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Title: Teachers' understanding of the purposes of group work and their relationship with practice
Author: Chan, Jessica W. S.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5923 3810
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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Group work is commonly recommended as a student-centred instructional strategy which may enhance learning. Research in this area has predominantly used controlled interventions focusing on unproductive teacher assistance or specific strategies of doing group work to be applied by teachers. On the other hand, teachers’ own understanding and uses of group work in classrooms have been under-researched. Drawing on cultural-historical theory, this study scrutinises how and why teachers use group work, and how their enacted understanding is related to the broader contexts of teaching. The present study consists of four teachers of English in two secondary schools in Hong Kong to discern their rationales for and implementation of group work. The analysis delves into the dynamics within the activity of teaching, which comprise the interrelations between teachers' biographies, their purposes for group work in classrooms and what was expected from these teachers within the school practices. The Vygotskian perspective taken by this study entailed an inquiry into the teachers' intentional actions in everyday teaching. Each teacher was interviewed at the outset and end of the school-based fieldwork for their learning backgrounds and beliefs about teaching. In between these interviews each of them was observed in 15 lessons involving group work and undertook five to six stimulated recall (SR) interviews. These lesson video-recordings provided the stimuli for the SR interviews for probing the teacher’s pedagogic decisions while orchestrating students in small groups. The data was analysed by deploying concepts from cultural-historical theory, particularly two organising frameworks developed within the approach. One is a pedagogic sequence proposed by Edwards (1995; in press) as a descriptor to categorise the teachers’ purposes for and actions in group work. The other is an adaptation of Hedegaard's (2012) planes of analysis for identifying the various motives and demands in the multi-layered setting of teaching where group work was located. Group work as a pedagogic tool displayed the intra- and interpersonal dynamics in the activity of teaching. The findings indicate that the teachers' historically-constructed identities as learners of English oriented their intentions for group work and beliefs about teaching the subject. How the schools mediated societal expectations on teaching and learning had a considerable bearing on the teachers enacting their understanding. These institutional objectives and demands in practices created sets of opportunities for group work in the classrooms. The analysis thence was sited at the interface between the teachers' personal pedagogies and the multi-faceted social structure reflected in how education policy was mediated differently in different school contexts. The implications for teacher development are discussed.
Supervisor: Edwards, Anne Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Education ; Sociocultural and activity theory ; Teaching and teacher education ; Cognition ; Social cognition ; group work ; teacher agency ; pedagogy ; cultural-historical theory