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Objective or Subjective? Can the arts be assessed? June 13, 2017

Posted by Editor21C in Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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By Rachael Jacobs

 As with any subject area arts education must conform to curriculum policies and procedures, including those related to assessment. In subjects such as Dance, Drama, Music and Visual Arts, students’ creative work is assessed formatively and summatively through a range of assessable instruments. However, the assessment of artistic work presents unique challenges, as the processes used are highly dependent on a wide range of interrelated contributions. This leads to wide speculation that the arts cannot be assessed, as all judgements are merely subjective.

 Arts learning is multifaceted in that it connects to the human experience, engages learners in imaginative and aesthetic growth, accesses technical skills and allows for vocationally orientated experiences. It is also creative and dynamic, using assessment tasks to gauge artistic responses upon the learning trajectory. It is arguable that ongoing and regular assessments are critical components of the arts classroom. Students’ creative work is assessed formatively and summatively through a range of assessable instruments, including individual and group performances, journals and logbooks, design portfolios, director folios, script development, improvisation tasks, video production, self-reflection, theatre reviews and interviews. Performance assessments in particular can be complex because of the variations between performance sites, the requirement for ensemble or group work, the nature of the ensemble or group, the access to technical equipment and the composition and reactions of any audience that might be in attendance (Oreck et al. 2003).

But these problems can be addressed through effective assessment task design. The larger issue is the perception that the formal and widespread assessment of artistic creations can result in a stifling of individual expression, imagination, creativity and originality, while not allowing for the fresh pursuit of ideas (Hanley 2003). A wide range of responses are also plausible to a particular task. Despite these challenges, system-wide assessment in the arts is achievable and necessary to establish the credibility of the field and to provide systems for identifying student achievement within the formal school curricula.

One of the biggest challenges identified by Harris (2008) is that ‘creativity’ is not easily defined and is therefore difficult to assess. Assessment in aesthetic domains also utilises personal responses to stimuli, which can be unfamiliar to those more accustomed to assessment tasks with previously defined answers. This is where the duality of objective and subjective constructs comes into play. Haynes (2008) and Ross (1993) describe traditional assessment methods, as identified by Hyde (2013), as being focussed on objectivity, whereby assessors are expected to discard their own feelings in favour of strictly set criteria in which interpretations are not required.

A focus on objective judgments is contrary to arts education, and indeed, the broader aims of education. O’Toole et al. (2009) remind us, “Knowledge and learning are of course never objective nor value-neutral, much though ultraconservative groups and politicians might wish them to be seen as such” (p. 108). Jackson (2006) justifies the validity of creative assessment tasks, arguing that “it should be possible to separate subjective judgments of creativity from judgments of technical goodness and from judgments of aesthetic appeal” (p. 169). Tomlinson (2001) argues for a healthy balance between subjective and objective judgments in order to create informed judgments on performance assessment that provide the most ‘individually sensitive, accurate and comprehensive evidence’ (p. 15) of student learning. Misson (1996) goes so far as to identify arts education as a site for the construction of subjectivity, which he argues operates at the nexus of intelligence and emotion: “thought is charged with feeling, while feeling is refined and strengthened by thought” (p. 11). In this respect, it has long been argued that subjects such as Drama teach empathy (Holland 2009; Trinder 1977). Similarly, Bolton (1984) describes Drama as a process of ‘unselfing’, which makes subjective and alternative responses a valid part of the dramatic response.

The assessor is concurrently an arts consumer, but is more active than other audience members. The ability of the assessor to capture their thoughts on the quality of work as it occurs is vital to the integrity of the assessment process. For example, during a performance, the assessor is required to make judgments about the quality of the work and physically notate their thoughts in relation to given criteria. The assessor makes cognitive links between student choices based on the assessment criteria, balancing their judgements with their own implicit criteria, which are necessarily based on their personal experiences (Baptiste 2008). While an audience member is permitted to make purely subjective judgments, the assessor aims to make informed judgments, which may result in marks or grades being recorded. Teachers in the arts develop expertise in assessing the outcome of the aesthetic process or the manifestation of the individual aesthetic experience. The product is therefore viewed from a number of perspectives and informed judgments are made by the assessor based on set criteria and personal discretionary judgements in relation to, and the quality of, what is produced (Ross 1993).

Leach et al. (2000) argue that assessors are consciously and unconsciously biased by their own values, preferences and dispositions. In this respect, personal responses from both the assessor and the student can widen the possibilities for interpretation (Ross 1993). Rather than command that assessors discard these personal responses, it is preferable for students to be taught to use individuals’ insights to reflect upon, and if necessary, make adjustments to their performances (Soep 2005). Students do not create art solely for the purpose of being assessed; rather they engage in arts education to pursue their own artistic expression. Therefore, students should be encouraged to assess feedback and apply their own artistic decisions to their work. Both students and teacher-assessors should be aware that subjective responses are natural, as they are rooted in “culturally authorised criteria” for judgment of the level of achievement (Ross 1993, p. 164). However, the assessor’s judgement is recorded in quantifiable terms such as grades or marks; therefore, the student has a heightened awareness of the assessor’s responses in the high-stakes assessment environment.

The literature suggests that subjective judgements are endemic in the arts assessment environment and can never be divorced from the process. At the same time, the ‘healthy balance’ (Tomlinson 2001, p. 15) between subjective and objective judgments are ideally what the teacher-assessor should deliver. Subjective and objective perspectives combine to create informed judgements that broaden interpretations on the students’ art. This can be somewhat challenging to those not accustomed to assessment in affective domains, using aesthetically charged mediums. Academic work is traditionally associated with rational and quantifiable modes of thinking, therefore arts educators should take care to make their language accessible and their assessment processes transparent. Arts educators’ challenge to traditional learning and assessment paradigms is also important because it broadens the educational community’s understanding of the nature of learning. Discussing the merits of creative assessment tasks is also important as it allows for the rigour and complexities of the tasks to become visible to those outside of artistic fields.

The challenges associated with arts assessment, like the arts themselves, are heavily nuanced. Teachers and students do not engage in arts assessment to have a complete and full understanding of all its nuances. They engage in the arts to experience the joy of creative expression and artistic creation, to play ‘pretend’ in a range of roles and to build a more comprehensive understanding of the human experience through an array of lenses. There is also joy within challenge; Arts performance assessment contains areas of ambiguity and subtleties that lack definitive answers. The subtleties add to the richness of the field, challenging educators to engage in meaningful discussions in order to find ways to enhance fairness and equity amid the ambiguity.

References:

Baptiste, L. (2007). Managing subjectivity in arts assessments. In: L. Quamina-Aiyejina, ed., Reconceptualising the Agenda for Education in the Caribbean, 1st ed. [online] St. Augustine: School of Education, UWI., pp.503-509. Available at: http://uwispace.sta.uwi.edu/dspace/bitstream/ handle/2139/6714/Cross-Campus%20Conference%20Proceedings%202007. pdf?sequence=1. [Accessed 17 Jul. 2012].

Bolton, G. (1984). Drama as education. Harlow, England: Longman.

Hanley, B. (2003). Policy issues in arts assessment in Canada: “Let’s get real”. Arts Education Policy Review, 105(1), pp.33-38.

Harris, J. (2008). Developing a language for assessing creativity: A taxonomy to support student learning and assessment. Investigations in University Teaching and Learning, 5(1), pp.http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/ fms/MRSite/psd/hr/capd/investigations/vol5/INV%205_013%20-%20Harris.pdf.

Haynes, F. (2008). What counts as a competency in the arts?. In: Australian Association for Research in Education Conference. [online] Brisbane. Available at: http://www.aare.edu.au/data/publications/1993/haynf93103.pdf [Accessed 29 Mar. 2016].

Holland, C. (2009). Reading and acting in the world: conversations about empathy. Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 14(4), pp.529-544.

Hyde, D. (2013). What makes a good secondary assessment? On achieving the aims of assessment. Journal of Education and Practice, 4(13), pp.188-197.

Jackson, N. (2006). Developing creativity in higher education. London: Routledge.

Leach, L., Neutze, G. and Zepke, N. (2015). Learners’ perceptions of assessment: Tensions between philosophy and practice. Studies in the Education of Adults, 32(1), pp.107-119.

Misson, R. (1996). Dangerous lessons: sexuality issues in the drama classroom. NADIE Journal, 20, pp.11-21.

Oreck, B., Baum, S. and Owen, S. (2004). Assessment of potential theater arts talent in young people: The Development of a New Research-Based Assessment Process. Youth Theatre Journal, 18(1), pp.146-163.

O’Toole, J., Stinson, M. and Moore, T. (2009). Drama and curriculum. Dordrecht: Springer.

Ross, M. (1993). Assessing achievement in the arts. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Soep, E. (2005). Critique: Where art meets assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(1), pp.38-63.

Tomlinson, C. (2001). Grading for success. Educational Leadership, 58(6), pp.12-15.

Trinder, J. (1977). Drama and social development. NADIE Journal, June, pp.33-43.

 

Dr Rachael Jacobs is a lecturer in arts education in the School of Education at Western Sydney University.  She is a former secondary teacher (Dance, Drama and Music) and primary Arts specialist.

 

 

 

Place-based learning in teaching and teacher education November 1, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Ecology, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By Katherine Bates

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.  (Benjamin Franklin)

Place-based education is part of the broader ecopedagogical movement in education that connects learners with and immerses them in their natural locale (Kahn, 2010; McInterney & Smith, 2011). These connections are understood to be best developed authentically, over time and with gentle positive immersions in the natural world (Sobel, 2014). This ‘in-place’ approach is also argued to be a built on process, connecting students with their local community through repeated immersions in order to develop a sense of agency with and planetary citizenship for the lived-in world (Hung, 2014; Sobel, 2014). Place-based education therefore plays an important role for engaging students with notions of ‘place’, identity’ and ‘community’ and, for developing local-global connectivity and citizenship in these times of significant environmental challenge (McInerney, Smyth & Down, 2011; Misiaszek, 2016).

Place-Based learning is also a particularly useful and energising approach in light of today’s Australian Curriculum reform and eco-pedagogy paradigm shift (ACARA, 2012). With the inclusion of an eco-pedagogical approach in curriculum and syllabus documents, immersing children in the natural world, it moves from an optional fringe pedagogy to mainstream when implementing the Humanities and Social Studies Learning Areas in the Australian Curriculum and the NSW BOSTES History and Geography Syllabuses for the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, 2012; NSW BOSTES, 2012). However, if we are to implement this approach in a school context for deep learning about the world around us, educators need to leave indoor classrooms so that students can be immersed in the natural world ‘up close’ (Kahn, 2010; Knight 2016; Liefländer et al, 2015).

One of the core aspects in the Human Society and Its Environment subject in the Master of Teaching at Western Sydney University provides future teachers with a sense place by involving them in place-based activities within their local university environment. These strategies provide future teachers with a starting point for understanding hands-on, nature-based enquiry and provide model lessons for implementing positive immersion nature based explorations in their future primary Geography and History teaching contexts.

Many of these place-based tasks are supported by using technology in the learning experience and in the creation of learning objects back in the classroom thus making technology an invisible tool in the learning rather than a tokenistic add on (Hunter, 2015). One of the popular choices amongst the selection of activities is the nature audit. Vertical or horizontal metres are measured out and using a mobile device, photos of the components within the metre space are taken. Students then audit the collected data, categorising the manmade and natural objects, the interaction between the objects and the dominance of, or integration between these components (Fig. 1). The photos are then generated into a ‘Zoom’ slide show with a sustainability theme.

comp-1Figure 1: Nature Audit

 

 

 

Kinaesthetic experiences are also popular with our preservice teachers such as matching paint colour swatches with colours from the natural and man-made local environment (Fig. 2). Students then ‘colour-map’ their environment, collecting data on colour dominances and tonal preferences. These data mapping activities are connected with earlier work in using Google maps, geo-mapping and geocaching for learning about local and global communities with school aged students. Conversations and ‘fat questions’ are raised about the dominant colours in our children’s school and in their wider communities. Other kinaesthetic activities involve recording natural and man-made sounds in their environment, which instigates interesting discussions about the impact of sound and the ‘white noise’ in children’s seemingly ‘always on’ world.

comp

Figure 2: Colour in my world task

 

The strategies described here are but a sample of the place-based inquiries that our preservice teachers take part in but are ones that demonstrate the opportunities for rich discussion that these activities generate in terms of implementing place-based education with primary aged students. Moreover, the significant positive in task engagement that transpires when groups of preservice teachers work collaboratively in and about the natural world reinforces the different ways of knowing and learning that the outdoors offer all ages. As facilitators of these activities our team always looks forward to working with our groups as we share a common passion for supporting our future teachers in developing students’ connections with nature and develop pro-environmental agents of change (Liefländer et al, 2015).

 So children can thrive and grow strong in challenging times ahead, let us engage them in nature, ethical conversations, and the building of caring and peaceful communities, in their schools and beyond.  Winograd, K. (2016, p 266)

 

References:

Australian Institute for Teaching and Leadership (2016). Australian Professional Standards of         Teachers, Author, Sydney.

Hung, R. (2014). In Search of ecopedagogy: Emplacing Nature in the lLght of Proust and Thoreau. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 46(13), 1387-1401.

Hunter, J. (2015). Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPack,

Routledge, New York and London.

Kahn, R. (2010). Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy and Planetary Crisis: The Ecopedagogy

Movement. New York: Peter Lang.

Liefländer, A., Fröhlich, G., Bogner, F., & Schultz, P. (2015). Promoting Connectedness with

Nature through Environmental Education, Environmental Education Research, 19(3), 370-384.

McInerney, P., Smyth, J., and Down, B. (2011). Coming to a Place Near You? The Politics and

Possibilities of a Critical Pedagogy of Place-Based Education, Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 39(1), pp 3-16.

Misiaszek, G. W. (2016). Ecopedagogy and Citizenship in the Age of Globalization:

Essential Connections between Environmental and Global Citizenship Education to Save the Planet. International Review of Education, 62(5), pp 587-607.

Sobel, D. (2014). Place based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities. Green

Living:  A Practical Journal for Mindful Living, 19(1), 27-30.

Winograd, K. (2016). Education in Times of Environmental Crisis: Teaching Students to be Agents of Change, Routledge, New York and London.

Dr Katherine Bates is a sessional academic in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia.  She currently lectures in Human Society and Its Environment at Western Sydney University and also in Literacy and Numeracy in Secondary Schooling at the University of Wollongong. She has had extensive experience as a classroom teacher across ES1-S4, EAL/D and literacy support, as well as senior leadership roles in curriculum and assessment with the Department of Education and Sydney Catholic Education.

Including all children – a student teacher’s reflection September 20, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Inclusive Education.
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By Robert Mccluskey

I am currently studying at Western Sydney University and am in my last year of the Master of Teaching (Birth-12) Program. I have recently completed a professional experience placement in a long day care centre.

During my time at the centre one of the learning foci in my studies was the design and implementation of an inclusion plan for a child with disability. This was a new experience for me, as I hadn’t worked with many children with disabilities before so I was initially quite nervous that it would be beyond my capabilities as a pre-service educator.

Initially, I was concerned that without knowing the specifics of a child’s diagnosis, and the impacts that it may have on their learning and development, it would be difficult to cater for any of the child’s additional needs. So I spoke with the parents and staff, to learn more about the strategies that were currently being implemented and to find out about the long term and short term goals. I also researched the diagnosis in greater depth, in an effort to understand the day-to-day impact that it would have on the child’s learning.

What did I do?

The main focus for the inclusion plan was for the child to initiate in parallel and social play situations. This was done by prompting the children to play in groups, creating situations for partner play through transitions, i.e. each child picks a friend, and a construction project in which the children built and evolved a miniature construction site in the centre’s outdoor play area. It was important when implementing any of the learning opportunities for all of the centre’s staff to be informed beforehand so they could support the inclusion plan’s success.

Benefits for the child?

I found that forming positive social relationships helped generate positive self-esteem in the child. (Dunlap, 2009). I also noted that through these social relationships, the child was also able to further develop important social and language skills. (Flint, Kitson, Lowe, & Shaw, 2014). Children benefit from positive social interactions with peers and educators they respect. The inclusion plan I designed was focused on the parent’s main goal of nurturing and expanding on the child’s social interactions. In developing this plan, I hoped to see a notable benefit to all the children. Throughout my studies I learnt that inclusive practices don’t only benefit children with disabilities, but can positively support the development of all children.

What made the inclusion plan successful?

The inclusion plan’s success was largely due to collaborating with families and the educators, the ongoing dialogue with parents and staff about the child’s progress which allowed for constructive feedback to be provided. Both these elements were critical to the development of the program and its success.

Benefits for me

In working with a child with disability, I was able to understand the importance of being able to implement a range of teaching strategies so as to be able to include all the children in my care. This is a lesson that I will definitely take into my professional future, it is clear to me that stronger inclusive practices are beneficial to all of the children involved.

References:

Dunlap, L. L. (2009). The importance of play. In An introduction to early childhood special education: Birth to age five (pp. 352-387). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Pearson.

Flint, A. S., Kitson, L., Lowe, K., & Shaw, K. (2014). Literacy in Australia: Pedagogies for engagement. Milton, Australia: John Wiley and Sons Australia.

 

Robert Mccluskey is a final year student in the Master of Teaching (Birth-12) Program offered by the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. His post was initially published on the education blog site, Online Community of Practice, and is reproduced here with his permission.

The multicultural pedagogies of sports August 29, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Engaging Learning Environments, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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By Jorge Knijnik and Carol Reid

As Australia receives new intakes of migrants, many from refugee backgrounds, government, non-government and community organizations take part in supporting the settlement of these new arrivals and their families. As such, across Greater Western Sydney and other places, we have seen the proliferation of sports programs offered to young people in order to help their transition into their new country.

Sports has long been considered an arena that can bring social cohesion to society. ‘Common sense’ understandings of the role of sport therefore take for granted the idea that as long as people are playing organized sports, issues of collective and peaceful coexistence magically emerge through the ‘power of sport in bringing people together’.

However, sports are not immune to wider problems in society. Despite the spectacularization of sports within all types of media and the uses of sport as a supernatural tool by politicians, cultural and educational research have pointed out that sports can also be a field for discrimination and social exclusion. We just need to look at Adam Goodes’ troubles during the 2015 AFL season to still see the prevalence of racism on the sports field; and on school playgrounds, we can still perceive young children being ostracized in sports practices based on gender. These issues will exist in sports as long as they exist in society. It is not possible to think that social and cultural discrimination will somehow disappear because people are together on a sports field.

So, what are the practical implications of cultural and social diversity for sports practitioners such as coaches, players, managers and referees? Is it possible to draw some pedagogical guidelines that assist people on the field to negotiate cultural diversity? How can we be assured that sports coaches, teachers and instructors who work in the frontline of sports education will be equipped with culturally inclusive pedagogical views and tools so sports will really deliver the positive social outcomes that they are meant to?

Currently, very little is known about how young people from culturally diverse backgrounds interact in the context of their sports practice. Notwithstanding the importance of sports training and competition in the lives of Australia’s diverse populations, until now little research has been undertaken in Australia to understand how cultural diversity is experienced in the everyday lives of thousands of young sports persons within their growing and diversifying multicultural communities.

The socio-cultural space of sport provides a key public educational site for young people to actively participate in civic life and engage with different cultures. Education is seen here as a ‘cultural pedagogical practice that takes place in multiple sites’ (Giroux, 2011:141). Hence, cultural pedagogical practices developed in and through sport training settings raises fundamental questions of public life in order to produce more inclusive communities where conflict is not denied but constantly negotiated. These pedagogies may contribute to young people developing understandings for engaging with others and to transform their world. In the current global content these capacities seem critical  (Giroux, 2011).

Currently in the School of Education we have been trying to understand how young people and their sports coaches and instructors develop their training strategies during their daily sports practices to deal with cultural diversity on and off the sports fields and courts. This knowledge will be central in the development of new pedagogies that really support the inclusion of people from different backgrounds and with different identities without undermining any culture/gender/sexuality in favour of maintaining hegemonic practices. The awareness of current pedagogical practices in several sports venues across Greater Western Sydney will contribute to the formulation of a pedagogical framework to support conviviality within high culturally and socially diverse communities: the design of the multicultural pedagogies of sport will be fundamental in the development of real inclusiveness in the diverse sports field within Greater Western Sydney.

Reference:

Giroux, H. A. (2011). On critical pedagogy: Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

 

Dr Jorge Knijnik and Professor Carol Reid are members of the School of Education and researchers in the Centre for Educational Research at Western Sydney University, Australia.

Questioning Learning: Lenses from the Learning Sciences June 8, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By LΣARN

If we could equate teaching to learning, how would we account for the gaps in students’ achievements even though the students were taught by the same teacher and learnt in the same environment?  If students could learn deeply by listening quietly to a teacher, would the traditional way of schooling be viable for our digital generation? Few people will deny the need to reconceptualise the notion of learning when digital media is shaping how learning is taking place in the classroom and beyond the confines of its walls. Learning sciences research is offering us lenses to understand the science of learning, knowledge construction, digital media, and principles of effective learning environments and the role of instruction.

What is Learning Sciences?

By learning sciences, we are not referring to how science is learnt. Rather, we are referring to an interdisciplinary field that investigates teaching and learning in various settings using theories and  models from different fields such as cognitive science, educational psychology, instructional science, computer science and literacy studies. We are particularly interested in deep learning which is one of the scholarly inquiries in learning sciences. Like other learning scientists, we are interested in findings ways to understand and design innovative approaches to develop deep learning. By way of introducing learning sciences, we will present brief descriptions of some research areas in this field in the remaining parts of this blog.

What should Educators Know about Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design?

A key research focus in the learning sciences is the design of learning environments that align with human cognitive architecture. Two key components of this architecture are working memory and long-term memory. Working memory can only process 2-4 elements of new information at one time (Cowan, 2001). Long term memory consists of schemas and has no known limitations.

Research on human cognition has generated a range of practical take-home messages for educators:

  1. In general, teachers should employ direct-guided instruction when introducing students to new learning materials. Guided instruction includes the heavy use of worked examples, particularly with well-structured problems, whereas unguided instruction requires students to adopt general problem-solving approaches such as trial and error and means-ends analyses which are heavily taxing on working memory.
  2. When students have developed a sufficient level of knowledge in a learning domain, teachers should not provide guided instruction. High knowledge learners have schemas in long term-memory to guide them when solving problems. However, when presented with external guidance by the teacher, these high knowledge learners are forced to mentally integrate the information provided by the teacher and cross-reference this with their own knowledge. This results in cognitive overload of working memory.
  3. Teachers should avoid situations which result in the redundancy effect. A common example is when a teacher uses a Powerpoint presentation and reads the text, word-for-word, from the slide. Such an approach causes cognitive overload because learners must attend to two streams of data which are conveying the same information.
  4. The spatial presentation of multiple sources of mutually-referring information can also lead to cognitive overload. For example, graphics and associated explanatory text are often placed separately from each other. Learners have to attend to both sources of information, because in isolation, neither source conveys the full information needed for the learner to problem solve. The cognitive resources required by learners to mentally integrate the separate sources of information are highly taxing on working memory. The solution is to physically integrate the two sources, thus reducing the search and match processes required by learners to understand the information presented.

Are Positive Learning Environments All about Developing ‘Feel Good’ Schools?  

In our inquiry about the design of learning environments, we are also keen to examine the association between school environments and student’s wellbeing. Debates in this focus may conjure up outdated notions of teachers minimising scolding of students to preserve their self-esteem or schools saturated with posters reminding students that they are unique. There are educators who are incredulous of new curricula which invite both students and staff in schools to look at their emotional development. They most probably see it as far removed from the core business of schools and only contributing to ‘feel good schools’ which have little impact on important things in life.

Positive Learning Environments (PLE) are places of learning where the whole of person is engaged in an effort to contribute to the overall development of an individual and in turn his or her communities. The ‘positive’ is both an indication of the more traditional sense of pleasantness and safe, but also a mathematical concept of ‘addition’. It involves adding, contributing to an individual’s development. In PLE, knowledge of the factual traditional curricula of schools is intertwined with knowledge and development of the whole of self. This invariably includes an incorporation of affect in the everyday practice of schools. Affect, in this instance refers to not just the experience of feeling or emotion but also the physiological and cognitive (thinking) components of such experience. Although affect and knowledge acquisition have always been part of learning anything by anyone,  it is fair to say that systematically talking about, intervening in and considering affect regulation, quality and development as part of schooling is a relatively new phenomena for schools to take on.

The detrimental impact of aversive affective states (e.g., anxiety) and school environments with components related to high affective dysregulation for students and staff (such as racism, bullying and violence) on learning and wellbeing are now well documented. However, the need for research and development of positive learning environments is not just about the removal of unpleasantness in schools. It is also about the gains which are made when affect regulation and development are also seen as the core business of schools alongside academic development.  This research is exemplified by current efforts looking at social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools. SEL is defined as a process engaged in schools where all members of their communities apply themselves to the development and understanding of emotions with an understanding that “learning emerges in the context of supportive relationships that make learning challenging, engaging and meaningful” (CASEL, n.d.).

The economic and lifetime benefits of social emotional skills and schools’ unique position to develop them have also been acknowledged in a recent OECD report (see OECD, 2015). The report highlights and acknowledges the increases in access to education but recognises that social emotional skills are needed alongside academic/cognitive skills to foster lifetime success. It is through affect regulation (directly or as a mediator of other skills) that greater cooperation, task perseverance, and problem solving can be achieved by communities and individuals. Although current available evidence in relation to social emotional learning is growing and promising, there is still much to be discovered. What are the key skills our teachers need to engage in SEL? Are the effects of SEL universal? How do we best develop social emotional skills? For that matter, which skills do we develop? What are the best pedagogies that engage the whole of the child and how do we assist our school system to evolve from a system whose origins gave little credence to emotion to ones where knowledge and affect are treated as one.

Positive learning environments are more than just ‘feel good’ schools. They are active learning communities engaged in the education of the whole child for their and their communities benefit. They are complex communities with relationships, processes, and pedagogies directed at affect regulation and cognitive development practices. They are truly the 21st century schools.

Why Should We Study Teacher Beliefs?

In our inquiries into designing learning environments, we are not forgetting the importance of understanding teacher development and beliefs. Teachers develop a sophisticated amalgam of knowledge, beliefs, and skills to be effective in the classroom.  In particular, teachers’ beliefs about teaching and learning can provide useful insights into their practice.  Beliefs are “psychologically held understandings, premises, or propositions about the world that are felt to be true” (Richardson, 1996, p. 103).  Teachers’ beliefs can be classified into views of the teacher’s role in the classroom, the students’ role in the classroom, how the students learn their subject area best, and how to make the subject matter comprehensible to others (Friedrichsen, van Driel, & Abell, 2011).  These types of beliefs are often derived from prior K-12 school experiences. They are extremely robust and do not change easily (Jones & Carter, 2007).

Often, teachers are asked to implement new pedagogies in their classrooms that align with current reform efforts (e.g. inquiry-based approaches).  Yet, teachers often experience considerable difficulty when implementing new pedagogies as they develop practical knowledge and perceptions of their school contexts. Practical knowledge and perceptions of context are then filtered through core beliefs about teaching and learning which can impact classroom practice.  For example, consider a teacher who has just implemented an inquiry-based approach to instruction.  After implementation, constraints may develop in the form of practical knowledge suggesting that students have considerable difficulty with the task. The teacher may also develop perceptions of his or her school being unsupportive of reform-based strategies.  If the teacher also believes his or her role is to only transmit information to the students, this will likely cause him or her to abandon the strategies.  Conversely, in the face of practical and contextual constraints, if the teacher believes it is his or her role to facilitate guided inquiry experiences so that students have some opportunity to wrestle with the concepts, he or she is likely to make modifications to his or her teaching and attempt the pedagogical strategies again (Sickel & Friedrichsen, 2015).

With the example above, we see that helping teachers elucidate and often confront their existing beliefs about teaching and learning is an important part of the teacher development process.   A teacher with core beliefs that misalign with a teaching approach is a significant barrier to large-scale implementation.  Understanding teacher learning provides important implications for designing teacher education and professional development programs which in turn help teachers enhance their students’ learning outcomes.

How has Digital Media Revolutionised the Way Students Learn?

Increasingly, learning sciences calls for an inquiry into students’ perspectives and the ways in which their literacies are accessed, used and lived in everyday practices, both inside and outside of school (Kim, Tan, & Bielaczyc, 2015). Existing learning sciences research shows an increasing interest in the emerging culture of learning in the virtual spaces. We sum up how students are self-directing themselves online using 5Cs of what they do in this emerging culture of participating online:

  1. Connect
  • Students are staying connected to their peers and interest-based groups to pursue passion-based learning.
  • Often, these students are learning about a specific content or skill from mentors who may not necessarily be adults but have enough experience to share their knowledge with them.
  1. Communicate
  • Students are displaying more ownership of their creative works or digital artefacts Using social media, they communicate their thoughts and “pass on” their works to solicit feedback and appreciation.
  • They create networks to stay connected and communicate with people who share their interests and are keen on what they do.
  1. Collaborate
  • Learning becomes more distributive and social. Nonetheless, with the diverse backgrounds of people whom they interact with online, learning has evolved from simply group learning to collaborative learning where multiple perspectives of a focused issue are exchanged before a shared perspective is established.
  • Conversations no doubt can include playful talks but have become more dialogic to facilitate deeper thinking in online interactions.
  1. Create
  • Digital artefacts provide strong evidence of learning. When students interact with others online, learning has become more participatory. To learn from one another means there must be learning by doing.
  • There are more bodies of research that show students are developing dispositions of experts as they learn by doing and intentionally cultivating thinking skills which classroom teachers are trying to develop in key content areas in the formal learning spaces.
  1. Curate
  • With learning becoming more distributive, collaborative and participatory, students are developing ways of managing their works and feedback online. Curation becomes part and parcel of what they do such as creating tags to organize their online artefacts.
  • Students are looking for ways to exhibit and curate their current and past works using social media using Google Plus, Facebook or using apps to create their own websites.

 

In order to pursue our work in learning sciences, we have formed the LƩARN (Learning Sciences Affect Research Network) HDR cohort group. This is a group uniquely created for HDR students within the School of Education to embark on research related to the field of learning sciences. To build our student’s research capacity, we are conducting a series of workshops and forums in the second half of 2016. You are welcome to contact anyone of us for further information about this group and the research we do. We also welcome any comment and feedback from you regarding our research interests or activities in LEARN.

Researchers in LΣARN

 chwee beng Dr Lee Chwee Beng

chwee.lee@westernsydney.edu.au

 

 

 aron Dr Aaron Sickel

A.Sickel@westernsydney.edu.au

 

 lyndie Dr Lynde Tan

Lynde.Tan@westernsydney.edu.au

 

 jose Dr Jose Hanham

J.Hanham@westernsydney.edu.au;

 roberto Dr Roberto Parada

R.Parada@westernsydney.edu.au;

 

 

References

CASEL. (n.d.).  Collaborative for academic, social and emotional learning. Retrieved from http://www.casel.org/social-and-emotional-learning/

Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number 4 in short-term memory: a reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24(1), 87–114.

Friedrichsen, P., van Driel, J. H., & Abell, S. K. (2011). Taking a closer look at science teaching orientations. Science Education, 95(2), 358-376.

Kim, B., Tan, L. & Bielaczyc, K. (2015), Learner-generated designs in participatory culture: what they are and how they are shaping learning. Interactive Learning Environments, 23(5), 545 – 555.

OECD.  (2015). Skills for Social Progress: The power of social and emotional skills. Retrieved from http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/download/9615011e.pdf?expires=1461906844&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=B24ED59A273470F52724E55D6AA51152

Richardson, V. (1996). The role of attitudes and beliefs in learning to teach. In J. Sikula (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Teacher Education (pp. 102-119). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Macmillan.

Sickel, A. J., & Friedrichsen, P. J. (2015). Beliefs, practical knowledge, and context: A longitudinal study of a beginning biology teacher’s 5E unit. School Science and Mathematics, 115(2), 75-87.

 

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