Teachers’ practical knowledge and lesson design in the context of innovation
This project is situated within the context of an innovation of the biology curriculum in Dutch secondary schools. The main purposes are (1) to clarify the relation between teachers’ practical knowledge and the decisions they make when planning and implementing their lessons and (2) to develop a professional development model to support teachers when they design innovative lessons.
- drs. Nienke Wieringa - PhD candidate
- prof.dr. J.H. van Driel (Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne) - supervisor
- dr. F.J.J.M. Janssen - co-supervisor
Social and scientific relevance
There is an international trend in science education towards context-based approaches. If concepts are taught in relationship to real-world contexts, science education is expected to become more meaningful, relevant and motivating for students. In biology education in the Netherlands an innovation process towards context-based education is currently taking place.
Teachers play a key role in the current innovation process, as is the case in any educational innovation, when they make their own interpretation of the reform while they design and implement their lessons. In order to be able to understand, predict and influence the outcomes of this process, it is needed to study the relation between teachers’ practical knowledge and their design of innovative lessons. Former research has shown that designing context-based education is perceived as being difficult, for many reasons. Therefore, the development of an effective professional development model is needed.
- What is the relation between biology teachers' practical knowledge and their design of innovative lessons?
- How do the personal rules-of-thumb that biology teachers use when designing their lessons relate to formal innovative goals and lesson characteristics?
- How can goal system theory be used to understand and predict changes in teachers’ knowledge within the context of curriculum reform?
- What are characteristics of a professional development model that effectively supports teachers who design innovative, context-based, biology lessons for their own classroom practice?
Case studies of biology teachers who design innovative lessons:
- Thinking aloud protocols
- Lesson observations
- Document analysis
Design and enactment of a professional development project using design research methodology.
Case studies of biology teachers participating in the professional development project:
- (laddering) interviews
- Goal system analysis
- Document analysis
What is the relation between biology teachers' practical knowledge and their design of innovative lessons?
The first results of the study revealed that teachers, when designing innovative lessons, think in terms of personal rules-of-thumb. These personal rules-of-thumb were more powerful in determining the lesson design than formal innovative goals and lesson characteristics. The results also showed that the personal rules-of-thumb were connected to goals the teachers set for themselves and for their students. These goals, such as 'activating prior knowledge', 'showing the relevance of the subject matter', 'creating a good working atmosphere in the classroom' or 'offering students a variety of activities' appeared to be hierarchically related. This finding brought us to the concept of goal hierarchies, which has been developed in the field of cognitive psychology. Goal systems theory has, to our knowing, not been systematically applied to the study of teacher knowledge before.
How do the personal rules-of-thumb that biology teachers use when designing their lessons relate to formal innovative goals and lesson characteristics?
Teachers’ personal rules-of-thumb conflict with innovative goals and lesson characteristics. The manner of this conflict and the outcomes differed among individual teachers, but also some general conclusions can be drawn. The teachers in our study did not feel that the use of authentic, complex contexts would help them work toward the outcomes they intended their lessons to have. The teachers in this study mainly aimed at motivating and activating students and enlarging conceptual understanding. Only the more experienced designers of context-based lessons aimed at increasing the relevance of their teaching, enhancing conceptual coherence, and having students learn about specific contexts and specific ways of thinking and acting while stimulating their personal development.
How can goal system theory be used to understand and predict changes in teachers’ knowledge within the context of curriculum reform?
Teachers’ rules-of-thumb appear to be strongly linked to intended outcomes. Goal systems can be used to represent the hierarchical relationships between teachers’ goals and their teaching practice. In our project, we used the technique of laddering to construct biology teachers’ goal systems. The question was posed whether those goal systems could help to understand and predict changes in teachers’ knowledge during the course of a professional development program. It was concluded that within a goal system, teachers’ central goals – which are defined as goals with two or more links to either higher or lower ranking goals – strongly influenced teachers’ interpretation and implementation. To a slightly lesser extent, negative links – i.e. goals that obstruct or contradict each other - could also be used to predict and influence teachers’ learning processes.
What are characteristics of a professional development model that effectively supports teachers who design innovative, context-based biology lessons for their own classroom practice?
In this project, a professional development project was designed using the following design principles:
- Focus on the design and enactment of lessons within teachers’ own classroom practice
- Link up with teachers’ own goals, concerns and practical knowledge
- Use a specific design tool and offer it on need-to-know basis to enhance the instrumentality of the reform
- Model preferred instructional practices
- Enable and stimulate teachers to work together in the wider context
The results of this study will be published shortly.
The insights gained from this study have found their way to the teacher training program, as well as to the design of professional development activities.
- Wieringa, N., Janssen, F., & Van Driel, J. (2009, September). Biology teachers as designers of context-based lessons. Paper presented at the ESERA Conference, Istanbul.
- Wieringa, N. (2011). Teachers’ educational design as a process of reflection-in-action: the lessons we can learn from Donald Schön’s The Reflective Practitioner when studying the professional practice of teachers as educational designers. Curriculum Inquiry, 41(1), 167-174.
- Wieringa, N., Janssen, F., & Van Driel, J. (2011). Biology teachers designing context -based lessons for their classroom practice - the importance of rules-of-thumb . International Journal of Science Education, 33(17), 2437-2462.
- Wieringa, N., Janssen, F., De Hullu, E. & Van Driel, J. (2012, September). The practical knowledge of biology teachers who learn to design context-based lessons. Paper presented at the ERIDOB Conference, Berlin.
- Wieringa, N., Janssen, F., & Van Driel, J. (2013). Het gebruik van doelsystemen om de interpretatie en implementatie van concept-contextonderwijs door biologiedocenten te begrijpen. Pedagogische Studiën, 90, 37-55.