03 SES 03 A, Role of Curriculum Policy Steering Documents
Over years many countries have made significant efforts to reform the school curriculum. Often these reforms are well-designed and have valuable aims. Many researchers argue that teachers are the key to success in curriculum reform (Fullan 2007; Spillane, 1999). Fullan (2007) points out that change is a subjective process in which individual teachers construct personal meanings from the changes they experience. Of key importance is both teachers’ dispositions towards reform, their desire to enact a change, and their ability to do this (Dottin, 2009). It would be assumptive to expect teachers to accept and implement curricula faithfully in a way intended by developers (Park & Sung, 2013). How teachers see their role in relation to educational reform makes a difference to the extent to which initiatives are adopted to become embedded in classroom practice and related routines. Furthermore, there are many well-documented factors that might prevent the implementation of curriculum reform, including systemic issues (Hoyle & Wallace, 2007; Seddon, 2001), lack of support during implementation (Drummond, 2012), burnout (Pyhältö, Pietarinen, & Salmela-Aro, 2011) or how ideologically aligned the rationale of the reform is with teachers’ values and practices (Chan, 2010).
A new primary curriculum has recently been introduced in 30 pilot schools across Kazakhstan (18 urban and 12 rural schools) (NIS AEO Annual Report 2016; McLaughlin et al., 2017). The modernised curriculum is intended to provide children and young people with the optimal knowledge and skills required for the 21st Century.
This paper reports on the second year of a longitudinal research project, started in February 2016, which examines curriculum and assessment reforms of the mainstream education system in Kazakhstan. The objective of the paper is to examine teachers’ efforts in pilot schools to reconstruct their teaching practices and instructional tasks in response to the required implementation of the new primary curriculum.
Extensive literature indicates that teachers’ attitudes towards an innovation, its consequences, and its associated contextual variables are all important in determining implementation (Park & Sung, 2013). This implies that we need to take a systemic view of change which not only considers teachers’ attitudes, but also social norms and perceived behavioural control which is specific to a particular context (ibid. p.28). As Fullan (1985) notes, changes in attitudes, beliefs and understanding generally follow, rather than precede, change in behaviour. Conceptually this paper draws on the Guskey’s (1989, 2002) Model of Teacher Change and on the Spillane’s (1999) construct of teachers’ zone of enactment. According to the Model of Teacher Change, significant change in teachers’ attitudes and beliefs occurs primarily after they gain evidence of improvement in student learning. These improvements typically result from changes teachers have made in their classroom practices – a new instructional approach, the use of new curricular materials, or simply a modification in teaching procedures or classroom format (Guskey 2002). However, the potency of reform initiatives in encouraging teachers to change the core of their practice, as Spillane (1999) claims, depended in a significant way on each teacher’s enactment zone. This refers to that space ‘where reform initiatives are encountered by the world of practitioners and “practice”, delineating that zone in which teachers notice, construe, construct and operationalise the instructional ideas advocated by reformers’ (Spillane, 1999:144).
The following research questions are central to this paper:
- What have been the key changes in teaching approaches in primary schools as a result of implementation of the new curriculum?
- How do teachers understand new approaches? How do teachers modify their teaching practices?
- What challenges do teachers face?
A case study approach, informed by hermeneutic inquiry (Palmer 1969), is adopted as the research methodology. According to Palmer, ‘hermeneutics as methodology of interpretation for the humanities is a derivative from resting as and growing out of the primary ontological function of interpreting’ (Palmer 1969:130). Importantly, case studies allow for the possibility that different variable may be occurring in a single case (Yin, 2014), and that the context in which the case is studies can be a decisive element impacting on both causes and effects (Cohen et al., 2011). The research data used for this paper were collected during two phases. The first phase was undertaken in September 2017. The team visited six schools form a subset of the 30 schools currently piloting the new State Mandatory Standard for Primary Education. Different types of schools from southern, western and central regions of Kazakhstan were represented by a rural and an urban location in each location. During the first phase seven semi-structured interviews were conducted with school principals and vice principals, in addition, 17 focus groups with primary school teachers of grade 1 to grade 4 were undertaken. In total, the research team met with 68 participants. The key questions were asked the participants teachers to describe how they understand and how they have implemented the new curriculum reform, what changes in their teaching practice and school curriculum were caused by the reform, and what difficulties, dilemmas and obstacles they have experienced during implementation. After the recoded files were transcribed and coded in NVivo 10, a thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006) was used to identify themes emerging from the data. The qualitative researcher focused on interpreting and understanding the patterns of teachers’ perceptions on the implementation of the new curriculum and examples of transformation of classroom practices. Furthermore, a survey was also distributed during visits to the same six schools to those teaching grades 1 to 4. This generated qualitative and quantitative data through a mix of open and closed questions to result in 87 responses. The second phase will be undertaken in the same locations and the same six schools including a mixed methods research design in March 2018. The evidence from both phases will be critically analysed for the paper and presented in September 2018.
Data collected during phase one from interviews and focus groups show a significant shift in pedagogical thinking, instructional practices and teachers’ skills. There are a lot of differences from the previous teaching conventions. As part of learning activities, the new curriculum incorporates group work and exercises in the form of games. Working in teams can improve the learning performance due to the competition between groups and self and peer assessment. In most cases, the curriculum was found to be interesting but the preparation of lessons takes too much time. There are a lot of things to look for on the Internet and print but it is not possible to do in schools because of a limited internet connection, especially in rural locations. There is a lack of didactic material. Teachers have challenges with the curriculum, mainly due to inconsistencies between the curriculum and textbooks. The research evidence highlighted some elements of a ‘hidden’ curriculum where teachers continue to include things traditionally present rather than stick to the intended curriculum. The survey showed there were clear changes in practice due to the introduction of the new curriculum with the majority of teachers in some grades saying they had altered their practices ‘a lot’ or ‘totally’. This occurred mainly in those teaching grades 1 and 2 rather than those in grade 4 who have not started using the new curriculum yet. Teachers entering their third year of teaching (grade 3) gave far more positive reactions to the new curriculum that teachers just starting out with it. Hence, it seems that it takes time for teachers to become accommodated and once they have changed their practices and seen year-on-year changes in their students they are endorsing the new curriculum.
Braun, V. and V. Clarke (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3 (2), 83. Chan, J. K. S. (2010). Teachers’ responses to curriculum policy implementation: Colonial constraints for curriculum reform. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 9(2), 93-106. Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2011). Research Methods in Education (7th ed.) London & New York: Routledge. Dottin, E. S. (2009). Professional judgment and dispositions in teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(1), 83-88. Drummond, A. (2012). The Australian Curriculum: Excellence or equity. A rural perspective [online]. Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, 22(3), 73-85. Fullan, M. (2007) The New Meaning of Educational Change. Fourth Edition. New York: Teachers College Press. Fullan, M., P.Hill, and C. Crevola (2006). Breakthrough. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Guskey, T.R. (2002). Professional Development and Teacher Change. Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, 8(3), 381-391. Guskey, T.R. (1999). Attitude and perceptual change in teachers, International Journal of Educational Research, 13(4), 439-453. Hargreaves, A. (2005) (Ed.). Extending educational change. Dordrecht: Springer. Kinsella, E. A. (2006). Hermeneutics and Critical Hermeneutics: Exploring possibilities within the art of interpretation. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 7(3), Art. 19. McLaughlin, C., Winter, L., Kurakbayev, K., Kambatyrova, A., Ramazanova, A., Torrano, D. (2017). Introduction of the new curriculum, pedagogy and assessment in primary schools (grade 1) in Kazakhstan. Paper presented at annual European Education Research Association conference, Copenhagen. 23 August 2017. NIS AEO (2016). Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools AEO Annual Report for 2016. Part 2, Astana. Palmer, R.E. (1969). Hermeneutics. Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer. Northwestern University Press. Evanston. Pyhältö, K., Pietarinen, J., & Salmela-Aro, K. (2011). Teacher–working-environment fit as a framework for burnout experienced by Finnish teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27(7), 1101-1110. Smith, J.A. (2007). Hermeneutics, human sciences and health: linking theory and practice. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well Being, 2, 3–11. Spillane, J.P. (1999). External reform initiatives and teachers’ efforts to reconstruct their practice: the mediating role of teachers’ zones of enactment. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 31(2), 143-175. Yin, R.K. (2014). Case Study Research. Design and Methods. Fifth edition. Sage
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