Seeking visibility: action research with teachers of mobile Indigenous students

Lynch, Andrea Jane (2012) Seeking visibility: action research with teachers of mobile Indigenous students. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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In Australia, Indigenous students' education outcomes, as represented by assessments that accompany the current neo-liberal performativity and accountability agendas, are well below those of their non-Indigenous counterparts. While there has been a flurry of policy and rhetoric around 'closing the gap', one aspect of the lived experience of some Indigenous Australian Peoples – temporary mobility – goes largely ignored by education systems that, through policy and its enactment, represent schooling stability as 'normal'. While not all mobility has a negative effect, existing research shows that when accompanied by other risk factors such as low socio-economic status, mobility can have a 'compounding' effect (KPMG Consulting, Australian Council for Education Research, Department of Defence, & Commonwealth Department of Education Science and Training, 2002) and, when multiple school moves occur in the early years, learning is highly likely to be disrupted (Heinlein & Shinn, 2000; KPMG Consulting et al., 2002; Rumberger, 2003). Indigenous mobility, as an educational issue, is largely absent from education policy and this absence, coupled with ongoing literacy policy reform in Queensland, serves to provide little guidance for teachers and schools in regional urban communities working to meet the literacy learning needs of this underserved cohort of students.

This case study was conducted as a critical participatory action research project exploring teaching practices that support the literacy learning of mobile Indigenous students. It was undertaken in a state primary school serving a regional Queensland suburban community characterised by low educational outcomes and low socio-economic status. The study formed part of a larger collaborative action research project investigating Indigenous student mobility, with a focus on literacy and numeracy outcomes, and trialling targeted interventions in 14 low socio-economic primary schools in a range of locations across Queensland. While the larger project actively focused on responding to the needs of mobile Indigenous students by building school capacity and engaging with the local community, this study, working in parallel, has focused sharply on the work of teachers in relation to supporting literacy learning for mobile Indigenous students. Through all phases of both research projects, an Indigenous reference group from within the Queensland Department of Education and Training provided guidance and support. Additionally, extensive consultations with Indigenous stakeholders were undertaken to ensure the research was consistent with the concerns and interests of the local community.

Over four school terms in 2009 and 2010, I facilitated a participatory action research project involving three classroom teachers working in Years 1 and 3, the school's Community Liaison Officer, the Mobility Support Teacher and the Curriculum Coordinator. Data were gathered and generated through a range of methods including, but not limited to, professional learning activities, professional conversations within whole group meetings, classroom observations and semi-structured interviews.

The methodology was informed by a critical theory approach, underpinned by Habermas' (1984, 1987, 1996) theories of knowledge constitutive interests, communicative action and the public sphere. I also drew upon the notion of 'Disciplined Dialogue' (Swaffield & Dempster, 2009) to ensure professional conversations retained both their focus on literacy teaching practice and on the data that were generated through the participatory action research cycle.

Data collected and generated from the project were managed through the use of QSR NVivo software. This software was used to code the collective data. Over time, as analysis progressed and patterns and ideas took shape, these were organised and reorganised into hierarchical, branching structures or 'tree' nodes which allowed the researcher to organise the coding according to conceptual relationships – as one way of identifying patterns in the data.

This research identified that the practice architectures of the neoliberal state serve as a barrier to teachers' work with mobile Indigenous students through a reduced and narrowed curriculum (Lingard, 2010) and a focus on testing as accountability (Luke & Woods, 2008) that is removed from classroom purposes. Additionally, the lack of a coherent literacy policy in Queensland marginalises this cohort of students and reduces teachers' capacity to support their literacy learning needs. These practice architectures shape teachers' work in ways that draw their work away from the cultural interface (Nakata, 2007a, 2007b) and provide spaces for deficit discourses and low expectations of mobile Indigenous students and their families. Within this action research project it was found that when temporal and discursive space supported by 'Disciplined Dialogue' is made available, teachers and specialist support staff are able to 'see' local and systemic practice architectures (Kemmis & Grootenboer, 2008) and, in doing so, strategise critical place-based (Gruenewald, 2008) pedagogical responses that meet the needs of students in the school at that time. Evidence demonstrated that providing this space for praxis can serve to render visible the lived experiences of mobile Indigenous students and their families. Coming to "see" mobile Indigenous students and their families can reshape aspects of teachers' habitus (Bourdieu, 1990) and provide professional renewal and growth that has, potentially, positive impact for the literacy learning of mobile Indigenous students.

Item ID: 24022
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Aboriginal Australians, education, education outcomes, indigenous education, literacy, literacy education, primary education, primary schools, professional development, regional Queensland, state schools, student mobility, suburban schools, teaching practice, transiency
Date Deposited: 20 Dec 2012 23:31
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130301 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education @ 34%
13 EDUCATION > 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy > 130204 English and Literacy Curriculum and Pedagogy (excl LOTE, ESL and TESOL) @ 33%
13 EDUCATION > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130313 Teacher Education and Professional Development of Educators @ 33%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939901 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education @ 34%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9302 Teaching and Instruction > 930201 Pedagogy @ 33%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9302 Teaching and Instruction > 930202 Teacher and Instructor Development @ 33%
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