Patterns, recipes and Vygotsy.

A last blog entry before returning to work tomorrow. My intention is to blog on a weekly basis, so we’ll see how that goes.

At the moment I’m taking a break. During the holidays I got an attack of the itchy fingers and bought some fabric to make a coat, but the instructions are far from straight forward. Before creating another stitch, I’m taking a moment out to decide if I’ve taken a wrong turn.

The pattern I’ve bought is different to ‘the norm’. I know it’s been a while, but patterns always had seam allowances drawn on each side, notches where you line up piece A with piece B and good, clear diagrams just in case you didn’t grasp the words. This pattern doesn’t. Seams are only marked on one side and there are no notches. The diagrams are minimal and seams are simply numbered. I’m trying to work out seams 4 and 8. They don’t seem to be marked on each piece, only on one, so I can’t match them up easily. Essentially, I need to draw on my existing dressmaking skills to decide if I’m doing the right thing.

The same could be said for baking. The Great British Bake Off has a round where contestants have minimal information. It is designed to test out their skills, skills that are developed through two main channels. These are through being shown and given tips and through pure trial and error. My dressmaking skills have arrived these ways. I learned at my mother’s knee, I did an O level exam in the subject, carried on through trial and error and gained tips from a high-class dressmaker neighbour.

Those who teach may be already forming the same parallels to the profession as I am alluding to. Some things we can learn and they become concrete, such as knowing that the symbols on this page are ordered in a fashion so as to create a medium that can be decoded by anyone able to read English. Simply being able to decode the symbols though, does not necessarily create understanding. Understanding is developed through experience, something far more fluid and is mediated by others. In Vygotskian terms, a Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). We are apprenticed to our teachers, before becoming the teacher ourselves, maybe through having offspring, or through our social contacts. The tutored will fashion themselves on their tutor, until they experience successes and failures which shape their own abilities.

Teachers come in all shapes and sizes, the earliest being the primary care giver to the infant, followed by close family members, especially older siblings. Older siblings teach so much, how to play, trial and error, social conventions of schooling – the list is endless. Researchers have spent millions of collective hours on this, but what exactly are they proving? Research shouldn’t be done for research sake, it should build and grow what we already know – or disprove it. I’m not sure ZPD can ever be disproved, surely we have been apprenticed since human life began? I have a beef with research though, and that’s the filtering out of ‘undesirables’ from studies. Just look at Derren Brown and ‘The Heist’. He didn’t take on any old person off the street to train, the final four contestants were those deemed ‘fit’ by the team. These came from a pool of 13. How many others were cast aside prior to choosing 13 I don’t know. Maybe 100’s, maybe none. They were also the ‘type’ to put themselves forward in the first instance.

My 1st point though, is how representative are those who take part in research, and how relevant is that research to our classroom practices? The 2nd point is that anyone can, and indeed does, teach. It matters not how far removed from the norm the tutor or tutee is, teaching and learning will always occur, after all, we humans have come a long way from those earliest days, haven’t we?

Time to unpick some stitches.


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