Monday, May 4, 2015

Bridging the challenges of inquiry-based teaching: Commonwealth Elementary School teachers’ insights on lesson study

Teaching science is often equated to preparing students to cope with the changes and challenges of their lives (Shamsudin, Abdullah, & Yaamat, 2013). In fact, the Next Generation Science Standards (NRC, 2000) stress that “science is the pursuit of explanations of the natural world, and technology and engineering are means of accommodating human needs, intellectual curiosity, and aspirations” (p. 2). Lesson study captures the essence of social constructivism which emphasizes the importance of social interaction through negotiation, discourse, reflection, and explanation in the construction of knowledge. This supports its effectiveness as an inquiry professional development model in increasing teacher subject-matter knowledge and pedagogical skills (Rock & Wilson, 2005). Aside from transforming conventional classrooms into inquiry-based classrooms, teachers are empowered to build a constructivist and self-regulated professional learning community where they undergo the processes of collaborative goal setting, lesson planning, observing and monitoring outcomes, reflecting, and revising lessons to achieve meaningful results in terms of student achievement.

Researchers attributed the importance of learning of historical experiences of social groups from visualizing the object of their learning. In lesson study, teachers examine their teaching practices to identify the critical lenses for students’ learning (Cheung & Wong, 2014). In the processes of lesson study, it is the understanding of the connection between teaching and learning that builds the relationship between how the intended content is “made possible to learn in a lesson and what the students are supposed to learn” (Cheung, 2011; Lo, Chik, & Pang, 2006; Marton & Pang, 2006; Pang & Marton, 2005) which makes it an effective professional development activity.

According to Supovitz and Turner (2000), the ultimate aim of professional development is to produce quality instructions in classrooms that bring about significant improvement in student learning. Lesson study takes into account the gathering of exemplary teaching practices directly from teachers in the field that provide sustained application of inquiry for both students and teachers. As the team reflects together with the knowledgeable others, they were able to identify the barriers of inquiry-based lesson implementation. Each of the members served as a support in the adaptation of new and effective teaching practices. Because of the constant interaction of the teachers, they were able to build connections between their classroom dynamics to specific curriculum standards. This supports the call of early education reformers to establish a professional development effort that is intensive, sustained, and where teachers are engaged in concrete teaching tasks so that changes are directly obtained from pieces of evidence from teachers’ experiences and student responses.

In this study, the lesson study framework was used to identify and bridge the three challenges in implementing inquiry-based teaching in elementary school science education in the Philippines, namely, a lack of support, training, and availability of inquiry-based materials; an overemphasis on assessing content learning rather than learning through inquiry; and the difficulty and time consuming nature of inquiry approaches. Because of the robust number of collaborative discussions in the process of lesson study, the data of this paper were obtained from audio recordings, field notes, and video recordings gathered from each cycle of lesson study conducted by the author and the team. These were supplemented by a formal interview from the six (6) in-service teachers. Analysis of data took place in two phases. First, all transcripts related to challenges in implementing inquiry-based teaching were selected. Patterns were noted, coded, and categorized using the constant comparison method (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).

Recognizing the challenges of inquiry-based teaching, the teachers valued the importance of their professional development through lesson study in bridging the current challenges of their instructional practices. Teachers’ insights revealed that lesson study became an opportunity for them to discuss about the common issues they face during instruction, clarify their misconceptions on inquiry-based teaching, and address their lack of learning resources to develop an effective lesson. Their constant collaboration helped them clarify their doubts and built their confidence, thus enabling them to be more comfortable in teaching. Moreover, the participative nature of lesson study helped them in analyzing, reflecting, and revising their research lessons which reduced their individual time to do lesson planning and preparation.

In this study, results indicated a strong need for today’s elementary school science teachers to engage in sustainable professional development as they struggle towards the proper implementation of inquiry-based teaching. After characterizing the teachers’ insights, it was understood that the teachers’ analyses of their instructional practices deepen as they continuously engage in collaborative and constructive self-assessment and discussions through lesson study. While committed to adapt inquiry as a teaching strategy, it became clear that in-service teachers need collegial and collaborative support in implementing inquiry inside their classrooms. They became very vocal concerning whom to approach when they have questions in both content and pedagogy and wanted opportunities to learn more on how to align inquiry to the diverse nature of pupils. Thus, based on the results, this study hopes to provide a benchmark of information on how teachers learn as they become engaged in collaborative inquiry wherein their own classrooms become an object of their learning.

Complete and en-depth analysis of this article can be obtained from the following:

Gutierez, S. B. (2015). Collaborative professional learning: Discovering the challenges of implementing inquiry-based teaching through lesson study. Issues in Educational Research, 25(2), xx-xx. (In press, to appear at http://www.iier.org.au/iier25/gutierez.html)


Gutierez, S. B. (2014). Identifying and addressing the challenges of inquiry-based elementary science teaching and learning through lesson study. In Ulep, S. A., Ferido, M. B., Reyes, R. L., & Punzalan, A. E. (Eds.), Lesson Study: Learning Together, Growing More in Practice Together. (pp. 115- 146). Quezon City: University of the Philippines, National Institute for Science and Mathematics Development.
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