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

testing, testing, one, two three

Warning, this post is a bit stream of (un)consciousness as I was using it to test functionality and am sleepy. Soooo….computer froze. Apparently, as I clicked about to see if yes, it really was frozen, I also completely messed up my blog’s database. Le sigh. Anyways, I decided to try and see what happens when I add a new post. But since it’s late and I’m tired, I will just reprint an older post (with a now broken link, so at least you can read it now if this all works). And wwoooooo, that worked, so I have deleted said older post. Of course, now I still have to deal with some Error 400 pages with other things, but at least I can ninja-edit on the post itself.

Not that I ever *do* mock people in IT, but it’s stuff like this that makes mocking people in IT a loser’s bet. Also have just now sorted a few other things (error page), but am putting off till tomorrow things like easy image insertion into posts.  Sheesh. Oh, by the way, that’s Antwerp. Isn’t it nice? More on that later.

California and back again…

This is definitely not a picture of me. It’s Sarah VandenBerg of Briarwood Riding School riding her horse Pacific in the Prelim division at Galway Downs.  My trip luckily coincided with Galway’s April Horse Trials, so I got to hang out, help out, and try out taking pictures.  This one is one of my favourites, mostly because Pacific looks so chilled out; duck? no problem. water? no problem. jump about a foot over the log? no problem. What a great horse.

The rest of the holiday was equally fun.  The first week, we stayed up north in San Francisco and hung out with friends up there.  It included a memorable trip to Bodega Bay and Valley Ford, where it turns out there is a tiny bed and breakfast with an amazing bar/restaurant attached. The first night jet-lag sent us to bed around 8pm, but not until we had eaten some amazing food (most of which is lost to memory in a blur of exhaustion, but I think some of it involved oysters, fried chicken, and possibly amazing fish tacos). We spent the next two days eating and wandering about the area, mostly eating. We had originally planned to go to Yosemite that weekend, but a late snowstorm (that knocked out power and the roads in and out!), made this trip “plan b”.  It worked out extremely well, all things considered, *and* the keen-eyes of our driver spotted a great mexican restaurant on our way back into the City, which just made the weekend perfect, really. We finished up our time in San Francisco with dinner at a friend’s house and then headed down to LA for a filming of “The Big Bang Theory”. Which was awesome. Continue reading