|Learning to Teach in Ghana: An Evaluation of Curriculum Delivery (CIE, 2000, 51 p.)|
|Chapter 8: Curriculum Delivery: Practices, Perceptions and Shaping Factors|
In this study it was important for us to observe how college tutors delivered their lessons in the hope of understanding the intent and focus of instructional practices. Observing some tutors teaching, and interviewing them afterwards, provided rich insights into how the curriculum was being delivered and the meanings attached to particular practices. The intention was not to generalise about instructional practices in use in the colleges but to develop deep insight into the kinds of learning experience student teachers might encounter in their training. Nevertheless, they feel the portraits of instructional practices provide a fair picture of many tutor practices, given the constraints of classroom space and examination demands, which we discuss in more detail later.
Naturalistic observation in which observations are recorded in field notes to form a comprehensive and comprehensible account of what happened in the classrooms was used (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2000). Classroom observations required the researcher to record the lesson as it unfolded and produce detailed accounts of the lesson in progress. Two researchers were involved in each classroom observation. Afterwards, they attempted to reconcile their field notes and engage in tentative ongoing analysis and interpretation, keeping in mind two questions: what are the patterns of tutors' instructional practices? Secondly, how are student teachers engaged in learning?
In all nine (9) lessons were observed in three (3) colleges - 7 male tutors and 2 female tutors. We need to point out the high probability of tutors' classroom practices being influenced by our presence as we only observed them once. Interviewing immediately after each lesson gave us more opportunity to explore reasons for particular actions and thereby enhanced the validity of our analysis and findings.
Of the nine- (9) lessons five were subject content lessons and the remaining four were "methodology" lessons.
The teaching of subject content can be put into three main categories, although these overlapped in the lessons observed. The tutors used a mixture of these approaches in the delivery of their various lessons but one of the categories dominated. The categories are:
A Transmission of Knowledge
Tutors told students almost everything that they thought students needed to know, with students hardly engaged in active participation except for a few questions for clarification. It was the predominant instructional approach adopted by the tutors, although it varied in terms of degree to which students were asked questions or asked questions on their own volition to clarify the knowledge being presented.
B Discussion Method/Constructivist Teaching
Tutors discussed the main ideas and issues with students and the latter were encouraged to contribute to the lesson. Students engaged in debates about the issues with the tutor coming in only when there was a deadlock. Only one female tutor used this approach (almost exclusively).
C Question and Answer Approach
Tutors asked questions and used students' answers to ask further questions. Questions were put to different students in an attempt to involve as many students as possible in the lesson. Tutors who used this approach most of the time (one female and one male) explained later that it worked because they had earlier asked students to read material connected with the topic.
Regarding the first approach, often the tutor assumed that students had little or no idea about what was being taught. A good example is the case of the tutor who was teaching "construction of triangles". The tutor told students what to do when bisecting a line; showed how to construct various angles; showed students how to construct triangles (given different conditions); and finally assigned students specific tasks whilst he went round inspecting their work. In other lessons, teachers gave out information and occasionally asked for inputs from students. From the interviews, tutors who used this approach predominantly explained that it ensured good coverage of the syllabus for the certification examinations.
Teachers who used more discussions in their lessons claimed that they were teaching for understanding, since discussions require students to demonstrate understanding through their contributions. They reasoned that involving students in producing, creating or extending knowledge allowed them an opportunity to express themselves in their own way, thus achieving something rather different than merely replicating previous tasks or knowledge. An example of this showed the tutor leading students to debate different types of need in a lesson on "Motivation". Students engaged in very long arguments about what constitutes "safety" when determining safety needs. Later the tutor explained that she often used a discussion approach because it generated limitless information about topics and made lessons interesting. Further interviewing revealed also that she sometimes dictated notes at the end of such lessons because of pressure from some students, as the following extract from our field notes reveals:
The impression we get from this tutor is that students enjoy her open-ended style of teaching, but at the end of the day expect some more definitive knowledge dictated as notes.
The two tutors who used the discussion approach explained that they had come to like it because of how a lecturer had used it, and because it had had an impact on their own learning during their training at the university.
In both of the approaches, lessons would often end with tutors dictating some notes for students to write; these were either as short or copious summaries of the main ideas. Interview evidence revealed that this practice emanated from the pressure of external examinations.
Basically, the tutors who used the question and answer method (one more than the other) explained that they expected students to have read about the topic and to contribute to its development. The questions were therefore designed to bring out those ideas and relate to them in the lesson. One of the tutors who used this method in a science lesson asked as many as forty-seven questions in a 40-minute lesson. In addition to this students asked questions of their own volition. One of the tutors later explained that she learnt this approach to teaching from her science methods course in the University when she was training to be a teacher.
The main approach observed fits category A, which can be described as: telling trainees how to teach pupils and what to do in different classroom situations. The lessons are tutor-led and students participate by answering questions occasionally put by the tutor, or through demonstration activities in which students may participate. All the four methodology lessons observed illustrated in part or whole this approach. Part of a lesson extract illustrates this more vividly:
[Subject: Religious & Moral Education; Topic: Good Primary Practices]
Teacher (T): What is the first factor when we are to teach religious and moral education? [Teacher does not wait for answer and writes on chalkboard: textbooks, syllabus, and manuals]. Teacher points out that these do not exist in the primary school so students have to be resourceful.
(T): You can use the Bible, Koran and Traditional Sources. [Teacher does not explain what traditional sources are]
(T): What other things can you use to teach?
(Ss): Concrete Materials [This comes as a chorus response from class]
(T): Why do you students always like saying concrete materials, it is teaching and learning materials, not concrete materials, ... for example maps.
(T): What strategies can we use for teaching, I mean methods of teaching?
[Here students provide several answers: e.g. discussion, narration etc.]
(T): At what time do we select a particular method for teaching?
(S): We select it to suit the topic
(T): [Short lecture] [Field Notes: Teacher provides an example, explaining that for teaching at the primary level the lecture approach is not effective and asks class why?]
(S): Some of the students will know the story and will not pay attention.
(S): Discussion is good because they already know the story
[Field Notes: Tutor asks further questions about when it is appropriate to use other methods, such as drama and demonstration. He explains after a few attempted responses from students the main difference between the two. He explains that they are teaching the subject for a very important reason, that is, not to convert the pupils.]
T: ... teach without value judgement, do you understand?
Ss: Yes sir,
T: You should teach using the passive voice and the children should not even know your religion, remember avoid value judgement).
This tutor later explained that his methodology lessons are often in two phases, where he takes students through the basic methods typified in the lesson we saw. Later he does a few demonstration lessons to illustrate some of the methods he has taught. The final stage is for them to go out and practice it on their teaching practice.
In another methods lesson observed, this time mathematics, a similar approach was used, but in this case the tutor demonstrated the use of a specific teaching and learning apparatus - use of the "multi-base blocks" to teach the place value system to primary pupils. The lesson followed a three-stage process:
· Tutor demonstrates technique using the structured apparatus e.g. 24+35, 38+45,
· A few students are asked to demonstrate similar addition problems using the structured apparatus whilst tutor and rest of students look on and discuss the process
· Tutor poses several two-digit addition problems and the class is asked to illustrate their answers diagrammatically in their notebooks. Their answers are therefore both conceptual and symbolic representations of school addition problems.
Later in an interview the tutor explained that it was important for linkages to be made between what he taught in the college and the school curriculum requirements. However, constraints of time and material resources made it difficult to achieve this in practice:
I have seen that there are a lot of topics in the primary school syllabus but [...] left to me alone, after we have treated place value then we take the teacher handbook and the pupils text book [...] we will then teach them how to go about it.[ ...] But, what I am saying is there is not enough time to do that.
This tutor felt that without taking student teachers through the various units in the primary textbook and illustrating how to teach them, student teachers would face difficulties in their school practice
Interviewer: So you think, for example, what you taught today - place value, if they are to pick the P3 course book...You think it will be difficult for them to teach?
Tutor: Yes, because there they have to consider a lot of activities so because we haven't considered all of these activities like the guy said, you escape some of the units. So if I am able to take them through this one they will be able to treat or cover all aspects.
Interviewer: So you are suggesting they have to go through everything as laid out in the primary school textbook?
Tutor: Yes, for example when we are talking about place value, we take P1 to P3 and consider all aspects of place value under that. When we finish with that we take P4 to P6 and discuss with them.
This conversation illustrates the point that, for this tutor, learning to teach requires teachers to have a store of pedagogical knowledge and skills linked to topics in the primary school textbook. It buttresses the point that learning teaching was, as pointed out earlier in this paper, seen as an additive process - accumulating specific strategies that one uses to teach specific aspects of school curriculum. The lack of "good practice" was reasoned to be because this process was not taking place too well at the college training level.
Even a friend of mine working with USAID, came here and went to a village called Akunyase and somebody was teaching science and when they asked him why he escaped [omitted] some of the topics, they asked him whether he has been using the teachers handbook. He said because he has been having problems with some of the topics so even if he uses the book [handbook] he won't get the understanding. So as you have seen it is important that we start with them here [college] so that after completion they can handle the books [material in primary textbook].
Although, we did not witness a demonstration lesson in which student teachers acted as pupils and the tutor as a primary school teacher, two of the tutors talked about it as one strategy they use. Although some tutors do demonstration lessons to illustrate the process of teaching, it appears it is not common practice. The following quote illustrates how one tutor explained its rationale and the sequence it followed.
What I did today [Religious & Moral Education Lesson] was to help them plan, not to write out lesson notes but, for what ever you are going to teach, all the material put together, factors like the level of the children. I mean all the preparation, which have been done mentally before you even set out to write notes. ... Later I prepare and give them a demonstration lesson based on this kind of discussion, then later, we would have on campus teaching practice, my demonstration lesson would be the basis for their teaching practice. [Religious & Moral Education Tutor]
Although certain practices emerged from the observations, as recognisable patterns of tutors' instructional practices, this did not appear to be underlined by a common understanding of any particular model of training which they were trying to implement. Each tutor felt he or she was contributing to the development of teachers through their lessons in unique ways that reflected the value they placed on certain aspects of learning to teach. For some, it was a question of attempting to relate theoretical pedagogic knowledge to curriculum requirements of schools, and while for others it was a question of how to ensure students were knowledgeable enough to deliver a lesson. There was a lot of rhetoric about activity-based approach or student-centred learning but often these were perceived as simply allowing more student participation in a teacher-centred lesson. Thus, asking students a lot of questions just for them to tell or explain facts was equally seen as activity-based or student-centred teaching.
From the observations in the four colleges, we could infer that for student teachers the main type of professional learning experience they encounter is professional knowledge taught as essential "tools for teaching". In all the lessons observed and interviews with tutors there was very little sense of learning to teach as a complex task, or that it was about the conflicts and tensions of implementing learned strategies. Learning to teach is simply situated around strategies for fulfilling what the school curriculum requires. As far as most of the study tutors were concerned, their job was done if, as a tutor put it, "when we go on teaching practice we find out whether they are doing the things we taught them". Another tutor echoed this rather simplistic view of learning to teach as students possessing a satisfactory level of content and method knowledge that enabled them to function as teachers:
I am very hopeful that they should be, [able to teach well in the primary schools] because even though I said I am teaching the subject for the very first time, but I know that they have this academic study the first year so they have the stuff and when they are taken through the methods of teaching then obviously they should be able to link the content with the whole thing to be able to teach the kids [Education tutor]
Such views, we would argue, indicate a shallow understanding of the realities of teaching, but they also raise questions about the training of teacher educators in Ghana. The lack of reference to performance learning (Calderhead & Shorrocks, 1997), i.e. learning to teach being centred on actual teaching experience as a critical element in making sense of pedagogical knowledge and skills, is perhaps a reflection of the difficulty that teacher education programmes have in conceptualising the integration of college and school training. It is also about the sequencing of training and how professional learning can be coherently captured, with all its complex features, in one model that engages equally and intensely pedagogical knowledge, performance learning and the assimilation of the two.
In conclusion, the tutors' understanding of professional learning in relation to learning to teach has a lot to do with what learning experiences they provide their students. Where this is simplistic, as the evidence shows, then it also leads to a simplistic programme of training.
From interview, observation and other field data (staff teaching load) three factors could be inferred as contributing to how the curriculum was delivered in the training colleges.
8.5.1 Examination Requirements
First of all there is the influence of external examinations, which shape students' expectations of learning and add to the pressure on tutors to conform to certain instructional practices. Although none of the tutors directly said they taught the way they did because of the examinations, nevertheless it could be inferred that this was having an impact on their attitudes and actions.
In one instance, it had to do with a perception that allowing collaboration could lead to students copying in the exam. This appeared to influence the kind of learning experience a particular tutor was willing to provide, as the following interview transcript reveals:
Interviewer: Do you encourage students to compare their work? [Why?]
Tutor: I don't, after I have finished teaching I give them exercise which they exchange and mark.
Interviewer: So you are saying that during the work they don't do any collaboration. So everybody works independently
Tutor: When we allow that, when they go to the exam room they will try and copy.
Interviewer: You believe they must work independently
Tutor: Yes, especially when I am around
Time and again during the interviews the tutors alluded to the hidden' or sometimes open pressure from students to work in a certain way to reflect examination expectations. In the next transcript interview, we see how a mathematics tutor explains the impact of exams on his approach to teaching. This conversation was in the context of the tutor reflecting on a lesson he had just taught and explaining why he had not provided an assignment and used it as a basis for his teaching.
Interviewer: So why don't you do that, I mean give them an assignment
Tutor: That is what I am saying the problem is, the time factor. What we did this morning if we want to do that, because of the nature of the exams the students will say "dieba dieba"
Interviewer: What does that mean?
Tutor: What will come, [in the exams] so if you are doing anything they will feel you are wasting their time ...
Interviewer: You think the examination is contributing to that
Tutor: Very good, because if I am teaching, I will look for, like they are saying "dieba, dieba", so that I will teach them and they will also look for "dieba, dieba" and learn ... so that we would get time to prepare them. If I ask them to do demonstration [using multi-base blocks to demonstrate addition of two digit numbers] without the sketches in their books, you see they won't get anything and the examination they will fail.
From the last quote there is a hint of the effect of the actual demands of the examinations on the tutor's instructional practice. By ensuring that the students can produce a diagrammatic representation of the demonstration, the tutor felt his students stood a better chance of answering questions which required them to demonstrate their understanding in this way.
In his 1997 study, Akyeampong found access to, and use of, learning aids and materials in the TTCs to be often non-existent. Many tutors he interviewed explained that providing more activity-based learning experiences was time-consuming and more demanding than the "chalk and talk" approach. Since students pass their examinations via the "chalk and talk" approach they see little reason to change their teaching methods. In conclusion, it would seem that the examination system is a disincentive for tutors to provide other rich learning experiences in their instructional practices even though most of them believe in the benefits.
8.5.2 Time Constraints
One issue that was often raised by the tutors was the constraints of time on what they could actually do. With looming examinations in mind, as well as the overcrowded syllabus and extracurricular activities, there was very little time, in their view, to engage in learning activities that required extensive exploratory work by students. This had the effect of compelling them to resort to lectures and note-taking. One of the things we noticed in the colleges was the interest in pamphlets that had been written by tutors for sale to students. The pamphlets were in actual fact lecture notes using past examination questions as examples and were very popular.
8.5.3 Tutors' teaching load
The way in which teaching is organised has important implications for curriculum delivery. In the training colleges almost all the teaching is organised in a classroom and scheduled according to subject specific contact hours with tutors. This means that often a tutor's teaching load is viewed strictly in terms of fixed contact time with students. A common complaint from tutors is that their teaching load was excessively high and that this made it unrealistic to expect them to provide learning experiences that would potentially increase their teaching workload. It raises all sorts of questions for curriculum delivery in the colleges.
For example, if for reasons of providing rich professional learning for students, tutors are encouraged to provide a wider range of learning opportunities, what are the implications of this for their teaching load? How should we conceptualise teaching load? Is it possible, or indeed reasonable to reduce tutor-student contact hours and increase student group work vis-is projects, investigations, reflective assignments and individualised study, to take advantage of the possibilities these offer for improving learning to teach? We feel that addressing these questions is important because of their direct implications for improving learning to teach, and for this reason the issue is described in detail below.
During the fieldwork we undertook an analytic evaluation of tutors' teaching load in two colleges, to ascertain whether the much referred-to impact of teaching load on instructional practice reflects lack of management efficiency or was an incontrovertible college organisational problem. The teaching loads of tutors in two of the study colleges, WTC and ATC, are discussed in more detail. The distribution of students on each of the programmes in the two colleges used for this analysis is shown in Table 8.1.
The overall staff student ratio is as follows: WTC - 1:15, ATC - 1:21. WTC and ATC run slightly different programmes
No. of tutors*
Programme/Number of students
| || ||
(Notes: *Number of tutors excludes Principals of the colleges; GTTP - General Teacher Training Programme, PTP - Primary Training Programme, SSP - Subject Specialist Programme)
8.6.1 Official Teaching Load
The Ghana Ministry of Education (MOE) policy on staff recruitment stipulates that staff-student ratio should be 1:15 and in addition tutors should teach between 32 - 36 periods a week (a teaching period is equivalent to 40 minutes). It is believed that this arrangement allows for more effective and efficient management and delivery of curriculum in the training colleges. Based upon this policy, ATC has a high staff-student ratio 1:21 and WTC a ratio of 1:15 which satisfies the official requirement.
If one makes the assumption that a tutor teaches different student groups of 15 for each period, the following results can be deduced. For a staff-student ratio of 1:15, then a tutor has to be in classroom teaching contact with a minimum of 480 students (15 students per period x 32 periods) and a maximum of 540 students (15 students per period x 36 periods) a week. This actually results in an official teaching load in student-hour terms ranging from 320 per week to a maximum of 360 student-hours per week2. What is the actual teaching load in the colleges and how do they compare with the official figures?
2 Student-hours appears to provide a better picture of workload. Each period of 40 minutes for a 32 or 36 period schedule works out to be a minimum of 21.3 contact hours and a maximum of 24 contact hours respectively. In student-hours terms this is between 320 - 360. (i.e. 21.3 x 15) Therefore the higher the value of student-hours the greater the work load because of the number of students to deal with and its implications for the organisational demands of student learning.
Using actual teaching loads data and following similar calculations it is seen that the average teaching load in student-hours for WTC is 458. The estimated contact time with students is 12, the average number of periods per week is 17 (ranges from 3 -18) and, on the average a tutor is engaged in teaching in a week 278 student teachers. Thus, although WTC tutor-student ratio falls within the MOE stipulated figure, it appears that a tutor in this college has a bigger teaching load. However, the number of periods suggest that tutors have much fewer periods than the expected MOE figure and teach on average a student class size of 40.
The real picture emerging from an analysis of individual teaching load reveals that some tutors carry heavier teaching loads than other tutors do. In effect, the teaching of such large class sizes, and often different level classes (almost all tutors teach both students in the first and second years and therefore have at least two different group levels to teach) has workload implications. To provide, manage and monitor professional learning, using a wide and varied range of instructional strategies will make extra demands on the tutors' time and effort.
Further analysis reveals that even though tutors in WTC do not make the minimum MOE teaching requirement of 21 hours a week (on the average they make 12 hours), 71% of them have teaching loads above the maximum requirement of 360 student-hours a week. The teaching loads of WTC are plagued with inefficiencies in the number of periods allotted to tutors as well as the number of tutors engaged to teach. For, example, in the social studies department increasing the number of tutors from the current 2 to 3 reduces contact period from 23 hours to 15.5 hours. In order to reduce such teaching loads, classes must either be combined or more tutors engaged to teach social studies. The disadvantage of combining classes is that the lecture method comes to be regarded as more attractive and where learning experiences being developed do not lend themselves to that approach, then it undermines effective learning to teach.
Figure 8.1 below shows the staff teaching loads in terms of contact hours and student teaching hours delivered by the teaching staff (excluding the Principal and Vice-Principals) in the subjects offered in WTC.
In ATC none of the tutors is able to meet the MOE minimum teaching load of 32 periods a week. Also ATC's tutor-student ratio exceeds the official requirement.
Figure 8.2 below shows the staff teaching loads in terms of contact hours and student teaching hours delivered by the teaching staff (excluding the Principal and Vice-Principals) in the subjects offered in ATC.
The actual teaching load analysis for ATC reveals the following information. The number of student teachers a tutor is in contact with in a week ranges from 51 to 736. The average is 363 student teachers a week, a figure much higher than that of WTC. Tutors teach on average 7 classes in a week and most likely at least at two different levels. The average class size is 52. The teaching load in student hours a week of 614 is considerably higher than WTC. By the MOE requirements however, ATC tutors do not have sufficient student contact hours. On average it is 12 hours (MOE minimum based on a staff-student ratio of 1:15 is 21 hours). However, in actual contact hour terms the majority have teaching loads far above the maximum of 360 student-hours a week (71% in WTC and 97% in ATC). This means that the majority does indeed have a heavy workload when this is viewed in student-hour terms.
(Notes: E6 belongs to two different departments; E1 and M6 are Vice-Principals of the College)
8.6.4 Some policy implications
Recruitment of staff is done exclusively by the Principal of a College whose only guiding rule is to keep within the officially recommended staff-student ratio of 1:15. This leads to situations where some departments are understaffed and overburdened whilst others are overstaffed and under-utilised. For example, although WTC has the full complement of staff (using the 1:15) ratio, the Social Studies department has only two tutors teaching a total of 70 periods a week, whereas the Science department has five tutors teaching a total of 48 periods a week. The Physical Education department has three tutors sharing a total of 27 periods a week. It would appear from the analysis of teaching load in the two colleges that the problems emanate from both organisational and curriculum demand and that both policy-makers and college administrators have a role to play in improving the situation.
Issues about staff-tutor ratio and tutors' workload are complex and their resolution may not be simple as they raise a lot of challenges that touch on policy, politics and practice. Nevertheless, any serious attempt to improve curriculum delivery so as to yield positive professional learning outcomes will need to face the challenges it presents. Certainly more research into this is required, particularly analysing data from all the 38 teachers' training colleges in Ghana to see the patterns that emerge, which colleges are managing better and why. Even more useful will be to undertake a comparative analysis of different models of staff-student ratios based on scenarios of the ideal and typical.
The issue of tutors' efficiency and effectiveness in delivering the curriculum cannot be detached from the issue of teaching load and its implications. For example, forms of assessment such as short essays, group/individual reports, term papers, and projects, which reflect the wide range of professional learning experiences, that training would want to foster, would be very difficult to achieve. Again, the large numbers of students as well as the possibly different classes tutors teach makes it difficult for more one-to-one or small group learning situations to be encouraged.