Category Archives: gimmicks

The Post-Modern Classroom.

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I asked Terry Eagleton what he thought the difference between modernism and post-modernism might be. He suggested that in modernism God was not quite out of the picture, he was just around the corner. In the post-modern, however, God had gone, He was never there.

What on earth would a post-modern classroom be like?

Lyotard refers to the post modern collapse of the grand narratives – the stories that kept us going, that told us of our world had been found to be untrue, all that is left is scrambling around on a rubbish heap. He wrote:

Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward meta-narratives.

Unwilling or unable to believe, the teacher in the post-modern classroom would want his charges to be equally incredulous. This post-modernism would be a disaster for a classroom. Reading stories would become difficult: ‘This morning’s grand narrative is where the self identified ‘wild thing’ ‘Max’ – a name chosen for him by his oppressive mother who sent him to ‘his’ bedroom without supper – but who gave her this power? A hegemonic power that merely rests on birth order… like Alice in Wonderland another escapist fantasy fiction in which a dream-like stupor is an excuse for creating multiple fictions, factions, here the, whom I label as a boy, and who am I to label him? Merely a teller of this story. The writer of which is a dead white male, which renders this whole narrative problematic…’

is postmodernity the pastime of an old man who scrounges in the garbage-heap of finality looking for leftovers, who brandishes unconsciousnesses, lapses, limits, confines, goulags, parataxes, non-senses, or paradoxes, and who turns this into the glory of his novelty, into his promise of change? (Lyotard asks)

We all make mischief of one kind or another.

From a Marxist perspective the Post-Modern shift was one that signified a change in the relationship between the person and the economic system. As jobs change, as the grand narratives of ‘class’ become more splintered and continue to do so due to mechanisation people identify less with what they do and more with what they buy.

I shop, therefore I am

Still related to the economic system but less as producers and more as consumers – identity becomes all important. I buy my identity through clothes, other paraphernalia, cultural goods become my domain. I am what I decide to say I am.

Instead of a revolutionary class, we have battles for ‘power’ waged in the cultural arena. Fashion and identity politics, inextricably linked with desperate attempts to create new narratives before they become unfashionable and collapse under the weight of their own incredulity. For a cultural relativism in which everything has equal ‘truth’ to everything else is constantly under threat. If my truth is to hate you for what you are and your truth is to be what you are at what point do I stop from murdering you? What grand-narrative is there to stop me?

Freely being what we want – all diverse – equally accepted – our utopia – no place – is actually a very dangerous place indeed. We have no argument in this place against the forces who believe in darker grand narratives, all we can say is – hey we believe you have a right to believe what you want to believe, but we don’t actually because, well… If the material, natural and spiritual are merely stories then these stories can’t half jolt us out of our complacency.

If fashion and change are fetishised, if one day I think this, am this, but today I’m not… if we all scrabble around on rubbish heaps picking up on ideas and it’s just cultural shifts, like turtles, all the way down then what world are we passing on to our children? Meaningless.

A child needs grand narratives. Needs something to hold onto. Needs stability. Needs stories, fictions, factions. Identity needs moments of fixedness, routines and rituals. We all do. A classroom that deliberately sets out to unfix and disorientate the child is one where a child’s unhappiness is of no concern.

And in order to alleviate meaningless we give kids loads of stuff. Products to consume. We replace the void with the a-void. Avoid all the important ‘truthful’ things, because they don’t exist, instead all is the same… day to day gimmickry to keep the market going.

If we take away universal truths, if these aren’t even waiting patiently around the corner to be ‘found’, we cease to care about the things that truly matter. We are buffeted by the present and never have time to contemplate.

Children are born, unable to survive. We have to care for them, love them, feed them, protect them. We have to show them a world not of fear around every corner, or tell them just before they sleep that the sun may not rise in the morning and your father might die in the night they need to know that things will be mainly the same. Instead of trying to make them adapt to uncertainty and change, where everything is relative, by taking away the necessary narratives by which we can grow strong, we need grand stories. Taking them away won’t make our children strong, it will make them paranoid.

Thank goodness it doesn’t exist, (not forgetting it can’t exist because the classroom is, itself, a grand narrative) for the post-modern classroom would be a sad place. At one point we might feel emancipated and free but this would soon descend into rootlessness and a desire to return home – to that grand narrative of the nest – where our supper its waiting for us, and it’s still warm.

 

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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.

Pokémon Go! Must We be Servants of the Present Moment?

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Think how useless a teacher’s greatest labours are now, when he tries to lead one single student back to the infinitely distant and elusive Hellenic world, the true homeland of our culture, and an hour later that same student reaches for a newspaper or popular novel or one of those scholarly books whose style bears the repulsive mark of today’s educational barbarism!  Friedrich Nietzsche

In 1872 this was Nietzsche’s view, I wonder what it would be now? The teacher might wish to lead a student back to a time when they reach for a newspaper, a popular novel or even a ‘popular science or self help book’…

Or the teacher might have given up on even this meagre hope. Nietzsche has it in for journalists and describes newspapers as epitomising today’s [then] educational system with both as ‘servants of the present moment‘, taking the place of

the genius, our salvation from the moment and leader for the ages

That is some teaching and learning policy, though he meant it more as a gifted and talented policy, I like to think of it as an aim for all…

I can only think a reincarnated Nietzsche would stare in horror at teaching as entirely a servant of the present moment as argued for by some who wish to ‘engage’ pupils in anything that will occupy their time at school rather than uncover their inner genius. Yet servants of the present delight in keeping up to date rather than exploring the ‘true homeland of our culture’, as one can witness with a cursory glance towards the latest ‘craze’ to hit the nation’s classrooms.

Pokémon Go is pushing Minecraft to the back of the class, Edtech magazine states there are ‘3 Ways Pokémon GO Can Create Meaningful Learning Opportunities‘ these are that it can ‘promote data literacy skills’, allow children to ‘explore the natural world’ and ‘inspire digital storytelling’. That what follows each of these is rather thin gruel seems not to worry the writer of the article. In fact in all three cases the game seems to lessen the activity rather than add to it.

Will it “help students start to become familiar with the data literacy skills of data processing, data manipulation, data presentation and data analysis”? How often will they have to play the game in order for this to occur? How many hours? Are there better ways of achieving these aims, and in more depth? In many ways this is its most obvious use, and maybe I could be persuaded but it seems little more than a passing activity. It could be argued that for autistic children it will help “research habitats that relate to where Pokémon can be found in your local area, as well as learning how to observe in a natural habitat and sketch the living creatures that you find there.” But will it get in the way of observation of the natural habitat, would the painstaking exploration of our natural environment take a backseat because of a fight in a Pokémon Gym? And finally, it might: “…fuel students’ creativity and promote language, research and technology skills by asking students to write stories around the Pokémon they capture in the game.” Or it might be a lesser way of doing that than approaching the same aim by grappling with great literature; is it better to play Pokémon Go or to read Lysistrata or the Oresteia in order to fuel creativity and promote language and research skills? As for technology, I am sure working on a production of a piece of Greek theatre will offer all sorts of opportunities for use of cutting edge technology if one would wish to really ‘Go’ for it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed seeing my daughter play the game, we have had fun exploring and noticing things but none of this is in the detail or depth I would call educational, nor is it edutainment, it is play, and that is fine as far as it goes; I love play. But I pity my little ‘un if she has to go back to school and comes across an enthusiastic teacher who has come up with a term’s work based on Pokémon Go in order to engage her interest, it will more likely enrage her to disinterest.

In the classroom, instead of Pokémon Go, can we have Pokémon No?!! And, instead educate for:

the genius, our salvation from the moment and leader for the ages…

 

Avoid the Brexit Classrooms

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It seems some classrooms have embraced Brexit fully, these classrooms can be spotted easily because you need a passport to enter them and sometimes a boarding pass too. On exiting these classrooms you may have to line up at the departure gate with your departure card and undergo some rigorous, yet ultimately futile, bureaucratic exercise before you are able to enter the corridor. These independent Classroom States are meant to be ‘fun’ and ‘creative’ and ‘themed’ with all joining in the jolly jape ‘journey’ where all are engaged due to a clever conceit.

It is interesting that the extent of the conceit is to copy some of the most tedious parts of international travel as a way of motivating children. Children should learn that unnecessary bureaucratic exercises should be treated with the contempt they deserve. That this conceit is to distract from the tedium of learning Shakespeare, Angelou, Meyerhold, Mao, Stalingrad, Euclidian Geometry, Cunningham, Parks, and the Origin of the Species is even more worrying, mindless bureaucratic exercises to make learning fun might be rendering the whole thing a shallow exercise that can be summed up with an ‘exit stamp’ from the customs officer  teacher.

The tricks and gimmicks school of teaching and learning is a most peculiar movement in which the topic is deemed to need some sort of disguise, and often this disguise is ill suited to the subject matter. ‘Paper exit airplanes’ (sic) can be thrown to the front of the class at the end of a lesson on which are written three things you have learnt about climate change, the alimentary canal or gamelan.

I am not averse to play acting, I’m a drama teacher by trade, but by reducing some lessons to a collection of tricks surrounding some important learning I can’t help but wonder what the cumulative effect of all these (distr)actions might be?

Are we at a point where serious engagement with serious topics is sometimes avoided due to the extrinsic activities that might be detracting from students’  intrinsic involvement through in depth study?

Instead of ‘shallow’ play why can’t we indulge in the playfulness and joy of tackling difficult ideas through the pursuit of wisdom?

Instead of the Brexit classroom can’t we have a United States of Studying where all can study freely without having to have their passports and exit visas stamped as they board throw their paper airplane to oblivion?