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According to Comber and Kamler (2004) there is a growing demand for the implementation of turn- around pedagogies in order to turn around the performance of disadvantaged students. Comber and Kamler (2004) present this idea of the need for teachers of disadvantaged students to change their own style of teaching in order to construct new knowledge of their "at risk" students. This is done by teaching the curriculum through a 'turn around pedagogy' which hopes to provide the student with a higher chance of educational success. In order to achieve this turn around, understanding of cultural and sociological knowledge is required. This essay describes the case study of a stage one female student who was failing to achieve desired outcomes. Through an analysis of this student, I discuss the cultural and sociological factors of social class and the particular family circumstances that can create deficit discourses.
The definition of turn- around pedagogies describes the significant changes to ways of teaching that enable the reconnection of "at risk" children. These "at risk" children are those more likely to fall into the lower levels of performance and fail to achieve outcomes due to factors such as low socio-economic status, disability, and family matters including drug use (Comber & Kamler: 2004). In order to achieve this turn around, teachers need to move away from a deficit way of thinking. A deficit discourse or assumption is a negative belief or view of an individual whom has been labelled as disadvantaged. For example, the assumption that a child from a low socio-economic background therefore means they are less likely to achieve at school than a student who comes high socio-economic family. Factors also seen to portray student disadvantage include children who come from family backgrounds that place emphasis on cultural values such as children who have learnt to read music before they can read English, or level off cups of flour before they can count to twenty. This is why it is imperative for teachers to have an understanding of cultural and sociological knowledge in order to 'turn around' at risk children and redesign pedagogy.
Comber and Kamler (2004) note in their work on 'Pedagogies of Reconnection', that the turning around of deficit discourses is a challenging task that requires "serious intellectual engagement by teachers over an extended period of time" (p.295). The challenging of deficit assumptions requires the establishment of strong professional learning communities, in association with strong school leadership and teachers' willingness to commit to such a long term and intellectually demanding project (Alloway & Gilbert: 1998, Comber & Kamler: 2004). Using productive and positive metaphors of educational potential can challenge these deficit assumptions.
Thomson's notion of 'virtual school bags' (Thomson: 2001, as cited in Comber & Kamler: 2004) is a metaphor for what children can bring to school. Thomson suggests that every child brings a wealth of knowledge to school, yet some students find that they cannot make use of their knowledge and experience if it is things like working in the small family business or cooking skills learnt from their Italian Grandmother. Teachers who open up and research what is inside these 'school bags' can greater understand their students' potential. The Department of Education in the State of Queensland (2003) describes Thompson's 'virtual school bag' metaphor to works against the idea that children growing up in relative poverty don't have experience or language, or know the things that they should. "When all children's school bags are considered full, (yet different), the question changes from what they don't have to what they do, and how their capacities might be brought to bear in appropriating new school knowledges." (Department of Education, State of Queensland: 2003).
Luis Moll's 'funds of knowledge' (2000; Moll et al: 1992 as cited in Comber & Kamler: 2004) is the role of the teacher to take on the role as learner to get to know their students and student families in new ways. By gaining this new knowledge, teachers can begin to see that the households of their students contain rich cultural and cognitive resources and that these resources can and should be used in their classroom in order to provide culturally responsive and meaningful lessons (González, Moll and Amanti: 2005). Comber and Kamler (2004) suggest that these productive and positive metaphors of educational potential encourage teachers to examine the knowledge each individual child brought to school and consider it in new lights.
To demonstrate this idea of deficit discourses I present the case study of a teacher who created a deficit assumption on a student within her class. For the privacy of the teacher and student involved in this case, their names have been changed and will be referred to as Mrs. M and Jessica. The primary school in the south of Sydney has a small population of only 58 children in total. Mrs. M has an early stage one, stage one composite class of thirteen children. Jessica was one of the four students in stage one of her class. She came from a single mother family who I was told had previously been involved with DOC's. Mrs. M stressed the importance of parent/ teacher interviews which were scheduled to commence within the next week. But Jessica's mother refused to attend any interviews, with Mrs. M believing that the mother was willingly taking no interest in her daughter's education. Mrs. M had tried many times to contact Jessica's mother but failed to reach her, until Mrs. M explained that she believed there was no point in trying any further. Mrs. M believed that Jessica's mother and family situations were to blame for the student's struggle with literacy based activities including spelling and comprehension. Jessica continually failed to achieve high marks in her spelling, most of the time getting a score of two or three out of twelve words correct; sometimes zero correct.
"Teachers who make a significant positive difference to children's literacy learning have strongly developed knowledge of their subject and focus...in terms of both the theoretical dimensions and the practical approaches. They also have a sound knowledge of their communities (languages and cultures, employment, leisure religions and so on. " (Comber: 2006, p62).
In order for a teacher to have a strongly developed knowledge of their subject and focus, as Comber (2006) describes above, teachers need to assess an individual's Cultural Capital. Cultural Capital, according to Bourdieu (1986 as cited in Smyth: 2004) is the understanding of cultural factors such as wealth, power, values, beliefs, attitudes and experiences that prepare people for their life in society, which untimely can produce an explanation of achievement or (in the case study of Jessica) underachievement. It is clear that Mrs. M has the understanding that Jessica comes from a single mother home, creating a deficit assumption that due to Jessica's mother being involved with DOC's in the past, and not willing to turn up to the school to talk about her child after numerous attempts, she now believes that Jessica's mother has a disinterest in the education of her child. Mrs. M also stated that she believed the mother was either low on income or couldn't afford to look after her children because Jessica was never dressed appropriately for school. Her dress had not been altered since her previous year in kindergarten causing her school uniform to rise well above her knees, and Jessica seemed to never come to school with a jumper when it was cold. The theory of Cultural Capital brings into focus the question of cultural values, power and ideology that can be seen as central to the differentiating achievement debate (ref). What Mrs. M has failed to realise is that each student has an equal opportunity to succeed, however due to her deficit assumption, Mrs. M's views the 'working class' statuses of Jessica and her mother to be the reason that she is failing to achieve at school.
There are many approaches that Mrs. M could have made in order to help Jessica improve her literacy and overall academic performance. However Mrs. M believed that due to Jessica and her mothers' cultural capital, and the mother's unwillingness to take interest in her daughter's education that she would give up trying; which resulted with a continuation to have a deficit assumption about the student. If Mrs. M had taken initiative to be more involved with Jessica, such as suggesting that she visit Jessica's mother at home for a parent teacher interview, or having a telephone interview in place of a face to face interview, Mrs. M might have been able to better understand the situation rather than create a deficit assumption. If Mrs. M were to have made progress due to taking such initiative steps, the possibility of reconnecting with Jessica may have been possible.
One of the many approaches that Mrs. M could have made would have been to construct a more inclusive classroom environment. In order to do this, Bourdieu's theory of social capital (1986, as cited in Smyth: 2004) would have been relevant. For Bourdieu, social capital forms a part of an overarching theory of fields, capital and their relation to class reproduction. Social capital represents social ties or memberships of particular communities that make resources, advantages and opportunities available to individuals (Putnam: 2004). Hence, the significance of social capital is the quality of social relations. It is the quality of student networks, understood through the use of the concept social capital, that can have a powerful effect both on aspiration levels and on the educational process itself (Putnam: 2004). However, another social capital that has been shown to have powerful educational effects is the degree of trust and connectedness between student and teachers. The social capital of the teacher is to provide emotional support and encouragement while guiding and assisting students. Smyth (2004) describes that there is a challenge for schools to find new ways that will work against student disadvantage. According to Putnam (2004) one reason that students are disadvantaged educationally is due to the lack of access to productive social capital. In order to foster a more active social capital within the school community, the use of mentors; also known as part time teachers from within the community is suggested to bring skills, experience, energy and a sense of caring from the community into the school.
There are many policies available to support teachers in the redesigning of their teaching practices. In relation to the case study assessed within this essay, the following NSW Department of Education and Training policies would have been applicable for the Mrs. M to make reference to:
Literacy K-12 Policy: describes the specific teaching practices and requirements for a NSW teacher in term of teaching literacy. The policy also outlines the responsibility for teachers to report to parents, caregivers and the communities. Although Mrs. M had tried numerous times to contact Jessica's mother, there were further approaches that could have been considered such as previously mentioned, contacting Jessica's mother by telephone, or organising a house visit. Due to the deficit assumption created by Mrs. M based on family circumstances, Mrs. M had no expectation that Jessica could change her literacy outcomes.
Curriculum Policy Standards: describes the standards to be implemented for curriculum planning and teaching programs. Mrs. M could have utilised this policy in order to change her literacy program and create a more inclusive classroom that allowed for areas of improvement towards Jessica's achievement in spelling.
Quality Teaching Framework: a model that provides a framework to focus on and provide consistent messages on pedagogy. Throughout this model there are three dimensions of pedagogy that are linked to the improvement of student outcomes. This framework could also have been utilised to develop a quality learning environment for Jessica and enabling her to reach her full potential.
"What is crucial in helping the children who were having the most trouble with school literacies was the teachers' changing their thinking of children, family and literacies" (Comber: 2006, p64).
In order to this, teachers need to challenge deficit discourses by creating a different view of particular students within their class and become aware of the cultural and sociological knowledge that is required of them. This will create an understanding of expectations and environments that are needed in order to aim to improve the outcomes of their students, and ultimately use them to create turn around pedagogies.