I need a reading!

I’m definitely feeling the absence of a reading this week. It feels like a critical week and yet, at the moment, for me there is something missing. Was Stephen’s demonstration of power last week too much of a distraction. It certainly led to all sorts of discussion about whether the course is failing or not.

I have admired Adrian’s posts this week and was interested in his discussion about home-schooling and the seven deadly habits of pedagogical thinking. So I have filled my need for a reading through his blog. Thanks Adrian.

I think I decided long ago that home-schooling wouldn’t be an option I would choose for my own children, but this was in the days before home computers. I can see that now it could be much more of a ‘safe’ option, given how much information, teaching and learning we have access to on the web and that online networks are so much easier to establish.  When I first thought about home schooling all those years ago, I was not only concerned about whether children would have access to the expertise they needed across a broad range of subjects, but even more so, I was concerned about how they would develop socially, away from the ‘school’ community.  Whilst online networks can now maybe (if we know where to look) provide access to the expertise, do they/can they support social learning? Is learning how to communicate online the same as communication face-to-face, or are the skills different. Ultimately, I would want my children to be able to relate to other human beings face-to-face, not only through online networks. So I would still think very carefully about home schooling.

And the 7 deadly habits of pedagogical thinking. Adrian found these in Erica McWilliam’s journal article ‘Unlearning Pedagogy’ in the first issue of the Queensland University of Technology Journal of Learning Design.  These provide food for thought.

Deadly Habit No. 1: The more learning the better. As well as the argument put forward that in some cases ignorance might be better than knowledge, I would also interpret this in terms of the old breadth and depth argument. I can see that any course that is designed on connectivism principles will come up against this tension. In my own work, I still struggle in getting a good balance between depth and breadth.

Deadly Habit No. 2: Teachers should know more than students. Teachers won’t know more than students in all things, but they will know more than students in some things and vice versa. Teachers can be teachers and students and students can be teachers and students. Is this new?

Deadly Habit No. 3: Teachers lead, students follow. As above. Teachers can be leaders and followers and students can be followers and leaders.

Deadly Habit No. 4: Teachers assess, students are assessed. This implies that teachers are never assessed, which we have seen from this course is not true. It’s not the assessment itself that is at issue but the accreditation and validation of that assessment. In our current education system, accreditation and validation are in the hands of the ‘recognised’ teacher. How would students feel if it were not? For example, would the 20 students working for accreditation on this connectivism course accept me, a fellow student, as their assessor? Would that assessment have any value?

Deadly Habit No. 5: Curriculum must be set in advance. Connectivism really challenges this notion, but ultimately it is assessment that is the constraint. My experience is that even with the most rigid curricula, you can’t stop a creative teacher from being just that, creative! Or a creative learner from finding ways to subvert the curriculum, even if it is just learning how to ‘play the assessment game’. Of course, ideally this wouldn’t be necessary, but whilst we have our current assessment systems, there will probably always be at least a notional set curriculum, just as there has been in this connectivism course.

Deadly Habit No. 6: The more we know our students, the better. I have always felt that the relationship between student and teacher is very important. Of course, if we don’t have the strong distinction between student and teacher then maybe will not be so important, but in the meantime it seems important to a lot of people. We have had people on this course writing about this, this week. Mike has written a great post about it in relation to learning music. But we can only know our students as much as they will let us know them, just as they can only know us as much as we let them know us. Knowing our self seems just as important as knowing our student or teacher and may be a better starting point. Is knowing people online a whole different ball game? (This relates back to my comments about home schooling above and the need to learn about how to relate to people).


Deadly Habit No. 7: Our disciplines can save the world. The author’s argument here seems to be to think outside the discipline box, or discipline boxes. This seems to me to be about the ability to be a critical thinker (which is also discussed by Stephen and others in today’s The Daily). This is not new. As teachers we have always tried to encourage critical thinking, but maybe there is more at stake now, with so much information accessible on the web.


Thank you Adrian, for motivating me to blog. I was feeling decidedly blog weary before starting this post!

2 thoughts on “I need a reading!

  1. Adrian Hill November 6, 2008 / 7:06 pm

    Hi Jenny,

    I am glad that my posts inspired you to share. The ultimate irony of my own situation is that for all my radical posturing, I am the ultimate hypocrite.

    My kids both go to school (16 and 12 years old), although in relative terms the school that they go to is somewhat unique. It is a K-12 publicly funded school in which all instruction (with the exception of English) takes place in French, in a predominantly Anglophone setting. Students graduate with a bilingual diploma, and they must have at least one Francophone parent to enrol in the school. Classes tend to be small, especially at the secondary level, so students benefit from a high degree of interaction with their teachers.

    But the fundamental issues at the kids’ school remain the same. Some students demand more attention than others, at least some teachers spend too much time talking about themselves, there is too much busywork in classes, and students spend much of their time sitting in desks being forcefed information that they feel is not relevant to their lives. Where I take issue with the current educational model is fundamentally at the level of mandated curriculum. Curriculum drives me crazy. Being a former teacher and now an instructional designer and course developer, it remains a huge part of my work day. For all of the guidance and direction that curriculum provides, I can’t help but feel as though I am trapped in a cage. I know that how curriculum is traditionally delivered is not how I learn, and I have difficulty reconciling these two aspects of my existence.

    I am most interested in your response to “Deadly Habit No. 4: Teachers assess, students are assessed.” When I was a Learning Consultant (LC) for the SelfDesign Learning Community, each LC posted biographical information on the SelfDesign website. On the basis of that information, familiies chose with whom they were interested in working for the year. LC’s also had the option of declining a request to work with a particular family, if for whatever reasons after initial contact it was clear that they would be better off not working with that family.

    In Sudbury Valley schools, teachers are also chosen by their students. If at the end of the year students decide that they no longer wish to work with a teacher, then that teacher is not hired back. An excellent introductory book on Sudbury Valley schools is Free At Last! by Daniel Greenberg (https://sudval.powweb.com/bookstore/02_book_03.html). In both of these examples, students chose with whom they wished to work on the basis of what they wanted to learn. If it was deemed that a teacher would be able to help the kids learn what they wanted, then inevitably they were hired.

    When students leave a Sudbury Valley school, they must defend their reasons (http://www.sudval.org/01_abou_07.html) for feeling that they are ready to become a fully responsible citizen. If that student then goes on to pursue post-secondary training or education, he or she must make the case for acceptance to an academic counsellor. Increasingly, and especially in the U.S. with the growth of Charter schools, universities have established guidelines in order to account for students who have pursued home-based education, and who are applying for admission.

    If I were to educate my kids from home, I would certainly be reticent to let them spend their days on the computer. In fact, I am the kind of parent who would probably want to have a crowbar handy to pry them away from the screen. I am already fearful about what I am modeling to them in my own life, given that for the last eight years I have almost always had a project on the side outside of my day job that required my spending time online.

    The fact is that my wife and I both enjoy the standard of living that our working full time allows us. Both of us spent stretches of time at home with the kids when they were young, and we conquently lived below the poverty line for a number of years. We have no regrets about that decision, but now we enjoy our relative comfort. Such are the entrapments of the industrial model within which so much of our lives are lived! Trying to find a balance constantly remains a challenge, but we remain grateful for what we have.

    Thanks again for expressing interest in my reflections.

    In friendship


  2. jennymackness November 11, 2008 / 7:50 pm

    Hi Adrian

    Thanks for your post and response to my blog. I am really interested in the notion that students could choose who teachers assesses them. I suppose my question about this is – at what point do we, as students, know enough to be able to do this. The difficulty is that we don’t know what we don’t know. I suppose we would just have to learn from our mistakes.

    Interesting thought! Many thanks for provoking my thinking.


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