Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Voice of reason - an excellent video on how we should move forward in schools.

Alisa Acosta's video brings together the current educational gurus in a way that makes sense. It is really worth the 19 minutes to view this.
Why are kids in school in the first place?
Great question. Why (and how) are kids learning? Even better questions.
"It's a hard problem, no one should expect quick results".
Thanks Alisa.


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Freire and Digital Teaching/Learning Resources

Freire's model of learning as an "act of knowing" seems to suit an age gone by. In a previous post I explained this model from the late eighties and asked whether this pre digital technology model was sound, whether it still applied.
I also had a go at adapting it to fit a connectivist model in the last post - it felt somewhat trivial but it seemed to fit. I used the idea of an autonomous learner and the idea of "advanced systematised knowing", allowing learners to interact, to synthesise through dialogue and the environment, and thus to produce an act of knowing with a slightly more systematised level of knowing in the autonomous learners.

Here is the final diagram again from the original Freire (please note, it contains a bit I added on regarding the environment - this seemed to me to be essential to explain what actually happens):

So, the Educator with her maximised systematised knowing, through dialogue, achieved an "act of knowing" thus systematising the Learner's knowing a little more.
Can we replace the Educator with her textbook? Her digital resources? I think we can. In this way, the Learner can receive a non-face-to-face act of knowing and systematise her/his knowing a little more. But I would add that the outcome of this process is not predetermined, nor qualitatively predetermined.
The more systematised the knowing is in the learner the more likely that there will be understanding of the textbook/digital resource. The more autonomous the learner (in terms motivation, attitude and drive), the more likely that there will be a synthesis or an interaction with the environment and hence learning occur.
Could this mean that the learner's age will be a factor here? As might be the learner's stage of systematisation of knowing? Is it a necessary requirement for an Educator to be directly present face-to-face in these cases? What does this say about desirable learning in young children?

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Connectivism explained by Freire?

Paolo Friere's defined learning as an "act of knowing". The interaction used was between a teacher with his/her maximally systematised knowing and a learner, with minimally systematised learning.
Could we relate this model to two adult learners? To adult learners who, whilst not expert, were in charge of their own learning and so to some extent autonomous?
Interacting (dialoguing) with other autonomous learners could increase the systematisation of the learning, thus achieving learning by Freire's definition.
Please view on Slideshare and look at the notes under each slide, which describe the process:

Does Freire's Theory fit? Is it useful to think of the learning achieved through Connectivism in this way?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Perspectives on Teaching, the Learner and the Learning Process

Whenever I write and talk about education I have always been cautious about using the word "teaching" without appending the word "learning" - normally describing it as "teaching/learning". I can trace this caution to my teacher training days, when the dominant paradigm was based on Piaget's ideas of development.
A teacher does not teach but causes learning to occur.
Of course, I knew that I was teaching (and students might be learning), and yet my training caused me to minimise the direct teaching aspect.
Subsequently, reading Bruner, Vygotsky and Friere, I developed a more complete explanation. But still, I have always considered the learner as paramount - what the teacher does (by itself) is insufficient.
Wood (p75, 1988) considers effective instruction and in particular describes how an "expert's" knowledge endows them with the ability to perceive organisation and structure, whereas a "novice's" perception is piecemeal and fragmented. Teaching can be described as changing students from novices towards being experts, but this definition does not describe the process that achieves it.
Expertise "cannot be reduced to an aggregate of elementary skills acquired stepwise at inferior levels" (Dreyfus and Dreyfus, 1986), since experts tend to react globally, by "intuition on the basis of rich experience". Fischbein, in 1987, argued that thinking itself would be impossible if we could not rely on immediate, self-evident intuitions (Nesher and Kilpatrick, 1990), and promoted an intuitionistic approach to mathematical education (my particular interest area). However, whereas providing insights into how "experts" work is a useful experience for students, copying the seemingly effortless expert approach will not turn novices into experts.
Teaching mathematics should not be solely about progressing through a hierarchical set of skills, nor taught through definitions and axioms. Such a formal hierarchy and structure develops FROM the learning experience rather than BEING the learning experience.
Glaserfeld's view, that the learner constructs her own meanings, is the more useful approach. His definition of learning (1989) is somewhat generalised ("to have drawn conclusions from experience and acted accordingly"), but his assertion that knowledge is not a transferable commodity nor that communication ensures the conveyance of it is surely a good starting point.
I know that this is not trendy - connectivism being the MOOC #change11 approach (and one which I am following) - but at school level constructivism is far more useful.
Students (in schools), then, should construct their own knowledge. The teaching and activity sequence is largely determined by the teacher. Activities are selected for them that enable them to "construct local expertise" by using the contingent teaching approach (described by Wood, p80, 1988).
Is "telling" teaching?
It isn't if you believe that a learner constructs their own knowledge. The approach that one follows as a teacher rests, crucially, on the way teaching and learning is modelled in the teacher's (and learner's) mind.
Bruner (1986), with his consideration of the part language plays and Glaserfeld's (1989) view of knowledge, form the substance to make sense of Friere's (1989) initially difficult but illuminating approach.
Bruner point to the way language can be used "to express stance and counter stance (...) leav(ing) place for reflection, for meta-cognition" (p129). What he implies is that language is fundamental to the learning process since it is used for communication and refinement of ideas, and reflection and refinement of ideas. He states that it is the shared use of language "which unlocks others minds to us". I am not convinced that using language necessarily leads to a better and more accessible storing of ideas and information by the learner, but the repeated rehearsing and altering of ideas clearly brings about quality learning.
Glaserfeld's view of knowledge can be summarised as follows:
  1. knowledge is not a physically exact representation of the environment but a "mapping of personally viable ways" of achieving goals;
  2. knowledge is constructed by the individual and NOT conveyed or instilled by diligent perception or linguistic communication;
  3. language is used not as means of transmission but as a means of communicating, which allows the teacher to constrain and guide. (sg p58)
With regards to the second view, I agree with his contention that knowledge is constructed by the individual but I cannot agree that knowledge cannot be conveyed by linguistic communication. Clearly such linguistic communication, whether oral to aural or visual (presentations, resources, etc), is used as one of the means to convey knowledge in classrooms everywhere. That this is not sufficient to ensure learning, I agree with.
His third view of knowledge, dealing with the use of language by the teacher to constrain and guide, is a useful starting point to how Friere (1989) considers learning. He defines learning as an act of knowing which takes place through a process of action, reflection upon action, and new action. This is my version of Friere's description of education:
He describes the educator's role as being that of helping the learner to criticise her view of reality, and re-adjust it. This seems to me to be a better model to follow since it focuses on the educator/learner interaction, does not get bogged down in descriptive dichotomies, and does not task the learner alone with determining the viability of her knowledge. I repeat, I am writing about what goes on in schools daily, not higher education and MOOCs.
Why this journey into traditional educational theory? Well, in looking at the place of technology in all this, and the opportunities it might give us, I have gone back to the original pre-technology pedagogy. Is it still sound? Does it still apply?

Dreyfus, HL and Dreyfus, SE (1986) in Nesher, P and Kilpatrick J [eds] (1990) Mathematics and Cognition - a research synthesis by the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematical Education; Cambridge University Press.

Freire, P (1989) The Politics of Education  in Murphy, P and Moon, B (eds): Developments in Learning and Assessment, Hodder and Stoughton, and the Open University, London.

Glaserfeld, E von (1989) Learning as a Constructivist Activity in Murphy, P and Moon, B (eds): Developments in Learning and Assessment, Hodder and Stoughton, and the Open University, London.

Nesher, P and Kilpatrick, J (eds) (1990) Mathematics and Cognition - a research synthesis by the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematical Education; Cambridge University Press.

Wood, D (1988) How Children Think and Learn, Blackwell, Oxford.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Teaching is changing - but how and what model is correct?

Week 32 of the #change11 MOOC and we are looking into teaching as a Design Science. Diana Laurillard's paper on "Digital Support for Teaching as a Design Science" has four propositions to make:
  1. Fundamental nature of the learning process in formal education will not change much but the means by which we do it will.
  2. Digital technologies have much to offer but are badly exploited.
  3. Teachers need to create the pedagogy and share it.
  4. Digital support needed by teachers includes:
    • ontology [a description] for pedagogical patterns (lesson plans? instructional pathways?)
    • sharing of pedagogic ideas in an effective way
    • common repository for easily found pedagogic patterns
    • knowledge base
    • wiki for advice and guidance.
Earlier in the paper she describes the need for supporting teachers in their everyday role and having them work collaboratively to develop these ideas.
I have not been able to follow the links to the reading materials nor to her recently published book (will do so if these links appear), so my contribution relates just to what I have read so far.
Laurillard uses the idea of pedagogical patterns - I take it that these are are sort of learning plan or pathway for a particular bit of learning, with the resources sourced and available. I remember the idea of digital learning objects (2009) - could it be something like this?
Subsequently, David Wiley criticised the idea stating:
The paradox claims that the more context laden a given educational resource is, the more effectively it teaches but the more difficult it is to reuse in a novel context. Conversely, the less context laden a given educational resource is, the less effectively it teaches but the easier it is to reuse in novel contexts. So with learning objects, you had a choice - a great resource that is essentially impossible to reuse, or a really poor resource that you can easily reuse.
(The Re-usability Paradox)
Perhaps the pedagogical patterns are not so object-y-fide and are more complete, covering the learning necessary for a complete skill. Teachers are usually very fussy about other people's lesson plans, however. I have yet to be satisfied with someone else's planning for a lesson that I would give - could this be the weakness of the pedagogical pattern?
Another issue is the aspect of the model used for learning (and teaching). Divide up what you are teaching into knowledge, skills and understanding and you approach this from a different point of view. The move away from knowledge (as in content) to skills and understanding is proposed by many at this time. Below is Anthony Salcito presenting on "The New Classroom Experience". He states that "the fundamental paradigm of learning has changed.... they come into the classroom with the content pre-wired". Now, not sure I understand what this last statement means, but he uses this as the justification for moving away from content to skills.
The video is pertinent to this discussion from about 16:00 onwards and in it he says of a Microsoft global research survey:
"...if innovative teaching practices are connected without technology you get great experience with no scale; technology applied without great teaching, you get very little change...; great innovative teaching with great technology you get scale and change and lasting impact".
Would like to see the research on this, although it seems logical.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Andy Hargreaves setting the scene at ECIS Vienna Leadership Conference

With the overall theme of "Forming the Future" the ECIS Leadership conference gets underway in Vienna. Andy Hargreaves had the job of getting us thinking on this theme and, in my opinion, did an excellent job.
Professor of Education at the Lynch School of Education, Boston College, he has just written a book with Michael Fullan on "Professional Capital".
Here are my notes from the talk.
He spoke on three themes:

  1. What is the next practice (as opposed to just "best" practice).
  2. The importance of teachers - tied in to the work of his book.
  3. Leadership push-me-pull you.

1. Next practice. He showed some interesting ways of looking at innovation and improvement, using a horse example to get us thinking about our schools (if your school was a horse, what type of horse would it be?).
Using an innovation vs improvement four-square he spoke about examples in the world, from Ontario (+improvement, -innovation) to Finland (+ on both axes), rating the US (and the UK) in the dead horse quadrant (minus, minus).
He placed technology in the +innovation -improvement category and I agree with his statement that it appears that technology seems to be the driving force with the pedagogy as a distant second.
His point was that we should get the horse-power but using a different horse.
Going through three country examples helped make sense of the ideas.

  • FINLAND: good innovation in getting high results from the people that they lift up from the bottom (Special Needs) more than from those they push up to the top, and with their work practices, giving teachers time for planning and collaboration (and high status in the country for good measure).
  • SINGAPORE: examples from two schools (Nee Ann Secondary School being one) on using mobiles and Twitter for diagnostic assessment of how students report their learing and FAQs being used by another for typical learner questions (although he mentioned MSN Messenger it brought Fakebook approaches to mind).
  • ALBERTA: money placed with teacher designed innovations.

2. Hargreaves introduced the second point regarding the importance of teachers using John Hattie's findings - the biggest influence on learning being teachers.
He asked us to state how long does it take for teachers to "hit their stride" and after some discussion, the answers ranged from 1 year (!) through many other answers (my rule of thumb has always been 7 years, for what this is worth).
His answer? 8 to 20 years.
This answer comes as a result of three studies: in the UK, California and Canada. He went on to explain the idea of capital (relating to assets that add value to long term net worth), and divided this up into two types (there are more):

  • Business Capital Assumptions - how we use the whole educational enterprise for short term profitability
  • Professional Capital Assumptions - long term professional aspirations.

He further divided up Professional Capital into:

  • Human Capital (qualifications, knowledge, expertise)
  • Social Capital (collaboration, community building, advocacy, networks, growth, support)
  • Decisional Capital (wisdom, developed over time, used the lawyer idea of getting to know case law over time therefore much more able to make good decisions; that teachers are more akin to doctors than lawyers, however, interpreting the patient - a complex, multifaceted individual).

He warned us not to mistake commitment for capacity. Decisional capital developed over time. In fact, Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours can be used here - with 8 years of focussed, concentrated and well coached practice needed to hit one's professional stride.

PC = f(HC, SC, DC)

being the shortand for Professional Capital being formed by getting the right people, get the environment right for a collaborative climate and develop the capacity to judge and deliver expertise over time.
Developing a Professional Learning Community being Hargreaves' ideal culture to develop.

3. Finally, do we PUSH change or PULL it?
His answer, pull where you can, push where you have to, but be aware of shoving (which might be perceoived as inappropriate pushing - you need to create and maintain high levels of trust to develp social capital).
Excellent thought provoking presentation.