Competence approach is one of the major innovations in the latest school curriculum reform in Sweden that has been gradually introduced since 2011. This reflects broader international trend of Competence Based Education around the world during the past decade (Biemans, et.al, 2009, Niss and Højgaard, 2011). In order to familiarise teachers with latest curriculum innovations and to raise their general didactical competence of mathematics the Swedish National Agency for Education is implementing a project called Matematiklyftet. The project uses a praxis-based collegial learning approach supported by facilitators and presented in the project web portal https://matematiklyftet.skolverket.se/. The teachers’ activities are framed by study modules which material are freely available on the web. The teachers work with one module per term. Over twelve thousand teachers from about three hundreds schools take part in these activities yearly.
The authors of this paper were in charge of the material development for the high school module “Competence based mathematics teaching”. The module consists of eight parts. In each part participants carry out activities in four steps with the following allocation of time: individual preparation (45 – 60 min), collegial discussions (90 – 120 min), practical activities/lessons (one lesson), and common follow up and reflections (45 – 60 min).
This paper provides the authors reflections about the process of the module development and results from the teachers’ evaluations. The paper attempts to highlight two questions:
What lessons could be learned from the process of material production for the professional development of mathematics teachers in Sweden?
What feedback provided teachers aiming to improve the module material?
The Activity Theory (AT) has been used as a theoretical ground for reflection on our developmental work (Cole and Engeström, 2007). This theory was also used to reflect on different aspects of learning activity (Davydov, 1999) and the effects of proactively introducing competencies in order to transform classroom practice (Cole and Engeström, 2007). According to Kinard, Kozulin (2008, p. 25), “the learning activity includes orientation in the presented material, transformation of the presented material into a problem, planning the problem-solving process, reflection on chosen strategy and problem-solving means, as well as self-evaluation”. These concepts were important for the design and evaluation of our “module work”
A qualitative study was carried out with teachers participating in Matematiklyftet and working with our module in 2014. The data collection was organized through systematic reflective insights on the working process by the authors of the paper, an analysis of twenty teachers’ activity reports, and semi-structured interviews with ten teacher educators. Interview guide embraced different aspects of the work with the module content. Convenience sampling was used in the selection of the data sources and informants. The reports’ analysis gave insight into the teachers’ opinions about quality of module material and their perceptions of the particularities of working in the suggested ways.
In this section the selection of results and expected outcomes of the study are presented based on the collected data.
2.1.Some insights on the work process
The sources of inspiration for the project have been: Japanese “lesson study” model consisting of lesson preparation, auscultation and collegial reflections about the implemented lesson; and the SINUS project (Germany), in particular a scaling up form of using study modules, facilitators, and Internet based platform (Ostermeier, Prenzel, Duit, 2010).
However, the authors learned during the introductory meeting for the module that it is not possible to ask the teachers to do auscultations of each other’s lessons and to provide material that demands more than sixty minutes time to prepare for the first group discussion meeting. Thus, the idea of “lesson study” was implemented without teachers attending colleagues’ lessons and became a debilitated version of the Japanese model. Lesson without peer auscultation is a half-blind activity. To compensate for the absence of a colleague’s feedback teachers had to rely on personal reflection and self-monitoring, which was a particularly demanding activity that needed special development. An attempt to substitute “auscultation of a colleague’s lessons” by the practice of “noticing” (Mason, 2002) was centrally promoted but not eagerly accepted by practicing teachers. Teachers had difficulty in impartially sketching notes of the events attracting their attention during the teaching for further reflection afterwards. Therefore, in the common follow up and reflections after a lesson teachers could immerse in a culture of discussion, but did not have the chance to develop a culture of giving and taking feedback, which is crucial for their didactical development.
Reports from practicing teachers concerned mainly forms of presentation and estimation of time required for readings and discussions. It provided a rough indication of the didactical quality of the material as expected by the participants of the professional development program. The teachers also asked for easy to use material, such as banks of problems with given solutions. They wanted to have resources that would facilitate their daily professional life. However, there were rather few content related comments that could contribute to the improvement of the material.
The authors’ experience of material development and teachers’ feedback suggest existing potential for the improvement of practice. The time frame for individual preparation (maximum one hour) seems to be too short for a teacher to become familiar with the suggested readings and make serious preparation for common discussions in the second step of module activities. This limitation significantly affects the material developers’ ambitions and opportunities for depth and quality of content presentation. Reference to the unrealistic amount of required preparation work that should be done in one hour was a recurrent issue reported by the teachers.
Modules do not include any guides for the facilitators who coordinate and monitor teachers’ activities. Such guides could facilitate participants’ group work. Facilitators do not receive any orientation about the modules, their key contents and expected work-forms. Provision of a manual for facilitators could make the 90 min allocated for collegial discussions more effective.
Teachers develop and test many ideas and tasks during the module activities, but there is no requirement for their collection, systematization or any form of distribution. It could be argued that building a bank of teachers’ ideas and tasks in each module can create the necessary preconditions for perpetuating in-school professional development activities. However, it seems that potential difficulties for the project leadership in planning for this extra activity and solving the technical issue of storing material on the web has deprived modules of this valuable addition.
The evaluation of modules was not built into the module structure, for example, to be included in the final part of the module work.
Biemans, H., Wesselink, R., Gulikers, J., Schaafsma, S., Verstegen, J. and Mulder, M. (2009). Towards competence-based VET: Dealing with the pitfalls. Journal of Vocational Education and Training 61, no. 3: 267–86.
Cole, M., Engeström, Y. (2007). Cultural-historical approaches to designing for development. In J. Valsiner, A. Rosa (Eds.) The Cambridge handbook of sociocultural psychology. Cambridge university press.
Davydov, V.V. (1999). What is real learning activity? In: M. Hedegaard, J. Lompscher, (Eds.). Learning activity and development. Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 123-138.
Hattie, J. A. C., 2009, “Visible Learning: a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement”. London, New York: Routledge.
Kinard, J., Kozulin, A. (2008). Rigorous mathematical thinking: conceptual formation in the mathematics classroom. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Mason, J., 2002, “Researching your own Practice: The discipline of noticing”, London & New York: Routledge and Falmer.
Niss, M. A., & Højgaard, T. (red.) (2011). Competencies and Mathematical Learning: Ideas and inspiration for the development of mathematics teaching and learning in Denmark. Roskilde: Roskilde Universitet. (IMFUFA-tekst : i, om og med matematik og fysik; Nr. 485).
Ostermeier, C., Prenzel, M., Duit, R., 2010, “Improving science and mathematics instruction: the SINUS project as an example for reform as teacher professional development”. International journal of science education. Vol. 32, No.3, pp. 303-327.
learning activities, mathematics competencies, professional development, material development
ECER 2015, Education and Transition - Contributions from Educational Research, Corvinus University of Budapest from 7 to 11 September 2015