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NAPLAN is only one measure of achievement May 16, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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by Katina Zammit

Recently I finished reading a publication from the Grattan Institute entitled Widening gaps: What NAPLAN tells us about student progress (Goss & Chisolm, 2016) and was reminded of the limitations of this Australian-wide test for students in years 3, 5, 7, & 9.

The main purpose of the publication was really to advocate for a new way of analyzing the data to show what they consider a better means of measuring student achievement, i.e. years of progress. It reports that high achieving and low achieving students are not improving their results. Despite this, their starting point in this report for considering a change is still based on certain assumptions about NAPLAN.

Now that NAPLAN testing has concluded for 2016, it is worth examining the assumptions about NAPLAN that pervade this document, as well as the general public and media discourse around NAPLAN. Included in these assumptions are that:

  • NAPLAN tests actually are a good indicator of overall achievement and success at school, in learning and seeing education as a positive. [But that is not conclusive.]
  • the NAPLAN test results are a good predictor of a student achieving or not achieving their potential. [Again not conclusive for all students across the range of abilities]
  • the same or similar test environment occurs across the years and the same or very similar items are included across the years in the tests have been administered.
  • data and results from the test should be used as a major input upon which to base educational decisions by policy makers.

I think it is timely to draw attention to the limitations of NAPLAN and to remind parents, and students, that it provides information about a child’s achievement based on that one day, at that time, completed under stressful test conditions.

NAPLAN does not take account of the development of students’ interests in learning, their passions, or engagement in learning. NAPLAN outcomes should be considered in the context of all the other measures teachers use to assess student achievement of learning outcomes, especially in the other key learning areas of Creative Arts, Health and Physical Education and so on. NAPLAN does not take into account the other value-added dispositions and community involvement provided by schools that are not measurable in a test. Interventions and pedagogical changes in classrooms at a school take time to demonstrate results, and again, many of these may not be measurable by the NAPLAN test.

Data from NAPLAN is still limited, no matter what approach to data analysis and reporting is undertaken – whether data are compared against benchmarks or measured by years of a student’s progress. It is not the results and reporting that is questionable, it is the basis upon which these data are used for system evaluation of schools, a school’s progress, and to drive policy.

Perhaps governments need to look at employment policies and other support mechanisms, not just school education, for students from low socio-economic backgrounds living in poverty. A multi-pronged approach is needed to improve the outcomes for students to break the cycle of inter-generational disadvantage.

Reference:

Goss, P., and Chisholm, C., 2016, Widening gaps: what NAPLAN tells us about student progress. Technical Report, Grattan Institute.

 

Dr Katina Zammit is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. She is Director of the Master of Teaching (Primary) teacher education program at the university.

Disrupting childhood? Breaking the cycle of silence around sexuality education in primary schools. May 3, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Inclusive Education, Primary Education.
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By Son Truong

Introduction

While the Australian Curriculum in Health and Physical Education (HPE) made significant strides towards acknowledging the importance of developing health literacy with young people, its broad stance on sexuality education, particularly in the primary school curriculum, is a missed opportunity to ensure primary school children gain consistent, fully inclusive, and factual knowledge about not only the physical, but also the mental, emotional, and social dimensions of human sexuality.

Background

Last year, I was invited to speak on a panel at the 1st National Conference of the Australian Forum on Sexuality, Education and Health. The panel members were asked to reflect, and offer a provocation, on the topic of Communities, parents and sexual health – whose rights, which prompted me to consider the notion of mandatory sexuality education in schools. Several months later, with new headlines emerging, including Respectful relationships curriculum aims to change a generation (Jennings, 2016), Safe Schools program: federal government unveils changes (Martin, 2016), Axing of sex education program YEAH part of ‘ideological agenda’, experts claim (Stark, 2016) the focus of the conference and panel seem as timely as ever.

Sexuality Education Curriculum in Primary School Teacher Education

Originally from Canada, I started working at Western Sydney University in 2012 with the responsibility of teaching the HPE curriculum to pre-service primary school teachers. My arrival occurred at a particularly interesting crossroads in teacher education, especially as the national HPE Curriculum was in the process of being shaped and drafted. It was not long after I began preparing and contextualising my lecture and tutorial content that I came across the topic of sexuality education in the headlines across a variety of news sources.

Walsh (2012) explains that while the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) original draft guidelines introduced sex education in Years 3 and 4, under pressure from parent groups it later pushed back some of this content until Years 5 and 6. A central argument in Walsh’s article is that “We have confused children learning about sex in an appropriate educational context with the sexualisation of children” (para. 5).

I was curious to see how students, as future teachers, would respond to Walsh’s (2012) article, and more broadly the responsibility for teaching topics such as Growth and Development, Interpersonal Relationships, and Sexuality Education in the primary school curriculum. The resulting discussion was both encouraging, as well as a call to action in my role as a HPE teacher educator to better communicate the meaning and importance of teaching sexuality education.

Walsh (2012) states, “There is complete agreement in the literature that healthy sexual development is dependent on two-way communication between adults and children, and this needs to begin early” (para. 6). However, despite what appeared to be convincing evidence that human development and puberty may begin for children before they enter Grades 5 and 6, and therefore, an understanding of puberty needs to be addressed prior to these grades, there were still some anxieties and a sense of hesitancy amongst some students.

There was certainly a range of views shared amongst the class, and many students were in agreement that sexuality education needs to begin early. However, there were also a number of statements that I heard with some regularity, suggesting children are too innocent to learn about this or teaching about sex leads to sexual activity. As a teacher educator, these viewpoints signalled not only students’ apprehension towards teaching this content, but also particular prevailing views of childhood and sexuality education that may need to be disrupted.

Reflecting on Challenges

I think some of the challenges we are facing to ensure that quality sexuality education is provided systemically and systematically across the primary school curriculum are reflected in a protest sign I saw published in a news article entitled Quebec to introduce sex ed pilot project with ‘no exemptions’ (Richer, 2015).

“Math, not Masturbation. Science, not Sex.”

The province of Québec, Canada recently introduced a pilot project with 19 schools to deliver mandatory sexuality education from K – 12, with the intent to introduce the curriculum across the province in 2017. The key word here is mandatory, which means that in the upgraded curriculum, parents will not have the option of withdrawing their children from class while this content is being taught.

My reading of this protest sign revealed three concerns that are equal to those I attempt to address with my students.

Firstly, the sign reduces comprehensive sexuality education to sex and masturbation. It seems that far too often, sexuality education becomes contested and controversial as a result of fear discourses and slogans that misrepresent its content and aims.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2009), “The primary goal of sexuality education is that children and young people become equipped with the knowledge, skills and values to make responsible choices about their sexual and social relationships…” (p. 10). I add further emphasis here on both the personal and social aspects of health and wellbeing, and the importance of respectful relationships education, which focuses on building healthy relationships, including supporting sexual and gender diversities.

Secondly, although perhaps just witty alliteration, the juxtaposition of math not masturbation, and science not sex, brings to mind a broader concern that HPE in general, and sexuality education in particular, are at-risk of being pushed to the margins in the primary school curriculum. The issue is further complicated with concerns of an over-crowded primary school curriculum, where time spent in physical education may be limited. For example, an audit undertaken by the Auditor-General (Audit Office of NSW) in 2012 revealed that approximately 30% of NSW government schools are not meeting minimum hours for physical education. It is difficult to know with any certainty, and without further research, the extent to which time is spent focused on other content areas in the HPE curriculum; however, it is clear that support is required at all levels, including in the curriculum as well as in teacher training programs, to strengthen the profile and provision of HPE.

Research suggests there is limited knowledge about the provision of sexuality education in Australian teacher education programs, and that “primary school teachers are rarely prepared with the knowledge, skills and understandings to confidently and competently address sexuality education” (Leahy, Horne & Harrison 2004; Harrison & Ollis 2011, as cited in Ollis, Harrison & Maharaj, 2013, p. 1).

Central to my provocation in this post is that the broad content statements and descriptions in the HPE Curriculum, particularly in relation to sexuality education, results in ambiguity regarding the specific subject matter that should be addressed. Relatedly, while referring to the Board of Studies NSW (2007) PDHPE syllabus documents, Ullman and Ferfolja (2015) argue:

Teachers are advised that the selection of specific PDHPE programme content occurs at the school level and reminded that, ‘The syllabus is designed to give all schools the flexibility to treat sensitive and controversial issues in a manner reflective of their own ethos’ (p. 153).

Sexuality education is largely viewed as specific to HPE, which is a subject area that is arguably marginalised in the primary school curriculum, as well as dominated by other prominent topics, such as sport, physical activity, nutrition, and drug education. Therefore, there needs to be clear guidelines and expectations on its implementation and related learning outcomes, particularly as states develop their HPE syllabus and curriculum documents.

And Thirdly, the protest sign suggests that sex and masturbation are inappropriate content to discuss with students. This view reflects the dominant discourses of particular constructed notions of childhood innocence rather than an approach oriented towards educational rights and needs.

Curiously, there is a hesitancy to accept and adopt a needs-led approach for sexuality education. While countries such as Holland, Sweden, and Finland already have compulsory sexuality education, the debate continues for others, such as Canada, the United States, the UK, New Zealand, and Australia (see Ricci, 2015).

The current need is reflected by observing mainstream media and news outlets, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and content readily available on the internet in general. The broader social media context often means that information and misinformation are readily available to young people. My aim in referring to this access to mis/information is not an attempt to engage with crisis discourses – to raise sentiments of fear for the loss of childhood innocence because that term is a social construct to begin with. Rather, it is a call to disrupt a particular view of childhood in order to take into consideration the contemporary landscapes and diversities of being a child.

Continuing the Dialogue

To break the cycle of silence around sexuality education in primary schools, there is not room for ambiguity in the curriculum. While recognising that sexuality education is the responsibility of the whole community, schools have a central role to play in ensuring all students have access to this important content. As a teacher educator, I acknowledge the challenges, and specifically time constraints, in covering all HPE content within a generalist primary school teacher education course, which further underscores the need to continually enhance my teaching, as well as the need for new opportunities for professional development to ensure teachers feel confidence and competence in teaching this content. Concurrently, dialogue needs to continue at all levels to support a fully inclusive and necessarily diverse sexuality education that does not shy away from reflecting the lives of all children and families today.

References

Audit Office of New South Wales (2012). Physical Activity in Government Primary Schools: Department of Education and Communities. Sydney: Audit Office of New South Wales. Retrieved from http://www.audit.nsw.gov.au/ArticleDocuments/246/01_PAB_Physical_Activity_Full_Report.pdf.aspx?Embed=Y

Board of Studies, New South Wales. (2007). Personal development, health and physical education, K-6 Syllabus. Retrieved from http://k6.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/go/personal-development-health-and-physical-education-pdhpe

Jennings, J. (2016). Respectful relationships curriculum aims to change a generation. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/respectful-relationships-curriculum-aims-to-change-a-generation-20160408-go1iwl.html

Leahy, D., Horne, R., & Harrison, L. (2004). Bass Coast Sexuality Education Project: Needs Analysis and Professional Development Evaluation Report. Retrieved from https://www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/teachlearn/student/basscoastfinalreport.pdf

Martin, S. (2016). Safe Schools program: federal government unveils changes. Retrieved from http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/education/safe-schools-program-federal-government-unveils-changes/news-story/ce2d4751b2068f6b3ecedede317954fd

Ollis, D., Harrison, L., & Maharaj, C. (2013). Sexuality education matters: Preparing pre-service teachers to teach sexuality education. Retrieved from http://www.deakin.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/252661/sexuality-education-matters-april-2013-online.pdf

Ricci, C. (2015). British MPs demand mandatory and modern sex education. Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/british-mps-demand-mandatory-and-modern-sex-education-20150223-13mi4j.html

Richer, J. Quebec to introduce sex ed pilot project with ‘no exemptions’. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/quebec-to-introduce-sex-ed-pilot-project-with-no-exemptions-1.3209189

Stark, J. (2016). Axing of sex education program YEAH part of ‘ideological agenda’, experts claim. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/national/axing-of-sex-education-program-yeah-part-of-ideological-agenda-experts-claim-20160422-gocjxo.html

Ullman, J., & Ferfolja, T. (2015). Bureaucratic constructions of sexual diversity: ‘sensitive’, ‘controversial’ and silencing. Teaching Education, 26(2), 145-159.

UNESCO (2009). International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education: An evidence-informed approach for schools, teachers and health educators. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001832/183281e.pdf

Walsh, J. (2012). Worried about the sexualisation of children? Teach sex ed earlier. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/worried-about-the-sexualisation-of-children-teach-sex-ed-earlier-10311

 

 

Dr Son Truong is a Lecturer in Health and Physical Education (HPE) in the School of Education, and a member of the Centre for Educational Research at Western Sydney University, Australia. The following is based on a presentation he gave as part of a panel at the recent Australian Forum on Sexuality Education and Health (AFSEH) Conference.

Learning towards an ecological worldview April 11, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Secondary Education, Social Ecology, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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by David Wright

For a little over 20 years I have worked as an educator in a university based Social Ecology department. Here considerable attention is paid to the construction of ecological understanding and, in association, the ‘learning ecology’ of both students and (Hill, Wilson & Watson 2004; Wright & Hill, 2011). This is central to our process. We argue that it is one thing to observe ‘an ecology’, it is another to understand one’s self as part of it. Capra (1966), who has made a significant contribution to applying this thinking to education, draws on Maturana and Varela (1992), to describe this as ‘bringing forth our world’. With this in mind, our students are invited to pursue understanding through real world practice, self-reflection and creative, academic writing.

As an illustration of the context for this study, I quote ‘Anne’, a primary school teacher and a recent graduate of our Social Ecology program.

Before [I did the Master of Education: Social Ecology course] I didn’t have [an integrated] understanding… Ecology was a separate thing… I see everything in [connected] terms now. I see it in our relationship with the world, how our relationship with each other impacts upon the world around us… I look at the ecology of the classroom, because you see a shift when someone is away… The class… I see it as a body, an organism made of many bodies…. And I see the staff like that also… So yes… my understanding has changed totally (Personal communication, July 24, 2012).

Anne’s response demonstrates personal and social insight as well as insight into her work as an educator. She notes benefits to her work and benefits to her life outside of her work and she identifies this in relation to ‘the world’. I am excited by her analysis and keen to understand how insights of this kind can permeate education more fully. This is more than a response to an environmental problem. It is a response to ‘our’ circumstance: a social-ecological point in time, in which we are all participants (Wright, Camden-Pratt & Hill, 2011).

I argue therefore that ecological epistemologies can offer a considerable amount to the practice of education. The influence of Bateson’s thinking (1972, 1979; Harries-Jones, 1995) can be seen in constructivist approaches to learning, most particularly in radical constructivism (von Glasersfeld, 1996), where it is argued that the construction of understanding (or learning) is an individual experience built around reflection upon systems of relationship. Maturana and Varela (1992) extend this through theories of systemic self-organisation and autopoiesis. Autopoiesis (or self-making) draws on the biology of cognition to argue a process based understanding of experience, from the perspective of the participant. Varela (1999) extends this through further work on ‘enaction’, which identifies embodied experience as a generator of emergent knowledge. Such knowledge, Varela argues, creates consequences, for which responsibility must be taken. Capra (1996) captures such thinking in his discussion of the way in which we bring forth our world. Sterling (2003) argues this as the basis of a paradigm shift in education and an emerging ecological worldview.

In his work with the Centre for Eco-literacy (Stone & Barlow, 2005), Capra calls for education systems that learn from and reflect the workings of self-organising systems. He notes, “at all scales of nature, we find living systems nesting within other living systems – networks within networks” (1996, p.24). These living systems include schools. An ecological worldview draws attention to inter-relationships within a system. It does so from the perspective of those within that system, rather than that of detached ‘objective’ experts. Bowers (1999, 2011) describes this as ‘ecological intelligence’: the intelligence of the systems – including human systems of thought and action  – that sustain the organization of life. He argues that the transition from individual to ecological intelligence should be a major focus in education.

The challenge will be for education professors, as well, as their colleagues in other departments, to recognize how the patterns of thinking they now equate with progress and enlightenment contribute to the ecological crisis, and to make the radical shift in consciousness that is required (Bowers 1999, p. 170).

In predicating ‘the local’ as central within such learning Bowers emphasizes local communities, local histories and local environmental practices. He argues the importance of examining the local in terms of its sustainability. This can be known better Bowers suggests, through greater awareness of place based culture, tradition and ‘elder knowledge’. This calls up the values and experience of traditional and indigenous communities and challenges the assumptions and practices of colonial cultures. Immersive experience in nature-based learning is a vehicle for such learning (Sobel, 1996). Sobel argues, “we teach too abstractly, too early” (p.5). Grunewald (2003) also seeks to build a critical consciousness of the ways in which place permeates schooling. He challenges educators to recognise and utilise place-based pedagogies. In doing so he cites Wendell Berry.

Properly speaking, global thinking is not possible. Those who have “thought globally” [and among them have been imperial governments and multinational corporations] have done so by means of simplifications too extreme and oppressive to merit the name of thought… Unless one is willing to be destructive on a very large scale, one cannot do something except locally, in a small place (Berry cited in Grunewald, 2003, pp. 633-634).

These issues of systems thinking, criticality, the perspective of the participant, reflection, responsibility, ‘the local’, nature-based and place-based learning, indigenous perspectives and imaginative and emotional engagement in the construction of relationship are core elements in an ecological understanding of education. Much literature suggests that these can be linked and interwoven very effectively (Stone & Barlow, 2005; Smith & Williams, 1999; Saylan & Blumstein, 2011; O’Sullivan & Taylor, 2004; Judson, 2010). This thinking is applied and reflected upon in a research project that looks at ecological understanding in a selection of Australian and North American schools (Wright 2013). It is also discussed in relation to the use of drama as a teaching methodology in two recent book chapters (Wright 2015a, 2015b).

 

References.

Bateson, G. (1972) Steps to an ecology of mind. New York: Ballantine Books.

Bateson, G. (1979) Mind and nature. New York: Bantam Books.

Bowers, C.A. Changing the dominant cultural perspective in education, In Smith, G.A. & Williams, D.R. (eds) (1999) Ecological education in action. Albany NY: SUNY Press.

Bowers, C.A. (2011) Perspectives on the ideas of Gregory Bateson, ecological intelligence and educational reforms. Eugene, OR: Eco-Justice Press.

Capra, F. (1996) The web of life. London: Harper Collins.

Grunewald, D.A. (2003) Foundations of place: A multidisciplinary framework for place-conscious education. In American Educational Research Journal, Vol 40:3.

Harries Jones, P. (1995) Ecological understanding and Gregory Bateson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Hill, S.B. Wilson, S. and Watson, K. Learning ecology. A new approach to learning and transforming ecological consciousness. In O’Sullivan, E. & Taylor, M. (2004) Learning towards an ecological consciousness. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Judson, G. (2010) A new approach to ecological education. New York. NY: Peter Lang,

Maturana, H. and Varela, F. (1992) The tree of knowledge Boston MA: Shambhala.

Saylan, C. & Blumstein, D.T. (2011) The failure of environmental education. Berkely CA: University of California Press.

Sobel, D (1996) Beyond ecophobia: Reclaiming the heart in nature education. Barrington MA: The Orion Society.

Smith, G.A. & Williams, D.R. (eds) (1999) Ecological education in action. Albany NY: SUNY Press.

Sterling, S. (2003) Whole system thinking as a basis for paradigm change in education: Explorations in the context of sustainability. University of Bath: Unpublished PhD.

Stone, M.K. & Barlow, Z. (eds) (2005) Ecological literacy. San Francisco CA: Sierra Club Books.

O’Sullivan, E. & Taylor, M. (2004) Learning towards an ecological consciousness. New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Varela, F.J. (1999) Ethical know-how. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press.

von Glasersfeld, E (1996) Radical constructivism: A way of knowing and learning. London UK: Falmer Press

Wright, D. & Hill, S. Introduction. In Wright, D., Camden-Pratt, C. & Hill, S. (2011) Social Ecology: Applying ecological understanding to our lives and our planet. Stroud, UK: Hawthorn Press.

Wright, D., Camden-Pratt, C. & Hill, S. (2011) Social Ecology: Applying ecological understanding to our lives and our planet. Stroud, UK: Hawthorn Press.

Wright, D. (2013) Schooling ecologically: An inquiry into teachers’ ecological understanding in ‘alternative’ schools. Australian Journal of Environmental Education Vol. 29: 2.

Wright, D. (2015a) Drama & ecological understanding: Stories of learning. In Anderson, M. & Roche, C. (eds)  The state of the art: teaching drama in the 21st century. Sydney, NSW: Sydney University Press. ISBN 9781743320273.

Wright, D. (2015b) Drama and ecological understanding: reflections upon ecology, performance, place and indigenous knowledge systems. In Linds, W. & Vettraino, E. (eds.) Playing in a house of mirrors: Applied theatre as reflective practice. Sense Publishers.

 

Dr David Wright is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. He is also the Academic Course Advisor for the Master of Education (Social Ecology) program at the university.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creating an Optimal Emotional Environment for Learning: The Circle Solutions Principles and Pedagogy March 22, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Engaging Learning Environments, Inclusive Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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by Sue Roffey

There are some students who will achieve whatever the climate of the classroom. These fortunate individuals are likely to have supportive families who establish clear boundaries with high, appropriate expectations whilst offering unconditional love (Newland, 2014). These students will not be in the throes of family breakdown nor experiencing other major life changes. They will not be struggling with poverty, violence, bullying, racism, homophobia, mental or physical health difficulties nor experiencing any of the other adversities that life often presents. These students will have predominantly positive emotions about themselves and their worlds that enable them to be curious, engaged and confident.

All teachers, however, will be able to identify students who are dealing one or more of the issues listed above. Some have the personal and environmental factors that help them to cope (Werner, 2004) while others have fewer resources at their disposal. There will also be young people flying under the radar – who live within a less than favourable environment for their wellbeing but no-one at school knows what is happening for them and are unaware of the multiple factors that may be impinging on their engagement, learning, behaviour and social interactions.

Everyone has a need for social and emotional wellbeing and we do not necessarily know which students are struggling. In a supportive learning environment everyone takes responsibility for the emotional climate. This means that wellbeing programs need to be universal. Interventions aimed at a targeted population may not result in sustainable change. For example, where students lacking social skills are removed from the class for special training this may lead to a higher level of skill in those individuals but others still have the same perceptions: consequently when these students are re-integrated, previous behaviours are expected and reinforced (Frederickson, 1991).

Social and Emotional Learning

In 1996 the Delors Report for UNESCO outlined four pillars for learning in the 21st century. These are learning to know, learning to do, learning to be and learning to live together. The first two are usually the focus of the formal curriculum but the second two are beginning to have more traction in education. Without pro-active intervention, the default position may be negative and the classroom becomes a toxic environment where bullying and other negative behaviours thrive. There is also increasing evidence that SEL impacts positively not only on social behaviours but also on engagement and academic outcomes (Durlak et al, 2011). Schools need to think through what is on offer for learning about the self and relationships, and ensure this takes place in a safe and supportive setting. As there has been some justifiable critique of SEL as ‘therapeutic education’ (Ecclestone & Hayes, 2008), the processes that underpin this learning need as much attention as the content.

The Circle Solutions philosophy (Roffey, 2014) addresses this within a set of principles that provide a foundation for both a supportive classroom and an optimal pedagogy for SEL. Given the acronym ASPIRE, these principles are agency, safety, positivity, inclusion, respect and equality.  This is a brief explanation of what this means in practice.

Agency. Learning in school is often didactic – teachers delivering information to students who are told what to do and how to do it.  Giving students agency is more in line with socratic learning – questions and discussion that lead to critical thinking and the development of ideas.

When students have agency they make decisions on behalf of themselves. This is about choice, but also about taking responsibility. Where students decide on class values and ground rules, bullying is less likely to happen because everyone has thought about how we all want to feel here. A focus on group work and collaboration means the whole class takes responsibility for the emotional climate for learning. It is not up to one or two people but everyone. When teachers give students agency this helps them identify different options, reflect on these and then decide for themselves. This enables them to choose how to act and then take responsibility for the choices they make, including accepting consequences.  It is learning from the inside out about how to be and how to live together well – not control from the outside in (Roffey, 2011).

Safety is embedded in the Circle pedagogy in several ways. Issues are addressed but never incidents, so students learn ways to handle experiences objectively rather than subjectively. Issues are addressed in an impersonal, indirect way – perhaps using the third person rather than the first.  Although participants often choose to give a glimpse of their own narratives, the Circle is structured to inhibit personal disclosure. This addresses some of the criticisms that have been levelled at SEL.  Many students are anxious about making a mistake or being put on the spot. When you are with a partner or small group it is much easier to experiment, take risks and present shared ideas. This promotes confidence. It is also easier to make a stand or stick up for someone if this is a group effort. Cooperative learning is valuable across the curriculum but especially so in SEL (Johnson & Johnson, nd). Some students may have learnt that others are unreliable. They may need to build up trust slowly over time both with fellow students and with teachers. Discussing what trust means, looks like and feels like is a way of exploring how to establish an environment where people can feel safe in trusting each other.

The right to silence. Some students do not have the initial confidence to speak up in a public forum and a class or Circle is not a safe place if they feel under pressure to do so. In Circles they are given the choice to ‘pass’  Evidence suggests that students will speak when they feel safe, have confidence and believe they have something worthwhile to say.

 Respect. Respect can be defined as being accepted, listened to, and not being judged. It also means simply being acknowledged.  One of the Circle guidelines is ‘when you are speaking everyone will listen because what you have to say is important.   This means listening to others when it is their turn’. Listening to what others have to say can only happen when there are opportunities to speak. Young people who have been silenced or have little control in their lives might shout to be heard. Often we shut these voices down as disruptive. The students who get listened to are the ‘good kids’ who get onto student representative councils.  One way of addressing this is to disband established groups by mixing people up so they get to talk – and listen to – those outside their usual social circles.  In Circles ‘pair shares’ are intended to seek commonalities and ‘paired interviews’ to discover another’s perspectives.

Students of all ages relish opportunities to reflect on and discuss things that concern them: not personal incidents but issues that touch on their lives such as friendship and feelings. There are many resources to support such conversations in safe and fun ways in Circles using photographs, stories, statements, games and role-plays.

Positivity. The burgeoning knowledge in neuropsychology promotes the value of an optimistic perspective, relational values such as kindness and gratitude (Lyubomirsky, 2007; Piliavin, 2003) and the connection between feelings and learning. It makes sense on many levels to promote the positive. Many young people do not think of themselves well: even those from supportive backgrounds may feel they do not meet expectations. Others may perceive classmates negatively and not be able to acknowledge the strengths they do have. Students need to tune into their own and others’ strengths and be able to use these in their relationships and in their learning.

A solution focus. We live in a problem-saturated culture. Although there are challenges to be overcome, it might be better to start with a solution rather than the problem. When people focus on ways to get rid of something they don’t like (such as bullying) rather than what needs to happen instead (inclusion, friendship, support) they spend too much energy on the problem itself. A solution focus envisages where you want to go and what you want to happen.

Positive Emotions. Positive emotions not only enable students to focus but they also facilitate creativity and problem solving. (Fredrickson, 2009) Positive emotions include a sense of belonging, feeling valued, safe, comfortable, cared for, respected and loved. Positive emotions are also experienced in moments of exuberance, excitement and shared humour. Laughter releases oxytocin into our bodies – this promotes connectedness and resilience. Promoting shared humour in Circle sessions is one of the main reasons students love them. They also respond positively to the playfulness that is embedded in many of the activities (Hromek & Roffey, 2009).

Inclusion

The Circle pedagogy uses energetic games to mix everyone up. This happens several times in a session. The expectation is that everyone will work with everyone else. This breaks up cliques, helps people get to know each other and facilitates new perspectives,  This happens most actively when pairs are looking for things they have in common. Everything in Circles happens in interaction with others, in pairs, small groups or in whole group activities.

Belonging and resilience: Feeling you belong is one of the most important factors in resilience and wellbeing (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). We know what it feels like to come into a place where we are warmly welcomed and some of us know what it feels like when the opposite happens.

Connectedness in school matters (Blum, 2005):  It is the most vulnerable children in our communities who are most to find themselves on the margins. Such students may not be compliant, courteous or conform. They may be aggressive, distracted and insolent. It can be difficult to like young people who behave in ways that are unacceptable in school. High expectations for behaviour are appropriate but rejecting poor behaviour is different from rejecting the student. Adults need to convey the message to all students, but especially those who struggle: ‘you are important, we want you here, it is not the same without you’.

Equality / Democracy: In a supportive classroom the teacher uses their authority to empower students rather than control them (McCashen, 2005). Equality is embedded in the Circle pedagogy, where participants and the facilitator sit in a Circle together to promote equality – and everyone participates in all the activities, adults and students alike. The quality of facilitation makes all the difference to both long and short-term outcomes for SEL (McCarthy & Roffey, 2013).  In a school where everyone has an authentic voice this promotes equality as well as responsibility towards what is in everyone’s best interests, not just an elite few. Alongside the important value of freedom is the equally important value of responsibility. One person’s freedom to play loud music at 4am impacts on the freedom of others to sleep. Working out what is fair can be complex but we need our young people to learn how to negotiate and resolve conflict. Unless students experience democracy in school they are unlikely to realise what it means in practice at the socio-political level when they are old enough to vote.

Summary
We are social beings; our identity and worldviews are constructed in our interactions with others (Habermas, 1990). The emotions we feel, manage and respond to are situated within a social context. Relationships and feelings matter and are the lynchpin of a supportive environment for learning. When a school, is run on the basis of the principles above this builds an emotional and relational climate where both teacher and student wellbeing are likely to be enhanced (Roffey, 2012). When wellbeing becomes core school business there will be greater student engagement with learning and therefore increased academic outcomes, more pro-social behaviour and higher levels of resilience.

 

References

Arief, G. Liem, D., Ginns, P., Martin, A.J., Stone, B. and Herrett, M. (2012). Personal best goals and academic and social functioning : A longitudinal perspective Learning and Instruction 22 (3) 222-230.

Baumeister, R.F. and Leary, M.R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3) 497-529.

Blum, R.W. (2005). A case for school connectedness. Educational Leadership, 42(7), 62–70.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiences by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cornelius, H. and Faire, S. (2006). Everyone Can Win: Responding to Conflict Constructively Pymble Australia, Simon and Schuster.

Delors, J. (1996). Learning: The Treasure Within. Paris: International Commission on Education for the Twenty First Century, UNESCO.

Due, P. (nd) Mental Health among Adolescents and Young People in Denmark. Prevalence and Development over Time. National Institute of Public Health. Accessed June 15th 2015 http://www.velferdarraduneyti.is/media/1—formennska-2014/Pernille-Due.pdf

Durlak, J.A., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., Schellinger, K.B. and Weissberg, R.P. (2011) The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school based universal interventions. Child Development 82 (1) 405-432.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

Ecclestone, K. and Hayes, D. (2008). The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education. London: Routledge.

Feinstein. L. (2015). Social and Emotional Learning: Skills for Life and Work Early Intervention Foundation, UK Cabinet Office.

Frederickson, N. (1991). Children can be so cruel: Helping the rejected child. In: G. Lindsay & A. Miller (eds) Psychological Services for Primary schools. Harlow, UK: Longman.

Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Ground-breaking research to release your inner optimist and thrive. Oxford: OneWorld Publications.

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, Little Brown & Co.

Habermas, J. (1990). Moral consciousness and communicative action. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning, a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Rutledge.

Howells, K. (2012). Gratitude in Education: A Radical View. Sense Publishers.

Hromek. R. and Roffey. S. (2009). Games as a pedagogy for social and emotional learning. “Its fun and we learn things”, Simulation and Gaming, 40(5): 626–44.

Johnson, D.W. and Johnson. R.T. (nd). Co-operative Learning: Values and Culturally Plural Classrooms. http://bit.ly/1N6xnZg Accessed June 18th 2015

Kasser, T. and Ryan, R.M. (1993). The dark side of the American dream: Correlates of financial success as a central life aspiration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 65(2), 410-422.

Lyubomirksy. S. (2007). The How of Happiness, Sphere.

McCarthy, F. and Roffey, S. (2013). Circle Solutions: a philosophy and pedagogy for learning positive relationships. What promotes and inhibits sustainable outcomes? The International Journal of Emotional Education 5 (1) 36-55.

McCashen, W. (2005). The Strengths Approach: A strengths based resource for sharing power and creating change. Bendigo: St Luke’s Innovative Resources.

Newland, L.A. (2014). Supportive family contexts: promoting child wellbeing and resilience Early Child Development and Care, 184:9-10, 1336-1346.

Noble, T., McGrath, H., Roffey, S. & Rowling, L. (2008). Scoping Study into Approaches to Student Wellbeing. Canberra, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

Piliavin, J.A. (2003). Doing well by doing good: Benefits for the benefactor. In C.L.M. Keyes and J. Haidt, (eds) Flourishing: Positive Psychology and he Life Well Lived. Washington, American Psychological Society.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Riverhead Books, New York.

Roffey, S. (2005). Respect in Practice: The challenge of emotional literacy in Education. Conference paper for the Australian Association for Research in Education. http://www.aare.edu.au/data/publications/2005/rof05356.pdf

Roffey, S. (2008). Emotional literacy and the ecology of school wellbeing. Educational and Child Psychology 25 (2).

Roffey, S. (2010). Content and context for learning relationships: A cohesive framework for individual and whole school development. Educational and Child Psychology 27 (1) 156-167.

Roffey. S. (2011). Changing Behaviour in Schools: Promoting Positive Relationships and Wellbeing. London: Sage Publications.

Roffey, S. (2012). Teacher wellbeing, pupil wellbeing: Two sides of the same coin. Educational and Child Psychology 29 (4) 8-17.

Roffey, S. (2013). Inclusive and Exclusive Belonging: The impact on individual and community wellbeing. Educational and Child Psychology 30 (1) 38-49.

Roffey, S. (2014). Circle Solutions for Student Wellbeing. London, Sage Publications.

Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing. Sydney Random House.

Werner, E.E. (2004). What can we learn about resilience from large scale longitudinal studies? In Handbook of Resilience in Children. New York, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. (2010). The Spirit Level: Why equality is better for everyone. London Penguin Books.

 

Associate Professor Sue Roffey is an adjunct professor in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. She is a psychologist, academic, author and creator of the Circle Solutions framework for social and emotional learning. sue@sueroffey.com

I don’t get it…..yet March 7, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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by Karen McDaid

I love mathematics and not just a little! I really love mathematics, but when I recall my mathematical school experiences, I do so with a fairly dispassionate attitude. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I disliked school mathematics. On the contrary, I quite enjoyed learning and grasped most mathematical concepts fairly quickly, which meant I met with a small but consistent degree of success in mathematics. I did alright in standardised tests, was about middle in the class, but I was not ‘smart’ in an academic sense, or at least I didn’t think so. In saying that, I was always more than happy to persevere with a challenging problem and wouldn’t let anything get the better of me.

On the other hand, Paula White, who became my friend in Year 4, was my antithesis. I thought Paula was very ‘smart’. She was awarded first in class many times throughout primary school. I admired her greatly and aspired to be as ‘smart’ as her. However, my observations of her as a learner through the years, even to my young self, were puzzling. Although she was top of the class in most of the mathematics tests we undertook, when facing a challenging mathematical problem where the solution was not immediately obvious, often the first words she said were, “I don’t get this” or “This is stupid”. By Year 8 Paula had slipped into a cycle of avoidance and her achievements in primary school were not reflected in high school. It seems to me now that she was so caught up in proving her capabilities and successes that she forgot, or couldn’t embrace, the opportunity to learn. I frequently wondered what made us so different.

Many years later as a teacher I noticed the same traits in several of my Stages 2, 3 and 4 (Years 4 to 8) students in the first few weeks of the year. Some were keen to tackle challenging problems or at least persevere with problems; others used Paula’s mantra to indicate their displeasure. What I found interesting was that there was absolutely no correlation between my primary and high school students’ defeatist attitude and their actual ability in mathematics. I knew they could achieve if only they would try. In more recent years, while teaching Mathematics to primary pre-service teachers at university I often heard Paula’s “I don’t get this” from the adult students with whom I was working. Many also subscribed to society’s misconception that a person is either born with a mathematical ability or they are not. Unfortunately, this misconception has created a culture where it is socially acceptable for someone to openly proclaim that they are ‘no good’ at mathematics and where the belief is that intelligence is fixed and unchangeable (Boaler, 2013).

So began my quest to understand what influences attitudes towards, and self-efficacy in mathematics. My aim was to see if it was possible to develop resilience, motivation and foster positive self-efficacy in my students and in the primary pre-service teachers with whom I work. I became particularly interested in the research of Carol Dweck at Stanford University into fixed and growth mindsets. Dweck (2006) describes a fixed mindset as a significant impediment to learning as it affects the ability of the learner to ‘believe’ in themselves and thus impacts their cognitive development. She also defines mindsets as a set of powerful beliefs that are in the mind and as such are changeable. Dweck argues that those who have a tendency towards a fixed mindset are rarely willing to persevere with challenges for fear they will expose their perceived deficiencies. She believes that this attitude turns people into ‘non-learners’ and an examination of the brain-waves of people with a fixed mindset demonstrated a loss of motivation when faced with challenging problems (Dweck, 2006). On the other hand, people who have a growth mindset are more open to challenges, give up less easily and believe that intelligence is malleable.

I found Dweck’s work fascinating and when reflecting on Paula’s behaviour, I realised that she had exhibited many fixed mindset behaviours as did some of my students. A study into motivation conducted by Blackwell, Trzesniewski and Dweck (2007) followed hundreds of students transitioning to 7th grade. The study found that students who had been identified as having a growth mindset were more motivated and achieved at a higher level than those with a fixed mindset in mathematics and the gap between them continued to increase over the following two years. When a growth mindset intervention was implemented in further studies, Blackwell et al (2007) and Good et al (2003) found that the achievement gap reduced further and in particular that the gap between girls and boys was significantly reduced.

In recent times there has been a lot of talk about brain plasticity, and both Dweck and Boaler acknowledge that intelligence is malleable. My challenge has been to move the immovable from ‘I don’t get it’ to believe that they can ‘get it’. So, how did all this knowledge contribute to my teaching and learning objectives in the mathematics classroom? Well it didn’t, at least not in the beginning. While my teaching philosophy has evolved over a number of years, I have always strived to create a classroom culture where students were learners, not just in name, but really enthusiastic, motivated and driven learners. No doubt this is every teacher’s goal! As such, I set high expectations and wanted students to feel safe to be risk takers. My teaching philosophy mirrored a growth mindset classroom.

So I was working within a growth mindset, unfortunately, that was just it! ‘I’ was working using a growth mindset. While I had taken the time to set up a classroom culture with my school students, I didn’t communicate my philosophy to my university students. I didn’t expect the school children to know what was in my mind; I clearly communicated and worked with them to create a safe learning space. What made me think that my university students would know what was on my mind? They didn’t know about the classroom culture that I was striving to achieve, yet they were part of the classroom community too.

“Just the words “yet’ of “not yet,” we’re finding, give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence”.

(Carol Dweck, 2014)

While teaching time is finite, instead of rushing headlong into content in the first tutorial, I have found that spending twenty minutes setting up our classroom culture has been valuable for student engagement and for students’ self-efficacy in mathematics. I communicate my teaching philosophy and acknowledge that ‘we’ create the culture of the learning space. We discuss how our attitudes can set us up for success and take five minutes in small groups to discuss a time when we learned something well through hard work. We explore the notion of fixed and growth mindset and malleable intelligence. We set high standards for our learning and revisit this notion throughout the semester. No question is ‘dumb’ and mistakes are actively encouraged. I have learned to change my thinking and my language and that praise should be connected to behaviour rather than achievement.

This is my story, which changes according to student dynamics and as I continue to learn and adapt my teaching. I don’t claim that it will work for everyone, but I have seen a marked improvement in the effort and determination with which all students engage with the mathematics activities in class. Students have eagerly embraced replacing the statement ‘I don’t get it’ with ‘I don’t get it yet’. But one of the greatest and most powerful transformations is when you see a student who might have given up in the past, collaborate to work really hard on a mathematical problem and then suddenly they see the value in their effort and shout ‘I get it now!’

References

Blackwell, L.S., Trzesniewski, K.H., & Dweck, C.S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development78. 246-263, Study 1.

Boaler, J. (2013). Ability and Mathematics: the mindset revolution that is reshaping education. FORUM, 55(1), Retrieved from http://www.youcubed.org/wp-content/uploads/14_Boaler_FORUM_55_1_web.pdf on 12th November 2015.

Dweck, C.S. (2006) Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Dweck, C. S. (2014). The power of believing that you can improve. [Video/TED talk] Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve/transcript?language=en

Good, C., Aronson, J., & Inzlicht, M. (2003). Improving adolescents’ standardized test performance: An intervention to reduce the effects of stereotype threat. Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, 645-662.

Growth mindset Videos

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brpkjT9m2Oo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElVUqv0v1EE&list=PL4111402B45D10AFC

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-71zdXCMU6A

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiiEeMN7vbQ

Growth mindset websites

https://www.mindsetworks.com/default.aspx

Growth mindset lesson kit

https://www.mindsetkit.org/static/files/YCLA_LessonPlan_v10.pdf

Karen McDaid is a lecturer in mathematics education in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia.

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