A shout out for communities

Following my previous fairly lengthy blogs, this one will be a bit more concise and to the point: learning communities are incalculably precious. They are the ultimate team sport in which common endeavour is rewarded and each of us is taken beyond what we might do, think or master on our own.

Up and down the country that sense of community is burning bright in our schools, lighting the way in these dark times. But that’s not what I’m going to write about here. Others have already written with eloquence and insight about what’s going on in schools up and down the UK right now.

Instead, I want to say a little word about the community of Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), which has provided me with some rays of light in what was, for all of us I’m sure, a challenging week.

The first of these was the LCT Centre’s roundtable on Friday morning. Unfortunately, 4pm in Sydney is 5am here, and a substantial pot of coffee was required! But the opportunity to be involved in a truly international dialogue was worth it indeed. Patrick Locke’s superb presentation took us through his research into changes that have taken place in Australia’s vocational education system. It was interesting to see how teachers’ values, drawn from their fields, influenced their response to increasing marketisation. Something I will give more thought to in the context of the English education system. Sherran’s email afterwards really got me thinking too – how do perceptions of of particular fields as being, for example, ‘innovative’ or ‘forward-thinking’ create code clashes? And at what cost?

The second thing was what prompted me to write this blog. It was an email exchange among the LCT community in which Nicholas West raised the idea of changing knowledge practices as a result of the move to online learning that is taking place globally.

This was a really interesting point because it occurred to me that most conversations I’ve had with people about online learning have been oriented towards pedagogy, not necessarily in terms of the knowledge itself.

What do I mean by that? Well, at its simplest it might mean asking ‘what sort of knowledge are we teaching’? Or, ‘how does moving to online learning affect the type of knowledge we teach’?

Does it, for example, lead to an emphasis on substantive knowledge at the expense of disciplinary knowledge? Please note, that is a question rather than a statement! But it’s a question worthy of consideration perhaps.

Nicholas’ point was directly drawn from LCT theory. He was asking whether there would be a sharper focus on the ‘target’ knowledge the teacher wants students to learn, possibly at the expense of what LCT terms an ‘introjected code’. Essentially, knowledge of the introjected code is knowledge from outside of the field of study that the teacher might put to use in teaching something else.

If all that sounds confusing, think of a teacher’s use of metaphor and analogy. Sometimes our ability to draw on knowledge from somewhere else is an essential part of our practice. For example when explaining the historical concept of causation I used to use the old game of Buckaroo as way of exploring the concept, starting with the game of Buckaroo as a way into the building of tensions before World War One.

Or, often teachers do that really important thing of saying “You remember when we learned about X? Well, this is like that,” or “Well, this is not like that.” Teasing out links, giving reminders of prior learning and signalling the way ahead helps to ensure knowledge is built rather than merely encountered as a two-dimensional object.

Sometimes in face to face lessons you can read pupils’ expressions, or they revel a misconception, and you can adjust accordingly, drawing on some other knowledge to help you explain.

In LCT terms these journeys through knowledge that is/not, associated with a target create ‘autonomy tours’. Evidence from LCT suggests some teachers skilfully traverse pathways of knowledge in this way, drawing on their schema, helping pupils to cumulatively build knowledge.

So, Nicholas’ question struck me as  important. Does the move to online learning make it more difficult for teachers to draw together knowledge in this way? With fewer, if any opportunities for interaction, will this affect how we use knowledge? I don’t have an answer, but it’s a good question.

What was great was that the LCT community chipped into the thread with further questions and insight. Dorian concurred with Nicholas, suggesting that how teachers weave in everyday knowledge can be a natural part of face to face lessons – will this continue online? And Mauricio suggested teachers may be cautious about introducing knowledge that is beyond the immediate target out of fear it could be taken ‘out of context’. Jodie and Billy then broadened the conversation to look at implications regarding other aspects of LCT.

Thanks to Karl, Patrick, Sherran, Nicholas, Dorian, Mauricio, Jodie and Billy (and everyone else) for making me think this week. You helped me to see things in ways I otherwise might not and have helped me to grow. That’s community.

So, here’s a little shout out for learning communities. No doubt you’ll be involved in some. Maybe your subject association, your school or trust, or perhaps you’re a part of edutwitter. Maybe right now your communities are helping you to get through each day, or maybe you’re shining a light for others.

Whatever your community is, it matters now more than ever.

You can find out more about LCT here: https://legitimationcodetheory.com

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