Ideologies and Beliefs. Part 2

What are Traditionalist and Progressive labels?


The Campaign for Real Education (2019) summarises the differences between Traditional and Progressive education as follows:




Education should be reasonably authoritarian and hierarchical Education must be egalitarian
The curriculum should be subject-centred It must be child-centred and relevant
Emphasis should be on content Emphasis must be on skills
(Book) knowledge and accuracy are essential Experience, experiment and understanding are more important
Rationality and the consideration of factual evidence should predominate Creativity and feelings are more important than facts
Recognition of right and wrong Right and wrong depend on one’s point of view
There should be a product It is the process that matters
The product, or knowledge of content, should be objectively tested or measured Criteria provide a framework for subjective assessment or tasks based on skills
Competition is welcomed Co-operation must take precedence
Choice between different curricula and/or different types of school is essential to maximise individual strengths Entitlement for all replaces choice and differentiation; equal opportunities can be used to construct equality of result


‘The traditionalist approach, broadly defines teachers as the experts and purveyors of knowledge through controlling stimuli, either through positively or negatively reinforcement, and as a result, stimulus-didactic methods are popular in the behaviourist classroom.’ (Kirschner et al, p11)


Then Kirschner et al 2006 go on to describe various aspects of memory and cognition. This is, no doubt, of value; however, this does not address the holistic approach to education.  This is not congruent with the basis of the statement ‘to evaluate the present, so as to shape future action and formulate new knowledge’ (Abbott, 2000). Simultaneously without the facts and knowledge to perform an evaluation the whole concept of learning falls apart.


Here it is not difficult to see the links between traditionalism and the reception end of the spectrum. Traditionalist lessons are typically taught through the reception model where ‘the learner is a passive recipient of knowledge which is transmitted by the teacher.’ ‘it is concerned with the acquisition of knowledge, and with memorisation and with reproduction… while the emotional and social aspects of learning are not addressed’ (Carnell and Lodge 2002)


Examples of where this reception model is used are,


  • Terminal examinations GCSE/A Level
  • Standard Attainment Tests
  • National Curricula



Historically the standard of transmission of knowledge, using lectures, dictation and the teacher’s role as the ‘sage on the stage’. Any assessment measuring if pupils holistically, i.e. have learned to ‘live together’ or learned to ‘be’ are incredibly complicated, in comparison to assessing if pupils have retained and can reproduce knowledge on any given exam day.

While studying for this assessment I have found myself asking the questions of my own core purpose; My own epistemological view of what learning and assessment should look like. Moreover, where my personal stances, viewpoints and foundations have come from?


Did the traditionalism and reception model gain historical prominence because of the way teachers themselves are judged? This leads to how the pupils are judged? I would suspect that the assessment of pupil’s knowledge is more straightforward to measure than the change that education has made to their life? As the adage goes ‘what gets measured gets done’.


I, for one, did not become an educator to ensure all pupils receive a bank knowledge and achieve the following qualifications. Educators should first interrogate the purpose of their role if it is to prepare pupils for terminal exams, in which case basing their curricula around knowledge acquisitions and reproduction is a sensible course of action.


On the other hand, is the core purpose of educators to produce flexible learners who may use skills to adapt and use knowledge as a tool in their working lives, a different approach is required. If it is to empower them to make a global change, a completely different tact has to be taken.


Behaviourists and Traditionalists 


Behaviourist Howard Skinner’s (Wood 1998) secret to rapid and sustained learning is when positive behaviour is only subject to an intermittent schedule of reinforcement where the desired outcome is only occasional reinforced. He argued that formal education is based on ‘aversive control’, this leads him to criticise lessons and exams because they are naturally designed to find what pupils don’t know (to ridicule and punish them) instead of revealing what they do know and so we can build upon this — consequently teacher’s fail to shape pupil’s behaviours effectively.


This is reinforced by Wood in citing Pribram, who found that in animal studies that a monkey may continue to ‘play’ with a reward lever post satisfaction, to the point where the monkey’s mouth, hands and feet were full, the monkey then started to throw the peanuts at the experimenter, whatever ever the schedule of reinforcement we can speculate was this because of the fun of the lever? (Wood 1998, p4)


From my experience as a secondary school leader and teacher, the number of times I have caught myself using phrases like ‘grow up! you’re in year 11’ this is fundamentally flawed as this offers no journey for pupils to correct and build upon their known morality; It also recognises none of the pupils existing learning to build upon.


Are some of the pupil’s negative behaviours due to play? A process to check if the reward was intermittent? Alternatively, to have ‘fun’ with the boundaries of behaviour and classroom policies?


Whitebread likens this experience to human gambling behaviour if a fruit machine was to return half of your money every third spin the end financial results would be the same, however, but not nearly so many people would travel to Las Vegas for the experience. (Whitebread 2012, p114)


I’d argue that there are parallels here with all learning, including forms of adult learning (andragogy/heutagogy), during adult learning the rewards are often intermittent, I’ve spent hours on this very assignment only to delete large swathes of text because I felt it did not fit. Is that because I see the ‘reward’ as the number of quality words I write toward my word limit? This assignment is essentially my trip to Vegas and my slot machine.


‘The fundamental problem with the behaviourist approach was that it was characterised learning as an essentially passive process, consisting of forming simple associations between events, and being dependent on external rewards or reinforcements’ (Whitebread 2012, p115)


Thinking this through, the purpose of this assignment should not the word count, or even the M level credits (the result of a passive process), but the learning I gained through the process of reading and constructing and co-constructing my meaning from the literature. My mindset has moved towards seeing the slot machine jackpot as being the enhancement of my learning, experience rather than the result.


Do Teacher Beliefs Matter?


I am bringing this back to the personal ontology of teachers, where teachers who utilise the reception model tends to favour the positivistic ontology where truths and meaning are absolute. ‘… [Constructivist assumption] meaning that there are no ‘universal truths’ but rather that the way human beings make sense of the world depends on their personal experiences and perceptions.’ (Cranton and Taylor 2012, in Spring et al, 2017).


‘This [Positivistic] approach assumes that reality is objective, transcending an individual perspective, and that it is expressed in the statistical regularities of behaviour.’ (Wildemuth 1993)


The positivistic view described above is challenged by post positivistic view of research, where relativist approaches ‘assumes that reality is subjective and is socially constructed’. As a physics teacher, this really resonates,


‘Evidence in research is always imperfect and fallible’. (Phillips and Burbles 2000 pp 29-34 in Real World Research, Robson p22).


I will not regale you with nuanced details of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, but broadly, this means that there is a fundamental error in the position and momentum of a particle. The ‘truth’ cannot be fully known, this not due to the accuracy of recording tools but a fundamental error. Along with the phenomenon (Bell’s Theorem) that merely observing a particle changes it. This learning moved my stance and leanings, towards the relativist spectrum from a purely positivist one.


Teachers should all embrace their ontological and epistemological basis before entering the classroom. It was after university did I look explicitly at how I learn and how I decide what is acceptable as knowledge. As the ontological stance and epistemological viewpoint of a teacher will impact on their core purpose, their ascription to the traditionalist or progressive label and ultimately their practice in their classrooms.


Teacher self-identity [self-belief] is of paramount importance in this process, if teachers see themselves as task managers and that their primary role is to keep pupils busy, the connection between classroom learning and the world and beyond will not be made. (Twiselton 2002)


I am aware that teachers may hold mixed beliefs around traditionalist and constructivist spectrum. For this assignment,  the broad strokes of traditionalist and progressive, traditionalist, behaviourist, positivist, co/constructivist and relativist (or post-positivist) will and have been used. Recognising that multiple factors construct teacher beliefs, the word beliefs here is problematic ‘Disagreement still exists among researchers regarding the definition of beliefs’ (Pajares 1992)

‘Teachers with traditional behaviourist beliefs are more likely to employ teacher-centred practices, while those with social constructivist beliefs tend to resort to student-centred instruction’ (Isikoglu, Basturk, and Karaca, 2009)

It is not difficult to see that traditionalists are more likely to work on behaviouristic models and have started with a positivistic ontological stance. Teacher practices are generally the result of a negotiation between internal beliefs and the external teacher contexts. (Schultz, Jones-Walker, and Chikkatur 2008)

Legacy of learning 


The legacy of learner’s journey impacts the evaluation of teaching and learning, and this has a significant impact on school leaders, learners have preconceived ideas around delivery from their own experiences ‘Such a mismatch may lead to lack of motivation, adoption of surface learning approaches, resistance to certain teaching activities that do not align with their beliefs, and learning ineffectiveness or discontinuation of study.’ (Brown 2009, in Li 2018)

‘Students with memorisation-for-reproduction beliefs tend to have negative learning experiences in higher education and are uncomfortable with teaching approaches that do not correspond with their beliefs (Kember 2001, in Li 2018)

Those students may turn into the very same teachers who experienced a traditionalist/positivistic mindset in their schooling are likely to teach in the same manner. School leaders and trainers should bear this in mind when introducing any initiative which seeks to move teachers towards the co-construction pole of the spectrum.

Looking at the impact of these beliefs on learners is impressive; the misalignment of beliefs, the impact of such can have a more significant impact on learning approaches than the course design. (Campbell et al. 2001 in Li 2018).

Beliefs of teachers should be interrogated before any movement as although Li 2018 concedes that ‘although the findings of this preliminary inquiry may not be generalisable to a wider context.’ The real value is in the interrogation of teacher’s beliefs both as learners and as professional.

Earlier in the assignment, I asked  ‘Is that because I see the ‘reward’ as the number of quality words I wrote toward my word limit?’. I was also bought up in the UK under an education system in which behaviourist pedagogy was implemented; In my adulthood, I should endeavour to move my epistemology to the constructivist model where the learning process, the finding of meaning is the reward (and more ‘fun’). 



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