Auteur Andre Baars

Social Media and the Art of Basketball

First published in Dutch on the 30th of January 2012


Information and communications technology (ICT) has nowadays become known as social media and has become an important subject. Its influence is undeniable. A huge number of people are being updated by it on all sorts of developments, nearly “real time”. High speed exchange helps them form an opinion and in the blink of an eye large groups of people can be mobilised. Ideas, emotions, and actions are connected on an impressive scale. The result might easily be called world-changing.

And education?

An obvious question is what social media can mean for education. I dare to admit that I witness the way social media is capable in evoking such enthusiasm with slight jealousy. Of course, the field of education also wants to connect ideas, emotions and actions in order to mobilise our students.

I am definitely not computer-illiterate. I make use of smartboards, internet and intranet to present information, to distribute exercises and assignments, and to communicate with my students. And I am not the only one in that regard. Much has changed in education. The possibilities to use social media to teach dynamically and variedly seem inexhaustible. Development is so rapid and allows for so much dynamism that I am almost constantly wondering whether I am using it enough. Am I up to date? Am I not lacking behind?

There are many other possibilities

Computer experts, in fact, have the tendency to raise doubt rather than to resolve it. According to them there are always many other possibilities. Digital reservoirs such as YouTube, Wikipedia, and Khan Academy are inexhaustible sources of information. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are superfast forms of media for sharing and requesting information. Every day, fine new Apps are released to weigh, measure, categorise, organise, etc. Together, they almost form a “perfect storm” of possibilities.

Admirable, but…

I welcome all entrepreneurship in this field. As I have said, I also use some of it to make my teaching more interactive. It absolutely stimulates my creativity of which I see the positive results. But I also notice that the developments are almost uninhibited and unguided. We seem to be getting a bit hyper. We are all familiar with the speed and eagerness with which twitter is used. Critical articles are being written on this subject too. How much information can be conveyed in two hundred characters? Is there any meaning to a tweet about a tweet about a tweet, etc.?


The use of social media seems to be something insatiable that has, I think, certain risks for education. Sometimes I associate it with a pre-schooler feeding ducks. It starts out nice and sweet, but the ducks come closer and closer, making the child throw the bread quicker and quicker. This only makes the ducks come closer again and the child, slightly tense, throws even quicker. At one point, the “sweet image” of a child feeding ducks has changed into something frantic that has nothing to do with feeding anymore. The ducks’ hunger is insatiable and eventually the child just throws the whole bag of breadcrumbs at them. Is it possible that in education this “sweet image” can also change into something undesirable and that perhaps no longer has anything to do with education?

An example from my own practice

In different educational trajectories, I introduce my students to the concept of the utility box. This is a mental gathering place for all sorts of beneficial thoughts (instruments) that students can apply in situations where they have trouble to act adequately (due to stress, fear, frustration, doubt, etc.). These thoughts must be taken broadly. These can be idioms, mottos or slogans, but also songs, poems, imagery, films, clips. Even more symbolic thoughts such as a cross or the yin and yang symbol can form excellent beneficial thoughts (one of my students has added dominoes to his utility box, after my class).

I illustrate this idea, among others, by means of a few YouTube videos that could function as examples in stressful situations. I play, for instance, “Always look on the bright side of life”, the amazing song that is sung in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. And also the song “Ik heb een heel zwaar leven [translation: I have a very tough life]” by Brigitte Kaandorp.

Wonderful and fun

The students think it is wonderful and soon some of them open a huge can of clips, sketches, songs and videos that they think are great. They also share them with each other (through Facebook for instance). Their enthusiasm and drive are very beautiful and many social media gurus would see this as evidence that they are right.

It is indeed wonderful, but their eagerness threatens to overshadow the purpose of the assignment. It is not about finding as many “fun” clips as possible. I have seen how this can lead to an escape from the unpleasant situations, a sort of escapism. The desired beneficial thoughts are useful objects that one ought to apply in unpleasant situations in order to get rid of frustration, irritation, fear, and stress without avoiding them. They must give you the power to continue after a setback.

Not always fun

These thoughts do not have to be fun all the time. Qualitatively, they must be much stronger than “fun”. They only become this when they represent something personal, private, and valuable. They only become powerful once they hook up to the meaningful experiences that are hidden in your own personal history. You cannot therefore simply take them from the internet. You cannot just google it. Only when the students realise this and are willing to commit themselves to the necessary (self-reflective) effort to formulate powerful beneficial thoughts, will a true moment of learning be created that I have in mind.

Moments of learning

The moments of learning is the experience that I care about and that all of us in education should care about. A video, sketch or song is not a learning moment. At most, it can be at the service of such a moment. This is not only the case for the new media. It is also the case for hardcore educational objects and formulas, theories and procedures. These are not the goals of education. What we want and are able to do with them are is the goal.

Socrates once said that knowledge is devoid of meaning when it does not add to moral behaviour. As educational psychologist I support this idea, but I would rather see that “moral” is replaced by “conscious” or “engaged”. In earlier essays (Nothing is more practical than a good theory and What is comprehension?), I have aligned learning to changing. It is not brief and superficial. A moment of learning is a profound moment.


Social media can definitely add to profound learning moments. In a debate I participated in about social media and education, the speaker played a video that a mathematics teacher had made of himself in which he threw a basketball into a hoop. He had chosen such a perspective and edited the video in such a way that his students could use the shapes and formulas of a parabola to predict whether the ball would go in or not. Wonderful! Thanks to this man, I all of a sudden realised/understood that all projectiles have a parabolic trajectory and that mathematics is able to describe this in a beautiful way. Mathematics and sports go hand in hand!

If I had known this sooner, I would have taken my daughter to a basketball field immediately when she asked me in frustration why, in heaven’s name, she was learning about parabolic functions in her mathematics classes. Learning and fun ought to go hand in hand as long as possible. But in the case of fun there does not necessarily have to be a learning moment involved, while in learning, this is essential. For me to achieve this I would even have gone through the internet to have found that video.


The World according to a Dyslexic

First published in Dutch on the 16th of November 2011

The message not to read but to search

I counsel many students who are dyslexic. I used to bring them together with non-dyslexic students in a course focussed on study strategies. The central message of that course was that you should not simply read everything, but search strategically for information. Nowadays I explain it in this way:

“You can compare studying to solving a mystery. You are Sherlock Holmes or a CSI agent. You continually search for clues to solve the mystery. However, it is not about the identity of the killer or the circumstances of the crime scene. Instead, it is about what the subject matter is, what the important bits are, and what you are supposed to do with it. The clues are scattered everywhere; in books, articles, papers, lectures, seminars, assignments, tutors, fellow and senior students. Maybe even with a lost librarian! It is up to you not to start learning EVERYTHING like a headless chicken, but to think, to browse critically, and to draw connections so that you will eventually solve the mystery”.

 A gift, or is it?

You’d think that a course that is able to convert this message to concrete strategies and techniques would be a gift from heaven for a dyslexic. Finally, there is an alternative to that cursed reading so many of these students invest frustrating amounts of energy in. After all, reading is an exceptional inefficient strategy for acquiring knowledge. At university, this strategy mostly leads to problems because even “normal” students are not able to read everything, let alone someone with dyslexia.

But the dyslexic students in my courses often had great trouble to apply the offered strategies. “I can’t refrain from reading all of it,” or “I am scared to skip parts,” were frequent remarks. Other students sometimes also thought it strange to search for information instead of reading everything, but they didn’t show the same resistance or right-out blockade in applying these alternative techniques.

A different experience

How can this be explained? Why do dyslexic students cling so convulsively onto reading even though this is their weakest skill? When I immersed myself into this situation, I was confronted with a well-known insight that ought to be central to any counsellor and any form of counselling; the experience of the student is paramount! And the school experience of someone with dyslexia is different from someone without dyslexia. The difference can be explained by means of the following analogy;

A swimming instructor wants to teach two students how to swim. Both are floating in the water, hanging from a buoy. They move forward by treading the water, but obviously go a lot slower than is desired. The first student is used to moving forward in this way, relatively relaxed, though still slightly frustrated. The swimming coach asks him to let go of the buoy. He does so, his head dunks under for a moment, but soon surfaces. His technique is awkward but now the coach can get started with the lessons and provide him with specific instructions.

The second student is also used to bobbing about in this way, but floats a lot less relaxed. With him it is more a matter of fear than frustration, because the water comes up to his lips. When he is asked to let go of the buoy, he does so obediently, but panics the moment he starts sinking. He quickly surfaces and clings onto the buoy again. All further attempts to make him let go lead to the same result; release-panic-cling. He does want to swim, but is incapable of overcoming his panic attacks. As an instructor, I cannot even start with the class.

It does not matter what they say

I have noticed that dyslexic students often fall into the second category. They want to learn how to study differently, but normally already experience so much pressure that a change of strategy throws them into “uncharted waters”. This leads to panic and the tendency to cling to familiar methods, even though they already know them to be defective. A deep uncertainty dominates. A student was once able to explain her experience to me very clearly. “I have known for a long time that I am a dyslexic. Everyone has always told me that it has nothing to do with intelligence. But it doesn’t matter what they say. I have always seen how I need twice as much time than my girlfriends and often get lower grades than they do. In what way am I just as clever then?

This is reality for most dyslexics. Research indeed shows that it has nothing to do with limited intelligence and we can keep on explaining this to the students as long as we want, but their experience is simply different. There is no point in denying this or to paint it as a misconception. After all, this is also based on facts. Perhaps these are different facts than those that come from scientific research, but they are facts just as same.

Experience as vantage point

Ever since, I have tried to understand the experience of the students better. Apparently, they think they have to play the “game” by the same rules as the others. In football terms: if everyone is right-footed than I have to be right-footed too, even though I am left-footed. The result is that they systematically play worse than those who are naturally right-footed. They don’t realise such a limiting rule does not even exist. To stick with football: you can also use your left-footed, inside of the foot, outside of the foot, tip, heel, knee, chest, head, etc. The playing-field of learning offers room for many creative methods!

Many students think that information has to be read from start to finish and has to be processed in one go. In higher education, however, many of them are confronted with the unattainability of these goals and are luckily willing to set aside or alter their convictions. With dyslexic students, this is more complicated. In their eyes, their fellow students do actually take in information effortlessly by simply reading. That goal is, from this perspective, not at all unreasonable. They see their inability to achieve that goal as a personal defect. Subsequently, they hold onto that method even more strongly to prove that they can do it.

What instruction cannot do, but counselling should be able to do

The swimming instructor cannot do much as long as the student clings onto the buoy, but I think that a counsellor should have more to offer. Each time, I try to expose and explore the student’s experience. I want to show the student how his own obstructive convictions and undermining feelings sustain his ineffective behaviour. Only when the student realises that his own stubbornness obstructs him from achieving his goals, will he be open to real adjustments.

Real adjustments do not stem from an unrealistic ideal of how it really should be done (you ought to be right-footed!). They are the adjustments that bend the existing, unconstructive mechanisms. In order to do this, one needs to accept the existing situation (including the accompanying experience of thoughts, behaviour, and feelings) as a factual given and not as a cumbersome misconception (“You see it wrong!” the counsellor says) or as a weakness that must not be given into (“I don’t want to hear it!” says the student).

A dyslexic experiences the school world in a different way than someone without dyslexia. Perhaps the dyslexic is the first who has to accept this.

Perfectionists and other Road Abusers

First published in Dutch on the 4th of October 2011

Misplaced Pride

I am quite the perfectionist” a student says when I ask him what I can do for him. He says it a bit wearily, but also with a subtle tinge of pride. After all, this is the sort of statement you make when, during a job interview, you are asked to list your weak points. The job applicant thinks he detects the encouraging smile on the manager’s face as he makes his “confession”, only to put more emphasis on his willingness to work very hard indeed.

This way, the student tries to convince me of the fact that, aside from his problems, he at least has the right mentality. Alas, he mistakes me for someone else; in both my role and my views. I am not a manager and I am certainly not amused in hearing such words. Perfectionism is definitely not something one should be proud of. In my view, the student has cursed rather than blessed himself with this typification. Only too often, do I see students succumb under the pressure to function perfectly.

Hard to counsel

Their misplaced pride makes these people often hard to counsel. I would rather counsel a procrastinator or a muddler. At least they realise that they are in trouble, and even if they are not aware of this, those around them are often quick to confront them. Thanks to this awareness, these people are usually easy to assist by means of practical tools to help them structure their week, set clear goals, and fine-tune their working method. Positive results soon follow and the accompanying positive feedback from one’s inner circle increases at an equal pace.

The perfectionist’s case is completely different. He might feel an unpleasant pressure to perform, but is simultaneously encouraged by a society that preaches that the world is fully comprehensible and malleable; that success is not only a choice, but, paradoxically enough, also a must. He sees that successes are applauded, any costs are ignored, and that failures are deeply frowned upon. All this is taken seriously to such an extent that he becomes too structured, the working method too strict, and the goals too ambitious. The perfectionist truly believes that success is malleable and an utter necessity. He is unable to refine the situation and failure, in his eyes, is not tolerated.

Regularity versus Orthodoxy

Perhaps these people should be compared to a strictly orthodox worshipper as opposed to a regular churchgoer. The latter of these extracts from his religion that which is useful and disregards the larger “inconveniences” that are related to it. The strictly religious person, however, views any slack it cuts itself, as a sign of weakness or a divergence from the straight path. The tragedy of the perfectionist is that the very same thing that gives him strength and meaning, threatens to destroy him.

A Learning Problem

Even though the perfectionist can be charged with a certain degree of orthodoxy, in this essay I do not aim to target the existential jam he forces himself into. Neither is he ready for therapy as such. It is more interesting to approach perfectionism as a learning problem. I also treat procrastination, being disorganized and ignorance as learning problems when the person in question is unable to remedy the problem themselves. Perfectionism might be the most persistent ailment on this list, but this does not make it a substantially different problem, as I aim to explain presently.

In my previous essay, I compared the learning process to homebuilding. This metaphor can be divided into three different forms of learning.

  1. Construction: This is where something entirely new is built from scratch. It is entirely naïve and no use is made (or can be made) of previously gained experience or formerly acquired skills. In my book, I gave the example of taking driving lessons in which the knowledge construct of DRIVING is established.
  2. Expansion: This form of learning uses an existing foundation as vantage point. In fact, the foundation is largely suitable and only needs expansion in a few places. When I trade my Citroën BX for an Audi A6, I can still use much of my knowledge construct of DRIVING and only have to expand some minor elements (e.g. coping with five or six gears, cruise control, build-in GPS, etc.) in order for me to benefit optimally from all the possibilities.
  3. Renovation: Sometimes, it is impossible either to create something new, or to use the existing structure. In that case, you must “renovate”. You will have to deconstruct some existing parts in order to replace it with something better. If I were to emigrate to England, for instance, I would have to adapt my knowledge construct of DRIVING from being used to drive on the right-hand side to driving on the left-hand side. Expansion is insufficient; I will have to “demolish” driving on the right, in order not to be a danger on the road.

Renovation rather than Expansion

A large portion of the persistent learning problems can be explained by the fact that the people in question believe they only have to expand, while in reality, they must renovate. They would rather acquire another tip or trick than to really alter something in their lives. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, in practice, the third form of learning is much harder than the second (and the first too). This is because, in addition to learning, one must also unlearn. This is already difficult in itself because old habits often emerge when we are not thinking consciously or are caught in unfamiliar situations. Driving on the left side on a straight road in England is manageable, but try to do this on an intersection and you are soon to be confronted with how vulnerable your new driving behaviour is. The second reason why we prefer to expand is that we are naturally inclined to resist adjustments. That is to say, we tend to approach the world deductively. We develop outlooks (knowledge constructs) and look for affirmations of them in the world. We ignore falsification until we are left with no other choice.

Willing to Change

The persistent learning problems I come across in my practice are frequently an expression of an erroneous assessment of the situation, mistakes, for that matter, we all make. Students think they are willing to change, but in reality, they want a straightforward expansion to their working method in the form of a technique, strategy, or artifice. Their problems, however, demand them to unlearn things, often things they do not want to unlearn. The idle student who consistently begins every morning with an extensive breakfast and a paper in order to “get the motor going” and subsequently thinks that there is time to spare for studying while he is lazily surfing the internet, has to alter his view on his morning ritual. Apparently, the strategy of starting the day calmly does not work. Planning ahead even better or getting out of bed even earlier, serves no purpose if he is not willing to tackle that starting point.

Road Abusers

The procrastinator can be compared to the driver who consistently leaves home too late because he dreads having to fill up the tank, check the tires and oil level, and clean the windows. It is important to show him that these measures will improve driving and make sure he will reach his destination more pleasantly. Isn’t that what it is all about? Only with this change of perspective, will it be possible to help him devise a working method that will contribute to this.

The muddler immediately starts driving, has forgotten to fill the tank, visualises his destination, but has no clue of how to get there. This makes him susceptible to be distracted by any impulse (side road) that springs to mind, and every panoramic view that he crosses along the way. He will have to realise that his “relaxed free-roaming” is at the direct expense of his destinations (goals) and that a GPS (schedule) might be useful.

The Perfectionistic Road Abuser

It can be quite a challenge to provide the above-mentioned cases with the insight they need in order to truly learn. The analogy of driving can clarify why the perfectionist is even harder to help. He drives perfectly within the legal speed limit while everyone overtakes him, sounding their horns. He complies precisely to the two-second rule for distance with the consequence that someone continually merges right in front of him. He will certainly not park in reverse until nobody (not even a cycler!) passes by, causing quite a jam of impatient road users behind him. In short: the perfectionist wants to comply to the driving regulations perfectly in a world that doesn’t. He neatly collects the statistics for road traffic accidents and is very aware of what could possibly go wrong.

So this driver is right! But he also has a problem. He searches for safety and security by complying to the rules and by estimating the risks, even though blindly applying all traffic rules and knowing all road accident statistics, can lead to unsafe situations. The perfectionist sees all this, but draws the conclusion that he must comply to the rules even more strictly and has to know even more statistics. A vicious circle is created that can lead to a lot of pressure.

Perfectionists have to realise that they have to comply to the rules more flexibly in order to be safe and self-confident “on the road”. But this requires him to adjust his understanding that is somewhat more fundamental than realising that “changing oil” or “purchasing a GPS device” could be useful. He will have to accept that he cannot control everything and that being right is not the same as being proved right.


Homo Praxis (part 2)

First published in Dutch on the 2nd of May 2011

Learning processes consist of actions that are inextricably bound to the end goal; they determine the end goal’s identity. In my previous essay I put it as follows; “the order and prioritisation of certain activities (…) have a particular meaning within the trajectory and influence the impact of the whole learning experience.” I find this very important; so much so, that I have decided to elaborate on it further in a second essay.

No attention for actions

Practical thinking and acting receives relatively little attention in education. Students often seem to be encouraged to spend as much time as possible in the head, building a passive attitude. They are expected to mainly address their mental capabilities through listening during class sessions and reading the corresponding literature.

Students often do take practical classes in secondary school when they attend chemistry classes, biology classes or physics classes, but those classes do not build the practical skills I am concerned with. The type of skills I am referring to are based on actions that are necessary to make mental processing possible. Do students learn techniques with which to study their literature efficiently and effectively? Do they receive training in the best techniques to summarise texts or in strategies to write an effective essay? Do we give the proper attention to, perhaps, the most important actions of all; the actions which allow students to solve their own (learning) problems? I venture to doubt.

My view is based on the observation that the majority of students I meet believe that learning is supposed to be the direct absorption of the material. It is presented as a kind of osmosis that is achieved through pure thinking power, contrary to the labour-intensive and practical building process it really is.

Tools for learning, such as planners, mind maps, or systems for taking notes, by definition, represent weakness. In the eyes of many students, the ones who need such tools are weaker students than those who do well without them. This conception is widespread, which leaves me to conclude that they must have picked it up somewhere along the way, undoubtedly unintended.

An evolutionary process

To be honest, I suspect that the ability to absorb information directly is deemed the better alternative to learning by using practical tools. I also suspect that this judgement finds its basis in the pervasive perspective on our evolutionary psychological development. Our early ancestors acted first and when they observed the consequences of their actions they adapted their behaviour to stimulate a more favourable outcome. They learned by trial and error. As brain capacity increased, however, they were able to act out their trial and error experiences in their heads in order to determine which actions should be the best alternative, before they put them into practice. Nowadays, we are even capable of performing thought-experiments that cannot be acted out in practice at all. This idea suggests that our species has been internalising more and more and this is thought of as a sign of growth and improvement.

Internal processes as high ambition

It is not hard to understand the evolutionary benefits of the ability to plot and plan things. For instance, an action, based on a “just do it, we will see about the result” thought, which subsequently results in death, offers little opportunity to learn from it. The ability to dream up alternative scenarios in your head first, however, provides the opportunity to avoid some such risks. Stipulating this process even further, Einstein becomes the ultimate example of the ideal result of our cognitive development. His thought-experiments ultimately changed the natural sciences fundamentally. Some of his experiments could only be tested after his death, because of technological limitations during his lifetime that we have been able to overcome in the modern era. The ability to internalise, then, is understandably regarded as the highest ambition in intelligence.

A process gone too far  

In my opinion, we are going a little overboard in our desire to only use our heads; instead, there are disagreeable aspects I often encounter in my daily practice. Students, who find themselves hopelessly stuck in regard to their studies, no longer base their ideas on practice. They fail to measure the results of their thinking (often ruminations resulting in negative feelings, self-blame or complaints) against reality. This results in stress, frustrations and insecurities that are not so much confirmed by actual consequences of their behaviour, but rather by their own fears. A complete focus on internal processes cancels out the corrective or affirmative effect of reality, because of which negative emotions may conjure up ghosts.

A learning problem is an inability to act effectively

As I mentioned before, our actions are supposed to be the basis for reflection; the same is true for individual learning processes. This forms the basis for my perspective on learning problems. If actions are fundamental to our learning processes, then actions are also fundamental to our learning problems. In this way, learning problems are also an inability to act effectively. (I am not referring to problems that have neurophysiological causes).

Not so simple

Identifying learning problems as inability to act effectively seems a welcome assessment. After all, actions can be controlled, which should make tackling learning problems a simple endeavour. Unfortunately, reality is not this simple. Recently, I organised a week of support to a great number of students who were stuck writing their dissertations. My classes followed the above principle. First, I explained how the writing process can be divided up in concrete actions. The students loved how comprehensive the steps were. Next, I asked them to determine at which stage in the process they were and what should be their next action. At this point the students became less elated. Some of them felt uncomfortable and resisted commitment, “I am working on multiple steps simultaneously.” As soon as I asked the students to create a plan to work through the chosen step, I met with even more resistance, “I cannot plan things;” “I just do not know what tomorrow will bring;” “I also have my job to go to and my shifts are never clear-cut;” etc.

Cause of resistance

This resistance has multiple causes, but I am convinced that one of them is based on having too much appreciation for (action-less) thought processes. Students seem to resist practicality. Do students perhaps perceive practicality as detrimental to their level of thinking? Is it like “painting by numbers” to them? One can paint beautiful paintings using this system, but it is not done for an aspiring artist to use it. Painting by numbers does not turn one into an artist; after all, art has to come from the inside, with no aids telling the artist what to do or how to do it.

When inspiration becomes elusive, students tend to try and squeeze some out through pure willpower and that is the exact moment when they get stuck. After all, whenever one sticks to what one has always done, the result will always be the same. In this case, there will be no results at all. Pure brainpower will not change this.

Praxis above all else

Each creative process depends on the actions that need to be carried out. Actions are inextricably bound to creating. They provide a (mid-term) review of the effects in reality and the feedback that results from this, as I mentioned before, will have a corrective or affirmative effects. They are the basis of new building blocks. Without actions there will be no progress and without progress there is no creation. There is no way of achieving goals without using the tools that will get you there.

In my view, Einstein’s miracles also have to be interpreted in this way. His thinking power was certainly impressive, but he also based his ideas on practice. For instance, the relativity of speed was a concept that snuck into his mind when he was in a train and experienced the confusing effect of another train passing in the same direction with a different velocity. This was the basis of further thought. I perceive his elaborations as mental actions, because each time his thoughts were the basis for new ideas which he subsequently evaluated. Through this method he was able to build something with his thoughts that proved to be correct. This is completely different from ineffective ruminations and stressing which is what most of us do when we get stuck; mental dramatics turn our molehills into maintains.

Our ideal seems to be the stoic figure of Rodin’s The Thinker, but it remains a hopeless ambition that causes all the necessary frustration. Actions, whether physically or mentally, are central to our thinking power. We are Homo Praxis, as much in our limbs as in our heads.

Homo Praxis

First published in Dutch on the 13th of March 2011

Costs and Benefits
I often encounter students who seem to think exclusively in terms of costs and benefits or means and goals. Due to this way of thinking some of them refuse to attend any voluntary seminars they deem unnecessary, without the slightest hint of embarrassment. In their minds certain means/costs do not add anything to their goals/benefits (passing the exam). Whenever these students do attend class, they want to know (again, without embarrassment) exactly what information presented in class will be part of the upcoming exam. They are also in the habit of expertly trading readers and summaries. They are true masters of accumulating barely sufficient grades and demonstrate impressive rhetoric whenever their mathematical skills fail them and they need to turn a 5,4 out of 10 into a 5,6. These are students who are looking for tips and tricks to study more efficiently, plan their studies better and experience less stress. The solutions must be instantaneous and well-fitted with their busy schedule; the results must be immediately visible, otherwise they will look for something new to try.

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Chaos in order

First published in Dutch on the 6th of December 2010

“Self-help advice lowers self-esteem”
This was the title of an article that appeared in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad in May of 2009. American research had found that affirmations such as “I’m worth being loved”, do not increase the self-confidence of insecure people, but rather lowers it. This confirmed what I had long experienced in my own work; teaching competencies (I perceive self-confidence to be a competency) is not an easy matter.

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The Zombie and the Centaur

First published in Dutch on the 24th of October 2010

I hope I can keep it up.”

A student made the remark above to me only recently at the close of our sessions. His remark holds much hesitation about his ability to remain motivated, focused and interested. A little weary, I responded with words of unsurprising wisdom; “At the end of the day, you simply have to get on with it.”

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Let’s Play

First published in Dutch on the 15th of September 2010

“Without joy life does not deserve the name life.”

Erasmus (1469-1536)


It’s so funny; my daughter used to take swimming lessons, but that didn’t go very well. During the summer she was able to play in the pool with her nephews at our holiday address and she was doing wonderfully. She made so much progress and now she swims like a fish. I’ve asked her swim teacher whether she can skip a few levels now.”

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The “It” phenomenon

First published in Dutch on the 15th of July 2010

“It” as a Problem

Students frequently say, “I can’t do it”, “I don’t get around to it” or “It is so boring.” Then, when I politely ask them whether it is animal, vegetable or mineral, they are first surprised and then they laugh and say, “You know what I mean.” I firmly answer, “No, I don’t know what you mean and you probably don’t know either.”

The student puts their problem in words that almost grants it material properties. But as soon as I ask a few specific questions, he often realizes he doesn’t understand his problem in such concrete terms at all. This is unsurprising, after all, he came to me for answers. The challenge, however, is not so much getting the student to use more nuanced formulations; instead, the problem is that, despite nuances, the notions behind his original statement usually do not change. Without realizing it, the student experiences an it that causes all sorts of difficulties.

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A Plea for Doubt and Confusion

First published in Dutch on the 10th of Juni 2010

A Need for Clarity
Students want clarity. This demand is, of course, justified. All students need information in order to perform. Where and when are the contact hours and exams and which assignments need to be handed in? What are the learning objectives of the course, which activities do the assignments contain and which sources of information need to be studied?

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