Visible and invisible controls
Basil Bernstein realised that teachers in traditional classrooms used very visible methods to organise and control their teaching. He called these ‘visible’ controls because they were continuously made explicit to students throughout the lesson.
These controls affected every aspect of the teaching process including:
- the selection and choice of lesson content
- the use of appropriate subject language
- the learning outcomes
- the sequence of presenting information
- classroom seating and organisation
- the use of resources
- the ways in which students listen and answer questions
Traditional classrooms place the responsibility for these controls exclusively in the hands of the teacher, who is the sole voice of authority in the room.
In student-centred learning, (such as problem-based learning) some, or (very occasionally, all) of these controls are devolved to students, who are given some autonomy in deciding how the lesson will proceed.
These are “invisible” controls because they are implicit and often negotiated between the students and teachers. Group work may be favoured, whereas traditional classrooms firmly insist on individual work.
Notice that the teacher is still responsible for maintaining “invisible” controls. Control is not absent in inquiry-based learning, it just operates in different ways.
The process is a dynamic one and a teacher may make some of these controls more visible if the students are struggling to achieve outcomes for themselves. Likewise, a strictly visible control might be relaxed to give students increased responsibility for controlling their learning.
|Q: Think about when you use visible and invisible controls in your classroom. How much control do you give your students in these parts of classroom life:
* the selection and choice of lesson content
* the use of appropriate subject language
* the learning outcomes
* the sequence of presenting information
* classroom seating and organisation
* the use of resources
* the ways in which students listen and answer questions
Updated 16/01/24 to include end of article question.