Bloomfield’s Theorisers

Pavlov began it, thinking he could explain it with dogs.

Thorndike and Skinner experimented further, but it was lost in the Law of Effect and thousands perished in drill and practice.

Then Dewey found it and held it for the desires and motivations of all, while the Gestalt, on the edge of things, encouraged insight and a view of the whole.

Piaget discovered how it worked, but separated it from its core and it was almost lost again.

But then Bruner rescued it and described how it could work, whilst Wood built a tower for it. Then Vygotsky, King of the Tower, opened up the tower for the people to talk and communicate and interact with it. Yet this, his greatest feat, was overlooked by another, the Zone of Proximal Development, which whilst instilled with truth was a distraction from the biggest triumph. And men came and made the most of this distraction, like Von Glasserfeld with his love of the subjective and the internal.

And some, yea, even Bloomfield, were overcome with this distraction and did comment slightly sceptically on the power of social interaction, with words like 'construed' and 'apparent'.

But then Cobb came forward, and Ernest, adding social knowledge to his three worlds, and finally Jaworski with his understanding of story and negotiation

And thus it was that Bloomfield laid aside his slight scepticism and came to declare that knowledge is socially constructed between groups who share meanings.

And so it was that one day all people would understand that knowledge exists neither externally to the individual nor internally; but on the tender wisps of the webs that lie between individuals; on the cusp between the external and the internal; on the expectations and obligations that turn individuals into people.

The Network Curriculum

It has taken me 12 years of teaching to return to some of the educational theories that I was supposed to learn at college. Twelve years of being very busy, very earnest, doing lots of good stuff, but sometimes completely missing the point. When I did return to those theories I found there was a new one that hadn’t existed when I was first at college.


What educational theories sit behind ‘networks’ and the act of ‘networking’? Behaviourism? Cognitivism? Constuctivism? – Answer: all of the above.


Connectivism is what you’re doing right now if you’re reading this. You’ll find yourself on the third and fourth bullet point of George Siemens’ blog about what connectivism is. I’m glad I found it.

George Siemens’ paper
helped describe the kind of teacher I am becoming when I was searching for some material to help me present at a conference a few weeks ago. It helped me connect the inspiration I had received from Ewan McIntosh to be a ‘literate’ teacher with the networks I had begun through Creative Partnerships’ Bright Space and their agent Marcus Belben alongside the BXL technology tree project and partners Frankley CLC and Stan’s Cafe to be first primary school to do Scalextric4Schools. Apologies for the number of ‘ands‘ in that sentence.


There are two things that stand out to me from the aformentioned paper:


The first is: Karen Stephenson’s“Quantum Theory of Trust”. This is essentially that networks can only work successfully when everyone can trust each other. Trust between the partners I have worked with has been essential this year.


I have found that there is a trust too between the participants of the Google Teacher Academy – we trust that we want the same thing – to improve our knowledge and understanding and therefore our impact on young learners. As a recent convert to twitter (about 10 days old…) it has been amazing to slot into a network of people, to learn from them and to (hopefully) contribute a little of my own understanding. It is just as George Siemens says: ” A learner can exponentially improve their own learning by plugging into an existing network.”


The second is that ‘the pipes are more important than the contents of the pipe‘ – or in Marcus Belben speak – ‘the network is more important than the framework


What is really interesting to me is that our curriculum this year has worked because of who has been involved, not because of what it is or where or whenit happened. It worked because of the network. Yet we live in an educational climate where the framework has been all important.


The framework is a set of rules, processes and policies by which people should act.


Frameworks are very efficient when communication is poor because they are a set of standards that are written down. They describe success and failure. The national curriculum has been such a framework. Further frameworks have been added on such as the national numeracy and literacy strategies, QCA units, APP.


These frameworks have not only de-skilled teachers from the ability to network but they have taken away the desire to network. Teaching in the UK for some has become about ‘delivery’ rather than the marvellously creative act of teaching – making learning fun, relevant, challenging and aspirational. The frameworks began with those goals at their heart, but in some schools the teacher has been cut out and stopped from thinking for themselves and making connections between the frameroks and the real people. Teachers have been encouraged to stop trusting and instead to fear Ofsted, SATs, league tables, the media, parents, children – in fact pretty much everybody.


This comes back to Dr Stephenson’s Quantum Theory of Trust. If we can only start trusting each other the effects will be ‘quantum’. The network is more important than the framework. At least that’s true in almost every sector of employment outside of education.


I was reflecting on the ‘tone’ of twitter interactions since I started a few days ago and wondering what judgements people make of them and therefore of me and conversely what judgements, fair or unfair, I am making of others. There’s a real skill in that (and I’m not sure I’ve cracked it yet…) – a skill that children have to be taught. I wondered if my curriculum really prepares children for that challenge when they hit secondary school and beyond.


The network curriculum is one in which:

  • the child learns to cherish their networks, acting to protect them, to learn from them and to contribute them.
  • The teacher writes ‘who’ on their planning before anythiong else – thinking through who their children will meet each day, week and term and planning different types of interaction for each child – 1:1 peer and with adult, group, whole class, online, performance, guided, un-guided, etc. Also the teacher values themself and teaches from their own strengths and passions.
  • The manager nurtures and develops the day-to-day interactions between people.
  • The leader holds the bucket upside down (see my old blog from 2008 about ‘building capacity‘) .

In saying all this, I still think the national curriculum is a good thing. It has good standards (which, incidentally, are being undermined by APP – but that is another story that will be told another day), it is broad(ish) and provides a common basis for all children. It’s just that I want to see the national curriculum as a servant to my network of teachers, not as their master.


And to be fair to all of us that have worked under the national curriculum for so long now, we didn’t know there was another educational theory out there until recently. It is by the network I discovered this and to the network I will return.


As a footnote I would love to know if any teachers who have recently come out of college, such as Oliver Quinlan, who’s recent blog posting on Problems with timetabled learning inspired me to put these thoughts together have had any input on ‘connectivism’ and could fill me in on my considerable gaps in my knowledge.

Page 8

Page 8 wonders what I think or know about each of the following:

  • Discovery Learning
  • Investigation
  • Barriers to Learning
  • Interviewing
  • Spiral Curriculum
  • Readiness
  • Differentiation

Here goes:

Discovery learning is that vague stuff that was around in the 70s that meant I never learned to hold a pen properly. I read some stuff in an Ian Thompson edited book about maths that didn’t have anything positive to see about child initiated discovery learning in relationship to maths, saying instead that discovery learning had to be adult initiated and often adult guided in the early years in maths for it to have any impact. Interesting.

Investigation in maths is when you give children an maths problem and then guide them into solving it. You often have to give a lot of guidance as children who are used to a ‘skills based curriculum’ have often only learnt maths methods and not problem solving skills. One of my favourites is the one about what is the most common outcome of rolling 2 dice, because you can combine experimentation (actually rolling the dice) with theory (when you use a table to solve the problem precisely).

Barriers to learning means stuff that stops you learning. It could be attendance or your mum telling you that she was no good at maths so you won’t be either. It could also be your 11+ tutor teaching you bus stop when you don’t really get the difference between sharing and grouping.

Interviewing. I’m not really sure what this is in a maths context. I did some interviewing on my fractions video (see below) but I’m not sure if that is what this means.

Spiral curriculum is where you have a curriculum that keeps coming back to the same area on a regular basis so that the children can build on previous knowledge. It’s a nice idea but the timings we use in the UK are all wrong. The spiral should be 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 1 year. Not every term.

Readiness is the idea that you can’t learn some things until your ready for them. It works on the short term (I can’t learn this because my mind is buzzing with the way that girl insulted me at playtime) and on the longer term (I can’t learn that concept about adding on 2, because I don’t really understand what 2 is). Making children ready to learn is about connecting their learning with the real world and with previous learning, providing motivation and engaging them. It’s a mark of creativity.

Differentiation is when you making the learning suit the learner. This can be by varying the way they access the learning, changing the level of the learning and providing greater scaffolding. I have a dim memory from college that either Piaget or Vigotsky indicated that a single teacher could only differentiate three ways. (I mean for three different groups of children , not with different methods of differentiation.) But I might be making that up.

Differention is also something I did at university on my engineering degree. Second Order Differential Equations. They were very hard. I’m glad I’m a primary school teacher.

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