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Re: Dennis: Open to having your views on learning and teaching changed in 10 minutes? Then watch this video.

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  • Karenne Sylvester
    Hi ya Dennis, Peter I m really glad you watched the video on Schooling the World... I really wish more edtechies would pay attention to it. These statements in
    Message 1 of 18 , Nov 1, 2010
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      Hi ya Dennis, Peter

      I'm really glad you watched the video on Schooling the World... I really wish more edtechies would pay attention to it.

      These statements in particular caught my attention:

      -we put out this idea that if people buy into the dictates of our economic paradigm that they'll magically achieve the wealth we enjoy in the West

      -there is an assumption that Western education is superior

      -they aren't failed attempts to be us

      I think everyone in this group already knows that I am pro-tech :-)) but I hope a reflective and thinking techie.

      I think we do have a responsibility to not only share the good of tech but to pay attention to the effects, and the potential consequences our work/ our teaching may cause.

      It is not enough, imho, to be blind evangelists...

      We must strive for maintaining cultural identities, seek not to whitewash, and we must be critical - when it comes to our creation of these new digital 'materials.'

      Okay, jumping off my soapbox now, am just really glad you enjoyed the video, Dennis.

      :-)Karenne

      --- In dogme@yahoogroups.com, Dennis Newson <djn@...> wrote:
      >
      > Peter,
      >
      > Thank you so much for such a reflective, informative reasoned response. I
      > confess that I am somewhat disturbed by elements of showmanship in the Mitra
      > presentation (and even more so by the video on world education that Karenne
      > referred us to). And I agree one needs to look very closely at what was
      > learned.just what "learned" means here and what was retained and for how
      > long. What is still impressive, I find, is to see how children can find
      > things out for themselves and pass it on to friends
      >
      > Dennis
      >
      >
      > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      >
    • Marianne Dorléac
      Merci Peter for this excellent thoughtful reflexion. I particularly enjoyed one sentence, let me highlight it : while learning is far from being purely a
      Message 2 of 18 , Nov 1, 2010
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        Merci Peter for this excellent thoughtful reflexion.
        I particularly enjoyed one sentence, let me highlight it :
        "while learning is far from being purely a conscious process, conscious thought speeds up learning like nothing else".
         
        Marianne

        --- En date de : Lun 1.11.10, Peter Thwaites <diamond_fingerz@...> a écrit :


        De: Peter Thwaites <diamond_fingerz@...>
        Objet: Re: [dogme] Dennis: Open to having your views on learning and teaching changed in 10 minutes? Then watch this video.
        À: dogme@yahoogroups.com
        Date: Lundi 1 novembre 2010, 5h35


         



        Hi Dennis & all,

        I watched this video a few weeks ago and was thinking of writing to the group
        about it then, but didn't get around to it. Your post has given me a chance to
        re-prioritise it!

        I've been following Dr Mitra's work for quite a while, at first with enormous
        enthusiasm; later with a growing skepticism. In some ways, he reminds me of the
        "super-learning"/designer methodology theorists influential in ELT in the 70's -
        Caleb Gattegno, Georgi Lozanov etc., in the sense that he is suggesting that
        radically improved learning can occur through the use of a methodology which
        seems to me to be pretty underdeveloped. Just as with (e.g.) suggestopedia, one
        particular theory of learning is targeted: relaxation = mental fertility in
        suggestopedia; self-discovered learning = "natural" emergence of learning, which
        = lasting education, in Mitra's theory. Mitra's results clearly need more
        thorough testing - the one off results he gives could be explained away by, for
        instance, the novelty effect of having this charismatic professor come in and
        spend an afternoon with the students in one of the schools he visited - "Oh yeah
        - that's what we learned when that funny man with the moustache came in to
        class!"

        At the time I saw the TED talk, I was reading a wonderful book called Proust and
        the Squid, by Maryanne Wolf - about the history of reading and it's impact on
        the development of the human brain. Dr Wolf discusses Socrates' response to the
        emergence of writing two and a half thousand years ago; he criticised it on a
        number of levels and suggested that it should be abandoned in favour of the
        continuation of oral culture. One reason for this is that he suggested that
        speaking challenges individuals to think and to remember in ways that (he
        thought) writing does not. He felt that the permanence of the written word gave
        it the illusion of fact, which would destroy in the individual the need to think
        and to question.

        Dr Wolf discusses the ways in which Socrates was proved wrong in these ideas;
        but nevertheless sees parallels with what is happening today with "digital
        literacy". Just as Socrates remarked that "we write things down not to remember
        them, but so that we don't have to make the effort to", Wolf fears that the
        ready availability on the internet of the sort of information students need to
        pass exams will encourage the development of a culture which slowly loses it's
        ability to interact meaningfully with text - to "go beyond the wisdom of the
        writer". Students pick up bits of information, use them in their essays, and
        then... what? Dr Mitra would argue that they then assimilate these bits of
        information into their emergent awareness of the world, in whatever way makes
        sense to them; and they stick. While I love and always find myself incredibly
        attracted to these ideas of emergent, self organising learning, I share Dr
        Wolf's fears - that learners given things to research on computers put down
        their learning just as quickly as they picked it up; that they don't go beyond
        it.

        I'm sure long-time readers of Scott's work will be interested in this problem,
        since Scott suggested that just such a process is at work in the
        language-learning brain in his book Uncovering Grammar. To my understanding, one
        of the principles of this type of learning is that something will stick in the
        mind of the learner; but it's never clear what, and each what each learner takes
        away is likely to be different; how much stays there is likely to depend on
        factors beyond the scope of Dr Mitra's investigation (although his wonderful
        "Granny Cloud" idea shows that he's aware of some of these factors); but a
        further factor, which Maryanne Wolf's book illustrates better than I could ever
        hope to, is that it is quality of thought, not quality of information, which
        drives emergent learning processes. One thing that I feel I have learned from
        studying psycholinguistics is that while learning is far from being purely a
        conscious process, conscious thought speeds up learning like nothing else. Do Dr
        Mitra's students think about what they're learning; and would they still think
        about it if they studied that way all day, every day?

        I'm certain that Dr Mitra would answer in the affirmative; but my impression is
        that answers to questions like "Who was Pythagoras and what did he do?" are
        unlikely to find a permanent place in the imagination of many teenagers, no
        matter how they discover those answers. I don't doubt that something from that
        question-answering session will stick; but then following the principles of
        self-organised learning, some kind of learning will emerge from any kind of
        teaching, and this is is hardly radical, is it? What I think is missing from Dr
        Mitra's work is a focus on the importance of the questions asked: firstly, how
        do teachers discover the right questions, how do they grade them; and secondly,
        how do teachers train the learners in taking over the question posing process -
        how do they transform from question-answerers to question-askers?

        In all, then, I have come to doubt the importance of what Dr Mitra has achieved.
        This is not to say he has achieved nothing - only that (as with Lozanov etc.),
        he may be overstating his claims. He has certainly developed a methodology which
        could improve education in poorer nations, and this is no small achievement. He
        has also, perhaps, developed our understanding of how learning happens and how
        it can be encouraged - small groups of learners asking and answering well
        thought out questions. But as others on the TED forums have pointed out, what's
        original about this is not the methodology, because that has been used before
        (e.g. in private schools in America, and quite possibly in the classrooms of
        dogmetic teachers); it's the way he connects it with fashionable contemporary
        scientific theory. In order to bring his ideas to serious fruition, I think a
        lot more is needed than just the money he asks for at the end of his talk. They
        need to be developed into a more thorough methodology - less "super-learning"
        and more roundly developed. I think that what's at stake now is not if Dr
        Mitra's ideas can help people to learn more, but how much more they can be
        helped to learn. At present, I think that Dr Mitra's ideas are a long way from
        being brought to their full potential.

        Peter

        ________________________________
        From: Dennis Newson <djn@...>
        To: dogme@yahoogroups.com; younglearners@yahoogroups.com
        Sent: Sun, 31 October, 2010 21:04:44
        Subject: [dogme] Dennis: Open to having your views on learning and teaching
        changed in 10 minutes? Then watch this video.

        Please excuse cross posting, but, believe me, you have just got to
        stop whatever it is you are doing and take the time to watch this
        short video. If you have any interest at all in education, it could
        change the way you think about teaching and learning. Really.

        --------------------------------------------------

        http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/949
        -----------------------------------------------------

        Dennis

        --
        Dennis Newson

        Formerly University of Osnabrueck, GERMANY

        Committee member | Discussion List Manager IATEFL YLT SIG

        Creator: YLTSIG NING | http://ylandtsig.ning.com/

        Winner British Council ELT 05 Innovation Award

        Unrepentant grammarophobe

        YLTSIG Website: http://www.yltsig.org

        Yahoogroups: Subscribe: younglearners-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

        Personal homepage: http://www.dennisnewson.de

        Skype: Osnacantab

        Second Life: Osnacantab Nesterov

        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]











        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • zpd.english@virgin.net
        Peter I am going to reply from a point of ignorance, having read very little of Mitra s work. Please understand (one and all) that this is meant to be a
        Message 3 of 18 , Nov 2, 2010
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          Peter
          I am going to reply from a point of ignorance, having read very little of Mitra's work. Please understand (one and all) that this is meant to be a dialogic contribution rather than me sounding off!

          Basing ALL I am about to say on the TED video, it seems to me that Mitra has achieved a huge amount and it is pretty radical stuff. I realise that his main focus is on the application of technology but, if we put aside McLuhan, and assume that the message is the message, it is challenging for educationalists all over the world.

          He seems to be saying that children - and I will extrapolate and gloss it as "people") are naturally inquisitive animals who will want to develop their knowledge if they are provided with the means and the resources to do so.This is best achieved by working in groups and constructing a shared body of knowledge. When these criteria are met, the thirst for learning (excuse the Hollywoodian influence) develops a life of its own. Now, none of this is particularly original - but it is being bought into. It seems as if Mitra is trying to prove this (quasi-) scientifically and THIS is what makes it innovative, radical and challenging.

          Regarding the relevance of Proust and the Squid (which I concur is a fantastic(ally-titled) book), I am not sure that the comparison is fair. Nor do I think that Wolf succeeds in proving Socrates wrong. Without a doubt, the tool of writing has changed the way that we learn things and interact with them. The written word often gains primacy over the spoken - never more true than in the sacred corridors of academia. This allows knowledge to be transmitted rather than co-constructed. I wonder if Socrates would have been as taken aback by the message emerging from Mitra's work as we are! Notice how it is the teachers who come back to Mitra and demand evidence of "deep learning." Mitra seems happy enough to see that when learners are presented with information that they have some sort of interest in assimilating, they are able to self-organise. And it is this skill (?) that education should be developing. Does it matter whether students remember who Pythagoras was and what he did (although I suspect that students WILL be able to recall this thirty years later)? Or is the important thing that they learn/discover/uncover/whathaveyou the ABILITY to find out this information for themselves? I'm certainly attracted to the latter view, if for no other reason than it puts the responsibility for learning back where it belongs - upon the learners.

          Loathe as I am to turn on my own earlier arguments...it strikes me that the internet is far more than a depository of texts which students will slowly lose the ability to interact with critically. I mean, look at what we are doing here: we are ACTIVELY debating about a VIDEO where information was presented to us. This is a return to the methods that Socrates would have been familiar with - an expert holds forth in the agora and the assorted learners begin to discuss. In so doing, opinions are challenged, dismissed, reinforced, developed and everyone goes home the wiser. You mentioned your fear that learners will cast aside their learning as quickly as they pick it up. But this fear is at odds with what the teachers reported to Mitra: the learners were actually going away and researching more than they needed to - choosing to deepen their knowledge for the sake of it - learning for the sake of learning!!!

          And this rings bells with me. Ten years ago I would have imagined Vygotsky to be a concert pianist. It was dogme that introduced him to me, but after that I went away and did the reading for myself. That led on to Bakhtin. That led on to sociocultural theory. That made me wonder about the difference between socioculturalism and socioconstructivism. That made me wonder about the difference between sociocontructivism and constructivism. etc How I chose to answer those questions saw me engage in a welath of activity: sometimes through reading (which invariably introduced me to opposing views); sometimes through going to lectures (my awareness having been raised and my attention drawn to lectures that I would probably have been oblivious too a few years earlier); and also by being able to ask people questions that were informed enough to help me deepen my learning.

          I don't feel at all well qualified enough to answer your concerns about Mitra's methodology. This does seem to be a fairly innovative approach to learning that he is testing and it would seem quite normal to find that the methodology evolves as the experimentation goes on.

          I look forward to seeing what you might have to say to this post. I am sure that you are more familiar with Mitra's work than I am and it is likely that you are able to contextualise his lecture much more accurately than I am. I hope that this will inspire me to learn a lot more about this than I might otherwise - so a huge thanks to Dennis for drawing my attention to it and for posting something that has brought back Diamondfingerz onto my radar where he was sorely missed.
        • Robert Haines
          Is it too simplistic to say there is a spectrum of views on how formalized learning should be, with Prescriptive pedagogy and Descriptive pedagogy on either
          Message 4 of 18 , Nov 2, 2010
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            Is it too simplistic to say there is a spectrum of views on how
            formalized learning should be, with Prescriptive pedagogy and
            Descriptive pedagogy on either end?

            Would Prescriptive mean top-down items to be learned and how they will
            be taught in sequence, and Descriptive, a way to observe and follow
            the system of learning as it emerges?

            Rob
          • Peter Thwaites
            Hi Diarmuid, Thanks very much for your reply. I think the key question in what you said is this one: Does it matter whether students remember who Pythagoras
            Message 5 of 18 , Nov 2, 2010
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              Hi Diarmuid,

              Thanks very much for your reply. I think the key question in what you said is
              this one:

              "Does it matter whether students remember who Pythagoras was and what he did
              (although I suspect that students WILL be able to recall this thirty years
              later)? Or is the important thing that they learn/discover/uncover/whathaveyou
              the ABILITY to find out this information for themselves?"

              I have a friend with a five year old daughter who can Google Lady Gaga lyrics,
              add the page to her favourites, then bring up both the lyrics and a YouTube
              page simultaneously, so that she can sing along to the song. I've heard plenty
              of other stories that make me think that my friend's five year old is not
              unusual at all. It is self-evident, to me, that children...

              "are naturally inquisitive animals who will want to develop their knowledge if
              they are provided with the means and the resources to do so."

              However, I think there is a large gap from there (or from Mitra's Pythagoras
              question) to your self guided enquiry about the social nature of knowledge. The
              abilities required to bridge this gap are partly natural, I think. They are
              partly provided by the learner's own will to learn. But I think these natural
              skills can be improved through training in thinking and question-posing. When
              you say:

              "Mitra seems happy enough to see that when learners are presented with
              information that they have some sort of interest in assimilating, they are able
              to self-organise. And it is this skill (?) that education should be developing",

              I'm not sure which skill you are talking about - if you mean the ability to
              self-organise: a computer plus non-attentional mental processes will do this to
              a certain extent; skilled, trained thinking will improve it no end. Or do you
              mean the development of the interest in assimilating? I would say that what
              needs to be added to Mitra's ideas is a focus on training learners to ask
              themselves questions which they want to find answers to. Finding answers to GCSE
              questions is surely not going to interest anybody for long, particularly if they
              are expected only to find the answer and not go beyond it. It is here that I
              disagree with you that my comparison with Maryanne Wolf's ideas is unfair. Wolf
              stresses time and again the importance of going "beyond the wisdom of the
              writer". We - those of us who think about education - need to go beyond the
              wisdom of Sugata Mitra to find ways to encourage students to think about what
              they learn in order that they may be swept away on a voyage of continual
              learning; we need to encourage our learners to go far beyond our own wisdom by
              finding ways for them to take over the question-posing process. As long as it's
              the teacher who is asking the questions and regulating the acceptability of the
              answers, limitations are being placed on just how "self-organising" this
              education can be.

              Perhaps you disagree with me that Mitra's ideas do not yet go far enough - this
              sentence:

              "although I suspect that students WILL be able to recall [Mitra's Pythagoras
              question] thirty years later"

              suggests so. Anybody who has read this far and who knows more than I do about
              the nature of dynamic (i.e. self-organising) systems (especially the human
              brain) will hopefully feel obliged to correct me on the following; but from my
              understanding, attrition is a part of self-organised learning. As we learn more,
              past learning slowly loses it's detail, until what we are left with is a
              (over)simplification of what we've learned before. Past learning is distilled
              into whatever we see as the most important idea(s), minus the supporting
              arguments etc (if you're anything like me, this process happens extremely
              quickly!) So some residue of this question will be left over - but in my opinion
              it is where the learner goes from there, and how deeply they go with it, that is
              the key issue. I DO feel that Mitra's research suggests that this depth CAN be
              achieved unaided; but if I could make one original contribution to the evolution
              of this type of education, it would be to find ways of aiding learners in
              thinking in ways which take them ever deeper along whichever path
              they perceive any initial question to have sent them on.

              So, to go back to your question: I agree with you that the important thing IS
              that students learn the ability to find out information for themselves; but I
              don't feel that Mitra's work is teaching them howto do this; it is only showing
              that it is possible.

              I'm not certain exactly what it is that makes me want to take out my whistle and
              start blowing when I hear about the enthusiasm Sugata Mitra has raised in
              others. Perhaps it's the showmanship that Dennis noted. Perhaps it's the fact
              that he is a scientist (and he really is a scientist - check out his Wikipedia
              entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugata_Mitra - he's a polymath!) who is
              relying, for now, on anecdotal evidence (the teachers told me that their
              students told them...). Or maybe it's just that I feel invested in his ideas
              through my own enthusiasm for them, and wish to go beyond them in my own mind.
              If I'm going to make them work in my own classrooms, it's not enough for me to
              just admire them. I have to advance them.

              Peter






              ________________________________
              From: "zpd.english@..." <zpd.english@...>
              To: dogme@yahoogroups.com
              Sent: Tue, 2 November, 2010 22:30:09
              Subject: [dogme] Sumata Mitra and Dogme



              Peter
              I am going to reply from a point of ignorance, having read very little of
              Mitra's work. Please understand (one and all) that this is meant to be a
              dialogic contribution rather than me sounding off!

              Basing ALL I am about to say on the TED video, it seems to me that Mitra has
              achieved a huge amount and it is pretty radical stuff. I realise that his main
              focus is on the application of technology but, if we put aside McLuhan, and
              assume that the message is the message, it is challenging for educationalists
              all over the world.


              He seems to be saying that children - and I will extrapolate and gloss it as
              "people") are naturally inquisitive animals who will want to develop their
              knowledge if they are provided with the means and the resources to do so.This is
              best achieved by working in groups and constructing a shared body of knowledge.
              When these criteria are met, the thirst for learning (excuse the Hollywoodian
              influence) develops a life of its own. Now, none of this is particularly
              original - but it is being bought into. It seems as if Mitra is trying to prove
              this (quasi-) scientifically and THIS is what makes it innovative, radical and
              challenging.

              Regarding the relevance of Proust and the Squid (which I concur is a
              fantastic(ally-titled) book), I am not sure that the comparison is fair. Nor do
              I think that Wolf succeeds in proving Socrates wrong. Without a doubt, the tool
              of writing has changed the way that we learn things and interact with them. The
              written word often gains primacy over the spoken - never more true than in the
              sacred corridors of academia. This allows knowledge to be transmitted rather
              than co-constructed. I wonder if Socrates would have been as taken aback by the
              message emerging from Mitra's work as we are! Notice how it is the teachers who
              come back to Mitra and demand evidence of "deep learning." Mitra seems happy
              enough to see that when learners are presented with information that they have
              some sort of interest in assimilating, they are able to self-organise. And it is
              this skill (?) that education should be developing. Does it matter whether
              students remember who Pythagoras was and what he did (although I suspect that
              students WILL be able to recall this thirty years later)? Or is the important
              thing that they learn/discover/uncover/whathaveyou the ABILITY to find out this
              information for themselves? I'm certainly attracted to the latter view, if for
              no other reason than it puts the responsibility for learning back where it
              belongs - upon the learners.


              Loathe as I am to turn on my own earlier arguments...it strikes me that the
              internet is far more than a depository of texts which students will slowly lose
              the ability to interact with critically. I mean, look at what we are doing here:
              we are ACTIVELY debating about a VIDEO where information was presented to us.
              This is a return to the methods that Socrates would have been familiar with - an
              expert holds forth in the agora and the assorted learners begin to discuss. In
              so doing, opinions are challenged, dismissed, reinforced, developed and everyone
              goes home the wiser. You mentioned your fear that learners will cast aside their
              learning as quickly as they pick it up. But this fear is at odds with what the
              teachers reported to Mitra: the learners were actually going away and
              researching more than they needed to - choosing to deepen their knowledge for
              the sake of it - learning for the sake of learning!!!


              And this rings bells with me. Ten years ago I would have imagined Vygotsky to be
              a concert pianist. It was dogme that introduced him to me, but after that I went
              away and did the reading for myself. That led on to Bakhtin. That led on to
              sociocultural theory. That made me wonder about the difference between
              socioculturalism and socioconstructivism. That made me wonder about the
              difference between sociocontructivism and constructivism. etc How I chose to
              answer those questions saw me engage in a welath of activity: sometimes through
              reading (which invariably introduced me to opposing views); sometimes through
              going to lectures (my awareness having been raised and my attention drawn to
              lectures that I would probably have been oblivious too a few years earlier); and
              also by being able to ask people questions that were informed enough to help me
              deepen my learning.

              I don't feel at all well qualified enough to answer your concerns about Mitra's
              methodology. This does seem to be a fairly innovative approach to learning that
              he is testing and it would seem quite normal to find that the methodology
              evolves as the experimentation goes on.


              I look forward to seeing what you might have to say to this post. I am sure that
              you are more familiar with Mitra's work than I am and it is likely that you are
              able to contextualise his lecture much more accurately than I am. I hope that
              this will inspire me to learn a lot more about this than I might otherwise - so
              a huge thanks to Dennis for drawing my attention to it and for posting something
              that has brought back Diamondfingerz onto my radar where he was sorely missed.







              [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            • Scott
              If I could just add my two cents to this fascinating discussion by appealing to Vygostkian sociocultural theory, which seems to me to have quite a lot to say
              Message 6 of 18 , Nov 3, 2010
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                If I could just add my two cents to this fascinating discussion by appealing to Vygostkian sociocultural theory, which seems to me to have quite a lot to say about untutored development versus instruction, and about individual learning versus communal learning, in the development of what Vygotsky called "higher mental functions", or "scientific thought" (as opposed to "everyday thought").

                Higher mental functioning seems to involve the ability to be conscious of, and to manage one's own thoughts, including the capacity to generalise. This is where instruction -- particularly of the dialogic kind -- comes in. According to sociocultural theory, through dialogue with a "better other", the structures of scientific thought are appropriated -- i.e. they are "other-regulated" before becoming "self-regulated". Vygotsky himself said: "School instruction induces the generalising kind of perception and thus plays a decisive role in making the child conscious of his own mental processes." (Thought and Language, 1986, p.171). Lantolf and Thorne (2007) develop this idea:

                "Vygotsky was particularly intrigued with the complex effects that schooling had on cognitive development. The activity of participation in schooling involved, at least in part, learning through participation and in socioculturally and institutionally organised practices. One of Vygotsky's most important findings is that learning collaboratively with others, particularly in instructional settings, precedes and shapes development. The relationship between learning and development is not directly causal, but intentionally designed learning environments (e.g., instructed L2 settings) can stimulate qualitative developmental changes". (Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Learning, in VanPatten amd Williams, Theories and Second Language Acquisition: an Introduction, Routledge, p.211).

                Perhaps the key phrase here (in terms of this discussion about Mitra's concept of "minimally invasive education") is: "particularly in instructional settings". This seems to imply that instructional settings provide something that non-instructional settings do not. Is this simply the presence of the teacher, or is it some sense of shared goals, which has a backwash effect on the quality of participation and the structure of the discourse?
              • Dennis Newson
                Hey, heavy-weight , formidable, intellectual, academic, philosophical, scientific, speculative thinkers Diarmuid and Peter and Scott. Let s not drown the baby
                Message 7 of 18 , Nov 3, 2010
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                  Hey, heavy-weight , formidable, intellectual, academic, philosophical,
                  scientific, speculative thinkers Diarmuid and Peter and Scott. Let's
                  not drown the baby in the bath water.

                  Your combined thoughts on higher mental functions, dailogic thought
                  etc. are fascinating in themselves, but isn't Mitra's achievement in
                  a different league alatogethe, a much more modest one? Hasn't he
                  "only" shown that there is an alternative to leaving slum or street
                  kids remaining illiterate. Stick a computer in a stone wall, leave it
                  on, leave the kids to it and they will teach themselves and each
                  other some basic literacy skills and use them to pick up some
                  knowledge of whatever kind, to whatever use they put it and however
                  long they remember it.

                  For me Mitra's work follows in the tradition of teacherless learning.
                  I recall reading a report in the 50s or 60s (Barnes? Teaching
                  English?) of an experiment in a grammar school where it was
                  demonstrated the kids came to a better understanding of a given poem
                  discussing it on their own rather than when there was a teacher
                  present with his (it was a male teacher)own interpetation of the poem
                  in mind that he required to children to match, rejecting their
                  alternative interpretations .i.e these kids were learning without a
                  teacher. And that account has always reminded me of the two classic
                  books by John Holt, How Children Fail and How Children Learn. His
                  basic thesis was that young kids are naturally curious and eager to
                  learn, until they enter school where they quickly learn that the name
                  of the game is not to try to get at the truth but to learn to say what
                  the teacher wants to hear.

                  Dennis
                • zpd.english@virgin.net
                  Hi Peter An exemplary reply - it served to clarify and to get me thinking just that little bit deeper! The comment about Pythagoras was one based on my own
                  Message 8 of 18 , Nov 3, 2010
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                    Hi Peter
                    An exemplary reply - it served to clarify and to get me thinking just that little bit deeper!
                    The comment about Pythagoras was one based on my own experience. God alone knows when I learnt about Pythagoras. I'm fairly sure that it was back when short trousers were the order of the day. And years later I know that we can use his theorem to calculate the length of the hypotenuse. Thanks to Pythagoras (or Pitagoras), I will for ever be imbued with the knowledge that a squared + b squared is equal to c squared. Should I ever find myself in a situation when I need to know the length of the longest side of a right-angled triangle and I only have time to measure the two shorter sides, I will be able to call upon this knowledge. That day, I regret, has yet to come.

                    What I draw from the miniscule amount that I know of Mitra's work is that if people are left to their own devices and have an interest in finding something out, the natural skills that they possess will be improved from working with other like-minded souls. That is, they don't necessarily need the training to be supplied - they are quite capable of training themselves and each other. It is this skill that I am referring to: the skill to educate oneself independently. This is not to say that I see no role for the teacher - the teacher can help oversee the process, but in a minimally invasive role. This is not how I view the educational system in its current format. However, this role that I see teachers as having is probably the same as your "focus on training learners to ask themselves questions which they want to find answers to."

                    I think I probably chose my words badly by saying that the comparison with Wolf's ideas was "unfair." This comes across as judgemental, and that is not my intention. Perhaps I meant something like "skewed" - although that doesn't quite sound right either! Maybe "tangential" would have been closer. What I was trying to say was that I couldn't see the direct relevance of Wolf's work in weakening Mitra's premise. I agree with the view that we need to go beyond the writer's words, but I think we do that whenever we take up the theory and try to put it into practice in the classroom. And I think that when we do this, we embark upon a voyage in which it CANNOT be the teacher who is solely responsible for asking the questions. Again, Mitra indicated this when he referred to the learners going beyond the original question. And I think that this is fairly commonplace (and facilitated by the hyperlinked nature of the internet -or the WWW as some would prefer me to say ;-)). The teacher is not really "teaching" the skill, just facilitating its self-development. And, in so doing, giving it value - showing the children, if you like, that learning is a self-directed activity, not an other-drected activity, and -more importantly- that it is worthwhile. Sure, we need to consider attrition - but I would dispute that it is a feature of *self-organised* learning: it is a feature of ANY type of learning. It seems to me that the attrition is slowed down when it is self-taught/learned. Attrition is more likely to take place earlier if the subject matter is imposed.

                    You write that you feel that Mitra's work is not showing children/people how to find out information for yourself. I agree, but I don't think that this is what this kind of education is about. If we show how to find out information for oneself, we risk setting down an alien process for learners to try and assimilate. Mitra's work seems to be about letting the learners discover THEIR way of finding out information by themselves. This is done in a social context. It is this feature that I find exciting.

                    I am less cautious about Mitra's showmanship, seeing it as no more than evidence that he is able to modify the message to reach the audience. I haven't read any of his published academic work, but I would be surprised if he had reached the lofty heights of academia (albeit Geordie academia) without paying due regard to the rules and regulations. I am impressed with your commitment to advance ideas as well as admire them. This gave me plenty of food for thought. I tend to admire and then try to assimilate. The advancement of the ideas had never really occurred to me. Then I thought that the assimilation of the ideas is in itself an advancement. For example, I can't say that I feel that I have advanced Vygotsky's theory of mind in any way, but I have deepened my own understanding of it. But I don't think that this is as noble an intent as yours. For now, and at almost 40, I suspect for the foreseeable future, I think I will have to content myself with standing on the shoulders of giants!

                    Which brings me onto Scott's question: why does the presence of the teacher or the educational environment make a difference? Does it indeed make a difference or did Lantolf, Vygotsky et al merely find what they were looking for? I'm afraid I don't know enough about their methodology to comment - was there a control group? But if we assume that the methodology was (as) flawless (as possible), might it not be the very simple act of setting time aside for the express purpose of learning?

                    Dennis mentions John Holt - and there's something in this. Mitra's work, as I have said earlier, does not seem to be particularly original; after all, I think that Vygotsky was saying pretty much the same thing (plus teachers, admittedly) some 90 years earlier. But Mitra's approach - coming at the phenomenon from a more empirical pathway- IS more original. Holt never seemed to go beyond opinionating (much like myself). When my son, Eamonn, was around 4, I remember thinking back to reading a paragraph in Holt's books where he was mildly critical of a mother admonishing her son for running off in an airport. Holt was sure that if the son had been left to his own devices, he would have turned around before he found himself in real danger...as if the boy was in a vacuum and in control of all other variables.

                    Incidentally, I decided to show the Mitra video to my EAP students in their speaking and listening class. I began the lesson by sending them off for 45 minutes to find out as much about Mitra as they could. Despite one of them actually telephoning Mitra's secretary and grilling him/her, some of the stuff that they came back with was pretty poor: he likes pop music; he has a friend called Eli. They also seemed to have missed entirely what I considered to be the central points about the HITW experiment. I haven't got the time (you'll be glad to hear) to offer my thoughts on why they went for such bland information, but in brief I wondered whether or not it was because they were not yet part of a real academic discourse community and felt no real need to suspend their disbelief and imagine. You might think that I should have scaffolded their independent learning in some way - and you may well be right. This may be my eventual conclusion too. But for now, I am going to content myself by asking them to grade the information that they returned with and ask them to reflect on why they bothered to note this down. Perhaps this is scaffolding - in fact, I know it is! But it aims to provoke them to self-regulate for future tasks. That is, it is not scaffolding that aims to provide them with the tools that they need to research more efficiently, but scaffolding that aims to help them develop their own mechanisms to achieve this goal.

                    Peter Thwaite -when are you going to join the blogging community again? Your style or writing and your choice of topics are too good to be kept for others! You're missed!
                  • zpd.english@virgin.net
                    Sorry Dennis, I realise that I didn t address your question: Hasn t [Mitra] only shown that there is an alternative to leaving slum or street kids remaining
                    Message 9 of 18 , Nov 3, 2010
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                      Sorry Dennis, I realise that I didn't address your question:

                      Hasn't [Mitra]"only" shown that there is an alternative to leaving slum or street kids remaining illiterate.

                      I think it goes beyond this. It's not the content of the learning, but the process of it that I find most interesting. He is, in essence, telling us that schools don't have to be as ordered and hierarchical as factories or prisons. When people are left to themselves, motivation, resources and encouragement seems to take care of the educational process.

                      Sociocultural theories remain somewhat avant garde and marginalised. The basic nature of schools remains traditional and hierarchical with only the learning of established "facts" as their main prupose. Mitra's work seems to be about smashing that system and creating one wherein one is free to establish a few facts of your own.

                      I know how utopian and naive the above may make me appear. After all, you can have the best system in the world and then undermine it all when it's time for assessment. But this is not an argument to accept the status quo. As we all know, one of the features of dynamic systems is that the smallest tinkering can produce disproportionate change.
                    • Dennis Newson
                      zpd :-) Do you really think: Mitra s work seems to be about smashing that system and creating one wherein one is free to establish a few facts of your
                      Message 10 of 18 , Nov 3, 2010
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                        zpd :-) Do you really think:

                        "Mitra's work seems to be about smashing that system and creating one
                        wherein one is free to establish a few facts of your own."

                        I would have thought he is trying to supplement the provision offered
                        by the system in places where it fails, not focussed on destroying it.

                        Dennis
                      • zpd.english@virgin.net
                        ... I think it s more than trying to supplement - after all, the two views of education seem to be diametrically opposed. One is the current education system
                        Message 11 of 18 , Nov 3, 2010
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                          --- In dogme@yahoogroups.com, Dennis Newson <djn@...> wrote:
                          >
                          > zpd :-) Do you really think:
                          >
                          > "Mitra's work seems to be about smashing that system and creating one
                          > wherein one is free to establish a few facts of your own."
                          >
                          > I would have thought he is trying to supplement the provision offered
                          > by the system in places where it fails, not focussed on destroying it.
                          >
                          > Dennis
                          >
                          I think it's more than trying to supplement - after all, the two views of education seem to be diametrically opposed. One is the current education system where the focus is on the propagation of established "facts" and the other is the discovery of personal truths.
                        • Dennis Newson
                          Mmm. My reading of why he began his Hole in Wall experiments was his own personal curiosity to see what would happen, the curiosity of a scientist not the
                          Message 12 of 18 , Nov 3, 2010
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                            Mmm. My reading of why he began his Hole in Wall experiments was his own
                            personal curiosity to see what would happen, the curiosity of a scientist
                            not the resourcefulness of a passionate pedagogue working in the slums.


                            Dennis


                            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                          • zpd.english@virgin.net
                            Yes, Dennia. That would be my reading of it as well. However, he seems to have moved a long way from that 1999 experiment. Now he s out of the slums and
                            Message 13 of 18 , Nov 3, 2010
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                              Yes, Dennia. That would be my reading of it as well. However, he seems to have moved a long way from that 1999 experiment. Now he's out of the slums and looking at the application of his research in the industrialised world.

                              --- In dogme@yahoogroups.com, Dennis Newson <djn@...> wrote:
                              >
                              > Mmm. My reading of why he began his Hole in Wall experiments was his own
                              > personal curiosity to see what would happen, the curiosity of a scientist
                              > not the resourcefulness of a passionate pedagogue working in the slums.
                              >
                              >
                              > Dennis
                              >
                              >
                              > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                              >
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