Magic in the classroom

Changing education nowadays is often seen as resulting from an almost magical process where technology will have the power to improve the learning experience, i.e. the relationship between a learner and what and with whom he or she learns.

This magical moment simply never happens because of or thanks to technology but the need to change education remains.

Claude Levi-Strauss wrote in his essay «  Propos retardataires sur l’enfant créateur » that what makes (education) reform relevant is not that traditional (teaching) methods are bad, but that the social, cultural and economic context has changed.

“New Millennial Learners” are the symbolic representatives of a new context: their skills and expectations aren’t properly taken into account by the education system. Digital natives are not technology-driven. They don’t claim for more computers in the classroom. They simply have a different way to access knowledge, make inquiries, and connect to one another. The way they live outside school seems often to them too far away from their practice at school.

The teachers are usually made responsible for this situation and are said to represent the main obstacle to innovation in the classroom. It would be their fault if so many students drop out or fail to find a job. They simply would be unable to speak the language of their students. Their lack of technological skills would condemn them to turn their back to their students and develop their teaching in an empty nutshell.

Too easy don’t you think!

Most of the time, teachers are left alone in the process of change and are having a hard time figuring out what to do with digital tools. A reason could be that they don’t have themselves sufficient digital skills even if teachers’ surveys confirm on the contrary that they are proficient users of social media in their private sphere (see my blog). We are left with a situation of “décalage” (mismatch) and with an apparent contradiction between their public and private practices that is reviving the debate about the very meaning of teaching in a digital natives’ context.

This is where most edtech innovations pretend to make a difference, enabling the teachers to overcome this contradiction by using tools that will (re)create a one-to-one relationship between the teacher and his student. The teacher will be able thanks to a software or a device to personalize his/her teaching and adapt it to the needs of each student.

There is a new paradox between the one-to-one dimension of the technological device and the signification of one-to-one “referring to a situation in which two parties come into direct contact, opposition, or correspondence”. The classroom experience enables a unique direct contact between a teacher and the students and between the students themselves that no technology can substitute. Going to school is part of a huge socializing experience that should promote collective learning and collective achievements: learning together, helping each other…

The teacher developed for centuries a singular one-to-one learning relationship;  the class was considered as one despite the differences between students. The “one teacher to one class” relationship helped to overcome the students’ individual differences and enabled the acquisition by the multitude of an homogeneous set of knowledge… And there was apparently no magic in it, no devices…


one to one

Until an in-depth assessment – PISA and others – revealed tremendous disparities. These disparities could also be observed by just sitting in the classroom at the beginning of a school year. Out of 30 students in a class, 10 will move forward almost with no help, 5 had already resigned any ambition from day one and could be considered as potential dropouts and 15 are still hesitating on the way to take depending on the school’s climate, good or bad influences…

Teachers’ illusion to respond – almost magically – to the needs of a full classroom collapsed as it was clear they had no time to attend so many different individual needs and no magic skills to maintain the illusion of the classroom considered as “one”.

Time appears to be the teacher’s main constraint.  The “right” technology may help them achieve a better time management and make possible new types of one-to-one relationships such as:

- a teacher paying personalized attention to the students that most need it during the class (and voluntarily ignoring the ones that best perform)

- students paying attention to each other with another type of one-to-one relationship based on friendship and mutual learning

Which technology will the teacher chose and how will it be used?

… (to be continued)



Education is (still) the answer

Education is (still) the answer

Whatever the question, education will remain one more year the only answer. This is not only the overall conclusion of the new edition of the PISA report. This is not even the inaugurating speech of a new education minister announcing endless changes in the curriculum. This is much more than a vision shared by thousands of teachers worldwide.
This is just the only option we have to try to solve our “pending issues”.
If not tell me how we will achieve the ambitious objectives of the Paris declaration on climate change? How we will integrate hundreds of thousands of young migrants? How we will reduce obesity and increase physical exercise? How we will fight radicalism and promote peaceful reinsertion in conflicts’ areas? How we will ensure safe mobility for young people? And reduce addictions? End poverty? Promote lactancy? Foster creativity? Strengthen entrepreneurship? Bridge employability gap?…
I can’t think of another or better choice than:
For those who only believe in enforcement they should try replacing educators, social workers and teachers by policemen and soldiers in order to get school dropouts back to class, turn drink drivers sober again, reduce the planet’s temperature by two degrees…
We will never live together just because we are told to or forced to. We must simply learn to do it together. And this learning process will take a life time.
After one year full of projects, shared passion, frustrations and successes, we still believe in young people’s unique ability to transform the communities they live in. We still believe in their unique ability to engage committed adults in this transformation process.
For the year to come, we rely more than ever on their commitment to make our lives better. Empowering them, supporting them are worth a year of renewed efforts!

A classroom is not a learning place

A  metro station (and most classrooms) are not learning places

Joshua Bell, one of the most celebrated violinists of our time, decided a few years ago to play in a Washington metro station pretending he was one more street performers. He played, thousand passed by and only 27 stopped and listened. At the time his concerts were sold out all over the world. An article by Pulitzer Prize Gene Weingarten gave this unique performance a worldwide coverage and helped question the appreciation for beauty in the modern world. Are we too busy to stop, listen and enjoy? Are we unable to open our eyes and look around? Have we all become bystanders, passively consuming predigested knowledge and unable to detect the value of the unknown, the emotions of beauty?

Bell alone on a corner went unnoticed as would have happened to most artists in the same conditions.

bell 1


In my understanding, Bell’s metro concert raises another question regarding the aesthetic or learning function of space.

Are we ready to accept that any place like a metro station be a concert’s place? Do we have enough “brain plasticity” to consider that any place like a metro station can be a learning place?

Aren’t we fully conditioned by the predetermined meaning of a place and therefore only able to accept that learning can take place in a classroom? Even the MOOCs haven’t fully succeeded in breaking this “glass ceiling” and remain secondary learning options.

Joshua Bell decided to come back a few years later and give it another try. But this time, the outcome was different. He brought with him a group of young musicians and publicized it. People came and listen… The venue was the same but the very meaning of the space had changed. Instead of standing alone in a corner, Bell was now the center of attention on a stage set for the occasion. We were told in advance that the metro for a few hours will be a concert’s hall and we got prepared to it.

bell 2

Bell’s announced success condemns in a way serendipity learning. It says that learning always happens in predetermined conditions. We all have in mind the picture of students sitting passively in a classroom and listening to their teacher, How many are really learning? How many are thousands of miles away lost in their dreams? How many of those listening to new Bell’s concerts were really listening to the music and how many were just enjoying the fact they were among the happy few in a once in a lifetime cultural event?

For me, nothing will substitute the exceptional experience lived once by 27 people that stopped and listened to the beautiful music of an unknown music star.

The problem is that hardly no one is prepared to listen when not told to do it or actively learn outside the classroom if not allowed to do it. No education system is ready to commission Joshua Bell to go and teach music in a metro station to students on their way to school… certainly for fear they’ll arrive late…

While learning is restricted to a classroom with four walls, students can’t be emotionally challenged to learn outside and get used to sit and stare.

Teacher Bricoleur or Teacher Entrepreneur

Are the teachers mere followers of innovative trends in the classroom or true entrepreneurs that deeply transform education everyday? Are they artisans that are reinventing their work everyday or visionaries that use technology to change the way we learn?

Are the teachers “bricoleurs” or “entrepreneurs”?

Bricoleur is a French word described by Claude Lévi-Strauss in ‘The Savage Mind’ as “someone who works with his hands, using devious means. His universe of instruments is closed and the rules of his game are always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand’”.


bricolage Levi Strauss

Alex Beard from TeachUK once argued that “teachers will be bricoleurs” and that by 2030 “adaptations, mash-ups and bricolages will be the norm”. The teachers-bricoleurs will be “continuously using, adding to or adapting new resources for new learning needs, inviting peer-review and providing evidence of learning results”.

“Whatever is at hand” is exactly what the Israeli artist and educator Hanoch Piven experiences when engaging teachers in thinking about their practices as if they were bricoleurs experiencing the art of mash-up with everyday objects. Hanoch asks teachers to use objects in a distorted way in order to think creatively about what they do in the classroom, and why.

Hanoch and Alex reinvent Huberman’s vision[1] of a teacher “who is always busy, creating or repairing learning activities of different kinds with a distinctive style or signature”.

Bricolage is not  a second best solution neither for the teachers or the students but has to be central to creative thinking. In the words of Seymour Papert, “bricolage is a way to learn and solve problems by trying, testing, playing around”.

How do we combine “bricolage” and technology?

The bricoleur-teacher stimulates creativity in the classroom, in a much more powerful and sustainable way than through the use of technology alone. Jim Groom, in his evocation of The Glass Bees, reminds us that “teaching and learning are not done by technology, but rather people thinking and working together”.

In his article ‘Mashing up the Institution’, Hanley argues that the bricoleur-teachers will have to disrupt existing representations of teaching and learning by asking “students to make meaning through new conjunctions of sound, image, and text”.

Hanley asks what happens when teachers within public school systems think of themselves as bricoleurs rather than the users and clients of sophisticated Learning Management System that are increasingly used in schools to connect with students and parentsAnd he answers: “we’ll have to abandon our institutional identities as users and clients to embrace more inventive, experimental, self-conscious identities”.

The bricoleur-teacher will emerge as a strong figure in these times of changes when technology tries to make its way in the classroom and when at the same times schools face lack of resources and “the daily scramble for a dry-board marker that still has some ink in it.”

Teachers can no longer be seen, as Eileen Honan states it, as “policy-users who compliantly follow instructions and programs laid down by policy developers” but as “bricoleurs” that design artisanal solutions that will fit individual and community needs.

In the end the teacher bricoleur is the true innovator, the closest representation of a teacher entrepreneur.

And the good news is that there are many of them!


 [1] Huberman: the model of the independent artisan in teachers’ professional relations in: J.W. Little & M W. McLaughlin (Eds) Teachers’ Work : individuals, colleagues, and contexts (New York, Teachers College Press) 1993

This post is a revised version of a text published in this blog in June 2013.

Innovate in the classroom: another children’s right

“Each one of us has the potential to bring about change if we channel our energies and our anger at injustices in the right way. Even a small spark can dispel darkness in a room. And each of us represents a small but critical spark if we act on the problems we see rather than just witness them”.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyarthi wants to ignite the spark in each of us, in our capacity not to be just bystanders, helpless witnesses or spectators, but up standers: people who shout aloud and act.

November, 20 is the day of the Convention about the Rights of the Child. It reminds us that any transformation starts with children, acknowledging their capacity and their right to act.

The Convention establishes in it article 12 that “States Parties shall ensure to the child who is capable of forming a proper judgment the right to express his or her opinion freely in all matters affecting the child, taking due account of the views of the child, according to his age and maturity.”

How many children know about this fundamental right to stand up in a community, speak and act?

It is ironic, as educational expert Roger Hart says, that in many countries illiterate children who live basically on the streets, far from the influence of their families, know their rights better than those who live with their families in an accommodated situation.

Innovation in education has a lot to do with children participation. How can we promote adaptive children and projects base learning without endorsing the political consequences of giving children the right to participate in their communities?

Taking children participation seriously, means that we want to see them demonstrate and shout for the things that they personally believe to be true.

There is a great variety of forms of participation and means of expression. Several projects truly recognize the ability of young people to play a significant role in community-based sustainable development, especially through collaboration with adults.

P.A.U. Education‘s education project “Children write a book in school” has two main objectives: to enable students from schools around the world to express themselves creatively about their rights and, at the same time, to promote the Convention. This project has already been developed in more than 100 countries. Discover here the latest book of this unique collection written by children from a Sevillan school in Spain.

Cuento_St Marys School

Innovation in the classroom can be as simple as letting children write about their rights… Just as if innovation itself was a new children’s right.


The day after

What do we do the day after?

The day after. The day of wonder and contemplation. The day of apprehension and introspection. The day of dejection and courage.

What do we do the day after the year after? What do we do and what will we do the day after every November 13th?

bataclan 2

We must remember their names and their lives. We must reaffirm the values ??of the Republic, the “common culture of mutual tolerance and respect”, as the French Minister of Education wrote in the aftermath of the attacks.

We must…

We must also look at the images of “the victims of after”. The list of victims continues to grow. We must ask why teachers can be attacked and why schools still burned in our cities. As if the example of the Bataclan destroyed then rebuilt were not enough to make us all feel fraternally united against ignorance and intolerance.

A class photo of “the friends from before” that could be picturing side by side the terrorists and their victims, born in the same city in the same year, would plunge us back into disbelief and despair.

It is surprising to look at us rewinding and re-watching the video of this minute of silence on the day of the reopening of the Bataclan, as we desperately seek a response to our feelings of impotence.

Yet there is an answer: education again and again, Education is the answer, and it goes far beyond the school and the teachers. Education is the only answer the following day, far from the incantations and “resources” that we hurriedly create in the hope that a single debate in a classroom could repel violence.

Education is the answer. It is an unceasingly renewed response, an individual and collective reply, as fragile as we are.

The fragility that Sting sang of, the “day before”:

“Like tears from a star

On and on the rain will say

How fragile we are, how fragile we are. ”


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