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Teacher mediation of curriculum making: The role of reflexivity

Sinem Hizli Alkan, University of Stirling Mark Priestley, University of Stirling

The organic, complex and multilayered relationship between teachers and curriculum has been discussed for decades. However, that relationship has been rendered more crucial in recent years by new approaches to curriculum policy (Priestley & Biesta, 2013), which demand more input from teachers at different levels. Scotland and Wales are good examples: both emphasise the importance of school autonomy in curriculum design, affording teachers ‘permission’ to shape their practices to meet local needs, although the two contexts diverge in terms of how the curriculum is framed, and in the extent to and the ways in which teachers are able to influence curriculum making practices.

‘Through our research we aimed to understand different factors in curriculum making, and how these factors are mediated with respect to the different modes of reflexivity.’

However, we have only limited knowledge about how teachers navigate their ways through curriculum making within these new curricular framings, based on their concerns and priorities in their unique contexts. The notion of reflexivity (Archer, 2007), which enables us to ask what matters and what to do next (Willis, Crosswell, Morrison, Gibson, & Ryan, 2017), offers a nuanced approach to increasing our understanding of teacher mediation of curriculum making. In our recent research, published in the Journal of Curriculum Studies (Hizli Alkan & Priestley, in press), we addressed this by exploring the role of reflexivity in an online focus group with six teachers from Scotland and three teachers from Wales. We aimed to understand different factors in curriculum making and how these factors are mediated with respect to the different modes of reflexivity. Archer (2007) proposes four distinctive modalities: communicative reflexivity, autonomous reflexivity, meta-reflexivity and fractured reflexivity. These modalities establish distinctive forms of actions to achieve a satisfactory modus vivendi.

Findings suggested that there were individual, structural and cultural factors in curriculum making, including the following.

  • Individual factors: for example, willingness to co-operate, job satisfaction, beliefs towards being able to achieve agency, feeling mistrustful towards the government.
  • Structural factors: for example, accountability systems, political agendas, lack of time, hierarchical organisations, poor leadership.
  • Cultural factors: for example, shared beliefs and values, reciprocity, non-generative dialogue, vision.

These factors, and more, are subject to mediation by different modes of reflexivity. Our data indicated that the dominant modality of a teacher – which is context-dependent and multifaceted rather than deterministic and fixed – helped to explain different forms of social practices. We presented four cases to summarise distinctive ways of mediating curriculum making.

  • Communicative reflexivity. Seeking tangible examples and affirmation of curriculum making practice were observed among the prominent practice of this modality in Wales, which may be linked with the early stage of maturity of the curriculum reforms there. Making expectations clearer and providing more inclusive support may be a solution for teachers who practise this modality to achieve the aspirations of the new curriculum.
  • Autonomous reflexivity. Some of the distinctive characteristics of this modality appeared to be having a clear sense of the space and flexibility given in the curriculum, and being inclined to find opportunities to make use of this space while being task-oriented and focussed on individual goals. In order to mitigate the potential for instrumental curriculum making in these cases (such as auditing content against learning outcomes), there may be a need for more incentives for collaborative working for teachers who exercise this modality.
  • Meta-reflexivity. Value-oriented practices to ultimately achieve equity for all, despite a struggle with structural and cultural limitations, emerged as one of the characteristics of this modality. Being a social critic and engaging in continuous self-examination may need to be supported with constructive environments and support mechanisms to assist equitable curriculum policy implementation.
  • Fractured reflexivity. This modality was evident in the seeking of adequate clarity and coherence within the current curriculum reforms through research, government documents and external conversations. Yet, in the absence of a satisfactory modus vivendi, as a result of confusion or insufficient evidence, feelings of distress and difficulties navigating a way through the curriculum became evident. Self-puzzlement in this modality requires provision of constructive, detailed and convincing arguments and evidence on the reforms to nurture curriculum making practices.

This research suggests that inquiry into reflexivity might contribute to our understanding of how and why teachers might response to the mandated curriculum reforms in different ways. Further research is needed to substantiate these arguments.

References

Archer, M. (2007). Making our way through the world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hizli Alkan, S. & Priestley, M. (2019). Teacher mediation of curriculum making: the role of reflexivity. Journal of Curriculum Studies. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220272.2019.1637943

Priestley, M. & Biesta, G. J. J. (2013). Introduction: The new curriculum. In M. Priestley & G. Biesta (Eds.), Reinventing the curriculum: New trends in curriculum policy and practice (pp. 1–12). London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Willis, J., Crosswell, L., Morrison, C., Gibson, A., & Ryan, M. (2017). Looking for leadership: The potential of dialogic reflexivity with rural early-career teachers. Teachers and Teaching, 23(7), 794–809.