Studying classrooms across cultures: Methodological considerations

Year: 2012

Author: Chen, Sharon Hsiao-Lan, Tytler, Russell, Ramseger, Joerg, Hackling, Mark, Hsiung, Chao-Ti

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Chair: Professor David Clarke

There has been increasing interest in international comparisons of teaching and learning. Video capture of classrooms across national boundaries has raised questions about the varying foci of teaching and learning including attention to reasoning in mathematics and science classrooms (Stigler & Hiebert, 1997; Lokan, Hollingsworth & Hackling 2006) and the possibility of significant cultural determinants of classroom practice (Stigler & Hiebert, 1998). There have been significant international comparative studies exploring cultural signatures in mathematics teaching (Clarke et al., 2006).

The EQUALPRIME project is a study of quality teaching and learning in primary science classrooms in Taiwan, Germany and Australia, focusing particularly on teacher practice to support quality learning and reasoning.  

This paper attempts to capture some of the key issues that have arisen in the study and the methodological response in each case. The analysis draws on notes taken, and a 'shared repertoire', developed over two years during team meetings (Chen, 2010). The presentation will feature short video segments of classrooms from the three countries to raise key points of variation and to explore the dimensions across which comparisons might productively be made. The paper aims to develop a framework that captures the key methodological issues associated with cross-national classroom studies:

  • The benefits and dangers of cross national comparison. How transposable are practices that are deeply cultural? The potential to increase our sensitivity to pedagogical variation.
  • Sampling issues raising the question of what the selected classrooms represent. The implications of variation within a country.
  • The challenge of characterizing 'culture' - untangling the different levels at which nationally specific practices might frame classroom practices.
  • The entanglement of language and culture in selection and application of analytical constructs, including the problem of privilege in adopting English as the analysis and communication medium.
  • Managing choices concerning the theoretical frames chosen, and the unit of analysis.
  • The possibilities opened up by video capture and the power conferred by contemporary software packages. Issues associated with different types of coding regimes, compared to ethnographic analysis.
  • Issues of principle and practice in conducting analyses across national boundaries, including data reduction and sharing, and control over data and analyses.
  • Issues associated with the role of teachers, including the ethics associated with video capture and communication.

These issues will be illustrated by examples of the experiences of and the emerging protocols developed by the EQUALPRIME team.