A Pedagogy of the Streets November 19, 2013Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Education and the Environment, Engaging Learning Environments.
Tags: democracy and education, education and transformation, learning communities
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by David R Cole
When we exit the university or school and walk down a street we are still learning. Some of us may wander and stare at our mobile devices, musing at the latest posting on Facebook or the info-feed on Twitter. Others, perhaps more like myself, may look outwardly at the particular scene in which we find ourselves and try to take in the atmosphere of the ‘street situation’. You might be surprised to hear that on one such an occasion I was stopped in my pondering by a street performance, that has made its way into my thoughts as a professional educator and researcher, and I would like to share with you now. Many municipalities in the UK sponsor festival ‘street artist’ events, which are specifically designed to shake us out of our subjective shells and make us think about what is happening ‘in the moment’ and in reconciliation of our relationships with the streets. I had stumbled unwittingly into one such scenario, and was forced to reconsider many of my assumptions and beliefs out there, ‘on the streets’, away from the safety of controlled pedagogic action, assessment and institutional regulation.
Who is Jeremy Farquhar? This was the first question that I was made to confront. My cynical self could say that he is just another street performer, a character created for general amusement purposes. But if I permit myself to be moved more deeply, I could wonder how and why a clown should confront me on the street and simultaneously have knowledge of the workings of global capitalism. The truth is that if we are to be able to appreciate the ‘pedagogy of the streets’ we need to set aside the conditioning and anaesthetic of professional learnt knowledge and the networks that keep this knowledge in place. The edifice of our shared culture shields us against questioning the deeply held assumptions that ironically we want our students to be able to engage with and learn about. The clown said to us: “you are not watching T.V.”
Once I had let my guard down and allowed myself to engage with the ‘pedagogy of the streets’, I could ride with the ideas that were presented. For example: we communally commit war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq by not questioning the continued use of force in those lands. One may counter, “well it is better there than here”. But is the war on terror really better if it is fought overseas? How and on what grounds can we make such a judgement? Jeremy Farquhar didn’t give me the answers; he just provoked the thought, and took away the comfort of living in a privileged country far from the battlefield for an instant. It turns out that Farquhar is a butler, who listens into the conversations of those in power without making any decisions or affecting a singular course of action. In short, Farquhar is a corridor, an ear, a portal to a place where the truths of our globally unequal society are understood and enacted.
We are all walking on a tightrope. On one side of the rope is the continued reliance on debt to make everything in our world work, and the so called inevitable “fiscal cliff” that the debt produces. On the other side of the rope are the consequences of the evolution of a ‘one world system’, and the mono-culturalism that this system ultimately entails, including environmental disaster, over-population, and the global mass movement of people away from places of shortage, war and conflict and in search of a ‘better life’. What is the possibility of resistance to falling off the rope? What can we do in the face of such negative, unwholesome and divided options? Farquhar transforms himself into a sadhu, a modern Gandhi figure, advocating non-violent revolution and the counteraction to the ‘politics of fear’. I let myself be transported to a place where a solution to the current predicaments was possible, where politicians did listen to the facts of environmental science, where the education system teaches wisdom in preference to personal efficiency and the fundamentals of fitting into ‘one world capitalism’. If there is hope today, it lies in ‘a pedagogy of the streets’ and communally thinking through the real conundrums that face us in a profound and deep manner, rather than the continued farce and cover-up of political life. Thank you Farquhar, whoever, and wherever you are…
Preparing for the future by repairing now November 5, 2013Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Secondary Education.
Tags: curriculum, education and gender, science education
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In his blog Science education: Is Australia sabotaging its future? published in January 2013, Wanasinghe Chandrasena raised the major concern of the declining student participation in sciences in Australia. He observed that, although this trend is a global phenomenon, Australia needs to be proactive in protecting its scientific future. Chandrasena concluded by saying “Preparing now can save us from repairing in the future,” implying that we need to encourage students to study science.
There has been much research on the increasing reluctance of students to pursue the study of sciences nationally and internationally. Some of these studies identify strategies to attract more students, particularly more females, to the sciences. In Australia, some suggested actions include curricular reforms, gender inclusive practices, and contextualisation of science curriculum. However, student participation has not improved in recent decades, particularly in the ‘hard’ sciences such as physics. In Australia, senior secondary physics reports the lowest student participation and classes are still male dominated, with 75% of students being male.
While Chandrasena’s blog acknowledged issues with attracting more students to study the sciences, I think there is another crucial issue science educators should be concerned with: are we doing enough to retain those who have chosen to do sciences at senior secondary level? For example, of the traditional sciences (physics, chemistry and biology), physics has been generally perceived as the most difficult and demanding subject by students (e.g. Barmby & Defty, 2006). The data from the New South Wales (NSW) Board of Studies suggest that while physics reports the lowest student participation among the traditional science subjects at senior secondary level, every year since 2000 over 21% of males and 25% females discontinue physics during their transition from the first year of senior secondary schooling (Year 11) to the final year (Year 12). The rate of attrition is slowly but steadily increasing, reaching 24% and 31% respectively for males and females in 2009-2010. Student attrition is reported for all subjects during the transition from Year 11 to Year 12; however, attrition from Physics deserves special attention. In NSW as in other states of Australia, senior secondary physics is generally chosen by high academic achievers with high career aspirations. They report high self-efficacy in the subject and typically come from families with high socio educational status and high parental education (Fullarton & Ainley, 2000). This means that a quarter of this ‘elite’ group of students is leaving physics after one year of study of the subject. We need to shift our attention to this salient issue. Why do some students who expressed an initial motivation to study physics discontinue the subject after one year? What makes female students drop physics at a higher rate than males? What can we do to retain them in physics? I am certain that these questions are pertinent to other sciences as well.
It is a common belief that sciences at the senior secondary level are selected by students for their strategic value in getting entry to competitive courses that lead to prestigious jobs or have more employment opportunities. Research findings support this (e.g. Barnes, 1999; Eccles & Wigfield, 1995). In fact, the strongest influential factor on students’ physics enrolment intentions has been identified as its subjective ‘utility value’ that is, the usefulness of the subject in securing admission to highly regarded university courses and high status jobs (Barnes, 1999). A recent decline in the immediate utility value of traditional science subjects in relation to university entry has been linked to the declining enrolment in senior secondary physics in Australia (Lyons & Quinn, 2010). Therefore, are the students who continue studying physics merely motivated by its perceived utility value? Are those who discontinue physics doing so because the utility value has decreased for them? If that is not the case, what are the factors that influence student retention in physics?
My study among Year 11 physics students in NSW schools identified that, though students still attach high utility value to physics, it is not the most influential factor in sustaining their enrolment intentions to Year 12 as might be expected. The evidence suggested that it was the students’ expectancies of success that largely predicted their plans to continue with physics. That is, though the instrumental value of physics can be high for the students, they do not like to stay on in physics if they think that they are not good in the subject. This displays the competitive learning style promoted in Australian schools and the considerable importance students place on Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) which is calculated at the end of the final year of senior secondary school examinations. There is a trend among students to discontinue the subjects in which they are not achieving well enough to get high ATAR, even though they enjoy learning the subject.
What are some effective steps teachers could adopt in physics classrooms? Teachers need to be aware of the motivational significance of performance perceptions students develop in physics while learning the subject. The school and classroom environments are vital contexts that can enhance the performance perceptions of students. Teachers should employ strategies to ensure that students feel competent and achieve success. For example, teachers could conceptualise success in alternative ways rather than simply high achievement in summative assessment tasks. If students are in a classroom where success is defined in terms of self-improvement rather than getting high grades in tests then all students have the chance to feel successful. Cooperative and collaborative learning activities may encourage students to work together to solve tasks rather than to compete against each other. Social interactions can make everybody share the feeling of success and therefore increase enthusiasm for the subject.
Another interesting finding from my study was on the gender stereotyped attitudes towards physics. Physics just as any Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, is subjected to gender stereotypes such as; a female may perceive that she is not capable of success and the careers related to the subject are not suitable for her (e.g. Barmby & Defty, 2006). Females in my study indicated that their motivation and engagement with the subject were equal to or higher than those of male students. This suggests that once students have started studying physics, their motivation and engagement may not necessarily vary as expected through gender biases. This information may prevent physics teachers from making false evaluations that lead to gender differentiated expectations and classroom practices (Elwood & Comber, 1996). Teachers should be aware that sex stereotypes could significantly reduce student engagement and participation. Therefore, learning experiences and teaching practices that discourage the development of such attitudes should be incorporated into physics instruction.
My study focused on physics, a subject which is likely to report a shortage of qualified persons more obviously than the other STEM related careers in the near future in Australia. The retention of students in other STEM courses also needs attention. I would like to suggest that preparing and repairing now, can safeguard Australia’s scientific future.
Barmby, P., & Defty, N. (2006). Secondary School Pupils’ Perceptions of Physics. Research in Science & Technological Education, 24(2), 199–215.
Barnes, G. R. (1999). A Motivational Model of Enrolment Intentions in Senior Secondary Science Courses in New South Wales Schools. Doctoral dissertation, University of Western Sydney, Macarthur.
Eccles, J. S., & Wigfield, A. (1995). In the Mind of the Actor: The Structure of Adolescents’ Achievement Task Values and Expectancy-Related Beliefs. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21(3), 215–225. doi: 10.1177/0146167295213003.
Elwood, J., & Comber, C. (1996). Gender Differences in Examinations at 18+: final report. London: Institute of Education.
Fullarton, S., & Ainley, J. (2000). Subject Choice by Students in Year 12 in Australian Secondary Schools. LSAY Research Reports. Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth Research Report. Camberwell, Victoria: Australian Council for Educational Research.
Lyons, T., & Quinn, F. (2010). Choosing Science: Understanding the Declines in Senior High School Science Enrolments. Research Report to the Australian Science Teachers Association: UNE.
My child: 5 important things teachers need to know October 22, 2013Posted by christinefjohnston in Inclusive Education.
Tags: children with special needs, personalised learning
As a mother of a child with special needs, what follows are the five most important things I wanted to share with teachers as you undertake the very important job of teaching my child.
1. It is important that you listen carefully – both to me and to my child. This is important for a number of reasons. Teachers may well know the curriculum, but as a parent I know my child and his issues better than anyone else. I have sat in on hours of appointments with specialists, itinerant teachers, doctors etc. I have held my child’s hand and wiped his tears when he underwent hurtful interventions or traumatic and risky tests. Further, I deal with the many day to day issues that arise with my child. I’m the one who comforted him when he was told that he couldn’t drive for an unlimited time two days after he got his L plates. I’m the one who ensures he is fed a balanced diet, is dressed for the day, does his homework and that he gets enough sleep. Teachers please don’t be afraid to tell me that you don’t know what to do when dealing with my child and when you are confused or don’t understand something. I love it when teachers are willing to seek my advice and knowledge. It tells me that you value my experience, my opinion and are willing to work with me in educating my child.
2. Don’t be afraid to set high expectations for my child in your class. Sure, make allowances or adaptions or accommodations and yes provide scaffolding and direction, but also make sure my child is challenged. You need to truly believe that my child is capable of learning when given appropriate opportunities and supportive environments. You may just be pleasantly surprised by what my child shows you he can do. Further give my child a chance to experience success once you have challenged him and then celebrate that success with him. This encourages my child to always want to succeed. As I wrote this piece I asked my son what advice he would have for any of his past or present teachers and his answer was that he likes it when his teachers “treat him like every other child but also help him when he asks for it.”
3. Use any special knowledge or interests my child has to your advantage. Further don’t be afraid to use these interests in building your relationship with my child or as a motivational tool. Ensure that you provide ample opportunities for my child to tell you what he knows – there is nothing he likes better. For example, my son has always been incredibly interested in space – he hopes to be astrophysicist. I suspect his knowledge around space would rival most teachers’ knowledge – certainly he knows a lot more than me about it. What a wonderful human resource to have in your classroom. Let go of the need to be in control and let my child share his knowledge with others. You don’t always have to be the ‘teacher.’
4. Remember, however hard it might be dealing with my child or however difficult you feel my child is being, just getting through a day is challenging for him. My son is exhausted when he gets home as he negotiates the physical, academic and social challenges he faces each school day. My son came home from a participating in a sports carnival in so much pain that we had to carry him to the bath. I imagine that the day was challenging for his teacher’s aide but I am certain she wasn’t the one sobbing from physical pain that night.
5. Look beyond my child’s disability. His disability is just one part of him. Just as other children have blue eyes or freckles my child’s disability doesn’t and shouldn’t define him. My son is more than his disabilities. I want his teachers to see the sensitive, smart, kind hearted and hardworking child he is.
My hope is that this has given teachers something to think about, both those just beginning their teaching journey and those more experienced. Most of the parents of a child with special needs that I know, simply want the same thing you do – the best for their child. My greatest wish is for supportive, thoughtful, caring, and knowledgeable teachers, as they undertake their all-important work in educating my child.
Address to UWS School of Education Graduands – 26 September 2013 October 8, 2013Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Educational Leadership.
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As someone who has spent more than thirty years in education, I can honestly say this is a great time to be a teacher. And never before have we needed great teachers than we do today.
You are joining a profession that touches the lives of students each and every day, developing essential competencies and skills and nurturing values that will endure for a life time. All of this taking place in the context of a rapidly changing world.
Author Daniel Pink calls this the conceptual age but I think this is the age of the learner and learning. The advances in technology just in the last decade have been incredible. I read an article in which a teacher and blogger refers to this as living in a moment of ‘ubiquitous learning’. The context may be global but for you as teachers, the challenges and opportunities are local.
When I began my teaching career thirty years ago, the world was a very different place and so was schooling. I was handed the curriculum and with a pat on the back, I was sent into the great unknown.
We have learnt a lot about the art and science of teaching since then. We have moved from an understanding that intelligence is fixed, a one size fits all model is the norm and that some students just simply cannot learn, to an understanding that intelligence is malleable, personalised learning is the norm and a conviction that all students can learn.
None of us here needs reminding that schools and even universities today are under increasing pressure to improve. It’s not surprising living in a world that is changing and challenging us at incredible speed both locally and globally. Access to online learning is expanding at an incredible rate. This is the age of 24/7 connectivity and 24/7 learning.
You have had the benefit of attending the University of Western Sydney – a university that doesn’t treat you as a number but as a learner – a university that recognises that in order for you to be successful teachers; you need to learn to teach in the same way you expect your students to learn – a university that utilises today’s tools to support good teaching.
You leave UWS today with the knowledge AND the skills to be able to think critically, to solve problems creatively and to work collaboratively. These are the skills we want all learners to have – and our schools are faced with the very real challenge of ensuring a relevant and quality learning experience for every child no matter what their learning style or background.
You represent a new generation of teachers who will not simply deliver the curriculum but design it. You represent a new generation of teachers who see themselves as co-learners and who see learners as active participants in the learning process. It will be your imagination, professionalism and relentless commitment to improving student learning outcomes that will drive change and shape the future of Australian schools.
There will always be people with ideas about how schools should operate and what the role of teachers should be. And there will always be competing agendas, external requirements and daily distractions. I think beginning teachers need a degree just in the educational acronyms used – ACARA, AITSL, ATAR, PISA, TIMMS and NAPLAN. The list goes on.
But if you are to stay focussed in all of this, it is important that you keep returning to what is important. Thankfully we know a lot from decades of research about how people learn. It is this multi-disciplinary research that helps us to be more effective in teaching and the technological tools to support us in our work in ways not possible before.
We know from the learning sciences that teacher learning is just as important as student learning. The more we learn about learning and the more teachers learn about their students’ learning, the more influential and important teaching becomes.
Harvard Professor Richard Elmore once said “teaching isn’t rocket science; it’s actually far more complex and demanding”. He’s absolutely right. It recognises the role of teachers as team members of a learning community – engaged in the practice of reflective dialogue, collaboration and inquiry in order to continually improve the learning and teaching in schools.
I know each of you is capable of meeting the challenges of teaching in today’s world because you have had the benefit of being taught at a university that is committed to excellence and innovation. Of course, with the challenges come the great rewards. Sometimes it’s the ordinary events that will have the most extraordinary significance. I want to share with you a story about one of my former students that reminds us of what is at the very heart of our work as teachers.
A few years ago I received an email that asked whether I was the Greg Whitby who taught English at Liverpool Boys High School in the early 1970’s. The writer said that he just wanted to thank me for being such a great teacher. It was signed Ron Hawkins, Chief Consultant Virtual Storage, Hitachi Systems, Hong Kong.
Ron’s face came straight back to me and I could see him sitting in the right hand side of the classroom. I would have to say he was a challenging student. We began to correspond by email and eventually, in passing through Hong Kong, we were able to catch up together. It was a great trip down memory lane. When we were leaving he said he wanted to show me something and pulled something out of his wallet – he handed me a piece of paper – and told me it was something I had written on one of his English assignments.
I opened the paper and it was a comment I had written on an assignment on a text we were studying. On it I had written that it is easy to judge people from your own shoes but very different when you stand in another person’s. Ron told me that it was the best piece of advice that he had ever been given and that he refers to it regularly in his work. You would understand how moving that moment was for me. To know that you have had such a profound influence on someone’s life and his achieved so much because of the education he received.
There are thousands of stories like this that reveal a universal truth – teachers do make a difference. They reflect what the late author Morris West called ‘moments of grace’. I don’t mean grace in the religious sense but in the sense that you often, in teaching, get the opportunity to see the extraordinary in the very ordinary work that you do. I hope there are many moments of grace throughout your careers.
There has been debate about the role of teachers in today’s world – are they mediators of learning or sages on the stage, are you a teacher or a learner? I say you are all of these but I believe teachers in today’s world are also prophets.
The word ‘prophet’ comes from the Greek word (profetes) meaning advocate. Biblical prophets were advocates – agents of social change through their words and actions. You are advocates for a new way of learning and teaching that is relevant to today’s learner and today’s world.
When you walk into your classrooms every day, remember that what you are doing is transforming children’s lives by giving them opportunities to become better learners and better people. You are shaping the future of our nation.
I trust that each member of today’s graduating class is leaving the University of Western Sydney with fond memories and life-long friends and of course, as life-long learners.
Congratulations to each of you on the occasion of your graduation. I hope that you find yourselves in positions where you are supported by the strength, wisdom and experiences of others. I trust you will find personal meaning and significance in the work you share with your colleagues.
As the great American pedagogue John Dewey said “education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” I wish you every success – stay passionate and stay learning.