Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Prof. Sir David Watson

David-Watson-webprofile-260x300 (1)

Prof. Sir David Watson (1949 – 2015)

How sad it is to read of David Watson’s death after a short illness. He was an eminent English academic and educationalist whose career included roles as a Professor at the University of Oxford and Vice Chancellor of the University of Brighton.  There will be warm tributes from the institutions where he worked but his influence also had a wider impact across adult education and community learning.

Written with Tom Schuller, his 2009 report on Learning though Life remains very relevant and merits further reading. It was the outcome of an extensive and inclusive NIACE-led Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning. The WEA held several public meetings as part of the Inquiry, debating the issues and the outcomes. It is worth assessing what has happened to adult education policy since the report was published.

Learning through Life

The report’s introduction sets the tone:

“We begin from the premise that the right to learn throughout life is a human right. Our vision is of a society in which learning plays its full role in personal growth and emancipation, prosperity, solidarity and local and global responsibility.”

It is worth a reminder of the Inquiry’s summary conclusions:

Learning Through Life: our proposals

The UK’s current system of lifelong learning has failed to respond to the major demographic challenge of an ageing society, and to variety in employment patterns as young people take longer to settle into jobs and older people take longer to leave work. We make ten recommendations for a lifelong learning strategy which will mark out the UK as a true pioneer in this field.

1. Base lifelong learning policy on a new model of the educational life course, with four key stages (up to 25, 25–50, 50–75, 75+)

Our approach to lifelong learning should deal far more positively with two major trends: an ageing society and changing patterns of paid and unpaid activity.

2. Rebalance resources fairly and sensibly across the different life stages

Public and private resources invested in lifelong learning amount to over £50 billion; their distribution should reflect a coherent view of our changing economic and social context.

3. Build a set of learning entitlements

A clear framework of entitlements to learning will be a key factor in strengthening choice and motivation to learn.

4. Engineer flexibility: a system of credit and encouraging part-timers

Much faster progress is needed to implement a credit-based system, making learning more flexible and accessible with funding matched to it.

5. Improve the quality of work

The debate on skills has been too dominated by an emphasis on increasing the volume of skills. There should be a stronger focus on how skills are actually used.

6. Construct a curriculum framework for citizens’ capabilities

A common framework should be created of learning opportunities which should be available in any given area, giving people control over their own lives.

7. Broaden and strengthen the capacity of the lifelong learning workforce

Stronger support should be available for all those involved in delivering education and training, in various capacities.

8. Revive local responsibility…

The current system in England has become over-centralised, and insufficiently linked to local and regional needs. We should restore life and power to local levels.

9. …within national frameworks

There should be effective machinery for creating a coherent lifelong learning strategy across the UK, and within the UK’s four nations.

10. Make the system intelligent

The system will only flourish with information and evaluation which are consistent, broad and rigorous, and open debate about the implications.

Thank you David Watson.

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Nel Noddings

Nel Noddings (1929 – ) has made significant contributions as an educator, philosopher, writer and academic and is probably best known for her ideas about the ethics of caring in education. She has been described as one of the premier philosophers of moral education in the English speaking world today.

nell nA prolific author, her most recent books include “Caring: A Relational Approach to Ethics and Moral Education ” (2013), “Education and Democracy in the 21st Century” (2012) and “Peace Education: How We come to Love and Hate War” (2011)

In “Education and Democracy in the 21st Century”, she builds on John Dewey‘s work to reinterpret education’s aims and curriculum for the 21st century. She sees education as having multiple aims contributing to three areas of life: home and family, occupational, and civic. The text includes critical examination of the liberal arts curriculum, vocational education, restructuring secondary school, extracurricular activities, national and global citizenship, critical thinking, and moral education.

The following extract from page 65 gives a flavour of her thinking:

Nell NoddingsIt’s difficult to do justice to the wide scope of Nodding’s work in a brief blog but there are more details about her work and philosophy at the following websites:

http://infed.org/mobi/nel-noddings-the-ethics-of-care-and-education/

http://www.newfoundations.com/GALLERY/Noddings.html

Click to access NElNoddings.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nel_Noddings

Have you come across Noddings’ work? What do you think of her writing and ideas? Any other resources or links to recommend?

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Myles Horton

Myles Horton (1905-1990) put his thinking about adult education for social purpose into practical action and left a legacy that lives on in the Highlander Center in Newmarket, Tennessee.

Myles Horton (left) with Paulo Freire

Myles Horton (left) with Paulo Freire

Horton was born into a poor family in Tennessee. He had few early advantages but became inspired by the model of Folk Schools in Denmark. He, Don West and others founded the Highlander Folk School in 1932. It became a meeting place, an adult school for democracy and for developing leaders of the labour and civil rights movements. It grew into a hub where people learnt to organise coal miners and textile workers into trade unions. The Highlander Research and Education Center lives on and its website here has this description:

Highlander serves as a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the South. We work with people fighting for justice, equality and sustainability, supporting their efforts to take collective action to shape their own destiny.

Rosa Parks attended workshops at the Highlander before her iconic bus protest on December 1, 1955. Parks, an African American refused to give up her seat for a white man on a racially segregated Montgomery City bus on her way home from work. Her actions led to profound and lasting change. Martin Luther King also attended the Highlander Folk School, where the civil rights anthem, “We shall overcome”, first became popular.

Myles Horton developed citizenship schools for African American Sea Islanders in South Carolina. These spread throughout the southern USA. They helped 100,000 African Americans to become literate. This in turn qualified them to register to vote and was integral to growing the USA’s civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Horton believed fervently that ordinary people have the capacity to organise and to take actions to change their communities and the world. Speaking in 1982, at Highlander’s 50th anniversary, he said:

“The future is out there, ready to be changed. You must be creative, imaginative, and courageously dedicated for the long haul.”

Horton had an immense influence at Highlander but many other inspirational educators worked there or had links. A letter of Helen Lewis‘s 90th birthday recollections of Highlander is on the Center’s website. It shows the Center’s reach and describes connections forged between Appalachian and Welsh miners.

Like Paulo Freire, Horton linked literacy with democracy and political activism and education with a wider social purpose. The two men met in 1987 and had the idea of “speaking a book” together . Their conversations are captured in the book, “We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change”

horton Freire book

 

Whose exchanges about education inspire social change on a similar scale today? Who is “making the road by walking” in 2014 and whose conversations would you like to see captured?

Suggestions?

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Stephen Brookfield

Stephen Brookfield is widely respected as a leading contemporary thinker in adult education. His academic research and writing is informed by his experience of teaching adults in England, Australia, Canada and the USA. Born in Liverpool in 1949, he has written extensively on adult learning, critical thinking, discussion and critical pedagogy. His work should be on the reading lists of all adult educators who are committed to reflective practice and critical pedagogy.

Stephen Brookfield

Stephen Brookfield

His personal website gives more information: http://stephenbrookfield.com/Dr._Stephen_D._Brookfield/Home.html

He is probably best known for the concept of ‘Brookfield’s lenses’, which describes four perspectives that teachers can consider in their critical reflection. He identifies these as:

  1. the autobiographical, (the teacher’s own view)
  2. the students’ eyes (the students’ views)
  3. our colleagues’ experiences (fellow professionals’ views)
  4. theoretical literature.

These four lenses bring together the processes of self-reflection, student feedback, peer assessment and consideration of relevant academic literature. They sum up various elements of critical thinking that reflective practitioners bring to their teaching with adult learners.

Giulia Forsythe, who tweets as @giuliaforsythe, has produced this wonderful visual summary of Brookfield’s 1995 book, “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher” (Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education). It would make a fantastic poster and is shared with Giulia’s kind permission.

Giulia Forsythe's visual summary of Brookfield's, “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher"

Giulia Forsythe’s visual summary of Brookfield’s, “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher”

This blog scratches the surface of Brookfield’s work. Have you got any comments or observations about the impact of his work on your professional practice, your experience as a student, or pointers to other relevant resources?

Lev Vygotsky – in tweets

Twitter isn’t all about what people had for their lunch. This week Tim Taylor (@imagineinquiry) tweeted his summary of a book on Lev Vygotsky’s work. Although the focus is on children’s education, the Russian psychologist and educational thinker’s work is relevant in adult learning too.

Vygotsky suggests that the experience of learning on an individual basis is not as rich or deep as learning alongside someone who is more knowledgeable about a subject and that learning should have a social context. It’s interesting to think about how online learning might be designed in response to this and how children’s experience of school-based education might affect their later attitude towards learning as adults.

Summarising a book in fewer than 20 tweets is quite a challenge but Tim conveys some quick basics about Vygotsky, giving a brief but useful taster. For non-tweeters and members of TLATLA (The League Against Three Letter Acronyms), the abbreviations are:

ATM = at the moment

ch = children

Ed = education (obviously!)

ZPD = Zone of Proximal Development

Lev Vygotsky

Lev Vygotsky

Thanks to Tim for his generosity in sharing the notes from his reading and for introducing others to Vygotsky’s work or providing a refresher.

There is a range of opinion about Vytgotsky’s views and his theoretical work is often compared and contrasted to that of Jean Piaget.

Do you have any further thoughts about Vygotsky’s ideas or links to other resources?

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Wayne Craig and Powerful Learning

Wayne Craig  is a current educational thinker with an international reputation. He works with scholars, design experts, reformers and thought leaders around the world.

He’s a well-known system improvement expert. He and Professor David Hopkins, a visiting professor at Melbourne University, are credited with having led a large-scale initiative to raise achievement and improve outcomes for school students across the Northern Melbourne Metropolitan District of Australia.  He developed and co-authored Powerful Learning: A Strategy for Systemic Educational Improvement.

Wayne Craig

Some of his work is easily accessible online and the presentation Curiosity and Powerful Learning: Going Deeper Again has some thought-provoking insights and evidence. It’s well worth clicking this link if you’re interested in the relationships between curiosity, theories of action, moral purpose and system improvement in education. The slide below gives a flavour. Wayne Craig has generously given permission for use of the material copied here.

Curiosity1

The presentation identifies ‘four whole school theories of action’:

  • Prioritise high expectations and authentic relationships
  • Emphasise enquiry focused teaching
  • Adopt consistent teaching protocols
  • Adopt consistent learning protocols

and ‘six theories of action for the teacher’:

  • Harness learning intentions, narrative and pace
  • Set challenging learning tasks
  • Frame higher order questions
  • Connect feedback to data
  • Commit to assessment for learning
  • Implement cooperative groups

He’s a pragmatist and has applied these principles in systems, linking teaching, learning and assessment to overall system improvement.

Curiosity3

The  focus is on school system improvement, but many of the principles are transferable to adult learning, especially in dispersed community settings.

What do you think of his ideas? How might they influence practice in adult teaching, learning, assessment and systems?

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson divides opinion. His stint as a castaway on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs last week prompted a wave of responses from educators. You can hear the broadcast online here or download a podcast here.

As a contemporary thinker and communicator, Sir Ken has a comprehensive website here. His biography says that:

Sir Ken Robinson, PhD is an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources in education and in business. He is also one of the world’s leading speakers on these topics, with a profound impact on audiences everywhere.

You can get a flavour of his thinking in this RSA video.

RSA animate

Some commentators claim that he’s an ego-driven self publicist, popularising his arguments through charm and persuasion. Others see him as a brilliant creative visionary who can save education from a system that isn’t working for far too many people. Of course, neither of these extremes of opinion is mutually exclusive and both are simplistic. One is about assumed motivation – and it can only ever be assumed – and personality and the other is about promoting a single approach to teaching and learning.

I heard him talk to a comparatively small audience several years ago. There was no doubting his charisma but his arguments, to educators and policy makers, were also very compelling. The quote below is typical and especially relevant to adult and community learning, where we often work with people who didn’t flourish or find their skills and confidence before they left school.

“We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”

How do we decide on the validity of his theses and respond to the counter claims of his critics?

I’m with John Dewey on this. We all filter evidence through the lens of our personal experience. I’ve read and listened to some of the pros and cons relating to Sir Ken’s approaches and tried to be objective but personal experience of learning and teaching tells me that he talks good sense. Are people suspicious because he does so with such panache? Being a good communicator isn’t the same as dumbing down.

What do you think about the RSA video and Sir Ken’s vision for creativity in education?

Knud Illeris and learning theorists… in their own words

Knud Illeris, the Danish educational theorist and professor of lifelong learning, has a reputation that earns him a place in the Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame. I found this link to a wonderful and completely free online publication on contemporary theories of learning, edited by the man himself, so this is more of a link than a blog.

Contemporary Theories of Learning – Learning Theorists… in their own words

Illeris’s most noted contributions as an educational thinker have been about how adults learn and continue to do so. He explains what he calls, ‘A comprehensive understanding of human learning’ in Chapter 1 of the book.

Knud Illeris

Knud Illeris

As well as Illeris, the ‘who’s who’ of modern theorists who have contributed articles about their own work includes Peter Jarvis, Robert Egan, Yrjo Engestrom, Benet Elkjaer, Jack Mezirow, Howard Gardner, Peter Alheit, John Heron, Mark Tennant, Jerome Bruner, Robert Usher, Thomas Ziehe, Jean Lave, Etienne Wenger, Danny Wildemeersch and Veerle Stroobants.

It’s good to find such a rich range of resources so freely available for those who are interested.

Any thoughts on their writing or links to other similar resources?

10 quick lessons from educational thinkers

Praxis, the combination of theory, reflection and practice is precious – as in ‘valuable’ – but it’s not something to be precious or pretentious about. Educational theory is of real use when we reflect on it and apply it in practice. The list below features 10 quick lessons drawn from some of the people featured so far in this blog’s ‘Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame’.

Number 10 is specifically about the WEA but has wider application in adult education.

  1. Socrates – Active learning through questioning and discovery leads to deeper understanding of a subject.
  2. Mary Wollstonecraft – Prejudice leads to ill-informed and unfair assumptions about people’s academic potential.
  3. John Dewey – Previous experiences of life and education shape individual students’ personal responses to learning activities.
  4. Benjamin Bloom – Learning can take place at many levels ranging from ‘rote’ learning to active creativity.
  5. Paolo Freire – Education shouldn’t be based on a ‘banking’ system that attempts to deposit knowledge in students’ minds.
  6. Robert Gagne – ‘Teachers have three primary functions: to be a designer, manager and evaluator of learning.’
  7. Jack Mezirow – Transformative education has the potential to set people free from their limitations.
  8. Carol Dweck – The language we use as educators can reinforce the development of ‘fixed mindsets’ or ‘growth mindsets’
  9. John Hattie – Teacher credibility is important in promoting ‘visible learning’ through feedback about students’ progress.
  10. R H Tawney – The purpose of the association [the WEA] is to provide for men and women who want to take their bearings on the world, opportunities of co-operative study, in congenial company, with a leader who knows enough of his (or her) business to be not only a leader but a fellow student.

This blog complements others that I follow, including Pete Caldwell’s at wp.me/p1ynaa-a1 and several others. I’ll list a few in the next blog.

What snippets would you have chosen from any of these or other thinkers to inform practice in adult education?

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – What about Socrates?

The best education encourages students to ask questions rather than to accept someone else’s answers in a mechanical transfer of assumed ‘knowledge’. Questioning steers intellectual curiosity and active learning. It’s especially effective in adult education in engaging students as partners with their tutors and with other students in shared learning processes. It should be integral to the WEA’s practice as we aim to, ‘challenge and inspire individuals, communities and society’. Do you agree?

medmo-einstein-explain-questioning

Many questions lead to more questions. They develop threads of learning that continue to play out and lead to a more considered understanding of subjects. Learning through discovery is a much deeper process than the simple acquisition of information. The art of critical inquiry is a precious skill in all aspects of life as we try to make sense of the world around us, especially in an ‘information age’ where we are spoon-fed ‘facts’ via mass media. Questioning trains our minds to engage with and to analyse information, to check facts, to consider other viewpoints and to become more inventive and adaptable when we try to deal with new challenges.

Socrates and Socratic questioning
Socrates, the Greek philosopher, was born in Athens around 470 BC and sentenced to death by hemlock poisoning in 399 BC after a trial on charges of ‘corrupting the youth’ and ‘impiety’. His alleged crimes had been the posing of philosophical questions about Athenians’ commonly acknowledged gods.

Socrates

Socrates

He accepted his fate with dignity and was said to have been humble about his own perceived lack of knowledge.

True wisdom comes to each of us when we realise how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.

Socrates

His students, most notably Plato, wrote about his life and work including the concept of Socratic questioning. The Socratic method still forms a sound basis for an inquiry-based approach to teaching, learning and assessment and Socrates’ ideas have influenced many subsequent educational theories, including Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning. They support the notion of teachers as intellectuals who continue to learn and of students who are active, critical thinkers.

The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think – rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.

John Dewey

There’s more detail on ‘The Role of Socratic Questioning in Thinking, Teaching and Learning’ on the Critical Thinking Community’s website at: http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/the-role-of-socratic-questioning-in-thinking-teaching-learning/52 and more on Socratic Dialogue at: http://www.socraticdialogue.be/socrates.html.

I can also recommend the Critical Thinking Community’s ‘Begin here” pages at: http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/critical-thinking-where-to-begin/796

What do you think about integrating Socratic questioning in teaching, learning, assessment and in everyday life? What are the pros and cons?

Any other good resources, examples, ideas or comments to share?