Sunday, January 18, 2009

Candles In The Dark

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allA Candle In The Dark

I’ve just re-read Kim Thomas’ article of her interview with Donald Clark. The Last Siege Tower Is Education was posted in December 2007.

It gives Clark’s opinion of how governments have administered to teachers and the classroom model of education. Clark explained how this has not worked, in spite of the huge cost in the attempt. Much of what he has shared on his blog since the interview has not moved a smidgen from the opinion he is quoted as saying.

A quote from Clark caught my attention. “I think the day Vygotsky got introduced into pedagogic theory was the beginning of the end”. I agree with him.

Learning through collaboration:

The assumption is based on a belief that useful learning can take place in collaborative groups. It is thought that this needs guidance, but requires little significant content input from a teacher.

How does a group of children assist each other to develop the numeracy that they need? How does such a group help one another to improve their reading abilities? How can a group of young learners teach each other about Science or History or learn a second language?

A mother and child model:

Most of Vygotsky’s studies were directed at the collaboration between mother and child and the development in the child that occurred through this. I doubt the notion is sound that Vygotsky’s conclusions can be extended to any useful learning that might take place when young children share what they know in a group. Never mind the analogous learning that might come about in older groups through the same process.

The idea becomes even more tenuous when extended to learning that may come about in online groups, as has been suggested by some educators.

Out of the mouths of little children:

When my older daughter, Hannah, was being taught in year 8, she became disillusioned with Science at school. I knew Hannah had a real ability to understand things to do with Science. When I discussed the matter with her she said, “I don’t think what we’re taught is Science”.

A brief chat with Hannah’s teacher at a parent evening confirmed my suspicion. “My pupils bring all they need to know to the Science table”, she said. “We discuss what they know and they learn from each other”. I thought, “This is Science?”

Even when she was in year 8, Hannah new that this wasn’t Science. She went on to a traditional high school where her interest, skills and knowledge in Science blossomed. She was awarded an excellence National Certificate of Educational Achievement in year 11. The chief contributions to that qualification were her successes in Art and in Science.

This post is beginning to sound as if I’m giving myself a big pat on the back. I’m not. In fact, I admit that I did very little to assist Hannah with her Science study, or her Art for that matter. What I did do was to provide a supportive environment for her at home. The important factor in her interest and achievement in Science, was just good teaching, not collaboration in groups with her peers.

No need for reinvention:

Technology, Clark says, can remove the need to reinvent lessons covering the same ground and that are given by teachers to learners throughout a region. He is optimistic that technology can provide better, quicker and cheaper answers to ways and means of providing education in basic skills.

This was the promise to education seen through the design and the making of digital learning resources and related technologies at the beginning of this century. That promise has never been met. Indeed the recognition of this delusion has come at an unbelievable cost – the cost of digital resources that have been made but are not used.

What's in it for education?

So what does all this mean for learning in 2009?

Clearly, education is in a bind. This year’s predictions tend to favour elearning as being cost effective, with some reservations. I have reservations too, and not just some.

The economic situation that affects all countries will make it unlikely that significant funds will be released for the development and use of learning resources and related technologies as has happened in the past. If there is any possibility that a solution will be found and implemented in 2009, it will not be achieved by technology alone.

There is to be a significant shift. And it will be left up to teachers to make this shift. But without technological resources and the skills to use them effectively, teachers will just be holding candles in the dark.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later


paul c said...

I think new technologies will enhance future education but they are not necessarily the panacea.

You speak of collaborative groups as being an essential component of learning. I agree, but they do need the careful guiding arm of the teacher to be successful.

Empowered learning in the classroom can and will take place as long as there are dedicated teachers who have the candles burning strong within them.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Paul!

Good teachers always have candles burning brightly within them. That's what makes them good teachers. The brightest candles shine the furthest and the quality of their light provides clarity of vision.


V Yonkers said...

I wrote a post in response to this as I knew it was going to be long. In a nut shell, I caution you not to throw out the baby with the bath water!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Virginia!

I think I know where you're coming from - I've read your post, and I agree with it.

The assumption that I referred to in my post was that collaborative learning needs input and guidance - you are right. It is often thought that collaborative learning 'needs guidance, but requires little significant content input from a teacher'. Perhaps I didn't make this too clear, but it is the latter assumption that is the false assumption.

Collaborative learning in groups needs both content input and guidance from the teacher, which your post underwrites.