Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

"This Is as Good as It Gets": Classroom Lessons and Learning in Challenging Circumstances

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

"This Is as Good as It Gets": Classroom Lessons and Learning in Challenging Circumstances

Article excerpt

Introduction

Pedagogical reform has become a central focus of concern within educational policy in NSW. In 2002, after an extensive review of schools throughout the state, and of school reform more generally, the Independent Inquiry into the Provision of Public Education in NSW recommended that "improvements to pedagogy should formally be afforded the status of being a major strategic priority of the NSW public education system during the coming decade" (Esson, Johnston, & Vinson, 2002, p.102). In the following year, the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) launched its major curriculum initiative, the Quality Teaching Framework (NSW Department of Education & Training, 2003).

The framework is primarily an adaptation of ideas about teaching and assessment that were initially elaborated by researchers working at the University of Wisconsin in the USA (Newmann, Marks, & Gamoran, 1996), and developed further in Australia by researchers working on the Queensland School Reform Longitudinal Study (Queensland School Reform Longitudinal Study, 2001). The NSW framework, which applies across all years of schooling in all key learning areas, focuses the attention of teachers on three dimensions of quality teaching: intellectual quality, quality learning environments and significance.

The Quality Teaching Framework, with its emphasis upon such aspects of teaching and learning as higher-order thinking, quality learning environments, high and explicit student expectations, multiple ways of knowing, and meaningful connections with prior knowledge, challenges the conventional wisdom about instruction in classrooms characterised by high levels of poverty and cultural and linguistic diversity. Knapp, Shields and Turnbull (1995, p. 771) described this conventional wisdom as follows:

   These approaches emphasise curricula that proceed in a linear
   fashion from the 'basics' to 'advanced' skills (though seldom
   reaching the latter), instruction that is tightly controlled by the
   teacher, and ability groupings that harden into permanent tracks at
   an early age. 'Good' instruction is that which keeps children at
   work on academic tasks. Children who fail to keep up are targeted
   for re-teaching and extra practice on discrete skills ... Although
   these approaches may improve children's grasp of the basic skills
   (and there is evidence that they do), they risk shortchanging the
   learning of more advanced skills in comprehension, reasoning and
   composition.

Pedagogical reforms such as the Quality Teaching Framework go through a long chain of translations as they enter the educational field and eventually find their way into schools and classrooms. In his later writings, Basil Bernstein traced such a trajectory and identified three major sites (Bernstein, 2000). Firstly, at the site of production, for example universities and research organizations, academics and researchers construct the ideas of authentic or productive pedagogy together with the research evidence to support the claims. These interpretive constructions subsequently find a home within sites of re-contextualisation such as curriculum and professional services units within educational departments. Here the initial, highly abstract ideas are selectively reinterpreted and translated into more practical texts, such as guidelines, discussion documents, video presentations, and case studies. Finally, what has now become an institutionalised process of pedagogical reform enters the site of reproduction, such as schools and classrooms, where, as the name suggests, the focus is on applying the principles, rubrics and procedures of what are now officially endorsed practices.

The success or otherwise of pedagogical reforms that introduce high-challenge curricula depend in part on the translations and recontextualisations that inevitably occur at various points along the trajectory. In this particular paper, we focus upon the classroom. …

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