teaching, learning, and small victories

I’ve been spending a lot of time, lately (well I should say a lot *more* time, really) reading books on habits and learning and thinking about how what I’m reading and learning applies to teaching and progress in general. After presenting on learning styles, and getting the first draft of a paper on feedback in, I have really started missing the day to day reality of teaching, and the opportunity teachers have to watch (and aid) the sort of small victories that gradually grow into big changes.

Those small steps to big changes come up in “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. This book seems especially relevant right now because it deals with habits in three different areas: individual, corporate, and societal and lets its readers understand how habits exist on micro and macro levels. This is not a self-help book (although it does address (and follow up in the appendix) some methods that readers might use on their own habits or goals), instead Duhigg spends significant time explaining, from current research and historical perspective, how habits work–giving those who read it the understanding that enables change, instead of instructions on what to do–instructions that can’t cover for every eventuality and therefore might fall down at crucial moments.

That, in fact, is one of the key take aways from the book.  Habits are not changed by knowing a magic formula (although understanding the “habit loop” will help) or by sheer will power (although, again, knowing how will power can be affected by effort will help); habits are changed through an understanding of how they work and a series of small successes over the obstacles that can derail the best efforts. Duhigg works to make sure his readers understand the process of habit forming–something that I have found myself recently focusing on when talking about teaching and learning.

As exam season approaches, I’ve  been giving a few talks on learning styles (and study skills) around the Uni (and to random people at the yard–I have a difficult time not teaching…), and one aspect I keep coming back to is that giving students an understanding of a process is often as important as helping them to understand content. Once students (or anyone!) understand how they learn best, they can not only seek out opportunities to learn but also are better prepared to compensate for anything that makes their learning more difficult.  Differentiated instruction is not just about preparing lessons that allow all students to learn, it is also about allowing students to take control of their own learning. Continue reading

it’s sunny; it’s (not quite as) cold; it’s nearly spring, and we’re juuuuuuumping

Not a totally accurate representation, but the lovely Norman Thelwell could have been looking at the little mare’s face when he drew this one– especially if he had added ears pricked absolutely straight forward at the jump, total focus on what is turning out to be a fun new job. Luckily for me, I stayed in the saddle the entire time, though there was one jump where the little mare asked the question “so, how far over this thing should I go? This far?” that had us leaping about four feet over the 3 inch cross-poles we’d set up.

Just previous to the jumping, we weren’t really working that well together. She’s always had a tendency to llama her way around when she feels like avoiding work, and she seriously had my number last Friday. Seriously. It was getting to the point where I *knew* we were nearly at the point where we were just annoying each other to silly levels. The day before, I had started thinking that maybe it was time to chuck away the idea of flat*work* for awhile and just focus on forward-type fun. She has a solid grasp of the basics, and I felt like it was time to give her something else to do, not keep pushing for some sort of weirdly perfect flatwork before we moved on. Plus, eh, I’ll admit to being a jumping over flat person. (And XC over anything else…) Luckily, the friend who was giving me a lesson was on the same page, so after a bit of a canter round (which the little mare loves and would be happy to do allllllll day long), we set up the world’s smallest cross pole, and I looped the reins and grabbed a firm hold of the neck strap. And then…

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on tweets, and reviews, and books, and cool non-English covers

Seriously, how cool is this cover? It’s for the German edition of Jonathan L. Howard’s “The Fear Institute”, an absolutely brilliant book that had its paperback edition released today. (Go buy it!) One of the best parts of the BookGeeks gigs is the chance to read some books I might have missed out on otherwise, and I’ve got to say that Howard’s Johannes Cabal series is seriously, seriously good.

We’ve reviewed them all at BookGeeks (or uh, really *I* have reviewed them all at BookGeeks), and, truly, they are just brilliant fun and each book is better than the last as Johannes swipes, mocks, and strides his way towards his goals. Often leaving others lying prone in his wake, and always with the sort of rejoinder that makes you feel as if he has never, ever, had that moment where you think of a come back hours after an event. Trust me, Cabal gets them in on time, and then dances on the supine bodies of his competitors, left face up so they can watch Cabal win.

All of this, I hope, is making you want to read the books (which, really, GO!), but the bonus on top of the bonus that is finding the books is that occasionally you get things happening like authors retweeting a link to your review. And, wow, that *always* feels weird, bizarre, and just….well, weird. I think I intellectually understand that other people might read the reviews, but emotionally (although I seriously hope that people will believe me and buy the books!) I feel like I am mostly just enjoying the chance to write about something I love. And then I realize people read them.

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