University of Sussex
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Action learning and primary teachers’ pedagogical knowledge in mathematics

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:20 authored by Linda Phillips
In 2004 an inner city primary school, Hawksridge, found itself in the 99th percentile in mathematics and second to bottom nationally. Confronted with a plethora of local authority and National Strategy intensive programmes, which the school did not have the capacity to execute or sustain, Hawksridge’s headteacher took the decision to turn to research to establish the school’s future direction. The subsequent action research project, which used action learning as a dialogical tool, became the base of their rise from mathematical ‘no-hopers’ to ‘influential institution’ in 2010. This case study focuses on Set One, the model that was created to experiment with action learning procedures, before it was refined and implemented in Hawksridge as Set Two. The purpose of Set One was to try and establish whether or not action learning procedures could develop teachers’ knowledge and understanding of mathematics and in particular their subject, content and pedagogical knowledge. It is set in the context of a time when the government centralised what was to be taught in mathematics, how long for and the style in which it was to be delivered through the national curriculum and the national strategies. The 1999 national numeracy strategy was brought in to support the 1998 mathematics national curriculum. In 2001 a new mathematics curriculum was introduced and this is the version referred to in this work. The primary curriculum is in two Key Stages: Key Stage 1 is for children aged 5 – 7 and Key Stage 2 is for 7 – 11 year old children. Set One, composed of four primary headteachers, their four mathematics’ coordinators and four Hawksridge senior managers, met for one year to experiment with action learning procedures. It was capable of instigating a rich mathematical dialogue through its open-ended questioning and able to develop a collaborative, supportive culture where teachers demonstrated that they could be flexible in their thinking. The three key features of action learning in Set One are the development of the skills of reflection, rich mathematical dialogue and collaboration. In the analysis of the transcripts from the sessions, these features are unpicked and scrutinised in detail from the social constructivist perspective. Different types of teacher knowledge are identified, in particular, the knowledge associated with the Mathematics National Curriculum and the National Numeracy Strategy and how teachers have integrated these two government documents as part of their knowledge base. An assessment of how teachers use this knowledge to ask and answer questions is undertaken. The power of open-ended questioning is explored and the growing expertise of Set One as a group evaluated, predominantly, their ability to listen, use silence effectively and to build up powerful stacks of questions capable of challenging teachers’ mathematical thinking. Action learning comes with caveats: it is not always a comfortable experience because dissonance is a part of the way it functions and for it to work well there must be trust, truthfulness and integrity. It is also a powerful managerial tool and should be used wisely to support and develop teachers’ knowledge and skills. Action learning procedures were implemented into Hawksridge before the termination of Set One. The lessons that have been learned have facilitated teacher development. Hawksridge staff are now capable of reflecting and learning from their daily experiences. Other benefits have been improved classroom practice, based on a probing dialogical questioning style which encourages pupils to think, improved collaboration across the school and a more careful and considered approach to professional development. Hawksridge has managed to find its way forward.


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