If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

This is an amazing TEDtalk!

Helene Polatajko is an occupational therapist. I know what you’re thinking–what could this possibly have to do with education?

As  Polatajko discusses in this video, the perspective and starting point for many therapists and even expert teachers is to observe what a student is doing wrong when trying to learn a skill. This is often unsuccessful.

Instead of starting from a point of looking for what’s wrong, we should acknowledge the differences. The task then becomes about learning–How can we accomplish the same thing in a different way? This teaches the student to learn how to learn and they can often progress faster and continue to develop with less assistance.

It’s an interesting take on learning, check it out!


Personality, the Gogies, and Whole Brain Teaching

So who was Whole Brain Teaching made for? Is it more effective on certain personality types (ie. extroverts)? Is this technique suitable for adult learners?

When I saw my first Whole Brain Teaching video, I was pretty immediately uncomfortable. I know as a student I would not be able to tolerate it–I would look to escape or drop the course. As an instructor, I would also be uncomfortable delivering lessons using this  technique. But I don’t necessarily trust my opinion. I am an introvert, so a loud, super quick paced activity like this would be difficult.

Through the forum I am facilitating and sharing the video with friends, it seems the consensus is that this technique would alienate introverts. There is a mix of reactions–some would run like me, while others may ‘play along’, mouthing the prompts much like the back row of a church choir. What surprised me though is that extroverts also do not love this. So there appears to be more than just the loud, quick pace that detracts learners and instructors from this method.

While proponents of this method claim that this technique can be used in any class, I think this is more suitable as a pedagogical technique. You can find examples of uses in the college classroom (I posted one in a previous blog), but this technique violates many of the assumptions we make about adult learners. The big ones for me is adult learners are self-directed. In this technique, the teacher controls almost everything, leaving little room for self-directed or autonomous behaviour. A common reaction from people seeing this method for the first time is that it is ‘childish’, which I would have to agree.

So it appears that the idea audience for Whole Brain Teaching is very narrow. As a class management teachnique, it seems to be created more for teachers than students. To me employing this technique for any extended period, would be a risk.


On Introversion

I’ve confessed this many times before, perhaps not on this blog, but I am a proud introvert.

Not only do I prefer quiet, independent activities, but some of the most extreme versions of it. I can sit alone and stare at a wall for hours, just thinking. Some of my best ideas come to me this way.

Many people close to me know this. Strangely, those I work with and those I teach are often surprised that I am an introvert. This is because I have worked hard to manage the extrovert world. I can point out my quirks–such as haven’t you noticed my frequent walks or how my eyes wander after 10 minutes of direct eye contact in one on ones?

While I pass well as an extrovert, does this mean I’m ashamed of my introverted side? Absolutely not. But I love that extrovert side too. I love that I can take control of a room sharing stories, jokes, lessons. Occasionally, I can even be the life at a party! Just in moderation…

Introversion is part of who I am and I swear it has lead to a lot of my success in life. I love observing. I spent a lot of time doing this as a child. I think this is what has made me a good leader and teacher. I feel I can pick up on the energy of a room and sense individuals state of mind. This ‘talent’ has allowed me to adapt and address issues before they become problems both in the workplace and the classroom.

While my hobby of reflective thinking while staring at walls may be boring to some, it allows me to refuel and organize my thoughts. I love this time.


Speaking of Memories…

<rant warning–but I promise it will connect to learning>

So every time it snows, like it is in the Lower Mainland right now, I’m semi-traumatically reminded of my 16th birthday present from my grandmother. It was a cherub box and I was seriously disturbed as to why my grandmother was giving me a box with naked winged babies on it. It had a lock on it, so I eventually found a use for it to hide cigarettes or whatever contraband I needed to hide from my parents.

It was not just this disturbing box. The card was equally disturbing. She used a quote about driven snow to launch into a talk about abstinence. I wish I could remember the exact quote, but it had something to do with choices being like footprints in snow. Basically, the choices you make cannot be erased.

Other than this memory being a demonstration of how we process memories (ie. episodic memory is powerful and we forget details as we age), I think this quote that I can’t remember is a great discussion point for learning.

While it’s wonderful, albeit disturbing for me, that my grandmother tried to give me the ‘talk’ for my 16th birthday, the quote was all wrong. Snow can be erased. It melts, it gets shovelled, or others tread on top of your treads. Learning can change your snow patch.

This was definitely not what my grandmother wanted me to get out of that quote. She was hoping for scare tactics to keep me away from premarital sex and teenage pregnancy. While I succeeded in finishing high school without, this was not the result of learning or my grandmothers attempt at teaching.

Learning from mistakes is a powerful thing. These learning events often become defining moments in our lives, as they change us on a deeper, more involved level. These learning events often produce strong episodic memories, as we can recall how we made the mistake and the process we underwent learning from it.

While I cannot recall this silly snow quote that led to my association between my grandmother and snow, I can remember in detail many great learning experiences from that era that we’re the result of teenage mistakes.

Our lifelong learning journey, not choices, are like footprints in snow. We can rub them out, we can build on them, we can shovel them, we can melt them down. It’s really up to you and the opportunities you seek.



More Thoughts on Technology and Cognitive Science

As I struggled through studying for a recent exam, I realized another impact technology potentially has on cognitive science: memory.

I used to thrive when faced with multiple choice tests. While we can debate about the effectiveness of this type of assessment on learning outcomes, for me at least I’ve always had a good memory and I looked forward to courses with these easy grade boosters. I was one of those lucky students, I’d take notes, but I never needed to use them. It always seemed that the act of just writing things down, wrote these in my brain somehow. How things have changed! For this particular course in question, I chose to go full digital, even choosing to purchase a digital text book which I could use on my smartphone and tablet. While I used the notes function built in the app and even took extra time to study, I found this experience to be a challenge were my old study habits would fail.

Many of you can probably relate to this phenomenon. Just a few years ago, you could probably easily recall many of your friend’s phone numbers by heart, but now you probably find this a challenge or would be completely lost without your smart phone.

This is a widely debated topic:


This article discusses some interesting points on memory in the digital age. Research indicates that the experience I’ve recently had is linked to the fact that much of our information is stored in computers so we have less of a need to remember. While that can be seen as a negative side, as this author points out, through social media and other forms, we’re storing a lot more ‘memories’ than we ever did with our brain. This can allow us to recall experiences we would normally never remember.

This debate has been infused in educational circles.


The above article discusses recent debates surrounding allowed tools in exams. I remember when I was in high school, the use of calculators was a highly debated topic. The same is now happening regarding use of search engines. The argument against the use of these tools is that it prevents students from using memory. Proponents argue that we need to adapt to the digital world and encourage critical use of these tools.

These tools will not disappear any time soon, so learning and assessment of learning needs to adapt to incorporate these tools. If the goal of learning is to be able to adapt skills and knowledge to various situations, the best use of our time is to incorporate these tools in learning. Critical thinking and evaluating information sources are far more important skills in the digital age than memorizing facts.

We still have a long way to go in developing online educational tools that have similar benefits to the traditional face to face classroom. This is no reason to block the tools. It is an amazing thing that these tools are forcing a high order evaluation and critical thinking than traditional route learning. I’m much happier spending my brain power and space on developing critical thinking than memorization.

So while the digital textbook and noting taking has been a challenge, I plan on continuing down this path. My studying habits will need to adapt. And maybe one day soon technology will adapt to reproduce that noting taking to memory experience I once enjoyed.

Preparing for Instruction 4: Right vs Left Brain Myth

Most of us have probably heard at one time or another that people are either right brain dominated or left brain dominated. Righties are supposed to be more creative and/or in touch with their emotional side, while lefties are supposed to be more analytical. How much of this is true?

Very little!


In this article, the right vs left brain myth is debunked. The root of the myth appears to date back to research done by Sperry in the 1960’s, where he studies patients who had damage to the corpus callosum (the structure that connects the two hemispheres of the brain). In his research he did find peculiarities of certain preferences for one side in patients. This was misinterpreted by popular media to the myth we know today.

Many researchers have since tried to reproduce the results. While brain scans show that there is some grounding to certain types of processing taking place in a particular hemisphere (such as analytic tasks originating on the left side, creative tasks on the right), it is the connection between these two hemispheres that allow us to interpret and make meaning of most tasks.

What does this mean for Learning and Teaching?

As reflective practitioners, I think we need to be aware of these myths and more importantly how these inaccurate popularized myths can affect learners. This is just one example of how analytic and rational thinking gets privileged over creative or emotional thinking. We need to be aware of these dichotomies, as they can affect learner’s self esteem. For an example, someone who is creative might have been labeled a right brainer, so the learner may be uneasy around highly analytic tasks because right brainers are not supposed to be good at them. By being aware of these myths, we help debunk these myths in learners by supporting learners through tasks they may be uncomfortable with.

For further debunking of this right vs left brain myth, checking out Neil deGrasse Tyson speak on this issue: