Fighting the negative mindset

I watched the Spain versus Portugal World Cup match last night and it seemed to be like so many of the matches in this competition. The Portuguese, who have some really good creative players found it impossible to get away from the negative tactics that they had set out to play the game with.

From the kick off it was obvious that the Portuguese approach was to pack their defence and let the Spanish attack them knowing that, if they could grind out a draw the match would go to penalties or, more likely, the Spanish would commit too many men forward and they would be open to a swift counter attack.

My concern with this is that it highlights the “negative mindset” that all human beings are capable of getting into. It relates as much to football as to schooling and it has the same results. Yesterday, after the Spanish scored their goal the Portuguese found it impossible to go to a Plan B, there was just no way that they could change their way of thinking as a collective group. On the few occasions that they did manage to get forward they seemed to forget that they had to create openings and score in order to revert to their original plan.

The creativity was just not there and that is because creativity is frozen when the negative mindset is switched on. I see this all the time with children in school and in particular in the area that I deal with on a daily basis, mathematics. It is called the “I can’t do this”  attitude and it definitely a “mindset”. It is the child’s equivalent of the Portuguese players last night. Even when they know that they have the capacity to use their creative potential to visualise a problem or to contextualize it in respect of their everyday life, they cannot do it.

I feel that it is the job of a good coach and a good teacher to open up the minds of those who are in their charge. They have to know that they have potential to learn and that they have creative capacities that will literally transform the game 0r the lesson. Recently I have been working with a group of Year 5 children (Grade 4) and I have concentrated on just two things…. creativity and their self expression as well as building a “Can Do” attitude. The results have been very good…. it is not about the specific teaching of skills that they have been taught so many times before (that is analagous to coaching the defence splitting pass that the Portuguese players just could not do last night). It is about working on the mindset which makes all the difference.

At the end of the match yesterday the Portuguese players traipsed off the pitch looking sad and sorry. We the spectators were really the losers though because a potentially classic match had been taken away from us by the coach instilling fear of loss into his players and not allowing them to express themselves on the pitch.

As teachers we need to bear this in mind all the time when working with our pupils…… football at it is best is a beautiful game… learning and the flowering of children’s abilities and skills is a beautiful experience…. beware of the negative mindset that fights the beauty and very often wins!

witness: Kim Phuc

Growing up in the 1960′s in London I experienced the Vietnam War as a series of images. The most graphic image was the execution of a young man on camera. It was a moment in my upbringing that I shall never forget when the realities of war came into everyone’s living room.

There were many pictures of the war appearing every day in our newspapers. I remember going to Holborn library in Theobalds Road on a sunny Saturday morning in 1968 to look up a book on the war (it was a military history written by an American and covered the conflict from Dien Bien Phu to the latest bombings of the north by the B52′s.).

The above picture was taken by the Vietnemese photographer Nick Ut on June 8th 1972. I was 19 years of age at the time. I may very well have sat with my family watching the ITN “News At Ten” when there would have been a report by one of their  war correspondents Christopher Wain.

Dressed in combat gear (as all the correspondents had to) he went out to cover a local village where some Viet Cong incursion had been reported. What happened that day was that he witnessed the horror of the dreaded burning material Nepalm being dropped on innocent villagers. One child was caught in the midst of the blast.. her clothes were literally burn off of her and she ran to get help, unable to speak from the sheer horror of what was happening to her.

In one of the great pieces of timing and sheer fortune Nick Ut was able to take the photograph that you can see above which in many ways became the iconic image of the horrors of that war (indeed any war).

What I did not know was that she ran towards Christopher who then did his best to comfort the child and get her into hospital.

Kim had many many operations in the next year and was eventually to become something of a hero and icon in the reunited North Vietnam after the war. She found her role stultifying and wanted to escape to a new freedom and managed to use a stop in Canada whilst going to Russia on her honeymoon, to escape to a new life in the west.

A deeply believing Christian, she has spent her life since in spreading the message of reconciliation and forgiveness. These are her words from a television interview in 2008:

Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness, and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope, and forgiveness. If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?
Kim Phúc, NPR in 2008

A few days ago I was listening to the World Service of the BBC when I heard a piece about Kim (whose name I never really knew until then). It was a reunion between her and her rescuer Christopher Wain.  Listen to it and judge for yourself… it is powerful and recalls the events of that day. Think of the picture and how it has become such a powerful image of that time and maybe find out about the remarkable lady who was that burnt girl in that picture and has since done so much to promote peace and forgiveness.

The link is:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p007xycr

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Gimme Shelter: Angelique Kidjo

I first came across Angelique Kidjo by chance in that I followed a link by Emmanuel Jal on Facebook  who  was singing the praises of the concert to open the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa.

What I experienced was a brilliant version of Curtis Mayfield’s great song “Move On Up” by Emmanuel’s friend Angelique.

I was impressed by the powerful way that she managed to blend the rhythms of her native Africa (she was born in Benin) with western jazz-rock. She has a rasping voice that perfectly fitted the music that she was singing and danced naturally with her backing singers and musicians in what was a wonderful celebration of Africa’s first soccer World Cup.

I thought that I would try and get to know more about this singer and looked her up on Wikipedia (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ang%C3%A9lique_Kidjo ). She was born in Benin in West Africa in 1960. She found that she was unable to fully function as a musician due to political upheaval in her country and left to start a new life in Paris in 1983.

Politics has always been a part of her life and in particular a concern for the many conflicts in her native continent of Africa. She has worked in support of such organisations as UNICEF, Oxfam and Amnesty International.

I was researching a post that I shall shortly be doing on the Vietnam War and wanted to use the iconic song “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones to include in the post,as it represented many of the feelings that artists such as Mick Jagger had at the horrors that were daily being transmitted into our homes about that particular conflict.

I found that Angelique had made her own version of the song (see below) with the wonderful African rhythms and the assistance of the lovely voice of Joss Stone. The ending is particularly powerful in that it brings the war theme from the 60′s up to date. The video was made to bring people’s attention to the situation in Darfur where many people had already died and where there is a strong possibility that many more could.

Watch the video and enjoy the music… you may want, as I did, to look up more of the music of this important artist.

A tale of two fathers

Maus
Image via Wikipedia

As we have just had Father’s Day I have spent some of this weekend looking at the lives of two very different men, Ladis Kristof and Vladek Spiegelman.

These are not two names that perhaps have an instant.. “oh yes” of recognition but they are two people who I have come across, as so much that I come across, in my learning journey, purely by links from contacts I have made, or just from a link in a tweet on Twitter.

Both were from Eastern Europe and both spent time in concentration camps. Ladis was from an aristocratic background and was born in a country that no longer exists, Austria-Hungary. Vladek was a businessman from Poland.

The Second World War changed everything for them. Ladis lost his land and had many adventures in escaping from country to country (but was put into a Concentration Camp in what used to be called Yugoslavia). Vladek, a jew, slowly lost everything that he had and was witness to the “Final Solution” as he saw his young son  poisoned by relatives before he could be taken to a concentration camp for extermination.

Both these men were survivors though. They went through what to us would seem extreme deprivation in order to build a new life for themselves after the madness was over.

Ladis knew no english at all but eventually found his way to the U.S.A. Vladek spoke english with a heavy accent and at one point managed to save himself from death whilst in Auschwitz Concentration Camp by teaching the language to a Polish guard. He also finished up in the U.S.A.

In the postwar period the lives of these two men differed greatly. Ladis decided to study Politics and eventually went on to become a Professor of Politics at Portland State University. He ran a large farm with a library in it and would chop wood and hunt well into his 80′s. Vladek ran a business but suffered from ill health due to the privations that he suffered in the war having to starve for so long, face beatings and long route marches. He developed Diabetes and later heart problems.

Both of these men had just one son. Ladis was the father of Nicholas who is now a double Pulitzer prizewinning journalist at the New York Times and a world renowned campaigner for human rights.  Vladek was the father of Art who is an internationally renowned cartoonist and the author of an amazing book which is really about the holocaust experiences (and life afterwards) of his father called “Maus” which coincidentally won him the Pulitzer Prize.

Ladis passed away just a few days ago and below there is a touching article by Nicholas (from the New York Times) in which he talks about his father’s humanity and desire to look at the good in mankind and just what can be achieved in the world. Vladek passed away in August 1982. He was in many ways a bitter man.His beloved wife Anja, who committed suicide in 1968, is buried with him. The power of “Maus” is to show this many-sided man, whose wits managed to get him survival in the horror and devastation that was Auschwitz and to show the person that he became in New York City, after the war, old and miserly full of memories of events that nobody should ever have to witness, living unhappily with a second wife that he chose to hate.

I found the similarities and differences of these two men fascinating and the more so because I finished reading “Maus” just a few hours after I had read the obituary of Ladis from a Twitter link http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2010/06/kris_kristof_concentration_cam.html

They are both fascinating men who fathered two important people. They are both gone now but are very much remembered by their sons and through them by the rest of us.

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My website of the week: The RSA

2005-08-26 - United Kingdom - England - London...
Image by Colin Gregory Palmer via Flickr

I usually stumble upon sites as I follow links in tweets or links from links in tweets or maybe a blog entry from a new follower (I always try to find out about my followers on Twitter and will try and look up their websites if they have one).

This week, after looking at a number of sites I chanced upon a link to Daniel Pink who had made a video for the Harvard Business Review http://blogs.hbr.org/video/2010/06/daniel-pink-on-how-the-the-21s.html

I watched the video (which was brilliant except for my being distracted quite a lot as Daniel himself was by the goings on in a noisy Washington D.C. Park on a rainy day).

I decided that I needed to find out more about Daniel Pink and therefore went to his website http://www.danpink.com/ In this I found a fascinating video that was made by a company called Cognitive Media and that used a fascinating technique of animating speech. The speech was one that had been given at the Royal Society of Arts in London (The RSA) and was commissioned by them as part of their “RSAnimation” series of videos.

I investigated this source of the video (see below) and found myself in the brilliant site of the RSA http://www.thersa.org/ I immediately found myself immersed in this site.

I had heard about the RSA (being British and coming from London) but hadn’t really realised that this auguste organisation that had been around for well over 200 years had transformed itself into a set of fellows who shared an ideal in seeking out “the new enlightenment” and just how we might proceed as a species in the twenty first century.

I found a report that has recently been published called “Steer” which I have downloaded and am reading over the weekend. It is from the RSA’s “Social Brain”  Project and seeks to find ways that we can train our minds to cope with the demands of the digital age that we have moved into. (The link is http://www.thersa.org/projects/social-brain/reports/steer-the-report )

This is cetainly a powerful website with powerful thinkers contributing to the important debates that are taking place worldwide on just what we need to do to survive and create a world which is worth living in for our descendents.

I feel it is certainly my “website of the week” and hope that any readers of this blog post will feel the same way as I do and delve into it… I feel that there are riches there that can well add ideas that you may want to think about.

For myself I am motivated to join the RSA but will need to be nominated by a Fellow of the Society… so if there are any Fellows reading this post… please get in contact!

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Let them play

I’ve just offered my opinion in an Edutopia poll about what is the best thing for students to do in the summer holidays. My answer is the title of this blog… let them play!

I had just received a Tweet from Deborah Meier about her latest book “Playing For Keepshttp://www.deborahmeier.com/PlayingForKeeps.pdf In this book she and he co-writers talk about the educational value of play, particularly in respect of the fact that many schools in the United States have shortened or abandoned playtime for the children.

In a post further back in this blog I wrote about my love for the book that I consider the best written that I have ever read… Harper Lee‘s “To Kill A Mockingbird”  http://malbell.wordpress.com/2010/05/26/an-appreciation-of-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

In the book the majority of the story happens when Dill (the City child) visits his aunt in rural Alabama in his summer holidays. He befriends the two motherless children Jam and Scout. They play games in the background of racist bigotry but they see only dangers, mysteries and adventures. In other words, they act like children have always acted throughout our history on this planet.

The summer holiday should be a time for play and for imagination to run riot.It is about freedom to explore and, ideally, it should be freedom to explore the great outdoors in the best weather and when school feels a million miles away.

When they do get back to school though they should have their playtime back…as Deborah Meier and her co-authors write in their book, the importance of play in the intellectual and emotional development of children cannot be overestimated and under no circumstances should it be shortened or abandoned to give children more time to study for tests!

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Why I like this video

This video is a bit special.It is poorly shot and obviously amateur. There are problems with the sound. So why do I like it so much?

Because it is an interview with Greg Mortenson after one of his numerous talks in schools across the width of the U.S.A. The interviewer is a young student who does not hide her own feelings when she has had an inspiring answer from the great man… she says “awesome” or “I agree” and that is not the way of the T.V.  professional but is certainly refreshing to see.

She ends her interview with Greg by asking him to sign her copy of his book, like any fan might.

The video then continues with her interviewing two of her own teachers. They speak in the immediate aftermath of having listened to Greg talking and they both pick up on the central message of the importance of education and the way that peace can be achieved through education.

Greg makes some very important statements about listening to one’s elders and thinking with the heart as well as the head.

This is not a professional video but it has a powerful impact and tells you a lot. Bear with it because it has much to offer.

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Learning from failure

This is an important speech at the Commencement of Harvard University in 2008 by the famous Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. In the speech she discusses her early life and the way that she feared failure. Yet she had to deal with failure and poverty being a young divorced mother living in conditions that she states are “as low as it is possible to get in modern Britain”.

It was not that she failed that is key to her later success but how she learnt from her failure and her drive to achieve success. This very much reflects the ideas put forward by Carol Dweck in her book “Mindset” which sees two reactions to failure. There is the one that sees failure as a challenge and wants to prove people wrong who say that you won’t amount to anything. Then there is the second type of mindset… of failure as the end of the world.. of defeat and stoppage.

Once Rowling stopped fearing failure and saw it part of a process that could eventually lead her to success she was able to keep herself going writing the first Harry Potter book in places like cafeterias. The book, once finished was not an overnight success but she persevered and this led to the publishing legend that is “Harry Potter”.

Her loss of the fear of failure was key to this process and reflects so many other very successful people who have failed but have continued to persevere and have won through.. a prime example being Thomas Edison who made hundreds and hundreds of failed inventions but succeeded in inventing such things as the lightbulb and the phonograph which helped to transform the world (and also led to great success as in the case of Rowling).

Not everyone will become a bestselling author or invent a transformative invention but the ability to have the positive mindset to know that failure is a stepping stone towards success is one that schools need to encourage. It means that we must not cut students off with a “you’re not good enough” if they fail an exam or a test, but look for where they can develop and eventually find their own success….. the future of our species may one day rely on someone who was at one time considered a failure but did not give up and was able to prove he or she could succeed and that failure was a key part of that process.

more about “J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commen…“, posted with vodpod
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Storycorps: the voices of America

I am not American and in fact I will state that unfortunately in my 57 years on this planet I have just stepped one foot into the country when I was at the border with my Canadian uncle and aunt on vacation in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1972!

I have always had a real interest in the country, coming as I do from Britain and being brought up in the 1950′s with many American T.V. programs like “I Love Lucy”, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and reading Superman comics (as well as Batman, Spiderman and even Superdog!).

I used to listen to the late great  Alistair Cooke and his weekly “Letter From America” on the radio. It painted such a good picture for me about life in his adopted country and felt really good coming from a Brit like myself who was broadcasting back to the land of his birth.

I was excited as everyone was at the election of John F. Kennedy to the Presidency in 1960 and felt that this was the first time that the election of a U.S. President had real impact on us over here in Britain. The assassination in 1963 would also hit us hard. We cried along with the whole world at the sight of Jackie Kennedy and her two small children acting so dignified at the state funeral.

I read some of the great classics of American literature as I grew up, especially (as I have written elsewhere in this blog) Harper Lee’s wonderful “To Kill A Mockingbird” which left a lasting impression. I was also very moved by John Steinbeck’s work and felt the need to tackle Norman Mailer and watch the plays of Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill.

I felt that I had an idea about America and Americans and having family come over from Philadelphia and San Jose, California, I actually got to meet some real ones!  But what I had, as I now know, was a mental construct. It may well be similar to the mental construct that many Americans have about my country.. i.e. that we live in constant rain, that we often wear bowler hats and say things like “jolly good show” or alternatively that we are all cockneys (like the awful impression of one that Dick Van Dyke did in Disney’s “Mary Poppins”) and say things like “wotcha mate!” ).

I was delighted therefore when I came across an organisation called “Storycorps”  http://storycorps.org/ This is subtitled “The conversation of a lifetime” and it is nothing more or less than that. It is an organisation where people have sought out all kinds of Americans and got their story recorded.

I have now listened to many of these talks ranging from immigrants from Mexico, to businessmen in California to old people recalling their past lives. Everything and everyone is here and more often than not I find myself in tears listening to their wonderful stories and most importantly their deep feelings for each other.

I did not really know America before but these stories tell me about the lives of real Americans… the struggles, the highs and the lows and they present us with real people telling real stories. It is a priceless resource and one that all Americans should be really proud of. I wish we had an equivalent organisation here in Britain.

Below is a link to an  animated film of one of the Storycorps interviews. It is a boy with Asperger’s syndrome talking to his mother about their relationship. It is a good example of many many such interviews. If you haven’t accessed the site yet I would strongly recommend it… it is truly wonderful and there are new interviews coming out every week.

Q&A from StoryCorps on Vimeo.

The Digital Immigrant’s Tale

The ship sailed towards the golden  land. He was frightened. What would he find? How could he cope?

The nearer he got the more his mind took him back to the land he had grown up in. This was a simple way of life. He had grown up knowing the ways of his ancestors. He was taught the things that they knew and that had been passed down for generations.

When he had gone to his school they had taught him to  read and write. He could grasp a pencil very early and he could make marks on a piece of paper. Then he came across books and he had “Janet and John” with those lovely pictures of happy children smiling in a happy world.

He grew up writing stories by pen in an exercise book. They were good stories he was told though he always had problems in holding the pen properly and his writing could make his hand ache.

He remembered the first time that he encountered something different. One Christmas, when presents were being distributed as they always were. He had been given a Meccano set. His brother has been given a toy typewriter. He had never really enjoyed making things out of nothing, his brother had an aversion to writing and  but loved creating things from string and sticks or getting some construction kit and making a model from what seemed like little bits of an impossible jigsaw.

Later, when he had settled into his new Digital land, he would find out about a man, Sir Ken Robinson, who would write a book that told about finding your “element”. He knew that his element was not in construction and his brother did not like writing. In an inspired moment worthy of the judgement of Solomon, his parents decided to swop the gifts around.

He faced the typewriter which worked very slowly and laboriously to put letter after letter onto a piece of typing paper. It was magical to him. He found that he could write and that with his writing came communication to others. It all came so easily.

But when he went to school he still had to fill up the exercise books which he struggled with. Why couldn’t he use a typewriter which he always found so easy to use? Because it just wasn’t done. He had to stick to the ways of the elders and he found frustration in seeing the beautiful writing that others produced.

But there was a problem with making mistakes… there was an insistence on the use of pen and so, if mistakes were made they had to be crossed through. Writing, it seemed had to be done on your own and there was no room for mistakes or your beautiful exercise book would look awful and you would be corrected about your presentation.

“WHAT ABOUT THE CONTENT!” he felt inside as he raged against the strictures of the society that bound him up. That did not allow his creativity to express itself and that judged his writing  in all subjects on the basis of presentation that he found difficult.

He had a problem with research as well. He knew that he could access the wise words of his betters by copying great chunks of their text into the body of his poorly presented writing and that he might get a good mark from his teachers for this. He could not play around with their words or get access to many other sources… most times there was just one textbook that was his only source of information.

He always worked alone. He did not discuss his work with others and he did not really think deeply about what he was writing. His audience was his teacher and he knew what his teacher wanted, even if he couldn’t always give it to him or her.

He grew up and by one of those  strange quirks that life doles out, he became a teacher. He found that he entered a world where he had to teach others in the same way that he had been taught himself. He forgot about his own frustrations with writing in exercise books and gave out the exercise books for his children at the beginning of each term. He smiled ruefully to himself as he remembered the way that he always thought that the exercise books looked so wonderful on that first day when they were new and in  pristine condition and before the pupils would have to struggle to put words in them with the same problems that he had always encountered.

As his long teaching career progressed he encountered things that were happening in the land that he was now heading towards. About twenty years ago he bought his first word-processor. It was an Amstrad machine and was dedicated to just one task… the electronic processing of words. But this was amazing to him. The typewriter of his youth had been replaced by a machine that could change text fonts, size, alignment and be corrected easily for mistakes. He could edit his work by looking at it carefully and deciding whether a word needed changing or a paragraph needed to be removed. It was as if he had discovered a magical kingdom.

The lure of the magical kingdom grew greater because there machines that the kingdom produced grew stronger and more capable. Then one day he was introduced to a powerful new thing… THE INTERNET.

This was indeed the most powerful change that he had seen in his lifetime. He found that he could access so much through this powerful new thing. He climbed on board the ship that was sailing towards this golden land of knowledge unlimited.

He found that as he progressed through the waters towards this land he could not only access the knowledge but that he could add to it, he could collaborate with others and that they would direct him to where new knowledge lay, that he could communicate with others and that they would find what he had to say useful and sometimes, important to them.

During this time as he carried on with what he liked to call his “learning journey” he encountered those who had been born and bred in this golden land. These were the “digital natives”. They did not know anything different from the power of the internet and the ability to facilitate communication, networking, socialisation in a world which they saw as an open global platform.

They seemed at ease with every new development and they took to the flexibility, the power and the potential as he had to holding that pen in his hand when he was young.

As he grew nearer the shores of the  golden land he knew that he did not need to fear. The natives he had met had shown him that there was nothing to fear (except fear itself.. to quote a famous phrase). Here he was embracing their world and loving every minute of it. He couldn’t wait to land.

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