Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hawaiki’s Poppas’ Shirt

Louise was helping my grandson, Hawaiki, now 2 years and 5 months old, get dressed for a funeral. She showed him the shirt his uncle had given him. It was a lovely, checked shirt, with long sleeves and button-down pockets. He slid his arms in the sleeves and looked at it intently and helped the buttons get done up. He jumped off the couch, stood himself up as tall as a grandfather, smoothed his shirt and proudly said, “this a Poppas shirt, eh”. We all agreed that it did look like the checked shirts his Poppa so often likes to wear.

This episode set me to thinking. How do you know at two years old what a 'Poppa’s' shirt looks like? And also, does wearing a Poppa’s shirt mean that he has a new ‘possible learner self’? This man, his Poppa, whom he observes closely, has dispositions, habits, and clothes worthy of imitation. A Poppa - learning hero - who reads stories, plays trains, roars and chases him through the house, throws him high in the air and takes him driving on the farm motorbike. The learning hero who, when the farm bike's motor doesn’t start the first, fourth, or fifth time keeps trying calmly, solves the problem, and is justly rewarded with a bike ride around the farm. We know that Hawaiki and all children, observes closely and has a brain that is wired to imitate the people around him. The people he loves and those that love him, become his learning heroes.

Guy Claxton, in his foreword to Learning Power Heroes, reminds us “So we must be careful to be at our learning best around young children, especially if they like or admire us, for their ‘heroes’ are the people whose habits they will find most contagious. Capitalising on this rubbing-off of learning habits gives us a powerful way of influencing children’s development – for good or ill.” (p.1)

As life-long learners, children, and indeed our-selves too, deserve to engage with and relate to many positive learning heroes and, ‘try on’ a whole variety of shirts while exploring possible learner selves.

Who are your super learner heroes?

What of their habits, attributes or dispositions might be most contagious?


Carr, M. (20 April 2010) Lecture; Learning Pathways and Learning Journeys: possible learner selves.

Delaney, R. Day, L. and Chambers, M. (2009) Learning Power Heroes. TLO Limited. Henleaze House, Harbury Road, Bristol BS9 4PN. ISBN 978 901219 53 1

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

We were having lunch at a cafe after taking the long route on our bicycle to get groceries. The gentleman sitting next to us had watched us park the tandem outside and nodded hello and we began a conversation. My husband commented that it had been a hard ride and we were very hungry. He patted him on the leg and said- “at least you are still able to cycle”. He told us he was ‘more than 90’ and still rode his bike. He said the pleasure was in still being able to make the pedals go round. He also told us he didn’t mind the hills, it was worth the effort because the joy was in the downhills. I made up my mind that I wanted to have that attitude when I was ‘more than 90’.

It reminded me of how I do actually love the struggle of cycling up hills because there are no words to describe the feeling of getting to the top, often pausing to relish the view (and catch my breath) then experiencing the absolute joy of going down hill.
I’m wondering if I would feel the same if I didn’t have to make the effort to get to the top-probably not. It is the whole not the part that is what makes it for me.

Similarly with other experiences, when we can look back on the effort, the joy in getting to the end is more intense. How does this fit with the concepts of learning goals and performance goals? Yes the goal is the top of the hill, but the joy is the getting there. If I were to take a bus in the forest to only go down the mountain bike paths then I would be orienting to performance goals. But I will never take that bus-unless perhaps I am more than 90!

When visiting centres there is such a difference when children are more focused on learning goals- where the purpose is to enjoy the struggle, collaborate, argue, problem solve and revisit ideas until satisfied. In places such as these there is always a buzz of conversation, engaged teachers and children who are ready to share their current working theories. The journey to the tops of the hill may be short or long, but seeing children relishing the challenge of the journey is a wonderful thing to see.
I think the discussions over Learning Goals versus Performance Goals will be increasingly important as teachers think about the purpose behind the ‘activity’; particularly as our colleagues in other sectors are confronted with the requirements of a Performance Goals approach to assessment.