A new paper from the PETE project, about to be published in the British Educational Research Journal and co-authored with David Spendlove from Manchester, reports on our study of the enactment of the School Direct teacher education reform in England between 2010 and 2014. In the paper, we focus on our interviews with university leaders in two large regions of England, analysing their retrospective accounts of enacting the policy during a particularly turbulent time in education in England – including in higher education – under Michael Gove as Education Secretary. School Direct, as a teacher education reform, coincided with some of the biggest changes to university financial models ever made in the UK – the withdrawal of direct state funding for courses in the arts and social sciences by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government and the tripling of the tuition fee originally introduced by New Labour.
Entitled ‘Mediating School Direct’, the paper examines the mediations of the policy from a socio-cognitive and activity-theoretical perspective; to that extent we are aligned with the James Spillane tradition of policy enactment research. We identify two policy enactment activities (in the activity-theoretical sense) that involved bargaining within and re-brokering relationships between universities and schools. However, we also identify three emotional frames for perceiving School Direct within the policy environment, working with the Vygotskian concept of perezhivanie; here we draw particularly on the work of Marilyn Fleer and colleagues. The most striking thing about our data was the heightened emotion – at the level of perceived existential threat – recollected by the university leaders.
Consequently, we argue that the mediations of School Direct reported by the university leaders in our sample can be understood as limited appropriations of the policy within a highly charged emotional context where institutional risks were felt to be ever-present. In the paper, we also identify the role played by Dominic Cummings, then Michael Gove’s special advisor (now de facto chief of staff to the UK Prime Minister), in the rapid growth of School Direct and its purposively disruptive intent. However, rather than seeing School Direct as the ‘pure’ marketisation of teacher education provision, we suggest instead the logic of the market was simply the most obvious tool with which to shift control and resources away from the universities. Even the concept of privatisation does not fully capture either the intent or the dynamics of change involved in School Direct.
The paper concludes that, in their accounts, these university leaders did not believe that School Direct achieved a transformation of ITE on the basis of a reconceptualization of existing practices. And despite seeking to shift control and resources away from the universities, School Direct was instead re-appropriated into the status quo and ultimately served to entrench the universities’ important structural position in initial teacher education in England, albeit at reduced cost.
If you don’t have institutional access to the British Educational Research Journal and would like a copy of the article when it’s published, please use the contact form.
Teacher education is now characterised by greater organisational diversity in provision in many countries. Markets or quasi-markets for teacher ed programmes are not a universal feature, of course, but even in the Nordic countries, where there remains a stronger, state- planned model, there are modest but sometimes influential new providers at the margins. In the US, the universities, as legacy providers of initial teacher education (ITE), have been seriously challenged in recent years by a new cadre of private providers in what has always been more of a genuine market, one characterised both by price competition and strongly differentiated brands. And England is a highly distinctive case internationally where both the ‘model of the market’ and the state’s interventionist, controlling instincts have led to a sector characterised by historically important providers like public universities and groups of schools (‘SCITTS’) but also new entrants that might be described as ‘enterprising charities’ or even sole trader entrepreneurs.
Our ‘Changing Landscape of Teacher Education’ research is now moving into a different phase with new articles in press and under review that address some of this diversity from a political economy perspective. The first new article, about to be published in the Journal of Education Policy, takes the first round of the Teaching and Leadership Innovation fund as a point of departure and shows how a new political economy of teacher development in England has emerged, arising out of the elision of ‘teaching quality’ and ‘social mobility’ over the last decade of austerity policies. In particular, the paper argues that we are seeing new developments in what Jennifer Wolch (1990) called ‘the shadow state’ – non-state organisations that do work formerly undertaken by the public sector but still within state control.
Also under review, a paper that looks at bargaining at times of reform and whether these negotiations stimulate meaningful change in initial teacher education provision. Then, at the end of this year – fingers crossed – we hope that the book reporting on the different strands in our research and taking a comparative perspective across England, the USA and Norway will be published.
Warwick Mansell, freelance investigative journalist and the founder-editor of Education Uncovered website, is a key partner, co-researcher and co-author in several of these writing projects, representing a unique collaboration (in the field of teacher education research, anyway) between academic researchers and investigative journalism. Other collaborators include David Spendlove (Manchester) and Sarah Steadman (ESRC-funded doctoral researcher at KCL).
It’s been a genuinely fascinating experience completing the underlying research over the last couple of years. One previously unexperienced oddity was an intervention by the DfE (the Education ministry in England) who asked our potential research participants not to work with us (the details of which we confirmed through a Subject Access Request)! We’ve also met and talked to a wide range of people and companies that I am certain I would never had encountered if we hadn’t done this research.
So, given the analytic focus we have adopted and the concepts we use to explore the field, it seems the right time to change our project title from the ‘Changing Landscape…’ to the ‘Political Economy of Teacher Education’ (PETE). PETE seeks to:
Examining the relationship between privatisation policies framed through discourses of equity and justice, the pedagogies of teacher education and professional identity of the school teacher;
Analyse the emergence of new relationships of co-production between the state and teacher education enterprises, including the co-creation of shadow state structures;
Understand the rhetorical production of reform ideas and how these create funding opportunities for policy entrepreneurs;
Theorise questions of novelty, scale and value in teacher education innovations internationally.
So farewell ‘landscape’ and hello ‘PETE’. More to come.
The Sage Handbook of Research on Teacher Education edited by D. Jean Clandinin and Jukka Husu has finally been published – and what a beautiful monster! Two volumes and so many authors I lost count. It is one of those research handbooks which will become a standard desktop reference but also a publication that not many people (myself included) will own a hard copy of. With an ‘educator’ discount it retails at £265 in print; and there is an e-book at around £150, depending on seller. So it is one that should be recommended to librarians in colleges and universities (done for KCL and HVL); and one for inter-library loan requests if you use a public library.
Jean and Jukka have done a fabulous job in organising such comprehensive coverage of research topics across the two volumes and combined this design with their meticulous editing. My favourite sections so far are the introductory section which sets out to ‘map the landscape’ of research in the field and then a later section about learning to teach ‘content’ (North American usage meaning, in the UK context, something like ‘subject knowledge’).
My chapter, with KCL colleague Meg Maguire, is about critical approaches to teacher education. It begins by discussing the sociological literature on critical pedagogy in teacher education (and does so critically, drawing on Elizabeth Ellsworth’s important essay ‘Why doesn’t this feel empowering?’) before looking at two traditions of critical pedagogy R&D in teacher ed: socioculturally-informed practice developing research; and anti-homophobia/queer pedagogy research. In 7000 words. It was tough.
As the title suggests, this isn’t a book for the bedside table nor is it one that you would necessarily plough through from page one to the end. But over two volumes, it does offer a wealth of entries on key research topics in the field. It’s a brilliant effort and wonderfully executed.
Having said several times recently that I haven’t done research in English Education/language/literacy for a while, I am reminded that, in fact, I have by the publication of two new journal articles on poetry. The articles arose out of the Arts and Humanities Research Council project I was CI on during my time at Brunel. Given how busy I was there, I don’t think that’s surprising. But it was interesting that, although I knew I had these two pieces coming out, I hadn’t connected them to English Education. Maybe here’s why.
In the article for the Journal of Aesthetic Education, ‘The Uses of Poetry: Renewing an Educational Understanding of a Language Art’, the brilliant philosopher Karen Simecek and I explore the various definitions of poetry or poetic modes of language use that have been dominant over the last thousand years or so in connection with formal education and human development. This paper also helped us elaborate a working definition of poetry that we could operationalize in our project. It shouldn’t be a surprise that we returned to the work of James Britton and some of the extraordinary work he was producing in the 1960s drawing on the philosophy of Langer and Rorty. Britton drew attention to the self-conscious ‘deviance’ (his word) of poetry in drawing attention to itself and its symbolic work.
For Changing English: Studies in Reading and Culture, Brunel’s Andrew Green, Karen and I replicated the experiment conducted by Jerome Bruner for Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. With a twist. In ‘Actual texts, possible meanings: The uses of poetry and the subjunctification of experience’, we compare the responses of a small sample of university students to hearing a poem, a literary short story and a newspaper report. We note, as Bruner did, the greater number of syntactic transformations the students made in their retellings of the short story compared to the news report. But we also noted a qualitative difference between their processing of the poem and the short story with the poem being more likely to produce expressions of contingency and complexity and even greater affordances of subjunctification than the short story. This was what we hoped to add to Bruner’s research.
These two papers are available to download from the Articles section of this website.
Both articles connect to my recent and current interests in the pedagogies of teacher education in that poetry presents a good example of a kind of knowledge that, in its true sense of being poetry (poetry as poetry), is deeply resistant to the commodification that is so prevalent in the GERM-infected education reform movement. Rather than teaching and learning how to deal with indeterminacy and uncertainty in meaning-making, reform tends to pin poetry down into the lowest-level things that can be easily ‘spotted’ and counted. So poetry is a good example of the kind of knowledge that has to be marginalized when short-term, easily-measurable gains in learning are prioritised. Poetry, as such a culturally significant mode of language use, presents considerable problems for reformist notions of teacher development and school improvement. As well as being deviant, it is highly disruptive.
I am currently working through a weighty archive of documents and interview transcripts about the development of the Oxford Internship Scheme from 1973 to 1987. My friend and colleague Ann Childs and I have been doing this, on and off, for over three years now since we first talked about it at the BERA conference in 2013. It is utterly engrossing and has generated some surprising ideas about how we have come to be where we are now in initial teacher education in England. But more on that later….
One document has stuck in my memory more than many others – and it has resurfaced again this week as most English universities are thinking about the latest ‘Buster Keaton rides again’ dictat from government about the allocation of student teacher numbers from 2017. It is a paper from 1979 written by Harry Judge entitled ‘Teaching and Professionalism. An Essay in Ambiguity’.
Harry had been Director of the University of Oxford Department of Educational Studies for nearly six years when he wrote this paper. He had arrived at the department in 1973, fresh from headship at Banbury School, then a large and pioneering comprehensive in north Oxfordshire. He was keen to change the department and he led the development of the then highly innovative Internship Scheme which started in 1987. The years between Harry’s arrival (and the arrival of another colleague, Peter Benton) and the Internship Scheme starting in ’87 are the focus of Ann’s and my research.
The paper shows both the depth of professional experience Harry brought to the role of Director and his scholarly approach to the study of teacher education. The paper (circulated as so many others were in mimeographed form to his academic colleagues, friends and supporters in schools and the LEA (led at that time by Tim Brighouse)) is informed by a recent trip to the USA to look at successful Schools of Education there and was written as a contribution to an American yearbook.
Reading the paper now, it is notable for the way that Harry identified an enduring tension in the way that university Schools of Education work, a tension that has perhaps reached yet another peak of volatility today. He says:
The tension is increased when forces outside the Universities, or outside the whole teacher training world or even outside the educational establishment itself, call for a return to basics, emphasise the importance of competency in some practical and measurable sense, show clear signs of anti-intellectualism, and seek to impart a sharp note of accountability into the training as into the employment and promotion of teachers. At the same time, professional associations of teachers claim that they – and not the Universities – know how to specify the knowledge and skills required by teachers, and moreover know how in a context of school-based training to impart them. (Judge 1979, 12)
I sat up when I first read that!
In the final part of the paper, Harry puts forward his view about how university Schools of Education should be organized and what their purposes should be. He rejects Education as an undergraduate discipline and is sceptical of what was then called the BEd. He says ‘Schools of Education should seek rather than fear smallness’ since they can never hope to ‘dominate’ the professional concerns of teachers. Schools of Education should choose their place in the system ‘with particular care and discrimination’. It is clear that Harry was writing before the expansion of higher education in the 1990s but the argument (whether you agree with him or not) that Education should be studied in Graduate Schools of Education only is an argument that is very much alive in many Russell Group universities.
The future of Education in universities was therefore in small Graduate Schools that gave a ‘high priority to research and to the training of research workers’. But at the same time, they needed to ‘seek urgently and continuously for ways to demonstrate that they take seriously the practice of education and respect the practitioner’. A ‘strong’, research-based version of graduate teacher training was, for Harry, one way of doing that. Some 8 years later, the Internship Scheme materialised, in large part as the realisation of that aim.
It’s a fascinating and in some senses timeless paper. It is, however, full of gendered language so be prepared for talk of ‘able men’ and hearty back-slaps! Harry is nearly 88 and lives in north Oxford where he still takes a keen interest in education and cares about the future of teaching. You can download the paper to read it for yourself by clicking here.
There are many different Vygotskies. There is the Vygotsky whose theoretical speculations on the relationship between thinking and speech have sometimes become barely recognizable justifications for ‘group work’ in schools. There is the Vygotsky whose experiments with stroke patients, among others, paved the way for a new methodology in psychology. There is the Vygotsky associated with the Russian field of ‘defectology’; the Vygotsky introduced to English teachers in England by James Britton; the Vygotsky wrongly accredited with term ‘scaffolding’. And the Vygotsky whose work was selected, translated and assembled in an idiosyncratic order by American cognitive psychologists in the 1970s, four decades after the man himself had died. Oh, and the philosopher’s Vygotsky, the one spoken about in connection with Hegel and Kant and, more recently, Brandom and McDowell.
But what of the Vygotsky who was, first, a humanities scholar, closely involved in his local theatre? The same Vygotsky who studied Hamlet for his doctorate and who borrowed concepts from the great Russian director Stanislavsky? It falls to a fascinating new volume edited by Davis, Fertholt, Grainger Clemson, Jansson and Marjanovic-Shane – Dramatic Interaction in Education: Vygotskian and Sociocultural Approaches to Drama, Education and Research – to show the life-long importance of drama and theatre in Lev Vygotsky’s work. The book’s great achievement over its 14 chapters is to show how the early interest in theatre set the ground for Vygotsky’s major theoretical and empirical studies of human development. And then how, in his final years (although still a young man: he died at 37) he turned once again to the drama of development and the importance of creativity and play throughout life. And, just for the purposes of full disclosure, Hannah Grainger Clemson (one of the editors and authors) was a doctoral student of mine and did a fascinating study in this area.
Vygotsky’s approach to human development is characterized by some particularly ‘dramatic’ dynamics. A key characteristic is the importance placed on social interaction and the ‘lending’ of consciousness between individuals in what he described as a ‘zone of proximal development’. ‘We become ourselves through others’ captures some of this dynamic between the inner self and the outer realm of shared experience. The role of artifacts in creating this dynamic is also key: a stick can prop open a door or it can become a horse or, for that matter, a light sabre. In other words, ‘things’ can have functional or symbolic meanings and symbolic meanings can open doors to new ideas and new ways of doing things. And in this process, imagination is central and exercised in the agentic engagement of people both with things and other people as they work together to solve problems or overcome crises. Thinking – cognitive activity, if you like – has a social and material basis for Vygotsky: it is a living and embodied performance that relies on people’s wants, needs and desires as motives. The drama of learning, then, is the drama of human development.
The book’s chapters are organized in four sections. The first takes a generally historical approach to Vygotsky’s life and influences, insofar as they show a relationship between the ‘problem of the actor’ and the problem of the learner’s work. A central concept is that of perezivhanie, a concept Vygotsky appropriated from Stanislavsky, meaning the frame of emotional experience through which we perceive our environments and their opportunities for our development. As with many chapters throughout the book, the contribution by Fertholt in this section draws on empirical research, in this case, an early childhood education setting. Section 2 consists of three chapters reporting on the transformative potential of classroom drama, particularly in connection to motivation and identity formation. The third section continues the emphasis on classroom studies of drama in education, across secondary education generally and with particular attention to second-language learning, multicultural classrooms and the use of new technologies. Section three is generally more successful than section two in integrating the Vygotskian theory with data analysis and Chapter 7 (by Ewing), in particular, offers a good example of how data can be used to illustrate and develop readers’ understandings of these theories. The final section includes two chapters by Jansson that bring together Vygotskian interests in the ‘drama of learning’ and development with the neo-Vygotskian, activity theoretical approach to intervention research in workplace settings, known as Developmental Work Research (DWR). Other chapters in this section (by Franks and Sawyer) draw on theories of multimodality and group creativity.
As an edited collection of 14 chapters, the editors have generally done a good job of building coherence across the whole book as well as within the four sections. This is particularly true of the first section and it is probably one of the reasons why it is so successful. There are one or two referencing issues that should have been picked up during production (missing or incomplete references, for example), especially for an academic book at this price. Personally, I would also have appreciated a final chapter (even if presented simply as an epilogue or ‘afterword’) that brought the whole book together and synthesized what the editors believed to be the key messages: how might we define specifically Vygotskian and sociocultural approaches to drama education and drama education research? These are small quibbles with what is an excellent book, however. It merits serious attention as a scholarly collection dedicated to revealing and explaining the Vygotsky for whom an early interest in theatre provided many of the concepts and underlying social dynamics of his later psychology, a psychology that – for all its limits – has become so influential in education.
A version of this post will appear as a review in Research in Drama Education this year.
Dramatic Interaction in Education: Vygotskian and Sociocultural Approaches to Drama, Education and Research
Edited by Susan Davis, Beth Fertholt, Hannah Grainger Clemson, Satu-Mari Jansson & Ana Marjanovic-Shame
The first fruits of my British Academy-funded project have finally appeared in the form of an article now published in the Journal of Education Policy. ‘Teaching other people’s children, elsewhere, for a while: The rhetoric of a travelling educational reform’ was co-written with Meg Maguire (King’s College, London), Tom Are Trippestad (Bergen University College, Norway), Xiaowei Yang and Yunqiu Liu (East China Normal University, Shanghai) and Ken Zeichner (University of Washington, Seattle). The paper is available to download from the Articles page on this website and is Open Access so can also be downloaded freely from the journal web page.
The article provides a rhetorical analysis of the Teach for All movement, focusing specifically on Teach for America, Teach First, Teach First Norway and Teach for China. Teach for All is the umbrella organisation for around 36 Teach First-like project around the world and what we were interested in was the way in which this globally travelling teacher ed reform idea ‘touches down’ (to use a phrase used by Terri Seddon and Jenny Ozga) in different places around the world and then grows within the local culture. So Teach for All does not look, feel or do the same thing in its 36 different localizations even though they all strategically appropriate and playfully adapt the same rhetoric. Although the article could be read as a critique of Teach for All, an equally open reading would be that we show just how effective Teach for All and its different projects have been in persuading multiple constituencies that they have the right ideas. And, by implication, how strikingly ineffective universities have been at persuading people about theirs.
However, the implicit critique within the rhetorical analysis is that Teach for All presents a challenge to the various national cultures of teaching as a profession on the basis of evidence that is, at best, contentious. Further, by turning school-teaching into a short-term missionary activity in the communities of non-dominant and subjugated populations in order to develop the leadership potential of the ‘elite’ individuals selected as participants, the Teach for All idea does not provide the children and the schools within those communities with what is likely to be more effective in helping them to transform the life chances of those children – high-quality, well-prepared, culturally-literate teachers who are prepared to stick around and build long-term relationships with young people, their families and communities – as well as their colleagues within schools. By sticking around, the evidence suggests, teachers are more likely to be truly effective and expert.
In the US, a backlash against Teach for America led by some its former participants has been long underway. In part, former Teach for America participants are protesting against what they see as the organisation’s role in the privatisation of public (state) education, but they also draw attention to what they see as inadequate preparation for the settings in which they were sent to teach. Articles about this movement and their criticism are available here and here. So it is not just academics who are drawing attention to the problems inherent within the design. That said, Teach for America is on the wane with policy-makers in the US too and there are other, more worrying challenges to an adequate preparation for new teachers emerging through private providers who mimic university structures while providing a deeply ideological, reformist alternative. But that’s a story for another day.
CHAT is, at its core, as with the psychology of Vygotsky that underpins it, a methodological project; it is about seeing the world and acting on it in specific ways. For Vygotsky, this meant challenging the scientistic and even inhumane version of psychology that prevailed at the time of his writing. Simultaneously, he was (perhaps unsurprisingly given the political culture at that time) committed to a socialist ideal of progress – a modernist commitment to development through ‘properly’ scientific means. The tradition of activity-theoretical work that has grown up around intervention research has continued this commitment to progress and, indeed, the commitment to theory – specifically the potential power of theory to move people and practices on.
In a recent article on teacher rounds I co-wrote with Gower, Frederick and Childs, we explored the CHAT tradition of formative intervention in connection with the rounds idea and addressed three methodological issues about all types of formative intervention:
What is the role of theory?
What is the relationship between the individual and the collective when developing practice (which is, by definition, collective)?
What is the meaning of collaboration in this type of intervention focused on the development of practice?
For me, those are the key questions to ask of the formative intervention approach that has become known as Developmental Work Research (DWR). DWR certainly has a strong faith in the power of theoretical mediation to bring about change; it brings individuals together to work on a shared practice for which they may not have the same engaging motive; there is an assumption that their deliberations in collaborating will be rational and evidence-based. They may be. But these assumptions do lead to questions that are essential to ask.
In the section below, I provide an extract from my chapter in Cultural-Historical Perspectives on Teacher Education and Development: Learning Teaching, a book I edited a few years ago with Peter Smagorinsky and Anne Edwards. In my chapter, I focused on the methodological side of the Vygotskian project and the DWR approach to intervention research with particular reference to teacher education. Specifically, I focus on what Vygotsky called (usually, according to one translation) the ‘double stimulation strategy’ – basically an approach to research where a problem is set for research participants to work on and you also give them tools to work on it and observe how they do. Double stimulation – the problem and the tools. Now stop giggling.
If you would like to cite this extract, please refer to:
Ellis, V. (2010) ‘Studying the Process of Change: The Double Stimulation Strategy in Research on Teacher Learning’, in Ellis, V., Edwards, A. & Smagorinsky, P. eds. Cultural Historical Perspectives on Teacher Education and Development: Learning Teaching, London & New York: Routledge.
The methodological foundations of the CHAT formative intervention approach (an extract from Cultural Historical Perspectives on Teacher Education and Development)
This chapter focuses on one of Vygotsky’s key methodological concepts: the double stimulation strategy (Vygotsky 1978, 1987, 1999), a radical re-conceptualization of the behaviourist experimental method that makes the unit of analysis the process or activity of engaging with a task rather than merely the outcome or product. In such a re-conceptualization, the researcher’s analytic gaze is directed at the mediation of the subject’s or participant’s activity by physical or psychological tools (see Cole 1996 for what he refers to as Vygotsky’s ‘basic mediational triangle’). For Vygotsky, the psychological tool of principal interest was speech, principally spoken but also written (Vygotsky 1986), although his work is characterised by attention at different times to social as well as semiotic mediation and the associated concept of the ‘zone of proximal development’ (Moll 1990, Vygotsky 1978). Moreover, this re-conceptualization challenges the researcher to see psychological processes as historical and dynamic, ‘undergoing changes right before one’s eyes’ (Vygotsky 1978: 61) and, further still, capable of being provoked by the researcher.
In illustrating the significance of this methodological concept in researching teacher education and development, I will refer to two examples of my own work: first, a study of beginning English teachers’ concept formation and conceptual development (Ellis 2007a, 2007b); and second, a formative intervention into the organizational learning of a school-university teacher education partnership (Ellis 2008, 2007c). The argument of the chapter is that the double stimulation strategy is useful and productive in conceptualizing and designing research into teacher learning that seeks to explain its complexity and to trace the history of its development. The two illustrations will also reflect the different emphases and shifts in Vygotsky’s work from semiotic to social processes of mediation and the potential of the research method itself to stimulate positive change.
THE POWER OF STIMULUS-MEANS TO ORGANISE AND REVEAL
In Vygotsky’s texts, the double stimulation strategy (Vygotsky 1978) is variously referred to as ‘the functional method of dual stimulation’ (e.g. Vygotsky 1987), ‘the instrumental method’ (e.g. Vygotsky 1978, 1999) and by other formulations (see Engeström 2007: 364). For consistency’s sake, I will use the phrase ‘double stimulation strategy’ throughout this chapter to represent the way in which researchers give their research participants a means of working on a problem or engaging in a task. The task or problem Vygotsky referred to as the ‘stimulus-end’ (1978) and the potentially problem-solving tools donated as the ‘stimulus-means’. In his own experiments, he used the double stimulation strategy to reveal the ways in which children made sense of the worlds they were acting in:
We simultaneously offer a second series of stimuli that have a special function. In this way, we are able to study the process of accomplishing a task by the aid of specific auxiliary means: thus we are able to discover the inner structure and development of higher mental processes (Vygotsky 1978: 74).
The ways in which the research subjects use the ‘second-series of stimuli’ or ‘auxiliary means’ to work on the object or problem-space – the ‘first’ stimuli or stimulus-end – revealed for Vygotsky the subjects’ ‘higher mental functions’ (Vygotsky 1987, 1997), how they construct and reconstruct the object of activity and the culturally and historically mediating function of the stimulus-means. The researcher’s interest is in how they use the donated tools, the sense they make of them, the ways in which their activity is shaped by the tool-use and, potentially, the ways in which subjects re-shape the meaning of the tools – all of which is studied in relation to how the subjects perceive and are motivated by the object. An example relevant to the study of teacher learning might be a researcher’s introduction of an unfamiliar lesson-planning template as a ‘second series of stimuli’ into the planning processes of teachers in order to reveal how they understand the concept of curriculum or the materiality of the students they are teaching.
Vygotsky distinguished between degrees of ‘ready-made’-ness in stimulus-means and explained the distinction thus:
we do not necessarily have to present to the subject a prepared external means with which we might solve the proposed problem . . . . In not giving the child a ready symbol, we could trace the way all the essential mechanisms of the complex symbolic activity of the child develop during the spontaneous expanding of the devices he used.’ (Vygotsky 1999: 60)
In other words, Vygotsky left open the possibility, taken up by Wertsch in his distinction between explicit and implicit mediation (Wertsch 2007), that less prepared or ‘ready-made’ means might be particularly effective in enabling the researcher to trace ‘complex symbolic activity’ by opening up more space for subjects’ agency and providing greater opportunities for engaging in difficult but generative problem-solving activities.
DEVELOPMENTAL WORK RESEARCH: THEORISING PRACTICE – IN ORDER TO CHANGE IT
… Engeström describes DWR as an explicit application of Vygotsky’s double stimulation strategy where the stimulus-means of the conceptual tools of activity theory are donated to participants in order to help them work on a problem of practice (Engeström 2007).
The claims for DWR as a formative methodology are that it enables participants to do more than simply work on improving their own performance through action research methods or through participation in a researcher-led design experiment (ibid). DWR claims to develop understanding among participants of how their existing practices and discourses have been shaped culturally and historically so that they might be worked on and developed at the level of the social system. This critical understanding, it is claimed, is stimulated by the power of the conceptual tools of activity theory (represented by the triangular image of the activity system) in helping participants analyse how the object of their collective activity is constructed, how rules and a division of labour have emerged historically within a community of practitioners, and how cultural tools are appropriated by members of that community – and how these might be changed for the better. Engeström has recently written for the first time at length about the methodology of DWR and readers are encouraged to turn to his authoritative account for detailed procedures (ibid: 370 – 382).
Again, if you would like the references to the works cited in this extract, the book is available from your library (through inter-library loan, perhaps) or from your friendly, local bookseller.
Teacher rounds, education rounds, instructional rounds – whichever variety you choose, the word ’rounds’ points to an origin in medical education. Senior and more expert doctors gather together a group of less experienced and expert doctors around a particular case – a patient. The purpose of the round (or ward round) is to lead the development of a collective understanding of the case, to form a shared diagnosis and to design a treatment plan (an intervention). Rounds in medical education have somewhat fallen out of favour but the concept of a ’round’ in school education has started to take hold in various forms.
Instructional rounds are associated with school improvement and school effectiveness. Associated with an approach to network- or system-wide improvement developed at Harvard University (City et al 2009), the impetus for improvement is driven by school or district management and the aim is a development in some aspect of professional practice across the network.
Teacher rounds were developed by Tom del Prete at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Himself a graduate of the Harvard School of Education, del Prete has made the model more bottom-up, teacher-driven and focused on self-directed collaborative learning (del Prete 2013). Del Prete has pioneered the use of rounds in pre-service or initial teacher education at Clark and in the Worceseter public (i.e. state) schools.
Colleagues at Teachers College in New York and elsewhere and a small team of us at Brunel are exploring the use of rounds and we, at Brunel, have been theorising it using CHAT. ‘Formative interventions and practice-development: A methodological perspective on teacher rounds’ has just been published by the International Journal of Educational Research (on an open access basis so free for anyone to download). In fact, it is available to download in the Articles section of this website. The authors are Cathy Gower, Kenny Frederick, Ann Childs and myself.
Our article explores this tradition of formative intervention in connection with teacher rounds and asks three methodological issues about all types of formative intervention:
What is the role of theory?
What is the relationship between the individual and the collective when developing practice (which is, by definition, collective)?
What is the meaning of collaboration in this type of intervention focused on the development of practice?
Enjoy! Or hate! Let us know.
City, E., Elmore, R., Fiarman, S. & Teitel, L. (2009) Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
del Prete, T. (2013) Teacher Rounds: A Guide to Collaborative Learning in and from Practice. San Francisco: Corwin Press.
Hot on the heels of the Carter Review in England, comes Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers, Australia’s very own review conducted by a ministerial advisory group. It is the season to review teacher education, it seems. In fact, it is always the season to poke around and point a finger at the supposedly feckless employees of university faculties of Education who, when they are not turning impressionable twenty-somethings into Marxists are generally incompetent and disinterested in helping anyone to learn how to teach in a school. This kind of finger-pointing has gone on for so long, it is now traditional. And I’ve clearly internalised the criticisms!
Reform of initial teacher education is one of those globally travelling educational ideas that researchers such as Jenny Ozga and Terri Seddon have been investigating for years. Every aspiring knowledge economy has to be interested in reform of teacher education, regardless of how successful their own school systems really are. Built on a kernel of truth – that the quality of teaching is the in-school factor that makes the biggest difference to student achievement (overall, poverty is the factor that makes the biggest difference) – it now seems compulsory for any self-respecting economy to be ‘committed to reform’ of teacher education (amongst other things) on market-based principles and promoting a mix of provision (universities but also organisations such as Teach First, Teach for Australia and its parent body, Teach for All).
One of the strangest examples of this form of compulsory participation in the rhetoric of teacher education reform is Norway, where the city of Oslo hosts a Teach First Norway affiliate of Teach for All. The city of Oslo has one of the most successful school systems in the country and, in order to find the grit and challenge they believe is necessary to create good teachers and leaders, they send their Teach First Norway trainees to England to some supposedly ‘challenging’ London schools. For ‘challenging’, we might read diverse and multicultural. One might argue that this is a perverse form of tourism for a country and a school system with its own rather different problems to solve.
Action Now, from Australia’s Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG), is a fine example of this rhetoric of reform. First, on the positive side, it is a good deal more systematic and weighty than its English cousin, the Carter Review. TEMAG has a modest but relevant list of references; it provides copious information about the historical context in Australia; the perceived challenges are set out carefully and they are argued, at least, rather than simply asserted. In comparison, the Carter Review looks slightly amateurish.
On the other hand, Action Now is a very strange document indeed, one that sometimes gives the appearance of being bought ‘off the shelf’ from the steady stream of former policy-makers/consultants from England that ply their trade internationally when they or their bosses lose power. I know that it was authored by TEMAG but when one reads about national program accreditation and national standards and national quality assurance mechanisms (all of which makes a horrible kind of sense in England), you do wonder how these directions fit within the shifting political settlement of federalism in Australia where education technically remains the responsibility of individual states, although universities are funded federally. Also, TEMAG seems to focus its attention on younger people with poor academic qualifications whereas the majority of new entrants in Australia are older and many are career-changers (rather unlike England). Part of the proposed solution to anxiety over academic quality is to insist on national skills tests in literacy and numeracy – a solution implemented for years in England and one that has never resolved concerns about teachers’ intellectual authority (but that has made a tidy sum for the purveyors of these tests under contract to the state). As one reads the report, it is easy to recognize familiar acronyms and bits of jargon that look likely to have been imported from Blighty. One example is the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership with its echoes of the (soon to be abolished, it seems likely) English National College for Teaching and Leadership. One might suggest it is still a case of ‘the empire strikes back’ when it comes to TEMAG and Australia’s teacher education reform agenda.
TEMAG’s most obvious borrowings are the literacy and numeracy tests for student teachers. As I said, England has operated a national system of online testing in literacy, numeracy and the use of ICT for over fifteen years. A small industry of test preparation activity has grown up alongside the tests and that has been good news for educational publishers, of course. But the mere existence of these tests has done nothing to change the panic over teachers’ academic capabilities that has been whipped up by governments around the world. Even though they pass these tests, teachers continue to be criticized for their academic capabilities. Globally, politicians continue to argue that if only we could get more of the highest qualified graduates into teaching, the attainment of their school systems would rise to the top of the PISA league table. So the introduction of these relatively trivial literacy and numeracy tests in Australia (trivial in the sense that they can never offer more than a one-off measurement of a narrow set of decontextualized skills of people who are already graduates) is little more than a token response to this widespread anxiety.
And in most cases, it is pure anxiety. The policy tourists often refer to the case of Finland where getting into teaching is a highly competitive business. As former Finnish school official and Harvard professor Pasi Sahlberg has recently demonstrated, the basis on which teaching has become such a competitive profession in Finland is not on the basis of academic qualifications alone. The selection that takes place in Finland is of a much wider range of knowledge, skills and dispositions – dispositions such as being able to relate to and work with children and young people, for example.
Similarly, prior academic qualifications are not always a reliable predictor of effectiveness as a teacher. The American Educational Research Association’s panel on teacher education surveyed the research literature and concluded that the only school subject where there was some evidence that teachers’ high levels of specialism in a subject made a difference to their students’ outcomes was in secondary Mathematics. That said, the teachers of the students who made the most progress in Mathematics had joint degrees in Mathematics and Education rather than Mathematics alone. And primary school children whose teachers had PhDs in Mathematics did less well than children whose teachers were not as highly qualified in the subject. So the lesson as far as teachers’ academic capabilities are concerned is a complex one. That’s not to argue that teachers shouldn’t be literate and numerate, of course. But while introducing such tests in Australia may have some temporary symbolic impact, they are unlikely to solve the problem – which is one of improving teacher preparation as an aspect of the improvement of the whole school system.
In Transforming Teacher Education: Reconfiguring the Academic Work, Jane McNicholl and I analyse the reform/defend dichotomy that bedevils attempts to improve the education of teachers all around the world and relies on some globally travelling reform ideas (both neoliberal and neoconservative) that often make little sense in local contexts. Instead, we argue, countries that are genuinely interested in improving school systems and the preparation of teachers might focus their attention on reconfiguring the kind of work academics in Education faculties do in relation to the profession of teaching. Of course partnerships with schools are important, as is quality mentoring in practice. And of course it’s a good idea to model workforce requirements to predict the number of teachers you need and to anticipate shortages and over-supply. TEMAG recommends all these good ideas. But neither the Carter Review nor TEMAG confront the central challenge of how university Education academics should work with the profession of teaching, how the division of labour between universities and schools in the preparation of teachers might be better conceptualized, and how we can support the early and mid-career development of teachers so as to retain them in the profession and help them to develop to their highest potential. It would be a shame if Australia borrowed some ideas that have had little genuine impact elsewhere.
‘The force is with you, Skywalker, but you haven’t transformed teacher education yet.”