Primary Connections: Stage 3: Interim research and evaluation report 11: NSW professional learning facilitators workshop: July 2007.
Australian Academy of Science
Place of Publication
Community Services, Education and Social Sciences
The workshop attracted a sample of participants whom were almost all based in schools as classroom teachers, science co-ordinators or deputy principals (Key Findings 1 and 3). Being based in schools will maximise the PLFs’ opportunities for providing professional learning and leadership within their own schools, however, depending on support levels it may limit their opportunities for facilitation of professional learning at other schools. A large proportion of the professional learning facilitators (PLFs) were highly experienced and almost all had a primary schooling background (KF3). Most had facilitation experience, however, less than a third had more than five days of experience as a facilitator. A majority of the PLFs’ studies of science was limited to Year 12, and only one had completed a MEd (KF2). This group was less well qualified than the January 2007 group of PLFs. Prior to the workshop the group had a good but not high level of confidence with their own science teaching; a level of confidence very similar to the January 2007 group of PLFs (KF18). The group had appropriate background and experience to benefit from the PLF training. The participants’ beliefs about the purpose of primary science teaching, the characteristics of effective science teaching and beliefs about effective teacher professional learning were broadly consistent with the research literature (e.g. Goodrum, Hackling & Rennie, 2001; Senate Inquiry, 1998) and with the focus of the Primary Connections project (KFs5-10). The participants’ goals for attending the workshop were strongly related to their personal needs of learning about Primary Connections, improving their own teaching and learning how to facilitate Primary Connections professional learning (KF13). Prior to the workshop, most of the participants concerns appeared to be related to the informational, personal and management stages of concern from the Concerns-Based Adoption Model of Hall and Hord (1987) rather than having concerns about system-wide implementation of the programme. The main factors, identified by the PLFs, likely to act as barriers to the uptake of Primary Connections were time for professional learning, resources, staff interest, awareness of the programme and availability of Primary Connections curriculum units (KF11). They expected that time for facilitation and schools’ awareness of the programme were most likely to limit their effectiveness as facilitators (KF12). Given that almost half of the PLFs raised concerns about time for facilitation and about schools’ awareness of the programme it may suggest that further promotion of Primary Connections and advocacy for the importance of science teaching needs to occur in NSW and that PLFs be strongly supported by their school principals to facilitate professional learning at their own and other schools. The PLFs self-efficacy as professional learning facilitators increased significantly over the workshop (KF19). The increase in self-efficacy appeared to be a slightly more positive outcome than for the January 2007 workshop. Importantly, there was a decrease in the number of PLFs with modest levels of self-efficacy and an increase in the number with high and very high levels of self-efficacy (KF19). After the workshop the PLFs had lowest self-efficacy for giving advice to ECE teachers about science pedagogy and highest self-efficacy for posing engaging tasks for teachers to work on in small groups. The largest increase in self-efficacy was for answering teachers’ science questions effectively. Given that most participants had a primary rather than ECE background the low self-efficacy for advising ECE teachers is to be expected and this is a similar finding to that for previous groups of PLFs. The high self-efficacy for posing engaging tasks for teachers to work on can be explained in terms of the workshop modelling suitable activities and providing resources for the activities that teachers can use in their own facilitation work. The large increase in self-efficacy for answering teachers’ science questions is a pleasing outcome suggesting that the workshop may have enhanced the PLFs’ science teaching pedagogical content knowledge (Gess-Newsome, 1999) and/or their awareness of suitable sources of science background information as the workshop made them aware of the science background information in the curriculum units (Table 19). Statistically significant gains were made in confidence with facilitating professional learning workshops on aspects of science and literacy teaching (KF20). Gains were similar in magnitude to those made by the January 2007 group of PLFs. The greatest growth in confidence occurred for facilitating workshops on an introduction to Primary Connections and for assessment of learning in primary science. The PLFs’ made good gains in confidence for facilitating workshops on integrating literacy education into science education (Table 21), however, they had lowest self-confidence for this at the end of the workshop. The workshop introduced some new perspectives on the relationships between everyday literacies, literacies of science and scientific literacy which may take time to be integrated within the PLFs’ existing conceptions of literacy education. The workshop was evaluated very positively by the PLFs with large majorities indicating they had achieved the aims for the workshop and that they were very well prepared for their role as a PLF (KFs 14 and 15). Almost all of the PLFs indicated that there was no need for changes to improve the workshop. The professional learning resources were also rated very positively and feedback suggests no obvious areas in need of improvement (KF17). In terms of their ongoing needs for support the PLFs most frequently mentioned the support of the Academy team, phone and email support, updates of resources and contact with other PLFs (KF16). This highlights the importance of the aim for the workshop of building networks between the PLFs themselves and with the Academy team who will provide ongoing support. Given the quality of the workshop and resources, and the richness of the professional learning that occurred for the PLFs, it is likely that they will be effective as facilitators and leaders within their own schools. Given that most of the PLFs are based in schools and will have limited flexibility in their work commitments, they will need ongoing support if they are to be effective facilitators in other schools. There would be value in providing a follow-up workshop to provide an opportunity to ascertain the extent to which they are successful as facilitators and to give them further support and update them on new resources. Although not explicitly evaluated, it is likely that there are important benefits from conducting PLF training within jurisdictions. It provides an increased opportunity for jurisdictional ownership over the training of the PLFs, for the workshops to be tailored to the specific contexts and policy settings of the jurisdiction and for the local science policy officer to have significant input to the programme. Building jurisdictional workshops on the expertise and models developed nationally by the Australian Academy of Science ensures quality, and tailoring workshops to local contexts ensures relevance and ownership. These are important benefits of the national collaborative approach advocated by Goodrum et al. (2001) for the improvement of science education in Australian schools.