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Tan, Aik-Ling
Lim, Shirley S. L.
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In the past two decades, we have seen a global effort to reform science teaching practices in schools from mere direct instruction to a greater emphasis on inquiry-based instruction. The focus of teaching science as inquiry is not only to support students in learning the canon of science, but also appreciating the nature of science and scientific inquiry as a way of knowing about the world. Such learning goals have been reported to be quite difficult to realise in everyday classroom contexts. Educational researchers who have studied inquiry teaching in its naturalistic setting consider it a “highly complex and skilled enterprise” (Keys & Kennedy, 1999a) that, in general, has proved to be difficult to carry through. Teaching science as inquiry continues to be a challenging curricular reform to adopt. This study is concerned with exploring this problem through the lived experiences of a primary school teacher.

For teachers, to engage in the enactment of a curricular reform means to find oneself in a place where multiple meanings, constraints, and possibilities for teacher identity must be confronted. In-service teachers experience a multitude of tensions in learning to teach through inquiry within a schooling context that is already entrenched in the ideology of long-standing teaching practices. If we view teachers as shaped by their teaching, the same work that they are in the process of shaping, then the appropriation of new, reform-aligned practices must entail negotiating subjectivities for constructing reformed-minded teacher identities. Taking on this dialogic perspective of the relationship between teachers and teaching is a renewed attempt to override our customary inclination to understand teacher development in the context of curricular reform only with an instrumentalist orientation, that is, to view teacher change as effected through manipulating intrinsic and extrinsic variables. The dialogic perspective instead considers pedagogy and the lived experiences of teachers as co-emergent with discursive practices and their social relationships (Britzman, 2003).

This study was undertaken with the aim of exploring how primary school science teachers constitute their identities as teachers in the context of learning how to teach science as inquiry and, conversely, how such teacher identities emerging from this endeavour limit and realise reform-oriented pedagogy. A case study approach, complemented with a landscape study of teachers’ discourses on inquiry teaching using an online survey, was employed to characterise teachers’ understanding of their practice and identify the tensions they experience and negotiate in the current school context. The exploration of Mr Dale’s struggle in inquiry teaching as a lived dilemma was a vista through which the impact of systemic constraints can be better understood.

Findings from this case study indicate that teachers construct inquiry teaching as predominantly aligned with cognitive constructivist ideology, embedded within conflicting discourses on student’s ability to engage in inquiry learning, and dominated by accountability and outcome-based discourses. This collective portrait of hybrid discourses on inquiry teaching resonates with Mr Dale’s own lived experiences. He privileged conceptual development in his instructional discourse to address institutional expectations for student readiness for exams. But while aligned his practice with such outcome-based discourses, he also sought ways to position himself toward more inquirycentric forms of teaching. Mr Dale tended to deploy deficit construction of students in assessing their capacity to engaged inquiry teaching and imagined a stratified science curriculum to match his perceptions of students’ learning abilities. Furthermore, Mr Dale positioned himself during instruction mainly as a classroom authority while occasionally teetering to an unknowing stance that redistributes cognitive labour, according students with epistemic agency as participants in collective knowledge building. These findings suggest traditional schooling discourse continue to impinge on teachers’ efforts to reform their practices towards inquiry teaching. Teachers’ hybrid discourses which can be critically viewed as a compromise by individuals to the pressures of institutions that seek to control their identity, may also be viewed as essential to identity formation as reformminded science teachers.
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LB1532 Tal
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Appears in Collections:Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

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