Some thoughts about Pedagogy

The teaching profession is, quite rightly, re-engaging with the art of teaching (or, perhaps its a craft… or then again, a science). The philosophy behind the new national curriculum for England (for which we need to put aside the political ideology that lurks there too) is that it is not for external agencies such as Ofsted to tell us how to teach, but that schools and teachers should be able to make their own decisions about this.  It’s taking some inspectors, advisers and school leaders a while to catch up to this thinking but there is sense underlying all this. It has long been a concern that, while a one-year teacher training programme enables trainee teachers to serve what is effectively an apprenticeship, such programmes tend to be light on theory.  Compare this with, for example, the Finnish system where teaching requires a 5-year master’s level preparation. That gives plenty of time for deep study of theory and praxis.

I have so far avoided using the term ‘pedagogy’, not because I do not value it but because a paper that I read recently has made me think about what we really mean. In this piece, by Mark K Smith, the writer explores the origins of pedagogy and, in doing so, asks some interesting questions. Smith points out that the paidagogos of ancient Greece had a much wider role than simply teaching. Rather than simply transmitting knowledge, the paidogogos was responsible for the student’s behaviour and moral development. I remember, years ago, reading this in The Teacher by E B Castle and I’d lost that sense of wrap-around development of the child in my own narrowing sense of pedagogy.

Smith makes the very good point that, when we speak of pedagogy today, we really mean ‘teaching’. Strictly speaking, ‘teaching’ is didactics. The didaskoulos of Ancient Greece was a mere employee; the trusted Paidogogos – albeit usually a slave – a member of the household.

So maybe it helps us to separate out pedagogy from didactics. When we are looking at ways to teach, that’s didactics, but when we’re looking at the whole child, that’s pedagogy.  I realise that’s not going to change much, but it helps me to be clear in my mind. As part of work that I do with trainee teachers I ask, ‘tell us about a great teacher that you remember’ and, interestingly, they will almost invariably talk about a teacher whose personal characteristics, whose infectious enthusiasm for their subject, whose care of their students and their learning lit some kind of fire for them. W B Yeats said that ‘education is the lighting of a fire’ and that seems to be a product of pedagogy, rather than dry didactics. In the NFER ‘Mapping of Seminal Reports on Good Teaching’ (Rowe et al 2012), the three key areas were teaching environment, teaching approaches and teacher characteristics. Maybe the first two are didactics but the third is definitely pedagogy.

Find Mark K Smith’s paper on InfoEd at http://infed.org/mobi/what-is-pedagogy/

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