If we want thinking children, we need thinking teachers. This is the premise of my book ‘The Thinking Teacher’, in this series of posts I am sharing some of the key ideas from the book and the thinking behind them.
When researching the book I explored all manner of assumptions that we hold about school and learning. There are some obvious ones that are well worn by those exploring innovation in education, but there are others that are so ingrained that they are totally assimilated in the language we use often without us realising. This chapter considers one of these deep seated assumptions; that learning can be seen as a distinct object or unit that can be acquired.
We talk of gaining knowledge, of acquiring skills, of achieving learning objectives through the lessons of school. Much is said of what is learned outside of these lessons, both in terms of the informal ways young people learn things which are codified in the curriculum and the so called ‘hidden curriculum’ of other things they learn in and around formal education. Gaining, acquiring, objectives, underlying all of these words we use around the word ‘learning’ is the implication that learning is a thing, something that people gain in some kind of units whether they be big or small, delivered fast or slow.
Anna Sfard writes about this as a the ‘acquisition’ metaphor for learning, the concept that learning is a set of things to be gained. An alternative is the ‘participation’ metaphor, the concept that learning is about our identity that experience fundamentally changes who we are rather than what we have.
At first glance it appears to be a subtle distinction, but the more I have considered these alternative ways of thinking about learning the more I think we would teach very differently if we thought about learning differently.
It is hard to take the ‘participation’ metaphor on board at first, so central is it to the language we use around learning. Think it through and the implications for how we teach are significant, and just might address some of the challenges and questions we ask about the traditions of teaching and education in western society.