Disciplinary Learning?

I’d invited Professor Lindsay Paterson to East Lothian to discuss his recent article in TESS and explore the notion of disciplinary learning and how it relates to A Curriculum for Excellence.

“For all the talk of inter-disciplinarity, there is confusion about what a discipline is. There is no sense that the sedimentation of human knowledge into disciplines might be more than arbitrary, that our forebears have given us a structure for organising knowledge that might embody their collective wisdom as well as their prejudices.”

There is a danger that the pendulum swings too far in our attempt to engage children more with the learning process – at all costs.

In his article Lindsay considers the relationship teachers have with the subjects they teach:

“Teachers ought to have autonomy from politicians, from bureaucracies, from management, but no teachers ought to ask for more than very limited autonomy in relation to the subjects they teach: none of us should imagine that the task of teachers is to re-invent maths, literature, or the study of society. We might modify these things at the edges and find new ways of teaching old things. But, largely, to enter teaching is voluntarily to subject ourselves to a body of knowledge and skills that already exists.”

I know there are some out there who will rise to the notion of “teachers teaching subects” – I’ve heard teachers throughout my career adopting the higher moral ground by proclaiming that “I don’t teach subjects I teach children” – the reality is that without a context (which is in most cases is content – which in turn relates to a subject) learning is devoid of any purpose or value.

I agree we do have to teach children how to learn but I’ve always preferred that such skills are embedded in the learning process, i.e. learning something which is worthwhile (I’ll return to this notion of worthwhile knowledge in a later post in this series).

It was fascinating for me on Tuesday to see how Depute Head Teachers – primary and secondary – all set out the importance of core knowledge – one of the ideas emerging at Tuesday’s conference had been the idea of core skills (disciplinary learning) in the morning and project work (inter-disciplinary learning) in the afternoon.

I don’t think there are many teachers out there who really baulk at the the idea of disciplinary learning – it’s more to do with the way in which such a singular disciplinary focus has turned so many learners off the learning process.

In my next few posts I’ll be exploring the relationship between disciplinary learning and inter-disciplinary learning and challenging some of the assumptions which tend to see the two as being at opposite ends of a spectrum.

2 thoughts on “Disciplinary Learning?

  1. I would be quite happy to teach the existing syllabus in my subject, Computing, in an Active Learning mode. In fact I have explored just that in a recent post to my blog. Furthermore I would expect a more rigorous approach at least for the most academic pupils. I would also suggest by its very nature that that methodology would automatically create differentiation.

  2. Pingback: John Connell: the blog » Blog Archive » The Pain of Miscellany

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