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Friday, 28 September 2018

'Indentify that which is Valuable in all Children' - Pedagogical Principle 1

Have you ever considered what drives us as teachers; and by extension, what drives the schools in which we serve? Is our major concern to see our students growth in character? Or are we fixated on growing their minds, or perhaps, just helping them to achieve success at school? Is our major priority (and perhaps that of parents) simply helping students' to succeed at school and hence, in life? What a shallow and inadequate aspiration this is for education!

Every parent of course wants their children to succeed in life, to gain employment, have families and so on. But what of their character? Where does their formation as people fit in? Is it even a concern of the teacher? And what role if any, does the teacher play in partnership with parents in the formation of children?  

In my last post I emphasized that my book ‘Pedagogy and Education for Life: A Christian Reframing of Teaching, Learning, and Formation’ represents a distillation of my many years as a teacher and researcher addressing questions of this type. My experience as a teacher and researcher, as well as my faith, led me over almost three decades, to develop a pedagogy that did not consist simply of knowledge of good practice and appropriate curriculum content. Rather, it has a central assumption that children learn in relationship to others, and that these relationships and the practices they engage in day by day, are always embedded within shared communities, consisting of people who hold many understandings, beliefs and practices. The definition that shaped the pedagogy within my book reflects the culmination (at that time) of my personal life journey as a teacher when I realized that.
“Education is the whole life of a community, and the experience of its members learning to live this life, from the standpoint of a specific goal”
At the end of my last post I shared a pedagogical framework reflecting this definition and promised that I'd begin to discuss each of the 20 components organized around three key main strands of a biblical theology of personhood:
  • God made us as unique creatures
  • God made us as creatures who learn
  • God made us for communion
Each of the above understandings of personhood lead to a number of questions that should shape pedagogy. In this post, I want to comment on the first question that relates to our uniqueness.

Do I identify that which is valuable in each child?

Above: Picasso's Girl with a mandolin
All children are made in the image of God (Gen 2:15-25) and yet, all are different. While we might recognize common behaviour, attitudes, knowledge, habits (good and bad), abilities, emotional strengths or weaknesses and so on, in our children, each child in his or her own way is unique. This is of course is true, even for identical twins (monozygotic twins) who from the same fertilized egg. They too are genetically different (see this article) and different in character.

What does this simple plank in my pedagogy imply for pedagogy? Let me suggest five things.

a) First, that to teach to teach the whole class as a single group is foolishness. Sure, if we wish to teach specific skills and knowledge that we see as vital (e.g. learning to count), it will mean that all will be taught the same content. But if we are to engage students as learners, we will need to find content that varies and relates to diverse interests and adopts varied methods.
b) Second, we should expect our students to present with different strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, we have a responsibility to build on strength and support students to cope with their weaknesses and perhaps overcome them or cope with them. Conversely, we need to have a diverse curriculum that allows students to demonstrate their varied capabilities. As a young difficult child in primary school I was grateful to several teachers who encouraged some of my key interests and tolerated areas of weakness.
c) Third, we should strive to develop curriculum content that opens up many and varied forms of learning. This of course might reflect and relate to curriculum content (science, art, writing, maths, drama, natural history, music etc), or perhaps modes for learning (creative activities, oral and written expression, divergent as well as convergent thinking etc). 
d) Fourth, we should offer choice in content and curriculum activities, not simply prescription.  Enthusiasm can be more easily engendered by ensuring some freedom and choice for students in relation to the activities that are experienced.
e) Fifth, we need to understand that we all have different abilities and capabilities, and ensure that we allow space for this in our curriculum and pedagogical practices.

To be an effective teacher is to recognize that which is unique and valuable in each child.

In my next post, I will consider the second of my 20 principles. This examines the place of the family in God's plan, and the question "Does my class and school build on the foundations of the family"?