Kayak Spoons and Apple Core Analogies

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Over the easter break I got away to idyllic Tairua with my daughter, my mum and her partner. A much-needed getaway and chance to kick back and stock up on some vitamin D as winter comes crawling in…

My daughter (7) was over the moon to go for a ride in the 3-person canoe (above) with her grandparents and did her best to join in paddling, however her paddling was marked by clashes with other paddles and little forward propulsion. She was over the moon upon returning from her first canoe ride, to discover that there was a kayak just her size and a proper kayak paddle.

As I swam around assisting her, she was having a hard time working out how to use the two-ended paddle and was getting a bit frustrated. I corrected her grip and then told her to imagine she was paddling around in a big bowl of coco pops and that the paddle was a big, double-ended spoon. As soon as she got this advice she was sorted, paddling around the estuary, digging the paddles in on just the right angle and getting the hang of how to steer by double-paddling or reverse stroking .

By the 2nd or 3rd excursion she was happily paddling wherever she wanted with good control and developing skills which made me so so proud…

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What worked here was finding the right analogy to connect something she has already mastered (eating coco pops) to the skill she was looking to develop.

This is a crucial thing for teachers to understand and develop within their practice: Using what they know about students’ existing skills, knowledge, interests and talents to build analogies with the new knowledge or skills they wish to teach.

This hour-long lecture by noted polymath and cognitive scientist, Douglas Hofstadter, covers the basis of my educational beliefs: that at the core of cognition lie analogies between things we know and new things we encounter. For instance your understanding of what I mean by the “core of cognition” is possible because of your understanding of how an apple core relates to an apple. At the centre of our ability to understand things is our ability to find similarities between new things and things we already know. To “chunk” together concepts that resonate in our minds. Concepts do not literally resonate, this is an analogy.

Many educational theories make use of this concept, whether overtly or as an underlying aspect. The reason prior learning, and strong relationships are important for teachers is that they help to inform us as to what analogies might be appropriate to communicate or teach something to a particular person.

One of my teachers at high school was infamous for his “Rugby is a metaphor for life” talks. The problem was that he consistently chose an analogy (always the same analogy) which was interesting and useful only to students with an interest in sport. For those who found rugby culture alienating, the coded message was “life is designed for those who are interested in rugby, if you’re not then you’re an outsider”. Instantly alienating.

So it’s crucial to select the analogies that will resonate with your audience, not just the ones that mean something to you. If my daughter had never used a spoon before (if she had her way she’d eat with her fingers all the time) then I would have had to find an alternative scooping-based analogy to describe how to paddle a kayak.

Want to teach effectively? Take the time to craft the right analogies…

week 6: PLD (learning solutions Y2PRT)

Yesterday I attended a workshop for 2nd year secondary teachers aimed at supporting us through the registration and accreditation process. It was the first of 4 workshops spread throughout the year, with this one being fairly generalised and giving us an opportunity to co-construct the foci for the remaining workshops.

In addition to the networking opportunities and the chance to share experiences with other teachers at a similar stage, there was a lot of valuable information, particularly with respect to student-centred learning approaches, inquiry-based teaching, and recognising and collecting appropriate evidence for the PCT registration criteria.

One thing that was especially highlighted for me was that although this blog provides a great platform for reflecting on and sharing my practice, I am not using it frequently enough and I need to make a lot more time to update it.

The purpose of this blog is to make my teaching practice visible to those who are not in my classroom and to provide a space to reflect on my practice in order to improve it. I need to stop seeing it as an extra thing to be done when I get time, and actually start to make the time.

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In our groups (of 4 or 5) we began with talking about the considerations required to place ākonga at the centre of their learning. What do we need to know, provide, or do in order to create a learning environment that allows differentiation for the different students in the room, that can cater to a range of personalities, learning modalities and interests.

I was impressed by the degree to which the kaupapa of HPSS incorporates so many of these things, making it much easier for individual teachers to provide conducive conditions for learning in a differentiated, personalised way. It’s not automatic, but it provides an extremely supportive environment for what is very challenging work. Almost everything on our initial brainstorming lists is provided for within the infrastructure and organisational structures created at HPSS, including the kind of professional environment that encourages a huge amount of meaningful collaboration. I’ve only been here 6 weeks and I realise I’m beginning to take some of these features for granted.

We were lead through different activities by different members of the Learning Solutions team, lead by Siliva Gaugatau. Between them we got a good overview of their expertise in areas such as relationship building, Te Kotahitanga, data analysis, differentiation, and inquiry-based practice.

Although none of it was exactly new, I found some of the speakers offered some different suggestions or approaches. It was great to have a reiteration of important principles, some insights into the different kinds of evidence we might be able to gather to show we are meeting the criteria for professional registration and strategies for making use of that evidence (because what is the point of gathering data if you don’t use it?).

I’m looking forward to the next one in May.