Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand. Chinese proverb.
At every stage of our lives, we are faced with novel situations, some of our own choosing, when we are returned the phase of being a learner, or less independent that we thought. New job, new child, new technology, problem with heating, plumbing, car, health, when we may have to call on expertise outside our own.
A particular example for me was joining the beginner guitar class at a school in my early career and literally starting from scratch. Motivation being high, I practiced as required and a bit more for good measure and managed to learn the seven chords with which I was able to accompany a number of simple, but enjoyable songs for children. Adding a few more over time extended the repertoire and as a head, I was then happy to take one or other Key Stage for a singing half hour to enable the staff to meet as a group.
Reading the excellent Tom Sherrington http://headguruteacher.com/2013/01/06/behaviour-management-a-bill-rogers-top-10/ writing about a part of his early career, where he describes feelings akin to inadequacy, echoing with each move I made as a teacher. While confident in my ability to teach, there was always a period of acclimatisation before comfort in the context settled in. We have phrases like “fish out of water” and “out of his/her depth” to describe these feelings at an extreme.
Apprenticeship is a teaching method used by educators to teach students how to solve problems, understand tasks, perform specific tasks, and deal with difficult situations (Collins, Brown, and Newman 1989).
The phases of apprenticeship as articulated by Hansman (Hansman, C.A. Context-based adult learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 89, 43-51.2001) are:-
1) Modelling. Showing the bigger picture to demonstrate both the skills and processes. Reflection
2) Approximating. Trial and error phase, copying the original. Reflection.
3) Fading. The master “fades” as the student tries more alone. Reflection.
4) Self-directed learning. Learning by doing. Finding the points where reference to master or other source is necessary. Reflection and refinement.
5) Generalising. Bringing to bear the experiences from a range of sources to make personal use of a broad range of skills and knowledge. Reflection, refinement and creativity.
I once worked with a PE inspector who used a very simple mantra that summed this up as whole-part-whole, with specific skills being added and practiced before being put back to whole game. Modelling came from within the group, feedback from the participant observer/coach. Time was given to reflection, evaluation and paired challenge.
According to Pratt (Pratt, D.D. (1998) Five perspectives on teaching in adult and higher education. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company), successful development through apprenticeship involves three key factors, the learning process must be active, social, and authentic. All three interlink to ensure that students understand the processes within which they are required to work, in real world situations. They can see the point of what they are doing.
Master synonyms include pedagogue, skilled person, expert, guru, leader, tutor, guide, mentor and also more dominant words such as boss, captain, chief, commander. The first group is more likely to describe teachers in the classroom, but there are some whose nature takes them more towards the latter group.
Apprentice synonyms include learner, novice, disciple, pupil, with disciple suggesting discipline, external and self-imposed.
So how does this all help learning and teaching?
We need to have a clear picture of where the learning is going and share it (whole picture), make activities enjoyable and social where possible (context), engage fully within the process (including purposeful observation) and tweak as necessary giving supportive feedback, review at different points to keep a steer on the direction of travel.
We all, at some stage, have the need to look something up, ask a friend or colleague, when we get to a point where we are “stuck” with an idea. Apprenticeship offers the potential for this to happen. Design and technology tasks are well suited to this end, as they offer the chance to identify the “resource tasks” to prepare for “capability tasks”, where the skills are developed within projects. Other subjects have their equivalents.
The principle is, “You need this to be able to do that”, and that probably sums up a lot of education, the use and application of a sequence of skills or capabilities that define a subject. (See current National Curriculum for examples).The problem is often that the skills are identified and taught outside a useful context, so in the absence of application, the skill falls into disuse.
The hallmark of good education is the progressive building of capacity, coupled with the learner’s developing confidence to tackle problems as they are highlighted.