Source: Journal Science Teacher Education, Volume 24, Issue 5, August 2013, p. 859–877.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This study aimed to explore the influence of Singapore teachers’ beliefs on enacting new curricular content. Furthermore, as an attempt to address the gap in learning study literature, the authors also wanted to explore how the teachers’ beliefs changed and in turn prepared them to deal with new curricular initiatives.
The authors employed phenomenographic methods of analysis to capture the different ways the teachers experienced their own learning.
The participants were four Grade 9–10 biology teachers, who assigned to a professional development program to encourage teachers to work collaboratively to improve their teaching practices; based on the subject and grade level/s taught. During this program, they collaboratively planed and taught new genetics content.
Data were collected through classroom observations, written descriptions of the research lessons and meeting notes; authors’ field notes; Genetics Questionnaire, teacher reflective journal entries (from all four teachers) and interviews; and student pre- and posttests.
The outcome of the analysis resulted in capturing three ways the participating teachers experienced their own learning.
(1) Increased Degrees of Student-Centered Pedagogy and Challenges to Teachers’ Prior Assumptions about Science Pedagogy
According to the teachers, organizing the lessons around an object of student learning encouraged them to focus on the development of a student capability.
Focusing on the object of student learning empowered the teachers to move away from an over-reliance on curricular content. In gaining greater clarity on what they wanted students to learn, the teachers centered their classroom instruction on student learning.
(2) Increased Awareness of Possibilities and Limitations of their Beliefs about Science Pedagogy
At the beginning of the study, the teachers expressed good biology learning as students developing the capability to establish links between different concepts and topics. The teachers believed that this could help students cope with large amounts of biological ‘‘facts’’.
The teachers also centered their classroom instruction on developing students’ capabilities, and focused on helping student learn content differently as opposed to merely learning more content. All these reflected the teachers’ empowerment to enact increased degrees of student-centered pedagogy. The teacher learning experiences captured in this study also suggest the potential of generative learning. Thus, the learning experiences of the participating teachers may be viewed as precursors for learning beyond the learning study context.
(3) Emergence of New Understandings about New Curricular Content and Science Pedagogy
Through the learning study discourse, the teachers also gained new understandings of new curricular content and science pedagogy. Formerly, the teachers’ classroom instruction appeared to be centered on students’ mastery of curricular content. However, the post-study interviews revealed that apart from learning more content, the teachers have gained an appreciation that the outcome of genetics can also be expressed in terms of student learning content differently. According to the teachers, the patterns of variation provided the students a different way of learning curricular content related to mutation and gene expression.
In transcending a transmission pedagogy that largely focuses on content mastery, the teachers also extended their own learning beyond the learning study: different experiences of the learning study were documented as good pedagogical practices to be incorporated into the teachers’ teaching practices. These included the application of a theory to promote new ways of organizing student learning activities, collaborative planning of lessons focusing on an object of learning, using pre-tests to ascertain students’ pre-understandings, and the use of systematic variations in teaching.
Finally, the experiences of teacher learning manifested as changes in the teachers’ beliefs.
It appears that focusing on (1) the object of student learning, (2) student pre-understandings, (3) skills students should develop, and (4) the outcomes of students learning biology promoted the teachers’ reflection on broader ideas around (1) what constituted good biology learning and teaching, (2) student learning processes and (3) what was worth teaching.
In the context of this study, instances suggesting the occurrences of generative learning comprise: the teachers frequently expressing their intentions to adapt their new experiences into their teaching practices. The experiences include focusing on the object of student learning and determining the curricular flow.
The potential of transforming the challenges of curriculum reforms into contexts for teacher learning has been suggested through this Singapore case of learning study. The authors propose viewing teacher beliefs not only as reactions towards curricular innovations, but that the reshaping of these beliefs also constitute teacher learning; teacher learning supported by collaboration, teacher classroom research, and a theory-framed discourse that focuses on enhancing student learning.