What counts as accomplishment in geography teaching? On signature pedagogies, professional standards and the performativity of practice

Year: 2010

Author: Mulcahy, Dianne, Kriewaldt, Jeana

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Set within the context of neo-liberal education policy reform, this paper addresses the question of the character of accomplished teaching, with particular attention to accomplished geography teaching. Taking the development of standards for teaching school geography in Australian schools as its ground, it explores the putative roles and relations of teaching standards and signature pedagogies (Shulman, 2005a) in this teaching. Drawing on concepts from actor-network theory and video case data of classroom teaching, attention is given primarily to pedagogic practices as possible patterns of relations, both social and material, within school geography. The data collection approach adopted used technically complex methods for video recording classrooms and supplemented the video records with 57 post-lesson, video-stimulated interviews with students and the teacher in an effort to ‘capture’ the specificities of practice. Eleven case studies (22 lessons altogether) were conducted in eight schools in three major Australian states. Working three video-based case examples of classroom practice from the larger video data set, along with teacher and student commentary on this practice, we show that a somewhat different reality of accomplished geography teaching, and of standards and pedagogies for this teaching, presents in each classroom. Geography teachers were found to be both teaching in a signature form and beyond this form, through, for example, creating conditions for the further development in their students of attributes of lifelong learning and active citizenship. Accordingly, the empirical evidence did not strongly support the idea of a signature pedagogy for school geography. Rather, it ‘told’ pedagogy as a contingent, distributed and diverse practice. We propose that a wide variety of pedagogies and the professional wisdom (of practice) to select among them, might be just as suitable a characteristic of accomplished geography teaching as any signature pedagogy.