Routine en leren


If I do not practice for one day, I know it. If I miss two days, my wife knows it. If I miss three days, my audience knows it.

Dit citaat wordt toegeschreven aan verschillende muzikanten. De componist en pianist Franz Liszt, de pianist Vladimir Horowitz, de cellist Pablo Casals en de violist Jascha Heifetz. Van wie het ook is het wijst ons op het grote belang van oefenen.

Ik heb er wel mijn twijfels bij of we het na drie dagen zouden horen. Maar er zullen niet veel mensen zijn die het belang van trainen om op een zo hoog niveau te presteren zullen ontkennen. (meer…)

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Massive Exposure and DigLin+

“Most, perhaps as much as 95 percent, of the learning that takes place in our day-to-day lives operates implicitly – no explicit instruction was available or necessary.”

(“Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined” – Scott  Barry Kaufman)

In Dutch we have to say “dit huis” (this house) and “dat huis” (that house). But it is “deze man” (this man) and “die man” (that man). Why do we know this? We have learned this implicitly because Dutch is our mother tongue. We have heard that so often that we ‘feel’ what is right or not. These combinations are stored as a whole in our long-term memory. There is an explicit rule, but most Dutch people will not know it.


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Impliciet leren en bronnen bouwen


Scott Barry Kaufman  zegt in zijn fascinerende boek Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined dat het meeste van wat wij leren (hij noemt zelfs 95%) impliciet gebeurt. Dat geleerde is dus ontstaan zonder expliciete instructie! 

Hij geeft aan dat bij expliciete instructie er een grote correlatie is met het IQ van de leerder. Hoe hoger het IQ van de leerder hoe groter de kans dat het daadwerkelijk geleerd wordt.

Bij impliciet aanleren is er geen correlatie met het IQ van de leerder! Dat betekent dat onze hersenen zeer goed in staat zijn patronen te herkennen en daarvan te leren zonder expliciete instructie. En dat het IQ van de leerder geen invloed heeft.


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Working with authentic resources or using educational material?

Somewhere around 2005, in the middle of experiments designed to change our education,  I found an article dating back to 1996 from the OECD. It didn’t kick in immediately but these sentences kept popping up in my mind.


As access to information becomes easier and less expensive, the skills and competencies relating to the selection and efficient use of information become more crucial….
Capabilities for selecting relevant and disregarding irrelevant information, recognising patterns in information, interpreting and decoding information as well as learning new and forgetting old skills are in increasing demand. (see the actual article here)

Gradually I started realising that this was the bomb under my teaching. Up until that time I was selecting relevant information, I was recognising patterns, I was interpreting and decoding information for my students. I gave them portions. I gave them material in the right dose and of the right level. One word for teaching in the Netherlands is actually “doceren” and means teaching but also “giving portions, doses”. I realised that what I was doing was quickly becoming an essential skill for everyone. Educational researcher Sugata Mitra believes that information literacy is the most important skill for the future. In educational environments and simultaneously in the digital landscape it is essential for learners to develop these skills in order to participate in the society.


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Cause or effect? Grey matter and dyslexia…


“He is not good at math.” Or as Carol Dweck would say, “He’s not good at math yet.” There is a world of difference. In the first senstence it is already almost a final conclusion. He has tried everything and now we can conclude that he is not good at math. At least in Carol Dweck’s case it is still an optimistic observation. He could still become good at math.
We can then look for causes. We can find them undoubtedly in brains, genes, and, of course, also in the environment. And no doubt we will find causes. With dyslexia scientists also found something. Apparently a cause. People with dyslexia have less gray matter in the brains. Grey matter has the function to process information. That might mean that there is a biological cause for dyslexia. For learning this conclusion has a lot of consequences. Does it make sense to practice a lot if you know that your brains are differently than those without dyslexia? Just ask someone with dyslexia. They often think that dyslexia is an ongoing situation which you can improve a little but not much. For motivation to really practice this biological cause almost seems deadly. The “not yet” of Carol Dweck is skillfully demolished with such a cause.

There are a lot of fallacies in this “gray matter” observation. The first is that what seems a cause according to recent research sometimes may actually be an effect:

“Many dyslexics were not born with less gray matter, according to a surprising recent study. Dyslexics’ grey matter may have developed less because they read less.”


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Calculus (English)

zondag 7 september 2014

He’s a 12 year old boy and he is having problems with multiplication. Here and there he’s still adding and subtracting instead of multiplying. The timetables are not automatised yet even though this has been practised at school for years.There is a scent of dyscalculia around him. He doesn’t have much faith that this problem could be resolved. He is avoiding it as much as possible.

I work at a school for vocational education. In this school there is a department where we (students and teachers) are building resources to learn from. A few months ago we build this exercise:

Schermafbeelding 2015-07-13 om 11.59.54kopie

All the timetables are there and the exercise is counting your mistakes and keeps track of the amount of time you need to finish to finish them all. You have to correct every mistake before you can continue. The record right now is at 4 minutes and 37 seconds and it is in the hands of a fanatic colleague.

The first time the 12 year old tried this exercise it took him 15 minutes with a lot of mistakes. He didn’t work on it with a lot of focus. He didn’t really want to do it and he probably thought that it was not possible to get any better at and that he had reached his potential. His mom gave him a “high expectation” to do it in less than 8 minutes within a week. He had to do the exercise at least once a day and keep track of the results.

A week later on a Friday morning I received an app. He finished the exercise in 7:43 with only 6 mistakes. He was proud. Two of my colleagues and some students decided to try and beat his score which was pretty tough. They did not get his results the first time. We apped the scores back to him. In the end there was only one colleague who was faster. And then we received another app from the boy’s mum that her son kept at it and was now finishing in 6:49 minutes with only 4 mistakes. His mother told us the boy was jumping with excitement. He doesn’t have dyscalculia. He just needed to find his focus and put in the effort.

Somewhere between this first attempt and him beating the 7 minutes mark we looked at the numbers he had problems with, where he made mistakes or which took him a long time. They were 32, 54, 56, 63 and 64. Strangely enough almost everybody trying this exercise runs into problems with these numbers. Which multiplication leads to 56? Do you know? We trained on those numbers and eventually that led to 6:49 with only 4 mistakes. This is deliberate practise. Analyse the things that you are not good at and specifically train on those.

We ask almost everybody who comes here to do this exercise and it is surprising what is happening. Almost everybody tells us that some sort of anxiety arises, a sort of extra focus. I think this is partly because others know you are doing this exercise and because of the clock and the counting of your mistakes. You’re competing with others but also yourself. You really want to make as less mistakes as possible in as little time as possible. And I have heard several colleagues curse when they made a mistake or when they got stuck on a number. A lot of people started over again and again.

I also think that our brains are trying to find a strategy to finish this as fast and as accurate as possible. I noticed that the first time I did the easiest sums (1×9 instead of 3×3 – 1×20 instead of 5×4) and that I tried to fill squares close to each other to keep the board as clear and organized as possible. And the brains think of using a mouse instead of the track pad. My colleague told me his brains divide the numbers. With numbers below 50 he looks at the left-top side of the board and above 50 at the right-bottom side. And with a lot of those strategies the brains are working this way without really realising this. Only when asked you realise that you are using and adapting strategies.

A few weeks later I am at a conference about literacy and learning. I tell this story to a German scientist. She is interested and she starts using the exercise. First attempt: 11:43 and 5 mistakes. 1,5 hours later she scores 6:07 with 3 mistakes. She did the exercise 5 times and her “problem numbers” are 32, 54, 56, 63, 64. A few days later she sends another result. She can’t let go. She knows it can be done in 4,5 minutes and so she wants to achieve this.

Automatising timetables isn’t fun. It can be an enormous challenge. But it can be done. The boy saw that he became faster and made less mistakes each time he tried. And that’s what made him realise he wasn’t at his limit. That’s what made him put in the hours that were necessary to automatise timetables. It is all about a challenge and deliberate practice. The program with the fast feedback gave the boy a very effective opportunity to train and the possibility to see the progress. Perhaps most important, the boy started to believe that it was possible. And that’s what is worrying. The label dyscalculia might just have the effect that it crushes the believe that it is possible.

In the meantime the German scientist went on. She now has the record. She scored 4:21 with 0 mistakes. Can you beat that?

The record is now 2:02 with 0 mistakes… And you can download the program for free as an app if you have an IPad.


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