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Education Bookcast

Education Bookcast is a podcast in which we talk about one education-related book or article per episode.
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Now displaying: January, 2018
Jan 31, 2018

Edward de Bono is an expert on creativity, author of over 40 books on the subject. He invented the term "lateral thinking" in the 1960s, which is now a part of common parlance. Over his long career, he has worked with numerous large corporations such as Microsoft, Apple, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Siemens, Bose, HP, LinkedIn, and Texas Instruments, as well as schools, charities, and governments. His basic premise is that creativity can be taught by direct teaching of thinking skills and techniques, and that this kind of thinking is not a normal part of culture, but that it should be.

Controversially, although highly scientifically and mathematically trained, he does not work on scientifically validating his own ideas, only on trying to develop them and promote them, and on making them accessible to a general audience. However, his ideas are nothing if not interesting and original, and I am persuaded enough by much of what he writes that I find it sensible to share it on this podcast.

He is also rather topical because of recent interest in the idea of direct teaching of thinking, which is often combined with the idea of imparting so-called "21st century skills" to schoolchildren. Cognitive scientists often insist that general thinking skills cannot be improved, and that we may only improve at thinking within some particular domain (though some skills are important within many domains, such as reading). For some reason, Edward de Bono never seems to be mentioned during these discussions - neither by those who are in favour of teaching thinking (who, you would think, would be fans of his), nor by those who claim that teaching general thinking directly is a fool's errand. This strange silence, as I perceive it, is something I would like to go some way to fixing.

In this episode, I want to introduce Edward de Bono himself, as well as talk about one of his most famous and commonly applied ideas, the Six Thinking Hats, popularised by a book of the same name. In future episodes we will have a chance to dig more deeply into his work on lateral thinking, creativity, the nature of the mind, and direct teaching of thinking skills, among other things.

Enjoy the episode.

Music by podcastthemes.com.

Jan 9, 2018

This is the second part of the episode about Brain-Based Learning. In the previous part, I discussed the chapters concerning relative lateralisation (left/right hemispheres), rhythms (such as circadian rhythms), gender, physical activity, stress and threat, and the senses (vision, touch, taste, smell, and sound). In this episode we look at the chapters on emotions, teacher communication, motivation, attention, teaching how to think, memory, meaning making, and enriching the brain.

Enjoy the episode.

Music by podcastthemes.com.

Jan 9, 2018

Eric Jensen is a former teacher with a PhD in Human Development from Fielding Graduate University. In 1981, he co-founded "the United States' first and largest brain-compatible learning program"[1], and he has been the head of Jensen Learning, a company that trains teachers what he calls "brain-friendly" or "brain-compatible" teaching and learning principles, since 1995. Brain-Based Learning is one of the first books that I read as I was getting into finding out more about education research several years ago.

I am quite disappointed with this book. It's not very good. The problems with it are numerous. 

Firstly, it does not appear to have any central guiding principles. Generally, a good book will give you ideas in the form of kernels which will be applicable in many situations, and it will show you how those central ideas operate so that you can understand their power and generality. In Brain-Based Learning, Jensen sets out what he wants to tell the reader as essentially a list. This makes it difficult to make head or tail of the book as a whole.

Secondly, there is a pervasive lack of references. This means that most of his assertions are stated just as bare-faced facts (with occasional "research has shown..." + random fact, which no reference), meaning that we are supposed to just take him on his word. In some cases, his references are highly dubious, such as when he cites a video produced by Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) inventor Richard Bandler as the only source for over a page of information and suggestions. NLP is generally understood by psychologists to have little scientific support (what science there is on it tends to show that it doesn't work), so this is obviously somewhat dubious.

Thirdly, most of his suggestions are obvious in the first place. When he suggests that children need good nutrition or that people need to be hydrated, who is he arguing against? Who didn't think that, or was unaware of that, in the first place? There is a sense in which he is using the idea that his approaches are "brain-based" to lend extra authority to his statements, but the statements themselves were often already well-known and widely accepted approaches prior to his advocacy for them.

There are many more criticisms that can be made of this book, and I do make them in the audio. I end up doing a mixture of pulling out the occasional interesting idea, enriching what he writes with context that actually makes it make sense, and pointing out the many places where his work is not useful, or is just confusing. I hope that, despite the rather negative nature of this episode, you will still find it worth listening to.

Enjoy the episode.

[1] Quoted from http://www.ascd.org/Publications/ascd-authors/eric-jensen.aspx on 9th January 2018.

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