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Practical Policy Making in a Primary School
John F. Schostak
At issue in this paper are the strategies by which whole school policy making in the primary school can grow from the interests and needs of staff and pupils. The data for this paper will come from two major sources: 1) The Early Years Talking and Listening Project, and 2) The Evaluation of the National Project in Problem Solving 5-13. The first will be the main focus of the paper providing an in-depth analysis, the second provides a broader perspective gained from research in 7 LEAs in England and Wales.
With the Early Years Talking and Listening Project we have evidence of how a democratic approach to educational practice can fundamentally change power relationships not only between staff members, but also between staff and pupils. We further have evidence that this change provides a framework through which National Curriculum policy statements and documents are interpreted and accommodated to the democratic structures.
The evidence from The Evaluation of the National Project in Problem Solving 5-13 focuses attention on an approach which grounds itself in the strategies of asking questions. This approach aims to open up rather than close down alternatives, by framing open ended practical activities, and integrating curriculum areas. As a result it provides an analytical and practical framework through which the competing demands of the National Curriculum can be resolved. As one Art Advisor put it "Teachers are being buffeted and need someone to draw the threads for them. Schools have very distinct boundaries around them and it is difficult to see out to the outside. So when they get presented with Design Technology, they see it as different from problem solving, when in fact it is not.' It became clear during his interview with evaluator May Pettigrew that: ' The Practical Problem Solving Project had provided an organising principle for the implementation of the national Curriculum and not just for Design Technology'. Without the project, he asserted 'there would be no co-operation of people involved in educational provision like this.' Central to the interpretation of any policy statement are the principles by which ideas, actions and relations between people will be organised to produce material realities. It is the purpose of this paper to uncover some principles of organisation by which to create Policy for a Primary School within the context of the National Curriculum.
The Forms of Policy Making
It seems to me to be useful to distinguish between two contrasting forms of policy making: 1) those which require the development of a delivery system so that a basic package can be delivered without change from sender to receiver with the object of transforming the receiver into a desired product; and, 2) those which open up paths of action for individuals to make and remake their own lives according to their own agendas. The first requires the establishment of powerful surveillance systems to act like quality control mechanisms. The second requires the establishment of structures which allow and facilitate the emergence of individual agendas within a public domain. Since I reject the first as contrary to democratic aspirations, I will focus immediately upon the second.
Since schools are already framed within the political realities of society, the issue for this paper is how to make sufficient ambiguity in the practice of contemporary schooling to enable the second form of policy making. For ease, the first form of policy making I distinguished can be called the Delivery and Surveillance Form of policy making, the second the Grounded Form. Within these forms will be all kinds of variants. Between them stands a third kind: that which seeks to negotiate between competing needs and views. This Negotiation Form will be different according to whether the negotiation is motivated by interests to deliver already predetermined products, or interests to ground policy in the lives of individuals. Hence the Negotiation Form will itself be of two kinds: that conceived in the style of bargaining between vested interests engaged in acts of bluff, threat and competition; and that which is conceived democratically in acts of cooperation, rational critique and care for the experience and lives of others. It is the democratic variant that stands closest to my view of educational action. It is through negotiation that the organising principles for the interpretations of policy texts (such as NCC documentation) and their articulation in practice are created. First, therefore, it is important to generate the structures through which negotiation can take place at every level of action within a school.
Generating the Discourse of Negotiation
A school can be seen as a multiplicity of conversational groups each involved in making space to express their own concerns and through talk to coordinate the actions of others to meet those concerns. Clearly, conflicts of incompatibilities of purpose, interest, need and interpretation will arise. In addition, these conversational groups will be layered according to the levels of hierarchical organisation in the school. Between these layers and the informal boundaries of the conversational groups will be what can be called structured ignorance: groups will seek to close off access to its deliberations. Access to what is common knowledge amongst a conversation group will be regulated by such strategies as denial, silence, and prohibition. These strategies are likely to work to undermine any supposed whole school policy which does not arise through negotiation based upon a principle of open access.
Schools have always generated policy, whether by default, through imposition or by systematic processes of reflection. The effect of this policy making on practice depends upon how it is taken up and interpreted in the everyday talk of teachers and pupils. It is through such discourse that individuals pose problems and propose solutions to each other. However, different groups of people have different needs and vested interests and thus will favour different kinds of solutions. If policy making is to progress as a positive act rather than a self defeating act, these differences must be articulated publicly.
It was this view that was adopted for The Early Years Talking and Listening Project. While negotiation, empowerment and democratic forms were the expressed underlying values of the National Problem Solving Project, difficulties were experienced in developing a school level grounded approach to policy making. The experiences of the two projects make clear the principles and procedures necessary for responding to policy initiatives. However, simple articulation of differences, also, is not enough.
The extent to which the Talking and Listening project accomplished anything at all, was due to its explicit focus on the interrelationship between ideas, conduct and the creation of organisational and resource structures. Ideas that are proclaimed in the absence of changes in conduct and changes in organisational structures will simply evaporate. But change in conduct and organisation is likely to be pointless without reflection at the level of ideas. Education is not simply about ideas, nor is it simply about forming the conduct of people, it is about the relationships between ideas, and their material expressions in the world through conduct. Educational policy, therefore, needs to make explicit three interdependent levels: ideas, action and material structure. It not only needs to make explicit these levels, it also needs to make explicit the hierarchical levels at which policy making is generated: National, Local, School and face-to-face in the classroom.
The national problem solving project , where it worked well, succeed at the LEA level and the cross departmental or staff-room planning level of operations. This was because, as earlier indicated, the ideas offered a structure for talking about common issues. It revealed what was common to science, to technology, to art, to design, to history, to creative writing and so on. It allowed a common framework by which to interrogate and articulate the ideas and procedures buried in the texts of the NCC documents. What was common was an approach to questioning, to generating activities, to generating project work. Art Advisors and Mathematicians found they were talking a common language and could problematise the National Curriculum demands in similar and often the same ways. Not only that, the project brought the issues and the people together so that they could co-operate. Ideas, action and the co-ordination roles were organised in a way in which NCC documents and their articulation could be organised at a practical LEA and school policy making level. What was missing from this project was the in-depth focus at the level of teacher and pupil interaction. It provided either no or insufficiently articulated principles of organisation at this level. Here typically, though with some notable exceptions, the conversation groups of teachers and pupils with their multiplicities of agendas still argued, schemed and acted in their own competing interests, the one subverting the other.
Establishing a discourse of negotiation which included all possible conversation groups within a school was therefore the prime practical object of the Talking and Listening Project. The discourse of negotiation was not instantly developed, nor was it fully in place at the end of the year. Nevertheless, the teaching staff came to realise that they not only had to negotiate between themselves, they also had to include the caretaker, and the dinner staff as well as the children, their parents and the governors. All these competing voices had a significant effect upon the interpretation of school life, aims and routines. For example, face to face democratic negotiation between teacher and child could be seriously undermined by the authoritarian actions of dinner staff during supervision of the dining hall and the playground. Meetings between teachers and dinner staff were arranged during which both sides argued their views. Now, a more consistent approach throughout the child's day is expressed by both sides. This consistency focuses upon increasing the scope of the child's decision making to transform his or her environment towards meeting his or her needs in negotiation with the needs of others. Crucial to this negotiation process is a conception of the responsibility to act with freedom.
Freedom to Act
Freedom is not given. It is socially constructed according to the purposes, interests and needs of many conflicting parties. What is policy for? Who is it for? And what are the means by which it is put into place in the lives of people? Underlying all the concerns about policy, particularly in a highly regulated institution like a school is the issue of the control of the many by the few. Generally, the function of policy is to co-ordinate action. It is through the co-ordination of action that social power is wielded. Policy is associated with ruling, whether by governments or by business and other institutional leaders. The fundamental connotation is with the ideological structure of the leader and the led. It also shares a root meaning with 'police'. However, the aim of the Talking and Listening project was to transform the underlying Leader-Led structure of typical school practices. The means was through the redistribution of the opportunities for responsibility and decision making. By agreeing to the following the staff were already involved in transforming their relationships:
1. reflection upon current conduct
2. making personal agendas explicit
3. negotiating a common set of aims
4. negotiating a provisional range of strategies to articulate the aims
5. developing strategies for implementation and monitoring
6. establishing democratic procedures to frame steps 1 - 5
The result of adopting these steps was the gradual break down or erosion of the previous patterns of conversation. Not only did the topics of conversation change, those who had been excluded from areas of decision making were now involved. The steps in a little more detail were:
1. Reflection upon current practice. Typically, one does not start at school in conditions of freedom, but of unfreedom. Schools are already places bound by duties, laws and custom. Yet, these conditions are more taken for granted than made explicit. The first task is to begin making the ideas and the values which currently frame conduct, organisational structures and other material arrangements explicit. This in itself is not an easy task. At the start of the Talking and Listening project the teaching staff met together to say what each wanted out of the project, that is, what they wanted for the children.
2. Making personal agendas explicit . Next, each member of staff decided on a personal research focus. This involved setting up activities which could be relatively easily observed and recorded either by taperecorder or by videorecorder. Seeing or hearing the replay focused their attention upon their own personal agendas in relation to the children's current practice. All were intrigued and some alarmed by the inconsistencies, differences and plain contradictions that emerged between what they thought or expected and what the video revealed of these activities.
3. Agreeing a common set of aims. While the aims and basic values which emerged at that first meeting did not change significantly over the year, during the year they discovered that their own conduct and their organisational practices were not always conducive to meeting them. About halfway through the project, they began to develop a whole school policy document which they considered would adequately express not only their aims but how they were going to achieve them. This focused their attention yet again upon generating a common set of values which should pervade all their work. They considered that the fundamental policy document from which all other school policy would follow was in 'Personal and Social Development'. If they could get this one right, they argued, the others would simply follow. The basic set of policy aims expressing their values were:
To encourage and develop children's responsibility for their own actions and behaviour
To encourage and develop the values of caring and sharing through co-operation and negotiation
To encourage and develop children's respect for each other and for each other's work.
To encourage and develop children's respect for and independent use of the equipment and materials of the school.
To encourage and develop trust between children, trust of children by teachers, and trust of teachers by children.
To continue to try to develop shared and consistent approaches to the ways in which we respond to children's behaviour, both in so far as we are concerned as individual teachers, and in agreement with each other.
In the case of undesirable behaviour the primary aim is to identify the problem as far as possible and work towards a solution to it.
4. Agreeing a provisional range of strategies to articulate the aims. Each of these aims was then discussed in terms of-the relevant strategies to accomplish them. The evidence for the practicability of the strategies was provided by reference to recorded data that they had collected throughout the period of the research. The following are the first 5 out of 15 strategies listed in the document:
1. At every stage create opportunities for children and teachers to be explicit about problems and possible solutions.
2. At every stage encourage the children to contribute to the solution of
problems. <At a whole school level the tape of the football assembly is a good example of both of these. The children were given the opportunity both to lay out the problem, and to discuss possible solutions>
3. Encourage the children to say what they are thinking. The teachers and
other staff too need to say what they are thinking. <There are plenty of examples on the tapes of the children having the opportunity to say what they are thinking. The whole talking out procedure is designed to do precisely this too. As far as staff are concerned the democratic mode of discussion and decision making is designed to that end, but the principle also applies between staff and children.>
4. Make time in the school day, in and out of the classroom for discussion
with the children. <Look for opportunities for ordinary friendly soc,;al interrelationships and chat between staff and children. It is important that our focus is positive not negative, and problems will then be reduced to their proper perspective.>
5. Make sure that the solution of problems is one of our priorities. The rationale is that personal and social development is of crucial importance to the development of any learner, child or adult. <This very much needs to be read in conjunction with 4. The evidence of the fourth year children on the interview tape reinforces the importance of this. Learning i . n groups s clearly tied in with their social learning.>
Common to all the strategies is a focus upon identifying the nature of problems, making these explicit, relating them to the core values of the school and involving children in the processes of decision making. Each strategy is grounded in evidence gathered by the teachers.
An over riding theme of the policy statements developed by the staff were a commitment to encouraging 'independence', 'responsibility', 'caring', 'sharing', 'respect'. The above example(s) can be reexamined from the point of view of these expressed aims. If children are 'shouted at', or if they are 'lined up', told to be quiet, when to move and when to speak what opportunity is there here for the children to experience independence, caring, self -responsibility and so on in a way which is active? To be told to behave sensibly is not the same as learning how to behave sensibly. In short, children's decision making experiences and experiences of making assessments of behaviour are being denied to them. Similarly, if children are told what to study, what to draw, what information to find, what resources to use and how to do this or that, they are systematically being defined as receivers of the Teacher's definitions of what counts as an educational activity. They are made to be dependent upon the teachers as a curriculum developer, activity creator, resource manager and assessor of work.
Alternative practices need to be developed which will allow the children the experience of making choices, organising their material environment and learning consequences within a community which is supportive and secure. For this to happen, the teachers themselves need to change their behaviour in ways which create space for children to make decisions and to act and reflect. By developing such alternatives both teachers and pupils were being empowered to change behaviour and to make decisions which would have consequences in practice. Illustrations of these changes can be illustrated from the data gathered by the teachers.
5. Implementation and monitoring. Taken together, the strategies indicated in the policy document a way of organising and co-ordinating the responses of the staff towards the children, and of the children towards each other. Project meetings were carried out once a month. Through directed time, the headteacher allocated this time to the project. During the project meetings, staff explained to each other what they were doing in their personal research, raised problems and issues and showed videos of classroom activities. The staff were supported during the course of the year by myself, Charles Sarland a temporary part time lecturer who 1 could pay through the project and two students who were carrying out research based assignments for their degree course. With the additional support of one day a week supply cover dedicated to the project by the LEA, teachers could be released for a period of time to watch videos of classroom activities, to transcribe or to plan and analyse. Thus, this school had considerable advantages in helping it to monitor and implement. However, these advantages are not essential. They were only essential in terms of generating a data base which could be used to represent the processes of change. Another school with which 1 have been associated over the past five years, did not have such resources when it started on its journey of self regeneration and change (Schostak and Coathup):
The choice, as we have argued, is between children meeting the needs of the system, or the system meeting the needs of the children. There are thus two distinct ways of organising a school. In choosing to make a system which redresses the balance towards meeting the needs of children, the headteacher of the First School initially clearly defined the management task in terms of people rather than organisation and policy. That is, this was to be a people-centred strategy rather than an organisation-centred strategy. She recognised immediately the very real care and commitment that the adults - whether teachers, caretakers or dinner staff - had towards the children. Accepting and believing in the willingness of those individuals to reflect and change within a culture of affirmation and value became the foundation to this strategy. If the system was ultimately to meet the needs of the children, then the needs of the adults who worked the system had to be addressed. The notion that it was necessary to start with the experiences of those individuals was seen as essential. This involved trying to make the teaching task as stress-free as possible. Thus dealing with issues such as playground behaviours, making time for teachers to reflect and plan were made a priority. Similar strategies were used with the caretaker and the dinner staff. She felt she had to found this upon establishing her own credibility as a practitioner in order to show what the children could achieve. Thus she became a model. This model was disseminated amongst the adults through the vehicle of a whole school approach to action research.
The emphasis at the school was on each adult being a model for the practices of problem solving, decision making and social/community action that they wanted the children to adopt. For this model to succeed, a general level of consensus had to be achieved over time so that one adult was not 'played off' against another, and so that the efforts of one adult were not being undermined by the efforts of another, leaving the children confused. The whole process demanded a high level of shared reflection, shared decision making and mutual support. By building in the processes of sharing and of supporting, staff meetings became increasingly democratic.
Democratic Structures for Educational Action
Democratising participation in making solutions has important implications for a school. It leads to the problematisation of the school. It is no longer a system composed of taken for granted, unquestionable, practices imposed by some authority. Rather it is a fluid set of practices which continually require negotiation and renegotiation. The policy of the school so far discussed under the heading of Personal and Social Development exemplifies the process of a school engaged in problematising all its structures. In this section I want to specify the face-to-face level of interaction to identify the processes and the principles and procedures underpinning educational action. This is the level that is often simply missing in policy statements.
The more the teachers discussed the organisation of a school, the more they realised that everything was open to discussion and presented itself as an issue for decision making that involved not only the teachers, but also the pupils, their parents, people in the neighbourhood and so on. A school can be seen in terms of a collection of problems requiring solution. For example, at one point during a staff meeting the headteacher remarked that lining children up in the playground before they could enter school already displayed messages about their lack of decision making. Why, she asked, couldn't the children simply come in and out as and when they wanted? Another teacher immediately raised the question of supervision. The issue then centred around the extent to which the children could be trusted, the extent to which teachers were to be -in their classrooms outside of class hours, the extent to which dinner staff could be employed for such supervisory functions at least during the dinner hour - and so on. After much discussion, it was decided to run an experiment. The children were to be asked whether they wanted to make use of classroom facilities during playtimes. Most did not, but some did. This made a manageable number for supervision and a space was made available for them during dinner times. Progressively, the school became more tolerant of children making their own decisions whether or not to come in or go out. This apparently trivial change made the experience of entering and leaving school more civilised, reduced the crush at doorways and in cloakrooms and reduced the conflicts. A more general expression of the rights to enter and to leave before the school day and during playtime is the right of movement that children have around the school throughout the school day. If a situation during class time becomes unbearable, do children have the right to leave it? If they do, where do they go? Or, if a child needs a certain kind of information which involves going to another classroom, do they have the right to go there?
Situations arise where these rights are critical. There is the personal or social level where the child is upset, bored or for some reason angry. These feelings present a problem perhaps to the child, perhaps to others. Since one of the aims in the Personal and Social Development document is to get the child to talk through problems and generate solutions to them time and space needs to be dedicated to this. This raises the issue of free speech and the right to be heard. Therefore, it was agreed that the child would have the right to 'exit' and have 'time out' as well as the right to talk through his or her problems with those who were involved.
Another type of situation arises in the organisation of curricular activities. They are typically recognised when a child says to a teacher "Can I get .... ?' or, 'Have I done enough?' or, 'What do I do now?' or, 'How do you spell .... ?',or, 'Can I go to the library?' When one child asks such a question, it can usually be dealt with quite rapidly. When there is a queue of children ready with such questions it is a complete waste of time. All of these can be redefined as problems which the child can answer. Redefined in this way, they are no longer trivial nor a waste of time. They assert the independence of the child over a wide range of decision making activities. However, to ensure that the child is not left with an insoluble problem the routines of handling information and of negotiating access to information need to be made absolutely explicit. If the teacher is available to answer a spelling problem, then the child needs to know what to say. Is it that the child is short of time and so going to the dictionary or the spelling cards would waste time? Is it that the child does not know how to handle a dictionary? Making such problems expl~icit would be part of the routine in gaining access to the teacher. In short, the child learns how to make explicit his or her own problems whether these are emotional, social or cognitive.
Such a situation does not occur without well thought out principles and procedures which are revealed to the children at every possible occasion. There are no shortage of problems by which to rehearse the principles and procedures. What is most required is time, patience and consistency of approach. One cannot assume that the children will know how to handle group situations or decision making processes. They may need to be inducted into the art of reflection and decision making. In order to illustrate how the staff handled these problems I will give three examples: 1) social; 2) emotional; 3) curricular.
First, the 'football' example in strategy 2 arose when a football went over into the garden of a house backing onto the playing fields of the school. The householders had been complaining of the frequency of these happenings and in this case were reluctant to hand back the footballs. Following the emergent policy of the school, the headteacher asked the boys to consider their problem.
HT: I think you'll find though, that all the ladies who live along that fence - if your ball goes over, and if you just wait - when they see it in their garden they'll just throw it back over for you, won't they?
David: But um, but um, Mrs 0, she don't throw the bail back over unless um you call.
HT: Is she cross about them ruining her garden?
W: What could we do to stop that happening?
David: Make a fence.
Gareth: Make a big fence so that if the people keep kicking it, they should make a big fence and then they make a big ..
Danny: That's what they did at my old school - the tea time club. We had millions of balls at the tea time club after our old school. Then ... there was this boy called Dominic at our old school - used to boot the ball really high ...
HT: On purpose?
HT: So it went over the fence?
HT: Well what could we do? I mean, we'd have to spend some money if we were going to build a big fence - and we haven't got very much money at school, have we? What could we do to stop balls going over the fence?
Gareth: I know - if you make a big big wall - if you break up all the fences up and make a wall so that ...
Danny: You can't.
Gareth: You can make a wall and then make a big wail that goes over the top?
Danny: Supposing those people don't agree?
Gareth: If the school asked them, then they'd say yes and they can make a big thing over the top of it and the ball won't go in it.
Danny: Suppose they don't agree.
David: I know what we could do.
HT: Go on David.
David and the others gave several more suggestions until what proved to be the key issue, the need to play near the fence is mentioned:
HT: Why do you play near the fence - is there something you need near the fence?
David: Yeah, the urn
David: Yeah the goal.
Danny: Don't use the goal.
They finally decided it would be a good idea if skittles were used for the goal so that the pitch could be set away from the fences. But this would mean making a part of the grass playing field for football only. Non-footballers might not like this. The headteacher suggested they could put it to the vote during assembly. They agreed to do this. The case was made by the three boys to the whole school. They answered questions from the others pupils. Then a vote was made. The boys won their case and for the rest of the term there was no more trouble. The following term, after the holiday break, some forgetting had occurred, but but this was solved after a reminder. In essence the process involved:
1 . recognition of problem/dispute
2. making the problem/dispute explicit
3. individuals taking responsibility for the solution to their own problems/disputes - a teacher or some other individual may help to ensure'turn taking' so that all views are heard
4. generating possible solutions
5. agreeing a solution
6. ensuring no one is upset by a solution
7. keeping to the solution unless a further problem arises
The principle underlying this process is the generation of feedback cycles which are under the control of the pupils in community with each other as opposed to authoritarian surveillance systems. In this way, pupils generate a practical knowledge of what works and what does not work. Too often children are kept ignorant of the ways that things are done. Here, they have an experience of a simple set of democratic procedures which enable them to organise social life in ways where the needs and interests of the community are made explicit, discussed and safeguarded. What is clear about this example is that everyone is consulted: no decision behind closed doors, no imposed authority.
The second illustration is from a more individual or emotional level. It illustrates quite clearly the danger that decision making can proceed more on the basis of ignorance than of knowledge. Frequently children are labelled as 'trouble makers' or 'probiem children' or as 'disruptive' and so on. Gareth is one such child. During the dinner break he was seen to kick a door by one of the dinner staff. She sent him in to be punished by the headteacher. Gareth was frequently in trouble. So far as the supervising member of the dinner staff was concerned it was simply a matter of disciplining the boy to ensure that he did not do such a thing again. So, in essence, because of what was'known' about Gareth no more needed to be said. It was simply a matter of telling him off.
Gareth felt rejected by a boy he wanted to play with. He wanted to play with Lee
but Lee was playing with David. But David didn't want Gareth to join. This only came to light when Gareth was allowed the right to explain his problem not only to the teacher but also to the boys he felt rejected by. It was this rejection that 'made him' kick the door. In order to sort this out it was necessary to sort out the friendship problem with Lee and David. Initially, the talk was with the headteacher until Lee was mentioned. Then the talk included Lee until David was mentioned. Eventually, David was sent for so that ail could talk out the problem together. The following are extracts from a very long tape recording.
First the ‘talking out' was with Lee. Initially, Lee was rather distant. After Lee had heard from Gareth about his feelings Lee began to be more sympathetic. At this point the Headteacher asked:
HT: (To Lee) Do you think you could help Gareth at all?
Lee: Well, if someone else wants to play with me .. I'll just say um. I'll just go over and see if Gareth's urn upset ( .... )
HT: Isn't there a way you could all play together?
Gareth: Um, yes, you could say, you can play with me Gareth
HT: Could you say that?
Gareth: And then they say , 1 don't want to play with him. And then they just get a gang on me. Normally just get, they just get lots of people and they say let's go and get Gareth. Beatin' me up.
Lee says he hasn't seen this. Gareth refers to last year being the worst. Lee remembers some fourth years who used to chase after a number of children. Eventually David is called in and the process begins again. David initially is not at all sympathetic. He does not understand the problem. After a period of listening to Gareth and the obvious feeling of hurt he begins to be more sympathetic. Much of the problem is due to each side 'jumping to conclusions' about the other. David had not intended to bar Gareth. It was just that at that particular time Gareth would have been one too many for the game. Agreements were made that Gareth would be accepted into any future game.
Gareth could have been simply punished for having kicked the door. Instead the reasons for this action were 'unpacked' during the talking out process. Punishment, as a 'solution' to Gareth's behaviour became unnecessary. By focussing upon the cause of the problem and resolving it at that level the problem itself was less likely to arise again. Gareth was considered a problem by many pupils as well as the teachers. However, as these kinds of talks took place many of the underlying causes began to be sorted out. Gareth grew to value them and by the second term was no longer considered a problem.
These kinds of emotional and social problems do not simply vanish in the classroom. The tensions, the frustrations, the desires for vengeance, for a resolution to the problem remain. In addition, each child will interpret and experience what is being set up by the teacher somewhat differently from each other. Each will have different levels of interest, different needs and different things on their minds at any given time. Each of the staff in the Talking and Listening Project attempted to develop discussion and problem solving activities through small group work. Most in the school had not worked systematically in this way before. Although they frequently allowed children to work in pairs and in loose groupings they had never observed and recorded the children's behaviour during these times. Typically, seeing video recordings came as a shock.
For example, Ann, was an experienced teacher in the school. She had been teaching for over a decade. Her methods were very formal, consisting largely of 'chalk and talk' or of well prepared worksheets (of the fill in the missing word variety). She was also rather shy generally and in particular, extremely nervous about video. Nevertheless, she wanted to take part in the project, even to the extent of volunteering to be the staff co-ordinator of the project. Over the period of the year of the project, it was not only her class teaching methods that changed. She became personally more confident, and assertive not simply in the classroom but with the rest of the staff and in her own home and social life. These changes were noticed and remarked upon by staff. The following are summaries of a series of videos that she developed.
The first video
The sound quality was awful. However, it revealed only too clearly that although the object of the lesson was to encourage children to cooperate and to discuss their work with each other, virtually no work related to discussion took place. The work was of the 'fill in the missing word/number variety. She could not understand why discussion was not taking place. Her only explanation was that the groups were too large. She therefore tried placing children into groups of four. This also did not work. Then she decided to try pairs.
The second video
In order to improve sound quality, two children were taken to a quiet area to complete some work. The nature of the task was similar to the previous attempts: worksheets requiring brief answers. Again, there was virtually no discussion apart from the variety: how do you spell 'x'? Or, what do we do next? The children continually asked questions concerning what they thought the teacher expected them to do. In order to make sure they were doing their work correctly they would go off to ask the teacher. A considerable amount of time was wasted in 'checking up' in this way.
Why weren't they discussing? Clearly, it was not enough simply to tell children to 'make up your own minds and discuss things'. Something was wrong. What was it? After a discussion, Ann decided that it could not be the size and composition of the groups and considered changing the nature of the activities set. In the sequential style of lesson or activity she had set up where there was only one answer and where everything was already pre-planned, there simply was no choice therefore nothing to discuss. She considered how to develop truly open ended activities. This initially worried her because it meant a loss of the control she was used to exercising.
The third video
Here the task was simply: make up a game that other children can play. No further advice was given. A resource box was left with the two girls chosen to be videod.
One girl immediately dominated and 'decided' on the game to be played. It was a modification of a party game she had recently played. She told the other girl what to do and how to do it.
Although this activity produced a lot more task related talk, it did not produce anything like negotiation or cooperation. What happened was simply a variant on the previous videos, the one who 'knew the answer’ would dominate and the other one would follow. In a sense the leader-led pattern set up by the teacher in her own teaching was simply being imitated by the dominant child of the couple.
So what could be done next?
Ann realised that the girls simply did not know how to negotiate or discuss. They had never seen any models of this kind of group work. They had never previously experienced it. No one had ever talked to them about it. The children simply reproduced the adult models of behaviour which permeated not only the school but also their families. Also, perhaps two was too few to produce alternative views!
It was suggested that she show the video to the whole class and pose it as a problem to them. How could they go about cooperating? What could they do to generate more ideas? There is also a video of this 'videofeedback' session. Videofeedback not only to staff but also to children became an important structure in the development of the project. The video was not used to point out either poor or inappropriate behaviour. It was not used to point out good behaviour. It was used simply to ask for the children's comments, what ideas they had for other things that could have been done. The children were asked to speculate. If there were several ideas how could we choose between them? What could we do to make sure we got lots of ideas? What would make the game even more exciting?
Three girls were given the same task. The significant difference in this video was that voting procedures were adopted by the group in order to decide what game was to be made by them. Voting was one of the strategies identified during the previous class discussion.
Again the video was re-presented to the class with further discussion about what the group could have done, in this session ideas like brainstorming and making notes of ideas and necessary materials were discussed.
This time four boys were chosen to carry out the same task. They adopted the strategy of 'brain storming' and listing resources. Considerable discussion took place each placing arguments for or against different ideas. They did not simply rush into the first idea that came up but chose the best that they could think of.
More recent developments
By this time Ann's style of teaching was so transformed that discussion and small group work were a regular feature. Ideas for activities were no longer restricted to her own intentions. Curriculum activities progressively became grounded in the curiosity and interests of the children. F-or example, her children thought of developing a school post office. They turned the whole of one area in the classroom into a post office, with counter, shutters, cash desk, stamps - all of which they made themselves. They have offered to the whole school a letter delivery service. It has developed into a whole curriculum project involving written and oral skills, art work, maths and organisational skills. During a parents' evening when an edited video of the work of the school was presented, parents afterwards commented upon the post office work. Their children had been coming home so engrossed that they simply carried on developing it at home.
Reviewing and Disseminating the Process
From mid way through the second term of the project, it became clear that parents needed to be informed about what was happening. Parents' Evening became a focal point of discussion. The teachers were proud of what they were accomplishing and wanted to try and develop a video which would explain it. The video was edited out of the many videos that had been produced. The classes of every member of staff were represented. The parents watched the video engrossed. Transcripts of the scenes were made available. The success of this video led to the development of a second video which the pupils themselves developed. The theme of this video was the problem solving approach which came to be called 'talking out' by the staff and 'sorting out' by the pupils. It was described by the children in a video which they called 'The Interview':
Paul W (7): Why is it important to sort out?
Oliver (7): 'Cos if we didn't take any notice and we didn't talk things out it would just get into an enormous fight and people er loads of people'd get hurt
Gavin (7): Yeh
Rebecca (7): Because urn if some didn't sort out something next there might be a big fight up in the playground
Brandon (6): So you can get things done.
James (6): So you can get to be friends again.
Craig (8): Why is it important to sort out?
Lee (8): 'Cos if you stay like it..
Kim (8): You lose friends.
Lee (8): Yeh, you lose friends then don't you?
Craig: Yeh you lose your friends and ... Kim: Yeh
Lee: If you - say you didn't sort out when you were fighting - sometimes Craig and me keep on fighting.
Lee: But then we keep on going down to Mrs Hardy's office
Craig: And we sort it out.
Lee: We sort it out and we're back together again.
Gareth (7): How do you sort It out?
Stephen (7): By talking it out and saying how much it hurt and why did you do it?
Lee: Well first of all, the first stage is you have to decide who done it.
Lee: Urn and then why did they do it.
John (6) Talk about it ...
Adam (6): Well you could, who started the fight and everything.
John: and then talk about it.
Oliver: Sort out? Urn Right we go down to Mrs House
Gavin: the office
Oliver: Yeh, to the office and urn, we er
Gavin: Talk it out.
Oliver: Yeh - we talk it out
Gavin: with Mrs House
Oliver: Yeh - and we couid - we take a timer down there and take turns - five minutes, three minutes, three minute timer and then we take it turns to speak and then we find out. Then we find out who is - what really happened.
Gavin: Yeh and it first
Oliver: 'Cos if there was a person who doesn't lie we could believe him.
Gavin: And if - Mrs House wouldn't know what to do ...
Oliver: No, if everybody lied ...
Gavin: if she believed the wrong person it'd just be a whole lie
Gavin: ….. muck things up
Gavin: and it'd make things worse - so you must tell the whole truth.
Craig: How do we sort out?
Kim: Err Well sometimes if someone kicks us we have to say "Why did you kick me?"
Stephen: Well talking it out - you say how much it hurt, and why did they do it - and something else ...
Oliver: And if it was a fight in the classroom you could just go in the quiet room or somewhere and talk it out.
Gavin: And Mr Knight could just say "Please (presumably to the other children in there) could you get out of there a minute."
Oliver: Yeh and we'd have a timer, and we'd have a timer and urn er when that's run out we'd have to go back in the classroom and tell Mr Knight what our solution is to the problem.
The whole video has already been used in inservice courses and during parents' evenings. It was of particular use for the parents of the new children and for the children themselves. The video is not thought of as a finished product but is being used to generate reflection among the pupils on the talking out processes. That is, it is being used to generate critical feedback cycles for participants and interested parties. Feedback cycles are frequently used in social life to generate control mechanisms to ensure aims are being met, behaviour is being modified in stated ways and so on. By inserting the word critical 1 mean to emphasise that the feedback is made explicit and is opened to critique so that all participating individuals are empowered in decision making and policy formation processes.
During the last staff meeting of the project, the teachers reviewed the year.
said that they had changed very considerably. Two said they had changed as persons. The following extract was typical of comments:
HT: I think I've built up strategies to, to use with, with children. Urn more now, I've certainly, I can certainly make myself sit back and listen to what they've got to say instead of jumping in ... immediately and trying to get them to say what I want to hear them say. And I want it to be what they want to say now whether it's what I want to hear or not, because they have to get that out of their system. Anyway they have to talk about what they think and not what they think I want to hear or anything . ………Urn I think we all ……… I mean, I started with a play-back thing and then we ail sort of joined in, didn't we? And we all …… joined in ……. gradually as the project went on. I think er I think people have taken a lot of it away, a lot of the burden away from me as well, that the people now talk out a lot with their classes and do a lot of talking out in the play-ground as well, so the, that's another reason why maybe the children don't (come to me).
P: I mean disagreements happen in the classroom and I don't know what happened until they come up and say well we've got a problem can we go away and talk about it?
The children had increasingly developed a sense of independence over the year.
The teachers felt more satisfaction with their class activities. They had strong
approval from the governors and from the parents. Not only that, the National
Curriculum was simply taken in their stride. When the teachers went on in-service
courses in preparation for the National Curriculum, they came away saying, 'but
we're already doing that.' And frequently, came away saying, 'we were the only
one's in the group who knew what to do, who had any ideas concerning assessment
curricular approaches.' That is, they had strategies by which to interpret and articulate the National Curriculum demands in ways which were grounded in the evidence of their experience and their research. Looking back over the year the project seemed to develop according to a number of phases. These can be summed up in the following steps which can be employed by any school:
Steps Towards Identifying the Phases of Grounded Policy Making:
phase 1. negotiating staff co-operation
1 . identify the values of the staff through open discussion
2. identify each members' own action research interests, i.e., what they personally would like to find out about
3. discuss strategies through which each member of staff can explore their own interests
4. try to agree a common set of 'provisional aims'
5. agree how often time will be given to research work
6. agree times when this work will be shared with the staff
7. agree simple tasks or activities to record - preferably by tape recording or
video recording and agree a time when these will be shared.
8. agree who will be the project co-ordinator (preferably not the headteacher or deputyhead); define the responsibilities of the co-ordinator
phase 2 Implementing the work
1. find ways of sharing data, e.g.,
a. set up some data box-files which are titled according to the issues of interest to the staff: e.g., gender, group dynamics, aggression; co-operation, etc (responsibility of co-ordinator to 'chase up')
b. show video extracts and invite discussion
2. analyse data in terms of aims: on the basis of the growing 'evidence' to what extent are the provisional aims being met (phase 1, No 4)? What alternative strategies are there?
3. what further kinds of evidence are needed to help in the identification of strategies? What activities could be set up to obtain the data?
4. generate critical feedback cycles between teachers, between pupils, between pupils and teachers, and between school and parents.
phase 3 policy review and formation
On the basis of current evidence formulate policy documents which can be grounded in the data, providing not only the policy aims but the strategies by which to achieve them and the evidence from the data that they do indeed work.
Phase 4 Dissemination/communication
Use the materials so far developed in ways which will communicate the activities of the school, its policies and its philosophy to parents, governors and other schools. Teachers and pupils could both be involved in generating newsletters, edited videos, brochures.
If education is to be at the creative edge of human experience, it requires certain conditions. Education makes a demand for freedoms by which to explore and play with alternatives. Education cannot be locked into systems, otherwise it is condemned to re-play and reproduce the perspectives of social life without engaging in the possibility of creative difference. The principles underlying the grounded approach to policy making advocated in this paper are that:
1. freedom is central to education
2. at the educational moment no perspective is privileged over any other perspective, thus everything is open for discussion
3. education and the constitution of a sense of self and world are inextricable, thus reflection upon selves in action is at the core of
education and the creation of community
4. education leads to action and thus has consequences which must be open to critical reflection
These four propositions, while not exhaustive, focus attention upon the essential nature of education as an act of consequence in the lives of people. From these demands at the level of ideas emerge the issue of the freedom to act. Education, if it is to have any consequence in the lives of children must be something which enables them to act and to transform their social and material environments in ways which meet their interests and needs. Both freedom and action are social achievements. They are not givens and they do not exist outside of social systems. Education, therefore, has a vital role in the construction of communities, a sense of belonging, a sense of identity in the social world. It is the means by which individuals can explore together and creatively change themselves and their environment.
1 should like to thank the staff and pupils of the school for the time they gave to the project. Charles Sarland gave a great deal of research support to the project participating fully in its development. His support was integral to the development of the pupil video and the policy document.
Schostak, J. F. and Coathup, G. (1989) 'Rising 5: A right to education, not a duty to be schooled'.