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Issues In Educational Research, Vol 15, 2005
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Choosing our ideas, words and actions carefully: Is the language of Productive Pedagogies intelligible for pre-service teachers?

David Zyngier
Monash University
Australian teacher educators and teachers are become increasingly familiar with the notion of 'Productive Pedagogies', itself the product of longitudinal research on school reform undertaken in Queensland, Australia (Lingard et al. 2001). One of Productive Pedagogies' strengths has been its efficacy for teachers to use as a language to talk about their pedagogical work and, hence, a way of reclaiming some of the ground on what constitutes good teaching. This paper examines the value of 'Productive Pedagogies' as a metalanguage for developing pre-service teachers' knowledge and understanding of teaching. Drawing on pre-service teachers' observations of practice, the paper argues that Productive Pedagogies' language is not only useful in the development of pre-service teachers' critical understanding of teaching, but also in assisting them to recognise that the use of higher order thinking, connectedness, and recognition of and engaging with student differences within a supportive classroom is crucial to improved student outcomes.


I thought isn't it cute the way they sit cross-legged on the floor and listen. Initially I thought the activity of sitting still, and paying attention was learning, upon reflection I understand it is learned and practiced behaviour, requiring little intellectual participation. Intellectual quality became apparent as the children became involved and engaged ... as the teacher asked open-ended questions ... (Ted)

Productive Pedagogy is an approach to creating a place, space and vocabulary for us to get talking about classroom instruction again. It isn't a magic formula (eg, just teach this way and it will solve all the kids' problems), but rather it's a framework and vocabulary for staffroom, in-service, pre-service training, for us to describe the various things we can do in classrooms. (Luke, 2002, p.2, emphasis added)

We need to have curriculum conversations, ...We need to back these teachers, get them talking in staff meetings about how they adjust their pedagogies to get better results - showing and mentoring the rest of us about how it can be done. To do so we need to have a common vocabulary and framework for looking at and talking about pedagogy: productive pedagogies, authentic pedagogies, focused instruction, whatever. We need to get mentoring each other, swapping strategies, and having curriculum conversations about what we did differently. (Luke, 2002, p.9-10, emphasis added)

Teachers must learn not only the subject matter of the human conversation but also the pedagogy for immersing the young productively in the conversation. (Goodlad cited in Roth, 1999, p.8)

With the understanding and insights I gain each semester, the prospect of teaching has become less daunting; with the use of Productive Pedagogies, there is hope for me to become a successful educator. (Ted)


The centrality of teaching, the explication of what good teaching involves, and the valuing of teachers' knowledges are recurrent themes at teacher education conferences and in teacher education journals. Gore et al. (2001) argue that preparing teachers who can produce high quality outcomes for all of their students requires teacher educators to give greater importance to what they do and say about good classroom practices; that is, what teachers do matters. Such emphases are a welcome relief from narrow market-liberal and laissez faire approaches to teaching promoted in some quarters that seek to (re)position teaching merely as learning management and teachers as learning managers (Gale, 2000).

What pre-service teacher education does well is instruct students in their (traditional) role as teachers; what it does not do well is address issues of teacher identity - what it means to be a teacher. Addressing such shortcomings necessarily means helping pre-service teachers to better connect with the communities in which schools are located and in which they study and work. This includes making relevant connections between universities and their communities and about the way in which (academic and student) research and community service is being structured to include needs as identified by those communities.

Australian teacher educators and teachers are become increasingly familiar with the notion of 'Productive Pedagogies', itself the product of longitudinal research on school reform recently undertaken in Queensland (Lingard et al 2001). More generally, Government Departments of Education have begun to acknowledge the importance of good pedagogy for successful teaching, if not its centrality in connecting relevant curriculum with authentic assessment. To date, one of the strengths of Productive Pedagogies has been its efficacy for teachers to use as a language to talk about their pedagogical work and hence, a way of reclaiming some of the ground on what constitutes good teaching. In part, this can be attributed to the numerous observations of teachers' classroom practice which informed the construction of Productive Pedagogies. That is, many teachers understand its dimensions and elements as naming what 'good' teachers have always done.

There is a view amongst some teacher educators and many in-service teachers that the basic skills form the foundation of all subsequent learning; that the way to introduce beginning teachers to the practice of teaching is to introduce the basic practical skills first and then perhaps introduce more theoretical concepts at a later point (Cambourne & Kiggins, 2004). The implication here is that one cannot learn other kinds of knowledges about teaching prior to the acquisition of the basics. This is not the view that we took. We in fact started with the theoretical engagement of the pre-service teachers - at the level of belief rather than the level of action in relation to pedagogy.

In this paper, the value of Productive Pedagogies as a metalanguage for developing pre-service teachers' knowledge and understanding of teaching is examined; whether it is a language that is not only intelligible but also efficacious for pre-service teachers who have not been exposed to prior teacher knowledge or whether its dimensions and elements merely constitute an isolated vocabulary. We firstly background the development of Productive Pedagogies and review the limited but significant contributions focusing on Productive Pedagogies in the education and training of pre-service teachers. We then outline how the first year pre-service teachers were introduced to the concepts of the newly developed pedagogical language of Productive Pedagogies and reflect on recent research relating to the cultural capital of pre-service teachers and what that might mean in the provision of a critical language for pre-service teachers with which they might be equipped to read education, pedagogy and schooling over the next few years of their course. We conclude by analysing eight of the students' observations of teaching practice to ascertain if the language of Productive Pedagogies is not just useful in the development of pre-service teachers' understanding of teaching, but whether this reconceptualisation of pedagogy can actually be efficaciously introduced to first year students as Gore et al. (2001) conclude is necessary.

Productive Pedagogies

Productive Pedagogies is derived from the Queensland School Reform Longitudinal Study (QSRLS) (Ladwig et al, 2000; Lingard et al, 2001a; 2001b). This was a three-year intensive observation of representative state primary and secondary schools undertaken by some of Australia's pre-eminent educational thinkers. The study was concerned with how student learning, both academic and social, could be enhanced. The base assumption of the research was that this enhancement required quality classroom teaching and assessment practices. It rejected the emphasis on a credentialed society which defines quality student outcomes in terms of results from limited, standardised testing of basic skills. The QSRLS instead defined quality student outcomes in terms of a sustained and disciplined inquiry focused on powerful, important ideas and concepts which are connected to students' experiences and the world in which they live.

The study's original contribution to the school reform debate was to specify which aspects of teaching require urgent attention from the schools. The key finding of the QSRLS should be no surprise to experienced educators (Lingard et al., 2001a, p.x-xv); the higher the level of intellectual demand expected of students by teachers the greater the improved productive performance and, hence, improved student outcomes.

Quality learning experience is acknowledged as what our best teachers have always provided for their students - intellectually challenging material that is relevant and connected to the children's lives, recognising that children learn in different ways and have different needs within a supportive learning environment. What the QSRLS report has termed Productive Pedagogies is then crucial to improved student outcomes for all students, but in particular those 'at-risk' (Lingard et al., 2001b, 103-105).

The QSRLS research found that students most at-risk of failure, those from socially, culturally and economically disadvantaged conditions, were the least likely to be exposed to the intellectually challenging and relevant material. Productive Pedagogies is not about developing an instrumentalist model of teaching, which can be implemented through a mechanistic process. It is not an attempt to de-skill teachers. Indeed the converse is true. It accepts that there is no one true way of teaching and that appropriate teaching for particular contexts need to be determined by the teacher and students and school communities. This then is an integrated framework for delivering Bernstein's (1971) three message systems of curriculum (New Basics), pedagogy (Productive Pedagogies) and assessment (Rich Tasks) (Ailwood & Follers, 2002) where Bernstein conceptualises formal educational knowledge as being realised through these three message systems. He states that

... curriculum defines what counts as valid knowledge, pedagogy defines what counts as a valid transmission of knowledge, and [assessment] defines what counts as a valid realisation of this knowledge on the part of the taught (p.228).
Luke (2002) describes Productive Pedagogies as a framework and a vocabulary that describes the various things teachers can do in classrooms.
... the various options in our teaching 'repertoires' that we have - and how we can adjust these, play with these (more narrative, less exposition; more dialogue, less lecture; more explicit statements of expectations, less) to get different outcomes. This isn't a "one approach fits all model of pedagogy". It has the possibility of providing a common grounds and dialogue between teachers, school administrators, teacher educators, student-teachers and others about these "repertoires" and about which aspects of our teaching repertoires work best for improved intellectual and social outcomes for distinctive groups of kids. (p.4, emphasis added)
Productive Pedagogies has gained recognition nationally (and internationally) as a framework for teacher professional development which focuses on classroom practices whilst foregrounding persistent equity concerns in education. Apart from its adoption in Queensland, variations of the Productive Pedagogies framework have been adopted in New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria. Since the publication of the QSRLS in 2001 there have been limited but significant contributions to this discussion focusing on Productive Pedagogies in the education and training of pre-service teachers (Gore, et al. 2001; Sorin & Klein, 2002; Wilson & Klein, 2000). Most notably Gore et al's (2001) research results from a pilot study involving final year, teacher education students attempting to apply the principles of Productive Pedagogies during their internship.

Sorin et al (2002) suggest that an emphasis on the construction of robust intellectual knowledges and inquiring habits of mind in schools necessitates the implementation of innovative, inquiry-based teaching/learning relationships that have not been experienced by many pre-service teachers nor teacher educators. This, they conclude, is achieved through an inquiry based culture in a teacher education program. They developed a framework for their pre-service course based on students experiencing new models of interaction in teacher education, where ideas and experiences were shared and problems solved cooperatively. By 'modelling pedagogy' they hoped to induct pre-service teachers into new ways of being a teacher and a lifelong learner, as they build their own ways of learning and reflecting (Sorin & Klein, 2002).

Gore et al (2001) conclude that

Productive Pedagogy needs to come early in the teacher education program in order to be more fully integrated into students' knowledge base for teaching. If it is just another framework, just another theory, just another list, then students are likely to draw on it as they might any other approach. Instead, if students are to treat Productive Pedagogies as foundational to all of their efforts in teaching, it needs to be: (1) clearly positioned in that way from the beginning of the teacher education program; (2) used as a device to guide all aspects of the teacher education curriculum; and (3) modelled in the pedagogy of teacher educators (p.8, emphasis added).

Setting the scene

In 2002, the first year primary and early childhood pre-service teaching foundation studies at Monash University, Peninsula Campus, included for the first time an introduction of the concepts of Productive Pedagogies. The program suggested that there is no one correct pedagogy to meet the needs of all students in all sites of education, while being given the opportunity to experience first-hand the pedagogies of in-service teachers within the fieldwork component of their course. The course stressed that Productive Pedagogies were concerned with how student learning, both academic and social, could be enhanced, the assumption being that this enhancement requires quality classroom teaching.

As teacher educators, we wanted to know whether Productive Pedagogies is an intelligible language for pre-service teachers. This is asked in the context where the origins of Productive Pedagogies are in the observations of experienced in-service teachers, while also drawing on literature from the field which similarly refers to experienced practitioners, identifying their practices and giving them particular kinds of names (four dimensions, several elements within each dimension.) We wanted to establish whether it is really possible for first year pre-service teachers - many coming directly from their final year of secondary school and who don't have the experiences to draw on as does an experienced teacher - to make any sense of this new language that is being used to talk about their professional practice.

This preliminary research involved a study of eight broadly representative students from the 2002 and 2003 cohorts who received credit grade or above. The pre service teachers at Peninsula Campus in the primary and the early childhood programs are increasingly a diverse group and often first generation students. Many are mature age, converting from other jobs or upgrading qualifications to degree status, many with children and with part time jobs needed to provide for the family and/or themselves. Our task then was to introduce these students to a critical language of teaching when it can be said that in the past we ourselves as teacher educators have not always been good at 'teaching' in productive or critical ways.

Significant for us was the issue of 'literacies' of pre-service teacher education students as raised by Zipin and Brennan (2001) in particular with reference to dominant cultural capital (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1990). A significant proportion of our students may not have the required cultural capital brought from their backgrounds (both home and school) to equip them with the kinds of dominant knowledge practices on which university study generally relies (Zipin et al, 2001). About two thirds of the students were primary B.Ed. while the rest were early childhood B.Ed. Most were of Anglo background, with a small number of older first wave NESB students, as well as an increasing but even smaller number of full-fee paying international students (most of Asian origin).

Like Zipin and Brennan (2001), we found that many of our students lacked habits and capacities to read the world in terms of critical literacy. With more teaching positions becoming available, it is likely that these new teachers will eventually be appointed to the most educationally disadvantaged areas, characterised by populations who are newcomers to the country, indigenous and rural disadvantaged, and/or areas of low socio-economic status and high unemployment. These new teachers will (unwittingly) be placed in those areas where school pupils themselves do not come with strong literacy backgrounds and expectations of success, thereby continuing a cycle of reproducing poor literacy among particular cohorts of pre-service teachers and in turn their future students (Zipin et al, 2001).

Our pre-service students may perhaps come to teacher education with the assumption that pupil performance in school is related to ability rather than what different groups bring to school and whether those capacities match what schools teach. Like most other tertiary students, pre-service teachers will not usually have been exposed to ideas that challenge this dominant hegemony. Our pre-service teachers often come to education without the dominant and empowering cultural capital to become critical reflexive teachers of disadvantaged and non dominant students. Our task, through the critical language of Productive Pedagogies was to develop in our students a consciousness that systemically, without overt acknowledgment, schools reproduce social-positional inequality through all sorts of mechanisms that encode the privilege of dominant cultural capital (Apple, 1999). It was therefore crucial that we gave our pre service teachers a new language with which they might be equipped to 'read' education, pedagogy and schooling over the next few years of their course work. We understand that this new language has the potential to interrupt schools' automatic privileging of some cultural dispositions as high cultural capital, by broadening what counts as valuable and also providing access to those for whom different literacies are not automatically available. (Zipin et al, 2001, p.8)

Our experience of many first year students is that they are a-critical, and acquiescent in the ways in which they accept the curriculum, pedagogy and means of assessment as given in educational institutions. The obviousness of the power relationship between teacher educator and pre-service teacher cannot be underestimated (Young, 1990). In an attempt to overcome and circumvent this reaction to both content and pedagogy, we attempted to increase students' authentic engagement (Schlechty, 2002) with a focus on our own teaching practices and the Productive Pedagogies. While our primary focus was on the issue of pedagogy where the pre-service teachers considered and critically reflected on 'repertoires of practice' compatible with their personal understandings of high-quality pedagogic practice, we also were compelled to critically reflect on our own pedagogy at a tertiary level as a modelled paradigm for practice.

One of the concerns that pre-service teachers (as well as in-service teachers) have with teacher education is its perceived theoretical distance from everyday teaching practice (Sorin, 2002). Attempts to link theory with practice involve, for example, students spending part of their teacher education program within the primary or secondary school - the practicum or fieldwork component. To further embed this praxis we developed an observation/analysis approach - a 'real world' anecdote presented to students for the purpose of making a point, or more importantly opening up an area of inquiry. This process encouraged universal perspectives as students conceptualise and reconceptualise traditional and new ways of knowing (Sorin & Klein, 2002).

Recent research in pre-service teacher education (Gore et al, 2001, p.7) reinforces our view that the current priorities on generic teaching methods and strategies, together with an emphasis on student behaviour management and lesson planning is derived from a view of education as the transmission of 'relatively unproblematic and fixed content' to our pre-service teachers.

Pre-service teachers, the research suggests (Cherednichenko & Kruger, 2002; Gore et al, 2001; Sorin & Klein, 2002; Wilson & Klein, 2000), want practical activities, lesson ideas and resources that they can use in the classroom and spend much of their time at the level of 'just tell me how ...!' We set out to challenge the notion that learning to teach is a lock-step process (Cambourne & Kiggins, 2004). We found that these pre-service teachers were able to look at pedagogy broadly in quite significant depth than had we have just taught them, for example, the skills of questioning or explanation or crowd control etc.

At the very least this was our attempt to address the "preconceptions and dominant discourses in teacher education" (Gore et al, 2001, p.7) and make belief central to all the teaching and learning with which our students were engaged. Gore et al (2001) conclude that there is strong evidence that pre-service teachers highly value the concept of Productive Pedagogies as a framework to guide teaching and as the basis for their future work. We wanted to know whether this too would be the case for our students, whether they would conclude "that pedagogy matters; not only regarding what is learned but perhaps more importantly how" it is learned (Wilson & Klein, 2000, p.1).

Engaging our first year students in a substantive conversation up front, about the how of pedagogy in the classroom through intellectually challenging material, was based on the assumption that they can learn this even before they've learnt the most basic tricks of the trade. We also understood that we needed to provide the theoretical support so that those challenging things can be achievable. We were not about to 'throw them in the deep end' and expect them to swim or even just tread water.

What was taught: What was learned?

As part of their foundation studies, we introduced the students to the four dimensions of Productive Pedagogies and the elements within each of those. The Productive Pedagogies do not necessarily indicate any particular order or prioritisation of the dimensions. This became an issue for us when students asked us, "If I'm teaching a lesson, should all dimensions of productive pedagogies be evident in my lesson?" While each of the four dimensions is readily defined on ideal grounds, there is no research basis for believing that school systems (anywhere) have been overly successful in consistently providing high levels of all four dimensions to large proportions of school students. The QSRLS suggests that not every dimension is equally required for success for all socio-cultural groups. In other words, while all four dimensions of Productive Pedagogies may be necessary and sufficient for all students, it is quite tenable that only one, two or three dimensions would be sufficient for some groups of students, but not all (Lingard et al, 2001b, p.3). The QSRLS concludes that
... we deliberately use the term pedagogies to indicate that we are not developing an instrumentalist model of teaching, which can be implemented through a mechanistic process. This is not an attempt to de-skill teachers. Indeed the converse is true. Hence the pluralising of pedagogy to imply that there is no one true way of teaching and that appropriate pedagogies for particular contexts need to be determined. (Lingard et al., 2001b, 133)

... we suggest that the presence of all four dimensions within a lesson will contribute to the practice of a productive pedagogy. However, we recognise that whilst a number of the elements within each dimension should be present in classrooms at all times, there are instances in certain contexts and stages within a sequence of lessons that some elements might be more appropriate than others. (Lingard et al., 2001b, 135)

We decided as a group that it was probably unreasonable to expect any one lesson to have all dimensions and elements evident. The QSRLS states that Productive Pedagogies is not a formula to follow and one would not expect these elements to be seen every time, all the time in every lesson, nor would they be used in the same way in different settings with different students (Lingard et al., 2001b, pp. 113-4).

In presenting this material to the students, we became aware that for some the connections between the dimensions and between the elements within these dimensions and across dimensions was not made explicit - or didn't seem to be made explicit by the Productive Pedagogies material, the various reports, the Education Queensland website and other available material on Productive Pedagogies.

As a result of this inadequacy, part of our joint task was to explore together what those relationships might be. It seemed that one of the shortcomings was, that although Productive Pedagogies provided a vocabulary, ie, a series of words in isolation, it did not necessarily provide the linguistic links (a grammar) which connected those words together to create relationships between words, which actually resulted in a new language. As a group we started to think through what the relationships were between the elements within the four dimensions. These were developed and conceptualised by a series of diagrams of those relationships.

Figure 1 (Gale, 2002) conceptualises the relationship between the four dimensions representing them as overlapping circles and also the dynamic nature of those dimensions like the shutter of an SLR camera. To carry the camera metaphor further the various elements can be seen as the zoom and focus rings, lens aperture and shutter speed rings and exposure settings etc. Only when they are all perfectly aligned by a professional do we get those remarkable images that tell us much more about the subject under scrutiny and the photographer. Most of the time we use the camera set on automatic, just as most of the time in-service teachers perhaps function on automatic. The results are usually OK for the ordinary everyday family snap - but for that something very special (or very different) then a full working knowledge of all the knobs, dials and rings, the full potential of the camera or the pedagogy is required and revealed.

The research literature demonstrates that where teachers have applied the dimensions of pedagogy in formulaic fashion, Productive Pedagogies has become a "shiny object which teachers desire to utilise in classroom practice [only to] lose its lustre as a new and more desirable method comes along" (Loughland & Reid, 2002, p.1).

Figure 1

Figure 1: The reflexive lens of Productive Pedagogies - through the camera shutter

The four dimensions problematised

Although the four dimensions drew on Newmann et al (1996), the QSRLS research team reviewed the literature on pedagogy more generally and after observing some 975 lessons in schools, identified 20 elements that constituted good pedagogy. They gave each of those dimensions a name which in some respects, look similar to Newman's Authentic Pedagogies (Newmann, 1996).

If we could bring a name change it would be to call the third supportive learning environments rather than classroom environments to signal not only that that learning doesn't just happen in classrooms but that not all classrooms are learning environments and that, equally significant, not all learning needs to take place in the classroom (Zyngier, 2003).

When one looks at these dimensions and their related elements[1] we can understand why our pre-service teachers have trouble understanding why one element is in a particular dimension and not in another; why active citizenship, for example, is not also included in the connectedness dimension. It was explained that there is no barrier between them, even though we are talking about them as if they are discreet and separate while in the learning environment of the classroom, they pop up and in and out in various places without being walled in or fenced in as a 'dimension'. We emphasised that there really is a porous nature to the dimensions and their elements which overlap, so that elements flow in from one to the other. This interconnectedness of Productive Pedagogies was stressed to the pre-service teachers during their 10 week course and included practice observations using video of real classroom practice that enabled the students to model observing the dimensions of pedagogy studied.

We sought to convey to our pre-service teachers that our interpretation of Productive Pedagogies certainly does not try to replace one hegemony with another; or in other words, to replace analytical abstracted versions of pedagogies with narrative pedagogies. Rather, our understanding of Productive Pedagogies is that it offers a counter-hegemony (Connell, 1973; Giroux, 1990), which is cognisant and inclusive of the viewpoint of the most marginalised within the framework of learning. At the same time, we suggested that all students must acquire the requisite abstract and analytical knowledge if they are to have access to the dominant cultural capital of society[2] (Apple & Beane, 1999; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1990; Giroux, 1990; Shor, 1996; Teese & Polesel, 2003).

The assignment task

All students in the unit (200 over two years) were required to go out into schools and observe in-service teachers. In these observations, students were asked to use the dimensions from Productive Pedagogies as a way of describing and analysing what they observed. The pre-service teachers used simple proformas to record four lesson observations and then to focus on two pedagogical dimensions that they thought were the richest for analysis. This was assisted by the use of the original Classroom Assessment Reflection Sheet from the QSRLS. They had to identify the elements of the dimensions through annotated examples and identify the situations in which these elements occurred, describing how they were employed by the observed teacher and enacted by the student(s). They also had to indicate whether any of those elements were absent and how this could have been remedied. Finally they were to conclude what their analysis might mean for teachers in general and for their own future as a teacher in particular. All students handed in these assignments, with most being able to complete the set tasks to a high level in terms of developing this critical new language.

The remainder of the paper focuses on the written responses of the eight representative students[3] selected to see how appropriately they were able to use the concepts of Productive Pedagogies to discuss their observations of teaching practice[4]. Our intention was to focus on the extent to which the pre-service teachers were able to use the language of Productive Pedagogies to identify what they thought was going on in those lessons.

Pre-service teachers' views on Productive Pedagogies

Our analysis focused on what the students actually wrote about their classroom observations, using the Productive Pedagogies as a way of understanding what the teachers were doing. Questions that guided our analysis included: (i) what were the things that were paramount in their minds when they went looking? (ii) what kind of things did students identify as either being present or absent? (iii) how pre-service teachers understand the relationships between dimensions and elements of productive pedagogies and (iv) how might this compare with Gore et al's (2001) conclusions about their research with their fourth year pre-service teachers?

This analysis of the very rich material presented by the pre-service teachers only looks at the language and vocabulary used. No attempt has been made to further deconstruct what they are saying about their understandings of Productive Pedagogies as a basis for pre-service teacher education. Clearly this remains to be done.

What were paramount in their minds when they went looking?

Jasmine wrote that "despite initial doubt about whether [Productive Pedagogies] would be apparent [in the Early Childhood Centre] I see that there are ample examples ... I have also realised that no amount of theory can compare with looking for and analysing ... on placement." Further she observed that "children can demonstrate that they realise there are underlying principles behind the activities they do when they explicitly take the concept from one activity and try to apply it to a different situation."

Research in initial teacher education (Cherednichenko & Kruger, 2002; Gore, et al 2001; Sorin & Klein, 2002; Wilson & Klein, 2000), has found that pre-service teachers want practical activities, lesson ideas and resources that they can use in the classroom, rejecting the 'just tell me how' approach. Simon stated that

... as a teacher I needed to recognise the importance of always providing an atmosphere of 'real' learning. For a student, learning should not just be absorbing information delivered to them, but rather teaching should facilitate the student's own abilities to create their own real and relevant understandings.
Mary agreed that "not all Productive Pedagogies dimensions will necessarily be included in each lesson, but should be seen as integral aspects of an overall philosophy towards the classroom discourse" and stated that recognition and engagement with difference is the most significant explanation both theoretically and practically for academic achievement of at risk students. Mary stated that "Productive Pedagogies has proved vital to my understanding of an inclusive school environment - that fairness is not necessarily achieved by treating everyone in the same way." Anna thought that Productive Pedagogies "allowed children to challenge their personal ideologies, while exploring others ... [and that] ... rather than checking a list, teachers will use it as an implementation of their beliefs."

Elements and relationships present in the observations

Clearly the students readily and successfully identified the dimensions and the relevant elements as being present. Commenting on her observations on the dimension of Intellectual Quality, Carol observed that
students display deep knowledge regarding when they establish and form relatively complex connections between the central topic and tasks at hand ... where students are required to ... discover the relationship ..., to display their understanding and required students to manipulate information and ideas in ways that transform their meanings. ... allow them to be able to construct explanations for their procedures and draw conclusions on what they have done and why.
While Ted found that "encouraging students to make links ... and divergent thinking to take place developed higher order thinking", he also points to class discussions of "complex interactions, incorporating knowledge and understandings from previous topics, ... from books they had read and television programs they watch, contributed substantial and valuable knowledge to the discussion" as not just deep knowledge and deep understandings but connected to the lives of the children outside of the school.

Noting the teacher used phrases like 'what if?' and 'how could this be done differently?', Ted wrote that "the teacher supported the student's learning with considerable teacher to child interaction, as she questioned children individually and collectively, promoting substantive conversations with the use of open ended questions ..."

Further, Carol commented that

substantive conversation occurred when the teacher and students interacted to develop a brainstormed list of relevant ... words ... and when the students discussed words with the neighbouring person and finally when the students had to speak to the person correcting their work. Meta-language [was] evident when the teacher explores how language can be used in different circumstances ... and for different purposes, ... cover[ing] meaning structures .., how sentences work, ... [all] are solid indications of meta-language within the lesson.
Jasmine observed "a boy who grouped the building blocks by colour. ... The children bit pieces out of their bread so they represented people and cars. These children have discovered that blocks and bread can have more than one meaning." Although observing for intellectual quality, Alice noted that she "included the other three dimensions where I could see an outstanding inclusion or exclusion of ... teaching," observing that the lesson "progressed from being introductory to advanced, whole group and very lengthy." Commenting on the students' ability to manipulate the information, Alice wrote that "higher order thinking had to have occurred because they were able to identify areas where they [students] believed improvements could be made ... and explains their thinking to individuals."

Alice observed that substantive conversations were taking place as students were "looking for clarification, additional explanations and re-assurance, ... talking with peers [who] may be a critical component fundamental to them developing an initial understanding." She continued that "for many children being able to share ideas and discuss their thinking and how they think with their peers is not as threatening as checking with the teacher" as an example of metalanguage, noting that "how important interaction between peers is to the learning process." She observed that the "types of discussion that occurred encouraged and pretty much required the children to think below the surface level pushing to a deeper level, ... deepening their knowledge and understanding."

Commenting on recognition and engagement with difference Alice notes that

the lessons were structured in such a way that the students were pretty much in control of their own learning development ... exhibiting 'student direction' because they had some control over what they were learning, ... providing the examples (even if the teachers were fishing for them).
This, she suggested, exemplifies academic engagement because the
children were attentive, they showed genuine enthusiasm ... asked questions, contributed to the discussion, helped out their peers ... [and tried to] do things that they may not have had to consider before ... - choice and thinking about how ... was a very new concept.
Alice noted that the children were required to look for areas in need of improvement as an example of knowledge as problematic stating that
... knowledge is constructed and that there can be multiple view points which can contrast and potentially conflict ... [but] the fact that the children could directly connect the examples and improvements to their own work demonstrated that they understood the task, that there was a connection to the children's world.
Mary wrote that "the teacher used the occasion of a Maori boy's birthday to discuss counting in another language ... I saw this as evidence of the teacher acknowledging the value of diverse cultures within the group as the student was happy to demonstrate his knowledge of Maori."

Ted noted as an example of knowledge being problematic that "the teacher explained that there could be many ideas and points of view, each with merit and as a class we need to listen to everyone and understand that there is 'no one view or right answer.'"

Reflecting on his own ideas, Ted wrote that

I recognise that a supportive classroom environment is more than a place where the walls are brightly coloured, and students' work is prominently displayed. In a large portable I observed more than a supportive physical environment ... a classroom where children's learning was encouraged in a supportive non-threatening environment, ... when students looked confused the teacher re-read a page to emphasise words or concepts and then asked open-ended questions ... foster[ing] an atmosphere of mutual respect, trust and support between the teacher and the students.
He noted as examples of a supportive classroom environment that "children changed the direction and focus of the lesson for a time ... and the teacher supported and developed these ideas ... [while] giving detailed and specific instructions ... reminding students again, repeating and rephrasing instructions a second time, explaining how, ... prompting them to revisit, ... encouraging them to use ..."

What was missing?

Not only could the pre-service teachers identify and talk about elements of Productive Pedagogies that they observed, they were also able to discuss missing elements. Carol wrote that
... knowledge as problematic ... was an element that was hard to detect. [It] involves an understanding that knowledge is something constructed and developed by learners and is fixed around a body of information. [Although] the actual lesson was based around a central body of information supporting knowledge as problematic, it wasn't constructed or developed by the learners. The teacher was the source of the development.
Demonstrating a clear understanding, Carol went on to suggest how she might have used the same exercise but
... let the children choose the words and the tasks they must perform with those words and depending on the words selected could also cover the knowledge being subjected to political, social and cultural implications ... I would give the students the opportunity to construct their own learning and base [this] around their ideas.
Ted also noted that although "the element of metalanguage was missing [in the lesson he observed] it could easily have been incorporated by the teacher ... drawing attention to the words, ideas and actions ... when they were using higher order thinking."

All the students were able to suggest how they might have modified the lessons to incorporate the various elements so that the "missing element could have enriched and empowered the children's ... understanding."


Gore et al (2001) have suggested that teaching about Productive Pedagogies needs to occur from the very start of pre-service teacher training, that pre-service teachers and teaching need to be immersed in the metalanguage of Productive Pedagogies and that teacher training itself should reflect the paradigm of Productive Pedagogies. What can we conclude about the value of Productive Pedagogies as a metalanguage for developing pre-service teachers' knowledge and understanding of teaching. Can it be a language that is not only intelligible but also efficacious for first year pre-service teachers who have not been exposed to any prior teacher knowledge or do its dimensions and elements merely constitute an isolated vocabulary, another framework or theory or shiny object (Loughland & Reid, 2002).

Sorin and Klein (2002) pose the following relevant questions.

While we think and write in terms of 'talking the talk and walking the walk' are we, like many of our students, aspiring to redundant notions of what it means to teach and learn in the twenty-first century? Despite our efforts to present new models of collaborative inquiry, where we believe we are giving our students spaces to develop their own understanding, we wonder if we are really having an effect. Are students really telling us what they think, or what they think we want to hear? Are we talking the talk, but not yet able to walk the walk that leads them along uncharted paths as the educators of the future? (Sorin & Klein, 2002, p.6)
Carol understood the difficulties in the requirement to not necessarily include each dimension and its related elements in every lesson, stating however that
... it is easy to see that incorporating every element of each dimension requires a long, researched plan when constructing lessons. Much more than I previously imagined. [By] taking your time to think about the purpose and aim of your lesson, you can include each element even if it is only for a short time or minimal level. [But] by doing so you are providing the students in your class with the best opportunity to develop each of the elements.
On the other hand did Anna see Productive Pedagogies only as another (important) strategy that can easily be incorporated into every lesson?
It is important for teachers to have access to tools such as Productive Pedagogies to understand that effective learning can take place ... Productive Pedagogies would be an inherent and natural part of good teachers' lessons - an essential tool which can be largely integrated into any lesson.
Bob comments that his analysis positively affected himself as a teacher "... giv[ing me] a perspective on the qualitative practices in the classroom." Perspicuously, he adds that
... some teachers may not live by the 'Productive Pedagogies bible', but their ways of teaching and enthusiasm towards teaching bring out the element of good teaching from the Productive Pedagogies set regardless. I have realised why some or most children don't like to or can't handle mathematics ... it doesn't have any connection in their daily lives ... unless the knowledge can be used in their world outside of [the world of] school.
The observation and analysis task of Productive Pedagogies gave our students the opportunity to themselves engage in substantive conversation about their own teaching and the teaching of their supervising teachers. It provided them with deep knowledge, deep understanding and with a meta-language "to stand back and reflect on the things that we do" (Loughland & Reid, 2002, p.1). It allowed the pre-service teachers to construct and deconstruct classroom learning situations and promoted higher order thinking. For example Mary wrote that [this]
... analysis of a classroom discourse heightened my awareness of the value of Productive Pedagogies for me as a pre-service teacher and life long learner ... I was able to see the importance of how the teacher conducts the lesson as just as important as the content. ... The importance of continually questioning and reflecting upon the motivation underlying my pedagogy.
Without the meta-language of Productive Pedagogies our pre-service teachers may have been confined to mere observation of what was obvious to them in the classrooms they visited, without being able to critically reflect on what was actually taking place between the teacher and the learner(s). The pre-service teachers perhaps would never have been able to articulate so obviously what in fact was missing or lacking from their observed lessons. The assessment task set for our students was itself an example of a productive or authentic pedagogical task.

Quoting Gore et al (2001) Simon explained that their results showed that

pre-service teachers believed [certain elements] were restricted in their use by the age of the children and subject content and that Productive Pedagogies as a whole was linked to teaching strategies ... it is important to recognise that Productive Pedagogies as a whole should be encompassed in all areas of teaching and learning. Productive Pedagogies should not be viewed as a pick and choose smorgasbord of teaching content and strategies. The evidence of Productive Pedagogies within a classroom is evidence of good teaching and learning.
The introduction to Productive Pedagogies to both cohorts was similar producing comparable results over the two years that seemed to be quite outstanding in contrast to previous experiences of trying to introduce first year teachers to the notion of what is pedagogy. The pre-service teachers studied here confirm the conclusions of the QSRLS team (Lingard et al, 2001) that Productive Pedagogies is not something new or groundbreaking, but the identification and expression through the use of an accepted vocabulary and language describing what good teachers have always been doing in their classes with their students; providing intellectually challenging material, in a supportive environment that engages with student difference and is relevantly connected to the world of the learner. Productive Pedagogies is however 'more than just a vernacular knowledge of teaching made formal ... but a language for reflecting on their practice' (Loughland & Reid, 2002 p.1).

Some of our students' reaction to Productive Pedagogies as a shiny new object or formula for good teaching ('just tell us how do we do this') is also mirrored in the misconception among practising teachers and many teacher educators that Productive Pedagogies is merely another instrument of framework to be applied as writ (Loughland & Reid, 2002, p.1). Moreover, there was still a view, at least among some of the pre-service teachers studied, that it is in fact necessary to include all the dimensions and all of the elements of each dimension in every learning experience. Ted wrote in conclusion that

all the elements of Productive Pedagogies ... were not evident in this lesson, possibly because the teacher was unaware of Productive Pedagogies and the elements they contain ... I believe with some planning and reflection it is possible to apply all the elements.
Alice came to a similar view
when Productive Pedagogies are taken into consideration at the planning stage, the likelihood of a more effective learning experience for students is greatly increased ... [and] that by structuring lessons in accordance with the Productive Pedagogies it enables teachers to be very much in tune with their students.
Bob concluded that 'I see Productive Pedagogies as an important teaching aid that enriches student learning and makes teaching a more satisfying and fulfilling profession" (emphasis added).

At a time when teachers despair so many (wasted) school reform initiatives, where they have tried just about everything to improve student outcomes, it is timely that pre-service teachers are given the opportunity to embrace Productive Pedagogies that focus on what is achievable within any school system and structure, with any student cohort but in particular those deemed most at risk. Focusing on pedagogy, not the curriculum, nor assessment or school organisation, but on what teachers do with learners (Schlechty, 2002), Carol stated that Productive Pedagogies recognises "more than one way to teach" so that teachers "can make the most significant difference." Alice concluded that Productive Pedagogies allows teachers

... to be there for those pivotal moments of learning ... providing a more student regulated curricula, giving them more ownership over their learning, rather than presenting a more teacher oriented approach, that doesn't include student input and the recognition of individual difference and needs to the same degree.
Ted, reflecting on pedagogy as problematic concluded that
I am still coming to terms with the theory of Productive Pedagogies - [although] it has taken me thirteen weeks to fully appreciate them, I find myself on unfamiliar ground. ... The challenge is how to apply them ... At present they are like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and ... I find it difficult to make the 'big picture'. As a first year student teacher I acknowledge my limited understanding and knowledge of teaching. I am now beginning to understand that the elements of Productive Pedagogies just don't magically appear in a lesson. ... The responsibility lies squarely with the teacher to make a difference to student learning.
Mary added that
... lessons need to be well prepared but flexible enough to utilise each and every activity to naturalise Productive Pedagogies language in the classroom. ... The language of Productive Pedagogies has given me the pragmatic framework for future teaching beyond predetermined KLA's.
The eight pre-service teachers studied here confirm the conclusions of the QSRLS, that Productive Pedagogies is not something new or groundbreaking, but the identification and expression through the use of a common vocabulary and language to describe what good teachers have always been doing in their classes with their students.

These pre-service teachers were able to utilise the vocabulary of Productive Pedagogies to successfully describe their observations in the discursive language of Productive Pedagogies, as a powerfully reflexive and generative language that provided them ways to talk about what was and wasn't there in the classrooms observed. In our view, these students were engaged themselves in a powerful, and empowering substantive conversation about pedagogy. Productive Pedagogies was perceived as compatible with all levels and teaching styles and content, even in the early childhood centre. These pre-service teachers may indeed be as Gore et al (2001) suggest, better equipped to make learning and teaching more connected to the real world than teachers with years of experience.


The author wishes to acknowledge the support, assistance and advice of Associate Professor Trevor Gale Faculty of Education, Monash University in the writing of this paper. Dr Gale began teaching this course in 2002 and I was privileged to work with him on the course in 2003 and 2004.


  1. For a fuller description of the Dimensions and their Elements and background to the QSRLS see the Education Queensland website http://education.qld.gov.au/public_media/reports/curriculum-framework/qsrls/
  2. Typified by the instructional video Good Morning Miss Toliver (1992)
  3. The Pre-Service Teachers are fictitiously named Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice from the 2002 cohort and Anna, Simon, Mary and Jasmine from the 2003 group in order to differentiate between the 8 students' work analysed. Their gender has been kept the same.
  4. We weren't interested in whether they were accurate representations of the teachers' practices because we don't know actually what transpired in the classroom. We weren't there to verify that.


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Author: David Zyngier is a former school principal currently undertaking his PhD in education at Monash University where he lectures in the Faculty of Education. The area of his research is "How School Connectedness can improve student engagement and student outcomes, particularly for at risk students." He is leading the research and development of the program "Keymakers: Advancing Student Engagement through Changed Teaching Practice." Email: David.Zyngier@Education.Monash.edu.au

Please cite as: Zyngier, D. (2005). Choosing our ideas, words and actions carefully: Is the language of Productive Pedagogies intelligible for pre-service teachers?. Issues In Educational Research, 15(2), 225-248. http://www.iier.org.au/iier15/zyngier.html

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