Mixed Pedagogic Modalities: The Potential for Increased Student Engagement and Success

By McPhail, Graham J. | New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Mixed Pedagogic Modalities: The Potential for Increased Student Engagement and Success


McPhail, Graham J., New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies


Abstract

This paper utilises the theoretical concepts of classification and framing (Bernstein, 1975/2003; 2000) as a means to describe and analyse approaches to pedagogy. I draw on these concepts in a discussion of the evidence-based literature related to pedagogy, and of the pedagogic practices of a number of music teachers observed in New Zealand secondary schools. Students were more engaged in lessons where a "mixed pedagogic modality" was in evidence in relation to content selection, pacing of learning, evaluation, and pedagogic communications. This appears to align with the extensive work of Moráis and Neves (2001; 2011) that indicates this modality, combined with competent specialist teacher knowledge, is most likely to engender high levels of student engagement and success for students. The paper brings into focus the tension between apparently contradictory discourses of pedagogic "best practice" where, on one hand teacher interventions are seen as pivotal and on the other, broader constructivist and experience-based discourses depict the teacher as facilitator and colearner. A mixed modality approach can move theorising of practice away from progressive/traditional dichotomous conceptions. I conclude by arguing for a more explicit consideration of the importance of curriculum content in the interplay between pedagogy and student engagement.

Keywords: pedagogy; best practice; classification; framing; Bernstein.

Introduction

This paper utilises Bernstein's theoretical concepts of classification and framing (Bernstein, 1975/2003; 2000) as a means to think about approaches to pedagogy. I draw on these concepts in a discussion of recent research concerned with pedagogic influences on student achievement (Alton-Lee, 2003; Hattie, 2009; Ministry of Education, 2007; Moráis & Neves, 2011) and the pedagogic practice of a number of secondary school music teachers observed and interviewed in a series of qualitative case studies carried out in New Zealand secondary schools (McPhail, 2012a). I argue that students were most clearly engaged in lessons where a 'mixed pedagogic modality' was in evidence. This aligns with some of the key findings in the best practice literature (Alton-Lee, 2003; Hattie, 2009) and the extensive work of Moráis and Neves (2001, 2011) that indicates a mixed pedagogic modality combined with competent specialist teacher knowledge is the most likely means of engendering high levels of student engagement and success. A mix of modalities involves utilising some practices traditionally associated with didactic conceptions of teaching and some associated with progressive forms. This mixing of approaches has the potential to move the theorising of practice away from progressive/traditional dichotomous conceptions (Moráis & Neves, 2011) towards a 'future three' conception of the relationship between curriculum and pedagogy (McPhail, 2012b; Young & Muller, 2010).

Classification and framing concepts provide the theoretical tools to describe and analyse approaches to the fundamental aspects of pedagogic practice identified by Bernstein: content selection; pacing of learning; evaluative criteria; and pedagogic communications/relations (hierarchical rules) (Bernstein, 1975/2003, 2000). In the case studies discussed here students were most clearly engaged in lessons where there was strong and explicit teacher direction in relation to evaluation criteria and content (strong framing) but less explicit control in relation to pacing of learning and hierarchical student-teacher relations (weak framing). I suggest that cognisance of the way in which possible modalities are conceptualised and enacted may be advantageous to teacher practice and therefore to student engagement and learning. There are also implications for policy and teacher education which, in New Zealand, tend to overemphasise constructivist approaches (e.g., Bolstad et al., 2012) failing to make the significant distinction between the curriculum and pedagogy (Young, 2010, 2013). …

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