Cognitive skills in Senior Science: A pilot study of curriculum alignment in Far North Queensland

Year: 2019

Author: Pudelko, Claudia, Boon, Helen, Dinan-Thompson, Maree, Dalley, Leanne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The year 2019 marks a shift in Queensland senior schooling with the introduction of the new Queensland Certificate of Education. The reformed system places strong emphasis on equipping students with a range of cognitive skills. Marzano and Kendall’s New Taxonomy of Educational Objectives has been chosen by the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority as the underpinning framework for all new syllabi. This taxonomy proposes a model of cognitive skills for learning new knowledge and each subjects’ learning objectives are now prefaced by a ‘cognitive verb’ based on the New Taxonomy. Teachers across all subject areas are expected to include cognitive skills, e.g. explaining, analysing or evaluating, in their explicit curriculum.

This pilot study analyses cognitive verbs in the new Queensland Biology, Chemistry and Physics syllabi and measures their alignment with cognitive skills taught in classrooms. Teachers’ instructions were matched to cognitive skills using a modified version of the Florida Taxonomy of Cognitive Behaviour (mFTCB). The original classroom observation instrument is based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, whereas items of the modified version have been re-written to match cognitive levels of the New Taxonomy. Curriculum alignment was calculated using Porter’s Alignment Index by comparing the proportions of cognitive skills at each cognitive level between syllabus objectives and classroom instructions.

Classroom observations were conducted in Cairns, Far North Queensland. The region has a number of characteristics which result in fewer professional development opportunities for teachers. Its remoteness, low density population, high student diversity, and shortage of secondary science teachers, all lead to less collaboration between schools of the same district. Hence, the implementation of the new senior system will likely be more challenging than in other regions of Queensland. Research evaluating reform efforts, curriculum alignment and teaching practice in such a context has the potential to increase equity, engagement and achievement of senior secondary students in remote regions of Australia.

Results of this pilot study evaluate the reliability of the mFTCB and introduce secondary school teachers as well as academics to a new method of assessing the implementation and alignment of cognitive skills curricula. The mFTCB may also benefit educators as a self-reflection or planning tool and thus improve effective and purposeful teaching of cognitive skills. Research building on this pilot study has not just the potential to advance existing theory on cognitive skills curriculum alignment, but also to shape the design of teachers’ professional development on cognitive skills pedagogy.