A few challenges to the idea of “life long learning.”

Last week I was privileged to spend 3 days interacting with James Nottingham and others around the topic of life long learning. He made to me some valuable points worth exploring a little further.

“tests show only what a child has learnt to that point and nothing else”      Binet 1857 – 1911

James presented the work of Binet a french psychologist who was asked by the government to design a test to find those students for whom the curriculum wasn’t working -so that an alternative curriculum could be designed – some took this as those with mental retardation. The 30 item test was then taken by some at Stanford University and developed into the intelligence test that is still used today. James makes the point that Binet made the test to show what students had learnt to that point not as a predictor for future learning. Many take intelligence as a fixed thing, as a predictor for future learning and Nottingham asks how can this be an example of promoting life long learning?

“When we label we limit” Carol Dweck

James point here was that we tend to label people a lot – and in schools as well. This labelling tends to be self fulfilling and for many limit their future growth. He talks about how teachers label students as having a dominate learning intelligence (e.g. musical) based on Howard Gardeners work. James makes the point that its not about labelling the kids but a reminder to teachers to use a variety if intelligences when planning instruction.

” While we accept both challenges I wonder if there is too much performing and not enough learning going on in schools?” Nottingham

Jame’s point here is that we ask all too often for students to perform (so that we can assess their demonstrations) and not enough time in the grey uncomfortable zone of learning which is both a soial and personal experience.

“I wonder whether we have have a generation gassed up with self belief needing constant praise and instant success. Is this a form of theft – stealing the opportunity to stay in the grey – the zone of discomfort – which is full of instructive complications, where we take pleasure in the rigour of the work for the learning not the trophies of performance. ” Nottingham

Wow! I say again Wow! People gassed up with self belief needing instant gratification and how does that translate to life long learning. How often do we confuse the message and say “Good Boy Johnny, now keep on trying or write a little bit more” – when we need to say I appreciate your effort of 10 minutes solid concentration now you still haven’t nailed the central idea here e.g what’s the characters intent and how do you know – make connections to last weeks character analysis. Keeping working on that point.

“Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts” Sign hanging in Einstein’s office

I’m connected to Carol Dweck’s and Carol Tomlinson work here to acknowledge effort (which is hard to count).

“Everyone should led something and follow something – what leadership opportunities are you seeking?” Nottingham

It can be challenging to let go and have graduate teachers lead something – must try!

“Life long learning is learning to wait” He quoted the marshmallow experiment here in that we focus and attention and to delay instant gratification if we are to succeed.


He questioned who we get to coach young teachers. Young teachers need routines as they build their skills and their ability to read the context. Often we get expert teachers who have forgotten most of the routines as they become experts in reading the context. Perhaps its the competent teacher who is at the cross roads of routines and context.

Hope you got something from the quotes.