03 SES 16 A, Curriculum Implementation and Teachers' Roles
In Portugal, there have been two major reforms guided by curriculum flexibility policies – one in 2001, and another one that is being implemented by the current government. In the 2001 reform, teachers were not involved in curriculum design at the macro level. In the current reform, teacher associations were asked by the Ministry of Education to develop the Essential Learning Standards to be attained by every student, a ‘Common Curriculum Denominator’ for each subject/subject area of primary and secondary education.
The need to involve teachers in curriculum design has been suggested in the literature, particularly in the second half of the 20th century, following curriculum reforms whose implementation was unsuccessful (McKinney & Westbury, 1975; Stenhouse, 1975; Green, 1980; Elliott, 1994). In the 1980s, this involvement was achieved in the elaboration of curriculum development projects in schools in conjunction with the national curricula created at that time (Skilbeck, 1984). Studies have demonstrated the difficulties experienced by teachers in the elaboration of these projects given that they lack the necessary skills and knowledge (Eggleston, 1980; Roldão & Almeida, 2018).
Studies have also shown that teachers, by collaborating in curriculum design, develop skills, knowledge, and a shared operational understanding of curriculum reform, which can create an appropriation dynamics, making its implementation more real (Elizondo-Montemayor et al., 2008; Huizinga, Handelzalts, Nieveen & Voogt, 2014).
Thus, we need to better understand the difficulties experienced by teachers so they can be provided with the necessary support to make curriculum development more effective (Craig 2009; Handelzalts 2009).
The curriculum flexibility reform that has recently been implemented in Portugal is an opportunity to perceive the difficulties experienced by teachers in designing curricula. The current reform is aimed at redefining the curriculum of primary and secondary education through the construction of a curriculum framework based, on the one hand, on the definition of the student profile at the end of compulsory education (SP) (Perfil dos alunos à saída da escolaridade obrigatória, ME, 2017) in terms of skills and values; and, on the other hand, on the definition of Essential Core Curriculum, a Common Curriculum Denominator for every student guided by the SP and coordinated in the horizontal and vertical curriculum plans (Roldão, Peralta & Martins, 2017).
Essential Core Curriculum are curriculum documents aimed at planning, implementing, and evaluating teaching and learning results, and intended to promote the development of the competence areas defined in the SP.
The component of the curriculum benchmark called Essential Core Curriculum defines targets in terms of knowledge, capabilities and attitudes – throughout curricular progression – clearly stating (in the words of the Directorate-General for Education):
‘– what students should know (the contents of structured subject knowledge, which are indispensable, conceptually linked, relevant, and significant);
– the cognitive processes they must activate to acquire such knowledge (operations/actions necessary to learn);
– the associated know-how (showing what has been learned) in a given subject – in its specificity and in the horizontal link between knowledge acquired in different subjects – in a given school year’ (Direção-geral da Educação, 2018).
Our research stems from the following key questions:
1) What difficulties have teachers experienced due to their lack of experience in curriculum design while developing Essential Learning Standards?
2) What kind of support have teachers received from the Ministry of Education?
We conducted semi-structured interviews within focus group (Morgan, 1996, 1887) with teachers from each of the Teacher Associations (16) that identified the Essential Core Curriculum for the subject they represent in order to perceive the difficulties experienced in the elaboration of that curriculum document and the effectiveness of the support they actually received from the Ministry of Education. We also conducted interviews with the facilitators of this process (appointed by the Ministry of Education) in order to perceive the difficulties found in supporting the teachers involved and to learn whether the type of support provided was the most appropriate. According to the literature, facilitators play an important role supporting teachers in the design of curricula. Facilitators can offer pro-active and re-active support: ‘When offering pro-active support, facilitators help steer the team during the design process (e.g. outlining the process) and make sure that teachers do not skip important design activities (e.g. conducting evaluations). In contrast, when offering re-active support, facilitators follow the team’s enacted design process and react on the decisions made and make sure that all important design activities are enacted. […] balancing pro-active and re-active support seems essential for the design process (Huizinga, Handelzalts, Nieveen & Voogt, 2014 p. 39). The interview guides were adapted from Huizinga’s (2009) study that developed an overview of the design expertise teachers need to be able to develop curricula. In this presentation we employ one of the types of design expertise that were identified, namely specific design expertise. Specific design expertise refers to the knowledge and skills required to develop curricula and implies four categories (with specific knowledge and skills), namely curriculum design expertise, subject matter knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and curriculum consistency expertise. The interviews were transcribed and subsequently analysed using inductive and deductive codes.
Regarding ‘curriculum design expertise’, the Ministry of Education supplied Teacher Associations with a template (i.e., a curriculum framework) to aid in the design of Essential Core Curricula. This might imply that teachers require additional knowledge and skills to organize knowledge, capabilities, and attitudes – throughout curricular progression. Part of the teachers involved stated that the template facilitated the curriculum development process. As regards ‘subject matter knowledge’, only one respondent mentioned having had major problems. This means that teachers had sufficient knowledge on this issue. In relation to ‘pedagogical content knowledge’, teachers indicated that they had sufficient knowledge in terms of pedagogical content to design the required Essential Core Curricula. However, a number of workshops were offered to enhance teachers’ knowledge in terms of pedagogical content, e.g., on interdisciplinarity and new information technologies. As far as ‘curriculum consistency expertise’ is concerned, we should mention that teachers and facilitators reported problems related to achieving internally and externally consistent Essential Core Curricula, especially regarding the teachers’ shared vision. During the design process that resulted in the definition of Essential Core Curricula, the document was often circulated between teachers and facilitators to encourage feedback. Results have shown that there are three gaps in teachers’ design expertise: Curriculum design expertise, Pedagogical content knowledge, and Curriculum consistency expertise.
Ministério da Educação (ME) (2017). Perfil dos alunos à saída da escolaridade obrigatória. Lisboa; Ministério da Educação/Direção-geral da Educação. Direção-geral da Educação (2018). Aprendizagens Essenciais – Consulta Pública. Lisboa: Direção-geral da Educação. Eggleston, J. (1980). School-based Curriculum Development in Britain: A Collection of Case Studies. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Elliott, John (1994) The Teacher's Role in Curriculum Development: an unresolved issue in English attempts at curriculum reform. Curriculum Studies, 2(1) 43-69, DOI: 10.1080/0965975940020103 Elizondo-Montemayor, L., Hernandez-Escobar, C., Ayala-Aguirre, F. and Aguilar, G. M. (2008) Building a sense of ownership to facilitate change: The new curriculum. International Journal of Leadership in Education: Theory and Practice, 11(1), 83–102. Green, E. L. (1980) The independent learning in science model of school-based curriculum development. In J. Eggleston (ed.), School-based Curriculum Development in Britain: A Collection of Case Studies (pp. 14-40). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Huizinga, T., Handelzalts, A., Nieveen, N. & Voogt, J. M. (2014) Teacher involvement in curriculum design: need for support to enhance teachers’ design expertise. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 46(1), 33-57. DOI: 10.1080/00220272.2013.834077 Huizinga, T. (2009) Op weg naar een Instrument voor het Meten van Docentcompetenties voor het Ontwikkelen van Curricula [Towards an Instrument to Measure Teacher’s Competencies for the Development of Curricula]. Enschede: University of Twente. McKinney, W. L. and Westbury, I. (1975). Stability and change: The public schools of Gary, Indiana, 1940–70. In Reid, W. A & Walker, D. F. (eds), Case Studies in Curriculum Change: Great Britain and the United States (pp. 1-53). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Morgan, D. (1996). Focus Group. Annual Review of Sociology, 22, 129-152. Morgan, D. L. (1997). Focus group as qualitative research (2ª ed. Vol. 16). London: Sage University Paper. Roldão, M. C., Peralta, H. & Martins, I. (2017). Currículo do ensino básico e do ensino secundário. Para a construção de aprendizagens essenciais baseadas no perfil dos alunos. Lisboa: Direção-geral da Educação. Roldão, M. C. & Almeida, S. de (2018). Curriculum contextualization in a network of portuguese schools: a promise or a missed opportunity? Estudos em Avaliação Educacional, (29)70, 8-45. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.18222/eae.v0ix.4757 Stenhouse, L. (1975). An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development. London: Heinemann Educational Books. Skilbeck, M. (1984). School-based Curriculum Development. London: Harper & Raw.
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