Inquiring into constructions of successful teaching within the field of education

It is important to reflect on the various public conceptions about the qualities of successfill teachers considering “the super-complexity of ‘good teaching’ as a ‘messy’ narrative of change and flows operating between teachers and a diversity of inquirers and institutions (e.g. school, state, supranational institutions and the academy of teacher education).” (Simmie et al., 2019, p. 66). While education historically used to be a luxury for a few, such as religious groups and the nobility, education nowadays is an essential part in human life and a crucial stepping stone to shape societies. Article 26 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948 stresses everyone’s right to education2 and in 2018, five of six children (90%) worldwide went to school, which says something profoundly about the magnitude of education in current societies.3 Seeing that education is important in the continuous formation of and strife for economic growth in a nation, the will to encourage excellence in educational settings is not surprising. There are numerous examples of research publications trying to dissect what the notion of good education might imply and how the way to achieve excellence might be best attained (see for instance Bryk et al. 2015; Dweck, 2016; Gray & Streshly, 2008; Hattie, 2013; Stigler & Hicbert, 2009).

In this process of defining the meaning of good education, there is a strong tendency to lean on the reliability and generality of quantitative findings and hence large meta-studies trying to pin down what works best. Indeed, the will to establish an order and control that cast out uncertainties have drastically been increasing lately (Lcvinsson, 2013). One of the leading researchers in this area is John Hattie, an Australian professor in pedagogy, whose quantitative research about Visible Learning has reached a massive international audience and stirred political interest. His study is based on 50,000 research articles drawing on quantitative analysis, 800-900 meta-studies, and the responses of 240 million pupils thus having an effect size of 150,000. The main intention of his study is to detect similarities between countries related to what seems to work best for facilitating students learning. At the same time, he is clear that his book is not to be seen as solid and quick fix solution but rather as a starting-point for thinking (Hattie, 2012).

Whereas Hattie’s study draws on quantitative data, two Swedish pedagogical researchers namely associate professor Jan Hakansson and Professor Daniel Sundberg (2012) conducted a meta-analysis of excellent teaching based on a large amount of qualitative research in-between 1990-2010. Based on these studies, they identified 20 of the most prominent international research overviews about education within this time span and in the same line, 23 research overviews from a Swedish perspective. Based on a qualitative strategy, they strove to highlight inference chains influencing education and learning. Although the strategy differs from Hattie’s, Hakansson and Sundberg concluded in line with Visible Learning that there is no easy cut and secure strategy or strategies that can improve learning but lies in the way professionals in education converge a multitude of various scientific and contextual information and are able to zoom out to see overall patterns, and zoom in, to detect the details and dynamics in the particular context (pp. 15, 168).

These two examples of meta-studies are radically different from each other in approach, but they nonetheless share some similar conclusions. They stress among other things that: a) learning takes form in a larger school [learning] environments where various factors arc in relation to each other and thus affect the outcome, b) that teachers’ perceptions (ways of seeing their task) matter for what takes form in the class room, c) that a professional perception is built on deep knowledge composed out of various grounded perspectives, and d) that teachers need to be able to use this knowledge to interpret, puzzle, and make judgements in the various educational contexts (Edling & Mooney Simmie, 2020, Chapter 4). The meta-studies contribute with an overview of aspects of importance to teaching and learning which are vital to acknowledge, but at the same time, they cannot exchange the influence of and stories of individual teachers. Accordingly, in this web of relations, the teacher is thus seen as one important factor for stimulating good learning and seeing that perception in terms of meaning-making matter there is a point in approaching the notion of successfill teachers in the form of narratives.

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