Archive | May, 2010

Vygotsky Diary 3

25 May

Some general comments about the last couple of days and some links to Vygotsky and Piaget…

Friday – Drayton Manor

I’m not sure that sitting on a bench with a load of lunch bags whilst the class of children run around a theme park counts. I certainly don’t know how to compare what I’ve done today with what I know of Vygotsky and Piaget.

Go on. I suppose there is one thing I was thinking of. The children have gone round the park today in unsupervised groups of 2-6, checking back in with the teachers at hourly intervals. When I first proposed this system, my colleagues were horrified that I was suggesting letting the children go off unsupervised – but it has worked really well for the last four years. The children have not only to demonstrate independence and teamwork, but also the ability to tell the time… There is something Piagetian in this. The children are ready for this level of independence, whereas a couple of years ago they wouldn’t have been. There are some children who struggle, but they’re helped by their peers. There are also some children who, either by familiarity with the park (i.e. they have been there many times before) or by their own internal confidence, seem to demonstrate too much independence – they didn’t check back in when we were expecting them, but were still fine.

Monday – SRE (Sex and Relationships Education) Theatre.

Every year we have a marvellous theatre company coming in to help us with our SRE for Year 6. They’re called Loudmouth and what’s brilliant about them is that they use actors to teach all the tricky bits of SRE. They develop empathy for the opposite gender, so that boys see what girls have to go through and girls see what boys have to go through, and they encourage children to think about what emotions they are causing in others by their words and their actions. Also it means that in any further discussions in class I can refer to Daniel or Claire (the characters in the play) rather than either talking generically or inappropriately talking from personal experience.

In terms of ‘readiness’ the children are in exactly the right place to receive this – they’re all curious about the changes they are about to go through in puberty (or for some ‘are already going through’) and they will have heard much rubbish either from friends or from the media that has confused them.

It’s interesting watching the play as they use a lot of humour to teach the tricky bits and also to say some of the tricky words to do with SRE. I reckon humour increases the size of the ZPL. The children (and staff) were put at ease by the humour and learned loads more as a consequence. Ah, constructivism – you’re winning out today…

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Vygotsky Diary 2

21 May

Here’s my second day of reflection in diary format. Remember ‘ZPL’ stands for Zone of Proximal Learning.

Thursday 10:10am. Shouted at a girl for not listening at a crucial point. More behaviourism. She took a while to even get a ZPL back again. I wasted learning time for her. In rest of lesson I had to do lots of mini-one-to-ones to scaffold the activity, even for the more able. Children a bit less engaged today, but then it’s very warm, in the classroom and seems like a good day for being outside. I wonder if it’s been proved that the weather affects the size of the ZPL in a child?

Thursday 3:10pm. Managed to achieve some social motivation this afternoon – children worked well in groups on group display for their adopt-a-country topics. Have talked much about good working and promised a reward of freetime outside if they could all pull their wait. More behaviourism. I wonder what a ZPL looks like when it’s about learning social skills?

Thursday 7:30pm. Heavy going in meeting after school. Air thick with pollen and humidity making it difficult for me to concentrate. Was challenged a couple of times beyond what I felt I could cope with, although on a normal day I might have managed. Had an hour or so back in my comfort zone now (home) – a place I need to reflect on the times when I’ve moved beyond my ZPL into ‘danger’ territory. This is bringing back memories of what I learnt studying ALPS in terms of engaging children in the kind of cycle that is conducive to learning. I wonder if I don’t return children often enough to the comfort zone so they can reflect on their learning. Need to think on, although I doubt I’ll be doing much reflecting at the theme park tomorrow…

Vygotsky Diary

20 May

For today and the following four days I’m going to reflect on my teaching according to what I understand of constructivism and behaviourism. I’ve called it Vygotsky Diary because I would like to think that I am heavily influenced by the whole Zone of Proximal Learning thing. I’ve called it ‘ZPL’ for short below. Here’s todays entries, each made within minutes of a lesson either finishing or starting…

Wednesday 8:10 am – SEN teacher said she was using laptops for rest of children so that she could do tests 1:1 with the other children with the appropriate support – made me think that Vygotsky’s theory about scaffolding within the ZPL shouldn’t be applied to tests, but actually we do because we don’t give children enough independence to do tests.

Wed 12:15 pm– Tried a very tricky lesson teaching decimal grid references (the kind Google Maps uses) to mixed ability Year 6 maths group. 5 key areas of prior learning needed – time, angles, co-ordinates, decimals and negative numbers – children find it very hard to connect multiple areas of prior learning (i.e. to add it to their scheme). Especially when prior to this week their grid reference scheme was pretty much blank. Very long into required, but by end over half children could accurately locate (52.45, -3.45) on a map (it’s a place in Wales called Llanidloes). It made me realise that sometimes I expect children’s ZPL to be very large – then I have to do LOADS of scaffolding for the less able children. More able children usually have a larger ZPL (and indeed find small step learning frustrating) whereas less able children need smaller steps.

Wed 3:15pm – Children were doing free choice projects this afternoon. I was working with individuals and groups on their 6 weeks plans to encourage children to think about how they can achieve a substantial piece of work by planning well. It’s been more about encouraging good social behaviour than direct teaching. I worry that the outcomes will require too much teacher support when this is a chance for the children to delve into self-directed study and develop their own intrinsic motivation. Behaviourist theory would suggest that I should offer rewards, but not all the time and with some degree of randomness. This should encourage intrinsic motivation. The problem is that if the intrinsic motivation hasn’t developed enough over the next six weeks, the projects will look awful and I’ll look like a bad teacher. Hence sometimes there is a pressure to over-scaffold children. I’ve also noticed a lot of behaviourism in how I speak to children – I expect them to automatically apologise if they’ve made a mistake and I spend a lot of time emphasising this. Oh, the Pavlov in me is coming out at last…

Vygotsky and Pavlov

19 May

Being one of the few people to have the Karelian National Anthem on my computer does not, unfortunately, qualify me to discuss at length the two Russian psychologists in the title.

Neither of them probably even went to Karelia.

However it is refreshing in my latest piece of work from MAST to be reminded of their work in relation to what is currently going on in my school. Refreshing because it was a long time ago that was introduced to them and their theories. It is good to go back sometimes. It is also disappointing that in many schools we do not talk about the nature of education enough. We get on and do it, quite often without thinking it through. It is also ironic that it was only yesterday that I wrote the word Vygostky for the first time in ten years, on my previous blog entry.

Vygotsky is the chap who, at teacher training college, you get introduced to right after Piaget. Without them there could be no education. Between the two of them they have fathered something called constructivism or cognitive learning. Piaget seemed to have developed the idea that you can’t learn some things until you’re ready for them – he had 4 stages going up to about 11 years old which is about when a child has developed the ability to hypothesise and think logically. For him a child was a lone explorer in a world of learning. I think.

Vygotsky had this idea of a zone of proximal learning, which is where a child can best learn something when it’s near enough to the current understanding to be challenging, but not so far that the child is scared to take the risk. His approach was much more about appropriate scaffolding and relationships.

Pavlov, on the other hand, was the bad behaviorist man who made dogs salivate.

Of the three, I like to think that my approach is more of the Vygostky. I came across the zone of proximal learning when I studied the ALPS (accelerated learning in primary schools) approach a few years ago – the one thing that has most affected the way I teach. I like the way it merges with so much other good stuff, like the multiple intelligences from Howard Gardner and the 12 aspects of learning from the Excellence and Enjoyment document. I do however resort to behaviourism to manage behaviour. I guess that’s an obvious connection. I do use a lot of rewards and sanctions in training the children to be motivated learners as doing so provides a framework for everyone within the group to learn safely.

Sitting at home right now I can theorise and postulate, but it will be interesting over the next week to see how I think each lesson has been – more constructivist or more behaviourist. My prediction is that it will vary from day to day, but on Friday when we take the kids to a theme park there will be an awful lot of behaviourism going on…

Page 8

18 May

Page 8 wonders what I think or know about each of the following:

  • Discovery Learning
  • Investigation
  • Barriers to Learning
  • Interviewing
  • Spiral Curriculum
  • Readiness
  • Differentiation

Here goes:

Discovery learning is that vague stuff that was around in the 70s that meant I never learned to hold a pen properly. I read some stuff in an Ian Thompson edited book about maths that didn’t have anything positive to see about child initiated discovery learning in relationship to maths, saying instead that discovery learning had to be adult initiated and often adult guided in the early years in maths for it to have any impact. Interesting.

Investigation in maths is when you give children an maths problem and then guide them into solving it. You often have to give a lot of guidance as children who are used to a ‘skills based curriculum’ have often only learnt maths methods and not problem solving skills. One of my favourites is the one about what is the most common outcome of rolling 2 dice, because you can combine experimentation (actually rolling the dice) with theory (when you use a table to solve the problem precisely).

Barriers to learning means stuff that stops you learning. It could be attendance or your mum telling you that she was no good at maths so you won’t be either. It could also be your 11+ tutor teaching you bus stop when you don’t really get the difference between sharing and grouping.

Interviewing. I’m not really sure what this is in a maths context. I did some interviewing on my fractions video (see below) but I’m not sure if that is what this means.

Spiral curriculum is where you have a curriculum that keeps coming back to the same area on a regular basis so that the children can build on previous knowledge. It’s a nice idea but the timings we use in the UK are all wrong. The spiral should be 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 1 year. Not every term.

Readiness is the idea that you can’t learn some things until your ready for them. It works on the short term (I can’t learn this because my mind is buzzing with the way that girl insulted me at playtime) and on the longer term (I can’t learn that concept about adding on 2, because I don’t really understand what 2 is). Making children ready to learn is about connecting their learning with the real world and with previous learning, providing motivation and engaging them. It’s a mark of creativity.

Differentiation is when you making the learning suit the learner. This can be by varying the way they access the learning, changing the level of the learning and providing greater scaffolding. I have a dim memory from college that either Piaget or Vigotsky indicated that a single teacher could only differentiate three ways. (I mean for three different groups of children , not with different methods of differentiation.) But I might be making that up.

Differention is also something I did at university on my engineering degree. Second Order Differential Equations. They were very hard. I’m glad I’m a primary school teacher.