Notes on Barnett’s: Dispositions and Qualities

– Qualities have to have an action – you have to witness a quality.
–  Disposition is a character inside you – quality is an action of using that disposition.

A disposition may be undone by a bad quality, for example without the qualities of restraint and respect the disposition of inquiry may lead to making claims that are unproven. A disposition requires certain qualities for it to work in a positive way. A bad tutor or an illness may also be factors that make a disposition ineffective. I believe that teachers have a responsibility to encourage and help a student fulfil their potential. Some dispositions can be permanent characteristics, whereas others are constantly evolving and are delicate to influences.

EMPISIEMIC VIRTUES – does the quality or disposition come first?

Qualities and disposition are mutually reinforcing and self-perpetuating – the more you practice a skill that you are good at the more you want to do it and the better you get. Barnett argues that this cycle can become a hindrance which steers one away from other ‘virtues’. To break this circle we can help the student identify why they have an interest and allow them the freedom to explore the area. To discover themselves if they have a disposition for something before teaching them why.

I agree with Barnett’s statement that teachers should be sensitive to student’s dispositions. We should be aware of the way a student might prefer to learn but avoid this completely dictating the way we teach them. What is more important is what we are teaching them.

The teacher has the potential to release a student’s disposition by encouraging them, and showing them faith. I am lucky enough to be able to tailor my encouragement to each student on a one-to-one basis, therefore I can take time to identify a student’s disposition and then teach in a way that allows that disposition to become a quality.

In summary, as basic formula that represents this theory is:
Interest + disposition + quality = a student reaching their potential.

  1. How do you recognise Barnett’s ‘qualities’ in the context of a course you work with?

Teaching my students in a one-to-one format allows me the time to get to know my students individually and focus on the specific qualities they might have. One student I support who is on the autistic spectrum and suffers from mental health issues shows courage every-day he attends university. He has often talked about the anxiety he suffers from the workload, tutorials and university environment. The other strong quality this student has demonstrated is self-discipline. Over the Easter break he worked in the library on his final project every day, as he puts it ‘keeping up with the rest of his year’ even though he has never been ‘behind’.

  1. To what extent do you recognise Barnett’s ‘dispositions’ in your own approach to learning?

The dispositions that applies to my own learning would be the willingness to learn – I have shown this disposition by financially supporting myself through this course. I took the decision to embark on this course out of a desire to become a better teacher to my students. I did so even though it meant returning to an academic situation, something I have always struggled with. This willingness to learn has enabled me to build my confidence as a teacher and highlighted how important it is to continue to learn and improve.

I have suffered from dyslexia all my life but with the disposition of determination I have learnt to persevere and find solutions to the barriers that it may cause. Reading Barnett’s text was a particular challenge to me due to the quality of the scan and the length of the chapter. Completing the assignments required of us can take me a long time but when the content connects to my teaching practice or when I learn something new I am encouraged to keep overcoming the barriers of my dyslexia.

  1. Are UAL’s Creative Attributes more like Barnett’s ‘qualities’? Or his ‘dispositions’?

I believe dispositions and qualities are listed in the Creative Attributes Framework, therefore I believe that a student requires both. As Barnett mentions dispositions need qualities to make them work, just as qualities need dispositions.

For example if ‘Making Things Happen’ or proactivity is a disposition then without the qualities of initiative and passion, this pro-activeness would not succeed in a university or workplace environment. Similarly the ability to demonstrate a unique talent through ‘Storytelling’ is highlighted in the Creative Attributes Framework, however without the disposition of willingness to adapt and a preparedness to listen this quality will be of little benefit to an individual.

Curiosity is listed in the group titled Navigating Change. It is an important quality for any professional or student, but without the willingness to adapt and remain motivated’ this curiosity cannot be developed into a successful outcome. If a student has a curiosity in a specific subject but is unable to remain motivated and focused they are unlikely to research and develop an idea to it’s fullest potential. Or if they have a curiosity in their creative practice but are unwilling to listen to feedback and adapt their approach there is a risk their work will not develop.

Ultimately I do not believe UAL’s creative attributes are more like Barnett’s qualities or dispositions but instead act as evidence that both are just as important as each other. Only when qualities and disposition are combined can a student or professional truly reach their full potential.

  1. How are these attributes taught and/or learned at UAL?

These attributes are taught at UAL through projects based learning, such as workshops, briefs, group projects, deadlines, critiques and tutorials which make up a substantial part of the curriculum. As a support worker I am not directly involved in how these attributes are built into the curriculum but have witnessed and supported the students whilst they learn these skills through the projects and social situations they are in.

The invaluable professional attribute of ‘presentational skill’ is built through to the Tutorial process.

When a student is consistently required to present their work they inevitably build confidence which will translate to the workplace environment. A student might have a strong concept behind their work but if they do not have the skill to present it the work may be misunderstood and not fully appreciated.

  1. How do these ideas connect with the theories you’ve been encountering on your elective unit?

The areas from the Creative Attributes Framework that most strongly link with the Inclusive Teaching Unit are ‘Showcasing abilities and accomplishments with others’ and ‘navigating change’. These attributes promote collaborative skills through openness and acceptance.

The attribute of ‘Curiosity’ (‘the enthusiasm to seek out new perspectives, to create and build on existing knowledge’) is listed in this area of the Framework. In university and the workplace one will encounter people of different opinions, faiths, gender and race. Demonstrating the curiosity to ‘seek out these new perspectives’ and realising the importance of ‘building on their knowledge’ will help develop a more inclusive and diverse environment and way of thinking.

I believe it is important to improve our university environment through the students. The attribute of ‘Connectivity’ (the ability to collaborate with others, create networks and develop and contribute to communities of practice’) emphasises my point that collaboration and group work in the curriculum is a great way to encourage diversity and acceptance within the university environment.