29 March 2007

On Inclusive Learning

Yes, I know the connection between the title and the link is not self-evident, but the link is the source for most of the nonsense I have just been struggling with.

New readers start here: sexy but politically correct Svetlana Ukridge (a.k.a SVUK), daughter of crusty Llywellyn Ukridge (a.k.a. LLUK) is .... Sorry! There are new regulations afoot, from the aforesaid LLUK, governing teacher training for post-16 education in the UK (now known as the "Learning and Skills Sector"*) These have to be incorporated, at vast effort but no benefit, into existing teacher education** programmes, for the next academic year. Like every other university offering such programmes, mine is currently struggling to accommodate the new regulations and retain at the same time to retain some vestige of academic integrity.
* "Learning and Skills Sector"? Learning is a process; skills are achieved capacities to perform (albeit always improvable). How do they constitute a "sector"? OK, it means a part of the education system. But (assuming that one can thus yoke together such disparate concepts—sorry! Can't remember the right phrase; Helen Gardner on the metaphysical poets? If anyone reads this, please put me right.) but, what part of education is not about "learning and skills"?

** they think (as their "guidance" eloquently testifies) that one can "train" teachers. We know that trained teachers are useless, whereas educated ones...
The "guidance" notes are obsessed with "inclusive learning". I thought—naively—that I had escaped fatuous political correctness when I escaped from the gulag of social work education. Not so.

There is a whole unit called; "Curriculum development for inclusive practice". There are so-called "assessment criteria" like;
'Explain ways in which theories and principles of learning and communication can be applied to promote inclusive practice.

'Analyse how theories, principles and models of inclusive curriculum design and development are used to inform own practice and the provision in own specialist area.
I'm not sure what these actually mean; I certainly do not know what would count as satisfactory evidence for their achievement, but beyond that...

What does "inclusive learning" mean? The phrase originates from the Tomlinson Report of 1996 (for which I have great respect);
'By "inclusive learning", therefore, we mean the greatest degree of match or fit between the individual learners' requirements and the provision that is made for them.'
OK. Remember that the report was specifically about students with learning difficulties and disabilities. It proposed that in contrast to the usual approach, of defining the course according to the requirements of the subject and the level, and then providing support to help students with disabilities could attain that level; the "inclusive curriculum" should be designed around the "individual learners' requirements".

That is fair enough, in the "special needs" area. But most students in PCE do not have "special" needs in that sense. This is the politically-correct tail wagging the dog, and to elevate it into the major principle underpinning the education of all future teachers in the post-16 sector is stupid.
  • either it brings the teacher education process into disrepute (the more likely and less damaging result) or
  • heaven help us—people may believe it! What will that do to our confidence in our plumbers, chefs, care staff... ?

23 March 2007

On academic game-playing

A former colleague and student, having moved jobs, is now undertaking a "teacher training" course at his new institution, and sent me a draft of one of his essays. I have changed some details of my response to anonymise it, but retain the argument:

What a joy to read!

We have corresponded, you have sat in my sessions and you have participated in them (not necessarily the same thing), but I have never actually read any of your stuff, apart from emails.

Did you choose this topic? Was it up to you to suggest it, or a choice from a list? I suspect it is the former. Much as I enjoyed the TV adaptation of the Delderfield novels--I confess I didn't read the primary source-- there is something of a mismatch between the Arnoldian ideal of the teacher which suffuses Delderfield and (to continue the Arnold [Matthew this time] reference) the Hebraist, utlilitarian construction of the role in the present.

Were I marking this, I would be in a real quandary. There is no doubt as to its academic quality; argument, sourcing, ... they are all there. (And frankly, although there may be dispute about the grade, this is a clear pass at M level, regardless).

But, this does smack of an expert playing an academic game. It takes one to know one! As you know, we set up assessment systems for all kinds of reasons and in response to all kinds of pressures. Very few of those pressures are about demonstrable improvement in professional performance, for all kinds of reasons, including the sheer difficulty of specifying a valid task. But the game is not the real world. The map is not the territory (I know, someone else articulated that before Korzybski, but it's Friday night!)

This submission clearly demonstrates that you can play the game. But how does it contribute to showing how your performance has improved as a teacher? It doesn't. You asked for my opinion on this as a submission for assessment; I've been through the criteria, and there is clearly no problem with any of them-----------given the choice of topic, of course.

Now to get brutally real.
  • I would not have accepted this title, but I would have insisted on it (the title) being submitted and approved in advance, so you would never have written it.
    Delderfield's romantic vision of (school) education for a privileged elite between the wars has very little connection with "bod standard" (i.e. post-1992) universities today. You do not show how any connection might be made.
  • I can't see how working on this essay (not just writing it) has challenged or stretched your understanding of teaching and learning (apart perhaps from the reference to your changing view of Friere).
  • Playing structured games is about maximising performance within given rules and parameters. It's not about stepping outside them and seeing whether such skill works in the real world. We devise games as pale imitations of the real world, and the educational game is the most hubristic of them all, as you know. Perhaps it is because you know that, that you play the game so knowingly!
I may meta-comment later!

15 March 2007

On bandwagons

I have been contacted by someone who obviously knows that the blog exists, although I have no idea whether he has ever read it. He wants me to plug the conference which the header links to; I declined, but I'm doing it anyway. This is a great way to earn the opprobrium both of fans of the conference, for not endorsing it properly; and of opponents, for not simply ignoring it!

However! I'm actually mentioning it because of a phrase in the email commending it to me; "delegates have lots of opportunities to become inspired to try new ideas and leave with 'use it on Monday' materials!" Gee-whiz! This is two (quite expensive---£325 + VAT for the conference alone---and it's "not for profit"?) two days which will revolutionise attenders' teaching? What do these people know, and what can they impart in two days which teachers did not get in a year's PGCE training and another year's NQT mentoring, and a programme of CPD ever since (apologies to those of you not familiar with the initials, but you'll get the gist)?

No only do quick fixes not exist, but most claims to them back-fire. Remember "learning styles" and "multiple intelligences" and "accelerated learning"? You should, because they are still current. But what do such ideas actually do?
  • They declare that if teachers adjust to ever more variables in planning and fine-tuning their teaching (as if they ever could do any more than have broad-brush plans given all the variables which come into play when you get into the classroom) — then students will miraculously learn better!
  • And if students don't learn (sorry, "achieve") better, it is of course the fault of the teachers for not adopting this refined approach. (No way, of course, has it anything to do with the half-baked, untested and unresearched dogma underlying this snake-oil prescription.)
Forced to the choice, I'll go for prescribing fish-oil and better diet. The methodology of the "research" is just as flaky, but it has other spin-off benefits, it helps school meals staff feel valued (and even university catering staff—let's hear it for them!—they're brilliant and seriously under-valued) and even if it doesn't help with learning it protects joints and the cardio-vascular system. (I haven't checked out that research in detail, I confess, but I'll take the media reporting on trust for once.)

13 March 2007

On visualisation

Wow! If you like visual representations of all kinds of phenomena, this site is amazing. There's no more to say, other than to recommend that you not go there if you have anything else planned for several hours.