Saturday, 26 March 2016

REBT and Mind Stretch - learning how to struggle

Mind stretch or mind stretching has entered the lexicon of learning and teaching in recent times. DECD (Department of Education and Child Development) identifies this personal capability as being crucial to achieving learning goals.

Joan Moran explains here Joan Moran: 7 Tips to Stretch Your Mind at Any Age what she believes to be the elements of mind stretch ability. Her yoga practise and life experience has taught her some essential insights into how to get the best out of her physical and psychological selves.

One essential personal capability Joan suggests we hone is learning how to tune into what we are saying to ourselves; our self talk.

What is self talk and why is it important to teach our children? Simply self talk is the dialogue you have with yourself in your head. The concept of 'mind' is harder to define. 'What's on your mind?' you may ask. 'What are you thinking?' 'What are you thinking or saying to yourself?' The 'mind the gap' pronouncement when alighting the train reminds us to be careful and so on.

To be mindful is to be aware and self talk is something to be aware of because what we say to ourselves determines the actions we choose and the emotions we experience. Or does it? Perhaps but that's not the whole story.

I think the kind of our self talk habits is a reflection of the deep philosophical beliefs we hold and it is they which drive our actions and feelings. In other words I think our self talk is the expression of deeper held convictions (personal philosophies about me, others and the world in general).

Stretching the mind incurs risk taking: taking a leap of faith from what you know to new understandings (linking new learning to old to make new and different meanings). The skill of the teacher is to determine where the learner is and provide learning experiences that will entice the learner to strive for new, unchartered realms of knowing and experience. What we talk to ourselves about reflects what we 'know' about ourselves from our experiences to date (what we have learned).

New learning then engenders some discomfort, disorder when things don't seem the same. We may feel agitated and anxious trying to work out where this new stuff fits in with the old. We may not like how we feel but we 'muck in' anyway or we can feel so overawed that we panic and recoil from the challenge because it is so strange and alien to us. The more we are coaxed to the edge of our thinking the scarier learning can be. Do we engage with curiosity and enthusiasm for the unknown? Or do we disengage and demur, yield to the scary and mysterious?
Just thinking!
So mind stretching will help us expand our knowledge and capabilities and we will gain some sense of academic and personal confidence on the way. After all if we don't take chances how are we ever to realise our potential? But what if the learner considers the gap between what she knows and what she doesn't to be more of a gigantic chasm than a gap and the leap into the new and unknown is perceived to be too scary to even contemplate. What can she do?

Perception is the key. How does she perceive herself as a learner? Does she have a strong sense of self worth and self efficacy? (the belief that she can achieve set goals as described by Albert Bandura) Can she hang tough in difficult situations where nothing seems to make sense?

The ability to stretch the mind and to take that leap of learning faith into the chaos and struggle of the unknown can be either embraced or rejected depending on the kind of psychological muscle one has developed and can draw on in tough times.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Education (REBE) is the school wide application of Albert Ellis' ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance. Helping children develop the personal capabilities to engage in 'mind stretch' activities is the work of teachers at Para Hills School P-7 and many others in South Australia. REBE teaches:

  • We are constructivists
  • We construct helpful (self and other) rational ways of thinking/believing or unhelpful irrational ones
  • We can challenge and change (deconstruct) old unhelpful ways of thinking and reconstruct more helpful ones
  • We are always worthwhile
  • We can achieve our goals with hard work and self belief

'State of mind' teaching and learning (REBE) and the ability to 'mind stretch' are inextricably linked.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The 'What If?' of Learner Engagement - intellectual stretch and Rational Emotive Behaviour Education

DECD (Department of Education and Child Development) hosted a day of professional learning for the Montague partnership of schools. There were about 400 people there at SFERA's (a conference centre in Modbury, South Australia)

The topic was on learning and teaching in general and how we as teachers can challenge and change personal philosophies on learning. How can we engage students more to enhance their capacity to see discomfort as something essential for building on existing knowledge and capabilities; to realise new meanings and understandings. Guest speakers used many interesting terms to put across similar ideas like:
  • 'intellectual stretch' - raising intellectual demand of the task
  • to bring students to the 'edge of their thinking'
  • encourage self directed questioning
  • Mind growth - develop the 'psychological muscle' to hang tough
  • Metacognitive strategies to 'enhance the ability to solve complex, unfamiliar and non-routine tasks.'
Professor Martin Westwell spoke eloquently and very humorously about how a learning task can engage learners more with the 'what if?' type of question. He used the example of the alimentary canal. What is it? What does it do? and other 'what's the answer' questions. What if there's no answer at this point! The professor gave the example of a student who asked 'what if there was no bumhole?' You can imagine how this would have inspired noisy mirth but the question if acknowledged would generate excited speculation and the children would take intellectual flight in all directions! This link will expand on these and other ideas presented on the day. Leading learning in South Australia, DECD

Professor Martin Westwell
So what do students know? What will they learn? Intellectual stretch for me is cognitive, emotional and behavioural struggle. Dipping ones learning toe in the waters of uncertainty and discomfort and becoming immersed in a world of authentic and new learning- appreciating that engagement in learning involves struggle and adventure and builds the psychological muscle and memory for the future.

There are many schools which have adopted a whole school approach to helping students develop the personal capacities to better engage in learning. It is based on a counselling model and is a psychological muscle builder. It reflects strongly the ideas put forth in the literature and discussion of the day. It is Rational Emotive Behaviour Education and it helps children develop an A+B=C philosophy i.e. How I feel and behave at C is linked to how I think at B - the think feel do connection.

So how do we caringly throw children into the deep end of learning, where they will struggle to attach new concepts to old? When do we back off our tendency to 'over scaffold' learning and to travel the conservative road of safe routines and predictable learning content? When do we take away the stress inducing need for finding the right answer when there are questions which haven't been asked yet - what if?

What if?
These questions are raised for us to ponder? What if?

Saturday, 12 March 2016

The ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance and Grit

Us teachers are caring types and we do well at helping children feel safe and secure and happy when they are with us. This is a strength but can it also be a weakness? You can read my thoughts on this here (though it is more in regard to parenting)  Bonsai and Marshmallow Kids

Bubble Wrapped Kids
Gritty students hang in there when things are tough. They seem to believe that there is a way to solve the problem at hand and won't be beaten by 'it'. But is it 'it' that is conspiring against them what ever 'it' may be to make them give in? If we are talking about a challenging maths task can we say that 'it' is making them frustrated/angry/mad and stops them from trying? Gritty kids have forged a way of believing about things that will ensure they will remain in control in difficult situations as they dig deeper and become stronger. This psychological muscle will keep them in good stead as they negotiate the slings and arrows that will come their way as life's journey unfolds.

Beliefs Actions Feelings
For me this grit we are talking about, this ability to hang tough in tough situations is part of the think (believe), feel, do (action) cycle. The ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance created by Albert Ellis is a very useful tool to help children and adults alike to develop true grit.

It isn't 'it' but our perception (estimation) of 'it' that is key. How do students estimate their worth, ability? Are they reasonable (rational) estimations or unreasonable (irrational) ones?

If a student thinks that something (it) is too hard and that she is dumb she is more likely to give in. The resilient (gritty) person will see failure in a different way. She does not equate failing at something with being a failure.

Gritty (resilient) students have a healthy estimation of themselves, others and life in general (Rational).

Albert Ellis'ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance is a very useful grit building tool which is being used in dozens of schools in South Australia through Rational Emotive Behaviour Education.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

REBT in the Classroom

Check out "Sharon Does Her Narna! - look out lady!" on Eventbrite! Date: Thu, 31 Mar Location: Para Hills School P-7