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“What works” and “what next”: some hopes for for 2015 #nurture1415

It’s been my first year blogging and “twittering”. Overall a positive experience. The vast majority engage intelligently and honestly.  I have learned an awful lot. So thank you. Not sure if this conforms to the nurture format, it’s not personal and a little bit dry, but I was half way through a Blog and ……..well here it is.

At the end of my last BLOG I wrote about my hope that teachers become more aware of the politicisation of pedagogy:

 The underlying fault line of pragmatism and the “what works” agenda is, quite simply, if the presiding worldview is that “what works” is the economy and market forces how are teachers supposed to differentiate between “making a difference” and making money.  The message I think is clear; teachers have to be more resistant to zombie politics and politicised pedagogy.

I was partially thinking about education’s least favourite politician, Michael Gove. As education secretary Gove talked about evidence based practice whilst pursuing a wholly ideological agenda. His chosen vehicle for deriving evidence being the Random Control Test (RCT).  The bad science, medical scientist Ben Goldacre seemed to be the proponent of bad science, or at least inappropriate science for education. I hope teachers can find a way to protect themselves from the imposed ideological whims of others. 

As usual visits to Twitter gave some interesting feedback. In this case a reminder that Gert Biesta had addressed this subject already. Another hope for the new year, therefore, is that the debate amongst professionals continues to increase the knowledge base of the profession. Social media provide an excellent way to get feedback and learn new things.

I was going to write a BLOG about ideology and the “what works” agenda but of course Biesta has pretty much done it:

From this perspective it is disappointing, to say the least, that the whole discussion about evidence-based practice is focused on technical questions — questions about “what works”— while forgetting the need for critical inquiry into normative and political questions about what is educationally desirable.

If we really want to improve the relation between research, policy, and practice in education, we need an approach in which technical questions about education can be addressed in close connection with normative, educational, and political questions about what is educationally desirable.

The extent to which a government not only allows the research field to raise this set of questions, but actively supports and encourages researchers to go beyond simplistic questions about “what works,” may well be an indication of the degree to which a society can be called democratic. From the point of view of democracy, an ; exclusive emphasis on “what works” will simply not work.

In simple terms Biesta is suggesting that a purely instrumental approach to education is not going to work. As Dylan Wiliam points out there are few practices that can be said have substantive evidence. Even so it’s good to know that the profession is beginning to develop  a research base from which it can progress. I hope that there is an acceptance that professional practice centred on the professional judgement of teachers, informed by research, is good enough.

As Biesta explains the view that there is some kind of “truth” out there that practice that can be used to guide practice, is not appropriate, to the “what works” agenda in education:

…… there are those who think that research will be able to give us “the truth,” that “the truth” can be translated into rules for action, and that the only thing practitioners need to do is to follow these rules without any further reflection on or consideration of the concrete situation they are in.

And many of us have had to engage with the “truth” debate on Twitter. So what next for the “what works” agenda. Dewey has long offered a way forward:

Dewey’s practical epistemology thus provides us with an interesting alternative for the model of evidence-based education. There are two crucial differences. First, Dewey showed that “evidence”— if such a thing exists — does not provide us with rules for action but only with hypotheses for intelligent problem solving.

If, to look at it from a slightly different angle, we want an epistemology that is practical enough to understand how knowledge can support practice, we have to concede that the knowledge available through research is not about what works and will work, but about what has worked in the past.The only way to use this knowledge is as an instrument for undertaking intelligent professional action.

I hope that there can be a move towards a pedagogical consensus about “what works” in 2015. I believe there is a basis for consensus but nothing will counter the interference of a politician like Gove until all the various stakeholders in the profession work together, to solve problems.

What gave Gove a discourse to pursue his agenda was the much vaunted gap between research and practice. In other words Michael Gove was able to exploit the dissatisfaction amongst practitioners with issues such as behaviour, lowering of standards and the tick box imposition of teaching practice. Research seen as distant and unhelpfu, a core constituent of the BLOB. I hope 2015 sees the gap between research and practice reduced by continuing to increase the engagement between the two.

On a  positive note there is a lot of good technology based “stuff” on the BLOGosphere however technology has to find a place within pedagogy. Far too much time and money is wasted on Gizmos, and tech talk, not on how technology fits within a pedagogical framework . I hope to see a lot more on how technology helps students to learn and how it fits into a bigger teaching and learning picture.

Finally many bloggers are searingly honestly about their practice and experiences in education. I hope that they continue to talk about life in the profession as it is experienced; warts n ‘all.

 Cheers all and all the best in the New Year!

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