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BCTF Research Report

Section XII
93-EI-05

Teaching in the ’90s
Report No. 1: Changing Teaching Practice:
Teachers' Aspirations Meet School Realities

By Larry Kuehn, Director
Research and Technology
December 1993

Teaching in the ’90s is a series of reports based on a survey of B.C. teachers conducted in May and June of 1993. It constitutes a culture map of B.C. teachers, looking at teacher practices and a range of current issues in education. 2,000 questionnaires were mailed to a random sample of BCTF members. 735 responses were entered into a Teaching in the ’90s database, and form the basis of the reports.


B.C. Teachers Support Changes in Teaching Practice;
Conditions in the Schools are an Impediment to Effecting Change


A. “ASPECTS OF TEACHING”: DESCRIPTION OF QUESTIONS

British Columbia embarked, in the late 1980s, on an attempt to make a systemic change in the structure, curriculum, and teaching practice in B.C. schools. The process was initiated with the Sullivan Commission on Education, followed in 1989 by a government policy described as the “Year 2000,” which was outlined in the “Policy Directions” paper from the B.C. government.

By the 1992–93 school year, the Primary Program covering a child's first four years in school was in place as the provincially authorized program. Two other programs, described as Intermediate (covering what was traditionally grades four to ten) and Graduation (traditionally grades eleven and twelve), were under development and discussion, but had not been released for general feedback, nor adopted as the official provincial program.

Although only a small portion of the full program was in place as the official program, the general principles underlying the Year 2000 program were generally known throughout the teaching force.

The “Teaching in the ’90s” survey included questions on seventeen of what were called “aspects of teaching.” These seventeen areas were organized into “Paradigm A” and “Paradigm B.”

The items in “Paradigm A” might be characterized as “traditional” schooling practices; those in “Paradigm B” might be characterized as “progressive” schooling practices. However, these content labels were intentionally not included in the questions, to avoid the emotive weight that might accompany them. The descriptions in Paradigm B are generally concepts on which the “Year 2000” programs are based.

Those filling out the questionnaire were not asked to choose one paradigm or the other, but rather to choose a place on a continuum between 1 and 7. For each of the seventeen areas they were asked to identify placement on the continuum three times: once for where they would prefer to be in their own teaching practice; once for where they actually are in their teaching practice; and once for where they perceive practice to be in their school.

Following are the seventeen pairs that represented the continuum between the two paradigms:

Paradigm A Paradigm B

CURRICULUM
Major focus on content Major focus on process
Discrete discipline Integration of subjects
Content acquisition Learning to learn
Prescribed scope and sequence Continuous progress

INSTRUCTION
Teacher-centered instruction Child-centered instruction
Single instructional style Multiple instructional styles
Direct instruction Active learning

SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT
Single grade grouping Multi-age grouping
Competition Co-operative learning
Teacher role as supervisor of learners Self-directed learners
Hierarchical administrative structures Professional/collegial relationships
Teacher as independent professional Collaborative inter-dependent teacher relationship
School as a closed system School within community context
Little encouragement for community involvement Community involvement actively sought

ASSESSMENT AND REPORTING
Standard tests Authentic (performance) assessment
Letter grades Anecdotal reporting
Norm-referenced exams Reference sets or checklists


B. WHAT DID TEACHERS SAY?

The mean score for each of the seventeen items has been plotted on the attached graphs.

The graph “Aspects of Teaching--1” shows the mean scores for all respondents, incorporating teachers from the range of grade levels, and teachers in non-classroom positions as well as those in classrooms.

The graph “Aspects of Teaching--2: Primary” shows the mean scores for teachers who identified themselves as primary teachers.

The graph “Aspects of Teaching--3: Secondary” shows the mean scores for teachers who identified themselves as secondary teachers.


C. WHAT DOES THIS SURVEY SUGGEST ABOUT TEACHING PRACTICE IN B.C. SCHOOLS?

  1. On most of the seventeen items surveyed, teachers’ ideals for practice tend toward the “progressive” paradigm.

    The “Aspects of Teaching” questions were presented in four categories: curriculum, instruction, school environment, and assessment and reporting. Many of the items described objectives for systemic changes identified for the Year 2000 program, including “continuous progress,” “active learning,” “co-operative learning,” and “authentic (performance) assessment.”

    On most of the items identified, teachers indicated that they would prefer their own practice to be closer to Paradigm B than to the more traditional practices in Paradigm A.

  2. At all levels of the system, teacher support for progressive approaches is not matched by the reality of practice.

    Teachers identify their own teaching practice as falling short of their ideal. Practices in their school are perceived as even more toward the traditional than the teacher’s own practice.

    The desire for change, in other words, has been much stronger than the reality of change. The institutional practices of the school impede change. If change is to be supported on a systemic basis, these institutional practices must be identified and strategies adopted that focus not just on changing the practice of individual teachers, but also on creating institutional supports, rather than impediments, for change.

  3. Significant similarities exist between primary and secondary teachers.

    Teacher responses followed a common pattern at all levels. Teachers’ preferred practices were more toward the “progressive” paradigm than their actual practice. Perceived practices of the school as a whole are further toward the traditional than either preferred or actual practice by the teacher.

  4. Significant differences exist between primary and secondary teachers.

    It should be no surprise that significant differences exist between primary and secondary teachers. The training of these teachers is different. The size of the schools in which they teach is different. The developmental level of the students they teach is different. The expectations that are external to the school are different.

    While the pattern of preferred practice being more “progressive” than actual practice holds at all levels, primary teachers and schools are further toward the “progressive” on all questions. The training and experience of primary teachers over the past fifteen years, along with the stamp of official approval from the government, have moved primary teachers further and faster than secondary teachers.

  5. Single-grade grouping is preferred over multi-grade grouping.

    Some proponents of change see the creation of multi-grade grouping as an important structural component of continuous progress approaches. However, this survey shows substantially more support for continuous progress (as an alternative to prescribed scope and sequence) than for multi-grade groupings.

    A possible explanation for support of single-grade grouping may be that other factors are already creating too much of a breakdown of the classroom as a working social system: students with special needs are being integrated into the regular classroom; the social, cultural, and first-language makeup of the student body is becoming more diverse. Adding a wider range of student ages to the classroom may increase the difficulties in a system already experiencing challenges to maintaining stability.

  6. Primary and Secondary teachers have very different views on anecdotal reporting and letter grades.

    Not surprisingly, anecdotal reporting has substantial support at the primary level, while secondary teachers are more favorable to letter grades.

    However, even at the primary level, respondents felt that actual practice was further toward anecdotal reporting than teachers’ preferred practice.

  7. The greatest gap between teacher preferences and actual school practice is in the area of professional relationships.

    Teachers identified a preference for “professional/collegial relationships,” but find that actual practice in the school is more toward the “hierarchical administrative structures” end of the continuum. This gap was more pronounced at the secondary level than at the primary level. On no other item was there as wide a gap between teacher preferences and the reality in their school.


Primary/Secondary Comparison for “Aspects of Teaching”

  Primary/Secondary Comparison for
“Aspects of Teaching”
Mean Scores
Primary Secondary Overall

Major focus on content On process
[018] I prefer to be here 5.65 5.09 5.42
[019] I am actually here 4.77 4.16 4.54
[020] My school is here 4.19 3.39 3.93

Discrete discipline Integration of subjects
[021] I prefer to be here 5.99 4.70 5.45
[022] I am actually here 5.17 3.34 4.40
[023] My school is here 4.31 2.95 3.78

Content acquisition Learning to learn
[024] I prefer to be here 6.06 5.47 5.80
[025] I am actually here 4.96 4.11 4.64
[026] My school is here 4.32 3.26 3.88

Prescribed scope and sequence Continuous progress
[027] I prefer to be here 5.89 4.65 5.33
[028] I am actually here 5.27 3.89 4.63
[029] My school is here 4.58 3.28 4.04

Teacher-centred instruction Child-centred instruction
[030] I prefer to be here 5.67 5.16 5.45
[031] I am actually here 4.77 4.06 4.49
[032] My school is here 4.05 3.33 3.87

Single instructional style Multiple instructional styles
[033] I prefer to be here 6.30 6.20 6.29
[034] I am actually here 5.16 4.85 5.12
[035] My school is here 4.52 4.06 4.33

Direct instruction Active learning
[036] I prefer to be here 5.95 5.65 5.77
[037] I am actually here 4.99 4.47 4.73
[038] My school is here 4.28 3.70 4.12

Single-grade grouping Multi-age grouping
[039] I prefer to be here 4.10 3.46 3.94
[040] I am actually here 3.84 3.24 3.61
[041] My school is here 3.74 2.75 3.48

Competition Co-operative learning
[042] I prefer to be here 5.80 4.88 5.33
[043] I am actually here 5.17 4.14 4.72
[044] My school is here 4.45 3.38 4.09

Teacher role as supervisor
of learners

Self-directed
[045] I prefer to be here 5.41 5.02 5.23
[046] I am actually here 4.36 3.62 4.08
[047] My school is here 3.86 2.93 3.51

Hierarchical administrative structures Professional/collegial relationships
[048] I prefer to be here 6.30 5.94 6.05
[049] I am actually here 5.05 4.32 4.74
[050] My school is here 4.25 3.37 3.95

Teacher as independent
professional
Collaborative inter-dependent
teacher relationship
[051] I prefer to be here 5.90 5.28 5.63
[052] I am actually here 4.87 4.04 4.53
[053] My school is here 4.19 3.37 3.91

School as a closed system School within community
[054] I prefer to be here 5.76 5.44 5.64
[055] I am actually here 4.56 3.93 4.40
[056] My school is here 4.26 3.59 4.03

Little encouragement for
community involvement
Community involvement
actively sought
[057] I prefer to be here 5.74 5.55 5.73
[058] I am actually here 4.64 3.94 4.45
[059] My school is here 4.45 3.77 4.23

Standardized tests Authentic (performance)
[060] I prefer to be here 6.18 5.28 5.66
[061] I am actually here 5.78 4.46 5.05
[062] My school is here 4.97 3.51 4.41

Letter grades Anecdotal reporting
[063] I prefer to be here 5.99 3.54 4.82
[064] I am actually here 6.50 2.96 4.83
[065] My school is here 5.56 2.46 4.23

Norm-referenced exams Reference sets or checklists
[066] I prefer to be here 6.15 4.49 5.34
[067] I am actually here 5.69 3.80 4.73
[068] My school is here 4.83 3.19 4.11


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