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Making educational decisions based on preconceptions

The previous blog explored the pedagogical case of Deshane whose life and the conflicting things he witnessed on a daily basis had a big influence of his physical activity potential. We found a boy who was loved and supported by his family and church but who also experienced crime and violence on a daily basis. We learnt that his position as a poor black male had implications on what he could and couldn’t do, as did his impoverished upbringing. Trust, achievable goals and role models were three potential ways of making things better. 

This week’s blog explores the pedagogical case of Teresa. She is an eleven-year old daughter of legal Mexican immigrants. She is responsible for caring for her younger siblings while also being challenged by learning English as her new language. She knows that some of her teachers see her (and her friends) as a burden and a drain on the education system and feels that her needs are not being meet. In fact she knows that she is not valued and this is impacting on her approach to school.

 

Volume 2.6 (Blog 101):

Timken, G.L., van der Mars, H., Jimenez-Silva, M., Watson, D.L., & Ebbeck, V. (2014). ‘Mi vida, mi educación, mi futuró’ my life, my education, my future. In K.M. Armour (ed.) Pedagogical cases in physical education and youth sport (pp. 76-88). London: Routledge.

 

Teresa 

Teresa is the eleven-year old daughter of a Mexican family who, through sponsorship and savings, have come north to legally build a life in the United States. She lives in a mobile home with her extended family and has responsibilities, as the eldest child, for her younger siblings when everyone else is out at work. She is still learning English and, while she is said to be picking it up really fast, this is an obstacle to her education.

Teresa’s biggest obstacles, however, seem to be her teachers (not all of them) and their attitude and preconceptions about “her people”. The curriculum is also a barrier both in subjects like history (where the curriculum is ‘white’ focused and almost ignorant of the impact of migrants) and physical education (where the sports and activities remain the same and the elite athletes have, get, and have kept priority and preferential treatment).

Her position has a Latina girl seems to count against her. Her people are seen as a drain on the education system, they are assumed to be here illegally, and they are branded in a number of unsubstantiated ways. That said the curriculum and physical education class routine doesn’t seem to inspire any of the girls. She can predict the lesson before arriving. Read the white board, run some laps, stretch, do the same drills (that haven’t improved her basketball skills once), and then watch the boys play with such aggression that none of the ‘lazy’ and ‘slow’ girls want to join in. Teresa knows how to look like she’s taking part – “look active when teachers are looking, and stay near the back of the line to avoid layups” – but she also knows that she is seen as Latino and therefore not sporty.

Ironically, given the way her teacher perceives her, Teresa likes being physical active but the choice of activity – “more what guys like” – and the inaccessibility of extra-curricular activities (due to its positioning as elite and her role within the family) mean that she isn‘t active. She is determined to do well in school – and some of her teachers are very supportive of this – but it doesn’t look like everyone will actively support her to go to college or be physically active.

 

The Pedagogical Case

Timken and colleagues explore Teresa’s pedagogical case from a number of perspectives (English language learner, multicultural competence, and sport and exercise psychology) before amalgamating these and viewing them through a pedagogical lense.

Learning a new language is difficult as there is both proficiency and specific content knowledge (which in the case of physical education means concepts and skills) to master. While much focus has been placed on mastery, other research has looked at the factors that impact language learning in an effort to understand why learners with the same exposure to language learn at different rates and in different ways. One idea that has gained significance is that of the “affective filter” which suggests that “low-self esteem, anxiety and other stressors may impact on how much of the language heard is actually processed”. From Teresa’s perspective, leaving home, the anxieties and responsibilities of her home life, her knowledge about the way her teachers view her and “her people” and so on, could act as a barrier to her development. Therefore, teachers need to be more aware (and sympathetic) to these affective stressors and create a safe place for students to talk to them and develop with them when they are at school.

Her position as “immigrant youth” places different stresses on Teresa and different responsibilities on her teachers. Anyone who engages with her (especially from the perspective of this chapter) needs awareness of her needs and should position Teresa as someone whose “differences are valuable and important”. Furthermore they need to gain knowledge concerning diverse cultures – which includes “understanding about privilege and oppression”. Teachers also need the skill “to work with and in diverse cultures and settings”. Fundamentally when a teacher’s multicultural competence is high then students feel that they have worth and matter. Timken and colleagues stress the importance of the notion of mattering and define it as believing that we count in other’s lives and make a difference to them. While in a few cases Teresa seems to matter, in many others she doesn’t. Both as Latina and as a girl, but most importantly as a Latina girl, Teresa already knows that she doesn’t matter. She has overheard teachers talking about “her kind” and has seen her teachers ignore her lack of engagement in physical education and the bullying behaviour of others and feels that she doesn’t matter. Yet the small things that the teachers do are important as they “underscore the students’ perceptions that they matter.”

From a sport and exercise psychology perspective the organization of subject content, class structure and teachers’ attitudes all serve to influence Teresa’s “level of engagement and likelihood of reaching her full potential.” Drawing on self-determination theory Timken and colleagues suggest that Teresa would be likely to have “low perceived competence” – again fuelled by the actions (or inactions) of her teachers. Her feeling of having no autonomy when it comes to the curriculum in physical education accompanied by little or no rationale from the teacher as to the choice of a particular activity leave her feeling helpless. Such a lack of autonomy also leads to a lack of relatedness with regards to the curriculum. Put more simply the current offering in physical education means that Teresa feels she isn’t very good, has no choice in what she does, and feels that she is forced to do something that has no bearing (potential or otherwise) on her future. The only positive side of her physical education experiences is she can enjoy the company of her friends.

Fundamentally, and as Timken and colleagues conclude, teaching (as a pedagogical endeavour) is about CARE – both as a human endeavour and as an acronym. “Teachers who care for and about their students do make a difference and those relationships provide the foundations for academic success, in part because the student’s “affective filter” is thereby lowered.” From the students’ perspective they want to feel competent, they enjoy the opportunities provided by autonomy, thrive when relationships matter because they are connected to peers and adults, and they want to experience enjoyment because they are interested and challenged by what they do. In other words, they want to CARE and they want others too as well.

I know that anyone who listens to this podcast already CARE’s but I wonder how we can help others to or how we can CARE more. Do we afford students the opportunities we aspire to or are we constrained by tradition and expectations. Research and common-sense say that we should CARE but how can we convince the world that caring doesn’t always align with winning?

What’s next? As part of this blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.

 

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear for her work behind the scene as copy editor. Her help certainly forms a vital part of the production of this blog, and in getting out on time and in a semblance of coherence. However it is important to note that any mistakes that remain are mine.

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