jump to navigation

Elect my candidate – honouring reasoning and intellectual agency October 25, 2010

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
Tags: , ,

From Professor Michael Singh

In his first post on 21st Century Learning, Michael Singh reflects upon and celebrates the intellectual and moral gains made through educational research and writing over the past decades as captured in contemporary educational literature, and through this signals the constancy of values that will continue to be critical for the effectiveness of 21st century schools.


This evening I wish to nominate my candidate for this election.

In doing so, I wish to begin by presenting to you the evidence that is necessary for you to make an informed decision, before casting your vote – for what you value and have reason to value.

In terms of leadership my candidate has worked long and hard over the decades – and is not just driven by the electoral cycle.

Perhaps my candidate’s greatest achievement has been in enhancing the interests of Indigenous Australians.

From the days of Charles Perkins’ ‘freedom rides’ and the 1967 referendum in support of Indigenous citizenship, my candidate has made it customary to acknowledge this country as Indigenous lands, to acknowledge the Indigenous ancestors of these lands and to acknowledge the continuing presence of Indigenous peoples.

This evening we honour the rich collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia in the work of Margaret Somerville and Tony Perkins.

In Singing the Coast (Aboriginal Studies Press, 2010) we see the immersion of non-Indigenous Australians in the struggles of Indigenous Australians over place, identity and knowledge.

Since at least the 1960s my candidate has also done much to advance the struggles of immigrants to Australia.

The Child Migrant Education Program was among those important achievements in the field of English language education.

Moreover, in the 1970s, with the end of the Franco-American neo-colonial war against the peoples of Viet Nam my candidate secured the undoing of White Australia politics.

Phan Le Ha and her colleague are carrying forward the multilingual and multicultural education agenda in their work Multilevel and Diverse Classrooms (2010).

That an Australian university can now honour a Vietnamese scholar, and count her as one of our own says much about the direction of change being pursued by my candidate.

With a nation-wide program that led to the establishment of preschools in the 1970s my candidate has done much to advance the interests of young children and their parents, especially their mothers.

In a field where economics and neuroscience are key drivers of policy-makers’ decisions, Marilyn Fleer and her colleagues are doing much to demonstrate the need for educational knowledge that builds the capacity of early childhood workers.

Moreover, through their work in Early Childhood Curriculum (2010), and Early Learning and Development (2010) they are contributing to the transnational flow of Russian knowledge into the Anglophone West.

My candidate for this election has done much to promote the intersection of race, class and gender, supporting the women’s liberation and anti-racist movements.

This evening Cynthia Joseph and her colleague are to be honoured for their important work, Black and Postcolonial Feminisms in New Times (2010).

With the mounting concerns about this dangerous and endangered world, my candidate for this election has done much to move forward the struggles against the exploitation of water.

This evening we honour the contribution of Brian Wathhcow in The Song of the Wounded River (2010) for his revelations about the damaged done to Australia’s greatest, but most fragile river.

My candidate has always been concerned about alienation, and especially about ways of generating higher-order knowledge – theory – from engagement with the struggles of those experiencing alienation.

On this occasion we honour the contribution of David Zyngier, Engaging Pedagogies and Pedagogues (2010) for his investigations into the politics of dis-engagement, the alienation that leaves students at schools ‘at risk.’

My candidate has been most concerned about identifying and working with those forces that can bring forward long-term change.

While workers are no longer the beginning and end of these struggles, work, workplaces and workers are integral to my candidate’s interests.

This evening we honour the contribution of Terri Seddon and colleagues in Learning and Work and the Politics of Working Life (2010) for their investigation into the changes in work and education, and the importance of debate and dissent to both.

Likewise we pay tribute to Deanna de Zilwa for her analysis in Academic Units in a Complex, Campaign World (2010) of the adaptation and resistance by academics’ work units to the new forms of government and market regulation that directs their operations.

Central to my candidate’s efforts to bring about change has been the human reasoning and intellectual agency involved in acquiring and producing knowledge.

That teachers’ knowledge is recognised and acknowledged in John Loughran’s What Expert Teacher Do (2010) is a wonderful achievement to be celebrated for expanding educational research beyond the boundaries of empirical concerns about practice.

This then is the evidence – and the values – that I have offer you in support of my candidate.

My candidate for this election has done much to keep the excesses of power inequalities at bay – often through the work of scholars such as these – scholars who have used the powers of human reason and intellectual agency to make visible forms of power that are otherwise obscured.

When it comes to dealing with concentrations of power; when it comes to re/asserting meaningful control over peoples’ lives; when it comes to giving direction and pace to change – my candidate stands for each new generation carving out its own path – its own vision – its own language – its own lexicon of critique.

Therefore, when voting in this or any election, I give you my number one candidate – democracy.

Some may mock my support for democracy as an over-indulgence.

Bt it is the power of the people to bring forward the forces that can effect the direction of the historical changes documented in this research that makes democracy worth voting for – every time.

This democratic impulse claims intellectual status and the authority of research-based knowledge for the underrepresented and marginalised in the everyday life of this nation.

It is the power of the people to monitor, mediate and mitigate the concentrations of unaccountable power documented in this research that makes it possible for the people to assert meaningful control over their lives.


Michael Singh is Professor in Education and leads the Work Knowledge Democracy research program in the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. This blog post is an excerpt from an address he gave before the recent Federal election in Australia. Michael delivered this address at the Research Expo, Faculty of Education, Monash University Melbourne, on August 16, 2010, where he was invited to celebrate recent research achievements in Education at Monash.

“If you like the teacher, you’ll ‘get’ maths more”: Students talk about good mathematics teachers October 11, 2010

Posted by Editor21C in Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
Tags: , ,

From Cathy Attard

In her first post, Cathy Attard explores the classroom conditions necessary to optimise student engagement in learning mathematics. She finds that student relationships with their teachers are critical in allowing them to learn mathematics effectively.

Many students during the middle years of schooling (Year 5 to Year 8 in New South Wales) are experiencing emotional, social, physical, and cognitive changes that must be dealt with in the mathematics classroom.  Mathematics curriculum and instruction must address the particular needs of these students because so many jobs, and indeed the demands of everyday living now and in the future, require complex mathematical thinking. Over the last 20 years research has overwhelmingly documented an increasingly smaller percentage of students pursuing the study of mathematics at upper secondary level and beyond. The choice not to pursue mathematics has been seriously influenced by students’ attitudes towards and performance in mathematics, in turn deeply shaped by school mathematical experiences and the teaching they experienced in school (Nardi & Steward, 2003).

So, what makes a good mathematics teacher? There are several frameworks that address ‘good’ teaching including the Quality Teaching Framework (NSW Department of Education and Training, 2003) and the Standards for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics in Australian schools (Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers [AAMT], 2006). But how do these frameworks compare to what students think about the qualities of a good mathematics teacher? During a longitudinal study on engagement in middle years mathematics, I asked a group of 20 Year 6 students at a Western Sydney school to name the qualities that make a ‘good’ mathematics teacher. The students’ said a good maths teacher:

  • is passionate about teaching mathematics;
  • responds to students’ individual needs;
  • gives clear explanations;
  • uses scaffolding rather than providing answers;
  • encourages positive attitudes towards mathematics; and
  • shows an awareness of each students’ prior knowledge.

The study followed the same group of students through their transition to high school, and into Year 7. During their time in secondary school, the students’ experiences included a wide range of pedagogies and teachers, and significant exposure to technology within the mathematics classroom.  Despite being exposed to an integrated curriculum and a school that was purpose built to cater for next-practice learning and teaching, it was the teachers and the relationships that were built within the classroom that had the most significant impact on student engagement in mathematics. It appeared that the introduction of technology during Year 7 had removed many of the opportunities for student/teacher and student/student interaction that are such an integral aspect of learning mathematics. During their time in Year 7 the students experienced lowered engagement as a result.

Two years after the study began, when the students were in Year 8, their secondary school underwent some significant changes in terms of its curriculum delivery (no longer integrated) and the use of technology in the mathematics classrooms. There was significantly less reliance on technology and a much heavier emphasis on direct instruction. The students began to build relationships with their teachers and in turn, this saw their engagement in mathematics begin to build. The students spoke about how they now felt their teachers ‘cared’ about them and ‘knew’ them. This comment indicates the importance of positive student/teacher relationships: “if you like the teacher, you’ll get maths more. You’ll know what’s going on more.”

Although some of the pedagogies these students experienced during the study were not considered ‘best practice’, it appears the students were able to overcome this, whereas it was difficult for them to overcome the lack of positive interactions with some of their mathematics teachers. It is proposed that regardless of the school context, students in the middle years have a need for positive teacher-student and student-student relationships as a foundation for engagement in mathematics. This relationship is built on an understanding of students and their learning needs. Unless such a relationship exists, other pedagogical practices including the use of technology may not sustain engagement in mathematics during the middle years.

References: Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers [AAMT]. (2006). Standards of Excellence in Teaching Mathematics in Australian Schools. Adelaide: Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers.  Nardi, E., & Steward, S. (2003). Is mathematics T.I.R.E.D? A profile of quiet disaffection in the secondary mathematics classroom. British Educational Research Journal, 29(3), 345-367.  NSW Department of Education and Training. (2003). Quality Teaching in NSW Public Schools. Sydney: Professional Support and Curriculum Directorate.


Cathy Attard is a Lecturer in mathematics education in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She specialises in student engagement in mathematics, with a focus on primary school mathematics.

%d bloggers like this: