Reflexive/ergative pedagogy is the practice of teaching whereby students' relationship with their instructor is dialogical; learners experience the following (as described by Mary Kalantzis and William Cope in their New Learning module (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, n.d.)):
I have created assignments that included knowledge production in the form of artifacts and reflection. I give students multiple ways to interact with concepts; and they often have a choice as to how they may present what they have learned. In the classroom, I have used the concept of the social mind through small group work.
Kalantzis and Cope write about philosophers and educators, John Dewey, Maria Montessori and Rabindranath Tagore, as representatives of reflexive pedagogy. “They represent in certain senses a revival of the dialogical, where the agency of the learner is at play in a dialectic between teacher and learner, the to-be-learned and the learning” (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, n.d.)
What underlies the idea that learning should include a dialogical relationship between learner and teacher is the belief that students, adults and children, have enough knowledge or capabilities to actively contribute to their learning.
No one would argue that some educational topics are pragmatic and necessary.
Christine Kupfer (2016) writes that Tagore felt that “children need indefiniteness, surprises and discovering the world first-hand without a clearly prescribed purpose.” Tagore believed that that was how children learned their first language and could learn other things this same way (Kupfer, 2016, p. 63). In order to achieve this, Kupfer (2016, p. 65) quotes from Tagore’s ‘The First Anniversary of Sriniketan’, The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 4, A Miscellany, ed. by Nityapriya Ghosh (Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 ), pp. 493-498 (pp. 497-8):
Dewey’s, Montessori’s and Tagore’s educational philosophy were reactions to didactic teaching whereby the teacher is the main source of information and students are passive recipients.
Kalantzis and Cope in their New Learning module (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, n.d.) lists four essential components of didactic teaching:
Kalantzis and Cope (2018) in a presentation at 2018 symposium contrast didactic pedagogy to reflexive/ergative pedagogy.
Table 1 created from Kalantzis, M., & Cope, W. (2018). Multiliteracies: Meaning making and literacy learning in the era of digitaltext. Paper presented at University-Wide Teaching and Learning Symposium organized by Center of Teaching, Learning andTechnology. https://ctlt.illinoisstate.edu/downloads/symposium/2018/Kalantzsis-Cope%20Morning.pdf
As one moves from didactic to reflexive/ergative the student can express their agency more liberally. Self-discovery is encouraged. Technology makes long-term memory less necessary. In a world of diverse students from different cultures, in the reflexive/ergative model, knowledge is seen as judgment which is subject to argument, and justification instead of absolute fact. The different perspectives of the same event are acknowledged. The role of a community in learning is emphasized and encouraged. Assessments occur before the end of term or project and are an active part of the learning process.
In the world of Adult Education, reflexive/ergative pedagogy is embedded in many course curricula. An example of this is a course called Career Foundations. This course was designed to help students learn and establish career pathways that include entry into college with the purpose of obtaining a credential or degree. The course was specifically designed to be studentcentered. Students do most of the work as they analyze their skills, interests; research various industries and jobs then decide which one is best for them, then chart out a career pathway that will lead them to the career they want.
The course was created jointly by City Colleges of Chicago and the not-for-profit organization, Women Employed. A report by Women Employed (n.d.) states:
Two other examples of the application of reflexive/ergative pedagogy are apprenticeships/on-the-job training and bridge classes. Bridge classes are courses created to bridge the gap in education between an adult learner’s current educational level and the math/science/technology and language arts knowledge needed to succeed in a chosen career. Bridge students learn contextualized STEM and language arts related to their chosen industry.
An innovative application of reflexive/ergative pedagogy is the flipped classroom. Though the flipped classroom has grown in popularity, it is not the standard. In a flipped classroom the student has considerable responsibility to obtain knowledge outside the classroom. The student then comes to the classroom and must be ready to either share the work that they have done and/or work on a project in a group setting. If the project is intentionally ill-defined then the student may have to use multiple knowledge gathering processes to complete the project or solve a problem.
The Montessori method of education focuses on self-discovery, hands-on learning and collaboration. Tagore and Dewey share these beliefs about pedagogy. In a longitudinal study that looked at Montessori schools, it was observed that “although not different at the first test point, over time the Montessori children fared better on measures of academic achievement, social understanding, and mastery orientation (Lillard, Heise, Richey, Tong, Hart, and Bray, 2017).
Chloe Marshall (2017) reviews research on the Montessori method, including earlier research by Lilliard. She points out the weaknesses in some of the research methodologies (for instance studies that look at students only in school).
In her conclusion Marshall (2017) states:
Dewey, Montessori and Tagore’s philosophies of education were a rebuke of didactic pedagogy. In playing devil’s advocate, how might a proponent of didactic pedagogy respond?
Teacher centered vs Learner as knowledge producer – When a student has zero experience in a subject it might save
significant time for instructors to teach foundational material such as general rules on pronunciation or word stress in a foreign language.
Knowledge transmission and replication vs Knowledge as discoverable – A piano teaches a student in a didactic manner the names of the keys on a piano and how to read notes written on a sheet music. Another student learns to play the same song without knowing the names of the notes or how to read a music sheet. The second student learns by listening to the song. Both learners would have to practice repeatedly to memorize the song. This is a moment when long-term memory is wanted. There are many subjects that benefit from repeated practice and long-term memory such as skills of a surgeon.
Knowledge as fact vs Knowledge as judgment – If all perceptions of events are valid then this can lead to what ideas deemed as dangerous by a community to have equal say and influence on an individual or society. Can a hate crime exist if a group of people believe it is okay to treat another group as inferior and worthy of scorn? Does everything need to be re-evaluated constantly or can some values be absolutely better than others? If the idea of value is excluded from the definition of knowledge, then what is the point of trying to avoid some history repeating itself?
Individual minds vs Social, dialogical minds – If the learning is 100% social, there is still the need for some individual
assessment to ascertain if a student is actually learning something substantive and not hiding lack of knowledge or
understanding. There are also factors that affect learning such as anxiety and stress. These experiences are felt individually.
Long cycle feedback that is retrospective and judgmental vs Short cycle feedback that is prospective and constructive - The two can co-exist. It does not have to be one or the other. A summative assessment at the end of long term will force students to revisit what they learned during the term which can reinforce the learning.
Alberto Piedra (2018) summarizes some of the criticisms leveled at John Dewey (some of which echoes what I stated before):
Another criticism of Dewey I would like to add has to do with the notion that learning should be about the near and probable future. Much focus in education is on what is considered teaching 21st-century skills. Many articles have reduced these skills to:
The reason for the focus on these competencies often given is that these are the skills most needed by students to adapt to a world that's ever-changing technology-wise and is more culturally diverse; therefore, the success of students post-formal education depends on their adaptablity to change, ability to apply what they've learned to new situations;and ability to work with others. Underlying this is the belief thatthe future is not as predictable as it may have been during Dewey's time.
A blog post written on a Montessori school website (Meade, n.d.) discusses and responds to nine criticisms of the Montessori method. The listed criticisms are:
In Tagore’s case some of the criticism is that his school focused too much on the spiritual and aesthetic. He chose as a location for his first school a forest glade. He “envisaged an integrated view of education in which the physical and the intellectual, the social and the moral were not seen as separate from one another, but as interrelated, as parts of a single comprehensive truth” (Jalan, 1976, p. 125).
Reflexive/ergative pedagogy moves from teacher-centered to student-centered learning. With its strong focus on knowledge production, it could be considered a combination of constructivism and authentic learning.
C., Thriveni. (2018, February 6). Raindranath Tagore’s philosophy on Indian education. In Bhoomi magazine.
Encyclopædia Britannica. (n.d.). John Dewey. [Image]. https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-
Encyclopædia Britannica. (n.d.). Rabindranath Tagore. [Image]. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rabindranath-Tagore
Jalan, R.V. (1976). (Ph.D). Tagore: His educational theory and practice and its impact on Indian education.
Jean-Baptiste, K. C. (2019, November 2). Dialogical relationship between instructor and learner. [Image]
Jean-Baptiste, K. C. (2019, November 8). Main interaction between teacher and learner in a didactic relationship. [Image].
Kalantzis, M., & Cope, W. (2018). Multiliteracies: Meaning making and literacy learning in the era of digital text. Paper
presented at University-Wide Teaching and Learning Symposium organized by Center of Teaching, Learning and Technology.
Kalantzis, M., & Cope, W. (n.d.-a). John Dewey on progressive education. https://newlearningonline.com/new-learning/chapter-
Kalantzis, M., & Cope, W. (n.d.-b). Rabindranath Tagore’s School at Shantiniketan. https://newlearningonline.com/newlearning/
Kupfer, C. (2016, November). Atmosphere in education: Tagore and the phenomenology of spheres. In Gitanjali & beyond, (1), 59-81. http://dx.doi.org/10.14297/gnb.1.1.59-81
Lillard, A.S., Heise Megan, J., Richey, E.M., Tong, X., Hart Alyssa, & Bray, P. M. (2017). Montessori preschool elevates and
equalizes child outcomes: A longitudinal study. In Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1783. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01783
Maria Montessori: Portrait. (n.d.) [Image]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Maria_Montessori_(portrait).jpg
Marshall, C. (2017, October 27). Montessori education: A review of the evidence base. In npj Science Learn (2)11.
Mead, S. (n.d.). Montessori criticism debunked: 9 incorrect assumptions about student centered learning.
North Star Montessori Elementary School. (n.d.) Role of teacher. https://northstarmontessori.ca/montessori-philosophy/role-ofteacher
Piedra, A.M. (2018, February 1). The tragedy of American education: the role of John Dewey.
The Montessori Group. (n.d.) Origin of Montessori. http://www.montessorischools.org/montessori-overview/origin-ofmontessori/
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (n.d.). [New learning module by Mary Kalantzis and William Cope].
Women Employed. (n.d.). Progress, pathways, & possibilities. https://d2kmvo39x6ghl9.cloudfront.net/wpcontent/
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