Monday, January 28, 2013

Bodies of knowledge - report summary

vocational education (2010). London: Edge Foundation
Claxton, G., Lucas, B., & Webster, R.

This report is a precursor to another published at the end of December on vocational pedagogy - blog entry next week. It is a summary of  recent work and written for educational practitioners and policy makers in all education sectors.  For the school sector to better prepare children for the future world of work and for the further and higher education sectors to change current approaches to vocational education.

The report lays out the argument that learning practical skills and the curriculum of vocational education are no less demanding or complex than ‘academic’ disciplines. They summarise recent research in cognitive sciences, especially in the area of embodied cognition / embodiment (Johnson's book summary) and other ways of knowing to argue the following:
  • Doing comes before seeing and thinking
  • The body and the mind are closely interlinked
  • Our bodies are cleverer that we thought
  • Physical movement helps thinking
  • Much thinking is not conscious

Therefore, practical and academic learning are much more similar that previously theorised.
The myths surrounding practical and vocational education include: practical learning as being cognitively simple, involves lower order thinking and is second rate; that clever people grow out of practical learning; understanding has to happen before learning occurs; clever people don’t get their hands dirty or to work with their hands; practical learning is only for the less ‘able.

Compares the learning required to become glass blowers, motorcycle mechanic and scholar to be similar in complexities but with different focuses. However, all require the learning of ways of doing and approaching tasks which have commonalities. They call these ‘presence of mind’ and argue the importance of schooling in helping young people learn these important generic skills.  “it is only a very narrow view of intelligence that cabinet ministers are in a sense ‘brighter’ than cabinet makers”

The habits of mind – investigation, experimentation, reasoning and imagination along with frames of mind – curiosity, determination, resourcefulness, sociability, reflection and wisdom, all contribute to the development of ‘presence of mind’.  These are summarised in the 4-6-1 model. 4 habits and 6 frames lead to presence of mind.

The last chapter (chapter 5) also brings in the ‘social contribution’ to learning as the 4-6-1 model focuses on individual learners. Has a good overview of ‘situated learning’ summarising and updating Lave & Wenger’s work. Combines the 4-6-1 model with aspects of activity theory (leading to socio-materialism / sociomaterial approach) to extend understanding on the context of where learning occurs. Of note is a comment on how the authors have not come across work on “how talk between apprentices and those engaged on vocational learning can best be facilitated” – perhaps some of our work on peer feedback  and peer learning is a beginning contribution. Various approaches to teaching and learning are also discussed with regards to relevance to the 4-6-1 model and vocational education.

Footnotes are provided on the side of pages, providing for a few articles / books to follow up. References provide a comprehensive list of contemporary cognitive learning scholarship.