Melbourne Graduate School of Education - Theses
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The preparation and development of middle leaders in Victorian secondary schools
Middle leaders in schools provide a critical link between senior leadership and teaching staff. Employing a multi-perspective case study methodology, this study looked at the common themes facing middle leaders at three Victorian secondary schools, Catholic, government, and independent, with regard to their preparation for leadership, their professional and personal development in the role, how their role is perceived by those to whom they report and those they lead, and how they determine if they have been successful in their role. At each school, the following staff members were invited to participate in the study: senior leaders, middle leaders, and teachers. The middle leaders involved in this research were actively involved in leading pastoral, academic, and/or co-curricular departments within a Catholic, government, or independent school. Semi-structured interviewing was used for the purpose of collecting their responses. The participants’ responses were analysed, and emergent themes described. A total of 56 themes with 78 sub-themes emerged from the study, covering the dimensions of preparation, development, perception, and success in leadership. Common themes raised by middle leaders were professional learning, the support provided in their role, career progression, their ability to influence school direction, level of autonomy in the role, departmental management, professional relationships, and their support of students’ achievement. The study indicates that middle leaders’ measurement of success in the role was primarily linked to student achievement in academic and social domains. A leadership development model is offered to support aspiring and current middle leaders.
Unsettling conceptions of Indigenous youth, reimagining the future: Beyond a problem for education and criminal justice
There is an absence of Australian scholarship regarding the emergence of Indigenous youth as a social category despite decades of intervention into the life worlds of young First Peoples. These interventions are often justified as attempts to solve the problem for young First Peoples while mutually constituting Indigenous young people—and their families, as the problem. In response to this absence and the rendering of Indigenous young people as a problem, this study addresses two questions: Why and in what ways have young First Peoples come to be known through a priori conceptions of Indigenous youth? And how have these conceptions of Indigenous youth been contested and imagined otherwise? Indigenous women’s standpoint theory guides the broad ethical and methodological approach undertaken in this study, while theories of time, normativity and fugitivity form the conceptual foundation from which I respond to the research questions. Time is theorised as a racialised imposition which works to determine a normative future. Normativity supports an examination of what constitutes the ‘human’ and its exclusions, and lastly, fugitivity provides a theoretical entry and identification point to engage with counter-stories told by Indigenous peoples which contest and escape normative conceptions of Indigenous youth. These counter-stories instead work to recuperate the present humanity of young First Peoples. In attending to the way Indigenous young people have come to be understood as a problem, I draw on Foucault’s approach to discourse analysis. This study traces allusions and references to Indigenous young people as they have circulated in government and institutional records and policies, State sanctioned commissions and reviews, and the media in response to the following sites: the inaugural inclusion of Indigenous people in an Australian national census in 1971; and the release of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Report (1991) prompted by the brutal death in custody of 16-year-old Yindjibarndi teen John Pat in 1983 at the hands of four off-duty policemen and a police aide. Through an engagement with these sites, it emerges that Indigenous young people have come to be understood as a problem for education and criminal justice through two key discursive formations: inescapable deficiency and inevitable criminality. These discursive formations work to problematise Indigenous children and young people, rendering the education and criminal justice systems as infallible while figuring the inequalities experienced by First Peoples, and the internment in detention and death of Indigenous young people, as inevitable. Inevitability functions in discourses of criminal justice in the same way Indigenous deficiency is normalised in discourses of education: by positioning an imagined Indigenous future both for Indigenous people and communities as contingent on postcolonizing systems which have often sought their erasure or compliance. The bodies of Indigenous children and young people, as the present manifestation of Indigenous pasts and futures, are the primary corporeal sites where these discursive strategies continue to attempt to unfold. A desire-based approach, informed by the work of Unangax scholar Eve Tuck guides the second question posed in this study: how have these conceptions of Indigenous youth been contested and imagined otherwise? Through an engagement with counter narratives authored by Indigenous people, this question orients toward the profundity of representations which transcend the limited and limiting conceptions of Indigenous youth as a problem. The texts engaged with include a documentary film In My Blood It Runs (2019), a futurist live action television series Thalu (2020) and the creative writing of Indigenous young people published in an Indigenous-student led university magazine. These texts create fugitive spaces which force an analytical engagement beyond taken-for-granted registers of criminality and deficiency. In doing so these texts undermine the inevitability of settler futures, instead imagining the future as contingent on non-normative figurations of young First Peoples in the present moment. This study makes a significant contribution to critical Indigenous studies and youth studies scholarship by urging movement beyond empirical analyses of the experiences of Indigenous young people to a parallel interrogation of the very concepts scholars use to make sense of these experiences.
Languages and Learning amongst Orang Asli Students in Malaysia
This thesis reports a research project conducted with and for the Orang Asli (OA) of Malaysia by an OA researcher. The OA (literally means original people) are the Indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia. Among many other struggles faced by the OA of Malaysia, two educational issues that have constantly been highlighted in the literature are the high dropout rates and the low educational attainment amongst OA students. Across the subjects, English language is one of the weakest areas of learning for the students despite the language being a key requirement to maximize employability in the local and global workforce. This highlights the complex multilingual challenge that many OA students are facing in order to succeed in their formal education and subsequently navigate the globalised workforce. This study aimed to understand the English language learning of OA students in Malaysia by looking into the complex interplay of the main languages (OA languages, Malay and English) that coexist in the language ecology of OA students in Malaysia. It also aimed to explore the attitudes of OA students and parents towards these languages and their formal language learning in school. In addition, beliefs of teachers of OA students were also explored for a comprehensive picture of the subject. This mixed-methods study has been framed within a transformative framework that is embedded with elements of Indigenous methodologies. To ensure a comprehensive understanding of the subject under investigation, voices of OA students, OA parents and their teachers were foregrounded using multiple data collection strategies such as survey, interview, classroom observation, photovoice and an Indigenous method called sharing circle. To analyse and interpret the data, the works of various notable scholars such as the affordance theory (Gibson, 1979; Aronin & Singleton, 2012), the Dominant Language Constellation theory (Aronin, 2014) as well as the notions of symbolic power (Bourdieu, 1991) have been used to frame the discussion of findings. Several significant findings resulted from the data analysis. First, new insights into the complex linguistic repertoires of OA students, highlighting limitations around fixed notions of local, national and international languages have been found in this study. Secondly, the participating OA students and their parents demonstrated mixed attitudes towards the languages in their language ecology reflecting issues of both OA identity and global aspirations. Thirdly, in terms of the use of OA students’ linguistic and cultural knowledge, it was found that only the linguistic knowledge is used to support their language learning in the classrooms while their cultural knowledge receives no major emphasis in their formal learning. It was also found that teachers hold mixed beliefs about their OA students, and many of these teachers view their OA students through a deficit lens. Finally, findings of this study also highlight the emergence of a group of high achieving OA students, which should be further explored in future research. This research proposes innovative ways of conceptualising OA students that will inform current and future policy development for the OA in Malaysia.
The Right to Education Act (2009) and school enactments of inclusion in India
This thesis is concerned with the landmark right to education legislation, which was included as a fundamental right in the Indian constitution, in 2002, and enacted as law as the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act, 2009). This Act makes free and compulsory elementary education of children between 6 and 14 years of age a fundamental constitutional right. It also details conditions for provision of education, specifying minimum standards of school infrastructure, teacher qualifications, teaching norms, assessment, and curriculum. Importantly, it includes a provision for the reservation of entry-level seats for children from underprivileged backgrounds in private schools, to create more inclusive school communities. At a time when policy focus is on learning outcomes and the issue of quality of education, this research instead draws attention to the objectives of inclusion and social justice implied by the constitutional mandate for the right to education and is concerned with the ways in which schools have responded to and enacted this provision for inclusion in classrooms. Using theoretical resources drawn from recent literature on policy enactment approaches, this thesis focuses on the materializing practices that enact the right to education in two school settings in India. School leaders’ and teachers’ readings of policy discourses, and teachers’ negotiations of multiple ideas and policy objects encountered in the post-RTE classroom settings, are explored. Concepts from new materialism are used to analyse interview and ethnographic observation data by mapping the meanings, discourses and affects assembled in practices of schooling. The role of affect in learning, and the ways in which it produces new capacities to teach, and learn, in school settings are explored. Pedagogies that include and exclude become visible at the confluence of policy discourses, practices of educational reform and institutional histories. The potential of ethical pedagogies of affect to enact inclusion in the context of the right to education in India is shown.
Principles, practices and priorities of teaching reading in the early years of schooling
The teaching of literacy (particularly reading) in the early years of schooling remains an ongoing area of interest and evokes media attention (Adoniou, 2017; Hall, 2010; Torgerson, Brooks, Gascoine & Higgins, 2019). This is particularly the case in Victoria since a retreat there from systematically supported (even mandated) practices associated with the Early Years Literacy Research Project (EYLRP) of the 1990s and early 2000s. This PhD thesis reports on a qualitative case study (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2018; Miles, Huberman & Saldana, 2014; Schwandt & Gates, 2018) that investigates how contemporary primary teachers make pedagogic decisions that inform their planning and teaching of early reading. Through data collected via an online questionnaire, lesson observation, document and artefact analysis, and teacher interviews, the underpinning principles, practices and priorities of 16 Foundation to Year Two teachers of early reading were examined. Dewey’s model of reflective thought (1933) provided the framework to analyse the nexus between these principles, practices and priorities and determine how each element influenced and contributed to pedagogic decision-making about the teaching of reading. Findings from this study revealed the influence of reflective thought on teacher practice, regardless of what principles and priorities teachers tacitly or consciously endorsed. This outcome has future implications for system-wide and school-based leadership and teacher professional development and support.
Social emotional learning (SEL) in practice in early childhood: translating and applying the COPE-resilience program in Taiwan
Social emotional learning (SEL) has become a significant priority to policy makers and education providers around the globe. It refers to essential skills needed for individuals to function well in the 21st century, and directly impacts how well individuals adapt to change, handle interpersonal issues, and cope with challenges in life (OECD, 2018). A recent development in educational focus has placed a strong emphasis on SEL during the preschool years in Taiwan; however, there is a shortage of SEL training and resources available to support teachers in this endeavour. Preschool teachers in Taiwan are struggling to find effective strategies to teach social and emotional skills in intentional and evidence-based ways. Nonetheless, to date, limited research has been carried out in Taiwan to explore the effect of preschool SEL programs on both teachers and children. This doctoral thesis investigates the processes and considerations for translating a specific evidence-based SEL program, such as the six-week COPE-Resilience program in preschool settings in Taiwan to increase children's social and emotional competencies (SEC) and teachers’ SEL practices. A multiphase mixed methods approach is used in determining the practicability, translatability, effectiveness, sustainability, perception and understanding of the COPE-Resilience program and SEL practices in Taiwan. Findings across four sequential study phases provided preliminary support for the use of the Chinese COPE-Resilience program in preschools and kindergartens in Taiwan. The program demonstrated its cross-cultural utility by positively increasing children's SEC (i.e., emotional knowledge, empathetic responses, empathy and inhibitory control) in six weeks, sustained its effect for six months, buffered negative behaviour, increased school readiness and successfully prompted teachers to reflect on their own SEL practices. Teachers reported an increase in their levels of self-efficacy and change in their overall teaching techniques, including a greater focus on children's emotions and intentional preventive teaching of SEL skills. These results indicate that teachers' understanding of SEL and their own SEC could be enhanced through short workshops and training in the implementation of child-focused SEL programs.
Practices of professionalism in Early Childhood Education and Care: Long day care educators at work
There is an emerging corpus of Australian research, both qualitative and quantitative, inquiring into how early childhood education and care (ECEC) educators experience and understand their work. This qualitative case study traces the lived experience of a group of centre-based long day care educators working in communities experiencing high levels of social and economic disadvantage. Set within the context of the Australian ECEC reform program, the study investigates what constitutes ECEC professionalism and how educators experience and practise it every day. Analysing data drawn from two quality centre-based long day care settings, it was found that educators predominantly frame professionalism in terms of pedagogic practice—what they do, how they use their knowledge and skills and how they enact professional identities they value. Thus, for many of the study’s participants, a commitment to social justice, of wanting to make a difference in the lives of young children and their families and, a belief in quality ECEC services as having the potential to ameliorate the socio-economic inequities many families in their community experience, was the basis on which their practice and professionalism was constructed. Altogether, the argument is made that educators’ understandings of their work practice, value commitments and the qualities and dispositions they privilege offer a nuanced and multifaceted view of professionalism, one that potentially widens the policy-based discourse of ECEC professionalism and requires that acknowledgement be made of the range and complexity of educators’ work in contemporary ECEC. The identity(ies) of relational and ethical professionalism that is both child-centred and family and community-centred most particularly requires recognition and support.
The Happiness Externality: Exploring the Social Role and Responsibilities of Business
Happiness refers to the way people feel and function in their lives and is something that is highly valued by most nations and their citizenry. Over the past two decades, happiness has been a topical area of interest in policy circles around the world. Today, various intergovernmental agencies and over 40 countries around the world are routinely collecting and publishing data on the subjective wellbeing of citizens. However, while much attention has been given to the role of governments in preserving and enhancing societal happiness, there has been minimal focus on the role and contributions of business in societal happiness. Businesses, in their various forms, are inseparable features of modern societies, and their activities bear far reaching consequences on all aspects of social life, including the subjective experiences of societal constituents. Given the systemic social connectedness of business in society and the importance of happiness to governments and their people, this dissertation draws on positive psychology and corporate social responsibility (CSR) concepts to frame happiness as an externality of business and examines the social roles and responsibilities of businesses for societal happiness. In the absence of specific theories and frameworks in the extant literature, my research first proposes a new humanist and normative concept termed ‘CSR for Happiness’, which contends that businesses have a social responsibility to respect, preserve, and advance people’s right to, and experience of, happiness. As a new concept, subsequent empirical work was undertaken and interpreted through the lens of social contracts, to clarify the conceptual boundary conditions of CSR for Happiness. The empirical contributions of this dissertation comprise two studies that examined lay perspectives regarding CSR for Happiness using a single large survey dataset. Study 1 was a quantitative study that analysed Likert-style responses of 1,319 participants. Study 2 was a mixed-method study that analysed open-text responses from over 1,000 participants. In undertaking Study 2, a novel mixed method was developed that used a combination of natural language processing and thematic analysis techniques to process and analyse large volumes of textual survey data, thus also contributing a method to the extant literature. Collectively, both studies found that the study participants were supportive of the notion that businesses hold some degree of social responsibility for happiness. Findings from exploratory analyses in Study 1 indicates that there is stronger support among less privileged respondents in the public and that the perceived degree of social responsibility for happiness tends to be greater for high-proximity stakeholders such as customers and employees, compared to low-proximity stakeholders such as suppliers. Study 1 also found that business activities that enhance happiness of societal constituents corresponds with stakeholder behavioural intentions that may enhance business performance outcomes. In Study 2, analysis of the textual data revealed that lay construals of happiness were defined in terms of socioeconomic conditions and psychoemotional experiences. Further, although the public believed that businesses have some social responsibilities for happiness, their expectations were tempered by a number of caveats: (1) responsibility not to harm happiness, (2) responsibility to enable happiness, (3) responsibility to exercise awareness of happiness in decision making, (4) responsibility for happiness is greatest for stakeholder that are spatially near, and (5) responsibility to act within scope of their purpose and capability. Interpreted through a contractarian lens of CSR, Study 2 clarifies the conceptual boundaries of CSR for Happiness by identifying the perceived nature and extent of businesses’ social responsibilities for societal happiness.
Assessment of mathematical problem solving: addition and subtraction in arithmetic word problem solving
Researchers consider mathematical problem solving (MPS) to be a vehicle for teaching and reinforcing mathematical knowledge, solving real life problems, and helping to meet everyday challenges. Like many other countries in the world, Bangladesh has given great importance to MPS in its primary curriculum. The country has achieved well in quantitative parameters of primary education (e.g., net enrolment rate, completion rate, etc.) but there are concerns about the quality of learning. This is particularly the case for primary mathematics, as exhibited in different examinations. One of the issues with mathematics teaching and learning is the lack of formative assessment materials that teachers can utilise to diagnose students’ learning deficiencies and use as a basis for designing appropriate remedial teaching. Furthermore, there is a paucity of research on mathematics assessment at the primary level in Bangladesh that has addressed the issues related to quality of learning. It is the aim of this research to develop and validate assessment materials using the latest developments in psychometrics that can (a) be used for this purpose, and (b) serve as a model for further relevant work. Arithmetic word problem solving (AWPS) is an area within MPS that is often used to help children learn how to apply the formal mathematical knowledge and skills they acquire at school in real-life situations. Although AWPS plays an important role in understanding mathematics, it is an area where students experience great difficulty. It is a complex activity that requires a series of cognitive processes, but current assessment of AWPS in Bangladesh relies exclusively on giving a single score based on the solution being correct or incorrect. There is limited opportunity for understanding students’ difficulties in the component cognitive processes. In the global context, empirical studies exploring the cognitive processes involved in solving arithmetic word problems are scarce. In the Bangladeshi education context, no studies were found that focused on AWPS. This research endeavoured to develop assessment materials that will enable teachers to identify specific difficulties students face while solving AWPS. The research objectives were to (a) develop a theoretical framework for arithmetic word problem solving using an iterative process (as discussed by Wilson, 2005) by (b) constructing tasks aligned with the framework, (c) trying them out in both small- and large-scale studies, (d) investigating the results using qualitative and quantitative methods, and (e) evaluating the success of the process by investigating the validity and reliability of the results. Only addition and subtraction operations for AWPS were considered to limit the scope of the study. Based on review of existing literature, a framework for assessing AWPS was developed. This framework theorises five cognitive elements/strands of AWPS: comprehension of the problem, mapping conceptual relations to a numerical representation, selecting an appropriate strategy for solution, performing the calculations, and verifying the solution and communicating the results. The validity and reliability of the framework were investigated by developing and administering a test (with items representing the different processes). The test was administered in two phases in Bangladesh: a pilot study with 62 students (from one school) and a final study with 808 students (from nine schools). Grade 4 and grade 5 students were selected through convenience sampling for both iterations of data collection. Four different types of validity evidence (based on test content, response processes, internal structure, and relations with other variables) were collected and analysed. In addition to using test design and specification, an expert opinionnaire was used to collect validity evidence based on test content. Analysis of this data showed that overall, the experts’ association of strands with items agreed with what was hypothesised, that is, they nominated items for strands they were hypothesised to be representing in this research. Cognitive interviews were conducted with 20 respondents from three schools to collect validity evidence based on the response processes. Data from these cognitive interviews were analysed using a qualitative method called ‘reduction and synthesis’ (Miller et al., 2014) and showed that the items were mostly working as intended. An Item Response Theory (IRT) approach was adopted to evaluate the internal structure of the test. A dichotomous Rasch analysis was used. The analysis showed that the item difficulties were appropriately distributed, and that the item fit statistics suggested that almost all the items were within a reasonable range (weighted MNSQ 0.88 to 1.14) and did not show any extreme over-fit or under-fit. The fit t statistics for the items also indicated a good fit. Overall, the data showed good adherence to the Rasch model and can be considered to be demonstrating reasonably good evidence of validity in terms of internal structure of the test. Two types of data were collected with the aim of establishing validity arguments based on the AWPS test’s relation with other variables: (a) scores from six textbook items included in the test that was administered and (b) students’ test scores for Bangla and Mathematics from their schools. These scores were positively correlated with students’ performance on the test conducted in this study, and hence showed good evidence of validity in relation to other variables. Test reliability was calculated using both IRT and CTT measures. The WLE person separation reliability was 0.81 and the EAP/PV reliability was 0.82. The Cronbach’s Alpha value was 0.82. The findings of this study can inform the inclusion of appropriate assessment techniques in the primary mathematics curriculum in Bangladesh, and the development of professional development materials for teachers using the assessments. Teachers of mathematics could utilise the framework to design their own tests that would help them to diagnose students’ learning deficiencies and design appropriate remedial teaching. In addition, future research can replicate this study in different settings to refine the AWPS framework and use it in different contexts. Furthermore, the methodology used in this study could be used in future research to develop assessment materials for other areas of mathematics including other areas of problem solving (e.g., arithmetic word problem solving where other operations like multiplication or division are used).
Literacy assessment in the early years: teachers at work in a changing policy paradigm
This thesis reports on a mixed-methods, two-phase study, which focused on the literacy assessment practices of early years teachers and literacy leaders in Catholic schools in the Melbourne archdiocese in a period following the devolution of assessment responsibility to schools. Phase 1 of the data collection resulted in 76 literacy leaders’ responses to a questionnaire on literacy assessment practices in their schools. In Phase 2, semistructured interviews with 23 early years teachers and seven literacy leaders were conducted to investigate their literacy assessment beliefs and practices. Importantly, the thesis reports on the participants’ interrogation, innovation on, resistance to, or acceptance of both previously mandated and current options around literacy assessment priorities and practices. Additionally, the thesis explores assessment in the early years within the contemporary high-stakes assessment environment which is characterised by heightened levels of teacher accountability. Bernstein’s (1990, 1996, 2000) pedagogic device is used as a theoretical framework to examine the complexities and tensions of policy enactments at the school and classroom level. Findings from this study illustrate that early years teachers’ literacy assessment work is complex due to working in a “boundary zone” of tension and compromise where, on one hand, they are encouraged to engage in age-appropriate, child-centred early years pedagogies yet, on the other, are mandated to assess and report against system-wide primary curriculum standards.
The impact of testing on students: Australian students' perspectives on NAPLAN and internal assessments
National and state testing policies have become an increasingly common feature of the policy landscape in education, both in developed and developing countries. Testing policies can generate a range of emotional responses among students, including high levels of stress. Alternatively, students’ emotional responses may not be discretely associated with large-scale standardised tests, but instead generalise to any testing situation. This study aimed to compare student responses and perceptions of assessment in both NAPLAN and internal tests. This study used an anonymous survey to gather data from 206 Year 7 and Year 9 Australian students on their perceptions of the importance their parents and teachers placed on doing well in tests, and their own self-reported responses to both NAPLAN and their internal tests. We found that the students in this study placed more value on internal tests than NAPLAN and students were also more likely to be confident in internal tests and bored for NAPLAN. A small percentage of students reported negative physical responses, such as crying or feeling sick to both types of tests, however, there were no significant differences between NAPLAN and internal tests in the number of students reporting negative physical responses. Furthermore, individuals who placed a high value on a given assessment and have greater emotional stability were more likely to experience positive responses to assessment. The findings suggest that NAPLAN does not cause significant negative responses in the majority of students. Implications for schools and policymakers are discussed.
An Examination of the Significance of the Concept of Internalised Racism in the Contemporary Australian Zeitgeist
This study investigates the usefulness of the concept of internalised racism (IR) in understanding issues of racism in contemporary Australian society. It does so via the lived experiences of 1.5 and 2nd generation Australians of East and Southeast Asian descent. The research consisted of multiple semi-structured interviews discussing experiences of racialisation and racism with each of the 17 participants. The study aimed to both utilise the concept of IR to understand the lived-experiences of the participants, and to determine how it could be revised for salience in the contemporary zeitgeist. Through the analysis of participants’ lived experiences, the study demonstrates that the concept of IR, whilst contested within the extant race scholarship, is nevertheless integral to understanding the structural impact of racism within the narratives. As such, in order to retain the concept of IR for contemporary salience, it needed to be revised to account for both psychological and sociological dimensions. Subsequently, the study demonstrated how revising the concept of IR impacts current dominant forms of anti-racist praxis. By acknowledging these limitations, the revised and rearticulated concept of IR was then applied to the narratives again to demonstrate its utility in better understanding contemporary experiences of racism.