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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.

 

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.

 

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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

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