Empowering Students


School is a place for learning but not exclusively. Learning outside school for that matter may even be superior, that is more engaging, motivating, appealing, and in many respects more realistic. Provided of course that the learning environment offered is in some way in gear with the learner, linked to their learning interests. Some learning environments have that potential.  Take the museum for example and how it has changed into places of learning. The times are over when you walked in small groups with a friendly, but overly talkative guide alongside walls hanging full with stuff you did not know you cared about. Visits to a museum nowadays have become interactive and most of all active (1) . For instance: You could redraw a painting hanging in front of you in your sketch book so you can remember and connect to it. Or do a puzzle game walking through the museum rooms to find certain key points that will help you to apprehend a topic better. No hissing commands to be silent, instead you can even take part in discussion groups set up around a piece of art and position yourself against the stuff they show you. Nothing dull and dreary here. What is so engaging in such a learning environment is the open world you step into, at least that is how it manifest itself.. It could very well be the essence of learning empowerment: you are discovering what “ it”  (i.e., content that is offered) means to you.

For those not convinced a recent article on learning in open environments with the use of mobile phones might be illustrative. Students received action instructions through their cell phones tracking their achievements while performing tasks given at certain locations in the museum. They received real time feedback on how they were doing and what to do next.  This way of teaching and learning offered them real joy in learning, while being active, and learning in their own way.

Tell me about it, you might think. Nothing new here. Lots of new opportunities rooted in new technologies are now entering the school (2). Yes, indeed, some of them are incorporated in school learning slowly but the key issue is: are they empowering the student?, or put differently; is it changing the way school is doing their business of learning. And then the scene is a bit bleaker. New (tech) opportunities are added (sometimes) but not really changing school’s business  in favor of open environments of learning. Opening up the school seems far away still.


Guang Chen, Youlong Xin, & Nian-Shing Chen (2017). Informal learning in science museum: development and evaluation of a mobile exhibit label system with iBeacon technology. In  Educational Technology Research and Development June 2017, Volume 65, Issue 3, pp 719–741



1. http://www.getty.edu/education/teachers/trippack/

  1. https://www.nmc.org/blog/future-open-learning-environments/
  2. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/empowering/?story=learningtools&ocid=learningtools_o_edge_null_null_usa_null_null


Shifting From School To Work

towerIt is Graduation Time. Apart from the turbulence this period brings it also indicates an upcoming period of transition. After a school career ends by having successfully completed the requisite exams college life transfers into hectic uncertainty.  It is time to flip school for jobs. But then you wonder: Does my school career in any way help me out there to be successful in the zone of work? Ask those already operative in the world of employment about what they think of the preparatory power of education and ten to one you get smiles of sympathy but hardly enthusiasm when it comes to the question of relevance of education for them right now. There may be even some who consider school an adverse context as they experience no bridging significance between their education and work, especially when taking into consideration school accomplishments as an asset for later success in work. One might object to the contrary that school prepares for later work life by building (sufficient) start competences, i.e, a foundational layer that needs to be worked upon later on, but still. As many testimonials indicate (and also some research, (1)) school based knowledge is seldom a thriving power for later competent performance.  This divide has been attributed to a set of reasons: the theory practice gap being among the most prominent (i.e., school is to blame) or referred to as the praxis shock (i.e., student is to blame), and even more alienating: failed induction programs (work is to blame). Never mind these explanations, it is the impact that counts. You don’t want your education to flop. There is hope though.

A Norwegian study on student teacher competence as a predictor for later success in a school career as school teacher showed that levels of teaching competence acquires during the course of the TE program did matter. Perceived competence and self-efficacy as a school teacher were mainly formed during years of active participation in preparation for the profession in teacher education. Even more so, theoretical understanding gained at teacher preparation helped school teachers later on to perceive themselves as good practitioners.

Certainly a hopeful finding and a clear message for those moving from campus to office space. As a reflective signal the study challenges our views on the linkage between school and work (2) which are often quite unidirectional and blunt in demanding immediate gratification of what is learned. School education needs to be ‘useful’ but often it turns out in a different way and more intricate than we think.


 The impact of prospective teachers’ perceived competence on subsequent perceptions as schoolteachers by Ida Katrine Riksaasen Hatlevik, Teachers & Teaching Published online: 08 May 2017

    Download citation http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13540602.2017.1322056



  1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-crouch/grades-do-more-harm-than-_b_4190907.html
  2. http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/6486-transition-school-to-work.html



Look, No Supervision!

workplaceTo have a teacher teaching you is of great advantage. We often do not realize its full merit. What if one is not available or present at the moment you are in need of learning help? Can you cope, or will you drop your learning endeavor altogether. No teach, no gain. Often we get trapped in situations in which we have to ‘learn’, acquire new knowledge while sheer ignorance is the basic line. Imagine opening your just delivered package with an all-purpose kitchen cooking blender, or a self-assembly wardrobe from a famous, brand notorious for its detailed instructions. After the first panic you start rebalancing your emotions and will conquer your feelings of despair to look for helpful scaffolds – strong clues on how ‘on earth’ to understand what to do next and grasp the meaning of things (1). It would be nice if such clues were lying around from the start of your discovery journey. It would safe time, it would avoid redoing everything after noticing you see a construction piece still in front of you, it would save a lot of sweat and tears.

A study on learning at the workplace gauged how learning may be supported in the absence of supervision and found that newly recruited workers did remarkably well without direct supervision provided enough scaffolds where existent. The learning help arounds were experienced other workers, peers, guiding instructions, organized set ups of the work environments. When engaging in such a learning design they gradually reduced their felt need of learning support.

Environments can teach, rich environments that is. No, not rich, since that could lead to a learner “buried in thought” about the many options offered, but instead what you could call a ‘powerful’ learning environment; one that provides the right kind of scaffolds without arranging your trails as a training camp. The key point here is that it is not so much about having supervision or not , or sufficient teachers around but carefully adjusting, if you will reducing, the kind of (teaching persons or environmentally designed) help so that learners can decide on and are encouraged to interact with what puzzles them. Teachers stand on others’ threshold of discovery, after that it is up to the learner.


Palesy, D. Learning in the Absence of Direct Supervision: Person-Dependent Scaffolding. In: Vocations and Learning (2017). doi:10.1007/s12186-017-9176-9



  1. http://changingminds.org/explanations/learning/ignorance_trap.htm
  2. https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/chapter/5-2-what-is-a-learning-environment/


Learning Selfies

balloonHow often do we not hear the phrase: ‘We are learning from what we are doing ‘ or ‘We want to learn from our mistakes’. By utterances like these we say we put great value on researching what we do, investigating how things went. Well, forget it. It is not a first priority. Far from it. It often just appears to be not more than an excuse for not taking responsibility (1). At least when you consider the numerous times when no consequences are attached to mishaps and business goes on as usual. But we need not forget that a strong tie between doing and learning is the foundation for professionalism. A true professional is accountable for what he or she does ( 2). It comes with steady evaluating one’s practice and acting upon the results. It seems so self-evident one is tempted to forget it is not that manifest at all in actual practice.

At least this is what you take from a recent in-depth study on teachers’ deployment of research activities in and on their own practice. Gauging their ongoing work teachers are confronted with a huge divide between what needs to be done and what is actually done. The study gives quite a few worrying gaps on: facilitation of research in schools, time for learning and follow up on evaluation, discussing results for improvements. The one that is standing out most is engagement in research activity (75% in favor – 15% actually practiced).

This account is not so much a reason for blaming and shaming or increased management control over what teacher do – it has been done before to no avail (3) . Far more important is to empower teachers in their position as researchers (of their practice). Teacher research (4) to date however seems more like an addendum, or extra freewheeling, not a serious inherent professional activity. To become one it may not be enough to allow for more space and time (as the authors propose), but, by actively, openly sourcing data on teaching practices from a personal perspective and share it with interested others (in the school).  That would be a viral learning 2.0.


Richard Procter (2015). Teachers and school research practices: the gaps between the values and practices of teachers, Journal of Education for Teaching, 41:5, 464-477,

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2015.1105535.



  1. http://www.goodchoicesgoodlife.org/choices-for-young-people/accepting-responsibility-/
  2. http://www.learningtoleap.co.uk/2014/06/accountable-professional/
  3. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/schools-to-get-more-power-to-manage-teachers
  4. http://www.nea.org/tools/17289.htm

Harness Yourself

harnasFeedback can kill you, negative feedback that is. Getting no feedback about your performance has a similar effect. That leaves us with positive feedback. But yeah, just getting positive feedback does not feel right as well. “ Oh; Wow, did you just draw that beautiful vase with flowers?”; “Yes, well, actually it’s more like a …. (Sigh) ”.  Feedback can hurt your self-concept so badly, you just may even quit what you like (1). That is even the case when your actual performance is not that bad at all. So, irrespective of what you are able to do feedback can bring you down no matter. Take the case of two learners confronted with (negative) feedback: one with a high self-concept of ability while doing low in performance, and the other with a modest perception of competence while actually doing quite well also.  What would you think will happen to their motivation after a bad appraisal? (2)

These intrinsic motivation effects were gauged in a study on students’ self-concepts after having received negative feedback. It turned out that despite positive learning goal orientations and irrespective of the real outcomes of their task behavior students’ self-concepts declined after having negative feedback and did drop their motivation to do a subsequent task .

Back to the case above. You might have thought that the first student expecting a low rating, gets away with no (great) harm to self-concept, and that it is the second one who got the real blow. But it is not that straightforward given the outcomes of the study. Realistic self-assessments (in both students) can be overruled by feedback nevertheless.

We care about what other’s think of us – we seek it even. Polls, ratings, evaluations, it is all part of our feedback mania.

The tricky part is that realistic self-perceptions are not a safeguard. You might think you are doing well and even may be right in that self-assessment but when others present you with negative comments it will affect you nonetheless.

Harness yourself then and scrutinize your appraisals: as a well meant recommendation to all students stepping into the grading and examination period ahead.



Why does intrinsic motivation decline following negative feedback? The mediating role of ability self-concept and its moderation by goal orientations by Anne F.Weidinger , Birgit Spinath, Ricarda Steinmayr, in Learning and Individual Differences 47 (2016) 117–128

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2016.01.003 1041-6080/© 2016 Elsevier Inc.



  1. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-take-misery-out-giving-feedback-neena-newberry
  2. http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/quizzes/selfesteem/

School Is Out

schoolWhen you come to think of it schools (and our education system for that matter) must be one of the last remains of 19th century thinking still active in our society. It is driven by a world view in which goals are achieved through hard industrious labor (you have to study hard and continuously), agency is confined to specially designed buildings (you have to visit classrooms) and restricted to time tables, interactions are top down driven (you have to comply to assigned tasks), authority is in de hand of a senior overseer (you are being told what to do), and results are valued as end-products (once it is done it is finished). These restraints are all set in place to objectify and define learners as subjects (1). No escape allowed from the system other than being penalized.

Confessed, there have been more eloquent, comprehensive, and thought provoking criticisms of education, but the aim is similar, i.e., to rethink the structure and process of how we educate. This is done out of a real concern, looking at  present day demands of school learning.

A collection of chapters in a book on student engagement captures most of the key conceptions to be considered when it comes to a revised way of thinking about school education. Its main thread is to promote manifold partnerships of students, teachers, and school managers around their shared business of learning. Goals are open-ended formulated; activity is flexibly organized, interaction is based on equality, and outcomes are considered as stepping stones to higher goals.

As 19th century institutions schools can not accommodate partnership; it is alien to its inherent education view. As 21th century institutions a view would entail learning which is on demand, extended to different locations and times for learning, and highly adaptive to evolving learning needs. It is then that the word ‘school’ is not implying a building but “Bildung’, as a synonym for Building Your Future. It certainly would give the phrase: “I want to come to school more” (4) a new meaning.


Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: a guide for faculty, by Alison Cook-Sather, Catherine Bovill, and Peter Felten, San Francisco, CA, Jossey Bass, 2014, xxix + 269 pp., £28.99 (hardback), ISBN 978-1-118-43458-1

Reviewed by Colin Bryson (2016) Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education, International Journal for Academic Development, 21:1, 84-86,  link to this article:




  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Foucault
  2. http://www.ips.org.pk/education/1111-a-critical-review-of-the-aims-of-education-in-the-western-tradition-
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bildung
  4. http://www.lyricsdepot.com/alice-cooper/schools-out.html


Happy Teachers

dolphsDo we need to like our teachers in order to learn? If that’s true our learning is in peril. Not all teachers are likable persons (to you). They too have their attitudes. Suppose you wind up with a teacher who really makes a mesh of your comfort zone. Is that the end of a learning relationship? Yes, learning would be in peril but let’s face it, you are a strong person, and probably get over it, thinking of better times ahead, assertive as you are by raising the issue  with your teacher in hope of improvements. The relationships you have with your teacher are powerful. They shape the kind of interactions and are influential when it comes to your personal well-being. As with all human relationships your interactions are a two-sided affair. If one person fails to deliver the other is in jeopardy. So again we can ask: is a happy teacher a requisite for you to be happy, moreover for you to be learning ?

A recent news item in a Belgian newspaper (1) commended a study done at the University of Antwerp saying that happy teachers make happy students. Apart from the implied causality, it is a devastating outcome. It says in fact students need to like their teacher (to be able to be content with themselves).

Another study (See below) takes this a step further by making an explicit link to learning, claiming that tough teachers raise tough students. Such students set high achievements goals for themselves.  A poor student who does not match with a teacher.

Nobody would deny that teachers act as important role models to students, certainly at a young age. But teachers and students are well aware they communicate in service of the act of learning (2) . It is not that teachers primarily want to be liked or that a student’s first priority is to like their teacher. Both players in a (safe) classroom environment are well aware they are there for a common cause which needs to turn out well (for both of them).  So put learning first and happiness (delight) will come (Motto of this blog).


Liking a tough teacher: Interpersonal characteristics of teaching and students’ achievement goals by Tim Mainhard in School Psychology International 2015, Vol. 36(6) 559–574 sagepub.co.uk/journals Permissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0143034315608235



  1. http://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20170330_02809107
  2. https://learningfirst.com/



A Different Choice

strijdWe all have to make choices. Difficult as they may seem we do manage more or less to cope with the implicated confusions that go along with getting what we want. Game theory puts forward we have great ability in dealing with tricky, intricate dilemmas and get out of them most of the time in a satisfying manner (not all the times though)(1) . How else could we enter a shopping mall willingly or leave a clothes store with the right kind of purchases.  We learn to weigh our wishes and wants against the needs and necessities. Admitted, it may take a while before we get the hang of it, but actually it is amazing that in the end we are able (1) . And no, this is not the place to throw in all kinds of prejudices about gender or age related choice behaviors; for instance on shopping (2). Instead, yes, it would be important to raise the issue of making the right choices. Having myriad options how then can we make the right choice; and above all, can there be a right one? (3). In essence this question introduces a third party between you and the issue at hand. Then it becomes not shall I buy this sweater, instead it becomes should I buy it at all? Is it okay if I…. which makes things complicated – especially for the young and ignorant.

This is exactly what was studied in a piece of research on kindergarten children’s choice behavior when having them decide between learn or play. Kids in China and the USA were involved. Opinions were collected which showed that the importance of learning was acknowledged wholeheartedly. But although they were well aware of its importance when it came to choose in actual situations, the kids went for play. Yes, the Chinese kids were more reluctant to give in, but did eventually as well.

Did the kids make the right choice? When taking the third party,  i.e.,  God’s eye, perspective of Right and Wrong, the decision that was made is, may be, hard to defend (however, should they have selected learning?) but the affordances of a direct encounter with an inviting situation demand a careful weighing of options (3) . It is never that we do make decisions in isolation. In this case and for that occasion personal values and autonomy prevailed. Who is to judge what is right or wrong then?


Play or learn: European-American and Chinese kindergartners’ perceptions about the conflict between learning and play. By Jin Li,  in British Journal of Educational Psychology (2016), 86, 57–74 © 2015 The British Psychological Society



  1. http://www.franksonnenbergonline.com/blog/7-ways-to-make-good-choices/
  2. https://simplelifestrategies.com/sls-choices/
  3. https://philosophynow.org/issues/1/Making_Decisions

The Best Of Different Worlds

Untitled-1Learning we do all the time, why should a place called school have a privilege here?  Social media and interaction among peers provide equal or even better opportunities for learning (1) .  Isn’t it time to tear down the walls between school and every day learning; to get rid of the distinction between formal and informal learning (2)? Those in favor of a division and do want to safeguard school as a predominant place of learning argue that we need to focus on intended goals, not causal results; that teacher support is essential to guide the learner; and that individual accountability is essential to reach high stake outcomes. Since schools have been with us for such a long time one is tempted to believe that (formal) learning should be dealt with in schools preferably. But need that be? Questioning this produces all kinds of defense walls: what kind of certification will we have?; who determines content?; who will teach?; or how can we deal with variety in outcomes? The divides have been cultivated for ages, so it seems. Fusing both views, however, could still be an option.

At least if we follow the model outlined in an article advocating a rapprochement of learning attributes of both formal and informal learning. The argument is that with the increased use of social media we have created new opportunities for learning. The social media attributes of learning are found in: highly connected interaction, self-determined and peer influenced learning, with user generated content, under network support, and having an open ended evaluation.

A symbiosis is offered on two views of learning.  However fusing of attributes may not be at all sufficient to create a living in harmony. Ultimately, with the introduction of social media in education, we have to (re)define the position of school, and the nature of learning in  schools. In an era of dense social communication and ease of access to get all kinds of content knowledge (say The Internet) the claimed position of schools is at issue (3). Reconceptualizing its position may designate promising tasks for the establishment in the social media era. It can be a resource and expertise center, a certification institute, a coaching or counseling agency, a practice facility, a communication spot, and a lot more.


Christine Greenhow & Cathy Lewin (2016) Social media and education:reconceptualizing the boundaries of formal and informal learning, Learning, Media andTechnology, 41:1, 6-30, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2015.1064954 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2015.1064954



  1. https://elearningindustry.com/5-ultimate-tricks-using-social-media-learning-tools
  2. https://drsaraheaton.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/characteristics-informal-learning/
  3. http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/02/28/how-teachers-are-using-technology-at-home-and-in-their-classrooms/


Like Teacher, Like Pupil


It is a great thing, of course, when you really can connect with your teacher, experience classroom as a comfort zone where you may thrive and succeed. It certainly helps when it comes to learning (1) . But what if not? A lot needs to be in place before feeling okay with your teacher. Not in the least how your teacher responds to you. Does s(h)e knows the real you when it comes to: your preferred style in learning, your favorite interests, your fears in coping with assignments, your learning troubles,  the issues you have with your classroom peers?  Good teachers come a long way in their ‘knowledge of the learner’, but, say with addressing 30 of you in a class, it is demanding. It is almost impossible to satisfy all demands to the full. After all, teachers are humans too. They have preferences and styles of their own which shape the classroom to make it a ‘home’ for all students. The truth is some students thrive better than others in the livable space a teacher creates in a classroom. This would become a real disaster when teachers all would be Pygmalion (the sculptor who fell in love with his own sculpture). Unfortunately, there is evidence to the fact that they are.

An Israeli study assessed teachers’ motivation to teach, specifically with regard to their preference on student autonomy. It turned out that teachers who are high in autonomous motivation themselves stress autonomous learning in their students and adopt an autonomy-supportive style in their teaching, expecting that student are taking control over their own learning.

If teachers were sculptors the obvious inference would be that teachers should encourage learning styles in their students similar to their own. Moreover, because we, in general, favor independent learning and autonomous motivation in students (3) we need to hire teachers who have such a preference. The study’s conclusion seems to point in that direction. Perfect matches are nice but also highly unlikely, certainly when you look at a classroom community. You will find a rich variation in styles, motivation, preferences, and needs. It is not so much that we need to redirect this variation into one liking. It would be better to accept them and help teachers to deal with them for the benefit of student learning . After all teachers are not sculptors.


What makes a motivating teacher? Teachers’ motivation and beliefs as predictors of their autonomy-supportive style by: Idit Katz, Bat-Hen Shahar, in: School Psychology International 2015, Vol. 36(6) 575–88 sagepub.co.uk/ DOI: 10.1177/0143034315609969



  1. http://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Positive-Classroom-Atmosphere
  2. http://www.shmoop.com/pygmalion/
  3. http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/linguafolio/5574