Towards a Tipping Point

Here is an old video Tracy Westell made of her discussion with Nancy Jackson about the slow movement and how some of those principles relate to educational approaches. We originally published the video over here on the original Literacy Enquirers site.

They talk about how to convince government that a slow approach is effective.

Nancy says that popular consciousness changes before policy regimes and we will have to wait for policy makers to catch up to what people in the field are thinking. She says that we will have to live with the current situation until policy makers understand that the testing and measurement regimes currently in place are not working and start to look critically at the approaches they are prescribing.

Tracy posits that we need a critical mass of opinion in order for policy makers to recognize what educators know.

In this recent article at Harvard Magazine, one such educator describes her approach and provides one more step towards the tipping point.
During the past few years, I have begun to feel that I need to take a more active role in shaping the temporal experiences of the students in my courses; that in the process of designing a syllabus I need not only to select readings, choose topics, and organize the sequence of material, but also to engineer, in a conscientious and explicit way, the pace and tempo of the learning experiences. When will students work quickly? When slowly? When will they be expected to offer spontaneous responses, and when will they be expected to spend time in deeper contemplation?


Now, the people in this room who are experienced in educational-feedback theory are probably horrified. Indeed, in the terms of educational science, this agonizingly slow response pace would be identified, I believe, as “non-formative” feedback. And yet I would like to suggest that slowness is not necessarily “non-formative”—in fact, in the case of this painting, it is thoroughly formative. Let me be clear that I am not arguing that we should wait 11 months to return papers. I’m talking in a more general way about the need to understand that delays are not just inert obstacles preventing productivity. Delays can themselves be productive.


I want to conclude with some thoughts about teaching patience as a strategy. The deliberate engagement of delay should itself be a primary skill that we teach to students. It’s a very old idea that patience leads to skill, of course—but it seems urgent now that we go further than this and think about patience itself as the skill to be learned. Granted—patience might be a pretty hard sell as an educational deliverable. It sounds nostalgic and gratuitously traditional. But I would argue that as the shape of time has changed around it, the meaning of patience today has reversed itself from its original connotations. The virtue of patience was originally associated with forbearance or sufferance. It was about conforming oneself to the need to wait for things. But now that, generally, one need not wait for things, patience becomes an active and positive cognitive state. Where patience once indicated a lack of control, now it is a form of control over the tempo of contemporary life that otherwise controls us. Patience no longer connotes disempowerment—perhaps now patience is power.
If “patience” sounds too old-fashioned, let’s call it “time management” or “temporal intelligence” or “massive temporal distortion engineering.” Either way, an awareness of time and patience as a productive medium of learning is something that I feel is urgent to model for—and expect of—my students. 

by Jennifer L. Roberts, Harvard Magazine, November-December 2013

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