Knowledge processes - Chapter 5: Learning Personalities

A reading of differences

  • ‘Read’ your own lifeworld formation. Write a short autobiographical statement on each of the measures of difference defined in this chapter. Omit areas where there is information that you do not want to disclose.
  • Swap your ‘lifeworld formation’ statement with a friend, and then interview each other. What did you know already? What was surprising? Why?
  • In your case and your friend’s, how could you use this ‘lifeworld formation’ statement to explain educational and social outcomes?

Learning and identity

  • When have you felt alienated in an educational setting? Describe the feeling. What dynamics were at work? How were you affected by the logic of exclusion, or a pressure to integrate that didn’t work for you? What would it have taken for you to feel included?
  • Who are you? What are the layers, intersections and matrices of your identity? What changes in identity have you gone through as you have encountered new experiences over the course of your life? How does this affect your existing knowledge, your inclinations to learn certain things and your preferred ways of learning? Write an autobiography or personal narrative linking your identity with your learning experiences.
  • Describe a learning journey in which you were effectively and productively engaged at some point in your life. Describe the feelings you had in this journey, such as the feelings of novelty or strangeness, of being challenged or the pleasure of achievement in learning. In what senses was this a cross-cultural experience? How was it transformative?

Research socialisation

  • Analyse five typical boys’ toys and five typical girls’ toys. How do these toys prefigure adult gender roles? What role do toys and games play in gender socialisation?
  • Write a biography of a famous person linking their lifeworld background to their social outcomes. You might like to choose a woman who succeeded in a world dominated by men (and to what extent did she have to be like a man?), a gay or lesbian person who became famous (and to what extent did they feel they had to hide or suppress their homosexuality?) or a person from a poor background who became wealthy or powerful (and how did they manage to succeed, given their lifeworld origins?).
  • Interview an older teacher or a recently retired teacher. How have childhood, gender relations and families changed since they were at school? How has this affected teaching?

Research social outcomes

  • Research local, national or global demographics: what are the differences in income and educational outcomes for different demographically defined groups? Synthesise available data into spreadsheets, report using statistical graphics and provide an interpretative commentary.

Research educational practices

  • Interview a teacher with a disabled child in their class. What strategies do they use to meet this student’s needs?

Define the key concepts of diversity

  • Examine one or more key documents that state the rights of minorities, disabled people, children, the poor or another demographically defined group. You could examine, for instance, United Nations Covenants; key documents of transnational government organisations, such as the European Union or UNESCO; national constitutions; or special laws banning discrimination. What are the key terms, and how do these documents define these terms? You might record these in a group-constructed glossary or wiki.
  • Create a disabilities glossary or wiki based on the issues about which a teacher might need to be aware.
  • Create a life-stages profile based on social, linguistic and cognitive capacities. Refer to child developmental psychologists and other key theorists as the source of your categorisation of life stages.

Learner differences in the classroom

  • How would Sissy Juppe have felt in the classroom portrayed by Charles Dickens? Re-script this interchange to illustrate how Mr Gradgrind could have been more inclusive.

See What Sissy Juppe Didn’t Know about Horses.

  • Do an Internet search on one approach to learner diversity; for instance, the ‘Universal Design for Learning’ approach to disability, or strategies for non-sexist or anti-racist education. What strategies for inclusion does the approach you are examining deploy? How effective do you think these strategies will be? What challenges or difficulties may arise in implementing the approach?
  • Study a specialist program in a school, such as English as a Second Language or a disability program. Interview teachers and students. Conduct a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).

Theorise diversity

  • When is each of the following approaches justifiable: the clear separation of different groups, a more or less laissez-faire recognition of differences, and an active program of pluralism? Create a theory of diversity in action that incorporates a balanced reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of each approach.
  • Develop a philosophical statement about material, corporeal and symbolic differences. What are they? How are they connected? How much room is there to transform each kind of difference today? How much room was there to transform each kind of difference in the past?
  • Debate globalisation: are we coming together or falling apart?
  • What are the connections between the changing balance of agency and the increasing visibility and proliferation of differences? Illustrate with examples.

Diversity and inequality

  • Write your own theory of the connections between schooling and inequality in summary form.

Analyse implicit assumptions

  • Watch a lesson or read a curriculum resource. What are its underlying assumptions regarding the ‘normal’ or ‘ideal’ person? Consider the full range of dimensions of difference. How do these assumptions work to reinforce or reproduce certain kinds of social relations?

Making diversity work

  • Give some examples of how you might put the principles of negotiating classroom diversity to work:
  • Know your learners
  • Create open learning pathways.
  • Connect with diverse lifeworlds.
  • Connect with different ways of seeing, feeling, thinking about and knowing the world.
  • Create space for learner agency.
  • Create a knowledge ecology of productive diversity.
  • Know what your learners have learned.

Critique discrimination

  • Analyse aspects of discrimination such as systemic racism or sexism, in a contemporary or historical state. Describe how these processes work or worked in the broader society, and what happens or happened in schools. Examples are contemporary Saudi Arabia, the history of Apartheid in South Africa, or the United States before civil rights.
  • Debate sexism, racism or homophobia today. What are its manifestations? Is it reducing? Is it changing its forms? How? Why? Provide examples from the general social context, and also from educational settings.
  • What are the images of the person presented in advertising? Consider race, body image and persona. Provide examples and explain your interpretation of these examples. What does advertising assume? How are children and their learning affected by these images?
  • Consider Herbert Spencer’s ideas regarding the survival of the fittest. What do they mean for diversity among people? How do these ideas connect with neoliberalism today?
  • What are the differences between equity and equality?

Critical readings of schooling

  • Debate the proposition that schools are machines for the reproduction of inequality more than they are sites of opportunity. Refer to the theories of Michael Apple or Sam Bowles and Herb Gintis.
  • Explore the notion of learner deficit. Why might teachers and schools sometimes make assumptions about learner deficit? What is true and untrue about this judgment of learner knowledge and capabilities? What are the consequences of a deficit understanding of learner differences?
  • Role play in an exaggerated or melodramatic way a principal–new parent interview in which the parent and/or child does not it the ‘mainstream’ image of the school. The parent may be a member of a minority group or have a disabled child, for instance. Do four role plays, in which the principal’s discourse is exclusionary, integrative, affirmative and inclusive.

Paradigms of diversity

  • Divide into four groups, each of which will defend one of the following statements, both in theory and by providing examples, including examples of what should be done in schools. You may want to create a parody of each position by developing an archetypical response by the ‘kind of person’ who would defend each position. Record your group’s views on large sheets of paper.

‘Cultural differences make our country, and our school, great. We all benefit from diversity because it allows us to be ourselves and because it’s good for the country and the school.’

‘I like all the cultural differences in our country and our school. They are pretty harmless, really, and they make life more interesting and colourful.’

‘It’s okay to have people from different backgrounds in our country and school so long as they all learn to live our way of life and are good students, just like us. We all need to become the same, if we are to hang together as a country and as a school.’

‘People who are different cannot live together or study together. When differences are put together, countries and schools just fall apart.’

  • Report back to the whole group. How are these views different from each other and similar to each other? Under what conditions might a version of each of the four positions be defensible?

Pedagogy and curriculum in practice

  • Take an area curriculum (such as a series of lessons you might devise or a ‘Learning Element’). How might you cater for learner diversity? For instance, how might you do each of the following?
    1. Identify and define prior knowledge so learning is appropriate for individuals and groups.
  • Adopt a flexible approach to learning delivery by drawing on a bank of different activities. (Learners do not all have to be doing the same thing at the same time.)
  • Bring diversity into the classroom and enrich student’ learning. (For instance, experiencing the known and applying creatively.)
  • Apply different emphases and mixes of knowledge processes as appropriate to suit different ‘learning orientations’.
  • Identify and negotiate learning pathways as appropriate to students interests and dispositions.
  • Change the direction of the knowledge lows towards a more active view of learning – learning as engagement.
  • Change the balance of command and responsibility – allowing learners to take more control.

Developing inclusive practices

  • Describe the processes involved in some inclusive educational practices and their intended effects, for instance:
  • reflective exercises in which learners bring their own lifeworld experiences into the classroom
  • metacognition – strategies whereby students think about the particular ways in which they think
  • collaborative learning tasks based on grouping of students by similarity
  • collaborative learning tasks based on grouping of students by complementary differences
  • differentiated curriculum
  • multi-age, multi-ability and diverse classrooms
  • peer teaching and mentoring and ‘over-the-shoulder’ learning.

Diversity practices in schools

  • A new child comes into your class. What do you need to know about them to be able to teach this child effectively? How will you find out? What will you do with what you find out?
  • Take one area of diversity, such as a particular disability. Develop two strategies for dealing with that difference: specialist and integrated. When will the one or the other approach be more appropriate?

Framing inclusive goals

  • Write a mission statement for a hypothetical school that highlights the concept of inclusion.
  • Develop a diversity plan for this school.