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Physics teachers and China's curriculum reform : the interplay between agency and structure Fu, Guopeng


This study explored how individual and collective agencies among physics teachers in a select high school were enabled and constrained in the context of the on-going curriculum reform in China. Human agency as used in this study was informed by five perspectives: Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory; Giddens’ Structuration Theory; Giroux’s critical pedagogy; Seixas’ historical consciousness; and Davies’ feminist and poststructuralist perspective. The study employed autoethnographical methods including observation, interviewing, the researcher’s and teachers’ reflective journaling, and data collection through the researcher’s involvement with various school activities which took place in one high school. The analysis of the data corpus employed portraiture and constant comparative method. The portraits of the researcher and selected teachers depicted their agencies in terms of origin, motivation, shape, and negotiation. The findings included: 1) individual teacher agency was significantly influenced by history, currency, moral standards, and students; 2) collective agency was shaped by structural changes, leadership and modern technology; and 3) collective teacher agency created the demands for individual teachers’ professional development, a conducive culture for teacher collaboration, and concrete examples that teachers could constantly refer to, reflect upon, and learn from for reform implementation. These results offer important insights for understanding how physics teacher agency is manifest in the on-going curriculum reform in China. Further, the study offers a clear understanding of the influences underlying physics teachers’ agency deployment as they engage with the curriculum reform process. Finally, this study’s findings justify a case for preparing physics teachers on how to deploy both individual and collective agencies in the face of the complicated social structures and ultimately shed light on the desired curriculum decentralization in China.

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