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New Zealand Science Teacher

Teacher Education in Science

New book provides support for teaching as inquiry

The result of a significant research project, a new book highlights strategies for supporting priority learners.

453443071 boy with flowersA book about teaching as inquiry has a special focus on how teachers can improve their practice to support priority learners, in science and other subjects.

Teaching as inquiry, with a focus on priority learners is hot off the press from the New Zealand Council of Educational Research (NZCER), and addresses the question of how teachers might manage Teaching as Inquiry (TAI) as part of their everyday work.

Author Professor Lindsey Conner says the work is based on findings from the Secondary Student Achievement project, a collaborative effort that comprises 47 different secondary schools, school advisors and multiple teachers (between five and 20 from each participating school).

The research into teaching as inquiry took place in secondary schools, with mostly year 11-13 classes, but the resulting perspectives and strategies will be useful to all teachers, she says.

A team of facilitators has been working on the Ministry of Education-funded project since 2013, and will continue throughout 2016.

“The book is based on success stories from teachers and the school advisors who have written about specific changes in teaching to meet the needs of their priority learners and related this to a range of student outcomes,” says Lindsey.

She says that the book will provide a wealth of examples and useful strategies schools can continue to implement as it is about continuous improvement.

“We’ve created this book so there are examples for teachers in the schools in which we are working and for teachers who are grappling with TAI. In the case of science teachers, for example, we were able to link their success stories to the understanding of the language of science and improving NCEA outcomes.

“My role was to pull together the evidential base, and also to include three case study schools in depth. For these, we looked at how the subject departments are managing to incorporate the findings from their many inquiries into their departmental processes,” she says.

Priority learners

In the Secondary Student Achievement project, the subject-specific facilitators encouraged the participating teachers to make changes in their teaching to particularly support four or five priority learners in their class. The progress of these particular students was then observed and evaluated.

Priority learners include Māori, Pasifika, and students with English as a second language, and those with special education needs. Also included in this group are students who have been at risk of not passing NCEA subjects in the past.

“Teachers in the project were asked to choose four or five priority learners in each class, in order to keep the scope manageable,” says Lindsey.

“It’s not a whole-class approach, but rather a progress-based approach. And this is what distinguishes it from other, similar TAI research projects that have been run in New Zealand in the past, in that it’s looking specifically at evidence of learning progress, and how these particular students are developing their skills, related to their identified needs in each subject area.

“Science was one of those subject areas, but the book covers other subject areas too.”


Teaching as inquiry

The introduction of the book outlines the basics of what teaching as inquiry is, and then steps through aspects of the inquiry process.

“As part of The New Zealand Curriculum, teaching as inquiry is now a required element of what educators do, but many find it difficult to manage, because it feels too big -- they haven’t known where to start,” says Lindsey.

“And it is potentially too big, if you focus on the whole class. So, we’ve used this process to help teachers manage what they’re doing, to help them refine it down.”

Lindsey describes the process as one that is constantly evolving and developing.

“It’s a cyclical process, so they may ask themselves one question about their students’ learning, and in response to the outcome they might get, they either change how they teach, or work with facilitators to work out some useful tools or strategies.

“So it’s very much a student-needs-based model – about responding to individual students’ needs. As the teachers learn, and the students learn, they can work together to see what they need to do next.”

In the book’s foreword, Lindsey writes that teachers are realising they can be agents of change within their classrooms, by focusing on quite specific changes in their practice.

Their moral imperative is clear: they want to improve the life chances of their students, she writes.

Teachers and schools can buy copies of the book from NZCER

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