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?


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