Nicole Brown is a Lecturer in Education at UCL Institute of Education, and a doctoral researcher at the University of Kent. She holds the Magistra Philosophiae, Master of Teaching, Diploma in Translation and is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Nicole is a qualified teacher in Austria and the UK and worked as a secondary teacher of modern foreign languages before moving into higher education. Her research interests relate to identity and body work, physical and material representations and metaphors, the generation of knowledge, and advancing learning and teaching within higher education.

Contact details: Web site: Twitter: @ncjbrown


The self in the classroom: the visual and material in teacher education

I propose an interactive presentation based on my work with trainee teachers.

When teachers and pupils enter the social environment of the classroom their personal histories, experiences, feelings and bodies enter with them. In order to understand the dynamics and developments of and within a classroom setting it is essential to consider the identities of those entering the social realm. As teacher educator I have always seen it my responsibility to make my students aware of the classroom as social environment and of their personal stories they bring to that social environment. I have therefore introduced aspects of symbolic interactionism (Mead, 1967) to the training components of teacher education. Through helping trainee teachers get to know their selves as identities and as social entities, they develop their understanding of their pupils and their pupils' lives. I focus on the fact that human experience derives from bodily experiences (Sheets-Johnstone, 2015), which are translated into metaphorical understanding (Lakoff and Johnson, 2003). Therefore, investigating experiences, emotions and thus identities requires an embodied approach that incorporates the visual, materiality, physical representations and metaphors. In teaching sessions, I regularly ask questions such as "Who are you as a teacher?" or "How do you see yourself as a learner?". Trainee teachers are required to answer these questions with the help of an object that best describes their responses.

In my presentation I will outline the background and context of using visuals and the material to explore identity and social environments, but then move on to discuss the benefits and challenges of such a visual approach within teacher education. Trainee teachers learn to reduce their experiences and feelings to an essence of a phenomenon and then elaborate on that metaphorical representation. This process of reduction and elaboration leads to deeper-level reflections, which, in turn, provides the basis for a better understanding of the classroom context. At the same time, object-based work and sharing experiences through representations allows for the often-marginalised voices to become heard. On the other hand, however, some students struggle to understand this focus on the visual/material as a pedagogic tool or do not consider it as equal in value as debating journal articles, what they see as academic work. In the interactive section of my presentation I will ask conference delegates to get involved through model-making, which would demonstrate the activities undertaken in my teacher education classrooms and would also form the basis for a discussion around the value of creative methods, visual and material representations.

Examples of my work:

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors We Live By. (Reprinted). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviourist. Chicago Ill.: University of Chicago Press.

Sheets-Johnstone, M. (2015). Embodiment on trial: a phenomenological investigation. Continental Philosophy Review48(1), 23-39.