Phil Pedagogical Reasoning beginning (July 2011)…

You would not write yours like my notes here. They are notes and I’m focusing upon the thinking. I am deliberately not writing in a format for you to copy. I’m also deliberately doing a detailed background that you do not need to do. It’s just you don’t know ‘my’ context.

1. The context of the school.
The school is a small remote high school in north-western NSW. It is situated in Kamilaroi / Gamilaraay land. It has had a long history of community challenges, difficulty in attracting and retaining staff, and generally poor educational outcomes. At the time the literacy levels were very poor and the students substantially behind where you would anticipate they should be given their age and stage. The urban community is predominantly Aboriginal with the town having two former Aboriginal missions. The town remains very segregated with most non-Aboriginal high school students attending boarding school away from town. There was a government primary school which is predominantly made up of Aboriginal students and a non-government primary school predominantly comprising non-Aboriginal students. There is very little employment and a high level or social dislocation. Contradicting this the town is within a wealthy livestock, rain and cotton region and is surrounded by number of large and profitable agricultural ventures.

At the time the school was about 95% Aboriginal students. It’s size then was around 100 student mark and attendance somewhat sporadic. Using the MySchool website data from 2010 the school has an ICSEA value of 635, with the national average being 100, with 70% being from the lowest quartile. The school has 105 students, 92% of whom are indigenous. In NAPLAN results it is performing substantially below national averages, but is pleasingly performing well compared to its like schools. This may be attributed to both the school and the community being the site of significant equity interventions and projects.

MySchools data for the two local primary schools shows the government primary has 96 students, an ICSEA of 633 (76% last quartile) and 96% indigenous. The Non-Government Primary school has 170 students, and ICSEA of (876) (33% last quartile 25% top quartile) and 46% Indigenous Students. Besides the ethnic and class differences that are apparent there are 264 primary age students in school in the town but only 105 at the high school. It would then be fair to conclude a lot do their high school education elsewhere. This all accords with my memory except the moderate Indigenous enrollment at the non-government school today. Back then it would have been less than 5 % of the students.

2. Context of the teacher and the state of remote schools.
You really wouldn’t need this but you need to know about me to help you understand the event and my response. You need to be honest about your thoughts and feelings to get the most out a reflective task like this. Therefore it is important to trust the critical fried/s you work with. I include this to give you a sense of where I was at and what schools can be like in some places.

I grew up at Bondi NSW and was sent by my parents to a Catholic Primary and High School due to their firmly held religious convictions. However, I also had a reasonably strong connection to the region around the school. One side of my family owned farms nearby (and were some of the original dispossessors) and we were often sent out in summer holidays to help out rather then loiter on the beach. I was born in a town about 45KM north east of the one in this study but we moved not long after that. I was in a better position than many teachers in the town as I knew some community members, and was quite used to mixing with Aboriginal people. That might sound a bit odd but many teachers in remote schools have no social connections outside their small group of colleagues and many have never genuinely mixed with Aboriginal communities.

I have a strong belief in my competence having completed my undergraduate study at Sydney Uni, and Honours in Australian history and education. I did my last year of study over two as I was the faculty student president for three terms and on the university union etc. (my theatre sport team also beat Adam Spencer's one year!). I had worked part time at an ELIOS school (teaching students from China) for 18 months while finishing my degree and accepted an invitation to work at my former school. I worked at this school, a well-regarded Catholic independent school of ‘that’ ilk, for two school terms before deciding I didn’t want that to be my career. It didn’t fit the philosophy I had developed. I spent the next term teaching English & History at a large rural high school in a relatively wealthy community about 150 km east of the school in this example. I then moved for the last term of the school year to a History-Social studies term block at the school described above.

I spent the first term of the next year at this same school before moving to a central (K-12) school 90KM north of this one. I spent the next 4 years at that school. I was in what was then called a ‘Mobile’ position – I had a permanent job in the region but was liable to be moved to cover a vacancy. It was one way the NSW DET ensured they could get staff to the schools. It was not uncommon for teachers to simply walk away after a bad day or even not get out of the car when they arrived. At the school in question in the example here, I was in a vacancy that they couldn’t fill and there were four other vacancies they could not fill. At the school I went to I took the position of a teacher who simply packed up and left one afternoon. After my four years there I was the second longest serving staff member and had seen three principals.

3. The Incident.
It’s about a third of the way into the term and I’ve developed a satisfactory rapport with the students. Yes, I’m having the usual first-year new teacher in a new school issues but overall have appropriate ‘authority’ with my classes.

For this incident I’m focusing on my year 9 class of about a dozen students, all of whom are Aboriginal. We are about to look at the topic of political activism and Aboriginal Rights and Freedom. No problem. I’m teaching history, my main teaching area, and I’m quite comfortable with the content. After all I do have an Honours degree in Australian history, and surely if anything is going to interest these kids it’s this topic.

So, why on earth are they behaving the worst they ever have in my short period with them? Why can’t I get their attention? Why aren’t interested in the work? After all, it may be appropriate literacy adjustments. Why do they seem to be totally ignoring me? What have I done wrong, the last three weeks they have been pretty good and done some good work on World War II, something that is surely not relevant to them at all. How can I go so far backward so quickly? All in all I’m feeling like an abject failure. Here I was thinking this teaching gig was easy. I’d been doing it full time for over a year now, had experienced no real problems and even settled into what was meant to be a difficult school reasonably easily. Perhaps this was my comeuppance, perhaps the rest was just good luck and here I was facing the reality of my own incompetence and paying the price for my pride. What’s more I've got the class tomorrow and I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to control them. Assuming it continues away from going they are going to be absolutely uncontrollable. I reach for a beer…

You would probably write…
‘The event I have chosen meets Nilsson’s (2009) conception of a critical event as it significantly challenged my views of me as a teacher and what I thought it meant to be a ‘good teacher’. In the chosen event I am teaching a year 9 class a lesson on the 1967 referendum. The class is made up of 12 students, all of whom are of Aboriginal Background. The school is in a remote community in a relatively disadvantaged community, having an ICSEA value of 635 (ACARA 2011). We are part way through a lesson on the campaign in favour of the 1967 referendum and I have created a range of activities that meet the students' lower-than-expected literacy levels. The activities comprise closed captions on pictures, closed activities we will do together, pictures in the text book and excerpts from speeches I have translated to be appropriate to their literacy levels. Regardless of my planning, and that they have been reasonably attentive to date, I am becoming increasingly aware that I seem to have no connection with the class today. It is as though they are ignoring my every word. They are not out of their chairs running around the room but they are not far from it. All my attempts to get their attention and discipline them are proving futile. What’s worse is I have 30 minutes of the lesson remaining and at the moment every second feels like an hour of agony.

The incident raised to the surface the three primary concerns that Nilsson (2009) outlines in that in the moment I was questioning my adequacy as a teacher and focusing on my survival as a teacher, class control, and being liked by the students. The event provides a powerful basis for reflecting on ‘what happened and why’ as within it are hints to my understanding of myself as a teacher (Shulman 1987), my conception of the role and knowledge necessary for a teacher (Hammerness et al 2001) and my understanding of the relationship between my content knowledge and pedagogy knowledge (Shulman 1986). Through reflecting upon the event (Schon 1983) I have been able to make connections with the various learning theories and educational issues I studied in my preparation, and have come to see how they are all represented in this event (Hammerness et al 2001).’

4. What would each of my units say?
a. Ed Foundations
  1. The historical development of schools and how rural schools were developed to mirror the city and initially set up by European settlers. How Aboriginal Students were actively excluded from schooling till the early 1980’s. the history of dispossession of the land, loss of language etc.
  2. The development of the curriculum and how Aboriginal Knowledge was not incorporated or valued in the school system. What the students were learning was not historically relevant.
  3. Poverty and development, high levels of drug and alcohol abuse, lack of sleep, illness, malnutrition, poor living conditions. A whole array of developmental problems, a number of students with otitis media and resultant hearing problems.
  4. Brain development issues, physical and cognitive developmental issues due to the environment, cognitive development issues due to the environment and ‘quality’ of education
  5. Behaviorist approaches. Need to develop classroom routines, control the class, appropriate reward and punishment to manage behavior and promote learning. use of drill & practice techniques.
  6. Poor motivation and engagement due to the content, the social context, my poor teaching. Needed to better connect learning.
  7. Needed to aim high, cover the various intelligences not just a written activity, use other teaching practices…

b. Promoting Positive Learning Environments
  1. Much of what Phil has written above under Ed Foundations could also draw on PPLE material. Models of classroom management. Relationship between home and school cultures. Learning styles. Expectations about content and teacher styles.
  2. Knowing the students. 'Do I teach students or subjects?' What did these students want and need from me ... on this day.
  3. Survival in the classroom. What strategies can I develop as a teacher to help me maintain my self-esteem on the bad days. In what ways can I understand what happened on that day that provide me with a narrative that doesn't put me as the sole cause of the lesson's problems?

c. Responding to Individual Needs in Education
  1. xxxxxxx

d. ELPC 1 (Technology & teacher identity)
  1. Teachers need to have technology knowledge as well as content and pedagogy knowledge (TPACK, Module G). The kids might have been more engaged in a longer-term project that allowed them more control over the curriculum, e.g., by using digital technology to gather and share stories of the 1967 Referendum from others in their community.
  2. Could be internet access issues, BUT audio and video recording doesn't require internet to be available/reliable, and almost any mobile phone today has both video and audio recording facilities (Module C).
  3. The kids' digital literacy might be poor in terms of all 3 elements of digital literacy: functional, network, critical. My responsibility is to get them up to speed (Module C).
  4. How is my teacher identity being formed through this? Always in flux and being socially negotiated between me, the kids, the community, the school, etc. Different expectations. How does my performance here relate to my own philosophy of teaching? Do I need to revisit/tweak it? (Module D)

e. STS 1 & 2
  1. Knowledge of the syllabus, its rationale, Aim sequence etc. Ensure the learning sequence is appropriate and meeting the relevant outcomes. In NSW working towards the year 10 school certificate.
  2. Were lessons planned, resources available, did it connect to the last lesson? Was it pitched at an appropriate level?
  3. Lesson structured with a range of activities during it. A variety of tasks, a range of levels of difficulty of tasks.
  4. Linked to the quality of good teachers, and good history teachers.
  5. Was I feeding back to students? Was I communicating clearly? Were the key skills explained and taught?
  6. Meeting the various aspects of the QT model.

f. Socio-Cultural Politics of Education (expectations, beliefs, power)
  1. Issues relating to Indigeneity and Indigenous students' needs aren't only historically situated -- they are part of a broader and complex SCP environment of disposession and cultural dislocation.
  2. Having said that, it's unfair -- and sometimes simply incorrect -- to assume both dispossession and dislocation and the discontinuity of culture, as such assumptions can, in themselves, be disempowering. Perhaps these kids are 'acting out' more in response to boredom or the 'irrelevance' of the curriculum and pedagogy as they see it to their own cultural context?
  3. Or, perhaps it's a power game? This could be an example of how this group chooses to exercise a form of power over the dominant socio-cultural discourse? Is it a way of opposing an oppressor?
  4. What are the collective expectations around how I teach this? (Society)
  5. What are the shared meanings, values, beliefs, practices around how I teach this? Does this differ depending on which cultural viewpoint I take? How can I account for cultural differences? (Culture)
  6. Who has power, governance, control and authority in how I teach this? Should the locus of power shift? (Politics)

g. ELPC2 (Literacy)
  1. What value did the community put on the literacies being promoted in the classroom? ('To whom am I responsible?')
  2. What opportunities existed for the students' way of knowing and expressing (their strong and valued literacies) to be drawn on and developed here?
  3. Were there opportunities for the difficulties experienced to be worked into a project which might involve literacy skills? Talking over what happened? Writing about it? Building sense of community through invitation to work together on blocks to learning?

5. At least 3 perspectives or theories
They give an explanation of what is happening and why based on research…

a. Perspectives
A perspective is a an established point of view, belief or attitude about education. It may also be a theory but more often combines theories to explain what is happening and why. Like any academic work a perspective needs an evidence base to be respected. IT cannot be based upon opinion or rhetoric alone.
Some examples might be;
  • Pedagogical Content Knowledge
  • Sociology
  • Class
  • Race
  • Bourdieu
  • Connell
  • Shulman

b. Theories
A theory is a well developed body of thought in relation to education. Theories usually have a well developed and recognised system that guides, explains, or describes the phenomena and could be the work of a person or group. Theories have a high burden of research evidence as they are the main organising blocks of investigation and inquiry.
Some relevant examples might be;
  • Critical pedagogy
  • Constructivism
  • Behaviourism
  • Quality Teaching
  • Humanism
  • Curriculum
  • Place theory
  • Freire
  • Apple
  • Dewey
  • Steiner

6. A start on what was happening
There were some fundamental problems under the surface here that made me trying to teach this topic an absurd proposition.
  • The Knowledge issue. Coming from Schulman I was focusing on the content. I thought I was a good teacher because I knew my stuff. However I really knew little about the ‘real’ history of Aboriginal Australia. My Australian history was about the development of the society. I’d done my mandatory Aboriginal issues unit at Uni but only touched on the experience of people in places like I now found myself. I knew the ‘official’ version of this event only.
  • Knowing the community. In addition to my knowledge of the subject I didn’t connect with the Community. I had great opportunities for fostering significance as per the QT model or matters of Engagement as per Zygnier. Students were not all that interested as they had heard it all before. After all the freedom rides came to this town and some of the main national activists for the referendum, and the ‘day of mourning’ and the bicentenary protests came from and still live in this town. Why didn’t I know that, why didn’t I talk to them, why didn’t I get them in to talk? These are fundamentals of teaching Aboriginal students and part of pedagogy models (now). What’s even more problematic is that no-one in the school told me about this. It suggests (and I would confirm) that there is a significant disconnect between the school (teachers, system) and the community. The relationship is one of fear and mistrust. There is also a vague ‘missionary’ intent to the school even though students are suspended en mass for not conforming to the schools rules.
  • Who controls the curriculum? Drawing on the field of curriculum studies and curriculum history, people like Connell, Freire, Green, Campbell & Sherrington. The curriculum had a particular political view of the 1967 referendum and that it was a positive event that changed things dramatically for Aboriginal Australians. Similarly the support documents, teaching kits and textbooks shared this view. In this view alternative experiences were not recognized or valued. This says something about the high cultural knowledge in the curriculum, and questions of who gets to influence the curriculum. In reality things in this community are arguably much worse since the referendum. Poverty and social dislocation has led to a significant reduction of opportunities for the Aboriginal community in this town. No wonder they weren’t interested. The curriculum matters!
  • Culturally appropriate pedagogy. I was focusing on what I was teaching and making it accessible to all students through modified text, the use of visuals, and highly structured activities. In this way I was not thinking of the cultural needs of students and building in their own knowledge first. I assumed they knew nothing and I positioned them as poor learners, hence the focus on the level of the work. My focus was on literacy as I saw it, the traditional text way. I didn’t engage community members in the topic that was particularly pertinent to them and their culture. Consequent to a-d above I undertook a MEd in Aboriginal Education.
  • Me & my position. My advantage of having a background in the region was also my weakness. I knew how to connect with country kids and was comfortable Aboriginal students. However my family were farmers and therefore had a position of opposition. I was also a european non-Aboriginal australian.
  • Combining issues above we get a great example of what Bourdieu & Connell talk about. The schools and community are valuing different things. The school is an active agent in social reproduction (marginalization, exclusion, class, race etc). Through my relative ignorance I was an active agent in doing this.
  • Have high expectations - Thinking Blooms, Vygotsky, and Gardner. My use of modified text, the use of visuals, and highly structured activities. Should have helped all students achieve in the work. However it was on my term in a style I valued. I didn’t do any pre-testing, or work in their ZPD. I came with a deficit approach to knowledge and skills and structured my activities low on the thinking scales and used only two intelligences. There was no real higher order thinking and no engagement of other intelligences.

Lecture on this (it's the second hour)