In the course of this week I have learned that I am not quite competent enough to engage in academic English discourse in a productive way. It's rather disappointing, since I would like to somehow be able to be part of the negotiation of an emerging theory or pedagogy. After all, I will eventually be in the front line of implementing it if it gains a more official status. Yet, it seems that as far as education is concerned, the movement is always top-down - researchers formulate their theories first (up there somewhere in their ivory towers), and if ministries, local authorities and other vested interest groups buy into it, they will start putting pressure on practising teachers to implement them.
When I did my MA and teacher training some 20 years ago, it was all about differentiated education. We were asked to read the theories , but there was no advice as to how to incorporate it in the classroom. Teachers were intuitively expected to find their own methods, since we are all individuals as teachers with our own preferences and strengths and weaknesses. I can still remember working long hours at night trying to prepare personalised exercises to cater for very heterogeneous students. I would argue that it was practically impossible for any one teacher to reach each individual student in big classes of 30-40. But the 'good' teachers were the ones who sacrificed all of their own time pursuing this.
Next it was the introduction of constructionism, together with pedagogies and methods, such as co-operative learning, experiential learning and inquiry-based learning. I really worked hard to understand what this was all about, especially as I, myself, was the product of the good old behaviorist methods, which must have been ingrained in my system, and which teachers are said to inadvertently perpetuate in their own teaching. I read volume after volume looking for some pointers as to how to change my classrooms into constructivist workshops where all students would enjoy learning at their own pace making use of their varying abilities. The best advice I ever found was along the lines: you won't truly have understood what constructionism is until you are able to verifiably apply it in your classroom. I doubt I truly understand it even now...
And yet, I did see the need for a change and improvement of school practices. I was just left so alone, as many colleagues were happy enough with their cushy tenures and refused to try anything new. Rejecting new methods while securing long-established comfort zones is a strong survival mechanism inside the teaching profession, quite understandably, though, given the scarcity of further training budgets, for example. In addition, the straight-jacket of externally-imposed testing routines (highly respected by students' parents, by the way), still called for the old-style rote learning of pre-set facts. I also saw warning examples of ill-advised, although well-meaning and enthusiastic, teachers applying experiential learning - eg. my daughter's maths teacher, whose adage, when a student asked for help or guidance, was simply 'you will get it'. In the end, my daughter never 'got it' and now hates mathematics! Or whole schools adopting inquiry-based learning as their only method, leading to each and every teacher starting new courses in all the different subjects by asking students to define their own inquiry problems. Students soon got tired of exactly the same repetition and lost their initial motivation.
And now it's personalised learning and connectivism that are the latest educational hype. Even though I do appreciate many aspects of connectivism, I don't yet believe that it will be the one and only solution to revolutionise education. I can already picture schools letting their students loose on the net to find their own PLEs and PLNs, but what they learn and understand is another question. More and more, I think that connectivism is a good way to learn in small doses. Yet, young people especially still need some face2face interaction, too. They need
guidance about critical thinking, media literacy and focused reflection- I don't believe they will just 'get it'. Personalised learning and connectivism, yes, since they seem to enhance the enthusiasm and motivation of students, who would otherwise waste their time in the drone zones of traditional classrooms. Further, from a teacher's point of view, finally I am beginning to see the light at the end of a long and confusing tunnel of managing heterogenous student groups. Thanks to modern technology, it will at last be possible for students to partly tailor their own learning without the teacher having to do it for them! What's more, teachers won't have to work in isolation any more, if your own colleagues are reluctant collaborators you can establish your own online learning and sharing network.
But not exclusively personalised learning and connectivism, as an end in themselves, or for everybody to the same extent. Learners are different, and teachers should avoid rushing on the bandwagon and throwing the baby with the bathwater - even behaviorism still works in certain learning contexts!
I look forward to the learning and insights of the coming weeks.