Shane Green speaks with parenting expert Michael Grose about how our position in the family birth order shapes our lives, Mike Broadstock talks with educational neuroscientist Jared Cooney Horvath and ISV's Winnie Wong about a school program that helps students understand and improve how they learn, and ISV Chief Executive Michelle Green joins Natalie Moutafis to discuss what's been happening in education and how we can all learn from Bilbo Baggins.
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Hi everyone, and welcome back to isPodcast, ISV's show for schools and the wider community. I'm Natalie Moutafis. Today, Shane Green speaks with Michael Grose about how our position in the family birth order shapes our lives, and Mike Broadstock talks with educational neuroscientist, Jared Cooney Horvath and ISV's Winnie Wong about a program for schools that help students understand and improve how they learn. But first ISV Chief Executive Michelle Green joins me to discuss what's been happening in education.
Hi Michelle, welcome back to isPodcast and thanks for joining us.
Thanks Nat, it's lovely to be back.
In our last episode, Mike spoke to Fiona Williams and Aynur Simsirel about being a principal in a pandemic. A month on and we're in our fifth lockdown with schools again pivoting to remote learning. ISV has recently released a research report on agile school leadership in times of crisis. Regrettably, it's timely.
Yes, Nat, it's very sad to be in lockdown five and I know that it's very difficult for our principals, for students, for parents, for all of our school communities.
At ISV, I'm quite fond of saying never waste a crisis, because I know that a crisis will offer us opportunities as well as presenting us with challenges. Last year, as this, as schools struggled with the challenge of COVID-19, we saw that our school leaders also took the opportunity to adapt, to change and to learn. At ISV, we thought if we can document this change, if we can learn from and share what are some very unique, sometimes dispiriting, sometimes uplifting challenges and experiences. If we can do this, capture it and share it with the wider community, then the lockdowns and the COVID 19 pandemic might have an upside that we don't expect.
So, we undertook a research project to see how school principals were responding. We talked to them about the pressures that were imposed on them and their communities. We talked about the impact of extended lockdowns and remote learning.
We hoped that when the research was completed, we would be in a time of COVID normal, but of course we're not in a time of COVID normal. Well, maybe we are, who knows what COVID normal is. So, this week we've published the research and we know that we are continuing to learn, even though we've published this strand of the research.
So, the report is a tribute to resilience and to the resourcefulness of principals who took part in the research. They navigated unchartered territory. There were extraordinary stressors. They changed the way that they lead. In terms of lessons for the future, the importance of a leadership focusing on human connections, focusing on the wellbeing, not only of teachers and students, but of school communities. And also, mainly, a willingness to reconsider how it is we deliver education and how it is that we receive education.
It sounds like that this report will be a really valuable resource for principals, especially as it details how principals are turning to such research, data and technology, to make those evidence-based decisions.
Now, we've been hearing more in the media about what it would take to return to the COVID normal school operation. This is something you've been addressing publicly regarding the case of the staff in schools to be given a vaccine priority, they are after all our frontline staff.
Yes, I've raised the issue of priority for school staff in meetings and conversations with staff in the office of Deputy Premier Merlino and with officials in his department. And senior ISV staff have been having similar conversations with departmental staff and with the department of health. We have regular consultations with officials across all levels of the Victorian Government and indeed with the Commonwealth Government.
Aside from advocacy though, we've also provided schools with the government information on vaccine priorities and schedules, for example, the news of a government decision last month to give vaccine priority to a limited number of school staff.
As you've mentioned, our advocacy has also been public and early last month, I issued statements on this issue to the media and the messages have been reiterated in the media and subsequent comments. What message have we been giving? Returning to normal school operations depends on the success of the full range of public health measures to control the spread of COVID-19, including a vax program.
There's a compelling case for staff in schools to have vaccination priority, specifically staff in childcare centres and in early learning centres because all of our staff perform a frontline task and many of them feel quite vulnerable.
Now, we know that the issue's been complicated by limited supplies of a preferred vaccine, that's Pfizer, which leads to reluctance of some people to receive the vaccines that are available. This issue might be partly eased by the earlier than scheduled arrival of additional vaccines from overseas. But we are encouraging staff to talk to their doctor and if they feel nervous, to have a vaccine that is available.
We are conscious of course, of the serious impact that this issue is having on school communities. We know that any measures to improve vaccine rates amongst school staff would help to substantially limit the restrictions that we're now seeing on schools as a result of the pandemic. So, this week, once again, we'll be making further representations to both state and federal governments on this issue. I'm urging them to act on this vital issue confronting our schools and all schools.
Over the weekend, Nat, I received a call from a teacher in a non-government school who told me that she'd been to have a vax, that she wasn't absolutely eligible, but that she thought that she would go to the centre in Melbourne, at the Exhibition Centre, to see if she could get access to the vaccine. And somebody at the centre told her that vaccines were only available to public school teachers. Now, that is not true and it's absolutely appalling if that was said. We are very keen for all teachers, no matter what sector, to receive a vaccine if they wish to have a vaccine, and that's what I'll be saying to all levels of government today.
Thanks, Michelle. Hopefully we'll get some more clarity around the issue and we'll hear about it in the coming weeks with some more positive news.
Yes, I hope so.
To change pace for a moment, I thought I'd ask you to share the last book you read.
I'm reading lots of books during lockdown, and I'm returning to some of the books that I loved in my childhood. I used to read The Lord of the Rings, the Tolkien trilogy, obsessively almost when I was a young person, probably at least once a year, sometimes twice, but I neglected the Hobbit. Having read The Hobbit a couple of times, I had dismissed it as a tale that was just a precursor to the very meaty themes in the Lord of the Rings. But just recently, I've been reading The Hobbit, the tale of There and Back Again, and it's interesting because it's timely, extremely timely.
Bilbo Baggins is taken out of his comfort zone. He has a very wise teacher in Gandalf, but you see throughout the book that what he does is he goes through phases of his learning. He learns from Gandalf throughout the beginning of the book about what it is that he can do as an individual to impact on the lives of others. For example, Bilbo walks into a troll's nest and because of his actions, all of the dwarves that are with him come looking for him and they also walk into the nest. And yet Gandalf turns up and saves them, what he does is he encourages the trolls to argue with each other until the sun comes up and they turn to stone. And you can see in The Hobbit, something perhaps I never realised when I was a younger person, that Bilbo uses those same skills, the skills that he learnt from the wizard Gandalf, later in the book.
It's an interesting book to look at because not only is it There and Back Again, it's actually a novel which talks about the personal growth of the protagonist. Bilbo sees new things, he learns new things. What is also interesting to me, too, in a time of lockdown and COVID worry, is that there are several parts of the book where Bilbo has to see his way, even though he's in the dark. He's totally in the dark in the mines, he's totally in the dark in the halls of the elven king, and yet he finds a way. He sees a way in the dark to help his friends. He sees a way to learn. And it seems to me in this time of lockdown and pandemic, that the world in the dark is using every skill that we have to see a way to learn.
When I talked earlier about the work that we'd done with our principals, to have a look at their agile leadership strategies in a time of pandemic, but what I'm really talking about is the fact that we are all seeing a way to learn in the dark. So, I've been enjoying The Hobbit and it may make me read again Lord of the Rings as I sit here in my lockdown time, but it was surprising for me to realise just how much I'd missed when I was a young person.
Well, you've inspired me to go back to the bookshelf and pick it up as well. It's been quite some years since I've read it, so I'll definitely have to revisit that one.
If you've tried to put some music around the songs, no matter how bad a singer you are, some of the walking songs are quite fun.
I'll definitely do that. And on that note, thank you so much for your time, Michelle.
You're very welcome, Nat, it's lovely to talk to you.
Thank you. Anyone who grew up in the 70's, 80's or 90's will remember Jan Brady lamenting her life in the shadow of ‘Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!’ She's often used as an example of middle child syndrome, but does a child's position in the family really have an impact? Shane Green speaks with parenting expert Michael Grose about the effect of birth order on a child's development.
We're delighted to be joined today by Michael Grose, one of Australia's leading parenting writers, educators, and speakers. Welcome Michael, and thanks for joining us.
Thanks very much, Shane.
Whenever I read your work, Michael, the thing that strikes me is the clarity and ideas that really resonate. Lots of that makes sense moments. I think you describe your approach as making specialised knowledge, common knowledge. And that brings us to what we're here to talk about, the updated version of your book Why First Borns Rule the World and Why Later Borns Want to Change it. Michael, do you think the birth order is something we all intuitively know about?
Look it is, Shane. Yeah, sits in the back of our head a lot, but we actually don't know if we consciously use it enough. But it's certainly one of those things that we do know a lot about because there's so many commonalities amongst families, and Why Firstborns… taps into that, that factor of commonalities between families.
You make the point that it's more than just a neat set of numbers. It also needs to be viewed in conjunction with environmental factors and there are many variables. I think you talk about the family frame.
Yeah. Look, first thing I like to say about it is there's a bit of skepticism about birth order, it's been thrown out there as you understand your kids just through the lens of birth order, but it's just one of the many lenses, but it's a more influential one than I think we give it credit for.
If we look at what impacts on kids, we know there's genetics, that kids are born with a temperament and an imprint comes through the genes. And we also know that parents and families, parents in particular, have an impact on kids. I call it the family frame where the values and the things that I guess parents nag about and really focus on, that's what we call a family frame. It's also made up the family atmosphere as well.
You can tell the frame by looking at the things that kids have in common, so if all your kids are fairly independent or perhaps they're all very social, so that shows that independence and being very social and socialisation is very much part of your family frame. But where birth order comes in, it's about the differences.
Many parents become flummoxed because they look at their kids and they go, ‘Gee, two kids of the same gender and they're two years apart, same parenting, same school experience, yet they're chalk and cheese, what's gone wrong?’ And it's about the birth order or their position in the family. Each child's born into a different position and that has an impact, and of course, when that impacts on their development in the early years and into secondary school, it also leaves an imprint later on as well, later on in life.
Now let's look in more detail at the three categories of a child's place in the family, that you use. firstborn, middle child and youngest. Let's work through those. Tell us about the typical characteristics of a firstborn.
Your firstborns, we call the family conservative. What I mean by the family conservative is that that's the child who's most likely to go down the family way, so if parents are very academic, the good chance that the firstborn will be academic as well. That's what I mean by that family conservative, tend to value authority, often achievement oriented, quite responsible because often responsibility has gone their way. Tend to be lower risk takers as well as learners, because they like to please, approval is important to them. So, they really go down the path as kids and do the things that are going to give them parental approval or even teacher approval, to a degree, but certainly parental approval.
They're not the greatest risk takers in many ways, but I guess the other thing about firstborns is they live with pressure. We know that there's quite a correlation between those kids who are anxious and those kids who are firstborn, they tend to be more perfectionistic as well. So, yeah, they put a lot of pressure on themselves and I think also that parents tend to put a fair bit of pressure on them as well. Sometimes they don't mean that, it's just the fact that when you have kids, you have hopes and dreams. The hopes and dreams go on the first one, and if you only have a couple of kids, well those hopes and dreams and aspirations as parents, they sit on the first and the second. If you had a larger family, it spreads it out a little bit. I think in some ways, as a parent, the pressure's off because you'll get one good one, so to speak. So, the firstborns do wear a fair bit of the mantle of the family responsibility in some ways.
And the middle child?
Yeah look, the middle child assumes the fact that there's someone on either side. And interestingly, it might be a point of discussion in a minute, but middle children are shrinking because families are shrinking, we've got less and less middle children, which is a shame. The first thing is often that middle children are, firstly they are a second child in many ways, so in a three or even a four-child family, the second one often takes that middle. What we do now is second or middle will be different than the firstborn. If the firstborn's responsible, the second one might not be as responsible. If the firstborn tends to be the academic star, well the second one might do well enough at school to keep mum and dad off their backs, but they might shine in a different area. I guess that's one thing to consider, that they are different than the first.
When I was an Adlerian family counsellor, we used to counsel according to birth order. So, we'd find out what the birth order is and the parents would come and say, ‘Look, I've got a problem with a particular child,’ and we'd find out where they came in the family and then we'd find out what the other kids were like and we could almost tell them what the second born was like, because of those patterns.
So, we know that seconds are different. We also know that they tend to be little bit more resilient and more flexible because their life always has fit in with the life of the firstborn. They often look outwards as well, the social circles they have are often broader than firstborns and they often look outward from their family for a sense of belonging.
Statistically, and I've always found this fascinating, and it happened in my family as well. It was the second one or middle, second and middle who generally leave the family first. It was the same in our family, our second one was the one who left home first before the older brother, but that's quite common as well. And flexibility is one of the traits which they share as well. They tend to be a little bit more diplomatic. The middles often get a bad rap, but they tend to be the glue which holds a group together in many ways.
They're pretty skillful in lots of ways because you practice on your sibling, so to speak, and that stands you in good stead, helps you when you go to school when there's conflict with peers. If you're in the middle, you've actually got to duck and weave from your oldest sibling and you've got a younger one to boss around as well, so you've got a broader set of skills. Most middle children say ‘I'm in the worst position’. Justice is one of their keys, they tend to have a strong sense of social justice. And I began the chapter on middle children with It's not fair! because most middle children think it's not fair.
Then we move onto the youngest child. And interestingly, one of the features of this book is that now that our families are shrinking and 60 per cent of Australian families have two children or less, that means that we haven't got as many youngest children. What we're finding is we got a lot of second borns, when mum and dad stops at two, particularly if both the children are the same gender, there's a good chance that the second born will take up some of the youngest characteristics as well.
The typical youngest characteristics are, well, they come into the family and everyone's done something before them so they tend to be more creative. They tend to use... I'm using the word tend here. They tend to use low power skills to get by, they don't use assertion as much, but they'll often be the charmers and the manipulators.
What we also found out, that they can do better than everyone else and be more successful in life than the rest of the family, but they'll often do it in a completely different way. So, if it's an academic family, reasonable chance the firstborn will be the academic sort of child. And then there's a reasonable chance the youngest one could be a tradie or could go down a different path.
I'm a youngest one myself, they tend to be a little bit more risk takers, not just in a danger sense, but more as learners. They don't mind having a go at different things. And yeah, they're the challengers as well, so that's why I called it First Borns Rule the World and Later Borns Want to Change It. They're the ones who often will challenge convention. They often think that ‘rules don't apply to me’. They think they apply to others in the family, and they'll often challenge the way they do things. They also are survivors. They tend to have done things earlier than everyone else in the family so if parents are quite strict on their first born, and by the time they get down to a third or the fourth, they'll give them more freedom at an earlier age.
And tend to be a little bit more survivors as well, youngest kids. They've survived and they know as parents that when they raise their kids, that you can survive. And the other thing I'll finish up with, one of the traits which youngest have in common is persistence. They'll often persist, not so much in an academic sense, but more so in they'll get what they want. They'll hang in there because they've learned to do that within their family.
Michael, we're seeing the demise of the middle child and that's one of the reasons for updating the book, which you first published in 2003. It's such a big shift in the shape of the family.
Look, it has, and I think we're worse off for that. I mean middle children, we have the middle child syndrome and terms like that, and I think that's unjustified. The middle children do have a lot of terrific characteristics, and I think one of them is just resilience. They tend to be able to, as I said, flexibility, they don't tend to have that complete black and white view. They are really more into social justice than perhaps any other birth order group, if you're looking at kids from the eyes of birth order. And yeah, we've got less and less of those kids and they tend to be the diplomats and they're quite skilled in many ways. So, it's a shame that we will have less, we'll have more of those firstborns and the onlys, which are a little bit achievement oriented. But I think also they might have a few more mental health challenges as well because they drive themselves so hard.
You've included a new chapter, The Prince Harry Effect.
Yes. Yeah, look Prince Harry was a poster boy, I guess, for that second child I was talking about, the one who's second and also youngest. So traditionally, when I wrote the first book, I put second and middle together because typically it was in a three-child family, which is majority of the... A lot of families at that particular time in 2003, the main number was three, so second would, when the third one came along, became middle, so it was quite sensible put those two together. Now we're putting second and youngest together because so many families are stopping at two. I looked at Prince William and Prince Harry, because Prince William is your classic firstborn. Prince William's the heir and poor old Harry's the spare, so Prince William is obviously born to rule. He's been trained for the position. He's chosen a wife which fits that position beautifully.
He's your classic firstborn. The resources have gone his way. Even if you're not in the Royal family, often we put the resources towards the firstborn and resources being the attention and where we really focus on. Harry has been the second one and completely different, and he's adopted a different approach to life, as we all know. He's taken an American wife and recently he rejected the Royal way and moved over to the United States. He's very typical of the seconds and youngest where the second and youngest is a potent change agent, there are potent aspects there for change. And so, I've used Prince Harry and called the chapter The Prince Harry Effect.
So, the path we've seen Prince Harry take is entirely consistent with birth theory?
It is. He has, yeah. Kids don't always take such a dramatic second path, and of course it's very high profile and it's a dramatic second different path. But sometimes the differences are very subtle, the differences between the two, but the subtle differences can be quite big as well.
Michael, it's been a real pleasure talking today. Thanks for joining us on isPodcast.
Thanks very much, Shane, and thanks for supporting the book.
You can find out more about Michael and his book, as well as our interview with him on the Parents Website, in the show's notes.
One of the best things about working at ISV is seeing how far education has come since I was at school. I'm constantly amazed by what schools are doing now, how they're preparing for their future and how we're helping them. I regularly look at the programs ISV offers, like the Feuerstein program or Project Wayfinder and think, 'Gee, I wish I had done that as a kid', or more often lately, 'My kids would get a lot out of that'.
Cognizance is one of those programs. It's a collaboration between ISV and renowned educational neuroscientist, Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at Melbourne University. Cognizance teaches students how the brain works and how they use that knowledge to get the most out of their study and life. It helps them take agency over their own thinking, learning, and self-management. As Jared puts it, they learn how to learn. I asked Jared how getting students to think about their thinking, metacognition, will be a vital life skill for them in a rapidly changing world. Jared, welcome to isPodcast.
Jared Cooney Horvath:
Thank you so much for having me on, good to be here.
What is metacognition?
Jared Cooney Horvath:
Metacognition is, if you break it down, it can get really scary, but you've got meta, you got cognition. So, cognition just means thinking, thought. Meta, in this case means the ability to step outside of and reflect back in on. So, in a nutshell, metacognition is our ability to reflect back in on our own thinking, our own learning and drive that process from the outside. The easiest way you could put metacognition is knowing how to drive your own thinking and learning mechanism, and that's what we try and do with all the students.
You said learning how to learn is going to be the most important skill in the 21st century. Why is that?
Jared Cooney Horvath:
It's interesting because I actually think this is probably the most important skill since man first stood upright, and it will continue to be the most important skill for as long as we survive. But if you think about it, learning is the only way we evolve. It's the only way to adapt to the environment. So, if we just talk about the 21st century, everyone's saying that the world is about to change, that automation is going to eliminate jobs and that the things we know now are going to be totally irrelevant in 20 years. Well, that's great, but no one can predict what the heck those changes are actually going to look like.
Jared Cooney Horvath:
So, if you want to future-proof an individual, either A, we have to learn like Nostradamus to predict what's about to happen, which we've got a history of showing, can't quite do that. Or B, we teach people the one tool they need, that no matter what happens, that's the tool you're going to use to adapt. That tool is learning.
Regardless of what the world throws at us, if it's technology, if it's something beyond technology, the people who know how to learn will be the ones who adapt fastest and then move quicker through that change. At the end of the day, if you think of human history as a series of changes, then it's those human beings that understand learning and can drive that process, that have always brought us to the next pinnacle. That's why I think if you can teach kids how to learn, then congratulations, it really doesn't matter what happens in the next 20 years. They're going to be well-placed to handle that and take control of that.
You've been delivering a metacognition program, Cognizance, to Year Nine students since 2016. How do you get students to think about their thinking?
Jared Cooney Horvath:
I think the good first port of call when you're dealing with metacognition, is you go back to the mechanisms. Is you deconstruct the brain and say, okay, if we think most thinking occurs in the brain – and not all of it by all means, we think using our heart, we think using our gut, our legs, our arms, it's everywhere – but if we focus in on the brain, we can start to say, okay, what's actually going on up there? Totally demystify it.
Because right now, the brain feels like a black box to people, so that's why they think, 'Oh, my brain made me do this’ or, 'Oh, I must not have that part of the brain'. Once you know the mechanisms and you demystify and understand how the brain works, you start to realise why all those arguments are kind of silly and you see that the brain is just a system, just like everything else. It's almost like a machine and once you know the rules to that system, then you can start to game that system and play it how you want to.
We start with metacognition by first tackling the brain. And once we've got that foundation, how does the brain make sense of reality? What's actually going on up there? Then we can start thinking about the software, the games, the rules we want to break and how we can play them better. Once you've got that foundation, then you can go into how does memory work? How does attention work? What is the process of learning? What are the steps of metacognition?
The idea being that cool, your brain is simply going to adapt and respond to what you ask of it, that is the crux of metacognition, so let's start asking the right questions, and that's when you start seeing the change. Start with the foundations, then move into the specifics and watch when kids start to tweak the way they study, tweak the way they take notes, tweak the way they learn in class. Because they know the rules of the system and they're just gaming it a little more efficiently.
How do students react to the program? Does it click straight away for them, or do they need a little convincing?
Jared Cooney Horvath:
Yeah. No, it's funny. You can typically see when we start, and I'm talking the first minute of the very first session, there is a lot of leery faces in there, but it takes about 30 minutes of really starting to deconstruct the brain till you see all the light bulbs really kick on, and then the questions start flowing. Once people learn that the brain doesn't work the way they thought it did, then they want to ask questions. Oh, what about sleep? What about dreaming? What does this mean for my skills? What does this mean for geniuses? What does it mean for creative?
Just the questions start flooding and once you get to that stage, then you got them. Then they're hooked and you realise, now they're going to start asking the right questions and then you can start playing. So, it takes about 30 minutes to get them in, but once you get past that first hump and you realise, 'Well, wow, this is really interesting stuff that's going to change the way I understand the world,' most of them are just pretty much on board.
What have you learned about metacognition, working in schools with students?
Jared Cooney Horvath:
I start academically, right? So, we deal with theory, we deal with ideas and it really taught me the difference between laboratory and the real world. I started with these very great theories, yep, here's how we describe it at a lab level. But once you start working with students on the ground and they start talking to them about their study, and they're asking you questions about, 'Last night I tried this' and 'Oh, my mother says I have to do this' and 'Oh, we have to work this in with this class over here', you start to actually make the metacognition more realistic. You take it out of the realm of theory and you start to bring it into the realm of practice.
I think, had I not stepped out of the lab and actually started working in classrooms, I probably would've blissfully been unaware of how more specific you can make metacognition, of how you can bring that down to a level where everyone can say that's useful. Not that's interesting, but that's really useful. So, I've learned how to take it from the realm of, 'Wow,' into the realm of, 'Thank you, that was the question I was going to ask. Now I can go change the way I do this to make it better'. Does that make sense?
Yeah, yeah. If you could offer one simple trick that everyone could do that would improve their thinking, what would it be?
Jared Cooney Horvath:
If I just had to pick one... And this is cool, this isn't even part of the program. We'll do a new one, so in case any students are listening, they get a new idea. One of the interesting things about the brain is when we read something, if you just start reading to yourself right now, your brain assumes that your internal reading voice, that little voice you hear when you're reading to yourself, it assumes that's an out loud speaking voice and it processes your internal voice the same way it would an out loud speaking voice. If I could image your brain when you're reading to yourself, it would look identical as it looks right now, as you listen to my words through your speaker.
Jared Cooney Horvath:
Now, why is this interesting? Because you've probably recognised that we cannot listen to two human beings speak simultaneously. If you have two kids on the playground, both shouting at you their version of a story about why they got into a fight, you can't make heads or tails of anything because we don't have enough brain power to process two voices simultaneously: it's one or the other. But if our brain processes reading in the same way as an out loud speaking voice, then we see not only can we not listen to two people speak simultaneously, neither can we read while listening to somebody speak simultaneously, we have the same exact bottleneck where the brain can only focus on one or the other.
This has massive implications if you're learning. Let's say you're in a class and a teacher or a presenter has slides with a tonne of words on it, great, you can't listen to the presenter while reading those slides simultaneously. And if you try to do so, you end up losing information from both and you learn less than somebody who would've simply closed their eyes and listened or close their ears and read. It's the same thing, if you get handouts, you can't do that, if you're trying to do a read along while paying attention to questions.
Once you start to recognise this kind of interesting spot that you cannot read while listening to somebody speak at the same time, and when you try to do that, your learning, your comprehension, your understanding drops significantly. Now you can start to see where does that come up in the real world? And it's just a simple tweak you can do if you're sitting in a class to say, 'Sweet, I'm just going to play one route, or I'm going to play the other route,' and watch when your understanding, your comprehension bumps up.
So, if you're studying and listening to music, does it mean music without lyrics is better?
Jared Cooney Horvath:
Believe it or not, music is a unique thing in the sense that if you're listening to highly predictable music to you, so music that you've heard a thousand times before, then your brain can convert that into noise and it won't try to process it. It's almost like an air conditioner. When that thing kicks on in the middle of the night, you hear it, but after about 30 seconds, it just becomes noise and your brain can ignore it. We can do that same thing with music, even if it has lyrics, just so long as it's predictable to us.
There are some arguments to be made that, yeah, even if you have, say... I don't know, like a Rolling Stones CD, that has lyrics, but if you've heard it a million times and all you do is hit play and let it run out, there's a chance you can just convert that to noise and use that to continue to focus on what you're doing. But if you put your iPad on shuffle or you're singing along and every two or three minutes, there's like, 'Ooh, this is a good song. Ooh, I haven't heard that in a while,' then yes, you've hit the same bottleneck where now you're actually trying to pay attention to the music while doing something else, and that's where you get that bottleneck and everything starts to suffer there.
So, if you're listening to music, just make sure – you're playing a knife's edge that – so long as it just remains anonymous noise in your head, fine, go ahead. But as soon as you start bobbing along and tapping your toe to it, now it's a signal and now you're crossing... you've got a little bottleneck up there, time to stop one or the other.
Jared, thanks for joining us on isPodcast.
Jared Cooney Horvath:
No, thank you so much for having me.
Several of ISV's member schools have taken part in Cognizance. Winnie Wong, part of the research team at ISV, surveyed schools about the program and reports that teachers and students were very satisfied with it and highly likely to recommend it to others. I spoke with her about what they had to say. Winnie, thousands of students participated in Cognizance, what did they think of it?
Students absolutely loved it. We get really good feedback from schools over the years on how much their students have taken on what they've learned. Students learn about the power of stories, neuroscience and metacognition, which is learning how to learn. Some of the things they've learned was taught in my psychology classes in university and they're already learning this in Year Nine. These skill sets are really important to have in school, for example, student agency and independent learning came in really handy during remote learning last year.
So, what did the data tell us about Cognizance?
As part of the research for this program, we conduct pre and post-test to measure the impact of the program, we get students to complete the same questions before and after the program. The pre and post-test shows a medium to large effect size for each of the statement variable, which means that there was a significant improvement and effect on student learning as a result of the program. The data shows us that students are more aware of their brain and learning, they are more confident and independent with their learning. We also conduct focus groups after the program, so talking to the kids after the program is definitely my favourite part. Just seeing how much they've enjoyed the stories and how they've applied what they've learned.
I still remember a student telling me that she didn't really know what it means to have a growth mindset until this program. So, for me, even if they can't remember some of the learning strategies, they at least walk out of this program having a better sense of themselves, believing that they can change and do better. For me, if they can bring that kind of attitude and belief in their school and into their working life, then that's enough. That's really all we want.
What did the teachers think?
The teachers saw a big difference in their students after the program. The biggest difference they saw in the students was their motivation to learn and an increasing curiosity. They found that students are asking a lot more questions in class as well. Teachers say that the program has brought their school community closer too, and I think that is because of the staff-wide session and the parent session we conduct for each school.
The program is not quite the same every year, because from the research findings, we iterate the program slightly each year to make sure that the program remains relevant and useful. For example, this year we have added on a teacher course as well to teach teachers the principles behind the science of learning, and that's because we want teachers to continue teaching and encouraging a metacognitive culture in a school, even after the program.
That sounds amazing, I still want to do it. Thanks for your time, Winnie. You can find out more about Cognizance on the ISV website, or you can email Winnie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That's it for episode three of isPodcast. We're going to leave you with Melbourne Girls Grammar student Mehak Soin, reciting her poem Silver Lining. Mehak won the Years 3-4 section of our student poetry competition in 2020, and a message of hope still resonates a year on.
Here we go:
Dark, Doom, Danger
Moon mysteriously gone
The winds wearing down
Schools amidst shutdowns
People living in lockdown
Nation in nightmare
World suffering in sadness
All I hear are sounds of silence
Things are going tough
Universe is united in cure
People healing with hope
Workers are our warriors
We are braver than we believe
We are stronger than we seem
Tough times never last
Now is the time to stand up or never
Together we will get through
Australia, we are in it all together
isPodcast is brought to you by Independent Schools Victoria. It's produced and recorded by Greg Lawrence and Duncan MacLean, and presented by Michael Broadstock, Shane Green and me, Natalie Moutafis. Our podcast theme was composed and performed by Duncan MacLean. You can find transcripts of our shows with links to what we've discussed at podcast.iseducation.com.au .