Critical consciousness as a response to student disengagement: an initial teacher education case study

June 2020

Source: Teaching Education, 31:2, 162-176

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this paper, the authors are particularly interested in gaining a clearer understanding of the range of factors that influence the engagement of pre-service teacher education students.
To do this, they developed a small-scale case study and drew upon aspects of Kahu’s (2013) framework to help frame their analysis.
They selected a case study approach because they were interested in having substantive conversations with a group of preservice teachers to better understand their perceptions of the factors (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2000) influencing their engagement levels.

Research approach
Conducted within an Australian university, this small-scale case study was designed to thoroughly examine the engagement of one group of pre-service teachers.
The authors focused on the lived experience of nine students within a second-year cohort of an initial teacher education programme to capture detailed responses not always possible in large-scale studies.
With this goal in mind, a phenomenological approach was adopted.
To gather these very personal insights, one member of the research team conducted semi-structured individual interviews with each participant.
Conversational and open-ended in nature, the interviews were designed to provide scope for participants to reflect on their particular experiences and to expand on their views.
The participants were all from the same cohort and were half way through a Bachelor of Education degree.
Of the 227 eligible students, only 9 indicated their willingness to participate, with 8 females and 1 male volunteering.
In spite of the low response rate, the profiles of the nine volunteer participants provided a useful breadth of life experiences, commitments and pathways to university.

In this section, the authors report on the perceptions of their participants using aspects of Kahu’s framework as the organising structure.
Alongside this material, they speculate about how the engagement of these students might have been enhanced if they been provided with opportunities across their degree programme to develop some or all of the concepts Zepke (2015) has outlined as essential for critical consciousness.

As Kahu so rightly notes within her framework, student engagement requires enthusiasm, interest, a sense of belonging, deep learning, self-regulation, time, effort, interaction and participation.
However, not all of the students who participated in this study seem to have control over these features, with a range of competing influences impacting on the capacity of some to commit to their learning.
Support structures positioned alongside of, but external to degree programmes, appear to be under-utilised, while online learning opportunities, aimed at offering greater flexibility can be negatively viewed by some or used as an excuse to disengage by others.
Structural challenges, especially those brought on by policy changes seem to also impact on engagement, especially for students whose confidence is limited.
At the same time, changing educational landscapes (Connell, 2013) mean that graduates of teacher education programmes must be ready to undertake increasingly complex roles (Rowan, et al., 2015).
For this reason, those involved in teacher education need to explore ways to support pre-service teachers so that they participate fully in their programmes, developing not only knowledge about teaching but also knowledge about themselves as learners and agents of change.
As one option, the authors propose here that engagement within pre-service teacher education programmes may be supported by including opportunities, within scheduled classes, to develop the concepts of critical consciousness offered by Zepke (2015).
They believe that once developed, these concepts of learning agency, learning success, learning well-being and learning social justice, might not only support engagement within teacher education, but may ultimately enhance the quality and longevity of their work as beginning teachers.
To achieve these outcomes, academics across pre-service programmes would need to apply dialogic and critical pedagogies, which according to Zepke (2015, p. 1318), would include: invitations to question and challenge; engagement with troubling ideas; opportunities to speak back to injustice; and participation in the planning of learning and assessment.
When employed consistently and effectively, these pedagogies might help students to deal more effectively with the many factors impacting upon their ability to engage.
For example, they might help individuals overcome passive attitudes, build self-efficacy and develop learner agency.
Of course, the challenge for teacher educators is to ensure that they create spaces within the mandated landscape of courses for these capacities to be developed, and to ensure that students feel motivated and safe enough to ‘grapple with the complexity of teaching and learning’ (Powers & Duffy, 2016, p. 71) both within their preparation and beyond it.

Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2000). Research methods in education (5th ed.). London, England: Routledge Falmer.
Connell, R. (2013). The neoliberal cascade and education: An essay on the market agenda and its consequences. Critical Studies in Education, 54(2), 99–112
Kahu, E. (2013). Framing student engagement in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, I: 758–773. doi:10.1080/030705079.2011.598505
Powers, B., & Duffy, P. (2016). Making invisible intersectionality visible through theater of the oppressed in teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 67(1), 61–73.
Rowan, L. Mayer, D., Kline, J., Kostogriz, A., Walker-Gibbs, B. (2015). Investigating the effectiveness of teacher education for early career teachers in diverse settings: the longitudinal research we had to have. Australian Educational Researcher, 42, 273-298
Zepke, N. (2015). Student engagement research: Thinking beyond the mainstream. Higher Education Research and Development, 34, 1311–1323 

Updated: Sep. 23, 2020