Characterising secondary school teacher imperatives as subject pedagogies: A Pedagogy of Support in mathematics and a Pedagogy of Engagement in science

Year: 2010

Author: Darby, Linda

Type of paper: Refereed paper

The ideas of Lee Shulman have played a major role in reconceptualising pedagogical description. In 2005, Shulman described a construct called “signature pedagogies” in order to describe recognisable and distinctive pedagogies used to prepare future practitioners for their profession. As a broader application of Shulman’s ideas, this paper asks, what is the efficacy of describing pedagogies that have become entrenched in secondary school subjects as signature pedagogies? Approached from a cultural perspective these questions are examined by comparing the subject cultures of junior school maths and science as experienced by, and represented in the classrooms of, a small number of teachers from two secondary schools in Victoria, Australia . In this research, subject culture is underpinned by shared basic assumptions that govern the dominance of certain “subject paradigms” (what should be taught) and “subject pedagogies” (how this should be taught) (Ball & Lacey, 1980). In this secondary school setting, the term signature pedagogies can be equated to the term subject pedagogies on the basis that both aim to characterise practice across the subject, or discipline, based on what was perceived as central to the task of teaching and learning. The paper draws on classroom observation and teacher interview data to show how six teachers positioned two aspects of their teaching in relation to what they believed was central in shaping their maths and science teaching: the effect of the arrangement of curriculum content on teachers’ conceptualisations of the teaching task; and a pedagogical imperative to engage students through activity-based learning experiences. The cultural expectations surrounding these two aspects of teaching appear to have a strong influence on practice, and in some senses teachers’ pedagogical responses were clear.  These common responses are what I am calling “subject pedagogies” (see Ball & Lacey, 1980) because there was general agreement about what was central to the teaching task. Two subject pedagogies were seen to represent strong discourses occurring in both subjects: a “Pedagogy of Support” in maths, and “Pedagogy of Engagement” in science. Their established and shared character resembled Shulman’s posited “signature pedagogies” (Shulman, 2005). The data shows that by evaluating cultural practices that teachers have in common, and assumptions underpinning these, there is potential for highlighting imbalances, strengths and weaknesses, and connections and disconnections, associated with prevailing subject pedagogies.