10 SES 07 C, ICT Competence and Teaching for Equity
In Europe, and around the world, schools are providing for increasingly diverse students. These students have cultural and linguistic resources that can be challenging to schools, and often have traumatic backgrounds and may be living in poverty. In these circumstances teaching for equity becomes critical. Teachers need to be able to respond to students who are different from them in ways that promote the students’ learning and wellbeing. Teachers also need to be able to include all students in learning the powerful knowledge of schooling, by making the curriculum and classroom processes accessible to all. Students who are new to a country or school system may be physically included but intellectually or socially excluded if teachers do not know how to teach for equity and inclusion. This has implications for Initial teacher education (ITE) curriculum and processes.
This study is underpinned by the idea that teacher learning is a complex phenomenon and that pre-service teachers themselves are complex entities (Opfer & Pedder, 2011). We hypothesise that the intersection of the pre-service teachers with the complex systems of ITE (programmes and schools) underpins the persistent variability in outcomes from initial teacher education (Cochran-Smith et al., 2014). A framework of complexity theory, aligned with critical realism (CT-CR), therefore underpins this study (Byrne, 1998; Cochran-Smith et al, 2014, Walby, 2007). This framework can be used to seek an explanatory theory of ITE and how it can promote teaching for equity, by identifying underlying causal mechanisms, which are complex, contingent processes that are associated with the emergence of particular phenomena (in this case, teaching for equity) from the complex system of ITE (Cochran-Smith et al, 2014). In order to seek these causal mechanisms, this study uses ideas and methods from other social sciences that utilise a CT-CR perspective.
The essential tenets of CT-CR are that complex social phenomena, such as learning to teach, are essentially non-linear and unpredictable. They consist of large numbers of interactions and interdependencies whose functioning serves to amplify or suppress ideas and outcomes. They are emergent phenomena, in a state of flux and change that are defined by initial conditions that shape their growth. Ideas and people can ‘bump up’ against each other in the system, leading to this emergence, the nature of which cannot be predicted. What emerges is not random, however, and can be shaped by multiple contingent causal mechanisms, where several influences may be operating together, some necessary and others not, to make particular outcomes more or less likely. CT-CR suggests that changing one feature of ITE as a lever on particular outcomes (for example, extending the length of practicum to strengthen pre-service teachers’ ability to improve academic outcomes) is unlikely to be successful, because there are multiple conditions and contingencies that need to be met in order for certain outcomes to become more likely.
The aim of this study, therefore, was to use the CT-CR framework to explore pre-service teacher learning, specifically pre-service teachers learning to enact practices that promote equity. The strategic research site for this study is a one-year Masters-level teacher preparation programme in New Zealand that focuses on teaching for equity. The phenomenon of interest is pre-service teachers learning to enact practice that challenges inequity; the research question is ‘What evidence of emerging practice that promotes equity can be seen in the teacher preparation journeys of pre-service teachers enrolled in an equity-focused initial teacher education programme?’
This study uses an extended case study methodology and process tracing, within a CT-CR framework, to explore the trajectories of pre-service teachers as they engage with a social-justice focused preparation programme, in order to better understand the conditions and interactions that promote teaching for equity. Rich case studies of five pre-service teachers were compiled. Each preservice teacher had a distinct background and set of past experiences and they were purposively selected as contrasting cases, based on their demographic entry information, from 33 volunteers (there were 35 students in the programme). The analysis began with the compilation of detailed timeline descriptions of the pre-service teachers’ practice for equity, seen through ‘snapshots’ of surveys, assignment tasks, interviews, and reports from practicum. Ten documentary data sources from across the programme were used for each pre-service teacher. After the rich descriptions were compiled, analysis across the time points was undertaken, tracing the emergence of practice for equity. Six facets of practice determined from international research literature (described in Grudnoff et al, 2016) were used as an analytical device to examine the case studies. Evidence of each of the six facets was sought in the rich descriptions, and critical events that appeared to influence the pre-service teachers’ thinking were identified. To account for complexity, process tracing (Byrne & Callaghan, 2014; Collier, 2011; George & Bennett, 2005) – a qualitative method often used in sociology and political science to develop causal inferences in complex social settings – was attempted, to explore how and why the pre-service teachers developed their practice for equity, and the extent to which practice for equity was evident in the data sources.
The five pre-service teachers’ journeys were highly individual, and clearly shaped by their background and previous knowledge and experience. These initial conditions, in complexity terms, were instrumental in the pre-service teachers’ development. No one experience or task appeared to be effective in shifting thinking among the pre-service teachers, with each pre-service teacher responding to different elements of the programme. This finding highlighted the importance of coherence across the programme in developing practice for equity, as repeated exposure to key ideas across a range of settings and experiences (redundancy in complexity terms) seemed to be important to increasing the likelihood of practice for equity emerging in the pre-service teachers. Pre-service teacher agency also appears to be a significant mechanism in the emergence of practice for equity. Intersecting with programme coherence and pre-service teacher agency were the practicum experiences. The intersection between the pre-service teacher, the school and the programme is a complex nexus where the pre-service teacher’s characteristics and the programme goals mix with the ethos and activity of a school. The case studies give some insight into how this played out for each of the five pre-service teachers. Process tracing through the case studies reveals the methodological difficulties of working with CT-CR and shows that the mechanisms for pre-service teacher learning may not be universal. Despite this, the case studies illustrate that there is more variation in the journeys to practice for equity than there is in the commitments to practice for equity at the end of the program.
Byrne, D. (1998). Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences. London and New York: Routledge. Byrne, D. & Callaghan, G. (2014). Complexity Theory and the social sciences: The state of the art. London and New York: Routledge. Cochran-Smith, M., Ell, F. R., Grudnoff, L., Ludlow, L., Haigh, M., & Hill, M. (2014). When complexity theory meets critical realism: A platform for research in initial teacher education. Teacher Education Quarterly, Winter(1), 105-122. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1072102.pdf Collier, D. (2011). Understanding process tracing. PS: Political Science and Politics. 44(4): 823-30. George, A. & Bennett, A. (2005). Case studies and theory development in the social sciences. MIT Press: London. Grudnoff, L., Haigh, M., Hill, M., Cochran-Smith, M., Ell, F., & Ludlow, L. (2017). Teaching for equity: insights from international evidence with implications for a teacher education curriculum. The Curriculum Journal, 28(3), 305-326. doi:10.1080/09585176.2017.1292934 Opfer, V. D., & Pedder, D. (2011). Conceptualizing Teacher Professional Learning. Review of Educational Research, 81(3), 376-407 Walby, S. (2007). Complexity theory, systems theory and multiple intersecting social inequalities. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 37 (4), 449-470.
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