In 1960 Bruner presented a constructivist approach whereby there was a stress on each learner being autonomous and making a linear progression through a series of skills. He began with the hypothesis that “any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development.” Although this is true there feels as though we are waiting for the conditional conjunction at the end of the statement. For me, that is “if given the right support.” *
It often feels that the primary aim in education is to see the child learn something new, proven by being able to demonstrate this learning in an assessment of some kind. This is still the focus of the Education Inspection Framework – we assess the progress being made but don’t offer any real empathy. The adage goes if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid. This is what assessment of learning does to our students. We give information in a variety of forms and then want that same information back but we don’t consider the cost of the mental wellbeing of the children involved in the process. How much more is this the case now during the pandemic? Instead of recognising the immense amount of life learning that is taking place – self-regulation, emotional needs, and technical skills – still, there is the expectation that progress is being made in a traditional format outside of those traditional conditions. Each student in my session has their own set of demands and concerns, they aren’t all at the same starting line and to assume they are is folly on my part. To assume I am able to put them all at the same starting line is folly on the governing body’s part.
Although under recent guidance educators are tasked with supporting knowledge moving into the long-term memory there is still little appreciation for the pressure this is putting the individual under; both student and teacher alike, in varying contexts. Our social circumstances are rapidly changing but our policy makers and governing bodies aren’t. Teachers have kept up, they have made online classrooms and support groups for their students whilst leadership teams are still brewing the coffee in their think tank meetings. We need to recognise that our world has and will keep changing. Currently, the all-encompassing almost idealistic approach is for the existing body of teachers to be a status quo facilitator and innovator simultaneously and it just isn’t possible. A teacher can’t be a role model for new ideas of delivery when there isn’t the space and resources to do so.
Bruner accurately initiates the concept that one does not only learn nor need to learn in a traditional classroom setting – thank heavens – equally not all learning that takes place will be used in a formal assessment. If there was ever any doubt of this I believe 2020 has thoroughly removed it. Our students have picked up things in their own way and have done so entirely removed from their classroom. Bruner as an educational psychologist of the 1960s would not be aware of the social development and mobility that we have seen. There are significant demands on students that are subjected to more scrutiny now than ever before but his concepts of incidental learning are still useful – when applied to a current social climate.
A decade after Bruner, Scribner and Cole identified the marriage between educational theory and social theory suggesting that one relies heavily on the other: “a theory of formal education also requires a theory of how learning and thinking skills develop in an individual member of society.” Each culture authorises its own way of learning according to the social norms of its thinkers. The thinkers need to keep up with the teachers. Scribner and Cole discovered that the learning that takes place in a classroom mirrors and is intrinsically linked to the learning that takes place in the culture and society at large. Teachers are members of their society and so it is unsurprising that they embody the values of the same society. We see patterns emerge because we cannot divide ourselves from the culture in which we live and we shouldn’t. We should embrace the diversity of our communities and see them diversify the people in the school setting but there should be a freedom to be able to do so. Rather than being given a list of criteria that each lesson can be measured against, there should be a trust instilled in the teachers. We are a body of professionals, can we be recognised as such? It took a lot of training and determination to become the educator in the room, the passion for the subject and the learners doesn’t stop when we drop the N from the NQT.
In considering these educational stances in conjunction with one another, patterns begin to emerge. All of them have an emphasis on the process a person goes through to learn, all consider the significance of the individual engaging with that process and all prioritise the transient nature of learning. All of them start to reflect the conflict that goes on between the demands of the times and those trying to tell us what is best for our classroom.
*Bruner, J. S. (1960). The Process of education. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press p. 33