Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A cage full of monkeys

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, all of the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm!

Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys has ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not?
Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been done around here.

And that, my friends, is how company policy begins.

I don't know where I first found this, but it is an interesting story.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Lollipop Stick questioning

In 2010, I think, Dylan William made a programme for BBC2 called The Classroom Experiment. I only watched the two, one hour programmes, recently when I saw a YouTube link.

Video1, and then video2

They changed my thinking about a questioning process I knew about but had thought missed the point and could be quite damaging to the learning process. How wrong I was!

Far from being damaging, it is a very positive strategy when managed properly. To get the full benefit I would suggest that you watch the two videos. There are additional techniques, that are at least interesting and potentially very useful. (I must not use the word IMPACTFUL as a Twitter policeman told me it was improper. I think he felt he was losing the argument about lollipop sticks so resorted to a grammar attack - am I bovvered - not a lot!)

Back to lollipop sticks. For those that do not know the method, one writes the names of students onto lollipop sticks and questions that the teacher asks are asked of the child who is randomly chosen by pulling out a stick.

Cartoon burglar isolated on white background with copy space Stock Photo - 8576421
My initial reaction, when I first heard of the method, was that it flew in the face of teacher intentions and targeted questioning. Surely one needed to tailor the question to the child. Difficult question to the bright child and easier question to the less bright child. No hands up was a way of achieving that. Buy Dylan used the lollipop stick stuff with the no hands up and did not target particular students.
Initially the children, year 8 in a school near where I lived and taught, did not like the lollipop sticks system. Indeed, the brightest child stole her sticks from each lesson. Why would she do this? She was used to answering questions in class. She was the banker to whom teachers went knowing she would be able to give a good answer to their question. The school allowed hands up and Emily, the bright girl, was nearly always to be seen participating and enjoying lessons. A puzzle, I think you will agree.

When Emily was asked about why she had taken her lollipop sticks she said that she had always thought that she was bright and that she could, in the previous system, choose which questions to answer. She selectively raised her hand only when she knew the answer. The new lollipop system meant she might be asked a question that she did not know the answer to. She would look dumb!
What was the learning purpose for Emily, who put her hand up when she knew the answer and was answering because it showed she was bright?

It really gets us to ask what the purpose of questioning in class, particularly for whole class questions, is. Learning requires thinking. All Emily was doing was telling us she knew the answer.
The links to Carol Dweck's work on growth and fixed mindsets are shown starkly by Emily's comments.

Go on. Watch the videos. You will like them. If you don't, you get your money back.