A great deal of work is going into ensuring that teachers are not only aware of, but are also applying, techniques in education to ensure the progress of students. Evidence-based practice and research in the classroom are informing what happens in schools, with many teachers buying into new and innovative ideas. There is, however, one issue apparent in my experience: whilst we have a definite idea of what pedagogy looks like, it does not match the students’ ideas about what makes effective classroom practice.
How pupils think we learn best is a construct they put together over time through experience, but what if that experience, or at least the attribution of causality, is flawed? Jerome Bruner (1999) coined the term ‘folk pedagogy’ when expanding on the idea that all children are epistemologists in their own right; they are interpreting how, and why, they progress in academic spheres and beyond. This informs a model of how knowledge and intelligence are developed by learners. In principle, this is an excellent strategy; many educationalists aspire to the self-regulated student with the intrapersonal intelligence to recognise how they learn, what effects their motivation and what progress feels like. The issue can, however, appear when social influence outstrips the efforts of the educators who have invested heavily in the social psychology underpinning educational theory. Family, friends and media all have an influence and impact which has the potential to be both constructive and destructive in equal measure.
I am sure most teachers have heard parents defend a child’s poor performance in maths as genetic – ‘I couldn’t do maths, so it’s ok’ – contradicting the carefully-worded poster promoting a theory of mind where it’s merely a case of ‘can’t do it YET’. The experience of cramming at GCSE level and achieving top marks, only to fall short at A-level by following the same principles, has been something that I have observed with depressing regularity. Even the long discredited ‘learning styles’ remain thoroughly seated in some students who cling to the belief that they can learn only through a kinaesthetic medium. Pupils seem to have a predisposition to seek out learning models that fit what they have already experienced through home or school, and stick with them, regardless of advice. A student arrives at school with a view on what their own achievement of skills or knowledge will look like; they have their own, often crude, epistemology. This may be in line with, or contradict, what the teacher is trying to achieve, as it is specific to the prior experience of the student.