Still More University Days And Nights

Another Continuation of My University Story

I began my MEd studies the year after I graduated with my BA, 1968. In the meantime I moved from my position at Granville Boys High School to History Master at Dover Heights Girls High School. Geographically my new teaching position was relatively close to the University of New South Wales, my place of study. This was a help.

If you are a teacher, the interesting thing about such part time study of eduction is how linked it is to your profession. Somehow it makes you think twice about teaching behaviour that previously had seemed natural and appropriate.

The course work I elected to do was Child Growth and Development and Educational Planning and Administration. The second choice turned out to be a wise one when I moved to the girls’ high school as there, for the first time, I was in charge of a school department with several staff members.

I still remember much of Child Growth and Development, probably because it was so relevant to my teaching in so many different ways. I remember Freud and his id, ego and super ego. Those unconscious urges were interesting then but as time passed, I realised there was much more to learn about human behaviour. 

I remember, during that year of study, thinking how clever Shakespeare was to have Lady Macbeth constantly wash her hands to wash away her guilt. That novel Freudian idea fades away in the context of Coronavirus doesn’t it? Another memory is the struggle between life force Eros and Thanatos or death instinct. I remember feeling happy about Freud’s belief in the dominating strength of Eros.

In later life I have also learned that Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew, possibly had more immediate and dramatic influence on society than his uncle. Bernays’ Public Relations are so much a part of modern life aren’t they?

Carl Jung is also there in my memory but I remember most clearly his notion of the collective unconscious. Somehow there still seems to be some justification for this idea. I found Jung’s opinions convincing, despite his critics. This is possibly because as a history teacher I have come to believe that we cannot escape the past.

Jean Piaget is the dominant part of my recollection regarding this course of study. I was quite swept away by the links I saw between his stages of learning and pupils I had taught, especially in my infants teaching stage. Piaget’s emphasis on the power of teaching as a part of cognitive development inspired me.

Piaget’s theory concerning the way a child constructs meaning at different stages, still rings true to me. Especially welcome is his view that intelligence is not an unchanging, predetermined statistic.

Erik Erikson is another memory of an important cognitive theorist.  I learnt about how he too believed in stages of development, in his case eight, linked to psychosocial interaction. He reminded me, in a number of ways, of Freud. His notion of stages depended on a series of crises from birth to adulthood, with success linked to trust in the earliest stage. His notion of “basic trust” seems to knock on my memory door. I still find Erikson interesting but wonder if any theorist can tell the whole story – can control all the variables of any research.

Behaviourists had an important place in this course. I remember especially Edward Thorndike’s Law of Effect as a prelude to later behaviourism. Thorndike’s principle suggests that responses giving satisfaction will recur more often. Dissatisfaction will tend to reduce recurrence. I have not found any reason to criticise the Law of Effect. It seems so logical.

John Watson and B F Skinner were important in the course. They seemed to extend Thorndike’s work. Operant conditioning dominates my memories: learning through rewards and punishment in response to behaviour. At the time, this theory dominated much of my learning. In later life I have become less fond of these theorists because of the harshness of their techniques and the effects on the animals and children used for their research.

John Watson was a major early experience of behaviourism for me. Conditioning, as I said before, was the key to his influence – a dramatic extension of Pavlov. Behaviour was to be the source of prediction and control by the psychologist. The dangers of control are a warning I now feel in later life. When I was teaching in a university milieu, some of my colleagues used to speak of “behaviour mod.” as a useful tool to establish authority. These days it doesn’t have my absolute respect.

Then there was B F Skinner. What a champion he was for my lecturers! Not for me now. I remember the Skinner box, his invention for recording the behaviour of rats. For Skinner, learning was a series of conditioned responses always controlled by the environment. Mind was nothing but a myth.

I was asked to read his utopian novel Walden Two. This I did with some enjoyment. The title is an overt reference to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: a tale of a simple existence close to a natural environment. In Walden Two, everyone is happy as life is controlled by a program of behavioural engineering begun at birth. I remember a funny incident where a man gives performances as the World’s Greatest Bore. His performances are banned and shut down because he draws such vast crowds.

I remember especially John Bowlby and his Child Care and the Growth of Love. This researcher has stayed with me ever since, probably because I believe so strongly in the power of parental love for children. Mental health, Bowlby claimed, was closely linked to maternal care and was also a function of support from fathers and family members. In later life I have come to believe this even more strongly.

One of the interesting aspects of this program of study was the way examination trauma was reduced. We were given the final examination question on the first day of the course. This is a brilliant way to get rid of examination fears. It’s still rigorous as you have to produce your answer under examination conditions, and the answer reflects your study during the year. I managed a credit in the exam. A rare achievement for me.

My studies of Educational Planning and Administration were exciting. At 4PM every Wednesday for much of a year we met in a university room, chaired by the Professor of Education of the University, Professor J J Pratt. He was a truly wonderful teacher.

We talked about current administration experience each of us, the students, had. We took turns at holding the floor while the others made judgements and discussed solutions. We were a diverse group, working in a wide range of teaching climates. The discussions were very stimulating, with the Professor leading us to wider awareness of possible solutions to problems.

One of my memories stands out: Andrew Halpin, The Organisational Climate Of Schools. A most inspiring influence during these studies was this man. 

He was concerned intensely with what we still call school climate. I found his suggestion that every school can be distinguished by a unique administrative style or atmosphere very convincing.

To me then and now, this is like saying that each school has a personality similar to that of a particular person. As I have walked into so many schools during my lifetime, I have been struck by the range of different atmospheres (climates) unfolding. The children too, so often reflect the climate of the school – cheerful courtesy perhaps, or sometimes a cold, anxious stare.

In addition to Open and Closed climates, Halpin et al. referred to Paternal, Familiar, Controlled and Autonomous types. With the Paternal type the principal acts independently and does not use the leadership skills of his subordinates.

The Familiar Climate features much socialising but relatively little focus on task orientation. In contrast, the Controlled category is impersonal and features high concentration on task. The Autonomous Climate is characterised by leadership emerging from the group with little contact with the principal. The group is so focused on task achievement.

The two extremes I remember best. They have more support among academics than the other four categories. The Open Climate is characterised by what Halpin called “authenticity.” This involves both principal and staff working cooperatively and supportively. The Closed Climate is very different, featuring a more isolated principal, obsessed with trivia and matters irrelevant to the needs of the teaching staff. I have personally worked amidst both categories.

In all the years passing since my first study of Halpin, I have retained my respect for his approach. The terminology may change but the reality remains.

My own research program constituted the major task for this degree. I was interested in the effects of praise and blame on pupils’ classroom performance. The technique I used was interaction analysis after the Ned Flanders model (with no reference to the Simpsons), but as refined by Amidon, Edmund J and Hough, John J.

I used a control group, a praise group and a blame group. For performance data, I was testing (a) factual recall of specific lessons and (b) creativity, as defined by E Paul Torrance.

Torrance’s definition of creativity was interesting. Here it is quoted from the site given:

Torrance drew on contemporary research that related creativity to divergent thinking—the characteristic of coming up with more answers, or more original answers, rather than deriving a single best answer. That divergent-thinking trait might exhibit itself in different situations, so that, in Torrance’s view, the creativity shown by an artist was not different in type than the creativity shown by a scientist, a teacher, or a parent. The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking were the work of Paul Torrance’s lifetime. They are still widely used to assess students and job applicants, and have been translated into more than 50 languages.

Source: Studio 360 December 14, 2017 · 4:00 PM EST Producer Kerrie Hillman.

So a unique answer was highly creative while the less creative answers were those repeated often. I was fascinated by the possibility of furthering creativity in the human spirit. A dream I still have.

In my study I worked with several classes from state schools, including some of my own from Granville Boys High School and Dover Heights girls. In those days you had to get permission to do research in state schools. This was given to me by Dr Ralph Rawlinson, Head of Research for the Department of Education. I was very grateful for the support.

At that time when there was no internet, research tools were, compared to today’s, decidedly primitive. The computer was in its infant stage. The university had one. It was a very big infant; so big it was used by the government to process exams for the whole state of New South Wales.

You had to find a good time to use it. There was nothing like today’s sophistication, so you had to punch your experimental results on cards and feed them into the computer. A day or days later, when you came to collect your results, you hoped there was a big bundle waiting for you on the shelf. If it was thin, you knew that it had failed to process and you had to do it all again.

What of the results for my research? Life is complex and so is research into it. I standardised my praise and blame so that all groups had the same words. I controlled for age, for gender, for past success, for parents’ profession and even for windy days, using analysis of covariance. I checked the scores with Kruskal–Wallis one-way analysis of variance and studied regression with my results.

I found no significant difference with either praise or blame. That was a long journey that lasted years without the result I was seeking. But that journey was worth making and had its benefits for other researchers.

There was one significant complication during my studies. An event that made things a little more challenging.

It was the loss of a brief case with all my research in it. I put it on the roof of my VW Beetle when getting in and then drove off. I noticed a bit of a bump when I rounded a corner but didn’t think twice about it. When I arrived to do some work at the Dover Heights school, I realised what I had done.

I had to repeat parts of the research, not all of it because I had some duplication. I learnt later that some of the senior girls had gone looking for my brief case along the route I took. Deeds like that plus the support of Jean Pocock, the principal, helped me keep on with the voyage to completion. Eventually the journey ended and I wrote my thesis.

The title on the cover is:

AN ANALYSIS OF TH EFFECTS OF CHANGING PATTERNS OF CLASSROOM INTERACTION ON PUPIL PERFORMANCE 1973

Three copies were made: one for the library, one for the faculty and one I still own. You can read the University’s copy in the archives. Its contents still have a place in my mind all these years later. I realise now I told only a small part of the story and I still have so much to learn.

royciebaby

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