The classroom: a problem or a mystery? #2

I have read through this text a few times and had discussed at length with colleagues and peers on the PgCert course varying subjects this paper raise. I had attended the reading skilfully workshop where in our groups discussed our own teaching practice relating to Munday’s to the subject of whether the classroom is a space for mystery or problem solving.

In my peer-to-peer discussion with Jehni Arboine we agreed that the text has some interesting elements but rather jumped around a bit in different sections. It seemed to become a mystery to actually break down what Ian Munday was suggesting.  Munday starts with the political aspects to discuss Michael Gove and trainee teachers which had initially drawn my attention to how a politicians ideal and vision affects the dilemmas of what happens in the classroom in this section relating to financial cuts in funding and comparing the classroom to hospital wards where both teaching and nursing falls in line with the public sector for the public good.

He then jumps to discuss researchers and then he goes on to the philosophy of existentialists Gabriel Marcel, .In the section header Endgame’ Munday uses the Samuel Beckett play to example the phenomenology of having. Munday then provides in ‘Two ordinary examples’ distinctions between treating things in terms of problems and mysteries by using the example of two guitarists in relation to ‘being’ naturally gifted and talented and ‘having’ to work hard at a talent and his own personal example of being a restaurant dishwasher. In ‘Mysteries of the classroom, Mundays account because more clear based on his ideals of mysteries and problems in the classroom.

Jehni and I in our review of the article appreciated that there was a lot to taken from it. I have been discussing this paper at length with peers on my course. On both occasions it concludes that this paper raises lots of questions and in itself poses itself as a mystery.

I relate to the viewpoint that the classroom can be a place of not just to solve problems that one of exploration. It is a place where students and teachers can come together and share ideas. The classroom can conjure up many aspects that can be a mystery and therefore puzzling. But I found parts of the text quite contradictory because some areas are highlighted at the beginning which can be construed as problems. But then that could be me not taking on board the Munday’s explanation of Marcel ‘there is always a danger that we will pervert mysteries by turning them into problems.’

I go back to my earlier thoughts in February from the reading skilfully workshop to go back to the quote Munday used in the article taken from Practitioner Research and Professional Development in Education:

Let us assume that you have identified some aspect of your professional practice in your classroom that is puzzling you. You may have noticed that one particular technique you use to encourage effective learning does not appear to be working as well as it used to, or that another is working very effectively.

Is this puzzling effect a mystery or foundations of a problem? The quote reads on to suggest teachers as researchers:

You may have seen something in the news or read something in the educational press that reminded you of your classroom or at least caused you to wonder how it might apply to your own professional situation. At this point you have taken the first step as a researcher in that you have identified an educational issue that might need resolving. We could generalise by saying that much educational research focuses on interesting puzzles that have been identified by practitioners.
(Campbell et al, 2004, p. 1)

I identify this in my own practice where I take aspects of my own interests or discovery to apply it to my own professional situation. Therefore, I see myself as a phenomenologist where I share experiences and ideas with colleagues and students. This then allow for the classroom to be one of embraced mysteries and discovery and not as a space for problem solving.

My educational research in this context would be for developing learning and enhancing teaching practice beneficial to the students that arise from interesting puzzles. This I recognise as action research projects formulated by an enquiry, puzzle or problem. An example of this would be to address areas in the attainment gap to overcome the mystery of why since my study as a BA honours student 20 years ago it is the attainment gap between Black Asian Minority Ethnic students and their white counterparts has yet to be significantly narrowed to the point of nonexistence.

I use the phenomenological approach of having in this context regarding to having learning and teaching engagement with the students and each other. Also the students having knowledge the possession of skills, talent and  ability. I say this because the positivist approach can be the simple scientific of something being either true, false or meaningless leaving little room for expanding on experiences. Phenomenology in this case has the empathy that being a positivist lacks.

Munday attempts to piece and link pieces together at the beginning and at the end throughout the text. An example of this is Munday’s discussion in the first paragraph of the text where he mentions trainee teachers should be thought of as apprentices learning the tricks of the trade whilst on the job. The implication is that trainee teacher would have to negotiate the mysteries of being in the classroom where the configurations of the classroom are changed by the presence of the students. This statement I connect further in the reading with Mundays section on the mysteries of the classroom. He defined these mysteries within six areas where a trainee teacher will be presented as techniques I suggest solutions to alleviate potential problems. These were:

  1. Plan everything in the finest detail
  2. Create seating plans students
  3. Clear learning objectives and outcomes
  4. Differentiate materials to accommodate particular needs
  5. Give the students rewards (if there were any) six
  6. Produce classroom contracts that students could sign in the first lesson

Some of these are recognised as non-negotiables required for quality classroom teaching. Munday’s view of the classroom referring to the phenomenology of having posed by Marcel raised a concern for me. Is Munday concerned about his power and privilege in the classroom setting? Is classroom management one of the problem to contain the students and their behaviours? I sense from reading this section that Munday’s view of the classroom seem to be one of problems. Are these nonnegotiable’s to be considered solutions to address any potential problems of classroom management therefore there is used to exercise power of control over the students? The seating plan for example could be a divisive method to separate students and potentially isolate them. This may seem sinister governed by the layout of the chairs and tables in the seating plan can be set in rows consider to be old-fashioned and quite Draconian. However, I have used seating plans (sometimes in conjunction with data) to enable students to share their skills discussion and learn more from each.

A teacher finding their bearing in a new classroom can be perceived as a mystery or rather more anticipation of what to expect. Munday places these techniques with the philosophy of Gabriel Marcel and his account of phenomenology of having. He goes on to mention it is as though the classroom presents itself as a something that I must struggle to contain. That struggle can only cause a problem rather than be a mystery. He quotes what I have can always be taken away, my control being less obvious case in point. The state of having control or being in control to try and instil a permanency regards to order. I found as part of the text and unsettling. It is the indication from this text that the problems can be caused by unruly students? Being in a challenging environment? I have experience in teaching such environments. I would not address the students as a problem. The problem or ‘struggle’ may be to devise ways of planning and delivering a lesson that engages all students. In a classroom that is diverse in cultures and abilities from various backgrounds and cultural differences. The position of the classroom is to embrace the mysteries whilst the students and teacher together learning and discovery can happen.

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