The Induction and Development of Teacher Educators: Responding to the InFo-TED Symposium at BERA

InF0-TED is an emerging European (and increasingly international) cooperation between teacher educators interested in the improvement of their field, particularly in relation to the induction of and continuing professional development for the large number of school teachers who, in so many countries, begin second careers in higher education settings to work on pre-service or initial teacher education programmes. You can find the InFO-TED website with information and resources if you click here.

The three papers to which I responded at the BERA conference were all based on an initial questionnaire survey across teacher educator populations in the Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland, Norway and England and then, specifically for these papers, follow-up interviews with smaller samples in Ireland, Scotland and England. These samples of teacher educators were essentially self-selecting but, given the alignment of the findings with previous research, I think the papers gave a reliable sense of how teacher educators generally can talk about their work and their situations as academics. Each paper presented rich data about these teacher educators’ feelings about their positioning in universities. There was some variation in their perspectives on this positioning – for example the overwhelming majority of the Irish sample (83%) had their doctorates whereas the majority of the Scottish and English samples didn’t – but mostly, these interviewees reported a lack of a sense of direction; felt more or less inadequate in relation to some unarticulated idealised norm; also sometimes expressed guilt that they were not research active with some, implicitly perhaps, regarding this as a personal failing rather than as a consequence of structural constraints. These perspectives were advanced to varying but fairly consistent degrees across the three papers with the overall implication – and one that drove the symposium – that better induction and professional development will improve the teacher educators’ lot. This seems to be the aim of InFo-TED as a movement and InFo-TED will be offering such induction and CPD opportunities across Europe in summer schools and through other means, funded in part by the EU’s Erasmus + programme.

Together, these papers – and the InFo-TED idea as a whole – raised some really interesting questions for me which I tried to articulate in my contribution to the discussion. Here they are:

First, teacher educators are a heterogeneous group of academic workers even within the same country – actually, even within the same institution, in my experience. So, I’m wondering whether the InFo-TED project as a project inevitably has to assume a homogeneous group whose professional development can be planned for across not only a single country but across Europe? Or not? Do the arguments of these papers lead, for example, to proposals for a set of professional standards for teacher educators, a move that has been apparent in some countries like the Netherlands? Is the implication that there is a single, transferable ‘skill-set’ for teacher educators that can be generalised and planned for transnationally? Does attention to teacher educator development necessarily require a degree of standardisation that people would feel very uncomfortable about in other parts of the university, and across professional schools particularly? I’m reminded of the introduction to AERA’s report Studying Teacher Education (that huge door-stop from 2005) in which the editors suggested this idea even while they noted that no other professional school (law, accountancy, etc) was going down this route. Their suggestion at the time – I think their opinions might have changed on this – is that developing common standards and expectations around the essential ‘knowledge-base’ for ‘effective’ teacher educators would address and perhaps fend off the challenges of unwanted politically-driven reforms. So standards for teacher educators become a protective or defensive measure in high-accountability regimes.

You can also argue for greater standardisation and for having common expectations for reasons of  equity and social justice and I have heard Professor Etta Hollins from the University of Missouri – Kansas City and a former AERA Division K Vice-President make just this argument at this year’s conference. Preparing teachers for racially and culturally diverse schools, so the argument goes, requires essential content and skills and – vitally – dispositions such as racial self-awareness that nice, privileged, white people (still the majority of the teaching profession) generally don’t have when they arrive in Ed school. “So my goodness, you student teachers are all going to have to meet this basic threshold level of competence before you might be regarded as ‘safe’ to teach in racially diverse, sometimes but not always ‘high-needs’, schools. And you, the teacher educators, are all required to be able to deliver that. Period”. This is a slightly different argument to the standardisation argument in the face of accountability pressures but, again, one worth considering for good reasons of justice – social and educational – that I see as related to InFo-TED’s broader aspirations.

Secondly, if InFo-TED’s interest is in teacher educators’ induction and CPD, what are these people being inducted into and to what ends are they being offered development activities? There are two aspects to this question. First, fundamentally, they are being inducted into a job, into work, work that is at least nominally academic work (only the Irish paper really gets at this key issue in reporting on a strike by teacher educators over their conditions of service when their college was being amalgamated with the National University of Ireland). Where in these papers overall is the sense of what these people are doing, will be doing, or should be doing in their job of preparing teachers? What does the work of educating beginning teachers involve but more importantly what should it involve? Because what it currently involves might not be very good; it might be silent or worse about issues of ‘race’, class, gender, sexuality, disability, religious faith and so on. Why would we want to build a professional development structure that had an inherent conservatism built into its architecture? What if, as many of us increasingly believe, teacher education is overwhelmingly implicated in the maintenance of White privilege, an activity in which teachers of colour have to leave their identities, languages and indigenous knowledges at the classroom door alongside those of the young people they are there to teach?

So the question of what should the work that teacher educators do becomes really important and it’s then not only the teacher educators in universities who should be consulted about what that is. Who else has the right to contribute to a vision for what kind of work teacher educators should do and to what ends and therefore the work that an organisation such as InFo-TED is supporting them into and helping them to become more advanced in skills and also more critical? One would hope that the teaching profession is involved, simultaneously helping to make some useful distinctions between the work of a school-based teacher educator and that of a university-based one. But I’d hope it went wider than that and that teacher educators were accountable, albeit indirectly, to communities in local contexts, taking the democratic responsibilities of what is still a programme of higher education more seriously.

But the second aspect of this question is related to the job as a university-based one: what should teacher education as academic work look like? And why, if indeed it is, is it important that teacher education remains at least in part university-based or university-partnered? What’s the ‘higher’ part of the education? Some of the usual arguments are that university-based teacher educators get teachers to reflect – which I’ve always found incredibly patronising. Another argument is that teachers come into contact with cutting edge researchers if they do a university-partnered programme. When Jane McNicholl and I studied the work of teacher educators in England and Scotland – published as Transforming Teacher Education: Reconfiguring the Academic Work (2015) – we found that the defining characteristic of their work was what we called ‘relationship maintenance’ – making complex, multi-levelled, high accountability and distributed partnerships with schools work relationally rather than producing research of any type, never mind ‘cutting edge’ work. In terms of research and how they are valued in the academy we described teacher educators as proletarianised – by which we meant that as a class of worker, they were denied the opportunity to accumulate academic capital (publications, grants, fellowships, promotions, prizes) etc. within the academic staffing system. This phenomenon has been observed in many countries including Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand, where the New Zealand Research Council funded a national replication of Jane’s and my study led by Prof. Alex Gunn from Otago University.

Available from all good booksellers – makes an ideal Christmas present

So if we want to induct and develop teacher educators into a form of academic work and design a system in which they might thrive, we could perhaps follow the Norwegian example of a National Graduate School for Teacher Education (NAFOL, currently led by InFo-TED Council chair Prof. Kari Smith) through which over 150 university-based teacher educators in several cohort groups have been supported on a fully-funded basis to do their PhDs with expert supervision from successful Norwegian teacher education academics and regular summer and winter school workshops featuring international researchers. I think this is a fantastic initiative and one to which I have been fortunate to contribute. But research production by teacher educators is not the whole story about the job of preparing teachers in the university setting.

Which brings me to my final question: if we think the induction and professional development of teacher educators are important activities and that it’s also important to study this phenomenon, why? Who gains? I’m assuming the teacher educators do – but who else? And to what ends – who else’s benefit? Because as much as it is a worthwhile aim to improve the opportunities and job satisfaction of people who work in higher education, I think there needs to be stronger arguments about why policy makers, tax-payers, university and school leaders and others should make this investment – and arguments that go beyond the flourishing of the teacher educator as an individual academic. I don’t want teacher educators to be unhappy or feel unfulfilled. But who are the eventual beneficiaries of this increased attention to teacher educator professional development. I don’t think it can be just teacher educators alone if we describe them as professionals nor, indeed, if we want to win the argument. Professions have relations of both trust and responsibility to the wider society for a start.

In fact, the new private teacher education outfits in the US and the UK take this question of teacher educator development very seriously because they see the ultimate beneficiaries as the students in schools and, particularly, whatever we may make of the connection, their ‘social mobility’. In both the US and the UK they have prepared (or are preparing) certificate courses for intending teacher educators and they are recruiting these people now in relatively large numbers. I would disagree with the easy link these start-ups often promote between training people to train intending teachers in easy moves (on the Doug Lemov model) or even in using ‘high-leverage instructional practices’ (on the Deborah Ball model) and social justice. Ripping practices out of their sociocultural and historical contexts as tips or ‘things to do’ without them being embedded in what Schwab called, in another context, the ‘syntactic structure’ of the professional knowledge of teacher education short-circuits something that can’t be short-circuited if the activity is going to be sustainable at any level of quality over time. I also think, ultimately, these approaches are both anti- and de-professionalising in terms of both the work of the teacher educator and the job of being a teacher. But these private, self-styled ‘reforming’ teacher educator organisations have nonetheless argued the link between inducting and developing teacher educators and improving teaching and improving schools in a way that I think any organisation interested, like InFo-TED, in teacher educator induction and development needs to. And it probably has to do so on the basis of having a worked-out view of what the job of preparing teachers in a university should involve and also acknowledge that the job and its demands have probably changed enormously in the last twenty years – even if we don’t always acknowledge this fact.

So I am looking forward to what’s next for InFo-TED because, together, I think these papers identify amongst the teacher educators interviewed what is sometimes called, in social psychology, a ‘need-state’, a felt need that something has to change, that things need to be done differently, even if the direction of that transformation isn’t yet clear. A need-state is an indicator of emerging change conditions and endogenous innovation. So, recognising that teacher educators are a heterogeneous group, how will InFo-TED respond to this need-state among a highly distributed and diverse occupational group? Not just across Europe but within countries and within the different sectors of higher education; in the distance between Sligo and Galway, for example?

Two new articles on ‘The Uses of Poetry’

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.

Teaching and Professionalism: An Essay in Ambiguity. A paper by Harry Judge from 1978

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.

The challenge of transformation in teacher education: New article in Acta Didactica Norge

‘Reforming’ teacher education is the go-to policy area in many countries around the world. You can have a bash at teachers (they’re not good enough) and university lecturers (they’re why teachers are not good enough) and also that ‘out-dated’ model of the welfare state where general taxation provides basic services for the general population in a relationship of democratic accountability and for the public good (‘how old-fashioned!’). You need some private providers who will do some ‘disruptive innovation’ (for which read ‘high risk codswallop that will, in the final analysis, be financially underwritten by the state when it inevitably goes south’). And while what I’ve just written may be mildly sarcastic in tone, it is undeniably the basis on which English governments have operated for at least 17 years.

But ‘reform’ means many different things. Norway is one of those countries also deeply interested in reform, especially with that highly successful Finnish neighbour. Norway has a dose of PISA envy like many countries but how they are choosing to reform teacher education (and under what, for them, is a right-wing government) stands in stark contrast to the unholy clusterfuck that is the recent White Paper in England. Far from trying to dismantle a system of public or community schools, abolish teaching qualifications, reduce university involvement, generally foul things up and fall over into a ditch, the Norwegian reforms – first mooted in 2010 and announced in 2014 to be implemented in 2017 (now that’s a difference too) – entrench and enhance the university contribution, challenge the universities to do better, reorganise and restructure parts of the higher education system and put practitioner research at the heart of professional preparation.

Yet, after over five years of working in the Norwegian system, I think they and us (here in England) suffer from the same problem: we haven’t worked out the relationship between the teaching profession and a bunch of academics in universities (teacher educators) who have an important relationship to that profession but are not it. In large part, I think it is a knowledge problem in that the knowledge that tends to get people from schools work in the university is not, in the end, valued by the higher education system (as useful as it is in the preparation of teachers) and the knowledge that is valued within the university rewards system is often assumed to be capable of being simply transferred or, at best, translated into schools. And when that doesn’t work, it is usually schools and teachers (who, remember, haven’t been prepared well by the universities in the first place, so the argument goes) that get the blame. The university researchers go all hoity-toity and remind us that the effect size was significant and it was just those pesky teachers’ lack of fidelity to the design that was the problem.

A special issue of the Norwegian journal Acta Didactica Norge has just been published on teacher education and teacher education reform with a range of fantastic articles by leading Norwegian researchers. There are analyses of pilots of the 2017 reforms and the development of the new five year Master’s degree for all primary school teachers. There is a great historical analysis of Norwegian teacher education curricula from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth century that shows how control of the curriculum was lost by the profession to a point in 1965 when it was just one university (Oslo) that determined what teachers were taught (and not much about teaching, it seems). There are some very interesting papers on digital tools creating new dialogic spaces for teacher development. And also reports from projects led by ProTed, the Norwegian national centre of excellence in teacher development led by Andreas Lund. I was asked to write an epilogue for the special issue that responded to the articles and drew, briefly, on the international comparison.

In making the argument I do in the article (which you can download for free from the Acta Didactica Norge website and also from the Articles section of this site), I draw on the work of Paul Carlile who works in organisational theory and his ideas about the complex processes that are required when different actors have to work together across complex boundaries. So far, I argue, we have managed to get new teachers to do some pretty difficult translation work quite successfully and the risk of the Norwegian reforms is that this situation will continue, with the struggle to translate now encoded in a Masters’ thesis. But the potential for genuine transformation is a challenge for both Norway and England and requires us to work through that question about the relationship between one of the largest and most important professions in society and a group of academics in the increasingly specialised and competitive environment of universities.

‘Maths Talk’ at the London Mayor’s Education Conference: 27 November, City Hall

Prof Valsa Koshy and I will be at the annual Mayor of London’s Education Conference at City Hall on 27th November this year. Valsa will be presenting the findings of our two-year ‘Enhancing Mathematical Learning at Key Stage 1′ research project. We worked with 31 primary schools in London, 31 teachers and around 800 KS1 pupils, alongside the quite brilliant Davina Salmon from Wandsworth LA. In an eight-month intervention period, we focused on developing teachers’ knowledge of and confidence with mathematical concepts and also their knowledge and confidence in developing powerful classroom interaction, particularly mathematical reasoning but not necessarily in abstract, argumentative mode.

We have just concluded the statistical analysis of the pre- and post-intervention measures. Not only has teachers’ knowledge and confidence increased, so has the attainment of the 800 children according to pre- and post-intervention measures and at statistically significant levels compared to the control group. This is fantastic news for those kids and their teachers and schools. Valsa and I will be drawing out the key messages of this research for policy and practice at the Mayor’s conference.

The 'Maths Talk' intervention research received a grant of £275,000 from the London Schools Excellence Fund
The ‘Maths Talk’ intervention research received a grant of £275,000 from the London Schools Excellence Fund

Speaking at the Norwegian ‘Knowledge Parliament’ on 22nd September

I’ll be talking about the integration of higher education- and school-based work in pre-service teacher education at an exciting event at the Literature House in Oslo on 22nd September.

The Knowledge Center for Education in Norway and ProTed, the Centre of Excellence in Education (University of Oslo and University of Tromsø), have asked Norwegian universities to describe their teacher education programmes and how they are organised. Data from these explorations will be summarized, presented and discussed at the event. The event is free and open to all.

I’ve been invited to talk about Transforming Teacher Education – particularly the principles and actions developed at the end of the book – and to respond to the Norwegian data.

Sven-Erik Hansén, a professor at Åbo Akademi in Finland, is the other international guest. Sven-Erik has published many books and articles about teacher education and has a good knowledge of Norwegian teacher training – both as a member of the Norwegian funding council committee that reviewed the sector in 2005, and as a key contributor to ‘Pilot of the North’ at the University of Tromsø. Hansén will contribute experiences from Finland when it comes to the design of integrated professional learning for teachers, pre-service (or initial) and continuing).

The Norwegian Knowledge Parliament is a forum for practitioners, policymakers and researchers in the field of education. The aim of each of their events is to discuss topics of general interest for all stakeholders in the education system. Invitations are open and non-exclusive. Oh, how I wish we had such an organisation in England! And what a refreshing change from government patronage!

The invitation is attached. (In Norwegian – but easily translatable).

New article on ‘Teach for All’ published in Journal of Education Policy

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.

Teach for All - a globally travelling educational reform idea
Teach for All – a globally travelling educational reform idea – where teaching becomes ‘leadership’

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.

A demonstration in Chicago about the privatisation of schools and the role of Teach for America
A demonstration in Chicago about the privatisation of schools and the role of Teach for America

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 blog 2: Understanding CHAT as a methodological project

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.

Cultural-Historical Perspectives on Teacher Education and Development
Cultural-Historical Perspectives on Teacher Education and Development

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.

 

CHAT blog 1: What’s with the triangles?

In my previous post, I mentioned that I would be writing some stuff on here about cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT, for short) and specifically in connection with teacher education. I think it’s a particularly fertile field for exploration and the theoretical tool-kit that CHAT provides is rich with possibilities for both analysing the complex and political practice of teacher education and for doing something about the problems such an analysis can surface!  And don’t just take my word for it: in the Education panel report from the last REF (Research Excellence Framework) audit in the UK (2014), CHAT-informed research into teacher ed was identified as one of a few successful areas of work in the field. And there has just been the first ever CHAT and Teacher Education winter/summer school for researchers in Melbourne (about more of which later).

My first teacher education research article that drew explicitly on Engestrom's version of CHAT
My first teacher education research article that drew explicitly on Engestrom’s version of CHAT

In some respects, you’re on to a loser with CHAT, though. For a start, it is very theoretical (as theories are meant to be, I suppose); it has diagrams in it (‘ouch’, if you don’t like geometry particularly); it is derived from Vygotsky (‘yeuch’, we are supposed to say; ‘Vygotsky is so passé, irrelevant, stupid, etc etc’. If this is what you believe, this blog isn’t for you! Go and read blogs by the latest set of government lackeys. At least they might make you laugh. Before they fall out of the sky, their wings having melted ….

But if you’e interested in finding out a bit more about this approach and evaluating it for yourself, I am going to write 3 or 4 posts over the next couple of months with ‘CHAT blog’ in the title that are intended to be introductory to the theory and also try to show their relevance to the fields of teacher education, teacher development and professional learning.

In this post, below, I provide an extract from the introduction to Learning and Collective Creativity – a book I edited with Annalisa Sannino – that is now out in paperback. The section below is a sort of glossary of key terms that I wrote for the introduction and that passed muster with Annalisa (!) and a few more besides. Of course they are our interpretations of the terms and not ‘definitions’ per se. But if you are interested in finding out more about this theory, it might be a start. If you decide you want to quote any of these, please reference:

Sannino, A. & Ellis, V. (2013) ‘Activity-theoretical and sociocultural studies of learning and collective creativity: An introduction’, in Sannino, A. & Ellis, V. eds. Learning and Collective Creativity: Activity-theoretical and sociocultural studies, London & New York: Routledge.

But first, part of the problem, as I have seen it above. A triangle – a graphical representation of a human activity system.

A typical graphical representation of an activity theory triange (they differ!)
A typical graphical representation of an activity theory triange (they differ!). This one – as so many – from the field of HCI (human-computer interaction)

The diagram is intended to show how some key concepts work together or against each other in order to explain how human activities (collective endeavours that have a cultural meaning in which individuals participate) evolve and change. Subjects are those individuals who are brought together to work on the same activity by potentially seeing and sharing the same object, an aspect of the social world that draws them in and motivates them (see below). Tools are the physical or symbolic resources those subjects/people to work on the object – or towards it. Their work together is governed by a division of labour – or the way in which the work is divided up and who gets to do which bit if it. Rules suggests that there are norms (which are value-laden) which influence how the members of the community (the collective of individual subjects) get their labour divided up. And if we substitute the straight lines of this triangle with double-headed arrows (something you will often see), that is to acknowledge that there are multi-level relationships between each of these concepts and they may be in contradiction.

Some of the key terms in depth, going back to Vygotsky and Leont’ev (an extract from Learning and Collective Creativity)

Zone of Proximal Development

The zone of proximal development is one of the most known concepts derived from Vygotsky’s work, usually referenced to the collection of papers published as Mind in Society in 1978 (Vygotsky, 1978). Vygotsky defines the zone of proximal development as:

the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86)

From this definition, the distance between these levels is the “zone” or social space within which human development can be stimulated through collaboration. It was this distance that, for Vygotsky, constituted a more reliable and holistic assessment of the child’s development than the single measurement of an outcome. Vygotsky pointed out also that “with collaboration, direction, or some kind of help the child is always able to do more and solve more difficult tasks than he can independently” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 209). In these texts, Vygotsky’s interest was in development (rather than in the learning of specific skills or concepts) and in collaboration within collective, social situations (rather than prioritizing the influence of an expert or instructor). But whereas Vygotsky’s emphasis was on the development of the individual child in his or her social situation, more recent extensions of Vygotsky’s ideas (Engeström, 1987) have emphasized the development of the collective and the role of education in leading that development. These recent advances in sociocultural and activity theory have led to methodological innovations discussed in the chapters of this volume that demonstrate the potential of educational or formative interventions in collective activities through the creation of zones of proximal development.

Object

A. N. Leont’ev, Vygotsky’s student and colleague, shifted analytic focus in studying human development from the individual to the collective. Leont’ev distinguished between the automatic operations of the individual subject, the individual’s or group’s goal-oriented actions, and the level of activity that was given cultural and historical meaning and significance by a shared object—its object-orientedness. Leont’ev’s interest was in human activity, and he was a major contributor to the Soviet line of activity theory, arguing that, as Stetsenko puts it, “human psychological processes . . . are object-related in opposition to conceptualizing them as a solipsistic mental realm” (Stetsenko, 2005, p. 75). For Leont’ev, the object of activity was actually its “object-motive,” and he explained it as follows:

The main thing which distinguishes one activity from another, however, is the difference in their objects. It is exactly the object of an activity that gives it a predetermined direction. According to the terminology I have proposed, the object of the activity is its true motive. (Leont’ev, 1978, p. 62)

The importance of the object in activity theory derives from the interrelatedness of the two concepts, object and activity. Following Leont’ev, culturally or societally significant practices that have historically been undertaken by collectives and have a potentially shared object may be defined as activities. The object is both what engages and motivates the intentional participation of groups of people and what is fashioned and potentially transformed through their participation. As Kaptelinin points out, “the object of activity has a dual status; it is both a projection of the human mind onto the objective world and a projection of the world onto human mind” (Kaptelinin, 2005, p. 5). For researchers, as Kaptelinin also suggests, “the object of activity is a promising analytic tool providing the possibility of understanding not only what people are doing, but also why they are doing it” (Kaptelinin, 2005, p. 5).

This engagement of subjects by an object is what is referred to as object-orientation or object-relatedness. Object-orientation is a dialectical relationship through which both the subjects and the activity change. Davydov, Zinchenko, and Talyzina (1983) point out that “human activity is always directed towards the transformation of an object that is able to satisfy some specific need” (p. 32).

Expansive Learning

Expansive learning is essentially learning something that is not yet there. This goes beyond the acquisition of already well-established sets of knowledge and the participation in relatively stable practices. This is a creative type of learning in which learners join their forces to literally create something new. The metaphor of expansion depicts the multidirectional movement of learners constructing and implementing a new, wider, and more complex object for their activity. In expansive learning, the object of the activity is reconceptualized and transformed with the help of the mediating means employed and built throughout the process.

The theory of expansive learning is epistemologically grounded in the dialectics of ascending from the abstract to the concrete (Davydov, 1990; Il’enkov, 1977). At the beginning of a process of expansive learning, the object is only abstractly mastered as a partial entity, separated from the functionally interconnected system of the collective activity. By ascending to the concrete, an abstract object is progressively cultivated into concrete systemic manifestations and transformed into a material object that resonates with the needs of other human beings as well. These phases often require the subject to struggle and break out of previously acquired conceptions in conflict with new emerging ones (Sannino, 2010). This process opens up multiple possibilities for the learner to creatively experiment with new solutions and innovative ideas.

Expansive learning manifests itself in changes in the object of an activity. This can lead to qualitative transformations both at the level of individual actions and at the level of the collective activity and its broader context (Engeström & Sannino, 2010, p. 8). When human beings pursue and grasp the object of their activities, their long-term devoted engagement with the object can not only fulfill their lives, it can also have a significant societal impact.

Activity System

From the perspective of activity theory, the prime unit of analysis is the activity system. The model of an activity system is a representation of the social and historical organization of the concept of “object-orientated, collective, and culturally-mediated human activity” (Engeström & Miettinen, 1999, p. 9). “Culturally-mediated” refers to the role of artifacts—semiotic and material—in the participating subjects’ joint work on the object of their activity. The basic components of an activity system, therefore, include the subject, the object, mediating artifacts, the rules of participation, the specific community, and the division of labor among participants (Engeström, 1987).

Modeling the activity system in interventionist efforts reveals the potential of the internal tensions and contradictions as motives for change and transformation. And, as participants are never in the subject position in only one activity system at any one time, their participation in multiple and intersecting activity systems increases the potential for generative contradictions to be experienced, surfaced, and examined both between and within activity systems. The relationship between multiple activity systems and their outcomes (and their multiple perspectives and voices) is presented as the foundation of what is known as the “third generation” of activity theory (Engeström, 1996).

Double Stimulation

Vygotsky’s search for new methodological instruments led him to elaborate what he referred to as the principle of double stimulation (Vygotsky, 1987, 1997c). His aim in undertaking this approach to experimental methods in psychology was to challenge the researcher to see psychological processes as dynamic and historical, “undertaking changes right before one’s eyes” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 61). Appropriating the language of behaviorism, Vygotsky described the researcher-set problem as the “stimulus-end” and the potentially helpful tools as the “stimulus-means” or “auxiliary means.” By studying the ways in which subjects appropriate these tools in their work on the problem—the object of their activity—Vygotsky argued that it was possible to reveal the ways in which those subjects 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 aid of the specific auxiliary means: Thus we are able to discover the inner structure and development of higher mental processes. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 74)

In recent activity-theoretical research, double stimulation is at the core of intervention methods such as the Change Laboratories (Engeström, 2007; Sannino, 2011). In a Change Laboratory intervention, the “auxiliary means” is often a model of the activity system, represented diagrammatically and used with participants in a joint analysis of data generated from the current practices.

Contradictions

In an activity-theoretical analysis of change, the concept of contradiction is of great importance. Although sometimes sociocultural and other analyses refer to “tensions” much more loosely, contradictions in activity-theoretical terms are not only personally experienced, ontological dilemmas but also systemic and structural constraints that need to be overcome and broken away from in order for human agency to be exercised and new forms of activity to emerge. The importance of contradiction as a concept reveals the influence of Marxian historical analysis in the elaboration of activity theory. Vygotsky’s analysis of human development draws on Marx’s (e.g., Marx & Engels, 1964) dialectical materialism and understanding of historical change as the sublation of simultaneously ideal and material oppositions by a synthesis that both supersedes and contains them.

Engeström’s theory of expansive learning (1987) poses contradictions as the generators of change in the development of activity systems. Historically new forms of activity emerge when internal contradictions within the activity system are resolved. Participants in activity systems, upon recognizing the constraints of their situation (sometimes expressed as a “double-bind” or a situation characterized by conflicting demands), appropriate available cultural tools in order to break away from that situation and to transform it. Engeström (1987) identified four types of contradictions within activity systems beginning with the primary contradiction (under capitalist conditions) between use value and exchange value, most importantly with reference to the shared object. Secondary contradictions emerge between components of the activity system. Tertiary contradictions arise from the introduction of qualitatively new forms of the activity that are resisted by deep-seated old dynamics in the system. And quaternary contradictions emerge between interacting activity systems that need to reorganize their relations.

The Russian philosopher Il’enkov noted that historically new modes of action and production, “before becoming generally accepted and recognized, first emerge[s] as a certain deviation from previously accepted and codified norms” (Il’enkov, 1982, pp. 83–84). Such historically new forms of activity across various social worlds, emerging as Il’enkov suggested out of contradictions, as exceptions from the rule, may be regarded as history-making creative endeavors.

 

In the next post, I’ll focus more on the methodology of CHAT and link it to a specific project and publication that will be available to download. And if you would like a reference list for the citations in the text above, well ……

New article on Teacher Rounds now published in International Journal of Educational Research

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.

References

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.