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'Making' a research user: Teacher de-professionalization in the name of educational research
University of Borås, Faculty of Librarianship, Information, Education and IT.
University of Borås, Faculty of Librarianship, Information, Education and IT.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-1424-6063
2017 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Over the past two decades there has been a strong push for evidence-based inclusive education. As an example, the European Union has co-funded projects that aim to develop the potential of evidence-based practice in inclusive educational approaches in schools across Europe. Critics emphasise, however, that there are democratic deficits in the evidence-based approach. One main argument is that the idea of evidence-based practice provides a framework for the role of research in educational practice that not only restricts educational decision-making to questions about ‘what works’, but also restricts the opportunities for participation in educational decision-making. It is emphasised that teachers have to be involved in continuing professional development as autonomous professionals to enhance the teaching and learning practice. The evidence-based practice movement has been regarded by numerous critics as a major threat to teacher professionalism that undermines efforts to increase teacher autonomy. The consequences of adopting an evidence-based approach have, however, not been the subject of much empirical research. The many controversies that have arisen between proponents and opponents have mainly taken place on a theoretical level.

This study goes beyond previous controversies by investigating evidence-based inclusive education in practice. The study draws on data from an EU-financed education project aimed at implementing and developing evidence-based inclusive teaching strategies at the primary school level in five countries in Europe. In Sweden, one municipality took part in this project. Two project leaders, two school psychologists, three principals and sixteen teachers working at three different primary schools in the municipality were involved. One of the main purposes in the EU-project was to educate teachers on inclusive teaching strategies via education interventions (i.e. continuing professional development). Two researchers (the authors of this paper) were involved in continuous evaluative contract research ordered by the municipality to explore what kind of professional learning practices were constituted in the project, and how these practices promoted or impeded the development of inclusive teaching practices.

In this paper, we present the part of this study that focuses on how the professional learning practices influenced teachers’ participation in educational decision-making.

The study takes its point of departure in the practice theory terrain and more specifically in the theory of practice architectures. A practice is, from this point of view, an organised nexus of actions such as ‘sayings-and-doings’. Added to these actions is, according to the theory of practice architectures, ‘relatings’. People talk, act and relate to one another in certain ways in a site. These specific sayings-doings-relatings constitute a practice. Furthermore, a practice is historically, culturally, socially, politically and discursively constituted and it is enabled and constrained by its cultural-discursive, material-economic and social-political arrangements. The arrangements constitute the architectures of practices, although practices are not seen as determined by the arrangements: participants have an agency and the power to change practices. The theory is understood and used as an ontological, epistemological, methodological and analytical resource.

 

Method

According to the study’s theoretical point of departure, ethnographic methods have been adopted. The analysis mainly draws on data from participative observations of: - professional learning practices - teaching practices - practices of meetings: continuous meetings between project leaders and researchers (the authors) focusing on the progress of the development project.

The first practice observed was organised as a continuing professional development practice. The project leaders planned and took responsibility for the content. Sixteen teachers from three different schools were gathered on six half-days over four months. These half-day sessions focused on conveying inclusive teaching strategies related to domains such as meta-cognition, peer-learning, formative assessment and learning styles. In view of the lessons learned from similar projects, the teachers were encouraged by the project leaders to make up their own action plans based on inclusive strategies which they had found particularly interesting.The teachers discussed their views on the different types of action suggested and how these strategies could be combined with specific techniques and materials to meet student needs and to develop more inclusive teaching practices. In total, six half-day sessions were observed. 

The second professional learning practice was formalised as collegial learning aimed at follow up individual teaching (to put their action plans into practice) in the context of their local school.Taking part in these follow-up sessions were researchers, school psychologists, teachers from the local school, the principal and one project leader. The aim was to provide teachers with feedback on how they had implemented their action plans. In total, four follow-up sessions were observed at one of the participating schools. 

Field notes were made by both authors and used for joint reflections and first analyses. Some of these reflections were discussed continuously with the project leaders as part of the contract between the municipality and the university. Some document material was also analysed. This included material such as PPT-files and PDF-documents that, among other things, contain information about the EU-project, the different inclusive teaching strategies promoted and various teacher assignments performed in the project.

The theory of practice architectures has been used as a lens in the analyses of the empirical material to explore what enabled and constrained teachers’ possibilities of participating in educational decision-making. The analyses of the empirical material have been conducted by the authors as a team and any disagreement has been resolved by discussion.

Result

The results show how teachers’ possibilities for acting as autonomous professionals in the practices of professional learning were constrained in numerous different ways. One of the strongest constraints for the teachers’ possibilities for professional learning was the nature of the EU-project. The epistemological approach (cultural-discursive arrangement) in the project was clearly instrumental, which ultimately made teachers into research consumers rather than autonomous contributors to the practices of professional learning. As an example, the project leaders continuously had to report to the project owner (an EU-organisation) the progress of the education intervention, which explicitly was supposed to contribute to the knowledge-base on ‘what works’ in inclusive education. The project leaders expressed that they felt pressure to show ‘good results’ when reporting back. This focus on finding out what works, within in a limited time-frame (6 month [material-economic arrangements]), appeared to hinder any other approach to enhance inclusive teaching practices. When the teachers tried to discuss and problematize the meaning of ‘inclusion for all pupils’ they were fed with pre-defined inclusion concepts and evidence-based inclusive teaching strategies derived from the literature included in the EU-project. Consequently, the teachers’ experiences and knowledge of how inclusive teaching and learning practices might be formed were not asked for. Furthermore, the researchers (the authors) were several times used to justify the chosen approach. The project leaders turned to the researchers to confirm the evidence-based claims made during the half-day sessions. Even though the researchers tried, they found it extremely difficult to promote a completely different kind of professional learning practice within this context (social-political arrangements), and that is partly why this paper characterises the development project as ‘teacher de-professionalisation in the name of educational research’.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017.
National Category
Didactics
Research subject
Teacher Education and Education Work
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hb:diva-12828OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hb-12828DiVA, id: diva2:1148138
Conference
ECER Conference, Copenhagen, August 22-25, 2017
Available from: 2017-10-10 Created: 2017-10-10 Last updated: 2017-12-13Bibliographically approved

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Levinsson, MagnusLangelotz, Lill

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