The influence of teacher professional identity on the practice of inquiry

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Introduction and background

The purpose of this study was to explore the interface between teacher professional identity and the practice of Inquiry-Based Laboratory Work (IBLW). Laboratory work in this study was considered as the process in which learners learn chemistry through the handling of materials and the manipulation of equipment (Hofstein & Mamlok-Naaman, 2007). The chemistry laboratory provides physical and authentic environments for learners to experience chemistry in accordance with the learning theory of constructivism (Boghossian, 2006; Miller & Miller, 1999). The terms „laboratory work‟, „practical work‟ and „experiments‟ were used interchangeably at times in the discussions that follow.

Although the term „laboratory work‟ specifies the location in which the practical activities, investigations or the experiments are conducted, it does not change their nature (Hofstein & Mamlok-Naaman, 2007). Laboratory work plays a crucial role in the teaching and learning of chemistry in secondary schools (Witteck et al., 2007; Millar, 2004). An examination of subject policies reveals that scientific inquiry in which the scientific method is employed should form part of the learning activities for learners (Bradbury, 2010; Department of Education, 2011; Hofstein & Lunetta, 2003). Laboratory work provides an avenue for teachers and learners to engage in activities in which they can employ the scientific method. Laboratory work should be practiced in a way that is meaningful and beneficial to learners (Hofstein, 2004; McDonell et al., 2007; Hofstein & Naaman, 2007; Limniou et al., 2007).

One way of making laboratory work more meaningful is to incorporate inquiry activities that are conducted by learners. Inquiry in the laboratory constitutes a number of actions that can be performed by learners. These actions include posing scientifically oriented questions, forming hypotheses, designing and conducting scientific investigations, formulating and revising scientific explanations, and communicating and defending scientific arguments (Hofstein & Naaman, 2007; Limniou et al., 2007). This study only focused on three crucial inquiry actions which are the posing of the investigative question, designing of experiment procedures and articulation of solutions. Twenty years after the advent of democracy in South Africa there is still unequal access to laboratory work in secondary schools. “…nearly 80 per cent of schools are still without science laboratories” says the Government Gazette (2010:8). The public school system is multi-layered as it consists of diverse schools from different contexts. Schools that enjoyed privileges because they were formerly reserved for Whites during the apartheid era have better laboratory facilities than schools from other contexts which were reserved for Blacks (Selod & Zenou, 2003).

Accordingly, from the findings of this study it was observed that public schools formerly categorised under model C may have four well equipped science laboratories whilst a public school in the townships has one classroom which works as a make-shift science laboratory. South African Human Rights Commission (2012) in the Charter of Children‟s Basic Education Rights pronounces that access to education for some children in places like rural areas is hindered by infrastructural backlogs and shortages of learning materials. As a developing country South Africa is still working on issues of access and redress for formerly marginalised groups of the population. The study was conducted as teachers and the Education Department are battling with the realities of inequity and inequality in learner accessibility to laboratory work opportunities.

The recently introduced CAPS syllabus is one way of ensuring equitable learner access to laboratory work. The syllabus proposes redress to the existing disparities in learner access to meaningful science education brought about by the legacy of apartheid by embedding scientific inquiry in the physical sciences content. The syllabus aims to instil the spirit of scientific inquiry by stipulating that teachers should constantly engage learners in some prescribed experiments and any other practical work activities that teachers can facilitate for their learners (Department of Basic Education, 2011). This is in accordance with the goals of policies enshrined in the Education White Paper 6 (2001) aimed at assisting schools to tackle social cohesion issues such as race relations, redress and access. Teachers in all school contexts are compelled to implement the policies on practical work no matter the situation in which they find themselves in terms of access to laboratory infrastructure, equipment and materials.

For this reason this study was conducted in schools with standard science laboratory settings, classrooms turned into make-shift science laboratories and classrooms temporarily equipped for laboratory work. It was interesting to study the influence of teacher professional identity in the different school and laboratory contexts. Internationally, this study was conducted against a background in which researchers are raising concerns on whether learners are meaningfully engaged in inquiry activities during laboratory work (Barrow, 2006; Osisima & Onyia, 2008; Lustick, 2009; Nakedi & Rollnick, 2010; Naidoo & Govender, 2010; Enyedy et al., 2006). Literature reveals concerned voices that lament the perpetuation of traditional laboratory instructional practices in schools which deprive learners of opportunities to engage in inquiry work (Cheung, 2007; Luehmann, 2007; Naidoo & Govender, 2010; Coenders, 2010). The literature reviewed established that laboratory work in chemistry is short of being meaningful because teachers are resorting to traditional methods like „cookbook style‟ laboratory work instead of the more reform-oriented inquiry practices (Hofstein, 2004; McDonell et al., 2007). Authors like Prince and Felder (2006) and Domin (2007) explain that in „traditional‟ methods, teaching and learning are deductive processes. Scientific concepts and theories are availed to learners before specific examples and applications can be made. Similarly, in inquiry based methods, teaching and learning are inductive processes. A teacher may teach the effect of surface area on the rate of reaction deductively by first explaining to learners how surface area affects speed of reaction. The teacher may tell learners that increasing surface area results in an increase in the speed of reaction. This would be followed by practical activities to demonstrate what is already known. Alternatively, the teacher may first engage learners in practical work in which they conduct experiments with surface area as an independent variable. Learners would then analyse and interpret data collected so that they may discover patterns and relationships on their own. After these activities learners may reach a conclusion on the relationship between surface area and speed of reaction.

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TABLE CONTENTS

  • Dedication
  • Words of thanks
  • Declaration of originality
  • Declaration-Language editor
  • Abstract
  • Key concepts
  • Acronyms
  • Ethics clearance certificate
  • Table of contents
  • List of tables
  • List of figures
  • List of appendices
  • List of recorded appendices
    • Chapter 1: Orientation to the study
    • 1.1 Introduction and background context
    • 1.2 Rationale for the study
    • 1.3 Research questions
    • 1.4 Theoretical framework
    • 1.5 Conceptual framework
      • 1.5.1 Inquiry-based teaching and learning strategy
    • 1.6 Overview of research methodology
    • 1.7 Research assumptions
    • 1.8 Quality measures
    • 1.9 Ethical considerations
    • 1.10 Limitations of the study
    • 1.11 Definition of terms
    • 1.12 Outline of chapters
    • 1.13 Chapter summary
  • Chapter 2: Literature review
    • 2.1 Introduction
    • 2.2 The philosophical assumptions underlying perspectives in the teacher
    • professional identity literature
    • 2.3 Features of teacher professional identity emerging from literature
    • 2.4 International landscape
      • 2.4.1 How teacher professional identity influences teacher practice
        • 2.4.1.1 Personal identity
        • 2.4.1.2 Professional training and development
        • 2.4.1.3 Contextual settings
        • 2.4.1.4 Narratives and discourse
        • 2.4.1.5 Sense of agency
    • 2.4.2 The influence of teacher professional identity on the practice of inquiry
    • 2.5 The practice of inquiry-based laboratory work in school chemistry
      • 2.5.1 Types of IBLW in school chemistry
      • 2.5.2 Benefits of IBLW in school chemistry
      • 2.5.3 The challenges in the practice of IBLW
    • 2.6 The South African landscape
      • 2.6.1 School contextual settings in South Africa
      • 2.6.2 The perspectives on the influence of teacher professional identity on teacher practice
        • 2.6.3 Chemistry practical work in South African schools
    • 2.7 Summary of findings
    • 2.8 Theoretical framework
      • 2.8.1 The Social identity theory
        • 2.8.1.1 Basic tenets of the social identity theory
      • 2.8.2 Identity theory as a lens to investigate the practice of IBLW in school chemistry
      • 2.8.3 Inquiry-based instruction
        • 2.8.3.1 The basic tenets of inquiry-based instruction
        • 2.8.3.2 The role of inquiry-based instruction in school chemistry
        • 2.8.3.3 The relationship between inquiry-based instruction and teacher professional  identity
        • 2.8.3.4 Summary of the theoretical framework
    • 2.9 Conclusion
  • Chapter 3: Research design and methodology
    • 3.1 Introduction
    • 3.2 Meta-theoretical framework
    • 3.3 Methodological paradigm
    • 3.4 Research strategy of inquiry
      • 3.4.1 Case study
      • 3.4.2 Narrative inquiry
    • 3.5 Selection of site and participants
      • 3.5.1 Teacher profiles, purposive sampling techniques and school contexts
    • 3.6 Data generation methods
    • 3.6.1 Semi-structured interviews
      • 3.6.2 Focus group interviews
      • 3.6.3 Observations
      • 3.6.4 Field notes
      • 3.6.5 Documentary data
    • 3.7 Data documentation
    • 3.8 Data analysis and interpretation
      • 3.8.1 Content analysis
      • 3.8.2 Narrative analysis
      • 3.8.3 Data interpretation
    • 3.9 Pilot study
      • 3.9.1 “Restorying” the teacher narrative
    • 3.10 Quality measures
    • 3.11 Ethical issues
    • 3.12 Limitations of the study
    • 3.13 Conclusion
  • Chapter 4: Findings of the study
    • 4.1 Introduction
    • 4.2 Important points to take note of when reading this chapter
    • 4.3 The seven participant teachers in the study
    • 4.4 Expressions of teacher personal identity positions
      • 4.4.1 Past experiences with laboratory work
        • 4.4.1.1 School experiences
        • 4.4.1.2 College/university experiences
        • 4.4.1.3 Professional development experiences
      • 4.4.2 Present experiences with laboratory work
        • 4.4.2.1 Current teacher practice
        • 4.4.2.2 Other current practices with IBLW
      • 4.4.3 Perceptions, motivation and beliefs in IBLW
        • 4.4.3.1 Teacher perceptions on IBLW reflected on teacher practice
        • 4.4.3.2 Teacher belief systems shaping IBLW practice
        • 4.4.3.3 Teacher beliefs that fail to have an impact on IBLW practice
          • 4.4.3.4 Teacher commitment
          • 4.4.3.5 Teacher motivation
    • 4.5 Contextual settings and learner population interface with teacher IBLW practice
      • 4.5.1 Contextual settings
        • 4.5.1.1 Time constraints
        • 4.5.1.2 Learner/teacher ratios
        • 4.5.1.3 Learner /laboratory facilities ratios
        • 4.5.1.4 Frequency of laboratory work engagement
        • 4.5.1.5 Other contextual setting issues
      • 4.5.2 Learner populations
        • 4.5.2.1 Learner attitude towards IBLW
        • 4.5.2.2 Learner Knowledge and skills in IBLW
        • 4.5.2.3 Learner disciplinary issues
  • 4.6 Teacher professional identity positions in IBLW practice
    • 4.6.1 Learners figure out the solution only
      • 4.6.1.1 Jane from a former model C school
      • 4.6.1.2 Jimmy from a former Coloured school
      • 4.6.1.3 Melusi from an African rural school
      • 4.6.1.4 Betty from a private school
    • 4.6.2 Learners figure out the question and the solution
      • 4.6.2.1 Kabelo from an African township school
    • 4.6.3 Learners figure out the procedure
      • 4.6.3.1 Tendai from a former Indian school
    • 4.6.4 Learners figure out the question and the procedure
      • 4.6.4.1 Farai from a private school
  • 4.7 Chapter summary
  • Chapter 5: Analysis and discussion
    • 5.1 Introduction
    • 5.2 Echoing the literature
      • 5.2.1 Teacher training and professional development
      • 5.2.2 Contextual settings and learner populations
      • 5.2.3 Sense of agency
      • 5.2.4 Teacher personal identities
      • 5.2.5 Teacher IBLW professional identity positions
    • 5.3 Differences
    • 5.3.1 IBLW teacher identity positions in the South African context
    • 5.3.2 Verification experiments
    • 5.4 Areas of silence in the study
    • 5.4.1 Insufficient teacher pedagogical and content knowledge
    • 5.4.2 Levels 2 and 3 of inquiry according to Bretz and Fay (2008)
    • 5.5 Engaging findings with the theoretical and conceptual frameworks of this study
    • 5.5.1 Social identity theory reflected in emerging themes
    • 5.5.2 Inquiry-based instruction as a conceptual framework
    • 5.6 Generation of new knowledge
    • 5.6.1 Teacher identity positions in the formulation of investigative questions
    • 5.6.2 Teacher identity positions in designing procedures of experiments
    • 5.6.3 Teacher identity positions in the articulation of solutions
    • 5.7 Conclusion
  • Chapter 6: Recommendations and conclusion
    • 6.1 Introduction
    • 6.2 Summary of emergent themes and findings
      • 6.2.1 Teacher identity positions in IBLW
      • 6.2.2 Personal identity and teacher identity positions in IBLW
      • 6.2.3 Contextual settings and teacher identity positions in IBLW
    • 6.3 Limitations of the study
    • 6.4 Significance of the study
    • 6.5 Revisiting research assumptions
    • 6.6 Conclusion
    • 6.7 Recommendations for IBLW instructional practice
    • 6.8 Recommendations for future research
    • References

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