Visions and values #EEVV351

One of my students @sophiefownes developing an essay response
Someone, somewhere in the mists of time - possibly a genius (so it couldn't possibly have been me) - wrote a final year teacher education module called Visions and Values. It's genius, because it focuses on the purpose of education, and with deceptively simple essay questions such as 'who should define the curriculum?' it exposes students to the delicious complexities of pedagogy and schooling. It's a timely module that taxes their intellect and academic skills like no other module, just at the point they are about to leave to take up their first teacher posts in the big bad world outside. The module is designed to get them thinking more deeply and critically than they have ever done previously, and it helps them to develop their academic writing and arguing skills to a very high level. It also encourages them to revisit their own motivations for becoming a teacher, and challenges them reappraise their personal and professional beliefs, values and attitudes. I believe it's the toughest thing many of them have had to face in all of their time at the Plymouth Institute of Education. I'm very fortunate to be the module leader of this presentation, and although it was initially a daunting prospect to manage a final year module for 200 students and an excellent team of around 15 lecturers and seminar leaders, I'm really warming to the task.

This past few months we have seen several lectures and seminars that have explored the nuances, implications and impacts of a variety of curricula, philosophies, ideologies and cultures. The students have been highly engaged, and have paid the price, often leaving the sessions saying 'my head hurts' or 'I'm really confused now', and other hearty expressions of deep learning we lecturers just love to hear. This week we also had a BBC Question Time style panel, where several courageous lecturers from the team sat on a panel and took questions from all angles, around politics, the media, cultural and historical issues, philosophy (both personal and general), societal and psychological perspectives, teacher roles, and a whole host of other, unpredictable questions that are hard to answer and even harder to articulate in short sentences (it's the supplementary question that's the killer!) Questions came from both inside and outside the lecture hall, as educators around the globe joined in and eavesdropped on the conversation through the module Twitter hashtag #EEVV351. I have been pleasantly surprised and gratified by the level of participation of those from outside the group, but of course, with tools like Twitter, the community of learners can be widened significantly beyond traditional boundaries. So much so, I believe, that the live webstreaming next year's delivery of the module (including the lectures and discussions) is an absolute must. More on the plans for this in a later communication.

Student mind map
Here's just a sample of some of the questions that were tackled during the panel session: If you each had the power to design a curriculum, what would you put at the core? How would education change if it were free of political influence and control? How much respect do you think teachers have in society? Is the answer maybe the reason why we are not defining the curriculum? Does education really change? Does a curriculum define the most important things children learn? Do we need a curriculum at all? Would there be chaos or creativity? What are the worst (and the best) changes you have seen in schools over the past decade? Who should not be allowed to define the curriculum? and finally the most pithy: If children are our future and the reason for education, how far should they be allowed to define the curriculum?

Debates around the tension between traditionalist and progressive education methods, the political implications of education, comparisons between international education systems, and the influence of media, industry and local communities on children's education raged continuously throughout the module. My students now have to unpick all of this. They need to make sense of it. They will struggle, and they will agonise about what to put in their 5000 word assignments, and what to leave out. They have already learnt a lot. But their biggest lesson will come when they attempt to follow one particular line of reasoning, only to realise that there are multiple layers of explanation, a whole host of lines of reasoning and an entire spectrum of ways of understanding the business of learning. I wish them every success and hope their heads hurt just a little bit more as they try to make sense of all this.

Photos by Steve Wheeler

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Visions and values #EEVV351 by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Jenny Mackness said…
Many thanks for sharing this. This sounds like a fascinating module and coming from a teaching and teacher training background I would definitely be interested in a live web streamed event. My experience is that children are easily capable within a scaffolded environment of defining their own curriculum. But I found myself wondering about your students. Do they have opportunities to determine their own curriculum?
Steve Wheeler said…
Interesting question Jenny. The strict answer is no - they don't have the opportunity to determine their own curriculum, which is defined by the tutors. Having said that, there is great latitude for each student to determine their own pathway through the curriculum we provide, because it is not prescriptive. This module for example, enables each student to decide what is important for them to study to be able to answer the essay question. Many play to their strengths and build on these, some drawing from previous studies in politics, the arts, or economics, humanities, psychology or sociology for example.
Jenny Mackness said…
Thanks Steve. That's interesting, i.e. the question of how we allow students, within a prescribed curriculum, to determine their own pathways.

Could playing to strengths be equated to 'playing the game'? Of course, when I was a student of course I wanted to work to my strengths, but challenge, although uncomfortable, usually (if not too much) resulted in a better outcome.

I have just today been reading a book chapter by Mark Bonta who describes how he uses role playing games to open up the curriculum and take students into spaces that they could not have anticipated and that might be, at least at times, uncomfortable. He writes (p.62) 'the norms of teaching are suspended to allow the unpredictable to occur'. I'm not sure if this equates to students determining their own curriculum, but it seems to have a flavour of it.

Anyhow the full reference is: Mark Bonta (2013). 'We're Tired of Trees': Machinic University Geography Teaching After Deleuze. In Deleuze and Education. Edited by Inna Semetsky and Diana Masny. Edinburgh University Press.

I am interested in how students can take control of the curriculum, but within an environment in which their vulnerability is recognized. It seems to me that if students can experience this for themselves, they will have a better understanding of what this might mean for their classroom practice and what it means to be a teacher, and will ultimately affect the learning experience of the children they teach, hopefully in positive ways.

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