RIP Tony Buzan

This isn’t the next blog post I expected (or wanted) to be writing. However, one of my personal heroes has passed away and I wanted to take a little time to share my recollections of this formidable man. I understand that Tony was still actively working. He had moved in to a new home from where he hoped and intended to produce lots of new creative work. Regrettably, that was not to be. A massive heart attack and a fall resulted in complications from which he was never to recover. He passed away on 13th April.

tony_books

I graduated from college at the age of 22 with a degree in law. I had been schooled in vast amounts of information and material, memorized enough of it, spewed it back in exams and been granted passes. However, it had left me cold about the whole process of learning and with rather mixed feelings on the potential of my own mind/ brain.

Then, in my mid twenties I was introduced to a few important books. These included “Accelerated Learning” by Colin Rose and a couple of the books written by Tony Buzan for the BBC. I was blown away. Suddenly, here were people sharing information with me about how my mind worked, how to make the learning and creativity processes more effective. Whilst I was excited, I was also more than a bit angry. This material had all been in the public domain for over 10 years. It was all as available to every teacher who ever taught me as it was to me. So, why had they denied me this critical learning about how to use my mind most effectively and how to maximise my potential as a learner? I felt like i’d been cheated, but had now opened Pandora’s box and there was no looking back.

That took me on a journey that was all essentially about learning, whether it was becoming a trainer in British Junior Chamber, training to teach English with CELTA, being a University visiting faculty, and then over time towards leading, setting up, turning around and overall trying to change and improve schools as places where others would be as inspired and excited by learning as I am.

So, in many ways, i owe so much to Mr Tony Buzan and it is with some little sadness today that I think I shall never get the opportunity to meet the man. There was a time, around 9-10 years ago when he was due to come to India and it was likely that I was going to get the chance to meet him. however, he got ill and had to cancel the trip, so the opportunity was lost.

I believe he was ultimately responsible for writing (or co-writing) over 80 books. I believe one of the reasons he was able to be so prolific was because of the learning, creation and ideation methodologies that he had developed.

Mind Map

Of all Tony’s work, to me, the stand out will always be mindmapping. However, whilst I saw and experienced the benefits so much, it was often frustrating to say when others treated it as though it was something a bit ‘weird’, a bit out there. I still use it for every speech or presentation, every major piece of writing (including most of the posts on this blog), any times when i need to unleash my creative juices or to formulate ideas. I’ve used them collectively in groups as well as on my own.

I remember an occasion when some teachers did extensive work with students of Classes 6 and 7 to familiarise them with the techniques and benefits of mindmapping. Responses to a short immediate survey were that students found it exciting, interesting and intended to make it a natural and regular part of their study and learning approaches.

However, we then went back to do a further survey with those same students after about 6 months and found that less than 10% were still using mindmapping at all, and even some of them only sporadically. What was most disheartening was that the most significant reasons why students had stopped were associated with the fact that others weren’t doing it. Children were uncomfortable to do it if everyone else wasn’t doing it, or it wasn’t being imposed. There was a “people like us don’t do stuff like that” inertia that meant the students had largely dropped this very promising set of techniques. Worse, what were they doing instead? Spending hours using highlight markers to mark out significant sentences in textbooks – a method scientifically proven to be a very poor and inefficient way to learn. However, people like us do that, so we blindly do it.

I’m not sure whether Tony or his companies around the world conducted research on the stick-ability of their methods and techniques. I suppose it wasn’t really in their interest to do so if the results might have been weak. However, I personally would love to see more work in this area.

At this time as Tony has passed away, my thoughts are with his family, friends and all his colleagues across the world who have lost a leader and inspiring teacher. I hope that the best legacy for Tony Buzan and his work will be a renewed interest and enthusiasm for his ideas and their application to bring about better learning and greater creativity. People will readily jump in with phrases like ‘being a lifelong learner’. We haven’t yet done nearly enough work around what this means and how, most effectively, people should learn most effectively throughout their lives and how to harness that learning creatively. There is much work to be done.

Grit and Perseverance

Closely associated to ‘Growth Mindset’ on which i wrote a few days ago, recent months have seen increasing focus on grit and perseverance as qualities that reflect the positive inclination to stick at tasks and to see effort and ‘trying’ as the means to effective learning (as opposed to the fixed mindset belief that intelligence and ability to learn is just innate and shouldn’t require effort).

I was so pleased to find that Edutopia had done a great job of bringing together a wealth of resources on these subjects.

The first link contains a curated collection of articles, websites, videos and other resources related to grit and perseverance:;

Resilience and Grit – Edutopia Resource Rounup
(Click on the link above to access all the resources)

The next is an interesting article about the value and merit of the growth mindset as applied to teachers and professionals, as opposed to thinking of it purely from the perspective of students:

Edutopia – Developing a Growth Mindset for Teachers and Staff

Finally, an article about strengthening and building executive functions – the skills related to controlling one’s own mind, points of focus and ‘mind management’

Edutopia – Strategies for Strengthening Executive Functions

For anyone who wants to know and understand more about these areas, this is a great set of resources with which to begin.

Using Your Brain

Here’s an interesting article that appeared in Times of India this week. Interesting – but, in my view wrong and missing a fundamental point. The major premise of the article is that Google and online ‘search’ is causing a long term impairment of people’s brains – because information is too easily and readily available to them.

Google spoon-feeding damaging users brain (2)

If we look at this from an educational context and ask what we should be using our brains for, I believe that far from suggesting that the easy availability of information is ‘dumbing down’ our brains I would suggest that for the first time in the history of man our brains/ minds are freed up to be used for really high value thinking, rather than mundane rote memorisation.

There was a time when I would need to either memorise or keep a written record of all the phone numbers, addresses (even Birthdays) of the people important to me. getting all that information stored away inside my head required considerable effort.

In the learning context such a lot of time needed at the base level of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning meant very limited time to be spent at the other levels; understanding knowledge, applying it, analysing, evaluating and even creating it.

Educators now have the opportunity to acknowledge that thanks to Google search and other technical innovations the best thinkers will no longer be those who have invested time to accumulate the biggest body of remembered data, but rather those who most creatively synergise data from different sources, those who can apply, analyse and evaluate most effectively.

Think of the amount of time that could effectively be freed up in classrooms if we acknowledge that the children don’t need to know vast bodies of facts, but instead could invest time in learning how to guage and understand the quality of data and reflecting on how they feel about the material.

It was many years ago when i studied law. On my first day, 110 expectant new law students were ushered in to the lecture theatre for a welcome from the Dean of Faculty. I still remember clearly how he told us that the best lawyers are not the ones who memorise statutes and vast bodies of case law so that they ‘know’ the answers, but rather those who are most effective at finding the right knowledge and putting it to good effect. Sadly, I also remember the sense of betrayal over the next three years as we were tested and evaluated entirely through standard exams where success required us to memorise word for word large chunks of statutes, case law and legal judgements.

We now live in a time when we can truly liberate students from the drudge of rote memorisation. Far from dulling minds I believe this can really free them up to engage in meaningful learning and thinking.

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