Conceptions of social science knowledge: Assessing the impact on pedagogical reform

Griffiths, T. G., Parkes, R. J., Downey, J., Gore, J. M., Ladwig, J. G., & Amosa, W. A. (2008). Conceptions of social science knowledge: Assessing the impact on pedagogical reform. Paper presented at the annual conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE), Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, 30 November – 4 December.

This analysis is set in the context of Immanuel Wallerstein’s work on the structures of knowledge, in particular the place of the social sciences past and present, and the potential contribution of a more integrated approach (historical social science) to the broader political project of building a more democratic, equal and just world-system. Our analysis finds that knowledge in the social science subjects tended to be treated in only a mildly problematic way, with moderate outcomes in terms of its connection to students’ lives and cultural backgrounds, and its authentic application, despite substantial attention to such characteristics of curriculum content, evident in the evolution of the History curriculum. Further we find that outcomes on these measures are substantially stronger in primary rather than secondary classrooms. We conclude by arguing that social science teachers’ meaningful engagement with the Quality Teaching framework, as part of a significant, system-wide pedagogical reform initiative, is contingent on their re-thinking the nature of their subject knowledge and its treatment in their teaching. Further, we argue that seen through the lens of Wallerstein’s world-systems theorising, this strengthens the case for the type of pedagogical work reported here to support curricular reforms in the social sciences and contribute to students’ complex understandings of their world.

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