Monday, 24 November 2014

IMHO: There is no place in modern education for these 6 words

In My Humble Opinion, words matter and from time to time we need to look at our language and re-examine the relevance of terminology to thinking. To what extent do the words we use to describe our rationale and practice correspond with our ideals and underpinning philosophy with respect to education?

Are there particular words that make you cringe when used in an educational context?

Here are six of my favourites (Not!)
1.     Delivery, as in “curriculum delivery” or delivery of a particular programme of study or learning and teaching service.
2.     Teacher Training, also used in conjunction with Teachers’ Training College or Trainee Teachers.
3.     Provision of PD (Professional Development), or the need to “provide PD to teachers”
4.     Control, in any sense really, including the use of the phrase “Full Control” to describe the period of time when a student teacher takes responsibility for most of the teaching in a classroom while on practicum.
5.     Digital Native.
6.     21st Century anything.

Let me explain.

1.     We deliver products or services but we do not deliver teaching and learning. While teaching might be regarded as a service, and some programmes may be packaged as products, the actual engagement in teaching and learning is not a transaction and is not something that can be passed from one party to another. ‘Delivery’ belongs to the discourse of transmission, whereby education is a good that is held by those who have knowledge, and who can transmit the knowledge to those who do not have it. If we truly believe that learners construct understandings, we need to dispense with ‘delivery’ as a term in education. More suitable terms would be: negotiating, empowering, enabling, engaging, working with and even teaching.
2.     Animals are trained and athletes may choose to regard their hard work in pursuit of excellence as ‘training’, but initial teacher education is not synonymous with  training. This is because the aim tends to be to educate reflective professionals, creative and critical thinkers and decision-makers, capable of theorising, carrying out inquiry, and generating knowledge. In professional preparations like ITE, it is less a matter of 'practice makes perfect', and more complex, messy and evolving. Effective teachers never finish learning, the process is never complete.
3.     Provision of PD (Professional Development) or the need to “provide PD to teachers” becomes unnecessary and inappropriate when teachers are as characterised in no. 2 above. An active and creative professional does not wait for or expect anyone to “provide” anything, but seeks out opportunities and makes professional learning happen. This might be considered as adaptive help seeking or a connectivist approach. I have argued this previously in relation to passive PD vs active access
4.     Control is not a term we would apply to learners and teachers if we recognise their agency. Neither is the complex and messy business of learning something we should seek to control. Better to inspire, provoke and generate learning as a catalyst. In this vein, for some time I have been frustrated by the use of the term “Full Control” applied to the period of time when a student teacher takes responsibility for most of the teaching in a classroom while on practicum. What/who has the student teacher full control of? The pupils? The planning? The classroom programme? Any/all of this is entirely unrealistic and inappropriate. It is little wonder that many preservice teachers are obsessed and intimidated by the pressures of classroom management. Instead, as the student teacher progresses to teaching a class for extended periods, planning more of the learning, and making more of the daily decisions, we might regard this as ‘Sustained teaching responsibility’ or some combination of those terms.
5.     Digital Native (Prenksy, 2001) is an outdated stereotype. Although no doubt intended to raise awareness of the needs of young people in modern times, this term has been used to overgeneralise, by conveying an assumption that all young people come from similar backgrounds and contexts that are digitally saturated. This inequitable and unwarranted assumption has been applied to overestimating the digital literacy (and academic literacy) of youth, who still need education and guidance and who are not born knowing how to research and critique. At the same time, the disassociation of many teachers with ‘digital natives’ has led to an abdication of responsibility to learn and to cultivate educators’ digital literacies, regardless of age. For an insightful commentary about similar terms and the critique of the 'native' rhetoric, see Steve Wheeler's excellent blog. In recent times Prensky himself has distanced himself from the concept, acknowledging that the distinction has become less relevant with the passage of time and preferring instead to talk about digital enhancement, digital wisdom, and the importance of listening to kids.
6.     21st Century anything. Surely it is time to move on. Fifteen years into the century, perhaps we might turn our attention to the kinds of learning and teaching we would like to engage in.
For me, preferable descriptors would be: empowering, creative, critical, diverse, active and research-informed.

In relation to educational discourse, what are your favourite and least appreciated words?

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