Designing a teacher development programme to enhance the teaching of higher order thinking and conceptual understanding in primary school social studies
Permanent link to Research Commons versionhttps://hdl.handle.net/10289/15297
While higher order thinking has always been regarded as an essential component of social studies education, personal observations over a number of years and the findings of a survey which examined New Zealand social studies between 1984 and 1986 indicated that higher order thinking skills were generally taught ineffectively in social studies classrooms in New Zealand schools. This thesis describes a small scale action research project concerned with the development of an intervention process designed to enhance the teaching of higher order thinking skills by affecting changes in teacher understanding and teacher behaviour. The project sought to determine the extent to which teachers provided learning activities which were likely to bring about higher order thinking; the degree to which higher order thinking skills were used in activities to achieve particular goals; and those aspects of teacher behaviour or understanding which limited opportunity for students to engage in higher order thinking in primary school social studies. Once data had been obtained, the project team, the researcher and six classroom teachers, developed an intervention programme designed to encourage teachers to adopt behaviours which would lead to improved higher order thinking in social studies classrooms. Elements of both quantitative and qualitative methodology were used in the project, but, because it was primarily concerned with the effects of intervention on the functioning of people in a particular social situation, the project followed an action research model in its structure and in most methods. The intervention was based on a model which grouped the individual thinking skills in the national social studies curriculum into six groups of analogous skills. The groupings were made on the assumption that one reason teachers used higher order thinking skills ineffectively in social studies, was that they found it impractical to apply the long lists of specific skills provided by the national curriculum. The model was also designed to demonstrate the relationship between specific thinking skills and conceptual understanding because, although the national curriculum emphasised the importance of both of these in classroom social studies, the relationship between the two was not made clear either in that document, or in earlier national curricula. The model was designed to provide teachers with a representation of the thinking processes in social studies. However, it also proved useful as an analytical tool. In the observations which were a major part of the project, the model was used to identify the thinking skills dominant and evident in classroom learning activities. In a series of detailed classroom observations the researcher recorded and examined teacher questions, time allocated to classroom activities, skills emphasised and evident in learning activities, and teacher understanding of the nature and structure of social studies. In the intervention which followed the observations, members of the research team modified the original model and developed further models which related the intent of the original to the structure of the national curriculum and to classroom practice. These models were applied, and a second series of observations conducted. At the time that this project took place New Zealand teachers were teaching social studies from the first draft of a new national curriculum. This draft has since been superseded by a further draft Social Studies in the New Zealand Curriculum (Revised Draft) (New Zealand Ministry of Education 1996) and by the final version of the national curriculum, Social Studies in the New Zealand Curriculum (New Zealand Ministry of Education 1997). The teaching and learning activities in the case studies in this paper are based on the first draft of the national social studies curriculum. This project was a case study in one school, an action research model that sought to diagnose a particular problem in one setting, plan remedial action to deal with the problem and monitor the results of that action. Because the research field was limited to one setting, and because the research sample was necessarily small, it is not possible to make generalisations that can be applied to contexts wider than the one in which the research took place. In qualitative research conclusions point to possible new policies rather than to scientific generalisations and principles. Nonetheless, the project’s results suggest that when teachers understand the nature, purpose and structure of social studies education, planning and teaching are more effective. Teacher understanding can be enhanced through the use of a model when that model is simple, when it has practical classroom application and when teachers are themselves involved in its design and construction.
The University of Waikato
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