Posts Tagged constructivism

Story crafting

Loom by seemann via morgueFile

Pulling the threads of the narrative together

A paper recently published in the International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance explains an approach to narrative-based careers counselling originating from a systems theory framework through ‘three levels of story crafting questions’.

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Career theory starter kit

Beam Engine Kit by Phil_Parker

James Watt wasn't really into career theory

Multi-theoretical rather than meta-theoretical

I am highly wary of people who take only one theoretical perspective.

No matter how rich and multi-dimensional your theory is, no matter how many other theories it incorporates and subsumes, it’s still only a theory. It will never account for all of the variety, complexity and general messiness of real live people in real live environments.

The real problem with only taking one theoretical perspective is that you become subject to the Law of the Instrument (or Maslow’s hammer).

Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding. (Abraham Kaplan)

It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail. (Abraham Maslow)

If you only have one theoretical perspective, you only have one set of concepts by which you interpret a client’s situation. Because of confirmation bias, you will tend to look for things that fit in with those concepts and you may fail to notice things which don’t fit.

It is tempting to force the facts to fit the concepts and limit what you notice to things that you can describe easily in your frame of reference.

That’s why I shy away from big theories which seek to do everything and try to collect lots of simpler theories that look at career decisions from very different angles. Phil McCash from Warwick University has described this as ‘theoretical triangulation‘.

So, if you’re just venturing out into the world of career theory, which theories should you start with? Here are my suggestions, with no sound scientific basis, just my personal preferences.

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Non-stop action

Savage Chickens - Action MovieI came across the Contextual Action Theory (CAT) of careers and counselling quite a while ago. It was developed in the 1990s by Richard Young and Ladislav Valach.

When I first read about it, my immediate reaction was ‘I like this. It appeals to my penchant for simple, well-constructed, easy to remember theories’. But there was one problem. I couldn’t for the life of me think how it would be useful.

Actually, that’s not quite true. It was quite obvious that this was a useful theory and that it was already being used… by researchers.

Valach and Young have been using CAT as a framework for investigating individual’s career choices and the career counselling interaction for a number of years.

However, I couldn’t work out how it might be used by career practitioners in their work with clients. As usual, it was lack of imagination on my part, rather than lack of potential in the theory.

Now, I have come up with two ways in which thinking about this theory might enhance my practice.

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Applied Chaos

Using the Chaos Theory of Careers in Counselling

I would like to thank Dr Jim Bright of Bright and Associates for contributing this guest posting as a follow-up to an earlier post of mine on The Chaos Theory of Careers. — David.
Romanesca broccoli

A fractal cauliflower (or broccoli) – how applied can you get?

A bit of background

The Chaos Theory of Careers (CTC) characterises individuals as complex systems subject to the influence of complex influences and chance events. However, over time patterns emerge in our behaviour that are self-similar but also subject to change.  Career trajectories/histories/stories are examples of such complex fractal patterns.

Our careers are subject to chance events far more frequently than just about any theory other than CTC and Happenstance Learning Theory would suggest.

Our careers are subject to non linear change — sometimes small steps have profound outcomes, and sometimes changing everything changes nothing.

Our careers are unpredictable, with most people expressing a degree of surprise/delight or disappointment at where they ended up.

Our careers are subject to continual change. Sometimes we experience slow shift (Bright, 2008) that results in us drifting off course without realising it, and sometimes our careers have dramatic (fast shift) changes which completely turn our world upside down.

We (and therefore our careers) take shape and exhibit self-similar patterns, trajectories, traits, narratives, preoccupations over time.

We (and therefore our careers) are too complex to be easily captured and put into simple boxes, interest or personality codes. Even much vaunted narrative is an over-simplification.

Constructivism proposes that we are pattern makers; we can find connections and structure in almost any stimuli. CTC has at it’s heart the idea of emergent patterns.  In seeking to understand these exceedingly complex and ever changing patterns we all will construct meaning from our experiences of these patterns and the constructions that we place on our experience of reality (Pryor & Bright, 2003). In contrast with several recent theories, we contend that there is more to reality than just constructions of it (See Pryor & Bright, 2007).

In summary, CTC and any counselling process based upon it will have to take into account the following concepts:

  • Change — e.g. Bright (2008), Jepson & Chouduri (2001)
  • Chance — e.g. Chen (2005), Krumboltz & Levin (2006); Bright et al (2005), Bright, Pryor & Harpham (2005)
  • Complexity — Patton & McMahon (2006); Lent, Brown & Hacket (1996); Bright et al (2005)
  • Fractal patterns — Bright & Pryor (2010); Bright & Pryor (2005); Bloch (2005); Savickas et al (2009)
  • Emergence —  Pryor & Bright (2004); Bright & Pryor (2010); Morrowitz (2003)
  • Attractors — Pryor & Bright (2007); Bright & Pryor (2005)
  • Constructivism — Savickas (1997); Savickas et al (2009)

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A qualified success?

A few concepts that I blogged about have been floating round in my head for a while. A recent discussion with a client made them come together.

She was talking about how her educational background in Africa had given her a particular mindset about career success. She explained that in her home country, passing a relevant professional examination pretty much guaranteed an appropriate job. When she came to the UK, it was a great shock to her that just having good qualifications was not enough. She had been surprised at the emphasis placed on demonstrating acceptable personal qualities and the importance of networking. It had taken her quite a while to overcome this mindset, and even now her initial reaction when faced with a career challenge was to think about what training she could obtain.

She was quite surprised when I told her that it wasn’t just people from outside the UK that suffered from this blinkered attitude to employability and career success.

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Puppies and ping-pong balls

Imagine you are in a room alone with a Ping-Pong ball. If you repeatedly drop the ball from waist height, you can be fairly confident of correctly predicting that it will fall to the ground somewhere near your feet. We call this Scenario 1.

However, suppose now that an eager ball-chasing puppy is in the room with you and also that a strong electric fan is brought into the room, placed near you, and switched on. Now, when you drop the Ping-Pong ball, how certain can you be that the ball will land near your feet. Presumably much less certain, because the puppy might catch it or the fan might blow it off course. We call this Scenario 2.

Now suppose there is a pack of eager puppies in the room and a series of electric fans; someone has opened the window and a howling gale is blowing; and, furthermore, you are now obliged to stand on an electric treadmill programmed to randomly vary its speed! Now when you drop the ball, how confident are you that it will land near your feet? Indeed, how confident are you in making any prediction about where the ball might end up? We call this Scenario 3.

Bright, J.E.H. & Pryor, R.G.L. (2005) The chaos theory of careers: A user’s guide. Career Development Quarterly, 53(4), 291–305.
Sleeping puppies

Chasing ping pong balls is very tiring!

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Time travel

It's nothing to do with a nuclear deterrent!

I was really pleased by the response to an earlier post in which I described my own Zones model. People seem to have found it helpful in framing what is going on with a client during a discussion. Buoyed by this success, I thought I would present another model that I tend to use in my practice. Because of the shape of the diagram, I call it the Trident model. As usual, it has been inspired by a number of different sources (see the Further Reading list at the end), but it was mainly triggered by the debate over the differences between the Counselling and Coaching approaches to guidance and the relative merits of action and reflection.

Personally, I find it useful to keep track of the balance and focus of a discussion with a client.

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Can you be positive about uncertainty?

Tunnel in the fog

What's around the corner? Can you cope with not knowing for certain?

As an antidote to some of the recent posts which have examined ways of overcoming irrationality in decision making, it is time to highlight a celebration of the intuitive and the acceptance of ambiguity.

The concept of Positive Uncertainty has had a strong influence on some of the modern theories of career choice — especially those which emphasise chance and complexity, such as planned happenstance or the chaos theory of careers. The idea was introduced in 1989 by H.B. Gelatt (who appears to call himself H.B. — possibly to induce uncertainty in those he meets) and it was a complete turnaround from an earlier article he wrote advocating a totally rational approach to decision making.

Gelatt, H.B. (1989) Positive uncertainty: A new decision-making framework for counseling. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 36(2), 252-6.

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Mine! All mine!

Having recently run a workshop on differences in cultural communication, my eye was caught by a fascinating study just published in the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology. The authors were looking into the explanations people from different countries gave for their career changes. The reasons given were divided into internal factors (e.g. desire for a change, wanting to develop) and external factors (e.g. organisational restructuring, luck). So far, so standard attribution theory.

Change

But who or what is responsible for the change?

The interesting bit was when they looked at country differences. The career changers from the USA exclusively gave internal reasons for change, whereas those in China gave mostly external reasons. Career changers in Europe tended to offer a mixture.

Chudzikowski, K., et al. (2009) Career transitions and their causes: A country-comparative perspective. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 82(4), 825-49.

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Storyboarding

Tell me a story

Bill Law, the man behind Career Learning Theory and Community Interaction Theory, has recently been focusing on the use of narrative techniques in careers education. His most recent idea is the use of storyboarding as a way of exploring and understanding career choice.

In storyboarding, you sketch a sequence of key scenes in the development of your career thinking — key events and influential moments. You can also attempt to speculate on possible future stories as a form of creative envisioning and action planning.

Although much of this is primarily aimed at school-age careers work, it could be an interesting technique to use with more creative or visually-oriented students (English, Drama, Film, Media, Fine Art, etc.). It may also be a technique that engages the right side of the brain as well as the left.

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