Adult educators – an ageing profession?

Is there a problem brewing as many of our most skilled and experienced adult educators are growing older and a significant cohort is nearing retirement? Is our profession becoming a grey area? If so, we need to act now to make sure we have continuity by developing younger colleagues to pick up the baton. We need to make sure that much-needed enthusiasm, passion, understanding and know-how is not lost from this important area of teaching, learning, educational outreach and management.

(This blog is based on observation within the wider sector and awareness of the age profile in meetings and events. It is not focusing specifically on the WEA although we have to be aware of succession planning for our future sustainability.)

Adult and community educators have worked with determination and professionalism in a too-often overlooked field of education for decades. They act as teachers, advocates, advisers, mentors and managers who know the difference that second chance learning can make to adults. They develop mature students’ potential. They link them into multi-agency support networks to complement learning activities and can steer them sensitively towards further learning and development opportunities.

These professional experts are often unnoticed in education debates yet they play a crucial role in many communities, especially where there is poverty and social breakdown. They are a comparatively small, specialist and effective group of change makers. They negotiate and develop courses and nurture relationships. They eke out funding. They teach people who are often the most reticent and reluctant learners and who need the benefit of specially honed approaches to teaching, learning and assessment.

Some WEA tutors meet the General Secretary and Trustee members of the Education Strategy Committee

Some WEA tutors meet the General Secretary and Trustee members of the Education Strategy Committee

It seems that people need their distinctive brand of customised professional support more than ever. Recent statistics on adult English, maths and digital skills show the scale of some problems facing the UK and reinforce the need for education that extends beyond school years and throughout life. English, as a first or second language, and maths skills have become critical issues for our economy and society.  Recent years have been hard for many people, but austerity has affected people who can’t speak, read or write functional English especially hard and this has had a knock-on effect on the public purse in various ways.

English and maths are only part of a bigger picture. Adult educators’ unique roles contribute to several policy areas, including school-based education, health, work and pensions, communities and local government, criminal justice and culture, media and sports. They enhance employability, health and wellbeing, community engagement and involvement in culture. They improve life chances for countless adults and their families. They enrich people’s lives, adding fulfillment, social benefits and enjoyment.

We need to build greater awareness and raise the status of adult education and community learning in policy debates and developments in initial teacher training and continuing professional development.

What do you think should be done to develop and secure continuity of professionalism in community learning?

How can we raise the profile of teacher educators who are preparing people to work in adult learning?

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Praxis

“Thinkers think and doers do. But until the thinkers do and the doers think, progress will be just another word in the already overburdened vocabulary of the talkers who talk.”

Anonymous

This quotation is a reminder that there can sometimes be a gap between theory and practice in adult and community learning. Of course there are theorists who are teachers – and teachers who are theorists – but theory is sometimes remote from practice, where there is a rich experience of tutors intuitively developing creative and successful strategies for teaching, learning and assessment, often working collaboratively. It’s interesting that Twitter and social media are providing means to open up exchanges of ideas and debate, prompting wider professional dialogue on these matters.

Theory and practice come together in the concept of ‘praxis’.

What is praxis in education?

A simple explanation is that praxis is a cycle of theory and purposeful action that incorporates reflection. It helps us to analyse our efforts so that we can develop and improve our thinking, doing and effectiveness as educators.

Praxis2

There are other interpretations and this doesn’t capture the additional elements of informed moral commitment and critical thinking that are commonly associated with praxis. Paulo Freire’s definition of praxis in Pedagogy of the Oppressed was, “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.”  Praxis is reflective, active, creative, contextual and has social purpose.

Centuries ago the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle categorised three disciplines of knowledge: the theoretical, the productive and the practical and some educators see praxis as one of four ways of approaching curriculum theory and practice, based on these three disciplines:

Praxiscurric

  • The syllabus approach can be seen as transmitting a body of knowledge .
  • The product approach assumes an attempt for students to achieve specified outcomes.
  • Learning to learn is the main focus of a process driven approach.
  • Praxis can be seen as an extension of the process approach, where the curriculum is put together through planning, acting and evaluating as in the cycle described above.

Is this model too simplistic? Are the four approaches mutually exclusive?

These are very basic and introductory interpretations of praxis. Although they refer to education as being contextualised, they can imply that the relationship between tutors and students is not shaped or constrained by policy and, in many organisations, by management and governance decisions.

What issues does this raise?

Some organisations are taking imaginative and very distinctive approaches. For example, Louise Mycroft (@TeachNorthern on Twitter) and others have developed a ‘Community of Praxis’ based on Northern College’s teacher education programmes.

As ever, I’d appreciate comments, development of arguments, disagreements, other ideas or links. There is a great deal of expertise on this subject and many people who can add deeper (or different?) perspectives about praxis in education.

What do you think?

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.

The Secret Teacher, senior leadership, management and focus

A Secret Teacher writes....

A Secret Teacher writes….

‘Senior leaders are drowning in paperwork rather than inspiring others’, says Secret Teacher, in the Guardian‘s ‘School Leadership and Management Hub’ on Saturday at http://bit.ly/ZwlyWh

Senior staff need to be brave enough not to be distracted from the focus; that of creating a culture of good learning. We need to keep in mind what’s important and shift the focus back to enabling students to do the very best they can and getting teachers to feel as empowered and motivated as possible..”

The WEA isn’t a school but we face similar issues. We’re a voluntary sector adult education organisation with more than 1700 tutors across England and Scotland. The quotation above is a good guide for our senior educational leadership and management. This blog is about what we’re doing to ‘shift the focus back’ following a recent restructure and review of priorities.

We’re usually swimming against a tide of emails, deadlines and competing priorities as Secret Teacher says. We do risk drowning in paperwork but we’re trying to make careful choices along the way as we develop new ways of working.

10 things we’ve done recently to focus on a “culture of good learning”

1. We refreshed our vision and reaffirmed our commitment to adult education for social purpose. This gives clearer direction for our teaching and learning.

2. We cut the number of posts in our Senior Management Team. This aimed to cut overheads.

3. Trustees took part in a development event in October, using ‘active learning’ methods to focus on their roles in promoting excellence in teaching, learning and assessment. They wanted this to be at the forefront of strategic planning as the restructured Senior Management Team began to work with them in new ways.

4. Trustees now have a standing item on ‘teaching, learning and assessment’ on the agendas for all their meetings. Using this precise wording is creating space to ‘shift the focus back’.

5. ‘Teaching, learning and assessment’ is also a standing item on the agenda for all Senior Management Team meetings and teleconferences, reinforcing colleagues’ deep and shared interest and ambition for the WEA.

Our senior managers care about teaching and learning

Our senior managers care about teaching and learning

6. Trustees have changed the way that they run their Education Strategy Committee. They concentrate on an individual aspect of teaching, learning, assessment and impact for part of every meeting. Committee members have agreed that they will always ‘challenge the status quo’. Chris Morton, the Chair, invites people with a range of roles within and beyond the WEA to take part in these sessions so that the Committee members learn from different perspectives.

7. We have rooted our self-assessment, improvement and development processes in our work. Many people take part in determining what’s good about our teaching, learning and assessment and what we should improve. Using the AfL approach (Assessment for Learning), our self-assessment is FOR progress and not just OF progress.

8. We now manage student services and support from within the Senior Management Team so that we know about students’ needs, opinions and learning experiences as we make plans and check progress on teaching and learning.

Fiona Parr, Director of Student Services

Fiona Parr, Director of Student Services

9. We are encouraging people to exchange views about theories and practice of teaching, learning and assessment so that we’re actively thoughtful and thoughtfully active about how our students learn.

10. We are continuing to develop Community Learning Volunteers who work beside some tutors and provide classroom support. (This direct learning support is in addition to many Branch volunteers who organise courses and to other active volunteers.)

We’ve got a lot of work to do and I don’t underestimate the challenges but Trustees and senior education managers are regularly asking the question that Secret Teacher poses: “Is it going to directly improve learning?” We need to keep asking the question throughout the WEA, no matter what distractions there are. It’s also a message that all education policy makers, from Government Ministers to teachers, should apply whenever they make professional decisions.

We have to rely on colleagues with expertise in other specialisms to run excellent services alongside education. Teaching and learning would be impossible without them. Their vital roles and professional skills deserve equivalent status and the more that they do to free up educators to educate the better.

It would be interesting to know how senior managers ‘keep the focus’ in other educational organisations. We’re unusual in having such a dispersed and democratic model but we try to be open about what we do and we’re always willing to learn from others’ good practice as we develop.

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Robert Gagne, Jerome Bruner and Howard Gardner

Here’s a guest blog by Mary Hunter. Mary has a voluntary role in our senior governance as the WEA’s Association Committee Representative from the West Midlands Region.

About Mary

I started teaching, after a career in banking, a few years after the publication of Gagne’s “Conditions of learning”. As a linguist I have been involved in the development of language courses, worked at the (then) Schools Council on the Normal and Further Level Proposals for a new Sixth form curriculum, so worked across the subject spectrum. Later I was heavily involved in developing with my colleagues courses  run under the aegis  of the City and Guilds, B/Tec , GNVQ s, CPVE – ie. working with Sixth formers on the more pre-vocational path. During two years work with the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative I worked extensively on the development of the relevant skills curriculum, providing courses for teachers .

I continued my involvement in these areas after my formal retirement and am currently doing some exciting work with colleagues on the curriculum for a new Free Vocational school to be set up in Herefordshire

Mary’s guest blog

As a contribution to Ann Walker’s blog on the great educational thinkers  I want to add three names; not quite so formidable or well-known  perhaps as  John Dewey, Piaget, Freire and Bloom, but who have seminally influenced my work as a teacher and who are therefore my heroes – Dr. Robert Gagne, Jerome Bruner and (latterly) Howard Gardner.  I would have added Benjamin Bloom, of course, but his slot is taken already.

I also want to provide a – dare I say it – more practical slant, trying to link the work of the three cognitive psychologists (and Bloom) to suggest that their educational thinking  is really very similar, and also to tell teachers and tutors that while they might not all know the work of my heroes they have been using their  insights and methodologies in their teaching all along!

(I have been researching on the Internet to get my information  and refresh my memory,  so I am assuming that readers will do the same. I shall not therefore do the pen portraits, concentrating on the practical aspect, including the issue of assessment).

Dr. Robert Gagne’s  main book is “The Conditions of Learning” (1965).

For Gagne there are FIVE types of learning, EIGHT  conditions of learning and NINE  “Learning Events”. This all sounds too much, but I assure you that you as teachers and tutors are using them regularly!

The five types of learning: verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, motor skills and attitudes.

The eight conditions of learning: signal learning, stimulus –response learning, chaining, verbal association, discrimination learning, concept learning/formation, rule learning/application and problem solving (which involves using abstract, creative and strategic thinking to deal with new situations.)

This list of 8, in a hierarchy mirror the six in the Bloom Taxonomy set out clearly by Ann in her first blog https://annwalkerwea.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/educational-thinkers-hall-of-fame-benjamin-bloom/

I.e. Learning,  understanding,  applying,  analysing,  evaluating and creating.

While the Gagne “Conditions of learning” might seem too constraining in some learning  contexts( though in my  foreign language teaching they have been the bedrock for my work), I feel that whatever activity we undertake we start with

Gathering information and making the relevant  selection, (discrimination) then we can organise and classify the information as appropriate to our topic, then understand   the material, analyse, then  synthesise the material, allowing us to form rules, learn to apply these rules and deduce principles which can be applied not just to the material at hand but to new material – and so the peak of the Bloom taxonomy – we problem solve!

Again, for most of you who are teachers and tutors, this is what you do in all your preparation and teaching. All I want to say here is that all this apparently high-sounding theory in fact is the basis for formative and summative assessment because the taxonomy/hierarchy makes it easier to develop the set of criteria needed for assessment which is fit for purpose.

And the 9 Learning events? You achieve these every time you prepare a lesson! They just sound over-complicated!

  1. Identify the types of learning outcomes;
  2. Identify  the internal conditions or processes  needed to achieve the outcomes;
  3. Identify the external conditions or instruction needed to achieve the outcomes;
  4. Specify the learning context;
  5. Record the characteristics of the learners;
  6. Select media for instruction;
  7. Plan to motivate learner;
  8. Test the instruction (i.e. via formative evaluation)
  9. Summative evaluation (to judge effectiveness of learning and teaching.)

A few quotes:”The assumption is  that  different types of learning exist and that different instructional conditions are more likely to bring about these different types of learning.” (This all seems obvious now, doesn’t it? And the work of Howard Gardner in postulating the 7 Intelligences confirm the significance of knowing not just the types of learning but crucially the types of learner!  Jerome Bruner would have agreed.)

“The focus of the theory is on the retention and honing of intellectual skills”.

Gagne (as Bloom) puts Problem Solving as the last of the 8 learning types, but this is not to say that  a young child cannot solve problems – which Jerome Bruner emphasises in his “Spiral Curriculum”. Nor does Problem Solving take place in a vacuum, devoid of content knowledge.

“The major condition for encouraging the learner to think is to be sure he already has something to think about”(!!) Learning by Problem Solving leads to new capabilities for further thinking. Included among these are not only the “higher-order” principles, but also “sets” and “strategies” that serve to determine the direction of thinking and therefore its productiveness”

His theories have been applied to the design of instruction in all fields, though originally his work was within a Military Training setting. (Which I only found out myself when doing this on-line research!)

The work of Jerome Bruner which I have known best is “Towards a Theory of Instruction” (1966).

Howard Gardner says that Bruner has in his books, “put forth his evolving ideas about the ways in which instruction actually affects the mental models of the world that students construct, elaborate on and transform”

A few relevant quotes from the internet will confirm how easily he sits within the other heroes bloggers have discussed, and how well he would have understand the WEA’s central  theme of education for social purpose.

“What we resolve to do in school only makes sense when considered in the broader context of what the society intends to accomplish through its educational investment in the young. How one conceives of education, we have finally come to recognise is a function of how one conceives of culture and its aims, professed and otherwise”.

His MACOS project (Man a Course of Study) sought to produce a comprehensive curriculum drawing upon the behavioural sciences. It is this programme of research which drew Howard Gardner to work with Bruner-so my three heroes are on the same wavelength!.

“Bruner suggested that intellectual ability developed in stages through step-by-step changes in how the mind is used. (His) thinking became increasingly influenced by writers like Lev Vygotsky and he began to be critical of the intrapersonal focus he has taken and the lack of attention paid to social and political context. “

In her introduction to the blog Ann said, inter alia,”Ofsted’s greater emphasis on teaching, learning and assessment (my emphasis) means that we need to show clearly that these activities are at the forefront of our planning and that we understand how to recognize good quality teaching and learning.”

Benjamin Bloom I have already incorporated into this blog. The group leadership models of Kurt Lewin sit well in the instructional framework of my thinkers, and the essential “two-way process” of education (viz. of learning) of Freire is implicit too. And Mary Hamilton’s “literacy as social practice” argument chimes in well with the work I have done particularly in the development of foreign language teaching, where the Gagne 8 conditions of Learning are an ideal basis for teaching, learning – and which provide the criteria for the assessment, formative and summative of the learning.

……………and this is another blog for those interested!

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Carol Dweck and motivation theory

Carol Dweck

Here’s another reflection about a thinker whose work influences teaching, learning and assessment in adult education. This time it’s Carol Dweck’s work on the theory of motivation.She has researched the effects of students’ beliefs about their own intelligence and how their views can affect their progress. She describes students who think that their intelligence is static as having an ‘entity’ view or a fixed mindset. She suggests that others, who believe that they can increase their intelligence through effort, have an ‘incremental’ view or a growth mindset.

In practice, her research suggests that teachers motivate students more effectively when they give feedback on the processes of learning and don’t link their assessment to the person’s assumed ability.

“That was a good way of working”, is more effective than, “You’re very clever.” A good teacher makes the link between effort and success instead of reinforcing the view that there’s a limit to what any student can achieve.

We learn by experiment and experience. We learn from what doesn’t work as well as from what does – so long as we’re not discouraged or told that we’re stupid. Allowing a student to think that they’re simply not bright enough to be successful is a self-fulfilling prophesy. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”

Teachers who are aware of Dweck’s research can motivate students by showing that:

  • our brains continue to develop and to grow connections – especially if they’re stretched and exercised;
  • we can improve results by putting in extra effort and trying different approaches.

Promoting a growth mindset gives students much more of a message of hope and possibility than confirming perceptions of fixed intelligence. I know from personal experience of being kept alive on artificial life support for a while in 2009 that brain function is far from fixed. It can be lost and it can be gained. Many of the gains come from other people’s expectations and encouragement.

The 2-minute video from the excellent Teachers’ Toolbox website  http://www.teacherstoolbox.co.uk/Dweck_Motivation.html explains Dweck’s motivation theory. This site has other useful video links for teachers.

Carol Dweck’s own website at: http://www.mindsetonline.com/ shows how motivation theory is relevant to many aspects of life.

Do you agree with her theory or not? What other factors might affect motivation and achievement? Thoughts and comments welcomed.

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Sonia Nieto

Sonia Nieto is an inspiring educational thinker. Much of her writing is relevant to adult education although her experience is as a teacher-educator and classroom teacher in the American public (state) school system.

I really liked this section from page 76 of her book, What Keeps Teachers Going? (Sonia Nieto. New York: Teachers’ College Press, 2003). She describes the characteristics that we value in our WEA tutors.

(If you’re new to this, pedagogy means the art or science of being a teacher.)

Quoted text from Sonia Nieto (with the author’s kind permission)

“Good teachers think deeply and often about the craft of teaching and the process of learning. They are not simply technicians who know how to write good lesson plans and use collaborative groups effectively, although this is also part of what they do. Above all, excellent teachers are engaged every day in intellectual work, the kind of serious undertaking that demands considerable attention and thought. They devote substantial time and energy to their teaching and, over time, they develop extensive expertise and confidence in the work they do. Henry Giroux has defined teachers as intellectuals in this way: “in order to function as intellectuals, teachers must create the ideology and structured conditions necessary for them to write, research , and work with each other in producing curricula and sharing power…. As intellectuals, they will combine reflection and action in the interest of empowering students with the skills and knowledge needed to address injustices and to be critical actors committed to developing a world free of oppression and exploitation.”

All good teachers, whether they consciously carry out research or not, are researchers in the broadest sense of the word. This is because good teachers are also learners, and they recognise that they need to keep learning throughout their careers if they are to improve. They probe their subject matter, constantly searching for material that will excite and motivate their students; they explore pedagogy to create a learning environment that is both rigorous and supportive; they talk with their colleagues about difficult situations. Above all, they value the intellectual work that is at the core of teaching.”

Further thoughts? 

  • How can we tell the difference between a teacher who is an intellectual and one who is a ‘technician’?
  • Does this approach apply to other jobs and roles (especially in the WEA?)
  • Why might the difference matter to students and to society?
  • Has a tutor inspired you with an intellectual approach?

There’s more information about Sonia Nieto at http://www.sonianieto.com/index.html

Postscript

Thanks for various emails responding to this thread, including one from Phill O’Brien from the WEA’s North West Region who sent this link to teaching and learning resources:

http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/about.htm