Monthly Archives: June 2015

“Sometimes my eyes go funny” – How to help dyslexics?

What do the following famous people have in common? Winston Churchill, Richard Branson, Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Cruise, John Lennon, Jack Nicholson, Jim Carey, JFK, Kiera Knightly and Albert Einstein. They all suffer/ed from dyslexia to some degree or other, apparently. By the same token then, they may also at some point have felt the same feelings of frustration, embarrassment, anxiety, stupidity, anger, upset, and generally feeling dumber than everyone else around them. I learned about this and other dyslexia related matters on an internal CPD course on dyslexia at my college this week.

The course was delivered from a personal viewpoint by a member of staff, Caroline Fernandez, who has grown up with dyslexia, but who has also learned to overcome it, work around it, through it and over it, and who now helps others in the same boat.

So what do we mean by dyslexia? Of course there can be a plethora of symptoms. I liked one quote provided by a dyslexic learner, who said: “Sometimes my eyes go funny and I can’t see them [the words] – it looks like they are going wavy and they get mixed up and small words look like black things with white in between.” That makes me feel seasick just by reading it, never mind experiencing it. During the training session we were shown images of how may text appear to dyslexics though, and they weren’t all the same. Like all learning difficulties, if we use a label too glibly we generalise, forget the diversity in the population the label applies to, and don’t stop to observe the subtle nuances of the individuals we are relating to. Therein lays a crucial danger. If we do that and get blasé there’s no wonder learners demonstrate negative behaviours; it’s like we just aren’t seeing or hearing them. It would be tantamount to ignoring them. So what do we do?

I would have blogged about what I learned in more detail in the training session, but Caroline had already put together the following hints and tips with great finesse, and she agreed to let me share them on my blog. Enjoy…

Working with dyslexic learners: By Caroline Fernandez, Learning Facilitator

CarolineDyslexia GlassesOne thing I have learnt whilst researching is that when the learner becomes at ease with their dyslexia, the process of learning becomes much calmer and less stressful. Learning becomes more natural and even fun from time to time.

No matter the age of the learner, dyslexia is stressful, so learning to understand your own dyslexia is a vital component for allowing the learning process to take place. Knowing what works and what doesn’t is where you need to start.

Getting started

The severity of their dyslexia will influence how much support the learner will need to complete the work set. This needs to be established from the beginning of the year so the support can be put into place. Communication is the key to understanding each learner’s dyslexia. You need to sit down with each learner individually and listen to how they feel and what they experience when they are trying to do their work, either reading or writing. This will help you understand what has and hasn’t worked in the past. Involving the learner with their own education can make a real difference to what they understand. Explore their typical difficulties (many of which will be common with other learners), promoting self-confidence by giving learners the experience of success and positive feedback.

Using the multisensory lesson technique (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic) can be a useful tool when planning lessons. Yes, it is difficult for the teaching staff to work out how to fit all this in but it is the only way to produce an inclusive learning environment for their learner. Use approaches that encourage self-directed and independent learning so that learners feel in control of their learning.

A dyslexic learner must be shown ….

  • The big picture and then how the details fit into it.
  • From parts to whole.
  • From the easy to the more difficult.
  • From the simple to the complex.
  • From the concrete to the abstract.
  • From the visual to the auditory.
    • Always showing them how new information fits in with what they have learned.
    • With much review and practice at every step of the way.

If the learner can comprehend what is being asked of them then they can generally complete the task set. Ensuring they understand each word and its meaning is vital to completing each assignment.

If learners do not understand the meaning of each word in the set task then the end result may vary as to what has been asked of them. If the learner needs those words breaking down this needs to done when the task is set, and not half way through the assignment.

Get the learner to repeat the task back to you and tell you what they understand the task to be, this way you will know they are going to give you the answer you need.

This extract from the ‘Teachers Strategies for Dyslexics’ provides some great techniques to help learners get from A to B.

“1. Use a tape recorder- Many problems with materials are related to reading disabilities. The tape recorder often is an excellent aid in overcoming this problem. Directions, stories, and specific lessons can be recorded on tape. The student can replay the tape to clarify understanding of directions or concepts. Also, to improve reading skills, the student can read the printed words silently as they are presented on tape.

  1. Clarify or simplify written directions – Some directions are written in paragraph form and contain many units of information. These can be overwhelming to some students. The teacher can help by underlining or highlighting the significant parts of the directions. Rewriting the directions is often helpful.

For example: Original directions: This exercise will show how well you can locate conjunctions. Read each sentence. Look for the conjunctions. When you locate a conjunction, find it in the list of conjunctions under each sentence. Then circle the number of your answer in the answer column. Directions rewritten and simplified: Read each sentence and circle all conjunctions.

  1. Present a small amount of work – The teacher can tear pages from workbooks and materials to present small assignments to students who are anxious about the amount of work to be done. This technique prevents students from examining an entire workbook, text, or material and becoming discouraged by the amount of work. Also, the teacher can reduce the amount of work when it appears redundant. For example, the teacher can request the student to complete only odd-numbered problems or items with stars by them, or can provide responses to several items and ask the student to complete the rest. Finally, the teacher can divide a worksheet into sections and instruct the student to do a specific section. A worksheet is divided easily by drawing lines across it and writing go and stop within each section.
  1. Block out extraneous stimuli – If a student is easily distracted by visual stimuli on a full worksheet or page, a blank sheet of paper can be used to cover sections of the page not being worked on at the time. Also, line markers can be used to aid reading, and windows can be used to display individual math problems.


  1. Highlight essential information – If an adolescent can read a regular textbook but has difficulty finding the essential information, the teacher can mark this information with a highlight pen.


  1. Locate place in consumable material – In consumable materials in which students progress sequentially (such as workbooks), the student can make a diagonal cut across the lower right-hand corner of the pages as they are completed. With all the completed pages cut, the student and teacher can readily locate the next page that needs to be corrected or completed.


  1. Provide additional practice activities – Some materials do not provide enough practice activities for students with learning problems to acquire mastery on selected skills. Teachers then must supplement the material with practice activities. Recommended practice exercises include instructional games, peer teaching activities, self-correcting materials, computer software programs, and additional worksheets.


  1. Provide a glossary in content areas – At the secondary level, the specific language of the content areas requires careful reading. Students often benefit from a glossary of content-related terms.


  1. Develop reading guides – A reading guide provides the student with a road map of what is written and features periodic questions to help him or her focus on relevant content. It helps the reader understand the main ideas and sort out the numerous details related to the main ideas. A reading guide can be developed paragraph-by-paragraph, page-by-page, or section-by-section.” (International Dyslexia Association,2000)

 There are many occasions where dyslexic learners appear to not be paying attention. In fact they are generally experiencing an auditory overload and may even get a “glazed” look on their face. They can’t help this. We can help them by using the strategies above and by giving them the gift of time. So:

Allow more time

  • Give plenty of opportunities for overlearning, practice in meaningful contexts and revision.
  • Allow time for discussion and reflection, not just todays lesson but the assignment being worked on.
  • Plan ahead and be flexible in your deadlines, some dyslexic learners will go into melt down at the first mention of a time limit.

Remember dyslexic learners are not incidental learners in your classroom. They must be directly taught (shown) everything. Lazy! They are doing their best. It takes a lot more energy for the dyslexic student to get through the day and do their work, more than it does the average student.

Chesterfield College

 Here at Chesterfield College we have many resources to aid dyslexic learners. On the computers we have a program called ‘My Study Bar’ which will enable you to overlay the screen with a tint to help with visual eye stress; this can be found on L drive. We also have Read & Wright Gold which reads the words out loud on the screen; although it is not an up to date version it will allow learners to hear what they have written back to themselves.

In our Library and Learning centres we can provide independent study support for those learners who need that little extra outside of the classroom. We can look over their work; help them understand the question asked of them. It is important that dyslexic learners feel as though they are supported especially when their lecturer is not accessible, it may be worth bringing the leaner down yourself to meet with us in the learning centre so they feel more comfortable.

In each of our centres we also have colour overlay rulers and A4 sheets for learners and staff when borrowing books or magazines; though these are only for one day use it can give you an insight as to what colours work for you, and maybe look into purchasing your own in the future.

Also at Chesterfield College we have many subscriptions to magazines and different programs, my favourite being the Primal Online Learning; this is for anatomy and physiology, it takes you through the body systems with images, words and video, the best part is that you can go at your own pace.

Another great tool we have at our disposal is ‘Click View’ we have at least the last four weeks of Freeview television on our database system, approx. 30 channels. We can edit them down to a clip, or just simply take out the ads; these videos can be a great tool to use in lessons to get information across the learners. You can search by subject/curriculum area and also see videos that other colleges have added. As staff you can access this from home and even edit the programs yourself; using the Online Click View service. You can access this on the staff intranet and put a request in (similarly students can access all of these resources from home).

A colleague of mine came across this article about the mind-set of the learner and the educator, it questions the way we think when we are preparing to teach a lesson. For example are you thinking ‘well that learner is dyslexic they won’t be able to do that’ I would say how do you know? Maybe that right now they can’t, but with help and support they could learn.

My point being, do not let the label of being dyslexic influence your opinion on their abilities now or in the future.

These are some of the websites I use personally for information and to get new ideas on how to help dyslexic learners. Though a lot of information is referring to children, the teaching tips can be crossed over to F.E and adult education”.

Resources: – Irlens Syndrome Video

35 ideas for weekly reflection in your PGCE teaching log


How many teachers does it take to change a lightbulb? None. Flipped learning means your classroom isn’t needed so we can all sit in the dark and save on electricity bills. Haha. Lightbulb jokes notwithstanding, there are 35 teaching weeks in our academic calendar at college, so I’d like to propose having a stash of 35 lightbulb-like ideas stashed in your idea sack to help keep you thinking about your teaching practice from a different perspective every one of those weeks. Also, if you’re doing a PGCE and you’ve been tasked with keeping a weekly teaching log, you might be wondering what to reflect on, how much should you write, in what style and with what purpose.

In my last blog post ( I shared Sparkes’ RAISE Model for reflection on teaching practice. If this is used effectively then a topic for reflection each week should emerge from the reflection of the previous week. However, generating an initial topic based frame from which to consider your teaching might require a bit more creativity. If you are suffering from such a blank page scenario, this blog post if for you. I’ve simply scribbled down the first topics that came to mind and bunged them in a list of 35: one for each teaching week of the year.

The list (below) isn’t intended to be prescriptive or restrictive. It’s merely a starter for 10, or actually 35 in this case. It would be likely though that after a teacher got going they would come up with their own list of topics for reflection relevant to their own teaching contexts or what they are personally learning, reading or talking about in their teaching networks at that time. It may be that you think some topics on this list are inane, futile and banal, debunked, outdated or just repetitive. The topics might also provide food for thought. Either way, as usual your feedback is appreciated. This list is, as stated above, simply the result of a 5 minute attempt to come up with 35 topics. Feel free to suggest other topics in the blog comment space below. Have fun reflecting! Carol 🙂

The 35 Ideas

Idea 1: Is the layout of my classroom working well?

Idea 2: Am I giving due thought to equality and diversity in my classes and lessons?

Idea 3: How well do I know my students?

Idea 4: What do my students really need?

Idea 5: Are my students learning and how do I really know?

Idea 6: Am I assessing student learning effectively and can I improve this?

Idea 7: Are my lessons ‘engaging’?

Idea 8: Do I differentiate? How and why?

Idea 9: Do I stretch and challenge my students?

Idea 10: How do I group my students for tasks?

Idea 11: How do I support weaker students?

Idea 12: Are “learning styles and preferences” relevant to my students?

Idea 13: What extension activities do I have to keep students busy?

Idea 14: Would my students benefit from homework: if so, how?

Idea 15: How do I embed functional skills in my lessons?

Idea 16: Am I helping quieter students to improve communication and confidence?

Idea 17: How well do I manage behaviour in my classes?

Idea 18: Have I got good rapport with students?

Idea 19: Are my roles, responsibilities and boundaries in place?

Idea 20: Have we addressed topics such as radicalisation/Prevent lately?

Idea 21: What students might be vulnerable or ‘at risk’ in my class?

Idea 22: Am I addressing the literacy agenda in my classes?

Idea 23: What ICT/TEL tools and resources might improve delivery of my teaching and learning objectives?

Idea 24: Is the seating plan in my lessons effective? Should it be tweaked? Or, live and let live?

Idea 25: Can I do something to improve classroom displays and maybe even develop working walls?

Idea 26: What are the basic resources needed for my classes?

Idea 27: Can I help my students be more motivated?

Idea 28: What am I doing to engage with others in the students’ lives? Do I need to?

Idea 29: How can I help students focus for revision?

Idea 30: How can I help students prepare for final exams?

Mirror, Mirror: How’s my Teaching? Using the Sparkes RAISE Model for Reflection

Mirror, mirror on the wall, how fare my classes amongst them all? We all know the value of reflection in learning. It’s a critical must. When coupled with constructive, critical feedback the process of reflection can be very powerful indeed. In my own case I have benefited from mentor feedback and personal reflection which has then resulted in a significant step change in my own teaching practice, e.g. in the case of how to focus on and respond to differentiation.

A colleague of mine, Vicky Sparkes, has recently completed her PGCE. We talked from time to time and swapped hypothetical, metaphorical notes. One thing I liked of hers in particular was something she developed as part of a reflective review for assessment of teaching, which she delivered in April 2015. I asked Vicky and she said I could blog about it, so here it is.

Figure 1 - sparkes 2014

Figure 1: The RAISE Model: Sparkes (2014)

During Vicky’s eighth assessment of teaching (AoT) learners participated in a role-play activity in the form of a simulated multi-agency safeguarding meeting, and in order to reflect and review how things went, Vicky produced the above RAISE model, by synthesising elements of reflective models from Johns (1995), Brookfield (1995) and Rolfe (2001) to produce the above model that she felt was simple enough to implement alongside the day-to-day pressures of teaching, but that crucially prompted and incorporated reflective analysis via theoretical literature, learners and peers. The final stage ‘experimentation’ was intended to be implemented into Vicky’s continued professional development plan and fed into her application for Qualified Teacher and Learning Status.

In particular, the targets Vicky used this model to review were: further stretching and challenging high achieving learners, utilizing learner feedback to evaluate teaching and learning strategies, and, liaising with Learning Support Assistants to consider how best to support learners. The session required learners to participate in a role-play activity which is an activity that Vicky had never utilised before. She stated that she was eager to discover how learners felt about the activity and included a brief learner evaluation at the end of the session to establish their thoughts about the session and to find out how it could be improved.

Vicky was interested in focusing also on a criteria set by The Teachers’ Standards that state that teachers should ‘ reflect systematically on the effectiveness of lessons and approaches to teaching’ (Department of Education, 2013).   Vicky felt that such learner-centred approaches to teaching, learning and assessment serve many purposes including building self-efficacy and to achieve this learners must experience situations which ‘reinforce the individual student’s ability to exercise some control over the learning environment’ (Stage et al. in Weimer, 2013, p:17). Vicky interpreted this as a recommendation in involving learners in evaluation processes which could therefore encourage learners to take responsibility for their own learning and may also promote cooperation in the classroom and improve collaborative learning (Weimer, 2013).

Vicky found that her own model of reflection was more effective within her own practice as it included the aspects from other models that she found to be the most useful. Furthermore, because she utilised the acronym ‘RAISE’, she felt it would be easy to remember, something crucial to reviewing something quickly. As a result Vicky was positive about continuing its use for the foreseeable future.

Vicky further refined her model as follows:

Figure 2 - sparkes 2015

Figure 2: Sparkes’ RAISE Model of Reflective Teaching in Practice (2015)

Personally, I like any tool like the RAISE model, which provides a structure for analysis and reflection. I used Vicky’s model to produce a table with question prompts to further articulate points of reflection in a more structured format. I may well use this as the basis for my weekly teaching log in the final year of my part time PGCE starting in September:

The RAISE Table for Reflection (adapted from Sparkes, 2015):

RAISE Stage Comment
1)    Review Provide a self-reflection of a new experience of critical incident: what happened? Where, when, who, what, how and why? To what extent was progress, success and achievement realised? What questions did the experience or incident raise? Provide context:
2)    Analysis Explain the significance of the experience or incident to teaching, learning and assessment: what issues or problems did the experience or incident highlight? Why was this of relevance? Who to and why? Would it be of wider relevance or just with particular reference in this instance to this class/student? Are there any other stakeholders who should be involved in this? Provide detail:
3)    Interventions Discuss alternative interventions in relation to literature and/or learner/peer suggestions: what would the different learning theorists suggest that might be of relevance? What do different teaching practice tools and methods bring to the table to help? What advice have trusted colleagues given? What do the students concerned have to say on the matter? Outline key ideas and discuss pro’s and con’s, advantages and disadvantages of each:
4)    Solutions Outline a favoured solution and target to trial: out of the alternatives you presented and discussed in stage 3, which idea did you decide to be most appropriate and why?
5)    Experimentation Describe implementation of solution and then go back to stage one: how will you put the idea/solution into practice, who with, when, where, etc. – provide detail and context, aims and objectives:


An extensive bibliography Vicky utilised for this reflective model and her PGCE in general can be found below:

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Your Writing is Awful. What’s the best way to start a blog post?

dark and stormy night

Your writing is awful, yes, you. Granted, as one of my university colleagues in charge of a PhD cohort used to say, “Having one’s writing criticised is like having one’s baby called ugly”. Truth hurts. Are you going to do something about it or just coast along in your snuggly, warm comfort zone? How often do we step back and reflect as to how we can improve? Can we see the wood for the trees, or do we need someone to help us out? When was the last time we asked for and got honest feedback on our writing? How about focusing on one thing at a time, and perhaps, how we start off our writing. Maybe how we start off our introductions in our blogs.

What two things should your opening sentence do? 1) Grab the reader’s attention and, 2) make them want to keep reading.

Here are some pointers from some of my GCSE English text books aimed at students that I think we would all do well to keep in mind for personal reflection as blog writers.

1)      Some notes taken from the CGP’s GCSE AQA English ‘Complete Revision & Practice’ (2007)

“Use your opening to grab the reader’s attention”

“Your first sentence has to let the reader know what you’re writing about, but more importantly, make them want to read on. For example, for the ‘terrifying place’ answer on the previous page (where you may be asked to describe a terrifying place and you pick the idea of writing about Mona Lisa being trapped in a painting), your first sentence could be something like this: ‘My enigmatic smile is still as fresh as the day it was painted, politely concealing five hundred years of boredom and frustration.’”

Some reasons this approach is deemed to be effective are stated as:

  • “Immediately talking as if you’re the Mona Lisa is an unusual idea that might intrigue the reader” (i.e. use of the phrase, “My enigmatic smile…”)
  • “There’s some interesting vocabulary here to get the reader’s attention” (i.e. use of the words “enigmatic smile” and “as fresh as the day it was painted”)
  • “It’s clear how she feels about being trapped in a painting right from the beginning” (i.e. use of the words ‘boredom’ and ‘frustration’ to impute emotions)

“Be as creative as you can… The more thought you put into your writing, the better it will be, so don’t just go with the first thing that comes to mind – try to come up with a few possibilities so that you can choose the best one.”

Other general techniques that can be used in your opening lines to make your blog posts more varied and interesting include: emotive language (to provoke an emotional response, you losers), rhetorical questions (which persuade the reader by prodding and probing them to question something so they start to think along certain lines), irony and satire (to ridicule alternative arguments in a playful and entertaining way), facts and statistics (to add credibility to your argument and raise the reader’s attention to something they weren’t aware of – I can guarantee 76% of you will love this idea), counter-arguments (to respectfully acknowledge a dominant point of view while raising an alternative idea that you then elaborate on), the ‘rule or three’ (or triples, depending on how you like to refer to them, but basically a list of three things mentioned together to create impact), quoting authorities (again, quoting Einstein or Abraham Lincoln etc will always make your work more convincing, ahem), flattery (well, you *are* wonderful, after all, and a very valued and dear reader), repetition (it’s just wrong, wrong, wrong how some people start off their blog posts – but repetition can help you emphasise key points), generalisations (all blog readers are gullible after all… just joking, but sweeping generalisations can create a particular effect that you can go on to argue about or back up with more evidence further on, and will engage the reader in a conversational way while reading), personal anecdotes (telling you about the time I failed my first driving test, for instance, or making you cry by telling you a sad story to get you on side with the line of thought I want you to take after reading my blog – they also make for juicy and interesting reading sometimes…), and exaggerations (they just give your writing more oomph!).

Another approach might be to show understanding in an opening sentence: “You’re probably feeling a bit scared about starting your new post as an NQT this autumn…”

And, if you find one of these techniques become your favourite, please, please, please don’t fall into the trap of using that same technique every time you write your blog. Vary the way you introduce your writing or your readers will get bored, irritated, and switch off.

Of course, it does depend on the type of blog post you are writing. When I did a brief stint as a junior reporter at the Lincolnshire Echo many years ago I learned very quickly the difference between a page lead news peg introduction and a double spread feature article introduction. The former is more punchy, e.g.: “A LOCAL fireman raised £6000 today by carrying off 300 ladies for charity”… And the latter is more descriptive: “The flash of red trousers and the harsh brush of a flame resistant protective uniform hit me in my flushed face today as I was bounced with my heart in my mouth for 20 meters over Fireman Sam’s shoulder, while he raised spirits, eyebrows and a lot of money for a very worthy cause…”

2)      Collins Revision GCSE AQA English and English Language Essentials, 2009:

Other descriptive techniques can be deployed too, for example: alliteration (“Teachers are twitching with trepidation…”), assonance (“A teacher feature…), onomatopoeia (“The fizzing fireworks or classroom fury…”).

3)      CGP GCSE English Writing Skills: The Study Guide (2012)

“Badgers can dig holes twice as fast as a human can run… just kidding, but it did grab your attention. Make the beginning of your creative writing really gripping and memorable and you’ll get more marks”

“You could start with a strong opinion. ‘Watching ‘The Return of the Spring’ is better than watching paint dry – but only just.’ This makes the reader want to know why you think the film is so bad.”

“Start your stories in the middle of an action. If you have to write a story (or anecdote or memoir), keep the reader interested and make the story come to life. Start your writing in the middle of the action to really grip your reader.”

E.g. using the task “Write a story about a time when you wish you had acted differently”, a dull attempt might be: “Once, many years ago, when I was a lot younger, we were on holiday in Spain. There were all sorts of exciting things there, and we were having a really good time.” A much better attempt might be: “I couldn’t believe it. He was gone. “He must be here somewhere,” I thought to myself, as I went through the shed, desperately picking up boxes and throwing them aside. It was no use. Peter had run away and it was all my fault.” This starts in the middle of an action and makes you want to read on.

Another example of a good introduction might be: “Losing a million pounds was the best thing that ever happened to me. I didn’t realise it at the time, of course. The day I made the choice that changed my life, I trudged away from the supermarket feeling like the unluckiest girl in the world. In reality, though, I’d had a very narrow escape.” You might say the first sentence is gripping, because it’s unexpected – normally losing money would make people unhappy. This makes the reader want to read on to find out why it doesn’t in this case.

The end. Conclusions will be discussed another time 🙂

Theories of learning: experiential learning, complexity science and cpmplex processes of relating

Theories and Principles of Educational Practice (PGCE – L6)

Adapted from work prepared for summative assessment for my PGCE course

This essay presents the results of an analysis of a few key learning theories. Different theories and principles of teaching, learning and communication that promote inclusivity and improve the learning experience have been considered. The key school of learning considered was Experiential Learning, as understood through Kolb’s Learning Cycle, considered against learning theory from the complexity science field, and Stacey’s theory of Complex Responsive Processes of Relating, with added insights provided by Senge and Bohm. The theories have been linked to the teaching and learning environment of work based learning, defined here as organisational learning and the individuals who learn in teams within it. The overall aim of the essay was to articulate how the theories presented might improve the learning experience.

By way of a general introduction it can be said that learning takes many guises, and there is reference made in the literature to fashions of learning (Preiss and Murray, 2005), epistemological beliefs and approaches to learning (Cano, 2005), heuristics and general learning processes and principles of learning (Williams, 2005; Mazur, 2005), approaches to learning, learning strategies, cognition, cognitive style, and cognitive learning (Spicer, 2004; Edwards, 2004; Salvisberg, 2005; Hanaki, Sethi, Erev, and Peterhansl, 2005).

The place and time of learning is presented in the literature as being an ongoing pursuit, which takes place over the life course of the individual in the context of social relationships, and not necessarily by formal or continuous attachment to a learning institution. Mentioned specifically in the literature, for example, is continuous learning, training and development (El-Tannir, 2002), lifelong learning (Johnston, 1999), family learning (West, 2005), and open learning (Boot and Hodgson, 1987; Boot and Hodgson, 1988). However, this does not preclude more directed learning associated with, for example, the specific objectives of an organisation. Learning can therefore also be highly deliberate and instrumental (Zollo and Winter, 2002; Ottewill, 2003), while existing in different forms (Schuster, 2005), and being undertaken in order to effect specific changes and transformations (Wals, Caporali, Pace, Slee, Sriskandarajah, and Warren, 2004; Bowers, 2005; Tosey, Mathison, and Michelli, 2005).

Ryu et al (2005) refer to three learning processes encountered in their research: learning-by-investment, learning-by-doing, and learning-from-others (Ryu, Kim, Chaudhury, and Rao, 2005) (see also (Holtzman, 2005) on learning from doing). Under a similar umbrella, the literature also takes into account models of learning and theories of practice for informal learning environments (Hsi, Crowley, Duschl, Finke, King, and Sabelli, 2004), informal and incidental learning in the workplace (Marsick and Watkins, 1990) and situated learning (Giani and Schroeder, 2004; Lave and Wenger, 1990).

Although the key school of learning considered for this essay was experiential learning, that is presented later. Considered first, therefore, is complexity science and learning. A list was derived of 6 complexity principles that were found to be significant for the specific application to organisations and the people learning interdependently in the context of them (Webb, Wunram, Lettice, and Klein, 2005; Webb, Wohlfart, Wunram, and Ziv, 2004). These included:

  1. Self-organisation & Emergence: Organisations were understood to show self-organising behaviour in terms of the system being able to organise itself, i.e. that the single agents of the system could find a structure bottom-up on their own, without having a master-plan or observational guidance instructing them how to organise.
  2. Edge-of-Chaos: The edge of chaos was interpreted as the balance between structure and flexibility that a company would need to become robust. In complexity science, the edge of chaos, i.e. the zone between complete stability and complete chaos, was taken to represent a peak of creative productivity.
  3. Diversity: Organisations were understood to need a diverse set of agents to be successful and to enable an effective structure to emerge. In companies, this was said to mean that the right mix of people would be indispensable for innovation and creativity. Teams would not be as effective if all team members had the same strengths and weaknesses, as the combination of different abilities increases creativity and adaptability. Diversity can also refer to developing a broad range of products and considering numerous strategies, etc.
  4. History and Time: Organisations and the people interacting in them were understood to have a sense of historicity. This meant that, although the future

behaviour of an organisation could not be extrapolated from the past, the past of this system would still be important for its present and future position.

  1. Unpredictability: The notion of unpredictability implied that the development of an organisation could not be foreseen, i.e. not extrapolated from past behaviour and not calculated on the basis of linear cause-effect relationships.
  2. Pattern Recognition: Organisational and employee behaviour was understood to show patterns. In the natural sciences these patterns can, for example, be observed in a flock of birds or the complex structures of bee hives. Human beings, however, were seen to have a natural urge to identify patterns in the evolution of complex systems, which can be helpful but also dangerous in the corporate context (because the human brain tries to identify patterns even if there are no patterns).

These six complexity science principles were found to be effective in interdependent learning situations between individuals in organisations as a means by which to identify, articulate and understand problems, in terms of undergoing a change in perspective, philosophy and having consciously engaged in a learning process (Webb et al., 2005). These three areas of perspective, learning and philosophy, enhanced by sense-making enabled by the 6 principles, were found to make a substantial impact on the ability of individuals within the organisations studied to solve problems.

In the context of the application and use of complexity science principles as highlighted above, it is the value of complexity science principles in terms of language, metaphor and analogy that is acknowledged. Many analogies and

metaphors are used to elaborate ideas from complexity science, as with examples of ants, termites, birds, and bees. The term complex adaptive system (CAS) is used as a metaphor to explain a network of interrelating agents whose interactions can produce complex evolution (or learning and change between people over time). Metaphors used to explain different parts of this idea include ‘the Cambrian explosion’ (a metaphor for complex evolution), and an ‘ecosystem’ (a metaphor for a network where complex interaction takes place) (Lewin, 1999). In this sense metaphors are ‘a way of thinking and seeing things’ in the natural world, and transferring these thoughts elsewhere (Morgan 1986:12). Metaphors ‘bring new perspectives into existence’ – and in this instance a new perspective is provided for organisations (Grant & Oswick 1996:2).

The language and metaphor of complexity science principles has been recognised for its potential in enabling people to re-visualise their world (McMillan, 2004), by means of developing new ways of speaking and thinking about it, and in turn enabling new thinking to lead to new behaviour. McMillan draws on the work of Morgan (Morgan, 1986) in this context and suggests that of his eight metaphors describing organisations, the metaphor of the organisation as an organism, with links to biology and biological thinking, appear most relevant to the pursuit of linking metaphors and analogies from complexity science to organisations and work, and the experience of the individual and groups in that context. This correlates strongly, for example, with the description of bee hives, ant hills, termite mounds and bird formations as used to explain the theory of complex adaptive systems. These metaphors and analogies from the natural sciences then lend themselves to sense-making and learning about experiences of work and working in organisations. In this way, complexity science is understood to provide metaphors and analogies that give meaning to observed, experienced, and simulated reality (Fuller, 1999; Fuller, 2000; Lissack, 1999; Stacey, 2003a; Stacey, 2001; Price, 1999).

In line with this, Lissack (Lissack, 1997) reported on the initial results of research carried out within a division of a many thousand employee biotech company and within a start-up Internet content provider with fewer than 40 full-time employees. The research focussed on the use of complexity science metaphors and language by managers, Lissack explains:

“Complexity theory research has allowed for new insights into many phenomena and for the development of a new language. The use of complexity theory metaphors can change the way managers think about the problems they face. Instead of competing in a game or a war, they are trying to find their way on an ever changing, ever turbulent landscape. Such a conception of their organisation’s basic task can, in turn, change the day-to-day decisions made by management” (1997:295).

Lissack’s work, in part, inspired the research undertaken in this study, which is reported on in this thesis, but while Lissack explored how the organisations he researched would benefit from learning about complexity science metaphorical concepts in terms of in which types of tasks, he did not report on how the participants in the research made sense of their activities in their organisational context by means of the metaphorical concepts. Neither did he, as Stacey suggested, use analogies from the complexity science domain as analogies for human relating. In this instance, what is missing is Stacey’s list of 5 focus points (2003a:318):

􀂃 Focusing attention on the detailed local interaction between diverse people in the living present as patterning of experience, emergent identity and transformation

􀂃 This means communicative interaction in the form of conversation and how it patterns experience in narrative-like forms. This emphasises the importance of the informal and the narrative rather than the prescriptive and instrumental

􀂃 The importance of conflicting constraints emerging as power and the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion and the links to how people deal with anxiety

􀂃 The simultaneous emergence of continuity and novelty, creation and destruction, in the iteration of nonlinear interaction and its amplification of small changes

􀂃 The focus is on lived experience in local situations in the present, paying particular attention to the diversity of relationships within which individual and organisational identities emerge.

Stacey, who calls for a re-evaluation of how we are making sense, advocates sense-making (learning) as explaining, based on a theory of mind, self and society that provides an insightful way of translating some insights from the complexity sciences into an understanding of human acting and knowing that does not rely upon a split between the individual and the social. Instead, Stacey presents a theory of human relating based on continual social interaction of gesture and response, as depicted in the figure below. In this way Stacey puts forward a process-based view, which he describes in the following way (2003a:10):

“The process perspective takes a prospective view in which the future is being perpetually created in the living present on the basis of present reconstructions of the past. In the living present, expectations of the future greatly influence present reconstructions of the past, while those reconstructions are affecting expectations. Time in the present therefore, has a circular structure. It is this circular interaction between future and past in the present that is perpetually creating the future as both continuity and potential transformation at the same time”.

stacey gesture response

Figure: Stacey’s (2001) theory of continual social interaction

In the context of learning about complexity science in general and about the potential of decentralisation as a key lesson from the metaphor of the complex adaptive system in particular, Resnick (Resnick, 1998) advocated a mixture of observation, participation, construction, invention, and experimentation in order to develop strong intuitions and rich understanding, and he put this forward as a challenge for educators and educational developers. In line with this idea, in part, and for the purposes of this study, Kolb’s (1973; 1979; 1984) ideas concerning experiential learning and the learning cycle are of relevance and are described here in more detail.

In 1975, Kolb and Fry presented their applied theory of experiential learning (Kolb and Fry, 1975), which Kolb later elaborated upon (1984) and on which research has been carried out and expanded upon into the fields of business, management and with specific types of application made in organisational contexts (Garvin and Ramsier, 2003; Paul and Mukhopadhyay, 2004; van Reekum, 2005). Drawing from the work of John Dewey, Kurt Lewin and Jean Piaget, Kolb (1984) applied his theory of experiential learning to the fields of education, work, and adult development through a description of the process of experiential learning grounded in a model arising from research in psychology, philosophy, and physiology.

Through his model, Kolb provides a typology of individual learning styles and corresponding structures of knowledge in different academic disciplines, professions and careers. As a starting point for his developmental focus, Kolb refers to the work of the Russian cognitive theorist L.S. Vygotsky, who asserted that learning from experience was the process in which human development occurred. For Kolb, this developmental perspective formed the basis for applications of experiential learning to education, work, and adult development (Kolb 1984).

Describing humans as the learning species, Kolb grounded the need to learn in survival dependent on the ability to adapt, both in the reactive sense of fitting into the physical and social world, and in the proactive sense of creating and shaping those worlds. Kolb (1984) differentiated experiential learning theory from learning based on behavioural theories or other implicit theories, which he said underlay traditional educational methods and were based on empirical and rational/idealist epistemologies respectively. This included, for example, cognitive theories of learning that gave more emphasis to the acquisition, manipulation and recall of abstract symbols, or behavioural learning that denied the role of consciousness and subjective experience in the learning process. From this point of departure, he argued, emerged alternative prescriptions for conducting education, relationships among learning, work and other life activities, and knowledge creation. Out of this, however, Kolb proposed a holistic integrative perspective on learning combining experience, perception, cognition, and behaviour.

The key characteristics of experiential learning were defined by Kolb as:

􀂃 Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.

􀂃 This definition emphasises several critical aspects of the learning process as viewed from the experiential perspective:

􀂃 First is the emphasis on the process of adaptation and learning as opposed to content or outcomes.

􀂃 That knowledge is a transformation process, being continuously created and recreated, not an independent entity to be acquired or transmitted.

􀂃 Learning transforms experience in both its objective and subjective forms.

In elaboration of how this continual process of learning takes place, Kolb (Kolb, 1979) presented the learning cycle (see adapted representation of this, in figure below), which is based on the notion that learning is a cyclical process which needs to contain elements of each quadrant of the cycle before learning is possible. This cycle is described in the following way:

“Immediate concrete experience is the basis for observation and reflection. These observations are assimilated into a ‘theory’ from which new implications for action can be deduced. These implications, or hypotheses, then serve as guides in acting to create new experiences” (Kolb, 1973:2).

kolbs learning cycle

Figure : Kolb’s Learning Cycle

Kolb’s learning cycle became pivotal in many theories tying learning to organisational activities and organisational survival, for example, in terms of arguing in favour of giving employees time to reflect what is going on and how things could be tackled differently (Easterby-Smith, 1990:5):

“David Kolb of MIT clearly has a good point when he stresses that learning from experience should be a cyclical process involving a period of Experience followed by a separate period of Reflection. Ideally this should be followed by a chance to put all the different pieces of the puzzle together (Conceptualising) and possibly a reasonably risk-free opportunity to test out this new understanding through Experimentation. That should lead to further Experience, and so on”

Senge also set the need for the learning organisation in a slightly different context:

“From a very early age, we are taught to break apart problems, to fragment the world. This apparently makes complex tasks and subjects more manageable, but we pay a hidden, enormous price. We can no longer see the consequences of our actions; we lose our intrinsic sense of connection to a larger whole. When we then try to ‘see the big picture’, we try to reassemble the fragments in our minds, to list and organise all the pieces. But, as physicist David Bohm says, the task is futile – similar to trying to reassemble the fragments of a broken mirror to see a true reflection. Thus, after a while we give up trying to see the whole together” (1990:4).

Senge therefore set about providing tools and ideas which were aimed to ‘destroy the illusion that the world is created of separate, unrelated forces’.

Following a study carried out at Lancaster University, Easterby-Smith reported that in spite of the above advice, some companies were simply more likely to enable managers to develop as a result of their experiences than others and that this seemed to be a fundamental characteristic in organisations that had succeeded in creating the conditions for learning. These companies also made a lot of use of project groups, transient structures, and encouraged people to try out new ways of working. This reinforced Easterby-Smith’s earlier pointers made in reference to the need to have flexibility in the organisational structure and the need to introduce necessary slack into the organisation so that, as mentioned above, people have time to reflect on what is going on, and how things might be tackled differently. Easterby-Smith suggested that an obsession on the part of the organisation with activity and the need to keep the product coming out at the other end was one of the biggest hindrances to organisational learning, and thus the need to refer back to Kolb’s cycle of learning, which advocated steps of action, reflection, conceptualisation and experimentation, (Easterby-Smith, 1990).

Texts providing critical accounts and considerations of the various schools of thought in the organisational learning and the learning organisation domain of particular relevance to this study include Stacey’s position outlined in the context of strategic management and organisational dynamics – a view grounded in the complexity sciences and management theory (Stacey, 2003b). Stacey (2001; 2003a), for example, asserts that organisations do not learn, but it is the people who work in them who learn interdependently through their interactions with one another. Stacey’s starting point for his critique is again the distinction between the social and individual, which he does not agree with, and also his reluctance to talk about an organisation as a reified entity – a subject also considered latterly in the organisational learning literature. Linguistic analysis of the subject of organisational learning and the learning organisation has considered the ways in which the terminology used also introduces, reifies and reinforces ontological meaning within the organisation – for example, in reference to community and culture (Yanow, 1999).

The relevance of the above to the work-related context is that work is very rarely an entirely solitary activity and is instead something which requires interaction with others to varying degrees, and that everyone as individuals has unique learning preferences, says Boyle (2005). He adds that learning how to work well with others is therefore necessary and can be improved by understanding and accepting that others are likely to have different learning preferences and characteristics from your own, and that once this happens learning with others at the level of the team or the organisation is enabled. This is important, states Boyle, because individuals are understood to learn more in dialogue with a team, than they can learn individually. In this way, teams are seen as a fundamental means by which individual and organisational learning can be mediated (Heavens and Child, 1999).

Due to the diversity of personal learning preferences therefore, it becomes important to consider the way in which learning is facilitated in the context of either self-directed learning or learning that takes place within the context of the organisation and teams more specifically. This then shifts the emphasis to tools and methods that aid or facilitate learning in those contexts.


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Ideas for Teaching Better. All In One Place.

Brilliant stuff here by Tom 🙂


Screen shot 2015-05-29 at 15.00.47 So many ideas to share!

Most of the blogs I write that get a good response are the ones about teaching.  Thankfully.  I’d write a book but a) it takes too much time b) the money is terrible and c) I’d just be repeating everything I’ve already written here.  It would be called ‘Into the Rainforest of Teaching and Learning’. I like the organic metaphor because it captures something of the mystery, complexity and beauty of teaching well.   This post is my very lazy outline for that book; another way of bringing some ideas together in one place.

Rainforest Thinking 

From Plantation Thinking to Rainforest Thinking:  it's quite a journey From Plantation Thinking to Rainforest Thinking: it’s quite a journey

I like the idea that learning is ‘lush, diverse, unpredictable, evolving, daunting, exciting’. This is my underlying philosophy for teaching better: rainforest thinking.

Great Lessons

great lessons pic

Although I’d change a few things, I’m still very happy with this series as a way…

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