30 The Making Of Ideal Pupils The Making Of

30 The Making Of Ideal Pupils The Making Of

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30
The making of ideal pupils
The making of ideal pupils: explaining the construction of key aspects
of primary school learner identities.1
Ceri Brown2,
Education Department, University of Bath
Abstract
This paper shows how teachers and pupils have an input in creating
shared understandings of the ‘ideal pupil’ by which children construct
aspects of their own learner identities. It develops an explanation
for how aspects of anxiety and confidence in learning are integral to
this process as pupils contrast their own identity as learners with
their view of the ideal pupil. The explanation for their identity
constructs centres on the interactions between teachers’ pedagogical
styles and pupil sub-cultures, against the background of the testing
culture. The paper develops an account of learning identity through
the study of nine pupils between the ages of 7 and 8 in a mixed
socio-economic primary school.
Keywords: Learner identities; Pedagogical style; Assessment culture;
Primary school children
Introduction
This paper seeks to develop an explanatory model of the ways pupils
construct themselves as learners with respect to two key aspects:
confidence and anxiety. It can be argued that whether pupils are
confident or anxious in relation to their learning is crucial to their
subsequent progress at school (Covington,1992). However, the question
of how these emotions become part of pupils’ sense of themselves as
learners has not been well understood in the context of the policies
and practices relating to primary schools.3 While there has been
considerable research on primary school pupils’ identities there has
been less on the explanations as to how these identities are
constructed.
Much of the research in the area of pupil identities in primary
schools has been undertaken by Pollard and colleagues ( Pollard,
1985,1987; Pollard and Filer, 1996) over the past twenty five years.
Pollard argues that children’s learner identities are shaped by
relationships with significant others; family, peers and teachers.
This study focuses on those relationships within the classroom.
Pollard and Filer (1996) suggest that all learning involves risk
taking. But whether the ‘risk’ will be perceived as threatening or
anxiety provoking on the one hand, or embraced as exciting and
achievable on the other, is largely due to whether a child has a
learner identity and strategy characterised by confidence and
motivation in order to take the ‘leap of faith’ necessary to achieve
learning challenges and progress educationally.
However, while they identify how teacher-pupil interactions impinge on
key aspects of pupils’ learning identities they do not examine the
particular interactions by which these aspects of learner identities
are constructed. In this respect Stables (2003) points to Pollard’s
‘jokers’, which is the label the latter gives to the group of children
who were often the most successful in school, being more proactive in
class than other children and contributing significantly in lessons in
a reciprocal relationship with the teacher. For Stables, why some
children are more proactive than others is a line of enquiry worthy of
further study:
There is surely scope for research into the conditions under which
students are encouraged into or discouraged from becoming Jokers or
moving into other kinds of roles within the broader dynamics of the
class. (p.12)
While Pollard and his colleagues provide important insights into the
classroom contexts in which identities are constructed, they have
focussed on the prior task of developing typologies of pupils, as has
been common in much sociological research into schools and classrooms.
For example, Pollard (1987) distinguishes between three types of
pupils: goodies, jokers and gangs but does not explain how these types
have come about and why pupils belong to one group rather than
another. Moreover, with respect to the latter point, the identity
status of these types is not clear, since it might be thought that
they are relatively fixed throughout a pupil’s career. Paul Willis’
(1977) distinction between two types of secondary school pupil ‘lads’
and ‘ear’oles’ was criticised on the same grounds by Lauder,
Freeman-Moir and Scott (1986) and Brown (1987) who argued that pupils
used the resources available in working class culture to construct
these identities and that they were not necessarily fixed.
Providing an explanatory account of how pupils construct key aspects
of their learner identities, in terms of confidence and anxiety is
intended to provide insights into current pedagogical practices and
raises questions for further research as to whether under different
conditions this explanatory model is applicable. The insights
generated provide further evidence of the problematic nature of the
testing culture. In this respect it supports the study by Reay and
Wiliam (1999). Their study is of particular interest because they
found that within a (slightly) underperforming primary school in an
area of social deprivation, the ethos changed from one favouring group
work to an individualistic approach in the run up the national exams
at year 6 (KS2 SATs). Teacher anxiety over school performance in the
SATs was translated into pupil anxiety to the extent that children’s
learner identities became wholly connected to their perceived
competence in numeracy and literacy.
In order to situate the structure of the paper some general
observations about the strategy adopted are needed. The study
collected data in the form of classroom observations, teacher and
pupil interviews. At the same time reading of the prior literature was
undertaken in order to provide initial categories for understanding
the data patterns. From these more developed theoretical categories
were constructed in order to refine the understanding of the data
patterns. Finally, links were made between theoretical constructions
and data to generate an explanatory model or account of how learner
identities were constructed. The guiding methodology for this strategy
is that of Haig (1996; 2005). In his reconstruction of grounded theory
Haig (1996) argues that we begin with a constraint-inclusion model of
a problem. That is that our understanding of the problem is informed
by initial often minimal theoretical commitments which inform our
collection of data. Data patterns are identified and then more
developed theories are introduced to account for the data patterns.
From this theorising, explanatory models may be developed that can
then be tested or evaluated in different contexts. The paper begins
with an account of the key theoretical categories that were developed
from the analysis of data patterns. These are: the testing culture,
pedagogy and pedagogical style and the concept of the ideal pupil.
The Testing Culture, Classification and Grouping
In England pupils are tested in primary school, on entry to school and
then at ages 7 and11. The tests at 7 and 11 are officially referred to
as Key Stages 1 and 2 respectively. The tests are designed to measure
school performance and to set targets for pupils. It is a common
assumption made by policy makers that pupils are best taught, in
groups, according to their levels of attainment. These tests have
defined levels that ‘average’ pupils are expected to achieve.
Consistent with this view, pupils are typically set and grouped
according to prior attainment and teacher judgements as to their
potential as a means of meeting school targets (Lauder and Brown;
2007). In the school which is focus of this study, this led to the
identification of a group labelled ‘potential level four’ children, on
whom resources were focused in order to boost test scores to the
expected performance of level four at key stage 2 (aged 11). In effect
this is a form of what Gillborn and Youdell (2000) call triage in
which emphasis is placed on those with the potential to achieve the
target level set, at the possible expense of pupils who are considered
unlikely to achieve the level. So pervasive was the impact of
attainment based groups that children were referred to openly by the
labels given to their ability groups across school activities.
This testing culture can be seen as part of what Lauder, Brown,
Dillabough and Halsey (2006) have called the State Theory of Learning
because it makes assumptions about teachers and pupils’ motivations in
learning: more specifically, that a system of classifications,
labelling and targets provides both spurs and incentives for learning.
In the study of an urban primary school in the United States
Booher-Jennings (2008) found that the hierarchies created by the
classification of students in relation to high stakes testing,
produced far more than a technical solution to pedagogy and
accountability. Pupils that were successful saw their less successful
counterparts as ‘personally or behaviourally deficient’ (159). Hence
students were socialised into a world in which they were judged and
they judged others in ways that challenged the confidence of the less
successful and led to the boys in her study questioning whether
educational success was a function of merit and effort.
Pedagogy and Pedagogical Styles
Alexander (2008) has argued that the notion that pedagogy comprises
more than teaching practices or styles:
Pedagogy does not begin and end in the classroom. It is comprehended
only once one locates practice within the concentric circles of local
and national, and of classroom, school, system and state, and only if
one steers constantly back and forth between these, exploring the way
that what teachers and students do in classrooms reflects the values
of the wider society. (p.1).
It therefore needs to be understood within the framework of the
testing culture and the way teachers respond in the classroom to its
perceived demands. In this the concept of teachers’ pedagogical styles
assume significance for the way pupils construct their identities.
Consistent with his view above Alexander (2008) has defined pedagogy
as the: ‘observable act of teaching together with its attendant
discourse of educational theories, values evidence and justifications’
(p.4) which are constructed in order to make decisions about teaching.
In this study the concept of pedagogical style is used as an element
in pedagogy as defined by Alexander. Here, the focus is on the
professional ‘persona’ that teachers bring to the classroom and the
way it influences the delivery and pacing of lessons, the humour with
which it is delivered, and the strategies used to maintain discipline.
These elements can influence the volume and content of teacher talk
which relates to instruction or questioning of subject content,
(Delamont; 1976).
Pedagogical style may, therefore, influence judgements as to whether
lessons emphasise didactic or experiential forms of teaching. In this
context, ‘pedagogical’ rather than the more familiar ‘teaching’ style
is used because while the latter was seen as an unhelpful ‘catch-all’
term of teaching behaviours employed to explain pupil outcomes
(Alexander, 2000), here the focus is different: on how pedagogical
style effects pupil constructions of the ideal learner. As we shall
see, teachers in this study make explicit judgements about the nature
of the pupils they are teaching and how they can best foster their
learning through the use of a teaching persona. In turn, the latter
appears related to pedagogical strategies. This then raises the issue
of the degree to which pupils perceive teachers as bringing themselves
into the classroom and its significance to them (Alexander, Entwhistle
and Thompson; 1987).
The Concept of the Ideal Pupil
The ‘ideal’ concept is used to explore how messages relating to
teachers’ pedagogical styles are interpreted by children aged seven
and eight in year four of one mixed social class school. The concept
of ‘ideal pupil’ was first used by Becker (1952) who studied teacher’s
perceptions of pupils with regards to their socio-economic family
background. Becker found that teachers varied their pedagogical
expectations according to pupil family background:
She [the teacher] expects that the amount of work and effort required
of her will vary inversely with the social status of her pupils.
(1952; 455) .
In addition to work and effort, family background could also be seen
to affect teaching techniques:
For instance at [low SES school] if you had demonstrations in
chemistry they had to be pretty flashy, lots of noise and smoke before
they’d get interested in it. That wasn’t necessary in [high SES
school]. (455)
Such expectations could be seen to impact upon teacher conceptions of
ideal pupil such that Becker’s findings suggested that children from
professional backgrounds were constructed by teachers as ideal pupils
to the disadvantage of working class pupils thought not have the
appropriate dispositions for learning. It has been argued by
Waterhouse (1991) that:
Becker’s (1952) ‘ideal pupil’ … has so often been adopted as a
ready-made ‘off-the shelf’ model to answer questions about the nature
of the interpersonal dealings between teachers and pupils in
classrooms (p.46).
However, Becker’s research did not consider the effects of teachers’
constructs on pupils’ views of themselves as learners. By enabling
students to reflect on what they consider to be the ideal learner this
study seeks to gain an understanding of the way the messages
communicated by teachers and peers relates to pupils’ constructions of
themselves as learners. Waterhouse (1991) went on to argue that
teachers formulate their views of pupils not according to a notion of
an ideal but a process of ‘norm-matching ‘in which each pupil is
constructed against a notion of the ‘normal’ or ‘average’ pupil. Such
a view has resonance in relation to the testing culture in which the
notion of the average or expected performance by pupils is crucial to
the way teachers and schools are judged. In this context the study
initially focused on pupils who were considered average in the sense
that they occupied the middle categories of the Goldthorpe-Hope (1974)
scale and who were identified as of median prior achievement for the
county in the Key Stage 1 tests. One of the advantages of adopting
this strategy is that it enables social class to be bracketed in
looking at the effects of classroom interactions within the context of
the testing culture. If it was found that issues of confidence and
anxiety were more to do with the way pupils were classified (Horne and
Saljo, 2006), rather than, necessarily with their social class
backgrounds, then this would be suggestive of the very powerful
effects that testing and classification may have on pupils. However,
as we shall see both the notions of the ‘average’ and ‘ideal pupil’
are mediated by a series of complex interactions.
Having outlined the theoretical categories that will be used to
analyse the data, the methodology is now detailed.
Methodology
The paper engages with 9 children from Ivy junior school, which draws
children from a range of social class backgrounds. Research was
conducted with children in year 4, (ages 7-8) which was thought to be
an age at which they were equipped with the linguistic skills and
awareness needed to reflect upon classroom processes. The school has a
reputation for being inclusive, with a strong emphasis on catering for
children assessed as having special educational needs which comprises
approximately around 20 per cent of pupils. The school is situated in
a small town that teachers describe as having a tight knit community.
There is a higher than average turnover of pupils and few children
from a non-white ethnic background in the school.
Year four contains two parallel registration classes to which pupils
are assigned to match as far as it is possible, in terms of the
social, behavioural, gender, age and attainment mix of pupils.
Children are taught in their registration classes for all subjects
apart from numeracy. They are assigned to sets for numeracy according
to their recent attainment scores, although in ‘borderline’ cases
their perceived aptitude and ‘personality’ are taken into
consideration. The class 1 teacher, Mr David, teaches the lower
numeracy set. The class 2 teacher, Mrs Lacey, teaches the upper
numeracy set. In addition to these sets, children are also grouped for
literacy within the registration class according to attainment. For
non core curriculum lessons children are in mixed attainment groupings
which can be determined by social factors such as friendships and
change throughout the year (especially in class 1).
Research was undertaken at Ivy school from summer term 2005 to the end
of the summer term 2006. During this time it was possible to carry out
observations for 16 days of lessons including the core curriculum
subjects; literacy, numeracy and science as well as non-core
curriculum subjects such as art, PE, PSHE and geography as well as
interviewing pupils and teachers.
Interviews with the pupils focussed on what they thought their
teachers expected of an ‘ideal’ pupil, and what makes the teachers
happy and unhappy as well as the child’s view of lessons and their
teachers. These questions were asked so as to gain an understanding of
how children understood and responded to the pedagogies of their
teachers and the perceived values, norms, ideals and ethic of the
classroom. Interviews were carried out with children in pairs and
groups of four to increase their confidence in talking to an adult
about, at times, sensitive topics. Teachers were asked about the
educational and social nature of the children in their classes and how
their pedagogical styles related to them. The observations were of the
children interviewed in their registration classes and sets.
Ethnographic observations involved researcher presence with some
involvement, within the classroom and the school with a particular
focus upon matched pairs and their friends in relation to pupil
responses and peer interaction during independent and group work
activity, teacher delivery and task management.
[Ceri, more here about observations time spent observing and what i/e
interactions between the 9 kids and teachers, peer group interaction,
seat mates etc]Time during the observations enabled me to build good
relationships with the children in this study. During summer term,
2006, I carried out six in-depth, semi-structured interviews with
them. These data are triangulated with classroom observations and
teacher interviews. The children are: Hermione, Katie and Lapis and
their friends; Ash, Woofle, Leon, Charlie, Kelly and Roxy. For the
interviews, children were asked to choose their own pseudonyms and
these are the names which are used in the paper.
Children’s attainment at baseline level (aged 5), as well as at the
end of Key stage 1 were recorded. It enabled an understanding of the
their progression in tests and how they were ranked within the
registration class and allocated to sets providing the basis, in the
study, for dividing the children into three groups, high attainers,
those deemed below ‘average’ and one with special learning needs.
Details of the pupils are given in the Table 1.
Table 1. Pupils, Classes and Sets
Child name
Class
Literacy group
(1-5)
Numeracy set (1-2)
Gender
SEN
Lapis
1
1
1
Male
No
Woofle
1
1
1
Male
No
Leon
1
2
1
Male
No
Ash
1
3
2
Male
No
Roxy
2
1
1
Female
No
Hermione
2
2
2
Female
No
Kelly
2
3
2
Female
No
Charlie
2
3
2
Female
No
Katie
2
3
2
Female
Yes
There are 5 groups in each class with 1 representing the high
achieving pupils and 5 the lowest. Lapis, Woofle, Tom and Roxy all
achieved levels of prior attainment well above the average and
continued to achieve highly as reflected by their places in the top
groups. The below average attaining children are Hermione, Charlie,
Kelly and Ash. Ash has levels of prior attainment which put him well
above the average but is currently achieving at below what is the
expected level. Katie has a similar level of prior attainment to the
below average attaining pupils and is in the lower numeracy set and
the middle of the 5 literacy groups. However, Katie is a more complex
case in that she presents special educational needs in the form of
dyslexia. She has additional learning support which includes being
removed from lessons to learn on a special ICT package and has an
individual learning plan devised by the Special Educational needs
Co-ordinator.
Dimensions of Learner Identity : Confidence and Anxiety
Findings from pupil interviews triangulated with teacher interviews
and classroom observation enabled a number of different dimensions of
pupil’s learner identities to be identified. These dimensions could be
categorised into those defined by elements of anxiety and/or
confidence. The understanding of children as having elements of
‘confidence’ and/or ‘anxiety’ was generated from observing and talking
to them both formally and informally in class and in interviews, in
terms of: words used, tone of voice and manner, positive/negative
experiences of work and lessons, contributions and engagement in
lessons. In identifying the following dimensions or elements which
constitute the source of these emotions, understanding can be
furthered as to their nature and relationship to their teacher’s
pedagogical style. It should be stressed that these are provisional
categories, which overlap for different children. Also for the reasons
given earlier and discussed later we should not see these necessarily
as fixed categories. The dimensions presented were:
(i) learning outcome anxiety, by which is meant that pupils did not
think their work would reach the standard that they thought the
teacher expected. Moreover, this appeared to be a stable or consistent
anxiety, irrespective of the teacher’s response as is shown below.
(ii) learning orientation anxiety, by which is meant the way the pupil
goes about seeking to engage in learning tasks that have been set.
(iii) an orientation which had elements of a confident competitive
identity and
(iv) an orientation which had elements of a confident-cooperative
identity.
Clearly, the kinds of anxiety referred to above may well be related in
that if pupils are anxious about the way they set about tasks then
they may also be anxious about what they produce in response to the
tasks. However, they have been distinguished in this way for two
reasons. Firstly, there may be factors that help pupils over their
anxieties in engaging in a task, such as support from their peer group
or friends but that whatever they then produce becomes the focus for
their anxiety. Secondly, the interviews and observations enabled a
distinction between these forms of anxiety to be identified while the
connection between them would require further analysis of the data.
What is clear from the data is that confidence or anxiety was related
to two factors: firstly academic attainment and secondly, behaviour.
Whereas the majority of children felt either confidence or anxiety
with regards to ability and attainment, one child, Katie, presented
confidence with regards to behaviour and anxiety towards attainment.
This dualistic aspect towards her learner identity displayed itself in
Katie presenting different attitudes (characterised by anxiety or
confidence) towards different subjects which will be discussed below.
Although some pupils presented anxiety with regards to both factors,
one dimension emerged as more prevalent than the other and it is in
relation to the dominant source of anxiety that children are
categorised. It was notable that all these children were below average
attainment.
The Pupils with Learning Outcome Anxiety
These children presented learner identities which included anxiety
around learning outcomes and applied to the ‘potential level 4’ pupils
in class two; Charlie, Hermione and Kelly (see Table 1). This
manifested itself in relation to aspects of work either during class
or as homework. Concerns were related to both quality in not producing
work that was “really perfect”, but more frequently in relation to
quantity which connected to issues of behaviour. In fact all three
mentioned specific examples of failing to complete work and perceived
this to upset the teacher and influenced the way she viewed them. When
asked how Mrs Lacey (class 2 teacher) talked when children hadn’t
finished as much work as she’d like, Hermione described a situation in
which she was reduced to tears because of failing to complete
sufficient work during lessons:
and she was sort of like really kind and she said right do you want to
go and do it in the library cause it’s nice and calmer there… well
it’s because [a child] was talking to me and I couldn’t get on with my
work so it made me cry.
The fact that Hermione cried, although her teacher had talked to her
kindly, suggests that the source of Hermione’s anxiety may have been
shame at not completing her work. This was supported through my
observation of the interaction in question between Hermione and her
teacher. When requesting Hermione show her exercise book at the end of
lesson, Mrs Lacey asked Hermione (indeed kindly) if she thought that
three lines were sufficient amount of work for one lesson. In response
Hermione shook her head , looked down and started to cry.
Children presenting ‘learning outcomes anxiety’ appeared to hold an
association between learning and a quiet, calm, independent and
serious working environment. The ‘potential level 4’ pupils had
negative associations with styles of learning connected with playing
and having fun and were disparaging of Mr David’s lower set numeracy
lessons which are taught in this style. These pupils found such
lessons ‘too loud’ and unsettling, possibly due to the contradiction
Hermione understands between ‘playing’ and learning:
[Mr David’s numeracy class] is always a bit behind cause he does a bit
too much into games.
A more appropriate style of lesson according to these ‘potential level
4’ pupils would be “all nice and quiet” (Hermione). This was the style
of class 2 lessons and these pupils appeared to connect this style of
classroom environment with that of learning, which is not to say they
always behaved consistently with such a view of learning, as we saw
with Hermione.
The Pupil with Learning Orientation Anxiety
This aspect of identity is applicable to Ash whose current attainment
levels were average or below. In contrast to pupils who experienced
anxiety regarding the outcomes of their learning - written and
performative work, the pupil with learning orientation anxiety is
associated primarily with the approach to learning while engaging in
the learning task. Ash showed significant anxieties about the way he
worked which he thought displeased his teacher as well as those around
him. Within lessons he felt Mr David “doesn’t pay attention” to him.
On another occasion Ash had a number of spellings wrong to which Mr
David responded “well nice try”. This suggests the class 1 teacher
didn’t have a very high opinion of Ash’s learning potential and Ash
may well have felt disappointed that Mr David didn’t expect more from
him. This is supported in Mr David’s comments which show that he
considered Ash to have learning problems and felt even an average
class placing may have been too generous:
He’s in [group 3] which will mean he’s average, but he’s about 10
minutes behind everyone else. And… supposedly he’s been assessed for
like speech and language and apparently everything’s all, everything’s
in working order. Although I just, I can’t believe, I genuinely cannot
believe that, he’s normal, that he hasn’t got any kind of, any kind of
speech and language or…there must be some something wrong with him.
It could be argued that it is better to displease a teacher by failing
to meet his expectations, than it is to be of no interest to him, a
message Ash took from his teacher and which he felt was reinforced by
his classmates:
Yeah, I normally ask people and say what do you do? What do we do? but
normally they don’t listen, they normally just ignore [me].
It may be little wonder that Ash felt unconfident in his ability to
complete learning tasks if he thought his teacher and classmates were
not interested in what he did.
These comprise the learner identities which are characterised by
elements of anxiety. It is notable that the pupils who were below
average in their class groupings perceive themselves as disappointing
their teacher.
Pupils with a Confident Competitive Learning Orientation
The third type of identity comprised a combination of two
characteristics one referring to a competitive drive to be the best
and the other to be a ‘lad’.
This applied to the three high attaining boys; Lapis, Woofle and Leon
all occupying the top groups. The ‘competitive’ aspect of the dualism
referred to attaining highly, or more specifically being positioned
highly in the perceived ability hierarchy. It was important for these
boys to see themselves as being among, if not the ‘best’ in curriculum
related work; specifically with regards to core-subjects. They
described themselves in terms of being the ‘best’ in particular ways
which involved completing work quickly and unaided. They came across
as supremely confident about their perceived elevated position in the
pecking order, exemplified in Woofle’s comment:
Seeing as I’m one of the best in our year at numeracy and Leon’s like
just behind me. Every time we have a question I just work it out
first.
The ‘lad’ aspect of this dualism referred to a conception of ‘lad’ as
being fun-loving, outgoing and loud. The manner in which these
children spoke to me during interview was notably different to the
‘potential level 4 pupils. While the pupils were initially shy and
spoke in quiet, sometimes uncertain voices, the boys in contrast
laughed and joked, embellishing each others comments with confidence ,
thus supporting and reinforcing their ‘top of the group’ status.
Pupil with a Confident-Cooperative Orientation
The other element within the confident learner identity was that of
‘confident-cooperative’. This element was represented by Roxy from
class 2. Like the boys from class 1, Roxy also had a high level of
prior attainment and was currently in the highest literacy group and
in the top numeracy set. In contrast to the ‘potential level 4’pupils,
Roxy presented as confident and she thought she was held in high
regard by Mrs Lacey, the class 2 teacher saying she was never
reprimanded and recounted no negative experiences in relation to her
teacher. Again, in contrast to the potential level four pupils but in
similarity to the jokers, Roxy made a clear connection between having
fun and learning, finding lessons “really enjoyable instead of just
boring”. While the potential level 4 pupils perceived fun in lessons
as ‘childish’ and antithetical to learning, Roxy felt fun was
conducive to effective learning. However, unlike the ‘competitive
lads’ Roxy did not orientate her confidence around beating other
children in the hierarchical stakes, for her, appropriate classroom
behaviour involved caring for other children in need of her help. She
talked about this while discussing a new pupil who needed help because
he had significant gaps in his education. She affirmed the importance
of helping this child “when he don’t understand stuff”. She was also
careful to keep an eye out for other children in need of help:
like say um.. they do something wrong I would just mention to them
that you are supposed to do something other , not in a rude way.
Roxy clearly understood her attainment as denoting a responsibility
for helping others which in turn helped the teacher. While it is
possible to see her helper status as altruistic it could also be seen
as reinforcing her confidence.
‘Good Pupil’ with special learning needs
The last case is arguably the most complex because it allows for
different stances characterised by confidence or anxiety to be present
in different contexts. This can be applied to Katie. By means of prior
attainment and current groupings, Katie is a ‘potential level 4’
child. However, she appeared to form a learner identity which was more
connected to her SEN, than her prior attainment scores which place her
alongside her friends. That is, Katie felt she was a ‘special’ sort of
learner with needs apart from other children in the class. However,
whilst Katie perceived these needs as ‘special’ with regards to
non-core lessons taught by her registration class teacher she
conceived them as ‘problems’ in relation to her core subjects,
especially numeracy.
With regards to non core lessons Katie displayed a secure confidence
and enjoyment in lessons:
I think I’m good at music, art history and DT
And when asked how she knew this, she responded:
because all the other things I sort of struggle with, well I know that
it’s really really easy”
This confidence in relation to her experience of non-core lessons was
supported in the positive way she spoke about the class 2 teacher’s
regard for her and the absence of negative encounters with the teacher
which the other potential level 4 pupils had described. Whilst Katie
recognised her need for additional help and support with learning, she
appeared to have had very positive experiences of this additional
support and interpreted this as evidence that she was important enough
to have a tailored curriculum. When asked what was the most important
thing about coming to school? Katie replied:
Well I have a bit of a lexia problem, Cause whenever I learn something
suddenly I just forget it so I go down to the IT, ICT suite every
morning and I go on to like a lexia sort of programme where I, where
it helps me to learn.
Despite her general confidence with regard to the ‘right’ to learn,
Katie presented similar anxieties to the ‘potential level 4’ pupils in
relation to numeracy. As with the other potential level four pupils,
Katie disliked the noise of her numeracy lessons finding it difficult
to concentrate and feeling intimidated in admitting to being confused.
Katie seemed to share the view that ‘fun’ is not conducive to learning
and quiet, focussed and calm lessons as experienced in class 2 lessons
are learning environments far more suited to her:
I find it easier when they’re more stricter because then people can
behave and you actually learn more , with Mr David you could just have
fun and then you don’t really exactly learn that much, well you do
learn in a way because it makes it fun but Mrs Lacey’s routine is more
um of learning.
Katie would have preferred to be in Mrs Lacey’s class but believed
that she was in Mr David’s class because:
where we have problems so then we get sent to Mr David’s class.
Such findings suggest that Katie has formed subject specific learning
orientations such that she felt anxiety towards core skills such as
numeracy, but confidence in relation to registration class based, non
core curriculum subjects. This confidence or anxiety is intimately
connected to the way she viewed her SEN. Whereas in non-core
registration class taught lessons Katie saw her SEN positively, in
numeracy she saw it as a ‘problem’. Whilst Katie’s perceptions towards
and anxiety differed between subjects, her behaviour, quiet,
hardworking, and on-task was constant across all lessons.
Pedagogical styles and the processes that shape pupil identities
This research suggests that children create notions of the ‘ideal
pupil’ by interpreting subtle messages from the teacher and from their
peers. In particular specific pedagogical styles create and legitimate
certain forms of ‘ideal pupil’. This section will therefore look at
the different notions of ideal pupil for children from class 1
registration class and those from class 2.
The two teachers differed both in gender and significantly in the
pedagogical styles they adopted in the classroom. The descriptions
below are examples from classroom observations during numeracy
lessons, in which the teachers’ different styles are most accentuated.
Mrs Lacey
Mrs Lacey demands a quiet and focused class environment with minimal
off-task chatting. For top set numeracy she has the competitive lads
in her class and to manage them has made them sit in rows of two
behind each other to reduce their talking and practical joking. In one
instance, after delivering instructions Mrs Lacy starts to wander
around the class checking children’s work. There was a very low noise
level as she does this. She then asks for answers to the questions the
pupils are working on, picking children to answer. There is a chorus
of “Yes!” amongst those who got the answer right, including Lapis.
However, Mrs Lacey is not interested in encouraging competitiveness
she responds:
I am not interested in who got it right, I want to know that if you
got it wrong, you know why.
It is rare for children to talk off task during her lessons and when
they do she responds in a polite but firm manner:
Some people down here are chatting and that’s not helpful, Anna,
you’re stopping us getting on, Mike, you’re another one that’s
stopping the class working and its very disappointing. It would be a
real shame if we didn’t get on and do our practical because you’re
talking.
During numeracy lessons Mrs Lacey uses didactic methods whereby the
lesson progresses at a rapid pace characterised by questions to the
class and answers followed by set tasks. She is particularly insistent
on pupils being highly focused, engaged and prepared. For example, in
response to a child dawdling over a task, she responded, “turning up
to maths without a ruler is like a builder turning up to a job without
his tools.” Mrs Lacey is even less tolerant of children challenging
the order she demands, when this occurs she comments:
In this group I do not expect that sort of behaviour because we’ve got
a lot of work to do if we’re going to get through everything we’ve got
to do.
Mr David
Mr David’s style, in contrast to Mrs Lacey’s, is upbeat, noisy and fun
employing a more experiential form of pedagogy with a looser rein on
pupil contributions. For example, in a numeracy lesson he presents the
learning task as a game and he encourages the whole class to join in.
He uses the interactive white board to illustrate playing number bonds
of 20. This involves children making number relationships which add up
to 20. The children are excitedly involved in the game and call out
answers. To quieten the class Mr David uses an attention gaining
technique which involves counting down from 5 to 1, this takes some 5
to 10 seconds to be effective. Mr David tends to use colloquial
language such as “Let’s see how well you remember big scary addition
sums”. During his delivery, a child provides a running commentary but
Mr David ignores this. Whereas Mrs Lacey does not tolerate children
being unprepared, Mr David allows Hermione several minutes to look for
her lost maths book before telling her to get a piece of paper without
commenting on her lack of preparedness for the lesson.
Outside of maths lessons Mr Davids’ also places greater emphasis on
children taking responsibility for their learning. For example, in one
literacy lesson he tells children; “The whole point of this week is
for you to move on… It doesn’t matter where you are, if you move up
(literacy levels) you should be proud of yourself”.
Class one perspectives on their teacher and what it means to be an
‘ideal pupil’
The boys from class 1 like and respect their registration teacher,
although notably the ‘competitive pupils’ were a lot more positive
than Ash. Interestingly, descriptions of their teacher revealed that
they saw two clear and distinct sides to their teacher which were
connected to that of ‘Mr David the person’ and ‘Mr David the teacher’.
Words used to associate with ‘Mr David the person’ were; ‘funny’ ‘good
sportsman,’ ‘likes sponge-bob,’ all of which connected to a boyish
masculine image in being sporty, humorous, even showing an interest in
children’s cartoons. On the other hand descriptions associated with
‘Mr David the teacher’ were; ‘loud’, ‘tells people off when they’re
naughty’, “explains really, really well” and ‘kind’. Lapis illustrates
this perceived dualism in being asked what would make Mr David happy.
His responses articulate one factor which would please the teacher and
one factor which would please the person:
When you do good title pages and stuff and if you give him presents
for his birthday.
It might be thought that these two roles could cause confusion for the
boys in terms of understanding the boundaries which define classroom
behaviour. However, this was not the case, in fact the ‘competitive
pupils’ appeared to use these roles as a model from which to construct
the ‘ideal pupil’ which mirrored their teacher’s characteristics.
Lapis’ description best captures this ideal as someone who can:
have a laugh…down to earth.. and who is clever…probably a boy…he would
behave OK, sometimes he’ll forget to do his homework and the rest of
the time he will be OK….
This also connects to an image of being a joker who is fun-loving and
bright but also fallible and would explain why these boys spoke so
positively about their teacher, endorsing his teacher style, his
‘clever’ work, encouragement of pupils and sense of humour whilst also
legitimising negative aspects of the teacher’s role such as telling
children off.
However, Ash was not as at ease with his class teacher. Whilst being
decidedly quieter during the conversation about Mr David, Ash clearly
subscribed to the clever/ fun dualism in his view of the ideal pupil.
But it is an ideal he failed to live up to. Having noted that he is
quiet in lessons he says:
[Mr David] sometimes likes noisy people, cause if you’re just really
really quiet, uh it can be a bit boring.
This comment by Ash highlights how being marginalised from the joker
peer consensus affects the way he constructs his identity. This point
touches on the observation by Booher-Jennings (2008) that the testing
culture creates an informal hierarchy constructed by teachers and
peers with the effect of excluding those that are not seen as
approximating the behaviours of the ideal pupil.4
Class two perspectives on their teacher and what it means to be an
‘ideal pupil’
The pupils interviewed in class two held similar interpretations of
their teacher and her views. They felt that Mrs Lacey presented
herself, as distinct from her role of teacher. They valued her stories
about her horses and daughters finding her “nice and joyful”. However,
these children, saw little difference between Mrs Lacey as person and
teacher in the behaviour she modelled and expected of them. In
relation to work, children perceived Mrs Lacey to be pleased by
individual experiences of pupil excellence “when someone has done
brilliant work”, as well as group situations of focus and
responsibility for work such as when “everyone hands their homework in
on time”.
Here it can be inferred how teacher characteristics have been ascribed
to perceived idealised pupil characteristics. Significantly children
in class 2 actually described Katie as an example of an ideal pupil,
who presents, from observation and comments from her peers, all of the
behavioural characteristics above. In a group interview with Hermione,
Charlie and Kelly they took the view that:
Katie is really good some, a lot of the time and um… it’s like well
done Katie then she writes her answer on the board. (Kelly)
Whilst the potential level 4 pupils expressed anxieties over
conforming to the ideal pupil in falling short on work related
expectations, Roxy and Katie expressed no such negative experiences.
Roxy produced work that pleased the teacher who was also pleased by
role as helper. Whilst Katie may have been anxious about the quality
of the work she produced, she had a self affirming explanation for
this in terms of her dyslexia. The collective recognition of Katie as
having elements of the ‘ideal pupil’ also suggests that peer consensus
may play a significant role in endorsing and normalising the ‘ideal
pupil’ construct.
Through the examination of the way teachers present themselves to
pupils as well as the interpretations children have of their
pedagogies, it can be seen how they are the model by which children
construct their own notions of the ideal pupil. This is not simply in
relation to children’s performance. Whereas the pupils from class 1 in
this study perceived Mr David as responding positively towards
liveliness and good humour which he exemplified, in class 2, pupils
saw Mrs Lacey as responding well to hard working, responsible and
caring children . Does this mean, therefore, that teachers are looking
for carbon copies of themselves in the pupil ideals they communicate
or have they adopted certain styles for reasons related to the
composition of the class?
Teacher’s accounts of their pedagogical styles
It was noted earlier that Alexander (2008) defined pedagogy as the act
of teaching with its ‘attendant discourse of educational theories,
values evidence and justifications’. In discussing their pedagogical
style, it would appear that teachers see this as in part being related
to individual personality and in part on account of the children they
teach. Both teachers expressed the importance of ‘being themselves’.
It was notable that both Mrs Lacey and Mr David echoed children’s
descriptions of their teaching style. Mr David described his style as
“fun, outgoing, lively” whilst Mrs Lacey described herself as ‘calm,’
in favouring a quiet classroom. She described herself as a
‘disciplinarian’ which, although this comment was in jest, identifies
her insistence on orderly, engaged and on-task behaviour in lessons.
However, they saw this sense of being themselves as modified by the
nature of the pupils they were teaching. Mrs Lacey said:
It’s a matter of trying and working out what works for the group that
you’ve got.
This refers not just to the teaching strategies they adopted but to
the way they were presented. For example, Mr David said his style of
teaching was to “make numeracy fun and raising confidence” for the low
attainers, whereas Mrs Lacey’s style was suited for children who enjoy
lessons and are enthusiastic about learning challenges:
If you know what you’re trying to achieve you achieve it, there’s
purpose in coming, so I want them to walk through the door because
they want to be here.
While, Mr Davids’ rationale for making learning fun may apply to his
lower maths set, it seems he also used the same approach with his
registration class. He noted that he was never lively or fun when
training to be a teacher, but rather that style has developed to suit
the children he teaches:
You just look at the results and the progress and it does work for
these children, it really does.
This raises a question as to whether he feels most of the children he
teaches are underperforming and need the confidence he assumes comes
from his style or whether it is just his maths group. Observations
suggest that his style is similar in both his maths set and
registration class.
Mrs Lacey describes her approach of being very positive and
encouraging especially when children try hard. When probed about why
she uses this style she responds “because I find it pays dividends”.
As with Mr David her registration class style is also similar to that
of her upper set maths group teaching style. This raises the question
of the degree to which they do adapt to the pupils rather than the
pupils adapting to them.
Conclusion: Drawing the Explanatory Threads Together
This study extends research undertaken by Pollard (1985) and Pollard
and Filer (1996) by identifying specific aspects of the interaction
between teachers and pupils which serve to create key elements in the
construction of learner identities. In particular, the way pupils take
their notion of the ideal pupil from their teachers’ pedagogical
styles and the way a shared view of what constitutes the ideal pupil
among their peers serves to both include and exclude, reinforcing
anxiety in those excluded. It is significant that different pupils
experience varying levels of agency with which they are able to
construct elements of their learner identities. Whilst the high
attaining children have a degree of autonomy in exhibiting positive
characteristics such as confidence, responsibility, helpfulness, or
playfulness, the lower attaining children construct identities in
relation to their sense of never being able to perform to the
standards expected.
The analysis also enables an insight into how pupils’ identities are
constructed. Waterhouse (1991) contrasted two strategies that teachers
might adopt in the way they construct pupils: the notion of ideal as
opposed to the average or normal pupil. Here, as with Becker’s (1952)
it is assumed that teachers are key in pupil construction. But this
study suggests that the processes involved are more complex and can be
characterised as follows:

In this context, it has been shown that teachers’ pedagogical styles,
although developed with the best of intentions, may reinforce
confidence or exacerbate anxiety. In both cases the testing culture
which places pupils in a hierarchy of achievement has an effect on
their learner identities. Why were the teachers not attuned to the
negative influences of their pedagogical styles? It may well be that
because confident children responded well to their registration class
teacher’s pedagogical style, they stood out, dominating lessons and
putting into greater contrast the ‘quiet’ anxious children who thus
became more invisible. Pollard (1985) shows how children who are
anxious about their learning do not wish to stand out but rather adopt
strategies enabling them to ‘drift’ with the crowd and go unnoticed.
It has been suggested that teachers' pedagogical styles may be key to
understanding the construction of learner identities. However, there
is a question as to the role gender played in the process of identity
construction. Gender differentiation has been shown to operate through
what Booher-Jennings (2008) has described as the ‘hidden curriculum’
meaning “the taken for granted understandings about the world that
schools and teachers, often unknowingly teach” (p150) Gendered
messages about what it means to be a learner have been pervasive
within formal structures and informal practices (Arnot 1982, 2002
Dillabough; 2000) teacher-pupil working relationships (Skelton and
Read; 2006) and pupil relationships (Booher-Jennings; 2007).
Of particular relevance to this study is Booher-Jennings’ key finding
that the achievement ideology related to the testing culture in the
embraced by the school that hard work equals academic success was
translated differently for boys than for girls. Whilst test failure
for girls was attributed to issues of self esteem, boys’ failure was
attributed to not trying or caring sufficiently. The pedagogical
messages here resonating with this study is that ‘good’ girls care
whilst boys ‘have a laugh’. However, whilst in previous studies pupils
and teachers have equated ‘laddish’ fun loving behaviour with
underachievement (Bohher Jennings, 2007, Francis, 1999) paradoxically
in this study (as with Pollard,1987) the same behaviour was perceived
by pupils and their teachers as consistent with academic success. The
question emerges as to under what conditions teachers’ views of their
pupils legitimate or marginalise the same behaviour? While no boy
jokers were observed in Mrs Lacy's class this may have been because
she did not permit such behaviour; as we have seen, she had a clear
strategy for controlling the jokers in her top maths set. Since
interviews were not undertaken with her most able boys it was not
possible to determine their view of the ideal learner and of
themselves as learners. As regards girls, Roxy was clearly confident
but she also framed that confidence in ways that were consistent with
Mrs Lacey's ethos and pedagogical style.
The task now for this explanatory model is to see whether it has
applications in different contexts and in which the role of gender can
be more clearly distinguished. Waterhouse (1991) noted that:
the micro-macro connections have always to be regarded as empirically
problematical to be explored or resolved in relation each research
setting (p.50).
It was for this reason that he argued that classroom processes could
not be ‘read off’ from macro structural processes. However, with
respect to the state theory of learning the macro seeks to impose
greater control over the micro and with respect to pupil identity
construction it remains to be explored as to whether this model has
more general application and if so, in what ways it may need to be
developed.
However, longitudinal research is also required to examine the nature
and durability of learner identity constructions. We have seen that
Katie seemed to be confident in some lessons but not others,
particularly maths. What is the influence of ‘high stakes’ lessons in
helping shaping pupils’ identities? Do these identities change with
their teachers and peer groups as they move through school? 5Here, in
the light of the discussion above, the question may be less to do with
the idea that pupils retain fixed identities and more with the
resources that schools provide by which pupils may construct and
reconstruct their identities. In this context, a rigid testing culture
may give them few resources to change their view of themselves as
learners.
Acknowledgments
The author would like to acknowledge Hugh Lauder for his help and
support in preparing the paper. Thanks are also due to Ruth Lupton
Keith Bishop and Yolande Muschamp as well as to all the staff and
children at Ivy school.
Author’s Biography
Ceri Brown was a Research Officer for 27 months on the Hampshire
Research into Primary Schools Project (HARPS), ESRC grant
RES-000-23-0784. She is currently undertaking a PhD at the University
of Bath into the impact of turbulence on the experiences of children
from low income families.
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The good girls tended to be of moderate ability as considered by
>>> their teachers. They weren't sporty but their attitudes towards
>>> peers as well as their teachers "was generally favourable and
deferential"
>>> (p168)The jokers were primarily described by teachers as
>>> academically bright, they were also good at sports and tended to
be
>>> the dominant girls group. Furthermore they "enjoyed a fairly close
>>> rapport with many teachers which was one of the main
distinguishing
>>> features of the
>> joker group"
>>> (p171)The gang group were the least academically successful and
>>> characterised by "relatively greater 'roughness and..
>>> very uneasy degree of cohesion" (p173). The gangs group was last
>>> popular with peers and teachers and "could be regarded as having
>>> anti-school values in many ways" (p177)
>>>
>>> Pollard A. (1987) 'Goodies, Jokers and Gangs' in A Pollard eds
>>> Children and their primary schools The Falmer Press: London/New
>>> York/Philadelphia
>>> pp165-187
1 This work is part of the Hampshire Research into Primary Schools
Project (HARPS), ESRC grant RES-000-23-0784.
2 Education Department, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY: e-mail:
[email protected]
3 The focus of research into teacher-pupil interactions has been,
largely, on the effects of teaching styles and strategies in relation
to pupils’ classroom behaviour and cognitive progress (Gage, 1985;
Mortimore et al, 1988; Galton, Hargreaves, Comber, Wall and Pell,
1999). However, the relationship between teachers, pupils and their
peers in the construction of pupils’ learner identities has been less
studied. Yet, arguably, how pupils see themselves as learners is a key
to how they get on at school.
4 It also raises a question for further research about the findings by
Ivinson and Duveen (2006) that in schools that operated weak
classification and framing there was far greater ‘space’ for students
to engage in interaction, and develop power structures beyond the gaze
of the teacher. Given that state theory of learning would typically
presupposes both strong classification and framing, the process seems
to be one in which there is not a separate peer culture and hierarchy
but one created by the system of pupil classification and teacher
pedagogy.
5 In referring to identities of sex and gender, social constructionist
accounts have argued that identities are inherently unstable in that
they need continual “reiteration and re-enactment” to be maintained
(Deutscher; 1997;26). Butler (2008) suggests that this performative
aspect of identity making renders identities as fluid and open to
resignification and recontextualisation. However, in underlining the
situated nature of the aspects of learner identities discussed here,
it’s possible to speculate that the elements of confidence and anxiety
that characterise them may continue so long as as a testing and
assessment based culture permeates the state schooling system.
30