FAQ: what's more important, questions or answers?
The reply to the query 'what's more important, questions or answers?' depends to a large extent on who is asked. Scientists would say "questions". Politicians would say "answers". From a pedagogic perspective, those answers which lead to further questions are the most important of all, for they are consistent with a progressive problem-shifting practical philosophy which helps us handle our ever changing worlds.
In so far as there are difficulties in trying to find 'true' answers to questions, the real difficulty is what will convince questioners that given answers are the truth. In short the difficuclty is one of communication. Here communication is defined as the shared interpretation of action and is achieved when those attempting to communicate inhabit the common ground. This page provide that common-ground.
ABC: A Behaviour Intervention Tool
ABC is a mnemonic standing for Antecedent, Behaviour and Consequence. This mnemonic makes clear that the behaviour we are interested in managing is triggered by antecedent conditions and sustained or diminished by the consequences surrounding it. It is a powerful behaviour intervention tool because it forces the behaviour manager to attend to context and the interaction of others.
Child Help Agencies
Children still suffer as a consequence of child help agency failures. It is instructive, therefore, to read what Lourie & Lourie said in 1971. They summarised "child-help [... ] as being a confused set of fragmented services". They stated that, ".. we parcel children out to institutions on the basis of social, legal, and sometimes diagnostic labels that neither describe the child nor offer a prescriptive base for treatment". They said, "Most observers agree on the following:
- Service delivery arrangements are geared more to professional and field needs than to children's,
- We deal with crises more than prevention,
- We reach only a fraction of the need population,
- We know that childhood difficulties begin in infancy, yet our child programs concentrate on events beginning after this critical period,
- Our programs do not follow research findings: we concentrate on those likely to be cured rather than on tough cases."
(American Journal of Orthopsychiatry vol. 40, No. 4 July, 1970 pp 684-693)
Although Lourie & Lourie were reporting on the then scene in America, much the same could have been said about provision in the UK. If child-help agencies are to include education then the claim is still true in the UK today.
The problem, which also applies to adult-help agencies, stems from fragmenting individuals into separate physical, intellectual, emotional and social entities and then assuming that each entity is catered for separately by medical, educational, psychiatric and social welfare disciplines and institutions.
Cognition: perception, memory, learning, problem solving and understanding
Descartes immortalised the phrase "Cogito ergo sum", meaning "I think therefore I am". Where does this leave the labels 'cognitive psychology' and 'cognitive behavioural therapy' when psychology is itself defined as the 'scientific study of human behaviour'? Behaviour with its roots in the auxilliary verbs 'to be / to have' intruiging does not derive from the Latin word for behaviour, 'mores'.
Psychology textbooks perpetuate the myth of the separateness of memory, perception, learning, problem solving and understanding and much else by having seperate chapters on each. Each chapter is then further subdivided into topics and each topic further sub-divided into sub-topics, and so ad infinitum. The mistake is to assume, that just because humans engage in this reductive, regressive problem shift practice that these discrete hypothetical processes represent discrete neuro-anatomical structures. Text-book psychology is, therefore, more part of the problem than part of the solution in resolving intractable personal and interpersonal problems.
A more sensible approach is taken, first by Bolton in his The Psychology of Thinking concerning concepts, where he says:
"A person does not form a concept then apply it; he forms it through application." p.150
Second, from Herriot in The Attributes of Memory in the context of experimental psychology concerning memory, perception and learning, where he says:
"...It will become evident that memory processes, cognitive processes and linguistic processes can only be distinguished on the basis of the experimental task, not on the basis of their intrinsic differences" p.179.
Third, to stick with the Latin, wrighthand.net is predicated on 'Dubitamus ergo sumus' - 'We doubt therefore we are'. But voicing one's doubts in a world that seeks certainties is to be labelled confused: and because confusion is taken as evidence of lack of clear thinking it takes courage to reveal it. Simple certainties are more highly valued. But, like the Emperor's new clothes they often mask more complex unpallatable truths.
To compound the folly, the label 'cognitive psychology' implies a separation between thinking and feeling, then privileges thinking over feeling. This has allowed, for example, behaviour labelled 'autistic' to be explained in 'theory of mind' not 'theory of heart' terms.
The difficulty in appealing to common-sense to solve intractable personal and interpersonal problems and settle matters under dispute is that one person's commonsense is often another's nonsense. The meta-problem is that commonsense is itself seldom defined.
In matters of dispute, it might, nevertheless, be argued that the ritual whereby twelve randomly selected ordinary citizens achieve a verdict of guilty or not guilty in criminal trials does indeed define commonsense operationally. But hung juries occur because individuals differ in their commonsense.
Any norm-referenced defintion based on popular consent is, therefore, clearly an inadequate criterion for truth status. Bertrand Russell made this plain when he said, quoted by Lawrence Peter, that "even 50 million people can be wrong".
- Wrighthand.net defines commonsense operationally, as did the Ancient Greeks and Rene Descartes, as:
when the messages from an individual's different sensory systems, principally sight and sound, transmit the same, that is, common, message to the brain.
It follows that nonsense is defined where there is apparent disagreement between what the individual sees and hears.
Unfortunately the Cartesion definition is seldom used, relying instead on the layman's notion that commonsense is the same as personal insight.
A pervasive belief is that communication problems would be eradicated if less ambiguous words and more precise terminology were to be used instead of jargon. However, it is a mistake to assume that just because two speakers use the same words, the words hold the same meaning for each speaker. If they did, presumably there would be little conflict in the world and what conflict that did exist could be resolved simply by agreeing on terminology.
- Communication is, therefore, not defined on wrighthand.net as 'talking and listening', but as:
the shared interpretation of action.
Complexity theory is closely related to catastrophe theory in so far as both are concerned with change. It treats agents or entities as though they are integral parts of a dynamic system. Complexity theory then explores how, as a system, it maintains its stability or catastrophically transforms itself into a different stable state. The tipping or flip point is often called the edge of chaos. The critical features of complexity theory are:
- no single cause is assumed for any given phenomenon,
- small initial differences result in larger later differences,
- independent elements interact in a variety of ways depending on initial conditions,
- a critical mass, induces the system as a whole to flip spontaneously into a different self-organised state,
- self organising systems are generally adaptive, turning whatever happens to their advantage, not necessarily to the advantage of others.
A simple example is the way (football) teams can be almost totally transformed by substituting one player for another.
Counselling as bolt-on vs counselling- through-the-task
Atomists regard counselling as a 'skill' separate from other skills and, therefore, adminstered as a separate bolt-on activity to the ordinary task of schooling, working or living. Holists on the other hand 'counsel' through the task, regarding every task as capable of being tackled in a potentially 'therapeutic' manner.
An exemplary case is the manner in which Wooster & Carson tackled poor self-concept and reading skill in school children (1979 British Journal of Guidance and Counselling).
There is no consensus over what education is nor what its purposes are supposed to be. One solution to the problems that arise as a consequence, is to adopt a pedagogic stance and frame the problem of defining education in epistemological terms. The first meta-question is then: "What constitutes an adequate definition of anything?" full stop! Karl Popper's approach is to present three categorical frameworks:
What is ...? essence questions. These are ultimately resolved by defering to an external infallible authority.
What are the links amongst X, Y, Z? relational questions. These are one step better than essence questions. They don't, however, allow us to distinguish between correlation or cause and effect on the one hand, or underlying common-core on the other.
What happens if I do X rather than Y? operational questions. These are technical or scientific questions since they impel action not endless debate.
It is possible to define 'education' simultaneously in relational, essence and operational terms, using 'form / content' and 'fixed / varied' as non-self-referential descriptors to reveal its political, with a small 'p', context. Defining education then as being of varied form and varied content makes its 'acquisition' amenable to well established 'learning-to-learn' principles:
|The politics of techno-linguistic framing||Form|
This 'definition' implies is that education is a boundless, puzzling and problem generating and solving enterprise embodied in two sets of verbs (a) doing, enduring and enjoying and (b) reflecting, theorising and modelling. This definition makes explicit that it is not what the activity is (mathematics) or is not (football) that makes it a work or play activity or an educational or a training one but how it is conducted. Similarly, it is not the object (content) of study that makes an enterprise scientific but the manner - form of study. This qualitative definition distances itself from the notion that education is an entity, capable of being designed by professionals, formulated as a national curriculum by politicians, neatly packaged by publishers, efficiently delivered by technocrats and enacted in classrooms by target-compliant pupils and students.
To occupy the world of real education entails, both novice and expert living with ever shifting boundaries. This entails having confidence in one's doubting abilities or, to paraphrase Descartes "Dubitamus ergo sumus". It is a daunting task for pedagogy: it is an impossible task for teachers following government guidelines.
As with much else in this wordy world there are a number of terms covering the apparently same activity: appraising, assessing, auditing, diagnosing, evaluating, examining, judging, measuring, testing. Do they all fulfil the same purposes, the differences merely reflecting different contexts? The answer notwithstanding, 'evaluating' is the preferred pedagogic term since it makes explicit the fact that meaningful actions are valued.
A cynic might suggest any fool can devise 'an assessment', 'a test' or 'battery of tests' to demonstrate differences amongst individuals. It is important therefore to outline the fundamental differences amongst four root-models, not all of which have equal value in an educational context.
How well an assessment tool functions as an evaluation tool is determined by its content, form and context as the following list makes clear:
- assessing by testing: using psychometric norm-referenced tests,
- instructing then assessing-by-testing: using functional criterion-referenced tasks,
- testing, instructing then assessing-by-testing: zone of proximal development model using criterion-referenced tasks,
- testing, instructing then assessing-through-instructing: role reversal model using criterion-referenced tasks.
The first three models are fairly self-explanatory. They represent broadly speaking, occupational performance testing, traditional teaching / lecturing, and programmed instruction respectively.
The fourth 'testing, instructing then assessing-through-instructing' model is a fundamentally different model. Novices are judged to have mastered the material when they are able to first resist counter-suggestions and second instruct others in what they have just learned - whether peer, parent, teacher or boss. This model is concerned with seeing what novices can do with assistance then seeing how well they perform when the assistance is withdrawn and they are asked to induct others with their newly acquired expertise.
Pedagogical evaluations for personal, educational, medico-legal or legal purposes
A pedagogical evaluation for whatever purpose conforms to the fourth assessment model listed above. It tackles testing-treatment as two sides of the same page. It is specifically designed to test individual's learnability, a key question in education, treatment or re-habilitation programmes.
Expertise: A meta-frame
An interactionist model of teaching-learning, dictates the need for an alternative manner of framing the relationship between teacher-learner, parent-child, therapist/counsellor-client, or examiner-examinee. An evolution of expertise model fulfils this need.
Existing models of expertise are linear and assume competence improves through a number of levels in a step-by-step manner with little more than disciplined and repeated practice. This is implicit in the reiterated exhortation for slow novices to practice more, work harder and better, to make perfect. However, close engagement with experts reveals that learning is a social and emotional phenomenon and that expertise evolves in a non-linear manner across many 'dimensions' simultaneously. The differences between novice and expert can be tabulated as follows:
|(outsider - exoteric view)||(insider - esoteric view)|
|Problems||work backwards from known solutions, which they try to remember||work forwards with the unknown, re-formulating problems|
|World-view||think dichotomously in terms of basic facts and their application||operate metaphorically: as reflecting, theorising and modelling practitioners|
|Virtuosity||find it difficult to flip amongst facts and between facts and fictions||flip with ease amongst facts and between facts and fictions|
|Errors||believe they have to copy others in an error-free manner||edit their performance through trial and review|
|Authority||cite their confusion to authorize their ignorance||rely on the authority of ignorance to validate their voiced confusion|
|Thinking||say they have to think with their head||think on paper with pencil in the hand|
|Graphicacy||use pen and paper to record the results of thinking||use pen and paper to clarify thinking|
|Criticism||deflect because it's seen as an attack on their personal integrity||accept as a pre-condition for the growth of knowledge|
|Task structure||single-faceted and single-purposed,
linear and seemingly simple
|multi-faceted and muilti-purposed,
schematic and seemingly complex:
|Interaction||authoritarian - hierarchical||authoritative - collegial|
Facts, Interpretation, Evidence and Application
Were Popper's and Pepper's views to be widely accepted, namely, that there can be no such thing as interpretation-free facts, there would be no need to invoke 'facts and their interpretation' or 'facts and their application' dichotomies to get round the difficulty that evidence seldom appears to speak for itself. Nor would there be a need to invoke the notion of evidenced-based educational practice. Pedagogy critiques both dichotomies and in particular the facts and application model of instruction, often referred to disparagingly as the sweet FA model. More tellingly, pedagogy, regards 'evidence-based educational practise' as a tautology, for how else does the teacher know what next to teach unless they have evidence that what has been taught has been mastered?
Facts and evidence
Jurisprudence is predicated on the need to distinguish amongst 'facts', 'interpretation' and 'evidence'. The rationale appears to be that if facts really did speak for themselves:
- there would be no need for their interpretation,
- those agreeing to the facts would not disagree over their interpretation and
- there would be no need to resort to law to settle matters of fact.
A further distinction is often made between the letter and the spirit of the law to reflect the difference in meaning between law and justice. Pepper's criticism of the law in settling matters under dispute would be that it is procedurally driven, even to the extent of determining what is deemed admissable evidence and what is not. Moreover, an overarching fact is that these man-made procedures are themselves subject to change over time, thereby revealing their contextual nature.
Pedagogy handles the mind-field of evidence by enacting the over-arching frame provided by Karl Popper, who explained why there are no such things as interpretation-free observational facts, and by Stephen Pepper, who has explained why what are regarded as theory-free facts by one person are regarded as highly interpreted evidence by another.
Facts and their application
The distinction between establishing matters of 'fact' and then 'applying' them is based on the distinction between pure and applied knowledge. However, facts themselves are derived from practice. Applying this distinction in education is a flawed basis for pedagogy.
If we accept the argument that value-free observations do not exist and that all communication involves the shared interpretation of action, it follows that differences in interpretation will not be resolved by appeal to some ultimate authority. They will only be resolved, if at all, by engaging in joint research to gather mutually agreed 'facts'.
Graphicacy is the generic label for the act of putting pen to paper, whether drawing or writing. Thus, dysgraphia is merely a descriptive label for those having difficulty putting their thoughts on paper with seemingly effortless ease.
The simple pedagogic key, argued Kohl, in the field of learning to read, is to identify how children approach the task: do they try to avoid it, are they reluctant, do they hesitate, or are they O.K., keen, or enthusiastically immersed? Kohl's pedagogic question applies with equal force to children and adults tackling any task.
Pedagogy privileges graphicacy over 'cognitive skills' or talking and listening, if for no other reason than writing is the foundation of literacy. Moreover, were we to restrict communication simply to oracy we would not be able to draw to show others what we see.
There is a commonplace muddle which equates the adept hand with the strong hand and the writing hand with handedness. Writing with the right hand is, however, not the test of the adept hand, not least for the simple reason that the world imposes a right-bias on us all, whether we like it or not.Laterality
Handedness, with rare exceptions, has been studied quantitatively in terms of degrees of laterality. Such studies have been confounded by questions about crossed laterality, that is, eye-hand-foot dominance.
Writing and the adept hand
Two qualitatively different forms of hand functionality exist: a writing hand and an adept hand.
The writing hand is evidenced simply by observing which hand holds the pen. The adept hand is evidenced by observing which of the two handles a variety of unfamiliar complex manipulo-spatial tasks with seemingly effortless ease.
Were Cartesian common-sense to prevail, there would be no mis-match between the writing and adept hand and everyone would write with the adept hand. Complexity theory indicates why this is not always the case.
Writing defines humans as being uniquely different from every other animal. It defines us as literate, provides the measure of individual academic ability and school effectiveness. The consequences of writing with the non-adept hand are, therefore, clearly far-reaching; for the individual, family and society at large.
Latent / converted handedness
Wrighthand.net has adopted the convention of using 'latent-handed' to indicate the condition where the mis-match between writing and adept hand exists but has not been identified: it therefore remains hidden. But it also remains hidden in another sense, indicating the systemic nature of the problem. For example, the British Psychological Society does not require its practitioners to seek to eliminate its presence when conducting psychological evaluations for whatever purpose. The Health Professionals Council is equally dismissive of the condition. It is also the case that it does not figure in Medical, Legal or Teacher Education.
The convention of using 'converted handedness' is identical to Dr Barbara Sattler's, where she refers to the process wherein individuals, by whatever means, have 'learnt' to use, generally, their right hand as their dominant hand when their left hand is in fact their natural hand.
In our literate society the direct link between handedness and education is through writing in general and examinations in particular. The latter provides the measure of personal academic success and apparently school effectiveness. Such examinations are often stressful and the hand's ability to read the mind's-eye-image with seemingly effortless ease under such conditions becomes paramount. Use of the non-adept hand involves the contralateral hemisphere not only having to organize the mind's-eye-material but also having to organize the hand instead of leaving the adept hand to look after itself and the mind to organize the material.
Humour and Humiliation
Pedagogy is a serious business. Many, however, confuse seriousness with solemnity to the detriment of all. They then resort to a system of rewards and punishment or the threat of it if learners don't conform to expectations. The most insidious form of punishment, whether intended or not, is humiliation. So it's worth quoting two views on humiliation:
"Human beings, however they have been socialized, do share a susceptibility other animals lack: to a particular sort of pain. They can be humiliated by the violent disruption of their patterns of belief and cherished values.
...We have 'a common susceptibility to humiliation'. We are vulnerable to it by virtue of the beliefs and attachments that can be belittled and exposed to ridicule; and because a person can be coerced into doing and saying and sometimes even thinking things 'which later she will be unable to cope with having done or thought.' As Rorty also says, '... the best way to cause people long lasting-pain is to humiliate them by making the things that seemed important to them look futile, obsolete and powerless."
Norman Geras (1995) Solidarity in the Conversation of Humankind: The Ungroundable Liberalism of Richard Rorty: Verso; London, New York (p. 52)
"If a child in our own society does not laugh, it is a matter of some concern. Laughter frequently accompanies enjoyment, indeed it is an expression of enjoyment. Children will laugh in a game without anything in particular striking them as funny. They will laugh at a clown, at a man with a funny hat, or at a funny sounding word. Children cope with their problems by laughter, transforming the painful into the enjoyable, poking fun at authoritarian adults. It is only rarely that misfortune permanently dampens their spirit."
Lloyd , D..I., (1985) What's in a Laugh? Humour and its educational significance. Journal of Philosophy of Education vol.19 no.1 pp 73-80
'Interaction', unlike 'attention seeking' or 'bi-polar' is neutral with respect to value. Value is assigned by the qualifiers: strong vs weak and exploratory, explanatory, or exhortatory.
span class="higlightText">Strong vs weak
Interaction is when two or more individuals affect each other's actions.
Bijou distinguished between two qualitatively different categories: strong and weak (or dynamic and static).
- Strong interaction: when all parties to the action change some aspect of themselves through the action.
- Weak interaction: when none of the parties to the action changes in any respect through the action.
Mixed interaction occurs when one party to the action changes but the other party does not.
Exploratory, explanatory and exhortatory
Nine different prototypical interactional modes can be identified by combining parent, child and adult archetypes with Cartesian common-sense:
|Parent||No! You've not seen it right.
Look more closely
|No! You've not heard it right.
Listen more carefully
|No! You've not got it right.
Take this, it's good for you.
|Adult||Let's see||Let's say||Let's make...|
|Child||Please. Show me, again||Please. Tell me, again||Give me; I want it now|
Latent handedness exists when individuals are unaware that they are writing with their non-adept hand. See further under handendess.
The label, learned helplessness, was coined by Seligman in the 1960's as a result of his empirical work on a particular type of interaction. Learned helplessness is where individuals are repeatedly exposed to situations beyond their control; it is 'measured' in terms of:
- increased passivity
- decreased interest
- reduction in taking the initiative.
Learned helplessness can be changed by:
- engaging the 'helpless' in setting tangible, mastery-based goals,
- setting the conditions such that sufferers become self-evidently aware of the control they do have,
- helping them develop the tools for 'testing' the evidence themselves for the causes of their successes and failures,
- focusing on measurable changes.
A critical feature of those who suffer learned helplessness is that events are seen as being independent of their actions and therefore beyond self control. Contrary to common practice, a sense of acquired control is not achieved simply by being exhorted to have greater confidence or to assert self-control.
Harlow, working in the 1940's and 50's coined the term 'learning-to-learn'. He demonstrated that non-verbal (non-human) animals and pre-verbal children could acquire the concept of oddity by being exposed to a series of learning sets hence learning-to-learn.
Lunzer (1971) built on this by asking children to explain their actions and to turn the tables by testing the instructor. Children aged 3 to 4 could learn to select the odd object from a set of three, but, according to Lunzer, it wasn't till they were 7 or 8 that they were able to 'test the teacher'.
Levy, working in the late 60's - early 70's demonstrated a similar phenomenon with undergraduate psychology students. He showed that the 'experimental' group could learn (to learn) how to write commendable essays. The result was that the normal distribution of grades was skewed to the expert pole. In the shift from novice to expert status students experienced a number of states:
- Blissful ignorance
- Utter confusion
- Clarification of issues
- Resolution of issues
The three pedagogic lessons are:
- we are all quite properly confused when trying to grasp something we initially can't grasp
- those with no confidence in their ability to formulate the nature of their confusions are unlikely to persevere long enough to be able to work through their difficulties.
- Levy's four states constitute 'quality' criteria for identifying expertise in general and university degree classifications in particular.
The counter-intuitive message is that confusion is not an obstacle to comprehension, not something to be avoided: on the contrary it is a necessary step towards clarification of conceptual issues, not evidence of stupidity.
The learning-to-learn phenomenon also provided the rationale for non-categorical (that is generic) exceptional children teacher education programmes. This non-categorical, pedagogical model of how professional educational expertise in particular and professional expertise in general is acquired conflicts with the current model of categorical / adjectival professional development in the UK.
Mind maps are a non-linear way of representing and therefore measuring an individual's knowledge base and knowledge structure with respect to a particular puzzle, problem, topic or discipline. They are generated by asking individuals to write down what they consider to be key terms (as nodes) then drawing connecting lines to indicate the differing relationships amongst them all. The technique was promoted and popularised by Tony Buzan in his book, Use Your Head. For those who require linear text as evidence of an individual's knowledge, a mind map is the second phase in the sequence: brain storming (key words) mind map, story-boarding then linear text.
Wrighthand.net is concerned with two particular paradoxes: policy and instructional.
- policy paradoxes exist wherever policy implementation exacerbates the very problem the policy was intended to solve.
- instructional paradoxes exist every time the implementation of clearly defined instructional goals goes awry.
These paradoxes extend all the way from attempts to raise educational standards on the one hand to reducing drug addiction, teen-age pregnancies, knife crime and recidivism rates on the other. Stating policy clearly and precisely is not sufficient to guarantee compliance.
Because paradoxes are evidence of conceptual confusion they are resolved relatively simply:
- policy paradoxes by regarding 'policy' as little more than 'hope' under another name and
- instructional paradoxes by re-framing any programme of instruction as being multi-faceted and multi-purposed.
Educating others to solve their intractable personal problems involves inducing in them a process of self-education: pedagogy is the name for this discipline. Psychology often exacerbates such problems because it is it is more concerned with dis-embodied and de-contextualised entities. Pejorative connotations of pedagogy notwithstanding, partial justification comes in part from etymology. The on-line source http://www.etymonline.com offers:
Pedagogy: 1387, "schoolmaster, teacher," from O.Fr. pedagogue "teacher of children," from L. paedagogus "slave who escorted children to school and generally supervised them," later "a teacher" from Gk. paidagogos, from pais (gen. paidos) "child" (see pedo-) + agogos "leader," from agein "to lead" (see act). Hostile implications in the word are at least from the time of Pepys. Pedagogy is 1583 from M.Fr. pédagogie, from Gk. paidagogia "education, attendance on children," from paidagogos "teacher."
Psychology: 1653, "study of the soul," probably coined mid-16c. in Germany by Melanchthon as Mod.L. psychologia, from Gk. psykhe- "breath, spirit, soul" (see psyche) + logia "study of." Meaning "study of the mind" first recorded 1748, from G. Wolff's Psychologia empirica (1732); main modern behavioral sense is from 1895.
One obvious difference between the two is that the emphasis in psychology is on the individual whereas in pedagogy the emphasis is explicitly on the interaction between novice and expert and with the task-material.
Psychology is fragmented academically and professionally and holds to research-derived theory and then research-informed practice. This convoluted argument fails to acknowledge both emergent theory (that is practice derived theory) and the fact that just because something works in the psychologist's laboratory does not mean it will work in the hurly-burly of the 'classroom'.
Pedagogy is a discipline in its own terms and not founded in or dependent on the disciplines of psychology, sociology, philosophy or history. It is operationally defined as when novice and expert interact in a reflecting, theorising and modelling manner. Its practitioners regard teaching as a vocation as opposed to, for example, psychology as a profession. Indeed, psychology, it can be argued, has deprofessionalised teachers, failed to prevent pupils being alienated from education and young adults from drifting into crime.
Framing a dilemma, decision, doubt or difficulty in terms of a 'problem' is an admission that no solution currently exists for the problem holder. This does not necessarily mean that no solution has yet been found by anyone else. Two aspects of problem formulating are considered here, framing and their formats.
What is formulated as a problem and how it is framed depends on novice or expert status. For whereas novices tend to tackle a problem as though it were the whole of the problem, experts place a problem in a wider context. Placing problems in wider contexts is called 'framing' the problem. Indeed it is the way problems are framed that identifies individuals as novices or experts.
The simplest introduction to the problem of problem-solving is Krutetskii's work on three problem formats:
- the problem is implicit in the information given: information is presented with no formally identified problem or explicitly stated question,
- the problem or question is explicitly stated but presented amongst additional information,
- the problem or question is explicitly stated but presented with missing information.
On the basis of these three problem-formats he was able to (a) demonstrate the key role of 'mental structure' in identifying able, capable and incapable children and (b) establish that memory works in a constructive rather than photographic manner.
Wrighthand.net's overarching perspective is ecological. This considers the individual in their context to be a single entity.
Individual: holistic vs atomistic
Psychology, as an atomistic discipline, emphasizes the differences amongst individuals then fragments individuals themselves into different components - physical, intellectual, emotional and social - and treats each component as capable of being separately manipulated. Psychology then reifies these different components and regulates their treatment through separate professional competencies and institutional structures.
A holistic perspective emphasizes the similarities amongst individuals then regards individuals as being integral wholes, with the physical, intellectual, emotional and social, merely facets reflecting observers' interests. One clear implication follows: if one facet is found to be out-of-kilter the other facets, on deeper probing will probably be found to be out of kilter too.
Context: systemic vs atomistic
The best source of evidence of the atomist's disregard for context is when they assume they can adopt best practice from one culture, whether industrial or national and implement it successfully in another. By locating individuals' problems solely within those individuals themselves, whether in terms of thinking abilities, dysabilities or personality characteristics, it absolves those with whom they interact from playing any part in the genesis or maintenance of the problem.
As long ago as 1942 Stephen Pepper published a book entitled World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence, in which he claimed:
- there are three cognitive attitudes: dogmatism, utter scepticism and reasonable scepticism
- we can't convince people against their own better judgment
- radical destruction is more difficult than construction: that is, it's not so easy to get to rock solid foundations. Yet unless we do we're merely building on shifting sands!
- that amongst all the objects in the world there are the hypotheses that we hold about how the world itself 'works'.
Pepper's insight, was, however, to note that the potentially infinite number of hypotheses - because of the seemingly infinite number of people on the planet, each with their own world-view- collapse under close scrutiny to just six, each with its own root-image which he called Animism, Mysticism, Formism, Mechanism, Contextualism and Organicism. The critical features of each, according to Pepper, can be tabulated as follows:
|World-view||Descriptive Root Metaphor||Explanatory Value||Tools||Questions||Leads to|
|Animism||common-sense man||grossly inadequate||emotions||What is the spirit of X?||infallible authority|
|Mysticism||the common emotion of love||How can we appease the gods?||indubitability|
|Formism||shoe last - template
acorn-oak - essence
|adequate||nouns||What is the essence of X, Y or Z?||mechanism|
|Mechanism||machine: lever-fulcrum||How does X affect Y?||contextualism|
|Organicism||plant / animal||What are the links amongst A, B & C?||creative imagination|
|Contextualism||doing, enduring, enjoying||verbs||Plus ça change, plus la même chose?||operationalism|
Pepper's framework allows us to see why an expert holding one world-view interprets 'facts' differently from an expert in the same field holding a different world-view.
Personal predicaments and their problematic solutions
Broadly speaking two views prevail over what life is or rather should be: problem-laden or error-free. The first acknowledges that living entails being confronted with a never ending series of puzzles, problems, predicaments and paradoxes or doubts, difficulties, dilemmas and decisions. Such individuals generally accept the provisional and problematic nature of conjectured solutions.
The error-free view is encouraged by the belief in a difficulty-free existence provided one adheres to rule-driven certainties. Acting in an error-free manner is predicated on making risk-free decisions. Since life is seldom like this such individuals interpret their resulting experience as evidence of either their own stupidity or others' lack of clarity.
And it is not surprising, therefore, that communication is generally minimal or absent when error-free believers interact with problem-laden practitioners.
Questions and Answers
The type of questions asked serves to measure intellectual curiosity. Indeed questions provide a better measure of intellectual ability than answers offered. It follows that when evaluating intellectual ability it is better to place individuals in situations with material which induces them to ask their own questions.
If, however, we're wedded to the idea that others should learn to answer our questions and we continue to question others too quickly, even before they have had time to formulate their own answers and then, only when their answers are wrong and never when they are correct, others will soon catch on that it is 'a guess what the questioner is thinking' game.
If we do accept the legitimacy of questioning others, we should question others even when they offer apparently correct answers! For they should be able to resist any implied counter-suggestion if they really know what they're talking about. This alternative view of questioning upsets the implicit 'the power holder is the knowledge holder' relationship inherent within the prevalent teaching-learning model. The alternative is explicitly espoused in Popper's Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge.
Reward - Punishment: Intrinsic or Extrinsic?
Every institution or organisation, school or family has its own reward-punishment regime no matter how implicitly held or explicitly formalised, often expressed in terms of motivation or incentivization.
However, the very notion of rewards and punishments is fraught with major practical and conceptual difficulties. The conceptual difficulty is that technically 'rewards' are defined solely in terms of their ability to increase the probability of some specifically desired behaviour recurring. Similarly, punishment is defined solely in terms of its ability to reduce the probability of some specified undesired behaviour recurring. It follows that what counts as a reward for some individuals might count as a punishment for others.
The evidence on the efficacy of behaviourally dominated, that is reward-punishment, management regimes points to several facts:
- punishment, in terms of withdrawal of privilege, is most effective when set in the context of a predominantly positively supportive social-emotional climate.
- providing children with external rewards for activities they are already highly interested in reduces the quality of their work and eventual loss of interest in those activities. Rewarding children for being on task in low interest activities does increase the quantity but not necessarily the quality of their work.
- shifting from a continuous to an intermittent schedule from tangible (physical) to token (social) and from extrinsic to intrinsic provides the best 'rewarding' structure for education success and personal development.
The alternative to a behaviourally oriented reward-punishment regime is to make use of Pepper's contextualist world-view metaphor. Here the sense of self-reward comes from satisfying one's curiosity or puzzlement on the one hand or resolving one's dilemma or problem on the other.
Rules of instruction or are they?
The roots of "Keep-it-simple, stupid!" instructional policies are to be found in naive behaviourism. One example is in Ivor Davies' Rules for Instruction in The Management of Learning. These rules embody the intuition that almost anyone could learn anything if only tasks were presented according to the five principles:
|Whole View||Whole view, to detail and back to whole view|
Few of these 'rules' stand up to pedagogic scrutiny. Why? Well consider, what is simple to one person (expert) is complex to another (novice). Moreover, simplicity is assigned in retrospect. What we observe is already predetermined by our world-view bias and what is treated as concrete by one person (novice) can be treated as abstract by another (expert).
Only the last rule is in tune with Descartes' definition of common-sense and Levy's Learning-to-Learn experiments with undergraduates. It invites novices to start by sketching their whole picture, incomplete though it will be. This initial sketch, can be considered the novice's initial whole view (what Ausubel called set of 'advanced organisers'): it will inevitably be riddled with holes. The expert collaborator will be able to help novices help themselves sensibly fill the holes.
Self-Identity: efficacy, interaction and reputation
Self-identity is defined in terms of three interlocking aspects:
- efficacy: what we manipulate (literal and metaphorical) and the ease with which we do so
- interaction: how we interact with others and the manner in which we do so
- reputation: the name or labels we are known by or accept and the name or labels we call others
Atomists regard these as being discrete entities while holists regard them as different aspects of the same 'whole'.
It is a commonplace to dichotomise between the what and the how, means and ends, process and product or strategy and objective. However this is an obstacle to effective pedagogic practice which is puzzle-driven rather than discipline-based. The relationship between the two aspects can be explicated thus:
|Objectives||Yes||common purpose common methods||common purpose different methods|
|No||different purposes common methods||different purposes different methods|
Task analysis vs ability training
Formal education provides the 'test' case for the efficacy of task-analysis or ability-training instruction. The most immediate alleged challenge facing professional educators, is that of teaching learners en masse while simultaneously meeting the needs of the individuals comprising that mass. Given this factory view of 'education' it is not surprising that some individuals fail to become educated, achieve targets or reach standards. Two fundamentally different approaches are then taken, pedagogical - involving task-analysis -or psychological - involving ability-training. These are two incommensurable world-views.Task analysis
The best exemplars of the task-analysis approach are Marc Gold and Seymour Papert. Gold translated 'learning-difficulty' into 'teaching-difficulty' then conducted exhaustive task analyses to enable 'learning disabled' individuals to master complex tasks. His rubric "Try Another Way" contrasts with the more commonly encountered "Do more of the same but with greater intensity." Papert was committed to helping children by identifying the bugs and bombs teachers inadvertently plant when instructing them. The practical philosophy of both is predicated on the principle that if teachers are not achieving their desired results, it is they who should change what they are doing rather than exhorting learners to concentrate better, work harder or practice more.Ability training
The ability training approach is to be found in the practice of psychologists in general and educational psychologists in particular. Called in to assess why a child or adult is not performing according to hope or expectation they employ a battery of norm-referenced psychometric tests to identifying the 'cognitive' deficit or difficulty. They then reify a teaching difficulty into a learning difficulty, a non-specific learning difficulty or one or other specific dys-ability such as dyslexia, dyspaxia, dysgraphia, ADHD, autism. Having identified such ability differences they then confirm the diagnostic status by referring to the DCM-IV, ICD-10 or SEN Acts. They then prescribe ability training programmes, eg improve concentration, effort, memory, eye-hand co-ordination.
However, debugging particular individuals' difficulties cannot be achieved by consulting population norms nor by applying de-contextualised and dis-embodied theory. Were the prevalent ability-training model to have been effective, the question is why is there still so much criticism of schools' failing to raise educational standards. And why are so many children alienated from school?
Unit of analysis / universe of discourse: individual or interaction?
We all influence each other directly and indirectly, in intended and unintended ways and for better or worse. Intractable personal problems therefore generally arise through interactions with others. It makes little sense, then, to seek the source of individuals' problems as lying solely within the individual as an individual. To re-frame the problem, the whole of an individual's problem is greater than solely the whole of that individual. Personal and inter-personal problems involve interaction with others: so does their solution.