Political Leanings

There’s been a few blog posts of late that attempt to align “traditionalists” in teaching with right-wing, neo-liberal political ideologies. Some of these blog posts have been written by people who appear to have some kind of vendetta, and have been found on Twitter hurling abuse at those who disagree with them, as documented by @oldandrewuk.

On a personal level, it appears that I have been aligned with the traditionalist end of the trad/prog spectrum; looking back on a post from a few years ago it wasn’t how I might have labelled myself then, but I have done since. Taking Old Andrew’s amusing quiz puts me down as a traditionalist.

Some on #EduTwitter might have you believe that my views about education, and the kinds of questions that I ask, make me a hard-right winger. Indeed, I was labelled an alt-right, pseudo-trad fascist by one prominent headteacher. But, much like @DavidDidau, I think that children deserve an education designed to empower them by inculcating in them an appreciation of the best that has been said and written (etc etc). This is especially true of those children from poor or/and deprived backgrounds – society owes to them its stores of knowledge and wisdom; this is their inheritance. I also believe that children deserve to be given moral and social frameworks to guide them in being happy citizens, to develop their self-control and self-discipline; not just so that they are obedient, but so that they have the confidence to embrace the opportunities with which they may be presented, and to create opportunities all their own.

Traditionalism isn’t about viewing children as empty vessels into which facts can be poured; traditionalism is about enriching children within traditions which have a heritage, but also equipping them for a progressive forward movement into a future which they will create, guided by the past but not slave to it.

Does this make me a right-winger? To find out, I took the test at Political Compass. I’d done this before, a few years ago, but perhaps my position had moved since then. Perhaps I had become more right-wing. Well, the results suggest not:

Screen Shot 2017-04-09 at 22.20.55

As you can see, I’m an ultra-right fascist sympathiser.

 

And which of the main UK political parties match me best? Well:

Screen Shot 2017-04-09 at 22.21.14

Now, things have changed since the last general election – upon which these party placements are based. I suspect that under Corbyn, the Labour Party will have moved to the left and I reckon the Liberal Democrats probably have too. It will be interesting to see what Political Compass makes of the UK parties in 2020.

In the meantime, let’s stop this nonsense of linking a preference for traditionalist philosophies of education with a mythical infiltration of the ultra-right.

 

Learning Lessons about Language #EduDiscourse

I was on the end of a teachable moment recently. In fact two teachable moments. And I’m very grateful for them.

For reasons I can’t be bothered to go into, I’d tweeted a link to this blog post from a few months ago. In that post, I critiqued a particular view about differentiation. I received this tweet in reply from @lazymum:

A short while later, I received this tweet from @nancygedge:

Nancy then clarified with this tweet:

In the resulting conversation, Nancy made an excellent point about the medicalising nature of the language that is employed around SEND. I’m sure there must be a whole bunch of interesting research which has been done around this, and I’d be glad of any links anyone might be able to provide to such work.

In the day or so since this conversation, I’ve been thinking about how this links in with my thoughts around the kind of language that we generally use in the field of education, and specifically in teaching. I had been planning to continue my critique of the language of teaching job adverts, and I still might, but a more productive avenue of contemplation would be to consider the ways in which our everyday language in the classroom, the staffroom, in meetings and so on, might reflect the nature of the discourses which flow through and inform our thinking. There is a close association between language and thought, and the way that we speak about the children in our care is, naturally, closely associated with the ways in which we think about them – there is some debate, I believe, about which comes first.

I remember during my B.Ed being taught about labelling theory and its implications and effects in education, and I think it’s probably fair to say that we have all seen examples of it. And yet we allow a plethora of labelling within education in the UK, often making use of initialisms or acronyms. SEN, of course, is one but add to that FSM, G&T (which has now developed into the rather unfortunate acronym MAGAT) and so on. We know that teacher expectations can have an impact on outcomes for pupils, and yet much of our discourse is around the deliberate and specific labelling of children one way or another. Sometimes, it isn’t about these deliberate labels. In daily practice in schools, it could be something as trivial as having “top”, “middle”, or “bottom” sets. I’m wondering about the nature of awards and certificates that we routinely give out in schools – what are they called? What are they celebrating? What do these suggest about the culture of the school? What does the school really value, and how does this compare with what the school claims to value?

Labelling also occurs with regard to staff, of course. The infamous aspirational Outstanding – a word which oozes through the educational discourse like a thick pus – is a holy grail in teaching, despite Ofsted’s opting to no longer grade individual lessons or teachers.

I’d like this reflection of the language of education to continue, and I would be grateful for any observations that you might have about the kinds of language which, if we were to just stop and think about it, we might see as problematic. Please comment below, or tweet me @sputniksteve.

“Reading”

Hello. How’s things?

So, I asked for some suggestions as to what to write a blog about. I didn’t get many. But I did get this one:

And then Naureen beat me to it.

The discussion around this topic has been fascinating, and has been going on for a long time. Specifically, the debate over phonics continues to be an issue around which the debate spins. Of course, this has been an issue for some time now, with proponents of phonics claiming it is the best way to teach reading, and critics claiming that reading is about more than decoding – which is what phonics is all about. I don’t intend to retread this tired debate, but I am interested in its recent resurfacing following two recent conferences which occurred on the same day: #rEDLang and #OxReadingSpree.

I wasn’t at either event. But reading through both hashtags was interesting. The former, unsurprisingly, has a lot of material about research and evidence informed approaches to language, whilst the second shares discussion of  some fantastic and lovely kids’ books. As a teacher of English at secondary level, I appreciate the need for, and value of, both strands of this reading debate. However, these two events help to serve as perfect symbols of the wider debate in education. This debate is often framed as trad vs prog, as alluded to by Naureen in her tweet. However, as I wrote about previously, I think it is more reflective of a dichotomy that goes even further back than the phonics debate.

On the one hand, reading is the physical act of decoding and deciphering written or printed shapes on a page which represent phonic articulations that we call speech. Learning to decipher the phoneme/grapheme code is crucial for children to do well in school and beyond, and I’m sure there’s lots of research to support this position. However, on the other hand, reading involves far more than decoding and deciphering the squiggles. It is about comprehension and understanding.

Following these two events, a discussion – often a little heated – arose following this tweet from @oldandrewuk:

Inevitably, I think a lot of this discussion was about crossed-wires. Some of the reaction to Andrew’s comments revealed a passionate (yes, I used that word) love of childrens’ literature. I particularly enjoyed my conversation with @redgierob about the ways in which picture books convey narrative, as exemplified here:

which included this image:

ReadingPhonicsPicBook

I am a big fan of this kind of work, and can see how reading includes this sort of text. But here’s the crux of the problem. For Andrew, this ain’t reading. For me – a teacher of GCSE English, A Level English and sometimes media studies – this is partly about semiotics.

Have a look at the Eduqas GCSE English Assessment Objectives:

Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 22.32.13

AO1 gives us the phrase “identify and interpret explicit and implicit information and ideas”. This is a kind of deciphering, but it is about what isn’t written just as much as what is. And look at this question from the old version of AQA GCSE English Language: “Explain how the headline and picture are effective and how they link to the text. ”

[The past paper from which this comes can be found here, whilst the matching insert can be found here.]

And now have a look at the National Curriculum for KS2:

Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 22.43.58

So, case closed? Reading really is about more than just decoding via phonics. Sorted.

And yet. In order for kids to really be able to do any of that other stuff, they really do need to be able to read in the strictest, basic sense of decoding.

The more I think about this sort of stuff, the more I’m inclined to see Martin Robinson’s Trivium as a good model. And, as I tweeted to Old Andrew:

Will that do? I’d like to eat my Bournville now.