I recently finished my MA in Education at the University of Manchester, writing a dissertation entitled “Lads, Lads, Lads!”: The Impact of ‘Laddishness’ on Asian Muslim Males’ Perceptions of Education. My previous school was an all-boys school and the majority of these students were Muslim students of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage and researching the dissertation allowed me to engage with a number of these students in a way that I hadn’t before.
The dissertation was something of a labour of love- I was fortunate enough to choose a subject that I was genuinely interested in and passionate about and there was enough literature available to write a rigorous academic piece but there did exist lacunae that enabled me to make some original insights.
This was not a piece of action research and in all honesty, it has only had a very limited impact upon my classroom practice. However, if you are considering embarking upon a course requiring a dissertation or if you given the opportunity to write such a piece of work in the future, I implore you to grab it by both hands. The dissertation was an opportunity to step back from the immediacy of the classroom environment and take a macro-level view of a topic that I am passionate about- education (and in particular the education of underprivileged students). It exposed me to academic debates that I didn’t even know existed yet was relevant to the sorts of behaviour I saw everyday and improved my writing no-end. It’s also very satisfying to know that I have made some original insights into this area of academia, no matter how small.
Those of you not interested in the specific content of my dissertation- stop reading now! For the real nerds however….
The abstract is below:
“Laddishness’ is one explanation often given for the underperformance of males relative to females in secondary education. However, the intersection between ’laddishness’ and ethnicity, particularly Asian Muslim ethnicity, has received a relatively little attention. This dissertation begins by examining the various constructions of ‘laddishness’, the mechanisms through which it operates, and considers how ‘laddishness’ may impact upon academic achievement. Four detailed pen-portraits of Asian Muslim boys at a single-sex school in Manchester are constructed and analysed. The portraits indicate that the influence of ‘laddishness’ permeates the lives of these students to a lesser extent than the literature suggests. In particular the students did not show many of the ‘hypermasculine’ traits one might expect, nor did the students appear to reject many of the characteristics and behaviours required to succeed in education. A range of possible reasons are discussed for this that consider culture, aspirations, the role of the school and a reaction to perceived or actual institutional racism in the higher education and employment markets. “
‘Laddishness’ is a contested concept but broadly, those that claim that ‘laddishness’ is a cause of male underachievement state that there is some, fairly homogenous, concept of masculinity that is adopted by a number of young males that is antithetical to the ethos required to succeed at school. General features of ‘laddishness’ identified in the literature include belonging to a hedonistic peer group, an interest (and even a fixation upon) stereotypically ‘masculine’ pastimes including sport and a focus on ‘having a laugh’ and ‘hardness’. There is also a consensus that ‘laddishness’ includes the rejection of authority and a dislike of anything overtly feminine.
There are two broad schools of thoughts on how exactly ‘laddishness’ actually impacts upon schooling. Sociological views suggest that education is antithetical to the hegemony of ‘laddishness’ many male students are immersed in and thus results in poor class behaviour and low achievement. Socio-psychological theories however suggest that ‘laddish’ behaviour results from students preserving their self-worth. For instance students may misbehave so that if a poor grade is achieved they can attribute it to their misbehaviour rather than a lack of ability. Of course if they do achieve a good grade, they have achieved this ‘effortlessly’.
The overall picture present in my portraits did not reflect what some the popular or academic literature suggested regarding ‘laddishness’ as an example of a crisis in masculinity and as a potential source of underachievement.
The students I worked with were all engaged in their education and recognised its value. They all indicated that, whilst they may participate in ‘laddish’ behaviour at times, this tended to be specific to certain subjects or teachers and was not indicative of a generally negative view of education. These students were not examples of ‘boys in crisis’. Indeed, some made a point of eschewing and condemning the negative behaviours in which some of their peers participated.
I tried to consider the interplay between ethnicity and masculinity that was at play here and noted that all the students I spoke to valued their strong family structures and had incredibly high aspirations irrespective of the poverty in which many of them lived in. I also suggested that a ‘deficit factor’ could offset the influence of ‘laddishness’. Students from a minority ethnic group face challenges, both real and perceived, that white British students do not. Perhaps this helps offsets some of the desire to indulge in some of the ‘laddish’ pastimes.
Drawing a firm conclusion was difficult as the intersection between race and gender obviously does not exist in a vacuum but is part of an incredibly complex web of factors acting upon students. One such factor is the school which students attended and some credit must be given to the staff and leadership of the school given that students in my research group did not see consider ‘laddishness’ to have a particularly powerful impact upon their education.
I also made the following recommendations:
-That academics, policy-makers, professional bodies, popular commentators and others refrain from indulging in damaging ‘boys in crisis’ rhetoric. ‘Laddishness’ does occur but it is not uniform, is not ubiquitous and isn’t a simple phenomenon.
-That the role schools and individual teachers play in tackling ‘laddishness’ be acknowledged and investigated further.
-That the high aspirations of members of ethnic minority groups, and indeed students generally be cultivated and used to prevent the emergence of ‘laddishness’. Amongst the students I interviewed, there was no ‘poverty of ambition’, only desire to succeed and an acknowledgement of the effort required to do so.
-That authentic first-person accounts of students’ experiences of education be used to inform policy and shape teaching practice. ‘Pupil voice’ is increasingly common within schools and can be useful. However, even when conducted properly (and not as a ‘tick box’ for OFSTED) it usually lacks the depth, insight and sense of advocacy that the ‘pen portrait’ approach that I used can achieve.
Comments welcome as always or Tweet @NWMaths
Good ‘explainers’ (for want of a better phrase- ‘good at explaining things doesn’t quite seem to do this justice). At its heart teaching is explaining and the best teachers understand and know their subjects well enough to explain things in a way that students just seem to understand. If one explanation doesn’t work, they are comfortable trying others and they are constantly adapting and tweaking these, often on the spot.
Ability to have almost all classes ‘eat out the palm of their hand’. This can come in many forms. It might be the firm but fair disciplinarian, the slightly scatter-brained drama teacher or the quietly spoken teacher who just exudes presence from the front of the classroom. Whatever form it takes, the best teachers are able to develop a relationship with classes that means that students are attentive, will strive to work incredibly hard, will hang off their every word and are motivated to put in maximum effort (almost) all of the time. It goes without saying that the behaviour in classes taught by such teachers is almost perfect.
Know the ‘hooks’. This is linked to point two and point one but deserves its own listing. As well as knowing ways of best explaining a subject, great teachers know the stories, anecdotes and jokes that students remember and engage with for years to come. I remember the teacher at primary school who took us for PE telling us that the tactics we were working on were the same as Kevin Keegan used when England beat Scotland in the 2000 Euro Qualifiers. I still remember being told the Jaffa Cake/VAT court case in year 7 and use it myself whenever I teach percentage increases. My history teacher at A-Level used to tell us gripping stories about areas of history we simply wouldn’t have had any interest in whatsoever if it wasn’t for him (the history of Quebec being one that has really stuck with my over time). In my subject, the history of Maths is a rich area for engaging students- Fermat’s last theorem and the life and beliefs of Pythagoras are two of my favourite things to talk to students about and I’ve been working hard developing my spiel in a few other areas.
Make time. The best teachers are prepared to give their time to students in their classes. Be it staying behind for revision lessons, taking the time to turn around practice exam papers in the run up to GCSEs, taking the time to get to know their class or making the time to prepare really fantastic show-stopping lessons.
Get results. This one should go without saying but in an effort to push back against an overly results-driven education system, the pendulum can sometimes swing too far the other way and this can be overlooked. Terminal exam results are important and to not have that somewhere near the top of one’s priority list is to not do the best for the students being taught. Results are obviously dependent on context- for some classes ‘results’ may be all students getting a D or better whilst for others nothing less than a fistful of A*s is good enough. To me this seems uncontroversial but I’ve encountered a range of articles lately that seem to suggest otherwise. I’m not suggesting that this should be at the expense of student well-being or holistic development (this is a false dichotomy) but getting results is one of the hallmarks of a great teacher and to suggest otherwise is naive.
lesson with great learning gains for almost all of the students. After the inevitable discomfort that comes with hearing one’s own recorded voice which subsided after the first five minutes I was pretty pleased with what I saw. As someone who has observed a fair few lessons in my time, I was relieved that my ‘bog standard’ lesson without all the out of the ordinary ‘oofle dust’ that (some) people put into their observations was reassuringly ‘solid’.
Perhaps, like me, the video will even remind you to stay clean shaven unless you are capable of growing designer stubble or an impressive beard!
Comments welcome either here or @NWMaths.
Just a quick post on something I have been trying to reincorporate into my teaching over the past few weeks after really focusing on it last year- ‘micro plenaries’. I first saw this idea on the impressive ‘but is it on the test?’ blog- worth reading for a detailed account of this and a range of other maths-related teaching and learning ideas. The concept is a scaled down, individualised version of the sort of plenary one might have at the end of a lesson. After each interaction with an individual student, ask them a short plenary question to help ensure that the processes used are explicit and thus their work becomes more meaningful. The most common questions I ask are ‘what was the key step in this question’, ‘what was the way into this question’ and ‘can you summarise what you did to answer this question’. However, there is a huge range of questions that are likely to be just as, if not more, effective.
It takes some practice to remember to incorporate this into part of one’s normal questioning, especially if this takes place whilst circulating the room where the temptation is often to quickly attend to other students or gauge the ‘feel’ of the class after interacting with an individual. However, in my experience it is well worth sticking with and has a real impact in helping the student become more aware of the cognitive processes they are using.
In my school’s dedicated professional learning time on Friday afternoons, I recently read about the techniques that Gianfranco Conti plans on using over the coming year in order to enhance and develop his students’ metacognitive abilities.. The original article is a must read and can be found here but I was particularly taken by two of his strategies which I think have could prove particularly powerful in the Maths classroom.
“I have to be more careful when multiplying with negatives because one of my first mistakes was that I had multiplied √2 by -√2 and said it equaled to 2 which is wrong. The right answer was negative √2. Moreover, when dealing with surds that are in fractions, and finding the value of P and Q which are numbers in front of the surd, I should not times the denominator by the numerator because the fraction would no longer be equivalent. I should continue to draw a graph when dealing with quadratic inequalities because they helped me a lot in finding which part of the graph is needed. When using difference of squares, I can times back to see if the equation is exactly the same as how it started. If it’s different, then I know that something must have gone wrong which I can then check through the working again.”
- Most teacher training courses that I am aware of tend to develop a ‘direct-instruction’ approach to teaching. Coupled with the fact that it is reasonable to assume that there exists a pedagogy specific to inquiry-based teaching, direct instruction is likely to have a greater impact than inquiry-based approaches simply because more teachers are better at it, rather than it being an inherently better approach.
- Some topics and subjects are better taught in different ways. Indeed Hattie suggested that pre-teaching core content in order that inquiry can be focused more on process will enhance the effectiveness of any inquiry. Learning times-tables through an inquiry-based approach for instance would not perhaps be the best way for students to learn.
- Inquiry may or may not lead to subject-based learning taking place at as quick a rate but it is reasonable to assume that the transferrable skills developed are greater than those developed through an approach focused primarily on developing mathematical learning.
Any comments, thoughts or criticisms welcome either below or on Twitter @NWMaths