Mind Wondering


Wonderful to let your thoughts float away for a while, to let it wander in different directions just to relax. Sounds like lying on a sunny beach, no stress, no hassle. Often insightful ideas pop up when you are deliberately not focused or aiming to ‘solve’ an issue. No wonder that mind wandering is associated with creativity (1) and innovative thinking. We need to let the mind wonder by letting it wander (hmm…; or is it the other way around?). No-one is to question the relevancy of mind wandering, unless, of course if you want to ask the productivity question. No doubt wondering by wandering is a vital explorative human activity, emptying, open, and inquisitive. But on closer inspection one could ask when, at what occasions does the mind wander? Probably when you are bored, not paying attention, get sleepy, or, indeed, lie on the beach. Mind wandering is not the same as reflection, which is the thoughtful, deliberate inquiry to understand your actions (after Dewey. 2). You could say reflection is post-thinking, mind wandering on the opposite is pre-thinking. From a productivity perspective this would put both in place.

A study on creative thinking looked at a specific instance of mind wandering, i.e, what happens in solving a numeric problem. It turned out that ‘solvers’  had more frequent moments of mind wandering during incubation time than non-solvers. The authors state that mind wandering contributes to insightful problem solving. A pity is that we do not learn much about the nature of mind wandering in this study (no qualitative accounts were given). Was it deliberate thinking or free floating daydreaming, or what…?

Sometimes you have to let your thoughts simmer and flourish for a while. Then, it is best is not to think of the issue under hand too specifically. “Take a break”, would be the advice. But sometimes it is better to cautiously scrutinize what you produce as ideas. ”Stay focused” is the proper message then. The mind works in wondrous ways. It is like in the lyrics from Ryback’s song Fairy Tale “Nowadays, I cannot find her But when I do, we’ll get a brand new start “.


 Tengteng Tan, Hong Zou, Chuansheng Chen & Jin Luo (2015) Mind Wandering and the Incubation Effect in Insight Problem Solving, Creativity Research Journal, 27:4, 375-382, To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10400419.2015.1088290



  1. http://www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk/ThinkingClassroom/Creativity.aspx
  2. http://infed.org/mobi/reflection-learning-and-education/
  3. http://www.stayfocusedapp.me/

4. http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/alexanderrybak/fairytale.html


Transform Yourself

fig  Is being critical indicating a personality disorder? Usually an overly critical person gets ignored or avoided for being so judgmental. Having to endure criticisms is annoying and confronting, therefore not liked. Especially when you have to work with someone in a group to complete an assignment or a nasty task. “We are all in the same boat so why make it difficult”. Ignoring or isolating a disturbing note in a concerted action is happening a lot in small cooperative learning groups (1). It is for the better most of the time because group results exceed effects of individual effort (2). In this way even a brilliant but nevertheless critical remark may fall in barren ground. So, a disorder it is, or what? Other insights link being critical to creative thinking (although both are not the same). To step out of the boundaries of the ordinary, taking a stance and to pursue vigorously a challenging idea that may not immediately be shared, is what opens up for transformation and renewal (3). Dissonant notes must be heard to captivate newness and improvement; and that is true not only for music. But finding ways to incorporate dissonance in collaborative work is a big challenge given our tendency to avoid critique.

Having a look at a group which is supposed to be ‘transformative’ could reveal quite a lot of the mechanisms involved. A Finish study on so called Change Laboratories tried to detect five/six tactics a group could deploy in arriving at what should be an innovative, renewing solution to an existing problem. Tactics like: resisting the management; envisioning new patterns, explicating potentials for action were gauged in a process of working together. Although the group set out to achieve transformative agency the outcome of the study revealed that drastic tactics were avoided. What appeared was a stepwise improvement and specific criticisms, not overall change which made the authors conclude that renewal takes time and is attached to the material conditions, which “cannot be fully controlled by interventionists” (p.259)

Breaking out of the ordinary, it seems, is confined by time, happenstance, and material condition – a laissez faire outcome. Time for criticism. A leap towards new directions and significant deviation of the flow of regularities does not come failsafe but calls for a transformative event (which can be staged by interventionist, no doubt). It is just that these significant occasions in a group dynamic process are not spotted timely or are often masked. There need only be one that is aware of the crucial transitional moments in a group’s conversation to grab the learning turning point, not yet envisioned by others.

Arja Haapasaari, Yrjö Engeström & Hannele Kerosuo (2016). The emergence of learners’ transformative agency in a Change Laboratory intervention, Journal of Education and Work, 29:2, 232-262,
link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13639080.2014.900168



1. http://www2.ed.gov/pubs/OR/ConsumerGuides/cooplear.html
2. https://blog.toggl.com/2013/10/teamwork-rowing-boat-alone/
3. http://pagi.wikidot.com/engestrom-expansive-learning



…ness. No, this is not about how to change your life by meditation. It is about change though. Real change in schools, for instance when they take part in an innovative project, is known to be a demanding and long road when it needs to come to actual, sustainable effects. Travelling the innovative path emanates all kinds of resistances and obstructions, not to mention the hardship of recognizing that change requires new changes and adaptations not envisioned before. Schools know that often better than the enthusiastic innovators who come to support (1). It is a lengthy road. Schools (and innovations for that matter) are made by people. Change travels on thoughts and considerations of persons who are involved in and caring for their school. This is the more manifest, when it comes to achieve durable and sustainable outcomes. Innovation has to find its space in the minds and actions that occur daily in a school; which essentially means that each change will turn out differently depending in those who travel the road. So, how come that this is ignored so often in many innovative projects?
A study from Norway recognizing the need to look in depth at what happens in school teams when adopting a change project analyzed discussions among the teachers about the consequences and steps to take in teaching. It pointed out that exchange within the team while scrutinizing their multiple perspectives is crucial for an advanced understanding and school wide sustainable implementation of the proposed change. It is the plurality of perspectives that makes the change concrete and tangible for action, not the uniformity in thinking. A school team becomes innovative by adjusting and transforming individual viewpoints into a collective framework.

Change is construction work, mainly with ideas and notions as building blocks, and executed by thoughtful persons. The thing is what makes perspectives shift, altered over the course of the construction work (2)? It is not merely enough to exchange perspectives in a team (as the study notices as well). Of course, understanding of each other’s insights is a ground to build on; but more than that is needed a commitment to apply – a willingness to make it a success and to put agreements into personal repertoire.

The emergence of innovative work in school development by Kirsten Foshaug Vennebo & Eli Ottesen.
Journal of Educational Change (2015) 16:197–216
www.DOI 10.1007/s10833-014-9234-0. Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014.

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1. http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/road-trips-in-education/2014/11/constant_change.html
2. http://www.tesl-ej.org/ej17/a1.html

Stay Focused


Hearing your favorite piece of music play is a joy of recognition. The melody is familiar and brings back good memories. The sound is detected almost instantly. Probably you have been listening to that piece quite a few times before it got such a high ranked status. To appreciate things surely takes a while. But there is more to it. A short example about tooth brushing to illustrate this: every morning the same ritual: taking your toothbrush and start brushing. Someday, by whatever circumstance, you are offered to try out a new type of brushing tool. Amazed about that whole new sensation you confess it is different and start using the new one from then on. It happens. What happened is an opportunity to break out of the obvious and the ‘taken for granted’, and you ‘differentiated’. It occurs all too often that we stick to things, actions, and thoughts that are familiar to us but learning to appreciate means to let them stand out against other options and possibilities, like in the sensation informed decision to use a new brushing tool. Appreciation begins with focusing; to make a figure-ground distinction (1) .

Does this work for learning (to appreciate) a theory as well? Students in teacher education are confronted with several theories of learning to guide their teaching but will there ever be a faithful adoption of a deliberate way of understanding teaching or are theories of learning an indifferent bulk of concepts not particularly relevant to understand one’s teaching actions(2) ?
A study by Swedish scholars used a carefully designed instructional procedure to acquaint students of teaching with a particular model of teaching. The key of their stepwise procedure was to focus on (by varying) the relevant differences between theories. In this way (and students had to give three subsequent teaching lessons to experience relevant features of the model) they learned to appreciate what mattered (the content) and what distracted from an understanding.

What stands out here as crucial is the gradual and deliberate looking for critical aspects (i.e., focusing on what matters) and that this may take a while. Things are not that evident the first time we look at it. Unfortunately we do not often have the opportunity the study provided; to go over our actions more than once (or even three times). Nevertheless, focusing in more detail how we understand things may definitely bring about a more mindful approach. It is especially the educative setting that allows us to do this and go over our actions once again. It is good to note then that learning (a theory) does not materialize at once but takes effect after a prolonged encounter.


Göran Brante, Mona Holmqvist Olander, Per-Ola Holmquist & Marta Palla (2015):
Theorising teaching and learning: pre-service teachers’ theoretical awareness of learning, European Journal of Teacher Education, 38:1, 102-118,
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02619768.2014.902437

Summarizing the piece

summary 22

Referencing the issue

1. http://www.andyrutledge.com/gestalt-principles-1-figure-ground-relationship.php

2. http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2013/03/6-learning-methods-every-21st-century.html

A Golden Egg

eiReceiving an award, getting a scholarship on the work you did, that is rewarding. Granted, not many times this happens but when it does it boosts your self-confidence and adds to your career. For a professionals’ personal satisfaction these rare moments of laudation strengthen ties with work and work environment. Who does not want to win a price well deserved? May be for that reason the trend of giving out awards is spreading (1). At the New Year receptions, on evenings at professional conferences, and at specially organized organization meetings you have them: Best awards for… No disdain here, it is important to be able to celebrate, in a community, as colleagues working together. Recognition of outstanding performance is the underlying reason to award – the goose that lays a golden egg, will make the organization richer, according to the fairy tale.
But does it work that way? The cited study provides an in-depth look on how teacher recipients and educational leadership view award winning in school organizations. The stakeholders have quite different goals in mind. Leaders want it for raising output ratings; teachers for improving student learning. All in all they hold awards in a positive way but not extremely. What stands out for all concerned is the innovative trigger an award provides. Excellent performance, embedded in new ideas and outstanding teaching, sets a higher standard.
The thing is: does award-giving lead to higher levels performance that will spread beyond the lauded winner of the award? An egg is for hatching. The study in this case reported that “Over half have presented their work in peer-reviewed venues”. It is a start. But also a meager result. What if we would consider Laying Golden Eggs not to be a back-end issue, i.e., a closure, but better view it as a front-end problem, i.e., a beginning? In this case, laying golden egg is not a rare and exceptional accomplishment but something to breed, nurture, and multiply. In education practice, there are many exemplary enactments to be found (2) that invite to follow, care for, and reproduce. Searching for golden eggs is not just a thing to do at Easter, i.e., special occasions, but an activity for teachers and educational leaders to go for all the time.

Laurel Willingham-McLain (2015). Using a scholarship of teaching and learning approach to award faculty who innovate, International Journal for Academic Development, 20:1,58-75,
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2014.995661


1. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/podimproveacad/375/
2. http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/education/catholic-contributions/lesson-1-good-teachers-share-one-special-quality.html

Stoa or Croton; a choice to be made?


What about school-time at universities? These scholarly academic institutions of old are under rapid change. Most notably is their transformation into places of certification for (more or less well) paid jobs for graduate students. What laid at the foundation of Von Humboldt’s reformation of the university in the 19th century , i.e., the linkage between research and teaching for the sake of knowledge advancement (1), is now under attack.
One could ask: Is the university still a place for teaching and learning to educate minds (as was common at the Stoa in Athens) or is it better viewed as a school for preparation and training with a well-defined purpose (like the school of Pythagoras at Croton)? University teaching has changed (2,3) after the Bologna declaration. It has become a system of delivering comparable degrees, with a system of credits, to ensure free mobility of students (4).
The article’s stress is that at the level of university staff the matter is not settled yet. The academic tradition of research and knowledge advancement clashes with the academics’ intent to develop students in their learning trajectories. The article pleads for a reintegration.
But would reintegration work or do we need to reinvent our way of teaching at universities? Most other educational environments (Vocational, professional and also elementary education) have embraced the notion of “knowledge as a tool”. Taking this seriously means there is no need for each university to create a protective belt as a knowledge provider (the notion of the French Faculté). What is upcoming in other teaching worlds is the rise of ‘flipping the classroom” (5). Relevant information can be found digitally at an instant (i.e for instance the BBC lectures by Dawkins on paleontology or Attenborough series on Zoology), and be distributed. After which (and that is the key connection here) academic staff in teaching university courses can work with their students to value and make use of that distributed knowledge in their own way.

Alisa Percy (2014) Re-integrating academic development and academic language and learning: a call to reason, In: Higher Education Research & Development, 33:6,1194-1207,
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2014.911254



1 http://edoc.hu-berlin.de/docviews/abstract.php?id=30376
2 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0379772042000331679#.VKzu93v-kaY
3 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/713669277?src=recsys#.VKzvKHv-kaY
4. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0883035587900012
5 https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-249604962/flipping-your-classroom