Saturday, December 12, 2015

Andragogy vs Pedagogy - Makes me want to scream!

NB. I have written an updated version of this blog post here as some of the original links are no longer working.

There is nothing more likely to get me to screaming point than an article about the supposed differences between androgogy and pedagogy. Why, you may ask? It may be helpful to start with a definition of both terms:

Pedagogy: The method and practice of teaching (Oxford
Andragogy: the method and practice of teaching adult learners (Oxford

This is interesting because the pedagogy definition makes no mention of the age of the learner, although it has become more common to use this in reference to teaching children and young people, possibly because of its roots in the word paidagōgia meaning 'lead the child'.

The term andragogy appears to have come to the fore because people looked at descriptions of pedagogical practice and said "Hey! that's not how adults learn best". Well I have some news, its not how children learn best either.

This excellent article by Tom Whitby sums up many of my concerns. In particular this list of the characteristics of adult learners from Malcolm Knowles:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed 
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences 
  • Adults are goal oriented 
  • Adults are relevancy oriented 
  • Adults are practical 
  • Adult learners like to be respected 
I look at that list and think, so if I made a one word substitution would it still be correct?
  • Learners are internally motivated and self-directed 
  • Learners bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences 
  • Learners are goal oriented 
  • Learners are relevancy oriented 
  • Learners are practical 
  • All learners like to be respected 
Does it still hold true? I think it does. Sure there are degrees of each for all learners but that is true of adults and children alike. Surely we must look at the individual learner and not put them automatically into a category based on some magic age. I have seen incredibly self-directed and goal-oriented children and adults who are neither.

This Pedagogy vs Andragogy chart (The original link is no longer valid so I've linked to Richard Byrne's copy of it) and the fore-mentioned article on Andragogy really sum up the issue for me:

It makes me wonder what the magic age is when people suddenly become adults. Is is 16? 18? 21? 30? Do we wait till the day of their birthday before we suddenly shift to using a different teaching strategy with them?

It makes me want to scream when I read things like "Children have to follow a curriculum. Often, adults learn only what they feel they need to know." , "Children learn skills sequentially. Adults start with a problem and then work to find a solution." and "Children learn by doing, but active participation is more important among adults." (Full list here)

It makes me wonder about a schooling system that thinks the things in the Pedagogy list are okay. Where is the learner agency in this? Why can't young people do the things in the Andragogy column? Answer: because we haven't given them the opportunity.

As Tom Whitby puts it:
"If we respected kids more as learners, they might be more self-directed and motivated in their learning. If they are allowed to participate in their learning, they might take more ownership. "

Thankfully the effective pedagogy section of the New Zealand curriculum looks more like the andragogy section of the Pedagogy vs Andragogy chart. Those who are advocating the type of thinking espoused in the chart should read this section of the curriculum. Let's look closely at the individual learner and let their needs be the basis rather than some set of rules based on an arbitrary age.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

"Those who cannot remember the past..."

It's that time again, Connected Educator Month (get the starter kit) and I've joined the blogging challenge.  My first challenge is to reflect on how my teaching practice has evolved over time. As I am no longer a classroom teacher I have taken the opportunity to reflect on my first year of teaching and compare aspects of that to today's classrooms.

When I reflect back on my first year of teaching over 30 years ago there were a lot of ideas that were similar to those around now but have evolved. My first year was in what was then called an open plan classroom, which very superficially resembled today's Modern Learning Environments (MLEs). Two classrooms had a wall removed to turn them into one large space and two single cell classrooms were also part of the set up. 

Students were all brought together in the open space between two classrooms for introductions to units or any time we were wanting to deliver content or messages to the whole syndicate at once. This usually meant one or more teachers could be released to do other things like admin tasks or individual testing (although there wasn't much of the latter happening). 

The syndicate was comprised of what would now be called year 3 and 4 students and we cross-grouped for maths. This was partially on ability and partially on year level so there were two year 3 classes and two year 4 classes. This was the most restrictive subject as we taught from a text book (Modern School Mathematics), a double page a day. There was a teachers book which we used to introduce the day's topic then the students completed the exercises from their text book. The next day we moved on to the next pages whether they understood it or not. When I questioned this I was told there was a spiral curriculum and the subject would come round again. What they didn't seem to take into account was that when it came round it was a higher level, if they didn't get it the first time it was going to be harder to get the next time. 

For reading the students were ability grouped, and then within each class we grouped again. We used the School Journals and the old Ready to Read series of readers - Hungry Lambs, Boat Day, Sweet Porridge etc. and the NZEI book which supported these with  the sight words, blends and comprehension questions relevant to each story. We didn't teach strategies like cross-checking cues or reading-on.  We used a round robin approach with each child reading aloud a part of the book while the others in the group supposedly followed reading silently. I ran a reading task board which was like a reading tumble and did at least try to have activities with some relevance to the learning. 

In the afternoon the classes revolved around teachers with each of the four teachers specialising in an area - PE, Music, Art or Drama. We taught the same lesson 4 times to different classes for all these subjects. This certainly saved on planning time but there wasn't a lot of (or in most cases, any) adaptation for individual classes or students.  

Learning in Social Studies and Science was topic-based and thematic rather than cross-curricula. If the topic was Spring then we drew blossoms and glued cotton-wool on lambs, we sung Spring songs and read Spring poems. We counted daffodils and learnt about baby animals. We crowbarred Spring into every aspect of the curriculum. We had little idea of why we did most of these things, they certainly had little or nothing to do with the objectives of the unit. We cooperatively planned and then each teacher would teach a different aspect. So again the same lesson repeated 4 times with little or no adaptation. 

Back then I was already using a constructivist inquiry approach to Science which was the subject area I got to teach. Prior knowledge was determined and student questions were collected. We would hypothesise and test our hypotheses, then analyse our information and form conclusions. At times we even tried to find authentic contexts and help students see the relevance to their lives. It wasn't inquiry as I would see it today but it was a good start. What we failed to do however was the 'what next' step, the action as a result of the inquiry. Instead we would give them a test to see what they understood and move on to the next topic.

So how does all this relate to teaching today? Well our open-plan classrooms were not a success, they were very noisy, there were no breakout spaces and learner agency was almost non-existent. We talked about being student-centered but did very little to walk the talk. There was certainly no personalisation of learning going on, teachers, not students, had control of all aspects of the learning. Cultural responsiveness was virtually unheard of, other than a token Māori Culture group which was brought out on special occasions to perform waiata-ā-ringa and haka. The whole thing seemed designed to make it easier for the teachers, not to benefit the students. It wasn't long before the walls were going up again. 

Unfortunately I see the same mistakes being repeated in some (please note that it is only some) schools who are trying out the so-called MLEs.  Walls are knocked down, new furniture (dare I say bean bags) is purchased and classes are thrown in together with little thought as to why they are doing it, and even less into thinking about the changes in practice that are needed to make this work.I see teacher-decided cross-grouping happening in some of these MLEs rather than flexible skill and strategy-based grouping tailored to the students needs.

I still see thematic units happening in classrooms, often under the guise of inquiry, where teachers have little idea of the purpose of what they are teaching. Teaching a double page a day from the maths text book may have gone (thank goodness) but in some classes there is little more personalisation of learning happening now than there was then. Teachers still have firm control of the learning in these classrooms, and true student agency is hard to find.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

George Santayana

It is not all bad though. I also see lots of classrooms where the learner really is at the centre of everything that is done. Where students have control of the learning and teachers really understand the purpose of everything they teach. I see most teachers working a lot harder than we did 30 years ago. Personalising learning is more difficult and more time-consuming than teaching from a text book but the effort is worth it.

I have also seen some some excellent examples of MLEs or ILEs (innovative learning environments) or whatever you choose to call them, where personalised learning and student agency are the key, and proven, research-based pedagogy is put before everything. I continue to hope that teachers will visit these classrooms, talk to the teachers and see past the physical spaces into the real changes that are needed to make our classrooms places students want to be, where they feel in control of their own authentic, rich and relevant learning.  

Photos from
Hobsinville Point Primary where supporting sound pedagogy has been the priority when designing learning spaces.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

UDL and Task Design

I listened to Lynne Silcock* last week talking about Universal Design for Learning (UDL). There are a few misconceptions around UDL with probably the most common one being that it is only for students with "special needs". The U in UDL however stands for universal, meaning it is for everyone. Lynne talked about two important aspects of this, firstly knowing your learners and secondly designing for the edges. 

Knowing your learner includes not only their academic abilities but also their cultural and home background, their interests, how they best access the curriculum etc. If we design for the middle, as most commonly happens, those at the lower levels will struggle and the higher levels will be bored. Designing for the edges means most, if not all learners will be able to complete the task.  

When designing tasks there are two questions to keep in mind, and readers of my blog will find no surprises here. We need to ask "What is the purpose of this activity?" and "Why is it important for these learners?". 

Hopefully your school will have a well-designed school curriculum (more on this in later post) which will mean they have consulted all stakeholders and established what is important for their learners. If this has been done then question of importance for the learners has already been answered. If not, before giving a task to students, ask yourself why it is important for them to know/do this. If you don't know the answer to this question either change the task, or if it is in your school curriculum, raise the question with your senior management. On a side note, if the answer is "because it is in the test", the next questions are "Why is it in the test?" and "Should it be in the test?".

As for the purpose of the activity, this is something I have blogged about before and is something I feel very strongly about. In relation to UDL the purpose should guide the task design. Lynne gave an example of a task that hasn't been devised with UDL in mind, "Read this book about the Treaty of Waitangi and write an essay which outlines the main points." To make this more accessible this could be reworded as "Read this book and/or watch this video on the Treaty of Waitangi and create a presentation in your preferred format (eg. oral, dramatic, musical, Google Slide presentation, video etc.) that demonstrates your understanding of the main points'. 

Both achieve the same purpose but the second task allows a much wider range of students to access and complete the task and fulfill the purpose. Of course you could go further and develop this into a rich inquiry, but that is another story.

For more resources on UDL check out my LWDT Support site and Pinterest board.

*Lynne Silcock is a Learning With Digital Technologies (UDL focus) facilitator and an adviser at the Connected Learning Advisory Service

I have been unable to find the original source of the cartoon which has been around for quite a while, if you know please tell me so I can attribute it, get permission or remove it.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Inquiry in the Real World

I was inspired to write this post after reading the article "What Does Inquiry Look Like?" written by Stephanie on her Teaching the Teacher Blog. I totally agree with her premise that inquiry is by no means linear and i like the analogy to a painter's palette where you dip in and out of stages using the colours you want when you need them and maybe even ignoring some colours altogether. I also like her representation of inquiry in the real world as a Jackson Pollock Painting. 

I think however that she has missed an important point. I believe the key lies in knowing the purpose of the inquiry and that should be the guide. As I wrote in my post Play, Passion and Purpose, the purpose of the inquiry needs to be very clear to both teacher and students right from the start. When I see inquiries that have gone off the rails it is most often because the purpose was unclear or sometimes not known at all.

If the purpose is the focus, then the inquiry simply proceeds to achieve that purpose dipping in and out of stages as the need arises and always checking in to see what else is needed to achieve that purpose. The more authentic this inquiry is and the more relevant it is to the students, the easier this will be. 

In this inquiry, for example, the students in Fraser Quinn's class at Putaruru Primary wanted to make a ki-o-rahi field and set about doing just that. The students led the process under the guidance of their teacher and the purpose guided the inquiry from start to finish. This is what inquiry in the real world looks like.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Un-integrated Curriculum

Just read a blog post about a school district in Maryland that is using subject-specific teachers in primary schools. All sort of alarm bells went off for me and the more I read the louder they rang. 

The superintendent reports less stress for teachers. Apparently this was because it reduced teacher workload as they were now planning only two lessons a day instead of five. So much for personalisation of learning, apparently you can take the same lesson and teach it to several different classes without needing to make any changes to meet the needs of the learners in those classes.

Now I can see how using teachers with specific subject area strengths for some sessions could work but I would see this happening on a needs basis. Students would be working on their inquiries and experts in areas of need could be brought in to provide specific, targeted help. Or in a modern learning environment where classes have more than one teacher there could be some specialisation, again based on student need.

Putting subjects into silos in primary school is a backward step in my opinion, I would like to see more curriculum integration, not less.  I believe in curriculum integration where inquiries naturally take in a number of curriculum areas and subject specialisation makes this difficult to happen. In fact it is one of the reasons a lot of high schools struggle with student inquiry. I am not saying it can't happen, there some high schools doing a wonderful job with this, but a lot of planning and collaboration between teachers is needed to make it successful. 
“The values, competencies, knowledge and skills that students need for addressing real-life situations are rarely confined to one part of the curriculum. Wherever possible schools should aim to design their curriculum so that learning crosses apparent boundaries.” 
(N.Z. Curriculum p. 38)