Monthly Archives: January 2017

You’re Not Doing Growth Mindset Properly

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Brain Gym and Learning Styles came and went, well, the hope is they’ve gone. Fads and gimmicks come and go, often on the basis of some research or other. When this research is translated into the classroom setting it often takes on a very different hue than was originally envisaged. And, if what was originally envisaged was nonsense, by the time it has got to pupil questionnaire stage it is often double or triple nonsense.

The trouble with teachers is we like to embellish ideas with our own take. The ideas travel via whispered insets some twenty teachers away from the original instigator who wasn’t the original original but was the original who uttered it in a three minute slot at a teach-meet, which was then summed up in a tweet and a quote with a lovely picture of a mountain peak…

You can see how it happens.

Research is great for picking apart research and  also sorting out bad science from good. This is a vital part of its job. How many school canteens will be taking chips, toast and roast potatoes off the menu as of tomorrow? We’ve heard the news, now we must act! Mashed potato sandwiches are now the menu de jour. Tomorrow.

And now Growth Mindset has received a gentle nudge to its credibility, Li and Bates write that:

We find no support for the idea that fixed beliefs about basic ability are harmful, or that implicit theories of intelligence play any significant role in development of cognitive ability, response to challenge, or educational attainment.

If you teach in a school that trumpets itself as a ‘Mindset’ school this might be worth ignoring in the short term as another piece of research might be along in a few days that contradicts it. Or supports it. Which is where the problem lies. Should we base our entire teaching and learning ethos on one piece of research?

This came to mind today when I read that:

Height has an effect on academic outcomes:

The paper states that:

Height has positive effects on educational outcomes for students in large schools, but not for students in small schools.

The height effects are consistent with taller students being able to better capture school resources in large schools.

You’ll notice that not only height is relevant here but also the size of your school.

Tall students clearly can’t fit into small schools, whereas in large schools they not only fit snugly but outperform their vertically challenged peers.

When this is mentioned in a three minute segment in the next teach meet the outcome could be catastrophic. Clearly we need larger schools and taller students. Smaller students can be sent to small schools. Small schools being small, might not have enough room for lots of small students. When do we decide how small a student is? Key stage 2 height tests might be insufficient evidence for judging expected growth progress in the secondary school. Puberty might play havoc with the data, things might get very hairy.

And then a solution is sought and the utterance becomes: make all children stand tall: This is the real Growth Mindset. If children believe they are tall, they are tall. If they self identify as tall, they are tall. But there are always those who will let the school down, no matter how large it is. If you want to do growth mindset properly these children can be made tall:

Every school should introduce the rack. A few twists a day will see a real growth mindset for all children regardless of their genetic inheritance.

From such small things, big ideas grow.

Confine Post-truth Education into the Dustbin of History

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Two arguments have been prevalent in education discourse for a number of years: one, that the content of the curriculum is just a reflection of power relations and two, that all truth is relative. The arguments are often expressed as questions: ‘whose truth?’ And ‘whose knowledge?’ These ideas are then used to back up the idea that the curriculum should be personalised and that everyone is entitled to an opinion as all opinions are valid, so what we teach is less important than how we teach it.

The challenge to such thinking in education comes with two changes that occurred during 2016: our relationship with ‘Europe’ and the oft repeated claim that now live in a post truth age.

Whose knowledge? Imagine a curriculum that celebrated the importance of European culture, had explored the work of Beethoven, Goethe, and Dante, in which all children had been taught about classical civilisation, the languages of ancient Greek and Latin, they had been imbued with the philosophy of Hegel, of Machiavelli, of Descartes, and had tried to understand Kant, had felt the passion of Puccini, the splendour of Wagner and the brilliance of Mozart… and Napoleon… imagine a curriculum where children were now looking at Putin through the eyes of children who had been introduced to Tsarist Russia through the words of Tolstoy.

In education we have for too many years not given enough credence to cultural, artistic, philosophical and political understanding of our European home. Isn’t it a shame the referendum debate lacked a position on the cultural history of our continent, our place within it, its Christian history, as well as Jewish, Muslim and Pagan, its architecture and geography…? Instead these things have been frowned upon for years by a significant number of educationalists. Much of our shared European culture has been seen in our schools as a colonialist history, full of white male domination including, of course,  Hitler. Instead of some sort of communal European identity and feeling, our place as Europeans is absorbed as problematic. And whether you were for Brexit or not, Europe is a part of all our lives. Especially as our island story has an uneasy relationship with the continent, we should teach for a better cultural understanding of our shared and different histories.

Now we hear about how disgraceful it is that we live in a ‘post-truth’ age from the same mouths who have for many years asked but ‘whose truth?’ and stated that: ‘there is no truth…’ How they can suddenly believe that we have lost something they thought we never had is beyond me. Derrida and Foucault, dead European men both, have infected the discourse in the arts and humanities for too long.

It is precisely in the Arts and the Humanities that we should regain a sense of truth, of truths, of the need for a pursuit of truth and some sense of a common history. Education  should reaffirm its purpose of introducing the cultural and philosophical conversations through time to children, we can use education as a way of bringing us back together through all our differences to at least understand that, in the words of Jo Cox MP, “we have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

If the arts and culture are merely taught in terms of reflecting privilege and power and all is relative so there is no truth, we will struggle to raise children who can see a value in the arts, apart from an X Factor money making and fame generating opportunity. If the arts and humanities abandon the pursuit of truth and leave that noble aim to science and maths, we will struggle to understand!

This means stop pursuing ‘personalisation’, everyone is different, tailor-made approaches in which children are merely customers exercising consumer choice. Instead it means teaching the great works, thoughts, and ideas of the past, restoring a sense that some things are better than others. It means we should teach about our cultural history, the agreements and the clashes of civilisations and ideals, the wars and the peace, but ensure, into our great tradition, we include a wide range of voices, including the dissenting ones to enable new voices to feel that they have a stake in continuing the conversation.

Value the tradition and value the pursuit of wisdom and truth. Confine the wrecking questions of whose truth? and whose knowledge? to the dustbin of history.

 

Don’t Educate the Working Class

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Not all working-class children want to be middle or upper class.

says Garth Stahl, the author of Identity, Neoliberalism and Aspiration… emphasising that education is about changing people and not everyone wants to change. We are defined by where we are in the rat race and that is where we feel most secure. This fear that education might change people, who they are at their very core, is something that eats away at some people’s fears about schooling. ‘Shakespeare is not for our kids,’ might be the cry of some secure in the knowledge that teaching Macbeth to the oiks might see them rise up to Upper Middle Class rectitude and result in them indulging in dark arts at the golf club or even, God forbid, in the Labour Party.

Stahl might have a point, imagine an education that sets out to change Upper Class people into Working Class toilers… What would the timetable consist of? The school lunch menu would be relatively simple: KFC. The lessons could comprise the subjects of gambling, tabloid reading, beer swilling, football (playing as well as the pride and prejudice), Brexit fear of foreigners and all sorts of other such stereotypical nonsense. How would the Upper Class like that?! Do we really think that the working class are a morass of people who indulge in such behaviours that define who they are and if they are subjected to opera, fine dining and JMW Turner their entire world view is shattered and they are left bereft?

This is the problem with the model of education that purely celebrates identity. Firstly we rely on the idea that there is a broad ‘type’ of people defined by their job, or lack of it, their gender, fluid or not, their race, culture and creed. This is useful for Marxist sociologists, snobs , advertisers and algorithm designers – and, indeed, it becomes ever so sophisticated as we are all seen as ABC1s D2s and CD borderlines… but do we really fear teaching and learning things that are of human value beyond our algorithmic echo chambers? If we want education to worship at the altar of our own identities then we will never learn to look beyond.

Rather than change people education refines our understanding of who we are as human beings, it adds to our knowledge not through social engineering; neither meritocratic or anti- aspirational, a good education should expand the self. If education is about the rat race then rats are the only ones who will benefit. If education is a personalised, Narcissistic look at trying to make ourselves feel better about who we are or have chosen to be then it will never be about who we truly are. We don’t have to change who we are, but in order to find out, we might have to take a broader view than the one we think justifies our personal proclivities. An education in ‘high culture’ is for all, not just a supposed elite. Shakespeare is for everyone, whether they like it or not.