Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Child Abuse Report - Adults now Children then

I can't let this week go by without commenting on the publication of the report on abuses in the Irish education system by members of religious orders.

The report was particularly scathing of the Christian Brothers.

I went to a Christian Brothers school and indeed was walloped, slapped and beaten like many others. There was violence in my schooling but also lots of good stuff and on balance I got away lightly.

In light of the report I wish to comment again on the phenomenon of Learning Identity - I talked about this in a previous blog.

As you might expect my 'learning identity' is made up of two components - my view of learning and my view of myself as a learner. For many adults, including the victims of abuse in educational institutions, learning identity established in childhood remains fixed throughout life.

The consequences of the deplorable schooling system are still being felt today - people have fragmented learning identies. For many, even to think about formal education will give rise to extreme anxiety.

As such, these people miss out on the opportunities to progress and to participate effectively in society.

For those of us involved in current adult education provision - we need to think first and foremost about how to deal with learning identity.

We have a lot of work to do rebuilding the trust and confidence of adult learners - convincing them that current pedagogic practice is not like school and that they have a lot to offer as lifelong learners.

We will never adequately compensate the victims but we should strive to limit the negative impact on their lives today.

Everyone has the right to learn throughout life - this is especially the case for those whose childhood opportunities were so cruelly denied.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Carl Wieman Lecture

I attended a lecture in DIT Bolton Street by Dr Carl Wieman titled
“Science Education in the 21st Century; using the methods of science to teach science”
This was of great interest to me as in the distant past I studied science and, like many others, I believe that we need to do more to stimulate effective practices in science eduction.

Many science teachers at school and college level are passionate about their work and are often willing to explore new pedagogic methods to stimulate student engagement.

Wieman focused on teaching methods and as his title suggests he uses analytical methods to assess different approaches and strategies.

He contrasts two educational models:
Model 1
Teacher encounters a new problem or concept
Teacher figures it out

Teacher explains to students
Students demonstrate that either (a) they know or (b) they don't know the concept or problem
If outcome (a) - student learning is effective
If outcome (b) - student not making sufficient effort (lazy student!)

Model 2
Teacher encounters a new problem or concept
Teacher figures it out

Teacher establishes learning goals
Teacher guides student activities (the design of these activites is the practice of teaching and is informed by research and expeience)
Teacher measures learning outcomes
(a) students solve relevant problems
(b) students cannot solve the problems
If (a) all well and if (b) quesion either the goals or the activities (note not the student effort)

Wieman of course advocates the second model and he maintaines that through well planned activities and frequent data gathering and analysis the 'goals and activities' approach is consistently better for student problem performance and concept attainment.

Experts regardless of context (scientists, musicians and chess players) are characterised by three components
(1) access to lots of factual subject-specific knowledge
(2) an ability to recognise patters - an organisational framework
(3) an ability to self-monitor one's thinking

Perhaps traditional teaching has emphasised the first of these components and neglected the other two components.

All of this makes a clear case for greater use of problem based learning.

One thing I disagreed with was when Carl Wieman said that in thinking about his ideas on teaching we should ignore the fact that he has a Nobel prize for science - oh no - not at all. We would not all be there if he had not achieved so much and his opinion does carry significant scientific authority.

Wieman's ideas on teaching are very much in keeping with current thinking in the scholarship of learning and teaching - what is really encouraging is that a great scientist is advocating that we think again about our approach to education.

Perhaps more will listen to such a voice.