Transformative Learning

Mezirow’s theory of transformative learning (TL) (1991) is based on the idea that real learning results in a change of perspective which then becomes transformative learning. It is not an exaggeration to call TL life changing learning. This learning changes the way the learner thinks, which changes the way the learner feels, and ultimately how the learner behaves. Now for you hardcore educators and therapists, I know this is an over simplification, but at its heart, the goal of TL is to effect lasting changes in the life of the learner.

Now here is the two-edged sword: on the one side is my contention that this should happen all the time in our class rooms. On the other side is the agreement with many articles on the subject that state that true transformative learning rarely takes place. It may be rare, but I can recall times when I came across an idea in class that felt like a slap in the face.

Just like the proverbial “salt of the Earth” which keeps things from going bad, I hope  every day to say even one thing that might at least change some student’s life and at least maybe keep them from going bad, and at best add a little flavor to their lives. But I still chase after that idea, or phrase, or something that might affect my students the same way some truth affected me.

Some days they look at me wich such bored expressions. Other days I know they will go home and if their parents ask “What did you learn today?” they will have an answer.

And it will be a good one.


I am all about instructional differentiation. I know that each of my students is different and needs to be appreciated as an individual. I know they are the product of a unique set of circumstances. They do, however, have one thing in common: they are all in my room at the same time learning the same information and skills from the same teacher.

In that respect, they must all learn a valued life-skill: adapting to different learning styles and environments. I believe we have mis-interpreted the learning styles paradigm. Whether a student is left-brained, right-brained, kinesthetic, aural – whatever, that preferences only describes that particular student’s natural predisposition toward learning. It does not, however, mean that the only learning that student can experience is that which is presented in his/her preferred manner. We, in fact, do our students a great disservice when we give them the illusion that the great spinning world outside the walls of our school awaits with open arms to custom fit it’s square peg to their round hole.

I do not remember a time when any college professor presented English composition in any manner other than their tried and true methods. We sat in a large lecture hall with 100 other students and LEARNED to LEARN. I do not remember any employer differentiating their instructions to me on the job. Bosses expect you to adapt to them. I have never heard a member of the military tell me that their CO adapted instructions to make following orders more acceptable to them. I can hear you veterans laughing from here.

In short, the most valuable thing we can teach our students is how to learn the subject at hand. This skill, once mastered, will last them a lifetime.

Hopefully, it will be a long and successful one.

Martini by Bond

“Shaken, not stirred” is a familiar phrase to James Bond fans. It also describes many of our students.  We frequently throw some new idea at them, based on some retired administrator’s book, or some other’s expert “experience” and then wonder how we could have adopted some plan clearly ten years too late. The effect on the students is a mild shaking up of routine, but rarely a stirring of their souls.

Those in the upper ranks of edutopia regularly send down the “next new thing” to revive the schooling of children and when it doesn’t work, they blame the teachers, drift off in mid-tirade, and latch onto another equally ineffective initiative.

My own teaching experience teaches me that students don’t seek things “new and exciting” in education. They seek that in their private lives, yes, but when they enter the classroom they want only one thing-what works. Tried and true, time-tested, you-can-count-on-this learning gives them a sense of trust and security.

Granted, you’ll have to figure out how to do this yourself as it applies to your particular subject, but save the dog-and-pony-show for the circus.

Give your students real knowledge.


I remember my first online course. It was a continuing education course from a nearby college which, even though just a few towns away, was still beyond a convenient driving range. I signed up by phone, got the course materials by mail, and began logging in nightly to get assignments, turn in assignments, or-and here’s the important part-enter comments on a discussion board.

The discussion board was to take the place of peer interaction. Members (students) would post their comments and invite comment or discussion, or even start entirely new discussions. A single topic and its attendant responses was called a “thread” and could be discussed at anytime during the course. Many of the instructors even required a certain number of entries to be posted, or discussions started as part of your grade.

That seems like ancient stuff now. Our students now have smart phones, i-pads, and many have digital notebooks or i-books. Add to that devices like Kindle and other e-book readers as well as the ubiquitous phone apps which allow students to access the internet for more information than we as teachers have time to ask for and you can see that our thirst for knowledge has us drowning in information.

BYOT (not an official title but one I heard recently) is becoming the paradigm for the future classroom. Students are encouraged to “Bring Your Own Technology” to access information beyond the confines of the school room. In this setting the teacher serves merely to pose the question and moderate the discussion of answers. The building of relationships becomes obsolete. We become abject facilitators.

Ok-so maybe it won’t be as bad as all that, but if we are not really careful, public education will become obsolete. We can already take college courses online, and virtual public high school courses are now available. Soon there will really be no need to sit in a classroom with a real teacher.

I suppose, however, if I can sit on the beach with my laptop and grade electronically submitted assignments and still get paid for it…hmm…let me think about that.

My Motto: Always On

I know this is a repost, but I forget that many people will not read the very first article and understand the subtitle, so here is a repost of Always On.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned was on the deck of my lawn mower. It read “If motor is running, blade is turning.” As if I didn’t know that. Soon, however, it took on a deeper meaning for me. It now reminds me that we, as spiritual beings, are always on. We are always believing something, talking about some truth, sending out vibrations and signals about our true state of mind; not what we say we think or believe, but what we really think or believe.

If we doubt ourselves as educators, other’s spiritual antennae will pick up on it. If we harbor grudges, or suspicions about our students, we send that signal as well. Not only do we send out those negative signals, but we likewise attract more of the same negative feelings. We begin to see only the bad in everything and everyone. We no longer have joy in the classroom. We are easily irritated. We don’t enjoy our subject as we once did. It’s a vicious downward spiral.

But none of this matters if you don’t think of yourself as a spiritual being. And, nothing improves if you can’t see that you are always sending and receiving spiritual signals, either good ro bad (and the choice is yours.) And you can never reverse a negative trend without changing the inner dialogue which created it.

What you  must constantly consider is this: if you are thinking, breathing, and living, you’re communicating. Make sure the message is really what you want to say. Remember: you are always on.

GAP’s Rebranding Snafu

As I write this I am amazed at the outcry against GAP having traded in the old familiar blue GAP box we’ve all come to know and love for a more pristine, clean-looking logo. What amazes me even more is how that outcry fell on the ears of GAP officials who finally succumbed and changed back to the old blue box.

Now, short of a boycott, I can’t imagine what imaginary forces would cause a major company to abandon a new (and no doubt costly) image switch. Are their clothes not still some of the best? Are their stores not artsy, clean, and fun to shop in? So what gives?

No doubt someone at the top one day said “We need to update our image!” Ideas were proffered, studies were done, drawings were rendered, and bam! new image! Instead of a hearty embrace of the new,- or even more useful in some cases, a simple ignoring of it, – we see a vapid online outcry against it.

It points up a strange truth:

 We seem to be most vocal about the things that matter least.

I cannot count the number of  teacher’s meetings I’ve attended where the the real battle seemed to be who could toss about the hottest terms or engage in some quasi-politicoeducational banter that had no effect on my real concern: reaching and teaching my students.

Some students can’t think straight because their family situation is near intolerable. A few are technically homeless. Some are so far poverty level they’ve given up. Some don’t have adequate health care. Some try to balance home, school, AND work.

Classes rarely have what they need. Teachers battle against sometimes insurmountable odds and are rewarded with only criticism. Principals are no longer just the head teacher, but business manager, legal advisor, disciplinarian, PR representative, personnel director–just for starters. The entire system gets so bogged down in paper work it’s difficult to stay on schedule. Some schools do struggle with incompetent staff but it’s usually because they are surrounded by poverty and crime, and the really skilled teachers know they can work elsewhere.

If anyone wants to start an online campaign to change things,

let’s change something important.

Texting while learning

It seemed like it took for ever for me to learn to 8-3-3-9-9-8 (text.) No wonder many states make it illegal to text while driving (see earlier post.) I heard a report that the safety council had suggested that data had been misinterpreted which suggested that car crashes had gone UP in states where texting while driving had been made illegal. We’ll see.

Texting in school is a hot issue, though. Many of us try to embrace the new wave of technology while trying to decrease distractions. It is true that teens are so accustomed to multiple streams of input that they can learn faster than we can teach–well, at least in theory.  It may be true that the net can be spread wider, but they’re not catching many fish.

So why is it that the world of information can be a mile wide and only an inch deep? Linda Stone may have an answer. It’s called continuous partial attention. Years ago, I did a research project on memory, and the bottom line of the whole thing was:

 If you want to remember something you must pay attention to it.

Students (and adults) who are in constant contact through their phones and texting devices are hard to get through to. They seem to linger on the edge of many things simultaneously without giving true attention to anything. This is  the state of continuous partial attention. This is not multi-tasking, this is multi-glossing. It increases stress, frustration, and causes email-apnea and early burn out. (www.lindastone.net)

The internet as well has changed the way we think. For example: we can sift through Google results faster as we search for something, and decide which information we’re looking for. That’s a good thing. And while we can search, message, Facebook, and any number of other things, we have lost many of the more human aspects in exchange.

Many of these human things–recognizing irony, reading body language and facial expression–have become lost to many students today. We even have to use emoticons in our messages and e-mails!

In feeding students spirit, try to have a totally disconnected time. Turn everything off – breathe – focus – pay attention to the task at hand. There is no mass of information to sift through-the teacher has already done the sifting. There are no decisions to make-the teacher has done the deciding.

And while new teacher methodologies dissuade this approach, sometimes we need to let the students sit back,

and think.