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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A study to determine the nature of science teachers' functional paradigms using qualitative research methods Cardwell, Steven McDonald


It is believed that one of the overriding factors that has contributed to the resistance to curriculum change on the part of teachers is that some of the new curricula seem to require a major change in teaching methodology and style. This change amounts to a conflict between paradigms. If this belief is correct, then one can argue that there will have to be a shift in teachers' functional paradigms in order for these curriculum innovations to be implemented. The study focuses on the goals, problems, exemplars, and routines, which constitute the "functional paradigms" of teachers. The term "functional paradigm" is meant to convey the idea that the characteristics which unite a community of practitioners are likely to be centered on practical matters: Why do teachers function in particular ways? Do teachers attach "common meanings" to particular situations or entitles? The following specific research questions were examined: 1. What are some of the factors which influence the formulation of teachers' functional paradigms? 2. What is the nature of teachers' functional paradigms? 3. a) What are the perceptions of teachers with regard to curriculum change? b) What is the relationship between teachers' functional paradigms and their perceptions of curriculum change? c) To what extent do teachers' functional paradigms become idiosyncratic when they are faced with a curriculum change? The methodology involved interviews with teachers. A pilot study was conducted prior to the main study. The interviews in the main study were analyzed in terms of six main categories. The results seem to indicate: 1. There are common categories and sub-categories that contribute to the formation, development, and maintenance of teachers/ functional paradigms. They include: o past educational experiences. o background in general. o practicum experiences. o past and present teaching experiences. o curriculum materials. o constraints on teaching. o school, students, and other workers in the school. 2. There seems to be a "core" of common categories among teachers. The intersection of elements within these categories composes the functional paradigms of teachers in general. Although the paradigms are functional in an active sense, they are relatively stable within the "culture", and over the long term. This stability must be considered if innovators in education ever contemplate a change which would require a shift in teachers'" functional paradigms. This commonality of beliefs, routines, problems, and exemplars is probably greater among teachers within the same small segment of the organization than within the entire profession. 3. Evidently, teachers select, interpret, and utilize learning materials in different ways dependent on the nature of their personal functional paradigms. A number of differing elements in teachers'' functional paradigms have been identified. These elements determine how teachers teach in terms of their use of curriculum materials. Curriculum change agents must consider the functional paradigms of individuals and determine how common these paradigms are before attempting a major pedagogical change. This study has shown that if these factors are not considered, then the curriculum change that is contemplated will be reduced to a mere change in content. The teachers will utilize the curriculum materials according to their own functional paradigms. 4. The inertia against curriculum change is most difficult to overcome with more experienced teachers, and more easily overcome with beginning teachers. This suggests that the focus of curriculum implementation needs to be aimed at certain segments of the profession. Somehow the change agents must assist educators to change their functional paradigms to meet the desired ends of the new curriculum prior to implementation. The alternative is the disparity that seems to exist between the curriculum that is intended by the policy makers, the curriculum that is implemented by the teachers, and the curriculum that is ultimately attained by the students.

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