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.
The German idiom contains a great expression: ‘Der Dritte im Bunde’, which literately means something like: “a third party involved”; but as with many expressions the German saying comes with an implicit meaning which in this case is referring to an, in general, positive force acting in between two other parties. A kind of bridging or mediation, so to speak. Another layer of meaning is that it is considered to be a hidden, silent voice. There would be certainly an interest in making such a third voice explicit or known. Now, enough about expressions. Let’s talk about relationships. Mediating forces can do a lot of good provided they are overt in aims and knowledgeable in actions (1). Consequently they need to be certified, or at least warranted. Imagine if the third voice would be flawed; damage is beyond repair. Moving away from mediational voices in areas like marriage, or legal and public affairs one might wonder how a third voice operates among teachingaffairs and on educational arguments. More specifically, could research claim to be a mediator in the discussions among teachers?
Anything to say about this matter has already been said, to be honest (2). Still, it remains worthwhile to bring in some research findings on the matter. An empirical study gauged the use of research findings by teachers and as it turned out teachers made (sparsely) use of the conceptual underpinnings of research that they knew about in the debates among their colleagues. It was meant to strengthen their way of arguing and their position in defending or promoting a stance on teaching
Who had expected otherwise. Research as a ‘Dritte im Bunde’. It may not seem much to some (e.g. 2) but it truly is a privileged and influential locus a mediating force can occupy. It honors the position of teachers as professionals in action. It adds to the arguments in situ, not by overruling them, but, as a closely connected voice, making arguments more reasonable (not justified though). Research is frankly a searchlight to professionals.
Tim Cain (2015) Teachers’ engagement with research texts: beyond instrumental, conceptual or strategic use, Journal of Education for Teaching, 41:5, 478-492,
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2015.1105536
Suppose you’ve got a great idea, and since it feels OK you start working on it; right? Ideas precede activity, or can it be the other way around? Can activity, i.e., trying hard, lead to great ideas? Lots of brain puzzling thoughts but nevertheless important ones. Imagine a student learning, grabbing a still unfamiliar phenomenon, say designing a toy robot, or writing a poem, for instance. How to proceed? We cannot be all Isaac Newton, laying under a tree. Ideas do not come by themselves; so, do you need genius or is it hard work trying to solve the issue? Creativity research does not help us here much; there is a serious divide between ‘inspirationalist’ and ‘productionalists’ (1). Since we cannot be great minds all the time, it would be helpful when at least, say in school learning, we learn to discover the yet unknowns our ‘own’ way. Therefore the activity-to-ideas notion would seem advantageous whereas the ideas-to-production notion probably is less favorable in grasping new insights (2).
To help teachers to choose an approach in their teaching of new understanding a study on use of metacognition in creativity tasks gives some indications on tracks to follow. Drawing from a cognitive-creative sifting model, which intends to bridge the abovementioned divide by the use of metacognitive skills (reflection, monitoring, planning) the study found that 70% of task success was explained by applying (domain specific) knowledge. So clear support for the knowledgeable, low road approach over the high road of genius. Digging deeper into an issue based on the knowledge resource available; that’s what it takes – one could say a truly teaching embedded approach.
Still, a feeling of uneasiness remains. Why do certain great ideas come suddenly, out of the blue, actually while deliberately not(!) thinking on the task at hand. While doing something completely different (ironing is a good one) unexpectedly you get the greatest ideas on topics you occupied yourself with in vain while trying so hard. There needs to be a spark of genius beyond the inevitable action we put into a problem, apparently.
Jeb S. Puryear (2015) Metacognition as a Moderator of Creative Ideation and Creative Production, Creativity Research Journal, 27:4, 334-341, DOI:10.1080/10400419.2015.1087270
‘Opposites attract’ may sound as a plausible advice used in dating site commercials but would be a questionable approach in education. As a deeply moral enterprise education values sensitivity in teaching and instruction to be adaptive to the learner. This must be since we proclaim that the learner is at the center of the whole enterprise. A crude “pass or fail’; “attained or not”; “true or false” is unlike and in contrast with (good) teaching and (deep) learning (1). “There will always be another approach to reach a good solution” might be the typical reaction by a teacher when a pupil gets stuck in a difficult assignment. Indeed, trying in (a) different way(s) may contribute to consolidation of a learning result. `That is at least what Herbart in his teaching pedagogy advocated (2). There is no good or bad in learning; only multiple ways in which a learning process unfolds to reach acceptable outcomes (3). If this is true than there is no case to be made for teaching aimed at avoiding mistakes. It may be even be a good strategy to create mishaps, perhaps.
So, what to think of a research study in case based learning that offered a course in writing in which both good and bad examples of texts were presented? The assumption was that by contrasting exemplars learners would focus on the essential elements of a good writing piece. It turned out that this contrasting approach was successful in creating good stories by the learners. Students were better able to identify the weak parts in their own writing.
It certainly could be the case that analyzing good and bad exemplars elicits an active comparison and processing. The idea is being advocated quite strongly currently (1). And it may be true that in this way students develop a concrete and fuller understanding of what key criteria are in the assessment of their work. But why then did students learn most about the weak parts of their writing? Is focusing on the “good and the bad” a good strategy? Or is it more that capturing similarities and differences, looking for generalizations, and synthesizing key elements describe the learning process more adequately? It may be not so much the meeting of good and bad but the get-together of multiple perspectives which laid open insights that prospered students.
Contrasting case instruction can improve self-assessment of writing, by Xiaodong Lin Siegler, David Shaenfield, & Anastasia D. Elder. In: Education Tech Research Dev (2015) 63:517–537.
Published online: 20 June 2015, Association for Educational Communications and Technology 2015
Link: DOI 10.1007/s11423-015-9390-9
Why would you want to learn when the outcome of it is that you still have to learn more? Gargantua, the famous character created by Rabelais (1), knew this all along and decided to pursue his happiness instead. Education makes unhappy. Gargantua’s life maxim is: “to achieve something is not aspire it but to let it come as it comes”. (Good) Education makes you hunger for more; Gargantua, however, wanted to be satisfied. If we were to follow Gargantua’s advice a minimal effort mentality would inundate our schools. Or worse, education must be “satisfactory” – be gone any intention to excel! Now, anyone knows that, at least in rhetoric, Gargantua’s advice to go for satisfying is not followed to the letter but as an observation of what really happens when enjoying the fruits of education it is a pretty realistic one (2).
A study in the economics of education looked into the relation between aspirations and experience of happiness. The outcome of the study in Japan led to an interesting observation: “High aspirations dampen satisfaction”. That is, by following education reported happiness will become higher (the satisfaction of knowing more than before) but also the desired happiness will have risen; that is, you learned you want/need more of it. The authors conclude that a significant part of happiness is cancelled out by higher aspirations. The authors (coming from economics) add wittily that this relation holds as well for income. And for that matter one could add this holds for care giving too. Apparently, and in contrast to Gargantua’s stance, we will never be satisfied once we start giving care, earning money or, indeed, do our best in learning. Enough is never enough.
Is this a saddening result? Looking at it from the bright side one could retort by saying: there is always a new horizon. Or should we regress to a life of blessed ignorance? Gargantua’s life in a way provides an answer: once he discovered a clear goal in his life (in his case rescuing his father) matters fell into place. Goals can materialize aspirations, and thus make them manageable and tangible. Happiness becoming real, although there remains always something to wish for, hopefully.
Andrew E. Clark, Akiko Kamesaka & Teruyuki Tamura (2015) Rising aspirations dampen satisfaction, Education Economics, 23:5, 515-531, To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09645292.2015.104296
We interpret the world by the scripts we have. The young ducklings knew that when Konrad Lorentz stepped into the pond and started swimming with them; he was accepted as their ‘mother’ (1) . Scripts (or schemata) make life easier, organized, and above all meaningful. Once discovered (or taught) we routine-wise like to follow them, like in the meanwhile ‘famous’ restaurant script where even minor violations in behaving according to the script immediately cause edgy reactions (panic even sometimes). Scripts are that helpful mainly because they relieve our thinking. Instead of being constantly alert and vigilant in the situations we encounter we just simply ‘read’ the script that will allow us almost in advance to know what will happen and what will be needed as a response. This comes into effect in reading and story telling as well. Listening to a story or following a story line in a book is highly governed by activated scripts (meant to be by the author or reconstructed by the reader/listener). It is comforting if a story falls into place. But, seriously, is reading, interpreting the world, behaving all living up to expectations?
What would happen if the story line deliberately develops contrary to expectations and violates the script we thought applies? This was scrutinized by a study with young children reading a story which followed a Good Mother script (nurturing and creating a safe environment from which to explore) but that gradually evolved into a Bad Mother script (the one in Cinderella). It turned out that especially in young children violation or a change in script was a highly disturbing event, even leading to a point that a child could find no reconciliation anymore which then led to distress and crying.
If our interpretations of the world are flawed it is certainly a disturbing thing but that is mainly because our thinking forsakes us. Imagine a story, a situation, a happenstance that perfectly follows script lines, it would, for an experienced person, get boring and soon be ignored. Books, story telling come to life by the twist they give to the scripts we have: not too vehemently for the inexperienced but may be more so for the knowledgeable. It is about challenging our thinking. A bit of cognitive dissonance (2) in the way we expect things to be will ignite new add-ons to our scripts and the ways in which we are thinking which, in education, ultimately means to confuse and stir up minds. It will let us know whether our expectations hold.
Einat Natalie Palkovich (2015). The ‘‘Mother’’ of All Schemas: Creating Cognitive Dissonance in Children’s Fantasy Literature Using the Mother Figure, in: Children’s Literature in Education (2015) 46:175–189
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015