Plenary Day 2 – Kathleen Graves: The efficiency of inefficiency: an ecological perspective on curriculum

Plenary: Kathleen Graves – The efficiency of inefficiency: an ecological perspective on curriculum

 

This was my second talk for the morning and here are the notes I made:

 

Argument: an approach to learning that seems inefficient may actually be efficient in terms of reaching ed goals in lasting ways.

 

Efficiency: how to achieve maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.

 

In the hospital:

 

The reasons for success can be the very things that are considered inefficient. Time-costly caring creates he relationship between the doctor and the patient and that is the secret of healing. The secret of patient care = inefficiency.

Long-term view vs. short-term results.

 

How about the classroom?

 

Ed is increasingly focused on efficiency and the push for efficiency centres on standardization of outcomes, prepackaged curricular and tests that test short term results rather than long-term results. Very true of ELT. This creates tremendous pressures on teachers and students to produce quantifiable results in the classroom, emphasis on tests rather than learning. But learning a language is a process that takes time.

 

Can we apply the efficiency of inefficiency to language learning?

 

It is a human process, organic, unpredictable and dynamic. Looking at how time is used in the classroom – what would the efficiency team consider efficient in the classroom? Getting the job done in as few turns as possible. Question; response; confirmation. But is it efficient in terms of learning? Is it really productive?

 

Graves makes a comparison of an “efficient” exchange and a longer, “inefficient” but learning efficient exchange.

 

What are some of the differences?

 

<slide shot> (coming soon!)

 

The non-efficient exchange is not efficient in terms of time but is in terms of ss participation. She builds on what the student has to offer in turn by asking the student to complete his thought, and then asks him to use technical language to express what he knows. This is very important in terms of learning the academic register is not just to understand the terms but to use them. She also creates an atmosphere where all the students feel comfortable to co-construct/contribute. 12 turns vs 3 turns: the efficiency of inefficiency. Making the best use of the resources – the learners – to achieve the results – learner understanding.

 

Physical and abstract resources – not just materials:

 

–       the learners and the teacher

–       the curriculum

 

How can we use these resources so they can thrive. Looking at this is in line with an ecological perspective on learning.

 

Leo Van Lier: passed away a little over a year ago but left an important legacy.

 

Ecology: the study of relationships among the elements in an environment or ecosystem and how they interact between themselves and with the environment.

 

In a classroom:

 

People: learners, teachers, others

Curriculum: materials and concepts

Environment = physical and social

 

Language is “Relations between people and the world

Language learning is learning ways to relate more effectively to people and the world

 

Ecological approach:

 

People

Relationships/interactions

Activity

Quality

Autonomy/Agency

 

You can have a high standard of living but a low quality of life. E.g. in the US – mansions and Mc Jobs = high standard of living but quality?

 

Testing system bypasses the quality of the educational experience and the wellbeing of the learners. We lose sight of the educational experience itself and how it contributes to quality of life. Focus on experience and wellbeing of learners harks back to caring for patients, in the hospital.

 

Not transmission of knowledge but a community where learners go about the business of learning by carrying out activities together, side by side or on their own.

 

Autonomy does not mean individualism or independence but having authorship of ones speech and actions in ones community of practice. Learners are sources of knowledge as well as learners of knowledge. Have opportunities to exercise their agency as sources of knowledge.

There must be room for learning – for a variety of expressions of agency to flourish.

 

An ecological approach to learning treats the classroom as a dynamic, evolving ecosystem. Relationships are built within the environment. Teacher and learners define their own meaning and purpose to what they do. The quality of these relationships matters. Focus on what is meaningful and helpful to the students.

 

<A clip with the sound turned off, to focus on what you see rather than what you hear>

 

– To give some insight into the potential of an ecological approach to curriculum.

 

–       Who are the participants/interactants?

–       Who interacts with whom? What kind of relationships are at play?

–       What kind of activities are the participants engaged in?

–       I what different ways are the participants acting?

 

<same clip with sound>

 

What is the role of language in this classroom?

 

Moving them towards standard language of schooling without devaluing what they are moving from (i.e. home use of language) – mentioned by a woman on the clip.

 

Language plays a role on several levels – on a social level (participants use language to interact with each other and carry out activities) but also on a symbolic level. Learners have symbolic resources – their own language they use with family and friends, an important part of their identity: African-American vernacular English. Is a linguistically complex systematic rule-governed variety of English. E.g. “We don’t have nothin’ to do” – The copula of be “He funny” is systematically omitted. Not broken English. Accurate to this variety of English. An educational system as an ecosystem uses existing resources to extend and build new resources. The home language is a resource to be used to contrast with academic language. The learners learn to use linguistic tools of contrastive analysis to identify similarities and differences. They learn a third language too – that of linguistics.

 

Autonomy – having authorship of one’s actions and speech within one’s community. Learners here are authors of and authorities on their language.

 

But why are you taking this time-consuming task – we just want them to speak correctly so just correct their incorrect language. i.e. a more “Efficient” approach. Mrs Sword could be said to be more efficient than Mr Russell but actually it’s a deficient approach. Ss own language is considered substandard and be overcome through correction. Ss own language is devalued, as are the ss. Whereas Russell’s approach is ecological, ss are resources and have resources i.e. their own language. They can tap it as a basis for learning Standard English by contrasting the two and learning the meta-language to do that. They are active participants in the process of learning and development, exercising their agency and challenging sophisticated processes. Students and language are both valued.

 

(Mrs Sword took a similar trajectory to Mr Russell, and used the analogy of wearing different clothes in different situations)

 

But first, ss stopped asking questions in order to stop being corrected and risk embarrassment. So rather than providing tools to expand resources, she shut them down. The focus was on the end result rather than on the learner and the process of learning.

 

Whereas Mr Russell’s class illustrates the efficiency of inefficiency: It led to increased understandings that could be demonstrated through test performances. But they also gained much more than could be measured in a test – confidence, social skills, problem-solving, how language works in different contexts, all these gains will serve them in life not just in school.

 

An approach to learning that seems inefficient may be much more efficient to reach long-term learning goals.

 

“My goal is to provide readymade answers or prescriptions but to provide food for thought, to encourage reflection about language and education, to stimulate discussion…”

 

A brilliant talk, that I very much enjoyed!

 

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3 thoughts on “Plenary Day 2 – Kathleen Graves: The efficiency of inefficiency: an ecological perspective on curriculum

  1. Pingback: Day 2 IATEFL Plenary: Notes and Thoughts | Wednesday Seminars

  2. Pingback: IATEFL 2014: Bringing all my posts together in one place! | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

  3. Pingback: Efficacy and evidence | Adaptive Learning in ELT

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