April 03, 2005

Innovation and Enterprise in the Classroom

As another digression from my thoughts on swimming and training for the Channel, I thought I'd post a basic summary of remarks I delivered to the Singapore Geography Teacher's Association Annual Seminar, Saturday, 2 April 2005. It was created partly in collaboration with my ex-classmates from ACS(I) and I am very grateful to them for the suggestions, advice and feedback.

Title of talk: Fostering the Spirit of Innovation and Enterprise – A Student's Perspective

1. Introduction: The role of students in the learning process

Theoretical framework:

The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out The Way They Do.
By Judith Rich Harris (Free Press, 1998)

Harris' research suggests that parents have little or no long term effect on their children’s personality, intelligence, or mental health. The environment definitely has an effect on how children turn out, but it’s not the home environment. It’s actually the environment children share with their peers: what she terms her group socialization theory. If the behaviour a child learns at home is inefficient or inappropriate outside of the home, then they drop it and learn a new way of behaving. For example, language: 1st generation Chinese-American children tend to speak English better than Chinese, because it is more efficient and useful.

Given this, what can educators do to help facilitate a learning environment, and to aid students to help each other develop entrepreneurship skills?

2. Suggested basic factors:
a. Environmental
b. Process/Technique
c. Skills to Teach

3. Environmental Factors
a. Confidence is paramount. Students must be confident and unafraid of failure if they want to succeed. They must be able to withstand failure.
b. Focus on your objectives for learning, not the process. Make the goals clear (use rubrics?) and let the students find their own way there.
c. Set expectations high- but don't be disappointed.
d. Emphasise that there is no “right” or “wrong” way- free them to find out what works for themselves.
e. Encourage free-thinking, critical analysis, and questioning.
f. Value all forms of intelligence, not just analytical ability. Tolerate eccentricity and respect diversity of opinion and values.
g. Encourage education outside the classroom and life-long learning; encourage the students in sports and other CCAs. Remember: Mens sano in corpore sano. Many important skills and values can only be learnt outside the classroom.
h. Listen. Be a friend. Do not do to a student as you would not want a student to do to you. Reciprocity. Remember what it was like being young.
i. Encourage subversion- allow them to challenge you. Innovation is the subversion of established thought, so they must practice this. Rise to the challenge, don't squash it. "Because I say so" is never an acceptable answer.

4. Process/Technique
a. Have role models. Study others’ lives through biography. This allows children to realise what can be achieved. It gives them goals and engenders confidence. It is best to study people most similar to them (fellow Singaporeans). See the new Singapore Olympians book.
b. Reward risk-taking and non-traditional thinking, not just results. Risk-taking and non-traditional thinking lead to frequent failure, but the long term payoff is infinitely higher.
c. Reward hard work as well as intelligence. It is, after all, 99% perspiration, so encourage that more.
d. Don’t be afraid to digress occasionally. Let the students’ minds take them where they want to go. You may be surprised where it leads.
e. Look to the future. Share demographic information and trends. Be aware the future belongs to the students.
f. Utilize the tools students are familiar with: the internet, computers, mobile phones, etc.
g. Assign experiences which integrate several different courses of study- don't let students get stuck approaching problems using techniques limited to one field.
h. Encourage feedback. Let the students feel they have a stake in the process.
i. Discussion of issues: encourage freedom of thought inside and outside the classroom

5. Skills to Teach
a. Teach organizational skills and time management skills
b. Teach servant leadership skills- be aware that to lead is to serve. The person who makes the decisions takes the responsibility.
c. Teach listening skills. You must listen too.
d. Share the importance of learning to write and speak clearly- you can't communicate your ideas otherwise.
e. Introduce diversity and global awareness as values and encourage travel. The world is getting smaller, and we must be aware and respctful of different cultures, traditions and values. We have much to learn from them.
f. Urge students to consider trying to start a "business" while in school- not necessarily monetary, but rather something they manage on their own. Let them, for example, manage the classroom.
g. Teach independence of thought and critical analysis.
h. Teach collaboration skills- mix students of different abilities. Innovation today comes from mass collaboration.

6. Conclusion
a. Trust your students more.
b. Chaos is inevitable. Chaos is good. Out of chaos comes creativity.
c. We don't really care about the grades- we were too busy learning things. There was learning time, and then there was time when we memorized what the “right” questions were- those incidental things which we just happened to have to know and do to pass our exams.
d. No one told us the right answers to all the non-work related questions we spent most of our energy contemplating.
e. We all were very tolerant of eccentricity and diversity because a) we all knew we were screwed up to some extent or another; but b) we also had confidence in ourselves, a swagger that whatever happened, we would come out of things fine.

Posted by pj at April 3, 2005 07:16 PM