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.
I’ll be talking at the 2017 SCOTENS conference in Dundalk in a few weeks, on the conference theme of Educational innovation – the challenge of evidence-informed change.
SCOTENS – the Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South – is a network of 37 college and university education departments, teaching councils, curriculum councils, trade unions and other organisations in Ireland established in 2003 and administered by the Centre for Cross Border Studies in Armagh. It’s a unique educational network of committed organisations across a contested border, in my experience, and I’ve really enjoyed attending their conference in previous years (the last time being in Limerick in 2015).
Here’s the conference theme description:
As teacher educators we are conscious of the contested discourse around evidence-informed change, whether in school classrooms or in terms of teacher education itself, and we feel that there is an important debate to be had around the role of evidence in driving innovation: what sort of evidence is needed? Who is producing it? Is it adequate? Are policy makers listening? What are the consequences of not listening? Are there tensions around values and evidence, and if so, how do we reconcile them? How do we address the tendency to have ‘one size fits all’ innovation? How do we obtain the best balance among decision makers: policy makers, researchers, professional educators?
The 2017 Annual SCoTENS conference theme aims to encourage speakers, panel members and delegates to consider these kinds of questions in a way that prompts reflection, discussion and debate.
I’ll be talking about my recent study of historical cases of innovation in initial teacher education in England and the particular contribution of joint curriculum work with schools. And, arising out of this research, proposing a different meaning for ‘innovation’ to one focused on technical ‘efficiency’ and cost-cutting. I’m looking forward to it.
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.
New book published by Routledge in New York, co-edited with Annalisa Sannino from CRADLE at Helsinki University. This book is the only one currently available that brings together theories of human activity and studies of human creativity. The book grounds its interest in a variety of settings where people are learning and, specifically, learning to be creative. Creativity is defined, not so much as ‘little c’ creativity but as an integral aspect of learning that enables and promotes the exercise of learners’ agency.