exit tickets ever since I read Brookfield (1995). From now on I’ll be using Socrative Exit Tickets after every class. A valuable learnful app. Highly recommended.

January 18, 2015

Davis & Sumara (1997) learning complexity

Davis, B., & Sumara, D.J. ( 1997). Cognition, complexity, and teacher education. Harvard Educational Review 67(1), 105-125.

Learning is often over simplified as mechanical processes with distinct parts. Schools organize teaching into frameworks of monological order, focusing on static curricula, textbooks and assessments. However, learning is not linear relationships nor cause and effect. Learning is complex, not complicated.

Complexity theory differentiates between complex and complicated. Complex systems1) spontaneously self-organize and transcend themselves, 2) inextricably intertwine individuals and environments in dynamic and unpredictable ways, and 3) are more than a sum of their parts parts (Waldrop,1992). The whole unfolds from and is enfolded in each of the parts.

Knowledge is not corporeal objects, nor internal representations of external realities. Reject divisions of individuals and and context. Collective knowledge and individual understandings are dynamic co-emergent phenomena. Knowledge is created in wider communities, intertwining deliberate communication, casual conversation and unconscious imitation. Enactivist theory portrays knowledge as continuous ever-evolving action and interaction. Knowledge is embodied in and arises from parts of organismic unity of an ongoing world. School must integrate communities outside classrooms (Bruner 1986) for effective learning.

Constructivism explains learning as dynamic and evolutionary processes with constant change, interdependencies and continuous reorganizing of subjective worlds of experience. Learners are not situated in contexts, but integral parts of contexts. All contributing learning factors are intricately related and inextricably intertwined. Learning is codetermined, coexisting and coemerging in complex webs of events (Vygotsky, 1962, 1978).

Learning is like conversations, shifting and unfolding, arriving at unanticipated places from unspecified paths. Learning is occasioned rather than caused. Learning is collective action that cannot be explained, prescribed, predicted or controlled. Learning in classrooms should take unanticipated (but appropriate) turns.

Teaching is often portrayed as management (organizing, overseeing and controlling) and teacher-education focuses on limited predetermined competencies. However, in reality teaching and learning are not yet fully understood and experienced practitioners are uncertain of what defines good practice. In universities, conflicting understandings of cognition are presented. In schools, external directives are often fragmented and incompatible. Teachers are forced to resort to common-sense practices and teach-to-the-test for a barrage of compulsory standardized external assessments. Student-teachers focus on fitting in, coping, and copying existing practices. However, practice does not make perfect, but instead merely perpetuates practices and offers limited opportunities to develop and improve. Big problems with no clear solutions—gulp!

January 17, 2015


I worried about writing a blog post about bogging, hence my procrastination. However, after re-energizing at an education conference with Linda, I now dare to put words to screen. My personal experience of blogging my learning is extremely positive, but I struggled to comment about blogs because I had incorrectly assumed educators were on the same page regarding using blogs for learning. My time will come. I look forward to using ‘open’ blogs with learners in the 2015-16 academic year.

I believe blogs
— are regular texts (images and videos) uploaded to online public spaces,
— include date entries that encourage recurrent posts,
— facilitate development of writing and media skills through repetition,
— enable access to information and interaction from anywhere with a internet connection,
— push bloggers to share their best efforts because potential readers (across time and space) are completely unknown,
— enable interaction through posts and comments between all members of the learning team (and potential outside audiences).

The internet is not just a place to seek information from. The internet is a place to share information in. Communities are not restricted to geographical locations. Online communities share common interests from diverse locations. We have the technology to interact, so let’s do it!

I worry that teachers mostly passively deliver information, instructions and feedback. Disappointedly, technology doesn’t appear to have drastically updated the age-old norm of teachers as givers and learners as receivers.

I believe learning requires interaction, between all members of the learning team. Respect and equality are the core of high quality learning. Everything teaching teams ask of learners, they need to ask of themselves. I agree with Sonya van Schaijk, if learners blog, teachers must blog. If learners maintain learning portfolios, then teachers must maintain learning portfolios. Ultimately, if learners learn, then teachers must learn too. Modeling has a strong effect on learning. Teachers need to role model genuine learning.

Teachers can make their own learning transparent to learners through blogging. I’m in!

However, when top-down instructions state that students must write reflective blogs, educators can interpret blogging in ways I hadn’t even considered. I don’t understand why blogs are sometimes used as exclusive private texts between one student and one lecturer. To me, one-to-one communication is not blogging. Instead ‘closed’ blogging just appears to add an additional inefficient collection point for digital communication, when surely simple emails between two people would suffice.

November 11, 2014

Benson (2010) autonomy constraints

Benson, P. (2010). Teacher education and teacher autonomy: Creating spaces for experimentation in secondary school English language teaching. Language Teaching Research 14(3), 259-275.

Benson interviewed English language teachers to investigate constraints on teachers’ autonomy. In addition to isolation and under funding, participants were also constrained by school’s decision-making systems and collaborative teams who used external curricula that did not support wider educational purposes nor the social and child-minding function of schools.

Schemes of work dictated the content and pace of lessons (and prescribed what teachers do not what students learn). Often schemes of work were created from the content pages of commercially published course materials, which prepared students for commercial examinations. However schemes of work did reduce teachers’ workload and standardize teaching (which students and parents perceived as fair).

In accordance with Lamb’s (2000) idea that “teachers need to understand constraints upon their practice, but rather than feel disempowered need to be empowered to find space and opportunities for maneuver”, participants created space for autonomy by modifying the compulsory schemes of work. Participants strived to complete the schemes of work ahead of schedule to allow them to then work in ways outside the scheme of work. Participants used this extra time meet students’ learning needs and interests, basing their judgements on their deeply held beliefs about language learning and teaching.

Participants did not use their created space to experiment with new ideas, even if formal professional development demanded action research or experimental learning. Teacher education needs to be aware of the realistic working contexts and conditions that limit opportunities for teaching autonomy and experimentation. Three of the four participants reported that they learned very little during their post graduate educational degrees. Teacher education may be too ambitious about what they hope to achieve.

Participants (who Benson describes as ‘accidental English teachers’) described learning ‘on the job’ through experience, self-selected reading, and discussions with colleagues. Benson proposes that ‘learning by doing’ may have created a greater reliance on personal capabilities and a more dismissive attitude to authoritative systems (in comparison to ‘career English teachers’ practice). Autonomy appears to be related to teachers’ identities that are developed throughout their careers and intertwined with contexts in complex ways.

Varghese et al. (2005) seek to “understand how language teachers form their identities in teacher education and schools”. We need to be aware that construction of teacher identity may conflict with school priorities.

November 6, 2014

Hase & Kenyon (2007) self-directed learning

Hase, S., & Kenyon, C. (2007). Heutagogy: A child of Complexity Theory. complicity: An International Journal of Complexity and Education, 4(1), 111-118.

Hase and Kenyon argue that the notions of pedagogy and andragogy are deficient. Teachers merely facilitate students to acquire knowledge and skills, which they maintain is not learning. Acquiring knowledge and skills allows students to be competent to recall and use that knowledge and those skills in familiar situations. In contrast, learning demands change. However, we need to remember that comfort hinders change. Change occurs in response to distressful needs (and intense desires). Hase and Kenyon define learning as an emergent and integrative process that changes behaviour, knowledge, understanding and becomes incorporated into people’s existing attitudes and values. Learning empowers students to be capable to react and adapt to unfamiliar and unanticipated situations drawing on all their holistic knowledge, skills and values. Hase and Kenyon define capability as beyond competency: being able to adapt to unknown and changing contexts, having appropriate values to work collaboratively, and knowing how to learn.

Pedagogy and andragogy appear to remain teacher-centered with little micro or macro involvement from learners. Curricula are inflexible, which is disappointing because “it is impossible to predict the extent and effect of bifurcation”, i.e. separation of planned curricula and learners’ changing needs. In contrast, heutagogy is self-determined learning. Learner-centered and learner-directed learning which occurs as result of personal experiences. Students become the key drivers and designers of learning processes, activities, objectives and assessments. Heutagogy requires a living flexible curriculum that is able to change as students learn.

Hase and Kenyon recommend action research and action learning as meta-methodologies to empower learners to experiment with real experiences in real world contexts. Action research and action learning provide flexibility to understand unpredictable and complex social phenomena, give ownership and control of the learning to the students, and can also be trialled and tested in subsequent cycles. Alongside action-learning, teachers need to provided personal coaching.

Adaptive systems (Bertanafly, 1950; Akoff & Emery, 1972; Emery, 1971, 1986; Emery & Trist, 1965) and Complexity Theory are worth investigating in relation to learning (Davis & Sumara 1997; Doll 1989; Doolittle, 2000). At the time of writing, Hase and Kenyon were still researching the usefulness of heutagogy as a concept, and questioning how learning occurs in complex adaptive systems and how these systems harness and facilitate learning.

November 2, 2014

Edwards (2014) Dutch English

Edwards, A. (October, 2014). Who’s afraid of Dutch English? Paper presented at the meeting of the Society for English-Native-Speaking Editors (SENSE), Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Edwards started the red thread unrolling by identifying opposing roles on a continuum: prescriptive editors need rules whereas descriptive sociolinguists question rules! “What is a rule really?” Referring to Paikeday, Alison reminded us that that English native speaker norms are sometimes inappropriate. Native speakers are the minority not majority. An editor’s moral quandary is to maintain standards while not trampling on writers’ content and style. However, what is (un)acceptable?

Judgments about language are never objective and are based on history, attitudes and politics. Varieties such as Singlish and Hinglish are valued. However, English with a Dutch flavour has derogatory labels: Steenkolenengels, Nederengels and Dunglish. (Note that comic collections, such as I always get my sin, use inauthentic and unrealistic examples because they are immediately recognised as absurd.) Over time, Dutch English may become accepted. Errors can be institutionalised and reinforced by mass use. What were errors become innovation and language norms, e.g. would’ve -> would of. Not logical, but language change ain’t logical.

To further the discussion, Alison explained lects in the Dutch context. In the basilect, English and Dutch integrate and both diverge from standard forms, e.g. Price not includes saus. In the acrolect, Dutch and English combine into acceptable forms, e.g. Prof Dr, it ìs good, and enable “filling a hole by drawing on your whole linguistic repertoire”.

Alison also explained how Kachru’s Three Circle Model defines countries as

  • ‘norm-providing’ i.e. the Inner Circle, e.g. Australia,
  • ‘norm-developing’ i.e. the Outer Circle, e.g. India,
    English has official or historical roles and is enculturated,
  • ‘norm-dependent’ i.e. the Expanding Circle, e.g. Russia,
    English is a foreign language used by learners.

Kachru removed the native and non-native division; however he shifted the barrier and redefine users’ language as acceptable innovation in the outer circle or unacceptable errors in the expanding circle.

However, varieties of English are no longer restricted to former colonies. “A variety emerges when people have an identity as English users” and empirical data shows that “the Dutch are willing to act as active builders … and construct their own English”. However, before Dutch English becomes recognized, it needs to be valued by the Dutch people themselves.

Alison concluded that the “prescriptive nature of editing does not need to be at odds with sociolinguistic ideas”. “If a client wants to hold onto Dutch English, there may be an interesting reason for this”. “Writers don’t need a generic voice”. Be aware of the target audience and treasure opportunities to “witness language development”.

August 4, 2014

Rubie-Davies & Peterson (2011) expectations & beliefs

Rubie-Davies, C.M., & Peterson, E.R. (2010) Teacher expectations and beliefs: Influences on the socioemotional environment of the classroom. In C.M Rubie-Davies (Ed.), Educational psychology: Concepts, research and challenges (pp. 134-159). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

As a New Zealand educator, I struggle with high-stakes testing that sorts learners into levels, high schools, and career options in the Netherlands. On a bad day, the primarily conservative education system seems to support sorting more than learning.

Research shows that teachers’ beliefs, and expectations affect learners’ achievements and classroom affective environments. Teachers who hold high and low expectations of learners interact with learners in predictable ways. High-expectations learners receive more praise, longer wait-time, high-order questioning, challenging activities, and more opportunities for learning. Whereas, low-expectation learners receive more criticism, repetitive exercises and concrete experiences. Over time learners perform inline with teachers’ expectations. Interestingly, having expectations of groups of learners creates a more powerful self-fulfilling prophecy than having expectations of individual students. This makes students from minority groups, particularly vulnerable to teachers negative expectations. However, when low-expectation or disadvantage learners are challenged, they frequently exceed expectations. Ultimately, students learn more in contexts where they feel valued, respected, cared about, because this affects motivation, self-esteem, and learning outcomes. I agree that debates about teacher expectations include right of learners to equitable treatment in classroom environments.

Babad et al (1982) describe teachers as high-bias and low-bias. High-bias teachers rely heavily on others’ judgement and treat learners according to preconceived judgements. Not surprisingly, high-bias teachers’ non-verbal behaviors also have a negative effect on low-expectation learners. In contrast, low-bias teachers hold an entity view of intelligence, allow interactions with students to shape their ever changing ideas about learning. Weinstein’s (2002) research shows that teachers with high differentiating behaviors label students, create a competitive atmosphere, use negative put-downs,  provide teacher-centered learning, use extrinsic motivators, and blame low achievement on learners. In contrast, teachers with low differentiating behaviors hold incremental notions of intelligence, support each other, do not refer to ability, use a range of teaching approaches, provide frequent positive feedback, focus on intrinsic motivation, use humor,  ascribe success to effort and task difficulty, take responsibility for learners’ progress, and respect learners.

For me, teaching has at its core two simple ideas: first believe learners can learn and second help learners learn.

July 7, 2014

Nuthall (2007) hidden learning

Nuthall, G. (2007). The hidden lives of learners. Wellington: NZCER PRESS.


The hidden lives of learners describes a huge qualitative and quantitative study of individual student’s learning within classrooms. Data collection included recording individual students’ public and private talk, and semi-structured interviews about prior/post knowledge and learning.

Classrooms are complex social and culturally bound contexts: Teachers adapt to learners’ needs in here-and-now circumstances, making moment-by-moment decisions. However, recommendations to improve teaching often simply state what and how to teach and fail to include why. Also effective teaching judgements are often merely based on current (ever-changing) fashions in education, rather than students’ actual learning gains.

The public sphere of classrooms is only a partial reality. Engaged students are not necessarily learning. Classroom learning co-exists in three worlds: public worlds that we are able to hear and see, semiprivate worlds of peer relationships and social statuses, and private worlds within learners’ minds, that include thinking, knowledge, learning, beliefs and attitudes.

It is difficult see students’ learning. Tests do not measure students’ knowledge or skills: tests reveal motivation and test taking skills, and comparisons. Nuthall’s research shows that students of varying abilities achieve similar learning gains, and post tests mostly reflect prior learning rather than new learning.

Nuthall believes that students learn what they do (which can be copying notes and coping with boredom), and students’ social relationships determine learning. Effective activities are built around big questions, and effectiveness increases when students manage learning activities.

Individual students learn different things from the same activities because prior knowledge, experiences, interests, and motivation affect learning. New concepts are not created or transferred to long-term memory until enough information has accumulated to warrant the creation. If this does not occur, new experiences are treated as just another version and are forgotten. Analysis of students’ private-social and self talk shows that students need exposure to and interaction with three complete sets of relevant information to construct new concepts. Specifically, students need 1) explicit concept description, 2) implicit information, 3) additional background information, 4) preparatory context information, 5) mention/uninformative reference to concepts, 6) activities, and 7) visual resources. Students need time to interact with information—at least three times—to process new concepts. Peer interactions and social relationships greatly affect learning. Teachers can improve learning by becoming involved in peer cultures and shaping class culture.

Learning is highly individual and varied. About a third of a student’s learning is unique and not learned by others in the class.

July 5, 2014

Knowles Holton & Swanson (2011) teaching adults

Knowles, M., Holton, E., & Swanson, R. (2011). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (7th ed.). Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, Elsevier.


Adult learner reinforces my beliefs about learning. The terms learn and teach are not interchangeable. Learning can occur without teaching: Teaching can occur without learning. Learning theories examine ways people learn, whereas teaching theories examine ways people influence others’ learning (Gage, 1972). Teachers’ learning beliefs influence their teaching beliefs and practice.

Learning theories are often fragmented; however Hilgard (1966) identified common principles. Stimulus-Response theory emphasizes learning actively not passively, incorporating repetition, using positive reinforcement, generalizing and discriminating in different contexts, imitating models, recognizing drive, and accepting inevitable frustrations. Whereas, cognitive theory emphasizes ensuring transparency, organizing content from simplified to complex wholes, respecting cultures, providing feedback, and facilitating goal-setting. Finally, motivation and personality theory emphasizes acknowledging learner’s abilities and motivation, recognizing genetic and environmental influences, respecting cultures, managing anxiety, accepting learners’ motives and values, and managing group learning atmosphere.

Although, 21 Century teaching movements push for innovation, learning theories have been recommending similar changes for decades (and I need to read about Comenius who published similar ideas in the 1600s).

Rogers (1969) states that teaching is overvalued and prefers teachers to be facilitators of learning. He values relationships and facilitators that are genuine, caring, respectful, understanding, and attentive listeners. Facilitators need to create learning contexts, manage group atmosphere, clarify purposes, allow freedom (including guidance), organize learning resources, be flexible, and respond to content and attitudes. Ultimately, facilitators become equal participant learners who accept their limitations.

Tough (1979) prefers teachers to be ideal helpers: accepting and caring, valuing learning as serious, taking time to be helpful and friendly, treating learners as equals, believing in learner’s ability to manage own learning, continually learning themselves, and remaining spontaneous authentic people. Ideal helpers do not control learners nor address learners in inexhaustible monologues nor treat learners as objects.

Dewey (1961) values experience, democracy, continuity, and interaction.

Bruner (1970) values hypothetical modes (rather than expository modes) that focus on heuristics of discovery, increase intellectual powers, use intrinsic motivation, and make memories more accessible.

Brookfield (1986) values critical reflection to enable adults to reflect on self-images, change self-concepts, question internalized norms, and reinterpret behaviors from new perspectives.

Finally, no educational institution teaches only through its courses. Institutions also teach by example and frequently role-model behaviors and organization that go directly against what they endorse in their educational programs.

July 3, 2014

Knowles Holton & Swanson (2011) adult learning

Knowles, M., Holton, E., & Swanson, R. (2011). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (7th ed.). Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, Elsevier.

photoI recommend The adult learner and will re-read and blog more to cover other adult learning issues. This post is the beginning. A big thanks to the digital library services at Monash university for making e-books so accessible.

Historically  teachers (such as Confucius, Aristotle, Socrates and Plato), guided adults’ learning (using interactive inquiry processes, such as case methods  and Socratic dialogue); however, adult learning was neglected and was finally established as a field of study in the 1920s. Knowledge about learning usually focuses on and is mostly derived from the study of animals’ and children’s learning.

Learning is defined as processes that change behavior, knowledge, skills and attitudes (Boyd, Apps, et al 1980), which can be retained and are not the result of growth (Gagné, 1965), which often run counter to or replace what was previously known (Bruner, 1961). Intellectual growth is the increasing capacity to describe what was and will be done (Maslow, 1972), and autonomous learning is self-regulating continuous learning (Jourard 1972). Learning theories are basically split into behaviorist/connectionist theories and cognitive/gestalt theories, and elemental models (pieces of a machine) and holistic models (interactive and developing organisms).

Andragogical models of learning centralize learners’ experiences, focus on content that is meaningful for real word problems and contexts, support learners’ need for autonomy, rely on intrinsic motivation, and adjust curricula to learners’ needs. Children and  youth can also benefit from andragogical models of learning; however, schools and teachers frequently conform to pedagogical models, which expect teachers to direct learning content and processes, rely on extrinsic motivation, and expect learners to adjust to curricula. Adult learners should be active participants rather than passive recipients. Adult learners need humble teachers, active co-learners, that share authority and guide learning to discover meaning and examine preconceptions. Adult learning contexts should be informal, comfortable, flexible, and nonthreatening (Knowles, 1050). Time restraints, inaccessible learning resources and opportunities, ridge curricula and education systems that violate adult learning principles, and adults’ negative self-concepts all can hinder adult learning and create high drop-out rates. The core of adult learning challenges ideas about fixed intelligence and the restriction of education to certain classes.

This reading has left me pondering the educations systems I have learned or taught in and how well they were aligned to the principles of adult learning.

June 27, 2014

Woodward (1988) loop input

Woodward, T. (2003). Loop input. ELT Journal, 57(3), 301-304. and Woodward, T. (1988). Loop-input: A new strategy for trainers. System, 16(1), 23-28.

I entered the Teacher Training Education Day at the IATEFL conference in Harrogate with no expectations.  After a morning directed by Tessa Woodward, I was curious to read about her loop input concept. It turns out that loop input is a simple idea that is tweet-able:


Woodward explains loop input as experiential learning where content is mirrored in processes and then made more obvious through discussion. Loop input to me is common-sense for teachers. Adult learners have limited time and expect meaningful learning that can be applied in their context, so it is logical to exploit learning experiences and resources in multiple ways. I am continually integrating learning English language with learning second language pedagogy. Although, some of my teacher educator colleagues will argue that standing and telling what is known about learning is fast and efficient, it is bizarre contradiction to lecture that lecturing is a poor teaching method! Teacher educators must role-model effective management of learning-experiences. In addition, teachers manage the learning of others, so they must be able to manage their own learning. As teacher educators, we need to ensure that our ongoing learning is visible to teacher trainees, through for example, displays of books we are reading and blogs of our reflective processes.

I believe that learning is complex and exists in contexts. Too often in teacher education, learning processes and contexts are often simplified beyond reality. Teacher trainees are shown learning processes as cheese, tomatoes, and pasta, but in reality, learning is a mixed-up dish.


I purposefully do not remove all complexity from learning for teacher trainees: they need to raise their awareness of the complexities of managing learning experiences. Also, I include choices to increase learners responsibility and motivation for learning.

This is an example of how I’d adapt Woodward’s loop input to my 2014 complex context.

Investigate cooperative task-based learning, using digital video technologies, focusing on balancing Nation’s Four Strands.

Make a group video presentation in English and uploaded to social media.


Select a presentation topic or combine topics or negotiate another relevant topic: discuss advantages and disadvantages of a) cooperative learning or b) task-based learning or c) using digital technologies for learning or d) using social media for learning or d) using Nation’s Four Strands.

Give feedback on all videos through social media.

April 7, 2014

Mitra (2014) future learning

Mitra, S. (2014, April). The future of learning. Plenary given at 48th Annual International IATEFL Conference, International Association of Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Harrogate, England.

Mitra’s plenary shook things up. Passionate Twitter comments applauded for and reeled from research that shows that groups of children can learn most things on their own. Mitra is changing traditional learning-cultures and examining autonomous and collaborative learning outside schools.

Mitra showed that children’s test results decreased as distance from Delhi increased. Many factors were constant:  school funding, buildings, and quantity of teaching. But Mitra questioned the quality of teaching. Mitra asked teachers, “Would you like to work somewhere else?” In Delhi, teachers were happy; 100 miles away, teachers wanted to move closer to Delhi; and 250 miles away, teachers answered “Anywhere but here”. Good teaching is rare in remote places. Throughout the world, test-results decrease as remoteness increases (e.g. socio-economic- and ethnical-remoteness). Good teachers and less-able teachers who up-skill, migrate to better contexts. Mitra experimented with removing teachers from learning contexts.

However computers affect learning, computers will affect learning in similar ways in different contexts. So in 1999, Mitra installed computers for dis-advantaged children in India. To keep conditions constant, Sugata provided no adult guidance. After nine months, children had learned computer literacy skills and functional English. Children learned autonomously and collaboratively when teachers were not present. In two months, other children learned English pronunciation, and other children learned advanced molecular biology of genetics, going from 0% to 30% in pre- and post-tests. Observation changes children’s learning behavior, so Mitra recruited a ‘grandmother’ who merely observed and admired, supplying comments such as “Fantastic!” In two months, the children’s understanding of molecular biology improved to 50% in post-testing. In England, groups of children cluster around computers to solve deep cross-curricular questions like “Why is it that almost all men can grow a mustache but most women cannot?” In our digital-world, children can learn most things by themselves, but in autonomous and collaborative ways.

Mitra examines phenomena as theoretical physicist. In the Theory of Chaos, things remain constant in Ordered Systems, and things are random in Chaotic Systems. But where Ordered and Chaotic Systems meet, Self Organizing Systems occur and order appears out of disorder.  Mitra creates Self Organized Learning Environments (with beamed in ‘grandmas’) to facilitate children’s autonomous and collaborative learning.

Children need internet access, big interesting question and room to learn in autonomous and collaborative ways.  In our assessment-driven educational-cultures, changing assessments could instigate changing questions, curricula, pedagogy, teaching, and learning!

March 26, 2014

Bytheway (2014) Top 40 creations


Create language learning activities from Top40 songs to connect to child and teen language learners. Bring their outside-school world into classrooms. Don’t use your favourite ‘old’ songs. Use learners’ hot songs to to increase motivation and build respectful relationships.

Create these activities fast because you’ll throw them out within three months.

Quickly select a song. Is it 1) hot? 2) safe & 3) learnful?

Use Google to find the Top40 songs in your country. In the Netherlands, about 35 of the Top40 are in English. Look at how many weeks songs have been in the charts. Teens consider a song old after about three months.

Children enjoy many totally inappropriate songs. However in schools, swearing, sex and drugs are out. Use Google to find the lyrics and scan for anything inappropriate. Learners choose our songs and our agreement is that if principle walks in while the song is playing, I will keep my job. We never had any problems.

The song has to be learnful. If something is full of beauty, it’s beautiful; if something is full of learning, it’s learnful. Some say the word I need is educational; however learning and education are different! Know your learners and context and judge what suits your learners’ needs.

Balance the activities using Nation’s Four Strands.

1)      Use input for meaning-focused listening and reading. The learners are familiar with almost all the language. Support understanding by reading the lyrics while listening to the song.

2)      Use output for meaning-focused speaking and writing. Use the lyrics to scaffold speaking or writing activities. Replace words (verbs, nouns, adjectives, prepositions) to create original lyrics with similar structures or use phrases as sentence starters.

3)      Zoom in for language-focused learning. This is new language for the learners. Look at the details of the lyrics (e.g. pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary). Selects aspects for special attention.

4)      Zoom out for fluency development. The learners use language they already know faster and more automatically. Use issues and themes in the song for speaking, writing, listening and reading, activities.


Bytheway, J. (April, 2014). Create original language learning activities from Top 40 songs. Presented at 48th Annual International Association of Teaching English as a Foreign Language Conference. Harrogate: IATEFL.
Retrieve Prezi from https://prezi.com/avbqkk6plzwb/

Bytheway, J. (July, 2014). Create Language learning activities from Top 40 songs. Presented at TeachMeetNZ Virtual at the National Conference for Community Language and ESOL. Wellington: TESOLANZ & CLANZ.
Retrieve Slideshare from http://www.slideshare.net/Julie_Bytheway/julie-btw-createlearningtop4020140712.
Retrieve video from http://teachmeetnz.wikispaces.com/Bytheway_Julie