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?

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?

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97)

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97)

It’s hard to imagine what life was like when Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her ground-breaking book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792 – and to understand the leaps of thought that she made as a self-taught woman of her time. Her book has become a landmark document in the development of women’s rights and education. She suggested that culture rather than nature determines many perceptions about gender difference and her work provided a basis for later feminist theory. Her writing was truly remarkable for a woman born in 1759 as the first daughter of an abusive handkerchief weaver from Spitalfields in London.

Showing a strongly independent mind, she refused to accept the inequalities that she experienced between men and women, reasoning that they began with a ‘false system of education’ that valued ‘delicacy’ above all in girls’ development. Women were expected to focus all their attention on being attractive objects for men. She argued that society’s expectations denied women the opportunities available for men to develop their talents and interests. She thought that a tendency to, ‘consider females as women rather than human creatures’, led to inequality and challenged this discrimination throughout her life, writing non-fiction and novels to set out her case.

Her first book was Thoughts on the Education of Daughters but she is best known for writing A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which called for equal education of women and included a radical proposal for a national schools system to be based on the premise that women are rational beings who are as capable as men in intellectual matters.

She proposed that educated women should have opportunities to take up independent positions and responsibilities in society and that if they failed to make the most of their education then society would have proof of their inadequacies rather than just assuming that they were less intellectually capable than men. Her writing was a challenge to test the hypothesis.

Her two novels, Mary and the unfinished Maria, focused on the self-education of their female characters and aimed to inspire female readers to learn for themselves. Wollstonecraft also wrote a children’s book, ‘Original Stories’ and commented regularly on children’s books as well as contributing educational treatises to the Analytical Review, which she helped to set up with the publisher, Joseph Johnson.

Wollstonecraft opened a school in Newington Green near Hackney in 1784, with her sister Eliza and a friend, Fanny Blood. It was here that she met Richard Price, a minister at the local Dissenting Chapel and his friend, Joseph Priestley, who led a group of men known as Rational Dissenters. She went on to be engaged in radical politics in England and France, where she lived for a time. Influenced by the political upheaval of the French Revolution, she argued that social equality meant removal of the monarchy as well as the church and military hierarchies. Wollstonecraft wrote that, ‘It may then fairly be inferred, that, till society be differently constituted, much cannot be expected from education.’ Her educational and political ideas were hugely controversial with one critic famously describing her as a ‘hyena in petticoats’.

For many years Wollstonecraft’s unconventional personal life overshadowed her writing which gained renewed attention towards the end of the last century. She had two affairs that ended badly – with Henry Fuseli and Gilbert Imlay – before marrying the philosopher William Godwin. She died aged thirty-eight, ten days after giving birth to her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, later Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.

From Mary Wollstonecraft to Malala Yousafzai, how far have we come since 1792?

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Jack Mezirow and Transformation Theory

The idea of transformative learning came up in discussions today with partner organisations. This reminded me of Prof. Jack Mezirow, who is widely acknowledged as founding the ‘transformative learning’ concept and a worthy member of this blog’s ‘Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame’.

Prof Jack Merizow

Prof Jack Merizow

Mezirow first applied the label ‘transformation’ in a 1978 study of U.S.women returning to post-secondary study or the workplace after an extended time out of education. He built his professional reputation on developing an evolving Transformation Theory that tries to define the features and processes of learning and their implications for adult educators. His work has led to a transformative learning movement in adult education. Other great educational thinkers including Thomas Kuhn, Paulo Freire and Jürgen Habermas all influenced Mezirow’s work.

One of his main areas of work on transformative learning has been the division of knowledge into three distinct types:

• Instrumental
• Communicative
• Emancipatory

Educators consider that gaining instrumental and communicative knowledge are the most common types of technical and practical learning.

Instrumental learning is the simple attainment of skills and knowledge. Communicative knowledge depends on students understanding the meaning of what is being communicated. Emancipatory knowledge is much deeper and is based on the idea that everyone has the potential to break free from the limitations of their own situation to transform their own life.

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it…

In the WEA we see the distinctions between teaching subjects, where the outcome is increased knowledge, and teaching students so that they learn how to learn, where the outcomes are multi-faceted, longer-lasting and can be life-changing. The types of learning don’t exclude each other and students can benefit from emancipatory and transformative learning while they are studying specific subjects.

Mezirow suggests transformations come about due to one of four ways:

• Elaborating existing frames of reference
• Learning new frames of reference
• Transforming points of view
• Transforming habits of the mind

Born in 1927 and now retired, Professor Mezirow has been a consultant in adult literacy and community development for UNDP, UNESCO, U.S. AID, USIA, Asia Foundation and World Education in many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

There’s a brief and balanced post on Mezirow at http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/critical1.htm with more detail and there’s a lot of information online about Mazirow’s ‘phases of transformative learning’.

The term ‘instructor‘ seems to be at odds with the concept, but the bullet-pointed appendices on the webpage at http://bit.ly/cPOirR are interesting. They summarise the characteristics and roles of instructors, students, course content and learning envornments which facilitate transformational learning, together with professional challenges and ethical considerations for instructors facilitating transformational learning.

Any thoughts or more information on Mezirow’s work or transformational learning?

Who’s next for the Hall of Fame? Any suggestions, or even guest blogs?

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – John Hattie

I’m including John Hattie in the Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame because of his reputation for research into positive influences on students’ learning. He was already a well-known academic when he made an international impact with his 2009 book, ‘Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement’.

Hattie Visible Learning

Visible Learning – 15 years of research
He based this book on the biggest ever collection of evidence-based research into the most important influences on school-aged students’ achievements. He considered many factors. These included the influence of home, school, curricula, teachers and teaching strategies. His findings are relevant to adult education too.

He analysed all the evidence that he had collected and ranked the various factors in order of their ‘effect-sizes’. Some of his variables, such as ‘feedback’ or ‘acceleration’ can mean different things to different people and Hattie explained them more fully in his narrative.

Hattie’s average effect-sizes
He used the following descriptions to explain ‘effect-size’ as used in the table below:
• An effect-size of 0.5 is equivalent to a one grade leap at GCSE
• An effect-size of 1.0 is equivalent to a two grade leap at GCSE
• ‘No. of effects’ is the number of well-designed studies producing effect-sizes that were averaged in the table’s right hand column.
• An effect-size above 0.4 is significant and above average for educational research.

This extract from a table of his findings shows some of the highest scoring factors that Hattie identified, ranked by their average effect-sizes. Some of his results seem to be highly significant given his explanation that a score greater than 0.5 can raise students’ GCSE grades. His analysis identifies feedback as being massively influential.

effect-size-table-john-hattie

Hattie’s conclusions
Hattie is careful not to use his research to produce superficial ‘how to’ guides for teachers but he outlined some signposts to excellence in education in the last chapter of ‘Visible Learning’.

He came to important conclusions about the power of teachers and feedback, developing a model of teaching, learning and understanding based on his ideas of ‘visible teaching and visible learning’. He concluded that we need teachers who are empowered by being educated about how learning is best achieved and who are enthused about their position and responsibility in helping students to achieve as much as possible. He proposed that the best teachers have a powerful sense of personal agency and a belief in their ability to intervene and to make learning happen.

More recent work
Hattie continues to update his research and findings. He has written a follow-up book, ‘Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning’ and, in December 2011, he published an updated version of rankings in his table of classroom interventions based on 141 more meta-analyses, adding 14 more variables to his new list.

The highest new entry of high-scoring influences, in fourth place, was ‘teacher credibility’. This factor wasn’t listed in his original study.

“The key is the students’ perception that teachers have credibility in enhancing their learning,” he said. “Students are very perceptive about knowing which teachers can make a difference to their learning. And teachers who command this credibility are most likely to make the difference.”

“The effects on achievement are high and the reason is that teachers who constantly show students they care, and know about the difference and impact they are having on them, are ‘visible’ and welcomed.”

About John Hattie
johnhattieJohn Hattie is a Professor of Education and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia and was until recently a Professor of Education at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. This is a very brief and basic introduction to his work, which is current and developing.

A feature in the Times Educational Supplement on 23 September, 2012 (http://bit.ly/R47OJj} described Hattie as, “one of the most divisive figures in world education.” It went on to say that, “Opinion is split between those who know of the New Zealander and praise him as the author of teaching’s “holy grail”, and those who know of him and accuse him of being an “egotistical, self-serving” academic, too keen to bask in the limelight.” Strong stuff!

Some readers might have met John Hattie, heard him speak or been influenced by his work. Please feel free to add any further information or links to more resources – or to add your thoughts on the impact and usefulness of Hattie’s research in improving teaching, learning and assessment.

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Paulo Freire

And so to Paulo Freire (1921-1997), a towering figure in adult education for social purpose.

Freire was the Brazilian educator, political philosopher and writer, best known for developing his highly influential Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He used his own experience to shape his educational practice, having suffered from poverty and hunger as a child and imprisonment and exile as an adult. He spoke movingly about how hunger had limited his own ability to learn in school – an issue that’s all too relevant for some children and schools today.

A persuasive man with an impressive intellect and strong convictions, he was determined that the world’s poor and exploited people should have better lives, especially in his native Brazil.

Freire believed that education has an essential role in relieving poverty and transforming lives. He developed methods of encouraging literacy while also raising social and political awareness through his educational work with impoverished Brazilians. He showed that oppressed people could become involved in democracy even if they hadn’t known about the concept before. He won poor people’s trust and attention, convincing them that they should and could have a say in the day-to-day decision-making that affected their lives.

Freire firmly opposed the idea that an education system should be like a bank, with students expected to withdraw specific types of knowledge that more powerful people had decided were necessary. (E.g. UK education policies of recent years?) Instead, he believed that there should be dialogue between the student and teacher and that the teacher should never impose their views of a problem on a student.

In Freire’s approach, literacy workers studied their students’ lives and derived a curriculum that promoted their sense of dignity and self-worth in their own knowledge. The educators encouraged students to develop literacy skills while they explored issues of exploitation, the meaning of culture and the power of written language through critical action learning. He and his colleagues created more than 20,000 ‘culture circles’ throughout Brazil using these principles. They worked on the basis that ‘understanding the world was as important as understanding the word’ and that students’ increased awareness of political matters could provide a basis for action to improve community wellbeing and resilience. (These concepts are highly relevant to the current review and development of the WEA’s curriculum .)

Freire proposed that the use of his ‘see-judge-act’ student-centred methods could raise critical consciousness and create change by inspiring students to:

  • see the systems that preserved injustice
  • judge the assumptions that maintained those social systems
  • act to achieve equality and democracy.

The Paulo Freire Institute was created in Sao Paulo in 1991. It brings scholars together to foster dialogue about new educational theories and interventions in a Freireian tradition.

Freire was a brilliant thinker and his ideas about education and society were original and effective, so it seems odd that his writing (or his translators’ interpretation) is unexpectedly complex for someone so interested in making ideas more accessible to the masses. Evidently he wasn’t a fan of dumbing down. He didn’t patronise the poor, but worked with them to broaden their horizons and to make sure that they could be involved actively in democratic processes.

This is a very condensed summary of Freire’s work. Please feel free to add any comments about his relevance to current educational policy developments at a time of austerity, pointers to other resources or any other thoughts on Freire’s contributions.

Pedagogy of the NEETs?