«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
The themes of teacher identity and professional learning are prominent within the literature and there is considerable scope for testing general theories in relation to primary PEITT and for building on existing knowledge through empirical investigation. At the heart of this investigation is the interplay between individual trainee teacher identities, the potential for these to change or to be strengthened during ITT and the resultant practices and behaviours seen within today’s educational context. This brings to the fore the relationship between individual trainees and the structure of ITT, suggesting that a dual influence of personal characteristics (identity, confidence, ‘self’) and structures (standards, school curricula, other people) is at work. In such a way, the literature suggests that personal experiences, dispositions and identities combine with the social context to create a range of contrasting practices and professional development and learning needs. It is, however, plausible that the lack of time afforded to PE during ITT restricts the opportunity for identities and dispositions to be identified, challenged and reconstructed; several studies suggest that positive teacher development is only possible where such conditions are enabled. As Bourdieu (1977) suggests, opportunities for change are possible when individuals experience new ways of perceiving the world.
In chapter 2, the education policy and curricula context was discussed in relation to primary PE and ITT. When considering this contextual backcloth alongside individual factors discussed in this chapter such as identity and dispositions, it appears that any desire to improve the outcomes of primary PEITT should pay heed to both contextual and individual factors.
There would be little point, for example, in changing policy or curriculum without consideration of individual training and development needs. It is this desire to attend to issues of structure and agency that has supported research design and provided the philosophical position and research framework described in the subsequent chapter; this provides a discussion of dispositions, structures and practice and definitions of the terms in relation to contextual and individual factors.
Introduction As discussed in chapters 2 and 3, teacher development is a complex process and within this, primary PEITT has been identified as a particular and persistent problem. Despite the repeated criticisms, detailed investigation of the processes taking place within the English primary ITT context is relatively scarce. Of those studies which have attempted to address the issues, some suggest a potentially positive impact of ITT whilst others propose that pre-set trainee dispositions, borne out of prior experiences, are highly resistant to change. It remains unclear whether current routes to primary QTS in England have a particular bearing on primary teacher development in PE or what, if any, changes to ITT should or could be made.
The methodological approaches adopted within primary PEITT research to date have served to limit the scope of understanding. Studies have largely focused on trainees’ perceived negative dispositions towards PE or the structural limitations of a time-constrained primary ITT. The resulting perception is that the majority of primary teachers lack confidence, knowledge and understanding to teach PE and that primary ITT, with a concomitant lack of time afforded to PE, cannot satisfactorily redress this. I suggest, however, that the literature has largely ignored the relationship between individual trainees and the primary ITT context in which they are becoming teachers; little is known regarding the parallel impact of individual and structural factors or the on-going nature of this relationship with ensuing practice throughout ITT and beyond. This chapter describes the methodological decisions taken in designing the study and the methods for data collection and analysis used throughout the investigation. The chapter begins by considering the methodological implications of seeking to examine the relationship between individuals and social structures.
Individuals and social structures The relationship between individuals and social structures has been a ‘quintessential focus of sociological endeavour’ for some time (Wilmott, 1999, p.1). Whilst some education researchers have taken a primarily structuralist stance and focused exclusively on structures and institutions, others suggest that individual teachers’ subjectivities can have a direct bearing on teacher learning and development. The studies highlighted in chapters 2 and 3 point towards the paucity of time allocation in primary PEITT, suggesting a constraining impact on primary teacher development in PE, an approach which foregrounds the importance of the ITT structure ahead of individual trainees’ identity. Such a prioritising of external structures, however, has the potential to diminish the role of trainee teachers to one of compliance, suggesting a deterministic view of human nature through which ‘choice’ is dictated by external conditions. This ignores the potential for individuals to ‘do otherwise’ by drawing upon sets of ‘rules and resources’ available through social interaction (Giddens, 1979, p. 63).
Whilst some studies point to the importance of prior experiences and personal dispositions, there is scarce attention paid to the effect of these in tandem with the impact of the framework evident within ITT. As Shilling (1992) explains, much educational research has focused on large-scale structural processes whilst small-scale research addresses individual interaction while failing to recognise or conceptualise social structures. This ‘has hampered theoretical progress in the sociology of education’ (Shilling, 1992, p. 77) and I suggest that this has been the case regarding primary PEITT where methodological decisions have been taken from competing philosophical viewpoints. The design of this research has therefore been cognisant that adopting a particular philosophical position has implications for the explanation of findings (Pring, 2000); foregrounding either individuals or structures over the other would not necessarily provide any new understanding of the phenomena at large within primary PEITT.
Careful consideration of my own ‘disciplinary matrix of assumptions’ (Kuhn,, 1970, p. 182), my ‘world view’ (Patton, 1978, p. 203) and social positioning within the field of primary PEITT has therefore been part of research design from the outset and impacted on the formulation of research questions and the approaches used to answer them (Devis-Devis, 2006). Throughout, I have reflected on my own positioning within the field of primary PEITT (for example as a subject leader in PEITT at a university in England) and on the impact that this may have on my ‘disciplinary matrix of assumptions’.
In many classifications of research paradigms, positivist and interpretive research are positioned at opposite ends of a continuum, leading to what has been termed a ‘paradigm war’ (Gage, 1989) where differences in philosophical approaches have been the centre of significant debate. This ‘pointless methodological schism’ (Gorard, 2002) has resulted in an unproductive debate regarding the merits of qualitative or quantitative methods (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998, 2003; Datta, 1994) and a false dualism between positivist and constructivist researchers (Badley, 2003). In designing this research, my intention has not been to attempt to solve the metaphysical, epistemological or methodological differences between qualitative and quantitative purists, but to address the research questions in hand (Hoshmand, 2003). The research has not been concerned with the pursuit of universally applicable laws, but has
to construct descriptive analyses to emphasise deep, interpretive understandings of social phenomena (Smith, 1983, p. 22).
The approach taken seeks to generate an understanding of ‘human meaning in social life’ (Erickson, 1986, p.119) and focuses on the interests and purposes of trainee primary teachers, their behaviours and a construction of the world from their perspectives (Sparkes, 1992). The trainee primary teachers in the study have been perceived as part of a two way process, being both recipients and potential creators of values within a shifting and fluid relationship which is informed by a multitude of wide ranging and individualised experiences. This position also acknowledges that, whilst trainee primary teachers may bring a wide range of prior experiences and dispositions to the ITT context, their behaviours and practices may also be influenced by a wide range of structural factors. The approach therefore does not disregard the importance of social structure and due regard is given to the notion that trainee teachers are influenced by, and in turn are (to greater or lesser extents) influencers of their particular training contexts. As Hughes and Sharrock (1997, p. 165) argue, social structures pre-exist individual actions and are a precondition for them.
They are, at the same time, the products of those actions.
In the context of this investigation, the social structures of ITT (for example, curriculum, the teaching standards, lecture content) pre-exist and place conditions on any actions that individual trainees may take during the course. The same structures are also the consequence of earlier actions and interactions of and between previous trainees, teacher educators, school teachers and school pupils.
Disposition, structure and practice in social theory The work of Anthony Giddens (1973; 1976; 1979; 1984; 1990), Pierre Bourdieu (1977; 1985;
1990; 1992 (with Wacquant); 2000), and Mary Archer (1982; 1995; 1996; 2000; 2003; 2004;
2007), and critique of their theories has provided a series of lenses through which the social phenomena within primary PEITT have been viewed. Despite key differences amongst this
group of theorists, common ground is evident in that they all seek to:
avoid objectivism and subjectivism in social theory. All try to show how subject and object are related as equally essential elements of the structuration process (Parker, 2000, p. 103).
Structuration theory (Giddens, 1973) links structure and agency in a duality and explores the relationship between the constraints placed on individuals by the structure of society and the choices and decisions individuals make. Structuration theory regards social systems as having structural properties, but not as being structures in their own right (Giddens, 1979, p. 66).
Structures do not exist apart from individuals, but are sets of rules and resources drawn upon by agents and reproduced through social interaction (Giddens, 1979, p. 63). In Giddens’
agency and structure are symbiotic, two facets of a single phenomenon, and such ‘duality of structure’ is not external to individuals and groups but internal to their lifeworld (Morrison, 2005, p.312 ).
In this sense, the relationship between individual trainees and social structures (for the purposes of this investigation, these include government policy, frameworks for teaching in schools, NCPE, ITT, professional standards and the regulatory framework) is characterised by mutual interdependence (Giddens, 1976). This may not necessarily lead to tension or conflict although the structural elements can be viewed as either constraining or enabling. Within Giddens’ theory, the moment of action can also be the moment of social reproduction as, in such actions, we reproduce ‘the conditions that make these activities possible’ (Giddens, 1984,
p. 2). As Layder (1994, p. 133) suggests:
as ciphers of structural demands, people are condemned to repeat and reinforce the very conditions that restrict their freedom in the first place.
Through actions, individuals create and reproduce structural conditions, comprising knowledge, resources, rules, institutional and societal practices. In Giddens’ (1979) terms, duality entails a relationship between structure and agency that is a two-way, mutually dependent process (Giddens, 1979, p. 69); the structural properties of social systems are both ‘medium and outcome of the practices they recursively organise’ (p.
all human action is carried on by knowledgeable agents who both construct the social world through their action, but yet whose action is also conditioned and constrained by the very world of their creation (Giddens, 1981, p. 54).
Neither the actions of the individual or the power of the structure offer sufficient explanation for social phenomena; social structures are, at least to some degree, constituted by the subjective powers of the agency of human actors whilst the powers of agency are constituted in some way by objective social structures.