Classroom Caffeine

A Conversation with Barbara Comber

July 19, 2022 Lindsay Persohn Season 3 Episode 4
Classroom Caffeine
A Conversation with Barbara Comber
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Barbara Comber is known for her work in the areas of creative teaching pedagogy, critical literacy, poverty, and social justice. In particular, she studies the kinds of teaching practices that make a difference to young people's literacy learning trajectories and what gets in the way. Barbara has collaborated on and conducted a number of competitively funded research projects concerned with literacy development, teaching and socioeconomic disadvantage. Her work has appeared in Theory into Practice, Linguistics and Education, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, The Reading Teacher, Curriculum & Inquiry, Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice, Language Arts, Teaching Education, Critical Studies in Education, International Journal of Educational Research, Discourse, International Journal of Innovation in Education, Australian Geographer, Australian Educational Research, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, and many other journals. Her books include Literacy, Place, and Pedagogies of Possibility. She has co-edited a number of books including the International Handbook of Research in Children's Literacy, Learning and Culture, Literacies in Place: Teaching environmental communications, Negotiating Critical Literacies in Classrooms, and Turn-around pedagogies: Literacy interventions for at-risk students. She has also authored or co-authored over 100 book chapters. Her work has been funded by the Australian Research Council, the Spencer Foundation, Myer Foundation, and Education Departments in Australia. Barbara has developed or contributed to language and literacy teacher education materials in a number of Australian states, the US and Canada. In 2015, she was elected member to the Reading Hall of Fame and in 2022, Barbara was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for her services to education. Dr. Comber is an Adjunct Research Professor in the Centre for Research in Educational and Social Inclusion, Education Futures at the University of South Australia.

To cite this episode:
Persohn, L. (Host). (2022, Jul 19). A conversation with Barbara Comber. (Season 3, No. 4) [Audio podcast episode]. In Classroom Caffeine Podcast series. https://www.classroomcaffeine.com/guests.DOI: 10.5240/17EC-F6B8-B7BC-9B04-1FE7-N

Lindsay Persohn:

Education research has a problem. The work of brilliant education researchers often doesn't reach the practice of brilliant teachers. Classroom Caffeine is here to help. In each episode, I talk with a top education researcher or an expert educator about what they have learned from years of research and experiences. In this episode, Dr. Barbara Comber talks to us about listening to young people, reconsidering what we think we know, and building our identities as lifelong learners. Dr. Comber is known for her work in the areas of creative teaching pedagogy, critical literacy, poverty, and social justice. In particular, she studies the kinds of teaching practices that make a difference to young people's literacy learning trajectories and what gets in the way. She has authored or co authored well over 100 articles and book chapters, and she is the author of Literacy, Place, and Pedagogies of Possibility. Barbara is an elected member of the Reading Hall of Fame, and she was recently awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for her services to Education. Dr. Comber is an Adjunct Research Professor in the Center for Research in Educational and Social Inclusion Education Futures at the University of South Australia. For more information about our guest, stay tuned to the end of this episode. So pour a cup of your favorite drink and join me, your host, Lindsay Persohn for Classroom Caffeine, research to energize your teaching practice. Barbara, thank you for joining me. Welcome to the show.

Barbara Comber:

Thanks, Lindsay, for having me.

Lindsay Persohn:

From your own experiences in education, will you share with us one or two moments that inform your thinking now?

Barbara Comber:

Yeah, so it's important for me as a researcher in Australia to start by recognizing that I'm joining you today from the lands of the Kaurna people, our indigenous people and to recognize that these lands have always been places of teaching and learning, and to recognize my colleagues and friends from the Kaurna nation. So in terms of your invitation, what I thought about, you know, I've got experiences from my own childhood as a student, I've got experiences from my teaching life as an educator and experiences, if you like, from a research life. So I just jotted down a few things that I wanted to remember, and perhaps chat with you about. So the first one is from my childhood, which is the importance of education to working class, migrant and refugee families. So I was a child of an Irish Nan, who was an immigrant from Ireland and a working class mother, who had grown up during the post World War two depression. And I grew up in an area that was what we would call a Housing Trust area, so public housing. And what these families had in common was typically that they were working class or poor. They were very diverse. And as a child, I thought that this was kind of a normal, right, that the richness of cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity was a feature of my childhood. So I grew up thinking that it was the way everyone was growing up. So there were children from Poland, there were children from Germany, there were indigenous children. There were children from Italy, from Indonesia, from Holland, and I could go on and so I had a very rich childhood. And I guess the other thing that the families in this area had in common is that they didn't have a lot of money. But they all really highly valued education. And my parents and the parents of my friends, all put education at a very high premium. We were encouraged to enjoy it, encouraged to participate, encouraged to do well. And there was kind of an optimism that emerged from that, I suppose, because we thought anything's possible. And for me, education was about at that time as a student as a as a child growing up was, was about possibility and potential. And I was very fortunate in my education as a child, in that it was very much expected that we would do well that we would go on. There was no sense that we were limited by our own location or history. So I grew up if you like in a very fortunate set of circumstances all be it, if you look back now you might say, well, it was a working class high poverty area. Whereas for me, it was just dynamic was alive, it was rich. And you know, there's probably a bit of hindsight in there, bringing out what is positive. But I guess one thing I've never lost is that sense of possibility from education and sense of gee, you know, we could do anything. And it was also a feeling that we were kind of in it together. The young people I grew up with, I think there was a real feeling of, we were part of community, even though we're very diverse, we lived nearby. And that geographical closeness created a kind of sense of cohort, if you like, and I still see, not huge numbers, but a significant number of people that I grew up with, you know, as a child in that community. So from my childhood, then it's just to summarize, it's that sense of the optimism that can emerge from education, which I think is incredibly important to hang on to, especially at this moment. So for my teaching life, I didn't plan to be a teacher, but I plan to actually do psychology and politics. And I my final year of study, I thought that I really wanted to work with children who had difficulty learning. So I concentrated on working with kids for whom school and education didn't come naturally. And I don't think that has ever left me. So in my first year out teaching in a regional community, a mining community and a shipbuilding community, I was somewhat shocked, I suppose that they weren't quite as excited about my arrival, as I wasn't about being there. I had expecte that I would bring the Kinsey's fantastic books and other reading materials, and that they would just love it like I had. But, you know, in that first year, I found young people who couldn't read, young people who didn't want to read. And that was a big shock to me, because I was a secondary school teacher, trained secondary school teacher. And I really didn't know when I started teaching how people learn to read. So that sent me back to study, even after that first year of teaching, and to find out well, how do people learn to read and, and what do we need to do as teachers to support them on that journey? So in terms of things that inform my thinking, now, that first year has never left me, because it's always reminded me to check out my assumptions. Who are these kids? What do they care about? What do they want? What do they bring to the, to the classroom? What do I need to learn about them? And I think from my point of view, the most important insight that came from that is the idea of listening to young people, and listening to young people with respect. And, and that's not always easy, especially when they're not necessarily making your life easy as a teacher. But I think that was quite a profound experience for me that first year of really learning to respect the diverse young people in my class, no matter where they were from no matter what they had already achieved, no matter what their resistance was to schooling or the curriculum to really think about what that meant. So that was very important to me. And that's never left me. And I've always maintained a real interest in young people for whom school doesn't work well. So that stayed with me forever. And in terms of what I tried to do, then, and I think I've been trying to do one way or another since is to design a responsive and challenging curriculum. What a fantastic educator in South Australia, a man called Garth Boomer referred to as negotiating curriculum. So in that first year out of my teaching, I tried to negotiate the curriculum, tried to explain to the young people whom I was teaching, what the authorized curriculum was, what the room to move was in that curriculum and how we might go about and more satisfying way. So in many ways that's never left me either. I pursued that throughout my teaching life. And from my research life, if you like it, of course, these are all overlapping. I think the standout moments for me were after my master's, where I had done a study of children's questions and requests for help with a brilliant classroom teacher. And at the end of that study, I realized was, despite how brilliant she was, how responsive she was, that there were real differences in that classroom that related to gender, and class, and race. And at that same time, I started to read the work of people like Pam Gilbert and Annette Patterson, feminists, researchers in Australia, also feminists, researchers in the UK and the US, and also the work of people like Allan Luke on critical literacy. And this was kind of a huge moment for me, because I had really believed that what we were doing with progressive pedagogy, what we were doing with whole language, and what we were doing with Inclusive Curriculum was, you know, I guess the answer, but what my studies of critical and feminist literature and research indicated to me was that we were still creating deficit. We were still creating difference that position some children outside, alienated. And that just thought, my you know, very good intentions, that some of the pedagogy I promulgated, if you like, was just as likely to cause exclusion. That was a huge, it was more than a moment. It was probably and it's probably never gone away is the question of what does our curriculum do? What do our pedagogies do? And what are the effects of pedagogies and curriculum on different students? What What difference does it make, and how to different young people interact with and work with what it is we're making available? And those questions have never left me, they are still with me now. And they've always informed what I've done ever since. And at that time, I found it quite tricky, because I had always wanted to work with teachers, not on teachers, not against teachers. I'd always wanted to, as a teacher myself, I'd always wanted to work from a position of respect. And at that point, I discovered through Allan Luke's recommendation, the work of Dorothy Smith and Alison Griffith two absolutely brilliant institutional ethnographers working in the US and Canada. And what was really helpful for me is their work helped me to look at what it meant to be a teacher doing doing the every day interactions with children, trying to offer children an inspiring and equitable curriculum, trying to grapple with the expectations of institutions and policy regimes. And again, you know, that that work has never left me, and that still very much with me and everything I do still to this day. So there's probably a very long answer to your question about experiences in education. But I think, you know, experiences in education are ongoing, that there are moments but they're also there are things we realize, and there are things other people help us to realize the students, the parents, colleagues, and for me, the theorists and the researchers may made me take a step back and thinking again, about what I thought I knew about literacy education, and how to make it inclusive and how to make it empowering. And there were people like Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jenny Gore, who were writing articles about why doesn't this feel empowering? And these are these were moments that were very confronting, and made me think again, about my assumptions about what was good for students, what was good for teachers, what was good for parents, and to think very much about needing to respect where people were coming from.

Lindsay Persohn:

I think you tell some really important stories, Barbara, and they certainly do weave together in a way that I think really shows us what your work has been all about. Right? It is about connections, and it is about people. And I think that that point of reconsidering what we think we know, you know, the seismic shifts that happen whenever we come in contact with a person or maybe a piece of text that just makes us stop and say, Whoa, this changes the ways that I see the world. And I think that that's so very important for us as lifelong learners, and certainly as teachers who are working to instill a love of lifelong learning in our students. And there was one other thing that I kept thinking about as you were sharing those moments with us, Barbara and that's that idea that so often in schools, we jump straight into the curriculum for the sake of getting things done. But certainly by not taking that time to get to know our students, and to understand who they are and what they're bringing to the table, we're really shooting ourselves in the foot, right? Because we're trying to get ahead, but in that jump straight into the material of teaching, we forget how much relationships matter, and how much that really builds a solid foundation for what learning can look like for our students and for us as teachers. Building relationships I think can be very challenging. And it certainly I know, in my experience, it has taken practice to get there. And I think it's just really difficult work. So what would you like listeners to know about your work, Barbara?

Barbara Comber:

Well, I think for me, at this point, I think the need to work with teachers to build our understandings of pedagogy, I still don't think as an education researcher workforce, we have fully taken on board the importance of working with teachers. And, you know, one thing I can reflect on is that I've tried to publish with teachers I've tried to publish about teachers, I've tried to publish very much about the intricacies and complexities of teachers' work both the mundane every day, and the somewhat extraordinary things that some teachers achieve. And I think sometimes in academia, you know, we're more concerned about what other academics think or what other researchers think, or you know, what research funding bodies think. And I think that ultimately, this has done a disservice to our theorizing, and education, I think we've not listened, watched, worked with teachers sufficiently to build our knowledge of the field of education. If you think about areas like medicine, for example, as a point of contrast, if you like, you know, medical doctors are working with research, they're reading research, their practices based on research, they're contributing to research, they're taken very seriously and their status is very high. Increasingly, I think throughout my career teachers have been disregarded as people who are scholars, as intellects in their own right. And I think this is very dangerous. So I think if there's one thing that I would want people to remember or to take note of in my work is, is it's quite deliberate, that I've worked with teachers and that I published the teachers, it's not because I can't do other things. But it was a deliberate decision to work with, and to work alongside and to publish for and with teachers. So I think you know, that, for me is a very important legacy, if you like, the importance of teacher research, the importance of teachers status, the importance of teacher knowledge. The other thing for me that is absolutely fundamental is the increasing gaps between the rich and poor throughout the world. And my own work has always been concerned with working in high poverty and culturally diverse communities. And from my point of view, starting from the point of view of the most disadvantaged in what we do as educators is really important. If we can do really educative work that helps young people see possibilities and potential for making things more just, for making things more equitable for making things better, then if we do that in high poverty and culturally diverse communities, it seems to me we set a very high benchmark for what education could look like, what education could be. And I've benefited from that, as a kid growing up. I've benefited from high expectations curriculum, high expectations pedagogy, and the danger of anything other than that is absolutely fundamental. And one of the phrases, if you like that I coined about some of my work, and I wrote about this with Barbara Kamler in particular, was a notion of getting out of deficit. That so much of what goes on in education, and increasingly in a standardized world where we measure and we measure and we measure is that if you measure someone who's always going to be below someone is always going to be above and the way in which then that has the potential to frame certain communities, certain children, certain groups, certain individuals to in some way deficit, I think is one of the most dangerous things that we grapple with. Certainly in in privileged, Western society, we tend to have the capacity to make judgments that have negative long term effects for people who are different than us, whoever us is. And I think that, you know, I would always want to encourage student teachers, teachers, teacher researchers, teacher educators to think about, you know, our own tendency to go to these default positions, where we refer to whole groups of people in a deficit way, they behave so badly, these kids are the worst kids I've ever had, this is year sevens have the dreadful, these kids don't have any language, all of these kinds of negative storylines, which can be quite pervasive and can impact on what goes on in classrooms. So you know, if I could, if I could be in people's heads when they're interacting with children, not I'd be wanting to say to them, just listen to what this kid is saying, just watch what this child is doing. Just give this person another chance to show you what they do and what they're capable of because I think that tendency to go to default deficit positions is is one of the biggest dangers in education. So thinking about that Barbara Kamler, and I and then with other colleagues and a later grant, we develop this idea of turnaround pedagogies is where teachers would talk to students, they would listen to students, they would watch children in different contexts of learning in different situations quite deliberately, they would listen to and make contact with their parents and caregivers. They would think about whether their hunches about children were correct, and they would read different theories. So this idea of turnaround pedagogies is is very much about the capacity of teachers to be prepared to think again, and to look again, and to always give the learner the benefit of the doubt, always give the learner the possibility that their logic makes as much sense if not more sense than ours does. So I'd want to leave that. And finally, one of the things I've been working with more recently is is, and I haven't had as much opportunity to develop this idea as I'd like to, but I've been playing with the idea of a teacher's oeuvre, if you like. You know, an artists produces across their working life, a body of work. And some of the teachers that I've worked with, you could think of in a similar way that teacher researchers who tackle the complexity of teaching, as artists and are always designing incredibly creative and complex and sophisticated opportunities for young people to engage with and to learn. And I think it would be fantastic if, as a profession, we could think in that way, rather than teaching as ephemeral lesson plans, moment by moment, that teachers, as intellectuals, as practitioners build up a body of work. And of course, if we think about their graduates, right, their citizens who go into the world and become who they are the roles and the contributions that teachers have in producing, and helping people negotiate who they are as citizens, I don't think we really fully understand how much teachers do in that regard.

Lindsay Persohn:

Barbara, so much of what you're saying, brought to my mind, the word identity, and just how much is wrapped up in our own identity. And I know you've done quite a bit of work in this area, but thinking about how we regard each student for who they already are, and who they're becoming, and how you mentioned sort of bundling together deficit thinking around groups of people or individuals, I kept thinking about how much that ultimately impacts our student's identity as learners and as as people, as productive and happy people in the world. And I really do hope that that's a point that hits home with a lot of teachers that we can look at students, each one for what they bring, and sometimes it may not be exactly what we expected. But often it can be a bit of a wonderful contribution to the world, if like you said, we just take a moment to listen to what they have to offer. And that led me to thinking about our teacher identities, and how in my mind, and in my experience, there are some places and spaces in the world where I think teachers are really sort of stripped of their individual identities and their ability to be kind of a whole rounded person and just how important I think that is to that relationship building that we were talking about earlier. So for me, it really all comes together around how we do become the best version of ourselves, our full selves, however we want to think about that and how that can contribute to this world of possibilities that you describe. And in my mind, and again, in my experience, I think that's a lot of what was missing for me in my last few years as a classroom teacher was the ability to really just be myself and to bring the best parts of me to the classroom setting and to continue working on those parts that, you know, weren't quite baked yet that needed a little bit more time or a little bit more critical consideration. But then, of course, that also back to lifelong learning, right, I think that all just, to me really fits together so nicely and thinking about who we are and who we're becoming.

Barbara Comber:

Yeah, I think that's, that's excellent, your observations there, Lindsay, I think is so important. And, for me, one of the best periods of my working life as an academic was when we were able to get funding to support teacher researcher networks. And in those teacher researcher networks, we had early career teachers, mid career, late career teachers, and they were able to engage in safe and risky conversations with each other about what they were facing in the classroom, and to admit, when they really didn't know what to do with a particular child or a particular aspect of the curriculum, or whatever it might be. But to really tease out possibilities, and in the contemporary moment, with the emphasis on standardization, managerialism audit cultures, and so forth, I think it's so important for teachers to have colleagues that they can trust, both within the school where they work, and also beyond, and to have conversation and extended conversations about what's going on, and to have the opportunity to, to really examine their practice. And I think we were very fortunate in the 70s, in the 80s, and 90s, with very strong teacher researcher movements, I think, in the in the US, and in Australia, and in Canada. And it's somewhat shocking now to see young graduate teachers, often, you know, working in isolation. Often really working to just secure their ongoing employment in the face of the demands that they measure up, and that they measure the kids consistently. And I just have to hope that we can, as a profession, in small ways, and in more connected ways, keep answering that, keep fighting these moves to push teachers towards becoming simply technicians, simply script readers, because I think this has huge risks for the quality of the education that is made available to young people. And I think if we have a teaching profession, there's disengaged itself, alienated itself, anti intellectual, in some cases, that we're we're not producing education, we're producing ways of incarcerating young people and their caregivers for six or seven hours a day, where somehow they get through it. But you know, at its best education can be inspiring, it can be uplifting, it can be hilariously funny, it can be enjoyable. And, you know, for me, it's desperately sad, if we don't hear children singing, we don't hear children laughing, we don't see teachers playing with children, we don't see teachers challenging children, we don't see children challenging each other. So from my point of view, the real test of whether a classroom is healthy and dynamic, and hopefully fostering learning is, is to really consider the classroom discourse. Who's saying what, when, and where, about, what? Who's reading what, when, and where about what? Who's writing what, for what reason? Who's producing, in what kinds of media? What kinds of texts for what purpose in the world? And I think, more than ever, we need to be asking these really critical questions. And at the same time, hard as it is, I think we need to be trying as educators and educational researchers to speak that to policymakers, to in Allan Luke's words, get our hands dirty, you know, to get in there and fight for teacher rights, teacher status, teacher pay, teacher judgment, all of the things that we know make education education rather than the schooling institutionalizing for six hours a day, the young people that are going to take over and look after this world when we when we leave it. So, you know, I am ever the optimist, but perhaps always critical. So from my point of view, it's incredibly important that we continue to believe that we can take action to make a better education at all levels of education, and that every interaction is important, every seminar, every story, every recount, every opportunity to talk about what we did on the weekend, all of these things are important. And the biggest danger is, is that we just are simply going through the motions, and that we're not actually really interacting and engaging with each other and participating as fellow citizens and as fellow learners. And then we just got to keep working against the populist world in which we live, where there's so few people who are in power, and so few people who wield power and have money, and so many people who are really, really not safe, really have so little, and so I think, you know, an education has to be about these really tough issues. And I think anything else is an injustice to our kids.

Lindsay Persohn:

Those are really powerful ideas, Barbara and I think that if we can find ways to internalize that, and to bring that that concept that thinking about how we can work to empower each other, I think if we can all find ways to bring that to our own teaching spaces, what a different world we might live in.

Barbara Comber:

Absolutely. And I think we've just got to do what we can in our own spaces.

Lindsay Persohn:

Yeah. Right. It's really all we have, right? You know, to do the best we can each day for for every student, we come in contact with every every child. And really, I would say every human we come in contact with to really set up... Right. Absolutley those everyday encounters are what matters.

Barbara Comber:

You know, that's, that's how we live and in schooling, you know, the, the everyday encounters should be exemplary and, and exciting and dynamic and, but they're not always. And so really trying to just look at what we can do within our own sphere of influence. And you know, sometimes quite modest and humble stuff. You never know where it leads. But what we do know, some of the teachers I've worked with, were really inspiring and have inspired me through throughout my career. Their students you know are graduates now they're young people, they're having their own children, and they still come back to see the teachers that inspired them. And you think okay, this is this has made a difference. This continues to make a difference. And as these young people embark on their own lives as adults, that what they learned from and with a teacher is to so important to them that they want to go back and acknowledge that contribution.

Lindsay Persohn:

Well Barbara, I feel like you've already touched on this, but I want to give you an opportunity to respond directly if there's anything else you want to say to this last question. Given the challenges of today's educational climate, what message do you want teachers to hear?

Barbara Comber:

So I think I want to say to teachers, once again, the importance of teachers themselves participating in research and scholarship. That is worth; that's worth the commitment, it's worth the time, and will have an impact not only on themselves, but on all of the young people and colleagues they work with. I think that we need to fight now to make time and space for proper education and durable literacies. I think we need to fight. I don't think it's just going to happen. So I think teachers at all levels of education are going to have to fight against the kind of audit cultures and the minimalist approaches to literacy, which you knows suggests that for example, just one example that reading is about phonics not meaning making. I think we need to avoid bandwagons and binaries, this is good pedagogy pedagogy, this is bad pedagogy and develop more sophisticated ways of analyzing what's going on in classrooms. And I think as I said before, when I was referring to Allan Luke's work, I think those of us who who perhaps at a certain stage of career when we're our employment is not so risky, need to get our hands dirty and, and try and influence policymakers and politicians quite directly in support of teachers. I think we need to fight for better pay for teachers certainly in Australia, better working conditions, more respect. And I think that you know that people who come into the profession need to take it seriously. So, you know, we need to ensure that we have the best people teaching people who really do take it seriously not people who are just there, because I think it might be some some easy way of making a living. I think that teaching is more than a technical skill. For me, it's still very much about it is a profession. And you know, in perhaps in some cases, it is a vocation. So we've got a lot of work to do, I think, in the field of educational research and in literacy education, to lift our game, lift the status of teaching, lift the status of educational research, lift the status of literacy studies, so that the media and policymakers take us more seriously than they do. Rather than, you know, talking to the people with the money, the people who are publishing, the people who are making money out of assessing. It's an interesting dynamic, where what counts as knowledge, what counts as research in education and in literacy education has become extremely limited. And I think there's an enormous amount of work to do, again, to fight for the different kinds of knowledges, that should be taken seriously in education policy and education practice. Because what we see, I think, certainly in Australia, now and in another, Western nations is very much a minimalist view of what literacy is, why it matters, very much reduced to an economic argument about people's lives, rather than how it matters to people's participation, full participation in all aspects of everyday life. So we've got a lot of work to do, I think, to create a more complex understanding of the importance of education and the importance of literacy, not just as a ticket to a job or ticket to further education. But as a part, as you pointed out earlier, as literacy is an incredible part of people's emerging identities. And of course, we haven't even talked tonight, about literacy in multiple languages, in multiple orthographies, literacy in totally different communities around the world. So you know, my work has been very local, in most in most respects, I've worked in my own backyard, if you like, but I don't pretend that the sort of things I've done have transfer for educators working elsewhere, but I think it's incredibly important that we work more and more to connect with our transnational colleagues and just want to give a shout out to a recent book that Jessica Panyda, Jen Alfrod and colleagues edited on critical literacies, transnational approaches to critical literacies. And I think we need more of that kind of scholarship where we deliberately look at what's going on in different communities, both the creative, positive possibilities and also the real hard working conditions of people's lives, in places of poverty and places of war, and places of the pandemic. So, you know, there's less and less we can take for granted at this point I think, and so that's why we need a scholarly workforce. We need the education workforce, the next generations of educators to be a scholarly, researching workforce, not batches of technicians reading scripts.

Lindsay Persohn:

Well I think when we try to boil literacy down to some least common denominator, we lose so much, we lose so very much and yes, literacy is difficult to measure. Without that boiling down, but I'm with you, I'm not real sure it's worth it. To try to identify, you know, to quantify and measure everything. We just lose so much in that process that I I'm just not real convinced that that's the way to

Barbara Comber:

No, absolutely. When we first started to go. implement a National Literacy and Numeracy assessment policy in Australia. That was high stakes, called NAPLAN. We were able to research using an institutional ethnography approach the impact on teachers work and, you know, internationally, we know that the impact of this is to reduce the complexity of the curriculum, to reduce the complexity of opportunity that young people have to learn, to start to develop what I've called with Annette Woods in various places, fickle literacies, where it looks like kids reading and writing. But in fact, what they're doing is going through the motions, they're going through the routines, teachers are going through the routines, there's not a lot happening intellectually, is the performance of very low level tasks that produce neat work in book, what I've called elsewhere, pretty literacies, neat work, not much happening intellectually, because they don't actually take you through a whole process of producing and making meaning from text. They take you through aspects of the text. So for example, you might be doing a word find, or you might be doing an oral, fluent reading, where you're not actually engaged at all in what you're reading, because you're just producing the oral fluent reading. And there are many, many other examples that I could use. It's where the children get to do it without actually having to really think. And it's where the teachers get to do it without actually having to really think. And so there's many, many examples of this going on in classrooms that produce things and children's workbooks that produce things in their test results, and that don't actually connect to anything substantive in the real world, or anything substantive in curriculum in terms of conceptual learning, because they're not engaged with the full process, they're only engaged with parts of the process.

Lindsay Persohn:

Right, and that really feels like a slippery slope, once we start to engage in those, as you said, fickle literacies. And certainly, I think that's in contrast to the durable literacies that you mentioned earlier, those really contributing kinds of literacies that help us to understand the world and also help us to share our own stories.

Barbara Comber:

Absolutely. Yeah. And that's what I would always want teachers to ask themselves is, you know, through this curriculum, this term, if you like, or this week, or even today, you know, what is it that we've done together? The kids and I, the students and I, that, you know, the kids is going to take away with them something that they value, something that they can take elsewhere. Does it have any kind of potential for them to look in their learning and another academic context or in their everyday learning or in their participation as as young citizens? If not, why are we doing it?

Lindsay Persohn:

Right, right. Well, Barbara, I thank you so much for your time today. I thank you for sharing your ideas. And I thank you so much for your tremendous contributions to the world of education.

Barbara Comber:

Thank you so much, Lindsay, for doing this. I think it's a fantastic idea. And I just want to say you know how generous you are to put this together for people.

Lindsay Persohn:

Well, thank you.

Barbara Comber:

Thank you for inviting me.

Lindsay Persohn:

It really is my pleasure. Dr. Barbara Comber is known for her work in the areas of creative teaching pedagogy, critical literacy, poverty and social justice. In particular, she studies the kind of teaching practices that make a difference to young people's literacy learning trajectories and what gets in the way. Barbara has collaborated on and conducted a number of competitively funded research projects concerned with literacy development, teaching, and socio economic disadvantage. Her work has appeared in Theory into Practice, Linguistics and Education, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, The Reading Teacher, Curriculum and Inquiry, Literacy Research Theory, Method and Practice, Language Arts, Teaching Education, Critical Studies and Education, International Journal of Educational Research, Discourse, International Journal of Innovation in Education, Australian Geography, Australian Educational Research, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, and many other journals. Her books include Literacy, Place, and Pedagogies of Possibility. She has edited a number of books, including the International Handbook of Research in Children's Literacy, Learning, and Culture, Literacies in Place Teaching Environmental Communications, Negotiating Critical Literacies in Classrooms, and Turnaround Pedagogies Literacy Interventions for At Risk Students. She has also authored or co authored over 100 book chapters. Her work has been funded by the Australian Research Council, the Spencer Foundation, Meyer Foundation, and Education Departments in Australia. Barbara has developed or contributed to language and literacy teacher education materials and a number of Australian states, the United States, and Canada. In 2015, she was elected as a member to the Reading Hall of Fame, and in 2022, Barbara was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for her services to Education. Dr. Comber is an Adjunct Research Professor in the Center for Research and Educational and Social Inclusion, Education Futures at the University of South Australia. For the good of all students Classroom Caffeine aims to energize education research and practice. If this show provides you with things to think about, don't keep it a secret. Subscribe, like and review this podcast through your preferred podcast provider. I also invite you to connect with the show through our website at WWW dot classroom caffeine.com where you can learn more about each guest, find transcripts for many episodes, explore episode topics using our tagging feature, support podcast research through our survey, request and episode topic or a potential guest, or share your own questions that we might respond to through the show. You could also leave us a voice message or a text message at 1-941-212-0949. We would love to hear from you. As always, I raise my mug to you teachers. Thanks for joining me.