I have been both a teacher and a student. For the past four years or so I have been a student. I have changed courses a few times until I found the right fit for me. I have studied at three different TAFE Colleges and at each I have found the teaching to be excellent. Unfortunately, I seem to keep coming across the same issues among students and since this is my blog and my place to talk about the things that are important to me I thought it’s time to tackle these issues. Even in an adult learning environment there seems to be a misunderstanding of education.
What You Don’t Know?
The first and probably oddest thing in education is that you cannot learn something until you know something.
Think about that for a minute!
You cannot learn something until you know something.
When I first heard of this concept it was like a light dawning in a dark place. I need to know before I learn. The best way to describe this in action is something that happened to all of us. When we were young, very young, we saw and learnt what a bird was. It was a flying thing. Then we see something else that flew like a butterfly and we point and get a quizzical look and say in a stuttering manner bir…bir…bird? We know that birds fly but this isn’t what we know a bird to be. Now we learn that other things fly. Now we learn that there is a thing called a butterfly. Your parent or carer who was with you probably smiled and helped you to learn this new information. That brings me to the ZPD.
The ZPD is a shorthand way of writing the Zone of Proximal Development. This theory is the work of the Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky. I am a huge fan of the ZPD and to me Vygotsky is almost a god when it comes to educational theory.
What is the ZPD? It is the difference between the known and unknown. Sound confusing? Well it is stuff you are learning and how you are growing from your current knowledge base to the next level up. Again I will go back to what happened in childhood. At school you learn the base word first such as “AT” then once you know that the teacher helps you to learn that it can be added to and changed. So you learn you can place an “M” in front of the word “AT” to form a new word with a new meaning “MAT”. You may have heard the word mat, you maybe able to point to a mat but now you can spell it and it is just a matter of placing a letter you know in front of a word you know. Then you find out about “C”, “H” and “S” so now from the base word of “AT” you can write mat, cat, hat and sat. Then a simple sentence is able to be said and written: On the mat sat the cat in the hat. The unknown becomes the know and again once you know something you can learn something.
The ZPD requires a scaffold. A learning scaffold. A teacher assists the learner to understand using a learning scaffold. This is by first spoon feeding the information. Breaking it down into bite size chunks. The teacher will continually question and as you go to answer will give you hints, clues and prompts until the information becomes learnt. So in the early stages of learning new information when the teacher asks the question they might even give you most of the answer until you fill in the parts you know.
I saw a brilliant display of this last Thursday during my class on Colour Theory. I am study a Diploma of Photography and Photo Imaging. This was our second class and Craig (the teacher) started off by asking refresher questions. Teaching 101. The important point is that as he asked and students went to answer he was giving hints, prompts and clues as they went to answer. No one seemed to notice the scaffold! He supported the learning process. No one felt they couldn’t do it. It was the ZPD in action to perfection.
Going back to my earlier example of the new word of “mat”. The teacher might ask, “in our last lesson we learnt a new word does anyone remember what it was?” As hands go up the teacher might say, “it started with mmmm.” As the student goes to answer the teacher might even start the word with the student.
The process is repeated as mat is transformed into “matter” further along in the learning process.
TIME TO BE STUDENTS!!!
Now that we know that teachers know more than us on the topics being taught. It is clear that teachers really do know their stuff. Teachers are professionals just like other professionals such as doctors or lawyers. So why are students such complainers? Here I am talking of adult learners. Those who should know better.
I learnt a very valuable lesson from a good friend of mine when I was studying at university. I was getting a pretty inflated ego because I had learnt a few things or at least read a book or two and after a particular lecture was infuriated that the lecturer didn’t have the depth of knowledge that I did on the topic nor did they take into account x, y and z point of view. This friend listened to my rant and then calmly said, “Are you going because you know everything or you want to learn?” WOW! That stopped me in my tracks. “I am a student” I replied but was cut off by “Then be a student, shut up and learn!” One of the most important sentences of my life was just spoken to me. Then be a student, shut up and learn!
I hear so many student before a class, in the break or after a class complaining about this teacher or that teacher knows nothing. Firstly, everyone knows something. Secondly, they couldn’t be a teacher if they didn’t know the course material. Maybe, just maybe you need to be a student, shut up and learn. Stop the excuses of this teacher doesn’t like me or I don’t like that teacher. This whine will never bring you joy.
This type of complaining can actually stop others from learning. People who may never have had an issue with that teacher may suddenly start to see the flaws you lovingly point out. Be a student, shut up and learn. If you stop someone else from learning then you just became a speed hump on the road to their success.
All singing. All dancing.
Learning can’t always be a spectacular event. This isn’t Hollywood. Sometimes learning is just sheer hard work and determination. Not every lesson can be all singing and all dancing. Sometimes the shift in the ZPD is huge and needs not only the scaffold along with the hints, prompt and clues it requires effort on the part of the student. Learn is a verb. To learn means doing something. The teacher cannot magically place the knowledge in your brain.
Learning is like walking. None of us may remember the day that we chose to walk. What happened on the day you decided to take your first steps was you moved over to a chair or table. You reached out and took hold of the leg of the table or chair. With great effort you lifted your butt off the floor and got to a really shaky standing position. With a huge smile or a giggle you turned, let go of the furniture, stepped out and then fell hard on your butt. The important point is that the fall didn’t stop you. It was hard to learn to walk but you did it. Why do you think learning anything is easier?
Do The Learning
As I have already said I am doing a Diploma of Photography and the basic tool of photography is a camera. This is a practical course. The doing is important. Unfortunately, I see so many who don’t want to do. Sure, they do the minimum and I often hear “I just need to shoot blah, blah for my assignment”. We get a thing called open access to a fully kitted out studio. In fact there are three fully fitted out studios and if needed a green screen. This is professional grade equipment. People complain they don’t understand the classroom learning because they are not doing the practical stuff. They haven’t put the doing of the verb into action. Oh I hear the excuses… Oh I’m to busy. Oh I have children. Oh I’m married. Oh it’s too cold. Oh it is too hot. Here is a secret! Everytime I walk in the studio I save between $300 and $600! Yep! How? To hire a studio in Sydney will cost $300 for half a day and $600 for a full day. If I want to use a light it is extra. If I want to use a modifier it is extra. If I want to use the kitchen it is extra. I save every time I walk in the studio. I learn every time I walk in the studio. I practice. I attempt. I learn. Some shots take 3 or 4 hours just to set up. To get everything correct doesn’t just happen. I did an image of a quill not long ago and that set up took over 3 hours. Shooting it was easy. I learnt so much in that three hours. Photography is problem solving. I am so happy with the result. Could I set up for a product shoot now. You bet I could!
I go into the studio 2 – 3 times a week. If I take ONLY 36 images each time and I attend TAFE 40 weeks a year means at the end of the year if I only take advantage of the studio twice a week I should have 2880 images! If I do three sessions it is a total of 4320 images! That is by doing a minimal amount of work. 3 different setups per week means at the end of the year I have undertaken 120 scenarios. Talk about being industry ready! I can make it happen or make excuses.
Be a student, shut up and learn!
Recently I have been contemplating the good rather than the bad of my mental illness. This all started out from a question that my GP asked me: Can you see any positives in your disorder? No, not in my life but my disorder. If I had to answer the question: are there any good things in your life? I am prepared for that one but this took me completely by surprise. I mumbled some incoherent response but it started me thinking about the question. Most if not all the questions are about the negative and bad areas of my mental illness. As I have mentioned before my illness is multi-faceted and includes:
- Schizoaffective Disorder
- Generalise Anxiety Disorder
- Paranoid Personality Disorder
- Panic Disorder
I have also been seeing doctors, be they GPs or psychiatrists about my mental illnesses since I was 13 (not to mention a passing parade of counsellors, psychologists and others who put out a similar shingle). After all this time questions are nothing new and up until this resent meeting with my GP all the questions had been pretty much the same: how you doing; how has your week been; have you self-harmed (as in cut myself); have you had thoughts of suicide; do you have a suicide plan; blah, blah, blah. I am sure that you either get the picture or are used to having these questions asked. However, I had never been asked the question “can you see any positives in your disorder” before. I couldn’t dismiss it nor could I let it go. Once my mind locks on something, I can never let it go. The words kept echoing in my mind. If I slept, I woke up to this question. The voices in my head played havoc with me as I continued to ponder these eight (8) words though it morphed into CAN I SEE ANY POSITIVES IN MY MENTAL ILLNESS. Slowly but eventually the answer came as a yes. I must admit at first it was a faint “maybe” but the more I dwelt on the question the firmer that the yes became.
Friends. I have never had such amazing friends. If someone puts up their hand and says I am a friend to someone with mental illness then they are an amazing person. The people that I call friend have seen me at my best and worst, at my highest and lowest points and love me anyway. They have sat with me in my depression and run beside me in my mania phases. They have listened while I have shouted and screamed at the voices that they tell me they cannot hear. They have driven me to the emergency ward of the hospital when they feared that I may off myself.
My friends have stood by my decision to look into getting a psychiatric service dog. One friend use to print out information about various breeds of dogs for me right when the idea was in the embryonic stages. When I could talk about nothing else but getting an assistance dog, they listened patiently and never once told me to shut up. While they may not have been able to see the benefits or impact that a mindDog (www.minddog.org.au) may have they encouraged me to keep going. Once my psychiatric assistance dog Buddy, became part of my life they accepted him. At no time did they ask me not to have him with me or tell me that they were embarrassed that he was with me.
My friends are awesome and if you are friends with someone with a mental illness then you are awesome too.
I think that this is summed up best by Stephen Fry, the great British actor and comedian who once said, “If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.
It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”
The way that I think. Ok, this one may seem odd but I look at issues differently. I don’t see the glass as half empty nor do I see it as half full but I see it has something in it and more interested in what it is. If someone tells a joke I analysis it. I need to know why those two guys were in the bar or the logic of it. This part can frustrate some people that I talk to but my brain works differently and to me that is a positive. I used to try to blend my thinking to those I was in conversation with but over time, I have learnt to embrace my difference. I am able to see that there are not two sides to an argument but so many more. Sometimes this makes answering someone’s question quite difficult because I see more to it or my answer comes from a different point of view to what was asked because of how my mind works. To be honest I do love that I think about things differently to other people. Often people say, I never thought of it that way. So yes, this is a positive.
Creativity. I see the world differently and helps with my creativity. I have found others with mental illness to be super creative too like my friends: Dawn-Joy, Ell, Arielle and Sally. These are four of the most creative people I have ever met and propel me onto a greater depth of creativity.
I choose many creative outlets like spinning fibre into yarn, knitting, colouring in and photography. My greatest creative outlet is photography because it lets me express what I think or feel about the world around me. My creativity helps me see, feel, express myself and connects me both to the world around me and to others. It is something that I love.
Introspection. As someone with mental illness, I am asked an incredible amount of questions. I always need to know how I felt in a given moment to answer the question “how did you feel about blah, blah?” Over time, I have become good at knowing what is happening with my thoughts and emotions. I have learnt to be introspective and self-regulating. While it is true that the illness sometimes takes away this ability, I am able to know that when I start to consume a large amount of sugar or crave sweet foods then a depression is looming. When in the depression my introspection may falter, I am able to know what is happening in the lead up and to take precautions if I can or at least warn others about what is happening.
I am so connected to my thoughts and feelings and I like that.
It is me. I didn’t ask for mental illness but I have it. In fact I was first diagnosed when I was 13 by a very switched on GP who sent me to see a psychiatrist. I have lived with being ill for 41 years. I hate the illness but it is part of me. In at least some ways it makes up who I am today. So I guess since I don’t like the illness I have to admit it has shaped the adult that I am.
Recently, I have started to do talks to other groups like Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, V.I.E.W Clubs, and PROBUS Clubs about mindDog and mental illness. Without the illness, I wouldn’t have Buddy (my ace service dog) or be able to talk to groups about this stuff.
While there are many, many, many negatives and struggles with my mental illness, I am glad my doctor challenged me to think. Anyone struggling with mental illness will tell you that it isn’t fun or wanted so please don’t hear in any of this that it is ok because it isn’t. I just wanted to be able to look from a different point of view even if only for a moment.
I am me. I have mental illness. I am alive. I struggle. I am me. I ride unicorns.
Christmas is suppose to be a time of joy. A time of family. A time of getting everything ready for the good times and creating cherished memories. What if those good times never happen?
While you are busy thinking of gifts you have to buy or gathering food for the big event there are people like me with nothing or no one. I don’t mean that I am destitute. I like many do not celebrate Christmas. The simple fact is that there is no one to celebrate with. There won’t be a gathering about a Christmas tree with presents under nor a table laden with food. In fact there won’t be a gathering of any type. To be honest there isn’t a tree. I am surrounded by bare walls. No decorations. No one to wish Merry Christmas too except for the checkout person at the supermarket.
People tell me their plans of gathering family from the corners of the globe or from just around the neighbourhood. I do want to be happy for you and I hope that my face doesn’t give away what is happening in my heart and soul as I listen.
I have no family to gather with. No loved ones. Occasionally, someone might say ‘oh if you aren’t doing anything why don’t you come around for lunch?’. Sure crashing someone else’s family day is my idea fun – NOT. The idea of going to one of those charity free lunch for the poor and lonely just makes me cringe.
When you reach under your beautifully decorated tree with the angel or star on top to hand a neatly wrapped present to a loved one please remember that there are some that aren’t that fortunate. As you hand them the present just hug them first and thank God he has blessed you in ways that I have not been. As you see the joy in them for the gift you lovingly purchased or made and a tear runs down your cheek there will be tears in my eyes but from the ache of loneliness.
I face a day of being alone. Eating weet-bix for lunch or maybe a piece of toast with a cup of coffee. In an empty house.
My morning shall be busy because I will be on radio from 6 until 10am playing Christmas music, speaking of the joy of Christmas. All while my soul aches. All while my life is empty. I have my service dog, Buddy, who will be by my side and he is a constant joy. So the day will not be a complete waist or a desert of unhappiness.
Please don’t complain to me of the hassle of gift shopping or the crowds at the shopping centres. I know that family can be stressful but I am not the one to tell that it is all such a pain to organise your family so you can all be together on the day. Enjoy your family because you don’t know if they will all be on the planet next year. Enjoy the gift buying but enjoy the love you have more. Some of us do not have this. I don’t have this.
I just want you to be aware of the fact that the things you might complain about with Christmas are the same things I long for.
This year there will be no laughter, no gifts to unwrap nor to give away, no one to pop the Christmas cracker with, no one to share a meal, no one… no one.
But say a prayer and pray for the other ones
At Christmas time, it’s hard but while you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear
Where a kiss of love can kill you, and there’s death in every tear
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom
An exert from “Do They Know It’s Christmas”