In this workshop, Dr. Bern Nicholls PhD gives advice for educators on how to build a classroom environment that values thinking.
Classrooms need to be ‘thought-full’ in two ways: respectful of ideas and others, and by facilitating thinking.
Over the conference, presenters have talked a lot about culture and about the stories that come through our experiences and shape us as people. When communicating with young people in a classroom, we need to think about how their personal stories might shape how they think. We need to think about thinking.
Learning is a direct outcome of thinking, but sometimes we forget about the thinking part and only focus on the teaching.
Thinking isn’t communicated, it’s invisible! When you can’t read how a student is thinking, you’re making assumptions and that’s dangerous, so why not try to make that thinking visible and easier to comprehend?
You can try to make your students’ thinking visible by turning this thinking into a wider understanding. This might take some experimentation and trying different exercises, but always remember to dig deeper. Asking students questions like ‘what makes you say that?’ peels back the layers of their learning and helps you understand how they connect their personal story to the course content.
As an educator, you can think ‘what sort of thinking do I want my students to take with them for the rest of their lives?’ Making thinking visible is about engaging your students, challenging them to think in different ways and reminding them that thinking is always valued in the classroom space.
“Do we really want to live in a world where people have no self esteem, are narcissistic and have no empathy when you talk to them?”
This was one of the key questions Baroness Susan Greenfield asked in her keynote presentation on the second day of the Good Childhood Conference.
Thanks to technology, we have more leisure time than ever before. This means we have the greatest ever opportunity for developing the human mind. Susan expressed fear that we are not taking the opportunity to do so.
She argues that, as social media use has increased, face-to-face interaction has decreased. When you meet someone face-to-face, your words make up only 10% of meaning communicated. Social media narrows communication, as it doesn’t include things like body language, tone of voice and physical contact.
Susan argued that if we use social media too much, we lose these face-to-face communication skills. As a result, we feel uncomfortable in social situations, and so continue to avoid them in favour of social media.
Social media encourages us to disclose personal information with people we don’t know well, and Susan said their responses to this information cause low self esteem. But it’s not only self-confidence that she was concerned about.
Susan indicated use of technology was prompting a range of health problems:
“There is a link between autism-like behaviour and screen time”
Susan said there was a link between the typical brain wave response present in problematic face recognition, a characteristic of autism, and heavy internet users.
Gaming & gambling
Susan said children who are addicted to video games have similar brains to problem gamblers. She cited this article in UK newspaper ‘The Telegraph’.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Susan said she would “like to flag that there are certain elements of gaming that can be good for you.” These elements included using video games to help people with disabilities to rehearse situations which may be difficult in real life. She also acknowledged that technology is good for input-output mental processing, and may be responsible for increasing IQ’s, but stressed that humans are designed for a deeper level of thinking than simple input-output processes.
“Could the people who Tweet a lot be in some kind of existential crisis?”
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
There has been a great rise in diagnosis of ADHD in the developed world. Susan suggested the intense stimulation provided by video games and the instantaneous flow of information on the internet leads children’s minds to adapt to this pace of thinking. When these children are placed in slower paced situations, their minds race and they are unable to slow them.
What do you think? Are social media users undergoing existential crisis? Are people becoming more narcissistic and less empathetic as a result of technology?
You can find out more about Susan Greenfield and her research here.
“Young people with disabilities are facing huge challenges when leaving Out of Home Care.”
On Friday, the second day of the conference, Associate Professor Philip Mendes from Monash University presented the findings of a study into this transitional period.
Philip said his study confirmed that young people leaving care are more vulnerable to poorer outcomes. He drew comparisons with the wider community, highlighting many young people don’t leave the homes of their parents until they are aged 25 and of those who do leave home by 18, a large portion continue to receive some sort of support from their family.
This is in stark contrast to young people with disabilities who are leaving Out of Home Care at age 18 and are often not ready to be fully independent for a variety of reasons.
There is minimal research about how many young people are in care, or what types of disabilities they live with, but it appears there is an over representation of children with a disability.
The findings of the study concluded:
Young people with disabilities are not experiencing planned transitions from care and are not receiving the care they need.
Young people are sometimes transitioned into aged care facilities.
The system is crisis driven.
Inadequate funding results in a lack of accommodation options and support services for young people with disabilities.
Young people’s participation in their leaving care plan is hampered by the lack of resources and services.
The sudden transition from statutory children’s services to voluntary adult disability services is problematic for some young people.
“After transitioning from care, young people with disabilities should have ongoing monitoring and support”
Philip continued to explain the situation for young people with undiagnosed disabilities, borderline disabilities and mental illness was also dire. They ‘fall through the net’ and are often left worse off than those with significant diagnosed disability.
“The most common type of disability is mental illness and yet young people with mental illness are not eligible for disability services,” he said.
Philip’s presentation highlighted how a sector that is underfunded is not providing the level of care and support a vulnerable group of people need. The process of leaving out-of-home care is fraught with difficulties, as one can imagine.
Perhaps the most important finding from Philip’s study:
“After transitioning from care, young people with disabilities should have ongoing monitoring and support”
“It truly is miraculous that something made up of the same chemicals as ear wax should be able to do what the brain does” Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE
The Good Childhood Conference started on 10 October with keynote presentation ‘How neuroscience can contribute to identifying the outcomes we want for children and young people in the 21st Century‘ by Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE, a leading British neuroscientist, writer, broadcaster and member of the House of Lords.
Her story is about developing the mind and learning more about how the physical brain works. With technology changing drastically, she argues that there are bound to be drastic changes in our brains, so how can we harness the power of this technology and development?
The story starts with the brain. To understand this story, it takes a short lesson in the myths of neuroscience:
Each brain region is a mini brain in itself… It’s actually not,
The brain is just like a computer…no, it’s much much better than a computer,
And, your genes determine everything…they don’t. Genes are just one part of the story.
The link between your genes and your behaviours is actually quite indirect and it’s only part of the story. The role of your environment and experiences play a huge part in this and that has nothing to do with your genes.
The brain grows through connections between “blobby bits”, and this is what determines how you think and how you view the world.
And what builds those connections? Your experiences, environment and how your brain adapts to these things. This adaptability or ‘plasticity’ of the brain leads us to understand incredible cases of brain repair and the learning of unusual skills, as the brain continually grows through actions and experiences.
Did you know a London taxi driver’s brain looks totally different to a golfer’s?
So, with this in mind, what’s key in neuroscience for the adolescent brain? The answer is the prefrontal cortex. This is an area of the brain that can be highly influenced by dopamine, the chemical that impacts onto your inhibitions.
The balance between thrill and consequences is weighed up in the prefrontal cortex and here, the thrill of taking a risk can outweigh the consequences and, before you know it, the prefrontal cortex takes that risk. This knowledge of the brain and the way it develops can influence the ways we think about environments, the use of digital technology and, what this means for children and childhood.
The neuroscientist’s story puts a particular importance on enriching environments and making for a good childhood: it shapes your personality, it shapes your experiences, it literally shapes your brain.
“What we can do now that we know about this plasticity, is harness the benefits of the digital world and minimise the threats.”
In a series of blog posts we will be reflecting on our new understandings of youth participation after The Good Childhood Conference, as well as some of the feedback we received from conference delegates. We will also report back on practical elements of our youth participation strategy.
Below are some of our initial reflections on the experience, specifically the usefulness of the youth consultations and social media in preparation for the conference.
In regards to youth participation at the conference, we aimed to actively include young people in the conversation about what sustains a good childhood and how we best support those who have not experienced a good childhood. (For more information on our approach, check out our Principles of Youth Participation on the Berry Street Childhood Institute website).
As you may remember, three youth consultants worked with us to engage in a broader consultation with young people about what would create a conference that was engaging and attractive to young people.
Over a two month period the youth consultants met with approximately 80 young people and gathered considerable feedback about what young people would or wouldn’t like.
Outcomes of the Youth Consultations:
Received feedback about what young people would or wouldn’t like at a conference,
Promoted the event in face-to-face sessions with young people,
Provided three youth consultants with workplace training,
Collected data to drive our youth-friendly activities,
Provided motivation for the youth consultants to volunteer at the conference, displaying increased leadership qualities – they also brought their friends,
Developed/improved relationships with community groups, schools, youth groups and clients of Berry Street,
Provided a barometer of youth interest in the conference.
“The youth consultation process has been a positive but challenging experience for me. It put me out of my comfort zone and has helped me improve on my networking and organisation skills.” Laura, Youth Consultant
Promoting Youth Participation
During the youth consultations young people told us that they like to communicate via social media. In the lead up to the conference an 8 week social media strategy was planned in order to promote numerous speaker profiles, interesting topics and reminders about the conference on Twitter and Facebook. Information about youth scholarships offered was posted regularly.
To provide some idea, detailed below are the most popular (shared and/or ‘Liked’) Facebook posts on the Berry Street Childhood Institute page in the lead up to the conference:
789 – Muriel Bamblett August 2013
452 – Youth scholarships announced September 2013
419 – Conference post after day one October 2013
165 – Launch of the conference program August 2013
158 – Kaff-iene the street artist August 2013
Youth participation was also publicised on the conference website, here on the conference blog and in the program. Positive feedback was received about the information available.
Stay tuned for more reflections on youth participation in the coming weeks…