Claire Golledge

Civics: Is there enough room in the syllabus?

Politicians and policy makers constantly express concern over students’ lack of civic knowledge and their lack of engagement as citizens; their understanding of democracy. At the same time, Australian students consistently fail to demonstrate basic proficiency in the national assessment of civics and citizenship education (NAP-CC)

The politicians have a point. It is in all our interests to have an engaged and knowledgeable citizenry. The question is how to go about improving civics and citizenship education (CCE) in a way that makes a meaningful difference? 

Renewed focus

The current round of hand-wringing about CCE has found expression at both state and federal levels. In February, the NSW Educational Standards Authority (NESA) announced that the revised HSIE syllabus, to be revealed later this year would have a “renewed focus” on civics and citizenship education, although we are yet to see what this renewed focus looks like. Meanwhile, last week the Commonwealth Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters held public hearings (chair Kate Thwaites pictured in header image) as part of the inquiry into civics education, engagement and participation in Australia. It was disappointing that amongst the many experts appearing before the hearing last week, none were current classroom teachers. 

It is hard not to notice that it is history teaching, or more specifically history teachers, who are (paradoxically) considered both a key cause and solution to the deficiency in student knowledge of CCE, with former education minister Alan Tudge famously calling for a more “optimistic” version of Australian history to be taught in classrooms so that “Individual students learn to understand the origins of our liberal democracy so that they can defend it, they can protect it, they can understand it, and they can celebrate it”.  

Voices and concerns of students

Despite what might be offered by the latest round of curriculum reform in NSW, and without pre-empting the findings of the parliamentary inquiry, it needs to be said that efforts to pursue CCE through more mandated content in humanities courses, won’t on their own improve the quality of student civic knowledge or engagement. Efforts to improve CCE need to include the voices and concerns of students and teachers, and consider the different contexts in which teachers approach CCE across the diversity of Australian classrooms. 

Teachers get it

I’ve undertaken research with history teachers across NSW, and it’s clear from my interviews with them and time spent in their classrooms that they do understand history education as having a pivotal role in the teaching of CCE. But critically, they see history as doing this through the teaching of disciplinary skills such as the critical reading of sources, the ability to ask robust questions and notions of the contestability of knowledge, rather than through the teaching of any sort of ‘canon’ of knowledge about Western democracy and civilisation. In an era of misinformation and fake news, the ability of students to ask critical questions – of individuals and our institutions is perhaps more important than ever. 

The syllabus and HSC are hindering, not helping CCE 

Whilst it’s easy to talk about adding more CCE content to the syllabus, teachers report that they are already working with a history curriculum that they describe as ‘full’ and ‘tight’ and which as a result doesn’t allow any wiggle room to explore areas of passion or interest for their students. We need to be careful about making the syllabus even less flexible for teachers to work with. 

For one teacher in my study – Jane – who is an expert in local Aboriginal history and storytelling, the formal curriculum in senior history courses, with their emphasis on world wars and Western history, limits her ability to share this expertise with her students.

As a result, Jane is deeply cynical about attempts to formalise civics and citizenship education through mandated knowledge in the history curriculum which she sees as alienating, “boring” and “deeply irrelevant” for her students. Jane instead tries to engage with democratic notions through inclusive pedagogies and the building of a classroom community.

Lovely kids but so sheltered

For another teacher in my study – Max – who teaches in a high-fee independent school in Sydney, it is not only the curriculum that frustrates his teaching of CCE, but also the high stakes assessment of the HSC. Max describes his students as “pretty Anglo [and] affluent, they are so sheltered here. They are lovely kids, but they are so sheltered”. Max understands his task as being to challenge some of the ways in which his students are ‘sheltered’ through exposure to challenging content and ideas, and grappling with the contestation at the heart of history education.

But Max also admits that the primary expectation of him as a teacher of senior students at his school is to get his students the best possible result for their Higher School Certificate examination. This means that in his senior history classrooms, with students on the precipice of voting, he prioritises ‘teaching to the test’ and this means sometimes foregoing opportunities to pursue rich and meaningful CCE. 

CCE in an inequitable education system 

While both Max and Jane are passionate teachers of history who are seeking to embed CCE in their classroom, they are not doing so on an even playing field. Educational inequity is rarely discussed as a factor in improving CCE in Australia, and yet the resources and opportunities afforded to Max’s students make a huge difference in his ability to connect their learning in history to the development of their civic knowledge. For Jane, teaching in an under-resourced, regional school, she struggles to get students to comprehend the broader significance of their learning in history:

I am trying to teach them who Mussolini is, but they have no idea who their own Prime Minister is, that’s really quite a challenge….

I’m sure at many schools that wouldn’t be a problem. At some schools the name of the Prime Minister is on the honour board.

Jane’s insight is a telling one, because indeed the honour boards of Max’s school are replete with the names of Australian politicians and other notable individuals. Messages about democracy, participation and active citizenship are encoded into the very fabric and structure of our education system which provides so much to some students and so little to others. And yet we wonder why so many students begin their adult life feeling disengaged from politics and public life? 

Let’s hear more from teachers when we talk about CCE 

As we look around at the political and environmental challenges being faced by the next generation, there is particular urgency to engaging with the question of how to best develop in our students an appreciation for democratic ideals, a valuing of inclusive notions of citizenship and the knowledge and capacity to be empathetic and engaged civic actors. But improving student knowledge and capacity in these areas won’t happen if all we do is think about content in the curriculum without parallel regard for the systems and structures at work in our education system more broadly. History teachers are well aware of the way in which notions of citizenship and democracy can be pursued in their classrooms, and we would do well to listen to and value their insights. 

Claire Golledge is a lecturer in education and the co-ordinator of HSIE Curriculum (Secondary) in the Sydney School of Education and Social Work. Prior to taking up her position at the university, Claire worked as a secondary teacher of humanities, as well as in school executive leadership positions, leading teacher professional learning.

Our header image is from the Facebook page of Kate Thwaites, chair of Commonwealth Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters

Possibly the last blog of the conference . . .

Still happy to take contributions inspired by the AARE Conference but we will be returning to regular programming next week so please follow these guidelines. Please write to jenna@aare.edu.au

Thank you very much to everyone who contributed posts and photos over the past week.

Meghan Stacey, senior lecturer in the UNSW School of Education, writes, Symposium: What’s the “new sociology of education”, then and now? Looking back to the 1970s and ahead to today

In 1971, Michael F.D. Young published the edited collection ‘Knowledge and control: new directions for the sociology of education’. This among other signature texts of the 1970s constituted work characterised as ‘the new sociology of education’, which saw the field shift from, as symposium convenor Julie McLeod put it, ‘taking problems’ to ‘making problems’. In this shift, aspects of schooling which had previously been taken for granted, such as what and whose ‘knowledge’ constitutes the curriculum, were opened up for scrutiny. 

The symposium asked contributors to consider what this ‘new sociology of education’ did and did not notice; its legacies; and what might or should constitute a ‘new’ sociology of education for today.

The first response to this remit came from Bob Lingard, who pointed to large scale assessments, datafication and globalisation as examples of forces which have shifted studies in the sociology of education and which demand a move beyond methodological nationalism. Lingard’s talk resonated with points made by the third speaker in the session, Joel Windle, who argued for ‘rescaling’ in a ‘new’ sociology of education for today, in which thinking about knowledge and control is shifted to a global level. 

Lingard and Windle’s arguments were given a useful counterweight by the fourth speaker in the session, Eve Mayes, who brought discussion of the new sociology of education to the level of classroom-based research and practice through the example of the ‘Teachers for a Fair Go’ project, highlighting the ongoing need to question ‘what schools can be’.

Yet questions of the future, and in particular a future for the sociology of education, were seen by some speakers to be under threat. Lingard noted that while in the 1970s, sociology of education would be taught in the first, second, third and fourth years of initial teacher education, this presence has since dwindled significantly. A similar point was made by the second speaker in the session, Parlo Singh, who noted an (over?) emphasis on Bourdieuian theory in the sociology of education today, despite Pierre Bourdieu having only a relatively fleeting engagement with education (unlike, for example, his contemporary Basil Bernstein). Singh argued that the lack of sociological training in today’s initial teacher education may explain this trend.

According to Jessica Gerrard and Helen Proctor, who presented the final paper in this session, “declarations of the new” always bring with them “whispers” of the old. For Gerrard and Proctor, this raises questions about just what is sought to be ‘conserved’ in ‘conservative’ views and politics. 

Yet in the context of this symposium, where the future of the sociology of education itself appears to be in danger, perhaps an important question is what needs to be ‘conserved’ from the legacy of the developments of the 1970s. In particular, there may be a need to emphasise the central role of the sociology of education in supporting, as Mayes highlighted, the ‘fair go’ that classrooms can but often do not provide for students. As such, the sociology of education is not separate from but in fact central to initial teacher education. As the discussion that followed the papers highlighted, the sociology of education supports an understanding of teachers as navigators and negotiators of a curriculum which is not taken for granted, but instead, understood as culturally contingent and power-laden. This means we should be enhancing, rather than further marginalising and denigrating, the sociological education of the pre-service teachers we teach.

As convenor of a large, sociologically-informed undergraduate education course, I am sometimes questioned as to the ‘practicality’ of my course for students of teaching. It is too ‘theoretical’, some students (and sometimes colleagues) say. And while the theory is essential, it may be that the links between this theory and the actual work of teachers in classrooms needs to be made more explicit for the next generation of teachers. As such, and as session convenor Julie McLeod suggested as the symposium concluded, foregrounding the importance of the sociology of education in schools and initial teacher education classrooms may need to be a first priority of any ‘new’ sociology of education moving forward.

Photos below are just some of the images from the conference

Louisa Field, PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, writes on Teachers’ Work and Lives

Philip Poulton

The University of Sydney

Primary Teachers as Classroom Curriculum-Makers: Emerging Findings From a Longitudinal Study Exploring Teachers’ Experiences in Curriculum-Making With a Standardised Curriculum 

“I just have to make the thing with the outcomes, in the way that others want me to make, and then I have to teach the thing in the way it says” and “I think what guides the programming is really driven by our questioning of how we do we equip these students for a world that we can’t anticipate or envision yet?” These are two examples of the very different experiences of curriculum-making for teachers in Phillip Poulton’s doctoral study. In this longitudinal study, Phillip has followed preservice teachers from their final year of initial teacher education into their first year of classroom teaching, exploring the realities of early career teachers’ reported curriculum-making experiences. This study has found that whilst these teachers reported varied curriculum-making experiences, these were not always characteristic of more knowledge-led forms of curriculum-making. Rather, these were characterised more by instances of curriculum delivery.

During this presentation, Phillip drew on two individual teachers, both alike in terms of their valuing of education and conceptions of curriculum-making. However, in their first year of teaching, these two teachers found themselves in classroom fields with very different agendas and orientations towards curriculum. One teacher reported greater agency in working with curriculum in a flexible and collaborative environment, guided rather than restricted by the syllabus. The other teacher reporting a contrasting experience, finding herself in a non-collaborative environment and ticking off ‘outcomes’ prioritised above all else. Phillip’s study provides fascinating insight into the lived experiences of early career teachers who, while all aspiring to be knowledge-led curriculum-makers, were either enabled or constrained by the conditions of their individual classroom fields. Understanding more about these experiences is particularly pertinent today, especially with current discussions centred on ‘ending the lesson lottery’ and centralising lesson planning for teachers. Phillip’s doctoral study offer impetus for us to challenge such delivery agendas placed on classrooms which often narrow teachers’ curriculum-making practices. Rather, teachers’ curriculum-making needs to be reinforced as a key tenet of teacher professionalism – practices that are dependent on teachers’ professional knowledge of their students, pedagogy, and content.

Dr Claire Golledge The University of Sydney

No Capacity, No Equity: Schools, Universities, and New Challenges for Teacher Professional Learning  

Dr Claire Golledge’s paper focussed on how teacher professional learning (PL) mandates can exacerbate inequity across schools and systems. All Australian teachers are required to meet mandatory professional learning expectations in line with the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Dr Golledge’s presentation drew on her own experience as a former leader of professional learning, and from her doctoral case study research to illustrate that not all teachers are positioned equally to meet these mandatory PL requirements. To highlight this point, Dr Golledge presented two case studies of teachers in vastly different learning contexts, one in an inner city, elite, independent school and another in a regional, government school where the bulk of students come from low socio-economic backgrounds. Despite vastly different PL needs and differing capacities of these teachers to access professional learning opportunities, both of these teachers are subject to the same PL standards and requirements.  While the teacher in the independent school was supported with their PL with a healthy budget, covered classes, and access to a range of accredited PL, the teacher in the regional school faced additional challenges of funding, finding casuals to cover classes, and access to accredited professional learning within her school. Dr Golledge’s study raises a key point that we often talk about educational inequity amongst students, but what about the impact on teachers? This is something which is all too often overlooked. This presentation sparked lively conversations about the ethics and equity of for-profit professional learning providers as well as asking what role universities should play in helping to support teacher professional learning and access to research in schools.

Listen to the children. This is what ‘good’ teaching looks like to them

Much has been researched, written and debated about what it means to be a ‘good’ teacher. Conversations in Australia continue around quality teaching and teacher quality and the way we educate our teachers. Governments at national and state levels have specifically designed and established teacher accreditation regimes to produce ‘good’ teachers.

But despite the proliferation of public debate and political action around these issues, I was aware that the voices of students and their perspectives and experiences of being taught had been largely overlooked.

As part of a wider research project exploring the nature of exemplary history teaching, I interviewed groups of young people at four different high schools about their experiences of learning, and sought their insights and understanding into what good teaching looks like to them.

The students interviewed demonstrated a high degree of insight and understanding about the nature of teachers work and shared a strong, articulate vision about what students consider good teaching to mean. And although the students in the study were all from a variety of school backgrounds – government, independent, urban and regional – there was a clear consensus amongst the students about the aspects of teaching that were regarded as most important to them.

They valued the relationship they had with their teacher most of all. But they also recognised and were engaged by the different teaching methods their teachers used and they appreciated and were inspired by the deep knowledge their teacher had of their subject.

Relationships

Students from all schools in the study told me that their relationships with their teachers were by far the most important factor for affecting their engagement in learning. For students at the independent school Greenview College, they felt encouraged and empowered to learn with their teacher Penny, who makes an effort to get to know them as individuals.

At the start of each school year Penny writes each of her students a letter to introduce herself, and asks students to write to her in return. Penny uses the insights and understanding gained about her students to then better tailor learning experiences to their interests and passions. Penny also surveys her students regularly during the school year with one student telling me “she asks us how we like to learn and through that feedback, you can tell she took that on.”

Students make a connection between their teachers getting to know them, listening to them and the quality of their engagement in learning.

It is a connection that is especially pronounced at Bayview High School, a public school in a regional area of NSW, where challenges such as low student attendance, violence and anti-social behaviour create additional barriers to student engagement. Within this teaching context, teacher Jane achieves both high levels of engagement and above average academic results from her students, a key reason for which is the strength of the relationships and the community she establishes in her classroom. Jane’s students tell me that learning in her classroom is different because:

Lisa: It’s like a family.

Rachel: Yeah, she [Jane] is our family.

Lisa: I actually want to be here.

Rachel: It is pretty much my favourite class.

Lisa: Honestly, I skip every single class except this one.

Jade: It’s like a safe place.

Here, student’s voices are providing insight into the significance of relationships in establishing the possibilities for student engagement in learning, and reminding us that before students begin to learn they need to be welcomed to a classroom in which they feel safe and to which they belong. For students, a good teacher is someone who works to create this kind of classroom.

Pedagogy

Students in all the schools had very clear ideas about the type of classroom practices that they found most engaging and effective. None of the teachers in the study made regular use of textbooks, something that all the students interviewed made mention of as a positive aspect of their practice. The students told me that they got the most out of teaching practices that were creative and offered a variety of learning experiences, with students at one school saying it was great that “no two lessons were the same”.

For students in one outer-urban government high school, they felt energised and enthused by their teacher Dan who made innovative use of technology alongside teaching strategies such as role play with his history classes. One of Dan’s students told me:

We are young and we like things that excite us and make us happy, and [Dan] is exactly the type of teacher you want….you get excited! Like ‘Oh my God I’m going to [Dan’s] class!’….you really get excited to go in there, you go there and always have fun.

But far from valuing pedagogies that preference ‘fun’ over ‘learning’, students saw the best teachers as those who used engaging and innovative pedagogies to, as one student expressed it, “get us out of our comfort zone.” For these students, a good teacher was one who offered a variety of learning experiences that were both enjoyable and challenging.

Knowledge

All the teachers in the study were specialists in History, with an expert level of subject matter knowledge, and this expertise was both noticed and valued by their students. The students I spoke to frequently made reference to the way in which their teachers’ expert knowledge allowed them to engage in particular teaching strategies or in the way teachers made their own passion for history visible to the students. Importantly, students see teacher knowledge as visible to them through the way it translates into particular learning experiences.

For students at the independent boys’ school Churchill College, they find the enthusiasm of their history-buff teacher Max to be infectious:

Rick: You can tell he has a real passion for the subject. He actually said one class he was reading [a history book] the night before. You can tell he is really interested in the subject and that drives him.

James:    Yeah, it makes you want to be just as interested.

Students really value being taught by subject specialists, particularly when a teacher demonstrates and shares their passion for learning with their students, and even learns alongside them.

Talking to students about their teachers and seeking their thoughts about teaching can be a source of rich and meaningful data about students’ understanding and experiences of classroom learning in particular contexts. Whilst these conversations with students represent a mere starting point for considering the role of students in conversations about their education, they show us that when they are included, students can offer informed and meaningful feedback about what good teaching means to them. It is also a reminder that secondary school students, who may be taught by up to six different teachers on any given day, have real knowledge and insight into contemporary teaching practices and are able to provide meaningful commentary and feedback on these as informed agents.

We can learn much from what our students have to say about teachers and teaching and should not shy away from including them more often in these conversations.

 

 

Claire Golledge is undertaking a PhD in Education, using multiple case study methodology to examine the classroom practices of exemplary history teachers. Claire has taught History and Legal Studies in NSW secondary schools, and is a current post-graduate Teaching Fellow in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Sydney University.

 

Claire is presenting at the AARE 2018 Conference on Monday 3rd Dec on “I skip every class except this one”: the value of student voice in conversations around ‘good’ teaching.