03 SES 09 A, Supporting Teachers in Curriculum Design and Implementation
The recent launch by the European Commission of the ‘Rethinking education’ strategy (EC, 2012) highlights the need to ensure that curricula ‘should be made more relevant to the workplace’ (p11). Learning to learn is one of the key competences for lifelong learning (EC, 2012; EACDG, 2007). This paper draws on the experiences of one school in the UK implementing radical change in relation to the curriculum, spatiality, organization and technology. Located in a predominantly working class area, the school moved to a thematic curriculum, strong reliance on technology, major spatial change towards ‘mini schools’ and shared open spaces, and student self-management of learning. We view this as curriculum innovation at the level of the school, adopting Kärkkäinen’s definition (2012) that curriculum innovation includes what is taught and how it is taught.
At the time of this study, the curriculum innovation was in its third year and involved learners aged 11 to 14 years, who were organized into three mixed-age mini-schools. Together with a redesign of the learning spaces, the delivery of the curriculum was transformed. Instead of all students following a traditional timetable, moving from room to room to be taught in traditional 50-minute lessons by subject specialist teachers, students elected how to spend their time choosing from a range of 15-minute subject tutorials and independent study. Teachers in the mini-schools were expected to be expert in their subject but also provide general support to the students working independently within a single, large space. The new (and developing) system adopted to achieve this included redefining the role of the teacher, the integration of ICT, the development of new assessment practices, and pedagogical shifts. This has significant implications for what it means to be a teacher in such a school in terms of roles and professional development.
This paper explores the impact of radical change in the school system on the role of the teacher through activity theory (Cole & Engeström, 1993; Engeström, Miettinen and Punamäki, 1999) which in turn expands on Vygotsky’s theory of mediated object-oriented behaviour, introducing concepts of rules, community and division of labour. There is a need to consider the activity system as a whole, focusing on the social practices of a community in a specific context rather than on individual actions (Engeström, 1999).This approach enables the complexities of the process of educational reform to be teased out as a new activity system emerges and develops (Pearson & Somekh, 2006; Lee, 2011). Through focusing on the tensions and contradictions within and between activity systems (Engeström, 1999; Brown and Cole, 2002), opportunities for change and further development may be revealed.
The research questions addressed in this paper, drawing on an activity theory perspective, are:
- In what ways does a radical transformation of school activity system(s) impact on the role of the teacher, particularly in relation to tools, rules, divisions of labour and communities?
- What tensions and contradictions exist in the activity system in relation to the role of the teacher and how might they be resolved?
Brown, K. and Cole, M (2002). Cultural Historical Activity Theory and the Expansion of Opportunities for Learning after School. In G. Wells and G. Claxton (Eds), Learning for life in the 21st Century. Blackwell: Oxford, pp225-238. Directorate-General for Education and Culture (EACDG) (2007). Key competences for lifelong learning: European reference framework. Brussels, Belgium: European Communities. http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/education_culture/publ/pdf/ll-learning/keycomp_en.pdf European Commission (EC) (2012). Rethinking Education: Investing in skills for better socio-economic outcomes. European Commission: Brussels, Belgium. http://ec.europa.eu/education/news/rethinking/com669_en.pdf Kärkkäinen, K. (2012). Bringing About Curriculum Innovations: Implicit Approaches in the OECD Area. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 82, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5k95qw8xzl8s-en Cole, M. and Y. Engeström (1993). A cultural-historical approach to distributed cognition. In G. SALOMON (Ed.) Distributed Cognition: psychological and educational considerations. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. Engeström, Y., R. Miettenen and R.-L. Punmäki, Eds. (1999). Perspectives on Activity Theory. Learning in Doing: social, cognitive, and computational perspectives. Cambridge UK, New York and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. Engeström, Y. (1999). Activity theory and individual and social transformation. In Y. Engeström, R. Miettinen and R.-L.Punmäki (Eds), Perspectives on Activity Theory. Learning in Doing: social, cognitive, and computational perspectives. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp 19-38. Lee, Y-J (2011). More than just story‐telling: cultural–historical activity theory as an under‐utilized methodology for educational change research. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 43(3), 403-424. Pearson, M. and Somkeh, B. (2006) Learning transformation with technology: a question of sociocultural contexts? International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 19(4), 519-539.
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