We Still Love John

October 14, 2009

Aileen’s musings

Filed under: #5: review and evaluation, e-portfolio — ingenuity @ 4:47 pm

PBL is an interesting and relevant way to make the subject come alive for students and I would be keen to introduce this method to my higher-ability students. While there were some powerpoint lectures, most of the time we were conducting self-directed learning as a group based on what we wanted to learn, how we wanted to learn and why we wanted to learn. I found there was a good mix between the lectures and student group learning in the course. The scenarios were also very intriguing as they sounded exactly like real students and real issues we would meet in teaching. As such, there was a strong motivation on our part to do justice to John from scenario 3 (our selected scenario). We had discussed it over and although John’s scenario was the longest and most complicated, it was exactly the reality of the scenario, and the fact that we would have students like John, that compelled us to opt for it. It is rather amusing that our group had an affectionate relationship with John right from the start – our blog was termed “We Still Love John” and our discussion would revolve around how he feels and his perspective of others. I think this helped us to really treat the problem seriously as we would if John were a student of ours.

However, the more I placed myself in his shoes, the more I felt for him and the harder it was to see myself acting differently. This made me realize that when we or our students are facing problems and are depressed, it is not easy to climb out of the rut alone. We know that we are not supposed to feel or think this way, but unfortunately sad people will ruminate more than they act. So although we aimed to help John help himself, sometimes it helps to have a good friend or guiding mentor (the teacher!) to see us through and get out of inertia. While it is easy to give advice, the person receiving it will find it difficult to change. As teachers we have to beware of “talking down” to students or we might come across as condescending. Also, John’s teachers will have to be patient with him and not rush him to immediately think more positive. Hence, small improvements should be a cause for celebration so that the process becomes just as important as the end result (if not more important).

The biggest challenge in our group would probably have to be linking the different topics up, and I am pleased with the hard work that everyone did to consolidate all the information. Previously, my knowledge was mostly limited to cognitive psychology, and it was interesting to view the problem from a positive psychology and resilience point-of-view. The result is a richer, vibrant and more holistic outlook on how to help John than if we were to simply look at the problem from one perspective. Also, our teaching skills were tested: we had to ‘teach’ each other the research we had come up with. Thus, PBL also supports the idea that solving problems is most effective when it is viewed via many perspectives and using a variety of methods to get around the problem.

All in all, PBL was meaningful, training us to be more disciplined and sensitive to students’ backgrounds and needs whilst fostering positive thinking and important problem solving skills.

October 13, 2009

Yi Ling’s reflections

Filed under: #5: review and evaluation — welovejohn @ 5:08 pm

– What are the three key things you have learnt …? – What did you learn about yourself + your peers? – What did you learn about your problem-solving approaches? – How do you apply it to another situation?

My biggest takeaway is knowing that positive psychology can be taught! It is also immensely gratifying to learn that happiness is scientifically proven to be good for health, as it is the most natural – and free – cure for many of our common woes. Because happiness is not a fluffy myth and can be consciously practised as a way of life, our education system should rethink and renovate its psychologically debilitating practices: students like John must be given a nurturing environment that should ideally heal him instead of obliquely blighting him further with criticisms or discouraging messages that contribute greatly to his low self-worth. More significantly, I have learnt that positive psychology is not mutually exclusive to real life problems. In other words, it is perfectly normal for positive and negative thinking to coexist, but the crux lies in what strategy we use to cope: do we tap into our strengths and virtues and take positive action to change our fate, or immediately castigate ourselves and become passive when we encounter problems? Seligman’s ‘learned optimism’ and ‘balanced psychology’ are thus very crucial learning points for me, for it reinscribes positive existentialist action in the individual by focussing on his strengths for self-help and self-regulation. As the saying goes, change must start from within. I deeply appreciate how positive psychology can give agency back to John while simultaneously recognising the difficulties in his life.

Through the PBL process, I learnt that it is helpful for us to have similar goals and dispositions because these greatly aid us in working effectively and harmoniously as a group. It is also very useful to capitalise on one other’s strengths in the division of labour, for e.g. the psychology majors in our group were important guides and signposts in determining the theoretical and practical coherence of the overall flow and direction of our project. On a personal level, I find that my learning process is not very painful because I enjoy my chosen research on positive psychology: I find it relevant to my life and my students’ lives in our highly hectic and demanding country where unhappy people are the norm.

My problem-solving approaches are shaped by my prior knowledge, experiences and habits of research: Google and fine-streaming. I tend to learn best from incidental learning moments, which presented itself in a few succinct quotations of positive psychology in my brother’s philosophy textbook; I tend to critically think and extrapolate from such moments, albeit in a group context, it might seem a little too haphazard. I have thus learnt to make stronger connections between my research area and my group members’ areas, and to always understand the problem with the big picture in mind so as to enable a more cogent overall flow.

This can be effectively applied to another situation by always streamlining and reorienting the overall focus onto the central protagonist of the problem, and not on the problem-solver’s pre-existing schema. It seems to be the easy way out, but especially in a group setting where professionalism and human destinies are at stake, organisation, coherence and focus are very important factors in any application of a problem.

Reflection Post (Jitsy)

Filed under: #5: review and evaluation — Elizabeth Hope @ 4:43 pm

I rather enjoyed the PBL process, because it reminded me a lot of the project-based presentations we used to carry out in school, particularly the slant towards Eduactional Psychology. Doing the project reminded me of how much I miss learning about Psychology, all its crazy theories and the limitations of all the theories. But it also reminded me that there’s a need for practical experience to supplement these theories, otherwise it’s very much armchair Psychology. Which is a pity, because I wouldn’t mind doing armchair Psychology for the rest of my life, debating about qualia and cognitions and how “all of our sorrow is real, but the atoms of which we are made are indifferent,” and other problems of consciousness.

Back to PBL, I think it’s great because it puts the learning in the students’ hands, and gives you a real-life problem to find a solution to. In this sense, it’s slightly less armchair than presenting strictly on theories and how they should be applied, and their limitations and so on. I like that we’re given a very realistic picture of John, but one thing that might be a disservice to us is that in the real world, in the classrooms, we probably won’t have so much knowledge given to us. In fact, many of us might be stuck at the level of the teacher who dismissed John as a lazy, unmotivated student, unwilling to see deeper into his family situation, and doing something to motivate John, instead of ignore him. PBL thus might paint a bit of a rosy picture, though it equips us with the relevant skills on what we should do in the event that we meet such a situation.

Our group worked well together, efficiently and consistently. While we split up the parts at times, we constantly touched base with one another to ensure that we were all on the right track. I enjoyed the experience, and the amount of time given to us was sufficient, as we were allowed to work on the project in the class, and check with our tutor constantly to ensure that we were on the right track.

Jocelyn’s Reflection

Filed under: #5: review and evaluation — welovejohn @ 1:51 pm

Since my focus was on resilience and the effect of positive versus self-defeating thinking, I believe that this is what I’ve learnt the most about. I have become convinced of the importance of positive thinking and am quite resolved in finding out how I may continue to incorporate this amongst the children I will teach. From previous experience, I have encountered children just like John. While circumstances may differ slightly, the gist of struggling with negative thoughts hangs heavy among all of them. It is of concern that the young today seem to be more prone to anxiety and depression and as teachers, we should be equipped to address this issue.

Psychologists throughout the years have always been intrigued by what makes people flourish despite their dire backgrounds. They’ve discovered that resilient kids share key traits: the ability to trust and form caring relationships, a sense of independence, good problem-solving skills, perseverance, and a belief that their lives have meaning and purpose. These are precisely the skills that we wish to impart to our children! While others may be skeptical about whether such skills can really be taught and argue that resilience is instead “caught” when one undergoes a trial, the Penn Resiliency Programme proves this otherwise.

During the programme, children learnt to “de-catastrophize” – which was to look at their problems from a different perspective and think about “what was the worst that could happen” given the circumstances they were in. And this is the main concern that our group will be addressing with John. We believe that having this positive/resilient mindset will help John climb out of the rut that he’s in as well. What we hope for him (and other children like him that we’ll possibly meet when we fly the NIE coop) is that John will be able to have the capacity to make realistic plans (i.e. for his coming PSLE) and take steps to carry them out. We would also like John to have a positive view of himself and confidence in his own strengths and abilities. Above all, John also has to work on skills in communication and problem solving as well as his capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses. If he remains there, John will continue with his negative thoughts about himself and the people around him who genuinely care, and will also probably continue to struggle with it for the rest of his life.

So we really hope that John will learn the difference between positive and self-defeating thinking…and be able to master the former! 🙂

Reflection (Ange)

Filed under: #5: review and evaluation — qi @ 8:37 am

I have experienced the Problem-based Learning process and can better understand the benefits and limitations. I can use it for planning of authentic and meaningful learning lessons with my pupils that involve solving real life problems.

With inquiry-based learning as the pedagogical approach used here, pupils learn through asking questions and solving their own problems through interacting with their classmates. The different stages of the PBL process serve as a good guideline for pupils to self-direct their own learning. I am also aware of my role as a coach rather than teacher, and have acquired some questioning techniques on asking questions to facilitate further inquiry.

I learnt that different people in the group offers you with different perspectives and fresh ideas that one person might not have thought about.

One of the strength of PBL is the use of authentic problem scenario stimulate learning by creating curiosity in the learner. We can make boring topics fun by using PBL to “teach”. High ability pupils who like to be challenged especially, would like this type of activity that activate their higher order thinking skills. With learning more fun, pupils will be able to learn better.

However, one limitation of PBL is that the progress of the pupil’s learning is very reliant on the individuals in the group. If the group did not seek help/advise from the coach when they are faced with a problem which they are unable to solve that hinders them from progressing, the problem would accumulate making it harder to solve at the end.

Our group is effective as we are supportive and open towards each other’s ideas. We are creative and are not afraid of trying out new approaches in solving our problem. I have learnt that the problem solving approach can be used to teach almost any subject, not only psychology.

After learning PBL, I will adapt a teaching style different from that of my contract experience when i go back to schools for my practicum. This experience has made me more aware of how to design and ask questions in class. I will use real life examples to stimulate the pupils thinking at a higher order. A boring topic can become interesting because of this approach. My role as a teacher has also changed into that of a facilitator when this learning is taking place.

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