Category Archives: Blog

Social justice in teaching and the value of caring

There are many nice things about doing research with other people but one of the best things about being part of a group is the possibility of reflecting on your progress and sharing the responses you have to what participants tell you.

I was doing just this one evening last week, 16th June 2016, as a member of my research group had shared how her students had responded to her telling them about an incident or a turn in her own life and experiences.

We are researching the place of social justice and socio-cultural issues in Physical Education Teacher Education programmes. I am in my share of the data generation phase in universities mainly in the UK at the moment (it’s an international project covering the USA and NZ as well). I replied to my research group to appreciate the story that had been shared and to express what value there is in doing work on social justice: it can be hard but energising – vital maybe. I said that a recent interview participant of mine had said something on these lines recently: we teach social justice because we just have to … it is about fairness in all aspects of life, not just in sport or physical education but because those fields feed into and from all our social worlds. Because we care and want a better world.

We were reflecting at the time on the aftermath of the Orlando shooting in the USA so our thoughts were geared towards how we can respond to these events and the hate that caused them in our teaching and research about social justice. I had also seen the news that day that MP Jo Cox had been attacked and was in hospital.

It’s not just an abstract concept, social justice; we are dealing with real lives and events, not political correctness. The personal stories make all the difference.

After I sent the email, I looked at the news and learnt that Jo Cox had died as a result of her injuries. The email conversation then seemed to mean so much more to me.

There are not always opportunities to tell our students we care nor might we often demonstrate it (emotional labour being something that might be sidelined in neoliberal academic practice) but one of the elements of teaching social justice and socio-cultural issues must be being a socially just and caring teacher. Addressing the ‘isms’ in education (Dodds, 1993) gets more complex all the time: no longer just sexism, racism and ablism but homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia affect teaching and learning in physical education, and then I can’t forget teaching about privilege: class, racial and male privilege, also British citizenship privilege and English speaking privilege seem important now.

I support the things Jo Cox stood for and worked hard for, though I didn’t know of her before 16th June. I am also REMAIN for the EU referendum. I have read so many powerful arguments for remaining over the last few days and cannot articulate it as well, so in brief. We are better as a part of the EU for our environment, our universities, our rights and because being part of something larger – not turning away from others – is important. Being in the EU isn’t just about immigration and refugees, but a lot of the words being expended around the referendum have been about those topics. While anyone’s individual vote to leave might not be xenophobic, that is what the leave campaign has been built on. Leave proposes a Britain that is insular and right wing (also, they aren’t going to spend any saved money on the NHS). I vote remain to say that the type of country I want is one that welcomes, connects, cares and works with other people across difference because this is part of social justice work to me.

Dodds, P. (1993). Removing the ugly ‘isms’ in your gym: Thoughts for teachers on equity. In Evans, J. (ed.) Equality, education and physical education, 28-39. London: Falmer Press

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Body-positivity in dance: the importance of community

For World Ballet Day (1st October 2015), I talk about a recent research project carried out in London-based dance school Irreverent Dance, research that has been published as Hill, J., Sandford, R. and Enright, E. (2015). It has really amazed me what my body can now do’: boundary work and the construction of a body-positive dance community. Sport in Society. You can find the paper at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17430437.2015.1073946.

As a scholar of physical education and sport pedagogy, I am often on the look out for good examples of physical activity sites that offer something new for (future) teachers and coaches to learn from. It’s what can help guide developments in the ways physical education, sport and dance are taught. This led me to get in touch with Irreverent Dance, when it was coming up to a year old and offering mainly ballet classes. For me and my co-researchers, Irreverent Dance seemed to offer the sort of positive experiences and environments in physical activity that we were looking to learn from, in its challenging and alternative approaches to dance teaching and practice.

At the risk of starting on a negative point, traditional ballet teaching styles and spaces have often been considered a little exclusionary or marginalising of body sizes and shapes that don’t fit the expected in ballet. Amanda from Irreverent Dance writes here about her perspective on these aspects of ballet and why it is important to challenge them.

While there are many valuable things to say about the teaching styles found in Irreverent Dance, this piece (and the research behind it) concentrates on how the teachers and dancers worked to create a community – in and out of the studio and also online – that supported everyone in that space developing a greater sense of their own body capabilities: that is, how body positivity was encouraged. This idea, body positivity, is highlighted by Irreverent Dance in its promotional material as a central goal. Body positivity is becoming a popular idea that might counter the marginalising of anyone outside the norm. As a goal in sport and physical activity it could be useful alongside well-being, pleasure and other social or personal outcomes. So how does it work in practice? What do teachers or coaches need to do?

We sat in on some Irreverent Dance ballet classes and a showcase, and interviewed dancers and teachers, to find out what body positivity meant to them and how it was developed. Three things stood out to us:

1. Celebrating bodily capability

There was a high level of celebration of what bodies can do. This sense of achievement was expressed both in relation to specific ballet technique and in terms of general physical ability. Irreverent Dancers were able to develop their dancing ability at a pace they were comfortable with, progressing gradually through ballet grades and repeating terms if they wished. Even if the moves were not reproduced in a textbook fashion, the developments that learners had made were much more important. The learners’ reflections suggest that their understandings of the body as ‘not capable’ of doing something might have arisen in previous dance or movement experiences. Learners were instead actively encouraged to think ‘I can’ in Irreverent Dance. As a result, many felt that they could now own the identity of dancer. The community of Irreverent Dance worked hard to create a ‘freeing’ space, with a commitment to inclusion, respect and not judging others. From the first class, learners were asked to treat others and, importantly, themselves, in a positive manner.

2. Committing to gender neutrality

Alongside body positivity, another vital element of Irreverent Dance that appeared to have been built into the environment of the school was gender neutrality. Boundaries of gender in sport and physical activity are usually quite deep seated – separate competitions and classes for men and women, and distinct deals of masculine and feminine appearance or comportment. Irreverent Dance notes that traditional ballet expectations that men and women wear different outfits, different colours, do different dances and take on distinct roles can be quite limiting and normalising. Elements of dance that have typically gendered boundaries were addressed: for example, men were invited to learn to dance en pointe if they wished. Dancers commented that their perception of what their bodies could do developed positively, when heteronormative and cisnormative boundaries (in dance movement and performance) were eliminated.

3. Challenging ballet norms

A central element in the learning and community of ID was deconstructing ballet’s gender boundaries; challenging dominant notions about what gendered ballet bodies look like, what they should do and what progress must be made. Some learners reflected on how they had been looking for a dance class that would suit their ‘uncoordinated’, ‘geeky back of the class loner’ or ‘fat’ bodies. Ballet norms in the sense of technical requirements, language, music and dress styles were recognized but with gender norms being challenged or even removed, this meant that learners who would previously have not had access to ballet could find a space that was safe and positive for them.

Committing to these positions in a dance school might take a lot of work, as dancer habits can be difficult to shake off and the broader culture of ballet still promotes traditional and restrictive movements, clothing, and so on. By working together to ensure a respectful community, learning about having a positive attitude to your own and others’ bodies, identity and physical capabilities has become an integral part of Irreverent Dance, not just learning about ballet itself. In a way, this means that dancers can just learn about ballet, without worrying about how they fit in (or don’t).

My thanks again to the members of Irreverent Dance who shared their experiences.

Theoretically, this paper uses Bourdieu’s ideas of habitus and field to explore how Irreverent Dance and Dancers crossed, transformed or shifted boundaries of physical capability, gender and dance. We developed a methodology based on appreciative inquiry, a strengths-based, as opposed to deficits-based, approach to creating change.

Abstract

Boundaries around normative embodiments in physical cultures can be exclusionary if one’s embodied identity does not ‘fit’. Normative boundaries are particularly marked in codified forms of dance such as ballet. Moves towards body positivity aim to challenge these normative boundaries by redefining what dancers’ bodies can look like and how they should move. This paper stems from an appreciative inquiry undertaken with one such project, a gender-neutral, LGBTQ friendly adult ballet school in the UK; a subcultural context that marks itself as distinct from broader cultures of dance. Interviews with learners are analysed through a Bourdieuian lens to explore the construction and maintenance of a body-positive subculture. Findings suggest that boundaries of ability were crossed, with celebration of all bodies’ capabilities, and boundaries of normative gender expression were transformed through a commitment to gender-neutrality and LGBTQ-friendly behaviours. However, boundaries around technical and aesthetic norms, while shifted or challenged, ultimately remained in place.

New baby (blog vacation Autumn 2015)

Introducing my daughter Beatrix Ruby who arrived 26th August. While I take care of her I will be having a blogging vacation for a few months. There will be a couple of scheduled posts about my recent publications and research. Thanks for reading, catch you later!

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Visual methods with young people: encouraging creativity or bad photography?

I have just seen my final paper from my PhD project be accepted for publication, which offers me a chance to reflect back on the five publications that project prompted (all linked to at the end of this piece). It was a visual ethnography with secondary school students over one academic year, with students creating photo diaries of their engagement in physical activity (and also what they do when they are not active). The creative and participatory elements of this methodology gave me plenty to write about in these publications and I noted the additional insight into young people’s worlds that a photography project can provide – especially their lives outside of school or otherwise beyond the ethnographic site where we cannot physically go. I was also keen to share the participants’ photos as much as possible by reproducing representative pictures alongside the interview data we generated in talking about the photos and the participants’ experiences of physical activity. It felt important to share because this was something that the participants put time into making – and perhaps in some way it would work to deprivilege words in academic publication.

Participatory methods are often active or creative, and work to engage participants in the research process (Enright and O’Sullivan, 2012); they are a part of listening to and privileging student voice over doing research ‘on’ young people. For Gauntlett and Holzwarth (2006), visual creative methods are enabling, reflective, and a good starting point for examining identity and self.

What happens if participants engage with these methods but aren’t particularly … creative? What are we really looking for, something pretty or artistic or evocative?

There were indeed many wonderful photographs created by my participants, who wanted and were able to tell a story with or through their images. Examples include the boy I called Mitesh in Hill (2013 and 2015) who brought back more than 50 photos of his attempts in PE and out-of-school play to work on a body that would provide him with more status. It was really easy to decide to share some of these photos to add emotion to his verbal explanations. The visual was really powerful.

If this doesn’t happen, should we not bother reproducing the images in our publications?

In this project, of a total 539 photos created by the 25 participants, I received 78 photos of empty spaces, 75 photos of objects, and 112 self-portraits or snaps of friends. Many of them would not go in a photo album nor would they be chosen for an art exhibition. In short, they are not ‘great photography’.

Collectively, they contribute to telling stories about these young people’s engagement with and access to physical activity, its importance to them and how they try to fit it into their lives alongside school work, visiting family, relaxing with friends, worship and helping out at home. This side of the story showed that finding time for physical activity was difficult; it also showed that taking photos during physical activity is not always possible; and importantly the ‘storyless’ photos prompted some participants to explain that this was not all they did – they were able to talk about their other activities that the photos did not show. Photos in that sense provided elicitation, prompting further ‘feelings and memories’ as Douglas Harper has discussed (2002, p. 13).

I think the risk is that the ‘boring’ images that are not shared become the story not told, the hidden elements of the research project, and we might find ourselves at risk of not telling the whole story, simply because the data itself has little to ‘show’. This is obviously something that can happen with other forms of qualitative data, with mundane accounts or short answers possible in interviews. But I feel that there is still something to prove with creative methods, something that needs displaying to prove they are worthwhile forms of data generation, in the face of scepticism. I want to be proud of the project as a whole and that means reproducing elements of the data, not hiding it because my 13 year old participants had bad photography skills. In a journal publication where reproduction of four or five images might be possible, how do we make choices about what to show? If you claim to have used visual methods, but only reproduce the text or verbal data, that might render readers disappointed or confused as to what the visual data were for. In order not to privilege verbal accounts over visual, even if they are contradictory or less … instantly valuable? … the visual should, in my view, be shared.

Perhaps ultimately, this reflection contributes to calls for accessible datasets – provided we have ethically prepared for this – to let viewers see for themselves. Leonard and McKnight (2014, p. 2) highlight that the ‘seemingly mundane’ image is open to interpretation and might be seen differently by different viewers (citing Pink, 2007).

All data reproduction, whether from qualitative or quantitative projects, is a manipulation of the whole that will always involve some level of subjective decision making on what and how to present snippets of data in publication. In analysing and sharing data, researchers distill, shorten, concentrate, categorise – however you would like to call it – meaning that even the bad photography should be chosen if it contributes to emphasising the story or the decisions you’ve made for that publication.

References

Enright, E., & O’Sullivan, M. (2012). “Producing different knowledge and producing knowledge differently”: rethinking physical education research and practice through participatory visual methods. Sport, Education and Society, 17(1), 35–55.

Gauntlett, D., & Holzwarth, P. (2006). Creative and visual methods for exploring identities. Visual Studies, 21(1), 82–91.

Harper, D. (2002). Talking about pictures: a case for photo elicitation. Visual Anthropology, 17(1), 13–26.

Leonard, M., & McKnight, M. (2014). Look and tell: using photo-elicitation methods with teenagers. Children’s Geographies, 1–14. doi:10.1080/14733285.2014.887812

Pink, S. (2007). Doing visual ethnography: Images, media and representation in research. 2nd ed. London: Sage.

The five publications from this project

Hill, J. and Azzarito, L. (2012). Representing valued bodies in PE: a visual inquiry with British Asian girls. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 17(3), 263-276.
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17408989.2012.690381#.U5yyKfldWSo

Hill, J. (2013). Rejecting the weak Asian body: boys visualising strong masculinities. In L. Azzarito & D. Kirk (Eds.). Physical Culture, Pedagogies and Visual Methods, 76-91. Abingdon: Routledge. http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415532778/

Hill, J. (2013). Using participatory and visual methods to address power and identity in research with young people. Graduate Journal of Social Sciences, 10(2), 132-151.
http://gjss.org/images/stories/volumes/10/2/GJSS%20Vol%2010-2%20Hill.pdf

Hill, J. (2015) ‘If you miss the ball, you look like a total muppet!’ Boys investing in their bodies in physical education and sport. Sport, Education and Society 20(6), 762-779. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13573322.2013.820695#.U15a1VVdWiw

Hill, J. Girls’ active identities: navigating othering discourses of femininity, bodies and physical education. Gender and Education 27 (6), 666-684. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09540253.2015.1078875#.V2RNQrsrLIU

Writers’ group second session: overcoming hurdles and planning a writing schedule

The second virtual meeting of the writers’ group was this week, opening a new month of writing. We started by recapping our goals for May and whether we had met them. As my goals involved two papers that had fixed deadlines during May, I was happy to report that I had submitted these revisions. One paper has also since been granted final acceptance so I was pleased to see that get to the end.

Discussing whether we had met our goals, we started to talk about hurdles in the way of completing goals or even in the way of writing at all. For me, the end of the teaching year has enabled me to concentrate much more on writing than I can do in term time. Others in the group, however, raised issues that had distracted them or affected their motivation. It was suggested that we have a splinter group aside from the main writing group, in which we could share frustrations! Just a few minutes talking about problems felt therapeutic.

Turning to strategies to help get the writing going, we noted the differences between concentrating for short bursts and trying to sit writing for a whole day. While some people could only get going with a long period of time, others saw the difficulty of arranging long periods and the greater practicality of fitting writing around other demands. In my experience (and supported by the reading about writing that I have been doing lately), a lot of it comes down to planning. This helps to avoid wasted time trying to get into some writing. I can have a designated writing time but if I’ve not planned what I will write during it, I sit doing nothing, staring at the screen or moving bits around. So I have been breaking my to do list into micro pieces that will fit around other jobs.

And so to plans for this month. The meeting was useful for me as it prompted me to think about what I need to get finished this month, as I’ll be on leave for a lot of July. My plans are to have full drafts of two chapters, see a paper that I am second author on sent to journal (it’s very close to done), and try to do the analysis for a further project. There are other jobs also on my bonus list that I won’t feel bad about not completing, but that would help if they are done. By setting some goals and reporting back on them, the group members can have some accountability and hopefully get done what they planned.

Selecting a journal for a publication in a new-to-you field

One of my current projects has taken me outside of my typical academic fields into new territory (early childhood and colouring books). I love reading in this area and really delving into the topic. I don’t have to worry about getting bogged down into reams of literature, or misrepresenting something I read years ago, or getting bored due to over-familiarity. In a way, my lack of knowledge (or my ignorance!) is good for both my motivation and for the writing I will do: I think that I won’t be trying to show off my depth of knowledge and end up with a 20 page literature review, I’ll be happy with focusing on the specifics. Of course, I may end up trying to reinvent the wheel because I’ve missed something vital, or risk upsetting editors and reviewers who are much more grounded in the field than I am. I’ll try to remain aware of that.

Once the research and the resultant paper(s) are ready to make their way to these editors and reviewers, I need to select the journal(s) where I’ll send them. When I first had this thought, I had to stop and think. What on earth would be a good journal? In my own field, I have a fairly good awareness of the range of journals available. I peer review for many of them, and I have a long term publication strategy that is aiming to send my papers to the journals that are right for each paper and that will establish my name in my field. My working knowledge of each journal, and my relationships with editorial staff, mean that choosing a journal in a field I know is not really too difficult. But now I’m encountering a new field (for the meantime anyway – I’m hoping this project will grow and will be guided back into my own fields), a new set of editors, and really just lots of unknowns.

I had to return to the drawing board to think about journals for this new project.

Which journal has the best metrics?

This sprang to mind as the best way to find the “best” journal, initially. I visited the Scientific Journal Ranking (SJR) site and ran a search on journals containing a keyword related to the area my paper is in, “childhood”. For each of the journals this search returned, I made a note of the SJR number (a measure of how many cites the journal receives in a year against how many articles it published in the last three years), the h index (the journal has h papers that have h citations). Then I visited Google Scholar Metrics and ran a similar search; Scholar keeps slightly different metrics including h5-index (the h-index for articles published in the last 5 complete years; it is the largest number h such that h articles published in 2009-2013 have at least h citations each) and h5-median (the median number of citations for the articles that make up its h5-index). I did this to get as full as picture as possible. As well as enabling me to put some sort of ranking on the journals, I was able to see that some journals appear in SJR but not in Scholar. This raised a few questions for me as I wondered whether this would affect how a reference to this journal would be dealt with on my own Scholar page. Would Scholar struggle to find citations to my paper in the future? Would it not include these citations in my own h-index?

For my search, there was a clear “best” journal that had a h index twice as high as the next journal. However, I couldn’t just take that journal as best for my paper. Firstly, I had noticed that a lot of the journals I had found through the SJR searches were only founded in the last 10 years. They had significantly lower metric scores than the more established journals, suggesting to me that metrics (inadvertently or not) favour long-established journals. That makes sense, but doesn’t give us a full picture of the newer journals – what if they are becoming highly regarded? What if they are being highly cited this year (SJR’s most recent data as of 2015 is for 2013)?

So I turned to other ways to find the best journal.

Which journals have I cited in the paper?

This should also be a key factor in choosing the journal, and in my particular search, led to me dismissing some of the higher ranking journals from my SJR and Scholar searches. If you’re trying to publish in a journal whose work you have not engaged with, this will raise questions around why you thought this was a suitable journal. I once heard a journal editor say that one of the first things they do when they receive a submission is look for their journal in your reference list. You need to be engaging in the previous material in the journal in order to show you’re making a contribution to its debates.

On a related point,

Which journal takes topics like yours?

Murray (2005) states that what is acceptable for a journal is, in a way, what’s already been published there – you should be able to meet their conventions but offer something sufficiently new, a clear contribution. The questions you will need to ask yourself include, what do these conventions and new contributions look like for my target journal(s)? What will the audience know about your subject, and if your paper challenges accepted knowledge, what will the audience assume does not need to be questioned?

The clearest place to look is the journal’s aims. There it will outline the remit of the journal and the sort of topics they are interested in. In my case of “childhood” journals, I was looking for key words such as curriculum, representation, social … and steering away from journals that focused on teacher education, policy, cognitive development.

You could then skim recent topics in the journal to see whether your material suits the subject, methodological or theoretical frameworks commonly or recently used (Murray, 2005). This will give more specifics or context to how those journal aims are actually met in practice.

Who are they published by?

Is the journal published by a big publishing house? Does that put you off or encourage you? Have you published through that publisher before and was it a good experience? Do you know whether they promote their new publications, what their website is like for searching and accessing papers? Is the submission site user-friendly? You might personally be encouraged or put off by smaller, or open access, publishers, or online-only journals.

Where do highly regarded people in the field publish?

Check the websites of top-rated departments, or individuals academics you admire, to see where they publish (Murray, 2005). Of course in a new-to-you field you might not know which are the top-rated departments, but if you put any merit on university league tables that filter by department you can find some sort of rankings there.

Who is on the editorial boards?

Among other tips, Becker and Dencolo (2012) suggest looking at the editorial boards for the journals you’re considering – who is there and do you cite any of them? Do you want to work with any of them in the future? You could also drop a line to the editor introducing your paper and ask them whether they think it would be suitable and would welcome your submission.

Get advice from a knowledgeable friend

Talk to a friend or colleague who does work in the chosen field, who could advise on journal prestige (Becker and Denicolo, 2012). They might know more about recently founded journals, those to whom metrics give low scores simply because they are new and haven’t built up years of citations and impact. They might also know which editorial boards and publishers are easy to work with!

Ultimately, I have used a combination of these to help me find the best journal. The decision is not final yet, as there are three journals I’ve short listed. A little more consideration of the journals’ aims, their recent papers, and the take home message from my paper should help. This exercise in examining the journals in this new field has certainly made the way clearer.

I would love to hear your advice for selecting a journal, in comments!

Becker, L. and Denicolo, P. (2012). Publishing journal articles. London: Sage.

Murray, R. (2005). Writing for academic journals. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Writers’ group: the first session

The new writers’ group that I mentioned in my last post had its first meeting just over a week ago.

This was a Skype meeting, and enabled us to introduce ourselves (I only knew one other member before now). We started by discussing what writing we hoped to get done this summer and how that had motivated us to join the writers’ group. As I will be starting maternity leave in August, my aim is to complete a few pieces of analysis and writing, and to leave longer term projects in a tidy state while I am away from work.

We also outlined what this group could do for us and how we might progress over the next few months. Suggestions included regular Skype sessions that include actual writing time; sharing writing to gain feedback; and setting our own targets for the next meeting.

We settled on making targets for our next meeting in early June, at this stage at least, although the group will develop as we go along and see what works. We also decided that at this early stage it is better to have small targets so that we don’t each fall at the first hurdle, having set more than could be managed! So I chose to set myself three things for May: complete paper that was due back with reviewers on 8th May; complete paper due back with reviewers on 18th May; and draw up a list of jobs for the summer. Perhaps it was a cop out to choose things that have specific deadlines this month, but at least I have already completed one and have the other well in hand!

There were also chances for mutual support on the journal submission process, responding to reviewers, and encountering new fields slightly outside what you’re familiar with.

Since the meeting signed off, we have already had an exchange of a couple of pieces of writing – one paper and one set of responses to journal reviewers – so that we could provide a new perspective for another writer.

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