From Darkness to Light

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One in a million find

Really pleased to be running #ProjectInsect with colleagues from Oxford University Museum of Natural History. So many pupils have become enthusiastic young entomologists and Sarah’s find is the icing on the cake!

In the UK, anyone can submit wildlife finds to the Biological Records Centre database using the iRecord website or app. I’ve written about how to do this here.

If you are near Oxford, we still have a few places for 10-14 year-olds on our Insect Investigators Summer School which takes place 13th – 17th August. Please email education@oum.ox.ac.uk for more information or to book a place.

More Than A Dodo

The Museum’s collection of British insects already houses over a million specimens, and now it boasts one more special insect.

Ten-year-old Sarah Thomas of Abbey Woods Academy in Berinsfield, Oxfordshire discovered a rare beetle in her school grounds while taking part in a Museum outreach session. To Sarah’s excitement, the beetle is so important that it has now become part of the collections here at the Museum – and it is the first beetle of its kind to be added to the historically important British insect collections since the 1950s.

Sarah Thomas examines her beetle under the microscope with Darren Mann, entomologist and Head of Life Collections at the Museum

Sarah’s class took part in a Project Insect Discovery Day, where they were visited by a professional entomologist, learnt about insect anatomy and how to identify and classify specimens, and went on the hunt for insects in the school grounds. Project…

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Schools are enhanced by SEND pupils

My Twitter feed has recently included several posts from educators shocked by examples of schools which seem to exhibit a lack of inclusiveness. Vic Goddard (@vicgoddard), Brian Lightman (@brianlightman) and Stephen Drew (@StephenDrew72), among others, have expressed concern about schools which seek to dissuade prospective parents of students with special educational needs or disabilities from applying. This is done by suggesting, or even explicitly stating, that the School cannot meet the child’s needs, through what Stephen Drew has described as a ‘blatant anti-inclusion narratives’.

These posts have quite rightly highlighted the unfairness and indeed discriminatory nature of denying education to such children, but I would like to make an additional point. It is not just those children who miss out: the whole school community is made poorer by such moves that reduce the diversity of that community. As the Canadian Philosopher, and founder of the L’Arche communities, Jean Vanier put it:

As soon as we start selecting & judging people instead of welcoming them as they are – with their sometimes hidden beauty, as well as their more frequently visible weaknesses – we are reducing life, not fostering it.

Students with special needs enhance a school. They help students understand the diversity of our society, together with the challenges faced by those who do not represent the typical norm, not just in a hypothetical ‘this week we’re supporting a charity for people with X’ kind of way, but as a daily reality. Not least they will learn that nobody should be labelled by a condition, or seen merely as a problem because of it, but rather that we are each a unique combination of attributes, experiences, competencies and aspirations. As such, an inclusive school should see SEND provision as a welcome, positive expression of a healthy learning community.

Much of the comment I have read, and understandable frustration, concerns the actions of individual schools. While it is tempting to view the issue at this level (and only right that wrongdoing should be highlighted for action), I wonder if these actions by single schools aren’t a symptom of a systemic problem? Our current system of Progress 8 scores, Ofsted gratings, and league tables encourages competition between schools. I have written previously in praise of partnership and the good that can be achieved through cooperation. Perhaps the solution to providing truly inclusive educational provision, especially in times of financial hardship, lies in schools working together to pool expertise and resources. Imagine the power of a partnership that commits to securing the best possible outcomes for every child in the community it serves.

“I don’t know”: being certain about uncertainty.

‘Confusion is not an ignoble condition.’

Brian Friel, Translations.

I recently read an paper on about the persistence of ‘brain myths’, even among those trained in neurology, by Adrian Furnham. This included several myths about child development and learning. It’s well worth being aware of current research on this field, including those widely-held assumptions which are not supported by evidence. The myths and misconceptions explored in the study were derived from the books Great Myths of the Brain by Christian Jarrett and Great Myths of Brain Development by Stephen Hupp & Jeremy Jewell. Some of the more prevalent included:

  • Adults can usually tell if a child is lying
  • Girls are more likely to have clinical depression than boys
  • Dyslexia’s defining feature is letter reversal
  • Right-brained people are more creative than left-brained people
  • The brain is essentially a computer
  • We only use 10% of our brains

The proportion of participants believing these misconceptions to be true was independent of age, gender and education, including education in psychology. This tendency is therefore something that educators clearly need to be aware of, irrespective of experience or training. I know that I have a tendency to think that I can tell when someone is telling porkies, even when I’ve read the research contradicts this belief.

Are we happier to be wrong than to be uncertain?

One other thing that struck me about the study was the comment by the authors that participants were clearly reluctant to respond ‘don’t know’ in answer to questions, preferring instead to chose a response from the other available options (Definitely True, Probably True, Probably False, Definitely False). The participants in the study may have not wanted to appear ignorant of the topic in question, even if the alternative is to risk being wrong, or they may have been trying to ‘help’ the researchers to collect positive results by opting for a definite answer.

I wonder if we have a tendency to do that outside of the confines of psychology experiments? How often on Edutwitter do we see someone tweet “Interesting question. You know, I’m really not sure”? Most contributions, it seems to me, are firm statements of position in a debate and declarations of certainty.

Confidence in Uncertainty

I’d like to suggest that we we should be more confident about being uncertain. There Are three main reasons for this:

1. I think being comfortable with uncertainty is entirely consistent with reflective pedagogy. If we were certain of everything, then we wouldn’t ever need to ask questions, but we grow as teachers by asking ourselves, ‘How can I improve that?’, ‘Next time I teach that, how can I make it better?’, or ‘Several pupils dropped marks on that question, how can I address that?’. In striving to improve in this way, we acknowledge that accepting that we don’t know it all helps us to become better teachers.

2. We will become better models for our students. This is also something we encourage in our students: to question, try things out and experiment. If we expect these learning behaviours from them, it makes sense for us to model them in our own professional learning. When I first trained as a teacher, I used to worry that a student would ask a question I couldn’t answer. I later came to realise that I didn’t always have to be the ‘expert’, and later still that when they did, this was a fantastic opportunity to model learning. I should say that to foster this type of ‘don’t know’, as a spur to further investigation, we have to create an safe atmosphere of trust where students won’t feel they have to give the ‘don’t knows’ that really means ‘I’m afraid of looking silly / getting it wrong’.

3. We will become better informed and so make better decisions. A danger of being reluctant to say we don’t know is that we are more likely to make mistakes, as as the participants frequently did in the study mentioned above. Being able to say we don’t know when we are unsure, makes us less susceptible to social influence and prompts us to gather more information. In terms of debate, a willingness to be open to ideas, including minority views, enables us to make better decisions, whether or not we come to accept those views.

So, if you see me expressing uncertainty, on Twitter or elsewhere, please bear with me: I just think the path to knowing is sometimes through admitting that I am unsure.

Image: Max Pixel http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/Matter-Note-Duplicate-Request-Question-Mark-2110767

Other posts on psychology and teaching: https://casebyscasebook.wordpress.com/category/psychology/