Monday, 29 April 2013

Doing it for the kids

Last year I considered the (supposed) differences between andragogy and pedagogy as part of my PGCE course at Northern College.  Andragogy focuses on learning strategies for adults, rather than children and is commonly associated with the work of Malcolm Knowles (1973). Knowles based his model of andragogy around four assumptions about how adults learn (my summary):

  1. Changes in self-concept.  Adults are self-directive; therefore they do not need direct instruction as used in pedagogy
  2. Use of experience.  Adults carry a wealth of life experience which can be brought to any learning activity; this can be significant life change such as becoming a parent as well as day-to-day experience at home and work.
  3. Readiness to learn. Knowles infers that learners become ready to learn at various developmental stages connected with their life experiences.  He emphasises the importance of timing learning correctly; so that it is real and relevant. 
  4. Orientation to learning. Adults have a more problem-centred approach to learning; they come into a learning setting in order to resolve or overcome an issue and then want to apply their knowledge immediately (as opposed to subject-centred learning in which children acquire knowledge purely to move to the next level of study).Considered what they already knew about elections and politics (more than they thought)
I found some relevance in these assumptions, but was uncomfortable with the implications about how and why children learn – and why their experience is different.  Surely children are also self-directive, when and if they are allowed to be?  Children are also brilliant problem-solvers; watching a child build a den, make a collage or learn to read are such natural and common problem-solving processes that we don’t even notice them happening.  It is more likely poor curriculum design that pushes children into subject-centred learning.

This debate was interesting but academic for me, until I found myself (as so often happens) – getting the opportunity to test out my theory.  I was involved in a ‘Schools and Democracy day’ aimed at helping young people from a local school to find out more about the Council and political processes.  I offered to take a class on ‘Voting and Democracy’, centering activities around not just the practicalities but to also questioning why and how people vote.  And of course I couldn’t do this without talking about suffrage. In fact there was so much I wanted to cover, my first challenge was to rein myself in!

I opted for a mix of group-work, discussions and a quiz.  Despite my nerves (why was I so scared? I was 13 once, I think!) I thoroughly enjoyed that hour with 20 kids.  But of course, what’s more important is what the kids thought of it, and whether they learnt anything.  In the session they:

  • Considered what they already knew about elections and politics (more than they thought)
  • Learnt about women’s suffrage – during a quiz where only the boys were allowed to vote
  • Discussed why young people don’t vote, and came up with these reasons/ideas:
    •  People don't know enought about it, or where to go
    •  There’s more interesting things to vote on, like X Factor
    • Why isn’t there an internet voting system or an app so you don’t have to leave the house?
    •  It should be more entertaining
    • Kids should be able to vote over the age of 11, so that it encourages them to vote at 18
  • Created a tweet that they could use to encourage people to vote (thanks to @samthewestie for this idea); and I then tweeted these from my @cllrdevleeds account.  They loved puzzling out how to get their message across in 140 characters!  Here’s one example:

“If you vote, you can change our country for the better. Just pop on down to your local polling station, it takes just 5 minutes of your time.”

So, did I find much to evidence Knowles’ split between pedagogy and andragogy?

  1. Contrary to Knowle’s assumption about self-direction, the kids had no trouble directing themselves to group activities. What they did need, however was facilitation to help the group work effectively and engage quieter participants (still not dissimilar to adults!)
  2.  They considered innovative ways to solve the problem of low turnout in elections.  “I could write an app for this”.
  3. There was no compulsion to learn in this session but they still asked questions to take their knowledge further: “so, why can’t you vote when you’re 16?”
When I look at the session plan and consider how it would have been different for an adult event, the only thing is around levels of knowledge.  For adults, (rightly or wrongly, perhaps) I would have assumed a greater understanding of political processes and a better command of political terms.  Otherwise the session would have been no different.

However, there was one very noticeable difference between this session and an adult one.  I got called ‘miss’!

Knowles, M. S. (1973; 1990) The Adult Learner. A neglected species (4e), Houston: Gulf Publishing

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