Tag Archives: learning

Analogies and metaphors to aid understanding…

Having been introduced to Hattie’s work on ‘effect sizes’ in the learning environment last year (http://www.learningandteaching.info/teaching/what_works.htm), I took it upon myself to investigate advanced organisers in my own practice. This is said to have an average effect size of 0.37, which in comparison to other methods is reasonably small. However, I opted to focus on the use of analogies and metaphors within my teaching practice, as personally I believe comprehension to be greater if a new subject is related to a familiar subject. Of course, many of us will naturally do this without a second thought, but I intended to consciously approach sessions with the intention of overtly using this method.

One example of this practice quite recently was when teaching the flow of blood around the cardiovascular system to a group of level 2 BTEC learners. I introduced the topic by asking the group to share their thoughts on the process of going to the gym – this involved eating food to give you fuel (collecting oxygen from lungs), travelling to the gym and going through the changing rooms (left side of the heart), working out and ‘burning’ the fuel (feeding the muscles with oxygen), travel back through the changing rooms (right side of heart) before travelling home (the lungs) to start the process again. Obviously when doing this, I did illustrate on the white board. I then made reference to the fact that the gym process is similar to the flow of blood…Following this, I gave the learners the opportunity to create their own analogies of the process. Working in groups they created some amazing ideas such as the process of topping up and using a mobile phone, travelling through the petrol station to name a few.

For the learners, this particular process taught alone can be very challenging, yet now they have their own analogies for the process, they are able to demonstrate a far greater understanding.

Any comments would be greatly appreciated!

Colour and the figure

Yesterday I was working with my students on figure drawing using colour. Most of the work we’ve done until now has been using the usual monochromatic media of charcoal, inks, conte crayon etc. so introducing colour is always a bit of a challenge.

How often have you really looked at the colour of your own skin close up? Take a wee look now, what do you notice? Of course, it’s not just one colour it’s a variation of colours and it’s not just pink I shouldn’t imagine. What you’re seeing is the transparency of the skin and blood vessels and veins that slow beneath the surface. Equally if you are black, white or Asian, you will see variations in skin tone and colour.

If you’re white you will see anything from pinks, ivories, creams, blues, yellows and purples. It also depends on how warm you are, if you’ve been exercising, how much sun you’ve been exposed to over your life and your general health and wellbeing.

skin tones and colours

Looking at the figure from a further distance, 2 or 3 meters for example as it typical in the life drawing room, the changes in colour and tone correspond to the lighting, shadows and reflected light.

So how can we use these observations and knowledge when we’re drawing the figure?

Well, 2 artists that you’d be crazy not to look at are Jenny Saville and of course the master of figure painting, Lucian Freud. (below)

Lucian Freud

Jenny Saville

Due to time restraints and student experience we have mainly worked with coloured pastels as we only have sessions that last 1hour 45 minutes. If you have more time and are more experienced I would suggest using paints, either watercolours or acrylics and a set of large-ish brushes.

When considering the approach to your life drawing/painting you’ll need to think about whether you want to make your work closely linked to the colours that you’re seeing or to work more freely in a creative sense. In the works of Jenny Saville and Lucian Freud the colours are exaggerated and simplified somewhat, however, this allows us to observe more keenly. Basically we’re looking for neutral colours with hints of these colours that we mentioned earlier; pinks, ivories, creams, blues, yellows and purples that flow from one to another.

Introducing colour in a really simple way by working on coloured paper can be helpful. As is remembering that we’re not only thinking about colour but also tone. It’s worth spending a little time just looking at the model to begin with and making some observations of colour, tone and relation to shadows, highlights and mid tones. Don’t get too bogged down in mixing lots of paint to tackle each colour.

By taking a look at the colour mixes below you should be able to start mixing some basic colours that correspond to the areas of colour and tone that you are seeing. Remember to think also in terms of warm areas and cooler areas in context of light and shadow.

painted flesh tones

Blogging with Freire

Steve Wheeler agreed to sharing this fantastic post on Pedagoo.org under a Creative Commons License.

Well …. not exactly. Paulo Freire, that great Brazilian educational thinker died in 1997, just as the World Wide Web was emerging in the Western world. So Freire didn’t actually live to see the power and potential of social media, or the impact blogging would have on education. But what would he have said about blogs if he had been witness to the participatory web in all its present glory? Here is my interpretation of some of his ideas, drawn from his most celebrated book ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, and presented in six key points as they might apply to the art of educational blogging.

1) Respond to reader comments with humility. Freire wrote: “…dialogue cannot exist without humility. Dialogue, as the encounter of those addressed to the common task of learning… is broken if the parties (or one of them) lack humility. How can I dialogue if I always project ignorance onto others and never perceive my own?” (p. 71). This is not just a message for educational bloggers. It is a message for teachers everywhere. How can we stand there in a self proclaimed position of enlightenment, and view our students (or audience) as being in a state of ignorance? This is hubris of the first order. And yet that is what happens in many classrooms across the world every day, because that is often how teachers are trained. It is also acknowledged that many teachers teach in the same way they themselves were taught. In a blogging context, it is easy to be offended when an adverse comment is received on your blog. You may be tempted to respond aggressively, to ‘put the other person right’. Often though, good learning occurs when we consider the views of others. Even if we don’t agree with the views of other people, it is good to consider them, to evaluate their meaning and contemplate alternative perspectives. Dialogue is what blogging is really about.

2) Don’t be afraid to speak out. Freire counsels: “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” It’s clear that there is a lot of inequality in the world, and some of this exists within the world of education. Schools are not perfect, and there is no education system in the world that has it completely correct. There is no better place for speaking out against injustice, or exposing inequalities than a popular blog site. It’s better than owning a newspaper. People will read what you have to say if you have something interesting to speak about. So use your blog to speak out on behalf of those who can’t speak out for themselves.

3) Use blogs to circumvent regulated learning. Students who blog quickly realise that they can explore knowledge for themselves. They can become independent learners. Freire was critical of the banking approach to education, where teachers regulate learning: “The teacher’s task is to organise a process which already occurs spontaneously, to ‘fill’ the students by making deposits of information which he or she considers constitutes true knowledge” (p. 57). When a learner starts to blog, they start to think for themselves. They have to consider an audience of more than one (teacher and essay writing) and they are required to be masters of their own journey. In another sense, blogging can subvert traditional education in another way. The dialogue that can ensue from blogging is often more valuable than the act of writing on the blog. Quadblogging and the 100 Word Challenge are just two of the school based blogging projects that are making a real difference for learners by providing them with a guaranteed audience every time they blog.

4) Read other people’s blogs and make comments. The act of seeking out alternative perspectives and views in itself will sharpen the reader’s thinking and cause them to question received knowledge. Freire says: “… it is indispensable to analyse the contents of newspaper editorials following any given event. ‘Why do different newspapers have such different interpretations of the same fact?’ This practice helps develop a sense of criticism, so that people will react to newspapers or new broadcasts not as passive objects of the ‘communiques’ directed at them, but rather as consciousnesses seeking to be free” (p. 103). Alongside newspapers and news broadcasts we can add blog commentaries. Blogs are places where people can express their opinions and offer their interpretations, and these are the new street corners where individuals have their conversations. Engaging with knowledge in this way will liberate the mind and help develop critical thought.

5) Use blogging to support thinking. Often, abstract thoughts remain abstract unless they are externalised in some concrete form. Traditionally, writing has been used as a means to crystallise thinking, because as Daniel Chandler says “In the act of writing, we are written.” Freire writes that “In all the stages of decoding, people exteriorise their view of the world” (p 87) which implies that in order to understand our personal reality, we need to first bring our thoughts out into the open. Blogs are public facing tools that enable their owners to externalise their thinking in a way that is open for scrutiny. In the act of public writing, we expose our ideas and begin to understand our own thoughts more clearly.

6) Use blogging as reflection. Reflection is an important part of learning, and is a skill that must be developed if it is to lead to successful outcomes. Reflection is also the key to personal liberation. Friere argues that: “Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building” (p 47). Reflection means active participation in learning, and blogging is a very powerful tool to support this process.

Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.

Photo by Steve Wheeler

Some teaching and learning tools to assist the revolution!

Over the last few weeks, I have been creating a series of films for Scottish Book Trust around emerging technologies for teaching and learning. Although unable to attend, or contribute to, the recent #edupic11 discussions, I hope the films below will add something to the debate: how to engage teachers in the creative uses of technologies in their every day teaching practice. The films are designed to give confidence, the sine qua non of any education revolution. The deeper the engagement, the more profound the change. I hope the Pedagoo community will appreciate having these films together in one place here. They can also be found on Vimeo and on YouTube.


Wallwisher – a great way to bring together learning content from Scottish Book Trust on Vimeo.


Bubbl.us – the online mind mapping tool from Scottish Book Trust on Vimeo.


How to use Prezi, an exciting presentation tool! from Scottish Book Trust on Vimeo.

Twitter – Part 1

Twitter: Miss Brodie’s Adventures in Twitterland! (Part 1) from Scottish Book Trust on Vimeo.

Twitter – Part 2

Twitter: Miss Brodie’s Adventures in Twitterland! (Part 2) from Scottish Book Trust on Vimeo.

Twitter – Part 3

Twitter: Miss Brodie’s Adventures in Twitterland! (Part 3) from Scottish Book Trust on Vimeo.


Animoto from Scottish Book Trust on Vimeo.

More to follow …