Assessment can be viewed as an important message system in the classroom. It communicates to students the knowledge and skills that are to be acquired and realised. Inherent to this role, assessment conveys to students in a powerful manner what is actually valued in the subject by the expert holder (i.e. assessors and teachers), often shaping how the subject may be perceived and influencing how they engage and learn in the subject. Assessment in itself is a complex social activity. Teachers transmit differentiated messages to students when they select knowledge and skills to be assessed. Students on the other hand interpret these messages differently and realise the transmitted discourses in different ways. How these pedagogical messages are transmitted, interpreted and realised may engender profound pedagogic and social consequences. While various literature discuss and comment on some of the consequences of assessment, there is limited empirical data that provides a detail explication of the micro-interactional practices of assessment in the classroom that give rise to some of the consequences.
Drawing on Basil Bernstein’s sociology of education knowledge structures and classroom pedagogy, this dissertation examines how Physical Education (PE) discourses are reproduced in the classroom through assessment and considers the pedagogic and social consequences engendered through this process. Data were collected from two PE teachers (who were both teaching a Senior PE class and a middle year Health and Physical Education class) and four students from each of their classes (sixteen students in total). Therefore this study not only sought to draw insights from the comparison of the micro-interactional practices between two unique classes within a particular phase of learning but also across the two different phases of learning. The data were analysed and interpreted from an interpretivist standpoint and the primary data collection methods included text analysis, questionnaire survey, semi-structured interviews, and non-participant field observations.
The study highlighted the dominant discourses that were enacted in the field through the teacher research participants. The research data showed that the discourses that were transmitted and acquired may not be in alignment with the officially intended discourses. Factors such as the presence/absence of systemic accountability structures, school’s priorities, and teachers’ embodied identities exerted significant influence on what discourses and how they were transmitted through assessment. On the other hand, factors such as the organisation of pedagogic codes, students’ prior socialisation in the subject and their social-affective dispositions played an influential role in the acquisition and realisation of PE discourses. Research data also showed that when assessment was not employed in an efficacious manner and was disconnected with the intended curricula objectives, students felt that little learning had occurred and came to perceive the subject as being educationally irrelevant. The way in which assessment was enacted not only influenced the transmission and realisation of PE discourses, but also brought forth social implications through the transmission of various subtle but powerful messages about the value of the subject, students’ ability as well as their placement within the subject field if not the larger social context. However assessment did not have the same impact (both intended and unintended) on every unique individual student and depended on a variety of factors such as students’ perceived ability, dispositions and the perceived stakes involved. The thesis concluded with some recommendations for practice drawn from the insights gained from this research.