01 SES 06 B, Bias, Democracy and Equity in Professional Learning
Topic and aims
The aim of this paper is to analyse the interactions and communications in an international and intercultural context, between teachers and moderators engaged in a professional learning and development online platform, in order to investigate how such teacher engagement may support teachers’ practices for social justice and inclusion. A particular emphasis is on teachers' practices of assessment in primary and secondary education. The study is based on an analysis of the content of an online professional learning community (OPLC) created by the Council of Europe's Pestalozzi program for the professional development of teachers. This platform hosts 2000 education professionals (teachers, teacher trainers, researchers, school psychologists, school heads, Ministry of Education staff, etc.) from 50 European countries. The studied Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme is a teacher-as-researcher based approach, grounded in the concept of an "inclusive Europe". The OPLC aims to foster the development of democratic participation, respect for diversity and the strengthening of social cohesion (Council of Europe, 2016) within the daily practice of teaching. Members meet once - sometimes twice - in face-to-face training, then continue to work online during the training period, and even beyond if they choose to integrate the online community in the longer term in order to engage with peers and moderators in professional and conversational training activities.
The formative approach aims to develop and foster professional development and teacher collaboration (Fullan & Hargreaves, 2016). The authors situate the study in a perspective of social learning in digital settings and in international, intercultural contexts. Based on conversational activity (McPhee, 2015; Laurillard, 2002; Bakhtin, 1981) - in an ecosystem based on principles of distributed cognition in an international context (Hildreth et al., 1999) - teachers contributions exist in relation to understandings that have developed through other historic, social and cultural contexts (Adie, 2011). Participants share, through the daily workings on the platform, stories of what happens in the seminars, courses they attend or organise, or in the classroom they teach, especially when they try out new methods thus “transforming the training into informed and competent actions through their practice” (Mompoint-Gaillard, 2014).
The authors seek to explore how teachers’ representations of assessment models and principles such as formative assessment, assessment for, or as learning (Siarova, et al. 2017; Coombs et al. 2016; Bennet, 2011; Assessment Reform Group, 2002) are seen as relevant for promoting education for and through democracy. This exploration is based on the analysis of a hundred and fifty postings organized in threads (Järvelä et al., 2016; Hull, & Saxon, 2009; Audran, et al., 2000; Daele & Charlier, 2006).
In order to identify representations and patterns in teachers' approaches to classroom assessment that supports a democratic education and how these are formed in the OPLC, the authors explore participants’ discourse on their practice as well as the way they co-construct conceptual understandings and practical knowledge within both the situated context of their classroom teaching and that of the OPLC. The study is guided by the following three research questions:
- What are the sub-themes, emerging within the conversational professional development community, about assessment that is appropriate for developing democratic competences among students and fostering a culture of democracy in schools?
- What are some of the tensions observed in teachers' discourse when it comes to experimenting with innovation in assessment for an inclusive and democratic education?
- How do teachers, engaged in this form of CPD, co-construct their assessment practice, their sense of agency and subsequently some part of their professional identity?
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The contribution comes in the form of a case study based on the analysis of interactions between members of the online professional learning community engaged in conversations on the subject of assessment. These occur between peers, sometimes peers and moderators. Particular emphasis is placed on situations where members experiment with new methods in their teaching. Together the members discuss the processes of assessment, regulation, validation, and the challenges faced in their institutional frameworks to co-create democratic approaches. Data is collected on the platform through a word search on the term ‘assessment’ that revealed more than 300 instances of conversation. Purposeful sampling was based on the choice of conversations spontaneously occurring on comment walls that then gave rise to the creation of fora and moderated discussion threads. Two conversations that have "emerged", i.e., they have been spontaneous in response to two postings: one about a conference on Assessment and Organized Social Justice of the Association for Educational Assessment, and the other about an OECD survey. The analysis is based on these. - The first conversation (from 2015), Assessment and Social Justice raises the issue of equity in assessment and consists of 54 posts made by 15 teachers. This convrsation was initiated on the ‘comment wall’ and then pursued in a discussion thread, which stimulated 266 views. - The second conversation (from 2016), What is assessment at school? is a critical appraisal of content and skills recognized as "important" in schools and consists of 36 posts by 9 teachers. It was initiated on the ‘comment wall’ and was featured in a discussion thread attracting 156 views. - This data is complemented by three other conversational sequences: • a sequence from Friday Fun Activity (a weekly game that invites participants to engage in a light activity but often leads to explorations) consisting of 32 posts; • a collaborative problem-solving sequence consisting of 15 posts; • a blog (chosen randomly from the 25 on the topic of assessment) ‘Our assessment map of Europe’ consisting of 15 posts. After a preliminary lexical analysis using DICO, the content of the conversation is analysed using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). The coding is an iterative process using an inductive approach followed by theoretical probing. The analysis generated codes that were then categorised into themes and sub–themes to establish patters in teachers’ representations of assessment models and principles seen as relevant for promoting education for and through democracy.
The practice of assessment as a means of control is observed in the various countries, and this group of teachers wants to free themselves from it. The results indicate a focus of the group placing the learner, rather than the teacher, at the centre of the discourse. Prescriptive forms of speech (‘duty’, ‘must’, ‘should’) characterise the conversation with teachers exploring ‘needed’ principles for democratic forms of assessment. The question of transversal skills, ‘life skills’, such as ‘learning to learn’, collaboration or generic terms such as motivation, effort, curiosity… are expressed in terms of actions, emotional regulation and reflection necessary for meaningful education. The formative approach is generally perceived positively as being effective for giving meaning to assessment. Participants develop an understanding that formative assessment puts pressure on the teacher, whereas the summative culture is a judgment of the student; or in other words that he former is about education, while the latter is about the system and has largely exclusion purposes, i.e. who is allowed to continue. There are tensions between "what we know we should do" and "what is really possible." To the extent people agree on the merits of democratic practice, implementing it in concrete ways proves difficult in environments that are not fundamentally democratic and the assessment practices seem to be an important factor deciding this. It is important that this emerges in very different cultural contexts. A development process is at work and the exchanges lead to a reflexive attitude that may not be so easy to lead in isolation. As teachers ‘dissect’ their assessment practices and create new ones, they refer to the power of a collective, and gradually form an emerging collective professional identity, which in many respects translates into activist discourse.
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