Personally Significant Learning

Why our kids need a powerful disposition to be self-managing learners when they finish their schooling, why they are unlikely to have it, and what we can do about it.

Erica McWilliam and Peter Taylor

 For some time now it has been obvious that middle class kids are becoming more vulnerable. This is so despite the fact that they may be living in nice homes with supportive parents and attending well resourced schools and having comforts that their Third World counterparts can only dream of.  They are vulnerable because learning is not personally significant to them.  Kids who learn to avoid the discomfort of unfamiliar ideas, who do not welcome the instructive complications of error, who think learning is a boring necessity because it is basically about preparing for tests, who are reliant on parents and teachers to tell them what to do, or to do it for them, who expect university degrees to be passports to employability and financial security – such kids are now in real trouble.

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Building Borderlands

Extract from Access, the Professional Journal for the Australian School Library Association, April 2011

 Schooling in disciplinary knowledge is still the key means by which young people move, at least in theory, from basic alphabetical literacy to the high levels of literacy and numeracy needed to function optimally in a ‘super-complex’ economic and social order. As expressed in a recent Report from America’s National Center on Education and the Economy (2007):

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A Space for the rising creative class: media, literacy and innovation in the university

A SPACE FOR THE RISING CREATIVE CLASS: MEDIA, LITERACY, AND INNOVATION IN THE UNIVERSITY

(from University of Kentucky Creative Arts Collection)

 It has been surmised that there are only two centuries that matter when it comes to education – the 19th century, because this is when the explanatory power of the disciplines was understood and deeply respected, and the 21st century, because this is when we have to confront the limitations of those same disciplines at the same time that we rely on them to serve as intellectual springboards to trans-disciplinary thinking and doing. While I expect that many educational scholars might take exception to this proposition, there is merit, I think, in examining our pedagogical thinking and doing as an unfortunate hangover from the previous century, the century that, arguably, matters least. However much we inform ourselves about the demands of teaching in and for ‘these times’, most academics were taught in ‘those times’ ie, last century, pre-internet. Little wonder that so many of us still come to issue of pedagogical design weighed down by the baggage of the past, the mental models of the good teacher (active, giving, standing out front) and good student (passive, soaking it up, seated). The ubiquity of the tiered lecture theatre, with its focus squarely on the singular, scholarly individual at the centre of the front of the action, speaks volumes about the resilience of dated mental models of pedagogical work, however much university marketers might point to the growing number of hits on our websites as an indicator of their institution’s pedagogical responsiveness to ‘these times’. Read More…

Creativity is Core Business

The reputation of the term ‘creativity’ is paradoxical.

On the one hand, universities are now wrapping themselves in the mantle of creativity. A 2007 analysis of higher education teaching and learning plans and graduate attributes indicates that 75% of all Australian universities have an expressed commitment to ‘creative’ learning outcomes.

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The Mind & Its Potential Conference


I was in Sydney recently for the The Mind & Its Potential Conference at the Convention Centre (December last year). An interestingly broad audience of delegates – my fellow educators were there but there were also hundreds of others who work in the caring professions – psychologists, counsellors, social workers, youth workers, medicos – in fact, any and all individuals with an interest in the science of the mind. The range of presentations from science, psychology, education, business, and the arts reflected this diversity.
I had been invited by the conference organisers to do a keynote presentation on “Less Therapy, More Challenge”, so I looked at questions like:

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Troubling Teacher-as-Therapist

We have found little to indicate that indiscriminately promoting self-esteem in today’s children or adults, just for being themselves, offers society any compensatory benefits beyond the seductive pleasure it brings to those engaged in the exercise.

Baumeister et al, 2005

In the 1950s, my mother was both a good Australian parent and a good Australian teacher. As a good parent and teacher, my mother occasionally hit her own children or other people’s children. She did not hit too hard nor did she hit arbitrarily or carelessly. She hit them for breaking explicit rules, the rules of the home or the rules of the classroom. It was a time when effective parenting, like teaching, involved overt forms of coercion (including corporal punishment) sanctioned for preparing post-War baby boomers to take their place in a vertically ordered world of work and social life.

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