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Category archive: Learning by doing

Wednesday July 16 2008

Johnathan Pearce wants the child labour laws relaxed:

It seems to me that in part of the discussion about what “should be done” about feral kids armed with knives, there ought to be a recognition that one of the main problems that young people face in and outside school is boredom. And that can be cured, possibly, by working. We have to overcome our strange squeamishness over the employment of minors in actual jobs. I think that the rules and regulatory burdens should be relaxed so that apprenticeships become much easier for an employer to provide. I think some, if not all, of the young tearaways who are so worrying policymakers might actually feel proud of having a job, of earning money, of being able to brag about this to their lazier friends.

Commenter Walter Boswell adds this:

The importance of that simple lesson that hard work equals money and money equals more independence cannot be emphasised enough.


Tuesday July 15 2008

Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lankan batsman and wicketkeeper, writes about why Sri Lanka has produced so many highly effective, yet highly individual cricketers:

Over the last few years Sri Lanka have had quite a few self-styled unorthodox cricketers coming through - Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan, Romesh Kaluwitharana, and now Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis. It’s wonderful to have this newness, this difference, because it opens up everyone’s eyes, including fellow cricketers who might get something new from these guys to improve their game overall.

One of the reasons for so many unorthodox cricketers coming through in Sri Lanka could be, as in other parts of the subcontinent, the way kids learn to play cricket: they learn by watching, and then start playing in backyards or streets or wherever they can find space. It’s possibly there that they develop these individual styles. Unless they have access to formal coaching, they tend to develop along their own lines, especially if they come late to proper leather-ball cricket.

He talks in particular about Muralitharan, who is about to become the most prolific taker of wickets in the entire history of test match cricket, albeit with a highly unusual (some say illegal) action:

In some instances, if they are discovered at a very young age, there arises a problem when coaches start trying to make them conform to orthodoxy. All the above mentioned cricketers, with the exception of Murali, were discovered quite late. Murali had the luxury of having an open-minded, liberal, forward-thinking coach in Sunil Fernando, who let him develop along his own lines and just tidied up what needed to be tidied up without changing what made him unique.

All of this reminds me very much of the difference between how classical and rock musicians get their start.  The classicals get coached and coached, the rocksters just copy and play, in the musical equivalent of the backyard or the street, i.e. the upstairs bedroom or the garage.

Rock and rollers thrive on novelty, on being different from the pack, and this kind of start ensures that they are indeed highly individual.  But cricketers also do well by being different.  Much of Murali’s success has happened because batsmen have never faced anything quite like him before, and can’t practice against anyone else who is similar, because no-one is.

Thursday July 10 2008

Again very little to say today, so try something else that is packed with stuff.  A few days ago I got an email flagging up 100 Unbelievably Useful Reference Sites You’ve Never Heard Of, which says pretty much what it says on the tin, but sadly, in American rather than in English.

I also got an email recently urging me to get interested in this.  Here is a testimonial about it:

“Je vous envoie ce mail du Canada. Je suis arrivé il y a 3 jours dans la famille d’Andrew, mon corres. Ils sont tous trop sympas! Demain on va aux chutes du Niagara. Waou!”

Sounds good.

Thursday June 19 2008

Before going off on holiday last week, on Tuesday 10th of this month, I went to an event at what used to be called the London School of Printing, but which is now called this:


Website here.  Click on that photo to see at bit more of what sort of building this is.

This was the end-of-year show of photos put on by Goddaughter 1 and all her mates doing the ABC Diploma in Photography.  It was a crowded show, packed with friends and relatives like me.  All the photos looked great to me.  I couldn’t find a single duff set among them.  They all know how to do photography, I can confidently report.  Which is scary if you want just one of the photographers on show to do really well.


What struck me particularly was how many non-Brits were involved in this event, as students and as supporters of the students.  Particularly Asians, and particularly Asian women.  Higher education in Britain is no longer something laid on merely for Brits.  It is a huge British export industry.  Young friends tell me that this is because foreigners have to pay more, so foreigners are preferred.


That’s Goddaugher 1 and her set of photos, which seemed to be attracting quite a bit of attention, and which I thought were very well displayed.  She showed a couple of good big ones, several smaller ones that you could take out of their racks and scrutinise, and a portfolio containing lots of other equally good photos.  Just like me, Goddaughter 1 likes to photo photographers.  That’s her in the green top, anxiously awaiting the verdict of the European Photo Editor for Time MagazIne.  Or maybe not.  Let’s hope it was someone of significance.

I hope to learn more about this course, but from what little I’ve learned of it so far, it was pretty good.  In particular, it is practical, with classes not just about how to do the work, but about how to get it in the first place.

Sunday May 11 2008

This working boy did the school’s IT.  But this working boy, also in IT, didn’t go to school.  Which didn’t, says the story, hold him back.  (The way it usually does?)

He said: “There aren’t very many jobs for teenagers around except washing-up at hotels or chopping chips for a chippy.

“I wanted to start up my own business doing something that I really enjoyed, was good at, and that I could fit into my free time, at home - and hopefully I will be able to earn some money at the same time.”

There are five comments on this story in the Bridport News, all of them very positive.

Linked to by Carlotta.

Friday May 02 2008

Violins and Starships Lynn links to this excellent piece by a double bass teacher.  It starts by being about how long lessons should be, but he tangents off into a discussion of his whole approach to teaching.

With one-on-one music teaching the consent principle applies from both directions, or it damn well should.  If Jason Heath can’t be doing with a particular pupil (who, for instance, refuses to practice) then they’re out.  If a pupil can’t take the nagging and the tyranny, they can leave.  Excellent.  But he can be a little more interesting than that.  He can be a “musical guide”:

imageI realize that a particular student loves music and loves playing the instrument, but through lack of motivation or lack of available time, simply doesn’t progress. With these students, however, I see a genuine love for music and a person who will be likely to listen to music, play in an amateur orchestra, attend concerts, and enroll their children in musical programs in a decade or two. Over time I’ve learned to spot these kind of students, and with them, I teach them about music, with the double bass as a sonic conduit. I’d love it if they started practicing (and many do end up working hard at it), but I see a genuine interest in this art form, and I teach them about the fundamentals of music and give them some elementary training on the instrument.

Anticipating complaints from fellow professionals about that approach, Heath continues:

Look - we’re not all destined to become concert musicians. In fact, we don’t want everyone and their dog to be a concert musician. But what we do need are lovers of music, future patrons and enthusiasts. And if that “nice bass teacher” that a non-practicing student had back in high school helped to nurture that love, then I feel like I did a good job, “standards” or no.

Amen.  One of the most important functions of a teacher, currently rather neglected by the politicians, is to teach people how to enjoy life more than they might otherwise, by instilling not just careers and career-skills but hobbies and hobby-enthusiasms.  To put it another way, education means learning how to spend money, and not just how to make it.  And when you consider how cheap potent music is these days, teaching someone to enjoy music is teaching them how to get a lot more pleasure from not that much more money.

Thursday April 24 2008

At English Russia, there are some delightful pictures of a fishing lesson:


Who says parents can’t teach?

Monday April 21 2008

I have now read the first of these three pieces, and am greatly looking forward to reading the other two.  Here’s how the first one starts:

My husband Jason is a major video game geek. We have boxes in the garage, full of all his old game systems, and the games he couldn’t trade back in for credit on newer ones. The guys at the local GameCrazy don’t know his name; they just call him “big spender.”

I’ve known about this fascination since we started dating, and in fact, his ability to press the pause button and continue to interact with the people in the room was one of the things about him that impressed me to begin with. We’d curl up together, him with the latest Zelda, me with my laptop, and I’d cheer with him when he beat a level, and be dutifully sad when the solution to the puzzle eluded him. We discussed the ethics of cheats, and whether it was worth it or not. To this day, I get all nostalgic about our dating days when I hear the startup music to “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.”

When we had our first child, Jason and Rowan spent many the happy hour cuddling together, while Jason narrated game strategy, and Rowan soaked up the comfort and security of being in his Papa’s arms. That’s not a direct benefit of game playing by any stretch, but it does set the scene for What Happened Next.

Rowan pretty much demanded a controller of his own from the time he could make his hands obey his direction. And he knew the difference between when the controller was connected, and when it was not. No substitutions tolerated; he wanted to play.

Some amazing father-son bonding times have happened in front of The Box. Sometimes, it’s a game that Rowan can play, sometimes, Rowan sits and watches Jason play and asks questions. Part collaboration, part adoration, it’s precious time that the two of them share together. Usually, I go to bed pretty early, so the two pals hang out, and more nights than not, Rowan still falls asleep in Papa’s arms while they play together.

Just for that alone, I’d say video games were worth it and then some.

Deep thanks to Adriana for alerting me to this lady (see in particularly this).  She and Adriana are collaborating on, if I understand it right, stuff like this.

Laureen on how the digital natives learn
11 Year-Old Takes Over as School’s Network Admin
Dave MacLeod loves climbing but hated school
Tom Jones didn’t need no education
Teaching practice was the only worthwhile thing (especially if it was at Eton)