Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The art and science of learning

When I first started teaching almost 30 years ago, I was given a book called "The Craft of the Classroom" by Michael Marland by someone whose official title at the school was the Senior Master (his job was basically to be in charge of discipline, and in a tough comprehensive school on the Yorkshire coalfield in the middle of the miner's strike in 1984 this job was not one for the faint hearted).  I was told to read the book and that it would be my "survival guide".  It dealt with all sorts of things that a new teacher might want to know about, such as keeping registers, keeping student records, writing reports, writing on the blackboard (amazing to think I haven't seen one of those for over 20 years!)  Basically this book dealt with the methods and practice of teaching - the pedagogy.  Pedagogy is the form of instruction that dominates in most schools - it involves the teacher making the decision about what will be learned, how it will be learned, when it will be learned and, by using assessment, if it has been learned.  Basically pedagogy is teacher-directed learning focused on content.  In this system, if a child fails to learn or to pass exams, the teacher is seen to be responsible.

But learning today is changing.  We talk about our students owning and being in control of and responsible for their own learning.  We talk about wanting our students to be lifelong learners - to continue learning even when they don't have someone actually teaching them.  Today the emphasis is shifting from pedagogy to andragogy:  away from the art and science of teaching and towards the art and science of learning.  With andragogy, according to Wikipedia, the role of the teacher as an instructor is minimised.  The teacher is more of a facilitator, the emphasis is more on the process of learning and the resources and skills that are needed, than the content.  If someone fails to learn, it is not the fault of the instructor.

When I'm thinking about what is needed in our schools today to prepare our students for their futures, I see the emphasis being more on andragogy than pedagogy.   For example pedagogy would seem to imply that learning was formal and possibly competitive in the way it is assessed and graded, whereas andragogy would seem to be more collaborative, open and informal.  Pedagogy would imply that the learning objectives would be set by the teacher, andragogy would seem to involve more pupil participation in these objectives and setting their own learning goals and most important of all it will involve inquiry and real-life hands-on experiences.

Today on Twitter I got a tweet from a teacher moving from the English National Curriculum to the IB Primary Years Programme.  He said:  "Such a different learning environment.  10 years of ENC and I'm remembering why I went into teaching."  I can remember that feeling myself as I moved into an inquiry based approach to learning.  Good teaching is good teaching - sure - but the focus needs to be different - it needs to be off the teaching and onto the learning.

Photo Credit:  Goodbye by Woodleywonderworks AttributionNo Derivative Works 

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