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Functional literacy

March 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

We live in volatile and uncertain times and technology is powering change in the way we operate. So what’s the one thing we need our children to be comfortable with? Change.

In this week’s podcast John talks about ‘functional literacy’ – the ability of our children to feel comfortable with our ever changing society.

This will require our children to develop the skill to manage their own learning. To do this they will require four skills:

  • Thinking
  • Communicating
  • Collaborating
  • Decision making

Ask an employer the type of skills they require from their employees and they will include at least one of these skills. So what stops us developing these skills in our young?

Listen to the podcast:

listen to ‘Functional literacy – what is it and why do our children need it?’ on Audioboo


Related reading:

  • Educating people for change

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

March 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

At the end of the lectures John gives he usually gets asked how to turn the ideas of the 21st Century Learning Initiative into action. It’s a big theme for us and our thinking is that by being equipped with the right information we can then start to make some informed decisions. That’s why we are working on making the research archive as accessible as possible.

But that’s not all. We also depend on each other for tips, advice and support which is why have set up the Responsible Subversives Community. And with this in mind I asked John to share the best advice he has been given.

Here is what he had to say:

listen to ‘What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?’ on Audioboo

Related articles

  • Too busy to think
  • Apprenticeship

Let us know the best piece of advice you’ve been given – I’ve set up a forum thread here.

It’s good to talk

March 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

Talking helps us humans to grow our brains and to keep them agile as we grow and get older. And being a social and inquisitive species makes conversation – the sharing of ideas about ourselves, others and past and possible future events – central to our survival, and ultimately our humanity.

In the latest two installments of our 99 Theses on Shaping a Better World, we look at how and why we have become the chatterers that we are and why conversation in its earliest years is critical to a child’s development.

Listen to the podcast:

listen to ‘99 Theses on shaping a better world: #8 Endless chatterers’ on Audioboo

We also share a second podcast in the same series which looks at the size of our brains. How is it that if we have such premature brains at birth we go on to become the planet’s pre-eminent learning species? All is revealed . . .

Listen to the podcast:

listen to ‘99 Theses on shaping a better world: #9 Big heads’ on Audioboo

Specialists versus experts

March 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

In this week’s podcast, John talks about the difference between experts and specialists. As a piece of related reading we have taken an excerpt from John’s book, Unfinished Revolution, which expands on this relationship.

In Frederik Winslow Taylor’s book The Principles of Management, published in 1911, stated that:

“The primary, if not the only, goal of human labour and thought is efficiency; that technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgement; that in fact human judgement cannot be trusted, because it is plagued by laxity, ambiguity, and unnecessary complexity; that subjectivity is an obstacle to clear thinking; that what cannot be measured either does not exist or is of no value; and that the affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts.”

The deification of efficiency and of the specialist had begun.

Taylor began the cult of the specialist and there is a distinction to be made here between specialisation and expertise. This is vital to educational policymakers, for expertise enables transferable skills to move from one set of problems to another.

By working within the well defined parameters of a specialism, a specialist knows a subject from top to bottom. A specialist is the ultimate analyst who knows all the rules, all the tests and all the possible combinations and formulae. Authority rests on the depth of knowledge, and is uncluttered by the need to assess extraneous influences. Specialists exude a confidence in their competence and in some this comes through as arrogance. Discussion with such people is often difficult for they know all the answers “in their box”, and if you ask a question from a different box they are not interested. lust where their specialisms fit in a bigger synthesis docs not trouble them, for that is essentially unquantifiable, imprecise and highly uncertain.

There are no rules for that kind of they say, and so these questions are best left unanswered. A caricature perhaps, but the world has come quite rightly to be fearful of over-specialisation for, in some hard-to-define way, it does not seem “rea1”. Specialisms break the world down into bits, and such a reductionist approach gets us both individually and collectively, into trouble.

“Experts” in contrast, “tackle problems that increase their expertise,” whereas “[specialists] tend to tackle problems for which they do not have to extend themselves [by going beyond the rules and formulae they accept]. Experts indulge in progressive problem-solving, that is they continually reformulate a problem at an ever-higher level as they achieve at lower levels, and uncover more of the nature of the issue.

They become totally immersed in their work . . . and increase the complexity of the activity by developing new skills and taking on new challenges.

Experts are quick to grasp the overall situation; they synthesise rather than just focus on a single issue. Big issues fascinate them and – aware of what they don’t yet know rather than what is already known – they are open to different disciplines and questioning.

Experts understand the rules but they also know how to reformulate them and expand them to fit new circumstances. As opposed to continually fragmenting knowledge, experts seek a unification – “literally a ‘jumping together’ of knowledge as a result of the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation”.

While specialisation with the – encouragement of Taylor and the behaviourists -has become a feature of modern society, it is not particularly natural to the human brain.

To repeat what we stated in the opening chapters, the brain has evolved over the millennia to be a multi-faceted, multi-tasked organism predisposed to thinking about new data and ideas from various perspectives. The brain works in terms of wholes and parts simultaneously and the glory of human learning is that it is essentially a complex, messy, non-linear process. The brain can, literally, do almost anything – but in its own way.



Have we surrendered to the specialists?

March 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

The difference between a specialist and expert is a subtle one but it is significant when we look at the research that is informing the development of education.

It takes expertise to look at the big picture but we tend to default to what specialists have to say. And by their very nature they tend to talk with authority only about the things they know.

Experts look beyond their area of specialism and look at it from the outside in in order to make wider connections.

Tracing the role of specialists back to the work of the father of efficiency Frederick Winslow Taylor, we look at how we have come to focus our thinking on the role of the specialist first and foremost.

But without being able to see the bigger picture we tend up with the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. We see the result of this constantly in terms of how governments work. We also see it in how we develop our school systems.

The challenge for us is to see the bigger picture and to enable us to be specialists who can look outside of our specific area of interest, something the Danes has been able to develop as a part of their education.

Listen to this week’s podcast

listen to ‘Have we surrendered to the specialists?’ on Audioboo

We have also added two new episodes to our series 99 Theses on Shaping a Better World.

  • Burning with curiosity 

  • Collecting our thoughts