Monthly Archives: February 2015

Subject authority

This is a new concept for me. So I am really parking a link here with a quick description so I can come back to it later on.

The concept is that a teacher’s subject knowledge gives them the authority to teach a subject.

I first came across this idea when I was on my first day of teaching observation and I was talking to a teacher about my worries about my lack of knowledge of computer programming. An experienced teacher said in response that kids do detect a teacher’s depth of knowledge and problems can arise. It’s as if the little darlings are challenging teachers to be experts and if they find them wanting they start playing up.

It is also the subject of this book, Authority and the Teacher, by William Kitchen,  I found being reviewed in spiked

The central premise of his book is his claim that ‘the development of knowledge 
requires a submission to the authority of a master expert: the teacher’. Kitchen argues that it is the teacher’s authority that makes imparting knowledge possible; in the 
absence of authority, teaching becomes simply facilitation and knowledge becomes 
inaccessible. He is careful to delineate authority from power, and he locates teachers’ authority within their own subject knowledge, which in turn is substantiated and held in check through membership of a disciplinary community. Without ‘the authority of the community and the practice,’ he argues, the notion of ‘correctness’ loses its meaning 
and there is no longer any sense to the passing of educational judgements.

Those words “simply facilitation” bring back memories of teaching some classes in Spain. We were instructed to only teach conversation and not to do grammar. And I remember one class of adults who got me into a mess when we started talking about the conditionals. It was then that I realised I did not know my English grammar sufficiently well and I started to struggle and get confused by my lack of knowledge of English grammar. Not a nice experience!

I also remember what my frind Gavin said to me when he heard I was going to train to be a teacher. He sent me an email telling me about three teachers he remembered from his time at school. He recalled their individual teaching styles and subject knowledge of French. He remembered a primary school head who let him study French, instead of other subjects. He  particularly his A level teacher who taught him how French was really spoken. Gavin went on to be a French / English translator.

He was inspired by these teachers’ knowledge of the subject and their inspired methods to teach it.

Seven myths about education – Daisy Christodoulou

This little book – Seven Myths about Education – has received some attention from reviewers – herehere and here and appears to have caused a minor stir.

I have managed to get a copy from the library and have read the intro and first two chapters.

I will give my reaction to the books message later.

For now I want to deal with how the book deals with evidence and theory. This book has been accused of putting up straw men to easily knock down. And in the reviews above you will find elements of those accusations.

So I was prepared for a book that might annoy me with an over simplistic positioning of the myth makers. And what I got was a much better thing. Each chapter is neatly organised into three parts:

  1. Theoretical evidence
  2. Modern practice
  3. Why is it a myth?

Part three is all about evidence from cognitive sciences, and psychology. And this is what most attracts me. There seems to be a growing cross disciplinary subject called “learning sciences“. And what struck me is that the evidence from the first section is from writers who had no evidence but their experience – they were working at time when there was no scientific study. Great thinkers like Rosseau, Dickens, Dewey, and Freire were writing cogent and persuasive arguments based on their experience and analysis of contemporary education and classrooms.

Compare this to cognitive scientists, memory scientists and others who attempt to tease out how we actually remember things, and how we think. I have been reading another book that reviews the current work on “How we learn” which demonstrates that the learning sciences are growing rapidly and counter so many of our commonly accepted ideas about study and learning.

One of the best lines from the the Seven Myths book is the scrambled egg metaphor by E D Hirsch: “who sees the relationship between knowledge and skills as being like a scrambled eff. You cannot unscramble an egg, and you cannot unscramble knowledge from skills.

Which in turn reminds me of the jam being stirred into a rice pudding image from the wonderfully thought provoking play Arcadia by Tom Stoppard. (I wonder if Hirsch borrowed the idea from Stoppard and who in turn Stoppard stole it from?)

And this is what pedagogy needs. We need to shed the thinkers who used only the evidence of their experience. Anecdote is not evidence. The subject of how we think cannot be left to an individual’s experience of their own thinking. All the studies and books I have read about the cognitive sciences generally echo the fact that our thought processes are not transparent to our conscious brains. A scientific basis is required, on which we can build an evidence based craft of teaching.


ICT, Digital Literacy, and Computer Science in Schools

I have been reading articles on ICT educational policy in the UK.

I am doing this because this is the subject I will train to teach and because these articles were written by my future tutors – it will always pay to know your teacher’s profiles better.

This particular article is worth noting: Embedding Information and Communication Technology across the curriculum – where are we at?* . It opened my eyes to a larger problem that I might encounter in schools. That computers and the ability to use them and understand their social impact can be regarded as a transferable skill, that can improve a students performance in other subjects, and is not being formally taught at GCSE or A level.

Here I detect danger signals. Many schools are so focused on exam results that if a “thing” cannot be tested – whether that thing is a skill, a subject or whatever – then it will get little formal teaching time. Even though ICT skills and digital literacy are thought of as good skills / knowledge to have, it will not be taught.

At least under the much maligned ICT GCSE some attempt to teach ICT skills and digital literacy was made. The focus now is moving to the formal teaching on Computer Science (CS).

It would be silly of me to suggest that the newly released syllabus for the CS GCSE should be changed at a time when everyone is running around trying to cope with the changeover.

So the only route I can think of is to either dedicate some of the formal CS teaching time to “other” ICT skills and subjects – a dangerous thing – or to teach it in after school clubs. Or rely in the more motivated student to just pick it up as they go along.

Or persuade a school to drop another subject. The argument going that it will benefit the performance across all subjects. Which subject would a school be happy to drop?


* The article can be found here at Research in Teacher Education, October 2014.