Year 9 as Co-Researchers: ‘Our Gee’d Up School’

Year: 2010

Author: Mayes, Eve, Groundwater-Smith, Susan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The Priority Schools Program (PSP) in New South Wales has for more than a decade concentrated on student engagement and high expectations. Within the Quality Teaching Model, student engagement is considered to be a vital component of effective pedagogy. In the project reported here, it has been acknowledged that engagement goes well beyond compliance, often thought of as procedural engagement. The work of the Fair Go team, established through the University of Western Sydney, has identified the significance of the messages that students receive about their knowledge, ability, control, place and voice, acknowledging that students at schools in low-socioeconomic areas have typically received deficit messages. The team at C.P. High School has sought to engage students at a whole school, classroom and individual level through actively promoting student voice. It has been believed by the team that, without actively articulating engaging messages about student voice, any innovative classroom activities would not be effective in producing long-term engagement. The need for transformation of student beliefs about their potential, their education and their world is central to lasting engagement. By ‘authorising’ resistance through students reflecting on teaching and learning, it was hoped that passive resistance and challenging behaviours would diminish. The utilisation of students’ voices as co-researchers has the potential to lead to radically different student subjectivities, reorienting students’ views of themselves, their literacies, their school and their futures. A process has begun to seek students’ opinions on the learning environment, teacher/ student relationships and learning activities.  Under the auspices of the National Partnership Program on Literacy and Numeracy and its focus on high quality teaching, strong leadership and effective use of student performance information, the school has chosen to pay particular attention to the quality of teaching and learning in Year 9. This year was considered to be the period during which disengagement, disaffection and disconnection set in, with many students failing to recover from these conditions as they progress into the senior school.  An important form of intervention was seen to be one that would enable students to raise issues of satisfaction and concern in the form of Year wide research. To this end a representative student research steering committee was formed. These students nominated themselves and were interviewed by a student leader and a teacher. The student steering committee has been involved in designing, administering and interpreting the ongoing inquiry into teaching and learning.   Students were initially trained in a variety of research methods and the contexts in which they might be applied. Students considered the advantages and disadvantages of questionnaires, focus groups, scenario-based inquiry and photography essays as methodological tools. They narrowed the focus of the research and were trained to facilitate research with small groups of their peers. These students led the Year 9 research day, analysed the data and presented their findings to the teachers at C.P. High School. This led to a genuine dialogue between teachers and students, with teachers subsequently endeavouring to re-vamp units of work to incorporate student recommendations. Steering Committee members led student evaluations of these changes later in the year, collectively reflecting on whether they felt that teachers had listened to their perspectives and made effective modifications to their pedagogy and units of work.  It has been noted that not all the outcomes of consulting young people have proved to be comfortable for educational professionals. However, it is believed at C.P. that greater student agency can lead to greater student commitment, confidence, critical awareness and cognitive reflection. Effective participation by young people in advising their teachers of the ways in which their professional practices facilitate or impede learning cannot be taken lightly. If consulting young people is to be seen as a powerful means of enhancing teacher professional learning, then it cannot be a short-term, tokenistic strategic tool, but rather the means through which to foster a genuine person-centred school where trust and openness are valued and celebrated and where all who participate in it see themselves as members of an equitable and civil society.