New online reading group: please participate!

Our new online reading group is launched today. Please take a look at the site which can be found here: http://createreading.clivemcgoun.net.

Here’s some more information about what Clive and I are trying to do:

The Centre for Research in Education and Technology (CREATE) at the Institute of Education examines the implications of socio-technical change for the goals, practices and institutions of education across the life-course. Members of the group publish and speak widely, across diverse disciplines and sectors, and use such networks to create rich, interdisciplinary work informed by multiple perspectives.

As part of CREATE’s work, we would like to invite you to take part in our online reading group which can be found here:

http://createreading.clivemcgoun.net

This experimental online reading site is an attempt to reach out beyond CREATE’S physical boundaries within ESRI. We hope that it will provide a forum for discussion and debate about key texts with educators in all spheres of education. The use of video and commenting tools will, we hope, provoke a sense of communal enquiry about key texts across the university and more widely via the Internet. The first, short article (written by the site’s two facilitators) considers how learning could become more social through the use of various tools. It won’t take long to read! Future papers will look at other aspects of technology and education, starting with a paper from CREATE’s Director, Professor Keri Facer, in January 2010.

Please visit the site, watch the short video, read the first text and start a discussion by commenting on the ideas and responding to others.

CREATE NW ONLINE READING GROUP

The Centre for Research in Education and Technology (CREATE) at the Institute of Education examines the implications of socio-technical change for the goals, practices and institutions of education across the life-course. Members of the group publish and speak widely, across diverse disciplines and sectors, and use such networks to create rich, interdisciplinary work informed by multiple perspectives.

As part of CREATE’s work, we would like to invite you to take part in our online reading group which can be found here:

www.reading.clivemcgoun.net

This experimental online reading site is an attempt to reach out beyond CREATE’S physical boundaries within ESRI. We hope that it will provide a forum for discussion and debate about key texts with educators in all spheres of education. The use of video and commenting tools will, we hope, provoke a sense of communal enquiry about key texts across the university and more widely via the Internet.

The first, short article (written by the site’s two facilitators) considers how learning could become more social through the use of various tools. It won’t take long to read! Future papers will look at other aspects of technology and education, starting with a paper from CREATE’s Director, Professor Keri Facer, in January 2010.

Please visit the site, watch the short video, read the first text and start a discussion by commenting on the ideas and responding to others.

Dr Jonathan Savage, Reader in Education, IOE

Web: www.jsavage.org.uk

Email: j.savage@mmu.ac.uk

Mr Clive McGoun, Senior Lecturer in Communication, Faculty of Health, Psychology and Social Care.

Web: www.clivemcgoun.net

Email: c.mcgoun@mmu.ac.uk

27th November 2009

An unfortunate start to Transforming Transitions

The equine saviour of music education

Reading through the Transforming Transitions document (available within the briefing paper from the Music Manifesto website (http://tinyurl.com/ycuo98o) was at times an exciting, and and other dispiriting, experience. This initiative will build on the work of Musical Futures and is also funded by at grant of over £0.5m from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. In the words of the briefing paper:

This new initiative is intended to achieve a step change in the co-ordination, continuity and progression of young people’s music learning as they transfer from primary to secondary school, tackling the widely acknowledged lack of consistent and effective mechanisms to support young people at this difficult point of transition.[my emphasis]

Who could disagree that this is a potentially worthy venture? It picks up on some of the language from the Government’s New Opportunities initiative (http://tinyurl.com/y9y4mep) and translates this into a context which many music educators are familiar with (i.e the potential gap between Key Stages 2 and 3). It is only when one looks a bit more closely at some of the language within the briefing paper itself that some of the age-old Musical Futures-type prejudices begin to emerge. I’ve only got time to consider one example, but there are several others that could have been mentioned:

Many of the issues are not particular to music but there is a strong case for focusing on music learning given the significant government support (‘Sing-Up’, ‘Wider Opportunities’, ‘The Instrument Fund’, etc.) for music in school that has gone to the primary sector in recent years and that has raised young people’s motivation and desire to be musically active – and the clear risk that these gains will be lost in the intervening years before they might benefit from participation with MusicalFutures approaches towards the end of KS3.[my emphasis]

I’m not sure who composed this final sentence, but it is a damming inditement of the cavalier attitudes of this kind of initiative and, unfortunately, not untypical of the language of this organisation. Continue reading

Transforming Transition

A new piece of work being funded and managed by The Paul Hamlyn Foundation will focus on transition. The following text outlines the project and its key aims. This comes from the briefing paper available from the Music Manifesto website:

Building on the success of Musical Futures, and following a careful scoping and consultation exercise, the Foundation has developed, a proposal for a new music education initiative – one that would require active commitment and shared ownership from a range of other key partners.

This new initiative is intended to achieve a step change in the co-ordination, continuity and progression of young people’s music learning as they transfer from primary to secondary school, tackling the widely acknowledged lack of consistent and effective mechanisms to support young people at this difficult point of transition. Continue reading

Craftsmanship at its best

I’ve been loving this series (Disappearing Acts) from the Guardian. There have been some fascinating insights into how various beautiful objects are made, including violin bows and silver watches. The craftsmanship is, in a near equal balance for me, amazing and sobering. Amazing in the attention to detail and sheer sophistication of the design, creative and production process; sobering in that in this age of mass-production, so many of these skills are being lost.

Principle 3: Skillful teachers embody a skilful pedagogy

How do you define pedagogy? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ‘the profession, science, or theory of teaching’. Other definitions of pedagogy extend this to cover the practice and process that underpin the activity of teaching. For example, Popkewitz develops a broad based definition of pedagogy:

Pedagogy is a practice of the social administration of the social individual. Since at least the 19th century pedagogical discourses about teaching, children, and learning in schools connected the scope and aspirations of public powers with the personal and subjective capabilities of individuals. This administration of the child embodies certain norms about their capabilities from which the child can become self-governing and self-reliant. (Popkewitz 1998, p.536)

Bernstein picks up on this notion of pedagogy as process, defining it as:

A sustained process whereby somebody(s) acquires new forms of develops existing forms of conduct, knowledge, practice and criteria, from somebody(s) or something deemed to be an appropriate provider and evaluator. Appropriate either from the point of view of the acquirer or by some other body(s) or both.
(Bernstein 1999, p.259)

The key principle that can be drawn from these definitions is that pedagogy is both a ‘practice’ and a ‘process’ through which certain things can be acquired or through which certain capabilities can be developed. In both definitions, references are made to something ‘outside’ the obvious context of an educational exchange (i.e. a teacher and pupil). In Popkewitz definition, this is seen in the phrase ‘scope and aspirations of public powers; in Bernstein’s by ‘an appropriate provider or evaluator’.

This leads us to a second question. Where would one find ’pedagogy’? Is it something that one would find within a curriculum framework or associated guidelines? Or is it something that teachers, or pupils, possess? This is not a simple question to answer. But, by way of a partial answer and as a way of leading to our third key principle, consider the following quotation from another great educational thinker, Jerome Bruner:

In theorizing about the practice of education in the classroom (or any other setting, for that matter), you had better take into account the folk theories that those engaged in teaching and learning already have. For any innovations that you may wish to introduce will have to compete with, replace, or otherwise modify the folk theories that already guide both teachers and pupils. … So your introduction of an innovation in teaching will necessarily involve changing the folk psychological and folk pedagogical theories of teachers – and, to surprising extent, of pupils as well. (Bruner 1996, p.46)

Bruner’s argument about the importance of ‘folk pedagogies’ implies that pedagogy relates to a set of beliefs or values about teaching that individuals (including pupils) have and which can be challenged, change and develop over time. They can also collide together and conflict with each other within a teaching context if there is a lack of sensitivity on the part of the teacher or pupil.

The third key principle is that skillful teachers embody a skillful pedagogy. It places the onus of responsibility clearly within the teacher’s role. They are responsibility for its development and application. As part of this, to be sure, a consideration of the ‘folk pedagogies’ or alternative learning styles or contexts that pupils exhibit will need to be considered, maybe approved or perhaps rejected. But this is part of the overall skillful pedagogical approach that an effective teacher will bring to their classroom. This skillful pedagogy will need to have been developed at some point. In what follows, the ideas and practices of developing a pedagogical approach to cross-curricular teaching and learning may well, in Bruner’s terms, ‘compete with, replace, or otherwise modify’ your current pedagogical thinking and practice. But it is more than that. As Bruner points out, the pedagogies that we adopt as teachers will impact on our pupils as well.

Congratulations to Professor Fautley

Congratulations to Martin Fautley who has accepted the role of Director of the Centre for Research in Education and has also been conferred a Professorship at Birmingham City University. Martin and I have co-authored a couple of books and he is always a pleasure to work with. I’m delighted for you Martin. Many congratulations.

The Tory approach to classroom management

It was interesting to hear that the Tories are wanting to get more ex-soldiers into the classroom to re-instill (sic) a sense of discipline in our young people. This got me thinking. What would classroom management look like under the Tories? Well, as usual, we are one step ahead. This classic film about classroom management presents an approach from times gone by:

However, this remake (not for the squeamish) is much more in line with what I think the Tories are proposing:

Principle 2: Subjectivity is like a garment that cannot be removed

Here’s the second key principle drawn from my tentative introductory thoughts about cross-curricular teaching and learning. I’ve found Alan Peshkin’s work to be very influential in my teaching and research activities:

Peshkin’s work on subjectivity is important for anyone engaged in research activities (Peshkin 1988). As the second key principle for teaching, the above phrase is drawn from the following paragraph of his seminal paper on the topic of subjectivity and its influence on the research process:

Subjectivity is not a badge of honor, something earned like a merit badge and paraded around on special occasions for all to see. Whatever the substance of one’s persuasions at a given point, one’s subjectivity is like a garment that cannot be removed. It is insistently present in both the research and nonresearch aspects of our life. … By remaining conventional wisdom, our subjectivity lies inert, unexamined when it counts, that is, beyond our control while actively engaged in the research process. (Peshkin 1988, p.17)

For our discussion, subjectivity can have a double meaning. In the sense that Peshkin is talking about, it refers to our personal qualities that affect the results of our work. It could include aspects related to our values, knowledge and understanding about a whole range of issues (both educational or, probably, more generally).

But there is another meaning that can be drawn. This relates to our ‘subjects’ values, knowledge and understanding and how these have shaped our individual and collective consciousness about how they should be presented in classrooms, taught and learnt about. Either way, Peshkin’s key point is that this subjectivity cannot be removed. It shapes or mediates our thinking and action in a whole range of ways. Therefore, it needs to be understood through a systematic process of reflection and self-interrogation. This process is most helpful in helping us define our key principles for cross-curricular teaching and learning. These will stem from our understanding about the centrality of teachers as the key informant to curriculum development, but also, importantly, from teachers’ own conceptions of themselves and, what might be called, their ‘subjects’ sensitivities’. These will affect how they seek to extend the opportunities for teaching and learning across traditional subject boundaries and engage in meaningful collaborations with teachers (i.e. representatives of other subject areas).

It will be important that teachers assert control over this process. To paraphrase and apply Peshkin’s comments about research, ‘subjectivity is insistently present in both the teaching and non-teaching aspects of our life’; by leaving it unexamined, it remains ‘beyond our control while actively engaged in the teaching process’ (ibid). This is an undesirable state of affairs and one that would not be conducive to meaningful and constructive curricula collaborations.

Key Principles for Teaching No.1: No curriculum development without teacher development

I’m writing a book on cross curricular approaches to teaching and learning at the moment. It is part of a series for Routledge, with seven other books being written by other authors. My book is a generic title for the series.

I completed the introductory chapter recently. As part of this I thought about what my key principles for teaching would be. I tried to reflect on key statements that have been important to me in my development as a teacher over the last 14 years or so. I thought I’d share some of my ideas for key principles here over the next few days. Please let me know what you think (or what key principles of your own you would have?).

Key Principle 1: No curriculum development without teacher development

Fifty years ago, the Crowther Report stated that ‘everything in education depends ultimately on the teacher’ (Central Advisory Council for Education, 1959). It is a sentiment that one of the greatest educational thinkers of recent decades, Lawrence Stenhouse, would have undoubtedly agreed with. Stenhouse was a firm advocate for the teacher. It was fitting that the teachers with whom he worked across East Anglia contributed a plaque in his memory. On it, they inscribed Stenhouse’s own words: ‘It is the teachers who in the end will change the world of the school by understanding it’ (Stenhouse 1975, p.208).

Stenhouse was well known for his belief that teachers could enhance their professional understanding by engaging in processes of educational research. His notion of the ‘teacher as researcher’ has done much to shape current thinking about professional development, reflective practice and action research. He was an outspoken critic of what he saw as the deprofessionalisation of the teacher through ‘objective’ based curriculum models. These, he said:

Rest on an acceptance of the teacher as a kind of intellectually navvy.  An objectives based curriculum is like a site-plan, simplified so that people know exactly where to dig their trenches without having to know why. (Stenhouse 1980b, p.85)

For Stenhouse, such curriculum models were a symbol of distrust of the teacher. He worked hard to challenge such approaches. More than that, he developed alternative ideas which reasserted the teachers’ role in curriculum planning and development. If, as he wrote, ‘it seems odd to minimise the use of the most expensive resource in the school’ (Stenhouse 1975, p.24), it would be better to ‘reinvest in the teacher and to construct the curriculum in ways that would enhance teachers’ understanding and capability’ (Ruddock 1995, p.5).

It is this background that led Stenhouse to make one of his most famous statements, ‘No curriculum development without teacher development’. As Silbeck comments:

His theory of education is essentially a theory of teacher professionalism, autonomy and development. … It is the teacher, purposive and free, informed by knowledge and understanding, with clearly articulated values, and a repertoire of practical skills, that he [Stenhouse] saw as the central agent in the educational enterprise. (Silbeck1983, p.12)

These are powerful arguments that have much resonance with current thinking about curriculum design and development. Recent pieces of curriculum reform have placed a greater degree of ownership and responsibility on schools. Every schools greatest asset is its teaching staff. The ‘localisation’ of the National Curriculum presents an opportunity for teachers to respond to the challenge of developing themselves and the curriculum they offer to their pupils in tandem.

A good key principle for teaching today? What do you think?