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What’s Stopping You?

July 3, 2012 2 comments

What is your first response when you are faced with something new and unfamiliar?  If, like me, you work with young people what would their first response be?

This will certainly be influenced by your past experiences and, most importantly perhaps, your perceptions and beliefs about your own abilities.

It has become something of a cliché to assert that individuals learn more from failure than from success but that does not necessarily mean we should discard the sentiment.

Of course, in reality, what and how we learn from failure is far more complex than this bald statement can possibly convey.

In Engaging all young people in meaningful learning after 16: A review Naomi Haywood et al assert that “Some young people develop an ingrained sense of failure. This can be due to the emphasis schools place on academic achievement and measuring success by test results and levels of qualification[1]”.

This damning indictment of the way the testing system in our schools can create, and then continuously reinforce, self-limiting beliefs that actually condition our children and young people to switch off from learning is something that I have seen frequently in young people.

Perhaps though, it would be more accurate to state that it is the ingrained fear of failure which creates the most significant barrier to learning and makes it so hard for some young people to face new situations and challenges.  The fear of failure triggers ‘fight or flight’ responses in the body, the physiological effect of which is to divert blood flow from the brain and thus make it almost impossible to learn.

Of course this fear is not limited only to ‘academic’ learning.  It includes all learning, all new experiences and challenges that each of us faces almost every day of our lives.

There is a strong likelihood that you will be more comfortable when faced with a new challenge if you have previously had the chance to ‘fail’ in a safe and supportive environment. If you’ve never had that chance, everything new and unfamiliar can seem impossible and you are likely to ‘fly’ from it.

This has led me to think about how we can help young people to unlearn those self-limiting beliefs that are born from the fear of failure.  How can we create a place where young people can begin to ‘fail’ safely? How can we enable them to face new challenges secure in the knowledge that it’s not only ok but good to fail because everyone does (in my case frequently), and that the experience we gain from the attempt improves our chance of future success.

I haven’t got any answers.  I’m asking the question of myself, my colleagues and the young people we work with though so watch this space! Perhaps you’ve got some ideas you’d like to share too…

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On Gove and Poetry

Pre-literate peoples rely on an oral tradition to maintain their cultural narrative. Despite its importance in our relatively recent past this is largely irrelevant to us in the technology driven 21st century. This does not of course mean that poetry and other creative arts are irrelevant. Children DO learn poetry and enjoy learning it but, requiring them to do so by rote does not add anything to their education, nor does it equip them better for adult life. Reading for meaning in a text is of real value, learning it parrot fashion has none without genuine understanding. Similarly, simple recall of historical facts is worthless without knowledge of what that fact meant and continues to mean for humanity.

The vast majority of teachers in state schools are skilful and knowledgeable professionals who understand children and how they learn. Gove is a journalist turned politician without the necessary knowledge, skills and experience to qualify him to dictate to them how to teach. His civil service advisers have a similar deficit .

He’d do much more to improve outcomes in schools by concentrating on diverting more resources to them. He could finance this by bullying his Treasury colleagues, as he currently does teachers, to improve their performance in the collection of tax from the likes of Vodafone for example.

Introduction

June 17, 2012 1 comment

I’ve been posting on Twitter for around a year but, sometimes 140 characters simply isn’t enough.  So, I thought maybe I’d try a less restrictive format.

I’ve no idea really if I’ll manage to post regularly or indeed if what I post will be of interest to anyone other than me.  However, I used to rather enjoy writing when I found the time to sit down and focus and hope that this will serve as a useful diversion from a steady stream of increasingly inane television into which I seem to be have recently allowed myself to be drawn.

You’ll see from my ‘About’ page the subjects that, at the start at least, I think I’m likely to want to discuss here. My interest in most of these subjects stems from my work with young people in supported housing and my experiences as a school governor.  The views expressed are personal to me and are not those of my employer who I will not in any case identify directly.  I should also declare at this juncture that, as the long-suffering spouse of a dedicated teacher who works ridiculously hard , the opinions I express about the current state of our education system are unavoidably partisan.

I hope you enjoy visiting my blog.  Please take the time to leave a comment or feedback if a post makes an impression on you.