FOUNDATION COURSE THEMES – BAES Year 1
Subject: Primary Education & Post Plowden Legacy
Tutor: Alastair Horbury
Assignment: Critique of given text – Chapter 6, ‘Pupils at Work.’
Due: Mon 14 Nov 94
The task assigned was to read all six chapters provided, select one and produce a critique on the subject matter. The chapter selected was number six which analysed pupils’ and ‘work’.Firstly I wish to briefly summarise the entire chapter, highlighting the areas which I considered to be the most important, these areas will then be examined in depth and their merits or shortcomings discussed.
Firstly a summary of the chapter is needed to put into context the areas that will be discussed later. The whole chapter can be split into two main areas of discourse:- relationships and ‘work’ and negotiation.
As there has been little research into pupils’ approaches to schoolwork, the author’s chief concern is that of the pupils perceptions of , and approaches to, schoolwork, and the first point s/he makes is that there are differences between teachers’ and pupils’ ideas of what constitutes worthwhile work. The author sets out to define ‘the meaning of work’ and in doing so draws our attention to differences between ‘pleasurable work’ and ‘labour’. Workmanship, it is argued, has been replaced by unskilled labour and people now work as a means to an end seeking enjoyment through other avenues such as hobbies and recreation.
Teaching methods and school ethos’ in general are seen as outmoded and alien to the cultural and social influences on pupils. Therefore, there is greater responsibility on the teacher to make work seem more utilitarian and attractive. Research revealed that many pupils felt that work was pointless and invalid unless it was undertaken in preparation for forthcoming exams. However, work that may be deemed pointless or onerous by both sets of pupils (exam and non-exam) could be given validity by the teaching strategy employed. Pupils seemed to be more concerned with the status of the work and their personal relationship with the teacher, therefore the pupil reaction to any given task depended heavily on these two criteria. It is identified that pupil-teacher relationships are extremely important and they contain many concealed aspects which will be discussed in Part 1.
A prevalent feature of pupil-teacher relationships is the negotiation that takes place and teachers will offer incentives to pupils in order to encourage the process of work. It is interesting to look at the way in which teachers can utilise their experience and maturity to manipulate or cajole pupils into performing a given task, and this will be examined in Part 2.
PART 1 – RELATIONSHIPS & WORK
The first key issue in this chapter that I wish to examine is that of pupil relationships with teachers, and how they affect classroom behaviour and the amount of work produced.
I mentioned earlier that because of deep-rooted cultural influences many adults regard work to hold little or no satisfaction, and this notion permeates through to their children.
This notion combined with pupils’ own perception of themselves as having to be forced to work creates an arduous environment for the teacher. However, it must be said that work that is found unpleasurable to pupils is often that of the purely academic type which does not permit any creative license. Although academic work is of far more value, teachers often find themselves having to offer incentives or punishment in order to motivate pupils whereas the work with little or no academic value is seen, generally, as enjoyable i.e games and arts.
The author places great emphasis on trust. S/he asserts that many children cannot foresee the long-term advantages of doing work in schools and that many simply believe or disbelieve the teacher when s/he says it will be of benefit.. The point made may be valid but perhaps only in primary schools. I propose that in today’s secondary school this idea has very little bearing and children are now more acutely aware than ever before of social and economic factors that dictate the need to do well in school. In some respects certain aspects of the author’s argument are negated, those pupils who can foresee the need to do well have their own motivation, and negotiation and relationships are less important.
Having said that, to those pupils who do not possess such foresight the building up of relationships and the constant negotiation processes are an essential part of their schooling. Anecdotal evidence as well as secondary research support the idea that pupils work better for those teachers they actually ‘like’.
Whether a teacher is liked or disliked by his pupils is dependant upon many factors. For instance the teachers personal outlook – does s/he even want to be liked?, do s/he care?, are they simply interested in meeting targets? If the teacher’s personal motivation is lacklustre then how are pupils to be motivated? Ideally, teachers would be able to identify the different levels of motivation among their pupils and build relationships accordingly. This, however, is not a realistic goal and much valuable class time can be spent chastising, persuading and offering incentives. Of course there is a danger that a teacher may become too preoccupied with the establishment of relationships and other areas such discipline may be ignored.
The points above are interesting but we are chiefly concerned with those teachers who are motivated and use negotiation as a means of encouraging pupils to work, and I now wish to look at these negotiation processes in a little more depth.
PART 2 – WORK & NEGOTIATION
One of the most interesting points made in the chapter is that of the collusion often formed by teachers and pupils against a higher authority, this higher authority could be the headmaster for instance. This type of collusion could be of extreme value to teachers in forming relationships and as a way of getting pupils ‘on side’, as well as relinquishing any responsibility for the type of work and the amount required. With the majority of the blame lying at the feet of a higher authority the teacher could begin to build a system of almost conspiratory negotiation based on reciprocity – ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’.
Let us look at the author’s idea of negotiation. Firstly s/he identifies four experiences that typified the pupils in his/her study school. The four categories are thus;- ‘hard work’, ‘open negotiation’, ‘closed negotiation’ and ‘work avoidance’. The two extremes of the categories are self-explanatory, ‘hard work’ being total pupil commitment and ‘work avoidance’ being not only a total lack of commitment, but also a conscious and resourceful effort to avoid participating in any school work
Most pupils are to be found in the two middle categories of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ negotiation and as such teachers must become keen negotiators if they are to succeed. It should be pointed out that control must be the predominant feature within negotiation – teachers must dictate the concessions that are to be made.The author’s ‘open’ negotiation idea consists of the teacher and pupils making certain concessions, and is dependant to a large extent on mutual goodwill and a congenial atmosphere within the classroom. It is an activity in which both pupil and teacher participate and each party bargains for what they perceive to be the better deal. The basic idea being that a teacher will permit a certain amount of digression in return for a certain amount of ‘work’, and the class hold the ‘general’ consensus that this is acceptable.
I have used the word ‘general’ because in the next paragraph I wish to look at those pupils who do not subscribe to the general consensus and are typified as ‘closed’ negotiation pupils. Another interesting point made was that a predominant feature in those teachers who were more ‘liked’ by their pupils was the fact that they often included games into the work. The author concludes that games humanised the work and made it vastly more enjoyable.
In a perfect world teacher and pupil would be in complete harmony and all decisions made about the type and amount of work to be done would be completely unanimous. However, in reality a teacher who uses negotiation must submit to the general consensus. What, then, of the pupils who have not concurred with the general consensus but are still forced to ‘go along with it’? The author typifies these pupils as being in the ‘closed’ negotiation category. This category of pupils will flourish further if the teacher is not prepared to negotiate, and within this teacher dictated atmosphere the counter-productive and unruly element of pupils will come into being.
By drawing together the main points made in this critique it is apparent that pupils’ perceptions of the validity of the work they are undertaking is of paramount importance.Teachers must strive to make work less alien and more relevant to the pupils social perspective and this can be achieved in several ways. Collusion, as well as a system of negotiation and concessions could be used in order to overcome pupil’s natural recalcitrance.Teachers must care enough to become diagnosticians of their classes on the whole as well as identifying individual pupil needs. Of course the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but if teachers understand the needs of the few it will empower them in the negotiation process.