ERG SES G 06, Primary Education
In many countries all over the world, teachers have become objects of calls for reform towards greater adoption of inquiry-based science curricula. Their strategic role as primary agents of the curriculum paves the way for bringing in or accentuating particular approaches to science teaching and student learning in formal school settings. More often than not, however, the actual strategies employed in the classroom are not aligned with the policy recommendations. Indeed, school surveys have indicated that the appropriation of mandated inquiry approaches remains problematic. And teachers have been rather unwittingly implicated in this failure.
How then can primary science teachers be supported in shifting their teaching towards a more inquiry-oriented approach? To answer this complicated question, we found it necessary to first explore the meanings our local community of primary school teachers attaches to the idea of inquiry science teaching. We thus explored the variations in teachers’ positioning towards the curricular mandate in the context of their practice, guided by the following research questions: (1) What do primary teachers reveal about what inquiry-based science teaching means to them? (2) How do primary teachers construct their positions on making their practice more inquiry-oriented?
Science classrooms possess incumbent relations to collective knowledge and discourses, structuring resources, and norms of participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Decentering school reform entails taking a relational and responsive view that considers teachers’ location with respect to students, other teachers, the syllabus and other pedagogical texts, and teaching practices, to name a few. Consequently it means understanding how teachers assume their subjectivities as these are shaped dialogically with social and political others – What voices do they embody or resist in becoming teachers of inquiry science? Such an understanding could help create a more accurate picture of teachers’ experiences in appropriating a curricular reform and more productively grounding the kind of support that could be offered them in the midst of their practice.
Our study is an attempt to foreground teacher agency while describing how teachers purposefully work within, or around, real and felt constraints to actively engage students in inquiry science. The enactment process of an inquiry curriculum begins with the teachers’ serious and involved consideration of, or imagining, the intersections of policy imperatives, the contextual features of classrooms, and their personal characteristics. This reflection may also require a purposeful resolution of the ensuing problems of will, sense-making, and capability (Lefstein, 2008).
The relational view of teacher’s practice that we adopt is based on the Bakhtinian concept of the dialogical self as a dynamic multiplicity of positions (Hermans, 2001). Bakhtin asserted that within a person’s consciousness is a multiplicity of consciousnesses that mutually and constantly engaged in dialogue. In constructing multiple positions, teachers draw from the assortment of discourses on science teaching and learning available to their community. A teachers’ sense of community basically stems from an awareness of its culture, allowing one to pinpoint ways in which his/her own practices and valuing are simultaneously similar to, and/or different from others’ (Hyland, 2012). We conceive of positioning (Davies & Harré, 1990) as a meso-level process in which teachers locate themselves “as observably and subjectively coherent participants in jointly produced story-lines” (p. 48). That is, teachers’ articulation about the new curriculum and its perceived impact on teaching practices can be read as indexing particular subjectivities and positions as ‘teachers of primary science,’ which dialogically influence certain features of their professional contexts.
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