We need to change the way that we train teachers – Part I

Aren’t trainee teachers a pesky bunch? In ‘Preservice Teachers and Numeracy Education: Can Poststructuralism Contribute?’ Mary Klein of James Cook University writes*:

“…I am referring to the tenuous link that often exists between teachers’ knowing about and approving more inquiry based teaching practices and the actual facilitation of “cultures of sense-making”, where the child is at the centre of the learning process, constructing personally meaningful solutions. Oftentimes it is assumed that there is a linear link between knowing and doing, but teachers often revert to traditional ways of working even when they are well versed in, and approve of, more innovative and inquiry-based methods. Related to this is the phenomenon whereby some teachers and preservice teachers feel uncomfortable with proposed ‘new’ methods and resist them from the start. For example, as Nicol (2006, p. 31) found in her research with preservice teachers, they collectively agreed that “teaching in ways that respect students’ thinking and sense-making was not worth the time, the effort or the consequences”. Clearly pedagogic challenges present themselves for teacher educators who hope that their students will teach a rich and robust mathematics in ways that inspire their pupils with confidence and a passionate regard for mathematics and its responsible use in the world.” [some references removed]

Klein’s solution is to ground theory in post-structuralism. This is a relativist philosophical stance that, according to philosophybasics.com, apparently asserts:

“The concept of “self” as a singular and coherent entity is a fictional construct, and an individual rather comprises conflicting tensions and knowledge claims (e.g. gender, class, profession, etc). The interpretation of meaning of a text is therefore dependent on a reader’s own personal concept of self. An author’s intended meaning (although the author’s own identity as a stable “self” with a single, discernible “intent” is also a fictional construct) is secondary to the meaning that the reader perceives, and a literary text (or, indeed, any situation where a subject perceives a sign) has no single purpose, meaning or existence. It is necessary to utilize a variety of perspectives to create a multi-faceted interpretation of a text, even if these interpretations conflict with one another.”

In one of Klein’s conference papers, we read:

“In this paper I highlight the inadequacies of contemporary theoretical and philosophical orthodoxies to fully address pedagogic change. The required change is in mathematics education, and away from instructional practices based on knowledge transmission to those that recognise and take seriously the productive and constitutive effects of student initiated inquiry and sense making in mathematics.”

So inquiry learning is simply “the required change” and post-structuralism is the means for bringing it about.

This all seems a long way from the concerns of the public who have probably never heard of post-structuralism and just want effective teaching. No political party has stood on a ticket of post-structuralism and yet this philosophy is being enacted in schools of education and, alarmingly, in the context of mathematics teaching; an area of critical public interest. There is no Brian Cox of post-structuralism whose duty it is to explain the concept to the masses.

And, of course, it’s absurd. To accept Klein’s position is to both hold an extreme relativist stance that ‘self’ is a fictional construct simultaneously with the absolutist position that inquiry learning is ‘required’. However, it does hint at the reasons why the lack of evidence for such approaches has not led to a revolution in education in favour of more effective practices.

Part of this is due to the current way that the training of new teachers is structured and incentivised. In part II, I will examine these issues in more detail.

*Thanks to @penpln for the link

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9 Comments on “We need to change the way that we train teachers – Part I”

  1. howardat58 says:

    I can’t wait for part 2
    There are teachers who are able to use an inquiry approach with considerable success, probably not many!
    Check this one out:
    Jennifer Wilson easingthehurrysyndrome.wordpress.com

    What is fascinating is the cyclical nature of “the best, or only, way to teach math”. I started in this game in 1967 with the appearance of the “New Math”, in the UK as the School Maths Project, good in parts and made fun of by Tom Lehrer.. Back and forth we go, again and again. One fundamental problem is that there is no agreement on the reasons for teaching maths. I sometimes wonder whether the “Back to Basics” brigade can actually do long division themselves.

    • Teacher_P says:

      I’d go further than just there being no agreement on why we teach maths.

      IMV, there’s no fundamental agreement on ‘What Schools are For’,

      Which is partly why, at least in the UK, many who can afford it send their kids to Independent schools where, despite the best efforts of Progressive educators having their attack-dogs (the English education inspectorate OfStEd) set on Independents, traditional liberal education still rules.

      And why ‘middle class’ kids still outperform their peers in state schools – parents make up for the deficiencies at school by teaching their kids to ‘sound out’ words when beginning to real, teach then their tables, long multiplication, division and column addition, etc.

      And why there’s pressure to get elite universities to lower their standards so the victims of Progressive education can get to them..

      Not that there’s agreement about what Universities are for either.

  2. Chester Draws says:

    Really Greg, we should be grateful for the likes of Ms Klein.

    When she writes “The concept of “self” as a singular and coherent entity is a fictional construct”, the average person knows immediately that everything else that follows is rubbish.

    We had a lecturer like that at my Teacher College — always spouting Derrida or Foucault or some such. The students just ignored her. I never heard one cite any of her arguments when we were discussing our own ideas on teaching.

    If you want to win the argument back to sensible teaching, away from “discovery” and “inquiry”, then the best way is to point the interested towards such “intellectuals” and show what happens when you swallow that sort of bullshit.

  3. J.D. Fisher says:

    I’m actually quite comfortable with the idea that ‘self’ is a construct (not a ‘fictional’ one, though) and that each of us is a constellation of different perspectives. But it does not follow from this that an “author’s intended meaning is secondary to the meaning that the reader perceives.” There is no reason to privilege *anyone’s* interpretation at all, under this scheme.

    So, the goofy, shallow conclusions that appeal to young adults just discovering relativistic thinking are not necessary, even if we allow the premises. E.D. Hirsch’s work in hermeneutics, for example, deals with some problems of interpretation by distinguishing between meaning (which always comes from authorial intent) and significance (which can vary from person to person).

  4. […] We need to change the way that we train teachers – Part I → […]

  5. […] has been suggested that my first post in this series proves nothing because it simply refers to the work of one researcher. It is not […]

  6. Based on what was written in the first quote, I’m worried that I might be encouraging irresponsible use of maths in the world. I’ve encouraged children to have maths games and to recite their times tables (competitively) on the coach and now I’m worried they might end up getting into all sorts of trouble doing calculus on a boat or division whilst driving.


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