Curriculum Change in Early Childhood Education

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Chapter 3: Towards a Conceptual Framework for Understanding ECE Teachersʼ Responses to Curriculum Change


The literature on education policy implementation highlights the role of teachers in any effort to improve instruction and conceptualises the relationship between teachers and curriculum change as a process of fidelity, adaptation or implementation. The success of change is therefore largely a function of teachersʼ responses to curriculum demands (Mager, Myers, Maresca, Rupp & Armstrong 1986:344) which are shaped by their individual conceptions of teaching and learning, knowledge and skills, and beliefs and interests (Smylie & Perry 2005:318). Therefore, the culture of teaching enables or limits curriculum change (Gitlin & Margonis 1995:378). These authors would agree with Keys and Bryan (2001:635) that teachers are active creators who make instructional decisions based on a complex system of beliefs and knowledge.
Teachersʼ knowledge of teaching and learning is the strongest determining factor in their educational practice. According to Hsu (2002:58) teachersʼ knowledge is formulated in concrete and context-related terms and develops from their experience and interpretations. In addition, teachersʼ knowledge is based on personal practical knowledge and is reflected in their professional attitudes.
Spillane, Reiser and Gomez (2006:47) note that even when teachers adopt policy implementation, failure may still result. This may be attributed to the complexity of human sense-making processes, rather than poor policy clarity or deliberate attempts to ignore or resist policy. From a cognitive perspective, implementation depends on local implementing agentsʼ understanding of policy demands and the extent to which policy demands reinforce or alter their practice (Reiser and Gomez 2006:48). Therefore, a recurring question related to curriculum change is how to ensure that schools demonstrate significant changes in instructional practice. Rowan and Miller (2007:252) examine two conflicting strategies of implementation: (i) programmed approaches, which seek to promote conformity to a well-defined set of instructional practices to produce faithful implementation, and (ii) adaptive approaches to curriculum change, which rely strongly on enhanced coaching and implementation support by principals at school sites. However, principals play a key role concerning implementation asymmetry because of their inability to monitor teachersʼ work.

Theoretical Approaches to the Study of Curriculum Change

The literature reveals several theoretical approaches to the study of curriculum change. Bailey (2000:119) contends that educational change efforts are underpinned by particular theories about the nature of teaching. Curriculum change is prevalent when society is changing rapidly, when educational practice is under pressure to respond, and differing reform ideologies compete with each other for influence. Although four conceptions of teaching are activated by policymakers: technical, intellectual, socio-emotional and socio-political, they are usually overlooked.
Change is a far more complex process in schools than had earlier been assumed (Mager et al. 1986:346) specifically because politically motivated reforms have neglected the problems of implementation (Gitlin & Margonis 1995:377; Jansen 1998:323). In response to the implementation problem, educational change theorists have developed three models (Rowan & Miller 2007:253). The first model, “cultural control”, occurs within local professional communities. Teachers are encouraged to discover effective practices and they have the discretion to adapt these practices to suit their needs. The second model, “professional control”, relies heavily on socialisation to professional standards by expert authorities to promote implementation of the favoured instructional regime. The third model, “procedural control”, occurs within professional development programmes and relies heavily on scripted instruction to secure faithful implementation.
Richardson and Placier (2002:906) note that phenomenological and hermeneutic approaches could be useful in understanding how individuals make sense of and contribute to the situations in which they live and work. Such approaches could replace earlier empirical-rational change strategies that have been unsuccessful. The new thinking constitutes a normative/re-educative approach to change, which assumes that change may be enhanced through teachersʼ reflection on beliefs and practices (Richardson & Placier 2002:906). According to Ryan and Ackerman (2005:1), pressure and support are recurring themes in the school reform literature. Teachers as policy actors require motivation and adequate assistance, such as updated knowledge or financial resources, to implement curriculum change successfully. Furthermore, teachers use their prior knowledge and experience to make sense of policy. Policy to practice connections are mediated by teacher sense which produces qualitatively different understandings among teachers, thus leading them to ignore, resist, adopt or modify policy (Spillane & Burch 2006:95).
Pinar (1999) contends that the thoughtful practice of everyday educational life requires a theoretical understanding of teachersʼ practice.
So understood, curriculum becomes intensely historical, political, racial, gendered, phenomenological, postmodern, autobiographical, aesthetic, theological, and international. When we say that curriculum is a site on which the generations struggle to define themselves and the world, we are engaged in a theoretically enriched practice. When we say that curriculum is an extraordinarily complicated conversation, we are underscoring human agency and the volitional character of human action (Pinar 1999: xvii).

Research on Teachersʼ Responses to Curriculum Change

My research utilises the relational theory of change which enhances our understanding of how teachers address multiple voices in their work (Leander & Osborne 2008:44) in considering the demands made by parents, school principals, colleagues, departmental officials, policy makers and the public. Rowan and Miller (2007:256) draw upon cognitive theories of implementation to enhance our understanding of how teachers make decisions when they interpret and respond to change. Similarly, Paris (1993:15) notes that “teacher agency” provides an alternative conception of teachers and curriculum, since it involves personal initiative and intellectual engagement:
Teacher agency therefore involves initiating the creation or critique of curriculum, an awareness of alternatives to established curriculum practices, the autonomy to make informed curriculum choices, an investment of self, and ongoing interaction with others (Paris 1993:16).
Parisʼ (1993) argument is extended by Bailey (2000) who notes that getting teachers deeply involved in envisioning and managing change means abandoning the idea of a preconceived outcome, as well as the notion that there is one best way to teach. It should also not be assumed that enough is known about particular school cultures or the needs of individual classrooms. It is therefore impossible to design a one-size-fits-all programme, which will repair the ills of school and society. This realisation may enhance our understanding of why some teachers resist research results or policy content. However, it should also not be assumed that teachers have all the answers, or that local problems cannot be informed by a broader perspective and a more comprehensive knowledge base (Bailey 2000).
Teachers therefore play a pivotal role in school reform and are essential to the success of curriculum change. However, when teachers are viewed as technicians who implement carefully designed plans using teacher-proof materials prepared by ʻexpertsʼ, their effectiveness is limited. The “top-down process of mandating change sacrifices teacher autonomy in favour of managerial efficiency” (Bailey 2000:120). Such an approach essentially discourages teachers from developing the abilities to set goals, develop skills, respond to feedback, and become engaged in improving their practice. Instead, they are encouraged to become dependent on the latest innovation, alienating them from a sense of their own expertise and professionalism:
While teachers should be asked, and be asking, the questions that drive educational reform, the process of mandating change is not in their hands. Even when a new curriculum is presumably teacher and student centred, teachers are seldom given the opportunity to help conceptualise the programme that they are expected to teach. There is neither time nor support for building the personal philosophies or communal reflection that might support teachers to work more effectively (Bailey 2000).
Much of the existing literature focuses on how affective factors such as motivation, job satisfaction and emotions of change, influence teachersʼ responses to curriculum change (Ballet & Kelchtermans 2008; Day 2008; Fullan 1993; Hargreaves 2005; Hsueh & Barton 2005; Levin 1998; Noble & Macfarlane 2005; Richardson & Placier 2002). The listed studies found that teachers often experience negative emotions such as fear and anxiety which influence their responses to curriculum change. Day (2008:244) argues that there are significant negative consequences of reform on teachersʼ work lives and well-being. Tensions are therefore inevitable if individual teachersʼ perceived needs for self-improvement differ from system demands on them for changes in curriculum and teaching approaches (Ashdown 2002:116).
A cognitive socio-psychological theory of emotions should therefore be employed to help researchers understand how individual teachers perceive themselves and their work, and how they experience their context (Van Veen & Sleegers 2006:108). Bailey (2000:123) cites empirical evidence that the context and process of mandated change often leads to the marginalisation of teachers, especially when it is not rooted in their realities and expertise. Sometimes, because of the demands of curriculum change, teachers doubt their efficacy and thus their moral commitment to implementation is undermined. Bailey (2000) believes that disregarding teacher demoralisation, as well as teachersʼ knowledge about real and sustained change, underlies implementation failure.
When teachers are conceived as students of curriculum, who bring considerable intellect and skills to curriculum problem solving, they do not merely receive and implement curricula created by others (Darling-Hammond 2005). Instead, they make reasoned, self-conscious curriculum decisions in response to their evaluation of the needs and interests of their learners and a shared commitment to educational excellence.
Crump (2005:2) asserts that teachers need a clear and well-motivated reason for change, especially when it comes to the curriculum. If teachers disagree with the need for change, they often respond by resisting the change (Leander & Osborne 2008:28). Policy makers therefore need to be mindful that policy is not so much implemented as it is re-invented at each level of the system (Darling-Hammond 2005:363). Bell and Stevenson (2004:20) describe the “multiplicity of interpretations” as the effect of multiple readersʼ “decoding” of policy texts, since each reader has his/her own context, history and values. In addition, policy responses are shaped by the wider structural factors that have a cogent effect on individualsʼ capacity to influence and interpret policy. Teachers therefore rarely simply adopt and implement the curriculum; they have an active relationship with the curriculum and subsequently adapt it to suit their teaching practices (Paris 1993:36).
While policy change occurs because of collective action, it is essential to understand how individuals come together, organise themselves and constrain or promote change. Schlager provides the following insights into individual decision-making and action:
The parts of the inner world that are empirically verified are a set of basic values, causal assumptions, and problem perceptions. Belief systems, not characteristics of the situation determine individual choices and actions. Belief systems, as well as limited information-processing abilities, affect how individuals acquire, use, and incorporate information (Schlager 1999:240).
The above viewpoint enriches our understanding of curriculum change by highlighting that the manner in which teachers respond to curriculum change is related to their information-processing capabilities.


Abbreviations and Acronyms!..
Chapter 1: From the Margins of Education: Curriculum Change in Early Childhood Education!
1.1 Background to the Study!.
1.2 Introduction!
1.3 Problem Statement!
1.4 Rationale for the Study!.
1.5 Research Question.!.
1.6 Purpose of the Study!..
1.7 Significance of the Study!.
1.8 The Scope and Context of the Study!.
1.9 Delimiting the Study!.
1.10 Literature Review.
1.11 Political and Ethical Considerations!
1.13 Layout of the Study!.
Chapter 2: Literature Review!
2.1 Introduction!.
2.2 Early Childhood Education in Context!.
2.3 Curriculum Change in Early Childhood Education!.
2.4 Early Childhood Teachers
2.5 ECE Curriculum Delivery and Instructional Practice!
2.6 Teachers as the Implementers of Change
2.7 Evaluation of previous research on teachersʼ responses to curriculum change!.
2.8 Factors that Influence Teachersʼ Responses to Curriculum Change!
2.9 Summary and Conclusion!
Chapter 3: Towards a Conceptual Framework for Understanding ECE Teachersʼ Responses to Curriculum Change!
3.1 Introduction!
3.2 Theoretical Approaches to the Study of Curriculum Change
3.3 Research on Teachersʼ Responses to Curriculum Change!
3.4 Conceptual Framework for this Study!
3.5 Summary and Conclusion!.
Chapter 4: Methodology and Research Design: Revealing ECE Teachersʼ Responses to Curriculum Change!.
4.1 Introduction!.
4.2 Research Approach!
4.3 Research Design!
4.4 Research Questions
4.6 Participants!..
4.7 Sample Selection!..
4.8 Data Collection!
4.9 Data Analysis!
4.10 Addressing Credibility and Trustworthiness!
4.11 Political and Ethical Considerations!.
4.12 Summary!
Chapter 5: Findings: Presentation and Discussion
5.1 Introduction!.
5.2 Analytical Strategy!
5.3 Grade R Teachersʼ Responses to Curriculum Change!.
5.4 Introducing the Research Participants!.
5.5 Lesson Planning!
5.6 Classroom Practices
5.7 Factors Informing Grade R Teachersʼ Responses to Curriculum Change!
5.8 Synopsis of Findings!.
Chapter 6: Synthesis, Conclusions and Implications of the Study. Responses of Early Childhood Teachers to Curriculum Change!.
6.1 Introduction!.
6.2 Main Findings!.
6.3 Reflections on the Research Process!
6.4 Implications of the study!
6.5 Implications of the Study for Policy and Practice!.
6.6 Further Research!
6.7 Summary and Conclusion!.
References Cited.

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