Problems whose solution the New Humanitarian School was set up for.

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логотип НГШ-23
 


New Humanitarian School

(Moscow, Russia)

 

 

Problems whose solution

the New Humanitarian School was set up for

 

 

          By the late 20th – early 21st centuries, a paradoxical situation had been formed in the pedagogical space.

 

On the one hand, school education in Russia is undergoing a serious crisis: it is inefficient both from the viewpoint of demands of modern society and from the viewpoint of modern didactics. In other words, the modern school does not teach what should be taught and the things it teaches are taught in the wrong way.

On the other hand, if you consider all achievements of pedagogy, didactics, philosophy of education, and pedagogical psychology, as well as the “experimental practice” of the past 500 years, then interpret these data within the logic of “developmental education” (in its broadest sense), you will be able to draw a conclusion that the total of this knowledge can help organize a much more effective and up-to-date educational process (although this job of consideration and interpretation has not been done by anyone yet).*

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* It is obvious that neither Nicholas of Cusa nor Jan Amos Komenský (John Amos Comenius) used this term. However, both of them developed the idea. For instance, Nicholas of Cusa came up with the idea of “learned ignorance”, and Jan Amos Komenský in his book Pampaedia put forward the idea of a student’s structuring of his/her personal experience and basing the cognitive process on it. Sadly, fragments from Pampaedia were first published in Russian only in 1968, and probably it is this fact that led to the widespread idea of the Soviet paedagogy that Komenský was only the author of the class and lesson system and an adept of sensualism. Later this idea was developed by John Locke and named "reflection" (aka "inner perception"). Reflection can be called the basis of education provided the latter is aimed at development of a human’s personality. Meanwhile, Russian prominent methodologists of education L.V. Zankov and V.V. Davydov, whose names are connected with "developmental education", did not use this term. At the same time, the term development is not used as a basic term by many outstanding scholars developing practices of teaching, such as Selma Wassermann, Robert J. Sternberg, Barry K. Beyer, Edward de Bono, Matthew Lipman, and the entire cohort of Western scholars developing such movements in pedagogy as Critical Thinking, Metacognition, Self-Monitoring, Creativity, Philosophy for Children, etc. As a rule, this concept is not mentioned in works by G.P. Shchedrovitsky and other representatives of his school, although it is developmental education and upbringing that their ideas are mostly aimed at.  

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Thus, the problem of insufficient usage of pedagogical developments in the school practice is evident, along with the problem of discrepancy between the theory of pedagogy and the school practice.

This discrepancy can also be traced at the level of positions existing in the pedagogical activity. On the one hand, there are representatives of the theory of pedagogy who tend to work in higher educational institutions and much too frequently have nothing to do with what is actually going on at school (the constitutor of the school knows about it from his anecdotal experience, since he is a research scholar of the Institute for Theory and History of Pedagogy of the Russian Academy of Education). On the other hand, there are school teachers who usually have very bad pedagogical (i.e. didactic, methodological, philosophical, rhetoric) qualifications received in colleges of education and universities. At best they have some random fragments of knowledge from the aforementioned disciplines that they received at professional development courses or from occasional books or journals.

Those who combine these two positions, i.e. the people who can be referred to as “real scholars”** and “good school teachers”*** are hard to find: there may be a few dozens of them around Russia. A scholar who has a “load” at school is either a mere attractor, or a researcher of some particular specific pedagogical issues. A school teacher involved with research work, in turn, is usually a “navvy” digging for the material backing ideas of some theoretician, or a person wishing to defend a dissertation for some reasons that have very little to do with pedagogy.

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** Using the expression “a real scholar” in pedagogy we mean a scholar who has mastered the whole system of pedagogical theory rather than one narrow field of it.

*** Being “a good school teacher” means being able to at least a) successfully perform the activities he/she teaches children to perform and b) effectively organize students’ activity in order that they might master what he/she knows and is able to do.

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It is clear that a separate school is unable to solve this global problem, since solving it means presenting it as a number of separate issues: social, economic, pedagogical, etc.

 

Among these issues we can highlight the following:

1.1. On the one hand, this issue can be referred to as the issue of training of teachers combining the positions of a full-fledged practical teacher and a full-fledged theoretician.  

Possible ways of resolving this issue can hardly be connected with the development of the higher and professional pedagogical education in its current form in the no-too-distant future.

First, today pedagogical higher educational institutions are preparing specialists in some particular subject rather than true teachers. Pedagogical disciplines are usually on the margin of the curriculum, and didactics is usually absent in the curriculum as a separate subject at all. Besides, the very system of lectures and seminars absolutely rules out the possibility of forming a pedagogy specialist of this type. At best, this form of training can lead to formation of another literate theoretician who will be unable to implement in practice what he was taught back at university, since students at university are taught to know rather than to do. What is called “school internship” in the university and college curricula does not appear to be part of the integral teacher training program, since what is going on there is not in the least connected with what had been taught in the lecture room. The fact that over the past 10 years the system of school internship has been continually reorganized by authorities of higher educational institutions is another illustration of the inefficiency of the current system of school internship, as well as of the entire form of professional pedagogical training in general.

Second, mastering the “handicraft” of teaching acquired in the course of working at school does not contribute to the teacher’s mastering pedagogical theory. The skills and devices the teacher masters at school remain their own personal experiences that, as a rule, are not generalized nor subjected to theoretical analysis, nor involved in the system of pedagogical knowledge thus enriching it.

Education of teachers requires other forms of organization of professional education, and we are trying to work out such forms.

 

1.2. On the other hand, this issue can also be viewed as the issue of transformation of pedagogical theory into pedagogical technologies.

The presence of teachers combining the “theoretical” and “practical” positions is an indispensable condition of this transformation, but it is still not sufficient if taken alone. The teacher does not usually have an integral understanding of the entire pedagogical situation, and the more he/she works, the larger is the discrepancy between his/her theoretical and practical knowledge. At best, he/she can know everything “in theory”, but he/she is much too likely to be unable to use this knowledge in practice in the situation of an actual school subject or a real lesson with actual children. As a practical worker, he will successfully give the lesson using his practical experience of teaching, which, as a rule, has not been subjected to reflection. However, he/she will not involve his/her pedagogical theoretical knowledge if he/she has not mastered methods of transferring his theoretical knowledge into practical actions, i.e. if he/she does not know how to “build a bridge” between theory and practice.  

In our opinion, construction of this “bridge” is not a private business of a separate teacher: such “bridges” should be objectivated as a separate realm of pedagogical reality, along with theory and practice.**** If this discipline is not developed, it is hardly likely that theoretical advances will be actively utilized by schools in the not-too-distant future.

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**** To all appearances, there is a sphere of pedagogy that should serve as this sort of bridge: it is teaching methods. However, the current system of teaching methods does not factually serve as this bridge. If we develop this metaphor, we will see that the current system of teaching methods appears to be a number of “bridges” attached to the bank of practice but not reaching the bank of theory, and on the other side there are some bridges fixed to the bank of theory that do not reach the bank of practice.

In other words, the system of teaching methods today, on the one hand, exists in merely instructional, prescriptive forms: it tells a teacher what to do and how to do it in practice, but does not explain to him/her the essence of what he/she is doing, i.e. how his activities are related to the pedagogical theory. Sadly, this system does not explain to the teacher how he/she should turn theoretical developments into concrete actions at the lesson. Thus, the teacher does not learn to create teaching methods by himself/herself.

On the other hand, there is a declarative form of methodology stating some general principles of organization of education, theoretical ideas and concepts, but this form of methodology does not answer the question about what concrete actions are needed to realize these theoretical issues in class.

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For example, the issue of transforming pedagogical theory into concrete pedagogical actions appears to be acute in how innovative ideas of V. Davydov and L. Zankov are implemented in practice. The textbooks and manuals based on their ideas do not reflect these ideas in the best possible way, i.e. the ideas are much broader and stronger than their practical implementation. What goes on at actual lessons at schools where V. Davydov’s or L. Zankov’s programs are adopted usually has very little to do with the enormous potential of their ideas.  

 

2. Actually, the aforementioned problems are quite apparent, even trivial, but still they have remained unsolved for decades. The second issue is not that obvious and lies in a different plane, so it is harder to trace it. It may be called the issue of professionalism in education, or the issue of pedagogical reflectivity.

Outlining this issue requires the following analogy: an engineer who intends to construct a bridge, a chef intending to cook a dinner, and even a bad architect differ from the best bee because, unlike the bee, they have an idea of what result their activity will lead to and how they will gain this result. The technologies that they use are bound to lead to the result planned beforehand. A situation when everything has been done in accordance with the technology but the result has not been gained is impossible. An ancient Greek once said that a child who sees a mechanic frog is surprised that it can jump, but someone who knows how this frog is designed would be even more surprised if this frog could not jump.

As for the teacher who takes up teaching a child, he/she does not know what result he/she will get in the end and how this result will be gained. The technologies he/she uses (provided what he/she uses can be called technologies at all) do not necessarily lead to the planned result (provided the teacher plans some result at all). Teachers are quite used to the situation when they do something they always do because they are used to doing it, but this does not lead to any positive results. In keeping with logic of the above metaphor, the teacher is not surprised when the mechanic frog he/she has assembled does not jump because he/she does not know how this frog is designed.  

In other words, the teacher, when performing some activity, mostly does not know what he/she is doing.

First, teaching a child some abilities the teacher does not have a slightest idea of the essence of these abilities, their structure and components. In other words, a teacher does not know what the child should know and be able to do, what micro-abilities he/she should teach the children so that they could master those macro-abilities.*****

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***** For instance, the macro-ability to solve a simple arithmetic task involves such micro-abilities as the following (we will omit such abilities as reading, listening comprehension, doing sums, etc. for the sake of brevity):

1)      the ability to compare the text with notions the child has in his/her experience and create a notion of the situation described by the text in his/her consciousness;

2)      the ability to consider the situation of the task from the viewpoint of such categories as a variable viewed as the degree to which a feature is expressed (and the knowledge that in an arithmetic task the matter always concerns quantitative characteristics of variables, i.e. results of comparing them with a certain etalon), relations of variables (more/less/equal, whole/part); this ability, in turn, requires the ability to perform the operation of abstraction by means of the above categories;

3)      the ability to compare elements of the situation of the task considered from the viewpoint of these categories; this ability, in turn, requires abilities to perform comparison by the given criteria;

4)      being aware of the fact that each task has something known and something that should be found out by means of what is known (given); the known, in turn, consists of something directly given (indicated in the task) and something coming out of the child’s knowledge of situations of this kind$

5)      the ability to apply the category of the known/unknown to the situation of the task by distributing elements of the situation in accordance with this category; this ability, in turn, requires

a) the ability to interpret, i.e. present something in different forms, and

b) the ability to construct a chain of speculations by the following logical scheme: “if A, then B, if B, then C”;

6)      the ability to determine links and relations between the known and the unknown; for this purpose it is necessary to

a) be able to interpret the situation from the viewpoint of the categories “whole/part” and “more/less/equal”,

b) be able to construct a chain of speculations by the following logical scheme: “if A, then B, if B, then C”;

7)      to know the algorithms of finding one variable on the basis of other variables that are connected with this variable by means of the above relations (see point 6), e.g.:

а) using the category “whole/part” these are:

- the method of finding the unknown part through the whole and other parts;

- the method of finding the unknown whole through the known parts;

б) using the category “more/less/equal” these are:

- the method of finding the unknown variable through the known variable and the difference between them;

- the method of finding the difference between two variables.

This list is incomplete and we cite it here as an illustration of the very principle of transferring a subject-related macro-ability into a set of micro-abilities.

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          Second, the teacher does not know which abilities each particular child has or does not have because without understanding the components of the abilities “to make a plan”, “to think”, “to solve tasks involving two operations”, “to expressively recite a poem”, “to be observant”, etc. he/she cannot find out which of the necessary abilities is missing and understand why the child cannot master the ability to solve a task or recite a text.  

      Furthermore, teachers often do not bother to try to diagnose the problems of a child: he/she usually goes the traditional way, which, however, does not appear to be optimal. Instead of finding out the components of, say, the “ability to solve tasks” and teach the child these abilities the teacher suggests that the child should solve these tasks. It is generally believed that if the child solves lots of tasks, he/she is certain to learn to solve them. This sort of “education” leads to the following outcomes: if the child, independently of the teacher, had already acquired the range of abilities necessary for solving tasks, he/she is successful at lessons, which makes a false impression that the child has learnt something. If the child does not have this set of abilities, the teacher does not bother to find out exactly which abilities he/she lacks. In this case the child is just told to “work harder” or is shown someone else’s successful work as an example to follow.

   Of course, as the saying goes, “miracles happen”, and sometimes, indeed, children can work out the necessary and insufficiently developed abilities on their own and independently (without the teacher’s help) perform methodological reflection of the aforementioned examples of successful activity aimed at solving tasks, reflect on the methods of actions used by those who demonstrate these examples, and then use these methods in their activities aimed at solving similar tasks. However, this does not happen as a rule, since the child is not usually taught this sort of reflectivity, and the child is labeled as “incapable of mathematics (literature, English, etc.)” or “lagging behind”.  

   If you are unaware of the essence of a disease, it is impossible to cure it, since it is necessary to eliminate the cause of the disease rather than its symptoms. The situation with education is the same: it is possible to eliminate a student’s inability only if you know what exactly this inability consists of.

However, these days even a good teacher works like a bad doctor: if the patient has a temperature, it is necessary to give him/her an aspirin, and whether he/she will recover or not depends entirely on God’s will and the patient’s robustness.

In our view, a good teacher should work like a professional agriculturist, for if the latter wants to grow good crops, he/she first tests the soil on a particular area, then adds to it what the soil lacks compared to the complete range of elements the soil needs to have for a good harvest of a particular plant. 

It is important that in education this method makes it possible to gain guaranteed results, and the teacher does not have to depend on God’s will more than a professional agriculturist. Of course, some unpredicted factors will appear in any case, but if this technological approach is used, each case when an unpredicted factor comes up is analyzed, the factor is identified and then included in the system of factors to be taken into account, which reduces the probability of getting the wrong result.  

 

3. The following challenge is closely connected with the previous one. In the everyday school practice this challenge is revealed through the fact that a child does not use his/her abilities and knowledge that he/she has mastered within one school subject for mastering other subjects. He/she views school subjects as isolated from each other. At the same time, similar material can be taught in different subjects independently. For instance, the same grammar categories are taught twice, at lessons of a foreign language and at lessons of Russian, or a first-order derivative is first applied in the course of solving tasks in Physics, and then it is studied in Mathematics.

In accordance with the existing canons, this issue may be called the issue of cross-curricular links, but we do not think this term adequately reflects the essence of the issue. In our view, in this case we deal with the issue of construction of non-curricular (extracurricular, supra-curricular, etc.) nucleus of the content of education. The content of school education should be described regardless of particular school subjects, as non subject-related, and only after that reflected in programs for particular subjects. In our view, any subject-related ability (macro-ability) consists of:

a) a complex of micro-abilities (e.g. the ability to replace sensationally concrete objects by signs, compare different sensationally concrete objects by one criterion, etc.);  it is noteworthy that components of this set are included in the majority of subject-related abilities;

b) the ability to combine these micro-abilities in a way that is specific for this particular macro-ability (along with the ability, it is desirable to have the knowledge of the algorithm, i.e. have the sign record of reflection of this ability);

c) knowledge of some categories, schemata, notions, charts, and texts that are specific for each subject.

It is necessary to present all subject-related macro-abilities in this form, and then construct an optimal sequence of stages of mastering the content of education with the reference to the idea that mastering micro-abilities included in many subject-related abilities enables a student to more rapidly master any subject-related ability later on, since in this case he/she will have to master only part of the subject-related ability, i.e. what is specific for this particular subject-related ability (macro-ability).

This will reduce the time spent on learning by means of eliminating pointless misunderstandings; besides, this will enable children to more effectively master those extra-curricular (transferrable) components of the content of school education, which, in our view, make its essence. Among them are thinking, understanding, reflectivity, communicational skills, and basic types and operations of activity.

 

4. The next challenge is revealed through the public consciousness and can be formulated as a social problem: there are not enough thinking, understanding, and creative people who are ready and able to effectively work on their own, are well-read, have a high degree of internal culture and reflectivity, a system of values reflecting today’s socio-cultural demands, and historic and ecological self-awareness.

We believe that this is a pedagogical issue, which has the following essence.

On the one hand, there are some such people, although their number is insufficient and they do not have the full range of the desirable features. It is natural to suppose that they are not born like this but acquire these traits in the course of their development. There is no doubt that in the course of their development they have been interacting with different factors, and the aggregate of these factors has made them the way they are. There are also no doubts that those factors that have been purposefully organized, i.e. education and upbringing, played an important role. Furthermore, there are some authentic indicators that in some particular cases (with a particular teacher, in a particular class, a particular school or lyceum, etc.) the number of graduates having the aforementioned features has been larger than average.  

On the other hand, what goes on in these particular cases usually remains a mystery at the essential level (whereas at the phenomenal level we often come across descriptions of successful pedagogical experience). Those teachers who can educate and develop in the right way usually do not possess the means of methodological reflectivity sufficient for the essential consideration of what they do and how they do it. Nor do they have enough didactic knowledge to develop what they do in practice into reproducible technologies.  

We formulate this issue as the issue of analysis and theoretical generalization of effective teaching practices and transference of results of this generalization into reproducible technologies.

 

 





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