What are standards, anyway?


Whichever way standards are understood they are always concerned with ethics, that is with questions of: consequences, virtues and rights. The way Dunn frames the argument about standards above – episteme in contrast to metis closely echoes the way in which professional standards for post-16 teachers are most often talked about. The standards are criticised for the extent to which the imposition of abstract knowledge replaces the local situated knowledge of teachers with devastating consequences. This to-ing fro-ing is an almost inevitable aspects of ethics in practice. They are contentions, subject to experimentation and revision. This should not be dismissed as the slippy slidey nature of things concerned with the social. It is typical of the natural sciences as well. Standards for teachers are things in the making. They are not yet settled. Their political nature means they might never be settled.

In line with an ongoing ethical engagement with these standards, I want to experiment with their flexibility. Is it possible for a critical pedagogue to read them and find within them sufficient scope for a version of the world that is recognisable. That is, is it possible for a critical pedagogue to live within the consequences, virtues and rights implied by professional standards. What would happen if I engaged in ‘positive’ critique. That is, reading them and their affordances. What do they enable?

Troubling criticality #MyEdDModule

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Teaching #MyEdDModule – is making me think about research, teaching and writing in a slightly different way – I want to write a few posts about research activity that I might involve myself with over the next few months / years.

I like the idea of writing and publishing something that focusses on methodology, perhaps in an attempt to clarify my own stance which is not particularly well defined. Deliberately so. I have not signed up to a specific tradition. I do not need, want or intend to. But, it seems a good idea to at least clarify that apparent unwillingness to anchor myself in a tradition – other than what is bradly defined as qualitative or interpretative.  I am happy to make use of quantitative data given that this is in part is how people make sense of their world.

So – reading Martyn Hammersley – is proving to be interesting and entertaining. He’s a good writer. It’s not unlike sitting down to have a cup of coffee with someone and chatting. He’s troubling – unsettling a few of the securities about methodology I had not confronted before now, but he’s also opened up an area of interest that I might enjoy.

I like the idea of a paper around the theme of ‘Troubling Criticality’. Something that would allow me to explore, define and critique the complex meanings and practices embedded in the concept – a purview that will include the Frankfurt School as well as the more contemporary variations on this tradition. I am struck by Hammersley’s rejection of partisan scholarship. In most writers I would be inclined to gloss over this. But he is engaging to read and the thrust of his argument implies that it is possible to establish a more robust basis for qualitative research. I defend partisan interested scholarship as both desirable and inevitable. 

This connects to the #MyEdDModule not only because of my intention to focus on ‘Critical’ in the meaning intended by Frankfurt and those that came after but also because I want to work through the variations in meaning as a thematic thread that defines the module while encouraging participants to assume a number of different standpoints in an attempt to inhabit the epistemic frame of other research traditions. In this I have a notion of critique as to bring into crisis – with a specific interest in the research, policy and practice nexus.

Other possible titles that I might consider – as long as I can tie them into my overall career defining research themes: post-16 education, professionalism and quality.

The programme starts in September 2014, but #MyEdDModule is not until semester two in year two – ages away. But the team will work together throughout and so – in part I am thinking about how to cultivate a particular stance as a member of the team. A lot can change between now and then.


Hammersley, M. (2008). Questioning qualitative inquiry: Critical essays. London: Sage.

Literacies in the ‘digital university’ #MyEdDModule

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Goodfellow, Robin (2013) The Literacies of ‘digital scholarship’ – truth and use values, Chapter 5 in Goodfellow and Lea (Eds) Literacy in the digital university: critical perspectives on learning, scholarship and technology, Society for Research into Higher Education, London: Routledge 

This chapter comparatively explores two texts from the perspective of literacies in the digital university. Through an examination of the macro and micro literacy practices – values, beliefs, attitudes and practices that inform how texts are produced, he argues for a distinction to be made between truth value and use value. Both texts are academic texts; they emerge from slightly different discourse communities and are intended for different audiences. As such – one text – the more conventional text – is more fully grounded in published literature, has a distant objective authorial voice, and is intended for a particular academic community. The other text (despite the affordances of hyper-linked intertextuality) is less grounded in scholarly literature, has a dialogic voice which emerges from its emergence out of an on-line community of academic scholars, and is published with values that are explicit in their intention to be open. Goodfellow is critical of the claims to be ‘open’ suggesting that ‘open’ means more than available free of charge through the publisher’s website on the internet.

His main argument is that, in the literacies of digital scholarship,  there is a distinction between the values that underpin each of the texts. Both texts are academic. But in one instance the writer leans towards a ‘truth’ value. They are rigorous, authoritative, grounded and empirical. In the other ‘academic text’ the writer leans toward use. The text is written with a more open audience in mind. It is conversational, less reliant on the literature, communicative and free. He suggests that these values are consistent with and an expression of the values of the knowledge community that comprise the texts audience. Goodfellow is critical of the collapse of a distinction between ‘digital’ and ‘open’. Being one does not equate to being the other. 

This is a fine illustration of a literacies approach to understanding scholarship in the digital university. Goodfellow offers a typology of audiences – professional, academic, amateur or citizen – suggesting that each of these will have different knowledge values. He also predicts that this distinction between the digital and the open may well be the defining dichotomy for the university of the future. 

I like Goodfellow’s methodology – using a critical discourse analysis to review these texts, but with the emphasis placed not on the content of each of the texts as such, but on their anthropological roots. It is apparent that Goodfellow is less empathetic towards the text that makes claims to being open. The paper is premised upon questioning and critiquing this claim.  His final comment seems a direct response to the writers’ predictive assertions made elsewhere  that in the future scholarly publishing will be primarily digital. That digital literacies will have a transformative effect on the university. 

Time will tell.

Weelere @ LSE


my EdD module

It happens to all of us: emotional engagement with an academic text. A moment while reading when you experience, when I experience the ‘shock of recognition’. That moment when something you had previously thought of as personal, private, uniquely yours – and not particularly connected to what you thought you were reading about, has a conceptual frame. It has a name. It’s still uniquely yours, but it is also a shared yours. Reading James Pual Gee (1990, 2012) and his discussion of Discourses, struck a chord with me. Years later I remember that feeling of surprise and familiarity. How I understood equity, social justice and personal experience changed, slightly but significantly.

I am listed as Module Leader for the EdD: a professional doctorate at the University of Hull. It is a year two module timetabled for semester two 2016. I am listed as leading: Critical Empirical Research Methodology.

And I am keeping my eyes firmly on

  • Heidi Mirza, emeritus professor at the Institute of Education
  • Gurminder K Bhambra,   Professor of Sociology and Director of the Social Theory Centre at the University of Warwick
  • Shirley Anne Tate, associate professor at the University of Leeds
  • Sara Ahmed, Professor in Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths
  • Claudia Bernard,Head of Postgraduate Studies in the Department of Social, Therapeutic and Community Studies at Goldsmiths
  • Joan Anim-Addo, Professor of Caribbean Literature and Culture and Director of the Centre for Caribbean Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London.
  • and 10 others who I need to research and locate

That is, without any sense of irony, I am keeping my eyes on women whose sheer existence is an inspiration.  Black female professors working in HE in the UK. Not because I don’t understand that hard work and merit is what makes a difference rather than a disgruntled sense of entitlement, but because they are a reminder that it is possible to cultivate a space in the most unlikely of circumstances, and occupy it.

A Discourse is a socially accepted association among ways of  using language and other symbolic expressions, of thinking, feeling, believing, valuing, and acting, as well as using various tools, technologies, or props that can be used to identify oneself as a member of a socially meaningful group or “social network,” to signal (that one is playing) a socially meaningful “role,” or to signal that one is filling a social niche in a distinctively recognizable fashion.

I wasn’t born in a University. I prefer academic writing (controlled, thoughtful and considered) to academic conversation (unpredictable, chaotic and spontaneous). And sometimes, I have to make a conscious decision to act ‘as if’ being t/here is the most natural thing in the world.

Critical Empirical Research Methodology: my module

I now have a post-it note on the screen in front of me: when my academic male colleague – jokes about redundancies, or hints that there is plenty of time to change the timetable, or assumes his opinion or judgement have some persuasive authority over how I think, or speaks to me slowly and loudly, enunciating his words with considerable precision: mansplaining,

I remind myself – he would probably address Heidi Mirza, Gurminder K Bhambra and Shirley Anne Tate in the same way.

Gee, J. P. (2012). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses. 4th editon, New York: Routledge

things in the making

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Employing the masters’ ideas not to explain them – which is a way to embalm them unchanged and unchangeable – but to make something (else) of them. (Ellsworth 2005)

I recently wrote a paper about teachers engaging in online discussion about professionalism. The paper, savaged by one journal, was substantially rewritten and sent to another. I might have sent the re-written version to the original journal but their review was so unkind that I had to check and recheck the decision to reconcile the invitation to revise and resubmit with the harshness of the comments. I appreciate that the better the version sent for review, the better the feedback. The original was sent too early. It was a draft full of errors. With a little more time and care these were ironed out.

One reason why a paper might be rejected by a journal is because it is not ready to be  sent for review. It contains errors that trip up and antagonise the reader.

But then, when I complete something I feel a surge of overwhelming enthusiasm and accomplishment. In my excitement, I want to send it out, to get someone to read and comment. Sending it to a journal for review is a celebration. The unpleasant feedback made me think again about my approach. I sent the re-written paper to a different journal for review because, on reflection, what they publish seemed more sympathetic to what and how I write. The feedback was the same: revise (substantially) and resubmit. The editor used the word ‘salvageable’ in his response. Salvageable, diplomatic indication of just how much work the much improved draft needed. But the comments were kind and constructive. It was not just that the feedback provided by the second journal included one critical reader who found my approach to locating rather than defining professionalism ‘refreshing’. Nor was it that the slightly less effusive critical reader thought my use of spatial theory to discuss professionalism was ‘fine’.   The comments made sense. I didn’t, while reading, flinch and check the apparent inconsistency between the tone of the comments and the overall decision. I could see and feel how the suggested revisions made the paper more focussed, more sharply argued and more credible.

In the review provided by the first journal, I found it hard to make sense of several points of feedback. I didn’t agree with them. One comment particularly bothered me.

I referred to a paper written in 1989 by Elizabeth Ellsworth. ‘Why doesn’t this feel empowering?’ changed my understanding of critical pedagogy. In this pivotal essay Ellsworth conceptualises a series of ‘repressive myths’.  She challenges the critical pedagogues assumption that power (as a reified thing) exists in a definable place, a specific somewhere, a certain “power loci” from which it is projected, and that “we” must fight against or suffer the looming consequences.  Her analysis disturbs and destabilises the idea of ’empowerment’, and with it – much of my sense of myself as an adult literacy teacher. Her argument was like drinking a glass of ice-cold water, or having one thrown in my face. I was compelled to re-write my Freirean inspired professional biography. But her significance is more than personal. Ellsworth continues to write, and her sensational pedagogies continue to inspire.  Her thinking contributes towards a changed direction in critical pedagogy, as noted by others (Savage 2010). The specific essay I referred to has, according to Google Scholar, been cited a few thousand times. It has been republished on more than one occasion in different anthologies. It is an important essay.

How then do I respond to a reviewer who asks why I have referenced her work –  implying her insight as unworthy of citation? How in my revision do I justify her inclusion? And why should I need to? It may be that I have included her because she supports my argument; it may also be that my argument has been developed in part because of my reading – and weighing up the significance of – her work.

Another point of critique also caught my imagination. The comment was valid but I had no immediate answer. I argue that in online spaces teachers may reveal aspects of how they construct their professional selves indirectly while talking about something else. I argue that there is ‘real work’ underlying these seemingly trivial social interactions. But what do I mean by ‘real work’? It took some time to clarify. Arendt (1958) has framed it nicely for me. She distinguishes three modalities of active life: labour, work and action. Work has to do with: the ways in which human beings actively transform their environment and through this create a world that is characterised by durability. This is the work that these teachers do when discussing aspects of professionalism in online spaces. They dramatise the contradictions between professional aspiration and policy embodiment. This is more than understanding.  They use virtual spaces to create an embodied sensation of making-sense. These are lived-in, experiential spaces for their learning selves (Ellsworth 2005:1). This self does not determine, but emerges from their ongoing attempts to reconcile contradictory demands and possibilities.

Arendt, H. (1998). The Human Condition. Chicago: U of Chicago Press.

Biesta, Gert (2014 Making Pedagogy Public: for the public, of the public, or in the interest of publicness?  Ch 2 in Burdick, J, Sandin, J. and O’Malley, M. Problematising Public Pedagogy

Ellsworth, E. (1989). Why doesn’t this feel empowering? Working through the repressive myths of critical pedagogy. Harvard Educational Review, 59(3), 297–324.

Ellsworth, E. (2005). Places of learning: Media, architecture, pedagogy. Oxon: Routledge.

Savage, G. C. (2010). Problematizing “public pedagogy” in educational research. Ch 11 in Sandlin, J,. Schults, B and Burdick, J. Handbook of public pedagogy, 103-115.

Research informing, transforming, overlapping and ….. unravelling practice.


The Institute of Education, my old University –  achieved in 2014 the highest position in the QS World University subject rankings. The IoE – according QS  – is better at education, than Harvard, Stanford and Melbourne. Is there a more secure base from which to sponsor a new free school? It’s hard to imagine what better qualification could be demanded, if being the world’s leading University – for education – is not sufficient.

Research Informs Practice

But perhaps this is a common-sense belief that doesn’t hold. The assumption that the IoE is best placed to run a free school implies a particular relationship between research and practice. Namely – those in the University develop ‘knowledge’ which those working in sites of practice implement. This is most neatly framed in the strap line of a research centre devoted to adult literacy and numeracy: ‘generating knowledge and transforming it into practice’. The relationship between knowledge and practice is assumed to be uni-directional and unproblematic. Even when researchers and practitioners occupy quite different spaces, they are assumed to have common values, beliefs and practices as well as shared conceptions of quality, knowledge, policy, pedagogy and curriculum. Framed in tis way, research may well inform practice.

Research Transforms Practice

It is also possible that research might transform practice.  To cultivate their recently found professional status, post 16 teachers will need an ongoing and continuing familiarity with a highly-codified and esoteric body of knowledge. Research encloses our epistemic boundaries, mapping the territory upon which our professionalism is premised. While evidence-based-practice would at first glance seem like an obvious aspiration, it has some troubling implications. If practice is evidence based, practitioners are required to adopt practices proven by research as liable to bring about improved outcomes. Failure to improve is willful. It is a failure to properly implement practices that have been devised and proven elsewhere.  Teachers are here understood as ‘knowledge surrogates, practitioners of others’ (Taylor-Webb 2005) design. Teaching becomes a teacher-proof activity, as teachers are required to become conduits, implementers of a scripted, standardized pedagogy that has been tried, tested and proven to be effective. When knowledge about teaching transcends the pedagogic encounter between teacher and student, the intellectual authority of practitioners is negated. The grammar of professional practice – improvised, spontaneous and internalized – is subordinated by the insistence that it should be something other than what it is. In this conceit only knowledge generated by research – decontextualized, transferable and theoretical – is True Knowledge.

Research Overlaps Practice

But if the rage for accountability requires evidence-based-practice to the belittlement of teachers’ knowledge, it also belittles research.  The pragmatists ‘what works’ mantra offers what research in the social sciences is unable to deliver.  Truths about the social world unfold unexpectedly. They are partial, tentative and suggestive rather than equivocal.  To understand what works may require diverse and seemingly irrelevant questions. What may or may not influence practice is open to contestation.  An approach which stimulates one group of learners may confuse another. What works here might not work there. What worked then, might not work now. There is no future-proof knowledge. The invitation for research to inform education practice is an attempt to erase the ‘privilege and precariousness  of human sciences, caught as they are in the interstices of the mathematizable and the philosophical’ (Lather 2006: 784).  It also threatens to usher in a purpose, procedure, reporting and dissemination standardisation future for research in the social sciences (Ball 2001).  There is, in the move towards evidence-based practice, an uncomfortable coupling that casts researchers in the role of purveyors of snake-oil – promising what they cannot deliver for a community that would pay a high price if it were to accept the gift.

Research Unravels Practice

My own experience of the research, policy and practice nexus is of an unraveling. Research informs, transforms, overlaps but also uncomfortably unravels practice.

Research  yields incommensurable truths that make coherence between policy, practice and research almost impossible.  My ongoing explorations into conceptions of quality contrasts professional aspiration with policy embodiment, but offers no neat resolution. Instead research promises practice a Goliathian struggle, a series of intricate and shifting compromises.  Adhering exclusively to professional judgement is not possible and would place practitioners in a perpetual state of conflict. Yet ignoring professional judgement extracts high transaction costs. It causes stress and discomfort and limits professional possibilities.

The quality regime – OfSTED – with its decontextualised strictures, exhausting array of mimetic templates and managerial tactics contributes towards, rather than illuminates, what policy-makers most fear: poor practice. Inspections may weed out the unacceptable, but it is also possible that they simply encounter conceptions of quality that are other than that which has been written into the Common Inspection Framework.

This view is consistent with QS regarding as world leading in education an organisation that the Department for Education considers  unable to surmount the ’high bar’ required to sponsor a school. Were such a school to exists it is possible that something might unravel as state sponsored practice comes into contact with research.


Ball, S. J. (2001). ‘You’ve been NERFed!’Dumbing down the academy: National Educational Research Forum:’a national strategy? consultation paper’: a brief and bilious response. Journal of Education Policy16(3), 265-268.

Lather, P. (2006). Paradigm proliferation as a good thing to think with: Teaching research in education as a wild profusion. International journal of qualitative studies in education19(1), 35-57.

Taylor-Webb, P.  (2005). The anatomy of accountability. Journal of Education Policy,20(2), 189-208.

The anatomy of an educator’s blog

 Anne's Blog
I was rather disappointed when Frank Coffield and Kathryn Ecclestone established that there was no empirical basis for learning styles. Disappointed because I had assumed my learning style was visual. This was not based on an interpretation of any of the questionnaires completed or an analysis of anything that might count as data. It’s based on my liking of images, colours, patterns and shapes. Sometimes this is quite serious – I have recently started mooching around and purchasing original artwork from a local gallery; my home is filled with African masks, wood carvings, ceramics and paintings. At other times – my hankering for the visual – is trivial. This ‘wordle’ of a blog I am currently analysing is a good example of how the trivial appeals to me.
The wordle: part analysis and part procrastination. I have just sent a paper for review and accept that enough time has been spent toying with how to analyse a blog.  So these are my first, tentative steps. My literature review has provided a few working concepts and I have identified a paper that made sense in terms of the depth and detail of analysis.
I am now poised to begin my empirical analysis:  *clears her throat*. 
Both blogs analysed appear within the first few pages of a blog search engine. Both blogs although written by an individual, are affiliated to an organisation: one loosely and the other quite closely. One blog is based in the UK, associated with an organisation that is of great interest to me. The other is in Canada associated with adult literacy – my curricular and intellectual home. This allows me to position my work within the global research imagination. I hope, as the writing and analysis progresses to find distinct moments of policy or perspective overlap or collision with moments of radical departure. My abiding conceptual theme is how individuals with one set of commitments – to education as a social purpose – manage to work successfully within a policy frame that marginalises their professional identity. This is a space I have explore previously – the space between policy embodiment and professional aspiration.
I am treating them as a single data set with different elements including
  • blog posts
  • hyperlinks
  • feedback (the various ways in which a ‘like’ is indicated)
  • comments (usually in the form of an exchange between the blog and a reader)
There were far too many blog posts to analyse with any depth in a single paper. So, for my first attempt at insight, I have counted comments and likes and selected the 20 most popular posts. The data analysis tools I am working with include Nvivo 10, Microsoft excel and Voyeur. I will elaborate on using Nvivo in a later post. Voyeur works with large bodies of text to help you ‘see through your data’. My intention is to work with qualitative approaches but to do so using the big magic numbers that will at least silence the usual  criticism levelled at discourse analysts and other interpretive researchers.
I have here loaded the words from AW’s blog and based on her most frequently used words in the most popular blogs will take this as my lead for exploring what this blog is about – the coding will be based on these key words, the themes they suggest and the conceptual framework I have already developed. That is I have a series of questions based on my conceptual framework and now explore the empirical basis for that framework and develop this initial exploration. This establishes that the utilization of quotes has been based on something more than my whimsical preferences.
The approach is not just picking out the most frequently used worlds. Some worlds have already been excluded for their obvious frequency. Some worlds are only to be expected (they are implied by the genre and context): their exploration or otherwise is based on the extent to which they fit or do not fit the themes I am exploring. In some instances lines of thought implied by frequency are followed up as strands of thought in themselves.
educators * family * community * fame * women * change * equality * life * social * new * links * tweets * hall * http: * comments * people * ESOL * recent * share * age