Category Archives: 2.3 Pedagogical Theories & Practice

I know the caterpillar is hungry but do I need to know why?

Another fun filled expedition with my Ruby to delve into the world of science. This time it was another impromptu discussion brought up by the world around us. The location was the cycle path along by Barry Buddon (army base), a lovely contrast of environments: golf and a train track on one side and gunfire on the other with a wildlife rich walk slap bang in the middle. We often walk along here to watch the trains, identifying the company names and cargo we think they might be carrying and to where. Ruby’s keen eye spotted something large and furry as she rode her horse Star (bicycle) along the path. I was welcome of the break as her four wheels move much faster than my two legs.

The following video is of her recalling knowledge, the catalyst for this being the presence of the caterpillar. Ruby appears to be hanging like a cocoon in this video and Ollie the dog is a bit out of puff (it isn’t me). My mini scientist then went on to discuss the different appearance of the cocoon and caterpillar in relation to whether the insect would be a moth or a butterfly. The brighter or greener the outside then it was more likely to be a butterfly. The darker or hairier the outside it was more likely to be a moth. Every day is a school day! Ruby deduced that our fluffy caterpillar would most likely become a moth but we would have to come back to see because it would be unfair to take it home.

As a child I learnt about the butterfly life cycle, read the Hungry Caterpillar, was able to dig and explore outdoors whenever I wanted at home and was amazed by their delicate but intimidating presence on a trip to Butterfly World in primary 1. Considering that was 24 years ago I believe this shows what a profound effect the whole topic and the teacher had on my love of creepy crawlies. Spiders are even included in that. I understood we were much bigger than them, we should care for them and they have very important jobs to do. Within the science benchmarks for early years, SCN1-01a discusses consideration of growth and sorting organisms by features. I find this a tenuous link really, which made me question why the humble butterfly’s life cycle is one regularly taught, what children gain from this and why did this work so much better outside.

Instruction from Education Scotland in the Science Benchmarks is to allow children to develop understanding and skills in a practical manner(Benchmarks, pg2). My memories are vivid due to hands on experience outside of a classroom. But does real life experience in the outdoors engage learners? Currently the Association for Science Education, a UK organisation, champions the need for outdoor education in the field of Science education. In Scotland specifically, Education Scotland have the Curriculum for Excellence Through Outdoor Learning document, that encourages “planning for spontaneous local visits when weather is favourable.”(pg13) Slightly confusing terms: having to organise something spontaneous and only head outdoors if it is sunny?! We live in Scotland. Furthermore, science education is explicitly mentioned once (pg8) in the outdoor education document and the outdoors are mentioned only once (pg2) in the benchmarks. Consider also that a recent (2016) paper by the University of Edinburgh, Outdoor Learning in Scotland:Issues for Education, identified that not enough was being done beyond policy making to insure children had true engagement in outdoor education. This was due to a lack of training, provision, awareness, facilities and accountability (pg3).

I am just doing as I am encouraged at University and questioning the didactic methods in the hope that this will help me be the teacher I want to be within the Scottish education system. I know, from experience in classrooms that last minute trips do happen whether it is a trip to the playground to read a book or wandering in the local area to discuss homes. I can’t however, help but think that maybe more teachers would feel more confident in utilising the outdoors if they felt wholly encouraged and at times told. Theorists such as Pestalozzi and Froebel championed outdoor education, an area I am passionate about. However more recently and most succinctly, Priest (1986) established outdoor education as a system that was dependent on six factors: it was a method; it utilises the wealth of knowledge from experiential theorists like Dewey and Pestalozzi; it is essential for learning; it provides learning opportunities across cognitive, emotional and physical development; it highlights that our curriculum is naturally cross-curricular and a key component is that many relationships contribute to a child’s education (Watchow, Brown, 2011, pg18). This encourages me to pursue my pedagogical stance whilst teaching science.

How could the butterfly engage children in outdoor learning? How can it not? The butterfly is just so magical! The charity, Butterfly Conservation have an interesting breakdown of the scientific and educational value the butterfly and moth hold within the UK, all under the heading Why Butterflies Matter. This got me thinking of a stimulus for a topic about extinction, migration and adaptation in the natural world. The butterfly is a prime candidate.

The gems are probably the best-preserved fossils of any butterfly  photo credit New Scientist

Imagine the conversations and investigations that could occur from placing this image or even better an imitation of this in a small wooden crate surrounded by shredded paper and handled with white gloves delivered with a stamp from the Scottish Museum? Or bury it in the play ground or shallow trough for children to excavate. Taking the children butterfly spotting in spring, can we find any? Why not? What can we do to bring them here? You could possibly explore life cycle, adaptation, extinction and most importantly conservation. The E&O being SCN2-01a the survival and adaptation of a species. I would be interested as an adult, let alone a child.

Whilst meeting Es and Os is important and guaranteeing progression enables life long learning I cannot help but feel a prescribed curriculum could occur if sole focus of meeting E&Os is stringently followed. I understand it is discouraged within the Benchmarks and that they are not for assessment but I had to scour the Experiences and Outcomes to shoe-horn the butterfly life cycle in when I know it is covered so frequently and how exciting it can be. There is no doubt that science lends itself to inquiry-based learning, in the outdoors with field work and that is aided by interest, opportunity and passion. Not ticking of boxes.

As Ruby and I discussed her bike may well have ended that caterpillars hurried journey to safety and food. Being outside, being aware of the human role and responsibility in the world of nature is one that is dear to my heart. An area I believe science in the Scottish Primary can really uncover and have lifelong impact upon.



Learning a new skill is sometimes daunting. Applying the skill gives you that wee bit more confidence then showing others gives a degree of confidence in the skill.

This week I learnt how to upload a video from my iPhone to YouTube then to my eportfolio, in a somewhat seamless manner. Although I am not scared of technology I think that I truly lack enough knowledge to say I’m an expert. Put it this way, I’m not scared to crash a few computers and reboot a couple more in my quest to become a techno master.

The video I chose was my daughter’s first ever book review. She is 5, an avid reader and I tend to buy her books from charity shops (Oxfam often have children’s books for 49p), eBay or TKMaxx. The book she picked for this review seemed to fit nicely with my current elective, Science. The book was Albie’s First Word by Tourville and Evans. The book is about Albert Einstein and how for being the father of relativity and scientist extraordinaire he did not speak till late into his childhood. It is an interesting read for children and adults alike, with a short biography about Einstein at the back. I feel it would encourage children to question the world of science and allow them to imagine they can be the next Einstein. No matter what. There is an undertone of Autistic behaviour described but in such a nonchalant way. Ruby picked up that, although he did not speak, he was trying. He communicated in his own way.

The way my own daughter reads has made me question the language I will use in a classroom. Why should I aim low or underestimate the children’s comprehension or grasp of language. Adams (1999) discussed that teachers aim to use words they believe the children will easily understand but that if they are not stretched or exposed to more subject specific language and a  wider vocabulary then teachers are doing them an injustice(pg37-38). In saying that Moyles (2003) argues that in order for children to feel confident attempting and using newly acquired vocabulary they must be put into comfortable situations where trial and error are embraced (pg40). When a challenging word is said by the teacher, it has to in turn be explored and the children’s connotations of word meaning addressed for it to be beneficial. I find reiterating the word, adding a sing song voice to it, pretending I have forgotten the meaning, using a visual prop and also parroting the word helps it sink in.

Personally, I feel that books are the door into extension, experience and engagement with new exciting words. As a teacher I hope to provide the chance to engage with the written word as often as possible and in as many medias as possible. I understand that reading a book (even if that’s make believe), is a very personal and private experience. Reading aloud to peers is daunting and often detrimental. I want them to be Charlie Cook in the Julia Donaldson novel where all they needed was to “curl up in a cosy nook to read their favourite book.”

Adams, R., Ali, S., Bassi, K.L., Hussain, N. & Brock, A., 1999. Into the enchanted forest. 1st ed. Wiltshire: Cromwell Press Ltd.

Moyles, R.J., 2003. Just playing? The role and status of play in early childhood education. 1st ed. Suffolk: St Edmundsbury Press Ltd

Science or… Magic?

Third year… how did that happen?!?

This year I have chosen to take Science as my elective and you will all be lucky enough to see me vlog my encounters as I rediscover knowledge and inquire further into the world of lab coats and STEM subjects. This will help me to enthuse the children I will one day teach and reflect on areas I must improve to enable a passion for science to grow. I am lucky enough to have my own child (here’s one I made earlier) and even luckier that i can ask her weird and wonderful questions that she just answers.

At university we got stuck right in conducting an experiment with various unnamed substances, water, test tubes, spatulas, safety goggles and gloves. All the fun stuff. The reactions all differed and got more exciting as we worked our way along. This evoked plenty of discussion and speculation, therefore it would be an experiment I could use with a class to judge the level of the children’s understanding and scientific vocabulary.

Crawford and Capps 2016, believe that in order for teachers to engage children in science there needs to be a level of metacognition, where the teacher challenges children’s interpretations through questioning (pg16) insuring they are thinking about how or why they think certain things. So that is where I started, asking Ruby questions to discover what she knows and scrape the surface of how she thinks, in order for me to challenge her appropriately and give a sPark to science.

I have none of the fun stuff at home, so i just asked questions as we went about our day. Ruby responded without prompts or helps and I tried my hardest not to impact her thoughts too much.

I believe she is roughly at first level regarding some materials and there is room to explore further impact upon soluble and insoluble substances, “I can make and test predictions about solids dissolving in water and can relate my findings to the world around me. SCN 1-16a”

Leading on from our discussion Ruby became fascinated with coffee and what would happen in different water temperatures. I promised her we would try her experiment, she informed me that it is of utmost scientific significance.

The next video is where we explored this concept with Ruby’s experiment about coffee, which plays a very large role in her mothers life. School days are long and she is very giggly…

To be honest, this ties in with me realising how little of the scientific vocabulary I could use with confidence. I need to brush up on my knowledge of what I want her to gain from these experiments, the learning intention if you will. As far as I am concerned I wanted Ruby to consider the effect of the water temperature on the changes in the coffee granules. From what I see looking back she understood that the hottest water gave the quickest change and from this understood that the cold water would be the slowest. Also we used mathematical language with volume and number or size of things. Inter-disciplinary learning is happening, not to any great degree but conversations allow for us to explore so many subjects. It was fun and we introduced some new words; soluble, granules, prediction.

Moving on I feel I need to further explore what children gain from science and specific lessons that I could provide them within a classroom. I think I struggle to comprehend how important and individual science as a subject becomes for each child. For every 5 children that love categorising living and non-living things there are 5 more who prefer to explore conduction. if they have passion for an area and we need experts in these fields surely I should nurture that? For me, science is all around us and it should be explored as children discover it, so I would prefer to allow children to learn through real-life encounters. These can be what I facilitate and then step back, becoming part of the scaffolding, watching and extending their discovery of magical science.  Opposed to, “oh what experiment will tick my Science Experience and Outcome box.”

What I have gained is a respect for the new world that children are constantly learning from, the more they explore the more questions they have. I think the magic of science can help open more doors and allow for many questions to be asked.


And the Oscar for best film goes to…..

In the short time frame from first semester to second semester I already feel a lot more at ease when I see ICT on my timetable. I am basically guaranteed to have an interactive and productive lesson. Experiences I can pass on to the children I hope to teach one day.

The most recent has topped the tables and is the fore runner for ‘most fun day’ at university yet! Sharon introduced us to the impact of simple animation and the ease with which we could then implement that in the classroom. We were shown the software programmes Pivot and Zu3D.

Within the curriculum for excellence,  TCH 3-09a – using appropriate software, I can work individually or collaborativey to design and implement a game, animation or other application. Above and beyond that, throughout the activity I felt I gained confidence and skills that I could then apply to different concepts and it could open onto a discussion about the power animation has in adverts and the consumer world around us.

The software could be broken down into digestible steps dependent on age group. Communication and active listening would be needed but I feel that if the children can be shown by example on a larger scale, that support coming from not only the teacher but their peers would help cement the steps. Being able to make mistakes and then shown that there are ways and means to correct them would also be beneficial.

We were able to collaborate and bring our ideas together to create what I can only describe as Oscar-worthy, Crash-Mash

Hold your applause… I found the activity fun and there was scope for so many different ideas! We got to add music and could have delved further if spaced out over a few lessons.

I believe the lesson could be approached in a constructivist manner like Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Utilising the skills of their peers and working with the teacher to build on those skills and develop them further. This would then lead them to feel confident enough to complete a group task and voice their opinions. The cognitive constructivism would need to be addressed individually and this could mean going round the class, possibly writing down the steps or making that information visual with a step by step guide opposed to just verbally relaying the information. The outcome itself is something that could be kept for evidence and a point to build upon through further steps. But watching the groups work would be an insight into their communication and delegation skills. Opening up the chance for a field trip to a computer programming base within Dundee.

Sharon also gave us helpful advice about how to keep the children’s attention and I would like to open a lesson like this with a visual and audio stimulus. Getting the children to close there eyes and listen to a piece of music then possibly watch a short animation with no sound. Being able to then make the link between the two and the co-dependency of these stimuli in the world around us.

I look forward to trying to integrate this animation lesson into my placement school as I have seen they engage heavily with twitter and coding. It’s definitely an area I need to research and I have got copies of a couple books I feel will help. Hopefully I can read myself a bit more savvy but hands on experience will be better to reflect upon and grow from.




My Tired

Language acquisition fascinates me. It’s The theory of Noam Chomsky and the Nativist Theoretical approach that intrigues me the most. I agree that no child is born Tabula Rasa, we must have some sort of base to build upon, the inclination and thirst to learn. The skills needed to acquire language therefore would be, according to Chomsky and other Psycholinguistic theorists, innate; we would then draw upon it to communicate as part of society.

“Chomsky argued that children will never acquire the tools needed for processing an infinite number of sentences if the language acquisition mechanism was dependent on language input alone.”Henna Lemetyinen. (2012). Language Acquisition. Available: Last accessed 5th Nov 2015.

Chomsky suggested that children learn the words but have what he coined as the theory of Universal Grammar. Children simply have to learn the word but then can group them instinctively into verb and noun: My tired. Thus creating a meaningful and communicative phrase. This would explain why children say things that an adult would never say, dismissing some of the behaviourist and social-interactionist’s theories. Language is such a vast and powerful tool that only human’s possess, thus Nativist’s argue it must have intrinsic value. Children are exposed to finite sentences but have the ability to create infinite sentences without exposure to them before.

But… as a nursery nurse I found it impossible not to kindly correct the way children first use language and initial phrases. This was done by reiterating the sentence with more advanced grammar and trying to tease out conversation….”I’m tired, maybe we should read a story and have a wee seat?” It is human nature when something doesn’t sound right to correct it, even if that’s in our own head. We want to teach others and enable children to improve their language skills.

Many refute the theory of Nativist language acquisition and highlight a more usage-based theory. Originating from theorist’s like Wittgenstein, who thought language was a means to get by socially and therefore it had to emerge: believing that language use isn’t to be understood (cognitively) but is to be used in a learning, social context. A child may know it is polite to say “Good morning” even on a rainy day when the morning is not “good”. It is about understanding the social context of language, then we know what to use and when. Wittgenstein saw language as a tool box, believing in the multi-usage of words and their on-going acquisition.

Tomasello follows on from Wittgenstein and gives a robust modern-day argument to Chomsky; believing children learn firstly how others use language then use it themselves. All people have general cognitive processes that, for language acquisition could be separated into two distinct groups-

1-Intention Reading; the functional aspect of language and how humans are able to use social cognitive skills to understand symbols.

2-Pattern Finding; cognitive skills used in the abstraction process

Tomosello believed it was through the schemas children create that language is acquired. This makes sense and holds more weight in today’s classrooms as it is a usage-based theory. Teachers can help build upon a child’s schema and introduce new methods to cement the use of words in coherent sentences.

This got me thinking…. how would I help their language acquisition, it is something that never stops developing and at such varying rates. Firstly I wouldn’t underestimate the children, give them a class project about news. Let them bring in newspapers, leaflets, magazines and see what catches their eye. Develop a class newspaper and get them engaging with a thesaurus as well as peers. Reading is vital but doesn’t have to mean silence! Let the children create a library corner for them to enjoy. Read to the class and analyse books; what language was used and how. It is undoubtedly the greatest way to build a varied vocabulary. Introduce a new, wildly long and impractical word every week, i.e. Abecedarian- arranged alphabetically… this could introduce word grouping; noun, adjective, verb, adverb etc. Reading out-with the classroom environment has such benefits and can engage those who feel somewhat constricted by reading time; opening up the chance for role-play, interaction, physical play and peer learning. No child should feel ostracised and it is our job to make reading and language acquisition a tool for all.

reading outside

Also of great importance to me is how we can teach children that language is a tool and then allow a child to express themselves and eventually thrive in the wider world. Language acquisition is what makes humans distinct and we should embrace that. Many children may well want to see other animals communicate to appreciate what we have with our language skills. Get the chance to take part in plays and see how language use can create mood and feeling. Aesthetic education is another way to engage children in language. They could describe pieces of art in a gallery, use visual aids for word association and make words come alive in sculpture and shape… Giant human letters in the playground (think ArtAttack, can you guess what it is?).

Decades on language is still a topic of controversy, debate and budding research, yet much of this still draws upon initial theories. So as a teacher it is important to understand the varying linguistic skills of children stepping into our classrooms, then help them become linguistically eloquent.


I’m telling on you….

We have been learning about stage theory as part of the Thinking Child inputs with Carrie. Automatically as a mum your mind races to your own child. Ruby is three and has spent nearly all of her life with myself and significant adults; only recently starting at a nursery for 3-5s. I was lucky enough to warm to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development when I studied my HNC, so this unwittingly became part of my parenting style.

The key root being that age old, nature v nurture debate. Vygotsky introduced the concept of becoming ourselves through interaction with others. The basic concepts within the theory resonated with me because they made sense. Of course children will pick up on how to do things from adults and peers around them but they must be given an encouraging environment to practice these themselves, then a knowledgeable adult to guide them onto new challenges. We take for granted how child-led teaching, indeed parenting is today. It was theorists like Vygotsky who highlighted the importance of positive reinforcement and the support system it takes for children to reach potential.

This concept of cultural and interpersonal forces impacting on who we are was clearly seen in a recent documentary on Channel 4, The Secret Life of a 4 Year Old. Baring in mind my own daughter is not 4 till April, I wanted to snoop to get a heads up on what I should expect from my already flamboyant toddler. The fly on the wall style and minimal adult interaction was the perfect situation to breed peer relationships and witness behaviours that adults can somewhat impair. Piagetian Stage Theory, appeared to me, to be contradicted.

The children all being 4 would fit into the pre-operational stage; remaining egocentric and unable to see thing’s from another’s perspective. This was not the case for a few of the children, you could see those who grasped empathy, were shaking the schemas of those who had not quite got there. Unlike how an adult would approach children being negative to their peers, a sense of self governance took over and moral justice had to be served. Creating a ZPD between children and allowing progression through adverse situations often persevering with the quieted children in the group to form budding friendships. From a teacher’s perspective this could well support the concept of peer learning but refute the claims that it is age we should be grouped by?

Well aware of what is right and wrong the young girl Tia told the boy Jake that he shouldn’t be repeatedly shouting that the girls won’t win a race because it will hurt the girls’ feeling’s. Showing a level of empathy for her peers. The group was then given a task to not leave their seats as the adults went to get them presents, if any one moved none of the children would receive their presents. The looming threat did not deter both Tia and Jake who left their seats… then Tia understood she wouldn’t be getting a present (watching the idea dawn on her face was priceless) so tried to bribe her peers into not telling. A healthy debate ensued between Tia and another morally robust little girl named Charlotte. It was fascinating to watch as they brought in the mild threat of not being each other’s friend, then onto “no one will get a present then”, that then escalated to “I’ll tell my mummy, daddy, granny and santa clause”. The girls knew that the idea of an adult backed their argument. Adults are seen as morally just and they will agree with me!

charlie brown

This machiaveillian approach shows a small step into understanding the Theory of Mind. By introducing mild threat then escalating into mild bullying, Tia wasn’t showing empathy she was using her knowledge that adults and deprivation of presents can insight fear. Ipso facto Charlotte will then do as she is told and not tell the adult’s myself and Jack were out of our seats and we will all get presents. It’s this juxtaposition of empathy and apathy that surprised me, arguably one cannot be grasped without the understanding of the other. The understanding of the Theory of Mind was further supported when one of the children queried another child on how to approach the situation; asking advice on how to move forward from a peer opposed to an adult. This shows a distinct understanding that people act differently, therefore they think differently and their way of thinking might work best for me here.

My own daughter is quick to correct the wrong doing’s of others when they impact upon her or those she deems close. She has such extreme moral views that she is confident enough to question and correct adults. If a child doesn’t want to play with her friend at nursery she can easily tell me how that must have upset her friend and that she told the teacher but she will easily dismiss a friend if they don’t “fit in” to her game.

Just to clarify the video above is an example of what I see as wrong in today’s classrooms and early years settings. Children’s feelings should never be quashed or deemed unimportant.

This must be seen so often in classrooms, especially in early years. I believe that instead of imposing ourselves as the governing official and keeper of all knowledge we should attempt to impart morals and then allow the children to reach their own outcomes; settling any disequilibrium with their peers. Showcasing ourselves as morally just and honest. Quite like Piaget advocating children being active in their learning, not passive. As a teacher I hope to be able to give quarrels or disputes the credit they deserve as an invaluable learning opportunity. When a child comes to me with a problem I want to be able to engage in meaningful dialogue to explore why? how? what? and where do we go from here? Being able to introduce children to the theory of mind would open doors for the whole curriculum.


Children come to teachers, on average, at 5 years old. This is just after a big growth spurt, just as they have learnt the right word for that odd looking fruit in tesco, just as they have established that first ‘best friend forever’, just as they can kick that football as far as the park gate. The trepidation they must feel walking into the classroom full of somewhat unfamiliar faces, a crisp white shirt on and some itchy trousers. Then the added assumption that these 5 year old’s are walking into that classroom with what is deemed a “normal” family and a secure attachment .

Now imagine you’re that 5 year old, who for no fault of your own, have had a far from “normal” childhood. Walking into yet another unfamiliar space, another adult they have to listen to and another environment where they lack control. Many theorists believe healthy, predominantly maternal, attachments create a balanced adult: Bowlby, Ainsworth and Harlow. But what happens to those children who have lacked this prior to primary school? Do they become insecure, vulnerable children who we can’t help?

The psychoanalyst Francoise Dolto went through a difficult childhood herself and created a theory based on a lack of adult understanding and sought to help children release and discover their individual inclinations. She believed the adult should be a role model and example opposed to imparting methods. This approach resonated with me, children today will experience and be savvy to much more than even my generation would have known. Dolto believed the educator’s role was to teach children how to lead themselves. Amazingly a nursery was opened in Paris in the late 20th century that was based on Dolto’s theories. The Maison Verte was a nursery setting for the child and their parent, to help create a stepping stone into the education system and reduce separation anxiety. These settings are still around today. Indeed it is a setting I would love to experience myself. I believe it is best to facilitate a child’s own interests, engage in their positive aspirations alongside them.

There are other psychologists who advocate multiple attachments. Bruno Bettelheim helped give insight into childcare systems, he studied children living communally in what was called a kibbutz in Israel. The children all lived away from the family home in special houses. This may have developed less one to one attachments but they thrived socially and built meaningful friendships. Contrary to his presumption that the children would become mediocre adults they, on the whole, thrived and became successful individuals. So peer relationships can help form meaningful attachments.

If a child’s attachment isn’t insecure but is enough to cause occasional ambivalent behaviours what challenges do educators face? There is little chance that in the 35 hours teachers have a child each week they can reverse or overshadow the home environment. It is therefore crucial school can be a place of trust and understanding, where a child can be a child. Encouraging play in the classroom as much as possible, engaging with the outdoors and allowing education to occur as naturally as possible. Indeed psychologist Michael Rutter, who refuted Bowlbys claim of a single secure attachment to the mother, voiced that family discord was the source of antisocial behaviours, not maternal deprivation. I have to side in favour of Rutter, a child may have always lacked a steady, loving mother. In no means does that label the child as unloved and lacking attachment.

Virginia Satir also highlighted the importance of the family unit on attachments. Her study delved into the role a person plays and adapts at times within the family and the seed this plants for adulthood. She voiced the importance of positive emotional connections in order to stay true to ones authentic self. This, to me, shows the compensatory role some children adopt when they feel unsure of an attachment. They want to feel included, loved and their needs attended to. So if a mother lacks the drive to provide all of these the wider family can. Families come in all shapes and sizes, even foster families. I have been witness to the wonder of a good foster setting, the turn around in that child within a short space of time was so encouraging.

Being exposed to attachment theory and all it’s complexities it’s hard not to notice obvious lack of meaningful attachments. When we hear the horror stories from Romanian orphanages or see grave images of children systematically left to fend for themselves on the streets of other countries we are shocked and appalled. This stark need for care and love may not be as apparent in a small council school in Dundee but it may still be there. 1 in 5 Scottish children are living in poverty, in Dundee that becomes 1 in 4 and in the worst affected areas within Dundee that becomes 1 in 3. Half of these children are from “working families”, the effect this can have on family dynamics and the level of stress and anxiety within the home is cause for concern. Away from the home the teacher can adopt the Social Learning Theory advocated by theorists like Bandura, where positive interaction can lead to healthy attachments.

It is hard to disconnect our own experiences and childhoods from those children we come into contact with. Expecting their lives to mirror our own, in some strangely ingrained manner. Not all children will have a mother at home. Not all children will have a sole attachment. That doesn’t discredit the attachments they do have and the ones they deem beneficial and important.


Me, Me, Me

Completing a questionnaire about learning styles seems borderline irrelevant when we are geared towards creating holistic individuals, however, I was keen to find out what type of learner they thought I was. I have been reading more and more about how learning styles are detrimental. One of the reasons being, you are catering to a child’s strength not improving upon a weakness. I can see how this can be a hindrance but I found it beneficial to highlight what areas I need to work on.

There are many learning style theorists; Gunn and Gunn, VAK learning styles, Gregorc’s mind styles and Kolb. The questionnaire I took was the Honey and Mumford Learning Styles Questionnaire, influenced by Kolb’s experiential learning styles. The questionnaire has 4 basic experiential learning style outcomes; Activist, Reflector, Theorist and Pragmatist. Out of 80 questions I related to 34 and these are my results

Activist = 14              Reflector = 4           Theorist = 8               Pragmatist = 8

These show that I have, according to Honey and Mumford an Activist learning style. I am in short, a do-er. My criticism’s towards this sort of questionnaire were that I found the questions very non specific and they were hard to give a definite answer to. There was only one question I answered with a whole hearted YES and that was “I prefer to respond to events on a spontaneous, flexible basis rather than plan things out in advance.” Now I know very well that I cannot and do not approach my university work like this… I’d say I utilise aspects of the 4 and want everything as perfect as I can make it.  If I had answered these questions in my youth or prior to having my daughter I know my answers would be very different.  So it is correct in the sense that we all have different ways we think, regarding our overall learning style, but it is not definitive of who I am or the only way I learn. If I reflect, so far, on my time at University I know I have come into contact with at least 4 different teaching styles/methods/approaches. If I didn’t have the skills to decipher those “styles” with my learning style I would be in a pickle.

Children should be seen as individuals and exposure to varying approaches and involvement within their community will hopefully shape them to be all types of learners. They will develop, change and expand their learning the more “styles” they use in their enquiries and as they grow. If a child is solely taught in one teaching style you are not creating the opportunity for praxis and collaboration of ideas. It is imparting on the children a sense of how to do things in the wider world. Take an onus for their holistic learning, not “training” them to seek out chances to use a specific style.

This appears to be a bash at learning styles, maybe my inner Activist took hold. Joking aside, compartmentalising a child is a restriction. That restriction may also apply to the teacher if learning styles are focussed on too heavily. Understanding of learning styles should be used as a primitive base for teachers to comprehend the vast responsibility that is: teaching. We are aiming for inspirational stimulation in the classroom and I believe that concentrated focus and labelling of learning styles detracts from this.



World Wide Wondering

Plato believed that the man who explores the wider world can experience a more fulfilling life; his allegory on the Cave providing an educational philosophy striving for justice and the creation of a just world. The concept of dialogical teaching, disrupting a pupil’s grasp of a subject to show them how to engage in agonistic debate. This idea that knowledge is an absolute form to work toward and that everyone should be taught subjects that engage them in the World. The world in which Plato lived was a far cry from today’s, yet the sentiment rings true. Children’s learning should always be ongoing, becoming.

In a few of our recent lectures we have touched on the importance of societal changes on education. Indeed many philosophers such as Dewey, Greene and Gramsci all lived through or were impacted by the shattering of the norm. So these forward thinking people created educational philosophies based on the need for revolution. After atrocities such as the First World War, when people realised that other human beings can act in ways that will make us question our own morality.

The growth of capitalism in Gramsci’s time drove him to create a philosophy where teaching techniques would be impacted by the issues that impacted the community. Gramsci was very aware that people created their own forms of oppression; we are manipulated by the media we are a part of. This is so relevant in today’s society, relevant to our children and the instant world they are a part of. We need to know what informs the learning environment if we are to impact upon techniques.

Philosopher Friere elevated the concept of gaining knowledge through disruption (aporia) to praxis; believing that dialogue was not enough and critical reflection on action was needed to better the world. These philosophers slowly introduced student autonomy. Even though we are still not there, I believe that acquisition of knowledge begins with questioning the world. We start as babies, making noises and reacting to what is going on around us. The adults in our world respond as they see fit. When we start to ask questions it is then that all effort should be made by those around us to engage and nurture inquiry and action. I know myself, as a mother of a truly inquisitive three year old, that there are only so many “why’s??” I can answer. I genuinely believe that I don’t always have to give a sensible answer, I can sometimes answer with a question or lead the line of question to a tangent and watch her find out by herself.  It’s beautiful to watch.

If children are encouraged to inquire into their own education and they are given the tools to transcend certain contexts to reach a rewarding outcome, then the world would be a more harmonious place. Maybe harmonious is the wrong word, maybe as educator’s we would know those we guide would be able to lead and to follow, delve into agonistic debate and act upon emotions in a discerning manner. International Baccalaureate Schools (IB) are a progressive education system based on the theorist Boyer. Boyer’s theory (very concisely) was the school as a community, a curriculum with coherence, a climate for learning and a commitment to character. These are all implemented within the schools to provide a portable education. From what I have read, there seems to be similarities with our own Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), however it is more hands on and the subjects more aesthetic. It may be that the CfE is still being discovered. I wonder if it will take more universal change to implement a way of learning that is as conceptually based as the IB. I am definitely looking forward to learning more about this approach and to infuse this concious approach in my own teaching.