Paradigm Shifts in Education: Thomas Kuhn and Ken Robinson

“Nobody has a clue – despite all the expertise that’s been on parade for the past four days – what the world will look like in five years’ time. And yet we’re meant to be educating them for it. So the unpredictability, I think, is extraordinary.”

Sir Ken Robinson, TED Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity, 2006 0:56 (View the transcript here)

WARNING-page0001This quote comes from the most watched TED talk of all time with thirty million views at current count. (That is eight million views more than the next most watched TED Talk.)  There is one sense in which it is fair to say that this statement is self-evident or universally true. That is, we never know what the future is going to look like and one of the biggest mistakes we could make is to assume that we do. This normal accumulation and progression of knowledge is not what I believe Robinson is talking about. The key to understanding this statement could come in another quote from the same talk, “the whole world is engulfed in a revolution.” This revolution one could equate to a paradigms shift in Thomas Kuhn’s sense of the term.  In brief, prior to Kuhn’s narrative or theory of scientific progress the prevailing view of scientific progress was one where knowledge accumulated, mistakes would be identified and corrected and knowledge would continually grow. There will be changes and corrections in the future but things will continue to progress along rather predictable lines. In Kuhn’s model, as scientific knowledge accumulates eventually there comes a time when new knowledge cannot be fit in with the preceding body of knowledge. The preceding body of knowledge and the new knowledge become ‘incomprehensible’ to each other and a revolution of thought, understanding, narrative and practice happens.

Kuhn’s prime example is found in his book The Copernican Revolution where he argues, that the discovery that the Earth orbits the Sun fundamentally contradicted the Medieval narrative that the Earth was the centre of the universe and this fact was believed to reflect the fact that humans were the prime focus of God’s attention, having been made in his image and all. There was the whole Ptolemaic astronomy  to explain how this picture of the universe worked. When the discoveries of Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo and others accumulated, the picture of the universe drawn from their findings led to a view that was fundamental incomprehensible with the medieval view.  This triggered a revolution of the Enlightenment.

Accessed through The Creative Commons.  Photo Credit, Tim Wilson, 2010

Accessed through The Creative Commons. Photo Credit, Tim Wilson, 2010

That is, I would argue, the sense of “revolution” that Sir Ken Robinson refers to and is the reason why “nobody has a clue… what the world will look like in five years’ time.” The emerging narrative will be incomprehensible with the past. I think he is still overstating it when he uses the time frame five years, for effect I am sure, because we do have an idea – for one thing computers will get smaller and more easily integrated into daily classroom practice. (In fact, Robinson made this statement nine years ago in 2006, four years before the release of the I Pad.)


Flippin report cards

The Flipped Classroom The term flipped classroom has been in vogue in teaching circles over the last couple of years. In short, it means traditional school work becomes homework and homework becomes school work. For example, traditional school work such as listening to lectures and taking notes becomes homework where the students might watch lectures posted on a You Tube channel or read the lecture posted on a class blog. Then when they return to school the next day what would traditionally be homework such as answering comprehension questions become class work. The difference is that this process is not done in isolation, instead the students answer the questions together, collectively in a dialectic challenging and supporting each other. In this way they can be said to be enacting the sociocultural perspective on education where knowledge is not a product of the individual but is socially or jointly constructed – but that’s a whole blog post on its own. (Click here for an example of the flipped classroom in action by one of the teachers from Colorado who many credit with the idea) The Flipped Report Card report card graphic-page0001I got to thinking about this after I found myself sitting in Darjeeling last Christmas recovering from an acute case of report card fatigue.   I know I am not the only one who gets this.   As report card time approaches, teachers begin to write math comments, science comments, behavior skills comments… We all get better at it as time goes on, we get more organized and we get more systematic in our approach but we are still faced with report card season. As I sat there I had the crazy thought that there had to be a way to spread the work of report cards out equally over the semester and more importantly, there had to be a way to integrate the report cards much more effectively into the daily life of the class so they are an active part of the learning process and not some detached third person reflection. I thought, why not have the students write their own report card comments at the beginning of the semester, revisit them together with the student mid-semester and then finalize them together at the end. In this way, the report cards would become:

  1. part of goal setting.
  2. authentic writing opportunities that are published at the end of the semester.
  3. an opportunity for the students to take ownership over their learning.
  4. a way for the students to become involved with the contents of their report cards and a way to ensure that there are no surprises at the end of the semester.
  5. a way for the students to have a greater ability to explain the content of the report card to their parents and to engage in a meaningful discussion as to its contents.
  6. to take more ownership for the results of their reports.

When I returned to school after the holiday I gave the idea a try. I told my Grade Five class to write the learning skills comment that they wanted to go home in their report card at the end of the semester. I also gave each student a copy of the behavior skills rubric that I used to help generate their marks and told them they are welcome to copy statements off of the rubric. One caution is that you would need to ensure that the students are writing their comments based on the expectations taken from the curriculum that they will be assessed by. I conferenced with each student mid-semester and again at the end of the semester. I only had to make a few alterations to the comments the students wrote about themselves, on average they were pretty spot on. A few students were too easy on themselves and a few students were too hard on themselves.

This year, I have moved to a Grade One class. How to modify this to work with this age group, will be the topic of another post – mostly because I haven’t figured that one out yet.

T.A or A.T.

I have been thinking about the difference between the job titles, Teacher’s Assistant (T. A.) and Assistant Teacher (A. T.). When you look at it through the lens of the adjective noun structure of the English language it looks like this:

ta or at imageTherefore, a T.A. is an assistant and the adjective that describes their role is that they are an assistant to the teacher. An A.T. is a teacher and the adjective that describes their role is as an assistant teacher. These are terms that seem to be batted around as synonyms. I think the difference would play an important, albeit implicit, role in framing the practices between the T.A./A.T. and the teachers.