Monday, November 28, 2005

The Duplicity of School Theory

It can't be much of a recommendation for school-based education, that the theories that supposedly inform it, do next to nothing to influence the actual practice and also that would-be teachers are supposed to swallow, without question, ideas that are clearly contradictory. There are numerous examples of these kinds of problems; eg: there is regular lip-service paid, at least at PGCE, to encouraging both intrinsic and personalised learning whilst all the while, other theories on the same course suggest that these kinds of learning cannot possibly be managed in a classroom situation.

With regard to this last kind of theory: from a chapter entitled 'Drop out from Language Study at age 16+, a Historical Perspective' by Eric Hawkins, in the book edited by Ann Swarbrick called "Teaching Modern Foreign Languages in Secondary Schools":

"Burstall et al., 1974 had already shown the extent to which girls outperformed boys in French... but Burstall's study also showed that 'both boys and girls did better in single-sex than in mixed schools'."

"A significant factor, he comments, on the reason for which girls outperform boys in foreign language and most subjects "must be the well-attested 'spurt' in development (including linguistic development) that girls go through several years earlier than boys at puberty. This must equip girls better to engage with the early stages of the secondary curriculum. The boys' corresponding 'spurt' at puberty comes several years later, by which time many choices of curriculum and career have begun to take shape...

" 'Girls' linguistic precocity in the secondary school is clearly linked to their earlier physical and emotional maturity. Paediatricians distinguish between 'chronological' and 'developmental' ages of children. By developmental age we simply mean the degree to which a child has advanced along the road to full maturity...The commonest measure (of developmental age) is the maturity of the skeleton ('bone age')...At birth the average girl is already some weeks ahead of the average boy in 'bone age' and she gradually comes to be more and more ahead until at puberty the difference is two years.' (Tanner 1967)

"J.M. Tanner was professor in Child Health and Growth at the University of London Institute of Child Health, and the chief consultant to the Plowden committee. His account goes on, 'Girls begin puberty on average two years earlier than boys...Eventually, as the girls' adolescent spurt (in development) is dying away, the boys' begins'.

"The tests used for selection for grammar school at 11+ by most LEAs (for instance the Murray House test papers) always carried an instruction to markers 'to add a prescribed percentage to all boys' scores to compensate for their lower marks in the 'verbal reasoning' exam which carried half the total mark'. (Otherwise most grammar school places would have gone disproportionately to girls.) The precocity of girls in English (as well as French) was amply confirmed in all the tests used in Burstall's detailed evaluation of the pilot scheme (see Burstall 1970, 1974). Since confident use of the language with which the curriculum is delivered (and examined) underlies the whole of learning in the secondary school, it is not surprising that girls outperform boys except in subjects such as mathematics which are less dependent on verbal conceptualising.

"That developmental and linguistic maturity are linked is also attested by boys' performance at A level. Their later spurt in 'developmental age', coinciding with later puberty, also coincides with a well-attested late spurt in linguistic performance. In 2000, at A level, 59.1 percent of boys scored a good pass (A to C) in English, against 59 per cent of girls. In French...boys, 67.8 per cent and girls 64 per cent. "

Errgh...the perfidious contortions that a corrupt system engenders. eg: because schoolies insist that boys and girls must be educated according to year group, despite their own evidence for difference, they must in underhand fashion, not take their own tests seriously, so that boys do not lose out . Schoolies must however, pretend to take these tests seriously, otherwise people will start to wonder as to the point of them and much of the justification for their existence will go down the tubes.

Also, by not taking the tests seriously, they would appear by their own standards of judgment at least, to risk putting together groups of children of such widely differing ability, that conducting any sort of whole class teaching is unlikely to address the needs of any but a tiny minority of the class.

School theorists also know that children perform better in single sex schools but they won't let that worry them too much, despite the fact that exam passes are all they care about....ho hummm....

No problem for home edders here though. HEors who practice facilitation of autonomous education make intrinsic, personalised learning actually happen. They don't need to fiddle test results because they don't need to slot a child into a particular level of learning. They also wouldn't bother fiddling tests since they don't take tests too seriously and don't mistake passing tests for genuine learning. They also don't have to worry about the mixed versus single sex issue, because learning is personalised, in whatever gender groups they may happen to find themselves and the gender mix in these groups is likely to vary considerably, because they aren't stuck with the same set of people day in, day out.

HT: The School Theory Whistle Blower.

1 comment:

Leo said...

"the perfidious contortions"
LOL! I couldn't have said it better. What pointless theorism. All they wanted was the boys to be better than the girls. And puberty has nothing to do with mental capacities, but of course it's easier to seek excuses in bodily difference, we have been doing this since the dawn of time.

Did you watch the show "The boy whose skin fell off?". Due to his horrible condition, he hasn't gone through puberty at all, but he didn't talk like an immature person. Of course that is a detail nobody noticed. Hmm... I should blog about this.