Teacher inquiry for social equity: the nuances and considerations

Year: 2019

Author: Ong, Woei, Ling

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In today’s political and social reality, education for a socially just world has never been more urgent. There is a general agreement on the important role that education play in bringing about social equity across societies; of which teacher learning is widely acknowledged and recognised as the sine qua non of school improvement efforts. Since 2009, public schools in Singapore are established as Professional Learning Communities (PLC) to enhance student learning through collaborative inquiry. In this study, the teachers articulated repeatedly that through collaborative inquiry, they strive to support their learners who were from the less privileged social-economic backgrounds, for positive student outcomes by adopting innovative teaching strategies.

Hence, this study aims to understand the process of teacher inquiry about pedagogy within the PLTs, and the school-based structures that shape the inquiry process. Findings contribute to the field’s nuanced understanding of the enactment of teacher inquiry and the affordances of school-based structures.

The study involved two case studies of teacher inquiry about pedagogy within a primary level public school; the English PLT and Mathematics PLT. The research team observed the PLT meetings, conducted two focus group discussions and one post-inquiry interview with each teachers involved. The team proceeded with process coding (Saldana, 2016) on the data, using the bottom up and top approach to gain insights into the inquiry process. Within-case analysis and across-cases analysis were conducted to examine the inquiry process within and across the PLTs.

Findings from the study demonstrated that inquiry problems identified in isolation from other aspects of the subject matter, like subject content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge, dampen the richness of the inquiry. In relation, narrow interventions, like the singular aim of helping learners to commit to memory information, be it English grammar rules or multiplication tables using innovative strategies, like games based learning and Shichida method, for speed and accuracy, constrains the scope and depth of inquiry. Presence of teachers with strong subject content knowledge and reflective and reflexive stance towards inquiry within the PLTs shape the discourse and drive it critically towards its intended purpose. The implications for teacher learning and strategic deployment of teachers with diverse profiles in PLTs are evident. While teachers are eager to adopt innovative teaching strategies, findings show that considerations on the above factors would further support the efforts in using these innovative teaching strategies to improve students’ learning outcomes for equity.