Feathers in the wind

Over the last week or so I have been teaching classes about the Conceptual Framework that underpins financial reporting. I am not sure that my students find its details as fascinating as I do. Perhaps its one of those topics that you develop a taste for? Anyway it always gets me thinking.

The version of the conceptual framework I have been teaching is a work in progress. The original Framework was published in 1989 and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) have been working on updating it for a number of years. At the moment there is a new version of the ‘Objectives of Financial Statements’ and the ‘Qualitative Characteristics of Financial Statements’.

In both versions the objective of financial statements is to help users make economic decisions. The thing that has changed between the 1989 version and the current version is that users of financial statements are now more narrowly defined. Users used to ‘include present and potential investors, employees, lenders, suppliers and other trade creditors, customers, governments and their agencies and the public’ (IASB, 2010, pB1714, para 9). Since the changes they are now limited to ‘existing and potential investors, lenders and other creditors’ (IASB, 2011, p77, para OB2).

So employees, suppliers, customers, governments and their agencies and the public have disappeared.

The thoughts that have occurred to me from this change are that it marks the influence of the FASB the American standards setting body for financial reporting. One of the long term goals of the IASB is to converge international financial reporting with financial reporting in the US (US GAAP).

The users of financial statements identified, the providers or owners of capital, fit a pristine capitalist view of business, whereas the old list of potential users allowed the scope to view businesses as a social enterprise. While it probably didn’t accommodate more radical perspectives, it left some room for the idea of the social contract.

On the face of it this narrowing of the defined audience for financial statements seems at odds with the increasing awareness within the business community of the importance of sustainability and the need to be socially responsible. However perhaps it is not as bad as I first feared. Financial Statements used to be the only information published on issues of stewardship. Now companies are encouraged (by the GRI for instance) to publish on wider stewardship issues. There is a growing call for integrated reporting (see the IIRC discussion paper). Perhaps in that context it is not unreasonable to be more focussed in what the financial reporting is trying to achieve. Nonetheless I still have a certain level of disquiet about what looks like a retrograde step.


IASB, (2010), International Financial Reporting Standards; Part B the accompanying documents, IASB, London
IASB, (2011), International Financial Reporting Standards; Consolidated without early application, IASB, London


GAAP: Generally Accepted Accounting Practice
GRI: Global Reporting Initiative
FASB: Financial Accounting Standards Board
IFRS: International Financial Reporting Standards
IIRC: International Integrated Reporting Council


Why I’m flibitygibity

Over the last few months I have been studying a module on Discourse Analysis as part of an MSc course. I have been a bit reticent about posting up my reflections about what I was learning or about using any of the ideas that I came across.
I thought that I could try and use some of the ideas about Discourse Analysis (DA) to unpick the name I have for this blog and on Twitter – Flibitygibity.
One of the tools available in DA is to consider why alternate words are not used in a particular circumstance. The name I normally use to label writing I do is “Amanda” or “Amanda Williams” and in the past I used my maiden name. I didn’t use that for purely practical reasons, my name is not unique. Some people get round that by adding letters, like CPA or MD afterwards. If I had gone down that route I would have to choose which of my letters to put after my name and I didn’t want to pin it down to a particular identity. One feature of DA is the way that the words we choose place us within different groups.
Picking specific letters would not just have placed me as “a chartered accountant” or “a teacher” to give two of the possible identities I could have selected, it would also have placed my blogs and tweets on a specific footing, as someone speaking from a professional perspective, or an educational perspective. It might have made it harder to post reflections where I was speaking as a student, for example.
So why select “Flibitygibity”. This name might make you think of Maria in The Sound of Music ‘a flibbertigibbet! a will-o’-the wisp! a clown!’ as most of the nuns see her. That is not why I chose the name, but nonetheless, that specific use of the word creates some of the meaning associated with its use in other circumstances. I was called a flibbertigibbet by a female relative when I was a 19 year old university student. That wasn’t necessarily how I saw myself (or how the character of Maria saw herself). One of the aspects of DA that I find both interesting and challenging to understand is the idea of subject positions. We have a part to play in creating our own subject positions but they are also constructed through how others see us. And describe us.
There are different types of DA and I am particularly interested in exploring Foucauldian Discourse Analysis (FDA) further. FDA looks at the history of a Discourse so that you can understand big themes like criminality or madness. Old ideas inform current ones.
When I write about “serious matters of business” one voice sitting on my shoulder as I write is that of a Harry Enfield sketch from around 1990. It is set in the 1950’s. There is a group of be-suited men and their wives at a dinner party. One of the women starts to comment on role of the gold standard. The dinner party ends in embarrassment. The punchline flashed up like a health warning is “Women! Know your place!”
Flibbertigibbet is not a particularly flattering way to describe someone. It can be defined as a gossiping, chattering, young woman. The derivation of the word is unknown but one possibility is that it is the name of the shrieking banshee-like spirits that flew past a gallows – fly-by-the-gibbet.
I have also clearly spelled it wrong – this came down to the issue of unique user names on Twitter, and my own poor spelling.
So why have I stuck with it? Partly as a way to subvert the things that might keep me quiet (including my spelling!); mainly assumptions about who has authority to speak about corporate governance, financial reporting and other serious matters of business. I like the way that a word like flibitygibity has meaning that not only changes through use, but conveys its opposite, so perhaps a punishing gallows ghost also conveys understanding judgement, and a youthful chatterbox has seeds of serious reflective comment.

What should assessment mean?

Looking at assessment differently!

So far today (and its not even yet midday) I have experienced two contrasting learning experiences.  I achieved the lowest mark I’ve yet had on one of my MSc assignments and I also achieved Clown Pose and headstand in my yoga lesson.  It’s my regular day off from work today so later on I will have my piano lesson and we’ll see what that brings with it.

I was pretty upset about my assignment grade (although it’s a pass so no worries there).  I cheered myself up by thinking about what I would expect one of my own students to do in a similar situation.  I would want them to take some time to unpick what the problems were with the assignment.  I would expect them to come back to me if there were parts of my feedback that they didn’t understand.  Making this about someone else was a helpful way of giving me a little distance and to help me think about what I need to do in reaction to the immediate situation of the assignment grade.

I also gained a little perspective and cheered up a bit by thinking about what lessons I could take from this experience into my own teaching practice.  As a quick win I think I will try and make clear to my students that they need to approach me if they are unclear about any of my feedback.  I already try and give them tools for evaluating their own performance when they have attempted questions and I try and stress the importance of this part of the process for their overall learning.

I teach on “test prep” courses and for my students there is a clear split between the assessments that are part of the learning experience and the final testing that will give them the qualification they are working for.  Yesterday a tweet linking through to this blog posting by Seth Roberts caught my eye.  He argues for broader criteria for assessing students.  In the context of my assignment grade I think there are a couple of problems.  The learning aspect of assessment has been combined with the final quality assurance aspect of assessment and I think that it impedes the process of learning from assignments when they have the added jeopardy of contributing to the overall course grading.  I also think that the assessment has taken a snap shot only part way through the learning cycle.

If I get a chance to influence the design of assessment I would change things so that there was a two part process when formative and summative assessment is combined.  First the traditional submission and grading of an assignment, then a chance for the student to reflect and improve the piece, then review and grading by their peers.  All three stages, including the students own reflection on the initial feedback could feed into the final grading.

What does any of this have to do with my yoga lesson?  In yoga I am constantly assessing myself and being assessed by my teacher (who is demonstrating Headstand in the video).  It’s assessment that helps move my practice along, because it’s not about me doing some fancy yoga pose perfectly, its about my understanding and awareness in the pose improving.  In yoga my performance is partly assessed against the ideal that I am working towards, but more importantly it is assessed in the context of were I have come from and where I am today.  It is an understanding assessment and as such it is one that is more useful in helping me attain my potential.


Seth Roberts blog is at http://blog.sethroberts.net/2011/12/01/bryan-caplan-disses-college/

You can see Joss Guin teaching headstand on a windy day at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXTk6_ibVH0

Pedagogy: a word that really annoys me

Definition (from wiktionary):

1. The profession of teaching.

2. The activities of educating, teaching or instructing.

3. The strategies of instruction.

The first reason that the word pedagogy really annoys me is that it’s spelt wrong. If you are in the UK writing for a UK audience then I think you should use UK spellings unless you are quoting an author who is applying their own native spelling. So why can’t we stick to paedagogy? (My spell checker is really annoying me now by viciously putting a red squiggle under paedagogy). This might sound like the trivial rant of an aging pedant. Actually it’s the desperate cry of a weak speller trying to meet the standards expected by her tutors. The vagaries of UK versus US spelling have been one of the main stumbling blocks I have contended with studying for an MSc. I have never been a strong speller but I try and employ strategies to overcome this. But are what are you meant to do when academic articles are inconsistent in the spelling that they employ. I know English is a constantly changing language and I would not want to see it ossify, but if you’ve got a word whose spelling (in UK English at least) shows its Greek roots then that’s one of the strategies us poor spellers can use to get it right. But “pedagogies” and “paediatricians” in the same spelling system – its just confusing.

What is “pedagogy”? Some awful mash-up of Latin and Greek meaning a strategy for leading feet?

Paedagog on the other hand makes sense. Child leader, teacher.

The main thing that really annoys me about the word “pedagogy” (or more often “pedagogies”) is that it’s a word that is most often used by people who are not leading children at all. It has currency in the world of higher education where it is bandied about all over the place. 18 year olds may have many child-like qualities but they are not actually children. So the teachers going on about “pedagogies” are often teaching adults, which presents its own challenges. Those challenges are not the same as the challenges of teaching children whose ability to learn difficult concepts is developing as they grow cognitively.

So why use the word “pedagogy” at all? Arguably it captures the “strategies of instruction” element of the definition. But so does “teaching strategies”. I would argue that what you lose in having to type two words instead of one you gain in clarity. I am sure I am not the only teacher who hears the word “pedagogies” and has to mentally translate it. That, I think, is the nubbins of why it gets used so widely in particular circles. It is to make the user look clever and specifically cleverer than all us poor saps having to make a mental translation. In some circumstances I am all for using long words to look clever. I have been known to use the “epistemological” without a safety net. “Epistemological” is a groovy word for something that would be quite long winded in simpler English. “Pedagogies” is just…annoying.

Its annoying because of the disconnect between what it is describing and what it does in use. It is describing a process of helping learners but it actively impedes understanding.

Can’t we stick to “teaching”?