Disconnected Reflections As I Enter The Home Straight

Equality does not mean justice

This picture is a good representation of some of the issues I’ve looked at. There are so many versions of it online I don’t know where it originated in order to credit properly

We’ll be back to some funny stuff around here soon, but not yet. I’m nearing the end of my Masters Degree, and over the year that I’ve been working on it, I’ve kept note of little facts and quotes that I’ve found interesting, or things that I’ve learned which I wanted to remember because they’ll be useful in other contexts. There are far too many to share in one post, so I’ve selected a few…

I’ve learned that:

– If I reach the point where I feel blocked in my writing, whether from writing exhaustion, or lack of inspiration, and I’m just staring at a blank screen, I can break through that block by simply changing something physical about what I’m doing. This usually means either picking up my laptop and moving to a different room, or switching to writing a few paragraphs in longhand on paper instead (yes, I still have to type it up later, but it’s worth it just to break through the block). I can’t fully express quite how incredibly effective this method is for me. Previously I would have either taken a break, or switched to a different task, but this way I can carry right on with what I’m doing which is sometimes what needs to be done.

– Goal setting doesn’t work for me. I always knew this really but because it’s repeatedly put forward as the best way to achieve things, I kept doing it, and kept feeling like a failure when I didn’t achieve my goals. During my course I read an article by Joanna Swann who is fiercely opposed to the practice of goal and target setting; she speaks particularly about the field of education, but what she says can be applied wider. In short, she puts forward an alternative method of achieving what needs to be achieved, by articulating it as a series of problems that need to be resolved rather than goals or targets that need to be met. Clearly everybody is different, but what she said really resonated with me and it’s worked when I’ve put it into practice. (I have already mentioned this to a few other bloggers individually).

– When I’ve completed a writing session, it’s worth spending a couple of minutes jotting down where I had got to in my thought process and what I was planning to write about next. It makes it much easier to get right back into it next time. It’s so easy to forget where we were in our thought process if we leave it, even for a day.


A picture from one of my study days at home – not too shabby right?

A couple of quotes I liked:

– “We become conscious of many of our expectations only when they are disappointed, owing to their being unfulfilled. An example would be encountering an unexpected step in one’s path: it is the unexpectedness of the step which may make us conscious of the fact that we expected to encounter an even surface.” (Karl Popper)

– “He who loses his crown and lives without it is more than a king: from the rank of a king he rises to the rank of a man.” (Jean-Jack Rousseau)

A couple of things that came up which made me think:

– The Chinese (as I understand it) believe that the differences in educational achievement between students are attributed primarily to the different rates at which people learn, and not to different ceilings that people are capable of reaching. Whilst I don’t wholly embrace that view, I do think it’s worth considering in part, especially when we talk about helping children to “reach their full potential” which is a term that I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with, because I find it actually quite limiting.

– If a teacher said that they had a child of 14 years old in their class who couldn’t read or write very well, or couldn’t add up simple numbers, we would probably describe that child as having special educational needs (or in the UK we would, other countries have other terms of course). Whereas if a teacher said they had a child of 14 years old on their class who wasn’t very good at composing music, or remembering dates in history, we wouldn’t attribute that to special needs, we’d just say that different people are good at different things.  So some subjects are deemed to be the deciders of whether people have something wrong with them or not. There are reasons behind that of course, but it’s still worth a little ponder before we make those judgments.

Studying with the cat

Another study day, with help from the cat

Right, better get back to those essays now…


55 responses to “Disconnected Reflections As I Enter The Home Straight

  1. Vanessa I found your post very thought provoking. I am mulling away on the idea of not setting goals but a series of challenges or problems to be solved. I also like the tips about dealing with writer’s block. Thank you. Happy studying. The cat looks ready to go. 🙂


  2. I actually agree with the Chinese 100% on that. I would also add motivation to it though. Some people just aren’t motivated to apply themselves to learn.

    Interesting what you say about goals, because honestly I don’t see the difference between the two methods. Just using different words to describe the same thing.

    Hmm, that is interesting idea of just moving the computer to resolve writers block… or writing long hand. Hmm, giving me some ideas there about other things.


    • It’s true, motivation is a whole big subject area in itself! You have internal motivation and external motivation…

      With regard to the goal thing, I’ve tried to summarise an article that is several pages long into a short paragraph, so I probably haven’t done it justice, I think if you read the whole thing you’d get the difference more, but sometimes just thinking about things in a different way can be helpful anyway can’t it. If my brain was working better now I’d come up with an example to illustrate the difference, maybe I’ll try writing an example out long hand 🙂


  3. Absolutely sensible……I enjoyed the write up


  4. Lots of interesting thoughts here. I like the concept of problem-solving vs. goal setting. I’ll consider that approach the next time I’m struggling to meet my goals. And I agree about jotting down what we’ll write about next. I try to compose a paragraph of where I want the next day’s work to go. Much easier to jump back in that way.

    Congrats on the Master’s. You’re so close now. 🙂


    • Thanks Carrie. Throughout the course I’ve always kept a thought on where things can be applied beyond the course, or beyond studying, and I’m very pleased with some of the things that I’ve been able to draw out!


  5. Wow, a masters degree. I’m impressed lady! I enjoyed your posts, I especially like the ideas of getting away from writers block. I will have to try some of them next time, or maybe like now LOL
    I also liked the goal setting thing too. I have always had a problem with goal settings, seemed so restrictive to me, so then I would get stressed when I wouldn’t or couldn’t meet them. Maybe the other way is better for me. Not so much stress. I won’t feel like a failure. Thanks for getting me to think Vanessa!


  6. Great thoughts. Love the idea of just changing my writing physically, changing rooms or something. I hadn’t thought of doing that, but it makes a lot of sense.


    • Yes, I kind of stumbled across this method by accident, I was struggling staring at the screen and also uncomfortable at the table, so relocated to the couch and then it all flowed! (the writing!), and similarly with switching to hand writing, I just closed the laptop in disgust one day when I couldn’t write anything and decided to just make a few handwritten notes, and then started doing actual writing by hand instead of just notes, and again, it flowed!


  7. /Wow, your last thoughts really got the ‘ol ponder machinery going. I had never thought that certain subjects determine learning disability. I would think all subjects would do that, even music. Although my sister taught special ed music for a while, and special needs kids generally do well with music.

    I’ve mentioned this before, but “Writing Without Teachers” by Peter Elbow is the way to eliminate “writer’s block”. The process of cooking is just writing anything for ,say, 3 minutes and then going back over what you have on the page and circling pieces that make sense. It really works. Writing by hand is actually the preferred method to unblock the writing.


    • Maybe it’s different in the US, but generally I think literacy and numeracy are deemed the deciders!

      Oh yes I do think I remember you mentioning that before, whatever works to get us over that psychological block right? I haven’t tried that 3 minute thing.


  8. That picture puts it so plainly. Brilliant.


  9. I can always solve writer’s block by just walking away for a while. Mind you, I’m never working on a deadline. Just my idiot blog, so it’s not an issue. If you have to write professionally though, I can see how it might pose a problem

    I have never been goal-oriented much to my determent, I’m afraid to admit. I envy people who have a single-minded laser focus on a goal and then set about achieving it. It’s comforting to hear alternative points of view on this.

    There was a timely op-ed piece in the New York Times Sunday about the South Korean education system. Students rank among the best in the world but they’re put through a meat grinder. They work 10-14 hour days studying. And no liberal arts. Just the facts.

    Great shot of the cat! I love cats.


    • I find that if I walk away for a while, or do something else for a while, then I might not come back to it any time soon! That’s why I liked it when I discovered this way that enabled me to keep going.

      I always admire people who are very driven and achieve what they set out to achieve, I tend to dabble around in too many different things really, and lose interest in things quickly. When things have to get done though, then it’s good to find the way that works for you to get them done, and goal setting wasn’t the way for me!

      Yes, those kind of education systems are scary aren’t they, like a military operation, no joy of learning there.

      I’ve always had cats, they’re good companions and don’t take much work to look after!


  10. I must have a deadline or I’ll fritter time away. After a while, I get into a rhythm (like dance steps that lead me to the task). I waste energy without that sail.
    As always, a wonderful subject for sorting oneself out. 😀


    • Yes, I definitely need deadlines too! Self-imposed ones don’t really work though, that’s like goal-setting to me, but on this course, where essay deadlines are set, I work really well to that because I have to! I just don’t believe myself if I sent my own deadlines 🙂


      • I’ve slapped down deadlines before and laughed at them because I knew I could cheat but then nothing was accomplished so I decided to get serious. Now, when something or someone interrupts me, I get all crazy. I’ve worked to program ME. It’s only been a few months but it’s working and I find extra time to read now, which makes me a happy camper. One day I found myself ahead of my schedule and didn’t know what to do with myself. 😀 😀 😀


  11. Pingback: It’s not fair! (and other whines) | American Soustannie

  12. Good insights and advice. Another advantage to ending a writing session with notes on where you planned to go next is that it helps motivate you to pick it up again, as you’ll already know where to get started with that next session. I read that somewhere. Those aren’t my words of wisdom. I’m not that insightful! 🙂


  13. Interesting distinction between problem-solving and goal-setting. I feel like success with one or the other might have to do with our personalities and how we perceive the world and our roles within.

    Am I an achiever or am I a sleuth?

    Maybe, once we figure that piece out, we can then develop a method that would complement our strengths and get things accomplished!


  14. Great posts and many thoughts jingling around my head as a result. After 17 years of teaching…the target/goal oriented method I can see some of your logic and how problem solving might be a preferred method for some.

    For me, the most useful and helpful piece of information I ever had was that children are all different and respond to educational methods differently.

    A large part of my success was based on recognizing the individual in front of me and tailoring the use of my tools to this one person. It is too easy to put kids into a cookie cutter mold of educating them and doing so has some serious flaws. As educators we learn how to use a lot of tools. In the classroom we need to remember to use all of them, not just our favorite ones, or the handy ones.

    I love you idea of keeping the writing process flowing freely by changing location. As far as remembering ideas for the future…I use my cell phone. It has an app for notes and I use voice to text and leave myself a note. I can use it anywhere and it is always close by, whereas a piece of paper isn’t. Even if I am driving and have an idea, I can pull it out and with voice to text I don’t have to look away from the road.

    Having worked in the private schools and working with a high majority of Asian and Indian students whose parents studied outside of the US, the Asians all reported having very stressful and unhappy educations. They learned but it was with fear and duress. If they didn’t get beaten (their words) by the instructor, their families would do it. Sometimes they would see someone else being struck and it was enough to cause them to be fearful of making a mistake. They did not want their children educated this way. Many Indians also beat (spank) for poor academic or poor behavior. It is what they grew up with. Both have the expectation that their child will do well educationally, all other activities come secondary. I think the western society has gone too lax on the expectation end.

    One other thing that has proven invaluable is that there has to be a purpose for studying something, not just because it’s required. If a child has a purpose to study, they naturally do it.

    You have inspired me to write a post demonstrating the application of combining expectation and purpose to achieve a desirable educational result.


    • Thank you for your thoughtful response! I’m glad it got you thinking. I totally agree that the one-size-fits-all approach in education is totally wrong. It can be so difficult for a teacher though in a large class to tailor things individually can’t it.

      I never think to use the voice note recording thing on my phone, for anything, that’s a good idea I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m scrabbling for a piece of paper and pen.

      Yes, I’ve heard that about certain cultures where high achievement academically is placed above everything else, and they’re motivated by fear more than anything. I’m sure within those cultures though they believe they are doing the best thing for their kids in the long run to help them succeed later on. It’s a shame for children to not have a more happy carefree time though!

      The purpose is important yes, a purpose that means something to them and that they can relate to. I shall look out for your post!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. This is a great post, Vanessa. I think a lot of us have felt variations on these issues over time, but having them laid out is an eye-opener. I especially like your final note, about gauging levels of learning, which often translates to levels of success, for better or worse. The idea that one group of subjects is more definitive than another when it comes to “learning” is one I had never stopped to consider, but it’s absolutely true! It will make me think more deeply and critically of how I judge my own students, moving forward. Thanks!


    • Thank you. It was strangely therapeutic writing this post, reflecting on various things from my learning, glad you’ve found it interesting. I’ll probably do a final MA wrap up post in the autumn where there might be further reflecting!


  16. Congratulations on your Masters! That is an amazing accomplishment Vanessa-Jane.
    I too do the long handed thing to extend my writing effectiveness, Need to transcribe something now in fact.
    My “role models” never allowed for goals. So I am enjoying creating them and revering them. I have the right to dream a reality beyond the now.
    Love to you and yours,


    • Thanks Shalagh, still got a little ways to go on it! Well the final hand in of everything is in just under four weeks, but I’ve lost a little motivation since handing over the first draft of my dissertation, and I still have two essays to finish! I’ll get there though…

      You certainly do have the right to dream a reality beyond the now. I like that. Love to you and yours too 🙂


  17. Good thought-provoking things to contemplate. I like learning, both formally and informally … nonetheless …. the more I learn, the more I understand how much I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Very thoughtful observations. Seems as if you are using your degree already!


  19. Really like the idea of jotting down the “where I was when I wrote this” – should make re-entry so much easier.
    Education is tricky as kids are quirky evolving individuals – each differing on every day – not lab rats for behaviorists who are trying to see kids as that – all this progress monitoring and data analysis (based on multiple choice answers) an astute teacher with solid content knowledge in a well managed school does better than any of that. There’s bound to be a sensible mid point between Multiple Intelligences and rote lock-stepped learning.
    Both students and parents must be engaged – and that’s a big problem now.
    We hosted a Chinese educator when my dad was a principal. Edu reform was being considered then. There’s quite a difference there with schools and parents. In later years, the man almost committed suicide in shame as his oldest very smart son decided to become a photographer. It took a while for the dad to accept an art form as respectable and OK. Many letters exchanged.
    People are strange creatures, aren’t they? Gives writers lots of material.


    • Yes, the constant testing and assessment that kids go through is horrendous, there’s the constant fear of failure for them – and that’s failure as determined by some remote authority who knows nothing about them and their circumstances.

      Parent engagement is a huge issue, and getting the balance of encouragement and support right isn’t easy, it can certainly go too far at times, just as much as it can fall short.

      People are indeed strange creatures, all of us! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  20. As I work to get back into the writing routine, I will have to try moving around the house or office more when I’m staring at that blank screen! Of course, every place in this new house seems so different. Part of what I need is time to have the new become familiar. Very interesting post to give us all some things to think about. Maybe problem-solving over goal-setting is something I should try….


    • Yes, I’ll be interested to hear if you feel your writing sessions feel different, or progress differently in your new environment! And whether that’s just a temporary thing until you adjust of whether it stays somewhat different. I have to say, I love the problem-solving approach, like I was commenting to somebody else in this thread – problem-solving is a creative process whereas goal-setting can be a bit dry, so just looking at things in that different way can make a big difference (for me anyway!).


  21. I’ve only had a couple bouts of writers block since I started blogging but I’ve found that printing out my draft and writing on it always helps. So freaking weird but I guess it’s whatever it takes.


    • I read something a while ago about writers block which said that writers just need to get over themselves a bit – dentists don’t get dentists block mid root canal, and electricians don’t get electricians block, you know, they just get on with it! I know it’s different when we’re talking about creative processes, but just thinking of it that way sometimes can also help!


  22. Lots of food for thought here. (Including the sandwich on your outside study day!) If I get writer’s block (and knock on wood, that rarely happens to me) I walk around, look out the window, but close my eyes to see what happened to me that day, or the day before, or the week before that. Viola. An idea emerges, and I think – Did I really DO that? – and I start to write.
    Congrats on your Master’s – a wonderful achievement.


    • Thank you, I wish I’d thought of the connection between food for thought and my sandwich! I could have come up with a witty caption for the photo 🙂 Thank you, still a few more weeks and quite a bit more writing to go, but at least I can see the finish line now, so I’ll take the congrats!


  23. You will feel awesome once your finally done with it! Have to admit, though, remembering the slog of academia, right now, I don’t envy you one bit! Yay to you for the finish line 🙂


  24. Thanks for sharing such a pleasant idea, piece of writing is good, thats why
    i have read it completely


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