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At the end of last week I received a collections of books from the Foxfire Foundation. I am currently reading From Thinking to Doing, The Foxfire Core Practices, Constructing a Framework to Teach Mandates Through Experience-Based Learning, (2002) by Bobby Ann Starnes and Angela Carone. The book is coil bound and self-published by the Foxfire Fund, Inc., in Mountain City Georgia.

I first read about the Foxfire approach when searching the internet for different models of delivering alternate education. I am now on page 30 of 169, and I just read the section on the characteristic features of entry points into a more facilitative style of teaching. The fourth step is engaging in systematic reflection throughout the process, and this post is my starting this process.

Why am I looking at Foxfire? The idea of using “learners’ authentic interests and concerns to gain entry into the curriculum” (p. 16) may answer what I see as the pressing concern facing my education practice and education in Canada in general: student apathy. Everyone wants to learn. I believe that. However, by the time students are in high school many have difficulty articulating anything that they are interested in learning. Learning has become associated with being force-fed facts and figures whose application to students’ real lives is tenuous at best. Learning should be connected to solving authentic problems, not just seemingly endless hoops to jump through on the way to graduation.

Today I asked a student “what would you like to learn if you could pick anything.” He could not come up with anything, but it started an interesting conversation about canoeing on the Fraser River. I think that this process can not be rushed if it is going to be authentic.

Growth or Limited Mindset

How does our mindset change the expectations and interactions teachers have with students? “[Effort], like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort.” This reflects a limited growth mindset. “In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.” (Dweck, 2006, p. 16).

How often have you heard a teacher say “she’s not really smart, she’s just a hard worker.” Or “she’s really smart, she gets great marks without trying.” Certainly this type of bias filters down to the students’ self-perception and beliefs about being smart and talented. We celebrate “natural talents”, like Mozart, and dismiss hard workers, like Salieri (Amadeus).

How does this contribute to student outcomes?


How Long is School?

We make a big deal about education. It’s important, after all. Other than work ethic, what could make a bigger difference for an individual’s future? But look at these charts – K-12 education takes up a pretty small part of your life. Even on a school day, it’s less than a quarter of the day. Sleep stays at a third assuming eight hours of sleep, and ‘Everything Else’ consistently is the biggest category. We really should make sure we use those hours wisely,

Knowledge is the Foundation of Learning

“Although debate continues in the educational arena over the importance of acquiring knowledge versus “learning how to think,” the Brain-Targeted Teaching (BTT) Model is built upon the assumption that the latter is in many ways dependent on the former. In other words, in order to be effective thinkers, children must possess the background knowledge needed to be literate in today’s society.” (Hardiman, p. 95)

The pendulum swings back and forth in education from one extreme to another. Forever the same battle seems to be waged, but on different fronts: basic skills versus higher level thinking. This debate is played out in specific terms in things like the whole language versus phonics debate, but also in more general terms, with some education stakeholders calling for a “back to basics” approach to education while others are demanding that schools focus instead on higher level thinking schools.

This makes me think of the changes that I have seen in Math instruction in the primary and elementary years. When I first started, students had workbooks with very sequential activities. Teachers supplemented these workbooks with in-class instruction and various hands-on activities. Students were expected to practise a new skills many times. For example, when the book covered a new skills like subtraction with borrowing, the book would then give twenty to fifty practise questions.

Then, a couple years later we transitioned to a new textbook series. The practise questions were gone and replaced with word problems. Many students – and parents – were lost. I heard over and over “what is this question asking?” Students were being challenged by the word problems, but they lacked the basic arithmetic skills to solve the questions, and many lacked the language skills to translate the question into the required numbers and operations. Teachers started allowing students to use calculators and stopped stressing, or even teaching, how to manually calculate the answers. Of course some teachers supplemented the program with worksheets to provide additional practise, but many did not. Some teachers started to think that they were no longer required to teach arithmetic, that it had been replaced by problem solving.

I remember back to my Bachelor of Education and learning about Bloom’s Taxonomy: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. A simplified version I also remember was knowledge and everything above knowledge.

The pyramid of Bloom’s Taxonomy is built on a foundation of knowledge. The top of the pyramid is the star of the show, but it is the very bottom pieces that are the most important. They hold everything else up. The Great Pyramid of Giza has been missing its peak for years, but it’s still a “Great” pyramid.

Evaluation without knowledge is prejudice, superstition, or both.

Hardiman, M. (2012). The brain-targeted teaching model for 21st century schools. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.

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I am a teacher. I have been a teacher for 13 years. I’ve taught from Kindergarten to Grade 12, and I am currently teaching an alternate program for Grade 8 – 10 students in Hope, British Columbia, Canada.

In 2000 I graduated from a UBC Bachelor of Education program and started teaching in Hope. In 2006 I graduated with a Masters of Eduction in Educational Administration from the University of Calgary and in 2009 I received a Bachelor of Arts, English Major, from Thompson Rivers University.

I purchased this domain name – my name – with the intention of using it as an online resume. I have changed my mind, though I may tuck my resume away on a page here just in case. Today, as I was reading a new book from Mariale Hardiman, The Brain Targeted Teaching Model for 21st Century Schools , I thought “I need a place to reflect on what I am learning.” I have often used Google Documents for this type of activity, but I thought that this time I would try something different and start to blog my reflections on teaching and learning. Maybe by writing I will be able to remember and apply the insights I gain from reading.

I am hoping someone reads this, and that I can start – or at least participate in – a dialogue. However, I am also writing this for myself, in the hopes that I might be able to better assess, analyze, synthesize and evaluate what I learn about teaching and learning. I hope to improve my practise.


Hardiman, M. (2012). The brain-targeted teaching model for 21st century schools. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.