Clusters as aid to teacher development

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In this chapter, I discuss the relevant literature for understanding and exploring the research questions on clusters as discussed in chapter one. To recap, my study seeks to provide insights into the following research questions:

  • What are the kinds of teacher clusters that operate in Mpumalanga and what is the nature of their formation?
  • How do the clusters help science teachers to challenge and change their content knowledge (CK) in science?
  • What is the nature of the resulting content knowledge (CK) and PCK and how is it used by teachers to shift their classroom practices in science?

In carrying out this literature review, I wanted first and foremost to find out what research has been done in the field of networking/clustering of teachers. This is primarily because, clusters have in the last few years, been regarded as one promising approach to teacher development (Lampert, 1988; Lieberman and Grolnick, 1996, Adams, 2000, Southwood, 2002). I was also interested to find out especially what research has been done in Africa and other developing countries on clusters.
In the second instance, my literature review was informed by the fact that this research study is situated in a broader context of an exploration of issues of teacher development, knowledge and what it takes for teachers to change their practices. Changing the teachers’ classroom practices in science and mathematics involves, among others, changing the teachers’ expertise in content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge to allow for changes in the classroom practice (Spillane, 2000). This is a very difficult and challenging task in which many programs that are geared to teacher development have come short. In this chapter, I will then review the traditional and innovative approaches to teacher development that have been used to try and foster teacher change in science education. The focus on teacher clusters/networks is also informed by the reality that such networks have been posited as an alternative approach to teacher development.
Furthermore, this, chapter focuses on a discussion of the literature that explores the nature of teachers’ knowledge that is needed to change classroom practice. The first section of this chapter seeks to unpack in detail the concept of teacher knowledge as it forms the backbone of teaching and learning; and later issues of teacher development that are centred on this concept. The choice of this literature on teachers’ knowledge for this study provided a useful conceptual framework that helped to frame the data collection and analysis of the various themes that emerged from this study.
In order to make sense of all this information, the chapter is divided into three sections that are directly related to my research questions:

  • teachers’ knowledge;
  • teacher development approaches; and
  • teacher clusters .

The meaning of knowledge as viewed by various researchers

Knowledge is a very complex concept that means different things to different people. Rathborne (1971) and Barth (1972) (as cited in Candy, 1991) argued that knowledge is idiosyncratically formed, individually conceived, fundamentally individualistic and that theoretically, no two people’s knowledge can be the same, unless their experience is identical. For Candy (1991), while individually conceived knowledge is important, it becomes useful and effective if it socially shared and constructed in a community of people.
Teachers’ knowledge of practice is often socially constructed. The social construction of teachers’ knowledge of practice is usually influenced by the environment, ethos and the culture of the school. As teachers we do not learn isolated facts and theories independently of the practices in which they arise. These practices may be work processes, experiments, arguments about theories or principles and the like. Teaching and learning is contextual. While the teachers are engaged in the same processes of teaching and learning, their experiences that form part of their knowledge base are therefore different. And while as individuals their different life experiences in the teaching profession are valuable, but they become more valuable when they are shared, critically examined and used to construct general knowledge of and about practice. This constitutes what Shulman (1987) talks about as pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). “Pedagogical content knowledge is a special amalgam of content and pedagogy that is uniquely the province of teachers” (Shulman, 1987:8). Effective science teaching combines many elements to engage students in learning. In order to achieve this expertise of effective teaching, teachers must therefore know more than science content and more than just some teaching strategies.

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Content Knowledge (CK) and Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK)

To teach science effectively, teachers require relevant insights into science as explored by the experts and scholars (Guskey, 1986; Fullan, 2001), and this is where the gap of teacher development has been identified. These knowledge insights are based on content knowledge (CK) and the Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK). It is my view that, traditional approaches to teacher development that separate the teachers’ classroom experience and the content knowledge have discouraged teachers from active participation in enhancing their CK and PCK.
A number of researchers on teacher knowledge have also explored the notion of different types of teacher knowledge. In his search for the expert pedagogue, Berliner (1988) made it clear that teaching in the classroom is based on a genuine scholarship practice. This genuine scholarship practice is based on knowledge. The word, “knowledge” has been defined differently by different researchers in education (Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1999; Connelly and Clandinin, 2000). Their definitions of knowledge and distinctions between the definitions have impacted on what researchers have looked for and valued in attempts to articulate links between practice and knowledge. However many of these attempts to articulate links between practice and knowledge have proved to be extremely difficult.
Shulman’s (1986, 1987) approach to teachers’ knowledge has led to a shift in our understanding of the knowledge for teaching and learning science in the classroom. In his conceptual scheme, Shulman identified components of what constitute a teachers’ professional knowledge. This conceptual shift has enabled researchers to focus much research on, among others, the specific topics and how they are taught in the classroom. This is the notion of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). According to Shulman (1987) pedagogical content knowledge is understood as the knowledge that links the particular science content and the teaching practice. Using Shulman’s approach, this study also sought to capture the pedagogical content knowledge of (teacher) cluster leaders who are the main drivers of the MSSI clusters in Mpumalanga. The main aim was to understand and respond to the questions on:

  • how teacher clusters help teachers to challenge and re shape both their CK and PCK; and
  • how this knowledge is translated into practice in their respective classrooms.

Conceptual Framewor

If constructivism takes seriously the knowledge construction by learners, then in the same vein, there must also be recognition of the knowledge construction by the teachers who are the learners during the teacher development programmes.
This study adopted a conceptual framework based on the views of Cochran Smith and Lytle’s (1999) and Shulman, (1986; 1987). Cochran Smith and Lytle (1999) provided an analytic framework for theorising teacher learning on the basis of fundamental ideas about how knowledge and practice are related and how teachers learn within communities and other contexts. Their views are based on a scheme that explores firstly the knowledge that teachers have acquired through formal training before they qualify to be teachers; secondly, the knowledge they acquire during teaching experiences and lastly the combination of both which is the knowledge for professional practice. These three concepts of teacher knowledge are identified as:

  • knowledge of practice
  • knowledge in practice and
  • knowledge for practice.

While these concepts that explore teacher learning on the basis of the relationship between knowledge and practice are important, they still fell short on articulating the issue of pedagogical content knowledge. This is what Shulman (1986; 1987) considers the missing paradigm that accounts for that strong relationship between what teachers know, and how they teach what they know. Linking the two conceptual frameworks on knowledge, as dicussed above makes sense for examining the teachers CK, PCK and the resulting changes in classroom practice. This combination of perspectives of teachers’ knowledge in my conceptual framework avoids the limitations of the past research that has only sought to understand what teachers need to know, and how they learn to teach instead of what they know and how they teach what they know (Lieberman and Miller, 1991).

Title Page 
Table of Contents 
List of Appendices 
List of Tables 
List of Figures 
Definitions and Abbreviations
Chapter 1. An Investigation into Clusters or Networks as Opportunities for Learning about Science Content and Pedagogical Science Knowledge
1.1 Study Overview
1.2 Clusters as aid to teacher development
1.3 Mpumalanga Secondary Science Initiative
1.4 Statement of the problem
1.5 The organization of the study
Chapter 2 Literature review
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Meaning of knowledge as viewed by researchers
2.3 Teacher development
2.4 Summary
Chapter 3 Research Methods
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Research design
3.3 Research Instruments and data sources
3.4 The Process of data collection based on Questions
3.5 Reliability and Validity of data
3.6 Problems and Resulting Limitations
3.7 Research ethics in data collection
3.8 Data Analysis
3.9 Summary
Chapter 4 The structure and formation of clusters
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Summary of the Administration Management Structures
4.3 Summary
Chapter 5 Challenging and changing teachers’ content knowledge (CK) and pedagogical content knowledge through cluster activities
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Case study one
5.3 Uncovering teachers’ knowledge
5.4 Second case study
5.5 Comparing the two cases
5.6 Teacher collaboration
5.7 Cluster operation within the structure of the MDE
5.8 The operational structure at the Sibonelo cluster
5.9 Summary, conclusion and implications for further research
5.10 Improving the quality of teachers’ CK and PCK
5.11 The research design of the study
5.12 Key Findings of the Study
5.13 Implications
6. References
List of Appendices

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