Middle Schooling in a Traditional High School : Reconceptualising Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment for New Times
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The study investigates an instance of policy reform as it was enacted in a secondary school. It is situated in the nexus of two challenges facing contemporary secondary schools: engaging diverse cohorts of early adolescents in learning and transforming secondary schools into organisations of the future. It investigates teacher experiences of planning a transdisciplinary curriculum, forging professional learning communities and facilitating authentic assessment tasks conceptualised as evidence of knowledge in action during the implementation of a particular reform called the New Basics Framework. The aim of the reform was to set up generative conditions at the school level for transforming schools into futures‐oriented learning organisations. A related aim, specific to secondary schools, was to provide early adolescents with learning experiences that were intellectually challenging and connected to the real world. Central to the reform was the notion of transdisciplinarity that underpinned curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and social relationships. This particular reform, therefore, provided an appropriate lens with which to study the challenges facing secondary schools in the new millennium. There is a dearth of research on transdisciplinarity and futures‐oriented education in secondary schools and the current study aims to address this gap. Drawing on the literature of early adolescent education and secondary school reform, the study builds on recent research that shows a growing convergence between middle schooling principles and the characteristics of learning required in contemporary times. It advances the argument that middle schooling practices such as transdisciplinary curriculum, collaborative teams and flexible use of time and space are needed in secondary schools if they are to become effective learning organisations in the knowledge society. The theoretical framework used was developed specially for the study by bringing together a number of binary categories from Bernstein’s (1971, 1977, 1990, 2000) corpus of theoretical work: vertical/horizontal discourse; instructional/regulative discourse; official/local pedagogic identities; prospective/therapeutic pedagogic identities; performance‐based/competence‐based pedagogic models; and collection/integrated knowledge codes. These binary categories, when amalgamated in a single framework and applied to the tensions manifested in the teacher accounts, offered me a language of description and analysis as well as the necessary conceptual frames to investigate the contradictions inherent in contemporary educational reform and the disjuncture between policy and practice. The study draws on the methodologies of case study and ethnography. As a case study, it investigates the enactment of a particular reform in a particular school. However, it is also partly ethnographic due to its emphasis on the lived experiences of teachers. Research has identified teachers as key players in the implementation of reform initiatives. Despite this, teacher voices are often marginalised or silenced during the implementation and appraisal of reforms. The study has deliberately chosen to foreground teacher voices in order to understand the factors that help and/or hinder the work of teachers during the implementation of mandated reform. The practitioner‐researcher held an insider status in the case study school as a teacher. Her insider status is a key strength of this study. The richness of the interview data can be attributed to the fact that teachers were responding to the questions not only as research participants but also as colleagues. Three key findings emerged in the study. The first finding was that cultural changes in a secondary school are constrained by the absence of necessary structural changes. The study advances the argument that the adoption of key middle schooling principles may be a pre‐requisite for reconceptualising secondary schools for the future. The second finding was that frequent opportunities for interaction and communication among teachers are necessary for the development of common goals and collective responsibility for student learning. The third finding was that pedagogy in early secondary classrooms is mediated by the identities assumed by teachers and by their beliefs on adolescents and adolescent‐responsive education. The retention of subject‐based division of curriculum, time and labour was found to hinder the development of a transdisciplinary curriculum, communicative practices among teachers and professional learning communities across subject departments. A number of implications for research, practice and policy were identified during this study. First, there is an identified need for research‐based practice in school contexts. Teachers engaged with transformational reform need conceptual frames to guide dialogue and reflection. Second, teachers in secondary schools need supportive cultures and professional learning in order to develop collaborative practices across subject departments. Third, policies that aim at transformational change in schools need to address the structuring of teachers’ work. Failing to do so can result in teachers taking pragmatic decisions during the enactment of reform. In conclusion, the study shows that teachers are the lynchpin in the enactment of reform. Hence, investigating and understanding teacher practice is important. The teachers’ accounts in the study highlight the diversity in their lived experiences and the gap between the rhetoric of reform and the realities of practice.
Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Doctor of Education (EdD)
School of Education and Professional Studies
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