24 April 2007

On Edu-Babble

I caught this feature (early part of the programme) on Radio 4 last night and again today. Very salutary!

Incidentally, the QCA's definition of "scaffolding" is not, as I understand it, the same as Bruner's use of the term.

But the item did present a challenge; perhaps I should re-write all this current validation documentation in plain English, with no jargon whatever. Would it then be longer or shorter?

12 April 2007

On some advice on learning

I'd really like some feedback on this reply I gave to a correspondent a few minutes ago. We had exchanged emails a few months ago as he sought a study strategy for a technology course he was doing. His message this time suggested that my advice had been helpful on that occasion. Now he has moved on to a different part of the course, with a higher science and maths content, and once again he felt he was floundering. Was he just "bad at" this stuff?
"You have stumbled on something which many people (including some researchers) believe to be the case; that some people are "naturals" for maths and others aren't, (See http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/multiple.htm ) and some people handle technical stuff better or worse than "artistic" stuff (http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/converge.htm)

However, it is not as clear-cut as may at first appear, and although I can't "prove" it, I suspect that this is partly a matter of how abstract ideas appear to be. In the old days of photography before everything went automatic and even digital, we were recommended to "bracket" our exposures. Work out the recommended exposure, take a shot at that setting, and then also take one with the lens one stop more open and one stop more closed. All of us have levels of abstraction with which we are comfortable (and maths tends to be very abstract). On the whole storytellers (very concrete) are not great analytical philosophers or mathematicians (very abstract) and vice versa (OK, Sartre was one exception...). But we can still engage effectively with other levels on either side of our comfort zone.

The problem is that maths etc. tends to be taught at one level (and possibly tested at a slightly more concrete level). If you can't work with the level at which it is being taught, move down (not academically but concretely) and ask yourself to generate examples of how all this works out in practice; or move up, and look for the underlying patterns, of which the stuff you have been taught is just one instance.

Now, frankly, this specific advice may be total rubbish! But it still works! Because it is not the specific exercise, but as you say, your engagement with the material which makes the magic happen. I'm just saying, don't take it at face value as your teacher or the text book presented it; you can manipulate it and manage it as you will--and at the most basic level, you will find yourself remembering it, and being able to apply it.
I'll say no more!

10 April 2007

On dumbing down---or not

I am prompted to write, tonight, by a chance hearing of a Radio 4 programme on "The Rise and Fall of the Hapsburgs" as I was going to bed. I'm not a great history buff, but the fact that such a prgramme could go out on one of the four major UK radio networks (albeit just before midnight) suggests that we are not yet totally dumbed down.

And then there is "In Our Time" (Thursdays, 0900-0945, Radio 4). Having tried several times to draft an encomium for this consistently brilliant programme, I can't encompass it. There is its reach and scope. The selection of articulate experts. Melvyn Bragg's chairing (having dropped all pretence of spontaneity; it is paradoxically more immediate). And the newsletter. This is an exemplar of radio at its very best.

But that is not all. Last week, I found myself showing an American friend around the tourist sites of Cambridge and central London. St John's College, King's College Chapel, Peterhouse... Parliament Square, Westminster Abbey, the Manet to Picasso exhibition at the National Gallery... It was almost twenty years since I had last been to these places. The Abbey had not changed much (but, hey, it has been there for about 950 years!) but other places had changed, and not in the direction of "dumbing down". They were more accessible (physically, intellectually, socially) than they were, but they did not compromise their integrity. For once, without irony, I was simply impressed.

And! We went on the London Eye. It is not part of the intellectual and cultural heritage; it is too new for that. But it is a great tourist experience on its own terms, and it is also a brilliant feat of engineering.

And as we went, we listened to our fellow tourists. And perhaps the most gratifying and uplifting part of the tour was to hear how well-informed many of them were. OK, perhaps the groups were self-selecting (apart from the, many, school groups); rubber-neckers may not make it into the basement of the National Gallery. Even so... here were unapologetic "culture-vultures" seeking out the very best; and there were unapologetic elitist "providers" (I have no idea what to call the people who manage these sights/sites) who knew that you can't beat an original Picasso or van Gogh.

I spend too much of my life only engaging with the problems of people who are marginalised disenfranchised oppressed and exploited, if I have no time to raise my sights to what we aspire to for them. Moreover; how come I have stayed away from this for twenty years?