Look into my eyes………….

Look into my eyes…..only my eyes…………

We conceptualise students in school as being resourceful and engaged across the range of pedagogies that we use in our teaching work. After all it’s their engagement that makes our pedagogy work. That is, until we come to children making a few mistakes in becoming themselves, learning socially and emotionally to be the best person they can be.

So in general we hold an image of the student-as-resourceful, sometimes as the student-as-expert; but when ‘behaviour’ rears its head we default to the image of student-as-hopeless, or sometimes student-as-bad. And we’re the teacher-as-expert, so then we start mind-reading. Look into my eyes……..

In getting started with this I went from Tim Taylor’s excellent Guardian article “Children learn best when they use their imagination” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/feb/05/imaginative-inquiry-teaching-class/ ) to huntingenglish’s fine blog (http://huntingenglish.wordpress.com/) on Inclusive Questioning. And just this morning Tim forwarded kevanbartle’s (dailygenius.wordpress.com) thorough ‘Doing’ pedagogy blog. With thanks to all for providing me with the impetus and material for doing some pedagogical thinking, I am going to have a look below the surface of pedagogical action, to the beliefs that underpin it.

I want to develop the idea that my conceptualisation of a student drives a particular pedagogy, for example direct instruction or cooperative learning, that I engage in working towards an intended learning outcome.


Tim Taylor said;
‘A lot has happened in education since I started teaching: the literacy and numeracy strategies, Ofsted, league tables, international comparisons, three changes of government and countless education ministers. But what still holds true (in my mind) is that children learn best when they are engaged in their learning, when it matters to them, when its contextualised in meaningful ways and when they have a sense of ownership and agency. The best learning I’ve been involved in has not been ‘delivered’ to a class, but built, over time, in collaboration with students. Explored, examined and argued over.”
What image of the children in his imaginatively inquiring class did Tim have in mind? From what I can gather he was treating them as people, able to engage in their own learning; that learning matters to them; that they had a sense of ownership and agency; that they were people who would collaborate; they were reflective thinkers, exploring, examining, arguing. Agency – having the resources to be able to have an effect in the world – links to expertise. The conceptualisation of the students in the classroom community in this way means he is foregrounding this aspect of their nature, as experts on themselves, bringing these strengths to the learning process he facilitated through inquiry pedagogy.

huntingenglish said;
I today read an excellent blog by @headguruteacher on differentiation, which defined it as a key aspect of great lessons – see here. I was most interested in the role of inclusive questioning in continuous differentiation. The first, and most crucial, aspect of differentiation is knowing your students. Of course, I don’t mean knowing your students just by their name, although this is important (I once spent a month in a sulk because one of my teachers kept getting my name wrong!), but having a thorough understanding of their skills and knowledge level, beyond just prior attainment and their target level or grade. Just as important is the intimate, expert knowledge of the soft skills of our students: their confidence level; their willingness to speak in group activities, or to contribute in front of the whole class; their attitude, or mindset to learning, and your subject in particular. When we know our students, and particularly their soft skills, we can undertake excellent inclusive questioning which will help progress their learning.
This brings me around to the specifics of questioning:
our bread and butter – the stuff that connects and binds our pedagogy. Whether we are undertaking Direct Instruction (see link) or Cooperative learning, the learning and progress hinges on effective questioning. Skilful differentiation is also dependent upon skilful inclusive questioning.”

huntingenglish foregrounded the importance of the teacher’s ‘intimate, expert knowledge of the soft skills of our students’. He referred to the teacher-as-expert holding an image of individual students, relying on the students-as-experts in engaging their confident, actively cooperative selves in the best way they could, for the plan to work. Maybe conceptualising students as resourceful in themselves makes teacher-as-inquirer and student -as-expert more possible.

headguruteacher said;
I think it is legitimate – actually it is necessary – to give students a degree of ownership and responsibility for directing their learning in terms of the level of challenge.  Teachers need to create the opportunities but students need to learn that, ultimately, it is up to them to find their level; don’t suffer in silence and don’t coast….teachers are not mind readers and they’re not the ones sitting the exams.  Then there is also a consideration of self-esteem. It can hold a student back to know they are on the ‘thick table’ (I have heard that phrase) but, at the same time, the issue of ability can’t be tip-toed around.  Again it comes down to culture.  Mixing up the groupings over time, using a range of differentiation strategies and creating a general deep-end high-challenge spirit is needed; knowing how students deal with this on the self-esteem scale is part of that knowledge bank, just as much as their NC sub-level.”

If students are to activate their agency as learners in the pedagogy of reflective inquiry it’s true that as he said ‘It is legitimate – actually it is necessary – to give students as degree of ownership and responsibility for directing their own learning’. huntingenglish is conceptualising students as people with agency and engagement. In doing so there’s no need for teachers to attempt mind-reading, because a student can already read their own mind reflectively.

In all three examples, there is room in the school day for students to be conceptualised as agents in their own learning. The student is seen as owning a range of resources, of already having successes on which to build their new learning, and positively engaged as a hopeful learner.

It looks as if this way of conceptualising students can be applied across the curriculum, in the right places at the right times. And it seems that once students have assimilated this idea, that the teacher can rely on them as co-workers in the learning process, it’s a reliable structure.

Now have a look at this. What is the conceptualisation the student’s here?

The Education Endowment Foundation toolkit says this about behaviour


Behaviour interventions seek to improve attainment by reducing challenging behaviour, including aggression, violence, bullying, substance abuse and general anti-social activities. Three broad categories of behaviour interventions can be identified: 1. Universal programmes which seek to improve behaviour and generally take place in the classroom; 2. More specialised programmes which are targeted at students with either behavioural issues or behaviour and academic problems; 3. School level approaches to developing a positive school ethos or improving discipline which also aims to support greater engagement in learning.

What do I need to know?

  • Targeted interventions for those diagnosed or at-risk of emotional or behavioural disorders produce the greatest effects.
  • Programmes of two to six months seem to produce more long-lasting results.
  • The wide variation in impact among evaluated programmes suggests that schools should look for programmes with a proven track record of impact.
  • Training of facilitators or professional development improves the impact of programmes
  • On average, programmes which involve parent or community involvement show higher effects.”

What image of students in school do these writers hold? There’s a list of deficits in students that have to be corrected. If there’s a diagnosis of an objective disorder – or even an anticipated diagnosis – interventions are more effective. So for the other subjective categories, like challenging behaviour and general antisocial activities, we’re relying heavily on the mind-reading abilities of teachers to identify the deficit and put in place an intervention, which probably will not be effective – the evidence for this may be in the largely unchanging number of school exclusions every year. The conceptualisation is of the student-as-hopeless, in the hands of the teacher-as-expert. Students are seen as already challenging, violent, bullying, and antisocial and these aspects of their nature have to be reduced in order for them to achieve. So are these the same people we conceptualised as cooperative agents when they’re involved in imaginative inquiry? Why are things so different when ‘behaviour’ comes along?

The point of this is that I work with children who come into the ‘behaviour’ category. I conceptualise them as resourceful, successful and hopeful and work in a future oriented way, the solution focused approach. It’s the same conceptualisation as the creative, inclusive bloggers have, and it works.

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