30 SES 07 B, Informal ESE
In an increasingly divided world, marked by environmental instability and widening social inequalities, several authors have argued that the current economic model of education, centred upon the measurement of attainment on literacy and numeracy tests, appears insufficient to develop the skills, knowledge and attitudes that are required to live together and to live well on a Planet under pressure (Benavot, 2019). Such claims resonate with current critiques from the field of education policy, rejecting research approaches testing the status quo to embrace what Cornish et al (2016) refer to instead as “prefigurative politics”: social experiments aimed at fostering alternative and radically democratic practices. The aim is to contribute to rethink and remake the world as it could be, not only documenting the world as it is. We align this concept with the politics of school gardening (Ralston, 2011), a movement which is growing internationally, seeking to reconcile school learning with radical forms of community participation (Green & Duhn, 2015). However, as pointed out by (Christie et al., 2019) the policy landscape is a contested terrain, confronting teachers with often irreconcilable expectations. Pressure to raise standards of attainment on tests scores is at odds with promoting authentic student engagement and participation (Mccluskey, 2017). Against this background evidence from a school garden initiative in Scotland, suggested that re-orienting the teaching focus from curriculum knowledge to action, centred on growing vegetables and caring for gardens, has significant potential to enhance engagement, responsibility and learning in young people in areas with high levels of social and economic deprivation (Gray, Colucci-gray, Donald, Kyriacou, & Wodah, 2019). Such experiences are in line with international studies (Chawla et al., 2014), yet they also point to the pressing need for new conversations around teachers’ understanding of attainment and what particular conceptions may be generated by teachers learning with pupils in the garden space.
This study is threefold. One dimension examines the concept of a garden as a space supporting young people’s agency, hence impacting on a sense of self-value and success for pupil learning. A second dimension concerns the experiences of head teachers and teachers who either have been or are seeking to become involved in the gardening initiative. Finally, a third dimension looks at the perceptions of student teachers who have been recently involved in the piloting of a training programme they sought to sign up to voluntarily while enrolled in their one-year teacher education programme. Specifically, the focus is on their prior exposure to outdoor learning and/or knowledge of gardening; the choices that they make with regards to planning, classroom management and assessment in order to support children’s learning; additional professional needs and requirements to support children’s access to the formal curriculum in specific subject areas, such as science. The interviews provide detailed perspectives from the interviewees on how they perceive the gardens as being an enabler of children’s learning and attainment, as well as their prior exposure to gardening and their personal and professional motivations.
Research Questions and Methodology Three questions framed our explorations: 1. What are teachers’ prior experiences, exposure to outdoor learning and with gardening? 2. How do teachers perceive and articulate their ideas of pupils’ attainment while learning in the garden? 3. What are the motivations of headteachers for supporting gardening in the school? This study brings together a number of cases as part of a qualitatively-based phenomenological enquiry. Teachers who had been involved in school garden activities with their classes during the course of the project were interviewed. We focused on their experiences with a view to gaining insight into their views of the potential of school gardens to contribute to the meaningful learning and well-being of the children in their classes. We were particularly interested in teachers’ narratives of attainment, and the ways in which gardening challenged conventional discourses of children in areas of deprivation as ‘deficient’. We wanted to know to what extent alternative narratives of attainment may be elaborated by teachers who have been observing the children and worked with them in the garden. For example, we were interested in how teachers viewed garden spaces as offering something more or different to the more conventional classroom practices; and specifically whether such spaces may support learning and development of children from very diverse social backgrounds. Teachers and headteachers from 6 schools participated. The schools ranged in categorisation from decile 1 through to decile 10 in the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation 2020. Four of the schools were in the lower half of the SMID with two of these being in, or bordering on and with intake from, decile 1 of the SMID, amongst the most deprived areas in Scotland. At the other end of the scale one of the schools was in decile 10 of the SMID, an area of relative wealth and no deprivation. From these schools the interviewees consisted of two Headteachers, a depute headteacher, 7 classroom teachers of which 2 were newly qualified teachers (NQTs). In addition five student teachers were interviewed as a group. Interviews were transcribed and analysed to draw out the key ideas and views presented by the different respondents and to determine if there were any commonalities, or differences, across the different contexts.
Conclusions All teachers perceived the potentiality of the garden space to engage pupils to learn about the growth of the plants but also the wider aspects of caring and maintaining the garden, and collaborating with other members of the community. In this view, attainment is viewed broadly as a set of capabilities instead of isolated cognitive gains, including observational, communication, practical and organisational skills. One of the headteachers recognised that ‘when they come back, there is a readiness to learn’, pointing to material gains for children who are often impeded in their learning by behavioural issues, affecting themselves or others in the class. However, she was also quick to recognise that she could not directly correlate such successes with ‘attainment’ as a product to be measured, valuing instead the broader process of ‘nurturing’ the child, occurring over a longer period of time and involving the whole school. Both notions of attainment pertain to the collective, yet the latter makes children’s needs manifest and entails a transformation of the way in which ‘educational provision’ is viewed and implemented. In this school in particular, the school in the area of greatest deprivation, the Headteacher was so convinced of the potential benefits of the garden space that she instigated the expansion of the available garden areas (raised beds) to a whole school programme to enable all children in all classes to engage in learning through the garden. Hence in this regard we may see a ‘closing of the gap’ in the way in which schools may fill the vacuum that exists between ‘have and have nots’, by transforming the range of opportunities and possibilities for children to learn as part of the school community.
References Benavot, A. (2019). Foreword: SER Special Issue. Education re-viewed: putting sustainability at the heart of living. Scottish Educational Review, 51(1), 1–3. Chawla, L., Keena, K., Pevec, I., & Stanley, E. (2014). Green schoolyards as havens from stress and resources for resilience in childhood and adolescence. Health and Place, 28, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2014.03.001 Christie, B., Higgins, P., King, B., Collacott, M., Kirk, K., & Smith, H. (2019). From rhetoric to reality : Examining the policy vision and the professional process of enacting Learning for Sustainability in Scottish schools . Scottish Educational Review, 51(1), 44–56. Cornish, F., Haaken, J., Moskovitz, L., & Jackson, S. (2016). Rethinking Prefigurative Politics: Introduction to the Special Thematic Section, 114–127. https://doi.org/10.5964/jspp.v4i1.640 Gray, D., Colucci-gray, L., Donald, R., Kyriacou, A., & Wodah, D. (2019). From Oil to Soil . Learning for Sustainability and Transitions within the School Garden : a project of cultural and social re-learning . Scottish Educational Review, 51(1), 57–70. Green, M., & Duhn, I. (2015). The Force of Gardening: Investigating Children’s Learning in a Food Garden. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 31(1), 60–73. https://doi.org/10.1017/aee.2014.45 Mccluskey, G. (2017). Closing the attainment gap in Scottish schools: Three challenges in an unequal society. Education, Citizenship and Social Justice, 12(1), 24–35. https://doi.org/10.1177/1746197916683468 Ralston, S. J. (2011). It Takes a Garden Project: Dewey and Pudup on the Politics of School Gardening. Ethics and the Environment, 16(2), 1. https://doi.org/10.2979/ethicsenviro.16.2.1
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