Research programme: Transformations – school subjects, subject-specific teaching and learning
ROSE research centres on the broad issue of how a content is manifested in teaching and perceived by students and teachers. One way of addressing this problem area is to employ the concept of transformation (Shulman 1986, 1987), which refers to the teacher’s ambition to combine subject knowledge and pedagogical knowledge – the very core of the teaching process. The teacher orchestrates the content of the teaching but the teaching is created together with the students in the actual teaching situation where the student group and its various potentials and needs are inescapable factors (Ongstad 2006). School subjects are therefore constantly changing, and the teacher’s idea of teaching content also includes the conceptions and experiences of local and national curricular control.
The transformation concept involves an interest in what is to be learnt, the teaching content and the interaction between the transformation and the specific practice. It also covers the issue of the relationship between the content of a school subject and the academic discipline. Problematising this relationship from different perspectives has been a prominent feature of ROSE research (Bladh & Molin 2012, Gericke & Hagberg 2007; 2010a; 2010b; Gericke, Hagberg & Jorde 2013; Lödén 2014; Olin-Scheller, Tengberg & Lindholm 2015; Stolare, 2014, 2015, Tengberg, Olin-Scheller & Lindholm 2015; Sundqvist & Sylvén 2012; Sundqvist & Olin-Scheller 2013). Teaching content is transformed in different ways depending on the context in which it is enacted. An overall common research interest in ROSE is how different practices affect and shape subject content. Some of the practices studied are: test design and assessment practice (Sandlund & Sundqvist 2011; 2013; Sundqvist, Sandlund & Nyroos 2015, Tengberg in press), textbook design and the use of textbooks (e.g. Gericke et al. 2014), teaching literature (Olin-Scheller 2006; Tengberg 2011; Olin-Scheller, Tengberg & Lindholm, 2015) and teachers’ use of language (e.g. Thörne, Gericke & Hagberg 2013; Sandlund & Sundqvist 2011).
The transformation concept is described in the Anthropological Theory of Didactics (ATD). This theory postulates that all human activities can be described in the form of praxeologies, which consist of two main components: the praxis or know-how, and the logos or knowledge (Rodríguez, Bosch & Gascón 2008). These are inseparable, and as a consequence, a change of knowledge is inescapable when knowledge moves from one praxis to the other. There will always be basic differences between the praxeologies in terms of purpose of activities, previous knowledge, interests, activities etc. (Halloun 2004; Winsløw & Møller Madsen 2007).
The transformation from knowledge as a tool to be put to use to knowledge as something to be taught and learnt is what Chevallard (1989; 2007) has described as the “didactic transposition”. The process of didactic transposition acts on the changes that a body of knowledge and its uses has to undergo at the different levels of the educational organisation. It introduces distinctions between: (1) scholarly knowledge as it is produced by researchers; (2) knowledge to be taught officially, as prescribed by the curriculum; (3) knowledge as it is actually taught by teachers in the classroom; and (4) knowledge as it is actually learnt by students (Bosch & Gascón 2014). These steps of the didactic transposition can and most likely will take place between subjects as well as between formal and informal learning settings. In our research programme, the focus of study is the steps of didactic transposition. ATD provides a theoretical framework, that is, the levels of co-determination in teaching, to identify and contextualise the conditions and constraints that influence didactic transposition in different settings. Using the framework as a lens to study the transformation of content in the didactic transposition process will yield important insights into why a given content is taught in a certain way, and why, as a consequence, it is learnt in a certain way (Achiam & Marandino 2014). The concept of didactic transposition, however, should not be understood to mean that school subjects are to be seen as simple replications of the academic disciplines. Instead, we would like to highlight the need to problematize this relation. Sjøberg (1998) emphasized that the school subjects are not a mere reductions of the academic disciplines, or at least they should not be. Rather, the school subjects represent a different praxeology (Halloun 2004).
Tranformation processes can also be described in relation to the concept of Powerful Knowledge (Young 2011; 2013) which characterizes the relationship between academic disciplines and school subjects. Powerful Knowledge refers to discipline-based knowledge, which can improve an individual’s abilities to handle life challenges in fundamental ways. Students come to school with experiences that can be defined as everyday knowledge, created in different situations. Powerful Knowledge, on the other hand, communicated in subjects and disciplines, consists of concepts that can be used in different contexts. This means that students can use the concepts to generalise their experiences (Young 2013). The distinguishing trait of this powerful knowledge is that it can be transplanted from one context into another. Such reconceptualisation – which can also be seen as step in a transformation process – is precisely what happens when knowledge is turned into a school subject (Young 2013). The focus of the ROSE research programme is the fact that there is a potentially rewarding field of tension between disciplinary perspectives and students’ everyday knowledge, and on the basis of Powerful Knowledge we intend to explore and clarify the knowledge aspects of the content that teaching should aim towards and students be given the opportunity to learn. We study knowledge, subject and teaching content in the intersection between academic discipline and school subject, considered in relation to the societal disparate conceptions of what a school subject should be. The starting point is that neither the content nor the forms of teaching are given – but disputed – and that they can be discussed in terms of transformation.
The purpose of the research programme
The purpose of the research programme is to enhance how knowledge is selected and shaped into a subject and teaching content for teachers and students in relation to different transformation processes. This involves studying the transformation process as such, as well as the products of the process. Both perspectives are important and integrated in the three subprojects (see respective subproject). In the last year of the programme the transformation processes identified and described in the subprojects will be the object of overarching meta- project clarifying transformation as concept and phenomenon in relation to Powerful Knowledge (Young 2011; 2013) We expect the overall meta project to provide a good summary of the programme projects. The comparative analysis is also expected to generate many new and interesting research questions, which we will use in new applications after the four-year period, thus ensuring a continuation and development of the strong research group after 2020.
Research plan 2017-2020
The research programme is partly based on ongoing studies undertaken by members of the group in collaboration with others, partly based on studies developed during the research period. The program comprises three subprojects, which all relate to transformation processes in school. Relating to the overall aim described above, the subprojects take different methodological and subject-specific theoretical perspectives on the transformations processes in order to contribute to the program from the various academic fields that the ROSE group is linked to. However, in order to facilitate close cooperation and knowledge exchange between the subprojects, several ROSE researchers are linked to at least two of the subprojects. Research planning, knowledge exchange and mutual analytic work will also take place in our planned joint seminar as well as during research boarding conferences. Also, a comparative meta project conducted during year 4 will offer an opportunity to draw conclusions of the programme projects as well as generate input to new research.