It’s About Incongruity Not Deficit

[Posted Pursuant to Memorandum on Modalities of Completion A Task 2]

A structural perspective on class enables us to see how individual student troubles, often reflected through troublesome behaviour or lack of school engagement, can have social determinants what is sometimes called possessing a sociological imagination.

Seeing the question of class and schooling through a sociological lens enables us to observe that we cannot wholly, or even in significant part, attribute disengagement and relatively poorer student outcomes to individual student deficit. Nor, therefore, can we necessarily attribute the impact that class has on our classroom to the institution per se either. There can exist, however, an incongruity between the student context and the institutional context. The student context refers to the epistemic, social and cultural capital of both the individual student and the student body. The institutional context refers to the epistemic, understood in terms of pedagogical content knowledge, social and cultural capital of the institution as a whole and the staff that comprise it.

Stop, Discuss, Build: We are going to have a discussion on what we take to be the student context of Western Melbourne Secondary College in terms of the epistemic, social and cultural capital of our students. This will consist of a mind map with the concept “student capital” at the centre. We will place the results of our work on the Workshop Blog page at the bottom of this post.

Stop, Discuss, Build: Now that we have created a mind map of the student context we are going to have a discussion on what we take to be the institutional context of Western Melbourne Secondary College in terms of the epistemic, social and cultural capital of the institution. This too will consist of a mind map with the concept “institutional context” at its core. This will be posted on the Workshop Blog page immediately below the mind map above.

Our task now has become defined and refined. To develop strategies to take class out of the class room we need to bridge the incongruities between the student context and the institutional context that we have individually mapped. We need to turn two relatively simple mind maps into the one complex concept map, but to do that we need to consider how the literature on best practice and concept mapping, not mind mapping which is different and less complex, might help us.

The first thing we discern from the literature is that the institutional context must be empathetic.

There are five key ingredients to an empathetic institutional context with reference to schooling. An empathetic school (Page 2 from hyperlinked above hereafter Devlin et al )

Values and respects all students.

Encompasses an institution-wide approach that is comprehensive, integrated and coordinated through the curriculum.

Incorporates inclusive learning environments and strategies.

Empowers students by making the implicit, explicit.

Focuses on student learning outcomes and success.

An empathetic institutional context can encourage a key driver of student engagement by relatively low SES students, that is what Geoff Munns refers to as big-E engagement which can develop when working class students come to see that education and school is something for them (Munns Page 3). Munns, in his exposition of the results of the Fair Go Project in low SES schools in New South Wales, articulates “discourses of power” as being an important driver of student engagement in working class schools. Those are to do with issues of knowledge, ability, place, control and voice.

What counts as knowledge and who has access to really useful knowledge?

Who has ability?

Who controls the teaching space?

Who is valued as an individual and a learner?

Whose voice is given credence within that space?

An empathetic institutional context provides students, and parents, with agency and agency with respect to these very questions. The provision of agency, according to Munns and the Fair Go project, marks an “insider classroom” where students in working class communities come to perceive that the classroom is not something that they are subject to but rather something they cooperatively construct and shape together both among themselves and the teaching staff. That is big-E engagement.

Clearly the insider classroom is exhibitive of a congruent school where the student context and the institutional context have been bridged. We notice also that through the bridging of incongruity class disappears from the class. When students have agency through inclusive discourses of power hierarchy and unnecessarily arbitrary authority, not the facilitator notice, disappear from the classroom. Class may well not disappear from society, for that is a matter for society at large, but it can disappear from the classroom and when it does we have more engaged working class students.

Stop, Discuss, Build: In groups of two by same learning area consider two approaches to empathy through discourses of power that (1) apply across the curriculum and (2) apply to your specific learning area. Share your results with the rest of the workshop who may critique and comment upon them. From our collective answers and the collective discussion and debate we will construct a context table much like that below, and add it to our Workshop Blog below this post.