Plowden (1967)

Notes on the text

Volume 1 The Report

Volume 1 (complete)

Volume 2 Research and Surveys

Volume 2 (complete)

Articles

written in 1987 on Plowden's twentieth anniversary.

AH Halsey and Kathy Sylva
Plowden: history and prospect
Maurice Kogan
The Plowden Report twenty years on
George Smith
Whatever happened to educational priority areas?
David Winkley
From condescension to complexity: post-Plowden schooling in the inner city
Neville Bennett
Changing perspectives on teaching-learning processes in the post-Plowden era
Maurice Galton
Change and continuity in the primary school: the research evidence
Philip Gammage
Chinese whispers
Andrew M Wilkinson
Aspects of communication and the Plowden Report
Bridget Plowden
'Plowden' twenty years on


Changing Perspectives on Teaching-learning Processes in the Post-Plowden Era
Neville Bennett
1987

Copyright 1987 Carfax Publishing
This article was first published in the Oxford Review of Education Vol. 13 No. 1 1987. It is reproduced here by kind permission of Taylor & Francis Ltd, owners of Carfax Publishing, and with the approval of the author.

Page numbers are from the journal.

NEVILLE BENNETT was Professor of Educational Research at the University of Lancaster before taking up the first chair in Primary Education at the University of Exeter in 1985. He was a member of the Dearing Review of the National Primary Curriculum; was President of the European Association of Research in Learning and Instruction; and was Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter before retiring in 2003. His research interests are in teaching-learning processes and recent research, and include topics such as matching tasks and children, classroom groups, special educational needs, the education of young children in school and pre-school including learning through play.

He can be contacted by email.


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Changing Perspectives on Teaching-learning Processes in the Post-Plowden Era

ABSTRACT Progress occurs in a field when existing theories are found wanting and alternatives developed to replace them. On this basis research on teaching-learning processes in classroom settings has progressed considerably over the last two decades, During this period three theoretical perspectives have informed the research effort, each of which varies in its assumptions about the nature of teaching and learning, methods and data. These perspectives are characterised by studies which have focused on teaching styles, opportunity to learn and classroom tasks.

The theoretical and empirical underpinnings of each approach are considered in order to assess the extent to which our understandings and explanations of classroom processes, and their effect on pupil outcomes, have been enhanced; and to provide an appropriate context from which to consider the utility of the model of teaching prescribed in the Plowden Report.

INTRODUCTION

Reports, like theories, are products of their time, and at the time the Plowden Committee were considering their evidence few attempts had been made to develop empirical theories of teaching-learning processes in classrooms. Thus Gage (1963), for example, made a plea in the First Handbook of Research on Teaching for researchers to take classroom phenomena seriously and design studies which related classroom processes to educational outcomes. There was little to guide them, however. There was a burgeoning literature of learning, little of which had any clear implications for pedagogy, and a few fairly crude theories of teaching, based not on the observation of practice, but loosely on American conceptions of democracy, manifested in such dichotomies as integrative versus dominative teaching. The theoretical cupboard was bare and the Plowden Committee responded by seeking refuge in ideology, by dipping eclectically into what Cremin (1961) called the pluralistic, often self-contradictory field of progressive education.

Simon, writing in Gallon et al (1980), argued that although the report was ambiguous in parts, it clearly and definitely espoused child-centred approaches in general, and concepts of informal education in particular. The classroom and curriculum processes categorising informal education are set out in Bennett (1976) and elaborated by Simon to present a sketch of the ideal Plowden-type teacher and her class:

The children are active, engaged in exploration or discovery, interacting both with the teacher and each other. Each child operates as an individual,

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although groups are formed and re-formed related to these activities, which are not normally subject differentiated. The teacher moves around the classroom, consulting, guiding, stimulating individual children or occasionally, for convenience, the groups of children which are brought together for some specific activity, or are 'at the same stage'. She knows each child individually, and how best to stimulate or intervene with each. In this activity she bears in mind the child's intellectual, social and physical levels of development and monitors these. On occasions the whole class is brought together, for instance, for a story or music, or to spark off or finalise a class project, otherwise class teaching is seldom used, the pupils' work and the teacher's attention being individualised or grouped.
What Plowden proposed, then, was a package deal. This, and the thin theoretical and empirical veneer used to justify such conclusions as '"finding out" has proved to be better than 'being told', stimulated the inevitable responses. Peters (1969) detected a yearning for some overall recipe for teaching and questioned why such an either/or view of teaching should be subscribed to. What has happened, he continued, 'is that a method for learning some things has become puffed up into the method for learning almost everything'. Bernstein and Davis, in the same volume, argued that sin and virtue appeared to have changed sides in the teaching transaction, and complained of a curious jumble of fact and prescription. Dearden (1973) rightly pointed out that the psychological doctrines used as justification of the approach prescribed could just as easily be used to justify opposing approaches. Bruner (1976) complained of a means-ends muddle, and Naish et al (1976) argued sceptically that the evidence indicated that decisions about what teaching methods to recommend were taken prior to any survey of relevant research, and then various bits of psychological research were surveyed simply in the hope of finding support for the decisions already taken.

The aim of this article is not to present yet another analytic critique of the quality of Plowden's conceptualisations, but to provide an appropriate empirical perspective from which to consider the utility of the model of teaching prescribed. To this end changing trends in research on teaching-learning processes in primary schools during the last twenty years will be delineated. Theoretical and empirical perspectives will be emphasised more than actual findings in order to explicate the progress made in understanding and explaining classroom phenomena and their effects.

TEACHING STYLES

Studies which adopted a teaching styles approach began in the late 1960s and continued for over a decade. They were characterised by the collection of data on teacher behaviours on which were based classifications or typologies of teachers. The resultant teacher types or styles identified teachers who were teaching in similar ways. These styles were then related to changes in pupil achievement and attitudes.

One strand of this body of research was influenced, at a theoretical level, by the Plowden Report. Data were gathered on behaviours identified in the report as being characteristic of progressive or informal teaching, and such studies resulted in dichotomies or continua of teacher styles variously labelled progressive-traditional, informal-formal and exploratory-didactic (cf Barker Lunn 1970; Cane and Smithers 1972; Bennett 1976; HMI 1978). In the United States the so-called open education movement, grounded in Plowden ideology, also stimulated a plethora of studies.


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A second strand of research on teaching styles was influenced theoretically by interaction models. Here data were acquired on specific aspects of teacher-pupil interactions on which were based classifications of styles. The labels attached to these styles, however, tend to be based on predominant teacher roles such as 'actor-manager' (Eggleston et al 1976) and 'classroom enquirer' (Galton et al 1980).

It is not the purpose here to provide a review of the outcomes of such studies. Suffice it to say that contemporary reviewers in Britain and the United States are agreed that formal or traditional teaching does appear related to slightly increased learning gains in mathematics and language but that there may be gains in the affective domain from informal approaches (Gray and Satterly 1981; Anthony 1982; Giacona and Hedges 1983). Nevertheless, it has to be said that the ideological basis of Plowden's theory, aligned as it was to a particular set of political beliefs about the nature of man and society, has meant that the results of studies of teaching styles have tended to generate more political heat than pedagogical light.

What then is the status of research on teaching styles? Despite the fact that such studies were based on differing theoretical perspectives they shared common conceptions and assumptions about the nature of teaching and learning, and also shared difficulties of a technical and substantive nature.

Since teaching styles are composed of groups or bundles of teacher behaviours, the differential impact of individual teacher behaviours is impossible to ascertain. Thus, for example, it is not possible to identify a specific behaviour or behaviours within a formal or a classroom enquiring style which maximises achievement, or those within an informal style which appear to engender improved motivation. As such the findings are of little value in seeking improvements in teaching or teacher training. Secondly, examination of the research literature indicates that within-style differences in achievement are often as large as between-style differences. As such style is, in itself, insufficient to explain differences in outcomes. This could, in part at least, be due to technical limitations in statistical analyses of pupil change. Finally, teaching style studies assume a direct relationship between teaching behaviours and pupil learning which, paradoxically, carries with it an implicit denial of the influence of pupils in their own learning.

The inability of gross classifications of teachers to inform improvements in practice, doubts about style as a useful explanatory variable, and the myopic focus on the teacher were all powerful drawbacks to the approach. It had outlived its usefulness. New perspectives were needed which allowed specific delineation of teacher and pupil behaviours in relation to stated outcomes.

OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN

An alternative theoretical perspective on teaching-learning processes, which overcame some of the drawbacks of the styles approach, emerged in the mid 1970s from a reworking and refining of a model of school learning first published a decade earlier (Carroll 1963). This model, since elaborated by a number of theorists (Bloom 1976; Harnischfeger and Wiley 1976) utilises aspects of time and opportunity to learn as central concepts. The basic assumption is that there is no direct relationship between teacher behaviours and pupil achievement since all effects of teaching on learning are mediated by pupil activities, i.e. pupil learning activities are central to their learning. In particular the amount of time a pupil spends actively engaged on a particular topic is seen as the most important determinant of achievement on that topic. In this model


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the pupil, therefore, becomes the central focus with the teacher seen as the manager of the attention and time of pupils in relation to the educational ends of the classroom. In other words the teacher manages the scarce resources of attention and time.

These models have been very influential in research on teaching both in providing the theory to drive research studies and in interpreting past research which has utilised similar concepts. The body of research literature is now extremely large and only a brief account can be presented here. The summary model presented in Fig. 1 has been designed to synthesise the literature into a coherent framework (Bennett 1978,1982).

Fig. 1 Summary model of research on opportunity to learn

The focus is on pupil achievement and the factors delineated by empirical studies which relate to that.

The broadest definition of opportunity to learn is the amount of interaction children have with school - the extent to which they are exposed to schooling. Quantity of schooling relates to the total amount of time the school is open for its stated purpose and is defined by the length of school day and school year. Length of school day has, for example, been found to vary as much as six hours per week in Britain even in the


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same geographical locality. At the level of the individual pupil exposure to schooling varies in relation to the extent of pupil absence, and to school-based policies regarding the amount of homework. There are indications that length of school day, absence and homework are all related to pupil achievement.

The time available for schooling is allocated to various curriculum activities, and in Britain, where there is no central or local control of curriculum, the curriculum emphasis or balance achieved varies markedly from school to school and from class to class in the same school. Typical findings are that the average amount of curriculum time allocated to primary school mathematics is 4.5 hours per week but varies from 2 to 7 hours. In language the average is higher at about 7.5 hours per week but this varies from 4 to 12 hours (Bennett et al 1980; Bassey 1977). What is clear from this evidence is that children receive quite different educational diets dependent on the school they happen to go to, and as in other areas of human functioning diet appears to relate to growth. The evidence would indicate that different curriculum balances result in different patterns of knowledge acquisition (Berliner and Rosenshine 1976; Fisher et al 1978).

If curriculum allocation is conceived as the opportunity provided for pupils to interact with given curriculum content, then pupil involvement or engagement can be conceived as the use that pupils make of that opportunity. Many studies have provided descriptions of the extent of pupil involvement across all school ages and although the working definitions of pupil involvement are not always completely compatible there appears to be a law of two thirds emerging. On average pupils appear to be involved about two thirds of the time, but this varies markedly from class to class, and from pupil to pupil in the same class.

The extent of pupil involvement has also been studied within the context of classroom groups. The practice of grouping was encouraged by the Plowden Report where it was perceived to provide the best compromise in achieving individualisation of learning and teaching within the time available. 'Teachers therefore have to economise by teaching together a small group of children who are roughly at the same stage'. Among the benefits assumed of group work were that children would learn to get along together, to help one another and realise their own, and others', strengths and weaknesses. Advantages were seen in children having to teach and explain to others, and in stretching the more able children through the thrust and counter-thrust of conversation.

Unfortunately, research on classroom groups portrays a very different picture. At junior school level both Boydell (1975) and Galton et al (1980) report that group interaction is clearly differentiated by sex, conversations are not sustained and a high proportion of group talk is not related to the tasks set. The picture at infant school level is rosier with a higher level of talk devoted to the task and little sign of sex bias (Bennett et al 1984). Nevertheless, much of the talk appears to be about the task rather than its enhancement, i.e. talk which furthers task performance such as informing and explaining is very low, comprising some 8 per cent of all talk.

This, in part, is a function of how teachers manage groups. Plowden envisaged that teaching would be to groups, and that they would be involved in cooperative endeavours. However, although it is typical for children to be sat in groups, they actually work as individuals on their own tasks for the great majority of the time. Pupils sit in groups but do not work as groups.

Research relating pupil involvement to achievement has generally reported positive relationships but of widely varying strength. In general, however, the data would seem


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to lend some support to William James's argument of 1902, that 'whether the attention comes by grace of genius or by dint of will the longer one does attend to a topic the more mastery of it one has'.

Nevertheless the amount of time pupils interact with their task is by no means a complete explanation of achievement. Time has been likened to an empty box (Gage 1978) which requires filling with comprehensible and worthwhile content. The element in the model entitled 'Structuring Conditions for Learning' reflects this. The cluster of variables which have been of concern here include the presentation of the task; the sequence, level and pacing of content; teachers' levels of expectation of their pupils, and types of feedback from teacher to child, including those with behavioural and academic intentions.

The outcomes of research studies within the opportunity to learn paradigm have been relatively consistent and have been used as the basis for hortatory pleas for teachers to increase time on task (Denham and Lieberman 1980); to develop experimental intervention programmes with the purpose of improving pupil achievement and/or classroom management (Emmer et al 1981; Gage and Colardarci 1980; Good and Grouws 1979); and for the development of prescriptive models of teaching such as the Direct Instructional Model (Berliner and Rosenshine 1976) which shares many features with the characteristics of effective teaching recently stated in the ILEA Junior School Project (1986) e.g. the structured school day where pupils' work is organised by the teacher, a high level of pupil industry, low noise level, movement low and work related, single subject teaching, etc. (cf Brophy and Good 1985 for a comprehensive overview of this research).

Such explanations are likely to be only partially successful, however, because of limitations in the opportunity to learn the model itself, and in its associated research. It has been shown that there is little to be gained from high pupil involvement on tasks that are either not comprehensible or worthwhile. Time is thus a necessary, but not sufficient condition for learning. As was argued earlier, time is an empty vessel but the research within the opportunity to learn approach has generally restricted itself to delineating and quantifying the dimensions of the vessel rather than attending to the quality of its content. Exhortations to increase curriculum allocation or to improve levels of pupil involvement are of no avail if the quality of the task is poor or not related to pupils' intellectual capabilities. The teaching styles and opportunity to learn approaches have provided abundant evidence on the relationship between teacher and pupil behaviours and long-term, norm-referenced, achievement measures, but what they have neglected are the mediation processes by which teaching and learning influence each other, together with an almost total neglect of the learning process itself. Such limitations throw into sharp relief issues central to the explanation of teaching and learning. Activities of the learner on assigned classroom tasks may be seen as crucial mediators in converting teacher behaviours into learning behaviours, but the models so far considered offer little comment on how these processes operate in practice. There is little description, analysis or explanation of how classroom tasks are assigned or worked under normal classroom conditions and constraints, despite the fact that most intended school learning is embedded in the tasks teachers assign to pupils.

CLASSROOM TASKS

Most recently therefore there has been a move from a process-product to a mediating-


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process paradigm (Doyle 1979; Evertson 1980), representing a shift in focus from time to task, utilising insights provided by cognitive psychology. From this perspective the tasks which pupils engage in structure to a large extent what information is selected from the environment and how it is processed. Tasks organise experience and thus an understanding of that experience, and the process of acquisition first requires an understanding of the tasks which pupils work.

An acceptance of this perspective requires a change in the conceptions of the learner from a behaviourist to a constructivist position, i.e. from a portrayal of the learner as an objective, passive recipient of sensory experience who can learn anything if provided enough practice, to a learner actively making use of cognitive strategies and previous knowledge to deal with cognitive limitations. In this conception learners are active, constructivist and interpretive, and learning is a covert, intellectual process providing the development and re-structuring of existing conceptual schemes.

However, reliance on a cognitive psychological perspective is insufficient to explain classroom phenomena. Constructivist models of the child contain no serious treatment of the nature of the social environment in which learning takes place. Thus any study which seeks to explain the dynamics between teaching and learning also requires a model of classrooms as complex social settings. Such models are rare. Doyle's (1978 1983) ecological model of mediating processes is the most fully specified, viewing classrooms as enduring complex environments and information systems to which teachers and pupils must adapt.

Constructivist models of learning and mediating process models of classrooms point clearly to classroom tasks as the crucial mediators linking teachers and pupils. The only British classroom-based study to adopt this perspective collected data on teacher intentions, task specifications, pupil performance on their tasks, their understanding or misconceptions of these, and teacher diagnoses of completed tasks, to characterise the intellectual demands of the tasks set and whether these demands were appropriate to pupils' capabilities (Bennett et al 1984).

From these data it was apparent that the tasks teachers set do not always embody their intentions, e.g. over one fifth of all tasks observed failed to meet their intended aim. The actual intellectual demand apparent in the majority of tasks in language and mathematics was limited to increments of knowledge or skill, and practice. There was thus little opportunity for the application of knowledge in new contexts or for the active discovery of new knowledge and skills. Approximately forty per cent of tasks matched pupils' capabilities but there was a strong trend toward the overestimation of low attaining pupils and the underestimation of high attainers. In other words, low attainers were given work that was too hard and high attainers work that was too easy, a finding supported by HMI Surveys (1978 1983 1985; Bennett et al 1987). Teachers tended to stress the procedural aspects of tasks and mechanical progress through a scheme of work rather than pupil understanding. Neither were pupil understandings or misconceptions diagnosed by teachers, who generally limited themselves to judgements of whether things were right or wrong.

Although limited in number, studies utilising the task perspective have pointed to the significant influence of teacher knowledge systems on classroom practice, raising such questions as, how can teachers teach well knowledge that they themselves do not thoroughly understand? How can teachers make clear decisions regarding what counts as development in content areas with which they are not thoroughly conversant? How can teachers accurately and adequately diagnose the nature of pupil misconceptions or misunderstandings without an adequate knowledge base? These are important con-


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siderations in primary schools where teachers tend to be generalists and where worries are being expressed about the considerable proportion of teachers who have difficulty in selecting and utilising subject matter in some part of the curriculum. Similar sets of questions can also be raised about the teachers' knowledge base and actions regarding the management of learning in terms of setting the scene and the organisation of resources, both material and human, to provide optimal learning environments.

Current work is addressing some of these issues. Research on subject matter knowledge of teachers is virtually non-existent but a start has been made in detailing the characteristics of knowledge which constitutes cognitive skill in teaching in expert and novice teachers (Leinhardt and Smith 1985). The characterisation of knowledge is difficult methodologically and attempts currently rely on representation by semantic and planning networks and flow charts. With such tools the ability to display teacher knowledge systems could, for example, determine whether teachers have conceptual understanding, and if, and how, this understanding is transmitted in teacher explanations.

The heavy demands made on teachers' knowledge structures to select and set tasks, diagnose pupil conceptions, teach cognitive processes, and manipulate complex learning environments for classes of children requires the routinisation of many teachers' actions. These simplify the complexity of the teaching task and reduce the cognitive load and ensure that diversion of cognitive resources from substantive activities and goals of teaching is less necessary. Not surprisingly, therefore, teacher routines are of increasing research interest (Leinhardt and Greeno 1984; Lowyck 1984; Olson 1984) both in investigating the role they play in skilled teacher performances and the extent to which they are appropriate to the development of pupil understanding.

CONCLUSION

In viewing the last two decades of research on teaching-learning processes and their effects it is evident that three distinct trends are discernible, each characterised by a unique set of theoretical premises, assumptions, variables and methods. Research on teaching styles has shown that the package of teacher behaviours classified as progressive, informal or exploratory provides no particular advantages, particularly in the basic skills areas. The most recent British studies by HMI (1978); Gallon et al (1980) and the ILEA Research Unit (1986) together with most other international studies, all present data on effective teaching practices which bear little relationship to Plowden's ideal type. Nevertheless it should be noted that this body of research has been descriptive, i.e. based on observations of current practice. But this practice rarely conforms to Plowden's prescriptions. The data gathered cannot therefore be considered a test of the theory itself.

The management of classroom groups is a good example of partial implementation. Teachers certainly organise their class into groups, but these are no more than physical juxtapositions of children engaged in individual work. Plowden, on the other hand, envisaged that groups would be the focus of teaching, and would be involved in collaborative activities. This latter practice would appear to be successful (cf Bennett 1985) whereas the former is not.

Poor or partial implementation is hardly the responsibility of the Plowden Committee, but the report could be criticised for lack of thought and advice on this issue. Many good ideas have foundered on the rocks of implementation, often due to lack of foresight or elaboration. Beliefs which are translated into prescriptions which lack


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elaboration often degenerate into slogans. There is evidence to indicate that this did in fact happen despite the realisation in the report that in the post-war years 'activity and child-centred education became dangerously fashionable, and misunderstandings on the part of camp followers endangered the progress made by the pioneers'. Yet nowhere in the report is there a careful analysis of the pedagogical, subject matter knowledge and management skills required for teachers adequately to fulfil the demands of the prescribed approach.

In the absence of this, flabby and erroneous conceptions prevailed, and were transmitted in training. One example will suffice. The psychological theories of Piaget were used as a central justification for their prescriptions. However, the Report admitted that his work was difficult to read and understand, and so it proved. Ill-digested Piaget led to confusion between his concept of action, and activity, which in turn led to other false assumptions such that concepts are automatically acquired via the manipulation of concrete objects. Teachers thus came to see themselves more as the providers of materials than as solicitors of reflection and explanation. This confusion between action and activity was seen most publicly in the William Tyndale affair.

Research on teaching styles could thus only chart contemporary practice rather than provide a direct test of the prescriptions. It was also hindered by its inability to seek improvements in practice since the only option available was to embrace, or otherwise, a particular style comprising a particular set of behaviours. But complex instructional problems cannot be solved with such simple prescriptions. As Brophy and Good (1985) argue: 'in the past when detailed information describing classroom processes and linking them to outcomes did not exist, educational change efforts were typically based on simple theoretical models and associated rhetoric calling for solutions that were both over-simplified and overly rigid. No such solution can be effective'. Models of teaching were thus needed which were more powerful in their explanatory potential, which could direct attention to specific processes that could be improved, and which allowed greater understanding of the effects of process on outcomes. The opportunity to learn model directed attention to time allocations in schooling, curriculum and task, highlighting the importance of hitherto neglected variables, such as curriculum balance and pupil involvement. As Jackson noted as early as 1968 'in education courses and in the professional literature involvement, and its opposite, some form of detachment, are largely ignored. Yet, from a logical point of view, few topics would seem to have greater relevance for the teacher's work. Certainly no educational goals are more immediate than those that concern the establishment and maintenance of the students' absorption in the task at hand. Almost all other objectives are dependent for their accomplishment upon the attainment of this basic condition'. Yet this fact, he argued, quoting Morrison's work on the practice of teaching in 1927, 'seems to have been more appreciated in the past than it is today'.

Nevertheless research on opportunity to learn, in emphasising the quantification of time, neglected to characterise the nature and quality of classroom tasks. And, in common with the teaching styles approach, it neglected the process of learning itself. Until recently research on learning has tended to ignore the processes of teaching, and research on teaching has largely ignored the processes of learning. However, the recent focus on task structures has heralded an attempted reconciliation whereby concepts and models developed in the laboratories of cognitive psychologists are being brought to bear on problems specified with increasing precision by researchers on teaching. Thus time, or involvement, is now viewed as a necessary but not sufficient condition


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for learning, and the focus has shifted to study the interactions of teacher, pupil and task within complex social settings.

More specifically the focus of research is now on the quality of the classroom tasks which pupils engage, the accuracy of diagnosis of children's understandings and misconceptions of concepts and content, and the quality of teacher explanations to this end. This approach takes due account of the role of the pupil in mediating and structuring knowledge and places even greater stress on teacher competence in subject matter, pedagogical and curriculum knowledge. On the basis of the evidence of this approach, and its implications for teacher competences, Shulman and Carey (1984) note that

one ... develops a more modest image of the capacity of teachers ... to discern the understanding or misconceptions of each pupil in the class, to monitor the variety of events occurring simultaneously in a particular classroom or to portray the subject matters in representations adequate for all pupils. The limitations of teachers are not a product of their low aptitude scores, they are a product of their humanity!

It is of interest to note in this regard that for much of his career Dewey never fully communicated to some who thought themselves to be his disciples the qualities demanded of teachers. A teacher, he argued, cannot know which opportunities to use, which impulses to encourage or which social attitudes to cultivate without a clear sense of what is to come later. With respect to character, this implies a conception of the kind of individual who is to issue from the school; and with respect to intellect, this implies a thorough acquaintance with organised knowledge as represented in the disciplines. To recognise opportunities for early mathematical learning, one must know mathematics: to recognise opportunities for elementary scientific learning, one must know physics, chemistry, biology and geology: and so on down the list of fields of knowledge. In short, he contended that the demand on the teachers is two-fold, a thorough knowledge of the disciplines and an awareness of those common experiences of childhood that can be utilised to lead children towards the understandings represented by this knowledge. However, he recognised that the demand of this was indeed weighty and easily side-stepped, arguing that simple as it is to discard traditional curricula in response to cries for reform, it is even simpler to substitute for them a succession of chaotic activities that not only fail to facilitate growth but actually end up miseducative in quality and character (cf Cremin 1961).

Unlike some of the Plowden recommendations which still have contemporary relevance, such as the role of parents and nursery education, the model of teaching prescribed has not stood the test of time. Theories of teaching-learning processes have since been developed which are more powerful in their explanatory potential, and have led to a more sophisticated understanding of the impact of classroom processes on intended outcomes. Thus, whether teachers teach in a so-called progressive or traditional mode is largely irrelevant. Teachers need a repertoire of teaching styles, the effectiveness of which can be judged against criteria delineated by recent research, i.e. the extent to which tasks are appropriate to pupil capabilities, the degree to which pupils are motivated and involved in their work, the quality of their understandings of content and concepts and the adequacy of teacher diagnosis and explanation. A similar report written today would no doubt reflect such findings, but as important, would contain a clear explication of their implications for training and practice, and consideration of the structures appropriate for successful implementation.


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