How often do we not hear the phrase: ‘We are learning from what we are doing ‘ or ‘We want to learn from our mistakes’. By utterances like these we say we put great value on researching what we do, investigating how things went. Well, forget it. It is not a first priority. Far from it. It often just appears to be not more than an excuse for not taking responsibility (1). At least when you consider the numerous times when no consequences are attached to mishaps and business goes on as usual. But we need not forget that a strong tie between doing and learning is the foundation for professionalism. A true professional is accountable for what he or she does ( 2). It comes with steady evaluating one’s practice and acting upon the results. It seems so self-evident one is tempted to forget it is not that manifest at all in actual practice.
At least this is what you take from a recent in-depth study on teachers’ deployment of research activities in and on their own practice. Gauging their ongoing work teachers are confronted with a huge divide between what needs to be done and what is actually done. The study gives quite a few worrying gaps on: facilitation of research in schools, time for learning and follow up on evaluation, discussing results for improvements. The one that is standing out most is engagement in research activity (75% in favor – 15% actually practiced).
This account is not so much a reason for blaming and shaming or increased management control over what teacher do – it has been done before to no avail (3) . Far more important is to empower teachers in their position as researchers (of their practice). Teacher research (4) to date however seems more like an addendum, or extra freewheeling, not a serious inherent professional activity. To become one it may not be enough to allow for more space and time (as the authors propose), but, by actively, openly sourcing data on teaching practices from a personal perspective and share it with interested others (in the school). That would be a viral learning 2.0.
Richard Procter (2015). Teachers and school research practices: the gaps between the values and practices of teachers, Journal of Education for Teaching, 41:5, 464-477,
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2015.1105535.
How do you connect to someone without having the lived experience needed to understand and apprehend fully what are the real concerns and needs of the other person? A key teaching problem. It applies to an adult teaching a topic to a child or a non handicapped trainer helping a disabled person to acquire a skill. Can you really capture and appreciate the learning needs of the other you are teaching?. Apparently not a serious issue considering the lack of an extensive debate on the question (1). We could call refer to it as the “reversed Meno” problem. Plato in his Dialogs (2) mentions a dilemma that occurs while he was teaching the slave Meno a particular topic. Without any prior knowledge on part of Meno it would be virtually impossible to introduce to him the essential concepts needed to grasp the topic. Therefore, Plato conjectured (sic) that for any learning to take place we have to assume that some prior knowledge is already present. Not an unlikely assumption. But does it work the other way around? Is prior, relevant knowledge present on part of the trainer, teacher, or mentor to truly connect to another person?; that is, to relate to the learning needs and learning abilities present. Of course, the necessary topical and subject matter knowledge most likely are in place but when referring to what might be labeled as “knowledge of the learner” this may be quite a different matter.
A study on training disabled persons might give some clues on what is happening on part of the trainer-mentor. The study made use of “intensive interaction” which is a kind of dialogical approach using the mimics, facial expressions and gestures of the trainee in order to establish a relationship in understanding. Three trainers were supported during their practice period with frequent feedback on what and how they reacted to their learners. The experience turned out to be a revelation for the trainers; stepping out of a professional teaching mode and really trying to mimic the learning language of their learners they reinterpreted their teaching altogether. (A pity though is that the study does not say much about the learning results on part of the learners).
So what can be taken from this? At least that being comfortably embedded in your own teaching mode can block a full appreciation and commitment to the learner’s needs. What seems to be implied by the results of the study is that the other’s perspective is desired, or more precisely, an immersion into the learner’s space (conceptually and emotionally) is wanted to really connect and build understanding. Sounds familiar to the truly teacher, but it will require deep engagement and empathy beyond ‘mere’ effort which probably has to do with an extended professionalism – teaching is incarnating your learner’s standpoint. Which brings us back to the Reversed Meno problem – can we accomplish that?
Teaching intensive interactionto paid carers: using the‘communities of practice’model to inform training Kelly Rayner, Samantha Bradley, Tees, Esk, Gemma Johnson, Jennifer H. Mrozik, Afua Appiah, and Maninder K. Nagra,
British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44, 63–70 doi:10.1111/bld.12111
“Those who ask, will be given” (1) but you better “ask those who know” (2). Although different in tone these two quotes from religious books both promote advice seeking as a virtue and a benefit. But as often with well-meant guidance it needs a reality check (even an advice as portrayed in the opening sentence). Such a reality check would reveal that the act of asking puts you in a dependent position, and rely on others for help. In education it normally would be allowed, although excessive use of asking behavior would count as submissive and not ‘self-regulated’ (3). In cases of a more equal distribution of power in relationships you will pay a tribute when asking or requesting for ‘help’, that is, you allow for dominance, and when not constrained, it will invite authoritarianism (3). It is that bad? May be. Truth is that in most cases people are hesitant to ask for advice, to request for assistance. Take, for instance, regular team meetings. Apart from the usual questioning or inquiring type of communication, really asking for advice and support is seldom done. It makes you vulnerable, almost incompetent in the eyes of your colleagues. Imagine: “I have a serious issue with…You really need to advise me on how to..; yeah, right…”).
Still, it can be done, according to a qualitative study on team interactions in a school community. Opening up for help and being aware of the cultural change to be made, the team decided to be permissive and supportive to each other’s requests for assistance. The study is a bit inexplicit about the team’s composition (age, gender, position matter in these cases), but discloses that agency in asking disrupted isolation, mediated change, and supported a concerted practice.
So, it has been done. What is the secret behind it? Max Weber, a sociologist, (4) was among the first to underline that permission seeking (and giving) is power related. It means that only within a jointly accepted set of rules and shared sense of perspective one may allow, or iteratively, exert control. Put simpler: circumstance brings you to open up for probing. In that respect the opening sentence and the advice given in them gets more texture. Proof?; Well, would you follow the title’s advice, not knowing circumstance?
Permission-seeking as an agentive tool for transgressive teaching: An ethnographic study of teachers organizing for curricular change by Kira J. Baker-Doyle& Leif Gustavson, J Educ Change (2016) 17:51–84
Sometimes slow is good. No, this is not about food or cool running, let alone about slow management. It is about learning and the benefits of taking time to come to understand and apprehend. Schools, programs, even expectations tend to rush to outcomes, pupils too. But learning is a verb, an activity to be sustained. Fast learning is an oxymoron. Time to learn is often hindered tough by a widely accepted belief that those who complete a track, or course fast are better, smarter, and successful at learning. Not so. The notion of deep learning (1) captures that nicely. Fast stays on the surface; in depth and inquiry oriented allows to go deep, but it takes also time, and therefore accused of being slow. But that should bother only those who consider the short run.
A study on science learning may have given some evidence on the apparent contraction that slow is better. Students ranging in reading ability and science orientation were given a text that varied in connectivity or coherence. This was arranged by using conjunctions like: because, and, or no connection. The overall finding was that reading ability was the best predictor of speed in test completion. However, the point to be made here is, that student high in science orientation were slower in text comprehension that used ‘because’ statements.
Be-cause? The key is: A causal relation ignites thinking; by probing: what caused what; is that so; how does that came about? “And” is just an enumerator. Some texts put you to think – and/because- only if you have oriented yourself to it. Allowing time for comprehension (2) may on the surface seems a bit slow but essentially it will bear success – you only may have to wait a while to see it happen.
Sophie Susannah Hall, John Malt, Ruth Filik & Kevin B. Paterson (2016). Key skills for science learning: the importance of text cohesion and reading ability, Educational Psychology, 36:2, 191-215,
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01443410.2014.926313
Online social spaces, who doesn’t use them. From Facebook and Twitter to special interest group wikis, and in-company forums we love to participate in ongoing debates and join in liking what we like. The time we devote to partaking is booming. Online activity of some of us exceeds almost 18 hours a day (1). Mostly for a reason. Online spaces offer a huge resource of information, products, informal learning, political action, dating and you name it. So, we join to connect, collaborate, and share (2). It may seem these spaces offer neutral ground to wander around and browse on what is on offer but that would be naïve to think. Online spaces like their social counterparts in daily life attract, select, shape, and create (as well as hurt) identities. As environments, manifold as they are, they structure the nature of online engagement. After all, Facebook is not VSCO, and Foursquare not Meetup. But are we aware that online social network environments govern how we interact and allow (or not) for the kind of agency we like to express? They certainly are not engagement-neutral or interaction-open but shape discourse.
This is precisely the point made in a study on teachers online peer interaction. Three environments were compared. An (open) Facebook page, an (invitational) Facebook group and an (anonymous) Forum run by a publishing house. The kind of interaction and nature of communication differed substantially. In the open space teachers felt uncomfortable about being liked or not; in the anonymous space conflicts led to naming and shaming; in the invited space micro groups developed which tried to dominate the agenda.
Online networking is an inspiring, enhancing tool of teacher connectivity and professional learning – many have stated in its favor (3). However it helps to know that its format contours how we take position or what we bring up. Then it may be realized too that trust and familiarity come to the foreground when connecting to peers. The interplay between the type of functionality and the nature of commitment requires careful consideration of teachers before going online. In some cases they do better to ask a friend.
James Robson (2016). Engagement in structured social space: an investigation of teachers’ online peer-to-peer interaction, Learning, Media and Technology, 41:1, 119-139, To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2015.1102743
Parents do it, teachers do it, and even governments do it: telling stories to convey a message with the intent to influence and direct. ‘Dominant’ educative narratives must be transferred someway, some how. Tales, stories, and written accounts can do the job. It is no big revelation that what is conveyed in them is perspective related and value-laden – stories are definitely meant to influence. In doing so, they express power and establish a dominance relationship. Up to this point one could say this summarizes more or less what sociology of knowledge has revealed already (1): transferring knowledge (be it in education or elsewhere) is governed by power relations. It has been said numerous times by many, so revealing it here once more without annotation would just express another power relation (i.e., authorizing a truism on the Internet). Moving beyond the obvious would mean not only to admit the value-ladenness of what and how we communicate but in particular to stress the responsibilities that goes along with telling a particular story in that way. This holds both for whom who exerts power as well those under power. For the teller of a story it means to warrant and ground a perspective and state the intent for bringing up a message. For the receiver it means to claim opportunity to (re)value and appraise a story with regard to its nature, origin, and intent. In short: Conveying a message requires cognitive justice (2). This essentially means respecting each others integrity in holding certain beliefs and having consideration for conceptions being cherished, not overruling them by position or narrative force. Cognitive justice expresses the ethical nature of knowledge.
This became vividly exemplified in reading a Taiwanese study on children’s’ history books used during the Martial law period in Taiwan. Abundantly clearly shown in the study was the position expressed in the analyzed stories in favor of the nationalist’s position against mainland China. The study reveals how children were confronted with a dominant narrative in the strongest sense.
Was that bad to do, ethically speaking? Every story expresses an intention; why otherwise tell it. It is not the story to blame, stupid! In another context the story probably would ‘signify’ completely different meanings i.e., for mainland china readers or students of sociology of knowledge. This leaves us to look at the interpretations that are attributed by teller and listener; and actually to be more precise, the space between them in allowing for diversity in interpretation and meaning making. This is not to advocate that every story needs to be de-constructed to the bone (the message can be lost during the process) but to say that the intentional ‘meaning-making space’ created by storytelling needs to led by cognitive justice: the willingness on part of the power owner to respect the integrity of beliefs of the listener, i.e., the pupil, the one less in power. Led not by pushing down content but by giving credit to the listener in enabling to lift understanding. Storytelling, indeed, has layers to be respected (3).
Power Relations in Creating and Distributing Official Knowledge in Children’s Literature: Historical Picture of Taiwan by LIN-MIAO LU Kainan University Luzhu, Taiwan
Published in Curriculum Inquiry 44:5 (2014) 620-645; by The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto ; Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc www.doi: 10.1111/curi.12065
It starts early and extends till late in professional life: being supported. Teaching no longer can be performed in isolation; it is surrounded by guiding learning materials, demanding course regulations, supervising school inspection, peeping parents and so forth. Teaching is fully embedded in the Age of Transparency (1) . So, let us forget about teaching as ability residing in the individual; it is distributed, shared among those creating the instructional environment at a school site. The teacher as an individual professional is long gone. We are comfortably accustomed to provisions, support, and care up to a level of dependency. This is not to criticize current state of affairs, certainly not. Teaching is not to be a one-man-show; it requires attention. Initiatives to get teachers to help each other should then receive a warm welcome. And indeed, there have been numerous attempts to share and distribute trade knowledge among teachers. Classroom consultation, clinical supervision, Plc’s, team coaching, inter-vision, peer mentoring; there are really a lot of initiatives (2). Given this, it is good to keep on asking: does it contribute (i.e., in keeping teacher ability high)?
An interesting initiative was set up by a group of Danish developers who started a counseling trajectory to support mathematics teachers. They trained a group of teachers in counseling skills to help their fellow teachers at the school site to deal with students having math problems. The program provided a solid framework. Of interest here is the outcome: For the counselor-teachers it turned out that they had great difficulty with the discursive shift, i.e., not to teach their fellow teachers but to mentor them. The counseling talks were mainly of a kind: “let me tell you how I…”. An interesting side result was that teachers were aversive to reading the literature, and preferred talking. As a positive outcome it was noted that the program contributed to more attention to student math problems.
Teaching is not mentoring, and mentoring is not teaching. It requires special skills to mentor. Although teaching nowadays becomes more and more like mentoring; that is, helping another person to master an unexperienced task, teachers are largely ill-prepared in their role as mentors. Being sensitive to the other’s concerns and needs for help requires not “telling”, or talking over a cup of coffee; but a) reviewing where the other currently is, b) pointing out where to go, c) and selecting the right learning path to get there.
Uffe Thomas Jankvist & Mogens Niss (2015) A framework for designing a research-based “maths counsellor” teacher programme . In: Educational Studies in Mathematics (2015) 90:259–284
Published online: 29 August 2015; Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015.
In ancient China an emperor ordered his court magicians to come up with the shortest sentence possible, so he could use it in any kind of situation that would show his deep wisdom and erudition. After lengthy and careful consideration (for the magicians it was a matter of life or death) the wise men came up with the line: “That too will pass”. Surely multi-functional. Whatever may happen, for better or worse, the attitude expressed by the line creates sufficient distance and overview. Not commitment, that is for sure. From an emperor (being a good ruler – 1) one might have expected differently. Since that time however the sentence, certainly the attitude, has been used widely, both explicitly as well as implicitly. It signals non-commitment. But sometimes ‘things’ will not change without action, or is there no time to wait, or waste; and is a calling for direction necessary.
What to think then of a whole line of research that has been there for quite a while but actually did not add much to a fuller understanding of the phenomena under scrutiny? It would flourish under the emperor, no doubt. Being done without any direction, at least that is the impression when one reads a review study on the Teaching Practicum. The Practicum (2) is the key experiential place of professional preparation for prospective teachers. It is where they become formed as real teachers. But whether it is a sound place to learn the trade we still do not know. The review study meticulously shows the one-sidedness of the bulk of studies: focused primarily on student teachers, their perspectives and beliefs, using small case studies, showing open ended outcomes. A meager, delimited result on “for whom, how, and what for” after decades of research.
Now, we do not have emperors in research. Good ruling has to come from researchers themselves. In that respect it is a bit amazing to see the lack of it, despite the fact there are good reviews available; telling us time and time again the limitations and biases in a field of study. It is not enough to say the biasedness “will pass”. Partiality on “For whom, how, and what for” in fact must act as a wakeup call offered to us by reviews and the educational community.
Research on teaching practicum – a systematic review by Tony Lawson, Melek Çakmak, Müge Gündüz & Hugh Busher (2015). Research on teaching practicum – a systematic review, European Journal of Teacher Education, 38:3, 392-407, DOI: 10.1080/02619768.2014.994060
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02619768.2014.994060
A decade or so ago the expression “I have liked…” would have sounded a bit weird. But thanks to Facebook we are now ‘liking’ all the time: giving our evaluations and opinions about what others do. There is even market value in doing that. No matter what we really think or understand about the issue “liking” has become a true democratic tool that allows everyone to express a verdict. No matter the variety, depth and multi-perspectivity of your opinion you “like’ by one token only, all included. You can ‘like’: music, sites, books, persons, institutions…; even teachers?
Student evaluations of their instruction and teaching experiences are liked by many: principals, district or state school officers, parents, and to some degree even by students who have to fill in forms almost after any course they take (1) . Admitted: these forms are a bit more sophisticated in the degree of their likings than thumbs up or down- they use Likert scales instead (what’ s in a name). Now, if you want to be liked (do teachers want to be liked or….?) at least you would want the evaluation to be fair and transparent. But what is more important (certainly in performing professions) you like to have feedback. Not appraising judgments but assessments for learning.
The cited study gauged student evaluations of their teaching experiences using the format of: stop, start, continue (i.e., what a teacher should avoid, improve, and keep on using). It turned out that this review method was more liked by students (than giving a written reflective evaluation) and on top of that led to greater depth of feedback (more meaningful comments to the teacher).
What about this feedback? It is provided to the teacher but there it halts. Feedback, according to Assessment for Learning theorists (2) , must be processed in order to have effect. It is just like instruction itself. Something must be done with it. Now, most evaluation and review methods fall short of instructional value. Nevertheless, they could provide a wonderful opportunity to achieve precisely that. In this case, for instance, by having a post instruction meeting of teacher and students to review what went well or remained difficult to grasp in the teaching just experienced. Such a post lesson conversation would contribute to learning of students and of teachers. Strange that we hardly do it. Certainly a waste of feedback information .
Alice Hoon, Emily Oliver, Kasia Szpakowska & Philip Newton (2015). Use of the ‘Stop, Start, Continue’ method is associated with the production of constructive qualitativefeedback by students in higher education, In: Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40:5,755-767, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2014.956282
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2014.956282
…ness. No, this is not about how to change your life by meditation. It is about change though. Real change in schools, for instance when they take part in an innovative project, is known to be a demanding and long road when it needs to come to actual, sustainable effects. Travelling the innovative path emanates all kinds of resistances and obstructions, not to mention the hardship of recognizing that change requires new changes and adaptations not envisioned before. Schools know that often better than the enthusiastic innovators who come to support (1). It is a lengthy road. Schools (and innovations for that matter) are made by people. Change travels on thoughts and considerations of persons who are involved in and caring for their school. This is the more manifest, when it comes to achieve durable and sustainable outcomes. Innovation has to find its space in the minds and actions that occur daily in a school; which essentially means that each change will turn out differently depending in those who travel the road. So, how come that this is ignored so often in many innovative projects?
A study from Norway recognizing the need to look in depth at what happens in school teams when adopting a change project analyzed discussions among the teachers about the consequences and steps to take in teaching. It pointed out that exchange within the team while scrutinizing their multiple perspectives is crucial for an advanced understanding and school wide sustainable implementation of the proposed change. It is the plurality of perspectives that makes the change concrete and tangible for action, not the uniformity in thinking. A school team becomes innovative by adjusting and transforming individual viewpoints into a collective framework.
Change is construction work, mainly with ideas and notions as building blocks, and executed by thoughtful persons. The thing is what makes perspectives shift, altered over the course of the construction work (2)? It is not merely enough to exchange perspectives in a team (as the study notices as well). Of course, understanding of each other’s insights is a ground to build on; but more than that is needed a commitment to apply – a willingness to make it a success and to put agreements into personal repertoire.
The emergence of innovative work in school development by Kirsten Foshaug Vennebo & Eli Ottesen.
Journal of Educational Change (2015) 16:197–216
www.DOI 10.1007/s10833-014-9234-0. Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014.