Monday, May 23, 2016

Gonski and beyond

Gonski may have a more important modelling role to play in improving the education of all Australian students. Extending the Gonski approach to all schooling could save our schools from current well intentioned but poor top-down decision making.

Money is vital, but methods translates money into value. And the Gonski "method" is soundly based for education.

The current general discourse about schools goes something like
More $ for Education
      -->  "Better" teachers, testing/reporting, required curriculum, mandated practices....
         -->  Better student Outcomes

This is plausible from a management or production perspective, but it does not reflect any known education theory.

Schools are not factories!! Education is not a form of production. Students are not products.

In addition this common top-down approach does not result in the requisite variety of educational provision needed to meet the needs of all students. 

The value of Gonski

In contrast, Gonski encourages and supports the development of whatever provision will meet the needs of specific students.

Some useful theory

Education is a complex endeavour. Schools are best understood as complex adaptive systemsTo work with and improve complex adaptive systems we need appropriate theory. 
  • People in schools (and elsewhere) are self organising around what attracts their attention
  • Schools are situated and emerge from the interactions of those involved - students, staff, families, communities, departments, governments...
  • Schools co-evolve with their environments (communities, school system....)
  • Successful practices are not as readily transferable as one might assume - they have to be reconstructed 
The necessary knowledge, actions, and arrangements involved in schools have to be continually constructed (and re-constructed) by those involved, mostly in everyday conversations. Practices from elsewhere have to be reconstructed anew in each school.

This means that schools not subject to empirical research in an engineering sense.
  • Input --> Process --> Output is not a useful working model for whole school improvement
A constructivist perspective (Vygotsky)
  • Zone of proximal development
    • Learning expands/extends what a person can know and do
    • At any point in time there is a potential "zone" of learning beyond what person can know and do with "assistance"
    • This developmental zone is specific to each person in place and time
    • At any point in time, it is not feasible for a person to learn beyond their zone of proximal development
  • Scaffolding
    • Provision to support learning ("scaffolding") needs to be matched to the learner's zone of proximal development in place and time (Gonski)
    • Teaching is largely about scaffolding learning
    • Better scaffolding is likley to improve and extend learning
    • Scaffolding can be
      • Cognitive - instruction, direction, coaching and tuition...
      • Physical - texts, tools and equipment, facilities...
      • Chronological - timing, sequencing...
      • Social and emotional - encouragement, motivation, confidence...

Leadership is situational (Blanchard)
  1. Education involves substantial leadership
  2. Leadership is a combination of direction, coaching, support and delegation 
  3. The appropriate leadership style depends on the learner's Competence and Confidence / Motivation in  relation to the learning task to be addressed in the current context

Gonski - a model for the future of schools

Gonski (consciously or otherwise) is consistent with a constructivist approach​ and encourages situated leadership. The initiatives supported by Gonski are situated and emergent.

If the Gonski approach can be extended to all schooling, it will improve learning outcomes of all students and reduce the need for Gonski as an add-on.

Caveat: For this extension to occur it will be necessary for governments and senior bureaucrats to recognise that 
  • While they may be in charge they are not in control
  • Education is a complex endeavour
  • Engineering solutions do not apply to the key challenges involved in providing quality schooling for all