Towards a critical pedagogy: An action research investigation into democratic practices in a primary school classroom
This dissertation is a study of a primary school teacher researching her classroom practice within the broader specific aim of the project was to investigate how a primary school teacher could go about her work in more for democratic ways. The research method used in the study was that of action research, and the empirical basis for argument in the dissertation lies in the use of data created during the process of researching that classroom practice. A fundamental assumption of the study is that teachers are the central driving force in any meaningful development of a critical pedagogy. Teachers, acting as trans formative . intellectuals, can work towards socialist transformation, because viewing teachers as intellectuals redefines their work and the political nature of schooling. The study, therefore, takes the problematic relationship between authority and emancipation as central to its concerns and tries to develop a rationale for making an emancipatory view of authority, and thus a rationale for a particular notion of professionalism, a central category in the development of a critical theory of schooling. In taking the position that teachers are central to learning in the classroom, and are the nexus of the authority/emancipation problematic, critical reflection on the classroom practices was approached both reflexively and dialectically so that uncertainties and contradictions could surface and be explored. The epistemological radicalism inherent in action research made this form of reflection possible. The study views primary school teachers as important mediators of change. This meant examining the process of instruction more carefully. The task was to understand how mediation generates higher mental functioning. To this end, Vygotsky's notion of a zone of proximal development, as the zone in which mediation can take place, is explored. The problem of how to investigate the substance of the zone of proximal development is met by the use of rationally reconstructed mediational operators. Drawing from the data in the study, three mediational operators are fashioned to study the one-to-many interaction in the process of instruction. These mediational operators serve as explanatory constructs to explicate the interrelation between the teacher's (and other significant others') instructional process and the learners' existing levels of development. • The preoccupations of this reflective dissertation writing take a multi-disciplinary approach, for to consider critical pedagogy means also to consider the psychological functioning of human beings within society - the mind-in society dialectic. The study reveals that 'democratic practice' is something to be negotiated and contested continually, for the authoritative position of teachers has to be questioned endlessly to locate the contradictions within that position. The experience of this study suggests that action research is a powerful means whereby teachers can reflect both reflexively and dialectically on their practice, that action research is intrinsically educational. A significant realization in the study, therefore, is the ways in which the educators themselves may become educated to take responsibility for their agency in transformation. • Bringing power relations into question is a permanent political task inherent in all social existence, thus a local specific inquiry such as this one can take on a general significance at the level of that regime of truth which is essential to the structure and functioning of our society. • Chapters One to Three provide the social and theoretical context for the study, dealing as they do with the crisis in schooling, the role of the teacher in change and the ways in which a teacher can research her practice for a transformed pedagogy. Chapters Four to Six consider the teacher-researcher at work in her classroom and indicate how she goes about trying to understand her role as mediator in the instruction process her process of reflection and action while she was teaching. • Chapters Seven to Nine represent the reflection which took place after the initial investigation of actual day-to-day practice. These chapters arise historically out of the research process and include argument for developing a more critical pedagogical discourse, a deeper understanding of the instruction process (the teaching/learning dynamic), and discussion of the validity of an action research paradigm for emancipatory pedagogical practices .