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Investigating the impact of a professional development university programme on the classroom practices of rural teachers in the Eastern Cape

Province, South Africa.


Rose Spanneberg Rhodes University Mathematics Education Project, South Africa Abstract The mathematics performance of Easter Cape learners is the poorest in South Africa. This paper reports on a study of an in-service mathematics professional development programme offered to teachers at all grade levels. The programme is an attempt to assist teachers in deep rural schools to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics. This accredited professional development programme is offered on a part-time basis at Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape. It as designed to provide a shift from the more traditional form of professional development activity using or!shops to teach techni"ues# to ard multiple professional strategies such as the use of reflective practice to analyse teaching$ considering teachers as both learners# and researches in order to build their capacities to understand and improve their o n mathematics teaching as ell as their students% learning abilities. &ur main goal is to educate teachers to become analytical# self-reflective and adaptive agents in the classroom. The challenge for changing mathematics classroom characteri'ed by the recommendations in the national curriculum re"uire many changes in teachers% e(isting classroom practices. These changes are often difficult to bring about as a result of the teachers% embedded beliefs and attitudes to ard teaching mathematics. The role of reflective teaching that engages teachers in constant thought and action based on their professional e(periences as an important part of this study. Introduction and )ac!ground to the study The research study as underta!en at a time of political and educational transformation in South Africa. The end of Apartheid in South Africa sa the introduction of ne education policies. A system of &utcomes-based education *&)E+ !no n as Curriculum !!" as introduced. The South African policy dra s on developments in countries li!e Australia# ,e -ealand# USA and England# !eeping in mind that South Africa has features very different to these countries. In &)E emphasis is on outcomes. &utcomes signal hat is orth learning in a contentheavy curriculum *.ansen# /001+. Criticism associated ith &)E became significant during this time of transforming education. The launch of the curriculum had been accompanied by a re"uirement for ma2or changes in teaching practices. 3ey features of the outcomes-based approach of Curriculum !!" are4 active learners$ critical thin!ing# reasoning# reflection and action# the teacher as facilitator# and group and team or! to consolidate the ne approach. There is no doubt that the changes e(pected in Curriculum !!" are radical# challenging and often dictatorial. The demands for the many teachers or!ing in impoverished schools cause an(iety# and the challenge becomes daunting It has been reported that for real change to happen e need a policy that is sensitive to conte(tual diversity being implemented at local level by those most in touch ith

local conditions *5arley et al.# 6777+. Coet'er *677/+ argued that &)E ould only be successful if teachers ere prepared and e"uipped for the challenges outlined in the ne curriculum. It as against this bac!ground that this study as underta!en. 8rogramme Setting The participants in this study ere graduates from the Rhodes University 9athematics Education 8ro2ect *RU9E8+ conducted at Rhodes University# :rahamsto n located in the Eastern Cape 8rovince. The pro2ect offered an accredited Advanced Certificate in Education *ACE+ to in-service teachers of mathematics at all grade levels. Teachers ere re"uired to complete five credits in order to "ualify for the ACE in mathematics. The teachers attending this programme ere mostly from rural# disadvantaged schools and they ranged in e(perience from five to t enty years and taught grade levels one to nine. The specific aims of the programme ere to improve the "uality of mathematics teaching and learning as ell as support teacher change in the classroom. The in-service programme combined contact and distance education ith classroom support by RU9E8 professional staff and the establishment of professional development communities ithin hich teachers supported and encouraged each others% improving practice. The RU9E8 programme attempted to model teaching strategies in conte(t for teachers. This enabled participants to e(perience the value of different teaching and learning approaches rather than being simply told about them. 8rofessional development activities ere designed to support mathematics teachers in their efforts to develop their thin!ing# reflection# classroom practice and professional gro th. RU9E8 9athematics 8rofessional ;evelopment 8rogramme In !eeping ith current calls for reform in professional development as ell as to meet the challenges characteri'ed by the recommendations in Curriculum !!" the RU9E8 programme considered the follo ing features4 The reflective practitioner The aim of reflection in this programme as to improve practice. Teachers ere e(pected to plan# ma!e provision for learning# teach and reflect. They had to reflect on their teaching# observe the learner%s participation in the classroom along ith their actions and feelings. This helped the teachers to continuously revise their plans. 9y programme attempted to encourage teachers to be critical about their or!# ith the intention that they can effect change in their o n school environments. The professional reflective practice in this study is lin!ed to critical reflection. Critical reflection# according to .ay < .ohnson *6776+# often involves ma!ing a 2udgement. In this study the teaching portfolio as used as a reflective tool and# as such# the portfolio provided programme feed bac! that as informative in assessing the effectiveness of the programme in meeting the needs of the teachers in developing their professional gro th. In creating the portfolio the intention as that teachers ould have an opportunity to ta!e responsibility for their professional gro th. As such they could assess their o n strengths and ea!nesses# document personal successes and failures in their teaching and record reasons behind these occurrences. It as hoped that the portfolio construction process ith a strong emphasis on

reflection ould encourage teachers to continuously e(amine their teaching. =olf */00>+ suggested that the act of riting reflections pushes teachers to e(amine their practice more deeply *p. //1+. Teacher as learner The programme as aligned to constructivist learning theory and promoted practices that supported that perspective. Teachers themselves must become learners of mathematics. To effectively teach mathematics# teachers must gain competence and understanding of the mathematics that they are e(pected to teach. Illustrating this# 5ein' et al *6777+ described this role of teacher as student4 having learning opportunities similar to hat they might eventually create for their learners ? e(periences improved mathematical understanding# more po erful conceptions of mathematics# and more confidence and en2oyment in doing mathematics. Throughout the professional development programme teachers ere provided ith appropriate e(periences to actively engage them in learning activities that increased their o n mathematical !no ledge. Teachers Beliefs The goal of our professional development programme as to challenge teachers% e(isting beliefs# vie s# conception and attitudes to ards mathematics. =e considered that it as important for the RU9E8 educators in the programme as to continually try and see! to understand the beliefs of the participants in order for effective change in their practice to occur. Research reveals that teachers% beliefs have strong implications for the ay they teach as ell as decisions they ma!e ith regard to classroom practice *Richardson# /00@$ 8a2ares# /006$ Clar! < 8eterson# /01@$ Thompson# /006+. Cooney et al.# */001+ arns that because the opportunity for changing beliefs is essential for teachers% development# it is crucial to understand not only hat teachers believe but also ho their beliefs are structured and held. In addition# Richardson */00@+ supporting this notion# agrees that the beliefs that practicing teachers hold about sub2ect matter# learning# and teaching# influence the ay they approach staff development# hat they learn from it# and ho they change *p. /7A+. In this study# teachers% beliefs ere interpreted as personal 2udgements that ere directly related to the teachers% behaviour in the mathematics classroom. It included teachers% vie s# preferences# assumptions about the learners and their instructional practices as ell as ell as perceptions of their o n role and that of their learners. Also# teachers% beliefs about the role of the school conte(t specific to mathematics teaching and learning ere e(amined. Classroom support Teachers in the programme received classroom support in order to assist their attempts to adopt ne and more effective conceptions of teaching and learning mathematics. This also offered an opportunity for professional educators to learn more about social and cultural conte(t. A consideration of the school conte(t certainly matters. Stein# Smith < Silver */000+ arn that professional developers must carefully analyse the constraints and alternatives offered by each of the various conte(ts# ranging from the un ritten cultural norms to e(plicit school regulations and policies *p. 6>/+. Another form of support as to promote collaboration among the teachers. 8articipants ere encouraged to share their e(periences ith teachers in their o n schools# thus teachers or!ed collaboratively in order to perform more effectively

9ET5&;&C&:D Participants The sample in this study consisted of si( teachers dra n from a cohort of B7 ho participated in the t o-year part-time mathematics professional development programme and came from a geographical region that as recogni'ed as one of lo socio-economic status. There as a high unemployment rate and the total number of students in these schools ere from non-English spea!ing bac!ground. The si( cases ere selected based on ruralEurban distribution. Five of the si( teachers in rural schools or!ed collaboratively to ard the implementation of change in their classrooms. Data Collection and Analysis The case studies of the si( teachers ere built up using a variety of data collection methods to provide a detailed picture of each one and to ensure the credibility of the research. The classroom data ere collected during a t o-year period using such methods as non-participant observer# audiotaped recordings of teacher intervie s# and teacher mathematics portfolios that provided feedbac! of the in-service course# reflections on classroom practice and teachers% o n professional development. In addition# the teachers% reflections on learning in the classroom as structured into the course ith relevance to the teachers% o n practice. 8seudonyms are used for all si( teachers4 5elen# Thami# Thabo# -ole!a# 3hole!a and 8umla. Case Study Interviews Intervie s ere conducted ith each of the si( case study teachers. In an attempt to develop comprehensive pictures of each teacher%s beliefs and classroom practices# the intervie "uestions addressed a ide array of areas including attitudes to ard the curriculum change# perception about learning and classroom groupings. The term classroom practice as used in a comprehensive sense to encompass everything the teachers did in the classroom# including planning# assessing# reflecting and interacting ith learners# as ell as everything they !no # believed and thought about hat they did *5ein' et al.# 6777+. ;ata analysis ere carried out using some of the categories of Ernest%s */010+ mathematics beliefs model# and data ere revie ed and categori'ed into four areas4 )eliefs about mathematics and teachingG )eliefs about learning mathematicsG )eliefs about the impact of the in-service programme )eliefs about the influence of conte(tual factors on teaching and learning *GErnest# /010+ eacher !athematics Portfolio The focus of this tas! as on using portfolios ith practicing teachers to encourage them to reflect on themselves as learners of mathematics and to reassess their beliefs and role as classroom teachers. Teachers collected various !inds of evidence to document hat they !ne and could do. 8ortfolios can demonstrate ho teachers help students learn as ell as offering an opportunity for teachers to ma!e a statement about their personal philosophy of teaching# hence they offer valuable insights into a teacher%s practice *Coughran < Corrigan# /00A+. I studied these portfolios to assess hat I could discern about teachers% beliefs and classroom practices. Also# I e(amined them for themes and noted general impressions. I considered ho teachers% beliefs led to teachers ta!ing responsibility in improving their teaching and the learning in the classroom.

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Classroom "bservations T o observation periods over t o years too! place ith the si( cases. Appro(imately t o hours as spent ith each classroom visit. Field notes ere made of each mathematics lesson observed to record teacher actions# student actions# teacher interaction ith learners# and mathematical tas!sEactivities. To gain insight into teachers% formal teaching e(periences the observations ere conducted unobtrusively in order to understand Hthe research setting# its participants# and their behaviorI *:lesne < 8esh!in# /006# p.>6+ ;ISCUSSI&, )eliefs about teaching The teachers proclaimed several constructivist beliefs about learning mathematics as a result of the intervention. From a constructivist perspective# a !ey component of learning is reflection on one%s activity *5ein'# 6777+. All the teachers in the study vie ed reflection as an important part of their practice. Teachers sho ed an a areness of the advantages of reflecting and at the same time# improving that practice hen they gained insight into possible sources of their learners% difficulties. )eliefs about Cearning These beliefs varied ith regard to hat# hy and ho learning should progress. Each of the si( case study teachers indicated an acceptance of learners% ideas and regarded sharing of ideas as important for learning. 9ost of the teachers shared the vie that problem solving as essential to learning mathematics and at the same time should be related to real life. Teachers also claimed a belief in allo ing learners the use of manipulatives as a means of encouraging better understanding. Teachers indicated that they practiced cooperative learning in their classroom although the emphasis in incorporating it# ith regard to a purpose for learning# differed some hat. Cearners or!ed in small groups# interacting and sharing ideas. 9ost of the teachers% professed vie s of the importance of cooperative learning to student achievement as consistent ith their classroom practice. )eliefs on the influence of conte(tual factors in teaching and learning It as evident from teachers% responses to intervie "uestions and their reflections that conte(tual factors played a ma2or role in bringing about change in their classrooms. The role of language# that is# learning mathematics through a language that as not the learners% first home language seemed to be a serious problem for all the teachers in this study. Absenteeism also created problems for teachers. Thami indicated that on rainy days learners did not attend school. 9ost learners lived very far from school and they al!ed to school. She elaborated that Hif it rains the learners are not here for maybe a #hole #ee$ and you are not going to teach%& &ther factors such as lac! of accommodation and furniture# shortage of resources and lac! of teaching materials are 2ust some of the problems that the teachers had to cope ith. )eliefs on the impact of the programme A significant finding in this study suggests that the RU9E8 programme provided an opportunity for participant teachers% beliefs and practices to interact. The outcomes of the study sho ho the RU9E8 professional development programme impacted on teachers% beliefs and classroom practices. 5elen stated that the course had definitely helped her and she no felt more at ease in her teaching$ she believed more in herself$ she believed in hat she as doing and that learners ere the most important aspect of teaching and learning. She reported4

' didn(t feel very confident #hen doing problem solving) ' got better understanding of #hat #as going on because of the meaningful discussion and meaningful e*planations that too$ place in our group% +his most certainly helped me get over my feeling of helplessness and disillusionment #hen it came to problem,solving) And no#, because ' have a better understanding of #hat ' am doing, ' feel more confident about problem solving) Thami e(plained ho she changed from a HtraditionalI to that of a constructivist teacher. The learners ere no longer passive and she no longer acts as if she is the only source of information. In her vie this e(perience on the course changed her personally and it also motivated her in becoming a Hchange agentI anting to change the attitudes of other teachers. Thabo%s changed role is summari'ed in the follo ing statement4 'n the past ' used to stand there and lecture to the learners) ' told them everything) -ut no# ' have changed . give the activities to the learners , they #or$ #ith the activities and ' interact #ith them through discussion) 'n the past my teaching #as centered around me, but no# everything is centered around the learner *Intervie +. All si( teachers responded positively on the use of the portfolio as a reflective tool in reassessing their beliefs and roles as classroom teachers. The teachers% reflective statements suggest that the construction of portfolios in professional development programmes plays an important role in capturing many aspects of teaching and learning. The teachers also commented on ho the planning of lessons improved since they entered the programme. I!P#ICA I"$S A$D C"$C#%SI"$ The findings from this small scale study indicated that# regardless of the nature of a professional development programme one offers# if teachers do not believe in and understand the importance of the approaches# strategies and methods# and if they have not e(perienced those strategies themselves as learners# they ill not be implemented in their classrooms. 9ore importantly# teachers need support to assist them through the change process. In the south African conte(t# it ould be of little value for teachers to attend courses at the university and then return to their schools to be faced ith the comple(ities at the schools ithout support from teacher educators. The results in this study confirm that reflective teaching can play an important role in promoting reform-based practices. Teachers using portfolios as a reflective tool ould benefit from continuously analy'ing their teaching. In particular# if it involves self-construction of !no ledge ithin a social conte(t. Tann */00B+ suggested that the value of engaging in reflective activity is almost al ays enhanced if it can be carried out in association ith other colleagues. This as especially evident during portfolio conference sessions hen teachers shared their portfolios ith other course participants. Teachers found this e(perience of sharing ith others helpful because they could share their problems and concerns ith teachers of similar bac!grounds. This study contributes to an overall goal of understanding in-service mathematics teachers% professional development in the conte(t of shifting from a traditional transmission approach to teaching# to a more reform-based# constructivist approach. Teachers in this study# much as teachers in previous studies of beliefs *Raymond# /00J# Thompson# /01>+ sho ed that their beliefs ere not al ays consistent ith their practice. Undoubtedly# teachers% beliefs about the impact of conte(tual factors

played an important role in the teaching of mathematics as teaching and learning.

ell as their beliefs about

8articipating teachers in this study identified language as a !ey factor limiting understanding mathematics. It ould be reasonable for teachers in similar situations# to pay close attention to this issue and decide at an early stage hat and ho they ere going to address this problem. =e ere less successful in assisting teachers to overcome this barrier. Finally# I have not attempted to generalise my findings to the rest of the cohort teachers participating in the RU9E8 course. This limitation as born of this type of case study research. It ould be of interest to e(tend the study to a ne cohort ith a larger sample. &E'E&E$CES Clar!# C. < 8eterson# 8. */01@+. Teachers% thought processes. In 9.C. =itroc! *Ed.+ /andboo$ of research on teaching *Brd Edition+# ,e Dor!4 9acmillan# 6AA-60@. Coet'er# I.A. *677/+. A survey and appraisal of outcomes-based education*&)E+ in South Africa ith reference to progressive education in America. Educare# B7 */>6+# JB-0B. Cooney#T.# Shealy# ).# < Arvold# ). */001+. Conceptuali'ing belief structures pf preservice secondary mathematics teachers. 0ournal for Research in Mathematics Education# 60 *B+# B7@-BBB. Ernest# 8. */010+. The !no ledge# beliefs and attitudes of the mathematics teacher4 a model. 0ournal of Education for teaching, /A */+# /B-BB. 5arley# 3.# )arasa#F.# )ertram# C.# 9attson# E. < 8illay# S. *6777+ HThe real and the idealI 4 teacher roles and competences in South African policy and practice# 'nternational 0ournal of Educational 1evelopment 67 *>+# 61J-B7>. 5ein'# 3.# 3in'el.# 9.# Simon# 9. T'ur# R. *6777+. 9oving students through steps of mathematical !no ing. An account of the practice of an elementary mathematics teacher in transition. 0ournal of Mathematical -ehavior# /0 */+# 1B-/7J. .ansen# ..;. */001+ Curriculum reform in South Africa4 A critical analysis of outcomes-based education) Cambridge 0ournal of Education# 61 *B+. .ay# ..3. < .ohnson# 3.C. *6776+. Capturing the comple(ity4 a typology of reflective practice for teacher education. +eaching and +eacher Education# /1 */+# JB-1A. Coughran# .. < Corrigan# ;. */00A+. Teaching portfolios4 A strategy for developing learning and teaching in pre-service education. +eaching and teacher Education# // *@+# A@A-AJJ. 8a2ares# 9.F.# */006+. Teachers% beliefs and educational research4 cleaning up a messy construct) Revie# of Educational Research# @6 *B+# B7J-BB6.

9ayer# R. */01A+ Recent research on teacher beliefs and its use in the improvement of instruction) Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Education Research Association# Chicago. *E; 6A0 >AJ+ Richardson# K. */00@+. The role of attitudes and beliefs in learning to teach. In ..Si!ula *Ed.+ /andboo$ of research on teacher education# ,e Dor!4 9ac9illan# /76-//0. Stein# 9.3.# Smith# 9.# < Silver# E.A. */000+. The development of professional developers4 learning to assist teachers in ne settings in ne ays. /arvard Educational Revie## @0 *B+ 6BJ-6@0. Tann# S. */00B+. Eliciting student teachers% personal theories. In ..Calderhead < 8.:ates# *Eds.+# Conceptuali2ing reflection in teacher development. Condon4Falmer 8ress. Thompson# A.:.*/006+. Teachers% beliefs and conceptions4 a synthesis of research. In ;.:rou s *Ed.+# /andboo$ of research on mathematics teaching and learning. ,e Dor!4 9ac9illan# /6J-/>@. =olf# 3. */00>+. Teaching portfolios4 capturing the comple(ity of teaching. In C. Ingvarson < R. Chadbourne *Eds.+ 3aluing teachers #or$4 5e# directions in teacher appraisal. Kictoria4 The Australian Council for Educational Research.