A Lot to Learn


It is said that learning breeds future success, and learning is there to benefit subsequent performance, but does it really prepare for future events? The school system thinks so. Investment in learning is a guarantee for achievement later in life, so runs the claim. It may be so in general but, actually, later in life, do you still use or apply what you learned some time ago? – Only bits and pieces probably, while most is gone or in oblivion. What you learn tends to be forgotten – that is a fact of life. This is not to say that all learning is futile, vanity, or worthless. What then is the true nature of learning? – without false promises. It could very well be that the gain from learning effort could just be specific and particular (1).

Consider a setting in which you have to learn, acquire something yourself, a skill of some sort, say a certain teaching skill, let us assume self-monitoring, and then have to teach others to acquire that skill as well , say your students. What would yield your learning? Precise prompts on how you are doing, i.e., specific feedback on the steps you take or more generic, overall hints on how you are doing? And what about trickle down effects on your students? Would they be helped with specific or common suggestions? And what about effects later on, after a while, say a few months later – what would remain from your learning effort?

A study in a teacher education setting looked into this and indicated that what was kept is what was specifically prompted and even then the gain was likely to be lost later on. We simply cannot assume that what is learned stays; certainly not when only loosely stimulated.

May be for this reason learning needs repetition (2), going over it again and again  – Think of learning a foreign language, or practicing a music piece. This will  give a new meaning to the phrase”  There is a lot to learn’


Bracha Kramarski &Zehavit Kohen (2017). Promoting preservice teachers’ dual self-regulation roles as learners and as teachers: effects of generic vs. specific prompts Metacognition and Learning  August 2017, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 157–191



  1. https://blog.keras.io/the-limitations-of-deep-learning.html


  1. http://www.readingbrightstart.org/articles-for-parents/lets-repetition-important-learning/



10 Top Educators of All Times


The Internet loves lists. Many times you will find something like: The 10 Most…, The Top…, or Best of…. In a recent survey published on the Internet (1) Former President Barak Obama was ranked  12th on a list of best Presidents of the USA. This was done by historians. So why not have a top list of educators as well? It would be a wonderful initiative to start an International Year of Education. Did you know that the last one, instigated by UNESCO, was in 1970? Almost 50 years ago (2) . Time for a recurrence. Great pedagogues have been there in all times, innovating and renewing what we teach, and learn,  the way we build our schools and arrange our classrooms. It is they who gave us direction in how we educate from a young age till late in our lives. So who are they who framed an important and substantial part of our life? Some names comes immediately to mind, others may sound less familiar, or are even unknown to a greater audience. In a preparation for such a survey or poll of Top Educators of All Times a list of nominees, say The Top 10, would be helpful. What to think of: (not yet a ranking or priority listing! – that is for others to decide).

.. Socrates: for bringing us the important tool of questioning and keep on asking, both as a means for teachers and students.

..Comenius: who gave us the textbook containing illustrations (Orbis Pictus) to visualize and explicate better what we learn.

.. Pestalozzi. He was one of the first to center on the child as a learner and brought interest and motivation of the learner to the forefront of teaching.

.. Montessori. She helped us to modify and differentiate instruction to the level and pace of the learner.

These names may have set their marks on collective memory and also can be recognized in for instance the names of our schools.

But let’s continue with some less obvious, but still hugely influential pedagogues:

.. Bell & Lancaster. These innovators shaped the face of our classrooms, introducing the sitting arrangement facing up towards the blackboard with the teacher up front (not so popular anymore but still globally adopted).

.. Makarenkov. This Russian educator during Soviet times who renewed education in making it practice oriented, stressing activity and hands on involvement of learners.

.. Dewey. The American innovator of education who immensely influenced generations of educators with his ideas. His project method designed instruction in a completely different way.

..an Nazzam. This Arab poet and originator of Madrasa schools recognized the importance of memorization and the place of rehearsal in education.

.. Ellen Key. A Swedish feminist activist who put the child on the agenda of education and advocated the child centered approach

.. Fannie Williams. She was the force behind education for the young children, at kindergarten age, and health care to be able to participate in education.

There should be an extra and prominent slot for the ‘forgotten educator’  as well;  the silent one, the one that teaches and educates now and forever, all the time. That is to say the good teachers who work daily in our schools doing their utmost to help the ones entrusted to them to have good education



  1. http://www.politico.com/story/2017/02/all-time-best-president-united-states-rankings-235149

2. http://www.un.org/en/sections/observances/international-years/

Learning For Meaning

tree ‘ Sed vitae discimus’ , a famous and widely found citation attributed to Seneca (a Roman Stoic philosopher around 65 AD). It says: “it’s life from which we learn, understand” . It is taken from a letter of correspondence  on ethical issues with Lucillus, and actually it was Lucillus, who took this position. Seneca opposed to it and alternatively coined Sed scholae discimus (from ‘…’ we learn, understand). The term ‘scholae’, however, has several meanings:  investigation, teaching, discourse, and also school.

Now why all this explanation as a start? Firstly, because the citation has been (mis)used enormously, secondly, it has been interpreted from a great many perspectives very differently (1), and thirdly the issue lies at the heart of teaching and schooling: i.e.,  how can education provide meaningful learning. To tease you as a reader a bit more with Latin: Seneca stated as well ‘Vita sine litteris mors’, (‘Life without ‘..’  is dead’); again litteris may mean several things: education, extensive reading, but also comprehension.  Seneca thus favored schooling, education as a meaning making activity above what otherwise would remain a wide variety of impressions.

Armed with this erudite knowledge we may appreciate the outcomes of a study on relevancy of service learning for experiencing a meaningful educative time. Service learning deploys a form of practical education in which what has been taught is applied and adopted in real life authentic situations. The Chinese study compared a service learning treatment with regular teaching and found substantial, positive effect on problem solving ability, and behavioral engagement in students. It was concluded then that teachers should provide students with authentic, ill-structured problems to promote engagement and transfer (2).

What would Seneca have said? Probably that authentic experiences without proper knowledge would be futile, to which Lucillus might respond that knowledge without proper embeddedness in veracity is empty. On par, again. We therefore cannot solve this bipolar opposition. However, the study does reveal an interesting opt out. It found that classroom behavioral engagement of students mediated the effects, which more or less means that students who took an active part and were enthusiastically involved took most out of the teaching activity offered. I.e., it is not so much what you learn but more how you learn that matters to be it considered meaningful. Meaningful learning has much to do with being able to relate to the things you learn. So Seneca was right after all by saying; Vita sine litteris mors (‘A life without “learning” [is] dead’).


The Effects of Service Learning on Student Problem Solving: The Mediating Role of Classroom Engagement Fangfang Guo, Meilin Yao, Cong Wang, Wenfan Yan, and Xiaoli Zong. Teaching of Psychology 2016, Vol. 43(1) 16-21

sagepub.com/ DOI: 10.1177/0098628315620064



  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non_scholae_sed_vitae
  2. http://plpnetwork.com/2011/04/21/what-do-we-mean-by-authentic-learning/


Mission Possible

Untitled-1“The education we provide reflects the society in which it arises” – is an interesting quote (1). Almost a truism. Taking it seriously would mean to look at the mission statements of schools to see how they define and justify themselves both to themselves as relative to their customers. What contribution is said to be made, what value is added and whose needs are served, how are actions warranted and visions actualized? These questions are no small feat although seldom posited. We take schools and what they do almost for granted. Could explicating a mission reveal underlying conflicting rationales? Or, may be, disclose particular characteristics of school life that shape education for those who need it? Addressing these questions was popular in the eighties of the last century when curriculum theory studies were conducted (1) but since then it has been relatively quiet. Recognizing that different students are offered different ways of learning, and that curriculum coverage for one may be more extended than for others depending on the stated mission of a school is a pressing matter. Imagine: similar trajectories are mobilized in very dissimilar ways, is that permissible?

A study in Canada and the US tried to make sense of mission statements and looked in particular at the domain of arts education. For one thing it made clear that mission statements create a clearer picture of what drives a school and that it may inform a necessary debate between stakeholders about what value is created by a school. For the other part it made clear that justifications in mission statements do not touch the ground, i.e, do not seriously address real concerns on how to ensure that the right questions are discussed on access to education.

Bringing mission statements down to earth and have them enacted as guides to resolve contradictions and concerns about what constitutes school life would be the ultimate goal. It sounds great but as long as a mission remains a document constructed aside (2), not rooted in the school life itself, and not being negotiated between the stakeholders they certainly will not shape the work of teachers and structure the course of student learning. A mission statement is not so much a statement as more a beacon of school renewal.

Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández, Rachael Nicholls & Alexandra Arráiz-Matute (2016) For what purpose the arts? An analysis of the mission statements of urban arts highschools in Canada and the United States, Arts Education Policy Review, 117:1, 29-42
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10632913.2014.966287


1. https://www.brocku.ca/MeadProject/Dewey/Dewey_1907/Dewey_1907c.html
2. http://www.missionstatements.com/school_mission_statements.html
3. http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/3783-mission-statement.html

Grades, Or Less Of Them?


What would happen if there were no grades? Stupid question, the whole education system would fall apart. It is built on grades. But really, what would happen? Grades are so immanent to the system one can hardly imagine how it would function without it. There were times without it when pupils did their exercises and had to come forward to be rehearsed at the front desk of the teacher. Not good enough? Go back and Try again! But that was hundred or more years ago. There are also education systems that weaken the role of grades, like the Montessori or Dalton systems (1). But they function mainly for young children. Grades establish the critical role of education in determining achievement. Without grades no certainty about what is attained or mastered. So, there is good reason to ask about whether or not grades are up to the task of establishing achievement. To be explicit, grades are marks given by a teacher to work delivered by a student. An alternative would be to administer achievement tests. Main difference between them is that grades are teacher, teaching, and classroom context dependent; achievement tests are supposed to be neutral to that effect. Grades may vary: what one teacher in one classroom might rate as sufficient, another probably would consider still below standard. Giving grades, like teachers do, is sensitive and adaptive to the learning process and its learner. It is therefore an indicator of attainment “at the local level”. And it is a cause of variation “at the central level”.

In an excellent article a review was undertaken on the role of grades over the past fifty year or so, scrutinizing the position grades have in our education system with some important outcomes: The variation in results between graded and tested achievement is moderate in size. Yes, grading incorporates student, teacher, and classroom characteristics, but these effects are small. Early in the education system (elementary school) differences between marks and tests are larger; but later on they become more similar. It is concluded that graded achievement is a valid measure of classroom learning.

One up for graded achievement!

It is no secret, the trend is towards testing achievement. High stake testing against standardized goals that are unequivocally applied is what dominates the assessment debate. Not that grading is being abandoned but as a source of variation it has become mistrusted or at least questioned (3). However, to give a meaningful account of a pupil’s attainment relative to personality, effort, behavior, classroom context classroom learning skills, gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity grading still is an honest, reliable, sensitive, and caring way of establishing levels of achievement. Good that we have this in our educational system.

Susan M. Brookhart (2015) Graded Achievement, Tested Achievement, and Validity, In: Educational Assessment, 20:4, 268-296, To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10627197.2015.1093928


1. http://montessori-nw.org/what-is-montessori-education/
2. http://study.com/academy/lesson/high-stakes-testing-accountability-and-problems.html
3. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.2333-8504.2000.tb01838.x/pdf

On Top Of Eachother



Parents do it, teachers do it, and even governments do it: telling stories to convey a message with the intent to influence and direct. ‘Dominant’ educative narratives must be transferred someway, some how. Tales, stories, and written accounts can do the job. It is no big revelation that what is conveyed in them is perspective related and value-laden – stories are definitely meant to influence. In doing so, they express power and establish a dominance relationship. Up to this point one could say this summarizes more or less what sociology of knowledge has revealed already (1): transferring knowledge (be it in education or elsewhere) is governed by power relations. It has been said numerous times by many, so revealing it here once more without annotation would just express another power relation (i.e., authorizing a truism on the Internet). Moving beyond the obvious would mean not only to admit the value-ladenness of what and how we communicate but in particular to stress the responsibilities that goes along with telling a particular story in that way. This holds both for whom who exerts power as well those under power. For the teller of a story it means to warrant and ground a perspective and state the intent for bringing up a message. For the receiver it means to claim opportunity to (re)value and appraise a story with regard to its nature, origin, and intent. In short: Conveying a message requires cognitive justice (2). This essentially means respecting each others integrity in holding certain beliefs and having consideration for conceptions being cherished, not overruling them by position or narrative force. Cognitive justice expresses the ethical nature of knowledge.

This became vividly exemplified in reading a Taiwanese study on children’s’ history books used during the Martial law period in Taiwan. Abundantly clearly shown in the study was the position expressed in the analyzed stories in favor of the nationalist’s position against mainland China. The study reveals how children were confronted with a dominant narrative in the strongest sense.

Was that bad to do, ethically speaking? Every story expresses an intention; why otherwise tell it. It is not the story to blame, stupid! In another context the story probably would ‘signify’ completely different meanings i.e., for mainland china readers or students of sociology of knowledge. This leaves us to look at the interpretations that are attributed by teller and listener; and actually to be more precise, the space between them in allowing for diversity in interpretation and meaning making. This is not to advocate that every story needs to be de-constructed to the bone (the message can be lost during the process) but to say that the intentional ‘meaning-making space’ created by storytelling needs to led by cognitive justice: the willingness on part of the power owner to respect the integrity of beliefs of the listener, i.e., the pupil, the one less in power. Led not by pushing down content but by giving credit to the listener in enabling to lift understanding. Storytelling, indeed, has layers to be respected (3).

Power Relations in Creating and Distributing Official Knowledge in Children’s Literature: Historical Picture of Taiwan by LIN-MIAO LU Kainan University Luzhu, Taiwan
Published in Curriculum Inquiry 44:5 (2014) 620-645; by The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto ; Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc www.doi: 10.1111/curi.12065


1. http://www.irenees.net/bdf_fiche-notions-242_en.html
2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/276062968_Cognitive_Justice_in_teaching_and_learning
3. http://www.storyteller.net/articles/187




Is There Hope?


Hope gives feathers, says the poet Emily Dickinson (1). Hope lifts. Hope moves us. Where would we be without hope! But hope is a delicate thing; so easily destroyed, thus robbing us from the willpower and strength to be. To have a companion who gives hope on a hard and difficult journey can do wonders. It can be the cutting edge between success and failure. Giving hope to a person next to you is about sharing beliefs on the ability to engage and fulfill a demanding task. But it is not easily given. Should it be confidential, or carefully put, or willfully posited? Giving hope is such a subtle thing; it is feather light. Education is about hope. Believing that you can make it (otherwise why bother?). For some, actually a lot giving the number of drop outs, completion of an education is a hard journey, without any hope almost not to accomplish. Giving hope can make the difference.
For that reason it is worthwhile to pull in a study that looked at mental health services. In this study new and ongoing health care users with serious mental disorders were compared with regard to the treatments they received. It turned out that new users profited most from the services provided in making rapid improvements and higher chance of discharge. Closer inspection of data revealed that it was not so much the quality of service or treatment itself that made the difference but the presence of a feeling of hopefulness on part of the users. This explained the difference with ongoing users who lost hope in a success of completion of their treatment (and remained dependent on the care service provided to them)

To be hopeful, not burying (2) but keeping hopes alive to remain strong in what you aspire, is truly a crucial not to be dismissed quality; especially when being a student. What is needed is a little help sometimes from a person next to the student who can nurture and feed hope by offering advice, support and guidance. Teachers, hopefully. In many self-studies or biographies both by famous and ordinary persons we can find testimonies of crucial moments in which the appearance of a hope giving teacher made the difference (3) between furthering or stopping aspiration. Education is an affair by humans, with humans and of humans despite treatments, protocols and procedure we put in place.

New and Ongoing Users: The Differences in Outcomes Among Children and Adolescents Receiving Mental HealthServices
Hyun Soo Kim, Seok-Joo Kim, Thomas G. Williams, and John F. Garrity

Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders 2015, Vol. 23(4) 238–247
© Hammill Institute on Disabilities 2014
DOI: 10.1177/1063426614565053



1. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171619
2. http://www.prrb.ca/articles/issue15-berry.htm
3. http://perkins.org/history/people/helen-keller

Education Makes Unhappy


Why would you want to learn when the outcome of it is that you still have to learn more? Gargantua, the famous character created by Rabelais (1), knew this all along and decided to pursue his happiness instead. Education makes unhappy. Gargantua’s life maxim is: “to achieve something is not aspire it but to let it come as it comes”. (Good) Education makes you hunger for more; Gargantua, however, wanted to be satisfied. If we were to follow Gargantua’s advice a minimal effort mentality would inundate our schools. Or worse, education must be “satisfactory” – be gone any intention to excel! Now, anyone knows that, at least in rhetoric, Gargantua’s advice to go for satisfying is not followed to the letter but as an observation of what really happens when enjoying the fruits of education it is a pretty realistic one (2).
A study in the economics of education looked into the relation between aspirations and experience of happiness. The outcome of the study in Japan led to an interesting observation: “High aspirations dampen satisfaction”. That is, by following education reported happiness will become higher (the satisfaction of knowing more than before) but also the desired happiness will have risen; that is, you learned you want/need more of it. The authors conclude that a significant part of happiness is cancelled out by higher aspirations. The authors (coming from economics) add wittily that this relation holds as well for income. And for that matter one could add this holds for care giving too. Apparently, and in contrast to Gargantua’s stance, we will never be satisfied once we start giving care, earning money or, indeed, do our best in learning. Enough is never enough.

Is this a saddening result? Looking at it from the bright side one could retort by saying: there is always a new horizon. Or should we regress to a life of blessed ignorance? Gargantua’s life in a way provides an answer: once he discovered a clear goal in his life (in his case rescuing his father) matters fell into place. Goals can materialize aspirations, and thus make them manageable and tangible. Happiness becoming real, although there remains always something to wish for, hopefully.

Andrew E. Clark, Akiko Kamesaka & Teruyuki Tamura (2015) Rising aspirations dampen satisfaction, Education Economics, 23:5, 515-531, To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09645292.2015.104296


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gargantua_and_Pantagruel#Gargantua
2. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/introduction2.asp
3. http://worlddatabaseofhappiness.eur.nl/

In or Out


Anyone can call her- or himself a ‘teacher’, ‘trainer’, ‘educator’, ‘mentor’. Profession labels in education are not protected or safeguarded. Admission to the profession is still regulated by having a proper diploma or certificate, completed by a hiring procedure of an institution having an open position. But this is changing. A call for gatekeeping the profession (1) has been made in professions adjacent to education. Again the health professions set the example. To be admitted as counselor, or therapist gatekeeping is set in place. Entry to the profession becomes a careful profession based (not program based) monitoring process of evaluating personal and professional qualities of applicants. Assessing professional readiness in addition to an academic diploma is favored for remediation and development purposes to prevent potential misconduct in the profession later on.
A strong plea for setting up gatekeeping procedures is to be found in the referred article. The authors state that “failing to do so could result in global consequences for the profession”. (p. 29). Of course, admission and gatekeeping procedures are there for the benefit of good practice.

Gatekeeping the profession is here to stay; it seems inevitable. The ‘Thatcherism” inspired management turn (2) made professions and professionals painfully aware that autonomy comes with a price (i.e, installing accountability measures to control service rendered). Decisions on entry to the profession, certainly, need assurance (meaning: standards, requirements and procedures). But what if turns back on you and starts to function as an impediment? Consider the possibility of a β error (i.e., the incorrect dismissal of a positive instance); that is, not selecting a talented applicant to the profession. Most entry procedures once set in place are not scrutinized or critically examined afterwards anymore. They become ‘norm’-al acting as inert, uncontested bodies with a conserving impact. It becomes increasingly hard to question them. However, from time to time one needs to ask “are you sure you are not keeping out who should be in?

The Gatekeeping Imperative in Counselor Education Admission Protocols: The Criticality of Personal Qualities. By Ann M. McCaughan & Nicole R. Hill. © Springer Science+Business Media, New York 2014.
Published online: International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 2015 37:28–40.
Link: www. DOI 10.1007/s10447-014-9223-2

summary 23

Referencing the issue
1. http://www.quintcareers.com/career_book_reviews/Gatekeepers.html
2. http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/apr/15/margaret-thatcher-education-legacy-gove

‘S cool boy

WP_20150322_001When you grow up under precarious conditions school is not particularly the place you want to be. Your “community of practice” lies elsewhere. Thriving there is rewarding. School’s standard curriculum has not much to offer. Recognition from your mates gives rewards that exceed far more success in passing a high stakes test. Under these circumstances schools have a difficult responsibility and challenging task to realize “communities of inquiry” in their mission not to loose or waste talent. Creating a college-going culture would be one of the first targets for schools to get students inside the building. A battle would be won when schooling would become attractive again to students coming from underprivileged areas. It is of great concern to schools to find the right response here. A definitely wrong response would be to lower expectations for students in an attempt to make sense to them. But then imagine a school that would stick to State exit exams. It would create hugh problems in (trying to) raising motivation of students. Schools are facing real dilemmas and often support programs fall short in finding the right balance between solutions offered and contexts present.
This is precisely the point made in a publication by the Project Muse which conducted a study on state accountability sanctions. Regulations were held against the prospects of creating a college going culture by schools. From the fine and detailed critical ethnographic study we learn that what schools do, for instance by the support and documentation they provide to students, really misses connection with what students need. State sanctions force schools to adhere to instructional approaches not at all adapted to students’ life perceptions. Hard pressures by state school officers to improve accountability ratings are putting schools in a position at the expense of creating an open entry for students coming from high poverty backgrounds (1) . The critical message from the study being that accountability standards can undermine school readiness.
An easy escape out of this dilemma is not available. Acknowledging the dilemma would already be a victory achieved. Connecting the high and low world: standards with needs; regulations with educational opportunities; state policy with local school activity; accountability measures with instructional process is where a possible answer lies (2) . That is; if we acknowledge that schools are the center spots were all students must be able to find time for education.

Walton, A. & Williams, M. Accountability, Strain,College Readiness Drain; sociopolitical tensions involved in maintaining a college-going culture in a high ‘minority’, high poverty Texas high school
The High School Journal, Volume 98, Number 2, Winter 2015, pp. 181-204
www.DOI: 10.1353/hsj.2015.0001

summary 18

1. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/11/06/12nycriskload.h34.html
2. http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2012/10/david-berliner-on-inequality-poverty.html