“I’m not going to be an art teacher that teaches art”
- Research Participant, during our interview for my Dissertation
When I was in the process of completing my initial teacher education (ITE), I considered whether or not it would be worth undertaking the Honours process as part of that. There were a lot of factors that fed into the eventual decision to apply for a place, and ultimately, though it helped not one whit with acquiring a full-time position as a teacher, I am glad that I went through the process. It was long, mentally and intellectually challenging, and it pushed me to think more critically, to be more aware of research processes and biases as well of various research methodologies. I actually enjoyed the process of researching, and writing and it has had a significant influence on my writing style.
I had considered working towards having it published, however, have neither the time nor the mindset at this point to sit down and re-edit it sufficiently so that it fits within the word limits of a journal article. More importantly, I have no disconnected with the data and with that piece of research and would need to invest significant time and effort into reconnecting. I do wish to pursue a Research Higher Degree at some point (after Youngling has started school at the earliest is what I have been told) and so offer up over the next few articles, my Honours dissertation for feedback.
I have not made any edits whatsoever to this version. It is a straight copy and paste from my original 2014 file. I am rather proud of it, despite its now (to me) glaring flaws. If you wish to dive straight into the whole dissertation, you can find it here as a PDF. I have also made available the examiners reports and rubrics (after redacting their identifiable information). I found it interesting that one examiner marked it as an eighty-eight whilst the other marked it as an eighty-two. A fairly significant variation in marks, however, the average of eighty-five was sufficient to earn a High Distinction and thus, with the other requirements met regarding my Grade Point Average etc., the award of Honours Class I.
I welcome any constructive feedback you care to offer.
Chapter I – Literature Review
Since Dewey’s writings in the early twentieth century, the status of the arts in education curricula has waxed and waned in line with the socio-political movements of the day; from progressive reform to back-to-basics devolution and back again (Oreck, 2004). Art education is considered to be a key learning area (KLA), and has been endorsed as such within the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (hereafter, the Melbourne Declaration) (Barr, Gillard, Firth, Scrymgour, Welford, Lomax-Smith, ...Constable, 2008) and the National education and the arts statement (Barr, Bishop, Della Bosca, Maharey, Henderson, Welford…McHale, 2005). The current New South Wales (NSW) prescribed curriculum includes a creative arts syllabus (Board of Studies NSW, 2006) encompassing the strands of dance, drama, music and visual arts, whilst the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), which has been tasked with writing the national curriculum, has also prescribed a (still in development) creative arts syllabus (ACARA, 2014a).
Art education has been extensively studied and has been correlated with a range of benefits including; improved standardised testing outcomes irrespective of socio-economic status (Brouillette, 2009; Ewing, 2010), decreased levels of boredom in class (Ewing, 2010), higher self-concept (Barr, Bishop et al., 2005; Ewing, 2010), higher rates of tertiary education entry (Brouillette, 2009), increased levels of self-efficacy across various KLAs (Ewing, 2010), reduced truancy levels (Barr, Bishop et al., 2005; Ewing, 2010) and increased levels of pro-social behaviours such as volunteering and engagement in the political process (Brouillette, 2009). Additionally, Ewing (2010) notes that there are many health, social and economic benefits that can be correlated to education through the arts. Correlational effects must of course be read while keeping in mind the caveat that correlation does not necessarily equal causation.
This is due to the wide range of variables within educational practices, classrooms and participants making it difficult to find a causal link between the improvements found in research and the specific art education, as has been noted elsewhere (Baker et al., 2002; Eisner, 1999; Ewing, 2010; Fiske, 1999)*. Despite the absence of an established causal relationship between art education and the correlational benefits associated therein, the arts have been identified within various governmental position papers and statements as being crucial to future economic and social progress within Australia (Barr, Bishop et al., 2005; Gillard, 2008; Prime Minister’s Science Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC), 2005).
Tasked with implementing the national curriculum and the prescribed syllabus documents therein, are the approximately 261,000 qualified Australian teachers (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013). Qualifying as a teacher in Australia currently involves undertaking an initial teacher education (ITE) program of four years (duration), consisting of a mixture of discipline and educational studies, which is provided through the various Australian universities (Hooley, 2008). For the purposes of this study, only primary teachers, covering Kindergarten to year six and the ITE they undergo have been included. The quality of teachers graduating from these ITE programs has been the source of contentious debate for a number of years, with various government reports recommending additional funding to ITE to improve teacher
quality (Fawns, Misson, Moss, Stacey, & Ure, 2007; Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission, 1973; Senate Employment Education and Training References Committee (SEETRC), 1998), as well as a body of social commentary and research lamenting the quality of ITE and the state of teaching (for example Aubusson & Davison, 2012; Connell, 2009; Donnelly, 2007; Edwards & Protheroe, 2003; Gillard, 2008, 2012; Gillard & Garrett, 2012; Hooley, 2008; Plourde, 2002; Pyne, 2014; Rice & Roychoudhury, 2003).
The importance of quality teachers and the requisite ITE programs is highlighted in a report from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) entitled Teachers Matter (OECD, 2005), which summarised research and examined the variables which impact on student learning outcomes. This report concluded that of all the factors which are open to policy influence that have an impact on student learning outcomes, the most important factor was found to be teacher quality (OECD, 2005). But in spite of the OECD’s findings and the substantial body of research into the critical nature of ITE (Atkinson, 2004; Connell, 2009; Desforges, 1995; Edwards & Protheroe, 2003; Hooley, 2008; Plourde, 2002; Ravindran, Greene, & DeBacker, 2005; Rice & Roychoudhury, 2003; Wilson, R.E., & Ferrini-Mundy, 2002), as well as successive inquiries into the state of the teaching profession and ITE (Fawns et al., 2007; Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission, 1973; OECD, 2005; SEETRC, 1998) noting shortages amongst particular subject areas (SEETRC, 1998), and consistently recommending additional funding for ITE programs, Connell (2009) observes a lack of increased funding into this sector of education budgets.
The body of evidence establishing the beneficence of art education has been built up through a wide range of research (Brouillette, 2009; DuPont, 1992; Fink, 1976; Gradle, 2014; Hargreaves, Galton, Robinson, & Windridge, 2002; Keinanen, Hetland, & Winner, 2000; Krash, 1954; Moore & Caldwell, 1993), but in spite of this there appears to be a divergence between teachers understanding of the beneficence of art education, and the implementation of the arts in pedagogical practice. This divergence was noted by Oreck (2004) in his study on teacher’s attitudes towards, and use of, the arts in pedagogical practice, where he found that although teacher’s may recognise and be aware that art education is important, and that teachers may be understanding of the potentially significant cognitive and social benefits for students from art education, that teachers undertaking generalist ITE appear to feel that they are not the ones who should be tasked with teaching the arts.
It needs to be asked why this is the case, given that the definition of a successful learner in the Melbourne Declaration (Barr, Gillard et al., 2008) is that “Successful learners…are creative, innovative and resourceful, and are able to solve problems in ways that draw upon a range of learning areas and disciplines” (p. 8), and that the PMSEIC noted that “Creativity…is a central concept of innovation” (PMSEIC, 2005, p. 2). These two statements create a vision of art education as being not only of critical value to student’s successful learning and future, but of their future success in the job market, with the implication that art education is critical to the future economic growth, stemming from innovative practices. This conceptualisation of art education is further reinforced in the National arts and education statement (Barr, Bishop et al., 2005) which states that:
“[t]he arts foster imagination, risk-taking and curiosity—important aspects of creativity. Governments, businesses and communities now widely regard creativity and innovation as fundamental to social, economic, cultural and technological growth. Arts-based enterprises are vitally important to economic success.” (p. 4)
With this view of art education promoted in official government documents, it is all the more concerning to discover the divergence between understanding the beneficence of art education and the implementation of the arts in pedagogical practice that has been observed by Oreck (2004). This divergence begs the question how is the divergence between understanding and practice formed? To answer this question, I begin by examining more broadly current discourses regarding ITE.
It must first be acknowledged that discourse is a polysemous term (Bacchi, 2000), and in this context I take the view that discourses are a productive force created through the amalgamation of ideology, linguistic practices and social relationships which constitute the taken-up position, and is the means by which we make sense of the world around us (Davies, 2004; Ma, 2013). There are a multitude of discourses encountered daily, and it is not possible to take up all available discourses (Davies, 1990). Understanding that there are multiple discourses which are not all able to be taken-up allows for an understanding of our existence at the nexus of multiple discursive practices, which can be conceptualised as subject positioning (Davies, 2004). Our subject positioning is constituted through internally owned, or taken-up, discourses (Atkinson, 2004), which are, and do, change over time (Atkinson, 2004; Davies, 2004). This post-structuralist conceptualisation of subject positioning then allows for an ongoing cycle of making sense of, and continually updating, the competing and often contradictory discourses to which we are exposed (Atkinson, 2004; Beijaard, Meijer, & Verloop, 2004; Davies, 1990, 1997).
Post-structuralism, which is the theoretical framework used in this study, contends that the truth of structuralism is in fact a fiction, wherein all truths are constructed discursively (Fuery, 1995, as cited in Davies, 1997). This conceptualisation results in a deconstructionist view of social discourse, revealing, and being critical of, the nature and purpose of the power and knowledge relations contained within discourse (Ma, 2013). A post-structuralist framework therefore allows us trouble the ‘taken for grantedness’ of assumed truths (St Pierre & Pillow, 2000 as cited in Davies, 2004).
Education within Australia is largely funded by the government and accordingly it can be considered to be in the public sphere (Hooley, 2008). With the conceptualisation that human experience is made up of multiple and often contradictory discourses (Atkinson, 2004; Davies, 2004), it is expected that there are a wide range of discourses encountered during a generalist ITE program (Hooley, 2008). As noted above subject positioning is the result of taken-up discourse (Davies, 1990). Cohen-Evron (2002) and Plourde (2002) both note that teachers and pre-service teachers carry with them discursively constructed beliefs about education as a result of their life of experiences as a student and that those subject positions, combined with the discourses encountered throughout their ITE program, influence the way they think about teaching and learning.
This discursive construction of teacher’s formal educational subjectivities commences with identification and analysis of political, educational and social discourses during a teacher’s ITE program (Hooley, 2008). Hooley (2008) expands on this concept, postulating that as education is in the public realm, that development of teacher’s pedagogical practice can only take place when there is an evolving theoretical understanding of the link between teaching and society. Taking this further, Hooley (Hooley, 2008) writes that arranging teaching programs to cater to all students can be exceedingly difficult to accomplish without a fluid teaching philosophy encompassing the purpose of education and the role of the teacher and student from an ontological and epistemological viewpoint.
Krug and Cohen-Evron (2000) agree with this view, writing that pedagogical practice is a product of continual evolution, as it is discursively constructed by the pressures of social, economic and political forces that creates limits and possibilities with which teacher’s must accept, resist or negotiate in relation their own subject positioning, their philosophical views on education. These social, economic and political discourses interact with what is understood as a good or effective teacher.
The definition of an effective teacher varies temporally as well as inter- and intra-culturally (Armstrong, 1984; Connell, 2009). At this point in time however, an effective teacher seems to be a teacher who complies with the set of market-driven auditable competencies outlined by the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) (AITSL, 2014) that are now an integral component of teacher certification and on-going registration. The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (AITSL, 2014) is steeped in marketplace discourse through use of terminology such as challenges, stakeholders, goals, strategies and achievable (Connell, 2009). Atkinson (2004) takes the viewpoint that the discourse of quality teaching as conceptualised within the AITSL Standards document (AITSL, 2014) contains many laudable characteristics that identify an effective teacher and which can be valued and taken-up as such, but that at its heart, the document fails to capture the inherent social and psychic processes that encapsulate teaching and in fact obfuscates the nature of teaching. Atkinson (2004) goes on to comment that “…a colleague made the point that when all the competency statements are taken together they still do not capture what it is like to teach” (p. 380).
Connell (2009) posits that this focus on auditable competencies has resulted in the lowered priority of the arts in education and in ITE programs, as well as in the minimisation of the need for thinking of education as an intellectual discipline due to the research focus on what is best practice, whilst Dillabough (1999, as cited in Beijaard et al., 2004) indicates the belief that it leads to a loss of the discursive notion of the teaching self. Connell’s (2009) research into teacher standards indicates that teachers are positioned as conformists due to the requirement to attain and maintain prescribed professional standards. This creates a situation where teachers are required to negotiate their teaching identity within their personal beliefs and perceptions, their subject positioning, about teaching and learning, and the external expectations and discourses about what is desirable and those standards with which they must conform (Boyd, Wadham, & Jewell, 2007; Cohen-Evron, 2002; Kagan, 1992). This requirement to conform to competency standards has been postulated by Edwards and Protheroe (2003) as having had a negative impact on ITE programs, whereby the capacity of teacher graduates is being limited through a lack of art education and learning in ITE programs, as evidenced by the deficiencies in time allocated to the arts across ITE programs, at both undergraduate and post-graduate level (Gibson & Anderson, 2008).
This observation is a reflection of a study reported on in A class act: inquiry into the status of the teaching profession (SEETRC, 1998), which noted that sixty-two percent of respondent NSW primary and secondary teachers believed they were inadequately prepared to teach by their ITE program. This notion of inadequate preparation through ITE programs is a critique which has been made as far back as the Karmel Report (Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission, 1973) and reflects the low priority given to the arts in education (Fawns et al., 2007; Oreck, 2004).
The current socio-political climate in Australia places a significant level of attention on the results of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) standardised testing regime. NAPLAN testing is conducted on an annual basis and administered to students in years three, five, seven and nine by ACARA, which collates the results which are then made available to the general public through the My School (ACARA, 2014b) website. Unfortunately, such standardised testing has been critiqued for a variety of reasons, including gender bias (Dodd, 2010), invalid data reporting and comparisons (Wu, 2010), failing to take into account the differences within schools through teacher quality and pedagogy (Ladwig, 2010). Additionally, NAPLAN testing results are taken as a judgement of whether a teacher, or set of teachers, is ‘performing,’ when in fact teaching is a process of joint-labour, involving not only the regular classroom teacher, but also the release from face-to-face teacher and support and ancillary staff, all of whom have an impact on a student’s learning, a situation which standardised testing fails to take into account (Connell, 2009).
The current focus on standardised testing results is counter-intuitive to the structure and process of art education. The focus on standardised testing results can lead to a test-driven curriculum with a mentality that student’s answers are either right or wrong, a state of affairs that encourages didactic pedagogical approaches (Oreck, 2004). This is almost antithetical to the nature of learning through the arts, which sees open-ended discovery as part of the regular experience of students, an approach which encourages personal and subject responses to art, with the student as both artist and audience (Oreck, 2004). Art is by its very nature subjective and art therefore is only truly assessable as a piece of art by the artist. This poses an issue for teachers within the current outcome and content based curriculum which requires teachers to objectively evaluate students’ learning outcomes as part of the assessment of non/achievement of specified learning aims, and holds them accountable for doing so (Hargreaves et al., 2002).
It has been previously established that ITE programs within Australia are generally a four year program of university studies (Hooley, 2008), and that these ITE programs qualify teachers to teach students from kindergarten to year six, as generalist teachers. Graduate teachers are then often required to administer an art education program (Garvis, 2009), often in isolation from the rest of the KLAs, as it is common practice in many schools to timetable learning periods in discrete KLA-specific blocks, limiting the opportunity for cross-curricular inquiry (Cohen-Evron, 2002). This is with the knowledge that there is a dearth of art education training within ITE programs, as has been identified (Gibson & Anderson, 2008).
In examining the divergence between the awareness and understanding of the potential benefits of art education and the level of implementation of the arts in pedagogical practice, Oreck (2004) found that the concern most frequently cited by teachers as an explanation for the lack of art education in their pedagogical practice was the need for further training in art education pedagogical strategies and techniques, followed by pressures to teach the mandated curriculum. This is of concern, as Oreck’s (2004) research was an examination of in-service teachers who had access to professional development opportunities around art education, and it has been noted by Cohen-Evron (2002) that a large percentage of graduate teachers leave the teaching profession within five years of completing their ITE program, and that for those who do remain within the profession, it is not uncommon to revert conservative and traditional didactic practices as a survival strategy. This view was strengthened by Armstrong’s research which found that a graduate teacher’s first employment setting is of critical importance to determining whether or not they remain in the teaching profession (Armstrong, 1984).
These observations reinforce the findings of Garvis (2009), who reported that upon graduating from their ITE programs, and having positioned themselves as particular kinds of teachers based upon their discursively constructed subject positioning, graduate teachers often feel a sense of shock upon being exposed to the realities of the teaching profession. This is particularly relevant for art education as there are a variety of discordant discourses exerted on teachers from many different parties in relation to educational values and priorities (Cohen-Evron, 2002; Oreck, 2004), with the overall message appearing to be that art education is very low on the academic hierarchy (Cohen-Evron, 2002).
This creates a situation where generalist teachers’ confidence, motivation and knowledge as to the delivery of art education (Garvis, 2009), combines with conflicting subject positions regarding their own autonomy and the support received from supervisors to act as barriers to the implementation of art education (Oreck, 2004). This can result in a reversion to didactic pedagogical strategies and teacher-student power relations as a result of the perceived unsuccessful implementation of art education pedagogy, as opposed to making pedagogical choices on the basis of pedagogical theories (Atkinson, 2004).
The reversion to didactic pedagogical choices maybe read as being indicative of the combined need for more pedagogical and content knowledge education during both ITE and during on-going professional development sessions (Oreck, 2004). Furthermore, as noted by Plourde (2002) possessing content knowledge and skills is different to the ability to enact those skills. This observation is consistent with many reports into the state of ITE and the teaching profession since the release of the Karmel Report (Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission, 1973) that ITE programs are of limited effectiveness to prepare teachers.
This observation, combined with the student-researchers concern about the level of art education preparation administered during his ITE program, and the cited research highlighting the correlated beneficence of art education has led to the three aims of this research study:
*For the sake of expediency, future references to benefits of art education are to be assumed as correlational benefits, unless otherwise noted.
If you have made it this far, well done. I would genuinely appreciate any constructive feedback you care to offer. Chapter Two - Methodology, will appear tomorrow.
Until then, thank you for reading.