Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices related to a Professional Development Programme in South African Rural Schools Rose Spanneberg
Rhodes University Mathematics Education Project, South Africa R.Spanneberg@ru.ac.za
This paper is a report of a study into the impact of a professional development programme designed to bring about changes in the classroom practices of teachers and change in their beliefs and attitudes. The programme is offered to in-service teachers of mathematics over a period of two years. The study is focussed on the assumption that what a teacher believes about mathematics and teaching mathematics is integrally related to the quality of mathematics being taught in the classroom (Thompson, 1992). In addition, the attitudes to mathematics itself may affect the teacher’s attitudes to the teaching of mathematics, which in turn have a powerful impact on the atmosphere and ethos of the mathematics classroom (Ernest, 1989). Also notable is the importance ascribed to the teacher’s reflectivity concerning the teaching and learning of mathematics and implementation of change in the classroom. Professional Development Program
The Rhodes University Mathematics Education Project (RUMEP) offers an accredited, part-time professional development programme for in-service primary and secondary teachers of mathematics. The program has been in operation since 1994. The intention of the program is to develop and support teachers in improving their mathematical and pedagogical competence. A further outcome is for teachers to gain a better understanding of the teaching and learning of mathematics, to challenge teachers’ beliefs about practice, encourages reflection on practice, and to assist teachers in the understanding and sense making of the new curriculum that challenge their current teaching practices. One of the main goals of the professional development intervention is that teachers will learn new ideas about how students learn mathematics, changing their instruction to a student-centred approach using a variety of instructional methods. The focus is to develop confident and resourceful key (leader) teachers who will inspire and assist the professional development of colleagues to improve the quality of mathematics teaching and learning in schools. As mathematics teachers participate in the in-service programme that is committed to reform-based teaching and learning, they encounter mathematics instruction within an socio-constructivist framework. From a constructivist point of view the emphasis is on the teacher as learner, a person who will experience teaching and learning situations and give personal meaning to those experiences through reflection (Tobin and Imwold, 1993). The design of our programme provides teachers with these types of opportunities. They are involved in challenging mathematics activities and problem solving experiences that are related to the content that they are expected to teach. Schorr (2000) also supports the need for teachers themselves to be learners of mathematics. He suggests that to effectively teach mathematics teachers must gain competence and understanding of the mathematics that they are expected to teach. Inspired by a shift toward reflective practice recommended in our new curriculum, I have made an attempt to assists teachers in the reflective process. Thus teachers need to prepare a mathematics portfolio that allows them to reflect and analyse their teaching. Green and Smyser (1996) describe teacher portfolios as a mean to integrate all the aspects of teaching so that teachers can see for themselves where they are and where they are going professionally. Definition of Teacher Beliefs
It has been widely reported that teachers’ beliefs gratefully influence their classroom practices. In order to make a study of teachers’ beliefs I need to define what is meant by beliefs. Beliefs are defined as personal constructs that can provide an understanding of a teacher’s practice (Nespor, 1987;...
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