Let the truth set them free

The increasing availability and reach of news and information has further reinforced the struggle for influence over what we read and what we hear. The current indignation from some newspapers, about having their right to destroy people’s lives curtailed, is interesting. Yes, we need a balance to ensure that their ability to expose corruption and injustice is not impeded. However, we also need to have an open debate and the fact of the matter is that the media, by and large, enage in forms of social and political ‘propaganda’ that further undermines their case for any form of exemption.

I notice that many radio stations and wireless internet providers are SKY News based. SKY news is ‘right’ leaning and does not give the same balance of reporting as the BBC, who are required to put both sides.

All of this makes the role of education critical. We can begin, from an early age, discussing how important it is to explain things fairly. We also need to explain that people who want to tell you things will have a motive for doing so. What is that motive?

The best way is always to find out the range of views that people have before deciding on your own. It is basically a scientific method. Gather all the facts and different poits of view before trying to make sense of it. Another argument for placing philosophy and the search for truth at the heart of the curriculum.

Moonshot: The power of collaboration

One of my favourite classroom ‘simulations’was called Moonshot. The class were given a list of 15 things that they had with them on the moon and asked to rank these in order of value. So Oxygen was handy, a compass may be not etc. Their responses were collected in and then they had to repeat the same task in groups. We then compared the scores individual v group and as you might expect, the group scores were always better than the individual.

The web offers us a unique opportunity to collaborate with problem solving. We can turn the planet into a giant brain if the people with the ideas are prepared to do so. And do we need to. Some of the challenges that we face need all the brains we can muster. Stephen Hawking has just suggested that he thinks it unlikely that we can survive on the planet for much longer.

The implications for education? Begin with the premise that everyone can make a contribution. The process of design, from ideas to manufacture, involves a host of skills that many of us possess to some extent. Some schools teach Philosophy for Children (P4C) which can give children of any age the opportunity to get to the core of an issue. Facilitate co-operative learning through web based problem solving from an early age. Embrace the full range of problems and challenges from energy, recycling, health, house building, agriculture, transport, care etc. Encourage a local community based micro model to begin with and then expand. It is the process of education that we can change most rapidly and most easily (and where teacher autonomy can be protected).
The next generation will have to deal with all the challenges, perhaps we should have the good grace to step aside and let them make a start.

Of Pedagogy

Perhaps the failure of teaching  to establish itself as a profession on a par with medicine or the law rests with the absence of a clearly defined realm of expertise.

Teaching involves translating a body of knowledge so that it can be presented in an appropriate and effective manner. The term to describe this process is pedagogy. Pedagogy encompasses a substantial amount of decision making and a demand for expert judgements that is surely the equal of medicine or law.

Pedagogy is little used by the profession at large and when it is, often describes but one element of the process. This ‘selective’ tendency is perhaps one reason why the term has not established itself as the true descriptor and champion of the teaching profession. Other theories suggest that the term has been appropriated by the academic world (and therefore treated with caution by schools), another that government, as paymasters and keepers of the social status quo, are reluctant to encourage a true process of professionalism. If Pedagogy, as an iconic term, was more dominant, it could greatly assist not only the status of teaching, but also of the training and development of teachers.

The meaning and origin of the word pedagogy  is from the Greek for the slave that walks the child to school, i.e. the deliverer of education. So how can we outline the expertise of pedagogy? It is possible to  identify 4 inter connecting spheres of pedagogy involving knowledge of subject (Epistemological), knowledge of how such subject content can be presented for learning (Educational), relating to managing groups of children and young people (Social Pedagogy) and fourthly, the ability to reconcile and balance the competing vested interests at play in the classroom (Critical Pedagogy).

Teaching does not provide the concrete outcomes more easily accessible to medicine and the law. However, the complexity and diffusion of outcomes prevalent in education, should be recognised as contributory elements of a high professional standing, to which the term pedagogy does justice.

‘Keep up the good work’

I wonder if we need to reinforce the critical appraisal of the language we use to communicate with pupils. I know, as a profession, we have rejected the meaningless instructions and comments of the past but have we really progressed as far as we need to? How often do we use terms and phrases which we have used before and which are often the path of least resistance in a pressured day (particularly when marking), but which do not achieve the required meeting of minds? Could do better – how? Keep up the good work – how? what? Satisfactory?

The research into effective learning (in particular Hattie) points us towards the best support for learning – individual feedback. It therefore puts pressure on us to choose our words very carefully. We are not helped by a profession that adopts and entertains jargon and acronym with ease. We are not helped that exam syallabi are very rarely written in student accessible language. We are not helped by our own education and upbringing, which often makes it difficult to be conscious of the ease with which we use language and the many who do not enjoy such an advantage. We could go deeper into the territory of Friere (Critical pedagogy) Bernstein (Restricted code) and draw a parallel between colonial suppression  and the middle class hegemony (via language) of our own culture.

I am fortunate to be able to observe teachers in the classroom and I am continually struck by the critical importance of making sure a class is comfortable with the necessary key words (use and spelling), the importance of sharing aims and objectives in accessible language and making sure that there has been a proper transaction of understanding. Individual exchanges, either in class or via marking also need to be clear about meaning.

Teaching is a time tortured activity involving dozens of daily decisions about where time is needed. I suspect that time spent ensuring that the pupils have the awareness and understanding of what they need to do to develop their understanding and skills, is time well spent. Easy to say and often said, but worth repeating. I can remember the fog surrounding my own education around the age of 8 or 9, so much so that I convinced myself that all the teacher wanted was things done as rapidly as possible ( becuase that was what seemed to achieve praise). Consequently I am still cursed with a degree of impetuousness. Perhaps the art of exposition has been slightly lost in the starter/trigger/intro culture. I note that Hattie’s (ibid) meta analysis places instructional quality a close 3rd behind feedback and prior ability in the list of the most effective learning agencies .

Social Pedagogy

 

Social Pedagogy covers the realm of Community Education and is essentially a blending of the approaches to social work and education. The origin of the concept lies in progressive European ideas that encompass the concepts of social skills and democratic entitlement. The latter idea has been developed by both Dewey and Freire in relation to democratic or critical pedagogies, particularly for disadvantaged groups in society.

Social Pedagogy is proving a useful concept to support the Every Child Matters agenda in the UK. To be seen as valuable, such approaches will need to address some of the perennial issues that emerge for young people often caused by a lack of parental support and family instability, peer pressure and community ethos, motivation, weak social and language skills, with the resultant impact on achievement, mental and physical well being.

The new training agenda for the Childrens Workforce will be a good place to begin to shape a local, context specific social pedagogy.