An Enactment of Science, A Dynamic Balance Among Curriculum, Context and Teacher Beliefs
reviewed by Angelo Collins - 2004
Title: An Enactment of Science, A Dynamic Balance Among Curriculum, Context and Teacher Beliefs
Author(s): Robert W. Blake Jr.
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 082045124X, Pages: 232, Year: 2002
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“That’s a good piece of work. With revision I bet it could be published.” I’ve said this to students who have completed papers for courses, master’s theses, and doctoral dissertations. Typically I make this suggestion when the work is timely, organized around well-structured and compelling arguments and composed with style. I’m guessing that many readers of TCR have offered similar counsel. An Enactment of Science, A Dynamic Balance Among Curriculum, Context and Teacher Beliefs clearly is a revision of a dissertation. In the acknowledgements, the author, Robert W. Blake Jr., thanks his dissertation committee and fellow graduate students. Also, the organization of the book mirrors the organization of a dissertation. There is the introduction in Chapter One followed by the theoretical frameworks and method in Chapters Two, Three and Four. Chapters Five, Six, Seven and Eight present the findings while the analysis and conclusions are offered in Chapters Nine and Ten. I propose that this book is evidence that the advice to publish work completed as a student should be offered with caution.
An Enactment of Science is the report of a yearlong ethnographic study of a single sixth grade teacher, Donna, in an urban middle school. The school is identified as a bilingual/bicultural Spanish and English magnet school. Students, however, are not admitted based on academic ability but through random selection of applicants. The study focuses on the three aspects of instruction that are science related: the Biological Science Curriculum Study (BSCS) instructional materials, which are required throughout the school, math/science ‘labs’ that are teacher designed and implemented, and participation in the all-school science fair.
In many ways similar to proposals by Schwab (1973/1978), the model that informed the design of the study has four mutually reciprocal components: the enactment of the curriculum through instruction, teacher beliefs, the curriculum itself, and the school context. Blake brings to the study experience in teaching science, an undergraduate degree in biology with an emphasis in animal behavior, and an enthusiasm for reading texts that describe animals in their natural settings. Relying on almost fifty hours of observation on fifty separate occasions, Blake describes in Chapter Eight how Donna, the teacher participant teaches science. Earlier chapters based on document analysis and interviews describe the curriculum, the school context, and Donna’s beliefs. Blake demonstrates how her beliefs -- primarily that students need to learn how to learn, that social skills are necessary for learning and that she is the responsible adult in the classroom -- influence the teaching, the enactment of the curriculum. He proposes that her personal curriculum theory is a middle ground stance between traditional and progressive beliefs about curriculum and instruction.
The book fails to meet my first personal criterion for the publication of work completed as a student, timeliness. There is a ten-year gap between the conduct of the study and the publication of the book. The BSCS instructional materials that are the major and required portion of the curriculum in the study and hence the model are Science for Life and Living (1992). A review of the 2003 BSCS catalogue indicates that these materials are no longer published and have been replaced by Middle School Science & Technology, Second Edition (1999) and Making Healthy Decisions (1997-2000). Granted, the focus on the integration of science with other school subjects organized around a theme remains a constant with BSCS materials, the use of the Five E’s instructional model is firmly embedded in both the new BSCS and other curriculum materials, the teacher’s guides still contain suggestions for instructional and classroom management techniques that are conducive for students to fully engage in activities that promote science understanding through inquiry, and many of the instructional activities, such as “Oh! Deer” are widely available. The fact that the instructional materials are no longer available does not change the reality that teachers are frequently mandated to use materials that are not consistent with their beliefs. It does reduce the utility of the text if it is used by prospective and novice teachers to enable them to recognize the role of their beliefs in developing their teaching skills and to study exemplary teaching. In a similar manner, in the 140 references, the most recent is one citation from 1996, National Science Education Standards. There is one reference from 1995, and ten each from 1994 and 1993. In that time period, much research has been published on the influence of teachers’ beliefs on their practice. There are also numerous more recent descriptions of best practice.
The book also fails my personal second and third criteria, organization for argumentation and style. The style, while chatty and easy to read, is redundant and distracting. The quotations from Donna and others have not been edited for ease in reading and frequently left me asking what the quote was intended to illustrate. Blake anticipates my organization for argument criteria when he provides a subtitle to Chapter Ten, An Answer to the Questions “So What?” He concludes the book by stating, “we attain a clearer understanding of how these teachers enact science curricula and the role that their beliefs have in this process. This not only informs our own practice but also how we prepare future teachers in the teaching and learning of science.” (p. 193) However, it is not clear how the model used in this research is any more likely to influence teacher practice than other models.
In the past ten years, many of the tensions identified by Blake have not been resolved. For example, the tension remains between progressive/constructivist views of science teaching and learning and the traditional/positivist counter positions. The tension between the requirement to use a school (or district or state) mandated curriculum and a teacher’s responsibility to design instruction that best meets the needs of the current class of students has become increasingly prominent. Identifying these tensions is no longer critical; stories to illustrate the tensions in practice abound; proposals to reduce the tension are needed. The story of how Donna teaches as told by Blake has lost its power to persuade.
Schwab, J. (1978) The practical: Translation into curriculum. In I. Westbury and N.J. Wilkof (Eds.), Science, curriculum and liberal education (pp. 365-383). Chicago: University of Chicago Press (Original work published in 1973).
Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. (1992) Science for Life and Living. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.
Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. (1997-2000) Making Healthy Decisions. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.
Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. (1999) Middle School Science and Technology, 2nd Edition. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.