Primary Connections: Stage 3: Interim research and evaluation report 12: WA professional learning facilitators workshop: September 2007.
Australian Academy of Science
Place of Publication
Community Services, Education and Social Sciences
The workshop attracted a sample of participants, of whom, half were based in schools as classroom teachers, science co-ordinators or deputy principals, and half were based in central or district offices as education advisors or consultants (Key Findings 1 and 3). Given that only one-third of the PLFs were classroom teachers it is likely many of the PLFs will have the flexibility within their professional roles to facilitate professional learning within their districts. Although a majority of the professional learning facilitators (PLFs) had no science studies beyond Year 12, one-quarter had a science major in their undergraduate studies (KF2). Eight participants had five or less years teaching experience while one-third had 20 or more years of experience. The group was diverse in background. All but one had professional learning facilitation experience and half of the group had five or more days of facilitation experience (KF4), far more than the NSW cohort (Hackling, 2008) which can be attributed to the higher proportion of education advisors in the WA group. Prior to the workshop the group had a reasonable but not high mean score for confidence with their own science teaching; a level of confidence that was lower than that of the January 2007 group of PLFs (KF18). There was considerable variation in the backgrounds of the participants as indicated by the high standard deviations for key variables, however, the majority of 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 PLFs’ beliefs about improving literacy teaching were particularly consistent with the Primary Connections approach: embedding literacy teaching into all learning areas; extending the range of genres; explicit development of skills; and, the provision of current and relevant resources (KF9). The participants’ goals for attending the workshop were strongly related to their personal needs of learning how to facilitate Primary Connections professional learning, learning about Primary Connections and improving their own teaching (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: money/resources, access/time for professional learning, availability of teacher relief and support from administration (KF11). Only two PLFs mentioned limited availability of curriculum units which can be attributed to WA DET having provided curriculum units to all government primary schools and the increased range of units available from the Academy of Science. Prior to the workshop, they expected that their own understanding of the programme and the support of line managers were possible limitations on their own effectiveness as facilitators (KF12). It should be noted that none of this WA cohort were Primary Connections trial teachers as most had been previously trained as facilitators. However, it should be noted, that after the workshop, all indicated that they understood the Primary Connections project, the teaching and learning model and curriculum resources To a large extent or Quite a lot (Table 15). The workshop had very positive impacts on the participants’ self-efficacy for facilitation and confidence for facilitating Primary Connections workshops. The PLFs’ self-efficacy as professional learning facilitators increased significantly over the workshop (KF19). The increase in self-efficacy was greater than for the January 2007 and July NSW workshops. There was a decrease in the number of PLFs with modest levels of self-efficacy and an increase in the number with very high levels of self-efficacy (KF19). After the workshop, the PLFs had high self-efficacy for posing engaging tasks for teachers to work on and for using facilitation tools and techniques. This can be attributed to opportunities to try out the activities they would use in their own workshops, being provided with the resources for these activities, and having the use of facilitation tools and techniques modelled for them in the workshop. After the workshop, the lowest mean item score was 4.22/5 which is between the scores for Confident (4/5) and Very confident (5/5) which indicates the high level of confidence for facilitating the full range of Primary Connections workshops (Table 21). Given the strong growth in self-efficacy and confidence it is not surprising that 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). Five of the PLFs indicated that they would have liked more than the three days of the workshop. Given that none of the PLFs were trial teachers they would have had limited prior knowledge of the programme. The professional learning resources were also rated very positively and feedback suggests no obvious areas in need of improvement (KF17). One PLF would have liked the resources to be linked to the WA learning outcomes and one would have liked a wider range of workshop topics. In terms of their ongoing needs for support, the PLFs most frequently mentioned the support of the Academy team, 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. 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.