Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 2, Issue 2, Article 2 (Dec., 2001)
Describing and supporting effective science teaching and learning in Australian schools - validation issues
Describing effective science classroom practice: the SiS Components
It was important, at the outset of the project, to identify what we understood as effective teaching and learning in science, and describe it in a form that would guide teachers and schools in improving their practice. The SiS Components were developed at the beginning of the project to represent a core vision that drives teaching and learning practice. They continue to be refined and interpreted through use.
There have been many approaches to the definition of effective science teaching and learning that are described in the literature. However, we felt that none of this work is sufficiently broad to deal with the complex concerns we were addressing, nor sufficiently explicit to drive a focused change process and to allow us to track this change. The starting point for our development of the components was, nevertheless, our knowledge of previous work, including:
- Studies of school programs and questionnaires regarding classroom practice have been used in the US (eg. Yager & Penick 1984, Penick & Yager 1986, Brunkhorst 1992). These tend to have focused on the very top, 'exemplary' programs and teachers and produce only broad descriptions of their characteristics.
- Direct studies of actual 'exemplary' classrooms provide valuable data (Tobin & Fraser 1998, 1990). These can tend to focus on classroom management principles, although in some cases quite sharp insights are generated, as with Treagust's (1991) comparison of two exemplary biology teachers with very different styles.
- Another approach, seen particularly in the development of science teaching standards (eg. NSES 2000; National Science Standards Committee, ASTA, 2000; Goodrum, Hackling & Rennie, 2001) is to develop descriptors of effective teaching by workshopping ideas with leading science education professionals. This approach became one part of our own development of the SiS Components.
- In recent years there has been considerable research into the nature of student learning in science, and students' conceptions. This has led to the development of constructivist / conceptual change teaching approaches which have gained broad acceptance in the literature as being effective (Wandersee, Mintzes & Novak, 1994; Duit & Treagust, 1998). The PEEL project (Baird & Mitchell, 1986; Baird & Northfield, 1992; Mitchell, 2000), highlighting the importance of metacognition in learning, arose out of this literature. This substantial literature has a lot to say about effective teaching and learning in science, although its focus tends to be on the conceptual, rather than attitudinal or broader cultural aspects of teaching and learning.
- In Victoria as elsewhere there has been considerable concern about the declining interest in science across the middle years of schooling. The strategies developed to counteract this, for instance in the Victorian Middle Years Research And Development (MYRAD) project, focus on student engagement and autonomy, higher order thinking and learning, and relevance. These principles have influenced the way the SiS Components have been developed.
Starting with this background work, we set about developing a framework to describe effective teaching and learning in science, that would represent the core project innovation.. The stages in development of these components were:
- Preliminary categories describing quality school science practice were developed in a series of informal workshops within the project team, drawing on our previous research, and our knowledge of the broader literature described above;
- These were used as the basis for a telephone (in some cases face to face) interview schedule to explore the practice of teachers and schools with a reputation for effective science teaching. These were selected using a combination of school science performance on statewide tests, and peer reputation using informal networks;
- Initially 12 (and ultimately 19, including interstate) teachers were interviewed, and the data analysed to identify key components which seemed to stand out in all or most cases. This process involved a range of team meetings, as well as a reference group of science educators.
- The SiS Components have been successively refined during the project, based on teacher response and also on analysis of data from a Component Mapping process, described below, which tracks changes in teacher classroom practice. Some components have been split into sub-components in this process, to provide a more explicit account.
The SiS Components are shown in Figure 1. A fuller description, including examples, can be found on the project website. We believe the value of the SiS Components lies in the breadth of the vision of effective teaching and learning they offer, and the specificity of the descriptions.
Figure 1: The SiS Components of effective teaching and learning in science
In classrooms that effectively support student learning and engagement in science:
- Students are encouraged to actively engage with ideas and evidence
Students are encouraged to express their ideas and to question evidence in investigations and in public science issues. Their input influences the course of lessons. They are encouraged and supported to take some responsibility for science investigations, and for their own learning.
- Students are challenged to develop meaningful understandings
Students are challenged and supported to develop deeper level understanding of major science ideas and to connect and extend ideas across lessons and contexts. They are challenged to develop higher order thinking, and to think laterally in solving science based problems.
- Science is linked with students' lives and interests
Student interests and concerns are acknowledged in framing learning sequences. Links between students' interests, science knowledge and the real world are constantly emphasised.
- Students' individual learning needs and preferences are catered for
A range of strategies is used to monitor and respond to students' different learning needs and preferences, and their social and personal needs. There is a focused and sympathetic response to the range of ideas, interests, and abilities of students.
- Assessment is embedded within the science learning strategy
Monitoring of student learning is varied and continuous, focuses on significant science understandings, and contributes to planning at a number of levels. A range of styles of assessment tasks is used to reflect different aspects of science and types of understanding.
- The nature of science is represented in its different aspects
Science is presented as a significant human enterprise with varied investigative traditions and constantly evolving understandings, that also has important social, personal and technological dimensions. The successes and limitations of science are acknowledged and discussed.
- The classroom is linked with the broader community.
A variety of links are made between the classroom program and the local and broader community. These links emphasise the broad relevance and social and cultural implications of science, and frame the learning of science within a wider setting.
- Learning technologies are exploited for their learning potentialities
Learning technologies are used strategically for increasing the effectiveness of, and student control over learning in science. Students use information and communications technology (ICT) in a variety of ways that reflect their use by professional scientists.
Using the components to monitor teacher practice: the Component Map
In a school change project such as this, it is essential to monitor the extent and pace of implementation of the innovation, namely a change in classroom teaching and learning in line with the SiS Components. The casting of effective practice in the form of components allows this to happen through the vehicle of the Component Map, which measures the classroom practice of individual teachers against each of the eight components. These are in essence 'Innovation configuration maps' (Hall & Hord, 2001).
The sensitive integration of the development and research aspects of the project has been a central concern for the project team. Teacher change cannot be measured in a way that is seen as invasive or judgmental, and any monitoring must further the developmental aspects of the project. The component mapping process has proved to be extremely effective in balancing these dual needs.
For each component (or in some cases sub-component), descriptors have been developed of classrooms operating at four different levels. Each teacher is interviewed by the SiS coordinator and together they agree on the word description for each component that best applies to their current practice, thus giving them a score on a 4 point scale. The role of the SiS coordinator is to probe the teacher to move the measurement beyond a superficial response, to a thoughtful consideration of their teaching practice.
The mapping process has proved very successful in providing a measurement of classroom practice that would enable the tracking of change, and also in establishing classroom teaching and learning as the core business of the project, and encouraging teachers to begin a process of reflection on their practice, and change.
Copyright (C) 2001 HKIEd APFSLT. Volume 2, Issue 2, Article 2 (Dec., 2001)