IoE Seminar on Knowledge - Margaret Roberts and Michael Young

This post has been a long time in gestation.... various editing and other thinking and further reading has followed the original event. This has shaped a lot of my recent thinking, and will also feed in to my future planning...

IoE: Geography Seminar Notes

In mid-May, just a few days after arriving home from Bruges and five intensive days of geography, it was down to the Institute of Education for some more. David Lambert had organised a seminar as part of the work of GEReCo: the Geography Education Research Collective.
This is a group which is connected with the Geographical Association. Visit their page for more information.

The seminar involved Michael Young, who has written widely on the idea of ‘powerful knowledge’ and Margaret Roberts, who introduced many geography teachers to the powerful idea of ‘geographical enquiry’.

There was a large crowd of spectators, who included Teach First students, MA and PhD students from the IoE, including former GA colleague Ben Major, and many familiar names from geography teacher education - if you can think of someone who has written about geography education, they were probably there...

In the notes that follow, DL is David Lambert, MR is Margaret Roberts and MY is Michael Young. PK is powerful knowledge...
Any errors of interpretation are entirely mine....
My additional thoughts on what was said by the chair and speakers are in red, along with further questions and thoughts that I’ve had since the event.


DL - introduction referring to ‘a different view’ and the background to the development of the seminar.
Emphasis on skills and learning in previous curriculum review under QCA
DL - “all teachers are curriculum makers” 
How can we make the curriculum happen in the classroom

Michael Young
“I gave geography up” - I wondered whether that was possible.

MY also described how he didn’t have to ask the way to Nunn Hall (where the seminar was being held) because of his prior knowledge of its location - I wasn’t sure that counted as powerful knowledge, especially as all I did was ask someone and then follow the signs...

PK one of the “least understood and most neglected area of educational study”

MY’s book ‘Bringing the knowledge back in’ refers to the ‘social construction’ of knowledge.

PK has distinctive properties - it is emergent from how it was constructed, but not dependent on that. PK is different from everyday life, and should provide ‘reliable explanations and predictions about the world’.
‘think the unthinkable and the not yet thought’ - Basil Bernstein

In any field, need to ask the question whether there is such a thing as ‘better knowledge’ ? If there is, then access to it has to be entitlement for all, or there will be inequality in society.

Knowledge is often a starting point for curriculum development, but always expresses some interests.

Those in power will make sure that their children have access to the best knowledge.

MY referred to the “Highest qualified teachers”  ?? What does that mean ? Are teachers in the schools where the powerful send their children necessarily ‘the best teachers’ ? Should the best teachers be supporting the most challenging groups ? Is this a sustainable option ?

Vocabulary may be used to exclude some people from PK - some of MY’s references to deceased French Sociologists without further explanation could fall into this category ?? ‘Knowing’ references used in this way could serve to exclude...

MY was not convinced about developing a curriculum relating to the interests of students, and not to knowledge ? Examples of this could be the GYSL project.

PK should be differentiated from everyday life - kids don’t come to school to have more of their everyday life...
It shouldn’t be tied to contexts.
It should take them beyond the contexts of their experience
Achieving access to this is the task of pedagogy...

Referred to Finland - FNBE - and the role of education

I’d recently been to the country, and actually talked about the work that I had been doing, and we heard a lot about how they were going in the opposite direction to the one that a lot of people assumed they were. Local / municipal curricula are developed which are related to local needs and experiences. A lot of this involves work outside of the classroom if the groups of Finnish teachers that I have worked with at Salzburg University are anything to go by.

Transmission model - Vygotsky - from everyday to knowledge and then back to real world.

“Pedagogy and curriculum are fused in the professional judgements that teachers make in their planning..”

Curriculum should have no pedagogy, and that was the problem of the 2008 incarnation of the curriculum, which didn’t separate them sufficiently.

Curriculum knowledge is not just more experience. It must drive enquiries... and you can only do that if you have specialist subject teachers. Agreed there, although there are lots of pressures on teachers and many who finish their training never enter the classroom or leave a few years into their career.

Knowledge is not an absolute truth, and can never be imposed from the top - down
Knowledge inspires questions.

Some activities can disconnect learners from knowledge.

PK is always specialised as human progress depends on specialisation: in terms of knowledge, it’s the expansion of disciplines.

Boundaries are important - have to explore reasons for going beyond them.
Also the basis for authority that teachers have in conversation with parents.

Ties in with work done by Alex Standish that can be seen on the GTE 2013 page of the GA website, and also work by David Mitchell.

Margaret Roberts

MR: Geographical knowledge has a cultural and political context. MR’s concern was with classroom practice - relating it to the students’ experiences.

MR talked about the inspiration of teachers that she had worked with herself.

Worked at Countesthorpe - and referenced the work of Pat Darcy.
Talked about Jerome Bruner - Towards a theory of instruction / the Process of Education

School knowledge shouldn’t be inert, but should include everyday geography.

Vygotsky - spontaneous and non-spontaneous concepts (or at least that’s what they were called in translation, which might have missed some intended nuances...)
Personal Geographies

Not all students have those experiences though ?
I was reminded of my recent trip to the EuroGeo conference - one of the adult delegates wanted to go and touch the sea, because she lived in a landlocked country and had never done it before...

This is important in university courses also.

If everyday knowledge is important, then it has to be made an object of study...
Distinction between personal knowedge and that to be known by the current culture
Not enough to leave it to the teacher...

Margaret talked about how the students that she worked with demonstrated this. Worked in communities in Sheffield (an urban location) with large percentage of migrants.
Experiences of Sheffield, UK and the World formed the basis for discussions.
School geography offered an opportunity to talk about the places they were familiar with - no opportunity to do it within the school curriculum.
She referred to the OCR ‘A’ - Pilot - ‘My Place’ scheme of work, which I had the chance to teach, and which changed my teaching utterly, despite having been a teacher for over 15 years by the time I started.
Also, at a recent event, I met a colleague who was apparently the moderator of the coursework that I did at my school, and said she knew she'd always get something creative from us.

With many of the GA projects, personal geographies are built in - YPG, MGH, VP, MMPITW
Young Peoples’ Geographies
Making Geography Happen
Valuing Places
Making my Place in the World

Margaret used the example of cities, and showed some slides with images as an example. 

e.g. if we took a focus on the Geography of Auckland (Singapore curriculum)
A teacher would give students something different than what they might discover themselves.
Settlement ? - History of development of the city
Land use models - critiquing these - knowledge changes over time - modern cities don’t necessarily ‘behave’ as the model would suggest...
Christaller - city in context of surrounding settlements....

Margaret’s presentation included Ben Hennig maps - quantitative data - from Views of the World blog.
Scope for critical geographers to make sense of knowledge and connect it with personal experiences:

Doreen Massey - ‘City Worlds’ - geographies of power
Michael Bradford - change in a city was his focus
Liz Taylor’s urban model based on geographers’ ideas

What is taught is influenced by how it is taught...

If we have PK then we should also have powerful pedagogies...
Need to consider the political nature of many issues that are taught
The status quo needs to be challenged
Ethical issues involved...
Hidden meanings and data need to be uncovered.
Consider underlying politcal end economic structures

‘Geography through Enquiry’ will be published by the Geographical Association in the summer of 2013. Brings the ideas from the original 2003 up to date, and provides new thinking.

Potentially powerful knowledge is perhaps a better way of thinking about the idea of PK

Margaret’s presentation ended with a particularly good analogy to the idea of music.

If we take a piece of sheet music, it means very little unless you have the ability to read it and perform it. Otherwise it is a series of ink marks on a piece of paper.

‘Music does not excite until it is performed’ - Benjamin Britten - whose centenary it is this year.

Also reminded me of a quote from David Hockney, which I used at a number of GA events.
‘I can get excitement from a puddle’....

I've used that idea of the curriculum as music since... 

Margaret's new version of 'Learning through Enquiry' comes out later this year... I am going to help Margaret with the social media around the launch so that you can find out more about the book in advance...