Thursday, July 3, 2008

What teachers can learn from new approaches in archaeology

In analogy to archeology, pedagogical reflection doesn't deal with an objective truth or evidence but with a subjective construction which can become - sometimes only for a limited period - a shared truth in a given social context.
For example, an archaeological discovery like a female figurine can be seen as a religious object, or a symbol for fertility, or evidence for a matriarchal society, depending on an archaeologist interpretation of the context where it has been found and on his specific view.

In archaeology like in education different people will tell different stories about a situation or an artifact, a text, an answer, a drawing, an excavated object etc. There is no immediate self-evident nature of a learning outcome as there is no self-evident nature of an archaeological discovery. Decontextualized they become more and more difficult, sometimes even impossible to interpret and the stories told are closer to speculation than to reality.

If from a certain point of view there seems to be an objective evidence than, from a different point of view, others could well have found a different truth. Does this mean that anything is equally true or that the truth is always a bit of everything?
I don't think that extreme relativism, which I encounter frequently in my work with schools, is helpful. Most of the time it is a way to avoid to take a stand, to express an opinion for or against an interpretation and in consequence to avoid that ones opinion could be refuted by others. And, extreme relativism is often a way to avoid to make a decision and to be taken responsible for its possible consequences.

In "Towards reflexive method in archaeology : the example at Çatalhöyük" Ian Hodder, a postprocessual archaeologist describes a new aproach in archaelogy based on reflexive startegies that can be used to work your way through negotiated interpretations in a given context. Hodder calls this approach "reflexive method".

He enumerates a set of twelve methodologies and describes four resp. five themes which I think could be applied to education. After having read the following quotes try to read them again with the word "archaeological" substituted by "pedagogical" or "educational":

In analogy to archeology, pedagogical reflection doesn't deal with an objective truth or evidence but with a subjective construction which can become - sometimes only for a limited period - a shared truth in a given social context.
For example, an archaeological discovery like a female figurine can be seen as a religious object or a toy or a symbol for fertility or evidence for a matriarchal society, depending on an archaeologist interpretation of the context where the figurine has been found and on the archaelogist's specific view.
In an educational context, a non-compliant behavior of a student can be regarded differently depending on the situation where this behavior could be observed, and of course the point of view of the observer. The reason for the behavior could be found in the situation itself or be seen in the broader social context that the child lives in.

"By this I mean the examination of the effects of archaeological assumptions and actions on the verious communities involved in an archaeological process."

Relationality or contextuality
"The notion here is that meaning is relational. This emphasis is seen in the reflexive attempts to relate findings to a specific context of knowledge production. but the emphasis is also visible in the inter-relations of contextual and artefactual information."

"The aim here is to provide machanisms for people to question and criticize archaeological interpretations that are being made, as they are being made. (...) The prioritizing (sampling) procedures are arrived at by negotiation between staff members. (...) Interactivity is also facilitated ... by the provision of the data base on the Web (...) and by the provision of information in diary and video form that situates the data base and opens it up for critique and alternative interpretation."

"A wide range of different groups often have conflicting interest in the past and wish to be engaged in the archaeological process in different ways. (...) Mechanisms need to be provided so that different discourses can take place."

"An additional theme can be described as "non-dichotomous thinking" that is the breaking down and questioning of categories and boundaries. (...) It is necessary to bridge the divide between archaeology as either science or humanity either history or anthropology, as either objective or subjective."

To give you an impression on this reflective approach in action visit the official website of the site in Turkey's Anatolian plain known as Çatalhöyük :

Some Reading Milestones

  • Towards reflexive method in archaeology : the example at Çatalhöyük (edited by Ian Hodder) 2000

  • The Book of Learning and Forgetting (Frank Smith) 1998

  • Points of Viewing Children's Thinking: A Digital Ethnographer's Journey (Ricki Goldman-Segall) 1997

  • Verstehen lehren (Martin Wagenschein) 1997

  • Computer im Schreibatelier (Gérard Gretsch) 1992

  • The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter. Uses of Storytelling in the Classroom (Vivian Gussin Paley) 1991

  • La cause des adolescents (Françoise Dolto) 1988

  • Scuola di Barbiana. Die Schülerschule. Brief an eine Lehrerin. (Edition of 1980) / read in German 1982
    Letter to Teacher by the Schoolboys of Barbiana (1970)
    Lettre à une maîtresse de'école, par les enfants de Barbiana (1968)
    Lettera à una professoressa (Original Edition) 1967

  • Vers une pédagogie institutionnelle (Aïda Vasquez, Fernand Oury) 1967

Documentary Films on Education

  • Eine Schule, die gelingt (by Reinhard Kahl) 2008

  • Les temps des enfants (Jacques Duez) 2007

  • Klassenleben (by Bernd Friedmann und Hubertus Siegert) 2006

  • Lernen - Die Entdeckung des Selbstverständlichen
    (Ein Vortrag von Manfred Spitzer) 2006

  • Die Entdeckung der frühen Jahre
    Die Initiative "McKinsey bildet" zur frühkindlichen Bildung (by Reinhard Kahl) 2006

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft - Wie in Deutschland Schulen gelingen (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft / Incubators of the future / Les serres de l'avenir; International Edition (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Journal de classe, 1ères audaces (1), Les échappés (2), Sexe, amour et vidéo (3), L'enfant nomade (4), Remue-méninges (5) (by Wilbur Leguebe, Jacques Duez, Agnès Lejeune) 2004

  • Spitze - Schulen am Wendekreis der Pädagogik (by Reinhard Kahl) 2003

  • Journal de classe, (by Wilbur Leguebe and Agnès Lejeune; Jacques Duez) 2002

  • Etre et Avoir (by Nicolas Philibert) 2002

  • The Stolen Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2002

  • The Angry Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2001

  • A l'école de la providence (by Gérard Preszow) 2000

  • Blue-Eyed (by Jane Elliott) 1996

  • A Class Divided (by Jane Elliott) 1984

  • Eye of The Storm (with Jane Elliott) 1970

Past quotes of the day

For every problem, there is one solution which is simple, neat and wrong. Henry Louis Mencken

Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.
Antonio Machado

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Immanuel Kant

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. Albert Einstein

To paraphrase a famous quotation, all that is necessary for the triumph of damaging educational policies is that good educators keep silent. Alfie Kohn

We used to have lots of questions to which there were no answers. Now, with the computer, there are lots of answers to which we haven't thought up the questions. Peter Ustinov

I had a terrible education. I attended a school for emotionally disturbed teachers. Woody Allen

A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep. W. H. Auden

When I was an inspector of schools I visited one classroom and looked at a boys book. He'd written, 'Yesterday, Yesterday, Yesterday, Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Love, Love, Love.' I said, 'That's a lovely poem.' He said, 'Those are my spelling corrections.' Gervase Phinn

Real thinking never starts until the learner fails. Roger Schank

If what is wanted is a reexamination of schooling in terms of purpose, structure and process, then testing programmes are the wrong vehicle (...) Caroline V. Gipps

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Albert Einstein

Act always so as to increase the number of choices. Heinz von Foerster

Another way of avoiding teaching is by relying exclusively on a textbook, workbooks, and other commercially packaged learning materials. Teaching is reduced to administering a set curriculum without giving any thought to the substance of what the students area learning or to their particular needs. H. Kohl

The right to ignore anything that doesn't make sense is a crucial element of any child's learning - and the first right children are likely to lose when they get to the controlled learning environment of school. F. Smith

Learning is the human activity which least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful activity. - Ivan Illich

Too often we give our children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. - Roger Lewin

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain